§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Hitchin, (Mrs. Shirley Williams), I inform the House that I have selected the Amendment in the name of the Prime Minister, in line 2, leave out from 'prices' to end and add:'and noting that supplementary benefits and supplementary pensions were increased in November, 1970, welcomes Her Majesty's Government's intention to implement their election pledge to review retirement pensions this year to restore them at least to their November, 1969 value'.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams (Hitchin)
I beg to move,That this House, deeply concerned about the plight of many elderly people, widows, the sick and the disabled, because of rapidly rising prices, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to bring forward at the earliest possible moment the review of pensions and other social benefits to restore them, at the very least, to their value in November 1969.Before turning to the main business of today's Supply debate, perhaps I might bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for Social Services a matter which arises from the Post Office strike.
In the course of Questions on the Statement earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) and one or two others referred to the difficulty of some pensioners in getting full payment of their pensions. I would draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention the fact that this appears to be so. However, I am informed that in a number of cases volunteers who have offered their services to pay out pensions on Tuesday and Friday mornings, when the main payments are made, have been refused the right to do so.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman shares my concern that payment shall be made as quickly as possible. Will he discuss with his right hon. Friend the 1947 Secretary of State for Employment whether any volunteers who offer their services for this purpose are being turned down, and, if so, why that should be so?
I now turn to the Motion. Earlier, we discussed an immediate and serious crisis which concerns hon. Members in all parts of the House. I refer, of course, to the future of Rolls-Royce. The crisis that we are now discussing concerning old-age pensioners is, in its way, just as serious, immediate and urgent, though perhaps not believed by all to be as dramatic.
I do not think that I need persuade the right hon. Gentleman of the arguments that he and many other members of the Conservative Party advanced at the time of the General Election about the need to protect pensioners from the effects of inflation and rising prices. However, it is absolutely essential to persuade them that it is time to show a sense of urgency, which has been strangely lacking until now.
Let me remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite of some of their remarks in those happy days when they had no responsibility for State pensions and social security benefits. On 6th March, 1970, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), told a meeting:The first charge on the State pension scheme should be to protect pensioners from rising prices.He said, and he was right,Pensions suffer first and most when incomes are eaten away by the rising cost of living.The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) echoed the same thought a few months later, on 1st June, 1970, when he told a meeting:The first victims of rising prices are the elderly, the weak and persons on a fixed income. They are in the front line of inflation. They can't fight back; they are often too proud to protest.Then the right hon. Gentleman himself, in an eloquent speech a few days before the General Election, on 4th June, 1970, said:There are tests far more relevant which a society must pass to be civilised.1948 At the time, he was criticising the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins). He went on:Are the poor and low paid, the old and the disabled, better or worse off compared with the rest of the population than they were a few years ago?In asking that question, the right hon. Gentleman was giving his definition of a civilised society.
The very last quotation that I use comes from the Prime Minister himself, who, in a party political broadcast which many people believed influenced the outcome of the General Election, said:I promise you that I will do everything in my power to make sure that for all the people in this country tomorrow will be better than today.They were brave words, and they probably persuaded some people. But that "tomorrow" is now "today", and for 7 million people, this country's old-age pensioners, "yesterday" was unquestionably better than "today".
Let us look a little more closely at what has happened. Pensioners today are relatively worse off than the rest of the community than at any time since March, 1965, when the Labour Government introduced the biggest increase ever in pensions and other benefits, an increase that the right hon. Gentleman will not deny brought pensions and benefit increases for the first time into line not just with price rises but, much more important, with increases in average earnings. From then until January, 1970, pensions were broadly kept in line with average earnings. Occasionally they dipped a little below and occasionally, at the time of an increase, they went a little above. But there is no doubt that since January, 1970, pensions have been steadily falling behind relatively.
The right hon. Gentleman will also know that since he and his Government came to office they have consistently said that it would not be reasonable for them to be asked to review pensions more frequently than on a biennial basis, and they have said, as the Under-Secretary did only a few days ago, that they would have a two-yearly review. Therefore, we conclude that the next review is due in November, 1971. But I remind the Government that in a situation of similar 1949 crisis for pensioners the Labour Government brought forward the review from May, 1965, to March, 1965. Although that was only a period of two months, the significant thing is that it was done within five months of a Labour Government's being returned to office. What we did so quickly in five months the Government can at least do in 10.
Let me make one more remark about the value of pensions. By December, according to the Government's own statements, the value of pensions had dropped by more than 12s. for a married couple. If the cost of living continues to rise at the present rate for the rest of the year it is estimated that by November, 1971, when the next up-rating is due, the pension for a married couple will have fallen by about 27s. It will then be worth not £8 2s. but £6 15s.
Even that is to make an assumption that is highly favourable to the Government, the assumption that the pattern of pensioners' expenditure is the same as that of the rest of the community. All of us who are interested in the subject know that that is not true. Pensioners' budgets concentrate particularly on three items where prices either have increased or are very likely to increase faster than the general cost of living—food, fuel and rents. It is those three items of expenditure that have recently shown dramatic price increases.
It is not my job this afternoon to go through a long list of price increases, but I shall mention a few, because it must be brought home to both sides of the House how acutely the increases hit these 7 million peculiarly vulnerable people. On 1st January it was announced that the gas boards would be increasing their prices by between 6 and 10 per cent., but that the increase for small consumers would be higher. In the past few months different electricity boards have announced increases of between 10 and 15 per cent., increases already in operation or on the way shortly. As I pointed out in the House two days ago, the cheapest alternative fuel for heating, not always a very satisfactory fuel, but one to which many poor people are driven because they cannot afford anything else, is paraffin, and the cost of that is going up by no less than 13 per cent.
Let me look at some of the foodstuffs that form an important part of the diets 1950 of pensioners. Tea has gone up by 10 per cent. this year. Bread rose in 1970 by 15 per cent. in three separate price increases. Eggs and margarine are shortly going up by 20 per cent. Since the General Election there have been no fewer than 5,560 price increases, an average of more than 200 a week.
What is the Government's response to this kind of case? It is to say, as the Prime Minister did again today, that it is all the fault of the Labour Party. He also said two days ago that he regarded the Labour Party as being the champions of inflation. But the Government have now been in power for eight months, and it is not good enough for them to pretend that they have no power whatsoever to affect the economy, prices and inflation. They try to hide not behind the power they possess but behind excuses that are becoming more threadbare every day. We all know that the rate of inflation has markedly speeded up in the past eight months. When the Labour Government left office it was running at just short of 6 per cent. a year. I am not impressed by that figure, which is much too high. But now, after eight months of Conservative Government, the rate is running at just short of 8 per cent. a year, an increase of one-third.
The Conservatives say, "Don't blame us. It is nothing to do with us. It is all due to the wage demands." The Prime Minister said only on Tuesday that:There is certainly no encouragement being given by this Government for prices to rise. — As far as the nationalised industries are concerned, we have been constraining prices as a matter of policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 2nd February, 1971; Vol. 810, c. 1457.]What an extraordinary remark from the leader of a Government that deliberately removed the subsidy on fares throughout Greater London, thereby massively increasing prices; are deliberately altering the basis of agricultural policy, thus considerably increasing prices; are deliberately adopting a new housing policy, which is bound to increase rents; and have deliberately cut domestic rating relief, which is bound to increase rates!
§ Miss Mervyn Pike (Melton)
Was the hon. Lady in the House at Question Time this afternoon? If so, does she agree with her right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1951 who categorically said that the Government could not accept any credit for any improvement in the economic situation in so short a time, as the present economic situation was the direct result of Labour policy? [Interruption.]
§ Mrs. Williams
There appears to be a certain amount of dispute in the House as to what exactly my right hon. Friend said. I did not hear it myself, and must, therefore, ask the hon. Lady not to ask me to comment.
I want to make it absolutely clear that it is no use the Government's constantly pretending that those forces which are increasing prices are arbitrary acts of God, as if the Government had no policies of their own. They must, as any democratic Government must, face the consequences of their policies. If they believe that those policies will bring greater benefits than costs, they must put their whole confidence on that. What they cannot pretend, as they are pretending, is that their policies bear no costs at all. It is evident to anyone who tries to follow what they are doing that their policies bear very heavy costs indeed.
As I have already argued, some of the heaviest of those costs are borne by that very vulnerable group to which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite referred at the time of the last General Election. Whatever their arguments about the responsibilities for inflation, or its sources, he Government have a responsibility that no Government can avoid for protecting the most vulnerable people from its effect. Whatever side of the House we are on, we have always accepted this Government responsibility.
The Government have agreed to that proposition, but what have they done? First, the mountains laboured for a long time and brought out the mouse called the family income supplement scheme. So far only one other thing has been done by the Government, because the supplementary benefit increase for which they so readily take credit was announced long before the General Election.
§ Mrs. Williams
Most people thought that that meant what the name said, but it does not. But the Government have done one other thing; they have intro- 1952 duced, very generously, a special programme to help those with particular heating needs. That is a reflection of the amount of feeling in the country and the House about deaths from hypothermia.
Let us look at what this scheme entails. At present, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own departmental figures, 150,000 supplementary benefit pensioners out of 2 million draw special discretionary payments because of their extra heating needs. The amounts vary. These are discretionary payment so that one cannot put precise figures on them.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I have gone to the trouble of investigating this matter in my part of the county of Lanark and have had it certified by social security officials that the average payment for the fuel element is working out at 5s. 3d. a week—this at a time when gas, electricity and solid fuel costs are soaring. It is inadequate, and something should be done to raise it.
§ Mrs. Williams
That point bears out my case. To be fair, the Government have introduced a fairly minor increased scale for special heating benefits. They have announced that they will extend this benefit to more people. But the Department's own estimate, as the right hon. Gentleman will confirm, is that at the end of this massive review which is to go on until June—taking us into a period when people are hardly in the most desperate need for extra heating—350,000 people will be drawing a few shillings instead of the present 150,000. That still leaves two million people so poor that they will have to draw supplementary benefits to supplement their means. It is not surprising that, on 1st February, The Guardian saidThe failure to bring forward November's pensions increase in face of the acknowledged runaway price inflation is a disgrace.I accept that it is not an easy problem to deal with the rising number of elderly people in our community. It is not an easy problem for any Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, said, rightly, that the problem of how to end poverty in old age was the greatest social problem of our domestic politics in the second half of the twentieth century. I 1953 would not dispute that. There are today over 7 million people drawing pensions. There are nearly 9 million people over retirement age. But even more striking than that fact is that in the last five years the number of people over retirement age has increased three times as fast as the population as a whole. In short, every year that passes, partly because of our improved health standards, the problem we have to meet becomes more difficult to solve.
It is becoming more difficult for another reason as well, that the proportion of men now retiring at the earliest possible age has leaped from 57 per cent. in 1964 to no less than 70 per cent. in 1968, and I believe it is still showing signs of moving upwards. At this point, and because it is the case that more and more elderly people are retiring at the earliest possible age, with all the implications that has for the National Insurance scheme, I want to put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman. The first will be pursued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) later in the debate, but I want now to ask the right hon. Gentleman to look again at the earnings bar, at the £7 10s. which is allowed, because we begin to feel that It is becoming less and less of an incentive for men to stay on in work after 65.
The second question is, to be fair, not really one for the right hon. Gentleman's Department but it is one which all hon. Members, regardless of party, recognise as a growingly serious problem. What happens to men and women who are made redundant in their late forties and early fifties? This has become the hard core of a disturbing unemployment problem, and whenever we hear an announcement like that of today and know that it involves thousands of people who have given years of their life to a particular company, we may comfort ourselves that they will get redundancy pay but we are increasingly aware that they may never get another job.
Because the demand required a still greater shift of resources to end poverty in old age, we in the Labour Government—and I believe that fair-minded hon. Members opposite will recognise this—believed that there had to be a shift of national income into the social services. Undoubtedly, in real terms there was such 1954 a shift during our period of office. Sometimes very loose phrases are thrown around in this House by hon. Members opposite and by people outside to the effect that the poor became poorer under the Labour. But the truth of the matter—and it is borne out by the Government's own official document, "Social Trends"—is that there was a greater shift in real terms in favour of those drawing pensions and social benefits between 1965 and 1970 than there has been at any other time before or since. It amounted to about 15 to 18 per cent. in real terms in favour of those drawing social benefits.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
While I sympathise with the hon. Lady's argument, does she realise that because of this shift there was lack of investment in manufacturing industry, so that the bigger cake there should have been was not there to be shared by everyone in the country?
§ Mrs. Williams
We now learn that investment is expected to fall by 2 per cent. next year, despite the fact that there has been a shift back. So that is not too convincing an argument by the hon. Gentleman.
But even that shift between 1965 and 1970 was, as most of us recognise, inadequate to deal with the problem of poverty in old age because we all know at the end of the day that even a pension of £8 related to an average wage of £24 is a ludicrously poor level of pension for an old person living in a prosperous country like Britain. We simply cannot go on believing that a pension which amounts to between one-third and one-quarter of what people have been earning in work is an adequate return for a lifetime of labour.
This is why—criticised though they were by hon. Members opposite—the Labour Government tried to come to grips with the main issue. That was the purpose of our new superannuation scheme. It is not part of my job to explain now what that attempted to do, but the rejoicing opposite—and the Under-Secretary of State mentioned it only a few weeks ago to a conference of pension interests—at the death of the Crossman scheme is one of the most short-sighted views that hon. Members opposite could take of how we are to 1955 solve the problem in any serious way. We must say to them, "If you do not like that scheme, you have to come forward with something as revolutionary if you are to end once and for all the problem of poverty which cannot go as it is at present."
Why is it that while the Government claim in field after field to be good Europeans, while they are talking about aligning our tax system and about aligning our agricultural policy to Europe, they have never got to grips with the paradox that they utterly refuse to align this country's pension policy with Europe? Every single country in the Common Market has an earnings-related pension scheme. All these schemes are automatically linked either to the cost of living or in some cases to the wages index and are, therefore, "dynamised" in the sense that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East used the term about the Labour Government's scheme. At the end of the day, these schemes, which are very similar to the Labour Government's superannuation scheme, give pensions which, again on the Government's own admission, amount to as much for an employed worker who has worked for 40 years as £9 in Holland, £11 in Portugal, £19 in Italy and in France, for a man who has worked until he is 70, to 98 per cent. of his average earnings. There is not a country in Europe which does not have a pension level which makes ours look utterly despicable.
Without introducing such a scheme, there are two things that the Government can do. The first is to move forward, as we are asking them to do, the review of old-age pensions to the earliest possible date. I have noticed that it is not only my hon. Friends who are pressing the Government to do this but that people such as the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) are also pressing their own Government to take more immediate action than they appear to intend. They know from their own constituents that it is not possible to drive 7 million people intro ever-deepening poverty simply because the Government are stuck with 1956 the administrative decision of reviewing pensions every two years.
The other thing that the Government could do, and it is not too late for this, is to reconsider what they ought to do with the surpluses they feel able to give back to the best-off in the country. It was the Lancet of all journals which said:Whichever way one looks at Mr. Barber's Budget it is hard to escape the conclusion that the poor are to be made poorer and the rich richer.I ask the right hon. Gentleman these two questions. First, when will he bring forward, and what will he do about, the Government's much-discussed proposals for alternative pension schemes? I believe—and I am chancing my arm here—that the Government have found themselves with a devil of a problem about transferability and cannot easily get out of it. Unless they get out of that problem and deal with the preservation of pensions then all their fine words about occupational pension schemes will mean nothing in terms of this being any kind of real alternative. At present—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, because he pointed this out—more than half the occupational schemes in this country have no provision for preservation or transferability and nearly two-thirds have no provision for the proper coverage of widows.
I turn to my other question. On 29th January the Daily Express, which often seems to have its ear to the keyholes of Government Ministers, produced a brave story which said:Big increases in pensions are coming.Very cheering news! It went on to estimate that the Government had in mind a very generous increase of 10s. in November for single pensioners and 18s. for married pensioners. The Daily Express went on to say that the new increases were needed to fulfil the Tory election pledge of ensuring that the buying power of pensions was at least maintained. I want to put it on record here and now that if those are the kind of increases the Government have in mind then they will not even retain the purchasing power of pensions let alone take a single step towards doing what the Labour Government did, which was to raise the relative level of pensions compared with average earnings. 1957 Because pensioners tend to be rather quiet, because they do not go on strike or have lock-outs, because they do not have access to the mass media in the way that entertainers do, do not make the mistake of believing that there is not a major silent crisis in being. There is, and if the Government are to keep even a shred of their integrity and honesty—and we are beginning to wonder whether they can—they must bring forward the review of pensions to a much earlier date than the one they have in mind at present.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir K. Joseph)
I beg to move, to leave out from "prices" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:and noting that supplementary benefits and supplementary pensions were increased in November, 1970, welcomes Her Majesty's Government's intention to implement their election pledge to review retirement pensions this year to restore them at least to their November, 1969, value'.The House will have listened with respect to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams). I shall pick quarrels with some of the things she said but about the unanimous concern of all hon. Members in the House she spoke nothing but the truth. There is a silent nightmare going on among the elderly, the hard-pressed, many of the sick and disabled and the very poor in this country. We would fool ourselves if we thought that by an eexercise in good will, even by an exercise in Government good will, we could automatically protect the poorest in the land from inflation.
I accept entirely the hon. Lady's assertions that it is the Government's responsibility to do what is practicable to protect those who are least able to look after themselves. It is in the light of that agreement with her that I shall be speaking.
She asked at the beginning of her speech a question about the Post Office strike which I find difficult to answer. There is no doubt that a large number of people are being caused inconvenience by this strike. What is inconvenient to us is more than inconvenient for many of the elderly. It is a light matter for people in middle life to be turned away 1958 from one sub-post office and have to go to another. At worst it is annoying, frustrating or boring, but for the elderly it can be the last strain on their energies.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The Government are in the hands of the volunteers among the Post Office workers and there are upsets such as the hon. Lady referred to, I am told, but they are very much a matter for the Post Office and she cannot expect me to answer about them. The sub-post offices are in action. There are reports in the Press of sub-post offices here and there running out of cash for some hours at a time, but I am sure that those concerned keep those interruptions to the absolute minimum. I would like to pay tribute to the staff of my Department and in the Supplementary Benefit Commission who are tackling an enormous overload of work and whose efforts I believe the public, including the elderly, generally thoroughly appreciate.
I cannot guarantee that the strike of the Post Office workers is not gravely inconveniencing the elderly. I hope that it is doing no more than that but if any hon. Member has cases within their knowledge where more than inconvenience is being caused I hope that they will let me know at once in case there is anything that I can do.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devon-port)
Could I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has considered asking the banks to pay out money to these people?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Certainly, the Government have considered the possibility, but while the sub-post offices are in action——
§ Sir K. Joseph
If my hon. Friend knows of instances where they are not in action, I hope she will let me know. She will appreciate that the introduction of any new paying agent raises—I am out of my depth here, I have not been shadow Minister of Labour for some years—inter-union possibilities which would have to be borne in mind.
§ Mrs. Williams
Will the right hon. Gentleman do one thing? The information I have is that a number of post offices could be opened if volunteers were accepted. I merely ask him to put that point to his right hon. Friend.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Of course, I will gladly do that. I do not think that I need spend much time echoing the fact that inflation has a savage impact on the elderly and poor.
Mr. Eddie Griffiths (Sheffield, Brightside)
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is making a political point at the moment, but would he accept that many old-age pensioners, certainly in Sheffield, have a great deal of sympathy with the Post Office workers and see the battle that they are waging and their battle as being closely related?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I was wrong to give way that time. I would like to echo the hon. Lady's reference to a particularly poignant aspect of modern life, the unemployment that can suddenly strike a middle-aged man or woman. The grave news we heard earlier today is a reminder of that possibility. The hon. Lady asked me whether the Government were willing to touch the earnings rule. The House will know that we are pledged to ease the earnings rule, and that will be in our minds when we come to the up-rating.
