§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD ARNOLD)
My Lords, this Bill is an extension of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act which was passed in 1925 by the late Government. The present Bill does much to amend and extend that Act. The Act of 1925, as your Lordships may remember, was one of extraordinary complexity, and this too is a complicated measure. I trust your Lordships will bear with me, in going through its more important provisions, while I endeavour to elucidate their intricacies. In order to make clear what the Bill does, I think the best course I can follow is to remind your Lordships what the Act of 1925 did, first as regards widows' pensions, and then to show how that Act is extended by this Bill. The Act of 1925 gave contributory pensions of 10s. a week to the widows of insured men who died after January 4, 1926, and about 229,000 widows are now receiving such pensions.
It will be observed that—subject to an exceptional class about which I will speak in a moment or two—pensions were payable only to the widows of insured men who died after a certain date—namely, January 4, 1926—and, therefore, the Act of 1925 left out of account large numbers of widows whose husbands had died before that date. These widows are often called the pre-Act widows, and the present Bill, in Clause 1, which is its most important clause, gives widows' pensions to widows of insured men who died or attained the age of seventy before January 4, 1926, provided that the widows are 55 years of age or over. The provisions do not go below the age of 55. It is estimated that, under Clause 1, the total number of pre-Act widows who will be given pensions will be approximately 652 500,000, as against 229,000 who are now receiving pensions. That means that this Bill will give additional pensions under this clause to about 500,000 widows, making a grand total of somewhere about 729,000. In other words, the number of widows receiving pensions will be more than three times the present number.
Of course, owing to the administrative difficulty of bringing these provisions into operation, the pensions cannot all be given at once. Naturally and properly, the elderly widows will receive consideration first. In the case of widows who reach the age of 60 before January 1, 1931—that is nearly fourteen months hence—pensions will be payable as from July 1, 1930, and it is estimated that about 210,000 widows will come in under that provision by that date. In the case of widows between 55 and 60 on January 1, 1931, the pension will be payable as from that date to a number estimated at 85,000. After that a pension will be payable to these pre-Act widows as and when they reach the age of 55, and it is estimated that something like 200,000 widows will begin to benefit as soon as they become 55. As I have made it clear, the Bill does not give pensions below the age of 55. That, broadly, is the scope of Clause 1, which is the principal clause of the Bill.
In putting the provisions of this measure before the House I will not follow the clauses in the numerical order in which they appear in the Bill, because I think that, for the purposes of making the argument, I trust, tolerably clear, it will be better here and there to deal with these matters in a somewhat different order. Now I want next to make it plain that the Act of 1925, in addition to the widows of whom I have been speaking—that is, widows whose husbands died after January 4, 1926, and who got these contributory pensions—the Act also gave pensions to widows of insured men whose husbands had died before January 4, 1926, if they had children under fourteen years of age. Altogether, about 133,000 widows have had pensions awarded in respect of their children under this provision—non-contributory pensions: I would ask the House to mark that. I must emphasise that in these cases the pensions ceased under the 1925 Act when the children had reached the age of 14½. 653 Under Clause 9 that is amended, and the widow's right to a pension in these cases is extended until the youngest child becomes sixteen. Not only will these pensions be payable in respect of the future, but pensions already terminated because a child has reached 14½ will be revived as from January 2 next, and the number to be revived is estimated to be about 18,000. These pensions will be paid until the child reaches sixteen—not 16½.
Before I pass to other matters, I had better also mention at this stage that the 1925 Act also gave children's allowances both to the pre-Act and the post-Act widows for their children under 14, or up to 16 if a child was kept at school until that age. That Act gave 5s. for the first child, and 3s. for the second or subsequent child. That brings me to a clause which is really fully due in equity, Clause 13. Under the original Act there was either the withholding or reduction of children's allowances in the cases where compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act has been awarded in the case of the death of a father. This in practice does not seem quite fair, because the rate of contributions payable under that Act took no account of the reduction of risk in these cases, and in Clause 13 that is put right. It is expected that in about 10,000 cases allowances which are now being withheld, or paid at the lower rate, will be paid in full as from January 2 next, provided the children are then under the specified age of 14, or, if at school, then until they are 16.
Now I will resume the discussion of the major provisions of the Bill. After Clause 1 the next most important clause in the Bill is Clause 2. I have already indicated by reciting the title of the 1925 Act, but I would in detail remind your Lordships, that that Act not only gave the widows' pensions and children's allowances, but it also gave old age pensions, and without a means test, to insured men at 65, and to their wives when the latter reached 65; but there were exceptions in the initial stages which created much dissatisfaction, and in Clause 2 the matter is dealt with and put right. The point here was this. If a man was over 70 on a certain date under the 1925 Act, which date was January 2, 1928, then his wife had to wait until she was 70 before she got the 654 old age pension of 10s. a week, instead of getting it at 65, as other women would do if their husbands were under 70 on that date. So it will be seen that in practice a large number of women were being placed in a hard position simply because their husbands were somewhat older than the husbands of other women. This has caused a good deal of feeling. In Clause 2 the matter is rectified, and all these women of whom I have been speaking will be entitled to old age pensions in future from 65 onwards. In short, what Clause 2 means is this. It gives an old age pension of 10s. a week at 65 instead of 70 to the wives—not the widows, but the wives—of insured men who were over 70 on January 2, 1928, being men entitled to an old age pension in virtue of the Act of 1925—that is, an old age pension without a means test—and it is estimated that the number of wives who will benefit by this clause is about 24,000.
I think it might be worth while to pause for one moment to remind your Lordships of the position about the means test. Under the Old Age Pensions Acts of 1908–24 there was a means test. A person was eligible for the full 10s. per week if his or her income, with one exception to which I will refer later, did not exceed £26 5s. a year. If the income was more than £26 5s. and up to £49 17s. 6d. then the recipient was not entitled to the full pension, but to a pension upon a graduated scale according to the amount of income. If it exceeded £49 17s. 6d. no pension was payable, but—this was a vital point—in assessing the income no account was taken of unearned income, as it was called, up to £39 a year. I explain that because there has been a lot of controversy in another place, and I expect we shall hear about it in your Lordships' House, upon the question of the means test. That was the means test under the original Old Age Pensions scheme. Under the 1925 Act of the late Government, whose provisions I have been in some degree comparing, there is no means test and there is no means test under this Bill. I hope I have made that quite clear.
I want now to refer to an important amendment which relaxes the qualifying conditions for the old age and widows' pensions. It is Clause 6. I can dismiss this in a few lines. It is an extremely 655 complicated matter, but it has been found from experience that the 1925 Act operated somewhat harshly in respect of elderly men who cannot satisfy the tests regarding the number of insurance stamps in the last years of their employment. This clause relaxes the conditions and altogether it is expected that some 20,000 claims, which hitherto have been rejected for those reasons on what is called the average test, will become payable as from January 2 next. There is another clause to which I ought to refer. It is a very interesting and important clause which deals with emigrants to the Dominions—namely, Clause 3. Under the 1925 Act the pension was not payable if the pensioner was absent from Great Britain, and this has in some cases even deterred pensioners from emigration. This is dealt with in Clause 3, which enacts that pensioners shall be entitled to receive their pensions while they are in any part of the British Empire, and insured persons who migrate within the Empire may keep up their insurance payments. Those are the chief operative clauses of the Bill. I do not think it is necessary to go into further detail at this stage, though I shall be happy to answer any questions as far as I am able if they are asked, and there is also the Committee stage, which of course will be open to your Lordships for the purpose of Amendments. I will say in this connection that there will be two or three quite minor Government Amendments which we shall ask your Lordships to be good enough to insert during the Committee stage.
