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New Clause—(Relief For Pensioners In Respect Of Increase In Tobacco Duty)

Volume 439: debated on Wednesday 9 July 1947

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(i) The Treasury may by regulations provide—

  • (a) for mitigating, in the case of pensioners satisfying the conditions of the regulations (whether as to age, class of pension or otherwise), the effect of the increase in the retail price of tobacco occasioned by the duties imposed by this Act;
  • (b) for making up, out of sums received by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise on account of customs duties, the deficiency in the price received by persons supplying pensioners with tobacco in pursuance of the regulations.
  • (2) Regulations under this Section may contain incidental and supplementary provisions and may in particular provide—

  • (a) for preventing abuses of the provisions thereby made or of documents or tokens issued for the purposes thereof;
  • (b) for the issue of tokens through the Post Office, and for applying, with the necessary adaptations, as respects tokens all or any of the provisions (including penal provisions) of the Stamp Duties Management Act, 1891, Section nine of the Stamp Act, 1891, and Section sixty-five of the Post Office Act, 1908;
  • (c) without prejudice to the last preceding paragraph, for the imposition of penalties (including customs penalties) in respect of any contravention of or failure to comply with the regulations, so, however, that no person shall by virtue of this paragraph be punishable otherwise than on summary conviction or be liable for any offence to imprisonment for a term exceeding three months or to a fine exceeding one hundred pounds.
  • (3) Stamp duty shall not be chargeable on any receipt given to the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for money paid by virtue of paragraph (6) of Subsection (1) of this Section.

    (4) All regulations under this section shall be laid before the Commons House of Parliament immediately after they are made and if that House within the period of forty days beginning with the day on which any such regulations are laid before it resolves that the regulations be annulled they shall thereupon become void, without prejudice, however, to the validity of anything previously done thereunder or to the making of new regulations.

    In reckoning any such period of forty days as aforesaid no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which that House is adjourned for more than four days.

    (5) Notwithstanding anything in subsection (4) of Section one of the Rules Publication Act, 1893, regulations made under this section shall not be deemed to be statutory rules to which that section applies.

    (6) In this section the expression "pensioner" means a person to whom a pension has been awarded under the Old Age Pensions Act, 1936, the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1936, the National Insurance Act, 1946, or any corresponding enactment for the time being in force in Northern Ireland and the reference to the Stamp Duties Management Act, 1891, includes a reference to those portions thereof repealed (save as to Scotland) by the Forgery Act, 1913.

    (7) If any Act increasing the duties of customs on tobacco imported into the Isle of Man makes provision similar to the provision made by this section, regulations under this section may give effect to any arrangements made between the Treasury and the appropriate authority in the Isle of Man for coordinating any systems of relief established respectively under this section and under the said Act so as to secure that they operate, to such extent as may be provided by the arrangements, as a single system.

    (8) In the application of this section to Northern Ireland, any reference in paragraph (6) of subsection (2) thereof to any Act shall, so far as that Act continues in force in Northern Ireland, be taken as referring to it as it applies there.—[ Mr. Dalton.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    At last I am going to seek to make provision, with the consent of the House, for some old people to have a smoke. In consequence of the discussion which took place on the Second Reading of the Bill and before that, upon the Budget Resolution, I gave an undertaking to study whether we could devise some administrative arrangement to enable certain defined classes, particularly old age pensioners, to get a limited quantity of tobacco at pre-Budget prices. The arrangement would necessarily be of a novel kind because this attempt, in this form, has never been made before. The class of person must be clearly defined, if the arrangement is to be properly administered. I undertook to study that question and it has been studied. The matter has presented a good many complications of detail, but finally I am moving the new Clause on the Order Paper. I propose to speak about it in general terms. Hon. Members may well wish to raise points of detail on it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance, who has been very closely associated with me in preparing these arrangements—I am very grateful to him for his assistance—will be able to indicate in some detail the way in which the administrative arrangements for the groups of people concerned, with most of whom he is already dealing in another capacity, in regard to their pensions and so on, will work.

    I begin by repeating that this is a novel administrative arrangement. It is not to be regarded as a precedent. It is wholly exceptional. It is a response, I believe, to a widely felt desire, which was expressed in many parts of the Committee, that some special arrangement should be made for the benefit of the old people in this regard. It is not the kind of thing which we can give any undertaking to repeat in any other case or in regard to any other Tax. But in regard to the Tobacco Tax we have thought it right to put forward these proposals. It is also very necessary that the classes of persons to be benefited should be most clearly defined. As I have already found this afternoon and on previous occasions, whenever proposals are made to benefit any section of the people, the first reactions are proposals further to extend the groups to be included. I must warn the House that it will be necessary in this case, as in others, to resist proposals for extension. Otherwise the whole thing becomes both inconveniently large and administratively unworkable.

    Having said that by way of preliminary observation, let me go on to say that the intention of this Clause is to give the Treasury power to make regulations governing these matters. Although this is not in the Clause and although the regulations will have to be laid before Parliament and will be subject to discussion here, I think it will be convenient if I indicate at this stage some of the details which it is intended to embody in the regulations. It is intended to provide that old people, as defined in the regulations, will be entitled to obtain two ounces of tobacco a week, or an equivalent quantity of cigarettes, at prices as they prevailed before the increase made in the Finance Bill—at pre-Budget prices. That will be the proposal.

