§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
I beg to move, in page 5, line 5, to leave out "sixty-five," and to insert "sixty."
The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles Mat-Andrew)
I think it would be convenient if this Amendment and the next Amendment in line 6, to leave out "seventy," and insert "sixty-five," were taken together.
§ Mr. Davies
I agree, Sir Charles. I am glad that you have allowed us to consider these two Amendments together, because they are inseparable.
It will be recollected that when we debated the Second Reading of the Bill strong protests were made regarding the discrimination, which we hope will be removed, between the old age pensioner between 65 and 70 years of age and the old age pensioner over 70 years of age, and, in the case of women, those between 60 and 65 years of age and those between 65 and 70 years of age. We understand the idea which the Government had in mind when they sought to raise the pensionable age. The Government had in mind—and we are not out of sympathy with the idea—that by confining these increases to pensioners over 70 years, pensioners between 65 and 70 might be encouraged to keep their jobs or to seek other jobs.
It may be noticed that, with one exception, all the names attached to these two Amendments are the names of Members drawn from an old heavy industry area. It has been our daily experience that of those who have given up work at 65 years of age there is no hope for 95 per cent. securing another job in the heavy industry area of South Wales. Such people are largely to be found in the mining valleys of South Wales. This applies to my constituency as well as to other valleys in Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. I assure the Committee that among the overwhelming proportion of those miners who survive until their 65th birthday, there is very little coalmining left in their bones and sinews.
We are more than delighted with the tremendous work which the Government have done in diversifying industry in such places as South Wales. It has been a magnificent effort, but the work provided is not work for the elderly. These industries need the young and the agile. In one industry in my constituency, workers are compulsorily retired at 65 years of age, and in our local factories and light engineering works there is no hope for these elderly people to find work.
I want to tell my right hon. Friend that the problem of the old age pensioners weighs more heavily on Wales than it does on England and Scotland. I have taken the trouble to look up the increases in population which have taken place in 1990 Scotland, England and Wales. Between 1921 and 1948 the population of England was estimated to have increased by nearly 5$ million. During the same period the population of Scotland increased by about 319,000. But the population of my little country—the country of most of the signatories of these Amendments—decreased by 104,000.
That means, of course, that there is still a substantial migration of our young life from Wales to parts of England. The population is drifting. It is made up largely of old age pensioners, on the one hand, and youngsters, on the other hand. I appreciate that I am raising a very serious problem here, and I will not elaborate it, but it is a problem which very considerably exercises the minds of Welsh people because in some way or another our population is being denuded of many of its young men and women until—and the expression must be excused—we have a top-heavy incidence of old age pensioners. In Wales we have substantially more persons over 65 years of age than there are in either England or Wales, in proportion to our population. Statistics will prove that.
I do not want to repeat all that was said during the debate on Second Reading, but I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to meet us in this human and perfectly reasonable request. It has hurt the sensibilities of these old age pensioners that this discrimination, so arbitrary and so artificial, should have been introduced between those who are forced into retirement at 65 and other pensioners. I make this appeal to my right hon. Friend and to those who sit with her on the Government Front Bench. We have had a very generous response from the Government this afternoon to an earlier Amendment and I hope, and all on these benches hope, that the right hon. Lady will also make a generous response to this Amendment,
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I rise to support the Amendment. I hope a genuine concession will be made to men between 65 and 70 and women between 60 and 65. We should bear in mind that, if we are to offer some inducement to people of 65 to remain in employment, we should go the whole way and grant them the pension at 65. We should not seek to guide them into 1991 employment to assist the country, and incidentally to assist themselves, and at the same time deprive them of their pension between those ages.
Hon. Members should take into account that men of 65 are being offered an inducement under the Bill to continue in work, and if they continue working until they are 70 they can retire on a higher pension; but a large number of these men die between 65 and 70 and, as a consequence, have received no pension at all. In my view, to use a mild term, we have legally cheated them of what is regarded as their right to a pension. I know of three men in my area who continued in employment and who died between 67 and 68. Under the new terms they had not received any pension at all.
The pension payable at present, even with the recent increase of 4s., provides a very low standard of life for those who draw it. We are often inclined to exaggerate the value of the amount paid to pensioners. If we were to make a searching examination into the increased cost of living I believe we should find that the 26s. a week pension has a value of scarcely more than 10s. or 11s. in terms of 1938. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am not exaggerating; hon. Members who do not believe me should try to say so to the old age pensioners.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have taken into account the increase in the cost of living. We all know that coal is 4s. 6d. a cwt. and we know of increases which have taken place in the prices of every commodity since 1938. I can remember when rice and peas were 3½d. a pound—and they are now 10d. I say that the 26s. has the value of about 11s. if we take into account the cost of living in 1938. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I do not care what any hon. Member says: that is my opinion. It is true that Government Departments take into consideration certain commodities and rule out nearly every commodity which has shown very great increases in price.
To deprive those who go into employment at 65 years of age of the right to a full pension is an act of injustice. I hope my right hon. Friends, in this case and in many other cases, will remember what was part of our propaganda when 1992 in opposition and will try to translate it into effect now that they have the power and now that they are the Government of the country. When Governments are in power we expect them to translate their theories into practice. I put my name to the Amendment because I believed in stiffening it a little, and I also thought a helper was needed here. In the building trade we had what was known as helpers; and I am a helper to those who wish to carry this Amendment. I hope the Government will be generous and will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
I welcome this opportunity of speaking after the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), because I do not think he has done justice to the attitude which the Government have already adopted. He spoke as if we had followed the policy which hitherto has been adopted by the opposite side of the House. I can remember in the last Parliament seeing Sir John Anderson stand at the Treasury Box, when we met in another place, wag his fingers across at the Minister and scold us because we had raised the scales of the old age pension when, he said, the country could not afford it.
The Government have shown no lack of consideration for our old folk. I was brought up on the saying,Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.I believe that a reasonable and just pension for our old folk is necessary if that sacred injunction is to be followed, but it is no good my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston suggesting that 26s. a week is worth only 11s. a week.
§ Mr. Thomas
I think my hon. Friend has allowed his enthusiasm for attacking the Government to run away with his judgment. I entirely support my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) in asking for this change in the age provisions. In my division last week-end I met a large demonstration of pensioners and I know that there is concern about the variation of the age provisions. I await the statement of the Minister with deep anxiety and I would tell her this: we have been prepared to take a strong stand on this question, but 1993 we are conscious of the difficulties which she faces. We hope that when she addresses the Committee today she will be able to tell us that this distinction between those under 70 and those over 70 will be removed by the Government.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I fully appreciate what has been said by my hon. Friends and I recognise that many of them come from those areas where, in the past, there has been widespread unemployment. The people of whom they speak have known poverty practically the whole of their lives. But I would remind my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite that this is an interim Measure, that I was under no statutory obligation to introduce this Measure, but that I felt the time had come when we should carefully examine the needs of certain of the pensioners. On a previous Amendment today I explained why I particularly selected the case of the widowed mother who, I felt, needed special attention.
When we approached the whole question of the old age pensioners we had evidence before us, which we obtained from the Assistance Board, which made it quite clear that a proportion of pensioners in the older age groups were seeking assistance more often than were the younger pensioners, if we can so describe them—the younger age groups. That is why, in the first place, we decided to give this increased basic pension to the older people. I will not weary the House with details, but there was also the other question of the improved expectation of life to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred in his Budget speech and with which I dealt on my Second Reading speech. I want the Committee to recognise that this increase in the basic rate which is proposed in the Bill will affect 3 million pensioners out of 4 million.
It has been said—one of my hon. Friends said just now—that we are departing from an important principle. I can only say to that, that if there has been any departure it was in 1946 when, it will be recalled, we divided pensioners into retirement pensioners and old-age pensioners. Again, somebody said that it should be uniform. Again, there was a departure from that principle in 1946. Whereas the retirement pensioner got his pension when he retired—the pension of 26s., to which the earnings rule was 1994 applied—the pensioner in the older age group who worked till 70 not only got a pension but an increment, too. So it must be clear that we have already departed from the uniform rate of pension. There has been talk of two classes of pensioners. Unfortunately, time sees to it that the younger pensioners become the older pensioners. People getting 26s. under the present scheme will get 30s. inevitably—well, not inevitably; we hope—under the new scheme.
In recent debates there has been an acceptance on both sides of the Chamber of the principle of a later retiring age where employed persons are capable of continuing to work beyond the minimum pension age. The Government have accepted this principle, and it was in view of this that the new pension proposals, of course, were framed. We recognise that there are those who are outside the insurance scheme altogether and must seek National Assistance. Whereas before I could only, perhaps, hint what the National Assistance Board proposed to do, I am in a position today to be able to tell the Committee that the new rates of National Assistance will be identical with the new basic pension rates, that is, 30s. for a single adult and 50s. for a married couple living on their own. Thus men aged 65 and 70, and women aged 60 and 65, living on their own, who have no other resources, will be able to draw supplementary pensions from the National Assistance Board which will bring their total pension up to the new level.
Despite this, the Government recognise that there are many people in this age group who, for one reason or another, cannot or will not receive National Assistance. They appreciate that many of those who have retired may find it difficult, if not impossible, to get back into employment. I know full well that there are men and women who have heard of these new proposals of ours on the radio who had, more or less, been winding up their affairs in preparation for retirement—some of them, at least—and that it is a little difficult to say to them, "Well, you can come back into work if you like." They anticipated retirement in every way, and, perhaps, these new proposals have been something of an unpleasant surprise to them. Therefore, we have decided to modify our proposals in the following way.
1995 All insured persons who have attained the age of 65 in the case of men and of 60 in the case of women by the appointed day will also be eligible on retirement to receive the pension at the new basic rates. Those who reach 65 after the appointed day will not be eligible, but it should be realised that by working for three six-month periods after reaching the age of 65 they will be able to earn the new rates of increment, and they will have established the right to a pension of 30s. 6d. if they decide to retire.
The net cost of these proposals, after allowing for a saving on Assistance, will be £4,000,000 in the first half year and £7,000,000 in 1952 to 1953; and then it will taper off. That is, net after allowing for Assistance; we anticipate a reduction in Assistance. If any of them are obliged to retire earlier they will still be able to obtain the supplementary pension from the National Assistance Board provided they are in need of it.
I should like this to go on record. I should just like to say something about the National Assistance Board. I want people to regard Assistance as part of the pattern of our social services. That is what we must establish—that it is an important part of the pattern; not something outside. They must not think of it as of the board of guardians. It must be complementary; it must be integrated with our present social services. And it must be remembered that, in assessing an applicant's need, there is no question of the applicant's having to be entirely without means.
I want hon. Members to tell their constituents this. They may take as a subject of their speeches National Assistance and National Insurance when next they go to talk to their constituents. In the assessment of an applicant's need, if he owns a house, the house is disregarded; the first £50 capital is disregarded; and up to £400 of capital is treated as though every £25 was the equivalent of a weekly income of 6d. How does that work out? I tried to explain it at Questions last Monday when I was asked a Question about this. It means that it will take 50 years for an old age pensioner with £400 capital to have it reduced to £125–50 years, below that there will be no reduction. Furthermore, war savings are 1996 disregarded to the extent of £375 per person; there are disregards for workmen's compensation and war pensions and superannuation under private schemes. Furthermore, there are exceptional needs. One out of every three at present are receiving additions beyond the normal scales—one out of every three; we are spending £6 million a year on things like extra coal, clothes, and so on.
What is the procedure? Again, there are those who say, "Well, this is all very well, but really we cannot go to the National Assistance Board's offices in case our neighbours see us." Well, we have even provided for that. There is no need to go to the Board's offices at all; although if people do go they will be treated as courteously there as they are at any other of our social insurance service offices—as if they went to one of the other offices that serve our social services. I would say that the widowed mother of whom we have been speaking is treated as courteously at the National Assistance Board's offices as she is at a maternity and child welfare clinic today.
However, there is no need to go to the Board's offices. They can obtain a very simple form from the Post Office, which they can post to the office, and somebody will call to see them—I hope not looking too official, because we have some very charming women in our offices. Or particulars can be sent by post, and we have even seen to it that if particulars are sent to an applicant by post then, on the envelope, there will be no indication that it has come from any office at all. So I think that there is no need for any of those who apply for this increased pension to fear the stigma which, in the old days, they dreaded.
I do hope that the Committee will consider what I have said, that it will consider the increase which we are giving and that it will feel that, with the increased National Assistance rates, we have done what we can to improve the lot of the most needful of all.
§ Miss Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
Could I ask my right hon. Friend a question before she sits down? Would she, for the record, say one word about rents and National Assistance?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I apologise to my hon. Friend, because I thought I had made a note of that. Not only do they 1997 get the increased allowances, but an allowance is made for their rent.
§ Mr. Donnelly (Pembroke)
May I ask another question? Will my right hon. Friend, for the purposes of the record, take a note of the fact that the benches on this side are crowded?
§ Mr. Peake
—and in which they seem to be continuing that happy accord and peaceful good will towards men which, I learn from the newspapers, has marked their recent meetings.
The Minister has made a very important statement; undoubtedly a very considerable concession to feelings which were expressed in the House on Second Reading. These new rates which are applicable now to everybody who has attained the age of 65—as I understand it—in the case of men and 60 in the case of women on the appointed day, will go a long way, as I said on Second Reading, though not the whole way, to making good the fall in the value of the pound and the rise in the cost of living since the rates were fixed in the Act of 1946. The right hon. Lady, I do not imagine, can yet tell us—perhaps she will be able to tell us before the Committee stage is concluded—when the appointed day will be; that will obviously now become a matter of very great importance, because those who have passed the age of 65 on the appointed day are going to get the higher rates, whilst those whose 65th birthday, in the case of men, or 60th birthday, in the case of women, falls a week after the appointed day will go on, as I understand it, at the existing basic rates of pension.
So it would appear that we shall have two classes of persons—those who have qualified, by virtue of being born soon enough to qualify for the higher rates, and those who have not qualified for the higher rates; and it is quite clear that we shall have for some years now considerable grievance amongst those who 1998 fall on either side of the dividing line. I think that that is quite inevitable. I remember we had very much the same difficulty in regard to the first introduction of the widow's pension, I think in 1928. Some had been widowed too soon to get the benefit of the new provision. Any change of this character which is made applicable by relation to a given date always does produce a good deal of heartburning amongst those who happen to be deprived by accident of its benefits.
In relation to the principle generally I think we shall need to take a little time to consider what the Minister has said. This is a completely new proposal, and for my part I should like to reserve any comments I have to make upon it until some further stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
The Committee will have greeted with warmth the concession that the right hon. Lady has made. For my part, I would say that I am not wholly satisfied with it for these reasons. The right hon. Lady was speaking about the principle involved, and she said that the principle had already been established both of a retirement pension and an old age pension, which, however, she did not say were the same, under the 1946 Act and in addition there was an incentive payment to encourage people to stay on at work after they had reached retirement age.
That there was one definite retirement age was made abundantly clear by her predecessor when he introduced the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill on the 6th February, 1946, when he said:… I have been urged to reduce the retiring age. I have been very loth to do that; I have preferred to fix a general retiring age for the whole of the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1748.]That is in fact what he did; he fixed a general retirement age for the whole country. The point I wish to make is this, and it follows on what the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said at an earlier stage. If this scheme is to be worked fairly and to be thought to work fairly by the people over a long period of time, it must be treated as an insurance policy. Any surplus that accrues under the scheme must be eventually distributed. Above all, the scheme ought not to be manipulated by the State in the interests of State expediency.
1999 In the scheme as originally framed there was a retirement age of 65. It was in the interests of the State to encourage people to go on working for a further period, and incremental payments were therefore introduced for that reason. The House will have read the First Interim Report of the Government Actuary, in which it is shown that the encouragement given did not have a tremendous result. This is shown on page 23 of the Report, which states:They appear to indicate, however, that the proportion of men likely to go on working rather than take a pension involving retirement from work is rather less than was assumed in the Estimates.It is in the interests of the State, no doubt, to enhance that encouragement. None the less, I am quite satisfied that it is absolutely necessary that we should maintain the same basic retirement age, and the retirement pension and the old age pension, apart from earned increments, should still be at the same basic rate. That is where this concession made by the right hon. Lady falls down.
I fully appreciate that to raise the basic rate at 65 and 60 would inevitably involve a very large increased burden in later years. In 25 years' time, the burden, no doubt, would be very considerably increased. The right hon. Lady told us that the cost would be £15 million in a full year. I do not know whether that would be so in 25 years' time but, whatever the increase would be, it would be something that we should take into consideration. We ought to pay our way as we go. I would have preferred to have seen an increased contribution in order to achieve the increased benefit.
The right hon. Lady herself has told us in the past, and the right hon. Gentleman who was her chief at the time also told us, that in principle increased benefits could only be obtained in proportion to increased contributions. That is a vital point in an insurance scheme. That is what I would have preferred to see, because I think that it is wrong in principle that we should at the present time be giving the impression to the country at large that concessions can be made from time to time without altering the contributions.
In the particular position in which we find ourselves, it is quite clear that, owing to the over-calculation of 2000 unemployment experience, we have a considerable balance in hand.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The hon. Gentleman says that it is because of full employment. I agree that four-fifths of the excess Exchequer contribution is due to that, and the Labour Government say, "That is due to us; we must take all that back." That is virtually what they are doing expect for a very small concession here and there. In these circumstances, I agree with the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that it would be quite wrong to regard the surplus as accruing to the Government alone, and I suggest that the increase in contributions, which in any case is statutorily due to be made this year, should be regarded as the increase appropriate to a rise in the retirement pension at 65 to 30s.
I should like to ask the right hon. Lady what would be the amount of the increased contribution required from each of the three sources, or at least the total contribution, to allow of payment at 65 of the 30s. retirement pension. I hope that she will answer that so that we may see exactly what it would cost and be able to compare it with the increase which in any case is to be made by Statute in contributions next October.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
It has been my privilege during the years I have been a Member to speak on a number of occasions, but I know of few occasions which have given me more joy than the joy I have experienced today. Benefits are to be offered to those who are in need, and I can imagine the joy that it must have given my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance to have had the privilege of making these concessions at the Box today.
We can all find fine points of difference in regard to these concessions. I ask my colleagues to keep one point in mind. When the 26s. pension was inaugurated, it was adopted against the background of the bad experience of unemployment. The 65 years' pension age was fixed with that background in mind. Considerable change has taken place. We no longer have the unfortunate experience of large numbers of people being unemployed. 2001 We are fortunate in having the experience of employees being needed on every hand.
We have been given figures to show that quite 60 per cent. of those who could be receiving pensions at the present time are working or would desire to continue in work. I think that the proposal the Minister has put forward today will stimulate those who are desirous of continuing in employment. It has great merit in that regard, but the concession is, of course, made primarily with a view to assisting those whose health and conditions do not permit them to continue work in the heavy industries, and in that regard it should be appreciated by those who represent constituencies in which the heavy industries are situated.
The Chancellor has had no easy job in providing the finances for the concession, and we ought to be grateful to him for the length to which he has gone, because this has been an exceedingly pleasant surprise to most of us. This was not the occasion nor the time to sit down and devise new methods and schemes. We were confronted with the increased cost of living. No section of the community is more worthy of consideration than the old age pensioners. I congratulate the Government on the speed with which they have dealt with the matter, and on the comparatively liberal concessions which have been made.