Now I turn to the financial side of the Bill, because this Bill will of course cost money. In the original Bill the Exchequer contributions—those are all I am concerned with; I am not dealing with contributions from employers or employed—were to be at the rate of £4,000,000 for the first decennial period from 1926 to 1936 and for the next decennial period, 1936–1946, they were to be at an average rate of £13,000,000 a year. Your Lordships will see that there was a big jump in 1936, a jump which it was indeed very difficult to defend on any scheme of finance graduated on any scientific basis, and we propose to deal with that and put the whole thing in a very much better form. I need scarcely say that the financial policy of this Government will be in 656 every way superior to the financial policy of the late Administration. We shall begin next year with a contribution from the Exchequer of £9,000,000 a year for 1930 and 1931, and we shall raise that by properly graduated steps each year until 1942–3 by which time the amount will be increased to £21,000,000. That will be the amount for the remaining part of the decennial period up to 1946. After that the estimates have not yet been made. I am not suggesting that they will be increased, but pointing out that they have not been made. Probably they will not be increased, but the reverse, though I am not saying that that will be so.
I want to make it clear that these figures which I have been giving up to £21,000,000 do not represent new expenditure. That is the total expenditure. The average expenditure under the late Government's Bill was £4,000,000 a year for the first decennial period, and £13,000,000 a year for the second decennial period. Under our Bill the average expenditure will be £11,500,000 till 1936 and £18,900,000 for the decennial period from 1936 to 1946. Those are the averages. It is the cost of the Bill to the State and in our view very good value will be got for the money. This Bill is an extension of the scheme of social services which we in the Labour Party hold as being so beneficial to the country. I know that view is not universally held. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, holds it; indeed, it may be imagined from some of the speeches which have been made and some of the writings that have been indulged in, that this money, taken by the State from the taxpayer for social services, was expenditure thrown into the sea. Of course that is a complete mistake. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, was inveighing recently against the Government in this matter, not for the first time.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Lord has a reputation as an economist. I ventured to point out on a previous occasion that that reputation is not well based. He is not really an economist at all. So far as the Army and Navy are concerned he does not care a scrap what you spend so long as you spend a lot. That is what he wants.
§ LORD ARNOLD
But when it comes to other forms of expenditure, when it comes to social expenditure, when it is a question of giving much-needed help to the poorer sections of the community, then the noble Lord is anxious to stop anything of the sort being done. I see I have his assent to that. He feels if he can do that that he has done a good day's work and that he is an economist. There might be much discussion of what an economist is. So far as we on this Bench are concerned we profoundly dissent from the views of the noble Lord in these matters. Further—this is a matter to which I would direct his attention—a large proportion of the expenditure on social services is essential expenditure which would have to take place anyhow in some form or another. That certainly applies to War Pensions. The noble Lord came last week and with the object of terrifying your Lordships read out figures from the latest returns about the total expenditure of the State upon all our social services. He did not analyse the return in the least. He did not tell your Lordships that there was a considerable amount included for War Pensions. Does he object to them? There is an amount for education. Does he object to that? I think he does. As I have pointed out, a good deal of this expenditure must take place anyhow. There is an amount for poor relief, and also a large proportion of the money spent by the State on health insurance and unemployment insurance. Expenditure on all those things in one form or another is essential expenditure.
The major portion of the money spent by the State in these various ways is employed in doing what would have to be done in some form or another either by local authorities, or by private charity, or by relatives and so on. Let me illustrate what I mean. I will be very careful with my words here so that there can be no misunderstanding. Take what this Pensions Act of the late Government, the 1925 Act, has meant in saving to the cost of out-relief in England and Wales. This return which I am now giving does not go very far because the figures are not available later. The only return available is over two years old and that is what I am now 658 quoting from. It says that there is a direct saving in the cost of out-relief in England and Wales as the result of granting widows', orphans' and old age pensions under the Contributory Pensions Act of 1926, at the rate of between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 per annum. This rate of saving must since have increased as the number of beneficiaries under the pensions scheme has steadily grown, and the new class of beneficiary created by the new Bill will still further increase the saving. Moreover, since that time somewhere about 400,000 to 500,000 men began having old age pensions, and women of 65, which represented a substantial saving, there is no doubt, to the cost of poor relief.
When you take that into account and bear in mind that this Bill will increase the number of widows receiving pensions, apart from children-under-fourteen widows, if I may so put it, from 229,000 to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 729,000, it is perfectly clear that if the figures could all be brought up-to-date that this will mean, particularly as it goes on, a very substantial saving in the cost of out-relief. That is only one form of saving. There are other forms. There is the relatives' assistance, which also will not be so heavy, and private charity will be saved. In short, social service money merely finances expenditure in a more regular and better manner, and a slightly more humane manner than would otherwise obtain. This expenditure does not really diminish the total resources of the nation, because in so far as more money is expended than would otherwise be the case, good value is got by the State for the money. So I say, with all respect to the noble Lord, that this social service expenditure is fully justified.
It makes for efficiency and wellbeing and it is an essential factor in our modern State. I am certain that had it not been for this kind of expenditure the extraordinarily difficult post-War years through which we have had to pass would have produced much more social trouble in this country. Indeed, without this expenditure social unrest might have become very prevalent. So we say that this money makes for national efficiency. I believe that it is largely due to your expenditure on education, on health, and so forth, that we 659 have been able to maintain our position as well as we have done in the markets of the world. So I say that so far from this money having been wasted, it is a good investment for the State and it yields a high percentage of return in terms of national wellbeing.
In another place there was a good deal of discussion about the cost of the Bill to the Exchequer, and although it is primarily a matter for another House, I anticipate, in view of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, last week, that there will be a certain amount of discussion in your Lordships' House upon these questions. I have to say first about that aspect of the matter that it has all been very carefully considered by the Government and we are of opinion that the money can be found and ought to be found. I am not going to inflict long and involved economic arguments upon your Lordships about the incidence of taxation unless I am challenged. I shall be very happy to enter into this matter at very great length if it is necessary. But I will say that in the discussion in another place we were told, as we have been told in the Press again and again since this Bill was introduced, that present taxation is an almost intolerable burden upon industry.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I see that there are noble Lords who agree with that. Indeed, I understood that to be the purport of the observations made last week by the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, when we were discussing the Conversion Loan. This is a very old controversy in your Lordships' House. Again and again noble Lords opposite have told us that it is vital for the sake of industry to reduce taxation. Again and again we have argued on behalf of the Labour Party that that position cannot be substantiated. We have contended that there has been very gross exaggeration by the Party opposite about the burden of taxation upon industry. I myself have challenged them to produce the name of a single economist of note who agrees with them in their theories about this matter, and that name has never been produced because there is no economist of note who agrees with them. Their theories are not in accordance with established economics nor are they 660 supported by the findings of the Colwyn Committee. That Committee, as your Lordships will remember, was not a Party Committee. It contained some of the greatest bankers, economists and business men of the country who were concerned only to get at the truth as they saw it. What do they say? I will only give your Lordships two sentences. This is what they say in one place:—In our opinion the present taxation is not one of the main causes of industrial difficulties.Again they state:—Wider causes than taxation are mainly responsible for the lack of buoyancy in recent years.There is not very much support there for these new economics of the Conservative Party.
