"That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to reduce to sixty the age at which women may become entitled to old age pensions under the enactments relating to widows', orphans' and old age contributory pensions; to provide for increasing certain contributions payable under those enactments; to make provision for supplementing, in cases of need, pensions payable under the said enactments to widows who have attained the age of sixty years, and old age pensions, and for making consequential adjustments in respect of the General Exchequer Grants payable to local authorities which are public assistance authorities; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid (hereinafter referred to as 'the said Act') it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament—
- (a) of any amounts by which the sums payable into the Treasury Pensions Account under Sub-section (3) of Section fourteen of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1936, are increased by reason of the passing of the provisions of the said Act relating to women's contributory pensions;
- (b) of any sums required for the payment to persons entitled to receive weekly payments on account of old age pensions and to persons who have attained the age of sixty and are entitled to receive weekly payments on account of widows' pensions, of supplementary pensions based on their needs and, except in the case of a supplementary pension granted upon an application made within two months after the first day of June, nineteen hundred and forty, to any person in whose case an order for outdoor relief was in force immediately before that date, based also on the needs of their households, regard being had to the resources of all members of the house hold other than such resources as may be excepted by the said Act;
- (c) of any sums required for the payment of any expenses of the Unemployment Assistance Board attributable to the provisions of the said Act relating to supplementary pensions;
- (d) of any expenditure which may result from the application to pensionable officers or servants of local authorities who become officers or servants of the Unemployment Assistance Board of the rules in force under Section nine of the Superannuation Act, 1935, applicable to other persons who become civil servants, and from treating any pensionable officer or servant of a local authority who becomes an officer or servant of the Board within one year after the passing of the said Act, as a pensionable officer or servant of a local authority to which those rules apply."—(King's recommendation signified.)—[Miss Horsbrugh.]
This Resolution is required in order to provide the necessary authority for the provisions of the Bill which impose a charge on the Exchequer in respect of the scheme. Perhaps it will be for the convenience of HON.MEMBERS if I refer briefly to the provisions of the Resolution. Clause 5 of the Bill makes provision so that insured women and wives of men who are drawing pensions at 65 shall receive a pension from the age of 60. That will mean that extra money will have to be provided by the Exchequer. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), in his speech on Second Reading said that unless he were corrected he thought he was right in stating that until 1946 the Treasury would be making money out of the change. I have now the opportunity of doing what he asked me to do—to correct his statement if it were wrong. It is wrong. The contribution is being increased by 3d. for women and 2d. for men. In the first two years, as HON.MEMBERS have seen from the Actuary's report, that increase in the contribution will probably cover the amount required. Under Section 14 (3) of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, definite payments are made from the Exchequer into the Treasury Pensions Account. Payments are not calculated each year but are calculated for definite periods of 10 years on a rising scale. There will be in the Treasury Pensions Account sufficient for the period until 1946 to pay the contributions required from the Treasury for the extra pensions without making any alterations. Alterations will, however, have to be made, if Parliament so decides, in 1946 and for many years afterwards for increased payments to be made into the Treasury Account. But that does not mean that extra money is not required during the period before 1946. The estimate is that, without paying anything further into the Pensions Account, there will be a total deficit of £5,000,000 between now and 1946. After 1946 it is thought that there will have to be an extra provision of £3,000,000 per annum, going up in the following 10 years to £4,000,000, and again after that to £5,000,000. I hope that that will make it clear to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that Part I of the Bill will cost the State a definite sum.
Yes, a sum of £5,000,000 will be required from now till the new period begins in 1946.
Clause 8 (3) of the Bill provides for the granting of supplementations to the pensions of those who can prove that they are in need, that is to say, all drawing the old age pension whether at the age of 60 or 65. It is clear that we can give no accurate forecast of what the amount will be. We know that the local authorities, through the public assistance committees, will be relieved of about £5,000,000, but we realise, as was stated in several speeches on Second Reading, particularly in that of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), that many people may come to the Board to ask for supplementations who would not have gone to the public assistance committees. It has been put to the House over and over again that many who were in need and who ought to have supplementations were doing without because they did not wish to go to public assistance committees. Therefore, we realise that the amount required will be considerably more and that more people will be drawn in. No accurate statement can be made about it, therefore. Because we do not know the number who will avail themselves of the supplementation grant we cannot assess the expenditure on administration. If we take the number of people who will be covered by the Board as 300,000 or 400,000, we think a good estimate will be about £750,000. Again we have to make a rather liberal estimate because we are not certain of the amount, but we are determined to estimate for an increased number of people coming to the Board and asking for supplementations.
The hon. Lady says that public assistance committees will be relieved of £5,000,000. Do I take it that the Government have no intention of reducing the amounts received by people who are at present receiving public assistance?
My right hon. Friend went into that on Second Reading, but I would point out that we believe that more people will come to the Board and that more will therefore be paid out than at present. Another point that has been put is that a man who is now drawing only the pension for himself because his wife is not 65 may, on the passing of this Bill, draw the pension for his wife as well. That man may be receiving public assistance because he has only the 10s. pension, whereas when the income is £1 he may find he need not ask for a supplementation. That is another reason why we cannot make an exact estimate. Lastly, in Clause 17 arrangement is being made for the pensions of servants of local authorities who will be taken over to serve the Board. They will be able to have a retirement pension from the local authority based on their salary and length of service. The Board will also be able to pension them on their retirement, again according to salary and length of service to the board.
I have given merely an outline of the financial provisions, but I think HON.MEMBERS will agree, whatever their opinions on the Bill, that, while the Government said they hoped during war time to be able to keep the social services up to the present standard and that there would be no necessity to cut the services down, they have gone further, for now, in the midst of war, they are asking the Committee to approve an extra expenditure on the social services and to make a definite improvement in the service of old age pensions. We shall all be proud that it cannot be said that the whole of the extra expenditure of this country is expenditure that is necessary for war and that it has been possible to arrange that some of the extra expenditure will be spent to help the old people of the country.
I think we may reasonably congratulate the hon. Lady on the charming way in which she explained this Money Resolution. I noticed, however, that she skated over very thin ice very well indeed. She avoided all that was contentious in the Resolution, and perhaps she will, therefore, forgive me if I bring her down to earth. [Hon. Member: "Ice."] I would not like to skate with her on ice at all. This Money Resolution is necessary because it is the instrument to implement the Bill, which has already secured its Second Reading, and now that we are descending from general principles to the actual details of the finances of that Measure I may be forgiven, perhaps, if I state in detail why the Labour Opposition is critical of the Government's proposals.
Needless to say, we welcome any extension and increase of pensions, and of course, we welcome also any proposal to reduce the pensionable age. During this stage of the proceedings we shall move an Amendment to show exactly what we mean and we shall take a Division on the point at issue. Before I come to details, however, I would like to say that I doubt very much whether Parliament or society as a whole has faced the consequences of the extension of the average age at death in this country. Three million people over the age of 65 now draw pensions. We are living, on the average, 15 years longer in 1940 than was the case in 1840. Governments have flatly declined to face this ageing of the population, but it is a problem that confronts us in connection with this Motion. Old age is a comparatively new phenomenon in this country, but we have never made up our minds whether to leave the old people to die off or to care for them decently to the end of their lives. That is the burden of my remarks this afternoon.
For the first time, it is proposed to give women a pension at 60 years of age in their own right, provided they are under the National Health Insurance Scheme. Nothing is being done, on the other hand, for women who are in small businesses on their own account. They are still left out. While a figure has been given of the number of women who are being brought into the scheme, a large number have been left out, and I would like whoever is to reply on behalf of the Government to the Debate to tell us what that number is; it will be quite as interesting as that of the number of women who are being brought in. The Government's proposals do nothing to remove one of the worst anomalies of our pension's scheme in respect of women. Where the insured man is, say, 63and his wife is 66, a pension will not be paid under the Bill; the wife must always wait until he is 65. I should have thought that the Minister could have decided to remove that anomaly; those wives are still left out from the provisions of the Bill.
The Government have made great claims for this Bill and no doubt if there is a general election they will expect much credit for their generosity. I should like to reduce the finances of their proposals to a very simple form. The benefits which are offered do not total more than the cost of one battleship or one day's war expenses for this country alone. That is the financial measure of the Bill, and I say that this is, indeed, a very mean affair. The hon. Lady and her friends stand up here and say: "See what we do in spite of the emergency. We provide this additional sum of money in spite of the vast sums which we are spending on the war." Let me tell them that the old people are asking this question, and I will ask it too: If it is difficult to find this money during a war, how comes it about that it is easy to find £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 a day for war? [HON.MEMBERS: "Is it?"] The question I have put is one which the Government must answer to the old people.
The Government decided that they would not give a flat-rate increase of the old age pension; then proceed by way of granting a supplementation on the basis of need. The introduction of a test of need and grafting it on to this contributory scheme is repugnant to us, and in particular to the old age pensioners. Whatever opinions we may have about a test of need, we object in particular to the principle being grafted on to what is regarded as a contributory pensions scheme. I will tell the hon. Lady why. I suppose that the Government are very much afraid that if they gave 5s. a week increase in the pension the old folk might proceed to a riotous life upon it.
I will come to that point later. The right hon. Gentleman must not get angry with me so early in my speech. He will probably have an opportunity of feeling annoyed before I have finished. I am glad that the hon. Member for Gates head (Mr. Mangy) is here. I listened to his speech the other day, and I regarded it as just a gramophone record for the Government.
I am sorry that it was capable of being bought at all. What I intended to say was that the hon. Gentleman was echoing what had been said on the Front Bench. He himself may be there one day. [A Hon. Member: "Why not?"] Of course, they may as well put him there as anybody else. The argument of the Government was that if the pension were raised by 5s. a week there would still be some pensioners coming forward for more assistance because that would be too little for them to live upon. But surely that is begging the question.
The hon. Gentleman is a good Wesleyan, and he might, therefore, be good enough to listen. Is it not true that the more you raise the pension by a flat-rate increase the smaller will be the number of old age pensioners who will require a supplementation? The hon. Gentleman is an accountant and he should surely realise that. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health will follow me in my next argument. Suppose the Government decided to pay a 5s. flat-rate increase to each pensioner. A man and wife in that case would get 30s. If I know these people at all—and some of my own kith and kin are drawing an old age pension—I would say that the average old couple in this country would prefer the certainty of an old age pension of 30s. with which to maintain themselves, than 35s., 15s. of which is given as an act of grace. The right hon. Gentleman must understand that there is in human beings a characteristic which even a Tory Government cannot suppress; they prefer the possession of a shilling as a matter of right to 2s. as an act of grace. That is the thing which brings out on this side of the Committee our antagonism to a needs test in this Measure.
I will now come to another point. In 1922 I had the honour of moving from this side of the Committee a Motion in favour of granting a widowed mothers' pension. We heard the question then—and we know how familiar it is—Where is the money coming from? The Government of that day said there was no money available for providing a widowed mothers' pension. Unless I am mistaken, the whole of the Tory party voted against my Motion, except, if I remember arightly,
the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), and I believe she voted with me, thinking that she herself might require a widow's pension one day. Of course, in no circumstances can I ascribe that to the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary. In my rough-and-ready way—I have had no education at all, of course, except that of elementary schooling—I was trying to describe the opposition of the average workman to a means test and to probing into his private affairs. I picked this up casually in my local newspaper:
Suicide of man who refused grant by the P.A.C.
The man said:
I have served my Queen and also our King and now on 7s. 6d. a week there is nothing for the service which I have done.
That man served in the last war and presumably in the one before that, and the public assistance committee declined to give him what he thought an adequate sum of money on which to live. I do not want to exaggerate the case but I would say to the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary that if that happened in Germany, Italy or Russia, we would be told about it from the Government benches. We object to this test of needs because it violates in us and in the people that we and the hon. Lady represent something which I have no adequate language to describe, and I will therefore leave it at that.
Let me deal further with this problem of a needs test. The test, of course, is not a new weapon. I call it a weapon because that is a proper description of it. As far as I understand, the test of means has been in existence since the time of Queen Elizabeth but it has never been employed in this country except in cases of destitution until modern times—about 15 or 20 years ago. In my experience this is what has happened. This test of needs has during the last decade come to be applied to schoolchildren sitting for scholarships to secondary schools. It has been applied, if you please, to children with regard to the provision of spectacles by education authorities. Happily this test has broken down in some cases. For some years I was on an education authority, and I remember a report saying that it cost more to collect the value of a pair of spectacles from the parents than the cost of providing them.
We are naturally getting apprehensive and alarmed, although this particular needs test is not our only opposition to this proposal. There is a needs test in respect of pensions for widows and children of men killed in this war; I hardly believe that the same principle applied to the last war, although I am open to correction. The work of the Unemployment Assistance Board is based on a test of needs. Then someone has been clever enough to suggest that workmen's compensation should be paid on the basis of need, and now we have it embodied in this Bill. If this thing is not destroyed root and branch in our social services there is no argument left why wages should not in the end be paid on the basis of need. I believe there was once a system operating in this country under which the working people never received a penny-piece in wages for their work but were kept by the Poor Law just like cattle. Our protest, therefore, is not only against the grafting on of a needs test here, but we are alarmed at the development of this idea in all our social services.
Now, let me come to the situation under this Old Age Pensions Bill. The Government have decided to hand over the application of this test of needs to the Unemployment Assistance Board. They will change the Board's title—very clever, is it not, to change the title of the Board, when it is doing the same job? The right hon. Gentleman praised the Unemployment Assistance Board for its humane treatment of the unemployed. I will give my experience. It is that the Board is humane only within the limits imposed upon it by the Government. I had a case the other day, of a family who had pleaded with the board for another shilling a week, if you please; and then, because I intervened, I suppose, they got that shilling. How they rejoiced over that extra shilling. That, mark you, in the centre of the mightiest and richest Empire in the world. What a rotten state of affairs. The Unemployment Assistance Board is humane, within its limits; and when the right hon. Gentleman brings forth his new regulations this Board will still be humane towards the supplementation of pensions, but only within the financial limits then imposed upon it by the Government. The handing over of this scheme to the Unemployment Assistance Board does not make it any less objectionable to us.
Let me examine some of the figures as to the administrative expenses. I noticed that the hon. Lady went over them very gently—just gliding over them, as it were. The Unemployment Assistance Board pays away in benefits about £35,000,000 per annum, and its administrative expenses are about £4,500,000. I want HON.MEMBERS to notice the figures that I am about to quote next, with regard to the administration of this new scheme. There are 310,000 new women contributory pensioners coming under the scheme, whose pensions are to be paid without any test of need. The total cost of administration, in merely awarding pensions in their case, is £50,000 a year, or 3s. 3d. per case. When you come, however, to apply the needs test to 350,000 others who are asking for supplementation, the administration cost is £750,000 a year, or 15 times as much—£2 2s. 6d. per case. If the £750,000 set aside for administration were utilised to increase the pensions, it would provide the 350,000 applicants for supplementation with an increased pension of 5s. per week for two months in the year. If it were decided to give them only 2s. 6d. a week extra, it would provide them with that increased pension for over four months in the year. I want to say, without being too biased, that the cost of administering the needs test in this case is too much of a financial burden for the State for the value it gets in return.
I should like to analyse the consequences of this thing a little further. I do not know whether the Committee will agree with me when I say that we must be careful lest, quite unconsciously, we create certain new sections in the community who will be set apart from the rest. In America I was astonished to find that they had reservation camps for Red Indians, in order, forsooth, that those Indians should not poison the blood stream of the others. In Germany, they have concentration camps for politicians who do not agree with the régime. I wonder whether we do not do offence to this nation to which we belong by setting aside, in a concentration of their own, a large number of poor people, who are always to be kept on the very edge of starvation, while those of us who are able to live better tell them, in effect, "You shall never arise from that state of untouchability to which we have sent you." There are things, after all, of more importance than party politics. One of them is the fact that when a man has worked all his life, has been thrifty, and then finds himself unemployed from the age of 55 to 65, begging for his bread. I do not think that that is good enough for our people.
I am sure I am right in saying that we can divide the old people of this country, in a general way, into two categories; those who have produced wealth and are without pensions, apart from what the State allows; and those who have always been removed from the production of wealth, and are provided with pensions through their employment. Who are the old age pensioners who will require supplementation? They are colliers, textile operatives, dock labourers, agricultural workers and men of that type. Apart from a scheme in South Wales, I know of no attempt on the part of employers in any productive industry to provide a superannuation scheme for their workers; but when you come to banks, insurance companies, the Civil Service, municipal employment, all those occupations which are removed from the actual production of wealth, the employés are nearly all provided with superannuation schemes, in addition sometimes to the schemes which the State provides for them. I have said before that this is one of the most damning indictments against our industrial civilisation. Show me the man who does the hardest, the most necessary, the filthiest, work in the country, and I will show you the man who gets the least remuneration for doing it. Show me a man, on the other hand, removed from hard toil, going to work in his Sunday clothes every day, and I will show you a person who is more generously dealt with by society than the miner or the agricultural worker. This Bill in the main will cover productive workers for whom employers have never made any attempt to provide superannuation of any kind. I think, therefore, we are entitled to protest against the introduction of the means test in regard to them.
There are some clever people in Whitehall, clever civil servants, but the civil servants after all do what they are told by the Government. Let us see how clever and subtle they are. There is one provision in the Bill to the effect that women, after reaching 60, will not be entitled to sickness or disablement benefit under National Health Insurance. There is therefore a balance released of about £3,000,000 available for somebody, and we have it inserted in the Bill that that sum shall be disposed of as Parliament may decide, thinking all the time that they, the Conservatives, will be Parliament, of course. Does the right hon. Gentleman not know that there are hundreds of thousands of women, sick and incapacitated, under the National Health insurance scheme whom this Bill does not touch at all? Why not allow this £3,000,000 to remain in the funds of the approved societies in order to improve the lot of those women? We shall, however, come to that point later.
It is assumed in these Debates on social insurance schemes that Parliament is imposing an awful burden upon employers by increasing their contributions to this fund. I do not want to be offensive, but I have lived with, and administered, social insurance benefits for about 30 years, and I would like to hear an argument against the proposition which I will now put forward, namely, that the employer in this country is not a penny worse off by the imposition upon him of contributions for the social services. What does he do? Everybody knows that he enters his charges for the social services in his accounts before arriving at his profit and loss, just as if they were materials, wages or any other expenses. Neither the rich who draw their incomes without working nor the employers in this country are a penny worse off by the imposition upon them of these contributions. I am not so sure, in fact, that the total income of the working classes has been increased at all by the introduction of these schemes. What I think has happened is that Parliament has compelled the working classes to make provision for the proverbial rainy day, and that is a good thing in many respects, but it has not made the rich poorer, and, as stated, I am not so sure that it has increased the total volume of income of the working classes either.
Finally, let me say that we shall oppose this imposition of a needs tests upon the old people with all the vigour that we
possess. As it has been customary on these Debates to give quotations dealing with this problem, perhaps I may be forgiven for giving one or two myself. I came across this the other day, and I regard it as very apt to this Debate:
Do not wait till life is over.
And he's underneath the clover,
For he cannot read his tombstone
When he's dead.
But I will give a better one still. It is a more universal one, belonging to all ages. It was written by Victor Hugo, and what applied in his time applies more and more in our own time and country. But first I hope I may be allowed to repeat what I have said before about the problem of poverty. I do not like poverty among old people to be regarded as a sin to be purged by a means test later, in order to satisfy those who are better off. That is what we are doing. I am very often confronted by Members and supporters of the Government who say to me, "Ah, but our working classes are not as poor as those in Germany or in Russia." But I reply that they are not as well off as they are in Holland, Norway, Denmark, or Sweden either. Poverty is not to be measured as between, say, an Italian workman and a British workman; the measurement of poverty should always be. What is the poverty in a country by comparison with the riches in the same country at the same time? If you put it like that, I am not so sure that the working classes of this country are not as poor as any in the world. I will finish with this quotation from Victor Hugo, which is more appropriate than anything else that I have said:
The three problems of my day are the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual might.
We are moving it at the end. The object is to enable the Committee to have the widest possible scope. If we moved the Amendment at the beginning, the Debate would be restricted and hon.members would not have a full opportunity of discussing the whole proposal in all its bearings.
I suppose this limits the Debate to the subjects mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b), (c), and (d)? I take it that we cannot, for instance, debate the question of a rise in the basic rate, which is nowhere referred to in the Resolution?
The hon. Member is certainly right in thinking that the Debate should be confined to what is in paragraphs (a), (b), (c), and (d), because they are the whole of the Resolution. It is constantly the case that Amendments on the Order Paper are not moved until the end of a Debate in order not to restrict the Debate. I feel here a little difficulty to-night, because Members of the Committee will recollect that since the altered procedure under which these Money Resolutions follow the Second Reading we have established, or endeavoured to establish, the Rule that the Debate on the Resolution shall not be a repetition of the Debate on the Second Reading. Consequently, in many cases the Debate on the Resolution is little more than formal and very short. In this case I realise that there are points in the Resolution in regard to money of great importance, and that it would be unreasonable to expect the Committee to do otherwise than debate the Resolution at considerable length. I understand that it is the wish of the Opposition to have the Debate as wide as possible. There is no objection to the Amendment being moved formally at the end, but I would ask the Committee, in their own interests and in order to assist the Chair, to try and avoid discussing anything that there may be in connection with the Bill which is not covered by the Resolution. I would ask them in their speeches to have regard to the terms of the Resolution and to see that their remarks are confined to the Resolution.
On the point of Order. I think this is the first time that this point has been raised in this form. Are we to understand that there has been a definite alteration in the rules which govern the Debates on Money Resolutions, and that as a result of the procedure adopted latterly of taking a Money Resolution after the Second Reading, the House is more constricted in Debate on a Money Resolution than it has been heretofore?
No, there has certainly been no such alteration in the Rules of the House. It has always been out of order to repeat a Debate which has just taken place. What I said only means that, of necessity, as the Money Resolution comes after the Second Reading, there is possibly a little more restriction on the Debate on the Resolution than if it were taken before. On the other hand, the Debate is a little freer because HON.MEMBERS know what is in the Bill, and that was the object of the alteration. But it is always out of order to repeat a Debate which has just taken place in the House.
