I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, at the beginning, to insert the words:
Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraphs (c) and (d) of Section eighteen of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925 (in this Act referred to as 'the principal Act').
I move this Amendment on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. Philip Oliver). The Amendment stands in the names of several hon. Members on these benches. There is a con sequential Amendment on page 58 of the Order Paper—in page 1, line 8, to leave out from the word "of," to the word "the," in line 10. The two Amendments are drafting Amendments, in order to make quite sure that the purpose of Clause 1 is carried out. Under the principal Act, Section 18 confers pensions on pre-Act widows, but having done that it takes away with one hand what it gave with the other, owing to its drafting, and states that the pensions to pre-Act widows shall be limited to widows with a child under 14 years of age. Clause 1 of the present Bill provides that pre-Act widows whether they have children or not shall come under its benefits, on their attaining the age of 55; but we are afraid that as Section 18 of the principal Act has not been repealed, and that Section has to be construed with this Bill, only pre-Act widows with children, on attaining the age of 55, will come under the benefits of the new Act. Clause 9, which amends Section 18 of principal Act, extends the pension of the pre-Act widow up to the time when her child is 16 years of age. Therefore, it may well be that only a widow with a child up to 16 years of age will come under the benefits of the new Act, on attaining the age of 55. We are advised that that may be the effect of Clause 1 as at present drafted.
I am sure that it is the intention of the Minister of Health that all pre-Act widows, whether they have children or not, shall come under the benefits of the Clause, on attaining the age of 55. It would be a terrible thing if by some drafting error a whole class of beneficiaries were excluded. Someone has said that:
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
I would not dare to find a word to describe the fury of 500,000 widows, before whose eyes pensions have been dangled by the Minister of Pensions, on their suddenly finding that by a drafting slip they had been excluded from the benefits of the new Act.
I am dealing for the moment with the childless widow who may be excluded, and I am trying to save the Minister of Health against future trouble, because it would be a terrible thing if half a million widows, in whose hearts there is a spring of gratitude, and whose lips are praising his name, if they were to find that they had been excluded. They might make his life impossible. We want to be assured that all pre-Act widows, whether they have children or not, will come under this Section on attaining the age of 55.
I will read the words in the principal Act which caused my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley to be concerned regarding the drafting. Section 18 of the principal Act says:
(c) A widow's pension shall be payable only if the widow has not re-married before the commencement of this Act, and if at the commencement of this Act there is living at least one child of the marriage, or of any former marriage of either parent, under the age of 14….
(d) A widow's pension shall cease to be payable at the expiration of six months from the date on which the pension ceases to include any additional allowance as part thereof or on which the youngest child attains the age of 14, whichever is the earlier.
My hon. Friend would desire to have a statement from the Minister as to whether that provision does cut out the woman without a child.
I am glad to have this opportunity of explaining the position. I was not quite clear why the Amendment had been put on the Paper, because as I construe it it has an entirely different meaning from that given to it by the hon. Member who has moved it. I can give an assurance that the Bill as drafted does cover all pre-Act widows of 55 years of age, whether with children or without, but the Amendment goes far beyond that.
The Bill as it is drawn will ensure to every pre-Act widow in the insurable classes at the age of 55 a pension irrespective of means and children. The childless widow and the widow with children will come within the operation of the Bill when the age of 55 is reached. I understand that that is the point of the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Shakespeare).
I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, after the word "A," to insert the word "necessitous."
This is the first of a series of Amendments, all of which are more or less consequential. I would refer the Committee to page 63 of the Amendment Paper, where is an Amendment in my name, in page 3, line 27, at the end, to add the words
(4) For the purposes of this section the expression 'necessitous' means a person who is in receipt of an annual income from all sources of less than two hundred and fifty pounds per annum.
The Committee will remember that on Thursday we had a Debate upon the question whether these pensions should be limited to the provisions of the Old Age Pensions Act, and whether there should be inserted in the Bill a means disqualification. The argument of the Minister on that occasion was that there was great objection amongst many
people to any form of inquisition. I am aware that that is so. But under the terms of the Amendment there will be no kind of inquisition other than that which would be in operation in the case of everybody who earns £250 a year. The person with £250 a year comes within the Income Tax provisions, and comes under the operation of the National Health Insurance Act. I would urge that this matter of pensions should be dealt with on a non-Party basis with a view of improving the Bill and making it of real value to those who are to be beneficiaries. I always felt that under the 1925 Act there were anomalies and legitimate grievances created, and I confess that at the last General Election I was pledged to do what I could to remove some of the anomalies and injustices which had shown themselves. I am sure that unless the word "necessitous" is put into the Bill, this Clause will create far greater anomalies than those existing under the 1925 Act. I have authority for my statements in the words which were used on the Second Reading of the 1925 Act by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Lord Privy Seal. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said:
In dealing with the question relating to widows and orphans or unemployment, no-one is entitled to concern himself primarily with getting capital for his party and exploiting the misery of the people. That sort of thing ought to be forbidden to all parties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1925; col. 370, Vol. 184.]
If the Ministry of Health would approach my Amendment and others which follow in the way suggested by his colleague in the Cabinet, it would be of advantage to our Debate. I have also authority in the words of the pre sent Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who in the same Debate said that the objection to the 1925 Bill was that it picked and chose too much. By this Amendment the Clause would be made to act fairly. Let me give one example of what is in my mind. Last evening, in my constituency, I saw a widow of 65. She is the widow of a commercial traveller. She has nine children, and when her husband was alive their income was more than £250 a year. The husband, therefore, was not in an insurable occupation. On his death his widow was left practically penniless, She cannot, under any circumstances, come under the old Act or this Bill.
One of the objects that we have in this and succeeding Amendments is to use the money which has been provided by Parliament, and the saving which would accrue by limiting the amount of income of a beneficiary to £250 a year, in order to deal with other cases. No one can argue that it is the duty of Parliament to pay a pension to anybody with an income such as I have named. The Minister of Health said on Thursday last that the cases were very few. I do not think we have the right to pay a pension of this kind to anyone who has as much as £5 a week coming in. What ever the saving may be under our proposal I think I am putting forward a very strong case. I am supported by statements of hon. Members opposite who in the last Parliament made eloquent and striking appeals during the Second Reading Debate. There is, for instance, the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Blast Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson). I will read from it a quotation, which puts the case well. She said: "Turning to a very real fault in the scheme, we all feel that it will operate very harshly in the case of single women in industries. There are something like 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 women—"
The hon. Lady in that same speech went on to deal with both single women and widows. She said: "I want the Minister to look at the position of the woman who starts paying when she is 16. She pays for 30 years or 35 years, until she is 45 or 50. During that time she may have had working alongside of her a widow who has been receiving 10s. a week, although she has no children to bring up. That woman has paid also into the Unemployment Insurance Fund. She comes out of work, she exhausts her unemployment benefit. She is then driven about as so many untrained and unskilled are, having all their lives been engaged in the blind-alley occupations for woman's labour that modern industry provides. At that time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1925; cols. 185, 186, Vol. 184.]
I bow to your ruling, of course, and will turn to another speech made by the hon. Gentleman who is now Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He said:
It is not even decent insurance, be cause in insurance you do run the risk of getting something. Hundreds and thou sands of these women are doomed, through no fault of their own, to receive nothing, but will always pay.
Then the hon. Member went on to make a humorous reference to Mr. Dooley:
"It reminds me of the story of his ancestors told by Mr. Dooley."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1925; col. 310, Vol. 184.]
I am sorry, 'but I thought the eloquence of the hon. Lady the Member for East Middlesbrough and the hon. Gentleman who is now Under-Secretary of State for Scotland might have been more effective than my own, and that it would have been more likely to convince hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the House. The kind of case I have in mind is that of a widow who during her husband's lifetime or after his death is left a large legacy by a rich relative. Is it right that such a woman should receive 10s. a week from the State, particularly when she has not contributed one penny piece to the fund?
Then there is the case of a rich woman who marries her coachman. Under this Bill that woman would be able to receive her 10s. per week. In order to deal with these particular cases it is necessary to include the word "necessitous" in the Bill. There are a great many women who by their industry and business acumen have secured a very good income of their own. Is it right that we should hand out money to such a woman who has not contributed a penny piece towards the pension? I was sympathetic to the argument from Liberal and Socialist benches during the Debate on Thursday in favour of not putting in this Bill the provisions of the Old Age Pensions Act, with all those inquisitions to which these old people object, but I do not think we have the slightest right to give this money to people who do not want it, who can manage very well with out it and who have not subscribed to wards it. For these reasons I beg to move the Amendment.
In seconding this Amendment may I refer to the Amendment put forward by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamber lain) on Thursday last. If anyone will read that Debate he will see that hon. Members opposite spoke of that Amendment as if it was moved solely for the purpose of preventing rich women of 55 years of age receiving 10s. per week, and that at the same time the right hon. Gentleman was quite willing to impose on really needy widows those exacting, irritating and humiliating inquiries which all hon. Members deplore. That, of course, was absolute nonsense. Does the Committee really think that rich widows of 58 are any concern of any Government? I admit that rich widows of 55 are rather dangerous, but the danger is not that they should get some thing for nothing but that some ambitious young man might think of getting something for nothing and wanting to marry them. To pretend that the right hon. Member for Edgbaston was really interested in the rich widow of 55 was nonsense. When we brought in our Bill we realised how very hard it was on the many widows in the country whose husbands were not insured. We deplored that fact, but our Bill was based on contributory insurance. The only illogical thing we did was to grant pensions to young widows with young children—
I am coming to that. We thought that the young children of a young widow, who had to go to school and compete with children of widows in receipt of pensions were really necessitous children. We opened the breach; and the Minister of Health has gladly followed. But surely to open the breach to young children of young widows is quite a different thing from widening the breach for certain widows. If you are going to have any logic in it at all give it to all widows whether their husbands are insured or not. At least we had some reason on our side for our proposal. It was hard to defend the case of widows who did not get pensions, but we had logic on our side and we appealed to those widows who did not get it. We did not promise pensions to all widows in the land, and hon. Members opposite should not talk too much about what was done in the election—
I will abide by your decision, but I do think that if the Government propose to amend the Bill they should amend it in accordance with their promises. If they are going to keep their promises then they should consider necessitous widows whether their husbands are insured or not. They cannot taunt us and say that we led the way. We did not. We made one single exception; that is, young widows with young children. I want to ask—and this is the whole purpose of this Amendment—that this £100,000,000 which the Government is giving away during the next 16 years should go to necessitous widows. I can bring to their notice heartrending cases which they cannot defend. How can they defend the proposal to give this money to widows of insured men and leave out widows of insured men. Let me read to the Committee some letters I have received from some widows. I will not dwell upon that unspeakable class of woman whom we are not allowed to mention but who are really far more necessitous than many widows, I will not name them but I hold them in my thoughts and in my mind. I have a long speech on that subject, but I should not be in order in dealing with that question at the moment. This is one letter that I have received:
One can see that you are in sympathy with the poor widow. One is no more than another. Give it to all. Thousands are receiving it that never did pay for it and will have it for years to come. My husband was not allowed to pay it because he was a policeman at that time on very small wages. And the Police Widows' Pension was not in force then, so therefore I get nothing. I am an absolute cripple, cannot get out and only get about the house on crutches.
There is no more tragic case than that of the pre-Act policeman's widow.
I am delighted to hear that. We are here to improve the Bill. We do not want to throw it out. We want to make it better and put it on a more logical basis. Here is another letter:
My husband died during the South African War; he was invalided out of the Army. I had just seven years of happiness. My daughter who is keeping me now, and keeps the home going, has nearly the struggle I had. After my husband died I took in dressmaking and kept my house going until I was just over 50 years of age. I did not come under the panel. The relief it would be to me and such a help to my dear daughter who has been so good to me.
Does that widow come under this Bill? Surely that is as tragic as any other case. Here is another letter from the widow of a naval man:
"My husband died on the 25th August, 1910, suddenly, on board His Majesty's Ship "Sutlej," at Devonport. He joined the Navy as a boy, and died a few weeks before his pension was due. The captain of the ship tried to get a pension for me. I shall be 57 next September, so simply because there was no Health Insurance up there I have been told that I won't get it."
I must ask the hon. Member to read the Bill. She will then see who is out and who is in, and she will be able to send gratifying letters to all her correspondents.
It is not so easy as that. You may understand the Bill but we certainly do not. I should like to know whether the pre-Act Policeman's widow, the Army and Navy widow, the pre-War widow, the Mercantile Marine widow, the Merchant Service widow, the Civil Service widow and the Teacher's widow, all come under this Bill? I am a simple woman.
I must call the attention of the hon. Lady to the fact that the Amendment now before the Committee relates to the insertion of the word "necessitous," and we were given to understand by the Mover of the Amendment that in his view necessity ceases at £250 a year.
We are all in some doubt on this matter. Every time I mention a particular class of neces- sitous widows, the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary or someone else opposite says, "Oh, they are in." I want to know if all the widows whom I have mentioned and practically all of whom are necessitous, are in the Bill.
It may shorten this discussion if I point out that we cannot discuss all the Amendments on this Amendment. Questions as to the inclusion or exclusion of particular classes arise on a large number of later Amendments, and it is difficult to deal with all those cases now.
Really, that is not good enough. That statement might satisfy a man, but it does not satisfy me. The hon. Lady opposite has accused me of having the mind of a child. I can assure her that she is going to find this child's mind very troublesome as she goes on with this Bill. Where is the justice of this proposal, and how can the Government defend it? They say they are adding to our Bill, but ours was a contributory Bill. Hon. Members opposite promised to bring in a non-contributory Bill—but I cannot deal with the promises which they made or I shall be called to order. But I think I can say that there are thousands of women in the country who are looking to them to redeem those promises and who are watching this Bill. We have heard a lot about the failures of the late Government, and we on this side are accused of being blind, of having no vision and all the rest of it.
The hon. Lady must obey my Ruling. We are dealing here with the question of necessitous widows, and I must again ask her to speak to the point which is before the Committee.
I only wish that you, Sir, had been the Speaker or had been in the Chair during the last Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Then I shall wring the hearts of hon. Members by citing the hard cases of many of these necessitous women. It would be quite easy to do so. But I want to beg of the Government to accept some of our Amendments and, if they do so, we on our side will help them. We want to find out who are the necessitous women. After all, if we are going to give away some of the country's money we ought to take the trouble to find out who deserve it and who do not deserve it. I am sure that there are thousands of the widows who are going to benefit under this Bill who deserve it, but I am also sure that thousands who are not going to benefit equally deserve it. The Government need not seek to make it appear that we are only concerned with the case of rich widows who might get pensions. We are bringing in these Amendments in order to make the Bill a better Bill. Hon. Members opposite have proclaimed, this is only a first instalment of a wider scheme of insurance, but surely it would be better for them to leave out the word "insurance" altogether if they are going to give money on a non-contributory basis. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I am very sorry if I am getting out of order again, but I find it very hard to know where to begin. I do not mean, however, to be deterred from pleading the cause of the necessitous widow.
I wish the Government would find it in their hearts to use the words "necessitous women." After all that is our whole object. If State money is to be distributed it ought to be given to the necessitous and not at large and in the slap-dash manner proposed by the Government. Could they not, for example, insert a provision that nobody having more than £250 a year would get a pension? That would prevent people who did not need the pension from getting it. It is useless for hon. Members opposite to pretend that we on this side are not thinking of the poor and needy because it is in their interests that I am speaking, and hon. and right hon. Members opposite ought to listen to our reasons with the same patience as we listened to their reasons on the former occasions. I have tried to put forward the case of the pre-War widows of men in the Army, Navy, the Mercantile Marine, the police and other services, and I have left out the case of the spinsters, because I was told to do so from the Chair—although in many ways theirs is the most critical case of all. The Government have a hard row to hoe. They are not going to find this so easy. These great measures of social reform are not always popular, and what makes them unpopular is the fact that so many people are left out of them.
I appeal to the Minister of Health to read over the last Debate and to accept this Amendment, and then to let us work it out together. We are in no hurry. The Government are going to be in for years, and nobody is in a hurry. We are quite willing to sit here night and day, and we will sit here night and day and go on fighting to make this Bill a little more logical, or at least make it a little more just. We are prepared to fight for the necessitous widows of soldiers, sailors, policemen or teachers. Can the right hon. Gentleman, to take another example, make out any case for omitting the woman whose husband has shown a little enterprise and initiative by going into business, and who then through sickness or an early death has not left sufficient for the upkeep of his widow? Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it would be wise to bring in widows of that class? We have had the Lord Privy Seal making an appeal to private enterprise to show more initiative, because the only way in which we can get the money to finance these social schemes is through selling abroad. That surely is an appeal to private enterprise and then we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling us that we must save.
The point about "necessitous" was just coming in. I was about to say that we should include the widows of men who have shown enter prise, who have sought to be self-supporting and independent. Surely it is to the advantage of the Government to en courage and not to discourage such men. It seems to me that the present proposals amount to a positive discouragement of those who show any initiative in this respect. If I were a working woman in such circumstances I would say to my husband, "Get quickly into an insured trade and lean on someone else, but do not show any initiative or the Government will penalise me after you have gone." It is extraordinary that the Government should be blind to the stupidity of the proposal, from the State's point of view. No matter what Government may be in power they cannot afford to give away, without any thought at all, the money which has been made under this capitalistic system. They cannot proceed in this way. It is a mad way of trying to keep their electioneering promises and it is not worthy of the Government who are doing so well where peace abroad is concerned but are doing so badly where the necessitous widows and spinsters of this country are concerned.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL:
I hope the Government will be able to accept this Amendment. I do not wish in any circumstances to deprive a necessitous widow of a pension but when we brought in the Widows' Pension Scheme in 1925 the then Government were requested to make all sorts of inclusions and it was not found possible to include all whom it was desired to include. If there had been any proposal in those times to give pensions to widows, irrespective of income, then from whatever source such a proposal emanated I, personally, should have been compelled to oppose it. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite does not agree with a limit of £250 a year I am sure that the Mover and supporters of the Amendment would consider any reasonable alteration as to the limit. I hope, in throwing out that suggestion, that it may lead us to some line of agreement. Taxation is heavy enough at the present time and while we want to do what we can for the necessitous and for the widows and orphans—it was we who promulgated this scheme and, naturally, we want to do all we can to help it—we think it wrong that you should include all sorts of widows whether their husbands have contributed or not. Do not let us have too much elasticity in this scheme; do not let us go from one extreme to another.
