This Order has already been formally introduced into the House and was yesterday given general approval in another place. Its object is to extend the powers of investment of the Commissioners of the four family pension funds established between 1873 and 1928 for the benefit of the widows and orphans of officers in the military service and Civil Service of the Government of India appointed by the Secretary of State.
Since 1945 Parliament has passed three amending Orders each of which has affected in one way or another the powers of investment of the Commissioners with the object of extending investment. Those amending Orders were passed in 1945, 1948 and 1950. In 1949 the Commissioners asked the Government whether they would approve the extension of their powers to include investment in equities, in ordinary shares. Unhappily the then Government, the Labour Government, refused to allow this, with the result that the beneficiaries were unable to gain the advantage which might otherwise have accrued to them if the Commissioners had had the increased scope for their powers of investment.
The amending Order which is before the House at the moment is designed to enable the Commissioners to invest a maximum of 30 per cent. of the value of each of the funds at their disposal in preference stocks or equities of sound United Kingdom companies which have regularly paid a dividend of 5 per cent. during ten years, or, if they have been in existence for a lesser period, 5 per cent. each ear during the period of their existence. In addition, it enables the Commissioners to invest in debentures in United Kingdom companies. It increases the scope of the field of their investment in Commonwealth and public authority undertakings and it enables the Commissioners to purchase leaseholds in the United Kingdom.
The introduction of this Order enables us to make one other small amendment to the original Order of 1936. It enables the Secretary of State to appoint Commissioners or to re-appoint them for a period of less than four years, whereas at present all appointments have to be made for the full term of four years. We have had the request of the Commissioners for these additional powers. We have circulated the subscribers to all these funds and of those who have replied, the majority are very much in favour of the proposals. We believe that the beneficiaries will gain benefit from the increased scope of the powers of the Commissioners and that they will prudently use these powers within the restrictions which this Order lays down. For that reason I hope that the House will give this Order its speedy approval.
This is indeed a happy occasion for many of us on this side of the House, and our only regret about this debate is not the numbers present—because there is a fairly good attendance—but the absence from the Front Bench of some of the members of the Government who must have had a very anxious time when this Order went through the Cabinet preparatory to being presented to the House.
I hope that before the debate is over, we shall have some explanations. I understand that it is a little difficult to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer here, but I am sure he has a substitute who is prepared to explain how he is able to reconcile the proposals in this Order with the speeches that he has been making in the country and, indeed, the answers which he has been giving in the House pouring derision on the proposal of the Labour Party to make the sort of policy embodied in this Order the basis of the investment policy for a national superannuation scheme.
I should have thought it very odd that this debate should conclude this evening without a contribution from the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, who again has been extremely severe both in the country and in this House. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman has just arrived, and we shall look forward to hearing from him later in the evening—[Hon. MEMBERS: "In the morning."]—some of the reasons why he has been able to reconcile his conscience with support for this Order this evening. If he has been converted, perhaps he will take the opportunity of withdrawing some of the derisive comments that he has made about the proposals of the Labour Party when he considers that the terms of this Order go further than any that have been suggested in detail in the outline of my own party's policy.
One reads with astonishment that not only may the Commissioners invest their funds in public companies but that they may also take:
Denbentures, debenture stock, bonds or other obligations of any company, public or private, incorporated with limited liability in the United Kingdom …
I suppose that if the proposals of the Labour Party had gone into such detail as this, the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance might have said even more to the discredit of the Labour Party, charging it with wanton speculation with the insurance funds and so on.
It is interesting that when one of the previous Orders was laid before the House it was the present Attorney-General, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, who said it was much overdue and asked what the Commissioners had been doing playing around with gilt-edged stocks and losing the value of the money. The Attorney-General ought to be in his place tonight to give us his legal opinion of what caused him to remain a member of the Government, which, in the light of the Labour Party's proposals, is supporting an Order smuggled in at a late hour and without a great deal of preparation.
Where is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? What has happened to his Press conferences? Has Mr. Poole been sent for to have the scheme explained to him so that the whole country may know the implications of the Order as it affects the Conservative Party's policy of superannuation in the succeeding years? We should like to know what conclusions are being drawn and what proposals will he made.
I should particularly like to know. In the days before Christmas the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) and I have to visit some old folk's parties which are held at this time of the year. There is not the slightest doubt that we shall be asked what the policies of our respective parties are with regard to maintaining the value of old-age pensions and the prospects of a better superannuation scheme. Can it be that we shall be put in the impossible position of saying that the Government are in favour of one thing for pensioners who depend on funds contributed from the Indian Government and another set of principles for the old people of this country?
I do not know where the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) is. I hope he will shortly be turning up. It will be difficult for him at election time when he is asked, "Why do you support one set of proposals for your constituents who are pensioners depending on these funds and oppose the same set of principles when they are put forward as a sound and sensible basis for a superannuation scheme for the people of this country?"
We shall need to explain this to the old people. They have been thinking these things out. They have been coming to the same conclusions as those which motivated the people who have drafted this Order and drawn up this scheme. Assuming a simple case of a family living on the land in a country district, the old folks would expect to be maintained out of the products of the farm in their old age. But they would not expect to be told that they could get back the money that was spent on the young apple trees, plus 5 per cent. They would expect to get a share of the fruit, and the basis of the modern conception of a sensible superannuation scheme is precisely that.
That is clearly the thought that has been in the minds of those who have drafted the Order. We welcome it, and are very glad to see that a conversion to more up-to-date ideas has made a slight penetration into the minds of some members of the Government; but we feel a little uneasy at the fact that we have had no explanation yet—although the night is yet young—about how far this principle is likely be extended into other spheres.
I do not know what my hon. Friend has in mind. I was thinking of waiting patiently to see what explanation was forthcoming. I had even toyed with the idea of calling a Division myself if the Front Bench did not take action—not in the hope that I should carry many of my hon. Friends with me, because many of them feel that they should support the principles of the Order—
My hon. Friend spoke a moment ago about the conversion of the Government to the policies advocated by the Labour Party, but it is only a 30 per cent. conversion. The Government may have attempted to steal the clothes, but they appear to have stolen only the trousers.
It is very kind of you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to allow these negotiations to take place among back benchers.
