House Of Commons
Friday, 13th April, 1951
The House met at Eleven o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Persian Oilfields (Disturbances)
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make about the riots in Abadan and its vicinity.
We have so far had only preliminary reports regarding the disturbances in the Persian oilfields.It seems that a Persian military force attempted to disperse a meeting of apprentices and workers on strike at Abadan, and were attacked by a crowd numbering perhaps 4,000 people. The military did not open fire until the crowd had broken through the cordon. A party of Europeans who were in a neighbouring cinema were later extricated with difficulty by the military. I regret to say that, according to our present information, two British seamen have been killed and six British adults and two children injured, but not seriously. One Italian seaman has been killed. Nine Persians have been killed and 11 injured. Armoured cars are reported to be on their way to Abadan and reinforcements of troops have already arrived. We are most concerned at this development, more particularly since we had hoped that the problem that has arisen about Persian oil could be discussed in a quiet and friendly atmosphere. We are watching the situation closely, and reserve the right to act as we see fit to protect British lives and property. We must hold the Persian Government responsible for all injuries and loss that may be sustained by British nationals and interests. The House will appreciate that the factual information I have given is subject to confirmation.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving us this full statement. May I ask him two questions? First, whether he will do everything in his power to impress upon the Persian Government that it is their responsibility to protect both Persians and Britishers working for this company, which is there by international agreement; and, secondly, whether he has any information if ships of the Royal Navy are available and whether any other ships are proceeding to the neighbourhood?
On the first point, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. On the second point, if the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I think I would rather not say anything about that at the moment, but that the matter is under consideration.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the assurance that any steps that may be considered necessary will, without hesitation, be taken?
Yes, Sir. One has to consider expediency in this matter, of course, but the right hon. Gentleman can be assured that we should not hesitate to take appropriate action.
The foreign Secretary has said that two British seamen were killed. Does that mean that we have landed men?
Has the Foreign Secretary any information about the way in which the dispute and demonstration originated? What were the conditions which caused this demonstration?
I cannot go into that, because I am not prepared for it, but it is no good evading the issue that, if British lives are in peril, we have got to do something about it.
I crave the indulgence of the House for a short personal statement.In July and August, 1939, I put two Written Questions in this House about the pro-Nazi activities of Mr. H. W. Wicks. This man went to Germany before 1939, and he worked for a German broadcasting organisation for a period during the war. He was convicted at the Old Bailey, on 28th May, 1946, of doing acts likely to assist the enemy, and was sentenced to four years' penal servitude. During the past year, Wicks has pestered me with annoying letters demanding an apology for my Questions, and threatening to serve me with writs for slander and the like. Recently, he threatened to subpœna me as a witness in a civil case about which, to the best of my knowledge, I know nothing. On Friday last, he had me served with a subpœna to attend as a witness in the High Court on Monday, 23rd April. In the belief that this is another attempt by Mr. Wicks to pester me by preventing me from attending to my Parliamentary duties, I ask the House to protect me. I have not appealed to the High Court to set aside the subpœna, because I feel that, by so doing, I might seem to be prejudicing the paramount right of the House to the attendance and service of its Members. In addition, I hope that the House will help me to avoid the personal expense and worry of such an application.
I am quite sure that we all listened with sympathy to the remarks of my hon. Friend. Might I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that you would look into it in order to give us some advice on the future course of our proceedings in this matter?
In response to that request I will certainly do so.
Elderly Persons (Employment)
I beg to move,
This Motion was put on the Order Paper before the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement on retiring age and pensions to the Committee on Tuesday, but although his statement is bound to influence the course of this debate, I think it hardly dispenses with the need for it. This is my second excursion into Private Members' time on a Friday, for which I apologise.That, having regard to the ageing character of the population and the economic and social desirability of deriving the maximum benefit from manpower, especially in view of the demands of the defence programme, this House is of opinion that active steps should be taken by His Majesty's Government to encourage the retention of the middle-aged and elderly in employment.
It is only the luck of the draw. Anybody else might have had the same luck.
This venture will be considerably less controversial than my first. To a large extent, though not wholly, the Chancellor's statement takes this subject outside the realm of controversy. This Motion refers to the desirability of retaining the middle-aged and the elderly in employment. I am sure that I am one of many in the House who believe that the existence of opportunities for the employment of the middle-aged and the elderly is a thoroughly good thing.I believe that partly because, as a general rule, it is precisely in those occupations and callings where opportunities to continue to do work exist that the span of life is greatest. Government or politics is one such case. I was reading the life of the late Mr. Gladstone recently, and I noticed that on 12th March, 1874, Mr. Gladstone, who was then 64—within 12 months of drawing the retirement pension, assuming he had been a contributor under present-day conditions—wrote to Lord Granville, the Liberal Leader in the House of Lords, and said he had no wish to remain Leader of the Liberal Party and wished to have a period of comparative repose. Had his wish been granted he would not, 18 years later, in 1892, have formed his third Administration. Some of us on these benches, and possibly some on the other side of the House, hope that that example may be emulated by another distinguished British statesman, although, I hasten to add, at a rather earlier age. The nature of this problem is very well known and it would be presumptuous for me to go into very great detail about it. Thirty years ago, when I was a boy, men were old at 65 and women were old at the age of 60. I remember that my grandmother, who at the age of 60 dressed herself in the most comical fashion, was quite resigned to premature old age. Today, a man of 65 is very often insulted if he is referred to as middle-aged, never mind elderly. The important thing is that as the expectation of life increases, as it has increased, so does the span of youth and the capacity to work and, what is perhaps most important of all, so does the capacity for wisdom. It seems to me that one of the most important and the most fascinating aspects of this subject is that nobody here or anywhere else has any real idea at all of how far the expectation of life in this or any other country can go on expanding. A famous dramatist, who died very recently, toyed with the idea, in one of his prefaces, that the expectation of life might one day change from three score years and ten to something like three centuries. In a play on the same subject he used words of which the House might like to be reminded:
There is a germ of truth, of course, in these ideas. The expectation of life has gone up for a great multiplicity of reasons. I do not propose to discuss them except to say that the two most important are the changes that have taken place in social habits and the enormous progress made in the science of medicine. One of my hon. Friends, in the debate on the Budget, referred to changes made in the social services which, undoubtedly, have had the same effect. But I feel that the effect of those is rather exaggerated by certain hon. Members opposite. On 10th April, in the Budget debate, there was a most extraordinary statement by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirk-dale (Mr. Keenan). He said:"Every civilisation has failed, just as ours is failing. They failed because the citizen and statesman died of old age and over-eating before they have grown out of schoolboy games and savage sports and cigars and champagne. The signs of the end are always the same. Democracy, Socialism, votes for women. We shall go to smash within the lifetime of men now living unless we recognise that we must live longer."
But the golden age did not really dawn in 1945, although social conditions have undergone a good deal of change since that year. Logically, if a man is as fit, physically or mentally, today at the age of 65 as a man of 60 a generation ago, that in itself should lead to some extension of the period of one's working life. It must be regretted that according to such evidence as is available the very opposite seems to be the case. As the expectation of life has become greater, the period during which men and women work industrially or otherwise has contracted. The Motion refers to"There is no doubt whatever that people's lives have been extended and that the past five or six years have shown them to be more healthy, physically as well as mentally, than ever before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 930.]
which, of course, is due not only to a decline in fertility, but also due to a welcome fall in the mortality rate. The Chancellor himself gave the House some very interesting figures the other day, and I feel that we cannot sufficiently emphasise the way in which the age grouping of the population has shifted. I should like to remind the House that in 1851 there were 47 people per thousand of the population who were over the age of 65. In 1947 the number had increased to 105 per thousand, and in 1977 the projected figure is 160 per thousand of the population. In other words, the number is likely to be multiplied by four in a period of about 120 years. In terms of numbers we find that in 1851 there were something like one million men and women over 65. In June of last year the number had risen to 5,400,000 out of a total working population of 23 million, and on the assumption that present day mortality rates persist it is estimated that by 1977 the number will have risen to 7.3, whereas if mortality rates continue to fall it may rise to as high a figure as 8.2. The element of speculation in those figures is relatively small, and they indicate in a very vivid fashion how the population of our country is likely to be more heavily weighted among the older age groups as time passes. As I see it, the lesson to be drawn from these statistics is the very simple one that if our present attitude towards the middle-aged and the elderly persists we shall waste a considerable element of manpower, that the responsibility for maintaining the middle-aged and the elderly will fall increasingly on the shoulders of the relatively young, and that in the absence of other factors the net effect will be to depress the standard of living of the people. I do not think anyone can deny that today we are not making the best use of that manpower. There are today about 46 per cent. of people between the ages of 65 and 69 in employment, whereas towards the end of 1945 the percentage was as high as 65. Moreover, it is not only on economic grounds that those of us who are interested in this subject would like to see a rather more positive approach taken. There are, indeed, the most powerful social reasons why something should be done about it. After all, the desires of the middle-aged man and woman are of first rate importance, and no group of politicians or members of the Government have any right at all to treat the middle-aged or elderly as so many pawns in an economic game. They have to be considered as human beings, and if it were the case that the vast majority of middle-aged people had no desire to go on working there would be very little point in discussing this subject this morning. But all the evidence tends to show that the majority of the middle-aged would like to continue working beyond the normal retirement age. I believe it is true to say that when the Royal Commission on Population was deliberating, a request was put to the Ministry of Labour for information on this point, and it was discovered, on a sample basis, that of men and women in employment getting towards the retirement age who would like to continue in work, 77 per cent. of the men and 59 per cent. of the women said they would prefer to continue beyond the normal retirement age. The percentages were rather lower in the case of men and women who had already left work, but nevertheless the percentages, even in the second category, were substantial. Every hon. Member knows from his personal contacts with the elderly that age can indeed be a very real tragedy for very many people in our country. There is, perhaps, nothing worse than the feeling, experienced by many elderly and old people, of being unwanted. That feeling arises partly because many old people feel that they belong to a different generation; their interests are often very different from the interests of the young, and perhaps their senses are not so acute as they once were. I submit that one of the strongest reasons that makes people feel that they are ostracised by society and are unwanted is because the opportunities to continue working are indeed so few. I want to ask the House to consider one of the obstacles which stand in the way of the further employment of the middle-aged. There are many obstacles which, no doubt, many hon. Members would be glad to talk about during this debate, but I propose to confine myself to one, namely, the widespread practice of enforcing a fixed retirement age on a large section of the population. I believe that is the biggest obstacle which this country has to surmount in the solution of that problem. I do not know whether the House even now realises the extensiveness of that impediment. According to the Ministry of Labour inquiry which was undertaken, I think, about three or four years ago, it was discovered that this rule of compulsory retirement at an arbitrary age applied, in the case of manufacturing, building and transport, to 26 per cent. of the white collar staff and to 15 per cent. of the manual workers. In local government the rule applied to 65 per cent. of all workers, both white collar and manual. In the case of the large Co-operative societies and some of the bigger retailers it applied to 53 per cent. of the white collar workers and to 54 per cent. of the manual workers. In public utilities and finance—that is to say docks, gas, electricity, banking, insurance and all the rest—it applied to 76 per cent. of the white collar workers and to 89 per cent. of the manual workers. Surely it is obvious that if any headway at all is to be made, we must have a far more flexible approach than exists at present. I am perfectly well aware that there are many reasons why the approach is not more flexible than it is, and probably the most important is the dislike that the employer, whether he be a private employer or a Government Department, has of delaying promotion of younger men. I am bound to say that I do not think that that objection can really be a decisive one because, after all, the economic interests of the young people in this country are not served by reducing the productive capacity of the nation, which is what is happening at present. Moreover, there is no reason why employment of the middle-aged should not continue in such a way as not to block the promotion of the young. That is a point on which I believe one or two of my hon. Friends will have something to say in the debate if they succeed in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. It is very easy, of course, for me to say that we need a new outlook and that employers and local authorities and all the rest have got to be more imaginative in their approach to this subject, but I wonder what His Majesty's Government are doing in a positive fashion to solve this problem. I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his statement earlier in the week, use these words:"the ageing character of the population"
I should like to know whether the appeal is merely being left in those words. Is anything being done about it? What machinery is being used to obtain the co-operation of employers? Reading the report of the debate which took place, I think in July last year, I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour mentioned that an approach was being made to employers and firms throughout the country through the media of the Association of Chambers of Commerce, but I do not think—I may be wrong—that the House has ever been acquainted with the results of that approach. I think the House would be interested to know what were the results of that approach. I think the House would be interested to know what were the results of that approach and how, in the present case, His Majesty's Government propose to follow up the statement made by the Chancellor. It is important that the House should have a very clear idea about the position of His Majesty's Government as an employer of labour. In the debate on Tuesday the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said that many men went to him and said they had had compulsorily to retire either from the service of a local authority or from some form of Government service. We are all familiar with that sort of experience. I believe today there are employed either by Government Departments or by local authorities throughout the country or in nationalised industries at least four million men and women; that is to say, four million men and women are employed by the State. In a debate in the House in July, 1950, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour gave some statistics, which, I admit, were rather impressive, about the employment of men and women over the age of 50 by Government Departments. What I should like him to tell the House this morning, if he can, is not so much the proportion of the middle-aged who are employed in Government Departments but what retiring age operates in the various Government Departments and whether, up to now, the retirement rule has been flexible or inflexible. I appreciate that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, yesterday afternoon, made a statement on the prolongation of work in the Civil Service, and I was sorry that a statement of that sort was not made a long time ago. After all, the Royal Commission on Population, which put this problem in a very clear and simple focus, reported about five years ago, and the facts of the case were well known to every student of sociology in the country as far back as 1935. I think we are, therefore, acting a little belatedly. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give the House the information I seek and tell us explicitly what sort of agreement the Government propose to negotiate in the Civil Service. But the issue does not stop there so far as the State as an employer is concerned. To the best of my knowledge, we have not yet had a single word on the attitude of the Government towards compulsory retirement of local authority employees. What have the Government to say about that very important employing sphere in the country? If they take the view that the age limit ought to be extended in the Civil Service, how, in logic, can they resist the suggestion that it ought also to be done in the sphere of local government? I admit that in the case of the nationalised industries there are very considerable variations, as there must be from their very nature, but, even so, I believe the House is entitled to know what is the policy of the Government in relation to State-owned industries. I do not propose to detain the House any longer, because, although there are a considerable number of difficult points which must be attended to sooner or later—such questions as superannuation and retirement pensions and the placing of the middle-aged and the elderly in suitable work—I am one of those who believe that any sensible employer can solve those technical problems for himself and that the principal duty which lies upon the House is to bring about a widespread recognition, both within the Government itself and within the sphere of private employment, that our approach towards this problem must change, not only in the interests of the elderly but also in the interests of the young, and, therefore, in the interests of the nation."The Government now ask employers and workers generally to give the most serious consideration to the possibility of postponing retirements and to removing any obstacles which prevent those who are physically capable of continuing at work from doing so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 849.]
I beg to second the Motion.In doing so, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins). It is very difficult to know on what we ought to congratulate him—whether we ought to congratulate him, as clearly we must, on a very able and lucid exposition of a complicated problem, or whether we ought to congratulate him on his extraordinary good fortune in the Ballot which this House conducts from time to time. His name appears with a frequency which to other hon. Members is becoming alarming in the Bills and Motions and Adjournment Debates. I almost think that we may be compelled to persuade some other hon. Member, if anyone is ever fortunate enough in the Ballot, to introduce a Private Bill to exclude the hon. Member for Toxteth from any future Ballots. The subject which he has introduced today is one which has for a very long time engaged the attention of hon. Members on both sides of the House and of students of sociology in the country. It has so many different aspects and affects the life of the nation in so many different ways, that it would be very difficult for us to cover all the ground in the debate today. We are aware that the whole of today's debate is bound to be conditioned to some extent by the fact that in his Budget Statement on Tuesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer altered the conditions under which retirement pensions are now available to the community. We do not regard it in any way as altering the position of hon. Members on this side of the House that that statement was made from the Government Benches. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) said in his speech on the Budget, proposals very much on these lines have been discussed by the private groups of Members in the Conservative Party and have been considered by the party with a view to their inclusion in our programme at the next election. The fact that the Socialists have said something on these lines ought not to lead them to believe that all the merit and all the virtue now lies in them. Indeed, it is significant that when proposals for dealing with what is both a financial and a social problem, come from the other side of the House the emphasis falls on the financial aspect. This is in many ways much more a social problem than it is a financial problem, and the fact that Government action should have been taken first by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when so many opportunities have existed for other members of the Government, bearing more appropriately responsibility for taking some action, leads some of us to believe that they really do not understand the nature of the problem. First of all, it does not begin and end by offering an incentive to a small proportion of those who are concerned to carry on working. It does not begin and end by deferring the age at which a man or woman can qualify for retirement pension. That is only one small aspect of the thing. What we are really concerned with, what has really been at the heart of all the consideration which we on this side of the House have given to the problem, is the whole question of the welfare of the elderly people. We have seen in the last five and a half to six years the Government introduce provisions increasing from 10s. to 26s. the pension which the elderly are entitled to draw on retirement.
Hon. Members opposite criticised this.
At the same time and during the same period—and this is what we have criticised—we have seen the value of the 26s. reduced progressively until today it is worth almost the same as the old 10s. pension. It is because that process has been going on at the same time that the urgency of doing something to make it possible for the elderly people to find a place in our society has become so acute.It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth said, that when we come to retire our zest for living—almost, in some cases, our capacity for going on living—tends to slow down; and, therefore, it is in the interests—purely in the physical interests—of the elderly that they should continue to maintain some sort of pattern of life involving either whole-time or part-time employment for as long as possible. It seems to me that an ordinary, practical measure—quite apart from financial incentives and inducements which have been talked about—one of the practical things we might do, would be to institute some form of medical examination which all the elderly and ageing members of our community, in whatever form of employment, they may be engaged, should have made available to them, medical advice year by year that would enable them to preserve their faculties at their highest and most efficient—a sort of school medical service at the other end of the age scale. We have it now for our young people: I see no reason whatever why we should not have it for the elderly.
We have it in the National Health Service.
