Yes, Sir Gordon. It is entirely convenient to take all the remaining Amendments standing in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to the Fourth Schedule because they all deal with the same subject, namely, the amount of allowance which ought to be paid to persons drawing benefit under the National Insurance Scheme in respect of their dependent children.
We are here concerned with the children of parents who are unemployed, sick, widowed, disabled—because there were Amendments to an earlier Schedule which I did not move, in order to help the Committee in the passage of the Bill, but which it would be necessary to make if the Amendment I am now moving were carried. I am sure that the Government would then agree to make the necessary Amendments in the earlier Schedule—and even, in some cases, with the dependent children of retirement pensioners.
These are children whose parents have suffered a great adversity. The Committee will probably feel with me that whoever suffers from the adversities of unemployment, sickness, widowhood, death, and so on, it should not be the children. During the discussion of the last Amendment I understand that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) was so moved by my argument that she abstained from supporting the Government. I feel fully confident that, for all the harshness of her attacks on hon. Members on this side of the Committee, her heart feels so warmly for those afflicted that on this Amendment she will come into the Lobby with us.
The hon. Lady must not allow her antagonism to my right hon. Friends and myself to divert her in any way from supporting the cause of children. I hope that she will agree that the children should not suffer even if the parents fall upon adversity.
It is the duty and the interest of the nation to succour its children above all. It is for that reason that dependants' allowances are paid both from the Indus- trial Injuries Fund and the National Insurance Fund. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether those allowances are sufficient to care for the welfare of these children in the way that we should like, and whether the increases provided under the Bill are sufficient.
The sad fact is that of the sick, unemployed and widowed who have to resort to National Assistance a very large proportion consists of parents of large families. It is still true that children are the chief cause of poverty. Large numbers of those who draw benefits under the National Insurance Scheme and find those benefits inadequate to maintain them above subsistence level, and there-fore have to go to the Assistance Board, are forced to do so because they have large numbers of children.
These are undeniable facts. A recent report of the National Assistance Board showed that there were 300,000 children in households to whom National Assistance was paid. The latest figure may be a little more or less—I hope that it is less—hut it would be a very large figure even if it were now only 200,000. If we could see all those children gathered together in one place we would have some idea of their dimensions. They would form a crowd as large as the populations of many of our biggest cities, represented by two Members. If there were 300,000 children, they would represent a number as big as the populations of cities represented very often by three Members.
The vast majority of these children whose families are drawing National Assistance are not satisfactorily cared for by the nation. The only way to care for them is by so raising the dependants' allowance that they will get at least above National Assistance level, so that their parents will no longer have to resort to the means test and frequent applications for aid for their children, which is a necessity for anybody living on National Assistance.
Some time ago improvements were made in regard to the children of widows. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) was responsible for the initiation of the differential allowance for the children of widows. It was a good move, and the House came to a sensible and correct decision when it decided that the difficulties of the young widow trying to keep a family were so great that special help should be given to her over and above the help given to married couples.
That was right, and the Amendments do not suggest any alteration in the differential in favour of the widow, but I feel that we must now try to make a better provision for the children of households in which both parents are living.
The total benefits now paid under our National Insurance system for unemployment, sickness and other hazards represents a very big drop below the average wage rates. The drop which a family has to face in its standard of living when the breadwinner becomes ill for any period longer than a few weeks, or the drop which occurs when the breadwinner becomes unemployed for a similar period, is very severe. I sometimes wonder what would happen if severe unemployment came again to this country and average wage earners had to come down to the present level of unemployment benefit with the present allowances for their children. There would be white-hot indignation all over the country.
The effect of the Amendment would be to lessen the drop for those who have children to support. It would give the afflicted parents 20s. a week for each child. The last food survey, published by the Government, shows that the average expenditure per person on food is 28s. 6d. a week. We pay 20s. for the dependent child of a person who has no other resources than the bare 40s., or 50s. as it will now be. That amount is not merely to feed, but to maintain a child, I do not say that it need cost 28s. 6d. for food, but that is the average figure, and I am sure that the cost is remarkably near that figure. A child needs more food than the average adult person. Children are growing and may need carefully selected food. I do not believe it possible today for their parents to give them sufficient food on the allowance suggested in the Bill.
There are all the additional requirements which have to be met. Children's shoes, socks and stockings wear out faster than those of adults. As they grow, their clothing needs continually to be replaced. Children also need other things beside food—soap and toothpaste—and their laundry is more than that of other people. Expenditure has to be incurred for children which goes beyond the average required for grown-ups. I suggest that the figure which is paid today and even the figure suggested in the Bill is not sufficient to meet these necessary expenditures.
It will be said that there are free meals in schools available for the children of the "afflicted," as I will call them, so as not to keep repeating the terms "sick," "unemployed," and the rest. There are such meals available, but to get them, or the various extras which some generous local authorities may provide, their parents must resort to a means test and disclose their income, or go to the National Assistance Board.
Surely we wish to keep these children off National Assistance; to save their parents from the necessity of applying for National Assistance, and give them a pension plus allowances which will be sufficient to maintain the family if not in comfort and at the standard provided by the average wage today, at least at a higher standard than they are forced to adopt now. Anybody who represents a constituency such as mine can take a walk through the streets and see these chronically sick and unemployed and can appreciate the hazards and anxieties they have to endure. Unless these people are exceptionally clever at making do, they cannot maintain their children as they would like, and those children are not given the decent chance in life that we should like them to have.
The increase I propose is very modest, perhaps too modest and I should like to make it higher. But I am trying to arrive at a figure which could be met within the funds available and without the necessity of any further increase in the contribution. I believe that this sort of increase, although modest, would be a great help. When we are asked to raise the guardians' allowance—which we shall do quite willingly—we may ask ourselves, if it is right and proper to give a guardian 27s. 6d., is it not right and proper to give the natural parent, at any rate, 20s.?
Although I am doubtful about it, I will accept the argument that it is necessary to pay more to a guardian to compensate for some of the things they have to give up when they undertake the guardianship of a child. I know that local authorities pay a great deal more than 27s. 6d. to foster parents, but I suggest that if 27s. 6d. is a right amount for a guardian surely 20s. is not too much for a parent.
No one of us would ever think of keeping a child on 20s. a week. We cannot imagine how we would do it, even were we to attempt to. The argument I shall have to meet will be the old familiar argument that if we raise the benefits payable, particularly during unemployment, too high, we provide an inducement to people not to go to work; to avoid employment or not to seek work after they have become unemployed.
Let us take the example of a parent who earns £7 a week and has four children. I hope that the figures I shall give are right, I do not think that they are very far out. At the present rate of family allowances the parent would be getting 28s. from the State to help maintain his children which would be a total of eight guineas a week. Suppose he became sick. Under the provisions of this Bill his own benefit would be £2 10s. In respect of his wife he would receive £1 10s. with 15s. for the first child and for the second child, and £1 14s. for the other two children; a total of £7 4s., or £1 4s. less than he would receive were he at work and in the lowest wage scale.
Under our proposal the couple would get £4 a week. The first child would get £1, the second £1, and the two other children between them would get £2 4s. making a total of £8 4s. a week, to be compared with the £8 8s. going into the home when the father is at work. It is a narrow difference, I know, but it is also a very low wage on which to keep children. Our concern really must be whether the children are being adequately cared for.
I do not believe that if a parent can earn £8 8s. a week to keep his children when he is able to work and can receive £8 4s. when he is unable to work, he will stop work. There are already adequate checks in the regulations upon people who seek to avoid employment. They cannot draw unemployment benefit unless they look for work, are available for work, and try to fill the vacancies which are handed to them by the employment exchange.
If they are sick there is the protection of the doctor's certificate, which is reviewed from time to time by the Ministry of Health if they remain very long on sickness benefit. Surely there are enough safeguards against anybody trying to live on the benefit and exploit his children. I doubt very much whether, in our modern society of full employment, there is anything but a tiny fraction of people who would dream for a moment of preferring a life of idleness at home, drawing benefit and avoiding the inspectors of various departments whose job it is to see that people do not draw benefit irregularly. There are, of course, some completely incapable and shiftless parents—
Yes, a tiny proportion, but the vast majority of people would not do it. They will go to work if they can, because they want to get back to it. They do not want to be at home idle. At any rate, it would be impossible for the vast majority of people to dodge in that way. If any hon. Member says that the vast majority of our working people would do such a shameful thing he had better go to his constituency to say so. I doubt whether any hon. Member believes it or would say it. It is not true; nobody but a bad parent would do it.
There are bad parents, as we see from the newspapers from time to time in cases of child neglect. If there are bad parents who would remain at home, draw children's allowance and deprive their children of food and clothing by spending the money upon themselves, these are the very children we want to protect. If it is our serious intention, as we say continually on both sides of the Committee, to defend the family and hold it together in times of adversity so that it will not split up, some of the children being sent to a children's home and the others to what we used to call the "workhouse", we must assist the children.
We want to give every boy and girl a really fair chance in life. We do not want their parents to have an intolerable job in providing food, clothing and shelter for them and to be obliged to send them out to work as soon as they leave school so that they can add to the family income. Boys and girls must have a chance to go to grammar school and on to university; they should not be pushed out into life for the sake of the younger children. The only way is to give the family an adequate income all the time. The Amendment which I am moving has that intention.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) has referred to the scandal of unscrupulous people living on the Welfare State. There are bad eggs in every community. It would be outside the scope of the debate to deal in detail with this point. I will merely say that some day the House of Commons will have to deal with the odd person who is hurting the Welfare State by his action.
These are, however, merely odd people, by anyone's count. It is wrong that the wellsprings of charity and of the Welfare State should be choked at any moment because there happen to be some who abuse its benefits, just as it would be wrong that we should remove the tobacco allowance merely because there happened to be an odd person here and there in the country who is abusing it.
One of the bad things in any society is the difference in treatment accorded to different groups children get. The measure of a civilised society in its progress towards a fine civilisation is how far it is adequately caring for all the children. In Britain at the moment, we have still grave differences between the wellbeing of the best-off children and the conditions of the poorest children. It must be a very real tragedy to be a poor child in a rich society like ours. It is worth reminding the Committee that children do not choose to have parents, or to have parents who will or will not survive, or who are going to be rich or poor, or employed or unemployed; yet we still make vast differences between the standards of living allocated to children. in the various groups—even in those groups for which the State is brought in to make provision and assumes some kind of responsibility.
My right hon. Friend has pointed out that the present allowance to a widow's child is 20s. if it is the first child, and 14s. if it is one of the other children. The value of an unemployed man's first child is 15s. and of his other children 7s. I have never found any mother who could explain why we make a different provision for the first child as against the second. It may be that—
I cannot understand why we should differentiate between the first and second child. I remember how bitter I was in the early days of the war at the value we placed on the third and fourth children of a serving soldier. We now allow about £100 in our Income Tax assessments for a child. If a man is paying the full rate of Income Tax, if he is well enough off to pay tax at the standard rate, he gets more in allowances to keep his child than we give to the second child of a widow or to the first child of an unemployed man.
My right hon. Friend referred to the task of looking after deprived children. I am glad he did, because I want to give the Committee one or two figures. The cost of maintaining deprived children in Southampton and Hampshire is more than £4 a week per child. In Hampshire we keep 300 children in our various county homes at a cost of £90,000, £300 a year or £6 a week each. We board out 572 children at £82 a year each, and, on average, we are paying foster parents 32s. 6d. a week each. In passing, I may pay tribute to the foster parents of this country who are by no means making a profit out of whatever amount of money they receive for this very noble work of providing deprived children with a better home than they would get elsewhere and are saving the State about £3 a week per child.
In Hampshire we spend £200 a year per child, or on average £4 a week each. I wondered whether Hampshire was different from the rest of the country. So I inquired and found that the national figure of 61,000 children involves a cost of £11 million, an average of £3 10s. per week per child. That is without the cost of administration, which is another £2 million, which means that, on average, the cost of a deprived child for the country is £4 6s. 6d. a week. Incidentally, those figures are for 1954–55 and the cost must now be much higher. If a child is unfortunate enough—I use the word "unfortunate" because I do not believe there are many wicked children about—to go to an approved school in Hampshire it costs £8 a week each for the sixty-three children in our approved schools. We have twelve boys in a remand home costing £13 a week each. If we send a boy to Borstal the national cost is £8 10s. a week.
It is against those figures that I ask the Committee to consider the very modest Amendments we are proposing to the proposals of the Government. Let us remember that the vast sums I have mentioned are being spent on the children of parents who are neglecting their duty and have neglected their duty to their children. I hope that some day we shall take more drastic steps to punish such parents and to make them contribute to the cost of their children.
The parents concerned in these Amendments are good family folk who are trying to keep their children under most difficult circumstances. There is not an hon. Member who will not give his child or grandchild this Christmas far more than we are asking for the widow to keep her child for a month. We are still taking far too literally the early precept in the Bible about visiting the sins of the fathers, and even the ill-luck of the fathers, on the children of our community.
It is true that the Welfare State is moving towards the goal that one would hope some day we shall see really achieved—equality of opportunity and equality of treatment for our children. I urge any hon. Member, on either side of the Committee, who really believes in children and who cares for children to vote for this Amendment and so improve the lot of the children of the widow, the sick and the unemployed.