What I had in mind was that although we do not need to know how many members of the Labour Party are in support of the principles embodied in the Order, because we have known for a long time—through the sterling pamphlet issued by the Labour Party on the subject of national superannuation, with the subheading, "Labour's Policy for Security in Old Age"—we should like to know how many members of the Conservative Party, if they are not prepared to talk with their mouths are prepared to talk with their feet and come into the open and let their names be registered in support of the principles behind this Order.
I do not think that the House is in a condition to make up its mind to about this matter until there has been a very thorough examination of the implications of the Order. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the Government appear to be yielding a little to the overwhelming pressure of the Labour Party's ideas as to the investment of public money, but there are many aspects of the matter upon which we should like some authoritative Government reassurance. Many open-minded members of the Labour Party have been worried about one aspect of the Labour Party's proposals, and the Government should put their minds at rest if they wish for support for the Order.
I should like to know if the Government believe in buying ordinary stock in private companies, because we have been told by almost every reputable newspaper which supports the Tory case that if they do buy, an immense amount of uncertainty will result. Directors will not know where they are, and it will lead to improper political pressure, which is calculated to upset the admirable gentlemen who run these companies. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister that the newspapers which have spoken, apparently in sympathy with the Tory objections to the Labour Party scheme, have been talking complete balderdash and poppycock, and that when public investment takes place there is not the slightest danger of disrupting the efficiency of private companies, or of jobbery, or jobs for the boys, or any untoward political influence.
Unless I can be assured by an explicit statement that what the Government are proposing to do will not lead to any of those mischiefs I shall have to vote against the Order. None of us here wants to bring into effect any of these disconcerting and most disturbing consequences.
I am inclined to suppose that these nightmare illusions which have been fostered by the Tory Press have no real substance in them. This is a convenient moment—I am sure he would do it with relish—for the Minister to make plain to the House that these horrors are but the figments of the tortured imaginations of moronic leader writers and bear no possible relation to reality; that in fact there is no good, sound commercial reason why we should not have public investment in the ordinary shares of public companies.
The second point that worries me is that since this Government came to office we have had an alarming loss of confidence in public investment in gilt-edged. It is all very well for there to be moronic noises from hon. Members opposite which may occasionally be interpreted as, "What about Daltons?" or something of that sort, but that will not do as an answer to this very grave problem. The Government are responsible for the fact that gilt-edged have become a very uncertain market, and I am doubtful whether we can readily rush in to support an Order which in effect is a declaration by the Government that gilt-edged stock, trustee securities and the like are not a proper investment for public funds. That is the alarming implication which one is bound to draw from the Government pronunciamento.
When the Chancellor introduced his lottery bonds there was a considerable protest from the British Council of Churches. Having regard to the way in which the Government—by reason of their crazy manipulation of interest rates in pursuance of financial theories which are as dead as the dodo—have caused havoc in the gilt-edge market and among the savings of thousands of people who put their trust in Government funds, I am expecting that if at the time of the next Budget the Chancellor brings in an extension of his lottery bonds, the anti-gambling committee of the Council of Churches will congratulate him on bringing in a security which is the least speculative of all the Government holdings available to the public.
We have got into a parlous state where the Government, knowing perfectly well that the investments—I said of thousands, but it is probably tens of thousands, or even of millions of people—are invested in good faith in Government stock and Government finance, almost completely disregard their moral obligations to those people. This Government have done the things with regard to the savings of the people who had confidence in Government stock. First, they have encouraged and accelerated the tendency of the £ to be devalued in purchasing power and, secondly, they have deliberately brought about a position in the gilt-edge market where War Loan and other forms of saving popular among most of the people in this country have sharply depreciated.
The Government are responsible and before we give the Minister this facility in respect of an Indian family pension fund, I want him to tell the House why we should acquiesce in this, while the Government do nothing on behalf of those tens of thousands of small savers whose f.'s have depreciated in value by reason of Government action. I hope that no one is under the illusion that when gilt-edge depreciates the Government look at the matter regretfully. The Government have deliberately brought that about. In the first place, they have misguidedly brought about an increase in Bank Rate, which automatically brings down the price of existing long-term Government securities. The small savers in this country tend to invest in these long-term securities such as War Loan, Savings Bonds and the rest.
The Government did all this without warning the people. Not only have they depreciated stock by raising Bank Rate, but they have deliberately manipulated the market in gilt-edged. The Government have been steadily selling down the price of gilt-edged. The long-term gilt-edged bond market in London is managed at the direction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If there is a drop in the value of that stock the people of the country ought to know that it has been brought about by the deliberate intent and action of this Government.
That raises another important point about these Indian pensioners. Can we trust this Government to invest even 7 per cent. of the pension fund in fixed interest stocks when they are driving the market down in gilt-edged stock? How can we trust the Government to invest wisely in these fixed interest stocks? They have invested in debenture stocks. We have an outstanding example of how these gentlemen who are to play the markets with public funds had an excellent chance to invest in debenture stocks, because the Government would have had the right as shareholder in British Petroleum to subscribe half the £40 million convertible debentures. That gave to the subscribers the best of both worlds because they had the right to convert into ordinary shares and if, surprisingly enough, this Government stayed in for many years and the rise in the cost of living continued the pension trustees could have converted B.P. stock into ordinary shares.
If, on the other hand, the Labour Party comes back and keeps the cost of living steady and has an expanding and prosperous industry on sane fixed interest investment so that fixed interest stocks are desirable, they could keep the B.P. stock as it is. They could have had the best of both worlds, stock suitable to a Tory Government—one which could be hastily converted into ordinary shares where the Government are saving at the expense of the old-age pensioner and all who live on fixed incomes, excluding the professional man and people who contribute in many directions to fixed incomes in other words, the Commissioners could convert into ordinary stock.
If, however, we got a sane Labour Government they could have the best of that world and remain on a form of 6 per cent. fixed interest security. Incidentally, if the Government got into one of their panics and did not know whether to convert or stay with a fixed interest security, they could sell the whole lot for several millions, because there is a fixed premium on the stock.