It was said in another place that high taxation depletes the reservoir from which the savings of the country come and reduces the amount available for renewals, for new plant, for starting new businesses, new enterprises and so forth. I think Mr. Neville Chamberlain said something of the sort either there or in a speech in the country. Our reply to that is simple but final. The Financial Secretary of the late Government himself agreed with the Colwyn Committee's estimate of the savings of the country, putting the figure at about £450,000,000 a year. He said:—I hope the country does realise that we have added in five years to the pool of wealth in this country £2,250,000,000.In those circumstances it is no use saying that taxation is so high that money cannot be saved, because it is being saved, and being saved in large measure. As I say, if noble Lords wish to debate those aspects of the matter more fully I will deal with their observations in my reply.
All I want to do now before I sit down is to say two or three words about a criticism which I think is the chief criticism of the Bill apart from the costs. That is, that the Bill departs from the contributory principle, as it is called, which the late Government said was the basis of their Bill of 1925. There are very many replies to that. I would point out, in the first place, that the Conservative Party from 1908 to 1924 supported old age pensions, with, I think, the exception of the noble Lord opposite, and they 661 were not contributory. Therefore, there is nothing absolutely sacred to the extent to which it is suggested by the Party opposite in this matter. Moreover, they themselves departed from the contributory principle in their Act of 1925, as I have told your Lordships, in the case of pensions given to widows with children under fourteen.
They departed from the contributory principle because pensions were given in cases where no contribution for the purpose had been made. Even on the theory of the Party opposite all this Act does is to bring in the pre-Act widows who are an exceptional class, and as time goes on—no doubt it will be a long time but still the principle is there, if you are going to estimate it on the question of principle—these widows will die and the main principle, the contributory principle which was established by the 1925 Act, remains in effect. This is an exceptional class who may, and we think should, have these pensions. We say that we are no more departing from the main principle of the 1925 Act than the late Government departed when they gave pensions in respect of widows and children under fourteen on non-contributory principles. Moreover, in some cases the contributions which have been made under this contributory principle and which have been sufficient to bring a pension, have been much more nominal than actual. I would remind your Lordships that the scheme of the 1925 Act would be quite actuarially unsound if it were not for the State contributions—quite. That in itself is a breach of the so-called contributory principle.
Then again a pension might be given if only one stamp had been paid in January, 1926, under the 1925 Act. There must be, I know, certain sums paid under the National Health Insurance Act before any contributor can qualify, but that is not for widows, it is for something different. Pensions could be given even if only one stamp had been paid. That being the case, language is being stretched very far when you say that a pension like that is being paid on the contributory principle. It is said that an insurance may be paid after only one premium if the insured person dies. Yes, but there is a great difference between the proportionate amount of the premium and the sum which comes in than between 662 one stamp and a pension. If this matter were examined it would be found that really the Conservative Party are not on sound ground. Indeed, in another place on the Committee stage of this very Bill they put down an Amendment—not a Back-Bencher's Amendment, but an Amendment moved by Sir Kingsley Wood—which proves that they are quite inconsistent in this matter, because they themselves were urging that the pension should be paid to the widow of a man who, owing to death, had not been able to pay the whole of the contributions which would otherwise have entitled her to a pension under the principal Act. How is it possible, if that is to be done, for Conservatives to come forward and suggest that the Conservative Party are standing firm on this principle of contributory pensions? No, my Lords, the fact is the Conservative Party have not been able to make any effective headway against this Bill at all. They did not divide against the Second Reading and they did not divide against the Financial Resolution.
§ LORD ARNOLD
Yes, on the question of the means test, but my noble friend is too well informed on all these matters to bring up a point like that without knowing more about it. They did not divide against the principle of the Bill at all. Why did they not? It was because they know that the country is in favour of the Bill, and because they know it is a good Bill, that they dare not divide against it. They were constantly in the dilemma of trying to work on two lines of opposition at the same time which were contradictory and mutually destructive. They would say that they would not have the Bill because it was costing too much money, and then they would ask why it was not extended to this or that or the other person, in which case it would have cost a lot more. You cannot make progress on those lines and they did not make any progress. Their opposition was quite ineffective. We, do not say this is a perfect Bill and we do not say it is a final Bill, but we do say that as far as it goes it is a good Bill, that it is based on sound principles, and that it is a Bill which will bring help and encouragement to 500,000 women, practically all of whom need both help 663 and encouragement. It is on that basis that I venture to suggest to your Lordships that it should have a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Arnold.)
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me in expressing appreciation of the very able and lucid manner in which my noble friend opposite, Lord Arnold, has explained this Bill and the connection of this Bill with our Act of 1925, and, if I may say so, especially of the candour with which he has explained the finance of this Bill. My noble friend took up a very peculiar attitude if I may say so. He boasted in unmeasured terms of the extravagance and cost which this Bill is going to incur. It was mentioned to me that my noble friend's ideas of finance were ruled more by his heart than his head. I think that is the kindest way of putting it. Personally, if it did not seem rude, I would have described it as being more like the rake's progress, for I have never yet heard any Government or individual boasting of their successful finance by saying that the cost of their administration or whatever they were going to do was going to rise year by year in millions and millions. We are grateful for his candour and for his explanation of the finance of the Bill.
I do not propose to ask your Lordships to refuse a Second Reading of this Bill, which is a Bill which deals very largely with finance, but I do feel that when your Lordships are asked to pass into law any measure, and especially a measure which contains so many new principles as this, it is our duty to discuss it thoroughly and comprehensively, to point out its defects and to lay stress upon the mischievous effects it may have in the future, if that is our opinion. We are here, of course, to criticise and make our observations upon all measures whether financial or otherwise. Therefore I offer no apology for the few observations that I am going to make this afternoon. As the noble Lord who introduced the Bill has told you, it is going to place a very heavy burden on the taxpayer, but he was very careful not to say that it falls very far short of the brave promises which the Socialist Party 664 made when they were bidding for votes at the last Election. Let us very briefly examine what those promises were and what these somewhat reckless statements amounted to. They were not made by independent people, they were not made by unimportant people, but they were made by the most prominent members of the Socialist Party, men who now occupy the most important posts in the State.
Let me first take what the Prime Minister said. He said the widow in need should he the one test. Then Mr. Henderson, now Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, went a great deal further. He said everybody uninsured would be placed on equal terms with those already insured. He went even so far, I think, as to promise more money by saying that the pension of 10s. would be increased to £1 or more than £1. Those promises must have caused noble Lords and their colleagues in another place some considerable difficulty when suggestions were made that they should be implemented. When my noble friend spoke about dividing on Second Reading, I thought that possibly the Government would have been very grateful to us if we had suggested a Division against the Bill because, although this Bill will cost a lot of money, we do not see in it very many of the promises made before the Election. I would remind your Lordships—
§ LORD ARNOLD
If the noble Earl will forgive me I should like to make a correction before the debate goes further. The statement he made with regard to the Foreign Secretary and the increase of pensions has already been admitted to be wrong by Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons. It was not the Foreign Secretary who made that statement.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Some one else made it perhaps—not quite so influential a person, but another gentleman.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
It was said that this promise, whoever made it, or this suggestion, was admitted by the late Minister of Health in the Socialist Government to have won a large number of seats at the last Election. But whoever made the promise, wherever it came from, it is quite clear that the present Government, having got into office, are unable to carry it out. Of course you cannot afford extravagant measures of that kind. If you are going to give away money in charity, somebody has to pay the bill, and there is only one source from which the money can come. It is a burden which falls upon industry. It is the industry of this country which will pay in depression and increased unemployment. Even the modified expenditure which this Bill implies will add to the handicap under which industry is labouring at the present time. The Lord Privy Seal, whose energies are devoted to lessening unemployment, will find that the handicap placed upon industry by this Bill will considerably increase his labours.