    In order to obtain the advantage of these arrangements, it will be necessary for the persons concerned to sign a declaration that they are habitual smokers. That is very necessary. As we all know, among the general body of old age pensioners—there is no sex discrimination but it is a well known fact— some of the old people do not smoke. That being so—and it is an understatement of what is commonly known—it would clearly be an abuse of our intention merely to furnish tobacco for people who do not smoke—the pensioner may be an old lady or an old gentleman who never has smoked—which would be smoked by persons other than the intended beneficiaries. It is required, therefore, that they shall sign a declaration and have it certified in the same way as claims for contributory pensions. That will be a necessary condition. I am taking it for granted that people will play the game over this and that it will not be turned into a racket, and in particular—it was desired that this should be done on behalf of the older people— that the younger people will honestly recognise that these "smokes" are not for them. They are for the old people. There will be penalties for trafficking in this way.

    I ought to explain that the administrative advice following the declaration will be that the person who signs the necessary declaration will then be entitled to claim a number of tokens, which will be exchangeable at the tobacconist's shop for tobacco at the lower price which, in due course, will be recovered, by the tobacconist, by presenting the tokens to the Revenue authorities. That side of the administration is not difficult, but we hope to make sure that the whole matter will be done in the right atmosphere. If this is subject to grave abuses, the whole thing will have to be reconsidered. It is all experimental and it must be dependent on a general level of honesty and straight dealing. If it should be widely abused, then I must reserve the right to withdraw any concessions herein made, though it is my hope and belief that people will play the game, and that it will not be necessary.

    With regard to the cost involved in this, the estimate must depend upon what proportion of the persons entitled, make the claim. Roughly speaking, I would estimate that in a full year I shall lose through this a net cost to the Revenue of between £3 million and £4million, and in this current financial year it will be approximately half that amount.

    Can the Chancellor give any indication as to when the regulations are likely to be made? Will the benefits start immediately?

    I will deal with that point before I sit down. The greater detail I will leave to my right hon. Friend, but I want to lay down the principle that these benefits are not designed for people who are still earning wages; they are designed for the old age pensioner who is now beyond the wage-earning age. Therefore persons who have not retired from work will not be eligible under this scheme, nor will other groups of people, with whom we feel considerable sympathy but who could not be included within this scheme without extending the thing unduly.

    The key to the administration of this scheme is the Post Office, and the identification of the persons concerned will be made through familar books, such as pension books and the like, presented at post offices. With regard to the date when we can bring the scheme into operation, that is dependent upon various factors. I would like not to delay if the House accepts the Clause and it is embodied in the Finance Bill. We shall go ahead with the completion of all the necessary formalities, and considerable steps have already been taken by way of preparation. Although I cannot give a fixed date, I can certainly say there will be no delay beyond what is necessary for the printing of forms and other arrangements. The sooner we can get it into operation the happier indeed shall I be.

    This is, as I have said, an experiment and I hope we shall find that it works well. It is my hope and strong desire that it shall be found to work well, because I believe that this proposal is a response to wishes widely expressed throughout many sections of the community. Indeed, when I was first dealing with this matter, not only did hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House press for something of this kind to be done but the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) also added his claim to the claims made in other parts of the Committee. This, therefore, is the measure of the cost of the scheme to the Exchequer, that we shall have to pay in a full year about £3 million to £4million, or, rather that we shall get less Revenue to that extent, and we believe there will be benefits to a substantial number of old age pensioners. The details I will not develop now but such is the intention lying behind this Clause.

    May I just finish, and then I shall be happy to give way. I hope we may get this without unduly prolonged Debate. I think the general purpose is one which will be widely acceptable throughout the House, the regulations will be published and laid in due course, and comment can be made upon them. I am anxious to get this thing working. I have sought with my advisers to get a workable scheme. At one stage we were very much impressed, as it was inevitable we should be, by the difficulties and complexities of the matter, but I think we shall find means of overcoming them.

    10.0 p.m.

    My question is this. In making this concession to the old age pensioners, the right hon. Gentleman is throwing an additional burden on the Post Office. I happen to be on the Advisory Council of the Post Office, and I am anxious that as far as possible people administering postal services shall be treated fairly. Will any consideration be given to the postal servants throughout the country on whom this extra burden is put?

    This matter has been discussed, and my right hon. Friend has been in consultation with the Postmaster-General on it. We will do everything possible to see that no further burdens are placed on the staffs. But this illustrates the point, which has often been made, that when this House takes decisions involving new administrative work, it is inevitable that some addition to staff may be needed. This is a case where it may be necessary to increase the staff, although I hope only to a very small extent.

    We are very willing, of course, that this Clause should be read a Second time. We recognise that this is not the appropriate moment to go into all the details, because this is only am enabling Clause, and therefore, should it be necessary, we can discuss the details when the regulations are laid. The whole procedure outlined here is something entirely novel, and for that reason it is worth the House pausing for a moment. The right hon. Gentleman has quite clearly said that this is not to be taken as a precedent for anything else. On first hazarding a guess, it is very difficult to see how that could be done, because it would be very difficult to work in other highly taxed commodities.

    I am not suggesting alcoholic liquors; the right hon. Gentleman does that.' But this is something entirely new, and it has been the subject of discussion throughout Debates since the Budget was opened. I think there will be difficulties and the right hon. Gentleman realises that. I am glad that he has taken the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) that this will put a burden on the Post Office. That is a serious matter in view of the already congested nature of the business at Post Office counters today. This is a different section of the staff from that whose problems we were debating last week on the Post Office Estimates. Then it was a matter of postmen and distribution. Here we are concerned with another lot of people who will be engaged in the handling of tokens, if they are to be handled through the Post Office. That may not be the case; we will wait and see.

