§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."1210
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Elliot
I was saying that we have obtained the services of Dr. Mallon, of Toynbee Hall, as a new member of the of the Board administering this legislation of the board administering this legislation that a very real safeguard against harshness or unsympathetic conduct is to be found. [An Hon. Member: "Is he going to give his full time?"] He will give full time, but it is not expected that he will be prevented from carrying on the other activities for which he is well known. I wish to make it clear that his work for the Board will be the primary charge on his time.
§ Mr. Elliot
He is not an extra member. There has been a vacancy for some time. [An Hon. Member: "Do you know the salary?"] I cannot tell the hon. Member the salary. I think it will be agreed that there has been every desire on the part of the Board to keep their administration on a businesslike footing which involves no injury to the self-respect of either the applicant or other persons. There is complete privacy between the Board itself and the applicant, and except where a case is taken by an applicant to an appeal tribunal no person outside the Board's service has access to the information which the applicant has supplied. In carrying out their duties the Board have encouraged their officers to take a reasonable and humane view of the applicant's circumstances. Cases frequently arise in which the state of an applicant's household calls for some special measure of assistance. For example, it may be found that there is overcrowding or that the premises are dilapidated, or that the bedding or other articles of essential furnishing are inadequate. The Board's officers are always ready in such cases to ensure that housing or other defects are remedied if possible. The Board frequently make extra grants to enable applicants to supply household deficiencies where there is a reasonable case for doing so.
§ Mr. Elliot
I really think that the Board has now established itself as a humane body of administration in this matter. Hon. Members have said that they have rooted objections to any kind of needs test, but I would point out that that has to be considered in relation to a particular needs test. They must consider whether the test as applied at present and as it may be applied in old age pension cases is too severe; whether, for instance, it assumes too large a contribution to the family purse from the wage-earning son. The rules for the treatment of earnings are embodied in the regulations which have been before both Houses and approved. They are frequently relaxed in practice at the discretion of the Board's officer to meet special circumstances, and while they may not satisfy everybody, they cannot be said to be unreasonable.
§ Mr. Elliot
Surely, when the applicant applies for supplementation, the Board will be under the statutory duty of determining what supplementation is necessary. Otherwise the Board will not be able to make any supplementation.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Is it intended that the regulations in existence at present with regard to unemployment assistance shall apply to the old age pensions?
§ Mr. Elliot
These regulations will be the foundation of the new regulations, if any. As I have said, the board will review the circumstances, and if new regulations are necessary, they will be brought before this House.
§ Mr. Smith
I understand that the Minister of Health will also have the right to introduce regulations. We shall not necessarily work upon the basis of the unemployment assistance regulations when it becomes an Act of Parliament. Therefore, I would like to know if it is the intention of the Minister to introduce his own regulations.
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, if it is necessary to fulfil the object which I and, indeed, the whole House have in view. The regulations in connection with this matter will be made by the Secretary of State for 1212 Scotland and myself, and we shall have to secure the approval of both Houses of Parliament to them.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain his statement in relation to the statement at the top of page 5 of the Memorandum:…The existing regulations relating to the granting of unemployment allowance and the determination of needs will apply.
§ Mr. Elliot
I have said that the regulations in existence are the regulations which we may apply at the outset. We believe that there is a great deal of latitude in these regulations and it may well be that sufficient latitude already exists. We shall not introduce new regulations just for the fun of it. If the present regulations are not sufficient then we shall make new regulations.
§ Mr. Elliot
I cannot have made myself clear to the hon. Member. Our practice will be based upon the practice of good local authorities. There is discretion in the board's officers and if the existing regulations do not reach the standard which is thought desirable new regulations can be brought before the House. As I have said, the regulations in force have been agreed to by this House.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the existing public assistance standards will be maintained?
§ Mr. Woodburn
There is apprehension that that is a temporary period after which lower standards will apply. Can I be assured that it is not intended to make this a "feather bed" to soften the reduction for the old age pensioners?
§ Mr. Elliot
I think the hon. Member recognises that the scales of some local authorities are very generous indeed. The House would not agree with our taking the most generous item of each local authority's practice and adding them together as the basis of our practice.
§ Sir R. Tasker
The right hon. Gentleman keeps referring to local authorities. A person in receipt of a pension under 1213 the Old Age (Non-Contributory) Pensions Act, 1936, is a person eligible for a supplementary pension under Clause 8 (1). Will the present procedure remain unimpaired?
§ Mr. Elliot
Surely the hon. Member is referring to the "over 70"procedure. That procedure for the determination of title to "over 70" pensions remains unimpaired.
§ Mr. McGovern
I would like to know what guarantee there is in the Bill that the good standards of local authorities will be adhered to. Take, for example, the case of a conscientious objectors' tribunal where the chairman and officials say, "We have nothing to do with what the Prime Minister is saying." I want to know whether the same thing would apply.
§ Mr. Elliot
The House of Commons retains its control. It retains the power of assenting or not assenting to the regulations.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am talking of the position which will arise if the matter has to be embodied in the new regulations.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am speaking of the possible case where adaptations will not be sufficient. If they are not sufficient, these new regulations will be brought forward. As the hon. Member knows, new regulations will take some time to draw up. Up to that time the administration is in the hands of two Ministers, and you cannot have better government than that.
§ Mr. Stephen
The new regulations might not follow the high standards of local authorities. Will the Minister not give us an assurance that regulations would have to come before this House and that there would have to be an oppor- 1214 tunity for the House to assent to the regulations at some time?
§ Mr. Bevan
There will be no need at all for any regulations to be brought before the House. The Unemployment Assistance Board will be the people who will decide that. It is a mere piece of Parliamentary rhetoric for the right hon. Gentleman to speak of the behaviour of the good local authority. They are not instructed to administer it in accordance with the wishes of the local authorities, but in accordance with the regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Therefore, I submit that the right hon. Gentleman is throwing a red herring across the path.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to proceed. Hon. Members will have their opportunity to discuss the Bill later in the Debate.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am only too glad to meet the convenience of hon. Members. As to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), that regulations should be brought before the House, they will be brought before the House, but whether any adaptation is brought before the House I cannot say without further consideration. As for the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), that this is a mere piece of Parliamentary rhetoric, I would say that, if Clause 12 of the Bill is a piece of rhetoric—
§ Mr. Elliot
If the hon. Member thinks that I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and indeed the House, are wasting time in passing a mere piece of Parliamentary rhetoric, he takes a much lower view of his position as a Member of Parliament than I do. I can assure him that I have not introduced these provisions for that purpose, and I believe that the House will accept it that they will be operated in good faith. I was going to give further examples, but I do not wish to delay the House. The examples can be more fully discussed on a later occasion. We were arguing the basis of supplementation, and I was saying that the Government are undertaking it on a non-contributory basis, which we say is the right solution. If that is granted, it follows inevitably 1215 that some estimate of the amount of supplement which is to be given is inseparable from the decision to make a supplement at all. Therefore, I claim that the course of the Government is not only the right one, but the only course.
It is desirable, before I sit down, to say a few words about the Amendment tabled by the Official Opposition. In the first place, we are glad to see that they approve of Part I of the Bill. Part II of the Bill, however, finds them in much more critical mood. Their objections appear to be largely based on the pension plan which they brought out some time ago in pamphlet form. The immediate additional cost of this plan would be £80,000,000 per annum, which is 50 per cent. more than is being found to supplement the cost at present. Even if contributions were raised by 1s. 1d. for men and 6½d. for women—far above the figures which we have inserted in the Bill—£42,000,000 a year would still have to be found by the Exchequer. I should like however to draw the attention of the House to one fundamental point. The reform proposed under the plan and suggested by the Amendment is not for a general flat-rate increase. The increase is to be subject to a very strict test—a test more novel than, and certainly quite as onerous as, the test proposed by the Government. This test is, that no pension would be supplemented at all unless the pensioner "retired from industry," by which I take it is meant from "gainful occupation or employment," except such subsidiary employment as is permitted under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. No condition would more risk being "odious in its administration."
There are 3,000,000 pensioners now drawing money every week at the Post Office with not much more trouble than the production of a life certificate once a year. Does the House fully appreciate that all those desiring supplementation under the Opposition plan would have to undergo a regular review of their circumstances at short intervals to ensure that this new "work test" was being complied with? I doubt the desirability or indeed the feasibility of such a proposal. Even the cost of a weekly inquiry on this scale would be enormous. Those who vote for the Opposition Amendment will vote for a strict test, and I ask the House to vote against that test. Furthermore, 1216 the £80,000,000 of new money is estimated only to bring relief of the exceptional case—and it is the exceptional case which presents the difficulty—to a point comparable to that which several local authorities are paying now—a point at which relief may well be payable under this Bill. Any lesser sum, an increase of 5s. for instance, would leave even the average cases much below these levels, and in spite of involving an expenditure of £40,000,000 a year, it would still require resort to the public assistance authorities not as an exception, but as the rule, after the Bill had passed.
One of the main objections to a flat-rate increase is that it is so extremely difficult to fix a flat rate to meet the varying needs. of different persons. Notwithstanding that difficulty, however, the possibility of making a flat-rate increase even of a lesser sum has been most carefully considered by the Government. A pension of 15s. a week, or 30s. for a couple of pensionable age, would still be less than a proportion of existing pensioners are now receiving under existing supplements. I say again, the most needy pensioners under a flat-rate scheme would still have to resort to the public assistance authorities for supplementation. To solve this difficulty the pension must, in certain cases, be brought up to a figure determined, not by the size of the contribution of the individuals insured, but by the needs of the applicant. This can be done by supplementation, and by supplementation alone. The solution that we have chosen, after full consideration, is that this supplementation shall be found from the very widest basis possible—found from the whole community—found from the State.
These arguments, and many others, which we shall have the opportunity to examine during the Debates which are now opening, have led us to frame and present the Measure which is now before the House. But we appreciate the conviction with which their own views on these questions are held by many hon. Members. We shall do our best to keep an open mind and to listen fairly to the arguments that they bring forth. Parliament in these days has a three-fold task to perform. It must legislate, it must debate, and it must uphold the ideals of progress and reform which we laid aside, most unwillingly, at the outbreak of war, and which we mean yet to take 1217 up when our hands are free once more. It is a task which this country neglects at her peril and can never lay long aside. The industrial revolution for too long encompassed many millions of our people in a black pit. We know that from the many reports and reviews which were carried out in peace-time. We have had it hammered home to us by many of the lessons of evacuation. We have worked our way up to the edge of the pit. We do not want to slide back again, not even in war-time. So we say to our enemies in Germany, "We will take this step up, in spite of your war, in spite of your teeth." We say to our friends in France, "We are not neglecting our war effort to turn aside into paths of social reform. On the contrary we are travelling towards an ideal which you, wiser than we, never really abandoned; the ideal of the property-owning democracy—the ideal of the State which shall marry industrial production with personal liberty, where every citizen has or shall have a real stake in his country." Whatever our quarrels in this House these are ideals which all the House shares. We hope we have brought forward to-day a Measure which will enable us to take a step, whether it is a short or a long step, towards that goal which we all desire.
§ Viscount Wolmer
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I ask whether the hon. Member intends to move the rejection of the Bill. The Amendment on the Order Paper is not in so many words, that the Bill be read upon this day six months, or that it be rejected. Are we to take it that the rejection of the Bill is to be moved?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I cannot answer the Noble Lord, as to what are the intentions of the hon. Member I have just called. I must wait and see what course the hon. Member adopts.
§ Viscount Wolmer
Is it in order for an hon. Member to move, in the course of a Second Reading Debate on a Bill, an Amendment which is not a rejection of the Second Reading?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps the hon. Member would like to say at once what his intention is. Does he intend to move the Amendment on the Order Paper?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have had an opportunity, although I did not know at the time that the question was to be raised, of talking with Mr. Speaker on the matter, and I understand that the test which he has applied is whether, in his opinion, the Government could go on with the Bill if the Amendment on the Order Paper were passed. He came to the conclusion that the Government could not proceed with the Bill if the Amendment was passed, and also—and this is rather important—that the Amendment would not in any way narrow the Debate and therefore that if the hon. Member so desired might move his Motion; the hon. Member can therefore move it as an Amendment to the Motion, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Viscount Wolmer
I understand from that that the hon. Member is moving the rejection of the Second Reading of the Bill?
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hall
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House notes with approval that in response to public pressure His Majesty's Government have at last agreed to lower the pensionable age for a certain number of women, but regrets their refusal to recognise the urgent necessity for a flat increase to all old age pensioners who have retired from work, and strongly condemns the proposal for supplementary pensions based upon a household means test which is repugnant to the pensions system, odious in its administration, and will leave an unjustifiable burden upon selected households.I am moving a reasoned Amendment, which is a reasonable Amendment, as a result of which I trust that the Noble Lord will follow us into the Division Lobby. The right hon. Gentleman rightly called our attention to the fact that, while this nation is engaged in a war, we are here spending two days on the Second Reading of a Bill discussing one of the gravest human problems with which the country is confronted at the present time. We wish that the Bill could have been a different Bill from that for which the right hon. Gentleman has asked a Second Reading. We cannot promise him that he will have a very easy passage with it. The Bill gives rise to a considerable amount of controversy and, as the Government themselves have thrown down the challenge, we willingly 1219 accept it. The right hon. Gentleman also rightly referred to the growth of the social insurance services in this country, of which I feel sure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this and the other side of the House are justly proud. It is, as he said, 32 years ago since the first Old Age Pensions Act was first placed on the Statute Book in this country. That marked an epoch in the development of Britain's social conscience. It was felt by the workers in the country that at last Parliament and the nation recognised that it was one of the duties of citizenship to maintain aged people without condemning them to the indignities and disabilities which, as paupers, they had previously had to suffer.
That was the first stride from those evil days when old age carried with it a stigma almost as black as crime itself. It was not a long stride, for it only gave the pensioner just 5s. a week at the age of 70, but the principle far exceeded the value of the money. It was a recognition by the nation of the principle that the aged worker and his wife were to be maintained, not as a charity, but by a nation which, at last, was going to recognise past services and see that these old people would be adequately maintained without having to submit to the humiliating harshness of the Poor Law, to beg from other sources or to be a burden on sons or daughters who, in the majority of cases, could ill afford to keep them.
I can well remember that Act being placed on the Statute Book and a widowed mother receiving her first 5s.—not that she required anything, because she had four sons working, but because it belonged to her. It was pride of possession. I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the principle of old age pensions was first introduced into this country it was on a non-contributory basis and it continued upon that basis until the present Prime Minister, who was then Minister of Health, could see that there was the possibility of the nation's conscience not being allowed to go to sleep. In my opinion it was rather a clever move on the part of the then Minister of Health and Chancellor of the Exchequer to transfer much of the burden of the non-contributory pension at 70 to the contributory scheme which was introduced by the then Minister of Health. The right hon. Gentleman 1220 rightly referred to the fact that the cost of pensions at 70 in 1908 was almost infinitesimal compared with the cost at the present time, and that the number of persons in receipt of non-contributory pensions was just 500,000. In 1926 when the Contributory Pensions Act came into operation the number had grown from 500,000 to 1,112,000 and the cost from £6,500,000 to £28,000,000.
It can be seen that from the time the principle was changed—not that we strongly objected to it—the Treasury has benefited considerably. It would be stupid on the part of myself, or any of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House, to pretend that no progress has been made in this question from 1908 to the present time. Act after Act has been placed upon the Statute Book, all making some improvement in the position, but none of them, even the one we are debating to-day, has recognised to the full that it is the duty of the State to see to it that all people have an adequate income when they are forced to retire from active employment owing to old age. An adequate old age pension has now become a first-class political issue. So much so, that the Government against its wish very grudgingly brings in this Bill, which is very different from what is expected by the 3,000,000 pensioners in this country and by the industrial workers who are vitally interested in this matter. For two months before the Prime Minister announced the fact that an inquiry was to be made in to the possibility of an increase in pensions—I think it was in reply to a letter sent by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White)—the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, on numerous occasions, said that owing to the cost it was almost impossible to contemplate an increase. But now the Government has been compelled to bring in this Bill.
I would like to point out here that while it is true that certain consultations or discussions took place between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and representatives of organised labour in this country, we most emphatically declare that no organisation of workers shares the slightest responsibility for the Measure now before the House. It is entirely the responsibility of the Government. We regard this Measure as a most disappointing effort. As a matter of fact it is the 1221 kind of Bill which would have been introduced had we had an election in the autumn of last year instead of a war. In our opinion this Bill is shamefully trifling with the greatest human problem with which this country is confronted. The treatment meted out to the old age pensioner is a disgrace to this nation, even in peace-time. Even before the war commenced it was felt that 10s. per week was totally insufficient for the old age pensioner, yet the Government refused the almost universal demand for a flat rate increase. We now see, as a result of the war, that the cost of living has risen, yet an increase is refused even to mitigate the new hardships, with the exception of the supplementary pension which is to be subjected to a means test, and to that I shall refer fully later. Eight months after the promise to investigate this problem the Government offers some concessions in Part I of the Bill. It was very interesting, in the course of the very constructive speech of the right hon. Gentleman in explaining Part I of the Bill, to note that he never explained how the cost of reducing pensions from 65 to 60 was to be met. I took a note very carefully because I was waiting for the right hon. Gentleman to do it.
§ Mr. Elliot
I think that the hon. Member does, in fact, do me an injustice. I specifically said that the cost would be met by an increased contribution of 2d. for men and 3d. for women.
§ Mr. Hall
I accept that explanation. In any case the point I desire to make in connection with this matter is that contributors to the scheme can thank the Government very little for the concession. While we are grateful for the concessions, they are something we have advocated for a number of years. The concessions will cost £8,000,000, but the additional contributions which are to be charged on the contributors and industry would bring in, in the course of the first year or two, something more than the actual cost of the concessions. So far as the Treasury is concerned these concessions will not cost them a single penny during the course of the first few years. A number of those now in receipt of public assistance relief will receive these pensions because, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, it is only 28 per cent, of the men who are entitled to pen- 1222 sions at 65 and wives are entitled to pensions at the same time because they are younger than their husbands. Among a very large proportion of the wives of pensioners who are in receipt of public assistance relief, or any supplementation which the Treasury will have to pay, there will be a considerable reduction, for the reason that instead of getting the supplementation which they were previously getting they will now have pensions from the contributory fund.
So far as Part I of the Bill is concerned we are grateful to the Government for the concessions which have been made, but there is no new principle at all in giving pensions at 60 years of age. Civil servants and others employed by the Government receive pensions at 60. As a matter of fact the average retiring age of female civil servants is 60 and of male civil servants 62. The chairman of the Welsh Board of Health was compulsorily retired, not because he was incapable or incompetent, but because he was 62 years of age. I am not going to deal with the financial adjustments which, I understand, will take place as between the Treasury, municipal authorities and approved societies. Possibly some of my colleagues would like to make a point or two about that, but there is this matter which is giving some concern: Where you have pensioners in receipt of a supplementary pension and where officers of the Public Assistance Board desire to transfer them from their homes into institutions which are controlled by the public assistance committee, there is some concern in the minds of the public assistance authorities as to the payment for maintenance of those persons when they are transferred. I have seen a statement in connection with this matter.
