§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)
I beg to move,That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1940, made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting in conjunction, under Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th May, be approved.In the presence of so many experts and veterans in this complicated subject, I feel inclined to ask the House for that indulgence which it is accustomed to extend in the case of maiden speeches. I cannot pretend to be as well versed in the complications of the subject as are many other Members of this House; but if there should be questions of detail the answers to which I could not keep in my head, and of which I should require notice, there is here my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose knowledge of the facts of this problem is encyclopaedic; and I hope that he and I between us can satisfy the House as to the merits of our proposals. [An Hon. Member: "What about your Parliamentary Secretary?"] I referred to my right hon. Friend because he is going to wind up, but I have cause to be thankful for the great knowledge and wisdom of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.
I believe that there will be agreement in the House as to the fairness of the Regulations that we are submitting for approval. It is some considerable time since hon. and right hon. Members in many parts of the House felt that there was need in certain circumstances for improving the rates of pensions for the aged and for widows. The late Government presented legislation to effect this, and the Debates on that Bill in this House continued many days. The subject was very thoroughly discussed, and at the end the Bill was approved by this House. It reached the Statute Book, and now the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, is the law of the land. Under the Act it is the duty of the Assistance Board to pay supplementary pensions to persons, other than blind persons, who are in receipt of old age pensions, and to those in receipt of widows' pensions who have attained the age of 60, if they prove their need for 860 such supplementary pensions. The two questions of whether the individual is qualified for a supplementary pension and what the amount of that supplementary pension should be, are to be determined according to Regulations made jointly by the Secretary for Scotland and the Minister of Health. To-day we are presenting draft Regulations to the House. They cannot become effective without an affirmative resolution by each House of Parliament. I move that this House gives them its approval.
In the first place, I should like to make clear a matter on which I think there has been some confusion. I was questioned about it in the House some 10 days ago. The Act and the procedure under these Regulations apply to all old age pensioners seeking supplementary pensions, whether they come under the contributory scheme or the non-contributory scheme. There has been some doubt as to whether pensioners over the age of 70, coming under the non-contributory scheme, will pass at the beginning of August under the procedure laid down in the Act regarding supplementary pensions. The answer is that they will.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Does that mean that the granting of the original 10s. now becomes a matter for the Assistance Board, or will it remain a matter for the Excise?
§ Mr. MacDonald
When applying for the original old age pension, the applicant will still go to the existing authorities and have to pass the existing tests. When the applicant has received his pension, if he wishes to apply for a supplementary pension, he must go through a different procedure, with different authorities, and pass different tests. These Regulations with regard to supplementary pensions apply equally to pensioners in both the non-contributory and the contributory schemes. What about the Regulations themselves? What are their provisions? The general Regulations are in the main the cover for two Schedules, in which are set out in considerable detail the directions which the Board must follow in determining the rates of supplementary pensions. The first Schedule is an attempt to estimate, on a more or less standardised basis, what would be the needs of pensioners and their dependants if there were no pension and no other resources to contribute towards their sup- 861 port. Having got that general standard of scales, it will be the duty of the Board to subtract from the figures, first of all, the amount of the pension which is already being paid, and, secondly, such part of other resources as it is proper to set off against the needs of the applicant. The second Schedule deals with the question of the deductions on account of other resources.
§ Mr. MacDonald
They are printed in the Regulations which are before us, and they are to be obtained at the Vote Office. Perhaps I can help the hon. Member if I examine a little more closely these two Schedules. With regard to the first Schedule, let me take one or two typical examples. The very first paragraph of the Schedule deals with the case which will be one of the most important that the Board has to deal with. It relates to the single pensioner living alone, either as a householder, a lodger or a boarder. The figure for such an individual is set down at 19s. 6d. a week. The provisions where a household is involved are, of course, not quite so simple.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
With regard to the first case, the right hon. Gentleman said that this person might be a boarder. If the old age pensioner is boarding with a son or a daughter, will he be treated in the same way as if he were boarding with a stranger?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I was referring to an old age pensioner living alone. In the case to which the hon. Member refers the pensioner will be regarded as being a member of a household.
§ Mr. Stephen
He might be living alone in a room in the household of a son or a daughter, and pay rent for the room.
§ Mr. MacDonald
If it is a border-line case it will naturally call for consideration by the appropriate authorities. Generally speaking, if he is clearly living alone, then, what I have already said applies to him, but if he is living in a household with a son or a daughter or both, then he will come under the provision that will apply to a pensioned member of a household. Again, if I may take a typical case with which the Board will 862 have to deal to illustrate the First Schedule, I would refer to the case of the married couple. Generally speaking, both the husband and the wife will be pensioners—I understand the majority of cases are likely to be cases in which both partners are receiving a pension—and,in their case, the figures in the First Schedule work out at 32s. a week. In the other cases, where sonly one of the married couple is a pensioner, the figure works out at 31s. per week.
There is a point with regard to these figures in the First Schedule which I would like to explain to the House. It is explained in the correspondence which is printed in the explanatory document, but I think I must emphasise the point at the beginning of this discussion. These figures of 19s. 6d., 31s. and 32s. to which I have referred are not the figures which appeared in the original draft of the Regulations presented by the Board to Ministers. In the original draft the figures were 19s., 30s. and 31s., respectively. These were the figures inserted by the Board after considering what, in their view, should be the appropriate relationship between the figures under these Regulations and the figures in the Unemployment Assistance Regulations. When the proposals were brought before Ministers they took note of the facts that the figures which are in the Unemployment Assistance Regulations were fixed last December, and that since that time there has been a certain rise in the cost of living up to to-day. Moreover, these Regulations regarding the aged and widows are not going to operate tomorrow. They do not come into operation until two months hence, at the beginning of August, and, as we know, the tendency is still for prices to rise. In view of the change which has taken place since last December and the change which may take place in the course of the next two months, Ministers felt that it would be appropriate to make certain additions to the figures which had been set down in the original draft of the Assistance Board. Those alterations have been accepted by the Board, and that is the explanation of the change which has been made.
There is another point in connection with these figures, which, again, I should like to emphasise at the beginning of this discussion. All the figures mentioned in the First Schedule are figures for the non-winter months. They are for what are 863 loosely called, in this country which has a strange climate, the summer months. There is provision in the Regulations by which the Board can increase supplementary pensions during the winter months in cases where the need for additional assistance during that rigorous time is proved. It is true that there is no definition in the Regulations of what constitutes the winter months, but I think we can accept the practice of the Board in its administration of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations as showing in what way they will administer their discretion in this matter. The fact is that the winter months under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations are usually taken to last for 22 weeks, and therefore these increased payments are paid for a very considerable period of the year. In the second place, hon. Members will be familiar with the fact that, in the case of Unemployment Assistance, the Board is accustomed to make these increases very generally. It is the exception that these increases should not be made under the Board's administration, and therefore I think we are fully justified in assuming that, in the case of supplementary pensions also these increased payments will be made very generally, and the increases will last for something like 22 weeks. That is not the practice to-day under the administration of the great majority of the public assistance authorities. Certainly there are cases where increased payments are made during the winter months, but those are a minority of cases, and this in fact is one of the features of the draft Regulations, under which an improvement on the existing practice will begin to operate when these Regulations come into effect.
I come to the Second Schedule which deals with the question of resources. Its details are set out fairly fully in the Schedule. They are really self-explanatory, especially to Members who are familiar with this subject, but perhaps I shall be forgiven if I summarise very briefly some of the main features of the Second Schedule. In the first place there are certain parts of certain resources which by statute have to be disregarded by the Board in its administration of this business. Let me recite those resources which must by statute be disregarded. They are the first 5s. a week of any sick pay from a friendly society, the first 7s. 6d. a 864 week of benefit under the National Health Insurance Acts, the first £1 a week of any wounds or disability pension, one-half of any weekly payment of workmen's compensation, the first 7s. 6d. a week of any superannuation payment, and the first 7s. 6d. a week of any sickness payment under Part I of the Act of 1940.
I now come to the treatment of earnings, and again will sketch briefly, the main features with regard to earnings of pensioners and of non-pensioner relatives who may be members of the household in which a pensioner lives—
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
Would the item (5, d)—The first seven shillings and sixpence a week of any superannuation payment in respect of previous service or employment"—cover those many benevolent and charitable societies, who by means of voluntary subscription obtain funds and pay pensions, for example, to unmarried women, such as the Unmarried Women's Benevolent Society, and the Tradesmen's Benevolent Institution and so on? Would they be permitted to rank?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I think that each one would have to be looked into on its merits but I understand that probably the majority of them would have to be counted in. I am giving a very general indication. The Government stand by the assurance my right hon. Friend gave, and I think, as I have indicated, that certainly the great majority at any rate of these cases would be covered by this provision. With regard to earnings, first of all the earnings of the pensioner himself up to 5s. a week will be disregarded. If he is earning more than 5s. a week, then not the whole of the sum above 5s. will be disregarded, but nevertheless as his wages increase he will continue to benefit up to a maximum of 8s. a week, and that same rule with regard to the earnings of the pensioner will apply to the earnings of his wife, whether she is a pensioner or not.
§ Mr. MacDonald
To each of them as an individual. Each case will be treated separately, and the same rule applies to the earnings of each one. Then, with regard to the earnings of the pensioner's son or daughter or other members of the family, the same rules will apply 865 under these Regulations as are applied under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Would it not shorten the discussion considerably if the right hon. Gentleman could give us some indication as to what the word "household" really means under these Regulations?
§ Mr. MacDonald
It is the same as in the case of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations. There is no difference in what is regarded as a household under these Regulations and what is regarded as a household under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations, and in regard to the earnings of members of those households, other than the pensioner or his wife, the same provisions will apply.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that these Regulations, for the purposes of considering a household, are the same as the Unemployment Assistance Regulations?
§ Mr. MacDonald
I understand that a household is the same in the case of the administration of these Regulations as in the case of the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations.
§ Mr. Buchanan
But the right hon. Gentleman used one phrase that is entirely different. I think he talked of "other members of the family." That is not common in Unemployment Assistance Regulations at all.
§ Mr. Buchanan
As I understood it, under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations a son who gets married but still remains in the house, or a daughter who gets married, is at present treated when married as a different person after marriage than before. As I take it, now they are to be treated as all in the one household, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to say whether a person married and taking a room from the father or mother will be treated differently.
§ Mr. MacDonald
A phrase may have slipped out of my lips which was not accurate. If I did say "others of the family," I should have said "others of the household," and in this case the 866 household is the same as in the case of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations. I am grateful to the hon. Member for correcting me and getting that matter absolutely clear.
With regard to the treatment of savings, and first of all the savings of the pensioner himself or of his wife, capital owned by the pensioner or his wife up to £50 will be disregarded; capital amounting to £50 but to less than £300 is to be treated as equivalent to an income of 1s. a week for the first complete £50, and an additional 1s. a week for every £25 on top of that. That is to say, if the capital is £50, that will be treated as the equivalent of 1s. a week; if it is £75, it will be treated as the equivalent of 2s. a week; if it is £100, it will be treated as the equivalent of 3s. a week, and so on up to £300. As regards the capital owned by other members of the household, the provisions under these Regulations will again be the same as the provisions under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations, and the capital value of any interest in the house in which the household resides is to be disregarded. So much for a brief sketch of some of the main features of these schedules under the Regulations.
I should like to turn to another question which has played a considerable part in the discussion of this subject, and that is a comparison between the treatment which will be given to pensioners under these Regulations when they come into effect and the treatment which those people are receiving at present under the régime of the public assistance authorities. The House will remember that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) presided, with his wide experience and his broad sympathies, over these affairs in the Ministry of Health, he gave a pledge to the House. I am going to carry out my right hon. Friend's pledge.
§ Mr. MacDonald
I shall deserve to be if I break the pledge given by my right hon. Friend, who said:The Board will now draw up new regulations suitable for the new persons coming within its care, should such regulations prove necessary, in order to bring its practice into conformity with the practice of good local authorities."—[Official Report, 20th February, 1940; col. 1206, Vol. 357.]867 That pledge will be kept under these Regulations. In the first place, let me remind the House that there is a provision in the Act itself under which, generally speaking, people who are in receipt of payments from public assistance authorities to-day will continue to get those payments in their own person under the new Regulations; that is, of course, unless the circumstances of the individual concerned change, and again I must emphasise that that is not an absolute and invariable rule. There may be certain exceptional cases in which some reduction would be justified, but I repeat again another pledge which my right hon. Friend gave, by which the Government stand and which we intend to carry out in these Regulations, and it is this:I would say that in general it is our intention that the present determinations should be carried on. I cannot, of course, give an absolute pledge, that it will be so in all cases."—[Official Report, 4th March, 1940; col. 58, Vol. 358.]
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
When the right hon. Gentleman talks of exceptional cases and so on, it seems to me that he is running away from the pledges given by his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly define a little better what he means by special cases? In the first place, what does he mean by payment by the local authorities, many of whom now pay a certain sum and something else, like coals, in kind? Would that payment in coals be accounted as the equivalent of a payment in cash?
§ Mr. MacDonald
With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), I can assure him that there is no intention of making what we would regard as the exceptional case into the general case. We certainly intend that in the vast majority of cases, if not in all of them, the payments should continue as at present to persons who are getting relief from public assistance authorities. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), about payments in kind, there will be no payments in kind under these Regulations.
§ Mr. Buchanan
That is not the point. You say that substantially you are going to pay the same as the local authorities pay, but the practice in many cases is to 868 pay so much in cash and then to add, say, coals or rent or boots, which they supply in kind. Is a payment in kind to be taken as the equivalent of payment in cash.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Generally speaking, the answer is that the equivalent of these payments in kind will be paid in cash, but there again I cannot give an absolute pledge that it will be so in every case. In the vast majority of cases, however, it is the intention that payments now being made in kind shall have their equivalents in cash under the new Regulations. In addition to that, apart from the fact that people who are in receipt of these pensions to-day will, generally speaking, have no reduction made in their payments unless their circumstances change, a great many people who are now receiving relief from the public assistance authorities will have actual increases in their supplementary pensions from the Board. The Board have been conducting a very detailed investigation into this matter through the public assistance authorities, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing the Board's and our thanks to the officers of the public assistance authorities, who have been extremely helpful in giving us the information which we wanted in order to test our proposals and to see that they were in conformity with the promises made by my right hon. Friend.
Again, in order to illustrate the effect of these Regulations from that point of view, let me take two typical, representative cases. Let me take, first of all, the case of the single person who is living alone and who is paying a rent of 5s. a week. During the summer—and I emphasise that again, because he is likely to get more during the winter—he will get a supplementary pension from the Board of 9s. 6d. on top of his pension of 10s. There are 200 public assistance authorities in England, Wales and Scotland, and of those200 authorities, 174 have scales less generous than what we propose in these Regulations; two others have scales which are the same as our proposals, and there are only 24 authorities whose scales are more generous. Then let me take another case, that of the married couple, both of whom are in receipt of a pension and who are paying a rent of 6s. a week. Under 869 these Regulations they will, during the summer, receive jointly a supplementary pension of 12s a week. Again, if we compare that with the scales of the 200 public assistance authorities in the country, we find that 187 of them have a scale less generous than we now propose, five others have scales which are the same as ours, and there are only eight whose scales are more generous than those provided for in these Regulations.
§ Mr. Stephen
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us the number of pensioners covered by the eight authorities whose scales are in excess of those proposed under the Regulations, the five that are practically the same, and the 187 that are below the new scales? Can he give the number of pensioners in each of those groups?
§ Mr. MacDonald
The 24 authorities whose scales with regard to single pensioners are more generous than those proposed under the Regulations are responsible for something under 20 per cent. of the pensioners at present in receipt of relief. The eight authorities whose scales are more generous than ours for a married couple, both of whom are pensioners, are responsible for about 12½ per cent. of the pensioners at present in receipt of relief. I would emphasise that comparison is with the scales of these authorities because it is general knowledge that in the case of local authorities their actual payment very often does not in actual practice, come up to their scales. In making this statement I have erred rather on the side of being favourable to the local authorities and unfavourable to what will be the practice under the Board—
§ Mr. MacDonald
As I understand it the pledge given was that actual payment would be made. It is a pledge covering the actual payments received by individuals.
