Old Age Pensions.

– in the House of Commons on 12th December 1939.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now Adjourn."—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]

8.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

I want to raise the question of old age pensions, arising out of an answer given at Question Time to-day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was not able to give a satisfactory reply, and I thought if the matter were brought forward to-night he would have a better opportunity to explain to us exactly what the position is. The Chancellor has told me that it would be very difficult for him to be here to-night, and I realise his difficulty and raise no objection to his absence, because he has left his very able deputy to give the reply. The question of an increase of pensions to the aged has been under review for some time. It is no new matter to the House, and there is no excuse for the Government to keep putting us off with the statement that they have not been able to arrange anything, for they have had ample time in which to do so.

In April last the Chancellor made a reply to the Trades Union Congress representatives that he had heard from us in the matter and would give consideration to that point of view. In July we had a pledge from the Prime Minister that he would have an examination made into the question and report to the House at an early opportunity. The war broke out and we did not get that report, and it seemed to us that the Government did not intend to do anything at all. On 1st November, through the leader of our party in this House, we again brought the question forward in a full Debate. On that occasion a number of old people were sitting in the Gallery, and they went away with the impression that although they had not got anything at the moment at least something would be done for them by Christmas time. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) went into the Gallery and sat among the old people. They assured him that they thought something would be done for them by Christmas time. We expected that something would be done by now.

On that occasion the Government carried an Amendment. Those who heard the Debate realised that every Member on the Government side of the House agreed with us that something should be done. Some who supported the Amendment said that they trusted that the Government would come forward in a month's time with a scheme. I notice that the seconder of that Amendment is here now. He had a very difficult task on that occasion, and I believe that he expected that something would have been done by now. Nothing has happened, and we have brought the matter forward again to-night in the hope of being able to get some understanding from the Government that something will be given before Christmas.

I want to assure the Government that the agitation on this matter is just as keen as ever it was, probably more keen, because of the disappointment. Where-ever we go and whatever meeting we address, the people listen to us when we tell them about the prosecution of the war, and then they say: "We hope that you will not forget the extremity of the old age pensioners." We believed that the Government would have done something before Christmas, because that is what we have given out to our people. Are we to be told to-night that, although we shall go into the Recess on Thursday next, nothing is to be done in the interval and that we shall come back in January again to meet the same kind of thing? If that is so, it is not the right thing to do to the aged people. There are nearly 2,500,000 aged people and many of them are in dire poverty.

Many of these people are anxiously hoping that something will be done for them, and I ask, is it fair when the trust of these men and women is put in our charge that we should neglect them, as we are doing? We are spending huge sums of money on other things. We were told by a representative of the Government that what we ask for would be done. I feel very strongly on the matter. During the last few weeks I have withheld any action on this matter, and have no attempted to put questions, because I said: "I will let it go until the very last before I make an appeal." Last week I put a question on the Paper in the hope that something would mature this week, but nothing has come. We do not want to have to tell our people: "After all our efforts, Christmas will come round and nothing will be given to you." I trust that my gloomy thoughts may be relieved by the Financial Secretary and that he can tell us something that will cheer us and give relief to the aged people.

Many hon. Members on the opposite benches feel keenly on this matter. I have here a cutting from a newspaper in which the writer says: For 30 years I have been a Tory. Thirty years, until last Wednesday, when the representatives of my party in Commons gave an amazing exhibition of ingratitude and neglect towards the old people, the Empire's mothers and fathers. I am ashamed to feel I have supported such party so long—a party that can calmly turn down the plea for increased pensions on grounds of economy! We are already the world's laughing stock and now we callously disregard the people who were the backbone of the country. Is it possible for you or the Labour party to publish the names of M.Ps. who voted against the Measure and placard it in every constituency? That is the feeling of Members of the Conservative party who supported that party in the hope that it would recognise the needs of the aged people. That feeling has prevailed generally. I do not want to build my case upon that or to think that I am forcing something out of the Government on the ground that they might be beaten in the election for not supporting the old age pensioners. My plea is that something be given to this body of men and women. They have arrived at the stage of life when they can no longer fight for themselves. They have done all the fighting they can for the nation and for their children, and they can no longer do that kind of thing. They have put their trust in their representatives on the Floor of the House of Commons. My plea to-night is that we are sent here to alleviate the sufferings of these persons who cannot fend for themselves, and that it is our bounden duty not to allow Christmas to pass without giving help in some form.

It would be a joy to me if I could go out to-morrow and let it be known by the aged people that we have prevailed in the House of Commons, and that something will be done. My plea is for an immediate advance of 5s. I do not want to wait while some arrangement is being made between the Trades Union Congress and employers. That can be examined, and when the time comes they can bridge the difficulty. First of all we ought to do something direct. It will cost £30,000,000 per annum, but we are paying £6,000,000 per day for the war, and five days of war expenditure devoted to the aged people would bring joy to them. It is not too much to ask, unless those who are spending huge sums of money think that it cannot be done. I do not want to be put off by being told that the Government have not been able to make arrangements between the employers and the trade union representatives. I want the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to tell us that the Government are prepared now for the time being to grant 5s. a week. The negotiations with the Trades Union Congress can be gone into, and the permanent scheme arrived at. Something immediate is wanted and that is why we are raising this matter. We regret having to told the House up at a time like this, but I cannot make any apology for it.

8.38 p.m.

Photo of Major Sir Frank Markham Major Sir Frank Markham , Nottingham South

The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has put forward his Motion with restraint and dignity, and I am glad that it was straight to the point and not confused by the introduction of sob-stuff. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting his plea to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for an immediate statement with regard to the position of old age pensioners. I am fully aware that this country is in need of every penny that it can raise through taxation for the successful prosecution of the war, and no one who has the slightest interest in the financial position of the country could light-heartedly consider any increase in our expenditure at the present time. The figure of £6,000,000 a day as our war expenditure is mentioned in some quarters as though that were a reason for raising allowances to any conceivable degree to every conceivable person. I am one of those who resist these tendencies in the main, because I do not consider that high expenditure in one field is justification for high expenditure in another; indeed it is rather a reason for a balancing economy. But the old age pensioners have an unanswerable case, a case that in charity and in justice cannot be denied by this House.