The people who tonight are asking for wide powers to play the markets are those who, with the right to subscribe to £20 million worth of B.P. stock or thereabouts, chose not to exercise that right so that it fell to a whole host of small investors and none came to the country. They could have made a profit on it, but chose to put it out as a kind of bonne-bouche to those who had time to fill in an application form for conversion stock. Those who were entitled to £2 million or £3 million had it thrown away by this Government. Why should we trust them when they have made a present to 2,000 speculators of £2 million of money? When they had a chance to change it into B.P. stock which other investors could take advantage of, this Government refused to take advantage of it and threw away their rights. A dreadful series of problems faces us tonight in this regard.
I hope that the Minister will reply to this question. Why should we give him power to invest in debentures when he had the power to subscribe £20 million in the best debenture issue that has been offered on the market in the last ten years—according to the unanimous City and professional opinion on the matter? Seeing that he has rejected the best debenture issue ever offered in the last ten years, with rights to convert into ordinary shares thrown in for nothing, is he now awaiting for "dud" debentures before subscribing? If he is not to invest in the best, we must take it that he is asking for power to invest in the worst.
Why did he refuse to subscribe to the debenture stock recently issued by B.P.? I hope he will not tell us what some of the newspapers have tried to tell us, that the public got half of the stock in any case, and that the public are the same as the citizens of this country. It is just not true. When the Government hold B.P. they hold it on behalf of the entire nation, but this £20 million which should have been public property in B.P. convertible debenture stock now belongs to quite a small circle of speculators who are busy catching their seven-point premium on the market today and tomorrow.
Why, therefore, should a Government, who reject the best investment in recent years that they could have had, in the debenture stock and ordinary shares of a fine company, which they themselves control and to which they appoint directors to represent them—why should they be trusted when they are so inept in their handling of public money? Why should we trust such a Government? Why should they be allowed to have the powers sought here. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has said, however attractive it is from certain points of view to see the Government investing public funds in ordinary shares, we are not altogether satisfied that we should let this Order go through without recording our protest at the kind of Government that seeks these powers.
Another thing that worries me is this. As has been asked by my hon. Friend, how will we explain to our constituents that we voted for a form of trustee investment of pension funds for these widows and orphans which is denied to superannuation funds and to old-age pension funds in this country? But it goes further than that. At the present time, if an infant gets damages in court and those damages are invested by the court, the judge, however benevolent, however intelligent, or however progressive, might very well say to himself, "Well, with this collection of fogey-ridden economists in power, who are performing extraordinary acrobatics with Bank Rate, it is obviously unwise for me to invest this injured child's money in gilt-edged. Until there is a saner Government, I should like to see that child's money invested in something suitable or safe." But he has no power except to put that money into Government funds.
How are we to explain this to the country's lawyers, who have to see to widows' and children's funds recovered in accident and damages cases? We have seen those funds forcibly put into War Savings at 100, and have then watched that War Loan being driven down deliberately by these peculiar financial policies of the Government to something like 61 or 62. So the injured widow and the injured infant have to sit trapped with their money in court. The judge is trapped. He may think that the Government are wise, but even if he thinks that they are foolish and that the invest also is foolish, he, too, is trapped.
Ought the House to take these measures, obviously necessary on behalf of the pensioners affected by this Order, while, at the same time, leaving this disparity in the treatment of the funds in court of injured widows and children?
I should like to know from the Minister- whether he is content, on the one hand, to say, as he does by this Motion, that there shall be this advantageous way of dealing with Indian pension funds, spreading the fund from ordinaries through debentures to gilts, and, on the other hand, to do nothing at all for those people who have funds in court as a result of accidents and who are under a legal disability which prevents them from using that money in those wise ways themselves.
I see that you have returned to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and you may remember the words I addressed to the Chancellor about it in the economic debate. I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that, accepting a situation of continuous full employment and a slight tendency to inflation, it was possible to make prudent arrangements to invest funds. Of course, the Chancellor, with that alert. "Boy Scout troop leader" air which marks him on the occasions when he is being pontifical and less confident, said that I may be able to contract out of inflation but the ordinary people of the country cannot. There is, he said, only one answer, and that was provided by the kind of Governmental intervention in financial and economic policy which he proposed.
This is not only a vote of no confidence in gilt-edged securities which we are asked to give tonight we are asked also to give a vote of no confidence whatever in the Chancellor's own policies. That I will readily do. When I said in the debate that the right course in dealing with inflation was to accept that there will be a tendency to currency inflation, and that proper steps must be taken to protect savers and victims of inflation, the Chancellor said that to attempt to contract out of inflation will only make it worse: what we must do, he said, is to stop it and then there will not be any need to contract out.
I see that the Commissioners who are responsible for widows and orphans do not believe the Chancellor. They think that the right thing to do is to contract out of inflation. I heartily agree with them. If any widow or orphan were honestly to place any confidence in the success of policies so muddled, misguided and contradictory as this Government have produced in financial matters, that would indeed be a piteous spectacle. I am glad to see that the Order shows that the Commissioners do not think very much of the Chancellor's bold assertions about what he will do to protect the country from further erosion of the currency.
Three weeks before the Government gave us what has been called a swingeing increase in Bank Rate, they assured us that the most important thing was not to keep the currency value steady but to keep full employment and prosperity. It is alarming to find that the same Government which then brought in the swingeing increase in Bank Rate, and all that flowed from it, including a very lengthy tribunal hearing, are showing now that they do not think that that Bank Rate will do much good. What is the Minister to say tonight to the people of the country who hold gilt-edged as their savings? Is the message to them to get out while the going is good and go into equities? Is it a message of no confidence? If it is, it is rather belated. All this is really very shocking.
This selective intelligence is to be applied to a very worthy class of people. I should not like it to be thought for a moment that, because I compare the treatment which they are receiving with the treatment given to ordinary folk who have saved, who are pensioners, or who have had accidents and have had their funds invested in gilt-edged—which the Chancellor then proceeds to bash down in value—I am not in favour of doing the best possible for what is a very deserving class of people.
I am sure that it is the view of every hon. Member on this side of the House that we want to ensure that there is not a discrepancy between the intelligent selection applied to that problem and that applied to the ordinary people of this country. There might be such an affront to public morality that the gain to the Indian pensioners we are discussing would be outweighed by the damage done at home, and the dismay caused at the thought that they are investing in Government securities which are not protected in any way. I should like the Minister who is to reply to say whether he intends to do something for the small savers who have been so badly damaged.