I will try to keep within your Ruling, Sir Dennis. For about half a century there has been a struggle on the principle of old age pensions, and I have a very vivid memory of the first round in the battle when the principle was first established. I remember the prophets of disaster talking of demoralising and undermining the self-respect of the mass of the people. Those prophets of woe have been falsified, and we have the satisfaction, some of us on these benches, to be living at a time when we hear Members of the Conservative party loud in their protestations of enthusiasm for the principle of provision by the State for old age. During the last 18 months, however, there have been coming into this House from all over the country petitions, presented at the Bar by Members, from old people in receipt of old age pension, praying this House to increase the rate, on the plea that the increased cost of living has made the sum inadequate. There is no doubt that the tide of public opinion has grown, and so strong has been the feeling that before the outbreak of war the Chancellor of the Exchequer had appointed a Committee to inquire into the whole problem. I do not want to depreciate the value or even the strength of their report, but it was a Departmental Committee, and, with great respect to the distinguished men who composed it, I do not think it is unreasonable to say that it was out of contact with feeling in this country and with public opinion as a whole.
I want to be fair to this scheme. I recognise two steps forward, and I particularly want to pay a tribute to the recognition of the claims of the spinsters.
I would like to take advantage of the opportunity to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary upon her eloquent speech last week on this subject. There is nothing more tragic or pathetic than the women who have to earn their living finding themselves cast aside because of physical defects and because increasing age no longer enables them to carry out their work. Let us be realists. Though there are similar claims among men, the fact remains that when a woman finds herself out of work at 55 or 60 the chance of her getting re-employment is infinitesimal. There are not only the women in the factories in the North and the Midlands, but there is that large army, particularly in London, of women employed in tea houses and refreshment shops, who have been severely hit, and they have had a special claim upon the consideration of this House. I, like the hon. Lady, would like to pay tribute to the leader of this movement who, almost by accident, was thrown into the sphere of political controversy by being brought into direct contact with these women and their special claims, and she is certainly to be congratulated upon having, after a comparatively short struggle, so aroused the conscience of the nation and the sympathy of the Government that special provision has been made in this Bill to meet their claim. I do not want to be ungrateful, for I too recognise that this is a well-merited reform which will give relief and consolation throughout the length and breadth of the land to tens of thousands of women who, without some provision of this kind, would have to face penury and want, with the alternative of relief from the Poor Law.
There is one thing that I hope we maybe able to remedy in the Committee, and that is the cutting off of sickness benefit, which is a particular hardship to women. That is a sacrifice which does much to discount the advantage of the pensions that this Bill provides. I also want to express satisfaction at the inclusion of another class, namely, wives of 60. That is a most satisfactory reform. We must admit that there is something in the Bill that is good; it would give a false impression if I were to sit down without recognising that there are some good things in the Bill. It is perhaps most fortunate to have a woman in the Government, who probably may have been brought into direct contact with some of these problems and been able to play her part in getting them dealt with in the scheme. But, on the other hand, we as Liberals regret the introduction of the foundation principle of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) pointed out that it is something new to introduce the principle of a test, to a contributory scheme. Those of us who supported the principle of insurance always lauded it on the ground that those who received benefits received them as a right, without test or question, on the basis that they had made a contribution out of their own pockets for the benefits that they were to obtain. It is this very foundation of the principle of insurance that has enabled us to defend a very big tax upon the weekly wage of every man and woman.
Now, that principle is to be departed from. The Government are sapping the foundation of the principle of insurance, and we regret the introduction of this new principle into this scheme of insurance. I know that there are many social reformers, some of them I believe among the Members above the Gangway, who always deprecate the insurance system, and would have liked our social services to be administered without any contribution or any system of insurance, but we on the Liberal Benches have always felt that the insurance system is good for the self-respect and independence of the contributors, and, on the whole, I believe it has had the support of the great majority of the people of this country. It may be that the defence for the introduction of this principle is in the circumstances of the war, but whatever it may be, it introduces a dangerous principle into the insurance system. We also regret that a body of irresponsible people outside the control of Parliament are to be brought into the system of old age pensions. The case for taking unemployment outside politics might be arguable, but there can be no case for taking this great social service away from the vigilant scrutiny of elected Members of Parliament, even if it is a good thing to take these old people away from the Poor Law. The Poor Law has its advantages over the Unemployment Assistance Board. It is in direct contact, through the local authorities, with the public. The Poor Law, even in its present form, is subject to public criticism. The people who carry out that work are in contact with the people concerned, and People with grievances about the amount of relief or the character of the test could, at any rate, through their local authority get their grievances ventilated. But these high-minded people, these Olympians who sit not far from this House, no doubt people anxious to do their duty, are out of contact with the realities of relief and are quite outside the criticism of this House, except for one day a year when their annual report, usually rather belated and coming to light long after the event, is subject to a brief discussion in the House of Commons. If the Government were convinced that the Poor Law, with its traditions of Bumbledom and its evil associations of the past, was distasteful to the people, it was unfortunate that they should resort to the machinery of this Board, which had already been subject to severe criticism. It is a machinery set up to deal, not with people who are asking for benefits for which they have paid through the insurance scheme, but with people who have passed out of control and outside the benefits which the insurance scheme provides. I say, therefore, that while we are glad at the inclusion of these two features in the Bill, particularly the recognition of the claims of the spinsters and the married women of 60, we think that a great opportunity has been let slip. The case has been made to Parliament for increased benefits and allowances to the old people because of the increased cost of living, and it is unfortunate that this new principle is being introduced into the system of old age pensions. When people are getting old there is nothing they resent more than to be told that they have to be dependent upon the good will of their children, their sons and daughters or grandchildren among whom they have lived. I remember the constant struggle in the past when the one thing that working people felt more than anything else was the fact that, when they reached a certain age and were thrown upon the industrial scrap-heap, they had only two alternatives—either to go to the workhouse or to become dependent upon their family and children.
The great struggle for old age pensions was a struggle for the independence of the old people. It was discouraging and disheartening when they knew that they could not save enough to enable them to become independent, and the old age pension gave them just that stimulus and made them feel that when they got beyond their industrial utility there would be some provision from the State to make them independent of their families and their relations. By introducing the principle of the family household test, the Government, unfortunately, whatever their desire may be and however much their good will, are taking a reactionary step which will be deeply resented by tens of thousands of old people throughout the length and breadth of the country. They will feel that this is a reactionary Measure, and for that reason alone we are justified in voting against this Financial Resolution.
We are indebted to the procedure adopted by the Labour Opposition for allowing the Debate to range over the Resolution as a whole. I rather anticipated that we should be confined to the Amendments, and I am glad they are enabling us to discuss the Resolution as a whole, including paragraph (a). That enables us to say what, I suppose, is the common feeling of the whole Committee, that this Resolution is not the Resolution of our dreams. It is, clearly, very far from being even a Government Front Bench dream. Nobody can suppose that the old age pensions scheme as ultimately developed will be anything like what is proposed in the Financial Resolution. It seems inevitable—and I believe the whole Committee desires it—that the pension scheme cannot stop growing until you have a system that gives an adequate and proper livelihood to old men and women who have served the community all their working lives. I think it will come to be developed more elaborately than has been suggested in any current proposal. You will have to introduce flexibilities both as to rate and to age in order to meet the needs of modern old folk. The hon. Member who opened this Debate referred truly to the different position of old people in these days from what it was a generation age. Life is much longer, and the health of working-class life is gradually improving. It is true that the stress of modern factory life is probably heavier than it has ever been, but, taken as a whole, elderly people will increasingly become fitter and more able to do, and desirous of doing, light work in the declining years of their working life. So I think we shall have to have a more flexible system.
This Resolution envisages no more than a step, and the question is whether that step is worth taking. That is a very simple problem. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman who spoke last seemed to desire to oppose the Resolution as a whole. I notice that even the Labour Opposition have put down their Amendments only to certain paragraphs. I welcome the first paragraph—paragraph (a). We are all glad to see that married women and spinsters will receive the benefits that this Financial Resolution promises, and we can congratulate them upon having convinced the Treasury and Ministers of the excellence of their case. But when we come to paragraph (b), there is an obvious difference of opinion which is quite reasonable and justifiable. I am not sure that the Labour Opposition are really so deep in their opposition to paragraph (b) by itself, as some of their speeches suggest. In previous Debates we have heard that they would have been temporarily satisfied with a 5s. advance. Nobody can suggest that a 15s. pension would have been, in itself, adequate for the needs of all old people. There would still have been need for some additions, and if a 5s. flat rate increase had been granted they would probably have preferred that the addition should come from some other source than the Poor Law.
Whether or not that is their view, it is certainly mine. I do welcome the change for its own sake. If we cannot have a flat-rate increase, I still think the change from Poor Law to Unemployment Assistance Board is an improvement. I know there are those in this House who are never willing to accept a small advance if it does not go far enough to satisfy their ultimate desires, but there are many Members here whose experience leads them to know that social legislation in this country is not something to the stature of which you can generally add cubits. You have to be content with inches, and you find by experience that when you have a few inches added to the height it is easier to add a few inches more. I am always ready to accept some advance that seems to me in the true line of progress. The problem for me in this Bill is whether this paragraph is, in itself, an advance. Surely it does one very big thing. It
kills the principle that underlies our existing old age pension scheme. The present system is not to provide an adequate livelihood for aged people; it is to give a flat sum, not related in any way to the living needs of old people. This Resolution lays down a completely new principle. Let me read the important words:
Old age pensioners are entitled to receive supplementary pensions based on their needs.
There are subsequent qualifications, but that is enough for my purpose. It is recognising for the first time that the pension, whether it is provided solely by the basic rate, or by supplementary pension as well, shall be adequate for the needs of the old people—
No, the whole point is that now the pensioners get Poor Law relief. At present the total livelihood is made up of pension and relief. This Resolution lays down the principle that total livelihood shall be made up of pensions. They are entitled to receive supplementary pensions based on their need. We may dislike the present proportion of basic pension and supplementary pension, and we may not approve of the method of testing need, but there is the principle laid down and the practice follows. It will be the Post Office that will pay these pensions. Old people will not go to two different bodies to receive their weekly sums. That principle is a basic principle which must be carried on in future legislation and appear in the old age pensions scheme in the ultimate form to which we expect it to grow. It is the breaking off of the pension scheme from all co-operation with the Poor Law and making pensions stand on their own feet. That is a great advance in principle. We only partially achieve it by this Resolution, I agree, but the principle is laid down as clearly as may be.
There are also practical advantages. First, there will probably be better pensions for more pensioners. On the whole it is likely that the amount will go up and that the number of people receiving these supplementary sums will be larger. Secondly, there will be relief to the ratepayers, and in the poorer areas of this country that relief will be really welcome. The present demand on the rates for old age pensions must hit the poorer areas more severely than the rich The poorer areas, with their larger number of poorer ratepayers, will be most relieved by this change. These, surely, are solid gains not lightly to be thrown away. When I am asked to accept or reject these benefits, substantial though limited, I say that these proposals, as far as they go, are in the interests of the old people in my constituency and elsewhere, and that, in consequence, I gladly support the Resolution.
I would like first of all to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and his colleagues who have fought this question. Whatever good is to come out of this Resolution and Bill will come to old age pensioners because of the downright persistency of my hon. Friend and his friends. I think it is doubtful whether we should now be discussing this question had they not been "boys of the bulldog breed" in this respect, as some are in other respects. All the difficulties that arise in dealing with this subject arise because the country has not faced the question of old age and invalidity with the broad comprehensiveness that those who originally asked for old age pensions desired. In 1893 I attended before a Royal Commission on the aged poor. Among the members was the late King Edward, who was then Prince of Wales, and I was asked to give evidence by Mr. Charles Booth, the shipowner, who made investigations into the living conditions of the poor in London. My evidence and his advocacy were for a flat-rate pension for everybody, to start from the point of view of invalidity—not that it should rest entirely on age or that it should be for one class. His idea—and I think that if Mr. George Barnes was here he would agree, that one of the foremost pioneers was Mr. Booth—was that this question of pensions should be introduced, and that rich and poor should pay through the Consolidated Fund to enable both classes to take the pension. We can quite understand that proposition when we think of the discussions that took place on the question of payments to Members. It was then suggested payment should only be paid to those who were too poor to serve in a voluntary manner. But the good sense of Parliament swept that argument away, and my own view is that this question, and others like it, will never be satisfactorily settled until Parliament brings in a scheme for dealing with people from the point of view of invalidity.
I want to say a word about the lowering of the age for wives of insured men and the granting of pensions to spinsters at the age of 60. The argument for this household means test is that there will be people who will be at work and earning perhaps £2, £3, or £4 per week. Are you quite certain that all spinsters will leave work at 60? Are you quite certain that every workman's wife will not be at work at that age? I mention this because I want to press the point that these anomalies and the attempt to deal with them make very bad practice so far as good law is concerned. In regard to the proposal that the administration is to be taken from the Poor Law and given to the Assistance Board, I can speak from the point of view of one who has administered the means test for a good many years. I want the Committee to believe me that I have never had any difficulty in my own mind or with my friends on the question of the individual's income—that is to say, the income of the man or woman who came before me—but since 1892 there has been nothing in my experience that has caused more bitterness and more disunion in families than the hatred of this household means test.
Some of us do not seem to realise that in a working-class home the young woman and the young man have the idea that some day they too will get married and have a home of their own; and they want to be able to put away the means by which they can get their home together. I would like the Minister of Health, who on many of these questions is far ahead of his party, to face this question; that by forcing a means test, which is purely a Poor Law means test, on to this supplementary pension he is doing something which robs it of all its moral value to the people who will have to take it. Think what you are going to do. There may be a man with a big family, some of them very selfish and perhaps doing well. Some other member of the family may not be doing quite so well, but well enough to take the old father or the father and mother into his home and give them a home. What are you doing there? You are going to say to that young household, "You have to pay for the maintenance of your father and mother out of your earnings, or partially out of your earnings." You will create a very bad anomaly, and I do not understand how such a thing can be defended. I can understand the old Poor Law argument, which I always felt was very wicked, that you should go for the family wherever they are, but I cannot understand penalising a young man or a young woman who has been good enough to give the old people a home. That seems to me very bad indeed.
Further, I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman does not see that really he is spoiling a piece of social legislation which, if it had been carried out in another way, would have taken old people eligible for pensions right away from the atmosphere of the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman knows that until quite lately the Poor Law treated the aged and the infirm more rather than less as if it were a crime to grow old. He knows that this inquisition into the earnings of a family has kept many an old man and woman from the Poor Law and in a state of semi-starvation. I am proud to have lived long enough to see the day when so much is being done for the children and the sick, and for the unemployed. People who are not my age do not realise what the unemployed went through some 30 or 40 years ago. I know, because I lived through it. I pay no tribute to anyone but the workers themselves. They have fought and fought again for it, and in the end we have established our social services and have developed them to what they are now. It seems to me that at this time of day to impose the most hateful thing about the Poor Law on to this scheme is very bad indeed.
I want to say a word about the Assistance Board. I had some experience of the Board, and I must say that those with whom I have to deal in the East of London have done their best to administer the regulations to the best of their ability. But they cannot do it properly, in the case of the unemployed; and look what you are asking them to do for the old people. My friend Mr. James Mallon, of Toynbee Hall, is to be one of the new men. Like myself, he has an income which is quite different from that of any of the people who will come before him. I do not deny that he has had great experience in the East of London. So have I. Neither he nor I has ever had to live the kind of life that these people are living to-day. I do not think that you can really put yourself in another person's place. The figures in regard to family needs look excellent on paper. That may be an exaggeration. On paper they look passable, and one may think that probably they may be right. A sailor came to my house the other night, a man in one of our big ships which have been out in the war, bringing his mother with him. He came with regard to the means test. There is a sister at home, and that sister will not stay at home because if she does, the Admiralty will not give any allowance to the home. I think that is the height, the depth, the breadth, and the length of meanness. In the case of these old age pensioners the principle and the practice are exactly the same.
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman between now and further discussions on the Bill to reconsider the whole question. I have listened to the figures two or three times. I do not know how much it would cost, but I am quite certain that the danger which the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees can easily be met. I believe that the man who is at work will not apply. I am certain that the number of people who would do a mean thing like that is quite small. Do not put these old people through this horrible catechism, this cross-examination; do not put them through the degradation of having to allow the Assistance Board to do what the Poor Law guardians did, that is, write to the employer of their children to find out how much their wages are and then assess how much shall be spent on the home for the individual. Make a clean break with the business altogether and treat them as individuals who are in need; and take their word. Let me say something else which experience has taught me. I have done many bad things myself, and so has everybody else. But let me say this, that in all the years I sat as chairman of a relief committee, during all the years I have had to make this beastly inquisition into the conditions of applicants, the number of people who have attempted a swindle is infinitesimal. You are going to spend an amount of money on investigations and on officials, and I do not believe for a single moment that you would lose anything if you threw yourself on the honesty of these people.
The other day I faced an audience of old people. I said to them that I believed that in these days there is is more respect for aged people than was formerly the case, though sometimes there is a sort of feeling that some of us ought to shuffle off a bit quicker than we do. I know the feeling which I have about that; it is a nasty feeling to think that you have lived too long, that you are in somebody's way, that you are a burden on somebody because your health has failed. When I looked at these old people, some of them as old as I, some of them in the seventies, I asked myself, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to ask himself, how many of them would really want to swindle the State, how many of them would want to lie and cheat? I was looking at men and women who had borne the burden and heat of the day in industry and who, in my judgment, deserved something better than to be kept on a starvation level with such a pension. They deserve something better than to be left to throw themselves upon the mercy of their children, to become a burden to their children. It is said that the burden on the rates is too heavy and should be taken away. If the burden is too heavy for all the ratepayers, surely it is too heavy a burden for small families to bear. If it is a burden which the whole community of Poplar cannot bear, individual families ought not to be called upon to bear it. Whilst I am glad, very glad, that Bumbledom is getting another blow, whilst I am very glad that either those who at present deal with non-contributory pensioners or the Unemployment Assistance Board are going to do this job, I feel that the whole benefit of what is now being offered is vitiated by the introduction of this terrible principle of the household means test.
One feels, after listening to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), that nobody, in this House or out of it, would wish that he should shuffle off in any hurry. I have been in this House for many years, and we have always listened with the greatest respect to what he has to say, because we know that he has an intimate knowledge of the things of which he speaks. One feels especially ready to listen to him because he has grown up along with all this gamut of legislation, which I believe with him to be a very good thing but which is, unfortunately, blotted by this means test. Going about in connection with A.R.P. and other duties which devolve upon us in these unfortunate times, we must be struck with the existence of a tremendous amount of what one might call genteel poverty—people trying to keep up appearances who are in very unfortunate circumstances, trying to exist on what may be called this miserable pension, too proud to go to anybody for further assistance. I am glad indeed that the Government have at long last recognised the claims of the spinsters and that they are to have this pension from the age of 60. Thousands of them are women who during the last war gave up their jobs and took on other jobs in order to allow men to go away to fight, and now, after a quarter of a century of loyal service, they find themselves thrown on the industrial scrap-heap with nothing to look forward to but public assistance or private charity.
To ask women who, not to put it too high, are in the main of genteel birth to try to live on 10s. a week is to ask too much. At least we might have gone this far—having regard to the fact that the cost of living has risen, we might have increased the pensions all round by the amount of the extra cost of living. That would have helped. The means test seems to be one of those things which is abhorrent to us as a nation. I have a letter from a woman whom I know very well, in which she says:
My husband died last year. He was in a non-contributory occupation. We had screwed and saved for our old age We had managed to buy our bungalow and had saved a few pounds besides. I am 73 years old. I applied for the pension. A gentleman came to my house, and when I told him what I had he said he thought I was outside the assessment, and I do not get anything at all.
That means that this poor woman will have to spend the rest of her capital, perhaps to pawn her house and to break up her home. Finally, when she is destitute we shall give her 10s. a week. If we are going to reduce the nation to paupers, let us say so and have done with it. Let us be straightforward. Last July we had an interesting Debate upon this very question. The Prime Minister said then
that he did not think that 10s. a week was enough for an old person to live on, but the reason the Government had not responded to the claims made was that we were in the middle of a Defence programme which it was impossible for us to abandon or even temporarily to postpone and which was putting upon the country a financial strain which was altogether unexampled. We are under that strain now, and the greater the burden becomes the greater will be the strain on those who are endeavouring to live on the present pension. I have here another letter which reveals a worse state of affairs. The lady says:
I see that you are going to discuss the money of the old age pensioners. As many M.Ps. do not have to live on 10s. a week"—
Here I should like to say that I think the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley scored a point when he said that his friend Mallon, who is one of those who will administer this business, does not have to live on 10s. a week and, therefore, is not able to sympathise with these people. We may pity them, but there can only be sympathy where there is a kindred spirit. The letter goes on:
—perhaps you will be able to tell me how I am going to manage. My rent is 4s. 9d.. my paraffin stove and lamp in this cold weather cost me 1s. 4d. a week, and I am left with 3s. 11d. for food and clothing. I have been advised to go into an institution, but after a long life of hard and honest work I would rather die. If it had not been for the kindness of the doctor I should have done so.
The Prime Minister said that the standard of living of the wealthy has already noticeably declined. When the standard of living so declines all round that we all have to live on 3s. 11d. a week, it seems to me that something will be done. I had hoped that more generosity would be shown in this matter. I had hoped that we should not see this great inquisition into the means of people, this summing-up of the little less or the little more. I had hoped that if there were to be inquiries, we should have some more humane method of getting the assessment than exists at the present time. The "Sunday Express" reported the case of a woman who had applied to the Minister of Pensions because her son, aged 17, had lost his life in a torpedoed vessel. Her son used to send her £1 every fortnight, and helped in other ways. She was refused a pension because her husband was
still alive, although he was unemployed. Call these committees what you like, things seem wrong when we get a case like that. Whether the work is done by the Unemployment Assistance Board or by some benevolent association, so long as we have the same personnel we shall have the same trouble. I would ask that some more kindly arrangement should be made.
I live in a village. Do not let these people have to go before a committee of people who live in their village. The position is bad enough for those who live in a big city. Do not ask these people to discuss their private affairs before their neighbours. Cannot we appoint people of sympathy and kindness who would go to visit the applicants rather than that the applicants should be called up before them? These boards are all very well but they all seem to be tarred with the same brush. I hope that when we get into Committee on this Bill we shall be able to find ways and means of making the path more easy for these old people. The Committee is agreed that the old people must be allowed to live. The one fundamental thing that seems to divide us is the degree of vitality we are going to allow them.
I count myself happy in following the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton). The least I can do is to congratulate him on the courage, the independence, and the generous spirit with which he has spoken. I too address myself to this Financial Resolution as it bears upon the means test; and, first of all, on the question of thrift. I should like to read a letter on the subject which I have received from a correspondent. The letter, which is dated 1st February, 1940, reads:
At the age of 18 years I joined a friendly society and paid into it until 65 years of age—for 47 years. Among other benefits paid for was a superannuation allowance, for which I receive now 7s. weekly. When the means test is applied, I am not likely to get an increase because my wife and I get 10s. a week each as old age pensions, plus 7s. superannuation which I have already paid for; or if I get an increase at all, it will be on a reduced scale, while the ne'er-do-weel will get the maximum benefit.
