§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.11 a.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
When the passions of last night and, apparently, of this morning have subsided, it may be agreed that not only the events that we were discussing a few moments ago and the situation from which they arose but the proposals in this Bill will be regarded as of lasting significance for ordinary people. I wish that I could generate half the heat in support of my Bill as that which apparently was generated about other matters yesterday.
In one sense, history is repeating itself. This is the second occasion on which I have been fortunate enough to draw a place sufficiently high in the Ballot to ensure a Second Reading debate for a Private Member's Measure.
A private Member is always in a dilemma about whether to promote a small Measure which is likely to get on to the Statute Book or whether to concentrate attention upon what he regards as a major issue of the day. I have chosen the second course on this occasion, as I did previously when I introduced a Bill proposing leasehold enfranchisement. That Bill did not get a Second Reading on the day that I introduced it. However, that debate ensured that leasehold enfranchisement became part of the law of the land and, despite sceptical criticism on the day that my Bill was debated, it was eventually accepted by all parties in this House.
I am conscious that in promoting this Bill, calling, as it does, for early retirement and for extended holidays, I am attempting to match it to the needs of the hour and to the mood of the country. It is not without interest that, in a debate on unemployment in another place earlier this week, a number of their 775 Lordships who perhaps had not previously given public support to propositions of this kind found themselves able to express the view that the time had come when, if we were to go any way towards solving the present unemployment problem, we had to move in the direction of earlier retirement and longer holidays.
I have the honour to be President of the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union, whose policy this is. I am grateful to it for the considerable research work that it has undertaken on my behalf in respect of the Bill. I am equally appreciative of the hundreds of letters that I have received from people all over the country giving me their vivid personal experiences. I shall refer to them in more detail later, but there is no doubt that there is a vast public opinion moving in the direction which I seek to encourage by this Bill.
The House may be interested to know that, of the largest postbag that I have ever had in the 17 years during which I have been a Member of this House, 90 per cent. were enthusiastically and overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill's provisions. I have analysed the 10 per cent. who wrote objecting—[Interruption.]—I do not know what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) finds so amusing about that—
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
I am afraid that I found it impossible to resist a laugh, since it is fairly obvious that the hon. Gentleman's proposals will have widespread support. They are, after all, giving away something for nothing.
§ Mr. Howell
That is typical of sort of intervention that we have come to expect from the hon. Gentleman. If he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr Speaker, I hope that he makes a more constructive contribution to the problem of technological unemployment with which I am seeking to deal.
It is not my intention to approach this matter from a party political point of view at all, and I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have promised me their support. I do not want to carry the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East with me, but had he referred to the back of my Bill and 776 read the list of its sponsors, he would have seen that I have taken care to get support from hon. Members of different points of view on both sides of the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other opponents of the Bill will try to answer the arguments in favour of it and not deal with it in a superficial manner which the intervention of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East suggests.
I suppose it is natural that more people would write supporting such a proposal as this than would oppose it. But it is interesting to analyse what the 10 per cent. who objected were saying. The majority of those who wrote objecting to my proposal were mistaken about the Bill. They thought that I was proposing compulsory earlier retirement and that people would be forced to retire at the age of 60. I am not in favour of forcing anyone to retire, even the person who wrote to me from the northern constituency of one of my hon. Friends saying that he was in favour of my Bill because he thought that it was time that his Member of Parliament retired. I shall resist the temptation to say anything further about that.
However, there is a mistaken belief that the Bill proposes compulsory retirement. Nothing could be further from my mind. What the Bill proposes is earlier retirement pensions for those who wish to avail themselves of such an opportunity.
The second largest category of objectors to the Bill comprised those who said that they wanted to retire early but that present pension arrangements were so inadequate that they could not afford to retire. I have the greatest possible sympathy with that category of objection. It is no part of my case that we should offer people the prospect of retirement on the woefully inadequate retirement pension that is available at present.
I am mindful of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), when he was Minister, proposed wage-related retirement pensions, a proposal which had and still has the total support of all right hon. and hon. Members of this side of the House. I know that the Government are considering their own proposals, following their own White Paper. I hope 777 that they will hurry along with them, because I think that they will also seek to meet the situation, though not in a way of which I approve. However, since I do not wish to be party political, I shall not pursue that subject further. But whichever method of financing pensions is finally adopted, whether it be the Crossman plan or the new proposals which are to come from the Government, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members are united in feeling that it is totally unrealistic to expect people to retire early on the present retirement pension.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a little ironic, after all the water which has flowed under the bridge, that "leaks" from Alexander Fleming House are to the effect that something like the so-called Crossman plan mark II will have to be adopted by the Government to make sense of this difficult situation?
§ Mr. Howell
I am one of the few people present who has been a Member long enough to disregard "leaks" from any source. I do not know whether what my hon. Friend says is correct. I should not be surprised if the content of what he said was true and that at the end of the day something like the Crossman plan proved to be the only practicable solution. No doubt the Minister will tell us whether it is true. It is sufficient for my purposes to say that it must be common ground between the two sides of the House that something must be done to improve workers' pension arrangements.
I come to the third category of objector. I received one letter which did not fall into the first two categories. It asked the simple question, "Who would do the menial jobs if everybody were allowed to retire early?" This is the point at which I came into the Socialist movement. This was the subject of one of the first debates in which I took part at school, in a fourth-form debating society. The question was then asked, "If the prospects of people were to be improved, who would do the dirty work?" I am sorry to say that that thought still persists in at least one of the letters which I have received.
This debate takes place against a backcloth of over 1 million unemployed and the fact that machines and science and 778 the advent of automation in industry has made it possible for industry to produce far more goods and to achieve far greater production with fewer work people. This is creating unemployment. I came into the Labour movement having seen at first hand in my own family the terrible destruction of health and dignity which unemployment causes. The fact that we are more civilised in our arrangements and in the payment of benefits than we used to be does not detract from the importance of my point.
That fact emerges from many of the hundreds of letters which I have received, particularly from people in the upper age range. When a man is unemployed at the age of 50, he finds it increasingly difficult to get work. The financial hardship for him is bad enough, although it is nothing like as bad as it was in the 1930s, but we cannot leave out of the reckoning the effect which it has upon his dignity and the destruction of his personality and individuality. It is soul destroying for people to be made redundant because of automation or, as one man aged 55, writing from Cornwall, informed me, because of the use of computers. It is soul destroying for them to find that there is no prospect of obtaining other worthwhile employment. As I have said, men and women became members of the Labour Party because they saw this situation eating like a canker into the lives of many people.
One hopes that that situation did not produce many feelings of bitterness. It did not do so in my life. But it enabled people to ask certain fundamental questions, and I hope that in this debate Members will ask a few fundamental questions about the philosophy of life, what its content should be and where work fits into the pattern. We have few opportunities in the House to concentrate attention on philosophy, particularly the philosophy of life and educational philosophy as distinct from hard practical policies.
As a young man, I was always attracted by the philosophy of the old Socialist pioneers, particularly William Morris, who believed that there was no virtue in work for its own sake but that it was a means by which to enjoy the rich possibilities of life. William Morris believed that we should have a society of warmth and colour and infinite possibility. He 779 believed truly that every man should have the chance of doing a worthwhile and satisfying job and that this was important for the human personality. However, he never believed that work was an end in itself. I endorse that philosophy absolutely.
One of the problems is to educate people about the possibilities of early retirement and the right use of leisure time. I had the privilege for six years of being the Minister responsible for sport. Anyone who has held such a position knows that we are moving into a leisure age. If we ignore the increased leisure available to people, we shall store up tremendous problems.
My point can be illustrated in many ways. I used to be telephoned every Saturday about the latest outburst of hooliganism among young people and asked to comment on it. It was a distressing experience for any Minister. One was led to the conclusion that there were far too many young people watching football matches instead of playing in them. Far too many people are showing signs of increasing boredom. I know that this matter is not strictly within the scope of the debate, but it is worth mentioning in passing. The education system is still geared to education for examination when its true purpose should be to educate people for life and for the rich possibilities of life and, most important of all, for showing young people how to use their leisure time.
If, as we move into an age of leisure, we analyse the work pattern of most work people, we can see how important is this proposition. I mentioned William Morris and the early pioneers in the Socialist movement. Most workmen in those days were doing a self-respecting job. They were skilled men, applying their skills as tradesmen to their line of business. But it is an unfortunate fact, which we cannot ignore, that, in spite of all the advances of our technological society, the humdrum, day-to-day nature of the working lives of many people amounts to nothing less than drudgery. People in factories in my constituency, particularly in the motor-car industry, are doing the same job day after day. One can see men putting on the nearside front wheels of cars, starting the operation when the conveyor belt reaches point A 780 and being expected to have completed it when it reaches point B. It is people doing that sort of job, pulling the same lever month after month, who, in terms of philosophy, present a very considerable challenge to us all to do some new thinking.
The challenge is presenting itself in many ways, not least in the rising incidence of mental illness in our society. It is the effect of drudgery. We have a treadmill society for our industrial workers. It seems to me that people who are forced to work at this sort of pace and at this sort of repetitive job are entitled to enjoy much more leisure time than society makes available to them.
I believe that at least half the unemployment we have today is what has become known as technological unemployment. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends could argue about the effects of Government policies, and I have no doubt that the Minister could reply, possibly effectively, but I do not want to enter into that today. Indeed, I do not want to get involved in an argument about political responsibility for unemployment, for that would be out of character with the debate I am initiating. It is common ground between us all that, whether we go into Europe or stay out, the British economy has to become increasingly efficient and that we have to have increasing productivity. If that happens it will mean that more and more people will find themselves with more and more leisure, either enforced under the title of unemployment, or accepted as the natural order of things within the philosophy we all wish to encourage.
I have mentioned computers, in which my own union is very interested. It is possible to read information into a computer and to get information back through the application of electronic techniques in the computer revolution. A computer can produce information in an instant for people 100 or 200 miles away from the computer. These techniques are being applied in our society and our industry with consequential havoc in the lives of clerical staffs who find themselves unable to get other work.
There are developments which have taken place over recent years under both 781 the Labour and Conservative Governments. I would mention two policies of the Government of which I was a member, and which, perhaps, put a greater responsibility on us on this side of the House than on hon. and right hon. Members on the other side for tackling this problem. First of all there was the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, and then there was the selective employment tax. Both those Government policies were designed to produce greater efficiency, to lead to a shakeout, which I think is the commonly accepted term. They have succeeded to a great extent, and beyond the comprehension of many people who were urging the policies at that time.
Take, for example, the work of the I.R.C. in bringing about reorganisation in some of our larger companies, British Leyland, Ransome-Hoffman, G.E.C. George Kent of Cambridge, the Laird Group. They found they were engaging in rationalisation and increasing productivity, and one of the natural results of that is to get greater production at lower cost. It is an essential effect of that activity that we perform with a smaller labour force functions previously performed with a larger labour force. These are questions which we all have to face. Therefore, it seems to me that we have to match the technological revolution in this country with a social revolution, and if we do not do it there will be problems for our society, and they will increase out of all magnitude.
That is what Clause 3 of the Bill is about. I have possibly paid more attention to that than to other Clauses to which I shall come shortly. It is not beyond possibility to get the retirement down to the age of 60 for men and 55 for women in the foreseeable future. The unemployment situation in this country demands that we reduce the retirement age by at least two years, and almost immediately, almost as an emergency measure to deal with the present unemployment.
The formula I have proposed does not put any age of retirement into the Bill itself. That would be impossible for a private Member to do. I am not an actuarial expert and know little of pension funds, but I know enough to know how little I know and I know enough to know that one could not propose an 782 age for retirement without a great deal of expert advice. I have used the simple but I think ingenious formula of saying to the Minister, "We will allow you, by methods in the Bill, to come to the House to ask that the retirement age be lowered." That sort of proposition ought to commend itself to any Government committed to the principle of early retirement.
There is no reason at all why we should not seek to move to earlier retirement. Russia and New Zealand already have retirement at age 60. As to Europe, I am sure that I can carry with me hon. Friends of mine and, I hope, hon. Members opposite, whether they are fervent Marketeers or opponents of the Market, or lukewarm about it, when I say that we must be united on this, that whether we go into Europe or stay out of Europe the sort of social advance which we can see in Europe at present ought to be available for our own workpeople here, too. I would say to the Government, who are passionately committed to the European ideal, that the Bill is a test in many ways of their credibility, because the Government have to show us today that if they believe that the nation should go into Europe, there is no reason why this country should in Europe, be the single exception standing out against a lowering of the age of retirement and standing out against the longer holidays which are available throughout the Continent of Europe.
Some very interesting things are happening in the trade union movement in Europe. At this very moment, as the Minister may know, a Bill is proceed through the German Parliament to enable German workers to select their own retirement age between 60 and 65. This seems to me to be an interesting possibility. The State pension philosophy in Germany is to enable pensioners to lead a pleasant life. The Rentenformel—pensions formula—not only determines a reasonable pension but also ensures that the pension keeps pace with the cost of living and with wage movements. That seems to me the sort of thinking we ought to apply in this country. In France, too, at this very moment the main claim of the trade union movement in negotiations with industry and with the State is for a reduction of the 783 retirement age from 65 to 60. Therefore one can see how this Bill is relevant to thinking on the Continent of Europe, and throughout the world, indeed, as well as in this country.
Contrast that with the contradictions one sees in, for example, Birmingham and the West Midlands. There is no other way of explaining this contradiction except to say that we are earning ourselves more leisure time but buying it through the industrial situation in which, for example, British Leyland is producing more motor cars than ever before in its history and at the same time the unemployment figures in Birmingham are higher than for 40 years. That, in a sentence, illustrates the great contradictions in our society.
Nothing could be more reasonable than Clause 3 and the manner in which it seeks to give the Government power to reduce the pensionable age from time to time. My view is that two years should be taken off at once and that there should be a commitment to take off another three years in the near future for the purpose of wages-related pensions.
I am told that for every year by which we reduce the retirement age jobs would be freed for 275,000 males and 174,000 females. If only half the number of people who were entitled to retire did so, a significant contribution would be made. For every year taken off retirement age, 250,000 jobs would become available. If the retirement age were reduced by five years, which should be our immediate aim, our present unemployment would be wiped out.
In the last five years, one in ten of all clerical jobs and one in eight of all manual jobs covered by my union have disappeared. Those figures show just how revolutionary is the situation.
The cost of the proposals would not be astronomical. The best advice I can get is that for every year by which the retirement age was reduced an increase of 5p per week from both employer and employee would be necessary. If that is true, or anywhere near the truth, no one can say it is too high a price to pay. No doubt if my figures are wrong the Minister will correct them.
784 What is the Government's opposition to earlier retirement? Six letters have come to me which were written by the Under-Secretary of State to certain of his hon. Friends who had obviously written to him at the request of their constituents. These letters have come full circle. They give the Government's case against the reduction of the retiring age and to some extent therefore I am in an advantageous position. If the Minister behaves as I did when I was a Minister, I do not suppose that he wrote the letters himself. As the same phrase is used in all six letters, this suggests a master-mind in the Civil Service. These letters represent the attitude not only of the Government but of the Civil Service to retirement.
I will read one letter, dated 23rd December, 1970 written by the Under-Secretary of State to one of his hon. Friends who had made representations on behalf of a Mr. W. Drummond, of 40 Largie Road, Glasgow, S.3.The minimum pensionable age (65 for men and 60 for women) has always been intended to relate to the working capabilities of the bulk of the population at those ages and the national insurance retirement pension is intended for those who, by reason of their age, are unable to work or can no longer be reasonably expected to continue at work.That is the philosophy on which our pension policy is based. It is a lamentably bankrupt philosophy for any Government to hold, yet it has been enshrined in legislation by successive Governments. The Government are saying that a person should carry on working as long as he can and that not until the Government think that that person is fit to drop should the pension scheme become operative. According to that philosophy, we do not have a pension scheme; we have an insurance scheme to ensure people against failure to continue to work.
Many widows have written to me to say that their husbands have died just before they were due to receive their pension, or just after, and that they did not live to enjoy the reward of their 50 years' contribution to the pension scheme. The letters I received were most touching and caused me to think about the expectation of life. I am obliged to the T.U.C. Pensions Department and to the actuary employed in my union for telling me that the expectation of life for a man is 68 and for a woman 72.
785 We are asking a man to pay contributions for 50 years in the expectation of enjoying a retirement pension for three years. This national policy is the biggest piece of fraud and deceit in our whole national life. This argument, if no other, should be sufficient to cause us to favour early retirement and a fundamental change in our pension arrangements.
