§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. Osbert Peake)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a necessary and urgent Measure to which I do not think any serious objection will be taken in any quarter of the House. It is less than four years since the comprehensive scheme of social security which was embodied in the Family Allowances Act, the National Insurance Act and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act came fully into operation. A number of points have emerged relating to each of these great schemes which will call for legislative action when more Parliamentary time is available. In regard to National Insurance, there is, of course, a provision in the principal Act requiring the Minister to review rates and amounts of benefit at the end of the first five full years of the operation of the scheme.
There are questions, however, like that of the maternity benefits, on which the National Insurance Advisory Committee have recently reported, and in respect of which we shall have to anticipate the results of the quinquennial review. The T.U.C. made representations to my predecessor about several of the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act and it was established that some amendments are desirable. One of these matters—the rate of the unemployability supplement— is dealt with in this Bill. The other amendments, which do not concern rates of benefits or contributions and are of a very technical character, are outside the scope of this Bill, but I should like to take this opportunity of making it clear that I agree with my predecessor's conclusions. It is my definite intention to introduce legislation to deal with these matters at the earliest available opportunity.
The outstanding and ugly fact that we immediately have to face is that since the schemes came into full operation in July, 1948, the value of the benefits under them has steadily declined. This problem must, we feel, be dealt with speedily, and the 36 Bill therefore deals only with rates of family allowances and rates of benefit, and with the contributions appropriate to the latter. To have included in it other matters requiring mature consideration would have involved delay which we cannot now afford.
In introducing this Bill I shall, as far as is humanly possible, avoid political partisanship. Our past debates on these matters have maintained a high level and have disclosed a large measure of agreement. I have noted, for example, how the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has increasingly convinced himself as years go by, by a happy mirage of memory, that he was the author of the Industrial Injuries Insurance Scheme.
Moreover, I regard it as vital that we should not disappoint the many millions of deserving people who stand to benefit by the provisions of the Bill. We are anxious for these benefits to accrue at the earliest possible dates. We hope to make the improvements in unemployment and sickness benefits and industrial injuries benefits before the end of July; in family allowances at the beginning of September; and in pensions in the first week of October. The new contribution rates will come into force at the same time.
Doing this will present a gigantic administrative problem. It will involve, among other things, the alteration of no fewer than eight million weekly order books and a million other payments, and also the printing of millions of new insurance stamps in many different denominations. If the time-table is to be adhered to, it is essential that the Bill should be passed through all its stages in this House before the Whitsun Recess. I recognise that if this is to be achieved we shall all have to exercise a self-denying ordinance both on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee, and co-operate with good will to get the Bill on the Statute Book.
For the reasons I have stated, which will I think commend themselves to the House, we have deliberately left unaltered the main structure of social security as it emerged from the long debates on the three principal Acts.
As regards family allowances, the proposal in the Bill, as hon. Members know, is simply to increase the rate from 5s. to 37 8s. in respect of each eligible child. This will cost £59 million in a full year and brings the total expenditure under this head to over £100 million. A good deal has been said and written on the desirability of including the only child as well as the first child in each family in the scheme. To do so at the proposed new rate of benefit would add a further £130 million a year to the cost, and this we clearly cannot afford at the present time.
To include the first child, without raising the total cost beyond the £100 million figure, would involve cutting down the present 5s. rate of allowance to something like 3s. 6d. for each child. While this would benefit the single-child family, it would do so at the expense of all the other families, especially the larger families which the scheme was originally designed to assist, and many of whom would get much less than they do under the present arrangement. I am quite convinced that the method proposed by the Chancellor is the best and, indeed, the only practicable or sensible way of using the available resources.
As regards National Insurance, the scheme incorporated in the Bill is, broadly speaking, twofold—first, to restore to the main benefits the principle of uniformity as between sickness, unemployment and widows' pensions and retirement pensions at minimum retirement age. That is the principle which was embodied in the principal Act and from which a departure—and, in my opinion, an unfortunate departure—was made last year. Secondly, it is to increase the main rates of benefit to figures which will give them once again the value in purchasing power which they commanded in July, 1948, making at the same time the appropriate increases in rates of contribution.
I propose to refer in a little more detail to the principle of uniformity later on, but so far as the raising of benefit rates under the National Insurance scheme is concerned, we have it in mind that the Ministry of Labour cost of living index has risen by 22 per cent. from July, 1948, to March, 1952. It will be observed that the main operative rate for single persons for sickness, unemployment and pension is increased from 26s. to 32s. 6d. —that is to say, by 25 per cent. For married couples or persons with an adult dependant, the main operative rate rises from 42s. to 54s., which is about 28 per 38 cent., and that follows from raising the allowances for the dependant from 16s. to 21s. 6d. The short-term allowance given to all widows is raised from 36s. to 42s. 6d. and the widow's pension from 26s. to 32s. 6d.
It will be recalled that the widowed mother's allowance was raised by 6s. 6d. by the Act of last year, and that at the same time the increase of insurance benefit for the first or only child was raised from 7s. 6d. to 10s. The widowed mother's allowance will now become 43s., an increase of 3s., and the allowance for the first or only child is adjusted to 10s. 6d. to bring it into line with the amount that an insurance beneficiary will receive for other children, made up of the present 2s. 6d. insurance benefit and the new 8s. family allowance.
So far as the Industrial Injuries rates are concerned, the main proposals embodied in the Bill are to raise injury benefit and disablement pension for 100 per cent. disability, which are at present 45s., to 55s. The dependant's allowance follows the provision under National Insurance, and rises from 16s. to 21s. 6d. The supplement for unemployability, which is at present 20s., is increased to 32s. 6d. —the new rate of sickness benefit. Other benefit rates under both schemes receive proportionate increases which are set out in full in the Bill and in the White Paper.
Now I turn to contributions. This is an insurance scheme, and it will be necessary to make certain increases in contributions to provide for these higher rates of benefit. The additional amounts needed in respect of an employed man are is. 3d. for National Insurance and ld. for Industrial Injuries, or ls. 4d. in all. These two contributions are normally paid together, and the ls. 4d. will be divided equally between the employer and the employee. But to avoid halfpennies—a matter on which I have received many representations—the employer will pay the whole of the penny increase for Industrial Injuries and there will be an equivalent adjustment the other way for National Insurance. There will, of course, be corresponding increases in the Exchequer contribution.
In making his calculations the Government Actuary has, on Government instructions, adhered to the rate of 4 per cent. assumed for the purpose of the 1951 39 Bill as the long-term average of unemployment from 1955 onwards. As this is the same assumption as was made on the instructions of the previous Government, it is a little misleading, to put it as mildly as possible, to attribute to the present Government any different views from those of the previous Government on this matter.
Now a word about the cost of the new proposals. The additional cost of increases in National Insurance benefits is estimated at £59 million in the first full year. Mainly owing to the increasing cost of retirement pensions, this will rise to £80 million in 1957-58 and £102 million in 1977-78.
During this period the extra income from contributions and Exchequer supplement will remain fairly constant at about £65 million to £70 million a year. On the other hand, the extra expenditure will mount rapidly after the first few years and in 25 years' time will exceed the additional income by £36 million. The additional cost of Industrial Injuries benefits is estimated at £34 million at the outset, which is slightly more than the contribution income expected; but the difference is not large enough to have any appreciable adverse effect on the Industrial Injuries Fund in the near future.
I now turn from detailed consideration of facts and figures to one or two aspects of the insurance scheme which are of more general interest and importance. First, I want to deal with the principle of uniformity to which we are returning in this Bill. The Beveridge Report proposed immediate uniformity between sickness and unemployment benefits and also, ultimately, between these rates and pension rates at minimum retirement age. On account, however, of the very heavy cost of granting pensions at these rates to persons who could never have contributed for more than a portion of their working lives, Lord Beveridge proposed that pensions should start at much lower figures and should only attain uniformity at the end of a period of 20 years. The Coalition White Paper of 1944 rejected this complicated escalator provision and proposed a pension rate equal to five-sixths of the main benefit rate.
The Socialist Government of 1945 carried the matter a stage further by 40 proposing uniformity of pension with benefit rate from the outset of the scheme. The Act of 1951 departed from this principle. The T.U.C. have strongly urged the desirability of returning to it and I had, quite independently of them, come to a similar conclusion.
I do not want to say any unduly harsh words about what was done last year. The original proposal of the right hon, Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), in his Budget was to increase by 4s. for single persons and 8s. for married persons pension rates on their attaining the age of 70 in the case of men or 65 in the case of women.. In some mysterious way which I have never fathomed, this proposal was apparently intended, and, indeed, accepted in certain quarters, as an inducement to persons to remain at work after attaining the minimum retirement ages—
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on the Second Reading of that Bill hp said:At the same time, having tried to balance the arguments fairly for and against this proposal, I am not disposed to quarrel with it." —[OFFICIAL REPORT. 26th April, 1951: Vol. 487, c. 597.]
§ Mr. Peake
I have come to the conclusion, since that date—and many hon. Members opposite have come to a similar conclusion—that it was an unfortunate departure. At that time I had not the advantages of the views of the Trades Union Congress, to which I am sure even the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) will pay some little deference.
These proposed increases, at the respective ages of 70 and 65, were to be automatic on attaining the higher ages, and they were in no way related to continuance in the employment field, and it is difficult to see that they were an inducement to anything except mere survival—and the object of survival might be better safeguarded, from the point of view of the individual, by earlier retirement and taking thing's easy. By the concession on the 41 Report stage of last year's Bill, which, gives the higher rate of pension to existing pensioners of 65 and upwards, the whole character of the Bill was fundamentally changed. At the finish we were left with the utterly anomalous and indefensible position that all those who had attained their 65th birthday, if men, or 60th birthday, if women, before 1st October last year qualified for the higher rates, whilst those who had the misfortune of reaching these ages later would have to be content, for the first five years, with pensions at the lower rates.
That concession, while warmly applauded at the time by many supporters of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) was courageously condemned by one or two other hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), who had previously served as Parliamentary Secretary in her Ministry. Since the concession left a pension available to those over 65 and 60 respectively on 1st October, 1951, higher than unemployment benefit, it clearly was an inducement to such persons to retire if they were temporarily unemployed. I am quite sure that we are right in putting this device into the wastepaper basket and returning to the original scheme of the 1946 Act.
The case for uniformity for all the main benefits is unanswerable at the present time. The great majority of those now in receipt of retirement pensions made their own contribution by way of personal savings towards their needs in retirement during their working life in years gone by. They have lived to see their savings greatly diminish in value over the last 10 years, and their difficulties have in consequence been greatly increased through no fault of their own, and by circumstances over which they have had no control. Their plight naturally evokes much sympathy. They have in most cases passed the age at which they can supplement their pensions by casual earnings, nor can they earn the increments on their pensions which the scheme provides for those who postpone their retirement.
I feel that uniformity is undoubtedly the right policy today, but if at any future time financial necessity should compel a reconsideration of this principle, it would in my view be wrong, under a comprehensive scheme of this kind, to dis- 42 criminate against the unemployed or the sick in favour of men or women who, on reaching the conventional retiring age, may still be able to earn their own living.
The Act is framed in such a way as to enable men and women, still fit and strong on reaching retirement age, to increase their incomes in various ways not open to the sick or the unemployed. By postponing retirement they can earn very substantially increased pensions for themselves when retiring. If they decide to retire, they can take up part-time work and earn up to 40s. a week without losing any part of their pensions; and when they reach 70—or 65 for women—there is no limit to the extent to which they can supplement their pensions in this way.
Moreover, old age is something which we can all anticipate, even if we do not look forward to it; whereas sickness and unemployment are normally misfortunes which cannot be foreseen. If we can restore a stable value to our currency, we can also restore an incentive to thrift and personal savings, which can be properly regarded as available to supplement pension incomes during our declining years.
I think that anyone who faces the future of National Insurance finance must be prepared to admit that it may be difficult, if not impossible, in years to come to give automatic increases of retirement pension from existing minimum retirement ages which will correspond to any necessary and desirable increases in the provision for those of all ages who are prevented from working by sickness or unemployment. For the present, however, and until we have had more experience of the working of the scheme, particularly the increment provisions and their effects, I am certain that we shall be wise to restore and maintain the principle of uniformity.
I should like to say a few words of a general character on the growing cost of the pension proposals and the financial liability which we assumed by general consent in 1946 and which we are extending today. Hon. Members will see from the Report of the Government Actuary that, while the Fund is likely to be in approximate balance over the next three years, we may expect a deficiency in 1957-58 of about £100 million, this growing to £274 million 10 years later and to over £400 million in 1977-78
43 It think it is very desirable that in the interval which will occur before Parliament comes to make the quinquennial review of the insurance scheme the public should be put into possession of certain facts and considerations upon which at present there is either ignorance or misunderstanding. I am not enunciating any statement of Government policy in mentioning these matters today. I merely suggest that they are relevant factors in consideration of the problem of the growing burden of making provision by way of insurance for the increasing proportion of elderly persons in the community.
In the first place, of the total amount to be paid out by the Insurance Fund in respect of pensions, approximately two- thirds will be payable to women pensioners and one-third to men. This is because women begin to draw pensions five years sooner than the men do, and on the average live longer. I do not propose to embark on any discussion of this controversial topic, but it is clearly something which must be borne in mind.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
Does the two-thirds which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted include the employed contributors as well as wives and dependants?
§ Mr. Peake
It means what I said, that two-thirds of the amount drawn in pensions goes to women and one-third to men.
The second consideration which I want the House to appreciate is the very high level of pensions expenditure. There are two special reasons for it. First, under the new scheme introduced in 1946, pensions are being paid, and will continue to be paid for a long time to come, to people who have not paid contributions for them throughout their working lives but for only a comparatively short time- contributions, moreover, which have been fixed at a rate assuming that the pensioner will have contributed from the starting age for insurance.
Secondly, when pension rates are improved the increased rates are automatically granted to existing pensioners in spite 44 of the fact that the pensioner has never paid anything towards the increase in contributions.
Finally, there is the greater expectation of life. The number of men and women who are attaining the ages of 65 and 60 respectively is proportionately very much greater now than it was a generation or more ago, and they go on to live longer after pension age, owing largely, no doubt, to improvements in medical treatment.
Since 1925 the expectation of life of a man at the age of 65 has increased by one year, from 11½ to 12½ years, and that of a woman at the age of 60 by two years, from 16½ to 18½ years. Moreover, I am sure we can all agree that people at these ages are stronger and fitter than they used to be and that we can look forward to even greater increases in the figures of expectation of life.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Will my right hon. Friend say whether the expectation of life after 65 has increased proportionately more than the expectation of life before 65? He will appreciate that it is only if there is a relatively greater increase after 65 that a greater burden is thrown upon the Insurance Fund.
§ Mr. Peake
It is, of course, quite true as my hon. Friend says, that the expectation of life from pensionable age has not increased in the same proportion as it has increased throughout the whole of life. My hon. Friend must also bear in mind that the result of the decrease in mortality below the pension age has resulted in a much larger proportion of people reaching pension age than would have reached pension age a generation ago.
There is another consideration of great importance arising from what the right hon. Member for Leeds, South, suggested last year in his Budget speech:In due course, some formal alteration of pension age in pension schemes, both national and occupational, may well be necessary."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, col. 8491Many people assumed from this that the raising of the pension age affords the answer to the increased burden of pensions. However, the matter is not quite so simple. Clearly, if pensionable age were to be raised it would, as a matter of good faith, be absolutely necessary to 45 offer people as good a bargain—if not a better bargain—as that which is open to them under the present arrangements.
This brings me to what has been done regarding the scales of increment which can be earned by postponing retirement. Lord Beveridge proposed the addition of ls. to the weekly pension for each year of postponed retirement. The Coalition White Paper adopted a similar proposal. A small increment of that character would, if many people had taken advantage of it, have achieved a substantial saving to the liabilities of the Fund.
The Act of 1946 doubled the increments scale and gave 2s. of additional weekly pension for each year postponed. Last year's Bill carried this further and gave an increment of 3s. on the weekly pension, and by postponing retirement for two years a single person can now add 6s. to his weekly pension rate and a married man 10s. to the joint pension for himself and his wife, and over the full five-year period the figures which can be added to the pension are 15s. single and 25s. married.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Are there now available any statistics indicating the number of men and women who, since 1948, have qualified for the increments in addition to their pension?
§ Mr. Peake
I do not know of any precise figures, but the report of the Government Actuary on the working of the Act to the end of March last will be out in the next few days and I should not be surprised—I cannot pledge myself on it—if it contained some reference to the point which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
It may be that the increments will help in inducing persons to remain longer at work and thereby adding to our productivity. It is too early at present to judge the effect of the increased increment scales. But the points which I now wish the House to appreciate are, first, that increases of the scale make it difficult if not impossible to effect any saving to the Insurance Fund by delayed retirements, and secondly, it would be necessary on account of them to concede much higher rates of pension at a new minimum pension age if pension ages were to be raised, for the simple reason that one cannot possibly offer the insured person a worse bargain than that which 46 he can now obtain for himself by remaining in the employment field.
There is, therefore, no easy way out of the financial difficulties which the Insurance Fund will inevitably have to face. The main attraction of the proposal to increase the ages of retirement is not as a means of saving money on pensions, but something quite different, It is that it might remove from the public mind the conception that the present minimum pension ages are those which should be generally adopted throughout industry as the age of retirement; and this would help the efforts which are being made to persuade people to continue at work as long as they can do so to their own, and to the public, advantage.
Before I conclude, I must refer to one other matter of outstanding importance, and that is the relationship between insurance benefit rates and assistance scales. This is a matter which has rightly attracted a good deal of attention in recent years. The growing number depending on assistance—it has risen from 1,250,000 to 2,250,000 between 1948 and the end of 1951—is a matter which has given many of us on this side of the House cause for deep concern.
Two thirds of those on assistance receive it in supplementation of insurance benefits and pensions. I was glad to note in the course of the debate last week on the new assistance scales that hon. Members opposite, including the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West, bad also taken note of what has been proceeding now over the last three and a half years. The right hon. Lady stated—I thought, rather as if it were a new discovery on her part—We are departing from the principle that pensions should be related to subsistence." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1952; Vol. 499, c. 1381.]But the fact, of course, is that ever since 1948, when the new insurance scheme came into full operation, the pension rates have fallen short of the National Assistance scales when the average amount of the rent allowance paid by the Board is added to the latter.
Now, taking the single person's scale rate and adding thereto an increase of 9s. which is the average of the rent allowances made to such persons by the Assistance Board, the assistance scale rate exceeded the corresponding benefit rate 47 under National Insurance by 7s. in 1948, by 9s. in 1950, and by 13s. in 1951. Measured in percentages the assistance scale with rent allowance exceeded the insurance rate in 1948 by 27 per cent., in 1950 by 34½ per cent., and in 1951 by no less than 50 per cent. The gap, both absolutely and relatively, has been growing wider as the cost of living has been rising.
The present Bill does something, though by no means as much as I could wish, to narrow the gap. While the assistance rates for a single person are to be raised by 5s., the main benefit rate under National Insurance, including, of course, the pension rate for persons now attaining the minimum pensionable age, rises by 6s. 6d. For married couples the assistance scales rise by 9s., and the National Insurance benefits by 12s. This Bill, therefore, represents, for the first time since 1948, a step in what I believe to he the right direction.
This situation is one which will have to be carefully watched. It is not a matter upon which any of us can look with either satisfaction or complacency. It is the direct result of the progressive rise in the cost of living, and it well illustrates the immense difficulties in which any insurance scheme of this character is involved during a period of inflation. Assistance scales chase the cost of living, and insurance benefits are left behind.
In introducing the National Insurance Bill in 1946, the right hon. Member for Llanelly referred to the determination of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to hold the cost of living at 31 per cent. above the 1939 level. In fact, as we all know, the value of money has fallen more rapidly in the last five years than it did even during the war period. Our people have become in the last generation deeply attached to the insurance principle. To secure benefits as of right, without inquiry as to means or savings, they are ready and willing to pay substantial contributions, but no insurance scheme can survive for long or keep its virtue in the public mind when money is steadily losing value. One of the main objects of this Bill is to buttress the insurance principle and to maintain our people's faith in it undimmed. I therefore commend it wholeheartedly to the House.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
I am sure that I am speaking for all hon. Members on this side of the House—indeed, for the whole House—in welcoming a Bill which is designed to increase the benefits enjoyed by the beneficiaries under the National Insurance scheme.
The Minister has not tried to argue—I do not think he could—that these new rates can cover all the increases in expenditure with which beneficiaries will be faced in the forthcoming months. As I said when we discussed the National Assistance Regulations—and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with this —any new increases in rates must, of course, meet increases in the cost of living since the last increase of rates.
In this case the increase in expenditure will be related to the removal of certain food subsidies and the increase in expenditure which must cover the period subsequent to the introduction of the new rates; because, as the Minister knows, it is customary for the Ministry of National Insurance and the National Assistance Board to increase rates to such an extent that they will cover any increase in the cost of living for some months, following the introduction of the benefits.
Furthermore, the Minister has not mentioned this, which I think is relevant. Beneficiaries under the National Insurance scheme will be called upon to pay the Is. on the Health Service prescriptions which it is proposed to charge, and the Minister has not adduced any argument which has convinced me that these new scales will cover the increases which these beneficiaries will be called upon to meet.