§ Mr. MacDonald
If injustice has been done that injustice will be corrected under these Regulations. The pledge was not that people in receipt of payments should receive exactly what they are getting to-day. It was that in the vast majority of cases there should be no reduction. There is ample provision for increases if they are justified by the facts of the case or the household. It might be said in regard to the question of comparison—and it might be that hon. Members are suspicious even of this Government—that I selected the two cases, the case of the single pensioner and the case of the married couple, both of whom are pensioners, deliberately, to show up these Regulations in a favourable light as against the practice of the local authority. It might be urged that if I took a rent lower than 5s. or 6s., or a case where the rent was higher than those figures, that the Regulations would become less favourable. Again, it might be urged that if I took the case where there were other resources coming into the household comparison would become more unfavourable. I can only say that I am advised by those most experienced in these matters, by those concerned with the Board and the Department, and by people most entitled to give a Minister guidance on the question, that if these factors enter, far from a comparison becoming less favourable to the Regulations, the tendency would generally be for comparison to become more favourable when the treatment these people receive under the Regulations is compared with the treatment they are getting from the public assistance authorities to-day.
If these Regulations are passed by Parliament we propose that application forms with an explanatory memorandum should be available at post offices from the beginning of next week. It is intended that we should abide by the intention of Parliament so that the whole machinery prepared for payments will commence to operate in the first week of August.
By these Regulations there is no doubt whatever that large numbers of pensioners will gain advantage. For example, there are to-day some 275,000 old age pensioners who are receiving relief from public assistance authorities. Very large numbers of those will get, under these Regulations, higher rates than they are getting to-day. In addition to those 871 people we estimate that there will be scores of thousands of pensioners who are getting no relief who will apply to the Board, prove their case and qualify for supplementary pension, so receiving a better income under these Regulations than they are getting to-day. Altogether I think there may be some hundreds of thousands of old age pensioners who in the course of the next period ahead will gain by the passage of these Regulations—
§ Mr. Stephen
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there has been any alteration in the scales as the result of the change of Government?
§ Mr. MacDonald
The whole matter was actually under consideration at the time the Government was changed. A final decision had not been taken although certain tentative decisions had been reached. I think it is quite fair to tell the House that as a result of the examination of the tentative conclusions there is some alteration in the scales proposed.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Under these Regulations large numbers of pensioners will gain, and as that is the result which people in every part of the House desire to see achieved, I therefore commend them to the House for their approval.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I am sure the House would like me to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his exposition of a very difficult subject on this, the first occasion on which he has face the House in Debate in his present position. I think those who know the subject would like me to sympathise with him, too, on the fact that fate has decided that this should be the first main subject with which he has had to dealsince he took his present office. In the circumstances I think the House will agree that the right hon. Gentleman has acquitted himself very well indeed. Some of us who have studied this subject would feel very doubtful whether we could give a 872 first-class exposition of these Regulations, because they are so complicated. The principles of the Measure are, broadly, those which have been practised under the Unemployment Assistance Board, and if the Minister has to walk carefully on a matter like this, and Members are not always too sure about it, how can old people be sure that they will receive the benefits to which they are entitled? I can imagine an officer walking into a house and telling old people what the Schedule says simply by reading it to them.
That comes, of course, of the means test being applied; and before I leave this matter I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman who will reply whether, in view of the complications of this subject, the difficulty of old people understanding what they are entitled to and how calculations are to be made, the Minister will agree to a representative of the person seeking benefit appearing before advisory committees and appeal committees in order to help out these old people? Everybody knows that as the result of the complicated calculations necessary under the Unemployment Assistance Board applicants had to get help from somewhere. Estimating what a person is entitled to is becoming quite a skilled job. These Regulations are, of course, a further stage of the Bill which was dealt with by this House and which was produced largely as the result of efforts put forward by Members who probed this question and stimulated the Government. The House of Commons is not the only place where parties can make themselves heard; individual Members and groups of Members can make their presence felt and I think it was groups of Members of this House who compelled the Government to take action—
§ Mr. Lawson
There were exceptions, I am bound to admit, but, generally speaking, that was the case. I think it is necessary to emphasise that we on this side made a request, justly, we think, that all old age pensioners should have an increased benefit. We never anticipated that the means test would be applied to this subject and we will make our protests during this Debate. We feel very strongly that it is a principle which is socially wrong. If it is not wrong, if 873 it is a right principle, why has it not been applied to all the well-to-do people and organisations who have received benefits from the State? Why is it that certain persons representing certain industries can get benefits, not of a few shillings but of hundreds and sometimes of thousands of pounds, without any investigation as to their income? If it is right in these cases then it should be applied all round to every section of society. If I had time I could prove that it is socially wrong and does evil, but we have to deal with the Regulations as they are. In my view the Memorandum is really more important than the Regulations, because it implements the promise of the ex-Minister of Health that the standard of payment of allowances would be that of the best authorities in the country.
§ Mr. Lawson
I think it is worth while examining the phrase "good authorities." Good authorities are supposed to be those with the best standards. The late right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and other hon. Members when they began to make themselves "good authorities" in public assistance were chased, hounded and in some cases sent to prison. When I came here, and for many years afterwards, the word "Poplarism" was supposed to be the last word in effective insult. Now, the right hon. Gentleman accepts Poplarism as a good standard. It shows at any rate that the good old Toryism of this country has had a shock and that the work of the forces of Labour has not been in vain.
§ Mr. Lawson
The good authority is to be the standard. I think we should have the position made clear. Do we understand that people who have been getting relief in what are called the "good" areas are to continue to receive that standard of relief as a supplementary pension; that there will be no alteration and no worsening? It is very important that there should be no vagueness about the matter. There are, of course, a certain number of authorities, small in number, who are above that standard. I have in mind an authority which pays 35s. a week as compared with 32s. which is the standard where there are two old age 874 pensioners who have no other means of livelihood. If two old age pensioners now get 35s. a week and their circumstances remain the same, will they continue to get the 35s. inclusive of the supplementary pension? I want a very definite answer on that point. The Memorandum, I think, makes it clear that there is to be no worsening in their particular case.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ernest Brown)
If the hon. Member will look at Section 13 of the Act he will see that the point is covered.
§ Mr. Lawson
Yes, but do I understand that if they have 35s. pension, including relief, they will continue to get that if conditions remain the same?
§ Mr. M. MacDonald
I think the House is entitled to a perfectly clear answer. The answer is, yes, save in the absolutely exceptional case. I was asked for an illustration of what I meant by the exceptional case and I gave it, because it is important that we should not have the pledge stretched to cover the exceptional case. I do not say that the case exists, but there may be instances of a couple who, under these Regulations, will be entitled to 32s. a week and who are now under an authority where they are receiving 35s. These people will continue to get their 35s. unless it is discovered on investigation that they have resources of which the authority had been ignorant, which meant that their case had not been properly represented to the authority. That is the kind of case I had in mind when I said that there might be exceptional cases, but apart from that the standard will continue the same.
§ Mr. Lawson
Then there is a point about persons who come into the area. Will they be on the general standard which is allowed in the area? If not, you will have two standards in the same area. It is clear that persons who come on to supplementary pension afterwards and who are in exactly the same position as people who have been getting 35s. a week, will not get that sum, so that you will have two standards in the same area. That is the logic of this means test method and shows how contradictory and unfair it is when applied. Then there is the point about rural standards as distinct from urban standards. There is to be a different standard in the rural areas, a 875 standard approximating to the rate of wages which rule in the area. Are the Government quite sure that that is in line with their present policy? I understand the present policy of the Government is to bring rural wages and standards into line with industrial standards. I also understand that the Minister of Health is about to lay down that there is to be a standard of about 14s. a week; but the general policy of the Government is to approximate rural standards to urban standards in order to keep the agricultural worker on the land instead of drifting away as at present.
Is it right or wise to have two standards for pensions, or for anything else, if in your general policy you are trying to get a uniform standard of wages throughout the country? We say it is wrong, and in any case it is certain that old people in rural areas will have to live just as old people in urban areas. Then I should like to ask how often investigation is to take place? I see it is not to take place unless there is a variation of 5s. Do we understand that, generally speaking, when the amount is settled it is going to continue, or are people to be continually badgered by investigations? Are you going to have some method of giving them notice in case there has been a change in the income of the family? What is the intention of the Government on this matter?
We on these benches feel that it is a mistake to have taken the course of applying the means test to these old and very deserving workers. For instance, if an old age pensioner happens to be living with his daughter and son-in-law, the wage of the son-in-law will be taken into consideration, and in those circumstances, it is almost certain that the old age pensioner will get nothing extra. These Regulations have been given a great deal of advertisement, and there has been a tendency to persuade the great mass of old people that almost everybody will get a supplementary pension. There will be a great deal of disappointment to many of these people. In the case of an old age pensioner who is living with his daughter and son-in-law, the son-in-law's income will be taken into consideration merely because they are living in the same house; but if the son-in-law and daughter were living in another house, there would be no doubt that that old person would get a 876 supplementary pension. That is a wrong principle socially.
It will also be found that there are aged people living alone who need proper consideration, and for whom, I understand, some special arrangement is being made. Consideration will be given to special circumstances and needs of an exceptional kind. In the case of old people living alone, who cannot have a daughter or son with them and who cannot have any help, will the special circumstances or needs of an exceptional character be defined in such a way as will enable those old people to get help from outside or to get special attention? As I said when the matter was being discussed on a former occasion, I do not believe in welfare organisations that send very kindly busybodies to deal with these old people. I do not believe in handing out things; that is not a method that is popular in my part of the country. These old people to whom I am referring are in special conditions in which they cannot get any help. In my county there are houses where the local authorities will not allow sons or daughters to live with the old people. If they did allow it, beautiful old houses might soon become overcrowded slums. But very often these old people need help. Will the special circumstances or needs of an exceptional character referred to in the Regulations cover such cases?
In conclusion, I want to emphasise that hon. Members on this side have always been against the means test, and we shall continue to be against it. We claim the right to deal with this matter in the future if ever circumstances are such that we are in a majority. We have put our case and we will exercise our right in the future. We voted on this matter when the Bill was before the House. These Regulations result from that Bill. We are not blind to the fact that since the Bill was passed, grave and serious changes have taken place in the world. Not only have whole countries been overrun, but we ourselves stand in some little danger. It is for that reason that we have given our support to the Government of the day and it is for that reason, and for the reason that we have exercised our right in the past and will do so in the future, to deal with the means test, that we do not intend to vote against the Regulations; but we ask the Govern- 877 ment to deal with the very real points which I have put and which my hon. Friends will put before the Debate is finished.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) concerning the ability and tact with which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has explained these Regulations to the House. I am not sure that I agreed with the hon. Member when he went onto commiserate with the Minister on having to undertake this task this afternoon. On the surface there did not appear to me to be any reason for commiseration. Quite apart from this, I think the Minister and the House are engaged on a very remarkable piece of work this afternoon in war time and in the midst of the events that are taking place at the present time. It is an immensely creditable thing that democracy, and democracy in its hour of trial, should still give its time, and find some of its resources for looking after the interests of the old people. I hope the Ministry of Information will not lose sight of the fact that, at a time when inhumanity is raging all over the world, and when human life is being treated as of little consequence, in this democracy at all events we are still able to keep the humanities to the front and try in our hour of need to do something to help the aged people who most need help.
During the Second Reading Debate on the Bill from which these Regulations have come, I ventured to define the need of the situation as being that of bringing the greatest possible amount of help to those whose need was greatest at the earliest possible moment. I think that was accepted by the House as being a definition of its purpose. In the Regulations which the Minister has asked the House to support—and which we will support—I cannot find anything which can prevent that purpose from being carried out. One important point on which there was doubt has been cleared up this afternoon. I understand that nobody will, as a result of the Regulations, get less than he or she is receiving at the present time. I do not think that any doubt remains in anybody's mind on that point.
878 I do not propose this afternoon to repeat the criticisms, or at all events to do so at any length, which have been made on past occasions. It is true that we have a fundamental objection to handing over the care, interests and welfare of the old people—the 275,000 of whom we know at present, and the possible 200,000 who may come but who have not yet made any appeals to public assistance—to a body which is not wholly responsible to Parliament and for which the Minister himself has only partial responsibility, and for the daily business of which he is not responsible. That is a fundamental objection. I am not sure that, in speaking on the Regulations, I am strictly in order in referring to this, but I follow the example of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street by mentioning it in passing.
The fact that we are adding another means test to the long and ever-growing list of means tests which we have is an example of the state which the social services have reached after a long period of development without there being any co-ordinated authority to survey them as a whole. I pointed out on a former occasion that it is now possible in a household to have no less than five separate, meticulous, persistent, and harassing means tests in operation. Any old age pensioner of the age of 70 will have to experience two, and, according to the nature of the household, there may possibly be five means tests. The position needs only to be stated to show what an urgent need there is for a review and reorganisation of all these matters so that they may be reduced to some logical order, in the interests of those who benefit from them, and in the interests of the public purse and sound administration.
I hope there will be no uncertainty with regard to the definition of the household. I am not quite clear that we are certain in our minds on that point. It is a matter of great importance, and I can tell the Minister that it is in this connection that there will be great heartburning in many households. Many questions will arise as to the person on whom the responsibility is to fall. Generally, it is upon the oldest daughter in the household that the charge and responsibility fall. There is infinite scope for unhappiness in the household when these responsibilities have to be called into question and 879 decided. Those who have had experience of the means test in other directions are fully aware of the lamentable consequences that arise in this way.
There is another point of administration to which I want to refer. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street about the desirability of having a representative to appear before any advisory committee or appeal committee to which formal representations may have to be made. That is not merely a desirable thing; it is an absolutely essential thing. When it is a question of dealing with people of 60, 65 or 70 years of age, it is often physically impossible for them to attend at these places. Moreover, it is not only a question of physical impossibility. They will be called upon to consider, to express themselves about, and to make representations on matters which, at that time of life, when their minds are set, will present the greatest difficulty and hardship.
There is great importance in drawing a distinction between the work of the Unemployment Assistance Boardin its relation to the unemployed and its work in relation to the old age pensioners. In the original Act, the Unemployment Assistance Board is charged with promoting the welfare of its clients but unless my memory deceives me, the Act of March last, under which we are working this afternoon, does not contain those words. It is far more important in the case of the old people, that the Board should be charged with promoting their welfare, for the reasons which I have just given. Because these people are aged they may be unable to come to the offices of the Board and it is essential that there should be some body definitely charged with looking after their interests. Here I come to a very definite criticism which is inherent in this scheme, namely, that the Unemployment Assistance Board is charged with looking after the welfare of unemployed persons except as regards medical needs. But when a person reaches 65, it is extraordinarily difficult to draw any distinction between ordinary daily needs in many cases and medical needs. In the majority of cases it is impossible to draw any such distinction and that is why, during the passage of the Bill, we felt obliged to offer certain 880 criticisms. Those criticisms were not answered and cannot be answered because, as I say, they are inherent in the scheme itself.
I agree, however, that this represents a step forward. A number of people, of the order of 500,000, may derive additional benefit from these proposals and we are very glad indeed that, at such a time as this, it should be possible to bring into operation a Measure of this kind. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said that great hopes had been aroused by the passage of the Act and by these Regulations. I trust there will be no attempt to administer the Regulations according to the strict letter of the law. It is necessary when dealing with aged people to exercise every possible sympathy. I have no reason to think that, in the administration of these Regulations, there will not be sympathy and courtesy and an absence of intrusion on the part of those who are doing the work, but it is essential that that should be so. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street asked how often these arrangements were to be reviewed. I hope it will not be necessary to carry out monthly visitations. I hope that it will not be found necessary for instance to send visitors on motor-bicycles or in motor cars, from Bristol down to Penzance just in order to inquire whether a couple of old age pensioners have or have not had some little windfall which would enable a modification to be made in their weekly allowance. I hope that the rigid machine of the Board will not have to operate according to any strict interpretation of the law.
We are, as I said in an earlier Debate, making a great change in social practice in this country. We are withdrawing from the local authorities and from local care—and I am expressing no opinion as to what has been done under that local care—a great health and welfare service and centralising it. It is characteristic of the method under which our social services have operated in recent years that we should do that. The Ministry of Labour in 1934 when confronted with a certain problem, invented the Unemployment Assistance Board. I think their motto at that time was, "Run, rabbit, run" but at all events, having this problem to face, the Ministry handed it over to the Unemployment Assistance Board. Now, in a time of emergency, we are called upon to deal with the problem of 881 the aged. The question arises: Who can look after the administration of this matter? The Ministry say, "The Unemployment Assistance Board," which is a sort of "no-man's-land" into which anybody can be jettisoned who does not happen to fit in with the machinery of any particular Department. These are matters which have been discussed at some length on other occasions and I think the country is now fully seized of them. The great value of the Measure which we passed in March was that it showed the urgent need of a re-organisation of our social services on a logical basis and of seeing that some authority or some body is constantly charged with watching over the operations of these services, as a whole, in relation to the numbers of our population who still need help and care.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
We are now dealing with a matter which has already been the subject of searching inquiry but there are certain points in connection with these Regulations which, I think, call for further examination. The first Schedule attached to the Regulations contains certain allowance rates. It provides in certain cases that a male person aged 21 years or over shall receive 10s. a week, and a female aged 21 years or over 9s. a week and so on, through various age groups. Does the Minister think that these rates are sufficient in present circumstances? Does anybody expect that a male person over 21 can live on 10s. a week or a female over 21 on 9s. a week or that a growing boy can be maintained at the rate which is set out here? These are points which might be examined in the light of practical experience, to see whether these rates should not be increased.