I would like to go on with the history of this Bill. There were others who made rather rash statements at the time of the Election. Mr. Snowden, for example, two days before the poll said there would be a universal Old Age Pensions Bill. Not many days after that statement, Mr. Snowden became merged in the person of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to show a very marked disagreement with the statement which was made on the platform by Mr. Snowden. Mr. Snowden is said to be a man of unbending mind, but in this instance certainly his attitude seemed to change very rapidly when he got into the cold atmosphere of the Treasury. Instead of being able to give a universal old age pension he was only able to give to his colleagues £100,000,000 spread over sixteen years and they had to do with that what they could to get out of their difficulties. I do not suggest it is not a very large sum. Of course it is and it will bring about a very heavy burden on industry. Supposing you had a well-considered scheme of pensions or anything else and you were going to get full and valuable benefit out of it, it is possible that it would not be out of the question for a rich country like this to find 666 £100,000,000. But when you take £100,000,000, especially at this stage, and spend it on an ill-considered and unfair scheme of this sort, which is put for-ward to extract a political Party from an electioneering difficulty, that seems to me an action deserving of no inconsiderable censure.
In trying to get themselves out of these difficulties the Government have thrown over the whole scheme of the original Act. The Act of 1925 was based upon sound finance. It was a contributory scheme, in spite of what the noble Lord may say, and it was an insurance scheme. It was a scheme whereby people were entitled to their pensions as a matter of right and not of charity; it was their right to receive a pension and it was not to be given to them as a charitable donation. I agree that it was a complicated scheme and this Bill is also complicated. I agree, too, that in any complicated scheme like the 1925 Act, as the working of it goes on, minor changes would suggest themselves to meet difficulties which might not have been foreseen. As experience went on, Bills would have been brought forward by any Government, whether Conservative, Liberal or Socialist, to deal with those points and they would undoubtedly have been largely non-contentious. Parts of this Bill, the less important parts, are in the nature of amendments suggested in the light of experience.
As the noble Lord who introduced this Bill anticipated, it is on the major clause of the Bill that criticism concentrates itself. That is the costly clause. Four-fifths of the money which the Bill is going to cost the country will be spent on Clause 1. Who are going to be the recipients of this £81,000,000? It is going to be given to half a million selected widows not on the basis of contributions but as a free gift, and these widows are selected not on any sound principle but upon an arbitrary and technical principle. For that you have scrapped the contributory principle and you hand out this money purely on arbitrary lines. Let us examine the question of the recipients of this money. Why stop at those particular widows? Why should widows whose husbands were insured contributors in 1926 and paid 50 or 60 contributions not benefit? Why should those whose husbands died twenty years 667 ago and never paid a sixpence receive this pension? Why stop at widows? As my noble friend the Member for South-end said, with that great generosity which distinguishes all the lady members of another place in their defence and championship of the opposite sex, why not include the widowers? They might also receive a little of the generosity of noble Lords opposite. Why should single women be excluded, single women who have been supporting and are continuing to support their relatives?
Is there any reason why you should have selected this half million, and not the widows of others, such as costers and shop-keepers, whose need might be very much greater than that of those who benefit under this Bill? Is this selection a just one and a reasonable one? The answer is fairly clear that, directly you throw over the basis of sound insurance and unimpeachable finance and embark on a scheme of unlimited charity, all your ground is cut away from under you. You know industry has to pay for this scheme. You cannot put a limitless charge on industry. You cannot draw out from it for ever, and once you embark on a limited scheme of charity, you embark on injustice and unfairness, and that is what noble Lords opposite are asking the House to do in this Bill. I can only think of one hypothesis to explain the satisfaction with which those noble Lords contemplate the difficulties in distinguishing between widows who are and widows who are not entitled to a pension under this Bill. They do not contemplate that they will be occupying that Bench very long and we shall then be on that side of the House and have to sweep up the mess they have created. That is the only hypothesis they can have acted on.
I do not want to trouble the House with many of the details of the Bill. I hope we shall have opportunities to deal with them later on. I shall confine myself to two main points which have been mentioned by my noble friend opposite. I have dealt to a certain extent with Clause 1 and I have pointed out that these widows in Clause 1 are not necessarily persons who are in need. The claim is that they are widows of men who died at a certain time and who fulfilled or might have fulfilled certain conditions. Many of them might be quite well off and in no need of assistance under this or any other scheme. They 668 might be quite rich people. But many of those who are outside the scheme only for technical reasons because of the conditions laid down in Clause 1—namely, the three years' limit and so forth—might be very much more in need than those who are included. But they will not get pensions. Let me give your Lordships an example which happens to be a concrete one, and is therefore interesting. There was a woman whose husband went out of insurance in 1917 because there was no longer any reason for him to contribute. I admit that he could have remained as a voluntary contributor, but, as a matter of fact, he did not do so. He died six years later and this lady is not entitled to a pension. If he had died within three years she would have got a pension. How can you really justify arbitrary distinctions of that kind? I do not see how it is possible to justify them, and I do not think that noble Lords attempt to do so.
I come to the next point. The noble Lord has pointed out, quite fairly and rightly, that all these pensions are non-contributory. There is no question of contribution, and the whole charge admittedly falls upon the taxpayer, who foots the bill. Some of the taxpayers who have to contribute to these pensions may be people in very reduced circumstances. Is there any justification for a person who is really in poor circumstances having to contribute to a pension for a person who may be a great deal better off than he is? I cannot see that there is any justification, and I do not see the necessity for obliging him to contribute to benefits for people who do not need them and do not ask for them. I put it to your Lordships that the only way to obviate this injustice is to establish some kind of means test—I do not say whether high or low. That is the only way of getting fairness in a matter of this kind.
My noble friend opposite dealt with a criticism that has been levelled at the Conservative Party. He said that we departed—I do not think it was from sound finance, but at least from the contributory principle, in the Act of 1925. I dare say that it may be said that our Act went beyond anything that a life insurance company, a purely commercial concern, would offer in an actuarial contributory scheme. Our pensions scheme 669 necessarily required starting, but in its essence, in its conception and in its practice when fully developed I do not think that anybody will deny that it was a sound actuarial scheme. To come to another point, it is none the less a sound actuarial scheme because there are cases during the early part of the interim period when the actuarial element may be small, as was pointed out by the noble Lord opposite. The noble Lord mentioned another point. He said, perfectly truly, that there was an exception to the contributory principle in the Act of 1925 in so far as it applied to the pre-Act widow. The pension was payable to the widow, but the non-contributory exception was made, not on account of the widow but on account of the children. It was felt that the children should be in the same position as the children of those who died after the Act was passed, and so in this very limited case payment was authorised to enable a pre-Act widow to give her children the same advantages as the other widows. That was the whole explanation. It may have been generous, but I do not think that anybody can say that it was unfair or that it departed in essence from the sound financial principle of the Act.
