§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Tom Fraser)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House will be aware that the purpose of the Bill is to put right an unsatisfactory situation which has existed since 1955. Incidentally, it redeems an election pledge made by my party, that this would be one of the first Bills of a Labour Government. In fact, it is the very first. It is the successor of Private Members' Bills introduced in the last Parliament by the Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short). In all respects, it is a short Bill.
First, a word about the history of travel concessions. The local authorities with transport undertakings have a long tradition of free travel or cheap fares for special classes: for children, for old people, for the blind and the disabled. This practice was undisputed until 1954, when a Birmingham ratepayer successfully challenged it in the courts.
All travel concessions given by municipal transport undertakings were then put in jeopardy, until my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip came to their rescue with a new Bill. Unhappily, the then Government, in 1955, would not go all the way with my right hon. Friend, and the Bill was amended to apply only to the then existing concessions, that is, concessions existing at November, 1954.
This was unfortunate, because it meant that on any new routes provided by municipal transport undertakings travellers could not enjoy the benefit of any concessions. The local authorities were not enabled to grant them. When local 1342 authorities changed from trolley buses to diesel buses, for example, this also was a change which disabled them from continuing concessions which they manifestly wanted to continue. Also, there were local authorities which had not been giving concessions prior to 1954 and which wanted thereafter to introduce them, but the Act of 1955, as the Government insisted on it being amended, would not permit them to do so.
The Government said at the time that local authorities which wished to extend their concessions could seek powers by Private Bill. Since 1955, no less than 13 such attempts have been made by local authorities through the Private Bill procedure. For example, Newcastle-upon-Tyne wanted to extend concessions from trolley buses to diesel buses. It was refused. Liverpool, because of the congestion in the city, had to rehouse many of its people outside the city limits, and it wanted to extend to old people whom it had rehoused outside the city boundary the benefit of travel concessions. This was refused. Other authorities wanted to raise the age limit of children's fares from 14 to 15 years or to grant a concession to disabled civilians similar to those enjoyed by disabled ex-Service men. These also were refused. In Scotland, Edinburgh and Aberdeen wanted to follow the good example of Glasgow and Dundee in granting concessions to old people, but charity was forbidden.
My right hon Friend the Chief Whip, as a back bencher and a private Member, refused to accept this decision and introduced Private Members' Bills in 1960, 1963 and 1964 in an attempt to get general permissive powers for the local authorities, but those Bills were always blocked and the Government of the day always steadfastly refused to find time to have them properly discussed by the House of Commons.
At present, the local authorities with transport undertakings all give concessions to children, nearly all of them give concessions to the disabled, and about one-third of them do so to old people. Most of those who do let the blind and the disabled travel free, and about one-third of them also let old people travel free. Apart from these, the concessions are for reduced fares applying to the qualified persons as they have been 1343 determined by the local authorities over the years and as defined in the 1955 Act.
The concessions are, I should say, frequently restricted to off-peak periods. This restriction to off-peak periods means—I think that the House should note this; the local authorities which provide these concessions are very conscious of it—that the favoured passengers impose no additional operational demands whatever on the transport undertakings. The buses and trolley buses are there and operated, and the favoured passengers are merely making use of the service at the time when the demand for it is very low.
The Bill will, therefore, enable local authorities with transport undertakings to make adjustments in the concessions to meet changed circumstances, changed whether by way of the changing mode of travel, the kind of public service vehicle that they operate or the rehousing of people from one part of the town in another.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Perhaps I might ask for clarification of the point from which the right hon. Gentleman has just passed. It would, I take it, under the existing law be within the powers of those municipalities to offer concessionary fares generally at off-peak periods.
§ Mr. Fraser
No. I think that that is wrong. I do not think that those authorities would be able to offer concessionary fares generally. I think that for the most part they would not wish to do so. Having concessionary fares generally would, I suppose, be the same as having differential fares for different hours of the day. I doubt very much whether the authorities have power to do that, but in any case I doubt very much whether they have any desire to be able to do that. I believe that their desire is to make the concession available to what they regard as deserving classes within their citizenry.
The Bill would enable the local authorities with transport undertakings to make the adjustments to which I have referred arising from changed circumstances, and would also enable local authorities which did not grant concessions in November, 1954, to grant them now and in the future if they so wished. 1344 There is no question in this small Bill of putting any compulsion upon local authorities to do something which they have no desire to do. It is purely permissive. The last Government said that concessions were unnecessary, that it was better to look after the elderly and disabled and so on by raising their pensions, by raising their income. The fact is, however, that many local authorities believe that they, too, should be allowed to help the deserving people within their community.
On the question of pensions, I think that I might just say, in passing, that Her Majesty's present Government are also raising pensions and that on Wednesday of this week we had the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer setting out the amounts by which they were to be raised; and that was followed immediately by certain proposals that my right hon. Friend had to make about finding the money for making the adjustments in pensions. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and his colleagues on Wednesday afternoon, although they did not say that they did not want the pensions increases, voted against finding the money which would make it possible to pay them.
The qualified persons, the persons who may be assisted under the provisions of the Bill at the discretion of the local authorities, are set out in the 1955 Act. Perhaps I might just state who they are. They are men over 65, women over 60, and children under 15. Hon. Members will have noticed that in the Bill we have provided that as and when the school-leaving age is raised from 15 to 16 local authorities will be enabled, if they so wish, to raise the age at which the concession will be granted from 15 to 16. The qualifying persons also include full-time students between the ages of 15 and 18—that is, up to 18 years of age—travelling for educational purposes, the blind and the disabled, and another category that I should mention, council members travelling in council buses and other council transport on council business.
I have been asked to extend the provisions of the Bill to cover non-municipal transport. Hon. Members have represented to me the need for the bus companies, for London Transport, and so on, to provide the concessions for which permission is given to local authorities in this 1345 Bill. I should tell the House that it is unnecessary to do that, that all of them can grant concessions, if they so wish, subject to the approval of the traffic commissioners or the Transport Tribunal. I want to make it clear that there are no additional powers that we can give them in the Bill to grant concessions. If they wish to grant concessions, they can introduce a scheme and seek the approval of the traffic commissioners or the Transport Tribunal to do so.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Has the right hon. Gentleman asked the traffic commissioners what their reaction would be to such proposals?
§ Mr. Fraser
I should have thought that hon. Members would have considered it most discourteous to the House of Commons if I went to the traffic commissioners to ask them what they would do in a hypothetical situation and then tried to get the House of Commons to agree with the commissioners.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Would not an analogous situation in the Greater London area be the granting to the Greater London Council of powers to make financial contributions towards any shortfall of revenue that the transport undertakings might suffer as a result of offering these concessions?
§ Mr. Fraser
Before coming to the point made by the hon. Member, I just wanted to say that we must bear in mind—I have it in mind—the fact that the other transport undertakings to which reference has been made do not have a rate fund to fall back on as the municipal undertakings do.
The point made by the hon. Gentleman is another one that has been represented to me, that local authorities with no transport undertakings of their own—this would obviously apply to the London County Council or the Greater London Council and a great many other authorities—should be enabled to reimburse an undertaking, whether it be a public undertaking like London Transport or a private company, the cost of granting fares concessions.
I am sorry to say that I cannot extend the Bill that far. Local authorities have many powers to engage in activities of their own, but Parliament has granted them up to now very restricted powers 1346 to contribute financially to the activities of commercial undertakings. I do not think that we could give to the local authorities powers to make grants to an undertaking like the London Transport Board without, similarly, giving them powers to make financial contributions to reimburse private bus companies which might be talked into making such travel concessions in other parts of the country.
The Bill seeks to deal with what is quite a serious problem in many parts of the country, and it seems to me that it would be a mistake if we were to interfere with this long-standing general principle of local government, that local authorities should themselves either provide the service or that the provision of the service has got to be left to the other people engaged in it. I do not think that in this little Bill we should make the change in the law that would enable the local authorities to make a financial contribution to transport undertakings, be they publicly or privately owned but not under their own control. I must advise the House not to breach this principle in this Bill.
This is a Bill which, as I have said, we promised to introduce. It is eagerly awaited by many local authorities which wish to make concessions to the disabled and the elderly travelling in their buses. It is a Bill which will bring great benefit at very little cost.
§ 11.22 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
As this is the first substantive transport business which has come before the House in this Parliament, I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow me on behalf of all hon. Members on this side to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his accession to his office. The field for which he is now responsible is one in some parts of which there exist very sharp and profound differences of political policy, and even of ideology. But over a great part of the field there is no party dispute as to where the public interest lies, and in that great proportion of the right hon. Gentleman's new responsibilities I am sure that all parts of the House, including this side of it, will wish him well and will wish him success.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a matter which has been many times, in one form or another, debated in former 1347 Parliaments. Let me say at once that I do not propose to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Second Reading of this Measure, and I do that for one reason, and for one reason only, that it is no part of the customary function of Opposition, if the Government choose to offer benefits at public expense to any particular section of the community, to seek to veto those benefits however ill-conceived or inappropriate the method chosen may be. But let there be no misunderstanding about this—that in the view of the Opposition the method proposed in this Bill for helping the elderly and the other selected groups is ill-conceived and inappropriate and will create widespread new anomalies and injustices.
These anomalies and injustices flow, as they will and must always flow, from the attempt to give people additional purchasing power not by placing additional cash at their disposal but by reducing the price of some of the goods or some of the services which they may wish to consume or purchase. Only cash benefits can ensure both the standard of living for selected groups which this House and the community at large think to be right, and also, what is only second in importance to that, the independence and freedom of choice of those groups whose standard of living Parliament chooses and decides to guarantee.
This surely is the reason why in the social security legislation of recent decades the whole trend has continually been to increase the command of the elderly, the disabled, and so on, over cash, over general purchasing power, and to move away from the free this, half-price that, from the selective, variable forms of charitable remission which were characteristic of social benefits in earlier times.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him a question? Would he apply this argument to expense accounts, because, surely, today it is just as important in big business to have large expense accounts free from taxation as it is to have income subject to taxation? Therefore, the whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman is nonsense. Moreover, these con- 1348 cessions have gone on for over 40 years. Is that wrong?
§ Mr. Powell
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be patient with me for a little while I follow my argument and will forgive me if I do not perceive as clearly as he apparently did the connection between one aspect of the tax system and the general principle on which in recent years the House has sought to raise and guarantee the standard of living of groups in the community.
This point of view—that cash benefits are the right way, that cash is the right form, in which to secure a given standard of living—is firmly held by the organisations which speak on behalf of many of these groups. I do not always find myself in agreement with the views of the National Federation of Old-age Pensions Associations, but I think that the statement made on behalf of the National Federation less than a year ago on this matter of principle puts the point firmly and correctly. It said in the "Pensioners' Voice" last December.The view of the National Federation, which has always been held, is that the accepting of such devices as free this or that does great damage to our demand for fair play for pensioners. … Give a pensioner a decent living and then he can take his place alongside all the other citizens in the land, and, as the Lancashire man says, 'stand his corner'.It is on that basis that for the last 13 years successive Acts of Parliament have raised the real purchasing power of the cash benefits in our social security system by at least 50 per cent., and in many cases by a great deal more than that. The same principle lies behind the announcement made to the House on Wednesday that the Government intend to fulfil their election pledge—as this side of the House would have fulfilled its election pledge—to make a further cash increase, with a further resultant increase in purchasing power, in the benefits of those in receipt of social security payments. But it is a contradiction of all this, it is a contradiction of the intention, which both sides of the House hold and proclaim, to guarantee an adequate standard of living to all in need, that we should now by this Bill be seeking to widen the area of benefits in kind—benefits in kind, moreover, not on a national, uniform scale but haphazard in their incidence, both locally and qualitatively, and given at the discretion of a wide variety of different bodies.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
If the view of the right hon. Gentleman is right, why did his Government agree to the 1955 Act?
§ Mr. Powell
I am coming to that. In any case, there is a difficulty which, for historical reasons, has to be faced and I will not shirk it.
§ Mr. Tom Fraser
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the logic of his argument would carry him to a point at which he would not permit local authorities to grant houses to old-age pensioners at concessionary rents?
§ Mr. Powell
I am going to answer the right hon. Gentleman.
Parliament, over the years, has entrusted local authorities and others with the duty of providing services—education, health and housing services—to persons who, by reason of their circumstances, are in need of those services. That is an entirely distinct matter from the guaranteeing of the standard of living, the purchasing power, of whole classes in the community. It is those classes in the community and their purchasing power with which we are essentially concerned in this Bill.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The right hon. Gentleman is making this a main point in at least the opening stages of his argument. How does it wed up with the reiterated statement of the former Prime Minister that old-age pensioners in this respect were to be regarded not as a class but as certain of the more elderly pensioners. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend that those are the only pensioners who should have travel concessions?
§ Mr. Powell
There was no question in that context that any benefits thought necessary and desirable would be given in other than a cash form, or would not thus be available for those pensioners to apply in any way they thought fit. Nor, incidentally, was there any suggestion that it would be done haphazard locally and not on a national basis.