It is not right or fair to the tax payers, who have to find the money, to pay pensions to people who are not necessitous and it is not the duty of the State to do so. I understood from the right hon. Gentleman that the widows of policemen were included and I am only too glad if that is so, because I was one of the first to bring forward the cases of the widows of those officers who had left the force before 31st August, 1918. I have tried always to get those widows included and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister in the course of any speech which he may make, consistent with the ruling of the Chairman, will be able to show us that the widows of these police officers are included.
I conclude by reminding the right hon. Gentleman of the enormous expenditure that has to be made. We want that money to be well spent; we do not want it to be thrown away. We want to do what we can for the education and up bringing of the children but it is necessary to see that this money goes to those who have only the widow's mite and not those who are in good circumstances. Therefore, this is an Amendment that should receive careful consideration. I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for being as desirous as I am of not wasting the taxpayers' money, and therefore, if he is not satisfied with £250 a year, let him say he will accept a certain fixed amount to be calculated to see whether a widow is necessitous or not. I have no doubt my hon. Friends will be quite pre pared to fall in with any reasonable proposal, and I hope the Government will give it consideration.
I think it may be convenient if I intervene at this point, because I want the Committee to under stand just what the Amendment means. In the 1925 Act, for reasons which seemed good to my predecessor, no question of a means limit, of £250, or any test of necessity was put into the Act as far as the pre-Act widows was concerned. Suppose for a moment it was agreed— I do not say that I do agree—that £250 was the proper means limit: Consider what we should have to do. It would mean that every single applicant for a pension under this Bill would have to undergo an examination, in order to catch perhaps a very small proportion. [An HON. MEMBER: "One per cent.!"] Not only that, but it would mean a periodical inspection of the means of the applicants. That is a very substantial task. If the test applied in this Amend ment—£250 a year—were adopted, I doubt whether a very small fraction of one per cent. of the insured class would be excluded, and, in order to exclude that very small fraction of a one hundredth part, you would submit to a very close examination of their means all the 500,000 widows who come within the operation of the Act. Not only so, but you would have to submit them to periodical re-examination to see whether their means had in creased or diminished.
I ask the Committee, when so large a proportion of them would pass through the sieve and get their pensions, is it really worth while raising this resentment in 500,000 working-class homes to catch a small handful of people who would then be deprived of the pension? It seems to me that I am being asked to undertake an administrative duty which it is not fair that I should be asked to undertake. This all means work. In the case of the widows who are going to be brought within the Bill, as far as 100,000 of them are concerned, there would be no need to visit their houses at all, because our departmental records will give us all that we want, and the pensions will be automatically paid. With regard to the rest, there will have to be visitation of the homes to ascertain the employment of the husband when he was alive. If you are going to add to that this examination of means, there must be a very careful examination, because all forms of income must be brought into account.
I should doubt it. The Income Tax returns are for that purpose alone, and, if we were to say that the forms should be used for other purposes, hon. Members opposite might rightly object. It does not matter whether the Income Tax returns are there or not, you have to consider everybody's application. It would be my duty, whether they filled up Income Tax forms or not, to see that every application for a widow's pension under this Bill was examined. That would mean at least 50 per cent. of the work of visitation and inquiry. I have had inquiries made as to what it would cost in administration. In the first year, quite apart from any subsequent years, there would be £50,000 additional. Set that amount against the amount saved on an infinitesimal fraction of the widows.
So far as we have been able to investigate, it is so small a figure that it is a decimal of one per cent. I am not trying to get out of any thing; I am trying to face the Commit tee. We are dealing with 500,000 people, the bulk of whom had husbands who were manual workers, and it is so perfectly obvious that in the overwhelming majority of cases they would not leave widows with £250 a year, and that you must be dealing with a very small pro portion. Add to the work of my Department and put another £50,000 on the cost of visitation, add an enormous amount of disturbance and resentment in the 99.9 per cent. of cases—that is taking only one decimal—the resentment in this preponderant number of cases, and put all this side by side with what you save. I submit you have not saved anything.
If it seemed right in the 1925 Act to excuse from any investigation of means the pre-Act widow with children, I see no reason in justice why it should be imposed now. If there be in that class of pre-Act widows, people who are well off, if their children are under 14½ they receive the pension without let or hindrance, and so far as I remember in the last Parliament, no question was raised that a means limit should be applied. If that principle be good enough for pre-Act widows with children, cannot I claim the same kind of consideration for the pre-Act widow who is elderly, who is 55 years old or more?
I hope the Committee will see the force of that argument. Believe me, it is extraordinarily difficult to find a means limit or, when you have found it, to apply it without a really terrifying inquisition, against which my predecessor himself spoke from this place. If he made his case with regard to the pre-Act widow with children, I submit the same case still stands for the pre-Act widow of elderly years. If the Committee will take that view, we may get on to further Amendments which raise points of sub stance. I do not want to hurry the Committee unduly, but I would remind it that there are over 150 Amendments on the Order Paper and a very short space of time to deal with them and that, the longer the discussion goes on, the longer the time before the Bill gets into operation.
The right hon. Gentle man has, I think, made a singularly unfortunate and unconvincing reply. Let me make one observation on his concluding remarks. This is a very important Amendment, and it deserves the consideration of the Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman has no right to complain, after taking four or five months to produce this Bill, that we should give it some attention now it is before the House of Commons. What did the right hon. Gentleman say? He said—and this seems to me to be one of the chief answers to the Amendment—that he would call in aid the provision which was made in the last Act of Parliament so far as pre-Act widows with children were concerned. I wish I could get him to think quietly over the reasons that have been advanced for the inclusion of that particular class. The reason may be put very simply. It was given for the sake and purpose of the children.
If I may intervene, I would like to say that I am not complaining about that at all. We do not say that they ought not to be in. My point was that the late Government, having brought them in, did not apply any means limit to them.
Obviously not, because the provision and the allowance were made for the advantage and for the purpose of the children. It was to place the children of the pre-Act widow in no less favourable circumstances than the children of the post-Act widow that that was done.
I hope I may be permitted to say that it was for the reason that the allowance was given for the children that this other question of the means limit did not arise. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health says that this Amendment would mean cease less examination. I do not know whether it would, because he has not yet disposed of the question of Income Tax returns; but suppose it does? Why is it that we say that these inquiries should be made as a matter of fairness and justice? We based the original scheme upon the contributory principle, and, as my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Health said, one of the advantages of the contributory principle is that you do not have to have this examination as to means; but directly you go outside that contributory principle, if you want to do the right and the just thing you are, I submit, bound, in fairness to other classes of the community, to have that examination. Why do I say that you have to do that? The right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. P. Snowden) himself came to that conclusion. He it was who in 1924 laid down the principle, in connection with his own old age pensions scheme, that there must be an examination as to means. It is nothing new; the proposal came from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. All the arguments which have been addressed to the Committee against an examination as to means—that is to say, that it is an inquisition, and that questions are put which are disagreeable—could equally well be applied against the old age pensions scheme as formulated and advanced to this House by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.
An examination will have to take place as regards the insurance status of a very large number of people. One of the most extraordinary proposals in this very muddle-headed Bill is that the inquirer at the Ministry of Health, or whoever it may be, will have to go back some 30 or 40 years to find out what was the insurance status of the late husband of a particular woman; and I do not envy him his job. He has to go back not only until 1911 but actually before 1911. This unhappy civil servant has got to find out whether long before that, if the Insurance Act had at that time been in operation, the man would have come within in- surance status under those particular pro visions. Just as many disagreeable questions will have to be put to the widow of a man who died 30 or 40 years ago with regard to what was his insurance status and matters of that kind as would have to be put to her about her means. Therefore so far as the very large proportion of these people are concerned similar questions will have to be put to them under this Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "And you want to add more."] I hope to show that it is necessary that that should be done—undesirable, but necessary owing to the provisions which are contained in this Bill.
Then the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health said that this would mean periodical examinations. Periodical examinations are taking place every day in the old age pensions administration. I was chairman of the London Pensions Committee for many years, and I know something about it, and I know exactly the machinery which has to be adopted. If you want to get over this difficulty you can give this work to the Pensions Committees up and down the country, who, I quite agree, for the most part do their work well and with decency to the applicants who come before them; but what is the advantage? It is true that that work can be done by the Pensions Committees, but the right hon. Gentleman said that there would be great resentment if these inquiries were made. If we are going to debate the question of the amount of resentment which will arise from the provisions of this Bill I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should think of the resentment which is likely to arise when a number of people in exactly the same class as widows of 55 years of age, and probably more deserving than many of them, are told that simply by an arbitrary provision in the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman they are excluded from benefiting—for the age of 55 years is taken for no reason which has yet been explained to the Committee—and that the right hon. Gentle man has refused to accept an Amendment in Committee by which at any rate a certain number who had an income of over £250 a year would be excluded. I would not mind if there were a hundred cases; even if there were only a hundred cases, I say that those 100 people who are left out and who are perhaps in very dire straits are entitled, as a mere act of justice, to have provision made for them soner than people who had an income of, we will say, over £250 a year.
If there is going to be resentment—and there will be a good deal of resentment over this Bill—the resentment will arise from the classes who are excluded but who are just as much entitled to benefit as some of those who are included and certainly I have not heard the answer which anyone can make to their complaint. I dare Bay that hon. Members have already had, as I have had, people coming to them and complaining of an injustice under this Bill. A woman who came to see me on Friday night last told me that she was a widow and that under the provisions of the present law, which it is true are going to be extended, the allowance which she gets for her children is going to finish at the age of 16 years and she would get no further benefit. What answer are you going to make to the complaint of a woman whose pension is withdrawn when her children attain the age of 16 years and you have to tell her that no pro vision is made for her—and actually no provision is made that there is to be—
I allowed a very wide discussion on the first Amendment, because we were then at the beginning of the Debate, but I must draw the attention of the right hon. Member to the fact that he is not confining himself to the question raised by the Amendment now before the Committee. The right hon. Member cannot go into the question of those who are covered by the Bill and those who are not, except so far as they are comprised in the description "necessitous."
I agree, but I do not understand your ruling, Mr. Chairman, if I may say so. I want to submit to you that I am entitled to support my argument for the inclusion of the word "necessitous" in this Bill on the ground that it will include people who badly need assistance, and I certainly submit that I am entitled to suggest to a Committee of the House of Commons that by means of inserting this word "necessitous" in the Measure relief and help will be afforded to many people in the country who will otherwise not get it. If that is not the case I think argument indeed might be curtailed in a matter of this kind. I am saying that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has not met that case, and he will have to meet it, not only in this House but up and down the country during the next three or four years. How can one defend giving without any contributions £8,000,000 a year to certain sections of the community without any test, and barring out other people who are equally deserving?
When we are told that we are imposing a test, I again repeat—and it will be repeated up and down the country—that the person who had imposed the test is the Prime Minister himself when he said that the test for a widow under this Bill should be need, which is another description of what is meant by the word "necessitous"; and I say that under this Bill not only is it not provided that the only test for a widow shall be need, because you are excluding every widow under 55 years of age, but also under this grossly unjust provision you are pre venting other people equally deserving from seeking the same assistance from the State.
I agree with nine-tenths of what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister in charge of the Bill has said against this Amendment, but still I do not think that he has quite met the case for the Amendment. In what he said as regards the enormous expense and the futility of means tests in general I completely agree. Many hon. Members in the Second Reading Debate on this Bill pointed out that means tests were extraordinarily unpopular. From considerable experience in trying to apply these tests I know that they are not only extraordinarily unpopular but are desperately demoralising. When you ask a poor woman to whom a few shillings per week means the difference between comfort and comparative privation to answer a lot of questions as to her means, you are offering her a very high inducement to misstate the truth; and unless you are prepared to go into very wide inquiries as to whether applicants have told the truth or not, which would be come extremely expensive, you would only be demoralising people by offering to them a regular bribe to misstate their circumstances. If we are merely going to save giving a pension to a small handful of women, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has said—a mere decimal point of one per cent.—by taking measures to keep out the rich widow, I say that it is not worth while, but is far more expensive than it is worth.
It appears to me that the whole question whether the word "necessitous" can rightly foe admitted depends upon the point raised by an hon. Member opposite: could or could not the Income Tax limit be applied? Because if it could I suggest that there at once you have a means test which is quite un-objectionable, or as unobjectionable as a means test can ever be. In the first place it is reasonably high; a person who is above the Income Tax limit cannot be said to be in need of a pension anything like so much as thousands and thousands of people who are not being dealt with under this Bill; but a second and more important reason that not only is it reasonably high, but it is automatic. I hope the Government will bear this point in mind when they come to consider an other Bill on their programme as to which they have been considering whether they will impose a means test or not; I mean as to the maintenance allowance in connection with raising the school age. If you ever have to impose means tests at all as a qualification for Government benefit there is only one thing to do, and that is to select a test which is so simple that it can be applied almost automatically.
I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health did not seem quite certain in his mind on this question, but the point is that if you adopt as the means test the question of whether the widow is or is not liable to Income Tax, then all you have to do is in the first place to make her sign a declaration answering the question: Is she or is she not liable to Income Tax? The woman who signs that declaration knows perfectly well that if she tells a falsehood it is perfectly simple for the Department to look up the Income Tax returns; and if you do that in even a proportion of the cases the tendency towards mis-statement would be arrested and there would be very few mis-statements. Therefore, I would ask the Minister whether he could not accept the admission of the word "necessitous," provided he insisted on a further Amendment making it clear that the definition of "necessitous" was to be whether a widow was or was not liable to Income Tax. If he is satisfied that that is a test that he can apply simply by getting a woman to sign a declaration and proving it by reference to the Income Tax returns, the whole problem of the difficulty and expense of applying it is swept away.
There is the argument that the saving would not be very great, and I admit that if you took so high a limit, it would not be very great, but provided you could get it with comparatively little waste of time and money, I think it would be worth while. There is undoubtedly going to be a great many bitter hearts caused by this Bill. There are spinsters who are equally necessitous, and there are the sickly widows, women suffering from ill-health, who are under the age of 55, and these are excluded from the Bill and will feel bitter about it. That may or may not be inevitable or possible to deal with in subsequent Amendments, but at any rate let the Government get rid of what would be a rather notorious hard case, and that is the case of the widows enjoying an income of, say, £250 a year. Although there may be only a handful of them, they could be pointed to as a notorious example of the unjust way in which the Measure worked.
This is always a very critical Assembly, but it is also a very kindly Assembly, and since I have waited nearly two years before venturing to offer a few observations in this House, I am certain that if I depart from the strict rules of Debate I shall be forgiven. At any rate, I will endeavour to keep myself within the limits of the Amendment, great though the temptation is to speak upon others matters which apparently are just outside the terms of this Amendment. The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rath-bone) seemed to me to make a very good point and then to destroy her point. In referring to the means test, she said something with which we all agree when she said that the means test was unpopular, but, if I may say so in parenthesis, a thing which is unpopular is not necessarily wrong, and I think the hon. Lady rather amended her first thought by a suggestion that if the means test were placed sufficiently high, that unpopularity might disappear. I approach the Amendment in this sense. It seems to me that the Members of this Committee, and in particular the Government of the day, are trustees for the nation as a whole, and if we have to expend any money, it is our bounden duty as trustees to spend it in a way that is fair as between citizen and citizen.
I listened with great care to what the Minister of Health had to say, and I gathered that his opposition to the Amendment was based largely on two grounds. First of all, he thought the people who would be affected would be a very small percentage. I did not gather the exact number estimated to be affected, but I think it was a fraction of 1 per cent., and that that was a mere estimate. May I point out that 1 per cent. of the money which is to be expended under this Bill, a total sum of something like £100,000,000, is £1,000,000? The right hon. Gentleman estimated that the cost of the administrative work in connection with these inquiries would be £50,000 a year, which, over 20 years, is just £1,000,000, and, therefore, on balance there may be no additional cost to the nation, even assuming the estimate to be right, and there would be a greater fairness in the distribution of the sum involved to the necessitous cases. Another ground stated by the Minister against the Amendment was not an argument worthy of very serious consideration. He spoke about the work which this proposal would entail upon his Department. I imagine that we shall all agree that when there is such a departure from the principle of insurance as this, a departure which means the distribution of money without any scientific regard to the manner or fairness of distribution, there is bound to be work for somebody.
It occurred to me, as the Minister of Health was speaking, that his Department was going to have a great deal more work, not so much in investigating the means of the possible recipients of this pension, as in investigating whether or not they were entitled to receive it; and it seems obvious that there would be much more administrative work involved in finding out whether a husband who died 30 or 40 years ago was or was not in an insurable occupation under an Act which was passed 20 or 30 years after his death, than there would be in finding out the income of his widow to-day. Therefore, on the ground of the work involved, it seems to me that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was not sound and would stand further investigation. I support the Amendment, as I think that the test as to whether or not a widow receives a pension should be governed by the ground of necessity.
I do not care to give a silent vote on this Amendment. It does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to object to the raising of this question of need, because their own policy at the General Election, as stated by the Prime Minister, was that of necessity—"every widow in need"—and the only problem is as to how best this can be carried out. My hon. Friends and I do not agree with this particular way of doing it. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) about the demoralisation of means tests, but there is a further point; it is not merely that they are demoralising, but that the very demoralisation means unfairness, because when you go before a committee and have to answer all kinds of inquiries, just as in unemployment insurance, so with a means test here, it is the clever person who gets away with a statement, and the simple, honest person, who does not understand all the implications of a question, is deprived of benefits which very likely he or she ought to have. I am entirely against adding any more means tests of this kind, and my own view will be stated on another Amendment later, on behalf of my party and myself.