In regard to the general structure of the scheme, may I put this point to the Minister? There is a very active old age pensioners' organisation in existence which looks after the interests of these old people very diligently. When an officer is sent from the Department to inquire into household means and to verify an application, would there be any objection to the attendance of a representative of the old age pensioners' society at the interview, in order to assist the old person in stating his or her case? It would be a help to the officer as well as to the 882 applicant to have such a representative present. It can well be imagined that an official, however kind he may be, is likely to cause a certain amount of consternation to the old people when this inquiry is being made and the applicants may get flurried and excited. If they had some person present to help them it would give them a little assurance, and, as I say, it would also help the officer to get the full facts of the case. Later on, if the case has to go before the advisory committee—I hope that there will not be many such cases—could not the applicant have the assistance of a representative of the society to which I refer?
§ Mr. Tinker
Certainly, anybody who could assist. I am thinking particularly of the old age pensioners' society in this connection. The next point which I desire to raise concerns workmen's compensation. The Regulations state that one-half of any weekly payment which is made by way of workmen's compensation shall be disregarded. I could cite many cases, particularly in the mining industry which is very subject to accidents, of men who have been injured and who are paid partial compensation. Assume that such a man is in receipt of 10s. a week as compensation. When he reaches the age of 65, if he is getting 10s. a week, 5s. of that will be disregarded under the Regulations. But it lies in the employer's power to commute, and if the matter goes to court and the judge thinks the amount reasonable, the commutation can take place whether the man desires it or not. Assume that a man is paid a lump sum of, say, £250. Under the Regulation relating to assets £25 of that amount will be disregarded, but if his compensation were being paid weekly, it would be treated as an income of 10s. a week, of which 5s. would be disregarded. I ask the Minister to consider whether that is fair or not. I think the matter ought to be examined in that light in order to see whether assets of that kind could not be treated in the same way as weekly compensation and an equivalent sum disregarded. I hope the Minister will take that important point into consideration in reviewing these matters, as he will doubtless have to do from time to time.
My next point is that these Regulations, like all other Regulations which come 883 before the House of Commons, cannot be made absolutely fool-proof and anomalies may arise. Would it not be possible, therefore, in six or 12 months' time, to have a review of the Regulations to see what anomalies have arisen and to put them right, as far as possible? The experience gained in that time would be of great help. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), who occupied the office of Minister of Health previously—and who did very well, if I may say so—tried to meet us during the final stages of the Bill in March last. He went out of his way to try to ensure that the Measure would work and he has our gratitude for having done so. He said he was prepared to give an assurance that there would be a review from time to time, if certain matters arose which seemed to call for review. I hope the present Minister will also consider that matter. The right hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that the House would accept these Regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) had not spoken then, and I dare say the Minister was wondering how we would receive these Regulations, knowing as he does how strongly we feel about the means test. We fought the means test as hard as it could be fought, but we have to admit that the principle has been accepted by the present House of Commons, and having made our fight against it, what we have to consider now is what is best in present circumstances for the people whom we represent.
If we, this afternoon, took this matter to a Vote and defeated these Regulations it would not mean the removal of the household means test. The Regulations would be sent back to be revised in some particulars, but the means test would not be abolished. In that interval, which may be months, before they came back to us, people would be suffering and waiting for what has been promised them. Therefore, we have to have regard to that point when we talk about fighting a principle which would cause a lot of hardship to our people. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there will be an addition to the 275,000. There will be scores of thousands who will have benefits under these new Regulations. In my opinion, there will be at least 400,000 people, addi- 884 tional to the 275,000, who will benefit. It would be wrong for Members of Parliament if, in their desire to throw their zeal into stopping the household means test, they now used a method which would delay the operations of these Regulations which would again come back to us at a later period. If that were done, it would prevent a number of people from deriving benefits which could immediately be given to them.
Among the most loyal subjects in this country are the old people. They realise that there is a crisis, and they are anxious to hamper the Government no more than is anyone else. I remember, not long ago, addressing a meeting of old age pensioners, and they looked to me to give them some kind of lead. I said that my view was that we should accept the Regulations and have the full value out of them. I told them that we should not harass the Government at this moment for a flat-rate advance. We should put our trust in the country that at the end of the war this action of the old people will be recognised, and when normal times come I do not believe any Government will stand in the way of recognising the rights of our aged people to live in comfort. The only test should be the right of the old people to live in comfort after they have contributed so much to the welfare of the country, and, when the time comes at the end of this war, I believe, the country will recognise that and improve their lot. Finally, when that time comes, I hope this House of Commons will take note of what is being done in New Zealand. If they can treat their aged people in that small country in the way they do, it is time, surely, that a country like ours should be able to do the same. I trust that when the time comes we shall recognise that, and that justice will be given to this deserving set of people.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I do not propose to address the House very long, because there are several of my hon. Friends who, I know, are anxious to speak in the Debate. When the Bill came before the House in March I ventured to make a number of observations about it, and I would like to say now that it is very clear that the Debate which occurred on that occasion has very markedly in- 885 fluenced the Regulations which have now been brought forward. Indeed, it is a tribute to the meticulous examination which the House gave to the details of the Bill on that occasion, that we are able to discuss this matter in its present clear form. There is no doubt that the technique of Regulations has improved in the last few years, and we have no reason to suppose that the right hon. Gentleman will suffer the same fate as that of a predecessor of his on one occasion. When the question was asked, what effect the reconstructed Government had had on the Regulations, it seemed to me that the answer was contained in the correspondence which passed between the Government and Lord Rushcliffe. I hope that my colleagues in the Government will not permit that "almost insult" to pass, for their co-operation has been assessed at 6d. a week. I hope the contribution to our ultimate victory will be more than that modest assessment.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Is it not a fact that a shilling increase has been brought about as a result of the change?
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not mind; then let us assess it at a shilling. However, I make that point in passing, and I hope they will continue their labours, and that we shall see in the Regulations before very long that their association will be more generously assessed. The right hon. Gentleman said that we were perhaps rather suspicious of the Government on matters of this kind. The reason is not merely because of our past experience, but because we know very well that the right hon. Gentleman has no responsibility for the way in which the Unemployment Assistance Board interprets statements given to this House. Unfortunately, the Board does not always implement the expressions given in this House, and the very essence of Regulations may be changed as a result of the way in which they are carried out by the officers of the Board. For years my most bitter complaint against the Board has been that the discretionary powers invested in the officers of the Board inevitably, in certain circumstances, have had the effect of taking away the powers of the House of Commons. When we lay down a scale, it might be for 5s. or 10s., as the case may be, and add a rider that these amounts may be varied upwards or downwards in accordance with the dis- 886 cretionary powers of the officers of the Board, the amount ceases to be 5s. or 10s., and becomes whatever the officers under the Unemployment Assistance Board think it ought to be. In point of fact these discretionary powers, which are given to prevent great hardship arising, have the effect very often of nullifying the intentions of Parliament and handing over to an irresponsible body the contents of the legislation we have passed.
The reports of the Assistance Board show that more than one-third, and an increasing proportion, of persons receiving assistance from the Board have either more or less than the scales laid down by Parliament. All Parliament lays down is a norm, but the departures from the norm are substantial. We have no control, and so this machinery which has been established is a machinery which, by its very administration, sucks away the legislative powers of Parliament, and hands them over to an irresponsible body. That is why we have been so opposed, on both practical and constitutional grounds, to the establishment of the Board from its very beginning. That is why, when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, those expressions, not of suspicion, but of incredulity, passed over our faces. I would like to point out how what I have been saying will have a practical bearing on what will happen in regard to these Regulations. The ex-Minister of Health gave a pledge to the House that no one would be worse off as a consequence of this legislation, and, I think, substantially the pledge is being implemented, so far as the Minister can implement it through the administration of a body which is out of the control of Parliament. Of course, although the standard will not be worse off, these Regulations are not implementing the scales of the best public authorities, because, where the scale of a local authority is higher than that which is laid down, the only people who will enjoy the difference are those who are now enjoying it.
The newcomers will be on a lower scale, and in the passage of time it will mean that all those areas will be on a lower standard than they are at present. Therefore, from the point of view of the best local authorities in the country, this is a retrogressive Measure. It is no good concealing that fact. The standards will be reduced in the course of time because of a higher mortality. There will be 887 fewer and fewer having higher scales, and the standard, therefore, will be reduced. Do not let us deceive ourselves into thinking that more is being done than appears on the surface. As a matter of fact it appears far better on the surface, compared with what actually will happen. Why could not the right hon. Gentleman have perpetuated those scales in these areas? They would always be standards for the rest of the country to hope to achieve. Surely, there will be a very bitter anomaly in the areas where one old age pensioner will be enjoying, say, 35s. a week, and his next-door old age pensioner who came in more recently will be receiving 32s. or 31s., as the case may be. Surely, it would have been possible to have removed this anomaly, and when we get through our present difficulties Parliament and the nation might then be able to revise all the scales upwards to reach the level of the highest scales in existence. Instead of that, we shall introduce this anomaly in some of the areas. The existing payment will be continued, except in special cases where resources will be disclosed that were previously hidden. Is that a final definition of a special case? Are we to assume that there are other special cases? We admit that if you are going to have a means test it is unfair that a man should be able to obtain more State money by telling a lie, than a man who tells the truth. It is easy to find all kinds of things that come under the Act which will enable an officer to reduce the amount of supplementary pensions.
There is another observation—and what I am saying are not rhetorical observations, because they deal with the essence of the practical work of the administration of the Board. There may be changed circumstances. Suppose an old age pensioner has enjoyed 35s. a week and an adjustment is made because of changed circumstances. The changed circumstances then disappear. Does the old age pensioner go back to the 35s. or to the scale under the Regulations? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give some assurance on that point because we can see what may happen. We fear that by the normal attrition of administration the pledge of the Minister will be eaten into. There is also the point which I made when I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman which I do not think he ought 888 to have dismissed so lightly. One of the defects of the 1929 Act was to take public assistance from smaller units of administration and give it to larger units. The county council areas are much larger than the Poor Law areas and inside those larger units an infinite variety of administrative practice can arise.
I do not want to say anything derogatory of a great body of public servants, but unfortunately many of the relieving officers who were carried over with the public assistance authorities had a Poor Law psychology and felt that it was their duty to give no more than the applicant asked for or would be satisfied with. It never occurred to them that the applicant for public assistance had a right, and when an applicant asked for assistance they always gave as little as he would go away with and less than they could have given under the scale. I served on a public assistance committee for many years, and I came across relieving officers who took a terrible pride in showing that they had saved 2s. 6d. a week by giving an applicant 2s. 6d. less than he ought to have had under the scale. If, when these new Regulations come into operation, it is found that in the same assistance area some old age pensioners are having the benefit of the local authority's scale and some are having less, surely the right hon. Gentleman should give the scale of the local authority and not perpetuate in his administration the errors and injustices of the administration of the Board. As the pledge has been given, the Minister should not eat into it in every conceivable fashion.
One amendment ought to have been made in the law. There are many cases of old age pensioners with a son or daughter living at home. It often happens that a daughter remains at home to look after her parents until she passes the marriageable age. A good many persons have suffered through filial piety in that way. If the son or daughter is earning £2 5s. a week, no supplementary pension is payable, because under Unemployment Assistance Regulations, 14s. 6d. of that amount will be available to the old people, and as that is more than 12s.,they will receive nothing. That is an anomaly, and the scale ought to be revised. Certain provisions have been made in these Regulations because of the increase in the cost of living since the Act was passed, and it is necessary in the 889 light of higher wages and the higher cost of living to revise that figure. Unless the Act is revised it will bear most hardly on those very people who are the worthiest citizens. Many of us think that the Regulations are due for considerable revision, and this is an instance in which the intention of Parliament will be thwarted and the burden placed upon a son or daughter. Try to visualise the domestic scene when that happens. The old people are being taught that the affection of their son or daughter is the direct means of depriving them of 12s.a week, while the son or daughter, in addition to long years of service given to the parents, has now the added pain of seeing that very affection and loyalty depriving the parents of money that other families are getting. The Regulations should now be amended in the light of experience and the legislation which we are now considering.
I want to add to what has been said my own plea that the present proposals should be regarded experimentally, that the Minister should obtain from the Board as early as possible an exhaustive report of how the new provisions are operating, and that Parliament should have an opportunity of looking at the reports earlier than would be possible by the publication of the Board's annual report. I hope, too, that the officers of the Board will be told as a general instruction that it is their duty, subject to the law, to maximise the payments they are authorised to make, and that it is not regarded as good conduct for an officer of the Board to send a pensioner away with less than he ought to get and to save a few pence at the expense of the heart-burnings of the poor.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
My reason for intervening is that I took some part from this side of the House in helping on the movement in favour of an increase in old age pensions, and I want to take this opportunity of expressing my satisfaction at the Regulations which have been introduced. As I am the first Member to speak from this side of the House, apart from the Minister, perhaps I may be allowed to join with hon. Members from the other side in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his appointment to an office which is not only important but very attractive. When I say that, it must 890 not be understood that I do not regret the departure of my right hon. Friend's predecessor, because as one who has had some experience in local government I was able to realise what a good Minister of Health he was. I am sure that my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister knows what a high standard he has had set him by his predecessor.
I cannot help feeling that hon. Members opposite have not been over-generous in their reception of these Regulations. The importance of the occasion is shown by the number of people who are likely to benefit by it. They number 275,000 persons in receipt of public assistance and a number estimated up to 400,000 of additional persons who will apply for supplementary pensions. When proposals of that kind are introduced in existing circumstances full recognition should be made of the important step the Government have taken. When the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) was speaking, he gave me the impression that he had forgotten that he was no longer in Opposition and that so many of his right hon. and hon. Friends are now members of the Government who are introducing these proposals. Therefore, forgetting that he was no longer in Opposition, he took up the part of critic of the Regulations.
§ Mr. Tinker
They were not members of the Government when the Act was passed and the means test was imposed. They are merely carrying on something in which they had no voice.
§ Mr. Lipson
I mean nothing of the sort. A good deal of the criticism this afternoon has not been of the Regulations but of the principles of the Act which were accepted on Second Reading. These Regulations are the proposals of the Government as a whole, for which, I assume, the Members who formerly sat on the other side of the House and are now in the Government accept full responsibility.
It is a merit of the Regulations that the critics have found so little in them to criticise and have had to find fault with the Act and make points that were raised on the Second Reading. A great deal 891 has been said about the means test, but that was accepted on the Second Reading of the Bill, and it is obvious that the Regulations could not have been on so generousa scale if there had not been some kind of means test. Unless it had been determined that the maximum amount of help should be given where it was most needed, we should not have had the generous proposals which are now before us. If there had been an all-round increase apart from means, the amount of money available for those who needed it would have been less. Therefore, a great deal of the criticism has been irrelevant. I find myself in cordial agreement with one suggestion which came from the other side. Everybody will agree that old age pensioners should get out of these Regulations all the assistance to which they are entitled. I hope the Minister will give sympathetic consideratian to the suggestion that pensioners should be given help in staking out their claims. Whether it should be the particular form of assistance suggested by hon. Members opposite or some other form does not matter very much, but it is important that they should have the opportunity of getting all that the Regulations entitle them to receive, and those who know old-age pensioners will know that in some cases, unless they get help from outside in staking out their claims, that will not be possible.
§ Mr. E. Smith
Is it not the case that during the passage of the Bill the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) gave an assurance on that point?