Surely it is ironical that the very first Bill introduced by what is supposed to be a modernising Government should 1350 seek to revert to obsolete forms of charity and that it should look backward to a stage in the evolution of our social security arrangements which people thought had long passed.
I recognise, of course, that there are anomalies in the existing situation. There are towns and cities in which the rate-borne charity of providing concessionary fares for particular groups goes back 40 years or more. When this was shown to be outside their legal powers by the court case in 1954 to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, Parliament had to decide whether to preserve existing concessions, which in some cases had become traditional, or to allow them to lapse, or whether to take a course part of which—but only part, as the debate has already disclosed—is represented by the present Bill. No doubt it would have been strictly logical for those concessions to have lapsed, seeing that national responsibility has been accepted for the standard of living of the classes concerned. But it has always been the habit, not only of this House but of all our people, to temper logic with tradition. Therefore Parliament decided that it would not withdraw concessions where they were customary and in existence, but that it would not extend those concessions to a wider field where they did not then exist.
Although this caused anomalies, as it was bound to do, and although there were places where those anomalies grew with changing circumstances, it was felt—and I still feel—that it was the sensible course to recognise, in that limited sphere, local tradition and local custom.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would extend that principle over industry? Would he take away the miner's concessionery coal, or abolish the low prices for coal which are paid by ministers of religion in many parts of the country?
§ Mr. Powell
I am not going to address myself here to applications in other fields far beyond the provisions of this Bill. I think that our countrymen at large, when something has been in existence for a long time and people have become accustomed to it, do try to avoid disrupting it whenever possible. I am 1351 putting before the House, however, the consequences not of preserving an existing concession, but of virtually introducing a new principle, or rather reverting to an old one. The fact that in a minority of municipal undertakings—for most of the classes concerned it is a minority—which in turn represent a relatively small minority of the total of public service transport in the country these concessions have been preserved is no reason for opening the door wide to the gross anomalies and injustices which this form of concessionary benefit always brings. That is the reason why hon. Members on this side of the House opposed that principle, as recently as July last, though willing, if it were practicable, to remedy anomalies in the existing concessions.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
I hesitate to trespass on the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman—and he has been courteous in answering interventions—but would he, therefore, discourage local authorities in the extension of the principle of the meals on wheels service for elderly people?
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman has mistaken the point entirely. That is an actual service to certain groups—like the education service, the health service and the welfare services of which it forms part—which this House has given local authorities the duty to provide. I was proud to encourage—so far as it lay within my power when I was Minister of Health—the rapid development of that service—
§ Mr. Powell
The rapid development of that service. Hon. Members opposite must recognise—otherwise they understand nothing of this subject—the profound difference between the provision of specific services such as health, education and so on on the one hand, and the social security system, which guarantees an appropriate standard of living to all members of a particular group. That is a distinction which hon. Members must get into their heads.
I would remind the House once again of some of the many grievances which will arise from this Bill because it departs from that principle and blurs that distinction.
1352 First, there is the difference between one municipal area and another. Among the "established concessions" there is already and there will continue to be in future a wide variation—free travel or reduced fares; reduced fares generally or reduced fares at off-peak times—between one municipal area and another. These variations are not related in any way to the needs or circumstances of the individual pensioners. Unless the right hon. Gentleman now says that he proposes to issue a directive to municipalities, setting out scales and conditions to which they are all to conform—unless he proposes to do that, the result of this Bill will be on a wide scale to create differences of treatment, differences of benefit, to which no difference whatever in the circumstances of those who enjoy them in the various areas corresponds.
Then, of course, there will be the distinction between the areas of the country where these permissive powers have practical effect—because the rate fund and, following this Bill, the Consolidated Fund lie behind them—and the rest of the country. Again the question will be raised: what is the difference between the circumstances of the pensioner living in one part of the country or another, living in one city or another, living in London or in a provincial city, living in an urban area or a rural area, which justifies the rates and the taxes in one case conferring a benefit upon that pensioner and in the other case not doing so?
§ Mr. Powell
Is that a reason for increasing anomaly and injustice—that some exists? Is the hon. Member going to follow that course of reasoning?
But I have not finished with the anomalies and injustices. There will be an unjustified difference between one member of a particular class and another, according to whether he needs, or is able to avail himself of, public transport in a municipal area. Let us take two pensioners and let us suppose that otherwise their circumstances are identical. They both reside in a municipal area where the local authority has decided to implement some of these concessions. One pensioner has no occasion or no desire or no ability 1353 to use a public service vehicle. The other has. What has happened is that this House will have added to the purchasing power of the one pensioner and left the other unassisted. It will in fact have created an injustice, an inequality in the guaranteed standard of living which it was the purpose of this House to secure. It will have reverted to the principle, for example, of the late unlamented tobacco concession for pensioners, of which I am proud to have happened to be the Minister who proposed the abolition to this House in an earlier Parliament—an arrangement which in effect put additional purchasing power into the pockets of one set but not another set of pensioners, upon no ascertainable or justifiable basis of distinction.
But that is not the end of the matter. The principal Act, with which this Bill will be read as one, sets out, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded the House, the categories to whom, if they live in an appropriate area and if the appropriate decision happens to be taken by the relevant authority, some or all of the possible concessions will be available. But what is the basis of distinction between these specified categories and others? People are going to ask questions. They are going to ask why those which are set out in 1955 Act are "specially deserving classes". This was a term which the right hon. Gentleman used. He said these concessions will be given by local authorities "to what they regard as specially deserving classes". The widowed mother will ask, "Why are pensioners or elderly persons a deserving class when widows are not a deserving class?" They do not appear in the 1955 Act. People will ask why persons over a particular age are a deserving class when those in receipt—[Interruption.]—the purpose of that was to preserve the existing concessions where they existed but what is happening by this Bill—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Edward Short)
What was their purpose?
§ Mr. Powell
They were laid down by the late Government in order to cover the existing concessions which it was the purpose of that Act to preserve. [interruption.] If the Chief Whip would relapse into that silence which is normal for Chief Whips I will continue. The opposite side of the House by this Bill 1354 are espousing these distinctions and are saying that in their opinion these and only these are the deserving classes.
§ Mr. Powell
It is very tiresome if we are to have both garrulity and incomprehension from the Patronage Secretary. However, I will have another attempt in case other hon. Gentlemen share his inability to understand the point.
The object of the 1955 Act was to make sure of not abolishing or reversing the concessions which were shown to exist in 1954. That was the purpose of the Act, and the categories were so drawn as to ensure that the concessions which happened to exist at that time were preserved. But now, by this Bill, the Government themselves, by making those categories the basis of a new and general provision, espouse the view that these and these only are the deserving categories for the purpose of this particular addition to their purchasing powers. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I appreciate the difficulty of this point for the party opposite. As I say, people will ask why widows are not a deserving class when pensioners are, why persons over 60 or 65 are deserving when those who need grants from the National Assistance Board are not deserving. Voices will be heard to inquire why the unemployed are not deserving when the members of a local authority are.
This is a specimen of the endless absurdities, anomalies and injustices which arise when once we leave the broad, modern path which we have been following in recent years, of guaranteeing in the form of cash, spendable at the discretion of the recipients, whatever standard of living the country can afford for its elderly and for those who in any other way are in need of help and of supplement. The Government, in short, will find—
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Lady will be able to intervene in a moment. The Government will find that by this Act they have only created new injustices and anomalies which will be harder to remedy and that they have taken a not unimportant retrograde step in the development of our social services.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Mr. E. Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
When I came from The Hartlepools to take my seat in this House I was, naturally, concerned about how to reconcile a very worthy convention in it with what my constituents expected me to say. This caused me a great deal of trouble. I think that hon. Members could appreciate that in The Hartlepools my people had suffered a prolonged baptism of humiliation. Excessive unemployment in an area of high potential was something to get very angry about. I thought, on that journey from The Hartlepools, that that faith in ourselves had not been recognised nationally. I feel that despite the contribution which my area and the region has made to the national wealth of the country, we have not succeeded in qualifying for the capital investment which was necessary to meet the needs of the new age.
But I recalled that we had done a great deal for ourselves and, bearing in mind what the Government have already done, I felt that any difficulty in reconciling the conventions of this House with the matters concerning my constituency was, to some extent, resolved. That is how I felt five minutes ago, but, having heard the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), I regret, with the greatest respect to the House, that I have still to opt for respecting its conventions, although I would willingly join issue on other matters.
However, bearing in mind that, only the other day, the Government made very generous proposals for helping pensioners, I am pleased to be able to take part in, and make some contribution to, this debate. We are pursuing a worthy piece of legislation which directly helps the old people, who have made a very large contribution to the wealth of the nation. Many of us—indeed, all of us—are the beneficiaries of what they have done. They deserve a greater share in what they have created.
All of us can recall the very unhappy circumstances in 1954 which brought to an end, or limited, the principle of concessionary fares and certainly since that date have created serious anomalies among local authorities. If, in those days, it was discovered that the law was lacking, it should have been the desire of the House to correct the law and 1356 not use it as it was then in order to discuss and discover principles arising out of its deficiencies. That, I believe, would have been the duty of the House then, but, for ten long years, the problem has remained unanswered.
I am quite satisfied that in this, my maiden speech, I can recall one who dealt, during the course of this Parliamentary life, with the subject of transport—my late hon. Friend who represented The Hartlepools, David T. Jones. Here was an honourable man who, in my opinion, gave his life for his constituency, which I am now proud to represent. He was a man in the truest sense of the word. I recall reading a little story he told in the House when seconding a Motion on concessionary fares which had been moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short).
Mr. Jones referred to some little children in his native town of Pontypridd and recalled how, as transport chairman there, with the support of his colleagues, he introduced concessionary fares which enabled these children to travel from the outskirts of the town to the beautiful park which provides so much pleasure and enjoyment to local citizens and visitors. The children, he said, were safe and free in the park, removed from the dangers of the streets.
While we are concerned with major matters of Government decision, this story may appear to be insignificant, but, as we all know in a democracy, it is the small things that bring about true greatness and I think—and am proud to think—that this House, in giving the Bill a Second Reading, would be paying a great tribute to my late hon. Friend. Apart from his other qualities, he was a generous and unselfish man and I believe that David Jones would have had me say, as the first speaker following the right hon. Gentleman, that this House and I ought to pay a tribute also to one who has pursued, over a decade, with persistence, patience and tolerance, social justice in this sense. I therefore conclude with a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central.
§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
This is the second occasion this week on which it has been my privilege 1357 to follow a maiden speaker. On behalf of both sides of the House, I offer the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) a tribute on the excellent quality and the human quality of his speech. Perhaps one of the most impressive things at the beginning of this Parliament is the high quality of the maiden speeches delivered from both sides. On Wednesday, to the hon. Member for Old-bury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner), I expressed a sentiment I should like to repeat to the hon. Member for The Hartlepools.
When the hon. Gentleman comes to know the House a little better, he will realise that one of the most likeable things about it is that it has a short memory for a bad speech and a long memory for a good one, and he falls easily and effortlessly into the long memory category. We shall welcome the contributions he may make from time to time to our debate.
I couple with that a supplement to the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in offering my congratulations also to the Minister of Transport and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on assuming their new responsibilities. I also—prcvided that this is more or less adjusted to my own outlook and thinking—wish them every success in their task. They have one advantage over all other Departments of State, as was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, who said that the Minister of Transport has an advisory council of no fewer than 50 million people.
I welcome the Bill and I do not wish to get embroiled in those matters of high political principle which were dealt with so adequately by my right hon. Friend. The Bill, which is limited to the local authorities may make a very complicated situation a little better and, by and large, confers a social benefit on the people.
I well remember the eloquent speeches made by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), on other occasions, in outlining to the House the many reasons why this matter should be taken with the parliamentary seriousness that I hope it enjoys today. But there is a danger, as indicated by my right hon. Friend at the end of his speech. Will the Bill not only not unscramble the present difficulties 1358 and anomalies, but, in its tactical exercise, create additional anomalies and contrasts? That remains to be seen. These more detailed matters can be dealt with on later stages. But I am happy that my right hon. Friend recommends that we should not oppose the Bill's Second Reading and that major or special differences between the two sides of the House can be dealt with later.
The Bill is concessionary and is permissive from the point of view of local authorities. As some hon. Members will appreciate, I have the responsibility of holding the chairmanship of the largest independent bus company in the country, Lancashire United Transport, which operates a large fleet of vehicles. I discharge my obligation amid a sea of local authorities, which surround me.
My company is not even related to the B.E.T. group of companies, which have a share in their capital holdings as between 50 per cent. being held by the B.E.T., while the other 50 per cent., which used to be held by the British Transport Commission, has now been taken over by the holding company.
My company, which has a capital of over £1 million, operates more than 500 public service vehicles and in its activities it is obvious that it has been my task and responsibility to keep the company in step with my surrounding local authorities, particularly in looking at the pattern of what they do by way of concessionary travel. In studying the concessions they give it is obvious that varying and contradictory patterns of concession are granted.
