§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, on Thursday last, when your Lordships were good enough to give a Second Reading to this Bill, I said that I would defer any remarks that I might think it necessary to make until your Lordships reached the stage of Committee, and therefore I propose to make them now on the Motion that the House do resolve itself into Committee. This is a Bill which originated, I believe, with Mr. Hayes Fisher, but which was afterwards taken up and carried through the House of Commons in concert with the Government. At the present stage it comes to your Lordships' House containing certain Amendments of the Old Age Pensions Act, 1908, which it has been found necessary to make to meet defects which have developed in the 1103 course of the administration of the Act. I do not think it is at all likely that your Lordships would wish to alter any of its provisions. Indeed, I do not know that your Lordships have the power to do so.
But I would like to call attention to two of the clauses, because I think they furnish an illustration of the way in which His Majesty's Government very frequently refuse to accept Amendments inserted by your Lordships' House which they afterwards find were absolutely necessary and which this House was perfectly right in making. Clause 2, subsection (1), paragraph (a) of this Bill runs as follows—In calculating, for the purpose of the principal Act, the means of a person, account shall be taken of—(a) the yearly value of any property belonging to that person (not being property personally used or enjoyed by him) which is invested, or is otherwise put to profitable use by him, or which, though capable of investment or profitable use, is not so invested or put to profitable use by him, the yearly value of that property being taken to be one-twentieth part of the capital value thereof.That subsection deals with the case of persons who have money and who keep it in such a way that it does not furnish any interest. This Bill proposes to regard that money as having been invested at 5 per cent. I must say 5 per cent. sounds to me rather a high rate of interest to obtain, but still there it is, and I believe that that provision was proposed by His Majesty's Government and inserted in concert with them.
Really when we think of the history of this matter it is very absurd. When the Bill of 1908 was before this House Lord St. Aldwyn pointed out that it was quite clear that there would be persons possessing as much as £1,000 or £2,000 which they would keep in a stocking, or at all events not put out at interest, and the result would be that they would, notwithstanding, draw a pension from the taxpayers. On the Motion of the noble Viscount (Lord St. Aldwyn) these words were inserted—So as to produce the largest income that can be reasonably obtained from it.That Amendment was sent to the House of Commons, but as soon as it reached that House what happened? Mr. Lloyd George said—I want to submit to you, Sir, that this is an infringement of the privileges of this House. The effect of it would undoubtedly be to diminish the number of those who could claim a pension.1104 Of course it would; that was exactly what it was intended for. Mr. Lloyd George proceeded—The effect of the Lords Amendment is this. The pension officer would be obliged to recognise the income of a man, not in accordance with what it actually is, but in accordance with what it ought to be if he invested his money in a different way.As we know, Mr. Lloyd George deals with land, not according to the income derived from it, but according to the income which he says ought to be derived from it. Then he continued—For instance, if he invested it in Consols the pension officer might say, 'You are only getting 2½ per cent. for your money and you should invest it at 5 per cent.,' or, if he had £200 in the Post Office Savings Bank, he might say, 'You ought not to invest it in the Post Office Savings Bank. If you were to invest it in some industrial security which you might acquire you would get 5½ per cent.'What is Mr. Lloyd George saying now? He is saying in this Bill that the man must invest at 5 per cent., and if he has not so invested the money he will be considered as having invested it at 5 per cent. Then Mr. Speaker said—I have considered this question, and I think the Lords Amendment is really an explanation of the words profitable use.' Who is to say whether a man has properly or improperly used his money? What is intended by the words profitably used?' These are vague, general words, and it seems to me that the explanation of the words is that the money is so invested 'as to produce the largest income that can be reasonably obtained from it.' An investment in Consols would not in many circumstances, but might in others, be the largest income that could be reasonably obtained. That is a matter of argument.Mr. Speaker continued—I think it would be the doctrine of privilege run mad to insist upon this as a breach of privilege.Then there was further discussion, and in the end the question was put "That the House disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment," and that was carried.