    There is a question about which there must be considerable care. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he is going to limit this to people who actually smoke, and there are not only to be sanctions against trafficking in tokens—I do not know why "tokens" has come in as a new word, and why they could not be called coupons—but they are to be-limited to those who smoke habitually. A declaration has to be made that the old man or woman have smoked habitually. What does "habitually" mean? In this connection it may be a matter of some considerable importance, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us about it some time.

    There is another matter of very considerable importance which we should get right this very moment; otherwise it may cause disappointment. As I understood the Chancellor, this concession is to be made to pensioners and pensioners only, and not to what are loosely called old people; that they are to be those who have definitely retired, that age has nothing to do with it, that they are those who are within the general ambit of the Pensions Acts, which are now different from what they were, that they have definitely retired. If I am right, it is important that he and other Ministers who are concerned should make this abundantly clear, otherwise there may well be disappointment.

    I agree that the Chancellor could not have made it any clearer today, but I notice that the clarity of Government pronouncements is in inverse ratio to the distance at which they are made from the Front Bench. Government statements may be clear, but by the time some of their supporters outside rehash them they are anything but lucid. If it is quite clear, as the Chancellor has said, that it is not a question of being old, but of being retired and a pensioner which is the test to be applied, it is better that it should always be made perfectly clear; otherwise many people will be disappointed. I am merely asked what the Chancellor said he made perfectly clear from the beginning. We are very pleased, at any rate, that in this matter he has listened to the advice he received on this subject from all quarters of the House.

    There have been many rumours about the concession to be made to old age pensioners. Now, in the morning, old age pensioners will be able to read that the Chancellor has at last announced that he is to let them have some tobacco and cigarettes at pre-Budget prices. I hope that the Chancellor will try some time to get this concession into operation as quickly as possible. For a number of weeks these old age pensioners have been suffering because of the money they have had to spend to buy cigarettes and tobacco at the new prices.

    A point which has been raised by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) has also flashed through my mind. There are a number of people in this country who are not contributory pensioners and who are not entitled to a non-contributory pension, who receive a small sum of money or have a small banking account; they have not much more income than they would have had were they receiving a non-contributory pension—a matter of a couple of shillings a week takes them out of the non-contri- butory pension class. They are old people and will feel the burden quite as much as the old age pensioner. I do not want to develop my argument, but no doubt the Chancellor will look into that matter—at least I hope he will—of the people who are just outside the scope of the non-contributory pension. By way of illustration, they may be getting an income of £3 a week, whereas they would be getting 42s. if they were contributory pensioners. I hope that the Chancellor will take into consideration these old people, who are not receiving either a contributory or non-contributory pension.

    I think any observations one would wish to make would be more suitably offered when the regulations are laid before the House. I would ask whoever is to reply to this Debate to say whether it might not be possible to have those regulations brought before the House in such a way that not only are they capable of annulment by the House but are also capable of amendment, because in matters of this kind this House can really assist his Majesty's Government in framing the regulations in a way which will bear happily and to the advantage of the people whom the Chancellor desires to help.

    As I listened to the Chancellor developing his remarks I felt that while he had honoured his pledge to examine the matter in response to pleas from all quarters of the House, we were introducing the greatest possible discrimination amongst the old people. I thought that it was the desire of the House that all old people should participate. Now apparently there is to be some discrimination. The concession is not to be granted merely to persons drawing pensions. That is not the only limitation. In addition, they must sign a declaration that they are habitual smokers and must have ceased work to qualify. That is something far less generous than the House desired. Therefore, I ask the Minister of National Insurance whether he can give an assurance that the regulations will be brought forward in such a way that they may be capable of amendment by the House.

    I think the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) have raised a point of very con- siderable substance in regard to exactly how this concession is to operate. I hope that the Chancellor will pay due regard to what they have said. At the same time, I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House are universally pleased to see this new Clause on the Order Paper. To my mind, it is not so much worthy of remark that this burden is now being lifted from the backs of the old age pensioners as that it was ever imposed. It seems to me a most astonishing thing that these difficulties were not foreseen before the tobacco tax was increased at Budget time. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Insurance has now taken charge of this Debate. We have been told that he was consulted at all stages when these concessions were being arranged. I would like to ask him whether he was consulted before the tax was imposed. I cannot imagine the right hon. Gentleman acquiescing in this very ham-fisted arrangement which was introduced in April.

    It has taken three months to reach this stage. During the whole of that time the old age pensioners have been paying the increased tobacco tax. It is extraordinary that this cart before the horse procedure—if I may be allowed to use the phrase which I used on a previous occasion—is being employed in this regard. I am reminded of an epitaph in a churchyard on the tombstone of a three months' old baby. It ran something like this:
    If I was so soon to be done for, I wonder what I was begun for"
    I think that that applies to this tobacco tax placed upon the old age pensioners. I would like to ask the Minister of National Insurance whether he was consulted on this matter before the Budget was introduced. Once again the Government have had to retreat. Once again an alteration has had to be made. For my part, I am quite confident that the old age pensioner will play the game in this matter. After all, as many hon. Members will recall, we had a very similar arrangement during the war by which Service men were able to obtain cigarettes at pre-1941 Budget prices. Is it suggested that that was generally abused by the Service men? It is no good muttering about it. Is that suggested by hon. Members opposite? At least, it is not suggested, I see, on the Front Bench where the responsible gentlemen sit.