No. I am afraid there is a danger that we may debase what is and should be a useful and important debate into a mere party battle, and it is much more important than that. Of course I know of the National Health Service and the facilities that it offers; but I mean something wider than and different from that. What I mean is this.We have an industrial medical service at the present time which is engaged by various industries for the examination of new entrants into industry to decide what their physical condition is. There is no reason whatever why the members of the staff of a big company or factory should not be examined when they get to the age of 55, say, and again at 60, and again at 62 or 65, in order that their physical condition may be assessed, and that they may be advised of the kind of life that they should lead and of the kind of things that they should do or should avoid doing. At the same time, the industrial medical adviser could inform the firm—the employer—of the nature of the employment for which the individual is most suitable, and then it should be possible for the firm to adjust its processes to make it possible for the individual to continue in his employment. The first consequence of this would be that the individual would avoid the feeling to which my hon. Friend referred of not being wanted. He would see before him a ladder of service and opportunity which did not end abruptly at 65, but went on beyond that for as long as he cared to take care of himself and to qualify and fit himself for employment in his firm. In that way great opportunities can be provided for the employment of some of these people in our various industries. There are other ways in which the various industries could make it possible for men or women to go on working. Some of these things at present are being done, of course, as I know—by arranging part-time employment, and by arranging for the elderly and, therefore, presumably less robust people, either to start later in the morning or to finish earlier in the evening to avoid the travel rushes—a quite important factor in the life of a man who has to spend a hard day at desk or bench. There are quite a number of small ways of this kind that we can apply for giving effect to the unexceptionable sentiments of the Chancellor when he said that we ought to do all we could to persuade employers to continue offering employment to the elderly. At the same time, there are so many medical aspects of the problem that I think the House will want to bear in mind what my hon. Friend said about the increase in the expectation of life. We are at the present time witnessing in our welfare services something of a revolution—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—a revolution which is a continuing process, strange as it may seem.
We are hastening it.
We are providing welfare services of all kinds which have as their ultimate goal the maintenance of the good health—the physical health and mental health—of our old people. We ought to be able to arrange things so that those who are capable of benefiting, of taking or of returning to their places in the community in the full strength and possession of their faculties, should be enabled so to do. We ought to use our resources to enable them to do that—to see that our hospital beds are most wisely used to deal with the non-chronic cases, who can then return to live in their own homes and follow some form of regular employment. We ought to use our old peoples' homes of the new kind that are now springing up in various parts of the country with a similar purpose in view.In a word, all our welfare services should be designed with the end in view of keeping our elderly people as ordinary members of the community and not as a class or section apart. As long as we do that, I honestly believe that the propaganda and the advice which has been discussed already, and about which, I have no doubt, we shall hear a great deal more, will fall into their proper place. We shall not want the special campaigns and special incentives and so on, because the old people will cease to regard themselves as something special and something different. With that in view, and in the hope that this debate will produce some positive proposals to lead that to that end. I beg to second the Motion.
First, I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) on his good fortune in the Ballot in securing a debate on this subject. I hope that he and the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson), who seconded the Motion, will forgive me if I do not follow in a detailed way the arguments they produced but deal rather more with the general principle.It is very good that we are discussing this matter at this time because the subject is being talked about by different people in different ways. I feel that the first essential of any Government declaration of policy or pronouncement on this subject is that it must have relation to the circumstances which they are able to control. It is no good the Government putting forward a policy for middle-aged and elderly people unless, through their control of economics, they are able to retain full employment. A period of boom and slump, which is inevitable under the contradictions of the system of society in which hon. Members opposite believe, would be no use in helping to solve this problem. In a boom era we would be wanting all the people we could get in industry while in a slump period they would be dismissed because of lack of employment. Because that is the background hon. and right hon. Members opposite will need to make up their minds about what sort of system they really believe in, before operating this kind of principle for this class of the population. We have plenty of proof, and can all remember, that in the inter-war years, quite apart from the elderly people, it was very difficult for middle-aged people to maintain themselves in employment. Vast numbers of middle-aged people were thrown on the scrap heap and in the heavy industries, in particular, if a middle-aged person became unemployed it was almost impossible for him to get back into employment again. Of course, the elderly people were not talked of at all. In Scotland, before 1929, they were left to the care of the parish council and after that it was the means test, and all sorts of humiliations were suffered by these people, who had no hope of employment. Hon. Members opposite must remember that this is very much in the minds of hon. Members on this side of the House and that we remember that in those years there were great worries and sufferings because of lack of employment. We want to safeguard the position in every way. While I agree that we should try to retain middle-aged people in industry, I have certain doubts about elderly people and about certain operations they would be called upon to carry out. In heavy industries especially there are many occupations in which it would not be advisable for elderly people to continue after retirement age and there should not be too much pressure on them to do so. This applies especially to the labouring classes in heavy industries. If, by financial inducement, or some other means, such as synthetic appeal to patriotism, we asked them to stay on in these industries, I believe that it would be damaging to their physical health to do so and that it may reduce their expectation of life in the years remaining to them. That argument, I believe, holds good despite the fact that our people are now living longer. If a man has been exerting himself physically with a shovel, or pick, in a heavy industry up to the age of 65 he deserves a well-earned retirement and should have an income sufficient to keep him and his wife for his remaining years.
My hon. Friend is stating the case very clearly. Does he agree that if, in a serious economic situation, men and women are to carry on their work after retirement age, the question should be left to the person concerned and that it should be no penal offence if he refuses?
I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has brought that point out in sharper focus. I do believe that it should be voluntary. In any Government pronouncement or inducement that may be offered due regard should be paid not to an over-display of patriotism, but to protecting the people against themselves in some cases.I thought the hon. Member for Toxteth dismissed rather lightly the question of retarding promotions of younger men. While I go some way with him in his argument we should not forget what happened in the railway industry, of which I had some experience, when men were held back many years because of promotional seniority schemes. We should not forget that the position may be created in which it will be cheaper not to promote younger men to higher grades, and that should be guarded against. Resentment would be caused if men were kept on over the normal retiral age and thereby kept younger men from promotion. I believe that complete stagnation would ensue in certain occupations, which should be kept healthy and in which some incentive provided for the younger men whose families are growing up, so that they can earn a wage or salary which will keep them in good circumstances and not have to remain on the bottom rung. In the sheltered industries, in considering whether it would be beneficial for men or women to be kept beyond the retirement age, we must decide the principle and see that they are not kept on at wage rates which would be lower than those to which the qualifications of the job entitle them. There must be no cheap labour; we must guard against that. We should encourage older people staying on in those industries where the occupations are of a light nature. In the society we are now evolving we should rapidly be reaching the conclusion that all people ought to have useful work. All of us on this side of the House believe in that; it is a principle which we heartily support. But there are still sections of the population who do not seem to do any work at all at any time. If it is to be urged by hon. Members opposite that we should retain our people in industry over retiring age, it is time they were telling some of their friends that they ought to do some useful work, even before retiring age, in order to make a success of the system of society we are trying to create. [Laughter.] We must recognise that this is not a laughing matter, that we are talking about the lives of men and women in the evening of their years as against people who are doing nothing at all during the whole of their lives. If we believe in Britain, in being patriotic, and in the future of our country, we should make a general appeal to all sections of the population to play their part so that we may evolve something brighter that will secure more happiness to all sections of the people in the future, and certainly more happiness than many have had in the past.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question, so that we may be able to follow the suggestion he has just made? Would he specify more precisely who are the people who are not working?
We know, and I am quite certain that the hon. Member does not need me to tell him.
I do not know.
The Duke of Westminster and Lord Nelson.
I do not want to get on to personalities, but anyone who goes into any of the better-class hotels in London at any time of the day will see people who never seem to work at any time. It is not working merely to invest £50,000 in an industry and sit back and take the dividends from the results of the workers therein. I think we can leave it at that.
In intervening for a moment or two in this discussion, in accordance with the best Parliamentary practice I ought to declare my interest because, alas, I must confess that I now have to include myself amongst the elderly and aged. That is the universal trouble of those who, like myself, were born too soon.I agree with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). It is most important for those of us who are engaged in industry to be able to encourage the retention of some of our older men in the workshops as well as in the offices. I agree, however, that where men have been engaged for many years in heavy labour, they should not be persuaded against their will to remain at their jobs. I imagine no one would ask a miner working at the coal face or on any other heavy job like that, to prolong his working life. Subject to that, there are a great many occupations, particularly in Government Departments, where men certainly, and women perhaps not so frequently, should be encouraged to work after what is now looked upon as the proper age for retirement. I remember that not many years ago the cry was general: "too old at 40." Thank heavens, one seldom hears that nowadays, but it is almost equally absurd to say, as is sometimes said, that men are too old for the jobs they are doing at 70. I hope this is not controversial; at any rate I do not want my constituents to think that at the time of age I have reached they want to see me unemployed. You, Sir, I think are not very much behind me, and no one would suggest for one moment that you are not quite fit both physically and mentally to discharge the onerous and most highly responsible duties that fall upon you. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have always disagreed with the theory that a director of a company is too old at 70 and that he should retire. Personally I think it was a mistake that that provision was made in the last Companies Act we passed. As it has been passed I would like to say this: I have refused, in the case of the companies with which I am concerned, to advise the shareholders to change their articles of association which would automatically allow directors to continue after they have passed the age of three score years and ten. Every director who reaches that age must come up for re-election by the shareholders, and they will have the right to say whether they think he is a fit and proper person, whether he has retained his mental capacity, whether his experience is still of value to be retained in the interests of the shareholders. I think that is the commonsense point of view with which few would disagree. There is another point to which I will refer briefly. Going back to the days when the Beveridge Report was issued, I well remember the crowd of colleagues around the Vote Office scrambling to get free copies of that Report, as if it were the best seller obtainable at the time. But one thing that must have struck all of us who have read that Report from cover to cover was the indication given by, Sir William Beveridge, as he then was, of how in a few years time there would be a vast increase in the elderly population who would largely have to be kept by the younger. I have grandchildren, as I dare say have many of my colleagues on both sides of the House. I do not want to see my grandchildren or their children having the responsibility thrust upon them of bearing heavy burdens and maintaining a large proportion of the elderly population of this country if relief can be obtained by persuading, as I think we can, a considerable proportion of those who now retire at 65 or thereabouts to continue at their work. Therefore I have only risen to say that I am entirely in sympathy with this Motion, and I congratulate the mover and seconder of it on the way they have presented their case. I imagine there will be few, if any, on either side of the House who are not wholeheartedly in agreement with the general principle of the matter we are discussing today.
I, too, would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) on his good fortune. I do it with some feeling, because on several occasions I have put my name down in the Ballot for the Adjournment on this subject.As opinions expressed in the House today will be carefully considered by the responsible Minister, what has been hinted at ought to be emphasised, namely, that in normal circumstances we do not want to depart from the retiring age of 65 as far as general industry is concerned. There are plenty of examples of cases where a man has worked 40 years in one industry and all of us would agree that he has earned an entitlement to take things easy in his latter years. It is important to appreciate that we are faced with special circumstances, just as we were in the last war. To deal with those circumstances I hope the Minister will in no way bring to bear any form of compulsion. Although supporting the Motion, I was a little disturbed by some of the points made, especially when I heard the mover say that the age limit ought to be extended. I was still further perturbed when the seconder talked about medical examinations, although I could not follow him too clearly. I cannot understand why a man who has served many years in industry should suddenly have a special medical examination on reaching the age of 65. The only purpose I can read into that, although it was suggested that part of the object was to find the man suitable employment—and we have had experience of this in other spheres—is an attempt to sort the sheep from the goats—to pick the good bodies and to let the poorer bodies be put on one side. It is very interesting to note that the suggested medical examination is not to be done by our independent State Health Service, but by an industrial medical health service. That would do a terrific amount of damage if proceeded with, because it would create great suspicion in the minds of the workers reaching retirement that they were not being treated fairly. I want to deal with one problem that is a real one, where, in accordance with the Motion, action could be taken by the Government that would result in the preservation of a great deal of manpower that otherwise would be lost by retirement. I refer to the problem in relation to local government. It is important not only to express a view point, but to have a look at the method by which it can be implemented. An unsatisfactory position exists at the present time in relation to retirements in the case of the local authorities. There are two ways in which the problem of re-employment can be dealt with. The local authorities, under the general superannuation Acts, have the power, at the present time, with the consent of the employee, to extend service for 12 months. They can do that for six years, but it has to be at annual intervals with the consent of the employee. The other way is to retire the employee, pay him his pension, and then to re-employ him at the appropriate wage for the job. This latter method is worthy of careful consideration. There is a distinction between local government and the State old age pension and between local government and the Civil Service. The local government superannuation funds are built up by contributions from both sides. They are actuarially assessed, and, therefore, the payment of pensions at the time due will not in any way embarrass the financial position of these funds. The position differs very greatly from those cases where the State have to contribute a large amount to cover superannuation, such as in the case of old age pensioners and the Civil Service, where no contribution is made.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the local government superannuation funds, like most other superannuation funds, are insolvent at the present time?
I am aware that most superannuation funds are actuarially sound, and that where the employee's contribution, plus the employer's contribution, is insufficient, the local authorities from time to time vote a supplement to keep the funds in a healthy condition.I had considerable experience during the last war of this position. Local authorities were carrying out the two methods. Some were persuading their employees to extend their service for 12 months, and others were retiring and re-employing them. The position was brought out very clearly by the retirement of a town clerk of a Lancashire local authority during the war. The local authority found some difficulty in finding a new town clerk, and so they re-employed the town clerk who had retired and was receiving his pension. The principle was extended as well to the manual staff. At Manchester, they re-engage their retired people after having paid them full pension. There is a lot of sense in this, because the local authority employee on reaching 65 can retire, draw his pension, and then seek employment in some other work without suffering any financial penalty. It is surely uneconomic for a man reaching 65 to start looking for a new sphere of employment when, by an arrangement of this kind, he can continue in the employment in which he has worked for so long. I consider that the circumstances are such as to justify us preserving to the maximum all the suitable employment that is available. It should be optional, both on the person and on the employer, whether a man should be continued in employment. This question should be very carefully examined by the Government. The joint industrial councils that deal with local authorities should be asked to give special examination to the problem. They should be requested to examine the position to see whether arrangements could be made actively to encourage people to remain in employment after they have reached retirement age.
The course of this debate has made it clear that there is broad agreement on both sides as to objectives. Indeed, since last Tuesday we have been aware that it is the Government's view that it is most desirable to induce persons to continue in their employment after the retirement age of 65. In the short time that I shall detain the House, I want to draw attention to the extreme lack of information as to the potency of the incentives which have been suggested for this purpose. This has particular relevance to the Budget proposal to secure the object by increasing the deferred increments a man can earn by remaining in employment after 65. My conclusion, on what investigations I have been able to make on this subject, is that the evidence we have at present is extremely defective and mostly negative.There have been three categories since the war which merit examination and comparison to ascertain the effect which different financial incentives have on remaining in employment after pensionable age. To simplify my remarks, I shall restrict myself to single men only, although the principle applies equally to married men and the other sex. These three categories are, first, the persons who reached retirement age before the appointed day and who before the appointed day drew 10s. old age pension whether they retired or not. The second category is those who reached retirement age before the appointed day and who after the appointed day have been entitled to draw 10s. while employed, but 26s. if they retire. Finally, we have the third category of persons in the quite different financial situation that they draw no pension if they remain in employment after 65, but whose pension after 70 has certain accrued increments. It is those increments that the Chancellor has proposed should be increased.
Should they retire before 70 they will get their proportionate share of the increments.
I appreciate that and I am obliged for that extra point. What evidence have we of the different reactions of persons to the choice before them, in those three financial positions: A fixed pension which they can draw whether they retire or not; a lower pension if they continue working, with a higher pension if they retire; no pension if they continue working, but increments in compensation when they do retire? Is there any evidence, and if so what is it, on that point? It is most material that we should know how each type of incentive affects behaviour, if at all.A survey was done for the Ministry of Labour by a gentleman by the name of Osborne and entitled "Older People and Their Employment." It was published at the beginning of this year. This survey unfortunately does not help us on this point, because it lumps together all the people between 65 and 70, irrespective of the financial terms that they are under. Therefore it does not help us to answer what I think the crucial question which I was putting. So far as I know, the only light which has been shed on this problem is such as we can glean from the First Interim Report of the Government Actuary on the National Insurance Act, which was published in February of this year. The evidence which the Actuary gives in paragraphs 48 and following of that report is necessarily fragmentary, because we have only a short experience of the behaviour of persons under the new conditions. It is defective in another way, which is important: it lumps together all persons reaching pensionable age, whatever their employment. Here I am in entire agreement with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), that it is no use looking at the whole population over 65 irrespective of their type of job, indeed, irrespective of whether it is a job which compulsorily retires people, and then basing statistics on this mass of unrelated material. Subject to those qualifications, and they are very severe, what can we learn from the report of the Government Actuary? The report shows that there is practically no difference in the behaviour of persons under conditions 2 and 3, namely, under the conditions in which they get a lower pension while working and a higher if they retire, or where they get no pension while working and increments after retirement. When we compare behaviour under the new conditions since the appointed day with behaviour before—the Government Actuary only does so by taking the figure for 1936—we find extremely little difference in the pattern of retirement between the ages of 65 and 70. Even allowing for the fragmentary and tentative nature of the evidence and for the qualifications I have mentioned, this is a very impressive situation. Here we have three entirely different financial settings to the retirement problem, and people evidently tend to behave in the same way under each of them. I should perhaps add, by the way, that their readiness to remain at work, which is far less than was expected when the 1946 Act was introduced, is markedly lower in the case of women than of men. I draw one conclusion from this. Possibly it is not the only one. It leads me to agree with my hon. Friend who seconded the Motion, that the financial motive, at any rate within the financial range of the pension inducements which we are talking about, is extremely weak. It is far from being the determining factor which decides a man whether or not to stay at work. If that is so—if I am anywhere near right in drawing that conclusion—it has most important consequences. Clearly it is unjustifiable for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of National Insurance to go on increasing or altering incentive of a kind which is hardly operative at all. Quite clearly we must know more about this matter, and we must have that information quickly. The House will hardly be able to come to a rational conclusion on the proposed legislation without having this information. So I want to conclude with a plea to the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of National Insurance most urgently to conduct a scientific and controlled investigation into this particlar question: "What are the incentives which operate to induce people to remain at work after the age of 60 in their previous employment?" Of what nature are those incentives? How far are they financial, and what is the real effect of the incentives which we have been offering hitherto?
