Orders of the Day — Social Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th May 1955.

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Photo of Mr Charles Hale Mr Charles Hale , Oldham West 12:00 am, 4th May 1955

I am much obliged. If the right hon. Lady did not shake her head, I can take it as some kind of assent, as she displays so much interest in the matter.

But all this was done, and the three items in the budget of the old-age pensioners are food, fuel and light—and clothing if they can manage it. Clothing, if they have an allotment. Clothing, if they have some method of supplementing their food resources. If not, they carry on with the same clothes year after year and make do and mend them. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite tried to do that, I am sure they would realise that this is a matter to which more attention should be paid.

And all the time the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House and says that the Interim Index of Retail Prices shows that prices have not gone up so much. And he takes into account such things as wardrobes, linoleum, carpets and furniture and says that on that index he estimates how much it costs an old-age pensioner to live. It is disgraceful. These cases have poured in over these last few days. In Oldham on Sunday I interviewed case after case. There was one case of which the right hon. Gentleman appears to have taken note. The woman concerned lost her husband in the First World War and she lost her only son in the Second World War. Now she is on her own. One day there came a notice to say that she was to have a little more. Two days later there came the other notice to say that she was to have just as much less. So it goes on.

It goes on in connection with 1,800,000 potential cases. This is a shocking state of affairs and I shall say frankly what I think has happened. Were we able to call the shade of the late Sherlock Holmes into this Chamber, I am sure that he would be able to devise a provisional hypothesis in a short time. The right hon. Gentleman will remember, as he is a Holmes fan, that one of the most famous of the stories was of what happened to the dog in the night time. It was a mystery about what happened to the dog. The dog did not do anything in the night time. He did not bark. Holmes said that was the mystery: why did not the dog do something in the night time?

The mystery of this problem is what the National Assistance did at night time and why that dog did not bark. The simple answer is that they sacked the dog. We put George Buchanan there as Chairman of the Assistance Board. He is a man of great heart, a man of great ability, a man of great knowledge and understanding. He brought about a new service, and the National Assistance Board gave a service of great value, a service full of humanity.

In those days, I could write letters knowing that they would be considered by someone who knew all there was to know about poverty and how to deal with it, who knew about the needs of humanity and about the suffering of people. Yet they sacked the dog and there is only the kennel there now. They sacked the dog and they made room for an eminently respectable Conservative Member of Parliament who, according to the Index of HANSARD, has scarcely ever spoken about matters of this kind in his time here. That is not surprising, because he is an expert on local government. I turned up the Index today, because I would not like to say anything unfair, and I noted that he said nothing material about these matters. I admit that it was a perfunctory glance, and that I am liable to be corrected.

No one ever told us why George Buchanan had to go. No one has told us why the poor people had to lose such a good friend. If we put this in its perspective we get this picture: we get-my hon. Friend the Member for Ince, last March, saying that something must be done about the old-age pensioners. Hon. Members opposite decided not to vote against the Motion and they are entitled to the credit of all their benevolent intentions. One assumes that they agreed with the Motion up to a point because it was carried without a Division. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there was an economic crisis at the moment and nothing could be done.

The right hon. Gentleman never said what the crisis was. He never has said what these crises are. In point of fact, we have smaller gold and dollar reserves at the moment than we had in 1951 and the balance stands lower in the New York market than it did in 1951. All the time the Chancellor has told us that we have had an economic crisis here and another one there, an economic recovery here and another one there. We had an economic recovery in the Cabinet meeting on Monday morning. That enabled another £3 million to be chucked out by the Chancellor on Thursday night.

In this matter, we had, in March, "Old-age pensioners when we can do it." The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House may be going to another place. There are rumours, though I agree that one does not pay much attention to them. No doubt, as a good leader, the right hon. Gentleman has said to himself that the present Government will come to an end some time. Just as Lord Randolph Churchill forgot Goschen so the Minister of Pensions forgot pensions, and the Leader of the House forgot that there was to be an Election. This shows what one might call a contradiction in terms, or an absence of mind, on the Government Front Bench which wears a slightly sinister aspect.

We got to the period of the long vacation, and the announcement by the Minister at Blackpool that something worth while would be done, something which would inspire confidence. I cannot remember the phrase, but it rather hinted that it would bring big electoral dividends. At that time the possibility of an Election first occurred to the Minister, so the Minister came to the House on 1st December. There were demonstrations of joy about the 6d. that people were to get on balance, and that many people have got on balance, although my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey expressed very grave doubts about it.

In the course of the debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), a former Postmaster-General, called attention in detail to the point that, to the best of his information, the Government seemed likely to make a profit on the transaction. They were to get £100 million by the extra taxation paid after the Election and £23 million in other ways. My right hon. Friend said that the Government would save at least £12 million on the money they would get back, while the amount they would have to pay would be insignificant The figures left the Government in the position of contributing only £7 million to the National Insurance Fund. In the absence of any explanation from the right hon. Gentleman, it seems that the Government have pinched £25 million from the Insurance Fund, in respect of the payments which they have made in the course of the last few years. I speak subject to correction, but in the table which I find in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance for 1953 I find that the contributions from the Exchequer in the year ended 31st March, 1951, were £95,750,000 and an additional sum of £44 million.

The Minister shakes his head. I cannot help it; this is his document, and it costs 4s. 6d. If it is inaccurate it seems rather highly priced. In the year ended 31st March, 1953, the Exchequer contribution was over £65 million, with no additional sum. Therefore the actual reduction in payment from the Exchequer over that period was about £70 million. That is why, at the end of the year, there was about £1,300,000 in the National Insurance Fund.

It is in the face of those figures, those contributions, it is in the face of those liabilities that the right hon. Gentleman comes here and says that they are getting 6d. He said so on Monday. He said that everyone would be a bit better off. There are no cases in which we have done as the Chancellor did and taken off in tax reductions less than was put on. We may have put on 7s. 6d. and taken off 7s. but it has always been at least 6d. less. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will be 6d. better off at the Election but who, a fortnight later, will be worse off. That is all we have got from the Minister's statement.