Some of us on the Government side have been over-patient with the Government in their treatment of this particular problem and of this particular class in the country. We have been patient to this extent: most loyally in Division after Division we have voted with the Government when they have promised inquiries, when they have promised to go into the case and to find out what are the rights and the wrongs, or to find out what should be the contributions and what the payments. It is well known that there are classes of old age pensioners who have no right to it—people who are already in receipt of incomes, as has been said in this House, as large as those of Members of Parliament. I agree that there are anomalies and that there is a small number of people to-day who are drawing old age pensions and who ought not to have them, but the fact that a small injustice is being done is no excuse for withholding the greater justice that ought to be done. It is true that the amount involved by an increase of 5s. a week, which I think should be the minimum increase, would be at least £13,000,000. But this sum was, in my opinion, no excuse for delaying an increase six months ago, and it is no excuse for delaying it now. In the interval the cost of living has gone up by at least 8 per cent. and old age pensioners are worse off than they were in the pre-war months. As far as tendencies can be relied upon, the position is bound to get worse as the war continues and the cost of living rises. I therefore support the Motion moved by the hon. Member for Leigh, that there be an immediate statement by the Government on the position.

I want to couple my plea with a final argument which is not in any sense a threat. I am in the position where my future services, at any rate while the war continues, will be not in this House but in the field, and this therefore may be the last speech I shall make in this House. They say that when men are on their deathbeds, whether it be a political deathbed or any other deathbed, they have a habit of speaking the truth, and I want the Government to realise that there is not one thing in the social field that I would rather see the Government do than raise the old age pension immediately from 10s. to 15s. a week, and I hope the Government will not delay in the matter. Obviously, an adjustment must come in certain categories, but I hope before Christmas—and that is not very long—we shall have a definite statement from the Government to the effect that the old age pension has been increased to 15s. a week, and we can adjust contributions and anomalies afterwards. I think that if the men in the field were asked what their opinion is of the proposed increase they would, almost without exception, be in favour of it, and their opinion ought not to be ignored.

8.44 p.m.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

I desire to associate myself wholeheartedly with the proposal that we should ask for a statement at once with regard to the Government's decision on old age pensions and that we should ask that that statement should announce an immediate increase of 5s. a week, to come into operation before Christmas. What is the history of this question of the growing agitation in regard to old age pensions? I think it is not unfair to say that this time last year the Government had no intention of dealing with the question of old age pensions in this Parliament in view of their commitments, in particular with regard to rearmament, but we all know that during the spring and summer this year an agitation grew up in all constituencies and among Members of all parties. It started on this side of the House when questions were asked and petitions were presented, but the same thing sprang up on the other side of the House, and it was very embarrassing for the Government. My particular contribution was not actually to present a petition in this House but to take it with an old age pensioner and his wife—also an old age pensioner from my constituency—and present it at No. 10, Downing Street, which is a variation of procedure. The Government realised in the month of July that something would have to be done about it, in view of the fact that a General Election was coming on, and they had the device of a Committee of Inquiry. I must say I have always thought that that was entirely unnecessary. The facts were already known to the Treasury. It was a time-saving device in order to bring out a statement at the appropriate moment.

Then the war came and the Government's interest tended to flag, but the old age pensioners' interest did not flag in the least, and there was renewed pressure from all the constituencies in favour of some action being taken. I well remember myself holding until a day or two before the war broke out a very active open-air campaign in every part of my constituency, and apart from the crisis which was in everybody's minds the question which interested every person, whether they were old age pensioners or the young people who would have to make the contributions towards the payment of old age pensions, was this ques- tion, and one could not but be struck by the determination of everybody to have this problem dealt with. The Government again realised they would have to do something about it and a committee was appointed. Again, I think, it was an unnecessary delay. However, we have been told that there will be no report of that committee or no statement is to be made about it, I suppose until the 16th January next when the House meets. That will be the earliest date on which a statement can be made. I do not think we should be satisfied with that. We should press the Government to say, whatever the recommendations of that committee may be and however much they may go beyond 5s. a week, as I hope they will, they are prepared here and now, as a Christmas present to these old people, to make an announcement that they will have an increase from 10s. to 15s. a week.

8.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gordon Macdonald Mr Gordon Macdonald , Ince

When this matter was first suggested I understood there were four questions to be investigated: First, should there be an increase? Second, what should the increase be? Third, what would the employers say about it, and also what would the workers say about it? I cannot understand four or five months being required to get answers to those questions. Surely the Government have made up their minds whether the old age pensioners are entitled to an increase. Do they say tonight that they think the old age pensioners should receive higher pensions? A clear and definite answer is what we want. Do they as a body think the old people should get a higher pension—yes or no? Having said that, how much should it be—2s., 5s., 7s. 6d., 10s., or what? Will the Government tell the country how much they think should be the increase on the old age pension? Having done that, they know what it will involve in cost. It would not take the Financial Secretary to the Treasury five minutes to tell us what the cost will be. If he says it will cost £40,000,000 I will accept that figure. The question then becomes, can this country find £40,000,000? The Chancellor says, "We cannot do it that way because it is a tripartite agreement; there are three bodies involved, the Government, the workers and the employers, and they have to be considered." He says the Government will not commit themselves until they find out what the other two bodies say.

I want the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to tell us to-night whether they have consulted the Trades Union Congress and the Federation of British Industries, and if so what is the reply? Will he tell us who is holding this up? I am quite sure it is not the Trades Union Congress; I am certain they are in favour of an immediate increase of at least 5s. This constant delay in this increase is not fair. My hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) mentioned the matter in this House some years ago and the Financial Secretary found some pretext for opposing it. That has been done on various occasions from time to time. We are now dealing with a body of men and women who deserve consideration. We have spent the greater part of the evening dealing with the unemployed. Their case is bad enough but it is no worse than the case of the old age pensioners.

The Government should make it quite clear whether they believe that it is possible at the moment to increase old age pensions or not. These investigations are simply a method of delaying this urgent question. I know that any hon. Member on this side who waits for the Financial Secretary to speak will have to wait for a long time, because the Financial Secretary will wait until we have all exhausted our right to speak. When he does get up I hope that he will say that the Government are prepared to make a grant of at least 5s. a week as an interim payment. You may call it a Christmas box if you like, but I regard it as a right of people who have served the country well. I am not going to argue about the cost of living. Quite apart from that, a case has been made out in this House, times out of number, for a substantial increase. I hope that the Financial Secretary to-night will not play with words, but will say quite definitely that the Government are going to agree to an immediate increase of 5s. a week.