The hon. Lady leant out from a view of our own affairs to look at how Western Europe treats its pensioners. It is almost bewilderingly impressive to note the high figures given by the hon. Lady and which one knows from one's own reading are said to be paid to pensioners in Portugal and Italy, as well as in the more long-standingly developed countries of North-Western Europe. There is a great deal we can learn from some parts of Europe, certainly from Western Germany. A century ago, under Bismarck, the Germans set their hands to a national pensions system. But the House would be wrong to be too depressed. We have probably the most comprehensive coverage of pensioners of any other country—or at least as good as any other country. We have a National Health Service which other countries do not, and an occupational pension movement of unparalleled strength.
I accept entirely the hon. Lady's point that there is far too much poverty in this 1960 country. For all the efforts of Labour and Conservative Administrations, poverty has not been removed, and there is in particular a large pocket of poverty among the elderly, particularly elderly women, both widows and spinsters. There is a clear obligation on the present Government from their manifesto to introduce a new pensions scheme. I assure the hon. Lady that we shall carry out our commitment, but I remind her that our commitments go as far as preservation but not as far as transferability.
I come to my main point. Although I shall be saying a number of things that are less than specific, there is one specific set of facts which I want to state at once. We are committed to raise the pension this year. We are committed by our manifesto and by the White Paper on Public Expenditure that came out last week. Let there be no doubt about that. The Opposition Motion contains a word that is, I suppose, a term of art but which might be misunderstood outside, and that is the word "review". We intend to review pensions soon, to wake our announcement soon and to carry out the up-rating, that is, the higher payment, later this year. I shall be discussing the timing later, but I want to put that fact on the record now so that there is no doubt.
The elderly can be divided for analytic purposes into three roughly equal groups. There are, first, those on supplementary benefit who have received an increase to top up their supplementary benefit to the level of a year earlier in November, 1970. I make no party political claim about this. The increase was announced by the previous Labour Administration, it was carried out by us and the finance was borne by us.
The hon. Lady laid heavy emphasis—I thought it was a little excessive—on the special mix of pensioners' purchases. The Labour Administration introduced a special pensioners' index. We shall watch that index carefully, but it has not so far departed very seriously from the general index.
The next one-third of the elderly are those who are taxable, that is to say, their income is sufficient, after allowing for the special reliefs for the elderly, to be taxed. I am not saying that they are necessarily well off. The final one-third 1961 are neither quite so poor as to be on supplementary benefit nor are they taxable. All these groups must be suffering severely from the rising prices.
There is much common ground between the two sides of the House. Over virtually the last decade there has been a policy of two-yearly up-ratings. Both parties are pledged to a two-yearly up-rating, and the question now, is how soon and to what extent we should depart from that two-yearly up-rating in the light of the current rate of inflation. The Motion of the hon. Lady and her right hon. Friends will strike a very sympathetic chord on this side of the House as well. I am sure that all my hon. Friends agree with the tone of the Motion——
§ Sir K. Joseph
There is only one reason why I shall not recommend my hon. and right hon. Friends to support it, and that is that there is in it, either by art or by chance, I do not know which, an element of ambiguity. The Government are asked:to bring forward at the earliest possible moment the review …I could perfectly well say to the House that it is for the Government to decide what is the earliest possible moment and urge the House to support the Motion. That might represent the spirit of he House, but it might also mislead people outside, and I do not want to give people outside the wrong impression that it is only with the size of the pension in mind, and that only, that we intend to raise the pension. There are other considerations which I shall argue in a moment. So, entirely to avoid misapprehension, the Government have put down the Amendment to make it clear beyond doubt that it is the duty of the Government to decide when the moment has come to announce and, a few months later, to raise the pension.
In the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill which fell during the election, the previous Government proposed to remove from themselves—of course Parliament can reverse anything that Parliament has done—the apparent power to act before a period of two years had elapsed. Clause 36 of that Bill con- 1962 tained an obligation to up-rate in not less than and not more than two-yearly intervals. The Opposition are now asking us to do what as a Government they did not intend to do themselves. If they say, "But inflation is a new factor", I say to them that in 1969, when the Bill was introduced, inflation was running at a rate far from comfortable for the elderly—at 6 per cent. It is running at a higher rate now, but when it was running at 6 per cent. it was very odd that the previous Government tied their policy to uprating in not less than and not more than two years.
We agree that a fairly firm cycle of up-rating is in general a good idea. People know where they are and know what to expect. The Government in making a decision must retain a certain power of manœuvre. After all, we are thinking in terms of an increase in pension which must, at whatever part of the bracket it finally falls, involve a very large increase in contributions. Those contributions must come from industry. They are paid for in part by employers and in part by employees, and they enter into costs and into prices. It is for the Government to make sure in time that this announcement, and in due course the actual increases in contribution cost and therefore in prices, shall not make inflation worse. Who can tell to what extent in an inflationary period such increases in costs and prices and contribution enter into wage claims?
Within the narrow period of time which we have at our disposal if, as we intend, we are to up-rate this autumn, we propose to choose the right moment to make our decision and our announcement. We will make this announcement to the House as soon as possible. I must ask the House and the pensioners to trust us to bring forward a review, to make the announcement and, a little later, to make the higher payments, as soon as we think wise, taking all the factors into account, and certainly this autumn.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I have no evidence of any more people dying of hypothermia in this last year than has been the case in 1963 any of the previous years under both Labour and Conservative Governments.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman consider that the time to do something about the situation would be in April, when taxpawers are to be given relief amounting to £360 million, which is exactly what is required to distribute £1 a week extra to pensioners?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Gentleman's figures are wrong. Secondly, it takes more than that amount of time between now and April to bring about an increase. I shall come to the tax argument a little later. Neither Labour nor Conservative Governments have ever thought that the pension should be entirely financed out of taxation. There has always been a tax contribution which under Administrations of both parties has remained at something under 20 per cent.
I must ask the House and pensioners to trust us to raise the pensions as soon as we can in the light of all these arguments. I must ask the House to consider whether we on this side are any less to be trusted as the custodians of pensions than are the Labour Government. I ask the House to compare the records of the two parties. In the 13 years of Conservative rule pensions in real terms went up nearly 4 per cent. a year. In the 5½ years of Socialist Government the pension in real terms went up by nearly 2½ per cent. a year. Therefore, in terms of real improvements in pension we are at least as good as, and I would say substantially better than, the Labour Party have been, as custodians of pensioners' interests.
The hon. Lady laid great emphasis on the shift to social security under the Labour Government. It is true that because of a large rise in unemployment—which, alas, is still with us—and because of the introduction of earnings-related supplements for sickness, and unemployment benefits, there was a large shift towards social security claimants, but not for any underlying reason in which Labour may take particular pride. The hon. Lady took pride in the 1965 increase in pensions. Although the Labour Government inherited problems from the previous Conservative Government, they also inherited an economy strong enough to lead them to raise the pensions straight away by a very large amount. The hon. 1964 Lady thinks that it was very virtuous of them.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. I distinctly remember my right hon. Friend when Prime Minister distinctly saying in this House that, despite the enormous burden that we faced economically, the Labour Government would not place that burden unfairly on the shoulders of old age pensioners and that, despite that economic inheritance, we would make it a challenge to raise their pensions.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I do not quarrel with the fact that they did it; I quarrel with the hon. Lady's claim that it was particularly virtuous. By the time of the 1964 election some 17 months had passed since the previous uprating and a new uprating was due anyway. All the Labour Government did was to bring that uprating forward a couple of months, and that was all. The hon. Lady made a far larger claim than that. She also claimed that pensions could be based on earnings during the Labour administration. Although that was more than true in 1965, it was barely true of 1967, and not quite true of 1969.
I repeat that we ask for the trust of the House in bringing forward this decision as soon as practicable. I would ask the House to consider what we have done in the seven months that we have been in office. I shall come also to what we have not done. We have introduced, and there is also in payment, pensions for those people who are over 80 and who were not entitled individually to take advantage of the 1948 National Insurance scheme. For the rest of those over 80, they will draw a pension at the uprating, if Parliament approves the Bill, this year. We have brought in the attendance allowance far the severely disabled and the payment for widows between 40 and 50. This was something we inherited from the Labour Government, since their provisions fell at the election. Those payments will be made in December and April of this year respectively.
The hon. Lady may mock us about our family incomes supplement, but it will bring more help to the poorest of the poor wage-earning families and was a Measure which they did not introduce. We have found £110 million extra for 1965 the hospitals, the community services, the elderly, the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill, and for an increased National Health Service provision which has not been equalled for many years past. We have introduced a heating allowance. This will increase the special heating provision, which will mean an addition of several shillings a week and will be very valuable to some 350,000 recipients of supplementary benefit who, for reasons of ill health or bad housing, are in particular need of extra heating.
Finally, the White Paper on Public Expenditure shows under this Government a straightforward shift in the share of public expenditure going to the social services and a decline in the share of public expenditure to industry and agriculture. As the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said in a speech to the Fabians, the only way to help the social services is to give less to industry and agriculture and more to the social services. The Conservative Government are carrying out the policy in their White Paper on Public Expenditure.
These are our credentials. I must now ask whether Labour is entitled, even with the eloquence of the hon. Lady, to lecture us. It was a very good lecture and I have no doubt that she and all he right hon. and hon. Friends are absolutely sincere in their concern for the elderly and the poor. But the Motion smacks of humbug in its sanctimonious attitude to inflation. Who caused inflation?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I will tell hon. Members. In June, 1969 wage claims were settled at an average of 10½ per cent. From then on, through the enormous increase in money supply in the second quarter of 1970—the quartet before the General Election—the momentum of inflation has increased. The date when it began is the time from the day in June 1969 when the Labour Party dropped the industrial relations Bill, which up until then it had declared was essential to our economy and then abdicated in favour of the militants. It is the elderly who are now suffering.
We warned throughout the election that Labour had unleashed forces which no 1966 Government could reverse overnight. Those forces have had a momentum that even we did not appreciate in full. After seven months in office, although we have accepted full responsibility for putting an end to the present rate of inflation, we have not yet succeeded in taming it. We never said we could tame it quickly.
§ Sir K. Joseph
We have said that we shall improve the standards of living of the people, and that is what we shall do.
§ Mr. Stoddart
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about the effect of wages on prices. What has hurt pensioners most has been the increases in gas and electricity prices. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that increases in salaries and wages in those industries have affected those price increases by less than 1 per cent.?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I accept that it is certainly not as large an element in those industries as in many others.
Some hon. Members have suggested that there really is no problem; that instead of taking sixpence off income tax the money should be transferred to the elderly and to the poor. But the House ought by now to realise that Conservatives believe that one of the ingredients of a more successful economy out of which more can be done for the elderly, the poor, and the sick, is to allow people to keep more of what they earn at all levels of income— [Interruption.] We want to galvanise the economy. Though this is scarcely the day on which to talk about it, we believe that the difference between us and European countries and what they can do for their pensioners is partly that their economies are more dynamic and partly that their workers, while claiming—[Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members will hear me out—while claiming 1967 large increases of pay, contribute and cooperate by large increases of productivity and thus keep costs stable.
I repeat, the pension and related benefits will certainly be increased in the Autumn. We are not mesmerised by the two-year pledge. We shall make our decision in the light of all the circumstances and announce it to Parliament as soon as we judge sensible. In the light of the arguments which I have put forward, we are fit custodians of the interests of the pensioners. I hope that the House will reject the Motion and support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must tell the House that between 20 and 30 hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to be brief. Mr. Fred Evans.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Last Wednesday the Labour Members of the Parliamentary Welsh Group invited back to this House several of their former distinguished colleagues in order that we might express our gratitude for their services to this House, to the nation, in particular to Wales, and to their party. Among them was a man who, with his fellow Welshman Aneurin Bevan, was entrusted, after 1945, with the responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the Beveridge Report and setting this country on the course to establishing what we have learned to call the Welfare State. He was a marvellous orator, but at 80 years of age—frail, in ill health, and, in order to be with us, leaving his home for the first time in 12 months—he made what I think could well be the greatest speech of the very many which he made in a long and distinguished political career.
It was a deeply moving expression of the social philosophy for which he had fought all his life and which helped him to carry through the immense task of establishing the Welfare State between 1945 and 1950. At an advanced age he made a speech which showed the burning idealism of a young man. It reflected the freshness and glory of his dream of the good society which had sustained him through his life. He was of course, the former Member for Llanelly, Jim Griffiths.
1968 Much of what he said is central to this debate. He reminded us once again that there is no abiding city and that the only real monument to which a man can raise himself is his service to his fellow man.
The real danger in our society, the danger which could well destroy it, is that material things have come to occupy the centre and that man himself in our thinking has been pushed to the circumference of thought. It is time that man was once again placed at the centre and that material things were made to serve his genuine interests.
It is a sad commentary on our society that in the Britain of the 1970s many horses, dogs, cats and household pets are better fed, live in warmer conditions, receive greater care, and certainly have greater security, that millions of our fellow human beings.
It is a sad commentary that of nearly 8½ million old people over retirement age, 1½ million live alone segregated from the community in sad isolation and should, in the view of the organisation Help the Aged, be in sheltered accommodation, and 350,000 are without any of the three basic facilities in a household—a bath, a kitchen or an indoor lavatory.
It is a sad commentary that every five minutes an old person dies through cold, malnutrition, poverty, or, more often than not, a combination of these three factors.
The plight of the old, particularly of the old who were once industrial workers, is well expressed in a letter written to Doreen King of the Daily Sketch by a Croydon old age pensioner and his wife who say:Life for us is pretty grim. How any person can imagine that two old people, whose only crime is getting old, can live on £8 2s. a week, I don't know. I think every politician should be made to try it for six months. We don't ask for a lot, just to live and eat decently in the little time we have left. We think not what we can buy but what we can do without. I can still remember what beef tastes like, but, alas. like so many other things, it's a memory. I'd love an orange now and again, but that's too expensive.It was my privilege, working for old peoples organisations when I was 18 years of age, to meet many situations of this kind. I know that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have similar experience. I do not doubt that some right 1969 hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite equally have this experience, but I know about my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware that no one expects people to live on the old-age pension alone if that is the only resource they have. I hope that that particular couple were put in touch with the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend made the point that many old-age pensioners are ignorant of the benefits for which they are eligible, and there is an inadequate information service to provide them with this information. Part of the difficulty faced by organisations working for old people is that of persuading them that they are entitled to these benefits. As my hon. Friend said, many old people regard these benefits as having the taint of the old public assistance relief and will not, as a matter of human pride, take advantage of them.
As I was saying, I do not doubt that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have had a similar experience to my own in working with old people, and certainly hon. Members on this side of the House could fill volume after volume of case histories infinitely worse than the rather average one set out in the letter that I have read. In my own country of Wales—and I hope that the House will not mind if I become a little parochial over this, because we have a special problem—where coal mining is the primary industry, the problems of the old are overlaid by a high incidence of total or partial disability due to industry injury, lung diseases, and so on.
The plain fact of the matter is that the old are defenceless. The weapons which those who are now old could wield when they were industrial workers are no longer available to them. They have no trade union and, by the very nature of their age, even if they had one, the necessary militancy which has to be shown to achieve success would no longer be a part of their make-up. The result is that they are bound to be pushed to the wall.
I am particularly concerned about those industrial workers who lived through the periods of depression in the 'twenties and 'thirties. All too often we hear from the benches opposite, or if not 1970 directly from them, from their representatives in the constituency parties, that many of these old industrial workers were thriftless and did not accumulate any resources for their old age, that they ought to be ashamed of themseves, and, by implication, that even the existing pension is too much for them.
Anyone who lived through the 'twenties and 'thirties who could accumulate—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. 0. Davies)—or he was once honourable, but he is still my friend—knows as well as I do that in our area of Wales there was more than 50 per cent unemployment in the 'twenties and 'thirties. How could people accumulate resources or make provision for their old age during that period? All I can say—and I say this not with any sentimentality, but as a stark fact—is that after the 1926 strike it took my parents—my father was a miner—until 1930 to pay off the back rent on the house, quite apart from other debts.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that those are the people who are most helped by our decision to give pensions to the over 80s?
§ Mr. Evans
Former industrial workers who are now old-age pensioners are often accused of being thriftless if they have not made provision for their old age, and I have given the House that stark facts from my own history in order to put the matter into perspective, and not for sentimental reasons.
Without resources of their own, millions of those who were industrial workers are entirely dependent on the pension or the supplementary benefit which they receive from the State. Whatever may be said by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I do not think that anyone outside this House would deny that over the past six months there has been a rapid escalation of prices. The movement of prices has seriously eroded the pittance which pensioners are 1971 getting, and particularly hard to bear have been the increases in the price of food and the cost of heating, because it is well known that pensioners spend a far greater proportion of their total expenditure on food, fuel and lighting than does the ordinary family.
At a recent Society of Health conference Dr. Arnold Bender, a Reader in Nutrition at London University, said that there was a potential £150 million market for high protein, high nourishment food for the over 65s. In other words, that is the amount of such food that is needed for these old people, and that is a most revealing statement.
At the heart of the debate there lies a great moral issue. Are we to continue to treat millions of our fellow human beings as though, somehow, they are subhuman in some of their needs? Are we to ignore the fact that pensioners who were industrial workers during their working lifetime and contributed a great deal to building up the general standards of living in the country are entitled, as a matter of right, to share in these increased standards? It will be a matter of shame to our country and to this House if we allow the present situation to continue.
When I look at the position of these old people, I am reminded sometimes of the words of one of our great English poets who said that to mercy, pity, peace and love all pray in their distress, and at the end of that beautiful lyric he said:For pity has a human face,And love a human heart.It is only by the decisions that we make here that we can put into motion great streams of social progress.
I do not want to make too heavy a political point of this, but when the Minister asks us to trust him he should remember that he has made that plea on a day when something has happened which is deeply offensive to the political morality of my right hon. and hon. Friends on these benches. We have seen the Conservative Party, so bitterly antagonistic to public ownership, today decide to take into public ownership part of the great firm of Rolls-Royce, but it is to remain in public ownership only until enough public money has been put into it to make it once more a financially viable proposition and then, as we were told on at least three occasions today, the question of 1972 selling the Government-acquired sections of Rolls-Royce back to private enterprise will be considered seriously.
§ Mr. Evans
I am sorry to have made a political point, which seems to have succeeded.
I hope that hon. Members will remember those words of William Blake which I quoted. I would ask the Minister to convey to the Secretary of State this final message: we cannot wait, old people have no tomorrow. Whatever needs to be done must be done as urgently as possible. I say to him, for God's sake do something, do it quickly and do it on such a basis that old people will have a reasonable chance of living as normal citizens in this country which they can call their own.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
Mine is a unique division, in that it is the only constituency in the country named directly after a former Member of the House, Mr. Thomas Kemp. He was a Member for the Lewes Division in the early 1800s and his father was also a Member of the House. Neither spoke very frequently. Indeed, his father did not make his maiden speech for nearly ten years. I have been getting a little restless after eight months. I hope that, after the House has heard me, it will not feel that I should have waited ten years. With your approval, Mr. Speaker, I hope to take part in debates in future somewhat more frequently than did Mr. Kemp and his father.
The county borough of Brighton, which I know many hon. Members on both sides know well, because we often welcome them to their party conferences, is a well-balanced, modern, forward-looking town. We combine the best of the old with the determination to progress into the future. We have just seen the beginning of the construction of a new marina in my constituency. When this is completed in eight years, at a cost of about £40 million, it will be probably the finest marina of its type in the world.
On the historical side, I am sure that most hon. Members will have visited the Royal Pavilion, and I hope that they will do so again. Through you, Mr. Speaker—the invitation extends to you as well, 1973 Sir—I would invite hon. Members to Brighton to recharge their batteries and rest. Every hon. Member would be very welcome.
My predecessor in the House, Mr. Dennis Hobden, was the first member of the party opposite ever to be elected by a Sussex constituency. He was freely acknowledged to be an excellent constituency Member, and devoted himself tirelessly to the welfare of the people of Brighton.