§ Mr. Molson
I am surprised to hear the expressions of satisfaction from the back benches opposite on the change which the Minister has announced. As far as I can understand it—I hope she will correct me if I am wrong—what it really means is that the principle of the Bill as introduced is maintained, and that for the future those who reach the age of 60, if women, or 65, if men, will not if they retire receive the increased pensions which are provided for in the Bill. Those who reach those ages in future will have to wait in the case of men until they reach the age of 70—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—except in the case of those who have reached the age of 60 or 65 on the appointed day, whenever that may be.
The concession which the right hon. Lady has announced is that those people who were born within a period of five years will obtain the increased pension at less than the age at which it will be payable in future. There is this period 2002 of five years during which, as the new policy is gradually brought into operation, those who have actually reached the age of 60 or 65 on the appointed day will obtain the increase in pensions which if they reached those ages after the appointed day they would obtain only when they reached the ages of 65 and 70.
There is something to be said for the concession. Whenever Parliament is proposing to make a change in the law, it is only fair and reasonable that that change shall apply for the future and that the people who are going to be affected by it shall have reasonable notice of the change which is to be made. It is because of the injustice of carrying out a change in the law of which the subject can have had no previous warning that it is generally accepted that retrospective legislation is unjust, and there is, naturally, if not injustice, at any rate some harshness if a fundamental change is made in the law and is brought into effect without reasonable notice. At the same time, I feel that the Government will find that by introducing the concession they had adopted an attitude which it is quite impossible for them reasonably and logically to defend.
It is absolutely inevitable that, whatever day is chosen as the appointed day, there will be a feeling of resentment among all those who had not reached the happy age of 60 if women, or 65 if men, who will find that they have five years longer to wait before they obtain the increased pensions. They will, naturally and inevitably, contrast their position with that of someone who may be only three days older but had just reached the happy age before the appointed day and will therefore receive the increased pension for an additional five years of his or her life.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I would point out that they will not be any worse off than they are at present. The hon. Gentleman has evidently taken no cognisance of the provision in the Bill concerning increments.
§ Mr. Molson
I have certainly noticed the provision for increments. That will be discussed later, and I have an Amendment down which deals with it. At the moment I am trying to make it plain to the Committee that all that has been done by the concession is to create an anomaly in the case of those who were born 2003 during a certain period of five years. This will certainly mean that for a long time to come there will be a great feeling of resentment on the part of those whose birthdays fall just after the appointed day.
I hope the Government will find that this will work out more satisfactorily than I believe it will. At any rate, the important thing is that the principle which was laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech is being maintained, and that in the future there will be an inducement to people who reach the minimum pensionable age to remain in industry. I should like to quote what the Chancellor said about the possibility of need at some future time for more drastic changes. I do not commit myself to supporting them, but it is important that we should realise that he said:In due course, some formal alteration of pension age in pension schemes, both national and occupational, may well be necessary. It would be premature to alter the age in the national scheme on this occasion; but any changes we make must be framed in a way which will encourage those reaching present, pension ages to remain at work without pension."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 849.]The concession which is now made is not likely to give effect to his policy.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I do not intervene at this moment to prevent any of my hon. Friends expressing their appreciation of the magnanimous concession which my right hon. Friend has made. I am certain that my right hon. Friend must be feeling more embarrassed now than ever before because of the mass felicitations from these benches. Will she accept from me that I very gladly join in the chorus of appreciation which has been expressed? I am certain that the right hon. Lady will feel that she has had a grand day in this old House of Commons. She has let down neither her people nor the Government. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Paton
On a point of order. In view of the very great importance of the statement which the Minister has made—it is, in effect, a recasting of an important part of the Clause—will it be possible for us to continue the discussion on 2004 the statement in spite of my hon. Friend's withdrawal of his Amendment?
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) is unable to withdraw his Amendment because objection has been taken.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I desire very sincerely and briefly to express my profound gratitude to my right hon. Friend and to the Members of the Cabinet responsible for making this concession. All of them must have played their part. I pointed out during the Second Reading that some consideration ought to be given to men and women of 60 and 65 who were employed in the heavy industries. I am glad that the pleas which were put forward on 26th April, 1951, have reached the ears of the Cabinet and the others responsible for the concession.
On behalf of the men and women engaged in heavy industries, I express my profound gratitude for the concession. It has been received in the Committee with considerable acclamation, particularly from my hon. Friends on this side, and it will be received with greater acclamation and gratitude in the country, and especially by the old age pensioners who were left out in the original proposals. There are 4,250,000 pensioners. The original proposals submitted by the Chancellor left outside 1,100,000 of them, but the concession will now cover them.
This is an accomplishment for which I am grateful as one who has taken a leading part, not only at present but in days gone by, in trying to raise the standard of living of our old folk. It was on the question of the old age pensioners and their lot that I made my maiden speech in 1943. From that day onward I have tried in every conceivable way to improve their conditions. I am glad that I have had this opportunity of seeing some improvement which has been denied to them for so long.
If one were to examine the records of this Government since 1946 and compare them with the records of previous Governments, one would appreciate the realistic and humane view which this Government have taken all the time. Therefore, I express my profound gratiture to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. As members of a legislative Chamber travelling the pathway of social progress, if we are true to ourselves and 2005 to our convictions, we cannot afford to leave anybody sick and wounded or aged by the wayside. Because of this concession those wounded and aged left behind in days gone by will be picked up and put on the high road to greater economic and social security than they have ever experienced in the past. I thank my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet for what they have done.
§ Mr. Fort
Like the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), I can speak of emigration from an industrial area. If people leaving a district is a sign of an ageing population, then East Lancashire must suffer as much as South Wales. It is for this reason, amongst many others, and because there is such a high proportion of aged in our part of the world, that I welcome these changes today.
As the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. I. Brown) has said, in order to get these proposals into proportion let us remember that they will help one and a quarter million people, and let us at the same time remember that we are going to be confronted with some strange anomalies. I am quite certain that when we see our constituents in the summer and hear about their troubles, there will be some difficult problems put to us, just as recently I have had some very harsh problems presented to me about the granting of widows' pensions under the present Act and under the 1936 Act. About those anomalies we shall hear more when we come to later stages of this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) has brought us back to the realities of this change. We are helping a very large number of people, but we are not departing from the fundamental principle which the Chancellor put before us in his Budget speech, and which the right hon. Lady elaborated to us on Second Reading. We are concerning ourselves with anomalies, which all of us will have to disentangle between now and the later stages of the Bill. In the meantime, let all of us be grateful and thankful that we are going to give a helping hand to another one and a quarter million of our fellow countrymen.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
I hardly know how to express my thoughts on this auspicious occasion. I am the oldest Member in years in this 2006 House, but I am not an old age pensioner. As I have represented one seat in this House for 21 years and have seen much poverty during that time, I feel justified on this great occasion in giving my benediction to the concessions. Last week I was a critic, and I would have been prepared to go into the Lobby if I had not felt that this week, something would have been done.
I know the great interest that is shown by the Tory Party in the demands of the poor and the old age pensioners. For the last two and a half hours, 20 Members have been sitting on the benches opposite, which is indicative of the great interest the Tories are taking in this subject. There was a pregnant remark by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) when he spoke of a line of demarcation in the Bill. But evidently he has not read the Bill which is before the Committee. I understood—and, of course, they say that the older one gets the more foolish one becomes—the right hon. Lady to say that the stigma of pauperism has now passed away. The poor law is no longer in operation, and there has been a revolution of great benefit to our people, because a Labour Government has been elected to this House.
I am proud to be a Labour Party member today, because we can go out with high heads and face our people in the knowledge that there is humanity and understanding in the Labour Party. I have heard a lot of economics today, as well as many aspects of economics which I have not been able to follow and I cannot say whether they are correct, but from the point of view of humanity, I am convinced that we have taken the right step.
I was the chairman of one of the biggest board of guardians in the country, and I have seen the poor law in operation. I have seen thousands of desolate people coming week by week for their relief, and I have known over the last 60 years, of much starvation in the great city of Liverpool. It is a revelation today to know that the poor, and especially the old age pensioners, are being well provided for, though not getting as much as I should like to see them get. However, what they will get will keep them from dying of starvation, as happened during the last 50 years in Liverpool, when one out of every three old persons died in 2007 the workhouse. That is now something which belongs to the past.
We are living under new conditions. I hope the Committee realise that materialism is not altogether what we strive for. There is humanity for the aged, those who gave their sons to defend the Empire, as well as those who, in their old age, lose the breadwinner from the home. Today's concession will receive the benediction of many thousands in this country, more especially in the city of Liverpool. I am truly thankful, especially when I recall some of the poverty which I have witnessed in other years, and I say: may God's blessing be upon the Minister, and may she under the influence of the Labour Party, go forward to greater victory.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I am in some difficulty in speaking at this stage, because when one is engaged on the Committee stage of a Bill and one has got down certain Amendments, it is extremely difficult to know at what stage to intervene. I am in the position now of not knowing whether the next Amendment standing in my name will be in order and whether it will be called. In any event, from the tone of the discussion, I think that I would be in order in making the points which I had intended to make if my Amendment were selected. Therefore, I will deal with the matters which particularly affect my area.
Originally, I had intended to call the hon. Lady's Amendment, but now I think it would be pointless. I hope she will make her points on this particular Amendment, which will save time.
§ Miss Ward
Thank you, Sir Charles, for that helpful intervention. As there seems to be some confusion in the minds of the Committee I should like to ask the right hon. Lady if she would kindly confirm that the point of view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) is the correct interpretation of the concession which she has announced this afternoon. If she confirms that, we shall be on absolutely firm ground.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I thought the hon. Lady would have listened very carefully to me when I made the concession.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I said that those who reached the age of 60 or 65 on the appointed day this year would get the increased pension. If a man decides to go on working from 65 to 70, he gets the usual increment, but if he can only work for one and a half years he also will get increments equivalent to the increased pension.
§ Miss Ward
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. I naturally listened with great interest to the statement that she made, but I think she will agree that these matters are extremely complicated. She has all the cards in her hands. As I feel that I am entitled to speak for my area on this matter, I do not want to make any mistake in interpreting the concession she has announced. May I say straight away that I welcome very much indeed the concession, coming as I do from an industrial area. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to think that they are the only people who are interested in the problems and difficulties of the aged.
I have represented the constituency of Wallsend-on-Tyne, in this House of Commons in the past, when we had in certain parts a higher level of unemployment than they had even in Jarrow. I do not want to blow my own trumpet, but I would point out that twice I defeated the Minister of Labour in the Socialist Government of 1929 to 1931. So, if a Minister of Labour in that Socialist administration could not win a seat in my part of the world, I think at least I can claim that I have the right to speak for it and that I have a knowledge of the problems there.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Will the hon. Lady also agree that in those years of which she has spoken, when the Tories were in power, they never did anything for the old people of this country comparable to what has been done now.
§ Miss Ward
I do not want to enter a controversy of that kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] No, indeed; but, believe me, I am not the least frightened of anybody opposite. If the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) would like to come up to Wallsend and stand with me in the open on the Borough Fields and have a political meeting on the record of his party——
§ Miss Ward
I quite appreciate that, Sir Charles, and I shall not pursue that subject. I would not have raised it if it had not been for the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite.
I want to repeat what I said during the Second Reading debate on the Bill, that I am grateful for the lines on which the National Assistance Board has developed. I have tried to follow these matters closely and I can say, from my own experience, that the National Assistance Board has been of vast assistance to many people in the lower income groups. I appreciate the flexibility of the Board and the human problems with which it can deal.
Now turning to the Bill, I am concerned lest once the announced concession has absorbed the people who will benefit under the scheme, there will be real difficulty in the heavy industrial areas. I raised this point on the Second Reading, and for once I found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Wilkes), who raised exactly the same point. We both come from Tyneside, we both know the problems of Tyneside, and our minds obviously on that occasion were in tune. I find it difficult to see that in the concessions given today, the right hon. Lady has in any way covered the points I raised then. Incidentally, I wish that occasionally I could have an answer to points I do raise. Since I returned to the House of Commons I have found that rarely do right hon. Gentlemen or the right hon. or hon. Ladies answer directly the questions put to them. And the hon. Gentleman who wound up the Debate on that occasion did not make one single reference to this important issue.
What is going to happen to the stoker? What is going to happen to the engine driver? What is going to happen to the people working in heavy industry in the shipbuilding and ship repairing yards? What is going to happen to that vast body of industrial workers who will not be covered by these concessions? I was interested in a question addressed to the Minister of Labour recently by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). He asked the number of vacancies registered at the Cardiff em- 2010 ployment exchange and the number of those thought suitable for persons over 65 years of age. The answer was that there were 1,557 outstanding vacancies, of which it was thought that about 125 might be suitable for persons over 65 years of age. The right hon. Lady will realise that these are local figures, but I suppose they can be repeated all over the country. The same hon. Member asked the Minister of Labour——the number of men and women,"—I know the right hon. Lady is sympathetic to the problems of women—respectively, aged between 65 years of age and 70 years of age, who have been found employment by the Cardiff employment exchange offices during the past year.The Minister of Labour replied:Information of this nature is not specially recorded and to do so or to extract the details from existing documents would involve an undue expenditure of time which would not be justified."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 1407.]If that is the approach of Government Departments to the problems of industrial workers in the older age groups, be they men or women—that there is not sufficient information available to be able to tell the House the answer to my query—then in making this concession today, indeed in the whole planning of this new National Insurance Bill, there does not seem to have been nearly enough attention given to this problem. What are people working in heavy industry who find themselves unemployed to do when they reach the age of 60 or 65; how, in fact will they fare under this Bill?
So far as I can see at first sight, the problem of the heavy industrial areas—which after all had to face great periods of unemployment—have not been dealt with at all adequately in this Bill or in this concession. I want to know what has happened with regard to Section 27 of the National Insurance Act, 1946, which provided for the introduction of supplemental pension schemes. Although the actual Clause was put into the Bill by the Socialist Government, I think my side can take credit for the inclusion of that provision, because the original idea came from this side of the House. I should like to know what steps have been taken by the Government to encourage the building up of supplemental schemes, since it seems to me that it is to them we can look for at any rate a partial solution 2011 of the problem of the heavy industrial worker.
§ Miss Ward
I will not pursue that subject much further, Sir Charles, because I have almost come to the end of what I want to say. I should like to ask the right hon. Lady whether the Government are to introduce the supplemental schemes in the nationalised industries which, after all, cover gas, electricity, transport, coal mining and the railways——
§ Miss Ward
Very well, Sir Charles, I will not stretch it one inch further, because I have said all I want to say. I hope that whoever replies for the Government will give some indication of how the interests of workmen in heavy industries—and women, who find it even more difficult to get jobs—will be safeguarded in the future, otherwise than through the National Assistance Board, by the concession made this afternoon. That is all I have to say, except that, coming from the Tyneside area, I welcome the concession made by the right hon. Lady, even though it covers only a certain section of the community.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)
Like other Members of the Committee I appreciate the concession which has been made by my right hon. Friend, but in order that we shall not get lost in our enthusiasm, let me draw attention to two or three practical points in this arrangement. I admit that the concession solves the immediate difficulty in regard to pensioners now retired, and those who reach the age of 65 by the appointed day and retire. A few minutes ago, my right hon. Friend, in reply to questions by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward), gave an answer which leaves room for misunderstanding.
The question was in regard to the increment earned for the period of working of 18 months. Such a person would receive increments equal to the increased pension rate but not in addition to the rate. We await a further statement, but I understand that the general principle of 2012 the change is that all pensioners over 60 in the case of women, and over 65 in the case of men, those who reach those ages by the appointed day and retire, will get these increased rates of pension
Any of that age who continue to work and retire after the appointed day, will not automatically receive the increased basic rate of pension. It seems to be assumed that that will be covered by people of those ages continuing to work because, in a period of 18 months, by the earned increments, they will catch up with the increased rate of pension. That is clearly understood. I say that this concession meets the present difficulty, but as and from the appointed day there will be a cumulative effect and in a short number of years we shall be back in the position where we are now. That point demands some consideration.
I am particularly concerned about this matter because I belong to a coalfield in which there is not an adult manpower problem, and in which it is very unlikely that these aged persons will continue in employment. That probem is likely to return in the next two, three, or four years. In the Durham coalfield there are between 7,000 and 8,000 workmen beyond 60 years of age. If we add to that number the wives of these workmen, we get the figure of 12,000 or 13,000 people who, four or five years hence, will be among the pensioners who are not automatically receiving this increased basic rate of pension. That is the position, and the problem.
There is another point, which I will put in the form of a question, which is whether the earned increment which will be paid to some pensioners because they have worked more than 25 weeks-remember that this is related to the 25 contributions—will be disregarded, in calculating the amount of the supplementary pension. If it is not to be disregarded, this is a serious point. In the case of a person working for 18 months, there is earned an increment of 4s. 6d., if he is a single person. Is that amount included or taken into account in the supplementary pension? If so, there is no point in his continuing to work. That is a practical point to which the Minister should give some attention.
I welcome the concession, but do not let us persuade ourselves that it is any-think like a solution to the problem over 2013 an appreciable period, much less a final solution. It has been suggested that something should be done, whether in the form of directives or of political pressure I do not know, to make the nationalised industries continue these people in employment. If that were not dangerous it could be embarrassing.
In some of these industries there is not an adult manpower problem, and to insist on the continued employment of these aged persons will create difficulties within the industries. It would be wrong to insist on the employment of such persons regardless of whether they can make a useful contribution to production. I am not in the least belittling the concessions that have been made and I join in the praise given to my right hon. Friend, but before we put these matters on the Statute Book we should consider whether they solve these practical points.
§ Mr. Summers (Aylesbury)
I am glad that the fumes which appear to have gone to the heads of earlier speakers have disappeared, and that we are now coming a little nearer to judging in a realistic spirit the exact consequences of what has been proposed by the Government. It is no exaggeration to describe the concession as an effective way to eliminate the grievances of one and a quarter million people and doing nothing whatever for those who come afterwards. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) wants to interject a remark, I will readily give way.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
I am very sorry, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Surely he is aware that the Minister has announced that those who remain at work after the age of 65 will draw the new basic rate? [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but this concession will go a tremendous way towards meeting what was wanted when the spokesman for the Opposition said on the Second Reading that he would not agree to any downward move of these benefits.
§ Mr. Summers
When I have had a little more to say about the effects of this concession, I may persuade the hon. Gentleman that there is rather more in my point of view than he imagines at the moment. Let us be quite clear what has brought about this concession. There was a revolt. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. Let us be clear about 2014 that, a major revolt. Plans were hastily conceived to find some way in the time available, to quell the revolt.
I have considerable sympathy with the number of those who revolted, because they did so in order to find some way of dealing with those below the age of 70 who, either through their own personal incapacity or because of the nature of the work in which they had been brought up, were not able to go to work to earn the improved increments which form part of the Bill. It was particularly that type of individual below the age of 70 which actuated those who spoke in such strong terms, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward), on the Second Reading of the Bill. That problem has not been solved, and once the 1,250,000 move on and others take their place, at the rate, I assume it is fair to estimate, of 250,000 a year, that problem will in five years' time become precisely the same as that with which the Committee are now faced.
The Government have felt that they cannot allow the thing to go on as it was originally proposed under the Bill. They have therefore taken an ad hoc decision to deal, at any rate, with the 1,250,000 people in the belief that there will be a General Election before there are many more in this category. They have not solved this problem, and it is still a very real problem which will occur as the years go by. It behoves both sides of the Committee to recognise it and to see whether it is not possible, in those industries where this is a particularly difficult problem, to dovetail in schemes which are related to those particular industries and which will fit into the common pattern, which is not easy to adjust in individual cases in the case of a national plan.