Does the hon. Gentleman's investigation cover part-time employment? It certainly struck me that the disincentive of only being allowed to earn £1 certainly reduced the part-time labour force in the boot and shoe industry.
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will agree that that is a separate segment of the subject. The two are connected, but I was endeavouring to relate my remarks only to one of those problems, that of inducing people to remain in their previous full-time employment after the age of 65. The conclusion which I draw is the urgent need for reliable scientific information without which we shall be groping in the dark in attempting to deal with this problem.
I hope that the debate will be kept out of the arena of party conflict. It deals with a matter of very vital importance to the section of the community with whom we are dealing and whom we must treat with humanitarianism and sympathy. For my part, I have no desire to make party propaganda out of this very important debate. I wish it was as easy to apply what is contained in the Motion as it is to debate it upon the Floor of this House. The whole subject is seething with difficulties and complexities, and cannot be as hurriedly dealt with as many people imagine.For the past five or six years people of all political opinions have been trying to build up a structure of social service which has been the envy of the world. We are now trying, or at least attempting, very mildly, I agree, to begin a process of dismantling. I hope that in our dismantling, which I hope will be only temporary, we shall be extremely careful not to bring the social structure toppling down. I listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins), but I failed to hear any reference to what I should describe as "occupational differentials." That is a very important aspect of the problem confronting us. I was delighted that the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Sir A. Gridley) whose sympathy is not merely passive but active, mentioned differential occupations. I believe that with all the good will in the world we cannot honestly and sincerely ask men in heavy industries, such as mining and steel, who have gone beyond the retiring age, to continue at work unless of their own volition. The circumstances and conditions of the mining industry have changed considerably in the last 25 or 30 years. The tempo at which the men have to work has changed and the conditions of our seams are such that it is impossible for men to continue working at the coalface after they have reached the age of 55. There are exceptional men whose vigour and physique and the care they exercised in their youth enables them to continue, but most of the men have to cease work at the coalface after the age of 55. The problem is one which has always been with the mining industry. In the days of private enterprise some employers helped considerably with a very human approach to the problem. Often when men became too old to work at the coalface the employers decided not to discharge them, but to move them to lighter occupations. While that type of man may have played a great part in maintaining production while working at the coalface, it has invariably been found that he has been of great benefit when moved to another job. Managers have told me that such moves are good in one sense, because the men bring to their new job the benefit of their experience at the coalface. There is another aspect of the mining industry with which I want to deal. The industry suffers a very high incidence of accidents, and, particularly at the coalface, where most of the accidents happen, and in the approaches to the coalface, many of our men are injured in their early thirties. Many of them are overtaken by industrial diseases such as silicosis, pneumoconiosis, nystagmus—which, I am happy to report, is on the decrease—beat-wrist, beat-elbow, and what the medical profession call subcutaneous cellulitis of the patela of the knee, which in English is beat-knee, and, in ordinary everyday language, housemaid's knee. [Laughter.] I know that this has its jocular side, but it should be understood at the same time that the men who contract these unfortunate diseases never recover from the effects. It is true that they recover to a point and can undertake a certain class of work, but my experience is that it is always extremely difficult to persuade mine managers to employ men with a taint of silicosis, pneumoconiosis or the other diseases. They are hesitant about employing these men for fear that after a certain age they will become a liability on the compensation fund. A broader human view should be taken in this matter. I hope the House will pardon me if I tell a rather amusing story of an old man in my district who was in the pits at the age of 68. Employers were compelled by an Act of Parliament to insure their men against non-fatal and fatal accidents, but the insurance companies said that if companies employed men over the age of 65 they must pay a higher premium. The insurance companies were prepared to accept thousands of able-bodied men at a lower premium, but would not accept a number of men just over the age of 65 at the same premium. It was a bad policy. The manager at the colliery at which I worked said that he did not like the idea of dismissing men over 65, that it was foreign to his nature but he had to do it. He did it by a gradual process. The old man to whom I am referring started in the pit at the age of eight and he was then 68, and the manager left him there until all the other men over 65 had been discharged. I went down to the office with the manager who told the old man that he had worked in the pit for a very long time and had done all sorts of jobs, that he had nothing but praise to offer him but that he was very sorry to say that, owing to the action of the insurance company, he had to dismiss him. The old collier said, "I am very sorry too, Guv'nor. If they had told me at first that it would not be regular I should not have started." That is the type of case with which we have to deal. I hope that Ministers and employers of labour in both nationalised and privately-owned industries will take the broadest possible view of the problem. I have discovered that only about 700,000 industrial workers would be affected by the Motion. The total number of industrial workers is estimated at approaching 22 million, the highest figure we have ever known. I have broken down these figures, which show that the number of males under 18 years of age is 705,000; between 18 and under 65 there are 12,495,000; those aged 65 years and over total 500,000. The total of male industrial workers is, therefore, 13,700,000. On the female side, there are 705,000 under the age of 18; between 18 and 60, which is the pensionable age, 5,895,000; over 60 years of age, 200,000. It will be seen, therefore, that these figures include 200,000 females over the age of 60 and 500,000 males over 65. The problem with which we have to deal is to what extent those 700,000 can be usefully employed in the industrial sphere. In the days of full employment, it might appear to be comparatively easy for industry to absorb 700,000 men and women, but I warn the Ministry that the time may come—and it may come like a bolt from the blue—when we shall be faced, not with full employment, but with a reduction in the number of people we can employ, because the world supply of raw materials is not very good. We must be very careful, therefore, if we embark upon the step which the Motion proposes. Whatever is done as a result of this debate, I plead with the Ministry that no compulsory measures should be applied to people over retirement age.
Or penal measures.
Nor, as my hon. Friend said, penalties to compel men or women to do something they do not want to do. If this whole problem, about which I feel profoundly, can be thrashed out in a smooth, understanding atmosphere, the Motion will have done some good, but if its terms are applied in a cantankerous, difficult manner, it will, to use a Lancashire expression, "get the backs up" of our people and we shall find ourselves in a most unfortunate position.I am not one of those who wants to depart from the principle of retirement at the ages of 60 for women and 65 for men. I have devoted many years of my life to improving the conditions of old folk, but we are faced with a set of circumstances which warrants, perhaps, a changed approach, a change of mind, because of the situation, which is not of our making, but which is taking place all over the world. My final words to the Parliamentary Secretary and to his Department are that they should not apply compulsion but should leave the matter to the volition of those concerned; for, if I understand British characteristics aright, if the circumstances are put before men and women and if the right treatment is properly applied, they will respond to the request which is made of them.
I associate myself with the remarks made from the benches opposite, that we are endeavouring today to deal with the problem of people who wish to remain in industry after retirement age. I agree entirely that there should be no suggestion of compulsion. My own experience tends to confirm the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins), that 77 per cent. of men and 59 per cent. of women are anxious to stay in employment. My purpose today is to give a few examples of how those who wish to do so can be helped to remain at work.I am not referring to the heavy industries. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who speaks with great knowledge about mining, has a different problem. The same is true of the manufacture of heavy steel. These industries have different problems, from the one with which we in the Midlands are very largely associated—what I would call production engineering and repetition engineering. It is in these particular trades and industries that a great many people are both anxious and able to remain at work. If they do so, it will be a good thing, not only for themselves, but for their employers and, as I think the debate has shown, a good thing for the country. Nothing I have said should be associated with local government, which represents a different problem entirely. I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. J. Cooper) explain the steps which have been taken in local government to deal with this problem. It is not, however, easy for us in industry to absorb men who have been in the Civil Service, who appear to be in perfect condition but who have been dropped from Government service, and who come to us and ask our help. I was once a temporary civil servant myself for five years, and I assure hon. Members that it is a very difficult problem to fit those men, excellent as they are, into industry when they reach retirement age. I have been interested in this problem for a good many years and at one time gave evidence before a Royal Commission. This is not a matter which worries us only when there is a shortage of labour because of full employment; it arose many years before the war. We tried to work out a scheme in the days when there was not full employment, and we have a certain amount of experience of the problem. I am sure the House will be generous with me, as it always is, when I relate practical experiences from my own organisation and elaborate some of the technical points to which my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth referred in his opening remarks. Our problems can largely be divided under two headings; people who are in the employment of the organisation and are reaching old age, and those who leave work to look for other jobs when they are past middle age and approaching old age. These are two entirely different problems. We do not need to worry about the middle-aged employees. We regard them as the backbone of the organisation. They have outgrown the restlessness of youth and want to settle down—even if the men did not want to do so, their wives would insist that they should. They have houses or flats and are not worried, as are younger people, about living accommodation. I can understand a man changing his employment to get a house—I would do so myself; I should not like to live with my mother-in-law if I could avoid it, and if I were on my own I would go anywhere to get my own house rather than be in lodgings. It is understandable that the younger men should move around, but the older ones are settled; they are the backbone of the organisation and nobody in middle-age wants to leave. With the older people the problem becomes more difficult, but it can be tackled if it is done humanly because the large majority of them want to stay on. We find that some of them can continue doing their existing work, but all of them cannot. A man gets tired of buzzing machinery and noise; he gets tired of standing up, and we have found that careful study of this is required so that the man can be moved to work where his experience and reliability are of great value. It is reported to me that when that is done some of these men are more valuable than their younger colleagues, who appear to be working faster and harder, and give better results. It is a problem needing careful thought and a humane approach. Given that, the man benefits, and the organisation benefits, and there is no charity about it. We must be very careful about that, too. We are an independent race, and a man does not want to be found a job simply because he has been good in the past; he wants to have a job on his merits. It will be appreciated that it is much more difficult to deal with people who come from outside, who perhaps because of superannuation schemes, or because the company cannot carry the older people, or because something has gone wrong, come along and say, "I am not too old." It is much more difficult to introduce a man reaching old age who has had nothing to do with the business in the past, and has no experience. The younger workers do not like such a man coming in over their heads, and one has to be very tactful about it. Naturally, when people over the retiring age come in, one has to consider superannuation and old age schemes. When we read in the newspapers reports of men saying they cannot get work when they are past a certain age, that is because the organisation in which they were has gone and they are trying to get into a new organisation and start again, which is a very difficult problem. As employment is today, those men can be used, and are being used, in the Midlands, but I do not want hon. Members to say I am making a statement which would carry forward into days when there is not the employment that there is today. We find exactly the same thing with elderly women. The real problem that we have to deal with is that of the prematurely aged; the people who are aged at 50 and have to be helped along until they reach 60 or 65. That is a very serious problem. Through no fault of their own they age quickly, and we have to try to organise to ensure that they are not put under the stress and strain which a healthy man of 55 can stand. Of course, as hon. Members will appreciate, the problem becomes even more difficult with women of that age.
It would be valuable if the hon. Gentleman could tell us what, in his experience, is the approximate percentage of people who are prematurely aged. Is it one in 100, or two or three?
I am not a statistician. It is a fair number, and they have to be dealt with. They do not form an overwhelming proportion; it is nothing to worry about, but it is a problem. Of course, they do not like to be told it. One of the problems is to find a tactful way in which to do it. A great deal has been done with the womenfolk by arranging for part-time work for which we have morning, afternoon and evening shifts. We also have older people who do not have to work a full week. If they are put into prototype and experimental departments they are a definite asset because their skill is great, their knowledge and experience gained through the years is considerable, and even if they cannot work a full week, they can make a very big contribution.All this has to be done tactfully. One cannot go to somebody and say, "Well, you know, you are showing signs of old age." People do not like it. We even find hon. Members here straining to listen, but if one says to them, "You are getting deaf," they are very indignant. Their wives tell us, "John is getting a bit deaf. He doesn't like you to know it, but just speak up a bit." People will not get spectacles even. Some people become most indignant if one seeks to help them out of a railway carriage. I had a bit of a shock myself when I was in Paris a couple of years ago attending a conference—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "]—with my wife. I put that in on purpose. We went to a National Chamber of Commerce conference, and during a break one morning we went to look at Notre Dame. When coming back on the Metro my wife found a seat, and a polite young Frenchman got up and insisted on my taking his seat. Well, I have been used to giving up my seat to ladies, although when I was very tired, as I got older. I have sometimes looked the other way. But this was the first time a young man had offered me his seat, and I can understand the feelings of people who do not like to be reminded too much about their age. This must be done tactfully. One cannot say to a man, "Look here. You are getting past it." He must be told that there is a special department where men of skill and experience are wanted, and when he is transferred he finds that he can sit down instead of standing up, that there is no foreman driving him along because the department is not on the production line and he can take a little more time over it. If the problem is tackled in that way, older workers who have years of work in them still can be helped to continue at work, as the majority of them want to do. I believe that the State benefits, and I am certain that we employers want to keep them. I hope that the few practical details I have given will help the House to appreciate that the employers in the industries of which I know anything are most anxious to help in this matter, not only for their own benefit but because they believe it makes a contribution to the country.
I am sure that the whole House has enjoyed the practical and human speech of the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett). If he has underlined some of the difficulties of the problem, he has nevertheless helped us considerably in this debate. The debate so far has indicated that there are great social, economic and personal reasons why we ought to be concerned with the problem of the more elderly person today, and it is appropriate that in this Budget week this should have come to the fore.Pushing upward our normal conception of the retiring age, important as it is, is fraught with serious dangers if tackled in too hasty a manner or without due thought and proper caution. We realise that in present conditions there are economic reasons why we need the help of any able person we can get. We also know that there are great social reasons why people over a certain age should not feel that they are cast off from useful employment and the mental occupation that that gives to them. There are many cases where, through financial hardship or domestic reasons, it is essential for people to be encouraged to work after the normal retiring age. But there are very good reasons, too, why the employment of these people must be thought out carefully, because it must be continuous if it is to be any use at all. It must not be a form of cheap labour, as one of my hon. Friends has stressed. It must not be some kind of charitable exercise by either private interests or the State to replace our social welfare services. The real dilemma, to my mind, is that those people who are most able, fit and anxious to continue in employment are not those whom we really need, speaking from the economic point of view. In the more easy professions, in which people have not had such arduous tasks to perform, there are people who are better able to continue, but they are the people of whom there is least need. On the other hand, it is in the more arduous occupations, in which we need more manpower that, for reasons of health or for other good reasons, we find the people who are least able to continue in employment. We are, therefore, faced with the dilemma of trying to maintain in employment those whom we need most, whereas the people who are most anxious to stay in employment are those whom we do not need so greatly. Confining myself to the case of men, the problem seems to be concerned with those of 65 years of age, who, for one reason or another, are compulsorily retired, either by the State, by local government, by nationalised industries and, in a few cases, by private industry, although I think the figures given in the Ministry of Labour Survey for a sample section of employment show that something like 86 per cent. of manual workers have no compulsory retiring age. I would ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary if he could amplify what measures the Government are taking, in spheres under their control and in nationalised industries where they exert some influence, to see that this compulsory retiring age is not rigidly enforced where the people concerned can make an efficient contribution in useful employment. The other main reason why people retire at 65 when it is not compulsory is because, for health reasons, they are not physically capable of continuing, and in these cases, I want to emphasise what my hon. Friend has said and urge that we ought not to drive these people into a position where, by financial stringency or hardship, they have to carry on at work when all their inclinations and instincts are that they should retire. Of course, that links up with the debates which we shall be having fairly soon on the increased pensions proposals. I do not want to trespass on that at this time, though we ought not to lose sight of the fact that there are many people who, because they cannot continue in work for physical reasons, nevertheless feel that they ought to continue to earn extra money because of the cost of living, and so on. We have to tackle that problem from another point of view, and not necessarily in this debate. The Ministry of Labour has made an appeal to employers of all kinds to continue men in employment where possible, and we ought to recognise that this imposes very great difficulties on employers, such as the kind of re-organisation which the hon. Member for Edgbaston mentioned. We have also to bear in mind that these men, who are no longer able to follow one skill and yet are fit for other skills, are not able at 65 to adapt themselves to these new skills, and that it is very difficult for the Minister of Labour to retain them in that kind of employment. The point with which I really want to deal, and which seems to me to be the main problem, concerns not the man in employment who wishes to continue, although that is difficult enough, but the problem, which is important to me, as representing a development area, of the elderly man who is out of work and is seeking employment. It may be the case that, in the Midlands, this is not such a great problem as it is in the development areas. It is the only unemployment problem which we have to face today in the development areas. The Ministry's figures show quite clearly that of the people who have been unemployed for the longest time, that is to say, for more than 52 weeks, 28 per cent. are over the age of 56. That is the real problem which we have to face. How can we find suitable employment for people over 56 who have had a long spell of unemployment? I hope that my hon. Friend will find time, when he replies, to give us some indication of what his Department is doing along those lines. The situation is further complicated by the fact that people over 56 are usually the least able to enter an occupation in heavy or manual industry, because many of them are suffering from some kind of illness or disability which makes it very difficult for them to make an equal contribution with younger and more fit persons. Yet, at this time, when we ought to have every available pair of hands, it is essential that these people should be brought into employment. Whether we can do anything with these people on a part-time basis, or whether we can extend still further the quota for disabled persons, giving a special preference for elderly people or providing the same facilities in sheltered employment, I cannot say, but I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us some information on that point. The main considerations we have to face are that we cannot move quickly in this question of getting a new conception of the retiring age until we have a climate of opinion in the country. Until now, all their thinking on this question has been centred round how soon they could retire, and what was the earliest point of time at which they could enter retirement. That may have arisen from the fact that there was no full employment; nevertheless, we must now have a change, and we must get them to move towards another conception of how long they can continue at work without making themselves a hindrance to society or interfering with their own health, and so on. I think we must have more propaganda on these lines and give more thought to this question, because, if we move too quickly, it will produce some of the dangers which I have mentioned. It seems to me that the best safeguard that we have for maintaining employment for the middle-aged and elderly is to pursue the kind of policy—and I am trying to be non-party in this matter—which has produced full employment in the past five years, and, where we do need these people, to pursue the kind of social security system which we have been able to build up over the past six years. If we can maintain those two main props of our policy—full employment and social services—we shall be doing a great service for the elderly and middle-aged people, whom the Motion is trying to assist.
I agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), although I am not sure that the problem to which he directed particular attention, namely, that of people over 56, is necessarily one that is confined to the people he has suggested, but I propose to return to one particular aspect of that question at a later stage in my remarks.I was very interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) had to say about the incentives which prompted elderly people to decide whether to retire or to continue at work. I am not at all sure that the most important incentive will not prove to be the rising cost of living, which the Chancellor admitted he found himself unable to prevent. That in itself may have an important bearing on this matter. In deciding how far the suggestions are reasonable, and I take it that that was the object of my hon. Friend's questions, and how far it is considered these inducements to remain at work are reasonable, I think we must look at the matter from a broader point of view. There are many who are compelled to retire at the minimum age at which retirement is possible; and those who have said that most people faced with such a choice prefer to remain at work are quite right. But, under the Chancellor's proposals, those who are compelled to retire at minimum retirement age are going to have to wait five years before they receive the benefits of the increase in the basic pension. I noticed that in some of the speeches we heard in the last couple of days there was some pressure put on the Chancellor to reduce the waiting period from 70 to 65 years of age before the increased pensions were to be granted. I hope the Chancellor will resist that, because unless he does so it will make nonsense of the background of his proposals, namely, that gradually we must think in terms of a higher retiring age. Assuming that the waiting period is necessary, the Chancellor, quite rightly in my view, has raised the casual earnings limit from 20s. to 40s. I have always believed it was right to do something for that type of individual who wanted to contribute, even casually, to production but who had been obliged to retire from regular employment and had great difficulty in making both ends meet. If, in the interests of society and of humane considerations, it was necessary to do something for that individual it was equally necessary to do something to encourage a like proportion of the people to remain at work by loading the dice equally on the other side. As things stand at present, there is a complete drop from the casual earnings limit of 40s. and the cancellation of a man's pension for any increased earnings he gets over that figure. It is rather as though there was an Income Tax limit of 9s. 6d. in the £ and no gradual steps leading up to that figure. I still think that, admirable as that increase in the casual earnings is, there is scope for shading it off with some additional concession which will not act as so marked a deterrent to earned income as the steep drop provides at the present time. I come now to the people who are to be encouraged to remain at work by the increase in the increments which is part of the Chancellor's proposals. I welcome that for the reasons I have given—that if casual earnings had to go up there should be a comparable, effective loading of the dice on the other side to preserve roughly the same proportion of those who desired to continue at work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake), speaking yesterday, asked that an additional incentive should be given to employers to employ men over 65 and women over 60. He suggested that to encourage people to continue at work the insurance contributions of such individuals should be excused. I find myself unable to associate myself with that suggestion. There are those who criticise it on the grounds that it gives an advantage to such people in contrast with those who are younger. It is not for that reason that I differ from the view expressed by my right hon. Friend. But I think it would be a pity if in singling out the over 65 and over 60 one did it in such a way as to create the impression that there was something special about those ages. I think there is a better way of handling the situation. It follows what my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) said about transferring people from arduous work to suitable and less arduous work and sometimes arranging for part-time instead of whole-time employment. At the moment, the insurance contribution is necessarily a full one, both for the employer and the individual, for a very few hours' work or a week's work. I think I am right in saying that a part-time worker has to pay a full-time insurance contribution. There is considerable scope here for encouraging the employer to employ and the individual to work on a part-time basis by relating the insurance contribution very much closer to the time which the worker puts in than is done at present. If it is suggested that any change of that kind should not be confined merely to those who have reached retirement age and decided to stay on, I would have no objection. It seems to me unreasonable that a full week's contribution should be required from those who have not done a full week's work. On those lines I hope some possible changes may follow from the detailed discussions which are to come on later. The only fear I have about these admirable increased incentives and forms of help for the aged is that much of the apparent benefit will have been dissipated when they come into force by a further fall in the value of money. Apparently we are to wait until October before these rates are to be applied. All the evidence seems to suggest that by then they will not be nearly as valuable as people expect or would like them to be in terms of real money. Only a short time ago I had correspondence with the previous Minister of Labour to see to what extent the desire of men in the Forces for a life career in the service of the State could be increased. I was told that active steps were being taken and that before long a public announcement would be made of the steps the Government intended to take; but at the time of the correspondence the matter had not reached quite that stage when such an announcement could be made. I hope that if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is going to say a word at the end of this debate we may hear something of the Government's intentions, as to how they propose that a man coming out of the Forces, well before 56 in many cases, is to be encouraged to find a job.
Or a house.
That, of course, is a very important thing too, but the actual job so that he may have the means of paying the rent of that house seems to me just as important as the dwelling itself. There is scope for the nationalised sector of industry to do more than it is doing at present to give practical effect to the desire of many people when they come out of the Forces to continue in another role the career of serving the State through particular types of work in the nationalised industries.At the moment, there is little difficulty in coping with most of the men who come out of the Forces after a period of Regular service. It is one of the most important elements in the recruiting for the Regular Forces but there is a fear that at some future date the present conditions may not prevail and for want of adequate steps on the part of industry and the Government a man might find himself out of a job when he comes out of the Services and in a situation which he regards as thoroughly unfair. Particularly is that so in the case of the officers. That is a very difficult problem to handle because there are many who, when they come out of the Forces, frequently in the prime of life, have had considerable responsibilities, and it is not easy to put them over the heads of others who have served a firm loyally and efficiently, in order that they may be found work which is commensurate with their skill and responsibilities. That problem is no less important, and indeed it is more difficult to solve, than the problem of finding employment for the ex-service ranker. I hope that that aspect of the matter will not be overlooked. Unfortunately, I expect that before the Parliamentary Secretary intends to reply to this debate I shall have to leave for another engagement, and I hope, therefore, that he will acquit me of any discourtesy if I have to look to my copy of HANSARD tomorrow for the comments which he may make on that aspect of the matter.
During this morning we have had the pleasure of the company of many of our Scottish colleagues, which is rather unusual on a Friday. I began to think first that they were all going to line up outside Westminster Abbey for the purpose of welcoming the Stone back again and that that was the reason why they were here. But on reflection I remembered seeing a lot of stalwart "Scotties" on various underground stations this morning with their tartans and bonnets, and it dawned on me that the football match on Saturday afternoon was possibly the main centre of attraction and that the presence here this morning of Scottish Members was incidental to that.We are indebted to the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) for choosing this subject and for the extremely able way in which he has presented his case. Listening to the various speakers during this debate, I gained the feeling that the general approach was that this is a temporary problem. It is not a temporary problem. This problem is going to remain, and it will vitally affect the life of this nation and will determine whether or not we shall remain a great nation. It is an astounding thing that in spite of the vast range of social reconstruction in which we have been engaged since 1946—I am not making a political point—in regard to housing, the social services, insurance, the Health Service and the various other measures of social and economic reform, practically no regard had been paid to the very important work that was done by the Royal Commission on Population. It is a staggering fact. I have never understood why at the beginning of the last Parliament or as soon as we got the evidence from the Royal Commission on Population, we did not have a two or three days' debate so that we could all see clearly the size of the problem which has to be tackled. It is, indeed, not a temporary problem; it is a problem which is absolutely fundamental to our existence as a people.
It is growing worse.
One hon. Member referred to his own reactions when he first came to this House, and I felt rather as he felt. I came here in 1945, and I was a grandfather at the age of 43. If I did not feel old, I certainly felt rather mature. But, bless me, when I wandered about among my colleagues and when I looked at both the Front Benches I began to feel very young comparatively, and I began to feel that I ought to be in the League of Youth. I remember on one occasion the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) referred to a junior Minister on this side of the House, who I think was then 42, and told him that he had better wait until he grew up. Age is certainly comparative. It is not a disease. Age is a natural process and old age is something at which we arrive if we are lucky enough.When I listen to some of my elderly colleagues on this side of the House I begin to wonder about our attitude to work. I do not see anything wrong with work. I think it is a good thing for men and women to work, and I think they generally start getting into trouble when they are not doing useful work. My feeling about the psychology of age is that when we get old we want to feel that we are wanted, that we are doing something useful and that we really matter. I do not pretend to be anything more than a humble student of psychology, but I suppose that if we watch our own evolution and analyse ourselves and our wives, it all comes to this—that we come on to this earth, we develop, we get married, we have one, two, three or four children; then the children grow up and they want to stand on their own two feet, as they are entitled to; and it gradually begins to dawn on us that our main purpose has been fulfilled, and that which has given us a real interest in life has passed because our children no longer want us. It is that sort of psychological hangover from being wanted that matters so much. The hon. Member for Toxteth made a point with which I agree, namely, that in approaching this problem we must recognise that our old ideas of sticking figures against ages is a little out of date. I would say that a person of 70 today is equal in physical fitness to a person of 65 some 40 years ago. Retirement is not sought after; let us recognise that. The bulk of the people do not want to retire. They want to keep on doing the things they have been doing and in the way they have been doing them. The hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) said something which is profoundly true, and I think we ought to pay great attention to his remarks. It is one thing to get a man to continue in the environment to which he is accustomed. Even the smells and noises are all part of the pattern of his life which he accepts instinctively. But if somebody else who has had quite a different environment is put into that job the result cannot be good. People want to continue as long as they can in the environment in which they have developed. I want to say a few words about the recent insurance proposals. It seems to me that one of the great mistakes that this Government has made, as well as other Governments, has been to look at insurance schemes as purely financial operations. The problem is not only a human one; it is fundamentally an economic problem. If a man does not work—that is, if he does not put something into the economic pool which is to be shared out—then somebody else has got to work harder. The real wealth of the country is the result of socially useful work. Therefore, if a person retires when he is still capable of working or if he is sick or lives on interest, then the men and women who are working at that time have got to do a bit extra because of him. It is true, of course, that we store up some of our work which we call capital. I agree with the hon. Member on the opposite benches who pointed out the economic effect which the employment of old people would have on young people as against the opposite point of view of the effect on promotion. In the 1946 Act, which I think is the most important in the whole range of insurance Acts, I think there are two basic misconceptions. One is that we accepted as an actuarial calculation and also as a principle the necessity for providing for a return of mass unemployment. The other out-of-date approach was the acceptance of wrong ideas as far as longevity is concerned. Where the mistake has been made—and here I agree in the main with the article in "The Times" of yesterday—was that because of our historic approach where we have always bedevilled this question, because of unemployment and very often because of wrong sentiment, we have looked upon 65 as the right age for retirement. What I think we should have done was to put over the idea that the normal age for retirement in this different economic structure, in this age structure of our population, should be not 65, but 70. One of the most difficult jobs which I find, both inside Parliament and inside my own party—I cannot speak with any intimate contact with the other parties—is to try to persuade ourselves to face the situation objectively. We should look at the facts of today and come to conclusions on those facts. How often in this House do we hear each other trying to solve the problems of today according to a conclusion which we reached 25 years ago when the circumstances were quite different? In the old days, even when unemployment was rife in the land, I did not feel that there was anything very desirable in compelling a man to retire, because what happened was that very often retirement was a ticket for death. Many years ago—so many years that I cannot give the accurate figures—I paid some attention to the question of the longevity of retired engine drivers. It was staggering to see what a short period of life they had. Their job occupied them right round the clock and they were cut off from the normal type of contacts because of the nature of their employment. Then they simply slipped out because the retirement age had come, and so often it meant a ticket of death for them. The most important point brought out in this debate was that mentioned by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest (Mr. Powell). To some degree it was followed by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). It is an extraordinary fact that, so far as we can see from the Report issued by the Actuary, the insurance proposals to give increments after 65 have had practically no effect, by comparison with the pre-war years, on delaying retirement. That is a striking fact and one which will compel us very seriously to think when we deal with the legislation on the subject in the near future. Will an increase of another 6d. produce the desirable result? Frankly, I do not think it will make any difference at all. Assuming that a man can please himself whether he retires or not, the sort of proposition which he will put to himself is this: "If I pack up now, shall I get most out of the Fund that way or should I get more if I carried on working?" The second proposition which I think he will put to himself is this: "If I decide to continue work and then I die say at 68, what will happen to my widow? Will she receive any benefit from my desion to continue in work?" I think our people are beginning to realise that women are healthier than men and live longer. That is a statistical fact. I think the Government would do well to consider giving some form of special compensatory allowance in the case of a man who elects to go on working between 65 and 70 and who subsequently dies in that period. Such a benefit could be in the form of a lump sum payment to the widow or in the form of something additional to the proposal already in the White Paper—which I admit is an advance—by which it has been decided to add those earned increments to the widow's pension.
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he thought no change would follow from the improved increments. Would he say whether, in his opinion, if nothing else were done to add to the attractions of retirement, the increase permitted in casual earnings would affect the issue or not?
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was coming to that point. I am quite certain that, of the new proposals, that to raise the amount of earnings is far more likely to have an effect than that to raise the increments. It will have an immediate effect on a whole range of people and I welcome it very much. I think we have made some advance in the White Paper on the bad old principle of, once retired always retired.May I say a few words about the Ministry of National Insurance? When the Acts were being formulated, I had the privilege of coming in close contact with many of the Ministry's officials and I think they form one of the finest bodies of officials in the Civil Service. They are human, they are understanding. I think that is the case with all of those I met. Nevertheless, there is always a tendency, particularly in a great administrative machine like this, for them to want to get things nice and tidy; there is a danger of trying to make the people fit the insurance schemes instead of making the insurance schemes fit the people. I have a feeling that it is the administrative difficulty of overcoming the problem of a man returning to work which holds us up on this issue. As I interpret the White Paper, we are to allow a six-months period within which a man may determine whether he will continue to work or not. I should have thought it would have been far better if a man who wanted to work between the ages of 65 and 70 were given the first three years in which he could be brought within the scheme of increments and in which such an action would be worth his while. What I believe is our main source of difficulty is not in the Insurance Acts at all but largely in the private superannuation schemes. What a ridiculous position we have today! I have not the most recent figures of expectation of life, but I know they are rising and rising. Yet we get the "Too old at 40" stuff put over, or "Too old at 45". We have the highly selective entry into the sheltered occupations, with their strict medical examinations so that other industries have to carry those who are physically not so good. What seems to me to be the problem is this: the heavy industries, where we really sap the physique of men, as we do in the mines and the iron furnaces, are invariably the places where there are no superannuation schemes. I think that point was made by inference by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). Where we find the great superannuation schemes is generally in the sheltered industries or among clerical and administrative staffs. I do not say they should not have these superannuation schemes, but the present arrangements throw the whole problem out of balance. When we turn to reach a general, overall plan for the nation, we find that special provision has already been made. I think that is out of turn. I shall be very careful in what I say because I do not want to upset my clerical friends, but I hold very strongly that there is an overwhelming case for a proper additional pension scheme in the mining industry and in the other heavy industries. We cannot tackle this problem nationally until we see to that. There is another danger which I sensed this morning. I do not think we can make the sort of sweeping generalisations which some people have made this morning and still be sound in our opinions. I have noticed very often in local government and in large established businesses that men go into high executive posts, which need imagination, keenness and drive, at, say, the age of 30. Such a man gives all he has until he is 50 and then, knowing that he is compulsorily to retire at 60 or so, often lies down on the job for the last few years. I think we should recognise that there are certain posts that demand that retirement should be at a much earlier age. I do not see any reason why we cannot as a people find some method whereby the people who have important posts—I do not mean in the top flight necessarily but the big executive jobs—cannot accept jobs at a different scale, to allow newer men to come to the high executive positions; and without any loss of face. Human dignity is so terribly important. Finally, it seems to me that we are only at the beginning of tackling this problem. I think the Ministry of Labour can do a lot, and I hope that we are not to be pushed off today with a vapid sort of speech giving us nothing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) dealt with the difficulty of fitting people into different industries. I think we are only at the beginning of our work so far as training old people is concerned. Much could be done there. This problem, as I see it, is fundamentally an economic problem. It is a human problem. The facts of today have to be faced. Again I say to the House this is not a temporary problem: it is a permanent problem. It is a fundamental problem—if we are to exist as a people, not only playing our part in the world, but giving a good life for our younger people. Let me say this—and I say it most sincerely—that no nation can live unless its main preoccupation is with its young people. My approach, then, is not purely economic. It is also humanitarian. But I do beg of the House to cut out false sentimentality, and to recognise the seriousness of the problem and opportunities for action arising out of a realistic consideration of the facts.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), began and concluded his very interesting speech by emphasising that this is not a temporary problem which the House is asked to consider. I think there will be very general agreement with what he has said upon that matter. Several hon. Members on the other side have emphasised another point which they have clearly regarded as of importance, and that is that, if people are to continue to work after the normal retiring age they should only be asked to do so voluntarily.I do not think that anything else has ever been suggested, and I would remind the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his statement the other day, put it in these words:
So I do not think for a moment that there need be the fear—quite rightly expressed—that there is, for example in the heavy industries—the mining industry has been mentioned today—any compulsion in the matter. I believe that there is a widespread wish to continue in useful work, and that we should do everything we can to foster it. In this instance the House must be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) for raising this subject. He was fortunate in the Ballot, and I think the terms of his Motion have found general acceptance on all sides of the House. As it seems to me, there are two principal benefits to be expected from permitting people to work later than hitherto they have done. The first, of course, is solely economic—increased production. The second is the humanitarian side of it, the making rather easier the lives of older people, the old age pensioners and others living on small fixed incomes who are faced with very-great difficulties at the present time. However, production is the key to recovery. I was impressed by what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) said the other day, that if we are to pursue this plan for retaining older people in employment"We must encourage the wish—already widespread among older workers—to remain in employment after the retirement ages current today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 849.]
On the other side of this picture, I would say a special word for those who do find great difficulty in later life in these days. I do not believe that there is any hon. Member of the House who has not for long been conscious of the grave difficulties with which old age pensioners, for example, have had to contend—and I am putting it, I hope, most moderately—or who has not desired to find some way of assisting them. It has been pointed out that to raise the basic rate is a very costly matter. None the less, no one can live on 26s. a week, and I feel that the methods of supplementation do not always work out satisfactorily. On this point, which is, surely, material when we are considering encouraging people to continue at work, I would say—and one is, perhaps, entitled to bring some special knowledge to bear in the House—that in the courts we are frequently called upon to decide—or to estimate—the cost of maintaining a person for a week in order, later, to assess damages. Before the war it was estimated that it cost £1 to keep a person for a week. That, of course, is grotesquely low nowadays; and I have reason to believe that it may be found that the figure is very much nearer 42s. or 45s. at the present time. We are very glad that the basic rate is to be raised in certain cases. For my part, I have always thought that the greatest hardship today upon those who are in receipt of retirement pensions is to be penalised if they earn something outside, and to have their pension reduced if they earn more than £1; and I, for my part, rejoice that that amount is to be put up to £2 before the pension is to be reduced. Then, again, those on the small fixed incomes are in grave difficulties. The Chancellor himself said:"We must have co-operation from associations and trade unions to remove the rule that compels people to retire at an early age."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 1087.]