It is interesting to recall that when the non-contributory pensions scheme was introduced in 1908, the main objection of
those who opposed it was on the very ground of its detrimental application to thrift and to approved societies. The Right Hon. Sir Henry Chaplin, who led the opposition, declared that:
It was absolutely discouraging to thrift and would be injurious to friendly societies in the noble and great work which had been accomplished by them.
If hon.members on the Government side wish to get a condemnation of some of the present proposals of the Government, they will get it by going back and reading what was said by their predecessors. Sir Henry Chaplin and Mr. Harold Cox, in1908. I address myself to the matter next from the point of view of the independence of the pensioner. We speak of moral independence and spiritual independence, but these are based also on a certain material independence. What is that material independence? It is that a man should have something substantial, not needing any supplementation, something he can call his own, the reward for his own industry, deferred payment, if you like, something that he holds in his own right, and which provides him with a home or a share in a home. The Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to follow me, as no doubt the whole Committee will, if I quote a well-known verse of Robert Burns:
To catch Dame Fortune's golden smile,
Assiduous wait upon her;
And gather gear by every wile
That's justified by honour;
Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Nor for a train attendant;
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent.
But a person has not that glorious privilege if he has to wait for a supplementation, to be assessed in an inquisition before the Assistance Board; he has not that glorious privilege if he is dependent upon his family who are perhaps themselves also struggling, and if he has no worthy competence of his own to support his needs. I come now to the dignity of the home, and the question how it is affected by the application of a means test. To put it in plain Scots, a man in Scotland wants to have a "hoose o' his ain." In England it is put still more picturesquely—"An Englishman's home is his castle." I think that one of the most eloquent passages in English literature is the comment of Lord Chatham on the maxim of English Law that every man's house is his castle:
The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail—its roof may shake—the wind may blow through it—the storm may enter—the rain may enter—but the King of England cannot enter. All his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.
Under this scheme, as now so widely applied, the working man's home is no longer to be his castle. At any rate, it can have no turrets, no pinnacles, no adornments; it must be in the plain pattern fixed by the Assistance Board, it must be according to a uniform pattern of mass construction in the building of homes. It is reminiscent of the miner's rows which my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and Eastern (Mr. Woodburn) knows so well, and of which I have known in my own country, where each of the houses is the same as the others, and it would be an offence if one of them had independence enough to rise above the others. Under this system, as now so widely applied, we are to have what two distinguished authors, Disraeli and Kingsley spoke of as "the two nations"—the two cities, in one of which there are to be those to whom no means test applies, and in the other the regimented almoners of the State. The fact of the matter is that instead of giving the working man a castle you are now giving him an almshouse, in a row of almshouses, uniform and regimented.
The excuse that is made is that the finances cannot be found for a flat-rate increase at the present time, but I have taken the trouble to read the Debates in the House on all the schemes that have been introduced from 1908 to the present time, and that is a plea which has been put forward every time. In 1908, it was said by those who led the Opposition. Sir Henry Chaplin declared that the scheme could not possibly be financed under the Free Trade system then existing, and that there must be fiscal reform before it could be financed. It rather looks as if fiscal reform had broken down under the burden—but I do not intend to enter into a controversy on that matter. Sir Henry Chaplin said of the 1908 Bill:
The most material objection of all to the Bill was that no indication whatever had been given to the House as to the methods of taxation which would be necessary.
Yet, after all those sad prognostications, the Bill went forward. Those who
opposed it were frightened because it was to cost £7,500,000. The scheme withstood all the readjustments that were necessary during the last war, and it proved sufficient for all the expansions that came in 1919 and 1924. Under it the number of pensioners increased from 701,678 on 31st March, 1911, to 1,701,193 on 31st March, 1926; and instead of £7,500,000, the non-contributory pensions now amount to £49,000,000, and vast additional imposts have been made for other social services. There are progress and buoyancy in finance, which expands with human progress, and with every expansion of human need.
I have one other objection to make against this scheme. It is really giving pensions on the cheap. We have not been told what is to be the cost of what is to be given to the spinsters. I have taken no inconsiderable part in that movement. I have addressed large meetings of spinsters in the St. Andrew's Hall in Glasgow; and when this Bill was introduced I took the occasion to write to Miss Florence White, of Bradford, and Miss Gunn, of Glasgow, to congratulate them on their great triumph, and to say that it was very rare in so short a time for a great movement of that sort to come into its own. We do not know what is to be the cost of that part of the scheme, but we do know how small is the cost of that other reform, which also I have always advocated, of allowing a married woman to come into the pension if her husband is 65 when she is 60. We know what that is to cost, because on 14th May, 1936, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury declared that the cost of such a reform would be £3,750,000 only in the first year, and that in 10 years' time it would be £4,750,000. Now, with the added payments that are to be made, it is to be a much smaller contribution than that altogether. Indeed, these concrete proposals are a kind of line of least resistance—the very least that could be done, one might say. I will close my remarks by recalling my days at Glasgow University as a student of philosophy. I should like to read a passage from Aristotle's Ethics, which is in exact contrast to this scheme and this Government. Hon. Members will recall that Aristotle describes all the different kinds of men, but when he comes to his ideal man, the man who does everything magnificently, this is what he says:
His magnificence is suitable expenditure on a great scale, and on great objects. Moreover, he will spend gladly and lavishly, since nice calculation is shabby. And he will think how he can carry out the project most nobly and spendidly, rather than how much it will cost, and how it can be done most cheaply.
The Government in this case have calculated how much it will cost, and for how little it can be done, and how it can be carried out most cheaply, instead of doing it, as they should have done it, in Aristotle's words, "most nobly and most splendidly."
If I had had the opportunity of speaking during the Second Reading Debate on the Bill, my speech would have consisted of a condemnation of the Bill itself. We are now considering the Money Resolution, and I desire to make an analysis both of the Money Resolution and of the Measure itself. First, I wish to put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary. On Tuesday last, when the Minister of Health was speaking, there was a number of interruptions from HON.MEMBERS on this side which will be found in columns 1213 and 1214 of the Official Report. The object of those interruptions was to ascertain from the Minister what would be the position of our people when they came to apply for supplementation. Our anxiety in this matter is based upon experience of the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Some time ago I asked the Minister of Labour to state in the OFFICIAL REPORT the scales which were being paid in all administrative areas. I was surprised to find—I speak from memory, but I think my memory is accurate—that, taking all the administrative areas, there was a variation in payments, on the average, of 6s. per applicant. We are anxious that that condition of things should not apply in the case of old age pensions.
In our view, a national scale ought to be laid down and placed in the Schedule to the Bill, and the Committee is entitled to know on what ground such a scale is not to be attached to the Bill. Further, I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is intended that the scale to be applied shall be at least as good as the best local authority scales at present? The interpretation which we put—I think rightly—on the speech of the Minister last
week was that the Government intended that the maximum scale paid by any local authority should be the minimum scale to be paid by the Assistance Board. I think we are confirmed in that interpretation by a passage in last week's Debate. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said:
If the statement made recently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer means anything it means that the examination having been made once, then for all practical purposes the matter is settled.
Hon. Members on this side were surprised at that statement and showed their surprise by certain interruptions, and the hon. Member for East Fife then went on to say:
I speak subject to correction and in the presence of the Ministers responsible for the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; col. 1268, Vol. 357.]
No answer was made to the hon. Member when he placed that interpretation on the Chancellor's statement. We say that the broad interpretation to be placed on that statement is that the maximum which is paid at present by local authorities in supplementation of pensions should be the minimum scale, for purposes of guidance. We also say that it should be placed in a Schedule to the Bill, in order that there shall be no doubt that it is a scale for the guidance and benefit of the Assistance Board in its work throughout the country.
I come now to deal with the means test. Those of us who live among the ordinary people know that the great mass of our people are steady throughout their lives. Now, as a result of being steady, they are to be penalised by this Measure. Most of our people join friendly societies; many of them join trade unions. In my union we pay 2s. a week for friendly society purposes, superannuation purposes and industrial purposes. This means that many of our members pay from the age of 14 to the age of 65 in order that they may have something to assist them in their old age. Because they have thus deprived themselves during the whole of their working lives in order to save up for their old age, they will be penalised by the Bill. In addition—and our people speak bitterly of this—some of them have been paying under National Health Insurance from 1912 onwards. Now, on reaching the age of 65, they find that the maximum pension available for them is 10s. a week. It is true that they can have that pension supplemented, but they looked upon National Health Insurance as insurance for pensions and for sickness benefit. We see no reason why the minimum scale of pension should not have been increased, instead of forcing people to be subject to the Assistance Board, as they will be if this Resolution and the Bill are passed. The Bill says in effect to our people, "You have been steady all your life, but you ought to have spent your money; you ought not to have prepared for old age." That is the logic of the Bill. The Government say, "Those ideas were all right in the Elizabethan period and even in the Victorian period, but we are now living in the means test period."
Let me give two examples of how this Money Resolution will work. Suppose there is an old couple, one of whom becomes unwell or dies. A son or daughter comes to live with the old father or mother. That is a spirit which ought to be encouraged. That is family life as we understand it, the family life on which our nation has been built up in the past. But the Bill says that in those circumstances the father or mother should be satisfied with 10s.a week. If the sons and daughters say, "Why should we have to keep our father or mother?" then the Bill says that 10s. is not enough and that the supplementary pension is necessary. Those are examples in our everyday experience which could be multiplied many times. We are reinforced in our view of the means test by the opinions expressed at various conferences of public-spirited people held throughout the land under the auspices of all kinds of organisations. For example, at the Church Congress in 1938, Canon Roger Lloyd, of Winchester, during a discussion on the Christian social order, condemned the means test as "wholly damnable. "He said that he believed the voluntary members of public assistance committees did their best to administer it kindly, but, he added, the damnation of the means test was not its administration, but the scheme itself. That is a view, not of people on this side, but of a man who must have examined the effects of the application of this principle, and all public-spirited people, particularly those who live in industrial areas, are bound to come to that conclusion.
Last Thursday the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville) made a reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in relation to the means test. After the personal statement which was made, a number of us on this side felt very uneasy, and I think it essential that at the first available opportunity the facts should be placed on record. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield did, it is true, issue Circular 1069 on 3rd January, 1930. This circular pointed out how far boards of guardians could go in the direction of more generous administration and improved poor relief. The "Manchester Guardian" next day had a leading article which contained the following statement:
This circular is a shining example of the way in which conditions can be bettered without legislation. The memorandum indicates a complete change of spirit.
It is, therefore, clear that the charge made by the hon. Member for Windsor is false, and it is essential that we should examine the position to see who was responsible for the introduction of the means test. The people who were responsible for suggesting the introduction of a means test in this country were the Federation of British Industries and the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations. If any hon. or right hon. Gentlemen doubt that statement, let them examine the two documents which I have here, published by those two organisations in December, 1931. It is not true to say—whether it is said on the other side of the Committee, or on this side, or anywhere else—that there was any real means test, as it is administered to-day, in operation in this country prior to 1931. Those two organisations were responsible for the suggestion that it should be brought into operation, and it was the National Government of 1931 which applied it.
The reason why we, on this side, are becoming so annoyed and so bitter about this matter is that apparently a step backward is now being taken in regard to it. First it was stated that the means test would be applied only for a limited period. In 1931 it was said that it was being applied only in order to get us out of our financial difficulties. But we have seen it applied more and more ever since, and eventually to all the unemployed who have exhausted their insurance benefit. Then we found it applied to soldiers' dependants. Further, the suggestion is made that it should apply to workers who are injured through no fault of their own. Now it is to be applied to our old people when they reach the age of 65.
I know that many of my hon. Friends desire to take part in this Debate. I heard it remarked that an all-night sitting would be necessary to-night if all those who desired to speak on this subject were to have the opportunity of doing so. I wish to set the example of being as brief as possible in order that all HON.MEMBERS who wish to do so can express their indignation at these proposals and the effect which they will have on particular localities. Therefore, I want to conclude with these words of John Morley, which, I think, can be applied to this Money Resolution and to the Bill:
A small and temporary improvement may really be the worst enemy of a great and permanent improvement. A small reform, if it be not made in reference to some large progressive principle, and with a view to a further extension of its scope, makes it all the more difficult to return to the right line and direction when improvement is again demanded.
This applies to the principle of the means test, and, if we are to be true to our own people, we have to vote against it as it is applied at the present time, and has been applied ever since 1931.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen:
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to take part in this Debate. I feel, after having listened to the Prime Minister and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer some time ago, that they are the people who ought to be on the Front Bench hearing the speeches this afternoon. If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health had her wish I think she would give way at once on the question of the means test. It is, however, a question entirely for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and for the Cabinet, and that is why we should have a Cabinet Minister present this afternoon. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) referred to 1931, when there was no means test in this country, but, unfortunately, we in Ireland had had experience of it long before that in connection with the pensions of the Royal Irish Constabulary. These are men who have done noble service for their country and who are subjected to a means test, the like of which has never yet been introduced in this country.
It has been going on for years and years, and every time that I have appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on their behalf it has been without avail.
What is it that we are doing now? We are making regulations for the future. When any of us have cases—perhaps in connection with a soldier's widow's pension—and we bring them to the House or raise them with the Minister of Pensions, the answer is generally, "Oh, we are up against the regulations." The Minister of Pensions was asked a Question this afternoon by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson):
'How long he has had under consideration the application of Mr. F. Williams, an old age pensioner, of 39, Bloomsbury Street, Cheltenham, for an increase in the pension of 10s. a week he is receiving at present for the loss of all his three sons in the Great War; and whether he is now able to announce that the amount of the pension will be restored to the 13s. 4d. a week granted to Mr. Williams in 1932, when his financial position was better than it is now?
By a gracious act of the Minister, that sum has been restored from 10s. to 13s. 4d. for the loss of three sons in the Great War. Time after time, on questions affecting regulations, Ministers have told the House that the regulations were passed by the House and that, therefore, they could not get over them. Now we are passing regulations again for the future in regard to these old people. There are old people in Northern Ireland, as in this country, who appeal to their Members of Parliament. Some of them have made little collections during their lifetime, and now, because of that, they are to be penalised. The thing is all wrong. Why cannot we treat these old people fairly and decently? There comes a time in their lives when they cannot plead for themselves, and they have to depend upon the House of Commons to treat them liberally, generously, and magnanimously, but we have a Bill before us which is no credit to the House of Commons. If these old folk are deserving of their little pension of 5s., why not give it to everyone of them without this beastly means test? There is feeling all over the country on this question; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to make up his mind that it will not go down with the people.
The argument has been used again and again that we have not the means and money for pensions. When the Income Tax was raised from 7d. to 9d., it was said then that the nation was going to rack and ruin. Now we find it is 7s. 6d. in the pound and perhaps, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduces his Budget this year he may even ask for a little more than that to pay for the war. I wish that he was here this afternoon so that I, for my part, might raise my voice and use my influence with him in order that these people once and for all may be completely rid of the abomination called the means test. However, I hope the Chancellor will read the Debate which has taken place. I should not like to be on one of the boards or committees to which the pensioners will have to state the amount of their little savings. There are, I am afraid, very few of us on this side of the Committee attending this very important Debate, but I have no doubt that when the Division bell rings there will be some to support the Government who are taxing us and asking us to be subservient on this occasion to their wishes.
I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health to tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the feeling there is in the Committee with regard to the means test and to impress upon him that it is an expression of the feeling of the country as a whole. When a military pension question comes before us, and we write to the Minister of Pensions, we are told that it is against the regulations to pay any more money, but here is an opportunity for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make such regulations as will make it possible to pay, whatever the cost may be. It is up to him to do that. We shall have an opportunity in the next few days to appeal to him to do something more than is now proposed.
I want to thank the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down for his contribution to the Debate. For myself I only trouble the Committee when I feel strongly on a question that is before it, and this is a question on which I feel deeply. I want to prove that definitely and indubitably this means test is a tax on thrift. It is evident that the means test is creeping like paralysis over every benefit inside this country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is, I am sure, just the gentleman who would help along the grave disease of taxing thrift. Take the case in my own Division of a naval pensioner of the last war. He was receiving £2 10s. per week and was helping his widowed mother. He responded to the country's call and lost his life in the "Courageous." The pension from the last war is now saved by the Government and they have told the widowed mother that she can have nothing. Under pressure, I have succeeded in obtaining a promise from the Minister of Pensions of a grant of 4s., but the widow refused to accept it and is still determined to fight and resist this wretched tax on thrift. What is her crime? It is that her sons years ago saved £175 for her. The death of her son in the service of the country does not matter, and she is to have nothing from this wretched Government by way of pension. We can all mention cases of that description. One does not want to be rude or offensive. The Parliamentary Secretary is the last person in the world I can trust in allocating pensions because she has tried to prove for some years now that working-class people do not know how to cook and feed children. She says that if only they knew the value of carrots and cold water they would be better off.
I entirely agree. I want to refer to the important initiation in this Bill of a right which has been recognised by the trade union movement ever since its inception, that is the right of members to take benefits without a means test. I am now 62 and have been in my trade union organisation since I was 18. In my 44 years' experience means were never asked about when we drew a benefit for which we had contributed. A member pays 1s. 4d. a week and when the time comes for him to draw benefit for sickness and unemployment he receives his benefit and no questions are asked. It is a dangerous venture to apply a means test of any kind to the contributory pensions scheme. I would beg the Minister to have a further chat with the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to its abolition. It is not too late to abolish it. I know the case of a lady of 83 whose husband died many years ago. In the household is a daughter of 51, who had to go out to work in order to keep her mother. There is also a grandson who is working. The old lady is receiving 10s. a week pension and her daughter, instead of going out to work, ought to be at home nursing her. The Unemployment Assistance Board will get busy on this household and this old lady of 83 will be questioned as to how much her daughter and grandson are earning. This old lady produced lads who died as a result of the last war. This means test is mean, nasty and distasteful and should be abolished without delay. For heaven's sake let the Minister at once consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer in an endeavour to remove the grievance we have against the Bill. This may save him from a degradation that the existence in the Bill of a means test will involve.
This is the first opportunity I have had of taking part in a Debate on old age pensions, although, in common with Members on every side, I have for many years been active in demanding that justice should be done to the old people. An agitation has gone on for a considerable number of years for the extension of the existing pensions Acts, and there have been in the House in the last year or two Debates in which considerable feeling has been aroused by Members on all sides. In the last five months a new factor entered into the agitation for an increase in old age pensions, namely, "Lord Haw-Haw" on the wireless. I would, indeed, call this Bill the "Haw-Haw" Bill to raise old age pensions. I read in a paper this morning a leading article dealing with German propaganda, in which it was pointed out that Germany began by appealing to the world to help them resist Bolshevism, and that now they were indulging in class propaganda against this country and showing up the economic defects and injustices of our industrial system. Many people who have heard "Lord Haw-Haw" deal with social conditions in Britain do not ask themselves what the conditions are in Germany. They simply hear an injustice exposed on the wireless, and then say "That man is telling the truth about the old people in this country." That kind of propaganda is having a tremendous effect. Indeed, I have heard "Lord Haw-Haw" described as the official opposition to the National Government and as being the only real opposition which the Government have.
This Bill has been introduced after an agitation in which the local authorities have played a considerable part. The local authorities, however, have been more concerned about getting a relief of rates than about raising the standard of pensions to the poor. If they had been so humane as to be anxious to raise the standard of the old people they would have themselves raised it to the figure they are demanding from the Government. If they had raised the amount they paid to the old people to £1 a week, or £2 for a couple, that would have become the standard when the Government took over the responsibility, as they are doing in this Bill, and the Government could not have resisted that figure.
That will not do. I was on the town council and the old parish council, and I remember that we discussed one day a certain thing we wanted to do for the old people. We asked the chairman, who was an out-and-out Conservative, whether we could do it, and he said, "This council in relation to children, widows and old persons, can do anything it desires to do." Not only that, but the scale of this Tory parish council was higher in many cases than that paid to-day by the Glasgow Council with its Labour majority. I condemn this Bill to the extent that it does not give a substantial increase to a large section of the old people, but I have no time for the tremendous amount of hyprocrisy that is being indulged in by people who have defended every form of means test and now slang us because we attempt to overthrow the existing means tests.
The Bill gives an increase in the existing pensions to three sections of the community. It gives it to spinsters of 60 for contributions paid. It gives it at 60 to the woman who is younger than her husband. It also gives it to those who wish to claim it and who can with one private inquiry qualify for an additional grant. The people who are now drawing help from public assistance will be no worse off and probably no better off than they are. In a city like Glasgow, which is regarded as a progressive city, the old person who goes into his son's house to reside, or even goes into his son-in-law's house, is given a lower standard than if he lived in his own house. The scale in Glasgow is 12s. 6d., plus 2s. 6d. if the person is over 65, and a rent allowance. The total is not more than £1 a week, and to a couple not more than 30s. When the son-in-law is the owner or occupier of the house to which the old people go there is no rent allowance, and not even the price of a bag of coal or a shilling for the meter. Therefore, if it is good to condemn standards of this sort being imposed in the Bill, we have a right to condemn the local authorities who are responsible for similar standards now.
I see a serious danger with regard to the Assistance Board. The danger is not how it will assess need at the moment when there is the machinery which has been established. The danger will be after the war, when the time comes again, as in 1931, for economies, and when committees will be set up to see how our finances can be restricted. Then there will be a tightening of belts and the Government will inquire into the income not only of the home, but of sons and daughters away from home, as the Poor Law have authority to do to-day. It will compel a father, mother, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, grandfather or grandmother, or even an uncle and aunt, to pay for the upkeep of the person who needs help. The Board as it has existed up to now has not been very unfair in its treatment, so far as it has had the power. We had in Glasgow until recently a scale of 40s. a week maximum for an able-bodied man, no matter how many children there were. I know a man in the Parkhead district of Glasgow who was drawing £2 12s. from the Unemployment Assistance Board while the local authority were paying a maximum of 40s. Not only that, but I have often had to go to public assistance officials because they tried, not by means of inspectors but as a result of the official policy, to restrict the granting of a coat to an old man of 70 years of age. I have almost had to beg of that authority to give the allowance of 7s. 6d. for the extras. It is one of the hardest of allowances, because the recipients are charged for the boots and clothing that are given.