There are other ways for the nation to enjoy the rewards of increased leisure, and these are contained in Clauses 1 and 2. The first is the provision of four weeks minimum holiday for all work people after one year's service. There is nothing radical about that proposal. A large number of civil servants and local government employees already enjoy it. My union has negotiated a minimum of three weeks' holiday for over 85 per cent. of the 120,000 people it represents. Other unions have probably done better. In Belgium, France, Italy, Holland, Germany, and wherever one looks in Europe, the unions are at this moment negotiating a minimum four weeks holiday.
The Banking and Financial Dealings Bill is related to my third proposal for an increase in the number of statutory Bank holidays. The Government's objection to my Bill—if they have any objection to it—can be summed up by what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said in Committee on the Banking and Financial Dealings Bill on 23rd November last year. He said that all questions of holidays should be a matter of negotiation between employers and employees.
I hope the Minister does not rest on that philosophy today. The whole history of the establishment of holiday entitlement has been brought about more by Parliament and the State than as a result of industrial negotiations. I have no doubt that the trade union movement will increasingly seek to involve itself in improving the number of holidays. In the short term the four-week minimum holiday proposal, because of the increasing number of people who would have to be taken on to the staffs, might have an even greater effect in reducing unemployment than my proposals in relation to earlier retirement.
The third point of major importance concerns the number of statutory holidays. The provision of Bank Holidays is lamentable. We are miles behind 786 almost every other civilised country. England and Wales have four additional Bank Holidays, Scotland has six, and Northern Ireland has five. But Belgium has 10, France 10, Germany between 10 and 15 additional days' holiday, depending on the region, and Italy has 17 days' holiday.
My proposal for eight statutory days holiday could not be more modest. If we join the E.E.C., we shall need to get in line with the social provisions to be found on the Continent. The fact that in other countries they are called saints' days and here Bank Holidays is immaterial. The truth is that we need these additional days to refresh ourselves in one form or another.
I thought it right to indulge myself in one bit of personal prejudice, and this is to insist that one of the extra days' holidays should be New Year's Day. I know that my colleagues from North of the Border would endorse that proposition. The one great festive day is New Year's Eve, and it is monstrous the day after that to read that this festive occasion has been the cause of so much absenteeism. It makes no sense to expect industry to go to work on New Year's Day. Therefore, New Year's Day as a statutory holiday should be priority number one, and this view has widespread support in industry.
I feel that my case is more than made out in terms of combatting the current unemployment situation and in terms of the philosophy of a leisure age in which we can enjoy more than ever the rich possibilities of life. In winding up the part of the Common Market debate in October which dealt with these aspects, the Secretary of State for Social Services said:…we regret that our trade unions have not seen fit to make improvement of the fringe benefits one of their main bargaining purposes…I point to the advantages in Europe, and hope that the trade unions will catch the idea from Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1971; Vol. 823, c. 1117.]We have now caught the idea, and this is a small test of the Government's purposes in regard to Europe. I do not base my case on the European aspect, but nations and industries in Europe, including ourselves, will have to face up to the technological revolution and all that it will mean.
787 Every piece of evidence we have available suggests that the nation is earning more and ought to be paying itself more in leisure time. No rational assessment of future industrial potential suggests that we shall need to do longer hours. On the contrary it suggests that it will require a decreasing amount of manpower for this nation to provide the necessary goods and services. If that proposition is true, then I submit that the case for this Bill has been made out, and indeed is outstanding. I believe that this Measure will be neglected at the peril of the nation.
§ 11.57 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer (Lewisham, West)
The Bill contains a number of valuable proposals. In view of the expectation of life for people generally, it is obviously much more sensible to consider a retirement age which would enable them to enjoy leisure at a time when most of us would like to afford them the opportunity to retire if they wish. From a practical point of view, one can point to changes in other countries which have led to longer holidays and also to demands in other countries for pensions to be paid at an earlier age. The proposals in the Bill arise when we start to consider the nature of change in our society and the kind of pressures which are exerted following the advance of technology.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) rightly pointed to the great alteration in the structure of industry over the last 10 or 15 years. Many years ago it took several generations for retraining to be necessary. Father taught son, and son then taught grandson. People would perhaps be thatchers for generations and then gradually it became a single-generation business. People trained for the job they particularly wanted to do. However in modern society more and more people are discovering during their working lives that it is no longer possible at the beginning to train for a job which they will carry out during the whole of their working lives until they retire. Men will have to become used to the idea of being retrained from time to time during their working lives. Men are discovering increasingly that their skills in one particular job are not sufficient and that the industry in which they begun 788 has contracted in size or gone into decline. Therefore, it is right that the House should be brought face to face with the issues involved in the change in our society, which most of us know about but ignore.
This is one of those situations which, because there is not a direct confrontation between the two parties, very often gets shoved into the background. That is the sadness of our party political system, in that if everybody is generally agreed about an issue, they hardly ever discuss it. We hardly ever discuss matters such as pollution and so on. We are generally agreed that it was not difficult to obtain a list of sponsors for the Bill because it is the sort of issue in which, in a modern society, all parties are interested. Therefore, the party political system is unable to concentrate the Opposition are unable to press and the Government, perhaps, are unable to put this to the forefront of their policies because it is not a matter of great import in the argument. I hope that over the next few years, in general, we shall look carefully at the operation of our parliamentary system, because in recent events we have seen once again that we are not very good at coping with the big issues of our society, perhaps, inside the system, which has worked satisfactorily in the past but, perhaps, is not working quite as well at present.
With both parties and the majority of people in the country being aware of the problems of an age when men have to retrain and when more and more people will find themselves in a position in which they cannot retrain for new jobs, and in a society in which we know that the opportunities for labour-intensive industries are likely to become fewer, we ought to be concerned with how that society provides for holidays and, particularly, for early retirement.
I was a little unhappy that the hon. Member for Small Heath should have talked about the Bill in terms of an emergency measure, because it would be wrong for us to look at this issue as though it were an answer to those aspects of unemployment which are temporary and not to those which are, in the jargon word, structural. What we have to face is that there is a distinction between those two elements in the kind of situation we have today. There are those who would say 789 that we can never again look to the kind of full employment which we have, in the past, thought to be the aim. The reason for that is not because, for some reason or another, there is a general rundown in employment; it is simply because if we are to have the kind of society which demands from people flexibility in changing their jobs, we shall have many more people in the midst of changing their jobs, and people for whom that flexibility is not available by reason of age or ability. Therefore, we are likely to have within the structure of employment in society a large number of people for whom prospects of proper re-employment will be much less. If that is so, we shall have to do three things structurally. I am sorry that there is no reference to this in the Bill, and that the hon. Gentleman did not refer to it.
First, we ought to have been discussing the whole question of hours of work. It is difficult to talk about holidays and retirement without talking about hours of work. We live in a society in which the one betrayal by the trade union movement of the working people of Britain has been fraudulently to seek for shorter hours. By "fraudulently" I mean to seek for shorter hours not to give shorter hours but to increase the amount of overtime. That seems to be a fraud. What that now means is that in the time in which we ought to be getting the basic rates for the basic working week to a level of decent payment, so that men can have the kind of leisure which they need and ought to have and for which we have so far not satisfactorily provided, if the pressure from the trade union movement was directed not only to the kind of shorter hours which provided payment which men could live on but also to pressing for the Government and voluntary bodies to provide and help with the kind of facilities that would enable people to use their leisure satisfactorily, the trade union movement would have done the whole of our society good; but so far it has failed to do that.
If that is so, we should look at the question of hours and, in that context, we should go on to the two questions raised by the hon. Gentleman. First, the question of retirement, which I regard as much more important than the holiday question, comes within the context—rightly raised by the hon. Gentleman—of 790 Europe. I hope that no one will regard this as a contentious remark, but at present many are prepared to demand the advantages, values and improvements which Europe will give, but are unprepared to pay the price. It is marvellous to accept all the advantages and to state them, but when it comes to paying the price, either personally or nationally, all the complaints and the worries and other things can be brought out, and, above all, the excuses.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The hon. Gentleman is making a very valid point. I have been involved in the controversy on the edges for some time. Is not the situation the other way around and is not the only thing that we have heard about the price that has to be paid for entering Europe? It may not be a bad thing, whichever view one takes, if we had some emphasis on the advantages which will accrue.
§ Mr. Gummer
I agree with that. That was why I carefully prefaced my remarks, to make sure that the hon. Gentleman would not take it in another sense. We now have an opportunity to point very clearly to some of the advantages. But we should not do it without accepting that there are prices to pay. The reason it has been possible in the rest of Europe to provide the holidays and to increase the demand for the sort of early retirement age of which we are talking is that the countries of Europe have made it economically possible. If we are to will the ends, we must will the means.
I have great concern about the timing of the Bill, because its provisions can be paid for only by one thing, and that is greater wealth in the community. We shall not get that greater wealth unless we are prepared to pay the political and economic price to gain it. That is what the question we have been debating over these weeks has been about—a question on which I was unfortunately unable to say anything.
We should not burke the issue, because if we wish properly to provide for our people the kind of conditions and the sort of society we believe to be right, we can do so only within the context of a wealth-producing community, which we believe is to be found within the E.E.C.
Second, if it is necessary for us to look at the question of retirement ages, 791 why is there not in the Bill any specific reference to the ladies of our society? It is odd that we should state once again that the expectation of life of women is 72 years and that of men 68. One would expect in a logical society—which one does not demand—that men would retire at 60 and women at 65. That does not appear to be the fact. I would not dare to propose that that should be inserted in the Bill, but I suggest that there are two situations we have to face. The first is that women, quite rightly, demand in reality the kind of equality which has been provided in theory for a long time; in that sense they rightly say that the retirement provisions made for them are unfortunate. I believe that they deserve the extra five years, because during the rest of their working lives they face discrimination in the opposite direction.
Although I could not support the Bill which was recently introduced and which dealt with discrimination, because it would be silly to have an Act under which the Archbishop of Canterbury could be prosecuted for not having women priests, it would be sensible for us to look more carefully at the position of women in employment and, particularly, their difficulties in retraining. If we are prepared to do that, we could also look towards egalitarianism in the question of retirement age.
I am sorry that Britain does not call our bank holidays "saints' days", which is more attractive description than "bank holidays". There is nothing very attractive about a "bank holiday". My bank appears to have a holiday at any time, because I never get to it at any logical time to draw any money.
We are competing with other countries inside the enlarged Community and also with countries outside it. They are able to afford a greater number of statutory holidays.
I am sorry that we cannot find a way of having staggered statutory holidays. One of the troubles about statutory holidays is that everybody drives out and back on the same day.
I am surprised that the sponsor of the Bill did not suggest 1st May—the day of St. Joseph the Worker—as a statutory holiday.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
That was only because I was trying to engage the whole House in a spirit of bi-partisanship and I did not want to risk any hostility. However, as the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter, I will now state that I cannot think of a better day for my priority No. 2 than 1st May. My third priority would be polling day.
§ Mr. Gummer
If the sponsor of the Bill had suggested that it should be St. Joseph the Worker's day, we could all have joined together in a kind of ecumenical spirit and forgotten the other attributes of it.
It is right that we should look much more closely at the number of statutory holidays we have. It would be a good idea, for the reasons which have already been suggested, to have New Year's Day as a statutory holiday. That would merely recognise a present fact in many parts of industry, as shown by the level of absenteeism on that day. Many employers have already recognised this. If we took this step, it would be rather like the canonisation of a saint. It is always better to canonise a saint when everybody believes him to be a saint, so that one is, so to speak, merely putting a rubber stamp to reality.
If we enter the European Economic Community or, to use what I believe to be more accurate phraseology. when we enter the European Economic Community, it is right that we should bring ourselves into line. Harmonisation within the European Economic Community is harmonisation upwards. This is one of the areas in which we can harmonise upwards.
We cannot do that, however, until we have earned it. It is said, but it is one of the facts of life, that we cannot do anything until we have the wherewithal to pay for it. I ask the House to accept in principle that we should increase the number of annual holidays. We should so structure our society as to provide for earlier retirement. However, we should also accept the other side of the coin, which is that we must earn the wealth to make it possible.
We can do that only if we are prepared to pay the price about which we have heard so much. It is the price of entry into the European Economic Community. It is the price of having 793 a society which is prepared so to structure itself as to realise that only within some reasonable form of industrial peace can we act, even within the Community. It is the price of having a society which is prepared to act responsibly, not only to its present working members, and among them, but also to those who have worked all their lives and who deserve the kind of retirement which we would want them to have.
If we are prepared to pay the price, these are rewards which are well worth having. I wish that there were more about the price in the Bill and that more had been said about the price when the Bill was presented. I heartily welcome the Bill, but I welcome it in the sense that when we have earned it we can receive the rewards.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)
I apologise for not being present when my good friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) presented his Bill. I was reading letters down below. I realise that it is unforgivable to seek to participate in a debate without having listened to the earlier speeches, but I am sure that on some occasion or other all hon. Members have been placed in this situation.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading today, because I believe that it would be an important social advance. I have looked through some of the agreements obtaining in many industries in the European Economic Community. I am amazed at how forward they are compared with the conditions prevailing in Britain.
There was a time when we led the world in wage negotiations, collective bargaining, and fringe benefits in industry. Europe has passed us by. Some of the agreements I have looked at allow for four weeks' annual holiday, 17 statutory holidays, 10 days off for a marriage in the family, three days off for a funeral, a paid day to go to the dentist, a paid day to keep an appointment with the doctor—all kinds of advances that British industry has not yet been able to establish.
This is the time for us to take a step forward in the matter of annual holidays. We must create facilities for leisure. One of the problems we face 794 is that of technological unemployment—the great shake-up in industry arising from the development of the multinational companies. Every new capital investment in industry is aimed at reducing unit labour costs. As we develop science-based industries and put more capital into them, we increase productivity and reduce the labour force.
The time is ripe for social advance to keep pace with advances in productivity and the development of the huge multinational companies that today control about one-quarter of the Western world's total output. The case for four weeks' annual holiday does not need debating in the House; it should be accepted without controversy. Members of Parliament enjoy much longer holidays than that. Who are they to deny these privileges to industrial workers who are the strong arm of the economy?
The need to increase the number of statutory holidays is vital. Any hon. Member with experience in industry knows full well that a point is reached in the working life of workers and technicians in heavy industries where production starts to slow down just before a holiday period. We must provide more frequent breaks for our people so that they may rest and enjoy the facilities which modern developments make available to them.
We shall reach a time in the next decade when we laugh at the idea of four weeks' holiday. We shall be talking about a 30-hour week as a normal week in industry. We shall be talking about 20 or 30 statutory holidays. We may be talking, as the Americans do, of three months' holiday. In the American iron and steel industry, holidays are arranged so that American citizens of European extraction may have three months' holiday all at once, and still the American steel industry has greater productivity per man-hour than any similar industry in the rest of the world.
I regard the arguments in favour of the Bill as unanswerable. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer) asked how we should finance a social advance of this kind. In spite of the temporary difficulties in our economy, we are the second richest country in the world. We have £11,800 million of British capital invested abroad. We have 795 £5,600 million invested in direct production in various parts of the world. This is a great mountain of wealth, produced by the toil and industrial intelligence of the British people, produced by the very people of whom we are now thinking, who should be able to retire earlier as of right.
What does that great mountain of accumulated asset formation represent? It represents unpaid wages, unpaid salaries and unpaid fringe benefits for the people who produced the wealth. It is time we started thinking how the people whom we represent should share in this great asset formation which has become a characteristic of modern life and part of the background of the great multi-national companies which now blanket the Western world.
The Bill deals also with the question of earlier retirement. How can we justify keeping people at work in chemicals, in mining, in engineering, in foundries, in building—in the heavy industries which take so much out of men and women at a time when they may wish to retire? In these basic industries when a man reaches the age of 60, he is tired and his job becomes a burden to him. Such a man does not give good production. We should make it possible for him to retire from heavy industry, if he wants to, at the age of 60—and a woman at the age of 55.
I do not, however, subscribe to the idea that we should not at the same time make it possible for later retirement in the lighter industries. There are too many people arbitrarily retired who are still mentally alert and physically fit but who are swept out of their industrial and social environment into the wilderness, as it were, losing contact with their friends and their industrial community. All too often, arbitrary retirement leads to an early death. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath has this in mind too. He wants our arrangements to be more flexible and less arbitrary than they are today.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
Would it not make a great difference if we were to vary and, in the end, I hope, abolish the earnings rule for retirement pensions?