I was very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman introduced as a postscript to his speech the disparity which exists between National Assistance scales and National Insurance scales. He recalled that there had been gaps between the Insurance scales and the Assistance scales, which have been explained by previous Ministers. But surely this gap is striking in its disparity. Just look at the position with regard to the children. Under the Assistance Board a married couple with three children aged 12, eight and three, and paying rent, let us say, of 12s. —I think that is a fair assumption for 49 married couple with three children—will receive 59s. plus 16s. for the first child, 13s. 6d. for the second, I ls. for the third, and 12s. rent; a married couple under the Assistance Board will receive £5 11s. 6d. A married couple receiving sickness or unemployment benefit with the same number of children will receive only 10s. 6d. for each child, and, therefore, will receive only £4 5s. 6d.
We should be very much concerned with this disparity between the National Assistance Board rates and the National Insurance rates. These increases will inevitably mean that men and women who are unemployed and sick will apply for assistance. At present the precentage is comparatively low, and that is, of course, because sickness and unemployment, fortunately, are today of short duration; but the picture must change in consequence of what the Minister has said today.
In consequence of the new Assistance rates there will, I think, emerge a new pattern of social welfare. The pension will gradually be looked upon as a supplement to any existing resources, and for those who have no such resources the pension will simply become the basis upon which further benefits are based. In other words, today the National Assistance Board is under-pinning the whole Insurance scheme. There is a danger there, as I see it.
In these matters we can, obviously, only help by pooling our ideas. The Minister has figures and information which are denied to others. The Minister has certain officials, of course, who are experts in this matter, and who help him when he has conferences with them. We must try to pool our ideas. The danger I see is that, if the disparity between assistance and insurance continues it will reduce the value of the whole insurance scheme in the eyes of the contributors.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to smile, but consider the young coal miner who is now called upon to make a very heavy contribution each week. When he recognises what are the new Assistance scales he will quite rightly say to himself," It seems to me that, if I go on like this for many years, making a contribution every week, at the end of things if I had made no contribution I should qualify for a higher pension than 50 the one to which I shall be entitled under National Insurance."
The experts on the back benches opposite who choose to smile cannot deny that. They may argue that the young miner may feel that grievance but cannot do anything about it because this is compulsory, although he would prefer to opt out in favour of a voluntary scheme. What we are anxious to do is to have a scheme which will be acceptable to the contributors, and it would be wrong if, gradually, contributors felt that they would get more by drawing National Assistance.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
I do not think that my hon. Friends were smiling at any views the right hon. Lady was expressing. We are only too delighted at her conversion to our point of view. All we want to know is why she should choose to make this attack on the disparity at the time that our Minister has narrowed the gap, while during her period of office she widened it.
§ Dr. Summerskill
That is not so. I made it quite clear, as the House appreciates, that in a debate of this kind we must pool our ideas.
This scheme is comparatively new; the machinery is still creaking; and the British people are rather proud that we approach these matters empirically. I have never denied that there were some gaps, but at this stage we must be careful to see that the gaps are not widened, and I am glad that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with me. If the hon. Gentleman, instead of parroting some of the things murmured into his ears by alleged experts, would examine the figures I am giving he would recognise that there is a widening which people will not always understand. When discussing a scheme of this kind I should not think of being dogmatic for one moment. We must approach this tentatively, and pool our ideas as far as possible.
When the right hon. Gentleman rather frowned upon the lack of uniformity last year, I notice that he reserved his position; he was very clever; he was a very good politician; he anticipated that he might be in his present position next year, although I do not think he will be.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought not to make these little debating points by recalling what people said about new schemes years ago. We could all do that, and we have all done it in this House.
Here we are trying, as far as possible, to make our contribution in debate in order to help evolve the right kind of scheme. I was very proud to think the right hon. Gentleman could criticise me on only one point about my period of office. There are explanations why we departed from the principle of uniformity. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman said that conditions may change, that the Treasury may adopt a different attitude, and that he might perhaps have to come to the House and say, "We must depart from uniformity." I do not criticise him for that. He was very wise to say that, because he is administering a very detailed Department, in which the Minister is almost overburdened with figures which are continually brought to his notice.
Last week we were told that the National Assistance Board had found it necessary to increase the amount spent on discretionary allowances, and I was glad to hear it. In view of the fact that so many people will apply for National Assistance, I wondered whether the whole range of discretionary allowances might be examined. That is not, of course, strictly a matter for the Ministry of National Insurance, but, gradually, there is growing a closer integration between the Ministry of National Insurance and the National Assistance Board, and I wondered whether that ought to be examined.
I have every sympathy with the men or women who, having spent their whole life in industry, think they should be entitled to a pension which would ensure security for the rest of their days without having to go to another authority to ask for supplementation. That is the ideal we should like to achieve, but, unfortunately, the ideal is not always obtainable. Any insurance scheme must have a sound actuarial basis, and we should often remind people that, while helping the old and sick regard must be had to the young people who are making the contributions 52 which help to carry the weakest in the community.
When I was Minister and went to meetings of old people I found they were very sympathetic when it was explained to them that the pension they enjoyed was not strictly related to the contributions they had made during their working life, and that if they were to have a substantial increase—and we know that many old age pensioners are asking for a substantial increase—it must be borne in part by the increased contributions of the younger workers. The Minister reminded us of certain figures. In 1950-51, out of a total of £367½ million, £249 million was spent on retirement pensions. These figures should be repeated often, because in my time the Government estimated that the cost would be doubled in the next 30 years.
I would like to ask the Minister one or two questions about the old folk. Is he satisfied—and, unfortunately, he says he has not the figures, and I would like to know when we can examine them—that the present inducement to old people to remain at work is sufficient? I realise that when we increase the increment there are repercussions. I would like to know, later, whether he has that in mind—this is hypothetical, I know—and if he is convinced that these increments are not giving the inducements we thought they would have.
When I was at the Ministry we did, now and then, have liaison with the Minister of Labour, because it seemed to me rather stupid to ask old people to continue to work if the work was not forthcoming. Has the Minister had conversations with the Minister of Labour with a view to seeing what arrangements can be made to provide employment which will involve less exacting work and shorter hours for old people? We have to approach this in a practical way. It is no good saying, that they work as night watchmen, or do other jobs which old people will hate doing, and which are quite unfitted for their physique. The Ministry of National Insurance and the Ministry of Labour should co-operate in this matter.
If there is an increase in the cost of living, I presume that the Minister will have to tell the House that the insurance contributions will have to go up once more. As I see it, the contributions in their present form represent a regressive 53 tax, and bear very heavily on the lower-paid worker. It is rather worrying to think that a man of 18 pays the same contribution as a man of 60, although the man of 60 may be getting 10 times the wage of the man of 18. I want to relate that to the Industrial Injuries Fund.
We all recognise—and I am the first, to recognise—the importance of actuarial soundness in administering any insurance scheme. I ask the Minister whether he would consider the Industrial Injuries Fund alone. There is a substantial surplus in the Fund; I think that the surplus during the last two years has been even greater than the Government contribution. While I have always argued that a surplus in any insurance fund is no excuse for raiding it, the Industrial Injuries Fund is in a class apart. It cannot be seriously contended that the incidence of industrial injuries and industrial disease will increase in a dramatic fashion, as unemployment might well.
I used the argument, when I was in the Minister's position, that we could not, however large the surplus, raid the Fund from which unemployment benefit comes, because the time might come when our assumption that there would only be a low percentage of unemployment might be proved wrong. I think that was a sound argument, but it is not sound to argue that we must keep a very large surplus in the Industrial Injuries Fund in anticipation of a sudden increase in industrial injuries and disease.
§ Mr. lain MacLeod (Enfield, West)
Surely there is this side to be considered. It was always planned by the party opposite and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that it was necessary to have a surplus in the early years of the Industrial Injuries Fund not as a protection, which, of course, would be absurd, against an increase in injuries but to take the weight of the early cases as they came to maturity. I think that the right hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman agree about that.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Certainly. My right hon. Friend introduced this scheme in its very early stages, and he quite rightly safeguarded himself. I am putting a point of view; I am not being dogmatic. I am not expressing the view of a party; I am speaking as an individual who, in a 54 comparatively short time, learnt something about this matter and wondered—and I want it to go on record that I am speaking as an individual this afternoon and committing no one, as my hon. Friends behind me will probably speak in their individual capacity—having seen the scheme operate over a few years, if the Minister would consider a different approach. That is all I am asking.
The Government Actuary has recommended that the share of the weekly contribution for industrial injuries in respect of a man over 18 should be increased from 4d. to 5d. The new contribution rates, plus the Exchequer supplement, will provide £3,400,000. I think the right hon. Gentleman said that the only additional expenditure from the Fund would be approximately £2 million.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I think that the Fund is at present in a healthy state. Am I right in saying that there are £60 million in the Fund at the present time? I think that the Minister agrees. Therefore, I am not far wrong when I say that it is not a very heavy addition. The suggestion is that the employer should pay the 1d. because the Minister, quite rightly, does not want to break it down to half-pennies
This is my suggestion: I do not want to save the employer, but I want to transfer this burden. I suggest that the 1d. could be transferred from the employer to the employed people in the National Insurance Fund. In this way, the employer would pay 8d. instead of 7d. or the insured person could pay 7d. instead of the proposed 8d. That is one simple way of easing the burden of contributions on the employee. Perhaps the Minister would consider that suggestion.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a few further questions about the Industrial Injuries Act. He said that he had considered the Amendments which were discussed with the Joint Council last year, and I am pleased to say that I think that he was sympathetically disposed towards all of them. May I mention the hospital treatment allowance? I hope that is in his mind. I wondered whether that could have been incorporated in this Bill. As the hospital treatment allowance stands, it is limited to those who are awarded a pension. The man who is only entitled to a gratuity does not qualify for the hospital treatment 55 allowance, and, following the Joint Council representations, there was an agreement that this anomaly should be put right.
I hope that the Minister bears that in mind. He was not very specific about these matters. The Minister said, quite rightly, that the unemployability supplement is mentioned in the Bill. I think that following the Joint Council's representation it was agreed that any increase in the unemployability supplement should be brought into line with the supplement enjoyed by war pensioners, and to increase the amount from 20s. a week to 26s. a week to remove an anomaly.
Subsequently, the war pensioner's supplement was increased to 35s. and the Joint Council, quite rightly, said that they were no longer interested in the original proposal to increase it to 26s. There was a great deal of discussion on this matter, and I am rather astonished to find that the unemployability supplement in this Bill is to be 32s. 6d. a week, which is 2s. 6d. less than that of the war pensioners. I cannot understand why the Minister is still retaining this anomaly. It is only a question of half-a-crown. I should like to know the answer to that.
Finally, I hope I have made it clear to the House that my purpose is to help and not to hinder. The last thing I want to do is to obstruct the progress of the Bill. We are anxious to see these rates operated, and we on this side of the House will do everything possible to facilitate the progress of the Bill. I can only hope that the Minister will consider what I have said, perhaps in a more friendly spirit than his hon. Friends on the back benches opposite.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I promised that I would detain the House for only five minutes, and I therefore want to make only one point. It concerns the family allowance for the first child. I heard what my right hon. Friend bad to say about this in his opening speech, and, frankly, I was a little disappointed; and I want to put to him one or two aspects, and to make two suggestions, and also to notify him that when we reach the Committee stage I hope to put down an Amendment, or even a new Clause, which will meet with 56 his approval and, I may say, the approval of a very large section of the population.
The first point is this—that the first child is the most expensive child. The whole of the layout, the layette, the pram and the clothes, and everything else, have to be bought in one lump sum. They can be passed to the second and third child and used by them. Secondly, there are a large number of people in the country, particularly those who are outside the Income Tax groups, who will lose 4s. 6d. a week as a result of the reduction in the food subsidies and who are to have nothing, as far as I can see, by way of compensation. It seems to me that there is a very strong case for an allowance for the first child. The Minister mentioned one figure in his opening speech, when he said the cost to the Exchequer of raising the family allowance from 5s. to 8s. was £58 million.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The actual figure of the cost of raising the allowance from 5s. to 8s. is £37 million. I have a letter before me from the Parliamentary Secretary—and I hope I am not out of order in reading it—which says that in his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the cost of increasing the present family allowance from 5s. to 8s. per week will be about £37 million. We need not quarrel about whether it is £37 million or £39 million, however; the point is that it is a very considerable amount of money.
It is very difficult for a back bencher, who does not have the figures, to make these suggestions, but I have one or two figures here which I believe to be authentic. Suppose the 8s. were cut to 7s., then the Exchequer would save £12,500,000. I am not suggesting that the first child should get 8s.; it has been shown that that would be far too expensive. The figure was quoted by my right hon. Friend. But what I do suggest is this: if we reduced the 8s. to 7s. for the other children, we should save £12,500,000, and if we gave 2s. to the first child of those who are not within the Income Tax groups, that would cost £7 million and we should have over £5 million left.
57 I have not the figure which would be involved if we gave this allowance to those who are within the Income Tax groups; that is to say, to everybody with one child. I do not know how much that would cost, and I hope my hon. Friend will tell me when he replies. Without the figures it is very difficult to make concrete suggestions, but that is one suggestion.
May I make another suggestion? If my first idea is quite impracticable, will my right hon. Friend consider this point? At present there is a maternity grant of £4. Let us assume that we gave 8s. a week for the first child for a year. That would amount to approximately £20 and, deducting the maternity grant, would cost the Exchequer £16. That would help very considerably, because it would help the family to buy the pram and the layette and the clothes. Incidentally, by the time they had concluded that year they might have a second child on the way, and they would very soon be receiving the other 8s. a week.
I think this suggestion is perhaps a stronger one than the first. If we increased the maternity benefit—and I am not talking about the attendance allowance—from £4 to 8s. a week for the first year, which would be about £20, I think we should meet the case of a very large number of people who are going to suffer an additional cost.
It is all very well to talk about incentives where people can work extra time and earn more money, but there is a section of the community who cannot do that. Take the case of the commissionaires, or people working in gardens or forests; or take the case of thousands of people who work in offices which are locked at 5.30 p.m. They cannot work over-time and earn a little more money. My suggestion would benefit a very large section of the community, and I appeal very strongly to my right hon. Friend to give his thoughts to the problem between now and the Committee stage. I hope I may have support, too, from other hon. Members if I table an Amendment on the Committee stage.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) certainly raised an important point in the opening part of 58 his speech—that of giving a family allowance to the first child. Personally, I am in favour of that, but I recognise that it would be necessary to come to terms with the trade unions on the principle upon which wages should be fixed.
On another occasion we shall be discussing the question whether women should have equal pay for equal work with men, but we all agree that the difference between the pay of men and the pay of women is based upon the undoubted family responsibilities of most men. But men have been very jealous indeed of having the rate for the job for men, irrespective of whether they have children, few or none, at all, or whether they are married or sigle.
If we are to have a family allowance for the first child, I think we must frankly acknowledge a combination of wages and social benefits as the basis of meeting human needs. Up to now I am bound to record, with great regret, that there has been surprisingly little interest taken by the trade union movement in family allowances. I represent an organisation elsewhere which is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, and I raised my voice last year, and I hope to raise it again, on what I believe to be the need for a new approach by the trade unions to the problem of wages, and to a combination of wages with social benefits in order to enable the wage structure merely to look after its own narrow requirements, adding to it social benefits so as to provide a full standard of life for families of different sizes and with dependants of different degrees. I do not think we shall get very far in discussing that very wide question this afternoon, however.
I want to pass from that to one or two short points on the Bill. I am sorry to see that in the Bill the non-contributory pensioner is again excluded from the improvement in pension rates. Clause 7 (2) says:Nothing in the provisions of this Act relating to retirement pensions shall be taken as affecting the provisions of section seventy-four of the National Insurance Act, 1946, relating to non-contributory pensions.I was one of those on this side of the House who regretted the omission of the non-contributory pension from last year's Bill, but to omit it for the second time is rather harsh. 59 Before the 1948 Act there was an adjustment of the scale of pension rates of the non-contributory pensioners to bring them into harmony with the new rates for the contributory pensions. There are fewer than 400,000 of them, and what the Minister is doing under this Bill is to impose on the non-contributory pensioners the need to use up their slender capital resources more rapidly than otherwise would be the case. There is nothing that worries old people more than to see their little nest eggs gradually disappearing, for it represents the only bulwark that they have between themselves and absolute destitution or the need to go to the National Assistance Board, which many old folk are extremely reluctant to do.
May I also ask the Minister to consider, before the Committee stage, whether he should now do something for what I describe as the modified pensioner. He is taking power under Clause 7 (1, a), as I read the Bill, to introduce fresh Regulations to make an adjustment in the pensions of those who at one time were in excepted employment, but whose pensions were modified on account of the age at which they entered voluntarily or compulsorily the contributory scheme. They feel very keenly that their pensions are at a discount notwithstanding the fact that most of them have contributed more in cash and longer in time than many people compulsorily insured later on, who get the full benefits under the contributory scheme.
I assume from what the Minister said that he proposes to leave the increments for postponed retirement at the higher figure introduced by the Act of 1951. If so, I should like to draw his attention to one defect in the arrangements last year which he himself criticised. Under the arrangements for postponed retirement, if a wife is under 60 when her husband has postponed his retirement and is earning bonus increments to his pension, the increase is given on the husband's pension but not on the wife's pension except in so far as she has passed the age of 60 during the period of the postponed retirement. The right hon. Gentleman criticised that discrimination against the wife who is under 60 when her husband over 65 is postponing retirement.
I do not say it in any unkindly way, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will 60 cut out his speech on the Second Reading of last year's Bill and set it alongside his speech on the Second Reading of this Bill and put over the particular extracts some famous words of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which he frequently uses when asked to explain why he is doing one thing when previously he has said another. The words are:Circumstances change as events move forward.If the right hon. Gentleman will put those words over those two speeches, I am sure they will be a good guide to his future conduct as a Minister.
May I draw attention also to certain considerations before the Committee stage? I apologise for raising these points, but they are important. They relate to the conditions under which the earnings rule operates. Only this very weekend I was told that some of my constituents, women in the textile industry, who have postponed retirement in order to work as long as they could, feel that the time has come when they cannot continue the full-time work, and they wish to retire and take advantage of their pensions and in many cases their increased pensions that postponed retirement gives them. They want to supplement their pensions by part-time work.
The rules under which limited earnings are allowed to be increased from 20s. to 40s. stipulate that in general the hours of work should not exceed 12 hours a week and if they do a person is not regarded as having retired. To work more than 12 hours per week is inconsistent with the act of retirement. It is pointed out to me by these women that they cannot earn the maximum of 40s. permitted within the 12 hours limit of working time. Moreover, they are meeting with reluctance on the part of employers to pay the employer's contributions on their behalf for not more than 12 hours work a week. The employers say that if they employ two persons, each of them part-time, in a week to make up full time, they would have to pay two stamps and not one, which adds an additional charge to the firms' resources.
I should like to ask the Minister a word about the age of retirement. He mentioned the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), in his Budget speech last year, 61 referred to this question of the minimum age of retirement, and the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon that it was not as easy to bring it about as my right hon. Friend suggested last year. I hope I am not tormenting the right hon. Gentleman too much with these quotations.
§ Mr. Houghton
He said on 26th April last year:It makes it all the more inevitable that the minmum age of retirement will have to be increased, because otherwise the burden thrown on those of working age in the community will become insupportable, before equilibrium in the fund can be attained in 46 years' time." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1951; Vol. 487; c. 596.]
§ Mr. Houghton
I am sure the House is greatly moved by the confession of the right hon. Gentleman that he has gone to his Ministry to learn. Some of us have not had the advantage of being at the Ministry but we have learned nevertheless, and I am reminding the right hon. Gentleman that last year he thought there was something in this point about the raising of the minimum age of retirement. Moreover, I think we read in the newspapers a little while ago a reference to some discussions that were taking place between the Minister and the Trades Union Congress on this very question of raising the minimum age of retirement. The Minister said nothing about these discussions this afternoon. He did not tell us whether he had, in fact, made suggestions to the Trades Union Congress, and if so, how they were received and on what grounds he decided not to press the matter. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us something about that.
The issue of the greatest importance which the Minister raised this afternoon, and one upon which the whole House must have a growing anxiety, is how we are going to finance a scheme of National Insurance giving adequate subsistence benefits at the present minimum ages of retirement. That is an issue of growing social, financial and political importance. I sincerely hope that the debate. the big, 62 long debate that I believe will be necessary on the many aspects of this matter, will not become too involved with political advantage. These are issues which affect every home in the land. If National Insurance is to become national insecurity instead of social security, many hopes and expectations of the people of this land will suffer a severe setback. We cannot be unconcerned with the growing part which National Assistance is coming to play in the scheme of social security.
Lord Beveridge. we all remember, contemplated that National Assistance would have a strictly limited and diminishing scope in the comprehensive structure of social security. It is certainly not what the architects of the National Insurance Scheme contemplated that more and more people should be driven by the inadequacy of the standard benefits to ask for extra help from the National Assistance Board.