I will gladly vote for this Order if the Government will give an assurance tonight that the ordinary small saver, whom they have nearly ruined, will get some compensation from this reckless and incompetent Government. Will the Government do anything from now on to gear the Savings Bonds to the cost of living index? They have asked for immense sacrifices from the country in order, as they claim, to keep and preserve the value of the £.
On a point of order. May I ask whether this speech is in relation to the interests of the people who are intended to be benefited by this Order, or whether we are descending into a general economic debate, which the hon. Member is handling with great skill? I would ask whether this is not becoming a purely political debate, which has nothing to do with the Order.
I have listened closely to what the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) has said, and so far I have not heard him say anything which was definitely out of order. He asked me whether I remembered what he said on a previous occasion, and what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on a previous occasion, during an economic debate. I regret to say that I have completely forgotten what he said and what the Chancellor said, but the mere fact that he asked me to remember such a remote occasion led me to the suspicion that he was, perhaps, getting a little remote from the Order. So far, the hon. Member has not transgressed the boundaries, but I would urge him to exercise reason in the matter.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and I hope I will not transgress the rules of order. Nor, I hope, will you take it as discourteous if I do not, as suggested, repeat verbatim what I said and what the Chancellor said on the occasion in question. You will appreciate that that is due to my anxiety to be as brief as possible.
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) really must not expect the House to vote on the manner in which Indian pension funds should be invested in this country without having some regard to the general economic and investment background. I am sure he will not take it as intentional discourtesy on my part if I say that he has, perhaps, been dozing because of the lateness of the hour. I pointed out the extreme relevance of this. Any investor knows that what is a good investment under a Labour Government is a bad investment when the Conservatives are in power.
I am trying to get the hon. Member for Yeovil, who obviously has a keen interest in this debate, to see the reason why he has now followed these aspects of the matter, but I know there must be many hon. Members anxious to speak on both sides of the House.
I want to ask the Minister why what is a prudent investment for deserving pensioners under this Order is forbidden by law to English trustees administering funds for orphans? Why is what is desirable and prudent for these pensioners forbidden by law to injured infants in this country, who are compelled against their will to put their money received as damages for injury, into Government stocks which are at the mercy of Government policy? The third question is this. In asking for this permission to bring in power to invest in ordinary stocks, are the Government completely satisfied that no danger of political interference or of economic disruption or jobbery of any kind would be involved in public ownership of shares in public companies in this country?
Fourth, do the Government, accepting that this is clearly a vote of no confidence in gilt-edged as an investment for the small savers and pensioners, intend to do anything at all for the small savers who have been the victims of the Government's policy in the gilt-edged market and in the Bank Rate and for the economic situation of this country?
I have listened to many parties in opposition as they attempted to extend into a far-reaching debate a debate on a comparatively very small issue, and I congratulate the Opposition on taking their opportunity tonight, on what is a very limited question, to turn the debate into one much more appropriate to a very different occasion. I want to speak only on behalf of those who are to benefit under this Order when the House passes it.
This request, that the powers to invest these funds should be enlarged, dates back many years, at least to the time when the Labour Party was in power, and, I suspect, much farther back than that. These are not public funds. These are funds compulsorily and partly voluntarily subscribed by those who served in India and those who left widows and orphans behind them. Those widows and orphans have to live on the income from these funds. For years it has been known that if there were wise trustees in charge of them, and if they were given wider powers over investment, the annuities payable to the widows and children could he substantially increased.
I thank my hon. Friend and the Government as a whole for at last making this small concession to us. I have no personal interest in the matter. I did not come under the funds. No widow or orphans of mine will benefit, but I know many widows and children who are struggling along on a small income coming from the present investment of these funds. The Government are quite right.
This is a demand for all trustees, including the ones the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) referred to, trusts who are strictly bound to invest in trustee securities. Many of us want the Trustee Acts extended because we know well that it is not the Government who make securities go up and down but the whole economic situation of the world. Government policy has little to do with it. We are all interdependent today economically and in every other way. Everybody knows perfectly well that if one has good funds to invest it is wise to put some yin trustee securities, but one likes to invest a portion in equities, bonds, and so forth.
The hon. Member has spoken for the most part of three-quarters of an hour already, and I will not give way to him. I will not be led into a debate on the economic ethics of investment. Hon. Members opposite tell us that they want the Order; well, then let us get it through. Let us get it through quickly so that they can be satisfied.
I merely wish to say that, for those who are to benefit, I thank the Government and tell Her Majesty's Ministers that they will bring great additional happiness to many deserving widows and orphans.
First, let me say that I am happy that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) agrees that the Labour Party, in the wise investment policy which it had, was doing good work. I wish that he would extend this to a national superannuation scheme.
Exactly. That is just what I propose to talk about. I should like to invite the attention of hon. Members to the second sub-paragraph of paragraph 12 of this Order. Here we are concerned with investment in money and, as it states,
… the advance of money upon the security of any real or leasehold property in the United Kingdom".
But the Minister of Housing and Local Government is not here, nor is his Parliamentary Secretary. Who is to speak about housing? Certainly not the Minister, if he were here, because so far as his own constituents are concerned, he sends back letters from those who complain about housing.
We are asked tonight to approve an Order which requests the Commissioners to advance money upon any real or leasehold property in the United Kingdom. That is the sort of policy which everybody would advocate if there were funds for the purpose, because it might take away some of the worst effects of the Rent Act which this Government have imposed, and I suggest that on any future occasion when an Order of this description is introduced to the House, we have present a Minister responsible for what-ever issues may be raised. We have had complaints before about the absence of Ministers from their places, and it is about time that Ministers tried to recognise that hon. Members may need an explanation about the many issues which may be raised.
The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South said that we wanted to get this Order through quickly; but this is not the Reichstag, it is the House of Commons, and every hon. Member is entitled to debate, every one of the issues presented by this Order. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Common- wealth Relations, who is to reply to the debate, will give an answer to this specific point. Who are these Commissioners? Who are these people who have these great and extraordinary powers given to them? Are they to be people who will have a dual responsibility? Are they to be questioned as a matter of conscience as to whether they are acting in the interests of the nation or of an individual?