I am now going on to Part II of the Bill and I do want, in the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to call his attention to the feeling which exists with regard to the extension of the household means test. The Government knows that if there is one thing which this party and the industrial workers of this country feel bitter about it is the operation of the household means test. Yet this is the moment, when the nation is at war, and when the Government have obtained all assistance possible from the Opposition and industrial workers, and want still more, that they select to introduce such a controversial question as this. It is not 1223 only controversial as far as the Opposition and industrial workers are concerned, but I am convinced that there are hundreds of thousands of old age pensioners in the country who, for reasons of pride, have refrained from going to the public assistance committee for assistance very largely because of what the Government is introducing in this Bill—a means test. There will be an inquisition under a household means test as there was under the operation of the public assistance committee. My post-bag during the last few days has been very heavy, and the one question which stands out in almost every letter I have received from old age pensioners is, "Why is it, if we are to get any increase at all, we have to submit ourselves to a household means test?"
I do not want to take up the time of the House in reading these letters but I want to tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government that they are doing a great injustice to old age pensioners. Who are these men? They are the men whose skill and thrift and energy have made the industry of this country what it is to-day. They are men who have given 40 and 50 years of their lives to this country and on whom the country has been absolutely dependent for the development of industry. Whatever may be said about the skill of technicians, about managerial ability and about capital, this country would not occupy the position it does to-day in the world had it not been for the skill of these old industrial workers, who at 65 years of age have never known what it is to have to submit themselves to a means test. They cannot live on 10s. a week; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer by his scheme is asking them to humiliate themselves by applying for a supplementary pension, and is applying a household means test to them at the same time. The Government have missed a most wonderful opportunity during the last few months.
The right hon. Gentleman has criticised the scheme of the Labour party. We heard the Prime Minister six months ago put up a much abler criticism than the right hon. Gentleman, but he was not at all convincing. That scheme stands. The Trades Union Congress are quite prepared to assist, the organised workers of this country have agreed to pay additional 1224 contributions, and many of the best employers in the country have agreed to do likewise. If it is going to cost a small additional amount to the employers of this country, is it not right, as indeed most of them recognise that some money should be set aside to look after these old people after they have given of their best? There is not a good industry or business which does not set aside a certain amount for depreciation of machinery, 5 per cent., and in many cases 10 per cent. If 3 per cent. of the national income was set aside for the purpose of pensions for old people it would be more than sufficient to cover the cost not only of the Labour party scheme, but something in addition to it. We deny the statement that the nation cannot afford to find this money. The excuse of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in stating why a flat rate pension is not paid, is too flimsy for words. What does the right hon. Gentleman say? He says that out of 3,000,000 old age pensioners there are 375,000 employed, earning wages, leaving 2,625,000 who have to depend on the10s. per week.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hall
Some may have superannuation for which they have paid, but the proportion is very small. The hon. Member will find that it is only one out of ten of industrial workers who are in any superannuation scheme. I am now dealing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He referred to the fact that there are others who are living with sons and daughters, the implication being that sons and daughters must assist in maintaining their parents. In the opinion of hon. Members on these benches the advisers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not face the main issue—an adequate pension which has been the demand of old age pensioners for years. Why should not the industrial worker have reasonable security in his old age? Others have. I do not want to deal with civil servants. It may be that their pension is recognised by them as deferred pay, but who is more entitled to a slice of back pay than the industrial worker? They are told by the Bill that if they have been thrifty and have been paying for years into another fund, or are living with their son or daughter, they must manage; and that if they want a supplementary 1225 pension they must prove their case before the Unemployment Assistance Board. I must call it the Unemployment Assistance Board because the Bill provides for a change of name to Assistance Board. You can change its name but you cannot change its administration; and let me tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Unemployment Assistance Board in the Special Areas is not as popular as he thinks it is. The Unemployment Assistance Board has a 10s. a week mentality; it thinks that is sufficient for a man living at home. Out of that 10s. one-fourth must go to the aid of rent scale, leaving for clothes, boots and food 7s. 6d. per week. That is the mentality of the Unemployment Assistance Board to which the Government are handing over old age pensioners who apply for a supplementary pension.
From the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in reply to a Question I take it that the existing regulations of the board are to be the foundation of the regulations to be operated by the board in respect of supplementary pensions. I wonder how many hon. Members understand what the regulations now operated by the Unemployment Assistance Board really mean. In the first place, the maximum amount paid to a husband and wife, who have no other income, is 26s. per week, but 2s. has been added, making 28s. a week under a small concession given by the Government on account of the increased cost of living. Let us assume that these aged people have a son at home who is working and earning £2 10s. a week. Whether the son pays into the household pool any of his £2 10s. or not, the Unemployment Assistance Board assumes that 17s. of the son's earnings go into the household pool and, therefore, the father and mother, instead of receiving 28s. a week, receive 11s. In exactly the same way the household means test will operate under this Bill.
§ Mr. Elliot indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member has not quite appreciated the case I put before the House. It was that the present regu- 1226 lations are the foundation on which we shall operate for the present, but that new regulations, if necessary, will be framed.
§ Mr. Elliot
The regulations which we have at present will be the authority on which we shall operate as a foundation. The regulations at present existing will be modified as necessary and if there is not power for the board to do what it wants we shall have new regulations.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
It would help us if the Minister of Health would give an assurance that he personally will watch the operation of the regulations and make it his personal responsibility.
§ Mr. Elliot
The Secretary of State and myself do regard these things as a great personal responsibility.
§ Mr. Hall
I am basing my remarks largely on the reply given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when this matter was brought before the House. An hon. Member on these benches asked this Question:Am I correct in understanding that when the needs of the old age pensioners are calculated under a household means test, they will be treated with not less consideration than under the present Unemployment Assistance Board scale?And the Chancellor of the Exchequer in reply said:That is, broadly speaking, the intention."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1940; col. 373, Vol. 356.]
§ Mr. Stephen
Is it not the case that the hon. Member is giving what would happen under a good authority in the matter of supplementation?
§ Mr. Hall
All I know is that the Glamorganshire County Council supplement old age pensions to the extent of 7s. 9d. for a single man, and I regard that county council as an excellent authority. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will take the Glamorganshire County Council or the Merthyr Tydfil Corporation as a good authority. I do not know of any other local authority which pays more than the 1227 Glamorganshire County Council, and I am asking that what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind is an amount not less than that provided by the Glamorganshire County Council. I should like to refer to the kind of income that is taken into account under the household means test of the present Unemployment Assistance Board. Whatever may be the maximum fixed, whatever changes may take place in the regulations, if changes are to take place, hon. Members must remember that all household income will be taken into consideration. In reply to a Question which I put to the Minister of Labour on 22nd June, 1939, I obtained the following information about the sort of income that is taken into consideration in the household means test of the present Unemployment Assistance Board.
Unemployment insurance benefit amounting to £1,691,900 was taken into consideration in arriving at the allowances to be paid under the Unemployment Assistance Board. Old age, widows', orphans', and blind persons' pensions amounting to £1,457,700, and disability and dependants' pensions amounting to £1,079,700, were taken into consideration in order to reduce the amount of the allowances to persons coming under the board. In the matter of outdoor relief, the good authorities give much more money than the Unemployment Assistance Board gives, and of the outdoor relief paid to applicants to the public assistance authorities, £752,200 was taken into consideration in arriving at the allowances to be paid by the board. What is even worse was that in the case of maintenance and affiliation orders given through the police courts, because the scales adopted were higher than the scale of the Unemployment Assistance Board, the board took into consideration, under their means test, maintenance and affiliation orders amounting to £79,500. I ask the Chancellor and the Minister of Health whether that is the kind of treatment to which the old age pensioners are to be subjected? There cannot be a household means test unless all income going into the house, from whatever source it comes, is taken into consideration. I beg the Government not to subject old age pensioners to such treatment.
1228 I have already said that the Government have missed a wonderful opportunity. There are in this country 7,000 superannuation schemes covering 1,700,000 work people, nearly 1,000,000 of whom are industrial workers, who combine with their employers in paying additional contributions in order to obtain increased pensions. These employers are far in advance of the Government. They do not recognise 10s. as being sufficient to keep a person. They recognise that the industrial workers are just as great an asset to industry as are any of the administrative workers, and that the industrial workers ought not to have worry and anxiety about old age and the spectre of poverty accompanying it. A large proportion of the employers would be prepared to come into a State scheme. Many employers have told me that they would be prepared to do this.
There is, in this connection, the example of the South Wales coalowners and miners. Whatever may be the general opinion about South Wales coal-owners, there are some people who think that these coalowners are the hardest nuts as far as employers are concerned, but in spite of all the things for which they can be criticised, at the time of the Jubilee they offered £50,000 for the purpose of starting a superannuation scheme for the South Wales miners. The miners responded by offering £25,000. Moreover, the South Wales coalowners and miners were prepared, on each side, to contribute 6d. a week. They asked the Minister of Labour—I am not sure whether they also asked the Minister of Health—whether superannuation paid to the old workers would interfere with any supplementation which might come along. Now they can see what are the intentions of the Government. Surely, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must know that 80 per cent. of the employers of the country, the best employers, and the work people would be prepared to co-operate with the Government in a scheme that would be worthy of the House and the nation. An amount equal to 3 per cent. of the wages bill, with a similar contribution from the employers, would provide such a scheme. But instead of a scheme on the lines of the Labour party's scheme—or any better scheme, for we are not tied to our scheme and would be quite prepared to co-operate in a better one—the Government are stifling the public 1229 desire to treat the old people with decency.
This means test will destroy superannuation schemes and prevent thrift. I have no doubt that, in the course of a few weeks, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be asking the trade union leaders to go on to platforms and appeals to the workpeople of the country to contribute to Savings Certificates and savings schemes. If the workpeople do this, we have no guarantee that in five, six, or seven years, with a scheme of this kind, the very money which the Chancellor is anxious to get at the present time will not be used against these people in paying supplementary pensions. How can the Government expect to get the best out of the workpeople with a scheme of this sort? It will deprive many of the aged people of the company of their children, for many of them will refuse to live with their children if they think that, by so doing, it will cause them to be denied the supplementation, whatever it may be. Is it worth while for the Chancellor and the Government to proceed with Part II of this Bill, knowing the opposition that is likely to be offered to it in the House and in the country? I think not. We cannot agree with the Chancellor that the finances of the country, owing to the heavy drain upon them as a result of the war, cannot afford adequate pensions to the aged people. Such a defence of their niggardly treatment of the pensioners is really unworthy of the Government.
The Chancellor said that the Government are paying 60 per cent. of the contributory pensions. They are, but as I pointed out earlier in my remarks, it was the opinion of the Government of that time, that the contributory pensions scheme came along in time to save the non-contributory scheme. In 1926, the cost to the Treasury of the non-contributory scheme was £28,000,000. Had the contributory scheme not been in existence at the present time, I have no doubt that the cost of the non-contributory scheme would be, not £28,000,000, but something in the nature of £35,000,000. I am not a financial expert, I know little of finance, but as there was an increase in the number of pensioners from 500,000 in 1908 to 1,112,000 in 1925, and as we may assume that there would have been a further increase from 1925 to the present time, non-contributory pensions would have cost the Treasury this year, according to the 1230 actuary's statement, not the £28,000,000 which they cost in 1925, but £14,600,000. There is, therefore, a saving on non-contributory pensions of from £16,000,000 to £18,000,000 a year. That is a small financial point, but I think it is worth mentioning in view of the fact that the Chancellor raised the barrage of finance, as did the Minister of Health, and the Prime Minister. The Government say that the nation cannot afford a pensions scheme of the sort to which I have been referring. Hon. Members on this side deny that. Had the statesmen who were responsible for introducing the social insurance schemes been as timid and frightened as our present statesmen are, we should have had no insurance schemes at all. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in the Campbell-Bannerman Government of 1908.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
I was a Minister at the time the social insurance schemes were introduced in 1911.
§ Mr. Hall
The right hon. Gentleman was not as cautious then as he is to-day, and he must have been a little bit of a rebel at that time. He will remember that when those schemes were introduced, certain Members of the House were frightened that they would lead the nation to bankruptcy. The nation, they said, could not afford it. That has been said for so long that we have got used to it. In 1908, the cry was that the nation could not afford old age pensions of 5s. a week. The same thing was said in 1912, when the National Health Insurance scheme and the Unemployment Insurance scheme were introduced. In 1925, there was some apprehension with regard to the contributory old age pensions scheme. Little did the originators of those schemes realise that in 1938–39 the payments to the people of this country under social insurance schemes would be, not £6,500,000, but £240,000,000. We were told again and again that the nation could not afford something, but the nation is not bankrupt as a result of this expenditure. It is no poorer. The strange thing is that the nation is richer than ever it was before.
One thing which the Chancellor and his advisers at the Treasury will not take into consideration is the relation of social expenditure of this sort to the national 1231 income. In 1908, of course, the country could not, with the national income what it then was, afford a scheme involving hundreds of millions of pounds, but from 1908 there has been a corresponding increase in the national income. In 1908,the national income was £2,000,000,000; in 1912, £2,200,000,000; in 1925, £4,000,000,000; in 1938, £5,000,000,000; and in 1938–39, according to the latest figures for which, as I am not an economist, I cannot vouch, the national income was £5,730,000,000. If we deduct from that amount the £1,000,000,000 raised in taxation, it still leaves the national income far in excess of anything than it has ever been in the history of the country. What must be borne in mind also is that this national income is being raised at a time when we have 1,500,000 persons unemployed, ready to produce more wealth, ready to be put to use. Yet with all this, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say that the nation is too poor to provide a flat-rate increase for the old age pensioners of this country, because one out of every seven is in employment. As I have said, we are of the opinion that the workers would willingly contribute to a scheme which was worth having. The people of this country are insurance-minded. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) in a Debate some time ago referred to the fact that there were about 83,000,000 insurance policies in this country, and that 30,000,000 people were covered for burial purposes alone. There was, he said, a premium income in this country of £64,000,000 a year. That is a premium income from companies and societies, where it costs between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. to make the necessary collections. Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer ever thought of the possibility of saving the people that vast expenditure, if the Government only had the courage to face up to the vested interests in this country?
Have the Government given any thought to another matter which in our opinion is very important, namely, the part which pensions can play in the change-over from war policy and a war economy to a peace economy? One of the great mistakes which was made in the years following the last war was that the Government, instead of spending money for the purpose of keeping old 1232 men out of industry and young men in industry, used the money for other purposes. From 1920, when the extended Unemployment Insurance scheme came into operation, until 1928–29, a sum of £1,225,000,000 has been paid in unemployment benefit and unemployment insurance. Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer content that his successors should continue to pay hundreds of millions of pounds a year in unemployment benefit, instead of in old age pensions, and that they should pay this money in order to keep old men struggling in industry and keep out of work young men who ought to be in work? The Government could obviate that, by means of supplementary pensions.
We want the Government to do something which will be generous and worth while. Great Britain entered this war with millions of our people suffering from unemployment and poverty. The war has not solved those great human and social problems. It has, on the contrary, raised the cost of living and aggravated them. If we are to go "all out" to smash Hitlerism, it is necessary that these problems should be solved, for Hitlerism can be smashed only by a people who are physically fit, who are relieved from poverty and are in full enjoyment of a freedom worth fighting for. This Bill does not offer us that promise. Under the cover of the war the Government are introducing into our social insurance services principles which are vicious, reactionary and indefensible. There will be little national unity unless Government policy is reversed, and we ask hon. Members, who believe that old age pensioners should have adequate pensions, to support us in the Division Lobby.
§ 6.19 p.m.
Mr. Graham White
It is, as we have been reminded earlier, a matter of great significance that during the terrible struggle in which this country is at present engaged we in this House should be concerned with a matter affecting our social services. Whatever opinions we may hold about this Bill, in whatever controversies we may engage about its terms, the issue which we are discussing is the best way of doing something for the benefit of a democratic people. I hope that the significance of that fact will not be lost sight of by those concerned, in the Ministry of Information and elsewhere 1233 —that in the midst of this appalling struggle the British Parliament is concerned with the welfare of its people. Experience has taught me that one can say little either in this House or outside, without meeting contradiction from one quarter or another, but there would probably be general agreement with the statement that the quality of our civilisation can be judged by the opportunities which it affords to its youth and the care which it takes of its aged. Whatever controversies we may have over this Bill, I hope we shall bear in mind that it has been introduced expressly to carry out what I believe is the national wish with regard to our aged folk, namely, that a reproach from which we felt our democracy to be suffering from should be removed.
Reference was made to the Debates which took place in 1908 and 1912, and I think the national purpose with regard to old age pensions is well expressed by some words which were used in those Debates by the late Charles Masterman, a great servant of the poor. He said, if I remember the phrase aright, that the purpose of old age pensions was to remove an anxiety, often passing from an obsession to a terror, which beset those in the heart of our civilisation who were marching in the shadow of death. That is the purpose of this country to-day. We discussed this matter in a unanimous House in July, and the unanimity was no less in November, when the subject came up again, except that our desire to deal with it was, if anything, increased by the belief that democracy could not be wholeheartedly defended as long as there were people suffering under the conditions which were shown to exist in many cases or at any rate that it could be better defended if it was felt that those conditions were improved.
This is an important Bill, and I think Part I is welcomed in every part of the House. It is an important Bill because of the long-term impact which it will have upon the structure of the social services of this country. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate did not refer to that, nor did my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall). But we cannot overlook the fact that this Bill opens up a new prospect. Competition between the social services in this country means opening up a very important and controversial subject. It 1234 is a complex Bill, but our social services have now become so intolerably complex that no Bill which seeks to deal with them, even on a small scale, can be anything but a complex Measure. It is therefore an important Bill. It is also an unfortunate Bill. It is unfortunate that in a Bill which has such an object in view, it should be found necessary to raise so many highly controversial matters, and one cannot overlook the fact that this Measure has some very controversial aspects.
As I say, we welcome Part I of the Bill. Everybody must welcome the improvement in conditions which it makes for the benefit of people whose lot we all desire to improve. There are other smaller points which arise on Part I and which I shall pass over, because they relate to minor aspects of the question, and I cannot deal with them in the short space of time in which I shall seek to intrude my views on the House.
When it comes to Part II of the Bill, however, we pass to a more debatable field. We take note of the fact that there is nothing in Part II which says that there is a "ceiling" to the benefit which may be given to an old age pensioner. We have heard a good deal to-day about the practice of good authorities and also something about bad authorities. The case of one authority was quoted a few minutes ago in regard to an allowance of 7s. 6d. to old age pensioners.
Well, the Lancashire authority gives 9s. in summer in most cases, and 11s. in winter. If great hopes have been aroused in the minds of a multitude of people, not only old age pensioners but among those who felt that there was a great injustice to be remedied and if anything less is done than whatever seems necessary to remove from people the haunting fear of grinding penury, then those hopes will be turned into a deception. I think the House will call upon those responsible to see that those hopes are not turned into a deception. This important charge, the care of the aged people, is to be removed from the local authorities to a central authority. It is to be transferred to the Unemployment Assistance Board, a body which hitherto has been concerned solely with certain aspects of unemployment. I wish to say. here and now, that my hon. Friends and 1235 I take great exception to the administration of the care of the aged and the administration of any means test in connection with their affairs, being transferred to the Unemployment Assistance Board, a body which is only partly under the control of Parliament. When the Measure dealing with unemployment assistance was before Parliament we opposed it, and this extension of the functions of the board is very unfortunate, for the same reason.