I think, therefore, it is right that they should be encouraged and enabled to supplement their incomes by useful work. I do not propose to detain the House for long, but I desire to mention a specific category of persons for the consideration of those who later, no doubt, will make plans upon this problem; and I wanted to say a special word about those engaged in the great calling of teaching. I think the whole House is anxious to see the provisions of the Education Act, 1944, fully implemented at the earliest moment. All of us know that an essential improvement in our educational system is a reduction in the size of classes, which requires an increase in the recruitment of the teachers. The problem is whether teachers are being retained in their calling late enough or whether some are wrongly rejected on account of years. Although it is an isolated section of the problem, that is a very important point to consider. The House may remember, although I doubt it, as there have been so many regulations, that the Primary and Secondary School Grant Regulation, 1945, laid down the conditions which had to be satisfied before the grant was payable to primary and secondary schools. Among the conditions laid down was included the question of the size of classes, 30 pupils in some cases and as few as 15 in others, and there was, of course, a clause stating that in difficult circumstances that condition need not be insisted upon. In particular, I call attention to another condition which reads:"…those dependent on small fixed incomes which they have difficuty in increasing suffer most from the price increases.…"—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 848.]
I say at once that I do not quarrel with that age limit, but what I have found as a matter of practice—it may be that hon. Members have found the same—is that there has sometimes been a reluctance to employ what one could call the 45–50–55 group. In particular, I have known cases of teachers of wide experience who have retired rather early and who desire to emerge from retirement to help in this important sphere of activity but, on account of years, are rejected. While we are discussing the whole problem of encouraging our people to work later and to retire later, we should certainly take into account the position of the teaching profession. The Chancellor referred to the increased cost in educational estimates by the very much increased number of children at school. Perhaps means may be found to help by retaining the service of teachers rather longer than is done at present."A teacher shall not be employed after he attains the age of 65 years unless such employment is approved."
Although the Motion before the House today refers to middle-aged and elderly persons, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine what is a middle- aged person and what is an elderly person. The chief point we have to bear in mind is that we are living in completely different times from those of a generation ago. Twenty years ago there were approximately 1,500,000 to 1,750,000 unemployed and the difficulty was to find employment for anyone. Today, the difficulty is to retain as many as we can in employment and that is the idea behind incentives to keep old people at work as long as possible.I do not think that this is a temporary problem. It is one which will become ever greater, and we have to face that fact. We should all realise the necessity of keeping people in employment as long as we can, but when we speak of incentives we miss what, in my opinion, is the most important of all. There are three main reasons why people retire from industry. One is physical incapacity to carry on any longer, and I think that is the main reason. Another is unsuitability of employment and the third is compulsory retirement, to which the hon. and learned Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Nield) referred. Of those who retire for those three reasons the great bulk retiring at 65 and before do so because of physical incapacity to carry on. The industry in which they are employed determines this to a large extent. Men who burn up a lot of energy in their daily work wear out much quicker than those who do not burn up so much energy. In the main, those are the people for whom so little provision has been made by way of superannuation and such schemes. Whatever incentives may be offered to keep these people in employment, the biggest trouble is experienced in getting over physical incapacity. One of the dangers in this proposal is that a man may now have to ask himself, "Shall I continue to burn myself up at this rate, knowing full well that if I do I shall be compelled to retire at 65, whereas if I take care of myself I may be able to go on until I am 70 and, therefore, get all the benefits of the increments and the increased pension?" It may have the result that the man who burns himself up in his daily work may say to himself, "So that I may get the most out of it and that my wife may get the most out of it, I must conserve my energy a little more so that I may stay on a little longer." I do not say that that will happen, but it is something of which we must not lose sight. We appreciate the incentives which are offered by the Chancellor, but we must not over-rate them. Those physically incapable of carrying on their work are closely related to another class in some types of employment. A man may be incapable of hard physical work at 65, but it may well be that if he could get a lighter kind of job he could carry on for a few more years. It is also a fact that it is very difficult to expect a man to change his type of employment at that late stage of his life. Indeed, it would be difficult to convince employers—even the State or local authority employers—that a man ought to be transferred from a heavy type of work because it is deemed unsuitable for him to carry on in production at that late stage of his life. It will not be easy and this problem is not capable of a simple solution. A man in that type of employment, but who is physically capable of doing a lighter type of job, presents a problem which will be difficult to solve. The question most easily capable of solution is that of the compulsorily retired men. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour that it is time that the Government got a move on in asking professional associations and trade unions to withdraw the compulsory retirement rule. It is no use saying to a man, "If you continue in productivity and work you will get some benefits," if there is no alteration in the rule of his professional association or trade union which says, "You must retire at x age." A move ought to be made immediately and negotiations ought to be opened now in those trades and professions to see that there is an alteration of that rule. We must keep people in employment longer. I have stated before, and I repeat it, that old people today are not getting a sufficiently large slice of the cake. The reason is because the cake is too small and, unless we make it bigger the tendency will be for them to get an ever smaller slice. We must solve the problem of productivity by thinking in terms of things as they are, not as they were. Since it is suggested by the Chancellor that there should be differences between pensions at 65 and 70, we ought to consider whether there should not be some departure from the usual terms of employment. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour should consider whether the man who is no longer physically able to do a week's work is capable of working half a week. That should not be done haphazardly. There are hundreds of old people willing to earn 20s. over the existing pension rate, but that is no incentive unless the work can be provided. The ideas of industry must be adjusted to the supply of workers. I am glad that this Motion has been tabled, because it not only gives us an opportunity of considering the problem, but it also gives the Minister of Labour an opportunity to do so. The country cannot hold its present position unless productivity is increased. With an increasing age limit that will become ever more difficult unless we devise ways and means of providing not only monetary incentives but physical incentives, as well. The bulk of the lowest wage earners, when they reach pensionable age, do not ask when they should retire; they carry on as long as they can. Indeed, many have to go sick before they reach the age of 55 because they are physically incapable of carrying on. We cannot today measure the age of a person by x years, for some are old at 60 and some are young at 70. This is not a question of politics, but of what is good for the country, and it is a question which, I am sure, will have the consideration of my right hon. Friend.
I agree with the last words of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard). I have sometimes thought that the invention of the calendar was one of the unfortunate achievements of human ingenuity. One might as well ask how old is a car which has been well looked after compared with one which has been badly used and neglected. The rigidity to which the hon. Gentleman has called attention had caused a great deal of the tragedy of human life. To carry that point a stage further, one might ask how old was Clemenceau when he was called upon to save France? How old was Gladstone when he formed his last Government? They were both in their eighties. On the other hand, it might be held against Marshal Petain that his spirit had gone when he was 80 and that Hindenburg did not know what he was signing when he was 80.This has been a completely non-controversial debate, and I do not intend, for once, to transgress. When I consider my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Oppotion, called to lead the nation and the Western world at the very age at which we say a man should retire, at the age of 65, that has nothing to do with politics. I think we all realise what a debt we owe to him and the energy he brought to that task. As a matter of fact, there are times even now when his incorrigible youthfulness presents a problem to those of us who support him.
He is a juvenile delinquent.
I want to deal with the philosophical aspect of this question, because philosophy has a lot to do with it. The case of the organised workers has been put fully by other speakers. I want to consider what retirement means. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), said that often it is a ticket of death. In the Admiralty, men who have held high positions in the Navy as rear-admirals, and so on, capable, healthy and vigorous, have retired and in two or three years have died. The death rate is astonishing, and we should look into that.Turning to people in humbler circumstances and with small incomes, can there be anything more embarrassing than for a man to hang around the house with nothing to do? A woman always has something to do, but a man feels that he is not wanted, that he has no place in life, that he has lost the companionship of his friends in the factory or even in the mines, where there is special cameradie. It is a dreadful thing to put a ticket on a man and say, "You are not needed; worse than that, you are a drag upon the community. You will see references to the problem which you present to the nation." That is a dreadful thing, and even putting aside the economic advantages of keeping men working longer, the humanitarian aspect is worth consideration. I was in the Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1940. One of my jobs was to go round the factories to exhort the workers to work 12 hours a day for seven days a week. Theirs was a magnificent effort, and very often the women seemed to stand up to it better than the men. I went to the Rolls-Royce factory in the early days of the Battle of Britain where I saw elderly men of 65 years of age or so working. Rolls-Royce had called them back, and those men had a bearing and pride which was very interesting to see. The country was in danger, and they had been called back from retirement. The management told me that the work they were doing was remarkably skilful. How wise that was, and why is it that we always seem to need war before doing these things, and then drop them in peace-time? A rather flippant and silly thing that is sometimes said at a cocktail party is that "work is the curse of the drinking classes." That may be a joke as jokes go, but I also think that some extremists opposite too often picture work as the exploitation of the human being. Work is something that gives dignity to man.
It should be, and the man who does not work is a pitiful creature. We must not imagine that because a man is old his spirit is keeping young. I am talking of men in all walks of life, both men of influence and men who hold small positions. But older men on many occasions are like a giant beech tree under whose branches nothing will grow. I have seen older men standing stubbornly in the way of promotion for the young. I have also seen the cruel attitude of youth to age. If this is something which is to go beyond the workers in the factories and embrace our whole conception of life, then there has to be an understanding between the different ages. I know that in my own household I cannot persuade my daughter and son to read Charles Dickens. I am sorry for them, and I would be prepared to read "Pickwick Papers" aloud to them if they would listen. But they are sorry for me, which I think is a healthy sign.We should look at this in a bigger way than merely from the economic aspect. I agree with what has been said about older workers having a chance to step into an easier job with perhaps rather less hours, and the same thing applies to management. Management should come down in the scale, as in the Army older officers make way for younger officers, and then work together with the younger people, the young with their ardour and faith in the future and age with its experience. There is a place in the divine scheme of things for older men. It is not merely an accident. The debate today has been well worth while, following so quickly upon the wise pronouncement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He may not have hit the headlines on this subject, because it is not easy to put headlines on common sense.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) was making a confession on behalf of the journalists about something which has been worrying us for many years—the question of common sense in headlines. I agree with him that this has been a most useful debate, and I am grateful for the way in which it has been introduced and to all Members who have taken part. We have had many constructive suggestions which we will take into account in pursuing our policy of retaining older men in industry.It has been said that we live in an age of paradox. When we recall that not many years ago, because of mass unemployment, it was almost an act of patriotism for older people to retire to make way for the young, it will be realised that the wheel has gone full circle. Like so many other difficulties confronting the Government, this is one of the by-products of full employment. It is a phenomenon which no peace-time Government has ever faced in the industrial history of Britain. It is because of this new approach that we have to go carefully. Members have pointed out that men who have worked in hard occupations, such as mining and the heavy industries, should not be expected to work in the same way as those employed in the lighter types of industry. It would be the height of foolishness for any Government to try to force people to remain in industry against their wishes when they no longer have the mental and physical powers to continue in their occupations. I was much impressed and moved by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). In addition to being a neighbour of mine in a constituency sense, he happens to be one of those whose background and experience in industry make his speeches always worth hearing. He asked what was our attitude on the question of compulsion. He need have no apprehensions, because we are fully conscious of the absurdity of compelling people to remain in industry, and we have not the slightest intention of doing so. When we remember that many of the older people to whom we are now appealing to return to or remain in industry are the very people who, in their thirties and forties, could get a job only if someone died or retired, it will be realised how necessary it is to "put over" this new development which they have never thought of or even heard of. We must be patient, therefore, and do all we can to bring them along with us on this very great need at the present time. The House has shown great interest in this matter. This is the third debate of this type I have answered in the past nine months, in addition to answering quite a lot of Questions on the same subject. I do not want to repeat the figures which I gave in July last in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins). I want to turn to the positive aspects of the matter as we see them in the Ministry. This is not merely a question for the Government. The Government are concerned in their capacity as an employer and they can be of assistance in other ways which I will mention later. It is a question for employers and workers themselves. The main difficulty is that we are shackled with the habits and customs of the past. We have discussed the problem with both sides of industry on our National Joint Advisory Council quite recently, and I am assured of the full support of industry in taking whatever measures need to be taken in this matter. I should like to take this opportunity to address myself, through the House to employers, to suggest practical ways in which they can help. I put them under five heads: (1) to see that their employment policy encourages the retention in work of all persons able and willing to continue in work irrespective of age and that no bar is placed on the engagement of older persons who are fit and willing to work; (2) to see that this policy is really understood and practised by personnel managers, works managers and persons responsible for the day-to-day decisions about engaging and retaining staff; (3) to make special arrangements, where necessary, for old people to carry on working—this might mean transfers among their staffs of those who can no longer maintain the pace to other departments where their experience can be of use—(4) to review their pension arrangements to see that they do not put a barrier to the retention of older persons; (5) to review in consultation with the trade unions concerned any agreements or practices which require retirement at fixed ages irrespective of other circumstances. To trade unions and workers I would appeal for a full realisation of the changed circumstances of the day and for their co-operation in encouraging and facilitating the employment of older people. The attitude of older persons towards retiring at 60 or 65 or to remaining at work is coloured quite a lot by what the younger people think about it when promotion is involved. The change of attitude then is not merely a question for the man who is approaching retirement, but for the people still in middle age, who should exercise some imagination about what they will feel when they approach the age of retirement and may wish to stay at work. To the older people who may be thinking of retirement, I appeal. I ask them to think again. Some of us may have become accustomed to the idea of retiring at a fixed age of 60 to 65, but a man of 65 can today look forward to a long period of useful life. I have no doubt that many people would have a happier and healthier old age if they continued in their work a little longer rather than giving up their routine and sinking into a premature old age. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion asked what action was being taken by the Ministry to encourage the retention of the middle-aged and elderly in employment. I can assure the House that we are very active in the matter. Following our discussions on the National Joint Advisory Council, the two sides of industry have agreed to give a wide circulation through their constituent organisations to a statement of the needs of the situation and of the practical steps which will help in seeing that elderly workers stay on at work or get fresh work. We shall make available to employers information about successful schemes which have proved helpful for the employment of elderly workers. We shall let them know that pension arrangements can be made to permit of the entry of elderly workers without raising Income Tax difficulties. I remember that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) showed us, during an Adjournment debate, what a number of his constituents were doing. We have looked into that sort of illustration and we think that a great deal of good can be done if we inform industry of the type of scheme which is going ahead well in firms where they have considered this matter in great detail. We believe that there is considerable misunderstanding about the Income Tax aspect of this question, and we shall do our best to clear it away wherever we can. We shall take all possible steps to give publicity to the situation in order to break down habits and attitudes of the past which we think are the main obstacle to progress. In doing this we shall make use of the committees representing both sides of industry which are linked to our employment exchanges. Our employment exchange service will continue to place in suitable work persons now seeking jobs. In his Budget speech the Chancellor outlined the new pension arrangements which have been announced by the Minister of National Insurance. These changes are expressly designed to encourage persons over 65 in the case of men, and over 60 in the case of women, to continue in employment. The pension rights of men between 65 and 70, and of women between 60 and 65, will remain as at present. From 1st October this year, a man who continues at work until 70, and a woman until 65, will get a higher pension. We hope that that will be a direct incentive to the postponing of retirement. A second incentive is the increment to their pensions which men and women get by working after 65 and 60 respectively. That increment is 2s. for each extra year they remain at work after those ages. On 1st October next that increment will be raised to 3s. There is a further change in the National Insurance arrangements to encourage people who have retired to take up lighter or part-time jobs because the amount that such people will be allowed to earn without reduction of their pension will be increased from 20s. to 40s. per week. The Government are fully conscious that as employers it is their duty to set an example to the country in the retention of older persons in work. We were asked to draw the attention of departments not only in central but in local government, and in the nationalised industries, to the need to enable such public servants to work longer and to retire later. Most hon. Members who have taken part in this debate have stressed these aspects of the matter. We think there is great scope for improvement in the conditions, and we shall do everything in our power to ensure that more is done in this direction. I am glad to be able to say that discussions have already begun on the Civil Service Whitley Council about Government employment. The Chancellor mentioned in his Budget speech that we propose to take this action on the Whitley Council. I can now tell the House that the official side of the Civil Service have proposed: That the Council should adopt as a general aim of policy the retention of all civil servants of all grades for as long as practicable, consistent with the efficiency of the public service. I believe that the House and the hon. Gentleman who asked me for a specific undertaking will agree that that is the type of action which has been sought in principle by hon. Members in all parts of the House. There will be difficulties. Hon. Members have mentioned the vexed question of the promotion of younger people. It would be a great tragedy if the younger people in industry were to be held back merely because we asked older people to stay in their jobs to a far later age. That would have a detrimental effect upon the outlook of our younger people. This is a subject upon which one cannot generalise. I was interested in what was said by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) who always brings an air of the workshop into this place. He pointed out that in many instances there are types of jobs and types of men calling for specialised treatment. We cannot merely put on a blanket and say, "From now on you can all stay in your jobs until you are 70."
Purchase Tax is another blanket.
