§ Amendment proposed: In page 2, line 33, to leave out subsection (1).—[Mr. B. Taylor.]
§ Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich, North)
When we adjourned last night, Sir Charles, I was addressing the House in support of the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor). Last night, I described this Bill as a mean-spirited Measure, and the proposal that we are discussing now I described as perhaps the meanest in this mean-spirited Measure.
I want now to go a little further and say to the Minister quite bluntly and plainly that in some of the aspects of the proposal to abolish the tobacco tokens the consequences are such that he and the Government ought to be ashamed to put it before Parliament. It is one of the worst examples of penny pinching from the poorest of the poor that we have seen for many a long day. The Minister himself, in his heart of hearts, probably is not too proud to have to stand here today and defend those aspects of the proposal to which I shall shortly refer.
Tobacco tokens were introduced as an offset for old-age pensioners to a very steep rise in the Tobacco Duty. They were introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), when Chancellor of the Exchequer, and they were one of a number of examples of his imaginative insight into matters of this description when he held that office.
The concession that was made by the granting of the tobacco tokens is one that experience has shown all of us to be 212 highly prized by the retirement pensioners who have been in receipt of it. In many cases, there is no doubt whatever that it has only been by the granting of the tobacco tokens that these old men, and, nowadays, some old women too, have been able to have the comfort and solace of tobacco in the last years of their lives.
Not only has this concession therefore attained very great importance in the lives and circumstances of our old people, but through the course of the years it has ceased to be treated as something separate and distinct from the normal family income and has now become completely interwoven into the peculiar pattern of the spending of retirement pensioners—a peculiar pattern imposed upon them, as we all know, by the narrowness and rigidity of the circumstances in which they have to live. Therefore, there is no doubt whatever that this is not an unimportant proposal in the Bill but is of very great importance to the majority of retirement pensioners.
Even some of those who in future will receive a net increase of 7s. 8d. on the existing pension—I am referring to those who do not get any assistance from National Assistance—will find that the abolition of the tobacco token is quite likely to limit them in the exercise of what they have found to be a great comfort in their existing conditions. I believe that many of them, addicted, as most of us have been at one time or another, to tobacco, would sacrifice essentials that are necessary for their physical well-being in order to get their smoke. This is, therefore, an important matter.
My concern, of course, is not so much for those who will receive the 7s. 8d. as a net increase but for that considerable fraction of the old-age pensioners living on National Assistance who now will get a nominal increase of 5s. a week in their scales—a miserable, mean addition to an inadequate allowance—but whose condition will be definitely very much worsened by the fact that the net addition, if they have been in receipt of tobacco tokens, will be only 2s. 8d. on the present scales. That is a completely derisory advance to give to these people at this time.
For them, the abolition of the tobacco tokens will be a heavy body blow and a 213 great hardship and one which, if it is permitted to go through, will be a disgrace to the Government and to the Minister. I am quite sure that all hon. Members of the Committee, on both sides, would not wish to cause grave hardship of this kind to this body of unfortunate people who, having no other resources, are compelled to depend upon the assistance given them by the Assistance Board.
If a reasonable counter-proposal can be made, it should receive the support of all hon. Members. I suggest to the Minister that his proposal is not the only way in which he could accomplish his purpose We ought to ask ourselves whether, without too much disturbance to the Minister's financial calculations, there is not some other and better way by which we might, in due time, get rid of the tobacco token without hardship to those who now receive it. I believe that there is such a way.
We must all agree that, sooner or later, this anomaly would have to go, but must we accept the Minister's idea of doing it in one fell swoop, with all the great hardship inevitably caused by it, to this section of people? Could we not temper the wind to these shorn lambs by extending the period over which abolition might be effected? Could we not accept the idea which I am about to suggest, which would give the Minister his result, but not immediately?
Instead of abolishing the tobacco token for everybody when the Bill becomes law, why not put a ban against new applicants for the tokens? Let those who are now in receipt of tokens work out their short remaining time in receipt of them, but do not add any others who have never yet had them. If we adopted this proposal, it would have the effect that a very considerable part of the £16 million that the right hon. Gentleman intends to save in the first year must continue to be paid. We all know, however, that it would be a rapidly diminishing sum. In the natural course of things old-age pensioners die.
Therefore, from the day that the proposal became law, the amount of money having to be provided for the tobacco tokens—[Interruption.] I do not know why the Financial Secretary to the Treasury thinks that this is a subject fit 214 for sniggering. From the very day that the proposal was passed into law, the amount of money that would have to be provided for tobacco tokens would be a diminishing amount; and as everybody realises, before many years had gone the Minister's objective would be realised and the last recipient of tobacco tokens would have ceased to trouble either the Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)
I was sniggering at the silliness of an hon. Member who does not think that that would take thirty years or more to accomplish.
§ Mr. Paton
Whether that is a relevant observation I do not know, but it does not indicate that the Treasury has the least imagination, sympathy or grasp of what is involved in a question of this kind. Even if it took thirty years, why not do it? Remember that the heavy charge is a heavy charge only at the beginning. As I have pointed out, it would be a diminishing quantity with every month that passed, and a rapidly accelerating diminishing quantity as time went on.
If that is too ambitious a project—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I hope that my hon. Friend will not accept too readily the intervention of the Financial Secretary. I do not know how many old-age pensioners live to be 95, but it cannot be a very large number.
§ Mr. Paton
I was saying that if the Minister considers that that is too ambitious a project, I have an alternative which will meet the worst of the need. It is that if my suggestion cannot be applied to all old-age pensioners in receipt of tobacco tokens, it should be applied to the much smaller number in receipt of National Assistance. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is better."] It is not better, but it is an alternative.
I do not have the remotest idea what it would cost, but I cannot imagine that the cost would be anything in the neighbourhood of the total cost of applying my suggestion to all retirement pensioners. I hazard a guess—the Financial Secretary may be able to tell me whether it is right or wrong—that the cost would be about £67 million a year. If so, then at least over the first year the cost would be covered by the surplus of income over expenditure resulting from the financial 215 juggling of the Bill. In subsequent years, the cost would rapidly decrease and it could not be said that the cost would be an insuperable obstacle, provided that the Minister has the will to give effect to the suggestion.
I know that I am speaking for every hon. Member when I beg the Minister in this matter to remember the plight of these miserable people—and they are miserable. They are haunted every day by the twin enemies of old people—lack of warmth, and hunger. All they get through National Assistance is an existence level of benefit and to a certain extent they are, therefore, always deprived of comforts and amenities to which all of us are so accustomed that we do not even realise that we have them.
It is for the sake of those people that I ask the Minister to consider at least the alternative proposal and, having thought about it, to implement it on Report.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
I take a rather special interest in this matter since, as has been said several times, it was I who introduced these tokens in my Budget of April, 1947. Very briefly, I want to remind the Committee of the position with which we were then dealing. I had put up the Tobacco Duty by nearly 50 per cent. That was a shock to some people, as I intended it should be, because my purpose was to check smoking and save dollars. I also got much additional revenue, although that was not my primary purpose.
It was reported to me that two Conservatives travelling together in a train said, "This so-and-so has got us whatever we do. If we go on smoking, he will get the money, and if we stop smoking, he will save the dollars." I was rather delighted to have been enabled to create that dilemma for some.
As a result of that steep increase in duty, with the purpose of which there was broad sympathy at that time, the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes rose from 2s. 4d. to 3s. 4d., or, for cheaper brands, from 1s. 9d. to 2s. 6d. I was pressed by a large number of my hon. Friends to seek some means of cushioning that additional burden—admittedly and deliberately a heavy burden if smoking was continued on the 216 previous scale—for old people whose habits by the time they had reached pension age were well formed and who, if they had been smokers for many years, would have felt it a grievous hardship suddenly and sharply to have cut down their consumption of tobacco.
We therefore set about devising a plan by which that cushioning should take place. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), at that time Minister of National Insurance, and his and my officials, went into conclave on the matter. The officials told us that this was an almost impossible idea and they deployed formidable difficulties of many kinds. My right hon. Friend and I listened to them with full understanding—I hope—of the difficulties, and at the end I said to them, "We have listened with great attention to the very clear explanation which you have given of all these great difficulties, but I have great confidence in your administrative ingenuity and in your general ability and knowledge of these matters, and I am sure that, having explained these great difficulties so clearly, you will be able to find a way round them and an answer to them."
It is not always a bad approach for a Minister to speak in that sense. Our confidence was fully justified, because within a few days our officials and advisers brought forward the scheme which it is today being proposed to destroy and in defence of which I am speaking.
The tobacco token scheme which we have had for ten years has brought great comfort and satisfaction to literally millions of old people, and has been a humane adjustment of our tax law which was bearing very hard and grievously on a certain section of the community. It has always been open to argument that this scheme was anomalous and peculiar and that, while it might serve a transitory purpose, it should not be part of our long-term tax pattern.
I confess that it has always been open to argument that the scheme might be abolished, either in one operation, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton) suggested, in a graduated operation. The essential proviso has been that when this benefit was removed from a section of the people particularly grateful for it 217 and appreciative of it, it should be merged into some substantial and general increase of benefit. I say at once that if the Minister had brought forward a Bill increasing old-age pensions, as we have proposed, by £1 a week, we should have looked at this proposal with a slightly more tolerant eye.
I will not labour the simple arithmetic constantly put forward by my hon. Friends, that the Government are offering only 10s. generally and only 5s. to people on National Assistance and that it is totally wrong, disproportionate and socially unjust to snatch away this 2s. 4d. at this time. It may be done at another time and against another and more generous background, but it is totally unjustifiable against the present background and in relation to this especially mean Bill.
I want to deal with some of the arguments used to justify taking the decision now. In particular, I want to refer to the argument used by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, whom I am glad to see in his place as I warned him that I would refer to this matter, in his observation on 13th November, when he was moving the Financial Resolution.
I will quote in a moment what the Financial Secretary said, so that we can judge what meaning should be attached to the words he used, but before I do so I wish to say that I take them to mean that the hon. Gentleman is charging the old people with massive cheating and deception. That is how I interpret the words which he used, and he will no doubt correct me if he thinks that his words bear another interpretation. What he said was this:It was a complicated scheme, difficult to work out and expensive to operate. It costs about £125,000 a year to operate the scheme.These are the words of which I morally complain:When it came into force about 1,400,000 retirement pensioners benefited from it, about 40 per cent. of the total. That figure has now risen to 2,600,000, or 54 per cent. It is a remarkable but little noticed sociological fact that the proportion of habitual smokers among retirement pensioners has risen from 40 per cent. to 54 per cent. over the last ten years. Or has it? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 1088–9.]I judge that to be a sour little sneer, a dirty little smear, against large numbers of the old folk from whom these 218 tokens are now to be snatched away. I say that there is no great difficulty in explaining, without imputing deceit or humbug to any of the old people, the increase in the percentage, and I will offer some reasons why I say that. There is no difficulty in explaining the substantial increase in the percentage over these ten years.
In the first place, at the beginning of the ten years, it was a new and unfamiliar procedure. I have no doubt at all that in the first year a large number of the old people who were fully entitled to these tokens did not realise it or did not know how to obtain them. That will explain why, at the beginning, the proportion of old people claiming was unexpectedly and unreasonably low. Many people should have got them right from the start, but did not claim for some time. That is the first reason.
Gradually, as years passed, the procedure became more familiar, and a smaller number can be deducted on grounds of ignorance of what they were entitled to. That is one factor, and the second is this. The total number of old people has, of course, gone up over the period. Roughly, the number of old-age pensioners has gone up from 3½ million ten years ago to 4,800,000 today, and new age groups in ten successive annual stages have come within the ambit of the concession.
Everybody knows that within the age groups now just coming into entitlement to the old-age pension, the habit of smoking, whether good or bad, has been steadily growing through many decades. Women have been joining in in great numbers within the memory of all of us. Therefore, each new annual age group entering the scheme can be expected to bring with it a larger percentage of habitual smokers, and if we carry on this process over the ten years we shall find a substantial increase in the percentage of habitual smokers among old-age pensioners as a whole.
This is quite simple arithmetic, and I must say that it is very wrong, in my view, for this insinuation to be made by a Minister who should be looking at this matter rather more dispassionately, and who, after all, was once a professor of Greek. The hon. Gentleman ought to have gone into this with a little more intellectual analysis than by just flinging 219 vague accusations against large numbers of old folk.
Let me, by way of emphasising what I have said about the gradual increase in the habit of smoking, recall that ten years ago, when this scheme was instituted, the people now just becoming entitled to the old age pension, were men of 55 and women of 50. Who, with any knowledge of social habits, will deny that in that group there would certainly be a much larger percentage of habitual smokers than in the earlier group, the men of 65 and the women of 60? Everybody knows that that must be so, and, therefore, I do not think that there is any difficulty at all in explaining this increase.
The Financial Secretary, in the words that he used and in the sneering tone in which he used them, has insulted many old people by insinuating that a large number of them have been cheating the Treasury. He said, in effect, that in his considered judgment, with all the resources of his own intellect and of the Treasury at his disposal, he had come to the conclusion that a large number of our old people are cheats. I have no doubt that at the next General Election that phrase will be placarded all over South-West Wolverhampton, and will be tied to his tail like a tin can.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I am very sorry for the old-age pensioners that the decision has been taken to do away with the tobacco tokens, because I fully realise what a great pleasure and comfort they have been to many of them, both men and women, who have had that little concession and have been able, for some considerable time, to have made use of them. I know how irritated they will be, and I sympathise with them.
I should like to make one comment, in passing, on what the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) has just said. I think it very remarkable that more old-age pensioners have not claimed this privilege, because there always has been, and quite rightly, too, a great grievance among those who did not feel that they could honourably claim the tokens that they could not have the equivalent in small comforts. That has gone on for a very long time, and I sympathise with them, too.
I now want to say a word or two about the initiation of the tobacco tokens. The 220 right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has announced that he put this additional tax on tobacco to stop the drain on our dollar reserves, but, of course, I also remember the right hon. Gentleman saying that he met every demand on the Treasury with a song in his heart—
§ Mr. Dalton
The hon. Lady may as well put that good phrase in its right context. What I said was—and I was dealing with the areas which had been intolerably distressed under Tory rule—that when I succeeded in getting provisions to steer new industry into those areas, very early in my career as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would meet every demand for finance to establish new industries and new employment in those areas with a song in my heart.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but, of course, he had no right whatever to claim that song, because the establishment of trading estates in those areas, which was the basis of the proposal, came from a Conservative Government. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman—and I apologise if that was the song he sang, but I am entitled to give my reply—that we have just had the 21st birthday of the Team Valley Trading Estate, when a plaque was placed on the administrative offices, where the first sod was cut in 1936?
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am not going to get out of order, Sir Charles, but I am not going to allow the right hon. Gentleman to sail away with his insinuations. He is always trying to claim that he has done everything for the North-East Coast, which is just sheer nonsense and humbug. If he did not have a song in his heart over giving tobacco tokens to the old-age pensioners he should have done, because by increasing the tobacco tax he imposed a very great burden upon the old-age pensioners.
221 All I want to point out is that my complaint against the Socialist Government and the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, as a Socialist Chancellor, is that whatever they did they never had the money in the Treasury to meet the obligations of their legislation. The right hon. Gentleman nut that tax on tobacco at that time not only for the purpose of stopping the drain on our dollar resources, but also because the Treasury was beginning to get extremely hard up for money.