I do not think that the solution to this problem is the one that has been devised. It has been reached in a hurry and I doubt very much whether it would do more than it is intended to do: that is, to quell the revolt until something better is thought of.
§ Mr. Summers
There is no doubt that it has been very successful in doing that. I only hope that as time goes by, a more sensible, well thought out plan, either through the industries affected or otherwise, to deal with the problem——
§ Mr. Summers
It would not be difficult to find a better one. Obviously, there has not been time to consider more than superficially the effect of the concession, but I am certain that we are not exaggerating in saying that it deals with a particular group of people and that those who come after have nothing for which they need to thank the Government.
§ Mr. Paton (Norwich, North)
The first thing I want to do, in spite of the contemptuous references of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers), is to add my meed of praise to the Minister for the reconstruction of the Clause as submitted to the Committee today. I include an expression of appreciation also for her Cabinet colleagues who have co-operated with her in the introduction of the new plan. My right hon. Friend will be thanked not only by me and by other Members on this side of the Committee, but also, and far more effectively from her point of view, by the masses of old people who will be benefited by the new provisions. That is, after all, the thing that really matters.
It has been quite noticeable that throughout the debate since the announcement was made, apart perhaps from one or two exceptions, every speech from the other side has been grudging, and even curmudgeonly, in tone. Hon. Members opposite do not like what we have done, because although they will not openly oppose it, for very obvious reasons, they stated quite openly through their leading spokesman on the Second Reading of the Bill, as my hon. Friend has just reminded the Committee, that it is not their intention to support any proposal for extending the new rates downwards to the minimum age.
Here is the quotation, from HANSARD. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) said:I must make it clear that I, and most of my hon. Friends, could not support the extension downward of the new benefit rates to minimum retirement ages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 601.]That was a clear statement, given officially on behalf of the Opposition, and obviously, I have no doubt, expresses the 2016 point of view they still hold. It is, of course, a point of view that rests on a very important principle: the principle that it is necessary and essential that, as the years go by, we should as far as we can try to keep the burden of the maintenance of old age pensioners in some kind of rational relation to the capacities of the community. That, of course, is the idea, and that was one of the main ideas of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in first casting the original plan. It was undoubtedly designed to make it easier to continue at work, and to make it a little more difficult to leave work at the minimum retirement ages without good and sufficient reason.
We on this side, as everybody knows, have for a very long time continuously agitated for proper and effective provisions for the maintenance of old people in dignity and in comfort in their old age. We have always had that attitude, and we still have it. We want to see our aged people maintained by the community in their old age in conditions proper to the service they have rendered to the community. It follows that if in the long-term future we are to justify those claims that we made in the past and make now, we must give consideration to the capacity of the productive process of the country to support the continually increasing burden of the old-age groups in the community.
Figures in this connection have already been given in previous debates. At present, there is about one old age pensioner to a little over five productive members of the community. In 25 years' time, we are told, the ratio will be one old age pensioner to every three productive members of the community. Everybody, on both sides of the Committee, must therefore be seized of the importance of the long-term aspects of the burden of the proper maintenance of old folks in the community.
There is, therefore, a duty on all of us to see if we can devise ways and means by which we can tend in future to lessen that burden and to make it easier for the productive elements of the community to carry it; and to carry not merely a measure of assistance for the elderly, but proper, good maintenance and dignified conditions for them. That is what we are always demanding. In anything we do in the way of trying to make provision for bringing in more and more of our 2017 people to accept continued labour when work is available and they are able to do it, beyond the minimum retirement ages, we must have regard to three main principles. These provisions must exclude any positive injustice to any section of our old people. They must avoid applying forms of economic compulsion which are an offence to our sense of social justice. They must avoid applying intolerable harshness to any section of the pensioners subject to these provisions.
I believe that the Clause as originally drafted was open to criticism, and serious criticism, on all three of these counts. But now, under the new reconstruction, it seems to me those three criticisms have been banished and those three dangers have disappeared. That is why on this reconstruction which is now before us, although it is not in printed form, we have something which removes a most serious blemish and very grave weakness from the original plan.
§ Mr. Molson
May I interrupt the hon. Member? He has stated three very interesting points, but I do not understand why he should be satisfied with this concession. Supposing the appointed day is this year—as we all hope it will be. It deals only with women born between the years 1886 and 1891, and with men born between 1881 and 1886.
§ Mr. Paton
That does not seem in the least relevant to what I was saying, or to the three main principles which should be excluded from any provisions which are designed to try to make more people continue longer at work. Why the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) should say that since the Bill applies only to people born in certain years and therefore what I am asking is of no importance, I cannot imagine. As it happens, it is a matter of great personal interest to me, and perhaps to other hon. Members, as I come within the period the hon. Member mentioned. Therefore, I should declare to the Committee that I have an interest in this matter.
Why I welcome the new proposals is because they bring into the scheme all existing pensioners and all pensioners who will qualify before the appointed day. They will at one stroke get rid of that dangerous and wholly unsatisfactory differentiation that was proposed in the 2018 original Clause. Something equally important is also provided. As we know, there is to be a differentiation between those who have retired and those who have not retired before the appointed day, and for at least a year and a half there is the position that anyone who is fit and well and chooses to retire will have to accept a lesser pension. That is a differentiation, but there is a difference about that and the differentiation which formally operated over the whole body of pensioners under 65 and 70. The difference is that a man or a woman who reaches retirement age after the appointed day can exercise a free option. By a perfectly voluntary act, they can decide whether or not they value leisure more than the other increments they would gain if they continued to go on working.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
The hon. Member says that this option is voluntary, but supposing the employer does not allow the man to exercise it?
§ Mr. Paton
I am going to say a word about that in a moment. At the moment I am dealing with the Clause as a whole. The valuable thing is that at the age of 65, in the case of a man, and 60, in the case of a woman, the act of retirement will be something they themselves choose without economic compulsion. Therefore, I think we have a very important new factor introduced into the working of the plan. No one will be compelled to remain at work if they care to sacrifice part of the ultimate maximum pension. No one will be compelled to take that step unless they so desire of their own free will. So there will be no penalisation of old age or growing infirmity in those cases. That seems extremely important.
There are still two matters left untouched in the statement made by my right hon. Friend. I have no doubt that both are being looked at, and it is of course quite possible that in the necessarily rather hurried circumstances in which the reconstruction was brought forward it was impossible to be definite about them. Obviously, there will inevitably have to be provision in this new plan for those who are physically unfit at minimum retirement ages and because of ill-health or failing physical capacities are compelled to retire. It is inevitable that that will have to be done and I need not pursue the matter now. But it is 2019 important that, however eligibility for full pension is to be determined in cases of illness, the pension should be paid under the Insurance Act and from the Insurance Fund.
The other case is that mentioned by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), the case where workers in an industry have no choice but are simply discharged when reaching a retiral age common to that particular industry. There are many such cases, and obviously where that happens there will have to be some effort to protect the proper interests of those concerned by establishing some kind of machinery to deal with the matter.
All this of course raises questions I cannot pursue tonight, which will have to be pursued seriously on another occasion. The whole of our approach to this problem of old age and all the consequences of trying to induce longer service in industry by those physically capable of doing it raises problems for trade unionism, for employers in their organisations and for the whole social and industrial structure of the country which are of the highest importance. We have to renew our attitudes to this problem.
It will take a long time to break down the wrong psychology and wrong conditions which operate so much today against of working of plans of this kind. But we have to begin the process, and I hope that the Minister, while pushing on as quickly as she can with the new proposals put before the House, will at the same time begin thinking in terms of the other re-organisations that are necessary to make this plan work really effectively. Again I congratulate her and thank her for the sympathy and interest she shows in considering these problems.
§ The Chairman
I think I should say that I have allowed a very wide debate on this series of Amendments. That is on the understanding that we shall not have a repetition of such a wide debate on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," or I shall have to ask hon. Members to shorten some of the speeches.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod (Enfield, West)
I think the most realistic speech from the other side of the Committee came from the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley). He was quite right when, 2020 in addition to welcoming the proposals, he looked carefully at some of their implications. I think the proposals may best be described as buying time. When my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) drew attention to some of the implications the shouts of "No" which greeted his perfectly accurate exposition of them showed that one or two points in the concession had not been fully appreciated.
Let us for a moment consider the question of the 18 months. As I understand the position, the Minister made no concession whatever today in regard to the 18 months' period. What she did was to explain the effect of something which is already in the Bill. She pointed out that just as one will be able, when the Bill becomes law, to earn a 3s. increase by staying at work for a year so one will be able to earn 4s. 6d. by staying at work for 18 months. It is true that as matters now stand one can earn an additional 2s. by staying at work for two years. So the 18 months, about which so much has been said, is no part of the concession or the proposal. It is merely an explanation given, quite rightly, by the Minister as to how people not falling into this category can, in a sense, but only in a sense, catch up with the final figure of 30s.
One point which has not so far been mentioned in this debate is the question of the effect which these proposals will have on the appointed day, because we shall have pressure in precisely the reverse direction from that which up to a few hours ago there would have been. Obviously, the later the appointed day now is the more people will be brought within the scope of this particular 60–65 age group. That is an important consideration which will affect the question of whether the provisions of this Bill should be brought into effect immediately or later.
I wish to refer briefly, as so much has been said about the history of these concessions, to the parent Act, and to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies. He said:we have thought it desirable not, at the moment, to lower the age from 65 for men and 60 for women."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1749.]2021 A little earlier he had said that it was:the Government's intention to hold the cost of living at about 31 per cent. over the September, 1939, level."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946: Vol. 418, c. 1742.]That is the background to these proposals.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer expressed an almost contrary view on this subject in the Budget debate, and he was at once taken up by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). Just as the Chancellor has, by and large, had his way in the National Health Service Bill, so he has, by and large, been defeated on this occasion. I dare say that that method of swings and roundabouts is the method by which we are now to be governed.
The only point I wish to make about the cost of these proposals is that we are creating a very difficult situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) pointed out, it will be a little difficult later to explain why people born on one side of the line are to fare so much better than people born on the other side. There were such difficulties on 5th July, 1948, and there have been in connection with every scheme, but here, in a sense, a very different principle is involved because we are to give differential benefits to an age-group within a sector of the population. That is a new principle and, therefore, an anomaly that, in my view, will be felt the more harshly by those who just fail to qualify.
We have heard, as always, a very warm-hearted speech from the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). He spoke about how much these proposals would give. I do not wish to argue the case of the 'twenties and the 'thirties as against the 'fifties, but it is worth quoting just one sentence from a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in an answer to a Question a few days ago. He was asked what was the value of the unemployment benefit today in comparison with 1939. His answer amounts to this: that today it is 26s.; in April, 1939, it was 17s.; and the worth of the 26s. now is 17s. 1d. That is where we have gone in 12 years. In respect of that benefit we are a penny better off in everything that matters than ever before.
The real problem if it is agreed that there is about £7 million, let us say, in the kitty, which can be given in one way 2022 or another, to help this sector of the old people in the country, is whether this is the best way of doing it. That is the real problem for us all. One would like the sum to be £10 million or £20 million but if it is £7 million is this the best way of disposing of it? We were told from the other side of the House that the proposal that it was best first of all to cover completely the National Assistance rates was a typically Tory proposal. That is not so. It was said in the House that that was a priority greater than increasing the National Insurance scale, and that was said by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) on 19th March—it will be found in c. 2089 of HANSARD—who has since been promoted to the Front Bench.
§ Mr. MacLeod
No. I am merely saying that the point of view that I hold is not confined to any particular party.
I hold the view that if we have a very limited amount of money in this field we must be absolutely certain that every penny goes to the people who need it most. It is for that reason that I welcome more than anything done by this Bill what the Minister said this afternoon about National Assistance. That is much more important.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I am glad to have the agreement of the hon. Member.
I believe that there is much to be said for these proposals, and perhaps some aspects of them that should be most carefully considered. The aspect above all to consider is whether this is really the best way of spending this amount of money. I hope that we shall have a full and considered debate when, in due course, the draft regulations for the improvement in National Assistance come before the House.
Mr. Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
I am very glad indeed to have the opportunity of speaking. I had hoped to make a speech during the Second Reading debate, but I decided not to attempt to do so because so many of my colleagues wanted to speak. I wish to join with the other Members who have spoken in congratulating the Minister on these proposals. But I do so for very different 2023 reasons because I can appreciate, perhaps better than many other Members in this House, exactly the difficulties and the problems with which she has been confronted. I am sure that it must be encouraging to her to come to the Committee today and receive such generous applause on the introduction of these measures.
I feel that the Minister's argument in connection with the departure from certain principles was rather ingenious. It is true that the pensions for these people aged over 70 have been increased from 26s. to 30s. and that widowed mothers' allowances have also been increased. I appreciate that part of the scheme because I have always felt that widows with children are not in the same category as the other beneficiaries in the scheme. I feel that a special case could always be made out for the widowed mother.
But when we consider the other proposals—that the people between 65 and 70 years of age are now to have their pension increased from 26s. to 30s.—I say that it is a great departure from the principle enunciated and accepted in this House in the National Insurance Act. I state quite frankly that I regret it. I do so because I think that the problem of the increases could have been met in an entirely different way. What are we really setting out to do? We are in fact to give an increase to the old people of 4s. per week. I am sure that the old people are not in the least concerned how they get that money. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member is wrong."] I am not asserting that there are not some people who may not be getting National Assistance because they object to going to the National Assistance Board. All that I am saying is that we are setting out to give the old people 4s. more a week, and that they are not concerned about the machinery of the operation by which that is done.
Having said that, let us look at where we are going by this proposal. We shall find that old age pensioners, many of whom are members of clubs, will be sitting around discussing this matter. When we go to our constituencies we shall require to explain the proposals, and the one thing I have learned in my experience, so far as insurance is concerned, is that everything that one might think 2024 about is likely to happen, and that the special cases and anomalies that we think about are bound to crop up.
Let us take the case of five old age pensioners who are in an old age pension club. The first is over 70 years of age. He is working, and is able and willing to work. He will get his pension increased to 30s. a week. His friend who is aged between 65 and 70 years, having retired and then gone back to work, will have his pension reduced because of earnings. He will not get any increase. The third case is that of a man between 65 and 70 who has retired from work and is not at present working. He will get the increase of 4s. per week. The fourth case is that of a man who is unfortunate enough not to be 65 until after 5th October, if that be the appointed day. He will receive only 26s.; he will not get the increase. Then there is a man of 66, who at present has not retired but who will have to stay away from work on account of sickness. He will then draw sickness benefit of 26s. per week, because we must bear in mind that the man who can go on working will receive sickness benefit when ill or unemployment benefit when unemployed.
There are five categories, all in different circumstances, being treated differently. We shall have a most difficult job explaining to these old age pensioners how they stand in this matter. I feel we are tackling this problem in a way which makes it much more complicated than is necessary. I am all for simplicity, and I have no doubt that so far as the National Insurance and social security schemes are concerned, we desire simplicity, especially when dealing with old people. We have to be patient and kind with them and try to understand their problems, and make it easy for them to understand.
I was rather amazed at the editorial in the "News Chronicle" today which accused the Government of doing this for administrative convenience. Having some knowledge of the administration, I know it is certainly not being done for administrative convenience, because this will make it much more complicated than ever before. Complication only means more paper, more staff and more time being devoted by the people concerned.
Considering the position before 1948. I was always surprised that the 2025 trade union movement and the trade union Members in this House made no demand for increased unemployment benefit. Hon. Members will bear in mind that the degree of unemployment was low; that the Fund was growing and there was a tremendous amount of money in the Unemployment Fund just prior to 1948. Of course, the principles embodied in the Beveridge Report and in the National Insurance Act were such that we all desired equality of benefit. But I am certain that if a demand had been made prior to 1948 for an increase in unemployment benefit the Government would have found it very difficult, considering the condition of the Unemployment Fund, to have refused it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Paton) enunciated three very good principles, but why should it be confined to old age pensioners? I would agree with what he said, but surely the same three principles ought to be applied to all sections of the community if need arises. This particular proposal to differentiate between benefits in the social security scheme will act as a boomerang on other benefits. There will be a desire expressed for an increase in unemployment benefit. That will naturally come, and so far as I can see we have weakened our case against any pension demand from spinsters. We always said we must have equality of benefit irrespective of the circumstances in which the need arose. Now we have said in effect that there is differentiation between the various groups of benefits, we can expect that a spinster's movement will be chasing us again—[Laughter]—I have no desire to chase the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) over the fields of Wallsend. She is the one who will probably be chasing us.
What I am endeavouring to say, and expressing myself as forcibly as I can, is that we have opened the whole scheme to attacks from pressure groups interested in particular benefits. My fear is that the same thing will happen with the sick and especially the long-term sick. They are the people who will probably be worse off in the end. If there is any need for increases, the need of the long-term sick is on a level with that of the old people, and some people would go so far as to say that their need is even greater.
§ Mr. Rankin
Would my hon. Friend make himself clear on the line of argument he is following? Is he using the violation of the general principle in the Bill as an argument against granting the increased amount to the old age pensioners?
That may appear to my hon. Friend to be the logic of it. Earlier I said that we should look where we were going. I also said we were proposing to give an increase of 4s. and that I thought we were tackling it in a complicated way. If my hon. Friend will wait for a minute or two I shall tell him what I think ought to have been done. I hope I have made that particular point clear. Having departed from the general principle of equality of benefit, we shall be faced with competition among various pressure groups and it will be very difficult for us.
May I be told if, when the proposals contained in the Bill were brought to the House, it was contemplated that there should be the increase in National Assistance benefits? If the answer is, "Yes," there is no real necessity for this Clause. If the answer is, "No," then, quite clearly, there was a lack of foresight on the part of the Government. In effect, what is being done is merely a question of book-keeping. The increase of 4s. is being given and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is being relieved by the 4s. being met from the National Insurance Fund. I feel that it is our desire to increase the money to be given to the old people, but I think we are tackling the matter in a very complicated manner indeed.
The case of each of the pensioners who number some four milion, will have to be examined, and that will be a big administrative job. We are departing from the principle of equality of benefits contained in the National Insurance Act, which I regret. It would have been much simpler and much more straightforward if, instead of this particular proposal, we had had a straightforward increase in the National Assistance Board grant. Had that been done, the need would have been met and the same effect would have been achieved. Those people in need would have received benefit and the principle in the National Insurance Act would have been maintained.
2027 Having done that at this stage, we could then have gone ahead with a general review of the whole structure of our social security, because the present benefits bear no relation to the increased cost of living. I am sure that would have been a much more satisfactory method of tackling this particular problem.
§ The Chairman
We have had a very long debate on a matter on which I understand there is substantial agreement. Is it not now possible to come to a decision? I made it a condition of the wide discussion—and we have had quite a Second Reading discussion—that we should not have a further discussion on the question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Keenan
I accept the inference, Major Milner, that you do not wish me to make a long speech, but I regret that I cannot reply more fully to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) because his was a Second Reading speech if ever there was one. Most hon. Members seem to have lost sight of the reason for the increase, which is because of the increase in the cost of living.