I hope the Committee will oppose these Amendments, because I believe that they introduce and buttress two very dangerous tendencies which have become evident in every speech from hon. Members opposite.
The first tendency is to reduce parental responsibility for children. There is no doubt that there are examples—as has already been agreed by hon. Members opposite—in every constituency of parents who are content to have child after child supported by the Welfare State knowing full well that, within a few shillings—as the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) pointed out—a family is as well off if the man does no work at all as if he does his full share in industry. That is a very dangerous tendency and I hope that it will be resisted.
Would the hon. and gallant Member apply those strictures to all his right hon. and hon. colleagues who, at this moment, are drawing their full salaries without doing any work at all?
On the contrary, at least seven Committees are meeting upstairs now. May I point out that very few hon. Members have the love for notoriety that would cause them to take every opportunity of speaking in this Chamber, as does the hon. Member?
On a point of order. Sir Gordon. Is it, in your opinion, correct to describe the conduct of an hon. Member who is acting according to the Standing Orders of the House, and whose submission you have accepted, as behaving in an unseemly or irrelevant fashion?
I am glad, Sir Gordon, that you approve of my utterances as being within the full scope of Parliamentary precedents.
I go on to what I regard as the second most dangerous tendency which is developing, the tendency for Her Majesty's Opposition to come forward time after time with vote-catching proposals of which they do not even bother to work out the cost beforehand. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East will remember that before he sat down I asked him whether he or his colleagues had worked out what the cost would be if the Amendments we are discussing were agreed to. The answer came back—an almost derisive and scornful answer—that that was left to Her Majesty's Government. This is the very negation of responsible opposition. Any Opposition which conies to this House with proposals without first working out what they would cost the taxpayer or the workman every week in contributions has no sense of responsibility.
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member was not in this Chamber when the Minister pointed out that our scheme would involve a very heavy increase in contributions and was almost chiding us for asking too much from contributions. Which is it to be, too much or too little? The Minister said that it was too much; does the hon. and gallant Member say that it is too little?
I suggest that it should have been done before these Amendments were put on the Notice Paper. I say that the Opposition have shown a lack of responsibility, a lack of responsibility which must be noted throughout the country. This sort of thing is bringing down the standard of Parliamentary debate. I suggest these Amendments should be opposed with all the strength we have because they would take away parental responsibility and would eventually result, if they and similar ones were carried, in the Welfare State becoming a bankrupt State.
At least, we hope the hon. and gallant Member will be ashamed of it. To say that this Amendment represents irresponsible opposition is sheer nonsense. The hon. and gallant Member knows quite well that the Government have access to information to which the Opposition have not access. We are discussing a Bill which was brought before us only a few days ago, and in that time it would have been very difficult to obtain the necessary information.
Next, if the hon. Member assumes that women have children merely so that they may draw a larger amount of benefit, then he very much under-rates the common sense of women and their desire to give their children a decent home and decent conditions in which they can be reared.
The hon. and gallant Member suggested that Amendments such as this would encourage women to have child after child—that was the phrase he used—so that there might be coming into the home almost as much money as a man would earn who had a very low income. If hon. Members opposite have that point of view, let them work for twelve months for such a low income.
The hon. Member also suggested that such Amendments as this encouraged parental irresponsibility. That is the sort of red herring which the Government would like to draw across the minds of the public. It is the same sort of red herring and nonsense which they use when they say that there is no need to build council houses because the tenants will keep coal in the bathrooms. It is the same kind of irresponsible statement
I represent working-class people and I have lived amongst them since I was born. I can tell the Committee that the number of parents who are irresponsible in that way may be one in many thousands. It is not the kind of thing which happens generally. Working-class mothers and fathers are anxious to give their children the best possible conditions in which they can be fed and reared.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), in moving the Amendment, referred to the Food Survey and said that the average amount spent on food per person per week was 28s. 6d. What he ought to have said is that the same Food Survey shows the great difference between the amount spent on food by those in the higher-income groups and the amount spent on food by those in the lower-income groups—the type of people we have been discussing, such as the old-age pensioners, the sick and the disabled. I have not the figures here, but about 55s. per week per person is spent in the higher-income groups and well under 20s. per week per person by those with very much smaller incomes, whom we are discussing today.
Many people do not know what it is like to rear a child on the amount of money which we are suggesting in the Bill and in our Amendment, and I am surprised that those who have never known this problem should have the audacity to suggest that 20s. a week is far too much to give to a family in order to rear a child. It is all very well to speak of the family allowances. They are given to everybody. We are concerned here with children who are in homes where there is sickness or disability or unemployment through no fault of the parent.
My right hon. Friend pointed out that children's shoes wear out very quickly and that because of the high cost of living it costs almost as much to buy a child's pair of shoes as to buy an adult's pair of shoes. We also know that free meals for children are available in such homes as these. Some local authorities have schemes whereby clothes or shoes may be provided through grants. Nevertheless, just as the majority of old-age pensioners are proud, so the mothers of families like these are proud, and they do not like to go to the local authority begging for a pair of shoes or for some underwear for their children.
In this generation, when we pay so much lip-service to our desire to see that every child, at least in this country, has a decent standard of living and a fair opportunity, we ought to have a measuring stick by which we put that into operation. I say definitely that 20s. a week is by no means too much to see that a child is well fed and decently clothed.
I want to refer, next, to children living in homes where there is likely to be a long period of sickness or a long period of disability due to an industrial injury. Because their parents have so little money coming into the home, such children no; only run the risk of not being fed properly and of not having adequate clothing in which to go to school but also run the risk of missing the one opportunity which they have in their lives of a better education.
May I refer to a case of a parent who has been a hard-working man all his life and who has a brilliant son? That boy managed, under very great difficulties, to go to the grammar school. Nearly all the time he was at the grammar school his father was ill at home. Had it not been that in our local authority we took every possible opportunity to see that help was given to that boy, both in adequate maintenance grants within the recommendation and the approval of the Ministry of Education and also through trusts and other ways, that boy could not possibly have stayed at the grammar school until he had obtained the Higher School Certificate.
This year he was offered a place in one of our universities, to take science. Because his father was likely to be ill for quite a long time, he very nearly missed the chance of taking the place which he was offered in the university, partly because even today the grants which we give to boys and girls going to the university in those circumstances by no means measure up to the amount which it costs to keep them there. This is a case where a boy has suffered almost all his school life and where he could have missed the opportunity of further education.
If we are not careful, by keeping the amounts of the child allowance in these cases at a very low figure we are adding a further worry to the parents. In sickness or disability or unemployment they have the worry from day to day of how to make ends meet and how to find the additional cost of food, rent and all the other things they need when the man is ill. When he is ill he ought to have more than the bare necessities; he ought to have some little extras. He needs a warmer house in which to live. If we are not careful, we add to those worries the humiliation which arises when we say to them, "You can put your child into a home while you are going through this difficult period, or you can go to the National Assistance Board for further help". We add to them, while they are suffering from illness, disability or unemployment, the further humiliation that they must see the standard of their children's lives slowly deteriorate.
I hope that we shall not be led away by the red herring which we have just had trailed across our path by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham. I also hope that hon. Members opposite who try to convince the people there that they are really concerned about the welfare of the poorest section of the community will go with us into the Lobby. We say that the children of these people should have an adequate amount—and what is proposed is by no means adequate—and a better chance of being fed and clothed and be given an equal opportunity, even though there may be sickness, disability or unemployment in their homes.
The purpose of this series of Amendments is to add an extra 5s. to the increases proposed in the Bill for dependency benefits for children under both the Industrial Injuries and the National Insurance Acts. I notice that they do not include anything for the widowed mother's first or only child, but no doubt that is an oversight, because this figure is shown in the Bill itself as an inclusive one of 70s. The oversight is understandable, since this is a very complicated Bill and, as has already been said, there has not been a great deal of time in which to give it detailed study.
In reply to the arguments put forward in support of the Amendments, I want to say that the Conservative Government have certainly done very much better for dependent children than has the party opposite. The Conservative Government gave improvements in 1952 and in 1954, and gave further improvements in 1956 to the widowed mother's children. Here I must correct the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), who very generously gave credit which was unwarranted to his right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) by saying that she gave preferential terms to the widow's children.
The right hon. Lady did not. The widow's children were treated on exactly the same basis as other children throughout the years of the Socialist Government. It was left to my own party to take action in this, last year, and to give the widowed mother's children a lead over all others. Those improvements of last year—together, I may add, with improvements in family allowances for all families—have been maintained in the Bill's proposals, because the widowed mother still maintains her lead. Her benefit is 5s. ahead of others in all cases.
The improvement for the child represents a 30 per cent. increase on the first child and 100 per cent. on others if we take the benefit for the child alone, but I think that, more properly, we should take it with family allowance, in which case it represents a 30 per cent. increase for the first and second child and 26 per cent. increase for other children.
Since I have mentioned family allowances, I want to comment on what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater). The hon. Lady said that family allowances were given to everyone. Really, from her speech, I gathered that she did not attach much weight to them as part of dependency benefits. The hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King) made a point which surprised me, because I thought that it was not quite a scrupulous one. He asked: who could keep a child on 7s.? I intervened to ask whether he had not forgotten family allowances, and he replied that everyone got that, implying that families in receipt of National Insurance or Industrial Injuries benefit had only the amount allocated in these benefits to the second, third and subsequent children. Does he not feel that family allowances should be regarded as part of the income of the family receiving National Insurance benefit?
The hon. Lady must read what I said. I was working out the amount we were giving to a widowed mother with an unemployed child, and the hon. Lady interrupted me and brought in family allowances. I pointed out that every child in the country—the child even of the richest man in the country except, of course, that he pays Income Tax on that money—is getting family allowance. That, therefore, has nothing to do with what we are arguing about.
It must be taken into account. It is part of the income of the family. It is quite true that every family gets it, but, when assessing what is needed to maintain a family, surely this is income. It is family allowance. In fact, the hon. Gentleman's own party must have had that very much in mind when the 1946 Act was put into operation, because the Socialist Government gave no individual benefit for the second, third and subsequent children. They gave it only for the first child and the dependency benefit for the remainder of the children was nil. The 1951 Act gave an increase for the remainder of 2s. 6d., and increases were subsequently given in 1952 and 1954, as I have already detailed.
The increase given under the Bill for dependent children under both the Industrial Injuries and the National Insurance Acts represents, as I said earlier, a 30 per cent. increase for the first and second child and a 26 per cent. increase for the other children. This compares with a 25 per cent. increase for personal beneficiaries under the Bill, and 20 per cent. for adult dependants. I say this to emphasise that we have done rather better for the dependent children than we have for other beneficiaries.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East contrasted the difference between wages when a man was at work and National Insurance benefit when he had to fall back on this. In 1948, a married man with three children received, through benefit and family allowance, £2 19s. 6d. to maintain his family. That was about 44 per cent. of the average earnings of the adult male. By this Bill he will receive £6 7s. weekly, which represents about 51 per cent. of the estimated average earnings of the adult male. Therefore, if one uses that comparison, he is enjoying a better proportion as compared with average earnings. These are substantial benefits.
The right hon. Gentleman returned to a point that I have heard him make many times before, about the difference between National Assistance benefits for children and those received under the National Insurance Scheme. Today he said, as he has on previous occasions, that the only way really to care for these children was to put the benefits of National Insurance above National Assistance. I am happy to assure him that we have taken a pretty good step in that direction, because the proposed increases under the Bill mean that National Insurance—or National Insurance plus family allowances, as I think it should properly be described—brings the benefit for the young child above National Assistance, and even for the older child it is not far behind.
As the right hon. Gentleman looks a little puzzled I shall try to make it clear by giving an example. The family with three children aged two, four and six years will receive 47s. in Insurance benefit and family allowance—1s. more than National Assistance. If the children are older—four, six and ten years—the total is just below the Assistance payment. Even when the children are aged eight, ten and fifteen, the total payment is within 7s. of Assistance payment.
The right hon. Gentleman also stressed, as did the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, his concern for the older child who was, perhaps, denied the opportunities of further education because the family had to maintain itself on National Insurance benefits. I want to emphasise that educational opportunities are available to these children. I appreciate the difficulties—I have experienced them.
The position today is that maintenance grants can be paid by local education authorities, as the hon. Lady said. As I understand, regulations made under the 1944 Education Act enable local education authorities to pay maintenance grants for pupils over compulsory school-leaving age attending a school or place of further education.
The purpose, of course, is to ensure that the parents—especially those in the lower income ranges—are not involved, as a result of keeping a child at school beyond normal school-leaving age, in any expense that they cannot reasonably be expected to meet, and which might, without some help being given, lead to the child's premature withdrawal from school. These allowances are ignored by the National Assistance Board in assessing family income for their purposes, and again I am informed that the present maximum grants which the Minister of Education approves for this purpose are £40, £55 and £65 a year for pupils aged 15, 16 and 17 respectively.
The figures which I have quoted are the correct ones. The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is not one for me, but I am advised that these figures are higher than they have ever been before. I am advised that the grants are payable where the income of the family with one child does not exceed £300 a year or with two children £350 a year and so on.
I want to make a reservation and this will perhaps concern hon. Members opposite. Some local education authorities may not pay up to the maximum—
—in which case I would suggest that it is a matter for bringing pressure to bear on the local education authorities.