In his report, Lord Beveridge described some of the classes who would inevitably have to go to National Assistance for extra help: deserted wives; those for whom no National Insurance cover had been provided: those who, for lack of the necessary contributions, would get only partial benefits under the scheme. He certainly did not include in his categories the three-quarters of a million retirement pensioners who have found the basic pension inadequate for ordinary subsistence needs. The proportion of National Insurance pensioners is growing, and the cost of National Insurance is growing, as the Minister mentioned in his speech this afternoon.
I acknowledge the courtesy of the Parliamentary Secretary in supplying me with figures. The percentage of retirement pensioners who have had to go to the National Assistance Board increased during 1951 by 2 per cent., from 21 per cent. to 23 per cent. Those on sickness benefit rose from 13 per cent. to 15 per cent. who had to go to National Assistance during 1951. Happily, those getting widow's benefit who had to get assistance fell from 28 per cent. to 23 per cent., probably because of the changes which took place last autumn.
In the two years since December, 1949, the number of households receiving retirement pensions who had to go to the National Assistance Board increased by 63 5 per cent., from 18 per cent. to 23 per cent. National Assistance payments being made today exceed all the benefits paid under the National Insurance Scheme for sickness, unemployment and widows put together. National Assistance is now asked to cover a formidable total over and above National Insurance benefits.
Have we not come to a remarkable position? This is the crux of the whole case: even the new basic benefits of 54s. for a married couple and 32s. 6d. for a single person are acknowledged, by the fact of the National Assistance scales being higher, to be inadequate for a minimum subsistence standard. They must be supplemented either by the resources of the individual or by National Assistance. This is what we have now come to.
I fail to see, although I probably did not correctly follow the right hon. Gentleman's figures, how the gap between basic pension rates and National Assistance is being narrowed in the Bill. The National Assistance minimum scale of 59s. for a married couple, exclusive of rent allowance, must be compared with the 54s. standard benefit under National Insurance, and the 35s. minimum National Assistance payment, exclusive of rent allowance, for a single person, with 32s. 6d., the standard benefit under the National Insurance Scheme.
I cannot see how the Bill will be narrowing the gap when last year the money payments actually tallied and this year are moving further apart. The gap is being widened rather than narrowed, from my figures, but that may be due to the fact that whereas National Assistance scales have increased by nearly 50 per cent. since 1948, the standard benefits under the National Insurance Scheme have increased by only 30 per cent.
Clearly, we are now departing from one of Lord Beveridge's fundamental principles—there were six of them under his scheme—for the payment of National Insurance benefit for subsistence need. I am not going to quote the paragraphs in the Beveridge Report which set out that principle unmistakably clearly, a principle which guided the Labour Government in introducing the National Insurance Scheme in 1948. It is to be found in paragraphs 238 and 239 of the Beveridge Report. Last year, my right 64 hon. Friend introduced a scheme of differential pension rates. I have already referred, in the intervention that I made during the right hon. Gentleman's speech, to his own comments about those proposals when they came before the House for Second Reading on 26th April, 1951.
I agree with him and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) that none of us can be too dogmatic about the future course of social insurance and about social security. We are seeing a phenomenon now that probably none of us foresaw a few years ago, the havoc that the rising cost of living is making with the stability and the adequacy of National Insurance benefits. In this period of world instability, world fear and world uncertainty none of us can be sure whether we can restore the harmony—and how we can restore it—between standard benefits and for adequate provision for minimum subsistence needs.
There may be something to be said in times of difficulty—I certainly thought last year there was a great deal to be said for it—for giving an undertaking of adequate social security to the older persons even though it was not possible to give the same guarantee to those who were not so old. The present Minister himself must have been in sympathy with that point of view last year because, following the quotation that I have already made in my intervention, he 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. That would not only be a very costly proposal, but it would act as an incentive to early retirement, and that is the one thing which the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech said that we must avoid at all costs." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 597.]In introducing his proposals last year, my right hon. Friend had, at least on the Second Reading stage, the approval, understanding and support of the right hon. Gentleman. I think the right hon. Gentleman should have paid rather more regard to his own comments last year before introducing that little schoolmasterish note which he did this afternoon in a mild rebuke to my right hon. Friends on this side of the House for having done what he described as "an unfortunate thing" last year.
65 Speaking for myself, if there is any real difficulty in maintaining adequate subsistence payments for all, I would certainly favour differential pension rates. These would assure adequate subsistence at the later ages, even if in the earlier stages we either had to ask people to work longer, if they could do so, or, in the normal course of making provision for their retirement have something put by for the early years of retirement or, if other resources failed, they would have to go to the National Assistance Board. That we may have to face at some time in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman has been right at this stage to restore the uniformity of benefits in this Bill, knowing that we must review the entire scheme thoroughly in the not too distant future. He leaves the scheme as it was first conceived, unprejudiced and unimpaired in principle by the proposals in this Bill and they are bound to be generally welcomed on that account, as well as on account of the additional benefits they will bring.
I hope the House will combine in the months and years ahead—and there may not be as much time as we think—to have a thorough, impartial and courageous stocktaking of the complexities, difficulties, and growing cost of National Insurance and of social security. The people of this country would much rather be confronted with the stark facts, with the realities of what social insurance will cost, what it means to sustain it, than drift on, merely criticising what the scheme fails to yield in their interest, without understanding these profound matters of finance, of social and political and economic importance, which underlie our approach to the greatest social Measure of our time.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Storey (Stretford)
I intervene for a few minutes only to support what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), and to put in a plea that the married couple with one child should be given some compensation for the increased cost of living brought about by the cuts in the food subsidies. I am referring only to the married couple with a low income, a class of people upon whom this increase in the cost of living bears hardly. They pay no Income Tax so they get no benefit from the Budget; 66 they get no family allowance, so they get no increased family allowance under this Bill.
It is no answer to say that they can work overtime because, as my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out, there are many of them who do not have the opportunity of working overtime. That is particularly so in such counties as Lancashire and Yorkshire where a large number of the population is employed in the textile trade. This is a class, therefore, to which the House should give special consideration, and I hope that when we come to a later stage of the Bill something may be done for them.
I suggest that such couples with one child, having an income of under £350 a year, should be given a family allowance for that child at half the increased rate. There are about 800,000 such couples, but some already receive allowances from other sources. The cost, therefore, should not exceed £8 million, which is a very different thing from the £130 million which the Minister told us it would cost to give an allowance to all first children. If £8 million is considered excessive, something could be done to meet it at the other end of the scale by giving a smaller increase under this Bill for children in excess of four.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)
How would the Minister administering this scheme find out which parents had £350 a year and which had less?
§ Mr. Storey
I was coming to that point. There should be no administrative difficulty because the eligibility for such an allowance could be proved easily from the Income Tax documents. There is nothing new in granting an allowance for a first child where the family income is low. This Bill establishes the principle because it gives an increased allowance of 8s. for the first child where the parent is drawing insurance benefit.
For these reasons I hope that the House will consider this class of people to see whether something cannot be done during the Committee stage of the Bill to give them some compensation for the increased cost of living due to the cut in the food subsidies.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
One of the most important questions we have to ask ourselves in considering the recommendations set out in this Bill is whether they are adequate to meet the demands of the day or the increased strain which has to be borne by our people. It is true that the conditions of life are constantly changing. The economic difficulties with which we are faced today do not represent a new problem but are akin to the difficulties that confronted us during the transition from war to peace.
The social structure built up since the end of the war is something of which this nation can be proud. A retrospective glance at social insurance would take us a long way back into history. Any student of industrial history knows that it was only after long agitation that the National Insurance Act was passed in 1911. That Act provided some measure of insurance against loss of health and employment. According to the Beveridge Report, in 1914 only two and a half million people were insured against unemployment, 13½ million against ill health, and none at all against old age.
By 1938, 15 million were insured against unemployment, 19½ million against ill health, and 20½ million for widows, orphans and old age pensions. The 1946 National Insurance Act was based on the Beveridge Report to a great extent. By its passing the workers in industry were able to look forward to a unified and comprehensive scheme which would cover everybody and would provide benefits during domestic crises.
Since those Acts were passed and carried into effect, what has happened? The cost of living has gone up by leaps and bounds. The result has been that the minimum standard represented by the benefits contemplated at that time has little relation to those which can be obtained today. The pattern of spending habits has changed considerably and, therefore, the weight given to various items is out of proportion. Many are excluded altogether, with the result that the housewife is faced with a continuous rise in prices. So much so that the aim of the National Insurance Act to provide a reasonable standard of maintenance has been frustrated.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: Will these proposed increases meet the increased costs? It may be said that 68 this Bill attempts to assist, and that it is the best the Government can do at the moment. When such statements are made, I am reminded of an incident which concerned a colliery agent. The officials were summoned one Sunday morning for a pep talk to increase production, in accordance with the appeal to the country by the then Government. After his talk, the agent asked whether any of the officials had any observations to make. One of the officials thought that he could scotch everything that the agent had said, and remarked, "You have asked for observations about increased production. We at this colliery are already doing our best." To everyone's amazement, the agent replied, "Well, your best is not good enough." That is the kind of position with which we are confronted when we consider the benefits which are contemplated in the Bill, and while the Minister is seeking to do something, I cannot help but put to him the analogy of the colliery agent.
The Bill contains no provision, and not even any recommendation, regarding widows who are in receipt of 10s. a week. If anyone has had a raw deal, it is that class of person. Many of the husbands of these widows, the Minister should remember, gave their lives during the inter-war years in seeking to give the best production from the basic industries, and I feel that some consideration should be given to their widows. Other hon. Members also, no doubt, are questioned about this in their constituencies, and will know that these people are beginning to ask when they are to receive consideration.
Everybody agrees that the cost of living has gone up since 1946, but the incomes of the sick, the disabled and the bereaved have remained almost stationary. Whatever may be said to the contrary, these are the people who are least able to bear the results of any form of inflation. For some time it has been the ultimate object of the miners as an organisation that when a man is incapacitated by accident, by industrial disease or by sickness, he should receive not less than the national minimum wage for the industry. I consider that that is a most reasonable application. In many forms of employment, both in industry and in local government, for example, people who are off work because of sickness or ill-health have their pay made up for a certain time. If men are to be 69 attracted to the basic industries, the payment of the equivalent of the minimum wage during periods of incapacity through accident or sickness would be a very great inducement.
I should like to quote a few figures. In 1951, 487 miners were killed; reportable injuries totalled 1,939, and nearly 250,000 workers were injured for a period of more than three days. The mortality rate for pneumoconiosis was over 800, and new certifications were in the region of 4,000. I should like hon. Members to realise that of a working population for the industry of 700,000, probably as many as 20,000 men are today suffering from this terrible disease; and that of the total accident rate for the whole of industry, one-third is borne by the mines.
Moreover, a high percentage of the men suffer from bronchial complaints, rheumatism, and so on. These diseases are caused by the damp and unpleasant atmosphere to which our people are subjected, yet they cannot be covered by the Industrial Injuries Act, as we understand it, because those diseases are suffered in a lesser degree by the community as a whole. Unless something is done to help these men, we may see a return of the days when to be sick or injured meant being in debt within a fortnight.
Is it too much to ask the Minister for the social insurance benefits to be increased by at least the amount of the cost of living index increases? I do not think that so. I believe that the Minister is sincere in presenting the Bill, but I would urge him to go even further and to increase the present standard rates of National Insurance benefits by 50 per cent. That is what we seek throughout the industry.
§ Mr. Slater
The question of the contribution could be considered, but my opinion is that the major share should come from the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Slater
No. I agree that there should be a contribution, but the increases in the standard benefits, which are lower than the proposed rates of National Assistance, will undoubtedly cause dissatisfaction and confusion to the insurable population, not because the Assistance Board rates are too high, but because the new rates proposed in the Bill would appear to make it more desirable for a person to be in receipt of National Assistance than of benefit from his insurable employment.
It is not right that further indignity should be imposed upon our people by the need to apply for further assistance to the Board. The benefit rates, therefore, should be brought up to the National Assistance level. I hope that the Minister will give further consideration to the problems which confront all those who, because of the nature of their employment, are subjected day after day to the arduous tasks in industry, and that further consideration will be given to the benefits proposed by the Bill.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
Clause 12 of the Bill states that it will not extend to Northern Ireland, but legislation on exactly similar lines will shortly be introduced and passed by the Northern Ireland Government which, since its formation, has maintained, and will continue to maintain, social services in parity with those in Great Britain.
Since the setting up of the Northern Ireland Parliament, in 1921, until March, 1952, Northern Ireland has made an imperial contribution amounting to £297 million—no mean achievement for a small area with a population of only 1,250,000 —and at the same time Ulster has met the full cost of local services. We are therefore paying our way and are not poor relations living on the bounty of Great Britain. The danger of losing these many benefits by integration in an Irish Republic whose social services are far inferior to those of Northern Ireland and, in some cases, non-existent is one of the principal reasons why the shrewd Ulster Worker votes Unionist and not Labour—[Laughter.] That is perfectly true.
I am all in favour of these increased rates from 5s. to 8s.; they are fully justified by the increased cost of living. But it would be interesting to know what 71 basis of calculation was used to determine the amount of increase and I feel bound to say that if the same basis had been used in calculating the increase of the basic rate of pensions for the 100 per cent. disabled ex-Service men the increase would be not 10s. but 27s. Every Ulster ex-Service man in particular is very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions for the statement, reported in the "Sunday Times," in which he says:We do not regard the question of pensions as finalised. We have made substantial contributions in our first Budget in a serial story to which we shall return long before the next Budget.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I wish to add my word of commendation on this Bill and say that so far as it goes it is a good Bill, but it does not go very far and certainly does not go anything like so far as I should like it to go.
I recall what the position was pre-war. We objected to the way in which these matters had been dealt with piecemeal, by bits and pieces, by various Acts of Parliament passed from time to time. What we had in mind when we were urging reconsideration of this matter was that they should be all brought together under what I might perhaps describe as one umbrella. The idea was a family unit, and that a standard of life should be provided for every family below which no one should be allowed to fall whatever the circumstances relating to that family such as unemployment, injury, or illness. It was with that in mind that Sir William Beveridge, as he then was, was started on his inquiry by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) which resulted in his great Report. It is well that we should bear that in mind when considering the various changes which are being brought about.
Might I say, without any disparagement, or reflection on the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill or the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), that far and away the best speech this afternoon—instructive, helpful and displaying a very wide knowledge, was made by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). It was one which I am sure everyone of us will read again with much profit. The hon. 72 Member referred to the Beveridge Report, but did not read the paragraphs 238-9, which refer to old age pensions.
It is right that the House should recall what was fundamental under this and we find in paragraph 300 it is stated:The term ' social security ' is used here to denote the securing of an income to take the place of earnings when they are interrupted by unemployment, sickness or accident, to provide for retirement through age, to provide against loss of support by the death of another person, and to meet exceptional expenditures, such as those connected with birth, death and marriage. Primarily, social security means security of income up to a minimum, but the provision of an income should be associated with treatment designed to bring the interruption of earnings to an end as soon as possible.That is the basis on which Lord Beveridge constructed his great scheme. Unfortunately, he never for one moment contemplated the tremendous financial and economic changes that have taken place since 1842—[An HON. MEMBER: "1942."] I am not at all sure that the changes between 1842 and 1942 were less than between 1942 and 1952.
What I want to emphasise is not the way in which hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) have been putting the problems about the rise in the cost of living, but what I think is the right way to look at these matters—to see that what has been happening is a fall in the value of the £. Everyone understands that there has been a devaluation of the £ as compared with the dollar abroad, but what has really been happening is a steady devaluation of the £ at home. That has led to the economic position from which we are suffering all the time.
What we had in mind in the Report was that social security should be given to all people as of right. We had in mind putting an end to assistance for which application had to be made. It is a matter of deep regret to us all on all sides of the House that instead of, as was anticipated, applications for assistance becoming fewer and fewer, unfortunately they have been rising all the time. What was meant was conveyed in the words of paragraph 238, which refers to old age:The problem for the future is how persons who are past work can be given a guarantee against want, in a form which gives the maximum of encouragement to voluntary saving for maintenance of standards above the subsistence minimum, and at the same time avoids 73 spending money which is urgently needed elsewhere or money on a scale throwing an intolerable financial burden on the community.In paragraph 239 it is stated:… This means providing, as an essential part of the plan, a pension on retirement from work which is enough for subsistence, even though the pensioner has no other resources whatever.That was the principle we have never reached. We have never been able to embody it in any Act of Parliament, but it is one which I am sure we ought all the time to have in mind and to do our best to get back to what was laid down as the minimum which should be given to the old age people.
The same applies to all pensions. I have made the point before in this House. I regard pensions of all kinds as contracts which have been made either between an employer and employee or between the State and a pensioner by which the pensioner is able to say, "On my paying so much per annum I am entitled to the value"—not the actual sum mentioned on the piece of paper which represents the £ but the value—" of that which will give me the minimum subsistence to which I am entitled."
Therefore, I have always asked that we should try so far as we can to link the pensions, old age and otherwise, with the cost of living. An hon. Member opposite asked whether the contribution should also increase. I agree that all the time we should, in adjusting these matters, keep in mind the value of the £ —whether it has gone down or up—and, in that way, both the contributions and the amount would be increased according to the fall of the value of the £, if that continued.
I wish to say a few words about family allowances. My first point is that it is only now that we are proposing to catch up to what Lord Beveridge proposed should be the minimum number of shillings. As long ago as 1942 the figure he put down as that which should be paid in respect of children was 8s. per week. When the matter came before us we made the sum only 5s.
Again, he suggested, and successive Governments have jumped at it, that it should not be given to the first child. I have never really been quite able to follow his argument, because having 74 stated the basis of social security in paragraph 300, he goes on to say, in paragraph 301, that there are three assumptions to be made:No satisfactory scheme of social security can be devised except on the following assumptions:(A) Children's allowances for children up to the age of 15 or if in full-time education up to the age of 16;and that is without exception.
The hon. Member for Sowerby was quite right. Wages and salaries are fixed according with the value of the work, except in the case of the women. Men insist that they should be paid the value of their work, whatever may be their obligations—whether they have any or not. Therefore, if we wish to give social security we have to add to that so that the family shall be kept up to the desired level, which has really been set either by the unmarried man or the married couple without children.
When one recalls the vast number of families who are without children, one realises that it is all the more essential that the first child should be provided for. I know that the cost is great, but it is part of the social security which we undertake to give in this country. The figures are rather startling: 56 per cent. of the households in England have no children under 15 years of age, 24 per cent. have only one child, 12 per cent. two children, 5 per cent. three children, and 3 per cent. four or more children.
The standard is being set by the families without children. The right thing to do is to provide for each child under the age of 16. I should have much preferred the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister, instead of raising the allowance for all children after the first one to 8s. per child, to have made the increase very much less but have brought in the first child. It would have been much more equitable and would have been an endeavour to carry out what we intended in providing social security all round.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) referred to what they regarded as the unsatisfactory 75 features of the Bill in relation to certain families with one child being handicapped. The hon. and gallant Member mentioned 4s. 6d. in the case of a family of three. That arose from the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who told us that he had to reduce the food subsidies by £160 million, which would reflect itself to the extent of ls. 6d. per person per week, and that would mean 4s. 6d. in the case of three people.
I think those figures are suspect and that in the event the cost will be far in excess of Is. 6d. It was an arbitrary calculation. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, I do not see why, in a system of social insurance, there should not be some recognition of the difficulties of providing for the first child, and acceptance of the claim.
There are, however, even worse circumstances than those, which are not provided for in this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary will know that some of us have had correspondence with his Department about this matter. It is provided in the insurance scheme that the widow of a man who has not paid 156 contributions from 5th July, 1948, prior to his death, cannot draw a widow's pension. That is to say if the man died before 5th July, 1951, or in some cases subsequently, and had not paid a minimum of 156 contributions, his widow is not entitled to a penny piece of benefit.
I should like to know—I am aware that my right hon. Friend agreed to this arrangement when in charge of these matters—what is the social and moral argument by which we draw the line so that a widow who has one or two children to raise, and who has very slender resources, is not entitled to benefit because her husband was sick during the first three years of the scheme and was precluded from paying his contributions? I understand that there is no arrangement by which such a man could have paid up his arrears had he known that his benefits were being prejudiced in this way.
Let us consider the position of a widow who is left without benefit because her husband died after paying 154 contributions. I take the case of a widow in comparatively middle life, having two or three children 76 to rear, which will be an expensive business. She may have an earning capacity of £5 or £6 a week. Because of this she is outside the ambit of National Assistance; she does not get a penny piece of State assistance. She has to contribute for 10 years before she is entitled to benefit in her own right. Her children may be aged 8 or 10 or maybe of scholarship age and be likely to profit from the kind of education for which they qualify. There is no benefit forthcoming in such cases.
Let us take the case of a non-contributory pensioner for whom, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said, there is no provision. A woman whose husband has paid for a small annuity over a long period and who after enjoying it for a short time has died, might be left with a small amount of capital which they have saved over the years. She is reluctant to go to the National Assistance Board; she has been accustomed to paying her way all her life. She may have a small house and a little money as well. She is getting on in life—towards 70 or 71 —but she is not getting anything from the State because she is not statutorily entitled to anything, and because she might have the capacity to earn a shilling or two herself or have a few hundred pounds in the bank. It is very unfair that such a person should have no consideration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) has mentioned, something ought to have been done in the case of a widow in receipt of 10s.
