We were talking about additional allowances for the long-term sick and, in reply to the plea made by the right hon. Member for Llanelly that we should consider whether anything could be done, I was saying that it would be very difficult. How could we justify it compared with the widow or retirement pensioner who might have been living on benefit for a long time? Furthermore, if it were possible to grant such a benefit, what would happen when the sickness beneficiary reached retirement age and had to take retirement pension? To take away the constant attendance allowance or the unemployability supplement would impose a considerable hardship, yet, if one contemplated maintaining it into retirement years, what would one do then for the 5 million people at present of retirement age?
What happens now? There are people receiving unemployability allowance and constant attendance allowance under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act who have reached retirement age. Why should there be a different problem here from that which is already dealt with in the Industrial Injuries scheme; and, even if it is a problem for both, why is that a reason for not considering the idea?
That is an entirely different scheme based upon entirely different principles. What is now suggested is that we should try to introduce the comparable benefit from the Industrial Injuries scheme into National Insurance. If we did it for the long-term sick, I do not see how we could draw the line at the 5 million retirement pensioners and say to them that they could not have constant attendance allowance or unemployability supplement. Although no figures of costs are available, they would really be enormous.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady again, but she is answering the Committee, and we are in Supply. What does she mean by enormous"? Leaving out for the moment what happens to the retirement pensioner, she has not answered about what happens under the Industrial Injuries scheme. Under that scheme, do people still receive constant attendance and unemployability allowance? If so, why does she say that the problem is not the same? Would the cost be enormous in the context of the scheme? What is the total number of long-term sick? My own view is that the cost would not be so very great, and I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary ought to say that a suggestion of this kind would cost an enormous sum without saying what she means by "enormous".
The right hon. Gentleman has just raised the matter. Without considerable research, I do not think that it would be possible for me to give him an answer about the total long-term sick within the sickness beneficiaries.
The point I was making was that one could not, in my opinion, draw the line at long-term sick, especially when they reach retirement age. One would have to consider all the other people who, because of age or infirmity, are unable to go on working. Therefore, the potential cost could be enormous.
The right hon. Gentleman asked another question about widows. He was particularly thinking of the widowed mother, and I have earlier reminded him that there have been five improvements in her benefit. The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether there had been a review. I remind him that in 1956 there was a full review by the National Insurance Advisory Committee of the pensions of all widows, and arising from that we made some of the improvements to which I have referred. He mentioned also Peter Marris's book. Since the right hon. Gentleman intends to read it, I might give him the title, which is, "Widows and their Families". But the interviews related in that book took place before the improvements which we made in the years 1956 and 1957.
I should like to take up one further point which arose from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I have not disposed of all of them and my right hon. Friend will be replying to other points later. The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of old cases, which has been discussed before in the House. We have done something for the old cases by giving them a supplement of 17s. 6d. out of the Industries Injuries Fund, which is bearing the burden, and in that way the burden falls on present contributors. What is even more important is that the old cases enjoy the benefit of the improvements that we recently gave to all National Insurance beneficiaries. They will either get increased sickness benefit or, if they have retired, increased retirement pension.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a matter of taking stock.
Before the hon. Lady continues, will she deal with the entitlement to benefit of the partially incapacitated? I think that is what my right hon. Friend had in mind when he drew attention to workmen's compensation cases.
The right hon. Gentleman did not mention the partially incapacitated, but I will gladly endeavour to reply to the point. Surely they will gain because they are only partially incapacitated. They are not unemployable. They will enjoy some benefit from the increased wages which are now being paid. I think that they have a share in the general level of prosperity.
In conclusion, this canvas is all too broad for me to fill in all the picture. I have tried to fill in some of it so that hon. Members may have the information on which this debate will proceed. But all parties have contributed to social security—right back to the Lloyd George days. I think that my own party can claim that we have not only maintained the social services which we are discussing, but have improved them. We have endeavoured to put the priorities where they are needed. We are spending more money and we are providing better benefits than ever before. The money is provided by the contributors and the taxpayers, but I think that we can claim to give better value for that money. I have no wish to be partisan, but I think it right to make that plain. In National Insurance we are dealing with people, and in the main we are dealing with the problems of people caused through sickness, unemployment or old age. It is a matter which needs understanding and humanity.
I should like to pay my tribute to the staff of the Ministry. After a close association of two and a half years, I can say that I am very impressed with the job of work that they do and the effort that they bring to this work in order to help people. I am sometimes a little surprised at the considerable amount of work that has been done to prove a person's entitlement to retirement pension. Employment histories are sometimes very chequered. Not everyone recollects clearly who were their employers in the past, and sometimes the officials of my Department do a "Sherlock Holmes" act so as to prove entitlement to benefit. I am glad that they bring to this service the feeling of humanity and the sense of owing something to the community. The job has been done over the past ten years with understanding and humanity. I think that we may all claim a share in the progress that has been achieved over this period.
I think that some of us during the earlier part of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's speech felt that it would be more valuable to study the compendium of facts in the OFFICIAL REPORT. But we all appreciated the last minutes of her speech, and the humane way in which she talked about the problems of the Ministry. When she said that, I could not help thinking of something which my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) spoke about, namely, the amazing change in atmosphere which has taken place in the last ten years.
When the Parliamentary Secretary was referring to war pensions, my mind went back to a talk I had with George Buchanan, and I think that we on this side have the right to mention his name today as one of the outstanding men in pensions. I once asked him, "What did you think was the job that you had to do as Minister of Pensions?" He said, "It was a perfectly simple job. When I got there, the officials all believed that it was their task in life to ensure that they never paid a penny more than was necessary. When I left there, they had begun to learn that their job was to ensure that everyone got every penny to which he was entitled." There has, indeed, been a complete transformation of the spirit of the bureaucracy, and I think that the Parliamentary Secretary paid a perfectly legitimate tribute to the staff.
Those of us who remember pre-war conditions regard this transformation of the climate in which we consider these problems as perhaps the greatest achievement of the first Labour Government after the war in humanising relations. Having said that, may I say that when the Parliamentary Secretary read all those figures of improvements, I could not help reflecting how much of those so-called improvements have been, not improvements, but merely "catching up with inflation." Of course, it is true that great things have been done in the last ten years, but we should be quite unrealistic if we tried to claim to ourselves that one of the great things that we have done has been to abolish poverty in old age. We have not abolished it.
I was glad my right hon. Friend said that we have to face some of the things that we failed to do and admit that we are all to blame. Of course, we are all to blame but over the last ten years the greatest social scandal has been the way in which our old people have not been given their share of increasing prosperity. Surely, in this debate, we must acknowledge those facts and try to assess, as my right hon. Friend did so admirably, why we have failed to do what we believed we should be able to do when the National Insurance Act came into force ten years ago this weekend. Why is it that its promise has not been fulfilled? I have already mentioned the major factor which no one took into account in planning our social services and Welfare State in 1945–46 and that was the continuing pressure of inflation—and once again let us be frank about this—under succeeding Governments of all parties. None of us really managed to cope with inflation.
I hoped that we should have at least one admission of this from the Parliamentary Secretary. Often we have had to listen to the outrageous argument that the only thing to do for old people to protect them against inflation is to prevent inflation taking place. Actually, the job of social services is to protect old people against inflation, if it occurs. I hoped that we could write it down as a lesson of the last ten years that any system of social security which leaves old people's pensions unprotected against inflation is not a system of security at all. It is a mockery of the principle that one should help the weak first and leave the healthy to look after themselves.
Over the last ten years, the fact has been exactly the contrary. By and large, over the last ten years it is the healthy, the strong and those who have been able to look after themselves who have been protected and it is the weak and the aged who have taken the chief brunt of inflation. That has had its financial effect on the whole National Insurance scheme. Aware of these facts, successive Governments have tried to keep up with inflation by constantly increasing benefit, and quite rightly. The result, however, has been that benefits and contributions have become completely out of relationship with one another.
It has been said that 400,000 old people, by achieving their rights during the last 10 years, are entering the scheme and receiving their benefit for the first time this week. And the hon. Lady added that the taxpayer would make up the difference. It is not only the taxpayer, but the young worker, who is making up the difference. Under the hon. Lady's system—and she must take responsibility for this—every young worker who starts work this year will, at the very minimum, year after year, for forty-five years, pay 1s. 3d. a week more than he should pay actuarially for his own pension, as a contribution towards other people's pensions. This is not an insurance principle. It is the very reverse of insurance. To be required to pay an extra 1s. 3d. a week is not a contribution, but a poll tax, weighing heaviest on those least able to bear it.
Let us be quite clear that we celebrate—using that word in inverted commas—the tenth anniversary of National Insurance by the achievement of universality combined with bankruptcy. The scheme has become universal at the same moment as it has been made bankrupt and the insurance principle has been finally undermined by the method used by the Government for increasing the contributions. These are facts which should be clearly stated in this debate.
There is, however, one other aspect which I want specially to emphasise concerning the change in the last ten years in the problem of old-age pensions, and that is the growth of occupational pension schemes. Their growth since the war has completely transformed the problem. We can thank the Manchester Guardian for giving us, in a leader this morning, in convenient form, some salient and striking figures about the growth of certain occupational pension schemes since the war. The Manchester Guardian takes only one or two which are typical of our nationalised industries today to show the scope and size of the schemes.
It states—I am sure that the figures are all correct—that the latest report of the National Coal Board's pension scheme for miners shows that its funds are now nearly £40 million. When we add on to that the supplementary scheme for industrial injury benefits with £14·5 million, it is reckoned that together these two funds have an investment income of more than £2·5 million a year.
When we find that I.C.I. has pension schemes of about the same size and Unilever has one, too, we begin to find that private occupational pension schemes now form a larger and larger part of the financial strength of the country. More and more of the nation's investment money conies from two places from which ten years ago it would not have been expected: that is, from the trade union movement, on the one side, and from superannuation schemes on the other side. They are now two of the largest groups of investors in the City of London.
Looking at those schemes over the last ten years, I want first to make one point of complaint. I make it as someone who has been much concerned to try to study the facts of the question. One of the difficulties of studying it is that the information is not available. A little work is now being done at the London School of Economics, where money has been found from private sources to study the growth and the precise structure of occupational pension schemes. The Government, however, have hogged the information. Either it is not collected or they have kept it to themselves at the Ministry. I can suspect political reasons why they did not want to let us know too much information about these schemes. It is, however, possible to discover certain facts about them.
In criticising and discussing the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, we ought to discuss the growth of these schemes. It is completely unrealistic to say that they do not profit by tax concessions because of the theoretical fact that in the end the tax is paid when the benefit is paid. Frankly, no company would go in for these schemes but for the very large tax concessions which enable it to reduce the amount of profits which would otherwise go to the Government. It is perfectly clear, therefore, that these schemes are subsidised by the Government. The Government, who say that they cannot afford more than £75–£80 million contributions to old-age pensions, contribute over £100 million to these schemes.
The schemes are registered for Income Tax purposes—they have to be, otherwise they would not get the tax concession—but apart from registration there is, as far as I know, no form of adequate control as to whether these are genuine superannuation schemes. When the Government grant the tax concession they do not then say, "We grant this concession on condition that we inspect these schemes regularly to ensure that they are giving genuine value for money to the workers." There is nothing like that. A person can get the tax concession although anybody who studies his scheme may have to admit that it is a bogus scheme giving virtually no security to the worker.
There are today thousands of these schemes—we know of at least 7,000 or 8,000—varying from first-rate schemes—adequately funded, with trustees representing the workers, and rights of transferability—down to what is really a deception of the worker, in which he has no personal right to the pension and where there is merely a vague promise by the employer, "I may pay you a pension of a certain sum if you stay with me long enough." That is really the modern equivalent of the gold watch promised to persuade the worker not to leave. There are astonishing variations between good and bad schemes, but all schemes get tax concessions whether they provide adequate security or are totally inadequate. One of the things which I should like to see is a much more active supervision by the Government to ensure that when a worker believes that he is a member of a scheme giving him security he is not suffering from a delusion.
Let me quote one or two simple difficulties which face private firms who want to make their schemes sound. It is clear that just as the National Insurance scheme has been undermined by inflation in the relation of benefit to contributions, the same thing applies to any private pension scheme. Inflation creates a major problem, and the more conscientious an employer is the greater the problem. He fixes a scheme of contributions and, as the inflation proceeds, he finds that if he lets an unfortunate man retire on the amount of pension for which by contribution he has qualified he becomes a standing scandal in industry because the amount is not enough. The employer, therefore, puts his hand into his pocket and makes up the difference in the scheme because the scheme itself has become unstuck.
Then comes the next temptation. To try to keep the benefits at a decent level, the employer tends to say, "I will not adequately fund my scheme. I will rely on a steady flow of new entrants, lapsed policies and the rest, and so I will try to maintain my rate of benefit far higher than my contributions justify in order to give people some defence against inflation. I will do that, although I am well aware as an employer that if suddenly my firm were to close down and I was made to honour all my obligations, I would not be able to do so." I would say that a large number of private occupational pension schemes are strictly speaking, in that sense, unable to meet their full obligations because they are not fully funded. I do not blame them.
I record this as one of the facts of inflation which we have to face. It is a fact which people might remember, when they look at the national scheme which we on this side have worked out and say that it is not adequately funded. That is a criticism which could be made of many large-scale private pension schemes to-day. Indeed, the only schemes I know of which are fully, adequately guaranteed are the statutory schemes, the Government schemes, because there the money is paid out by the taxpayers. It is the taxpayers who say, "We will pay that money out."
That is what seems to me the gravest problem of the private pension schemes. But, despite all those problems, those workers who are in private pension schemes, who number roughly one-third of the working population, are far better off than the two-thirds who are outside. Although the workers in the private pension schemes may be tied to jobs, though there may be great disadvantages, they are saving for their old age and they are able to look forward under their pension schemes to a far better old age than if they had to rely on the National Insurance pension, supplemented, after means tests, by the National Assistance Board.
Therefore, we have to face it, and the Government must face it, too, that over the last ten years an ever-widening gap has been growing between one part of the community, the privileged part who are going to have superannuation, and the great majority who are not. This is the great problem of the last ten years, this widening gap between those who are looking forward to relative pension security in old age, varying from the top-hat security of £10,000 down and £6,000 a year—for that is the sort of pension paid at the top—to the bottom level of the humble 10s. or 15s. a week which a railway worker may get.
These schemes vary enormously, and the benefits of them vary, too, but at any rate the recipients receive more than they do from the destitution pension of National Insurance. I use the words "destitution pension" advisedly, for under a system of flat-rate contribution and flat-rate benefit the pension can only be what the lowest-paid worker can afford to contribute to it. That is the terrible price of the flat-rate system. That is why the present National Insurance pension has to be supplemented, to bring it up to the level of national subsistence. For National Assistance is a device to keep people just above the level of destitution. Therefore, I am not exaggerating when I call the National Insurance pension a destitution pension; for it is in truth below the level of subsistence set by the National Assistance Board.
The next point I want to make about the occupational pension is this. One of the advantages of those in superannuation is that they are in pension schemes which advisedly and deliberately seek to give their members a share in increasing national prosperity. Quite deliberately, whether it is an insurance company or whether it is a body of trustees who run the scheme, the investment policy followed in the best private occupational schemes is what one can call a profits policy.
I notice—and I am sure my hon. Friends from the Mineworkers' Union will forgive me for saying this—that very wisely the trustees of the National Coal Board's superannuation scheme have invested of their funds £1 million in each of five major industries, insurance, heavy chemicals, electrical engineering, iron and steel, and motors and aircraft. They have not made distinction between public and private industry: they have invested in prosperous industries in this country in order to ensure that their members, when old, get their slice of the profits of these industries.
This is one of the great advantages which members of private pension schemes enjoy. We on this side of the Committee say that we are determined to make sure that the majority excluded from private occupational schemes shall, when we are in power, also profit in the same way under a national superannuation scheme. What the National Coal Board does for its workers, what I.C.I. does for its workers, what Unilever does for its workers, and what many small, good employers do for their workers, we are going to do for every worker in the country not covered by an adequate private scheme.
It will take a lot of persuading and a lot of skiffling by the Minister to persuade the public to think that this is not a good idea. One of my hon. Friends says, "He may pinch it." All I can say is that no one will be happier than I if he does and if this problem of poverty in old age can be taken out of politics and become non-party. I wish it could. But if he is going to do it—and this brings me to the other thought of my speech—he will have to do a lot of in-fighting against certain people behind him.
I have here some pamphlets, one issued by the Pearl Assurance Company, containing a speech by the chairman, and two harmless looking documents, issued by the Life Offices' Association, all strictly impartial. One of them is "Four Conclusions on the Pensions Problem" by J. H. Kitton, chairman of the Life Offices' Association. Another document, which arrived this morning, with the brilliant timing for which the Association of British Chambers of Commerce is famous, is a well printed, expensive pamphlet containing "A critical review of the proposals of the Labour Party". The title of the booklet is "National Superannuation."
I think that we on this side can be proud of ourselves because of the amount of research and publicity we have stimulated on the other side, and I can only hope that the Minister has been doing his homework, too, as well as the life insurance companies.
All these people, strictly impartial, have come to the same conclusion, a very remarkable conclusion, and I will read it from one of these pamphlets. "National Superannuation":
The final verdict must be that the Labour Party scheme … for additional retirement benefits is unnecessary, wasteful, oppressive to the working population, and dangerous to the very security it pretends to offer.
They have come to a strictly impartial conclusion that it is the function of the State to arrange for a basic pension to cover subsistence, and which is financed by contributions during the workers' working life, and that, to the extent that additional retirement benefits are required as a form of remuneration for service, there is adequate machinery available now to provide them—through the insurance market.