§ Mr. Dalton
Either these remarks are in order or they are not, Sir Charles. So long as you allow them to be made I judge that I have the right, briefly and tersely, to reply. The hon. Lady alleges that at the time the tobacco tax was increased there was no money in the Treasury, but at that time I had a surplus of £248 million for the financial year.
§ The Chairman
I have a point of order first. If we try to keep the debate to the subject which is before the Committee we shall get on much better.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The right hon. Gentleman gave a detailed explanation of his action, but he failed to point out that there were no tobacco tokens for the sick, or for the war disabled, or for the industrially injured, or for the widows who were not drawing retirement pensions but had to pay excessive contributions in order to get those retirement pensions when they reached the appropriate age, or for the spinsters who were still struggling to earn their living and needed to pay for their stamps before they obtained their retirement pensions, or over a very wide field of people who were also entitled to them. Part of the trouble has been that for a very long time there has been a feeling among the sick, industrially injured, war disabled, police pensioners, Civil Service pensioners, Post Office pensioners and railway superannuitants, that not only were they deprived of their little bit of cherishing but that they had to contribute to the cherishing of other people.
This turned into a very human problem. I wish that we could have found some way of meeting the difficulty without producing an injustice in respect of 222 those old-age pensioners who had been drawing tobacco tokens. I want to say, with all the emphasise at my command, that, although old-age pensioners may have got their little comfort from tobacco tokens, consideration was not given to the men who were industrially injured, the men and women who were sick—particularly the men, because they smoke more than women—and whose families were reduced to sickness benefit, and those men who, deprived of doing their daily job, would have dearly loved to have tobacco tokens so as to get that little bit of comfort which other people had. The Socialist Government were always in such an unholy muddle that they had to make discriminations, and when they did so they discriminated against whole groups of equally worthy people.
I tell hon. Members opposite quite straight that I am absolutely tired of hearing them talk as if they were the only people who had any regard for or understanding of the problems of the aged, the sick, the war disabled and the rest.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The Government of my party have done much more for the old-age pensioners and the disabled, sick and industrially injured than anything ever done by hon. Members opposite, and it is about time that I said so. I am saying it now so that it will be completely and absolutely understood.
§ Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
On a point of order. Must we continue to listen to this diatribe when the important subject of old-age pensions is being discussed?
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
Did you not call on my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard), Sir Charles?
§ Dame Irene Ward
I shall not take very much longer. You would not want to deprive me of having a bat at my own Government, would you, Sir Charles?
The saving to the Treasury on these tobacco tokens is quite considerable. I want to tell my right hon. Friend that I hope plans will be so thought out that we shall be able to use the money that we save to put all old-age pensioners in an equal position. This money should be used to meet the position of those living on small fixed incomes. I hope that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench will remember that. At the same time, I hope that they will sweep away the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and blow him out of his seat on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Thomas Hubbard (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
I do not wish to say anything unkind about the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward). I must be allowed to keep my feelings about it to myself. I consider it ungentlemanly to say anything unkind to the hon. Lady, so I will leave that task to some of my colleagues who are better fitted than I am for that kind of thing.
One point that must be mentioned, however, is that the hon. Lady failed to grasp that everybody upon reaching retirement age, and being qualified for retirement pension, enjoyed the benefit of the tobacco tokens scheme which the Government are now seeking to end.
I ought to state that I am addressing the Committee with the sanction of the National Old-Aged Pensioners' Association, and that my purpose is to express, on its behalf, the feelings of its members upon this matter. I have met them and I have been refreshed by the meeting. Officially, they have been able to give me their views.
The Committee must not forget that the old-age pensioners are the proudest people in the country. Many of them worked for a long time in industry for low wages in conditions of insecurity, and they are not people who, at any time during their lives, have enjoyed concessions. There are people today who are anxious to give them concessions. The old folk have a right to an adequate pension because of the contribution that they have 224 made to the economy of the country. The provision of such a pension would remove the need for any concession at all. I am sure that a great many people, including hon. Members on this side of the Committee, share that feeling.
The old-age pensioners welcomed the action taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) when he introduced the tobacco tokens. May I say, in passing, that it is refreshing to hear my right hon. Friend speaking again from the Front Bench? I wish that we could hear more contributions from him and less from some hon. Members opposite. I hope that we may hear him speak from the Government Dispatch Box at an early date. When my right hon. Friend gave that concession it was something in addition to the basic pension being drawn at that time, and the National Old-Aged Pensioners' Association expressed the gratitude of its members for that concession to my right hon. Friend and the Government of the day. The basic pension had then been lifted from 10s. to 26s. a week and at that time was reasonably adequate to, meet the needs of the recipients.
My right hon. Friend had realised that the heavy increase in the cost of tobacco—which I did not welcome at the time, because I am a heavy smoker—was likely to affect most those less able to afford the increased cost of smoking. The concession was deeply appreciated by the old-age pensioners, but at no time either then or since have the old-age pensioners agreed that they ought to have a concession. All along they have argued that they should receive an adequate pension, and they do not depart from that argument now.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The hon. Member was very fair when he said that the pension of 26s. a week was reasonably adequate. Is he suggesting that the National Old-Aged Pensioners' Association considers that it was reasonably adequate at the time, because the present purchasing power of the new pension is higher in real terms and, therefore, the pension now is higher than it has ever been before?
§ Mr. Hubbard
I am not to be shoved aside by that sort of statement. I can quote the experiences of old-age pensioners. I have visited them frequently. 225 We all know the cost of a bag of coal and I ask the hon. Member to visit these people during the next cold spell, when they are sitting shivering in their homes, and ask whether they are as comfortable now as they were when their pension was increased from 10s. to 26s. They are the people who, in my opinion, are most likely to know.
My argument today is not against the removal of the concession, because I still feel that old-age pensioners are entitled to consider themselves independent of concessions. They have their own pension rights and they should not be dependent on concessions, although I give full credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland for taking the action which he did. My complaint is that today the position is completely reversed. The Minister has removed the concession and, at the same time, he is cutting National Assistance by 5s. He has not removed the tobacco tokens at a time when pensioners can feel that their pensions are reasonably adequate.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Is not the hon. Gentleman misrepresenting the position? Is it not a fact that my right hon. Friend has, in effect, accepted the most recent decision of the National Assistance Board and did not the right hon. Friends of the hon. Member set up that Board in its present form?
§ Mr. Hubbard
When we accept a decision of the National Assistance Board we must accept it as it is, or reject it. We cannot complain here about the figure, and the hon. Member must confine himself to matters with which we can deal in this Committee.
§ Mr. Hubbard
Let me finish the point. The National Old Aged Pensioners' Association sent a deputation to London to make representations to the National Assistance Board and it proved completely that the sum decided upon by the Board was absolutely inadequate. Some hon. Members on this side of the Committee went with the deputation and heard the argument advanced, and heard the deputation complimented by the Chairman of the Assistance Board on the way those arguments were presented. There 226 is no question about the Association being dissatisfied with the Assistance Board's supplementation.
I regret that we have not heard more speeches from hon. Members opposite. It may well be that they are either ashamed or afraid to speak. In the absence of such speeches we must draw our own conclusions. The Minister has decided to bring in a Bill to increase pensions and it is stated in the White Paper that there would be an increase for a single pensioner of from 40s. to 50s. There is also a reduction in the amount of National Assistance, which means that the increase is only 5s. At this time the Minister has chosen to remove the tobacco concession, which means that old-age pensioners who smoke are left with an increase of 2s. 8d.
We should not complain so much about the action of the Minister were he introducing a Bill which contained provisions to meet the needs of the pensioners. But it is the method which has been adopted and the timing of the removal of these tokens to which we object, because of the hardship it will cause to these old people. No one is more entitled to a smoke than the old-age pensioners. Other people are receiving benefits which are temporary, such as sickness and unemployment benefits, and I have never heard them complain that the old-age pensioners were getting preferential treatment over tobacco tokens.
I am able to say, with the approval of the National Association, that no complaint would have been made about the withdrawal of the tobacco concession had a like sum been added even to the 10s. by which the Minister proposes to increase the pension. I consider that to be a far better way of solving the difficulty than any which has been so far suggested. Having regard to the things he has said about his desire to help the old-age pensioners, the Minister might have increased the figure to 12s. 6d. and then I for one would not have been sorry to see the tobacco concession removed. That would have been a much fairer way of dealing with the matter.
No one is happy about what is sometimes called a "hand-out". A concession is a hand-out, something given to people not as of right but to help them during a 227 time of difficulty. To depend upon handouts and coupons is soul destroying. I have no shame in telling the Committee that I can speak on this matter from personal experience.
In 1926, in common with all miners, I was locked out. My employers refused to continue my employment on the conditions that had been negotiated between miners and mine owners. I was disqualified, along with everybody else, from drawing unemployment benefit. Having a wife and two children, I qualified for public assistance.
We were compelled to live on 11s. a week. That would have been bad enough had it been paid in cash, but the amount was given in the form of a voucher. It gave us the experience of concessions, tokens and coupons. When my wife went out to buy groceries, the grocer had to go to other shops and purchase her meat and bread for her. We got no change from those vouchers, which had to be spent in one shop. We could not go from one shop to another to purchase what we wanted. That horrible experience we had for seven months.
§ Mrs. Alice Cullen (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Does my hon. Friend remember how he could purchase from only one store?
§ Mr. Hubbard
Yes, I do. People do not like going back to recall their experiences, but we are entitled to do so because we know that no section of the community likes concessions or tokens. It would be much simpler for the Government to give the old-age pensioners what they ask for, an adequate pension.
Any Government supporter can test the adequacy of the pension if he cares to start from scratch with the old-age pensioners and try to live on the basic pension, even combined with National Assistance, for a period of months, with many things requiring replacement, clothes wearing out, with too much filler food to eat, and not enough protein, without a fire and without enough natural energy to generate heat. Those are the circumstances in which many of the pensioners live.
It is tragic to realise that on more than one occasion in Scotland last year an old-age pensioner who could not buy coal used pennies in the gas meter so as to 228 enjoy the heat from the gas cooker. That led to more than one tragedy, because the gas went off but they forgot the tap. When they put their next penny in, they were gassed. That is realism. We do not need figures to prove that those things have happened. It is within the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman that they have happened.
We would have accepted the abolition of concessions because the old-age pensioners are proud people who feel that they have the right to an adequate pension. I am very proud indeed that my hon. Friends have pledged themselves that, upon the return of a Socialist Government, they will give an adequate pension to these people and that there will be no further question of concessions.
I do not want to speak for too long, but I would recall that my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton) said that old-age pensioners died. That is tragically true. We all die. So do Governments.
§ Mr. Hubbard
Yes, and I shall not feel entirely happy until after the burial service. I was chastised yesterday from this side of the House because I said that I believed that many Tories individually were kindly people. I believe that is true. I said I had found them so individually, but that, unfortunately, collectively, it was like trying to wring blood out of a stone to get them to do anything. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) said rather strong words about me, but I still think I am right. Individually, many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government side have sympathy with the Scottish Old-Aged Pensioners' Association. So has the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth.
§ Mr. Hubbard
Yes, and that is just the answer. They will do that again tonight, although I hope that I shall be proved wrong.
I appeal to the Minister. He could easily give these matters further consideration and come back on Report with Amendments. To accept the Amendment 229 now before the Committee would do no harm to the finances of the country and to refuse it will not rescue the Government from economic bankruptcy. I am satisfied that if the right hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to find out the real position of the old people he would not have withdrawn the tobacco token.
I have listened to the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary. On more than one occasion she has, unfortunately, suggested that old people did not spend their money as wisely as they should. I have heard her say that she thought the pension was adequate to the needs of the old-age pensioners at this time.
§ Mr. Hubbard
The hon. Lady even cited her father as an example. She said that her father told her that he was delighted to get £2 for nothing. Most old-age pensioners get the pension in respect of their contributions and not for nothing. I was very sorry to hear the hon. Lady making remarks like that about old-age pensioners. I heard her talking about betting on horses and making other bets. I do not know whether old-age pensioners make bets or not, but I am satisfied that an old-age pensioner's monthly bet would not worry the "bookie," whichever way it went.
Let the Minister, in the dying days of the Tory Government, do something which will help to support the self-respect of the oldest and poorest section of the community.
§ Mr. Gower
I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) has addressed himself very widely to this subject and embarked on an extensive survey of the whole question. All I should like to observe is that, whatever defects there are in the administration of this Government, I assert without fear of contradiction that the performance of this Government has been incomparably better than that of the party opposite.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
When we came into power the pension for an old couple was £1 a week—10s. for the man and 10s. for the woman. In 1946 we increased it to 42s.
§ Mr. Gower
The comparable figure of 10s. was increased to 26s., which represents an increase of 16s. That represented, not the leeway to be made up for a few years, but the leeway of the whole period of the war. When my right hon. Friend's proposals become law we shall have increased the pension for all pensioners, except those affected by National Assistance Board grants—for four out of five pensioners—by a sum which, inadequate though it may be, will exceed by a considerable sum the total increases granted by the party opposite.
That is an unanswerable fact. I know that hon. Members opposite make much bigger play of these matters than my hon. Friends did when they were in office. There are honourable exceptions, but many hon. Members opposite have used this question as a matter of party politics. That has been shown by the withdrawal of many old-age pensioners from their branches because they feel they have become too political. Whatever may be said, the performance of successive Ministers in this Government, on the figures I have quoted, has been incomparably better than the performance of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Hubbard
I wonder if the hon. Member remembers the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Bill of 1940, passed by his right hon. Friends, which gave an increase to old-age pensioners of 9s. totally tied up with the means test and with not a penny increase on the basic pension? That was during the war.
§ Mr. Gower
My comparison was not between the Government of 1940 and later Governments, but between the two Governments—the Labour Government, which had six and a half years in power, and this Government, which has had six and a half years in power. That is 231 a much more appropriate comparison, because the party opposite has shed crocodile tears about this matter and made political capital out of the hardships of many decent people. The hon. Member knows that he was misleading the Committee in suggesting that my right hon. Friend has given a single pension.
§ Mr. Gower
I will give way in a moment. My right hon. Friend has followed the recommendations of the National Assistance Board, which was set up in its present form by the party opposite. It is open to the hon. Member to submit that the Board was set up in an inadequate way.
The party opposite is really asserting that Assistance scales should have the same increase as the increase in pensions. I do not demur that if the Board had been given powers for that purpose that might well have been the case, but surely the fact that the increases in pension given by my right hon. Friend exceed the recommendations of increases by the National Assistance Board is itself proof that my right hon. Friend is giving an increased pension beyond that which is warranted by the scales laid down by the Board.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) said that he was giving way to me. Does not the hon. Member addressing the Committee have a chance to hear my question?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) will have his turn. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) caught my eye.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubbard
The hon. Member for Barry accused me of misleading the Committee in regard to the National Assistance Board. I do not think he knows much about the circumstances of the National Assistance Board. In fact, the Board is reported on from time to time and its duties are clearly defined. From time to time it gives advice to the Minister on the amount of National Assistance. Recommendations from the Board 232 brought to this House can be either rejected completely or accepted by the House. That is the job of the Board, so there was no misrepresentation so far as I was concerned.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Has not the hon. Member for Barry done his right hon. Friend the Minister the favour of at least reading his speech on this question? The Minister made it clear that it is a matter of policy for him to narrow the gap between the basic rate and Assistance rates.
§ Mr. Thomas
The Minister has spoken about it. The hon. Member for Barry needs to remember that the Minister has taken full responsibility and must take responsibility for what the Assistance Board does. The fact that the Chairman of the Board is a former Tory Member of Parliament is not without significance.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) replies, may I ask him, in the course of his reply, which I am sure will be most cogent and objective, to say whether the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) meant that the gap had been widened or had been narrowed? Which did he mean? He cannot have it both ways at one and the same time.