    10.15 p.m.

    Then there may have been, and probably were, certain cases where that privilege was abused. There will probably be certain cases where this may be abused by the old age pensioners, but I am saying that, by and large, this concession will be respected in the same way as was the Services concession. [Interruption.]Well, if it is really to go out from this House that those who fought and won the war did that sort of thing, let it go out, but I am not one of those who take that view.

    There is a lesson to be drawn from this. This is a victory for the private Member of the House of Commons, for private Members who sit on all benches in this House. It is an example of what can be done by Debate in this House, and it arises from a Debate which took place on the Report stage of the Budget Resolutions, which the Government are proposing to eliminate next year. I hope they will be wise enough to draw the moral from it that the Report stage of the Budget Resolutions does bring to light this sort of anomaly, and that, if it had not been done, we should not have got this concession now but might have had to wait another month or so. I am glad that it has been done, and that the Government have made yet another retreat from another foolish piece of legislation.

    The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and I put down an Amendment calling attention to the position of blind persons—

    I must interrupt the hon. Gentleman straight away to say that I was not proposing to call that Amendment, because I understood that the point was already covered in the Bill.

    All I can say is that I consulted the draftsmen this morning about that Amendment, and I was not intending to call it, because I understand that those people are already covered.

    May I ask your guidance on one point, Mr. Speaker? There is an Amendment on the Order Paper in my name to include ex-Service men and women in hospitals who are in receipt of disability pensions. May I ask you if it would be in Order for me to speak on this topic in the general Debate, and perhaps, if you were to call the Amendment later on, it might be moved formally without a speech?

    I might suggest that it would be in Order to discuss it, if it was going to be called. The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) has an Amendment on the Order Paper, and I thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman might speak on that Amendment, and, if necessary, I will call it for decision afterwards.

    I would like to ask the Minister if he would tell us, in regard to this figure of three million, which is the Chancellor's figure, what calculation concerning the number of smokers among the old aged pensioners he has made, and what is the basis of that calculation, since he must have had some figure in mind. If it is calculated upon a small basis, then the figure of three million is unlikely to carry out the wishes of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We may find that, if the proportion upon which the figure is calculated is small, a number of people will be disappointed. I would like to reinforce the plea which has been made on behalf of all old people, whether pensioners or not. There are old people not in receipt of pensions who need a concession of this nature, and who can ill afford to pay in the same way as old people who are drawing pensions. I support the plea that the Minister should give full and sympathetic consideration to all old people who are now faced with the increased duty, so that we shall not make fish of one and flesh of another.

    There are a number of people chargeable to local authorities, and, in my view, the word "pensioner" would exclude them from the benefits provided by this new Clause, notwithstanding that the scales laid down by many local authorities bear comparison with the amount received by old age pensioners. I know from considerable experience that the allowance such people are granted is no greater than the allowance given to old age pensioners. But under this scheme they would be excluded. In the City of Glasgow there are many people who were in a small way of business, and who, at an appropriate age, and when they could not carry on any longer, gave up their business, and finally found themselves on what used to be called "the parish," and is now known as the Welfare Department. I ask the Minister not to have the word "pensioner" too rigidly applied. I do not think that a case can be made out for bringing in all people of a certain age, because that would destroy the purpose of these provisions; but I do think that if people are chargeable to the local authorities and are receiving a weekly allowance which is, very largely, on a par with the allowance paid to old age pensioners by the national Exchequer, they are on all fours with such old age pensioners with regard to income. I would like that point to be taken into account when regulations are being made, so that local people can be included along with the national pensioners.

    I would like to say at once how grateful I am to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the concession he has made. I agree with the hon. Member lot Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) that there are other categories of people in this country to whom consideration should be extended in regard to the concession being made under this new Clause. I am particularly happy that this concession has been made, because it affects a great number of people who have been very unhappy for many weeks past because they could not get their smokes as before. Knowing the quality and character of the Minister of National Insurance, I am confident that this new phase in our social policy will be administered to the benefit of all concerned, and, if it all possible, to the benefit of those old people who are at present excluded from this concession.

    In the discussion on the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised that he would, with his colleagues, look to see whether it was possible to devise some scheme by which old age pensioners—to use the general term which I believe was used in our discussion—who are dependent upon their pensions, could be relieved of this taxation. I have done my best, with him and with our advisers, and we have worked very hard indeed to try to find ways and means of making a concession. We aimed at a system of administration that would, first of all, be simple. Hon. Members will appreciate that unless such a system is simple, it will take a long time to put it into operation. Secondly, we had to devise a system with safeguards against abuse.

    We have worked out a system which we think is reasonably simple, which can be brought into operation in a reasonably short time, and which, in the main, is fair to everybody concerned. We considered several alternative methods and instruments through which this new concession could be administered. Finally, we came to the conclusion that the Post Office was the best instrument to be used. I am indeed very conscious of the point made by the hon. Member opposite concerning the burden carried by the Post Office. May I take this opportunity of saying that the people of this country owe a deep debt of gratitude to this great national institution for the services it renders. The main burden of the concession will fall on the Post Office.