That is the strictly impartial conclusion which the Minister is having loaded upon him by that strictly impartial group of people, the life insurance companies. They say, "Keep the State pension a destitution pension, because in this way people will be compelled either as individuals or as groups to swell the profits of our companies." It is as simple as that. "Keep the State pension a totally inadequate, flat-rate pension so the people will require another pension as well."
I have never seen such an addiction to the flat-rate pension as the life offices feel for it. I have not seen such enthusiasm for it outside the City. They are infatuated with the present State scheme—because it is so bad. For, they say, this means there is plenty of room for them.
I am not going to say a word against the work of the industrial life offices. They do splendid work for individual workers. I hope we are all going on with our policies. I hope we are going on with our life policies. Nor am I saying a word against the principle of private superannuation. What I do say is this, that anybody who pretends that schemes run by assurance companies or by private trustees can be extended to cover the whole community deceives himself. They have been given absolute freedom. They have been given vast tax concessions to encourage them to do this work—and they now cover only one-third of the workers. If the Government plan to wait until these people have covered the lot, they will wait a hundred years.
As the process goes on, the injustice grows greater, because on the whole it is the middle-class wage-earners in the large-scale companies with large profits who would benefit. The employee of a small company with a low rate of profit would be at a disadvantage. A scheme is being evolved for farmworkers. Some of the big farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk may carry it out, but who believes that the man with a 100-acre farm employing one or 1½ workers will introduce it, or a small shopkeeper or a small builder? Millions of workers will be permanently excluded, that is, male workers. Females will be ruled out altogether.
I have no evidence. This is perhaps where the hon. Member and I differ. I can conceive of such an industry doing it. The difference is that we on this side of the Committee intend to do it by Act of Parliament for the two-thirds of workers. We shall not wait until industry conceives of it. If we leave the present process to go on we shall have, on the one side, an increasingly bankrupt National Insurance, financed by a poll tax which would get heavier and would bear most heavily on the workers and, on the other side, a small growth of pension schemes with a very high profitability to those who made them and with the grave disadvantage of tying the worker, without adequate transferability of pension rights. We should have the growth of what I call a new feudalism, because I do not believe that most firms would introduce these schemes except in order to tie their workers.
We on this side of the Committee propose that any scheme allowed as an alternative to ours will have to have written into its constitution full transferability not only of the worker's contribution but of the employer's as well. That is already done among local authorities and in the State nationalised industries. It is possible to do it, but most employers do not do it because they do not go into these pension schemes for love but in order to keep their labour and to deter middle-aged people from seeking promotion by going elsewhere. That is an undesirable thing in industry. It immobilises people at a certain age far too much. Nobody on this side of the Committee is content to see things develop with an ever-widening gulf between those who do and those who do not receive superannuation.
As soon as the hon. Member's scheme gets under way, would he invest the very first money coming in for a superannuation scheme in a fund with a view to funding it to pay superannuation or to meet the deficit which one is confronted with on the existing flat rates?
I am fully aware that the rules of order in this Committee are such that I am mot able to answer details about future legislation at great length. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am perfectly prepared to do it, however, as I see a certain indulgence in the eye of the Chair. We propose to have annual net savings of a very large amount, just as in any private scheme one must be sure that what is drawn in is far more than what is required to cover outgoings. Ours will work on exactly the same principle, and the annual savings will then have to be invested, just as the savings of any ordinary superannuation scheme are invested. There is no difference in principle between the attitude of a national scheme to savings and investment and the attitude of a private scheme or a scheme run by a nationalised industry. What is done by the National Union of Mineworkers, in association with the Coal Board, is in principle the sort of thing that a State scheme would have to do with its savings. Part would be spent on current outgoings, and what was surplus to that would be invested.
Do not let us try to pretend to ourselves that in the matter of old-age pensions the last ten years have been anything but a disgrace to this country. It really is a disgrace to let our old people progressively become worse off compared with the rest of the community. Figures can be brought forward to say that old-age pensioners are slightly better off than they were in 1946, but the rest of us are vastly better off than we were in 1946. We do not eat meat once a week as we did in 1946. We should not tell old people, "We have done well for you by making you slightly better off whilst everybody else has been rushing ahead to improve his standard of living." It is an outrage to tell them that.
Nobody should be content with National Insurance until we have made it a genuine insurance scheme with contributions and benefits in genuine proportion to each other and until we have arranged that those in existing occupational pension schemes shall be assured that their rights are fully preserved in the new National Superannuation. We must also ensure transferability, so that week by week as we earn part of our earnings is deferred and saved so that a man may say, "Whether I happen to be in a private or a public industry, and however often I change my job, I know that a percentage of my earnings is being saved and invested each week on my behalf so that when I stop work I shall be able to live on half-pay." Until we can assure that on a national scale, in an all-inclusive scheme, we shall not have abolished poverty in old age.
I hope that the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his interesting discourse, because I want to confine myself to war pensions since that subject has not been debated for some time. I shall try to keep it very much on a non-party-political level, although both parties are proud of what they have done for war pensioners. I am certainly very proud of what my own party has done over the last five and a half years.
The war pensions scheme should be looked at as a whole. It was built up during the war by the Coalition Government and under Labour and Conservative Governments immediately following the war. The service which we give to war pensioners consists of many parts—the basic rate of pension, the basic war widow's rate, the special allowances, the priority hospital treatment, the provision of artificial limbs and appliances, the provision of cars and bicycles, the welfare system, and the whole social system of the Welfare State—most particularly, the National Health Service.
I have always found it difficult to compare the war pensions schemes of different nations. I had a most interesting tour of the Continent, during which I looked into the war pensions schemes of some of our Allies and tried to compare them with our own. I always came up against the point that in those countries there was not a National Health Service, and, therefore, whatever benefits were given to a war pensioner for his war disability, he still had all the anxiety about the possible sickness of his wife and family and his relations, of which the war pensioner in this country is relieved.
Since the Second World War, the war pensions scheme and the Industrial Injuries scheme have been absolutely linked together, and I think that many people do not realise that that has taken place. It would be quite impossible for any Government to make improvements in, say, the basic rate of the Industrial Injuries scheme without doing the same thing for the war pensions scheme, and vice versa. Many of the allowances are common to both, but they are not always called by the same names.
For instance, the allowance for lower standard occupation in the war pensions scheme is called the hardship allowance in the Industrial Injuries scheme, but the constant attendance allowance, the un-employability supplement and the sickness benefit are more or less common to both schemes. I think that it is extremely sensible that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry should be dealing, as I believe he is at present, with some aspects of the Industrial Injuries scheme as well as the war pension scheme because they are so very similar.
The war pensioner has certain priorities over the industrially injured, and certain financial advantages which perhaps everyone does not realise. I was often asked why there should be any difference between the rates of pensions and allowances of the war disability pensioner and the industrially injured, when their disabilities are exactly the same. Up to now, I think that there has been a very good reason for that, in that the war pensioner probably received his disability while serving overseas far from his home and country, living in deserts and jungles, and, therefore, was perhaps entitled to these little extras which still exist as between the war pensions scheme and the industrial injuries scheme.
I feel that, very probably, if there were ever another war, which God forbid, there would be an ugly rush to the deserts and jungles, and, probably. Members of Parliament and other people compelled to stay in London would be the people to get priority in the way of war pensions and benefits of that sort; but we hope that that will not happen.
Although the war pensions scheme is made up of a lot of different parts, as I have mentioned, the basic rate of pension remains the yardstick by which we measure our progress in war pensions. In 1946, the basic rate was raised from 40s. to 45s., and, at the same time—and I have always given the Labour Party the fullest credit for this—the Government brought in the most valuable and important welfare service, which is an extraordinarily important part of the service which we give to the war pensioners. I find that any foreign Minister of Pensions who comes to this country—and I have taken some of them round our pensions offices—cannot understand this service at all. I refer to the tremendous services given by so many voluntary organisations and other people in this welfare service set up in 1946. On the other hand, the Labour Government made no increase in the war disability basic pension, and by 1951 the purchasing value of that pension had dropped from 45s. to 35s.
There was a very important debate in the House in February, 1951—an all-party debate, as we are hoping all our pensions debates generally will be—on a Motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head), seconded by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), which urged the Government of the day to make an immediate increase in the basic rate of war pensions to compensate for the great decrease in the value of the pension which had occurred between 1946 and 1951. The Labour Party at this time had two Ministers in the Ministry of Pensions for whom I have the highest regard—the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), who was the Minister, and the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) who was the Parliamentary Secretary.
I am quite sure that they wanted an increase in the basic rate of pensions just as much as everyone else who took part in that debate, but, when it came to the Budget just afterwards, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to give any rise in the basic pension at all, and that was because, as we know, there was a financial crisis at the time. When there is a financial crisis, the climate is not good for the war disability pensioner. A valuable increase was made, however, of £600,000 in the comforts allowance in the Budget of 1951.
Immediately we came in power, we made a most courageous and certainly most necessary increase in war pensions in our first Budget of 1952. We increased the basic pension by 10s., at a cost of £10 million. Perhaps even more important than that, we instituted a system of priorities, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in her speech this afternoon. We tried to pick out certain classes of pensioner whom we thought needed help more urgently than anyone else.
The first of these were the badly disabled men who were unable to work. Since the war, employment for war pensioners has been extremely high, and work to a disabled man is really the most important thing that we can give him. I have always said that the greatest service which we can do for the war disabled is to help them to help themselves, to restore their self-respect and the feeling that they are playing an important part in life again.
I only realised how important that factor was when, a few years ago, I went to the Star and Garter Home and saw a badly disabled man of the last war who was completely paralysed from the neck downwards, but who had always had an ambition to become a painter. He had learned to paint pictures, and very good pictures, by holding the brush between his teeth, and that had given him back an interest in life. That is why I say that employment is such an important factor for any category of disabled man.
We therefore selected them for first priority. In 1951 a single man who was unable to work received a minimum pension of 80s. a week. We raised that first to 90s., and later, in 1955, to 112s. That is an increase of 32s. 6d. per week. My right hon. Friend the Minister has continued that priority to that class of man, and in his recent increases in January of this year that first priority class has been raised by another 38s. per week. If a man is married and has a family, or if he needs the constant attendance or the comforts allowances, he gets very much more.
The second class of pensioner about whom I was very worried myself was the war widow, the elderly war widow, the the widow going out to work or the widow with children, and, in two pensions increases, we gave the war widow with two children an increase of 26s. per week, while the Minister, in his recent increases, has raised that figure again considerably. In the last five years, the basic pension of the war widow has been raised by 31s. 6d. per week, and the children's and rent allowances have also been increased.
The basic pension for men in the last five and a half years has been raised by 40s. a week, so it has been very nearly doubled, and there have been big increases also in all the special allowances. I was particularly glad that the Minister increased the recent unemployability supplement from 45s. to 55s. and also increased the constant attendance allowance. It is important to know that the cost to the Exchequer of the war pensions increases given in the last five and a half years is about £41½ million a year, which is a considerable contribution to this all-important cause.
I was also glad that the Minister introduced last year a special benefit for older pensioners. My experience over a number of years has been that a man feels a disability most in two periods of his life. He feels it acutely when he first receives the disability as a young man, particularly if he is fond of athletics or dancing and suddenly finds himself a cripple. So he needs our help particularly at that period of his life to get him back into the world. Secondly, he begins to feel his disability severely when he reaches the age of 60. That is when the artificial limb becomes most irksome and any form of disability becomes more difficult.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has called attention to the Transfer of Functions Order. This merger took place on 30th June, 1953, and I can remember, as I am sure do other hon. Members here who are interested in war pensions, the great anxiety expressed about the merger by the ex-Service men's associations, by many individuals and by a number of hon. Members. I would remind hon. Members that the Order only went through the House with a Government majority of 14, so there was a very close vote on it.
I believe that most people interested in war pensions would agree, however, that the merger has not worked to the detriment of the war pensioner generally. It may have done so in one or two respects, but overall it has worked out to his benefit, particularly in the sphere mentioned by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—the local offices. When the merger took place we had in the Ministry of Pensions 80 local offices and we acquired another 900 from the Ministry of National Insurance. This was a great benefit to the pensioner, who no longer had to travel so far or wait so long to have his disability attended to.
At the time the Minister of Pensions gave certain assurances about Roehampton Hospital, which holds an extremely important place in the lives of these people. It is, of course, an internationally famous hospital and the war pensioners regard it as their own, although today it takes in many more civilians than it used to do as the war pensioners become fewer.
There is one point I want to clarify about Roehampton Hospital, because the Minister of Pensions mentioned it in 1953 when the merger took place. It is that the governing body of the hospital has no responsibility for the medical treatment, for the staffing, for the medical organisation, the acceptance or rejection of patients, etc. All that is now the province and responsibility of the Minister of Health. May I say, in passing, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) did a wonderful job as chairman of the governors for five years, and has now been succeeded by Sir Arton Wilson, who was the last Permanent Secretary to the old Ministry of Pensions. The job of the governors today is concerned with the bricks and mortar and there has been a great deal of rebuilding going on. The governing body is also concerned with the amenities we can give to the war disabled, in the form of a new library, cafeterias, new telephones, etc.
I hear good accounts of the artificial limb service. I thought it was a tribute to Roehampton to read in my newspaper the other day that a prisoner undergoing sentence, who was taken to Roehampton to have a new artificial limb fitted, made off and eluded the warders. So they must have given him a good one and there cannot be much wrong with the service. Fear was expressed to me the other day that the tropical diseases centre at Roehampton is to be abolished. I can assure anyone who has in his constituency any Far Eastern prisoners of war, as many hon. Members have, that there is no truth in this rumour. The centre has been reduced owing to the reduction in the number of people who use it.
Now I ask the Committee to examine for a moment how our war pensions schemes stand today. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said he wanted to take stock of the National Insurance scheme and I have tried to take stock of the war pensions scheme. There is no doubt that enormous improvements have been made in it since the war by successive Governments. I think that the improvements are due in no small part to the great interest taken in war pensions by Members of the House of Commons and also by the work of the war pension committees, the ex-Service men's associations, such as the British Legion and B.L.E.S.M.A., the welfare officers all over the country and a host of individuals.
Does our scheme fail in any particular? No scheme is perfect and I will suggest some ways in which we might improve our war pensions scheme. First, I feel that the time has come when the old-fashioned single-seater invalid tricycles should be replaced by some form of small, handy two-seater vehicle such as one sees running along the roads today in large numbers. I believe strongly that the last people who ought to travel alone are the war disabled or disabled civilians, so I hope that attention will be given to this point as soon as possible.
Secondly, in my experience the people who do not come off so well in the assessment of their disabilities are those who suffer from nervous disorders. They are the people I am most sorry for, the people for whom one gets a job, who break down and lose it. They are a nuisance to the Ministry and to themselves, and they deserve more sympathy in the scheme than perhaps we have given in the past.
There is one other category of person which it is very difficult for the Minister to help, but I hope my right hon. Friend will give the matter his attention. There are certain people who are apt to come off rather badly when pensions are being awarded. They are those whom I describe as, "Dead, but they won't lie down," those who will never go sick and always want to dodge the doctors and avoid hospitals. Then, after perhaps many difficult and dangerous experiences, the human body rebels and they are forced to apply for a pension.
Naturally, the Ministry of Pensions says "Where is the proof? To what hospital did you go? Did you apply for a pension?" All the man is able to say is that he was sunk three times by torpedoes, or something like that. Alas, in the majority of cases, that is not sufficient to give them a pension. I most strongly suggest to the Minister that when such cases arise closer attention should be given to what the man has been through when considering whether he should have a pension or not.
I do not want to talk in generalities. I want to mention a certain case that I have in mind. In March, 1942, we suffered in the Far East some of the greatest defeats and disasters in our history, and many things occurred about which no one in this country has ever heard. I do not suppose that anyone has ever heard of the incident that I am about to mention. Two armoured merchant cruisers, "H.M.S. Dorsetshire" and "H.M.S. Cornwall" were on patrol duty in the Indian Ocean when they suddenly sighted a mass of Japanese dive-bombers approaching.
The captains of the ships had time only to give the order, "Action stations" and to don lifejackets before the Japanese attack started. The ships hit back with everything they had, but it was completely hopeless. The Japanese pressed home their attack with their usual ruthless disregard for their own lives or anybody else's, and in a few minutes both ships went to the bottom, smashed to pieces.
The captain of "H.M.S. Dorsetshire", who had been decorated in the First World War and was 52 years of age, a time of life when many people would think that they ought to go out of the firing line and get an easier job, went down so deep with his ship that he burst a lung, and he is now a very seriously disabled man. When he came to the surface, he found that half the ship's company had been killed outright and the remainder were swimming about.
There then appeared a danger even worse than the Japanese, that of attack by sharks. It was decided that the only method to keep the sharks off was to collect all the dead bodies in the middle and have a circle of live men outside them. The men held on like that in the hope of someone coming to rescue them, and they remained like that in the water, fighting off the sharks, for 36 hours. I maintain that none of those men will ever be the same again after such an experience. Those men may be all right for a time, but sooner or later the tortured body will rebel and they will claim pensions. Will they get their pensions?
How Captain Agar, the captain of "H.M.S. Dorsetshire", managed to dodge the doctors I shall never know, but he avoided a medical examination and got another ship. He saw active service for another two years, and then, somehow, the doctors got hold of him and at once invalided him out with a 100 per cent. disability pension. The captain pays the highest tribute to the Ministry of Pensions and how it dealt with him, but he told me that at least 90 per cent. of his surviving ship's company dodged the doctors, would not have a medical examination or go to hospital but got another ship.