§ Mr. Gower
I will give way in a short time, but I want to say a few words myself. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said that the effect of the action of the Minister is to narrow the gap. Of course that may happen from time to time, but the fact is that the Minister has increased pensions by a very substantial amount, which may be compared with previous increases and with what the party opposite failed to grant.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) agreed in effect that the difference in the new Assistance 233 scales certainly lowered the effect of the new basic pension. If that is so, can we have an assurance that when the National Assistance scales are debated we shall have the assistance of the hon. Member in raising them?
§ Mr. Gower
The hon. Member did not hear my previous remarks. I said that my right hon. Friend had accepted the recommendation of the National Assistance Board. In a few months, if there are reasons, the National Assistance Board can certainly make another recommendation to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member will recall that there have been far more increases in Assistance scales than those which have necessitated legislation of this kind.
In reply to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs, who made such a lot of capital out of what he professed to be the inadequacy of these proposals, I should point out that this has never been a living pension. Although hon. Members opposite in some mysterious way pretend that a person could live on 26s. a week when they were in office, we know that it has never been a living pension. I do not doubt that in different circumstances we could have a sum of money payable to all aged people which would be adequate to their needs. In some countries that has been attempted, but it is significant that in many countries where that happens the payment is not enjoyed as of right but is given to persons who have less than a certain figure of income. We have attempted to do it for everyone, irrespective of means. If, in the view of the party opposite, the pension is sufficient, why was the Assistance Board retained? If the pension were enough to live on, why did the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) want to have the National Assistance Board?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I appreciate that. I think it would facilitate the debate if the Committee bore in mind exactly what we are discussing. It is the Amendment on the Notice Paper. I hope hon. Members will try to relate their speeches as closely as possible to that Amendment.
§ Mr. Gower
In conclusion, I should like my right hon. Friend when he replies to explain whether in assessing these scales he did or did not take careful account of the value of the tobacco concession which has been withdrawn. It seems to me that had he done it on a slightly different technical basis, had he given, for example, an increase of 8s. 6d. instead of 10s. and the balance in lieu of tobacco to all pensioners, some of these criticisms would not have been forthcoming to the same degree. On the other hand, that might not have been the case. Whatever the shortcomings of my right hon. Friend's proposals, whatever the shortcomings of his predecessors proposals, they are and have been immeasurably superior to anything done by the party opposite.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I have always thought that there is not a great deal of merit in bandying arguments across the Committee when we are discussing a matter of such very great concern to so many people in this country. The only observation I would make on the comments of the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) is that maybe quite unwittingly he has insulted a good many of my colleagues and myself and that when he attributes to us alone political motives in the arguments we advance on behalf of old-age pensioners, he is really not being strictly accurate.
I have been a member of the Old-Age Pensioners' Association since its inception. I have tried in all the years I have been connected with it, since before the war, to help these people to organise themselves so that they can establish certain rights within the community. I have done so because I have seen the hardships suffered before the war by the old people and I was determined that anything that might lie within my power to do to help would be placed at their disposal. I regret that the hon. Member for Barry could not give us just one or two minutes of his time to hear the reply I am making to him.
I was most interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard), who speaks with a deep sincerity and great emotion on matters which concern old-age pensioners. We attach considerable weight to the arguments he advances. I hope that the appeal he has made to the Minister today will not have fallen on deaf ears 235 and that he will give it due consideration. We on this side of the Committee hope that he will accept the Amendment.
I want to recall to the mind of those hon. Members in the Committee today, and particularly to the mind of those who were in the Committee when the tobacco duty concession was first made, the circumstances in which it was granted. It was, let us admit, a unique concession. Members of the Committee at that time were pleading with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) to make all sorts of concessions to all sorts of people. It was a unique concession, because it was made at a unique time and on a unique occasion.
I would remind the Committee that this concession was granted in April, 1947. We had just come out of a terrible war, a war which had left this country bankrupt, to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). Those are not the words of any Socialist. Those words are on record in the diary of Henry Morgenthau, who was the American Secretary of State. That was the circumstance in which we found ourselves in Britain at that time.
It is rather interesting to note, too, that even prior to that the United States of America thought that the advent of a Socialist Government in this country was the appropriate moment to deprive us of lend-lease aid. So we were in the grip of the almighty dollar, and my right hon. Friend was in grave difficulty to find the necessary dollars wherewith to sustain the life of this country. Searching around for means whereby he could discourage people from buying commodities that required dollar expenditure, he chose, among those items, an increase in the tobacco duty to discourage people from smoking.
I was the Member—and that is why I have sought to catch your eye, Sir William—who put this idea into the mind of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, and I would quote from the speech I made on 17th April, 1947. It was following that speech that my right hon. Friend was good enough to say that he would give due consideration to the observations I had made and see whether it was possible to make this 236 concession to the old folk. It was, therefore, in circumstances of great difficulty. I remember being extremely critical of the then Chancellor on what I characterised as being the vicious tax that he had placed upon tobacco.
At that time, let us remind ourselves, he increased the price of cigarettes of the poorer qualities from 1s. 9d. to 2s. 6d. and from 2s. 4d. to 3s. 4d. This commodity has taken a number of increases since then, very largely due to the cost of the tobacco leaf itself. This would seem to indicate that rather than establishing a case for the removal of this concession for the old folk the case for its retention is strengthened unless the Government are prepared to make better provision for the old-age pensioners, which would enable them to meet these increased charges without any undue hardship being placed upon them.
I remember calling the attention of the Committee at that time to the fact that we were dealing with a population—a male population in particular—which had become so accustomed to the habit of smoking that it was well-nigh impossible for them to break it. I always said that one of the reasons why Chancellors increased tax on tobacco was because they knew that they were dealing with a habit which it was almost impossible to break. We would see a decline in consumption, perhaps for two months, and then consumption would start soaring again.
I said at that time:My final point is this. Other hon. Members have mentioned the extreme penal action which this will inflict upon the old people who are drawing old-age pensions. I really cannot accept the view that it is impossible to make provision whereby they could get their bit of tobacco at a cheaper rate. I admit that a system of concessions would have to watertight, but what is against the issue of vouchers with the pensioner's pension book, enabling him to obtain tobacco at a cheaper rate on surrender of the vouchers?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1947; Vol. 436, c. 376.]Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, I do not believe that it was ever envisaged by anyone that this concession would have to be continued in perpetuity. Not one of us had such a thought in his mind. It was an expedient to meet a given set of circumstances at the time.
It is noteworthy to find that, contrary to all belief, there has not been any very 237 great abuse of the privilege. My own opinion is that, if Members were even more careful about signing the declarations on tobacco concession forms, there would probably be not even such abuse as we do know to exist in a few instances. I have said before in the House that I consider there is a responsibility on Members of Parliament who sign the forms clearly to bring to the attention of those on whose behalf they are signing exactly what is involved. Nevertheless, it has been admitted in the Committee today that the abuse is so small as to be almost infinitesimal.
If the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance had had in his mind that the time had come to abolish this concession, he should have paid greater attention to the amount to which the old-age pension could be increased before deciding finally to abolish it. I will not argue with hon. Gentlemen opposite who try to suggest that their Government rather than ours has given the most substantial increase in old-age pensions. It is clearly on the record that the first increase given, given by the Labour Government of 1945, was the greatest single act of social insurance we have ever seen in this country. It was, moreover, far in excess of anything recommended by the Beveridge Report at the time.
Our duty as a House of Commons is clear. It is certainly our duty as an Opposition to do our best to secure that the economy of the country is so organised that it can make adequate provision for people when they reach old age, and there can be very few hon. Members even on the benches behind the Government who really believe that we are making adequate provision today for our old people. It was for that reason that I intervened to support the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton), sustained by my right hon. Friend who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time the concession was introduced.
I appeal to the Minister now to reconsider the matter. In all the circumstances, his proposal does seem to be rather mean. I am not one to say that the Minister has necessarily an attitude of mind that one would characterise as mean. I have talked about these matters with him. Indeed, after the conversations I have had with him, I am all the more surprised that he 238 has brought his proposal before us. We appeal to him to reconsider it. For the amount of money he will save for the Treasury, he will cause quite unnecessary hardship to those who ought still to be recipients.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
The Minister will agree, I think, that the arguments put from this side have made a very powerful case. I have listened to all the speeches, I think, and I hope he has noticed that no one has said that, in principle, we believe that this type of concession is the sort of way old-age pensioners should be treated. Every single person has said that, in principle, of course, there should be a money payment sufficient to enable pensioners to buy a decent standard of living. The whole case that we put has been that it is outrageous to withdraw a concession in the kind of package deal the Minister is providing in the Bill.
I would emphasise one point made in the very moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard). The fact is that this concession has been, in the course of ten years, built into the standard of living of millions of old-age pensioners—it now forms part of their standard of living—and if it is taken away their standard of living is thereby cut. It is a cut of 2s. 4d. a week to an enormous number of pensioners who have been accustomed to it.
I put this question to the Minister. Is it his view that an increase of 7s. 8d. in old-age pensions was the right increase? If that is his view, why has he made it 10s.? If he thinks that 10s. is the right amount, why not candidly and openly give 10s. and then say, "I am, in addition, removing the tobacco concession and, therefore, giving an extra 2s. 4d."? He really must answer and say which is the correct increase in this package deal.
I speak as someone who has purged himself of the habit over twelve months, but clearly those who smoke regularly will, after this, deny themselves 2s. 4d. worth of essential food or something else in order to continue smoking. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that the narrowness of the means of the old-age pensioner is such that a cut of 2s. 4d. is a devastating shock. If a man has to cut 2s. 4d. from his essential expenditure, as most of them will do in order to continue smoking, he will be driven even 239 nearer to the starvation level; and the right hon. Gentleman insists that he is legislating for people who are at the edge of destitution. That applies to a large number of old-age pensioners, and it is no exaggeration to say it. Everyone knows the ghastly fact that very many pensioners, not only those taking National Assistance, are very near the poverty line. In this connection, I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton) that to suggest that the concession could be left only to those who receive National Assistance is to neglect the fact that there are many not taking National Assistance who are in fact as entitled to it as those who are. Therefore, if we gave it to those on National Assistance, we should be denying it to those who are proud—and pride is a virtue we should not underrate in this country today—not to take National Assistance.
Does the Minister say it is 7s. 8d. or 10s.? if it is 7s. 8d. let us have it down. I will tell the Committee why he did not make it 7s. 8d. If he had done so, everyone would then have known that this was a swindle. The artfulness of the Bill was to make the increase sound a good, round sum. "Ten bob" sounds quite a lot until one calculates what the subtractions are for smoking and for rent.
I will put the question to the Minister in another form. The key to the case was given in his speech on 13th November, when he said, as we all agree, that the tobacco concession would at some time have to be abolished. But he went on to say:Therefore, for some time we have held the view that this concession should be brought to an end, but it could in fact be fairly and sensibly brought to an end only at a time when substantial increases were being given in the rates of benefit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1957; Vol. 403, c. 982.]I accept those words. The key question we are discussing is, has there been a substantial increase in benefit sufficient to justify the withdrawal of the concession?
In this connection, I should like to draw attention to the rather remarkable article which appeared in The Times on 7th November, in which the pension increases were analysed. The Times came to the conclusion that the aim of the Minister was not to make any substantial increase at all but exactly to restore the 240 purchasing power or the standard of living of pensioners to that which they enjoyed for the first time in 1946. Both the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary are trying to pretend that pensioners are 5s. or 6s. better off than they were in 1946. That can be suggested only if one neglects the tobacco concession and neglects the increases in rent. It is no good saying that they are covered by National Assistance, because there are many pensioners who do not take National Assistance and for whom the increases in rent are a real burden.
Since he does not like my figures, I will read to the Minister what was said in The Times leading article. Let him try and argue with this.An index of 'working-class' living costs, allowing for big rent increases, suggests that pensions of the 1946 real value would have to amount to 47s. (single) and 76s. 6d. (couple) in 1958. The rates proposed are 50s. and 80s.The difference is 3s. and 3s. 6d.The higher figures have come about because the Government, in addition to making the adjustment to higher prices, have had the courage to abolish the tobacco subsidy for pensioners who happen (or claim) to be smokers…What does that mean? It means that, if we take the tobacco concession into account, the pensioner is precisely 8d. better off in 1957 than he was in 1946. That is what it means in terms of standard of living. Therefore, this famous substantial improvement is, as I said on the Second Reading, a swindle. It is simply not true, and the Minister knows that it is not true.
The Times quite rightly says that the Minister is no fool. He can add up. He knows that what he has done is to restore the standard of living of the pensioner to what it was in 1946. The standard of living is not the only question. There are other things to consider besides the standard of living. If all the Minister has done is to restore the standard of living of 1946, then to deny a concession which was made as an addition to the pension rate at a time of special hardship is an outrage to the pensioner.
We must have a serious answer to this question, because we assume that the Government want to make at least a slight improvement in the pensioners' standard of living. I do not believe that the Minister holds the view of the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower)—who I see has 241 left the Chamber after his speech—who said that if we give to the pensioners the standard of living which they enjoyed in 1946 then we have done something princely and it is a great triumph. I do not think the Minister believes that.
The Minister knows quite well that a pensions Bill in 1957 should improve the standard of living of the pensioner and make it substantially better than it was in 1946. I am not ashamed to say that, because everybody on this side of the House knew when we gave the pensioner a subsistence of 26s. in 1946 we could not continue it indefinitely. It was the first pension of its sort, and it was given in a period of great austerity. We knew that as the country became wealthier the slice of national cake going to the pensioner should get bigger.
The size of the National Debt has gone up by 60 per cent. since 1946. Most people are considerably better off now than they were then. We say to the Minister that it is outrageous to withdraw the tobacco concession as part of a package deal which puts the pensioner just about where he was in living standards in 1946. If the Minister admits that he is wrong, then we shall vote against him and the country will know the issues. I resent the attempt of the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to use the figures to pretend that they have made a sufficiently substantial improvement to justify the removal of the tobacco concession when, in fact, they have not made a substantial improvement at all.
The Minister might be able to deceive the House of Commons, but the old-age pensioners will know quite well what their standard of living is. It will not take them very long to discover whether it is a substantial improvement or not. I noticed that Members on that side of the Committee did not dare to support the withdrawal of the concession because they were afraid that if their constituents read the speeches they would know that it was wrong. That is why there are so many absentees on the Government side. They would rather be out of the Chamber while the Bill is being pushed through by the Minister because nobody would dare to speak in favour of it. All hon. Members opposite know that it is a mean action combined with a clever jockeying of 242 figures by which the Government hope to deceive themselves that they have done something decent for the pensioner when they have done nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I want to reinforce in a few words what I said on the Second Reading of the Bill.