A high proportion of my constituents are elderly people, and I do not believe that any hon. Member doubts that they are at this time suffering real hardship. Care for the elderly has been too low on the priority lists of all Governments since 1945. We can all trot out facts and figures and political points to score off one another, but I have no doubt that there has been a disproportionate concentration of our resources upon other sections of the community, at the expense of the elderly people.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for the elderly to demonstrate and protest effectively, to lobby, to get their case over on trendy T.V. programmes. These advantages and openings are available to every other section of our community but are almost entirely denied to the elderly.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked us to trust him. I will trust him, but I would say to him that he and the Government must redress the balance during the life of this Parliament. None of us can feel other than a deep sense of shame when we read the report from the Centre of Environmental Studies, which estimates that nearly 100,000 elderly people die of cold every year. I would go further than a sense of shame; I would call it a sense of real horror.
Over one and a half million elderly people live entirely alone. In many cases, their friends and relatives are dead. In some cases, and in far too many, those younger members of the family do not seem to care about the more aged members As the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) said, another frightening fact is that over 300,000 elderly people live alone with no kitchen, bathroom or indoor lavatory. It is impossible for many of us, including myself to 1974 envisage existence without such basic needs.
I would say to the Secretary of State that the time has come for action not words and that no task in his Department should have greater priority than the review of pensions. When he considers the amendment I ask him to err on the side of generosity and these increases must be implemented well before the autumn. We know that recent price increases have been hitting pensioners disproportionately hard and I am not very convinced by my right hon. Friend's argument about the effect of the retail price index and of the special price index for the elderly and about there not being a great margin between them. When we consider food fuel light and other essentials for the elderly I wonder whether this is true in practice.
In practice elderly people cannot shop around to the extent that other members of the community can and they are suffering very severely—to such an extent that I would make a sincere and genuine appeal to the Secretary of State. He referred to the "silent nightmare". He could go a long way towards relieving that silent nightmare at this very time by making an interim increase in the pension of 10s. a week with effect from 1st March.
§ Mr. Bowden
No, Sir, I could never do that. The hon. Member tempts me to be controversial but I will save that for another occasion; I will be very controversial in future.
I beg the Secretary of State to think of this because I know that many administrative arguments will be placed before him and he will be told that it is impossible to carry out. This is not convincing. If a substantial pension increase is on the way as I believe it is, a measly across-the-board interim increase of 10s. on that £5 a week and £1 on that £8 2s. a week would not be impossible.
A considerable number of elderly people do not wish to cease working completely. The habits of a long, hard, demanding working life are not easily broken and many wish to continue in employment. I urge my right hon. Friend to examine every method and possibility 1975 of ensuring that those who wish to continue to work have the minimum number of difficulties placed in their way.
The nation's pensioners, who have given a lifetime's work to help create the standards and society we enjoy today, must not be allowed to spend the winter of their lives in poverty and loneliness.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
I wish, at the outset, to congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kempton (Mr. Bowden) on what was at tunes a most becoming, weighty and confident speech. Indeed, so enticing were his encouragements to us to enjoy with him the delights of the salubrious area from which he comes that I am sure that if he continues to speak with equal warmth about his constituency he will soon earn a place in the annals of that town.
The hon. Gentleman made a sincere and moving plea for immediate action to increase retirement pensions. I agreed with everything he said, but since my maiden speech has not lain cold on the slab for long, it is probably prudent that I should draw my congratulations to a close, for it might be considered inappropriate for one so new to this place to speak at greater length about a new colleague.
The case of the Government in this debate for their refusal to bring forward the date of review for retirement pensions and to make an increase commensurate with the accelerating rate of inflation is based partly on the ground that they prefer to concentrate their limited resources on old people in the greatest need. On this basis the Government have, in the preceding months, consistently refused to increase benefits as of right for the elderly and have relied on supplementary benefit entitlement as an index of need in selecting those few who shall be given special assistance.
This has all been in pursuit of the Government's central philosophy that people should stand on their own two feet and exercise their private, individual choices. However, it is a philosophy the honourable application of which entails certain corollaries, and it is those I wish to examine.
The first is that if the pension is not more regularly improved to keep pace 1976 with the cost of living, then at least any obstacle should be eased which effectively deters a pensioner from improving his standard of living by his own efforts. Yet, despite repeated requests from hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government have repeatedly refused to eliminate or relax the earnings rule.
Despite the known desire of a very high proportion of newly retired men to return to work, for economic and social reasons, the Government have offered no tax or other allowances to private employers to encourage them to employ elderly workers. Nor at a time when fast rising unemployment is exacting its heaviest toll among the more marginal workers, especially the elderly and the prematurely retired, do the Government show any sign of affording special protection to people who are knocked off their feet, not through any volition on their part but by the national climate.
Next, the withholding or at least postponement of pension increases might be expected to lead to the development of specific entitlements. One example is concessionary bus fares. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) asked the Secretary of State on 5th November if he would add 10s. per week to the retirement pension to assist pensioners to meet increased transport costs. The Under-Secretary refused. But the Government have not compensated by ensuring that the concessionary bus fare system is comprehensively operated.
I asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in December whether, in view of the delay in the pension increase, he would offer concessionary fuel charges for the use of gas and electricity by retirement pensioners. He replied that to charge especially low rates for this group would be difficult and administratively expensive. He added that the resources which were devoted to social security could be more effectively and efficiently used in the payment of pensions and other direct social security benefits.
The Government cannot have it both ways. Either the pension is the most efficient means of allocating scarce resources to the elderly, in which case their present refusal to align it more regularly with a skyrocketing increase in the cost of living is uncompromisingly: shabby, or assistance is to be channelled to those 1977 old people in particular need, in which case specific rights of significant financial value should be established.
It is no use the Secretary of State telling us, in the context of allowances, that he announced on 26th November a discretionary addition to persons with special needs for extra heating, not only because the increased payments are a mere pittance, but because they entirely pass by almost 2 million elderly people with incomes of up to only £2 above the supplementary benefit line and who, therefore, cannot claim this fuel concession.
Next, if reliance is to be placed on selective help rather than on blanket pension increases, even in the face of rip-roaring inflation which threatens this year to reduce pensions to their lowest level relative to earnings since 1946, there is an inescapable responsibility on the Government to ensure that the number of old people in need is fully known, that available benefits are effectively communicated to them and that take-up is duly monitored to detect any obstacle. Yet all the evidence is that these requirements are tragically lacking.
I asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what was the estimated cost of installing telephones for people over the age of 70 who did not at present possess them and what was the estimated installation cost for the elderly house-bound alone. He replied that the information on which to base those estimates was not available.
I am, of course, aware that under the important Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act local authorities will be required, as from next April, to seek out the handicapped, including the handicapped elderly, who need a telephone and to see that they obtain one. However, there are hundreds of thousands of elderly people who, while not being conventionally handicapped, will in ever more frequent emergencies as incapacity rises with age desperately need a telephone immediately to hand. What effort is being made to seek them out?
On the question of fuel costs for pensioners, to which I attach the greatest importance and value, the Under-Secretary assured me that no extra con- 1978 cessions were necessary because the gas boards' all-purpose tariff was specially provided for smaller consumers who used less than 151 therms per year. I then asked how many single or widowed pensioners were actually using the all-purpose tariff, and I was told that the relevant statistics were not checked.
Had they looked, the Government would have found, as I did in my constituency, that even a single pensioner with a very low fuel consumption living in extremely modest accommodation uses far more than 151 therms per year; so that, as a concession, this is entirely irrelevant to their needs.
The Chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission said in a letter dated 13th November to me, that no record was kept of cases where old people might have extra fuel needs but where, for one reason or another, help could not be given. Again, the Government do not know and are not looking for the evidence. Even the most elementary contours of need in old age seem to be too difficult or complex for constant, regular and up-to-date monitoring.
On 17th November last the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) asked the Secretary of State what he estimated to be the number of persons over 70 years of age living in their own homes on total incomes of less than £12 a week. Back came the Written Answer:I regret the information is not available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1970; Vol. 806, c. 373.]In the name of honour, how can the Government refuse to bring forward an ample pension increase and at the same time neglect to seek out the number of old people in each special category of need and to meet that need? How many of these old people with incomes below £12 per week could not for financial reasons, for example, obtain chiropody appointments as a result of which they might become prematurely house-bound or might have prematurely to enter an old people's home? How many for financial reasons could not afford a dirty line service without which they might not be able to maintain a precarious independence? Indeed, how many could not obtain such a benefit because local authorities, public or private, were not providing such a service locally? How 1979 many could not afford or had not been informed of how to obtain crucial domiciliary services such as the home help, the district nurse and Meals-on-wheels? How many received these services less systematically and less regularly than they really need? Yet it is these services alone, I submit, which enable thousands of old people to stand on their own two feet, literally as well as metaphorically, which I agree they dearly wish to do.
It is one thing to espouse and advocate a philosophy of personal choice and independence. It is quite another thing to make such an ideal into a practical proposition. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will take refuse in the flexible and selective assistance offered through the Supplementary Benefits Commission. If so, I am sure he will also agree that such a response is thoroughly inadequate. In the first place, it is notorious, as has been said, that very many old people, despite all the recent relaxations in procedure, are unwilling to claim supplementary benefits which are their right and for which they are eligible, either because the image to them is one of demeaning stigma or because of a lack of accurate knowledge about their qualifications. Probably about half a million old people still today are in this situation. Secondly, supplementary benefits offer an utterly arbitrary and inadequate definition of need.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I restrain myself from commenting on nearly every one of the hon. Gentleman's points, but on the last one would he agree that very large numbers of those who may be entitled to Supplementary Benefits Commission are either only marginally entitled, because there is very little between their requirements and their resources, or are living with families and are looked after and therefore do not need to turn to the Supplementary Benefits Commission? I am sure there are some of whom those propositions are not true, but would the hon. Gentleman agree that there are large numbers in those two categories?
§ Mr. Meacher
I would certainly agree that there are large numbers. I mentioned the figure of 2 million who were living just about the supplementary benefit line, and indeed, to be quite fair, quite above that line who therefore cannot 1980 claim the whole range of extra discretionary benefits which are available to people on supplementary benefit; so that it seems to me important to raise the pension, otherwise those just above will not receive the extra assistance they need. I am sure the Secretary of State would not accept the view that a person on £5 a week is in need whereas a person on £6 or £7 is not, and the whole basis of my case is that although they are only just above the line they will not receive any benefits at all until the pension is raised.
The Government, despite what the Secretary of State has just said, apparently hold firmly to the view that the supplementary benefits definition is an indicator of need. Being aware as we all are of the very widespread vitamin deficiencies among the elderly, I asked the Secretary of State on 17th December last if he would make medically required diet allowances payable as of right to retirement pensioners on production of an appropriate medical certificate from their doctor without the need to undergo a means test. The answer was no. I quote the Answer:A retirement pensioner who does not qualify for supplementary benefit after account is taken of such expenses"—such as special diets—is regarded as having a sufficient income to meet them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1970; Vol. 808, c. 419.]If the Government take this line, what action are they pursuing in the absence of an early pension increase to meet both recent and forthcoming disturbing increases in food prices, to determine whether really in practice old people just above the supplementary benefit line—and I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said, that there are many of them—are getting adequate nutrition? If not, what alternative action can be taken if selectivity is to be the approach? I believe similar arguments apply to those on the supplementary benefit line, and I would expect the Government to find out how many elderly people dependent on a supplementary pension actually receive the variety of extra discretionary benefits available, and what proportion this is of the number, in total, who are eligible and then to decide what they propose to do to close the gap.
What effort have the Government made to discover the reason for such lack of claims, whether it is because a person is elderly or mentally infirm, because they 1981 are house-bound or for some other reason, perhaps sheer ignorance of their entitlements? Let us take just one or two examples to illustrate the point. Several of the Members of both sides of the House have asked for telephones for the elderly. To my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) the Minister replied on 13th July last:I do not think it would be desirable to invite the Commission to relax its criteria. Where a person is not dangerously isolated, a telephone, however desirable, is one of a variety of things which a person may choose to have, and in the Government's view the proper course is to pay cash benefits for people to spend as they wish."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1970; Vol. 803, col. 123.]That is a very different view, I submit, from that which is being expressed today; leaving that point aside, the real meaning of this stricture becomes apparent from another Written Answer when the Minister said on the 23rd July:In a recent 12 month period the number of cases where provision was first made by the Supplementary Benefits Commission…for the installation or rental (or both) of a telephone was about 60. Not all of the people helped were retirement pensioners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1970; Vol. 804, col. 204.]There we have it. In that one-year period precisely 0.02 per cent. of old people who live alone were provided with a telephone. At this rate it would actually take, on my calculations, 5,000 years for all old people living alone—and only in this category—to be equipped with a telephone. Is this Tory progress?
Let us take another example. The Under-Secretary of State said two days ago that in 1969 the deaths of 155 people of 65 years and over were attributed to excessive cold, hunger, thirst or neglect in which hypothermia was a contributory or underlying cause. Does he know the number of these who were claiming supplementary benefit or the number of these who were or were not receiving special additions for fuel expenses? Furthermore, since the differential mortality rate between deaths during the summer and the winter of all old people is in the region of 90,000, does he know the proportion of those whose morbidity was aggravated by the failure to obtain, or to afford, adequate heating?
Most significantly of all, does he know the number of elderly persons who, 1982 because concessionary gas or electricity charges were not available, resorted to the far more dangerous paraffin heaters or coal fires and as a result of getting too close to these, because the heating was to sparse, in falling on them, died a terrible deaths? Are these figures known? If not, why are they not known? Does not this terrible logic lead inescapably to a demand for heating allowances as of right to enable old people to choose the kind of fuel which they wish for their own safety? Is is not a similar logic, even though a rather less dramatic one, which leads to the demand for old people either to have a better pension or to have sizeable benefits as of right in each category of need?
§ Miss Pike
I agree with all the propositions the hon. Gentleman is putting forward and the questions he is asking, but if my right hon. Friend cannot give him the answers to these questions today does not the blame lie with the previous Administration who did not put in train investigations to allow these statistics to come forward? Has the hon. Gentleman any evidence to show that these figures will be higher this year than they were last year?
§ Mr. Meacher
My purpose in asking these questions is in no sense to make a political point as such. If reliance is to be placed on selective benefits, as opposed to an increase in the pension as of right, whether through a proper graduated pension scheme such as was tragically lost at the last election or through a straight increase in the flat rate pension or whatever, these questions become much more relevant. I should like to have the information available under any Administration, but is far more relevant where explicitly selectivity is the doctrine which is being pursued, as it is by the Tory Government.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Is my hon. Friend aware that on the question of the isolation of old people the Post Office Engineering Union put proposals to the Post Office for the provision of telephones? Under the old Postmaster-General a study was commissioned at the University of Essex into the question of the social isolation of old people and the contribution that the Post Office could make. One of the problems at present is that the results of this study, 1983 which have been submitted to the Post Office, have not been published.
§ Mr. Meacher
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing the point that, though information may be available, it has not been published. I hope that the Minister will note what my hon. Friend has said and provide at least this information, which apparently is available.
Finally, I submit that there must either be an early increase in the pension or a development of special benefits as of right for each category of need, that the choice of at least one of these is inescapable, and that unless and until the Government can demonstrate that need is adequately and comprehensively met in old age by other means my colleagues and I will harass the Government until all the facts about need are fully known.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon Thames)
I join the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) in offering congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) on what I think the House as a whole thought was both a fine, and in parts a very moving, maiden speech. My hon. Friend told us that his division took its name from two somewhat silent and undistinguished predecessors of his by the name of "Kemp". I am sure that if my hon. Friend continues as he has started his progressive borough will soon transform itself into "Bowdenopolis".
The hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) began by asking my right hon. Friend a question highly relevant to the situation existing today. I shall follow her example. I am concerned about the position of people just coming on to pension at this moment—I speak subject to my right hon. Friend's correction, but they may number up to about 8,000 or 9,000 a week—who have not yet been able, though they have applied for them, to obtain their pension books. I am dealing with a case of precisely this kind in my constituency at the moment. My constituent—there are thousands like him—has not obtained his pension book because of the postal strike.
About a fortnight ago Mr. Speaker allowed me to ask a Private Notice Question. I asked my right hon. Friend a supplementary question about this. My 1984 right hon. Friend did not answer it, and I am sure that must have been due to a misunderstanding, for which, as my right hon. Friend is a Fellow of All Souls and I am not, I must plainly be responsible. So I repeat my question in language I hope suited to my right hon. Friend's high academic standard.
Will my right hon. Friend say what is being done for those whose pension book is due but who have not got it? Arrangements for opening post offices on Tuesdays and Fridays for the cashing of books are useless to these people. They are in a difficult position. It calls for some action by my right hon. Friend, perhaps for the transmission of books from Newcastle to local offices and then for individual delivery. I should be grateful if we could have an answer to this urgent matter from the Minister who will wind up.
We heard from the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin, as always, a delightful and civilised speech. It was also, the House will agree, one that seemed quite out of line with the formal position of this debate for which one understands that three-line Whips have been issued. This is supposed to be a formal challenge to the Government. In fact, the hon. Lady's speech revealed, as did most of the subsequent speeches, with the possible exception of that of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), the fact that on most of this matter there is an enormous measure of agreement between the two sides of the House. Every hon. Member agrees—indeed, hon. Members would almost be disqualified for membership of the House on grounds of insanity if they did not—that times of sharp wage-price inflation hit people on fixed incomes, national insurance retirement pensioners and others, brutally hard. It is a waste of time to argue this. It is indisputable.
No one knows better than my right hon. Friend the real agony of mind of someone whose income at the moment just enables him to manage and who sees one item this week and another item next week rocketing in price and what was a possible level of existence eroded away very quickly. Everyone acepts that, apart from the evil of inflation as it affects the national economy, its worst other feature is just this effect—an effect which cannot be negatived even by the most generous action on the national insurance 1985 front, because it also hits the recipients of other benefits, the owners of private and occupational pensions, and that very considerable number of people who depend a good deal in old age on their own savings.
Everybody accepts, too, that one of the instruments for dealing with it, though only one, is an increase in national insurance benefits, which my right hon. Friend said in terms he intends to bring into effect this year. Everybody accepts—the more knowledge one has of the administrative problems the more one is inclined to accept this—that this operation takes a considerable time to effect. The passing of the necessary legislation and the subsequent administrative work are inevitably time consuming.
I think that one of the changes in benefits for which I was responsible still holds the record for speed of implementation, though it took a number of months to put through, and after this lapse of time I can tell the House—that it was only effected by a mild degree of cheating behind the scenes in making preparations well in advance of parliamentary approval. I think that the Statute of Limitations now protects me from being brought before the Public Accounts Committee in respect of that action.
Everybody accepts that this takes time. Therefore, the difference on this issue between the two sides of the House is very narrow. It is, plainly, not practicable now, in February, to operate a change in national insurance benefits—whatever is done about supplementary benefits—before well into the summer. Whether the early summer, as opposed to the more usual time of the late Autumn when prices are rising, is socially a better time for a change is a matter on which there can be honest differences of opinion. That is the only difference between the two sides of the House. It does not seem to justify all the machinery of three-line Whips, Motions and Government Amendments, in which I assume that we shall end the debate.
I hope that both sides of the House are not accepting that wage/price inflation must simply go on and be met periodically by increases in national insurance benefits, which, in the nature of things, are never a completely adequate answer. The House must recollect what in econ- 1986 omic terms one is trying to do when one increases national insurance benefits. It is to transfer a certain amount of wealth and purchasing power from the working generation to the one which has retired. That is the economic justification for the simultaneous increase in the national insurance contributions. It is a deliberate transfer from the working generation.