There is another point that I should like to make. Guardians allowance does not figure amongst the proposed increases in the Amendment, but it is worth taking a moment of our time on this matter because the Bill proposes an increase from 18s. to 27s. 6d. in this allowance, which is a 53 per cent. increase. I think that is very generous and worth doing. Guardians allowance is paid to encourage the inclusion of orphaned children into family life.
When the right hon. Gentleman says, as he did, that if 27s. 6d. were right for the guardians allowance it should be higher for other children in comparison—I do not mean higher than 27s. 6d., I mean that the National Insurance benefit should be higher in comparison with guardians allowance—I think he realises as well as I do that the orphaned child is not necessarily taken into a family home. It is not the natural home, as is the case with other beneficiaries under National Insurance. There is sometimes a relative—sometimes a remote relative.
But this is a child taken into care, as it were, and although I am not suggesting that a guardian makes a profit on 27s. 6d. a week, I think that to give the child a proper background and a real home, and not a substitute home provided by the local authority, this very generous payment is warranted. I am very glad that we are increasing it, because last year, when the widowed mother got a special increase, no increase was given to guardians. I am, therefore, very glad that we are giving the present generous increase.
I now want to deal with the widowed mother, because there has been a fair amount of discussion about her. The greatest amount of sympathy is extended to the widow who has to act in a dual capacity for her children. We did grant an increase, which I have already mentioned, under the 1956 Act which came into operation in October, and it was then widely accepted that the new rate of 16s. 6d. for her children nearly reached the subsistence payment. Under this Bill she maintains the lead and gets the same improvement as the other beneficiaries. This brings the payment to 20s. for the first and second children and 22s. for her other children.
When the comparison with National Assistance scales is made for the widowed mother's child, of course it is more favourable, because of the lead that the widowed mother enjoys. In fact, National Insurance and family allowances are higher than National Assistance if the child is under 11, and equal if the child is between 11 and 16; and only below National Assistance scales if the child is over 16; and then, of course, if the child is continuing in education, maintenance grants should be available.
The right hon. Gentleman returned to a point that he made on Second Reading about the number of widows on National Assistance. He said at the time of the Second Reading that in March, 1955, 94,000 widows were obliged to draw National Assistance and that in June, 1957, there were still 64,000. He felt that the latter must include for the most part widows with large families.
I can give a little more up-to-date information which shows that we must be making progress in providing for the widowed mother and her family, because the figures that the right hon. Gentleman quoted are for all widows, including the 10s. widows. When we break it down, of that March, 1955, total of 94,000, the widowed mothers at that date represent 36,000. The latest date for which I have a complete breakdown is November, 1956, when the total number of widows on National Assistance was 70,000, and of that, widowed mothers were only 27,000; so the number had been considerably reduced.
I believe that the National Assistance payments to widows have gone down still further, and no doubt part of that applies to the widowed mothers, but I cannot give the complete breakdown later than November, 1956. I hope that removes some of the concern lest widowed mothers have to turn to National Assistance.
The National Insurance scales are being increased, too, and I would expect to find that there would be fewer widowed mothers needing to claim National Assistance.
I was asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham)—and there was a slight altercation following it—what the proposals would cost. The answer is £8½ million, which is split up as to £8 million on National Insurance and about £500,000 on industrial injuries. But what it would cost is not the real answer, though it is not for that reason that I advise the Committee not to accept this Amendment. The real answer is that the present Government have been consistent in upgrading benefits for children and especially the widows' children. These benefits are much more adequate now to meet family responsibilities than at any time since the National Insurance Act came into operation in 1948, and by comparison with that date we certainly have a much better record.
Once this Bill becomes law, the rate for the National Insurance beneficiary's first child will be twice as much as was granted by the party opposite in 1948. For the second child it will be three times as much and for the third and other children it will be three-and-a-half times as much. For the widow's first child we shall give two-and-a-half times as much as hon. Members opposite did in 1948. For the second child we shall be giving four limes as much, and for the third and other children nearly four-and-a-half times as much.
If, as hon. Members may say, I ought to talk about the purchasing power of these benefits, then in real terms the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries benefits, including family allowances, represent an increase over 1948 for the first child of 33 per cent.; for the second child, 99 per cent., and for the third and others 126 per cent.; or for the widowed mother the increase over 1948 for the first child is 77 per cent.; for the second child 165 per cent.; and for the third child and others 192 per cent. I submit that that is a good record in caring for the children of the beneficiaries under National Insurance, and it is on that record that I resist the Amendment.
It seems to me clear, now that we are approaching the end of the third day's debate on the Committee stage and the Third Reading of the Bill, that we have had evidence time and time again that the Minister, his Joint Parliamentary Secretaries and, indeed, anyone who has had anything to do with the provisions of the Bill, is completely devoid of ability to examine any of the questions on their merits. Each time that we have had a reply to an Amendment, it has not been a reply on the merits of the Amendment, but a clash on whether the Government have been doing better than previous Labour Governments. Never at any time have we had an answer on the merits of the provision that we have asked for in an Amendment.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave no reply at all to the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham). It seems to me that she was very careful not to say that she either agreed or disagreed with the hon. Member. All that has been said on the Bill by the Government has shown clearly that the Ministers and the Government are in complete agreement with the parsimonious old Tory attitude which the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham showed in his speech today.
He spoke about parental irresponsibility—that the people for whom we were talking were quite willing to rest on the Welfare State, and that if they could get sufficient money they would not work. I remember that in my very young days, when there were millions of unemployed, the same Tory argument was used—that most of the unemployed did not want to work at all—yet when work was provided we found that the people were more than willing to take it. That is one of the answers which I would give, and I am very sorry that the hon. Member was not in his place to listen to the answer given by the Minister.
The hon. and gallant Member spoke about the cost of the proposals in the Amendment, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in her few final sentences, said that they would cost £8½ million; but that the cost, of course, was not worrying them. If the cost is not worrying the Government, and that was not the real reason for turning down this Amendment, the real reason for turning it down must be that the Government consider that the figures which are contained in the Bill are sufficient to give these people a decent standard of living. It is on that point that we on this side definitely part company with the Government.
The Minister said that these increases were rather better for the dependent beneficiaries than for others. Our complaint on Second Reading and in the last two and a half days has been that the increases for the others have been meagre and mean. It is no comfort to us that these are a little better in proportion, because they are not sufficiently good. Then the Minister, in her reply, tried to deal with the point made about the lack of educational opportunities for these children by telling us of the maintenance grants that could be given.
My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Dr. King), who intervened, was perfectly correct. We discussed this question in the Scottish Grand Committee. The Government themselves set up a committee to find what means ought to be taken to keep at school a greater number of children who have the ability to benefit from secondary education. They did that because of the need for more scientists and more technicians. That committee, set up by this Government, submitted a report, and one of the main attractions which the committee felt would keep children at school would be to give much increased maintenance grants.
The Minister who was present said that the Government had increased them to the highest level ever. We have heard that very often during the discussions on this Bill. If we put even a penny on any previous amount, we have made it the highest ever. The figures that were decided upon by the Minister of Education and by the Secretary of State for Scotland were very much lower than those that were stated by that expert committee.
We are dealing with the maintenance grants given to the children of the sick, particularly the children of the chronic sick; but even if we gave them the increase
The only way that we can help them is by giving the increases and maintenance grants that we suggest and by the Government acceding to the series of Amendments that we are considering. I would say to the hon. Lady and to the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham that all we are asking is 20s. a week for each child, including family allowances. Can any hon. Member on the Government side go into the Division Lobby and, in soul and conscience, say that 20s. a week is too much to keep any child in this country? Of course he cannot. Everyone on the Government side who is a parent knows that 20s. a week does not represent what he spends for each child in his family. We are not asking for the high amount that every hon. Member spends on his own family. We are asking for a very modest increase of the amount in the Bill, and it seems to me that it is completely heartless of the Government to refuse it.
I would say to any hon. Member who goes into the Lobby to vote against this Amendment that he is doing great disservice to these children of the chronic sick, these children of the unemployed, these people for whom I am speaking who really need so much help. If we cannot get anything from the Government, let the Government be defeated by the decency of their own Members.
|Division No. 12.]||AYES||[7.30 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Campbell, Sir David|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Carr, Robert|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Bidgood, J. C.||Channon, Sir Henry|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Bishop, F. P.||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Boothby, Sir Robert||Cooke, Robert|
|Atkins, H. E.||Bossom, Sir Alfred||Cooper, A. E.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Cooper-Key, E. M.|
|Balniel, Lord||Boyle, Sir Edward||Corfield, Capt. F. V.|
|Barber, Anthony||Braine, B. R.||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.|
|Barter, John||Brooman-White, R. C.||Cunningham, Knox|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Burden, F. F. A.||Currie, G. B. H.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Butcher, Sir Herbert||Dance, J. C. G.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Deedes, W. F.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Hurd, A. R.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Hutchison, SirlanClark (E'b'gh, W.)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Page, R. G.|
|Duncan, Sir James||Hyde, Montgomery||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Iremonger, T. L.||Partridge, E.|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Elliot, Rt Hon. W. E. (Kelvingrove)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Elliott, R. W. (Ncastle upon Tyne, N.)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Joseph, Sir Keith||Pott, H. P.|
|Fell, A.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon, Sir Lancelot||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Finlay, Graeme||Kaberry, D.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Keegan, D.||Prior-palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Fort, R.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Foster, John||Kershaw, J. A.||Redmayne, M.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Kimball, M.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Kirk, P. M.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Freeth, Denzil||Lagden, G. W.||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Gammans, Lady||Lambton, Viscount||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Leavey, J. A.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Godber, J. B.||Leburn, W. G.||Russell, R. S.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Sharpies, R. C.|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Lindsay, Hon, James (Devon, N.)||Shepherd, William|
|Gower, H. R.||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Smyth, Brig. Sir john (Norwood)|
|Gram, W. (Woodside)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Speir, R. M.|
|Green, A.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||McAdden, S. J.||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Storey, S.|
|Gurden, Harold||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur (Macclesfd)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Hay, John||Maddan, Martin||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon, Sir Lionel||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Marshall, Douglas||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Mathew, R.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Maude, Angus||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Mawby, R. L.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr, S. L. C.||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Hornby, R. P.||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Wood, Hon, R.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Nabarro, G. D. N.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Mr. Bryan and Mr. Gibson-Watt.|
|Howard, John (Test)||Neave, Airey|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Delargy, H. J.|
|Albu, A. H.||Burke, W. A.||Diamond, John|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Dodds, N. N.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Callaghan, L. J.||Edelman, M.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Clunie, J.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)|
|Baird, J.||Coldrick, W.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Balfour, A.||Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Beswick, Frank||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Cove, W. G.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Cronin, J. D.||Finch, H. J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Fletcher, Eric|
|Boardman, H.||Cullen, Mrs. A.||Foot, D. M.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Gibson, C. W.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Gooch, E. G.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Deer, G.||Greenwood, Anthony|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Royle, C.|
|Grey, C. F.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mason, Roy||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Grimond, J.||Mellish, R. J.||Snow, J. W.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Coins Valley)||Messer, Sir F.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Mikardo, Ian||Steele, T.|
|Hannan, W.||Mitchison, G. R.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Hastings, S.||Monslow, W.||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Moody, A. S.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Mort, D. L.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Holmes, Horace||Moss, R.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Moyle, A.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hoy, J. H.||O'Brien, Sir Thomas||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Hubbard, T. F.||Oliver, G. H.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Orbach, M.||Thornton, E.|
|Hunter, A. E.||Oswald, T.||Timmons, J.|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Owen, W. J.||Tomney, F.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Janner, B.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Pargiter, G. A.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Parker, J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Parkin, B. T.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Paton, John||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Pearson, A.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Peart, T. F.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Pentland, N.||Wigg, George|
|Kenyon, C.||Popplewell, E.||Willey, Frederick|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Prentice, R. E.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Lawson, G. M.||Probert, A. R.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Ledger, R. J.||Proctor, W. T.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Pryde, D. J.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Randall, H. E.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Redhead, E. C.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Reeves, J.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|MacColl, J. E.||Reid, William||Woof, R. E.|
|McInnes, J.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. A.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Zilliacus, K.|
|McLeavy, Frank||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Ross, William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. J. T. Price and Mr. Short.|
Before the Schedule is finally disposed of, we should turn back from the least unattractive side of it, which was—I agree with the hon. Lady—the children's concessions, and consider it as a whole. After all, the Schedule does not consist only of the children's concessions; it contains all the benefits. I wish to refer once again to the 10s. increase in pension and the question whether or not the Committee should make up its mind that 10s. is an adequate increase to make in this year of grace.
On this side of the Committee, we make no disguise of this, that we think that the minimum—I stress the minimum—which we could reasonably and decently give in 1957 is £1 increase in the basic rate. On an earlier Amendment, we made it clear that we were not content merely to claim that there should be a £1 increase. We believe also that the £3 pension which would then be created should be guaranteed against inflation. We spent a long time trying to write a guarantee against inflation into the Bill. We were unsuccessful, but I think it right, in discussing this Schedule, to repeat the view of those on this side of the Committee that there will never be adequate justice for the old-age pensioner unless a guarantee is written into the Bill by Parliament automatically to increase the pension if the cost of living rises. I will not deny that such a guarantee, in its way, is an inflationary measure. Nonetheless, it happens to be one of those inflationary measures which, in common decency, one must take in order to protect from its effects those who do not cause inflation.