I would only say one word more, and that is that the Bill which we have before us to-day proves clearly that the Government are unable to carry out their Election promises. I know that they have said that this is only an instalment. In fact, they have used the old and useful formula of "Wait and see." I do not know whether that will be a great comfort to their supporters, who expected rather more. But that is all that has been forthcoming, in spite of the pledges that were given by the most prominent members of the Party. These have not been carried out and, so far as we know, it is not contemplated that they will be carried out, at any rate in the near future. To get out of this difficulty they have selected a particular class of person, these particular widows. I dare say that this class contains the largest number of deserving people, though some of those who are left out may be more deserving. Doubtless the action of the Government in giving this pension will please those who profit thereby, but—and this is a great point—it will cause enormous hardship and injustice to those who ought to benefit under this Bill, if it 670 means all that it says. Those people will have a real and proper grievance.
That is not the only great fault of the Bill. The necessity of doing something to fulfil Election promises has caused the Government to throw over the whole principle of a contributory scheme and has driven them to abandon principles of sound finance for an arbitrary scheme of charity which is certain to throw unnecessary demands on the taxpayer—large demands and extravagant demands, growing, as the noble Lord pointed out, every year. Those demands upon the taxpayer must inevitably cause injury to industry and a consequent reaction upon employment.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, the noble Lord who introduced this measure on behalf of His Majesty's Government has wholly misconceived the grounds of opposition which my noble friends and I feel towards this Bill. It is not in any sense that the Bill goes too far, but that it does not go far enough; and it was only in one almost chance phrase, I think in the last sentence of his speech, that the noble Lord referred to the fact that perhaps this might not be a final measure. I would say that this Bill wholly fails to redeem the Government's promises which were made before the General Election; that it may remedy some of the injustices that remained after the last Act, passed by noble Lords beside me; but that it does not remedy all the injustices that still exist in this country. Indeed I think it is remarkable how completely it fails to carry out the promises which were given by noble Lords opposite and by their friends.
I quote again a sentence from the Prime Minister himself. He said:—We will extend the system in such a way that a widow in need will be the one test of qualification in the pensions register.The Foreign Secretary, not in the quotations that were referred to by the noble Earl who has just spoken, but in a well considered document, written, signed, sealed and forwarded on April 4 of this year, made grandiose promises. He said that, in the event of a Labour Government being returned to power at the coming General Election, it would take the earliest opportunity of entirely abolishing the means limit. He further said:— 671The Labour Party now undertakes that the grave injustices of the existing Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Acts will be immediately remedied "—immediately remedied!—and provision made for uninsured persons to become insured on equal terms with those already insured for State pensions.The third promise, in the same document, is as follows:—The Labour Party undertakes to improve the scheme and to provide adequate pensions for aged workers"—as if the present pensions were inadequate—and it would remove the hardship now resting on married women of 65 to 70 years of age who are debarred from a pension on account of their husbands having attained the age of 70 before January 2, 1928.Mr. William Graham went so far as to say:—We are out to provide for all widows.And Mr. Clynes said—The only qualification for a widow's pension will be widowhood.A very small proportion of these promises have been honoured by His Majesty's Government in the present Bill.
Pensions are not to be given to all widows in need. The means limit is not abolished. No provision for uninsured persons to come into the scheme is made, and if, as it seems from the third quotation from the Foreign Secretary, the present pensions are inadequate, there is no provision made for increasing those pensions; they remain just as inadequate as they were before. If an excuse is made on the ground of financial stringency, I may say that at any rate something might have been done by means of a system of voluntary contributions which would have made the scheme more self-supporting. If we applaud now the new sense of economy on the part of His Majesty's Government, we cannot condemn too strongly the recklessness of their pre-Election pledges and the political immorality of their vote-catching. There was a moment when the Labour Party used to wrap themselves up in a Pharisaical toga and say they were not as other men were; on this occasion they have shown that they have not even tried to fulfil the promises which they made before the last Election. If they found they could not do it at once, if they knew beforehand that they could 672 not do it, why did not they say so? Why did not they say: "We may not be able to do it at once, but we may be able to do it in time. "There was no kind of qualification used, and, although they bought a number of votes in this way, they have not tried to redeem their promises in the present Bill.
It is necessary that this attempt on the part of the Government to make play with what they are doing with widows' pensions should be sufficiently exposed, and that the electorate should be made to realise the extent to which promises which have been made have not been fulfilled by the Government. Three-quarters of the benefits of this measure will be given to pre-Act widows whose husbands died before the 1925 Act came into operation, and therefore contributed nothing to the finances of this scheme. These widows get pensions at 55 subject to very elaborate conditions aimed at making certain that their husbands were members of the classes insured under the National Health Insurance Act. That Act is really being used as a species of means test for these widows, to see whether they can come into the necessary category. If this non-contributory pension is being given to these women because they are widows its limitation to those of 55 and over is without logical defence. If it is being given to them because they are old, it is, in effect, a lowering of the age limit for old age pensions, and there is no reason why it should be given to widows and not to spinsters—spinsters who are very often just as deserving as, or more deserving than, some of the widows. The rigid adoption of the insurability test as a species of means test for non-contributory pensions is open to considerable objection. Many deceased workers who failed to come under the employment categories adopted for compulsory insurance under the Insurance Act are as badly off as some of these insured people.
I admit that there are some good provisions in the Bill. The worst Bills have some advantages. Persons who go out to the Dominions will get the advantages of this Bill. There is also the advantage for children up to the age of 16, as regards their allowances or orphans' pensions; and there is the advantage to widows of contributors in respect of whom 673 a payment has also been received under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. In this last connection there remains a very real injustice under this Bill. Imagine two men working side by side in one of His Majesty's dockyards, one under civil control and one under naval control. If the one under naval control dies, his widow only gets a single pension; if the one under civil control dies, then there is a double pension. I should have thought that His Majesty's Government would have seen the anomaly of such a position at once and would have arranged that the widows of men working in exactly similar circumstances would have been equally entitled to receive the pensions in both cases.
There is a minor point against this Bill. Legislation by reference is a feature of this measure, and is particularly noticeable in Clause 8. I am quite sure the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will be able to explain it, but I may say at once I am not going to ask him to do so. Let me read subsection (1) to your Lordships:If, in the case of any person employed in an excepted employment to which paragraph (iv) of subsection (1) of Section nine of the principal Act applies, contributions under that Act either cease to be payable or become payable at the rates mentioned in Part IV. of the First Schedule to that Act instead of at the ordinary rates, that person shall, for the purposes of subsections (3) and (5) of Section fifteen of that Act, be treated as if he had ceased to be employed in an excepted employment to which that section applies.That clause means that you have to refer to the Act and to the Schedules of the Act of 1925, and also to the Act of 1924 as well. I think it a great pity that the draftsmen are unable to say explicitly what a particular clause in a Bill means. It may be all very well for lawyers, who understand it without difficulty, but it is a little hard on lay members of your Lordships' House.