8.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

I wish to support the plea which has been made that the Government should make a statement to-night about their intentions on this question. The constituency which I have the honour to represent is very different in character from the constituencies of the hon. Members who have spoken from the other side, but Cheltenham is like others in that it feels very strongly about this question of old age pensions. Every day I get letters from my constituents on this matter, not only from old age pensioners but from others. I appreciate what the Chancellor has to overcome and the need for these negotiations being brought to a conclusion, but while these negotiations are protracted the old age pensioners have to live. They have an immediate daily problem which, because of the war, is becoming increasingly difficult. I am concerned particularly with those old age pensioners whose sole source of income is the old age pension—that is, the noncontributory pensioners of over 70.

In reply to a question the other day, I was told by the Chancellor that an increase to the non-contributory pensioners did not depend upon an increase to the contributory pensioners—that is to say, an increase to the non-contributory pensioners did not depend on negotiations with any other bodies, either of workers or employers, but on the willingness and the ability of the Treasury to find the money required. I ask the Financial Secretary to say to-night whether the Government accept in principle that there shall be an immediate increase in pensions for this class of old age pensioners. I would prefer that the Government should tell us, here and now, what the amount of the increase will be; but if they cannot do that, I hope they will at least give some hope to the pensioners by saying that they accept in principle that the case for an increase has been made out. I would impress upon the Financial Secretary the urgency of this matter, and I hope that before the House adjourns for the Recess some reply will be given which will give some real hope to the old age pensioners.

8.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Williams Mr Edward Williams , Ogmore

There is a feeling in this country that the Government are endeavouring deliberately to fool the old age pensioners. I do not think I shall be misrepresenting the position if I say that had there been a free vote when we last debated this matter the old age pensioners would have received their increase by now, but that the Government arranged for certain people deliberately to misrepresent the feeling in the House to- wards the old age pensioners in order that the Government might carry on, as they are now, the most dilatory methods that could be conceived. We have heard the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and there is a feeling that he is very unlike what he was in the days when he was a back-bencher; that the higher he rises in office the more cold-hearted he becomes. The methods he has adopted in treating this subject are leading the old age pensioners to believe that he has no sympathy with them at all. I hope that when he replies he will indicate that he realises the plight of the old age pensioners. Hon. Members must appreciate that if there is in this country one body which now finds it very difficult to exist that body is the old age pensioners.

I am not going to argue about the cost of living, but there are very few people in this country, particularly if they are attached to large organisations, who have not by now obtained some increase in their wages or allowances. Even Government Departments have recognised that by granting some increase in the allowances under the Unemployment Assistance Board—a matter that we have been discussing to-night. There is no other body of persons so harshly treated as the old age pensioners. They are faced with a cost of living which, up to the moment, has risen 14 points, and they have nothing with which to meet that increase. I hope the Government will realise that here is a very strong agitation going on in the country to see that justice is done. Last Saturday we held a conference in the largest hall in Cardiff, and that conference unanimously decided that something, must be done to meet the plight of the old age pensioners at once. I am certain that they will not be satisfied with anything less than an immediate grant of 5s. a week. Their demand is for an increase of 10s. a week, but they certainly would be very happy if the Financial Secretary to the Treasury indicated to-night that he was prepared, with the consent of the Chancellor, to admit an advance of 5s. before Christmas.

I sincerely trust that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will indicate that this fooling of which the Government are now guilty towards the most honourable, industrious and loyal people in this country, will immediately cease. We are all greatly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) for bringing this matter forward again, and for having consistently raised it on every possible occasion. I trust that the Financial Secretary will take notice of what has been said, not merely from this side of the House but by his own supporters.

8.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Leslie Mr John Leslie , Sedgefield

I think we are all agreed that the answer given by the Chancellor to-day was a bitter disappointment. If it was a bitter disappointment inside the House, what must it have been to the old people outside? I hope that the Government spokesman will not make the same mistake as was made by the Chancellor in the last Debate, of saying that our pensions scheme is the best in the world. The Minister of Labour said to-night that the allowances given to our unemployed were the best in the world. One would have thought that the Government Departments would have some idea of what the British Dominions are doing with respect to old age pensions and allowances for the unemployed. I hope that the Government spokesman will not venture to suggest again that our social services are the best in the world. Last July an inquiry was promised. The war was made the excuse for doing nothing. There has been plenty of time since. As a previous speaker has said, was there really any need for inquiry? The facts are surely well enough known. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it would be necessary to consult the employers, on the one hand, and the workers' representatives on the other. That applies to the contributory scheme of pensions at 65, but surely there is no reason why the old people at 7o, who exist on State pension alone, should have to wait. Previous speakers have mentioned that the Government ought to decide to give an additional 5s. right away. I hope that the Government will do something, and it certainly would be thankfully received as a Christmas gift if the Government would do it now.

9.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

Two years ago come January, when I was elected to this House, one of the principal planks in my platform at the by-election was the question of old age pensions. It never needed to be argued. Everybody realises that 10s. has not been sufficient even in the best of times, and that immediately hard times come the necessity for an increase is there. I came to this House thinking that it was but a matter of weeks, or months at the most, before an increase would be granted. I had had some little experience of arguing the matter, I will not say with hard-faced employers, but with employers who certainly did not part with their money quickly, but I found, even among them, that, when an unanswerable case was made out, though they might resist it for a time, eventually they gave way and paid what they realised was a just claim. I have heard the case for old age pensions made in this House time and time again, and I have heard attempts on the part of the Minister and the Government to decry the case which has been made out, or to attempt to gloss it over and suggest that it was not nearly as bad as it was made out to be.

I received a letter from a constituent the other day that was not written in Parliamentary language. It was from a man who was drawing the old age pension, and he requested me to ask the House of Commons what they would do with 10s. He said that he paid 5s. 4d. in rent, leaving 4s. 8d. If he bought a bag of coal he had to go without something else that week. I know that the answer from the other side would be, "Let him go into the workhouse." But 6 there is a peculiarity, particularly about Lancashire people in that they have developed an independence, and the last place to which they would go would be the workhouse, however nice and comfortable some boards of guardians think it is. That man is remaining in his house, and he is starving because the Government have neglected their duty of looking after these old people. They have accepted that duty. When the Minister gets up and suggests that this cannot be done, because it is a tripartite agreement, and therefore they must see what the employers and workpeople say before they come to a decision, I would say that that agreement and that consultation which is taking place do not affect the vast majority of the people with whom we are concerned. All the old people over 70 years of age will not be affected by any payments that are made by the worker or by the employer. Their contributions must be found by the State, and they must be found now if you are to keep faith with the people who have been promised time and time again that they would receive at least adequate sustenance.