§ Mr. Lipson
I am not in a position to answer for my right hon. Friend, but I feel that it has been made perfectly clear that all the pledges which he gave are carried out by these Regulations. There was, for instance, the pledge that nobody should be worse off financially under these Regulations than he was under the existing system. Some hon. Members have made a great deal of the fact that the Government, in the Regulations, have not adopted the scale that exists in the best areas in regard to public assistance, but that pledge was never given. The Government never promised to adopt the topmost scale, and the fact that they have brought in a scale which is better than the existing scales of the overwhelming 892 majority of public assistance committees shows that on the whole they have been fair in framing their scale. I think my right hon. Friend did not overstate his case when he said that these Regulations were favourable to old age pensioners when compared with existing conditions, because he took into comparison the summer scales provided by the Regulations. Had he taken into account the winter scales, I think the percentage of public assistance committees which have better scales under existing conditions would have been reduced, and certainly the balance would be very much more in favour of the Government's proposal, because these winter scales are to apply to the country as a whole, to all old age pensioners, whereas only in certain areas do local authorities provide at present supplemental winter relief. That is an additional proof of the great advance which these scales make.
I do not think it is fair to complain that the Minister has introduced two standards because where the old age pensioners are receiving 35s. a week under existing conditions they will continue to get it, whereas new applicants in those areas will get only the 32s. provided for. What the Government are doing is to provide a new national improved scale. At the same time they have carried out their pledge that no individual shall be worse off, and to implement that pledge those couples who are now getting 35s. will continue to do so, and it is not fair to complain that that will not apply to new applicants. As for the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) that the scales in the very favourable areas should be stabilised, he is really asking the Government to set up two scales, one for certain areas which are apparently favoured, and another for the rest of the country.
§ Mr. Lipson
I am coming to that point. I think there is something to be said for a different scale for rural areas, because in the matter of rents and other expenses old age pensioners are better off in a rural area. In these Regulations I see realised one of the objects for which I entered Parliament, which was to try to improve the lot of old age pensioners, 893 and I want to express my thanks to the Government not only for having brought in this reform, but for having done it in spite of war conditions.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
As hon. Members know, I have been very much interested in this question. I introduced a Bill to give a flat-rate pension of £1 a week, and the agitation in the country has had my enthusiastic support. For a long time I have felt that the lot of the old people has been very hard indeed. I listened with great interest to the Minister, but I cannot say that I agree with the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) that here is a great measure of reform, and that there will be a great improvement in the lot of the old age pensioner. I think that is simply not true. The one thing that can be said in favour of these Regulations, and it is about the only thing, is that they are more generous than the Regulations which were contemplated by the previous Minister of Health. The present Minister of Health told me that he came in to take control of tentative arrangements, and that the present scales are an increase on the scales proposed tentatively by his predecessor; but I was a little surprised to hear that, because the previous Minister of Health and his Parliamentary Secretary led us to suppose, in the debates on the Bill, that there was to be more generous treatment of old age pensioners. When hon. Members put it to them that there was great fear that we should apply to the old people the means test as it was applied to the unemployed, the impression was created that in the case of these old people there would be much more generous treatment.
I look at these Regulations, but I cannot see any great improvement as compared with the Regulations which apply to the unemployed. The scales are much the same, and I think that in the main old age pensioners will be left in pretty much the same position as they were before the Act was passed. When the Minister was giving figures relating to the local authorities I asked him how many individuals were represented in the different groups, and he told me that in the case of single persons living alone about 20 per cent. were getting better terms from the public assistance com- 894 mittees than they would get under the new scales. Of course that position is met by the fact that they are not to be put into a worse position by the Regulations, but, still, that 20 per cent. will not be better off. I think there were also about 7½ per cent. whose position will be just about the same. That leaves some 72½ per cent. for whom there will be a slight improvement in conditions. I say "slight improvement" because the figures given did not indicate the difference between what is paid by the public assistance committees in those cases and the scales. There are the 275,000 people who have been receiving 10s. a week plus a supplement from the public assistance committees, and 72½ per cent. of them are, I think, going to receive a slight increase, 1s. or 2s. per week. In view of the increased cost of living, I am not in the least inclined to get excited about that extra 1s. or 2s. a week, because they will be in a worse position than they were a year ago if the cost of living is taken into account.
Then I am told that there are so many others, there might be another 275,000 souls, that will make application for supplementation of pension who would never go to the public assistance committees. The number is purely hypothetical; no one can give a reliable estimate of the number. I very much doubt whether there will be so many, because when they find themselves coming under the harrow of the means test I think they will not be disposed to make application. I think that in the way they apply the means test the Regulations are far too harsh. When the Bill was before us there was a good deal of discussion upon why members of the family who were staying with the old people and giving them their services should also be asked to make a financial contribution to their support, while other members of the family who had households of their own were asked to make no contribution. I think it right that those in households of their own should not be asked to make any contribution, and also that those who stay at home and give the old people their services should be on a similar footing and not asked to make a contribution.
I want the Ministers to look into the justice of this position and to ask themselves whether they are really content with the way in which the means test is 895 being applied and the incomes of members of families are taken into account, in reckoning the income of each house. I fear that many old people will be driven into renting a room from a member of the family, taking their food separately and keeping their own room and their own furniture, in order to have a household of their own and not to be a member of the househld. If that happens, I can visualise an official of an assistance authority coming into a house and finding an old person sitting down to tea with other members of the family, and saying: "You are not living at home; you are not taking your tea in your own room." A grave offence will then have been committed by the old age pensioner, and there will have to be a re-assessment of the pension. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary seems a bit sceptical on this point, but I am remembering the experience of the administration of non-contributory old age pensions. Any meal that was taken in the home with one of the members of the family was taken into account, in reducing the pension of the old age pensioner under the non-contributory scheme. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary was not aware of that, but a great deal of agitation took place about it.
These Regulations are far too limited in the way in which they take account of the incomes of other members of the house; they are not nearly generous enough. If they were dealing with a figure of something like £10 a week for each member of the family, it possibly could be taken into account, and I might not have got so annoyed about it, but here we are dealing with ordinary working-class people, who may have sons or daughters in the house, the son earning about £3 a week and the daughter 35s. In that case, the old age pensioner gets no supplement at all. These Regulations are a shameful evasion of the demands of the old age pensioners of this country, demands which are backed by the opinion of the majority of the people of the country, that they should be decently treated. The Regulations are ungenerous in the extreme, and I can see ever so much trouble developing. I can see families being broken up and old people heart-broken at the thought of being so great a burden on other members of the household, and deciding that they 896 have to get out and find places of their own, in order to obtain a supplementation of their pensions. In other cases, where the old age pensioners do not actually get out, they will be wondering whether they should do so. I hope that the suggestion of having an early review of the position created by the operation of these Regulations will be adopted by the Ministers. The whole thing seems to be wrong.
I want to make one point more. A certain amount of attention has been directed to the fact that people who have been getting better allowances from the public assistance committees will create a separate class, so that there will be two classes of old age pensioner in similar circumstances, getting different allowances. The one class happened to get a more generous allowance from the public assistance committees and the other class, being a bit younger, has come into the pensionable position only at a subsequent date. There are really more than two classes. There is also the fact that, if only one of an aged couple is an old age pensioner, the income is 31s. per week, whereas, if they are both old age pensioners, the income is 32s. Therefore, there is a third class. I wonder whether, merely because one person is not an old age pensioner, the appetite of that person is less than with a person who is an old age pensioner. Can he or she do with a shilling a week less spent on food or a shilling a week less spent in the provision of warm clothes or other things that they need?
I would also point out to the House that the scale which is applied is based upon the scale paid by public, assistance committees. The scales paid by these committees were based upon what was allowed by the Poor Law, which was a subsistence scale. It is quite true that public assistance committees in various parts of the country took in recent times a more generous view of what was necessary for subsistence, partly because of the changed personnel of many of the committees; but the fact remains that the Poor Law subsistence basis has been taken as the basis on which the Government of this country believe that the old people of the country can be maintained. That is not in keeping with the pledges and promises of Ministers when the Second Reading of the Bill was before the 897 House and when we were told the old people were to have generous treatment. If the Government are laying down subsistence scales for the old people, that is not generous treatment. Who can say that a subsistence scale is generous for any individual? That is the position in which the Government are placing those people, and they ask us to give approval to these Regulations.
If the Opposition in this House were more numerous, I would ask that Opposition to divide against approval of the Regulations; but I want it to be understood definitely, so far as my Friends and myself who sit on this bench are concerned, that we are wholly opposed to the approval of these Regulations. If our numbers were greater, we would have a Division, in order to record our opposition to the approval of these Regulations. We think the Regulations are one more shameful incident in the treatment of the old people of this country. Those old folk should get the best that the country can give them, instead of which we are giving them a subsistence allowance. I hope that the agitation of the old people outside will go on until the House of Commons gives them real justice and enables them to live out the winter time of their days in happiness and comfort because they have the things which are necessary for their comfort.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
I do not want unduly to prolong this discussion, especially with the country in such a very serious situation, but we must not forget the psychological influence upon the temper of our people of what we are doing to-day. In my Division last week-end we were receiving a tremendous number of evacuated children, and it seemed that those who were doing most to assist them were old age pensioners. They were filled with a very great hope because of the issue of these Regulations; they had acquired a new pride in their country. It may be regarded as a measure of the character of our people that, in this hour of danger, we can still find time to do justice to our aged people. I wish that were all the story, but I am very much afraid that hopes have been raised that will be dashed.
I listened to the Minister's statement. There was no indication in it of the types 898 and classes of case that would get supplementary pensions. No mention at all was made of the classes that these Regulations would put completely outside the scope of the Act. Why was the Minister not frank with the House? Why did he not tell us that, in every family of an old age pensioner and his wife, where the son or daughter was earning £2 8s. a week, the old age pensioners would get no supplementary pension? That is the average case; where there is 12s. a week rent and the old age pensioner and his wife have a son or daughter earning £2 8s., they are not entitled to supplementary pension. The questions of the earnings and the family contribution were not dealt with at all. We were told that most people without resources were to get the pension, but not a single word was said with regard to those who have resources. An hon. Gentleman opposite said he was satisfied that, as we had not criticised the Regulations, it showed that we were not going to criticise them. My regret is that he did not remain to hear what I have to say now. In every case where the old age pensioner has a son or daughter earning £2 8s. a week, no supplementary pension is to be paid; is that a good message to go from this House to our people at this time? Is that the way to whip up the moral enthusiasm of our people in defence of our cause? I am afraid that the Government have not correctly estimated the temper of our people in this connection.
Let me come to the dry bones of the Regulations. We have been chastised with not having dealt with them and with having gone around them to deal with the means test, and so on. I should be very much obliged if the ex-Minister of Labour, who is now the Secretary for Scotland and who knows his way round these Regulations very well, would explain to us the meaning of paragraph 3, which says:Where, by reason of the fact that the amount is small, doubt arises whether the applicant is in need, regard shall be had also to the relation of that amount to the amount at which the applicants needs would be assessed if he had no resources and to all the other circumstances of the case.Does that mean that no one whose excess need is less than, say, 2s. will get a supplementary pension, and that there is to be a limit as to how much supplementary pension is to be issued? If that is so, is it to be 1s., 2s. or 3s.? I think 899 the House would be interested to have a reply on that point. It is a reproduction of a feature that was in the old Unemployment Assistance Regulations, and we ought to have a reply, Even a shilling supplementary pension can mean the difference between peace and contentment and a miserable sort of existence for many of our old people.
Let me take a second point. On page 3, paragraph iv (2), it says:If the applicant resides in a locality which is predominantly rural in character, the amount so ascertained may be adjusted by reference to circumstances connected with the general character of that locality.Rural discrimination again raises its head. We have been told in other places and by other people holding responsible positions in the Government that the old discrimination against the agricultural worker must disappear. So much is inferred from the Memorandum itself. On page 2, paragraph 3, of the Memorandum we are told:…the provision in the Unemployment Assistance Regulations respecting the adjustment of allowances by reference to the rates of unemployment benefit prevailing in 1936 has been omitted on the ground that as pensioners as a class are outside the scope of the Unemployment Insurance Acts such a provision is not appropriate in their case.The old provision under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations was the means of relating allowances to benefit rate. In this way benefit rate was used to keep the agricultural worker in his place. In employment as well as unemployment the agricultural worker was treated as an Ishmaelite, and now apparently under these Regulations the stamp of the Ishmaelite is to chase him to his grave. Surely that is not the intention. Under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations we had a terrible provision called the wages stop clause. Why is it that the wages stop clause has been introduced into the Regulations? Here are people outside the economic life of the country. The consequences of lower wages are to pursue them for the rest of their life. Yet we have been told that need and only need is to be the factor and the test. It cannot be said that the scales have been over-generous, but even these scales are to be cut for the rural worker. The Minister of Labour may be persuaded that he has abolished the dis- 900 tinction between the rural and the industrial workers. These Regulations provide for discrimination in the clearest form, and no other purpose can be served by the inclusion of these provisions.
Now I will come to another sore point, a point which has been raised in previous Debates on Unemployment Assistance. I refer to the rent allowances. The provision relating to rents is in Section 2, Sub-section (2, a) of the First Schedule. It says:If the rent actually paid is greater or less than one-quarter of the total of the scale rates"—not of the members concerned but of all the members of the household, then the amount so ascertained shall be dealt with in a certain way. This is the machine by which the inequality in rents which are paid is levelled. Much may be said for it, and I am not quarrelling with it if it stopped at that, but it does not stop at that. This method of finding out the basic rent is a device for obtaining an indirect contribution from other members of the household. Other members of the household make a direct contribution in a straightforward manneras laid down in Part II of the Second Schedule. Let me make the matter a little clearer. Let us take an example of a pensioner who has a rent addition to his scale of 2s. 6d. He is paying 6s. 3d. rent; a son comes into the household and the son is scaledat 10s. Immediately the standard rent is raised from 6s. 3d. to 8s. 9d., and apart from any reduction in the supplementary pension arising out of the direct contribution, out of the earnings of that son an amount of 2s. 6d. a week is taken away from the supplementary pension.
Let me take a simpler case. Take the case of a pensioned couple. They may pay 10s. rent. They will be in a receipt of their 20s. pension and 15s. 9d. supplementary pension. Of this amount 3s. 9d. is a high rent allowance. A son who has been away working loses his job and comes home on 17s. unemployment benefit. He enters the household. The Regulations provide that his direct contribution to the household needs out of the 17s. is 3s. 6d. On this account the supplementary pension will be reduced from 15s. 9d. to 12s. 3d., but by including him as a member of the household the standard rent is raised from 6s. 3d. to 8s. 9d. and the high rent allowance is reduced from 3s. 9d. to 1s. 3d. 901 So that the supplementary pension is further reduced from 12s. 3d. to 9s. 9d. The Assistance Board take two bites at the son's unemployment benefit, one in a straightforward manner and another by a backstairs method. In that case you get a reduction of 6s. a week in the supplementary pension because a son on unemployment benefit comes into the household. Is that what the House intends? Is that what the Act provides for? Is that what the Minister can defend? That is the sort of treatment which is proposed under these Regulations to be meted out to the old age people, and yet we have told them that we shall treat them in a generous way.
I want to make another point. It is a small one, but perhaps the Minister will be able to deal with it when he replies. There is a 2s. addition under the First Schedule (3, b). The 2s. is payable in respect of the old age pensioner and his wife. It does not matter what the age of the wife may be; I am not complaining of that. But if he is living with a sister and the sister has remained living with him, keeping the house, she has remained a spinster. No matter what her age may be—she may be 60 and not entitled to a pension—the 2s. old age allowance is not given in respect of her as well. That is an anomaly which ought to be put right. Another question with which I wish to deal is one of which the Minister is very well informed; I refer to the question of the undue burden. He will probably recollect that in 1938, I think, there were discussions in London with the Assistance Board, of which he had some information. There a case was taken of a son who was living at home and maintaining a home for his aged mother and father. It was held by the Assistance Board that if more than one person was dependent upon that earning son, he was carrying an undue burden, and therefore a greater amount of his earnings should be disregarded for the purpose of assessing the needs and resources of the household. I am wondering whether in the interpretation of these Regulations the advice that Lord Rushcliffe and the Assistance Board gave in connection with unemployment assistance will be carried forward in regard to the treatment of old age pensioners.