The difference between the Board and the local authority is that you can raise a certain amount of public opinion in regard to what is done by a local authority, and can carry on propaganda locally in a way that cannot be done against the Board. The Minister can always shelter himself or herself behind the fact that the decision in these matters lies with the Board. If the Board decides to reduce the standard, that is a grave danger in every way. I am amazed at all this talk about giving a 5s. flat-rate increase to old people. If there exists 10s. a week and you give an increase of 5s., the person who is now drawing £1 a week will be bound to go to the public assistance committee. You are therefore giving them a lower rate if you give a flat-rate increase of 5s., while you will retain both the means test of the Board and the means test of the public assistance committee. The old people will be run to death going round in a circle among the offices trying to get a livelihood.
Therefore I am against this talk of the 5s. flat-rate increase; but if you say a 10s. flat-rate increase I am with you. [Interruption.] I cannot expect all my speech to be assented to by any one party in the Committee. I am trying to assess the truth of the Bill and its justices and injustices and to get rid of the sham, humbug and hypocrisy that pop up. I believe that a flat-rate increase of 10s. a week should be the demand, If £2 a week were granted to old couples you would eliminate every form of means test and all forms of inquiry. The old folk would go to the post office, as they do to-day, and draw their £1 or £2 per week and there would be no test of any kind. Some HON.MEMBERS may say that we should, in that way, be giving money to people who were not in need, but is that a new principle in this House? We are continually giving money to people who are not in need. We give to people who sit on various tribunals to consider consciences something like £24 a week, although they may have incomes of £1,500 a year by way of pension or superannuation. We are setting men who have no consciences to consider others who have. Is it better to do this only to the few people who are greedy enough to demand it than to give human justice to a large body of people who are in dire need and distress?
The real test of a nation is how it treats its old people and its children. We talk of democracy, but to me democracy has always been an illusion. I challenge the Government to present, even to diehard Conservative organisations in this country, the question whether they are in favour of £1 a week for old people. I am satisfied that the Government would get for that suggestion 100 per cent. endorsement from every part of the country. If the question were put to a plebiscite, which is the real democratic test, there would be endorsement in that case also. The great joke about democracy is that we do not put to the country, as a rule, proposals that we know are just, for which we should get approval, and which would cost something. We put the things that do not cost anything, in order to get endorsement for them at election times. The means test has always been reserved for the people with little means. The people who are not subjected to a means test are ladies and gentlemen who are regarded as above inquiry of any kind.
I believe that the crux of this question lies in the demand for a flat-rate increase of 10s. per week. Any statement that the country cannot pay will not bear examination for five minutes. It is an old, hoary tale that has been handed down through the ages by people who have lived without working, on the plunder that they have taken from the poor. Such people have always been prepared to hold on to the maximum amount of rent, interest and profit extracted from the workers. When the workers have demanded a little of that which they have created, those people have said: "Where is the money to come from?" They have never been producers, yet they decide what portion is to be kept by the workers of what the workers create. They have robbed persons all their lives of the wealth which the workers produce. I therefore demand, not a flat-rate increase of 5s., but a flat-rate increase of 10s. per week, for every old person in the country. If a man has gone through the industrial machine and has lived even to 60 years of age, we ought to be paying him a more substantial pension in order to get him to retire from industry. If times were normal, we should take the youth from the street corners and from the dole and pass them into industry, while passing the old people of 60 years of age out of industry, making it worth while for the old people to retire upon a decent pension.
The war is on, and it will cost thousands of millions of pounds before it can be finished. That is a war of the capitalist classes in defence of their interests; this is the class war, the war of the people against the ruling class, and it can never be stopped because it goes on all the time. I welcome the Bill from the angle that it gives certain additions, but I condemn it because it does not go as far, and is not as generous, as we desire it to be. Nevertheless, it will go through, and the agitation will go on in this country until justice is done to every old man and woman throughout the length and breadth of the land.
It is not my intention to follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, but I ought to make one comment. At one stage of his remarks, when he was waxing what I might call eulogistic on the proposals of the Government about the supplementation of the pension and his reference to only one inquiry, I did not notice any sign of assent from the people who sit on the Front Opposition Bench. I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman was hardly correct in his comparison of what he believes will be the condition of people who come under the Bill and the conditions of those who are under the public assistance authorities, particularly as he stressed the point that many of those authorities are controlled by Labour people. I wonder whether he has had any concern for the fact that whatever political outlook the public assistance committees may have had when they took on the most distasteful job of supplementing the too-low State pension, they must have realised that the job ought to be done by the State and not by the local authority. Many of the public assistance committees in the industrial districts are in areas which became derelict as a consequence of industrial depression, and one would expect people in those circumstances to call upon the Government to contribute a share.
I support the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there is widespread discontent in the country on this matter. The only two speeches heard from the Government back benches to-day have condemned root and branch the proposals put forward by the Government. Reference has been made to the eloquent speeches that have come mainly from the Government benches, but when I heard those two speeches I wondered what had happened to Government supporters who, in times past had supported us on this side in our pensions proposals. They were seen long since, but have been lost awhile. If the two speeches we heard from the Government back benches were made in the country we should have even more support than we now have for our proposals, even in Government-held constituencies.
When I compare the Government's proposal with the too-low standard that obtained before, I do not think it is likely to get general public support. This Bill is regarded as giving pensions to spinsters, but it will do so only if the spinsters are insured. A large body of women will be very disappointed after the Bill comes into operation. There is a lady who has done wonderful service in Bradford and whom we all respect, Miss Florence White; no doubt she and others who think with her will be sorely disappointed at what has been done when the Act is actually working. We can complain justifiably that the contribution which the Government are to make in the early stages of this scheme will come from the already overburdened workers. I will refer to what the increased contribution means to people with whom I worked before I came to this House. I worked at a colliery, and I know that before the wages are paid the owners can deduct all the charges that go in coal production before ever the share-out concerning wages and profits takes place. So in effect the miners in my county of Yorkshire will not only bear their own contribution, but they will bear 85 per cent. of the owners' contributions as well. We must concern ourselves very much with that. In addition they have to pay part of the taxation of the country as to pensions. I am a comparatively new Member, but I remember listening not long ago to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the suggestion was made that our Labour plan would cause people with £1 a week pension to retire from industry and that if we had a continuance of the pension plan as it is to-day all people being equal contributors should receive the same, and I wondered how the right hon. Gentleman, with all his eloquence, could explain the situation which the Government are now making of unequal pensions. There must be a distinction in the treatment which we receive.
I wish to say a few words on Part II of the Bill. The point we largely oppose in this Bill is the application of the means test. We have had reference made not only here, but in the country as a whole to the fact that this is a particularly vicious form of means test. I do not wish to be too sentimental. Let me put a practical idea as to why it is vicious. We started the means test with the unemployed, but we gave to all insured unemployed persons the right to wait 26weeks before the means test applied. By this Measure the means test will be applied in the first week, often when people have left industry. Surely there was never a more vicious means test in that it applies right at the very start, often when a worker of 65 has to retire from industry and when his means are particularly low. In my mining district when the eventide of life comes aged people often go to live with sons or daughters, or sons or daughters come to live with them. Have the Government ever looked at the question from this angle? By this Measure they are inducing these applicants for supplementary pensions to go to live with a son or a daughter who is least fitted to have them because of the number of children in the house. In short, we are inducing a form of overcrowding because of the desire of these people to get a supplemental pension. Discord is certainly created in these districts on that account.
There is an indication that the Government are a little scared of their own Measure. When they were dealing with dependants of serving men we had the Unemployment Assistance Board, but when conditions became more acute with the old age pensioner it was called the Assistance Board. I would like to give an example of this form of sympathy. In
my constituency a fortnight ago an individual applied to the local Unemployment Assistance Board for an increase in his allowance because of extra hardship. There were, I think, eight in the family and he was receiving £2 2s. He failed in his appeal and he consulted myself, his Member of Parliament. The Member of Parliament received a letter from Unemployment Assistance Board authorities in which one sentence read:
A visit was paid by the Unemployment Assistance Board's officer to the house and it revealed no hardship. Indeed, as a fact the applicant was repapering his living-room.
If that is the kind of board to whom we are to refer our old people, I wonder whether the Government can be too sure that they will not have discord in the country. Reference has been made to the way in which we shall deter some of the thrifty tendencies of the people in the country by this Measure. I have sometimes listened to HON.MEMBERS from both sides of the Committee when there have been discussions on temperance proposals, and it has been suggested that true temperance is not only morally, spiritually and physically good, but that it is good in that it is economically sound. Have the Government realised this? If a young man stands on the threshold of life and sees the aged people who have been thrifty and temperate, as a consequence of which they have become house owners or have a few hundred pounds in the bank or the co-operative societies, will he feel that it is wiser to follow the path of temperance or, seeing the position of those who are not frugal and thrifty and who get better pensions, will he think it better to follow that path?
I am concerned because of the position which arose in my district as a consequence of the niggardliness and delay of the Government in regard to pensions and the continuance of hardship there. In almost the whole of the pits in the Yorkshire coalfields there have been schemes between the owners and men to help the aged people when they become 65. In the colliery where I worked a scheme was started about 15 years ago by which the old men of 65 received 7s. 6d. a week. It was a scheme to which contributions were made both by the workmen and the owners. It not only did good work financially for the old people, but it helped to cement a bond of comradeship between the owners and the men in this good salvage work with regard to the aged people. As many of these schemes exist at our collieries. I wonder what will happen under this Measure to the people in these local schemes. Will the Government take into account schemes of that kind when applicants apply for supplementation of pension? The Yorkshire Miners' Association have also been helping old age pensioners by a humble contribution of 3s. a week. Is that to be taken into consideration when those people ask for supplementary pensions? I shall not do what the Parliamentary Secretary suggested in her eloquent but, if I may say so, often wide-of-the-mark words. I would say to the hon. Lady that we view with alarm the new position under the Assistance Board.
I desire to ask a few questions. Before HON.MEMBERS vote on these proposals to-night I think we should have an answer to certain questions like these: Will there be taken into account a small amount which a pensioner may have in his local co-operative society by way of share capital? Will the ownership of a house or a bungalow be considered in the means test? Will a few shillings a week paid to a pensioner by his trade union be subject to test? Will Service pensions be considered? We think that those particular points should be considered tonight. We also think that a "blind" pension should be totally disregarded. If the Government do intend to take these matters into account when considering whether supplementation should be made to the working man or woman old age pensioner, and if the Government are to have no regard to it in relation to those of high rank who come to the State for a pension, there is surely a class bias associated with this Measure. I am one of those who feel that this Government should be superseded without delay. I realise that at the moment the fight in which this country is engaged internationally supersedes all this political and party strife, but I can see that a generous gesture at this juncture to the aged people, the fathers and grandfathers of those who to-day are fighting in the various theatres of war, would not only help the recipients but would strengthen the morale of the fighting men and of the country as a whole, and would help to give us an earlier and a better victory.
For some years there has been constant pressure from these benches upon the Government for an increased old age pension. We believe that the pensions which the old people receive are too low for them to live upon. When at the end of last July we left the House and the Government promised to have an inquiry, we hoped that the Government really intended to help old age pensioners. I believe there is not a Member, either on this side or on the other side of the Committee, who believed then that the Government would come forward with a scheme such as we are discussing tonight. The Government seem to have made up their minds, when they could no longer withstand the pressure from HON.MEMBERS on this side and from the country, that they would pay to the old age pensioners just as little as possible. They have practised this game before. A few years ago, when they made up their minds to pay as little as possible to the unemployed, they invented the Unemployment Assistance Board. When they made up their minds, at the beginning of the war, to pay as little as possible to the dependants of men in the Services, they sent those dependants to the Unemployment Assistance Board. Now, they feel that the best way to secure that the widows and old age pensioners shall be paid as little as possible is to send them to the Unemployment Assistance Board. That practice we cannot too strongly condemn. They are putting those widows and old age pensioners under a means test which we condemned, not once, but scores of times, when it was applied to younger and stronger men.
The Government seem to have gone to the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1934, and lifted out of it all its worst features. They have lifted out of it the means test—a detestable thing, which is hated in all our villages. They have lifted out what they call the "special cases." They have lifted out the system of preventing public assistance committees from giving any further relief. They have lifted out the appeal courts. The only qualification for the men who sit on the appeal courts is that they shall be stone deaf, so that they cannot hear any appeals. Also the Government have lifted out of that Act the machinery for dealing with applicants. I am not going into all that they have lifted out of that Act; it would take too long—but consider the specially difficult cases—the "special cases," as they call them in this scheme. We fought that matter bitterly on the 1934 Bill. The officer has power, in the event of bodily or mental infirmity of an applicant, to say whether the pension shall be given or not. If an old man who is drawing his old age pension has got into the habit, while drawing the pension, of going to a public house for a glass or two of beer, the officer can say that he is no longer fit to receive his pension. You talk about trouble between the old men and the old women; if that will not make trouble between them, I wonder what will.
The other power that is given to the Board with regard to special cases is even worse. The officer has the power of judging the bodily and mental condition of the applicant. Last week I listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and afterwards I read it, and re-read it. The Chancellor was able to bring forward three cases. He said that he had sent to the Unemployment Assistance Board for cases. Naturally, they supplied him with three of the best. He flung them across the Floor at us, thinking, no doubt, that they would prove like a bomb among us, and that we should be unable to withstand them. The first case concerned an old woman of 72, who was bedridden, and was attended to by her daughter. In that case, the Board assured him that they would give more in relief than any addition to the flat rate would provide. But if the officer went to the house, he would be able to say, "This lady is bedridden, the best place for her is the workhouse hospital." Instead of more relief being given to her, she would be sent by the officer to the workhouse hospital. Under this Clause, the Government are putting into the hands of the officer of the Board all such old women, who may not be merely bedridden—
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Clause, he will see that the officer, on his own, cannot do that. He has to put the matter before the appeal tribunal, and then there have to be brought in also the friends of the applicant and the local authority. When the hon. Gentleman was speaking, it sounded as though the officer could do this "on his own."
If they come before the tribunal, the evidence of the relatives and friends will be entirely disregarded. Our experience is that, in 99 cases out of 100, the point of view of the officer is accepted.
There is no right of the individual or the representative of the individual to appear before the tribunal; and the chairman has the authority to decide the whole case, in the absence of the person concerned.
I have read the Clause, and I agree that the officer has to put the matter before the appeal tribunal; but what sort of tribunal is that? It is a one-way street. All that the officer has to do is to say to the appeal tribunal, "I have given an order that this lady should go to the workhouse"; and they confirm his decision. The Minister of Labour, in answer to a Question a short time ago, said that there had been 80 determinations under the Unemployment Assistance Board for recipients to go to the workhouse, there had been 80 appeals against the determinations, and 78 out of the 80 had been rejected. Do not tell us that the officer has to take the case to the appeal court, because these appeal courts are absolutely useless. Those two gentlemen who sit on the appeal court decide the cases without hearing the applicants. Someone applies for a pension, whether it is a widow's or an old age pension. The application is refused. Then you say to the applicant, "You can go to the appeal court." The applicant, thinking there is some hope, goes to the appeal court; and, in 99 cases out of 100, the appeal is turned down. Then the applicant's position is worse, because, once the case has been turned down by the appeal court, even the Minister himself has no power to vary the decision.
I brought forward a case of a woman who had been married to a man for 39 years, and who applied, at the age of 65 for an old age pension. Her application was refused, and she was told to go to the appeal court. She went to the appeal court; and those two deaf gentlemen never heard the appeal, but turned it down, simply because in the days long ago she had been married to another man, who had run away and left her, and she could not now provide legal proof that he was dead. I submit that the woman who has lived with a man for 40 years is entitled to a pension. Do not talk to me about the appeal court, or about any of the recipients having a right to appeal. It is a wicked thing, a diabolical thing, for the Government to take this Section from the 1934 Act and put in into this Bill.
I am not going to argue about the means test; we have argued it again and again here; but there are one or two features to which I want to raise objection. We have objected on local grounds to the means test being applied to the old people and widows. In County Durham, our men have been so generous that they have built over 2,000 cottages for aged miners, who have been supplied with the cottages free and with free coal. Let any of those aged miners apply for a supplementary pension. The Assistance Board will say, "You are living in a free cottage, receiving free coal. That is worth so much a week," and they may fix it at 6s., 7s., or 8s. What hope is there of these aged miners getting any supplemental pension? The men working at one colliery at which I was miners' secretary have been subscribing for the last 50 years to give the aged miners 2s. a week. What is the use of their going before the Board and saying, "We are entitled to a supplemental pension"? This simply means debarring them from getting any supplemental pension.
There is another aspect of it. I have a letter from a man who says he is receiving 14s. a week workmen's compensation besides the pension. His wife also gets the pension. They pay 6s. 6d. rent and 3s. for coal. He had been examined by his doctor, who said he wanted a new appliance, but they did not offer to give him one, and he could not afford to buy it. They are both cripples, but they are struggling along without seeking relief. If they reckon half his compensation against him, that will debar him and his wife from receiving any supplemental pension. Our strong objection to the means test is that, if anyone in the household gets an increase in wages because of the increased cost of living, it is to be reckoned against the applicant. In deciding to send these people to the Unemployment Assistance Board and to apply the means test to old age pensioners and widows, the Government are guilty of one of the worst crimes that they could com- mit against the working classes. I have begun to wonder whether the Government really have not a strong prejudice against the working classes and refuse to give them anything they can avoid giving. Compare this case with the Civil List pensions issued a year ago. A widow is granted £75 in recognition of services rendered by her husband to literature. Another, in recognition of services in British music, gets £100.
I am just mentioning it. I am not going to quote the list any further, but it is a staggering list. Altogether over £20,000 was paid for civil pensions in connection with art and literature. Here is another, of £75 for services to theology. The Government are giving these much bigger pensions to people who have indulged in art, music, or theology. To the miner, who has been so much more useful to the community and has done so much to build up the wealth of the country, they say, "We have to apply the means test to you if you want more than 10s., and you have to go to the Unemployment Assistance Board." This board consists of well-paid men. The chairman gets £5,000 a year. The Minister of Health tells us they have appointed another member. I wonder whether he is going there purely to deal with questions or to fill up the vacancy which has existed for the last year or two. If he is to fill up the vacancy, he will get £3,000 a year. The vice-chairman also gets £3,000 a year, and other members get £1,200 and £750. They do not give their whole time to the job, and one who receives £750 also draws a pension. This is not the board to which to send these old people. We shall have three different machines dealing with pensions, that dealing with the "over 70"pensioners, the local pensions committees, and the machine under the 1925 Act, where the widows and pensioners at 65 are dealt with, and we may have officials from all three going to the house at the same time to make inquiries.
The Government should never have stooped to send these people to the Unemployment Assistance Board. They will meet one day to deal with unemployment cases and on another to deal with pen- sions. They will need two coats, one to wear when dealing with unemployment cases and another when dealing with pensions. The Parliamentary Secretary told us to-day that the administration of the fund cost only£750,000 a year. The administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board costs over £4,000,000, in addition to £5,000,000 for the Unemployment Fund. It will not stop at £750,000 a year. One of the terrible things in connection with this is that the Government are prepared to spend the money on officials and administration instead of giving it to the recipients. We are justified in opposing the Resolution root and branch. We urged upon the Government again and again to remove the anomaly of the man's wife not getting a pension until 65. The Government are giving these women the pension and making a profit out of it. There is no question of it, because the Parliamentary Secretary has not recognised the £2,500,000 which will be saved to National Health Insurance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will do what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) once did. He raided the fund.
I think the hon. Member is wrong. Even if he took the £2,500,000 the Exchequer would still have to pay. The estimated amount the Exchequer will have to make up in addition to the contributions paid by employers and employés will be £5,000,000 by 1946.
We can imagine what it will be in 1986, but unfortunately we shall not be here then. We can leave it to the people who will be here. I know you are not going to take the £2,500,000 now, but you are leaving it lying about, and the Chancellor will very soon scoop it up. We thought that when the Government removed this anomaly, they would have faced the music; they would have found the money and not asked the men for an additional 3d and the women 2d. The Government will find that they are making more trouble for themselves by this scheme than if they gave a flat-rate increase. We bitterly oppose the means test, we oppose the Resolution, and we shall oppose the Bill line by line as long as we can. We shall try to prevent the Government from humiliating the poor any further than they have already been humiliated.
The only point upon which I find myself in modified agreement with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) is his reference to overlapping of administration, and in particular in regard to the Department of Customs and Excise. I see from the last annual report of the Department of Customs and Excise that the cost of administering the Old Age Pensions Act, 1908, and the qualifying Act of 1925, works out at very nearly £2 per case. I see from the Government Actuary's Report that the cost of administering this Act will be approximately the same sum of £750,000 for something like 400,000 cases. The Government will do well to consider once more—I am well aware that it was very carefully considered not many years ago—whether the Old Age Pensions Act should not in future be administered by the same authority that administers the present Act, namely, the Assistance Board. We have heard some rather harsh criticisms of the Assistance Board, but I do not think that they in any way really echo public opinion. I believe that the Unemployment Assistance Board have a better reputation than might be gathered from speeches delivered in this House. Within the limits laid down by Parliament, I am certain that, if the "over 70"pensioners had the option of going before the local pensions committee, the Department of Customs and Excise or before the Assistance Board, they would prefer the last-named, and in the long run, if we are to administer the means test at all—and I am sure we have to do so—it is better that it should be administered by a single committee and not by three committees.
I do not in the least know what the hon. Member means. If he refers to the Civil List, no such pension is ever granted without the most stringent inquiry as to means. Let me assure him that there is no possibility of a Civil List pension being granted without such inquiry, and the only reason why the cases of applicants, in view of their straitened circumstances, are not mentioned as they used to be mentioned, is that it is considered better that that humiliating fact should not be publicly referred to in any official document, but there is the strictest means test in respect of all the Civil List pensions. If £50, or even £100, is given to a person it does not come to more than the £1 10s. or £2 a week to which people under the present Act may well be entitled. There is a means test. The hon. Gentleman below the Gangway shakes his head. He is well aware that under the Old Age Pensions Act, 1908,there are many hundreds of thousands of persons now drawing pensions who already had an income of 30s. a week clear, and are entitled to the extra 10s. on top of that. The administration of the Assistance Board in these matters will not be less generous than that of the pension committees under the Act of 1908.