The way in which this matter is put off reminds me of the introduction of old age pensions. I have always been amazed to hear the Minister suggest that we cannot afford it. I was a youngster when old age pensions were originally introduced. I was selling newspapers at the time, so I know something about it. I remember that it was the Liberal party who introduced them, and at that time there was a paper in Lancashire, the "Manchester Courier," which was the official organ of the Tory party. The following morning, after it had been suggested that 5s. a week should be given to the old people, the "Manchester Courier" came out with the headlines to the effect that, if the proposal for old age pensions were carried the country would be ruined. This country has always been in danger of ruin whenever the workers have needed anything. I question whether the old age pension would have been introduced at all had it not been that the fortunes of the Liberal party were at stake.

I do not know what truth there is in it, but this is the story that I heard which was responsible for its introduction originally. Mr. Asquith at that time was getting a little perturbed about what was happening in the country, so he said to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), "David, you had better think of something to dish these people." So the story goes that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs went home for the week-end, played his harmonium for a little while, looked to the hills and then took out the Old Book, and as he turned over the pages of the Old Book he came across the passage: The days of our years are threescore years and ten. He closed the Book and hurried back to Downing street and said, "I have got it, Herbert." "What is it?" he asked, and, said the right hon. Gentleman, "We will give them a pension when they are dead." An old age pension of 5s. was given at 70, and the average age of the workers in this country at that time was 51. It was a Littlewood's chance against the worker living to draw the old age pen- sign. So the old people got it at 70. To-day, 10s. a week is given to these old people to eke out their existence. Ministers know that it cannot be done. They have suggested that it was never intended to sufficient, and that the old people were expected to use their savings in order to eke out the 10s. and make it go a little further. I would like the Minister to come into Lancashire and talk to the cotton workers about the savings that they have after 50 years in the mills. It is not true. I used to think that the old age pension was a great thing, but I have lived to see the time when I have cursed the fact that the old age pension came into being.

What happens now at 65? A man has to face the position in which he loses his job and receives a pension of 10s. The last recollection I had, before leaving Rishton, to fight the by-election was of a man who came to my office with tears in his eyes. He said, "I shall be 65 on 15th June. I am sorry you are going away. What is going to happen to us?" I said, "You will be able to go to the public assistance committee," and he replied, "I know what will happen then. Our John and our Lil will be called upon to meet the payments made by the public assistance committee. I would rather starve than go there." That man is now drawing 10s. a week pension, and 12s. 6d. from the public assistance committee, and his son and daughter are having to pay 2s. 6d. each per week out of their miserable wages in order to do what the Government have refused to do, namely, give these people an opportunity to live.

We are always being told that this is a case for inquiry. There never has been a case for inquiry. It is a case of shuffling and of putting it off. I suggest to-night in this House that it is as essential that these old people should receive that increase as it is that munitions should be produced. It is as much a question of supply—and I am glad this is not a secret session—as arguments that will be raised to-morrow for the proper prosecution of the war. For what are you prosecuting the war? In order that you can send old folks to the lethal chamber? If that is what you want, send them now. If you want to kill them off, kill them off. Do not allow them to starve, and do it with a smirking indifference, while suggesting that 10s. will keep them out of the grave a little longer. You have no right to keep them out of the grave if you are not going to enable them to live as decent men and women in something like comfort. I hope that we shall not only get a statement from the Minister, but that that statement will go out to the country, and if it is not satisfactory, in spite of the fact that we are fighting a war, I hope the people will let it be known that we cannot fight for freedom abroad and starve our own folks at the same time, and be looked upon as individuals worthy of our name, while we are doing it.

9.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I should like to add my word in support of the demand for a statement on the question of old age pensions. We have had examinations made into different questions by an association which is called the Institute of Public Opinion. If that Institute of Public Opinion made an examination in this country on this question of an increase in old age pensions, I am sure that they would get from 95 to 100 per cent. of a vote for the increase. There is no part of the country, there is no cross-section of the population which has not at one time or another registered its attitude very definitely on this question of old age pensions.

The Motion which was put down the other day by the Labour party represented the feelings of the great mass of the people in this country, but that Motion was deliberately "butchered," and it was butchered in the most callous and cold-blooded speech imaginable. Now, the Government have to face the consequences of their attitude on that occasion. They have to face up to this question before we part for Christmas. We must have a definite statement as to where we stand. If the Minister is not prepared to make a definite statement and if he is not prepared to give satisfaction to the country on this question, there will be serious repercussions so far as the Government are concerned. This campaign has been going on for nearly three years. I remember that almost three years ago John Gray and Robert Penman set out for the purpose of forming an Old Age Pensions Association. They were supported by the mother of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood). These elderly people went out night after night visiting different parts of the district in order to bring the old folks together and to get them interested in this question, and from Fife the movement spread through Scotland and from Scotland into England and Wales.

Photo of Mr David Quibell Mr David Quibell , Brigg

From Lincolnshire.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

This campaign was organised by John Gray and Robert Penman. They built up this organisation, supported by the people of that area, and it has spread all over the country. Perhaps it might have been better if I had not introduced that particular geographical argument, but that is not important. The important thing is that in every part of the country the old folks have their organisation, the Old Age Pensioner's Association, and they are supported by the masses of the young people throughout the country. The Government, therefore, cannot treat these old people and this question in the manner they have been doing up to now.

I went with other hon. Members from this side of the House on a deputation to Downing Street at the beginning of July, with a representative body of old age pensioners from Scotland. They presented an unanswerable case to Lord Dunglass, the representative of the Prime Minister. It was obvious that the Government were in a position in which something had to be done, and Lord Dunglass asked us one question on which the Prime Minister wanted to be satisfied. That question was whether the workers would pay an increased contribution in order that the old folks should get an increased pension. Every member of the deputation answered without hesitation: "Yes. The workers will pay an increased contribution, in order that the old folks may get an increased pension." That was at the beginning of July, and here we are in December, getting ready to go on the Christmas Recess, and the Government are not yet prepared to say that they are in favour of the increase, despite the fact that the workers are prepared to pay an extra contribution. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) drew attention to the fact that in that holiday period the workers on the Clyde were not only getting their wages but a week's holiday with pay, but for the old age pensioners, nothing.