In order to cope with the ordinary task of the Unemployment Assistance Board, an immense, rigid, and costly machine was established covering the whole country. When war broke out certain charges of a transitory character were given to the Unemployment Assistance Board, such as that of relieving those whose allowances had not come through from the Army authorities. But now in this Bill we are taking a major step in policy, the only logical development of which is that the whole of the relief services of the country will, in time, be concentrated in the Unemployment Assistance Board and the local authorities will definitely recede into the background. Is that the intention and the policy of the Government or does this proposal in the Bill represent merely some "hit or miss" method. Without criticising this over much, I would say that it is a major departure in British policy and one of which the House of Commons ought to be informed and which the country ought to consider before we go further with it.
I do not want to enter into controversy as to whether it is Hitlerism, or anything else, but I am pointing out that, here, there is a notable departure in the policy of this country to which the country should not be committed without, at any rate, first having the facts clearly stated, and with a possibility of a discussion. Parliament also should have something to say about it. I remember that the Minister of Labour under the 1934 Act was put into a very anomalous position by having to answer to this House for the day-to-day transactions of a Department for which he had no responsibility. That principle is to be developed here by a triumvirate of Ministers—the Ministers of 1236 Health and Labour and the Secretary of State for Scotland. They are put into the same anomalous position by having to answer to the House in regard to the cases of multitudes of people who will be under this board, and whose affairs will be subjected to the most minute supervision. This seems to me a matter which has been entered into far too lightly.
I am fully aware of the difficulties which confront the Government at the present time. I am not prepared to say that at this time it is possible for the Government to attempt any major reconstruction of the pension system of the country; but what the country wants is that the greatest amount of help should be given in the shortest possible time to the people who need it most. I do not think this Measure, with its long-term implications, is a satisfactory way of doing it. I admit there are difficulties, but it would have been better, rather than committing ourselves to what I may describe as a retrograde step, to have a simple inquiry through Customs and Excise, as was done in the past. I think there is much to be said for that method.
We have never in our party dissented from the proposition that, if the State has to collect money from citizens in order to give it to others, it is entitled to inquire whether the recipients had need of it or not, but when it comes to the administration of the means test by a body not responsible to Parliament on a household basis, then it is a proposal to which we cannot agree. The hon. Member for Aberdare made some comments on the question of the means test, and I am bound to point out that it is likely to create a good deal of unhappiness in a way which one would wish to avoid. We know that if it is to be on a household basis, it is bound to raise questions within the family on whom the charge is to lie. In most cases it is the eldest daughter upon whom falls the charge of looking after the old people. I do not want to press the point, but it is obvious that there will be the greatest heart-burning and unhappiness caused by this unfortunate method.
We believe that it is an urgent necessity, and, indeed, that it should be of the first of our post-war tasks, to try and produce some kind of order into the social services of this country and to unify our pension sys- 1237 tem. I believe that ultimately it will be found to work best on a superannuation basis. I have considered the question in the economic aspect. I think it is right in principle and can be worked out in practice, but let nobody think it is a task which can be lightly undertaken or one without difficulties. There is a great deal of administrative complication to be overcome. As an example of the confusion into which we are getting at the moment, let me take the case of an old couple who have reached the age of 70 and apply for a pension. They will have to undergo, first of all, a needs test, and if they want a supplementary pension, then again an inquisitor will come into the house and they will have to undergo a further means test. If, as often happens, there is a daughter with a widow's pension who wants a little relief, the household will come under the inquisition of the public assistance people. Again, there may be a son, and, if he goes to the Unemployment Assistance Board, the whole household again have a means test. If there happened to be another member of the family who had lost his life in the war, and who had previously made a contribution to the family before war broke out, under the present terms of the Royal Warrant another means test would be introduced, and the family would have to undergo a further inquiry. It may seem an exaggeration, but I have no doubt that there are other forms of means test which could be found by those who care to look into the permutations of a question of this kind. This is not an abnormal household, but in it we find that there can be five means tests operating. I do not wish to argue the matter any further because I am sure that everyone will agree that the matter is becoming an offence against common sense.
In the past, on this question of pensions, we have not failed to point out the great necessity for a review of the whole of our social services. They have grown up, not on any well-considered, coherent plan, but according to the natural impulses of the people, and from time to time under economic stresses and political strains additions have been added. It is entirely immune from logic, but not immune from Treasury control. It is a most urgent task that a review should be undertaken. We have an extraordinarily complicated 1238 system of pensions, and a wrong division of functions between the Minister of Health, the Home Office, and the Minister of Labour. There is a great deal of overlapping, and there are large territories, especially in the local field, where there is competition between local authorities, the Unemployment Assistance Board, the Ministry of Health, and the Board of Education. There are gaps which ought to be filled. The only thing one can say is that somehow it works, and some 30,000,000 in the course of the year benefit from it. That does not mean, however, that it works as well as it might, or as satisfactorily as it ought, or that we are not spending a great deal more money on administration than we need. I have pointed out in this House before, that it is remarkable that no individual or set of people are responsible for carrying out, as part of their duties, a continuous review of the social services of the country as a whole. I made that statement once before, and someone said, "Oh, there is the Treasury," but no one would suggest that the Treasury is capable of carrying out a continuous survey of the social services, and I would not wish to saddle them with that responsibility. But, if the claim is made, I think it is conclusive proof that it is high time someone else is given the job.
We advocate that some body should be charged with the continuous survey of the social services of this country, and we would prefer it done by a small headquarter staff for the social services as a whole. In our judgment, the functions of this body would be to give thought, in the course of their work, to the basic principle governing the relationship of the various public social services to one another, and of the social services as a whole to social and economic policy. They should consider lines for overhauling the administration and financial structure of the services, in order to secure more efficiency and better economic working. They should draw attention to the main gaps and anomalies to be dealt with, recommending to the Cabinet priorities for dealing with them, and thus they would come to Parliament. I must ask the House to forgive me for labouring this point, but I believe it is one of importance. The House to-day is asked to make a very important departure in principle and major policy under the 1239 guise of a Bill which is really an emergency Measure.
As for the Bill itself, we welcome Part I, but I have pointed out that we are bound to take exceptions to Part II. There are many aspects of it with which we shall wish to deal in Committee. Something was said about the nature of the property test in relation to the means test. It has been stated that the "disregards" which are embodied in the Unemployment Act will apply here also, but I do not remember in the discussion on that Act that there was any disregard of that large source of income mentioned a short time ago in regard to a large number of people drawing benefits from industrial societies and mutual insurance societies. It would be a great misfortune if a Bill of this kind were to deal a blow at these bodies. There is grave misapprehension about it, and I hope the question will be made clear. The great growth of industrial insurance and of mutual societies is a sign of the growing public conscience. For the rest, I and my friends on these benches will be prepared to co-operate with Members in all parts of this House who are as anxious as we are to see that this Bill is made to represent the needs of the nation more clearly than it does in its present form.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall), in the most interesting contribution he made to the Debate, said that if there had been a general election—and I am speaking from memory—instead of a war, his party or the country would not tolerate this Measure. I am inclined to concur that if this Bill had been introduced during peace-time, Members on this side of the House would have agreed that more ought to have been done. But what is the position? This Bill has been produced, and its Clauses are set out against the background of a war. It does seem to me that, that being so, this Measure marked an epoch in pensions legislation and an advance, and that the Government are to be congratulated on bringing it in at this time. Who can say in any part of the House how much the cost of this war is going to be? Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not say what the cost will be within £10,000,000, £100,000,000, or even £1,000,000,000. 1240 Therefore, he must regard with anxiety any question of expenditure to see that any money spent is spent in the best possible direction. Where there is hardship among the old poor, which nobody would seek to deny, we have to make certain, in the interests of the finance of the country, that only those who are deserving of help should get it. Therefore, some sort of means test is essential. We all agree that Part I of this Bill is a great step forward. It would be wrong for hon. Members opposite to say that all the credit belonged to them. I can assure them that it does not and that many Members on this side and the Government themselves have been anxious to do what they could to help the spinsters and the other women.
The crux of this Bill is what can be done to help the old people. A step forward has been taken along the lines of focusing help where it is most needed. The hon. Member for Aberdare paid a glowing tribute to the men who had done so much for us in industry in the past, and I agree with everything he said about that, but if he objects to a means test being put on these people I would point out that his Amendment would not impose a means test, but would take a man, who may be perfectly fit to do his work, and put him on the streets. That is an infinitely harsher thing than any means test.
§ Mr. George Hall
A retiring pension does not mean that an industrial worker will be compelled to give up work. You would induce him to give it up by giving him an adequate pension.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
It may be that the Amendment does cover that case, but in order to be effective, it must be compulsory and applicable to everybody. It would cause a great amount of distress among older people if they did not know whether they were to be thrown out of work when they reached 65. It is not possible for the Chancellor to meet an adequate flat rate pension; even 5s. extra, which I do not think would meet the problem, would involve an expenditure of £38,000,000, and that sum would grow. The Chancellor and the Government are to be congratulated on bringing forward a scheme which will really work and still protect the interests of the Treasury. Hon. Members opposite realise as well as we do that, however illimitable they may think the national 1241 spending pocket is, if the pocket is empty it means ruin for everybody. When the hon. Member for Aberdare was talking about figures, which I could not follow, he said that previous advances had been made without bankruptcy. If he meant that we could go on indefinitely, he is much mistaken. One knows lots of cases of ordinary men who have gone on being extravagant for a long time, but eventually there has come a time when there has been bankruptcy.
The last time I spoke on the means test was in the Debate on the Bill dealing with Members' pensions. I pointed out then that hon. Members opposite were approving a means test of a particularly harsh sort, and I invited them to speak about a subject on which they knew so much. Not one of them spoke of it, and I thought that hon. Members opposite had at last been converted to the view that a means test was essential. I hope that some hon. Members will speak about it to-night and explain the reason for the discrepancy.
§ Mr. Silverman
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain the discrepancy between his own argument on that occasion and his argument on this? On that occasion he argued against a means test for Members.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
The hon. Gentleman is right. I have all along taken the view, as I do now, that there may be exceptions to the general rule of a means test, and that was such an exception. Hon. Members opposite, however, have always taken the view that no means test is good. It is for them, therefore, to answer that point.
There is one point which I would like to ask the Government to consider. There is a great deal to be said—and this is an exception to the rule of the means test—for those working-men who have contributed to superannuation funds not having anything they may get from their funds taken into consideration in judging how much they are entitled to under this Bill. The Conservative party has always stood for encouraging thrift among individuals, and I would ask the Government seriously to consider the advantages to the country of encouraging thrift in this way. I would like to endorse what has been said by hon. Members opposite on this point. I think that they take an exaggerated view of the unpopularity of the Unemployment Assist- 1242 ance Board. In my own locality, although a body like that must always have its critics, it is building up for itself a growing body of feeling which respects it and realises the benefit of the work it is doing. I do not think the Government could have chosen a better body to carry out any test which is necessary under the Bill.
This Measure marks a definite forward step in spite of the difficult situation created by the war. I do not think the Bill says the last word, or that the Government suggest that it says the last word, on the question of helping the elderly poor. That is a much wider question which will have to be fully considered and dealt with much more deeply some time ahead. It does, however, mark a definite and helpful step towards removing the anomalies in the way of helping the older people. The mere fact of taking it away from the ordinary public assistance and putting it in the hands of a central board will commend itself to a great many of the elderly people who will benefit by the Bill.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Major Milner
I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I say that I gained the impression during his speech that he was really damning the Bill with faint praise. He did not attempt to answer our criticism, as put by my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, or the equally valid criticism made by the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Liberal benches. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be in favour of a means test where other people are concerned, but no means test when he and others in the House are concerned.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman answer my Question? Will he explain why he took the attitude he did on the question of Members' pensions and does not take the same attitude now?
§ Major Milner
My recollection is that on that occasion, though the circumstances were entirely different, I opposed any means test, and I oppose it so far as this Bill is concerned. There is no contradiction in the attitude taken by Members of my party and myself though if I recollect rightly we did not go to a Division where Members' pensions were concerned. The contradiction is in the hon. and learned Gentleman's action on that occasion and his speech to-night.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
Does that mean automatic pensions for all Members of Parliament?
§ Major Milner
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the scheme of pensions for Members was a scheme of contributions by Members of the House among themselves. It was a voluntary scheme and rather different from this.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that there should be more care taken of our own money than of money belonging to the State? Is that the distinction he makes?
§ Major Milner
On the contrary, I think we should be equally careful of both. There is one aspect of this question on which I rather agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. We ought to look at these matters in war-time, not in any factious way, but on the merits of the case and largely from the point of view as to how far the proposal would help or hinder the war effort of this country. As the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised that question, I should like to look at this Bill from that point of view, particularly as my hon. Friends and myself on the many previous occasions on which we have debated this subject have dealt widely with the humanitarian aspect of the case. To-day we hear a great deal about the home front being as important as the front manned by our armed forces. The Lord Privy Seal, as recently as Saturday, told us that during the present breathing space we must examine the home front, strengthen its weak points, and encourage the men and women who defend it. I imagine that it is common form in the House—and we can all agree with it—that we should use every effort in the present emergency to keep our people, young and old, as happy and contented as possible.
We all know that, not for a day, or a week, or a month, but for years past, there has been a substantial demand from all sections of the community for an increase in the old age pension, because old age among the great majority of our people is far too insecure for happiness. To-day, in the face of the greatest emergency, as we are told, that this country has ever faced, the Government present this Bill. As far as I can see, notwithstanding the eloquence of the Minister of Health, it offers nothing, apart from the undoubted advantages of revising the age 1244 at which women can draw the old age pension, beyond what the old age pensioner has to-day. It is true, as the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) pointed out, that it is a radical departure in principle as the Assistance Board is substituted for the local public assistance committee, but it retains the means test, which we all know in our hearts is the cause of so much unhappiness. The result of the Bill, as I know from a visit to my constituency during the week-end, is a deep sense of disappointment. Old people who have played their part in industry and have added to the power of wealth of this country feel that they have been betrayed and that expectations have been held out which have not been fulfilled, and "hope deferred maketh the heart sick." There is another consideration. We are in the midst of a war. What an encouragement and an inspiration it would have been to those who are in the Fighting Services to feel that their services were being recognised, that their old people, whom in the past they had helped to support, were being specially cared for by a grateful country in their absence, if there had been any assurance whatever in the Bill of increased pensions. Instead of that, there will be, in my opinion, but the exchange of one paymaster for another, and the retention of the means test.
We are told in these days by every loud-speaker and newspaper and from every platform that we are fighting for liberty and freedom. The first thought of the great majority of us on hearing those words is of personal and intellectual liberty. Let me admit that in this country we enjoy at least as great a measure of that sort of freedom as in any other country in the world; but there is an even more fundamental freedom which does not exist in this country and which it should be our duty to bring about as soon as possible. I refer to the freedom to eat sufficient food, to have sufficient clothes, and to enjoy a modicum of comfort and amenity. Millions of our fellow citizens do not enjoy that freedom, and of them, surely, the aged are the most to be pitied. In my own city of Leeds there are not fewer than 4,000 old age pensioners who are unable to keep body and soul together without drawing poor relief in addition to their old age pension. They draw an average of over 10s. per week from the local public assistance committee.
1245 What does the Bill offer to those people? We know that there has been a demand from all parts of the House and the country for an increase in the old age pension. Is there any guarantee whatever that those 4,000 old age pensioners will receive more at the hands of the Assistance Board than they now receive from the public assistance committee? I submit that there is no guarantee at all of that kind. The Minister of Health said that all would benefit, and he spoke of the practice of the good local authorities in relation to what was done by public assistance committees. There is no obligation whatever in the Bill upon the Assistance Board to adopt the practice of the best local authority. Is there any guarantee in the Bill that old age pensioners will receive even as much as they now get from the public assistance committee? There is no such guarantee, and unless we receive an assurance, to be embodied in the Bill, that old age pensioners will receive at least as much as they receive to-day, the whole thing is illusory, a fraud and a disappointment, and is likely to be a serious hindrance and a damper on our war effort. I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he is to reply, whether the Government are prepared to put into the Bill a provision that no old age pensioner shall receive less than he receives at present, or would have received under the scales of his local public assistance committee had he been eligible? If not, pensioners will clearly be worse off, because prices are rising day by day, and the position of those with fixed incomes becomes increasingly difficult.
In my opinion only a flat-rate or a percentage increase would achieve the result which we all desire, but we are told that we cannot afford such an increase. What would it amount to? A 5s. increase, of which we have heard most frequently—I have not heard a higher figure suggested to-day—would cost per annum a sum less than one week's cost of the war, if the whole of the amount were found by the State. It would secure the happiness and gratitude of thousands of our fellow-citizens and of their relatives in the Fighting Services. That expense would surely be well worth while incurring under the Bill, but the Government have refused to do it. So far as I can see, the Government are, by the Bill, put to no additional 1246 expenditure for some years to come. In my submission the Bill is a mere shadow, a proposal put up in an attractive box with an attractive label, but with nothing whatever in it. It is mere eyewash, designed to get the Government out of an immediate difficulty. All of us in this House, and not least the Government, are aware of the multitude of problems and difficulties which beset us all; surely it would have been a help if this one burning question of old age pensions could have been settled and cleared out of the way for the duration of the war. As it is, it will remain, I am afraid, a festering sore, poisoning all our efforts and weakening our courage in the face of the common enemy. I press the Government to take the Bill back even at this late hour and bring in something more heartening and more worthy of the spirit of our people in these difficult days.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I have listened to all the speeches, and I was very much struck with one remark made by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall). He said that had we had a General Election last autumn, this would not have been the type of Bill introduced. He may be right, but even if he be right, there is a good reason for the difference. The reason that we had no election in the autumn was that we had a war. Surely no one can think that conditions to-day justify any Government in embarking upon a scheme which would have been possible, perhaps, without the war, but on which it would now be very foolish to embark, in view of what confronts us. This question of pensions has been raised in Debate after Debate, and from every quarter of the House there has been a desire for the best that the nation can possibly do for the aged people. The statement that a pension of 10s. is inadequate is not new. We have heard it since 1925. It is extraordinary that Members of every party, when in office, have been unable to see their way clear to increase the pension of 10s. When any party is in opposition, that fact seems to make the problem easier for them, but the responsibilities of office seem to make it much more difficult.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
As that point has been made by other speakers on that side, might I say this? Will the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Labour 1247 Government, when in office—not in power—were restricted, in all their social legislation, by the fact that they had against them a combined majority of Tories and Liberals?
§ Mr. Rowlands
In 1929 the Socialist party had a majority, with the help of the Liberals. Despite the fact that when the Conservatives passed the Pensions Act of 1925, and brought in the 10s. pension, the Socialists moved an amendment; when it was their turn to amend the Pensions Act they failed to increase the pension; and even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) told their own people that they could not afford it. That is the position when a party is in office; but when not in office there is tremendous sympathy with the aged people. I believe we should do away with this cant about the aged people.