For this reason, I will be delighted if the Bill tidies up this situation. One need only look at the concessions granted by, say, the authorities of Oldham, Bolton, Manchester, Salford, St. Helen's, Wigan, Leigh, Warrington, and others, to see that a company such as mine, with such a high civic responsibility, owes it to the community to keep its activities in step with these large and varied authorities.
The classes of persons covered by the Bill are men over 65 and women over 60. It also includes persons not exceeding 15 and youngsters between 15 and 18 who are undergoing full time education. The qualification "full-time education" is extremely important in the context of the Bill, which also covers the blind, disabled and members of local authorities.
1359 Since the contrasts and difficulties involved in ascertaining the categories of individuals who might or might not be entitled to concessionary travel have already been mentioned, I will not become embroiled in that argument, but leave it until a later stage of the Bill. All I will say is that I hope that in the permissive actions of local authorities, in their giving concessions, there will be an obligation on them to make a selection among the really aged who are infirm and who find moving about difficult and the elderly who are not infirm, but who are quite capable of moving about on their own and looking after their own lives.
To cite myself as an example, at 66 I think that it will be reasonably agreed on both sides of the House that I am not in need of a concession for anything. I note from the expression on the face of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that something I have said amuses him. I think I know what it is, but since it arises out of other matters perhaps I will be allowed to leave the subject there.
Will the Bill do anything to help local authorities to make concessionary travel available? Hon. Members will appreciate that apart from my business responsibilities, I represent the City of Manchester and appreciate how necessary it is for that corporation to give concessionary travel facilities. Under the financial provisions of the Bill the Minister would appear to be in a position to aid. either through direct grant or Exchequer equalisation grant, local authorities in the concessions they may make.
The great local authority which I represent politically, Manchester Corporation, has always got underneath its transport authority the safety net of the rate fund, whereas I, earning my bread in the difficult wilderness of competitive transport and free enterprise, have nothing to aid me other than the resources of my company. Therefore, when thinking in terms of concessionary treatment I hope that it will be thought right that I should make a special plea for some means to be found whereby companies such as my own are able to be aided in the concessions they make. I appreciate that such aid would be at the discretion of the Minister.
1360 That is the main point I wish to make about the Bill at this stage. I must add, however, that the First Secretary informed me last night, arising out of the speech which I made on Wednesday, that he was pleased to say that the Minister of Transport was today meeting the bus operators in regard to matters connected with the Budget. This is not really the time, but I must comment on another matter. While they will be discussing the tax on diesel fuel with the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot imagine that the operators, many of whom I know, will resist the opportunity to try to improve the shining hour by indicating the additional burden that might fall on them as a result of the passage of this Bill.
Having said that, it is only fair that I should speak about a Press statement which I issued from my office yesterday. Although it is not intrinsically a part of the Bill under discussion, it does condition the circumstances in which the Bill is being introduced. My statement read:The increase of tax on diesel fuel from 2s. 9d. to 3s. 3d. will cost Lancashire United Transport an additional £13,000 in a full year, to make an annual fuel tax payable of some £200,000 a year. The increase of the National Insurance contributions payable by the company will cost "—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We finished with the Budget yesterday. Personally, I take the view that any connection between what the hon. Member is now saying and the ultimate effect of this Bill is too nebulous to allow me to permit it.
§ Sir R. Cary
I accept your Ruling at once, Mr. Speaker, but merely wished to register my bitter regret at the introduction of the additional tax on diesel fuel.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
I should like to claim the traditional indulgence of the House on the occasion of this my maiden speech. I represent the constituency of Gravesend, a widespread area which contains two major towns, Northfleet and Gravesend. Because it is also a widespread rural area I am making my maiden speech on this occasion.
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has not seen fit to enable local authorities without their own transport undertakings to participate in helping our old-age pensioners.
1361 I should like to pay tribute, before I come to the main points of my speech, to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, whose persistence and energy over the past 10 years should, I feel, be rewarded by the passing of this Bill.
All of us on this side of the House welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer this week on increased pensions. But I am certain that all of us recognise that this is not enough. We recognise that before we can rid ourselves of the anomalies that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) spoke about, we have to give a pension big enough for the pensioners to play their part in our society and not be cast off at the age of 60 or 65, being told, "Your wages have dropped and now you will have to depend on certain sorts of charity". Until we get that pension, there will be anomalies. We can name plenty of them, one being the fact that some local authorities spend much more than others on providing facilities for pensioners.
I know of local authorities that give music hall shows every week. Others make provision for pensioners' clubs. And private undertakings, such as cinemas, provide cheap shows for pensioners. That is not increasing the pensioners' purchasing power in the real sense. It is giving them an opportunity to be part of our society. I do not believe that if concessions were given in my constituency pensioners in the villages of Higham, Cuxton and Cooling would particularly want to go to Gravesend to spend more money, but it is enjoyable for them to take part in the life of the town, to feel that they are part of its bustle, and not be isolated in some of the smaller villages from one week's end to another.
I have the privilege of having in my constituency one of the most progressive urban district councils in the country. Northfleet Council has provided the first holiday home to be provided by an urban district council. It is worth noting that the Urban District Councils' Association, a few years ago, gave full support to the Bill presented by my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, and, I am sure, would consider giving support to a fuller extension of this Bill. I would like to see an extension given to local authorities 1362 to be able to negotiate with private undertakings and other local authority undertakings to share in their schemes.
In my constituency I have two bus undertakings. One is the London Transport Executive and the other the Maidstone and District Bus Company. The fares from the outlying villages into Gravesend are very high indeed. Therefore, any concession to pensioners, the disabled and the blind would be more than welcome. I believe that pensions should be a lot higher than they are, but until that time comes, we should give every opportunity to local authorities and to organisations like bus companies which help pensioners and those who are disabled.
I thank the House for its indulgence to me on this very nerve-racking occasion.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
It falls to me to have the very pleasant task of congratulating the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) on his maiden speech and in doing so I should like to repeat the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) about the very high standard of maiden speeches which we have heard in this Parliament. The hon. Member for Gravesend has kept up the record. He has spoken with fluency, conviction and great moderation. I am sure that we can all look forward to hearing him again.
I, too, represent a constituency in which there is a large element of rural bus services and I was very interested in the points that he was making. If it is not presumptuous of me as a back bencher, I should also like to add my congratulations to the Minister of Transport. As my hon. Friend remarked, he has a host of advisers in this country and he occupies not only one of the most important but one of the most difficult Ministries on that account.
The Minister, in moving the Second Reading, gave something of its history. It has been a matter of controversy for 10 years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (South-West (Mr. Powell), replying, expressed strongly the reasons why a large number of us on this side of the House have always had objections to such a Bill as this, notwithstanding the persistent efforts 1363 of the right hon. Gentleman the Government Chief Whip. If I repeat the point, in a more simple fashion than was done by my right hon. Friend, perhaps we shall be able to persuade hon. Members opposite, while not agreeing with us, at least to see that we have an argument and that it is not just stupidity on our part that has caused us to have some objections to the Bill.
I think that I am interpreting correctly the feelings of many hon. Members on this side when I say that we believe that when it is decided on the grounds of policy to make a "donation"—I use that word deliberately—from our public funds to certain categories of persons on the ground of hardship, two principles should be adhered to. First, all persons in the selected category should have equal chance of benefiting and the benefits should not be haphazardly selective for some and not for others. Secondly, that even if it is not absolutely essential it is certainly desirable that the benefits should be in cash rather than in kind. It is quite clear that this and the preceding Bills which have dealt with this matter do not conform to either of those principles.
In the last debate that we had on this matter on 27th July last, I was, Mr. Speaker, not fortunate enough to catch your eye, but I made an interjection in the course of one of the speeches. I observed that only a minority of the bus services were in the hands of the municipalities and I think that it was the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. C. Morris) who challenged my remarks. On reflection, I think that he will feel that what I said was perfectly true, because the ownership structure of the buses is very complicated, and some reference has already been made to it.
I wish to go into a little more detail to make the point that approximately—I am giving only approximate figures—one-third of the whole of the bus services in Britain are wholly nationalised in that the whole of their shares are held by what is now the Holding Company which was set up under the most recent Transport Act. Those are all the buses in the Tilling Group and the Scottish omnibuses. They are wholly nationalised. Another one-third consists of the British Electric Traction group, 50 per cent. Of 1364 whose shares are with the Holding Company, while 50 per cent. are still in the hands of private enterprise shareholders.
The remaining one-third is divided among a number of bus companies such as the company that my hon. Friend has just mentioned—although most are very much smaller than his bus company—including a large number of so-called bus companies that fringe on to the coach trade. They are members of the Passenger Vehicle Operators' Association, which covers a whole host of owners of vehicles that are largely used for tours and trips, but who also run a certain number of bus services. The buses in that section, and the municipal buses, together form the remaining one-third of the total number of buses. Therefore, the municipal buses not only comprise less than one-third of the total number of buses in the country, but, geographically, very much less than one-third.
It follows that the great majority of old-age pensioners, blind persons, the disabled, and so on, will not receive any benefit from this Bill at all. In fact, a malicious person—and I do not make this point myself, though it will certainly be made by someone, but, I hope, not in this House—would say that the Bill was not so much for the benefit of pensioners, the disabled, and so on, but for the benefit of candidates at local authority elections in certain areas, because it would put them in the fortunate position of being able to promise benefits to the electors. I do not say that myself, but I would not mind taking a bet that someone will say it.
The Minister has said that there is nothing in statute law to prevent any of these bus companies other than the municipalities from giving the same sort of concessions. I interjected to ask whether he had inquired from the traffic commissioners what their view was. I did not, of course, expect an answer, but I wanted to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the traffic commissioners are very independent people. They are more analogous to judges than to civil servants, and take a very independent view indeed. They have virtually absolute control of the fare structures of these bus companies.
Last night I attended a public dinner at which five or six of the traffic commissioners were present as guests, and 1365 in private conversation I did a bit of pumping to try to find out their view on this matter. As I expected, none of them was prepared to give a view on a hypothetical situation, but it was fairly clear that they were not very enthusiastic about concessions of this kind. One of them pointed out that many bus companies rely for their traffic very largely on the very young and the very old; that to give a large number of concessions to those classes would make hay of the fare schedules, and that it would become almost impossible for the traffic commissioners to make satisfactory settlements, as they would not know how many people would claim the concession. All the fares would be knocked sideways.
I shall not, of course, disclose any names, but that same gentleman was rather inclined to attack Members of Parliament, and to ask, "If you want to help the old people and the young people, why not do so by giving them the money instead of putting it on me to fix the fares?" That difficulty will arise—
§ Mr. Tom Fraser
Is it not the fact, though, that the traffic commissioners have for a long period of years approved fare structures put up by the bus companies which provide concessionary fares for children? That is almost universal. School children get concessionary fares, and very young children pay no fares at all. So the concession is there.
§ Mr. Wilson
They do make the concession, but one of the gentlemen to whom I am referring said that he wished that they had not. He thought that these concessions should be limited rather than extended, because they made his job more difficult. Some bus companies will find difficulties if they propose a fares structure similar to that suggested in the Bill for the municipalities. We must not forget that a lot of bus companies run joint services into some towns and cities where there are municipal services. Difficulties will arise there.
One hon. Member opposite referred to concessionary coal. Hon. Members will remember the days of the Poor Law, and the very troubled history of those times when assistance was given in kind. Concessionary coal was a later development, but it is not a very happy example of giving concessions in kind, because a 1366 lot of difficulties have arisen from that practice both on the railways and in the coal mines. In the days before the war, when neither industry was nationalised and wages were low, families quite frequently received quantities of coal when they would have much preferred the value in money.
They became the victims of what was really "spivvery." They parted with their coal to others at a price lower than the market price, and did not receive the full benefit from the concession. Those who bought the coal were entering into unfair competition with the local coal merchants. The result was that the worst of all worlds was obtained all round, with the people receiving the concession not getting the full benefit of it, the public being cheated by paying the "spivs" the market price for coal that had not paid the proper price to the producer, and the coal merchant suffering from unfair competition.
Concessions like that give rise to all sorts of anomalies—
§ Commander Pursey
What is the hon. Member's attitude to fares concessions to railway directors and, in particular, to a former Prime Minister and right hon. Member for Bromley, who had a gold medallion? Is it right to provide benefits in kind in such cases? It is said that it is no use having one law for the rich and one law for the poor, but what is the hon. Member's attitude to fares concessions to railway directors? The answer is, of course, that those people are not losing money for the railways, but only occupying unoccupied seats, and the position of the people we are now considering, and children, is that they will be occupying unoccupied seats. What is the hon. Gentleman's argument against that?
§ Mr. Wilson
I was never a principal railway executive so I was never fortunate enough to have a golden pass. As a senior assistant I had a leather pass, which I had to give up on leaving the service. The principle on which ex-directors and ex-principal officers still retain their golden passes is that explained by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, that concessions already existing are, by custom, allowed to continue. I should not have thought it a very good 1367 idea to have too many of these concessions.