We are discussing a serious point, and the hon. Member seems rather out of place in the Chamber.I have tried to show that the Government are giving a lead to industry in general rather than merely preaching to industry. One hon. Member mentioned a survey carried out by the Ministry of Labour, a report on which was published in January. I hope that all hon. Members will study it because many of its points are most revealing. We see, on page 3, that 37 per cent. of men and 20 per cent. of women no longer in employment said that they would like to return to full or part-time work if they had the opportunity. Three out of every four women and two out of every four men who said they would like to return to employment chose part-time work. Fewer of the older men than the younger men and fewer of those in poor or indifferent health than of those in good health said they would like to return to employment. One could mention many facets of this problem which have been scientifically analysed and are produced in the survey. On page 4 we get the answers to some of the questions which concern hon. Members. It says:
There, we see what is happening and if we can analyse the percentage of firms insisting upon a retiring age and discover how we can eliminate that and bring older entrants into those firms who could be taken into the superannuation schemes, and so on, I believe that a very great proportion of the huge problem would at once resolve itself. We have had many very helpful suggestions in the debate. I was a little alarmed at a point made by the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), because he seemed to be concluding, from the fact that there was no evidence to show that increased pensions were responsible for people leaving work, that we should put a curb on the increased social services which we are now giving to the older people. That is a dangerous philosophy. There are not now the same percentages of older people remaining in work as there were in 1945, and I believe that one of the reasons is that there is a higher basic level of pensions which, in itself, enables some people to retire who would otherwise have remained in industry. It is a very bad thing for us to believe that by increasing the social services we make ourselves a bigger problem in this respect and that that is a good reason for not going ahead with the social services. If we take the attendances at work throughout the whole range of industry, irrespective of age, which have been brought about by increased social security, the National Health scheme, and so on, we find that the country is gaining appreciably in productivity as a result of the greater expenditure which we have rightly incurred in bringing great social benefits to the people. I know that it is not easy over a few years, to change habits to which we have become accustomed, but we apprecrate the remarks of one of my hon. Friends, that many of the things which were right 20 years ago are quite wrong in existing conditions. That is true even from the trade union angle on questions like production, productivity and the like. We were rightly of the opinion in those days that if we increased production without any guarantees whatsoever, we should merely put ourselves out of work earlier, and that was proved to be the case."It is difficult to decide how far men retire at 65 or earlier because it is their wish to do so, and how far the attitude of both their employers and their fellow employees are responsible. About one-third of the men between 55 and 74 said their firms imposed a retiring age and of these about half said that they would have liked or would like to stay on beyond the retiring age."
The hon. Member says "Oh!", but I and some of my hon. Friends had the pleasure of going to the employment exchange became we did increase production. The hon. Member for Croydon, East, does not know what he is talking about. The resilience of the working people is such that, within a short space of time, they are now able to produce on a far higher scale than even the Government in their Economic Surveys thought was possible. That is because increased production no longer means increased unemployment. We can now ask people to remain in their employment without younger people having to suffer the evil effects of unemployment in consequence.We have been asked to do everything possible to ensure that older people fully understand the reasons why this step is necessary. That is most important. It is not enough to make appeals in round terms saying, "The country needs you." We must give a scientific analysis of the necessity for it. We shall devote all the energy we possess to putting before the people precisely why we require them to stay in employment. We have two people in charge of the Ministry of Labour whose first acquaintance with the work of the Ministry was not from a Ministerial angle; our first acquaintance with it was when we were unemployed for many years in our early twenties. In view of our background, our knowledge of precisely what unemployment means and our sympathetic approach to the problems of age in industry, I hope that the House will feel that we have the practical knowledge to stimulate us to go ahead with these great changes. I do not wish to detain the House much longer. I am grateful for the attitude which has been adopted by hon. Members today. I feel it would not be right for me again to go through the figures and to point out that we cannot continue to give increased pensions, increased benefits in old age, increased social services, school meals, and so on, and, at the same time, increase wages and salaries in industry unless we get a far higher standard of production and productivity than we have yet been able to achieve. In this, the nation can combine as a whole, for we have seen that for the first time our economy is sound and that we can stand on our own feet without help or aid from any nation. This position has been brought about. I believe, because of the knowledge of the working people that increased production does not mean increased unemployment. I hope, therefore, that in this great effort further to strengthen our economy by bringing a greater number of people who are able to contribute in their various ways into the workshops and factories, the people will appreciate that in doing this, they are helping us to speed the day when their standards of life can be vastly improved and, in doing so, will feel that they are giving a splendid service to this, the greatest country of all.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? On Tuesday night I spoke on this subject. I referred to a case where the Government were sacking a man merely because he is 65. Is there any hope—apart from the hon. Gentleman's peroration—that this man may now be retained?
If the hon. Member will give me details of the case, I will look into it.
The Financial Secretary has got all the details.
I think that the whole House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins), not only for exhibiting such skill in the Ballot—for many years I never drew a place of any sort—but also for putting it to such very good effect. We all remember his brilliant controversial speech on a controversial Measure with regard to transport; we all now equally congratulate him upon another brilliant speech of a non-controversial nature in bringing before the House a subject which is dear to the hearts of a great number of us. I pay my respects also to my hon. Friend the Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson), who so ably seconded the Motion.The Parliamentary Secretary will agree that it has been a pleasure this afternoon to have a debate upon a subject upon which we are not divided but are all at one. I think that Fridays should be used more and more for purposes of this sort, when we can all combine together to pool our knowledge for the good of the country and not merely to knock each other about. I prefer to call this an all-party subject rather than a non-party subject; it is one in which all parties can, and indeed have, combined. I have listened to most of the debate and have enjoyed it enormously. We have had speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Stockport, South (Sir A. Gridley), and Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett), both of whom, I believe, claim to be in the upper level of old age, reaching the age of 70, and who are both shining examples of the folly of retiring everybody at 70. No one in his senses would think that either of those gentlemen was in any way past his prime. We had a speech also from the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). If I may say so, I am rather a fan of his. I do not know anyone in the House to whom I would rather listen. I do not know whether it is because of his Lancashire voice—my father came from Lancashire—or whether it is not because of the wisdom and humanity that he always imparts into the words he uses, that I for one enjoyed immensely his contribution, as, I am sure, did the whole House. When I listen to the hon. Member I cannot imagine, except from his loyalty to his trade and his union, why he is not really sitting on this side of the House, but I shall not pursue that further. The disappointment to me is that we have had only one speech so far from a Scotsman. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two."] I am sorry, the second was while I was out of the Chamber. This should be a subject dear to Scotsmen. After all, tomorrow Scotland are going to defeat England at soccer, and today, I am told, there is an enormous number of Scotsmen in London. I should therefore have thought that the Scotsmen would have been very much in evidence in the debate this afternoon.
We are saving our voices for tomorrow.
Then we had a most charming intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter). One or two of the phrases which he coined will be remembered for a long time. Common sense but no headlines is something that might be useful for a good many after-dinner speeches of several of us in future.The question to which the Motion refers is a very topical subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in one of the more non-controversial parts of his lucid speech, outlined the Government's proposals for endeavouring to encourage older people to stay longer at work. The financial position which he outlined has been discussed at length by hon. and right hon. Members, and I do not wish to embark upon it today. The subject of the debate, however, has caught the attention, not only of the House, but of the public, and for its topicality we owe a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth who introduced it. I am surprised that no one, in my hearing, has yet mentioned that on Sunday last we had, in the Census, the basis of any exploration of this subject. We should have secured last Sunday an enormous amount of new data which, when analysed, will be of the utmost importance in the consideration of this matter Then, on Tuesday, we had the Chancellor's speech and his proposals, which have been debated since, and in spite of the attractions of the disputes over General MacArthur and the Stone, the subject we are discussing today has focused itself on the attention of the House. We are right in spending today to consider it. I speak only on my own behalf—this is a Private Members' day, and I should like to speak as a Private Member. The only reason why I wish to make a few remarks to the House is because this is a subject of quite outstanding importance in the life of the country. We have not given it nearly enough attention in the past. It is not only important now, with all our very special needs, but will become more important as the days go by and the expectations of life and all the vital statistics change. Therefore, there are one or two suggestions of a more pertinent nature that I should like to make. The question seems to divide itself into three parts. First, there are the financial considerations, the fundamentals of which the Chancellor in his speech put most lucidly. He said:
That is the financial position in its starkest, and it must be very significant to everyone who considers it. Then there is the angle of productivity. The whole House is agreed nowadays that if we are to increase our corporate standard of life, there is only one way of doing it, and that is by increasing our productivity. Here is a potent field by which, if properly used, we can increase our national productivity. Thirdly, and possibly the most important of all, there are the social and humanitarian considerations attached to this question. It is, and must be, a tragedy for a great number of people who still think they are worth something, to be placed upon the shelf, where they can only feel a drudge and a drag on their fellows and can no longer contribute to the life and wealth of the community. That seems to me to be a tragedy which, if it were handled properly, could be largely dispelled. On those three points there needs to be more work done than has been done so far, although I welcome very much what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the directive which his Ministry have given and the initiative they are taking on this subject at the moment. We have, or will shortly have, all the requisite data on which to work, from the Census and from the Report of the Royal Commission on Population. Incidentally, I do not believe that that Report has ever been properly studied in this House, and I often wish we had paid more attention to it. When the Census returns are available I believe that all the necessary data will be there, but it will need to be tackled comprehensively. I do not believe that the question of the middle and old age people in the community is one that can be left to any one Government Department. The Treasury, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of National Insurance, the Board of Trade and the Home Office all have obligations; it spreads over the whole range of Government and national activity. I suggest in all seriousness—and I make the suggestion entirely on my own behalf; it is not a party matter—that now is the time when we should set up a high level commission, or committee, or court of inquiry, especially to consider the whole question on its broadest aspects. Assuming we did that, I should now like to consider the sort of people we would want on the commission. First of all, we should have to have the statisticians to present us with the data properly arranged. Then we would need the employers and the trade union leaders, who are most directly responsible for employment. One hon. Member made the excellent suggestion that the initiative from the industrial world should come from the joint industrial councils. They have been doing a lot of work on this, both the industrial J.I.C. and the J.I.C. attached to the Whitley community, and they might well form the spearhead of the industrial contribution. Then we would need the doctors, someone from the medical world. There is a great deal of evidence to show that people who are well and active in employment whose lives are suddenly disrupted by retirement are apt to go to pieces. Indeed, we have all known in our own experience people whom we have seen lively and well one week who retire and are dead within three months only because their whole life has been changed. I know of several tragic cases of that sort. I therefore say that we want the medical world in on this too. There is another question which has not been mentioned this afternoon, but which I remember struck us very forcibly in the war when we were mobilising man and woman power. It is a fact that women in their sixties are very often able to undertake more steady work than when in their fifties, but our arrangement of things makes no allowance for these medical and physical characteristics, and these things should be studied. We also want social workers who have worked and are working so well with our old people at the present time, and who, from intimate knowledge, know their wishes and capabilities. We should of course want on the commission some representative of the older people themselves, both those in employment, those who would like to be in employment but have been pushed out, and those who have left employment of their own free will. There is a wealth of information which could be used if only it could be collected. The United States have given a lead in this respect, and a commission of the sort I suggest would be a beacon for our future, not only in the present emergency but for the future as far as we can see. I believe also that a change of occupation rather than a ceasing of occupation at what is now known as the retiring age is what a great number of people wish. Certainly these older people have very definite qualifications over and above their younger colleagues. They have definite advantages which in some cases outweigh the physical disadvantages appertaining to old age. They are, in the main, completely trustworthy with money, funds and securities, and they should therefore be able to find good and valuable employment in banks, insurance companies and places where large amounts of money are handled. Very often these old people are content with work of a more repetitive character. Many no longer want or care for the powers of responsibility; very often older people would rather not have the responsibility which they carried when they were younger but would welcome a job which a young and vigorous person might not like so much. It is my experience in industry that old people are better time-keepers and more reliable at turning up day after day than younger people. There are no counter-attractions. The girl friend counter-attraction is not always so strong; perhaps I can put it that way. There are no longer the same temptations to play truant. All these things should be considered, in addition to certain other matters. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us of the great interest the Ministry are displaying over the admirable survey they have made, about which we are all very pleased, but I wonder whether we might not have to go further and set up special machinery to advise employers and clients of the age we are considering on the best employment for them. It may even be advantageous in places to set up training centres for the old, so that they can take up different jobs more applicable to their age. These are only suggestions that I make, and I also think that there ought to be a corps of people, who, though they wish to retire, would be only too willing to take on temporary jobs from time to time, such as Christmas time and Census time, and help themselves out with a little extra pocket money, and also help the country in its need. I believe, in conclusion, that if a commission of this sort were set up it could do valuable work towards maintaining the standard of life of the country by fuller production, and work of an equally valuable kind in social and human happiness for those who have laboured long and loyally for their country and do not wish in any way to be put on the shelf and no longer regarded as any good. I believe this debate to have been of great value, and out of it I hope that some constructive action will emerge."It is well known that in the next 20 years there will be a larger and larger number of elderly persons, who, if they retire from work, will have to be supported by the efforts of a group of workers more or less constant in number. For every man over 65 and woman over 60, there were, in 1950, very nearly five people of working age. In 25 years' time, the probability is that the proportion will not be one in five but very little more than one in three."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 848.]
Like the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), I agree that we are fortunate in discussing today a subject which has been rendered topical by the Chancellor's words in his Budget speech and also by the taking of the Census. In view of what I propose to say, I do not suppose that I can object very seriously to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we might do worse than have some kind of Royal Commission to examine this problem in some detail.The Chancellor, in his Budget speech, drew our attention once again to the problem, which we have known for some time, of the increasing tendency for elderly people to be more predominant in our population, and, in tackling that particular problem, he has introduced some inducements to old age pensioners to continue longer at work. In my view, this problem can be divided into two—the short-term and the long-term problems—and the Chancellor has tackled only the short-term problem, while the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply to the debate, in my view, also dealt almost entirely with the short-term problem. In dealing, in the way which the Chancellor suggests, with this short-term problem, there are a number of dangers, to which my hon. Friends have drawn attention and which I need not dwell upon. It would appear from the course of the debate that we have stated quite clearly that there is to be no compulsion; in other words, we have established that the retiring age is 65 and 60, for men and women respectively, and it would be a great social mistake if, at any time in future, whatever our difficulties, we were to impose by compulsion a higher retiring age. Secondly, I think we ought to establish, as some of my hon. Friends have tried to do, that there should be no penalties in connection with this attempt to get people to work longer, and we ought to consider how far the provision of inducements to people to work longer do not, in fact, become penalties for those who decide not to accept them. I do not want to deal any longer with the short-term problem, important as it is, because I do not think it is so important, from the point of view of the national well-being, as the longer-term problem, which has not occupied so much attention today. First of all, in dealing with the long-term problem, we have to make the first assumption that the problem will exist. This is by no means certain, as I hope to show. On the assumption, however, that we have to deal with that long-term problem of the declining working population, we must first consider a very elementary matter, and that is what is it that influences people to choose a particular occupation. I would say there are three main factors which decide a man in choosing his occupation. They are environment, financial reward and educational opportunity. I should like to contrast the position today with the position, say, 100 years ago, because I think it has an important bearing on the problem we are discussing. Certainly, 100 years ago, the most important factor was undoubtedly environment. If a man was born into a mining village, he automatically had to become a miner, because there was no alternative employment. If a man was born into an agricultural community, he followed his father as an agricultural labourer, again because there was no other opportunity open to him. Even the financial reward did not operate in those days, but, with the growing choice of alternative jobs, then, of course, the financial reward entered into it, and the natural tendency was for a man to choose those occupations which offered a higher financial reward. Now I come to the third factor, that of educational opportunity. Again, 100 years ago, that just did not exist. A man who was born the son of a miner or an agricultural labourer had no alternative but to follow the same humdrum job. But today, that is quite different. We have the sons of miners becoming university professors, doctors, bankers and even Cabinet Ministers. The increase in educational opportunities has widened the field of opportunity for everybody who has to work, and it has had the effect, and will have an increasing effect in the coming years of widening the number of people available for what are regarded today as the more exclusive occupations. If I had rather more time, I should like to develop that point. In my view, these improvements in the opportunities open to everybody to secure far more variety in their choice of occupation will lead to a new factor being introduced into trade, industry and the professions, because when we have a greater variety of opportunity, the financial reward alone will not provide a sufficient inducement to make a man choose a particular occupation or to work longer hours in order to obtain a larger income. In the case of miners, I think we are probably on the border of that problem today. In other words, although the Labour Government have introduced much greater financial rewards since the end of the war, we have reached a situation when some miners, quite properly, despite the inducement of a higher reward feel so greatly the need for relaxation and renewing their energies that they are compelled to forgo that higher reward. On medical and other grounds they feel quite properly that the need for recreation is greater. This is only the beginning of the problem and I can foresee that when we have complete social equality and it is open to anyone to become a miner, agricultural worker, barrister or Member of Parliament we shall have to introduce not only a wage differential but also an hours of work differential. We shall find that men will have to choose between working a short period in a dirty disagreeable occupation and working longer hours in a more agreeable one. Men will have to decide whether they are going to work three or four hours a day in a mine or sewer or six or eight hours a day as a teacher or book-keeper. When we have reached a higher and more agreeable standard of living, I am certain we shall have to have this working hours differential.
Would my hon. Friend agree that at that time and in those circumstances there should be a pensions differential, on the understanding that men who work in ardous and dangerous occupations which inevitably tend to affect their health, should retire sooner and at a higher rate of pension?
That is precisely the point to which I was coming. When we come to the stage of a working hours differential we shall have the choice of saying that a man should work at an ardous occupation for 8 hours a day for, say, 30 years instead of, say, 45 years or only work four hours a day for a longer period. In the latter case men will be able to carry on for a much longer working life. That is precisely the problem which requires examination and if I had more time I would have liked to say something more about it. It is a point that the Commission suggested by the right hon. Member for Epsom ought to consider.
The hon. Member suggested—and I think the whole House will agree with him—that there should be no compulsion in this matter, but later he appeared to lay down a law that some people should work short hours for a long time, and others long hours for a shorter time.