The Bill came back to your Lordships' House, and, if I remember right, Lord St. Aldwyn said it was not his business to defend the public pocket if the Government wanted to empty it, and your Lordships did not insist on this Amendment. But what is done in this Bill? Clause 2 actually goes further than the proposal in your Lordships' Amendment. That proposal was not that the man must be considered as having invested his money at 5 per cent. What 1105 conceivable reason had Mr. Lloyd George for objecting to your Lordships' Amendment? The only effect of his objection is that the country has been compelled to pay a good many pensions to people possessing sums of money of which they were not making use. That is the first case.
Now let me turn to Clause 4. Subsection (2) of that Clause runs—Two years shall be substituted for ten years as the further period of disqualification under subsection (2) of section three of the principal Act, both as respects persons convicted before the passing of this Act, and, as respects persons convicted after the passing of this Act, in cases where the term for which a person has been ordered to be imprisoned without the option of a fine does not exceed six weeks.An Amendment of that sort was proposed in this House by Lord Saltoun. It was actually agreed to by the Government, and on the motion of the late Lord Wolver-hampton these words were inserted—If the term of imprisonment to which he is sentenced exceeds one month he shall be disqualified. ..Those works likewise went to the House of Commons. Mr. Speaker was asked whether it was a breach of privilege, and he said—I am of opinion that this is a privilege Amendment. It extends very largely the benefits of the Bill. The effect of it is to remove the ten years' disqualification from persons sentenced to imprisonment of less than one month—that is, it limits disqualification for ten years to persons who are sentenced to more than one month. The effect of this will probably be to exclude a smaller number of persons; in other words, to add a certain number. Accordingly it varies the charge. I may point out, however, to the House that it is always open to the House not to insist on its privilege if it desires to accept an Amendment.That was an indication from the Speaker that this Amendment was obviously sensible Amendment, and he advised the House to consider whether it was desirable to insist upon its privilege. Mr. Balfour then asked—I should like to know whether the Government propose to insist upon their Amendment";and Mr. Lloyd George replied—Yes. I move that the House disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.Then there was a debate; and finally Mr. Asquith said—If the House, whatever may be its opinion on the merits or demerits of a comparatively small change in the Bill, were to allow the precedent— 1106 it would be a precedent—to be set of accepting an Amendment of this kind, in my opinion we should very greatly impair the rights and privileges we have always hitherto asserted.And on that ground he asked the House to refuse to agree to the Amendment.
What are the Government now doing? They are now proposing that where the imprisonment does not exceed six weeks it is not to be a bar to a man receiving a pension. I merely mention these two things because this is not the first instance by several in which the Government have entirely refused to accept any Amendment, however reasonable, if it comes from Your, Lordships' House, and then afterwards found themselves obliged to pass a Bill containing the very Amendments to which they disagreed. I do not know what defence the Government can make to conduct of this kind, but it certainly seems to me an unreasonable thing to object because you do not know what you are objecting to, and then afterwards to reinsert the Amendments in a Bill as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Camperdown.)
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend has called attention to this matter, because I agree with him that it is an instance in which the Government might have considered favourably the Amendments made by your Lordships' House although they were technically breaches of the privilege of the House of Commons. If the Government had in this case invited the House of Commons to waive their privilege, the Bill would have been considerably improved. But what has happened? For more than two years past pensions have been given to persons owning a considerable amount of property the income from which has not been calculated in their income. This would have been avoided had my Amendment been accepted, or had Clause 2 of this Bill been in the original Old Age Pensions Bill. The taxpayers have been penalised to that extent for the benefit of persons whom Parliament never intended should receive old age pensions at all. That is the simple fact.