The opinion has been expressed that the standard benefit should not have been increased but that those in need should go to the Assistance Board. I am pleased that the Government have relieved those 600,000 people from the necessity of having to go to the Assistance Board. Whenever is the appointed day there will be those individuals who will have been born a day before or a day after, and the result will be that numbers of people will be in different categories. When the Bill was considered on Second Reading I disagreed with the way we were doing it. I do not think it is the best way, but, at any rate, we have removed by the alteration of this Clause the anomaly which I suggest would have created a great deal of antagonism and confusion among the old people.
We have to recognise that there is now a need to give serious consideration to what should be done in the future. At the particular period when the operation 2028 of the new scales comes into being, undoubtedly there will still be those in different industries who, in spite of adjustments in the pensions rates, will want to remain at work, and they will want to know whether the employers—and this applies also to the nationalised industries—will be ready to give them the opportunity of remaining in employment.
There will still be a large number of cases such as we find in heavy industries in which men are practically worn out before they reach 65, and there will still be that problem. With the increase of the Assistance Board rates, at any rate, if there is need that can be proved, any man who is compelled to retire, and is not eligible for this benefit after the appointed day, will at least be covered as much by the Assistance Board scales. I am very satisfied, and I think we have avoided a great deal of heartburning and dissatisfaction amongst our old people. We are providing for over 600,000 on that level, and I welcome the new proposal.
§ Mr. Boardman (Leigh)
I am very sorry that I cannot share the enthusiasm of some of my colleagues for this new concession. I know that the hour is getting late, but I wish to express a point of view because I think that there is a grave danger of our becoming a mutual admiration society, in view of some of the speeches that have been made already. I still do not like this Bill, despite the concession.
§ The Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but if the debate is to go on, hon. Members must not continue to speak on Second Reading lines. I would point out that there will be an opportunity for those hon. Members who are not called today to speak on the new Clause or the Amendments which I presume the Minister will bring in on Report stage. There will also be opportunities when regulations are brought in. In those circumstances, perhaps I might express the hope that hon. Members will not press their claims to speak on a matter which is substantially agreed, but the precise terms of which are not before the Committee.
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of order. Does that mean that we are being given, more or less, your assurance from the Chair, 2029 Major Milner, that when the new Clause is before us, we shall have no difficulty in being called?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot bind Mr. Speaker, but I will undertake to call his attention to the fact that a number of hon. Members have not been able to speak. I have no doubt that Mr. Speaker will take note of that fact, but I cannot in any way prejudice his rights.
§ Mr. Houghton
Further to that point of order. May we have your guidance, Major Milner, as to what we are now discussing? There was a reference to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), who I understood had withdrawn it.
§ The Chairman
We are discussing a series of Amendments, the first of which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), on which I understand, the Minister has made some promise, and the proposal is that, if that Amendment be negatived, the Minister will, presumably, bring in an Amended Clause at a later stage of the Bill, when its precise terms will be before the House.
§ Mr. Boardman
I have not the slightest intention of making a Second Reading speech. I wish to confine my remarks to the announcement made by the right hon. Lady when she spoke on the Amendment now before the Committee. I still dislike it, despite what she says, because I think that it is a completely illogical Clause. It will be an illogical Bill, because it prescribes two different rates of pension for one class of pensioner, and, if we want to ascertain the view of the pensioners on this matter, I think it would be that which was summed up cryptically at the week-end by one of my constituents, who said, "All t' stuff that goes into my basket comes from t' same shop." That was Lancashire, and you cannot get it any better than that.
2030 I dislike the Clause also because it completely ignores the basic need for any alteration in the pension rate at all. When the pension was increased in October, 1946, to 26s. and 42s. the Government did not put down those figures as merely haphazard figures. There had been a great deal of time spent in arriving at those figures, and they gave meticulous consideration, as the result of their inquiries, to what were the minimum needs of pensioners, and that minimum need, as far as they could express it in terms of shillings and pence, happened to be, in their view at that time, 26s. and 42s.
Surely, the Minister will admit, as everyone of us has to admit, that it was not merely incidental that those figures, in terms of shillings and pence, were put in the Bill in 1946. If, in fact, they were talking of the needs of pensioners, those needs are no less today than they were in October, 1946, but, because the cost of goods and services has so increased, the pensioners are, in fact, getting very much less than the Government at that time intended they should have. I think this is a bad thing, and I want to say that we are really heading for trouble.
I was formerly a trade union official and a negotiating officer, and there have been times while I was acting as a negotiating officer, when it became necessary to put into trade union agreements what we call the "new entrants clause." In those cases, when we were concerned with maintaining the wage rates of trained people, we prescribed that new entrants who came in after a certain date should receive a less amount. I knew that, when we were forced to put that clause into those agreements, we were going to be in trouble at a later stage, and every Member of Parliament will be in trouble, and the right hon. Lady herself will also be in trouble, after the appointed day. It is an extremely bad thing, and, if the Minister can look at it again even at this late stage, I should be very happy.
These proposals have been so framed as to induce people to stay in employment after 65, and that point has already been covered. But if we take the heavy industrial areas, the mining areas, or an area like my own constituency, we find that four out of 10 people are employed in cotton, three out of 10 are employed in coal, and for the remaining three there are the public services, distribution and 2031 so on. It shows that there is precious little diversity. The point I am trying to make is that, if we are not going to increase the basic rate, and it appears not from what the Minister said, it seems to me that these people are going to be forced, whether they like it or not, to apply for National Assistance.
Some of us have done what we can from public platforms to get the people to see that this is not charity, but that they are entitled to these benefits. An old lady wrote me a letter saying that she was a pensioner receiving 26s. per week. It was one of the most reasonable letters which I have ever received. She said to me, "I know the times are very difficult, but if you get the opportunity, will you please do what you can for the old age pensioners?" I got my agent to go and have a look at this old lady, and, as a result of his visit, he got in touch with the Assistance Board, and somebody went along for an interview.
The Assistance Board were delighted to say that they would give her the maximum allowance which they were permitted to give her under the scale. When they went along to let that lady know this, she said, "It is very good of you, but, in the meantime, I have been turning it over in my mind. I have a sister who is also a widow and an old age pensioner, and neither of us have ever had charity and do not want it. We have decided that I shall sell up my home and go and live with my sister. We shall both have our 26s. a week which will enable us just to pull through." It is no use anybody ignoring that argument. Those people are the salt of the earth, and we want to do something about them.
This morning I received a letter from a minister of religion—there have been letters from ministers of religion quoted before in this House, but this is different—in which he said:Theoretically, of course, a great many of them"—speaking about people of 65—can still work, and Mr. Morrison has urged firms to retain over-65's in their employ. But it is by no means easy in practice for old people to find suitable work. I know people in good health who are anxious to work, but cannot find occupation. There are jobs, it is true; but if a man has been a black-coated worker, or a shop-assistant for 50 years, he cannot go into a factory at 65 with any hope of justifying his employment, and few if any 2032 firms would employ him, even if he were ready to do a heavy manual job.That minister has arrived at the same conclusion as myself, but by a different route. He is concerned about the black-coated and clerical worker, and says that there is no possibility of his getting a heavy manual job. I am concerned about the heavy manual worker getting a lighter job, and every hon. Member representing a mining area is bound to take cases like that into consideration. I hope that the Minister will take full cognisance of what I say here because I am sure it is not a narrow problem confined to my own constituency.
I was amazed when I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich. North (Mr. Paton) talk about retirement as a voluntary act. That is a lot of nonsense. How can it be a voluntary act when a man who cannot afford to retire is compelled to do so merely because of the age on his birth certificate? I would rather call it compulsory unemployment. Until such time as we can do something to place people on an adequate standard, it would be better if they were not compelled to retire. It would be a different thing if we had any jurisdiction over what employers do with that labour when it reaches the age where it is less useful. I do not want to detain the Committee—I shall probably want to speak again at some other time—but I would ask the Minister to give consideration to what has been said on this matter.
§ Mr. Rankin
I feel that one or two points made in the statement today are being missed, and that in view of some of the things that have been said it should be emphasised that the Measure before us is only an interim Measure pending a full review of the National Insurance Act and its incidence on the various classes of people affected by it. I believe it is also true to say that we are seeking to improve the lot of a particular class in the community who, it is agreed on both sides of the Committee, merit immediate attention.
My right hon. Friend's statement contained three important decisions, and I will very briefly refer to them. First of all, she declared a new retirement age. That fact may have been noted by hon. Members, but I do not think it has been referred to in any of the speeches to which 2033 I have listened. The fact that the new retirement age has been fixed at 66½ years of age is a very important aspect of what we heard this afternoon, because a good many of us were extremely worried when the retirement age of 70 was decided upon.
I have found from inquiries at the insurance office in my own division, which deals with a good deal of heavy industry—dock labour, shipbuilding, and engineering—that there is much that supports the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman). The manager of the National Insurance office in my division told me last Saturday week that his experience is that so long as a worker continues at work after 65 years of age there is no attempt made to interfere with him, but that if he should fall ill or have an accident then, in the part of Clydeside which I represent, there is today no chance whatever of his returning to industry.
That is something which has got to be taken care of, because it is no use my right hon. Friends saying, as is being said, that we must prolong the working life unless we take steps to make that possible. I have here a letter from an old age pensioner in which he tells me that when the re-armament programme started Rolls-Royce, Limited, Hillinton, asked him to return to work for them. When, however, they discovered that he was 65 years of age, they refused to engage him. This firm, and others like them, are carrying out contracts on behalf of the Government, and I suggest that Government pressure must be brought to bear on them to engage workers after 65 if this policy is to become effective.
§ Mr. Rankin
Of course. I am assuming from what has already been said that pressure will be brought to bear on Government Departments and local authorities, and that an example will be set in such Government and semi-Government agencies. But there is another phase of industry outside of such employment altogether, and it is on those sections that influence must be used if a longer working life is to materialise.
§ Mr. Rankin
Of course. The nationalised industries must also play their part.
2034 The fact that under the original Bill it was proposed to make the retirement age 70 worried us a good deal. Much of our discussion at this stage is exploratory, but one important result of what we have heard today is that the retirement age is no longer to be 70 years but 66½ years. I trust that this is not a misinterpretation.
§ Mr. Rankin
Some confusion has been manifest about the appointed day. There is a feeling that a person who becomes 65 years of age after the appointed day—and here I hope my right hon. Friend will keep me right, because I do not want to put her in the wrong——
§ Mr. Rankin
I hope my right hon. Friend will put me right if I misunderstand the position. The feeling has been expressed that a person who becomes 65 after the appointed day will be adversely affected as far as his total payment is concerned. That has been said on both sides of the Committee.
§ Mr. W. G. Bennett (Glasgow, Woodside) rose——
§ Mr. Rankin
I am making a speech, and if the hon. Gentleman had been listening he would have heard me say that much of what we are saying in this debate is exploratory.
With regard to these exploratory speeches, all this will come up again on the Report stage. The present Amendment is a very simple one.
§ Mr. Rankin
It seems to me to be very pertinent to the statement which has been made. The person who is 65 after the appointed day is not being penalised because there are two elements in the statement made today. First there is the raising of the National Assistance Board's scales, which is applicable to everybody, and there is also the raising of the pension rates. The fact that the National Assistance Board's scales are 2035 going up pari passu with the new pension rates means that there is going to be no adverse effect on an individual who becomes 65 after the appointed day.
§ Dr. Summerskill indicated assent.
§ Mr. Rankin
I think that is a most important point to make now: Let me give an example to show how it will work out as I see it.
Let us take a married couple who get 42s. under the old pension rate but who will not benefit under the new rate. Let us compare them with a couple who come under the new rates and receive 50s. The Assistance Board rate is now 50s., and if we add to that 7s. 6d. for rent, which is paid, for the most part, in my division, the Assistance Board's scale for a married couple will be 57s. 6d. Therefore, the couple who are still receiving 42s. will now be 15s. 6d. below the Assistance Board's scale, and their payment will be increased from 42s. to 57s. 6d., so that they will get 42s. pension plus 15s. 6d. assistance. Therefore their treatment will not be affected by their relation to the appointed day——
§ Mr. Molson rose——
§ Mr. Rankin
I have not the slightest objection to giving way. I give way too much at times; but I do not want to come into conflict with the Chair—I am just finishing.
§ Mr. Molson
What the hon. Gentleman has said is correct about the figures, but of course he is assuming that the second couple are able to go to the National Assistance Board, and that means that they are in need. The hon. Gentleman must surely draw a distinction between pensions paid as a matter of right and assistance paid only in the case of need.
§ Mr. Rankin
There again the hon. Member is raising a matter which is the basis for another debate. He is seeking to draw a line between the National Assistance Board and the Ministry of National Insurance but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, they are part of one great scheme, and it is no greater disgrace to go to the Assistance Board than to seek National Insurance benefit. That is a point which we have to keep in mind.
We are laying down scales which for that couple will be 57s. 6d. That is a Parliamentary decision, and it confers a 2036 right to which they are as much entitled as the individual who exercises his claim to that right in National Insurance. There should be no stigma in making a claim on the National Assistance Board. It is important to point out that no disability is imposed on the person who becomes 65 after the appointed day by this Amendment.
I want to conclude by joining in the general praise which has been showered on my right hon. Friend. I think she deserves it. I was going to say she had too much praise, but one can never give a lady too much of that. Being Scottish, although my words may be restrained, I can assure her that the warmth in my heart is not.
§ Mr. W. G. Bennett (Glasgow, Woodside)
I had not intended to intervene but for the speech of the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin). He has somewhat clarified the position and gone out of his way to make it perfectly clear that the Government and Labour have no objection whatsoever to chasing people from their legitimate pension to the Public Assistance Board for the extra shillings. I am very happy we have had that clarified to the Committee tonight. It is now made clear that if a husband happens to be 65 on 30th September he and his wife qualify for 50s., but in the case of a husband who happens to be 65 on 2nd or 3rd October this couple may only receive 42s.
I hope if I am wrong the Minister will clarify the situation. Those in the latter category will then be compelled to go to the Public Assistance Board. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is no Public Assistance Board."] Letters we receive are not signed by the Minister concerned but by the chairman of that particular Board. It is a separate department and the Government have recognised it as such. I never thought I should hear it expounded from the benches opposite that when anyone was compelled to go for assistance, there was no means test, but we have heard that now.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member says that it is a separate Department, but that is not so. I am responsible.
§ Mr. Bennett
Last week I addressed a letter to the Minister on this very subject, and the signature on the letter which 2037 I received in return was "George Buchanan, Chairman." I happen to know a case of an unemployed man who is 64. He is looking forward to getting his pension, but when he qualifies, he will get 26s. plus 16s., which makes 42s. and not 50s. That man will find it as difficult to live as the other man who happens to be a few weeks older than he is.
I think the right hon. Lady would have done a first-class job, and we would all have congratulated her, if she had gone all the way and had allowed people who become 65 and 60 respectively after 1st October, to get that meagre extra 4s. which is so necessary in these times. It has been spent already, for prices have increased. The right hon. Lady should have gone all the way and she should have given all pensioners the extra 4s., irrespective of the few weeks which separate their ages. Before we reach the final stage of this Bill I trust she will reconsider this point and will allow 50s. for everyone qualifying after 1st October, 1951.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The hon. Member for Woodside (Mr. Bennett), who has made that unexpected intervention, placed his finger on one of the unsatisfactory parts of the Bill to which reference has already been made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. But he differed from his hon. Friends by going a great deal further than they, because he is the first one on the other side of the Committee who suggested that remedy. If he convinces the right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake), and persuades him to adopt the same attitude, I shall be very surprised. When he lectures us on what we have done and are doing, I wish he had been in the House in 1947 when, on consideration of the Finance Bill, the then representative of the Scottish Universities, Sir John Anderson, stood at the Box and told us that we were far too quick in wanting to raise old age pensions from 10s. to 26s.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has been generous, realistic and courageous in what she has done. The hon. Member for Woodside did not mention this fact, but before my right hon. Friend spoke today, in Britain there were three million old age pensioners looking forward to an increase. After her announcement that 2038 number had risen by one and a quarter million. That is something for which some praise is deserved. It has been suggested that there has been some revolt on this side of the Committee. That is significant of the attitude of hon. Members opposite to any healthy criticism which leads to successful action; they consider it to be a revolt.
My right hon. Friend's action is realistic because it takes into account the great needs of the old people at the moment. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Woodside to talk. He comes from Scotland, as I do, and perhaps he has been to as many Burns Suppers as I have. He has probably heard the poem which has led to such head shaking in Scotland over 150 years. It was as true in 1945 as it was when it was written:Age and want, O ill-matched pair,Show man was made to mourn.And the party opposite stuck to the 10s. My right hon. Friend's action is realistic because it recognises a mistake which was originally made. I do not think the country is sufficiently aware of the change of policy that is taking place. We are changing the age of retirement and, for the first time, we are facing the necessity for action on this problem of the unbalance of the population. That is why I think it is courageous of the Minister to retain discrimination. If the incentive for people to continue working has to be retained, we must retain discrimination.
The point I want to make is the point which was touched on superficially by the hon. Member for Woodside. After the appointed day there will be disappointment among some people, and we must recognise that there will be a certain measure of hardship for the people who retire after the appointed day and find that they are getting 4s. less. It is a new problem, but I do not think it is a problem of pensions or of retirement payments. It is an unemployment problem.
The challenge is to industry and to the trade unions; it is easy for the hon. Member to talk about the nationalised industries, but if he knew the difficulties which exist in operating this kind of thing on the railways he might appreciate that it is not so easy to pass an order and say that the 65 years of age rule must be wiped out. He would find it much more difficult to 2039 argue on those lines if he came from a railway constituency. There has to be a great deal of thought and work done by the employers, the workers and the Ministry of Labour.
Secondly, there is the question of what happens to those people who cannot be employed. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Kirkwood) has left the Chamber. A lot has been said about the advisability of raising the National Assistance scales. I think it is one of the major failures not only of this Government but of this Parliament and of the last Parliament that people still regard the National Assistance Board as something akin to the board of guardians and the old parish council. There is little wonder that people look at it in that way when we have speeches delivered like the last one. My right hon. Friend the Minister herself gave it away when she said "We take great care not to put 'National Assistance Board' on the envelopes." That would appear to indicate that there is something not quite respectable about it.
It is time that every Member faced his responsibility of seeing that people are educated to the new ideas of the National Assistance Board. It is particularly difficult in the case of older folk, because they have grown up under this business of cringing to some parish council, going down on their knees and asking for something. I have seen them when I was a boy of 10, coming to our house and pouring out their souls, trying to get 6d. We have got away from that sort of thing. Let us talk as though we had got away from it. Certainly we have got a difficult task with the older people, but I think my right hon. Friend has balanced properly the needs of the old and the needs of the nation. If the Government and those most concerned with the problem—industry, trade unions and the National Assistance Board—tackle the problem of employment for these old people and helping those who cannot take a job, we shall get somewhere with this matter.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
If I am rather late entering the debate this evening, Sir Charles, I hope you will understand that it is no fault of mine. It is one of those difficulties which confront most hon. Members at some stage 2040 or other of their Parliamentary life. I felt it necessary to make a contribution to the debate on the Amendments placed on the Order Paper by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies).
We have had a concession from the right hon. Lady this afternoon. It is a great pity that the concession was not on the Order Paper so that we could have examined it more closely than is possible when a statement is made during the Committee stage; so if I do not give her the benedictions which have already been given by some of my hon. Friends, I hope it will be appreciated that this is not because I am an intolerant and unkindly person, but because I am cautious and, as part of the characteristics of my race, I am a bit dour.