I raised this matter on the Adjournment two years ago and based my case on two arguments that nobody on the other side would dare to dispute. The first is that on the basis of service there is no section of the community that has given such service as the old age pensioners. We give them 10s. a week, and the Government hesitate in giving them more. They say, "We cannot raise £80,000,000 to double their present pensions, although we can raise £80,000,000 for the royalty owners. I said at that time, "To the shame of those in authority the need of the old folks is as urgent as their service has been great." Nobody can dispute their need. The Minister may harden his heart and his face, but the problem is there, and the old folks are looking to us and are expecting the consideration that they deserve. Are they going to get it? I have attended many meetings of old age pensioners, and there have been representatives from every kind of organisation on the platform. I have heard stories told by Catholic priests, by Ministers of the Church of Scotland and by representatives of the Salvation Army, which would touch the heart of anyone who had ordinary human compassion. There are tragedies right in our midst.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs suggests that I tell the story told by a Catholic priest. He told us at a great meeting of his visit to the home of an old lady over 70 years of age, and I am certain that in the large gathering there was scarcely a dry eye. He told us that when she heard his voice she was sitting at the table in the room, groping for something, and he discovered that she had just received a certificate from the doctor saying that she was blind, that she would never see the faces of friends any more and never see the beauties of the world again. He told us how that poor old lady expressed a strange but sad and pathetic pleasure in receiving that certificate, and the reason was that because of that certificate she could get a few more shillings at the end of the week to ease the heavy burdens which lay upon her. Such are the stories, such are the tragedies of these aged poor. It is all very well to sit on the Front Bench and sneer at these things. I remember the hon. Member opposite—

Photo of Mr Edmund Radford Mr Edmund Radford , Manchester Rusholme

Is the hon. Member referring to me?

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I remember the hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Radford) speaking to me in a most touching manner about a Private Member's Bill which he was introducing, and asking me if I could support him. I said "Yes." He produced a number of photographs and spoke to me with the deepest feelings of sentiment about worn-out horses.

Photo of Mr Edmund Radford Mr Edmund Radford , Manchester Rusholme

My memory may be at fault, but I never remember asking the hon. Member for any assistance on any subject whatever.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

The hon. Member may not remember the occasion, but I do, perfectly well. He was anxious to get the support even of the least worthy Member of the House, and he spoke to me with the deepest sentiments about old and worn-out horses. I was perfectly prepared to give, the Measure my support and said to him that now we had reached agreement "what about some better treatment for work-worn men and women?" The hon. Member said, "Yes; that is a big question," but it was obvious he had lost interest.

Photo of Mr Edmund Radford Mr Edmund Radford , Manchester Rusholme

Will the hon. Member kindly allow me again? Whatever his views may be and however different they may be from mine, he suggested that hon. Members sitting on this side were sneering.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

No, I just wanted to draw attention to the fact that we get the most kindly sentiments expressed by hon. Members opposite on the question of worn-out horses but whenever we introduce the question of work-worn men and women they want to talk about something else. I insist on the Minister facing this question, not to satisfy the few hon. Members who are now present but to understand that throughout the country outside not only the old folks but millions of people representing the great mass of the people, men and women, young and old, are listening and waiting, and that they want to hear something definite now. Are the Government prepared to take a decision on principle; are the Government prepared to mention the amount which they consider should be granted to the old folks now? If the Minister is going to get up and reply, he had better have something to say upon that matter; if he has not he had better keep his seat and remain silent.

9.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ian Hannah Mr Ian Hannah , Wolverhampton Bilston

Nobody will doubt that the desire for increased old age pensions is not confined to any part of the House. We all feel the same about it. Representing as I do almost entirely a working-class constituency, I yield to nobody in my enthusiasm for old age pensions being increased. It is indeed one of the greatest necessities of the time. If eloquence in this House could have brought it about it would have been done long ago. I feel that we need to do something a little better than that. Let us make a personal sacrifice. Suppose hon. Members gave it out that they were willing to travel third class instead of first, it would do very little indeed in a material way, but it would be a gesture which I am certain would be appreciated by an enormous number of people throughout the country. I have done it myself and find it very interesting to speak to recruits and to other people in the train between Wolverhampton and London. I do not for a moment say that it would solve the problem or that it would even go any appreciable way in that direction, but, nevertheless, I feel that in this time of trouble and storm and stress, nothing would be better than tangible evidence that we in Parliament feel enthusiastic about old age pensions and are prepared to make a personal sacrifice.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. David Adams:

I would not have troubled the House at this late hour but for the fact that old age pensions and workmen's compensation are the two outstanding problems in the mind of most folks in Durham County. On one hand there is individual resentment at being forced to retain a low standard of existence and continually to visit the public assistance committee, and, on the other hand, there is the local authorities who feel that the Government's refusal to augment old age pensions and to deal adequately with workmen's compensation is thrusting upon local ratepayers burdens which ought to be borne by the central Exchequer. The House ought to recollect—perhaps it does—that it is no less than 20 years since pensions were raised to 10s. per week. During that time wage increases have been demanded, the standard of life has increased, and concessions have been made in the wage field, but not so far as pensions are concerned. Of the old age pensioners, no less than 10 per cent. are driven to the public assistance committee for relief, costing to the ratepayers a sum of £5,700,000 per annum, and costing Durham County ratepayers a sum of 2s. 3d. in the £ on the rates per annum. If one takes into consideration the Government's notions as far as billeting is concerned, one gets a contrast between the old age pensioners and others. For billeting, board and lodging, a child receives 10s. 6d. a week, and an adult 21s. If the adult was in a casual ward, 30s. a week would be entailed, and if he was in prison, where those who refuse this concession ought to be, he would be a charge upon the community of three guineas a week.

I will not enlarge on the subject of the number of millionaires which the country still seems to be able to support, but we read, with a sense of deep gratitude, of course, that last year there were 42 more than in the previous year, and 66 as compared with the year before that. Apparently, therefore, the productive capacity of the country is still rising fairly rapidly, and we could with confidence look to this problem being remedied forthwith. Perhaps we are to receive a favourable reply from the Financial Secretary. Statisticians tell us that from 1933 to the end of last year the productive capacity of the country increased by 27 per cent. Unhappily, it has not gone into County Durham. I find that in Durham, in 1939―40, there was an increase over 1938―39 in the expenditure upon air-raid precautions of £21,000, public health £26,000, and public assistance £64,000—a total increase, after the receipts under the block grant, of no less than £91,000, public assistance involving by far the largest increase in the year's estimate.