But if, at the same time, the working generation frustrates the economic effects of that transfer, by various groups using their bargaining power to increase their money incomes quite out of line with the increases which they are contributing in the shape of increased productivity, the whole purpose is frustrated. It is not a transfer but simply becomes a net addition to purchasing power and, inevitably, a further violent turn is given to the spiral of inflation. The unfortunate pensioner, who always suffers in his situation, finds that what looked like a promising increase in benefits when it was given disappears with alarming rapidity. I hope that my right hon. Friend is not implicitly accepting that this is a situation which we can go on repeating and ending merely by a similar move every time, next year or the year after.
We all have a responsibility in this matter. All hon. Members have had a very finely worded appeal from the general secretary of one of the major trade unions. It seemed to me that that document expressed an extraordinary incapacity to realise what was one of the major causes of the trouble for which this remedy was proposed. I beg all those in the trade union movement who properly concern themselves with the matter and feel strongly about it to realise their own share of responsibility for avoiding the situation which, when it arises, they so properly condemn.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I respect the right hon. Gentleman's opinion on this matter. As a member of the trade union to which he is referring and as a Member of the House, I ask him whether he at any time during his career, or whether his hon. Friend at this time, could give any kind of guarantee to the members of that or other trade unions that if they were to forgo wage increases or relent in the struggle for them the saving involved would definitely be transferred to pensioners in the form of higher incomes? Can he give that undertaking? 1987 Can he say anybody else can give it? Can he not appreciate that the justification for wage earners going for what they can get is to transfer wealth to their parents?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The best answer to the hon. Gentleman's question was given by my right hon. Friend who opened the debate on this side. He then told us that during the period of the previous Conservative Administration, when we did not have a wage-price inflation of anything like this degree, the policies of that Government over the 13 years resulted in an annual increase of 4 per cent. in the real value of pensions. What the hon. Gentleman is asking for happened under a Conservative Government. There was a considerable measure of restraint, even if perhaps not as much as some of us wanted at the time. At the same time the real income of pensioners was increased, whereas under the late Administration when there was, as is generally recognised, far less restraint and towards the end none at all, the increase in the value of the pension was only at an annual rate of 2½ per cent.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept as the best possible guarantee the evidence of the historic facts which actually happened when the kind of restraint I am advocating was practised.
I would like the Under-Secretary of State to pay particular attention to several matters when he replies. If I may begin with a small matter, the Motion refers to all benefits, including war pensions. I know that my right hon. Friend can be trusted not to abandon one jot or tittle of the priority for war pensions which successive Governments have maintained. But a matter which troubles me is the failure, so far, of the Conservative Party to redeem the pledge given to disregard war pensions for the purpose of rate rebates.
Perfectly clear undertakings were given —some of them are perfectly properly cited in Early Day Motion 395, which hon. Gentlemen opposite have put down —that our party, when in office, would arrange for the disregard of war pensions for purpose of rate rebates in exactly the same way as the Inland Revenue disregards them for the purpose of income tax. My right hon. Friend is not departmentally responsible, and I ask him to 1988 speak to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has been approached on this matter, and to appreciate, whatever my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment may now feel about the merits of this matter, that though it is a small one, it is a plain moral commitment of the party to which he and my right hon. Friend both belong, and that many of us find it very difficult to sustain a continued refusal to carry out that undertaking. The Secretary of State for Social Services can do this with greater confidence, because my right hon. Friend has himself been most punctilious in carrying out the clear undertakings given on the subjects for which he is responsible.
I ask my right hon. Friend, when he introduces his new proposals, to do something about increasing the increments which can be earned by someone who postpones retirement. The hon. Lady who opened the debate got the matter slightly wrong. Very pertinently to this, she pointed out that the proportion of people postponing retirement, particularly men at 65, is diminishing. She suggested that that could be remedied by an increase in the limits under the earnings rule. I am all for that. But this would not have that effect. If anything, it would have the contrary effect because it would make retirement at 65 more, rather than less, attractive. What would make postponement of retirement more attractive would be to increase the increments which can be earned, so that when the person who has postponed retirement in fact retires, he would find that he had earned a substantially bigger pension. The present level of increments does not represent anything like the amount of pension forgone. I hope that my right hon. Friend will think it wise to treat this matter generously. I think he can afford to do so. It would cost nothing like what it would appear at first sight to cost. In so far as it induces people to postpone retirement and remain in work and in contribution, the National Insurance Fund and the national economy both benefit.
I hope, too, that my right hon. Friend will be able and willing to say a little about the shape of his major reforms. When he introduces what no doubt will be no more than another up-rating Bill, 1989 I hope that he will be able to indicate in general terms how he proposes to go forward. The Press and right hon. and hon. Members alike in recent years have criticised up-rating Bills, however necessary in themselves, which have simply preserved the pattern of the present system. I leave with my right hon. Friend the hope that he will sedulously preserve the universality of the basic flat-rate provision but, about that, will seek more and more to provide a second tier of occupational provision provided by the private sector.
Having said that, I must hastily disclose an interest, since I am a director of a life office. But that prompts me also to remind my right hon. Friend that the provision of occupational pensions today is being held up by a lack of knowledge of what his proposals will contain. No one wants that less than my right hon. Friend. It is perhaps a pointer to him that the earlier that he can bring his deliberations to a conclusion and publish even the broad picture of his scheme, the better. If he were prepared to do it, as was done with the 1959 provisions, by prefacing the Bill with an explanatory White Paper some months before its introduction, it would have the double advantage of enabling hon. Members to consider what he has in mind and give an indication to bodies outside which might enable them to get on with the provision on the private side, which is held up at the moment.
Most hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that my right hon. Friend has deep personal feelings on the subject that we are discussing. One of my hon. Friends said that he felt that he could trust my right hon. Friend. I feel the same. I feel that the interests of our ever-increasing number of pensioners, at what is for pensioners and fixed-income groups one of the most difficult periods in modern history, are in safe hands. For that reason, I shall have no difficulty in supporting my right hon. Friend in the Lobby tonight.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and I hope that he takes it as a compliment when I say 1990 that he is one of the shrewdest and toughest of the top tier of Tory politicians. He interlaces his argument with genuine concern for the underdog, but always seems to be on the ball when it comes to £ s. d. His argument in favour of increasing the increments to those who would defer their retirement would save the National Insurance Fund money. Somehow, it is always typical of his argument that, at the end of the day, he has very much in mind the inevitable party policy of reducing taxation and appealing to that section of the community which has sent him here.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On the increments point, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the amount of money available for social benefits will always be limited in some measure. Is it not better to have an arrangement whereby those who can work are encouraged to work and earn a better pension when they retire, using the money available in the interval for those who cannot work? Is that not good social sense: each according to his need?
§ Mr. Brown
There is a slight distortion in that. There is an economic argument that it would save the National Insurance Fund money by increasing the increments as an inducement. But I want people to have genuine freedom of choice, not at the age of 65 but even at 60. It should not always be an economic argument as to what is in the best interests of the National Insurance Fund so that we can save a few shillings in one direction and give a few shillings more in another. The subject needs a more fundamental approach than that.
However, it would be wrong if I spent time following up too many of the right hon. Gentleman's points. I have been a little shocked not to have had more information from the Secretary of State. If not precise details, I thought that we would have had at least an indication of what the amount of increase might be in the Autumn and whether he was able to bring it forward even two months. I know that it might not be regarded as wise to announce it on an Opposition Supply day, for tactical reasons. I can understand that. However, I do not think that the public would be over much concerned about the piecties of that argument. 1991 The point has been made earlier that we are arguing about two months; in other words, the difference between what the Labour Government did and what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to do. But at least in the first days of the Labour Government in 1964 there were angry party meetings in which pressure was put on Ministers to effect an increase by bringing forward the date by two months. I hazard a guess that there has not been a meeting of the 1922 Committee on behalf of pensioners.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I have been under considerable pressure from my colleagues in the relevant party meetings to do everything possible for the pensioners as soon as practicable. I think that that needs to be said.
§ Mr. Brown
Very well. There are subject groups which take a keener interest in specialised subjects, and the sort of gathering that we see in the Chamber today is an illustration of that. But the meetings of the 1922 Committee are as well reported as our meetings, yet I have seen no evidence in the Press that angry Members have been telling Ministers that they will have to do better than the official brief that they have been given.
That was the situation in 1964 when we were in Government. I appreciate that there are difficulties, and I would also like to be fair. I am not arguing that everything that the Labour Government did was perfect or that our record was better in all respects. The electors get bored with the argument about whether we did better by 1 per cent. It is so marginal that it is not really relevant.
I like to think that more pressure is put on Labour Members. The figure of retirement pensioners on supplementary benefit is almost 30 per cent. In a constituency like mine, the figure would probably be nearer 60 per cent. I like to think that they all vote Labour. In that way, there is probably more pressure on Labour Members at that level from the section of the community with the greatest need. To some extent, that is an indictment of the failure of the Labour Government to make substantial increases in the benefits payable to pensioners. We recognise that, and some cynical people might say—hence our de- 1992 sire to press for substantial increases sooner than is being proposed.
Let me remind the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), that following the 27 sittings of the Committee considering the National Superannuation Bill, there is no doubt that there is a moral obligation on the Government to act sooner and with more generosity than apparently they intend. During the long months leading up to the election they left the impression that their first concern, as a matter of great urgency, was for the existing pensioner, not the over-eighties and not the family income supplement. Everyone accepts that they are helping some people in a small way, but the image created by leading spokesmen was that something urgent would be done for existing pensioners. Their main criticism of the Crossman scheme was that it did nothing for existing pensioners. I hope that some hon. Members opposite are now genuinely putting pressure on their right hon. Friends to ensure that something substantial is done.
The argument then was that there was no point in having a great scheme that would be wonderful 20 years from now, because what was wanted was something to help existing pensioners. We had to listen week after week to that sort of argument from critics. [Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) is laughing about.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)
I am laughing because it is true that there was a very great defect which became obvious as we went through that Committee stage. It was that the Crossman Bill did nothing for the existing pensioner, and now the hon. Gentleman himself is drawing attention to that defect.
§ Mr. Brown
There are some clever men here, but we do not have time to argue that point now. The scheme never pretended to do anything for existing pensioners. Do the hon. Gentleman or his right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, with his business 1993 interests, think that it follows that when someone takes out an insurance policy another policy-holder receives increasing benefits just because someone has come into a new scheme? That argument was a political tactic intended to convey to the old people that the Labour Government did not care merely because they were trying to do something for the future in a bold and imaginative way. That problem has still to be faced up to by the Government.
Hon. Members opposite must show a sense of responsibility now by arguing for substantial pension increases for existing pensioners. Hon. Members may be cynical about this, but through the activity of some of the trade unions there is a growing campaign to help pensioners.
We do not have time to go into all the economic arguments, but there is no doubt that there is a growing need for a substantial change in the level of retirement pensions. Surely we shall not have again just another of the carefully calculated increases that do not make pensioners any better off in relation to average earnings? Surely we shall not get bogged down with that kind of argument? If the Government intend to do something about existing pensioners, let them do it with generosity and face up to their critics outside, even though it means increased taxation and increased contributions. Otherwise, let them come clean and tell us that they will not do anything substantial for existing pensioners but will merely tinker about with the increase in supplementary benefits.
I have not taken the line of exaggeration. I recognise that it is very easy sometimes to get carried away with the individual cases of hardship or tragedy among old people that every hon. Member comes across. I always think that that is wrong, and that it is wrong for Members of Parliament in particular to give the impression that in some way when a person becomes old he acquires all the virtues that he never had when he was young. I do not know why I get so many votes in Provan, because I keep telling the people there this. I find it offensive to have to go along to gatherings of old people and see them almost begging for hand-out parcels at Christmas. I am not objecting to going, but I try to understand the reasons for this.
1994 Let us not argue about whether we on this side have failed in the past. Why do not the Government at least act with generosity, not in a charitable way but in an attempt to give dignity to all our old people?
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Cecil Parkinson (Enfield, West)
I had wondered, as all new Members wonder, I am sure, just what my experiences in my by-election had to do with the very strange life I have found myself leading since my election. Tonight I realise that one of my experiences was very relevant. Night after night in my by-election campaign I listened to the star speaker from London make my speech. All of a sudden, the chairman called on me and with the tatters of my brilliant speech I then had to entertain an audience for 25 minutes. My experience tonight has brought those memories very vividly back to me.
I entered the House as the representative of Enfield, West after the by-election in November, and I am the newest Member. The constituency of Enfield, West is comprised of the residential part of Enfield, Hadley Wood, which has some very distinguished-looking hon. Members, who I am sorry to say sit on the benches opposite when they are here, the urban district of Potters Bar and South Mimms. It is comprised of beautiful rolling countryside, some of the loveliest parts of what is left of the green belt in the north of London. One of the great ambitions which I as the Member, kin Macleod as my predecessor, and all my constituents have is to make sure, for our sake and the sake of London, that we work very hard to keep that green belt.
There is very little industry in my constituency, as the officials of Transport House who came down for the by-election found out. They arrived with a plan to have a series of factory gate meetings and found to their horror that it would not work. We have only one factory in the constituency, with a single gate, and they felt that 21 appearances by my opponent might injure rather than help his case.
In case hon. Members opposite think that this seems to mean that I am not qualified to speak about anything to do with working people, may I add that I was born and bred in the north of Lancashire, in a very tough part of the country, and I am not talking about things 1995 that I have read about when I talk about the plight of pensioners and the working man.
One of Enfield's greatest distinctions is that it was represented in this House for 20 years by Iain Macleod, one of the great Parliamentarians of this or any century. He was a great man, a great patriot and a great servant of the people of his constituency. Hon. Members will not be offended if I take this opportunity to pay tribute both to his work and that of his wife Eve. Together they worked for more than 20 years for their constituency. I am very proud to have been chosen to succeed him; I am very sad that the opportunity for me to do so ever arose.
Iain Macleod had a great interest, which he shared with his wife, in the welfare of the elderly and disabled, and it is partly because of that that I wish to speak in this debate. None of us on either side of the House can fail to be concerned about the plight of the pensioner. I am sure that we all accept that society has a great obligation to do as much as it can for the pensioner.
This Government, in spite of the rather cavalier way in which the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) dealt with the things they have done already, have, I claim, demonstrated their real concern for the plight of the pensioners through the actions that they have taken already and the assurance we have had from my right hon. Friend—a man who is known to keep his word and who is determined to carry out our pledge. I think we can rest assured that the Government are aware of and are concerned about the plight of the pensioners.
It is entirely right that we should accept a special responsibility for this generation of pensioners, the vast majority of whose careers suffered the economic consequences of two world wars and the world depressions of the 1920s and 1930s. Many of these people would have been at their optimum age at the time when there was not an opportunity to use their talents, and I have never heard any Conservative worker or hon. Member reproach any pensioner about the fact that he is poor. In fact, to make a party point—although I know that I am not supposed to—Conservative workers are too busy working with the meals-on-wheels service and other social work to 1996 bother to recriminate with the people they spend so much time trying to help. I thought that that was an unworthy remark by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), and I am sure that when he thinks about it he will wish to withdraw it.
Every day I get letters and receive visits from pensioners who seek help. It is important at this time for the House not to appear to be trying to turn the pensioners into a sort of political football, for neither side to be trying to steal a march on the other in terms of talk about concern, in terms of trying to prove that if only they were in Government they would be doing more and more. I was surprised to hear the hon. Lady refer to the claim, which is often pointed out by hon. Members opposite, that the Labour Government's first action when they came to power in 1964 was to increase pensions. One of the shabbiest incidents of those early months was the fact that they promised to increase the pensions but when pressed said that administratively it was not possible. It was Lord George-Brown, at the mini-conference the Labour Party held after the 1964 election, who confessed that it was not administrative problems but financial ones which were delaying the increase and who once again, as so often in his parliamentary career, blew the gaff.
I share the concern of my hon. Friends about the attempt by certain sectional groups to grab the old-age pensioners, for their own particular ends and who appear to be using them. One man in particular who claims that it is his responsibility to extract the maximum for his workers, seems to spend six days a week—this is the only controversial thing I shall say—stirring up inflation in trying to grab more than his share of what is going and on the seventh day organises rallies for the people who will suffer most from his activities of the previous six days. It is perhaps the eleventh Commandment—"Six days shalt thou labour to stoke inflation and on the seventh thou shalt organise and finance rallies for the victims of inflation and shed crocodile tears at the effect of thy previous six days work." It is neither convincing nor worthy and I hope that it will be dropped. It is worsening a situation for a section of the community who cannot look after themselves, who 1997 are defenceless. The last thing they need is to have their hopes falsely raised to be used by people for any ends other than just getting the best deal they can for pensioners.
Apart from joining hon. Members on both sides of the House in the hope that, when my right hon. Friend says that an announcement will be soon, he means very, very soon, I want to make two specific points. One has been made by a number of hon. Members and concerns the earnings rule. I think that this must be relaxed so that those who can and wish to help themselves may do so without, as so often happens now, having to be party to bending the law. I think it is undignified and unworthy that pensioners should be paid a bit under the table, as is done in many instances, because people realise that to pay them any more would cause them to lose some of the pension they have richly earned. I urge the Government not to be put off by this temporary crisis and to press on with long-term plans to encourage earnings-related occupational pension schemes.
I cannot share the sorrow of hon. Members opposite that the Crossman plan was abandoned. I do not think that it was a very sound plan. I think that it had the potential of being highly inflationary. We prefer properly funded diverse occupational schemes. We believe in them for two reasons.
The first is that they are a better hedge against inflation than a promise by the Government to take inflation into account, because Governments always want to underestimate inflation. Secondly, we believe that, by having this diversity, giving people a choice and having a variety of schemes, we are taking away from the State the ability to interfere with and control a vast number of people's lives. I view with great distaste the fact that at the moment millions of people are forced to rely on the judgments of this House for the amount of their pensions. I look forward to the day when people are members in very large numbers of occupational schemes, properly handled, properly funded and properly resistant to inflation. I look forward to hearing more from the Government about plans for their fall- 1998 back scheme, and I hope that it will be treated as a matter of great urgency.
§ 7.26 p.m.
Mr. Eddie Griffiths (Sheffield, Brightside)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson) on having got through this very trying occasion. Having myself entered the House at a by-election some two and a half years ago, I know what an ordeal one's maiden speech is. I also sympathise with him in his experience of having all these V.I.Ps coming down to help fight his election and pinching most of his material. I got a different set of V.I.Ps They made rather different noises from those who helped him but they still stole my material.
I am sure that the House was deeply touched by his tribute to his predecessor. Having only been in the House for two and a half years, I cannot claim to have known Iain Macleod with any great familiarity but I will admit that, as a political person outside this House, and looking at the political parties over the last six to eight years, I believe that he was the one Conservative leader whom I feared politically. Having had the privilege of entering this House and watching him when he was on this side of the House, I found that he was waspish and cut like a rapier. I am sure that I speak not only for back benchers but also for the Front Bench in saying that one was glad when an exchange with Iain Macleod was over. The hon. Gentleman has a great tradition to follow in Enfield, West, and I hope that he will keep alive the memory of Iain Macleod. I sincerely hope that the Conservative Party when it comes to make its testimonial to Mrs. Macleod will do it with dignity and honour. I wish the hon. Gentleman a long stay in the House, and success in, I hope, the not-too-distant future on the Opposition benches.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman also that it would be a great pity if the pensioners of Great Britain became a political shuttlecock. I believe that the way that we should treat our pensioners is not as a political argument but as a human story. It is the humanity that a Government, whether Conservative or Labour, show towards the retired person which is a mark of greatness. 1999 At some stage today I had great doubts whether I would be supporting the Opposition Motion. I found it conservative to the extreme. The only redeeming feature of the Motion are the words:the review of pensions and other social benefits to restore them, at the very least, to their value in November, 1969.I shall be supporting the Motion because of those four words "at the very least". I have listened to the speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I kept thinking that what the argument was about was where do we say to the pensioner, "You can qualify for this concession, or that concession, or get more supplementary benefits". At no stage have we had, from either side of the House, a realistic approach towards giving the pensioner the dignity and prestige that he deserves.