I agree that the only possible way to meet the case is to have some kind of definition of a widow in need, but I am sure that the wrong way to approach it is to put a limiting word of this kind into the Bill, and I am not by any means sure that this Amendment would not go further than hon. and right hon. Members behind me seek to go. I am clear in my own mind that the fraction of widows who will get pensions under the Bill and who are supposed to have a deal of money, or to be above the Income Tax limit, must be very small indeed, and I am equally sure that the extra inquiries of all the widows now included in the Bill which would have to be made if this Amendment were carried, would make very great difficulties indeed. That is why I put a question to the Minister in July, asking if he had any idea of the number of widows in need in the country or of the cost of including them in the Bill, and the answer of the Ministry was not merely that there was no number, but that no estimation was possible with out an inquisition into the means of all the widows concerned. I am quite sure that this Committee as a whole and the electors outside do not wish to have such an inquisition under the framework of this Bill.
I listened to the statement of the Minister on this Amendment, and I was astonished at the weakness of his points. He first of all referred to administrative difficulties, but surely that is the very thing that a Minister has to take care of, and as he must enormously increase the staff to deal with all these pre-Act cases, what is the objection to letting some of these inspectors investigate this question? He said it was going to cost £50,000 a year, but he was not very sure of the percent age of widows who have means of their own. Surely, however, it is the Minister's job to know these facts and to inform the Committee. Does he suggest for a moment that £50,000 cannot be paid so as to see that money is not distributed to people who do not need it? Surely that is a very serious statement to make. If there is only one person getting money who is not entitled to it, the Government should see that that one person does not get the money, and £50,000 is a very considerable sum, but £1,000,000 in 20 years is a much bigger sum.
Yes, and I under stand too that the right hon. Gentleman objected strongly to spending this £50,000 to investigate these special cases, and I think it is very wrong of any Minister to object to spending money in order to see that people do not get money to which they are not entitled. The right hon. Gentleman went on making excuses for his Bill because it is based on the Bill brought in by the Government of last year, but we understand on these benches that the present Government is bringing in this new Bill to do away with the anomalies of the Bill which was brought in by us and passed into law. Why should he always hark back to the old Bills? Why cannot he stand on his own feet and explain the anomalies in his Bill? There are many other anomalies than this, and I can assure him that Members on this side are get ting letters from all over the country from people who will be excluded from the operation of this Bill, and who are asking, and asking very rightly, why widows who have been fortunate enough to get money or to be left money since their husbands died should get 10s. a week, and some who are more unfortunate and are in necessity should not get a pension at all. All these questions will come up.
We are not bringing forward this Amendment in any carping spirit. We are endeavouring to improve the Bill, because we see that there is going to be a lot of difficulties and anomalies, and as this Bill is being drawn so widely, why should the Government not make it wider still? The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) quoted several cases of those whom she considered necessitous widows, and the Minister replied that those cases were already included in the scope of the Bill, but cannot we have a definition of all those who are included? We on this side want some qualification, some means limit, inserted, so that people will not get money who are not entitled to it. Frame the words as you like, and call them what you like. Another Department of the Government, the Ministry of Pensions, settle pensions cases on the meaning of the word "necessitous." Why cannot the Ministry of Health do the same? The amount of money involved in this Bill is very large indeed, and we want to try and prevent the Government spending some of this money where it is not wanted, but where it may be taken advantage of in order that it may be spent on those cases which are really deserving. Social services are granted generally in three cases. One is those who are entitled to social services because they contribute; the second, those to whom it is given as a matter of pure charity; and the third, those who need the services.
The Prime Minister stated that pensions were going to be given according to need, but the Minister is over-ruling the Prime Minister, and is going to hand out the pensions to all and sundry so long as they are of a certain age. Is that fair, and is it fair to say that the reason for doing this is to save the Minister and his Department trouble? That was one of the most extraordinary arguments to which I have listened in this House. Then we are told that if a few thousand pounds more is spent than is necessary, it really does not matter as it is such a small amount. Is that a thing which any Opposition will accept without argument? We are going to carry this matter to a Division. We want some means limit put down, and we want to be satisfied that money is not going to be given away. If there be all these mil lions to be given away, as the Government says, surely there are far more deserving cases than some of those who come under this Bill. If you can save two cases of people from getting money who are not entitled to it, we consider that we are entitled to ask that it should be done.
A great deal has been said about the inquisition into means. An hon. Member on this side informed the Minister that the Income Tax limit would answer the question as to means. I can assure the Minister that that is so, and I suggest that he had better investigate the matter. If the figure of £250 were mentioned, I do not think that many widows who had an income over that amount would apply for the pension. They would know that it would be just as dishonest as to try and cut down their returns for Income Tax purposes. The figure of £250 is convenient and has certain advantages, but if the Minister would put in some covering words, some means limit over which a woman cannot get a pension, we would accept it. Until some means limit is put in we propose to insist upon this Amendment, and to press it to a Division.
How far can this matter be carried with regard to necessity? Has the means test and the test of necessity been applied in the case of State pensions other than old age pensions in the way that I understand hon. Members opposite desire that it should be applied. I notice from the Army Esti- mates that we paid pensions to widows of officers amounting to £1,500, averaging about £80 per head. Then I see there are certain amounts given as retired pay to general officers.
I was watching to see how far the hon. Gentleman was going. It is perfectly in order to com pare the practice in regard to pensions in one direction with the practice in another.
I want to know how far we are to carry this question of necessity. I see that 113 matrons of the Army Nursing Service are entitled to £370 a year. What contribution did these people make? I understand that they made a contribution in service to the country, but many of the women who come under this Bill have given their contribution by giving birth to the children of the nation. I want to know how far we can carry this argument.
The Government's refusal to meet this Amendment is typical of the reckless practice of the party when dealing with public funds. The Minister has had some months in which to consider this matter, and all he has done in a most arbitrary way is to select a class and not to take the slightest care to see that in that class there are no people who are not deserving of this money which belongs to the country. The Minister is not in a position to tell us how many people there are who would be within the Income Tax limit, and he has no scheme to overcome the difficulty of refusing to people who are not in need money which they have no right to have from the nation. I really fail to under stand the right hon. Gentleman's shyness over the question of Income Tax forms. Surely there can be no more suitable way than to say that people who come within the liability to pay Income Tax they should not he allowed to receive a pension. The people who are liable to pay Income Tax can readily be ascertained, and I should have thought that before the right hon. Gentleman came to the Committee to discuss this matter, he would have worked out to see whether it could not be possible in some easy way to make it essential that before the widows coming within Clause 1 were entitled to their pensions, they should show themselves clearly to be necessitous. The-right hon. Gentleman has not considered that at all, and I fail to under stand the argument of the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. C. Wilson) when he referred to certain Government pensions, which are on an entirely different basis. Everybody knows that these pensions are deferred payments pensions, and that they have been honestly earned by good service. The hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) talks about class—
There is nothing more certain than that if you distribute large sums of money to people who are within the Income Tax limit and do not require it, you are depriving other people who really do need it. The greatest care should therefore be exercised by any Minister introducing a Bill like this, which is not on a contributory principle, before he asks the Committee to distribute this money and to take no care at all to see whether a large section of the people receiving it are entitled to it. We simply ask that only necessitous widows should receive this money. Why should not the right hon. Gentleman meet our objection? It is perfectly reasonable. We only pro pose that those people who are necessitous should have pensions and we have gone further and suggested a method by which that class could be arrived at. Yet the Minister will not even hear of it. I hope that the Amendment will go to a Division, and I shall vote in favour of it.
It is surprising to find that there are Members of Parliament still anxious to put the word "necessitous" into a Bill. Those who are attempting to introduce the word are not so much concerned with helping to hand out pensions, as with the endeavour to continue all the inquiries as to means, and to put these people in a necessitous Category, and to put them in the pauper grade with those who are given relief. We are told by hon. Members that their hearts bleed for the necessitous. It is because they are prepared, just as they were pre pared in April, 1925, not only in the main discussion on the Bill, but even on the Motion that preceded it, to put the widows of our people, the working people, into a category—
It is amazing to find a medical man at this time of day who is prepared to have this word necessitous. All I can say is that evidently his experience of visiting the homes of the working people has certainly not touched his heart, except to harden it. The word "necessitous"—
The right hon. Gentle man is the last one who ought to accept this Amendment. He was a member of the London County Council when "necessitous" was applied to the feeding of school children—a vile term, which meant that we had to degrade parents before we could give their children the 1½ d. or ¾ d. meal which was provided. There may be reason for laughing.
I am not concerned with one term of the other. The point I am concerned with is the term "widow," without any prefix or suffix. Hon. Members opposite talk of being desirous of seeing the money spent properly, and talk of the nation's money, as though the nation were something other than the widows who are concerned with these pensions. I hope the country is following this discussion to-night, and will note that a party which claims to have regard for the people is prepared to reduce the standing of the widows, who are in that position often enough because of the in tolerable system which kills off men in early life. When we find a party pre pared to put our women into that position, it takes a great deal of effort to believe that those who have moved this Amendment have done so in good faith.
The hon. Member has given vent to a great deal of indignation, which I hope, for his own peace of mind, he does not really feel. I should hate to think that he left this Committee, where our discussions up to now have been both serious, peaceful and to the point, and went home to spend a restless night on account of the indignation he feels against this Amendment. That indignation should be directed, not against us, but against his own leader. It was the Prime Minister who laid it down that the object of his party was to help the widow in need, and it is to fulfil that object that this Amendment has been put down. It would save a lot of time if we did not allow ourselves to be led on one side by appeals either to passions or to street corner methods—[Interruption]—but concentrated exclusively upon the important but limited Amendment on the Paper. [Interruption.]
The point I wish to put to the Minister, which has not yet been answered, is that which was stressed a fortnight ago by the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone). It has been suggested that it would be quite simple for the Government to introduce the Income Tax limitation. We have not been told by the Government that this cannot be done. It is no use hon. Members opposite talking vaguely about an inquisition into means. Under this Bill already there will be a far more serious inquisition, a far more irritating and far seeking inquisition, than would follow from the mere limitation of pensions to those who are not Income Tax payers. [Interruption.] It is no good for hon. Members to try to create prejudice in order to catch votes in the country. This is a substantial Amendment, to which the Government have so far failed to return an answer. Will the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary say why it is that the Income Tax limit cannot be placed in this Bill? If she will do so, it will go a long way to meet our point. I cannot speak for my hon. Friends, but I think I shall not be wrong in saying that it would meet the case of this Amendment. It is a matter of principle.
I have no desire to be controversial, but I think the Committee ought to consider this matter with the thoroughness and care which it deserves. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government said they did not know how many people this Amendment would affect, but thought the number was small, less than 1 per cent., but the sum saved by a reduction of 1 per cent. would be £1,000,000, which is quite sufficient to lend force to this argument; and the hon. Lady herself knows that £1,000,000 could be well used for cases not now within the scope of the Bill. This is perhaps the most important Amendment at this early stage of the Bill, and I ask hon. Members not to regard us as unreasonable because we believe that the principle it embodies should be strongly pressed.
I think the difficulty over this point arises because the Bill is not based upon logic, because the Government have seen fit to depart from the contributory basis and find themselves in these difficulties. No doubt they will find themselves in many more. Everyone on this side dislikes intensely any form of inquisition into means. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen who are so ironical would study the terms of the Measure introduced by the previous Government they will find that there, for the first time, the means limit was removed. It was the late Government who removed the inquisition into means, and we do not wish to see it placed in this Act, which is why we are inviting the Committee to introduce the simple term "Income Tax payer." It is up to the Government to find the necessary word. If they do not like the word we produce, let them substitute another, but at least let them give a reasoned answer to the moderately framed arguments we have put forward and not ride off with cheap appeals which have no connection with the seriousness of the problem.
I shall not detain the Committee very long, because it is my custom to say as much as I can in the shortest possible time, but I want to con- gratulate hon. Members opposite on the extraordinary logic they have displayed this afternoon. When the workers are to get something they always ask for some limit to be placed on that possibility, but when the people whom they particularly belong to and represent are going to receive pensions or gratuities from the State there is no question of means. A short time ago we were giving grants-in-aid of rates in order that rates paid by certain industrialists might be reduced by 75 per cent., and then the other side never asked whether they were paupers or brewers, or whether they filled in their Income Tax papers properly. It is pure cant. We in the Labour party believe in pensions for the people, and we have never asked any questions as to whether they are entitled to pensions or not. [Interruption.] I am going to justify that. I say it is not a question of people's means; they are citizens of the State. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much would you like?"] I do not want any thing except what I have paid for, and if you got as much as you paid for you would be in the workhouse.
I was challenged upon my pension. I pay a percentage of my wages every week into a pension fund, and I am entitled to receive my pension. In the event of my dying before my time, which is likely according to the philosophy of the hon. Lady opposite, I hope my wife will benefit as the result of this Measure, and that there will be naughty questions asked as to where I got my money and where I spent it, and whether I filled my Income Tax papers in properly. I believe I fill them in improperly—to my own disadvantage. I wish hon. Members would carry out all this sentimental talk about an Income Tax limit to its logical conclusion, but they do not say it of any other class of the community. On Saturday His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales presided over a banquet to men who came from all over the Empire, some of them drawing substantial pensions. No question was asked about Income Tax limits, no question asked about means.
They get their pensions by right, and I say that, although those men have had the opportunity of rendering great service to the nation in times of great stress, yet the ordinary working man and working woman, in their day and generation, and in their sphere, have rendered equal service to the nation, and ought not to have to go under the moral microscope or the financial strictures of people who are better off than they ought to be. We support the Government attitude in this matter. No means limit, no Income Tax inquiries. Some of us are sick and tired of them. I have only one income as a Member of this House, and I cannot dodge it there. As a trade union official I cannot dodge it, because we are compelled to make a return to the head office of our union of every penny-piece that every official receives.
The question of the means limit has been brought in, and, therefore, I have pointed out some fallacies in connection with it, from an ordinary working-class point of view. I am not a financial expert. I was born without anything, and I shall go out without anything. [An HON. MEMBER: "You will not!"] I shall; I cannot take it with me, and you cannot either; it would melt if you did. [Interruption.] This scheme which the Government have embodied in this Bill is only the beginning of the whole system of under standing and coordinating pensions. Pensions ought not to be given merely because of people's poverty as it is sup posed to be understood. We are all citizens of the State, and the man or woman who does useful work in a factory or work shop is rendering just as much service to the State as people who fight on the battlefield or the battleship. We are standing for pensions because we are citizens of the State, not because we are paupers asking that something should be given to us.
This is an exceedingly narrow Amendment, and I do not propose to range over the whole field of fascinating subjects that almost every speaker has touched upon during the course of this Debate, nor do I mean to discuss the general question of the means limit, as that matter was very fully discussed in the House and a vote taken. I want to tell the Committee why we consider that to define the limit for necessitous cases by an income of £250 a year is administratively impossible. I want in the first place to point out, to hon. Members who have said that there is a great principle involved, that there was precisely the same principle involved in the Act of 1925. The Act of 1925 brought in pre-Act widows with children, and no means limit of any kind was proposed by the Government in 1925 or demanded by hon. Members opposite. We are bringing in another class of pre-Act widows—elderly widows of about 55 without children; and to them too we say, as the Government said with regard to pre-Act widows with children, that no means limit at all shall apply.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has all the elements except one of a first-class debater. He is extraordinarily fertile; he is extraordinarily ingenious; but he has one little deficiency—he never can argue a point. He was asked why he did not impose a means limit for his widows. He replied that they had children, as if widows with children might not have rich uncles in Australia leaving them money in precisely the same way as the elderly widow without children might. I ask the Committee to notice how the right hon. Gentleman evaded the point as to why he did not impose a means limit in the case of his pre-Act widows, while asking that we should do so. His only answer was that his widows had children. What in the name of common sense and logic has the possession of children to do with the question whether you have rich relatives who have left you money? Exactly the same proportion of the widows included in the right hon. Gentleman's Act, as of those included under this Measure, will be outside the means limit. There is nothing to discriminate between the two classes. If we include an infinitesimal portion of widows with incomes above £250, so did the right hon. Gentleman in 1925. There is no distinction at all; the children have nothing to do with it.
The reason which influenced my right hon. Friend is that which influenced the previous Government. The children of the rich widow do not need any help at all. The children of the rich widow, if such exist, are as little properly the recipients of national help as the elderly widow with means. Considering how careful hon. Members are on this question, and considering the zeal which they put into the matter, I ask them just to reflect why it was that right hon. Gentlemen opposite never thought it practicable to impose a means limit for pre-Act widows. The reason is precisely the reason which actuated us, namely, that the number is so small and the cost of administration so large.
The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) asked why we did not base it on the payment of Income Tax. There are some suggestions of which it has been said that they are the first thoughts of every intelligent person who considers the question, and not their second thoughts, and this is precisely one of those cases. Let us see what we should have to go through if we took what the right hon. Gentleman who brought in the Measure of 1925 refused to take, namely, an In come Tax limit. In the first place, the pension authority cannot go to the Inland Revenue Department and say, "Let us look at your accounts." The Income Tax people have not got widows separately classified and therefore it would be necessary to go to the widows and find out about their incomes first, and then ask the Inland Revenue Department whether it was correct. Owing to the way in which the Income Tax people keep their accounts, we should have to go first of all to the widows and ask them what their incomes were, and then we should have to ask the Income Tax authorities to confirm or correct that in formation.
The second point is that Income Tax returns are on a more indulgent basis than pension returns. For pension re turns in the case of old age pensioners you have to take account of many things that the Income Tax authorities never notice. For example, there are gifts in kind, gifts of clothes, regular presents from relatives and many other things which Income Tax people never look at, but we should have to look at these things. On the other hand the In come Tax authorities make abatements in a number of cases which are not made under the pensions scheme. There is insurance. If you look into the humble budgets of the poor you will find that relatively enormous sums are spent on insurance—health insurance, friendly societies and so on. In looking through the budgets of the poor I have often found as much as 1s. a week spent in insurance outside health insurance altogether. In the case of Income Tax, insurance premiums are taken into consideration, but under the Pensions Acts it is not taken into consideration. If therefore the details be examined—I do not want to weary the Committee with them, but I have the Income Tax forms here—it will be seen that these two Departments of State do not administer on the same lines, and therefore a double inquiry would be necessary, as the In come Tax returns would, for our purposes be hardly worth anything.