If ever a case is made out for the old age pensioner, it is not the 370,000 who are working and drawing pensions who are quoted. Some go as far as to say that they should not draw pensions. It is not the superannuated crowd who are quoted. The pitiful cases we have heard, from both sides of the House, have been the cases of the old men with the 10s. pension and nothing else, who have to go to the public assistance committee, and incur the stigma of pauperism. How many ways are there of remedying that? One way would be to give an adequate pension to everybody, so that there would be no need for anybody to go on public assistance. But what would that mean? We have been told by the hon. Member for Aberdare that the Glamorgan County Council are increasing the pension by 7s 9d. a week, for single men. But what would be the cost of a general scheme of that kind to the Exchequer? Neither hon. Members on that side nor hon. Members on this side would be able to foot the bill, even in normal times. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but when we are spending £6,000,000 a day upon the war, with no one knowing when it will end, with no one knowing what is going to be the industrial and financial situation of our country, I can appreciate the reluctance of the Government to embark upon the scheme, and their decision to bring this forward as an emergency measure. I have great 1248 pleasure in supporting this Measure up to the hilt.
We have been told that those who at present go to the public assistance committee to have their pensions supplemented are not the only people who are suffering hardship under the present scale of old age pensions. We have been told that there are hundreds of thousands suffering in silence. I believe there are. I believe that under this scheme we shall have at least 400,000 receiving supplementary allowances. If it is only in order to enable those people to come before the assistance court—call it whatever you will—and get supplementary allowances paid out at the post office, without any stigma, I think it is well worth while voting for the Second Reading of the Bill. But what has been the great objection? The means test. I should rather call it the needs test. But why is there a need for the needs test? There has been none for the ordinary contributors' pension. Under that scheme, everybody is entitled to his full 10s. a week. In the first place, this test is an admission that the 10s. a week is inadequate if there are no other means. Also, it is an admission that the Government at the moment cannot raise the 10s. to a level which will obviate the necessity of granting supplementary pensions. I fail to understand why we should haggle about this means test.
Pensions for Members of this House, and the means test in connection with them, have been referred to. Hon. Members opposite, as well as hon. Members on this side, swallowed their objection to that means test. What was the difference between the two means tests? In principle, it was this: We were placing a means test on Members, which Members will have to undergo before drawing anything from a fund to which they are the sole contributors. So far as this old age pension scheme is concerned, the hon. Member for Aberdare admitted that the contributory pensions have had to be supplemented considerably by the State. If there were sufficient in the kitty, it would not be necessary to have a means test for Members of this House. There is not sufficient in this kitty, either, to go round. For that reason, let us have the means test, and give the money to those who need it.
1249 I think there are several advantages in this Measure. It will give supplementary-pensions to many thousands who are not getting them to-day. Also, it will lead to uniformity in the distribution of supplementary pensions. We have been told about the various scales that are given by different authorities. I hope the Minister will take one of the best scales as his model. Let us have uniformity, and let the Minister raise those niggardly payments which are given by the worst authorities up to the standard of the payments given by those authorities which my right hon. Friend described as good ones. That will be a financial gain to the pensioners. It will also remove the stigma of pauperism now suffered by those people who receive public assistance. Finally, it will save local authorities over £4,000,000. We have heard that in some places public assistance supplementary pensions run into 2s. and 2s. 6d. Now the Government have come to our assistance and relieved the local authorities of that. For all the advantages that the Bill gives, I have very great pleasure in supporting it, and I hope it will receive its Second Reading.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I have listened to the hon. Member with great interest. I do not think he succeeded, but he did his best with a very difficult case. I am interested in the Bill because I introduced a Bill two Sessions ago to increase the pension to £1 a week. I was not able to put the charge on the Treasury, so I put it on the employer. I still think that my Bill was very much more suitable and much more direct and would have been very much more helpful than this. This Bill provides a certain correction of anomalies in connection with the wife of an old age pensioner who is younger than her husband, and it gives a certain concession to the spinster, but in the main that is all that it amounts to. The Bill has not been brought forward out of the goodness of heart of the Government, or even of Members of the House. It is the result of an agitation not arising out of ordinary political channels, but begotten out of the very great difficulties and hardships of those two sections of the community, the spinsters and the old age pensioners. The spinsters are to be congratulated on having achieved a certain measure of success. I do not think they have got justice, but they have gone some distance 1250 with regard to their agitation in that their pension becomes a reality at 60. I hope they will weigh in with a continued agitation in order to make it much more adequate than the 10s. which is being provided.
Then there is the other agitation which developed very largely out of the needs of the old people. The old people themselves set it going, ran their meetings, created an organisation, and began to make all the political parties feel that something had to be done. I am sorry that they cannot be congratulated on the results of their agitation in this Measure. I should not say it is a great advance that is being made in Part I of the Bill, but it is an improvement, and we welcome it. It will provide a certain amount of relief for a limited number of people. It is not being obtained at the expense of the Treasury, but the cost is being provided by the contributors themselves. With regard to Part II, it might be considered something worth while that there is a certain amount of relief to the poor over-burdened ratepayers in localities which have had to pay extra rating because the Government have all along refused to fulfil their responsibilities with regard to this section of the community. As far as the old age pensioners are concerned, it will mean very little in the way of improvement. The Minister of Health thinks it will mean an improvement to many thousands of those who have refused stubbornly to have any connection whatever with the Poor Law and public assistance. I am very doubtful whether those same stiff-necked people will be any more willing to go to the Assistance Board to get the supplementation. I think they would be willing to go to the Assistance Board for supplementation, even with a means test, if it was a personal means test, but when it means that, when they go to the Assistance Board, the income of every person in the household has to be subject to inquisition, I can realise that in ever so many cases they will not do it.
I think of households consisting of father, mother, and two daughters. The daughters are simply not having someone going to their office to inquire whether they are earning £2 15s. or £3 5s. a week as stated to the officer of the Assistance Board. [Interruption.] The hon. Member says that if they paid Income Tax, they would have to. They would not. 1251 They would fill up their Income Tax forms, but, after all, an Income Tax assessment is regarded as being respectable. It conveys a suggestion of property and wealth. Unemployment assistance suggests poverty and misery. Perhaps my hon. Friend opposite will remember that Tacitus described an old Roman who had all the virtues except that he considered that poverty was the greatest crime. There area lot of people who consider poverty to be the greatest crime. In this country the administration of the Poor Law in the early nineteenth century was such as to make poverty a crime worse than murder in the minds of the ordinary working people of the country.
I can see that this test will work in the most shameful way. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a most virtuous tone, as if he were granting a great concession, said that the incomes of members of a family who are away from home and in homes of their own will not be taken into account, but that it would be only the incomes of the people at home. So the members of the family who are having the additional responsibility of looking after the old folks in the wintertide of their days will have not only the personal work of assisting the old people but additional financial burdens in connection with the maintenance of the old people. That is all wrong, and I think the Government are acting in a most mean, miserable, pettifogging way. After all, this Bill was introduced for the purpose of meeting this widespread agitation which had made itself felt in every political party in the country, and this Measure is certainly not going to meet that agitation and bring it to an end. I know the question has been asked, Where is the money to come from? And it has been said that an increase of 5s. a week would mean £40,000,000 a year. As I wanted an increase to £1 a week, it would have been £80,000,000 a year, and people ask where the £80,000,000 is to be found in these days with an expenditure of £7,000,000 a day upon a great war.
A lot of silly things have been said about what the country can afford and cannot afford. If I had said in connection with some social reform that for a limited period the country should engage in an expenditure of £7,000,000 a day, hon. Members would have thought that I had gone out of my mind. It would 1252 have been regarded as preposterous, and I should have been told that I was dealing with astronomical figures that were quite out of the bounds of practical possibility. The fact remains that when the war came the money had to be found, and the money is being found. Things are going on just as they were before for ordinary members of the community. People get up in the mornings and have their food as they had it before; they get the same meals, and their lives go on in very much the same way, apart from those who have been taken into the Services and are under the discipline of the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force. The great mass of the people are still carrying on just the same as they were before the war started.
I remember that in a previous Debate the Prime Minister pointed out that there were so many difficulties in connection with this pensions scheme. He pointed out, for example, that even if we could afford £40,000,000 this year, we still had to look 40 years ahead. He said that while there were11 pensioners as against 100 to-day, in so many years there would 16 as against 100; we were told that there would be so many more old age pensioners, and we had to take all that into account. I think there are other factors which have to be taken into account. I suggest to the Government that they should consider wiping out Part II as it stands and its replacement by a definite flat-rate increase of 10s. a week for every old age pensioner, and I suggest that the money would be found all right.
I have been wondering how the money could be found, and it occurred to me that it could be found in this way. I take it that we are now engaged in the last great war. Let the Government look ahead for a matter of three years, and it will then be over. Then we shall have permanent peace in the world, and there will be set free all that expenditure which has gone on armaments during the past years. There will be great disarmament, with everlasting peace established in the world, and there will be all those countless millions which were wasted on armaments and which will not have to be wasted on armaments in the future. There is so much of the money that can be expended in providing justice for the old age pensioners.
There is also this point. There have been gloomy statements to the effect that 1253 in the years that lie ahead of us there will be so many old people in the world compared with young people, and that if we had a pensions scheme of £1 a week for each old age pensioner, it would be too great a burden. I am thinking again in terms of there being same reality in the statements that come from members of the Government with regard to the realisation of a great new social order which will be based firmly upon peace. In the new social order I fancy there will not be the same tendency toward the limitation of families which is characteristic of the present period. There will be a much happier social order in which peace will rule. There will be an opportunity for family life in a way that is not possible to-day, and so there will be a much bigger younger generation. There will be such a development of population in the happier circumstances to which the Government are going to lead us when they finish Hitlerism and establish permanent peace in the world. I would say to the Government that this scheme will do nothing at all to solve the problem that has been facing the old age pensioners. I demand from the Government the payment of the moderate amount of £1a week to the old people to allow them to maintain themselves in peace and comfort in their old age.
This test will work in the most shocking way by breaking up many homes. Old people will be driven out of homes in which they have lived with their sons and daughters. They will be driven out to try and get a room here or there in order not to be a burden upon their families and to get a supplementation of pension in this way. Hon. Members opposite used to charge hon. Members on this side of the House and those in the Socialist movement as being anxious to break up the home, but there has been more done towards breaking up the home by this Government than by any government. The Bill is an absolute disgrace to the Government. It shows little respect on the part of the Government for the great mass of the people in this country. I am surprised that they should have had the audacity to bring forward such a miserable, pitiable abortion as this Bill. I am surprised at the way in which the Government are able to get away with their bad treatment of the mass of the people. It is the same with soldiers' dependants' allowances. They 1254 manage to get away with it, but I believe a time of reckoning is coming. I am sure that this Measure is only a temporary thing, and that a Government of the people in the not distant future will give to the old people full social justice in a far more generous way than is being provided by the present Government.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I rise to congratulate the Government upon the introduction of this Bill. Hon. Members opposite have been criticising the Bill, but I would ask them, What other country in the world to-day is there, engaged in a grim struggle, facing such a grave emergency and such a colossal expenditure as this country, that would bring in a Bill of this kind to ameliorate the conditions of its people? [Hon. Members: "New Zealand."] The Government should be congratulated upon bringing forward such a Measure at this time. Criticism has come from hon. Members opposite that the Bill has been brought forward under pressure. I do not consider that to be a matter for criticism, but rather one for congratulation. Members on this side of the House have urged for some time now that old age pensioners ought to receive proper consideration, and this Bill is the result. Surely, that is a splendid example of democracy in the working. The people of this country in bulk have felt that proper justice has not been done to the old age pensioners and that something ought to be done. Something is now being done. The amount that is being done is perhaps not as great as many of us would have wished, but the reason is that we are engaged in a great war. Old age pensioners themselves realise that fact. I know that those in my constituency do. There are in my constituency a considerable number of old age pensioners who were compulsorily retired at 65, and many of them have wives two or three years younger than themselves. They are suffering great hardship, and this Bill will go a long way towards ameliorating that hardship.
I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), who a little earlier in the Debate said that there would be no difference in the position of the old people. There is a definite difference in respect of old couples. In the majority of cases the man is generally a little older than the wife, and the conditions of these people 1255 will be greatly ameliorated. The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds said that their position will not be improved because they can get assistance now. Many of the old age pensioners in my constituency did not like the stigma of having to apply for assistance, and many of them did not apply on that account, and the result was that they have literally been in great need of extra help. Going before a committee in the manner suggested in this Bill in order to obtain a supplementary pension will remove that stigma. They will not have to go cap-in-hand week after week for assistance, but they will be able to get their supplementary pension from the Post Office without feeling under a stigma. This marks a great step forward. I do not agree that at this very grave emergency in our national history pensions should be given at a flat rate, because by so doing money would be given where there was perhaps no real necessity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint (Mr. Rowlands) put the case excellently, and I agree with every word he said. It is necessary that there should be a means or a needs test. There is only so much money in the kitty. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) said that the money can be found and that the expenditure which is now taking place upon armaments can, after the war ceases, be used for old age pensions and for other purposes, but he seems to forget that the money that we are now spending is not being earned, that we are spending from our savings and from past wealth that has been built up. If the war goes on for any length of time the whole standard of living of this country and of the world is bound to go down, and there will be less money in the kitty than there is now. It is quite fallacious for the hon. Member to put forward such an argument. We are living in a time of great emergency, and the armament expenditure which we are undertaking is far beyond our means, and we cannot spend money in this way permanently.
I have never yet understood the objection of hon. Members opposite to a means or needs test. People who have money taken from them in Income Tax have to fill in returns and thereby undergo a means or needs test. That is when you are taking money away from them, and, 1256 therefore, how much more necessary it is, when you are giving money to people, to have a means or a needs test. The money, on the one hand, is being taken away from you in order to give it others, and, on the other hand, individuals are receiving money which is being provided by the rest of the community, and I have never yet been able to understand why such people should not undergo a means test.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will the hon. Member tell the House whether or not he agrees that a means test should be instituted in those cases where people are receiving a pension of £1,000 or more from the State, as well as in the case of people who receive only £26 a year?
§ Mr. Wakefield
The hon. Member asks whether people receiving a pension of £1,000 a year or over should undergo a means test, but I would remind him that the pension of £1,000 a year is on account of services rendered, and there is a great difference. There is a very great difference between pension earned by past savings or work done, and money which is given in the way it is proposed to be given under this Bill—
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill
Will the hon. Gentleman say that an industrial worker has not rendered service to the State by giving his whole life to the State?
§ Mr. Wakefield
I have never for one moment suggested that industrial workers have not given service to the State, but throughout their life they have been paid wages and, when unemployed, have been paid unemployment money. Under this Bill they are being looked after in their old age and are being given an increased measure of security. I quite agree with hon. Members opposite that our old people should not be allowed to grow old with the feeling that the future is going to be insecure—
§ Mr. Wakefield
This Bill goes far to removing that great insecurity and I am certain that in my own constituency it will be received with satisfaction as a Measure which is not all that we would wish but something to show that an injustice which existed in the past is now being removed.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Pearson
The very important Bill we are discussing has, I believe, been the result of a country-wide agitation for something to be done for the old age pensioner. It has received a very unfriendly welcome from those people who have been foremost in this campaign. It is a Measure conceived in the spirit of doing the very minimum that can be done for the pensioner and, in the light and shade of its Clauses, there is the confirmation that the Government believe in dividing the nation into first-class passengers and third-class passengers. Parliament is asked to sanction a means test. This is a test of the household and not a personal test, and I think the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Rowlands) made a mistake when he was comparing two things which are not alike. He referred to the Members' Fund which was created by the House for Members in need. That was a personal test, not a household test. We can imagine how strongly he and the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken would have opposed that Members' Fund if the test had been a household test and not an individual test. The pensioners we are dealing with to-day are mainly aged industrial workers of the nation. Yet the like principle of the household means test is not applied to ex-Lord Chancellors, ex-Prime Ministers, ex-High Court Judges, Field Marshals, Admirals and quite a host of others. Why should there be fish for one and fowl for the other? Why single out the pensioner with a lower monetary margin for a means test?
Not only is a pensioner himself to be tested, but also the household of which he may be a member. Such is the way that the blight on the whole Bill neutralises and cancels the effect of any of its good clauses. I appeal for this objectionable principle to be withdrawn. It is not worthy of acceptance, and in particular it should not be yoked upon those who have given a life-time of toil to industry. In view of the fact that we have to realise what tremendous fundamental services the industrial workers have given to the State, we should all be first-class passengers or third-class passengers; no differentiation with regard to principle should be allowed to exist. I believe there is a widespread conviction that the Bill makes an unjust and unwarranted departure from the insurance 1258 principle. When the contributory pension scheme was first introduced the spirit of independence which the insurance basis gave us was very much stressed and applauded from the opposite benches. The Prime Minister, who was then Minister of Health, introduced that Measure and had a good deal to say about the importance of thrift. In one part of his speech he used these words:In our view it is not the function of the State insurance system to supersede every other kind of thrift. We should rather regard the function of a State scheme as being to provide a basis so substantial that it will encourage people to try to add to it, and thus achieve complete independence for themselves.What are we doing by this means test? It is not easy to get Members to appreciate what it means to a family. There are so many personal relationships of a really fine texture that go into the whole thing. Now the tune of the Government seems to have changed. They do not stress the virtue of thrift because the people who are actually thrifty are going to suffer under this Measure. The capital letters "M.T." are going to be stamped, according to the trend or policy of the Government, on all future legislation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House on 23rd January that there were 3,000,000 English pensioners over 65. In that total there were 550,000 over 70, subject to the means test. But that is a personal means test, not a family means test. I am sure there are right hon. and hon. Members of this House who have had experience of sitting upon old age pensions committees in various local authorities and have experienced a keen sense of disappointment with the applicants for old age pensions—
§ Mr. Pearson
—and saying that no doubt hon. Members who have had experience of local pension committees will know that perhaps, owing to the savings which applicants have accumulated 1259 through thrifty habits, their pensions have been reduced, or they have not qualified for the 10s. per week or perhaps have not qualified for a pension at all. I have heard whispers in these committees that in such cases these people should not be penalised because of their thrifty habits. This Bill will accentuate that kind of thing. Let us see how the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer works. After a reference to the 550,000 pensioners over 70 he stated that fully 375,000 pensioners were earning, and they were, therefore, dismissed as not in need of any addition to their pension. I think that is solid argument for that point of view. I do not think that hon. Members on this side, in advocating a flat-rate increase in pensions, think of including these 375,000 pensioners who are actually continuing in their work.
Then the Chancellor's rake proceeded. It was discovered that a proportion of pensioners lived with sons or daughters and shared the family table. They must not have too much cream. There is a lesser cost for the pensioner to maintain himself when he is living with his children; consequently, it must be taken into account. What meagre generosity! Again, a large number receive supplementary pensions under works superannuation schemes. How fine a comb is used to see that no section of the thrifty shall unduly benefit. Finally, by the process of deduction, after showing how many of those over 65 are really well off, the curtain is raised and the last but one act is shown. It is the minority who have not the aforementioned additional means of support, whose case needs especially to be considered. The way they are to be considered is by supplementing the present pension of 10s. a week where necessary from a central fund rather than by a flat-rate addition.