The social security allowance for rent and rates for a couple in an average flat or council house, such as those in which the pensioners of Sheffield live, is about £11 10s. That is not a generous allowance; it is a subsistence allowance. It is not so that they may surround themselves with all the luxuries in creation, but so that they can just about scrape home and make both ends meet. Yet we had the audacity—I say this to my Front Bench as well as to the Government—to leave the basic pension at £8 10s.
What we have actually achieved—and successive Governments since the war are equally guilty—is that we have done everything possible to take away the dignity of the pensioner. My plea to the Secretary of State is: let us say to the pensioner "Throw away your begging bowl. We do not want you going to Social Security for your extra £1 or 30 bob, we do not want you traipsing down for rate rebate, rent rebate, concessionary bus fares, concessionary television licences." Let us give them a pension adequate to their needs so that they may live in dignity, retain their self-respect and pay at the counter the same as any working man.
Let us have an interim award of £1 per pensioner in the next two or three months. Let the Government grasp the nettle which every Government has avoided, certainly in our lifetime. Let us talk in terms of £14 for a couple and £10 for 2000 a single pensioner. I am sure that if we calculated the amount that would be saved on staff at Social Security offices, rent tribunal and rating offices and so on it would go some way towards paying for this. I can understand those who do not feel as humanitarian about this issue as I do asking how we are to pay for it. I do not care how we pay for it as long as we provide it, whatever the cost. This is the way we should be going.
The trade union movement, the Transport and General Workers' Union in particular, has been mentioned. If some of the cost falls on the trade union membership, then let it fall there. What we are doing in some cases is to transfer spending money from the workers to those who are not earners. The reason why I feel so strongly about the dignity of pensioners is that to me a pensioner is something precious. He or she is not a statistical problem, not a shuttlecock for the parties to argue about. We talk about the increases we have given, 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. But 20 per cent. of very little is an insignificant amount.
Who are these pensioners, these people scattered all over the country? I can imagine a pensioner in Brightside tomorrow night at about 8 o'clock, poking the fire, trying to keep an odd lump of coal going just before he goes to bed, reading an account of the debate, reading about inflation and all these technical arguments, all excuses for not doing what is right by the pensioner. It will be double-Dutch to the pensioners. When I think of a pensioner I think of my mother, who is 80 years of age; when I think of a pensioner, it is of an ex-steel worker who worked endless hours before they had water-cooled furnaces and doors; it is the old coal-miner who lay on his stomach in water, clawing the coal from the unyielding earth. They are the people who have given the trade union movement guts, the guts that we on this side are trying to defend during the passage of the Industrial Relations Bill.
A pensioner is a man who has worked all of his life and established the rate of pay and the standard of living that is enjoyed in industry today, with all its limitations. The pensioner is an old lady with wrinkles on her face, wrinkles that were caused not by her worrying about 2001 whether she should go to Majorca or spend her holidays doing a European tour but through her having to bring up a family of eight or 10 without child allowances. The pensioner is the person who is responsible for me being here—the person who worked through the trade union movement, so that the ordinary man like myself and many of my hon. Friends could take their place in this illustrious House.
I would like to finish with a short text from the New Testament:Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.I can only honour one parent; my other parent died 15 years ago. This House has the opportunity of honouring, if not our own parents, then their generation.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Dr. Anthony Trafford (The Wrekin)
It is my pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson) on a magnificent speech. He may be, as he claimed, the "baby" of the House, but his contribution was by no means infantile and I sincerely hope that we will hear more from this particular "cot" in the coming months and years. He has a very difficult task in following the late Iain Macleod, but from his contribution tonight it is clear that he has the same ideals at heart and the same fluency of expression. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite will indeed need to be careful lest he also acquires the same sharpness and rapier-like skill of which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Eddie Griffiths) spoke. I hope that we will hear a lot more from my hon. Friend.
If I move slightly away from some of the comments that have been made already on the subject of the pensioner, it is not because I have any doubts as to the sincerity of the speeches made outlining the difficulties of the pensioner. It is that I agree with them all. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, there is little dispute on either side of the House either about the facts or the needs.
2002 I want to draw attention to one or two points which are and always will be of significance in these recurrent debates upon the level of pensions. The first is simply the margins within which we are working. If this debate had been about children, health, child poverty or the chronic disabled, every hon. Member could have made a passionate speech which brought the tears to one's eyes about any one of these problems. The difficulty is how, within the limitations of whichever Government may be in power, to set our priorities and to prevent a recurrence of this situation in the future.
Unpalatable though this fact may be, approximately 85 per cent. of all the revenue from taxation in this country comes from people who earn less than £35 a week. The rise of 10s. which we have just heard about will not come out of surtax. The whole revenue from surtax would not pay for a 10s. rise in pensions, and if that revenue from surtax were increased 100 per cent. it still could not meet the bill. That is what I mean when I say there is a limitation. We have heard a lot about inflation, but inflation is not caused solely by the cost push of union wage demands. It is caused also by the level of Government expenditure and is contributed to by the form and level of taxation. It is clear, therefore, that the margins within which we operate are somewhat limited.
We must, therefore, turn to the general level of taxation which provide a contribution to pensions and also to the contributions themselves. The fundamental weakness of any State pension scheme is that it is not properly funded. I accept the criticism made by my hon. Friend in an intervention that the Crossman scheme did not deal with those who are pensioners now. But no scheme which we are producing today should be aimed at pensioners now, because it is actuarily impossible, except perhaps for 0.0001 per cent. of the population, to make a contribution which would be actuarily viable in four or five years' time. We must therefore accept that all increases for existing pensioners and those likely to become pensioners in the next decade must be paid out of general taxation, in the form of income tax, direct taxation or a specific social tax, and not by any earnings-related or other form of funded scheme. It is tragically true that the 2003 present pensioners have probably actuarily contributed only about 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. of their pension which we all agree is inadequate today.
Had I been privileged to have been in the House at the time, I would have argued vigorously against the scheme presented by the Labour Government, partly because it was unfunded, partly because a rising Exchequer contribution was built in, partly because it was inflationary and partly because it was another form of straightforward—or perhaps not so straightforward—taxation. For those reasons, and most particularly because it was not funded, I would have opposed that scheme.
I therefore exhort my hon. Friend to produce a national scheme which will be funded, which will have flat rate contributions and a marginally higher contribution from the employer than he could get in the market to encourage him to move into the private market, where I hope in future nearly all workers of all types will be covered. I say marginally higher, because I want this subject to stop being the football which hon. Members on both sides have objected to.
Secondly, I should like my hon. Friend to remove the element of Exchequer subsidy, not so much because it gives us the right to debate this subject or to kick about this football, but because removal of the Exchequer subsidy would give to the pensioner and to pension schemes a degree of flexibility that does not exist at present.
Finally, I should like my hon. Friend to oppose any suggestion that present pensioners and those of the next decade should come inside one of these two schemes. I regard this as impracticable in that it is actuarily impossible for them to make a significant contribution during that time. The hon. Member for Brightside referred to the lower-paid workers, those who are on a fixed income and pensioners who are all affected by inflation. I will not make any party point in reply to him except to say that I accept that all earners have a right to a pension, but that does not mean, as my hon. Friend for Enfield, West said, that a man has a right on six days of the week to work for inflation and on the seventh day of the week to argue against inflation, or to organise demonstrations for the benefit of those who are hard hit, 2004 when on those six days he is undoubtedly doing more harm to them than any Government or any niggardliness on the part of either party.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since it permits me to answer a point made by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and also to follow the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Dr. Trafford), for whom I have a high regard, although I have discovered in the last few minutes that, contrary to my previous assessment of him, he is a real Tory, a definite 100 per cent. real gold brick Tory. I am sure he will be glad to hear that from me. I see the Minister is congratulating the hon. Member for The Wrekin. I hope that means that they will all go down in the same boat together.
The Secretary of State in opening the debate asked us to trust him as being a "fit custodian of the pensioners' interests". But I must say—I am sure he will not be offended when it is conveyed to him since he is not present in the Chamber—that I do not see any of his right hon. or hon. Friends as the fit custodians of anything at all.
I trust the right hon. Gentleman's word that at the end of the year there will be a pension rise, but it might be said, "with fit custodians like hon. Members opposite, who needs gaolers?". There is an absolute unanimity about the necessity for pension increases and there is sympathy for the plight of the pensioner but, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin said, the real difference between us is as to the methods by which they are achieved. The real difference between the parties is the number of social and economic priorities which are to be considered before getting down to the subject of pensions. There are fundamental differences in approach to this question between the two sides of the House.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin said that if we were to try to finance higher pensions out of taxation increases, then the sums would not be achieved for the simple reason that that kind of taxation could not be collected, even if it were taken from surtax. This is certainly contrary to the figures produced by the Child Poverty Action Group, put forward by the 2005 Labour Party, accepted by the Ministry and rarely contested. The figures show that a one or 2 per cent. tax on incomes in excess of £20,000 per annum could produce the £300 million that is needed to give an immediate increase in pensions of £1 a week. The wealth is there and a wealth tax could be introduced. This could solve this problem.
§ Dr. Trafford
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to a "real Tory". I appreciate the compliment. He is misinterpreting what I said. The point I made was not that there was money to pay an increase of £1 a week or whatever the figure was. Indeed, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Eddie Griffiths) spoke about £14, which would mean a £6 or £10 increase. The general level of taxation and expenditure, plus the considerable part played by inflation in undermining the value of the pension, would not necessarily be a helpful contribution.
§ Mr. Kinnock
That is the very point which I made at the beginning of my speech. Obviously, there are different ways of thinking about these problems on both sides of the House. I obviously accept that taxation makes a definite contribution to inflation and to devaluation of money, but it is a matter of what the State spends the taxation upon after it has been collected. Although it is highly inflationary to spend £2,600 million on defence, it is not as inflationary in my view to spend that sum on welfare benefits or on pensions. This point might be heavily based on philosophical differences, but the fact is that it is easier to quantify the product of money spent on pensioners in the form of benefits flowing to pensioners in, say, more nutritional food than it is to quantify the effects of expenditure on defence. The difference between the two sides is in the priorities interposed before getting down to dealing with pensions.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames made comparisons between the slowness in the decline in the value of pension in the years of Conservative Government as opposed to the years of Labour Government. Secondly, he said that the reason for the fall in the value of pensions being less under a Conserva- 2006 tive Government than in the years of Labour Government was the coincidence with relatively successful periods of wage restraint. I was surprised by that statement since I expected something a little more direct. He dodged the question. He indulged in the use of percentages concerning the growth or devaluation of pensions rather as though he was kicking around a political football. The fact is that it does not really matter how quickly pensions go up or how slowly they devalue under any Government. It is important that any Government should take the opportunity to establish old-age pensions at a level which will absolutely guarantee a satisfactory standard of living for the pensioner. What should happen is a courageous step towards a system in which the level of pension could be subject to annual or regular review. I do not believe in the idea that was embodied in a proposal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) who put forward a two-year review. I would favour an annual review; this at least would provide for pension retaining its value as the years went by.
I do not approve of taking the pensions issue out of politics. After all, that is what the House of Commons is for. But if there is a unanimity on both sides of the House about pensions, let us make an agreement that we lift pensions out of squalid political discussion by establishing a level of basic pension which would have a continuous and abiding value as the years go by. Surely both sides of the House could agree to maintain that sort of attitude.
I wish to declare an interest. I am not a member of a life office or a representative of a life firm, as is the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames: I am a member of the Old Age Pensioners' Association and have been for about six years, long before I came to the House. The reason why I joined probably lay initially with youthful idealism and a sense of social commitment. I thought it necessary to become an ally of people who are not in a position to undertake the kind of strategies to put pressure on the State or any employer in giving them a satisfactory standard of living. I am glad to say that this is a cause being taken up by more and more young people. It has also 2007 been taken up by the union to which I am pleased to belong, the Transport and General Workers' Union.
There is no hypocrisy involved in a trade union whose very reason for existence is to secure more satisfactory conditions and higher wages for its members feeling free to continue its efforts to try to secure higher old-age pensions. There are many thousands of old-age pensioners, and certainly thousands of men in South Wales who at 70 or 75 years of age are still full trade union members. They obviously expect their trade union to fight their cause, as they did when they were on the shop floor. In answer to people who say that it is hypocritical for a union one the one hand, as they put it, to "promote inflation" and then to fight its effects on old-age pensioners, surely it can be agreed that an old-age pensioner who is a member of a union can at least expect his trade union to fight for his pension.
I turn now to the point which I tried earlier to convey to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. Whatever pious description is given of the pensioner's case, however much people deprecate the effect of inflation on their standard of living, the basic fact is that no Government can give a binding realistic and credible guarantee to the wage earner that in return for wage restraint there will definitely be a rise in the standard of living of his parents and grandparents. It is a matter of communication. Until any Government can illustrate the national interest to wage earners in the form of better schools, roads, hospitals and, most important, higher pensions and real old-age security, we shall continue with the system which we now have.
The Government have done nothing to indicate to the wage earner that this is what they mean by "national interest". They could buy some credibility by giving the old-age pensioner a substantial increase now. There would then be some reality in the protestations, "We would give more because we are sorry for the old age pensioner, but his situation has been worsened almost entirely because of continued militancy, wage drift and cost inflation." That is not realistic to the wage earner unless the alternative is proved.
2008 As I said earlier, I am a member of the Old Age Pensioners' Association and I wish to bring the Old Age Pensioners' Charter to the notice of the House. It might be a title which has become familiar to hon. Members in the last few weeks, thanks in many ways to the Transport and General Workers' Union. However much people may have protested and shed crocodile tears over the pensioner, the Transport and General Workers' Union has got itself involved and has used its facilities and finances to publicise the pensioner's cause in a way which, regrettably, few other organisations have bothered to do.
The Pensioners' Charter has been in existence for several years. It is not a recent development. It demands certain rights and awards, a certain kind of fundamental and lasting security for pensioners. It states that the Old Age Pensioners' Association shouldpress the Government to grant a basic pension of £8 10s. a week for men and women alike.So the figure about which we are thinking is not £14, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside suggested, but £17.
Secondly, it pressesthe Government to provide suitable houses for the aged people at rents the Pensioner can afford.I realise that this point is covered by rent allowances, but there is a significant minority of cases where, because of alternative but small means of income, people are not covered by the extension to the Welfare State of rent allowances.
Thirdly,To press the Government to amend the Pensions Act and to review the qualifications and supplementations when necessary.I suggest at least an annual review.
Fourthly,The relative value of the Pension shall not fall by reason of any rise in the cost of living.I go along with that, too.
Finally, the Charter demands to be reviewed annually.
The Old Age Pensioners' Association presents the case simply in a way which few people can mistake. It is saying, "We want more." Since there is such unanimity on both sides of the House 2009 about the desirability of pensioners having more, why do the Government drag their feet? The Government cannot be excused on the ground that there is not enough money available. This is where priorities come in again. A Government taking 6d. off income tax—I am not throwing slogans—cannot shrug their shoulders and say, "This hoary old one again." There is no credibility in throwing away about £350 million and simultaneously saying, "We cannot pay increased pensions until November because it would mean a sever strain on our resources." Whatever the indirect economic growth consequences of the reduction in taxation for the better-off in our society may seem to hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is a roundabout way to go about promoting growth. I am sure that even hon. Gentlemen opposite would admit that. Whatever the reasons, they cannot simultaneously say that they desperately want to increase pensions and at the same time give away the means for increasing them.
A major ally to the pensioners' cause is the fact that a special price index for one-pensioner and two-pensioner households has been available for two years. The pensioner is now relatively worse off than at any time since 1962. The gap is growing. The hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir Brandon Rhys Williams) shakes his head. But the latest edition of the Employment and Productivity Gazette on page 1072 shows that the gap between the general index of retail prices and the index drawn up for one-and two-pensioner households is widening as each quarter passes. That is a basic consideration which must be borne in mind.
In talking about pensions the word "piety" has been mentioned more tonight than in most debates. But the fact is that we do adopt a pious attitude. We talk of an "award" to the generation which has served us. People of my age belong to a nation of inheritors. We have, relatively speaking, been brought up with golden spoons. We are the inheritors. Our elders deserve to be rewarded and our society must provide for them.
But the old-age pensioner does not want just a reward or a golden handshake. He wants people inside this House to talk about his rights and freedoms 2010 and then to act to promote them. It is not stating the matter too dramatically to say that the pensioner does not want gratuitous hand-outs, charity, or sympathy. He wants the right to a comfortable and equal life. He wants freedom from the fear which has beset him since he was very young—the fear of insecurity, poverty and privation.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devon-port)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I do not go into details concerning his speech owing to lack of time.
I should like to make one or two specific points. First, pension books, a matter raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I should like to ask the Minister whether it would be possible to put these books on railway trains and send them to his offices in different parts of the country. It is getting very difficult for pensioners who cannot get their books. It would be a simple matter to put the books on trains at Newcastle and despatch them to the various offices where they could be collected by pensioners. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would consider that idea.
Recently I wrote to my hon. Friend about a petition sent on behalf of the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners, and I received this reply:… I am sure all members of the National Federation are aware, no one is expected to meet their requirements out of the retirement pension alone.I think that that is realised, but I hope that we shall eventually get to the position where they have enough to live on with their pensions, because what has been brought up time and again in this debate is that people are often too proud to get their supplementary benefits, and it is this which results in malnutrition, the lack of extra heating, and so on.
People come to my "surgery"—and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House meet the same problem —not to discuss a political matter, but to ask about this issue. I write to the pensions office, and very often it works and they receive what they are entitled. These old people are too proud to be 2011 seen going to the office, but they will come to the "surgery" because others think they are going to discuss a political matter. I hope that we shall be able to get away from the situation in which these old people have to apply for exemption from prescription charges, for rent rebates, rate rebates, and so on, and that they can be given enough to live on without having to ask for all these supplementary benefits.
The hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) touched on the question of the Common Market, and it is said in one document dealing with the Common Market:There is a general intention to harmonise social services throughout the Common Market —in an upward direction.If we are to have an interchange of workers, we must have similar pension schemes, and this is going to be one of our great difficulties. We spend much less of the gross national income on pensions than even Luxembourg. We are at the bottom, by a long way, in comparison with the Common Market countries.
My right hon. Friend said that the amount of expenditure on the social services was going up. I should like to know how much of the national expenditure cake he gets because when one looks at the document one gets no idea how much is going to education and other things outside his Department. Perhaps when my hon. Friend replies he will give us some idea of what he is getting as his share of the cake.
Again on the question of the Common Market, it is interesting to note that the employer in this country pays far less towards pensions than is paid by employers in any other country. If one looks at other contributions such as total taxes, taxes on expenditure, taxes on household income, and so on, one sees that they are roughly the same, and so are payments by employees. Employers in this country pay 2.8 per cent. The nearest to that is West Germany, with 6.2 per cent. I think that this matter could be looked into because, if employers were to pay more, I do not think that this need be an inflationary move.
France has a retirement age of 60 for men and women. Pensions are assessed annually on 1st April as from 1947 at 20 2012 per cent. of the average earnings for the last 10 years before reaching the age of 60. If someone has had to retire earlier because of illness his pension is assessed on the basis of his average earnings for the 10 years before he retired.
The retirement age in Germany is 65 for men and women. A man gets £31 8s. a month and a woman if she retires at 60 years receives £22 2s. a month. In Italy the retirement age is 60 for men and 55 for women, and on retirement they get a maximum of 65 per cent. of the average earnings for the three years before retirement.
Belgium has the same retirement age as we do, with an automatic adjustment of 2.5 per cent. whenever the consumer price index varies more than 2.12 points. This is a very good test, and if we were to do the same in this country pensioners would be considerably better off.
The retirement age in the Netherlands is 65 for men and women. An adjustment is made by royal decree whenever the wage index varies more than 3 per cent. in 6 months. In Luxembourg, a very small country, the retirement age for men and women is 65, but there is an automatic adjustment if the cost of living index varies by 2.5 per cent. by reference to the basic index of 100, as from 1st January, 1948, and reintroduced in May 1968 when the basic index had risen to 157, so their living standards for pensioners are considerably higher than ours.