The Minister said, quite rightly, that these things cost a lot. We on this side make no disguise of the fact that, in our view, the kind of basic pension for existing pensioners, including proof against inflation, which we call for is something one cannot pay for satisfactorily with the National Insurance system as we know it at present. I will come later to how we intend to do it in the short run, but we agree fiat, in the long run, there will never be a decent pension for existing or future pensioners or a proper guarantee against inflation as long as we continue to tinker with the present system. This is why we point out that a genuine and decent improvement of the existing pension rates is impossible until we have a Government prepared to make a fundamental change. We have indicated the lines on which that change must come about, and the key to the change, in our view, is to change to graduated contributions and benefits from flat rate contributions and benefits.
The Minister was perfectly fair—and I accept it straight away—when he said that it would be quite illogical for any Member of the Labour Party who supports our scheme for national superannuation to be in principle opposed to increase contributions for National Insurance. Clearly we are in favour of increased contributions. This is no disguise and we make it perfectly clear. In our propaganda we have warned the workers that the pensions have to be paid for largely out of increased contributions. The difference between the Government and this side of the Committee is that we realise that it is impossible to increase the contribution unless we substitute a graded contribution for the flat rate contribution. I believe that there must be a great number of hon. Gentlemen opposite who secretly agree with us that an increase of 2s. on the fiat-rate contribution necessary to pay for this miserable increase is the reductio ad absurdum of the present position. An increase which weighs three times as heavily on the agricultural worker receiving £8 a week as it does on the £20 a week worker who receives exactly the same benefit is intolerable, and we will not be able to raise the contributions adequately until—
Because the Minister has been telling us that our suggested improvements to the Schedule of benefits are impossible without a change in contribution. I was agreeing with him. If we want better benefits than are in the Schedule, we cannot possibly achieve that within the existing system. I think the Minister knows perfectly well what the point of the argument is.
I would point out to the Minister a further point that is wrong with his present scale of benefits, namely, that the benefits are flat-rate benefits. One of the most human beliefs is that one should impose a flat-rate equality on old people when they retire although we have extreme or very large degrees of inequalities in earnings so long as one is earning wages. What should be the purpose of an old-age pension? Surely the pension is to reduce the gap to as narrow a degree as possible between the standard of living when one is old and the standard of living when one is earning.
The appalling situation which we have under this Schedule—and I think the Minister will agree—is that there will be roughly a 65 per cent. drop in the standard of living of the average wage earner when he ceases to earn his living and retires. To face the citizens of this country with a 65 per cent. drop in their standard of living the moment they cease earning is to make old age a nightmare. We shall be able to get away from what I call flat-rate poverty only if we are prepared to have graduated benefits related to graduated contributions. This is the reason why we denounce the Schedule. We hope that this will be the last Schedule dealing with the bad old style of flat-rate benefits and flat-rate contributions.
I would not necessarily apply the doctrine which we are applying to old-age pensioners to sickness and unemployment benefit. I think that there is an arguable case for saying that, whereas we should change our old-age pensions to graduated pensions and benefits, it is desirable to keep our sickness and unemployment benefit on a flat-rate level. It may be necessary to change it, but it does not necessarily follow that we should change it in old age. Sickness and unemployment are conditions which one hopes will not last very long and will not be permanent, and, possibly, a flat-rate insurance is justifiable. Old age is something against which we cannot insure by a flat-rate pension. It will not be something impermanent and something which is an interruption of life. It is a permanent state of life and there must be permanent conditions laid down which we believe must be wage-related. We do not object in principle to the flat-rate pension as applied to sickness and unemployment.
May I now come to my last point. I realise that regarding these criticisms we are making of the benefits under the Schedule there is always the problem as to how we would carry out the proposals we make. It has been put to our Front Bench several times: "We cannot introduce national superannuation overnight. Old age people require benefits straight away. What should we do?" I believe that there is no question that in an emergency—and the condition of the old folk is an emergency—one must pay the increased benefits one thinks necessary out of the taxpayers' money until one has carried through one's great reform. One could not possibly ask the old people to wait until the Bill effecting the great reform had been completed.
In the short term, I believe that the Exchequer would have to make up the difference, or get the Bill through as fast as possible to relieve the Exchequer of a strain and put it where it should be—on the contributors to the scheme. One cannot deny the old people the right of the standard of living to which they are entitled. This is what makes some of us on this side resent so much the shape and structure of the Bill and the Schedule. The Minister has done exactly the opposite. Instead of making the Excheqeur pay for these benefits, his whole purpose has been to shift the burden of payment from the Exchequer to the flat-rate contribution.
I do not want to go into a great many figures, but there is one remarkable figure. When we look at the total National Insurance contribution payable we see that it has increased by about 89 per cent. from 55s. to 105s. If we take the share of the benefit which is to be paid to the old-age pensioner, that has increased from 1s. 7½d. to 4s. 5d. since 1946. Over the last ten years the amount of the National Insurance contribution being spent on the old-age pension has steadily gone up, although, of course, the value of the pension has not gone up. The value of the pension has just been maintained at the 1946 level, or perhaps at a little above it. The contribution has steadily risen while the value of the pension has remained relatively stable in terms of real purchasing power.
The only thing which has not gone up proportionately is the Exchequer contribution. In those ten years the Exchequer contribution has increased from 2s. to 2s. 5d.—an increase of 17 per cent. When we see the Exchequer contribution increasing by only 17 per cent., when we see the total National Insurance contribution increasing by 89 per cent. and when the fraction of the National Insurance contribution allocated to old-age pensions increases by 171 per cent., we see a deliberate policy of holding the pension down by shifting the burden on to the contributor, so that he says that he cannot afford to pay any more.
A simple device by which to keep old-age pensions down to is to keep a flat-rate contribution and insist upon paying the pensions out of that flat-rate contribution. If the Government insist upon paying them out of a flat-rate contribution, the pensions will be related to the lowest wage in the country. They can only be the pension which the lowest wage earner can afford to pay for out of his contribution and that means that they are flat-rate poverty pensions as defined by the Minister himself. They must be poverty pensions, otherwise they would not be capable of being paid for by the contribution of an £8 a week worker.
That is what we object to most of all in the Bill, apart from the meanness of its benefits. Not only is it mean in its benefits in the sense that it does not give enough—and we have argued that ad infinitum earlier. Any Bill which gives only 2s. 4d. a week to about half the people on National Assistance cannot be said to be a very generous measure for 1957. But to do that and to finance it by shifting the burden on to the flat-rate contribution, which weighs heaviest on the lowest-paid worker—
I am grateful for the latitude you have given me, Sir Gordon. I am willing to deal with benefits instead. They are even more unseemly than the contribution. I am amazed that anybody on the Government side would want anything more to be said about these benefits. After all, we have not had any reply whatever to the points that we have already made on this subject.
We had from the Minister a statement that the Manchester Guardian claimed that there was a real increase in purchasing power compared with 1946. When I asked him what, on his own statistician's calculations, was the amount that we should reckon for rent increase during the next twelve months—obviously, anybody who is calculating the genuine purchasing power of a pension must have a figure in mind for the amount of increased rent that people will have to pay under the Rent Act—the right hon. Gentleman did not answer. I said to him that it would be useful if we could have the figure broken down by percentages and I asked on what calculations concerning rent the benefits were based. We had no answer at all. It would be extremely interesting to know whether it was 2s., 3s. or 4s. which is calculated as the extra rent which people will have to pay and which must be paid out of their increased pensions. Until we know that figure, we cannot know how generous the Minister has been by his own calculations.
All we know is that by the calculations of The Times, which is not, after all, a wildly Bolshevik paper or on our side, the pensioner who smokes is exactly 8d. better off than he was in 1946. If The Times is wrong, the Minister must tell us why it is wrong. He can give us his own figures and his own calculations on living costs in 1958, because, presumably, he is calculating his benefit in order to keep it adequate for a couple of years. I presume that he hopes that this Bill will last about as long as the last Act lasted until inflation catches up again.
What were the figures on which the Minister calculated in assessing the purchasing power of the pension? I believe that he knew perfectly well what he was doing and that he was, in fact, restoring the 1946 purchasing power, his great claim being not to have worsened the position, or to have done 8d. better or, perhaps, 1s. 2d. better on a different calculation of rent. That is the scheme or scale of improvement which the Minister has included in the Schedule. That is the amount that it is really worth to the ordinary person, provided that the inflation does not go too fast.
It is for those reasons that we on this side must regard the Schedule as totally inadequate and repeat our ardent belief that this is the last time that a Schedule of this sort will be produced and that the next Schedule to be produced in the House of Commons will be one with graded benefits and graded contributions and which will for ever abolish poverty in old age.
We have had a powerful plea from my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and there is nothing that I wish to add to what he has said. I hope that the Minister will deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend. I intervene only because we are dealing with a Schedule which provides the benefits and I wish to refer to a class which gets very little attention in the detailed discussions on National Insurance.
In 1945 and 1946 I was privileged to pilot through the House two Bills, one dealing with industrial injuries and one dealing with National Insurance. One dealt with disablement arising from accident or disease contracted whilst at work and the other made provision for sickness unconnected with work. I had made a private note that if I was permitted to be the Minister when the time came for the quinquennial review, there were certain changes which I should like to consider in sickness benefit based on the principles already established in the Industrial Injuries Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor), whom I have described in the House as a very good buddy, as he still is, will remember how we used to talk of these things.
I do not know the present figures and I do not have the Minister's report before me. We made some fundamental changes in the provisions governing sickness benefit. Under the old National Insurance Act, there was a standard benefit for the first six months of the illness, after which it fell to a very low amount—speaking from memory, 10s. 6d. a week. In other words, it was subsequently called disablement benefit of 10s. 6d. a week. In those days, sickness benefit was administered through the approved societies, some of whom were able to supplement the disablement benefit, depending upon their range of membership and the occupations and professions covered by the various approved societies.
We made sickness benefit of a uniform standard and subject to certain insurance conditions we made it continuous throughout the whole of the sickness, without the old anomaly—indeed, the stupidity—of reducing it to a bare minimum of 10s. 6d. at the very time when the need was becoming greatest after a man had been out of work because of sickness for six months.
In the Industrial Injuries Act, we recognised that there were two kinds of disability arising from disablement from injuries and from industrial disease for which we had not catered. First there was the injuries benefit for a period of six months and then there was the disablement benefit based upon the assessment of the injury, to which could be added certain other benefits.
First, we wove the benefits of National insurance and industrial injuries together so that they could be paid together. A man could therefore get disablement benefit and sickness benefit, or he could get disablement benefit and an unemployability allowance or a constant attendance allowance. The Minister has told us that the Bill includes provision for increasing these amounts.
What I have always felt is that particularly if we are to retain the flat rate benefit in the field of sickness benefit, we ought sometime to consider whether we should not apply these provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act concerning long-term disablement in the same way for sickness under the National Insurance Act.
When people have been ill for some time and it is known that they will not recover, why should we not make them an unemployability allowance, recognising that they will be ill for the rest of their lives, and add to the basic sickness benefit a similar provision as in the case of industrial injuries and recognise that the disability is of such a character that it will mean that for the rest of their lives—or at least for long periods—those to whom it is paid will not be able to earn their livelihood?
We should recognise, therefore, that the longer sickness lasts the greater the need for assistance. The longer sickness lasts the more are the savings of the family of the sick person diminished. They may even be exhausted. The consequence is that practically all—indeed, I think I may truly say all—the long-term sick are now dependent upon National Assistance.
I had hoped that when we reviewed the Act we should find it possible to make provision to add to the standard sickness benefit for long-term sickness—by a hardship allowance, or some such allowance, by whatever name hon. Members may like to call it. We must recognise that after the standard period of six months there ought to be added another benefit.
We in our party are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East said, now considering all these matters, and I make the suggestion for consideration by all of us that there is the strongest possible case for the payment of constant attendance allowance related to long-term sickness benefit. We make a constant attendance allowance under the Industrial Injuries Act. We know the burden which is cast upon a man's wife and family if he is sick for a very long time. He has to be cared for; someone has to be with him all the time. When someone is permanently sick a tremendous burden is cast upon his household. I hope that at some time a Minister of Pensions and National Insurance will return to the problem which I considered and will make some provision for the long-term sick.
One of the difficulties in trying to provide for the long-term sick is, I say frankly, that they are not a powerful pressure group. Indeed, very few of us hear about them, but they are indeed amongst those who suffer the greatest hardship. They have to depend upon the standard sickness benefit which does not increase though their needs grow ever greater and their resources are soon diminished. I hope the time will come when we shall add to their benefit because they represent, among all those who depend upon the provisions of the National Insurance Act, a section which deserves much more consideration than it has ever had.
I wish to make a short plea for a class of pensioner of whom we have heard very little. I refer to the pensioners who have adopted youngsters or who act as their guardians. I do not suppose that their numbers are very great. I have in mind a pensioner who is fit enough to do some work, but whose income is £3 3s. a week and who is trying to bring up a boy who goes to school and whose school outfit costs £27, and where there are school dinners and fares to be paid for, too. It leaves the family very little indeed to live upon. It would be interesting to know how many people are in this classification.