Throughout the country 10 per cent. of the old age pensioners are driven to public assistance for relief, but in County Durham 5o per cent. have to seek such relief—12,032 out of 24,800 cases—and they received from the rates £312,000 per annum out of a total expenditure in Durham of £1,134,000. Therefore, the pensioners received in relief over a quarter of the total expenditure upon public relief in the County of Durham. Does any hon. Member seriously assert that, when there is an expenditure of between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 a day upon the war, the mere trickle for which we are asking in additional relief to these unfortunate people would be noticed at all by the Imperial Exchequer? It is interesting to note that of the money that goes to the old age pensioners, no less than £1,300,000 is taken back again in the operation of the means test. In spite of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget statement, and in other statements, when he declared that he was in favour of equality of sacrifice, he permits a state of affairs of this sort to prevail, although it could be easily remedied, so that by his actions refutes his declaration about equality of sacrifice. Probably the Financial Secretary, sharing that anxiety which we all feel that this should be as cheerful a Christmas as possible, has already made up his mind to declare on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government that this small provisional amount of 5s. as an addition to the pension will be granted forthwith and that the large amount necessary will be forthcoming when the Government's investigations have been completed.

Hon. Members:

The Minister.

9.36 p.m.

Photo of Major Henry Procter Major Henry Procter , Accrington

Before the Minister replies, I think I have a right to address some remarks to the House on this question, because the subject of old age pensions is not the monopoly of the Labour party. The system of old age pensions was not started by the Labour party, and whatever increase may be given will not be carried into effect by them. But I am certain that, in the spirit of fairness, which manifests itself from time to time on the other side of the House, hon. Members will agree that it is the essence of wisdom that due consideration should be given to this question. We do not, and am sure they do not wish to fix a sum which the workers of this country could not afford to pay. I refer to that part of the cost of old age pensions which is met from the contributions of the working class of this country. Furthermore, it will surely be agreed that a certain amount of time is required to ascertain what is the largest amount of pension that can be paid out of the nation's finances to these aged people in the evening of their lives.

Very often on the platform the statement is put forward that so much is paid for battleships or in other forms of expenditure of that kind, and it is asked why should not an equivalent amount be given to our old age pensioners? What must be borne in mind is that expenditure on a battleship or in other matters of that kind, is an expenditure which is made once and for all, but whatever sum we fix for old age pensions must be continued year after year and must be added to the budgets, not only of this Government but of future governments, which may include at some distant period of time, a government composed of hon. Members opposite. Therefore, there is nothing unreasonable in those of us who have been pressing this matter of increased pensions — [HON. MEMBERS: "How long?"] I would ask hon. Members opposite to bear in mind that when there was a Labour Government in office nothing was done to increase old age pensions. The only people who have done anything for the old age pensioners have been those represented on this side of the House. It was only by the restoration of confidence and financial stability—the work of the National Government—that increases in our public services have been effected.

I do not wish to be led aside from my point by interruptions but I think it is rather unreasonable and is not in accordance with that spirit of fairness which as I say is exhibited from time to time by hon. Members opposite, to say to the Minister, "We want to know now what the amount is to be," before there has been time to consider the position in all its bearings. I hope, too, that when these matters are considered not only will the old age pensioners be considered, but other pensions as well, such as pensions for the widow of the uninsured worker and for the spinsters. These are worthy of attention and should be considered at the same time, and if it takes a week or two longer, provided—

Photo of Major Henry Procter Major Henry Procter , Accrington

The hon. Member is always interrupting, like Donald the Duck. The whole scheme of pensions should be carefully considered, so that the old age and other pensions can be as high as the finances of the country can afford. I am sure that the old people are patriotic enough not to want an amount that would cripple our effort, especially now that we are fighting for our lives. They do need an increase. I believe the present Government will go to the highest limit that the national finances can provide, in order that our old people will be able to find it easier to live without having to go for public assistance. I hope, too, that in this inquiry some scheme may be thought out whereby a pensioner, instead of having to go to the public assistance authorities, will, if it is necessary, receive an amount equivalent to what would be paid him by the Unemployment Assistance Board as a pension, and not as public relief.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Davidson:

I had not intended to take part in this Debate, having at one time, on a Motion, had an ample opportunity of placing the feelings of hon. Members opposite to the real test with regard to old age pensions. On this question we never object when we are faced with a typical, die-hard, honourable Conservative Member who refuses our plea in a straightforward manner. What we object to is the type of politician sitting over there who expresses his sympathy in softly spoken words, who tells the old age pensioners how he loves them for their patriotism, who discusses their conditions with a sense of dignity, knowing full well that he is merely expressing words that he does not mean—the Tammany Hall kind of politician, who comes to this House and tries to make out a case for the complete retention of a waiting period before the Government do anything at all, the kind of politician so ably represented by the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter). We have had two good speeches, two straightforward speeches, from the Government side, appealing to the Minister to make a straightforward reply to the straightforward appeal of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) tried to draw another red herring across the trail that I thought was completely unworthy of any of his past efforts in this House.

Mr. Davidson:

To-day, when we are spending millions of pounds, when the Government in two days can pass legislation involving millions of pounds, dealing with millions of people in this country, when the Government can pass complicated legislation in one day calling up men to the Militia, dealing with necessary services and the greatest essentials of national life, the hon. Gentleman suggests that it is necessary for hon. Members to agree to travel third class instead of first class.

Photo of Mr Ian Hannah Mr Ian Hannah , Wolverhampton Bilston

I never said it would be necessary. I suggested it might be desirable as a gesture.

Mr. Davidson:

If the hon. Member makes suggestions which he does not consider necessary, we are at a loss to understand his reason for speaking. He told us how he enjoyed travelling third class. We are pleased to hear this complete example of snobocracy saying that he enjoyed talking to third-class passengers. I sweep that statement aside as one which is completely unworthy of a Member who says he represents a working-class constituency.

Let us get down to the question of the old people. Old age pensioners are poor, practically the poorest section of the community. There are 200,000 or more who, because of the meagreness of the pension, have to go to public assistance committees to have their incomes supplemented. They have to lower their pride and dignity and have to place their financial burdens on the ratepayers in order to get a few extra shillings. To-day, when the Government bring in sweeping legislation dealing with an expenditure such as we have never been committed to before, when we want contentment in the home lives of our people and desire conditions for them that will be worth fighting for, the hon. Member for Accrington thinks that the Government are doing pretty well on the question of old age pensions and that they must not be rushed.