Then take the other case to which my noble friend alluded—the limitation which 1107 prevented the receipt of a pension by a person who had been convicted of an offence of a certain kind. There, again, the action taken in the other House has accrued to the detriment of the subject, because if the Amendment which is now in this Bill had been inserted in the original Bill some persons would have been eligible for pensions who were not eligible under the more stingent provisions of the Act. I do hope that His Majesty's Government may take this to heart to this extent, that they may be disposed to think that sometimes, even in a Bill which is of this nature and which it is difficult for your Lordships to amend without in some technical manner infringing the privilege of the House of Commons, it may be possible for us to snake suggestions which ought at any rate to be considered on their merits, and which, if so considered, might improve the Bill.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, not only as regards this Bill, but as regards legislation generally, so far as I interpret the mind of His Majesty's Government, we are always glad to have these suggestions, but questions of privilege may arise. As regards the particular Bill now before us, no doubt there has been a change which has now been agreed to; but I can assure the noble Viscount and the noble Earl that it was not because these matters were overlooked or because there was slackness in considering them that the course was taken in the original Act that was taken. I remember well the close discussion it received. It is, I think, a good sound general principle that a thing is only true on the balance of considerations, and at that time it was thought that the balance of considerations was the other way. We are none of us infallible. Experience has now shown that on these two points modifications are required, and they have been made. It was not through obstinacy or mulishness of mind on the part of those concerned that that course was not taken originally, but because it was believed on the balance of considerations not to be the right course.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
With your Lordships' permission I should like to say one or two words in reply to the noble Viscount. The noble Viscount now says that the only reason why this was done was that on the balance of considera- 1108 tions it was thought better. I do not think he listened to the words which I read, because those words were distinctly that the Amendment was rejected simply because it was technically a breach of privilege, although the Speaker in both cases indicated that he thought it was an absurd instance in which to enforce breach of privilege. I never heard anything about the balance of considerations. In fact, I do not think anything was balanced or even considered. The principle on which action was taken was that these were Amendments inserted by this House, and therefore they were to be kicked out.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL Of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4:
§ Amendments of section 3 of the principal Act.
§ 4.—(1) Any rule of law and any enactment, the effect of which is to cause relief given to a wife or relative to be treated as relief given to the person liable to maintain the wife or relative, shall not have effect for the purposes of section three of the principal Act (which relates to disqualification).
§ (2) Two years shall be substituted for ten years as the further period of disqualification under subsection (2) of section three of the principal Act, both as respects persons convicted before the passing of this Act, and, as respects persons convicted after the passing of this Act, in cases where the term for which a person has been ordered to be imprisoned without the option of a fine does not exceed six weeks.
§ (3) Any person in receipt of an old age pension who is convicted of any offence which is mentioned in or deemed to be mentioned or included in the First Schedule to the Inebriates Act, 1898, shall, if not subject to disqualification under the principal Act, be disqualified for receiving or continuing to receive an old age pension for a period of six months after the date of his conviction unless the court before whom he is convicted direct to the contrary.
THE EARL OF LIVERPOOL
My Lords, I move, in subsection (1), after the words "the effect of which is to cause relief given to,"to insert the words"or in respect of." The object of this Amendment is to bring the Scottish law together with this Bill. I am quite aware that the Amendment makes a larger charge, and I would like to explain to the noble Earl how it has occurred. It is due to an error in drafting. As the noble Earl said, the private Members' 1109 Bill and the Government Bill went to Grand Committee together, and it was then arranged that the Government Bill should be incorporated with the private Members' Bill. Therefore, although this is a private Members' Bill it is to all intents and purposes a Government Bill. Quite accidentally, however, when the Bill left the Committee the draftsman omitted to insert these words which had been suggested. I therefore move.
Clause 4, page 3, line 29, after the second ("to") insert ("or in respect of").—(The Earl of Liverpool.)
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, observe how differently the Government treat this question of privilege when it suits I hem to waive it. Within this last week or fortnight we have had two or three cases in which, where it suited the Government, breaches of privilege have been committed. Here is another instance, but the excuse is made that it is "only a little one." Personally I have not the slightest objection to the Amendment and it is not my business to guard the privileges of the House of Commons, but, if it were, I should certainly point out that this Amendment deals with a question of privilege, and, according to the canons of privilege which are frequently set up by Mr. Lloyd George and others, is an Amendment which it is not competent for this House to insert. I have no doubt, however, that the noble Lord's colleagues in the other House will take a much more favourable view of it than, for instance, if it had been introduced by Lord St. Aldwyn.
THE EARL OF LIVERPOOL
I am afraid I did not explain myself clearly. The Commons themselves wanted this Amendment and they thought that it was in the Bill. It is only because the draftsman failed to put it in that I am asking your Lordships to insert it to-night.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining Clauses agreed to.
§ The Report of Amendment to be received To-morrow, and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 177.)