My advice to any young friend of mine going on service—I know it would be very wrong to give it and I would not really give it, but it would perhaps be correct if I did—would be to say, "Do not be too noble if you are hit or disabled. Lie down, go into hospital and get a doctor's certificate. Then, if anything goes wrong in the future you will at least have a claim for a pension." The best soldiers, sailors 'and airmen do not do that, and they are, unfortunately, the people who come off worst. Consequently, I urge my right hon. Friend to ask, when such claims arise, not, "Where is the proof?", but "What did you go through?"
I wish to pay a particular tribute to my right hon. Friend for what he has done for the war disabled and the Far Eastern prisoners-of-war both when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury and in his present post. In both capacities he has been a tremendous friend to the Far Eastern prisoners-of-war. It is very largely owing to the help that we got from him that F.E.P.O.W. got from the Japanese nearly £5 million, a great deal more than we thought possible at one time.
Increases in pensions, and the value of those increases when made, depend entirely upon our national economy being in a healthy and flourishing state. What the war pensioner wants is a solvent and generous Chancellor of the Exchequer and a sympathetic and forcible Minister of Pensions. We have had that combination in the past, and I think we have it now when one remembers that the present Chancellor was the Minister of Pensions in 1952.
The position of the war pensioner today is satisfactory, but, like other pensioners, he is affected by the high cost of living. However, I wanted briefly to trace the progress that has been made, and I hope that the same interest will be taken in this House in the war pensioner in the future as has always been taken in the past.
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that, while the Minister of Pensions himself may be sympathetic—having for many years been a member of a War Pensions Committee in Birmingham, I know he is—he should instruct his medical officers to deal with these men in a more sympathetic manner? It is all left to the medical officers when the men appear before medical boards. The Minister should instruct the medical officers to look into these cases in the way the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested. Not everybody is a lead-swinger.
This is so, also, of old-age pensioners. We find that a number of men have gone sick, but have not gone to the doctor—if they had done, they could have had their cards franked—and so they have lost some of their pension because of a break in their contributions. These old-age pensioners are in exactly the same position as men who have been in the Army. Navy and Air Force and have suffered in the way that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has described.
I see the difficulties very clearly. In a big pension scheme, one must have very definite rules about who is to become entitled to pensions. That is the trouble. These men suffer by reason of their gallantry and their wish to serve their country. It is very difficult to know how one can best be of service to them. I am very glad that the hon. Member has mentioned that point.
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) will forgive me if I do not attempt to follow him in his eloquent plea for the victims of war service. Most of us will support the plea which he put forward on their behalf.
I want for a few moments to draw attention to a class of industrial workers who seem to have been forgotten for a long time and whose claims I have had the opportunity of making on a number of occasions. These are the men who had the misfortune to suffer an industrial injury before 1948, the men, a diminishing number, who had accidents while at work and whose compensation is on the basis of loss of earnings and not of faculty, as we have it today.
There are about 40,000 of these men, and I draw attention to what I regard as a sin of omission by the Ministry. Two years ago, recognition was given to those who were completely disabled and a special Bill went through Parliament very quickly, acclaimed by both sides, to give 17s. 6d. a week to the wholly disabled men who were suffering a disadvantage in that they had never caught up with those getting benefits under the Industrial Injuries Act. We thought that that began a period of equality and parity for those men, but when, in 1957, a Bill was introduced to increase the amount given to people suffering industrial injuries, they were left out again. Once again, they slipped back to far below the corresponding benefit of the people whose accident came after 1948.
Because of the rules of order, I cannot spend too much time in referring to attempts which have been made to deal with this matter. However, I remember one day when a Bill was "talked out". I remember occasions when attempts were made to get a Second Reading "on the nod" so that a Bill might be discussed further. Amidst some hilarity, the cry of "Object" has come from the other side of the Committee, sometimes in dulcet tones and sometimes very loudly. However, what was comic for some hon. Members who were obstructing was tragic for the people who were being neglected.
I suggest that the Ministry is not doing its job until it deals with the case of the men who, merely by the misfortune of a date, suffer and are at a disadvantage compared with their fellows. I give the Minister credit for having done something at one time and then having forgotten.
There is also the problem of the partially disabled, those who suffer a considerable loss of faculty, but who do not lose a good deal of earning capacity at the time, but whose earning capacity then diminishes. I have a shrewd suspicion that if the numbers of unemployable were analysed, it would be shown that many of the people who have run through their unemployment benefits and who are now receiving National Assistance are those who were partially disabled so that they became a drug on the market and found it impossible to get a job.
Most industrial injuries occur in heavy industries, half or two-thirds in the coal industry. There are not many light jobs for partially disabled men in heavy industries and coal mining. There must be constant agitation until we can urge the Minister to take responsibility for the two classes of men to whom I have just referred.
I notice with interest that my friends the National Union of Mineworkers, are meeting at Porthcawl this week and that on the agenda is a motion calling for the very relief for which I am asking. The miners are most anxious that something should be done for these people. After I had achieved some little publicity by my two attempts to get these people within the scope of the Industrial Injuries Act, the number of letters I received indicated that there must be many people who, feeling that they are forgotten, are anxious that their case should be put for them. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter to ensure that justice is done to these specific classes of industrial workers who are being so hard pressed.
We have had much talk about the ten years of the Industrial Insurance scheme. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), I did not have a strike. I started paying when it was "ninepence for fourpence," and I had no difficulty about paying the 4d. My employer did not threaten to go on strike, like some of those ladies did who said that they did not intend to lick stamps for their servants. I worked for one of the companies in which the N.U.M. had invested its money and it was much more generous. From that day onwards, I have been paying insurance contributions, as a contributor or voluntary contributor, and I am still paying and hoping for the best.
The scheme needs considerable revision and we cannot judge it on the "ninepenee for fourpence" test which I mentioned. I heartily associate myself with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who put forward some alternative suggestions. My last essay into local government work was nearly forty years ago, as a member of a board of guardians. They were some of the most unpleasant hours of my life—spent fighting and agitating for a square deal for the very poor. The basis then operating was of treating them rough, so that they did not come again. When I heard the reference made to the National Assistance Board, and the change that has taken place over the years, I thought of those days. I do not object to the Assistance Board not having that intimate touch that the nosy-parker guardians had, forty years ago.
I can remember having, as a boy, a slice of bread and margarine—it might have been butter, but I am sure it was margarine—in the house of the family of a friend, enjoying what hospitality they could give me. Their boy had a slice of bread, so I had a slice of bread. Then I was hurriedly asked to slip away, because the relieving officer was coming down the garden path and they were afraid that he would see that they had food to spare.
That is perfectly true.
A short time ago I attended the opening of one of our new, beautiful welfare homes for old people. Not only was the Minister represented, but the chairman of the National Assistance Board was there as a partner in the whole undertaking. I thought that if some of my guardian colleagues had seen that there would have been miniature earthquakes, because they would have been rumbling in their graves.
So we have had a change from the old board of guardians, with their deterrent policy, to the present system of co-operation and association between the Assistance Board, Ministers, and local authorities, who try to do the decent thing by old people. This marks a very great upward stride towards that humanity which the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned.
I do not intend to detain the Committee any longer, except to repeat that I trust that the Minister will at least give a little hope to the special class of industrial worker that I have mentioned, which merits all that he said in his 1956 speech.
I am sure that no one can complain of the Opposition's desire to mark this tenth anniversary with a debate. I should like to add my felicitations on this tenth anniversary. It is an idea which stimulates certain reflections—this possibility of having debates on the anniversaries of statutory occasions. I can think of some occasions which neither side would be so anxious to celebrate in this manner. I think, for instance, of the Town and Country Planning Act, which has been allowed to slip past unhonoured and unsung—if that is the right term. In fact, this is a double anniversary. It is not only the tenth anniversary of the National Insurance scheme, but the fiftieth anniversary of the scheme that Lloyd George introduced. I would add that it was a 5s. pension in those days. It was limited to those reaching the age of 70, and the bill in 1920, entirely met by taxation, was under £20 million a year. Today it is rather more than that.
I am not absolutely certain whether if National Insurance were administered by a corporation or by a private company and if this were a meeting of its shareholders we would get an unreserved atmosphere of celebration and rejoicing from all. It might be a rather difficult meeting for the chairman, because we would ask questions which our rules of order preclude us from asking today.
Lloyd George was accused of immorality when he offered 9d. for 4d. How I wish I had got on the bandwagon with the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer) in those days. At the moment we are offering a pension in capital value of something over £2,000 in return for something over £100—a ratio I am told of 13 to 1, so it is clear that we have learned something since the days of Lloyd George. There is a rather disquieting absence of public knowledge as to how all this works out, either actuarially or—more important from the public's view as taxpayers—on a longterm future basis.
I do not want to waste time in discussing the financial viability of the scheme. I want, first, to say two things of a general political nature. Criticism has concentrated round the level of the pensions which, with some variations, the old-age pensioner has been given during the last decade. Lord Beveridge thought that the pension should be enough to provide subsistence—that is, the essentials of food, clothing and shelter—in order to sustain life and meet what I think Mr. Seebohm Rowntree "primary" poverty.
It is widely suggested that, notwithstanding five increases in ten years, the Beveridge conception has been destroyed by inflation. I am not sure that that is the whole story. Not only the direct effect of inflation, but the indirect effect of an incomparably higher standard of living has changed our notions of what the basic pension should be. Here I am at one with the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). I want to agree with him where I can, because I am coming later to a matter in respect of which I cannot agree with him. He said that the old-age pensioners have not had their share in increasing prosperity. He is right. We cannot keep old-age pensioners in a social vacuum. When wage earners and others are enjoying a greatly increased standard of living than the State is able to provide for its old age pensioners the gap widens, and it has widened. It is the climate of the situation as much as the hard cash which has led to a very severely felt hardship. We would do well to recognise that.
Secondly, at the risk of hurting my right hon. Friend's feelings, I must express my disappointment that in the last four years the Phillips Report has not received more attention. Perhaps it has been muted largely by political considerations; I do not know. The Committee was set up five years ago, in July. 1953. It reported at the end of 1954, after much labour, making what I think any hon. Member who read the Report would agree was a profound study of the long-term implications of old age as it affects this nation.
The long-range plan stimulates my imagination, as I think it would stimulate the imagination of anyone looking back over the last ten years. Yet we have not been able yet to discuss in the House some of the very awkward questions raised by the Committee. I will mention only one in passing. It suggested, on economic and biological grounds, that there might be a change in the age at which the pension is received. I can understand why more attention is not paid to that—there are some highly explosive political considerations in the Report—but I cannot change my own private view that it is regrettable that we have not given the Report more thoughtful discussion.
Today we cannot talk about anything which would involve legislation, but we can say something about the future, and we should. We would probably all agree that there is a case for a wide measure of re-assessment in the light of ten years' experience; in the light of the considerable social revolution which we have gone through, and—this is not the least important factor—the manifest public requirements and inclinations of which we should take note. It is difficult to catch up with the minds of people on this subject, but there are straws in the wind. Perhaps we shall not all interpret them in the same way, but we can at least look and listen We have reached a crucial point in the history of social insurance, and the important thing is to decide where we go next, because policy in this field will last for a very long time. Insurance, if it is still to be known by that name, is a contract, and the terms which are agreed are binding upon our heirs and successors. Even in the many vicissitudes of political life that is the principle which we have always accepted, and therefore what we decide carries a very long-term view. That emphasises the importance of discussing the matter thoroughly and of giving ourselves ample time, opportunity and scope to see a long way ahead. I am at one with those who think the present arrangements leave much to be desired. There is not only the political problem about the right level of pensions; there are other factors.
We have a flat-rate pension regardless of need. The circumstances of individual pensioners cannot be taken into account. I am not one of those who thinks that equal treatment for those who differ is equality. It can be a cruel form of discrimination. Some people manifestly get a great deal less than they need, and others inevitably get rather more. All hon. Members can think of examples in their own constituencies. Then again, we have financial arrangements described—some say euphemistically, some say deceitfully—as insurance. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the insurance principle. I only ask how far do we have to go in subsidy by the taxpayer before we have to drop the notion of insurance, even in theory. Insurance suggests that a person insures according to his needs and receives something in relation to his premium. Neither of those things apply at the moment.
Looking back over the last ten years, I am pretty certain that nothing better could have been devised to meet the circumstances of the post-war years. There is one point which is overlooked by the critics, who are always ready to commit their views to paper, namely, that those who are drawing or are about to draw the National Insurance retirement pension have not enjoyed the current standards of living and wage standards for 40 years of their working life. They may have done so during the last ten years, but they have not all been given the opportunities for self-help, for saving, and those other things we talk so grandly about, during three-quarters of their lives, from just before the First World War and through the 1920s and 1930s. That is a point which should be borne in mind before we become too critical of the present or the past operations during the ten years of the lifetime of this scheme.
That brings me to the question of occupational pensions—which we are permitted to discuss today as they are in the sphere of private industry—which are playing an increasing part in the general shape of the provisions over and above what is provided by the State. The right hon. Gentleman indulged in some light banter about some of the propaganda or publicity put forward in connection with these schemes. I think that they may be judged by their deeds as well as by their words. The figures reveal a most remarkable development during the ten years under review. I think there were under 2 million of these schemes just before the war and there are now 9 million—
I beg the pardon of hon. Members.
I do not accept the criticisms of the hon. Member for Coventry, East as being entirely detached. I think that some of these companies are "suitors" for the hand which the hon. Gentleman seeks. They are both after the same girl. I was not able to accept all that the hon. Gentleman said as true, detached and objective. I think, too, it faintly ironical to hear attacks made on welfare schemes promoted by private enterprise by hon. Members on that side of the Committee. We have come a long way when it is possible to mention as lightly as did the hon. Gentleman schemes promoted by I.C.I. and other corporations to provide for their employees. A hundred years ago we should have regarded that as a remarkable development.
On the contrary, I pointed out that these schemes vary in quality from the absolutely first-rate down to a very low level. I pointed out that there were certain defects in some schemes which were in contrast to the large scheme of large organisations which did not have them.
I accept that.
The hon. Gentleman went on to contrast those with and those without, the haves and the haves not. He said that the gap was widening. So, one might add, are the numbers who get these occupational pensions schemes—I believe at the rate of about 500,000 a year. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not quarrel with the notion that there are those who can afford to look after themselves and who eventually, in the long term, might make a less demand on the State and so leave us with more opportunity to make provision for those who need help?
It is quite true that those without occupational pensions are in roughly the same position as some people who are without rural electricity. The more the lines are laid down and the greater the area of supply becomes, the more difficult it is to provide a supply for the minority left in remote areas. I am more familiar with this problem in terms of electricity than in terms of pensions. Of course, it is true that there are people whose position or job does not provide them with facilities for an occupational pension. But that does not mean that there are no provisions for them at all. There are friendly societies and savings in various forms; there is life insurance, property and so on, with which some of them have taken steps to equip themselves. Again, it is true that those who work in small firms or who are self-employed or who work in agriculture—though steps are being taken in that direction—are not included. The United States has found a way round this difficulty and I hope that we shall be able to do the same. It may also be true that pension schemes impede the mobility of labour because of the difficulty of transferring the pension rights. Something has to be done more quickly to meet this problem. I am not sure why it has taken so long. Perhaps when there is a clearer view of which way we want to go a way will be found. I am not expecting hon. Members opposite to agree with me, but I wish to say to my hon. Friends that I consider there is an enormously important principle at stake. It is not a question of thinking bigger on one side or the other or even a question of what we can afford. It is difficult in terms of the imponderables of the national income to consider that. It is a question whether we should contemplate pension schemes which will take people a step away from independence towards dependence on the State—or the reverse—and I regard that as a most important principle. My own instincts are clear on the matter, but they are not important. What matters are the instincts of a great number of people in this country.
I said a few moments ago that we ought to find out what the people are thinking and saying. I believe that there are a large number of people who would prefer to take a bigger hand in their own financial arrangements for the future. It is interesting to note their reaction even to a more comprehensive State scheme. It is fair to say that the response has been somewhat less than rapturous. It may well be that there is a stronger spirit of independence in this matter than we, the stewards of National Insurance, either believe or want to believe. I put that forward as something earnestly to be considered.
An English writer once said that as far as possible Government aid should be so given as to be a course of education for the people in the art of accomplishing great objects by individual energy and voluntary co-operation. That writer was John Stewart Mill. I believe that embodies a very great number of private aspirations. Any transition in that direction must be a very slow business indeed, reckoned in terms of half a century.
But this is the moment of decision. Although we may not be able to say more now, this is the moment when we have to decide whether it shall be transition to or away from independence.
Housing offers a not inapt analogy. We have had an Act of Parliament which places an obligation on local authorities to provide houses for our citizens. At the same time, we have come to see the value of doing all that we can to encourage home ownership. That is a logical and forward step. But a party cannot advance home ownership as a sound political philosophy and at the same time advance schemes for enlarging State pensions. I have said that very quickly, Mr. Chairman, and I shall pass on.
I conclude by saying two things. Let us conceive the present pension in terms of reality, if need be. I do not think that it is conceived in terms of reality now. Let it be nearer to what Rowntree called secondary than primary needs. We must retain a flat rate at the moment, but it need not be regarded as its final, lasting shape. In the last ten years, the biggest objection to increasing the pension for those who really need it has been the fact that any increase at present must go to everyone and be paid for by the taxpayer.