I want to submit to the House that under that principle—it is the means test principle—the thriftless are encouraged, the thrifty penalised, and more and more is the burden put upon the shoulders of the relatives who have given refuge to the old folk. It encourages the meanest type of person. In many households it is the more generous son or daughter who gives refuge to the old folk, and they are going to be penalised. The hard-hearted, shall I use a stronger term, "the rotter," son or daughter, who refuses to do any- 1260 thing for the old folk gets off with the easiest side of responsibility. I do not think we should encourage that sort of thing. It is not in the best interest of the nation. Such results are pernicious. All decent people abhor its extension to the insurance field of contributory pensions. The justice and fair play which we seek for old age pensioners is not given in this Bill. As I know more of the Government I expect less of them. Reform to them means taking a bone from a dog.
That part of the Bill which gives pensions to women at 60 is welcome. It involves the admission of women at 62 who are insured in their own right. The cost of these concessions is to be borne in the main by the contributing body, 2d. in the case of men and 3d. in the case of women. I welcome and appreciate that part of the Bill entitling wives and single insured women under the contributory schemes to get their pensions at the age of 60. It is a change which will cheer, but it must be noted that the financing of this commendable reform in the main will fall upon the workers themselves. The Government claim that the taking over from local authorities of some 270,000 old age pensioners who are receiving assistance from public assistance committees is going to relieve local authorities of a burden of about £5,000,000. The Government in that sense is entitled to a certain amount of credit, but it is a clever parrying of the agitation which has gone on in the country. It is like giving something to local authorities who have been knocking at the door at the Ministry of Health and the Treasury for some years now, but I think its cleverness will not perhaps be borne out when a revision in the block grant takes place in 1942. I have certain misgivings about that, and I am not quite so optimistic as to what will take place when that revision is held.
I want to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. Where an old couple, husband and wife, now receive 30s. or over from the public assistance committee will they continue to have the same amount under this Bill if the circumstances are unchanged? Surely this House will refuse to consent to reduce the income of any pensioner, but if the basis is to be the basis of the Unemployment Assistance Board and the scales of the present time, then a man and wife receive 26s. 1261 The right hon. Gentleman says there will be some allowances; but will there be a guarantee that there will be no reduction? I have very grave misgivings on that score, for I think that many thousands of old age pensioners will receive a reduction because the rate that is being paid now by the public assistance committees will be considered to be a little too high. We have heard a great deal about husbands who are older than their wives, but I should like to ask a question about the position where the wife is older than the husband. If the wife is insured in her own right, she will at 60 years of age receive a pension. What will be the position in regard to a supplementary pension? If the husband is younger and has no other means, will he be treated as a dependant for purposes of the supplementary pension? I should like to have an answer to that question. Another important question that arises has reference to cohabitation. As I see it, the danger is that the public assistance committee will deal with the husband in such cases, and the assistance board will deal with the wife who is entitled to a pension in her own right. I do not think that will be desirable.
Our argument for a flat-rate pension is based on the fact that the aged workers have moiled in a life of honourable toil. They should receive an honourable reward. They should be given an adequate retirement pension. They should be free from living upon relatives, free from continuous inquisitions and inquiries, free from struggling on meagre allowances. I submit to the House that the financial burden that would be involved in giving generous and adequate treatment to old age pensioners on a flat rate principle is not beyond the resources of this country at the present time. It would call for certain fundamental adjustments, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) in his able speech. My hon. Friend showed one waste that is taking place in regard to burial insurance, in which huge premiums amounting to about £50,000,000 a year are paid and in which there are 30 per cent. overhead charges. Why cannot this waste be cut out and the resultant saving be placed into a pool which could be used for a really sound old age pensions scheme? I believe that this scheme, which is good in parts, is also bad in parts, and I believe that the 1262 general public will feel that they have not had what they expected in regard to giving to the old age pensioners that meed of justice which they so richly deserve.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The House has listened with pleasure to the thoughtful and, if I may say so, graceful contribution which the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson) has made. His speech seemed to me to be an admirably fair examination of the problem, and there is nothing I would like better than to follow suit and be equally fair in the examination which I shall make of the scheme. The hon. Member for Pontypridd, like his hon. Friends, believes that, despite the war, we could finance a vast additional scheme suchas the Labour party has recently proposed, but it seems to me that the hon. Member was answered in advance by his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall), who pointed out that in 1908 it would have been impossible to finance such payments as we are making to-day, to the extent of hundreds of millions of pounds, because at that time the national income would not permit it. It is for that very reason, in my opinion, that it is impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer now to propose great increases. If I understand the situation properly, if the war continues and extends, as we imagine it will, the national income is not likely to go on increasing, but may decrease, and even if it does not decrease substantially, we know that during this year and the next two or three years the calls upon the national income will be unprecedented in size. Therefore, I use, I think justly, the arguments of the hon. Member for Aberdare to prove that it would be impossible for a wise Chancellor in any Government to-day to accept and carry through a scheme such as hon. Members opposite propose.
§ Mr. George Hall
May I call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that I mentioned that the national income had increased threefold since 1908?
The hon. Member does not suggest that it will increase threefold during the next three years. In time of war, when trade is so seriously disarranged, and when the whole of our energies are concentrated upon something other than the production of wealth, it 1263 seems to me madness to imagine that the national income will go on rising. But I think the real answer to the hon. Member for Pontypridd is to be found in the most interesting speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in opening the Debate. My right hon. Friend spoke of travelling towards an ideal. The hon. Member for Aberdare was thinking on the same lines when he spoke about a stride forward to the ideal. That is all this Bill claims to be. It is a stride forward in the right direction. To me, the ideal is something infinitely grander and greater than even that proposed by the Opposition. I look forward to the day when all citizens in this country with incomes at least up to £500 a year will be obliged to contribute to an all-in insurance policy that will provide for all citizens a pension, without any means test, in their old age, not of 10s. or £1, but substantially more than that. An annuity providing an income of £100 a year is surely not beyond the wit of man in this country in peace-time when the national income is rising. That is the kind of great scheme for which I would like to work. This Bill is a step in that direction.
I am very glad that this scheme was introduced a few days ago in a statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I am afraid that for the last few years I have been a minor thorn in my right hon. Friend's side on this matter. I took some part, and by no means an unwilling part, in starting the old age pensioners' movement in Scotland. I have consistently supported it since then. I have addressed many appeals to my right hon. Friend in public and in private. I have almost presented him with an ultimatum now and again, that unless he was able to give a sympathetic reply to the old age pensioners' demands made in this House, I would be unable to support him in the Division Lobby. Having been rather a nuisance to my right hon. Friend on this subject, I am very happy to congratulate him upon introducing this Measure, pointing in the right direction, to-night.
Of course not, but it is a step in the right direction, and I welcome it for that reason. In concentrating, as 1264 was natural, upon the defects of the means test, the Opposition has, I think, been a little unfair. There are four or five major features in the Bill which are worthy of much greater tributes than they have yet received. In the first place, I think it is a remarkable thing that it should be possible to propose such a Measure at all at the beginning of a war. The more one considers it the more amazing it appears. Reference has been made to New Zealand. That is a debating point, because nobody will seriously compare New Zealand with this country at the present time. The system in New Zealand is different; the population is different, the problem is different, the resources are different. A reasonable comparison would be with another country of the same extent as this and the truth is, as a previous speaker pointed out, that there is no country in the world comparable with our own which could do such a thing as we are seriously and solemnly doing to-night. I say that that is a great tribute to our nation in which we may all justly take pride.
Further, in this Bill we are meeting a demand which has been impressed on the House from local authorities all over the country and particularly in Scotland for many years. We have been bombarded with appeals from county councils, and other authorities in Scotland for relief from what was to them the intolerable burden of assisting old age pensioners. Hon. Members opposite have repeatedly echoed that appeal and properly so. Why do they not recognise that by this Bill a great step is about to be taken to meet that appeal? [Hon. Members: "We do."] Then why not recognise it generously, and admit that this is something of real importance. An hon. Member opposite spoke eloquently about the effects of want upon the family. The Bill will have a result which intimately affects the family. At present if an old age pensioner in Fife wants help, he has to go to some person or body connected with the local authority, to someone who knows all about him and to whom he has to unfold all his private affairs. That is a considerable strain on a proud people. It seems to me that it will make a profound difference to that old age pensioner if when he requires supplementation of his pension, he has to go to an official of a board stationed outside his town altogether and 1265 is not required to give away his private affairs to his friends and neighbours. [Hon. Members: "He will be."] I speak with some knowledge of this matter. At present we all know of cases of soldiers' wives who are seeking additional allowances. They make their appeals to the unemployment assistance officer. Those officers are not local councillors; they have nothing to do with local elections or local affairs. They are appointed from Edinburgh or Glasgow or some outside place and they know nothing about the affairs of the persons concerned in Cupar or St. Andrews, and that seems to me to make all the difference.
I was not aware that that was so, and I take it that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not consider that it is so. It is not my reading of the Bill, but if I am wrong it is a matter than can be cleared up on the Committee stage. I pass to another point. The new proposals affecting women represent a major advance. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), who has just intervened, represents an area in which female labour is of great importance, and in a smaller way I am in the same position. There are many mills in East Fife in which the workers are almost entirely women, and they are nearly all women of between 50 and 60 years of age. I have appealed on their behalf not once or twice but many times, in this House and outside, and I am glad that under the provisions of the Bill these hard-working women are to receive consideration. The proposals in the Bill will be a great help to them, and I know from messages which I have received that they are deeply grateful.
Not enough recognition has been given to the fact that there will be a profound psychological difference in having the supplementary pension, once made, paid thereafter through the Post Office. At present, the old age pensioner has to see the local public assistance officials perhaps many times. There is constant examination. The pensioner knows that the public assistance people are watching 1266 more or less all the time, and that he is always subject to what has been called the stigma of these inquiries. [Hon. Members: "And still will be."] I know that this is not the entire removal of the stigma and I understand that to have one's affairs examined, even once, by some outside official, is difficult for a proud man or woman, but surely the system proposed in the Bill is infinitely better than the present system.
Surely it is better to have it once rather than many times. If the statement made recently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer means anything it means that the examination having been made once, then for all practical purposes the matter is settled. [Hon. Members: "No."] I speak subject to correction, and I speak in the presence of the Ministers responsible for the Bill, and as they do not correct me I assume that what I have said is correct. I pass to another point and I hope that hon. Members opposite will not think that in doing so I am withdrawing any statement which I have made. I stand by what I have said. I believe that this Measure will provide a system under which only one—or almost only one—examination will be made.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
We have been told this afternoon that the unemployment assistance regulations will apply and the unemployment assistance regulations provide for a monthly review, which means a monthly investigation.
I understand the hon. Member's point, but if the hon. Member listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to-day he would have heard the pledge given plainly that the appropriate regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board were to be applied with special sympathy to the cases of pensioners, and moreover that if they were found unworkable they would be amended. I imagine that an example of unworkability might well be that the monthly re-examination to which the hon. Member has referred was required. But if the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant anything, it meant that one thorough examination would probably finish the matter and that, thereafter, the pension would be paid through 1267 the Post Office exactly as if it were a contributory pension.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith
Is the hon. Member not assuming now that not only are these present regulations to be revised, but that they are to be revised in a particular respect? Is that not pure speculation?
It may be speculation, but I take it that a responsible Minister would not have made a statement of this kind—
§ Mr. Griffith
The Minister made no such statement. No Minister has said that the regulations about monthly revision are to be revised at all, and no one can say that such a prospect has been held out.
I do not say that any Minister used these words. [An Hon. Member: "Or suggested them."] On the contrary. If hon. Members will look at the Chancellor's statement of 23rd January they will find that he said—[Hon. Members: "Read it."] Perhaps the House will wait until I can find the passage. My recollection is that the Chancellor stated that it was not intended that the re-examination to which hon. Members refer would be a thing frequently applied. That is my reading of the situation. The House has interrupted me, or shall I say assisted me, so much that I must not detain it much longer. Before I sit down, however, I want to face quite frankly this problem of a means test, which I recognise is a matter of first-class importance. I must say, though, that I have a fairly close contact with old age pensioners in my own division and that it is not so regarded by them.
Perhaps I might interrupt my speech to quote the passage from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement to which I previously referred and which I have now found:The supplementary grant, when fixed, will in most cases not call for constant revision and will really be of the nature of a supplementary pension. It will be paid through the Post Office as is the practice at present with 10s. pensions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1940; col. 370, Vol. 356.]Having read it, I feel fully justified in the interpretation I gave of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that 1268 the number of persons really needing assistance is a minority of 3,000,000. He said that deliberately, and let us examine the point. Judging from conditions in my own part of the world, I believe that a very large number of old age pensioners live alone and not with members of their families. If that is so, the number of cases where the family means test will apply is bound to be considerably smaller than 1,500,000.
The hon. Member is being a little too acute in his cross-examination, for he has not quite grasped the point I am trying to make. I am trying to find out the number of persons likely to be affected in the family means test and I submit to the House that it may not exceed 500,000.
I have made a careful estimate and I believe it is considerably less than 1,000,000 and probably no more than 500,000. It will probably be only in some 500,000 cases that the means test is to be applied. What will happen when it does apply is the same as in the case of Army allowances. It will be in the manner I have already described to the House, by officials who for the most part exercise great tact, care, understanding and sympathy, who will come privately and make their report.
There are many points that must obviously be examined in Committee and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) raised one, in regard to superannuation which greatly appealed to me. He suggested that superannuation ought not to be included in the family means and I would most readily support an Amendment to that end. It seems to me, however, that the general principles embodied in this Bill are good. They recognise a national duty to the people. They provide for deserving women, they supply urgent material need for a large number of old people. All that is worth doing, and because this Bill is a step in the right direction I am glad it has been taken, and shall most gladly support it in the Division.
§ 8.39 p.m.
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his long awaited pronouncement on old age pensions there were two proposals of particular interest to women. The first was the lowering of the pensionable age for insured women from 65 years to 60, and the second was the attempt to pension at 60 the wives of contributory pensioners of 65 years or over. The National Spinsters Association hailed these concessions as a great victory, but on mature consideration their members will probably have other thoughts because they claimed a reduction on the age limit to 55years and pensions at that age for all spinsters, whether they were making contributions under the Unemployment Insurance Act or not. The new scheme is entirely different, but in so far as it lowers the pensions age for a section of the community it is to be welcomed. I would have been better pleased if the lower age limit had applied irrespective of the sex of the recipient. I would have preferred, so far as women are concerned, a comprehensive Measure to have included all women at 60 years of age.
This Bill will create a great many anomalies. If the wife of an insured contributor is five years younger than her husband, she will get a pension at 60, but if she is five years older and is not insured in her own right she has to wait until she is; 70 before she is eligible to draw the pension on her husband's insurability. In any case, at 70 years of age she could qualify under the non-contributory scheme. Why penalise a woman because she happens to be older than her husband? But the majority of married women are one or two years younger than their husbands and in these cases they cannot qualify before they are 63 or 64. Why do the Government peg the wife's claim on her husband's insurability and her age? Why not recognise in this Bill the individuality of women and establish the general principle of pensions at 60 for all women?
I want to draw the attention of the House to certain classes of women who are excluded from this Measure. There is a large number of women workers who have lapsed from insurance, through long sickness, unemployment, or other causes, long before they have reached the age of 60. They receive no recognition in 1270 this scheme. There is another section, and I am sure that every hon. Member has had cases affecting this class. We all know of the tragic plight of the pensionless widow, the woman whose husband probably never paid under National Health Insurance or pensions or who might for various reasons have fallen out of insurance. She may have been a good wife and an ideal mother; she may have reared a family of healthy children for the State; and when they have grown up and passed out into the world, and when through death she is bereft of the love and protection of her husband, she is usually too old to get an economic footing in industry and commerce. She has been so long at home and out of the industrial market that there is little chance of her earning her own living. Her family, too, often have a struggle to make ends meet. I have received many letters from widows without pensions in my constituency begging that their burden and their struggle for life might be lightened and that an appeal should be made to the Government to bring them into this Bill. If pensions are to be given to some women at 60 why should they not be given to this deserving section of the community?
I notice that women voluntary contributors under the Act of 1937 are also left out of the Bill. These women are a struggling and highly deserving class, and under the Act of 1937 the oldest of them will not be 60 until 1stJanuary, 1943. If they were brought into this scheme and given a chance of paying the increased contribution, it would accumulate for three years before the first pensions were payable. Every Member hopes and trusts that by 1943 the war will be over, but we realise that when hostilities cease there may be financial strain, exhaustion, and hardship to individuals. Then the pension to this section of women would be of great value. The minds of many of these needy women would be eased if we looked ahead and planned this piece of reconstructive legislation now.
I have referred to the difficulty of the older women finding employment, but that also applies to the older men. It is, indeed, an argument for granting adequate pensions to men and women alike at an earlier age than at present. The solution of unemployment does not lie in handing out to the older women a small pension 1271 on which they cannot live and which may be used, as is frequently the case, to subsidise unscrupulous employers. I feel that there ought to be a proviso in this Bill to prevent an unfair advantage being taken of the pension to make up wages. This particularly applies to casual and intermittent workers. I also hope that the proposed differentiation in the pensionable age for men and women will not be used as an excuse against better pay for women workers on the assumption that they cannot stay the course, because the truth is that the physical and mental health of women is consistently undermined by low wages and bad conditions. So many hon. Members have spoken about the household means test that I do not wish to cover the same ground, but I feel compelled to say that it seems to be the policy of the Government to means test the people from the cradle to the grave. To take into consideration the income of a younger son or daughter living at home penalises dutifulness and unselfishness and tends to break up family life.
I do not believe that the majority of old age pensioners will be any better off under this Bill than they are at present, but I hope I am wrong in that assumption. Progressive local authorities have tried to do their best to be as generous as possible in meeting the needs of old age pensioners. I have addressed a great many meetings of old age pensioners, particularly in the last six months, during which there has been this tremendous agitation for higher pensions at an earlier age, and I find that since the statements of Cabinet Ministers and since the direct statement about the provisions of this Bill, the belief has been general, particularly where the pensioners live under oppressive local authorities, that they will not fare as well under this Bill as they do at present. I suppose that the supporters of the Government will go into the Division Lobby to vote for this Measure.
Very well, but perhaps a day of reckoning may come when we shall have an appeal to the country and when old age pensioners and their families, as well as the workers in general, will be able to record their opinions on this Measure. I hope that 1272 some day in the near future a new and a real old age pensions Act will come into force and that it will be fashioned by men and women who know the lives of the workers and are able to give a guarantee against poverty to the veterans of industry in the form of a pension entirely free from the taint of public assistance. I know that there are many other hon. Members who wish to take part in this Debate so I will conclude by expressing the hope that the Government will listen to the appeals that have been made by hon. Members and will remove the most objectionable features from the Bill.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Sir Annesley Somerville
I thought that the hon. Lady opposite was going to say, "This Bill is not all I should wish, but at any rate it is something," but now I am obliged to believe that she is beginning to look a gift horse in the mouth. I suggest to her that this is not a moment for ungenerous criticism. It is the moment to recognise that we are fighting for our lives in every possible way and especially in the economic direction.