I have to be brief and perhaps leave out a full explanation, but these things would be agreed to by trade practices and customs, just as today we have the agreed eight-hour day and 40 or 45 hours working week. Certain industries would have a three-hour day and others a six- or eight-hour day. A man working in the mines for eight hours a day for 20 years would have pension rights at the end of that period, whereas a man in another job might have to work for 25–30 years or longer before he had pension rights.One of the difficulties connected with the long-term problem is that of avoiding frustration. If we are going to have a longer working life then obviously we are going to have people in the top jobs, whether managing directors, managers, foremen or chief signalmen and so on, retiring at different ages and there will be no certainty about the age at which the chief man is going to retire. Therefore, one has the picture of a man becoming an assistant manager at the age of 40 and unable to see his way clearly to getting a general manager's job because he does not know when three or four people above him will retire. That leads to frustration. We have worked out the problem in politics, perhaps with one exception, but as this is a non-controversial debate I will not mention the exception. A man can become Prime Minister at the age of 55 and remain, on and off, Prime Minister until the age of 65 or so, and then he can step down from that high position and occupy a sinecure position, still giving the benefit of his advice to the Cabinet, but handing over the real reins of government to a younger man without any loss of dignity. That is not possible as we see things today in industry and business. If a man becomes managing director, he does not visualise himself retiring from that position at the age of 60 or 65 and making way for a younger man. If we had more time we could examine the system on the railways, for example, in relation to the job of signalman. A man works his way up through the various degrees of responsibility and reaches the top rank of chief signalman shortly before he is due to retire. If that man is going to work longer he is probably beyond his peak capacity, and yet there would be a natural tendency for him to insist on retaining the top job which he had reached in his normal working life. We must be prepared for a revision of practices in industries and professions in regard to reaching the top job of which people are capable at a mutually agreed age, and then if they intend voluntarily to continue beyond the normal age of retirement they must be prepared to step down by arrangement to a less responsible position without any loss of dignity. I want to make another point arising from this question of alternative employment. I think it is a matter which ought to have been touched on by the Parliamentary Secretary, because it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour to look into this problem. While it is apparent that a man can continue as a bookkeeper or school teacher or in some light occupation of that sort beyond the normally accepted retiring age, it is obviously physically impossible for men engaged in the mines or in heavy engineering industries to contemplate the same course of action. If we are going to contemplate the lengthening of the normal working life we have got to make arrangements for a man to work in the mines up to the age of 45 or 50 and then for him to be trained, if necessary, for alternative employment. It is impossible to expect men to continue in certain types of industry beyond a certain age, but it is more practicable for people in lighter forms of employment to do so. Although this has been an interesting subject for discussion, and I have no doubt that much useful knowledge will be gained by the Ministry of Labour in making its plans for the future, I should like to say in conclusion that this nightmare, this bogey of the increasing proportion of elderly people in the population and the fear that the youngsters will have to work harder than ever before to support them, may never materialise. We know that since the war we have had an annual increase in production of 7 per cent. If we can maintain that increase year by year, it will be very satisfactory. We also know that we stand on the edge of atomic achievements which may completely revolutionise our whole conception of the working life. It is my hope that under a planned economy, with the technical improvements that we know can be accomplished, instead of commiserating with each other because it looks as if we have got to work beyond the age of 65, we can say quite resolutely that by determined leadership and with technical improvements we shall consistently reduce the retiring age from 65 to 60, 55, 50 and even lower. There is nothing magic about the retiring age of 65. It all depends upon our working population, upon technical improvements and the way in which we make use of the manpower. That is why I say that although this has been an interesting subject, I am confident that if we go the right way about it, it need not be the nightmare which it appears to be at the moment.
I would prefer to see the speech of the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. R. Adams) in print before I comment upon it, because I fail to understand, from my recollection of what he said, how some of his ideas could be put into practice while still retaining the voluntary spirit which hon. Members have expressed from all sides of the House. May I say how much I regret that the two Front Bench speakers have spoken in the middle of the debate? I always feel that those who come after them are rather like the last turns in the theatre.In the Adjournment debate which I initiated a few weeks ago, both the Parliamentary Secretary and I expressed regret that only half-an-hour was available. Now, thanks to the good judgment of my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins), it has been proved that much good can come from a discussion on this important subject. It was sufficient to listen to the spech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who produced a line of thought well worth a good deal of examination by the Ministry, to see that the debate has been fully justified. As so many other hon. Members have said, the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) showed a sincerity and understanding which merit comment. But I felt that his reference to the particular and peculiar difficulties of the mining industry may have left a wrong impression in our consideration of other industries. We all know that the incidence of illness and disease arising from coal mining is one which makes a lot of people prematurely aged, but we should bear in mind the information given by the Chief Inspector of Factories, who said that there is a steep rise in accident rates of workers between the ages of 14 and 23 but no marked increase over 50. He said that acquired skills and habits compensate for declining strength and rapidity of movement. I remind the House of this statement, because it would be wrong to form the impression that because workers are growing older, they are not so skilful and there is a greater risk in their continuing in employment. The suggestion put forward by the Chancellor was clearly a step in the right direction, but I hope the Government and the House will not now sit back and consider that the job is finished. The suggestions outlined by the Chancellor are only a beginning in facing the problem—and it is a problem which, as has been said several times, will be fundamental in the future of this country. The Chancellor's speech was only a beginning and in some respects I feel that it was a rather timid beginning because, as the Parliamentary Secretary said in the Adjournment debate and as was emphasised today by my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth, the economic difficulties of the future are overshadowed by this problem. In my view the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central, was wrong in try- ing to minimise its effects. We should remember that in 1911 only one in 12 of the working population was over 65. Today, it is one in six and, as the Chancellor reminded us, in 25 years' time the figure will be down to one in three. This is the trend at a time when the competition in the world markets will be becoming ever keener. It is at a time when we are burning both ends of the candle and when, in view of another section of the Budget speech, we may set a flame to the middle of the candle as well. At one end, we have a higher school-leaving age, which has taken one million potential young workers out of employment—and I do not disagree with that—and at the other end we have 500,000 people extra over the age of 65. That is burning both ends of the candle if we look at the matter from the point of view of productivity. In the middle of the candle we now have the withdrawal of the initial allowances on the re-equipping of our factories, which is to take place next year. One of the greatest savings in the Budget was the £170 million saved by the abolition of this allowance on new plant and machinery. I think that it is too sweeping, and that it may well be a fundamental mistake, if the possible effects on productivity are examined, because at a time when our competitors are buying modern machines, which are produced by British brains, our industries are being discouraged from re-equipping, and our competitors will be modernised while we shall be old-fashioned, and, consequently, risk losing our export markets. Many fears have been expressed about the possibilities of unemployment, and there may well be a danger of it here. There is the problem that some people are kept out of productivity through the higher school-leaving age, and some are forced out of it through the retiring age of 65; while in the middle of the candle, we discourage the modernisation of our equipment. As was discussed in the Adjournment debate to which I have alluded, the problem of production faces four groups of people to whom we look for help. We look to the scientists to produce modern machines for better production with the present labour and materials. We look to the employers to make the fullest possible use of the scientists' inventions —and these difficulties put in the way of re-equipment are discouraging to them to some extent. Then, we look to the trade Union organisations to see that their members do not have any Luddite ideas. Finally, it is for the Government to give all the guidance and help they can in co-ordinating all these others. As I said, from the economic point of view, these proposed increases in the increments should only be a beginning. I hope that we shall set up the committee suggested by my right hon. Friend, to consider all the information. I was delighted to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government are contemplating doing just that, and that they are to co-ordinate the schemes that exist in ordinary private enterprise—and there are many. It is only a matter of obtaining some coherent form of the schemes which, by a process of trial and error, private enterprise firms have evolved. We suggested, in our party's Industrial Charter, doing something of the sort, and I think it is a very good idea, which would be accepted, along with some of the other ideas, by the Government of the day. We have heard further today of some of the schemes of the organisation of my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett). It would help greatly if the Government would get a good clear form for the schemes that have already been workable. I think that increasing the earning allowance should still further be considered. I agree with many other hon. Members who suggest that the actual increasing of the increments may not be the answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West put forward his views as one who had read the report of these increases, and said that the increments may not produce any results at all. I should like to read a letter that I have had sent to me, along with many others, following my recent Adjournment debate, which, I think, supports this point of view, the point of view being that either we ignore benefits altogether or we increase the level of earnings before allowing it to interfere with the pension. This is what my correspondent says:
"I am shortly retiring at the age of 65, although I am able and fit in every way to carry on my occupation. But what is the use? If I carry on I shall not be allowed to draw my superannuation, which will be about £2 5s. after 31 years' service. Also, I shall not be allowed to draw the £2 2s. old age pension for myself and wife. I shall get £2 5s. plus £2 2s. old age pension, making £4 7s. My wages are £5 18s. After stoppages, I have left £5 3s. 5d.
I quote that letter as some evidence in support of the view that it may even now be worth the Government's while to ignore any earnings, bearing in mind that these will be liable to Income Tax and, in view of the fact that the Actuary's Report said that the mere increase in increments may not achieve the objective we have in mind. The third point is whether the Government are doing all they should to give a lead. I remember that in the Adjournment debate the Parliamentary Secretary assured me that they were, but, following that debate—which had some publicity—I had another letter. As I think it much better evidence than some of our speeches, I do not apologise for reading this letter also. It says:Take away the £4 7s. I am losing. I shall be working for about 17s. 3d. per week of 44 hours. By the time I get the cheap tobacco granted to old age pensioners I shall be working for 4d. per hour and have to get up at six each morning and home again at 6.30 p.m. to earn it. I am only one of many thousands with the same outlook. If my wife and I can live on £5 3s. 5d. at work, I think we can live on £4 7s. without it, thus taking another fit man off the labour market."
"It was with great interest I read in the paper of your question to the Minister of Labour re the employment of elderly people, and the comments you made. I also read Mr. Lee's reply to you, which to my mind was an incorrect statement of the Government's policy. He may not know the facts, but there is a standing rule with the Ministry of Supply that in the case of any easing up of labour or any shortages where men cannot be found enough to do, men over 65 are to be sacked, even if work may be available in any other section and the men are shifted or transferred. The men over 65 are definitely put outside.
That is only one of several similar letters I have had and I have no doubt that other hon. Members have had similar letters.I had the experience myself a few months back. I was employed as a mechanic examiner in the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, on small arms. It was decided to reduce the department and a number of men, including myself, were given notice. I was the senior mechanic in the department with 21 years' continuous service. All the other men were offered shifts, or transfers to other departments, but I had to finish because I was over 65 years. I was quite fit and could have carried on far better than some of those remaining. No notice was taken of men with bad timekeeping records, or of laziness or of previous suspensions. That did not matter. They could remain while I had to go."
I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member, but I hope that this will be taken into consideration. Hon. Members have asked that we should run down staffs among the Civil Service as much as we could. For instance, the Ministry of Labour has run down from 40,000 to about 28,000 and inevitably, at a time when we are doing that, a goodly proportion of elderly people must go along with the others.
I appreciate that and I think the Chancellor dealt with it very fairly in his speech, in which he suggested that if we wanted to cut down staff, it could be done otherwise than by getting rid of elderly men. But I do not feel that the Government have given a lead in the way they should have done. I feel there are far too many cases, such as the one I have quoted, where there appears in some Government Departments to be prejudice against the worker over 65. I feel that it is important to pursue this and to set up a committee such as has been suggested, so that something tangible may be produced.
The difficulty in intervening in a debate of this character at this time is to find something new to say. I join with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) in regretting the time at which the intervention of the Front Bench opposite was made. I also compliment the hon. Member on what I thought was a fine Budget speech, as distinct from one on this Motion, but other speakers have covered the main issues in regard to this problem.I welcome the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite in regard to a commission, because the first provision of any legislation or government direction in regard to the employment or re-employment of elderly persons in industry, will have to be the conditions of that employment. If we accept the view that full employment will be with us for a long time, we shall have to review the field of industrial effort and output in relation to the type of employment which can be offered to elderly people and the firms which are best able to provide it. We have already established, through the employment exchanges, local employment committees, a combination of employers, exchange officials and trade union representatives, who deal with problems of a similar nature chiefly in relation to disabled persons. Most firms are taking their quota of disabled persons under Government legislation. I want to see that type of machinery extended to deal with this problem. The first thing a commission would have to consider would be the hours of work, and if directions are given to industry I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider laying down a maximum of 38 hours a week for elderly people. We should also make sure that elderly people are not engaged on piece work or in bonus occupations. Bigger firms can play their part in endeavouring to recruit elderly people in one department as productive time workers, making themselves responsible for their own efforts under the guidance of a manager, in order to give them an entity. It has been said that the heavy industries cannot and should not be asked to take them. Therefore the industries that can and should take them are the light engineering industries, and others of a like character. Those industries, however, are concerned chiefly with piece-work methods of production, and the rates from department to department are competitive. Whether piece workers are working in a team on the basis of group efficiency or on the basis of individual effort, it is obvious that we cannot put people on to production lines who will slow down that output. Therefore I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to bear the point in mind that, under no conditions, should we let these people operate on piece-work production systems. It would be wrong because they have neither the capacity nor the efficiency to do so. Those are my two main points. My third point is in relation to the general problem of production and the employment of elderly people. One of the most startling things I encountered when I first came to London was the great number of people who seemed to be engaged in administrative and unproductive work, people engaged in the distributive trades, in commerce and in administration. It struck me rather forcibly, when walking about the streets of London and seeing huge blocks of offices, hotels, business houses and banks, that all these people have to be paid for out of the product of the productive workers. How long can we continue to balance this top-heavy city administration against the productive capacity and rising standards of the productive workers? We have to face this problem and see whether men engaged in non-productive work, even in this House of Commons, would not be better employed in industry after being replaced by elderly people. It is obvious that in a competitive world, especially when we have to compete in the Western markets, that we have to produce more and more to maintain our standards. This can only be done on the basis of extra efficiency. The trade unions are realising this problem more and more. How shall we deal with the problem of people living longer, being more fit and desiring to work on, and the problem of older people blocking promotion for the younger people? The only way is on the basis of a Royal Commission. A lot of the ideas that have been advanced today can be left until this scheme has started. What has been said, above all else, is that the scheme will be voluntary. Therefore, before we can tell how it will work and what general effects it will have, let us decide on the types of industry that can employ these people, hours of work and conditions of pay. Let us give the scheme a run on that basis before trying to bring in some of these theoretical ideas that have been advanced. Employers may be able to take a certain number of elderly people from the employment exchanges, and this is where I wish to make a plea to the Minister. I ask him to consult Treasury officials on the basis that where an employer is prepared to develop a department for old people and advance the prospects of employment for elderly people, separate accounts should be kept so that financial help can be given if it can be proved that the department is not paying its way. If the department does pay its way, the financial help can be recovered. The point is that no matter how much they produce, it will be welcomed. We should not let any financial considerations boggle this scheme that has been mooted by the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins). Those are the only proposals that I want to submit, but I do so very definitely. As has been pointed out in a very charming and philosophical speech by the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter), there is a great desire among our old people to use their old age as gracefully as possible, and at the same time a desire to provide them with some incentive and freedom from worry. If we can do anything to help that process, this debate will have been worth while.
I am glad to be able to take part in this debate. I have been listening to all the speeches, with two exceptions, since 11 o'clock, and I shall therefore endeavour to avoid the heathen's vain repetition. If I shed my notes like autumn leaves as I go along, it will be because I think that points have been covered in the speeches of other hon. Members.The outstanding fact about the debate has been the unanimity among almost all who have spoken. The only opposition so far has come from two hon. Members who voiced a particular problem on behalf of the workers in heavy industry. They were the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). Frankly, I would say to them that I think their ideas on accepting help are rather Victorian. I noticed that in the speech made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South in the Budget debate the other day he did not seem to be quite in touch with the realities of the present situation. Although I make every exception as regards those who are physically unfit, including those who are engaged in heavy industries, we must accept the idea that ultimately there must be an increase in the retirement age. Perhaps the House will bear with me while I quote one of my own speeches. Last July I raised this question of unemployment among the elderly, and I said on that occasion:
I meant the standard of living. I welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a convert and I have proved that I am consistent in my own views. I think that we may have to raise the retirement age. I equally think it is important that where health comes into the matter we may have to consider not increments but the reverse, decrements, for those who cannot carry on for their full working life. That will only apply to a small section of the working population. One answer to the problem raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite is that at a certain point in life we should offer alternative employment, where such is possible. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken before me because there is one question which I should like to have answered. I, too, have studied the social survey and other documents of that kind. Can anybody say what is the total number we hope to attract into the labour market by the new proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I cannot help feeling that to a certain extent we are working in the dark. I have made as many investigations as I can and I think the probable number that can be added is somewhere in the neighbourhood of one million. In addition there is a further large number who can be brought in by part-time work. I want particularly to refer to the question of the actual incentives given in the Budget. I am myself disappointed, although other views may be expressed when the Insurance Bill comes before the House next week, that the new increment will not be extended to the wife. I think that it is a mistake to give the increment to the man and not give it on the same scale to the wife as well but only when she becomes a widow. On the subject of the extension of the earnings allowance. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) about raising entirely the maximum for the earnings allowance, and I am sure we shall hear more about that from the Minister of National Insurance next week, but I do suggest that in order to attract into employment the possible large number of part-time workers we should consider some variation of the earnings allowances, such as that over a certain minimum 6d. only should be deducted from the pension for each 1s. earned. I do not know whether such a suggestion has been considered by the Ministry, but I hope they will look into it because it would do away with the flaw in the present scheme that there are only two sections, the fully employed and those who are not employed except up to 40s. a week or for a quarter of the working week. That might get over the difficulty and help considerably. We must remember that we cannot just divide the insured into one or two rigid sections. Various types of employment are needed by those who wish to return to employment. A further flaw in the new proposals is the six months' limit which is imposed upon those who have already retired and wish to come back into employment. It leaves entirely out of consideration those people who may wish to quit employment for the time being on reaching the retiring age in order to rest for a while and then return to employment later. They will be able to do it now within the course of the next six months, but this should be a permanent part of the system. I hope that we shall not hear in due course from the Ministry of National Insurance that it is administratively impossible, because I believe our present needs are so great that we should make our administration more flexible in order to meet them. Another matter which I wish to raise is what the Ministry of National Insurance does about persuading people to stay on in employment. I hope that the Minister will look into such leaflets as the one entitled, "What you need to know about retirement pensions," which hardly mentions the increments which can be earned. An entirely new approach is needed. The problem of providing opportunities for employment is very largely a matter of publicity, and what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done and what the debate will do is to help very considerably in that respect. I was particularly interested in the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) about the appointment of a Royal Commission. I disagree with him on that, because a Royal Commission has so often been the tombstone on the grave of a good idea. We had a Royal Commission on Population which reported some three years ago, but it is only today that we are discussing the full implications. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary an alternative form of that suggestion. Some years ago the Minister of Labour appointed a committee called the Ince Committee to consider youth employment. It sat under the chairmanship of one of my very distinguished constituents and produced a report which has revolutionised our ideas on youth employment and has provided an entirely new machine for the entry of youths into industry through what is known as the Central Youth Employment Committee, which works through its local youth employment committees. A similar machine is needed for the problem we are now discussing. The local employment committees could seek and foster opportunities, and there should be a central employment committee under the Minister to see what problems arose and what changes were necessary. This would be far better than having a Royal Commission. I put forward as a serious suggestion that all the local employment committees should have serving on them a representative of the Ministry of National Insurance, because particularly where people drawing retirement pensions are affected, only they can properly provide the information about the availability of part-time labour. I hope we may hear more from the Minister on this point. Finally, I refer again to the question of changing employments. The Minister has been told today of many things which he ought to do, and in particular to look into what is done in Government service. I have on previous occasions questioned what was being done in Government service and in the nationalised industries and I should like to cite a particularly interesting example which has come to my notice of the employment of older people. It relates to London Transport, who are now taking on, with, I understand, the full approval of the union and the men concerned, men of over 50 years of age as drivers and conductors. This is a most constructive contribution to the problem we are discussing today, and it is only fair that this should be said. In that type of action may be the answer to the kind of problem which has been raised by hon. Members opposite. It is quite likely that instead of thinking in terms of one man, one job, one life, we should think in terms of one man, two jobs, one life. Most of us who came into the House have changed our employment."I think it may well be necessary to extend the working life of our citizens in order to maintain that standard."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2436.]