I have tried to be as restrained as possible in my criticism. Were times 902 different perhaps our criticism would have more point and much more power behind it. The points I have raised are points which do not conflict with the principle of the means test. The abolition of the means test is not necessary for the abolition of the anomalies to which I have referred. I hope that the Minister will refer these points and the other points made by my hon. Friends to the Assistance Board and will let us have an early report, not only as to the experience that has been gained, but of the anomalies which have been disclosed. I believe there is a very general desire to do justice by the old age pensioners in this country, and I hope that the Assistance Board will give expression to what obviously are the intentions of this House.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
In saying a few words on this matter, it might be as well first of all to set out exactly what is the position. These Regulations have been introduced as the result of an Act of Parliament passed in this House of Commons, which would bring within the scope of the Unemployment Assistance Board the old age pensioner. To-day we are discussing Regulations which propose somewhat to stabilise the position of old age pensions. I would like to make my own position clear and to say that in some respects I welcome the change. I have never hesitatedin welcoming the passing of the old age pensioner from the care of the Poor Law authority to the Unemployment Assistance Board. If I had to choose which body should carry out a means test, which in these days seems to be inevitable, I should much prefer the public assistance authorities to pass and a national, controlled body like the Unemployment Assistance Board to take its place. Consequently, I look with no regret at the passing of the old age pensioner—in the main, but not entirely—from the care of the Poor Law authority. Much has been said about the generous treatment of the Poor Law authority, and to-day I shall not make an attack on them because many of them throughout the country were extremely kind to the poor, many of them treating the old people with toleration and respect, but on the other hand the old people were often faced with very niggardly treatment.
I would also like to say that I view with delight the disappearance of the pro- 903 vision by which a person outside the house was liable for the care of the old people. I did not blame the Poor Law authorities, whether they were Tory or Labour: the law made them do it. But I always look with great anxiety at this, and I am glad of the passing of that aspect from our Poor Law system. There are other aspects also the passing of which I view with satisfaction, but there is one aspect for the passing of which I do not care. There has been throughout the country a development by which these Poor Law authorities have had more to do than merely handing out sums of money to the old people. They have had wider and more extensive cares in connection with the old people. That development has occurred particularly in my own native city, where I have taken in the past, and possibly will take in the future, my share in criticising the treatment which the authority has accorded to the old people.
I was glad that the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) had the courage and the decency to do what he did in this respect. To-day we are more or less indicting him. [Interruption.] We are saying that these Regulations are more decent and generous than what he was prepared to do. The Minister of Health, in introducing the Regulations, said that the Government had done something more generous than they were prepared to do before. Do not let us, in the midst of all our anxieties, become mealy-mouthed. The right hon. Gentleman, as I understand, said that previously 19s. was recommended as the figure for a single old person, and that the new figure is19s. 6d., the excuse given being, the increase in the cost of living, and that for the original figure of 31s., 32s. is substituted, the result being a gain of 6d. per head. The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove dropped the compulsory power to take the old people from their homes. It was a credit to him that he changed his mind. I do not take the view that if he had been a strong man he would have gone on with it; I take the view that he was strong enough to change his mind and drop that proposal. But that does not take away the responsibility to provide something decent for the old folk to live in. There was growing up an idea of providing the old people with separate homes and, at the same time, 904 giving communal advantages in regard to cooking and other things. I hope that the public assistance authorities that are still left and the Unemployment Assistance Board will not leave off the task of providing decent accommodation for our old people to end their days in.
I come to what I think is the real charge against these Regulations. They can be criticised as being mean. I do not intend to do that to-day, because the Regulations in substance are the same as those for the unemployed, and those Regulations have been already be-laboured. I have always felt the meanness of the cutting down that was done; but worse than that, I have felt, is a question involving the relatives of the unemployed. Take, for example, the case of an unemployed person with a daughter of, say, 30, who is working as a typist in a so-called respectable firm. No one else in the office has anyone chargeable to the Poor Law. The first thing that is done when a claim is made is to notify everybody inside that office that the father and mother of this girl are making a claim for some form of help from the Unemployment Assistance Board. Within a day everyone in the office is wondering why the wages of this girl are being hauled out and cut about and assessed. The girl herself feels that she is singled out because her father and mother are chargeable to the Public Assistance Board.
Here is another matter. Power is being taken here similar to that in the Unemployment Assistance Regulations with regard to the earnings rule. I did not think that the earnings rule would have been needed in connection with old people in the same way as it was in connection with the unemployed. In connection with the unemployed, we debated the matter in the 1931 Parliament for hours on end. We were told that the real reason for this rule was that the man must not get more in assistance than he would have got were he working. I could not see many old age pensioners being affected in the same way. Take the case of a man who, before he claims his old age pension, works for some time at a comparatively small wage, simply in order to avoid having to draw Poor Law relief. When he claims his supplementary allowance he is to be told, "You worked for a small wage, and that 905 small wage is to determine the amount of the supplementary pension." I have no wish to penalise the man who was unemployed, but surely it is not proposed to penalise the man who worked for a small wage rather than be idle. In the case of the man who' was unemployed, his earnings can be traced for years back, and the earnings rule will not affect him; but the other man will be penalised. The Secretary for Scotland will remember our debating the question of the sandwich-man, with his low wages. I can remember cases of men who went on messages for the Ministry of Labour at wages of about £2 5s. a week—grown-up men. Some of them may happen to have children or grandchildren under their care; they may have married women younger than themselves. Is it worth while, considering the comparatively small number affected, to proceed with this earnings rule? The old age pensioner passes the means test. This rule has come from the imagination of some first-class civil servant.
§ Mr. Buchanan
They get first-class wages, the fellows who invent such rules as this. I think that the Clause is not worth while. I view with great dislike a proposal to put old people on a form of means test. I recognise a means test as almost the inevitable step in modern legislation. Everyone has been asking the right hon. Gentleman to look into the matter at an early date. I am not going to dissent from that proposal, although I am somewhat fearful of it, because, when the Government are going on with such colossal expenditure, I am almost frightened that if they revise any scales it will be downwards instead of upwards. But the Minister of Health, for a comparatively young man, has had a long association with Government office. For a man who has spent the time that he has in this House, he has held Government office, of one kind and another, over a very great period. This is the first time, however, in my recollection, that he has had anything to do with a Department intimately affecting the lives of people here. I am not saying that other Departments with which he has been connected have not affected people who are just as good as ourselves; but I say that he is dealing with decent people, and he has a machine which is very efficient. 906 That machine can be run with toleration. This proposal is a mean thing, and has no place in the running of this system. He can make the lives of the old age pensioners very much more pleasant. He can open to them an avenue which formerly was closed. I hope that, as a comparatively young man, he will bend all his energy to working these Regulations humanely and decently. In these days of war, when great events are moving and historic things are done, it might be that long after the war he would be remembered as greater than anyone else for the way in which he treated our decent old people in this country.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Morgan (Stourbridge)
I intervene for a very short time on a question upon which I have spoken before in this House. I was very much impressed by the speech of the hon Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and I particularly agree with one part of his speech relating to the question of taking into account the earnings of children of the old age pensioners. Those of us who have been persisting for some time in order to get an improvement in the lot of the old age pensioners find some satisfaction in these new Regulations, and particularly when it is done at a time when we are very hard pressed financially, and when it is almost impossible for anyone, from this side of the House at any rate, to say that we should do more than we are doing at the present time. I was one of the Members of this House who, some time ago, supported an Amendment for an immediate addition to the old age pension irrespective of any conditions whatever, because I felt so keenly upon the point. I feel just as keenly to-day. I think we shall all agree with the opening paragraph of these Regulations. I do not think that there is a Member of this House who will disagree with the first sentence of the Memorandum, which says:The Act places on the Assistance Board the duty of paying supplementary pensions to persons…in receipt of old age pensions and widows in receipt of widows' pensions who have attained the age of 60,"—and this is the important part—who can prove that they are in need of supplementary pensions.There we have the kernel of the whole thing before us to-night. Everybody has paid tribute to the capabilities of the Assistance Board, and I am prepared to 907 see them mete out justice. I could not quite follow the speech from an hon. Member opposite who quoted a number of cases. I do not say that his cases were wrong, but I tried to work them out, and I am bound to say that I got muddled in my figures. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) said the additional grants to these old age pensioners would not amount to much, because they took no account of the increased cost of living, but if I have read the Regulations correctly, there seems to be an arrangement made for making additions in the case of a rise in the cost of living. If the hon. Member were now present, I would invite him either to concur with, or contradict, that statement.
§ Mr. Buchanan
They can allow 3s. for the increased cost of living that has already arisen, but there is no power in respect of any further rise.
§ Mr. Morgan
I thought that I saw it very distinctly stated. Perhaps the Minister in charge of the Bill will put us both right. I thought when the Minister was speaking that some provision was made for that, and also for an increase in the scale in the winter.
§ Mr. Morgan
I will leave it for the Minister to explain. As Members sitting on this side of the House, although we do not talk about this side or that side of the House in times like these, we must express great satisfaction that the Minister has brought forward the Regulations, especially in these difficult times. I do not suppose there is any country in the world that can show anything like a similar system of old age pensions or of relief for the old people, and I welcome these Regulations.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
I rise to deal with a specific point, which I think it is very desirable to have cleared up. I wish to express the same feelings 908 as have been expressed by other Members as to the satisfaction we all feel at these Regulations, although in many respects they do not fulfil all our wishes. At the same time we are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he put the position before us this afternoon and for the improvements, although they are slight, which the present Government have found it possible to effect in the Regulations that were previously before the House. The definite point that I desire to raise is that which was the subject of my interruption of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. In the Second Schedule there is a provision whereby there shall be disregardedthe first seven shillings and sixpence a week of any superannuation payment in respect of previous service or employment from which the recipient has retired or resigned (whether payable by a former employer or not) not being a payment on account of an old age pension.There is a number of charitable and benevolent institutions throughout the country which it is extremely desirable should be kept in existence and of which advantage should be taken. I am in considerable doubt whether, under the wording of this particular Schedule, the payments which are made by these societies may properly be disregarded even to the extent of the first 7s. 6d. There are two particular institutions that I have in mind in my own city. The Leeds Unmarried Women's Benevolent Society pays pensions provided from a fund raised by voluntary subscriptions to aged unmarried women under various conditions. There is also a society known as the Tradesmen's Benevolent Institution, the funds of which are provided by voluntary subscriptions, and these two institutions together pay some 300 pensioners an average of 15s. a week. The question is whether the first 7s. 6d. of that pension will be disregarded for the purposes of the grant of a supplementary pension under these Regulations. The wording of the Schedule refers to superannuation payments in respect of previous service or employment. There are certain conditions laid down in regard to these institutions and associations, as, for example, in regard to the age of the applicants, residence in the city, whether they have been employed, or have themselves been tradesmen or professional men, as the case may be, in the city for a certain length of time.
909 I feel some doubt as to whether the payments from these associations come strictly within the term "superannuation." I appreciate that they do in one sense, in that they go on for a period of years once they are settled, but the ordinary meaning of the word "superannuation" is presumably the payment by an employer in respect of services rendered by an employé. If that strict definition were to be adhered to, possibly such payments as these to which I have referred could not be disregarded. On the Committee stage of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Minister of Health dealt with this matter, and in particular with pensions paid by the Royal Seamen's Pension Fund and the Methodist Local Preachers' Mutual Aid Association, and he gave an assurance that the pensions paid by both these funds would be covered by the words on the Paper, which are now inserted in these Regulations. He went on to say that in general the words would cover anything where payments on account of length of services were being made. That again causes me some difficulty, because in the cases that I have in mind, and which we must all, I think, agree are desirable in themselves, the payments are not necessarily made on account of length of service.
There are other conditions, such as length of residence, whether they have been subscribers and so on. I am in some doubt, therefore, whether the present Regulations will cover such associations as these. If they were not covered and if the payments made by these associations were not disregarded, these societies would be largely useless and pass out of existence, whereas at the present time they fulfil an extremely useful purpose. If a proportion of the amount they paid in pensions was not disregarded, it could hardly be expected that charitable funds could continue to be received when their only effect would be, if paid over to the recipient, to reduce the pension to which the recipient would otherwise be entitled under this particular Act. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to clear up that point, and assure us that the interpretation of these words—if at this late stage they cannot be altered—will be of the widest possible character. If the payments may be disregarded and I can be fully satisfied on the point, I shall 910 have no reservation in my mind in supporting the Regulations.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
The Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland must feel great satisfaction in realising that on all sides of the House, even though these Regulations do not meet all the desires of hon. Members, they are recognised as a very great improvement on the existing position and mark a real step forward towards a better relationship between the community and some of its most deserving and needy members.
There is a point which I wish to press upon the attention of the Minister, one which has already been alluded to very feelingly by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). We are all glad to think that a great number of old age pensioners will, when these Regulations come into force, be removed for ever from any stigma that has in the past attached too often to public assistance, and yet we do not want to see public assistance in its better sense removed from the lives of many people who need it. We are glad to know that, during recent years especially, public assistance authorities have taken a wide view in many cases of their duties and have tried to help the lives of those under their care not merely by giving them certain monetary grants. There is a danger that when many of these people are removed from the care of the public assistance authorities the less careful authorities may feel that all responsibility on their part is over. Through district nurses, through housing estate managers, welfare workers and in other ways local authorities may continue to exercise the most valuable and helpful influence in the lives of some of these people, many of whom have no immediate relatives in the neighbourhood to look after them in their old age, and I want to ask the Minister whether it would not be possible to take the occasion of the coming into force of these Regulations to issue a circular to local authorities pointing out the importance of continuing the wider duty of public assistance for those who are removed from their care so far as direct financial responsibility is concerned. It may, for instance, be done by the development of the district nursing system; there is need for care and the friendly and loving help such as a dis- 911 trict nurse or a woman worker on a housing estate is able to give to families in difficulty.
I hope the Minister will show that he realises this need and realises that the responsibility of the State can never be settled by a monetary payment. We are all members one of another, and we ought to show our care and interest for members of the community in other ways than by monetary grants. I feel sure that the Minister realises that need, and I hope he will take an early opportunity of bringing it home to some of the local authorities who, with all their other cares on their minds at this time, may possibly neglect what will be a great opportunity.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson (Farnworth)
I welcome the Regulations for a reason that has not yet been given, namely, that so many people have been asking me in the last few weeks for the Regulations under which a pension was to be claimed. I am glad that, at last, we have something on paper which, at any rate, has a basis of reality. Whether we complain of the scales or approve of them, they do at least give us information which can be passed on to our people. There are two questions that I would like to raise, one of them on a point made by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner). It is about the interpretation of what will be regarded as superannuation payment. Seven shillings and sixpence per week is to be disregarded, and the terms of the paragraph dealing with this matter are so drawn as to be able to be interpreted narrowly or very widely. They can include almost anything. The case I want to put is that of an old soldier, a Chelsea pensioner if you like, receiving a pension of 12s. a week. In legal phraseology it may be that that does not meet every single requirement in what is regarded as a superannuation scheme, and in a case like that I should say that a wide interpretation of phraseology would bring in not only him, but also every other individual in a similar category.
The second point that I want to raise deals with an explanation in the Memorandum and is relative to the honouring 912 of promises which have been made in the House, and debated. It is with regard to the treatment of capital assets and is set out in the Second Schedule. A promise was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in dealing with this question the £375 which is equivalent to the £500 which is ignored when questions of Income Tax are being considered would not be taken into consideration when assets were being considered. Until it comes before the House and is passed into law, it will be difficult for people to get on with their work. I am hoping that as a result of the appeals made in the past few weeks what few assets there are among people who will come for supplementation will have been transferred to War Savings. I think it is likely that that will have been done, but until these have been excluded the people responsible for making determination will not be in a position to decide the amount of supplementation to be granted. As I understand it, old age pensioners of 70, if they are in need, can apply for supplementation, and if by an Act of Parliament you disregard £375 worth of War Savings in dealing with supplementation, then you are bound to take that amount into consideration when you are determining whether the individual of 70 shall or shall not have a pension. That £375 worth of War Savings must be taken into consideration when you are determining non-contributory pension, otherwise you are penalising an old person of 70, as an individual who has £375 to-day, wherever it may be, and is applying for an old age pension, cannot receive it because it brings in on the calculation of the pension an amount which excludes him from receiving anything of the 10s. Varying amounts from £375 downwards will determine the amount of the pension.
It is because I want the Minister to see that these necessary alterations are made that I have raised these questions. I hope we shall have brought forward at the earliest possible moment a Bill which will honour the promises which have been made. I know that difficulties have been raised among scores of local authorities in this country because there was nothing definite about what would happen to War Savings when these computations took place. People have asked me whether they should serve on War Savings com- 913 mittees, and I told them of the promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which, I thought, would be implemented by these Regulations. Since then I have had to write and say that they will be implemented by a special Bill. If this matter is attended to, it will give great satisfaction.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I find it extremely difficult, and am most reluctant, to agree with some of my hon. Friends in this House in welcoming these Regulations. Frankly, I had hoped that the tremendous crisis which the country is facing to-day would have induced the Government not to submit to the House Regulations relating to the destinies and conditions of the most aged section of our population. I candidly and most sincerely believe that the Government have made a most stupid and unpardonable blunder. Agitation in the interests of our aged people and protests against the very mean way in which they have been treated by Government after Government have been going on in this country for the last two years. That agitation, I believe, has been one of the finest and noblest expressions shown in this country for a long time. I am speaking as an old trade union official who has spent most of his life within the active trade union movement.