§ Sir A. Somerville
Hon. Gentlemen should recognise, as the country recognises, that the Government are doing something in the midst of this great struggle and that hundreds of thousands of women who will benefit by it are intensely grateful. Let me read a few lines from a letter which I received to-day from one of my strongest opponents in my constituency. He is a genuine working man, and he begins his letter by saying:Obviously I cannot presume to be among your circle of friends politically.Then he says:I have very great interest in Sir John Simon's suggestions re methods by which he proposes to improve the lot of the old age pensioners, especially the Clause setting up a central board with power to discriminate"—I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to note this point:between those in need and those not in need, but who are now receiving. I have always considered this present method an unwarranted extravagance and one that was a blot on legislation. From my own experience I have known many cases where the pension has been put to a comfortable banking account while others in great distress have had great difficulty in existing upon the meagre allowance.1273 I have heard for many years the same cry against the means test, but, after all, the means test is founded on common sense. You will find it in every walk of life. Trade unions use the means test principle. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to have very short memories. The means test was initiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) when he was Minister of Health. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Yes. It is all very well for hon. Members to say "No!" but I could show them the circular in which the right hon. Gentleman laid down the principle.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not like to make a mistake. He must know that that circular was dealing with a Poor Law principle which was laid down in Queen Elizabeth's reign. The circular was merely one which modified the application of what was at that time the law of the land.
§ Sir A. Somerville
That seems to be rather special pleading. The circular lays down the means test most unmistakably for the guidance of local authorities.
§ Mr. Lawson
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that no responsible Minister standing at that Box has dared to use that argument in recent time which he himself is using now?
§ Sir A. Somerville
I have heard it used over and over again, and it has been circulated through the country.
§ Mr. Messer
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the circular was got out at the request of certain local authorities which asked for guidance and that all that the circular did was to state the law at that time?
§ Sir A. Somerville
Excuse me. There is the circular, and the meaning and the wording of it are quite plain. It lays clown the means test, and nobody who reads the circular can deny it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am interested in the letter which the hon. Gentleman read. Can he produce such a letter from a ship-owner when a subsidy is being given?
§ Sir A. Somerville
That question does not seem to be relevant. A speech was made by an hon. Member opposite in which he asked, "Why should not every man who has worked in the interest of the country get his pension? "Of course, he ought to do so, and he does. The hon. Member also asked, "Why should admirals, generals, and Lord Chancellors get their pensions? Why should not everybody get a flat-rate pension?" That was begging the question. If every working man spent his life in steady, honest work for the country, the matter would be simple. The great majority of them undoubtedly do, and they deserve their pension, but there are a great many exceptions. We al l know this to be true, and we have to guard against those exceptions. The number of admirals, generals, and Lord Chancellors in the country is very small indeed. Why have they got their pensions? Because they have rendered very exceptional services to the country, and they deserve the pensions they get.
§ Sir A. Somerville
That is a matter which might be looked into. I am not defending the principle of continuing a pension to the descendants of a man who has earned it. In this case it may be an abuse and require looking into. The principle was well stated once by a Lord Chancellor who was asked at a public meeting by a man, "Why have you £10,000 a year, and I have not?" The Lord Chancellor's answer was, "Because I am worth it, and you are not." There is a good deal in that.
§ Sir A. Somerville
When my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) was speaking, he said there was no country that provided such good old age pensions and did so much for the poor and needy. I heard voices from the benches opposite say, "New Zealand." Let us examine that interjection for a moment. Why can New-Zealand do it?
§ Sir A. Somerville
It is because of the profit she makes out of this country. This old capitalist country is practically New Zealand's only market, and because of the profit she makes out of this old capitalist country she can do these things. I am delighted that she does. What she did in the last war was magnificent; what she is doing now is magnificent; and I am glad that she shoulid make profits. But when hon. Members opposite reproach us with the fact that New Zealand is doing more in the way of social services than we are, I think they are not remembering the circumstances. They must remember that New Zealand's ability to do these things depends upon the profit she makes out of Britain. On what does she make the profits? She gives to her farmers a standard price. Our farmers would very much like to get a standard price.
§ Sir A. Somerville
I will just conclude my remarks about New Zealand by saying that she is better able to do these things than we are, by making us less well able to do them. If we kept part of that profit, we should be better able to provide those pensions. I repeat what the hon. Member for Swindon has said, that there is no large country that makes anything like so great an effort in social service as this country. I venture to say, therefore, to my hon. Friends opposite: In the circumstances, do not give Lord Haw-Haw means of propaganda. Do not say things that he can twist to show that the people of this country are discontented. Would you not rather say, "Well, this is not all that we should like, but it is something."? It is going to help hundreds of thousands of people, and let us be as united as possible in the face of the terrible dangers that we have to encounter. Let us criticise, but let us criticise in a generous spirit for once. I would ask my hon. Friends opposite if that is not possible.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer
It is interesting to hear during this Debate the arguments that always come from Tory benches when they are introducing a piece of social reform to which they have been driven. 1276 It is all very well for them to make these claims to generosity; but what are the facts? The Government consistently refused to do anything until the strong arm of democracy forced them to do something, and until they were made afraid of the consequences of doing nothing by the attitude of their own supporters. Now they are making a virtue of necessity, and introducing a Bill—to do what? To do as little as they possibly can.
I happen to be a member of one of those public authorities that, I suppose, would be classed as a good authority, because its public assistance scales are high. I do not know whether I am making a present of the fact when I say that there are those who are benefiting under our public assistance authorities who are better off than those who are under the Unemployment Assistance Board. I cannot find in the Bill what arrangements are to be made for dealing with certain special cases. We have, so far as is possible, under the authority of our public assistance committees robbed the service of that Poor Law taint. We do not have the applicants coming before a committee of people, who inquire into all their circumstances before giving them public assistance. What we do is to say to our officers, "There is a certain scale laid down, which is the minimum; and anyone who claims that that minimum is not enough can come before a review committee, consisting of a few people, who will investigate the special circumstances of the case, and who can increase it."
Public assistance is being administered, in many cases, more humanely than it was before. [Interruption.] That is since Labour has got a seat on public bodies. [Interruption.] The comment brought the retort. You cannot say that there has been the same humane administration in connection with cases coming before the Unemployment Assistance Board. Old age pensioners who have been appearing before public assistance bodies will now go before the Unemployment Assistance Board. I am not sure that it will be a good thing. The Unemployment Assistance Board is not directly responsible to Parliament. It will not be so easy for us to put questions about what is done by that board. We shall not be able to deal with individual cases in the way that we now can. When we have attempted to get 1277 something done for people who have been before the Unemployment Assistance Board, we have found it the most difficult thing in the world to get any redress for them. I doubt whether this suggested humanising of the administration in this case is a fact.
I do not want to make a speech on this matter, because I feel that there is so much that can be said by Members who have had experience of their own on such matters; but we ought to make our claim that the people who produce the wealth have the right to an old age relieved of all anxiety. It has been said that certain classes of people get their pensions because they have earned them. There is not a member of the professional classes who could get a pension if the workers did not earn it for him. There is no wealth apart from that which is produced by the application of labour to Nature's raw materials. The workers are responsible for wealth production; and the workers are considered least and last when it comes to a question of security. One can see quite easily how the favour goes. I remember reading a short while ago in the Press that for more than 35 years Mr. Alec Nathan had been "building bonny babies." He was the chairman of Joseph Nathan and Company, proprietors of "Glaxo." The board had decided to reorganise, and to carry on without the chairman; but they did not want to send him to sign on at the exchange, so they decided to give him £12,500 as compensation for loss of office. At present, if the worker gives up a job for any reason that does not satisfy the court of referees, he does not even get the unemployment benefit for which he has paid. The chairman of "Glaxo" gets £12,500 compensation. Is he going to starve on that? Not a bit of it. He gets £3,300 a year pension.
It is asked where the money is coming from to give the worker a flat rate of pension. It is coming from where it is always comes from—where it is. To say it does not exist is not the truth. Will the national income stand it? That was said at the time of Gladstone. It has always been said. There has never been any sound argument against a more equal distribution of the wealth of the country. The country not only can afford it, but in reality it cannot afford not to do the right thing. The moral thing is to give people their due, and the due of 1278 the old people is the sense of security that, when they are no longer fitted for the workshop, the factory or the mill, they will rest secure that the amount which will keep them will be provided without the knowledge that before they get it the sons and daughters that they have brought up will be assessed as to their ability to keep the old people.
The means test in itself, as far as it concerns the individual, is not so indefensible. I do not think it would be fair to treat everyone alike when it comes to a question of paying money drawn from public funds. But when one takes into consideration the household, what is our experience of the means test in the household? I remember a girl earning 15s. a week. Her father was blind and drew money from the public authority under their domiciliary assistance scheme. Without asking for it, the girl got an increase in salary. Her employer gave her 4s. a week rise, and her father's blind allowance was reduced by 4s. a week. I suggested that the public authority should write to the employer and thank him for relieving them, because the 4s. increase had gone to them. Where was the incentive for that girl to fit herself for going higher, when every shilling that she earned had to be taken into account to assess what the income of her father should be?
One could multiply cases like that, but it does not add to one's case to repeat arguments which are so well known. If there is any class of case where it can be argued that the means test should not apply, surely it is to these veterans of industry, men and women, who have known the toil, the weariness, and the hardships that come by labour, the anxiety, the worry, the fear which are inseparable from working-class life. Let us give them the evening of their days in peace and security, not in meanness, not niggardly, but with the generosity that they deserve—security just for the few years that they will have to enjoy it, when the labour market not only does not want them, but when in point of fact the best contribution that you can make to the unemployment problem would be to take these old people out of employment and give them security enough to live. That is a contribution which probably you will have to face, for, as the means of production increase, you will only be able to deal with unemploy- 1279 ment by giving those who are no longer able to find their place in the industrial world the life that they deserve.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
I am sure every Member of the House, whether he agrees with the views of the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) or not, would like to pay tribute to the eloquence and sincerity of the speech we have just heard. I have been present at every Debate on old age pensions since I have been a Member of the House, and in one respect this Debate is different from every one of them. On every other occasion one has had Members in different parts of the House who have taken the same view as has been put forward on the other side, whereas to-night everyone who has spoken from this side has expressed support of the Government and of the Bill and everyone who has spoken from the other side has attacked the Bill. It is a pity that this question should be approached, as obviously it has been to-day, from a party point of view. It is not unfair to say that the difference between the two points of view is that on the Opposition side the most that is grudgingly allowed is that the Government have done the least they possibly could do in the circumstances and that in view of public pressure, and on this side it is argued that the Government have done the most that is practicable in the light of the present world situation.
I have always been a supporter of an increase in the old age pension, and I think hon. Members opposite will recognise the support that I have given to efforts which have been made on all sides of the House to induce the Government to take steps in this matter. My criticism of the existing state of things has been that a pension of 10s. a week is quite inadequate, particularly when the pensioner has no other source of income, and still more so when the man gets his pension at 65 and ceases work and his wife is not eligible on the ground of age. I have criticised the fact that people in this position have been compelled to seek public assistance, and that many who ought to seek public assistance have not done so, and I have also criticised the burden which this places on the rates, a burden which is unequal in various parts of the country.
1280 It is in the light of those criticisms that I have tried to examine honestly the proposals in this Bill. I have endeavoured to view them quite objectively. I have not said they are bound to be good because they are proposed by the Government, and I have refused to say they are bound to be bad because hon. Members opposite say they are. It has been easier for me to adopt this attitude, because I am a political orphan. I have not come out of any party incubating machine, and I have been able to approach this and kindred problems with an open mind, and it is in that frame of mind that I approach this Bill. When I examine the Bill I find that it does provide for means by which an old age pensioner whose sole source of income is 10s. a week can have that pension increase. I find also that if he is 65 and in receipt of a pension, it is possible for his wife at the age of 60 to receive one also. I also note with satisfaction that insured women workers receive a pension at 60. I rejoice in the fact that it takes the care of the old age pensioner away from the local authority and transfers it to the State. So that this Bill does remove the anomalies of the existing situation. Therefore, so far as the principles of the Bill are concerned, I welcome them whole-heartedly.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it seems to me that a great deal must depend upon the way in which these principles are applied. I was interested to hear what the hon. Member who has just spoken had to say about the method adopted by his public assistance authority, that they had a minimum scale and only if an old age pensioner desires something more than the minimum, is it necessary for an investigation to take place? It seems to me that that is exactly what happens under this Bill. A minimum of 10s. is guaranteed, and if more is desired, there is to be an inquiry as to whether or not that increase is justified. Why it should be said that this is something inferior when in fact it is on the same principle I cannot understand.
§ Mr. Messer
I think the hon. Member has missed my point, that that being the case, this is no better than the Poor Law.
§ Mr. Lipson
I do not think that necessarily follows. I think in practice an applicant is likely to get much more under the proposals of the Bill than he is likely 1281 to get under the Poor Law, because, although it may not apply in all areas, in others the question of an increase in the rates does loom very large, and therefore there is a tendency to keep down the relief that is given because it is likely to add to the rates. I think that what would be possible under this Bill is likely to produce a more just and equitable allotment of such money as is available than at present. It is only right to realise that in the present position the Government are bound, when called upon to spend public money, to have some evidence that those who ask for public money are in actual need. That is what the Bill proposes. I find it difficult to understand why hon. Members opposite should quarrel with the argument that when there is a limited amount of money available it should go to those who need it most. That is the proposal of the Bill, and I should have thought that that is exactly in accordance with the general political philosophy of hon. Members opposite.
There is a limited amount of money available—there is bound to be—and this Bill says that it shall go to those who most need it. The flat-rate principle which is supported by the Amendment would have the following effect: One has to recognise that the figure which has been mentioned to-day is a flat-rate increase of 5s. I think that is the most that any of us could possibly have expected as practicable under present circumstances. That 5s. increase would have been too much for some who may be still at work and who at the same time may have a pension. On the other hand, it may not be enough for others who have only the 10s. upon which to live. Therefore, I think it is fair, and I should have thought it would be more welcome for hon. Members opposite, to divide the money that is available, not on a flat rate, but by giving it to those who most need it, which means that under this Bill it is possible to meet the real needs of the old age pensioners. As has been pointed out, there is no ceiling to the amount which may be given under these proposals.
The only test, I take it, is the test of need. I hope that in the regulations under which the board will work regard will be paid to the fact that the old age pensioner is in a different position from those to whom the Unemployment Assistance Board at present gives assistance. 1282 The old age pensioner is in the evening of his life. It is not expected that he shall be engaged in industry any more, and therefore a more generous attitude can be adopted in assessing his need than may be possible in the present circumstances for the Unemployment Assistance Board, which now have to bear in mind that in the amount of assistance they give to their applicants that they must not make it more worth while for them to be unemployed than employed. They have to assess the amount of help they give in such a way that there may be some inducement left to a man to try and do his best to obtain work. Therefore, as those factors do not operate in the case of the old age pensioner, it should be possible to be more generous, as I think the country wants the board to be as generous as possible. I hope that no old age pensioner will be worse off under this Bill than he has been under existing circumstances.
I desire to say a word about the household means test. Like every other hon. Member in this House, I should like the Bill to have gone very much further if it had been possible. I should have preferred that we should have had only the personal means test and not the household means test. Perhaps we might be told by the Minister who is to reply what the estimated difference in cost would be if a personal means test were substituted for a household means test. I do not take the view, which has been advanced by hon. Members on the other side, that under this Bill the child who gives a home to the old age pensioner who is a parent will necessarily be penalised financially.
§ Mr. Lipson
The child who does this—it may be the daughter or the son—will not be called upon to pay any increased rent or rates because the old age pensioner is living with him. There will probably be very little extra cost for heat and light, but, on the other hand, the old age pensioner will certainly have his minimum of 10s., and, if the financial circumstances justify, more than 10s. If that is put into the family pool, it will in practice result in the family certainly not being worse off and possibly being better off. Therefore, I think it 1283 has been assumed unnecessarily that the Bill will impose a financial burden on the child who is willing to give shelter to the parent.
§ Mr. Stephen
The parent will require an extra room, which will mean additional rent, and does the hon. Member suggest that the parent will be able to provide himself with food and clothing on 10s. a week?
§ Mr. Lipson
In these circumstances, where additional rent is occasioned, I imagine that the fact will be taken into account by the board when assessing the amount of increase, and that will be a case in which a supplemental pension may well be payable.
There is one great feature that I hope will be introduced into the administration of this Bill. Under the present public assistance in the more enlightened authorities a good deal of welfare work is being done by the relieving officers in connection with the administration of relief generally and of relief to old age pensioners in particular. I believe that under the Unemployment Assistance Board there is also supposed to be a certain amount of welfare work, but in practice nothing like so much is done under the board as is done by enlightened public assistance authorities. I hope that under this Bill the Government will bear in mind the value of work of this kind and will try to see that those who administer the supplemental pensions under the Bill maintain personal contact with the old age pensioners.
As one who has urged the Government to take action on the question of old age pensions, I wish not only to thank them for what they have done, but to congratulate them upon the methods that they have chosen. I would like to say to hon. Members opposite that on occasions—in old age pensions debates and matters of increase of workmen's compensation—I have supported their point of view against the Government and have appealed to the Government to listen to them. I would to-night appeal to hon. Members opposite to stop this clamour against this Bill and to draw attention to the possibilities of the Bill rather than to complain because there are certain features in it which they do not like, and for this reason: Many old age pensioners were very much cheered when they 1284 heard of the Government proposals, and I believe that the effect of this party agitation has been to remove some hope which they had that their position would be ameliorated under the Bill. I appeal to hon. Members opposite to stop this agitation and to concentrate rather upon making this Bill as workable and as beneficial as possible for the old age pensioners, because I am sure that what all Members on all sides of the House desire is that the old age pensioner should get out of this Bill as much help as possible.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I think the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken almost shares with us the disappointment we feel at his changing attitude. I noticed that a good deal of his speech was made up of such phrases as "I imagine this or that will happen as a result of the Bill," and I gather that even he is half convinced that most of the benefits of the Measure are imaginary. I think, however, that my hon. Friend who opened the Debate from this side stated quite definitely and clearly that we would welcome everything in this Bill which brought any increase at all to old age pensioners. Old age pensioners will welcome that as well, but that is a different question from asking us to say that this is a satisfactory way of dealing with this national problem. Somebody asked what was meant by this means test. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) showed us a procession of means test investigators going along, one after the other, to investigate a family of five. Something like five or six different means tests were going on at the same time in the same house. This means test will add yet another investigation, and soon there will be an army, almost as large as the one in France, of "Nosey Parkers," finding out what people have to live upon. From the point of view of public dignity this ought to be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment.