The Minister has made the point that he has lessened the gap between the family on National Assistance and the family in receipt of the statutory benefit of insurance. I am not sure that we should support that point of view, because the position is that both those levels are below the subsistence level—whatever the professional economist may say. The 59s. mentioned in the National Assistance Regulations which we discussed the other night is supposed to bear some relation to subsistence. But anyone who knows the difficulties of rearing a family and the expense of clothing children knows that this is a very flimsy basis upon which to bring up a family.
The trouble is, of course, that the income of 42s. such as it was, and 54s. as is now proposed is sadly inadequate, 77 despite the extra provision of 10s. 6d. for the first child and 2s. 6d. for each additional child. Many people are driven to National Assistance. It would be grand if we could have a measure of insurance which helped us to live in these times of emergency, but a man has to be able to put a pound or two away to supplement that if he is to pay his way. Otherwise, he has to consider going to the National Assistance Board. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) argued that we should watch these National Assistance rates I hope she did not mean that she thought people were getting too much.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said the contribution should increase as the value of the £ decreased. I do not know whether that is correct because the earning capacity of different people in different industries is not strictly just as it is assumed it should be. The State accepts all means of supplementing the present social insurance scheme. That was one of our complaints about the removal of the food subsidies. We recognise that it was a payment to people who could well afford to pay the proper price, but our complaint was that the people who could least afford to pay high prices were being the most severely hit. In fact, all arrangements such as Income Tax, school meals, and so on, take account of the circumstances of a family and make some concessions.
In any event, a very good case could be made out for a greater supplement from the Exchequer. I believe that one-seventh of the income comes from the Exchequer and six-sevenths from the contributions of the worker. The present amount is inadaquate, and it would be very difficult in some circumstances to raise the contribution above 5s. 5d. a week. In any case it is a very doubtful proposition, because of the different earnine, capacities of people.
Consider asking a man who is earning £5 a week to pay the same amount as a man earning £15 or £20, although there are Income Tax adjustments and other things which operate. I hope that when the time comes to review the whole insurance scheme—I think that will take place next year—account will be taken of what we regard as anomalies, particularly in respect of the widow in receipt of 10s. and the widow who receives no 78 benefit at all and who has a real right to ask for help.
The great apprehension of some of us when Lord Beveridge compiled his fine scheme was that he assumed the scheme would be practicable when he had allowed for a certain amount of unemployment, 81 per cent. Some of us are wondering whether, if there was a spread of unemployment—we have been very fortunate in the last few years in being able to build up the funds—the Minister will tell us how we stand in terms of this advantage; whether there is any credit at his disposal; whether he is absolutely wedded to the 5s. 5d. a week on the benefits he proposes and what he thinks of the idea of a greater contribution from the Exchequer.
If there was widespread unemployment and by some mischance the figure did rise in excess of 8½ per cent. to 10 per cent. or 12 per cent. —
§ Mr. lain MacLeod
In indicating 8i per cent. is not the hon. Member a bit out of date? The Socialist Government abandoned that particular rate a year ago so far as unemployment was concerned and a great number of adjustments were made accordingly. The report of the Government actuaries will show that the long-term figure of 4 per cent. was adopted a year ago by the Socialist Government and the figure of 8 per cent., which in any case had no validity, no longer exists.
§ Mr. Davies
I am pleased to hear that. I was not aware of it. I hope that, in the event of there being widespread unemployment, and a consequent run on the Unemployment Fund, we may be told how it will work out in terms of benefit. I hope the Minister will bring in amending legislation to fill what I believe to be serious gaps in the present position.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of his detailed criticisms. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reply to him in due course.
I was very interested in his speech, which would have been better delivered in the last Parliament on the subject of the last Bill; because one thing which is certain is that my right hon. Friend has made a great step forward, and has 79 brought benefits to a level corresponding with what they were in 1948. That is more than was done last year and I shall be interested to note, looking back in the record, whether the hon. Member on the last occasion criticised his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
The hon. Member knows the difficulty of speaking in this House just whenever one wishes. Whatever Government is in power I shall be equally critical.
§ Mr. Vaughan-Morgan
I am delighted to hear that, and if, in the melancholy event of a Labour Government coming back to power and the hon. Member remaining in the House, we shall look forward to hearing his strictures upon his right hon. Friend. [Interruption.] I gather that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) thinks he can count on the hon. Member being returned. In that case, I hope, Mr. Speaker, he may catch your eye, so that he may pour the vials of his wrath on the Members of his Cabinet.
Some of the remarks made from the benches opposite, and, indeed, some of those made from these benches, should prompt us to look back at the climate in which the first Bill was discussed. One thing that stands out a mile was how few hon. Members, with honourable exceptions, ever conceived that there could be the decline in the value of the £ which has, in fact, taken place. My right hon. Friend quoted a remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who referred to the intention of the then Government to hold the cost of living at about 31 per cent. above the 1939 level. I think we all admired the planners' precision of that 31 per cent.it was not 30, but 31.
That prophecy, like so many of the good intentions of the last Government, has gone with the wind, and will be heard of no more. But it reveals the basic reason why in 1952 we have this third edition of the scheme, and I should like to add my congratulations to the others which have been given to my right hon. Friend on the speed with which he has acted, contrasting markedly with the three years which it took the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) to act, and on having 80 brought back the consistency and uniformity of benefit which Lord Beveridge considered so important.
There have been references to the quinquennial review of the Act. It is rather curious to note how many hon. Members had the impression that it is due next year. There is much misunderstanding about this, particularly among those who have not read the original Act. I include among that number the writer of the leader in "The Times" today, which is "Homer nodding" with a vengeance.
For the benefit of those who think the review will take place next year, I may say that the review will not begin until the end of the financial year following the completion of five years' operation of the Act, which brings us to 31st March, 1954. There will then be at least six months before the Government Actuary and the Minister report, so that it will be appreciated that it will be some time yet before the quinquennial report actually comes before Parliament.
Indeed, in the last Parliament, I asked the then Chancellor of the Exchequer whose responsibility it would be to antedate a review of the Act, whether he would bring it forward by one year, as he had power to do under the Act. But the answer was in the negative. I do not know what my right hon. Friend has in mind. It may be that with this present Bill and with the possibility of the further legislation, at which my right hon. Friend hinted, the quinquennial review can be left where it is, but whatever happens, there are certain points which are beginning to need urgent consideration.
My right hon. Friend referred to the question of maternity benefits. We should all like to see some notice taken fairly quickly of the interesting proposals which there are in the recent White Paper. There are one or two other matters which, even if they cannot be included in this Bill, ought to be given fairly urgent consideration.
There is, for example, the question of the exemption limit. Some of us are not satisfied that, in the changed conditions, it is high enough. There is another matter which I should like investigated —the contribution from the Insurance Fund to the National Health Service. I have more difficulty in explaining that the Health Service is not paid for out 81 of the National Insurance Fund than anything else. However admirable were the original reasons for that contribution let us reconsider it in the future.
On the occasion of the review, or in any other legislation that may come forward, I should also like the House to have an opportunity of considering fully the machinery of the administration of the Act. Again, there is some misunderstanding on this matter. As I understand it, the Act lays down that the review shall only concern itself with rates and benefits, but I hope the House will eventually be given an opportunity of having its say on the whole administration of the Act.
I am not entirely happy, because of one or two cases brought to my notice, about the tribunals. I am not criticising their decisions in any way, but there are considerations of procedure which have caused misgiving among some of those who have to go before them. I will not burden the House with the details of the type of case which I have in mind, but I think that this is a point which we ought to consider in due course.
Again, I wonder if the House and the country realise the extent to which we have built up a code of administration law—what the French call droit administratif. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who is not now in his place, referred to the question of part-time earnings. The definition of "part-time" rests entirely not on what Parliament has laid down but on the Commissioner's decision. Whether his decision is right or wrong, that is a matter which in the long run the House ought to decide.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sowerby is not in his place, because I warned him that I should mention him. The hon. Member taunted my right hon. Friend on the way in which, in some respects, he had changed his mind since last year and the hon. Gentleman then made a plea for some reconsideration of the matter of the part-time worker. I hope that, in his researches into the debate last year, he did not fail to notice that an Amendment dealing with that matter was proposed, I think, by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers) and supported by myself, but was turned down flat by the Minister, for reasons which no doubt were administratively sound.
82 If we are going to increase the size of the working population, I think we shall have to solve this question in one way or another. There is a large section of the working population which cannot carry out a full day's work, but is yet willing and anxious to do part of a day's work. We should not hinder them from working.
Whatever faults of omission there may be in this Bill—and I hope they will be speedily remedied—I think the important thing is that it has preserved the principle of insurance. It has preserved the proud position of the citizen who is encouraged—compulsorily it is true, but none the less encouraged—to take foresight for his own future and for the various eventualities which may overtake him, and it contrasts very interestingly with the attitude held not very long ago even by leading Socialists.
Over the weekend I was reading a book by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, "The Prevention of Destitution," in which they referred to the proposal for national insurance as a poll tax such as we got rid of in 1381 and dismissed it with contumely as an administratively inefficient scheme which would lead to malingering. We have learned a lot since those days and since those words were uttered. But we have to remember that there are very many snags ahead of us.
The hon. Member for Sowerby, in an outstanding speech of an intelligence which I in particular would expect from one of my constituents, as I am glad to say he is, made an impassioned plea that we should regard any question of the raising of the retirement age from a nonpolitical basis. I think everyone on this side of the House would certainly echo that. It is not necessarily a question of the retiring age having to be raised immediately; it is a question of looking forward to the future when the burden of support on the younger people of the day may become excessive. It is to that date that we must give consideration. I can only hope with the hon. Gentleman that we shall be able to lift the whole of this controversial question above party politics.
But before the country as a whole considers the measures to be taken, we have to solve the problem of the demand for the labour of old people and to break down the prejudice which still exists. We all look forward with great interest to the results of the Committee which the 83 Minister of Labour has appointed and which is sitting under the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Secretary. I hope it will not be too long before its deliberations are concluded.
The important thing which is the aim of this Bill is to provide and maintain the standard of living of the contributors. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) argued in favour of the benefits under the scheme fluctuating within the cost of living. I doubt if that is practicable. What is better is that we should have confidence, and reason for confidence, in the stable value of the £. In the debate on the introduction of this Bill, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said, quoting from the Beveridge Report:Security cannot he forced on a democracy: it must be won by it."Those were very wise words. The right hon. Gentleman added:I know full well that Social Security can only be established on a sound economic foundation." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1758.]It is no good right hon. and hon. Members opposite praising the Minister of National Insurance when he is prepared to give some benefits when, a few days earlier, they were condemning the Minister of Health for maintaining the ceiling of expenditure on the National Health Service which, up to a day or two before, their own Front Bench had supported. This Bill has to be read in the context, not only of the Health Act, but of the Budget, the Finance Bill and the economic state of the country as a whole. I hope I shall not cause my right hon. Friend to blush with embarrassment if I quote some wise words used by him on 11 th February, 1946, when he said:The value of this Bill to the contributor rests, in the last resort, on the value of money being maintained. It is a sacred trust for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that money does not fall further in value." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 92.]We know that the party opposite failed in that trust; we must not and shall not fail.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
I am sure that any Measure which seeks to increase the rates of benefit for those under the National Insurance Act will receive a welcome in this House. But I do not 84 want the right hon. Gentleman to imagine from that that some of us on this side at least accept these proposals as meeting the needs and requirements of those who have to depend for their maintenance upon the benefits they have received under the Act. After all, with the increased cost of living and the prospect of further rises in costs, the position of such people is now becoming, without any exaggeration, one of poverty in a great many respects.
As has already been stated by hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, the original intention of the National Insurance Act was to give some measure of security to those who came within its provisions. I intend to confine my remarks principally to the position of the industrially disabled under the proposals of the Minister. After all, the position of people industrially disabled is always aggravated by the fact that they have the knowledge that, but for the accident or industrial disease arising out of their employment, they would still be earning a reasonable wage. Their position is very often aggravated by the knowledge, if they are suffering from a permanent incapacity, that the accident has reduced their earning capacity. They feel aggrieved that they can no longer earn the wages which they were earning before.
In my many years of experience in dealing with these people, I always find it is the skilled worker who has been receiving higher wages who always feels more embittered than anyone else that he now has to go into the open market and seek a light labouring job, what he might term a miserable job, compared with the one he previously occupied. Therefore, I would tell the right hon. Gentleman that, so far as the Industrial Injuries Act is concerned, his proposals will be opposed by the trade union movement, and by the miners in particular, because we do not consider that the rates of benefit proposed in this Bill meet the position.
After all, if these rates of injury benefits were decided by negotiation between the employers and the workmen, the men would not accept the rate in this Bill of £3 16s. 6d. for a man and wife. Imagine the N.U.M., for instance, saying that, although the lowest pit wage is £6 Is. 6d., the lowest wage paid to a man underground is £7 ls. 6d. and the piece worker receives £10 or £12 a week, the disabled man who 85 has sustained his injury in the course of his employment shall receive only £3 16s. 6d. Can one imagine a trade union coming to an arrangement of that kind? It would be bitterly opposed by the men.
But, of course, these things are settled by Acts of Parliament, and therefore we have to consider whether this sum of £3 16s. 6d. adequately meets the position of disabled men in the industry. I have mentioned the mining industry because hon. Members on all sides of the House constantly say that we want more and more coal and that coal mining is the basic industry of the country. We are saying to an injured miner who has worked in the pit at the risk of his life and limb, "The most you will be able to get in injury benefit is £3 16s. 6d."
§ Mr. Finch
The miners make their contributions towards that scheme, and I am dealing only with the proposals relating to industrial injuries contained in this Bill; and I am submitting that £3 16s. 6d. does not meet the position. The benefits under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act can be placed in three categories. There is the injury benefit for the first six months following the accident, there is the disablement benefit at a later date, and finally there is the death benefit.
In the case of injury benefit, the vast majority of men return to work before the end of six months. Indeed, the Ministry's report for 1950 states that only one out of every 70 failed to return to work at the end of six months. It is satisfactory to note that. But when a man becomes entitled to disablement benefit at the end of six months, he goes before a medical board for assessment. The vast majority of the men are assessed at a disablement percentage far below 100 per cent.
We are dealing in this Bill with the maximum disablement benefit. The right hon. Gentleman is proposing an increase of 10s. in the maximum, but the vast majority of the men would not receive 86 the new maximum of £3 16s. 6d. proposed in the Bill. Many of them are assessed at rates of disablement of 20 and 30 per cent., and that would mean an increase of only 2s. A man assessed as 20 per cent. disabled now receives 9s. disablement benefit and under this Bill he will receive 11s. a week.
The great majority of the men are assessed at 30 per cent. disablement, and the 10s. a week increase in the basic rate will mean to those men an increase of 3s. a week—from 13s. 6d. to 16s. 6d. Many men are assessed at 40 and 50 per cent. disablement. But very few men will receive maximum benefit from the proposed 10s. a week increase. If the basic rate were increased to £1 a week, then those on the lower percentages of disablement would at least have a higher rate of benefit.
I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman also to the absence of any reference to hardship allowance. It will be known that a hardship allowance at a maximum rate of £1 a week is paid to a disabled man on the ground that he cannot earn the wages he earned previously—that is, that owing to the nature of his incapacity he is following an employment in which he cannot earn the wages he could earn in his previous work. The maximum rate is £1 and he has to prove that he is capable of doing only a light job and is consequently earning a lower wage.
Under the present Act, a man assessed at 30 per cent. disablement receives 13s. 6d. a week. If he is permanently incapacitated and is now employed at lower wages, and if the difference between the pre-accident and post-accident earnings is £1 or more, he receives a maximum allowance of £1 13s. 6d. One can imagine a workman who receives £8 or £9 a week in mining or some other industry. He meets with an accident, is assessed at 30 per cent. disablement and has to give up his skilled occupation as a collier or engine driver. He is now to be compensated to the extent of £1 16s. 6d. a week, including the hardship allowance. In other words, he is to receive 3s. a week increase under this Bill. A similar provision will apply to those who receive higher rates of disablement benefit proportionate to the maximum of 10s. a week increase proposed in this Bill.
87 There is a further point, relating to constant attendance allowance. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that invariably £1 a week is paid by way of constant attendance allowance to a man who is bed-ridden or is so seriously incapacitated that he cannot get about at all. I should have thought that in his proposals the right hon. Gentleman would have given some consideration to those very bad cases of men with a fractured spine or skull injuries.
§ Mr. Finch
I appreciate that the maximum is £2, but the man has to be bedridden permanently to qualify for it and in the vast majority of cases only £1 a week is paid. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the position of these very badly disabled men. I know of cases of colliers with broken spines who will be lying on their backs for the rest of their lives. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear them in mind so that some extra payment may be made to them.
I have mentioned several points for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman and especially the point that the injury benefit should be increased. Those connected with the mining industry seriously put forward the proposal that the rates of benefit should be increased at least to the minimum wage that obtains in the mining industry, or thereabouts. We feel that if we are to ask men to go into this industry, we should be able to tell them that if they sustain an accident they will be entitled at least to that minimum rate.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) addressed himself to a fairly limited though none the less important field of the benefits we are discussing on Second Reading of this Bill. While listening to him I felt much the same as I felt while listening to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) —that it really is not altogether fair to discuss the increases in benefits which one would like without 88 stating at the same time one's proposals for contributions.
It is perfectly true that anybody can make a case for an improvement in any particular benefit or in a whole lot of benefits. We all have our own pet categories of beneficiary, and indeed one's simple Christian instincts make one wish that the whole lot could be improved if it were financially possible. But it is surely not fair for the hon. Member for Bedwellty to tell us that the miners, for example, would never have accepted a negotiated award of this kind simply based on the amount of the benefit. It might very well be that they would have accepted it if the obverse side of the medal had been taken into account at the same time.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield went so far as to suggest that the whole total of National Insurance benefits ought to be increased by 50 per cent., and I take it that he was including retirement pensions, since we have now got back to uniformity of benefit rates. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will put a figure to that when he comes to reply, but at a rough calculation I should say that it could hardly cost less than £250 million now, and would probably amount to double that amount in 25 years' time, taking retirement pensions into account.
When I asked in an interjection whether be proposed that the whole of that should come out of the Exchequer contribution or whether he proposed that the employers' and employees' contributions should be raised pro rata, he was a little indefinite in his reply. He simply said that the Exchequer supplement would have to be taken into consideration. Unless the Exchequer supplement were to be considerably increased, I reckon that the employers' and employees' contributions would probably have to be increased by about 2s. 6d., which I fancy would not be very popular. If, on the other hand, the whole amount is to be taken from the Exchequer contribution, the hon. Member must face the fact that, if it costs about £250 million, that is a figure equivalent to the whole of the existing remainder of the food subsidies, for example, which gives one an idea of the magnitude of the figures of which he is talking.
As I have said, we all have our own pet categories of beneficiaries, and everybody can make a case for a particular 89 increase. I am myself going to deal with one element in this Bill, and that is the question of family allowances. I make no apology for doing this, because many other hon. Members have spoken about the National Insurance Fund items in this Bill. Also we do not very often get an opportunity to have a debate on family allowances, because they have not been changed since they were first introduced in 1945, whereas National Insurance benefits have changed.
At the same time, it seems to me that this Bill gives us an admirable opportunity on Second Reading to consider what, in my experience in the House, we have never considered—namely, the relationship between the amount of money which we devote to children through family allowances compared with the amount which is devoted through the National Insurance items to the older sections of the population.
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said that there was surprisingly little interest taken by the trade union movement in the question of family allowances. That, I think, is probably true now, but the hon. Member will remember that it was not always the case. When the Family Allowances Bill was before the House in 1945, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) made some observations on that point. He reviewed what we all know to be true, and said that there was a time when there would have been very great controversy over such a Measure. He said that for many years the trade union movement was bitterly opposed to the demand for family allowances, and he added that he could speak freely on that point because he himself had never shared that view.
He went on to say that he understood why his colleagues were afraid of them, and he explained that they were afraid that they would represent an attempt to introduce a differential family wage into industry That bitter opposition in the trade union movement was already overcome, and views had changed by 1945. However, I do not think that I should be going too far if I said that among a considerable section of the population still, the family allowance is one of the least popular of social benefits, and it is at least worth while pausing for a moment to consider why that is so.
90 I do not think it springs primarily from the old trade union objection to it. I can see that it can be argued that if the principle of family allowances is extended too far we may get back to a system of subvention of wages; though if that is a strong factor in people's minds I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite have viewed with such equanimity the maintenance of food subsidies, which seem to me to provide a much more serious danger in that direction.
I think it would probably be true to say that the dislike or distrust of the family allowance as a social benefit is strongest among the elderly, and particularly among older people who have themselves brought up families without the aid of the family allowance. There is a very natural tendency for such people to say, "I had a hard time of it, but I brought up my children that way, and look at them now. They have not suffered. They are doing better than I did. Why should people, merely because they have three children, get an extra 24s. a week?"