Oh, no, that would not do at all. If Parliament imposed an Income Tax limit we should have to satisfy ourselves that that limit was in fact imposed; it would not satisfy either the Accountant-General or the Treasury officials to have a mere declaration. If Parliament imposed an Income Tax limit they would have to see that it was carried out; it would be entirely impossible merely to take the word of the applicant. It is said that we do not know to how many people this would apply. It is true that one cannot give figures, but the Department has had for four years the task of dealing with pre-Act widows with children, and that experience leads us to believe that, widows with means are a class so small as to be infinitesimal. If we went into such inquiries, and they would have to be serious inquiries, we should have to spend £50,000 a year on administration, and if we had to do it we could not pay our pensions by next July.
Let no mistake be made about this. We should be so increasing the amount of time spent on administration that we should have to put off paying ordinary widows' and old age pensions next July, and should have to postpone the second stage. What we are being asked to do—with much cry and very little wool—is to spend an enormous amount of money in administration as compared with what we set out to spend, and I put it to hon. Members opposite, because this argument will appeal to them more than any thing else I can say, that we are asked to do something which for administrative reasons was judged impracticable in 1925. Therefore I ask the Committee to get rid of this Amendment and come to Amendments which are much more serious and affect a much larger number of people.
I cannot agree with the last observation of the hon. Lady, that this Amendment is not one of some importance, nor do I agree with the argument she put forward in support of that view. I am surprised at the way in which she dismisses the possibility of using for this purpose the information at the disposal of the Income Tax authorities. This subject is obviously a highly technical one, and it may well be the case—I think myself that it is—that no rough-and-ready suggestion made across the Floor of the House will meet all the different conditions; but in view of the fact that the Income Tax returns are made by districts, and that the inspectors in each district have the closest knowledge of the persons in the district who are liable to Income Tax, for the Commissioners of Income Tax with very little extra administrative labour to give a certificate as to who is and who is not in possession of an income of over £250 a year would not, I believe, be difficult or highly expensive.
I am not satisfied with that explanation. Far less am I satisfied with the explanation with regard to the proportion of widows. Both the Minister and his subordinate were most equivocal in their language on the subject of the numbers of widows under the Bill whose in come is over £250 a year. The right hon. Gentleman said a tiny fraction of 1 per cent. I do not believe the information he has at his disposal justifies him in saying a tiny fraction. I believe the figure is not far short of 1 per cent., and, if it is anywhere in the region of 1 per cent., you would get a real saving of money which might be used for other purposes under the Act, or other important purposes for the general welfare of the State. It is not treating the Committee with the frankness it deserves for Ministers to equivocate on the subject of the number of widows who would be excluded.
The last argument, that it would postpone the beginning of this large reform, strikes me, especially if you read it in connection with the other provisions of the Bill, as almost cynical when one re collects that the distribution of this largesse—[Interruption.] As we have several times had occasion to explain to hon. Members opposite, largesse is not a quantitative, but a qualitative, term. If the hon. Member does not know the difference between quantity and quality, I shall be delighted to explain, but not by taking up the time of the Committee. The Minister is to be the sole judge of who is to get this money. [An HON. MEMBER: "Drop that finger!"] If you control your mouth, I will control my finger. That is a fair offer. A minority Government has not a very long life. Six months is a long time, and if one thing is clear about the framework of the Act, it is that when widows are going to be in receipt, for the first time, of this rare and refreshing fruit, every care must be taken that they are sitting under the Greenwood Tree. Under the Green wood Tree, that is where the widows must be.
One good turn deserves another. The excuse that there will be a large delay in introducing the reform, cannot be seriously considered when a question of principle of such size and breadth is under consideration. For a certain class of insured persons under the Health Insurance Act, the figure of £250 is already stated. Surely it stands to some reason that if you do not think it is worth while, so far as the voluntary contributor is concerned, to deal with people with more than £250 a year, that kind of limit is also worth considering when the money of the State is being administered. I cannot understand why we should be less interested in the wisdom and sense of administering State money than if making a certain limit for certain classes of insured persons.
We are clearly at the beginning of a widely extended system of pensions. The Government have promised a general coordinating Measure of the whole system. This is the moment in which the Committee should make up its mind what is a proper limit at which people who have made no contribution should receive the bounty of the State. That there must be some such limit, surely all must admit. What is the objection to making a limit which has found its way into the Health Insurance Act, which is the same limit as that for Income Tax and which com mends itself to reasonable people? This may be a new era in the history of pensions administration. If it is true, it re-enforces a thousand times the urgency for which I ask the Minister to consider the point at which we are, and clearly and bravely and firmly to lay down what in their view is the figure of income that distinguishes those who deserve and those who do not require the bounty of the State for which they have paid no contribution. It clearly is a vital question, and to fob us off with a fraction that is unknown, with a threat that it may cause the Ministry of Health some work and cost some money, and may delay the operation of the Bill, is no answer to the kind of question we are involved in.
I again urge the Front Bench to consider it. Speaking for myself, I have some right to urge it. Last Thursday an Amendment was proposed by Members of my party for whom I have the greatest respect, and whose value to the country and to the public services is inestimable, making the means limit that of old age pensions. I could not agree with that. The disadvantages of making that means limit the means limit here are obvious. I, therefore, said I would vote against it and vote with the Government, and I did so.
On this point, we come to a stage where it is incredible that those in control of the national finances and those who take, as they say, such a vast interest in social reform, when they know the number of widows who will be left out by this particular form of legislation, when they know the vast number of people who are in need, should still declare on their soul and conscience that it is not worth while to exclude from the benefits of the Bill widows who have an income of over £5,000, and it will not do. Of England I cannot speak, but of Scot land I can, and if this is going to be the character of your legislation, if you are going to squander instead of being careful, to be hurried instead of taking time, if you are going to fling money about in this way, at the next election out of Scotland we will fling you neck and crop.
(seated and covered): On a point of Order. In view of the fact that I have sat through the entire Debate and the Debate on Thursday, upon which the issues raised were of a similar character, without having been called, I ask your advice, Sir, how I am to explain my vote in this Division in view of the fact that you and your predecessor in the Chair have not seen fit to call me. May I have an answer to the point of order I have put?
I am extremely sorry. I am very much afraid I cannot help the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Many Members of the Committee have sat for similar periods without being called.
|Division No. 12.]||AYES.||[6.27 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Chater, Daniel||Glassey, A. E.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Church, Major A. G.||Gosling, Harry|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. v. (Hillsbro')||Cluse, W. S.||Gossling, A. G.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Gould, F.|
|Arnott, John||Compton, Joseph||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Cove, William G.||Gray, Milner|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Cowan, D. M.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne).|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Daggar, George||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)|
|Barnes, Alfred John||DallaS, George||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)|
|Batey, Joseph||Dalton, Hugh||Groves, Thomas E.|
|Bellamy, Albert||Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Grundy, Thomas W.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Day, Harry||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)|
|Bennett, Captain E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Dickson, T.||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & land)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Dukes, C.||Hardie, George D.|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Ede, James Chuter||Harris, Percy A.|
|Bowen, J. W.||Edmunds, J. E.||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Elmley, Viscount||Haycock, A. W.|
|Bromley, J.||Foot, Isaac||Hayes, John Henry|
|Brothers, M.||Forgan, Dr. Robert||Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)||Freeman, Peter||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Herriotts, J.|
|Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)||Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.)||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)|
|Buchanan, G.||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)|
|Burgess, F. G.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Hoffman, P. C.|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Hopkin, Daniel|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.)||Gill, T. H.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Caine, Derwent Hall-||Gillett, George M.||Horrabin, J. F.|
|Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Maxton, James||Shinwell, E.|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Messer, Fred||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.||Mills, J. E.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Isaacs, George||Milner, J.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Montague, Frederick||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|John, William (Rhondda, West)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Sinkinson, George|
|Johnston, Thomas||Morley, Ralph||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon Leif (Camborne)||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Mort, D. L.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Moses, J. J. H.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Jowitt, Rt. Hon. W. A.||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Sorensen, R.|
|Kelly, W. T.||Naylor, T. E.||Spero, Dr. G. E.|
|Kennedy, Thomas||Oldfield, J. R.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Kinley, J.||Paling, Wilfrid||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Kirkwood, D.||Palmer, E. T.||Strauss, G. R.|
|Knight, Holford||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)||Perry, S. F.||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Lang, Gordon||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Phillips, Dr. Marlon||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Lathan, G.||Pole, Major D. G.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Law, A. (Rosendale)||Ponsonby, Arthur||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Lawrence, Susan||Potts, John S.||Tillett, Ben|
|Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Price, M. P.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Lawson, John James||Pybus, Percy John||Toole, Joseph|
|Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Quibell, D. J. K.||Townend, A. E.|
|Lees, J.||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Rathbone, Eleanor||Turner, B.|
|Lloyd, C. Ellis||Richards, R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Longbottom, A. W.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Walker, J.|
|Longden, F.||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Lowth, Thomas||Ritson, J.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Lunn, William||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Romeril, H. G.||West, F. R.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Macdonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Rothschild, J. de||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|McElwee, A.||Rowson, Guy||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|McEntee, V. L.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Mackinder, W.||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|MacLaren, Andrew||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)||Sanders, W. S.||Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|MacNeill-Weir, L.||Sawyer, G. F.||Wise, E. F.|
|McShane, John James||Scurr, John||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Wright, W. (Rutherglen)|
|March, S.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Markham, S. F.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Marley, J.||Sherwood, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mathers, George||Shield, George William||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.|
|Matters, L. W.||Shillaker, J. F.||Whiteley.|
|Albery, Irving James||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Hanbury, C.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Astor, Viscountess||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Atkinson, C.||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Herbert, S. (York, N. R. Scar. & Wh'by)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Balniel, Lord||Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Eden, Captain Anthony||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Edmondson, Major A. J.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Everard, W. Lindsay||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Kindersley, Major G. M.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Fielden, E. B.||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Bracken, B.||Fison, F. G. Clavering||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.|
|Butler, R. A.||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)|
|Castlestewart, Earl of||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Llewellin, Major J. J.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley)||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Grace, John||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Marjoribanks, E. C.|
|Cranbourne, Viscount||Gretton, Colonel lit. Hon. John||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Meller, R. J.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Mond, Hon. Henry|
|Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Salmon, Major I.||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Tinne, J. A.|
|Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Muirhead, A. J.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Savery, S. S.||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|O'Neill, Sir H.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Peake, Capt. Osbert||Skelton, A. N.||Wardlaw-Milne, J. S.|
|Penny, Sir George||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Pilditch, Sir Philip||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Smithers, Waldron||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Somerset, Thomas||Withers, Sir John James|
|Purbrick, R.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Reid, David D. (County Down)||Southby, Commander A. R. J.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Remer, John R.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Ross, Major Ronald D.||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Stuart, J. C. (Moray and Nairn)||Captain Margesson and Sir Victor|
|Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.||Warrender.|
|Division No. 13.]||AYES.||[6.38 p.m.|
|Albery, Irving James||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Astor, Viscountess||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Remer, John R.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.|
|Atkinson, C.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Balniel, Lord||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Savery, S. S.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Bracken, B.||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Butler, R. A.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Castlestewart, Earl of||Hurd, Percy A.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Somerset, Thomas|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Cranbourne, Viscount||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey||Stuart, J. C. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Macquisten, F. A.||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Tinne, J. A.|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Marjoribanks, E. C.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Meller, R. J.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.||Wardlaw-Milne, J. S.|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Mond, Hon. Henry||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Muirhead, A. J.||Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Fielden, E. B.||O'Neill, Sir H.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Fison, F. G. Clavering||Peake, Capt. Osbert||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Penny, Sir George||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Pilditch, Sir Philip||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Power, Sir John Cecil||Captain Margesson and Captain|
|Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley)||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Wallace.|
|Grace, John||Purbrick, R.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Batey, Joseph||Bowen, J. W.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Bellamy, Albert||Broad, Francis Alfred|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Brockway, A. Fenner|
|Alpass, J. H.||Bennett, Captain E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Bromley, J.|
|Arnott, John||Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Brothers, M.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Birkett, W. Norman||Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Richards, R.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.)||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. W. A.||Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Caine, Derwent Hall-||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)||Ritson, J.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kelly, W. T.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Chater, Daniel||Kennedy, Thomas||Romeril, H. G.|
|Church, Major A. G.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kinley, J.||Rothschild, J. de|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Kirkwood, D.||Rowson, Guy|
|Compton, Joseph||Knight, Holford||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Cove, William G.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cowan, D. M.||Lang, Gordon||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Sanders, W. S.|
|Dallas, George||Lathan, G.||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Law, A. (Rosendale)||Scurr, John|
|Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Lawrence, Susan||Sexton, James|
|Day, Harry||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Dickson, T.||Lees, J.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Dukes, C.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Ede, James Chuter||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Shield, George William|
|Edmunds, J. E.||Long bottom, A. W.||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Longden, F.||Shinwell, E.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Foot, Isaac||Lowth, Thomas||Simmons, C. J.|
|Forgan, Dr. Robert||Lunn, William||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Freeman, Peter||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Sinkinson, George|
|Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.)||Macdonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)||McElwee, A.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||McEntee, V. L.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Mackinder, W.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Gibbins, Joseph||MacLaren, Andrew||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Gill, T. H.||Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Gillett, George M.||MacNeill-Weir, L.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Glassey, A. E.||McShane, John James||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Gosling, Harry||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Sorensen, R.|
|Gossling, A. G.||March, S.||Spero, Dr. G. E.|
|Gould, F.||Markham, S. F.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Marley, J.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Gray, Milner||Mathers, George||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne).||Matters, L. W.||Strauss, G. R.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Maxton, James||Sutton, J. E.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Messer, Fred||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Mills, J. E.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Milner, J.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Montague, Frederick||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Morley, Ralph||Tillett, Ben|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hardie, George D.||Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Townend, A. E.|
|Harris, Percy A.||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Mort, D. L.||Turner, B.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Moses, J. J. H.||Viant, S. P.|
|Haycock, A. W.||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Walker, J.|
|Hayes, John Henry||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Henderson, Arthur, junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Nathan, Major H. L.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Herriotts, J.||Naylor, T. E.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||West, F. R.|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Oldfield, J. R.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hoffman, P. C.||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Hopkin, Daniel||Paling, Wilfrid||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Palmer, E. T.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Horrabin, J. F.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Perry, S. F.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.||Phillips, Dr. Marlon||Wise, E. F.|
|Isaacs, George||Pole, Major D. G.||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Potts, John S.||Wright, W. (Rutherglen)|
|John, William (Rhondda, West)||Price, M. P.||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Johnston, Thomas||Pybus, Percy John|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Quibell, D. J. K.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr.|
|Jones, Rt. Hon Leif (Camborne)||Rathbone, Eleanor||Whiteley.|
Question, "That the word 'fifty-five' stand part of the Clause," put, and agreed to.
On a point of Order. May I point out that this is a Bill to amend the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, and that this Amendment and subsequent Amendments seek to reduce the age at which a spinster shall be paid Old Age Pension, from 65 to 55. May I also point out that in Section 6 (3) of the principal Act, the word "woman" is frequently used? This being a material part of the principal Act which this Bill seeks to amend, it seems to me that it is quite clear we can, by Amendment, move to leave out the word "widow," and to insert instead thereof the word "woman." May I also point out that in connection with the principal Act there was a long Debate in Committee, and several hon. Members now on the Government benches, who were then in Opposition, made very long speeches advocating the very thing which we are trying to do by our Amendments. Therefore, I submit that the next Amendment which stands in my name and the subsequent Amendments which I have on the Order Paper, come within the scope of the Bill.
On a point of Order. I understand that your Ruling signifies that, in your view, it would not be in order to move that anybody not a widow should receive a widow's pension under the scope of this Bill. If that be the view, I should like to submit to you that in the original Act there is provision for a woman other than a widow to receive a widow's pension, or part of a widow's pension. Section 3 of the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, contains Sub-section (3), which says:
An additional allowance shall, subject as hereinafter provided, be paid to the widow together with and as part of the pension.
Therefore, the children's allowance under the original Act are part of the widow's pension. Section 6 (3) of the same Act says:
Where the Minister is satisfied, on the application of a woman in receipt of an additional allowance as part of a widow's pension.…
That deals with a case where the allowance in respect of a child is paid not to the mother, but to some other person who has charge of the child. Therefore, there
are cases under the original Act where part of the widow's pension is paid to a woman who is not a widow, or not necessarily a widow. That being so, I submit that it would hardly be outside the scope of the present Bill to bring in the word "woman," instead of "widow."
I want to consult the convenience of the Committee, and I wonder whether the Committee would prefer that I should call the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto)—In page 1, line 11, to leave out the words "fifty-five" and to insert instead thereof the word "sixty"—along with the following Amendment, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) and other hon. Members—to leave out the words "fifty-five" and to insert instead thereof the words "forty-five"? That would give the Committee an opportunity of discussing the whole question of the age limit, and at the end of the discussion we could take the vote without further discussion. If that would meet the convenience of the Committee, I will call the hon. Member for Barn staple.
Am I to understand from your previous Ruling that, in discussing these particular Amendments, it is not possible to discuss a reduction in the age at which persons other than widows can receive old age pensions, and that the discussion must be confined to widows? Therefore, that part of the Act which deals with persons other than widows receiving old age pensions, cannot be discussed now.
On a point of Order. Do I understand that it is your intention to call the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto)? If so, what about the Amendment which stands in my name, and the names of other hon. Members—In page 1, line 11, to leave out the words, "has attained the age of fifty-five and."
My Amendment does not fix any age limit. That is a far more important question than raising the age limit by five years, or reducing it. If you take the Amendment of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), what is the position of those Members like myself who want to see the age limit abolished altogether? I suggest that this must be put as a separate Amendment if we are to have a clear expression of opinion on that point. I do not want to vote for an age limit of 60.
May I venture to submit a point of Order as to why, if that be so, we are unable to follow the course suggested? You have suggested that we should have the discussion of two alternative ages on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), and that thereafter, instead of further discussion we should have two different votes. But if this Amendment is taken and the words "fifty-five" stand part we cannot have any further discussion. There are three different questions to be considered. The first is, whether there should be an age limit at all; in the next place whether "fifty-five" should stand part; and thirdly, whether "45" or "60" should be substituted. Would it not be more convenient to have a discussion on the Amendment which raises the widest set of issues, namely, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley)?