If we consider a country not in the Common Market, Norway, we find that there is a single pension of £8 10s. and a married pension of £12 15s., but they have other benefits. They have pensions which move with the cost of living index, and they get free medical services, cut prices on tramcars, buses, railways and cheap inland air services, and holidays during off-peak periods.
I should like now to raise an issue which I have brought to the attention of the House on several occasions, and that is this question of pensioners having to pay for prescriptions and then claim the money back. It is not possible to get agreement with the B.M.A. for the use of a different form, say a pink form? I understand that chemists would be pleased to operate this system. All that would be necessary would be to put the pensioner's number on the corner of the 2013 form, they could hand it in, and the money would be collected by the chemist. There would not have to be any question of money going backwards and forwards.
Because of the things that I have mentioned about the British system I should like to know how many clerks are needed for all the various changes that have to be made. Staff are needed to deal with supplementary pensions, visits, claims, and so on, and it would be interesting to know—I think that I shall put down a Question on this—how many people are employed in the Department making various adjustments in the pensions.
A point has been put to me about decimalisation. It appears that when pensions are decimalised they are being corrected down rather than up. I hope my hon. Friend will see to it that when the changeover is made the adjustment is made upwards, rather than downwards, as I think it would be unfortunate if there were a down grading.
The final matter that I wish to raise is that of pensions for the Civil Service. Under Section 110 of the 1965 Act—I believe it was previously Section 69 of the 1946 Act—an entrant to the Civil Service after 1st March, 1948, has his pension reckoned at the sum of £1 14s. for every year that he has worked. This is subject to a maximum deduction of £67 15s. when he gets his retirement pension. This may not be the responsibility of my hon. Friend's Department, and if it is not I hope that he will have discussions with the Minister of State for Defence, because the Services have a similar problem.
I have here the letter which says that when a man reaches the age of 65 and becomes eligible for retirement pension his Service pension will be abated by £32 6s. a year. This seems to be very hard indeed, The man has worked for his pension, and when he gets it he finds it abated by that amount. This might, I suppose, necessitate a change in the Act, but it is an inter-Departmental arrangement at the moment, and I hope that my hon. Friend will have discussions with the appropriate Minister about this case—and there may be others—and perhaps get some adjustment to avoid what I consider to be a great hardship.
There are other points that I should like to make, but in view of the late 2014 hour, and as several other hon. Members wish to speak, I conclude by asking my hon. Friend to look into the points that I have made.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
During the course of this debate I had a lobby from Bristol of two coach-loads of people to see me and other Members representing Bristol, and I was handed a large envelope containing a number of letters, some of which I have read and the others of which I shall study later. But hon. Members will be familiar with their contents, because the plight of the elderly is well known to us all. Familiar, too, will be the questions with which I was bombarded: "What is meant by 'the autumn'?", "How are the poor defined?", "What will happen about possible tax relief?", "What will be the position of ex-Servicemen?", and so on. It is a very sad occasion when we have this universal recognition of the need, yet our society has not solved the problem of giving these people a good standard of life.
Everyone with whom I have come into contact in the service of paying out pensions and so on has always been motivated by the greatest compassion, but we should beware of what I might call the official mind. I had an instance of this recently when the South-Western Gas Board announced increased prices and said that, although the heaviest increase was on the small domestic user, it amounted to only 1s. 6d. a week. "The small domestic user" is a euphemism usually for an elderly couple or old person living on their own and virtually dependent on gas for cooking and heating.
Another example about which I wrote to the Secretary of State is the fact that the new pension books are larger than the old ones. A number of pensioners Dave told me that they have a wallet to keep their book clean and tidy but it no longer fits the new book. I had a very full answer from the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), which I appreciated. It made the situation clear, although he resisted my invitation to issue a free wallet to all pensioners. It would have helped these people if more explanation of the reason for the change had been given at the time. This is the sort of thing that old people notice. 2015 The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) mentioned decimalisation. One lady thought that she had had a gratuitous increase in her pension because the amount in the old book ended with 2s. and that in the new book was decimalised. I had to explain to her that 0.10 was not 10s. but 2s. in a new guise. Here again, possibly, there was an explanation, but it could have been much fuller. It is on these little things that we might concentrate our attention.
Elderly people in my constituency have told me of the problem of getting to local post offices. It is not the horizontal distances involved but the gradients which make it difficult, together with a deteriorating local transport system. I have pressed for more post office facilities and have been to the managing director of the Post Office with a petition. One of the replies which I have received says:I am advised on good authority that should the Post Office make these additional facilities available, an immediate request for similar arrangements will be made by residents in the Filwood, Broadway, Knowle district. There are also many other districts in Bristolwhich have equally strong claims. This is in an urban area, and I believe that in rural areas the position is much worse. It will continue to get worse as the rationalisation of Post Office outlets proceeds.
Therefore, is it not possible for some form of mobile paying-out station to be available in a particular area at a set time, so that people can get their allowances? This would also help mothers with young children who have similar problems. I know that there are security problems, but we might consider using a heavily armoured van. I know that the Minister for Transport Industries, in an answer in the House recently, said that he was considering the whole question of the Post Office and local rural transport services. I should like to hear about some official thinking on this.
In the course of the representations, I came up against the official answer to old people who complain of difficulty in collecting their pension. It is, "You are entitled to appoint an agent to get it for you." But this is very bad psychology, because the drawing of a pension week by week for an old person is much more than just collecting money: it is a symbol 2016 of continuing independence. The appointment of an agent has great significance to many people. It is the sort of thing that we want to avoid as much as possible. Old people, and mothers with young children, also have a problem in collecting prescriptions and medicines. This is an allied problem. Some new thinking on this would be helpful.
These are only small points, but, while we cannot give these people the massive increase we would all like to give them, if they can feel that they are regarded as human beings with feelings, and if these little points which can mean so much to them are being considered, at least we shall be making a contribution in this direction.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Miss Mervyn Pike (Melton)
Like most hon. Members, I have sat through the debate all the time, with the exception of half an hour when, rather like the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks), I had to meet some pensioners from my constituency who unable to get me, as they thought, by post, and not knowing how to reach me in the House by telephone, had come all the way from Melton, at expense which they could ill-afford, to tell me about their pension problems. I was therefore faced with the dilemma of whether to lose my place in the debate, which I nearly did, or go to listen to their difficulties.
I will not weary the House, particularly at this late hour, with the stories which we all know so well, the hardships and difficulties, of pensioners at present. The debate has been very useful and significant, because although in an hour and a half we shall probably go through the charade of a three-line Whip Division, with us all here, there has been a large measure of agreement all the time in the Chamber.
All we have been talking about today is inflation. We all want the best possible pension for our old people. We would waste time if we talked about our records —I do not intend to waste time—but we all know, because we are all realistic people, that unlesss we can combat inflation we cannot get any of the things we want. We know that all the hard-luck stories we can all bring up are almost wholly due to our present inflation. This is why all of us want to 2017 urge on the Government the necessity to move as quickly as possible.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) said that perhaps we have not had as many debates in our committees on this side as the Opposition had. I have the privilege to be chairman of one of our back-bench committees, and I do not think I am breaking confidentiality when I say that perhaps our committees are less leaky and, therefore, more seaworthy than those of the Opposition.
There has been continuing pressure, and I believe that it will continue until the Government bring forward the increases in pensions we want to see. Unlike some hon. Members who have spoken, I do not want to hurry them too much because I shall not be content with a 10s. across-the-board increase. Such a rise might be satisfactory as a stop-gap measure, but we want a good increase, and, frankly, I shall not be content with one that just caters for the rise in the cost of living.
In the 13 years when we were last in office, the Conservatives had an excellent record—and, to be fair, the Socialists followed with a good record—of doing a bit better with pensions than catching up with the cost of living. We tried, and usually succeeded, to get pensions increased to reflect the increase in the standard of living. I do not want us to fall back on that now.
We appreciate that inflation does not hit only the elderly and that young people are having to struggle as well. Many of them are making valiant efforts to help elderly parents and relatives. While, therefore, we must be just, I give notice that we shall continue to press the Government for an increase which is large, though realistic in present circumstances, for our pensioners.
Today pensions are, on the whole, meeting with a degree of adequacy the ordinary, minimal needs of people. However, they still pay no regard to the differentiation of need, particularly as people get older. Much has been said about the newly retired who want to go on working. I represent an East Midlands constituency, and many of my constituents are made redundant at, say, 55 and have no possibility of obtaining another full- 2018 time job before reaching pensionable age. Nevertheless, they have their health and strength and their stock of household goods, including linen, furniture and clothes—the items they have amassed during their working lives. When people reach 70, 75 and 80 they have worn out most of the items which they amassed when they had their full earning capacity, and their needs for heat, light and comfort are often much greater.
I will not concentrate on the bottom one-third of the pyramid of pensioners. We know about the one-third who are on supplementary benefit. It is comparatively simple to meet their needs because we can identify them. I hope that I am not over-simplifying the problem. It is, however, relatively straightforward, because we can identify this group and get money and supporting services to them.
This is not the case with the next one-third of the pyramid, those who are just above the supplementary benefit level. They do not have enough income to come into the taxation section and they are suffering the most from inflation. The hardest cases are those who are economising too much because of their fear of inflation and their anxiety lest any savings they may have will quickly be diminished. As a result of this they are not getting the heat, light and comfort they can afford. We must seek these people out and help them as much as we can with money and the community services.
I appreciate that there will never be any substitute for cash. Good pensions we must have. But the community services can help to a great extent to give people a sense of security which they cannot achieve in any other way. Indeed, we have heard little today about the community services, though they are extremely valuable. I accept that we cannot contract out of giving cash. Even so, we cannot contract out of giving care and understanding.
Many pensioners—this point has been made by a number of hon. Members but I must emphasise it—wish to go on earning. I would like to see the earnings rule abolished, but, being realistic, I trust that something will be done about it. They need to earn more not only to get more money but to give them greater self-respect and more interest in life. 2019 I agree with what has been said about the need for bus services for the elderly. This is a problem not just in rural areas—in my part of the world there are about 150 villages, many of them without bus services—but in urban and suburban communities. The community health centre or group practice may be a considerable distance away, and I know of cases where it is almost impossible for people to travel the three miles to the doctor.
This lack of bus services frequently means people spending 5s., 6s. or more on travelling for perhaps two hours, whereas if adequate bus services were available the journey would take much less. In my constituency this is the case for many pensioners, who must travel from their village of, for example, Thurcaston into Leicester and then on to Anstey.
These people cannot afford motor cars. If they could have done so at one time, the increased cost of petrol, motor taxes and so on now makes it impossible. Nor can they afford telephones.
We have to be realistic, and I do not see this coming in the next few months, but I want to see local authorities giving far more attention to subsidising bus services than they are at the present time. They have the power and I believe they have to go forward, looking at this very much as a community supporting service, particularly for the old people and widows and the young people as well but particularly the old people who are finding it so difficult. But then there is the top of the pyramid, people who are not rich. I am concerned not with those who do not need to take the old-age pension but with those who have saved and worked all their lives, saving and building up some kind of nest egg in some pension scheme, many of them with occupational pensions.
I believe it is a fact that about 40 per cent. of retirement pensioners at the present time receive about an average of £6 per week in occupational pensions, which means that many have a good deal less and some have more. I resent very much this income being called "unearned", and I believe the time has come when we must stop the differentiation between earned and unearned. I do not mind about the man who has £20,000 or 2020 £10,000 a year. All right, give him the adequate, proper and just rate of taxation. But there are those who have saved hard all their lives. I know people in my constituency who have been saving hard and paying into pension schemes. This applies particularly to spinsters, women like myself. I speak with some feeling because I put everything I can into pension schemes. I do not want to be dependent on my niece and nephew when I retire. I want to be able to stand on my own two feet; but I should resent very much that income being called unearned income when the time comes.
I want the Government to look into these things—the differentiation between earned and unearned income, the raising of the earnings rule limit and the differentiation in pension to which I believe we can be looking forward for people as they get to 70, 75 and 80 years and onwards, because people do not need the same amount of pension at every stage in their retirement.
Also I want to see greater emphasis on community care. We cannot contract out of care and understanding, so we have to look to how we can ensure that people can have the facilities such as buses. Of course, they cannot always afford the bus fare when the bus is there, but it means a tremendous lot to a person living in an urban area to get into, say, Leicester for her shopping. I know that there are Co-operative and other travelling shops which may come round and there may be adequate shops in a village. But when one is 65, 75 or 80 and able and active one wants some life. One wants to see the stores and buses and to visit one's relations as well as having them come to pay visits. It can often be very expensive having young relatives coming to visit, and it is very nice to be able to go to them. I want to see local authorities giving more attention to facilities to enable people living in these areas to get about.
Equally, at the same time I want to see more luncheon clubs and more meals-on-wheels. The luncheon clubs and day centres are things about which we have to think seriously. We speak a lot about people living alone. They are not always living alone in squalor, but loneliness is one of the greatest difficulties of old 2021 age and we have to make it possible for people to go and look after the old.
The Women's Royal Voluntary Service is doing quite exciting things in this field. It is building purpose-built homes where people, first of all, can have sheltered housing and then can come to look after each other and then go on to extra care houses, not moving too far away all the time, not having to uproot themselves but living within a community of young people who, through their committees, are helping to run these things. At the same time they come to know each other as the kind of people with whom they can be companionable, so that they can get companionship, life and interest within the confines of an area in which it is feasible and reasonable to ask people to move.
We talk a lot about community care. I am probably as guilty as anyone. I know that I sometimes tend to talk as if it was just a question of people wanting to do these things, of having the will to do them; but at the present time we are putting a tremendous burden on community services and local authorities. We are asking for more home helps, more health visitors, more community supporting domiciliary services of all types— meals-on-wheels, and so on.
Who are the people who are to man the services? Who and where are these volunteers? We must be careful not to fall into the American trap. The Americans thought that with their vista and poverty programmes, by pouring money into local authorities to help them build up supporting services, they could ensure that these things were done. They paid people to do them, and at the end of the day they drove out the volunteers.
Those people who are, for instance, delivering meals on wheels and who are not very rich, who are finding it difficult to make ends meet, are given cause to think when in the next street meals are being delivered by someone who is paid a good salary for doing it. Volunteers, who are giving their time a expense and inconvenience to themselves, and who are being co-ordinated by a young person who probably has not much practical experience of voluntary service but who is getting a good salary for doing it, will, being human, ask themselves why they should do it. Their families will certainly 2022 ask; they will ask, "Mother"—or "Auntie"—"why are you doing it for nothing when so and so is getting paid for it?"
When we talk about volunteers let us be careful that we know what we are talking about. When we are talking about the part that community service and community care can play, let us be careful not to make them mere words but to make it a practical scheme so that we make it possible for the voluntary service to be canalised and vitalised to meet the needs of the present day.
I am glad that the Minister has another £110 million for the community services—to keep people in their homes, to get people out of hospitals, to run hostels, and to see that people can be cared for in the community. However, we must not think that we can do it by £110 million or by talking about it.
Another thing that the Government must do is to think very hard about the place of voluntary service in society, the rôle it must play, and how the Government can help to sustain and encourage it and ensure that it is enabled to play its full part in our lives. This is not because we want cheap labour, because we do not. We want people to work in and be involved in the community and to understand the problems of the community.
If we are to get any of the things for which we have asked tonight it will be very expensive. I want to see new occupational pension schemes, and so on. All the things that we have asked for will cost money. If we are to ask people to supply this money, they must understand the needs of the community. This is why I was glad that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) pressed for statistics. For a long time I have said that we should make local authorities statutorily responsible for seeking out need, otherwise we shall never get the statistics of those who are in need. We shall never persuade the ratepayers to bear the necessary rate burden until we are able to draw a profile or map of the needs and resources in a particular area.
Having done that, we must realise that it will be a patchy picture over the country. Some local authorities are richer in resources than others. We must therefore make sure that the Government have 2023 a central unit which ensures there is not only a cross-fertilisation of ideas and leadership, but greater uniformity in the matter of meeting need.
At the end of the day, as soon as we have got our review, whether it be in July, August, September, October, or November, and when we have succeeded, as I hope we shall, in persuading the Government to do some of the things about which I have talked, the real need is to get a occupational pension policy. Those of us who were members of the Standing Committee which last summer considered the Bill designed to restructure the pension scheme faced the fact that whatever we were going to do we had to have a whole new attack on the whole pension problem. I believe it must be an occupational solution with people able to build up their own scheme.
Whatever our arguments about what the scheme must be, I urge the Government that one of their first priorities must be to introduce a new pension scheme. In the meantime let us have the cash that people need but let us not think that we can contract out of the care and understanding that people require.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
I add my congratulations to maiden speakers from the benches opposite. I am sorry that custom forbids us to discuss the content of the speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). It was a remarkable speech. I took note of the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson) to his predecessor, Iain Macleod. I cannot help wondering whether the Government's economic and social service policies would have been quite the same if Iain Macleod had still been with us.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) pointed out the main difference between the two sides in this debate when he said that he thought it would be better socially—I hope that I quote him correctly—to pay the rise in the autumn, when prices are going up, rather than in the early summer. We believe that it is socially right and necessary to give an increase to the pensioners as early as possible, which means the early summer. It can be 2024 done in May. There is no Act of Parliament, regulation or order which prevents the Government from making an increase before two years have elapsed. They have a precedent in that the Labour Government came to office in 1964 and did just that. They were elected on 15th October, they brought in a Budget on 11th November, a statement on increased pensions on 20th November, and increased social security benefits, short term, in January and the pensions in March. Some hon. Members opposite thought that that was not quick enough. They have an opportunity tonight to support a move for the Government to do it even more quickly.
Two years is too long for a review. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that I tried to convince my Government that there ought to be annual reviews. I failed in that. But I hope that when he is planning a new Bill he will take note of this. We have now seen the reason why two years is too long. It may not be the fault of one Government or the other but because of international complications that we need to review pensions annually.
Administratively it can be done. Of course, it would cost £50 million a year—about 1d. on the income tax. The Government ought also, to consider if they cannot increase the pensions quickly, doing what the Labour Government did in 1964 and giving a Christmas bonus to the pensioners. What about an Easter bonus? Many pensioners have large bills to face then, and that would be a good opportunity.
We are not discussing people on supplementary benefit. They have had an increase, although it was inadequate. We are discussing people like some of my constituents. They are railwaymen and miners whose pensions are in the neighbourhood of 30s., £2 or £2 10s. Many people have been in occupational schemes, but the problem is that most of them have not been in operation for very long. A lot of people find that they have saved up and might as well not have done because they could have obtained the money through supplementary benefit. Some of them might not realise that they have been entitled to claim supplementary benefit since October, when the supplementary pension was increased. More publicity should have been given at the 2025 time of the increase. Even now, it would help many of them to realise that they can claim it.
Recently, the Manchester Evening News ran a series about pensioners. One of the articles concerned their tax problems because, believe it or not, some of them have tax problems. A couple with an income of £14 a week—pension plus some superannuation—pay 12s. 9d. tax a week. I know that the Government intend to cut income tax. I was looking at the figures recently, and I noticed that a bachelor on £15,000 a year will be £6 a week better off, assuming that it is all earned income. The same two pensioners, on the other hand, will be £2 a year better off, or 9d a week.
There has been a tremendous increase in Government revenue from income tax because of the pay rises to which they object. When a man gets a rise of £3 a week, his take-home pay is up by less than £2. A third goes in income tax. Many people are coming on to income tax who were not on it before and, in addition, they have to pay increased National Insurance contributions. I am sure that there is something like £200 million—more than was anticipated last year—going to the Exchequer as a result of wage rises.
The Manchester Evening News also gave some advice on food and cooking. I found the article fascinating, especially when it referred to dishes which included liver and said that it could be excluded from the casserole.