It may appear to be something of a leap in my argument—though I do not think it is—but I wish to come to another thing which the hon. Member for Sowerby said. He asked—I took a rough note of what he said—how we could continue to finance a National Insurance system at or near subsistence level and still maintain the present minimum retirement age. It seems to me that these two matters are rather more closely bound up than we sometimes recognise. As I see it, the real difficulty about maintaining our present National Insurance system is that, given a stable value for money, we can run a National Insurance system without the slightest difficulty in every respect, except that of retirement pensions.
§ Mr. Maude
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) has already tried to run this hare this afternoon, and I do not think he ought to try to run it any further. If he looks at the financial position of the Fund, he will realise that the balance of the Fund will take care of any foreseeable temporary increase in unemployment, and we are already working, as 91 we have been for some years, on an actuarial basis of 4 per cent. unemployment.
I was saying that it is the retirement pension element in the National Insurance system which gives us all furiously to think when we look at the figures. We know that the financial provision for retirement pensions looks like doubling, or something like it, in about 25 years. That, translated into terms of human production and productivity, may well make us look at the underlying economic assumptions of this or any other National Insurance Bill. If I remember rightly the figures quoted in the Report of the Royal Commission on Population, they indicated fairly clearly that, whereas a hundred years ago there were about 13 people of working age for every person of retirement or pension age, there are now only six people of working age—and in 25 years' time there will be only four people of working age—to each pensioner.
It seems to me that we are presupposing either a quite remarkable change in our terms of trade or an increase in productivity far beyond anything we have had reason since the war to suppose is likely. In other words, unless somehow or other we can get out of the position of being one of the most rapidly ageing nations in the world, we are going to find this system extraordinarily difficult to maintain. It is because we are a rapidly ageing nation that we have a rapidly increasing political pressure group in favour of diverting an ever larger proportion of our social payments to the elderly. That is the frightening thing that we must face in this Second Reading debate.
We all have our pet beneficiaries, and we also have our ideas of what constitutes justice, which is a word very often used in debates of this kind. I am not trying to make a political point; the use of the word is not confined to hon. Members opposite; but when people talk about what justice dictates should be given to one part of the community or another, only too often their conception of justice varies from year to year in almost direct proportion to the pressure exerted by the political group represented by those beneficiaries.
92 It is obvious that there will be a continually increasing pressure to devote a larger and larger proportion of the social service budget to the older people so long as present population trends continue. How are we to change that? This question of family allowances is extraordinarily complicated, and the evidence to show what effect they have is quite inadequate to enable us really to form a judgment whether that is the one benefit which we should concentrate upon to get us out of this vicious circle.
On looking through the Second Reading debate on the Family Allowances Bill, I noticed that the extension of the family allowance to the first child was argued strongly by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), largely on the ground that there was no evidence to show that family allowances had any incentive effect in producing larger families. I should be prepared to accept the fact that the evidence is very doubtful, though the French experiment does suggest that when one goes to an extent which would be considered ludicrous here one does begin to get some results. I am not suggesting that we should go to the lengths to which France has gone, though the French system is different from ours. It is financed by a levy system, and when one has a very large family one may get more out of the family allowance than out of wages, even when one is quite well paid.
§ Mr. Daines
If the hon. Gentleman will check the recent figures from France, even that is failing to spur on the Frenchman to the virility which was expected, because the birthrate is falling.
§ Mr. Maude
I think that that is correct so far as this year is concerned; but I do not think anyone would deny that at the particular period when it was most urgent for the French to get this increase, they did, largely by this means, succeed in getting it. The only point I wish to make is that if one goes far enough there is some evidence to suggest that one does get some results out of financial assistance. I would not put it higher than that.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
Does the hon. Member consider that the instrument of family allowances is a special thing which we can use particularly to benefit the family man who is on very low wages?
§ Mr. Maude
If it were intended as a subvention of low wages, all the fears which the trade union movement had about 20 years ago would have been perfectly justified. The point is that it is not anything of the sort.
The idea of family allowances—and this is what was at the back of the campaign which was waged for 25 years by that great humanitarian, Eleanor Rathbone—was that there was a deterrent to parenthood arising from the fact that among married people the standards of life were set by the childless couples. The idea was to remove some of the income disparity between the childless and the unmarried on the one hand and the parents on the other. At all income levels there is this disparity in the standards of life between the childless couple and the couple with children.
The family allowance has the great advantage that, being subject to Income Tax, it is subject to a progressive form of means test, so that it benefits the millionaire very little and benefits the poorest most of all, which seems to me to be the ideal system for a social service payment.
I now want to refer to the question raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and two of my hon. Friends—neither of whom are here; though I did warn one of them that I was going to attack him—my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey). It is the question of extending family allowances to the first child. It seems to me, if our basic problem is the one I stated earlier in my speech, that extending family allowances to the first child will not help one scrap towards solving it. I cannot see how we are going to help ourselves get out of this vicious circle of the larger and larger diversion of resources to the elderly by extending family allowances to the first child.
94 I could argue this for a very long time, but I will try to be as brief as possible. First of all, obviously by definition one can say that anybody who is going to have children at all is going to have one child. [Interruption.] I am glad to have the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain MacLeod) with me on that point. I did not notice much dissent from the House about that. I do not think it is a valid argument to say that, because the first child is the most expensive to the parent, the parent should therefore be aided by the method of family allowances.
As has been said, there is something to be said for tackling this problem by way of a maternity grant; but there is nothing to be said for tackling it through the medium of family allowances. First of all, the cost is immense; secondly, it takes one nowhere at all along the road towards increasing the size of families and therefore redressing the balance between young and old, which alone can get us out of the desperate economic cycle which, so far as population is concerned, we are in.
Is there any method by which family allowances could be altered in order to produce the sort of effect which we want to produce? Many suggestions have been made about this. The Royal Commission on Population, who, incidentally, rejected the extension of the family allowance to the first child, suggested a considerable increase in the cash rate and also suggested that there should be a change in the rate of family allowances at the age of 11. In this they were following the Canadian system. I believe that the Canadian system, under the Act of 1944, contains rates which change rapidly. There is one rate up to the age of six, another from six to 10, another from 10 to 13 and another from 13 to 16. That seems to me to be administratively extremely complicated, and I should have thought it created almost as many difficulties as it resolved.
There are a number of systems of family allowances in other countries, none of which seems to have produced quite the effect for which we might hope. As far as I can see, the only way in which we can use the family allowance weapon in the right direction, and at the same time give some comfort to the parents of large families, is, instead of extending the 95 family allowance to the first child, to extend it to the first child when the family reaches the size of three, or perhaps four, children. The simple way of putting that is that we should double the rate of allowance on the third child or, if hon. Members prefer, on the fourth child. This has always seemed to me to be the one way in which we can intensify the effect of the family allowance, not, perhaps, in encouraging people to have more children, but at least in removing a deterrent to having more children.
As far as I can calculate it, if we were to double the rate of allowance on the third child it would now cost something like £23 million to £24 million at the 8s. rate. That is a fairly large sum, but I am sure it would take care of the longterm objective which we ought to have in view better than the extension of the family allowance to the first child, which would cost a very much larger sum and would, in my view, not tackle the basic problem at all. If we do not do something to tackle this problem, then in the next 25 years we shall find ourselves in the greatest difficulty. The result will be, unless there is an increase in productivity of a magnitude which I do not believe probable, that the diminishing proportion of productive workers in the country will develop on increasing reluctance to support what they will regard as the burden of pensioners.
We must remember this: whether those old people are in receipt of State pensions or whether they finance their old age out of their own savings, basically all they are accumulating are money tokens to enable them to get goods and services when they retire. Whether they are saving through the National Insurance Fund or the Post Office Savings Bank or through a superannuation scheme in industry, all they are saving is a certain number of money tokens to be translated into goods and services when they retire.
If the proportion of productive workers who are producing the goods and services into which those tokens have to be converted becomes steadily less, then the inevitable result is that, if those workers are not inclined to work longer or harder to produce a greater proportion of their output for consumption by pensioners, the prices at which these goods sell will tend to rise.That is a fairly complicated 96 economic proposition, but if hon. Members work it out with pencil and paper afterwards, I think they will see that the result is inevitably inflationary if we have a smaller proportion of productive workers and an increasing proportion of pensioners trying to cash the money tokens without a disproportionate increase in productivity.
We cannot afford something which simultaneously gives a political incentive to divert more and more resources to the older while providing no economic incentive to younger people to produce more to satisfy the demand. I should be out of order in talking about the question of Income Tax relief in respect of children: but, unless we provide incentives along those lines, or unless we are prepared to look in the next few years at the question of family allowances to see whether our system can be altered to give a more directly incentive effect, then I think the ultimate danger in which the old people of this country will find themselves—that, of becoming an unpopular class, regarded almost as the oppressors of the young and energetic—is very great. I think we should bear that point in mind, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, will assure us that the Government have these long term matters in view and are considering them now.
§ 6.56 p.m.
Mr. Percy Dailies (East Ham, North)
I intend, later in my speech, to refer from rather a different angle to the subject which the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) has raised. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) referred, quite rightly, to a mistake which "The Times" made this morning. It is fairly obvious, from the number of occasions on which "The Times" is quoted in the House, that hon. Members rely on it to a great extent as to what they should think; and it is, therefore, fitting and proper that the hon. Gentleman should put that mistake right.
If I may be a little more serious, may I refer to the remark he made about that part of the Health Service met from the National Insurance contributions, because it is one to which the Minister and the Government should give serious attention. It seems to be a confusing position. I have not checked the figures since he made his speech, but if my memory serves 97 me right, not much more than one-eighth of the total cost of the Health Service is met by the contribution. But the psychological consequences upon the people in their attitude towards the Health Service are very great indeed. I have found, as I am sure has every other hon. Member, that there is a general feeling throughout the country that people pay for the whole cost of the Health Service through their insurance contributions. It may be—and I should not like to argue the case, because it is so imprecise—that that is one of the factors which tend towards the undoubted abuses of the Health Service which all of us, if we are impartial and objective, realise occur.
The other remark which the hon. Member for Reigate made, when he dealt with administration, is one which I think needs very careful qualification. On the occasion of the Supplementary Estimate I said a few words of congratulations to the staff of the Ministry for the great work which they have done. I do not want to repeat those remarks today, except to say this: when we look back over that very great task, in which the Minister and his advisers had, to gather together all the different approved societies, which were notable for their differences rather than their similarities; and when we remember the transfers from other Ministries—and let us be frank about it; people do not transfer those whom they want to keep—we realise how great the problem was. Out of all this emerged an administration that today is functioning so well, that hardly ever do we hear a complaint about the service given to our people. Therefore, I think that qualification must be made.
But if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Reigate means that when we come to the review in 1954 we should then deal with the major question of administration, as to how far Exchequer interference following the previous Acts is necessary and desirable for the proper working of the insurance scheme, then, I think, he is on much sounder ground. I will not comment further on his remarks under the heading of questions of adjudication by the Commissioners. If hon. Members will study—and I advise them that we shall have to study—how far it is practicable and good for the country in the working out of an insurance scheme to have constant interference by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, very often for 98 very different reasons from insurance ones, they will see that there we have a case which calls for very serious study indeed. I hope to instance one or two items in illustration.
The Minister emphasised today in a speech that, I thought, was typical of him, showing competence and modesty—the latter being a virtue I often admire in other people especially as I do not possess too much of it myself—that this is an insurance scheme. I think that we should all of us bear that in mind. I deprecate, even from my own side, any attempts at any sort of a Dutch auction of benefits for political reasons or for other reasons. We have to recognise that this is an insurance scheme, and, as far as possible, keep it on an insurance basis.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain MacLeod), in a very admirable pamphlet which I had the privilege to read, brought forward what, I think, was their main solution to our difficulties, and which has been somewhat reflected, though with some caution, by hon. Gentlemen opposite, namely, that the contributions should be increased pro rata to readjust the benefits of the working of the scheme upon 1946 values. I do not think that is putting it unfairly, and I think that that was one of the main proposals they brought forward. Undoubtedly, it has influenced the mind of the Minister to a considerable extent in the drafting of the Bill, because, as we see quite clearly, six-sevenths of the benefits which are being made in the Bill will come out of increased contributions of the assured.
But I would say to the two hon. Gentlemen that before we go too far—and I do not rule out that we may have to have a substantial increase in contributions—we should examine very closely how the contribution falls on the different elements of the population. There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the means test. We have a bogey in our minds because of the pre-war household means test. It seems to be a bogey that casts its shadow on everything we do. In fact, the insurance contribution itself is a form of a means test, because lower paid workers outside the Income Tax ranges get no rebate on contributions, whereas professional workers—I hate the term "middle 99 class"; I mean the workers of all sorts with the larger incomes—are to have a rebate on contributions. Therefore, they can face with more ease and comfort a substantial increase of contribution.
I do not want to dogmatise on this question of contribution, but when we come to the review I think we should look much wider than our own experience in this country. I think we should try to find out what has happened in other countries where the contribution has been levied on the basis of the salary actually earned and has varied according to salary. I believe that in many ways this country has pioneered in certain fields of social insurance, but I think we should be wrong, even if it meant sending a fact-finding mission to other countries—not to find out how their systems have worked and whether they have had advantages from them that we have not.
In passing, I would observe that one of the great fallacies in political life is to imagine that when we first approach a problem we have got all the answers. Looking back to 1945—and let us be honest about this—it is surprising to find how many of the proposals we considered in this House have worked out entirely differently from how we thought they would. Time and time again we have solved one social problem only to create another whole packet of social problems. One instance comes readily to mind that arises in connection with this Bill. I am not making a political point about it but there is no question that even despite all the pressures put upon us the economic and financial position of older people is now substantially better than it was before the war. It is undoubtedly true that as a consequence, to mention one thing, it increases the pressure on housing accommodation which at that time was certainly not foreseen.
There is one aspect of the proposals before us on which I should like now to touch. The Act which was promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was based on the Beveridge Report and let me say, in passing, that I can well imagine that when we come to the review we shall almost be slipping into evangelical language in respect of that Report, and 100 that anyone referring to anything in social insurance will refer to it as the "Holy Book of Beveridge." I have a great respect for the Beveridge Report, but I do not regard it being quite so sacrosanct as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) does. It is an excellent Report, but while we recognise that the main assumptions were correct we must also recognise that times have altered. We do not want to slip into a sort of social insurance Marxism, and substitute Beveridge for Karl Marx.
I come now to paragraph 11 of the actuarial White Paper. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly laid great emphasis upon a unified scheme. I am not too certain about this. In the light of experience I am not too certain that we can really work out a sound system of insurance—sound both financially and socially—by including unemployment insurance within the main scheme. What has happened? After all, what is insurance? We do not want to pretend that there is any mystery about it. There is a system of intake and of outgo, based upon a calculated risk, and on the basis of that risk is fixed a premium and a benefit.
What has actually happened is this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly accepted the figures of the Beveridge Report. That went on until the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Labour Government wanted a little bit more leverage or space to move, and he suddenly found an entirely new assumption, and accordingly made a de-duction in the figure—a very substantial deduction. Now the Minister—again, I suppose, under the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—does the same.
The practical difficulty that, I think, all of us are in today, including the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ealing, South, is that in considering the main problem we face in social insurance of old age, we are now bedevilled by the rising spectre of unemployment. Hon. Members on this side of the House already begin to see signs that we may run into substantial unemployment. It is one thing to consider the problem of old age in terms of full employment, but quite another to consider it when unemployment begins to loom on the horizon.
101 I am glad that the hon. Member for Ealing, South, quoted rather liberally from the Royal Commission on Population. One of the most astounding things is that although we have had various debates on various aspects of social policy, we have never yet had a debate on that Report. As one who has studied the various Reports issued by the Commission, I think it is almost incomprehensible that we should have had these various social debates without first debating the Report of the Royal Commission. This valuable Report lays down vital fundamental facts upon which all our political system and thinking should be based.
According to the calculations of that Report, in 1984, the peak year, there will be eight million men and women in the category of men over 65 and women over 60, and the significant fact, which I hope the House will appreciate, is that the population as a whole then begins to diminish. That is based upon the trends at the time of the Report. Even since 1946 the figures for longevity have increased substantially, and have thrown out of gear the assumptions upon which certain ideas were based. I make a sweeping assumption, which I think is not far out, that not one of the actuarial bases for the fixed contribution schemes are financially sound in terms of future commitments; the whole thing is getting so advanced in terms of age structures that it is almost impossible to work out a sound scheme.
If I may say so, I did not think that the Minister made the play he was entitled to make with future commitments in terms of the old age structure of the population. The hon. Member for Ealing, South, made various references to it, but what is not appreciated is that we shall see a rising curve in the expenditure rate until 1978, when the total expenditure from the Exchequer alone will be £416 million, to which this Bill adds £8 million. The hon. Member for Ealing, South, called attention to the feeling expressed in a woman saying, "I brought up my children. Why shouldn't she bring up hers?" But that is nothing compared with what will happen when future generations of workers find that every four of them they have to carry one old person on their backs economically, and we must give serious thought to that problem.
102 In approaching the problem of old age, we should first of all get our economics straight. Where we so often go wrong is in looking only at the financial figures. As I see it, the proposition is simple, and we do not want pencil and paper to work it out. If a man is not working, whether he is living on rentier income, or sick, or unemployed, he has to be carried by the man doing the work. I hope I may be forgiven for sounding almost street cornerish, but although some of it is stored in terms of capital, the fact remains that the people who are doing the work must carry those who are not working.
Therefore, the longer old people work the greater the contribution made in terms of real wealth to what has to be shared out. While money is not a meaningless symbol, it is the only symbol by which the existing wealth is spread, and in our approach to the problem of old age, which is one of the major problems of our time, that simple fact should be borne in mind. We would do well, I think, to examine the Scandinavian system. For example, in Sweden, I believe, the minimum retirement age is 67.
It is very difficult to discuss these sorts of things, and I know the kick-backs I get even from my own people when trying to discuss this system fairly, but one proposition worth careful examination is whether, when reviewing the National Insurance Act, to alter the final age for, say, those at present under 40. Obviously, it can be tackled easily for new entrants, but I do not think it would be unrealistic or unfair to say to all those under 40, "You will have to go on working until 67 as the normal retiring age." I do not want to dogmatise about it, but those sorts of ideas must be carefully considered.
Although I would not reject it, I am extremely doubtful about the proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Ealing, South, who argued—and I think I am putting his argument fairly—that the way to balance the age structure of the population is by having a substantial increase in the population.
§ Mr. Maude
I did not suggest that the age balance of the population could be altered by increasing the total size of the population. If the pyramid is the wrong shape, the only thing to do is to bolster it at the bottom and get an increase in 103 the size of families now, which will straighten out the shape of the pyramid later.
I do not want to be unfair, and I think I can put the point a little clearer.
What the hon. Gentleman is arguing is that there should be more births to help balance the population. Well, that cannot be considered in a vacuum. It must be judged within the economic framework of this country and of the world. Do let us be realistic about it, because whatever we do we start off with the fact that it is extremely doubtful whether we can increase the food produced in these islands sufficiently to provide much more than half, or possibly three-fifths, of what is required.
That is one essential fact. Another essential fact which comes readily to mind is the absence of raw materials. We must face realistically, and in an objective frame of mind, the question: What is the optimum population these islands can carry? For that reason I am extremely doubtful how far the hon. Gentleman's thinking or advocacy are on sound lines.
§ Mr. Maude
I should like to get this clear. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to suggest that I was proposing that we could solve this problem by increasing the size of the population. If the great danger is that in 25 years there will be only four people of working age for every pensioner, the only way in which we can do anything about that is to readjust the population and somehow try to get six people of working age for every pensioner.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I do not think that solution will work in practice; I do not think that increasing the family allowances will increase the population; and I doubt whether, from the broad economic point of view, it is desirable to increase the total population of these islands.
I agree that we must have a complete change in our thinking about the problem of old age and consider it as a major social problem. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), questioned the Minister this afternoon concerning the difference of the 104 expectation of life at 55 and 65. I do not want to follow that argument too far, but I think it is perfectly clear that people are living longer, and, therefore, are healthier and capable of working for longer than they used to work. I believe that most men and women do not want to be retired. Of course, there are exceptions in the heavy industries, but, broadly speaking, I think that most people want to give their services not only in their own personal interest but in the interest of the country as a whole for as long as possible.
What we have to try to do—and this transcends all party considerations—is to create a state of opinion in which the facts are clearly seen and objectively studied. We have to do this as a nation. We must adjust the whole of these matters to the facts that are perfectly clear before us. I would regard it as a major disaster to the future of our nation if we came to approach the National Insurance scheme only from a General Election point of view. I believe that this country, with its long history and tradition, has a great contribution to make to world history, and that our job is to create an economic and social climate which will give a lead to all other countries.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Danies), and to tell him that I think he has made a memorable contribution to our debate this afternoon. His remarks about the problems of old age will, I think, be studied by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In particular, he expressed the hope—and perhaps it is more than a hope —that in the not-too-distant future we may manage to steer these problems of old age, retirement pensions and employment of the elderly further away from the atmosphere of politics than they have been in the past.
I agree with the hon. Member when he said that we must all of us try to get across to our constituents the fact that they are not paying for the National Health Service by weekly contributions, except by a negligible amount. I think that is one of the reasons why people, if they do not actually abuse the service, at least try to take sharp corners with it. They feel that they are paying for it 105 through their contributions, and ask why should they not sometimes take the easy way round.
I think that the problem which confronts us is whether National Insurance should be designed to provide all who benefit from ii with a subsistence level or whether it should provide something below the subsistence level and the difference be made up by National Assistance. That is a problem which enters the lives of all our constituents and which has given us so much thought here. It has been discussed by hon. Members on this side of the House and, in particular, in a pamphlet by my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, West (Mr. lain MacLeod) and Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), which was published earlier this year.
The problem is not only one of subsistence for our constituents, but is also tied up in a very important way with the whole economic problem of insurance with which we are now confronted. I was interested in the Actuary's Report, which accompanied this Bill, to see how near we already are to very severe financial difficulties with regard to National Insurance. Table II, Section 14 of the Actuary's Report shows that within five years, even with the present benefits, we shall have an excess of expenditure over income of over £100 million a year, rising in the 20 years following to over £400 million a year; that is to say, assuming the conditions such as unemployment and the ageing population, set out in the Report continue for the next 25 years, together with the arrangements for contributions and benefits which have been set down in this Bill.
That means that all of us on both sides of the House ought to give much thought in the near future to how we are to meet the financial difficulties soon confronting us and later on the crisis which we already see looming up a little farther in the future. The truth of the matter is that the whole purpose of National Insurance and the allied social security arrangements is to take a proportion of the national income and use it for purposes which may be roughly defined as keeping those who cannot earn their full wage for one reason or another at a level which public opinion feels is not intolerably low.
We are at the present time taking much of that proportion as insur- 106 ance schemes with fixed contributions with only a smaller addition from the national Exchequer. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance said with pride this afternoon that this Bill was continuing that insurance scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) enlarged upon that with enthusiasm and emphasis. I am open-minded about this, but I wonder whether we should not at least examine alternative ways of dealing with that proportion of our national income which is needed for National Insurance and allied purposes. Could we consider a possible alternative of a graduated social security tax which is common in other countries.
Already a contribution of 5s. 9d. a week is a large proportion of our constituents' wages, particularly those of the lower-paid workers. I know that we have this tradition of the fixed contribution, which we call an insurance principle, but I do not see why insurance payments should necessarily be tied so tightly to the weekly contribution system.
One of the things which I think is so striking is that we not only deal with national economics and the personal household budgets of the beneficiaries of these schemes, but we are also constantly having to take into account the more intangible sides of peoples' lives—payments which make them feel secure and payments which their neighbours feel they should be having during certain difficulties in their lives and certain marked changes in their lives. At least in part, knowledge of the climate of public opinion should be affecting our thinking about National Insurance.
I have often thought that when we are making up our minds what to do next with National Insurance we should have not only the Government Actuary's Report before us but also the guidance of social surveys undertaken by the Ministry to find out why people attach more importance to one form of insurance than another, in addition to having the returns of the Government Actuary. I dare say the Ministry has that information. I am surprised at the unpopularity of family allowances among many of my constituents. I can understand some of the reasons, but people who would certainly benefit from them do not have that enthusiasm which their neighbours have 107 for retirement pensions or even industrial injuries insurance. I think that has as much to do with the climate of public opinion locally as with the economics of my constituents' daily lives.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) for his summary of the Report of the Royal Commission on Population. From such an objective basis we can begin to think clearly about the problems of our ageing population, and the relative importance of family allowances and other benefits as compared with retirement pensions.
I hope we shall look upon this Bill as yet another stepping stone not only towards meeting the present level of National Insurance benefits, but towards the wider review which we shall have in a few years. At that time I hope we shall be bound not only by the strict requirements of the 1946 Act, but that the Government of the day will let us have a full debate of several days' duration about all the problems which confront us in connection with National Insurance.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I have listened closely to the arguments made in the last three or four speeches. I began to think we were having a kind of coalition over the question of aged people, for there seemed to be unanimity in fearing the future proportion of the aged to the young and in regard to the matter of giving old people satisfactory maintenance while dealing with that problem. No doubt our statesmen are trying to analyse the problem to see what can be done to solve it, and are rather dismayed at the difficulties involved.
Yet somehow it does not seem to me to be such a difficult problem. After all, each generation finds some way out of its difficulties. For instance, I remember the mining industry many years ago when the boys in it were working 10 hours in the pit and the men were working longer. At that time the miners were trying to get shorter hours and also trying to get a five-day week. The economic arguments presented then by the trade union leaders and by the coal owners seemed to imply that it would be an economic impossibility.
The same thing applies to this problem. There is no doubt that a primary 108 factor in the increase in the proportion of the aged to the young is that people have better economic conditions now than they had when they were young. Naturally, with better social conditions people live longer, and this tendency will continue. I shall not attempt to offer a solution of this problem. It is better to leave it for 25 years, and to study later reports of the Royal Commission on Population.
It has been suggested that we must have more young people. Yet we have heard a great deal about the fact that we have too many people in this country and that we must get them out. It seems to me that the one suggestion cancels the other. I do not not know whether it is seriously suggested that we should encourage the old people to die more quickly so that the proportion of the young ones will be greater.
I am interested in the question of family allowances. One hon. Member seemed to imply that the chief aim in introducing family allowances was to encourage married people to have bigger families. He thought that the present scheme did not offer a sufficiently large inducement for that result. He ignored the point I put to him that family allowances have not been an encouragement towards bigger families.
To my mind the family allowances scheme is one of the best social schemes we have and the Government could use it more fully. It could be used to solve the problem created by the removal of the food subsidies, which is resulting in more and more difficulties for the poorer people, particularly those who are not in receipt of family allowances. It is quite true that the liability is increased on the family who are not paying Income Tax and who are in receipt of low wages. Their difficulties are increased by the removal of the subsidies, which is another factor in the situation.
When we compare the conditions of the lower-paid worker, we have to remember that these food subsidies are an important element in his economy, and for those with children family allowances are a real social instrument for helping them, because their wages are so low that they are gaining no benefit from Income Tax reliefs. Let us remember 109 that there are millions of people up and down this land who can be classed as lower-paid workers, and who are playing a very important part in the national economy and productivity.
The point I am trying to stress is that increased family allowances to the lower-paid workers, who are not making any payment in Income Tax, mean that they get a net benefit through any increase which the Government propose. Other workers get a similar increase, but they do not enjoy the same benefits, because in many cases they have to pay back a portion of the increase, and it depends on what Income Tax they are paying whether it is a quarter, a half or the lot. Those lower-paid workers who have three children will shortly be getting 16s. instead of 10s., and they appreciate that family allowances are a factor in the social life of the community which is of the greatest importance, particularly to them.
For this reason, I would certainly prefer to see the amount increased more than is proposed in this Bill. I know there are trade unionists who aver that there is no enthusiasm in the trade union movement for family allowances, but that does not mean that they are not desirable. I was anxious about this, and I decided to try to discover what opinion there was in trade union ranks on this subject by approaching those whom I knew in the trade union movement and canvassing their opinions. I had heard criticisms on occasion about families getting extra money from the Exchequer, but when the source from which the criticism came was pinpointed, it was found that very often it came from old-age pensioners or from people who are married but have no children.
In order to find out the opinion of some trade unionists on the subject, I had a meeting with 20 or 30 of them and I asked them, "What do you think about family allowances? You are all trade unionists and workers and you know what family allowances mean to some families. Do you think the scheme is good?" Then I put to them my own point of view. I told them that I considered it was one of the outstanding social schemes that we have; I reminded them of the concern which the trade union movement have for the lower-paid workers, and I stressed how this was a 110 direct method of benefiting such workers who have more than one child. When I finished, I waited for the criticism. To my surprise, there was none. Many agreed that it was a useful instrument to help people with families who were in the grade of the lowest-paid workers in the country.
On the general question, it may be said that this or that cannot be done; that there are economic and financial difficulties in the way to improving the benefits in existence at the moment.No one denies that there are difficulties. They include difficulties over contributions, grants from the Exchequer and so on, but in spite of these difficulties it is wise to ventilate grievances and to emphasise that, while these difficulties are in existence, we should see whether it is possible to have them removed, if not now, then in the future.
We are all Britons living in the same community, and we should all be concerned about the great mass of our citizens and how they exist when they become sick or injured. In far too many cases these people have to subsist on a much lower level when they are injured or sick than when they are at work. We should never forget that these people are the producers of the wealth of the nation. It is the coalminer, the transport worker,the agricultural worker, and so on, who are giving of their best at the present time, and when there is sickness or injury in the home they are faced with great difficulty.
Other sections of the community have not the same problem. For instance, Members of Parliament and administrators are in a much happier position when they are sick or injured. They still continue to receive their salaries, and their standard of living does not go down: There is no change in their income. The administrators, particularly, have big incomes, and inside those incomes they can economise to provide against times of sickness or injury. Why is it that those in the better positions enjoy this benefit and the lower-paid workers are denied it? It is unfair that the income of these people should drop when illness or accident overtakes them. Then they are up against a real difficulty, and their probem is one that is not easy to solve.
Here is something which the Commission might tackle. There is no doubt 111 that they will be faced with many knotty problems, and it is questionable whether they will be able to overcome them at the present time. Nevertheless, this is something to which we must attend. The lower-paid worker is playing a very important part in the industrial life of this nation, and it is but right that he should be shown as much consideration on this issue as any other of the nation's workers. It may be that this problem at the moment will defeat the Commission, but we may get it solved some day.
We are crying out for coal, food and ships, and for workers. It is only six years ago that workers paid nothing to get compensation when they were injured. Now they have to pay contributions in order to get compensation, but they still do not get a satisfactory allowance to enable them to meet the liabilities of life. There may be economic difficulties, but let us remember that we have removed difficulties in the past and that we can put forward our whole effort to remove difficulties in the future.
It has been said that the subsistence level for a family is now £5 I Is. 6d., established by legislation, but that is not the money that is paid in National Assistance rates, or to old people, who need bedding, clothing and special care in sickness, or to workers when sick or injured. Sickness may go on for months, and if the sick workers want money to live, they have to prove their need. It may not be a tremendous operation for them to tell the National Assistance Board that they want help, but it is a test for sensitive people, who are the best type of people we have. These are the independent people who try to live their own lives, and suffer unnecessarily because of it. I have had to plead on many occasions to induce such people to ask for National Assistance.
Let us see to it that workers, when sick or injured, shall have at least as much as is paid by way of National Assistance to a similar family. This may cost us a little more, but there are ways and means of finding money, despite the hard economic conditions in which we live at the moment. Old people should have a basic pension similar to that provided by National Assistance, and this House ought to consider such a proposition. We try to consider these matters on a non-party basis. There are differences 112 of opinion on matters like foreign affairs but not in regard to old people. It should be a recognised principle that aged pensioners should be paid on the National Assistance scale.
I do not think there is any necessity for me to continue further. We all like to help the poor old people, and we should now ask ourselves: Can we not raise their pension standard? Let us see that men who have worked and have now come to old age get enough to satisfy their basic necessities, either by way of National Assistance or as pension.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
As representing a Service town and a naval port I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to several points. I have previously asked for the family allowance to be given to the first child, and I have been told about the great cost that it would entail to the country. I would now ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the possibility of giving a less amount than 8s. for the first child, and a subsequent sliding scale which would spread the load over all families.
An earlier speaker said that if one was to have a family one must have at least one child, but those who have children find that the first child is most expensive. They have to buy a pram, a cot, and a lot of baby clothes. The second child is not always quite so expensive. It can slip into some of the things that the first child has discarded.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I think it is true whatever the sex. As for size, the babies in a family usually average about the same size. The first child is expensive, especially to people upon a lower scale of wages who have not benefited by the Income Tax allowances.
There are many such people in my constituency on the lowest rate of pay, less in many cases than the pay received by agricultural workers. In time those people will feel the temporary rise in the cost of living. The cost of living may rise a little more, but then it will come down. I do not think it has risen quite as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite try 113 to pretend it has, but it has, nevertheless. risen. These people are hard put to it to make ends meet.
I would have thought a graduated scale of allowances for all the children in a family would be the best scheme, beginning with an amount less than 8s. for the first one. I know that the Beveridge Plan said that we should give the benefit only for the second child onwards. We have this "second-child" idea engrained in our minds. If we had started off with a smaller payment for the first child and graduated payments for subsequent children, the overall benefit to the families of the country would probably be better and would not cost us very much more.
My constituency has been very hard hit by the Budget, and that is why I am raising this matter. The day that the Budget cuts were announced and the Chancellor told us that he wanted us to work longer hours to earn more money on which we should not pay so much Income Tax the overtime in Her Majesty's Dockyard, Portsmouth, was cut by £4,000 a week. That does not even give a man a chance to work extra overtime for extra money to enable him to have a first child. We want people of the calibre of those in Portsmouth—good ex-Service men—to be able to have a first child and to keep a reasonable and happy family. As things are, they are suffering more than others in the country.
I hope my right hon. Friend will consider the matter and, if necessary, suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that in certain cases pay rises might be given, that among those who need a pay rise are the lowest paid workers in Her Majesty's Dockyards.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
A little while ago the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) said he hoped to be able to look forward to a time when we could discuss family allowances and the other issues before us in a nonparty atmosphere. Indeed, in introducing the Bill the Minister himself made me believe that he was thinking in terms of non-party discussion or that he hoped he could get us to think in such terms about the Measure.
After what the right hon. Gentleman has now heard from both sides of the 114 House he must feel that there really is not very much disposition to consider it in a non-party spirit. It could hardly be expected to be otherwise. We cannot forget that this Bill is the aftermath of a Budget which contained proposals about the food subsidies and a series of provisions to balance the taking away of the subsidies
I admit that there are many anomalies to be dealt with and that there is a case for dealing with them irrespective of the merits or demerits of the Budget, but this Measure is the result of a party expedient and, indeed, the result of definite party promises during the General Election. I see the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), who has been talking about family allowances, shaking his head, but during the General Election the Tory Party suggested that family allowances might be remodelled in such a way as to make it possible to give grants which would not be of a promiscuous character, as they described the help given by the food subsidies.
Family allowances are just as promiscuous, for they give just as much to the people who do not need them, in the same way as the food subsidies were promiscuous because the benefits sometimes went to people who did not need them. From that point of view no real change has been effected by the Chancellor, and the Bill secures none of the changes which the Tory Party pretended to stand for at the General Election.
Knowing that this is definitely a party Measure, I cannot respond to the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman to us to consider it in a non-party spirit. As I have listened to the case being unfolded I have become more convinced than ever of the Bill's defects. The Minister made a most important admission when he pointed out that we were rapidly getting away from the position when, under the National Health Service, the National Assistance scheme and the National Insurance scheme, we sought to make our general plan of social security in such a way that we were doing better for those who received National Insurance grants than we did for those who received National Assistance grants.
As 59s. a week is now taken by a married couple under the National Assistance scheme irrespective of anything that 115 may be paid to them for rent, and 54s. only is to be provided under the Bill, there has been complaint about it and everybody seems to assume that something serious must be done to deal with the disparity. I am alarmed that that should be so. I am certain that if any attempt is made by the party opposite to deal with the disparity it will be done by reducing the National Assistance rates rather than by dealing with the National Insurance rates. I see the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), smiling—
§ Mr. Hudson
Very well. Those rates were put up last week and before a week has gone by there are complaints about the disparity existing between what was done last week and what is being done this week. This must be another example of co-ordination by the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the most forcible complaint, as he calls it, came from the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill)?
§ Mr. Hudson
Yes, I heard my right hon. Friend's contribution, but if it means what I expect it means I no more agree with it because she said it than I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman may have said. I am at least dealing with the matter in a non-party spirit so far.
The House had better reconsider what has been the basis of the plan that we have adopted during the last few years in developing the scheme of social services which makes up what we now call the Welfare State. An hon. Member mentioned the late Sidney and Beatrice Webb. I can remember when Sidney and Beatrice Webb organised the great campaign in favour of the minority report of the Poor Law Commission, out of which most of the proposals made by Lord Beveridge, and indeed our legislation, grew. The minority Report was mainly a protest against the earlier attitude to these questions represented by doing nothing by social effort which in any way injured what was called the eligibility of the standard of the lowest paid free labourer.
116 If, under the old Poor Law, we gave more to the Poor Law recipient than the lowest paid free labourer was receiving in wages, it was hardship, and people, instead of being free labourers, would tend to fall back on the Poor Law. The whole process was one of deterrents, of making things so bad that, if National Assistance was offered, people would at the earliest moment get away from it and go back as free, competing labourers, however low the wages might be.
That situation has gone. This House has helped it to go, and my party, by the Measures which it brought in, has also helped it to go. Now we have hon. Gentlemen opposite arguing again that a terrible new national problem is coming into existence because the person on National Assistance is doing better, and will do better, than the free labourer does out of the schemes of National Insurance.
§ Mr. Hudson
Hon. Members opposite. There may be an attempt now to deny this, but I have listened rather closely to this debate. I have missed the last two or three speeches, but I was here until the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude), spoke, and up to that point, I had heard every argument in the debate.
I was particularly interested in the contribution of the hon. Member for Ealing, South. He spoke, as I expected him to speak, mainly on family allowances, but he got himself mixed up with the question of the pensions that we are paying to the old people, and suggested that a situation is arising in which, before long, the country will be landed into having to maintain, with a decreased working population, an increased working population of pensioners.
What conclusion he drew from that was not clear, except that he said that something had to be done about family allowances. He was not prepared to do what was recommended by the hon. Member opposite who spoke just now, and increase the family allowances, at any rate, in respect of the first child. He said so explicitly. He did say, however, that he would be prepared to consider the doubling of the family allowances in respect of the first or fourth child. If he is to do that, then he has to 117 face an added objection to those which he mentioned when he said that he found that the proposals about family allowances were, to use his own words, one of the least popular of all the social Measures which we have introduced.
It was unpopular, the hon. Member suggested, because older people who had brought up children by their own efforts were not at all satisfied to see other people getting these grants for nothing, so to speak. He suggested, therefore, that because of the problem represented by the older population, something ought to be done about family allowances, and the only proposal he could make was the doubling of the family allowances for the first chid or the fourth child, from which I conclude that, as there had been an objection in the first place to family allowances, the objection would thereby become doubled, and it would more unpopular than ever.
I believe that the family allowances scheme is a necessary part of the variety of schemes which have gone to make up our social security measures. I am strongly of the opinion that, if it can be proved by Tories that they have found it necessary to raise the scales of allowances under National Assistance to such a point that certain families would receive £5 and even £5s. 10d. a week—those were the figures mentioned from the Front Bench this afternoon—if it be the case that, in some instances, as much as those sums can be paid, then, quite clearly, the sums that are mentioned in this Bill are quite inadequate for the standards that Lord Beveridge suggested and which most people who have taken part in this discussion pretend that we are now trying to live up to.
The standard that was suggested by Lord Beveridge was that, in the development of our social welfare schemes, we should make it possible for the economic sufficiency of the people obtaining assistance from a national authority to be maintained, and should make it possible for their economic power to be retained. We should not pay them, to use Lord Beveridge's words, below their subsistence needs. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who is pointing at me, has been expressing pride in the fact that last week, in connection with the subsistence level of people who obtain National Assistance, a figure was necessary to produce that result, and it 118 was a much better figure than the figure which is being introduced in this Bill. Last week, it was 59s. for a man and wife; this week, it is 54s.
What has happened to the £ between last week and this week? Neither the right hon. Lady who spoke from the Front Bench on this side nor any right hon. Gentleman on this side has had any responsibility for the Measures introduced last week and this week. Toryism settled the issue for itself, and I am asking the question as to what has happened to the value of the £ —everybody has been talking about that today—between last week and this week? If 59s. was found to be necessary for a man and wife when they asked for help from a National Assistance authority, why is 54s. good enough under this Bill?
Hon. Gentlemen know perfectly well, whether they point to this side of the House or not, that they cannot justify that differentiation, and all I am saying tonight is that, if any attempt is now to be made to get rid of the disparity in the figures I have mentioned, it ought not to be done at the expense of the pepole who are being helped out of National Assistance. I go a step further in this matter, and come back to the question of family allowances to ask why the Tory Party was so well satisfied to accept the 8s. offered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which is now enshrined in this Bill and permanently added to deal with that problem on account of the alteration in the value of the £. Why? Lord Beveridge, the man to whom everybody looks for their justification, when discussing these problems in 1943, suggested that 8s. was the figure that ought to have been adopted in the scheme he was then proposing.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Gentleman will, I feel sure, wish to be accurate. Sir William Beveridge, as he then was, suggested 8s. to include cash and kind.
§ Mr. Hudson
That does not alter my point about the decrease in the value of the £. The alteration in the value of the £ will affect it whether it is in kind or in cash. I am asking how, if 8s. worth of goods were necessary in those days, we can now justify that amount?