Under the Bill the attendance allowance for this class of pensioner is increased from 11s. 6d. to 15s., but, considering the costs which I have mentioned, I think we ought at some future date to consider further help for this very special class of pensioner.
I congraulate the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) upon the ingenuity with which he was able once more to put across the Labour Party's proposals for State superannuation. I hope the Chair will allow me similar latitude for a moment or two. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that there is not very much disagreement in any part of the Committee about the urgent necessity for some proper superannuation scheme as distinct from the present scheme. The Bill is an interim Measure to do something which has to be done quickly. The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) gave an undertaking that the Bill would go through quickly in order that relief might be given immediately.
I was trying to rebut the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Coventry, East when he was complaining that the Bill was not the correct method of dealing with the situation and I was endeavouring to say—
I am sure that what the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) was going to rebut was within the rules of order. What I was pointing out was that if we had a long-term scheme the benefits should be paid for out of the Exchequer and not by the contributors. That is a principle which is relevant to the Bill and to the Schedule.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East and his hon. Friends have throughout our debates on the Bill continually referred to the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend pointed out today that what hon. Gentlemen opposite really mean is the taxpayer, who is every-body—
Yes. The taxpayer is everybody in the country, whether he pays taxation directly or indirectly. So the burden is shared to that extent. So let us not talk of the Exchequer as though it were some quite remote body, or as though, as my right hon. Friend said, it had a chest of gold out of which it could dole out money. When we talk about the Exchequer we mean ourselves, the taxpayers.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are going to be sufficiently honest in the country when promoting their scheme—as we shall have to promote our own proposals when they are known—to point out beyond all doubt that continuous, increased productivity is a sine qua non of any improvement in benefits.
I have read many Labour Party papers recently, and when the hon. Member for Coventry, East was questioned by the Press about the scheme he replied that he did not mean the first part but the second part. We should like to know what part of the scheme the Labour Party intend.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to read our views he should read the first part of the document drawn up by the Executive and confirmed by the conference when he will find—
All I want to establish is that all of us would like to see improved benefits. We all recognise that the population of the country is ageing, that the working population is becoming smaller, and that, therefore, we have got to have a scheme which promotes better benefits that are related to greater productivity. Anybody who goes about the country proposing any scheme which does not make that clear is being politically dishonest.
I want to make another contribution to this debate, but from an angle different from any which has been touched upon so far. It is astonishing how one can bring out all one wants to raise from various angles, with the permission of the Chair. I have a great regard for the principle of more productivity, because if only we can get the employers and the workers to produce twice as much, practically all our difficulties will be solved. This is a very easy method of solving the problem, if only we can implement it, but it is sometimes very difficult to get these easy methods of solving problems to work. When we examine the question of production and the general situation—
Let us get back to the real subject of the discussion.
I understand that we are now discussing general benefits, and speakers have emphasised that there seems to be general agreement that something ought to be done to increase these general benefits. The emphasis has been upon the aged people and also the sick, particularly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) mentioned, the victims of long-enduring sickness.
I cannot see why, when we apply certain special benefits in the Industrial Injuries Scheme, we cannot recognise the same kind of situation in regard to the man who is sick. I quite agree that sickness for a month or even three months is a misfortune which the unfortunate man eventually gets over, but just as we have the man who suffers a permanent injury at work, so we have the man who is permanently sick. He may have been a healthy man, whose sickness may have come upon him because of various circumstances that cannot be brought within the terms of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. Therefore, I think that those who suffer prolonged illness should have some special benefit in any future scheme.
The real difficulty is that of financing such schemes. We all realise that a point has been reached at which we cannot, with any degree of confidence at all, expect the lower-paid man to be in a position to contribute more than we are asking him to do now. We have reached the highest level in that regard. Having given consideration not only to the general community, but also to those people who get more money still without working, we now have to consider the lower-paid man and the provsions for general benefits.
The great problem here is said to be how to do it, but to me there is no problem at all. That is a rather peculiar thing to say, perhaps, and some people might say that it is rather silly. Nevertheless, there are sonic things which, when they are pointed out, as in the case of great inventions, are found to be capable of some quite simple solution. After a solution is reached, we say "Why did we not discover it long ago?" Many things have looked difficult until the solution has been found, when one is able to look back at the situation and realise how simple was the solution which often has produced a great invention.
The same applies to the great problem we have to face today. The question is how to get the money.
It is like everything else; we have various interpretations. We are talking about benefits, but what is the use of talking about benefits if we cannot suggest some line of action by which to pay them?
I am sorry, Sir Gordon. On the question of the difficulties of the Exchequer over these benefits and how they are to be paid for, I suggest that the Chancellor is giving away today about £205 million which people will get back out of the contributions paid to the scheme. That sum of £205 million, at least, is represented by tax reliefs to employers and workers, and yet we are pretending that there is great difficulty in paying the benefits which we are so anxious to pay.
To me, it is an easy problem to solve. All we have to do is to take back that money which has been given to people to the extent of £205 million. We can solve that simple problem in that way, by stopping paying this back-handed money and putting it back into the Exchequer. Then we should be able to pay for the benefits. This is certainly one of the matters that ought to be examined.
I am speaking seriously about this. I see that the Minister is laughing. Perhaps he has no right to laugh, because he never thought of this himself. Why does the right hon. Gentleman laugh? Because his secret has been discovered? He has been found out. He is a Minister applying his mentality to an insurance scheme of great consequence to the country at large. He has been spending hours and hours of his time upon it. We are told that his lights are burning night and day, and that he is working hard. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is a lawyer, but, with all his intelligence and all that additional knowledge, the Minister does not realise how much money is being paid out of the Exchequer to people who are not beneficiaries in the ordinary sense, though they are beneficiaries all right, in another sense. There is no question about it, and it cannot be denied. Despite the fact that the Chancellor is giving all this back-handed money to such a great extent, he is trying to make the country believe that we cannot pay far better benefits than we are doing.
To my mind, there is no problem at all. I am speaking seriously and conscientiously, without any thought of party at all, but thinking only about the poor man who has been sick for months and of the old pensioners who have lived for years in great difficulty. I say that the fact that a few intelligent people in the House of Commons are pretending that they cannot solve this problem is one of the greatest financial fiascos that I ever knew.
In reality, the money is coming into the Fund, and we are paying all this money back in another form to people who are not aged, who are not pensioners, not sick or unemployed. It is a real problem, but the solution of that problem is not at all difficult. I have heard some hon. Members say that where the spirit is willing, it is astonishing what one can do. I say the same about the problem of National Insurance benefits. We all pretend—the whole country pretends—that we are behind this National Insurance Scheme. We pretend that we have brought to bear upon this situation all the intelligence and sincerity possible, and that we cannot do any more than we have been doing.
I know that I am taking a little time. I do not speak on many occasions, but I usually speak with real sincerity. That is the thing that matters. I may be wrong—I am always prepared to admit that—but I am putting this argument forward with all the strength and intelligence that I possess, because this is a real national problem upon which we should bring to bear every point of view in considering where our loyalty to the poor people lies.
Cannot we do better without straining ourselves any more? We say that it is a difficult problem, and that the necessary finance is difficult to get. I look to the Minister of Pensions and I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). My hon. Friend has an open mind and is prepared to consider new suggestions. I am asking him, as representing the Labour Party, to look very closely at this matter and to see whether we have not made tremendous mistakes in the past. The Labour Party has admitted that it has made mistakes when it was in power, and if it were frank the Tory Party would say the same. It is often a mistake which humanity makes which causes better things to be brought about. I think that that can be said about this great national problem.
It is no accident that a great many speeches upon this Schedule and upon other parts of the Bill have referred to the Labour Party's national superannuation scheme. If I refer to it at length I shall be told that I am out of order, but I would make the point that the way in which it has intruded into our debate is a tribute to the fact that the Labour Party has produced a real plan to deal with a real problem, whereas the Government have produced no plan, and are merely tinkering with the problem.
All the smug references made by hon. Members opposite about how much they have done ignore just how small an addition they are making to the rates of pensions. The most common rate—the one that is the key to the rest—is the rise of 10s. a week in the basic rate for a single person in respect of retirement pension, sickness benefit and unemployment benefit. If everybody were going to get that it would still be too small, but we must remind ourselves once more that a very large proportion will not get that amount.
The poorest people, who are in receipt of National Assistance, will receive an increase of 5s. instead of 10s. and if they have been getting the benefit of the tobacco allowance they will receive only 2s. 8d. Large numbers of old-age pensioners are very near the National Assistance level; possibly some are below it and are not applying for it—and all those who are not receiving it will get an increase of 7s. 8d. if they have been getting the benefit of the tobacco allowance. That increase is 2d. more than the rise in rent which many of them had in October, under the Government's Rent Act.
These very small and inadequate increases are all the worse when we consider how long people have had to wait for them. The last rise in benefits under the relevant Acts was in April and May, 1955. I resist the temptation to comment upon the significance of the date. The point is that by the time that these proposed increases come into effect, next January, there will have been an interval of almost three years during which the pensioners have seen the real value of their pensions going down and those receiving other fixed incomes have seen their value going down, too—three years in which these people have never known whether, or to what extent, the Government would do anything to help them.
It is therefore particularly intolerable that when, at long last, these small increases come into effect at the beginning of next year, nothing should be written into the Bill to protect the pensioners against inflation. Furthermore, we know that in April there will be additional increases of rent under the Rent Act, and we have reason to expect that under the policies of the Government the value of the pension will go down even further. It is bad enough to award such a low increase, but to do so when it is probable that its real value will go down, and when there is no provision for another increase for two or three years, is especially bad.
I suggest that there is a moral problem underlying all this argument. The question is, how far are those of us who are fit and in work prepared to make proper provision for the elderly, the sick, and the unemployed? This is a problem which specially affects people of my own age—people who are old enough to realise that youth does not last forever but young enough still to have the larger half of their working life ahead of them, if they survive. The people of my generation should face the necessity of making a larger sacrifice now in order to help the elderly people and the other categories I have mentioned and, in the long run, to provide for themselves when they have need.
Many problems are inseparable from old age. Elderly people, in the nature of things, suffer more illnesses than younger people. They usually suffer the loss of some physical faculties, and sometimes the loss of mental faculties. They very often suffer bereavement and from loneliness, and sometimes, unhappily, from a sense of not being wanted. Surely it is intolerable that, on top of those problems, we should impose another kind of penalty.
We should face this problem and make bigger and better provision for it. I do not think that we can do so upon the basis of the present scheme. We can do so only by introducing a scheme whereby people contribute according to their ability to pay. But even under the present scheme something more should have been done. The Government have underestimated the idealism, and the long-term realism, of our people, who would have made bigger sacrifices in order to provide better benefits. They have underestimated in two ways: first, by being too late with their Bill and, secondly, by providing too little in the Bill. The country will not forgive them for that mistake.
The Question before the Committee is, "That this be the Fourth Schedule to the Bill," and, as the Committee is aware, it is the Schedule which effects the improvements in benefits under the National Insurance part of the Bill.
I lack the Parliamentary adroitness which would enable me adequately to follow either the hon. Member for Wall-send (Mr. McKay) or the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)—both of whom made characteristic speeches—along, if I may so phrase it, the outer perimeter of the rules of order. Therefore, I will confine myself to answering those questions which the hon. Member for Coventry, East asked when, as I thought somewhat reluctantly under persuasion from the Chair, he approached the Schedule before us.
I noted with interest the hon. Gentleman's proposal that the increase in National Insurance benefit should be financed solely from the Exchequer. I also noted with interest that his suggestion has not been repeated from the Front Bench opposite. I will merely express the opinion—I know that I should be out of order were I to go further—that that would be extraordinarily unfortunate for the future of the National Insurance Scheme, quite apart from the very considerable burden it would impose upon the taxpayers.
I hope that what I said was that if we had a period when, while carrying through a great reform, we had to finance a short-term immediate increase, I thought that a case could be made out for doing it through the Exchequer during the months while we were carrying through a great reform. That is not quite what has been attributed to me by the Minister.
The hon. Gentleman has now used the expression "months." From his study of the subject, he must realise perfectly well that even when his scheme is complete—and his own letter to The Times made it clear that it is very far from being complete—there would be, even were his party in office, a very considerable period indeed before we could complete a change, for example, in the method of collecting the contributions. To talk of an interval of months is to mislead himself and the Committee.
A change of this nature, even when it has been worked out—and we are in agreement that the hon. Gentleman's scheme is simply an outline, and he has accepted that the original figures in Part II contain fundamental miscalculations—would require a matter of years before it was implemented. Therefore, it is not quite such a trifling period of months as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. I should have thought the abandonment, the frank abandonment, even for what on the face of it is intended to be a temporary period, of the contributory basis of the National Insurance Scheme would be a serious step to take.