While on the subject of railway concessions, I would ask hon. Members to consider the position on the French railways, where the French, with their perfect logic, have carried the question of concessionary fares to absurdity. I have 25 French cousins, and before the war I often used to stay with them. One family of my cousins consisted then of a retired French Army officer and his eight children. He had served originally in the Alpine Chasseurs and, after the First World War, in the French Foreign Legion, and, as a result had an enormous amount of active service to his credit. He had been wounded no fewer than 11 times, and he had eight children.
The principle on the French railways in those days—I suppose it is still the same—was that if they gave a concession to a person wounded in a war, with complete French logic there was one concession for one wound and another concession for another wound and there was one concession for one child, two concessions for two children, and so on.
I travelled with this family from Fontainebleau to Paris to attend the French Colonial Exhibition and to buy his ticket the Army officer produced a whole sheaf of documents. It was all right at Fontainebleau, when we produced the documents, because it was a quiet station, but when we got to the Paris Metro it was not so easy, because he had to produce all the documents again while a number of impatient Frenchmen were waiting in the queue to get tickets. The logic was carried to extreme when we got into the exhibition. After seeing some of the exhibition halls, some of the children wanted to go on to the switchback. With complete French logic, a switchback was considered to be a scenic railway. All these documents came out again and had to be counted and checked to see what percentage of reduction should be allowed for the war wounds and the children. If we start giving concessions and carry them to the logical conclusion we shall get absurdities of that sort.
§ Mr. Wilson
It is not quite so bad here, but we should get many anomalies. 1368 I think that it would be better to give benefits in cash than in kind. I should have thought that it would be better to have swept away all these concessions and to give more cash. As concessions have existed for a long time something would have to be done about them when there are alterations in the boundaries of towns, and so on. It is quite anomalous that a person can get concessions on half a route and not on the other half. Something has to be done about that position and the Bill is an attempt to do it. I do not think the Act could have been left as it was in 1955, but I regret that something different from this Bill has not been put forward, although I certainly do not intend to oppose it.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I regard it as a privilege to have this opportunity of making my maiden speech on a question of vital concern to a substantial number of my constituents in East Newcastle. My constituency has had a constant inflow of residents from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. For some years from within my constituency there was a constant movement of population into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). The city council is organising a redevelopment of the city centre, which is radically changing bus routes within the city and also changing the kind of vehicles operating there.
Here is the snag. Every time a bus route is changed, every time residents are moved to new housing estates and every time new vehicles are used, concessionary fares which existed have been swept aside. The reason is that in 1955 an Act was passed by this Parliament freezing concessionary fares to the categories of people, the types of transport and the particular routes which existed at the time when concessions were made. Constantly pressure was put on this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) to get amending legislation so that these anomalies could be swept aside.
What are these anomalies? We have had much talk from hon. Members opposite about anomalies. One is simply 1369 that people who had a right to a concession have now lost it and they feel a deep sense of injustice. The second is that, as a result of the modernisation of the City of Newcastle, elderly people are being moved away from their neighbours, their friends and families, to other parts of the city. They feel that there is something very wrong with the position by which they cannot easily regain access to them without using very costly bus services because the concessions have gone.
In my constituency people who need to go to the nearest National Assistance Board office have to go outside the constituency into the Borough of Wallsend, and have to travel on two bus routes. With no concessionary fares on many of these routes, those who are most needy are those who are deprived of this privilege. The local transport authority in the City of Newcastle is evolving a modernisation scheme in the city which means a change-over from trolley to diesel buses. Nearly 20,000 elderly people in the city see their concessionary rights being steadily eroded as a result.
At the end of the Tyne Bridge there is a major development with split levels at a major roundabout and an underpass. Trolley buses cannot operate on it. This is a major arterial road between the west and the east of the city, on which there is a constant flow of traffic, which must be used by elderly, blind and disabled persons who will lose concessions because of the different type of vehicles being used. This is an example of the kind or unfairness and anomaly which has caused so much resentment in the City of Newcastle.
In some local authority areas concessionary fares were restricted to certain income categories, but incomes have changed much since 1955 and the authorities have been unable to adjust their fares. In some local authorities, particularly the one on which I used to serve as a borough councillor in the City of Leeds, concessionary fares were restricted to certain hours of the day, but the social habits of people are changing. There has been a great deal of talk about modernisation in the last 10 years and there will be much more in the next 10 years. Because of these changes, unless there is some amending legislation, the anomalies will continue.
1370 The sense of unfairness has been very much a concern of the local city council. As the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) will agree, all parties on the council have been pressing the need to extend their rights to grant concessionary fares in recent months and years, but they have been unable to do so. In 1960 Newcastle Corporation introduced a Private Bill, which was defeated in another place. It is fair to ask why this unsatisfactory position has been allowed to continue for so long. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central repeatedly introduced in this House Measures designed to remove obstacles to the granting of concessions which were created as a result of the movement of population within the city of which he is one of the representatives.
I must be quite frank about this. I appreciate that in a maiden speech one is not supposed to be too controversial, but the barriers put up against those Bills in this House were always employed by hon. Members opposite. That is why anomalies have existed during the past few years and there is a very deep sense of grievance, certainly in my constituency. I do not understand the motives of those who have opposed those Private Members' Bills, but I attempt to appreciate their arguments.
I am pleased to see that the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) has come into the Chamber. I wrote to him in April of this year on behalf of the East Newcastle Old Age Pensioners' Associations asking him to explain, so that I could explain to the members of the associations, why the Government had not given time for legislation of this kind to be brought before the last Parliament. I was at least prepared to try to understand the logic of the argument. He wrote a very courteous and long letter, although I am sure he was very much preoccupied at that time with the affairs of State. He said that he recognised that the Act had produced anomalies, but he added:to allow local authorities more freedom to grant concessionary fares would not remove them all.He mentioned private bus companies operating in certain areas which were unable to give these concessions. I accept this as another logical argument, but 1371 since when in the development of social administration in this country has it been accepted that, unless all anomalies can be removed, no anomalies should be removed? This is the crucial argument, because the argument advanced by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) at the beginning of the debate ran on the very same lines.
The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire said this in his letter to me:Cheap fares will help only those who travel…. There are many elderly folk who cannot get about, or do not wish to do so …. Cheap travel would not help these persons.This is true, but since when in our social services has it been argued that, unless everybody can be helped, nobody should be helped? We provide blind welfare institutions for the blind, but they are of no earthly use to those of us who can see. We provide social services for the very young, but they are of no earthly use to those no longer young or those who have no children. No Act can be passed through Parliament which does not leave some injustice and some anomalies. The motivation behind the Bill is to remove a large number of anomalies which have occurred in recent years.
I do not believe that anybody in the House can take seriously any suggestion that the elderly can be made prosperous in a short time. Let us give the elderly more money. This is to happen in the near future. But for some considerable time the elderly and the disabled will be relatively poor compared with the rest of the population. It is both humane and administratively sensible to carry through this legislation. There was a certain ruthless logic in what the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said in opening the debate for the Opposition. The crucial difference is that we on this side regard concessionary fares for the elderly on transport undertakings as a social service. This is a fundamental disagreement between us, because the right hon. Gentleman does not regard them as such and therefore he objects in principle to our giving concessions in this way.
I should conclude by apologising to the House. I have probably strayed beyond the bounds of convention in being rather controversial. I do not expect 1372 such latitude on the part of hon. Members opposite in my future contributions in the House, but they may be even more controversial than the one I have made this morning. If I have been a little controversial and stepped a little beyond the bounds of convention, let me explain that this arises from a deep desire to help the thousands of elderly, disabled and blind living in my constituency who for the last two years have been pressing upon me as a prospective candidate for Parliament to urge the future Prime Minister to introduce legislation to ease their lot. I am delighted that this is being done so early in the lifetime of this new Parliament.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
It is a very great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) and have the opportunity to congratulate him on what I am sure everybody in the House will agree was a very forceful and enjoyable maiden speech. If the hon. Gentleman is always as attractive in being controversial as he has been this morning, I am sure that no hon. Member will find fault with him at any time. We shall all look forward to hearing him frequently in this Parliament.
I cannot help feeling that there is a certain amount of mixed-up approach by the Opposition—[HON.MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."]—I mean by the Government. It is most difficult to get used to this side of the House, but no doubt we shall. The Government seem to have a mixed-up approach to benefits. Perhaps it is because this is a question which is charged with a good deal of emotion, because we all feel strongly about the interests of the elderly, the disabled and the young.
I noted the Minister's remark that the Bill was designed to put right an unsatisfactory situation existing since 1955. I cannot accept that what the Minister is doing in the Bill is to put right that unsatisfactory situation. He is replacing one unsatisfactory situation with another which is equally unsatisfactory, if not more so.
Another strange approach I noticed in the Minister's speech was that, when referring to previous attempts by the Labour Party to get some such legislation through and to attempts by local 1373 authorities to obtain particular powers, he said that the charity had been forbidden. I had thought that the Labour Party had come to quite a different approach on the whole subject of pensions and that the whole idea of bringing any element of charity into it was condemned by them. They have constantly appealed for the removal of the National Assistance Board on the very ground that it appeared to be an application for charity and that pensioners and others should have sufficient to live on.
The Prime Minister said recently that pensioners would have sufficient to live on in comfort without recourse to National Assistance. That was, of course, before the election. One thought then that that meant that the element of charity would disappear entirely. In fact, in the last few days a Budget has been introduced which makes certain recommendations and during the course of his Statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to various matters dealing with pensions. There is this strange approach in which blanket increases are offered where it might be reasonable to be selective and selective increases are given where it would be more logical to have a blanket increase.
I refer particularly to pension rates. It will be known to the House that at the election the Conservative Party pledged itself not only to increase the old-age pension but to provide a special increase for the elderly. This is a particularly sensible approach. Any hon. Member who has been round his constituency and seen the conditions in which pensioners live knows full well that, although a newly retired person who has just finished a well paid job is well equipped with clothes, household furnishings, and so on, when he has been retired for some years these items begin to wear out and it is then that the pension needs to be increased. If the Government were to be selective, one item on which they should have been selective was the pension rate. That would have helped to remove the need for this type of concession.
The earnings rule is to be removed for certain widows. I am not quite clear on this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:Finally, I am very glad to announce that the earnings rule for widows' benefits will be abolished. I have been convinced for a long 1374 time that it was intolerably unjust that a widowed mother who goes out to work.…"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 1032.]It is not clear from that whether it is widowed mothers or widows generally. In any event, if the argument is that pensioners should be given a complete carte blanche to earn money, this must surely apply to all pensioners and not just to widows. If an exception is to be made, I should have thought that a blanket approach over the whole board was the right one rather than to particularise, thus creating anomalies similar to those which are being discussed this morning.
There is the same mixed-up approach over the 10s. widow, who is to have an increase of £1 a week, thus perpetuating existing anomalies instead of removing them. I thought that it had long ago been agreed that a woman living singly, whether she be a widow or a spinster, was no worse off whichever state she was in.
The Government have started tackling pensions by creating more anomalies than they are removing. I see the Bill as a Measure which, though it may abolish some anomalies, will only introduce others. I could have seen the logic of the Bill if the Minister had told the House that he also wanted power for local authorities to subsidise other transport undertakings. This at least would seem to be sensible. Accepting the principle that widows, pensioners, and so on, should have concessions, I would see the logic of ensuring that all pensioners, children and disabled persons were able to travel on buses at cheaper fares, or even without fares. But I cannot see the logic in coming to the House with a Bill which is so limited as this. This is the most important part of the argument of my hon. Friends, that this Bill seems to have been rather hastily brought in because of a pledge to remove certain anomalies, and it seems to me to create even worse ones.
It is unfortunate, too, that there is an entire discretion on those authorities. Here again the party opposite, which has fought so hard and striven constantly for equality and fairness, is leaving a situation in which the matter depends on the local authority. Is that not going to be anomalous, that people will have different concessions in different areas, even where 1375 there are local authorities running transport undertakings? As I say, there are others who will not get any benefit at all because they do not live in an area where there is a local authority running such an undertaking.
The schedule of persons concerned is arbitrary and one can think of extensions to the schedule. If one is talking of giving concessions to pensioners, I wonder whether there is any justification for not including the unemployed or those on National Assistance, although not of pensionable age. These are all people who may equally be in need or possibly be more in need. The mere fact that a person is a pensioner does not indicate that he has no other means which would enable him to own and drive a motor car.
I therefore feel that if more time had been given to the consideration of this matter we would have had a Bill which would have cleared up all the anomalies, even though it might have been against my own views and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I agree with my right hon. Friend, and my basic approach to the matter is that I would sooner see pensions kept up at an ample level so that pensioners could enjoy the benefits of any increase in prosperity. Over the last 13 years they have, in fact, done so.
The present Government have started off very well on this occasion, but they started off very well last time and then they fell way behind. This is a very impressive start, and the best thing the party opposite can do, if they really want to help the pensioners, is to see that they live up to the promise of their start. One way in which the present Government will fail miserably to live up to their beginning will be by giving the inflationary spiral the sort of twist that they have given it this week. This is one way of making sure that the extra guinea will be worth less very quickly.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The hon. Member, from a seated position, says that my party cannot talk about that. The figures are there. The purchasing power of the pension has gone up steadily.