I wish to turn from that to ask a few questions, to which I do not expect an answer to-day. I had not the good fortune to hear the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary on the subject this afternoon, but there are two or three points with which I wish to deal. The Government Actuary gives 3¼d. a week, from the age of 16 to 65, as the contribution appropriate for a woman's pension of 10s. a week at 65. The reduction of the age to 60 involves an increase in the contribution of no less than 54½ per cent. That is a very large rise. The report of the Registrar-General shows that the average wife in all England is only from two to three years—not five years—the junior of her husband, and therefore this period is the measure of the benefit to be given to the insured married woman. The spinster will get the full benefit. The married woman is not getting as much as one would gather, and this very substantial increase is not explained in the report of the Government Actuary. That report shows the proportion of all benefits, including the "over 70's,"related to contributions, but there is no calculation of benefits up to 70. In paragraph (3) the figure of 62 per cent. is given, but in paragraph (4), adding the new benefits, it has gone up to 71. I do not understand why, and I shall be very grateful if the Government will take the opportunity at some future time of making this clear.
Non-contributory pensions and allowances to widows and orphans are a proper charge on the Exchequer alone, but they are in fact paid to-day out of contributions. I question whether this is fair accounting. Would it not be well to emphasise that the Exchequer subsidies to the recipients of widows' and orphans' pensions and allowances are really excrescences upon the insurance scheme? They ought to be kept actuarially quite separate. The understanding in 1925 was that, in the case of entrants at 16, contributions pay for benefits up to the age of 70. Everyone was to bear his own burden from 16 onwards, and the Exchequer was to pay for the back service. As the decennial increase matured—and there was one from 1st January, 1936—it was not accounted for separately, but it is now being used to pay benefits to the "under 70's."Such at least is my understanding of the position. The Government Actuary gives the husband's contribution to his wife's pension at 65 as equivalent to 1½d. a week. If the proposed additional contribution be related to the extra 1½d., and solely to this part, the increase is 133⅓ per cent.
It would seem that the standard of assessment has been altered and that the Government have abandoned the cardinal principle hitherto followed that the State is liable for the cost of pensions in excess of the amount produced by contributions based upon the contributions appropriate to entry at 16. The Government have followed the plan advocated by the Labour party and Trades Union Congress pamphlets, and are charging part, and possibly a large part, of the back service upon the current membership. I do not object to that. I do not object to the current contributions being used to pay for these back service charges, which are too heavy for the Exchequer to bear, but I do not see in the Actuary's Report a sufficiently clear statement of what part has been paid by the Exchequer in relation to back services and what part is being paid by the contributors themselves. This is a very important point, and financially it may have an effect upon all subsequent pensions schemes, as this will not be the last.
How far are we entitled to ask current contributors to pay for the liabilities which have accrued in relation to persons who have not been contributing for more than a few years? Under National Health Insurance, the back service charges are paid by a system of reserve values, with a sinking fund to extinguish them in a certain number of years. Unemployment Insurance has no back service charges, and contributions are paid in equal proportions by employer, worker and the Exchequer. But the case of widows' and orphans' pensions is being met by the younger generation who are now being called upon to pay a much larger sum than would be necessary for their own benefits. The whole question ought to be gone into afresh as soon as possible, and the liability of contributions at various ages in respect of the various parts of the scheme ought to be re-examined and reassessed, without regard to the political consequences by a Government Actuary, or possibly by a committee of actuaries, at the earliest possible moment.
The contribution position is becoming really very confused indeed and complete overhaul cannot long be delayed. I have always in mind the old age pensioners who do not become entitled to pension at all until the age of 70. They are in separate categories. We shall never see the last of them, for there will always be a considerable number of persons who, for some reason or other, fall out of insurance. The present figure is something like £15,000,000, and I see from the Actuary's Report that in 10 years' time there will still be something like £13,000,000. Of these, something like 95 per cent., after a strict means test applied by local pensions committees, draw their pensions in full; indeed for the last three years only 3 per cent. of the old age pensioners in the over-70 category have drawn less than 10s. a week. The means test, however applied, has had the effect that practically they have all drawn the maximum, with a very few exceptions. If that needs and means test is applied by the Assistance Board in the same spirit as it has been applied by Customs and Excise officers, I cannot doubt that most of the fears hitherto expressed—
The hon. Member must appreciate that there is less difference in that than would appear from his definition. In the "over-7o's" you take into account any relatives who are in a position to support the applicant.
Does the hon. Gentleman ask the Committee to believe that, in respect of non-contributory pensions for persons over 70 under the existing law, there is applied a household means test in the sense that the income of the household is taken into account in determining it? Would he like to tell the Committee whether he himself is in receipt of a pension, and whether in the assessment of it other members of his own family are considered?
On your direction to the Committee, Colonel Clifton Brown, did not the hon. Member support the means test in relation to a pension for old persons, and is not my hon. Friend perfectly entitled to ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) whether his pension is subject to a means test?
I think the hon. Member is mistaken. I pulled up the hon. Member because in my opinion he was imputing motives to another hon. Member, which is not allowed in this House.
Can you point out the imputation. Colonel Clifton Brown? I understood my hon. Friend to ask the hon. Gentleman whether, in receipt of his pension, there was or was not a means test applied. Surely that is not an imputation but merely a comparison between different kinds of pensions.
I think the right hon. Gentleman, if he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, will see that this question was brought in as if it was an afterthought. If I am mistaken, of course, I am mistaken, but that is how I took it.
May I make a personal explanation on that point of Order? I have no intention of imputing any kind of motive to the hon. Member. I was merely concerned with inquiring whether the principle he was advocating for others applied in his own case.
I have never asked in this House how other Members earned their living, or the sources from which they receive the money upon which they live. I have no reason to regret, or be ashamed of, the fact that I have drawn a pension, after serving the British Government for rather more than 20 years—
I only want to get the argument clear. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the people who will benefit by this Bill have not rendered service to the community equally as good?
To my mind this is wholly outside the Financial Resolution and no part of my speech. I believe a means test is always necessary if you are handing out money without any previous contractual arrangement with the Exchequer. I am convinced it has always been necessary in the past and will be necessary again.
If a contributory pension was actuarially sound from the beginning it might well be considered a contract, but in fact contributory pensions have to be paid largely out of the Exchequer. I wish to say, in conclusion, that the "over 70"pensions have been administered fairly and squarely for many years past and that the application of the means test in respect of these pensions has resulted in 97 per cent. of the old people of this age and over getting the full pension. I think that when the Bill becomes law it will be found that the many fears expressed by the Opposition are unjustified.
I shall not delay the Committee very long, because I intend to speak directly to the financial aspects of the Resolution. I am assisted in a certain way by the speech of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who has just sat down. When old age pensions were introduced in 1908 there was no figure mentioned in the Financial Resolution, and because of that no Amendments were accepted. The reason why no figure was inserted was that it was impossible to estimate the number of persons who would become eligible for pensions. Therefore, Parliament, by deciding what kind of persons should receive pensions, retained control over expenditure. We have to-day a Financial Resolution of an entirely different kind. A figure has not been put into this Resolution by the right hon. Gentleman because he cannot estimate how much money will be required and does not know how much money will be paid. It would be difficult to find in the annals of Parliament a Financial Resolution of that kind. It is a unique kind of Resolution; it is a blank cheque to the Executive. It means that the Committee is asking Parliament to vote an unknown sum of money. If such a proposition had emanated from His Majesty at any time during the last 300 or 400 years the House of Commons would have turned it down. But there has been no protest from that side of the Committee, and, obviously, none from this side of the Committee, although this is a very special subject about which there arose the long struggle between the prerogatives of the Commons and the Crown.
The House of Commons is parting with its control over the amount of money which is to be paid out. It is no use referring me to the scales and regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board, because immediately you say that the scales shall be subject to the overriding discretion of an officer, then they disappear, and apply only if an officer wishes to apply them. The officers of the Board will be themselves determining, in their individual assessments, how much public money is to be paid out in respect of supplementary pensions. Yet no protest has been made. Why has there not been more row about this? Why is Parliament parting with the power of spending public money without any of the traditional safeguards as to the amount of money to be spent? Why are not the representatives of the taxpayers getting up and protesting against this abuse of correct financial practice? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is one of the acknowledged authorities on constitutional authority, yet he is allowing this violation of the sacrosanctities to go by without even a sniff. Why? Because hon. Gentleman opposite are perfectly satisfied that they are to get much more out of this Measure than they would get if they did not have it. They are satisfied with the discretion of the officers of the Board because they know the whole administrative machinery of the Board will see to it that only the minimum is paid to any applicant for a supplementary pension. By the rules which are distributed to the officers, and of which we are ignorant, the actual intentions of Parliament are eaten into by administrative practice. We are, in fact, ceasing to have control over public expenditure; we are passing it to a horde of officials who are leading a furtive and clandestine existence and who reduce the amount of money to be paid out to applicants because they are subject to insistent pressure from above, and would be re moved by their superiors if they were claimed to have paid any sum in excess of what would be accepted by the applicants without a row—
Because there are so many of them. You want a whole espionage system to follow them up. We do not know what money has been paid out of public funds to an applicant whose needs have been assessed by one of these officers. We do not know, unless the applicant is aggrieved, and comes to us. That is why these officials lead a furtive and clandestine existence. We are witnessing a revolution in the financial relationship between the Commons and the Executive, and it is being permitted to pass without any protest because it serves the very sinister purpose in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Our attitude towards the social services in this country has always been that we would use them as a means of redressing the inequalities of the distribution of wealth. Do not let us be mealy-mouthed about it. Nobody bothered about old age pensions until the franchise was extended in England and votes had to be won from workers by offering them concessions. Pensions did not come to the working class as a result of the enlightenment of HON.MEMBERS opposite; they came by granting votes to the electorate. It became more and more necessary to persuade the electorate to vote by offering greater concessions. Our social system has been extended in that way. Members got votes from the well-to-do by offering to reduce Income Tax, and they got votes from the poor by offering to give them increased pensions. That is the tug-of-war which has been going on for the last 50 years.
If the working classes of Great Britain have been able to obtain enlargements of the social services from the rich, it is because they would not otherwise have been able to get the poor to vote for them. That may be a sordid view to take of politics, but it happens to be the correct view. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will agree that simultaneously with the arrival in the House of Commons of representatives of the working classes, owing to the extension of the franchise, the question of the condition of the people had greater attention paid to it. What happened? We wish to use the Budget for the redistribution of wealth. We should not be discussing this problem were it not for the fact that the wage earners of Great Britain lose every time in their struggle over wage conditions. If the working class had been able to make more favourable wage bargains for themselves, they would have had resources and would not need this legislation. The fact that this legislation is being passed is itself evidence that the working classes have been getting far too small a share, in the form of wages, of the available national income. The rich do not mind; they do not need it. The poor, because of their small wages, have no resources. We are discussing this because HON.MEMBERS opposite, in their capacity of employers, win the wage bargains every time with the workers.
We want to use the Budget as a means of redistributing the national wealth and supplementing the too low wages of the workers by social services and pensions of various kinds. That is why we object to contributory pensions. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said that the Liberal party had always supported contributory pensions, whereas some of us had never been enthusiastic about them. That was the reason. We do not like the scheme very much because we look upon the Budget as the natural means for redistributing the national income. All that contributory pensions do is to redistribute the same amount of money among the same people. The fact that it is the historical function of the Government to provide out of public funds for the enlargement of the social services is evidenced by the inclusion of the principle in our various schemes. We have never considered this scheme on strictly actuarial lines. In the case of unemployment insurance the Government contribute one-third of the contributions, and in pensions at 70 they find the whole of the money. There has always been included in these various schemes an element of Government contribution.
What happens under the proposals of the Government? That process is arrested. Instead of the poor having improvement in their social services by taxation of the rich, the means test is to effect a redistribution of wages among the workers in the form of this social service. If you take into account the earnings of members of the family in determining how much pension or unemployment assistance, or how much war pensions or workmen's compensation, is to be paid, you are redistributing existing wages, making the poor keep the poor, whereas it is the desire of the poor people in this country to use the instrumentality of the Budget for an entirely opposite purpose. It is a complete revolution, not only in the relationship of this House to the Treasury, but in the nature of the social services and the functions they discharge as a consequence of the introduction of the means test.
It is less stringent quantitatively but more vicious qualitatively. The right hon. Gentleman's next point—it is perfectly true, and nobody denies it—is that the people whose cases we are discussing are applicants for public assistance and, therefore, subject to a means test. Yes, but they come into politics as an expression of their poverty; they come to the House of Commons and say that they are so poor that they have to go before the public assistance authority and have their means assessed. They want Parliament to say that they need not be subject to this test. That is what is meant by a redistribution of the national income through the Budget. That is the whole purpose. What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that they propose to perpetuate the poverty and the humiliation of the working classes by a national organisation instead of a local organisation. That is the main point of my attack, and the poor people in Great Britain are looking to this House to protect them from the poverty which gives rise to their humiliation. All that we are doing now is charity elevated into a national principle.
How does the hon. Member explain the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) that there should be a 5s. increase with a means test, and, secondly, that the "Daily Herald" should suggest a 5s. increase accompanied by supplementation given by public assistance committees through a means test?
The right hon. Gentleman is anticipating further stages of my speech, and I am not going to run away from it for one moment. I say that as long as a person has a contractual right to a certain sum of money at a certain date, and when that date arrives what he receives from his family is taken into account in determining his need, you have charity elevated into our legislation and made a State system. It is no different from the winter relief of the Nazis. It is similar in character and the same in inspiration. It is a denial of justice to the individual, a denial of the dignity of the individual. His welfare is at the caprice of his superior. It is a perfect Fascist principle against which we have protested again and again.
I frankly admit that if you raised pensions to 15s. a week, you would still find large numbers of old people who would have to go to the public assistance authority and subject themselves to a means test. If you raised it to £1 or 25s. a week, there would be individual cases cropping up which would require supplementary assistance, but the calculable limit, the predictable limit, would be raised all the time. That is the case we make. All we say is that you should have assessed the liability of the individual higher than 10s. a week, and it is just that point about which the right hon. Gentleman quibbles. Why does he not make the whole of the pension subject to the means test? I will tell him why. It is because it would be too unpalatable to do so, and it would be an offence against the actuarial god whom he secretly worships. The reason why he does not do it is because he dare not attack that sum of money which has been won as an inalienable right. There is no difference in principle why he should not do it, no reason why the 10s. should not be as subject to the same test as the supplementary pension, except that it is politically inexpedient.
But why is all this done? Why is it that we have this peculiar mosaic put into our social service system? It is because of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have discovered a very valuable secret They discovered it in 1934, and found an ingenious way of removing the public pressure of the poor for an enlargement of the social services—and that is the means test. The means test ought to be judged not merely in terms of how it affects the amount of money received by this or that family, but how it affects this House and our Constitution, and how it affects the relationship between people outside and this House of Commons. I have been in the House for a considerable number of years. When I came here unemployment was discussed every Monday. In 1929 and 1930 it was discussed every fortnight, and at that time there were 1,000,000 unemployed. Before that we used to have debates about unemployment every month. Why? Because the leverage of the unemployed man could be exercised directly against Members of this House. When a Member went to his constituency he had to answer to his constituents for the existence of unemployment, because he was directly responsible for the conditions under which they lived, and by that fact the House of Commons was a real, live, vital Chamber, studying fortnight by fortnight or month by month the real conditions of the people, and the problem of unemployment, which is at the centre of the modern economic problem, was discussed. After 1934, after the creation of the Unemployment Assistance Board, after the creation of what I have called these thousands of clandestine officials, although the figure of unemployment went to over 2,000,000, we did not discuss unemployment in its relation to the condition of the unemployed except for five hours on a Friday. It disappeared from the agenda of the House of Commons.
That is what the Government hope will happen in the case of old age pensions. The old age pensioners have organised themselves, they have sent petitions here, they have sent deputations to their Members in their constituncies. In their way they have been doing what the Federation of British Industries does, sending deputations in order to exercise political influence. It has become very embarrassing for HON.MEMBERS opposite to have to answer the old people. This new scheme gives them a perfect alibi. When this Measure is passed, if old age pensioners complain, their representative in the House of Commons will become a temporary welfare officer who will go along and persuade the officer of the board to give 2s. 6d. or 3s. a week more. The matter will never appear here. We shall never discuss old age pensioners, except as they are included in the amorphous body of the Unemployment Assistance Board. Then, once a year, the conditions of millions of people will be farcically discussed.
I submit that Parliament is not only doing a great disservice to the poor but a disservice to itself, because under legislation of this kind it is ceasing to exist as a representative Chamber, as a place where the real conditions of the people can find immediate expression. In Germany the Weimar Republic was executed by the headsman's axe. The English House of Commons is dying of pernicious anaemia. If millions of people cannot get in Parliament an effective, robust discussion of their welfare and their needs their respect and affection for Parliament will disappear. Parliament will become a dead and inert body, a mere formal body from which the content has dropped out. HON.MEMBERS opposite, in running away from their constituents, in putting shields between themselves and the legitimate pressure of their constituents, are saving themselves from a temporary embarrassment but are undermining the very foundations of our Parliamentary institution, and we shall see the effects of it before very long.
After listening to the speeches from the benches opposite there is only one small point which I wish to bring forward. I have noticed that when a Minister replies to these discussions he deals meticulously with every point raised from the benches opposite, whereas very often a point raised by one of his own supporters gets no answer at all, and I will ask my right hon. Friend when he replies to-night to remember this small point which I wish to make. Speakers opposite, when dealing with the means test, have asked whether shares in co-operative societies, free houses of miners, pensions from a miners' union, pensions given to the blind, etc., are to be taken into account. I suppose that to-day all Members of Parliament have received a circular from the governing body of the Royal Seamen's Pension Fund, which brings forward the point that I wish to raise. If that point could be met, I am sure everyone would be unanimous in desiring that it should be, because every one of us is living to-night as a result of the exertions of our merchant officers and seamen.
All that the governing body ask is a very small concession. They say that the first 5s. a week of any sick pay from a friendly society, the first 7s. 6d. of any benefit under National Health Insurance or the first £1 of any wounds or disability pension, is to be disregarded when considering the means of an applicant, and all that the governing body ask is that any pension not exceeding in value 5s. a week granted by their fund should not be taken into account when determining the need of a master or a seaman for a supple- mentary pension. I have not had any deputation from my own constituency on this subject, because it is an inland town, but I am sure that anyone to whom I put the request would be in thorough agreement with it, and if the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer could make any concession on this point, it would be received all over the country with unanimous approval. I do not expect that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say immediately to-night that he can give this concession, but at any rate he can say that he will bring it to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and see that it is carefully considered by the Cabinet. That is all I ask him to do, and it is the only point which I wish to put before the Committee to-night.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles) has raised the question of how much or how little will be taken into consideration when pensions are supplemented. That is one of the things which all Members would like to find out from the Minister. So far we have not been able to discover even what principle will guide the regulations. I want to add my protest about the method of dealing with old age pensioners. I listened to the Debate on this subject for two days last week and throughout today, and I have seen four Members, as there are now, on the opposite benches—sometimes five and once, I think, seven. There have been three speeches from the Government side to-day, and those three speeches have all been condemnatory or critical of the Government's scheme. When we on these benches tell the Government that their scheme is mean and parsimonious and has not the approval of the country, we, like those who have spoken from the other side, are voicing the views of the mass of the people.
The Minister has been reminded by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) of the fact that at one time we regularly had Debates upon unemployment in this House. Personally, I do not know about that, but I do know from Parliamentary history that years ago a man named Keir Hardie brought unemployment on to the Floor of this House, and that it was kept there for years and years as a live issue, one of those bread- and-butter issues that were brought into politics with the rise of the Labour party. Now it is perfectly true to say that it has been banished. For years there was an agitation up and down the country about the treatment of the unemployed, and a board was devised to take the unemployment question very largely off the Floor of the House of Commons. I have been here only a few years, but I have seen this new technique of government grow. All kinds of boards have sprung up, including Marketing Boards and Electricity Boards. The general idea seems to be to run them by persons appointed, perhaps, for their technical ability, and there may be something to be said for the boards from that point of view, but if—to take an illustration—one asks a question about the British Broadcasting Corporation, there is no Minister here who is directly responsible for it, and in a very short time there will be no Minister who can answer questions about the payments to old age pensioners. We shall be faced with the Board's regulation.
I have here a letter from a man who is unemployed. The Unemployment Assistance Board took 8s. a week off his assessment because his house was valued at that amount and brought in 8s. a week. The house has become empty, and the Unemployment Assistance Board now say, "We will allow you 5s., because that is the capital value of the house." That is done according to the regulations, and neither I nor any other Member of Parliament can do anything about it. When we have taken old age pensioners from the public assistance committees and put them under this glorified charity organisation, there will be nobody who can speak for them. An old age pensioner is known to his own local body, there are councillors who can come along and get something done on the spot; but in the future the old age pensioner will be absolutely at the mercy of officials, and we on this side do not like that state of affairs. As all HON.MEMBERS will recall, there was a great agitation throughout the country in regard to old age pensions, an organisation was formed, petitions came here in bundles, and the Minister was often called out to see deputations. At last, as a result of speeches in this House, mainly from this side, as a result of questions, mainly from this side, the Government have had to do something. We thought when we went off for the Summer Recess that the Government did intend to do something generous, and the public feel with us that they have been badly let down by the proposals which have been put forward.
The country wants these old people to be treated generously. We have been giving bouquets to the railway workers and saying what splendid men they are, and likewise the men who man our merchant ships. In a few years those men will become old. They want their parents to be kept decently now, and they want to look forward to being decently provided for themselves in the future. The hon. Lady who spoke on the introduction of the Measure said that the Government could not give a flat rate of 5s.—though that would not satisfy us, because our demand is for £1 a week. Whatever the figure may be, the principle is the same; we ask that something should be given to the individual as a right and that he should not be dependent upon his grandson or son-in-law. We asked for a flat-rate increase, but we were told that it could not be given because it would mean giving something to 375,000 people who are at work. But many of these people would willingly stay away from work if they were given a definite income, and their places could then be taken by the unemployed. It is also argued from the Government Benches that if a flat-rate increase of 5s., 7s. 6d. or 10s. were given, there would be some people who would want more than that. Why not give them more? To that question the Government reply, "We cannot afford to do so." There we come to the gravamen of the situation.
Faced by the agitation in the country, the Government had to do something, and they have done something which costs next to nothing. I believe that it will cost nothing immediately, but in 1946 it may cost something. Perhaps it will, but perhaps the Government are counting on the fact that many organisations are doing so much for their workers at the present time that the number of persons who will be able to qualify for a supplementary pension will be very small in a few years' time. The trade unions are paying superannuation benefits to many of their members. Will those people be allowed to have supplementary benefits as well? The workers in many organisations, the flour-milling people, the workers of Im- perial Chemical Industries, the Lancashire Electricity Company, and the. Co-operative movement will receive superannuation, for which they have paid, when they retire. When they ask for a supplementary pension to the 10s., for which also they pay, they will be outside the scheme. Perhaps the Government anticipate that in a few years' time they will have very little to pay out in respect of supplementary pensions. Therefore, I say that the Government, having met the agitation in the country because they had to do so, have done it at very little cost, and have shown very little generosity, and certainly they have not dealt with the matter in the magnanimous spirit in which the country expected them to handle it.