Let me come to the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) who, after a preliminary foray into what I thought was the sphere of the Third Schedule, returned with admirable punctuality and speed to this Schedule. The hon. Gentleman is not right when he says that a very large proportion of retirement pensioners have National Assistance and would not receive the full increase in pension. He is not right any more than was the Daily Herald yesterday, when it went further than that. The hon. Gentleman must know—the figures have been given again and again in this House—that in relation to pensioner households, the latest figure was 24·1 per cent. Applying that figure to the total number of pensioners, it becomes, if anything, a slightly smaller figure. To suggest, therefore, that a large proportion is receiving only 2s. 8d. is not fair—
If the hon. Gentleman had listened, he would know that I have already done so. I cannot be led into what would be certainly repetition, and what might even be thought to be tedious repetition.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North became very indignant about the length of time between the date on which these changes become operative and the last change. He said that it was three years. I will not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman very much over that figure. In fact, it will be two and three-quarter years—a very much shorter period than that between 1946 and September, 1951.
Surely the hon. Gentleman admits that his right hon. Friends are humane and well-meaning people. He does not perhaps appreciate the compliment that he is paying to the Government, if he expects of us a speed of action in this matter—criticises us, indeed, for a speed of action in this matter—which is twice that of his right hon. Friends.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) raised another matter which, I accept, is of major importance. He will appreciate, no one better, that with the exception of the Measure introduced in 1951 by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), National Insurance Bills have taken the line that the main benefits should be at the same basic rates. The right hon. Lady introduced a differentiation in favour of the older retirement pensioner, as compared with the other rates of benefit.
The problem of the long-term sick is very real. I think the view has been generally accepted that there is much to be said for long-term benefits to be on the same basis as the short-term. The duration of benefit either for long-term or short-term sickness is not necessarily longer than that of retirement pension, and may well be shorter than that of the benefit received by the widow.
I know that the new scheme is for the future. I was not proposing that the standard benefit for sickness should be different, so long as there was a flat rate. I was suggesting that after the sickness has lasted for some time we ought to use the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act for the unemployability and constant attendance allowance for the sick man, and that constant attendance allowance should be one of the additional benefits for people of that kind.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the introduction of these matters into National Insurance would involve treating the recipient of long-term National Insurance sickness benefit more generously than the widow or the retirement pensioner, who may have been on retirement pension for many years. That was the difficulty I was putting very frankly to the right hon. Gentleman. He does not see but I think many people will see, a profound difference.
I see no difference, for these reasons. Take two people living next door to each other. I will put the matter in human terms. One man has disability and sickness due to pneumoconiosis. He therefore becomes entitled to benefit from all the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act. Another man is suffering from emphysema, which is not scheduled as an industrial disease. The first man can get disablement benefit, with sickness benefit in addition or, alternatively can get unemployability benefit. If he is deemed to need constant attendance he can get constant attendance allowance. The second man gets only sickness benefit at the standard rate. Could not some of these benefits be provided for him? That is what I am suggesting.
I beg Ministers not to close their minds to this suggestion, which might be included within the confines of the Bill. The Minister might very well put the suggestion to the Advisory Committee. This is a matter in which we all live and learn from experience. This suggestion occurred to me many years ago and I am now giving the right hon. Gentleman the idea. I should be very glad to see it brought forward in the Bill. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can submit it to the Advisory Committee, on which there are representatives of the approved societies and others who care for the long-term sick.
I said when I was a Minister, and I say now, that we have always put other beneficiaries before these members of our community. Who lobbies for these people? No one; because they have no organisation and are precious few in number. Nobody bothers about them. Not for the first time I am putting in a word for them and I beg the Minister to consider whether this is not a matter which might, with the consent of all hon. Members, he looked at again.
The right hon. Member has stated the matter, as he always does, with eloquence. He has also touched—I do not know how fully he appreciates this—on the fundamental distinction between the system of industrial injuries with its different and generally higher scale of benefits in respect of a man injured at work, as compared with the National Insurance Scheme, which applies where similar injuries are suffered by someone going about his ordinary life. The scale of benefit is lower there and without those special allowances. Perhaps that is too profound a question to debate on the Question, "That this be the Fourth Schedule to the Bill." It raises questions which are far too big to be committed without further careful thought even to the Advisory Committee.
The right hon. Member has also not faced the problem that by remedying an apparent anomaly between two people, one under National Insurance and another under the Industrial Injuries Scheme, he may be creating another anomaly in the case of the man who in old age is living on retirement pension. I do not intend to detain the Committee by pursuing these arguments which go to the roots of the question on the Fourth Schedule which deals largely with rates, but I thought it only courteous to point out that interesting, humane and sympathetic as the ideas of the right hon. Member may be, they raise profoundly difficult problems, which would have to be thrashed out before any such step as he suggested could be undertaken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) raised a particular case. It is difficult to deal with a particular case without having the full facts. It certainly seemed that it might well be a case for guardian's allowance, which under the Schedule is being raised very substantially—from 18s. to 27s. 6d. I think it might be most convenient if my hon. Friend will draw that particular case to my attention and we will see whether it is possible to do anything about it.
I accept, also, the firm statement of my hon. Friend that the taxpayer on whom it is suggested this additional burden shall be imposed is, in fact, everybody, or almost everybody. When I was at the Treasury I worked out that the only person likely to avoid paying any taxation at all would be a bachelor who neither smoked, shaved nor washed and was serving a long term of imprisonment.
One or two hon. Members asked about the Rent Act in the context of these proposals. I would remind those who raised that question of what was said by my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Housing and Local Government when that Bill was going through the House. He invited the attention of the House to the fact that the Rent Act affected only a minority of houses. He gave the estimate, which, to the best of my knowledge still stands, that the ultimate long-term effect when the whole of the Act went through would be about 2 per cent. on cost of living.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East referred again to the article in The Times on which he and I had some discussion yesterday. He did, of course, slur, I am sure accidentally, the fact that The Times, while not giving, in any event, the index on which it based its calculation, did say that that was a forecast of the value in 1958. Without knowing what increase in prices was forecast for that purpose, I doubt whether we could take it very much further.
That is the question I asked. As the right hon. Gentleman repudiates that forecast, I asked what was the forecast on which he made the calculation to increase the amount by 10s.? To make that increase he must decide what it will be on certain living standards. If The Times was wrong, what was his own forecast?
If the hon. Member will wait I am going to deal with those issues. As he raised the question of The Times article I thought it courteous to refer to it, but as he raises the question now, before mentioning certain figures and comparisons, I will say that I think it a fundamental mistake made by hon. Members opposite that in all these matters they seek to approach the problem in too mathematical and too definite an attempt to calculate with a precision, which is, in fact, quite impossible owing to the uncertainty of the data. We got very used to these forecasts during the days of the last Labour Government. The levels of trade and of employment were forecast by that Government with minute precision every year and by the end of the year were shown to be quite inaccurate.
Speaking with great respect for the hon. Member for Coventry, East, I do not intend to adopt the technique of assuming precise changes in prices. I have great confidence that the bold and determined attack on inflation by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be successful, and I know that both sides of the Committee hope that it will be successful. I certainly will not be led into precise statistical forecasts the precision of which would be misleading because it would be based on assumptions themselves necessarily imprecise.
Another factor is involved in considering the level of benefits. Several hon. Members drew attention to the fact—indeed, it is one of the reasons that we are improving the benefits—that for a great many people retirement means a fall in the standard of living, but it is a mistake to exaggerate the amount of that fall. It is often forgotten how much retirement is being delayed and how much increments are being earned over and above the basic pension.
It may interest the Committee to know that 50 per cent. of the men now retiring have earned some increments, that the average they have earned is 9s. 6d. for a single person or 15s. for a married couple, and that when we add these figures to the 50s. for a single person and 80s. for a married couple contained in the Schedule, the result is in one case 6d. below and in the other case 10s. above the figures proposed by the Labour Party.
I promised to give some figures about the level of benefits. Perhaps I may begin with a platitude and by asking the forgiveness of the Committee for expressing it, but it is the basis of what I shall say. We are concerned with the real value of benefits and with what they will buy. Precise comparisons depend upon the index which we use. If we use the Index of Retail Prices it is then clear—and I gave these figures at an earlier stage—that the proposals in the Schedule involve raising the single rate in real terms by 7s. 8d. above the 1946 level and by 12s. 1d. above the September 1951 level.
It is sometimes suggested that the Index of Retail Prices is not the most appropriate measuring rod for this purpose, and I will, therefore, give some comparable calculations. It is always said, and said with truth, that in the pensioners' expenditure food is the single element of the greatest importance. If we trace the movement of food prices alone since 1946, then we find that their upward movement has been somewhat less than that of the complete index. If we take the index which has almost passed into history under the name of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo), the Mikardo index, and make the comparison between September—October, 1951 and to-day, the 12s. 1d. on the index of retail prices works out at 11s. 5d. That is very much in the same bracket.
Those are, I think, indications that whatever index one takes, the proposals in the Schedule constitute a substantial advance, as I said on Second Reading. It is, of course, always easy and—I say it without wishing to be discourteous—particularly easy for an Opposition to say, "That is all right, but we should have done more." It is in truth a not inconsiderable achievement in the present economic situation to be able to bring about an advance in real terms in these benefits.
Our discussion has ranged very largely—and very naturally, perhaps—on that section whose benefit will be reduced to some extent by the loss of the tobacco token, but the Committee will want to remember that, quite apart from those retirement pensioners who have never had the benefit and are, therefore, unaffected by its withdrawal, the new basic rates are all raised to this new level including the benefits for widowhood, sickness, and so on, where there was never any question of the tobacco token, and where, therefore, there has been no withdrawal of it.
Then in this Schedule we take a different line from that taken in the plan for which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East has been responsible. We do not accept his view that the married couple pensioners should have no bigger increase than the single pensioner. On the contrary, we take the view—taken, I think, in all previous National Insurance Bills—that an increase adequate for the single pensioner is, in the nature of things, not adequate for the married couple, and we have, therefore, increased the rate for the married couple by 15s., from 65s. to 80s.
Criticism was made yesterday, and it is material to this issue, of the share of the national income taken by National Insurance benefits, and I have got hold of the figures which are material to this Schedule. It is interesting to notice that if one compares 1950 with 1956, which is the last full year for which we have figures, the expenditure on National Insurance benefits expressed as a percentage of the gross national product has risen from 3·3 per cent. to 3·7 per cent. Indeed, if we take another package—National Insurance benefits with Assistance grants and non-contributory old-age pensions added—the increase is from 4·1 per cent. to 4·4 per cent. Therefore, the suggestion made yesterday—
I quote from memory, but my impression is that the percentage we spent in 1950 on insurance was decreasing. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of the increase as being from 4·1 to 4·4 per cent., is he making allowance for the fact that, as we all know, there will be an increasing number of old-age pensioners? It is not the increase in benefits, but the increase in the number of recipients.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. In this case, I am comparing 1956 with 1950, and I was about to come to the very point that the right hon. Gentleman has made. But I think that it is at least encouraging and, indeed, is a contradiction of what was said by at least one hon. Gentleman opposite yesterday, but not today, to the effect that a smaller share of the national product was being used for benefits. However, the right hon. Gentleman has touched on a point that we must all bear in mind, of course, in considering the question of the appropriate level of benefits.
As he has reminded us, and rightly, next year the number of pensioners will substantially increase with the coming on to pension of, among others, the late-age entrants. I have given the figures on previous occasions and will not weary this Committee with them now, but we certainly have to bear in mind the increasing number of retirement pensioners whom our community will have to help and support I am grateful to the right hon Gentleman for reminding us that that is a very proper factor for all of us in this Committee to take into account—
That is true, but the hon. Gentleman, and the country as a whole will not find an easy solution there, because very steadily over the next twenty years the proportion of older people in the population will increase.
The figures that I have in mind—and I give them subject, if I may, to subsequent correction—are that whereas at the moment there are about 7 million people over retirement pension age—I refer not to pensioners only, but to all people over retirement pension age—by 1979–80 there will be about 9½ million. I think that those figures are, broadly, correct. For every reason I wish that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion were the answer to the problem, but it is the fact that we have to consider the future of a population steadily becoming older.
In view of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said about the increasing number of recipients, has the Minister made any effort to work out whether the amount per head has in-increased? From our point of view, it is not very interesting to know what the global allocation to pensioners is. We have to ensure that each man gets his share and each family gets its share of the increased national income. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman could deal with it in terms of income per head and not income related to the global number of pensioners. I would be curious to know what the figure is.
I cannot give those further figures without notice, but I rely upon the figures which I have already given as showing the real improvement in the actual purchasing power of these benefits compared with 1946 or 1951.
We have still the Third Reading ahead of us, and I shall not seek, even on this important Schedule, to detain the Committee further, but I thought it only courteous, in view of the importance of this Schedule and the points that have been raised, to deal with it a little more fully than some of the Amendments.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very clever reply, to which one could, of course, also reply if one chose to devote the time. One could select figures in the same way as he has done to prove precisely the opposite. The fact remains that in accordance with the true Tory tradition, the poorest get least, and that happens every time the Tory Government try to do anything.
I cannot help recalling that only a few months ago in the City of Edinburgh the department of social science and the Edinburgh Corporation's welfare department carried out a survey of the needs of the elderly people, and they found in Edinburgh alone 17,000 cases of different types of need amongst people over sixty.
One of the interesting features about that survey—I do not want to go into it in detail; I hope to be able to raise the matter another time—was that 10,000 old-age pensioners in Edinburgh alone could not get their laundry attended to. In other words, they could not keep themselves clean. It is all very well in the atmosphere of the House of Commons, after we have dined well and—listening to the speeches opposite—wined well, to talk complacently about whether we can afford this, that or the other. Of course, that is quite an unreal approach.