This question was raised in the House two years ago, when a majority of only 35 was obtained by the Government. It has been raised continuously since, and the enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite for old age pensions is depicted by their empty benches to-night. They have had ample opportunity of acting straightforwardly on behalf of these people by voting for an increase in the pension. Words are useless to a starving old person. Sympathy is no use to these old people who have been so adequately described in the speeches to-night. The Cabinet raises its own salary and the House of Commons increases its salary, and is now considering a pension plan for Members. There are men on both sides of the House who have never wanted for a single luxury in their lives and have never wanted for the best that life can give them, and they should be thoroughly ashamed, and should be considered a national disgrace, for maintaining by one vote a Government which refuses to increase the 10s. pension to the people who made their wealth, who built our railways, constructed our buildings, made the cushions on which Ministers are sitting and erected this building. They are the people who built trams and cars, who created our social services.

The Government is hedging on this question. I say frankly, that I do not expect a favourable reply from that Minister. The Government's method has been first to consult the electoral position in the country, to ask how this will affect them in the constituencies, and as the movement for increasing old age pensions grew, mainly by propaganda from Members on this side of the House, the support on the side opposite grew. When the Government see that this movement is a menace to their security, that the growth of it can defeat them at election time, or that a public opinion may be aroused which will be awkward for them, then they will accede to the request of the old age pensioners. They will give bit by bit, grudgingly, meanly and niggardly and a niggardly and a mean Government was never more ably represented than it will be in the reply which the Minister is going to make to our plea for the old age pensioners.

9.52 p.m.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

I understood the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was going to speak. On the Adjournment the speech of the Minister usually winds up. [Interruption.] That is the normal custom, but I am perfectly prepared, as I always am, to speak in this House. The scope of the Debate has become much wider than the very narrow point on which it started. That narrow point was the complaint of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) at the reply of this afternoon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he would not be able to make a statement on this subject before the Christmas Recess. The Chancellor having given such a reply six hours ago, I am certain hon. Members do not imagine that they will now hear from me that since then the position has entirely changed. They know perfectly well that I am here to say exactly the same thing as the Chancellor, and for exactly the same reasons. The hon. Member who started the Debate was quite sure that that would be so. However, his speech has led to more than an hour's debate on the general subject of old age pensions, and a repetition of the pleas—to which, needless to say, I take no exception—which were advanced several times during the last Session of Parliament. Those pleas led, first of all, to the Prime Minister's statement of 27th July and subsequently to the statement which my right hon. Friend made on 1st November and to the inquiries which are now being pursued. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) said he did not know why it was necessary to have any inquiry. That may be his own opinion, but it was not the opinion of the House, which by a very large majority passed a Resolution stating: That, whilst this House recognise the unprecedented strain placed upon our finances by the demands of the war it trusts that the Government will nevertheless pursue their investigations into the possibility of effecting improvements or adjustments in the present scheme of old age pensions as proposed by the Prime Minister on 27th July. From that one could deduce that a large majority of the House thought this was a matter which should be investigated. The Government accepted that Motion—supporters of the Government as well as Ministers voted for it—and as a result the inquiries have been pursued. That is the position to-day.

Some hon. Members take the line in this Debate that this is one of the simplest of all matters and that you have only to have the necessary good will and just think of the right number and the whole thing can be done in the twinkling of an eye. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is by no means so. This is a very complicated and difficult problem, and those who have studied the matter know it to he such. It requires a great deal of investigation, for the reasons which my right hon. Friend pointed out on 1st November, and I will certainly not weary the House by repeating them to-day. I must say once again, as he did, that we ought not to let go out as a result of these Debates an impression that every old age pensioner is, just because he happens to be an old age pensioner, in the direst circumstances at the present moment. One might think so from the speeches one hears. One might not recollect, as the Chancellor pointed out on that occasion, that there is a very large number of old age pensioners in work and receiving good wages. They receive their pensions, to which they are entitled by reason of the fact that they have been contributors for the requisite period.

For all I know there may be an hon. Member sitting opposite me at this moment who draws the old age pension. [Interruption.] The position would be perfectly possible. I say this to illustrate that this matter ought not to be considered in the atmosphere that every old age pensioner is inevitably in woeful distress. One must never forget that some of the things stated in this House are repeated outside, and further afield, to the detriment of this country.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

I am not arguing the facts, which were all laid out clearly in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1st November. My right hon. Friend did not give out any hope that it would be possible within five or six weeks to come to this House with any proposal. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) said in his speech that everybody would be disappointed because hon. Members had told their people that something would be given to the old age pensioners before Christmas. I must point out that it is not the Chancellor's fault if they are disappointed on that score, because he did not give any such promise; what my right hon. Friend did say—

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

Constant interruption by hon. Members do not make it easy for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to reply on the Debate.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

On a point of Order. While the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says that the Chancellor did not give any impression that—

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

That is not a point of Order.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

The difficulty about being interrupted is that one is interrupted in the middle of a sentence. The hon. Gentleman does not know what I was going to say. What my right hon. Friend said was that he would have the matter in front of him examined and that an inquiry would be undertaken as soon as possible. Consultation is taking place with the Trades Union Congress and with the Employers' Federation. He said that this matter was one that was bound to take time but that the inquiry would be resumed and pressed forward with every possible expedition. That is what is happening to my own knowledge, for it is a matter in which I am personally concerned.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

No. I really am going to finish what I want to say. The hon. Gentleman has already made his speech in which he said a lot of things with which I profoundly disagreed, as is indeed always the case. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that this matter was bound to take some little time. Then he went on to say in his final sentence: I am not measuring the period by days or weeks, but my own view is that within two months, say by the end of the year, we ought to have got to that position; it may be a little more or less."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1939; col. 2064, Vol. 352.] That position was of being able to report the result of the inquiry. That is what he said and that is nothing like the impression which the hon. Member seeks to derive from those words.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

It is the general impression that I got.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

One can only form one's impression but I think that if the hon. Member reads that speech he will find there is nothing which definitely says it will be possible to do anything by a certain date. Having said that by way of clarification, I would say that the matter has been and is being pressed on with all possible speed. As has been pointed out, there will have to be discussions with representatives of the employers and of the workpeople. Those have been going on. I am certainly not at liberty to make any statement on anything that has been said by anybody of a confidential nature; I do not intend to say a word about it. Not only are discussions taking place, but everybody will realise that in a matter of this kind points may be raised concerning actuarial calculations, and work on those also has had to be undertaken at a time when the House will realise that the pressure on all concerned is very great.