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree. This is a controversial matter about which many trade unions are concerned, as I know 796 well in my position as a national officer of a trade union. I would abolish the earnings rule tomorrow. We have reached a point when the idea that by maintaining the earnings rule we can create the basis for cheap labour in industry is no longer sound. Such arguments are not valid today as they may have been a few years ago. For my part, therefore, I would abolish the earnings rule and make the sky the limit. Earnings should be based on the ability of industry to produce. I believe in the principle of job evaluation, under which men and women may earn as much as possible according to the contribution which they make to industry. Many trade union agreements nowadays take these factors into account.
However, the Bill is limited to providing for four weeks' annual holiday—as I say, I am sure that this is no longer a matter of controversy—and for a minimum of eight statutory holidays. It is a modest demand having regard to what is happening in other parts of the world I recall a strike which took place some months ago in a remote island in the Indian Ocean. The workers were claiming extra statutory holidays, and one of the holidays which they won was for adherents to the Pagan religion. They discovered that there were a few Pagans on the island, and they won an extra statutory holiday for Pagans along with holidays for all the other religions on the island.
I hope that the House will readily give a Second Reading to this important Measure and send it to Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend on making a valuable contribution to the social advance of the British people.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Billericay)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) and his co-sponsors of the Bill, because, although I shall have some critical comments to make about it, I welcome the fact that the subject is now being aired.
It is an attractive Bill, and I shall probably sound like a hard-faced reactionary for daring to withhold from the British people some of the benefits which it would bestow. It has been said that it is a fairly modest Measure. In my 797 view, it is three major Bills rolled into one. There can be no denying that it would be expensive to implement, and, more important, it may well miss the target at which it is aimed.
The background against which the proposals in the Bill must be viewed is the measure of their contribution to the reduction of unemployment. I think that that is common ground. The sponsor has said so. But the argument that unemployment can be relieved only by reducing the size of the working population, which is what it amounts to, does not stand close examination. Moreover, it is a counsel of despair, for it presumes that the forces which have led in recent years to the shake-out of labour can never be reversed. I do not accept that. It presumes that we can never take advantage of the present situation to expand the economy. I do not accept that either. Indeed, I regard it as a very pessimistic assessment of the present position.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I did not spend a lot of time on the economy, because everyone hopes that there will be a pickup in the economy, and all that flows from it, but all the evidence is that that is not happening, in spite of massive injections of money. As to the hon. Gentleman's point about a gospel of despair, one of the things I jettisoned in my speech in the interests of time was the fact that I have discovered that the Department of Employment now accepts that it is almost impossible to find a job for unemployed men of 55 and over, and will give them a certificate saying that they need report at the employment exchange only four times a year. The essence of the matter is that the Department is saying, "We accept that you have already retired, but instead of having retirement pay you have unemployment pay. Do not trouble us by coming every week to sign on." If that does not underline the whole of our case, I should like to know what does.
§ Mr. McCrindle
No one would deny that the position of the over-55s is a separate difficulty, and it is one to which I shall turn. But in a way the alleviation of unemployment that the Bill hopes to achieve is still a counsel of despair, aiming at the wrong target.
798 Not so very long ago we were saying that a shortage of labour was holding back our economic advance. That situation could very well recur in the medium term. If we enact the Bill, we shall be using a long-term solution to a short-term problem, and in the medium term we could find ourselves in great difficulty.
That is the philosophical background, to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase, against which I wish to make some rather more practical comments. However, it would be very ungracious of me if I did not say that I am sure the sponsors are animated by a desire to relieve human misery, and therefore I find it impossible wholly to oppose the Bill.
On the question of additional public holidays, I am very much inclined to agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I do not mind whether they are called bank holidays or saints' days. There is a fair number of saints to provide us with a few extra days holidays, I should have thought, but if that is not so perhaps we could inaugurate Harold Day, Ted Day, or perhaps even Denis Day.
§ Mr. McCrindle
I speak with some feeling about the present New Year's Day situation, as an exiled Scot who found himself 20 years ago suddenly having to work on New Year's Day and took very unkindly to it. I rejoice that this House at least has so far not required me to put in an appearance on New Year's Day, because the chances are that any reports that got back to my constituents would be less than flattering. The New Year's Day situation must be sorted out. It is indeed seen as a holiday by all; it is a sort of unofficial official holiday. Therefore, one of the days when we could well have an additional public holiday is 1st January.
I believe, too, that a further public holiday between New Year's Day and Easter and another between August Bank Holiday and Christmas would do much to provide those additional long weekends that could help to revive workers.
799 I do not believe that the implementation of those proposals would be outrageously costly. However, I would prefer to leave considerable freedom to employers and employees to negotiate about when those additional holidays should be granted. The sponsors of the Bill would be well advised to settle for something like that.
I turn now to Clause 1, providing for a minimum annual holiday period. The proposals here are far too sweeping. While I do not oppose longer holidays for the workpeople of this country, but rather support the idea, they must be introduced much more gradually and as a result of negotiations between employers and employees. That has been the pattern over the past few years, in which the length of annual holidays has expanded quite substantially. Tables of the average holiday between 1951 and 1971 show how the length has considerably increased, without need an Act of Parliament.
If pressure comes for longer holidays as well as higher wages, there must certainly be a danger of further inflation, which would do harm to the very employment prospects that the sponsors of the Bill are trying to do something about. Longer holidays are happening, and therefore the Clause is both unnecessary and undesirable.
I turn to the major proposal in the Bill, concerning the pensionable age, in Clause 3. I do not deny that to reduce the retirement age would have some effect on unemployment, but a number of points have been overlooked. First, no one can—and, to be fair to the sponsor, he said that nobody wanted to—force a man to retire, whether at 65, 60 or 55 It is just one factor taken into account in a man's coming to a personal decision. He can go on working if he chooses and be subject to the earnings rule. Secondly, if the Government reduce the pension age, it does not follow that private occupational pension schemes will do the same. Then a man may still not be able to afford to retire.
Thirdly, would the jobs vacated be filled by the unemployed? Some will be, but some will be in the wrong part of the country, and some will be for skilled men while only unskilled men will take advantage of the proposals. The people who will benefit are those who have 800 already retired at 60—the teachers, the bankers, the civil servants. But how many of them are unemployed and ready to take the places of those people? I concede that those concerned would stop being unemployment statistics. But that is not the object of the Bill. It is to eradicate true unemployment, and not just to pretend we are doing so.
No mention has yet been made of the possibility of reducing the pension age selectivity. I want to put a proposition that I think would be much more readily acceptable to the Government and much easier to introduce, which is that certain categories of people should have the option of retiring earlier. I accept the administrative difficulty, but people such as the long-term unemployed—the people the hon. Gentleman talked about in his intervention—and the chronic sick could be retired on humanitarian grounds. That would be welcomed, and it is action the Government would conceivably find it much easier to implement.
There has been little discussion so far about the cost. It will be very unpopular to emphasise this too much, but I believe—here I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's estimate—that the cost of reducing the retirement age of men to 60 and of women to 55 would be £700 million a year. I reckon that the additional weekly cost to the employee on £20 a week would be 6p a week and for the man on £42 or over no less than 75p a week. If this were introduced after a long period in which there had been no increase, it would perhaps be forgivable, but it is no longer ago than last September that there was a sizeable increase.
The House will also recall that since last September we have decided to embark on an annual review of pensions, and the first one must be coming soon. It will almost certainly, I imagine, lead to increased charges for employers and employees. This in itself is bound to create an even more inflationary situation, since it will not only add to the costs of industry but—quite legitimately—to wage demands, so that we could again get the old cycle going, that old cycle which has produced some of the unemployment difficulties we are confronted with today.
What about our sense of priorities? If we have got this amount of money, do 801 we really want to use it to reduce the age of retirement or to improve the benefits to people already retired? The hon. Gentleman was at pains to tell us of the inadequacy of the existing retirement pension, and I largely agree. If he is telling us that we can increase the benefits to the people already retired and also reduce the retirement age, I am telling him that the result would be astronomically expensive. I do not believe that he has started to come to terms with that.
There is also the humanitarian question involved. Do people want to retire earlier. I accept that they would not be obliged to, but I put it as a rhetorical question. I doubt whether a large percentage of people want to retire earlier, who want to run the risk of becoming cabbages. I believe that there is exaggeration in the hon. Gentleman's case. Do we really want to condemn many active men to what could be virtually the scrap-heap? I know that there are many ways in which people can engage themselves when they have retired from active working life, but I believe that it is a little callous to be seen to be possibly transferring the miseries of idleness and reduced income to the older generation.
I have said fairly strong things against the Bill. I feel that some day it may well be right to reduce the retirement age but for the moment such a proposal is ahead of its time. Again, it would be a wrong solution to the genuine problem of unemployment. I could support the Bill only if it were altered almost beyond recognition—if it goes any further. I have spoken strongly against the Bill, but I hope that in some ways I have put certain constructive thoughts which I believe were missing before.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I do not support the Bill solely on the ground that it is a solution to unemployment. I would have supported it ten years ago, when we were talking of a great shortage of skilled workers. I would have supported it five years ago, when I and others in the trade union movement were writing pamphlets about productivity bargains and agreements. This is a Bill which I would support possibly in five years' time, when we have got rid of the present scourge of unemployment. The 802 Bill stands on its own whether there is unemployment or not.
The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle) criticised Clause 3, which would allow the Secretary of State to lower the pensionable age. He said that it is ahead of its time. It was a peculiar argument following some of the others he had adduced. If it is ahead of its time, then the Secretary of State will not activate the Clause. But I hope that he would do so because I think it right that industrial workers should be given the same option as teachers, civil servants, and members of my own union, the Post Office Engineering Union—that is, the ability to retire at the age of 60.
The Bill does not say that people must retire at 60. Post Office engineers can retire at 60 on a public service pension. Not all of them do so, for the very reasons that the hon. Gentleman has put forward. Some of them prefer to continue working. I think that possibly the best solution to the problem of retirement is to provide for a shorter working week for those over 60 or 65 and not to cut them away from work entirely.
I should like to see the long-distance lorry driver for example, enabled to retire at the same age as the teacher. It is irrational to have an age of retirement of 60 for the sedentary worker and of 65 for someone whose work is essentially manual. If the manual worker would like to retire at the age of 60, he should be given the opportunity to do so.
There are growing reasons why certain categories of worker should be allowed to retire earlier. Certainly, the lorry driver's work becomes more and more arduous as time goes by; as the weight of the loads increases, the problem is emphasised. He can do nothing else than drive the lorry, since not enough light jobs are available to accommodate all the ageing lorry drivers. In this category, it would often be useful to be able to retire earlier rather than be declared redundant or unwanted. It would certainly be more dignified.
Another category is becoming more and more important. In industries like the Post Office, the rapid development in technology and techniques means that increasingly such industries are a young man's game. As technologies replace 803 themselves and as new techniques are introduced, so the older workers are finding it more and more difficult to play a full part. It is one of the problems of our modern industrial society that whereas historically the skilled man gained in skill and status as he grew older and gained experience, now it is the young man, the newest arrival, who is often most expert at the job. We must consider this problem of the future of industrial society. Certainly I see no reason to oppose the Bill on the grounds that it enforces early retirement. It does not. All that it does is to make it possible.
It is no more expensive to provide for retirement than it is to provide for redundancy or unemployment, yet there is a vast difference in the status of the benefits when one considers the dignity of the individual drawing the benefit. For that reason, I do not oppose Clause 3, though I favour a situation in industry where in terms of hours worked the old are allowed to taper off rather than coming to a full stop.
There is one other feature lacking in the Bill. After a study of legislation in other countries, I feel that it should be included. Whereas I agree that the old should be treated separately, I feel that the young should be treated separately, too. One of the worst features of our industrial life is that we give our youngsters very long school holidays and then, when they go to work, we give them very short industrial holidays. One has the irony in industry that it is the youngest worker who gets the shortest holidays. In fact my own union is at present negotiating a fresh agreement based on the principle that, the longer the service, the greater the number of holidays.
That does not recognise the problems of the young. We give young lads two or three weeks' holiday, thereby bringing about a dramatic change in their leisure time at a stage in their lives when they should have more leisure. This applies especially to apprentices and trainees, who work harder than anyone else in industry since they are expected to attend night school as well. One day a Government will look at the problems of apprentices and trainees in industry and will realise what a deprived com 804 munity they are. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) is listening, because I have always been disappointed in the way in which my own party has given far greater privileges to those in higher education than to those training as apprentices or technicians.
I support this Bill because I believe that we in Britain have a feeling of guilt, possibly because of the attacks upon our industrial management and workers in the post-war years at a time when European workers were trying to reconstruct their countries. As a result of that feeling of guilt, we have accepted longer working hours and shorter holidays than workers in other advanced industrial countries enjoy. Neither our managements nor our unions have got down to asking whether those hours are necessary. Many of us know that the long hours which have been worked in British industry are not necessary. Certain productivity agreements have shown this to be true. I could talk at length about the experience at Fawley where management and men, under pressure from their American employers, found that they were able to do as much in a 40-hour week as they had done previously in a 47-hour week.
Many of us who have been involved actively in industry know that overtime often is created because it is the only way in which workers can get a satisfactory earnings level. One knows how workers create overtime and how employers create artificial overtime. It is created not only at the end of the working day but on additional days in the working week. Instead of working an eight-hour, five-day week, men begin to work six and then seven days. Once it starts, it is difficult to stop. Any attempt to do so is regarded by workers as being aimed at reducing their earnings. At times of full employment, men tend to go to other employers if there is any attempt to cut down the amount of overtime available to them.
There need be no problem of expense. At a time of full employment, it is possible in British industry so to reorganise work and to revise attitudes that the same amount of work can be done in a much shorter time. It is a slackness on our part which has allowed the situation to go grow. I give but one illustration from my own experience. Three or 805 four years ago, I was studying this problem. I was surprised to discover that Post Office engineers in London were working longer hours than they were before 1913. The reason was simple. In the 1960s, they were paid for a 40-hour week. In addition, they were paid overtime. Many of them tried to get as much overtime as they could, especially if they were buying houses or had heavy family commitments. Life was geared to overtime. Before 1913, they had a 48-hour week with no overtime. In those days, men would fiddle Saturday mornings off and they would reduce their working hours in all sorts of ways, at the risk of dismissal. When I examined the respective hours of work, I was surprised to find that they were longer in the 1960s than they were prior to 1913.
We have to try to get managements and workers throughout industry to accept that it is ridiculous for a man to be at his place of work when he could be at leisure. One way in which greater leisure time can be given is by longer holidays. I do not think that the Bill is too ambitious in that respect. One has only to look at the position in France and at Civil Service and bank employment in this country to realise that it is not too ambitious.
Hon. Members may ask why the trade unions should not be left to negotiate a matter of this kind with employers. I believe that there are two or three reasons why that should not be done. Recently, I was interested to hear the Secretary of State for Social Services say that British trade unions had neglected their fringe benefits. I think that the reason for it is that the trade union movement created the Labour Party to secure those fringe benefits, and the history of the Labour movement in the last 50 years has been such that matters like holidays and working hours have been lost sight of between the political party and the trade union movement.
Many trade unions would like to see some minimum standard laid down in legislation. It is hard to negotiate longer holidays, and the reason is clear. Let us take the case of a well-paid professional worker who is asked whether he would like an extra 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. on his pay or an additional week's holiday. He will say, "I will have the extra week's holiday because I am well above 806 subsistence level. I should like the extra money, but I would prefer the extra week's holiday". In industry, the "perks" and fringe benefits are welcomed.
It is difficult for a trade union official to say to men taking home perhaps £18 a week, "You have a clear choice. Do you want five or ten shillings a week extra, or an extra week's holiday?" When union officials have to confront people with that choice, they do not shout as loudly for the extra holiday as they would otherwise do because they are saying, in effect, "You must continue to live below the subsistence level".
There is another reason why I would argue for State intervention in fixing holidays. I have twice argued this year on this subject when we were debating the Banking and Financial Dealings Bill and the Government rejected the most modest demands for extra holidays. 'They had the discourtesy to reject a plea for a public holiday on the Queen's birthday, and, although I might not support a "Ted's", "Harold's" or "Denis's" public holiday on the occasion of their birthdays, I would, unlike other hon. Members, give full support to a proposal that the Queen's birthday should be declared a public holiday. But the Government opposed that. It was a gesture of despair to propose having a holiday on May Day, but I thought that hon. Members opposite would support a proposal to make the Queen's birthday a public holiday.