It is also argued that it is a splendid thing for the Government to do this at a time when we are at war, particularly as we shall also have to meet very great charges when the war is over. That was said about the last war. It is, however, a singular thing that whereas in 1911 the estimate of the national income was £2,000,000,000, after the war, in spite of the great destruction of wealth, the national income had risen to £4,000,000,000. The most significant thing is that, while that happened, the amount of the national income which was paid in wages before the war was 39 per cent., whereas after the war it had dropped to 36 per cent. It is true that the lot of the working classes gets better in some respects; it gets better because of the social services upon which we have insisted and which, incidentally, were started not by any Government, but by the trade union movement, when it began to look after the aged and the poor. Afterwards, the Government took on those services. It is true that the social services are standing between the workers and a good deal of degradation. What the workers receive for their payments in rates and taxes in that respect is real value for their money. However, if one examines the relative positions of the working classes and the wealthy people, one finds that there has been very little change during the last hundred years.
It may be said by HON.MEMBERS opposite that that is the kind of thing we say from these benches, but it is not only my hon. Friends and I who say these things. These things are the general con clusions of people like Lord Stamp and Professor Bowley. After going very carefully into the wage rates paid in 1874—taking the records of various commissions—and the wages paid to-day, the position is summed up by Professor Bowley in the following way: the whole population is strung out upon the line a little bit higher up, but the relative positions of the rich and the poor are precisely the same. What HON.MEMBERS on this side have been constantly hammering for is an improvement in the lot of the poor; but this scheme does not bring about any such improvement. The Government are giving a little bit to the old-age pensioners, but they are not increasing to any large extent the amount of money that is spent by the working classes. The old-age pensioners will have to be kept by their families. Upon the workers as a whole the Government are placing the burden of keeping the aged persons. That is undignified and wrong. The Poor Law started as an inquiry and it was dependent upon the destitution of the individual. Whether these old-age pensioners are to get anything will be dependent upon the destitution of the household.
I believe that the position that we on this side take is fundamentally right. There is at the present time a large area of poverty and misery among the aged people. These persons, in their poverty and misery, should not be dependent upon relatives of the household; they should not be dependent upon public charity. These aged men and women, because of their inalienable rights as individuals, ought to have something of their own. It has been said that HON.MEMBERS on this side wish to destroy private property. We do not want to do anything of the kind. We know that private property adds dignity to people and gives them something to fall back on. What is the difference between the people represented by HON.MEMBERS opposite and the people represented by us? The people represented by HON.MEMBERS opposite are owners and controllers, generally speaking; they can plan ahead, they can look ahead, they have a background, their roots are well fixed in society. The people we represent are always at the mercy of accidental happenings; they are the flotsam and jetsam of life. We want to give them rights as men and women; we want to relieve them of the necessity of being dependent upon their sons and their grandchildren. They hate and loathe being dependent upon others. If the Government knew how these old people loathed it, they would give them rights as human beings; they would give them a decent amount as a pension—for that is what the old people want.
I have listened to several speeches, some of them long ones, and I believe most of them have been very sincere. However, I think they very largely expressed the fears of HON.MEMBERS as to what might happen under the Bill. They do not know what will happen under it, but they fear that certain things may happen. It seems to me that the trouble is a lack of information. I want to say, quite frankly, that I believe there will have to be a means test. I believe that for this reason: If there were no means test, many people who did not really require the benefit would get it. I do not say that they would not like to have it or would not want it—the point is that they would not require it. It should also be remembered that we are at war. There is only a certain amount of money to be spent. HON.MEMBERS opposite, and I myself, complain about how the money is being spent, but when there is only so much money, if it is spent lavishly and where it is not really required, the amount available where it is required is reduced—and some of these old people do require it. It is for those two reasons that I think there must be a means test. I do not say what sort of test it should be.
What I want to know is how the test is to be administered, because the main consideration in connection with any law is its administration. I understand that in this case it will be done under regulations or instructions given by the Ministry of Health. Incidentally, I hope that those regulations will be dear and concise and that too much will not be left to the interpretation of those who are to administer them. I wish to know from the Minister whether the regulations which are to govern the administration of this Measure will be laid on the Table of the House of Commons, and, if they are laid, whether there will be an opportunity to discuss the terms of the regulations? We have a right to ask for a Government statement on what factors will be taken into consideration in determining the means of the people concerned and what concessions will be made, or what will be left out of consideration. At the present time there is a great deal of uncertainty, not only in this House, but outside—even among those who believe, as I do, that there must be a test of some description—about how such a test will be applied. I hope the Government will find time, either to-day or in the near future, to state exactly what the regulations are to be and under what conditions they will be administered.
I thought the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) made a very good point In regard to the administration of the pensions by three bodies. I think it is unnecessary to have three bodies, and I wish to know whether the Minister would not favourably consider the proposal to entrust the administration to one body. Apart from any other consideration, I think that is what any business man would do. A business man who had to administer a scheme of this kind would seek to incur as little in overhead charges as possible. I believe you would get more efficiency as well as greater unanimity from one body than from three bodies. They might be wrong sometimes, but I should hope that in most cases they would be right, and there would certainly be a reduction in overhead charges. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the points which I have raised and that we shall have a favourable reply upon them.
The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) said that in his view it was necessary in this case that there should be a means test, but, apparently, as I hope to show later, there are some people who get pensions in this country and in whose case a means test is not required. To grant pensions without a means test is only to continue a practice which is going on in this country in many cases to-day. Some HON.MEMBERS seem to think that we on this side are making a party point out of this question. What we are doing, however, is arguing from the poverty point of view of the old people who suffer under existing conditions. Wherever we go in our constituencies to-day we meet with this problem of the vicious means test which it is now proposed to apply to honourable citizens who have given honourable service to the country. Every post brings us letters protesting against this inquisition which is to be imposed on people who certainly deserve something better.
The means test interferes with young as well as with old. I have in mind the case of a young man who is seeking to raise himself from a job of 30s. a week to something better and is trying, at the same time, to educate himself for the higher position which he hopes to reach. If that young man's father comes under the means test for the old age pension, as he probably will, then the young man will be bound for ever to hard, laborious work for a small wage when his services might be an asset to the nation in some other capacity. Thus, not only is the means test hitting the old, but it is penalising ambition in the young. It is hitting the old people because all their lives, almost from the cradle to the grave, they have been screwed down to the wheels of labour. Some of them out of their scanty earnings—and those earnings were indeed scanty 35 and 40 years ago—have, by scraping, by stinting, by neglecting much of the joy which they might have had, managed to get together something for their old age. They have exercised that quality, the virtue of which has been preached by the Tory party all my life—that wonderful quality of thrift. They have saved and scraped, but now, when they become old and want a supplementary pension, they will come again under the screw, this time in the form of an Assistance Board.
Reference has been made to the Durham Aged Miners' Homes. We want a complete answer to-night to the question which has been put about that case. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) and other HON.MEMBERS from that part of the country have asked whether the Government propose to be so mean and despicable as to make the miners of Durham subsidise this Bill—because that is what the proposal seems to mean. These miners, after their hard and hazardous toil, have subscribed their weekly pence in order to ensure that their old people shall have at least a cottage and coal in the years of old age. Then the Government come along and propose to put those people under a means test. Thus they try to crush the incentive among the Durham miners to continue contributing their pence and to build more homes for the aged people.
I wish to refer briefly to this question of the disparities in rewards for service. Protests have already been raised on this side of the Committee against this differentiation. In fact it is that class distinction by our political opponents which is the line of demarcation between our philosophy and theirs. One of the most recent protests which we had was that of my hon. Friend the Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) about a fortnight ago. In order to fortify our contention on that point, I wish to make a brief reference to three or four pensions, which come under no means test and which are given irrespective of age, and to compare those with the workers' pensions. I find that there is one pension paid by this Government which rises to the height of £70,000 a year—as much money in one year, as 10 coal hewers would get during the whole of their lives. These 10 men have produced at least 500,000 tons of coal and have rendered a great service to the nation. Surely, if the recipient of a State pension is worth that amount, the miners who have rendered services for 50 years are worth more than £26 a year. A retired Lord Chancellor receives £5,000 a year, or as much as a limestone quarryman in my division receives in 50 years of his working life, during which he has produced 100,000 tons of limestone, wrenched from the bowels of the earth. The Lord Chancellor receives £5,000 in one year, and the quarryman takes a lifetime to earn as much.
My third example is that of an ex-judge, another person who is well looked after. An ex-judge receives £3,500 a year as a retirement pension, or as much as an agricultural worker has earned during the whole of his 50 years' lifetime. In spite of that the agricultural labourer has lived in a miserable cottage and has produced a vast amount of food for the nation. Why is it that ex-judges and retired Lord Chancellors have such big pensions, while the workers—
I made no objection to the hon. Member's comparison, but I am afraid I cannot allow him to discuss these other pensions, which are neither widows' pensions nor old age pensions.
These miners, quarrymen, factory workers, railwaymen, and land-workers, with Othello, can say:
I have done the State some service, and they know't.
But equally, each could add that the State has given scant recognition to such services and certainly nothing like the financial reward meted out to others already well off. We are discussing to-day the abominable means test attached to the old age pension. The whole idea of the contributory pension scheme was that it was an insurance, removed from the atmosphere of the old board of guardians. When I turn to the introduction of the original Bill, I find that in the Second Reading Debate in 1925, Mr. Oakley, a Member on the Tory side of the House, used these words:
Under this Bill, pensions will be paid without the inquiries which were so very irksome and so much resented.
Then a Captain Reid said:
I, for one, submit that any future State insurance scheme ought, undoubtedly, to be on a contributory basis, and then there could be no question of charity, which is always abhorrent to the British working man or woman in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1925; cols. 315 and 321, Vol. 184.]
My last quotation is:
In the case of both the man and his wife we have been able to sweep away altogether all those tests as to means, as to residence, and as to nationality, which have hitherto proved so annoying and irritating in consequence of the inquiries which they necessitated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1925; col. 77, Vol. 184.]
That last quotation came from the then Minister of Health in introducing the Bill and who is now the Prime Minister. We submit that by putting into this Bill the means test, the Government are bringing back into the insurance problem the same iniquitous question which the original Bill was asked to drive away. We ask the Treasury and the Minister to copy the example of the Admiralty. When British sailors were imprisoned they acted boldly and courageously. Now we have the old age persons in their prison house of poverty. Why not stretch out a hand to help them, not with a flat rate of 5s., but with £1 a week for every man and woman, as we on this side have demanded? By doing so, you will rescue these old age pensioners from the "Altmark" of poverty.
I would not have intervened in this discussion if it had not been said, since I came into the House, that I was only a record of the Government. I ought to say that I spoke in the Second Reading Debate on Tuesday night, and I gather it is only by the permission of the Committee that I again can speak.
The last speaker in the closing remarks of his eloquent speech urged the Government to do the bold thing as the Navy did in regard to the "Altmark"prisoners—that is to say, to take the risk of doing something which is illegal and unusual, to take the risk of doing something that the other side thinks is at any rate illegal. I only use it as an illustration because the last speaker used it. I think that is precisely what the Government are doing. They are doing something unusual in this Bill. I made my demur about the means test in the previous Debate and I still hold to my view. I do not like the household means test and I demurred very strongly against anything but a private means test being brought into play. I am certain that there are many on this side of the Committee who think as I do, and I still believe it is possible for the Government to reconsider the question. They would, in my opinion, save a tremendous amount of expenditure in the administration of the Act. As I said on Tuesday, I have stood the test of two General Elections on the question of the means test for workers. It is a different consideration for those old people who are past work and who ought to be taken off the labour market not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of the labour market.
I would again ask the Opposition what alternative they have. I have sat here all day and have heard none. The proposal of the Labour party as published by them is 35s. for an aged couple, but the amount might beconsiderably more than that under this Bill. We have to choose either a fixed rate with no inquiry, or an indefinite sum without any ceiling, which can be arrived at only after inquiries. Even with the household means test this Bill will work. I may be fortunate in the Unemployment Assistance Board in Gateshead, but I can only say that whenever I have taken a case to the officials of the board I have received nothing but the kindest consideration. The discretionary powers that are given to the board's officers are used with good will, kindness and charity. We ought not to accuse civil servants of being hard-hearted devils who would see that the aged poor got very little. My experience is that within the limits which they are bound to observe, and which we set in this House, they are always more than just, human and kindly. I have consulted the legal, public assistance and borough treasurer authorities of Gateshead, and they think this Bill is nothing but good. These are the people who would have to administer it. The financial adviser to the Municipal Corporations Association told me that Gateshead would do very well as the result of it.
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) asked what the Government would do about the aged miners' homes and workmen's compensation, but every postulate he mentioned was an argument for a means test. Who can say what is to be done unless there is an inquiry? When anybody comes to me and thinks I am pretty well-to-do and asks for help, I want to know, as a north-countryman does before he parts with any money, the reason why the help is asked for. If the applicant can give a good reason he gets help. In other words, I exercise a means test. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) said years ago in the House—and he has never budged from it—there must be an inquiry into the means of anyone who wants assistance from public funds.
With which I agree. I support the Bill with that exception, and that is why I did not vote in the Second Reading Division. While we all agree about Part I of the Bill, we differ as to the means to be adopted under Part II for the payment of the additional grants to the aged poor. I think there ought to be a Statute of Limitations for them. Let them be as thrifty as they like during their earlier lives, but when a man has reached 65 or 70 we ought, before we judge him, to remember what we are and what we have done. We ought to thank God that we are better off than he is, and only do what is generous and kindly. I suggest that the Government reconsider the question of the household means test and institute the simpler, fairer and juster test of individual means.
I want to show the difference between the position of the old age pensioner when this Bill becomes law and his position at present. We have been told by many speakers from the other side that there will be some improvement. I have tried to realise what it is, and I have failed to find it. If the old age pensioner finds his pension of 10s. insufficient, he can now apply to the public assistance committee, who apply the family means test. They take into consideration the income not only of the household, but of sons and daughters outside the household. After making that investigation they decide whether he is entitled to assistance. Under the Bill there will be an investigation by the Assistance Board limited to the household test. They are not to take into consideration the position of members of the family who do not live in the same house. The investigation is to be administered by an officer, whereas at present it is administered by a committee. I can understand the criticisms of the public assistance committees, but I sometimes wonder whether they are not a better body to make the investigation than the Unemployment Assistance Board. They consist of public representatives who have to give an account of their stewardship from time to time to the electors, and that in itself is a healthy check.
On the other hand, the Unemployment Assistance Board officer may be a decent fellow, and, like the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), I have no desire to reflect on the Board's officers, for they have a difficult task and discharge it well. At the same time the Board's officer is an individual far removed from the ordinary conditions of working-class life. On the question whether it is any less of a stigma to have to present one's case to the Unemployment Assistance Board than to the public assistance committee, I am sure that if it were put to my elderly constituents which they would sooner face I do not know that they would care very much. I find that those whose cases are dealt with by the Board complain, and I have often to intervene and sometimes get a shilling or two extra. I find the same, however, in regard to cases which have been dealt with by the public assistance committee. I do not see that there is much to be said from the other side, although HON.MEMBERS have been boasting that they are shifting the consideration of means from the P.A.C. to the U.A.B. It is a matter of taste. Some people would prefer to be interviewed on behalf of P.A.C. and others would prefer the U.A.B. Personally, I see no great advantage in being interviewed for a means test by either of those bodies, and there is not much about which to boast.
I quite agree that in some areas the P.A.C.'s are more generous than in others and some representatives of the U.A.B. may be more generous than others. There may be something to be said for the argument in regard to areas. The point I was making is that the transference of the means test from the P.A.C. to the U.A.B. ought not to be boasted about by the Government. We are told that we are not putting before this Committee any constructive proposals. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us constantly that he could not make any disclosure with regard to the negotiations with the employers and the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. He said that they were confidential discussions. I do not think that the unwillingness to make any disclosure was because of what was said by the Trades Union Council representatives. If disclosure were made of the negotiations I think it would be found that the stumbling block was put in the way by the employers.
The Trades Union Congress came to those negotiations with a clear and definite mandate which they could not betray. They were not there as free men. That was clearly understood in this House. The Trades Union Congress were party to a plan, the Labour pensions plan. The General Council has approved that plan. It is not a plan of this political party but of the whole Labour movement, industrial and political. I know only too well that they would not betray the confidence of their colleagues. I represent one of the biggest trade unions. We also considered a pension plan. Had our plan been accepted, it may have been that the Money Resolution would be differently framed and would then have some definite figures in it. It would tell the House the number of millions of pounds required to meet the demand. The plan is quite clear. The miners of this country are prepared to pay all the contributions necessary to carry out the Labour pension plan. I can speak for every one here, and I am certain that if the miners are willing no other body of workers would object to doing so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) said that the method of ascertaining wages and profits in the mining industry is such that the miners carry the greater part of the burden of the so-called "employers' contribution." Let it not be said that we are not putting any constructive plan before this Committee; we stand by the plan. We are in a war, and some HON.MEMBERS may say: "Do you think we can afford to adopt that plan to-night?" I say frankly that I do think so. I think that this nation can afford to carry out the pension plan of the Labour movement. Let us remember what it is. It may and can mean the payment of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 from the Exchequer; no more, but it may be less. What is happening? Does anybody suggest that this country could not afford at this moment to launch forward on that plan? I am not prepared to subscribe to the idea that an increase of 10s. and no means test is an unwise proceeding. Our party must stand firmly by its own plan. If the Government say, "We are sorry, but we cannot give you 5s. or 10s.,"I, like my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) would accept the 5s. rather than have nothing; but I stand by the Labour pension plan. War or peace, this party can do no other. We promulgated that plan not without the thought of possible war. When I had the privilege of moving in this House the adoption of that plan on behalf of our party I well remembered the possibility that war might stare us in the face as a result of the foreign policy of this Government, which we knew would lead us into war. It is no use, therefore, suggesting, because we object to the Government's plan, that we have no plan of our own.
What is wrong with the Government's plan? It includes the household means test. Speaking for myself, there is something to be said for an individual need test before anybody receives money from the National Exchequer. All we ask is that the test should be applied with the same rigour to everybody who receives money from the National Exchequer. Why single out the poorest section of the nation and leave the richer section to receive public money without any form of means test? We are dealing here with a set of people who have performed great services to the nation. I meet a number of people during the week-end in my constituency. I met a man of 69 whose wife will be 60 in April, and he was very pleased that, when his wife becomes 60, she will receive 10s. a week. Nevertheless, he designated the Bill as a pauper's Pensions Bill.
On the other hand a body of women who met this past week-end in my division—this will interest the Parliamentary Secretary—unanimously condemned the Bill. They did not fail to see its advantages to spinsters at 60 years of age or to women of 60 married to insured persons, but, taking the Bill as a whole, they thought it was a step backwards and that the household means test was an injustice. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke earlier mentioned the situation in his constituency of Bow and Bromley. There are cases of generous sons who have taken their fathers and mothers into their homes. Those sons are to have to make contributions in order to enable their parents to live on £1 a week between them, while brothers living not many yards away will not be asked to make any contribution. Legislation which singles out the best type of child for that kind of treatment stands condemned.
I assure the hon. Lady that this is no sham fight on this question of the household means test. It is not a party question. There are HON.MEMBERS on the other side who are as eloquent as ourselves in condemning the household means test. I ask her to use her influence during the Committee stage of the Bill to remove what may be a very unfair hardship on some of the best children in this country, who have to bear a burden which less generous and meaner children have not to bear. I never dreamed, during the agitation that took place on this subject, that the legislation would take this form. I thought it would be something different from this. I ask that this attempt to provide for the old age pensioners should be amended substantially in Committee.
I have sat in this House for two days of this Debate last week, and for most of the time to-night, hoping I might make some little contribution to it. Although I have sat here for three days, I thank you, Sir Dennis, for calling me, even at this late hour. I have observed that some Members of this Committee have had the privilege of being called last week and in the Debate again to-day.
I did not intend that to be a reflection on your guidance of the business of the Committee, Sir Dennis. If I have made a mistake, I will certainly withdraw what I have said, and apologise. I am rather like my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I expected that this Old Age Pensions Bill would be an attempt to meet what I believe to be a real demand of the nation. I do not think the nation expected that a household or any other means test would be applied as the result of this agitation, and as I view this Bill I can only come to the conclusion that it is a piece of political trickery. That is how I would describe this Bill if I were speaking about it on the public platform. I think there is a good deal of deceit and public deception in this Bill, and I believe that it will be taken as such by the country as a whole. The Government have rather anticipated that the country would think, for example, that spinsters would get a 10s. contributory pension under this Bill. I believe that the leader of the spinsters in this country was deceived when this Bill was spoken about before it was introduced. I should like to know what Miss White thinks about Part I of this Bill now that it has seen the light of day, because I am certain that she was of opinion that the spinsters of this country would really get a pension. Under this Bill the spinsters will not get a pension at all, as I understand it, unless they have made a contribution under the National Health Insurance scheme for five years. Therefore, as far as the spinsters of this country are concerned, unless they are contributors within the scheme itself, they will get nothing, and I cannot believe that the majority of them are in employment. I believe that the majority of them are not in employment and that consequently that class of people will get nothing under this Bill.
I would like to refer to the comment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb). He thought that we were labouring under some misapprehension, but that when the Bill came to be properly understood and when the country really knew what this Bill means, the country would think that there was a good deal in this Bill to be approved of.
What I said was that many speakers, although sincere, were anticipating something which might not be there, and that we ought to know what the position would really be, after which a good deal of ill feeling would be removed.
It was because of that that I raised the question of the spinsters. I will take another section of the community who would gather from reading in the Press that they would be entitled to pensions. Widows whose husbands were not contributing to the scheme at all will not be entitled to pensions under this Bill. There are hundreds of thousands of women under 70 years of age in this country who are led to believe that they will be entitled to a pension of 10s., excluding altogether any supplementation. That should be made perfectly clear, and the country should understand it. If there is anything contrary to that, perhaps we shall have an answer from whoever is going to reply for the Government. When the Minister of Health was giving his approval to some remarks made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton), I thought that he was rather indicating what was in the mind of the Government. The attitude of the Government is this: What you pay for within the limit of 10s. you get, but outside the limit of 10s. for supplementation you have to prove every inch of the way. That is something to which we object.