    As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has explained, the precise categories of the pensioners to benefit will be defined in regulations, and there will therefore be an opportunity of discussing the matter again. However, I think I ought to say now that it is intended that the concession shall apply, first, to all non-contributory pensioners, including blind pensioners from 40 years of age. The non-contributory pensioners come first, and if they are blind they qualify at 40 years of age; the others qualify at 70 years of age. Therefore, if a person has qualified for a non-contributory pension he or she will be entitled to this concession. Hon. Members in all parts of the House know that when we introduced the increased contributory pensions last October we also increased the non-contributory pensions to the new maximum. We shall therefore bring within the concession all the non-contributory pensioners over 70, upon whom this tax would bear hardest.

    Will this apply to old Army pensioners, because I understand there are a considerable num- ber of old Army pensioners who are in this difficulty?

    At present I am explaining which classes will qualify. First of all, the non-contributory pensioner who gets a pension on a book which is easily identifiable. Everybody getting a non-contributory pension qualifies. Secondly, there are contributory pensioners, who are paid pensions at 65 and over in the case of men, and at 60 and over in the case of women. This concession will also be made to them at those ages, subject to retirement. We have our own test of retirement under the new scheme of insurance. Men of 65 and women of 60 who retire are entitled to a pension at the increased rate. Therefore, men between 65 and 70, and women between 60 and 65, will qualify if they have retired within the meaning of the National Insurance Act, and have qualified for the increased pension. Let me say a few words about that aspect. The National Insurance Act lays it down that the increased pension is only payable to men between 65 and 70, and to women between 60 and 65 if they retire. But when a man reaches 70 years of age and when a woman reaches 65 years of age the increased pension is payable without satisfaction of the retirement condition, because at those ages they are deemed to have retired. The concession will be made, therefore, to those who have retired within the meaning of the National Insurance Act, as well as to all non-contributory pensioners, including blind pensioners at 40 years of age.

    Does "retirement" mean that the person entitled to a pension has no earning capacity?

    No. I think it is known perfectly well that "retirement" is defined in the National Insurance Act. When the Department are satisfied that a pensioner has retired, a pension at the increased rate is awarded. That will be the simple test adopted for this purpose.

    I think what is troubling some hon. Members is that the retirement test under the Act is not a test of full retirement.

    That is to say, old people still enjoy a pension if they work part of the time, provided their earned income falls below a certain figure. Those people will still be pensionable.

    There is a provision by which people who have retired and who qualify for the increased pension, can work part-time and earn up to a certain amount. It is estimated that the number of persons to whom the relief will be available if they are users of tobacco will be about 3,750,000 at the commencement of the scheme, then every week thereafter—and this is a problem with which I am dealing—some 10,000 new pensioners will qualify for relief. That means that we begin with 3,750,000, and about 10,000 pensioners become newly qualified each week.

    Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not mean "qualified"? He means "within the field of possible smokers," because the test is whether the person is an habitual smoker.

    10.30 p.m.

    First of all, I have described the number of people who would be entitled to apply for the concession if they qualify in other ways. The number of pensioners in the field will be 3,750,000 when the scheme commences, and each week there will be 10,000 persons, who, as they become pensioners within the meaning of the Act, will qualify for the concession. This, of course, is a very big administrative job and, as I have said, we have done our best to find a simple method of doing it.

    Let me describe exactly what the pensioner will have to do. The pensioner will first get a form of application at the Post Office on which to declare that he or she is an old age or widow pensioner in the class entitled to the relief, and that he or she is a habitual user of tobacco or snuff. In addition to declaring that they are habitual users of tobacco or snuff, they will also make a declaration that they will use the tokens for the purchase of tobacco or snuff for their own personal use. The application form will have to be certified by an authorised person to whom the pensioner is known who will vouch for the accuracy of the declaration. When the form is completed, the pensioner will take it back to the Post Office with his current pension book which will be inspected by the counter clerk, and, if the application is in order, a book of 48 dated tokens will be supplied. Each token will be valid for three months from the date stamped upon it, but will not be available for use before the date. Where, in a case of infirmity, an agent appears on behalf of the pensioner, the agent will be able to obtain the book of tokens on the pensioner's behalf on presentation of the completed form and the pensioner's order book.

    May I here deal with the class of person mentioned by the hon. Member for Bridge-ton (Mr. Carmichael)? They are a class with which I am particularly concerned. For the pensioners who are in institutions special arrangements will have to be made, and those are now under consideration by the Minister of Health. There are also the persons who become eligible after the scheme is in operation. For them a slightly different arrangement will be applied. The books will contain tokens dated from the start of the scheme, and some of these tokens will have to be taken out as new pensioners become eligible for the relief at a later date. The Post Office did not feel —and we quite appreciate their point of view—that they could be responsible for this particular job which will be handled centrally from a central point. The book of tokens will contain all the necessary instructions, but it might not be out of place if I tell the House now how they will be used. Each token has a cash value of 2S. and all the pensioner will have to do is to present his token when purchasing tobacco or snuff from a licensed dealer and the cost to him will be reduced by the value of the token.

    The size of the field to be covered is a very big one. These things look very simple, but it is an immense field and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that we cannot give any specific date when the scheme will come into operation; but we are working very hard on it and we have done our best to find a simple administration to cover it in the best way. I hope that the House will agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I and all concerned have made a real effort to find a workable scheme.

    I am sure the House would like it to be said that, having heard this explanation, we thank the Government for having made this concession and for having presented it in a workman-like way. We hope that it will become operative as quickly as possible, and I am sure that we all would like to say how much we appreciate it.