The problem of poverty cannot be viewed from afar. It has got to be viewed from inside the homes of the people. Anyone who visits these homes and sits by the firesides of these people knows that a tremendous amount of poppycock is talked about how well-off the pensioners are and about what a great deal we are doing for them. In fact, we are doing very little for them. Hon. Members who talk so glibly about inflation and who say that we are not able to give the pensioner a little more will wander along to the smoke room and buy a couple of cigars which will cost the whole of this increase. The hon. Lady, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says "Stupid," but it is true. It is exactly this which infuriates people who have to suffer indignities and poverty.
I have heard the hon. Lady talking about her acquaintance with poverty, about the districts where she has lived and where she was brought up. In fact, she used to be very fond of telling us about her working-class background. She knows that what I am saying is true, and it is not a matter for laughter that some people in this country can afford to pay as much for one meal as a pensioner gets to keep himself for a week. That is not a laughing matter. There is something wrong with the society in which that is tolerated.
I received this resolution, as I went to the post office, from one of the largest branches of the Scottish Old-Age Pensions' Association, which apparently has been considering the provisions of this Schedule:
That we, the members of the Southfield Branch, Scottish Old-Age Pensions Association, protest most strongly against the parsimonious attitude adopted by the Government to our demand for £1 increase to basic rate of pension.
The withdrawal of tobacco tokens, increase in National Insurance contributions, and the curtailment of National Assistance grants become a violation of the Government's pledge, 'That the care and comfort of the old people would be a sacred trust'.
This is the way the Government fulfil that sacred trust. The very poorest of the community are to get 32d. per week. What a magnificent gesture what a generous gesture from a party put into power by the wealthiest people in the country, by a party which, to fight its elections, collects millions from the wealthiest people in the country, many of whom, of course, do not even earn; they inherit their money. An hon. Member laughs, but that is true, of course. These people ought to be getting it; they have worked for it; they have worked to permit others to enjoy it. The Government, out of their generosity, say, "Here are a few crumbs—32 pennies per week." What a gesture.
I am glad that the pension is being increased, but, for heaven's sake, do not let the House of Commons go away tonight in the belief that it has done a grand thing. It has done something mean, niggardly, and done it very late in the day. It ought to have been done before. I do not think that we should congratulate ourselves on this Schedule. It is not so generous as all that. It is something about which we ought to be thinking much more seriously and on the lines that we have suggested.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We are nearing the end, in this House at least, of the Bill under discussion, and I imagine that hon. Members would not wish me to cross again the ground which has been crossed and recrossed so much in the past few days. But this much is certain. Despite the differences that there may be between us on the merits of the Bill and of the proposed increases, we are all agreed that we want to get the Measure on the Statute Book as quickly as possible.
If the Bill is enacted in the time we hope, we shall be able to pay the main benefits on 27th January next, that is, retirement pension, widow's benefit, guardian's allowance and the child's special allowance. This, if we achieve it, will be the shortest time ever taken in putting through amended benefits. It will have taken less than 12 weeks from the date my right hon. Friend made his first announcement on 6th November, and about two months from enactment if all goes well.
The Bill raises pensions and other benefits to the highest level yet. It will bring help to those who need it as quickly as we can possibly accomplish it. It is a good Measure, and I ask the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.
I have not taken part in the discussions on this Bill, partly because I feel so angry about the meanness of the proposals and I have a habit of losing my temper. If the Joint Parliamentary Secretary thinks that the Bill will be overwhelmingly welcomed in the country, she is much mistaken.
My purpose in rising is merely to point out that the line which some of us are taking is being taken also by people in the constituencies who are not necessarily supporters of the Labour Party. I have here the editorial from a newspaper in my division, the South-Western Star, which is not a Labour paper by any means. Last Friday, this newspaper said:
What a slap in the face with a wet fish the new old-age pension rate is. Is it surprising that the old folk are angry with the paltry increase which will leave them no more comfortable by the time a bob or two of their 'supplementary' has been withdrawn and they start paying full price for their smokes—if they will be able to afford them.
While no one will refuse to take the few extra coppers which the Bill will provide, everyone is bitterly disappointed about the improvement which has been made. They are extremely disappointed at the Government's meanness about tobacco vouchers and the rest.
It would not be right for the House to let the Bill receive a Third Reading without registering the fact that support for the criticisms made from this side of the House about its overall meanness to the oldest, most deserving people in the community, to those most in need, has been coming from many powerful interests, powerful newspaper interests in addition to other forms of public opinion in the constituencies.
Although the Bill will go through, I hope that the Minister will realise that he is not likely to receive any handsome bouquets in the constituencies when the money is paid.
When the proposals in the Bill, which have now been accepted in Committee, were made known to the country, the National Federation of Old-Age Pensions Associations happened to be holding a great rally in Westminster Central Hall, as the Minister knows. The old-age pensioners there assembled sent over to this House special representatives to obtain copies of the Bill, which the Minister was good enough to ensure were supplied.
The House will not be surprised to know that the contents of the Bill caused dismay to the organised old-age pensioners. They had been led by speeches from the Prime Minister and other members of the Government to expect a generous measure of relief. The Prime Minister himself said, "Wait until our pensions proposals are known", and at Ipswich the Tories fought on the promise of relief for the old folk
The proposals now before the House indicate what generosity is by Tory standards. If this be generosity, what is meanness? We are putting upon our old folk the certain assurance that during this winter they will still be faced with poverty and hardship. I do not believe that there is a single Member of the House, including the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who really believes that when this Measure is on the Statute Book it will end poverty amongst the old folk. When this Bill has passed through another place as well as this House, and when the increased payment is being made, our old folk will still be below the subsistence level to which they are entitled.
The House has had the opportunity to do the right thing and to do it well. After a long delay it is a pity that the Minister has not seized his chance with both hands. I do not know whether he did not fight the Treasury hard enough, or whether he felt from the beginning that these figures were good enough, but whoever is to blame carries the responsibility for losing an opportunity to do the right thing and to do it well.
In a few words, I want to express my complete disappointment at what the Bill contains. I am amazed at the number of letters which I have received, particularly since the beginning of the Committee stage of the Bill on Monday. It appears to me that the attitude of the Government on this Measure has aroused more anger and resentment amongst the old folk than any Measure that has previously been before the House. Old folk in the past may not have been concerned with what is done in this Chamber, but they are becoming very much aware that if they are to have a fair deal then it must be done through the medium of this institution. Therefore, they feel gravely troubled about the attitude of the Government in presenting to them after waiting so long a Measure of this character.
It is not my intention to go into other benefits. What I am concerned with is the benefit that the Measure gives to old people. We shall watch the other side, but the old people, who have no organisation as we understand organisations, are forced into the position of seeking other institutions and organisations with which to lodge their protest. After three days' debate, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said, we have not got one bawbee as a result of our pleadings from this side of the House. It would have been better if the Government had at least considered all the Amendments we put forward on their merits, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) said during the debate. We are dealing with a section of people who are entitled to the best that the country can give them. I cannot understand the mentality of the Department of the Minister or of the Treasury in refusing to give them something more generous than is contained in the Bill.
I am sadly disappointed. I began the week full of hope, which I thought would be realised, but we have had a harsh and ungenerous attitude from the members of the Government Front Bench, who have failed to realise their obligation to the old people. If I were to go back into history and read some of the things that were said in the early days when we were advocating pensions, I should startle the House; but we have moved from those days and now we have a growing population of old people. Sooner or later—sooner, I hope—that population will have to be cared for much better than they have been during the last three or four years. It is all very well for the hon. Lady to say that this is the highest increase they have ever been given—
—but if the Home Secretary was correct in his prophecy, which I have no reason to doubt, that we would double the standard of living within the next twenty-five years, is this the Government's first attempt towards it? Is this evidence that they are sincere in their professed desire to double the standard of life?
When the old folk to whom the Bill applies realise fully, as they will do hi the course of the next few months, what the Government have done for them, their protests and their indignation will become intensified. Therefore, I say that the Government could have done better than they have done with the funds which they have available.
If the whole of the benefits were coming from the Exchequer, one could perhaps take a different view, but it is the workers, through their contributions, who will be paying for some of the benefits. The Government, therefore, had better not claim credit for the increased benefits. It is the workers who will be entitled to the credit for them. I know that some of the workers feel that the Government have been unfair to them, let alone to the old-age pensioner. They are dissatisfied with the Government's approach in increasing the contribution, which appears to be on an incorrect basis.
In a scheme of this magnitude, dealing with so many people and so many aspects of life, we have to carry the insured worker with us. Already in my constituency and in parts of the country which I have visited in the last few weeks, I have sensed a growing feeling that what the Government are trying to do is to improve the lot of the old-age pensioner at the expense of the industrial worker and that the Government themselves are not bearing their responsibility.
One could go into the question of the increased cost of living and all the rest, but we have been prevented from doing so by the open confession made by the hon. Lady on 25th February when she said that the Government never pretended that old-age pensioners could live on £2 a week. Can they live on £2 10s.? Is it possible for any Member of this House—and I include myself—to live on £2 10s. a week? I know one attempted to do it and declared with a great blare of trumpets she had succeeded in living upon the pension paid to an old-age pensioner. I could do it for one week, but what about the other fifty-one? The old-age pensioners have to live on their pensions for fifty-two weeks in the year.
I shall detain the House only a moment longer. I wish only to refer to the vigorous protest which has been made in the last few days by engineers, metal workers, pipe fitters and transport workers who are reported to have sent from a joint meeting held a few days ago a protest to the Prime Minister about the
inadequate increase in the old-age pension and the miserly removal of the tobacco allowance, together with a demand for the full a week increase
which the old-age pensioners are asking for.
There we see the industrial workers being aroused, and when they are aroused, as we all know, especially those of us who come from the mining industry, the Government will not be able to answer them back.
We as Britishers are anxious in these days of economic crisis to do the best we can to pull the country through the crisis, but we cannot pull it through unless we take the workers with us. At the present the Government are not attempting to take the workers with them. As the days go by the protest of the people of this country will grow greater, and too great for the Government to stand up to. I am only sorry that the Government, during these three days we have debated the Bill, have not done better for the old-age pensioners than they have.
I shall not detain the House very long. I share in the disappointment expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) about the Bill. I am disappointed in that it falls far short of my expectations of what might have been done for the old people. I have sat in the Chamber throughout these three days of debate. Although I cannot congratulate the Minister on his Bill, I will say that the right hon. Gentleman paid the Committee the compliment of being present all through its debates. However much we may differ from the Minister about the provisions of the Bill, I do not think any Minister could have put in more attendance than the right hon. Gentleman has.
The Minister must expect great disappointment to be felt by the poorest people on National Assistance. They will get an increase in the retirement pension and then they will find that there will be a reduction in their National Assistance because the retirement pension is increased. The Minister will also find great disappointment among the old-age pensioners at the withdrawal of the tobacco concession, which was made ten years ago. It was made to the old people because of the price of cigarettes and tobacco. It was felt that the burden of that price was too much for the old people and that they would not be able to enjoy a smoke. If that was true ten years ago it is equally true today, for cigarettes and tobacco have gone up in price since 1947.
I spoke in the Committee tonight on the subject of the contributions and I think the 9s. 5d. for the lower-paid worker is far too heavy a burden, and the burden of the 7s. 8d. for women in the lower-income groups is also too much. These increased contributions are payable at the age of eighteen and yet at that age one is almost a boy who has hardly left school. A boy may leave school at 16 or 17, but at the age of 18 he is called upon to pay back 9s. 5d. a week from his wages. The same thing applies to girls. Therefore, on behalf of those in the lower-income groups, I want to add my protest against these contributions.
I repeat that these proposals fall below my expectations. I should like to see higher rates of benefits for the old, the sick and the unemployed. Perhaps the next Bill will bring us what we all want. The problem of our old people is the challenge of our time, but I feel that this generation can face up to the future. We want the aged to enjoy a proper standard of life, and I believe that if the appeal and the urge is made to them, the workers of this country will answer it.
I should like to add my little epitaph to the Bill. The fact is that, from one point of view, the Bill is already dead before we have finished with it. Everybody knows, before it passes its Third Reading, that it is totally inadequate, even before we have finished with it.
There is not much that one can say on Third Reading, because there is not much in the Bill. It is particularly significant that the Minister gave us an excellent speech of nearly thirty minutes on the Fourth Schedule when he was discussing our positive proposals and not those in the Bill. The most striking facts were the very few hon. Members on the Government side of the House who thought it worth attending and the embarrassed silence of those who did attend. There must have been fewer speeches in support of the Bill on the Government side in Committee than for many years has been the case on an important Bill. I can remember hardly more than two or three speeches—and they raised groans from their hon. Friends on the Government side—by hon. Members opposite who tried to support the Bill, and those who did only embarrassed their own Front Bench. Frankly, I think that the only support that could be given to it was silent acquiescence in its inadequacy.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) was very hard on the Government Front Bench. I want to pay tribute to both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for their attendance throughout the Bill because we have greatly appreciated the way they have treated the House. I do not regard them as hard-hearted, but merely as submissive. It is quite clear that they know perfectly well that the Bill is inadequate. The Minister is far too able a Minister and far too humane a man not to realise that. We all know that he had two Bills ready, but that the second one was dropped because he was told to drop it—the big long-term reform. What we all see in the Bill is another example of the "Macmillan myth". We were told that when a new Prime Minister came in, we should get a new dynamic type of Tory leadership—none of this old floppy Edenism, but strong, dynamic Macmillanism. What does it consist of? Snap decisions coming to nothing.