I entered this Debate to-night in order to raise a point which I think is vital and which I believe to have a good deal of substance in it. I want, from whoever is to reply for the Government, an explanation with regard to contributors to superannuation schemes, contributors to trade unions, and contributors to mutual health schemes throughout the country. This is as vital as any other aspect of this Bill. I come from a division where half the people in industry for years have been contributing to pension schemes and mutual health schemes of one kind or another which at the present time and for the last 10 or 15 years, without any means test whatever, have been paying bigger pensions than any pension which has been mentioned in this Debate, either by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or by anybody else.
I want to warn the hon. Member before he has gone too far. He is now discussing a matter which should and can be dealt with on the Committee stage of the Bill. The question whether any particular asset should be excepted or not is left open by the Resolution.
If you rule that this point is out of order at this time, Sir Dennis, but that it will be a point to be debated on the Committee stage—and that is your Ruling, as I understand it—I will bow to your Ruling. The only point I desire to make is this: If it is the fact that 20,000 or 30,000 people in my division alone are already contributing to schemes which will be exempted when the Bill becomes law, either that has to be considered or, alternatively, when this Bill becomes an Act it will absolutely kill stone dead thrift organisations of that kind. I am sure that is not the intention of the Government; at any rate, I should be astonished to know that it was. At least half of my division would be glad to know whether or not that is the intention of the Government. Here is the place where the point of view of the division should be stated. We have worked for 15 years to put our employés out of the position of having to apply to the Poor Law, to public assistance committees, or to Unemployment Assistance Board referees or anything of that kind. If this Bill becomes law without any alteration, the Government will be responsible for kill- ing schemes of this kind, stone dead. I do not want to go any further, but I would ask whoever is to reply to answer that point.
I was pleased this after noon to hear appreciation expressed of the efforts of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in connection with the campaign for old age pensions. I remember that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and others were demanding that old age pensions should be increased to £1 a week when they stood as Parliamentary candidates in 1918, and that their efforts have been continued ever since. Three years ago there was started an old age pensioners' association, into which old men and women put their penny a month each, in order to build up an organisation to fight for a pension of £1 a week for each person, or35s. a week for a married couple. They have presented a case which no member of the Government has ever been able to refute, a case which is unanswerable. Now, the Government, through the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Health, and others, say to us, "We are doing a wonderful thing in introducing such a scheme as this in a time of war." Why are they introducing it in a time of war? It is because the Government absolutely refused—
No, Sir. I am not going to touch on the foreign policy of the Government. I was going to say that they introduced it in a time of war because they had absolutely refused to introduce it in a time of peace. The other night, the Secretary of State for Scotland said, "We will give this now, and it may be that in happier times we will be able to give more." But we had happier times before we had these evil times, and nothing at all was given. From the other side it has been remarked that it is a good thing to encourage thrift; but this penalises thrift. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in connection with the means test, "Here you have an old pensioner living by himself; he has his rent and rates to pay. Then you have another, living with his son and daughter, who has no rent or rates to pay. Surely you are not going to treat those two alike." Why not? Of course, they have the same desire to be independent, and the same right to an income after the services they have rendered. There is no section of the community—judges, lord chancellors, it does not matter what they are—who have given such long and valuable service to the community as these old age pensioners.
An hon. Member said that there is no country which has done more for the workers than this country, but I say that there are no workers who have done more for their country than these workers. Without them, all the other people could clear off at any time. Therefore, there should be a flat-rate increase, and no means test. But if there is to be a supplementary pension, and they say to us, "Here you have a man living in a house by himself, or with his wife, and with rent to pay, and here you have another, living with his family, or with a son, who is earning a good wage; are you going to treat them the same?" I would say that what is good enough for Members of Parliament is good enough for old age pensioners. When the hon. Member for Down (Dr. Little) referred to the fact that there was a means test for Members of Parliament, the Members on the Front Bench opposite nodded to him, in commendation, and later I saw a note of congratulation being passed up to him from the Front Bench. But what is the position of a Member of Parliament? After 10years' service—not 50 years or more, as in the case of old age pensioners—his income can be made up to £3 a week. That is done on the basis of his own income. It does not matter whether he is living by himself and paying rent, or living in a house with his sons, who may have good incomes. He may have a couple of sons, one of whom may be a barrister and another a school teacher, both earning good salaries; but there was never any suggestion that the trust fund for pensions for Members of Parliament would be distributed on the basis of a family means test. There is no Member of Parliament, either on this side or on that side, who would not have protested most vehemently against such a humiliation.
I stopped another hon. Member from going too far in dealing with pensions which have nothing to do with old age pensions or widows' pensions, and I must stop the hon. Member. He has gone far enough on that matter.
I want to refer to a speech made by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay). He made the interesting statement that, while he was opposed to the household means test, he was not opposed to an individual means test. He made an appeal to the Government, and suggested that perhaps, even at this late stage of the proceedings, they might consider that appeal. I hope that he will find a response. If the Government will so far alter the Bill as to substitute an individual means test for a household means test, it may be that the opposition to the Bill will not be carried to a Division. It is agreed on all sides that the great blemish on this scheme is the introduction of the family means test. The Government are putting the social reform clock back. We are going back to a past generation. They are undoing in this Bill the good work that has been done by social reformers during the last quarter of a century. We all agree that during the last 25 years or more there has been a general trend of enlightened opinion in all parties in the country that two things ought to be worked for. One was an approach to a better distribution of the national income. Secondly, and more particularly, there has been general agreement that in such national public services as that of provision for the aged and infirm the liability should be on the whole community and not on a section of it. It is obvious that in the introduction of the family means test the Government are going directly contrary to that general progressive tendency which has been accepted by all parties. They are introducing once more a piece of reactionary legislation which embodies the old idea that the poor must keep the poor. That is the real essence of the household means test. Instead of proceeding upon the lines of the whole community accepting this national obligation of the aged and infirm who are past work, we are going to place the liability on particular households, and those the poorest. The rest really go free, except for general taxation. This is not a policy which can be defended by any enlightened reformer. It is fundamentally unsound from that point of view.
The Bill is a disappointment and a disillusionment for the country as a whole, which did not expect it. There has been general agreement that the time has come when there should be an increase in the amount available for old age pensions. This demand arose out of the ascertained fact that 10s. for a single person and 20s. for a married couple were insufficient to give a decent standard of living, and the result is that 250,000 old age pensioners have had to have recourse to the public assistance committees. That is not equitable. The Government are not interpreting the wishes of the country and are not reflecting the opinion of the country, which expected a fixed addition to the 10s. I need not go into the question whether the addition should be 5s. or 10s.; that is all a matter of degree. If the Labour party's proposal of £1 a week for the individual and 35s. for a married couple was adopted, we are told that the nation's contribution would be about £40,000,000 a year. Is that an impossible sum? Is there any reason why those who happen to be a little better off than the large number of old age pensioners should not be taxed a little more? Should we suffer a great deal if a little of our surplus went to meet their needs by a flat-rate increase? That would be a more equitable method. In the Second Reading Debate the Chancellor of the
Exchequer gave two reasons why a flat-rate increase was not to be considered. He said:
The truth is that a plan to try and improve old age pensions by adding a flat rate of so many shillings is open to two very great objections. One objection is that in some cases the addition is not needed, and the other objection, which in many cases would exist, is that the addition would not be enough."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1940; col. 1489, Vol. 357.]
I will examine both these objections. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cast his mind back to the fact that when the first Old Age Pensions Act was passed in 1908 a flat rate of 5s. was provided out of public funds for all persons at 70 years of age. Again, when the Act was amended the pension was increased to 7s. 6d. and later to 10s., both being flat-rate increases. There was then apparently no difficulty, and therefore if the 10s. is not enough, you could add another 5s. That would be a simple way out of the difficulty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that if the pension was increased by a flat rate of, say, 5s. the amount would not be enough in many cases. What would have been the way out of the difficulty there? He could have attached to the Financial Resolution a proviso that, although a flat rate of 15s. was being given, an individual could receive an additional sum by successfully undergoing an individual means test. That would have been the way out of the difficulty. There is no real difficulty; it is only the want of the will to do it. For these reasons, I submit that it is not in the interests of an enlightened policy of social reform in this country that a Bill of this character, embodying a household means test which is so unfair in its exigencies, should be accepted by this Committee.
One passage in the speech of the Minister of Health when speaking on this Measure interested me greatly. He suggested that we had worked ourselves up to the edge of the pit, and seemed to give the impression, although he was suggesting that we should avoid slipping back, that it might be a mistake if in some way the workers should happen to get out of the pit. It seems as though this Bill has been devised for the express purpose of keeping us on the edge of the pit. During the week-end, being in- interested in this Money Resolution, and particularly in that aspect of it which incorporates the means test, I went through in my mind the number of tests to which the child of the working man is subjected in his lifetime. I have had a lot of experience in connection with administrative work and have come across this test time and time again, and I have railed at it time and time again because of its unfairness and of the impossibility of devising a fair test to assess human requirements and needs. I will not weary the Committee by giving a list of the various tests to which the worker's child, right up to the age when he reaches manhood, is subjected, but I will indicate a few and the direction in which they lie.
In the first place, there is the test at the ante-natal clinic. If the father happens to be earning more than a certain amount of money, payment has to be made for the advice of the specialist. If the mother decides to go into a maternity home in order that the child may be born, another means test is applied, and money has to be found. If she afterwards takes the child to the maternity and child welfare committee, and it needs milk, a means test is applied unless the milk is paid for at the top price. If she wants to send him to a nursery school, another means test is applied to see whether the child can attend the nursery school without the payment of a fee of 2s. After it leaves the nursery school and goes into the elementary school, and the question of free milk or free meals comes in, a means test is applied again. The child may suffer from its eyes and require spectacles, and again it is a question of how much money the father is earning. If the child needs footwear in a winter such as this, and the father cannot afford to pay for it, he has to prove that he has not the means. And so one could go on right through the life of the child. There are 17 such tests right up to the time of the old age pension, and now the Government are adding the eighteenth, in the shape of the present Pensions Bill. The only way in which an individual can be sure of being buried without having to be subject to a means test is to take in "John Bull" regularly and see that the money which is paid when he is knocked down in the black-out is devoted to the purpose of burying him.
I cannot understand why it should be necessary to give all the different assurances that have been given from that Box as to how this Measure is to be worked. We have the regulations upon which the Board will work. When the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Pym), in a speech last week, suggested that the Debate had a sense of unreality about it, I felt that he was speaking the truth in the terms of his own side of the House. The Debate was unreal because it was being assumed that the Board could do this and that. He almost lifted it into a position in which it would become a sort of benevolent gentleman handing out money to all who appeared to be in need. But what is the position? We know some of the questions that are to be asked in these homes. We on this side of the Committee at any rate know about the means test man who comes into the home and asks, "What have you coming in?," and, particularly, in the case of the old father, "Are you sure that you are living in a separate household?" or "Are you sure that you are not living with your son or daughter, as you are all in the same house?" When these old people have tried to establish the fact that there is a separate larder, the means test man goes to have a look. It is not that the means test man is short of humanity, but that he is doing his job. It is part of the regulations that he should visit the larder to see whether the butter is kept separate, and he then faces the son or daughter with the question, "Do not you ever provide a Sunday dinner for your father?" There is not a son or daughter but who says straight out, "Yes." The very fact that it is admitted commits them to the fact that it is not a separate household, and the means test comes into play.
The Government cannot teach us anything about the means test. We have seen it at work with the means test men administering it. They work within the regulations. They are bound down by them, and they cannot go outside the regulations, and the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary knows it. Some little time ago, in a district in Lancashire in connection with the education committee, we discussed the question whether or not the Unemployment Assistance Board could help in the provision of footwear. We had tried all the means we knew to get the Government to give power to provide footwear in another direction and had failed, and so we appealed to the Unemployment Assistance Board. We had ten officials on that Board, men who were in charge of the district, and we wanted to get down to this question of discretion about which the hon. Lady and her chief have spoken in this Debate. If discretion means any-think it means: seeing need, it can be met. That is what we thought, but we were mistaken. A friend of mine who was discussing it with me some time afterwards said "We have always been told that they had discretion, but very often we got discretion when we ought to have had 2s."In this case, so far as the children were concerned, the discretion of these people was always within the regulations laid down and the only way in which the Unemployment Assistance Board could assist these children to obtain footwear was after something unusual had occurred in the household and a certain amount of money had to be paid out for illness. Then it came within the regulations.
The money provided by the Unemployment Assistance Board is considered sufficient for all requirements, including footwear, only when exceptional circumstances come in and make it possible for officials to use their discretion. Seventy per cent. of the cases that went to the public assistance committee were met immediately but, on the other hand, where the same sort of cases went to the Unemployment Assistance Board only 28 per cent. of the cases were met. That was over a period of one year. The Minister spoke of what the Board could do, and I was amazed. He painted a picture of it providing reasonable homes for people who were found to be in need. I wondered whether I was mistaken. The only homes the Board is able to provide, as far as I know, are homes far away for people who have to go to them to take up work which the Board has found for them. We had the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) giving the reply from an investigator who suggested that because a room had been newly papered it was evidence of the prosperity of the individual living therein and he was, therefore, not in need. There is another question I want to put to the hon. Lady because on three occasions during the Debate on the Second Reading she, the Minister of Health and the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer said of the house wife, definitely and distinctly, that no person would be any worse off for the passing of this legislation and would not come under a test if not already under a test—
If the hon. Lady likes to look at the OFFICIAL REPORT she will find an assurance given there that no person, not under test at the moment, would be any worse off. In other words, nobody who is going through a test at the moment—
I want to put the position of a resident in my own division, a widow of 60 years of age, insured in her own right, who has been drawing a pension of 10s. a week for the last seven years, since her husband died. She is still paying, and was paying, her own contribution. Now she is disabled and receiving 6s. per week from our National Health Insurance Society. I am paying it to her every week. When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament she will lose this 6s. a week, which means over £15 per annum. All she gets in return, when this Bill becomes an Act, is a means test and family basis in the assessment of her need. I want to submit to the Parliamentary Secretary and her chief that the last five years of a married woman's insurance life are, from her standpoint, the best. We have had no assurance of what is to be done with the money except that it is to be at the disposal of Parliament. My contention is that any benefits paid for in that way cannot be taken away. This woman is having a very raw deal under this Bill and I hope the means test will not only be taken out but that we shall do something to improve conditions as regards the first part of the Bill.
The Debate to-day on this Money Resolution is only the latest phase of a controversy that is coterminous with my whole political life. One of my earliest political recollections is of my friends Keir Hardie and George Barnes having their moderate demands denounced by the forerunners of the party opposite as preposterous and extravagant and fraught with dire consequences, both for the financial structure of the country and the morale of the people. Not for many years afterwards did I become a Member of Parliament, but I took my part in that struggle as editor of a paper and of a year book. I have watched the growth of old age pensions, and it has added to the stability of the financial strength of the country and improved the morale of the people. The present proposal is a reply by the Chancellor and the Government to the demands which this House has made and is represented by them as a worthy step in the onward progress. But to us on these benches it is something very different. While paragraph (a), which corresponds with Part I of the Bill, is, in our opinion, in line with the reforms we have long urged, paragraphs (b), (c) and (d), corresponding with Part II of the Bill, are passionately resented on our side. Members opposite say, "Do be reasonable; are not you prepared to go one step at a time?" Our reply is that so far as this Part of the Bill is concerned we are being tricked, and before I sit down I propose to justify that strong remark. I will only say now that, so far from its being a step forward, it is, in our opinion, a step backward, and it places a definite obstacle in the way of progress towards the ideal in which we believe.
I was much interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). He said that a new principle of great value was involved in this part of the Money Resolution, because it provides a definite recognition of the needs of the old under a pension plan. He knows as well as I do that the recognition of relief of those in need, whether the old or those in the working years of their lives, is no new principle at all. It is not only as old as Queen Anne, but as old as Queen Elizabeth. But it is a new principle that relief of need is grafted on a contributory pension scheme and is to be called a supplementary pension. Names do not make any difference; it does not make it a genuine pension when it is relief. It remains relief just the same, whatever it may be called, and subject to the same odious condition that it is administered by a body concerned with relief and depends on the means test.
The Government say, "Really, do not forget that there is a war on. You members of the Labour party are so impracticable and sentimental. You really must recognise that in the circumstances of the war we are doing the best that can be done." The Government have not just come into office; they have been in office for nine years. This demand for better old age pensions has been going on during the whole of that period, and it is the Government who have driven the decision of this matter to a time when war is going on. Of course, they now find it more difficult. It is only in keeping with what the Government have done in many other spheres. We pressed the Government for action in the matter of collective security. I must not stray into that path, but I am entitled to point out that if they had adopted our advice when there was time, we should not have had the appeal made by the First Lord of the Admiralty for the neutrals to come in; they would have been part of the existing machinery of international government. It is precisely the same with the question of pensions to-day. Now, because there is a war on, they try to fob us off with this scheme which is contained in the Money Resolution.
Let me in a few words recite the story of the recent agitation. After an exhaustive study the Labour party produced a pamphlet which HON.MEMBERS opposite in a jocular mood have described as the "Teddy Bear pamphlet." I remember in particular the Prime Minister referring to the scheme and deriding it as entirely impracticable. The other day, however, I think it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who said that it was the one serious contribution to the subject. Our claim is well known, that the contributory scheme should be extended and developed so as to produce £1 per week for a single old man or old woman and 35s. for a married couple, and that in addition there should be certain extensions of benefit, in particular at a lower age.
In another part of the pamphlet we analysed with considerable care what was going on at the present time in the discussion between employers and employed, and I call attention to this because I think it is of great importance and relevancy to the discussion on this Resolution. It showed that a very large number of workpeople were covered by super- annuation schemes, in which the contributions were voluntarily paid by employers and employed in order to augment the pension they would receive under the Government scheme to at least £1 per week, and that many of those schemes involved the payment by the employers and workers of not less than 1s. a week each, and in some cases of an amount above that figure. I noticed with interest and gladness that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), speaking this afternoon, said that he was quite sure that the miners would be prepared to foot the bill with contributions for any scheme in accordance with the proposals of the Labour party. But the Government did nothing until there was something like a revolt in the ranks of HON.MEMBERS opposite, egged on, no doubt, by the growing feeling throughout the country.
The Government, feeling the prick of public opinion, reflected by their own supporters as well as by HON.MEMBERS on this side, began to feel that something ought to be done. Even so they delayed and delayed until finally the war overtook them. Then again the prick had to be applied to the Government for allowing the matter to rest, and, finally, the Chancellor of the Exchequer met the trade unions and, of course, the employers. I am not going to say anything but what has been generally made public, but I am prepared to say what is an open secret—it never was a real secret—that the trade unions expressed their willingness to co-operate with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a modified scheme if not less than a 5s. a week flat increase was provided. They stuck to their own scheme that 10s. a week would alone completely satisfy the position, but, as a war-time measure, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in co-operation with them, could make a satisfactory scheme, they were willing to play their part provided that the amount was to be not less than 5s.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although he preferred not to indicate anybody, and quite rightly, dealt with this question of a 5s. a week increase. He said, in the first place, that it was too much for some people and too little for others, but he rejected it in the main on purely financial grounds. He told us that to provide the necessary money would cost—as I understood him, including the reforms in Part I of the Bill, although he was not explicit on that point—11d. for men and 1s. 3d. for women; and, having said that, he brushed the whole matter aside and said it was entirely impossible to contemplate. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer, instead of brushing aside the whole scheme on those grounds, had taken a little time to consider it, and had had a talk with the trade unions, he might have found, after all, that a workable scheme could have been evolved from that proposal.
I am going to explain why the figures which he gave, though I accept them in their relation to the problem as he stated it, could be, with a little thought and care, whittled down to figures of quite manageable proportions. There is, first of all, the question of retirement. The Chancellor brushed that question aside. He said that he was advised that to base an increase in the pension on retirement from work was administratively quite impracticable. HON.MEMBERS opposite may have a good many quarrels with trade unions, but I think all who have dealt with them in recent years will admit that they are not unpractical when it comes to administration, and trade unions are of opinion that, provided their help was called in, it would be perfectly practicable administratively to carry through discrimination in the matter of retirement. On that the Chancellor had one or two other things to say. He said that, as a man of advancing years himself, he was particularly opposed to compulsory retirement. In the Labour party's scheme there is no compulsory retirement at all.
Then he said that in war time he did not want to have any great inducement offered to old people to retire from work. There is no difficulty about that. It is clear that the position is quite different in peace time from what it is in war time, and it is also clear that the inducement offered by an increase of 10s. a week is very different from the inducement offered by 5s. A man earning £2 or £3 a week who is feeling old and weak may well say, "If I can get 35s. a week for my wife and myself, I think I will throw up my job and retire." It is quite another matter if he is to get only 5s. for himself, or even to get another 5s. for his wife. At the same time, if war was on and there was really a great demand for labour— we have not seen unemployment reduced yet, but we hope that the Government are at long last going to enmesh the whole working population—there would be no demand from this side of the House, any more than there is from the other, that old men should give up their work. Therefore, I say that this question of retirement should not have been brushed aside so lightly by the Chancellor.
Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is authorised by the trade unions to say that they would discriminate in respect to those among their members who were over 60 years of age?
There is no question of 60; we are talking of 65. The policy of the Labour party has always been in favour of retirement pensions, and if I am not mistaken, it is in the Amendment which is to be moved at the end of the Debate. It is the policy of the trade unions, also, and I do not think any question arises under that head. I believe that in peace time the number of workers over 65 in employment was in the neighbourhood of 300,000. In war time it is probably very much greater, and if during the war those people do not come in for the increase in pensions, that will make a very large hole in the amount of money that has to be found.
I drew attention just now to the schemes operating in a number of industries which produce an additional 10s. a week for the workpeople. I see no reason why those superannuation schemes worked between employers and employed should not be in some way incorporated in the major scheme, much as in the health insurance system there was an incorporation of pre-Act health arrangements as part of the Government scheme.
In the third place, there is the question of what portion the Government should contribute. The Chancellor did not say a word about that. For my part I am not going to ride off on the pretence that there are no difficulties for the Government in the matter of finance at the present time. There is a war on, and it costs a great deal of money, but we must also recognise that the depreciation of the pound, which has resulted in a rise in the cost of living, has been a hidden tax on all old age pensioners, as upon all people with fixed incomes. Many hon.