In these days, when so much depends upon the morale and the spirit of the home front—I hate to use a hackneyed expression of that kind, but I cannot find another—we should seek to remove all grounds of indignation, resentment and suspicion from the people whom we are asking to make and hoping will make their maximum contribution to the nation's effort. No Government could have had a finer and more admirable opportunity of making a gesture which would win the confidence of millions of young men, the sons of these veterans of our industrial life, and induce them to give all that they can with perhaps even greater enthusiasm. I say it deliberately, that the cost to the State would have been nothing. If, in addition to the 10s., a 7s. or 8s. flat rate were given to these old age pensioners, the cost to the State would be nothing for some years, compared with the frightfully costly administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board, which until quite re- 914 cently was £4,500,000 a year. That is the cost of administering the most vicious and contentious principle that has ever divided hon. Members in this House. That cost is going up considerably when this inquisition is at work. It is no use blinding ourselves when we have had previous experience; the cost of this inquisition, this badgering of the homes of the aged, this merciless importuning of the people in their old age, will be relatively as large as the cost of the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
I am amazed that at this juncture in our history a fine gesture, given generously by the Government to the fathers and mothers of the millions of young men and young women who are prepared to give their best to the nation, has not been made by the Government instead of this complicated and costly instrument. I speak as one who is as interested and as anxious as anyone in regard to the appeal that we are making to every able-bodied man and woman in this country to-day. I cannot imagine any Government being so egregiously foolish at this moment as to put forward these Regulations with their pains and humiliation—I am speaking from experience of the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board, not only in one of the most depressed constituencies in the country but one of the best organised. I know the value of that organisation in at least softening the blow and perhaps encouraging the decent fellow who would naturally resent this unnecessary importuning. I believe there is nothing that I or any of my friends can say that will be of any consequence, but may I express the hope that the Government will sense in the Debate a warning in the appeals that have been made, a warning that the Government may regret very much ever having intruded into the lives of the veterans of our industrial life an instrument of this kind?
May I repeat the appeal that has been made to the Minister that he will insist upon having a report from the body which will be operating—in my division it will be the Unemployment Assistance Board—and have that report printed and made accessible to hon. Members within at least three months? We do not want any resentment unduly expressed in the country to-day that is not directly related to the struggle confronting us, and I 915 sincerely hope that this will be done. I ask for the assistance of the Minister on one matter. If we accept, temporarily, this instrument of the means test embodied in these Regulations, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, with his great experience—I am sure he will appreciate that the question is not put for mere rhetorical purposes—to be good enough to indicate to the House what is meant by the term "householder" in the Regulations? May I say to the Minister of Health that it is no use telling us that the definition of the word "householder" in these Regulations is exactly as it is under the Unemployment Assistance Board relating to unemployment? The fact of relationship differs very substantially when we deal with the welfare of the aged pensioner as compared with the welfare of the father of a family. Under the Unemployment Assistance Board the relationship is more direct. Generally the question of dependency is obvious, and the members of the family who are ordinarily supported by the claimant can begot at, they are perfectly obvious, and there is no doubt about most of them. Here it is a question of aged people who have sons, daughters and grandchildren, and it is absurd to print this scale in the Regulations, with figures opposite different members of the family, on a long line of relationship reaching to the third generation. I am surprised that no attempt has been made either in the Act or in the Regulations to define the word "household." I may be told that it would be dangerous to define it, but what would be more dangerous is an uneven interpretation of these Regulations in different parts of the country.
I should like to give one or two examples, and in doing so I would ask whether those who will administer the Regulations will be expected to answer the questions contained in these examples in the affirmative. Take the case of an aged pensioner, a widower, who has at home a single daughter who eventually marries and brings her husband into the home. With regard to that son-in-law, who is at work, it cannot be said that he is dependent on or ordinarily supported by the applicant for a pension. Are we to assume that in that case, with the pensioner living in his own house and having a son-in-law and married daughter living in two or three rooms of the house, 916 those who administer the Regulations will regard this as being a household? The nearest definition of the word "household" that I find in the Regulations is the reference to:the needs of the pensioner and of such members of his household as are dependent on or ordinarily supported by him.In the case of most of the applicants for supplementary pensions, the other members of the family will not be dependent upon the pensioner. My experience is that quite the contrary is generally the case. In my own constituency, most of the pensioners were coal miners. Many years ago the mines closed down, and most of the men have never been in regular employment since. They are now old men. In the meantime, sons and daughters have been in employment, and for many years now it has been a question of the old people depending upon sons and daughters and not sons and daughters depending upon the old people. It is no use telling us that the word "household" will be interpreted, with regard to these aged people, in the same way as it has been under the Unemployment Assistance Board. I will quote another case of which I know. A pensioner, over 65 years of age, lost his wife and could not keep his little house going. He went to live with a married brother. The brother was substantially under 65 years of age. Neither of these men has ever been dependent upon or supported by the other. Because the pensioner lives in the home of his brother, will those who administer the Regulations regard this as being a household? If so, it would be grossly unfair. The aged pensioner who goes to his brother's home is not responsible for that household. He has no claim on it. He probably makes some contribution towards it.
I hope that these Regulations will be so administered that there will not be a breaking-up of homes, the separation of fathers from sons and brothers from brothers, as has happened in so many cases under the Unemployment Assistance Board. I hope I shall receive an answer to the questions that I have asked. I hope the Minister and the Assistance Board will realise that the sense of humiliation which may be created will be resented not only by the aged people, but very strongly by their sons and daughters. I hope those who administer these very complicated Regulations will do so with 917 a determination to avoid the creation of a sense of humiliation and of pain. If not, we shall have to find some way of drawing the attention of the House to the treatment meted out to the old people.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I wish to tender my cordial congratulations—perhaps I ought to say fraternal congratulations—to the right hon. Gentleman the new Minister of Health. He has certainly illustrated this afternoon his admirable competence for this office, as for the previous office which he occupied. He has had a difficult task to convince the House that these Regulations are all that might be desired, and inasmuch as he appears to have succeeded in converting hon. Members on that side of the House to this view, I suppose he must take substantial credit for the effort he has made. Hon. Members on this side would have preferred an all-round increase in the pension entirely free from a means test of any sort, except possibly a personal means test. I can understand that in these days a personal means test might be reasonable, but no other form of means test applied to other sections of the community in the matter of relationship to the old age pensioners is reasonable.
There is no need to repeat that the means test is one of the most detestable aspects of public administration. It is loathed by all sections of the community which come under its purview. We might inquire as to why in the richer and upper circles of pension Dom the means test is unknown. The reason that can be given, of course, is that they are in such a strong position, as far as influence and other things are concerned, in preserving and protecting their interests, that no means test is ever involved. The industrial workers have not yet reached that standard of representation in this House which would enable them to exercise an equal force and eliminate the means test once and for all. Why do we grant pensions at all? In the upper reaches of society, pensions are granted for public services of various kinds. May we not with justice assert that the industrial workers in the mass, render services to the community which ought to be recognised, if not on the same scale, at all events under the same conditions, as those governing the grant of 918 pensions in the upper reaches of society. Should not those pensions also be free from any means test? We have in these Regulations a household means test, which I consider to be much more unjust than the family means test. Under the family means test, it is possible, if necessity arises, to assess all the members of the family alike, but under the household means test only those resident in the household are liable to be assessed. That is an unjust situation.
As we have heard, a son-in-law or daughter-in-law who has means will be called upon to contribute to the old age pensioner or pensioners in the household. That is obviously a penalty upon charity and filial piety. Human nature being what it is, it is bound to prove, in some cases, an invitation to the members of the family to separate, in order that this supplementary sum shall come not out of the pockets of individual members of the family but from the State. The House will have noted, however, with a certain amount of satisfaction, which I certainly share, that the amount of income of pensioners or of those who may be called upon under the means test to contribute to pensions, is being increasingly disregarded. We have the admission by the framers of the Regulations that, in this way, the hardships of the means test are being whittled down. Clearly, we are entitled to argue that if these Regulations are being framed so as to whittle down the hardships of the means test, then the time has come when the means test and all the hardships associated with it should be expunged from the Regulations altogether. We can only hope that in six months time, when, I presume, the Regulations will again come under review, the situation will be such that the framers of the amended Regulations will be convinced by the arguments we have offered that the means test must go.
I have taken some interest in nutrition problems. I believe it to be fundamentally necessary, not only in relation to the war but in relation to the peace which will follow, that the question of nutrition should receive careful and meticulous examination from the community. No member of the House, including those who represent the Ministry, can declare that every pensioner and every individual who will be called on under these Regulations to contribute to 919 pensioners is receiving to-day the full standard of nutrition necessary to guarantee a healthy existence. If that assumption is well founded, as I believe it to be, having regard to the incomes of most of these families, then we are acting in a manner which is detrimental to the true and imperious interests of the State at the moment. I am glad to know that the right of representation upon advisory and other committees may be conceded. It is a most desirable concession and one which will be appreciated. We have to remember that with the spread of education local authorities are becoming more and more benevolent in their outlook and in their treatment of those placed under their charge, namely, the poorer section of the community. Now those people are to be removed from the benevolent care of the local authorities to the Unemployment Assistance Board under these Regulations. It is for that reason that the utmost tolerance should be exercised in administering the Regulations, and it will be in harmony with the spirit of the speeches and the pleas which have been made if the Regulations are expanded, where necessary, so as to make the lot of the pensioner better than it has ever been before.
I was somewhat discouraged to notice that in the draft Regulations discretionary powers are given to advisory committees in relation to rural areas. The Regulations provide for the reference to the advisory committees of the question of whether the rates laid down require modification in their application to pensioners living in rural areas, having regard to the conditions and the general standard of living in those areas. That seems to me a very ominous provision. It is an invitation to reduce the amounts. I should like to ask whether this Regulation is in harmony with the manifest desire and decision of the House that agricultural standards should, as far as possible, be brought up to the standards in urban areas. We are advised that there is to be an increase of the standard agricultural wage by 10s. to 12s. a week. Surely, it is not intended that there should be discrimination between rural and urban pensioners and their families such as is hinted at in this Regulation.
With regard to the question of a couple in a certain area—I fancy it is in the county of Durham where the neces- 920 sities are so great—who now receive 35s. a week. Whereas the amount will probably be 32s. a week in future for all other than existing pensioners, I find that the present sum was fixed because it was the minimum on which, in the judgment of the county council, the pensioners could have a reasonable existence and maintain a proper nutritive standard. If the balance of the pensioners are consequently to lose that additional 3s., then that will be a serious fall in income, and it will be a loss of spending power which will certainly have some effect as regards this welfare. One wonders whether or not a higher figure could not be established, and permanently maintained, in such areas—with high rentals, high cost of living, and where there is a diversity of other reasons—where such conditions cause a higher figure to be necessary.
I think, on the whole, that the Regulations, and the Bill, will bring benefits to a great and deserving section of the community. We are introducing new classes into the pensionable area of the country, and it will be, I think, a source of satisfaction to that large population, that here, in the midst of a situation which is the most perilous in which this country has ever been placed, we can turn aside from these grave events and play our part in helping to make it easier, more fitting and more in harmony with the age in which we live for the most penniless section of the country.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
These Regulations, in my opinion, are an amazing example of the tenacity of those whose one desire is to reduce the masses of our people to a common level of poverty. It is nonsensical for Members to talk as if it were something wonderful that the old folk in this country should be a subject of debate when we are faced with a situation such as it is to-day. It is necessary, whatever the situation which faces us may be, that the problems affecting the people of the country should be dealt with. Those who cannot face up to these problems confronting our people in their daily lives will never be found able to face up to the bigger problems surrounding us. The amazing thing is not that this question should be discussed in the midst of the present terrible situation, but that in the midst of the terrible situation they still hang on to this machinery for grinding 921 the last penny out of the poor. There is an utter and complete lack of imagination about these Regulations. The old system still operates. No matter what happens the old system must go on. I would remind the Minister that at the last election there was not a supporter of the late Government, or of the present Government, who would defend the household, or family means, test on the election platform. All of them were trying to dodge out of it by referring to and supporting the individual means test. Not a Member, and not even the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, was prepared to stand on the election platform and defend the household, or family means, test.
Like an hon. Member who spoke earlier, I have met all kinds of questions in connection with the new proposals. I have been closely associated with the campaign of the Old Aged Pensioners Association for an increase on a flat-rate basis. There is no reason why pensions should not be raised to £1 a week for a single person, and 30s. a week for a married couple, with any additions which may be necessary. But the Government must reduce poverty to a dead level. Take the case where a pensioner lives alone. During the week-end a case was brought to my notice of a man living by himself. He receives a pension and no other income. What happens? He receives a supplementary allowance of 9s. 6d. But I had two other cases brought to my notice on Sunday, where both of them had been thrifty. One of them has 10s. a week as a result of his thrift. It is treated as 2s. 6d., and he receives 7s. as a supplementation. The other receives 2s. 6d. a week, as a result of his thrift, and his 2s. 6d. is treated as 10s., and he gets nothing. Is there anyone in this House who can justify that? No Minister, past or present, can justify it before any body of people in this country. One man is thrifty as a result of paying into his trade union and receives 10s. superannuation, and the other has been thrifty and has put £250 savings into the bank and receives 2s. 6d., which is charged as 10s. It shows the attitude adopted towards those who, on the advice of Tory Ministers and Liberal Ministers, have been encouraged to save. For every £25 a man gets rid of he will receive another shilling. That continues until he is reduced to £25, or just enough to provide a decent burial 922 so that there is no responsibility on the local authorities. It shows the whole character and desire behind the means test, that is, to reduce the masses of the people to a common level of poverty.
When it comes to the old age pensioner living in a household, then there is every kind of problem arising. Every conceivable kind of irritation is directed against these old folk and their families. It will be remembered that single-room or two-room houses are not being built in these days, but if an old age pensioner obtains a room and pays a few shillings for it, he is entitled to the supplementation. But if the same man has a room with a son or daughter, he is not entitled to a supplementation. This applies not only to sons, but to an old age pensioner's grandsons and great grandsons. The Secretary of State for Scotland knows a little about the Scriptures, and he will know that in the Scriptures it says that the sins of the fathers shall be visited "upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." The father who committed the sin of voting for the crowd which is on the other side has piled grievous burdens on his children and grandchildren as a consequence.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) drew attention to the fact that if an old age pensioner had a son or daughter living with him earning £2 8s., the old person was excluded from getting anything. If an aged man or woman was living with a married son or daughter and the son or son-in-law had a wage of £3 and had a wife and two children, the aged person would not be able to get anything. That is a shameful attitude to adopt in such a case. I hope, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), that we can overcome this position by the old age pensioner renting a room of his own in the house of his son or daughter and having his own table and chair and a little cupboard. If that can be arranged, it will entitle him to the supplement.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am not sure whether the committee has taken it up; I merely put it forward as a suggestion.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the old age pensioner rents a room in the house of other people who are not relatives, he is entitled to go to the Board for a supplement because he is not part of the household, and the 923 Board cannot hold relatives responsible for him. Therefore, if he takes a room from his son or daughter and looks after himself, they ought not to be held responsible for him. The method of applying the means test to a household when an old man or woman is being maintained is the most shameful evidence of the desire at the back of the means test. I would like the Minister and Members on the other side to be conscious of what they are doing if they are not actually deliberately conscious of it, for the whole compass of the means was never brought out as it is in the case of old age pensioners. It is a deliberate attempt, systematically carried through, to deprive the masses of the people of any savings they may have and to reduce them to a common dead level of poverty. Nothing that has happened during the past month and nothing that is taking place now has changed in the slightest the attitude of the ruling class towards the masses of the poor.
One hon. Member said that we were waiting for the Bill which dealt with the £375 invested in the Defence Loan which would be excluded from the means test. I remember that the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has gone to another place, but not to the place to which I would have liked to see him go, said that this £375 was to be excluded for the purpose of the means test after the war. I asked last week whether it would be excluded immediately or after the war, and I was told that I would have to wait until the Bill was introduced. As far as I was able to gather from the ex-Chancellor, it will not operate now but will operate when the war is over, which shows that in the new world the means test is still to be there.
§ Mr. E. Brown
There is no justification for the hon. Member's statement as to what the present Lord Chancellor said in the House of Commons. If he will look at his speech of 23rd April, he will see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said precisely the opposite. He made it clear that legislation would be introduced at the earliest date, and that will be implemented by the Government. He added:I am glad to answer the question put by the hon. Gentleman opposite. I explained about the supplementary old age pensions, that the pensioner applying for one was not 924 to be treated worse than he would be treated under the Unemployment Assistance Board. It follows that the new arrangement will also apply to the calculation of supplementary pensions."—[Official Report, 23rd April, 1940; col. 83, Vol. 360.]So there is no justification for the hon. Gentleman's travesty of what the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I said that I gathered that that was what he said. I know it will apply to the supplementary pensions after the war, because I raised the question last week and the new Chancellor was unable to tell me, but said I would have to wait until the Bill was introduced. I said then that I had gathered from the ex-Chancellor that the Bill would exclude this amount from the means test after the war. I know, however, that whenever it operates, whether now or after the war, it will affect supplementary pensions. I shall be pleased if it applies to them at the present time. An old age pensioner who puts his money into the Defence Loan will get the full supplementary pension, but if he has invested his money in such a way that it is not easy or desirable to lift it and put it in the Defence Loan, he will not get the supplement. There are many old age pensioners who have been associated all their lives with the co-operative movement. They might have their money in it and might not consider it desirable to lift it and put it into the Defence Loan. If one man transfers his money to the Defence Loan whereas another person retains it in the co-operative movement, the one gets the supplementation and the other does not. That is an impossible way in which to carry on the business of a country or to treat aged people.
Another point that I wish to make arises in connection with the fact that in my constituency, where there is a large mining population, there is also a number of agricultural villages. Agricultural villages always get the worst conditions that exist in any part of the country. I remember the late Minister of Health, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, saying that the rural housing conditions in Scotland were shocking, a disgrace, indeed he gave the impression that he would have liked to use stronger language. In the rural areas we find the worst houses, the worst sanitary arrangements, the worst water supply and education facilities, and in these Regula- 925 tions, too, those who live in agricultural villages are singled out for worse treatment than is given to others, and they have a right to protest. I am of opinion that these are very bad Regulations. In a straight case the old age pensioner is, on the average, to be given what he received from his previous pension plus what was obtainable from the public assistance committee, but in other cases, where the household comes into the question, thousands of old age pensioners will be worse off because they will be completely cut off from the public assistance committees. In many cases previously the old age pensioner got an allowance from the public assistance committee without any interference with the members of the family. There will be thousands worse off as the result of the Regulations than they were before, and none better off, or very few, at any rate. They are bad Regulations, and it would be a good thing if there were a really strong Opposition prepared to throw them out, because if that course were taken, the Government would have to bring in better Regulations. I am certain that the old age pensioners, supported by the mass of the people, will carry on the fight against the Regulations and against the means test until they secure the justice they desire.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I am not going to follow the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). Some of the things he said may be correct, but a good bit of the stuff that he has poured out to-day is not the real thing. He may live pretty close to these old age pensioners, but so do I, and I can tell him that a lot of them want the pension as quickly as they can get it. The spinster, the wife of the man who is 65 and can now get it at 60—they want it. They have their hands out ready at the post office. I have been living among them. Whether it was daring or reckless I do not say, but last week-end I addressed two different sections in my division. I addressed the Co-operative Guild and I addressed the Women's Bright Hour, and I left some of them smiling and a few in tears. They were the people for whom the hon. Member for West Fife has been frying to put something across the Floor of the House. Generally speaking, the Act, with the Regulations, will be accepted, but I want to ask the Minister 926 one or two questions, so that when I address this Bright Hour again I can speak definitely on certain points. In my division there are some urban areas and a very big rural area; in fact, it is the rural area with the biggest population in the British Isles. On each side of that rural area there are colliery communities which ought to have been made urban areas at the last distribution. The reason why they were not made urban areas was that had they been taken out of the rural area, that area would have been so impoverished from the standpoint of rateable value that it could not have carried on. I want to ask the Minister whether this thickly-populated rural area, where thousands of miners are living, will come under Sub-Clause IV (2) on page 3?
§ Mr. E. Brown
It depends entirely on what advice the local advisory committee gives the Board about that particular area. I should assume that in the case mentioned probably there will be very little change, but it will depend entirely upon the advice which is given.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I should have been very much more satisfied if I could have had a definite answer that in a case like that, where the population in the rural area is almost 150,000, it will not be treated as a rural area. I have also a question to ask on the rent Clause. Paragraph (2, a) of the First Schedule reads:''If the net rent actually paid is greater or less than one quarter of the total of the scale rates of all the members of the household, the amount ascertained under the preceding sub-paragraph may be increased or reduced by such sum"—
§ Mr. Brown
The explanation is this. The hon. Member will recall that in the original Regulations under the Act of 1934, there was great difficulty because the rental was an arbitrary figure. It was found that rents varied very much, some being very large and some extremely small, and there being a much larger proportion of very small rents than had been expected. Large numbers of families suffered heavy cuts because of the low rents, and others did not get the advantage where they were paying a high rent. The rent rule inserted in the revised Regulations and now continued provides for greater elasticity. If a rent is lower than the average stated in the Schedule, then the advantage generally 927 goes to the applicant. If it is above the standard, then the household concerned will probably get a higher rent allowance than they did under the local authorities' scheme.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, Sir. I am sorry that the Minister got up just a little bit too early, because what I wanted to say was this: Supposing an aged couple are drawing £1 a week, that is to say, two 10s., and they live in a house for which the rent is 8s. a week—not in one of these 5s. houses. That is more than one quarter of the £1. If one quarter of the £1 is taken, as it says in the Regulation, the fact will be that the old people are paying more than the 5s. because they are paying 8s. I want to know whether you are going to take £1 there, or whether there is another definition. I hope the Minister will give us a definition. That is the definition I have given, and I hope that he will stand by it. Let me work it out. Suppose these people pay a rent of 8s. a week; that is 3s. above the quarter of the £1. If they are going to get 32s., besides the other discards, such as superannuation, 7s. 6d., to which they will be entitled, so far as the Committee at Barnsley, on which I used to sit, is concerned, there will also be an increase of 3s. That will give them 35s. a week. That is a clear definition of what it ought to be. If the Minister has not seen the matter in that light I hope that I have opened his eyes. I think he sees it all right.
Another point is on page 6 of the Regulations, in regard to discards. I have come up against this matter in regard to soldiers, both ex-service men and Service men. In sub-paragraph (c) it states "half compensation." If there is a woman getting compensation because her husband has been killed—I have a case like this at the War Office at the present time that I feel very keen about—it states that half the compensation shall not be taken into account. Does that mean half the compensation to the man who is injured and is drawing compensation, or does it mean also half the compensation of a widow who is drawing a monthly allowance from the county court because of her husband who has been killed in industry? The War Office state "No." The War Office have given a definition that that is not compensation but is a gratuity. I would like the Minister to let us know to-night whether half the com- 928 pensation, not only of a disabled workman, but which is going into the home of a widow, is included. It is possible for there to be two old age pensioners, with a daughter who is a widow living with them, and for the daughter to be drawing compensation from the county court of £1 a month. I am desirous of knowing whether half of that payment will be discarded. If a proper definition of that matter is given we shall be clear.
I agree with the hon. Member for West Fife as far as the means test is concerned. That is the poison. It is the nigger in the pile. No matter where you speak on this subject of old age pensions, the means test is repugnant to the people of this country. We feel that it is repugnant; but my father used to say to me: "George, half a loaf is better than none. Get hold of half the loaf, and, if at all possible, get hold of the other half when you have eaten that one." While we oppose and detest the means test I feel that these Regulations are a step forward. We must never forget what the hon. Gentleman who was Financial Secretary to the War Office but who is now at the Admiralty said. His words burnt into my soul. He said, "The means test has come to stay." The means test is here, but in this matter of old age pensions the household means test is a bigger poison than the family means test.
Somebody said this afternoon that the eldest daughter stays at home; no, she does not. The birds that fly out of the nest first are the oldest birds, that were born first in the nest. Generally speaking, you will find in scores, if not in hundreds of cases, that the girl who is at home with the old people is the youngest girl, who may have married after the others have gone out of the nest. She says to her mother: "Mother, Jack has asked me to marry him and he says that we may as well live with you." That is the suggestion. "Yes," says the mother, "there's plenty of room. Tell him to come here." When Jack comes to live with the youngest daughter in the house you say to Jack, although not in actual words: ''You are part of this household. You have gone to live with these people, and now you are working six days a week as you have done for the past 10 or 12 years." In my county, men have been working 2½ or three days a week, but now they are working 929 five, six or seven days a week. Because Jack is working full time and is earning £4, £5 or £6, the old people will not get any supplementary pension. I ask, What is the Minister going to do? Does he refute what I say? [Interruption.] I am sorry; I thought the Minister of Health was going to make a concession, and if he is, I am willing to sit down. I tell him how the Regulations are acting at the present time and that the matter is very poisonous. I hope that, somehow or other, we shall be enabled to get that difficulty out of the way, when the entire country will welcome this pension with open arms.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I do not want to detain the House for any length of time at the end of this Debate. I think everybody realises by this time—and it is not our fault if that is not so—that on this side we say that what is wrong with the Regulations is that they are based upon the household means test, which is vicious, wicked and oppressive, and cannot be other than those things, but I do not think this is the time to debate the point. I made my contribution in this sense to the Debates during the Second Reading, the Committee stage and the Third Reading of the Bill, on which Measure these Regulations are based. I do not intend to repeat what I said, except to state that I stand by every word of it. I think the time will come when the Government will regret having, at this time of day and in these circumstances, introduced so retrograde a step as to apply a household means test to the pensionable old people. Whatever may be said about the future of the rest of us—and it looks precarious enough although there may be brighter days and a happier world to come for us—there will be nothing like that for the old people. The rest of their lives will depend on the operation of these Regulations. In our fine visions and pictures of the future, let us not forget that the great majority of these old people will not live to see them.
The two questions which I want to raise and to which I would like an answer concern capital assets. The first of them is not strictly germane to these Regulations. What is worrying people a great deal up and down the country is the question, what is new money? I think 930 that some guidance should be given to enable us to try and explain these matters to the old people, who are not lawyers or officials and who cannot read Regulations very well. I confess I cannot and I am sure they cannot. They want to know what is new money, because the exemption that is foreshadowed in the taking of these matters into account, in applying the means test, covers new money. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) spoke of the conflict between the Defence Loan and the Co-operative movement. Many of us realise that if the Defence Loan does not succeed there will be no Co-operative movement, so that the conflict perhaps is not so striking. When the right hon. Gentleman intervened and said that it is quite certain that it applies now and it will not be postponed until after the war, I wondered. I am sure it is the intention, if he says so, but if new money means new savings the old people will get no benefit out of it. They will not be able to save out of the old age pension, even when it is supplemented. If it does not mean new savings but some sort of conversion of one kind of investment into another, then what kind is it—every kind or some kind?
I am sure there must be available somewhere clear explanations of these points. Nobody at the Box opposite would have recommended the matter to the House on the ground that it will assist the Defence Loan unless he had a very clear idea in his mind exactly what it was that was not to be taken into account when these matters are gone into. But nobody has ever told us, and I ask the Minister to give us an explanation when he replies, not in detail, because that is impossible, but in general principle, so that when an old man or woman says, "I have got so much money invested; if I put it into the Defence Loan will I get this advantage as promised, or will I not?" we can give some answer.
Another matter to which I wish to refer is capital savings generally. During the Third Reading and the Committee stage of the Bill I pointed out—and although it was not replied to it was not contradicted—that this business of taking capital savings into account in the application of the household means test under the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations was not confined to the applicants' capital savings; it was every member of the household who had been 931 assessed, so that the justification for taking into account more than the earning power of the capital did not apply to every case where the money could under the Regulations be taken into account. When we said of an old man that if you take into account 1s. in every £25 you are forcing him to eat up his capital because you are taking far more than the money will earn, the reply was given, "That is not so unreasonable as it sounds; it is natural that you should take more of his earning power into account even though the capital is eaten up over a number of years." But that will not do.
That explanation was never a good one. It cannot apply when you are taking into account, at that rate, the savings of much younger people, merely because they have had the charity and piety to take into their household a father-in-law, a mother or a mother-in-law. Although the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations did not provide for it, it was said that in practice they do not do it, that in practice they take into account only the savings of the applicant himself or herself as the case may be. If that is the practice then there is no reason why it should not be the Regulation too.
I looked with interest at the Regulations that we are now debating to see whether the point was met. I have a certain amount of legal training and I do try to understand these things, but having read these things with some care I do not know now whether the point is met or not. I understand that in the case of the applicant himself you disregard the first £25 entirely and then between £25 and £300 you take into account 1s. in every £25. All that is clear enough. Above the £300—
§ Mr. Silverman
£300 for the applicant. I am dealing with the applicant. Above the £300 I am not sure what you do. Apparently you take the income and the whole of the capital into account, but how you take it into account is by no means clear. Does it mean that before he gets any supplemental pension at all he has to bring his capital assets down to £300? If that is what it means, it is a substantial worsening of the position and a most unfair one. If it is true, as I 932 think is admitted, that the 1s. per £25 represents far more than the money you earn, then to stop at £300 and to say that there will be no supplement at all if you have £305, is simply to make the existence of savings a social crime. I would like some explanation whether that is really intended, and whether we are to say to the people up and down the country when they ask for advice about the meaning of the new Regulations, "If you are an applicant for a supplemental pension, make certain in the first place that you get rid of your money in any way you can, so long as you bring it below £300."
With regard to others than the applicants I confess that I do not know what is meant. I was under the impression at first—and I was encouraged in that view by good judges—that the point had been fully covered. When I looked at it I had my doubts, and when I asked my friends, who had encouraged me to think that that point had been fully covered, whether they were quite certain that it was fully covered, I found that the same doubts had arisen in their minds. I shall not attempt now to read the Regulations or analyse them. I think the Minister knows where to find the point. It is on page 7. I would ask him to explain, in language that I can understand, what that means. Does it mean that if a son, aged 30 or 35, takes his father, aged 65 or 70, into his household, everything that the boy, within some limits that are not clearly defined, puts into savings is included in this term? What is "reasonable"? I suppose we must accept these Regulations as they stand—and that the Government, indeed, like ourselves, must accept or reject them as a whole—but there will be opportunities for revision; in fact, revision will be called for at a very early stage, when the anomalies which arise become more and more obvious. I hope that when any such revision is proposed, the Government will consider whether, granted that they feel bound to take capital assets into account in the case of the applicant himself, there is any real need to take other people's savings into account as well, remembering that those savings are put by in order to prevent the next generation from getting into the position in which the passing generation finds itself, and which gives rise to such deep and wide indignation.
933 I had a letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, as many other hon. Members had, asking whether I would support the local savings association in its appeal to people to put by what they could, and to lend it to the State in these critical days. I should be helped, to some extent, if I could get an answer to the question that I have asked. If savings are a good thing—and there are times when I seriously doubt it—they are good for construction as well as for destruction, for building as well as for Defence. If saving is a social virtue, so that you rely upon the results of it to help you when you are defending your whole way of life against attack, by what kind of reasoning can you refuse to apply that encouragement to saving to people in happier days, who are saving their money for happier things? Use what reasoning you like about the applicant himself; say, if you like, that he will die in a few years anyhow, and that there is no reason why he should leave a penny behind to bury him; but the younger people, who are trying to get them out of this rut of degrading poverty, and are denying themselves in their best years in order to have something to fall back upon in the years to come, should surely not have their savings taken into account at all. Perhaps I have gone on too long already, so I will confine myself to those two points, on which I hope the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory reply.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I rise to put one or two points before the Minister, and, in asking for a reply, I will not indulge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) unfortunately did, in criticism of any attempt by a Member on this side to put anything over on the Government. Much of what the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) said is true. I will say to hon. Members, and particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth, that, while I differ from the hon. Member for West Fife very deeply in political matters and have fought his party for many years, he has used his weight effectively in this House on behalf of the old age pensioners. Therefore, without attempting to indulge in the pastime of criticising those whom it is popular to criticise in certain parts of the 934 House, I will ask the Minister, first, whether he will indicate exactly how the aged people in areas where local authorities have made special provision for them with regard to housing or rent allowances, as in the case of the Crookston Homes in Glasgow, will be affected by these new Regulations. I feel that, because they are treated more generously by their local authorities, such people will be adversely affected by the Regulations.