I would point out, too, that the widows of uninsured persons are still left out. They may be in agonising poverty, just as much as those widows who are brought in, and yet there is no mention of them in this Bill. It is another case of votes having been caught on the promise of certain things being done which are not being done in this Bill. Mr. Henderson promised that the uninsured were to come in on equal terms. I think it is a 674 very great pity that, as this is not done in this Bill, it was not so stated in the pre-Election promises of the Government. If a customer orders a certain amount of goods and the goods come in he ought to pay for those goods, and he ought not to order them if he cannot afford to pay for them. On this occasion, quite recklessly, they were promised, these goods were ordered, and votes were bought by His Majesty's Government; now that the bill has come in they find that they are unable to pay it. I think there is a cynicism about this which is a most unfortunate thing in our modern politics. The Bill largely authorises the Labour party to break pledges which they made before the Election.
I have already spoken of the spinsters. There are a great many women who have remained unmarried in order that they might support their mothers, who perhaps are invalids, or in some way unable to earn their own living. It seems to me very hard that nothing is being done for those women, who have nothing to fall back upon. Further than that, the Government went so far in another place as to refuse an Amendment which would have included these spinsters within the scope of the Bill—spinsters who were included in the promises made before the General Election, but who were forgotten when the Bill came to Committee stage in another place. There are also those widowers of whom some mention was made by the noble Earl. A great many widowers with little children are quite unable, naturally, to look after those children, and are obliged to get women to do so, and to pay them. They are in need, just as much as some of those who come into this Bill, of some compassionate allowance so that they may pay for these women to look after the children, who certainly cannot get on without being looked after in some way.
I sum up by saying that here is a "dud" cheque presented by the Labour Government. So far as it goes, for my own part and for the part of my friends, we approve of this Bill. This is just the kind of thing which indicates the lines upon which we wish to see social legislation proceed in the future. What we do complain of is that those promises which were made before the Election, 675 securing a number of votes, are not to be fulfilled, and that the Party promises which people had every right to expect would be carried out are not carried out in this Bill, nor is there any immediate prospect that they will be carried out.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I rise to say a few words upon a question of principle. It is, I am afraid, a dull point. I came to the conclusion, after considerable thought, that this was a question I ought to raise on the Second Reading and not on the Committee stage, but before doing so I will say that, though I was very troubled with several things in the Bill, I have been still more puzzled by the two last speeches that we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. I thought the issue before the House was whether this Bill was a good Bill or not, and not a question as to whether the Government had or had not fulfilled certain promises that they made at the Election. I thought the only thing your Lordships had to discuss here was whether this was or was not a good Bill.
Both noble Earls seem to regard it as a Bill to which they desire a Second Reading to be given. My first reason for raising on Second Reading the point I am about to make is that it is a matter of principle. I do not think your Lordships' House—I put this quite humbly, for perhaps you may not agree—ought to be asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill when important parts of it are quite incomprehensible. It seems to me that you ought not to be asked to pass a measure parts of which are incomprehensible. I am not going to mention certain parts of the Bill which I think are quite incomprehensible, but I will take one example. Will your Lordships look at Clause 5 and sec what that means? It reads:—For the words' was immediately before the marriage in receipt of a widow's pension, 'where those words occur in proviso (c) to subsection (1) of Section three, in the proviso to subsection (1) of Section seven and in the proviso to subsection (1) of Section twenty of the principal Act, there shall be substituted the words' immediately before the marriage was, or but for the provisions of subsection (1) of Section twenty-one or of Section twenty-four of this Act would have been, in receipt of a widow's pension,' and in the proviso to subsection 676 (1) of the said Section twenty, for the words 'five years' there shall be substituted the words 'three years'.What does that mean? It took me a long time to find out what I thought "this Act" meant.
What I think it means is the principal Act and not this Act; but it took me some time to think it out. Finally I came to the conclusion that that ought to be so. If you look at the sections mentioned in this Act you find one deals with the question of damages to be paid in a fatal accident and the other one deals with an action in the Scottish Courts. When I arrived thus far I felt I was getting more or less happy. I felt I knew what that meant, but then unfortunately I happened upon subsection (3) of Clause 25, and, having come to the conclusion that "this Act" meant what I thought it did, I was then brought up against this:—Unless in any case the context otherwise requires, any reference in this Act to the principal Act or to any enactment contained in that Act shall be construed as a reference to that Act or to that enactment as amended by this Act, and any reference in this Act to the Insurance Act or to any enactment contained in that Act shall be construed as a reference to that Act or to that enactment as amended by any other Act, including this ActI am bound to say that I should anticipate with enjoyable pleasure the noble Lord who introduced this Bill, Lord Arnold, addressing a mass meeting of widows and reading out those passages which I have just quoted and then saying" Now, ladies, you understand exactly the benefits that you have under this Bill."
Legislation by reference is bad from beginning to end. It is lazy and ought not to be encouraged; but this is legislation by reference gone mad, and it is really quite impossible to tolerate it. That is why I thought this matter ought to be brought up on Second Reading on a question of principle, and the question asked whether your Lordships ought to be asked to pass such a measure. The Legislature ought not to set cross-word puzzles to your Lordships to see what the answer is. If legislation by reference is bad in principle, it is doubly bad in a Bill of this kind which is intended for poor people who cannot go to expensive lawyers to tell them what its meaning is. It ought to be made clear as a book that 677 he who runs may read. In my submission it is all wrong that this kind of thing should be done. I said there were two reasons why I brought this up on Second Reading instead of waiting for the Committee stage. I have given the first one. My second is one with which I think noble Lords opposite will be in hearty agreement, and it is this. If this measure—I am using a loose word in calling it a measure—has to be brought into law, I think they will agree it is most desirable it should be passed into law without any delay, that it should be passed as quickly as possible, and it is in the sincere desire that that should be so that I have brought up this matter on Second Reading.
I do not propose to deal with other parts of the Bill. I have given my one example, but I should like to mention to noble Lords opposite one other respect in which I also object to the Bill. The noble Earl has already called attention to Clause 8, subsection (1). Let me refer to Clause 10, subsection (1). I do not think it would be fair at this stage of the Bill to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to say what it means, but in Committee I hope we may get some sort of meaning attached to it. I earnestly ask noble Lords opposite, between now and Committee stage, to pay some attention to the criticisms I have ventured to make upon the Bill and to see whether it is not possible to meet the criticisms during the Committee stage. If they could alter the Bill in any way to make it more comprehensible I think they ought to do so. This Bill is going to cost the country a very great deal. The extra paper and printers' ink required to make alterations to meet the criticisms are not going to cost very much, and it may be that noble Lords opposite would find that a better way—I throw this out humbly as a suggestion—to get the Bill carried would be to repeal the sections in the older Acts and to reprint them in this Bill with any amendments that ought to be put in. You would then enable persons by getting one Act to see where they are, and you would not compel them to look at about half-a-dozen Acts. If the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will look at Clause 10—I am not asking him to do so at the moment—and will find out what the meaning of it is, and will tell us at a later stage, it would be 678 a good thing. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will tell you, I am quite sure, that under the Common Law everybody is supposed to know the law, and, therefore, I think it is almost the bounden duty of your Lordships to give people what I might call a sporting chance to do so. I ask the noble Lord opposite to consider this point between now and the Committee stage.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, wound up his speech, which, if he will allow me to say so, was an extremely good one in the early part, with a statement that though he had criticised the action of His Majesty's Government during the Election he approved of this Bill and thought that it did not go far enough. That confirms what I have always thought—that there is no difference between the Socialist and the Liberal. One is just as bad as the other, and both are determined to spend the taxpayers' money if, by doing so, they can buy a few votes. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, might have summed up the Bill in these words:" This is a Bill to take from the taxpayers a sum of roughly speaking £8,000,000 in the next three or four years and band it over to certain people who have done nothing to deserve it, who have not contributed a single farthing towards it, but who are to be given this particular sum, apparently, because a good many of them voted for the Government at the last Election."