§ Mr. Manuelindicated dissent—1376
§ Mr. Goodhew
The hon. Gentleman can shake his head as much as he likes, but he will not alter the facts. The purchasing power went up steadily.
I am frightened that the party opposite, in making these suitable gestures today, will fall down on the job as they did last time. Today we are not opposing this Bill, but let hon. Members opposite know that it is not good enough for them just to start off with a shower of fireworks today and then go to the country in a few months' time thinking that that is all that matters. Account will have to be rendered in the end, and unless they are careful with their financial and economic policies they will find that the good work that the Minister of Transport is trying to do today is destroyed and the carpet has been pulled from under his feet.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Hobden (Brighton, Kemptown)
I crave the indulgence of the House in making my maiden speech on a matter which is of vital concern to my constituency. I should like to refer to my constituency, Brighton, Kemptown, because it has recently made history. It used to be said—and it is right that I should use the past tense—that Sussex was the last county to which Christianity came and that it would be the last county to which Socialism would come. I trust that I shall not be breaking the tradition of a maiden speech when I say that Socialism has arrived in Sussex.
The Kemptown constituency is composed of approximately 62,000 electors and, with the sister constituency of Pavilion, covers the area of that very remarkable university town of Brighton which was the home of George IV. Notwithstanding that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) is on the opposite side of the House—and I am sorry that he is not here today —I feel sure that he and I will do all in our power to protect the interests of Brighton, even though he had some objections to the send-off that I received from Brighton on the day that I first came here, and even stronger objections to the unfurling of the red flag from Brighton Town Hall as my train left Brighton station.
Kemptown was represented formerly by Mr. David James, and during the 1377 recent election both he and I at various meetings of the pensioners' organisations debated the question of pensions and concessionary fares. He used to get into trouble because the pensioners claimed that their pension was not adequate—I agreed with them—and I used to get into trouble because I promised that a new Labour Government would take certain steps with regard to concessionary fares. Personally, I think that the pensioners should have both adequate pensions and concessionary fares.
We have gone some way towards giving adequate pensions this week, but I confess that I am far from happy at the terms of the Bill, well intentioned though it may be. Circumstances compel me to make some pertinent remarks on the Bill as it vitally affects the electors of Brighton and particularly those in Kemptown.
May I remind the House that I sit on a very hot seat. It is not every day that a Member of Parliament comes here with a majority of seven votes after seven recounts. Therefore, I am sure that the House will understand that my constituents expect me to represent their interests, and I shall do this even though from time to time it may be necessary to rock a few boats, though ever so gently, and even cause some frowns on the faces of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
This Bill deserves some criticism. I am sorry if that is a controversial remark, but it has to be said. The Bill as it stands will create even more anomalies than it will cure if the position that will arise in my constituency is any criterion. In many constituencies where there is a public transport undertaking the position will be simple and I welcome their good fortune in this respect, but in Brighton and district the position will become absurd.
My local authority has been in touch with me on the matter and has also written to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport concerning the appalling inequalities which are bound to arise without any apparent good reason. The Bill as it stands enables local authorities only—I repeat, local authorities only—to make concessions on their own public service vehicles, and, if they do, the cost may be borne by the general ratepayer.
1378 But in Brighton we have a co-ordinated transport system operating between the local authority undertaking, the Southdown Motor Services Limited and the Brighton, Hove and District Omnibus Company Limited. Receipts from the operators of these three undertakings are pooled and to achieve the best use of vehicles, and the correct proportion of total miles run, the routes run by the three operators are constantly inter-changed, and two operators may even run on one route.
The Bill makes no attempt to deal with this operation and it is obvious that qualified persons will benefit or not, quite capriciously. I am obliged to our local evening paper, the Brighton Evening Argus, of 6th November for drawing attention to still further anomalies caused by the Bill. After stating that the Bill seeks to sort out the existing legal tangle, the "Opinion" column of that paper points out that the two private undertakings have always had the right to introduce reduced fares and it asks:Are the two private companies expected to make good their losses from their already thin margin of profits,"—and this is true in respect of these two companies—while the corporation undertaking gets a fat economic bolster from the Exchequer? Os will the corporation offer a go-it-alone fare reduction to the old people, which would mean that in some outlying areas old people could travel cheaply while on other routes they would have to pay their full whack?It continues, and I could not agree with it more:If the Government seriously intended this Bill to relieve the pensioners' plight, why not? Old people travelling on privately owned buses are surely no different from those who ride on municipal transport?The article continues by criticising what is regarded as hasty and, therefore, bad legislation. I am not getting involved in that argument, though I think that there may be some merit in that observation.
Let us look further at the argument in the light of what has happened in Wednesday's Budget. Almost certainly bus fares will go up. At one stroke of the pen one of the main themes of the Buchanan Report has gone out of the window—the theme of the social purpose of public transport. I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that discussions will take place with the industry on 1379 the effects of the increase in fuel oil prices on transport undertakings. But time is not on our side and it is certainly not on the side of the pensioner. Unless the increase in bus fares is held in abeyance, the anomalies caused by the Bill will become even more fantastic.
The Brighton Town Council has asked its Members of Parliamentto use their best endeavours to bring about any necessary change in the law to enable concessionary fares at off-peak periods to be granted to the senior citizens of Brighton.If we are to do this in Brighton, then, clearly, the local authority should be in a position to reimburse the independent operator out of the general rate fund.
I shall support the Bill because it represents some progress, and I do not want to be accused of holding up at least some measure of progress. I feel, however, that if those who set out, by the Bill, to alleviate the position of the aged and the blind had got to grips with the whole problem, and not just a part of it, the whole country, and certainly my constituents, would have been eternally thankful. As it is, in Brighton there will be a nasty taste left in the mouths of our people. I implore the Government to lose no time in dealing with the remainder of this question and to solve once and for all this very human problem.
I thank the House for its indulgence.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I cannot help but feel that it is somewhat of a departure from the normal conventions of the House that I have to undertake the task of complimenting and congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Hobden) on his maiden speech. It is a little strange that it should have to be done from this side of the House, and it shows something of a lack of interest in an important subject on the part of the Opposition.
I take the opportunity most gratefully, however, of saying that we all appreciate very much my hon. Friend's speech and particularly the way in which he addressed himself to anomalies created by the Bill which would affect his constituency. He obviously has the interests of his constituents at heart. He made an excellent speech. I hope that we 1380 shall have many opportunities to hear him speak on other topics.
I would not have intervened in the debate if it had not been for the fact that I listened to the extraordinarily reactionary speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). It was a speech which ought to be deplored by every hon. Member. I say that it was thoroughly reactionary because I should have thought, when a leading member of the Opposition rose to deal with this first major Bill introduced into the House, that apart from the perfunctory congratulations, he would have taken the opportunity of saying how he admired the vim and vigour of this Government in getting down immediately to what is a really important job, the passing of a Bill putting into effect a pledge made in the course of the General Election campaign. The right hon. Gentleman did not do this. It is true that he congratulated my right hon. Friend on his appointment and gave him the usual good wishes, but he then went on to attack the Bill from the point of view of what he called Conservative principle.
I was so interested that I went into the Library and looked up the debate on the 1955 Bill when the then Minister of Transport, now a Member of another place, dealt with the Bill. He put forward in the forefront of his objections to it not the principle which was put forward today by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West but another principle altogether, the question of the restriction of this privilege to local authorities. It is true that he mentioned the objection made today by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, but he certainly did not devote the attention to it which was given by the right hon. Gentleman.
I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman and asked what I think was a very relevant question. If the right hon. Gentleman was saying that the Bill goes against the principle that one should not depart from legislation dealing with assistance to pensioners as a whole, I asked him why the Government had approved and passed the 1955 Bill.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) explained that very clearly.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am going to deal with that so-called explanation. I shall not neglect it and I hope that the hon. Member will listen carefully to what I have to say on the matter.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West dealt with it by saying, "Oh, that was to preserve long-existing traditions." I hope that I am putting it fairly. That was his answer, and a ridiculous answer on the face of it, as I shall show in a few moments. If we could have pensions for old-age pensioners and payments for the disabled and for children between 15 and 18—so that such payments were sufficient to cover all their needs—that, of course, would be the ideal solution. If one could pay the old-age pensioner sufficient so that there was no burden on him in travelling on a vehicle, if one could pay a blind person so that, without hardship of any sort, he could travel on a vehicle, well and good. If we could arrange similarly for children between 15 and 18 years of age, well and good. That would be the ideal way. But we cannot.
We on this side have increased pensions by a certain amount. We have done what we could within the scope of our finances, much to the annoyance of the Opposition, and we have had to take serious measures in order to pay for such increase. But no one pretends for a moment that an old-age pensioner will receive sufficient even after the increase. He will have to live on his weekly £4, or £6 10s. for a couple, and no one thinks that that is enough. We cannot help it. We have increased the pension as far as we can. But to say that in present circumstances, having increased the pension in that way, we should deny any other concession to the old-age pensioner is the depth of absurdity on the part of the Opposition. We all agree that the ideal way would be to pay everyone enough in order to avoid the giving of concessions, but even the Opposition will recognise that that is impossible. In the circumstances, therefore, it is necessary to grant these concessions.
Are the Opposition saying that we ought not to grant the concessions, or did the right hon. Gentleman mean that he intends to propose an Amendment in Committee to provide that we should widen all the concessions to cover all old-age pensioners in order to sweep 1382 away any anomaly? Obviously, that is not his suggestion. There must be a limit. We must do as much as we can, but only certain things are possible.
My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip must be most sincerely thanked for his efforts regarding this Bill. He fought a great battle over these concessions. The first Bill which he introduced would have brought into effect most of the provisions which we are proposing now, but the then Government denied him that purpose, cutting down the Bill's provisions in a certain way. We all remember that, by its decision in Prescott v. Birmingham Corporation, the Court of Appeal held that to grant privileges to special classes was discriminating and offended the principal that any such benefit should be applied to the general body of ratepayers. By cutting down the terms of the Bill which my right hon. Friend introduced in 1955 to put that matter right, the then Tory Government were responsible for creating many anomalies.
It does not lie in the mouth of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West to talk about anomalies being created by this Bill. The then Government created the anomalies which we are seeking to set right. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) may know what they are, but I will remind the House of a few of these anomalies. First, the provisions of the 1955 Act were restricted to local authorities who had taken power to grant these concessions by November, 1955. This meant that no local authority which had not taken such power could thereafter do so. What an absurdity! The right hon. Gentleman talks about continuing a long tradition. A local authority which had taken power to grant concessions by November, 1955, was enabled to continue certain concessions, but no other local authority could do so.
What was the Government's answer to criticism about that? They said that a local authority could proceed by a private Bill, but when authorities tried to promote private Bills for the purpose, the power was denied to them. It was an absurdity on the face of it.
What were the other anomalies? In the phraseology of concessions exercised there were definitions covering what authorities could or could not do. The concessions might apply only to old-age 1383 pensioners resident within the bounds of the local authority area, or words to that effect. Thus, a pensioner not resident within the authority area could not enjoy the concession although travelling on the municipal buses. Another anomaly was that the concession was restricted to certain routes, with the result that travelling to any housing estates built outside a defined area could not be included. Clearly, numerous anomalies were created by the 1955 Act.
My right hon. Friend tried desperately to put matters right on two other occasions, but what happened to the two Bills which he brought in? In their desire to continue the long tradition about which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West spoke, the Tory Government of the day blocked those Bills and prevented their coming into operation. I am very glad that one of the first steps taken by the new Government is to set matters right. What they are doing will please important classes in our community and will confer great benefits upon them. The Bill is long overdue, and I congratulate the Government on it. It is an example of the vigour with which they will tackle all their problems. Hon. Members opposite may smile, but they will smile very much the other way when they see how, step after step, this Government proceed, first, to undo the effect of ill-timed measures which the Tory Government enacted, and, second, to put into effect—this will make me very proud—the great aims which we stated in our programme. I hope that the Bill will soon be put on the Statute Book and confer the excellent benefits which are deserved upon the people to whom it refers, the old, the blind, the disabled and young children.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Ledger (Romford)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the way in which they have conducted their business in the House so far. To many of us they have already shown that there is a lot more hope for everyone concerned, particularly for our constituents, in dealing with them rather than their predecessors.
May I sound a note of warning? One experience which annoyed many of us 1384 and our constituents in the past was the very long time it took for the Ministry of Transport to reply to our letters. I have noticed over the past 10 years that it took three or four times as long to get a reply from the Ministry of Transport than from any other Ministry. I hope that this will be put right under the new Administration.
Next, I add my congratulations to the maiden speakers. There is a wonderful prospect in store for the House, for, if they have made their non-controversial speeches now, it will plainly have a very exciting time in the future. I have enjoyed the maiden speeches for the sheer bravery of many of them, and they have all shown that our new Members are very well informed not only about their own constituencies, but about the subjects which have come before the House.