When the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replied to the debate on that occasion, she quoted some words to which I gave expression, namely, when I said that the tobacco token was illogical. That was true. I am still of the same belief. It is illogical because it is unequally applied to the old-age pensioners. Let me quote my exact words:It is not my intention to say very much about the repeal of the tobacco token, which, to me, is the last straw. I am the first to admit that this tobacco token, when it was put upon the Statute Book in 1947, manifested a keen desire to help the old folk.My right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Hugh Dalton) has sustained that. He has told us why the tobacco concession was introduced in 1947, and the Committee knows why he introduced it. Then I went on to say:I know that it is illogical, but I think that taking it off now is inopportune in this sense. In one, two or three years' time, we shall have to consider a comprehensive pensions scheme. Whether it comes from that side of the House or this, we shall be forced into that situation, and in my judgment it would have been much better if we had allowed the tobacco tokens to remain for that period and to have removed them when the comprehensive scheme was put before the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 1041.]I am still of the opinion that the time is inopportune to remove this concession, and it is causing great resentment among the old-age pensioners.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard), I, too, move about the branches of the Old-Age Pensioners' Association, and I can say truthfully that never once in the thousands of branches I have visited has the Old-Age Pensioners' Association said anything about concessions. They do not want them. The old people and, I think, every reasonably minded man and woman, too, want a pension commensurate with a decent standard of life without any padding. But in a society where we are handing out a little concession here or a little concession there, we are missing the objective at which we should be aiming. It will not do. Society 243 is making an entirely wrong approach to pensions. What the pensioners are saying is, "It is about time all these little concessions came to an end. Give us an adequate pension upon which to live and you can have all the concessions." We have met that attitude before.
One of my hon. Friends on this side of the House brought forward a Private Bill to give concessions for cheaper bus fares, cheaper cinema tickets and cheaper football tickets, but these do not cut any ice when we consider the obligation resting upon the Committee. Is it an opportune time to remove the tobacco concession? In my judgment, it is not. When there is put before the Committee a comprehensive pension scheme which satisfies me that the basic pension is adequate for a decent standard of life, then I would be the first to vote for taking the concession away because it will give a greater degree of satisfaction to the old folk if they could have the pension which they are demanding and to which they are justly entitled.
Strong feelings have been expressed in this debate, and there is much bitterness in the letters that I have received this morning. I ask the Minister to have another look at this case to see whether he cannot allow the concession to continue for one, two or three years, as the case may be, and then, when we have the opportunity to get down to the realities of the situation of our pensioners, we shall be the first to help him to remove the concession. But be it remembered that if this is being done—and I sincerely hope that it is not being done on this side of the Committee—for purposes of political propaganda, I shall not be a party to it.
We ought not to indulge in matters of this kind in a search for political kudos. The question is: are we doing right? Are we acting honestly? Are we treating the old folks as they ought to be treated? I believe that if the Minister would examine the few things I have mentioned he would come to the conclusion that the time is not opportune to remove the concession. Let us wait for a year or two, until the comprehensive scheme comes before the House which will abolish all desire and all thought of any concessions being given to a worthy set of people by conceding a decent basic pension.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
On a point of order, Sir William. I wonder whether I might intimate to you that some of us may want to take part in this debate and that, therefore, the Minister might, perhaps, wait.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
On that point of order, may I be allowed to do now what I would in any case have done in the course of my speech, and that is to make an appeal to the Committee? We have a great deal of work before us, and we are still on the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) last night. We have much work to do on many extremely important issues before we separate tonight.
I hope that I shall not have to ask the Committee to sit until an uncomfortably late hour; but if we do take so much time over an admittedly important Amendment, among other important Amendments, we shall have to ask the Committee to sit very late, because, hon. Members know, it is absolutely essential that we should get on if the benefits under the Bill are to be paid promptly and punctually.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
It is after 5.20 p.m., Sir William, and some of my hon. Friends, I know, have been waiting since 2.30 p.m. to speak.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is certainly not for me to regulate these matters. Indeed, I have no right or authority to do so. I was only making an appeal, particularly as some of the points raised, such as those dealing with the adequacy or otherwise of the increases, could, I should have thought, be argued at a later stage in this Committee.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is, of course, quite in order for hon. Members to rise and catch the eye of the Chair after the Minister has spoken. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I will not repeat the appeal that I have made. I certainly have no desire to intrude on the rights of the Committee; but this is a Bill, whatever some may think about certain parts of it, that we all want to see become effective as speedily as possible. That 245 can only be done if there is a certain amount of give and take between the two sides—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I hope that the hon. Member will not think that I am being discourteous. It is not for me to regulate the selection of speakers. It is only for me, as the person having responsibility for the progress of the Bill, to try to judge the time, to look forward on the Notice Paper and to see what the position is likely to be. I should, I think, be lacking in my duty to the Committee if I let the matter go without giving a warning about the difficulties into which we may get later. And I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that he would have the right to reproach me if I acted otherwise.
I will now, if I may, deal with some of the matters that have arisen in the discussion. Let me say at once that I shall "let down" my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who requested me to blow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) off the Front Bench opposite. On the contrary, like the lest of the Committee, I was delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman back at the Box for the first lime for some time—or, at any rate, for the first time recently that I have had the pleasure of hearing him. It gave rise to a very natural nostalgia for the times of some ten years ago. I thought, if I may say so, that it was particularly delicate of him to attend, as I suggested to him last night, the funeral celebrations of his "child."
The debate has revealed a remarkable unanimity. That is why I made my appeal a moment ago with, perhaps, more confidence than I might have done on other matters. There has been, with one or two exceptions, virtual unanimity in the view that the tobacco concession embodied in Section 4 of the Finance Act, 1947, was not, of itself, the sort of thing that anybody would want to see go on forever; and that, therefore, it was simply a matter of judgment whether or not the increases in benefit now proposed were sufficient to justify doing what, I think, most hon. Members on both sides want to do, which is to merge this particular 246 benefit in kind in a cash payment of pension.
That really narrows the debate to a quite extraordinary degree to the question of judgment, which the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) put very clearly, as to whether or not the improvements in benefit were themselves sufficient to enable this change, to use the words of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) "opportunely" to be made. None the less, I will say a word or two about the concession, because I think that it is important that it should be clearly known what its defects are. Indeed, the hon. Member for Mansfield, in moving this Amendment last night, said that he wanted me to say what were the grounds for abolishing it.
The grounds for abolishing it are three. The concession has outlived its usefulness; it is unfair as between pensioner and pensioner; and it is, therefore—and this is the third point—opportunely eliminated at a time when a substantial increase is being made in the rates of benefit. Those are the three reasons. We have had from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland, with great authority, the history of the concession, and I shall not go over that again. But I should like to emphasise to the Committee that since the beginning of the concession, and despite, I think, much genuine desire on the part of Ministers in both Governments to widen it, it has been found necessary to tie it, for simple but convincing administrative reasons, to the retirement pension book and the non-contributory old-age pension book.
That has meant, as several hon. Members have reminded the Committee, that other categories of people, equally on general social grounds entitled to this concession, have not been able to enjoy it. They have included those retirement pensioners themselves, who, owing to long-term treatment in hospital or long-term residence in an institution, have received their retirement pension by way of a payment on a schedule and not on an order book. Those pensioners have lost the concession.
On the other hand, those people who have no rights to retirement pension, but have been living on National Assistance, have never had the concession; nor, as such, has the war pensioner, the war widow, the Industrial Injury widow, the 247 public service pensioner, the teacher, the railway pensioner. In brief, many people whom we look at as being in the social pattern of retired persons living on a small fixed pension, have not enjoyed the concession because, despite the efforts made, it has been found quite impossible to administer except on the basis of the holding of a retirement pension book or a non-contributory old-age pension book.
That is why anybody who has held the office of Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in particular, or who has held my office, has received countless letters from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen protesting on behalf of constituents—and understandably so—that while the constituent's neighbour, who has a retirement pension book, has this privilege, the constituent, whose conditions may be no better—indeed, may be worse—does not have it.
I think that the Committee will make a great mistake if it under-rates the kind of feeling, that has been aroused as between those entitled to the concession and those who are not. Even among the holders of retirement pension books there has been an anomaly. The scheme has favoured the smoker, but has given no corresponding benefit either to the non-smoker or, indeed, to the person who, although he or she smokes, prefers to spend his or her money in a particular week on some other amenity of life. That has been a further source of difficulty.
It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland explained, that when he introduced this concession he was aiming at protecting existing retirement pensioners from a sharp rise in the cost of their tobacco. In other words, he was leaving them paying no more for their tobacco than they had been accustomed to do. But the situation now, ten years later, is quite different. The bulk of people now enjoying the concession have come on to pension since, and they, of course, find that just this one thing, tobacco, comes down in price when they come on pension whereas the other things which they equally want to buy remain at the prices which they have previously had to pay. Therefore, the original purpose of the duty relief has lost much of its validity.
It is also the case that the price of tobacco, sharply increased by the right 248 hon. Member for Bishop Auckland for reasons which he explained to us at the time, is, in fact, if we compare it with 1947, now very little out of line with the general rise in retail prices. Therefore, the argument for singling out the smoker for a concession not given to other people, though it had, I accept at once, considerable force at the time that the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for granting it, has with the passage of years and the changing price pattern lost the greater part of its force.
The tobacco concession has given rise, as we have heard in the course of the debate, to a very understandable view that those who do not smoke should receive concessions by way of cheaper tea or milk, or whatever it may be. Indeed, were we to persist with this concession, the case for providing alternative forms of concession for non-smokers would be strong. But we take the view, which is the broad view that, I understand, has been taken on both sides of the Committee during debate, that it is much better not to have these benefits in kind for the retirement pensioner, not, as it were, to have the soup kitchen approach to social service problems of this kind, but very much better to provide in cash the alternative to them, so that, among other things, the pensioner can spend his or her money and lay it out as he or she thinks best. I think that that is the general principle which is acceptable to the Committee and to public opinion outside.
Having got that far, I come to the relevant matter—I make no complaint whatever about its having been raised in the course of this discussion, indeed it is perhaps the main question on the Bill—of the increase in rates provided for in Clause 2 and in the Fourth Schedule. I do not know to what extent this issue will be raised again at subsequent stages. I only express the hope, which I expressed a few moments ago, that we shall not, in the particular circumstances of this Bill, seek to duplicate or triplicate discussions on points, however important.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East, in particular, raised this question and put to me in this context very fairly the recent leading article in The Times. On that, I will make two comments. In the first place, it is not clear at all what index The Times was 249 using for this purpose; and it is, secondly, material to note that The Times, in giving the figure of 7s. as being necessary to restore the value of the pension in 1946, was not relating that figure to contemporary prices, but to next year's prices.
I do not know, of course, what assumption The Times was making as to the movement of prices next year up to whatever date it selected as the basis. Whatever comes from that great newspaper has, I agree, to be treated seriously, because in its leading articles, whether one agrees with them or not, it always puts a point of view with clarity and force. It does not, however, really provide an effective support for the purpose for which the hon. Gentleman tried to use it, that is, to try to suggest that, so far as those pensioners who will be losing the tobacco token are concerned, there is no appreciable increase in benefits.
§ Mr. Crossman
If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the suggested inference of The Times of living costs for his calculations, perhaps he could say on what basis he is calculating and what he calculates to be working-class living costs next year, because that is what we are discussing. What does he calculate to be the cost of living on which he justifies these proposed increases? If he will tell us that, we shall then be able to observe next year whether he is right or wrong.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am going on to develop the case, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will find, whether he accepts my point of view or not—I think it rather doubtful whether he will—that I am putting as clearly as I can within the limits of time which I think proper at this stage the proper justification of the figures. But, before we pass from newspapers, as the hon. Gentleman has cited The Times I am bound to invite the attention of the Committee to the Manchester Guardian of 7th November. That newspaper, I may say, is not one which could be accused of any particular partiality for Her Majesty's advisers. Its leading article stated:As Mr. Boyd-Carpenter said, the pension will now be worth more in real terms than ever before. The increase not only allows for the rise in prices; it provides for a genuine increase in purchasing power as well.That is a very clear piece of evidence if we are to cite, as the hon. Gentleman 250 cited, newspapers in support of one's argument. Of course, if one takes the Index of Retail Prices, the case is even clearer. On that basis there is an increase of 7s. 8d. on the value of the pension in 1946 and of 12s. on the value to which hon. Gentlemen opposite raised it in 1951. Whichever index one takes, it is clear—and I would say, with respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that they do not strengthen their point of view by seeking to deny it—that this is a substantial increase in the rate of pension in real terms, raising it to a higher level than it has, in fact, ever attained before, that is to say, above the previous high—I was about to fall into the verbal slip of saying, the high "peak"—which it attained in 1955.
The case I am making is certainly sustained by the Index of Retail Prices and by such other judgment as one can bring to bear upon the figures not only for the cost of living, but for the other factors which, again and again, I have been urged to take into account, such as increases in wage rates and earnings. It is, of course, a fact, as the Committee is aware, that, as the Phillips Committee recommended, and as all who have spoken from this Box have said again and again, it is not simply a matter of a mathematical exercise or of the application of a slide rule when deciding where to raise particular levels under the scheme. Consideration has to be given to the factors mentioned in the recommendations of the Phillips Committee, but, in the final issue, it becomes a matter of judgment and decision. That is a point which should not be obscured in this discussion, even though it is a point which is, naturally, a little obscured by the cloud of tobacco smoke which arises on the Amendment.
As I have said before—and I repeat, as the hon. Member for Coventry, East asked me to—in the decision to raise the benefits to the proposed figure, account was taken and here I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower)—of the withdrawal of the tobacco token. One consequence that follows from that has not perhaps been fully appreciated. In deciding on this figure, we took account of what one might call the worst case—the habitual smoker who was losing this concession. But it will not have escaped the attention of the Committee that the benefit increase itself goes 251 in full to those who are non-smokers and have never enjoyed this concession, and applies, further, to the types of benefit—widowhood, sickness, unemployment, and so on—which never came within its scope.
If I may sum it up again, in deciding on the figure in the light of the various factors which I have mentioned, we took into account the intention to withdraw the tobacco token. We took into account and faced, if the Committee likes, the worst and most difficult case, with the result that those who are not suffering this withdrawal have got an even larger increase in their standards.
It seemed to us after considerable thought, as is, indeed, the view accepted generally in this Committee, that this tobacco concession was not a thing which it was desirable on its own merits to preserve indefinitely; but that it was only right to withdraw it at a time when substantial improvements were being made in the rates of benefit applicable to the people concerned. We took the view that in assessing those rates, by taking into account this fact, we were handling this matter in the interests not only of fairness between pensioner and pensioner, but also to the advantage of all the recipients of National Insurance benefits.
Even taking against myself the worst case—that of the person who is losing these vouchers—it is surely better to have the value in cash which he can spend as he wishes rather than in the form of a token which can be used for one purpose only. Even apart from the 7s. 8d. increase in the cash value of the benefits of such people, there is the additional factor of their getting the whole of their benefits in the form of cash and being able to use it as they think fit.
For those reasons, it seemed to us that this was the right occasion, as the Clause under discussion suggests, to withdraw this concession, and we feel that that is a decision whose rightness and fairness will—and I take up the challenge which was thrown to me across the Committee—be recognised next January by those directly concerned.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I am sure the whole Committee will be very disappointed indeed that the right hon. Gentleman has been unable to 252 make any concession whatever to the moving pleas and the skilful arguments which have been advanced to him for a long time from this side of the Committee. The disappointment of the Committee will be felt even more deeply and widely outside among more than 2 million old-age pensioners whom he has just told he will discontinue his concession. It will be cold comfort to them to know that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that because most prices are rising, there is no reason to stabilise the price of one of the commodities which they buy, which, I think, was an accurate summary of the first part of his argument.
I will not attempt to traverse all the arguments again. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we ought to pay some attention to the time that we devote to various Clauses, and therefore, I will keep my speech short. The nub of the question that we have been considering for nearly two hours is whether the increase proposed in the pension is substantial enough to justify the withdrawal of this concession. That is the essential point, and going with it is the corollary that if it is not substantial enough, what is the reason for withdrawing it? Having heard all that the right hon. Gentleman has said, I remain of the opinion that the increase is not substantial enough. Nobody who has listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) could think that the increase is substantial enough to warrant the withdrawal of this concession.