§ Mr. McCrindle
Is the hon. Gentleman sure that his proposal would receive the support of the hon. Member for Fife. West (Mr. William Hamilton)?
§ Mr. Golding
We can do without the support of that hon. Member on this occasion. However, I am sure that he would accept the principle. He might move an amendment to the name of the holiday.
I have a constituency problem which makes me argue in favour of the statutory fixing of holidays. In the speech to which I have referred the Secretary of State for Social Services spoke about family life in Europe and family life in Britain. Because of the trade union-employer negotiation of holidays, it is becoming increasingly difficult for families 807 to take their holidays together. I support public holidays and bank holidays because they become family holidays. Industrial holidays are not necessarily family holidays.
In Stoke-on-Trent, the old potters' union decided that it wanted an early holiday. It is all-powerful in Stoke. It must consist of about 40 per cent. of the population there. It decided that its members should have their holidays early in June, looking for the good weather and cheap rates at the seaside towns. One would think that that was reasonable. But it creates great problems for many of my constituents because they work in an engineering factory—Rists—which makes cable for the motor-car industry and their holidays must be geared to those in the motor-car industry. If they are not, the workers have no work at one time and too much work at another.
This means that families are broken up for their holidays. They cannot take their holidays together because the industries have been left to negotiate their own holidays. Not only have the potters decided to have one fortnight and Rists to have another fortnight, but the miners have decided to have their holidays at yet another time. It is inadequate to say, "Leave it to the trade unions".
§ Mr. Money
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this situation also gives rise to a good deal of personal disagreement and quarrelling among union members? No doubt he has had complaints of discontent referred to him because of decisions by shop stewards to accept one period when other members of the union prefer another period.
§ Mr. Golding
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I feel very sorry for the shop stewards at Rists who realise that if the holidays of the workers in their factory are not aligned with those in the car industry there will be a substantial drop in output, to such an extent that the firm might decide that it would be better to go to an area in which the holidays were in line with those in the car industry. What disturbs me is that people have not considered all the social problems linked with the question of holidays in a modern industrial society.
808 I strongly support the Bill. The argument that the Bill is unnecessary because holidays are increasing does not appeal to me. The figures show that holidays are increasing in areas where there are strong trade unions or where the industrial situation is such that the work people are strong. But the holidays are very poor in many other areas where pay is low and there is not much status for the workers. The Bill, if passed, would improve holidays and working conditions for the weakest rather than for the strongest in our society.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
I hope it does not sound unduly naive to say that I take some personal pleasure in that, after the alarums and excursions of the night before, we should be so reasonably discussing an all-party Motion in such an eminently reasonable manner today. It says something at least for this institution that we should be able to do so.
Before I come to my main argument in support of the Bill, of which I am the sponsor, I want to say a word about one or two arguments put by previous speakers. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle) made a most important speech, and I hope that if we get Second Reading he will find himself on the Committee on the Bill and able to seek to amend the Bill in some of the ways he has suggested, for I suspect that we may have his underlying support for many of the aims of us who are the Bill's sponsors when we turn our minds to the details of the Bill.
Certainly it is not my case for the Bill that it would cure the unemployment situation. It would make a contribution to the long-term structural problem of employment, and I will return to that in a moment. Certainly to my mind the Bill would bring us more in line with our European partners, and that, of itself, seems to me eminently desirable, and particularly appropriate today. I do not accent, as my hon. Friend seemed to suggest, that the present situation is incapable of resolution through demand management. There are steps which the Government could well take in demand management terms, I would hope in terms of both Bank Rate 809 and abolition of the rest of the selective employment tax and which they could take in a matter of days rather than weeks further to stimulate the economy and to act on the appallingly high level of unemployment. Nevertheless, I believe that that is not enough. There will be the residual problem, and a problem which is likely to grow in importance in our society rather than diminish during this century.
I want to take issue in particular with my hon. Friend on the way in which he seemed to equate retirement with the scrap heap and with becoming a vegetable. I think that on reflection he will reconsider this. I do not believe that it is right that we should encourage this attitude, or that it reflects the real state of affairs. I have worked in one large international corporation and I have experience of several others, and it is not an unfamiliar situation to find that men of 55 have reached their peak and that they are not going on to more satisfying jobs. Frankly, they are time serving for the next 10 years. They will be sitting at their desks waiting for the magic age of 65 when they can finally retire. That seems to me more of a scrap heap, if I may say so to my hon. Friend, and to present more of a danger of becoming a vegetable, than earlier retirement.
It is no secret that the most forward looking of our major companies are thinking in terms of enabling such men to be able to retire at 58 or 60 and then, with their basic income assured—by pensions from the firms in these instances—be able to turn their energies to work of social importance, to work in their local communities, work which they are not able to do when in full-time employment. Though I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and shall also read his speech I think that, on this part of his argument, he was not quite on form.
I am glad, too, that by this debate on this Bill we have given my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer) the opportunity to make the speech he has been trying for some time to make, and not only to make that speech but actually to enclose it in a few words about the Bill itself. We were very touched. As a former constituent of his I was particularly touched that he should have been able to do that. He mentioned the question of hours of work, 810 and he is right that in determining hours of work there is a case for saying it should be done on a national basis.
I know that I am in a minority, both in my own party and in the House, in thinking that the whole question of wages and conditions of work bargaining will not for ever be able to be left simply to the untidy pressures of the particular strength in the economy which different groups of workers have. It cannot be socially just, economically effective even, that this should be the pressure which determines conditions of work. So I should like to see that in wage negotiations and income negotiations, mainly voluntary, we should be able to get together the institutions which represent the interests of workpeople, employers, the Government, and consumers, to get some form of national approach, perhaps with some minimal statutory backing. I would extend that into establishing conditions of work and fringe benefits and leisure provision, all inherent in what my hon. Friend was talking about.
The argument has not been advanced today, but if the argument is advanced, that if we give people a shorter working week they will take on moonlighting jobs, I say, why not? If a man chooses to mend his neighbours' motor cars rather than grow vegetables for his household that seems to me to be precisely his choice, and it is choice and variety which, I believe, we ought to be encouraging as much as possible in our society.
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), made a most interesting and impressive speech, if I may say so, and he is well respected in the House. He seemed to hint that he equated the parliamentary recess with holidays. I have not found it so, and I do not believe we do. He also seemed to assume the length of the parliamentary recess to be immutable. All I would say is that this year I would not count on it. He also made a very eloquent exposition of the advantages enjoyed by the workpeople in Europe in areas covered by this Bill, and made explicit, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West, that these benefits and advantages have come about because within the Economic Community conditions have been created whereby extra wealth can be created and thus these benefits can be provided.
811 There are three aspects to this Bill. The first is the European aspect; the second it the response to the structure of employment which is likely to emerge in Britain over the next 20 or 30 years; and finally there is the basic attitude which we have towards work and leisure and their respective importance in the life of our citizens. It is to the European aspect I want to turn first.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath mentioned the longer holidays on the Continent. There is a basic statutory minimum four weeks' holidays in many Continental countries. Some countries have a legislative provision which distinguishes between manual and clerical workers, but I would not wish to introduce that here. At one stage in my career when I was running a factory which included manual and clerical workers, I found that one of the most offensive aspects was the artificial discrimination in the conditions applying to the two groups of workers.
If we do have a statutory four-week minimum, I hope it might be possible for one week of the four to be taken in individual days. In addition to the statutory holidays when we all charge off to the country or the seaside, people should be able to go off on their own and "do their own thing", whatever it may be, for an occasional odd day.
I should also like bank holidays or saints' days to be linked to a weekend wherever possible. If I were confident that we could sufficiently change our social habits, I should like to see New Year's Day not celebrated on 1st January but on the first weekend in the New Year thus giving more time than even one day off would do for recovery.
Suggestions have been made about May Day. It seems to me that we need perhaps one day off in mid-July and another in September or October. Since everyone else has put forward his suggestion perhaps I might put forward mine. I do not want to extend the celebration of 12th July to the rest of the United Kingdom, so I will pass over that. I am not sure whether we wish to honour the part that the French belatedly came to play in enabling us to enter the European Economic Community by 812 choosing 14th July. Straying perhaps to the fringes of party political controversy, since the change in the level of employment and many of the problems stemming from the shake-out started on 20th July, 1966, 20th July might not be an inappropriate date to celebrate. Perhaps the last weekend in July might be one candidate.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The hon. Gentle is giving us an interesting dissertation. He will realise that 20th and 21st July have another honoured place in Labour history. This was when the great Attlee Government in 1945 was elected. We should not object to such a date.
§ Mr. Scott
We might both be satisfied and each put our own interpretation on the day we were celebrating.
A day off in September or October might be appropriate. I may sound slightly old-fashioned, but as a former member of the Royal Air Force I suggest that it would not be inappropriate to celebrate during the last weekend in September the Battle of Britain, when in September, 1940, this country rendered a notable service to European democracy and the preservation of freedom in Europe.
These holiday provisions, if we are successful in getting the Bill through, will be part of the move towards Europe, and it is therefore singularly appropriate that the hon. Gentlman should have chosen 1st January, 1973, as the operative date of the Bill, since that will be the date upon which we shall join the E.E.C.—
§ Mr. Scott
I do not hope, I know. I confidently foretell that will be so.
The second argument for the Bill concerns the basic structure for employment. I have mentioned the short-term demand action that should be taken, but all who have been in touch with employers, industry and commerce in the past few years know that this technological unemployment structure has been growing, and are conscious that we are entering what Peter Drucker has called the "age of discontinuity" in industry as a whole. The pace of change will not decline; it will intensify. Whole industries that we now think of as an immutable part of our national scene will 813 disappear in the next 20 or 30 years, and whole new industries will be born. That has a tremendous implication for training and educational programmes, and it also means that we may be living with a higher percentage at any one time of our working force not in employment than we have had since the end of the Second World War.
If, with a smaller percentage of our population in work, we can provide the extra wealth that we need to do all the things that are common ground between the parties, we must ensure that the opportunities and the benefits of work are shared as widely as possible by the population as a whole. The Bill will be a modest but real contribution towards that sharing.
This week, out of the blue, I have been sent by the Essex Churches Industrial Advisory Council a manifesto on this whole question, one paragraph of which reads:It may be the case that rapidly-advancing technology, world market situations and organisational changes in industry make groups and individuals 'redundant', in the sense that they cannot any longer follow their previous occupation in the same neighbourhood. But such men and women are the industrial casualties of the age, and should receive as much support, understanding and help in rehabilitation as any other casualties. They are the responsibility of the whole community.That is not necessarily the way in which I would choose to put it, but the message is clear. The first suggestion put forward in the manifesto is:Earlier retirement pensions and an extension upward of the age at which full time education ceases.So we have support at least from that source.
I welcome the raising of the school leaving age. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) mentioned the problem of younger workers. We should not forget the principle foreshadowed in 1944 and re-emphasised by Crowther of compulsory part-time education for everyone up to the age of 18, whatever job a person may be doing. I hope, too, the impressive announcement of new training methods by the Government will foreshadow still more initiatives from Governments in future.
On the basic attitude of our society to leisure and work, many of us who took 814 part in the debates on the Industrial Relations Act are conscious of the tedious, repetitive, unsatisfying nature of much work, and we are conscious, too, that as technology improves more jobs will be de-skilled, and this will become a more prominent aspect of life in industry. We should place more emphasis on leisure.
I end on a warning note. If we are to have a more leisured society, it is essential we shall have to become more self-disciplined or the leisure which is created may lead to a more authoritarian society.
I believe that the time has come when both parties should be nailing firmly to their masts the ideal of greater leisure for our people and should utterly reject the concept that people retire only when they are so worn out they can work no longer. I should like to see in this Bill not only a provision for earlier retirement and longer holidays but some sort of sabbatical to enable executives and workpeople to take two or three months off work every three or four years, possibly to concentrate upon other aspects of their life.
This Bill will make us more European, more flexible in our response to the structural problems we face, and will offer workpeople the prospect of a more leisured, more fulfilling and more satisfying society. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading today.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, North-West)
The element in the speech of the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) which appealed to me most was that in which he emphasised the necessity for a person to have a choice in the way in which he spends his holidays and the days and times of his leisure hours, and, above all, to have a choice as to the age at which he retires. In theory, such a choice already often exists, but when the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle) suggests that these are questions for negotiation between employer and employee, he overlooks the reality of the situation for most employees. This is a year when more than a million people are looking for jobs and men and women are being forced to take jobs without quibbling over such comparatively minor matters as holidays. They are told, "if you want 815 the job you are in no position to haggle about individual terms such as holidays". This aspect of the matter makes it even more important that we should consider provisions such as those contained in this excellent Bill.
On the matter of choice, I was reminded of an excellent article by Alistair Cooke which appeared in The Guardian some years ago. He found a railwayman tending his roses and said to him, "How long do you work?". The railwayman replied, "I work 44 hours a week." Alistair Cook; asked, "Why do you not work more than 44 hours?", and the railwayman replied, "I would not work more than that." When asked, "Why do you not work less?", the man replied, "If I worked less I should not earn enough to buy my roses, and if I worked more I should not have time to tend them." That man had an element of choice and he decided to take the time to tend his roses.
There are far too many people who do not take such time, but at least we in this House have a choice. Anybody who is crazy enough to be prepared to work for 20 hours a day, seven days a week, is qualified to be a Member of Parliament. If a Member of Parliament chooses to take long holidays and to do no work, and is fortunate enough to have a large majority, he can probably get away with it. There is an element of choice, subject to the right of electors to dispose of those who spend too long holidaying and too little time working.
A Member of Parliament has the opportunity to lead an extremely varied and interesting life. We have the opportunity in our constituencies to see all aspects of life in a way which is not open to other people. The work of a Member of Parliament is full of interest and variety. This does not apply to the ordinary worker in industry who often stands beside the same machine week after week, month after month, year after year, and looks forward to the hours of leisure when he can do something different, even if only putting up his feet and watching television. He is entitled to choice after his hours of work, but in many cases in his 'working life he has no variety. This is a tragedy and is one of the causes of strike. Some workers are bored to death and it is a source of 816 misery to them that they are doing the same thing all the time.
On the other hand, Members of Parliament have a wide choice and most of us are delighted to have the opportunity to lead what many of our constituents regard as a thoroughly chaotic life which begins early in the morning and ends early the next morning. It is a choice which we are free to exercise but which many of our constituents are not.
As for pensions, it is said that people can retire earlier and that this matter should be left to choice. It has also been said that many people would become vegetables if they retired earlier. In my constituency many people have to battle on regardless until they reach 65, simply because they cannot afford to retire earlier, though their health demands that they should.
I spend a good deal of my leisure time in working men's clubs meeting people and discussing their problems. There is scarcely an evening when somebody does not say to me: "Can't you arrange for us to retire earlier? I am very ill and I must go on working because, unless I do, I shall receive no pension." They have to work on until they are 65.
There are in my constituency, for example, miners, hosiery workers, workers in light industry, footwear workers, labourers and construction workers who must go on working until that age even if they are ill. And many women must work until they are 60. I asked one man why he thought that men worked until 65, whereas women could retire at 60. He said, "Because women live longer". It is a curious and illogical fact that those who live longer can retire earlier. I do not criticise that situation, but I say that people should have a choice, and that if they are unwell they should be able to retire and to get off the treadmill at an earlier stage.
It is not right, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Billericay, that this Bill would require people to work longer. What it does is to provide an element of choice. There are plenty of people who do not retire at 65 because they are happy to work on longer. Indeed, Members of this House and of the other place give most useful service after they have reached that age.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
My hon. Friend will know that this Bill has the support of the trade union movement, and particularly of my own union. What has delighted me in discussing this matter with the union is the whole question of preparation for retirement. There are large numbers of people who would like to come back out of retirement and work for, say, three or four days a week, so that they may take up all the new and exciting things they have wanted to do all their life. The educational side of retirement is as important as the provision of leisure.
§ Mr. Janner
I am obliged for that intervention. That is certainly correct. The trouble is that far too many people retire and then soon die, simply because they are bored and unprepared for what is coming. What is more, those who labour on, rising early and going to work, are penalised for it. Those who stay on at work after retirement age ought not to have their pensions taken away from them because they see fit to trudge onwards.