Why are we debating the Amendment today? Because it has been admitted by every hon. Member that, as a result of the increase in the cost of living, we have reached a stage at which it is necessary to increase the pensions granted to people under the National Insurance scheme. If we accept that, then I for my part find great difficulty in understanding why we should depart from the age established in the principal Act. The only argument advanced is not a sound insurance argument. There cannot possibly be such an argument in an insurance scheme. I know a little about insurance, and I do not think any actuary would argue the case on the lines of the speeches made today.
What is the argument? The principal reason for raising the scales only for those men over 70 and those women over 65 is that we desire to retain older people in industry. I do not think that is a sound reason from the point of view of an insurance scheme. I admit we have reached a stage at which some people can be employed when they are over 65 years of age. In fact, many of my hon. Friends have this afternoon argued the justification for working later in life than 65. But I have been in the Socialist movement a long time, and we have often argued that a man should have many years of retirement in which he can enjoy the leisure of life, away from the humdrum, grinding life of industry.
Apparently the position now is that if a man has worked in a shipyard for 50 years somebody will tell him that he 2041 should continue in that work. It may be all right to continue working in the House of Commons after having reached the age of 65—and I hope to have the pleasure of doing so myself—if my health permits.
§ Mr. Carmichael
But it is different in the case of workers in heavy industry. I feel there is serious danger in arguing the case that, instead of examining the scheme of payments or allowances for need, we should try to measure the needs of people on the basis of filling jobs in industry. If there is a need to increase the benefits for elderly people, then, as has been said by one of my hon. Friends, we must remember that the man of 65 goes to precisely the same shop as the man of 68 or 70.
I say, therefore, that we must be more careful in making decisions of this kind. We have been told that the Government accept the principle of men working beyond the age of 65. But there has been no evidence either from the Ministry of Labour or from industry that they are making a departure from previous policy and that they will retain people in their jobs after they are 65. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is."] Well, I know a statement has been issued that the Government agree with the idea of keeping people at work beyond 65, but I should be more happy if I could obtain information to show that, if a person's superannuation rights are protected, he will be permitted to work in many of our establishments after the age of 65, provided he is fit and well. I should be glad to have that information.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Frederick Lee)
The National Joint Advisory Council, which includes the national leadership on both sides of industry, has agreed to accept that principle. That is also the case with the nationalised industries. So far as civil servants are concerned, we are seeking that the age of retirement should be abolished and that the only basis of retirement shall be whether people are able to carry on their work. The same principle applies in local government.
§ Mr. Carmichael
I know that the Government are introducing that principle, but it is not sufficient to propagate it. If we want to abolish the age limit there are many other points to consider in connection with protection of superannuation rights for people over 65. Of course, if we are moving in that direction then we are taking many more people away from the National Insurance schemes. I speak, in particular, for a part of the country in which the economy has been built on heavy industries. There, we have people approaching 65 who cannot find employment of any kind because they are physically unfit. In fact, in some of our employment exchanges we are told that these people are unemployable. They cannot hold their own in industry even before they reach the age of 65.
I do not belittle the concession which has been made this afternoon, but it puts us in a dilemma. People are to get the extra 4s. at 70, and those who are 65 when we reach the appointed date will also receive the extra 4s. In fact, the longer we delay the appointed day, the greater the number of people who will receive the extra 4s. But if we delay the appointed day we shall be preventing the payment of the 4s. to people who need it now. I appreciate that there has been this increase, and I very much appreciate the increase in the National Assistance Board's scales; but the fact is that the only other concession we have been given this afternoon is that if a person remains at work for 18 months after his retiring age he will ultimately receive an increase of 1s. 6d. in his pension. [HON. MEMBERS: "More than that."] No; the principal Act already permits him to work beyond 65 and to receive an extra 1s. in any case during the period between 65 and 70.
In conclusion, may I deal with the Minister's remarks about the scales of the National Assistance Board? I know we can debate this matter when we examine the regulations, but I hope when the right hon. Lady introduces them she will look at some of the other aspects and will tone down the regulations so that people are not penalised when they have been good enough in the past to pay their contributions to their approved societies or temperance societies or trade unions. They are not receiving the full benefits for which they have paid.
2043 I feel we are moving away from a national insurance scheme. Because of longevity, it is impossible finally to work out a scheme of national insurance which can be financially sound, and I therefore agree that we must propagate more and more the importance of the National Assistance Board as an established part of social security for people who are sick or aged. It is quite true that at the moment many people still dislike the idea of going to the Assistance Board.
I have had a great deal of experience of the Public Assistance Board and the old parish councils, and I have also had a great deal of experience of the National Assistance Board. I think we should say this as often as we can: the officers of the National Assistance Board are gradually but definitely working towards recognising the rights of people without any attempt to encroach upon them in the more narrow way formally associated with the Board of Guardians and the parish councils. I hope the right hon. Lady will have another look at this question and will recognise that, if we are to be successful in keeping people at work after they are 65, it might still be possible to make concessions to those who are absolutely unfit at the age of 65 to continue to work to receive the increase of 4s. together with all other people similarly unemployed.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I am very glad to have an opportunity of entering the discussion, because I have gone to a great deal of trouble to try to help the old people in my constituency. We all recognise that we have not achieved today all we should have liked to achieve, and I am sure we shall be expressing that point of view on many more occasions. We have not yet reached the ideal stale.
I was surprised at the line of argument advanced by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), because he seemed to centre all his future hopes on the National Assistance Board and appeared to ignore the points which have been put very forcibly that many aged people have not yet been to the Assistance Board. There are many working people in the country today who have themselves made an attempt to prepare for their old age, who have a little income, and who like to feel that they need not go to a 2044 public body at all. They do not go to obtain this special assistance—and, after all, the National Assistance Board provides special assistance, although people have a legal right to ask for it.
It has been said that many of our aged people dislike applying for National Assistance. In this connection, I should like to give the Committee some of my experiences. I have not waited for the old people to come to see me about National Assistance but, like a detective, I have gone around my constituency to try to find people who are not receiving it but who are entitled to it. I discovered not 10, not 20, but hundreds of people in the Wallsend constituency who are entitled to claim this assistance, people who need it but who, for some reason or another, were not prepared to make their claim—some through ignorance and some through a feeling of distaste.
It has been a source of great satisfaction to me to be able to point out to them that this opportunity existed. There is still a great deal of ignorance about the opportunities which exist for some of the old people to obtain what they need, and I have gone out of my way to discover the facts for them. Despite all the welfare officers and the other officials connected with the Social Services, there remains a great need to publicise the opportunities that are presented through the National Assistance Board.
It occurred to me at once, as it would to any other hon. Member on learning of these proposals, that we were creating something entirely new in all our history. We were in fact, excluding a number of aged people who had already retired and were receiving their pensions, people who assumed that they would get whatever pensions were made legal, and that if there were any increases made for retired people they would obtain them. The proposals in the Bill make a definite distinction between the people below 70 and above 70 in the case of men, and below 65 and above 65 in the case of women.
The argument can be put up that those not to benefit, those under 70, have the opportunity to go back to work; but anyone who has had experience of that sort of work which does not require a pencil, but requires, perhaps, a pick, knows that that opportunity is very difficult, if not impossible. Anyone who has had experience of that sort of work knows that 2045 it needs muscular energy and activity, and that if a man accustomed to that work ceases working at it and retires, and lives in retirement for two or three years, then, if he has an opportunity to go back to the same kind of work, he finds that his muscles have got slack through want of use. It takes a much greater effort for a man of 67 or 66 to tackle a job like that after he has got into a lazy, easy condition of life, than for one who has never ceased doing that sort of work. So it will not be easy for people of these advanced ages who have been accustomed to heavy work, to do that work again, even if they get the chance of doing it.
I have said already that the proposals in the Bill and in the Amendment and in my right hon. Friend's speech are not just as we should like them. We have discussed in this Chamber, even after midnight, many things that we do not like, such as charges in the National Health Service, which were instituted because of the financial stringency at the present time, and as part of the burdens and difficulties placed on the nation at the present juncture, and arising out of international difficulties. Because of this situation we cannot expect to have anything like the ideal proposals relative to the aged pensioners.
The question we in this Committee have to consider, and which the people at large have to consider, is this: have the Labour Government at this particular time, when they are in difficulties financially, when they have to increase the Income Tax and other taxes, when they have to make conditions worse for the people in general, really made an effort to meet the difficulties of the situation, so far as the aged people are concerned? We may consider the cost of living and the proposals in the Budget and these increases that are here suggested and say that the new proposals are not sufficient to meet the needs of the aged people. I think we are all agreed about that.
We have never at any time reached the stage, so far as the aged pensioners are concerned, when we could say, "We are now paying to them what is sufficient to meet the real, total economic needs of the aged people." We have never yet reached that stage. Therefore, we cannot expect at this time, in this stringent financial position, to reach the ideal. Perhaps, we never shall reach it. However, in so far as we are convinced 2046 that in the conditions existing the Government have been open to influences within their own party, and that, despite the difficulties of the position, they have set out to try to meet the needs of the aged people, we can say that they have done so to the satisfaction of the majority of their supporters. The Cabinet can consider these things, discuss them and get the advice of their skilled advisers, but I am happy to think that when there is a feeling in our movement that something better can be done they are prepared to meet us.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Dr. King (Southampton, Test)
I want to say just a word on the principle behind the Amendment, but before I do so I think it is about time that somebody in this Committee, when discussing National Insurance and pensions, should put into the record a reference to the great Englishman but for whom there would have been none of these things, namely, Canon Blackley, the Hampshire parson, who some 80 years ago started to agitate for national insurance and retirement pensions. The great pioneers and others like him visualised a retirement pension at the age of 70, and because in the last few years we, as a people, have moved towards retirement at the age of 65, if we are to take the retrograde step and begin thinking again in terms of retirement at 70 we ought to look carefully indeed at what we are doing.
We British people have a habit of introducing new and revolutionary theories not on theoretical lines, but in the very curious way of moving from practical expedient to practical expedient. Before we accept the whole philosophy behind the Clause, which is resisted by the Amendment—the concessions made today go midway between the two—we should do some very hard thinking about it now. We are nowadays assuming that we need incentives to make people work at the age of 65. The original Clause increased those incentives; the Amendment tends to reduce them. I believe that we are making too much of incentives to persuade old people to carry on with their work. If it were a matter of free choice for old people on exactly the same level for all industries there might be some justification for the absolute use of the method of incentives to make people work, but to give added inducements at the age of 70 provided 2047 people go on with their work is unjust between man and man in this country.
I want to make my first point from a simple example. Six months ago a man came to me. He had been working on the railways for 49 years and 10 months. Had he been allowed to work another two months he would be entitled to what is one of the greatest industrial honours in the country—the 50 years' gold medal which a railwayman can earn for 50 years' service. But because he had reached the age of 65 he was dismissed and was unable to qualify for what is a unique honour and something that I think he should have had. It was very difficult to persuade the authorities to let him take on some little job which would bring him into the category of a gold medallist on British Railways. While certain industries place strict limits on the time at which a man must retire, it is fantastically unjust to penalise people merely because they work in those particular industries.
Looking at this question of incentives for the old folk, the incentive of the wage packet for the ordinary healthy man is quite enough. Let me quote again from an example of a constituent of mine. He was 65 years of age. I shall not mention his particular occupation because he might identify himself, but let me call him an engineer. At the age of 65 he came to see me and said that he did not want to live on a pension. He wanted to go on earning his living. He was a very expert craftsman himself, he claimed. Would I see that he got a job, because he was finding it very difficult to get employment. I went to his trade union and to the local employment exchange. The officials both of the trade union and of the exchange were kindness itself. They told me that they had sent this man to job after job, and although he had been a good craftsman in his time he was turned down because he was losing his skill and his efficiency. He was unable to do the work, merely because he had become too old. It would be bad for industry and for the job that he had to do if such a man were made, by false inducements, to carry on. What he needs is an adequate pension.
In any case we have under the National Insurance Act sufficient inducements already. We have now added again to 2048 them by rewarding people who work extra years with an extra bit for each year on their pension at 70. Those incentives are large enough. There is no need for the extra differentiation by an added 4s. on the basic pension at 70. Even if we accept the idea that these incentives will function and will make people work, I suggest in all seriousness that we are going to make sick people and aged people carry on with work when they are not fit to do it. We may even help people to work themselves to death merely to get the added benefits.
It is wrong to punish a man because he cannot do what stronger people can do, and to make a man work beyond his strength. It is wrong, as representatives of mining and other heavy industry have pointed out, to make men suffer merely because they happen to be in some particular industry where old age shows itself more rapidly. In the great heavy industries of this country it would be really wrong to make men undertake hard physical work after the age of 65. From the long-term point of view, if we go on building up incentives to persuade old people to work after the age of 65, and if there are certain industries where it is physically impossible for them to do so, then young people will not go into the heavy industries, and those industries will suffer. As the heavy industries are the most essential jobs in the community, we may be committing national suicide. We have to look very carefully as a people at the very attractive but dangerous methods of using cash incentives to make people continue to work after the age of 65.
Having said all that, I would add that people at the ages of 65, 66 and 67 have exactly the same human needs as people at the age of 70. We took the view five years ago that the pensions that we put into operation were all right, but the cost of living has gone up equally for the old man of 66 and the old man of 71. I would much rather have seen the 4s. pension increase that has been granted at the age of 70 granted to all people at the age of 65. But I am very happy that this concession departs, at any rate a little bit, from the original Clause and that we shall be, by means of this concession, bringing at least a million old age pensioners into the scheme of the Bill. From that point of view I welcome 2049 the concession, but we must give earnest consideration to the variety of needs of groups of people in various industries before we adopt wholeheartedly the policy of cash incentives to make people go on working.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Grimond
I beg to move, in page 5, line 46, to leave out "one shilling and sixpence," and to insert "two shillings."
There is one major theme in this Bill, namely, that of helping pensioners, and all of us welcome the concession made on this theme in the last Clause. With all the difficulties and anomalies it may create, we can welcome the spirit in which that concession has been given, although we shall have to work out the details on a future occasion. There is, however, a minor theme in the Bill, that of giving incentives to people to work longer. We have heard a considerable amount of criticism of these incentives and we have heard doubts expressed whether it is right to encourage men to go on working after a certain age. Obviously it is a matter over which considerable care must be taken, but it is explicit in this Bill, and it is with this that my Amendment directly deals.
In passing, it should be said that one of the main reasons for encouraging people to work longer is that we must have more workers if we are to support these social services, and if we are to be able to pay adequate pensions to an ever-increasing army of old-age pensioners. It is not entirely true to say that this is merely finding hands for industry or labour for a war programme. It is also the problem of finding production by which we can support and increase our social services and standard of life.
One of the inducements we shall give in this Bill is an extra 1s. 6d. after retirement. I am informed that actuarially one would have to live to the age of 79 years before the extra money received under this Clause after retirement would make up for the pension one would lose by going on working. If that is so, obviously on a strict cash basis it is not worth doing. Therefore the inducement in this Clause at present is quite clearly not sufficient, looked at purely from a cash basis.
It is undesirable that there should be an auction about pensions and that people should suggest higher figures whenever 2050 the Government, or another political party, suggests a lower one. It is true that by this Amendment I suggest that the 1s. 6d. should be raised to 2s. That is because this would at least reduce by three or four years the time which a man has to live in order to benefit. I feel it is certainly wrong to put a man in the position that he had to go on living until he is 79 in order to make up the loss of pension. The Government ought to consider whether they could not give some greater inducement as they are committed to a policy of inducements. However, I do not want to attach particular importance to the figure of 2s. that I have put down.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)
I should like to say a word or two on the question of incentives. When the question of pensions was discussed originally, there were a large number of unemployed, and the purpose of the pensions was to get into industry the young men who were unemployed and walking in the streets, and to get out of industry the old men so that they could enjoy retirement in their later years.
I am glad that this discussion is taking place this evening. Whilst I have been sitting here I have thought over an experience which I had when I was quite a young lad. I used to go to the parish on Friday morning instead of to school, in order to collect 3s. 6d. per week for my grandmother. On one occasion she made application for an increase, and after three or four months' consideration by the board of guardians she was granted an increase of 6d. per week. Those are the days we want to talk about to show that we have made some marked improvement during the past few years. It was not very long ago that we had our young, virile men getting out of bed in the morning to make breakfast for their grandfathers who were going to work.
Major Hicks-Beach (Cheltenham)
Can the hon. Member give the date when that happened?
§ Mr. Awbery
Yes, quite easily—in 1902 and 1903; I did it myself. We on this side talk from actual experience. When hon. Members opposite talk on these things they talk from what they have read in history books and not from experience.
I want to deal with the question of incentives from an actuarial basis.
§ Mr. Awbery
I am dealing with the extra 6d. by which the Amendment proposes that the amount should be increased to 2s. every 25 weeks as an incentive for men to remain at work. I have examined the position carefully to ascertain whether the Government or the pensioner gets the greater bargain. A man who decides at the age of 65 to remain at work until he is 70, works for 260 weeks. He saves the Government £2 2s. a week pension, which, during five years, represents a saving to the Government of £546. In addition to saving the Government this amount of pension, the man contributes 5s. a week for insurance stamps, which amounts to a further £62 10s. making a total for the five years of £608 10s. That is the contribution made by a man who decides to remain at work from 65 to 70 years of age.
What benefit would he receive? My right hon. Friend told us last week that the average expectation of life for a man aged 70 is eight years. Assume, therefore, that the pensioner lives until he is 78 and draws eight years' extra benefit at the rate of 15s. a week for himself—that is, on the basis of 1s. 6d. for every 26 weeks—which over 416 weeks would amount to £312; and 10s. a week for his wife—on the basis of 1s. for every 26 weeks—which, in the course of 416 weeks, would total £208. The pensioner would therefore receive in eight years benefit to a total of £520, as against the figure of £608 which the state would save by the non-payment of his pension between the ages of 65 and 70.
§ Mr. Awbery
If the man lived until he was over 80 years of age, he would receive a little above the amount which the State had saved by his remaining at work. To balance the two sides exactly, the pensioner would have to draw benefit for nine years and 28 weeks to recover what the State had saved during his extra five years at work. From the actuarial point of view, I ask the Minister to consider the question of increasing the 1s. 6d. to 2s. in order to give a greater 2052 incentive to the older man who remains at work, as is the desire of the nation.
§ Mr. Summers
I hope the Minister is adequately briefed to show how false most of us believe the deductions in regard to these calculations are in relation to the advantage to the Fund caused by postponing retirement and the disadvantage to the Fund caused by drawing a pension. I am quite certain those deductions would not bear the test of actuarial experience. There seems to be an idea that the only reason why there are increments or why increments were invented, was to encourage people to stay at work instead of retiring, but, as a study of the Beveridge Report will make clear, the increments were the value to the benefit of the Fund because of the individual voluntarily foregoing his pension, and it is only when we get above the actuarial value of the increment from the Fund that incentive to stay at work obtains.