The confusion in the mind of the Opposition about this comparatively small Bill has been shown clearly in the debate. The Opposition say that they will not oppose the Bill, but the underlying tone of all their speeches has been that they do not even approve of the 1955 Act. They would rather not think of, far less give, these concessions, but they have not the courage to say it. They know that it would be absolutely contrary to general opinion in the country. So they have not the courage to come out in the open and say that they will oppose our measures and that they think them wrong anyway.
Therefore, what they try to do is to stir up opposition on the ground of anomalies. They know well that the legislation which they introduced over the past 13 years has generally created anomalies. Much of the strength of the Conservative Party lies in the anomalies that exist and set one part of the community against the other. Division has always been the strength of the Tories.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Hobden), who made a very good maiden speech—we are delighted to have here our Member of Parliament from Sussex; it was one of the results that cheered us tremendously—used the word "anomaly" correctly. After all, the Bill does not take anything away from anyone. Nobody will lose anything as a result of it. Some people will gain something. Consequently, I wonder whether 1385 the word "anomaly" is correct in this respect.
In my constituency the old-age pensioners will not gain directly as a result of the Bill, but I support it absolutely because I am so pleased that many more pensioners will have the opportunity, as a result of the action of their local authority, to obtain concessions in fares. I am pleased, also, because the Bill will bring about more and more pressure for the concession to be more generally granted where local authorities do not control transport. I hope that the pressure will build up.
My attitude to passenger transport is known. I believe that all passenger transport should be a social service. This is another step towards it and I hope that in my Parliamentary lifetime I shall see far greater steps and perhaps see passenger transport become the social service that it ought to be. We on this side of the House do not want to use references to anomalies in any way to suggest that they are so bad that we should not extend our measures. My local authority is one of the most progressive in the country because it has a very active Labour Party and because the Labour Party has the majority on the council. Under the new London authority we shall become part of a bigger authority, and we are now associated with Hornchurch, which reflects a rather more reactionary, old-fashioned outlook.
§ Mr. Ledger
One of the first actions of the new council was to try to do away with a benefit which the Romford Council gave to its old-age pensioners. We have provided holidays for old-age pensioners, and we hoped that because we did that, and because we knew that Hornchurch had not anything like the humane attitude towards old-age pensioners that Romford Borough had, this would be extended to cover old-age pensioners in Hornchurch. But Hornchurch fought this tooth and nail and wanted to stop the concession for old-age pensioners in my constituency. I regard this sort of thing as absolutely wrong. We ought to use the good examples of concessions that exist to broaden the field until the time arrives 1386 when pensions and benefits for all sorts of people are what we regard as adequate.
During the election campaign I received a very charming deputation from a comprehensive school in my constituency, who brought with them 1,200 signatures. They were demanding concessions for students. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary will consider this, because further education will develop. These young people were asking that students taking part-time education should be granted the same concession. I have taken part in this debate in order to put this proposition to the Minister. I ask him to consider people who are doing something for the benefit of not only themselves but the community by undertaking further education in the evenings. Very often they are young people with small salaries. I wonder whether something might be done to assist them as well.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) upon their appointment to what I consider to be two hot seats in the Government. I have known both of them for a long period, and I know their considerable capacity for hard work, and I am certain that it will not be because of a lack of brains or a lack of application if they do not make a success of the task that we have entrusted to them, I wish them well.
I have very great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill so ably moved by my right hon. Friend. I and my hon. Friends refuse to have our enthusiasm dampened by the attempts of the Opposition to pour cold water on it, though it is done very gently and the cold water is heated a little in case it should percolate through to the country that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not in favour of the old people and the weaker sections of our community obtaining some reliefs under the Bill.
I am appalled at the type of person who is the shadow Minister for Transport on the Opposition benches, because we know the right hon. Gentleman's background. It might have been a little better if the "shadow" of the "shadow", who has a Scottish connection, had been 1387 the real "shadow" and not the second "shadow", because I believe that we should have got on a little better.
Then we have the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew). He tried to be a little enthusiastic, but it was difficult for him. In the final stages of his speech he sought to make the case that, while the Government had made a good start in doing this and other things, we should fail dismally before the end of our period because great inflation would be caused. Imagine a supporter of the late unlamented Government talking like that when during their term of office the £ dropped from 20s. in 1951 to 13s. 4d. in April, 1964! It ill behoves hon. Gentlemen opposite to criticise us. Pensioners had to endure much harder conditions because of the lack of success of the former Government in holding prices.
§ Mr. Goodhew
The hon. Gentleman must not imagine that his constantly saying this will make it true. It simply is not true. The figures exist for him to see. If he takes into account the fall in the value of money during those 13 years and the increase in pensions, he will find that the purchasing power of the pensions increased very considerably over that period, whereas in the 6½ years of the last Labour Government the value of the pensions went steadily down. No amount of head shaking or repeating his shibboleths will change it.
§ Mr. Manuel
The hon. Gentleman ought not to allow himself to be gulled by a "phoney" price index in which are included washing machines, motor cars and all the other things. We have to recognise that, as far as travel concessions are concerned, the Bill widens considerably the powers of local authorities which have their own transport and while we recognise the difficulties of the Travel Concessions Act, 1955, we have to realise that this little Bill—my right hon. Friend did not claim it as a great Measure—does remove the restrictions in that Act which limited local authorities to the concessions which they were giving up to November, 1954. That is of considerable value.
We have to recognise that the Bill covers old-age pensioners—men over 65 and women over 60. While hon. Members opposite may have thought that they 1388 would have done something similar on a cash basis, they would not, of course, have covered all those categories of women over 60 and men over 65, because the former Prime Minister made it abundantly clear during the election campaign that he was prepared, as were all his supporters and friends, to consider giving a little donation, where necessary, to the more elderly pensioners in the country.
The hon. Member for St. Albans came very near to using similar words. He had better watch himself, because he may well lose his seat at a future election. These matters are going to be operated very well by local authorities which are controlled by Labour councillors. They will seize the opportunity to bring in these concessions for the old-age pensioners. The Tory councils which still retain the old feudal outlook and which say that they will not operate these concessions, will find themselves out on their necks at the next election. Therefore, I advise them to bring themselves up to date and to do what they can in this direction when the Bill becomes an Act.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Will all the old-age pensioners in the hon. Gentleman's constituency be enabled to benefit?
§ Mr. Manuel
I will deal with that. The hon. Gentleman should know me well enough to realise that I am prepared to represent my constituency and that it does not matter in what way I have to do that. I have a record in connection with health charges and things of that kind, which the hon. Gentleman should know. It has been well proved. My constituents know me so well and appreciate the way in which I represent them so much that my majority in this little marginal seat went up 3½ times in the last election. From becoming a marginal seat—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. This may be very interesting, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to confine himself to the Bill.
§ Mr. Manuel
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I would draw your attention to the fact that I was led into this by an intervention by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) asking me about my constituents, an intervention which you allowed. I would prefer, if there 1389 are to be reprimands from the Chair, that we should have them right at the beginning and not have active Members who are doing their job being told off by Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The reprimand should have fallen, in the first place, on the hon. Member for Hillhead.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member must remember that I not only allowed the intervention but also a very brief reply by the hon. Member to it. What the Chair must object to is the length of the reply to the intervention which the hon. Member was proposing to make. I hope that he will now get on with the debate on the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Manuel
I hope so, too, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not think that my reply to the hon. Gentleman's intervention lasted more than a few seconds.
I hope it will be recognised that a very valuable concession will apply automatically to the higher range of school leavers—from 15 to 16 years of age. I am also glad that local authorities will get some reimbursement from the Treasury for the extra expenditure entailed by the adoption of the concessions outlined in the Bill, both in England and Scotland, but in Scotland in particular, by qualifying for additional Exchequer equalisation grant. I hope that the hon. Member for Hillhead who, presumably, is to reply for the Opposition, will extend some thanks to my right hon. Friend for remembering Scotland in this connection.
Though I, of course, support the Bill and am enthusiastic about it, I was naturally very disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) on behalf of the Opposition today. I thought that he would have been more receptive to new ideas after the results of the General Election, but, quite obviously, the right hon. Gentleman has not altered. He is obviously a singularly inappropriate person to open the debate on behalf of the Opposition on this question.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to make out a case for, instead of giving concessionary fares, the payment of cash benefits being written into the Bill. The hon. Member for St. Albans also sailed pretty near the wind in this direction. 1390 I ask the hon. Member for St. Albans and his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West whether they really believe in this as a principle. Is it one which they would apply to public spending both in local authority and Government circles? They should realise where they are going.
It is not cash which the big executives and businessmen, who thrive on expense accounts, receive. They receive chits which allow them to go into the most exclusive places to get all sorts of things, from the washing down of their cars to sumptuous meals and a whole range of other things. If they believe in this, do they believe in Government transport being used by Ministers or should they be given a cash payment instead of a Ministry car? Should they be given a cash payment? I ask the hon. Member for St. Albans to tell us this. If he aligns himself with his right hon. Friend the shadow Minister of Transport in his enthusiastic adoption of this new principle, will he tell us whether there should be cash payments to selected people and just where the principle begins and ends. I do not think that it would work very well.
We know that many landlords in the country—the hon. Gentleman was closely associated with them—receive many benefits from the Government which are not cash payments, and, in addition, many cash payments too, of course. They are in a quite different position from old-age pensioners in that they receive cash gifts and also the benefit of research which is available to them in cases of estate management, forestry and agriculture. This costs the country many thousands of pounds a year. The benefit is not given in cash but in services and concessions. I do not think that hon. Members opposite should take this too far.
We know the inherent hostility of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West to the lower orders, as he would term them, or the lower income groups, as I would term them, receiving anything directly from Government sources. He is on record as saying that he does not believe in legislation being brought in for the control of all incomes in an economic situation affecting the country. He does not think that this should apply to companies at all, but only to wage earners. Companies and firms 1391 should have complete freedom to issue as many dividends as they care to. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to make certain that there was a wage freeze, that wages were controlled during the same period, in the national interest.
We know his great hostility to the National Health Service which he endeavoured to cut and to curb at every opportunity. I hope therefore that we shall recognise that he is not a suitable person to argue this case and not spend too much time considering what he said. We must press ahead with this legislation and ensure that it is placed upon the Statute Book quickly. We must persuade as many of our enthusiastic local authorities as possible to operate the provisions contained in the Bill, so as to bring a little more brightness and light into the lives of old-age pensioners, the crippled and blind people.
I recognise the difficulty of extending the area in which the concessions are applied. I also recall the pledge which we made in this House during the last Parliament that we would bring this legislation into effect quickly. A Bill designed to achieve that introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), now the Government Chief Whip, was voted down by the then Government. My right hon. Friend was assiduous in his attempts to introduce such legislation and the then Government were just as assiduous in their endeavours to repel it. If hon. Members opposite remained true to their actions in the past, they would vote against this Bill, but they have not the courage to do that.
I recognise that certain inequalities will arise when this Bill becomes law. Old-age pensioners, such as those in my constituency, who live outside the larger cities will be unable to avail themselves of the travel concessions which the legislation will provide because there is no local authority owned transport in the area. Knowing the sympathetic attitude of my right hon. Friend and his Parliamentary Secretary, I imagine that we may look forward to a time when legislation of a more embracing character will be introduced to deal with the situation of all old-age pensioners, blind people and cripples and not only to those who live 1392 where municipal transport is operated. I look forward to that time. Meanwhile, I enthusiastically accept the content of this Bill, and congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing it forward so early in this Parliament.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I am conscious of the pressing time, so I wish to proceed as soon as possible to discuss the arguments which have been developed during this debate.
I should like to follow what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger). I also represent a London constituency and wish to join in the congratulations to the Minister on presenting this Bill and to give it my support. Although at present its provisions do not benefit people in London constituencies, we welcome it because we appreciate the reaction that there will be to the Measure throughout the country.
I wish to refer to an argument developed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary). A predecessor of his as a Member of this House, the late Lord Simon, developed the whole argument in a book dealing with concessions and the legislation needed to bring them into effect for various sections of the community. Lord Simon maintained that the kind of society in which we live would not be possible without concessionary legislation of the kind which this House continually brings into effect. It was ironical to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Withington and to note the difference between what he had to say and the arguments which were advanced by his predecessor.
This brings me to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). He took up the cudgels against the idea of concessions and was in favour of the argument advanced by the National Federation of Old-Age Pensioners' Associations that there should be an increase in pensions. I am entirely in favour of that argument. I have always maintained that anyone who has devoted the whole of his life to the welfare of the nation may expect something in return. Old-age pensioners expect the nation to recompense them and make 1393 sure that they have an income commensurate with a dignified retirement.
On many occasions I have paraded in support of members of the Federation, carrying my banner and proclaiming my views. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has not accompanied me carrying his banner in favour of higher pensions. It is noticeable that the right hon. Gentleman has never before advanced an argument about the basic figures. It would have added sincerity to what he said had he shown signs during earlier debates of his support of measures taken to increase the basic pension.