The noble Lord did not tell us where he was going to get this money. May I point out to him that there is no place where you can go and dig a hole in the ground and find some money and hand it out. You have to get money from the pocket of the taxpayer. The noble Lord did not say how he was going to do that. He said that it was not a bad thing to do, and that it would probably result in a diminution of the expense of the Poor Law relief. I was in the House of Commons when the first Pensions Bill was introduced by Lord Oxford and Asquith, then Mr. Asquith and exactly the same argument was used. We were told that the result of that Bill would be to reduce the expenditure on Poor Law relief. Nothing of the sort. Ever since then the expenditure on Poor Law relief has increased. We were told by Mr. Asquith that the Pensions Bill to which the noble Lord alluded, which was introduced by 679 the Liberal Party in 1908 or 1909, was going to cost £6,000,000 a year. We have gone up a good deal from that.
In that connection may I venture to read to your Lordships two or three words—they will not be more than two or three—from what I said in your Lordships' House on May 25, 1925. I quote this statement because it is an illustration of how sometimes some one who cries in the wilderness proves to be right. On that night I was crying in the wilderness because the Conservative Government were introducing a Pensions Bill which I thought extremely extravagant, which would lead to the expenditure of further money, and would only pauperise the people. This is what I said and I would draw the attention of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, to it—Of course, I know perfectly well that a Member of Parliament who goes down to his constituency (except in the City of London) and foreshadows expenditure at somebody else's expense is sure to be popular, but are not the Government—that is, the Conservative Government—committing themselves to a sort of auction? They have proposed pensions. Is it not as certain as that I am addressing your Lordships that at the next General Election members of the Labour Party will come forward and say:' If you will only return us we will increase the benefits which you are going to get'?That seems to me to be a prophecy which has been borne out by the facts.There is no gratitude for anything that has taken place in the past.I call the attention of my noble friend Lord Salisbury to that.Gratitude is the sense of favours to come. And being desirous, as I am, of seeing the Conservative Party in office, I think they have gone the very way to lose the next Election by putting forward schemes by which the thrifty and hardworking are to keep the less thrifty and less hardworking portion of the population and by laying themselves open to the retort: 'Your contributions are not large enough and if people will vote for us we will give a larger sum.'I do not think it is necessary to say anything about that because every single word that I said then has come true; only I ought to have included the Liberal Party. I was only thinking at the moment of the Socialist Party, but after the speech of the noble Earl I must also include the Liberal Party. Therefore, I would warn my friends on the Opposition Front Bench that if they pursue the 680 broad and wide way which leads to destruction they will have to reckon with the competition not only of the Socialists opposite but of the noble Earl and his followers.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, was good enough to say that he would answer any questions. There are two questions of minor importance which I desire to put to him. I should like to know why this Bill is called Widows, 'Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill when he himself admits that it is non-contributory. He may say that it is the bad example of the Conservative Government, but I do not think that is a good answer. In Clause 1 of the Bill we read in paragraph (a) (i)—that he was at some time within three years before his death…What does "at some time" mean? Does it mean a day, an hour, a month, or a year? It is loose language. It is just like the language of the boy at school who was asked whom his head master had married, and who replied: "Oh, his aunt or somebody." It is very much like that sort of language.
§ LORD REMNANT
My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene for a very few moments, though I am doubtful whether this is the exact point at which I ought to allude to the subject which I wish to bring before the Government, or whether I ought to wait until the Bill is in Committee. Some of the noble Lords who have already spoken have rather chaffed the Government with backing out of the pledges they made during the last General Election. The case which I wish to bring before them is one which certainly the majority of their Party in another place gave definite pledges to support at the earliest possible opportunity, and which, I believe, but for the exigencies of Party they would have gladly supported. I appeal on behalf of a particular class of widows who, I am sure your. Lordships will agree, are deserving of better treatment than they have received so far. The class of widows to which I wish to call the attention of the Government are the widows of police pensioners who retired before September 1, 1918.
Your Lordships will remember that certain terms were agreed in order to 681 bring to a speedy settlement the unfortunate police dispute of those days. There was never any intention when that settlement was arrived at to differentiate between the widows of pensioners retiring after September 1 and those retiring before. As so often happens where both Parties are anxious to arrive at a settlement, certain conditions were not as clear as they might be nor were the details sufficiently thought out. The fact remains that that particular class of widow is to-day left out of any benefits under these Pensions Acts. In 1921—the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who replied to the mover of the Second Reading of this Bill will I am sure bear me out in this—when the Police Pensions Bill came before your Lordships' House, it had been unanimously passed and agreed to not only by the Committee in the other House to which the Bill had been referred but also by the House itself. By the time it reached your Lordships' House, however, the old cry of economy had been raised and the Home Secretary at that time, Mr. Edward Shortt, was able, through the noble Earl, to persuade your Lordships to reject a unanimous decision of the House of Commons by limiting the widows' pensions to widows only whose husbands were actually serving in the police force on September 1, 1918. Now the tables seem to be reversed and the Government, who by their pledges during the Election definitely said they would do all they could for these poor old souls—there are not many of them left—by giving them the benefit of a pension, were the first to vote against it and to stop it.
The condition of these police pensioners is a peculiar one in that, certainly before September 1, 1918, half the settled contribution was paid by the policemen themselves and the other portion by the Government. When these pensions were allotted they were given subject to definite conditions, one of which was that they were liable at any time to be called up for service in case of emergency. In the other House the other day, the Minister himself, judging by the reports, was extremely doubtful whether these old servants were included in this Bill. Certainly the Parliamentary Secretary was in no doubt about it, because she definitely said that they were. I think, however, it is doubtful and the point 682 I want to put to the noble Lord who is fathering this Bill in this House—the point was not raised in the other House—is whether the Government admit, as a great many people do admit, that these police pensions are deferred pay. That is point number one. The second point is this. If these pensions involve service or liability to service, could they not bring them in under the Bill so that the pensioned period of a policeman can be termed an extension of service which would enable the widows of these pensioners to come under the Bill as widows of insured persons? I know the sympathies of the noble Lord are in favour of helping these people if he can, and members of his Party have said so time after time. Will the Government consider the question between now and the Committee stage, and if he can will he devise some scheme by which these old widows—there cannot be many of them—can be brought under the scheme?