It is remarkable that there are two strange coincidences in what my hon. Friend referred to as the package deal which the Minister has put before us. One coincidence is that the increase in the retirement pension, in unemployment, sickness and other benefits under the Bill which will cost £167 million in the next full year, is to be met exactly by an increase of £167 million in the contributions. The other remarkable coincidence is that the cost of the war pension, which is £16½ million, is going to be exactly met by the cost of the withdrawal of the tobacco token. That is a very significant fact. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury was here earlier. I wish he were still here, because it seems to me that, in view of those figures, it is the 253 Treasury rather than the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance who ought to be replying to this debate.
It is pretty clear that what has happened is that the Minister has gone to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a set of propositions for increasing pension rates, including war pensions, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to him, "You can have these if you so devise a scheme that there will not be an extra penny for the taxpayer to pay." "Not one penny," said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "shall be taken away from the Surtax payers to whom I gave the concession last year. Take it away from anyone else you like, but not from them." So the Minister had to work out a scheme whereby the whole of the National Insurance benefits were paid for out of the increased contribution, and whereby somehow or other he could find the money for the war pensioners. He found the money for the war pensioners by withdrawing this concession.
It seems to us, after listening to all the arguments, that that is the way the thing was done. I do not know what the war pensioners will think of it when they realise that this is what has happened. I can well imagine a war pensioner, for example, drawing a 20 per cent. disability pension. He is to have an increase in his pension of 3s. 6d. a week. He is going to have to pay another 2s. a week for his increased contributions under the National Insurance Bill, and, as as he sadly reflects on the fact that he is left with only 1s. 6d., he will realise that that was done in order to take away the tobacco from the old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
I do not apologise for continuing this debate, having sat here from the beginning. This is not a minor part of the Bill. I have listened to fairly long speeches on this important subject from both sides of the Committee.
I made one intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). Unwisely I allowed some interventions which were meant to be helpful to divert me when I was referring to narrowing the gap. It was, in fact, narrowing the gap that I meant. That was an accurate description. The hon. Member for Barry has performed one of his tricks once again. So often he comes here like a bee flitting from flower to flower, and then he is away. In the 254 time that he has been here—and I am bound to criticise him in his absence, because I have no opportunity to criticise him in his presence—we have seen that the hon. Member comes into the Chamber, bleats his story and then is away; and inevitably he takes both sides of the argument.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
My hon. Friend must allow me to defend the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) in his absence against this most unfair attack. I heard every word of that speech, and so far from the hon. Member having taken both sides of the argument, as far as I could make out, in a fairly long speech, he never mentioned the Amendment at all.
§ Mr. Thomas
I ought to have known that I should receive a very helpful interruption from my hon. Friend.
May I make this comment to the Minister who, I know, is anxious to get on with business? It is not for the Minister to decide when the end of the discussion has been reached.
Having said that, I turn to the Government's proposal for taking away this tobacco voucher. To my mind it is in the typical Tory tradition. Just as they took away orange juice from the children and welfare milk from the nursing mothers in other days, so today they take the smoke away from the old-age pensioner, without giving any significant contribution to enable the old-age pensioner to obtain what is hardly a luxury but almost a necessity in these days. The Conservative Party have resented a great deal of our welfare services, and I believe that this move is but a part of their general approach to the social services. It is in strange contrast to the subsidy which they are giving to landlords.
§ Mr. Thomas
Out of the National Assistance Board, at least.
This proposition reveals the lack of understanding by hon. Members opposite of the problems of poor people. Indeed, we hardly expect them to understand these problems.
§ Mr. Shurmer
It is no good the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) looking like that. All this is true.
§ Mr. Thomas
Who is the person most affected by the Government's proposal? I know that there are two categories of retirement pensioners. There are those in receipt of National Assistance and there are those who live on the basic pension and their savings or receive the basic pension and are maintained by their children. The people who have had to parade their poverty to the National Assistance Board and who have proved that they are in the greatest need are the people to whom the Minister has in any case said that he proposes to give an increase of only 5s. a week in their income. From that 5s. a week he now proposes to take away the equivalent of this 2s. 4d. voucher.
Like my hon. Friends, I do not think that coupons are the answer to the problem of the old folk in this country. I do not like to see an old person having to give up a coupon in a shop in order to obtain an article cheaper than anyone else can obtain it, but I resent the fact that when this coupon has been taken away by the Government he will have to stay outside the shop. He will be unable to go into the shop at all.
The Minister seems to regard this increase in pension as substantial. If ever there were a relative term it is the term "substantial." By what measurement does the Minister call this 5s. increase for people on National Assistance a substantial increase? Is it by the standard of the average earnings in the country? The Conservative Party boasts that the average earnings in this country are £12 a week. The pensioner is in any case well below the standard of the average worker in the country.
It is most unfair to suggest that this increase should be regarded as in any way substantial. Just as the average worker has to pay 2s. a week extra to supply the increase in pensions, so, apparently, the person who is in receipt of the tobacco voucher has to provide the increase in war pensions for those who have placed the nation in their debt by services in another way.
I believe that this proposal is made at the wrong time. Despite all the attempts which may be made to deal with the situation, it is made at a time of rising, not falling, costs against inadequate incomes. In my opinion, it will 256 cause a great deal of resentment amongst people who had been led by speeches from hon. Members opposite to believe that they were to have a substantial increase in their old-age pensions. At recent by-elections we have heard speeches from the Conservative Party saying, in effect, "Wait until our old-age pensions proposals are brought forward. We shall give substantial increases to the old folk."
Let it be on record that for nearly one million people in this country who are in receipt of National Insurance and a tobacco voucher, there will be an increase of 2s. 8d. a week. Of that the entire House ought to feel ashamed.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I hope that the Minister does not share the view which was expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), who is no longer in the Chamber, that old-age pensioners' associations are in any way party political. Those associations consist not only of Labour old folk, but of many loyal old Tories in the country, many loyal supporters of this Government, misguided though they may be in their political allegiance. When the old-age pensioners express their disgust at the proposals made in the Bill, that is a political act; but it is by no means a party political act and it represents the sincere and bitter disappointment of the pensioners.
I was very glad that the Minister expressed his pleasure and, he said, his feeling of nostalgia at the appearance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) on the Front Bench. "Nostalgia" was the right word, particularly for us on this side. Not only did it remind us of the days when we were in power, but it reminded many of us of the days when the unjust taxes on tobacco were not as high as they are now.
As many hon. and right hon. Members have reminded the Committee, the tobacco token concession was first introduced when a new and swingeing tax was imposed on tobacco. It was felt right, and I think it was right at the time, that we should spare the old folk, the old smokers, from having to make this extra tax contribution on their tobacco.
257 6.0 p.m.
It should be said, in view of a remark made by the Minister, that in my many contacts with old folk I have not found many non-smokers who grudge the concession that was made to the smokers, any more than a non-smoker in hospital would grudge the gift of cigarettes to a patient in the next bed to him. I have not found the non-smokers enviously complaining because the old folk who smoke have been getting some of their tobacco more cheaply.
It is worth pointing out, too, that it is remarkable that there has been singularly little abuse of this concession. I said in a previous debate that I was surprised that old folk who did not smoke did not conspire to cheat the Government by getting tokens falsely. The figures which have be quoted from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury show that the percentage increase in old-age pensioners who have the tobacco concession is from 46 to 54 per cent. Those of us who know how every rising generation consists of more women smokers than the previous generation can understand that that rise in the number of old-age pensioners who make use of the tobacco concession is not surprising. The old folk are honest and the old-age pensioners, in their general approach to the problems of the Welfare State, give a tremendous lead and example to the younger folk coming on.
It has been argued, and the whole case for abolition of the token is, that this concession is an unfair one. I am not sure that we should be absolute even about that, because we would merely relieve the old-age pensioner smoker of part of what I believe to be a very unfair indirect tax. It has, however, been pointed out that this concession benefited only a group of old-age pensioners. As the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) pointed out earlier in the debate, many deserving and poor people, including some old folk, have not been eligible for the tobacco concession.
The whole Committee would, I think, agree with the Minister in the general principle that the tobacco token scheme should come off at the earliest possible moment and that the only possible moment that it could come off without 258 causing hardship would be when a generous addition was being made to the old-age pension. We do not solve a problem of unfair privilege. Aesop's fox without a tail wanted to solve its problem by getting all the other foxes to lose their tails. It is at a time when the Government are making a handsome increase in the old-age pension that we should take off the tobacco concession.
The case from this side of the Committee is that a handsome increase in the old-age pension is not being made and that the real people we are debating about this afternoon are the 1¼ million old-age pensioners whose maximum increase under the Bill is the National Assistance increase of 5s. Even for the old-age pensioner who theoretically is to get a 10s. increase under the Bill, the increase for the smoker is only 7s. 8d. Indeed, the only old-age pensioner who will get the maximum benefit of this new legislation is the non-smoker owner-occupier, because the old-age pensioner who is a non-smoker, who is above the National Assistance Board level and is living in a house that is rented, has probably already lost by way of rent increase most of the benefit that he will get under the Bill.
If it is bad enough for the 10s. smoker who is to get only 7s. 8d. out of the Government's proposals, it is shocking for the poorer pensioners who smoke, those on National Assistance, who stand to get only 2s. 8d. The Amendment seeks to give 2s. 4d. back to just over half of the 1¼ million poorest people in England. It seeks to add to the increase in pension, which we think is not enough, something like half a crown.
A very eloquent appeal has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard), whom many of us had the privilege of accompanying to the Chairman of the National Assistance Board when we have endeavoured from time to time to point out that the Board was not doing the duty for which we set it up years ago and that it lags behind in making provision for the poorest people. I should have thought that the whole Committee would be with us in pressing the Minister to give this extra 2s. 4d.
The real trouble behind this debate, and behind the whole problem of whether the tobacco concession is to be removed now, is the poverty of the poor and the 259 fact that the standard of living of the English people in general is rising but that the standard of living of those on pensions is by no means rising. Even the figures from the Manchester Guardian, quoted by the Minister in his last intervention, show that the rise in the standard of living of the old-age pensioner in comparison with 1946 is infinitely below the average rise in the standard of living.
I hope that the Minister will still think again about the points we make as the debate continues and that we can persuade him yet to accept the Amendment, or, if he will not accept the Amendment, to be even fairer and to give the extra 2s. 4d. for which we are asking to smokers and to non-smokers.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
The Minister is anxious to proceed quickly with the Bill and we are all anxious to help him, but the reason that we are taking a long time over the Amendment is the Minister's meanness. I should not be speaking now if the Minister had made the concession for which we are asking. The delay is the Minister's own responsibility. He is refusing to make the reasonable concession which we on this side have advocated and which we have put forward in a non-party manner.
One of the things that have been troubling me for a long time is how the Government bring in Bill after Bill and steamroller them through the House just as though it were a Reichstag. In other words, the arguments or the Amendments put forward by the Opposition have no effect. The Rent Bill went through without a single adjustment, the last National Insurance Bill went through without a single adjustment and this Bill will go through without a single Amendment from the Opposition being properly treated. That is not Parliamentary democracy: it is dictatorship.
If the Minister is being kept longer on the Bill than he intended, it is precisely because he is acting more like a fuehrer than a leader of a Government or of a Parliamentary democracy. [An HON. MEMBER: "A little fuehrer."] A fuehrer nevertheless. Nowadays, whenever we have any major Bill, no serious Amendment from the Opposition is given the proper consideration.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does my hon. Friend not think that he is perhaps a 260 little unjust to the Minister? One could understand it better if the right hon. Gentleman were the fuehrer, but he is not the fuehrer. He is merely recommending to the House and to the Committee something that he is told to recommend. He is just as much a victim of the fuehrer as the rest of the Committee.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I can only make my guess as to whom my hon. Friend was referring.
I want particularly to reinforce what has been said concerning those who are receiving National Assistance. When my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) made the point that ever since this Government came into power they had been narrowing the gap, he was perfectly right. They have not only narrowed the gap; they have completely abolished it. When the National Assistance Board was first set up, its scales exceeded the scale for sickness and unemployment benefit. We always regarded the people who had to apply for benefit from that source as being the poorest of the poor, those without any resources whatever. We said, therefore, that if they were to maintain even the subsistence level suggested by the Beveridge Report, the scales of National Assistance should be slightly higher than National Insurance benefits.
Ever since the present Government came to power, every change which has been made in the National Assistance and National Insurance rates has narrowed the gap until, under these new proposals, National Assistance scales fall below the general scales of the National Insurance Acts.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
One can only think that this change, which hits harshly those right at the bottom of the social scale, has been brought about because of the changes made by hon. Members opposite in the composition of the National Assistance Board. In other words, it seems to me that we have now on the Assistance Board men without any charity, men without any feeling.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
This Amendment relates only to the Tobacco Duty concession.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Yes, but it affects over 1 million people on National Assistance. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There are supposed to be more than 50 per cent. of the pensioners receiving it, and there are 5 million pensioners. If I assume that half of those who are getting it are on National Assistance, I am not far off when I say that 1 million people are affected by this.
What the Government propose is not to give the single pensioner 10s., but to give him 7s. 8d., not to give a married couple of pensioners who smoke 15s. but to give them 10s. 4d.; under National Assistance, not to give the single person 5s. but to give him 2s. 8d., and to give the married couple on National Assistance not 9s. but 4s. 4d.—4s. 4d. a week to a married couple who have to prove that they have not got any resources, that they are dependent on what they can get from the National Assistance Board. It is two and a half years—almost three years—since the scales were last adjusted, and after three years what we are saying is that those people are entitled to only 4s. 4d. despite all the price increases they have had to face.
The test of how a Government feel towards any section of the community is best judged by what proportion of the national revenue collected by them they devote to that section of the community. We have heard a lot from the other side about how generous the Government have been to the pensioners by contrast with the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Yes, but we have heard a lot from one or two hon. Members today about how generous the Government have been to the pensioners in comparison with the Labour Government. Let us have a look at the facts. Let us take the question of family allowances, war pensions, non-contributory old-age pensions and—
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. I think every Member of the Committee is grateful for Rulings from the Chair, and we all try to follow them. It is a little difficult to follow this present one. Except for half an hour I have sat here 262 from 3.30 while we have been discussing this Amendment. There have been two speeches only from the other side. Neither of them mentioned the tobacco Amendment at all. Those speeches were devoted entirely to the comparison between one point of view which my hon. Friend is trying to make now and the other point of view. It is a little difficult to see why they should have been in order and my hon. Friend should be out of order.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I can only repeat that this Amendment is related to the Tobacco Duty, as the hon. Member will agree. I cannot deal with speeches I did not hear.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
It is most unfortunate that when the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) makes a very bad attack, an unjustified attack, upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), an attack which has nothing to do with the Amendment, and I attempt to give the real reply, she, presumably, can get away with it, but I cannot.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member and I, too, have to keep to the rules upon the Amendment as upon any other matter.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I venture respectfully to submit to you, Sir Gordon, this point. In considering the economic implications of the withdrawal of this concession the whole argument put forward by the Government on the financial side is that we have to have regard, in considering all these figures, to the economic state of the country. As I understood my hon. Friend, he was at that very moment about to call attention to the steps which were taken in the matter at a period when the economic situation was certainly presenting problems quite as grave, problems quite as substantial as those which, it is claimed, are now presented to Her Majesty's present advisers.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has constantly drawn comparisons. Indeed. I may say that the only argument of any kind he has put forward, which he nearly always puts forward in the concluding sentences of any of his speeches on the subject, has been that the 263 Labour Government in 1951 did something or another which, in his view, in quite different circumstances, appears to correspond to something or other that he is doing now. Those of us who may seek to catch your eye, Sir Gordon, later in the debate will be deprived of a major part of our arguments unless we are allowed to refer briefly to the comparative circumstances. I would call your attention to the fact that a great part of the debate has concentrated on the circumstances in which this concession was given, and the reasons for it.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am not quite sure whether the hon. Member is making a point of order or a speech.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am not quite clear as to exactly what point of order the hon. Member is raising.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
What I would say with deference, Sir Gordon, is that, having sat here from the beginning of the debate, a little harsher judgment is being applied to my speech than has been applied to any previous speech.