This brings the matter right on to the Floor of the House. This is where it becomes very difficult, unless we have many more questions answered, to decide whether we can rubber-stamp this Order as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington. South required us to do. Who is the City? What is the City? What is this amorphous body called the City? Is it the City which says that it may be anti-British—
I will, of course, defer to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I agree that perhaps I was getting a little beyond the bounds of order.
Perhaps I might ask who is the individual concerned. Who is to be named as a responsible person from the City representing insurance companies, to be a Commissioner to decide how money shall be invested? Surely there will be a conflict of interests at all times. I think the House is entitled to know. Until the hon. Gentleman replies to a question of that sort, I do not think any Member would be prepared to vote for the Order. We should be prepared to vote for the Order on the basis of representatives from the Public Trustees Office. But a Commissioner may be a director of B.P., and the advice then given would be outrageous if it were advice similar to that which was criticised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham, (Mr. H. Lever). I think the House is entitled to know who is the individual who will be a Commissioner representing what the Under-Secretary referred to as the City.
Frankly, Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I was really out of order. The hon. Gentleman referred to a gentleman from the City, and that is a geographical place. It may, of course, be an insignificant one. It may be one which irritates us from time to time.
I will conclude by saying that I hope we shall be told before the debate proceeds much longer who the Commissioners are. Otherwise the debate may go on until the early hours of the morning and we may not get any other business done. The House has been kept too long in ignorance, and as a result of this sort of thing a great deal of disturbance is sometimes created throughout the country. I beg the Minister to name the individuals concerned and to say whether the policy relating to the purchase of leasehold and freehold properties is to be adopted generally throughout the whole of the investment policy of Her Majesty's Government.
I should like to raise a small point concerning paragraph 12A (1) which states:
The Commissioners may, as and when they think fit, realise, convert or otherwise deal with any investments held by them.
I am sure that that does not mean what any reasonable layman would think it meant. The powers given to the Commissioners grow steadily wider as the Orders go on, but this would appear to extend the powers completely, without limit, to do anything they think fit with the shares. I am sure it does not mean that. There are certain legal rules and interpretations of words to make them mean something else. I think we ought to know what this paragraph does mean
and what are the limits of the powers imposed in those words.
In general, the reason we are interested in this Order is that it embodies in practice an important new principle which has been taking shape in men's minds for some time. The principle is that in the kind of society in which we are now living it is neither sensible nor desirable that trust funds should be invested exclusively in fixed interest bearing securities they should be invested in ordinary or equity shares. I take it that the reason for that development of thought and practice is that, with the establishment of full employment, ordinary shares no longer carry the very considerable element of risk that some of them used to carry in the past. They have become a title deed upon the increase in the total national wealth.
As I see it, the way the distribution of wealth works out at present is this. If the total wealth of the country increases—as it does even under the present Government, though at a diminished rate—the first people who get a share of the increase are those whose incomes are in the form of profits and dividends on ordinary shares. Next come those who get wages or salaries, the place they occupy in the queue being determined by the bargaining power of their union or professional assocation. Last of all come pensioners and others on fixed incomes.
That is not a satisfactory way of arranging things. What we want is some kind of built-in arrangement, if I may borrow a phrase from the Labour Party's pamphlet, "National superannuation," so that as the nation's wealth increases, some part of the increase shall go to pensioners and persons on fixed incomes without their having to wait at the end of the queue.
An obvious device for securing that result is that the funds which care for their needs should, at any rate in part, be allowed to be invested in equity shares. It is true that this provision must have certain safeguards attached to it, and safeguards are, indeed, to be found in the Order. For example:
The said stock or shares …
… quoted on the London Stock Exchange or other recognised Stock Exchange.
Most of us will have noted with interest something that I did not know previously, that if one wants a definition of a "Stock Exchange" the document to which one turns is the Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Act, 1939.
In introducing the Order, the Minister claimed credit for the fact that it was a Conservative Government who were now beginning to put this idea into practice. We give him that freely. Most of us regard the principle in general as admirable, and it is true that wisdom sometimes speaks from strange mouths, even as Balaam's ass spoke when the prophets were silent.
There is a remarkable aspect of the Order which has not perhaps received sufficient attention so far. It will mean that the Commissioners become increasingly owners of property. In so far as that principle extends, we shall have what the Prime Minister called, in referring to the Labour Party's proposals, "nationalisation by the back door." To borrow words used by the Leader of the House earlier today, we do not know what state of mind the Prime Minister was in when he made that remark, still less what state of mind he will be in when he gets back and finds out what his colleagues have been doing in his absence. Clearly, it becomes nonsense to suggest that there is anything improvident in trust funds being used for the acquisition of actual property, real or leasehold property, or the actual physical property which ordinary shares represent.
The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) said that these were not public funds but were funds voluntarily and compulsorily subscribed for the purpose of pensions. Fundamentally, that is what the National Insurance Fund is, too. It consists of funds mainly compulsorily, though to a limited extent voluntarily, subscribed for the purpose of nourishing persons when they are of pensionable age. There is no valid ground for saying that a fund of that kind should not follow the general principle which this admirable Order contains.
There is only one ground upon which we could vote for the Order and oppose the Labour Party's national superannuation policy, and that is to say, "We are concerned about the people to whom the Order relates, but not about any other kind of pensioner." It will be recognised that most of the persons who will benefit by the operation of the Order are somewhat better off than the average old-age pensioner. I do not object to that; many are people who have rendered very distinguished public service. But it is quite wrong, when we have an admirable principle applied to their protection, to say that because they happen to be a little better off than the general run of pensioner this advantage should be confined to them.
I cannot feel that the Government will be able to put forward that proposition. It seems to me, therefore, that although my hon. Friends have expressed slightly different emphasis in this matter, the general consensus of opinion among Members on this side of the House—if I have followed correctly the arguments that have been adduced so far—is that we heartily welcome the principle embodied in the Order, but we shall point out the general importance of that principle and the importance of its extension.