Almost every Member, no matter what attitude he may have taken up in the past, is very glad that this increase is taking place. All of us who have known of the trials of the old age pensioners realise the great benefit that will accrue to them. Such an increase means much more to the old age pensioner than it would to almost any other section of the community. The small comforts, the trifles to which the aged people pay so much attention, will be within their grasp after many arduous years of fighting on their behalf in this House. I am glad that the association of Members of the Opposition with the Government has been one of the deciding factors in bringing about this great improvement in the condition of the aged pensioners. All of us on this side recognise that our men within the Government have contributed greatly to the social welfare of these people; and that has strengthened us in our belief that, in supporting the Government for the prosecution of the war, they are not setting aside the social problems over which we have fought so ardently in the past. I would ask the Minister whether he can hold out any hope of the 22 weeks referred to by the Minister of Health being extended. Twenty-two weeks is not the normal winter of the old folk of the country. They have a much longer winter than the winter of younger people. They require earlier in the year and later in the year those little extras which the cold weather makes necessary, and things to alleviate the effects of rheumatism and other ailments to which old people are subject. They require them for a much longer period than 22 weeks. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether he will ask the Board to consider the point and recognise that it is not merely a mathematical question but one of the needs of the old people who require these things earlier than we who are well 935 fed and clothed and are of an age to withstand the winter.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland can certainly be described as one of the biggest optimists on the Government side. He has always been of an optimistic frame of mind, but surely even he will not claim that in this British climate winter is confined to 22 weeks. It would be much safer to say that we have two or three months of reasonable weather and nine months of winter. [Interruption.] If I can make a special plea on behalf of Scottish old age pensioners because of the climate in Scotland, I will do so. I will not neglect to take anything, even Scottish climatic conditions, into account, in supporting the provision of better conditions for old age pensioners. Therefore I appeal that these aged people should have extended winter relief, and that the number of 22 weeks should be increased. I ask for a full consideration of the matter and that greater consideration be given to the humanitarian side of the question.
Another question that I want to ask is why it has been decided that a wife should normally receive a reduction. I agree that the combined pension of two people is certainly a great deal in excess of what they used to receive, but for many years a wife has been entitled to the 10s. pension. It was established that the old age pensioner, whether male or female, was entitled to a pension of 10s., but here it states that the normal rate for a householder will be 16s., and the normal rate for a wife 9s. There may have been difficulties, but even so, could not the Government have been a little more generous and have established the 10s.? If the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) and other lady Members of the House had been here, they would have agreed that at least this means taking away in some way a certain amount of independence from the wife. The 10s. should have been maintained as a right.
Those are the three points that I wish to bring out and to which I ask the Minister to reply. I ask particularly that the question of winter relief should be very carefully reconsidered. Members on this side of the House cannot agree that this is 100 per cent. the best thing that can be produced, even in present 936 circumstances. Our party is tied to a policy that objects very strongly to the institution of the means test with regard to aged people and other sections of our social life. The Government must understand that many of us who have taken part in the old age pensions campaign for a number of years are still not content and that we shall carry on urging even the old age pensioners to continue making their demands until the means test is abolished from their lives altogether. Let the Government not mistake the fact that, while we recognise that the one object is to see that we gain the victory for our country and civilisation in this war, at the same time they must keep in mind that many of us on this side of the House are urging the establishment of the social conditions that we have desired for so long. One of the things that we shall urge, in crisis or out of crisis, is the setting aside completely of the means test in its application to aged people who have helped to produce everything that is good in this world. They have tended and guarded the boys who are now guarding our liberty to-day. I trust that it will not be long before a Minister in this National Government will be able to come forward and say that the means test has been abolished.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ernest Brown)
May I say a word about the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson)? I am sure that the House will not desire me to enter into a long and detailed argument about the principle of the means test. We have argued that many times, and hon. Members to-day, through the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, have officially stated their view that they still object to the principle of the means test. I desire to say only a few words upon it. One would gather from the remarks of the hon. Member for Maryhill that this is a new thing, but it is not so. The old people now get supplementary allowances from the public assistance authorities and are subject to a means test. What the hon. Member has said would lead those who have not taken part in this Debate to understand that we are doing something to the old people which is foreign to the present system. It is nothing of the kind. What we have been saying 937 for years, the predecessors of hon. Members, and some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway in the Liberal party, is that in all these things there ought to be a centralised social service, and that obligations to care for the needs of the poor, in so far as they were not sick, should be administered centrally and the burdens borne by the State. Thereby the local authority would be relieved of a responsibility and not such an easy duty. Public assistance authorities have never had an easy time with the means test; it has been harder because throughout the 200 local authorities in this country there were scarcely two where the practice was the same. Inside the general framework of the law the practice was different. What we are doing now is not to apply a new test of means but to apply a centralised test. The Government, through the Assistance Board, are taking over the responsibility; the Board has to administer and the Government through the taxpayer have to find the money.
There is one alteration referred to by more than one hon. Member in the course of this Debate. Some hon. Members have approved of it and others have not. I will not be the judge; I will merely state the facts and leave it there. The alteration is this: Whereas under the means test applied by local authorities regard under the law had to be had to the family, whether the family was within the household or not, now regard is had to the household. I gathered from the Debate to-day that there are some Members who prefer the household test, although they dislike that. If they had a choice between the household test and the family test, I gathered some would prefer the household test. Others would prefer the family test, but I am quite sure about this: many local authorities will feel a good deal of relief at the new method of administration. From my experience of local administration, which is not inconsiderable, I am sure public administrators found the old method one of the most difficult things to carry out. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) always talks as if his knowledge was universal. There may have been areas where it was not carried out, but if that were so, all I would say is that if members of the local authority were not applying the test, perhaps unwittingly, they were breaking the law of the land.
938 When you come to deal with this most difficult of all social problems—the meeting of the needs of those of the population who have fallen on difficult days—the greatest difficulty is this: The moment you break up a system which has gone on for hundreds of years, and which was dependent on local administration and judgment, and begin to centralise, you set yourself a hundred new problems. That is why my right hon. Friend was so careful of what he said in his opening speech. He was wise because he was perfectly certain that just as we found great variations in local authority administrative practice, we were bound to find, unexpected variations in the treatment of old age pensioners. There have been immense variations of practice throughout the country. However, let me leave that point and look forward to happier days in the world when we can again survey the whole of our social problems. It may be then that the scheme so often advocated by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), namely, the centralisation of the whole of the social services, will come into being. I do not know, but I do know that if an attempt is made to do it, hon. Members on that side of the House will find tens of thousands of flaws in any scheme which magnifies social administration by trying to centralise, on a wide scale, social services which have been self-contained. However, that scheme is not mine; it was put forward by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead, and we will have to wait and see—
§ Mr. Buchanan
One thing you may be sure of, and that is that the right hon. Gentleman will still be on that side of the House.
§ Mr. Brown
All I would say in answer to the hon. Member is this: Some of us would very much like to see him sitting on this side of the House, on this Bench, for once, with responsibility on his shoulders. It would be most interesting. [Interruption.] Well, I have made many speeches, but I am not aware that more than twice in my five years as Minister of Labour has any actual speech of mine ever been quoted against me. But I must not be led away. I had thought that as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) and my predecessor the right hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Colville) had 939 introduced the Bill on which these Regulations were drawn, I, for once, would have the joy of listening to a means test Debate and not taking part in it. I did not anticipate that at the last stage of these discussions I should once more be taking part in a Debate of that kind.
I will not detain the House for long, because I know there is other business and that hon. Members are anxious to get to it. I will continue by trying to answer the specific points put to me and I shall inquire into other points, notably those put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), so that I can get the right answer. I have made a promise of that kind more than once, and I have always kept my promise. The hon. Member mentioned three interesting cases which I will look into. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street put two or three points, in this way: The first was whether old people who had to go to appeal or advisory committees should have the right to take friends with them. The answer is, "Certainly." There will be every advantage in the early stages if there is a friend with them. I am not talking about legal advice but about a friend who might represent an individual in order to see that the intention of the Act and these Regulations was clearly understood by an applicant, see what his rights were and that he was getting his rights. The second point the hon. Member raised was a question about rural areas and prospective increase of wages which are adumbrated in the new policy of the Government. The answer there is this: During the operation of the Unemployment Assistance Board regard has always been had to any differentiation in rural areas. There has been the most careful consideration by local advisory committees of the rural background, and I do not remember in three and a half years having had any questions put to me about it, but in answer to the hon. Member I will say that it will be necessary for the local advisory committee to have regard to any change which takes place. I have no doubt that local advisory committees will have regard to changes which take place in their area.
§ Mr. Lawson
My point was that I thought there was a definite change of policy on the part of the new Government after these Regulations were in 940 print. I thought the policy was that agricultural standards should be made uniform as quickly as possible with urban standards, but before that policy was laid down these Regulations were in print. Would it not be worth while to issue a definite order about it?
§ Mr. Brown
I do not think there will be any need for that. It is a commonplace with local advisory committees, who under the scheme will operate this, that they do have regard to any change. They may give advice at the beginning and at any future time, and I cannot imagine that such a tremendous change as is adumbrated in the idea that there should be a minimum wage of 48s. in the rural areas would take place without affecting the advice given by local advisory committees.
§ Mr. Davidson
But may I ask whether local advisory committees are to be guided by the paragraph in the Memorandum which will give them the right and power only to make recommendations with regard to rural conditions?
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot imagine a bigger element of change in local conditions than an alteration of the wage level—it may be of 9s., 10s., or even 11s. a week. It would be a major local change and would call for special advice. I do not think the hon. Member need have any anxiety about that. When a change takes place regard will have to be taken of it, and it will, of course, take place about the same time as the decision for pensions under the Bill. It may be before, but a day has not yet been fixed.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street also put a question as to how frequently changes would be made. In the first place, an old age pensioner will be told of the changes in circumstances which will require to be notified but, subject to that, the whole intention of the Board and of the administration is to have the fewest possible changes. In the case of old age pensioners with no resources, there will be no need to call upon them frequently to answer a whole series of questions. The whole intention is to make this administration as easy as possible for the old people. The idea is in the old age pensions scheme to have a different kind of administration to that of the unemployed, in this sense, that the Board will do their best to average the case over a reasonable period.
941 The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) and other hon. Members need be under no apprehension about the medical and nursing services. The Act makes it clear that the medical and nursing services are to be maintained by the local authority, which will still have to have regard to the welfare of the old people as citizens and as ratepayers and not as pensioners. As regards the other point dealing with this matter, the Board will have regard to the care and welfare of the old people apart from medical and nursing care. The Regulations make that quite clear. There are three ways in which they do so, set out in succession in paragraph 4. In the first place, the Board take power to meet special needs; then they can take power to make a winter allowance, and then to meet exceptional cases. It would be their intention to operate these Regulations so that the welfare of the old people will be looked after. I welcome the tribute of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead to the improvement in the scheme. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) asked a question about workmen's compensation. He put it in rather a different form from other hon. Members, and instanced the case in which the compensation is commuted. In that case the answer is that half of it is ignored.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The point is that there is a number of cases where there are one or two old age pensioners with a son who has been badly injured. His pension has been commuted, not because he wants to commute it. The employers have a right under the law to do so, and this commutation of disability lasts for the lifetime of that man. Instead of getting a weekly sum, he gets a lump sum, and I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to ask the Board to reconsider this point so that the lump sum shall be completely disregarded.
§ Mr. Silverman
In regard to this commutation; is it only the applicant who 942 is to be taken into account in the matter of disregard, or is it to apply to other members of the house?
§ Mr. Brown
A question about that was put to me by another hon. Member, and I will deal with it a little later. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) made one point which I want to clear up. He raised the theoretical case—it might be an actual case—of those getting a higher scale from a local authority area than the proposed scale. He asked whether, where that is so, and there is then a change of circumstances and they come on to the other scale and then the changed circumstances cease, they will go back to the original scale. The hon. Member's view was that they would continue on 32s. The answer is that they would not. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) raised the issue to which I referred in the first sentences of my speech. He talked about the harrow of the means test. One can take one's choice between the harrow of the means test and the old stigma of the Poor Law. I will say nothing more to the hon. Member than that in the old days he was against the stigma of the Poor Law.
The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), who has apologised to me for not being able to stay for my reply, put a specific question about certain charitable organisations. The answer to him is that where a pension is paid by a charitable organisation to a person because of his former occupation, as would appear to be the position in the case of the Leeds Tradesmen's Benevolent Institution, the Board propose to take the line that even if the payment is not technically within the definition of superannuation as defined in the Act, they will, by the exercise of their discretion—I would remind the House that the Board have considerable powers of discretion—ignore the first 7s. 6d. where the pension, as would presumably be the case, represents the only income of the pensioner apart from the old age pension.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) raised two specific points. I am afraid the hon. Member will have to go back to the "Women's Bright Hour," but he need not be unduly alarmed because he has misread the definition of the rent rule. The quarter does not apply to the old age pension. It applies to the scale rate. That is 24s. 943 What he did was to make the "Women's Bright Hour" a little brighter than it would have been otherwise, because instead of getting 35s., as he said, they would get 34s. In the case he mentioned they would get 32s. plus—if the rent were 8s.—2s. in respect of rent, which would give 34s. and not 35s. There is then the question about payments out of court by way of compensation. I was asked by the hon. Member for Hemsworth and the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) whether I could give a simple answer in regard to this rather difficult and complicated paragraph in the Regulations. I will do my best to give a simple and straightforward answer. Weekly payments out of court by way of workmen's compensation are treated as being under the Act and are disregarded to the extent of one half. Another specific question that was put to me was about members of the household and the Second Schedule in Part 2 of the Regulations. As I understand, in the case of members of the household, other than the pensioner and his wife, only the actual income is taken into account. That is the construction of that paragraph.
§ Mr. Silverman
I also asked another question on this matter which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer. I asked, what is new money?
§ Mr. Brown
I was about to say that a number of hon. Members had inquired what the position will be with regard to capital assets and the promise made by the Chancellor in the passage which I quoted in an interruption to the hon. Member for West Fife, who misquoted it. I cannot define new money now, but I will say that the Bill will be before the House very shortly, and I have no doubt that it will become law before the particular problems referred to have to be dealt with. There is one thing of which I would like to remind the House. The original demand arose when the Joint Industrial Council gave advice to the Government about industrial matters of common concern. The Trades Union Congress representatives put the point that there was very great difficulty in getting people to throw their whole heart into the small savings movement because of the decision that savings would be taken into account in the means test. It is in the light of that argument that this 944 matter has to be considered. Again, I will only say that the Bill will be before the House very shortly. As soon as possible we intend to produce as simple a memorandum as we can for the guidance of the old people.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the right hon. Gentleman to consider making it available to the Poor Law authorities who visit these people?
§ Mr. Brown
There will be a number of cases where they will have to handle the problem, and naturally they will have the Memorandum. Certainly, it will be available everywhere where it is necessary. The sort of matters with which we propose to deal will be these. We shall tell them how to apply. We shall give an envelope in which the pensioner can send the form post free to the Assistance Board office. If the pensioner receives relief from a public assistance authority, a special form will be supplied by the authority. The Assistance Board officer will call on the old people, and he will hold a warrant so that they will be sure that he is the authority when he calls. We shall make it clear that a married pensioner and his wife need not make separate applications. The House will see that the Government and the Board intend to make this matter as simple as possible. I think the House will recognise that, apart from the strongly expressed views either for or against the means test, these Regulations mean a great improvement for hundreds of thousands of old people. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove, the former Minister of Health, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, must feel gratified at the reception which these Regulations, the result of much of their hard work, have had in the House to-day.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
I wish to ask the Minister a question in regard to men who have been in the Services and who are in receipt of pensions such as South Africa pensions or Chelsea pensions. Will these be disregarded?
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Many speakers on this side of the House have laid stress on a matter to which we attach great importance, namely, that the Unemployment Assistance Board should as soon as possible—in two months or three months or by the end of the year at latest—take steps to see that there is a review of the working of these Regulations so that the House can deal with any anomalies which may have arisen. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear that that is the desire of the House.
§ Mr. Davidson
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question with regard to aged pensioners who have been placed in special homes under local authorities?
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot imagine that they could be affected in any way but for good. Although they are not now being paid supplementary benefit by the public assistance authorities, they are still ratepayers in those areas and citizens of what is a very great city, if it is the city which I think the hon. Member has in mind.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1940, made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting in conjunction, under Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th May, be approved.