I would put this consideration to the right hon. Gentleman who is so proud of these increases. In 1948 the then Government were devoting to tobacco coupons and to other things which benefited pensioners of all kinds, 3.4 per cent. of the total Budget. This Government, who claim to have done so much for those on National Assistance, for the old-age pensioners, the non-contributory old-age pensioners, and the rest, last year were devoting to them 2.4 per cent. of the national revenue. This Government have not given anything. They are making the people who are to pay 2s. a week pay for these increases, and they are also making the old-age pensioners make a contribution by relieving them of the pleasure of buying their tobacco at a cheap rate.
Christmas is coming. I suppose that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will tell their children round the Christmas tree the story of Mr. Scrooge. There are 264 still many Scrooges living. It is only a Scrooge-like individual, only a mean-fisted individual, who could be a chief in a Ministry and not protest when £37 million was given to Surtax payers and then agree to bring in a Bill which takes 2s. 4d. a week off those on National Assistance.
These are matters on which we show our sense of real values. These issues show where we really stand. The Minister said there was much misgiving about this concession by those who did not enjoy it. I will tell him now that unless he sees fit to change his mind the misgiving which there has been among those who have not had it will be as nothing compared with the misgiving which will be felt among those who have had it and who will have it taken away from them. I hope they will make such a noise about it that the whole of our people will learn of the meanness, the contemptibleness and the injustice of this proposal so that when the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends go to the polls they will go out and never come back.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
I cannot apologise for intervening even at this late stage of a long discussion. I have sat through the whole debate on the Amendment, except for a matter of 20 minutes. I do not complain about that in any way, because it has given me the opportunity of watching once again, most critically, the reaction of Government supporters.
There have been two speeches only from hon. Members opposite during the whole of the debate, and neither paid the least attention to the Amendment. By straining the facts and by other means, both the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) and the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) tried to pay compliments to the Government and create a smoke-screen between themselves and their constituents when they go back to answer for what is being done here this afternoon.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Barry is not now present. In his attempt to justify what the Government are doing he made comparisons between the record of the present Government and that of the Labour Government. Has he forgotten that South Wales was almost ruined by Tory Governments and was only pieced together again by the Labour 265 Government in 1945? I say to the hon. Member for Barry, as a fellow South-Walian, that he should have some regard for the memories and the sensibilities of other hon. Members who come from that part of the country, and who remember the tragedies of the inter-war years.
The Minister, with his hand on his heart and a great deal of meaningless eloquence, has tried to impress upon people what a generous being he is, but the Tory Party and the Government should be informed that they are not giving a halfpenny away in all the so-called concessions included in the Bill. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) made that abundantly clear. The Government will receive in contributions all that will be spent on the increases. The Minister knows that very well. He knows that he has taken the tobacco coupons away from the pensioners to meet increases in war disability pensions. This is tantamount to perpetrating nothing less than a fraudulent deal on the people. Possibly, hon. Members of my age feel a little more sensitive on the subject than do younger hon. Members.
I must tell the Minister and the hon. Member for Barry that, but for the grace of God and fortuitous circumstances, they might have been making these cheap and misleading statements at my expense today as well as at the expense of the poor people to whom I have referred. These proposals are the quintessence of Tory meanness. Hon. Members opposite have not tried to make any contribution to justify this utterly mean tactic on the part of the Government.
I, like so many Welsh colliers, have smoked for many years and I could not help thinking today of those colliers coming up from the dry, dusty coalmines in many parts of South Wales and immediately lighting up a pipeful of tobacco. They have carried the desire for tobacco and the habit of smoking into their pensionable years. What a mean, dastardly thing it is to attempt to destroy a habit which was part and parcel of their existence in the days when they were making a contribution towards the wellbeing of the country.
It is despicably mean that we in this Committee have to go into one Lobby or the other on this matter of the proper 266 treatment of these elderly people. It was they, after all, who made life possible for many of us. What a sorry state the country and the House of Commons would be in today were it not for the sacrifices of these people, their will to work and their power to adapt themselves to almost unthinkably bad physical conditions. The proposal in the Bill is an exhibition of classic and memorable meanness on the part of the Tory Government.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
I had not intended to intervene, but I have been stung into doing so by the taunts of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) to the effect that only two of my hon. Friends have spoken on the Amendment. There is one matter which I should like to mention, to which reference has already been made today by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil and the right hon. Member for Middlesborough, East (Mr. Marquand) and yesterday by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor)
The hon. Member for Mansfield said that there were three possible alternative motives in the mind of the Government for abolishing the tobacco concession. When he came to the last, which he clearly thought was the real reason, that of saving the Treasury £16 million, his voice took on an accusing edge. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East followed up the point. One would think, to hear hon. Members opposite, that the Government had reduced these pensions instead of raising them to a record level. Since when has it become a crime to save £16 million of public money? We have come a long way from the days of Gladstone, when it was thought creditable for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to save £16 million. In those days it was considered to be the Chancellor's duty to save the taxpayer's money.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order. I do not know, Sir Charles, whether you recollect any occasion on which Mr. Gladstone had anything to say about tobacco coupons?
§ Mr. Fisher
But Mr. Gladstone was on a good point when he said that money should be allowed to fructify in the pockets of the people, and it should not he held as a reproach to my right hon. Friend. We have come a long way from the days of Mr. Snowden, who, though he is now scarcely acknowledged by hon. Members opposite as a Socialist, was certainly the best Chancellor of the Exchequer that they ever produced. The Socialist Party, with its spendthrift and highly inflationary schemes, which would add not less than £1,000 million to the annual budget, at the same time and in the same breath have the gall to talk about curbing inflation—
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Fisher
I merely wanted to say that they should stop this double-talk. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
I come now, in response to your advice, Sir Charles, to the reasons for my right hon. Friend's abolition of the tobacco concession. There are several reasons, notably the unfairness as between one pensioner and another, which my right hon. Friend elaborated. But I hope, as a former Treasury Minister, that he is in no way ashamed that he has saved the Exchequer £16 million in the process.
§ Mr. Fisher
We were told by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) that pensioners do not want concessions. I accept that. The fact remains, however, that we are giving to the pensioners, themselves the greatest sufferers from inflation, a better deal—[HON. MEMBERS: "2s. 8d. a week."]—than they have ever had before, and a far, far better deal than they ever had from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite—
§ Mr. Fisher
—and the less hypocritical nonsense we hear from the Socialist Party on this subject, the better.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I begin by congratulating the hon. Gentleman the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) on at least having 268 the courage to break the silence on the benches opposite which has been "audible" throughout this debate. I wish I could have congratulated the hon. Gentleman on being unique. If he had said anything about the Tobacco Duty or the withdrawal of the concession, he would have been unique among his hon. and almost his right hon Friends. Now we have the spectacle of having had not only two back benchers opposite speaking in this debate, but three, and from no one of the three have we heard a word in defence of the proposal which the Opposition have been attacking throughout this debate. In fact, all three fought shy of telling the Committee which way they would vote.
§ Mr. Fisher
I should have thought that it was clear from my remarks that I intend to vote against the Amendment.
§ Mr. Silverman
At any rate, that is now clear. I will say this for the hon. Gentleman, that his taunt was justified, because I would have known that even if he had not got up. I would like him to bear it in mind when he is reviewing the circumstances of the debate, particularly having regard to the question of who is making party politics out of what.
So many people, and, I fear, some of my hon. Friends, have been guilty of what I hope I may say without offence is almost humbug. What nonsense it is to say that we can possibly deal with these questions without party politics entering into them. Wait until the Division lists are published, and then we will know whether this is or is not a party question. If there is one hon. Gentleman opposite who comes into the Division Lobby with us when the Amendment is put to the vote, I shall revise what I have said on this point. One will do, one righteous man coming into the Division Lobby with us against the main proposal, even if he does not mean it, even if he only comes into the Division Lobby to prove that this is not a party question.
I had occasion to intervene once or twice in the speeches of my hon. Friends who protested against injustices that they had done to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I know that they appreciate that I did so in all kindness, and I think both of them accepted the point when I put it to them. Now I must say another thing to my hon. Friend 269 the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) who, I am sorry to see, is not here. I think he was unjust to Mr. Scrooge.
To accuse the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance of behaving like Mr. Scrooge was unjust. I wish the Minister would behave like Mr. Scrooge. As I remember the story, Mr. Scrooge relented, he accepted the "amendment". It is really a shocking injustice to the memory of a great literary character to compare his immense generosity, his warmth of heart, with the cold meanness of the Minister, who insists on taking £16½ million out of the pockets of the poorest of the poor, without advancing a single argument which, in equity, justifies him in doing it.
It is all very well for the hon. Member for Surbiton to call in aid Mr. Gladstone. In Mr. Gladstone's day there were no old-age pensioners—
§ Mr. Silverman
Mr. Gladstone was dead long before that happened, but if Mr. Gladstone had had the advantage which the Liberal Party had in 1908, of a rising Labour Party at their rear, pressing them on, even Mr. Gladstone might have been in favour of old-age pensions. Poverty became a question of politics with the advent of the Labour Party, and when there is no poverty left there will be no need for the Labour Party. That is my answer to the point about party politics.
Now let us look at another point. According to the Government, it is intended to bring up the income of old-age pensioners until it is in better relation with the increased level of prices and the cost of living. The hon. Member for Surbiton who had the courage—I will not say the audacity—to defend this, said that the Government had done it so handsomely as to create a record, that nobody had ever been so generous as the right hon. Gentleman. Let us see how generous he is to the 1 million, or 1¼ million, people affected by this proposal.
Nobody gets any advantage out of this except the Treasury. Let that be clear. The right hon. Gentleman had a lot to say about equality. This is the Tories' 270 version of equality. Their idea of equality is that if one section of the population enjoys an advantage which other section do not enjoy, the way to create equality is not to give an equivalent concession to those who have not got it but to take it away from those who have. That is Tory equality—levelling down. Because some people do not smoke, they say, "Let us take this little extra concession from those who get the advantage," irrespective of what is the effect upon those from whom they are taking it away.
It is important to bear in mind that not a single category mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman will benefit from the Government's proposal. The right hon. Gentleman has had a lot to say about the pensions of disabled ex-Service men. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would give me his attention. He is at the moment consulting his hon. Friend. If they want to consider whether they can change their minds, perhaps the Committee would adjourn to give them that opportunity; but while the debate is continuing we are entitled to be heard.
The right hon. Gentleman had a great deal to say about the classes of pensioners and other disabled persons who have not had the advantage which the old-age pensioners have had in the remission of the extra Tobacco Duty. Not a single one of them will benefit from the Government's proposal. It would be a serious libel upon a very large class of our fellow citizens if one were to suppose that, without deriving any benefit themselves, they would derive some personal comfort because a group of people who had previously enjoyed a concession were now losing it.
Nobody will benefit by this proposal except the Treasury. It is done to save money. One of my hon. Friends made a most effective, persuasive and sincere speech a little while ago. He said, and I agree with him, that there are very many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and many persons in the country, not members of the Labour Party, who are not stony-hearted and mean but ready to do anything in their power to improve the condition of the old-age pensioners—if only it does not cost any- body anything. If only one could leave the old people with their tobacco concession without losing the £16½ million, those people would be as kind as my hon. 271 Friend, and would not interfere with the old people.
It is the money that matters. That is the difference between the two sides—not whether we want to relieve suffering but what we are prepared to do in order to relieve suffering, what we are prepared to do without. The Treasury could do without its £16½ million. It could itself bear the cost of increasing the pensions of disabled ex-Servicemen without calling upon the old-age pensioner to give up his pipe of "baccy". It is not necessary for these old people to lose their tobacco.
What does it mean to these old people to lose their tobacco? My hon. Friends have said that, in the case of those on National Assistance as well, it means reducing the 10s. benefit to 2s. 8d. It is not only that. For old people, smoking is not a luxury. Earlier in life one can try to persuade people either not to contract the tobacco habit or to give it up. I was expecting the right hon. Gentleman, in his elaborate defence of these proposals, to say that what the Government really desired was to save the old-age pensioner from lung cancer by cutting off his smoking. The right hon. Gentleman did not go quite that far. I thought the intervention of the Financial Secretary, who seemed to assume that all old-age pensioners would live for thirty years, must have been based on some such assumption, for the only possible purpose of his intervention could have been to make some such implication as that.
In the case of these old people the habit has become a confirmed one. For many it has become almost the only comfort that they have. I noticed that on the day of the Second Reading the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) came into the House. No one ever sees the right hon. Gentleman outside this Chamber without a cigar, from Havana, a foot long, in his mouth. One of the ironies of this debate is that the right hon. Gentleman, who has committed himself to smoking in that way, should come to the House to vote against the tobacco concession to old-age pensioners.
I merely use that point to illustrate that to deprive a man at a certain time of lift of the capacity to indulge the smoking habit is to inflict real misery and torture on him. Very often such people would rather give up their cup of tea than their 272 pipe of tobacco. Also, in these days, when food is so dear, tobacco smoking often serves to still hunger. The proposal is not to deprive these people of some luxury that they can well do without. They are being deprived of one of the prime basic necessities of their lives.
Why should we do it? Why should the right hon. Gentleman do it? Did he want to do it, or was it forced upon him, as I half suggested a little while ago, by considerations for which he is only indirectly responsible—financial considerations? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) said previously, the Government would have no objection to the pension being raised provided that the Treasury did not have to contribute a single farthing. The Government's attitude was, he said, that if money had to be found, it should be found elsewhere, and if it meant finding it from the poorest of the poor, out of an old man's handful of tobacco or hand-rolled cigarette, the money should be obtained that way.
Then the right hon. Gentleman comes to the Committee and sings paeans of lyrical praise about the generosity of the Government. How generous are they being? They are not contributing a single farthing to this proposal. So far from contributing anything, they are making a profit out of it. That is what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Surbiton is praising them for. That is the evidence of the generosity which he compares with the meanness of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not want to cover the whole ground again. We have been on this long enough. I dare say that the Minister is almost tired of it. I should not blame him if he were. What I am pointing out is that, whatever the advantages of the Bill, exaggerate them or inflate them as one wishes, when one has done one's best with them one has to remember that the Government are not contributing a single farthing. That is what the hon. Gentleman calls generosity. I wish the Government would stop being generous and would try a little justice instead; but if they once started on that, how long would they stop there?
§ Mr. Shurmer
I make no apology for stating, as I have often stated in the House of Commons, that throughout the whole of my public life, which covers some thirty-seven years, I have lived in one of the poorest parts of Birmingham. A public man doing that is bound to know the homes and lives of the people.