Then I would say, nourish, encourage and foster by all means ways in which the population may supplement State pensions by their own endeavours, foresight and thrift. Such means are not lacking. I think they can be harnessed to our needs, but that will need the will and the vision. I hope that on this, the tenth anniversary of the National Insurance scheme, this party will show that it has both.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has referred to the question of occupational pension schemes. There is no doubt that in the days that lie ahead more attention and thought should be given to those propositions. I do not propose to comment further on the hon. Member's dissertation, except to say that I entirely agree with what he said about the Report of the Phillips Committee. It is something of a scandal that such an important Committee, dealing with such an important topic and presenting such an important and interesting Report, has not had the satisfaction of having its Report debated in the House of Commons. I hope that his remarks about the Phillips Committee's Report, which I re-echo 100 per cent., will be taken notice of by the Minister and that he will realise that it is the will and wish of the Committee that the points raised in that important Report should be considered by the House of Commons.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), in opening the debate, introduced the right and proper tone for our discussion today. He was retrospective, introspective and also prospective. It is most fitting that on this day, ten years after the launching of the National Insurance scheme, the Committee should have the opportunity to discuss the working of the scheme. I listened with some nostalgia to the speeches this afternoon. Perhaps the most vivid recollection which came to my mind as I listened was of a speech made by the present Lord Attlee on the eve of 5th July, 1948, when as Prime Minister he introduced to the country this great scheme of social welfare.
It would be as well to remind ourselves that the National Insurance Act is a combination of five important pieces of legislation which covers National Insurance, Industrial Injuries, family allowances, the National Health Service, and National Assistance. These five pieces of legislation, woven together, now form an important part of our social life, and I believe that they will go down to history as being of very great importance.
The first comment which I should like to make about 1948 is that it was not the end of the book; it was the beginning of a new chapter in a book about our social services which had to be written and which will be continued. Legislation had to be prepared and the administrative machinery devised. This machinery was no less important than the legislation itself, because the proposals embodied in the legislation could not have borne fruit had it not been for the provision of the administrative machine to carry out so gigantic a task.
It was no mean achievement in those early post-war years when economically and socially ravages and disaster had spread throughout the whole of the land. I agree with what was said by my right hon. Friend on the occasion of the Third Reading of the Measure which brought this scheme into being. At the time he was Minister of National Insurance, and he said that what it was proposed to do was an act of faith in the ability of the British people to overcome those economic and social ravages which had come upon us as a consequence of the war.
We can say, after ten years, that this scheme was, and still is, an important milestone in making better provision for those who became, and who still become, the victims of adversity through the interruption of earnings. I refer, in the main, to the aged, sick, unemployed and widows. It was a great venture, which was indeed fully justified, as has been proved by events.
I said that it was the opening chapter, the beginning. Neither then, nor since has anyone—on this side, at least—ever said, or thought, that the National Insurance Act and the other pieces of legislation were the last word and that no changes would be necessary. In fact, this was foreshadowed in the National Insurance Act, 1946, itself, because it provided for a quinquennial review.
One of the tragedies is that advantage has not been taken of that provision, and now twice five years have gone by and the only substantial changes there have been have been greatly increased contributions and increased benefits. It is true that there have been one or two other minor modifications, but we have never had the opportunity that the Act provided of looking at the structure of the scheme and deciding whether any changes were necessary.
I must express my disappointment with and disapproval of the Government in that they have allowed Section 62 to lapse. The experience of the first five years of its operation provided ample evidence that it was working well, and that it was doing what it was intended to do—to remove the taint of the means test from the long-term unemployed. In the early post-war years, particularly, who were the long-term unemployed? They were, in the main, the seriously disabled and the long-term sick; those who, judged on medical examination, were just not well enough to qualify for sickness benefit though, in terms of working capacity, they were, to coin a phrase from the old workmen's compensation days, the "odd lots" among the unemployed.
What happened under this Section? It is sad to relate that few employers employed these men, because their working capacity was so small. There then came a point at which these men were transferred to the Ministry of Labour—and at this stage I want to pay a tribute to that Ministry for the work that it has done for this type of man. It is extremely difficult to find jobs for them.
At some time in their period of unemployment, after their normal 180 days of benefit, plus any added days to which a good insurance record might entitle them, these men were told by the Ministry of Labour, "Unfortunately, this is the end. Your unemployment benefit is exhausted"—and it cannot be more than 18 months at the most. When they exhausted their right to that, their only avenue was a transfer to the care of the National Assistance Board.
Table 30 of the Report shows that, at that time, 25,000 unemployed—which is nearly one-sixth of the total unemployment figure—were receiving benefit for additional days. To put it another way, 25,000 of the unemployed people shown there had then been unemployed for more than 180 days. I should like the Minister to tell us, first: how many unemployed people now receiving benefit have received it for more than 180 days? Secondly, how many of these long-term unemployment cases had to have recourse to the National Assistance Board because their statutory benefit and added-days benefit had come to an end?
I turn now to sickness benefit, which is in some ways related to what I have just said. In paragraph 113 of the Report, we are told that 614,000 sick visits were made during 1956 by the National Insurance officers. I regret that, although this system of sick visitation was visualised in the early days as an important service, the direct reference to it takes up one one line of the Report. I know that it is not easy to put everything into the Report of such a big Department as the Ministry of National Insurance, but this is a very important service, and we should have a little more elaboration of this subject.
Again, the Report shows that 624,000 cases were referred for medical examination, yet, although in the early stages it was intended that this part of National Insurance should be a kind of welfare side of the Department, very little information is provided in the Report. The giving of advice and help is most important. I hope and believe that attention is given to choosing the right kind of person for this job because, as I say, in such a scheme as this sick visitation should be advisory and helpful.
I want to make a passing reference to medical examinations by the regional medical officers of health. I do so in order to ventilate in the House of Commons a dissatisfaction felt in one or two cases of which I have heard, and also because, in my own division, I have come across dissatisfaction over treatment at medical examinations.
Further, this is felt not only by some of the people in my own division but by the general practitioners themselves, though it may be to some extent concealed. I took up a certain case with the Parliamentary Secretary. This man was certified capable of doing some work, but if I were to read out what the medical examiner said he could and could not do, one would see what a thin line divided the decision whether or not he was capable of any work. For many months this man had no benefit at all, and, as much as I tried, I was unable to persuade him to apply for assistance. Unfortunately, he had become self-employed and was not entitled to unemployment benefit. Happily, he has now been restored to benefit and he is still off work after four years. He feels that he was swindled, and had a very rough deal indeed.
I want to say, and I want it echoed throughout the Department, that there is a danger that in their enthusiasm to catch the dodger, the officials are likely to penalise the genuine applicant. That is why I say that this part of the Department's work is very important and needs all the concentrated attention that the Department can give to it.
Does not my hon. Friend think from his knowledge of his constituents who have spoken to him about this matter that it goes even deeper and that there is a feeling by workers that the doctors employed to carry out examinations are servants of the Ministry, are not really independent and are acting only as watch-dogs of the Treasury to save money?
I agree. That is the feeling that has grown up. That is why I have mentioned the need for attention to be given to this aspect of the Ministry's service.
I notice in the Report that 25 per cent. of those who were referred to medical examination were declared not incapable of work, although—and this bears out what my hon. Friend has just said—a certificate of incapacity had been given by the panel doctors. Can the Minister say, to the nearest convenient date—say for a given twelve monhs—how many cases have been examined twice by the regional medical officers because of disagreement with the panel doctor, the man's own practitioner?
One could go on for quite a time on this subject because there are so many aspects of National Insurance. This is a big Department with an income of £762 million. The payments out are in the neighbourhood of £700 million; with over £100 million for family allowances. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us, it affects about 24 million people; I thought there were nearly 1,000 local offices, but I understand that the number is now about 850. One could dilate upon that for quite a long time. The only reason I mention it is that this work which is being done by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance is gigantic, stupendous.
May I make a brief reference to the Industrial Injuries side of the Department's work? I want to confine myself to two aspects only—the medical appeal tribunals, and a local reference to the question of pneumoconiosis. In paragraph 170 of the Report, extended upon in table 45, there is the statement:
References by the Minister were often made"—
note the words—
in the interests of the claimant.
That might be all right on the surface. Let us assume that that is the position. The figures in table 45 reveal an entirely different story. Only 25 per cent. of the Minister's references to the medical appeal tribunals were favourable to the claimant and more than 50 per cent. were unfavourable to the claimant. In view of those figures, I say that generally the Minister's references are not very satisfactory for the claimant.
This is a very important question. Is the Minister satisfied that the examinations by the medical appeal tribunals are as thorough as they might be? I was concerned with a case about which I have already written to the Minister. The man concerned tells me that he went for an examination to the medical appeal tribunal and he was not in the place for more than ten minutes. His assessment was reduced from 7 per cent. to 2 per cent. He was frustrated and bitterly dissatisfied because he was of the opinion that he had not had a thorough examination by the medical appeal tribunal.
I know that the Minister wants satisfaction to be given in these cases and I hope that he will ensure that whatever the outcome, whether the assessments are increased or reduced or maintained at their existing level, the examinations are thorough. The medical appeal tribunals are very responsible bodies and there is no appeal against their decision.
I should like to say a few words about pneumoconiosis medical panels. I have communicated with the Minister on this point, and I still think that we should have one in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields. In 1956, 440 cases from this important coal area were examined as pneumoconiotic suspects and all of them had to go to Sheffield. I ask the Minister to consider this matter again and see whether we can have our own pneumoconiosis medical panel. If that is not possible, I should like to know what is the position about the proposed new premises at Sheffield. The present ones are most unsatisfactory for these unfortunate men.
In the past ten years much has been done in the sphere of National Insurance. Many people have benefited. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said, much of the good has been minimised by the change in money values and inflation, and there is still a great need for improving the benefits, in spite of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. I hope that all of us have learned quite a lot from the last ten years. I have learned that it is time that we had a thoughtful look at the existing structure of National Insurance, because I have come to the conclusion that a flat-rate contribution for a flat-rate benefit upon which it is based is now outdated and the time has come for a change.
The nation does well to consider, at the end of ten years, what progress has been made in this extraordinarily important field. Therefore, I praise the House of Commons for having put upon its Order Paper this subject for debate today. I add my appreciation of the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who opened the debate, for the way in which they avoided claims and counterclaims and making party politics out of this most poignant business.
What strikes me is that no material difference is discernible between the two sides of the Committee. Speeches are different and emphasis is different. The way that people speak depends greatly upon their circumstances, how near they are to an Election, and so on. This applies to all of us, and I am not making party points. It is by our actions that we should be judged. If any outside person with a wholly impartial mind was to judge what had been done during the last ten years by the two major parties, I do not think that he would find any real difference between them. Each party has tried to do its best for retired people. Secondly, each has failed to do all that we would like to do. Thirdly, each is looking for some way in which we can do better.
The cost of living is now, perhaps, coming to a point at which it is likely to be stabilised. It may conceivably drop or rise a point or two, but it looks to me as if it is likely to be stabilised. That will be the first time that this has happened in twenty years. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is more than that."] Possibly the hon. Member is right. It went down in the decade from 1919 to 1929 and then began to go up after the slump until 1938, but the material rise in the cost of living started in about 1938, went on through the war and in the years after the war and has continued in the last few years. Now it looks as if it will be stabilised.
Let us remember, however, that the standard of living will not be stabilised, and I am glad that that should be so. It has been going up by leaps and bounds and the retired people, the old and the sick not only get left behind a little actually, but they tend to think that they are even more left behind because the standards around them have risen so swiftly. That is a material factor.
I do not know that there is any easy solution. I am quite sure that if the grandiose scheme put forward by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), particularly if applied with the swift certainty which he assumes and with which, I think, he deceives himself, were to be carried out as fully and as quickly as the hon. Member wishes and claims to be possible, it would be self-defeating. This is not something which can be done as quickly as that. The reason is the backlog of persons who are not in the scheme, or who have been in it for only a short time and cannot properly be brought into an insurance scheme of any kind, but for whom there arises an increasingly powerful demand which cannot be wholly ignored. This is common to State schemes and to private schemes.
Any businessman who has had to do with private schemes—and I have with two or three—will know that at the time the schemes are introduced, quite a lot of members of the staff who are in the 45s or 50s cannot go into a scheme on an actuarial basis. Therefore, they must be provided for by the continuance of special ex gratia payments. These payments are largely conditioned, not by the custom of the past, but by the new standard which is set in the insurance scheme.
Since the new standard is obviously a higher one, it is necessary to meet an enormous debt in respect of the old people, who earned their living in an earlier currency, and who have now to be paid out in today's currency on which to live in their old age. Because of this inflation and the practice of basing a great many expectations on what a man earns in the last period of his working life, an enormous bill has to be met.
If we were suddenly to introduce a national scheme such as the hon. Member for Coventry, East commends to us, we would immediately raise the expectation on behalf of all the people who are now old and who live among us—and who, I add, will have a vote at the next Election; I am sure that that is not outside the consideration of the hon. Member for Coventry, East. There would be raised amongst them an expectation, not that they would be treated progressively better than in the past or in the present but that they should get as much as today's young people will get in forty years' time when they have paid their contributions, which will have been matched by the State and by the employer. That expectation could not be realised within the kind of time which the hon. Member for Coventry, East has in mind. That being so, it is somewhat misleading and even somewhat unkind to hold out to people the kind of vague promise that on retirement it is possible for a person to have half the money that he was earning at the time of his retirement.
That is true to some extent, but it is not the whole truth. It is true that a person who starts paying contributions now can have that amount of benefit in forty years' time, but it is not true to let people imply from that that those who are now old can have anything like it. I am certain that that was a great misunderstanding which arose in the minds of many people. To the extent that it might have been part of the Labour Party's political gambit, it was rather shocking.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East was critical of all of us. He said that the present scheme from beginning to end was insolvent and had failed. He said that most self-run industrial and commercial schemes run by trustees inside companies were over-spending and were probably insolvent. He then proceeded to blame all existing schemes. The curious thing is that the one branch of schemes that the hon. Member did not blame particularly were those run by the insurance companies, because, of course, he could not. They are the one exception to the rule. They are the ones that are solvent. All those private schemes of companies and firms which are run on the basis of premiums paid to insurance companies are solvent and sound.
It may be that they do not meet the rising requirements of inflationary salaries and wages and that the employers have to put in lump sums to fortify and strengthen them, but an insurance company does not pay out more than is appropriate to what has been paid in. They are the only ones which are sound, and it is with those in mind that the hon. Gentleman intends, I think, to abolish the lot. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] At any rate, he intends to bring them all into a national scheme. If he is to allow some of them to continue he has never made it quite clear. So he will abolish the only solvent ones to try to do better for some of the insolvent ones. I do not think that that is a sound thing to do.
Why is it so difficult to deal as generously as we would wish with our retired people? It is because there are so many of them, and because they live longer and longer and thus aggravate the economics of the problem. I believe that at present the nation's living is earned by about half of us. The other half are composed, as to one moiety, of the older people, too old to earn, or to earn generally; and as to the other, of the children who are too young to earn. So half the people earn the bread and butter and the jam for the other half.
There is a limit beyond which we cannot burden the earners to pay for the non-earners without discouraging them, and the further we get away from the family the more certain that limit is. Inside the family it is customary to make sacrifices for the old people and for the children, because they are near and dear to us; but the more abstract the matter becomes, the more those old people are other people's old people and the more those are other people's children, the less is the heart warmed to them. That is, I think, incontestable. It is unfortunate, but it is true.
How much can we put on the half who earn to make them pay more for the young and the old who do not earn? It is no good waving this aside and saying, "Let us ignore it, because it is an awkward political question." It is the very real question. How many of us know that in a very humble home, in days when there was real poverty, often the woman, without saying much about it, would be the one who went without so that the children might have more, but, even more important, so that the man might have more? Why? Because he needed, as she thought, to be strong to go out to earn the family's living.
Let the nation remember that those who earn its living, those between, say, 16 and 60, broadly speaking, who earn the nation's living, must be strong; they must be tended; they must have, I think, the best of all that is available. The more they have and the more chance they have, the better they will earn a living for all of us.
We cannot load them too heavily with indirect and rather distant responsibility for other people's old and young. Especially when they are young will they resent. So there is some limit to what we can take away from the earners; and they are, after all, the same people as the taxpayers. It is only earners who pay taxes, except for a handful of inheritors, and whatever may be said about them, there are not enough of them to affect my argument.
We should all like to do more, but we all of us know we cannot. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East knows this as well as any of us, but he is selling his plan to a lot of rather old-fashioned chaps over there, and he has to work very hard to do it. As to the cost of living levelling off, let us make certain that any action we can take here in Parliament contributes towards that end. Too long have we been paying in good money so that people might draw out bad.
I venture to make this warning to wage earners generally. I do not suppose that my words will reach them directly, but if I am quoted by others and they will take to themselves what I have said I shall be honoured, and pleased so long as my words do some good. This is my advice to wage earners, "Be very careful, because if you are not, and if you have further increased doses of Socialism and inflation, you will find that your superannuation when you retire will have lost its virtue, just as your fathers did and your grandfathers did."
I honestly believe that to be true, and I think it is the best advice that any man can give a wage earner. I do not believe that the young men will listen to me. They do not think that they will grow old, and they do not care, when they are in their 'twenties, what is coming to them when they are 60, but every man over 50, of whom there must be hundreds of thousands, should be aware that, unless during the next ten or fifteen years, which means during the next one or two Parliaments, he either returns a Tory Government or so makes his mind clear that the Socialist Government he returns do not implement this grandiose scheme, it is absolutely certain that his money will go bad during the last ten to fifteen years of his working life. I believe that to be true.