Members have seen the proposals of Mr. Maynard Keynes. Mr. Keynes visualises a compulsory loan or compulsory savings by all sections of the community except those on the lowest margin. Under Mr. Keynes' scheme everybody would have to pay, but the people who were on the lowest margin would get their standard of life. It may not be equally realised in all parts of this Committee that Mr. Keynes was talking as an economist about ideal conditions in which there was no change in the value of money, and his scheme is, therefore, based on the assumption that there has been no rise in the cost of living. Therefore, I say that whatever the Exchequer may do, it would be perfectly right and proper for the Exchequer to pay over to this scheme at least that part of the cost which corresponds to the hidden tax which they have taken from the old age pensioners owing to the depreciation of the pound. The rise in the cost of living is about 12 per cent., and on the £85,000,000 which is the total cost of the pensions that are paid that comes to about £10,000,000.
I know that at this late hour this Committee is not a place in which to carry through a detailed financial argument and to discuss just how much this or that proposal means. What I do say is that these are all matters which should betaken into consideration, and I am certain that if the Chancellor and his advisers, with some of us from this side of the Committee and from the trade unions, and, if you like, the employers, sat round a table, we could work out between us a scheme for a 5s. increase that would not involve the large expenditure which the Chancellor seemed to think was insurmountable. The trade unions would have been prepared, for their part to recommend quite considerable increases—I have already quoted the very large sums which some unions are even now prepared to pay and I believe a workable scheme would have resulted. As to the question of the people who still would not have got enough, if one takes into account the fact of the husband and the wife getting the money, the number of people who would not have got enough would have been quite small, and it would not have mattered whether they were left under the existing system or brought under a national system without the household means test.
I want to make it clear that I am not committing the trade unions to any scheme. What I am saying is that these were the matters which could have been put before the trade unions, and I am certain that the unions would have given very careful and very helpful consideration to them, because I know they were very anxious to reach a solution, even thought it might have been far short of the full scheme which forms the Labour party's proposals. I should like to say one more word on that matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was very worried about non-contributory pensions. It is very difficult to gauge how much extra they would have cost, and the reason for the difficulty is that there is already a kind of means test for the non-contributory pensions. How much extra they would have cost would have depended entirely upon how that individual means test, which is much larger and not nearly as narrow as the other, was altered when the new scheme was carried out.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have none of these things, and instead we have the mongrel scheme contained in the Bill and in the Money Resolution. I want the Committee to realise what in fact the scheme does. Part I of the Bill confers 10s. a week on the bulk of women between 60 and 65. At whose expense? For the period of the war, at any rate, it is not a direct expense on the Treasury, although, of course, that depends how long the war lasts. After the war it may be, and then the situation will be quite different; but it is a war economy which the Chancellor tells us prevents the Government from carrying out a scheme such as we want. For the period of the war and after, it is certainly not at the expense of the local authorities. Of course, during the war, it is met, and to some extent more than met, by the contributions, and, therefore, it is the contributions that are providing these additional pensions. We now come to the second part of the scheme—Part II of the Bill and paragraphs (b), (c), and (d) of the Money Resolution. The general idea is that the Government are very generously improving the lot of the old age pensioners and at the same time relieving the local authorities. It is on that ground that hon. Members opposite think that the Bill is a step forward both for the pensioners and in other ways.
With regard to the pensioners, it is very doubtful whether they will be better off under the Bill than under the present system. Some people say one thing and some people say another, and certainly I do not take any very decided view on the matter. It is perfectly clear that the local authorities are relieved of a net £4,000,000 a year and the Exchequer directly, on that score, saves £1,000,000 a year, and it is assumed that the Exchequer will bear, instead, the whole£5,000,000. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary following the Treasury statement on the Bill, said it might even be and probably would be more.
I venture to put the question: Is this really the case? I do not think so. I think it will be quite the contrary. What is the largest call for relief at the present time among the old age pensioners? It is the call which arises in the case of the man of 65 who is drawing 10s. a week and whose wife is between 60 and 65. If I had time I could give my reasons for holding that view. They are to be found in the reports of the local authorities explaining the very large amount, on the average, which they pay per capitato these old age pensioners who are demanding relief. The fact that that is so, convinces me that these cases of married couples account for a very large proportion; in my opinion at least one-third and likely one-half, of the number of pensioners seeking relief. Take the lower figure—take the 100,000, if I am right. There has been no estimate from the Government side. I should have thought that one could have been given. If I am wrong, perhaps the Government will give the estimate which they have refused to give up to now. But take my estimate, which is, I believe, on the low side, that of the old age pensioners who seek relief from the local authorities or public assistance, at least 100,000 are married men whose wives are not drawing the pension. If that be right, 100,000 of those people will draw 10s. a week extra or £26 a year. That is over £2,500,000 which will come off the £5,000,000, and I do not think the contributions of the additional applicants will make up anything like that amount.
That being so, the fact is that the contributors are finding not merely the whole of the relief under Part I but are going a long way towards giving relief to the public funds, to the Exchequer and the local authorities, under Part II of the Bill. If we add to that, the fact that the relief which is temporarily drawn from the contributor in respect of spinsters between 60 and 65, also to a certain extent relieves public funds—because many of these women are probably already drawing Poor Law relief—the net result of the Bill, instead of being a great advance, is that the public funds are being relieved for the time of the war—I am not going beyond the war—at the expense of the contributions to be paid. Moreover I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that in the long run the contributions, both those paid by the workers and those paid by the employers, really come out of the amount which the employers are prepared to pay as wages. It is all written down as "wages, insurance, etc," and these contributions are, in fact, part of the wages bill which the employers are prepared to pay. That is why I say that we on this side think we are being tricked by this Bill and that instead of being a great Measure of reform, it is nothing of the kind.
I have been speaking of the war position. I ask, "What of the future, after the war?" I will give my answer which I believe is the answer of the whole of the party who sit on these benches. When this war is over, we will not tolerate the beastly, unequal economic system which has existed so long in this country. We are determined to fight the fight for democracy in this country, as we are fighting the fight for democracy abroad. We speak of the two nations, Britain and Germany, as a democracy and an autocracy. A great Conservative statesman, greater than any sitting on the Government Benches at the present time, stated that there were two nations in this country and wrote a book to prove it. What is the essence of democracy? The essence of democracy, as I see it, is the dignity of the individual and the dignity of the human being, and we are going to fight this war—our war—at home for democracy at the same time as we are fighting the war for democracy outside this country. And we are going to win, let me tell HON.MEMBERS opposite. This fight for democracy at home is why we are taking our stand on this Bill. It is because we believe that human dignity is an essential part of democracy, it is because we believe that this proposal outrages human dignity, that we shall cast our vote for the Amendment.
We are concluding the third day of the Debate on this Bill, and, as we know, there are many days yet before us for Committee discussions when we shall be most glad to take up the points one by one which HON.MEMBERS and right HON.MEMBERS have brought forward. We hope that we shall be able to bring them to share our views as successfully as we have brought them to share our view on the necessity for contributory pensions, because it is a remarkable thing that all the evening we have heard of the merits of contributory pension schemes, the desirability of the human dignity of contributory pension schemes. I was looking up the Official Report of the Debates when the contributory pensions schemes were introduced. It is a very interesting volume, and I recommend it for the study of hon. and right HON.MEMBERS on both sides of the Committee. Many of the things said as to the offence against human dignity, the desire of the Government to get out of their obligations, and the infringement of the principle of thrift, I find advanced in that Debate by the other side of the House against the very principle they are upholding to-day.
Many of the questions, I admit, go further than the particular subject we are embarked upon this evening, more particularly the echoes of the many long decades of agitation on this subject which was brought back to the memory of the Committee by speeches, such as that of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who, speaking in this Debate, recalled evidence which he had given as long ago as 1893 before a Royal Commission and evidence elicited from him by Charles Booth, so long connected with this subject. For good or ill no one will deny the great progress which has been made in our social structure. Hypotheses and ideals have now been translated into more practical forms. What we are discussing to-night is the Financial Resolution, which, whatever it does, allows 310,000 people, without let or hindrance, questions, or investigation, to receive their contributory pensions under conditions, and at a time, which otherwise they would not have received if we had not passed the Resolution which I think the whole Committee proposes to pass to-night. What we have done so far is an earnest that we will go further.
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) was able to wind up with a resounding peroration indicating that his party intended to fight and win the battles for democracy at home and abroad was a symptom of the temper in which the House approached the two days' Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill and in which the Committee approaches the Debate to-night. I do not think, in spite of the strong arguments we have heard—and the sometimes vigorous words which have been used—that there is a division between the two sides of the Committee as to the object which we are pursuing as a Committee, as a House of Commons, and, indeed, as a Parliament. We are pursuing the ideal of a property-owning democracy, because, as HON.MEMBERS opposite have themselves said, without private property a man is not truly himself. An hon. Member opposite, in an eloquent speech, said to this side of the Committee, "You are more individual and human than we are; you have your roots more in the structure of society than we have; you have a background which we have not, because property is inseparable from that full attainment of human stature." That is to say, on both sides of the Committee, we feel deeply that that is necessary and indispensable if we are to achieve the stature which we all wish to see our nation attain. When we are defending democracy abroad, we are defending the same ideal which we wish to defend at home, the ideal of freemen standing on their own feet, and beholden to no man. The other side of the Committee say they believe the Bill is making only a small step towards it. Everybody agrees it makes a small step towards it, and that Part I, at any rate, makes a notable step towards the ideals which have been so eloquently stressed from so many quarters this evening.
The three main provisions of this Bill—the provision of pensions for wives and spinsters at 60, and, I hope to be able to show, the supplementary pension also— are provisions which we may all properly accept as provisions upon which we may subsequently build. It is not, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh said, a retrograde step. It is a step which was inevitable if we are to make the progress which he and we desire to make. The proposal for supplementation has been looked at very carefully, and will be looked at very carefully during the Committee stage of the Bill. I understand that a Ruling has been given from the Chair that we cannot go into the proposals in any detail now, so that it will be impossible to answer in full the questions which have been addressed to me as to the sums which should be disregarded and as to whether fuel allowances and other things will be taken into account. I can only say that we are not blind to the necessity of not discouraging thrift, or to the desirability, as far as possible, of carrying on the process of allowing these things not to count and to be retained by the individual. Due allowance will be made for this in our proposals.
The whole question of supplementation is under debate to-night, and I say, first, that it carries out the demand which was made by the local authorities. On 27th July last, all the local authorities of England and Wales, with the support of the authorities in Scotland, came before me and made a demand that the pensions should be made adequate so that the old people would not any longer have to rely upon public assistance. That proposal was made from every county. It was not made merely from Hampshire or the Home Counties; it was made from Durham, Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire—all over the land; and that has been met by the provisions of the Financial Resolution which we are debating to-night.
The hon. Member is mistaken in that. The proposal made by the local authorities was that the payment to the old people should be made adequate so that they should no longer have to go to the public assistance committees.
If I remember rightly, the Minister attended a conference at which this matter was discussed. It was a conference of all the local authorities of the country, and the resolution that was passed asked for an increase in the rates of old age pension, and it applied to the whole of the people of the country. There was nothing in the resolution at all about the means test, or anything of the sort.
The hon. Member should have a more accurate recollection of what actually happened, because he came on a deputation to me and carried the results of the conference to my room. He seems to have forgotten the terms of the resolution which he came then to carry. They were:
That this conference is of opinion that the Acts relating to old age pensions should be amended so as to provide for the payment of adequate pensions and thus ensure that the recipients need not have recourse to public assistance"[Interruption.]
Yes, and I say to-night that we are asking the Committee to pass the Financial Resolution to carry that out. [HON.MEMBERS: "No!"] Oh, yes, and which—[Interruption]—well, HON.MEMBERS may have their own views on the matter. That was the proposal which was brought before me by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) among others. It asked not for a 5s. increase; not for an increase which would still make it necessary for certain people—be their numbers great or small—to remain partly on the old age pension and partly on the public assistance committees of the local authorities, but for amendments which would take the burden from the shoulders of the local authorities and remove the old people from what has been called the stigma of the Poor Law.
On the same day, that was repeated by more than one hon. Member in the Debate in the House. They more particularly asked that the reform which, at any rate, this Financial Resolution will make possible, should be brought about, and that the poor people should not have to travel from the post offices to the public assistance committees, moving about from one part of the town to another to collect what was called the miserable and inadequate amount of relief which was granted to them.
Yes. Payment at the post offices is not merely part of the proposals before the Committee; the finance will go straight into the Post
Office funds, under the Financial Resolution which I bring forward to-night. It is all very well for the hon. Member for one of the Edinburgh Divisions to say, "Not many would fall outside a 5s. flat-rate increase," and, "The 5s. increase would mean that a large block of people would be removed but some of them would be left." That was not the demand put forward in the House of Commons and by the local authorities. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) made a most eloquent maiden speech in which he gave a description in the most moving tones. He said:
Have HON.MEMBERS in this House ever seen the ghastly spectacle of the aged people queueing up at the public assistance office?…They are the men whose bodies have been broken with age and in the service of this country, and the aged mothers of our people. They are decent, tidy folk, with patched clothes, very often green with age, who have attempted to hide their poverty with all the domestic devices known to the working class; slinking along with heads bent, in the hope that they will not be noticed by their fellow-citizens."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1939; col. 1726, Vol. 350.]
He begged the House to remove this shame altogether at the earliest possible moment. To-night we ask the Committee to do it. We ask the Committee to vote money which will be paid at the post offices, and to remove this spectacle of the aged folk slinking along the by-ways of the town to avoid being seen by their fellow citizens. To any old age pensioner who requires supplementation that will be done, and, what is more, local authorities will receive in full the demand which they put forward. One has often heard the complaint, "You are making the poor people poorer; you are piling upon Glamorgan, Swansea, and other places burdens which they are totally unable to support, and we come to you and ask for relief from that burden." To-night, if this Resolution is passed, the Committee will have lifted that burden from the local authorities. If the Resolution is defeated, this Committee will have put that burden back again upon the shoulders of the local authorities. These are not negligible facts. They cannot be denied. The sums by which the local authorities will benefit are here before me, and they can easily be quoted in considerable detail. But obviously in the time which is at our disposal it is unnecessary, because it is not denied that the local authorities will benefit greatly. And the greatest benefit will go
to those poor local authorities upon whom this burden has borne most heavily in the past.
The next point to be considered is whether our proposals are to the advantage of the pensioners themselves. I hope to be able to prove to the Committee that they are. Again and again the question has been asked: Should assistance be a flat rate or should it be an unlimited assistance? It must be an unlimited assistance. It must be so from many of the points of view which were brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East. He said that these are fluctuating times, that there are the depreciation of the pound and the rise in the cost of living to be considered. He said that these things make it very desirable that there should be an increase in the old age pension. Yes, but surely that makes it all the more necessary that that increase in the old age pension should be calculated on what is necessary for the old age pensioner and not simply on what can be balanced out of contributions from the employers, the employed, and the State. He brushed aside the suggestion that there would be any difficulty in working out a scheme which, he said, would first of all involve retirement. He said that trade unions feel there is no difficulty about that. I know no body more powerful or practical in their grasp of affairs than trade unions. But many of the people affected by this scheme are not in trade unions at all. One of the great fields of employment is domestic employment, with which trade unions have little or no connection. The employés are charwomen and domestic servants. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the position is not so easy as he asked the Committee to believe. It would involve an infinity of administrative work, and certainly more time than the Committee would be willing to give.
Another suggestion put forward was to incorporate superannuation contributions in the scheme. One can imagine the sort of denunciations which would be made of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of his stinginess and meanness and his penny-grasping mind, if he had incorporated the superannuation schemes and had presented the result of that to the Committee as his contribution from the finances of the country to the improvement of old age pensions. Nobody denies—certainly not hon. Members opposite—that to in- corporate all the superannuation schemes into a Statute would have meant an infinite amount of administraton and a great deal longer delay than anything that the House would agree to.
Has the right hon. Gentleman not taken into account practically all the schemes, whereby pensions would be arising to-day out of the thrift of the persons themselves?
That is a very different thing from incorporating them in a Statute. [Interruption.] Hon.Members cannot brush things aside as easily as that. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley, and others who fought the Insurance Acts when the Chancellor of the Exchequer of those days, the father of this House, introduced them, will remember the infinite amount of detail that was necessary before all the friendly societies and other thrift organisations could be incorporated in the Statute, and the battles that went on, inside and outside the House. I come back to the fundamental point: Will the incorporation of the work now carried on by the public assistance authorities all over the country into a central scheme, under the supervision of this House, be to the advantage or the disadvantage of the old age pensioner?
I have put this point before, and I should like an answer. There is great apprehension throughout the country on the part of old age pensioners who are receiving good treatment from the local authorities. Under this Bill, instead of receiving an increase, they will suffer a decrease by reassessment. Could the Minister give an assurance that, if they do not benefit, at least they will not lose as a result of the Bill?
We have to deal with the broad outline of the case. [Interruption.] I will not shirk the question in any way. I am taking the national issue as a whole. I will give figures which I have looked up. I have looked up the rules of local authorities and compared them even with the present rules of the Unemployment Assistance Board, ignoring the improvements which we hope and believe we shall be able to make when the Bill reaches the Statute Book. In the county boroughs of England and Wales and the large burghs of Scotland, we have examined the rules of 89 authorities for the treatment, for example, of the earnings of un married sons and daughters over 21 years of age. Of these only three are more favourable than the present rules of the board. In the case of four authorities, the rules are more favourable for first wage-earner, but less favourable for the second or third wage-earners. The rules of 55 are less favourable than the rules of the board. In regard to county authorities, out of 40 where comparison is possible, one has more favourable rules, 10 give similar treatment, and 29, including London, have less favourable rules than the present rules of the Board. I have here the rules—
I said the present rules of the Unemployment Assistance Board, which we hope to be able to improve upon. [An Hon. Member: "What are the rules?"] I can give the figures as to the public assistance authorities which deal with the capital assets of the old people, either in a more or a less favourable manner than the Unemployment Assistance Board does under present conditions. There again I found that only 23 public assistance authorities in England and Wales covering 10,000,000 people, have adopted the provisions of the Transitional Payments (Determination of Need) Act, 1932, which safeguards compensation, individual capital, and so on. 122 public assistance authorities, with a total population of 30,000,000, have not adopted them and are not bound by Statute under as favourable terms as the Unemployment Assistance Board gives at present. These are important points. I remember not long ago the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said, "Time and again when I was working in education I found it necessary to look and see where reforms have come from, where improvements in the conditions of scholars had arisen from, where improvements in the conditions of teachers had arisen from. In every case I found they had originated on the Floor of this House." I have no doubt that that will hold good in the future as it has done in the past.
The suggestion that the means test should be entirely swept away is not only not the way to proceed, but it is not the way in which HON.MEMBERS opposite proceeded when they themselves were improving and reforming the old age pension scheme. In 1924 they started to reform the means test of the Act of 1908. That is not merely, as has been suggested, a personal test. It not merely, as has been suggested, takes account of the income of the pensioner and his wife. Regard has to be had to the value of any benefit or privilege, such as free board or lodging or voluntary allowances. There is no suggestion here that pensions subject to the means test are those under the contributory scheme. Both classes which are subject to a means test are non-contributory. The non-contributory old age pensions were subject to a means test in 1908, and they were left subject to a means test when Labour started to reform the system in 1924. We must have a clear principle to go on, and the clear principle is the one the Government has adopted and asks the Committee to reaffirm to-night. That is the principle that responsibility for the pensioner is to be taken over by the State. If the pension is to be increased as part of the contributory system, it will be increased by the State. If it is to be supplemented, it is on the responsibility of the State that the supplementation will be given. This is not the introduction of a means test. This is the biggest reform in connection with the means test which has been placed before the House for many a long day. On all these grounds I say never did I go into the Lobby with more assurance and conviction than I shall to-night, and never shall I ask the Committee to support the Government with more assurance than I feel now in asking them to put through this Resolution.
|Division No. 26.]||AYES.||[10.59 p.m.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Allan, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Peake, O.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Gledhill, G.||Pym, L. R.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Radford, E. A.|
|Bernavs, R. H.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Grimston, R. V.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Hambro, A. V.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose)||Hammersley, S. S.||Robertson, D.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Hannah, I. C.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Harbord, Sir A.||Rowlands, G.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Harland, H. P.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Brooks, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Burghley, Lord||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Channon, H.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Christie, J. A.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Scott, Lord William|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Selley, H. R.|
|Colfox, Major Sir W. P.||Joel, D. J. B.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Storey, S.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Levy, T.||Touche, G. C.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Liddall, W. S.||Train, Sir J.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Lipson, D. L.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Denville, Alfred||McCorquodale, M. S.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Dodd, J. S.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.||McKie, J. H.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Duckworth. W. R. (Moss Side)||Magnay, T.||Warrander, Sir V.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Maitland, Sir Adam||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel Sir T. C. R.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Emery, J. F.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Etherton, Ralph||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Mr. James Stuart and Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.|
|Everard, Sir William Lindsay||Munro, P.|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Hardie, Agnes|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Harris, Sir P. A.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Harvey, T. E.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Dobbie, W.||Hayday, A.|
|Alexander. Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Ede, J. C.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)|
|Anderson F. (Whitehaven)||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Hicks, E. G.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Edwards, Sir C. (Badwellty)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Hollins, A. (Hanley)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Hollins, J. H. (Silvertown)|
|Barr, J.||Frankel, D.||Horabin, T. L.|
|Batey, J.||Gallacher, W.||Isaacs, G. A.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Gardner, B. W.||Jackson, W. F.|
|Bevan, A.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Jagger, J.|
|Burke, W. A.||Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)|
|Chater, D.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||John, W.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.|
|Collindridge, F.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Lathan, G.||Parker, J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Lawson, J. J.||Parkinson, J. A.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Leech, W.||Pearson, A.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Leonard, W.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Price, M. P.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Lunn, W.||Pritt, D. N.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Quibell, D. J. K.||Viant, S. P.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Watkins, F. C.|
|McGovern, J.||Ridley, G.||Watson, W. McL.|
|MacLaren, A.||Riley, B||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Maclean, N.||Ritson, J.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Marshall, F.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Martin, J. H.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Maxton, J.||Sexton, T. M.||Wilmot, John|
|Milner, Major J.||Shinwell, E.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Montague, F.||Silverman, S. S.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Sloan, A.||Woodburn, A.|
|Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Mort, D. L.||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Naylor, T. E.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Smith, T. (Normanton)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Paling, W.||Sorensen, R. W.||Mr. Mathers and Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to reduce to sixty the age at which women may become entitled to old age pensions under the enactments relating to widows', orphans' and old age contributory pensions; to provide for increasing certain contributions payable under those enactments; to make provision for supplementing, in cases of need, pensions payable under the said enactments to widows who have attained the age of sixty years, and old age pensions, and for making consequential adjustments in respect of the General Exchequer Grants payable to local authorities which are public assistance authorities; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid (hereinafter referred to as 'the said Act') it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament—