Orders of the Day — Fourth Schedule. — (Rates of Benefit Under National Insurance Act, 1946.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th November 1957.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 20th November 1957

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.