The scheme which my hon. Friend on the Front Bench adumbrated, as proposed in our Amendment, shows quite clearly that the only clear and distinct difference you could make among old age pensioners was between those working and those who are not, and that if a person retired he ought to be given sufficient income on which to retire without any inquisition whatsoever as to his means. 1285 Most of the opposition which came from the Government benches to-night has been on the question of whether you will give people more than they need. In other words, the Government have now instituted in this country the principle that nobody in the working classes must ever have more than the bare minimum he needs. While the Government seem, in effect, to be bringing in a Bill that is bringing about a standardised minimum for the working classes by this army of investigators, that standardised minimum is to be a standardised maximum.
I had the honour of making my first remarks in this House on behalf of the old age pensioners, and I must, speaking again from their point of view, register their profound regret and disappointment to-night that there has not been a flat increase. I propose to make three objections to the household means test. Old persons who become 60 or 65 have a sense of privacy: they like their affairs to be their own, and while it seems to be assumed that members of families know everything about the affairs of everybody else in the family that is not necessarily the case. I am sure that hon. Members opposite are familiar with the practice. Even when marriages take place among members of well-to-do families they make wives independent by a separate settlement, because they believe that leads to the maximum of happiness. That may be a mistake, but it has been a practice for a long time. If that is true, why not do the same for old persons? Why should they be dependent on sons and daughters, who have left the house to build a home of their own? We say that, if a father or mother has contributed to the nation's work all those years, when they come to the age of retirement they should not be placed in the position of having an inquisition by their daughter-in-law or son-in-law. That inquisition in the home may be just as bad as the Government inquisition.
The second plea I want to make is on behalf of the young people. After all, if a man gets married and starts to build a home of his own, from the point of view of the country he ought to be able to build that home without having burdens beyond those of a normal citizen placed upon his shoulders. He wants to turn out his girls well dressed and to give his 1286 sons and daughters a chance in life. But on the top of that there is to come down this Bill which says that no matter how hard he works and strives he must never rise above the means test standard because his parents are living in the house. He has either to depress the family income in order to pay for the maintenance of the old people beyond the 10s. per week, or else to get rid of the old people, if he is to maintain his family income for his children. Normally in our economic life a man and wife are expected to bring up their children and maintain them until they are 16 years of age, and give them a start in life, but if, at the other end, that family has also to maintain the old people you put a burden on the workers which cannot be borne by present-day wage standards.
The third plea I want to make is on behalf of the nation as a whole. Hon. Members on all sides will agree that there has been nothing finer in our lifetime than the gradual rise in the standard of life of our people. People have left the slums and gone into decent homes with a future of health and cleanliness in front of them. We are now taking the retrograde step of saying that the people are never to have this kind of home; that they are never to be able to save enough to put furniture into it or to build up the home which they would like to have. A happy and healthy people are the wealth of the nation, but with this means test standard, which will gradually spread across the whole working class, you are proposing to depress that standard and prevent the improvement which the whole of our social legislation is meant to bring about. I suggest that this is like a great level, a great sea. Everybody is going to be pushed under it and as soon as their heads come above water, along will come the means test and push them down again. May I give one short example? In Kilmarnock I came across the case of a boy who had a 2s. 6d. bursary. He took part in all the school sports and had to buy the sports clothing and other things necessary. His father was on the means test, and because the son had a bursary of 2s. 6d. the whole of this bursary was taken off the father and he had no money left to pay for the extra things which his son required at school. This Bumbledom which is to spread throughout the country will be a disgrace and a great weakness in our social legislation.
1287 A great deal has been said about there being nothing more to divide. That is a complete fallacy. The argument which says that there is some standard of money which has to be divided among the existing population is economic nonsense. If there is a cake we are entitled to say that it should be better divided than it is to-day. If the argument of hon. Members opposite is that some people have too much and some too little, we agree with them, and we say that, if that be the case, we should divide the cake in a more equitable way than is done at present. But it is not the case that the cake is a standard size. It has been increasing in size every year of the last century. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) said that the national income is £6,000,000,000 a year. It is expected that by extra productivity, even during war, it will be increased by another £1,000,000,000 to £7,000,000,000 a year. If that does not happen, it will be extremely difficult to finance the war out of existing revenue, because it is estimated by certain economists that before the war is finished, it will cost something like £3,500,000,000 a year. Therefore, approximately half of the total national income will be diverted to war purposes.
It has already been pointed out in the Debate that even in the midst of war, when already a large part of our industrial production is devoted to war purposes, the amount of civilian consumption has been very little decreased, and it is estimated by those who have calculated the ultimate cost of the war that even if the whole of the £3,500,000,000 is met out of existing revenue and out of increased production, the reduction in the civilian standard of life will not necessarily take us below a desperate poverty level. If it is the case that we can divert half the national income to war purposes, the Chancellor's calculation as to what will happen in 40 years' time completely falls to the ground. It is evident that if we organise our production in a scientific way, we shall be able to produce far more and give everybody in the country a decent standard of life. Therefore, the meanness of this means test is quite unnecessary, and we on this side of the House protest most strongly against the increasing standardisation of a minimum 1288 standard of life for the working class. It has been said that this Bill divides the community into two sections, the gentlemen and the players. The gentlemen come out of one door and the players out of the other, and no matter how well the players play, they never come out of the same door as the gentlemen. That principle is being applied to our social services. Hon. Members on this side object to that, because any contribution that is made by people who get pensions for other services in the community is not in any way superior to the contribution made by the working classes, who build the bridges, the railways, the factories, the houses, and produce all the wealth that exists.
I suggest to the Government that they should reconsider Part II of the Bill. They should not be so diffident about accepting suggestions from this side of the House. We willingly place our pensions scheme before them in order that they may take it from the ideas which evidently they need, and we hope that they will bring in a pensions scheme which applies not only to the working class, but to every class of the population, and gives to our people a guarantee that when old age comes upon them, they will have security. It is not our business to go further to-night, but it seems to me that in the suggestion which has been made that there should be a complete superannuation scheme for the whole nation will be found the eventual solution that will eliminate all the anomalies to which the hon. Member for East Birkenhead referred, and many of the difficulties that arise out of the present scheme.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
There are one or two observations which I think ought to be made on this very important Bill. During the eight years that I have been in the House I have pleaded with successive Chancellors of the Exchequer to treat this question of old age pensions as a matter of the first importance. It has always seemed to me that the test of our boasted civilisation is the care which is given to our children and our aged people. The last speaker described the Government proposal as a "standardised minimum" and I suggest to him that he is stating in a sort of Latin, and not in the plain English which is usually heard on this side of the House, precisely 1289 what the effect of the Opposition Amendment would be. The flat-rate proposal is a "standardisation of the minimum," and that is the proposal of the Amendment which the hon. Member is supposed to be supporting. The hon. Member also said he had understood a previous speaker to say that all the benefits that would accrue from the Bill were imaginary. I will give him testimony from Gateshead to show that the benefit is not imaginary.
In order to be fair to the House and to myself I should say, first, that I have here a copy of a resolution passed by the public assistance committee in Gateshead. I need not tell hon. Members opposite that there is a Socialist majority on that body. It happens that I come from the strongest Labour constituency in England. [Hon. Members: "No."] That is what Mr. Ernest Bevin told me in 1931. He told me that he was to have been Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Government that was supposed to come into office after that Election and that he had been made a certain kind of fool, because he was told that if he would contest the strongest Labour constituency in England he would have a safe seat for life. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am only telling you what Mr. Bevin told me when we were together in the Town Hall during the counting of the votes. However, the resolution of the Gateshead public assistance committee, dated 12th February, is as follows:That in the opinion of the committee the terms of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Bill are not what has been expected by the people of this country. Further we adhere to our previous decision that the old age pensions increased allowance should be granted to all recipients, without any means test or qualification of any kind.They say that the Bill is not what has been expected. As secretary of the Distressed Areas Committee I have been pleading in this House since 1932 that the expense incurred by local public assistance committees and local authorities should be borne by the Exchequer. I went to the public treasurer's office at Gateshead this week-end to see what benefit would accrue under the Bill to Gateshead, and I find that it will be £25,000 per annum.
§ Mr. Magnay
No, the hon. Member will have to go back to school. That sum is equal to a shilling rate in Gateshead—
§ Mr. Silverman
In what way, then, will the old age pensioners of Gateshead benefit by the Bill if it is purely a Bill for the relief of the Gateshead rates.
§ Mr. Magnay
I had proposed to deal with that point if the hon. Member would show his usual courtesy to me. I think the Socialist party—not the Labour party, because they only "pinched" that name many years ago—are in a dilemma. Either there must be a fixed flat-rate increase and no means test, or an indefinite payment according to need, discovered, as it can only be discovered, by an inquiry which, of course, is a means test. I am not in favour of a household means test. I stood in the 1931 election, as I did in the last election, on that, and that there should be a means test wherever public money was expended for men capable of work. But, it is a vastly different proposition to me that there should be any means test, except a personal means test, for old age pensioners who cannot work at all. It is a vastly different proposition, and I plead with the Government to reconsider this question, because it should not be a household means test. Such a means test should not apply to indigent old age pensioners whom we do not want to work and whom we want off the working market.
If I had been asked my opinion before this Bill was drafted, I would have asked whether there could not be an option for old age pensioners either to take a fixed rate, as the Opposition desire, or a larger sum assessed on a needs test. But, let it be remembered, a minimum is bound to be a maximum. If we had, as the Opposition desire, a fixed flat rate, then let the pensioners have an option. Then, if they do not want any means test inquiry they can take the flat rate, or if they want a larger sum they must submit to a means test on personal grounds alone. The Amendment states that the present system of a means test is "odious in its adminis- 1291 tration." As I have said, I am a member of the Distressed Area Committee, and I have suggested more than once—and the last conference we had was at Caxton Hall—that we should have one payment at the Post Office instead of two. Instead of one by public assistance and one to the old age pensioner, why could we not have the two payments in one? That is precisely what this Bill proposes to do. When we have it, however, there is complaint about it. I do not think there is any stigma about it. I have a communication from the National Association of Relieving Officers, which states:In urban and rural areas the regular visits of relieving officers are looked-for events in the lives of lonely persons. The bond of friendship and mutual understanding created is invaluable. The pensioner knows he is being dealt with by a responsible officer who will act as his advocate when his case is considered.I have the case papers which each officer must fill up when he makes an inquiry into a case. I am glad to think that these men are such good counsellors to the poor. There is no stigma attached to an inquiry which is necessary before there is an expenditure of public money.
While I do not like looking a gift horse in the mouth, I want to see the fetlocks of the horse trimly cut and I would suggest ways in which that can be done. Paragraph 9 of the Financial Memorandum says:Insured women who receive an old age pension at age 60 under the terms of the Bill will cease to be eligible for benefits under the National Health Insurance Acts.That will mean that, with regard to the reduction in Exchequer grants payable under National Health Insurance, public assistance authorities will be faced with additional expenditure in the treatment of sick women between 60 and 65. Paragraph 16 says:The allocation of these amounts between individual authorities is to be determined by the Minister or the Secretary of State after consultation with the Associations of Local Authorities.I hope the House will be careful not to delegate its paramount powers to any outside body. I would never agree to any body, however powerful, whether a trade union, Transport House or church outside this House, being allowed to come before the deliberations of this House. Clause 8 of the Bill allows a widow who attains the age of 60 to make an application for a 1292 supplementation of pension. I would draw the attention of the Government to the fact that the Gateshead committee are spending £7,000 per annum on the maintenance of widows under 60. These are excluded from the Bill. Clause 10 (3) says:Where it appears to an officer of the Assistance Board that by reason of the bodily or mental condition of an applicant for a supplementary pension, it is desirable that the appeal tribunal should consider whether it is in the interests of the applicant that he should become an inmate of an institution.I object to that power being put into the hands of an officer of the board. It should be given to the medical officer. It is not competent for a layman to say whether anybody should go to an institution. A man may be a bit simple and canny, but know his way about and do no harm to anyone, and some obstreperous officer might think it good for him to be away from his household. That provision should be amended. I want to say out of gratitude that this Bill in principle is a good Bill, and I welcome it on behalf of my constituency.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
The Debate on this Bill is essentially a Debate between two quite different approaches to the old age pensions problem. I have listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House, and I am not sure whether he is sure which approach he wishes to take. We shall watch with great interest, and so, I am sure, will his constituents, to see the way in which he casts his votes when this Bill gets into Committee. We hope that more often than not he will vote with us for the improvement of the Bill. That there is a cetrain doubt as to his attitude was illustrated by one phrase in his speech, from which it did not seem clear whether he was looking a gift horse in the mouth, or looking at another part of its body from completely different directions. I speak as one who represents a constituency not far from his own when I say that we shall watch his votes with close attention.
There are these two alternative approaches to this problem, and the Amendment which has been moved in such an able speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) indicates an approach to the 1293 problem which, for us, is not new. It is the same approach as was contained in the plan which we published in 1937, Labour's Pension Plan. This was drawn up by a committee of which I had the honour to be the chairman; it would therefore be discreditable in me if I were not still familiar with its details. I will recapitulate the principal points of that plan to illustrate my argument with regard to the two alternative approaches, and I hope that I shall be well within the Rules of Order.
The plan that we put forward in 1937 contained a number of estimates and statistics, and they were never, to my knowledge, seriously challenged. Both the arithmetic and the policy of our plan were right, in my view, but although our opponents did not seriously challenge the arithmetic, the plan did not find favour with them. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate to-night debated the subject some time ago with me. He then used the argument against our scheme that it meant too great an increase in the contribution from employers and employed. I do not know whether that argument still finds favour with Members of the Government. Our plan proposed a flat-rate increase in the pension. We gave specific figures, and we proposed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare and other hon. Friends have to-day, £1 a week for a single person and 35s. for a married couple, maintaining the basic age of 65 years but making reductions in special cases, notably a reduction to 55 years for the wife of the old age pensioner who was 65 years of age or over, so that, in a case where the wife was 10 years, or less, younger than her husband, they would get the pension simultaneously.
We proposed various other improvements, but I will not now recapitulate them. On the basic improvement of the flat rate of pension we estimated—and the figure is still substantially true—that, without including the cost of lowering the pensionable age of the wife, the cost would be £65,000,000 a year additional, averaged over the next 10 years. It would be less at the beginning and rather more at the end. With the various other improvements that we proposed, the total additional cost of the whole scheme would be £85,000,000 a year, averaged over the next 10 years. We were very careful, 1294 and we choose our words deliberately, to make no precise recommendation as to how much of the expenditure should fail on the Exchequer and how large a part upon the contributing parties; but we made it abundantly clear that we recommended a substantial increase in the contributions of employers and employed.
The estimates in the plan indicate that for the total scheme of improvements, costing on the average £85,000,000 a year, additional contributions of 1s. a week from the employer, 1s. per male employé, and 9d. per week per female employé, would, without any contribution at all from the Exchequer, more than cover the total cost of that scheme of improvements. If we take only the increase of the flat rate of pension, that would cost £65,000,000 a year, and that would be more than met by an increased contribution of 9d. a week from the employer in respect of each person employed, 9d. a week from each male employé, and 7d. a week per female employed person. Those additional contributions would, again without any contribution from the Exchequer, more than cover the cost of that scheme over the next 10 years. We did not, of course, propose that the increases in contributions should be so large as this, but I have given these figures as estimates of what, if nothing came from the Exchequer, would more than cover the cost. In so far as the Exchequer contributed, the additional contributions required to cover the costs of such a scheme would, of course, be diminished.
Such a scheme, in our view, would be a logical extension of the contributory scheme as we have it at present. There would have been no means test element introduced at all. The only new feature would have been the requirement that persons who were to receive the increased pensions should retire from industry. I will say a word in a moment about the argument used by the Minister of Health to-day as to the administrative difficulty of enforcing that condition. The reason why my hon. Friends believe that it is desirable to impose this condition of retirement from wage-earning for those who receive increased benefits is a dual one. Partly it is because they believe, from trade union experience, that old age pensions operate as a subsidy to low wages, and that it would be objectionable, on 1295 that ground, that there should be a large number of elderly persons in industry receiving larger pensions than they get to-day. Further, we believe it is better that old people should be retired on pension, and young people given an opportunity of working, than that the old people should be still struggling on at work while the young people are standing at the corner ends and Employment Exchanges. For those reasons, we attach importance to retirement from wage-earning as a condition of receiving increased pensions.
That was our policy. It was accepted, I think unanimously, by the Trades Union Congress of that year and by the Labour party conference. It was being advocated in the by-elections in the period before the war. It was exciting great interest in the country. It had, indeed, stirred the head office of the Conservative party to some propagandist activity, and vague promises were being made from the Government side as to what they might perhaps do when an election was imminent. Had there not been a war, and had the election been held, it would have been interesting to test the effect in this House of the public will, by comparing the support that was given to that scheme, as against any other scheme which the Government might have produced. The war came, and the election was not held; and we are, therefore, driven back on guesswork as to what the result might have been. But that was our policy; and it is our policy now. As soon as we are in a position to carry out an improvement in old age pensions, that is what we intend to do.
Meanwhile, it is our view that any changes should be in harmony with the general principles, if not with the exact figures and details, of that scheme. That was made clear to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the discussions he had lately with representatives of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. It is well known, and has been publicly stated, that the discussions proceeded on the basis that the representatives of the General Council put up suggestions for a flat-rate increase, and for the condition of retirement from work to accompany that increase; and that they indicated that, if the flat-rate increase were reasonably generous—if, for example, it were to amount to 5s. a week—they would be prepared to recommend to the general 1296 body of their members that they should pay increased contributions towards the cost, on condition, of course, that the employers should do the like, and that the Government should themselves make a contribution.
It was, I understand, made perfectly clear by my colleagues of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, some of whom are Members of the House, that they would be prepared on these conditions to bear their share and play their part in financing a flat-rate increase provided it were reasonably generous, say, of the magnitude of 5s. a week. The workers, in other words, were willing, but neither of the other two parties were willing. It appears that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he consulted the spokesmen of the employers, found that they were not prepared to pay their share of this advance, and it also appears, as I understand, that the Chancellor himself was very reluctant, as his speech in this House showed, to contribute any reasonable part of the cost of such a scheme from the Exchequer. Therefore the employers and the Government being unwilling and only the workers being willing, it was not possible to move forward along the line which we believed to be the only right and proper line of approach for the solution of this problem.
§ Sir J. Simon
The hon. Gentleman's observations are not, in fact, quite accurate. It was agreed that the conversations which took place at the Treasury between the Trades Union Congress and the employers were to be treated as confidential, and I have very carefully observed that confidence.
§ Mr. Dalton
I do not think that anything that I have said goes beyond what has already been recorded in the Press, and these denials should be addressed to the Press rather than to myself.
§ Sir J. Simon
I thought the hon. Gentleman was speaking with some higher authority than that. I thought he was stating to the House of Commons, from information given to him by those present, things which were at the time regarded as confidential. I do not mind. I have said that the statement is not accurate. I will deal with it, but, as I gave my undertaking, I want it to be quite clear that it is not I who have failed to keep my promise.
§ Mr. Tinker
Do I take it that the conversations were understood to be private and confidential and not to be disclosed?