There is not the slightest doubt that there are sections of old-age pensioners who, whatever we say about the increase or the pension that they have had, are not living in anything like the manner in which they should live. They are living far below the subsistence level. It is absolutely impossible for the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who represents a district in Birmingham where better-class old-age pensioners live, not to know that in our great towns and cities the old-age pensioners of today, who were the workmen earning the small wages of years gone by and unable to save anything, are hardly existing.
When the trumpets blared forth and the Press blazoned forth that there was to be an increase in old-age pensions of 10s. a week for a single person and 15s. a week for a married couple, I began to wonder. I went further into the matter. Some of the public have not yet realised the bluff which has been played upon them. We see that 5s. is to be taken from those on National Assistance, from the poorer old-age pensioners, and now the tobacco coupon is to be taken from them. There is not the slightest doubt that the Government have nothing to shout about, because they are robbing these poor old-age pensioners of their tobacco coupons.
Let us be honest and admit that there are a large number of old-age pensioners who also to have other income. This decision may not hit them very hard. In many instances, too, they are not applying for their tobacco coupons. These people will receive the full amount of the pension increase. I am thinking, however, of those old-age pensioners who are merely existing on the little which they receive today. They will receive an increase of 2s. 8d., which is far less than they need and far less than they ought to have.
For the Government to rob them of this tobacco coupon is a mean and despicable trick, and I hope that it will 274 react strongly upon them. I feel confident that old-age pensioners' associations throughout the country will speak in no uncertain manner about this despicable action by the Government. If the Government were paying for the pension increase I should not mind it so much, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) said, although the Government have given an increase to the war pensioners, the money for the increase has been taken from the poor old-age pensioners through the withdrawal of the 2s. 4d. tobacco coupon. Again, the workers—indeed, all of us—are to pay 2s. extra in our National Insurance contributions.
No hon. Member opposite can deny that when there has been anything to give away, the Government have given it to the better-class people, from the Surtax payer down to the better-off old-age pensioner. They have taken away from the poor old-age pensioner. All the time the Government are attacking the poorest people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said, they hate and despise the work that is done by the social services in the country, and if they dared—but they dare not—they would wipe it away tomorrow. Instead, they are nibbling and nibbling at the social services all the time.
The day of retribution will come, and the sooner it comes the better. The sooner we clear this Government out and give a chance to a Government which will give human treatment to the poor old people of the country—those who in the past have helped to build it—the better it will be.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
The Minister's attitude when he replied earlier in the debate was somewhat unusual, because in his introductory statement he informed the House that we were indulging in funeral celebrations. En other words, he had given no consideration to the arguments which had been advanced and he had reached his decision. He rose to tell us straight away that we were at a funeral celebration. Then he proceeded to deal with one or two of the arguments, but that part of his speech was of no account because he had come to a finding.
275 Both before the Minister's intervention and since, I have heard a succession of remarkable speeches in support of the Amendment, and I suggest to the Minister that he is perhaps celebrating the funeral a little too early. No doubt there will be a more appropriate occasion for that in a year, eighteen months, or perhaps two years. In any event, since the right hon. Gentleman spoke a number of very cogent speeches have been made, and I should like to know whether we are to have a further reply to the points raised.
There has been a good deal of comparison between what this Government have done and what the Labour Government did when they were in power. I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to one aspect which has, so far, not been mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) pointed out that in 1947–48, the first financial year when he was at the Exchequer, he met a bill of £2,876,000. That was the cost of this concession in the first year. It is worth noting that by 1950 the cost of the tobacco concession had grown from £2,876,000 to over £11 million. That is an astonishing increase. But the Labour Government, faced with conditions immensely more difficult than those under which this Government are operating, paid the bill.
We have had an assurance from the Leader of the House that things have never been better.
§ Mr. Rankin
Despite this, the Government are to perform one of the meanest tricks of all time on those who are least able to stand up to them.
§ Mr. Rankin
It is the misery which they will double.
Since the present Government came into power in 1951 the increase in the cost of the tobacco concession has risen from a little more than £12 million to the present cost of £16½ million. In other words, it has pretty well ironed itself out. The relatively small increase in cost is in no way comparable with the tremendous increase which was borne by the Labour Government.
276 The meanness of the Minister in this matter comes home to me, in particular, because not far from where I live in Glasgow there is a bowling green, and the corporation open the pavilion to the old men of the area. Even at this time of the year anyone passing will see them sitting there, all smoking their pipes. It is a consolation to them which those of us in the House cannot appreciate.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland was at the Exchequer he said that the purpose of his concession was to try to give these old men, who had served the nation in their day and generation, a chance to get two ounces of tobacco a week. Anyone who smokes a pipe knows that two ounces of tobacco a week is not a large amount. At that time, the price of tobacco was about 3s. 4d. an ounce, and the 2s. 4d. voucher was a significant help. For a person to buy two ounces of tobacco a week nowadays it would cost him almost the whole of the 10s. increase which the Minister is giving him.
The Minister is, in effect, saying "You are only to get this benefit if you stop smoking". That is a cruel thing to do; it is quite wrong. With the price of tobacco at the level which it has now reached, to withdraw the 2s. 4d., with the knowledge that it takes almost the whole of the 10s. to buy those two ounces of tobacco, is to me a crime almost unforgivable. I hope that, even at the last moment, after hearing those of us who have spoken since he made his contribution, the Minister will now repent. The lamps of mercy are still burning for him.
§ Mr. Rankin
It may be that a consultation is proceeding on the Front Bench at the moment, and I do not want to interrupt it. If it is to have a favourable outcome, I am perfectly willing to sit down now and to listen to the Minister saying that he will retain this concession. It is one of the things for which every old-age pensioner who smokes will never forgive him, if he does not follow the advice which has been offered from this side of the Committee.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—278
§ The Committee divided; Ayes 253, Noes 213.279
|Division No. 7.]||AYES||[7.2 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Gammans, Lady||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Aitken, W. T.||Garner-Evans, E. H.||McAdden, S. J.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Gibson-Watt, D.||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Glover, D.||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||McKibbin, Alan|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Godber, J. B.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.|
|Ashton, H.||Goodhart, Philip||McLean, Neil (Inverness)|
|Atkins, H. E.||Gower, H. R.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Graham, Sir Fergus||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Grant, W. (Woodside)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Balniel, Lord||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Green, A.||Maddan, Martin|
|Barter, John||Gresham Cooke, R.||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Grimond, J.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Gurden, Harold||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Marshall, Douglas|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Mathew, R.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Maude, Angus|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mawby, R. L.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Medlicott, Sir Frank|
|Black, C. W.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Moore, Sir Thomas|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Neave, Airey|
|Braine, B. R.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hobson, John(Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Bryan, P.||Holt, A. F.||O' Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hornby, R. P.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Bucher, Sir Herbert||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Osborne, C.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hurd, A. R.||Page, R. G.|
|Carr, Robert||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Channon, Sir Henry||Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.)||Partridge, E.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hyde, Montgomery||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Cole, Norman||Iremonger, T. L.||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Cooke, Robert||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Pott, H. P.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Redmayne, M.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Kaberry, D.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Kershaw, J. A.||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Kimball, M.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Kirk, P. M||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lagden, G. W.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Sharples, R. C.|
|Duncan, Sir James||Lambton, Viscount||Shepherd, William|
|Duthie, W. S.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. (Kelvingrove)||Leather, E. H. C.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Elliott, R. W.(N'castle upon Tyne, N.)||Leavey, J. A.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Leburn, W. G.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Erroll, F. J.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Fisher, Nigel||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Storey, S.|
|Forrest, G.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Fort, R.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Freeth, Denzil||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Teeling, W.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)||Vickers, Miss Joan||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Tilney, John (Wavertree)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)||Mr. Barber and Mr. Hughes-Young.|
|Turner, H. F. L.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Herbison, Miss M.||Pearson, A.|
|Albu, A. H.||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Peart, T. F.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Holman, P.||Pentland, N.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Anderson, Frank||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Popplewell, E.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Hoy, J. H.||Prentice, R. E.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hubbard, T. F.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Balfour, A.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hunter, A. E.||Probert, A. R.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Benson, G.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Beswick, Frank||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Blackburn, F.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Randall, H. E.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Rankin, John|
|Blyton, W. R.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Boardman, H.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Reeves, J.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Reid, William|
|Bowles, F. G.||Joner, David (The Hartlepools)||Rhodes, H.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Burke, W. A.||Kenyon, C.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Ross, William|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||King, Dr. H. M.||Royle, C.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Lawson, G. M.||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Ledger, R. J.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Champion, A. J.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Clunie, J.||Lewis, Arthur||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Coldrick, W.||Lindgren, G. S.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Lipton, Marcus||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Snow, J. W.|
|Corbe[...], Mrs. Freda||MacColl, J. E.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Cove, W. G.||MacDermot, Niall||Steele, T.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||McGhee, H. G.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Cronin, J. D.||McInnes, J.||Stonehouse, John|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||McLeavy, Frank||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Mahon, Simon||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Deer, G.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Diamond, John||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Thornton, E.|
|Dye, S.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Timmons, J.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mason, Roy||Tomney, F.|
|Edelman, M.||Mellish, R. J.||Viant, S. P.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Mikardo, Ian||Watkins, T. E.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Mitchison, G. R.||Weitzman, D.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Monslow, W.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Moody, A. S.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Finch, H. J.||Mort, D. L.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Moss, R.||Wigg, George|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Moyle, A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mulley, F. W.||Willey, Frederick|
|Gooch, E. G.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Grey, C. F.||Oliver, G. H.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Oram, A. E.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Orbach, M.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Hale, Leslie||Oswald, T.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Owen, W. J.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Hannan, W.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Woof, R. E.|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Hastings, S.||Pargiter, G. A.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Hayman, F. H.||Parker, J.|
|Healey, Denis||Parkin, B. T.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Paton, John||Mr. Holmes and Mr. Short.|
|Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.|
§ Mr. Crossman
I want to raise the problem of the non-contributory pensioner. If I understand the position correctly, under the second part of the Clause there shall be paid an increase of only 2s. 4d. in the non-contributory pension. I want to ask the Minister one or two questions about the position of the non-contributory pensioners.
Hon. Members on this side of the Committee believe that there are about 250,000 or 260,000 of them, and we believe—we are not sure—that of those about 47 per cent. are receiving supplementation through the National Assistance Board. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee would probably agree that some of the most incessant complaints that we have received have been from non-contributory pensioners who say, "Nothing ever comes to us." Those who have contributed received an increase this year, but after the original 26s. conceded in 1946—and here hon. Members on this side must also admit negligence—there has been no increase, for the non-contributory pensioners until this minor concession of 2s. 4d.
This is a group of people who should be spoken for and whose claims should be listened to because, in the light of this Bill, it will be very difficult to justify the argument that the non-contributory pensioner is entitled to nothing because he has contributed so little. I would draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that one effect of the Bill is to make absolute nonsense of the principle of contribution. As a result of the Bill, the situation will be created in which, in respect of the ten-year people coming in next year, I do not dare to calculate what proportion of the pensions which they receive will be actuarily contributed by them—I suppose it will be a penny in the shilling or less—whereas the young man will be contributing far more than he can actuarily demand.
At present the position is that 2s. 7d. more per week is being contributed by the young man and his employer on his behalf than is actually demanded in order to achieve his pension. Therefore, we achieve the astonishing situation that for the young man far more is demanded than he gets whereas, from the old, an almost negligible fraction will be demanded in order to make him entitled to the pension.
282 We have now reached the point at which I must ask whether we are any longer justified in excluding the non-contributory pensioner. Can the Minister say, with justification, that because a person was too old and could not come in he should once again be denied any increase in his pension, while somebody else in a precisely similar position is entitled to an increase of 10s.? If we are going to make nonsense of the insurance principle it would be far simpler to scrap the whole thing and have non-contributory pensions paid for directly out of taxation. We should then get rid of all the stamps and the cost of administration and we should pay everybody the same amount. There would be an enormous saving in costs.
The line which the Government are adopting is one of the reasons why we put down an Amendment, which has not been called, which would increase the 2s. 4d. to 24s. It was a reductio ad absurdum of what had been happening, in order to show that every non-contributory pensioner should be entitled to the increase which those who are in the scheme are receiving. We put down that Amendment and drove our argument to the absurd conclusion in order to indicate what is basically wrong with the Bill.
I know that there will be objections. One is that we need not worry about non-contributory pensioners because they get the same, if they are poor enough, by way of National Assistance. That is one of the most brutal and inhuman arguments that I know of. The argument that people, if poor enough to be subjected to a means test, are no worse off and need therefore have no rise in their pension is an argument which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will forbear to use this evening. About 47 per cent. will not gain financially if they are brought into the scheme because they are already receiving National Assistance. What they will gain is status, the feeling that they are receiving a pension by right and not as a result of having to subject themselves to investigation month by month in order to prove their absence of means.
Another argument is that non-contributory pensioners are not receiving Assistance either because they have not asked for it or because they are too prosperous to get it. I do not deny that 283 there are some non-contributory pensioners about whom this might be said. I should like to know the numbers, however, and one of the things that I hope to get out of the Parliamentary Secretary is a promise to publish a great deal more information about these people, because they include people in varying walks of life who are outside the scheme for varying reasons. They have not all been left out of the scheme for the same reason. We should like to know more, because these people have not received justice. They did not even get it from the Labour Government, and we should like to make sure that they receive it under the next Labour Government.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will provide me with a number of detailed figures about non-contributory pensioners, giving us their exact numbers; where they are, and a proportionate break-down of the figures. We will then make better use of those figures for producing a workable scheme to give those people justice than the Parliamentary Secretary and her colleague have been doing this evening. What they have done for these people is precisely nothing. All they have done is not actually to deprive them of their tobacco coupons if they possess them, which is not a very princely concession for the non-contributory pensioners.
I think it would be a terrible thing had this issue not been raised; if we on this side of the Committee had not asked the Minister, "Why do you deny these people any increase at all? How can you justify a pension of 26s. in 1957 if it was justifiable in 1946? What is the reason for keeping this pension down? Why are these people kept in a special compartment?" I know that when they write to me I can never explain the reason. I know that these people have an increasing and bitter sense of grievance at being left out because of a sheer accident over which they had no control. It is in that spirit that I commend the rejection of this Clause.
§ Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)
I wish to support the point of view advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). He and I put down an Amendment which was rather unorthodox and which has been ruled out of order. But this Motion provides 284 us with an opportunity to raise the matter. I agree that the insurance principle left after this Bill has come into effect is shocking, even though the Joint Parliamentary Secretary proposes to defend the present position on the grounds of that principle. The Committee should recognise that here we are dealing with a small and declining number of people, and as insurance has now been compulsory for nearly ten years we shall do no real damage to the principle if we bring these people in line with what other elderly people are to have.
My hon. Friend asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give him some figures. I have looked up a few figures and they may help to illustrate the case which he presented. That does not absolve the Joint Parliamentary Secretary from providing figures, because my figures are some months out of date and she can, no doubt, produce figures which are up to date. My figures are taken from the Department's Report for last year. From that Report I see that we are dealing with 257,000 people and that, during 1956, 29,000 died, that is, over 10 per cent. So we are dealing with a class of pensioner which, apparently, is declining in numbers by about 10 per cent. every year.
All except a few blind pensioners are over 70 years of age, and the figures show about half as being over 80 years of age, so that we are dealing with very elderly people. Three-quarters of them are women, the majority of whom are living on their own, being either single or widowed pensioners. Therefore, we are dealing with a class of people whom we should do everything possible to help.