I asked a Question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this week and received the very dusty answer that there was no reason why there should be special tax provisions for people who stay on at work after 65. It is a deep disgrace to expect a person to continue to work after pension age and then to tax his pension income, for which he has worked all his life. He has saved and slaved for it. When he reaches pension age, a heavy disincentive is placed upon his being useful where and when he can, and leading a useful and happy life in retirement. That is not the same as giving up any sort of useful work. We all know of those who allegedly retire and are far busier after that than they ever were before. They have a happy and contented old age. But we tax them, and have done for so long—a fault of both sides of the House that we have not dealt with. And the Government gave clear indication in that answer last week that they do not propose to deal with it. We are taxing very heavily the pensions of those who stay on at work after retirement age.
There are some who ought to be allowed to retire much earlier, but cannot because there is no legal way in which they can get their pensions at an earlier 818 age. Because they do not feel up to doing the job, they will not get as much pension if they retire earlier. That is the object of the Bill. There is an incentive to stay on later. People would get more pension, if they did. But there would at least be the right to leave a job and not to hang on until one reaches the age of 65.
Some people are useless by the age of 40. Others are still absolutely spendid workers when they reach 70, or even 80. Chronological age is a very bad calendar of a man's usefulness. Some have jobs as hard as those of miners, employed underground and cannot hope to last. As we know today, it is now fully recognised that a man who works underground is given a job on the surface sometimes if he cannot continue to work at the coal face because of the ageing process. The whole of this part of the Bill is designed to give an element of choice where none exists at present, so that those who cannot work at a later age are enabled to retire.
I believe that the Bill is only a start, because the Government ought to ensure that those who are able to work after retirement age do not have their pensions reduced as a result. That is a grossly unfair way of dealing with elderly people who have overcome their age and who take the step of staying on at work when they do not have to. Both sides of this matter have to be examined. The Bill is a first step.
As for holidays, again there is the element of choice, which people ought to have. No one is saying that the four weeks' holiday must be taken together. Indeed, most hon. Members do not take their holiday entitlement all at once. Some take part of it in the summer and then return to work. Then there are the Christmas and Easter holidays. The travel trade is well up on these aspects, including the Christmas ski-ing week and other package tours, often at quite modest prices. One can have a weekend in Majorca for £16, including the fare. That is cheaper than going to Blackpool for the party conference. If one is able to have these things, choice is very important.
It is important to have a holiday with one's family. As the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) said, it is 819 also important that members of a family should have an opportunity on occasion to have, perhaps, holidays apart. As they grow older, children do not necessarily wish to take their holidays with their parents all the time. On the other hand, at present far too many people do not have the opportunity to take their holidays at the same time as their children. It is not as easy as the hon. Gentleman suggested. One ought to have a day here, or a day there. That is an ideal. But in many industries, including the mining industry, if one member of a team is absent, the whole team may have to stop work. This matter requires a great deal of thought and organisation.
As Members of Parliament we have the freedom not to attend debates on Fridays—as is somewhat apparent. But ordinary people at work do not have that kind of freedom, to be exercised as and when they wish. There should be a right, for example, for local councillors who work full time to take a day off to do other duties without having a deep sense of conscience about it or having troubles from whoever happens to employ them.
There is not enough element of choice. While some have four weeks' holiday, too many do not. The Bill does not go far enough. For example, nowadays it is still possible to say, "You are entitled to a holiday only after you have worked for us for 12 months." If a chap works for 11 months and is then not feeling too well and leaves the job, no law states that he has to have a holiday entitlement. He could work for nearly a year and have no right to a holiday. The Bill needs amending in Committee to provide for a pro rata entitlement. That is a matter which can be tidied up later.
There is a prevalent view that the Industrial Relations Act, on 28th February, will bring a whole new holiday entitlement to the overworked British people. That is utterly incorrect. Section 19 of the Act says that written particulars are to be extended to cover full details of holiday entitlement. It does not provide any entitlement to holidays. All it does is to say that such entitlement as a person has must now be stated on paper and provided to him within three months of the start of his employment. It is a wholly false impression that anyone will 820 have a better holiday entitlement after 28th February than he now has. The Section makes no change.
There is a second misapprehension which ought to be corrected, and perhaps the debate can do that. It is believed that the law says that people are entitled to some sort of holiday. They are—six days a year. It is a laughing stock and a disgrace that a person should be entitled by law to only six days a year. It is laughed at in most parts of the world. Why should a person have a right to only six days off a year, scattered about in the calendar at the whim of some legislator of many hundreds of years ago? It is a nonsense.
People are entitled to have work. They are entitled to have leisure. There is no right to work in this country at present, and far too many people have no work. There is no right to leisure, and far to many have too little leisure. It is suggested that everyone has a right to one day off for each month or year of work. There is no such rule. If one happens to work in an industry in which wages council regulations apply, there is a right to certain minimum holidays. If an employee is lucky enough to have a powerful union, the union will negotiate better holidays.
Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of workers are not represented by any union, let alone a strong one. One may say that that is their fault and that it is up to them to get the unions involved—that will happen in due course, no doubt—but that is not easy for the ordinary person who happens to be in a plant with no union representation. That person cannot get better holidays through his own efforts.
It is not, as the hon. Member for Billericay suggested, something which should be left to negotiations between the employer and the employee, because the employee is almost inevitably weak in those negotiations. Unless he has a strong union, it is hopeless for him to try to achieve any sort of negotiating parity with those who employ him. It is all very well for a judge of the High Court to say, as Lord Justice Sachs said, that an employee is starting to acquire what amounts to a property in his job. That is right, in the sense that an employer will not be able to throw out an employee quite so easily and may have 821 to pay out a lot of money if he does so unfairly. That still does not give the employee a right to holidays, nor does it give him equality in the bargaining which must go on before he is taken on.
The whole question of leisure and of retirement—whether of a person who is unable to leave his job because he is waiting for retirement, a retirement which he cannot achieve because he cannot get his pension; whether it is a person who wishes to stay on after retirement and not have his pension taxed away; whether it is a person who wishes to take a longer holiday or a shorter holiday; whether it is a person who wishes to achieve variety in his work or in his leisure—cannot be left entirely to individual choice and bargaining.
There are occasions when I feel strongly that no legal framework is appropriate. We have all recently spent many hours discussing one such industrial legal framework. There are others where a legal framework is essential. A legal framework should be designed to ensure minimum rights. At present there is no minimum right to a holiday above six days a year, which is a ludicrous entitlement. There is only a minimum right to a pension at 65, which for some people is far too low—they must labour on—and for others it is far too high. The Bill would make a good start in remedying a bad situation, and I hope that it will be accorded a Second Reading.
§ 1.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I am pleased to follow the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner). I agree that Members have a variety in their life which is denied to many other people. We even have a chance at the occasional weekend of getting down to the weeding of the rosebed or the pruning of the roses. The old cliché that variety is the spice of life applies as much today as it ever did.
I am sorry that I missed some of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott), who talked about leisure. We are becoming too much a nation of watchers and not of doers. It is not altogether our fault. It is because the technological revolution has changed the whole fabric of our 822 society and will change it much more in the future.
I was interested in what has been said about female labour, about women being able to retire five years earlier than men and living longer. It may be that they live longer because they retire earlier. Now that my wife is at Geneva attending the United Nations Status of Women Commission I have found out that women do two jobs—they look after the home and cook, as well as frequently working in a factory.
I agree with the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards), who urged that the Government should look again at the earnings rule for pensioners. Many members of private pension funds retire and can return a day later to their old job or go to an ancillary job and still get their full pension. That does not apply to the State pensioner. So long as the earnings rule continues, there will be great difficulty about many people having the pleasure of doing a job. The earnings rule causes many people to retire. They do not know what to do with themselves; they have not been trained for their leisure, and in a short time they die. We should think seriously about this.
I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. MeCrindle) said in what he described as a reactionary speech. I am a believer in the doctrine of the late Lord Keynes. I was a student at the time when he was regarded as a red revolutionary by many of the bank chairmen of those days. I still believe that the Keynes doctrine is right and that, to deal with the technological revolution under which more and more wealth is being produced by fewer people, we must have every year a major public works programme—especially, as I come from a development area, in places like Merseyside and the North-East.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) made a good case for saying that with a flexible approach unemployment could be eased. I believe that matters will ease once we get investment into Britain. When we know that we are going into the Common Market and the legislation is passed, I believe that investment will come. However, while we have a short-term problem 823 of unemployment I should like there to be major capital works such as the rebuilding of some of our out-of-date schools, not only primary schools which were built before 1903, but those put up temporarily, for instance in Liverpool, in the 1920s and which are now a disgrace.
All these things could be done now as well as the undertaking of massive public works, such as reclamation schemes, which have been talked about for decades but on which no decision appears ever to be taken. I would rather see that than a compulsory lowering of the pension age, because I believe that there is still so much to do to improve the amenities, especially in the North of England, and also to improve our general way of life.
I was greatly interested in what the hon. Member for Bilston said about Britain's wealth, which has come from investment, much of it overseas. That was stopped for a long time under the Labour Administration. I am glad that we are now going ahead and helping private investment overseas, because that investment stood us in good stead during the last war. Pray God that there is never another war.
The hon. Member for Bilston said that the entire public should benefit from that policy. I believe in capital investment and in the capitalist system. I want to see investment in Britain even more than investment overseas. At present, with industry not knowing whether we are to become part of Europe—I trust that we are to become part of Europe—all of that investment is held back.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Small Heath on introducing the Bill. He talked about William Morris. In Victorian days skilled men had variety in their lives. Now people who turn a nut or a screw the entire day long do not have variety. We must try to get more variety for people and also ensure that they are educated for leisure. Far too few people know what to do with their leisure. They merely want more money to spend on the pools, on horse racing or on the dogs.
They do not enjoy doing things for themselves. They have not had the opportunity. To do things well by oneself, and enjoy it, one has to have a 824 certain amount of training and education.
We have discussed how holidays or the sharing of leisure can be arranged. There can be many ways—by so-called bank holidays, by a shorter working week, by longer holidays, perhaps three weeks or a month, or by earlier retirement. We should have a flexible system. I am not sure that such a system can be organised by a Bill such as this, although I have immense sympathy with the views behind it, and I regard this Second Reading debate as beneficial for all our thinking.
Years ago, when the Labour Government were in office, I urged the then Prime Minister that Hogmanay should be a national holiday throughout the land. I had a very dusty answer from him. But on Merseyside, year after year, I have seen factories only a quarter open because no one knew whether it would be a holiday or not. This is economic waste. I should like to see national holidays arranged all on the same day throughout Great Britain. Industry would then at least know how to plan. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer) that, in that event, everyone will want to go in and out of our cities on the same day; but I think that, with sensible planning, we could overcome that problem.
No hon. Member has so far mentioned the need for a fixed Easter. Once we are in the European Community, there will be much to be said for urging the Churches to agree on a fixed Easter. It has always seemed nonsense to me that we should have to depend on the phases of the moon for the date of our Easter holiday.
I am not sure, either, whether we should lay down that everyone should have a month's holiday after a year's service. I feel that this must be a matter for negotiation. When I was young—
§ Mr. Tilney
I shall qualify for an old-age pension this year. In my youth, the older people in the office where one worked were always entitled to a longer holiday than were the new entrants. I 825 think that that may well be right. I do not know how one rewards those who have served in one's firm for decades if one gives the same holiday to those with only a year's service.
I am privileged to have still working for me in Liverpool a secretary who entered my firm in 1917. She had already been there for 12 years when I started, and she is still looking after me and very active. On the basis of one month per year, she would never work at all. Luckily, she is on a pension, as many people are though they are still working. Many people wish to come back and continue working once they have their pension. I believe that this is good for them, and good for the country, too.
We must think about education for leisure, and about earlier retirement for people at work, as the Services do and as the old Colonial Civil Service did. Also, we must be flexible enough to learn the lessons of American experience and the much shorter working hours there. As time goes on, we shall have more and more production done by fewer and fewer people, and we shall have an ageing population.
The inevitability of the long box or the fire faces us all, despite power cuts. I like to think of the old village community where people all knew one another and were somehow mixed up together. Although I recognise the great value of the old-age pensioners' associations, I feel that there is a danger of people on pensions being grouped together, as it were, and not appearing sufficiently to be part of the whole life of the community. If the Government could devise some flexible arrangement to mix people of all age groups rather more than they now appear to be, there would be great benefit for us all.
Although I am not altogether happy with many of the details of the Bill, I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Small Heath on having brought this matter to the attention of the House.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
I join all those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) on his Bill. He has a happy knack of gaining a high place in the Ballot, which many 826 of us envy, and he makes good use of it, as he has today. I congratulate him also, on the thoughtful and stimulating speech with which he opened the debate.
The Bill is welcome for two reasons, first, because it proposes practical reforms, reforms which have been accepted by both sides in the debate and could, I believe, be accepted by the Government; second, because it is in many ways a challenge to our conventional thinking on manpower problems at a time of severe unemployment. I say that not only in relation to the current level of unemployment but in relation to the fears we have about insecurity of employment in the years ahead, no matter how much may be done by the conventional methods for trying to deal with it.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer) when he says that long-term issues of this kind are not debated often enough in the House. We concentrate our parliamentary time on current controversies and matters of immediate impact and do not sufficiently discuss some of the longer-term trends in our society. It is one of the great values of Private Members' time, on both Private Members' Bills and Private Members' Motions, that at the end of a Session one sees in what has been done on those days a more intelligent use of time than, perhaps, either the Government in their legislative programme or the Opposition in their Supply Days, can achieve. Inevitably, both Government and Opposition concentrate on more immediate problems, and I feel that we should more often find opportunities to discuss longer-term matters.
I shall concentrate for much of my time on the impact of the Bill on the employment situation. This is not an occasion for another debate on unemployment We have had many such, and I fear that, with unemployment at its present disgraceful level, we shall have to return to the subject frequently on Supply Days and other occasions in the coming months. But the Bill enables us to pose certain questions in this context which can be examined in the quieter atmosphere of a Friday debate.
In particular, the Bill raises the question how far the nature of modern employment requires us to consider ways 827 of increasing leisure, by means of a shorter working week, a shorter working year, or a shorter working life. I am sure that these are desirable aims in themselves, and my hon. Friend's Bill would be a useful Measure to that end anyway. But the question I pose is how far it has added urgency and necessity in the situation which we now face.
It has become commonplace to speak of three elements in our present unemployment situation—the cyclical element, the regional element and the structural element. The measures to deal with cyclical and regional unemployment have been part of the ordinary currency of debates on these matters over very many years. We have all discussed in the post-Keynes period the extent to which demand management should be altered by respective Governments. We have all discussed regional aspects of what is to be done about regions of heavy local unemployment.
What the whole House and all parties in the country, perhaps in the world, need to devote more radical thinking to is the structural nature of the unemployment we face. Here we have had different views expressed in the debate. The view of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle) was different from the view of the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott), and there have been many differences of emphasis. I should like to pose the question in this way: is the shake-out in workers, about which we have heard so much recently, a temporary or permanent phenomenon? There has been a shake-out of workers on a very large scale in the past 12 months, and according to the recent survey of the C.B.I. it is likely to continue over the coming months, at least until the early summer.
Various reasons have been given, which I need not go into now. Some commentators have suggested that the situation will then level out and the employment situation can be dealt with by a return to the traditional remedies, by a return to demand management and regional policies. On the other hand, we can define the shake-out as being merely a rather severe phase in a process which has been gathering momentum for some time, and which will continue to gather momentum, by which fewer 828 workers will be needed in any one year compared with the previous year for the same level of production. That seems to me to be the more likely explanation. If that is so, we need to think in terms of increased leisure as part of a strategy of full employment. It is not that that is the only reason, not that it is a reason in itself, but it must be an essential from now on in any full employment strategy that can apply to our situation, not only in Britain but in other industrial countries. The greatest mistake that could be made by Ministers is to assume that the shake-out is a temporary phenomenon and that the traditional methods will work sufficiently in a short time.
The business section of the Sunday Times last Sunday had a projection of likely unemployment between now and 1974. At a 4 per cent. annual growth rate of gross national product, it assumed a level of unemployment of 750,000 in 1974. It suggested that after the kind of Budget and other necessary policies that would lead to an increase of 5 per cent. annual growth of G.N.P. there would still be a level of unemployment of 650.000 in 1974.