None the less true.
I want to ask the Minister to do one small thing, and that is to see whether he can pay these new entrants who come into the scheme today through a bank, if they want to be paid that way. I draw my war pension through a bank. Why should not they draw theirs that way? It may be very convenient for them. It seems to me very old-fashioned to shut one's eyes to the fact that there is such a thing as a bank in almost every town and village.
I turn now to a very few remarks about war pensions. All the three parties have contributed towards improvements in war pensions. That story goes back to the war years and before that, and I shall not trouble to try to differentiate between what one has done and another has done. I do not think that it is really worth while, except to make this one observation, that the claim put forward by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East, that it was not until the Labour Party came in that the thing became human, is one of those monstrous legends that it put around for political reasons. It has no substance or truth in it. Let us say that there is agreement among us that the Labour Party did some good new things and that we gave the biggest rise with war pensioners ever.
It is noticeable that neither in the debate a year ago, nor in this debate, has the Labour Party introduced any observation, sympathetic or otherwise, about ex-Service men. It does not surprise me, but it is noticeable.
I am sorry about that. I thought that I heard the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) begin his speech, but it may be that I missed the first paragraph. I may have been five minutes late. I therefore withdraw that remark altogether and I beg pardon for having made it.
There are three aspects of the war pension—the basic rate, the special allowances and the widow's pension. During the last ten years all these three have been practically doubled. That is not quite enough to take account of the change in money values and of rising standards, but it is, nevertheless, a very considerable contribution. In the past, I have thanked various Governments for the contribution which they have made in this respect and I will not go over that ground again. I should, however, like the Minister to answer one question. I hope that he will not say that he has already given the information in answer to a Question in the House. I should prefer him to tell me rather than refer me to what has been said to someone else. Is it the Minister's declared policy to renew pensioners' motor cars as they wear out? These motor cars are now ten years old.
I have no doubts about the merger of the Ministry of Pensions and the Ministry of National Insurance. It has worked extremely well and the Ministry has continued to give very careful and thoughtful help to ex-Service men. I should like the Minister to say that it is his intention to continue to give them their present priorities and preferences. I also hope that it is his intention to continue the welfare services as they now exist.
Two allowances have not been doubled. Indeed, they have not been raised at all. One is the 10s. paid to a disabled ex-Service man's wife. It has remained at that figure since 1919. The other is the £1 a week which a very seriously disabled man who receives an unemployability allowance is allowed to earn by way of pocket money, or by way of money paid for work which is in the nature of rehabilitation, in the sense that it is better that he should have something to do than have nothing at all to do. That sum ought to be raised. It has remained at £1 a week for a long time now.
I have often praised other Ministers. Now I should like to praise the present Minister. He has done very well indeed in his long and fruitful term of office. I should also like to express my thanks for the help which I have received in all my dealings with members of his Department and with the Civil Service. Considering all the circumstances of our time, Britain has done reasonably well in pensions and National Insurance. Both sides of the Committee can take credit for the schemes which we now have. We must all try to improve them, but we must do so in a reasonable manner and in a manner which the people who earn our living, that is, those who work, will be prepared to pay for willingly.
We have been reminded in the debate that it was ten years ago that the National Insurance Act came into operation. It is an Act that marked an important development in the social services of the country. The name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llattelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) will always be associated with this comprehensive Measure. I know that I am speaking for many hon. Members in paying tribute to the activities and special efforts which my right hon. Friend made in establishing a National Insurance scheme which brought within it almost every section of the community.
It is true, of course, that Sir William Beveridge, as he then was, and his colleagues helped to pave the way to the adoption of a National Insurance scheme. The Beveridge Report was an outstanding contribution to the social life of the people. As an analysis of social conditions and of services in the country, it will be so regarded in the years to come. It was only to be expected that a Measure like the National Insurance Act, which is so far-reaching and contains so many sweeping changes, in the course of time would be found to contain anomalies and limitations. That has been the case. We have learned by experience. Above all, we are conscious that the ever-rising cost of living and the inflationary spiral have undermined the whole National Insurance Scheme.
My criticism of the Government is that, although I am conscious that from time to time improvements have been made here and there in the scheme, there has been no change in its general structure. The Government have been in power for seven years, and they must be fully conscious of the fact that there can be no general improvement in the benefits of the scheme unless there is some change in its structure. The need to amend its structure, made evident by time and experience, should have been realised by the Ministry.
It has been stated in the Press that some changes and structural alterations may be proposed, possibly just before a General Election. That would mean that they would be debated in the heat and controversy engendered by such an occasion and it would be most unfortunate. The time is opportune now for the Government to declare where they stand on this whole question, and particularly on the matter of the flat-rate contribution. As long as it is accepted that the Fund should be financed by contributions from workers and employers and others, with a proportionate payment from the Exchequer, the contribution should be arranged in such a way as to relieve the lower-paid of so much of the burden which the present arrangements impose, and the present flat-rate should be replaced by a scheme based upon ability to pay.
I believe that that is the general con-census of opinion not only in the House of Commons but in the country. We are wailing anxiously for the Minister to tell us where he stands. It is true that he has not been Minister of Pensions and National Insurance for seven years, but the Government have been in office for that period and the time has certainly arrived to make a decision. The time has certainly arrived, because, apart from anything else, many of these people are suffering serious hardship under present circumstances.
On the question of contributions, I would remind the Minister that the contributions were raised not so long ago in the case of adult workers by 2s. a week, making a total contribution of 9s. 5d. There has also been an increase in the National Health Service contribution, and there was another increase this month. The net effect of this will be to increase the contribution for an adult man by no less than 3s. 2d., and all this has been done in a period of nine months. To many men who are earning only £7 £8 or £9 per week, an increase of 3s. 2d. is a very serious matter.
It has been stated before that the breaking point has been reached on this question of contributions, because the lower-paid men cannot possibly meet the new situation. If the argument is that we cannot increase the benefits without increasing the contributions, then we must apply our minds to a contributory system which is based, not on a flat-rate principle, but on the principle of ability to pay. That is the most important point I want to make in this debate.
The second point is on the subject of benefits. I have said before that I think the benefits should be based on the cost-of-living index for those in receipt of State pensions such as the disabled. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in October, 1957, the Government published the Report of their Household Expenditure Inquiry which was based upon a survey undertaken in 1953–54. These figures prove what we on this side of the Committee have said on many occasions, when we have referred to the inadequacy of the present benefits based on the existing index and its predecessor.
The results of that inquiry showed clearly that on housing, out of the total income, the proportionate amount spent in the family household of the average pensioner was equal to 15 per cent., whereas for the ordinary householder it was 9 per cent. In respect of fuel, light and power, the percentage for the pensioner household was 12, and that for the ordinary householder 5 per cent. In the pensioner household, the figure for food expenditure was 41 per cent., and in the ordinary household 34 per cent. This is a clear indication that, in respect of housing, food, fuel and light the percentage spent out of the pension is far higher than the percentage in the case of an ordinary household.
Since then there have been further increases in the cost of living, and we find that food has gone up by 3·8 points on the average since 1957. The average pensioner spends 7 per cent. more of his income on it. Therefore, I submit that when consideration is being given to these important matters the position of the retirement pensioners should be borne in mind and special attention given to the need for a special index of the cost of living in respect of these people.
There is a further point on the question of the transferability of pensions. Those are the three main points which should be considered by the Government, and on which the right hon. Gentleman ought to give us some decision today; first, the question of the contributory system; second, the benefits; and third, the urgent necessity of providing transferability of pensions.
The other matter which I want the Minister to consider is in reference to the Industrial Injuries scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) has mentioned the fact that we have never had a quinquennial valuation of the Industrial Injuries scheme although this was provided for in the Act. It has been in operation for ten years, but we have not had the opportunity of reviewing the operation of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act in accordance with the provisions of that Act. We have only been able to raise anomalies on various Measures which have been before the House dealing with increases in benefit. I wish to refer to two special anomalies which still exist.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell me the provision in the Act under which he says there should have been this review, which he says has never taken place?
The right hon. Gentleman must know that in the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act there is a provision for a quinquennial valuation and a review of the operation of the Act every five years.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look it up at his leisure, because it is not fair to ask him while he is on his feet, and let me know under which Section of the Act that is provided for. I think he is confusing this scheme with the National Insurance scheme, as he has confused them more than once in the House before.
As far as I recollect, there is a provision in this Act whereby we can seek to review the operation of the Industrial Injuries scheme. If I am wrong about that, then I shall be corrected, but I want to point out that we have never had the review of the general administration of the Industrial Injuries scheme in the way I have suggested.
To return to the anomalies, the first concerns the very low assessments. There are many men who are being paid off and granted gratuities, based on 5, 10 or 15 per cent., as the case may be, many of whom are partly disabled and not in a position to return to their pre-accident occupations. Although I realise that disablement benefit is not based on loss of occupation, but on loss of faculty, nevertheless the assessments are exceptionally low, and I would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the case of those suffering from dermatitis. There is a conference to be held at Porthcawl by the National Union of Mineworkers this week, and I can inform the right hon. Gentleman that this problem of dermatitis will be discussed in connection with these low assessments, and that the situation is viewed very gravely by the miners of this country.
I want to give the Committee the facts in regard to a man who suffers from dermatitis. This is a skin disease which fluctuates, and during the time when the victim seems clear from it he may return to his employment. As soon as he does so the disease returns and he is again disabled. He goes before a medical board and is given a provisional assessment, which may be anything up to 20 per cent. After a short time back at work he is given an assessment of, perhaps, 3 per cent. or 5 per cent., and in the end has to give up his pre-accident occupation. He has to seek other work, but it is very difficult for a man suffering from dermatitis to get suitable work. He is in a worse position than many other men suffering from disablement, because a skin disease makes it impossible for him to handle dust or liquids or anything which will bring about a return of the dermatitis. There are hundreds of people who have received a gratuity of £20, £30 or £40, and whose position is now very serious, because they are deprived of the hardship allowance.
This brings me to the next point to which I want to refer. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the provision for the hardship allowance was included in the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act by my right hon. Friend for the purpose of compensating, to some extent, for the loss of occupation, but there is an anomaly in the hardship allowance. A man has to be permanently incapacitated before he is entitled to receive the hardship allowance, or he has to establish that he has not returned to his pre-accident occupation.
What happens to a man suffering from dermatitis? In many cases, it is declared that the condition is not regarded as permanent, but only as temporary. Therefore, the man tries to do some other job, without the hardship allowance, and ultimately when he is given his final assessment he is in the position that he has already tried to return to his former work. The very fact that he has tried for a period of time deprives him of the hardship allowance, because these allowances cannot be paid where a man has gone back to his pre-accident employment, even though he may subsequently have had to give it up.
I know there is a qualification since, if the man is working under medical arrangements or for rehabilitation purposes, he is given a hardship allowance. At the same time there are thousands of these men who go back to their ordinary work. They may continue for months, but then they have a relapse and the fact that they have done their ordinary work for that period deprives them of a hardship allowance. That is an iniquitous position for a disabled man to be in, and it discourages him from trying to take up his ordinary employment. Therefore, in cases of dermatitis, first, the assessment is low, and secondly, in many cases the sufferers are deprived of a hardship allowance.
Surely it is the purpose of this legislation that a man should be compensated adequately for any hardship he may undergo. A man who receives an injury, particularly if it is of a permanent character, suffers two losses. On the one hand, he suffers the loss of the power to enjoy life through a loss of faculty, but he receives a disablement pension for that kind of disability. On the other hand, he loses money. A man should be compensated for losing money, having regard to the fact that he is not now in a position to return to his pre-accident employment.
As I have said on a number of occasions in the House, a serious position arises for men who have served years of apprenticeship. They learn their trade and they look forward to the future. They have attended special schools to fit them for a skilled occupation and then they sustain an accident. They are deprived of this skilled work to which they had looked forward in the years to cone and they now belong to what may be called the labouring class. Certainly their wages are far less than they were used to previously.
For instance, in the mining industry a skilled collier may have been earning £15 a week. As a result of pneumoconiosis or of an injury he cannot return to that occupation. He receives a disablement pension. Even if he is assessed at 30 per cent. or 40 per cent., and even if he is given £1 1s. or £1 10s. a week, he will not be able to earn what he earned before. If he gets as much as £8 a week, the gap between that and £15 is £7. Even if he is entitled to hardship allowance, the most he can get is 34s.
I want to stress the severe loss which skilled men sustain as the result of an accident. The money loss means that much less is going into the home, and instead of being skilled engineers or perhaps skilled colliers, they now belong to the labouring class. They have nothing to look forward to, and in those circumstances every effort should be made to give them compensation in keeping with their pre-accident occupation.
Now I want to refer to the old cases. I regard the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act as being the bouncing baby of the National Insurance Act. Its funds are healthy. It is different from the National Insurance Act. Financially it is very sound, and on the last occasion when the right hon. Gentleman introduced a Bill to improve benefits it was noted that increased contributions under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act for 1958–59 will amount to about £22,900,000 whereas the increased benefits will amount to about £10 million. That represents an excess of approximately £13 million, so the Industrial Insurance Fund is in a fairly comfortable position.
In spite of this, we have not influenced the right hon. Gentleman to bring the workmen's compensation cases within the provisions of this Act or to give them a supplement. It was true that 17s. 6d. was given to the totally disabled, but nothing has been done for the partially incapacitated, and there has been no increase since 1943. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that many of these men are in work and earning wages, but nevertheless they have suffered a severe loss. They see other men getting far higher wages than they are receiving and which they could have earned prior to this accident. So the least the right hon. Gentleman can do is to give this matter his attention to ascertain what can be done to give a supplement to those old cases under the Workmen's Compensation Act. This, again, is a matter which will be considered critically by the miners at their conference this week, because there is considerable feeling about those old cases. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman can assure us tonight that he will consider this matter.
I join with other hon. Members in complimenting the efficiency of the staff of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. This Act came into operation ten years ago. The staff of the Ministry took on a colossal job. They took over millions of cases and a variety of benefits. Thousands of payments have to be made each week based on many different types of Regulations. In South Wales we can be particularly critical because we have had years of experience of workmen's compensation. I must say, however, that the working of this scheme by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance is a credit to the Civil Service. I remember the days, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, when men suffering from pneumoconiosis had to stand in the bitter cold outside the colliery office waiting for their little compensation in all weather.
What a change there has been. They go to these offices, they are treated courteously by the Ministry of Pensions officers; indeed, frequently the payment is sent to them. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to get too complacent about this. Complaints and difficulties arise, but up to now the officials of the Ministry have done a good job, and it shows what can be done even though great and radical changes are brought in by the Government of the day.
In conclusion, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us some information as to the intentions of the Government both in respect of retirement pensions and the contributory system. If he will tell us where he is going and what he is going to do, we shall be able to consider the merits or demerits of what he has in mind.
Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), I want to use the occasion of this anniversary to congratulate all those concerned in the National Insurance scheme, both for creating and administering it, and the civil servants who carry out its functions throughout the country. Like the hon. Gentleman, I also want to use the occasion to take a critical look at its present position and a constructive look at the future. On this birthday we are faced in the realm of retirement pensions with the menace of the emerging cost; with a contribution, which is as high as a lower-paid wage earner can bear to pay and, with all this, a pension which is below subsistence.
This tenth anniversary is the time for all of us on both sides of the Committee to remind ourselves that the principal obligation must be to look, first and foremost, at those who are poorest off and the most helpless. But this is also a time to look forward with a certain amount of hope because there are signs on the horizon, particularly in respect of increments and occupational pensions, which are encouraging.
I am surprised that so far today, in a series of both constructive and rather moving speeches from both sides of the Committee, no one has mentioned the extraordinary influence which has already been brought to bear by the increments earned by deferred retirement. I understand that my right hon. Friend, in answer to Questions, said that out of every 10 people retiring today no fewer than four receive increments which, in the case of a single person, average 9s. 6d. a week and in the case of a married couple 15s. 6d. a week, and that out of the same 10 no fewer than four—not necessarily the same four—receive an occupational pension of a size unknown.
Obviously, there are some people out of the 10 who receive neither increments nor an occupational pension, and it is upon these in particular that both sides of the Committee should have concentrated today, because there is no doubt that among the elderly there is still, in this day and age of a high standard of living and high expectations of a high standard of living, a great deal of poverty. I want to examine why this poverty should arise. Is it entirely due to the size of the State provision? Is it sometimes due—here I obviously do not dream of making any criticism of individuals—to lack of knowledge of the provisions which are available?
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that in the last increase given to old-age pensioners the better-off ones benefited and the poorer ones got less, because something was taken away from them?
I shall be coming to that. It is one of the central themes of what I want to say.
I would say, in passing, that many elderly people without the help of their families to advise them do not always know about the provisions that a benevolent State, a benevolent local authority and benevolent voluntary societies could make available to them if only they knew about them. All the surveys which have been carried out, including that by Dr. Sheldon, in Wolverhampton, and the Newcastle one, show that time and time again, as soon as a household is visited, spectacles can be provided, or something else is done free which was always available but no one had sought it. That is a very small factor in explaining poverty among the elderly.
Another thing which emerges from surveys is that there are many households which by means of meticulous and scrupulous budgeting can get by almost every week of the year but may be sunk by little unforeseen crises. How much better it would be if all the churches and voluntary societies ran small loan clubs to which elderly people could occasionally turn in the week or fortnight of crisis. Some churches and voluntary societies operate such loan associations. This country is known for the fantastically high standard of personal morality, and the losses in activities of this sort are extraordinarily small.