I do not support the Amendment. The effect would be that a single man would gain ultimately in pension by 4s. a year for each year he postponed retirement for himself and he would receive 2s. a year in respect of his wife, a total of 6s. [HON. MEMBERS: "A single man?"] I at once stand corrected. A single man attracts 4s. a year for each year he postpones retirement. A married man attracts 4s. a year in respect of himself and 2s. a year in respect of his wife, a total of 6s. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper which I hope will be called shortly which will have the effect, not of dividing that 6s. into 4s. for the man and 2s. for the wife, but of dividing it into 3s. in respect of each. I believe that if there is to be an increment of 6s. per year for a married couple in the right age group it is more desirable on many grounds to make it 6s. in respect of a married couple, rather than 4s. and 2s. and to leave the basis in favour of the single man.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
While I would not disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) I think that although he may be right in what he has said there is not the slightest doubt that the former Minister of National Insurance, when introducing the Bill which is now the 1946 Act, did actually give encouragement to the idea that the payments for working after 65 were intended as incentives and that idea has gained currency since. The point I wish to 2053 make is that they do not seem to have operated as such, to judge by statistics furnished to the House, to any great extent.
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery), told the House of the time before the war when it was the endeavour to get older men out of industry in order to make way for younger men. If we take 1936, which would be a shade later than the time of which he was speaking, and compare it with 1950, we find that the numbers over 65 working in industry in 1950 were roughly the same in the different age groups as they were in 1936.
§ Mr. Pannell
Is 1936, even for the sake of the hon. Member's argument, a fair year to take? I think it is a reasonable assumption that unemployment started diminishing from the time of re-armament about 1933 and in 1936 we were not in a typically pre-war year.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I quite agree that we had moved some years from the last Labour Government by that time, and by then we had managed to increase employment by a considerable extent; I agree that it was perhaps a shade later. Nevertheless, in spite of this incentive payment arranged in the 1946 Act, we have not seen the results that were expected to accrue from it. The Committee would be justified in concluding from that that an extra 6d. might not have an effect comparable to the amount paid unless—and this is really where the Government fell down in operating the 1946 Act—at the same time the Government made the necessary arrangements which would enable that incentive to work to the full.
Unfortunately those arrangements were not made. No arrangements were made with nationalised industries, for example, which would enable men to go on working after 65. It is only in those conditions that the Amendment which my hon. Friend has proposed can be expected to have any good effect. This Amendment might have been a very good alternative to the proposal to raise the basic rate at 70. Now that the Government are proposing to raise the basic rate of 70, I do not see that this proposed provision is also required, particularly bearing in mind that there is presumably a limited amount of money of which to dispose.
§ Mr. Houghton
I think it would help the Committee if my right hon. Friend could give us some explanation of the cash value of the extended period of work compared with the saving to the National Insurance Fund which that achieves. I always understood that actuarially the two were in balance, that on average the saving to the National Insurance Fund by a contributor staying at work was counterbalanced by the additional benefits that were given on retirement. I must confess that no arithmetic that I have been able to do has proved that to me, but that is probably the fault of my arithmetic.
I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to two points about the proposed additional benefit for remaining, at work. One is, that the additional increment does not apply to extended working periods before the appointed day. That is the first disability. Only the extended period of working after the appointed day is to qualify, under subsection (2) of this Clause, for the additional 6d. per week. The second disability is that it does not apply to the wife of a contributor who extends his working period. So for the first time we now have two rates of increment for the pension, one of 1s. 6d. per week for the contributor for each 25 contributions and the old increment of 1s. for the wife.
Therefore, there are two subtractions from what might have been the additional benefit from the increase from 1s. to 1s. 6d. It would help the Committee if the Minister could give us an assurance that nothing will be made by the National Insurance Fund out of the proposals that are now in the Bill. One can see that since the proposal which we discussed on the last Clause will differentiate between those who reach pensionable age after the appointed day and those who reach it before the appointed day, it will mean that those who will find themselves at a disadvantage under the proposed change, who will go on to the present basic rate of pension only, and who will have to find their comfort in the additional benefits for remaining at work, will surely look at these proposals with considerable attention. They will see that it is only in that direction that anything is done for them. The Minister really ought to satisfy us that this is a fair deal for those who are continuing at work.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
It is important that the Minister should make a categorical statement about the statement which was made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers), in which he said that actuarially this was to the Fund's advantage. I spent some time with the Minister of National Insurance satisfying myself on that question. The figures showed conclusively that in this respect as near balance as possible is achieved, because when the man or woman faces the question of retirement he or she quite naturally looks at the question from the point of view of what is to his or her best financial advantage.
My view is that whether the increments are made 1s. 6d. or 2s. will make very little difference. Some concession has been given as far as increasing increments given to widows is concerned. The sort of problem the average individual faces when he decides that he will retire, if it is within his power to make the choice, is what will pay him best. I believe that the proposals put forward by the T.U.C. sub-committee should be seriously considered. There was the proposal of paying a lump sum as an inducement to the individual to keep at work; because however mathematically tidy the position might be, it is what the man himself feels at that time which is the decisive factor.
I suggest, therefore, that it would be well worth the Minister's while also to consider covering the other point of getting the benefit to the widow, if the man dies while at work between the ages of 65 and 70, much closer to actuarial realities. The inducement which is offered under that head is obviously nowhere near it. I would say that there is a complete case, both from the humanitarian and from the economic standpoint, to give to the widow of a man who dies between 65 and 70, and who was continuing at work, the actual value of his pension which he would otherwise have taken.
It seems to me that in our approach to this problem, both in the 1946 Act and also again in this short amending Act, we have looked upon this problem as a financial one. Fundamentally, it is not a financial problem, but an economic problem. If a man goes to work he is adding to the pool of wealth, whereas if he stops work he is taking from the pool of wealth. Although the Treasury may say, "This 2056 does not pay us in terms of finance," I should have thought it would have been well worth while for the Treasury to pay £50 if as a result they got £300 worth of work added to the pool for all of us to share.
I remember pushing this point very hard, as the Minister well knows, when the Labour Party were trying to formulate their ideas for the last election. It really did astonish me—[Laughter.] I do not see anything funny about that. The party opposite may go into an election without thinking out what they are going to do, but we think out what we are proposing to do. I would ask the Minister and the Government to realise that this is fundamentally an economic problem and that the palliative suggested is not a suitable one.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I must apologise to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) who keeps on trying, because I have to say "No" again; but he will realise that there are arguments for refusing this Amendment. They have been put by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). I am surprised to find myself in agreement with at least 80 per cent. of what he said, though I will explain shortly why I disagree with the other 20 per cent.
§ Dr. Summerskill
There is no chance of 100 per cent. agreement. I agree with my hon. Friends the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), and Sowerby (Mr. Houghton)—I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby was quite as categorical as my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North—as to whether the man profits or the fund. I have been told that there is a balance, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery), went into all those details, I confess that I became a little hazy when he got the man up to about 80 years of age.
§ Mr. Awbery
But the Minister said last week that the man would live until 78 and that the average age would be 80.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Even I cannot see beyond 78, but I hope to live to the time when we are thinking in terms of 100. 2057 However, I will examine the speech of my hon. Friend very carefully tomorrow, and I promise, by means either of a letter or by a talk, to prove to him where he has gone wrong.
I would point out to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that he must realise that these are new increments in the Bill. I hope Members have not overlooked the fact that we have increased the increment benefit from 1s. to 1s. 6d. Also, perhaps he has forgotten that the widow of a man who is benefiting from the increased increment will benefit at her husband's rate on his death.
§ Dr. Summerskill
On his death—she could not be a widow otherwise. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who have studied this matter must have realised that we do not arrive at these figures without careful thought. We consider that these increments represent a really balanced structure, and if I accepted the Amendment it would upset the balance. A number of hon. Members have been talking about incentives, but we must not get lost in the field of incentives. We must remember what is the primary purpose of this Fund. It was not to supply incentives.
We have thought, quite rightly, that the time has come, having regard to the whole economic situation, when we should provide some incentives. But if we continue to provide incentives, all those people who should be benefiting from the Fund—the sick, the infirm, the children and the widows—will feel a little resentful that the money which should be going into their pockets is going into the pockets of those who are absolutely healthy and working for a full wage. That is a very important point. If we increased these incentives, having regard to the fact that the benefit for the sick and infirm is not increased in this Bill, they would have a legitimate grievance if they found we were directing our resources into the pockets of healthy men.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Molson
I beg to move, in page 5, line 47, to leave out subsection (3).
My task has been simplified by what the Minister said in reply to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for 2058 Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). She has drawn the attention of the Committee to the fact that under this Bill it is proposed to increase from 1s. to 1s. 6d. a week the increment in the retirement pension in respect of over 25 contributions which are paid by the man while he is at work.
A very important change of principle and practice which is proposed by this amending Bill is that the 1s. 6d. shall only be paid to the married man, and that there is no increase to be paid to the wife as long as he is alive. On the death of the contributor, his wife then becomes entitled, as a widow, to the same increase in the pension which the man himself has earned during his lifetime. The purpose of this Amendment is to propose that, under this amending Bill, there shall be the same increase in respect of the wife's pension as is paid in respect of the man's pension for each 25 contributions which he pays during the time he deliberately postpones his retirement.
There are three particular lines upon which I want to argue this case. I believe that it is often a good thing, as the lawyers say, to begin with an argumentum ad hominem, and, in this case, I am inclined to think that it will be no less effective to begin with an argumentum ad feminam. The right hon. Lady, during a distinguished career in this House, has been associated with the claims of women to be treated upon an equality with men. I see that the right hon. Lady is laughing, but this is an argument which I put forward in all seriousness.
It was a deliberate and considered provision of the National Insurance Act when it was introduced that, when a man remained at work for an additional period of time after qualifying for a retirement pension, he should in that way be able to earn exactly the same increase for his wife's pension as he did for his own. I see no reason in principle or in equity why, in this amending Bill, when an increase is being made in what he can earn for himself, an equal increase should not be provided for his wife.
The right hon. Lady has said, and quite rightly, that, while we are talking about inducements, we must not allow them to run away with us. From that I draw the conclusion that, if we can provide an entirely desirable incentive to remain at work which is not very costly to the Fund, 2059 that is the kind of incentive that we should welcome, rather than an incentive which may be more costly to the Fund. I say to the Minister and to the Committee that there are a great many men who are every bit as anxious to make larger provision for their wives than they do for themselves, and I say, therefore, that if it were possible for the Government to accept this proposal that a man remaining at work would in that way increase the pension which would be payable in respect of his wife, for a great many men it would be a stronger inducement than an increase in the retirement pension.
We on this side of the Committee are most anxious to maintain the actuarial soundness of this Fund. It is sometimes made a reproach against us on this side by hon. Members opposite that we attach great importance to expenditure and to financial stability. At any rate, I do not think the right hon. Lady will bring that reproach against us, because she has made it perfectly plain that the Bill is an attempt to make the best possible use of only a limited amount of money at her disposal. We have said before that a number of months ago the Conservative Party was anxious to do what it could to improve the insurance scheme, and especially to give inducement to those who were capable of remaining in work to do so. A small sub-committee was set up over which, as a matter of fact, I presided, and we went into these matters as best we could in order to see what proposals for improvement we could make.
If for a few moments I might try to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) about the acturial cost of these increments, it is just possible that I may be able to make a small contribution. We started with exactly the same point of view as he, and, I think the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), that one could arrive at the actuarial value of postponed retirement by calculating the amount of pension which had not been drawn and by adding to it the contributions which had been paid. That may be simple arithmetic to which there is no answer, but it is not the kind of arithmetic in which actuaries indulge. Because we were not allowed access to the Govern- 2060 ment Actuary for advice upon this matter, we obtained the guidance of another actuary to help us. We confronted him with calculations made by my right hon. Friend the Members for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake), which appeared to my right hon. Friend and to us to be quite unanswerable. But the actuary told us that the Government Actuary was in fact quite correct. What had been stated by the right hon. Lady in reply to a Parliamentary Question was that the then existing increments, that is, the rate of 1s. for every 25 contributions, represented the full acturial value of the postponement of retirement in respect of the contributions paid.
§ Mr. Houghton
It is not without significance that actuaries usually work for insurance companies who make large profits out of their insured contributors after having convinced them at the outset that they are going to get more than their money back.
§ Mr. Molson
That, of course, is quite true, and this is one of the comparatively rare occasions when a nationalised concern seems to make as large profits as one under private enterprise. The Government Actuary was able to give advice to the Government in 1946 which has resulted in the Insurance Fund making the same kind of large profits as those which have been made under private enterprise, and which I suppose would be regarded by the Institute of Actuaries as being a proof of their astonishing wisdom and skill which can enable even a nationalised concern to make profits.
Briefly, the way in which the actuarial cost of all pensions for retired people is calculated is on the basis that in each year a certain number of people die. Therefore, the figures that were given to us were that the actuarial cost of paying pensions to 100 retired pensioners for a year is not 100 times the amount of the retirement pension but only 97 or 95 times. Therefore, to put it quite simply as I as a layman understand it, the retirement pensions which are already being paid do in fact take into account the high mortality among those who are retired, and for that reason it is quite true increments which are provided for at present represent the actuarial value of the postponement of retirement.
There are only two further points I want to make in that connection. The 2061 first is that I wrote to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and we found that the answer the right hon. Lady had given had been very carefully drafted and that the increment represented the cost of the contributions, by which was meant the contributions of the employed person and his employer, and did not represent the value of the contribution that had been paid by the Treasury. But, of course, one has to take into account the Amendment moved earlier today by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury so that now the contribution paid by the Treasury in respect of each employed person is very substantially less than it has been in the past.
I accept to a considerable extent the line of reasoning of the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines). He asked the right hon. Lady to take the view that there is an economic value to the country, by inducing people to remain at work, which may greatly exceed the actual financial value to the Fund. The reason why the Government are proposing to reduce the contribution made by the Treasury to the Fund is that the Fund has in fact had a very substantial surplus over the last five or six years.
I take it that probably there is a likelihood that the increment in the pensions in respect of postponed retirement will slightly exceed the actuarial value of the postponed retirement now that it has been proposed to increase it from 1s. to 1s. 6d. The Government Actuary in his report upon the financial provisions of this Bill says it is quite impossible to foresee exactly what the cost will be. If the effect of it is what it is hoped for, it will mean that for a few years there will be a postponement of the payment of pensions and therefore there will be an economy to the Fund. Then, when at the age of 70 or 65 a man or a woman becomes entitled to the increased pension, there will be an increased demand upon the Fund.
The Government Actuary takes the view that it is impossible to make any accurate estimate of what the cost will be. I am going to ask the right hon. Lady to carry that risk just a little bit further. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) has deprecated the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) on the ground 2062 that in the case of a married couple where the man remains at work for one year it would result in an increase in the pension of 6s.—4s. in respect of the man himself and 2s. in respect of the wife. What we are proposing in this Amendment is that there should also be an increase of 6s. in the pension of a married couple where retirement has been postponed for a year, but that that increment of 6s. should be equally divided between the husband and the wife.
I hope the right hon. Lady will receive this Amendment in a sympathetic spirit. So far as one can see from studying the report of the Government actuary, it is not likely to result in any great burden upon the Fund. In so far as it does result in an increased burden upon the Fund, it is one which can only fall upon the Fund if the purpose has been achieved and if the man has, in fact, postponed his retirement for the purpose of earning these increased pensions for himself and his wife. Therefore, I suggest that even if there is a slight increase in the financial burden upon the Fund it will only be after a considerable economic advantage has accrued to this country by the kind of postponement of retirement for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer appealed in his Budget speech, and which it is one of the main purposes of this Bill to encourage.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod
I should like to add a sentence or two in support of this Amendment. We do not seek to put a new principle into this Bill. What we seek to do is to maintain an old principle from the 1946 Act. We seek to secure that a man earning increments after his age of retirement shall be enabled equally to earn them for his wife or for his widow. It is true that we have stressed on this side of the Committee—and not only on this side—that this is and must be an insurance scheme. It is true that once we start putting charity into an insurance scheme that is ultimately the end of the scheme.
Therefore, any proposals put forward must have a sound actuarial basis. As my hon. Friend has said, we tried on some of these matters, having considered them thoroughly in a committee of ours, to consult the Government Actuary upon their effect. Quite properly we were headed off from doing that because, to 2063 a large extent, at the same time the Government were considering schemes not dissimilar, and we had to put up with what I might describe as the admirable feline answers which we were given in reply to a number of Questions we put down on the Order Paper. I am sure the right hon. Lady will agree that her answer, which omitted the information that the Exchequer contribution had not been included in it, would come under the heading I have just given.
With the Bill as it stands, we are tilting the scales relatively against the married man. That may or may not be desirable; I am not arguing that point; but it is true that we are doing so and, in my view, there are not only insurance reasons but also social reasons and reasons deeply concerned with a population policy why we should not do so. I hold that the principle of the 1946 Act is better than the principle proposed in this Bill. At the moment it is possible to earn 1s. 6d. for each 25 contributions and a total of 3s. for each year. Now the amount one can earn in respect of a wife, even assuming that she is of an age to qualify, is limited to 1s. I am not at the moment discussing one of the subsequent Amendments on the Paper.
I am prepared to listen to an argument that, in view of the other desirable things there are to do, the cost of what we propose will rule the Amendment out. If so—and this is something which I hope my hon. Friends will consider for the Report stage if this Amendment is rejected—I should like to see the principle of the 1946 Act kept in this Bill even if it meant, for actuarial reasons, dropping the 1s. 6d. increment. I would rather see a provision that a man may earn 1s. 3d. for each 25 contributions and an additional 1s. 3d. for his wife, rather than see the larger increment of 1s. 6d. given to him with nothing whatever given to his wife. I would rather see these two things brought more closely into balance.
If the right hon. Lady feels that for reasons of cost or policy she cannot accept this Amendment, then I ask the Government to consider very carefully whether at a subsequent stage of the Bill it will be possible to retain the principle of the 1946 Act, that a man may earn equal amounts for himself and for his wife or widow, if necessary adjusting the 2064 total amount downwards so that it may be levelled off but so that the benefit which the married man has from the 1946 Act is maintained.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I must confess that a new element was introduced into the debate when the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Molson) challenged my feminism and asked me whether I could reconcile the fact that I differentiated between the increment in respect of a man and the increment in respect of a woman with the principle of sex equality. That is a most astonishing argument. My reply here also deals with the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod), in which he asked for equality.
If hon. Members will examine the whole basis of the scheme a little further they will recognise that the man who works makes the contribution and his wife who works at home is not called upon to make a contribution. In the first place, there is no actuarial equality. Because of that difference it was agreed when the scheme was first formulated that the benefit to the husband should be 26s. and the benefit to the wife 16s. If she does not reach pensionable age, of course, she gets her benefit as an adult dependant.
In the first place, therefore, we did not establish equality, and I am astonished that the hon. Member for The High Peak, knowing that I am rather sensitive on the subject, should challenge me and say that I have now introduced a new principle. Far from it. The principle, which was established before I came on to the scene is one which I think everybody can support. It was recognised that, as the wife received only 16s. benefit, it would be fair and just that she should receive only 1s. increment.
We must recognise that we cannot accept an Amendment of this kind, which means an increase in the increment, without upsetting the whole balance of the scheme. Furthermore, I would repeat the other argument—that we must always bear in mind the whole purpose of this Fund. We must not place quite so much emphasis on increments and incentives. We must recognise that if there were a little extra money to spare it would probably be better if we attempted to reach the wife through 2065 other means. The money might be used to increase the maternity grant, for instance. If we examine the actuarial position very carefully, we should find that a married woman is dealt with very generously under the scheme. There is no question of her being neglected in any way, if we consider the benefits provided.