Although it is not my purpose to deal with City questions, I should perhaps say a word about your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that the City is significant only as a geographical area. The City is of special significance to this House, in that the hon. Member who represents it is, by tradition, allowed to sit on the Front Bench, and the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs of the City are the only remaining people who are allowed to petition the House. I hope that it will not pass unnoticed that the City is regarded by the Speaker of the House of Commons as being only a geographical area.
At any rate, this order is a very interesting one, because it is one of the very few Orders remaining under the Government of India Act, 1935. That Act, which is quoted at the beginning of the Order, is no longer printed in the Statutes Revised, but I want to refer the Minister to a complaint made by the present Attorney-General in 1950 to my right hon. Friend, who was then Secretary for Overseas Trade, that all the references were not properly given in the Order at that time, and that it was a small but important point. It is because the Government of India Act of 1935 has been repealed, and is in continuation by virtue of Section 8 (3) of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 that, if I may repeat the words of the present Attorney-General, it would be more helpful to the House if we had the full references in the Order.
What we are concerned with is the substance of the Order, and to get to that one has to refer back to the debate of 1936, which was introduced by the present Leader of the House, who was then Under-Secretary of State for India. He moved the original India (Family Pension Funds) Order and explained, in greater detail than we have had tinight, the reason why the Order had to be brought into effect and also exactly what was involved. As the present Leader of the House said, twenty-one years ago, this was a way of consolidating the various funds that are in existence-in India so that those who would benefit by them were able to transfer the money back to the United Kingdom and have them invested in their interest here. Later, Sir Reginald Craddock made a rather significant statement of his views which, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to quote. He was himself in some way connected with the Family Pension Funds and he said:
As the House has been informed there are several Funds concerned, and in some cases the funds do not exist except in the form of an obligation on the part of the Government of India the administration of the Funds having always been maintained at the India Office."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1946; Vol. 317, c. 1183.]
We are, therefore, dealing not just with existing funds—as hon. Members who have already spoken have said—but with money which derives from an obligation maintained by the India Office to certain people who worked for the India Office; and the significance of that I hope to point out in a moment. At any rate, at that time we know that there were 10,000 people concerned. We do not know whether the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), who is knowledgeable on these matters, is able to tell us how many are involved at the moment. Presumably, the number has been reduced by death.
The only point I wish to make is the point about the extending of the powers
of the Commissioners to invest in ordinary equities. If one looks at the phrase in the Explanatory Note to this Order one sees that the Commissioner's powers of investment are
… subject to conditions laid down in the Order, to invest in industrial concerns.
That is almost word for word the same phrase as is used by the Labour Party in a pamphlet published this summer, in which it says:
We therefore believe that the investment policy of the National Pensions Fund should be controlled by trustees appointed by the Government who should have the same opportunities to carry out profitable investment of their funds as private insurance companies.
And there is an almost identical word for word repetition in the Labour Party's scheme with the one we have in the Order tonight.
I think it worth while to do so, and so I propose briefly to take the House through the comments made about this. I make no reference to the Labour Party's particular scheme, but to the proposal to permit investment in industrial concerns which created a certain amount of comment last summer. Mr. Oliver Poole made a statement on the very day that this pamphlet was published. He is very quick off the mark, as we know. He said:
As I suspected when I commented on their plans for superannuation, they intend to use pension contributions as one means of getting their hands on industry. Instead of thinking how to reduce taxation they propose that the State should use public money … to buy shares in private companies.
This is the view of the then Chairman of the Conservative Party. He has since been made Vice-Chairman. He has been promoted below Lord Hailsham, if I may put it in that way.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for contributing something to the debate. He sits for Colchester and up to now he has maintained his reputation as an oyster.
If Sir Reginald Craddock was correct and he spoke with authority in 1936 on this matter, funds do not exist except in the form of an obligation through the India Office. Therefore, what we are dealing with is a public obligation. I wish to make perfectly clear that I am not in any way denigrating the service of the people who served in India, or their pensions. Indeed, I am trying to see that the procedure adopted tonight is one which ought to be generally applicable.
I could quote it again, but it means going over the point again. It does not matter whether it is the Government of India or the India Office. The point is that it is a public obligation. No one is trying to repudiate this obligation. We are discussing how to implement it to the full and I am in favour of the Order.
The fact is that the comparison between the superannuation we proposed to set up and this is exact. In both cases it relates to persons whom we believe are owed an obligation by the State. In one case it is for service to the State and in the other case people who have worked for the community. In both cases commissioners are to be appointed by the Government. Under this Order the Public Trustee is one commissioner and the others are to be appointed by the Secretary' of State. In our case, although no actual details were made public, it is obvious that they will be Government appointed commissioners who will be responsible. I am dealing with what the Conservative Party thinks about giving permission to commissioners and public trustees to invest in industrial—
That large issue is not raised on this Order. The hon. Member should confine himself to the advisability or otherwise of permitting the commissioners on this particular Order to invest their funds in the way that is intended.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for pointing out the relevance of this point because, of course, the principle of public trustees investing in an industrial concern is one by which we shall judge this Order. I would never dream, nor would my hon. Friends dream, of judging an individual case by an individual principle, but I am seeking to apply a general principle to this matter. Of course, like many hon. Members, I utterly reject the views of Mr. Oliver Poole on this subject.
On a point of order. For the future conduct of this debate we should know what is in order and what is not in order, Sir. If we are to decide properly whether these commissioners should be given the wider powers proposed in this Order it is surely proper that we should discuss the principle of the wider power to be given.
It depends on what the hon. Member means by the principle. I do not think it is in order, on this Order, to discuss what I understand the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) was discussing, namely, a proposal on the part of the State as a whole to buy over securities. I think that is very remote from this Order.
May I try to explain the point I am trying to make, which is that in neither case is the State involved? In both cases, in the superannuation fund and in this scheme, the State appoints trustees and we are considering in each case whether trustees appointed by the Government ought to be allowed to invest in private industry.
The hon. Member is entitled to refer to that matter by way of illustrating his argument. The matter he is talking about, namely, the appointment by his party, or the State, of commissioners is not in issue at the moment. The point really is whether these commissioners should have this power. I do not think that beyond merely illustrating his argument the hon. Member is in order, as it is too remote from this Order.