I hope the whole House will agree that such figures are quite intolerable and unacceptable, and that therefore there is a need for radical rethinking along several different lines, but including the lines suggested by the Bill. It is for that reason that I hope we shall have from the Government a positive response which shares a sense of urgency about carrying out some of the proposals before us.
I should now like to refer briefly to the main proposals in the Bill. Many hon. Members have pointed out that we have lagged behind other industrial countries in holidays. Some Conservative hon. Members have yielded to the temptation of fitting that neatly into the Common Market application. They are still suffering from nervous tension after their narrow escape last night. I suggest that in view of last night's events they should give up any idea of pursuing the application.
Whether that happens or not, we are entitled to make a comparison not merely with the countries of the Six but with other countries throughout the industrial world. My hon. Friend made perfectly valid comparisons with both the Soviet Union and New Zealand. There has been 829 a strange reluctance in this country to pursue longer holidays in the way that other countries have. There has been a reluctance on the part of Parliament. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) said, we have still the original statutory six days, which are hopelessly out of date. There has been a reluctance on the part of both sides of industry. There seems to be a kind of misplaced puritanism about holidays in this country which is the exact opposite of the philosophy of William Morris, quoted by my hon. Friend, a feeling that there is something wrong about taking extra holidays. And in all the discussion on the subject there is to some extent a sort of jealousy of the generations. The old man loves to boast about how many hours he worked in his youth and how few holidays he had. He says that young people nowadays do not know what work is.
People would probably work better as a result of having longer holidays. But, whether or not that is so, pursuit of longer holidays is worth while in itself: it is a legitimate part of a better standard of life, and we should not feel guilty about, or have to seek excuses for, trying to provide for more leisure in the form of better holidays.
On the question of whether such provision should be made by Parliament or the unions, I very much agree with several of my hon. Friends. This is one of those subjects where to rely on collective bargaining is necessarily to say that longer holidays will be achieved only for a few people in the short run, and that for others there is no forseeable prospect of progress along that road. This is a matter where Parliament should legislate for the whole country. A four-week annual holiday with eight statutory holidays is a reasonable minimum, and should be enacted fairly quickly.
My hon. Friend and many other hon. Members have said that we need to see Clause 3, relating to retirement, in relation to the need for a complete overhaul of our national insurance system. Clearly, we should do much more for the pensioners than has ever yet been done by any Government. The proper framework is something like the Bill the Labour Government produced towards the end of their term of office, which was, unhappily, 830 killed off by the General Election. All Governments have resisted reducing the retirement age on the grounds of the cost. They have all made the point, which I should not be surprised to hear again from the Minister this afternoon, that there is a conflict between the desire to reduce the retirement age and the desire to pay higher pensions. To most of us, the first priority is to pay higher pensions. Pensions are disgracefully low compared with those paid in many other countries. But the old-fashioned equation by which it was assumed that more pensioners automatically meant a lower pension is one that applies to a situation of full employment. It does not apply with the same strength to the situation in which there are 1 million unemployed.
I know that we should not assume a simple transfer from unemployed to retired people, that the situation is more complicated than that, but if we make that simple transfer and assume that X thousand extra pensioners mean X thousand fewer unemployed, there would be nothing in the financial argument, or only very little, because the National Insurance Fund would be paying retirement pensions instead of unemployment benefit. However, it is not as simple as that and it is a subject which needs a great deal more study. If we are right to assume that this threat of structural unemployment will be with us for a long time and be perhaps a growing problem in some ways for a long time, we all have to re-examine our traditional thinking about the retirement age. Clause 3 would give us the chance to do that.
Personally, I am attracted by the concept of choice. My hon. Friend is not saying that everyone must retire at a certain age; he is saying that the option should be open. But if the option is to be open, it depends on not merely what is done in Parliament, but the rules governing occupational pension schemes. We have to try in both Parliament and industry to reach a pattern which is less rigid than that which now exists.
It has been suggested that there should be some variation among different categories of employment, that some people need to retire earlier because of the heavy nature of their work, or because of some extra strain in their work. That may be so, but beyond that we have to provide much more readily for individual choice 831 Many people long to retire, being fed up with their present job, and they have hobbies and pursuits in which they are interested and to which they want to devote their time. Others, however, dread retirement and do not know what to do with their time. There are others who want some halfway option, part-time work or sheltered work which is sometimes available to some people. Some people manage it now, but society should so arrange its affairs that this choice is much more widely available and so that there is a greater freedom of choice for the whole community.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
In the right hon. Member's constituency, which he knows well and which I know fairly well, there are many elderly people now above retirement age who are managing, not so much because the old-age pensions is sufficient for them, but who are managing and who are idle and desperately unhappy because they are, but who are fit and able and willing to take employment. However, none is available. Would the Bill assist them, or would it increase their numbers?
§ Mr. Prentice
I do not think that it would increase their numbers. I know many people in this category in my constituency and elsewhere and the principal way of assisting them is to attain full employment so that there is an overall demand for labour and so that employers will take elderly people as well as younger people and part-time as well as full-time workers. That is the basic necessity.
The Government, local authorities, industry and commerce must all make deliberate attempts to help people to carry on with part-time employment, whether they are in their employment already and about to be phased out of their working lives in that way, or people who, after a couple of years of retirement, find themselves fed up and wanting to go back to employment. I do not think that the Bill would make the situation worse. I have been arguing that it is relevant to the whole problem of unemployment in our society, and that it might help rather than hinder. The Bill has support from both sides of the House. I think that it would be a good Bill in any circumstances, but it is given greater urgency 832 by the prevailing conditions of unemployment and I hope that it will therefore receive a Second Reading.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Spence (Sheffield, Heeley)
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I spend much of my time listening to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr Denis Howell). Some would describe that experience as dreadful and others would not; I will not comment. I find myself in fundamental disagreement with most of what he has to say on those days. However, today he has excelled himself by presenting his Bill in a lucid and excellent fashion. Perhaps the very title—Employment (Holiday Extension and Early Retirement) Bill—owes something to his thought and to the constructive manner in which he has put forward his ideas.
I should like to join with him in commenting on the Bill's general philosophy. Its suggestion for longer holidays and earlier retirement is its appealing feature. It may be summed up in the two words "more leisure". It has unexceptionable objectives.
The general philosophy is wholly in keeping with what is already taking place in our society. There is nothing new or strange about it, for it is a general demand in our society and it is wholly proper. This general demand is exemplified by the present reconstruction of the Chamber. At the end of the 1940s, or the beginning of the 1950s, the Chamber was reconstructed. As some hon. Members know, I was connected with that. At that time, the standard working week in the construction industry was approaching 54 hours, without overtime, and there were no holidays with pay, either public or annual; the 54 hours were worked in a six-day week.
Construction work is now going on near the Tea Room. Construction workers are now working 40 to 42½ hours a week in a five-day week and they have paid annual holidays of about a fortnight and paid public holidays. That shows the change in the quality of life and in working conditions in that one industry and goes a long way to show the quiet revolution which has been taking place. It has been going on in other industries and in some at a greater pace with even better results.
833 The general philosophy of the Bill is right. The Bill attempts as quickly as possible to bring about, not as gradually as has been the case, the great change in our leisure opportunity and the time we have available for leisure. The process has already begun and it will continue, perhaps at a reduced rate, regardless of the Bill, for it is completely outside our control It is the result of technological change and it will continue regardless of what we do.
I was disappointed when the hon. Member did not deal with the Clauses in greater detail. Clause 1, for example, provides for four weeks holiday in the year, with pay, plus statutory holidays with pay—a wholly desirable provision. But one must ask what will be the effect on the cost of living. It is only right that some calculation should be made of that. I also want to ask what assurances have been obtained from the trade unions and the employers' organisations about the adoption of more effective and more productive working practices in order wholly or partially to offset the costs involved. It is necessary, if we are to deal with this matter responsibly that we should both pose these questions and get the answers. We should be particularly concerned about the Clause 1 proposals because—I stick to the analogy—in the construction industry, for example, it would put £250 on the cost of a £5,000 house.
Clause 2 provides for at least eight statutory holidays—again, quite unexceptionable, and again by comparison with the E.E.C. we would still be falling behind. But as I understand the Clause, it would create considerable difficulty for industry and for those working in it. It would make New Year's Day a statutory holiday. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are already holidays. There is therefore a gap between 27th December and 31st December—five days—and between 28th December and 30th December—three days, depending on how the Sunday affects the holidays. This gap between holiday periods means that the arrangement is not wholly suitable to industry. For example, it is not worth the while of certain industries to shut down, start up and shut down again over a short period. Attention should be drawn to that point. Did the sponsors of the Bill consider making the holiday 834 period continuous from Christmas to the New Year?
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, particularly for his thoughtful speech. That thought occurred to the sponsors of the Bill in drafting it, but we felt it right, in asking for four weeks, not to specify when they should be. Obviously, they would not all be taken at one time at the height of the summer season. Although we did not spell it out in the Bill, because such a thing should be subject to negotiation between unions and employers, there was a feeling that possibly out of the extra weeks one could be taken precisely at the Christmas period in order to minimise dislocation of industry. Experience in the construction industry in Birmingham, of which I have some knowledge. is that this year, for the first time, the additional days that people had available to them were taken between Christmas and the New Year, exactly for the reasons which the hon. Gentleman stated.
§ Mr. Spence
I do not think that there is very much between us on this. My observations, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, are intended to be as constructive as possible, since one agrees with the general philosophy. It might be worth looking at continental practice in relation to the Christmas and New Year holiday period. There was a time when winter sports holidaying was a luxury of the idle rich, but in France, for example—that is the country in the Community that I know best—over the past 15 years, if one generalise, despite the difficulty of generalisation, further and further down the income scale two holidays per year have come to be more or less taken for granted. Particularly in the light of the difficulties with family holidays during the summer, the Christmas holiday seems to be a period when the family can get together, and the French have so arranged their annual holidays that between 23rd December and about 4th January most of France is on holiday and therefore can enjoy family holidays. The Christmas-New Year period is accepted as an annual holiday and it is usually spent in winter sports, or some such activity.
If we can concentrate our minds on the objective of obtaining the period 835 from, say, 23rd December to 4th January as a definite holiday period, I believe that we might be able to kill two birds with one stone—the creation of a family holiday and the objection to shutting down, starting up and then shutting down again in industry.
Clause 3 refers to a reduction in the pensionable age. I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that he is adopting the best way in this situation. I realise that there is a philosophical and ideological difference between us on this. It has been suggested that possibly the unions are not the best organs, but perhaps we could best apply our minds to this task in relation to the trade unions because I myself am not wholly convinced that they are not the best vehicles at this time in our progress. Perhaps at a later stage there might be a sweeping up arrangement to clear up where the unions may have missed out.
I am impressed for example, by what the American trade unions have been able to do recently in the United States motor industry and by the great advantages which have flowed from the Ellis Lincoln experiment there with regard to early retirement and higher income during working life. General Motors has recently reached an arrangement with the trade unions whereby a man retires in exchange for a productivity deal which will pay for that retirement. He can retire between the age of 50 and 55 and throughout the rest of his lifetime, irrespective of other provisions, he is guaranteed an income of about £100—probably equivalent to about £30 here. It may not sound very much but we must remember that it is a first experiment and a first drive in this direction. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would not consider that this is the direction in which we ourselves should be going rather than the tight interpretation and administration that would follow from Clause 3.
I concede to its promoters that the Bill is attractive—there is no doubt of that. It also helps to concentrate the mind into very important directions—important from both the social and the industrial points of view. They are also important in relation to the harmonisation of our industrial practices with those of the E.E.C. I think they also concentrate the mind and help us to consider how far 836 we have fallen behind in the past in obtaining the best available that has been achieved elsewhere.
I want to contribute to the discussion of education for leisure. This great subject has not obtained the amount of attention that it warrants. I have the honour to represent the Heeley division of Sheffield and for the past 18 months—I take credit for this—I have been pressing the local authority to concentrate its mind on what I call "recreational water". This is extremely important. For example, there is a stretch of canal between Sheffield and Rotherham, eight or nine miles long. It has been used virtually as a rubbish pit for old iron bedsteads, old tin boxes, and so on. However, it gives access to a fine large canal basin which is spacious and well cared for. But it is surrounded by buildings of some antiquity.
Designs were prepared by architects free of charge showing how the canal basin in the centre of Sheffield could be made into an excellent marina, with open air cafes and a covered walk, making use of the bridge already in position. The idea was to make it into an attractive site and an excellent resort for young people in the centre of an industrial city. The stretch of the canal itself could have been cleaned out with lighted walk-ways provided along the banks, all at very little cost. It would have been a matter of open air earthworks and, from a construction point of view, very cheap. The full seven miles of its length could have been lit so that people could enjoy the open-air walks. The canal could have been stocked with fish. People could have learned to play and to enjoy their leisure.
We pressed this proposal for months, but we found it impossible to get through to the responsible authorities in Sheffield the vital necessity of concentrating on leisure, of giving a lead and of showing how it could be done. There was enormous support for it publicly and privately and from voluntary quarters. It could have been done without any burden on the rates. All that it needed was leadership. The response to our efforts was on a party political basis. We were told to keep our hands off the city's affairs since the city's plan was to build a road over, of all places, this wonderful canal basin.
837 That is an illustration of the amount of education that will have to be done before people in public positions realise the importance of education for leisure. It does not start with employers or with workpeople. It is a general inability on our part to face the challenge which leisure presents. Unless we do, we shall build trouble for ourselves into all the benefits that we have obtained for those who work in industry and elsewhere.
To some extent, the Bill is ahead of its time. However, I compliment the hon. Member for Small Heath on introducing it. He did so excellently and, so far, the debate has been very impressive. However, the Bill is premature. It deserves deeper and further thought. Above all, it deserves more comprehensive thought and more detailed analysis.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Spence) that the Bill is premature. Had we had a full employment society, there would have been a strong argument for saying that in certain respects the Bill was premature. But we are dealing with a background of substantial unemployment, and many people believe that over the years to come it will be more and more difficult to manage the economy so as to produce substantially full employment.
Against that background, increasingly the Government will have to look for ways of reducing unemployment, not only by growth policies but in other ways. The point may come when the Government will have to choose between taking off another year at the lower end by increasing the minimum age at which people may leave school and taking off a year at the higher end by taking more people out of the labour market and thereby reducing unemployment. I feel that the time has come to look at this problem.
Some years ago, the Secretary of State for Social Services made a speech to an audience in Yorkshire about what it will be like in the year 2000. As I listened to him, I was filled with hope for that millenium and full of admiration for his optimism. However, knowing that he was a realist, I assumed that reality and optimism were blended in what he said. At that meeting, he said that not only 838 would the working week contract and the age of retirement come down substantially; there would be a need to create leisure and secondary industries for employment. He referred especially to the tremendous growth in boat building that had occurred in America. To use their leisure, the Americans had taken to the waters, and thousands of people were building boats. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, I had a vision of the stagnant canals round our cities being full of boatmen using their new found leisure.
I suppose that the Secretary of State ultimately will decide whether this Bill is to be opposed. I hope that he will not rely on the politician's argument that, since it is only 1972 and not 2000, he can oppose the Bill or argue that in some way it is premature. When I listened to the right hon. Gentleman speaking in 1965, I wondered whether he assumed that the millenium that he described would come about under a Labour Government, and whether he was not dreaming aloud while in opposition. All the best dreams are dreamed in opposition. However, the right hon. Gentleman can make some progress towards the realisation of his dream by supporting this Bill.
Those of us who represent communities which are afflicted by unemployment, which means most of us nowadays, know from our studies how the machine is displacing man. In Bradford, for example, the textile industry has experienced a mammoth reduction in its labour force and a large number of mill closures. That is buttressed by a situation among white collar workers, where machines are taking over the calculation of wages, the sending out of invoices and so on, and where a large number of white collar workers can expect to be made redundant over the years. In one way and another, the machine will produce substantial unemployment. In those circumstances, we have to look for ways of reducing unemployment by creating more leisure.
The second aspect of it, of course, is education for leisure. In Bradford, there is a big engineering company named Hepworth and Grandage. A few weeks ago, in conjunction with the trade union concerned, the company arranged a course 839 for a number of its long-serving employees due shortly to retire, with a view to giving them hints about how to spend their retirement effectively. The course dealt with a number of different topics. They were told about the various clubs and types of activity in the area where they could use their leisure time. They were told about their rights as retired people, and about all the different agencies to which they could go. One is constantly struck in constituency work by the fact that retired people are quite unaware of many of the rights which this House has given them and of the voluntary organisations which are there to assist them in adversity and to help them enjoy their leisure. One would like to see more education in this respect.