I believe that it would give great satisfaction quite regardless of Party, for this is not a Party question, and that it would allay a lot of unrest and discontent among the police themselves. The Minister, in the other House, or if not the Minister certainly some of the leading members of the Government there, asked why these widows should be treated differently from others, apart from the fact that they had been the wives of police constables. They did not seem to realise that the wife of a policeman is in a very different position from the wife of another man, because under the terms of service they are not allowed to engage in any business or trade or to learn any business or trade, so that when their husbands die unless they have this pension to rely on they are absolutely destitute. I am sure that, however much or however little it may cost, the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, who is regarded as a great economist, would approve of this deserving class of widow being brought in.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, I should like to say a few words before the Second Reading of the Bill is passed. The debate has been an interesting one, and I have no complaint to make, if I may say so, either in regard to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, or any other speech. The noble Earl made an interesting speech as he always 683 does and gave a good epitome of the points in opposition to the Bill. I am not complaining of that because it is almost impossible to say anything fresh about the Bill. All we can do is to restate our views on both sides, and that is what we have been engaged in doing this afternoon. He did say—and this is a point I would like to deal with—that the cost of the Bill would be a great burden on industry. He came back to that point—it was one of his main points—and he drew a somewhat lurid picture of me revelling in the rising cost. But the fact is that what I said was that we were raising the cost on a properly graduated scale instead of by a big jump. I think, if the noble Earl will look at the Report of the debate, he will agree that that is so. I am sure he does not want to misrepresent me.
As to the point of the burden on industry, our position remains absolutely unchallenged. The noble Earl really did not attempt in the smallest degree to shake a syllable of the case. He had nothing to say about the Colwyn Committee's dicta, which are most important coming from such very distinguished people. He did not remind your Lordships—but I will—that the Act of 1925 did place a definite burden on industry because employers had to pay increased contributions. They protested, but the late Government did not care about that. They said they had to go on. We are doing nothing of that sort. Really this direct taxation of which he complains so much is not a charge against profits. It is an appropriation of profits after they have been made. That is the really vital definition in the whole of this controversy and what the noble Lord said cannot shake the views of economists for hundreds of years and of the Colwyn Committee. Nor can he prove that reductions in Income Tax and Super-Tax help trade. Reductions have been made in Income Tax and Super-Tax to help trade—a shilling off in 1922, sixpence in 1923, sixpence in 1925 and a reduction of Super-Tax, all to help trade. But trade got worse: so the proved results were not very satisfactory.
He dwelt, not at undue length, on hard cases under the Bill. There always will be hard cases under any Bill of this kind. All we can do is to do our best to meet them, and that we have done and will do. 684 Then it was argued that there are people who will get pensions who do not need them. What are the facts? Suppose you have a means limit of £250 a year. Probably only a small fraction of 1 per cent. of claims would be excluded. If that is so, who for that almost negligible result would set up a close investigation into every one of these 500,000 claims? Would the Conservative Party do it? Of course they would not, and they do not really expect us to do it. It is not a business proposition. The noble Lord is not on very sound ground there. There was a good deal of talk by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the noble Earl, Earl Beauchamp, about pledges—that this had not been done, and that had not been done, and so forth and so on. I think if noble Lords would read the Election manifesto of the Labour Party they would see it is clearly indicated that these things are not all going to be done at once.
The noble Earl spoke about certain classes that were not yet brought in, about spinsters not being brought in. I may say I think he had a very strong point there, but we have been in office only a few months. I am not making any promises, but it is well known that there is at the moment a Cabinet Committee sitting on this question of insurance, and it was clearly shown by the Election manifesto, with which I shall not trouble the House, that these things were going to be done by instalments. That is the hope we entertain. We certainly cannot do everything at once. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, said the Bill had not gone far enough and that we had failed to redeem our pledges and so forth. I know the noble Earl, who is an old and experienced Parliamentarian, will agree with me that, although that is a good point, it can be made against everyone. This Bill has gone a long way and has gone much too far for certain members of the Conservative Party. In the time it is a very admirable result to have produced.
The noble Lord, Lord Bertie, asked me two questions. The first was why we can this a Contributory Pensions Bill when according to him it is not contributory at all. This is a Bill amending the 1925 Contributory Pensions Act.
§ LORD ARNOLD
But it is and, if there is anything wrong in the title, that can be put right at another stage. Then he asked a question about Clause 1. It is quite clear. The clause says ifhe was at some time within three years before his death, or, if he lived to attain the age of seventy…It is clear that it is an alternative. The meaning is obvious.
The noble Lord, Lord Remnant, made certain suggestions in his speech. I may be wrong, as I have been away, but I rather think it is the first speech the noble Lord has made in this House. If so, I should like to say I hope we shall hear him again. I heard him very frequently in another place. He never speaks unless he has something to say. He brought up certain matters and they will be considered. I shall undertake to look into them. I cannot give any further undertaking, but I shall certainly look into them. I can say no more than that now.
I think I have dealt with all the points about which it is necessary to speak at this stage. There is still the Committee stage and there will be apportunities for further discussion. I must, however, refer to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, to whom. I listened with great interest. No doubt some of these clauses are involved. That is a feature of all legislation of this kind. I remember the same point being brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Carson, about an Unemployment Insurance Bill of the late Government. He will probably say to me that that does not make it any better or any worse. I think from the point of view of the present Government that it does. It shows that it is inherent in legislation of this kind. I shall certainly give very careful consideration to what he has said. I cannot do more than that. I certainly ought not to say less, because the points the noble Lord has brought forward ought to be considered. He is very experienced in these matters of law-making and the law. It would not be difficult to produce clauses just as involved, if not a great deal more involved, in the Acts passed by the late Government. I remember one particularly in the Local Government Bill which was almost unintelligible when it had been explained. He is asking a great deal, however, if he expects a clause in a Bill like this, which has to refer to 686 previous Acts, to be intelligible to people who know nothing about the subject.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I did not impute any more original sin to this Government than to any other. I have criticised the late Government certainly as much as I have to-day criticised this one.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I do not dissent from that. The noble Lord is very candid in his criticism. You cannot, however, in a Bill like this have clauses that read like a magazine article. It cannot be done. I shall look into the point that the noble Lord has raised because he never speaks without carefully considering anything he is bringing forward. I do not think there has been any violent opposition this afternoon. I am satisfied with the debate and I hope that the Bill will now go to Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill road 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, now that the Bill has been read a second time, and since I see my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury present, I should like to make the most convenient arrangement with the House for the next stage. It is important that the next stage should be gone through as soon as possible in your Lordships' House because a good many other matters have to be dealt with before the Bill can be brought into operation, and it has to come into operation on the 31st December of this year. I thought at one time that the most convenient arrangement might be to have the Committee stage on Friday, but, if the noble Marquess opposite will help me in this, we might have the Committee stage on Monday. Tuesday would be open, if necessary, as there is nothing down for that day so far. If we have the Committee stage on Monday, I should like to put down a Motion suspending the Standing Order so that, if obviously the matter had been sufficiently discussed, we could go on to the Report stage—there would have to be a Report stage—the Third Reading and the passing of the Bill. I will leave that until we see what Amendments there are and the time they are likely to take. If I put down a Motion and the noble Marquess says that in his view it would interfere with 687 the discussion of these particular proposals I will then propose to continue the discussion of the Bill on the Tuesday.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not know if the House will allow me to enter into this somewhat irregular discussion. I am much obliged to the noble Lord for not taking the Committee stage before Monday. It would be most unwise to take the Bill in Committee after such a short interval as Friday would have constituted. When we come to Monday we shall be able to see what ought to be done as to the remainder of the stages. He will not expect me here and now to enter into any engagement with him, except, of course, that the Bill will be put down for Committee stage on Monday.