The Report shows that nearly 60 per cent.—that figure is a little higher than the one quoted by my hon. Friend—are having their pensions supplemented by National Assistance, and that figure was an increased percentage on the figure for the previous year. I assume, therefore, that the up-to-date figures will show a further increase. The majority of these people are having to go on National Assistance anyway, but we are still imposing on the non-contributory pensioner this undignified business of having to parade his means before the National Assistance Board in order to claim any pension at all.
Again quoting from the Report, we were, in 1956, paying 1,200 pensions at 285 the rate of 2s. a week and 1,600 pensions at the rate of 4s. a week, and so it goes on up the scale; just a very mall number being paid these insignificant pensions. I think that the whole process is becoming unnecessary. It is increasingly undignified for this small minority of very old people who are left. I consider that the Government should take this opportunity or, at any rate, an early opportunity, to put the matter right.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I wish to support what has been said by my hon. Friends. As is usual when the Government attempt to help the old-age pensioners, they have left a few by the roadside. Nothing for these people that ought to be done is being done. If we examine the statistical digest of the Department, we find that in March, 1956, there were 275,000 non-contributory pensioners in receipt of their pensions. The pensions varied, as my hon. Friend has said, from 1s. to 10s. By December of last year, the number had fallen to 257,000, which sustains the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). According to the latest available figures, in March of this year the number had fallen to 249,000, and on 31st August to 240,000. The number of these people diminishes, but whether there is one or a million, we should see to it that they are not neglected.
It will not cost very much. The non-contributory pensioners are the eldest of the elderly, and in many cases they are also the poorest of the poor. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may deny this, but I do not wish to become involved in an argument about people not going to the National Assistance Board. I agree that that is the way in which they can prove their need. But why should they be compelled to live in poverty or tell every detail about themselves to an area officer of the National Assistance Board? Surely it is possible for the Department to examine this problem again and endeavour to include these people in the scheme. We are not asking for anything unreasonable. All we desire is that these unfortunate people, who could not contribute because they were too old when the scheme came into operation, be included so that they may he helped and know that they have not been forgotten.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Miss Pitt
The non-contributory pensioner comes into our discussion tonight, because in Clause 3 we propose to take power to make good to them the value of the tobacco token. That has led to this discussion.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) asked me to give him up-to-date figures. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) has done a fair amount of research on those figures, but perhaps I might give the hon. Gentleman the up-to-date figures. I am not saying that the hon. Gentleman's figures were incorrect but am telling him that I have the latest information.
The total number of non-contributory pensioners at present is 240,000. Of that number those on National Assistance are 145,000. I have been asked by both hon. Members whether it is not possible to include the non-contributory pensioner in the full scheme; in other words, to give them the benefit of the increase which is being given to the retirement pensioner under the National Insurance Scheme. I surely do not have to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite of the history of the non-contributory pension. It was maintained by their party, and special provision was included in the 1946 Act to take care of the people who had not previously contributed to any scheme but who might have been disposed to think that they had certain non-contributory rights.
It was therefore continued only for a transitional period of 15 years. It expires in 1961, except for a small number of blind people. It is, therefore, as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) said, a pension affecting a diminishing number of people.
For that reason, neither the Government of hon. Gentlemen opposite nor successive Governments have done anything about this pension. The hon. Member for Coventry, East asked me not to suggest in my reply that if these people needed further help they should go for National Assistance. Surely he realises that all of them—everybody who now enjoys a non-contributory pension—have it administered through the National Assistance Board, exactly the same body they would go to if they needed supplementary pension.
287 I would add, since the hon. Member for Ince referred to this class of pensioner as the "poorest of the poor", that that is not quite correct. One of the reasons why the non-contributory pensions were continued by hon. Members opposite when they were in power was not only that certain people might have been thought to have expectations but because the disregards for the non-contributory pension were much more generous than the disregards for National Assistance. It is a fact—I hope that this answers the full point—that a married man and his wife can have as much as £1,730, and if they have no other means they can still receive the pension at the maximum rate. They are not qualified for any supplementation.
In view of the fact that this is a transitional pension to help those people who were precluded from being brought into insurance by the 1946 Act, that it ends in 1961, that it is diminishing in numbers, and that those people in receipt of the non-contributory pension can in addition apply for National Assistance, there is no warrant for endeavouring to do anything for them at the expense of the contributory pensions.
§ Mr. T. Brown
The hon. Lady denied that these were the poorest of the poor. Will she agree that, out of the 240,000 in receipt of the non-contributory pension, 100,000 are receiving National Assistance?
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am bitterly disappointed at the Government's decision. I fully realise the arguments, which have been very well put indeed, and I am not disputing any of them, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary did argue that the non-contributory pension was only for a period and that this was a diminishing number of people. Surely that does not affect the human issues and the human problems involved. I do not mind in the very slightest degree whether these are transitional pensions or whether this is a diminishing section of the community. Indeed, I think they strengthen the case for something to be done. I am profoundly disturbed at the decision of the Government.
In one of my localities—I think it is Whitley Bay—I have above the average 288 of retired people. A large number of the people are on this non-contributory pension scheme. I feel that I would not be adequately representing them, or the people who know how they live and how brave they have been under very adverse circumstances, if I did not advocate their cause.
My hon. Friend has put forward all the arguments why the Government have decided against this, but I notice that, like every other Minister from the Prime Minister downwards, she avoided the pledge which the Prime Minister gave that something would be done for those living on small fixed incomes. These people are living on small fixed incomes. I have always argued how difficult it is to do something for them. I agree that that is almost an insoluble problem. It is difficult to find time in the House for legislation, and I do not think this is a matter which I can satisfactorily raise on the Adjournment. I always seem to get ruled out of order.
Here is a specific group. I am not impressed with the fact that the disregards are higher. If I had my way the disregard would be higher for all National Assistance. I am not at all impressed to hear that people have savings. I thought the whole basis of the Conservative philosophy was to encourage people to have savings, and I am only too delighted that the people in this group have savings, although not very large. The fact is that these people have contributed and only get very small pensions, but after all, as the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said, the late entrants have not contributed anything like the capital value of the sum which will give them the increase of 10s. Yet among the late entrants there must be hundreds of thousands of people who have a great deal more than £1,000 saved. There is no logical argument there at all.
The Prime Minister gave a specific pledge at Brighton that people living on small fixed incomes were to have their needs attended to. It is very difficult to find ways and means of covering all the groups, but here is a specific group, and if that pledge meant anything at all this group ought to be covered. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will convey to her right hon. Friend, who will convey it to the Prime Minister, who will convey it to the Cabinet, exactly 289 what I think about it. I have supported the introduction of the Bill and have made speeches in support of the Government, but I am not making a speech in support of the Government on this Clause. I have no intention of voting for the Clause.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I should not have spoken had I not been deeply moved by the gallantry and warmth of the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). She has made an unanswerable case against the Parliamentary Secretary who replied for the Government and who does not see this matter in human terms. She has become departmentalised and she ought to join the Civil Service.
One can imagine this situation going on until there is only one non-contributory pensioner left. The hon. Lady would still stand at that Dispatch Box and make the same speech, saying that this was a scheme introduced by the Labour Party and that it had to be carried out. Almost at the end of her speech she discovered that this scheme was administered by the National Assistance Board. That is nothing to be triumphant about. The hon. Lady should look beyond the statistics and the White Papers and consider this important matter in the human terms in which my hon. Friends and the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth have already spoken.
I do not need to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to convey anything to her right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, because he is present. If he cannot make the concession now, he should undertake to go back to his senior colleagues and ask that, at some time in the future, when the number of these pensioners runs down to below 200,000, he may wind up the scheme. The point must be reached at some time at which the administrative cost is greater than the cost of making the concession. If the Government will not respond to the pleas made from all sides of the Committee in human terms, will they do it on the ground of efficiency and competence, and the saving of pounds, shillings and pence?
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I want to take up one or two points which have been made by the Parliamentary Secretary and by the hon. 290 Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). I do not think the hon. Member for Tynemouth should be at all surprised about the promise of the Prime Minister at Brighton and the lack of action by him and his Ministers since their return from Brighton.
From the Parliamentary Secretary we had the same old excuse trotted out. This was something that a Labour Government had introduced; in succeeding Measures the Labour Government had done nothing further for these people. The implied praise of the Labour Government time and time again by Ministers on the Front Bench opposite is something which amazes me, but, of course, it is not meant to be praise. It is an excuse trotted out time and again when the Government are determined to do nothing for a certain section of our people. The Parliamentary Secretary said that disregards were generous. She gave us the example of a man and his wife who could have more than £1,000 of a disregard, but those are not the people for whom we are making a plea tonight.
§ Miss Herbison
We are making a plea for the 145,000 who are on National Assistance and some others who are not on National Assistance, but who have 26s. a week and find it very hard to live on that amount. The Parliamentary Secretary has given us no proper reason tonight why in this Measure some consideration has not been given to those people. Does the hon. Lady think that the value of 26s. is the same as it was in 1946? To have the same purchasing value, it would have to be raised to 42s. 4d. according to the figure given by the Minister. It is no use the hon. Member for Tynemouth asking the Parliamentary Secretary to convey this plea to the Minister and to senior Ministers, because our Amendment has been on the Notice Paper since Friday last. In the light of that, if the Minister had seen justice in our Amendment he could have gone to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and tried to win them over to doing justice to these people.
It seems, however, that he agrees with his Parliamentary Secretary, not that something cannot be done for these 291 people, but that nothing should be done for them. That is what I object to so much—the callousness of the reply by the Parliamentary Secretary. I ask the Minister, can he not at this stage give some hope to these 145,000 or to the 240,000 in this category?
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I do not want to speak at great length on this matter, but I wish to supplement the appeal made by the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward). I think that by her latest speech she redeemed her earlier speech this afternoon with which I strongly disagreed.
I wish to call attention to one fact about these non-contributory pensioners. The statistics used by the Parliamentary Secretary may not be accurate. Many of these old people in receipt of non-contributory pensions have no other income than the 26s. a week, no income from investments and nothing from National Assistance. Although it may be unrecorded in the statistics, some of these people may be living with their children. In many cases they may be feeling most embarrassed because they know that the amount entailed in keeping them alive, feeding, housing and clothing them, is far in excess of the 26s. they are receiving by way of non-contributory pensions. Because the statistics are hopelessly wrong and because those people are in receipt of nothing else, either from National Assistance or from investments, I support the appeal of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth.
The Parliamentary Secretary should not approach this matter from the point of view of a Civil Service brief, but from the point of view of real, humane considerations of a practical measure which ought to be taken into consideration by any Government. I am not throwing stones at the Government, but saying that a Government that does not take notice of a situation like this is almost as the salt of the earth which has lost its savour and is fit onlyto be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.
§ Mr. Crossman
Are we to have no word from the Minister on this matter? He said we all want to help each other. When is he going to help the Opposition a little? We are not asking for any solid, 292 firm concession. We know the Government cannot make that, but we are asking for something less stony than the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary that she thinks nothing can be done.
Cannot the Minister tell us that as a humane person he is prepared to look at this problem? How is he going to get us through this difficulty if he is not going to do anything about it? We make a reasonable case, but all we get in reply is a stony, flat turn-down. Discussion of the following Clauses will take longer if we do not get something better than that.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I will certainly respond, although I hope that the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) did not mean by his concluding remarks that if he does not get his own way on a particular Amendment the desire of hon. Members on both sides is likely to be frustrated.
Of course I gave very careful thought to this matter before the Bill was introduced; there is evidence of that thought in the terms of the Bill itself. I considered this position carefully. That is why there is the provision under which all the pensioners of this category are to get the increase of 2s. 4d., whether they be smokers or not and whether they come to draw this benefit before or after the Bill.
There is clear evidence—as lawyers would say, "on the face of the document"—that this provision was carefully gone into before the Bill was introduced, but I am bound to say that I came to the conclusion, as my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said, that so far as this Bill was concerned there was really no case for any increase in this benefit other than that to which I have referred on the withdrawal of the tobacco tokens.
I do not rely—apart from everything else it always seems to raise the blood pressure of hon. Gentlemen opposite—solely on the fact that they did exactly in 1951 what we are proposing to do now and left the benefit as it was. It is a fact which should make them seriously ponder that, at the time when their right hon. Friends thought it right to raise a large number of retirement pensions, they left this benefit as it was. Of course, the reasons which actuated my predecessor in 1952 and 1954 are perfectly easy to 293 understand. This is not one of the benefits that moved, in the new National Insurance Scheme, in tune with the rise in contributions on three successive occasions, and is now being raised on a fourth. This, as my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, was an old right deliberately preserved so that expectations should not be defeated. There are other examples throughout the system—the 10s. widow is a case in point—where successive Governments have not thought it right, for that reason and several others, to increase the benefit when they are increasing the new benefits of the National Insurance Scheme.
This is, on the face of it, a wholly transitional pension. There will, in fact, be no new ones awarded under the terms of the 1946 Act to anyone who attains the age of 70 after 1961. That is the thought which appears to have affected all my precedessors since the original Act was introduced.
There is also a practical point which may perhaps appeal to the Committee. These pensions are paid by the National Assistance Board. There is no question, therefore, if they have to be supplemented of anyone having to get that supplementation by going to the National Assistance Board. They are there already.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Perhaps I may he allowed to finish my sentence. So far as they are concerned they first of all are drawing this pension and, if their needs are such by assistance standards, they can supplement it from the National Assistance Board. I understand that in practice in these cases the money is paid on the same order—they simply get one amount, the pension and supplement. These people will benefit from the increase in National Assistance scales which we shall he discussing, I hope, in a few days' time.
The hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Winterbottom) says very fairly: "How about the others?" The others, we must assume, are not within the National Assistance scales agreed, and, indeed, there are some who qualify for this pension owing to the higher standard of property which those eligible can hold compared with National Assistance and 294 who are not within the National Assistance scales. Some may be brought within the National Assistance scales by an increase in these scales which, if Parliament approves, will operate at the end of January. The others are people above the subsistence level ex hypothesi.
I have very great sympathy with all persons on small fixed incomes for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) is so doughty and determined a champion. But I do not think the right way to tackle that problem, which is one of the major problems of the time, is to provide an improvement in this obsolescent benefit in aid of that section, and that section only, of its recipients who are not receiving supplementation through National Assistance. I do not think that is a right or particularly helpful way of doing it.
Therefore, I came to the conclusion, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has so very clearly stated, because this is a Bill practically confined, as the Committee knows, to increases in National Insurance and Industrial Injuries contributions and benefits, that this was not the right vehicle for anything to be done for that category of person.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East asked whether I would give some hope—I think that was his phrase—in connection with this matter. The Government, as the Prime Minister has said, and my hon. Friend has quoted him, are very much concerned about the general category of the small fixed income groups, and it would be legitimate, in looking at that category, to look at the comparatively small group affected by this obsolescent benefit and, in the process, to look at this and other aspects of the matter.
I must in frankness to the Committee say that I doubt very much whether the considered view of successive Governments over ten years is likely to suffer any change in the process of that consideration for the reasons I have given and the reasons which have actuated my predecessors on this matter. In so far as we look at the whole question of these groups, this group is far from being excluded.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I should like to express my sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman. It is quite clear that 295 in this matter he has explored every avenue and he finds that each of them is a cul-de-sac. I know how disappointed he must feel, and he must have an additional disappointment when he thinks that although under some new town planning scheme it may be possible for him to look at a few more avenues, it is quite certain that they also will be cul-de-sacs. It is a poor end to a gentleman who used to show such ingenuity when he sat on this side of the Committee in vaulting over the wall at the end of a cul-de-sac.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 4 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.