§ Mr. Hudson
All right, but hon. Members opposite have been talking about bringing in schemes to meet the alteration in the value of the £. I am willing to admit that we on this side did not do sufficient. I was one of the critics of my own party on this question. I was a critic when the late Sir Stafford Cripps introduced a Budget in which were what I thought unsatisfactory proposals and which were afterwards incorporated in legislation.
But I am in an equally good position to ask the party opposite, after all their professions about Lord Beveridge and the necessity for a scheme that was adequate, why they agree that 8s. is now enough to compensate people for robbing them of the food subsidies, for that is what they have done. That is the meaning of the Bill.
The food subsidies were helping the people to deal with the problem of the £. It may be that the subsidies ought to have gone up, but I am not arguing that just now. All I am saying is that the Tory Party cancelled a very large part of the food subsidies and pretended that they were bringing forward something of real value that would compensate the people for what they had lost.
On the basis of the Beveridge proposals, the compensation in this matter, as in the matter with which I have already dealt, is below what it ought to be. I submit that there ought to be a careful re-examination by the party opposite of the attitude they propose to adopt towards the scheme of social security for which, for the moment, they are responsible. I think it highly desirable, despite all the promises which the Prime Minister was making over the weekend regarding improvements, that with the growth of unemployment which we see today in Lancashire, with the increasing difficulties with which our people are faced in the matter of rising prices despite all that is said at times about the level of the £ on the foreign exchanges, no step which placed any added difficulty on the mass of the people ought to be considered by the party opposite, because their promises to the people were absolute. They said that they would not lower the standard of life of the people and that they would improve the value of the £.
In view of the fact that they have failed on the essential proposals put for- 120 ward by them, at least for the present, there is no case for bringing in any legislation unless the proposals contained in it are at least as good as those under the national assistance schemes. The hon. Gentleman said that the National Assistance schemes owe something to what they did last week. That may be, but they owe a good deal to other things. They owe something to a difference in outlook on these benches when that scheme was introduced, and when we deliberately set out in a crusading spirit to destroy the principle of details and to put in its place the general desire of the community to be helpful to its most stricken members.
Although some jeer at that as a piece of hopeless altruism, it is the thing of which we on these benches are most proud, and it is on the basis of that accomplishment that I make my complaint, although I certainly will not vote against the Measure. [Laughter.] Yes, one can still make up one's mind to accept a poor Measure if only because something infinitely worse might have been brought forward. Had the party opposite not had the example of the things done by my party, I do not know what sort of Measure they would have introduced. As I say, this Bill is at least better than it might have been even though it is inadequate. I say quite frankly that knowing, as its authors do, the conditions in which the people now find themselves, the Measure has failed to make adequate provision for them.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Until the intervention of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), there was every evidence that the House was accepting this Measure in what he described as a non-party manner and certainly in a non-controversial manner. The chief charge that has been levelled against the Bill is that, in some respects, it does not go far enough. The majority of us on both sides of the House would say that about many things in the country. How seldom are any of us satisfied that we have enough of anything? How few of us can say that we have enough in our own personal lives and how many Members of Parliament think that they have enough?
One can only make such a statement if one chooses completely to disregard the background of our national necessities 121 and completely to disregard the state of affairs now, the state of affairs last October and the state of affairs a year before that. I do not doubt that had our financial position been better, the present Minister's predecessor would have done more. Similarly, one can say that had the finances of the country been in a better position, the present Minister would have done more.
By and large, apart from the intervention of the hon. Member for Ealing, North, the House has been prepared to consider this Measure in the wider setting, and one would say that the Minister had a pleasant job in introducing it. It is always more pleasant to introduce a Bill which increases benefits than one which decreases them; and it is the Minister's pleasant job today as perhaps the task of the Minister of Health last week was unpleasant.
These steps have their relation to a certain overall plan—a plan with which hon. Members opposite may justly disagree, a plan which would be differently conceived by a Government composed of the party opposite; but, nevertheless, a plan formed by the Ministers on this side to meet what they conceive to be the very serious problem now confronting this country. There would appear to be some things which we can all, with value, realise deeply. First of all, there is the very real cost to the country. I am not citing the cost in any way as an objection; but let us be conscious of the extent of that cost at such a time in our history.
We should be conscious also of the very real cost to the contributor. There may come a time when we seek to increase benefits and we may find that people object because their contributions are becoming too large. After all, these contributions are a sizeable amount to come out of people's incomes nowadays. The stamp is quite an expensive item; and it may be that in future that would be an objection, not on the part of hon. Members but perhaps on the part of the beneficiaries. Indeed, it may be difficult to persuade people to agree to an increase in their contributions for a benefit they may regard as remote.
§ Mr. Gower
The hon. Member may think there is a deep purse, but I am sure that if there were a deep purse, Chancellors of his own choosing would have availed themselves of it. We must consider the cost which, ultimately, whether we like it or not, is a charge on our national life. Ultimately, it must be a charge on our manufactured goods exported in competition with those of other nations.
I say all this not in any way in objection to the Bill but rather to emphasise the value of the unique system which we enjoy, a value which the country generally must realise. It is a tremendous undertaking for a country with limited resources and such a large population to sustain. I am sure the hon. Member for Ealing, North, will agree that it is not easy to increase these benefits or to double or treble them.
I am sure that after consideration he will agree that this country is sustaining a very fine system today considering our position and the extent of our population and considering, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned, the very valid point that we have a population that is tending to increase in age. I am not making this as a political point but emphasising that it must throw an increasing burden on the working population.
§ Mr. Hudson
Does not the hon. Member realise that if the average age of the population is tending to increase it is largely because of improved efficiency and improvement in the general health of the community, and that the capacity of everybody to produce must have been influenced by the same process that tends to make people live longer? There is no need to assume that because there are more people alive rather than dead the country is losing its capacity for producing goods.
§ Mr. Gower
The only point that I am seeking to establish is that the younger 123 working population has to sustain an ever increasing body of people who are really beyond working. That proportion of the population is increasing. It may be, as has been observed, that better health will enable people to produce more. It may be that after this experiment has proceeded for many years we shall achieve wonderful and as yet unsuspected results. But there is as yet no evidence before us that because a person enjoys better health his output is necessarily considerably greater. I suppose that in theory it should be, but there is certainly no evidence that output as such increases as a result of better health.
In fact, some of the greatest creative energy has come from people suffering from disease. Some of the greatest things ever achieved in this world have been done by people in a very poor state of health and sometimes in an advanced stage of a fatal disease. Other things being equal, I tend to agree with the hope expressed by the hon. Gentleman that this good result will be achieved and that the better health which people enjoy will enable them to achieve an ever developing degree of production.
I wish to emphasise that one of the greatest weaknesses of the Bill is what has been described as the 10s. widow—the widow still in receipt of that pittance. I do not know the figure, but I imagine that there must be a smaller number in this class of the community than in most sections which we have been considering. I sincerely hope that the Minister will find it possible to look closely and sympathetically into the case of these widows. I submit that that is the class which appears to deserve most and which has received nothing yet in the Bill. I hope that before the Bill leaves Committee something will be done for that class of widow.
When all party animosity is forgotten, this is a Measure to increase benefits. It is a Measure to ameliorate the condition of those who are in the most precarious position in the community. One may say about some of them—the family allowances, for example—that there are differences in views, but I have found that those differences of view cut completely across party. In my constituency I have found Conservatives who agree that family allowances should be increased, and I have also found Conservatives who 124 disagree with the principle of family allowances. I have found Socialists who support the increases in family allowances, and, likewise, I have found Socialists who disagree with the principle of family allowances. Generally, I have found that the opponents are childless.
This only shows how much one's view is governed by one's personal circumstances. But views on the family allowances certainly tend to cut across party lines. Frequently, speakers on both sides of the House have advanced the view that there should be an allowance for the first child, but, as I understand it, the original purpose was to encourage those with large families and to sustain them in view of their extra commitments. The second objection to that suggestion is the grossly tremendous cost of granting an additional allowance to the first child, in view of the fact that in so many families there is only one child. Be that as it may, I imagine that that is a matter suitable for argument in Committee. I imagine, too, that in the long run it is important that the people with the larger families should be sustained.
I sincerely hope that this Measure will be supported on all sides of the House and that it will be regarded, notwithstanding its defects—it may not go so far as some hon. Members would wish—as what is described as a popular Measure. I hope that the Minister will be warmly praised in the Labour and Co-operative Press. I do not know whether that is too much to hope. Finally, I hope that no more will I hear, in my own constituency, allegations of the kind that were made at the time of the last Election—that the Conservatives were opposed to the principle of family allowances. After all, we passed the first Measure—
§ Mr. Houghton
At the time when the allegation was made about the Conservatives not being in favour of family allowances, it was never understood that the Tories were in support of cutting the food subsidies.
§ Mr. Gower
Be that as it may, I sincerely hope that having passed the Measure which made these payments possible, in 1945, under the Caretaker Administration—and now, after the Labour Government have brought these payments in and the Conservative Government have increased them—we have heard the last of that and of the allegation that we 125 would cut pensions. I was told many times at Election meetings that we would cut pensions. Now, in view of the fact that we have increased National Assistance I hope that those misrepresentations have been finally laid.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I should like to touch upon one or two of the points raised by the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). Obviously we have to welcome this Bill. Although we welcome it, that does not mean that it goes as far as many of us would wish. But it does mean some improvement for millions of people who, because of the Conservative Budget, would be immeasurably worse off if this Bill did not eventually become law.
The Bill demonstrates one thing more clearly than any other. It demonstrates the fact that the Tories have their priorities all wrong. What has happened? The first Bill they introduced after the Budget was a Bill to take something away from the people—the National Health Service Bill. They brought in that Bill—and used the Guillotine to push it through—in order to take from the people some of the benefits they were getting. Why, in the name of fortune, could they not have given this Bill priority over the National Health Service Bill?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
We never introduced the Guillotine to force through a Bill which attacked people. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) was here when his party were praying every night. They prayed more during 1950 and 1951 than they had ever prayed before in their lives or are ever likely to pray again. I say that this indicates that they have got their priorities all wrong. They were quick to take away, but they are very slow to give. I do not believe that it is administratively impossible to make these payments retrospective to Budget day. If there were the will, the way could be found, and I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that he will have no opposition from this side of the House to speeding up of the 126 passage of this Bill if he makes it retrospective.
What does the Bill do? Do not let us pretend that this is some great, generous Measure which has sprung from the kind-heartedness of the Tory Government. All that this Bill does is roughly to restore the benefits which were being received in 1948. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) said that it does not entirely do that, but even if it does, let us have regard to the benefits which the children, the sick, the unemployed, the injured and the aged are getting today—the portion of the national wealth which they are getting under this Bill—as compared with what they were getting in 1948. I say that, because production has risen dramatically since 1948, the portion of the national wealth which is going to the section of the population covered by this Bill is less than it was in 1948.
Many hon. Members claim that we have to be very careful in making any improvements in these benefits because we have an ageing population and it will be impossible for the heavy burden to be carried by the working population in the days to come. But that presupposes, in my opinion, that this country will always be spending 50 per cent. of its national budget on either paying for past wars or preparing for future wars. I hope that in 1975 we shall not be spending 10s. out of every £ which the national Exchequer receives on either preparing for war or paying for past wars. I hope we shall have been able by then to ease the situation in the world, and that much of the money which has now to be found annually for the purpose of destroying life will be available for the purpose of making fuller the lives of the people covered by this Bill.
Whether the cost of the Bill will increase in the future will depend to some extent upon the policy pursued by this and successive Governments. The cost of the Bill will increase if unemployment increases; but none of us believes that unemployment is a problem about which the Government can do nothing. Obviously, one kind of economic policy can lead to mass unemployment and can, therefore, make this Bill very costly. Another kind of economic policy can plan for full employment and, therefore, reduce the cost of the Bill. It therefore 127 follows that how much the Bill will cost in certain directions is largely in the hands of the Government.
Exactly the same thing applies in connection with the Health Service. I could not understand hon. Members opposite welcoming an attack upon the Health Service, almost delighting in making it, because for every £1 we spend on the Health Service we get a good return. If we keep people healthy, they do not claim sickness benefit. I suggest that by far the best policy is to give the finest, comprehensive Health Service we can to the people so that we maintain them in good bodily health and therefore do not have to pay them sickness benefit, and, at the same time, do not suffer the loss in production which would result if they were sick.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
As far as I am concerned—and I know there are many hon. Members who do not share my values—these are my values and I believe in them: whenever I look at a Bill of this kind which, as I have indicated, embraces the children, the sick, the unemployed, the injured and the old people, I look upon it as I should upon a Bill affecting individual members of my own family.
If it is a child of ours, we say that the best we can possibly provide should be given to it. If there is a sick member of the family, we say that whatever the sacrifice, we will see that he suffers as little as possible. If there is an unemployed member of the family, everybody who is better off wants to help a little. If there is an injured member of the family, all are practical in their sympathy. Where our own parents or our neighbours are aged people, obviously we are always anxious to do everything we can to assist them as our personal relatives and our personal friends.
I should prefer, of course, to look upon all of them as members of one large family, and I hope that we shall be prepared to see that the claims of those classes I have just mentioned have a prior claim upon our national economy. If we do, I believe we shall be doing the Christian thing and the right thing; and that we shall tend to create such values throughout the length and breadth of the 128 country that many of the causes of bitterness, strife and hatred to be found today will largely disappear.
Obviously, we have got to welcome this Measure, because it does make some improvement, but I hope that we shall not take the line that this is the limit, so that in future there will be difficulty in extending the limit. I look forward, as I hope we all look forward, to an easing of the international situation and to an increasing industrial production, so that then we may see how niggardly these remedies are and substantially improve them. For my part, I should welcome an easing of the international situation and an increase in national production which would make possible benefits which would meet the real needs.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. lain MacLeod (Enfield, West)
I prefer very much the second part of the speech of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) to the first half of his speech, when he was loosing a series of rhetorical questions at the House, and asked, if I remember aright, why the Government had produced a Bill to put charges on the National Health Service before producing a Bill to give relief through National Insurance. I do not want to prophesy, but I think that the answer to that question is exactly the same as a Socialist Government would have given for doing exactly the same thing a year ago.
The first speech from the other side of the House was to the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). She seemed slightly petulant because some hon. Members on this side of the House showed such warm approval of her fairly recent conversion to some of the ideas we have developed. Later she proposed an idea for juggling a little bit with the Industrial Injuries Fund, and when I rose to comment on the surplus in the Fund, she immediately said, "I speak not for my party, but as a private person." That is most unsatisfactory.
This is a major Bill. It was referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as part of the Budget proposals and affects practically every person in the country. It was introduced by the Minister of National Insurance, and immediately after he had moved the Second 129 Reading, the right hon. Lady who had been my right hon. Friend's immediate predecessor as Minister of National Insurance, rose from that Box. It is really an extraordinary thing, in all these circumstances, for the right hon. Lady to claim that she was not speaking officially for her party. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary opposite, when he replies, will not take that line. I hope he can tell us that he is speaking for his party.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
Will the hon. Member excuse me? I am sure he will not mind my correcting him. I am no longer the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I mean the right hon. Lady's former Parliamentary Secretary. It is difficult to get anyone on the other side of the House to answer any questions, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman, when he winds up for his side, can tell me whether Members officially speaking from that Box do or do not represent the Socialist Party. Of course, I can well understand the difficulty in which they find themselves—of finding leaders in their army when it is entirely composed of privates.
§ Mr. MacLeod
One thing at least will be agreed, and that is that we must face the full consequences of any proposals we wish to put before the House.
I should like to refer to two speeches from hon. Members opposite who I see in their places. To the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), who said that the subsistence benefits were inadequate, I merely say that that is a very serious charge to make. It is not a charge against the Government. It is not a charge against Parliament. It is a charge that the National Assistance Board are incompetent and are not fulfilling the statutory duty which this House placed upon them, and in view of the friendly, and I believe deserved, things said about the Board from both sides of the House in recent debates, we ought to think very carefully before casting that sort of implied slur on Mr. George Buchanan and his friends on the Board.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
We have never complained about the administration of 130 the National Assistance Board, with the exception of what takes place in isolated districts. Our main complaint against the Board concerns the inadequate scales they put in the regulations which have to be administered by the Board officers.
§ Mr. MacLeod
My point is still a valid one. There is a statutory duty placed on the National Assistance Board; if the scales are inadequate they are failing in their duty, and I merely wish to disassociate myself from that.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
Since the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, I should like to say that I had nobody in mind, and my observation was quite impersonal. It was based upon a working-class budget such as I have know it from my experience in my constituency. Although those who are in charge are doing their best in the circumstances, I should like to examine the basis upon which the calculations are made, because in my view the professional assessment of what is needed for a working-class family is inadequate.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I hope to say a word on that in a moment. I have only a very few moments left; perhaps the House will forgive me if I do not give way again, and if I speak rather quickly in dealing with some of the matters to which I wish to refer.
I thought that the Leader of the Liberal Party, when he suggested that we should peg insurance benefits to the cost of living, and by implication chase rising prices with rising benefits, was on very dangerous ground. Equally, that cannot be fully defended by any reference back to the Beveridge Report. When it is suggested that all benefits should, just like that, go up by 50 per cent. —which means that a cost of something like £250 million rising to £500 million might fall upon the Fund—and that these should, to a large extent, be made from the Exchequer contribution, I hope the House will remember that this is, after all, an insurance scheme, and if it is to make sense it must he financed out of contributions. It is not good enough just to push it on to a form of assistance, which in the end is what an increased Exchequer contribution must mean.
We have heard much about the gap between insurance and assistance, to which I have contributed my quota of words. But, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, 131 the scale has risen steadily, with rent included, and the gap of 8s. has gone successively to I Is. 6d., and 18s., now reduced to 15s. Frankly, I do not accept, because I think there is an obvious fallacy in it, the argument of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), that these new figures must be related to the 50s. benefit of a year ago. It seems quite clear that we must take the basic benefit, and not only the retirement pension but all sickness and unemployment benefits as well, which remain, of course, at 42s.
Nor do I think it sound to produce the figures which the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West, did, because she omitted the calculation, which is the only effective one in this matter, of a year ago. She pointed out that a man with a wife and three children could, from National Assistance, get £5 Hs. 6d. and said that showed an alarming gap against the National Insurance benefit of 85s. That is true. It shows a gap of 24 per cent., but a year ago the two comparative figures showed, I think, a gap of 31 per cent. It may be said that is too little. I have advocated for a long time that we should seek to do more, but at least it is true that we have made a turn on the very depressing road which we were following in National Insurance benefits.
In the last few minutes, before I give way to the hon. Gentleman who is to wind-up for the other side, I want to make a reference to by far the biggest subject, in my view, that lies behind this problem. We have had extremely able speeches from two hon. Members on the other side of the House—the hon. Member for Sowerby, followed by his own Member of Parliament my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan), and the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Danies), who is now being followed by his own Member of Parliament. There would seem to be a moral in that, when our constituents make such admirable speeches to the House.
The thing that terrifies anyone who knows of this problem is Table 2 on page 7 of the Actuary's Report. The more we look at those figures, the more gripping and serious they are. In 25 years' time—less than a generation from now—the scheme will be losing £417 132 million in that year. That is more than we are spending now on the whole of the National Health Service scheme, and it gives an example of the sort of figures we are getting into. Retirement pensions alone in that period amount to £501 million. Therefore, it is almost entirely the burden of retirement pensions—and we are adding £36 million by this Bill to them—that we have to study.
If I understood the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) correctly, he was advocating something like the Canadian system which chooses to pay pensions out of current production. If he is right in thinking that we are considerably to advance on those lines, it may well be that there is a good deal to be said for the Canadian system. But I think that we must frankly say—and I was delighted to hear it said from the other side, so there can be no party issue in it at all—we must forget the age limits of 65 and 60, and forget them soon.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I know that that is an unpopular view, but it is a view which, for that reason, ought to be stated. It is in my view not right that we should encourage people to think that at 65 or 60 their usefulness to the country has diminished.
§ Mr. MacLeod
With the enormous advance that has been made in medical care, I believe that we must look forward to a new era in which a retirement age of 67 for men and perhaps 63 or 64 for women must be contemplated. I was delighted to hear that said, because I think it should be said. I realise that it is something that can be, and no doubt will be, misrepresented.
It is to some extent illogical that the Opposition are to support the Bill, for the Bill is fundamentally part of the Budget proposals. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), was making some of his calculations about the Budget proposals he was challenged and told that he had left out all the social service benefits, and he said that they could be paid for by the Petrol Duty. The Opposition voted against the Petrol Duty. In view of their attitude to the Budget there is very little ground for their support of the Bill tonight.
133 My right hon. Friend was a good deal too modest in introducing the Bill. The Bill, for the first time, puts back the purchasing power of these benefits to 1948. That is more than the Socialists ever did or ever tried to do. There has been a rise of 23 points since July, 1948;a rise of 21 occurred under the Socialist Government, and all that the Socialists did in connection with the main National Insurance benefits in that period was slightly to alter the rate of a portion of the beneficiaries.
The index has now risen by another two points and the Conservative Party has brought in a sweeping Measure which will bring justice and help to many thousands of our countrymen. We on this side have a full measure of pride in being able to say that we have restored the scheme to the values which the House of Commons envisaged when the scheme began in 1948.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
We always listen with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain MacLeod) on the question of social insurance. He made a very important announcement in his closing remarks, but he did not make it clear whether he was speaking for himself or his party.
On the subject of raising the retirement age, I ask the hon. Member to consider the remarks made by the Minister, who said that he had given the subject attention and that he had met the Trade Union Congress, who had decided against it. The T.U.C. represents a large and important body of opinion upon which the economy of the country depends, and I am prepared to take notice of what the T.U.C. has said.
We have had a very good debate. I have enjoyed every speech. If I might single out one, it is that of the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude), who spoke so thoughtfully about family allowances. I shall read what he had to say with interest and pleasure. He put forward proposals which need most careful consideration, and he approached the subject in a way which I have not experienced before.
During the weekend I have been refreshing my mind by reading what I consider to be one of the most important documents ever published, the Beveridge 134 Report. It is fitting, on an occasion when we are discussing social insurance, that so many tributes should be paid to the individual who gave so much thought to the provision of security for persons whose earnings are interrupted. I myself believe that 5th July, 1948, constitutes a great landmark in our national history, for we then integrated the schemes of social insurance, and they are indeed a great credit to our people.
The Bill before us tonight is an important Measure. I would remind the House that we are only two years away from the review that will have to take place. Between now and then, particularly when all the statistical material is available, some hard thinking will have to be done about the funding of our National Insurance schemes. I do not propose to make any particular pronouncement upon that point, but in a general way I should say that it is important for all Members on both sides of the House to begin to think what we should do when the appropriate moment arrives.
This Bill is an important one, although we can regard it as an interim Measure. It goes some of the way, but not all of the way, to meet the increase in the cost of living since the benefit rates were fixed under the original Act of 1946 and the Act of 1951.
I am glad that the Minister has now taken his place again on the Treasury bench, because in his presence I want to express my thanks for the clear and lucid way in which he explained the provisions of the Bill. During the debate he has heard many suggestions from both sides of the House, and having known the right hon. Gentleman for a fairly long number of years in this House, I have come to regard him as very receptive to suggestions and amenable to ideas. I have no doubt he will take note of the suggestions that have been made from both sides today.
It is sometimes forgotten that under the National Insurance Act, 1951, we increased the benefits to some of the beneficiaries to the extent of £39 million. That has not been mentioned today, and I think it proper that it should be. I cannot say that the proposals in this Bill show an attitude of generosity on the part of the Government, if for no other reason than that the heaviest burden, as was pointed out by the Minister, is falling 135 upon the contributors, including the employers. The result of this may well be reflected in the cost of living through a possible increase in the prices of the products of industry. I mentioned that as a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman.
A lucid explanation of the position has been given by the Government Actuary, as is always the case. In the previous debate I noted that the Minister made a similar reference to the document which was then before us from the Government Actuary. It indicates the cost that will fall upon the contributors and upon the Exchequer. This is a tripartite arrangement, and the principle has been in operation from the beginning of our social insurance schemes. I am not arguing against it, as I think it is right. During the debate last year, the right hon. Gentleman made a very important pronouncement on the point, and I was reading it during the weekend. He remarked that people like to feel that they are making contributions, that they are part of the scheme, and that they are entitled to the benefits by right and not by the application of a means test. I fully subscribe to that observation.
The Government Actuary's Report means that, as a result of this tripartite arrangement, a review will take place during the next three years, and therefore the period 1954-55 will be important in the field of National Insurance, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan). Up to that time, it is proposed to collect £170 million, and of that sum £150 million will fall upon the contributors, including the employers, and only £20 million upon the Exchequer. That is why I cannot see that the Government are displaying an attitude of generosity. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will indicate when he replies why, out of that £170 million, only £157 million is budgeted to be paid out in additional benefits and £13 million will go to swell the National Insurance Fund.
It can be argued that the existing method of financing the scheme has been followed and that the existing ratio of the Exchequer contribution has been maintained. There is no doubt about that, and it is shown in the actuary's Report. I would make just one remark about the National Insurance Fund— 136 which has nothing to do with the National Insurance Reserve Fund. On 31st March, 1951, there was in the National Insurance Fund a balance of £480 million. It is my view that, owing to the reduction in the food subsidies, the pattern has been changed. This has saved the Government £160 million in a full year. The Chancellor said that was the equivalent of increasing the cost of living for every person in the community by Is. 6d. a week. I suggest that, instead of giving tax reliefs to the middle and the higher income groups, it would have been far greater justice to have given better benefits than those proposed in the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) kept constantly in mind that the contribution should be as low as possible. That was not absent from our minds in 1946, and it certainly has been running through many of the speeches this afternoon. Yet these proposals will be a burden on many in the three classes covered by this scheme. For instance, there are many in Class I whose wage is no more than £5 or £6 a week—indeed some have less—and the contribution of 5s. 9d. which is now proposed will be very heavy.
Then take the self-employed, a class to which Members of Parliament belong. Although they are small in number compared with Class I, they represent a greater variety. Many in the self-employed class will find that a contribution of 7s. 5d. a week will strain their resources to the utmost. There is the small shopkeeper. There is the crofter in the Highlands whose money income is very small. There is the small employer, for who hon. Members opposite are supposed to have a high regard. The contribution of the man with one employee will be 12s. 5d. a week for himself and the worker.
These are serious considerations which I am sure are in the mind of the right hon, Gentleman as they are in the minds of all of us. I know that the scheme will come up for review in 1954. There will be a lot of material at our disposal then, and many opinions will be expressed as to how the scheme shall be funded—whether it shall be as now on a flat-rate basis, operated as a social security tax, or on a poundage basis. All those things will have to be considered.
In the event of the cost of living increasing still further before the review 137 takes place, and of its being found necessary to adjust benefits upwards, if it is done on the present basis of six-sevenths of the cost falling on the contributor it will certainly be a serious matter to which I know the right hon. Gentleman will give his attention.
This Bill is divided into two parts—contributions and benefits—and the benefits will be welcomed, although they do not meet the position as far as the cost of living is concerned. My figures are rather different from those of the right hon. Gentleman. From June, 1947, to January, 1952, taking the items covered in the cost of living index, there was an increase of one-third, and to this figure must be added the effect of the reduction of the food subsidies, which puts another Is. 6d. per head per week upon it. The basic commodities have increased in price in greater ratio than some of the other articles. For instance, let us take the case of food. In the period mentioned, the increase was 49.7 per cent.
§ Mr. lain MacLeod
Is not the hon. Gentleman giving the figures from June, 1947, whereas surely the reasonable comparison would be the period from 5th July, 1948, which is a very different matter?
§ Mr. Taylor
These are the Ministry of Labour figures in the cost of living index which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, was brought into operation, and since that time food has risen by 49.7 per cent., clothing by 47.1 per cent. and fuel by 40 per cent. Taking the three basic commodities as a whole, there has been an average increase of 46 per cent.
May I put to the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions? If the Parliamentary Seretary is not in a position to reply to all of them at the moment, I shall not complain, because it may be that consideration will have to be given to them. The benefits of the main scheme which are not to be increased include attendance allowances for maternity purposes and the maternity allowance. It may be that, the Advisory Committee having issued its report on maternity benefits and the Minister having studied it, he will give us some explanation on that point. Another benefit that has not been increased in the main scheme is the death grant, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is not an 138 inexpensive matter to die now. This is one of the benefits which has not been increased, and the Parliamentary Secretary may perhaps give us the reason.
Then there is the case of the noncontributory pension. In the Act of 1946, the non-contributory rates were up-scaled, and, without going into detail on the matter, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some explanation on this matter. I would also mention the case of the pre-1946 widow who is on the 10s. per week pension, and whose situation has been mentioned on both sides of the House.
I want to make an observation on a question that has puzzled me and exercised my mind for quite a long time. It concerns the chronic sick, those people living in isolation, unorganised, having no voice and no one to speak for them. Many of them have not enjoyed a weekly wage for many years. I am thinking of the asthmatic, the bronchial, the tuberculous and the arthritic cases, and of many others that could be enumerated, and I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman the suggestion that he should give consideration to the need of a special hardship allowance in these cases of chronic sickness.
I want to say one or two words about industrial injury benefits. We on this side welcome the increases both in industrial injury and disablement benefits. We should like to see them increased more, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that we are all Oliver Twists asking for more. As far as the Industrial Injuries Act is concerned, there are one or two benefits which it is not proposed to increase. For instance, there is the special hardship allowance. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give consideration to this point, because it would mean so little expense in the aggregate and yet would mean so much to the injured people who cannot return to their pre-accident work. Then there is the constant attendance allowance. Why is it that it is not proposed to increase the allowance under the Industrial Injuries Act to the childless widow who is receiving 20s. a week?
On the disparity between the insurance benefits and the assistance rates, quite a lot has been said tonight. I regret that the insurance benefits have not been raised to the level of the National Assistance scale rates.
139 We on this side of the House support the Bill, and during its remaining stages we shall seek to improve it. I hope that for administrative reasons it will be possible to get it through in the time suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. I assure him that we shall give him all the help we can in getting the Bill through this House by the time he mentioned.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)
My right hon. Friend is very grateful for the response to his appeal for a discussion on non-party lines that has come from all parts of the House with the exception of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). The hon. Gentleman adopted such a partisan tone with such robustness that he did not forget to belabour his own Front Bench in the process. Therefore, I can say that I enjoyed his speech as much as anyone else.
§ Mr. Turton
We have had a very wide debate, and it will be difficult for me in the time available to answer all the points raised. Before doing so, I want to bring the House back to the Measure we are introducing, because it has a fairly narrow ambit and has two main objectives.
Its first objective is to restore to the social security scheme the principle of uniformity which was a cardinal principle of the National Insurance Act introduced by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and which was very gravely impaired by the Bill introduced last summer by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill).
§ Dr. Summerskill
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not forget his right hon. Friend's reservations on this matter.
§ Mr. Turton
The second main objective is to correct the loss of value of these social security benefits and pensions caused by the rise in the cost of living since July, 1948. It has to restore the value to the 1948 level.
When the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) tried to relate it to 140 June, 1947, I thought he was getting into difficulties, because if, as I think essential, we should have uniformity of benefit, it would be a mistake to relate it to a time when the other benefits were not in operation. That is the sole reason why we are working on the July, 1948. level.
For purposes of record, I would remind the House that the cost-of-living index rose by 21 points between July, 1948, and the General Election; and the rise since the General Election has been four points.
At the same time, in getting our values back to July, 1948, we have taken the opportunity of taking into account the changes made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget, when he announced that his policy of lowering the subsidies ceiling from £410 million to £250 million would cause a rise in the cost of living of Is. 6d. per head per week—a rise of 4.5 points in the cost-ofliving index. That is why some of the changes in this Bill will be found to be more than the 25 per cent. rise that my right hon. Friend mentioned. In particular, the family allowances represent a rise of some 60 per cent. over the figures introduced in 1946.
§ Mr. T. Brown
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the rise in the cost of living, due to the cancellation of £160 million subsidies, to the extent of Is. 6d. per week. Has he any statistical information which warrants that figure continuing to be given from that side of the House?
§ Mr. Turton
Statistics relate to the past, divination to the future. I think that is the answer to the hon. Member. I cannot give him statistics as to what will happen in the future, but I will give this divination. In the past month the cost-of-living index did not rise at all, and he will have noticed what has happened as a result of taking the subsidy off tea. He must have confidence that Her Majesty's Government are satisfied with the estimates given. At least we have a chance in this Measure to get back to the 1948 level, and it is time we did so.
I should like to take out of the debate the question of family allowances and deal with it now and with the demand that there should be a family allowance paid for the first child, which was made 141 by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I thought their argument was completely answered by the well-informed and closely reasoned speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude), but I should like to say just one or two words in addition.
This is a family allowance. It is not a child allowance. The object of the family allowance is to encourage the family as a unit and to see that we have larger families in this country. Hon. Members who have read "Poverty and the Welfare State," the Rowntree social survey, will well remember that in 1950, in the view of its authors, the three main causes of poverty were sickness, old age and large families. Indeed, they gave the estimate that if family allowances had been withdrawn at that time for the large family there would have been an increase in poverty in 20 per cent. of those families. That is why I am bitterly and strongly opposed to any suggestion that we should cut down the increase we propose in the family allowances in order to give one for the first child.
One further argument against my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford is that I am also opposed—and I speak on behalf of Her Majesty's Government—to inserting in the family allowances scheme any form of means test. Any suggestion that the family allowance should be limited to those with an income of £350 a year or under, attractive as that might seem in some ways, I believe would entail a means test and, therefore, hon. Members in all parts of the House would object strongly to it.
I should like to say a word about the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery. I am sorry that he is not here; I should like to have given him notice that I was going to answer his speech. He told us, in what I thought would have been an effective argument if it had been true, that the Beveridge Report had advocated a family allowance for the first child, and he referred us to paragraph 300 of that Report. 142 In fact, he referred to paragraph 301 (A),which, I agree, was a minor error—it was only one out—but in that paragraph Lord Beveridge said:No satisfactory scheme of social security can be devised except on the following assumptions: (A) Children's allowances for children up to the age of 15 or if in full-time education up to the age of 16.But that was not when he was dealing with family allowances. He explained that provision in paragraph 417, where he said:To give full subsistence allowances for all the children of a man or woman at work may be described as wasteful and certainly cannot be described as a measure indispensable for the abolition of poverty.In the latter half of that paragraph he says that it would be better to makeno allowance for one child in each family and a larger or full allowance for each of the other children.Therefore, I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that on further consideration he should follow his own former colleague, Lord Beveridge, and should think of other ways of dealing with the problem of the first child of an insured person who is in need of help for his maintenance.
I was interested to hear the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing that this should be included in some improvements in the system of maternity allowance. I can assure him that we will give consideration to that proposal in due course. This is the first time that I have heard the suggestion. I certainly think it deserves consideration. May I next deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor). My right hon. Friend has stated that he will in due course be introducing a Bill to deal with maternity benefits. We are in this Bill not altering structure; we are merely altering amounts, and, therefore, it would be wrong to have included maternity grants or allowances in this Bill when there have been certain recommendations for changes of structure.
I should like now to deal with the point put by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). She asked me whether the present inducements to remain at work are sufficient, and whether the increments are adequate. I have always taken the view—I held this view before I took office 143 —that the greatest inducement for a man to stay at work is the availability of employment. There are some industries where it is not easy for a man to remain at work. Increment may be an added inducement, but it is not the primary inducement.
So far as we know—and this also answers an interjection made by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) —100,000 people have earned increments and are getting them paid with their pensions. The other figure that I would give to the right hon. Lady is that 60 per cent. of men are still in employment one month after reaching the age of 65.
The figure for women is 50 per cent. Three in seven of all insured men between the ages of 65 and 70 are in employment. That does show that a number of insured men and women are or will be in receipt of earned increments. The figure for women between the ages of 60 and 65 is two in seven.
The second question the right hon. Lady asked was what arrangements were being made to provide suitable work for old people, and how far were we cooperating with the Ministry of Labour and National Service. I am sure she will recollect that Her Majesty's Government have appointed a committee which is presided over by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service. That Committee is examining the problem of providing suitable work for old people and is making good progress.
The third question the right hon. Lady put was one the phrasing of which I rather regretted. She talked about wanting to make a raid on the Industrial Injuries Fund. I think that when she was not in the Chamber some allusions were made to those remarks. I would deprecate any idea of a raid on the Fund, particularly when the right hon. Lady and hon. Gentlemen recollect the phrasing of the first interim Report of the Government Actuary on the Industrial Injuries Scheme. He stated that:… the annual expenditure on disablement pensions … will increase automatically for a good many years to come. If therefore, the Fund is to be self-supporting when this mature position is reached, the contribution income must substantially exceed the outgoings in the early years. The excess cannot be regarded as a surplus; on the contrary, it 144 is required to build up the fund which, together with the continuing income from contributions, will provide the means to meet the ultimate level of expenditure.That is why I think it is so vital that no hon. or right hon. Gentleman should suggest any raid on this Fund while we are building it up, even if it is merely to the extent of a penny, as I believe the right hon. Lady was actually suggesting.
§ Mr. Turton
I entirely appreciate the value of that remark. The hon. Lady asked what were our intentions regarding the hospital treatment allowance. My right hon. Friend announced that with regard to those points on which she had agreed to the amendment of the Industrial Injuries Act, he was continuing her agreement and intending to take as early an opportunity as he could find to introduce a Bill. A hospital treatment allowance which would be made payable to a person with an award of a disablement gratuity, is included among those points on which we have reached agreement.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) made a point on the earnings rule about which I should like to say a word. I appreciate that there are some difficulties about the disentanglement of the earnings rule, and the entitlement to be deemed to be retired, that has been brought about by the 1951 Act. I am not making any criticism of it but it does mean, now, that to be deemed to be retired the insured person must prove that he is working for no more than 12 hours in any one week, or one quarter of the normal weekly hours in his particular industry. But having once been deemed to be retired such a person can, if necessary, work for more than 12 hours a week, provided that he does not earn more than is covered by the earnings rule, after which deductions will begin to operate. I think it is important that we should have this first condition for retirement, because we do not want to encourage men and women to leave full-time employment in their industry, to take up part-time employment, and to state that they are retired at the time; but I can assure the hon. Gentleman, who gave us a valuable speech, which, as always, was well-informed, that the point will be examined with other points when we come to the quinquennial review.
145 There are a number of points to which the answer must be that they are points of structure, quite different from the points in the Bill. I was asked whether we could do something for the widow receiving a 10s. pension. I was asked questions on that point by my hon. Friends the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) and the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater, The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), asked whether we could do something for the widow whose husband had not paid the 156 contributions, while the hon. Member for Sowerby asked about the non-contributory old age pensioners.
The real answer to all these points is that they must be dealt with in any main review of the National Insurance Act. They cannot, indeed must not, be dealt with by this Bill, or there will be unnecessary delay. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, can rest assured with the assurance given by my right hon. Friend that he will give early attention, in the course of that review, to the points about the hard case of the widow whose husband, because of sickness or because of untimely death, failed to qualify. That quinquennial review, contrary to what is said in "The Times," will take place not next year but the year after next, after the Actuary's report has been received.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) asked one or two questions on the industrial injuries scheme. I am sorry that he took the view that he must oppose the improvements we are making in the case of industrial injuries. After all, we are making very considerable increases. He asked, "Why are you not increasing the constant attendance allowance?" He must remember that at present, with the increased rates of sickness benefit, or unemployability supplement, an unmarried disablement pensioner will get £6 7s. 6d. a week tax free instead of £5 5s., as under the existing legislation. We are, therefore, by this Measure improving the position of a man who is in receipt of unemployability supplement, who is 100 per cent. disabled and needs constant attendance by some 22s. 6d; and we believe we are bringing forward a great measure of help in those cases, with which the whole House has very great sympathy.
The special hardship allowance is a very difficult problem. It will be remem 146 bered that it was 11 s. 3d. under the 1946 Act, and it was increased in 1948 to 20s. The House will realise that the special hardship allowance has something in its nature which is rather foreign to the industrial injuries scheme, for we are moving away from loss of faculty to loss of earning power, and that is why we think that before we increase the special hardship allowance, it would be wise to have the position thoroughly reviewed. We do not want to get the Industrial Injuries Scheme back towards workmen's compensation.
§ Mr. Turton
I think the hon. Member is seeing unnecessary ghosts. It is a very difficult problem, however, which we must consider, and no doubt we shall have consultations on this matter.
§ Mr. B. Taylor
Perhaps on that point of special hardship the hon. Gentleman will consider seeking the advice either of the Trades Union Congress or of the National Union of Mineworkers. It affects the latter body more than any other in the country.
§ Mr. Turton
We shall, I hope, be meeting the T.U.C., and this matter will then, no doubt, be put forward. It is not an easy problem; it is not one that we can deal with in this Bill.
Finally, I ask the help of every hon. Member in the House in the endeavour to pass this Measure at the earliest possible date. I am most grateful for the words used by the hon. Member for Mansfield in that direction. Every day that this Bill is unnecessarily delayed in its passage into law will mean further anxiety and hardship for thousands of our constituents. The Government are engaged in a battle for the standard of living of our people. We shall win this battle. Let the Opposition never forget that some of the measures of my right hon. Friend's Budget that they have criticised most are weapons he is using in the battle to keep prices from rising.
Meanwhile, the old, the sick, the disabled, and the children are in the front line. We ask to be allowed to send supplies and reinforcements to those people with the swiftest speed our Parliamentary procedure and our administrative machinery will permit. We ask this with confidence that hon. Gentlemen in 147 all parts of the House who care for their country are anxious that we should win this battle.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I shall not detain the House more than a minute, but I am very much disturbed at the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. fain MacLeod). He occupies a very responsible position on the insurance committee of the party opposite. When he advocates that the pensionable age should be increased from 60 to 64 in the case of women, with a similar increase in the case of men, without any recommendation about differentials in occupation, it is very disturbing.
§ Mr. Brown
We shall see to it so far as this side is concerned. It must not go forth that we advocate the condition that there must be an increase in the pensionable age. It would be sheer idiocy on the part of any party in the House to advocate the raising of the pensionable age without making any recommendations about qualifications, such as employment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.