§ Mr. Dalton
I do not think there is anything arising here on which we need cast charges on one side or the other. What I have stated consists of what I have read in the Press. When I read a thing in the Press I sometimes do as I dare say the Chancellor of the Exchequer does. I sometimes try to ascertain from other channels whether the Press is reasonably accurate.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
As far as I understand it, application has been made to the Chancellor by some person or persons to allow these talks to remain confidential, and the implication was that representations had been made by representatives of the Trades Union Congress with that object. Is that so?
§ Sir J. Simon
Certainly. There is no doubt about it. I was very grateful for the help given me, with great fairness and candour. I have never made a misuse of it at all, but it was stipulated from the beginning by both parties, not by me—I did not mind what happened—that they would do their best to help me on that understanding. I am sure the hon. Gentleman has never had the slightest intention of departing from it, but that is the fact, and I have been very careful on that account to say nothing about it. I shall have something to say when I reply to-morrow.
§ Mr. Jenkins
We are to understand definitely, then, that representations were made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by representatives of the Trades Union Congress to allow those conversations to remain confidential?
§ Sir J. Simon
I have said so. I have a fairly clear memory of these things, and I am most grateful to the gentlemen who came to help me, but there cannot be the slightest shadow of a doubt that that was the condition under which both sides came and gave me their help. I am not criticising anybody, but I am saying that this is astonishing.
§ Mr. Dalton
May we now come back to the facts of the case? As the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to assist the House to-morrow by answering some questions, I will ask him one. I regret that I shall have to be absent to-morrow, but I will ask him a specific question. I want to know whether it is the case that he sounded employers in this country as to whether they would be prepared to pay their share of the increased contribution equal to what the employed persons would pay, and whether the employers refused. That is a straight question, and the reply will be of interest to the House. I have my own belief as to what the answer is, and I shall be glad—and I think the House will be glad—to know whether it is the case that the employers and the Government were unwilling to do what representatives of the Trades Union Congress were prepared to do, namely, to pay their share of the increased cost.
I now want to deal with the argument that the condition of retirement from wage-earning is administratively impracticable. I am inclined to think that that is an administrative red herring I believe that the officials who advise the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Health, and the Secretary of State for Scotland are quite capable, if they are told it is a Government decision, of inventing very effective means of carrying it out.
§ Mr. Elliot
It is very difficult if the hon. Member continually brings up cases from a discussion of a private nature. If he wants to know whether there was administrative difficulty in carrying out such a proposal, I may tell him that it was not a red herring. It was a very real thing. There is very great difficulty in doing such a thing. I am not drawing a red herring across the House any more than he is in making the suggestion.
§ Mr. Dalton
Why should the right hon. Gentleman suffer mental disturbance because I am making a suggestion to the Government? No one need insinuate that any argument I am putting forward has been obtained from any illegitimate source. I forget his exact words, but the sense of the right hon. Gentleman's argument to the House this afternoon was that our proposal that there shall be a retirement from work as a condition for an increase of the pension is administratively impracticable. I say that to introduce 1299 that argument is to introduce an administrative red herring. I have a sufficiently high regard for the officials who advise Ministers to believe that, if they are told that there has been a Cabinet decision that this thing is to be done, they are capable of making a very effective scheme for doing it. I am sure that is so. I remember one late Cabinet Minister saying to me that when the officials in his Department produced a memorandum indicating the difficulties in the way of doing something that he wanted to do, he thanked them very warmly for the efforts they had taken in producing the memorandum and asked them to go back and produce a second memorandum indicating how the difficulties they had mentioned in the first memorandum could best be surmounted.
I will offer a very simple suggestion upon which perhaps the spokesman for the Government will be kind enough to comment either to-night or to-morrow. Why should we not lay it down that all persons over 65 should have a special unemployment insurance book, say, of a special colour, and then put the onus upon the employer to notify the Post Office through the Employment Exchange whenever a man over 65 had been employed by him in a given week or month or any unit of time? If the man had a special book marked in some special way on the cover, it would show at once whether the man was over 65 or not. That is not an original suggestion of mine, but one that was made, when we were working on this problem, by a person of considerable administrative experience. I believe that it would well meet the case. In any event, under the Government's household means test it will have to be ascertained whether, when these old people are hauled before this committee of inquisitors, the Government's own tribunal will have to ascertain among other things, whether those old people have in the previous week or month been earning in excess of a certain amount. The Government will themselves have to solve this problem, which the Minister of Health to-day told us was insoluble. It would apply, of course, to a smaller number of persons, but the problem would be exactly the same as that which would have to be applied, under our plan, to a larger number of persons.
1300 I would like to make two very brief references to Part I of the Bill. The principal Debate to-night is on Part II. One point has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare, but I would like to underline it. So far as the increased contributions are set against the increased cost of lowering the pensionable age of certain classes of women, until 1946 the Treasury will be making money out of the change. I think that that is clearly set out in the Government's statement. If not, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will correct it. At the beginning the inflow of additional contributions will be greater than the additional cost of paying these pensions. I very clearly recall that estimate in the Memorandum. In the early years the yield of the increased contributions will exceed the increased cost of the benefits conferred by lowering the pensionable age of these two classes of women. For a period of years the Treasury will be making money on Part I of the Bill. They will be getting more in contributions than they will be paying out. In the second place, we shall want either to-morrow, or perhaps to-night, from the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply, some statement to be made in order to elucidate what is to happen to the £3,750,000 of health insurance approved society funds, which will be set free owing to the fact that women over 60 years of age will no longer be entitled to cash benefits under health insurance. These funds will, I gather, be impounded by the State, and it is by no means clear what is to be their destination, or whether there is any guarantee given at all that they are to be kept within the health insurance financial system and used, as they ought to be used, for improving health benefits and benefiting the contributors generally.
§ Mr. Dalton
It was not clear to me, and I would be obliged if he would make the statement again. It was not clear at all. We want to know what is to happen to this money, and whether there is any assurance that it will be used for health insurance purposes.
I wish to come now to the principal feature of Part II of the Bill—the introduction, in a completely new context, in this part of the social legislation of this country, of 1301 something of which it has been quite innocent before. I refer to this detestable device of the household means test and I say "detestable" advisedly and with great moderaion of language. We know the attitude of mind of millions of our constituents towards this device, particularly in regard to unemployment, yet the Government are proposing to introduce this same device in regard to the new classes of old age pensioners. Everyone knows that "detestable" is a mild word to express the feelings of those who will be the victims of this test, or relatives of the victims. I say quite frankly that the introduction of this test in the face of the well-known strong feeling is not the way to build up the morale of the home front. It is an action which will tend to weaken, rather than strengthen, that morale.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, moving the Second Reading of the Bill, made what seemed to me a very inadequate effort to show us that there was really no difference in principle between this household means test and the individual income test which, for many years, has been applied to the over 70 non-contributory pension. I think it is clear that the difference is very great. This test is a new, odious, and unwelcome introduction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a public declaration, has appealed to all sections of the community to assist in the savings campaign. He has taken some public credit for having instigated large applications for Savings Certificates and other forms of public securities. Great efforts have been made to get the support of the labour and trade union movements for this purpose. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been asked—and it has been published in the Press—whether he can give any guarantee that these Savings Certificates will not be charged up against either the unemployed or old people under this means test. He has given no such guarantee, and we must assume that every person who responds to the appeal is in danger of having his thrifty actions taken into account against him if he falls into unemployment or, later, becomes entitled to an old age pension.
That is not the way to preserve morale and rally the support of the great masses of the poorer sections of the community. If it is the intention of the Government to try to pay for a certain fraction of our war expenditure out of the savings of the 1302 wage earners and poorer sections of the community, then this means test is not exactly designed to help them to achieve their purpose.
I will not develop the argument that the means test imposition penalises thrift and discourages all those schemes of superannuation and other plans which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare said, were projected in South Wales coalfields and had to be abandoned. Such plans are not only penalised and discouraged, but in many cases actually wrecked by the persistence of the Government in applying this household means test. It is difficult to have to listen to such phrases as "equality of sacrifice" when we are confronted in this House with a Bill which contains such an abomination as a household means test. The two things do not harmonise, and the question is indeed being asked whether it is only railway shareholders who are to get a square deal, whether it is only the livelihood of shareholders in aircraft factories which is to be safeguarded by the Government, and whether other sections of the public, who are expected to give their support to the national effort, are expected to give it cheap. If the Government want the support of the trade union and labour movement in their effort at the present time, do not let them think that they can buy it at the contemptuously cheap price suggested by this Bill. If I may offer, even at this late hour, a suggestion to the Government, it is that they should take back the Bill and think again about Part II; that they should bring in a new Bill which will give to these old people, who have borne the heat and burden of the day and laboured long for their country, a square deal, and so make a real contribution towards a united war effort at this critical time.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Colville
It may be that the red herring of a Secret Session has caused the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) to prolong his speech a little. I shall have to be a little shorter than I had intended. I cannot, however, complain because on a previous occasion when he and I met on the same subject I cut his speech rather short through no fault of mine. I think the hon. Member spent rather more time in discussing the Labour plan than in analysing the Bill, and in that connection I must notice that the 1303 Labour Amendment is not one for the rejection of the Bill. That is very significant. Indeed the hon. Member looked forward cheerfully to the time when the Bill would be before Committee. Apparently he would be sorry if it did not go to Committee, and I think his sorrow would be shared by many people outside the House.
He asked at what period the Treasury would come in. It will not be such a long period as he indicated. After the first year or two the Treasury comes into the picture and in Part II the Treasury is heavily in the picture. The hon. Member also referred to the surplus reserves. The treatment of the surplus is set out in the Memorandum. It will be carried to a special suspense fund which will be under the control of the National Health Insurance Joint Committee and certain payments will be a charge upon it. The residue is to be dealt within such manner as Parliament may hereafter determine.Parliament will have the ultimate say as to the application of the money.
§ Mr. Dalton
Am I correct in saying that there is no guarantee at all that this money will not be pocketed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and removed from health altogether?
§ Mr. Colville
The specific provision to place this money under the control of the National Health Joint Committee is absolutely clear that the way in which the money will be dealt with will be in the hands of Parliament.
There are many points in the Bill to which I want to refer, and I must leave this fund alone with the knowledge that Parliament will be anxious to see that it is safeguarded for what Parliament conceives to be its proper uses. The pensions schemes in this country are recognised by all, irrespective of party, to be among the most important of our social services. We are at the present time paying some 3,000,000 pensions to old age pensioners and widows over the age of 65, and of those, 1,850,000 are paid to old people over 70. We estimate that the Bill will immediately increase this number of pensioners by over 300,000 persons. Some 300,000 households—30,000 of them in Scotland—will be better 1304 off as a result of the operation of Part I of the Bill. I do not think hon. Members in any part of the House have quarrelled with that Part of the Bill. Some hon. Members have raised points about women's pensions, and I propose to leave those points to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, who will be speaking tomorrow, and will deal more particularly with those aspects of the discussion.
The major criticism to-day has been directed, not to the fact that we have brought forward proposals, but rather to the fact that those proposals, in the view of the critics, are not sufficiently far-reaching. No one doubts that hon. Members in all parts of the House are anxious to make the closing years of life of our people as serene and happy as possible, and in happier times, it might have been possible to do even more for the old people than we are doing now. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said that the urgent need is to give the greatest help in the shortest time where that help is most required, and the whole purpose of Part II of the Bill is to direct the help into that quarter. It must be remembered that the problem with which we are confronted is to ameliorate the lot of the old people at a time when the country's resources are strained in waging a major war, and let it be remembered, also, that on the outcome of that war will depend the maintenance of our social services system. Therefore, although at other times we might rather academically have discussed the value of this or that plan, it is of vital practical importance that we should consider the financial implications of any plans put before the House at the present time. Such plans must be considered with the background of the war that is taking place. Consequently, the fact that we have brought forward proposals that will cost the Treasury a considerable amount of money at a time when we are engaging in this great struggle should command, as I am sure it does command, admiration. The question which the Government face every day is not what they would like to do to improve the social services, but how best they can maintain those services and everything else which we hold dear in this country. That is the real problem to-day. It should never be lost sight of. In such circumstances, 1305 I think that the majority of hon. Members do not regard the Bill as one of limited concessions, but as a real contribution to the general welfare of the old people.
Some hon. Members have suggested that what we should have done was to provide a flat-rate increase on all pensions. The House has already been given figures showing that a flat-rate increase of 5s. would involve an immediate additional cost to the present pensions scheme of some £38,500,000, and on the pensions scheme as improved by this Bill, a considerably larger sum. I submit that in war-time the additional contribution which would have to be made for that purpose would be prohibitive. Hon. Members opposite may dispute that, but I am prepared to express the view that it is not a thing which we could do at this time.
§ Mr. Dalton
Would the right hon. Gentleman still say that, if the trade unions told him that they were prepared to pay their share? Is it prohibitive only to the employers?
§ Mr. Colville
I am still of the opinion that to exact from workers and employers the rate of contribution which would be required to produce that flat rate, would not be a prudent action in war time.
§ Mr. Colville
The old people will be cared for by the method which we are proposing. The Labour party attach to their flat rate a retirement condition, but the administration of a retirement condition would lead to endless difficulties. It is not such a simple matter as the hon. Gentleman tried to make it. He did put forward certain suggestions for simplifying it, but I can assure him after a close examination of the problem with those who would have to administer such a condition, it does not appear that such a means test—because it is a means test—would be worth the trouble which it would involve. Would an all-round increase of 5s. solve the problem? I hold that it would not. The flat rate would not be nearly sufficient in a great many cases. Reference has been made to the rise in the cost of living. Is it not plain that one disadvantage of trying to solve the pension problem by a flat rate increase of 5s. is that such a proposal takes no 1306 account of movements in the cost of living. The flat rate would stay; the cost of living might move. I hold that our elastic proposals are much more helpful in such a situation. The needs of pensioners vary. A pensioner living in Glasgow lives under conditions totally different from those of a pensioner living in the Outer Isles. Often, in comparable areas, rents vary and the claims of dependents vary. Unless the flat rate was very much larger than the hon. Gentleman with his modesty and honesty was proposing to-night, namely, 5s., it would not solve the problem and we would still leave many people stranded or with recourse only to the Poor Law.
The proposals in the Bill of a means test in connection with the supplementary pension has been the subject of a great deal of discussion to-day. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health dealt broadly with the application of the household means test in the case of old age pensioners. Many hard things are said about the means test, but the principle of a means test is not something new which the Government have invented. It runs through the whole of our social services. Public assistance and unemployment insurance are obvious examples and in many other spheres the principle is recognised.
§ Mr. Colville
Nor does it apply to contributory pensions here. There is no attempt to apply a test to the contributory pensions, namely 10s., which is covenanted for by contribution.
§ Mr. Colville
I am surprised that the hon. Member who is usually so accurate should have gone wrong in this case. Of course the supplementary pension will be available not only to the contributory pensioner but also to the non-contributory pensioner who is over 70 and the test will be applied only to the supplementary pension. The covenanted pension will not be affected at all by this test. As I have said, the principle of a test is 1307 found in many spheres, for example in regard to treatment in municipal hospitals, rent rebates under the Housing Act, milk and meals for school children and milk for mothers. Indeed the principle is familiar outside the public services as in the case of voluntary hospitals, which in many cases make a graduated charge based on this principle. There are also such things as scholarships and bursaries, and universities very often apply it in the same way. As the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) pointed out on the question of a pension scheme for Members of Parliament, it was the Labour party who gladly supported a scheme based on a test. Therefore, why should we not extend the principle to those in need in the case of the old people with whom this Bill deals especially, as we can thereby ensure that the circumstances of each old age pensioner are given full consideration.
A great deal of discussion ranged around this question and how we intended this to be administered and how these old people are to stand in the future. I think it was the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) who said that the proof of the pudding was in the eating. That is the sort of proof which we believe it will stand. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health stated that it is our intention—it is our undertaking—that this administration will be worked on the basis of a good authority at present giving relief. Several speakers have asked what guarantee there was that that would be the case. The answer to that is that my right hon. Friend and I have indicated—have given the assurance—that it is our intention that the administration should be on these lines and that the payment should be no worse than those made by a good authority.
If the Unemployment Assistance Regulations required amendment by the production of new regulations in order to implement our undertaking, those regulations will be laid before Parliament and must be the subject of an affirmative resolution. As a check both the Minister of Health and myself will answer and be answerable in the House, and I am sure that Parliament will see to it that our undertaking is fulfilled in this 1308 matter. I have never known the House of Commons to be backward in holding Ministers to their undertakings in that way, and of making itself felt very powerfully. Again there will be the normal questions on the Estimates, which will give an opportunity of discussing the question apart from the Debates which could be arranged.
I should like to say a few words about the practice of the board at the present time. We have agreed that the regulations may have to be amended and new regulations may have to be made. That is an indication that the fears which many hon. Members have expressed are groundless. Even if no Amendments are made, the present regulations would show some remarkable results as compared with the practices of local authorities. Let me take one test—a comparison of the rules for the treatment of earnings of unmarried sons and daughters over 21 years of age. Here is a comparison covering 89 county boroughs in England and Wales and large burghs in Scotland. I find that in these 89 areas, 55 authorities are less favourable than the board in regard to this test; six are the same or better at some points and worse at others; three are more favourable; four are more favourable for the first wage-earner but less favourable to the second or third. Reference has been made to the capital city of London as an example of a good authority. In both the capital cities of London and Edinburgh the treatment given by the board compares favourably with that given by local authorities.
§ Mr. Colville
I have not got a list here but I will try and collect the names and make them available. I would like to refer to the benefit to the ratepayers, of this change, and illustrate it later with some Scottish cases. A return submitted by public assistance authorities in the early part of last year showed that the amount spent on out-relief of old age pensioners was about £4,500,000 in England and Wales, and £770.000 in Scotland. After allowing for the adjustments provided for in Clause 15 the Bill will relieve the authorities in England and Wales of an expenditure of £3,500,000, and those in Scotland of £600,000. Examples of the 1309 relief this will have on the rates in certain Scottish areas are: Glasgow 6½d., Hamilton 8½d., Motherwell and Wishaw 5½d., Edinburgh 1½d., Lanarkshire 6½d., Ayrshire 3½d., Dunbartonshire 3½d., Caithness—as showing the effect on the Highlands—5½d.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Has agreement been reached as to the methods of distribution or the methods which will be adopted for the purpose of meeting the liabilities that local authorities are meeting now?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I wanted to know how the Minister arrived at these figures of rate relief before any agreement has been reached with the local authorities.
§ Mr. Colville
I should have said in Scotland we have reached agreement on certain lines with the associations of local authorities and on the basis of the provisional allocation agreed with them the figures I have given are the rate reliefs which will be realised after the adjustments in the block grant have been taken into account. The Government had three alternatives in dealing with the problem: to leave things as they were, to apply a flat rate to everyone, and to improve the scheme and assume responsibility for need. We rejected the first because we were satisfied that even in war-time we should do something for the pensioner. We rejected the flat rate because we thought it not adequate or elastic enough. We accepted the third course and have brought it forward in this Bill; which will be a proof of the strength and courage of our democracy.
Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Sir Charles Edwards.]
Debate to be resumed To-morrow.