I am not dealing, nor have I sought to deal at any stage, with the right of the State to appoint commissioners. I am dealing entirely with the powers of commissioners who have already been appointed by the State and I am arguing that this Order introduces a new principle, which I wholly support, but which is contrary to all the views expressed by hon. Members opposite when exactly the same principle was recently described. I am not in any way seeking to extend this argument by considering the merits of the Labour Party scheme published last summer. I am dealing only with the exact powers of public commissioners.
I am bound to refer to Sir Oscar Hobson's view, published by the Conservative Central Office, in which he says, in reference to public commissioners investing, that
The State will inevitably be drawn into controlling what is now private industry …
It is certainly true that if this Order goes through the commissioners will be drawn into controlling investment, and Sir Oscar Hobson, whose views have been given publicity by the Conservative Central Office, to whom I am indebted for giving me this pamphlet, says this is
towards the establishment of Communism.
Now we come to another aspect of the matter. I agree that it is a ludicrous assertion of Sir Oscar Hobson, but it is one given the blessing of the Conservative Central Office. We come back again to this question of whether, in fact, an insurance fund operates or not, and I will not, even for the benefit of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), read this quotation again. I would, however, ask the House to remember that a fund does not actually exist. Last year, a statement issued by the Life Offices' Association, and by the Associated Scottish Life Offices, laid down certain principles about pensions which would cover this particular Order and meet this point. They were, of course, referring to the Labour scheme, but the point of principle they wanted to underline is the same.
The new scheme would, therefore, differ from ordinary pension schemes in that it would not build up a fund commensurate with its vast commitments.
That is exactly the parallel of what we have here. The fund, in modern circumstances, has not been built big enough. They then go on to say:
If the money were used for the piecemeal acquisition of controlling interests in industry—
which is exactly the principle of this Order—
it would introduce a new and politically controversial factor into the field of pensions.
We entirely agree with that and with the Order—and I am speaking in support of the Order.
Now we come to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said about this principle. He was referring to the Socialist scheme and to the principle involved in it. He said:
… It is expensive enough to have a pension scheme at all for social purposes. But if you add to those purposes the purpose envisaged by the Socialist Party of collecting contributions to buy off bits of British industry it is going to be much more expensive, and contributions will be correspondingly higher.
So we have the view of the Chancellor that such a scheme as is advocated by this Order will be anything but beneficial to the people concerned.
Finally, we come, of course, to the statement issued by the Conservative Central Office, that the threat of nationalisation is implicit in this scheme. It is not only the Conservative Party that has attacked this scheme. We have also the Liberal Party. I do not know where the Liberal representatives are tonight. I did contact the Leader of the Liberal Party, and asked whether he could make it possible for his "shadow" Minister of Pensions to come here tonight.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), in a statement issued about a month after the issue of the Socialist scheme, said:
The present Socialist tendencies of both Labour and Tories, having destroyed the gilt-edged markets, they are now determined to seize the equity market as well.
Although late in the field, therefore, the Liberals issued that warning. I do not know where they have been since 1951, but there it is.
Here we have a scheme, Mr. Speaker—and I sum up what I have said—which, to meet the obligations to the Indian pensioners—which I fully support—comes out with a special treatment of them which allows the trustees to invest that money in equities, against the advice of the Conservative Central Office, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of Sir Oscar Hobson, and of all the City wise men—against the advice of the Liberal Party, and, probably, if we only knew it, against the advice of the National Liberals and everyone else. Against all that advice, the Minister advocates the scheme without giving us any real details at all.
As I say, I am fully in support of the scheme, but I would really have liked the hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Order, to have told us how much money is involved and how many pensioners are left. Is it a large or a small sum of money? Has it accrued, or has it diminished? I rather guess that only a very small number of people and a very small amount of money are involved, but the principle is important, and we have seen the passionate advocacy of the scheme by the hon. Gentleman in opening this debate.
It proves that all these other statements that I have read—which distressed you so much, Mr. Speaker, that you found them out of order—are, in fact, eyewash. No one at all believes them. We all know that the State has an obligation to the pensioner which we must meet as best we can. And if we appoint Commissioners to look after those interests, we expect them to do what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South or the Minister says they should do—to make the best of the market.
I shall certainly, in my constituency, give wide publicity at the next Election to the speech of the Minister, and I hope that, through the Order now before us, the light may shine gradually into the minds of hon. Members opposite, first, into the minds of those few who are here to see that there is not a count, and then into the minds of those in the Library and other parts of the Palace, until, finally, Mr. Oliver Poole becomes demoted to Deputy Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party.
The Minister has given us a clear statement of the facts, and, of course, those of us who had had opportunity of reading the Order and the Explanatory Note were already acquainted with those.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman did less than justice when he intro- duced political acrimony into a discussion of an Order which all of us—at least, all those who knew anything about it—were agreed upon. If he had taken the trouble to see that during the period of the Labour Government, on 28th June, 1950, a scheme of this kind was introduced for exactly the purpose contained herein, he would have noted that many of the facts adduced by him tonight were just those which were advanced by myself, deputising for the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations on a later occasion, my right hon. Friend being then out of the country.
As one of my hon. Friends has said, I was then Secretary for Overseas Trade. In the OFFICIAL REPORT for 6th July, 1950, column 789, the Minister will be able to see for himself that I advanced the arguments which he has put forward in order to secure the acceptance of the Order.
The right hon. and learned Attorney-General who then sought to cross swords with me was not in any way as competent as my hon. Friends who put most searching questions tonight. All that the Attorney-General could then do was to criticise one failing in the presentation of the scheme, and even this Government do not learn by experience, because they have made the same mistake on this occasion. I will pursue that no further, but I am bound to say that I hope the Minister will be in a position to give satisfactory answers to the very searching questions already put to him. I should like to add some for myself.
I well know the knowledge on this subject of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), having seen him during his period of excellent service in India and discussed with him many of these matters. He will know that there were four funds originally, intended to provide for the widows and children of certain military and civil officers of the Indian Service. Those funds were, in due course, transferred to the Commissioners in the United Kingdom. We do not often pay tribute to the excellent work which was done by those members of the Indian Service; they did a first-class job, which is now being recognised by Indians themselves. Indeed, as we know, a good many of them were encouraged to remain behind and carry on in the Government of India as a separate independent Republic, and some are still serving. We have an obligation to these loyal ex-civil servants and their dependants which we must meet. We do what we can, and by this Order we are doing something, to see that they get a just reward.
Some of my hon. Friends, however, have asked how it can be that the Government can do what is here proposed, on the one hand, and, on the other, see the old-age pensioners suffer in this country. There is a responsibility towards both the Indian civil servants and their dependants and towards old-age pensioners here. Indeed, I would say to the Lord Privy Seal, who interrupted to say it is ridiculous, that if the Government had seen to it that recent investments in B.P. had been made by the Government to help old-age pensioners, that would have been something worth while. However, they did not show the same keen interest in the old-age pensioner in this country as they are rightly showing in pensions for the ex-Indian civil servant and Army officer.
Is there one set of Commissioners or are there two? As I understand, there is a separate system for the Civil Service and for the military officers. Is one set of Commissioners controlling both, or are there two? If there are two, can we be told more about them?
The Minister has told us that the Public Trustee is one member; there is a Commonwealth Relations officer who also is a representative. In the case of these representatives, I am sure that they are the most desirable candidates for posts as commissioners. We can offer no other than support for the elected representatives of the pensioners, those whom the pensioners sought to put in a position of responsibility. They must have faith in them. The other one is the City representative. I am sure that, whoever this representative may be, he knows all about selling gilt-edged stock. Perhaps we could know who he is and the association with whom he works. We have a right to know that.
I would also ask the Minister why it has been necessary to make an alteration in the four-year period. There is something to be said for continuity and having a man in a position where he knows that he will serve for a given period. Now the period is to be reduced. There may be some good reason, but we should be told.
The other reason for the Order is that it is for the extension and consolidation of the commissioners' power of investment. They are now having the power to invest in industrial concerns—something which the Labour Government, when elected, is to do in a bigger way for the benefit of the people generally.
Some of my hon. Friends have been threatening to vote. They are doing so not because they are out of sympathy with the Bill, but because their threat is one of hostility to the policy of the Chancellor. This is not the occasion to exercise a vote of that kind.
I think we are in a false position. We find that hon. Members on the benches opposite are supporting Labour Party policy. I do not know what the reactionery members of the Conservative Party will say when they hear about this, or what the "Suez Group" will say. Significantly, they are absent tonight. We will leave it for difficulties to develop in the party opposite. There will be another split, and then an opportunity for a Labour Government to introduce this kind of Bill not only for Indian Civil Servants, but for pensioners generally in this country.
We have given to what is a fairly narrow measure a good deal of attention and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) said, a number of questions have been put to me. I hope it may be for the convenience of the House if I try to answer some of the matters raised.
First, let me refer to the commissioners. There are four groups of commissioners, each of which deals with a separate fund, there being four funds comprised in the scope of this particular scheme. The representative who brings to it expert knowledge of insurance problems, and who is nominated by the Secretary of State, is somebody who does not represent any particular firm or group of firms, but who was selected because of his experience and because of the value of the advice he can give to his fellow commissioners.
I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman, when he was in office, was aware of this arrangement, which is similar today to what it has been for many years past, and will realise the value of the work which Mr. Shrewsbury, the representative concerned, has done in, the interests of what all hon. Members will regard as a very deserving fund and a deserving set of people.
I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, for your help and guidance. There are some of us in the House who have a feeling that the Chief Whip is about to ask you to accept the Motion for the Closure. May I ask you what the position is? Would you bear in mind that the rule was suspended at 3.30 p.m. today to enable these matters to be properly and fully debated? Could we have an assurance that such a Motion would not be accepted?
I think the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) was under a misapprehension when he accused the Secretary of State of failing in his duties and of not taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the recent B.P. issue. The hon. Member was not aware that in this matter of investment the commissioners, once appointed, act completely independently. The Secretary of State has no duties or functions in investment. The commissioners themselves act as independent trustees and use their prudent judgment as to what may be most in the interests of the funds over which they have control.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it was the commissioners' view that, unlike every other professional investor, they should not exercise their right in priority over something like half the B.P. debenture stock?
I am not saying anything of the sort. The hon. Member showed a very great knowledge of all the various aspects of the work of investment. It was very interesting, coming from those benches, considering what has been said in the past upon this subject. I thought he knew this matter very well, and would, therefore, have realised that this is quite irrelevant to the point I am making, which is that, contrary to what the hon. Member said, the Secretary of State has no responsibilities for any selection of investment on behalf of these funds.
What we are trying to do by this Order is simply to obtain for the commissioners of these four funds the same sort of facilities as are available to any trustee on application to the courts. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) was quite correct when he said that these are private funds. These are moneys subscribed exclusively by the subscribers to these funds over the period of their service. They are not added to by the Government in any way. We have always treated it, and rightly, as being a fund over which the subscribers have a very considerable say.
I hope that the hon. Member will allow me to reply to the questions which have been raised. There have been many, and I am doing my best to reply to them.
It is perfectly true that the salaries were originally paid by the Government but no contribution has been made from Government funds, comparable to what, I think I am right in saying, is the principle behind the Socialist Party's superannuation scheme.
I turn to another question raised by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). He asked me for an explanation of paragraph 12A (1). I should explain to him that this is merely a carry-over paragraph from an earlier Order, and the same as one which was included in the Order of 1950, I think, passed by the Labour Government. There is nothing sinister in this, as he suspected. It is included to ensure that the Commissioners have the full facilities which they require for the normal conduct of their business with these funds.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) what was the number of pensioners. It is 3,400. He also asked me the amount of the funds. The amount of the funds is at present at cost about £10½ million. It will, therefore, be seen that only £3 million, or thereabouts, is at issue in the question of the investment in equity shares or preference shares. Therefore, the amount involved is very small indeed.
A number of hon. Gentleman on the other side tried to draw a parallel between this small amendment relating to what, to all intents and purposes, are private funds and the major scheme which they are in the process of launching politically, but there is no parallel at all. My hon. Friends do not in any way begrudge hon. Gentlemen opposite that they should have taken this opportunity of bringing out their pet scheme from the oblivion which has fallen on it in recent weeks; but I can