I gave this Ruling because I saw that, if the Question were put, "That the words 'fifty-five' stand part of the Clause" that would exclude any discussion on the subsequent Amendments. I think I am meeting the overwhelming wishes of the Committee in keeping the discussion to the Amendment put in proposing to raise or lower the age in the Bill. I cannot discuss the matter any more, and I call upon Sir Basil Peto.
The hon. Member must appreciate that, rightly or wrongly, I am trying to meet the wishes of the Committee. I may be right or wrong, in my interpretation of the wishes of the Committee, but that is my Ruling. I have a right to make that ruling. I cannot permit the hon. Member to speak any more on that point.
The hon. Members must allow the Chair to conduct the Debate, and I appeal to hon. Members to allow the Debate to proceed. I have given my ruling. I shall not re verse my ruling, and I call upon Sir Basil Peto.
My point of order is this: If you call upon the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), will the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) be able to put his point?
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out the word "fifty-five" and to insert instead there of the word "sixty."
I very much regret if my moving this Amendment has in any way diminished the discussion on the three very important separate questions raised by the three Amendments. One Amendment proposes to take out of this Bill any reference to age at all; my Amendment proposes to alter the age limit from 55 to 60; the Amendment of the Liberal party would alter it in another direction. I shall confine myself strictly to arguments that justify my proposal. The Committee decided last Thursday and to-day that no inquiry into the means of a widow should be introduced into this Bill. There is another form of limitation, and that is that we should inquire whether these widows, to whom it is proposed to grant pensions in return for no contribution at all, have reached an age at which they are unlikely to be able to earn their own living. My experience is that that age does not come at 55, that widows or other women of that age are quite capable of taking places as house keepers, and that as a general rule, it is only at about the age of 60 that their physical strength begins to deteriorate to such an extent that earning becomes a burden instead of a pleasure, as it is as long as physical capacity is sufficient to enable people to earn.
I am speaking from the point of view of a mere man and I cannot pretend to know, except from observation, to what extent these remarks apply to the female sex. I am too old-fashioned to inquire whether there are any Lady Members of this Committee who have passed the age specified in the Bill, and therefore I am precluded from enlightment by asking the lady Members of this Committee. I am quite sure, however, that it would be a reasonable limitation if the age were made 60. An argument used against the proposals we debated earlier this after noon as to an income limit was the cost of administration, but I would point out that this Amendment would not cost a single penny piece more in administration to settle whether a person had reached the age of 60 instead of 55. I have other reasons to adduce to the Committee why we should be wise to limit this Bill to widows of the age of 60. The first is that the principal argument in favour of the proposal in this Clause is that the late Government, in introducing the Act of 1925, made exceptions and recognised hard cases and thereby introduced certain non-contributory cases. I do not see that that is any precedent or a justification for a proposal so vast as this one.
It is proposed to give pensions to half-a-million widows, all of whom have had no contribution made on their behalf, and to put them all into this contributory scheme. That seems to me to be making the confusion of the various Acts dealing with pensions and other social services worse confounded. The Minister has told us that he is at the present time having a great investigation of all these matters, and it seems to me that in this Bill the most the Government should do is to extend the pension to a strictly limited number of widows who have reached an age at which the average woman would be likely to be incapable of earning her own living. A further reason I wish to give is that, out of the total expenditure of nearly £100,000,000 which will be involved under this Bill during the next 16 years, more than £81,000,000 goes to this particular Clause. We ought to consider very seriously the relationship of this vast addition to the national expenditure of these gratuitous pensions, with the industrial outlook of the country and consequently with the possibility of our industry finding employment for our people.
There is no doubt that in this Clause we have the major part of the expenditure proposed by the Government. Balancing one thing with another, I feel that, by proceeding to such a vast expenditure as this Clause proposes, we are very likely to do more harm in precluding our industries from finding employment for our people than we will do good in giving pensions to women between the ages of 55 and 60 who, in the majority of cases, are perfectly capable of earning their own living and are actually doing so at the present time. It has been admitted by the Minister of Health that this expenditure is merely an instalment of a larger policy. If we take the present month of November, the month of July, when the House was sitting, and the month of December when this Bill will pass the expenditure which has already been incurred by the Government in respect of this Bill and unemployment, assuming that they do not add any more to the national burden, is approximately £12,000,000. At that rate of expenditure, should the present Government be in office for four years, we shall have added to the national expenditure nearly £200,000,000.
I think we may carefully consider whether at a time like the present, when our industries are crippled by the enormous burdens placed upon them, we are justified in adding at such an enormous rate to those burdens. The burden for social services is 72s. per head of the population, as against 22s. 6d. before the War. When we have added another £200,000,000 at the end of four years I do not know what that figure will be; but it is certain that our industries, which are at present unable to find employment for our people, have to bear a burden out of all proportion to corresponding industries in other countries which compete with us. Therefore, from the national point of view we ought to weigh one thing against the other. It would be out of order to do more than mention that this expenditure must be related to the efforts of the Government to deal with unemployment but we should be utterly unwise to agree to this great expenditure without any attempt to limit it to those widows who are most in need of this assistance.
The Government have shown no reason why this age of 55 has been selected; they have not shown that the woman of 55 is any less likely than the widow of 50 to be able to earn her own living or more likely to be in need. It is the fact that physical strength sufficient to earn a livelihood only begins to leave people when they reach the age of 60. I was well over 60 before I felt any disinclination or disability to incur long days of arduous toil, and I am sure that many women of 55 and 60 can earn as much as women of a younger age. What they lack in one way they gain in another. I have put forward this Amendment, not only with a desire to limit the expenditure of the Government, but because I believe that we are going too fast in our expenditure in this particular direction. It is quite out of proportion to what the Government are doing in many other directions, where the expenditure would be infinitely more valuable to the people whom it is proposed to help. I hope that the arguments I have put before the Committee will receive the serious consideration of the Government.
I cannot agree with the argument of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto). Hon. Members who represent rural constituencies will doubtless give their experience as to the
fate of the woman of 55 and 50 and even 45 in the rural parts of the country. I shall be surprised if they agree with the hon. Member. But I am quite sure that there is no hon. Member from any industrial constituency or a necessitous area who will argue for a moment that a woman's power in the labour market is only declining when she arrives at the age of 60. We are asked to define the basis of choice in this and other Amendments, and I suggest that the Government should give serious consideration to one or two Amendments. Age should not come in, it is said; and I admit that there is a powerful case for that pro position. The hon. Member for Barnstaple says that the age should go up. My Friends and I have put down an Amendment proposing that it should go down, and I want to make out a case for my proposal. In the first place, I do not think that the point about national expenditure need be argued in this matter. It is a matter of the Fund, not of the national expenditure. The Minister of Health knows that all estimates made as to numbers and cost are speculative. Indeed, the Financial Memorandum says so. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary indicates her dissent. Let me read the quotation:
It is impossible in the circumstances to attempt a precise computation of the expected number of beneficiaries. With the aid, however, of the statistical data provided by the census of 1921 (with appropriate adjustments to correct errors of description) and by the relevant records of National Health Insurance, it is estimated that the number of widows on whom (subject to Section 24 of the principal Act) the clause confers a title to a pension is approximately 500,000. It is further estimated that in about 210,000 cases the pension will become payable in July, 1930 (widows over the age of 60) and in about 85,000 cases in January, 1931 (widows between the ages of 55 and 60). In the remaining cases—about 200,000—the pension will vest on the widow attaining the age of 55.
I need not detain the Committee in discussing the cost, because it is obvious that figures based on such an estimate as to numbers must be speculative. The point that I want to put is a serious one. I can understand a powerful case being made out for 55 by the Minister if he bases his argument on physical disability. If the Government say that there are physical difficulties in the way of women maintaining a place in the labour market at that age, it is a powerful case
but I am arguing in favour of lowering the age to 45, and the experience of those who have a knowledge of industrial districts and a working of the Pensions Acts leads us to believe that a woman begins to lose her earning power in the labour market much nearer 45 than 55.
It is on that ground that I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to address her mind to the Amendment my friends and I have put down. I hope she will not argue that there is more virtue in 55 than in 57 or 56, or indeed than in 45. If she tells me that since July, when I put a question on this matter, the Department have found out that the Amendment would really cost much more than the fund can bear, we shall have to listen to that argument with the respect with which we always listen to what the hon. Lady says. I do not know at present why the Government stick to the age of 55 if they are choosing the grounds of hardship and need. If they are imposing an age test, the age of 45 more nearly approximates to the real needs of a widow than the age of 55. I hope that the Committee will bear in mind that over the whole question the ratio of insured women to insured men will become smaller as the years go by. I need not go into that point now, but I hope that it will be borne in mind in discussing the question of costs. Our Amendment is not put down in any harmful sense, but in order to improve the Bill. We came to the conclusion that the age of 45 was nearer the real needs of the industrial widow, and we hope that the Government will take it into consideration when they decide whether there is to be any age test.
I should like to put the difficulty of my position before the Committee for a moment. I have put down the Amendment which stands in my name because of a pledge I gave my constituents at the last election. I do not want to be in the position in which the Government now find themselves, of not being able to carry out the pledges they gave. I want to honour my pledge, but to do so I am placed in an awkward position. I do not want to vote for the age limit of 60 years, nor the age limit of 55 years. I was hoping that, even if we did not discuss my Amendment, it would be put to the House so that I could register my vote against there being any age limit whatever. What was the posi- tion at the General Election when the question of pensions was being discussed? The Labour party pointed out that the Act of 1925 contained many anomalies, and particularly the anomaly of the pre-Act widow. This Clause is to remove that anomaly; but it does not do so. It is certainly removing a part of that anomaly, but it is leaving a great part untouched, and creating other anomalies.
The right way to deal with this question was not to put an age limit in at all. If there is a sum of money to be distributed in the way of pensions to pre-Act widows, surely we should consider the widow in need of it rather than merely saying that because a widow is 55 and she needs it or not, she is to get this pension? Consider the position of a widow with children. One of the arguments used against the 1925 Act, at any rate that Section which dealt with pre-Act widows, was that you gave to a widow a pension for herself and a pension for her children until they became of the age of 14, and after she had enjoyed that for a certain length of time you took it away from her. [HON. MEMBERS: "You took it away!"] I am discussing an Act of Parliament and not any particular individual action. It was stated at the General Election that this was a great grievance, but I suggest that in any Bill dealing with such a big subject as pensions you are bound to have difficulties which cannot be foreseen.
The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary does not, I am sure, expect that when this Measure is placed on the Statute Book, everyone will be satisfied. The mere fact of jumping over an Amendment such as mine is going to cause the Government trouble when they come to administer the Measure. I found at the last Election that the people who were most aggrieved were the pre-Act widows who had drawn pensions for a short period and then had to come off the scheme altogether. Evidently the Government recognise that point of view, because they are raising the age of the youngest dependent child from 14 to 16, apparently irrespective of whether the child is at school or at work. The fact that there is a child under 16 entitles the widow to draw the pension of 10s. a week and the dependant's pension as well, but immediately the child becomes 16, she loses of course the dependant's pension and she loses the other pension as well unless she is 55 years of age. I suggest that that is a grave injustice to women of about 52 and 53 years of age. I do not believe in fixing any age limit at all. If a woman is left a widow and her husband was insured, it does not matter what her age is she gets her pension and of course the pension for the dependent children, and when those children reach the age of 16, under this Measure, she will still continue to draw the widow's pension. That will create in the minds of those pre-Act widows left outside the benefits of the Measure a sense of grievance. Such a woman may be living alongside a much younger woman who is drawing a pension for which she herself cannot qualify.
Let us bear in mind that there were definite pledges from the party opposite that if they were returned to office, they would sweep away all the anomalies of the 1925 Act. They asked, "Why should Mrs. Jones draw a pension and Mrs. Smith not draw a pension"? They said they did not recognise age limits or anything else—not when they were seeking votes. They said that they were out to give all women pensions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I myself gave a definite pledge to my constituents that if I were returned, and if a Bill were brought in to remove certain anomalies which I myself recognised in the 1925 Act, I would vote for that Bill, whether it was introduced by Conservatives, Socialists or Liberals. I want to do so to-day. I want to vote for the removal of this obnoxious anomaly, but your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, to which, of course, I bow, puts me out of court in that respect. I am rather inclined to think that your ruling, Sir, is going to satisfy the Minister of Health because I am sure he would not have cared to go into the Lobby against my Amendment. Had he done so, he would have been breaking the pledges made on behalf of his party at the Election. I say without hesitation that the right hon. Gentleman is the most fortunate Minister who ever sat on that Front Bench to get a Ruling such as this which is going to help him out of a difficult position. As Members of the Liberal party have put their names to my Amendment, I am certain that even that party would not have scuttled on this Amendment as they did on the last Amendment to which hon. Members of that party also had their names down. I defy any Member to have voted against my Amendment if it had been put to the Committee, and I enter my protest against the fact that we have not had an opportunity of voting on it.
As it has been decided that the means test is not to be taken into account, I suggest that those widows who will be left out under this Clause, will feel very much aggrieved to think that there are certain widows, even if they are only a small percentage, with incomes well above what would be described in the term "well-to-do," who will draw pensions, while many other widows will have to struggle and who are, possibly failing in health, though still comparatively young in years, will not be entitled to any pension. Those hon. Members opposite who think that they will be able to go back to their constituents and talk glibly about what they have done for the widows, will find that those who are disappointed are more vocal at election meetings than those who have received. Hon. Members are going to get a dose of their own medicine when they go back to the electors. Those of us who sit on this side had to put up with a good deal on account of the widows who were left out of the 1925 Act, but we had not made any promises. Hon. Members opposite promised something which they are not giving, and I do not envy them when they go back to their constituents. One has only to look at the glum faces opposite now to know that they them selves realise it. I am sorry that I had not an opportunity of moving my Amendment, but I hope, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, you will give me an opportunity of voting for it. I certainly shall not vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto).
I sympathise sincerely with the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), because I find myself in exactly the same situation and it is a situation in which hon. Members opposite are also placed. Before I deal with it, may I disabuse the hon. Member for Grimsby of a misapprehension under which he suffers, though it was in no sense necessary for the advancement of his case that he should have stated it. He said that on the last Amendment the Members of the Liberal party "scuttled."
That is an easy sort of gibe to make but if one makes it, it is necessary that one should substantiate it. I am sure that on reflection the hon. Member will appreciate the fact that it was he who scuttled. Here he is, putting forward an Amendment to extend pensions to all widows without any condition except that they should be the widows of insured persons, On the last Amendment he advocated by his vote in the Lobby that there should be a means limit inquiry in order to exclude a certain number of widows.
I would point out that my object in voting on the last occasion was so that money could be provided for the very class who are in need. We were told that there was not sufficient money to go round and I wanted it to go to the people who needed it most.
That is a very specious argument, but it does not in the least invalidate what I say, namely, that on the last Amendment the hon. Member was seeking to deprive of pensions a certain number of widows—rich widows as they were called, widows with money or widows who had married coachmen. The hon. Member and his associates were inspired with a great fear lest these people should draw 10s. a week from the State. Now, with a lavish gesture which is apparently a mere repetition of the gesture which he made in Grimsby, he says, "Why cannot they all have pensions, the rich widows of coachmen as well as the ordinary widows?" I submit that it ill befits the hon. Member who deserted his own cause to complain that the Liberal party scuttled when they are the only party which has been perfectly consistent in these Debates. From the day when the principal Act was introduced in 1925 up to to-night, the Liberal party have always opposed the establishment of the means limit. They opposed its establishment this evening. The Liberal party are in favour of giving widows pensions and that is why I share the regret of the hon. Member for Grimsby that we are not to be allowed a straight vote on that issue. If we were, the conscience of each hon. Member opposite would bite him and force him to come into the Lobby with us, and the widows would get pensions and then this Measure might rightfully be called a Widows' Pensions Bill, which it is not at present. This is a Bill to
give pensions to certain selected widows at the age of 55. Why the age of 55 should have been chosen, hon. and right hon. Members on the Front Bench can best explain. Perhaps it was that 55 being the average age of the Cabinet, they realised it was also the age of incapacity. I cannot think of any other reason which would hold water. It cannot even be justified on the basis of the song:
Here's to the maiden of bashful fifteen,
Here's to the widow of fifty.
Now we shall have to sing to the widow of 55. Why has this Bill been introduced at all? What is the object of this Clause? It must have a purpose. The object has been clearly defined by the Prime Minister of England, who says that it is to redress, and redress at once, certain anomalies and fill up certain gaps left by the wicked Act of Parliament passed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). That Act was described as a monstrous thing and the right hon. Gentle man the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) said that it was robbing the old man's cash box. Those who were in the House at the time remember the very strong and turbulent language in which that Measure was attacked by the party opposite. Now they have come back to put everything right. [An HON. MEMBER: "In time!"] In time—when the widows are dead. We are dealing with widows who are widows now, and not with ladies who are going to be fortunate enough in the future to lose husbands at the moment which will be convenient to hon. Members opposite. No, the purpose of this Clause is to remove a long-standing in justice and the injustice is that an arbitrary date—the 4th day of January, 1926—was fixed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston in his Act. After that date, even if only one day or one hour afterwards, every widow could get a pension, whereas if she had become a widow one day before or at any previous time, she could not get a pension unless she had children under the age of 14½. The Socialist party said, and I agree, "Why inflict this injustice? Why give a pension to a daughter and deny a pension to the mother who has brought her up?"
The argument is unanswerable. If you are going to give pensions to a certain class of persons on a certain basis, you must in logic and fairness and common sense, extend it to all persons of that class. But this Clause does nothing of the kind. This Clause is setting up a mesh through which a few widows can crawl, if they are lucky enough. First a widow will go to the pensions officer and say she is 55—a very embarrassing thing for any woman to have to say. Then she has to prove that her husband at some time within three years before death was either registered as a member of an approved society or as a deposit contributor or that his normal occupation was employment in respect of which contributions under the principal Act would have been payable if that Act had been in force at that time. Then the Minister in his discretion can say, "I will give you a pension from the Socialist party." That is not what we were promised, and every hon. Member opposite knows that it is not what we were promised. It is a shame that we are not going to have an opportunity of voting on that clear issue, because if we were the Government would be defeated, not by the Conservative party, nor by the Liberal party, but by the honest men who sit behind it and are longing for an opportunity to go back to their constituents and say, "We have posed as the widows' friends and we have been true to our bargain."