    I want to put a question to the Minister. The Minister may be aware that I made some suggestions in connection with this scheme. The question I wish to raise is about the position of those between 65 and 70 years of age who are not in the contributory scheme, and who are dependent upon welfare or on parish relief. Is it not possible for the local authorities to give the concession for old age pensioners to those who are dependent upon welfare or parish relief?

    That particular group of pensioners who are in institutions are a special problem, and will be until such time as we bring the new insurance scheme into operation. In the meantime, the Minister of Health is giving consideration as to how they can be brought in.

    I think the right hon. Gentleman is missing the point. There are two classes under the protection of the local authority—there are those who are in institutions, and those who are living in their own homes but are unable to draw pension because they are not contributors and have not reached the age of 70. They are on the roll, and they draw their money weekly, or, as the scheme may be according to the district. They draw their money regularly from the local authority. Their position is precisely the same as that of the old age pensioner, but they get their cash from the local authority instead of from the Post Office. I am not suggesting that I have any idea on how they should be incorporated into the scheme, but I feel that they should be considered for incorporation in the scheme. otherwise they are being penalised.

    I would like to reinforce the point put by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). That was, that there should be some sort of definition of "habitual." That must be made clear. Suppose I am an old age pensioner: I honestly do not know whether I am a habitual smoker or not. I may buy a packet of cigarettes once in three weeks when I am entertaining guests, and I may myself smoke one or two. I do not know whether I could consider myself a habitual smoker. I do not think we want to have any risk of people getting into trouble and being accused of making false claims through this. We must have some sort of idea what is meant by the word "habitual."

    My own view is that it would be futile to try to define "habitual." I think those who smoke regularly could be described as habitual smokers. They can make application and their applications will be signed by an authorised person. I think it is far better to leave it in that way.

    The hon. Member has already exhausted the right to speak. He has spoken once and he cannot speak twice.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time.

    I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in line 42, after"1936,"to insert:

    "including persons excepted under paragraph (e)of subsection (1) of section twelve of that Act."
    I think that in this I will have the support of many other hon. Members who represent London constituencies. The effect of this Amendment will be to add to the 3¼ million and the 10,000 a week who will become eligible under the Clause as it stands, roughly about 1,200 pensioners who are covered by a special scheme which obtains in the South Metropolitan Gas Company. The employees of this company have been excepted from the operation of the 1936 Act by virtue of certificates given by the Minister of Health under paragraph (e)of Subsection (1) of Section 12 of that Act. I am asking my right hon. Friend to enlarge the definition of "pensioner" so as that it will include these 1,200 pensioners. The condition of exception was that provision was made by means of a superannuation fund approved by the Minister to secure to them benefits no less favourable than those provided in the 1936 Act. The employees concerned are also excepted from the operations of the National Health and Unemployment Insurance Acts. The scheme is covered by the Statutory Undertakers (Total Exception) Regulations, 1939. It is the only one to which these regulations apply. That fact is borne out by the explanatory note which appears in the amendment to these Regulations which was promulgated in the Statutory Rule and Order 2224 of 1946.

    The superannuation allowances under the company's scheme are substantially higher than the old age pension of 10s. a week payable by the State up to October, 1946. The employees of this company receive a pension for 41 years' service in the lower grade of 42s. 6d. per week for a man and 10s. for his wife. However, if the thing is analysed—and I believe my right hon. Friend. has been provided with all the relevant information on this matter and he has had the opportunity of discussing the matter with me which will reduce my remarks to a great extent than would otherwise be the case—it will be found that out of the 1,208 pensioners covered by the special provisions of the South Metropolitan Gas Company, nearly 800 are entitled to pensions less than are being drawn by contributory or non-contributory pensioners as defined under the Act.

    The Company's pensioners have not been allowed to share in the assistance given to other pensioners out of general taxation, though they themselves are taxpayers, in the following respects—they are not entitled to claim supplementary pensions through the Assistance Board under the Old Age and Widows Pensions Act, 1940, though strong representations were made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Bill was before Parliament. In October, 1946, the State pensions were increased from 10s. to 26s. a week though these pensioners had paid nothing whatever towards the cost of the increase. Again our pensioners were excluded from this scheme. It is now proposed to exclude our pensioners from the concession of obtaining tobacco at pre-Budget prices. I hope it will be possible for my right hon. Friend to find it possible to accept this Amendment which, as I have said, cannot have any effect other than to add 1,200 pensioners to the existing three and a quarter million pensioners.

    Perhaps I may, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and for the convenience of the House move the Amendment standing in my name.

    10.45 p.m.

    The Amendment will be moved later, and when I move it, it will be in the following terms: in line 43, after "1946," insert:

    "and ex-service men and women in hospital who are in receipt of a disability pension."
    Since the Tobacco Duty was raised I have had a great many letters on the subject, as I am sure have other hon. Members. These letters have been mostly from ladies who have never written to me before. These ladies represent the various associations which since 1918 have been calling every week at the various hospitals and sanitoria all over the country to supply cigarettes and other amenities to the disabled ex-Service men and women in hospitals. They have done this labour of love over some thirty years, and they have only written to me, their M.P., since this Tobacco Duty was raised. It would be very difficult indeed for them to continue to provide these cheap cigarettes, which are all supplied by charitable contributions, to these men and women in the hospitals. The disabled ex-Service man in hospital who has been lying there, it may be 30 years or so, will not, when he reaches the age of 65 or 70, get any increase. He will not be in receipt of an old age pension, whereas other people who have been more fortunate all this time in having the full use of their limbs will have the advantage of cheaper tobacco. These ex-Service men and women of the same age, will not have that same relief

    Among the letters I have received was one which complimented the Minister of Fuel and Power. It is very rare indeed to get any compliments written to an M.P. for the Minister of Fuel and Power, but my right hon. Friend did supply coupons for petrol to take these disabled ex-Service men and women for drives to get them out of the hospitals for a change. These associations exist all over the country in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland such as the Not For-gotten Associations, and women's branches of the British Legion.

