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The Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reply is most depressing, not because he has not, as always, applied his great humanity to the problem, but because he seeks to persuade the Committee that the principle which we on this side put forward is wrong. That is what depresses me. I shall not argue figures across the Floor of the Committee. I would have understood the hon. Gentleman had he sought to say that as a member of a responsible Government he cannot accept the figures quoted in the Amendment. I could even have accepted it had he said that he could not agree to any increment for financial reasons.
We are going through a continuing process. A few moments ago, for example, there was a loud gale of laughter from a number of hon. Members opposite, who had been conspicuous by their absence from our proceedings both today and on Monday, because we were talking about a continuing process. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland), who moved the Amendment so persuasively, has the right to be regarded on both sides as one of those who, sometimes out of step with his own leaders, has been progressively working at this problem over the years. If in Committee of the whole House hon. Members cannot on important Amendments such as this express progressive thought without being laughed at, we shall be a sterile place.
The greater number of those at present being assisted are of pensionable age or above. This is not a controversial fact. Of those who are above pensionable age a substantial proportion are of the age mentioned in the Amendment. This is recognised on both sides of the Committee. All that the Amendment seeks to do is to establish the principle that, as one further step in the continuing process to which both sides of the Corm- mittee are contributing, it should he recognised that age as such as of right in this context should be financially recognised.
I should have been perfectly prepared to have seen the Amendment withdrawn on purely financial grounds, because I am not prepared to argue figures. Medical science is enabling us to live much longer. The fact that we are living much longer brings with it social and other problems with which both sides of the Committee are only too familiar. It must surely be part of our continuing policy that this factor be recognised.
The proposition in the Amendment would be another step in that continuing social policy. Let it be said generously from this side of the Committee that we are discussing an interesting suggestion which is itself an extension of this policy, namely, a payment as of right after a period of years, which I say without any reservation is an interesting extension. This is a case when we could latch on to that the accepted fact of present-day life: advancing age, bringing with it social difficulties, social pressures and financial demands, could well be recognised by the State.
I found the somewhat limited reply which the Parliamentary Secretary made to this very warm Amendment one of the more depressing features of our discussions today.