I can see my hon. Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Moses) who did pose as the widow's friend, cheering me on, and I agree with him; and if I were in his place I should urge the Government to concede this point. What is the argument against it? As far as I can see there can be only one, "We cannot afford it." That falls to the ground, because on the Second Reading we had the interesting economic maxim enunciated by the Minister of Health that the Government can afford to spend what it wants to and ought to spend. Does it want this? If so, it cannot argue against it on economic grounds. On the merits of the case and the arguments of the party opposite, as I cannot support the Amendment, I would urge the rejection of the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), who seeks to raise the age from 55 to 60 years.
This is a difficult problem to deal with, because we have had no information from the Government party since the Bill came to the House of why they selected the age of 55, and I can only suspect that the reason was a purely financial one—that the Minister of Health exacted from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, much as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to exact money from other people, a certain sum, amounting to £80,000,000 as far as these widows are concerned, that they then studied such documents as they could, and that the Parliamentary Secretary with her mathematical skill was able to draw a graph which coincided with fifty-five. For there is no logic in it. I shall be glad if the hon. Lady will explain in the course of the evening why this age was selected. I do not know if the age of 60, which the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir Basil Peto) has proposed really meets the case, because you are up against the question: why should sixty be chosen?
I think it is arguable that, a certain sum being available, as long as we can not have any qualification of whether the woman requires it or not, any limitation of means or income or any investigation, then the hon. Baronet may say: "Let us at any rate raise the age, and make more money available to spread to other cases which the amending Bill does not touch at all." If one could definitely establish that there are more deserving people in the fifty-five to sixty class, the argument would be valid, but as far as I can understand this age of fifty-five is purely arbitrary and irrational. There is nothing to be said for it. I admit that by the same process of argument there is nothing to be said against it, but one is after all legislating not for the whim of the moment, and we must do it on some basis. If we follow the Minister of Health we should consult the dictates of logic and nothing else.
I have been trying to find what is in the Minister's mind. In his Second Beading speech he said that this Bill was definitely founded on a principle, that the principle of the scheme of pensions laid down in the Contributory Pensions Act should as far as possible apply to people of the same class a those for whom it was passed, who, by the accident of date were deprived of the advantage. He based his principle on the accident of date. That was the date on which the Act of 1925 came into force. But there is the same anomaly if you take the date to be that on which a particular woman happens to be born, because we are not dealing with contributory pensions at all where a person has contributed for a number of years—and as a result of those contributions certain results flow—but with what we must call free gift pensions. Thereafter it is just as anomalous to call attention to the accident of date when it is a question of the age of the woman concerned, as when it is the accident of date at which the original Bill came into force.
The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on the Financial Resolution, said in effect, in regard to this: "We are bringing in the elderly widow who is finding it difficult to get a footing in the labour market, who is finding it difficult to earn a livelihood, and of all persons the elderly widow is most to be commiserated." Even on that basis it is difficult to see why the widow of 55 should be on the border-line of the elderly. The right hon. Gentleman in fact has never given us any explanation on this point, and we have the further difficulty that the Minister of Health has no idea how many widows are concerned. He was asked a question the other day. He has had something to say several times about the 500,000 who are touched by the Clauses of this Bill, but on 7th November the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir J. Power) asked the Minister how many widows would not be entitled to pensions under the Bill. The Minister replied that the information was not available. So that we have no means of hazarding a guess how many persons will be excluded owing to the anomalies of date to which the right hon. Gentleman himself has so often referred. As a matter of fact, I take may stand on this question, as. I should like the Committee to do, on the point made by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he wound up the main Debate on this Bill, and said that there was no person in any quarter of this House who desired an expenditure of public money on persons who did not need it. That is not an election speech, but something quite up to date—that there is no desire to give public money to persons who do not require it; and on account of that statement if for no other reason, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is going to give some explanation of the age of 55 in the Measure.
The hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) was twitting the Government because they said they would bring in a Bill for all widows and then brought in one for widows of 55. He wondered where the Socialist party stood in the matter. We have had many references to the Prime Minister's well-known pledge that he would extend the principle in such a way that the widow in need would be the one test of qualification on a pensions register. That pledge has gone by; there is no question of the widow in need in this Bill. The Secretary of State on the 2nd May at Chorlton said that the only qualification for a widow's pension would be widow hood. That has nothing to do with this age of 55, because a widow under 55 comes as much under that statement as one over that age. It is no good saying that at some future date the whole of our pensions scheme will be reorganised. There is no Member of this House who does not devoutly hope so, owing to the intricacies and inconsistencies of the pension system at the present day. But I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us that she expects that great reform to be carried in any reason able period of time.
It has already been stated in this House that the Committee is investigating it, and we are profoundly thankful, because of the difficulties which must ensue from dove-tailing one scheme into another. That is one of the reasons why I for one object to this Clause—that we are not waiting for the general reorganisation, but dove-tailing a non-contributory Clause into an Act entirely based on the contributory system. I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary expects any sweeping reforms in the next three or five years, and, if for no other reason, I suggest that it is because the Government has already announced such a great number of Bills to be brought before this House, that if the Bill were prepared it could not be introduced. That makes it all the more remarkable that we should, without rhyme or reason, impose the age of 55. In the last discussion the Minister of Health said that if you had any qualification you would be obliged to have what he called an inquisition, thus causing a great deal of resentment. It seems to me that you are going to have just as much resentment if you are going to exact an inquiry into age. How are you to find out? Will you apply to the person her self, or are you going to take it from the records and not make any inquiries of the person?
It seems to me that a great deal of the argument used against the Income Tax returns on the last Amendment falls to the ground in that case. I ask the hon. Lady to give us fairly early in the Debate some explanation of why the age of 55 is introduced, because from her explanation we shall no doubt be able to deduce further arguments. If you are going to bring in a non-contributory Clause in the Measure you should, as the hon. Member for Devonport says, explain why you do not extend it to the whole field, and meet those cases after 60 of whose needs the hon. Lady, owing to her association with the Ministry of Health, is more cognisant than I am.
I should like to make one or two observations on the speeches which have been addressed to us from the other side of the House. I do not know of anything which illustrates the hollowness of political speeches better than the one to which we have just listened. The hon. and gallant Member for Gains borough (Captain Crookshank) devoted a considerable part of his speech to catechising the hon. Lady who represents the Government on the fact that the Government have selected the age of 55. He is indignant about such an advanced age as 55 having been inserted into this Bill, but, when the hon. and gallant Member was a supporter of the Government of the day which introduced the previous Act, he was content that a widow should attain the age of 65 before she could bring her self within the Bill. Now, simply because he has changed to the other side of the House, 55 years is inadequate for a pur pose which was well served by 65 years when the Measure was introduced by the Tory party.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to point out that under the previous Bill a widow got her pension by virtue of her contributions at any age. There was no arbitrariness at all. I do not know what he is referring to.
Then I will pass from the politics of the hon. and gallant Member and come to the morality of his views. Is he laying it down that a woman of 55 should not have a pension or should not be paid anything? The speech which has been made by the hon. and gallant Member on this Amendment seems to me to express in all its harshness the philosophy of the Tory party. He laid it down that the industry of this country and of this nation in general could not continue to succeed without the industrial assistance of women between 55 and 60 years of age. If his argument meant anything, it meant that. Surely, if women are to be retired at 55 years of age, then you must feed them, and, if you must feed them, 10s. per week does not seem to me to be an extravagant sum. The alternative to feeding them on 10s. per week is to keep them in industry, as undoubtedly hon. Members on the other side believe that they ought to be kept in industry, between the ages of 55 and 60. That has been the sole point of their argument.
I submit to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that that philosophy is out of harmony with the present civilisation of Western Europe. It is far behind modern ideas that a nation should have to depend for its existence on the labour of women of over 55 years of age. I wonder often how hon. Members can square their consciences with submitting an argument like that. I do not believe they are half as wicked as they pretend in politics. Is there a single hon. Member on the other side who would say that he could not afford to carry on his family life unless a near and dear relative of his over 55 years of age Continued to work in a factory? Not a single one of them would say that he depended upon the exertions of a woman of 55 years, and that he could not or would not carry on, and was bound to get into destitution, unless he kept that poor woman at work; but, when it comes to dealing with women outside their own families, and particularly with women of the working-class, then, according to hon. Members opposite, this wonderful order of society under which we live cannot run smoothly without the continued service of that poor and poverty-stricken woman. Is it not an amazing view, and an amazing inconsistency on the part of educated men presumably addressing the British electorate through the medium of this House?
Those same hon. Members who lay it down that Britain cannot exist without the servitude and toil of the woman of 55, and that without her aid industry will totter and fall, allow that same industry to carry much heavier burdens without a word of protest. That same industry which depends upon the labour of women of 55 years of age can support landlordism, can support the Stock Ex change fraternity, the bankers, the financiers, and, above all, can afford to maintain a National Debt incomparable with anything that any other nation in the world has now or has ever had up to date, because every penny that is drawn by every section of the community has to come from that industry and is a burden on that industry; but this poor over-taxed, over-burdened, broken little industry is doomed if you put on a few millions a year to support the veterans of industry, or the women whom they leave when they die prematurely, usually as the result of the oppressive nature of industry.
I protest against that doctrine, and I protest against it in the name of hon. Members opposite, because I do not think they believe a word of it. I would have less respect for them if I thought they did believe it, but I know that they do not. It is really put up as political propaganda; it is merely used as a weapon with which to attack the Government. They do not want to restrict pensions; they do not want to restrict the pensions under this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament; but it makes fine speeches and it sounds well. I would remind them that they are not feeding the hungry when they devote their time to pointing out the inconsistencies of a Labour Government.
I should like, very briefly, to support the Amendment standing in my name to reduce the limit of age from 55 to 45 years; and here I am sure that we shall have the support of the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), for, whoever is inconsistent in this House, he is always consistent. I noticed that he made no charge of inconsistency against my party. However reduced we may be, we are consistent, because, not only were we the founders of this scheme, but we resolutely opposed the insertion of qualifications in the principal Act. I cannot for the life of me understand why the age limit of 55 years was taken. I can understand the hon. Lady standing on a broad basis; I can understand her separating everybody into an insurable class and a non-insurable class. If you stand on insurance, you are on safe ground, and your position is unquestionable. But I cannot understand her fixing 55 years, because, if there be one thing to which she objects in the principal Act, it is that barbed wire obstacles were put up, and that when the Act passed so many more people were disqualified than got through.
Why have we put down the age of 45? We did not want to embarrass the Government. We did not want them to say: "This is going to cost millions and millions." We wanted to put down a compromise Amendment which would appeal to the emotion and the mind and the sympathy of every hon. Member opposite; because after all you can justify 45 years more than 55 years. I would not for a moment accept the contention that a widow of 55 is not an economic proposition, but a widow of 45 is. Everyone knows—everyone must know—that for a widow of 40 years in an industrial area to compete in the labour market with a girl of 16, 17, 18 or 19 years is a very difficult thing. There is a strong economic reason why 45 years is a much more sensible limit and corresponds more with the facts of our industrial system.
There is a second reason for which I hope the hon. Lady will make this con cession. The chances are that a widow of 45 has married in her young days and that she has had several children before she was 30 years of age. We have chosen the age of 45, because we reckon that by that time all her children will probably have passed the age of 16 years, broadly speaking. Under the principal Act, the pre-Act widow got a pension as long as her child was under 14 years; that is ex tended by this Bill to 16 years. We reckon that unless you make this age limit 46 years there will usually be a gap of 10 years. The widow of 40 has per haps been drawing a pension in respect of a child under 14 years of age, and, as a general rule, when she is somewhere between 40 and 45, her children exceed the age of 16. You therefore get this fact, that a widow who has been receiving a pension up to the age of 45 loses it and has to wait 10 years until she is 55 before getting a pension again. There is everything to be said, as the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) pointed out, against this principle by which a pre-Act widow has been drawing a pension until her child reaches the age of 16 years, then suddenly loses it, and has to wait an unconscionably long time before she gets anything more. I know that Jacob waited seven years for one wife and another seven years for another, but after all, when you are living to 800 or 900 years, you can afford to wait seven or 14 years; but, when the average expectancy of life is somewhere about 55 years—the hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong—it is a bit harsh to tell a woman of the category that we have been talking about that because her child has passed the age of 16 she has to wait 10 years before she can get the pension which we all want to see given for widowhood.
I would have supported the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in his very vigorous plea that you should base this pension on the widest and broadest ground possible, but for the sake of supporting the Government we wanted to frame an Amendment which would appeal to every reasonable per son. It surely cannot be a question of expense. It might have been a question of expense if one applied this provision to all widows, including girls of 18, 19, and 20 years of age. The Minister of Health, in the earlier stages of this Bill, used the argument that, this country having saved £2,250,000,000 in five years could not talk of poverty in dealing with cases like this. I hope that the hon. Lady will seriously consider making this concession which will command the approval not only of hon. Members behind her, but of every Member on these benches.
Up till now we have been dealing with Amendments intended to wreck the Bill, Amendments against the whole principle of the Bill, Amendments designed to embarrass the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I appeal to the Committee. The Com- mittee is experienced in these matters, and I do not believe that the youngest Member thought that the Amendments which he was discussing previously were intended to help the Government. We now come to an Amendment put forward, as the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Shakespeare) has said, to help the Government in making the Bill better. I do not quarrel with that statement. I believe that hon. Members who put for ward this Amendment were putting it forward with the best intentions in the world. Undoubtedly, 45 is an extraordinarily attractive and agreeable age to us, and I wish the Government could accept it; but I want to remind the Committee that we started out, not with the intention of remedying all these grievances, but of remedying those grievances which were most acute and pressing under the Contributory Pensions Act. When we had the general discussion on the Second Reading, when hon. Members put before us their general views as to the grievances which inflicted the most hardship, nobody spoke of this particular age. The hon. Member for Norwich spoke of people who were not insured at all, of the much harder case of widows of men who had never been insured, and the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) spoke of other classes of people, but you have got to pick and choose between major grievances and grievances which are not so grave, and you do not get any thanks from the country but arouse a feeling of injustice if, in a first instalment like this Bill, you put in cases such as those sought to be brought in by this Amendment. The Government consider that 55 is a suitable age.
It is in the advancing years of later middle age when the change in one's strength and intelligence makes itself felt, if not to ourselves, at any rate to our friends. People ask me for a logical reason for drawing the line at 55. We have had 45 proposed. I do not want to make a debating point and say that those who support this Amendment have not proved the case for 45, but it is true that they have not proved it any more than we have proved the case for 65.
We do not pretend to be working on a strictly logical principle. We merely propose to deal with the grievances which most acutely press, and we have to consider in some way the financial position of the country. The very people who are now saying, "Why not 45?" and who are trying to move to do away with all age limits are the very people who, the other night, were talking about the unbearable burden that this Bill would impose upon the country. With regard to this Amendment, our estimate is that to reduce the age to 45 would mean an expenditure in the next six years, to 1935–6, of £11,000,000. That is the best estimate we can arrive at. I think I must ask the Committee, and I must ask hon. Members behind me, to accept this Bill as an instalment, a large instalment, an extensive instalment, and to put oft the discussion of other grievances until we come to the general re vision.
The hon. Member for Norwich, I think, mentioned in a previous Debate the National Conference on Widows', Orphans', and Contributory Pensions. The other day they passed a resolution saying that they appreciated the efforts of the Government to remove anomalies and injustices inflicted under the present legislation, and they went on to ask for additions. They asked for uninsured people to be let in, they asked for different classes of uninsured people to be allowed to contribute, and they asked for the abolition of the test under the old age pensions scheme. They put down as the thing the Government should most earnestly deal with, not the extension to 45 years of age, but those matters which must belong to the general review, the matters dealing with the uninsured classes and with the means limit.
We could argue all night on this question, and we should never come to an agreement. We ask the Committee to take this Bill as an instalment of the Government's pledges, and as disposing of quite an appreciable amount of money for the moment. I ask the Committee, therefore, though I know many hon. Members would like to do a great deal more, to accept this Bill as an instalment and to let us get it as soon as possible. I would like to say a word to the Liberals, who say they want to help the Government in this matter. There are many ways of killing a cat, and one is by choking her with cream. Prolonged discussion of the most attractive Amendments might have the result of postponing the time table and doing exactly what they do not want to do, namely, preventing us from paying some of these pensions in January.
We have had a very illuminating speech, the most candid speech, I suppose, which we have had in the course of the discussions up to the present moment. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has endeavoured to explain why it is that the age of 55 has been taken, but she has not explained why it is that all those considerations which she has mentioned to-night were not pre sent to the minds of responsible leaders of her party when they gave pledges during the General Election. I know of nothing more discreditable than the statement which we have had to-night. Why was it not explained to the widows at the last Election that there were these financial difficulties? Why was it, when the Prime Minister addressed the men and women speakers and workers of the Labour party, and when he stated that the test for widows' pensions would be that of need that be did not explain these difficulties? It is all very well coming to the House of Commons after these pledges have been made and saying that there are financial difficulties in the way. Not a word was said of that at the last General Election. It may very well be that the finances of the country do not permit of widows under 55 being given a pension, but it is a most reprehensible and disgraceful piece of electioneering tactics to give these undertakings, and then to put considerations of this kind before the House of Commons.
When the Widows' Pensions Act was under discussion and Amendments of this kind were moved, my right hon. Friend and I had the disagreeable task of explaining on financial grounds why they could not be accepted. We actually gave the figures of what the cost would be. All this can be found in the pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and, notwithstanding the fact that the cost of an extension of the Act was given, the Prime Minister and many leaders of the Labour party gave definite undertakings to a class of people who are particularly susceptible, and who perhaps are not prepared to argue a question of cost. To-night, for the first time we are told that it is impossible to carry out the pledges that the Government have given on the grounds of finance. I do not think that one need say much more about it. Anyone in public life who has a spark of decency must reprobate the position in which hon. Gentlemen find themselves to-night. There is no reason except finance why widows under 55 should not be included.