I have often wondered why, in the case of households which have been used throughout long lives to budgeting, no distinction has ever been requested between pensions during summer and pensions during winter. Winter outgoings must exceed summer outgoings because of fuel costs. It may be said that pensioners can even out their outgoings by buying coal in the summer, but many of them cannot store it. It may be that many of them are paying perfectly legitimate middleman charges to get the benefit of cheaper coal during the summer, but the coal has to be stored and delivered later.
I am not in the position on this occasion, when I cannot suggest legislation, even to put forward such an idea as a summer scale and a winter scale for pensions. I merely comment with surprise that nobody seems to have discussed it in the House in my recollection.
It seems to me that the real question that we have to ask ourselves is how we can in the retirement field help those who have too little without enormously increasing contributions and tax by helping everybody at the same time whether they need the help or not. Let no one imagine that my answer to this is to put the retirement pension more on to the National Assistance Board. I have the highest respect for the Board, but its job is as a safety net, and we are concerned primarily with the quasi-contractual rights to a pension, subject to the retirement condition, up to the age of 65 for women and 70 for men. Anyway, the poorest already receive help from the Board, and if their pension is increased that means they receive more as of right and less on proof.
The problem is that survey after survey shows that one sort of pensioner suffers more than others, and that is the person entirely without family, who is termed an "isolate". We already discriminate in public policy at the beginning of the life cycle where family allowances are raised for third and fourth children. I realise that family allowance has no element of contract or quasi-contract in it, but would it be utterly improper to contemplate a pension, and, by implication, a National Assistance Board scale, which discriminated deliberately in favour of elderly retired persons who could prove that they had no close family?
Plainly, this is a blunt instrument. We should help many people who were better off, and we should fail to help many people who had families but received no help from them and were badly off, but as a suggestion towards meeting the most desperate needs without bankrupting the community, I wonder whether, on a suitable occasion, it might be considered. The more universal schemes, the panaceas, which are put forward by hon. Members like the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), really endanger the solvency of the country.
I for one think that the hon. Member for Coventry, East has done a great service to the community. He and his colleagues have refreshed thought on pensions. They have thrown a large number of ideas, which, while not all new, had a novel presentation, into the pool of discussion. Despite this, the fact remains that the scheme is one which can be described only as a scheme of benevolent totalitarianism; one of enormous expense, costing £650 million extra per annum in 1961 for example, and based on a series of injurious adjustments in relation, in due course, to the retirement age of women and of insured women's rights.
It is based on a fundamental misconception—that new resources to aid in the productivity of the community will be created, and, owing to miscalculations, a much smaller surplus than is anticipated will, in fact, be available. Anyway, even if there were to be a surplus, the probable effect in diminishing by an equal amount the personal savings of the community and thus producing no new net investable resources has not been taken into account at all. The scheme is, therefore, misleading, and if it were to be put into force would produce none of the benefits by way of extra production on which the whole exercise was based.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in deploring the conception of a State fund. This offends every idea of independence which this side of the Committee holds so high. There is all the difference in the world between a fund run by the State and fed by contributions for and on behalf of every single wage earner in the country, on the one hand, and the aggregate of the funds run by myriads of private employers, equally fed, each to a certain extent, by contributions from and on behalf of every single wage earner in the country, on the other hand.
The first scheme maximises mistakes and concentrates power in the hands of the Government and could be used to jerrymander taxation, without producing any necessary benefit in the way of investable savings; whereas the second scheme channels an infinite variety of resources into an infinite variety of investments while dispersing control.
My principal comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East is that he had what I can desecribe only as the impertinance to castigate my right hon. Friend for presuming to depart from the actuarial basis of the present National Insurance scheme by allegedly charging new entrants 1s. 3d. a week more than their actuarial contribution should have been, when the scheme for which he is responsible is blatantly a scheme subsidised by those who receive more than average earnings.
The whole of the national superannuation scheme purports to be an insurance scheme, yet it is a redistributory scheme of taxation which takes the contributions of those who receive average and more than average earnings—and there is nothing immoral about this, although it is immoral to disguise it—and uses them to maintain or increase the benefits of those with below average earnings. That is properly the function of Government by means of taxation and yet it is to be imposed by a so-called insurance scheme for individual contributors. Let it be realised that this, far more than the point about which my right hon. Friend was criticised, is a genuine poll tax, in this case a poll tax which prevents the more than average wage earner and higher than average wage earner benefiting as much as he would by investing in any of the insurance company opportunities.
I want to stress this so much because the national superannuation scheme purports to permit the opting out of individual contributors if they can show that they are opting out into a scheme which satisfies the authorities—I forget the exact phrase. Does it not appear to the hon. Member for Coventry, East that, if it is true that the higher than average wage earner will get less for his contributions than he would get if he went to a private insurance scheme, it is probable that the majority of higher than average wage earners will opt out of the scheme, if opting out is really a fair alternative given to them?
If they opt out, the whole financial basis of the offer of half-pay on retirement—which may be 30 or 40 years—to those below average earners, falls to the ground. I very much hope that the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) will comment on this matter when he winds up the debate for the Opposition. If opting out is a genuine alternative, it will bring the scheme to ruins.
The hon. Member said that our scheme was a poll tax, a tax which bears equally on rich and poor alike. My criticism of the Government's position is that our present National Insurance contribution, is, in the proper sense, a poll tax. It is the same tax whether a man earns £50 or £10. The hon. Member has pointed out, quite fairly, that our scheme is redistributory, in the sense that those who earn most will pay most and will get rather less in return. That is the opposite of a poll tax, since is it a graduated tax. If the hon. Member accuses us of introducing a graduated redistribution, then that is openly admitted, but it is equally so that the present method is a poll tax. Both are quite open and both are quite different points. I am amazed that the hon. Member confuses the two.
It is the hon. Gentleman himself who is confused. I was taking up his criticism of my right hon. Friend for my right hon. Friend's action in obtaining 1s. 3d. a week from new entrants towards the pension of those who are at present retired. The hon. Gentleman was saying that this was a gross departure from the insurance principle and yet he himself has departed far further from the insurance principle by a graduated and redistributory system applying to above average wages. That was my point. I am not denying that the present flat-rate contribution could be described as a poll tax. I was not defending that position.
The difference is that under our scheme we suggest—and the hon. Member was quite fair to say it—that those who are better off should make some contribution towards providing a floor below which the pension shall not fall, whereas under the present scheme those who are young contribute, quite unfairly, to those who are old. There is a basic difference between a scheme which makes the young subsidise the old and a scheme which makes the rich subsidise the poor.
The hon. Member fails to recognise that I am criticising him not for doing that, but for maintaining that his is an insurance scheme. It is not; it is a scheme of taxation and redistribution. That may be all right, but on page 24 of his pamphlet he maintains that it is an insurance scheme.
I was going to say that opting out may be restricted because of the ruin it could bring to the scheme, and this would then have serious results on occupational pension schemes, which I should like to see far more widely spread.
The hon. Member seems to suggest that if there were an alternative of opting out people with higher salaries would opt out. Can he explain how, on the insurance principle, any insurance company could give the same benefits to the few people who opted out, as compared with the nation, when everybody was compelled to be in? That is quite a different thing from having a few people going into an insurance scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman would be quite right if the contributions of the higher than average wage earners were not used in the scheme to subsidise the benefits of the lower than average wage earners. He would be right if the contributions of the higher than average wage earners were to be used solely for their own benefit, but they will not be.
I submit that occupational pension schemes have an enormous advantage over any State scheme. They could provide transferability. Over half the adult male workers are members of such schemes. I join with the hon. Member for Coventry, East in deploring the lack of information, on both sides of the Committee, about these individual pension schemes. It is true that the biggest hindrance to the universal spread of these schemes is the enormous cost of the back service contribution element. I have been making a very rough back-of-the envelope calculation and have worked out that if all employers were to put aside a fund to enable all their employees who are not at present in occupational pension schemes to enter such schemes, the total back service contribution might amount to at least £180 million. Although it could be spread over twenty years, it is a very large figure.
I want to deny the allegation that occupational pension schemes cannot be much more widely spread than they are now. I am a member of the building and civil engineering industry, which employs over 1 million people. It is often said that this is an industry for which, because of the casual nature of the work and the fact that many of its employees may work for as many as five or even ten different employers in a single year, no scheme could be worked out. Nothing is further from the truth. I have heard one of the most progressive leaders of the industry draw an analogy between superannuation and a very successful holidays-with-pay scheme which has been working in the industry for many years. There is no reason why this industry, with its 1 million employees, should not be brought within the occupational scheme net.
My hon. Friend has mentioned that farmers are beginning to consider schemes for their members. The growth of these occupational schemes might have been faster—and might yet be faster—if only trade union leaders themselves had, or would, back the spread of these fringe benefits, as their opposite numbers have in America. The time to exact these fringe benefits is a time of super-full employment. The opportunity for doing so in the last few years has been lost. I know of a few trade unions that have negotiated strongly for occupational pension schemes, and there has been a great loss of opportunity.
In Holland, a group of firms in any industry has the right to request the Government to require the remaining firms in that industry to enforce an occupational pension scheme throughout the industry. This sort of requirement might be considered here, because I believe that although there are bound to be casuals who cannot be covered by any occupational pension scheme, there is enormous scope for growth. But there are bound to be casuals who cannot easily be brought in. Just as private enterprise, without a profit motive, as in a case like the British United Provident Association keeps covered by insurance some of the exigencies of health expenses, so I hope that there will grow up non-profit-making private occupational pension schemes for those who are least likely to be able to take part in either a State or a private profit-making scheme.
I have concentrated on occupational pension schemes because I think that they provide us with real hope on this tenth birthday of the National Insurance legislation. We are now faced with an enormous emerging cost, and our object at all time must be to deal with that, while freeing contributions from the ossified condition in which they are now caught and promoting simultaneously a great growth in occupational pension schemes; all this without damaging savings—which we all rejoice to see are so enormously higher this year—and without great tax increases or inflation.
The disadvantage of speaking late in a debate is that a number of points which one has prepared have already been made and probably made in a better manner. The advantage is that many points have been made which one would wish to take up in arguing with hon. Members opposite who have already spoken.
I should like to start by taking up one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). I congratulate him on recognising the problem which exists, and the unsatisfactory nature of the present provisions for old age, and commenting rather more fully than did some of his hon. Friends. I cannot continue to congratulate him on his analysis of the way in which to deal with them. Earlier in his speech the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that such methods as loan clubs run by churches, or special measures to enable people to pay for their coal at different times of the year, were the sort of thing which would meet the problem. The hon. Member must recognise that that is only scratching at the surface of the problem, and that something much more fundamental is needed.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East made a number of criticisms of the scheme which he attributed to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). While we pay tribute to the part which my hon. Friend has played in this matter, I am sure that he would be the first to agree that it is not a personal matter. It is a scheme to which the Labour Party is committed, and is proud to be committed. It is not committed to the statement in every detail, but to the principles of the statement and to the principle of a national superannuation scheme.
One of the main reasons why we are so committed is that there is no other way of bridging the growing gap between those people who have the benefit of superannuation and those who have not. While the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East and some of his hon. Friends may sing the praises of the occupational scheme, they must recognise that there has been a very long time in which these schemes could have filled this gap, and it is being filled only very slowly. We were told by one hon. Member that about 500,000 extra people came into the schemes every year. The fact is that there are still about two-thirds of the people who work who are not covered by any scheme at all, and some are covered only by unsatisfactory schemes. Only a major operation by the Government, and the passing of legislation through this House, can close the gap.
The point was made that in some way or other we should interfere with people's freedom. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East even used the phrase "benevolent totalitarianism". I wish to point out that in one important respect we are increasing the freedom of those people who are in private schemes by introducing the principle of transferability from one private scheme to another. But I believe that in a wider sense we are increasing their freedom by removing the fear of poverty in old age. I do not believe that if he took a survey among the retirement pensioners in his constituency who are having to rely on National Assistance or who are only on that level, he would be able to encourage them by telling them that throughout their lives they had the freedom to make provision for old age. That is the job of the community and it must be tackled by the community.
I should like to turn to one or two other points which have been made by hon. Members opposite during this debate. Two, in particular, to which I should like to refer were made in the speech by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) made a proposal, which I have heard him make before, about doing something more for the chronic sick. Personally, I believe that this is a most valuable and important proposal and one which deserves the earnest consideration of all of us.
The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary suggested that in some way, if we did this, we should be undermining the insurance principle by differentiating between people. Surely, one of the most important aspects of the National Insurance scheme is that we all contribute to it, but we get different benefits. A person who is often sick can be more benefited now than the person who is hardly ever sick. Many benefits differ in amount, and we can compare what we pay to the widowed mother and the widow without children. I think that there would be no departure in principle there. What we would be trying to do would be to make proper provision for a small group of people with very special needs who have been neglected for so long.
Our experience of the unemployability supplement and constant attendance allowance under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts and war pensions is that only a small number qualify for them and the cost is small. The numbers may be larger than in other categories, but the total mount in comparison with the total fund is small, although the amount of human suffering that can be relieved is very considerable. I think that further consideration should be given to that point.
I also want to reply to what the hon. Lady said about old cases—the people who were injured and came under the Workmen's Compensation Acts and who have now fallen behind in their benefits. She said that they were given a supplement of 17s. 6d. I believe that at the time that was done it was thought to be a rough and ready way of bringing up those old cases to the level of people who get benefit under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. There was no principle formerly for doing that. The 17s. 6d. was given to bring them up to the level of a 100 per cent. disability pension under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. Since then, there has been this further rise under that Act and it seems to me insupportable to leave this gap as it is at the moment.
We have recognised, quite rightly, in respect of war pensions, that people from the 1914–18 war get the same pensions as people from the 1939–45 war. It seems to me that the same sort of principle should be recognised for the casualties of industry.
I should like to make one or two points about the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. I hope that from time to time the House of Commons will have a full-scale debate on that Act, because I think that there are some points concerning it which tend to be squeezed out in a debate of this kind, when, naturally, we direct our attention to the overriding question of the provision for old age. There are many important things which ought to be reviewed from time to time in regard to that Act.
Those of us who have had the experience of helping and advising people about their rights under that Act realise that there are various matters which give cause for dissatisfaction. Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned them this afternoon. I should like to refer to the general entitlement under the Act, particularly the definition in Section 7 of the way in which people qualify who have had an injury by accident "arising out of and in the course of their simployment." That. I think, is the time-honoured definition, which has stood the test of the Workmen's Compensation Acts and the present Act. There are many people who, because of this provision and the way in which it has been interpreted, get left out, although they suffer what are, in fact, injuries arising from their employment.
I have had experience of working for and on behalf of transport workers. A man who works in transport, or out of doors generally, often has an accident in circumstances that would bring him within the provisions of the Act were he an indoor worker. For example, a man working in a factory is held to be in the course of his employment when he crosses the boundary of his employer's premises, and if he has an accident in those premises he normally falls within these provisions.
The transport driver, however, has first to reach the vehicle. For instance, he may be a bus driver who leaves his vehicle at the terminus to go to a café across the street for refreshment. If he has an accident in those circumstances he is outside the Act, and things like that cause a lot of resentment amongst the cases affected. Although finding a different formula might be difficult, I think that an attempt should be made.
There is the wider category of the people who become incapacitated by some process in their work. At the moment, people get benefit if they have an accident at their work or if they contract one of the occupational diseases laid down in the Schedule, but there are many industrial casualties who fall between two stools. There are those who have to put up with a lot of noise at work. Boiler makers working inside boilers and enduring a lot of noise can become deaf as a result, but because that is not a prescribed disease they are not covered. There are people who work in damp conditions who may suffer from bronchitis and emphysema, while others can contract rheumatism.
Attention must be given to these problems. It could be done, perhaps, by extending the Schedule of prescribed diseases, but even if that were done there would still be gaps, and I think that a more radical and satisfactory solution would be to remove the words "by accident", so that anyone who was incapacitated by following his industrial occupation would be included.
Then there is the special hardship allowance which, as my right hon. Friend said, was a very necessary safety valve in the original Act because it provided an allowance for people who had suffered what was, perhaps, a small injury in terms of the assessment but one which had had a large effect on their earning power. In fact, I think one of the criticisms that can be made refers to the name of this allowance. It is not so much a special hardship allowance as an allowance for loss of earnings. A similar provision in war pensions legislation is referred to, quite rightly, as an allowance for a lowered standard of occupation. That is much better, and I think that the definition in the Section and the way in which people qualify for the allowance need examination. This allowance is paid only as an addition to a disablement pension, but there are those who have no pension because they have no remaining disability but who cannot go back to their occupation because they would be ill again if they did. I think of dermatitis cases in particular.
Again, should we not revise our ideas about the amount? The present maximum is 34s. a week. I have no up-to-date figures of the rate at which the current allowance is being paid, but in a report that I saw a year ago the figure was 27s. 6d. It was clear there that the average payment of hardship allowance was 96 per cent. of the maximum, which suggests that the majority of people who qualified for it were, in fact, losing a great deal more in their weekly earnings.
We should consider whether we could not pay on a more generous scale. Precisely the same point applies to war pensions. Many of the pensioners have had relatively small war wounds which, nevertheless, have a very large effect on their earning capacity. These may be points of detail, but they cause hardship, and produce anomalies and a sense of injustice in those concerned.
I should like to return to the wider question of provision for old age that has run right through this debate. When I contested the by-election in East Ham, North just over a year ago. I was working in an area where there is a larger proportion of elderly people than in the country as a whole. Naturally, canvassing in the daytime, those were the people whom one met. Certainly the principal issue with which one was faced in that election was the poverty in which people were living, particularly the retired and widows, who were trying to live on these benefits. Since then they have had a modest increase, though an increase which is too little and which has come too late. I would remind the Committee that when that increase came into effect at the beginning of this year, two and three-quarter years had gone by since the previous increase, during which time the cost of living had gone up by about 10 per cent.