Again I come back to the question of equality. I believe the hon. Member for The High Peak has had deputations from spinsters—because there are a large number of spinsters in the North of England.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Lady is a little out of order at this stage. I can assure her that I have not spinsters on my mind for the precise reason that the hon. Gentleman has suggested, that I have no desire to create anomalies and I want to be fair to all categories. I may say that I realise that the hon. Member for The High Peak is a little sensitive about spinsters in the north because, probably, he could improve the position if he wished.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Well, for some reason or another—I do not know why—I have always taken the hon. Gentleman to be a bachelor.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I must confess—after all, I have been here 13 years and have known the hon. Member some years—that I wish he had informed me. I must say he has been a little more cheerful at Question Time during the last 18 months.
Although the question of spinsters has not arisen yet in this debate, we must consider the position of the single woman worker. One cannot argue these things in watertight compartments. I think it is grossly unfair to argue that a man can earn an increment himself of 1s. 6d. for every 25 contributions and at the same time earn an increment of the same amount for his wife, who, as I have 2066 already said, makes no contributions to the Fund. We realise that there are large numbers of single women workers in this country who have to work from the age of 60 to 65 in order to earn one increment. I think that if the hon. Gentleman bears that in mind he will realise that it would be a real inconsistency here to increase the increment for the wife—which would mean, of course, 3s. for every 25 contributions—while the spinster is able only to have 1s. 6d. for every 25 contributions. Therefore, for all these reasons I feel that I must reject this Amendment.
§ Mr. Fort
I still cannot follow the right hon. Lady's argument about the difference between the arrangement in the 1946 Act, which has exactly the same element of injustice as between the spinster and the married woman, and the arrangement in this Act, which departs so markedly from the principle of the 1946 Act. I do not think her charming and forceful argument answered the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod), who gave the reason for changing the arrangement in the 1946 Act just because we have an amending Bill before us.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The answer is quite simple. If an injustice is recognised there is no reason why it should be perpetuated.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Summers
I beg to move, in page 6, line 6, at end to insert:(4) Subsection (3) of section twenty-one of the principal Act (which applies subsections (4) and (5) of section twenty of that Act to a retirement pension payable to a woman by virtue of her husband's insurance) shall have effect as if paragraph (b) was omitted and the following paragraph substituted:(b) contributions paid by him for any period while he was over, but she was under, pensionable age, shall be taken into account for the purposes of that subsection providing that:
- (i) she has attained the age of fifty years; and
- (ii) ten years have elapsed since the date of the marriage in respect of which the pension is payable.But nothing in the preceding provision of this section shall be taken as affecting subsection (1) of this section (which provides that a wife shall not be entitled to a retirement pension by virtue of her husband's insurance until she is of pensionable age).If there are any hon. Members at this late hour who feel they are undergoing 2067 anything of a strain, I am encouraged to think they will listen to my remarks on this Amendment because it deserves the title of, "The young wives' Amendment." It may be generally known that to get the increment for the wife, to which reference was made in the last Amendment, she must be within five years of her husband's age. The category of wives with which this Amendment deals are those who are more than five years younger than their husbands. I hope that the fact that the Minister herself, so far as my researches take me, falls into that category may encourage her to take a sympathetic interest in others similarly placed.
At the end of the five years, during which the increments are affected, there are very marked differences between those whose wives are within five years of their husband's age and those who are not inasmuch as the ones who cannot add to their own increment an increment in respect of their wives at the age of 70 can only look forward to a combined pension of 65s., whereas those who can add a wife's increment to their own can look forward to a combined pension of 75s. a week.
However much may be thought of the effectiveness of these increments in persuading people with a choice to remain at work, I am quite confident that the single increment in the case of a married man without that of his wife would have very little effect at all, because the incentive is not open to them if the wife is more than five years younger than her husband is, whereas it is open to other couples having this double increment available to them. I do not suggest that in the long run this is going to have any marked effect on the selection of those seeking a wife, and, of course, those with whom we are now dealing have long since passed the time when they can do anything about it. But, at least, if it is too late for them to do anything about it, and they find themselves in an unfavourable position compared with others who perhaps were more discriminate in this context, we should see that they are not penalised on that account.
I hope that the Minister will bear in mind—here I am speaking generally, of course—that there have been people who 2068 have risen to a certain age and have found it impossible to find anybody who would marry them. Then, happily, somebody comes along, actuated possibly by admiration for maturity or by compassion for docility, and they become man and wife. I cannot believe that to include the additional wives, limited by the terms of the Amendment to those who are not less than 50 and who have been married not less than 10 years, will add many additional increments—it is increments which we are speaking about—to the accounting of the Fund.
I should like to make it clear so that there is no misunderstanding about it, that there is nothing in the Amendment which will result in the pension in respect of the wife being paid any sooner than it is under the Bill. The age limit of pension is still not less than 60. It is only to allow the double increment to operate in the additional number of cases that we have put down this Amendment. It is to deal with cases where there is a greater difference in age than five years, as under the Bill itself.
§ Mr. Houghton
My right hon. Friend knows that some of us on this side of the Committee have made proposals to her on the lines of the Amendment. There seems to us to have been an injustice in the original National Insurance Act. This disability for the younger wife is something which was incorporated in the Act and is not derived directly from any of the proposals in the Bill. The differentiation between the treatment of the wife who is more than five years younger than her husband and the wife who is less than five years younger than her husband is accentuated by the proposal to give increased increments to the husband.
The Amendment not only seeks to remedy an injustice in the original Act, but draws attention to the fact that under the Bill it will be more of an injustice still.
§ Mr. Summers
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the concession to which reference was made earlier in the debate, and the reference which was made to those who, by staying on at work and earning increments, can catch up, affect particularly this category who are denied, unless the Amendment is carried, the benefit of the double increment?
§ Mr. Houghton
It does, indeed. I remember that before the 1946 Act the pension could be paid to a man who had reached pensionable age, but it was not paid to the wife if she was at that time under the wives' pensionable age. That injustice was removed under the 1946 Act, but when the increments for postponed retirement were introduced, by some strange omission equality was still withheld from the wife who is more than five years younger than the husband. I ought to declare my interest in the matter. My wife is more than five years younger than I am, and my great anxiety in supporting the Amendment is that she should be properly treated in due course. [Laughter.] The words were used in an insurance context.
It is difficult to understand why in the case of a woman more than five years younger than her husband she should not be allowed to reckon incremental credit for her husband's postponed retirement until she reaches the age of 60. After all, when the husband comes to retire in due course he will have the same liabilities for maintaining a home and wife as any other husband whose wife is of a different age.
The Amendment makes a reasonable provision in paragraph (b) (1), that the wife should have attained the age of 50 years. That is reasonable, because in the case of a wife much younger than her husband, other considerations may arise. The provision that no payment of additional pension should be made to her until she reaches the age of 60 is a wise provision in view of the close attention which will be given to any of these proposals by single women under the age of 60 who, as we all know, regard themselves as having a special claim for sympathetic treatment under the National Insurance Scheme. If, however, no younger wife is to receive any addition to her pension until she reaches normal pensionable age, no anomaly or unfairness will arise in comparison with the single woman. I hope my right hon. Friend will feel able now to respond to the desire for this Amendment.
§ Mr. Fort
The right hon. Lady just now claimed, perhaps with some truth, that she righted an injustice in the 1946 Act by an Amendment made in this Bill. May I, in turn, plead with her to right another injustice in the 1946 Act by agreeing to 2070 this Amendment which has been so felicitously supported by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton)?
She will notice that in the Amendment two obvious objections have been covered, namely, protection of the Fund by making the bottom age for increments to be earned by the wife begin at 50, and perhaps the even more obvious abuse of old men having an inherent value in their pension for young wives in being met by the 10-year marriage provision. May I, therefore, appeal to the right hon. Lady to accept this Amendment?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I should not like it to go out from this Committee that any of us object to old men marrying young, or comparatively young women, or young women marrying comparatively old men. However, these human considerations, which obviously intrigue the Committee, must not and cannot enter into the calculations of those who are concerned with establishing an equitable insurance scheme.
What my predecessors had to be concerned with were contributions, benefits and relative ages. It has been quite clear from some of the discussion tonight that relative ages enter into most of these questions. It is, of course, necessary to establish the retiring age of a woman and of a man, but it seems to me that hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have approached this matter in a purely emotional way. They have not recognised the repercussions, but all will agree that I have to look at the whole country, at the needs of all beneficiaries, just as Members who represent husbands, wives and spinsters in their own constituencies must also have regard to their constituents.
What am I being asked to do? I am being asked to introduce an increment for the wife aged 50, married, let us say, to a man aged 65. At 65 he says: "I have this beautiful young thing and I will go on working." He decides to go on working from 65 to 70. I think we can assume that the chances of his dying earlier than his wife, if he is married to a woman who is 15 years younger, are fairly great. He works from 65 to 70 and then dies. He has earned five years' increments for her. Not only will she get her widow's pension forthwith, but when she becomes 60 she will get her own pension plus the increments of five years 2071 which the husband has earned for himself and the increments which he earned for her from 50 to 55.
§ Mr. Houghton
Surely a widow in those circumstances would not get the widows' pension unless she was over 50.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Such a wife is over 50—she is 55; that is my whole argument. This is very complicated and detailed, but I do not think there is any fallacy whatever in my argument. At 55, the woman will get her widow's pension, but the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) said, quite fairly, that he did not want the increments to accrue to her until she was 60. Very well. At 55 she gets a widow's pension. At 60 she gets accruing to her two lots of increments, bringing her up to 51s. at 60.
I want to remind the Committee of the woman worker who has to start at 60 to earn her increments, and who at 65 has earned one lot of increment. Could one possibly justify such a position? Furthermore, take the position of other widows. The hon. Member would agree that the position of the women we have been discussing with her two lots of increments vis-à-vis the woman worker seems a little unjust; but there are other widows also. If a woman becomes a widow before the age of 50 and is fully capable of working, she has to go on working for 10 years before she earns her pension. But under the present proposal the woman of 55 whose husband has died not only has her widow's pension but is looking forward to two lots of increments at 60.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member for Aylesbury is asking for an increment for women—for young wives, as he rightly describes them—starting from the age of 50. But if a man goes on working from 65 to 70, he can earn an increment for himself and an increment for his wife. These increments normally do not accrue until the woman reaches the pensionable age of 60. The point of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Aylesbury is that it should start at 50. My case is that it would be grossly unfair to the woman worker who makes her contribution to the Insurance Fund and works in industry all 2072 her life, but does not start until 60 to earn her increments.
§ Mr. Summers
The right hon. Lady's whole case for not accepting the Amendment has rested on the gloomy prospect of every husband dying at the age of 70 if burdened with a wife of 50. Will the Minister consider the merits of the case from the viewpoint of the husband who does not expect to go into his grave at the age of 70?
§ Dr. Summerskill
It is not unfair for me to assume that a husband in that case would predecease his wife, and before I can accept an Amendment of this kind I must consider all these possibilities and what the repercussions would be.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod
The right hon. Lady will not be surprised if I start by saying that I found her reply extremely disappointing. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) has just pointed out, that she based her case on the most extreme example that could be found. That is perfectly fair, and I am not criticising it at all. She argued the case of a woman of 50 married to a man of 65 who lives and works for five years and then, most conveniently, dies exactly the day after his 70th birthday.
§ Mr. MacLeod
We have been getting extraordinarily personal in this debate but I do not intend to follow the alarming candour of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). It is true that if one cares to argue the case from the other extreme, one could make an almost unanswerable case for this Amendment if one took the case of a person who was affected owing to the time limit and the chopper came down somewhere else and there was not the margin about which the right hon. Lady has been speaking, but a narrow margin of a day or two.
I should like to discuss the matter, not from extremes, because while the right hon. Lady can make a very good case from one extreme, I have no doubt that if I took the opposite extreme I could make an equally good case. I prefer the case put forward by the hon. Member for Sowerby. I have not the slightest doubt that this is not the sort of Amendment which will be fought in the Division 2073 Lobbies and, therefore, one can fight these matters across the Floor of the Committee.
The hon. Member for Sowerby has told us what we did not know, but what we are interested to know, that hon. Members opposite have reached similar conclusions to those we have reached and embodied in our Amendments and upon which we are now seeking to convince the Committee. It may be that back bench Members opposite and Front Bench Members on this side of the Committee are wrong, but I should have thought that the matter was a great deal too important to be discussed by a casual reference to extremes such as the right hon. Lady made. With the exception of the Amendment about the precise age limit for retirement, on which we had a lengthy discussion, I regard this Amendment as the most important which has come before the Committee today. I think it is a matter of first importance and principle.
In the last debate the right hon. Lady urged that what she saw as an anomaly—although I did not agree with her—in the 1946 Act should be put right now. The hon. Member for Sowerby has turned that weapon against her. I am bound to agree with him that from the start this idea of the chopper coming down in this regard has been an anomaly. By this Amendment we have done everything we can to avoid it and I think we can avoid the evil of the death bed marriage and lay down that in no circumstances shall anyone benefit until the woman reaches the age of 65. I urge the right hon. Lady to say that she is prepared between now and the Report stage to look a little more carefully at this proposal.
On a matter on which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, from different standpoints and in different committees, have come to an identical conclusion, the right hon. Lady will not say that it should be brushed aside. She did not attempt to brush it aside but she argued it from an extreme standpoint. Although this is not to be fought out in the Division Lobbies, I should like the right hon. Lady to say that there is something in the Amendment and that she will look again at the case which has been put by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I would not like it to be thought that I have tried to make a pretty debating point. The hon. Gentleman was not right when he said that I took the exceptional case. He said that if a man dies at 70 it is a convenient time for my case; but if a man dies at 75—and we might assume that a man might die at 75—the same thing would happen. The widow would get a pension plus two increments.
If I thought that either of the hon. Gentlemen had put a case which would prove to me that there was no injustice involved in this proposal for the woman worker and the spinster who only begin to receive pensions at 60, I would say that I am prepared to think the matter over. I do not think that the Committee have found today that I have a closed mind. I am very receptive to any new idea. If an injustice is staring at us and it has not been removed, and I feel that the injustice is there, I cannot ignore it.
§ Mr. Daines
I would ask the Minister to have second thoughts about this matter between now and the Report stage. There are two points behind the Minister's argument. One is the hangover, which we noticed when we were discussing the 1946 Act in Committee, of the fear of the death-bed marriage. That cropped up in different questions which we discussed. I suspect that a little hangover is involved here. The other point the Minister has brought out is that what is also behind her opposition is the fear that the spinsters, who are a very powerful pressure group, will find a stick with which to beat her. With all due respect, I do not think that that is a particularly strong ground on which to argue.
If we are to argue the matter of injustices to spinsters, there is the obvious case of the widow. It can be argued that a woman who becomes a widow at 50 receives a pension whereas the spinster has to continue working until 60 to get a pension. We accepted the fact, when we argued the case in 1946 that a woman who has kept a home for a number of years, and has been out of the industrial field, is a case for consideration.
With due respect to what the Minister has said, it seems to me that the provisions of the two sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) of paragraph (b) in the proposed Amendment—namely, that the wife has 2075 attained the age of 50 years and that 10 years have elapsed since the date of the marriage, meet the case against the Amendment. I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider this question and depart a little from her brief, which I know is a very good one, and give this matter honest human consideration.
§ Mr. Molson
I wish to join with my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite in making an appeal to the Minister to give this matter further and sympathetic consideration. I quite realise that the right hon. Lady is not in a position tonight to go beyond what she has already said, but there is obviously a strong feeling on both sides of the Committee that an anomaly exists in this matter. If the Amendment is too widely phrased we should be most happy if the right hon. Lady would at all events deal with those cases which appear to us to be the most anomalous.
May I put the matter to her from a slightly different angle? The Minister has looked at it from the point of view of the beneficiaries. She has suggested that there would be an injustice to spinsters and working women because of the benefits which accrued to the widow or the wife. May I ask her to look at the matter from the point of view of the contributor? Why should it be the case that the husband who continues in work for an additional period should be able to earn increments for his wife if she is of approximately the same age as he is whereas if she is more than five years younger he is not able to do so.
In nearly all the speeches made tonight there has been reference to the case of a man marrying—apparently for the first time—a wife considerably younger than himself, but in a great many cases this position will arise in the case of a widower who marries for the second time. When a man marries late in life there is every likelihood that his wife will be more than five years younger than he is. Simply for that reason, although the man stays on at work, and does the additional work, he is unable to earn that increment in respect of his wife, while his neighbour, working at the next lathe, whose wife is of approximately the same age as himself, is able to do so. The Minister has shown that she has an open and 2076 sympathetic mind. I ask that she should consider this matter further between now and the Report stage with an anxious desire to remedy what many of us on both sides of the Committee feel works out in many cases as an injustice.
§ Dr. Stross
Some of the points of view that have been put do not represent all the considerations that apply to this question. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend, who has some medical knowledge, whether she should take any step that would give further encouragement to comparatively young women to marry men of mature years. I do so for this reason. There is a serious point here. I wish to refer to Burton's translation of the "Arabian Nights," in which it is stated quite categorically that men of mature years face only one of two possible dangers, either a good cook or a young wife. Surely we should not in legislation do anything that will add to the hazards of men who have reached mature years. For that reason, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be very careful before she gives way on this matter.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton
I beg to move, in page 6, line 16, at the beginning, to insert "For."
This Amendment is consequential and deals with the deduction from the retirement pension in respect of casual earnings. The effect of it is to embody the proposals which the right hon. Lady has introduced, and to declare that these deductions would not operate where the earnings are in respect of employment for less than ten hours in any week. It appears to be an anomalous position that at present, under the 1946 Act, if an insured contributor pays a contribution in order to earn his retirement pension he may retire from work and yet be deprived of that pension if his earnings exceed, as now, 40s. a week.
On the other hand, another man in exactly a similar position who retires may have an income of £40 a week, which is not an earned income but an invested income, and he does not lose anything in the way of pension. If the right hon. Lady says that the reason for that anomaly is that the 40s. a week earned income is in respect of work done 2077 after retirement she surely should put in this provision a definition that ten hours in any week is not counted for insurance purposes, as employment.
I beg the Minister to consider this because it has caused considerable inequalities in different trades throughout the country. At present the real effect is that a skilled craftsman who retires is affected but an unskilled man does not suffer the same disability. I am not pleading for those who are not really retired but who are on, shall we say, half-time. I believe that at present those men may well come within the provisions of this subsection, but I am referring to the man who has genuinely retired and who works for not more than ten hours a week. If he is a skilled craftsman immediately he begins to lose some of his retirement pension.
Not only is that unfair, but it has an adverse effect on labour conditions, because it does tend to encourage the employment as cheap labour, men of that age and I believe that to be very wrong. A man who has earned good wages before retirement and is a skilled craftsman is forced to take a low wage, if he is retired, so that he will not suffer this reduction in his pension.
We must also remember that many in this insurance scheme were voluntary contributors, paying the whole of their contribution. Those men came into the scheme thinking they would get the old age pension, as it then was, at the age of 65. Now that type of man finds he is under this disability, although he has retired and is working only ten hours a week, just because he is the type of man who attracts a fairly high rate of wage. I hope the Minister will realise that there is an anomaly and an injustice under the present system and will try to improve the 1946 Act by accepting this Amendment.
§ Mr. Summers (Aylesbury) rose——
§ The Chairman
I hope that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) will take the opportunity to discuss his proposed Amendment while speaking to the Amendment before the Committee.