I wonder how many hon. Members are prepared to accept the other suggestion which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary, that there are great administrative difficulties, and that a Cabinet Committee has had to inquire into the question whether widows under 55 should be included or not. Why does that want a Cabinet Committee? The only reason why a Cabinet Committee has been appointed is that such a Committee can decide when they shall proceed with their consideration, when they shall break off, and when they shall make a report, and no one can say when their proceedings will be concluded. It is a pure device to avoid the undertakings which were given at the last Election, and I hope that the hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Liberal Benches, and who are no doubt desirous of seeing these further pro visions included, will appreciate the position in which they find themselves to-night.
The only reason that we suggested the test as to means was that there might be a sum of money which could be used for other deserving classes of the community. That Amendment has failed, and now, when proposals are made for further inclusions, they are met with the plea that there is no money, and that there is a Cabinet Committee which is supposed to be inquiring into the matter. It is a pure device to avoid the pledges which the Government have given, and I hope that on every platform in the country the proposals of this Bill will be exposed as a sinister disregard of the pledges which the Prime Minister of this country has given to the widows.
I would like the Minister of Health to answer a question which I put to him in a previous Debate, namely, whether this Clause means that the widow of 55 and over, if she is out of employment, is treated in exactly the same way as the old age pensioner is treated; that is to say, that she cannot receive unemployment benefit. I cannot follow the Parliamentary Secretary's reasoning. When you come to discuss hard cases, there is no difference between widows of 30, 45 and 55. One can pick a group from each of these ages, and see the hard cases and the less hard. We need to take each individual case. I could argue that the case of 40 was possibly the hardest of all, because, generally speaking, at that age the widow has young children. I am thinking for the moment of the case of my sister of 40, who is a widow with three children, drawing a pension. At 45, she will be in a better position to do without it than she is at the moment, because her children will then be able to work and bring in some emoluments to keep the family. I do not think that you can make a general statement that 55 is a hard case and that 45 is not quite so hard, any more than you can say that 45 is a hard case and 55 is less hard. What we have to face is that the bulk of all classes of widows are hard cases and deserving of pensions. I do not think that anybody will deny that almost every class of widow, with the exception of a few very young widows, who belong to the working-classes, are deserving of attention, need a pension, and ought to receive it.
There is only one line of defence, though with a twofold aspect, given by the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not wish to appear ultra critical, but I would ask her to reconsider the whole question. Nobody can say that any class is more deserving than another when it comes to age, and a general statement does not suffice. We have been told, first, that Parliamentary time will be given for another Measure to he introduced later, and secondly that financial considerations required this age limit to be introduced. As to the financial considerations, I can not see where there will be more money any other year than there is this year. After all, the taxable extent of the community is not likely to rise considerably during our term of office. But why wait on financial considerations. Why cannot we pass the legislation now, and state that the date on which it will come into operation is to be delayed for some time in order to allow us to collect the necessary money? We could delay the date for 18 months in order to allow the nation to carry out its financial obligations, but the main point would have been achieved of including the widows in an Act of Parliament.
When I hear talk of another Bill, I say frankly that I am a little bit sceptical of other Bills. The Government are piling up Bills. I am not without some knowledge of Parliament and its ways and I note that already this Government are committed to a score of very big Measures. I see a Coal Bill is to be introduced, and there are to be Bills dealing with trade disputes and unemployment insurance. In regard to the last named Bill, there again we are told that it is only the first Bill, and that there is going to be another. Then there is to be a Factories Bill, a Bill dealing with the Washington Convention on hours of labour, a Transport Bill, a Bill for acquiring land and a Workmen's Compensation Bill.
I confess that I am terribly worried. I am frank on this, I am honest on this. I have to consider terribly poor people. They are the people amongst whom I was horn and with whom I have lived all my life. Everything I wear on my back and the home I have, such as it is, has been given to me by terribly poor people, and I would sooner go out of public life than not be honest with them. I do not make that as idle brag. My Parliamentary in come is the only income I have got; the only job I am likely to get at the moment is here in Parliament, and I do not want to leave it. I am not a good platform speaker and I detest public meetings, but I have one quality and that is that I have constantly kept my word to the poor and I feel in my innermost heart that I am not quite honest about this—deep down in my heart not quite sincere about it.
Could not we get from the Parliamentary Secretary a definite pledge as to the date on which the new Bill is to be introduced? Could we not post date the Bill now? I am a Parliamentarian and one who believes in politics. I believe in political considerations, considerations of time, in consideration of one's opponents—compromise, if you care. I am sometimes blamed for being extreme in my views, but I am, perhaps, the most moderate member of my party. At the last election I refused to issue the orthodox Labour party manifesto because it granted more than I believed they could give; it was too extreme for me. I was moderate in the fighting of my election.
When I was in my Division a week last Friday, I heard of a woman of 32 with three children who is not going to get the pension and a woman of 45 who will not get the pension. Both of them need it and deserve it, and think they ought to get it. Why should not we take steps to give it to them now? What are the political reasons? The Liberal party are not going to oppose. It cannot be a question of loss of votes. There is nothing which would so much increase our prestige in the country. At The Hague, we earned the reputation of being a bold Government. Why not be as bold over this question of widows' pensions as we were when fighting the French Chancellor? Why not be bold when it comes to a question of human nature and human desire? I have no wish to be a martyr. I have no wish to earn the false cheers of my opponents—not at all; but I have a great desire to keep faith with the poor I represent. They have given me everything I have in life, and I should be false to them and false to every political conviction I have, if I allowed this Measure to pass to night without entering a twofold protest.
First, I think every widow of the working class should have the pension. There is no justification for a difference in age. All of them are in need. Take my own case. I do not happen to have any family, but I would be terribly annoyed if to-morrow the cruel hand of fate swept me aside, and I left my wife without means to carry on. There is not a Member sitting on the Treasury Bench who does not, out of his income, set aside a certain sum every year to provide for his widow in case he dies, but they have emoluments which allow them to do so. Why should not they translate into State action what they do for their own wives and their own families? I remember that the Lord Privy Seal was told that during the General Strike he crawled in order to get peace. To-night I would plead, and, if you care to put it so, crawl in order to get for these poor people something—though it is not justice, not the full life that I would like to see them have. I plead with the Government, in their first year of office, to show to the widows and children that they are their friends, and that the party opposite are the party of reaction who in the past have denied them their just and legitimate rights; show them that we are a Government which can be bold when dealing with the interests of our women and children.
I rise only because of something which was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, but I would like to express my thanks to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for the speech which he has given to the House. I heard his first speech in the House in 1922, and I was struck then by his sincerity, and I am glad, after an interval of years, to hear him speak again with the same sincerity. I only want to answer the observation of the Parliamentary Secretary just now, that there were many ways of killing this Bill, the suggestion being that if the Opposition took too long over the discussion we might contribute to producing that effect. We have no desire to hinder the progress of the Bill; in fact, if the intention be carried out later of asking for late sittings, I hope that hon. Members on these benches will be ready to help the Government in that respect. A Measure of this kind cannot be carried through if we are limited to the ordinary hours of the House of Commons, and the Government, in my opinion, would be perfectly entitled, as other Governments would be, to ask for some liberty in carrying through a first-class Measure of this kind.
So far, there has been no hindrance from these benches, and I hope that that will be understood. We have been ready to support the Closure when it has been asked for, and we have voted generally with the Government. But I am bound to say that we have heard no sufficient argument against this Amendment. In fact, I may say, by way of information, that we thought the financial burden was much greater than was just now indicated. We have, of course, no means of arriving at the actual figures, but we thought it would involve a burden of something like £3,000,000 a year, and it was rather a relief to us when we heard that the total burden was likely to be something like £11,000,000 for the period of years up to 1935–36. That is less than £2,000,000—probably somewhere about £1,500,000—a year.
A strong argument was put forward just now as to why widows of 45 should have been brought in, and, when the Parliamentary Secretary said that she had heard no adequate reply, I thought that, if she had been in Opposition, she would have been able to put a very good reason before the Committee showing that the widow of 45, who is just passing out of effective power in the competitive market, really needed that concession. That was the case that was put forward just now by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Shakespeare), namely, that the woman of 45 who is no longer able to hold her own in the industrial world, should then be able to get this modicum of assistance from a wealthy State. We are unable to join hands with the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in his very able attack on this Measure, and generally we are desirous that it should be passed into law as quickly as possible and in as full a measure as can be secured, but I hope that even now the Government will be able to accept this Amendment, because we believe that it would carry a message of hope to probably tens of thousands of deserving people throughout the country who have just as good a claim to be included within the ambit of this Measure as those who are over 55 years of age.
I only want to ask your leave, Mr. Young, to point out to the Committee that the issue before the Committee is somewhat confused. The hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Foot) has been pleading eloquently for a reduction of the age to 45, but, although there is an Amendment to reduce the age to 45, the Amendment which I moved just now was an Amendment to raise the age to 60. The whole issue of the Debate appears to me to have been put in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), who wishes to abolish all limitation as to age, and in the Liberal Amendment, which seeks to reduce the age. If it would be of any assistance in clarifying the issue before us, I will ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) upon what I regarded as one of the most sincere and honest speeches that I have heard in this Chamber for a very long time. It is very seldom that I have listened to a speech that has impressed me more; the hon. Member was obviously speaking from the very bottom of his heart on matters which he very well understood. I must say that I have very great misgivings as to where we are going in these questions of pensions. How far is the political game going to be carried in this matter? I made an appeal earlier to-day that an Amendment which I moved should be treated on a non-party basis. Some people may offer pensions at 55, another party may offer them at 45, some one else might say 35, and still some one else might come forward and promise them at birth. There ought to be some kind of analogy in this matter.
If there is one thing that the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals did, it was to expose to the full the organised hyprocrisy of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who knows quite well that he and his party and various other Gentlement sitting on the Front Bench, some of them Cabinet Ministers, promised at the last General Election all kinds of things which they must have known, being intelligent persons, that they had not the slightest hope of carrying into effect. I have the utmost contempt particularly for the right hon. Gentleman, who knows quite well what the Foreign Secretary promised, what the Prime Minister promised, and what he himself promised, and is now coming along and making what I may call a Conservative speech, the same kind of speech which he knows quite well was made by the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and also by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). How can he dare to sit on that bench, with the knowledge in his mind of the promises which he made, and say that he is not going to give all these pensions which he has promised? As far as I am concerned, it will be my intention to vote against "fifty-five" standing part, and I shall vote with my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby in favour of wiping out the age limit altogether.
If the question of the justice of the Measure be examined, it must be realised that if you are going to look at need, which the Prime Minister mentioned at the last General Election, a woman between the ages of 45 and 50 is in greater difficulties as regards earning her living than a woman between the ages of 55 and 60. Taking the case which I have already mentioned this evening, of the widow of a commercial traveller with nine children—
I understand that the Question which you put to the Committee will be, "That the words 'fifty-five' stand part of the Clause," and I am arguing that here is the case of a commercial traveller with nine children, whose income was more than £250 a year, and who could not be in an insurable occupation—
When the Amendment was put, the Deputy-Chairman was in the Chair, there was a considerable discussion on points of Order, and he said that, in view of the fact that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) was not allowed to put his Amendment, he would take a very generous view of his Amendment, which is to wipe out all age limit, and it was only on that observation of the Deputy-Chairman that my hon. Friend saw fit not to pursue his point of order.
I am trying to demontrate that the widows of the classes I have outlined are going to suffer far more, and it is a very sad business that the Government have thought out their Bill so badly that they are going to cause greater anomalies and injustices and grievances through it. They are most ill advised in not taking notice of the people who are trying to help them in the framing of the Bill.
I have noticed that the Minister has given no indication that he is going to answer the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). It will suffice if I say now that I am in full general agreement with all that my hon. Friend has said. I hope to have an opportunity, on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," to state the mind of the Independent Labour Party on the matter. I am in full agreement with my hon. Friend, as I think most of my colleagues in the Independent Labour Party are.
We had a short time ago a most important speech by the Parliamentary Secretary, because I think it gave the first real view as to how the Bill has been built up. A certain amount of money was granted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that £98,500,000 was as much as he could afford in the next 16 years. It then became the duty of the Minister to try to draft a Bill to use up that money. The original intention was to remove the admitted anomalies of the 1925 Act, but he found that its anomalies were not so many or so serious as he had anticipated, and he had a little money left over and did not quite know what to do with it. He would like to have given it to widows in need, but he did not know how many there were and he could not find out, so he took a leap in the dark and brought in the whole class of widows between 55 and 70 whose husbands might have been in insurable employment before the Insurance Act came into existence. Then he was in rather a difficulty again. How was he going to make the Bill carry out the pledges of the Prime Minister and other Members of the party? The hon. Lady has now explained the whole of the circumstances. We have not the money. We cannot afford it and we must really cut our coat according to our cloth. In fact, the hon. Lady's speech might have been made by the Parliamentary Secretary in the last Government. It was a Tory speech of which I highly approved, because it showed due consideration to the financial state of the country. Neither she nor her chief was going to pledge the country to any amount of money which they knew they had not the slightest chance of getting. For that honest explanation I am very grateful. I am afraid hon. Members behind the Government Bench may not be quite so pleased, because we now have it officially placed before the Committee that the Socialist party would like to have given pensions to all, they would like to have extended their programme, but they had not the money, financial affairs are in such a condition that they cannot do exactly what they want, and I hope hon. Members opposite will bear that point in mind and will take great care to explain in the country that it is not lack of will but lack of money. The Minister promises that this is simply an instalment of what they are going to do when they bring in their other Bill. He knows that he has not the remotest chance of ever bringing in such a Bill, because with the commitments of the Government and the tremendous Socialist programme, the finance is not in the country. This is the only Bill the right hon. Gentleman could bring in in this Parliament.
We listened with great appreciation to the hon. Member for Gorbals, because we recognise that, whether he speaks for the Socialists or against the Tories, he is honest in his opinions. We know where he is. As often as not he is speaking against Members on his side of the House. He recognised that the possibility of jam to-morrow is exceedingly vague. He wants the jam to-day, and so do a great many more in the Socialist party, but the right hon. Gentleman knows that it cannot be done. He is limited by the financial position of the country. He is trying to put off his followers and the widows, and to get out of the pledges given during the election, by saying, "At some time in the future, if I can get the money, I will carry out my word." I thank the hon. Lady for the very careful and plain way in which she has put the issue before the Committee and the country.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has put forward a plea for basing the Bill on the principle of need. That is what we have been con tending for a couple of days. I do not know whether the Paliamentary Secretary will accuse the hon. Member of trying to wreck the Bill, as she accused us, but his was a plea, put far more eloquently than anyone has put it on these Benches, for basing the Bill on the proper principle—the principle of need. If it were based on need I should be in favour of the abolition of any age limit at all, but I am certainly not going to vote for an ex tension of the Bill, based as it is on no principle whatever. It is absolutely absurd to ask this Committee to take for granted that the State must accept the responsibility for pensioning every woman quite regardless of her circumstances or whether she wants a pension or not. It is for those reasons that I should vote against any reduction of the age or any elimination of the age limit. I say limit it all you possibly can.
I understand the point which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) ' was as to whether a widow of 55 would, if she were out of work, be in receipt of unemployment insurance benefit. Her position would be precisely what it is to day. It would not make the slightest difference to her. Whether she was in receipt of a pension or not, she would still be eligible for unemployment benefit. I doubt whether I ought to make a reasoned reply, but there is one word I would say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). This is not merely a matter of money. Anyone acting upon the principle that we have acted upon would have to draw a line. The line clearly ought to be drawn where, with the money you have available, you will do the maximum amount of good. Fifty-five does seem to be a reasonable age. No one will deny that at that age women do not find it so easy to get their living. I quite admit that any age is purely arbitrary. The original Old Age Pensions Act fixed it at 70. It was an arbitrary age. There are many people who are well and hearty at 70, and many under 70 who are older than their years. The Act of 1925 fixed it at 65, which was purely arbitrary in a way, because many people over 65 are still able to earn their living more effectively than some people under 65. But it was a fairly rough indication not merely of increasing age, but of decreasing efficiency, and as a first step 55 seemed to us to be about as good an age as we could pick. Suppose you come down to the forties. Many people are in the middle forties at the maximum of their economic earning power. Then the question becomes doubly persistent about more elderly people who are not of the insurable class.
I do not take the view that if we came down to the age of 45 we should increase the number of anomalies. Every Clause in this Bill reduces the number of anomalies, but it does intensify anomalies if you bring down the age lower and lower. You still leave outside for the time being the elderly spinster and the people who are outside insurable occupations. It seems to me that 55 is a reason able age to take. If you get down to 45, 40 or 35, then the question of the spinster arises. Once you open that door there is a flood of Amendments to raise the whole question of voluntary insurance. Why did not the Government do this in 1925? They funked it, and they had more time to consider it than I have had. I say that this large extension to bring in the people who to-day are out- side the insurable class is a question upon which I am entitled to have more time than I have had, and it is largely because of that that one feels that he must restrict this Clause to widows of 55 and over. Therefore, it is not merely finance, although, of course, finance does enter into the question.
I do not intend to reply either to the offensive remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) or to the utterly flippant remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), whose paucity of imagination in this Bill has led him to repeat the same speech on every possible occasion. I would suggest to him that he should buy a gramophone record which would let everybody know about the Prime Minister's pledge during the General Election. This opposition is purely fractious opposition. [Interruption.] We have had a series of utterly inconsistent and contradictory Amendments from Members on the opposite benches. First of all, they want more people in the Bill, and then they want fewer people in the Bill. Whatever we do, we are wrong. All these Amendments are put forward, not with any desire to improve the Bill, but with a desire to obstruct it.
I give hon. Members below the Gangway the credit for a sincere desire to improve it. [How. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, and for listening to the case put from this Box in a reasonable way. We are told that action is reprehensible and disgraceful, and that we are putting forward this Bill without a spark of decency. I am called a reprobate, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield said that I deserve the utmost contempt and am guilty of organised hypocrisy. This is very good invective, but it is not argument. I can afford to leave it there and to put to hon. Members below the gangway the serious implications which are bound to follow any attempt to meddle with the age of 55.
Firty-five is the age which we reached after a good deal of consideration. Believe me, if you get down to the age of 45 you will be raising far larger questions than appear in this Amendment, questions which, I submit, will require very careful and very full consideration. I am not for one moment against extending the scope of these Measures. Indeed, on the Second Reading, I said that I thought there was an overwhelming claim for larger numbers of people to come in, but in my view I could not undertake it at this stage because the matter is very complicated. I hope, therefore hon. Members below the Gangway will not make it more difficult for me to resist their perfectly legitimate demands, which, I think, are made a little too early in the lifetime of this Government, but that they will stand by us, as they have done so far, in maintaining the age at 55.
The right hon. Gentle-has his own methods for getting through this Bill. I cannot say that his speech to-night will particularly help him. I should have been content to have heard a reasoned reply to the arguments addressed to the Amendment, but he has seen fit to make reflections upon the motives of hon. Gentlemen who sit beside me. I feel sure that he would be one of the first, if he were sitting in my place or that of hon. and right hon. Friends who sit beside me, to resent those insinuations. I do not think that the hon. Members who sit on the Liberal Benches will be very appreciative of the very sickly flattery which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed to them. If I heard any such observation addressed to our party, my gorge would rise. The right hon. Gentleman has only himself to thank for the difficulty in which he finds himself to-night. He has given no reply, nor has the Parliamentary Secretary, to the questions which have been repeatedly put to him from this side of the House, from the Liberal Benches and also from the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), to whose speech we carefully listened, why he fixes the age of 55.
We are still awaiting a reasoned objection why this age should be adhered to, and why not some other age, say, 45 or 40. I agree that when you have a scheme such as this, giving pensions with out test of any kind, it is impossible to support a proposition such as is put forward in one Amendment, but we are entitled to a reasoned argument why the age of 55 is adopted. One hon. Member said, and I suppose it is about the last belated reason in support of the proposal that the right hon. Gentleman had come to the conclusion that widows over 55 years of age, if you survey the whole of the insured classes of the workers, are the people greatest in need. I wonder where he has got that information. The hon. Member for Gorbals said, quite truly, that if you survey the needs of all classes of the community you cannot fix any age limit. When you look at the particular circumstances of various widows, you cannot fix the age of 55 and say that people over that particular age are most in need. The right hon. Gentleman has said on previous occasions, when he has had to deal with this matter, that the position of certain widows, say, a widow with a bedridden husband, altogether apart from the age of 55, is infinitely worse than many of the oases dealt with in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had no right, therefore, considering the unfortunate position in which he finds himself, a difficulty, as the hon. Member for Gorbala said, in demonstrating the fairness and justice of his proposals, to cast aspersions upon other people. He had better look to the provisions of the Bill and see whether he cannot make them more decent, more in order and more in keeping with justice.
I was only replying to a point raised by the Minister. Does he really consider that the Opposition is fractious in its desire to bring in other widows? Does he not give us credit for being really in earnest in our hearts? I think he might answer. If hon. Members opposite dared to say what they think, there would have been a different Debate. I congratulate the Minister on having so many tame tabby cats behind him. I can only say, "Thank goodness! our party was never such."
The Minister of Health described the Opposition as fractious. If so, we are in good company along with the Members of the Independent Labour party. Their opposition must also be fractious. Surely, no one on any principle could describe the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals as fractious. It impressed me immensely, not only for its sincerity, but its logic. I have still to hear to my satisfaction from the Minister of Health how any definite point of age can be maintained, there being practically no vestige of contribution left and, there fore, no logical reason for maintaining any definite age at which to grant the pensions. If it is a question of finance in regard to bringing in others, I recollect the Minister of Health saying, when he introduced the Bill, that if the nation wanted it badly enough, they should afford it.
On a point of Order. May I ask your Ruling on a point which causes confusion? On what are we about to vote? You were not in the Chair earlier. The Deputy-Chairman said that we could have a Debate not only on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), but also on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), and on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley).
I do not want to raise the gorge of the right hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Sir K. Wood), but I must say that we are very grateful to the Minister of Health for his kind ex- pression. We are concerned with the merits of the question at stake and the wider questions for consideration which are raised by the series of Amendments which we have put upon the Order Paper, with the idea of making the very best use of the monies involved. After the discussion which has taken place, I shall not press my Amendment.
The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto)—in page 1, line 11, after the word "fifty-five," to insert the words "whose means would have qualified her for a pension under the Old Age Pensions Acts, 1908 to 1924"—is covered by a decision on Thursday.
The next two Amendments standing in the names of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) and other hon. Members—
These two Amendments were really intended to lead up to the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) and myself, namely, in page 2, line 20, at the end, to insert the words: "or
I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, after the word "twenty-six," to insert the words "and after the fourth day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-one."
The purpose of this Amendment is to place a limit on the period for which, under the Bill, we can go back and admit widows without contributions to the right of pension. The explanation given to the Committee has been that the Bill is on the lines of removing anomalies arising from the fact that in the Act of 1925 there is a definite date for the commencement of the Act. I contend that if you go back five years from the date of commencing the Act and say that all widows whose husbands died within those five years shall, without contribution, receive a widow's pension, you are doing as much in the way of easing the hard and definite line for the commencement of an Act of Parliament as can possibly be done in a Bill such as this, which purports to re move injustices and to ease hardships in connection with the commencement of the Act.
I have only two main lines of argument to put before the Committee. First is the consideration that in the Financial Memorandum at the commencement of the Bill we have the anticipated expenditure up to 1936, and the last item of that expenditure is an additional amount for administration of £1,000,000. That £1,000,000 will never reach the pockets of the widows at all. It is to be spent on administration and investigation into the cases of these almost innumerable widows whose husbands died 20, 30 and even 40 years ago. The late Minister of Health, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), when speaking on the Second Reading, said that some of the husbands of these widows might have died 40 years ago, and he pointed out that under this Clause 500,000 pre-Act widows, for whom no contribution had been paid, and many of whom are not in need, would come in, and that that would be a tremendous new burden on the tax payer and would add to the handicap under which industry is suffering. Apart from that argument altogether the mere fact of this investigation into the conditions of the hypothetical employment of the husband of the woman—a husband who died 30 or 40 years ago—would place a very great burden on the officials of the Ministry of Health.
It is not surprising to find that the cost of this investigation is going to run to this figure of £1,000,000 before 1936. One of the main purposes of my Amendment is to put the reasonable limit of five years for the period during which the past his- tory of anyone can be fairly easily ascertained. To go back in the case of the husband who died 30 or 40 years ago and find whether he would, in the hypothetical case of the National Health Insurance Act having been then in operation, have been in insurable employment—with all the calculations and enormous variations in the spending power of money which has taken place in the meantime—baffles the imagination as to the amount of investigations and the time which will be taken in deciding in individual cases whether the widow is really entitled to a pension or not. It is quite clear that it was not upon any ground of hardship or anything of that kind that this particular Clause was drafted.
It is quite clear that what really happened was that the Government had to decide how far a certain sum of money would go. Widows were obviously a part of the population who attracted the most popular sympathy and were likely to bring in the largest number of votes. The Government, therefore, said that they must do everything they could for the widow. They went back 20 years, but found that they had not spent enough money. They went back 30 years, and there was still a little balance left; and so they thought they would go back 40 years, never mind what the cost of investigation might be. So we see that this million is to be spent on administration in order to investigate the kind of employment of men who died 40 years ago.
The other consideration which impels me to move my Amendment is that all the attempts on the part of hon. Members on this side to introduce anything in the nature of an Income Tax limit or other test as to whether the proposed recipient is really in need of this ten shillings a week, have failed. Further, in regard to the age of 55, the Government will give us no reason which can be accepted. It is very much like the age of 30 which was fixed for votes for women. Those of us who were present when Parliament discussed that Measure before it went through the House, said there was no virtue in 30 and that very soon every body would be included. We were justified in that case, and just in the same way we are justified in thinking that once you fix an arbitrary age of this kind it means universal pensions. In view of this I say that when the Government are investigating the whole question of the extension of the social services it is not a reasonable proposal that we should go back in a particular class, namely, widows with or without children and with or without means, as far back as 40 years ago and spend a million pounds during the next few years in simply investigating their cases.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this is the first of many instalments that we must expect, but it is all that the Government can do pending investigation, but it is not reasonable that at this particular moment we should go back 40 years to include the whole of one section of widows, and only one section, and incur this immense expenditure in investigating these cases. I do not know whether my arguments will appeal to the Committee or not but it seems to me that we have good grounds for saying that in this Bill a period of five years pre-Act is the utmost limit to which we can go.
I was saying that at this particular time, and without prejudice as to what may be a proper part of some great comprehensive scheme after the Government have completed their investigations into all these matters, it is not reasonable to go back in respect of one particular class of recipients for a period for over 30 years. There are three bases on which pensions can be granted. First, a contributory basis, which was the basis of our Act of 1925 and which we should like to see extended more widely—
I assure you, Mr. Chair man, that the argument I was developing was absolutely germane to the Amendment I have moved. I was pointing out that there are three bases on which pensions can be granted—I was merely enunciating them. There is the contributory basis, giving pensions to a block of persons without contributions and without conditions, and there is also the pension which is based upon the need of the recipient.
I bow to your Ruling, and I only desire to point out that in view of all these facts I feel most strongly that, as this is an interim Measure, we are not justified in going in only one direction to an extent which can only be justified in the case of a comprehensive Measure based upon one or other of these admitted principles. We do not know where we are. No hon. Member can say whether this is intended to be an extension of the Contributory Pensions Act or whether it is on a totally non-contributory basis. Until these preliminary questions are settled, after full investigation of all these complicated questions by the Government we know where we are, and where we are going in one direction or another, I am justified in limiting this particular proposal to a period of five years.
I am perfectly prepared to give way to the hon. and gallant Member. This is a very topsy-turvy sort of Amendment. It would bring in widows who have been widows for a short term of years and cut out widows who have been widows for a good many years. That is to say, the hon. Member for Barn staple (Sir B. Peto) would bring in young widows and cut out older widows. That seems to me to be absurd. Why should a widow who has struggled maybe for 10 or 15 years as a widow get no pension and the woman who has been a widow only four or five years receive one? That is the hon. Member's proposal. He suggests that a woman who lost her husband four years ago should get a pension and the woman who lost her husband 14 years ago should not get it. Probably he would cut out most of the pre-Act widows of 60 years and upwards by his Amendment; exactly the section that anyone who looks at the question broadly would wish to put in. I hope the House will not waste much time on this Amendment. Let me point out that he has chosen a perfectly arbitrary date which would eliminate a great number of pre-Act widows whose husbands served in the War and died two or three years after. That is a class on which hon. Members look with peculiar kindness and indulgence, and it is precisely all those widows whom the hon. Member would cut out by his Amendment. I can see no reason for the date 1921. It is purely arbitrary. It would cut out people most deserving and, from the Treasury point of view, would bring in the more expensive widows. It would cut out old ladies who are of advanced age. I hope the House will not waste any time over this Amendment and let us get on to serious matters.
I only want to say one word in answer to the Parliamentary Secretary. I think the point of my hon. Friend the Member Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) has been somewhat missed. The whole strength of his case is that it is impossible to go back all these years to prove the case of these widows. The hon. Lady has mentioned the case of the war widow, and the Committee appreciate the case of the widow of a man who died two or three years after the War. If that is the real ground for objecting to the Amendment let those years be added and make it eight years instead of five. You are really imposing an impossible task—and this always happens immediately you abandon a contributory basis—of having to hold an inquisition to find out how the husband who died 20 or 30 years ago was actually employed, and whether he was employed in an occupation which we to day would understand as insurable. That is the point of my hon. Friend, and I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary has made any reply whatever. Nor does the Committee know how you are going to ascertain whether the man was in such circumstances at the time as would permit of his widow being included in this Bill.
I oppose the Amendment because it would be just as logical to introduce a particular day or month as to prescribe arbitrarily that the husband of a widow must have died between the years 1921 and 1926. All the arguments from this side on previous Amendments have been in favour of bringing more people into benefit under this Measure, but now hon. Members opposite are attempting to restrict the number. The Measure has been designed in fulfilment of the promises—of which hon. Members opposite have made so much—to bring in pre-Act widows, and to make amends for what was omitted from the 1925 Act. We are bound to oppose an Amendment like this which proposes to make a condition that a man must have died between two given dates in order that his widow, who, in the language of hon. Members opposite, may be necessitous, may obtain the benefits provided under the main provisions of the Bill. The Bill itself will determine the title to benefit and will deal with those extreme cases quoted by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) in his "ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago" vein. There is no need for an Amendment of this character except as tactics for opposition and obstruction of the Bill.
I must support the Government in opposing this Amendment because I do not think that the Amendment is going to make the Bill any better. The object of the other Amendments which we have supported has been to improve the Bill, and everybody knows that there is room for improvement in every line of it. I wish to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the very lucid explanation which she gave in opposing the Amendment and I cannot help thinking that if she always spoke instead of the Minister, and made lucid, conciliatory speeches of that kind we might get on a little more quickly. The hon. Lady asked why should we give a pension to a woman whose husband died four years ago, and leave out a woman whose husband died 15 years ago. I think that is a logical and unanswerable argument. She also pointed out that it would be very unfair, but, may I say, that although we agree with her argument in that respect we believe that the same argument applies in favour of the necessitous widows whom the hon. Lady is leaving out of the Bill.
I was only trying to point out that the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary applies with equal force against certain provisions in the Bill. I would also ask her to deal with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), when he asked how the Government were going to decide, in the cases of people who died 30 or 40 years ago, whether those people would have been insurable or not? We are entitled to an answer to that very difficult question.
The Financial Memorandum mentions a figure of £1,000,000 as the additional administrative expense involved. This afternoon I proposed an Amendment which would have cost the country at the outside £50,000 a year. That Amendment was very much more reasonable than the Amendment now before the Committee, but as it dealt with the question of necessitous women I cannot speak upon it now. I would like the hon. Lady to give us some more information as to how it is proposed to investigate cases going back to 20 or 30 years ago. It seems to me that it will be a physical impossibility to do so. I do not agree with the Amendment. If we are to go back, let us go back for all time, but we would like to know how it is to be done. We are told that it is going to cost £1,000,000, but if we are to investigate cases of 30 years ago that sum will not start to pay for it. Have we any guarantee as to the expense involved in this respect? These women will not be able to afford to get the information required. They will not have the facilities for doing so. How is the Ministry going to assist them? A woman may say, "My husband might have been in insurable employment; will you find out for me?" Is the Ministry prepared to investigate all these cases, to trace out the man's employment, and go into all the circumstances? If so, what is going to be the cost? There must be some minimum of expenditure under this Bill. We are told that it is only an interim Measure. The Government ought to lay down definite limits and assure us that money is not going to be wasted, because in my opinion money is going to be wasted while widows who really need it are to go without assistance.
I support the case which has just been put forward. It is not merely a question of not wanting to spend the money without knowing definitely that the cases have been properly proved. There is also a question of fairness and justness involved. We do not want to have more people suffering from a sense of grievance because they have not been justly treated, and this seems to be a fitting point in the Clause for the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some definite and clear explanation of how they propose to administer this provision. I feel that the Committee will not desire to part with this Amendment until they have received more information on the subject.
The Parliamentary Secretary made a lucid speech, and I agree very largely with her argument that the Amendment is a restrictive one and would shut out a certain number of people. She said that if we were to take the years 1921 and 1926 we would be excluding a certain category of widows while including younger women, but surely such is not the case. The Committee has already passed the words:
If she has attained the age of fifty-five.
and, therefore, it is not at all a matter of bringing in a number of young women. If the hon. Lady thinks that it is very unfair to include only those women whose husbands have died comparatively short time ago and to leave out the rest, what is her opinion with regard to the class of widows who are not going to be brought within the Bill at all, namely, those widows whose husbands have paid certain contributions but not the statutory number of 104?
There is only one point about which I would like to ask a question. I think a reply might be made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the financial point raked by my hon. Friend who has just spoken, seeing that the costs of extra administration are limited to £1,000,000 and that these inquiries have to be made by some tribunal. I am glad to see the Minister of Health back in his seat. I take it that he has consulted his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, although there is no representative of the Treasury on the Bench, I take it that these figures have been most carefully examined, because when we are dealing with a proposal which involves the spending of so much public money we ought to have full particulars of all the current expenditure involved. A very courteous request was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I think the House should know first of all what the inquiry is going to be. Will it be by a tribunal—
This is a point of sub stance. I am surely entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is the procedure to be adopted under this Bill, and whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been consulted as regards the details? The Financial Secretary, I understand, is within the precincts of the House, and if the Parliamentary Secretary herself does not like to reply to the questions so pertinently put from this side of the House, perhaps she will allow the Financial Secretary to reply. Before the House divides on this important question
I cannot congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the logical manner in which she has answered certain questions. An hour or two ago I heard her replying to another Amendment—that was when the means limit was under discussion—and on that occasion she said that it was quite impossible because of administrative difficulties. It was pointed out that the administrative difficulties were really non-existent. How, now, does she answer the question when we put forward a Motion of this kind? Her answer is that we must take in all this mass of people, the widows of the men who died 30 years ago. What about the administrative difficulties? How are you going to say whether the widow is properly insurable or not? No answer to the Amendment has been submitted to the Committee, and I should like to know how she will deal with the administrative difficulties when she could not deal with the simple administrative difficulties of the other Amendment?
|Division No. 14.]||AYES.||[10.2 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Bennett, Captain E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Benson, G.||Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Buchanan, G.|
|Amnion, Charles George||Birkett, W. Norman||Burgess, F. G.|
|Arnott, John||Bowen, J. W.||Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.)|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Broad, Francis Alfred||Caine, Derwent Hall.|
|Batey, Joseph||Brockway, A. Fenner||Charleton, H. C,|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Bromley, J.||Chater, Daniel|
|Bellamy, Albert||Brothers, M.||Cluse, W. S.|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Knight, Holford||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Compton, Joseph||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes, Stretford)|
|Cove, William G.||Lang, Gordon||Romeril, H. G.|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Dallas, George||Lathan, G.||Rowson, Guy|
|Dalton, Hugh||Law, Albert (Bolton)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Law, A. (Rosendale)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lawrence, Susan||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)|
|Day, Harry||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lawson, John James||Sandham, E.|
|Dickson, T.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Dukes, C.||Leach, W.||Scurr, John|
|Duncan, Charles||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Sex|