This underlines two points that I would mention about the existing scheme. One is the very low rate of the existing pension. It ought to be raised to at least £3 a week without delay. Secondly there is the failure of this scheme to make the pension inflation-proof. When people are living on that kind of income, even modest rises in prices have a bad effect upon their standards. A modest rise in the price of vegetables or in the cost of getting shoes repaired can have a catastrophic effect upon their budgets. Not only do they see that happening and the value of their pension decreasing, but under the existing scheme they do not know when any attempt will be made to put it right. If they could rely upon an annual review and could know that they were guaranteed that the value of the pension would be restored, that would be a tremendous advance in itself.
As has often been pointed out on this side of the Committee, this cannot properly be done within the flat-rate contribution as it stands at the moment. In the last twelve months the rate of contribution has been increased by nearly 50 per cent. A year ago the contribution was 6s. 9d. for men and is now 9s. 11d. The increase for women and juveniles is in the same kind of proportion. That illustrates the mess into which this aspect of the scheme has entered.
Therefore, one ought to hear from the Government Front Bench some realisation of the fact that we have reached a critical stage in the National Insurance scheme when radical rethinking is needed. All the radical rethinking has come from the Opposition. It is now twelve months since the Labour Party produced its scheme for national superannuation. The Government have the resources of the Civil Service and every opportunity for research and for working out their ideas, and it is time that we were told something definite.
One does not know whether they are trying to hold it up until the next General Election. If so, after they have lost the Election and we have carried out our scheme they will say, "We thought of it, too." They will say that it was a nonparty matter and that the Labour Party could not take the full credit for it. That would be in the best Conservative tradition. If this is being unfair and unkind to the Government, I ask them to produce without delay some ideas of their own to meet the situation.
We deliberately put on the Order Paper today the war pensions Vote because it is a very long time since we had a debate dealing with war pensions. It is natural that the Opposition, with limited time at their disposal, should attend to those matters on which they have a real grievance or some active case against the Government which they want to put forward. Fortunately, this is not the case with war pensions, but we felt that we ought to give an opportunity to hon. Members to assure the war pensioners throughout the country once again that we are not at all forgetful of their interests and that we watch closely what is going on.
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth), the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and others have referred to the war pensioners. I should like, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said I would, to add a little to the consideration of the position of the war pensioner.
I was Minister of Pensions for three years and I should like to say to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale that I found plenty to do. I was a little more angry about one or two of his remarks at the time he made them than I now am. I will only say that if the hon. Member wants to measure the achievements of the Conservative Party when in office before the war against what was done afterwards, let him look at the record of Parliamentary Questions and Adjournment and other debates on war pensions during the inter-war years, when, I am sure, he will find a marked difference from what followed. I do not, however, want to pursue the question of who did what and which side did it best.
I should like to add my tribute to those already paid to the staff of the Department, not only to be very large staff which is now working under the Minister in the sphere of National Insurance proper, but to that section of the staff which still works under him on the war pensions side, the latter of whom I know best. All these civil servants undoubtedly deserve the praise which has been given to them this afternoon.
I should like particularly to refer also to the voluntary workers who play a valuable part in the sphere of war pensions. Even organisations like the British Legion or the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association, with whom in my time I occasionally had some difficult negotiations and who sometimes, momentarily, perhaps, appeared to be a bit of a nuisance, play a most valuable part in the working of this system of war pensions which we have devised. I should certainly like to thank them and say how glad I am that, although the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale has now had to give up his position in the British Legion, others whom we know very well are carrying on the work.
The head and front of all this organisation of voluntary workers in their contact with the Minister is the Central Advisory Council. When I presided over that Council, I found that it was a valuable and useful body. I am surprised to read in the latest Report of the Department that the present Minister has met his Central Advisory Council only twice during a year. I wonder whether he is wise to meet the Council so rarely. In answer to a Question in the House, the right hon. Gentleman said that he calls the Advisory Council together when he has something to say to it. My view is that he should call the Advisory Council together to know whether it has something to say to him. This should be a two-way traffic. I say from my own experience that one gets a great deal of valuable information from the Advisory Council, even when one has no particular information to impart oneself.
I realise that the responsibilities of a Minister of Pensions and National Insurance are much greater than those which I discharged as Minister of Pensions. The calls upon the Minister's time must be much heavier. If the reason is that the Minister cannot spare the time to meet the Advisory Council more often than twice in a year, why not invite his hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who looks after the war pensions side of the work to do that for him? I think it would be worth while.
There have been recent increases in the war pensions themselves, an extension of the comforts allowance and the institution of the new ageing allowance. Many of these pensions and allowances are tax-free. For these reasons and, above all, because such a large proportion of war pensioners, happily, are still in work and earning wages, and those who are not are entitled to fairly substantial supplements to their pension, we on this side of the Committee have no particular criticism to offer tonight about the rates of pension and allowance.
We are struck, however, by the warning note contained in the Report for the year 1956, the warning that the war pensioners, disabled men, are tending to find it rather more difficult to find employment, full employment, the opportunity to work and earn a living and the consequent opportunity to mix on equal terms with other members of the community. Going to work daily, even if one has to go in a wheel-chair, is, as the hon. and gallant Member for Nor-wood reminded us and knows full well, nine-tenths of the battle of life for disabled men, and it would be sad if the onset of unemployment were to rob any of them of that chance.
That, I think, is the only comment I want to make on that. I am sure that the Minister and his civil servants will watch very carefully and use every means in their power to ensure that, whoever suffers, the war pensioner shall be given the greatest possible opportunity to retain and maintain his employment. But pensions and allowances, however large they may be, and even employment in a regular job, are not the whole of what the war pensioner needs.
When I instituted the Welfare Service I thought that it would prove of value or I should not have done so. Naturally, I was moved by the experience I had of all sorts of individual cases coming to my notice. I wanted to try to ensure that the sort of treatment which individual cases which came to my desk would get would be available for everybody, even to those who did not write to their Members of Parliament. That was why I sent the letter to every individual pensioner and instituted the Welfare Service. It revealed a far greater number of in-individual needs which could be met than even I had ever understood.
I well remember on a visit to Turkey some years ago talking to an eminent Turkish gentleman and asking him about the impact of our information services and the work of the British Council on relations with Turkey. I asked him how these were going, and whether people were getting a good idea of the British way of life. He said, "You can close all your information services tomorrow if you like, and you can let the British Council go away, if only you will send us more films like the one which I saw the other day." "Oh, indeed," I asked, "and what film was that?" To my great pride and joy he said it was, "The Undefeated", which was a film we made to illustrate the work of the war pensioners' welfare service. It is a rather remarkable thing how strongly it struck those who saw it.
It was not fussy interference; it was not an attempt to tell the war pensioner what he ought to do; but a voluntary offer that the war pensioner should come to the office if he had any sort of difficulty, no matter what kind of difficulty it was.
I am glad indeed to read in the Annual Report that it is going on well, and that the home craft service, which grew out of it, is continuing and helping many thousands of disabled, bed-ridden persons, so that they are able to sell substantial quantities of the goods which they make while deriving the occupational therapy which they get from doing that sort of work in their beds.
I know that the Minister has a lot to reply to, but I would ask him, if he can find a minute in his winding-up speech to do so, to let us know whether any Minister, himself or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, has been able to visit the war pensioners in the United States, Canada, Australia or South Africa. It may be that it is a long time since this was done. I am not sure. If it is, then quite seriously I say it is well worth doing. Those people are very remote, and they appreciate the opportunity of feeling they are directly in touch with the man who is finally responsible for their welfare.
I was very pleased to read in the Ministry's Report of the systematic extension of the welfare services to war widows over 70 years of age, to read that 47,000 letters were sent out to these widows, and that 11,500 of them wrote back to say that they would welcome a call. I am glad to know that these visits will continue. I hope that they will be extended in time to cover war widows even younger than that. The striking fact that emerges is not so much that this useful and valuable service is rendered to these elderly ladies but that, as the Report says,
… about a third of those visited had financial or other material needs to meet.
These are war widows who have a higher rate of pension than other widows.
A later paragraph in the Report says:
The resources of the King's Fund are being called on more and more to meet the needs of widows, particularly the ageing widows of the 1914 War. Two thirds of the grants authorised were to assist widows and dependants.
Fortunately, the King's Fund is continuing to receive bequests and donations all the time. It is like the widow's cruse—a miraculous fund that keeps going somehow or other. It steps in and makes its grants when no other payment from State sources is available.
Although I am glad that the King's Fund still exists, and I have used it myself, it is a rather serious feature that one-third of the war widows over 70 years of age should require financial or material assistance and that the King's Fund should be now heavily engaged in assisting widows. It suggests that all is not well with the war widows.
It makes one wonder what may be happening to other widows if the welfare service is of value to war widows whose pensions are at a higher rate than those of other widows, except the widows of the industrially injured. If need is revealed in those cases, is not help even more needed by other widows, and ought not there to be a welfare service of some kind provided for widows in the ordinary sphere of National Insurance?
The number of widows who are in extreme adversity has undoubtedly diminished since I last spoke on the subject in the House of Commons. In March, 1956, the number of widows drawing National Assistance was 77,000. Since then, increases in benefit have reduced the number to 54,000 by the last date for which we have figures. These 54,000 widows who are still on National Assistance are, as we know from the Board's Reports, mainly widows with numerous children. As I have said before, I do not believe that these widows and their children are even yet satisfactorily looked after by our Welfare State.
The scale rates of the National Assistance Board are a good deal higher than they were. They now pay 26s. a week for a person between 16 and 17 years of age and 20s. for a child between 11 and 15 years. These are larger sums, but the latest report of the National Food Survey Committee states that the average expenditure per person in this country on food alone is £1 7s. 3d. a week. No doubt that includes many expensive meals, and it may include a certain amount of waste by well-off people. But if the average is £1 7s. 3d. and the National Assistance Board is able to pay only 20s. a week for the care of children between 11 and 15 to widowed mothers to cover all their needs, including clothing and food, soap and toothpaste and other things, I still say that the rates are not satisfactory. The child of the widow with a large family who is dependent upon her National Insurance pension does not get a fair opportunity in life.
Reference was made earlier in the debate to the very remarkable book "Widows and their Families", written by Peter Marris. I hope it will be widely read, because this is one of the most remarkable pieces of sociology published in this country for a very long time. It is extraordinarily sympathetically written, and in it Mr. Marris says:
Ideally, social insurance could do much to soften the distress of widowhood. Poverty accentuates all the morbid tendencies of grief—the isolation, bitterness, apathy; a sense of being rejected, a drag on the happiness of others—while to secure a comfortable living standard would, instead, at least encourage her to master them. Released from the fear of financial dependence, she would be less diffident in her family relationships. A widow with young children needs an income equivalent to a man's wage. While the children are under five, it seems better that this income should not depend upon her ability to earn, since it may harm small children to be separated from their mother, even if their grandmother or an aunt would be willing to look after them.
Mr. Marris argues in favour of the abolition of the earnings rule in respect of widows who have children able to go to school, that is, children over five. I do not enter into any discussion of that, but what he says is very persuasive. It certainly made me think afresh about this subject.
What I should like the right hon. Gentleman to do is not to say tonight, as his hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was inclined to do, that this could not be done, for this, that or any other reason, not to jump too quickly at it; but to say that he will have a further inquiry made. Mr. Marris's book relates to London, where the employment opportunities for women are very considerable and where the pattern of family life may well be somewhat different from that in industrial areas. I should like to see some inquiry set up. Of course, I should like it in Middlesbrough, but if Middlesbrough cannot be chosen—though I should like it to be selected, for a special reason—let us have it in one of the industrial areas in the North, in the Midlands, in Wales and in Scotland.
I do not suggest an inquiry by the Ministry, because that may give rise to suspicions or bad reactions on the part of those approached. I seriously suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—I have made this suggestion before, and I make it again quite sincerely and with no political animus, and I hope he will take it seriously—that an inquiry of this kind should not be conducted by the Government, but should be undertaken by a body like the Institute of Community Studies, which made this particular study, or by a similar body, by the Nuffield Foundation, or by the universities in the various areas, as was done at the time of the Distressed Areas.
If the right hon. Gentleman has no power to do what I suggest, there must be a Government Department which has. It should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a suitable procedure. I would suggest that the National Assistance Board, which has laid upon it by Statute the duty—
to exercise their functions in such manner as shall best promote the welfare of the persons affected by the exercise thereof,
might take a great interest in such a survey. The welfare work which the Board already does might be extended more into this field. We read, in the last Report but one, of the welfare work which is done among the aged; let the Board please turn its attention to the widows as well. Let the Board try to develop this work, as I believe it wants to do.
I believe that the Board has been hampered in the past by the fact that the sheer load of the payment of allowances was so heavy that it did not have the time to turn to this duty, which is laid upon it by the State, as fully as it would have liked to do. The load is by no means sufficiently reduced to make us happy or contented, but, at any rate, it is lighter. Do not let us see the staff dispersed or reduced because the load of payment is reduced. Rather let us see the work develop into the field of welfare. I should like to see the National Assistance Board playing a much larger part than it has done hitherto, and particularly taking new initiatives, such as the work among widows that I have suggested.
In talking so much, as I have done, about war pensions and welfare and the possibility of extending welfare services, which have been so valuable to war pensioners, to widows and to those injured in industry, I have not left myself much time to talk about what has been the main subject of the debate, the working of the National Insurance system proper. My right hon. Friend has already dealt with that at length at this Box, and therefore I did not propose to recapitulate a a great deal of it.
We have undoubtedly had an excellent debate on this subject. We have a right to be proud of the system which has been built during these years. When I went with the right hon. Gentleman to the recent conference of the International Social Security Association, we were both made very much aware of how much people from other nations appreciated the work done in this country. We were both pleased to hear the eloquent tribute paid to Lord Beveridge and to see him there. Undoubtedly, other countries admire the structure, built over the years I agree, but put upon the Statute Book by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly. Equally obviously, we have no right to be complacent; nobody could be complacent after listening to the debate today.
The hope of the nation, whatever may have been said in blue books or anywhere else, whatever qualifications can be written about it—the hope of the whole nation when the all-inclusive plan for National Insurance was brought forward before the public, the general hope and expectation, was that because now all were in, and all were contributing to the system, the result would be that in adversity—whether it be unemployment, sickness or old age—every citizen would receive an income sufficient to meet that adversity without recourse to a means test. That was the general hope of the nation. That was the intention behind it all. We know, and it has been repeated again and again today, that this has not happened, at any rate anywhere near to the extent we had hoped.
National Assistance was looked upon, in the words of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), as a safety net, and it was generally thought that after the numbers of people not covered by insurance had gradually passed away, there would remain in the safety net only very exceptional cases of special adversity, congenital illness, and that kind of thing. It was thought that National Assistance would be dealing with very small numbers and would gradually wither away. There are, however, still two million people living on National Assistance, and so we find that a change is obviously called for. Though, at the end of ten years, we can look back with pride on the improvement that has taken place over this period, it would be idle and silly to say that this is sufficient. Everyone who has spoken in the debate has looked forward in some degree or other to another system.
Obviously, I have not time—I must give the right hon. Gentleman time for his difficult task of replying to the debate in detail—to dilate upon the plan for national superannuation which we drew up. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) has expounded it eloquently, as he always does, and others have spoken about it.
I will say no more about it, except this. Hon. Members opposite, notably the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East, criticised what they understood to be our plan, and criticised it sharply. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East went so far as to say that private occupational schemes have enormous advantages over the Labour Party proposals for national superannuation. If the hon. Member and' his right hon. Friends criticise our proposals—and they have seriously asked the nation to believe that private occupational schemes have enormous advantages over what we propose—why do they not prove it? Why do they not seek to give us the information? Why have they disregarded all this time the advice of the Phillips Committee? That Committee was set up by the present Government, and paragraph 254 of its Report states:
We … consider that information on this subject should be readily available, and we recommend that, for the future, returns giving certain minimum statistics about all pension schemes provided in connection with employment should be submitted at regular but not necessarily annual, intervals to some central official agency which should be charged with the duty of collecting the information obtained and publishing summary reports,".
What was to stop that recommendation being accepted at once and being put into operation? We should have had a lot of information by now.
We who did our best without that information to draw up a plan might have made it slightly different in some respects. Who can say? We had not the information. The Times of 28th May pointed out that there are a large number of questions on which we have insufficient information about these private occupational schemes. We did not know how many people covered by such schemes have to withdraw from them when they change their job. We did not know how many, if any, when they change their employment lose their acquired rights in a private scheme. We did not know how substantial those rights are. We did not know how many who leave their job have their money refunded under private schemes. We did not know the standards of retirement income aimed at by the schemes. We did not even know how many schemes are still active.
Nobody knows the real answers to these questions. The answer may be known in respect of some schemes, but the nation as a whole does not yet know the answers to all the questions. We believe the answers are what we have given, that the private occupation schemes are designed to restrict mobility and that that is an anti-social purpose which should be frustrated by the establishment of a national scheme.
I challenge the right hon. Gentleman tonight, as I have done previously, to let us have a national debate on this subject. Let us have a grand debate of the nation on the subject, and let us have it as soon as possible, but let it be a fair debate and let it be based on the information which he must now possess. Let him now come clean and tell us all the facts of the situation, and, if possible, let him tonight tell us what his own proposals are.