    I have looked up the number of 100 per cent. disabled ex-Service men and women. There were two Questions put down on that subject on 28th and 30th April of this year, and the number of these unfortunate men and women was given as 50,000. Not all of them are in hospital, I admit, but I think as a rough idea we might take the number as 50,000. If you made these people an allowance of, say, £2 or £3 it will come to £100,000 or £150,000. It is always well to over-estimate in these cases. At any rate, at the very most, it would be a quarter of a million against the £3⅔millions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned as the relief for the old age pensioner. It is a debt of honour this House owes to these people who have spent their lives in pain and misery. Tobacco is really the only alleviation and solace they have.

    When the Minister replies, I hope he will make it clear that these disabled ex-Service men and women in hospital, when they reach the age of 65 or 70, will receive equal benefits with their brothers and sisters who have the full use of their limbs. I would suggest that the token could be signed for by the registrar in charge of the hospital, and I am quite sure that those honourable men who administer these hospitals could be trusted. There would not be more than 100 all over the country and the money and the tobacco would be safe in their hands. I commend my Amendment to the consideration of the Minister.

    The Chancellor has asked me to say a word about this Amendment. I know about the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton). As from 5th July, 1948, this permission for people to contract out of the insurance scheme will come to an end. It is a pity it was ever begun, but people did contract out of the scheme and when people do that they have to accept the consequences of contracting out. The difficulty is that this is not a particular case. There are large numbers of other people who claimed exemption from the old scheme because they had other schemes that worked better. I looked at this administratively with the Chancellor. It is true that there is the case of the South Metropolitan Company, but there are tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of workers, in separate industries who have claimed exemption. Who is to decide between them? Similarly with the other classes—the disabled and injured in hospital wards and in industries. As I understand it, we have to look for a scheme that can be brought into operation quickly and one which covers an easily defined class. The pensioners are one. Quite frankly, although we have sympathy with this point, if we are to get a scheme that is to be administratively simple and reasonably practical we do not think we can go beyond what we have said.

    Amendment negatived.

    Division No. 307.]


    [10.53 p.m

    Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Grimston, R. V.O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.
    Amory, D. HeathcoatHannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Orr-Ewing, R L.
    Assheton, Rt. Hon. RHarvey, Air-Cmdre. A. VOsborne, C
    Astor, Hon. M.Haughton, S. G.Peake, Rt. Hon O
    Barlow, Sir J.Haadlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
    Beechman, N. AHenderson, John (Cathcart)Rayner, Brig. R.
    Bennett, Sir P.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountReed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
    Birch, NigelHogg, Hon. Q.Roberta, Emrys (Merioneth)
    Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Hollis, M. C.Roberts, H. (Handsworth)
    Bossom, A. C.Howard, Hon. A.Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland
    Boyd-Carpenter, J. A,Hurd, A.Ropner, Col. L.
    Braithwaite, Lt-Comdr. J. G.Hutchison, Lt.-Cm, Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Ross Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
    Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col WHutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Sanderson, Sir F
    Buchan-Hepburn, P. G T-Jeffreys, General Sir G.Scott, Lord W.
    Mellor, Sir J.Jennings, R.Shephard, S. (Newark)
    Clarke, Col. R. SKeeling, E. HSmiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W
    Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. GLambert, Hon G.Snaddon, W. M.
    Cooper-Key, E. M.Lancaster, Col. C. G.Spearman, A. C. M
    Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. CLegge-Bourke, Maj. E. A HStanley, Rt. Hon O.
    Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Linstead, H. NStoddart-Scott, Col. M.
    Crowder, Capt. John E.Lipson, D. LStrauss, H. G (English Universities)
    Cuthbert, W. N.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Studholnw, H. G.
    Davidson, ViscountessLuoas. Major Sir J.Taylor, Vice- Adm E A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
    Davies, Clement (Montgomery)Lucas-Tooth, Sir H-Teeling, William
    De la Bere, R.Macdonald, Sir P (I. of Wight)Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
    Digby, S. WMackeson. Brig. H R.Ihornton-Kemsley, C N
    Dodds-Parker, A. 0MacLeod, JThorp, Lt.-Col. R. A F.
    Drayson, G. BMacmillan, Rt Hon. Harold (Bromley)Vane, W M F
    Drewe, C.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Wadsworth, Q
    Dugdale, Maj. Sir L (Richmond)Manningham-Buller, R. EWakefield, Sir W. W
    Eccles, D. M.Marsden, Capt. AWalker-Smith, D.
    Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walte:Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)Wheatley, Colonel M. d
    Fielcher, W. (Bury)Maude, J. C.White, Sir D. (Fareham)
    Fraser, H. C P. (Stone)Butcher, H. W.While, J. B. (Canterbury)
    Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. MMolson, A. H. E.Williams, C. (Torquay)
    Gage, C.Morrison, Maj. J. G (Salisbury)Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U.
    Gammans, L. D.Mott-Radolyffe, C. EWilloughby do Eresby Lord
    George, Lady M. Lady M. (Anglesey)Neven-Spence, Sir B.York, C
    Gomme-Duncan, Col. A,Nield, B. (Chester)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Gridley, Sir A.Noble, Comdr. A H PMajor Conant and Major Ramsay