I wish to put the case for London pensioners. I wish to plead with the Minister to note my suggestions and to amend the Bill. In Clause 1 there is a reference toAny Local authority operating a public service vehicle undertaking may make arrangements for the granting of travel concessions ….No local authorities in the region covered by London Transport operate their own transport facilities and, therefore, pensioners living in those areas are excluded from enjoying the concessions provided for in the Bill. I plead with the Minister to amend the Bill so that the services provided by London Transport may he included.
There are special circumstances in the London area where there has been a greater movement of population than anywhere else. Population has been shifted, due to arrangements to meet overspill needs, and often we find that the older members of the community who still live in the London area are unable to visit their children and grandchildren who may be living on new housing estates outside London because of the distance which they would have to travel and the consequent cost. Secondly, most of the facilities for cultural entertainment are within the city. This means that older members of the community who live elsewhere and wish to visit art galleries may have to travel a long distance at considerable expense.
So, for these two reasons alone, I appeal to the Minister to have a look at the whole question of what can be done so far as our London people are concerned. I accept that it is not possible, when negotiations or discussions are continued 1394 next week on the question of making some fuel tax rebates, to make some arrangement in regard to giving rebates to local authorities who are making concessions of this kind. I recognise the difficulties that would be involved because very much of our passenger transport in this country is, of course, electric traction, and it would create unequal difficulties of various kinds. So I accept that it is not possible to make rebates to local authorities on the basis of tax rebates in return for the concessions they grant to various sections of their communities, but I think that a great deal can be done in extending the suggested provisions as outlined in the Bill, as presented to us today.
Since the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955, a great deal has happened in London and the whole of the local government structure has been changed. The Greater London Council now corresponds roughly to the area served by the London Transport Board. This should make it comparatively easy to come to some arrangement whereby it is possible to allow London boroughs to participate in the terms of this Bill, because the whole of the Greater London Council area could ask the London Transport Board what would be involved in concessions of this kind, what it would be prepared to do and if it would look at the whole thing from the London point of view. Now, more so than in 1955, it would be much easier to accomplish something of this kind because of the existence of the Greater London authority.
I also think that if we could do this on the basis of a population assessment it would be a very fair way to do it because it would roughly correspond to the equalisation grant method as suggested in the Bill. These things are married and it could be arranged without going into massive legislation, without important changes in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister would be prepared to have a look at the possibilities of amending the first Section of the Bill, line 5 to line 8, so that provision can be made for the London authorities to negotiate and participate through the Greater London authority and through this arrangement of equalisation grants.
It is with some humility that on behalf of the many thousands of pensioners in 1395 London and the old-age pensioners' movement here—with which I have been associated quite recently—I can say that they will feel sure that the Minister will have a look very sympathetically at the claim and the situation of pensioners generally and see whether it is possible to include them in the Bill and so bring some relief to that great section of our community who are suffering at the moment, particularly as the result of the tremendous cost of travel in London. On their behalf I ask the Minister to have a look at this sympathetically, to consider it and say whether it is possible to introduce an amendment of that kind.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
I would like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) in some of the matters that he raised, but before doing so I would like to make some reference to the illogical points that were put forward earlier this morning in regard to alleged inconsistent anomalies in legislation. Most of them were based, as far as I could make out, on the distinction between the kind of service that is provided by public transport undertakings and the kind of services which were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—the welfare services provided by local authorities in the shape of meals on wheels services and the like. I must confess that I fail to see any distinction whatsoever and that I also fail to see any development of further anomalies in the Bill, such as has been suggested by some speakers.
The anomalies already exist in local government. The kind of services which are being provided by local authorities for the aged and other disabled and needy people—services such as the chiropody service, meals on wheels, lunch clubs, social clubs, holidays, welfare homes, flats and housing for the aged—are provided under permissive legislation. They are not required by the Government. They are provided under Acts of Parliament which allow local authorities, if they so wish, to undertake and expand these services. In fact, there is a wide area in public service in this country at local authority level between the quality and range of 1396 services being provided for people over the age of 60 or 65.
I have heard no arguments put forward to suggest that the powers which have been granted to local authorities to provide these services should not in fact lie with them, because one local authority has provided a wider range of services than another. I am quite sure that the progressive local authorities who will be given the powers outlined in the Bill will use them to the full, and the local authorities who will be using those powers will be in the main—if not in their entirety—those under the control of Labour parties in their localities. As far as I have seen in a number of years in local authority work, there is consistently a sharp division between the policies being adopted by Labour-controlled local councils and by Conservative-controlled local councils in the provision for the aged.
A marked example of this is in my own area. In Willesden, between £18,000 and £20,000 a year is being provided by the local authority to the old people's welfare committee, which the council itself initiated, for the provision of a wide range of services. But Willesden is to be merged next year, under the reorganisation in London, with Wembley, the local authority to the North, which is a Conservative-controlled council, and provides the princely sum of £450 a year to the old people's welfare committee in its locality.
One sees the same kind of differences throughout the country, and these anomalies exist within the whole range of public service. It is not required of a local authority that they should keep up a housing programme—some do and some decide to contract out because of difficulties or for purposes of policy. It is not required of local authorities that they should provide a special service in housing for the aged or provide rent rebate schemes—some do and some do not.
I have never before heard in arguments from hon. Members on the other side the suggestion that such powers of distinction—of anomaly, if they like—of difference between local authorities should be removed by Act of Parliament. Yet we get this argument put forward today. One main point about anomalies is that time and time again in practice they need 1397 not exist. I am astonished that not one Member from the other side, which has harped so much on this question of difference between one local authority which runs a public transport service and one which does not, is aware that local authorities, even where they do not have local transport undertakings, have already in fact got the power of assisting the aged in the field of public transport.
It is open for local authorities to make arrangements whereby the aged in their areas are supplied with the necessary vouchers and tickets to make use of public transport undertakings. I shall not argue in detail as to whether this is the correct administrative way of making such provision, but the power exists. Similar powers are used by some local authorities—not my own—to provide additional meals services for the aged. Vouchers are issued by arrangement with restaurants in the area, and the aged can then go to these places and get either free meals or cheap meals, the local authority making up the difference, just as business undertakings provide luncheon vouchers for many of their employees.
Since local authorities already have this power, I intend, following the introduction of the Bill, to reopen the matter with my own local authority, because it has been in discussion with London Transport in the past about it. I shall go either to my own local authority or to the new Brent authority—the "shadow council" due to take over next year—to see whether a convenient arrangement could not be made whereby old people in need of transport facilities may be provided with them in the London area with the assistance of the local authority.
The exercise of such power would reduce the area of division or anomaly to which some hon. Members opposite have referred so much today. At the same time, I must say that I would prefer the kind of approach referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham. I should prefer some legislative arrangement, made perhaps with the Greater London Council jointly with the borough councils, whereby they could adopt a procedure similar to that outlined in the Bill. I believe that the Bill should be amended to allow similar provision to be made in other parts of the country where the need arises.
1398 But there is no reason why local authorities who do not run their own public transport undertakings should not at least investigate carefully the possibility of providing special facilities for their aged to make use of London Transport or any other undertakings. The power exists. The local authorities can do it directly or indirectly, either through established old people's welfare committees or through welfare services, many of which are financed by the local authorities, as is the case in my area.
I want now to deal with the argument put forward by hon. Members opposite about benefits in cash or in kind. I welcome their conversion to raising the cash benefits of the aged in our community. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, I have never seen, in any of the demonstrations I have taken part in with old-aged pensioners, any prominent Tories standing or marching alongside me. Thus, I welcome their conversion today.
But I doubt whether hon. Members opposite who spoke so much about the need for additional cash benefits would support those of us on this side, and many members of the Labour Party in the country, as well as the old-aged pensioners, who may campaign in future for a further increase. Some of us are rather concerned about the length of time to elapse before the proposed increases take place.
§ Mr. Freeson
Some of us would like to see much greater cash benefits for the aged. We welcome the support of hon. Members opposite, but doubt whether they would have carried through their campaigning had they again been on this side of the House. Hon. Members opposite should cease logic chopping. I question the sincerity of arguing against this kind of concession on the basis of anomalies that they themselves have accepted for many years, as the local authorities have had to accept them.
If hon. Members opposite want to see increased cash benefits, let them join us in seeking the speediest possible increase in pensions for the old and in working out some method by which 1399 additional provision can be made for their welfare and benefit.
In dealing with the distinction between cash benefits and the kind of provision made in the Bill, and that which may already be made by local authorities if they wish, not only must we raise cash benefits generally for the old. We must also bear in mind that social provision for different groups in the community must be related to the social conditions in which they are living and working. Merely to work for an increase in pensions would not be sufficient to meet the kind of condition this Bill seeks to meet.
It has been pointed out how local circumstances vary and how, in some areas, old people must travel long distances to shop, to attend hospital, to see friends and families and also to visit their clubs. This makes it necessary for distinctions to be made in the kind of facilities offered in different areas. In some major cities, the kind of provision allowed for in this Bill is essential; in other areas it may not be necessary, particularly in villages. We must develop social benefits according to the needs of the localities.
Overall, there is need for increased cash benefits. In major urban areas, in rapidly changing circumstances, it is also necessary to make the kind of provision that the Bill allows and also the provision which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and I have advocated for the Greater London area and for other parts of the country where private enterprise runs the transport services. These are things that both sides of the House should be working on and campaigning for. It is necessary to raise standards for the aged both in cash and in kind and not just in one or the other.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I begin by congratulating the maiden speakers who have addressed the House today—the hon. Members for The Hartlepools, (Mr. Leadbitter), Gravesend (Mr. Murray), Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) and Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Hobden). They all made very competent speeches.
I was particularly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Kemptown, because it seemed to echo some 1400 of the criticisms which we have on this side of the House. There must be something to be said in that case for an hon. Member who has a majority of only seven, for it seems to introduce into his speeches a degree of clarity which, perhaps, does not apply to those hon. Members sitting on larger majorities.
I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on moving into the Ministry which I have, unfortunately, recently had to vacate. I wish them well in their occupation, although I hope that it will not be for too long a time.
The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger) said that it takes him three or four times as long to get a reply to his letters from the Ministry of Transport as from other Departments. That may be because there are three or four times as many letters to the Ministry as to other Departments. If this be the case, however, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary will, in this respect at least, be able to improve on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) and I were able to do.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) is not present, because he made some blandishments, referring kindly to me. In spite of them I cannot say that I really welcome the Bill, although, for reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) I do not intend to go into the Division Lobby against it.
Before telling the House about my misgivings, however, I would like to pay tribute to the author of the Bill, for although the voice that moved the Bill was that of the Minister of Transport the hand behind it was clearly that of the Patronage Secretary; and after nearly 10 years of hard work it must be very satisfactory to him to see his ideas at last fully clothed in legislative form.
My congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman for his pertinacity do not blind me to what I believe to be weaknesses in the Bill, and in pointing them out I hope that hon. Members opposite—particularly the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who made a forceful attack on my right hon. Friend—will not 1401 misinterpret what I say as representing an attack on methods of helping old people, which it certainly it not.
There is a danger today, because we are all sympathetic to the condition of old people and are anxious to do something to help them, that we may accept, perhaps too readily, every Measure that is put forward without scrutinising it carefully to see whether what is ostensibly advantageous to the old really is the best way of improving their conditions. That is what I want to find out about the Bill and it is my belief that, in fact, it fails to pass this test.
The Bill seeks to allow all local authorities, not just those which historically do so, but all, to grant travel concessions to, among others, old people if those local authorities have municipal transport systems. On the face of it, I agree that this seems sensible and reasonable. There are many old people now living far from the centres of towns, thanks to the success of Conservative housing policy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite may moan, but it is undoubtedly this success that has been responsible for creating the problem—who will benefit from this Measure, while there are many other elderly people whom it will not help at all.
Several hon. Members have referred to this problem, particularly to elderly members of the population living in areas where there are no local authority transport services. I have in mind towns like Stoke, Norwich and London. They will not benefit at all. Indeed, they will be prejudiced to a certain extent by the Measure—to the extent that they contribute to the rate deficiency and Exchequer equalisation grants and so help local authorities with municipal transport services to provide concessions to other old people who are more fortunate than they are.
It is obvious that this is not quite fair. If old people in one area are to get travel concessions, provided to a certain extent out of the public purse, old people in all areas should also get travel concessions. This is the sort of anomaly to which I referred last summer when I resisted the then Opposition's Motion on this subject. A great many hon. Members have today referred to the same anomaly. It is obvious that a very great anomaly will be 1402 created by the Bill and, from the speech of the Minister, we understand that he will do nothing about it.
Then there are plenty of old people who cannot or do not want to travel by bus, for example, many old people who live in country districts where there are no buses. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire for example, I dare say that this position would arise. For these old folk the answer is to save up so that now and again they may hire a taxi to take them into town to do a little shopping. This sort of old-age pensioner gets no benefit from the Bill, nor do the old people who are too infirm to use buses, or who, for one reason or another, do not want to do so.