In the example that I have cited, both sides of industry co-operated to produce the course. Many other companies may follow the example and arrange similar courses. We do not want a nation of people who, when there is more leisure time available, spend it at the pub or watching the television. We hope that something better will be devised and that people will be encouraged to spend at any rate part of their time differently.
The age of 65 is not a magic age. When we talk about retirement, we automatically think in terms of 65 for men and 60 for women. But the judiciary is all at sixes and sevens on the question of a proper retirement age. In this Legislature's view—because it passed the laws relating to this matter—a High Court judge has the liveliness of mind and physical good health to enable him to continue working until the age of 75. He is, apparently, as lively as a cricket. But the circuit judge, by some miraculous divination, can go on only until he is 72 when, it seems, he begins to fail, although the Lord Chancellor has discretion to allow him to continue until the age of 75. The Legislature has decided that recorders—the lowest of all animals—can continue working until the age of 72, but there is no power to allow them to continue beyond that age.
We have provided that High Court and circuit judges cannot, unless they are very ill, get a pension until they have reached the age of 72 or 75, particularly if they have not been judges for 15 years. As I say, there is nothing magic 840 about a retirement age. Men attaining the age of 60 should have the option to retire, if they wish, on pension.
The hon. Member for Heeley asked, "What will it cost?" In a society of substantial unemployment, with men in old industries being made redundant at 55, 56 or 57 years of age and not being able to get another job, all retirement means is that the unemployment benefit is called by another name. There is no increase in cost to the State. If the State pays them a pension instead of unemployment benefit, it costs the State no more. But it saves the self-respect of these people. A man who has been unemployed for several years feels a failure and ashamed and his self-respect goes. He does not have that feeling if he has reached an official retirement age and is on retirement rather than unemployment benefit. The money is interchangeable for this class of people.
In a high unemployment society, employed men of 60 to 65 years of age are simply taking the jobs of young people, such as school leavers or people of 20 or 30 years of age. The decision with which we are confronted is whether to give men retirement pay simply in order to pay less in unemployment and social security benefit. The question of cost must be considered in this way.
It is curious that we are considering a Bill of this kind and the question of leisure at a time when businessmen are complaining that people do not wish to work. What they mean is that people do not make enough effort per man hour. Many businessmen would be horrified to learn that we were talking about reducing the retirement age and increasing holidays. But there is a difference between the level of efficiency obtained in a factory and how time is spent outside commerce. There is a strong argument for obtaining the maximum possible efficiency in return for the money spent in a business enterprise, but we must face the fact that it is likely, as the years go by, that we shall not be able fully to employ our labour force. Therefore, we must create conditions in which people will be able to have more leisure without feeling ashamed, as they feel when they are unemployed.
I consider that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) has done a valuable 841 service by introducing the Bill. I hope that it has success as it progresses through its stages.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I apologise for the fact that I had to be absent from the Chamber for about half an hour because of a longstanding constituency engagement.
In the speeches to which I have listened with much interest, no one has declared an interest in this matter, although my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) mentioned that he is approaching 65 years of age. I must declare an interest because I am between 60 and 65 years of age—and thank goodness it is nearer 60 than 65.
I have a special interest in the Bill as I have the honour to represent Folkestone, which is very popular with retired people, for very good reasons. We cater for and have amenities for retired people. I therefore have the opportunity of studying the problems of retirement and the problems of bank holidays. I was anxious to speak today because the Bill deals with both those matters.
Many of my constituents who have looked forward with great joy to retirement have suddenly awakened to the fact that on Friday evening they are important busy people and on Monday morning they are retired people with nothing to do. This is a serious matter for retired people. I am old fashioned enough to believe that the greatest desire and need of people is to be wanted. The biggest problem of retirement is the sudden realisation that one is not wanted unless one has the benefit of a loving wife, although after several years even that relationship possibly becomes a little strained. One lady told me that she married her husband for better or for worse, and not for him to come home to lunch every day.
A point made by several speakers is whether we are doing enough to train people for retirement. The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) wondered whether many employers would be anxious to have additional bank holidays. If he had said that 10 years ago, I should have been inclined to take his point. Where we have long production lines, as we do these days, where we have 842 intricate machinery, the one thing that an employer wants, or which management wants—because the old days of the owner-occupier of a business are long since past—is to have continuity in the production line. I know many an employer who would wish to give early retirement to his employees if he could be satisfied about production.
I want to put three proposals to the House. The first deals with early retirement. One of the difficulties when there is a retirement, whether of the managing director or anyone else, down to the lowest-paid worker, is the change over when the retirement of an individual takes place. The suggestion I wish to make to my hon. Friend is that in his capacity as a Minister lie should bear in mind the difference between the cost of unemployment benefits and of pensions and consider whether a formula can be worked out so that when a man reaches 60 he should have one day a week off, when he reaches 61 he should have two days a week off, when he reaches 62. he should have three days a week off.
In other words, he would have the benefit of slowly retiring, and of training for retirement, and his wife and family could get used to having him about the house more of the time. I hope that my hon. Friend will not reply by saying that this would be too complicated a formula to work out. In the age of computers it should not be. Another advantage of this proposal would be that industry would be able to train a man a replace the man who is retiring. I know some companies—and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Waver-tree knows them, too—where in top management they deliberately insist on this. If any of the top managment say they cannot be spared, they are sent on a tour overseas to prove they can be spared, and others are trained to take their place.
What do people do when they retire? In Folkestone we are fortunate in having many amenities, some of them natural, some of them man made, some made by enterprise of the local authority and some by the enterprise of individuals. We have one of the finest indoor bowling rinks in England. There are only two others like it. It is an enormous attraction. People can have bowling indoors, 843 and they have international bowling matches. We raised £100,000 to build a magnificent sports centre with the object of combining youth with age.
Compare that with the problems there are in the development areas. I am not making a party point because both parties in Government have done this, but we have been spending money on building in development areas factories which have not been and never will be viable. The reason has been that we have wanted to solve the unemployment problem. Nevertheless, I believe that in spending money in that way we have been spending a lot unproductively. I speak a little carefully about this because one can be so easily misunderstood. What, in those areas, we need to do is to make a special effort to deal with retired people.
I take the point my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree made, that we do not want to create communities entirely of old people. They themselves do not like it, and the communities become unbalanced, but in these days of modern motorways and other developments there are excellent opportunities for improving development areas with amenities which retired people can enjoy. Instead of spending £2,000 per man to create industry, we could repair the damage which our forefathers did and make those areas attractive again. We could amalgamate the provision of work and the provision of amenities. Why not put golf courses where there are now rubbish heaps? Folkestone once attracted people because of the sea bathing, but the old and retired people do not come to Folkestone to bathe. They come because of other amenities—and the better weather. Bournemouth started its popularity with the retired by providing the pavilion and winter gardens.
The problem is one which needs the attention of two Government Departments—the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Trade and Industry. This is where they must get together. It is a matter for the Cabinet. It needs big thinking, and this is what my right hon. Friend can provide.
I am not sure that we want more bank holidays. My hon. Friend the Member 844 for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer), suggested that bank holidays should be called saints' days. That is a good idea. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) wanted a hangover day after New Year's Eve, but I hope that would not be called All Saints' Day—perhaps All Spirits' Day.
Bank holidays create three problems—death on the roads, the bunching of holidays round bank holidays, and everyone going to one place on the same day.
§ Mr. Costain
Allow me to develop my thoughts a little further. Sometimes on bank holidays people want to go to the shops, but the shops are shut on these days. Would it not be better, instead of having national bank holidays, to have trade holidays, as the towns in Lancashire have wakes weeks? In Australia the building industry has a bank holiday, and the cotton industry, each on different days. Let the industry, in conjunction with the employees, decide when the holiday shall be. It would pay an employer handsomely to come to an arrangement with the trade unions and the staff that whenever there is less than 3 per cent. absenteeism a bank holiday should be granted. That 3 per cent. is a hypothetical figure. This would encourage the staff and the men working in the factory not to stay away from work in case they lost their holiday. This is being practical and it is what the Bill is about.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)
I do not want to curtail the debate, but many questions have been raised and perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House for me to deal with some of them. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) for initiating such an extremely interesting and constructive debate. I am sure we shall all benefit considerably in our thinking on these subjects from what has been said from both sides of the House.
845 The debate has been so wide-ranging that I almost wish we were debating this subject on a Motion rather than on the Second Reading of a Bill. We have ranged over economic policy, employment policy, taxation, pension policy and education for leisure, to mention the main issues which have been discussed.
I want to deal with this in a sympathetic and constructive spirit, and the best way I can help the House is by giving as much information as possible. I do not intend to be dogmatic. There are wide implications here; we are moving into uncharted areas. Some implications tend in one direction and some in another, and different conclusions are drawn by hon. Members according to their approach to these wide issues.
The trend, clearly, is in the direction mentioned by the hon. Member for Small Heath which is enshrined in his Bill. Undoubtedly the trend is towards longer holidays—perhaps not so much towards shorter working weeks, on which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) made some interesting points—and towards earlier retirement and also more flexibility in retirement. This trend will continue whether or not the Bill is passed.
Common ground has emerged that this is a desirable trend, but considerable problems are involved. It is more a question of how and when rather than whether. There is agreement on the general aims, but differing views on the best way these can be achieved. In this spirit I should like to examine more closely four aspects of the Bill and to try to give the House as much information as I can.
First, there is a likely effect on employment of reducing the pension age and increasing holidays, secondly, the cost of reducing the pension age and the implications for social service expenditure and priorities; thirdly, the procedural method suggested in the Bill for losing pension-able age and the implications there; and, finally, there are the holiday provisions in the Bill.
Perhaps at this point I should give the figures. The number of employed men age 60 or over is about 1.6 million, which 846 is over 11 per cent. of the total number of people in employment. That is the sort of figure with which we are dealing.
On the aspect involving the likely effect on employment, hon. Members on both sides have suggested that it is probably unlikely that the proposals in the Bill would have much effect in the short term, and even in the long term, on the level of employment. It is clear that a change of this sort would have some effect, but it is impossible to say how much. It is likely that it would be neither large nor immediate. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer) said it would be wrong to think of this as an emergency measure to reduce unemployment, and he was probably right. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle) said that it would be a mistake to consider a long-term solution as an effective method of dealing with a short-term and medium-term problem.
A number of factors are involved. The National Insurance Scheme does not condemn people to retire at a particular age. It is only one factor in helping to influence people either to give up or to continue work. Other factors have been mentioned, and they depend on the individual concerned. They include how much pension will be available and how much savings the person has; the state of health of the worker and his dependants; and whether the person has children at school or university, and all sorts of other considerations. Then there are employers' practices and the effect of occupational pension schemes.
It by no means follows that people would tend to retire earlier if the National Insurance age was reduced. This could not be done in the short term without drastically reducing the pensions. There is no way of knowing whether all the jobs vacated would be filled by the unemployed. Some would be filled by the unemployed, but others would be in the wrong place, or the skills required would not be those possessed by the unemployed. The people who would benefit immediately from a lower retiring age are those men under 65, for example, civil servants, teachers and bank and insurance officials, who have already retired on substantial pension. They would get the National Insurance pension; but this 847 would have no effect on making more jobs available. Those are some of the factors which point in differing directions.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the general question of supply and demand for labour. The right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) opened his remarks by referring to that. The argument that unemployment can be relieved only by reducing the size of the working force or increasing holidays, rests on the assumption that current unemployment is not cyclical by nature but, in some sense, structural; in other words, that the shake-out of labour has been on such a scale that not all labour displaced can ever be taken up again.
The right hon. Gentleman was posing the question rather than giving definitive answers. I agree that it is not possible at this stage to know the significance of the recent trends in unemployment. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment dealt with some of these matters in the House on 24th January. He referred then to a study which he has put in hand, which is not yet complete, on the employment situation and unemployment trends. The preliminary result suggests that on a view of employment patterns since 1954, it would be premature to suggest that the essential nature of unemployment has fundamentally changed. The most obvious reason for the high level of unemployment at present is the low level of activity in the economy. It is clear that the magnitude of the problems is greater than in any previous post-war unemployment phase. This has probably added to firms' liquidity difficulties and the great rise in labour costs, particularly since Autumn 1969, and has led firms to get rid of over-manning and, perhaps, even to put up with some under-manning. It may be that the increased demand needed to take up the slack will be too substantial. It has to be remembered that it is not long since a shortage of labour was seen as the main constraint on economic growth. Already the National Economic Development Council is on record as suggesting that when economic revival gets under way, labour supply may again be a constraint.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive and thoughtful reply he is giving to the proposals, but on this point I recently had the pleasure, together with hon. Members on both sides of the House, of meeting the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, and, last evening, meeting the very senior management, at directorial level, of British Leyland. All of those people were absolutely unanimous that plant in industry is working for only three or three and a half days per week and that even when the economy picks up, and when utilisation reaches four or five days, it will still be a long time be. fore extra labour is taken on by industry.
§ Mr. Dean
I am not denying the hon. Gentleman's point. I am seeking to suggest that in spite of what he says there is no absolutely clear indication at present as to what the trends are and, therefore, the best way of dealing with them. I am seeking, more than anything else, to suggest to the House that it does not necessarily follow that lower retirement ages, or more holidays, is necessarily the best way of dealing with unemployment problems which exist.
The other aspect of this matter is the effect on labour costs of having increased holidays. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Spence) mentioned the increase in the cost of a house as one concrete example. It is important to realise that longer holidays mean higher labour costs. The hon. Member for Small Heath suggests, in effect, that employers faced with this increase in labour costs will react by hiring more employees, but he would agree that there is no evidence that that is so. In the last two or three years labour costs per man have risen significantly because of wage inflation. Employers have not reacted by taking on more employees. Rather, they have examined their labour costs more critically and in some cases have reduced their labour force as a consequence. So it cannot be said that the Bill would necessarily increase employment; but, to say the least, there is no evidence that it would reduce unemployment significantly, whereas there would be a significant effect on labour costs.
Therefore, the arguments that the Bill would reduce unemployment are not 849 proven; and some of the provisions of the Bill could have the opposite effect.
The best and most direct way of dealing with the unemployment problem is the very substantial measures which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken to deal with the problem. These measures are already having a strong effect on demand but their full effect has not yet been felt.
On the second aspect—the implications of reducing the retirement age and the implications for other priorities—I will deal, first, with a point which the hon. Member for Small Heath understandably got wrong, namely, the figures for expectation of life. His figures were for expectation of life at birth. The figures we want are those for expectation of life at retirement.
For men at the retirement age of 65, the expectation of life is 12 years; in other words, they can expect to have 12 years in retirement drawing the retirement pension. A woman who retires at 60 has an expectation of life of 19 years. These figures give a very much longer period in retirement and for drawing the retirement pension than the figures that the hon. Gentleman quoted.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
The hon. Gentleman is quite correct to put those facts on the record. I suggest, however, that we are both wrong. It is not the expectation either at birth or at retirement, but the expectation on entering employed activity, that should be considered. Large numbers of people pay for 20 or 30 years and then die and get nothing for their contributions.
§ Mr. Dean
This is an inevitable aspect of insurance. If everybody drew out more than he put in, contributions would be a great deal higher than even the present very high level of contribution.
The second point concerns the cost of the Measure. The hon. Gentleman said that he would like the age to be reduced by two years at once and by three years in the near future. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West pointed out that we cannot achieve a benefit such as this until we have earned it.
The figures involved are substantial. The cost of reducing the minimum retirement age to 63 would be about £250 million a year. This would mean an 850 increase in contributions ranging from about 2p a week for the £20 a week man to about 25p a week for the £42 a week man—much more substantial increases than those the hon. Gentleman suggested.
I assume that the increase would be spread between the flat rate contribution and the earnings related contribution, in much the same ratio as it was spread when the pension was increased last September.
The hon. Gentleman's second proposal—that there should be a full reduction to age 60—would cost no less than £700 million a year. This would be an additional cost on top of the existing Bill. That would mean increases in contributions ranging from 5p a week for the £20-a-week man to about 60p a week for the £42-a-week man.
I am sure that the House will agree that those are large figures. More than that, the number of pensioners is growing both absolutely and as a proportion of the population as a whole.