When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, last Thursday, announced today's business the Leader of the Opposition said that the Opposition had exercised their rights in respect of Supply Days to discuss this matter as a kind of tenth anniversary party of the National Insurance scheme. Indeed, as I listened to the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), I almost thought at moments that he was about to place ten candles on the Dispatch Box to celebrate the birthday party.
I was forcibly made to recall the most famous of all birthday parties, that of A. A. Milne, which, the right hon. Gentleman will recall, begins:
When I was one I had just begun,
When I was two I was nearly new.
But the right hon. Gentleman perhaps did not remember how it concludes. At least, judging from his speech I do not think that he did.
But now I am six I am clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) spent a good deal of his speech in discussing a scheme which, of course, is very much older than the National Insurance scheme, the war pensions scheme. The Committee was reminded from time to time, very rightly, that although great changes were made after the war, as a result of the Coalition Government's deliberations on the subject during the war—and it is an impressive fact that at the height of the war the preliminary work for the introduction of these schemes was being carried out despite all our other national preoccupations—none the less social insurance in this country has a much longer pedigree than ten years.
It so happens that two of the greatest men who have ever served this country and the House of Commons, the father of the noble Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), in the early days of social insurance, both laid the foundations on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly, as he would be the first to admit, with the Coalition Government's work behind him, was later able to build.
It would be unfair to those who have worked on this matter in the public service and elsewhere for many years if the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is having a tenth birthday celebration tonight were allowed to obscure the fact that social insurance in this country goes back a long time.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I began by referring not to the tenth anniversary, but to the half century of social insurance associated with the name of my great compatriot. I did not forget the pioneers.
I would never accuse the right hon. Gentleman of a lack of historical memory.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East dealt with the war pension scheme and said that it was not a matter on which he had very much criticism. The criticism on which he spent most time was that I did not summon the Central Advisory Committee with sufficient frequency. I would not say that that was a very damaging criticism. The Central Advisory Committee is a very valuable body. It is also a body consisting of a number of very busy men, and I can tell hon. Members that I have discussed with the Advisory Committee itself the question of the frequency of its meetings. I have said that while I am always at its disposal when it wishes to discuss things with me, or to put a point of view to me, I shall not summon it regularly just far the sake of having a meeting. I do not believe that that is the right way to take public voluntary service from responsible and busy people.
It is also a fact that the Advisory Committee includes a large number of people, including hon. Members from both sides of the Committee, whom I have the pleasure of seeing much more frequently than one sees the Central Advisory Committee as a whole, and who are representative of the ex-Service organisations as such. The right hon. Gentleman must leave it to the Minister of the day from time to time to decide how frequently he is entitled to use the time of very busy people.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to discuss the Welfare Service and the Handicrafts Training Scheme. I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that the Welfare Service is perhaps more valuable than it has ever been and that it is doing an extremely efficient job of work. When the right hon. Gentleman was referring to visiting older war widows, which was arranged a short time ago, he drew attention to the number who required financial or other help. When he sought to draw a moral from that, he overlooked the fact that the report related to visiting which took place before the recent substantial increase in benefits. He makes a mistake if he assumes that since the increase the position is necessarily the same.
If he is talking of the Report of my Department, I cannot give a date of publication because I am in the hands of the printers. The Report on War Pensioners, which I make in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health, is very nearly, but not quite, ready. The right hon. Gentleman was referring to events which took place about two years ago, and his criticism, therefore, is perhaps not to be taken as unduly damaging.
The right hon. Gentleman then turned to the theme which he has very often raised in this House—the provision for widows, their children, and dependent children generally. He referred to the recent work of Mr. Peter Marris. There again, as the Committee was reminded by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the interviews reported in Mr. Marris's book took place not only before the recent increase in benefits generally, under this Session's Act, but also before the increase made specifically for widows' children under the Act of 1956. In that case, therefore, it is perhaps dangerous to draw an assumption based upon facts as they may have been two increases ago.
I am not sure that an inquiry over a very limited area which is now not up to date strengthens the right hon. Gentleman's case. I took note of what he had to say, but considerable sources of information are already available. I am not convinced that there is any case for a special or ad hoc inquiry, although I shall watch the matter from time to time.
Let me return to the treatment of children. I believe that less credit was given than ought to be for the provision that is made for children at present. The right hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that provision for children generally—not only widows' children—has been improved out of proportion to most other improvements which have taken place under the National Insurance scheme.
Under the National Insurance Act of 1946 the provision for children consisted of 7s. 6d. for the first child; no National Insurance provision at all for any other children, and family allowance at 5s. The present provision for children generally is 15s. for the first child; 7s., plus 8s. family allowance for the second; and 7s., plus 10s. family allowance for the third child and subsequent children.
Those totals, of 15s. for the first two and 17s. for the other children, amount, in cash terms, to an increase over 1948 of 100 per cent. for the first child, 200 per cent. for the second and 240 per cent. for the rest, or, if one takes real terms—which are much more convincing—29 per cent. increase for the first child, 92 per cent. for the second, and 119 per cent. for the third. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's point that special provision ought to be made for children is one that I fully accept—and I can say with due respect that it is one that we have accepted not only in words, but in the provisions that we have made.
The width of the debate, and the task which the right hon. Member rightly said has been imposed upon me in replying, is an indication of the extremely wide scope of my Department's activities, and I shall necessarily have to confine what I say to an attempt to deal with a number of the major points which have been raised.
This is the day when the late-age entrants begin to receive their pensions, and I want to say how glad I am to know that the right hon. Member for Llanelly is one of them, and how sorry I am that his earnings as a Member of this House inhibit him from receiving this pension. I express the hope that the electors of Llanelly may very soon make him eligible to draw his benefit.
It is very rash to be boastful about majorities, as many former Members have discovered from time to time.
Apart from this very big increase in the number of pensioners because of the late-age entrants who come into benefit today, this debate marks the ten-year period of the operation of the National Insurance Act. Most of the debate has referred, with rather varying emphasis, to the real contribution which that legislation, adapted and developed as it has been, has made to the happiness and welfare of a great many of our fellow countrymen.
There is another side to the picture which was touched upon by my hon. Friends the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). It is a fact that this scheme had, from the beginning, a built-in financial problem, which derived from the fact that from the beginning contributions were based on what would be actuarially necessary for someone entering the scheme at 16; whereas benefits, including pensions, were paid to people some of whom have never contributed at all under the scheme operated today, and others who have so contributed for a very short time.
That fact was contrary to the recommendations of Sir William Beveridge, as he then was, who recommended that the retirement pension—I speak from memory—at the rate of 24s. should not come into full payment for twenty years, that would have meant until 1968. In those circumstances, it was expected from the beginning that the scheme would go into deficit, and from the very beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's own Act provision was made for Exchequer assistance to the scheme over and above the statutory Exchequer contribution; and it is, therefore, a remarkable fact that it is only this year that the scheme has actually gone into deficit.
Of course, the other side of the medal is that the provisions, particularly in regard to pensions, are enormously valuable to the recipients. I gave the figures to the House the other day and I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I repeat them. A man aged 65 with a wife aged 60 who comes on pension today gets a pension of a capital value of no less than £2,650. If he comes on pension today, his contributions and those of his employer together towards that pension cannot exceed £210, and even in the case of a man retiring as far off as 1978 the total pension contribution of himself and his employer together will be no more than £970, that is, of course—
No, that is taking the contributions under the old scheme to the maximum possible, and that is why I expressed it as being that no person coming on pension at this time could have contributed more.
Thus, so far from accumulating an adequate fund, the scheme, having acquired a fund precisely one-tenth of the size necessary were it funded as a private scheme sometimes is, is now going into deficit. The formidable nature of the burden which that has placed on the community was brought out strikingly in the Report of the Government Actuary on this Session's Bill and I wish to read from paragraph 20 of the Report:
The capital value of pensions and other National Insurance benefits will be increased under the Bill by over £8,000 millions to about £42,000 million; of this total, £5,000 million's (an increase of about £1,000 millions) is in respect of pensions now in payment. These figures are a measure of the charge already undertaken by the community for National Insurance benefits, and any future improvement in benefit must add to this charge. The National Insurance and Reserve Funds now amount to about £1,500 millions and a further £23,000 millions of the capital liability for benefits will be met in due course from the contributions of insured persons and employers. The balance of £17,500 millions remains to be met by the Exchequer from taxation, £4,000 millions by supplements to conrtibutions and £13·500 millions by grants to meet the annual deficits.
It is against that financial background that the Committee has to consider this, if it wishes, as I am sure it does, to consider the matter in a responsible manner.
I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Llanelly said about the desirability of keeping this on a true contributory basis. I suggest that once these benefits become largely and predominantly financed out of taxation, it becomes increasingly difficult to pay them as of right, and without proof of need, to all sections of the community. I believe that that view is strongly held by the trade union movement. Therefore, it necessarily involves our facing the fact that the scheme has now gone into deficit, and in a few years' time the deficit will accumulate rapidly if the scheme stands as at present.
This year we have placed in the Estimates—it was necessarily no more than an estimate—the sum of £14 million, it may well need to be more, as being provision for the deficit over and above the Exchequer contribution of £125 million. Next year the deficit will certainly be over £50 million on the present basis and after that the figure rises at a considerable speed to £235 million in 1964–65 and £475 million in 1979–80.
It is against that background that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East comes forward and says that we ought to accumulate a very large fund. I would say to the hon. Gentleman, as I would say to the Committee, that the first call on the contributors in those circumstances is not the accumulation of the fund, but the mastery of the deficit.
Impressed though I was by the impressive tribute which the hon. Member for Coventry, East paid to the merits of private enterprise and the wisdom of the National Union of Mineworkers in investing its funds in a number of progressive private enterprise companies, I think that he must face the fact, as the Committee must, that to accumulate a fund by way of additional contributions, the contributions have to deal, first, with this emerging deficit, and if they are to serve also to amass a surplus, this would involve placing on contributors very heavy additional burdens indeed.
The hon. Member for Coventry, East said, "That does not matter; they will be graded; the lower-paid worker will not pay more; it will all be placed on the higher-paid worker." That, I understand, is a proposal which has been discussed in many quarters. I hope that the Committee will bear in mind how substantial that burden would have to be. Dealing with the deficit alone, if we dealt with it on that basis, would involve a quite considerable increase.
I understand that I cannot refer to an interesting work of fiction, which has been discussed earlier today, because, under rules of order, as it would involve legislation one cannot refer to it, at least not in detail; but it is certainly a fact that very heavy contributions indeed would have to be imposed on people under any such scheme earning no more than £15 a week. When the hon. Member for Coventry, East says, perhaps hopefully, that the appeal of wage related pensions may be very strong in the country, I wonder whether he has given sufficient weight to the lack of appeal which there would be for very substantial contributions of this kind. It is not the answer to say that they would fall only on the better paid worker.
The better paid worker already, under our graded system of taxation, bears a considerable burden, mitigated, it is true, under this Government, but still substantial, and to put on him the very heavy contribution which would be involved in the accumulation of a fund of anything like the size that the hon. Gentleman has in mind would require very serious thought.
Nor do I accept for a moment his view, and that which his right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East expressed in a letter in the Manchester Guardian about a week ago, that the creation of a fund of this kind would enable the economy to pay higher benefits because it would increase savings. I do not see why it is to be taken for granted that the creation of a compulsory fund financed by stiff contributions from the better paid would increase the net total of savings at all. It would certainly seriously affect—and here the hon. Member for Coventry, East was taken to task very brilliantly by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East—the existing private pension schemes which play a major part now in providing capital for investment.
It would reduce private savings quite substantially, and, in the absence of evidence, it is a really surprisingly naive economic assumption to assume that the imposition of compulsory savings of this kind would result in any substantial increase in net savings and investment. If that does not take place, that argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East, and the hon. Member for Coventry, East, that the community would be able to sustain the burden of these higher pensions, becoming ever higher, through the mysterious workings of something called "dynamism" falls to the ground, and then we come back to the point that this castle in the air is to be erected on the insubstantial foundation of an existing fund, with existing liabilities, running heavily into deficit.
Perhaps I may now refer to one or two other things that the hon. Member for Coventry, East said. I was sorry, I must say, that he used the name of a friend of many of us in this House, the late "Geordie" Buchanan, to cast a reflection on the officials of the old Ministry of Pensions. I do not believe that "Geordie" Buchanan would have agreed with that. [Interruption.] He may well, as many of us in this House do, have said in a light-hearted way something he did not expect to be repeated as a serious statement of view across the Floor of the House or of the Committee.
I must say, as one whose daily job it is to work with many officials of that old Ministry who are in my Department today, that it is not true, and I do not believe it is true, that, before Mr. Buchanan's coming there, they acted in a manner calculated to secure that only the smallest possible payments were made to the pensioners, as the hon. Member suggested. I must repudiate that. I thought that it was a most unhappy and unfortunate observation.
The hon. Gentleman also made an attack upon the private pension schemes—this "new feudalism" designed to tie people to their present employment. Some of the newer schemes—I do not want to mention names, as it would be invidious—do provide for vesting and preservation of rights. This directly repudiates the suggestion that they were designed to tie people to their work. I do not know whether this onslaught on the new feudalism applies also to those bodies that have been very prominent in this field—the nationalised industries, the local authorities and some of the most progressive businesses in the country—but the development of these schemes has been an extraordinarily healthy one.
Most of them have developed out of all recognition in recent years. I welcome that development. It has contributed to savings, it has contributed to good industrial relations, and it has contributed to the development of higher standards in old age for a considerable section of the population. I know the hon. Gentleman's point that everybody does not share in this development, but I should have thought that it was a peculiarly mean-spirited approach to grumble about something that helps a considerable number of people just because it does not help everyone.
I thought that the hon. Member for Coventry, East really was quite unfair when he described these as subsidised schemes because they enjoy the arrangements that they have enjoyed under successive Governments, varied from time to time, in respect of taxation. He said that they were subsidised to the extent of £100 million a year. Let us analyse that. First, let us take the employers' contributions. As I understand, those contributions count as an allowable expense for Income Tax in exactly the same way as do wages. Many of them are looked at, in some ways, as deferred wages. I have not heard it suggested that firms should be prevented from increasing wages because it enables them to pay less Income Tax, or that wages are, therefore, subsidised as a result.
Let us take the employee's contribution. It is true that in respect of some part of it, that relating to pensions and other long-term benefits, there is a tax concession, but the pensions themselves are taxable when they actually come to be paid, and although it is perfectly true that they may, therefore, at that time, be taxed at a lower rate—as a result of lower income—it is really not a very severe criticism of a scheme which, in this way, encourages most valuable saving; saving which, I would repeat, is of the very greatest value to the economy.
Therefore, I must say that I wholly disagree with the hon. Member for Coventry, East in his attack on these schemes. We welcome their growth and hope to see it go forward unchecked.
It is important to get this matter clear. I said that the schemes vary, some being absolutely first-rate with full transferability of pension rights. It is unjust that the Minister should say that this is an attack on some of the schemes. Secondly, I pointed out that if tax concessions are to be permitted to these schemes, it is high time that the Government should supervise them and ensure that their standards are the highest and not the lowest. Thirdly, I pointed out that in the case of local authority schemes and Civil Service schemes transferability has been achieved. I also pointed out that since it has been achieved in those schemes it could be extended elsewhere. If the Minister is to argue seriously, he should take the merits of the argument and not make cheap debating points.
I leave the Committee to judge, and, indeed, the hon. Member, when he has the agreeable task of reading his own observations in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. I leave him to judge whether that part of his speech was not a calculated attack on the private pension schemes. The reference to "new feudalism" could have no other context, and I am perfectly content to leave it there and to the hon. Gentleman himself to judge when he reads it in HANSARD.
I agree with something that he said—or about half of it—in relation to the original National Insurance scheme when he stated that no one foresaw inflation. I thought he was being a little unkind to his right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly. The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill, said:
The House will be aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has expressed the Government's intention to hold the cost of living at about 31 per cent. over the September, 1939, level."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1742.]
It will not, perhaps, add to the affection with which the hon. Member for Coventry, East is held in certain quarters that he should have recalled that unhappy thought to his right hon. Friend.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly made an interesting speech. He made the point—and I hope he will forgive me if I do not deal with it again—that the private occupational schemes were subsidised. He will, of course, appreciate that they are not subsidised, and I certainly did not understand him to take the line of his hon. Friend that there was anything particularly disagreeable about these schemes.
The right hon. Gentleman put forward the interesting idea that he has put forward previously about constant attendance allowance in connection with the long-term sick. The right hon. Gentleman himself realises how far that suggestion goes to import a provision of the Industrial Injuries scheme into National Insurance, thereby altering the relationship between the two schemes. It would in any event, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, inevitably be a very costly business.
I was right.
How many of these would qualify under the ordinary conditions of constant attendance allowance I cannot say, but it would be quite impossible, in respect of those people when they came up to retirement pension age if they were still in need of constant attendance, to withdraw the allowance. When we come to the higher age group who are drawing retirement pension we must allow for the fact that the numbers proportionately in the same category would, with the process of age, be larger. This would be a very substantial change and one affecting the relationship between the two schemes. It is, therefore, not one that I would like lightly to encourage, though of course, I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to it.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) gave a most vivid description of some of the problems and experiences connected with war pensions. But I thought he was far too modest when he attributed to me credit for the F.E.P.O.W. scheme when, as the Committee knows, he played the greatest possible part in that, and it is to him that the Far Eastern prisoners of war owe the fact that we were able to use the Japanese assets successfully. It is characteristic of my hon. and gallant Friend's modesty that he attributed to me a thing which stands eternally to his credit.