    Adams, W T (Hammersmith, South)Brook, D. (Halifax)Davies, Edward (Burslem)
    Allen, A. C (Bosworth)Brown, George (Belper)Davies, Ernest (Enfield)
    Allen, Scholefteld (Crewe)Brown, T. J. (Ince)Davies, Harold {Leek)
    Attewell, H. C.Bruce, Major D. W. TDavies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)
    Awbery, S. SBuchanan, G.Davies, R. J (Westhoughton)
    Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Burke, W. A.Davies, S 0. (Merthyr)
    Balfour, A.Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Deer, G.
    Barstow, P. GCaliaghan, Jamesde Freitas, Geoffrey
    Barton, CCaimichael, JamesDelargy, H. J.
    Bechervaise, A. E.Champion, A. JDiamond, J.
    Benson, G.Coldrick, W.Dodds, N N
    Berry, H.Collindridge, F.Donovan, T.
    Beswiek, F.Colman, Miss G. MOriberg, T. E. N.
    Bing, G. H. CComyns. Dr. L.Dugdale, J. (W Bromwich)
    Binns, JCorbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W)Ede, Rt. Hon. J C.
    Blenkinsop, ACorlett, Dr. J.Evans, John (Ogmore)
    Bowden. Flg.-Offr. H. W.Corvedale, Viscou.1tEvans, S. N (Wednesbury)
    Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Crawley, AEwart, R
    Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)Daggar, G.Fairhurst, F.
    Braddock, T (Milcham)Daines, PFarthing, W J
    Bramall, E. A.Dalton, Rt. Hon. HFletcher, E. G M (Islington, E.)

    I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in line 43, after"1946,"to insert:

    "and ex-service men and women in hospital who are in receipt of a disabilty pension."

    Question put: "That those words be there inserted."

    The House divided: Ayes, 118; Noes, 205.

    Foot, M. MMcAllister, GSilverman, J. (Erdinglon)
    rorman, J, C.McGheo, H, GSilverman, S. S. (Nelson)
    Fraser, T. (HamiltonMack, J. D.Simmons, C. J.
    Gaitskell, H T NMcKay, J. (Wallsend)Skefnngton, A. M
    Gibfeins, J.McKinlay, A. S.Smith, C. (Colchester)
    Gilzean, AMaclean, N. (Govan)Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W)
    Glanville. J (Consent)McLeavy, FSnow, Capt. J. W
    Gooch, E. GMallalieu, J. P W.Solley, L. J
    Gordon-Walker, P. CMann, Mrs. J.Soskice, Maj. Sir F
    Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A (Wakefield)Manning, C. (Camberweil, N.)Sparks, J. A
    Crey, C. F.Manning, Mrs. L (Epping)Steele, T.
    Grierson, EMarquand, H AStrauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N)
    Griffiths, Rl. Hon. J (Llaneliy)Mathers, G.Stubbs, A. E.
    Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)Medland, 'H MSylvester G. O
    Gunler, R. JMiddleton, Mrs. L.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
    Guy, W. HMillrngton Wing-Comdr E RTaylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
    Hale, LeslieMoody, A, S.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
    Hall, W G.Morley, R.Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
    Hamilton, L.ieut.-Col. RMorris, P. (Swansea, W.)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
    Hardy, E AMori, D. L.Thomas, George (Cardiff)
    Harrison, J.Moyle, AThorneycroM, Harry (Clayton)
    Hastings, Dr SomervilleNally, W.Tiffany, S
    Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Nicholls, H. R (Stratford)Tolley, L
    Hohnan, P.Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
    Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Orbaoh, M.Wallace, H W. (Walthamstow, E)
    Hoy, J.Palmer, A. M FWatkins, T. E
    Hi'bbard, TParkin, B. TWatson, W. M
    Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Pearson, AWeitzman, D.
    Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Peart, Thomas F.White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.i
    Hughes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W)Plaits-Mills, J F FWhiteley, Rt. Hon. W
    Hutchinson, H. L. (Rushclme)Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)Wilkins, W A.
    Janner, B.Popplewell, TWilley, O. G. (Cleveland)
    Jay, D P. TPorler, E. (Warrington)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
    Jeger, G. (Winchester)Pryde, D. JWilliams, J. (Kelvingrove)
    Jeger, Dr S. W. (St. Pancras, S E)Randall, H EWilliams, W. R rHeston)
    Jones, D. T (Hartlepools)Ranger, J.Willis, E.
    Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Rhodes. HWills, Mrs. E. A
    Jones, J H. (Bolton)Richards, RWilmot, Rt. Hon J
    Keenan, W.Roberts, A.Wise, Major F J
    Kendall, W DRobertson, J J (Berwick)Woodburn, A
    Kenyon, G.Rogers, G. H. R.Woods, G. S
    Kinghorn. Son.-Ldr ERoss, William (Kilmarnock)Wyatt, W.
    Kinley, J.Royle, CYates, V. F
    Lee, F. (Hulme)Scollan, TZilliacus, K.
    Leonard, WSegal, Dr. S.
    Levy, B W.Sharp, GranvilleTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    Lipton, Lt -Col MShawcross, C. N. (Widnes)Mr. Michael Stewart and
    Logan, D GShawcross, Rt Hn. Sir H (St Heles)Mr. Hannan.
    Lyne, A. W.Shurmer, P.

    Clause added to the Bill.