It is not only the cost-of-living index which is affected. I know about the special index for old-age pensioners, but the cost of living thrown up by it is not much different from that of the other index.
Buying for one person is a problem. Some of us buy for ourselves during the week when we are in London, and probably we have some idea of it. However, when people have brought up families and been used to shopping for four or five, they find it difficult to adjust to buying for one.
The Manchester Evening News concluded its series by saying that here was a debt of honour. The people whom we are discussing today are those who have lived through two world wars. They have experienced the unemployment and crises 2026 of the 1920's and 1940's. We owe them something.
Right hon. and hon. Members opposite talk a great deal about inflation. It has been a case of blaming the unions for their inflationary wage demands. However, I remind those who think along those lines that very many of our old-age pensioners are trade unionists. They too have fought these battles, and they have been just as militant as Jack Jones and other present-day trade union leaders. To suggest that it is the demands of the trade union movement which have caused the suffering of old-age pensioners is nonsense. The rise in food prices cannot all be blamed on wage increases. We have been told that there will be more. It is Government policy which will cause increases in food prices in the coming year. Government goading has been one of the causes of these big demands and strikes. When public service employees are told that the Government intend to clobber their wages and that they will keep an eye on prices in the public sector though it has not been a very good eye, naturally they fight. We would all fight if we were told that our group was under attack.
Tonight's debate is about a demand from this side of the House that the old-age and retirement pension should be increased as soon as possible. The Government's reply is that it will be increased in the autumn. I detected only one hope in the speech of the Secretary of State, and that was when he said that he was not mesmerised by the 2-year pledge. I hope that that proves to be so and, what is more, that he can think six months ahead of that.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
If I had the time, I should like to speak at some length about the issues that obviously unite both sides of the House. We share a great concern for the desperate plight of elderly people, who are the worst affected in the community by the present rate of inflation.
Both sides agree that under Governments of both parties we have not yet achieved a level of care and assistance for the elderly adequate to eliminate poverty, or to bring them more into line with what we would like all our people 2027 to enjoy. Both sides also accept that the present system of pensions is inadequate as a system, although there is a wide debate between the parties about the system that should follow. I welcome the Government's renewed pledge to get on with introducing an improved pension system at the first possible opportunity, and I look forward to the House debating it when it is presented.
I turn to the important issue that the Opposition have tried to raise by the Motion. The Motion and the intention to divide the House at ten o'clock smack a little of political opportunism by the Opposition, which is unfortunate. I immediately acquit all hon. Members opposite who have spoken on the subject, because all of them have almost avoided making political capital from it. But there is clearly an intention to make such political capital as can be made from the deeply-felt concern outside the House about the plight of the pensioner in trying to raise the issue of accelerating the date when the pension increase is to be made.
The issue is very narrow. The Government accept that there will be an increase some time this autumn. They are being pressed to accelerate it and abandon the biennial review. If the Government did find it possible to do that, I should be delighted. No hon. Member would begrudge an announcement at any stage from any Government that more was to be given to pensioners. But an Opposition so recently in government, who have wrestled with the same problems, should realise the position. Let us face up to the fact that there are difficulties and not raise false hopes outside by talking so easily about an increase in the near future, abandoning the principle of the biennial review.
The case against the two-year review is based on inflation's eroding the pension's purchasing power, which has now dropped well below the level of November, 1969. It is inherent in the whole system of a two-year review that there will be a decline in purchasing power, which will be worse with inflation at its present level. It is also inherent in the system, and has been accepted by both parties by convention rather than Statute, that when a review takes place the purchasing power is raised. It then declines 2028 over a two-year period until it is raised again to what both parties have repeatedly said they hope will be a higher level than at the start. I am anxious to give time for more hon. Members to speak, but if I had time I would quote a passage from the Crossman White Paper, which set out that very principle in terms. It went beyond the convention and said that it would be made a statutory duty to make the review biennial.
Let us see why both parties in the past turned to a two-year period, as the Opposition now try to throw the principle lightly overboard as soon as they lose the responsibilities of office. The two-year review has one advantage—certainty. What is proposed is that we should return to a system where the Government have a discretion to choose the time for a review, in relation to inflation and the economic position. Until the two-year review became accepted by both sides the average was a 30-month interval between reviews. The Labour Government's record was an increase taking effect in March, 1965, then in October, 1967, and November, 1969. I accept that the one in March, 1965, was early, but thereafter the Labour Government failed to make two years in their reviews.
The problem always arises after about 18 months, when the purchasing power has declined and the Government come under pressure, as they are now. It is worth looking back, as a point is being made of this and there is to be a Division, to the way in which the Labour Government reacted in 1969 when they came under the same pressure. From October, 1967, to the spring of 1969, the £4 10s. a week single pension had dropped in value by 6s. 2d. The pension for couples had dropped by 10s. The reaction of the Government then was to make a dramatic Budget announcement in April of an increase in pensions to take effect over two years after the last one in November, 1969. They made that announcement so lightheartedly that over a month after the Budget statement the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) was unable to explain how the £420 million of contributions that the increase would cost was going to be raised, the Chancellor of the Exchequer having left him with that responsibility. 2029 It is being urged upon us today that the present Government should take the same easy way out in responding to these pressures which worry us all, and my right hon. Friend tossing off a random figure about some increase in the autumn and then facing the realistic problem of how the contributions are to be raised and on what the implications of that additional taxation are to be.
The two-year period has this difficulty —that, after 18 months, we are always going to be faced with deeply held feeling on either side that we would like to bring the purchasing power back to the former level as soon as possible. These pressures should be resisted by the Government. The way to deal with the intervening two-year period is to do what has been done in the last two years—to concentrate particularly on supplementary pensions for those in greatest need—I realise that no party point can be made here about increase in supplementary pensions in November, 1970—and also to persevere, as we would like, with the family income supplement, which admittedly does not affect pensioners directly, and that the other innovations by the Government in the areas of greatest need. For the flat-rate pension, the basic National Insurance pension, I believe that a two-year review is defensible, and I would defend the Government if they felt obliged to keep to it.
But one matter could perhaps be dealt with before the two years is up, and it is not affected by the two-year system. I want to say something on behalf of what has been called the "upper one-third" of people of retirement age—those who fall within the taxable limits and those who are living on savings. These people are also being critically badly affected by the present position. I say that they are not affected by the two-year review because help can be given in the Budget. I know that this is outside the departmental responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but I hope that he will bring to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer what he might be able to do in his Budget in March.
In making this plea, I recognise that it might be said that these are a better-off section of retired people, and in one sense that is so. But it is not the whole 2030 story. They are better off because they have been thrifty and have made some provision for themselves. What is important is that on the basis of their hard-earned savings they thought they could have a certain standard of living and way of life. They decided that they could reasonably expect a certain income from their savings. They based their way of life upon that and when rapid inflation comes, as it has now, they suddenly find that they are over-committed and have to cut back drastically. Although in one way they are better off than others, they are still hard done by when the fruits of their life's work in many ways are not producing what they had every justifiable reason to expect that they would produce. They are badly pressed, and some adjustment to the age allowance when taxation is being considered would make at important difference to them.
I would like the Government to carry on fulfilling the two-year period in that way—concentration on greatest need, on the supplementary pension, and urging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bear in mind those he can affect in his Budget, but keeping to the two-year review for the National Insurance system, which can be defended. Certainly, I hope that when the two-year period comes to an end and the autumn increases are made they will be generous and will raise standards above the November, 1969, level, taking account of all the pressures about earnings level and everything else which have been brought to bear in the debate.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I realise that I have only a very few moments so I will not go too far in answering some of the provocative remarks made by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke). What I will say is that the chagrin of Members opposite arises because when the Labour Party took office and inherited a £800 million deficit within a few months they gave the pensioners the largest ever pension increase. That is what upsets them. They had the chance to do even better with a "wicked" Socialist surplus of £600 million and have not done it yet. We are waiting, the pensioners are waiting, and it is on this that the Government is being judged. 2031 I want to touch on something which has not so far been adumbrated. This whole problem of pensions and old people has come up because we have implemented a welfare state in a half-hearted manner over the past 30-odd years. In my constituency I have many old-age pensioners who, in middle age or in their youth, came from Scotland, Yorkshire or South Wales to London in the '30s looking for work. They were not always successful and they have gone through a very grim period. They put it down to the fact that there was mass unemployment. These people feel that the country is not giving them a fair break. In their twilight years, after they have gone through such a savage middle life, they are still not getting a square deal.
Hon. Members opposite, in passing remarks, have made scathing references to what has been referred to as the "Cross-man Plan". If we had had something like that 20 years ago we would be having a totally different debate tonight. Some time this has to start. We were prepared to implement it. I know that anything which smacks of a rational approach to a problem is not particularly popular with hon. Members opposite. They talk of the voluntary spirit and the need for the young to help the aged, and so on. What all Governments have failed to do is to copy the example of the National Health Service.
I can remember the arguments put forward by people of all political complexions when Aneurin Bevan introduced the National Health Service. People said, "Do you really believe you can have a system where any soul in the country can have the attention of a doctor, can go to hospital, have the attention of a surgeon, receive medicaments and not pay anything? It is not possible." All of the experts argued this, but we did it and we introduced the National Health Service, not after 13 years of Tory Government, but something almost as bad, after six years of a terrible war. People hoped that it would collapse but it became a big success, despite the neglect of 13 years of Tory rule. It still makes a substantial contribution to the peace of mind of old people and I hope that it will go on doing so.
I do not think that there is any such thing as the National Insurance Fund. I have tried to find out where it is and 2032 to get statistics about it. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh, but members of the Government Front Bench are not smiling so much. I shall be challenging them in Questions in the weeks to come. The time has come when everyone ought automatically to be in a national insurance scheme in exactly the same way as we are in the National Health scheme. People would not have to make special contributions, the whole lot would be taken out of taxation in the same way as we take the major part of the National Health Service funds. Until we can adopt that principle we will not be tackling this problem.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) for curtailing his most interesting speech for my benefit. I wish that I had not to make my speech so that I could go on listening to him. I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for my unavoidable absence for one hour during the debate. As the House knows, I am Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and it occasionally requires my attention. I am sorry to have missed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) and the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), which I understand was very entertaining. From a report I received, I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made a most interesting speech which contained many suggestions. I also, unhappily, missed part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I did hear the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson), which conformed to the "trendy" convention that maiden speeches should be controversial. He made a few provocative remarks, which I am sure we can all take in a debate of this kind.
I was very moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Eddie Griffiths), who spoke of the vision which so many of us have of pensioners as being our own parents. We can never escape from that closeness to those who have grown old and who are often ill-provided for in their later years. The 2033 hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) made a very pertinent point about the harmonisation of social benefits in the Common Market. We shall certainly have to come to that if we go into the Common Market, and it will make a big difference to the structure and the level of benefits of our own scheme.
The hon. Member for Melton (Miss Pike) gave an interesting survey of community services. Since, with Mr. Speaker and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I have been a trustee of the Young Volunteer Force Foundation for the last three years —a Government-sponsored organisation —I underline what she said about the need for the development of voluntary community service amongst the young. The Government have the opportunity of doing that. The foundation is now well established and doing splendid work. What is more, it is now getting more money from voluntary sources than from the Government, and this is an indication of the confidence which we have built up in that organisation. I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State will carry this message back to his colleagues.
This has not been a political debate, despite the Conservative Central Office brief to hon. Members opposite which said that the Motion was playing politics. I have not heard anybody playing politics today. When I read the brief, I wonder whether the Conservative Central Office wrote the Secretary of State's speech or whether he wrote the Conservative Central Office brief because so many phrases, suggestions and points are common to both.
The Secretary of State said that he found the Motion a little ambiguous. There is more than a difference in terms between the Motion and the Amendment; there is a difference in purpose. There is an urgency in our Motion which we do not see in the Government Amendment. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is a little touchy about the reference in our Motion to rising prices. We see enough distinction between the Motion and the Government Amendment to divide the House when the time comes.
I suppose I should declare an interest in this matter since I am a retirement pensioner. As the House knows, when 2034 men pass the age of 70 they are deemed to be retired. It is one of the fancies of taxation and social security legislation that persons may be deemed to be in a condition in which they manifestly are not. This is the situation in which I find myself today.
When Mr. Harold Macmillan was in the House we came very close to having a retirement pensioner for a Prime Minister, but he retired a little prematurely and did not reach the age of 70 while he was still in the House. I remember how entertaining he was when he told the House that he had received a form from the Ministry of National Insurance, as it then was, asking him what were his intentions about retirement. He played about with the form for a little while and said that he thought the attractions of postponed retirement were so strong, especially the increments that he could add to his retirement pension, that he decided to continue full-time work.
However, the majority of workers have no such option. They are told to go. They are the victims of compulsory retirement. Compulsory retirement is indistinguishable to me from unemployment, except by the intervention of a birthday and the existence of lower benefits for compulsory retirement than for unemployment. Unemployment is supported by an earnings-related benefit, which is usually very much higher than the retirement pension of the same person. I believe the time has now come to look at the limitations imposed by the earnings rule, and I will refer to that matter a little later.
On the whole we show far too little concern for the spiritual and mental effects of enforced idleness among older people. The truth is that we scarcely known what to do with older workers, except to pension them off. Then we say that we cannot afford to pay them a decent pension, and we stop them from earning a decent supplement to their pension without restriction or deduction.
The time has come to revise the conditions under which people retire. Generally the so-called burden of providing for the old is made heavier by the rising numbers of old people, longer life and the higher claims justifiably made by retired people on the comforts 2035 and amenities of life. Most people live on pension for a longer period than they were at school. The dependence factor as between the old and the young is rising. This means an additional burden for the productive workers of the country—a burden which they must face because it will be their turn next. We must ail realise this since it is a contract between the generations which must be honoured in full. The more the old, the sick and the disabled fall behind rising standards, the more they tend to become a class apart. They are separated from the rest of us by idleness, incapacity and poverty.
I believe that the old people are far too patient with their condition. They make extremely modest demands on the nation's resources. They have put much more money into other people's pockets than will ever come their way. They have a nobility which puts to shame much of the frivolous extravagance they see going on around them.
Unfortunately, the sad state of affairs at this moment is that the Government have no forward looking pension policy. We are all eager to see what it will be. We are at this moment back to 1960 when the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames introduced the graduated pension scheme, which was once described to me as turning the Ministry into a bucket-shop. There is no doubt that criticisms of that scheme, which took far more away in contributions than it was ever going to pay out in benefits, have persisted over a whole decade until now.
We had a scheme. Whether right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite think it was good or not, it really was forward looking. Apparently it has now been discarded. There is no doubt that had the Labour Government's National Superannuation Bill become law it would have been the biggest thing since Beveridge.
I am a little pessimistic about the future. If the clock is not now to be put back, I certainly do not think that it will be put forward. The Labour Government's scheme would have seen us through to the next century. At the moment we have nothing.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will back the occupational scheme—a most unreliable foundation for social security as of now. In the foreseeable future it will not really provide an effec- 2036 five foundation for social security in old age. We should have had a genuine earnings-related superannuation scheme which, in course of years, would have built up and solved the problem, though it would admittedly have taken a considerable time. For years to come the supplementary benefits scheme will be one of the biggest features of social security, because nearly 28 per cent. of retirement pensioners are having to go for supplementation—probably nothing like the total number that could go.
What is aggravating the situation at present is the vast redistribution of consumption in real terms which is going on, and the retired and the poor are losing the battle against inflation. No system of taxation can be more unjust and regressive than inflation. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer. The poor pay tribute to those who are better off, those who are better off pay tribute to those who are better off still, and so up the scale.
Pensioners today are the victims of petty theft. Their purses are being rifled week by week. The purchasing power of their pension is falling; the value of their earnings is being eroded. They are in worse plight, in conditions of rising costs, than ever before.
It is high time that inflation was stopped. Quite candidly, everybody should unite in trying to stop it. But we on these benches must not be accused of backing inflationary wage claims [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Oh no. We have stood for relative justice. After all, we cannot stand by and see lower-paid workers and public servants fall behind. Really the motivation of many wage claims at present is the fear of falling behind and losing present standards of living, not to be recovered if people do not take the opportunity of making claims now.
It ill becomes hon. Members of this House to throw inflation in the face of the old age pensioner. He has not caused it. I think that to try to solve inflation by further deprivations and privations of the poor would be scandalous. So we must protect the pensioner, and the Motion seeks to inject a little urgency into what the Government are doing.
The Secretary of State says that he is not mesmerised by the two-year interval. He rather chided us for having a 2037 two-yearly interval written into the Labour Government's Bill as a statutory requirement, but I see that this brief says on page 5:We propose to establish a two-yearly review on a statutory basis.The Secretary of State apparently is to compound the error of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman).
§ Mr. Houghton
The right hon. Gentleman says that there is time to amend. I should hope so. If he is not mesmerised by the two-year period, let him make it shorter. That is what the Motion asks him to do. It is time to make a bold move forward, and I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to hasten this review.
Truly, in the history of this matter in recent years, there is reason for satisfaction on these benches at the bold increase that we made in March, 1965. I was the Minister responsible for the social services at that time, and I know what a drive it needed, through the Treasury and everybody else, to get that done, and yet I read in the brief, and heard the Secretary of State say:The big increase in March 1965 was a remarkable tribute to the prosperity created by the previous Conservative Government.Can you beat it, Mr. Deputy Speaker? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in public that the first run on the pound came when the Labour Government announced these dramatic increases in social security benefits. That is how strong the economic situation was.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The right hon. Gentleman will be the first to acknowledge that his leader pledged that the first thing the Labour Government would do would be to introduce the minimum income guarantee. Is that not correct? That was on television. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree also that it was the pledge made at that time to increase taxation—capital gains and corporation tax—in order to finance pension increases which brought on the crisis of confidence which started the Labour Party's and this country's troubles?
§ Mr. Houghton
The Secretary of State cannot have it both ways. He cannot 2038 say that we were able to do it because of the strong economic position that we inherited from our predecessors and then say that we did this out of economic weakness. The brief tells me that it was a remarkable tribute to the prosperity created by the previous Administration. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. It was a bold step and, if he likes to say so, a rash step, but it was done, and that was fulfilling a pledge that we had made to increase pensions as almost the first thing that we would do when we came into office.
We were never able, in the latter part of the Labour Government, to make such a dramatic move again, and as the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the minimum income guarantee, and as I was in charge of that at the time, perhaps I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that he knows that that was one of the things that did go because of the economic difficulties which we encountered shortly afterwards.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman says that during the latter part of the lifetime of the Labour Government he was unable to make the same dramatic move on pensions again. Does not that wholly confirm what is said in his brief, that it was the strength bequeathed by the Conservative Government which alone provided the economic support for the improvements that were made, and that his own Government failed to provide the necessary economic support?
§ Mr. Houghton
It confirms nothing of the sort. It confirmed the worsening conditions of the world economy during that period. Anyway, we are not here to bandy words too long on these matters. I have one or two serious suggestions to make.
I have held the view until recently that an earnings rule was a reasonable condition of a scheme which had a retirement condition. However, I have changed that view, because I think that if a retirement pension is intended to replace loss of earnings on giving up full-time work the pension must be an adequate replacement of the loss of earnings, and, if it is not, it is unreasonable to impose limitations upon a pensioner's opportunity to supplement his pension. 2039 Thus, so long as the pension is, by any reasonable standard, far below a replacement of earnings—only about a third of the average earnings at present—it would be justifiable to remove the rule entirely, to suspend it, so long as the retirement pension is less than, say, half the average wage at the time of retirement.
I am speaking only for myself, but my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West raised this point, and it is worth serious consideration. Various estimates have been made of the cost of removing the retirement condition, but it would repay by removing many from supplementary benefit, and it would emancipate the pensioner from the restrictions under which he draws his pension at present.