To give one or two examples parallel to the Bill, the great decision on defence, under which conscription was to be abolished in four years, defence costs cut by £300 million, one Minister sacked and another brought in, and within two years it is obvious that it cannot be done. We have the same with the business of the wage freeze, which I predict within six months will have petered out. Some wages will be stopped, while some will go up—a dreary piece of incompetence once again. The same is true of pensions, because there was nearly a decision to undertake a big reform. Then came a piece of Macmillanism. In a number of ways it was a clever piece of Macmillanism, because the right hon. Gentleman said "Look, boys, that is a bit dangerous, and there is not time". Let us be 'smarties' and outbid the Labour Party's long-term plans by bringing in a big short-term bribe which does not cost us anything".
That was the directive to the poor Minister—a big bribe to the pensioners which would cost the taxpayers nothing. This Bill is the result of his extremely ingenious efforts to combine the contradictory demand that we should give something to the pensioners which would cost the taxpayers nothing. We have got something which costs the taxpayer nothing, but it is at the expense of the pensioner and the contributor.
I am sorry for the Minister. This Bill is to his discredit. He could have done a better job if he had had a free hand. I rather wish that he had resigned, as his right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) had the courage to resign when he was asked to do something which was totally opposed to his principles. The Minister did not resign, and he is carrying out the onerous job of piloting the Bill through the House.
I suggest, however, that he warned the Prime Minister that he could not expect many votes as a result of the Bill, because the electorate could see through it—and we can guarantee to make sure that the electorate does see through it in the months to come. It will not be forgotten after this evening. We shall be going round Britain every day and every week, simply reminding the people of the facts of the Bill, and that it is a narrow, mean and niggardly one.
There will be no need for any propaganda about the Bill; we simply need to adopt the coldest objectivity in describing to the constituents of all hon. Members opposite exactly what has been done for them. All we need do is to describe the Bill soberly and literally and to say, "That is exactly what has been done. It is a little piece of Tory arithmetic. Promise 10s.; take 5s. off for those whose need is the greatest, and another 2s. 4d. for those who smoke, and you will get a Tory promise in reality." We need only tell them that.
If I were a mere politician I should be delighted with the Bill, because it will damage the smart man who calculated it more than anything else that he has done. But I hate the Bill because it means that—for I hope not more than twelve months several—millions of our fellow countrymen will be condemned to continue to suffer gross social injustice, and in a large number of cases to remain on the edge of destitution. I hope that no politician in the House will be glad that that has happened. I am certainly not glad. I should have been far happier to see a Bill in which hon. Members opposite broke away and did something for the old-age pensioners. The Labour Party will have to do it next time.
All I would say to hon. Members opposite is that I wish on this occasion, as I wished at the time of Suez, that some of them had the courage of their convictions. They know quite well what this Bill is. They know quite well that 2s. 4d. for the man who is in receipt of National Assistance and who smokes is an outrage. But, except for one decent honourable Lady, they have sat there absolutely silent, conniving at this iniquity. I shall remember two things about the Bill—the courtesy of the Minister and the abject submissiveness of the Tory back benchers.
I rarely disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), but I disagree with his remark that we shall have to explain the Bill to the electors. I am certain that the old-age pensioners have already seen through the Measure. The Minister may have been instructed to provide a big bribe at no cost to the Treasury; I would only say that although it may be at no cost to the Treasury nobody will think that it is a big bribe to the old-age pensioners.
It is to be regretted that on a Third Reading debate all the compliments to the Minister should come from this side of the House. I would say that the personal compliments which have been paid to the Minister are very sincere. We have a tremendous admiration for the competence, skill and patience with which he has done his work in successive Ministries, and for the way in which he has dealt with the Bill; but, quite frankly, even from that point of view, the Opposition has very little to thank him for tonight.
It is true that the Bill is going through in a hurry. Earlier on we were discussing whether to proceed by way of Statutory Instrument. I would say that we might as well have conducted this whole procedure by way of Statutory Instrument, because we have not had a single concession from the Minister in the debates that have taken place.
It may be argued that he took advantage of the keenness of hon. Members on this side of the House to help the Bill through its various stages, and has conceded us very little. Why are we disappointed with the Bill? Why is it that we looked with hope to the Government, after what the Minister said in the country during the Summer Recess? We imagined that there would be a bold Measure introduced on behalf of the old-age pensioners, but this Bill inflicts a poll tax on the poorest paid workers which I believe will discourage them in their attitude towards social insurance. With the last increase in the charges which we made I consider that we reached the limit as regards the lowest paid workers. The fact that some people in the country—including some members of the Health Service now in conflict with the Minister of Health—are getting just over £7 a week, and will have to pay 9s. 6d. out of that sum each week for insurance charges, is something which the Government should not be pleased about.
The Bill carries the poll tax principle too far. Much more seriously, it gives relief only of a pitiful and niggardly kind to 1,250,000 people who most need relief. The Bill is condemned because, at a time when the country, by and large, is doing very well, in spite of the economic crisis, all we can do for the poorest of the people, if they happen to be smokers, is to give them 2s. 8d. It is mean from that point of view, and because much of the benefit of its provisions is taken away by the Government before it comes into operation owing to the effect of the Rent Act. As I said in an earlier debate during the Committee stage, the only people who will get the maximum benefit have to be non-smokers and owner-occupiers.
I speak in this way with regret. I had looked forward to a much more generous Bill from a Minister whom I have always regarded as a very generous Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. Tonight we blame not the Minister not his Joint Parliamentary Secretaries, but the Government on whose behalf the right hon. Gentleman has piloted this Measure through the House.
Unfortunately, nothing we can do now can alter or improve this Bill. I would, however, express the hope that the time-table, about which we were informed by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, will be fulfilled. I hope that the plans are well laid and that the increased benefits, such as they are, which fall due to be paid under the provisions of this Bill will be paid punctually. I hope that the increased benefits will give some comfort to the unemployed, the sick, the widows and the aged for whom we, as a House of Commons, have provided in the Bill.
It was last February when we asked for a Measure like this, or a Bill of some sort, to provide additional benefits for the pensioners, and I wish that the Government had listened to us then. I wish that the Government could have brought forward a Bill earlier. Then we might have had more time for our deliberations, because we have been hard-pressed during some of the debates. It was difficult always to frame Amendments and to be sure who would undertake to explain them. Had the Measure been introduced earlier the beneficiaries could have enjoyed the extra mony for Christmas. I do not think that there was any Parliamentary reason for not doing that, although, as I have already suggested, we might then have taken a day or two longer over our discussions. We have spent only three days on this Bill and we have shown what can be done by the House of Commons in expediting legislation when it feels that that is necessary. But we could have disposed of a Bill easily within a week or so had the Measure been introduced earlier, and it would not have been necessary to take away time spent on other important business during last Session. I regret very much that that was not done.
We do not grudge the time or the hard work which has been put into this Bill. We recognise the work of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary and the way in which they have attended the debates and listened to all we had to say. But we are, none the less, doubly sorry that the right hon. Gentleman could not accept any of our proposals, not a single one. Not only did he not accept any but he did not come part way to meet us. He did not say, "We cannot make it 5s., but we will make it 1s." In a case of that sort, we would have accepted gratefully what had been offered, but there was not a single concession.
We had not gone far in our deliberations before we clearly understood why. The man to whom our thoughts were turning all the time during our debates on the Bill never put in an appearance. I refer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury did appear for a fleeting moment. I see that he has appeared now for perhaps a further moment or two. They were the villains of the piece to whom we really wanted to talk.
We became convinced, as we looked at the Bill and heard the explanations given to us, that the real reason not only for the refusal of any Amendment but for the whole structure of the Bill, was the determination of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that not one extra penny from the Revenue must go this year for pensions or anything of that sort. The increases of benefits and pensions under the Bill were to be paid for by the contributors, and war pensions increases were to be provided by taking away the tobacco concession from the old people.
That was the plan, and that plan has been carried out. The greatest blemish in the Bill, in consequence, is that half the retirement pensioners will receive less than the benefit which is deemed appropriate for the unemployed. I say no more, because we have expressed ourselves at length about this matter already.
In spite of the structure of the Bill which, as I have already said, lays a heavy, regressive tax upon the workers, bears heavily upon the lower-paid workers and involves a sharp deprivation to certain types of pensioner, we want the unemployed, the sick and the old to get its benefits as soon as possible. That is why we have co-operated. I am quite confident that when the Bill reaches another place the same co-operation will be shown. There is no reason for the Minister to be anxious about the Bill's not going through Parliament in time to allow him to carry through his planned timetable.
It has been generally agreed that we have reached the end of the road with this Bill. This is a historic Bill, because it will be the last to be framed upon the old system. Everybody recognises that, in future, the flat rate benefit and contribution will be replaced by something different. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) is correct in his understanding of the situation, whether he is right that the Minister has been refused permission to bring forward any plan of that kind. I cannot tell, but I hope that my hon. Friend is wrong and that the right hon. Gentleman will still have his chance to bring forward a plan based upon a better structure.
We can then have what the British people ought to have now, a grand debate of the whole nation on the future of our national insurance for sickness, and unemployment, and on the kind of retirement pension which we ought to have for the future. There ought to be a grand debate of the whole nation in the sort of way there was after the publication of the Beveridge Report in the 1940s, when everybody was discussing ways and means of doing it and the various ways in which it might be applied.
Let us have that debate. We do not fear comparison for one moment. We have already produced the first outline of our plan; it will not be long before we can have a more finished document ready. If Government supporters will produce their plan we shall be delighted. Let us have it. Let us debate it. We hope that there may then be an agreed result.
My first word must be to express my thanks and those of my hon. Friends, the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries, to the House for the co-operation of both sides of the House in getting this Measure on its way to the Statute Book so speedily. I am grateful for the help that I have been given from both sides. I would say to the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who commented on the relatively few speeches from this side of the House, that it is sometimes the best way to get a Bill quickly through, which one wants to see got through, to refrain from even the most enthusiastic speeches in support of it which, whatever else they may do, consume time. Any party which has been in office and, dare I say, any party which has even the faintest hope of ever again being in office, knows perfectly well that what I am saying is true.
We shall certainly respond to the cooperation of the House by seeking, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, to take all the necessary further steps as speedily as possible to carry out the outlined time-table to which my hon. Friend referred. We shall ask another place to deal with the matter as speedily as it will be good enough to do. I hope very much that, if another place does do so, we shall be able to adhere to the dates I mentioned on Second Reading for the operation of the long-term benefits, the week of 27th January, with the short-term benefits and contributions operating in the following week.
That is a tremendous operation, and it is one which will place a very heavy burden on the staff of my Department at a time of year when it also has to compete with a high incidence of sickness. But we have taken the view, which I think is generally accepted in the House, that we ought to seek to operate the changes which Parliament approves much more speedily than has been possible on any previous occasion, in order that these improvements shall be in the hands of the beneficiaries as quickly as is possible.
However, I do not want the House to underestimate the magnitude of the operation. We shall proceed in due course by asking retirement pensioners and others to bring in their books to our offices for up-rating. An announcement will be made—and I hope no one will take what I am saying now as the announcement—after the Royal Assent, giving dates and times for that to be done. On previous occasions we have had the greatest assistance from the Press and the broadcasting and television authorities in making known to pensioners when in their own interests they should act. I hope we shall have that co-operation as in the past.
It would hardly be seemly at this last stage of the Bill were I—as I am bound to say I have been tempted to do by the speeches of one or two hon. Members opposite—to indulge in anything in the nature of a polemical reply. To one or two hon. Members who gave the views of some organisations, I would say only that our common experience in this House is that no changes ever wholly or completely satisfy such organisations. Whatever the changes, pressure groups—I use the term in no derogatory way—would have liked to see something better, but I believe that the great body of our population, including those directly affected, broadly regard these proposals as fair and reasonable, and as fairly and reasonably holding the balance between contributor and beneficiary.
I must say to the hon. Member for Coventry, East that his remarkable speculations as to developments within the machinery of Government were as unfounded as certain mathematical calculations he and I have also discussed. If indeed my orders had been to produce proposals which would cost the taxpayer nothing, then, as I pointed out in debate on the Third Schedule, I must have seriously disobeyed orders. Nevertheless, I thank the hon. Member for the sympathy he offered me, but must not take it by false pretences.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) said we might well have used the procedure of Statutory Instrument. I would say in all seriousness that on this Bill we have had three days of most interesting and full discussion which would not have been possible under the Statutory Instrument procedure. My experience of this Bill leaves me still firmly convinced that for major changes of this kind the full Parliamentary process is the proper procedure.
The Bill now goes forward to another place. We have made our comments on it; I have made a great many, to which I do not propose to add now, and hon. Members have made others. There have been speculations as to its effect on other people and other events elsewhere. I can only say on behalf of my right hon. Friends that we send this Measure forward in the sincere belief that what we are doing is right.