§ Mr. Summers
Would it be in order if I moved my Amendment and discussed the Amendment before the Committee at the same time? My Amendment is in 2078 page 6, line 21, to leave out from "if." to the end of line 22, and to add:(a) in the case of those working more than twenty-two hours in any one week, for the reference to twenty shillings there were substituted a reference to forty shillings(b) in the case of those working twenty-two hours or less in any one week, for the reference to one shilling where it first appears there were substituted a reference to threepence.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member cannot move his proposed Amendment at this stage. He may move it formally later and obtain a decision upon it, but it may well be discussed now.
§ Mr. Summers
The point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Committee is the question of casual earnings, which is dealt with in the Amendment standing in my name on a rather wider basis than in the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton).
To make clear the effect of the Bill on part-time workers it is necessary to establish quite clearly at what point the incentive to earn more money, and the incentive to demand the right rate of pay, begins. At the moment, once a man earns the ceiling of what I might call free earnings, £2, he has qualified for a deduction of his pension in respect of the balance of his earnings; that is to say, in the case of a single man £3 10s. and in the case of a married man £4 10s. From that point onwards he is able to earn more money by more work and has an interest in ensuring that the employer pays him a proper rate of pay. Those are two very important points. The £3 10s. for the single man and the £4 10s. for the married man are below the normal wages for full time work, and, therefore, the normal wage of those who take a few weeks occasionally off from their retirement is above the point which I have described; and there is that incentive necessary to ensure that the right rate of wage is paid.
The casual worker has exactly the same point, the casual earnings plus pension; but in this case, owing to the limit of hours he works, his rate of pay is less than the £3 10s. and the £4 10s. to which I have referred. It follows, therefore, that in respect of all casual workers, if the Bill goes through in its present form, the single man will be no better off at all whether he is paid for part-time work at 2079 the rate of £4 per week or £7 per week, and, in the case of a married man doing part-time work—and by part-time work I mean not more than 22 hours a week—it does not matter to him in the least whether he is paid at the rate of £4 or £9 per week.
When speaking on casual earnings, I have been interrupted more than once, and quite properly, by hon. Members opposite, with a view to making sure that nothing that was advocated in this field would result in undermining the proper rates of pay for normal forms of occupation, but, when we have such an immense incentive to the employer as is provided in the Bill for part-time work I submit that there is a very grave risk that the pensioner or the retired man anxious to do casual work will be tempted to get a job at less than the proper pay, because he will not suffer as a consequence of so doing.
In addition, we have the point which has been stressed by my hon. Friend that, because there is no incentive to earn more money and get the right rate of pay in the field of part-time work, skill is not recognised in any shape or form. It was those two major difficulties in the application of the Bill in the field of part-time work that prompted me to ask the Minister to consider revision of the regulations governing casual earnings. My proposal covers the idea put forward by my hon. Friend, and goes a step further.
The effect of the suggestion which I make is that the terms of the Bill as presented to the Committee are not altered by the Amendment for those who work more than 22 hours a week, but, if they do work 22 hours a week or less, instead of having a ceiling of £2 a week and everything over that figure deducted from the pension, the ceiling should be £1 and only 25 per cent. of the earnings above that should be deducted from the pension. I do not wish to quote a lot of figures, but I have here the effect of a change of that kind on those who are doing part-time work. It would result in there being a continuous improvement in the position of part-time workers, right from £4 a week up to £10 a week and more, as a result of the change in the ceiling from £2 to £1 and from 100 per cent. to 25 per cent. in the deductible part of the excess earnings. That would have 2080 the effect of ensuring that the right rate of pay was, in fact, demanded, and the additional incentive was provided for the additional work that everybody wants.
I recognise that, by that change, there would be a small category of people on the lowest wage rate who would be slightly worse off under this suggestion than they would be under the terms of the Bill, but the measure of the effort to put themselves in at least as good a position is two hours a week at 2s. 6d. an hour. I do not think that is a very serious suggestion to make to those who would be, by that small amount, at a disadvantage as compared with the terms of the Bill, particularly when regard is had to the immense number of people who will be better off as a result of the change that I have suggested. I hope that these ideas will commend themselves not only to the Minister, but to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee for four reasons which, I believe, will command universal assent.
They would recognise skill and experience which are not recognised in the Bill in the field of part-time workers. They would recognise the maintenance of proper wage rates, they would be an incentive to greater effort, and they would be an encouragement for further part-time working, which we all want to see at this particular juncture, at the expense of those on casual work or who are not working at all. I hope that the Amendment which stands in my name was sufficiently clear even before what I have just said to enable the Minister to appreciate the great change it would make in the field of casual work, and that she will take a kindly view of it.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Bernard Taylor)
During past months, the earnings rule has been the subject of many Questions, and my right hon. Friend has given very careful consideration to that particular point. We thought that we had gone a very long way in meeting the position by increasing that rule from 20s. to 40s. I will deal, first, with the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). It is our view that this Amendment would give preferential treatment to people who command a high rate of remuneration for short periods. Secondly, 2081 we feel that the rule would work very unfairly as between employed persons in different kinds of occupations. I suggest that if it is to be effective, an earnings rule should be simple and easy both to understand and to operate. The rule which was in the 1946 Act and which is also in this Bill—it is only the amount which has been altered—meets this particular requirement.
I suggest that the principles are easily understood by the pensioner himself. It is universal in its application, avoids confusion, and that sort of thing, and certainly, as far as the Department is concerned, is very simple to administer.
The suggestion of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) is certainly very novel. It contains what I would call a sliding scale as far as the earnings rule is concerned. For those who work more than 22 hours, the deduction would be 1s., and for those who work less than 22 hours, the deduction would be 3d.
§ Mr. Summers
Before the Parliamentary Secretary passes from that point, he must make clear that the 1s. deduction is on top of a ceiling of 40s., and that the 3d. deduction is on top of a ceiling of 20s. That makes all the difference in the world.
Yes, but the hon. Gentleman may be arguing on the assumption that the 22 hours is presumed to be half-time work. It is in some occupations, but in others, such as that of a musician in the theatre, and people of that kind, it might be full-time work.
We consider that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Aylesbury, with its sliding scale arrangement, is so full of complications that it would be confusing to the pensioners, and that, from the Department's point of view, because of the complications and the confusion it was likely to create, it would be almost impossible to administer. We do not feel that the results which he has in mind—and we appreciate the motive which prompted him to put down this Amendment—would be rational in their application.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
I think the whole Committee, and certainly hon. Members on this side of the Committee, will be extremely disappointed at 2082 the reply we have had from the Parliamentary Secretary. He said that the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) was impracticable. I hope he read the debate on Second Reading, in which I threw out the same suggestion. On that occasion, I had hoped he would make a reply. Since then my hon. Friend has drafted an Amendment in which he puts an absolutely clear-cut case. The Parliamentary Secretary turned it down on two grounds: one of administrative inconvenience and the other apparently because it enables people to work full-time.
In taking the Festival of Britain, the Parliamentary Secretary chose a most unfortunate example. I leave that aside for the moment and deal first with the administrative argument. There have been a series of impassioned speeches from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour telling us of the necessity of part-time work; yet here is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance turning down flat this admirable opportunity of getting more people back half-time into those very munitions works and light engineering works which are now short of labour. I think it is a most astonishing example of bureaucratic fumbling that this should be rejected at this stage, and I hope that before the Report stage the Parliamentary Secretary will look at it again. While he is about it, I hope he will study the social survey produced for the Ministry of Labour on the subject of the retired worker and his attitude to employment.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the summary of Section 3—and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour might have drawn his attention to it earlier—he will see that 37 per cent. of the men not now in employment and that 20 per cent. of the women state that they would like to return to work if given the opportunity. Three out of four of them choose part-time work. In our opinion, the present 40s. rule militates against higher paid and skilled workers coming back. We endorse entirely the idea that the retirement principle must be kept, but it need not necessarily be kept on a monetary basis. We have put forward, therefore, a substitute which is on the basis of hours. I hope the Minister will look at it again.
§ Sir H. Williams
I have spoken only once before today, for the reason that my voice indicates. I was too tired after the first effort; but I have something to say on the subject now under discussion. I should like to repeat what I said earlier. I am completely opposed to all restrictions on the amount which people can earn because they have an income derived from any other source—I do not care what it is: a pension as a civil servant or any kind of private means. Any work they may do represents a new creation of work or service, and for that, they should be entitled to receive all they can earn. There should be no deduction in any way whatsoever. I think the whole conception behind the Clause my hon. Friends are seeking to amend is wrong.
As I said five or six hours earlier, the Amendment is much too narrow. I think there should be no restriction in any way whatsoever. If anybody wants to earn money, they should be entitled to all that money and there should be no deductions from any other income they have. I should like to say a lot more, but hon. Members will realise that I am suffering from a disability due to Festival of Britain weather.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
We all commiserate with the hon. Member on the severe cold from which he is suffering, but it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. What hon. Members opposite seem to have forgotten is that the Bill at least doubles the amount which pensioners can earn, apart from drawing their pension. I suggest to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) that the manner in which he explained the aims of his Amendment makes it perfectly clear that every old age pensioner would be in a quandary every week he worked, wondering what his position was under the Bill. His Amendment is so complex and difficult—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Let me speak for myself; hon Members must speak for themselves—that I believe it would add to the problems of our old folk. Of course, we want the maximum benefit for all these people.
§ Mr. Summers
Would the hon. Member say whether the pensioners in his constituency would find any difficulty in understanding that they can keep three-quarters of anything they can earn over £1, which they cannot do under the Bill?
§ Mr. Thomas
It is remarkable how much gift of expression comes to the hon. Gentleman when others are speaking. He certainly was not nearly as clear when he had the Floor. Perhaps in the course of another hour he will improve still more.
I believe that one of the major aims of this Measure must be not only to improve, as it is improving, the lot of our own folk, but also that it should be in such clear, straightforward language that everyone would know exactly where he stands. This Amendment will add confusion to the anxieties of our folk. I rejoice that the amount which the old folk will be allowed to earn is doubled by the present Measure.
§ Mr. Fort
There is yet another reason which I would like to advance to the Parliamentary Secretary in support of my hon. Friend's Amendment, and that is that it sets out more definitely than is set out at the moment what are the conditions for drawing retirement pension. I think I am right in saying that at present we work under a very early interpretation made by the umpire of what constitutes termination of employment for the purposes of drawing retirement pension. One of the reasons in support of my hon. Friend's Amendment is that by laying down 22 hours, we get a much clearer guide than we get from the earlier decision of the umpire on which we are working at the present time.
With regard to the alleged complications of this Amendment. I feel that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) was exaggerating the lack of understanding which our old folk would have of such an Amendment, because it always seems to me that they have at least as much mastery as most hon. Members have of the intricacies of the Act. As for the Parliamentary Secretary's remarks about the administrative difficulties which this Amendment would make for his Ministry, I am sure that that is not a real comment on the efficiency with which the Ministry of National Insurance tackles much more complicated matters than the proposals in this Amendment.
The Parliamentary Secretary went to the root of the matter when he pointed out that it makes it attractive for people to return to part-time work, as distinct from casual work; that point was also 2085 made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) this evening, as on numerous other occasions when he has spoken on the subject of the employment of elderly people. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this Amendment again before turning it down flat, because it has great advantages, and I am certain that the difficulties envisaged have been greatly exaggerated whether they are among those who benefit from the proposals or in the Ministry itself.
§ Mr. J. N. Browne (Glasgow, Govan)
I should like, very briefly, to support my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee. There is a great need in industry for people to do part-time work; skilled part-time labour is very necessary. It seems to us wrong that a man has to earn £8 a week if he is single or £10 a week if he is married, before he gets any benefit from his wages. That is really the crux of my hon. Friend's suggestion, and I think it is a sound one. There are a great many men who can go back and do part-time work in industry, but are not able to do full-time work. If a man earns over £5 at part-time work he will get some benefit from his wages, under this Amendment. It is not right that he should have to earn £8 if single or £10 if married before he benefits. I hope the Minister will look at this again.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Does the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) wish to have a Division on his Amendment?
§ Mr. Summers
If it is in order, I should like to ask whether we can have a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary to the whole series of speeches which we have had on this subject, but delivered on the previous Amendment. If he does not reply to them it seems to make a perfect farce of the debate.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I understood that the two Amendments were to be discussed together on the previous Amendment, but that if a Division were wanted on this second Amendment, the Amendment could be formally moved and put. The discussion has taken place, and as that was the understanding I do not think 2086 we can have another debate. Does the hon. Gentleman want a Division or wish to withdraw his Amendment?
§ Mr. Summers
I beg to move, in page 6, line 21, to leave out from "if," to end of line 22, and to add:(a) in the case of those working more than twenty-two hours in any one week, for the reference to twenty shillings there were substituted a reference to forty shillings(b) in the case of those working twenty-two hours or less in any one week, for the reference to one shilling where it first appears there were substituted a reference to threepence.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Grimond
I beg to move, in line 22, at the end, to add:Provided that regulations may make provision for enabling any beneficiary who so desires to have his average weekly earnings over forty shillings calculated over a period of thirteen weeks and the weekly rate of his pension during the following thirteen weeks reduced by the amount of such average.When I moved a previous Amendment the right hon. Lady told me I was trying again. I am now trying for the third time. I think the third time is usually the lucky one. This Amendment on the face of it will even pass the scrutiny of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). I may be told, however, that it raises insuperable difficulties, but I must confess that it is, in form, exceedingly simple. It is designed to help the man who takes temporary or seasonable employment—a suitable type of employment for pensioners. Apart from the cases mentioned of skilled men going back for part-time or temporary employment, I can think of the agricultural worker who takes on seasonal employment. Something has been done for such men by raising the amount they can earn to 40s. but the man doing such seasonal work under this Bill will still be hampered by the earnings provisions if he earns at a higher rate for a short time.
That is why this Amendment seeks to permit this man to have his earnings calculated quarterly instead of weekly. Thus, if he has large earnings in one part of the period he will not be 2087 penalised. Then, if it is necessary, his pension is reduced in the following quarter. I think the principle is clear, and I hope very much that this Amendment, which, I think, is a simple and generally acceptable Amendment, will receive favourable consideration.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Summers
When I spoke on the Second Reading of the Bill I touched upon this matter of average, and, therefore, I might well be expected to speak in support of the Amendment. Since then I have had the benefit of a little further study of the effects of averaging by the method which the Amendment suggests. It is, I think, of interest, although it will be difficut, to try briefly to describe the hidden snags in the principle of averaging as it has been attempted so far.
At the moment, if a man earns, let us say, £8 a week, the most which a married man can lose out of those earnings is the value of his pension. He keeps the rest. Once these week's earnings are taken into account in a period either just before or just after, the whole amount becomes, as it were, vulnerable, because the weekly wage, being greater than the pension plus the permitted earnings, is more eligible for deduction than in the case where only one week is considered on its merits. It is, therefore, clear that it is not difficult to find examples where, by averaging over a period, people will in fact be worse off because of the effect of bringing the wages into account for a longer period than they would be if each week were treated on its merits.
§ Mr. Grimond
The hon. Member will agree that this Amendment will only apply if a man desires that the longer period should be taken.
§ Mr. Summers
No doubt that point will be taken up by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies. But I would like to ask whether the hon. Gentleman has considered a slightly different approach which would bring in the principle of average without the effect which I have just described; namely, to deal with casual earnings in the same way as they are dealt with now and deduct each week in terms of the preceding week's earnings, but at the end of the 2088 period, permit that there shall be a sum to go back to the man if, by the principle of averaging, more has been deducted from him than is provided for in the regulations. The great difference would be that instead of leaving in the possession of the pensioner the amount which under Amendments like this would be recovered, in the case of the approach which I would like to see examined, the funds would be left in the Minister's hands and given back to the recipient on the basis of average if it were discovered, at the end of the period, that more had been deducted than is reasonable.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod
The hon. Member for Aylesbury said, with perfect truth, that he mentioned this matter on Second Reading. In fact, the principle of this is a good deal older than that. It was in the Conservative Party policy for the 1950 election. We are always delighted to see Conservative policy infiltrating into the frozen North.
§ Mr. MacLeod
No. It is equally true, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury pointed out, that these proposals for social policy begin to be adopted by the Liberal Party shortly after the Conservative Party has dropped them.
§ Mr. Grimond
That is no doubt why the Conservative Party voted against or abstained, upon all the Measures of social reform proposed in the 1906 Parliament.
§ Mr. MacLeod
The Liberal Party has had neither opportunity nor desire to put forward any social policies for the last 45 years.
In this matter, to an idea which has something to commend it, the Liberal Party has typically added two absurdities. The first of those absurdities is the addition of the word "desire," which would have the effect of meaning two completely different systems of administering a proposal already difficult enough to administer in itself; and, by their suggestion of the 13 weeks' calculation, they destroy any possibilities in the scheme.
When we originally put forward the idea it was for a month. We use precisely the same arguments about the harvest, 2089 and about seasonal workers, as have been used by the hon. Gentleman tonight. I suggest to him that it would be impossible to use the 13 weeks' basis because, at the end of that period the man would have spent the money; and even if one collected it from him he would have to seek National Assistance aid again. So all that would have happened would be that one had gone completely round the mulberry bush. This is a typical piece of sky-larking by the Liberal Party.
Mr. B. Taylor
On the earnings rule we have had three Amendments and that indicates the difficulties there are in respect of it; it also strengthens the point I made on the previous Amendment. We have looked at all the alternative suggestions, and possible solutions put forward, but we have come to the conclusion that the simple application of the weekly earnings rule in respect of a weekly pension is best both for the pensioner and for administrative purposes.
May I say to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that most proposals for averaging earnings break down on practical application. All pensions with an earnings rule, drawn weekly, should be related to a weekly declaration and I submit to the Committee that it is very much easier for the pensioner. An averaging provision would require declarations in respect of all earnings, including those of less than two pounds. One of the main objects of the present rule is to avoid the requirement that the pensioner should declare trifling earnings.
There is, however, something else in this Amendment which is new. It asks that an option be given to the pensioner, and I submit that this raises practical difficulties. May I put one or two to the Committee? First, how often would the pensioner be allowed to change from one system to another? Second, if the pensioner finds that he would have done better on the other system, could he have a retrospective adjustment? Then there is the consideration that an option of this kind would create administrative difficulties.
I am sorry to have to keep on reminding hon. Members of this point, but as a result of the many questions asked since these Amendments were put down, we have certainly given some thought to 2090 the matter; and an option of this kind would, in our view, be administratively objectionable. It is quite conceivable that the staffs in our local offices would be expected to advise which was the best option for the pensioner to employ and it is not inconceivable in a situation of that kind for ill-feeling to arise between the pensioner and the staff. I am sure that the hon. Member knows that in the administration of this great scheme we are certainly very desirous of avoiding that.
Under the Bill earnings, however large, cannot lead to the loss of more than a week's pension, but I submit to the hon. Member that on an averaging system pensions would be reduced to the point where the pensioner—as the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) indicated—possibly had no earnings at all. For the pensioner, I repeat, the present method is simple to understand and to operate and this Committee should not do anything, in my view, that would complicate the position or risk leaving these pensioners in doubt. As the hon. Member for Enfield, West indicated, they might find themselves in some financial difficulty if this Amendment regarding optional averages were accepted. For these reasons, I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The CHAIRMAN being of opinion that the principle of the Clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the Amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 45 (Debate on Clause standing part), "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.