§ Mr. Dean
My hon. Friend is anticipating; I shall give as much information as I can about that.
I was about to give the figures for the proportion of pensioners in relation to the population as a whole. Since the present scheme began in 1948, the proportion of pensioners has been growing, and it will continue to grow until the 1980s. The estimated trend of the number of pensioners as a proportion of the population of working age shows that by 1973 it will be 24.7 per cent., it is expected to rise 25.6 per cent. by 1978, and then to fall slightly to 25 per cent. in 1983. But it is expected to rise again by 1988 to 25.1 per cent., then to fall to 24.1 per cent. in 1993, and to about 22 per cent. by the end of the century.
In other words, if the present pension age is maintained, there will be about one pensioner for every three workers 851 in 1978, but if the pension age were reduced by five years there would be about one pensioner for every two workers.
At a time when the proportion of pensioners to the working population is still rising, we must ask ourselves whether it is right to impose an even bigger burden on the contributor and the taxpayer.
This inevitably raises the question of priorities for the resources available. The Government are committed to annual reviews of pensions as from this year, and this in itself will increase the cost falling on the contributor and the taxpayer. We are, as I say, right up against the question of priorities. Where do we put the reduction of the pension age in our list as against further help for the over-80s, for the chronically sick and disabled and so on? I do not for a moment attempt to answer these questions this afternoon, but I press upon the House that they are questions which must be faced in whatever decision we make about the reduction of the retirement age.
A further factor in the question of priorities is that many of those who would benefit from a reduction in the pension age are people already retired with fairly substantial occupational pensions. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay mentioned this. Those who retire at the age of 60, or before, on a fairly good occupational pension would be among those who would gain immediately—for instance, civil servants, teachers, bank and insurance officials, and so on. Here again, therefore, we are up against the harsh realities of priorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay asked whether it would be possible to make selective reductions. If we cannot do it for everyone, can we do it, say, for the long-term unemployed or the chronically sick? He admitted that there are practical difficulties in such an approach. Although I agree that there are practical difficulties, I think one can fairly say that we are beginning to move in that direction through the invalidity benefit which is now available to the long-term sick, that is, those who have been sick for six months or more. Provided that these people remain sick and unable to work, they are, in effect, given an early retirement pension, and 852 they carry into retirement the invalidity allowances which they have earlier been awarded. So this is, perhaps, a practical development in the direction mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay and one or two other hon. Members.
What would be the effect of a reduction of the retirement age on occupational pension schemes? One of the points noted by the Government Actuary in his third survey of occupational pension schemes was that the great majority of members in the private sector receive pensions at the same ages as under the National Insurance scheme. This is not so in all cases. I have mentioned the civil servants and others for whom the pension is available earlier. But there are many cases where they follow the same pattern, and it seems likely that the age set by the National Insurance scheme will continue to have some influence on the private sector. If schemes in the private sector, particularly the younger schemes not yet fully mature, felt obliged to reduce their ages, the costs of their schemes would go up. They would lose in contribution income, and therefore the pensions they would be able to provide would tend to be lower than they are now.
The social aspects were mentioned by many hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who spoke about the desire and need for pensioners to feel wanted. It can be argued, although the sponsor of the Bill did not so argue, that a provision to reduce the pension age would compel people to retire against their will. We cannot be sure that that would not happen under the proposals he has put forward. The last thing any of us want is to condemn fit and active men and women to enforced retirement. There is always the danger that that could happen. The lead given by the State could be followed by employers, resulting in considerable distress and unhappiness.
The concept of gradual retirement is a different matter, but there is a real danger that if we were to do as the hon. Gentleman has suggested people who desperately desire to go on working and feeling wanted would be thrown on the scrap heap. The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), whom we all 853 regard as an authority on these matters, has drawn attention to the possible dangers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) made the constructive suggestion that for people who reach their peak in, say, their mid-fifties and are then really time-serving, retirement at 55 would be far better, but he would agree that that is provided useful voluntary activity—social work or anything else—is available for them so that they feel they are still wanted and still have a useful job to do.
It will be seen from the information I have tried to give that there are arguments both ways. There is, rightly, a tendency towards early retirement. There is, rightly, a strong desire to get away from the concept of a fixed retirement age, which means that people are working absolutely flat out one day and are completely retired the next. That must be socially undesirable. I am not suggesting that the retirement age of 65 for men and 60 for women is immovable. We want the concept of gradual retirement introduced as much as we can. I am simply pointing out some of the problems we must overcome if we are not to produce the sort of side effects none of us wants.
I do not want to dwell on the method the hon. Gentleman has chosen, because it is much more important to discuss the merits of the case rather than the small print in the Bill. But the matter is sufficiently important to draw attention to the method by which the hon. Gentleman proposes in Clause 3 to reduce the retirement age. He described it as a modest way of doing it. He also said that he had struck on an ingenious formula, and I agree that it is ingenious. The hon. Member seeks power for the retirement age to be reduced by delegated legislation. I wonder whether as a good parliamentarian, especially after some of the remarks we heard yesterday, he wants to give the Government of the day power to decide on the expenditure of an additional £700 million a year.
Is is right that a major change of this kind should be made by regulation not subject to amendment and possibly not subject to adequate debate in the House? Although I understand why the hon. Gentleman has done it in this way, I think that on reflection he will not want 854 any Government of any political colour to be able to make a major change of this character by regulation rather than by the proper processes to which we are accustomed.
The other feature—and again I understand the procedural difficulty—is that even if the Government were to be given power of this kind by Clause 3, it would still be necessary in order to activate it effectively for additional money to be raised by contributions and taxation, because there is not this sort of money in the National Insurance Fund to meet the intention without additional contribution income and additional taxation income. That is another aspect of the suggested method. Ingenious, yes, but not a way in which a good parliamentarian, which I know the hon. Member to be, would wish any Government to proceed.
I turn to the fourth aspect, annual holidays and bank holidays. We have heard some fascinating suggestions about how many we should have and what they should be called. Nobody mentioned St. Paul in all this. St. Paul is firmly established as one of the senior saints in the calendar.
§ Mr. Dean
I do not think that I will be carried far along the road to Damascus, although I hope the hon. Gentleman feels that in what I am now saying I am following the path of virtue.
There has been a powerful plea from both sides of the House for flexibility in Bank holidays and annual holidays and education for leisure. The most important part of the debate was in the question posed from both sides of the House, but particularly from my hon. Friends the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, the Member for Heeley, who talked about the example in Sheffield, and the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons), who talked about the water millenium of the year 2,000.
The important question which they posed is what we are to do with the additional leisure when we get it. How are we to see that people are equipped to use it in the best way, so that it does not mean additional time to be bored and frustrated and to have nothing useful to do? In this country we have not begun 855 to grapple with that problem, although there are employers who are turning their attention to it and who are trying to develop the concept of gradual retirement through leisure activities coming increasingly into the picture, so that training may be available for retirement. We need more pioneering work to be done by employers about the best use of leisure before we can make an effective success of substantially increasing the time available for leisure activities.
Having said that, I remind the House of the position with annual holidays, There is no statutory requirement on employers to give annual holidays with pay or to give accrued holiday pay when employment ceases. There is an exception to the rule—industries covered by wages councils and the Agricultural Wages Acts.
Entitlement to holidays and holiday pay is thus, like other forms of employment, dependent upon agreement between the employers and employees and often forms part of the contract of employment. All national agreements provide for at least two weeks' annual paid holiday after one year's employment, and in recent years, without any legislative encouragement, there has been a considerable improvement in holiday entitlement. The trend has been particularly marked since 1969. Many employees receive more favourable treatment than has been laid down in national agreements. I know that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme was putting the opposite case here, but I think he would agree that by the process of negotiation there has been a substantial extension in the amount of annual holidays available.
Comparisons with Europe have been made. It is true that all except Italy of the Community countries prescribe minimum annual paid holidays, but the requirements differ. Only in France and Luxembourg is the minimum annual holiday comparable with the four weeks proposed in the Bill.
I turn to the question of public holidays. As the Explanatory Memorandum makes clear, the legal position of bank holidays and common law holidays is very complicated, to say the least. The best thing I can do now rather than get involved in detail—this is not the responsibility of my Department, as the 856 House will have gathered—is to say that the Minister of State at the Department of Employment saw representatives of the T.U.C. on 11th February and as a result has agreed to examine sympathetically the T.U.C. proposals for two days' additional public holiday. There is no commitment but he has agreed to examine it sympathetically.
We have had an extremely constructive and valuable debate. No one on either side has opposed the aims put forward by the hon. Gentleman. There has been broad agreement on them. But many questions have been raised about the best way they could be achieved. Many points have been made about the Bill's deficiencies and the practical difficulties involved. It has been suggested that the Bill may not be the best instrument for advancement of the cause, which has been strongly supported on both sides of the House.
I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentle man, with his experience as a Minister, will understand—I believe he will—that in these circumstances it is not possible for me to recommend the House to accept the Bill. I hope that he will feel, in the light of what has been said and of what I hope has been a sympathetic and constructive reply from me, that it would be advisable not to press ahead with the Bill at present, but to go on pressing ahead with the aims which have received so much support today. I hope he will feel that this would be the most fruitful course and the most likely course by which the objective he has stated could be fulfilled in the most practical and ready way.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I have some fundamental objections to the Bill. I do not want to spoil the bipartisan atmosphere of the debate but I regard the Bill as a typical piece of airy-fairy, wishy-washy, sentimental Socialist nonsense. I am sorry that certain of my hon. Friends are associated with it. Some of my hon. Friends have said useful things about subjects not directly connected with the Bill, and to some extent I support what they said. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has given us food for thought about the merits of the Bill and, perhaps, reason for scepticism about its possible benefits. For my part, I condemn it as being wholly unrealistic.
857 The thinking behind the Bill is in two parts. It is based on the idea that we are approaching a millenium in which we can work less hard—an age of affluence in which we shall have an increasing problem in knowing what to do with our leisure and whether we should have a four-day or a three-day working week. The thinking on the other side seems to be that by reducing the labour force by encouraging earlier retirement we may be approaching a solution to the unemployment problem. I believe that both approaches are equally wrong.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) is a moderate and amiable man, but he is totally misguided. I must give him credit for his good intentions, but I condemn his proposals. We live in a world in which there is widespread poverty, disease and malnutrition. We have an increasing world population. We have pollution of the environment. We have a national scene in which we are conducting a desperate economic battle. There is violence in our streets as well as in our Chamber. The situation calls for sustained effort and discipline. The possibility of relaxation should be considered only when we have earned it.
It is hard to think of a proposal less timely, less realistic and less necessary than the hon. Gentleman's Bill. Considering the state of the world today, our descendants may view with scorn and derision that at such a time any of us wanted to pass a law to increase our holidays—
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Because it is wholly unrealistic for us to consider it and because it shows the wrong order of priorities—
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Clearly, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) has not been listening. Although it may be good progressively to reduce the burden, oppression and strain of work, and it may be right to achieve a maximum working week of 40 hours, the reality is that conditions themselves impose limits and, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. 858 Golding) pointed out, the maximum 40-hour week turns speedily into a basic 40-hour week with overtime being worked as the normal course. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer) suggested that it was somewhat dishonest to approach this problem on the basis of a 40-hour week when we knew that we were dealing with a situation which encouraged overtime and in which the workers concerned wanted overtime.
If this Bill were adopted more people would get double pay by working during their holidays, and that would create just as unrealistic and dishonest a situation as the present maximum hour working week does.
These proposals are redolent of the permissive society and the attitude that a man need not work if he does not want to. That is all very well, provided that he is not resting at the expense of his neighbours. We are told that it is a real social problem to know how to help those who do not want to work. The question is whether they need help.
Society is not organised in this way, nor should it be. There is no freedom in relaxation. There is no merit in doing nothing. There is no virtue in the loss of self-control. There is no value in idleness. But a system of leisure earned as a reward for disciplined effort is beneficial and should be encouraged. Leisure earned by seniority, age, status, wealth, success and other marks of progression is right and proper. That is how relaxation, rest and increased holidays should be earned.
§ Mr. Sandelson
Does the hon. Gentleman take no account of people who do not progress towards the millenium and dream in the hon. Gentleman's mind and climb the ladder of success and wealth to which he has referred? Does he take no account of the vast majority of people who work hard throughout their lives, contributing to society? Does he not think that they are entitled to retirement and longer holidays at the end of making their contribution to the community?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Of course they are. But what the hon. Gentleman forgets is that the Bill proposes to increase the holiday entitlement from the first 12 months of employment. In other words, 859 four weeks' holiday would be available to every employee, whatever his age or length of service provided it is over 12 months. That strikes me as being very unrealistic.
The present holiday entitlement is about two weeks, and I believe that in the present conditions of the country it is entirely right. To legislate for double that period would be wrong. I am reminded of the African State which, on independence, promoted everyone in the army—colonels to generals, lieutenants to colonels, sergeants to lieutenants and privates to sergeants. The trouble was that when war came there were no privates in the army to do the work, with the result that the war was lost.
That was a very popular policy at the time, rather like the popularity of the hon. Member for Small Heath, who has received so many letters saying what a splendid idea it is to give people longer holidays and earlier retirement ages. That sort of proposal is bound to be popular. The question for us is whether it is right for Parliament to legislate in this way and to say, irrespective of organic development, or economic and other conditions, or of the conditions in any firm or industry, that people should get double what they are getting now whatever their merits, status, worth or length of service in the firm?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
The fact that the hon. Gentleman thinks that they should reveals that he is a Socialist.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I do not condemn the hon. Gentleman for being a Socialist. It just shows how wrong and misguided he is.
Why should the holiday be four weeks? It may be said that it is not possible for people to go to Australia and back and to enjoy themselves while they are there, so why not make the holiday eight weeks? What nonsense all this is. The fact that hon. Members opposite are so enthusiastic about it shows that it is nonsense. If there were four weeks holiday, it would be impossible to arrange office holiday rotas. There is fierce com 860 petition now to get two weeks holiday during the school holidays. It would be warfare if it were four weeks holiday. which would have to be taken during the summer. The extra cost of the wages bill has not been mentioned, and yet the extra two weeks pay would mean an extra 4 per cent. on the wages bill. One has to consider the effects upon the employers.
This is a something-for-nothing philosophy which so many hon. Members opposite wish to advocate consistently and which is hopelessly misguided, because work is its own reward, and those who believe that all we need to make us happy is extra leisure are living in a fool's paradise. The benefit and value of relaxation come because of disciplined effort. Honest, hard work never hurt any man. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am glad to know that some hon. Members opposite even know that much. A man can no more do without work than he can do without food. He needs discipline, he needs a certain amount of compulsion to spend his time usefully, because he degenerates morally and physically without an incentive. We work to live. The whole rhythm of our lives depends upon it. Rhythm makes the world go round. It is provided by the necessity to work, and yet here in this Chamber we have people who want to make us compulsorily unemployed for four weeks of every year. Most people would not know what to do with themselves with an extra two weeks.
That provision of the Bill dealing with bank holidays I do not regard with the same amount of censure as I do that which would double the amount of annual holidays. It is not a bad idea to have an occasional day off, spaced throughout the year. I do not necessarily oppose the suggestions which have been made about that. The psychological value of tea breaks, for example, has been amply demonstrated, and people who try to do without them or to abolish them are making a grave psychological mistake.
We can go too far in respect of these holidays. Of the countries which have been mentioned in the debate Italy has 17 public holidays a year. That seems to me to be too much. I believe that at one time in Burma, before the 861 war when Burma was part of the British Empire, they had public holidays to suit Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus—
§ Mr. Stanbrook
The hon. Member asks, why not? I am simply at the moment telling him the facts. Being then part of the British Empire they also had a holiday on the Queen's birthday. So bank holidays or statutory holidays
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|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Stallard, A. W.|
|Booth, Albert||Lipton, Marcus||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Maclennan, Robert||Strang, Gavin|
|Davidson, Arthur||Marquand, David||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Meacher, Michael||Swain, Thomas|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Taverne, Dick|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mikardo, Ian||Tomney, Frank|
|English, Michael||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Palmer, Arthur||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)||Pardoe, John||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Golding, John||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Hattersley, Roy||Pavitt, Laurie||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Janner, Greville||Sandelson, Neville||Mr. Tam Dalyell and|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Mr. Nicholas Scott.|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Ronald Bray and Mr. Ivor Stanbrook.|
§ Whereupon, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 31 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.