For these people travel concessions are useless, either because they cannot get on to a bus or because they do not want to do so. There must be many people living in our large cities and conurbations who, for one reason or another, do not want to use buses but whose relatives may wish to visit them. To this sort of old person extra cash would be a far greater benefit than a travel concession facility. Old people in this position are not able to use the concession, whereas if they had the cash they could help their relatives, by contributing to the cost of their tickets, to visit them. This might be an inducement to relatives to make long journeys of this sort more often. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is one of the facts of life and it is no good hon. Members opposite groaning about it.
Another weakness in the Bill is that this concession is quite indiscriminate. Several of my hon. Friends have referred to this, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. To benefit, one must merely be a "qualified person", and this depends on age and physical infirmity, and not on inability to pay. If there is to be a Bill of this sort—and, as I have said, I do not think that it is really the best way to help our old people—it would be much more acceptable if the concessions were related to need; for example, perhaps by saying that only old people qualifying for the old persons' tax concessions could qualify for cheap travel, or some such arrangement.
We all want to help the needy, particularly when they are old, but we do 1403 not want our help to go to people—and there are many in this position—who are perfectly able to afford to buy their tickets themselves at the full rate. There does not seem any merit in our distributing largesse to people who are not in need. This is the trouble with too much Socialist thinking, particularly Socialist housing policy in Scotland, where there is a complete lack of discrimination between people who are in need financially and those who are not. I hope, therefore, that on this occasion the Government will try, perhaps by introducing an Amendment at a later stage, to relate this concession to those who really need it and not merely according to age or infirmity.
Despite these anomalies and lack of discrimination, my real objection to the Bill is that this sort of payment in kind, as envisaged in the Bill, is out of place today. After all, we are no longer living in the age of the soup kitchen. Yet by introducing a Measure enshrining principles of payment in kind, which the Truck Acts were designed to prevent over 100 years ago, the party opposite is showing how completely out of date it is.
There is no sign in the Bill of the modern outlook about which hon. Members opposite boasted at the time of the General Election and which is especially necessary when we are dealing with the old. No longer should we regard old people as objects of charity, for they do not like being treated in what I would regard as this rather humiliating way.
§ Mr. Galbraith
What would my party do indeed. The hon. and learned Gentleman need not ask that question. He need only look at what we did. That is exactly the point to which I was coming. At the moment I am dealing with the argument against this sort of payment in kind and it could not be better expressed than in the old-age pensioners' own periodical, which stated:The most fundamental issue involved is whether pensioners are to be regarded as an integral part of society or a class apart.That is extremely important to remember. 1404Let every pensioner have the right to spend the money as he wishes and pay his way the same as anyone else in society".This view was endorsed in the editorial of December, 1963, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West referred.
§ Mrs. Alice Cullen (Glasgow, Gorbals)
In view of the hon. Gentleman's cash-help argument, is he aware that that there is only one solution to the problem? Is he aware, first, that although his party was in power for 13 years it did not raise pensions sufficiently to enable pensioners to be as independent as he wants them to be? Is he aware, secondly, that pensioners—old-age, retirement, or otherwise—want to be independent enough to pay their own way and do the things they want to do, but that his party did not increase their pensions sufficiently to enable them to do that?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am very glad to find that the hon. Lady agrees with me. That is my point. It exactly echoes what the old-age pensioner has said and what the Conservative Government's attitude was as expressed by the then Parliamentary Secretary as long ago as 1955. I am delighted to see that the Patronage Secretary has come into the Chamber. The then Parliamentary Secretary said that generally speaking, it was the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the needs of the aged, the disabled and all other specially deserving classes of the community were met.
It was in discharge of this responsibility that the last Conservative Government increased pensions no fewer than five times, so that for every 1s. prices went up pensions went up 2s. 4d. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire must go back and do his homework. He was taken to task by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) and I take his to task again. The facts are that for every 1s. prices went up pensions went up by 2s. 4d.
§ Mr. Manuel
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to be unfair, but he will recognise that the price index to which he is tying these rises is quite unreal for old-age pensioners because it included washing machines, electric shavers, motor cars and possibly a mink coat or two.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I do not agree. The fact is that for every 1s. prices went up pensions went up by 2s. 4d. under the Conservative Government. This is in very happy contrast to what happened last time the party opposite was in power because then for every 1s. prices went up pensions went up by only 7d. Unfortunately, it looks as though the same thing will happen again, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans pointed out, for it is certainly not very encouraging for the future purchasing value of the pensions that the recently announced increases should immediately be followed by a Bill to help certain old-age pensioners with a payment in kind.
This can only mean one thing—that the party opposite has no confidence in its own ability to hold steady the cost of living, that it realises that the effect of the Budget will he inflationary and that the purchasing power of the new pensions will soon be eroded by rising prices, as happened last time it was in power. The only way the Government can be sure of helping old people is to pay some of them in kind in this way.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have been very patient with the hon. Lady. She must address the hon. Gentleman through the Chair.
§ Mrs. Cullen
There are thousands of people who will not go on to National Assistance and who are very much in need of help, but, because of their independent attitude, will not ask for National Assistance. If they had a pension to keep them properly they would not require such assistance. The sooner we get rid of it the better.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I do not think that there is any great difference on the basic principle between the hon. Lady and myself. I was merely pointing out that there seemed to be some inherent dangers in what the Government are doing. They are trying to pay some old-age pensioners in kind, but this is not how old people wish to be treated. On the last occasion on which we debated this subject, I got a letter from an old-age pensioner, who said:I entirely agree with you and please don't give way.1406 I took her advice; I did not give way. She went on to say:A little extra money is far better than cheap fares.She did not want to get paid in kind; she wanted cash.
I think that hon. Members opposite fail to appreciate the spirit of independence and the desire to choose for oneself which exists among many old-age pensioners. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North certainly did not appreciate this. We should remember that old people want to have freedom of choice just the same as the rest of us. They do not want to be presented with so much free this, or free that, or free the next thing. What they want is the community to give them the money that it costs to provide these things and let the pensioner spend the money according to his own ideas of what is best and of what he needs.
It seems to me that the real defect of the Bill is that it does not recognise that old people want to choose for themselves and are perfectly capable of choosing for themselves, and that, therefore, the right way to help them is not by payments in kind, but by payments in cash, increasing all the time, as we increased them when we were the Government. This is the fundamental weakness in the Bill, but it also fails to help those for whom no municipal transport is available.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am not giving way. The hon. Gentleman has not been in the debate at all. He is a professional interrupter.
This is a fundamental weakness in the Bill, but it also fails to help those for whom no municipal transport is available and it does nothing for those who are too old or infirm to travel but who may well have other needs which a monetary payment would help to satisfy, but to whom a payment in kind is of no use at all.
This is a Bill whose inspiration derives from an out-moded attitude of sentimentality which is utterly unworthy of our old people, but some old people will benefit from it, and for that reason I shall not vote against the Bill. But 1407 nothing that has been said so far from the party opposite has convinced me that in the second half of the twentieth century this is a proper or dignified way for a modern go-ahead country to set about helping its old people.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)
In 17½ years' membership of the House I have never previously had the opportunity or responsibility of congratulating a maiden speaker. I find, having listened to practically the whole of this debate, that there are now four of my hon. Friends who have chosen this occasion to take their first plunge into a debate in this House. It is a very pleasurable duty for me to congratulate my hon. Friends the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray), my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Hobden).
All who have heard those speeches will agree that they were sincere, forthright and exceedingly fluent. I congratulate some of my hon. Friends who have the capacity to come here and make maiden speeches without notes. Some remarkable fresh breezes have been circulated through the Chamber as a result of the invigoration of the new membership, certainly on this side of the House. I sincerely congratulate all of them and say that we will study the points that they have made with the greatest care.
Secondly, I should like to thank all those hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have, in one form or another, conveyed their best wishes to my right hon. Friend and myself—though sometimes they have done it a bit wryly. My hon. Friend and I are very conscious of the exceedingly heavy responsibilities we carry. We feel that there is a crying need throughout the country for the policies of planning and co-ordination of transport that we shall try to carry out. But we are certainly glad to have best wishes, from whatever quarter they may come.
Supporting what my right hon. Friend said in introducing the Bill, there is not always an opportunity for pouring praise 1408 upon Chief Whips, but this is an occasion on which I think we should all—and certainly those who support the Bill—express the deep debt of gratitude owed to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, who over so many years—and especially in 1960 and 1963, and again at the beginning of this year—has made persistent efforts to bring about this reform. Therefore, like my right hon. Friend, I hope that we will get this Bill through as a short Act, and that it will become known as the "Short Act".
As there is still further business for the House to do, I propose to speak fairly briefly, but I would reiterate exactly what it is that Her Majesty's Government are doing. First of all, the Government are legislating to raise pensions. It must be clear to the House and to those who are talking about cash benefits and the level of social benefits generally, that the Government have pledged themselves, and have made clear what they will do in those respects generally. At the same time, some right hon. and hon. Members opposite have seemed to argue that that is not necessary. At any rate, we are pledged to raising those pensions and social benefits. We regard that as urgently necessary as a measure of social justice, and we intend to carry it out.
Secondly, I must repeat that we are not legislating for concessionary fares. We are legislating to enable local authorities who run transport services to grant concessionary fares to certain people if they wish to do so. I hope that that distinction, which does not seem to have been appreciated by all who have participated in this interesting debate, is now quite clear. To my right hon. Friend and I, there is a difference between bringing forward Government proposals for concessionary fares as a matter of national policy, and bringing forward a Measure such as this to enable local authorities which run municipal transport services to have the power and the right, if they wish to exercise it, to carry the policy out themselves.
We know that the local authorities concerned want this power; the evidence has been presented over the years—and, in particular, by my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. We know that, if given it, those local authorities can exercise it, and it is part of their duty, as representatives of the people, to decide how their municipal transport services should be run. 1409 We have presented this Bill because we believe in their judgment. We believe that local authorities which have had the enterprise to develop municipal transport undertakings are entitled to exercise a measure of judgment, for which they ask, about using certain parts of the undertaking as a form of social service. The provisions in the Measure are not attributable to us but to the local authorities who have developed this initiative in their schemes, and have asked for this power.
That probably puts in the right perspective some of the criticisms that have been made of the Bill and, in particular, the criticisms made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). There are some, like the right hon. Gentleman, who say that no benefits in kind should be given at all, and who, moreover, apparently say that we should dictate to the local authorities that they should not give any benefits in kind. We do not believe that.
Hon. Members opposite were responsible for the 1955 Act, which accepted the right of certain local authorities to do this, and as several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, it comes rather strangely from those who have been somewhat extravagant in allowing tax reliefs for business expense accounts, and other things like that, now to say that nothing in the form of benefits in kind should be considered.
There are those, like the right hon. Gentleman, who, apparently, say that there must be absolute uniformity in everything of this sort; that nothing should be done for anybody—any local authority or any citizens within any local authority area—unless it is done for everybody; but that is a very odd approach to the freedoms and rights of local government.
We have heard so much over the years, especially from members of the Conservative Party, about variety in local government, protecting local interests in the education service, and the like, but the right hon. Gentleman now says that local authorities should be denied the right to exercise their judgment about fare concessions in cases where they have developed municipal bus undertakings. We think that this would be a good development in municipal enterprise; and that these councils—councils of 1410 responsible people who have been elected by the citizens of their area—can exercise judgment on what should be done.
It is, of course, nonsensical to advance the proposition that all benefits should be made in cash. What are we doing all over the country about the provision of old people's bungalows and about special kinds of services which enterprising local authorities provide in kind to assist different sections of citizens—the old, the disabled and others? These are modern and imaginative schemes, and we want to see more of them. We want, too, to see more transport schemes that are evolved for the service of the community, and not merely for the sake of profit-making. That is why we think that municipal undertakings which have developed, and satisfactorily conducted, transport services over a considerable period, and have asked Parliament for the right to exercise their judgment about the benefits they might be able to afford to certain categories of their citizens should, by this Measure, be permitted to do so.
Another, and perhaps larger, section of critics in the House has criticised us for not doing enough, for the fact that this Measure is not wider in scope and does not provide for concessions to be granted by the majority of undertakings which are not municipal enterprises. As my right hon. Friend explained, we can only reply that this is not a Measure to lay down or to enforce concessionary fares but to allow undertakings to judge whether they would be beneficial or not. For private operators, this discretion already exists in law; for they can secure permission to grant concessions from the Traffic Commissioners or, in London, from the Transport Tribunal.
We appreciate that there is a difference in the motives for carrying on municipal and other enterprises, but, since it is not our intention to enforce the granting of concessionary fares, we are satisfied at present to put the two sorts of enterprise on the same basis of freedom to take decisions about concessionary fares. We shall study these crititcisms and suggestions which cover a much wider field than the scope of the Bill regarding, for example, rural services, the need for greater co-ordination in cetain areas and things of that kind. My right hon. Friend 1411 and I will study all these points which my hon. Friends have made in this debate because they have a great bearing on our purpose to introduce a planned and co-ordinated transport in the country in the interests of the community.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Gourlay.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.