This has been a good debate. We have not been playing politics. We have not, as the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) said, been indulging in opportunism. Each side of the House has a very big responsibility for the past and a heavy responsibility for the present, and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have a responsibility for the future. Those responsibilities weigh heavily upon all of us, and no pensioner will have patience with political by-play here or elsewhere while they are suffering as the victims of inflation.
What is needed now is a firm and quick resolve that, wherever the blame may lie and however strongly it seems that all economists have lived in vain and that the Government will make the nation learn its economics the hard way, the old and the helpless shall not be cheated out of their meagre savings or forced to subsidise the standard of living of people better off than themselves.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)
We have had two outstanding maiden speeches in this debate, from my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) whom I heard, and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson), whom, unfortunately, I did not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown made a powerful plea for what he called redressing the balance in favour of the pensioner. My 2040 hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, represents a constituency which inevitably brings to mind its long association with the late Iain Macleod, whose qualities of mind and gift of language were well known on both sides of the House for many years.
Both made outstanding speeches on this very important subject, and I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate them and hope that we shall have many further contributions from them on both this and other subjects. I have a fellow feeling with them, because I also made my maiden speech on social service matters.
Perhaps it is in order for me to congratulate the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who told us that he had reached the age of 70 without any bother from earnings rules or anything of that kind. He is, of course, a very good example of a vigorous pensioner, and, clearly, he is very far from retirement.
One dominant theme has run throughout this interesting, thoughtful and, on the whole, non-partisan debate, and that is the strong feeling which has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides that inflation hits hard, that it is bad for everyone and that it is particularly bad for pensioners, whom it hits hardest and deepest.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the outset, there is a necessary two-pronged solution to this problem. The first is to damp down the fires of inflation which have been burning so strongly in recent years. The second is to improve the pension rates so that pensioners and others on fixed incomes do not suffer as a result of this inflation.
As my right hon. Friend said, the Government are firmly committed—by our manifesto and by the recent expenditure White Paper—to raise pensions later this year. This is an absolutely firm commitment on the part of the Government. It is a commitment which will be honoured, but, as my right hon. Friend said —I am sure that the right hon. Member for Sowerby will recognise this—it is the duty of the Government to decide precisely when that increase should be brought about, having taken into account and weighed in the balance all the factors which are involved. I was grateful for 2041 the powerful support of my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) on this point.
The Opposition are, of course, committed to a two-year review and hon. Gentlemen opposite made it clear earlier last year, when they were in government, that they envisaged the result of that two-year review coming into operation in the autumn. They did not envisage mænœuvring room, as it were, which they now suggest we should have. They were clear then, at a time when prices were rising fast—at a rate of about 6 per cent. per year—and, as I say, they envisaged that the autumn was the right time of year to do it.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite now appear to have slightly altered their position. However, the right hon. Member for Sowerby was frank enough to admit that there was a fine distinction between the Motion which they have tabled and the Amendment which stands in the name of the Government. It is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman informed the House that his hon. Friends intended to divide over this issue. In view of the firm commitment which my right hon. Friend has given and the moderate speeches which have come from hon. Gentlemen opposite—in other words, in view of the essential unity that exists on this matter—it is a pity that hon. Gentlemen opposite feel obliged to vote on this matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked me about war pensions and whether the review which will be undertaken later in the year will include them. The answer is "Yes". He also asked about rate rebates and reminded the House that when the rate rebate scheme was introduced there was no disregard for the war pensioner. I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance that the views which he expressed and which pension organisations have expressed will be taken fully into account in the review of local government finance which is now taking place.
My right hon. Friend then asked, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Melton, about the earnings rule and the increments for those who postponed their retirement. Here again, the answer is "Yes". The Government are firmly 2042 committed to reviewing both the earnings rule and the level of increments, and those pledges will be carried out.
I notice that the right hon. Member for Sowerby—speaking, as he said, for himself—has now been converted to the view that the earnings rule should be abolished completely. I am sure that he does not need me to tell him that that would mean additional expenditure of about £100 million. In this harsh world of priorities, in pension matters, too, I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should suggest that this very substantial sum should be allocated to those who, by definition, are not the most in need among the pensioner group.
§ Mr. Molloy
Would the hon. Gentleman not put the other part of the equation that was also suggested from this side of the House, that perhaps to help towards this the Government might reconsider the 6d. off the income tax which is going to meet the well-being of those who are much wealthier?
§ Mr. Dean
This is really a hoary old chestnut which has been answered on many occasions in this House this afternoon. What the hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise is that it is no good talking of paying out pensions until we have produced the wealth on which those pensions can be based.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) also asked me about the Common Market and what arrangements would be required on harmonisation were we to join. The answer is that there is, I understand, very little progress being made amongst the Common Market countries themselves on harmonisation up to now. But one has to be rather careful in the comparisons which are drawn as to rates of pension in different countries. They do not necessarily give the full picture.
The figures which suggest in some cases that our level of pensions is not as high as in some European countries are certainly true, but one can say, on the other hand, that when one takes into account the much more comprehensive nature, particularly the cover for dependants, which exists in our schemes, and takes into account our Health Service, our rent schemes and things of this kind, it may well be that our country is not so 2043 far behind as some of the figures just on pensions may suggest.
I was asked a number of questions about the effect of the postal strike on the payment of pensions and the arrangements generally. This, of course, is, naturally, causing us concern, and our staff, as indeed the postal staff where it is possible, are doing their utmost to see that pensioners do not suffer. But it is unhappily the case that some pensioners are finding difficulty when they are used to going to one post office if that office is not open at the time they are accustomed to go. It is a type of problem with which it is not so easy to deal when one is getting old and wants to get the pension money before going off to do shopping.
I was asked a particular question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon Thames: what happens in the case of people coming on to pension who have not got a pension book at all? The answer is that those who have not got a pension book, if they are in pressing need, should go to their local social security office where cash can be made available to them without a pension book. But it is the case, I am sorry to have to tell him, that those who are coming on to pension are not getting their pension books at the present time. This applies equally in the growing number of cases of those whose pension books are due for renewal. The books are ready at the computer centre in Newcastle but are not, under present arrangements, going out to post offices. Here, the arrangement which we are operating is to pay the pensions on the counterfoils of the existing books. This, inevitably, is causing some inconvenience and some extra pressure on our own staff, who are already extremely busy. Naturally, we all hope that it will not be long before normal arrangements can be resumed.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, do I understand from his answer to the question that people who have not yet received books to which they are entitled, if they go to the social security office will receive in cash an amount equivalent to the full rate the pension book would have given?
§ Mr. Dean
That is the position.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) asked me about the 2044 possibility of mobile post offices in country areas, not in particular relation to the present strike. There are considerable difficulties, as he himself recognised, but we are seeing whether we can make arrangements, particularly for pensioners in country areas, which may be more satisfactory for them than the present arrangements.
One theme which has run throughout the debate has been that, in deciding the amount of pension increases and when they should be granted, the cost involved must be weighed against the needs of the pension population. My hon. Friends the Members for The Wrekin (Dr. Trafford) and Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) were so right to remind the House of priorities. My hon. Friends explained that whatever subject we were debating today—whether education, health, welfare or any other spending department—a first-class case could be made for more expenditure and it was therefore the job of the Government of the day to allocate priorities.
Pensions have to be paid by the present working population out of current production. We pay for our grandfathers' and our fathers' pension, or more likely for our grandmothers' and mothers' pension—because it is the women who live longest—just as they paid for their parents' and their grandparents' pensions. The State scheme is on a pay-as-you-go basis. As the right hon. Member for Sowerby said, it will be our turn next. In that sense, it is not an insurance scheme in the normal sense of the word "insurance". It is a contributory scheme. The number of pensioners rises all the time.
The last uprating in November, 1969, which was 10s. for a single person and 16s. for a married couple, cost net £235 million, but the total amount which had to be raised on that occasion to put the scheme back into the black and to prevent it from going into deficit was no less a figure than £430 million. The effect of this on individuals ranged from an increase in contribution at the top end of the scale of 7s. 7d. down to 1s. at the bottom end of the scale, and the self-employed paid an additional 2s. 8d. These figures give some indication that the Government must weigh in the balance the danger that increases in contributions may add fuel to the fires of inflation and make still more difficult the 2045 problem of trying to damp this down, with which the Government and the country are grappling at present.
It is also as well to bear in mind the number of pensioners and who they are. They range nowadays from the very richest to the very poorest, from millionaires to bankrupts, Dives and Lazarus. It is not the case that all pensioners are on the breadline. We must weigh the varying needs of these 7 million pensioners against those who must pay the contributions, some of whom will certainly be worse off. Those on low pay will be worse off than some of the pensioners.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the increases in the supplementary benefit which were proposed by the last Administration and introduced by this Administration last November. It is as well to bear in mind that nearly 28 per cent. of pensioners, just over 2 million receive supplementary benefits and therefore, had an increase in the scale rates then. Over and above the scale rates, which are now £5 14s. for a single person and £9 for a married couple, rent and rates are paid, and as they increase so the amount of supplementary benefit increases. Thus those who are most in need are insulated to some degree, against effect of rising prices, rent, and so on, by the increases brought into operation last November.
My hon. Friend the Member for Melton and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) pointed out the need to seek out those who are entitled to help but who are not applying for it at present. My right hon. Friend attaches immense importance to seeking out those who may not be receiving the resources which are available to them as of right at present. There will be a major concentration of effort on take-up campaigns to try to see that these people are brought within the cash and benefit services available to them and theirs as of right.
I am glad that many of my hon. Friends mentioned the growth of occupational pension schemes and emphasised the importance of the occupational pension playing a growing part in security in old age. The latest position is that no less than two-thirds of men who are now retiring are receiving an occupational pension, and the average is £6 a week. I 2046 am not suggesting for one moment that all occupational pensioners receive a pension anything like as high as that but the numbers and the figure involved suggest strongly that those of my hon. Friends who have spoken so powerfully in support of the encouragement of occupational pensions are suggesting a very realistic policy for better provision in old age.
It is the Government's firm intention to continue encouraging this development because we believe that this is the best way to ensure that a growing number of people have a second pension over and above that provided by the basic State pension.
The right hon. Gentleman regretted the demise of what became known as the Crossman pension scheme. There are not many people around now who regret the demise of that scheme. I can assure the House that when my right hon. Friend brings forward his proposals, they will not be pie in the sky to mature in 20 years' time if all goes well and if we can stand the major increases in compulsory contributions which would take place in the meantime. They will be realistic. They will be modest in some regard but they will—[interruption.] Modest is the opposite of pie in the sky. They will encourage savings and the development of occupational schemes. We believe that it is through the balance of the State providing the firm basis on which people can then build for themselves that we can achieve security much more effectively for future generations of our old people.
§ Mr. Houghton
Will the Secretary of State have his scheme vetted by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) so that it cannot be called a swindle?
§ Mr. Dean
We are always delighted to take advice from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. However, it was the right hon. Member for Sowerby who said that we should stop all this nonsense about a swindle. I remember distinctly the right hon. Gentleman saying that not very long ago in one of our debates. He said that it was very irresponsible for politicians to be bandying about the word "swindle". We all cheered at the time and thought that the right hon. Gentleman had turned over 2047 a new leaf, that we had a new spokesman on pensions on the Front Bench opposite who was conscious of his responsibility. It is disappointing that the right hon. Gentleman has resorted to the temptation to use that word again.
The right hon. Gentleman found some satisfaction in the record of the previous Administration. He made the point that the first increase in pensions which they introduced came in March, 1965. He was entitled to feel some satisfaction about that increase. However, he did not go on to say that every increase after that was much more modest and less effective——
§ Mr. Dean
The increase in October, 1967, was slightly more than the increase in prices, but only slightly more, whereas the increase in November, 1969, was slightly less than was required by prices.
When the right hon. Gentleman talked about the record of his Government, he ought to have gone on to say that it amounted to a great flush of enthusiasm to begin with which faded away year by year. We are determined to avoid that situation. It would have been relatively simple for my right hon. Friend to have won a few easy cheers by saying that the Government intended to advance the date
§ of the increase. However, he knows that very substantial sums are involved and that it is necessary to have assessed carefully and as near due dates as possible the best way to ensure a real improvement of the position of pensioners without putting too big a burden on the present working population.
§ We are entitled to ask the House to support the Amendment, if there is a vote. This Administration have already shown their desire and their action to help pensioners and other needy people. The first acts of this Parliament were to provide pensions for people over 80 and for younger widows, the new attendance allowance for the very severely disabled, the improved heating allowances for those on supplementary benefit which came along fairly soon afterwards, the family income supplement and the substantial increase in the expenditure on health and welfare services. All are examples of concentrating resources on those whose need is greatest.
§ On that record, we are entitled to ask for the support of the House for our Amendment.
§ Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 315, Noes 270.2051
|Division No. 124.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Dean, Paul|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Bryan, Paul||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Augus,N&M)||Dixon, Piers|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Buck, Antony||Dodds-Parker, Douglas|
|Astor, John||Bullus, Sir Eric||Drayson, G. B.|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Burden, F. A.||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward|
|Awdry, Daniel||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray&Nairn)||Eden, Sir John|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Carlisle, Mark||Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)|
|Balniel, Lord||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Cary, Sir Robert||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)|
|Batsford, Brian||Channon, Paul||Emery, Peter|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Chapman, Sydney||Farr, John|
|Bell, Ronald||Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Fell, Anthony|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Chichester-Clark, R.||Fidler, Michael|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Churchill, W. S.||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)|
|Benyon, W.||Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Biffen, John||Clegg, Walter||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Cockeram, Eric||Fortescue, Tim|
|Blaker, Peter||Cooke, Robert||Foster, Sir John|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Coombs, Derek||Fowler, Norman|
|Body, Richard||Cooper, A. E.||Fox, Marcus|
|Boscawen, Robert||Cordle, John||Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Cormack, Patrick||Fry, Peter|
|Bowden, Andrew||Costain, A. P.||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Crouch, David||Gardner, Edward|
|Brained, Bernard||Crowder, F. P.||Gibson-Watt, David|
|Bray, Ronald||Curran, Charles||Gibson, Ian (Norfolk, C.)|
|Brewis, John||Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)||Gilmore, Sir John (Fife, E.)|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Glyn, Dr. Alan|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack||Goodhart, Philip|
|Gorst, John||McCrindle, R. A.||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Gower, Raymond||McLaren, Martin||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Gray, Hamish||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Green, Alan||McMaster, Stanley||Rost, Peter|
|Grieve, Percy||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Royle, Anthony|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Grylis, Michael||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Gummer, Selwyn||Maddan, Martin||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Gurden, Harold||Madel, David||Scott, Nicholas|
|Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Maginnis, John E.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Sharples, Richard|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Marten, Neil||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mather, Carol||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Hannam, John (Exeter)||Maude, Angus||Simeons, Charles|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Mawby, Ray||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Soref, Harold|
|Hastings, Stephen||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Speed, Keith|
|Havers, Michael||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Spence, John|
|Hawkins, Paul||Miscampbell, Norman||Sproat, Iain|
|Hay, John||Mitchell,Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire,W)||Stainton, Keith|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Moate, Roger||Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper)|
|Heseltine, Michael||Molyneaux, James||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Hicks, Robert||Money, Ernie||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Higgins, Terrence L.||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Stokes, John|
|Hiley, Joseph||Monro, Hector||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Montgomery, Fergus||Sutcliffe, John|
|Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Holland, Philip||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Holt, Miss Mary||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Taylor,Edward M,(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Hordern, Peter||Mudd, David||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Hornby, Richard||Murton, Oscar||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Tebbit, Norman|
|Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Neave, Airey||Temple, John M.|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Hunt, John||Normanton, Tom||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Nott, John||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Iremonger, T. L||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally||Tilney, John|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|James, David||Osborn, John||Trew, Peter|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Jessel, Toby||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.)||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Peel, John||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Jopling, Michael||Waddington, David|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Percival, Ian||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Kellett, Mrs. Elaine||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Pink, R. Bonner||Wall, Patrick|
|Kilfedder, James||Pounder, Rafton|
|Kimball, Marcus||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Walters, Dennis|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Warren, Kenneth|
|Kinsey, J. R.||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Kirk, Peter||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Kitson, Timothy||Quennell, Miss J. M.||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Knight, Mrs, Jill||Raison, Timothy||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Knox, David||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Lambton, Antony||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Wilkinson, John|
|Lane, David||Redmond, Robert||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Wood, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Rees, Peter (Dover)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Worsley, Marcus|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Younger, Hn. George|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Longden, Gilbert||Ridsdale, Julian||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Loveridge, John||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey||Mr. Reginald Eyre and|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)||Mr. Jasper More.|
|Abse, Leo||Ashton, Joe||Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Albu, Austen||Atkinson, Norman||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Bishop, E. S.|
|Allen, Scholefield||Barnes, Michael||Blenkinsop, Arthur|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Barnett, Joel||Boardman, H. (Leigh)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Berney, Alan||Booth, Albert|
|Ashley, Jack||Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Heffer, Eric S.||Orbach, Maurice|
|Bradley, Tom||Hilton, W. S.||Orme, Stanley|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Horam, John||Oswald, Thomas|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Padley, Walter|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Huckfield, Leslie||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Buchan, Norman||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Cant, R. B.||Hunter, Adam||Pearl, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Carmichael, Neil||Irvine,Rt.Hn,Sir Arthur(Edge Hill)||Pendry, Tom|
|Carber, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Janner, Greville||Pentland, Norman|
|Carber-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Prescott, John|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Cohen, Stanley||John, Brynmor||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Probert, Arthur|
|Conlan, Bernard||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Rankin, John|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Richard, Ivor|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)|
|Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitchaven)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Judd, Frank||Roderick,Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Kaufman, Gerald||Roper, John|
|Davidson, Arthur||Kelley, Richard||Rose, Paul B.|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Kinnock, Neil||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Lambie, David||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Lamond, James||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydfil)||Latham, Arthur||Short,Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Lawson, George||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton,N.E.)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Leonard, Dick||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lestor, Miss Joan||Sillars, James|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Silverman, Julius|
|Dempsey, James||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Doig, Peter||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Small, William|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lipton, Marcus||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Lomas, Kenneth||Spearing, Nigel|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Loughlin, Charles||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Driberg, Tom||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Steel, David|
|Dunn, James A.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Dunnett, Jack||McBride, Neil||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|Eadie, Alex||McCartney, Hugh||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Edelman, Maurice||McElhone, Frank||Strang, Gavin|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McGuire, Michael||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Ellis, Tom||Mackie, John||Swain, Thomas|
|English, Michael||Mackintosh, John P.||Taverne, Dick|
|Evans, Fred||Maclennan, Robert||Thomas,Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Fisher,Mrs.Doris(B'ham,Ladywood)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Tinn, James|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Tomney, Frank|
|Foley, Maurice||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E)||Torney, Tom|
|Foot, Michael||Marks, Kenneth||Tuck, Raphael|
|Ford, Ben||Marquand, David||Urwin, T. W.|
|Forrester, John||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Varley, Eric G.|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mayhew, Christopher||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Meacher, Michael||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Gilbert, Dr. John||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Wallace, George|
|Ginsburg, David||Mendelson, John||Watkins, David|
|Golding, John||Mikardo, Ian||Weitzman, David|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Millan, Bruce||Wellbeloved, James|
|Gourlay, Harry||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Molloy, William||Whitehead, Philip|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Whitlock, William|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Moyle, Roland||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||Malley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Hardy, Peter||Murray, Ronald King||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Harper, Joseph||Ogden, Eric|
|Harrison, Waiter (Wakefield)||O'Halloran, Michael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||O'Malley, Brian||Mr. Donald Coleman and|
|Hattersley, Roy||Oram, Bert||Mr. William Hamling.|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis|
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House, deeply concerned about the plight of many elderly people, widows, the sick and the disabled, because of rapidly ris-
ing prices, and noting that supplementary benefits and supplementary pensions were increased in November, 1970, welcomes Her Majesty's Government's intention to implement their election pledge to review retirement pensions this year to restore them at least to their November, 1969 value.