It is not necessary to assume that the Government are the only people who are busy; other people are, too. The pressure created by the war is very great, and while neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor I wish to appear here in the role of weary Titans, the fact remains that there are many problems which have to be settled from day to day and which occupy the time particularly of Members of the Cabinet, such as my right hon. Friend, who would have been here except for that very reason, that this evening he is engaged on other matters. It has been inevitable that we should not get the matter through any quicker than we anticipated and it is to be hoped we shall be able to get the results out by the time which was anticipated, that is, by the end of the year, but I make no promise about that because we are living in days when we cannot forecast what will happen from one day to another. I should have thought the House would wish to be the first to be informed of the result of these discussions. For all I know it may have been originally intended for the House to sit later than it is going to, but at any rate I should think it is right that any statement which the Government have to make should wait until the return of Parliament. I have merely thrown that out as a suggestion.

I do not think I have any more to say except that, Recess or no, we shall of course continue working on this problem. I am afraid in these days there is not much Recess for those concerned in Government matters, any more than there is for leaders of industry, and we should all work to come to some satisfactory arrangement on these very difficult problems. On that I will leave the matter, except that in my last words I should like to say that the House has heard with pride and also regret the fact that the Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Markham) told us that this was the last speech that he is likely to make in this House for some considerable time. He is, as I understand it, once more donning uniform, and I am sure he will go from this Debate with the good wishes from us all and with our hopes for a safe return and a speedy one at that.

10.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

The Debate we have had is a very clear indication from both sides of the House that the country, and the old people in particular, have been expecting a definite pronouncement on this matter before the House rises for the Christmas Recess. The real justification for the Debate to-night—one of the many that we have had on this question—is that we are leaving on Thursday for the Christmas holidays. Most of us, particularly those of us on this side, are going back among our own folk. We shall meet with them and be asked questions, and we should be unfaithful to our responsibilities if we did not press the Government for a definite pronouncement on this question of old age pensions. So far, we have not had a definite pronouncement from the Government Front Bench that they want an increase in old age pensions. Do they or do they not agree that an increase in old age pensions is desirable, necessary, and urgent? If they would say that, it would be something. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad to hear from that side of the House a "Hear, hear." If this question were put to a free Vote of this House there would be an overwhelming majority to ask the Government to make a definite pronouncement before the House rises on Thursday. Therefore, I press the Financial Secretary again. He has said that he cannot go further than the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already gone. That may be true; but there are two days more, and I would press him to consult with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to express what I think is the view of all hon. Members to-night on both sides of the House.

Is there any hon. Member on the other side who would not like to go back to his constituency with a definite promise that the Government are going to increase old age pensions? What is wrong with that? There is nothing in the fact that consultations are taking place to prevent the Government saying, "We want, and we intend to have, an increase in old age pensions." The first promise to set up an investigation was made in this House on 27th July. At that time, although we knew the international situation was troubled and many of us had fears about it, we debated that matter more in the atmosphere of an impending General Election than of an impending war. I know, and there is not an hon. Member here who does not know, that hon. Members on the other side made private representations to the Government that they dared not fight an election unless before the election there was a definite assurance given that there would be an increase given in old age pensions. If we had been able to stave off war, we should have been during the last few months in the throes of a General Election. Two hundred Members on that side signed a round robin to the Prime Minister saying that they could not face a General Election with any prospect of success unless they could go back to their constituencies and say that there would be an increase in old age pensions. If there had been no war that inquiry would have been completed in time for a General Election; why could it not have been completed now?

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

The Noble Lord says, "because of the war." What we doubt and suspect is that all this is merely a method used by the Government to prevent a decision. The inquiry was promised on 27th July, in September the war broke out, and on 1st November there was a Debate in this House in which my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) took part. We discovered that the inquiry which had begun immediately after the promise of the Prime Minister in July had been abandoned. Therefore, we are entitled to say that if we had not raised this matter on 1st November, that committee would not have been sitting. It had stopped making investigations when we raised the matter on 1st November. We are justified in raising it again on 12th December because experience has shown that the Government are prepared to take an opportunity of setting the matter aside.

There are two other aspects of this question with regard to putting it before representatives of employers and workmen to which I want to refer. There is more than one way in which you can approach the matter. The Government, for all we know, might have put the problem to representatives in such a way as to make the obstacles and difficulties seem formidable and unanswerable. The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) made that kind of speech to-day. When we discuss old age pensions he ranges over the whole field, and says that all these things have to be considered. How did the Government put it to the employers? Did they put it before them in this way, "We as a Government are satisfied, and we are determined that there shall be an increase in old age pensions, and we ask you to investigate how best you can make your contributions towards what we decide." I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Government that they should not throw this responsibility back upon any one. It is the responsibility of the Government. It is a decision which they ought to make. The Government ought to make up their minds first before consulting other people about ways and means.

The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington said that in these questions we must have regard to what the worker can pay. Is that to be the determining point? Why should the ability of the lowest-paid man to pay determine what the old age pensioner should get? A quarter of a million of them have to ask for public assistance. That means that the public assistance committee dare not give them one penny until, on investigation, they have discovered that they are destitute; in other words, before the committee can give them a supplement to their pensions, they have to be so destitute that, without that supplement, they would starve. The Government ought to say, here and now, "There are a quarter of a million old age pensioners who have had to pocket their dignity and go to the public assistance committee," and they ought to make that unnecessary. Why should working men have to pocket their dignity?

At least, leave them their dignity in their old age. They have to pocket their dignity when they go before the public assistance committee, but many of them refuse to pocket their dignity and try to eke out an existence. Is there any hon. Member opposite who would dare to say, or who would like to say that 10s. a week is a sufficient pension? If it is not, the first thing the House ought to decide is: How much is sufficient?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The hon. Member cannot continue the Debate on those lines. It could not be done without legislation.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

I was dealing with the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington, that the amount had to be determined by what the workers can pay, and I was saying that it ought to be determined, first, by the needs of the people, and that we ought to find the money afterwards. Our experience of the last few months of war has been that we first decide what is needed, and afterwards we find the money.

Photo of Major Henry Procter Major Henry Procter , Accrington

Can the hon. Member tell me this? Seeing that the needs of the old age pensioners for many years have been exactly—

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The hon. and gallant Member cannot continue the Debate on lines which I have indicated are out of order.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker. I was replying to the argument put forward by the hon. and gallant Member, in which I thought he was expressing the view of the Government. What we are pressing for, what the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has been pressing for, what we press for jointly on these benches, and what hon. Members on the other side have pressed for is, that before we leave this House for the Christmas Recess we expect the Government, we ask the Government, we demand of the Government, not the report of the investigation which they have not completed, but we have a right to ask them before we leave on Thursday to tell us that they as a Government are determined that these elderly people, who have given their lives to this nation, shall have an increase in their old age pension at the earliest possible moment.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Nineteen Minutes after Ten o'Clock.