I hope that as far as I, at any rate, am concerned, it will be for some years. Those are the lines on which we might approach the particular problem of heavy industry. I remind the Parliamentary Secretary that he has powers under the Employment and Training Act, 1948, to institute the very training schemes for which hon. Members on both sides have asked. Everybody has shown good will towards the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins). It is not a case where sentimentality is needed; rather, what we are concerned with is maintaining the highest possible standard or living for those who deserve well from their country.
I am sorry, but I disagree with the last words of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan). I believe that sentimentality should be the method of approach to this question, because we ought to look at it as it will affect the interests of the older people. The Motion, I am sorry to say, does not stress that. It stresses that
we should do certain things. Many speakers have emphasised that we ought to approach this matter in the interests of the older people, and I agree. This debate has shown how impossible it is to fix any line for what should be the proper retirement age. Member after Member has emphasised how that varies in different industries and in different circumstances. One of the remarkable things in industry up to now has been that the people who have been doing the most arduous work are those who have retired at the latest ages, while those who have had the less arduous work have, in many cases, been members of superannuation and pension funds, which have enabled them to retire at any age from 50 upwards. That is a remarkable trend which, I suggest, must be reversed if we are to tackle this problem adequately. In the short time left to me I want to come straight away to the industry with which I am best acquainted, namely, the railway industry, particularly on the administrative side. There we have superannuation funds of long standing, and we have problems of stagnation which must be faced. "Stagnation" is the trade union term for the problem raised when young men who are coming along, find their avenues of promotion blocked by older men who are remaining at work after the normal retiring age. There are two points of view here. In the first place, it is very desirable for these young men to have something to which to look forward. In the railway salaried service a man starts at a very modest salary. He is content to start at that modest salary, to train himself, to study and work hard, because he has something to look forward to, and that is promotion to the limited number of higher grade posts. If the limited number of higher grade posts are now to be occupied for a longer period by older men, the ambition of the younger men will be frustrated; they will not have that to look forward to, and the consequences are fairly obvious. On the other hand, it is very important for industry to have younger executives occupying higher grade posts, bringing fresh ideas and energy into the top top-level administration, and that must be examined. I mention these matters in order to say to the Parliamentary Secretary—although I know it is really unnecessary for me to say it to him—that when he is approaching this problem in regard to the railways, it is essential for full consultation to take place with the trade unions concerned. There is this whole list of problems—of stagnation, the financial effect on superannuation funds, promotion, and so on, which are very thorny problems indeed, and unless the trade unions in all the industries affected are taken fully into consultation we shall have a tremendous lot of trouble. Finally, I agree with the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) about giving a man the opportunity, to which he is fully entitled, to change his occupation if he wants to when he reaches normal retirement age. A firm, a brickworks, in my division have actually instituted a new department, with machines which are easy to operate, where older operatives, or those who are disabled, can go on to light work. I might call it a sort of "industrial House of Lords." They are promoted to this "industrial House of Lords", and there they are able to continue to earn wages, although I know that Members of the other place, as we call it, do not get any wages. I would further suggest that the right hon. Gentleman's idea might be carried forward by a development of the Remploy factories, by having Remploy factories for older people as well as for the disabled. If we can work along those lines we shall give practical help to those older men and women who are so anxious to maintain their position in industry."having regard to the ageing character of the population and the economic and social desirability of deriving the maximum benefit from manpower, especially in view of the demands of the defence programme…"
Question put, and agreed to.
"That, having regard to the ageing character of the population and the economic and social desirability of deriving the maximum benefit from manpower, especially in view of the demands of the defence programme, this House is of opinion that active steps should be taken by His Majesty's Government to encourage the retention of the middle-aged and elderly in employment."
War Damage, Lewisham (Late Claims)
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. K. Robinson.]
I regret very much having to add to the heavy burden which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has had to carry this week, but I trust that he will forgive me, as the matter which I wish to raise—that of late applications in respect of war damage in Lewisham—is one which presses very heavily on many of my constituents, and which spells injustice to many of them, as well as financial hardship far beyond the capacity of the person concerned to bear.This subject has been debated in this Chamber before; the usual arguments are universal, and apply not only in Lewisham. They apply to all those whose houses have been damaged, and who, for one reason or another, have failed to comply with the requirements of the War Damage Act in that they have not notified the damage to the War Damage Commission. They may have notified it to the local authority, but not to the Commission. I have always felt, and I still feel, that the War Damage Commission have given insufficient weight to the circumstances which apply in a good many of these cases. It has always seemed to me that they have been far too difficult to satisfy. They seem to expect from everybody, in very abnormal circumstances, irrespective of age, health, ability, education and experience, the same standards that one have a right to expect from young, alert, able, efficient and well-educated business men. They seem to give far too little consideration to the fact that there are many people who are not young, alert, well-educated and experienced, and also to the fact that they were operating in very abnormal circumstances. Even when they do accept a late application, it seems to me that they are far too strict in the conditions which they demand shall be satisfied, and far too severe in the conditions which they attach to the late notification. Firstly, there have to be really exceptional circumstances. Secondly, they will only accept late notification where severe structural damage has taken place, and it has to be quite clearly war damage. Thirdly, the verdict of their assessor is absolutely final; there is no argument or appeal in these cases. Fourthly, their assessor will not meet on the site the claimant's surveyor in order to give the latter an opportunity of arguing the claimant's case. Fifthly, if, after all that, they do accept a late notification, they cut the specifications very severely indeed. I can quote one case in my constituency where such a claim was cut from £1,200 to something between £400 and £500, leaving the claimant to shoulder a burden of nearly £800, which was something fantastically beyond his capacity to bear. I do not want to say any more about that particular case, as it may well be the subject of a separate Adjournment debate later on, if fortune smiles upon me in the Ballot. I pass now to my main argument, which applies not in one case but in hundreds of cases. Indeed, the same principle applies to all cases in Lewisham. I have already advanced this argument to the Financial Secretary by letter, and he has dismissed it, in my view all too lightly. Acre for acre, Lewisham was the worst bombed borough in the whole of London. Out of 56,000 houses, 53,000 were damaged and 3,600 were completely destroyed, and there were 78,000 separate notified incidents. I contend that that fact alone qualifies Lewisham for kindly treatment in this matter. There is one other aspect which, as far as I know, puts Lewisham in a category all by itself. Prior to 1st November, 1945, Lewisham Borough Council was dominated by a Conservative majority but had a Socialist minority which was severely critical of the Conservative method of handling bomb-damage repairs. Before, during and after the borough council election, which was held on 1st November, 1945, Socialist policy was stated to be complete repairs, house by house, street by street. That phrase and many variations of it were repeated time and time again both inside and outside the council chamber. As far as I know, it appeared in the local Press for the first time in February, 1945, which was 8½ months before the borough election. Eventually, it appeared in a Socialist borough councillors' election address which said:
They also circulated a kind of broadsheet bearing a photograph of, and the signature of the right hon. Gentleman Who at that time was the Member for Lewisham, East, and is now the Member for Lewisham, South, and also Foreign Secretary and Deputy-Prime Minister. I think I need not name him. The same phrase appears on that document:"On bomb damage repairs, for example, the Labour Party strongly criticised the Tories for the chaotic way in which they allowed repairs to be carried out. The Labour councillors have consistently pressed for a planned system of repairs, house by house, road by road throughout the borough with adequate supervision and the minimum of inconvenience to householders."
Those two documents were pushed through every letter-box in Lewisham. Every house owner or tenant whose house had been damaged by enemy action received those documents and learned from them that if the Socialists were elected to power at that election that would be their policy. I was a candidate in that election and I know the effect of that campaign. The Socialists were elected on that promise and the people of Lewisham expected them to keep that promise. They had every right to expect it. In my view it was a dishonest promise. The powers of the borough council in this matter were limited by the overriding authority of the Ministry of Health. The standard of repairs laid down was firstly Serial 56. Later it was Serial 166 which was the highest standard ever laid down. But to give credit where it is due, having been elected on that promise the Socialist borough council tried to honour it. They reorganised the bomb-damage repair service, they hired quantity surveyors and started the work. Thousands of houses were visited, thousands of schedules were prepared and many houses were repaired. During this period thousands of householders waited their turn. Many inquired at the Town Hall when their turn would come. They received a reply along these lines, "Don't worry old chap, your turn will come. We cannot do them all at once, we have only a limited amount of labour. Go to such and such a street and you will find the men working there. They will be round to your place in due course. Don't worry, your turn will come." Unfortunately for many of them their turn did not come. Early in 1947 the Council got into trouble with the Ministry and they received instructions that Serial 166 was not to be exceeded. That standard was replaced later by Serial 213, almost identical but if anything a little stricter. The Council fought the Ministry. They sent a deputation to the Ministry of Health. We saw the Parliamentary Secretary of that time, and although he allowed the council to proceed with the repair of those houses which had been scheduled up to the standard to which the council was working, he refused to allow any more houses to be scheduled. In future Serial 166, which I emphasise was a very low standard, was to be adhered to and under no conditions was anything better to be permitted. I am not concerned with the merits of that policy—it may or may not have been perfectly defensible—but I am concerned with its consequences. The consequences were as follows. On 9th July, 1947, on a recommendation from the housing committee, the borough council decided to cease carrying out bomb damage repairs to these D category houses. I have here a copy of the borough council minutes of that meeting, and if the Financial Secretary wishes to see them I shall be very happy to pass them to him. All those who had been expecting their repairs to be carried out by the borough council up till then—and there were thousands of them—were left to negotiate with the War Damage Commission and to get their repairs done under licence by private builders. It is with these people that I am concerned. Many of them—I do not know how many, but probably hundreds—had been relying upon the promises of the borough council to which I have already referred and had not notified damage to the War Damage Commission. Why should they? As they have said to me many times, "The borough council said they were going to do it; I didn't think I need bother." To make matters worse, in some cases it was anything up to two years after 9th July, 1947, that some of these people discovered the change of policy. Exercising the patience and restraint that had been urged upon them by the council, seeing work going on all around them in houses which had been scheduled up to July, 1947, they did not worry the council. Like good citizens, they waited their turn, and it is for those very virtues of patience, restraint and good citizenship that they are now being punished. The more patient they were, the longer they waited, the more certain did their punishment become and the more heavy was the penalty. The cases vary widely. Some are small, some large. In some cases first-aid repairs were carried out under Serial 56, in some cases a little more, in some cases less. In a few cases where the claimant was fortunate enough to discover very quickly that the council had changed their policy, the War Damage Commission accepted a late notification, but I have already indicated the limited value of that concession. In almost every case hardship has been inflicted and injustice done. People with limited means have found themselves abandoned by the borough council, rejected by the War Damage Commission and forced to carry this burden by themselves. What is their crime?—merely that they had relied upon the promise of the borough council and that they had exercised the virtues of good citizenship urged upon them by the borough council. In reply to some of my letters, of which there are literally dozens, the War Damage Commission used phrases such as this:"The Labour councillors have consistently pressed for a planned system of repairs…house by house, road by road throughout the borough, with adequate supervision and the minimum inconvenience to householders."
that is the name of the claimant—"The local authority placed their last order for the repair of private houses in April, 1947, and had Mr. Beatty"—
May I repeat that:"made inquiries at any time after that date he would have been told the position. The Commission cannot agree that further delay of over a year after April, 1947, is reasonable."
In the first place, the relevant period is not a year; it is only nine months. In the second place, whatever the period—be it nine months or a year—who were the Commission to say whether or not it was reasonable? It is against the Commission that the claim is being made. They are judge, jury and prosecutor in their own case. Who is to say that a delay of nine months in such a case is unreasonable? The man was merely being patient, as I have lready emphasised, and was refraining from bothering the council. Had he been a nuisance to the council and gone once a week or once a month to their offices to worry them he would have discovered in August, 1947, that the council had changed its policy, and presumably his claim would then have been admitted as a late notification. That is the deduction I draw from the Commission's letter, and I claim that it is a fair deduction. Because the man was patient he was penalised. May I emphasise here that the penalty in such cases very often amounts to a substantial sum—anything up to £500 or £600. What a fine for such an offence! Why should the Commission be the judge in their own case? Indeed, I am amazed that such a situation should have been permitted to arise or, having arisen, should have been permitted to persist in this country which has for so long prided itself upon being the home of justice. The cost of putting matters right is comparatively small—only a small proportion of the extra £1 million which this House is being asked to find for the Festival gardens. Is that too much to ask? I hope not. It is with a clear consciousness of the deep distress which this painful problem is causing to many hundreds of my constituents in Lewisham and to constituents of the two other hon. Members for Lewisham that I call upon His Majesty's Government to right this wrong and I accord to the Financial Secretary the privilege of being the instrument of justice."The Commission cannot agree that further delay of over a year after April, 1947, is reasonable."
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. Price), has done right in bringing this important matter before the House. We are all grateful for the clarity and great knowledge with which he has done so. Time is short, and we all wish to give the Financial Secretary ample opportunity to reply to the cogent arguments which have been addressed to him. I rise only to point out that this grievance is by no means confined to Lewisham—a borough of which I have some knowledge; indeed, I can confirm from personal experience the facts which my hon. Friend has mentioned.Exactly the same kind of thing is prevalent in Hampstead, and many Hampstead people feel exactly the same kind of resentment that they are not being dealt with fairly—in their opinion or in the opinion of their Member of Parliament—by the War Damage Commission. I am sorry to have to say this, but my experience is that when one takes up these matters with a member of the Government one receives a reply from which one can only draw the conclusion that arguments are being found to produce an absolute refusal in every case. That is an experience which one does not meet in communicating with Government Departments about any other matter. Insufficient allowance is made, as my hon. Friend has said, for the ignorance and inexperience of many of the claimants who quite genuinely believed that when they had made sure the borough council knew of their bomb damage they had done all that was necessary to establish a claim with the War Damage Commission. Neither can they understand why the Commission refuses to allow a mee- ing on the spot between their surveyor and the representative of the War Damage Commission for a discussion on questions in dispute. I could go on to illustrate, from my own borough, the kind of facts which my hon. Friend has put before the House, but there is no time to do so. I trust that the Financial Secretary will recognise that, not only throughout London but, I believe, throughout the country, this is a matter upon which keen public feeling exists. None of us wishes to see public money squandered. On the other hand, we all wish to see justice done. Indeed, that is why we Members of Parliament are here.
I assure the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. A. Price), that I have no objection at all to his raising the matter, even at this hour in this week because I am sure that we shall all be doing a great deal more overtime in a few weeks' time than we have done this week. I am not sure that I can agree with him that his constituency suffered worse damage in the war than my own. I sympathise entirely with those who feel that they may have been unjustly treated, but the fact is that this question of late notification becomes, as I think he will agree, more complex the more one looks into it; and if he has any doubts about that I would ask him to consider whether, if he were preparing a new war damage scheme for the future, he would or would not have some final date for notification in the scheme.The fact is that Parliament gave the responsibility to the War Damage Commission, by the war-time Act, to decide the issue in these cases. The hon. Gentleman asked: Who were the War Damage Commission to decide whether something was reasonable or unreasonable? The fact is that Parliament laid it down that the War Damage Commission should, in fact, decide that question; and that is really the answer to that point. We do also have to bear in mind what the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) said, that although there is, of course, the necessity to be fair to the claimants on the one hand, there is also the need to protect the taxpayers' interest in all this, and to see that public money is not unnecessarily paid out. We are still paying out nearly £100 million a year at this late date on war damage claims—and I was engaged at this Box yesterday in defending the Government against hon. Members opposite who attacked us for lack of attention to the taxpayers' interest. I think the hon. Gentleman knows that although, originally, a short time-limit was set for notification of war damage, that limit was extended again and again. In the years after the war, claimants were given one opportunity after another to put in late notifications. We debated this general issue last summer, and I expect the hon. Gentleman is very familiar with that debate. Sir Stafford Cripps then promised, in response to requests from the House, that the War Damage Commission would consider whether it could not make some alleviation—that was the word he used—in its policy regarding late notifications. I think hon. Members with whom I have discussed this will agree that, in fact, the Commission has carried out that promise.
That is not true—that claim. Every time the Commission has referred, in its letters to me, to that promise it has always said, "The Commission has looked at the case in the light of the undertaking given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the debate on 11th July, 1950, but does not consider that exceptional treatment is justified." That has always been its position on that particular point—without exception.
The hon. Gentleman said, rather categorically, if I may say so, that what I said was not true. What he has said may be so in his limited experience, but in other cases, of which I could give him evidence, if he wished to have it, there has, in fact, been alleviation.In the few minutes that remain, I will come to Lewisham, in which, obviously, the hon. Gentleman is mainly interested. The issue here is not, I think, whether the Labour Council at Lewisham did or did not carry out its election promises. The issue, at any rate so far as the War Damage Commission and myself are concerned, is whether the events that occurred in Lewisham during the council election laid an obligation on the Commission to vary its ordinary late notification policy in these cases—because clearly it must, in dealing with these cases, have regard to the general policy that it is following in Hampstead and Battersea and all over the rest of the country. For several reasons I do not think that the case is made out for the Commission's varying its policy on account of what happened during the 1945 council elections. First of all, the Commission's final warnings, that notification should be put in without further delay, were, of course, given a long time after that election. Those warnings were given extensive publicity in the Press and on the wireless and, indeed, the Commission did all it could to see that the public generally understood the position. That was done after the local election in Lewisham. Those warnings did, of course, emphasise particularly what was always stressed by the Commission: that house owners should not rely on their council for the final repair of their war damage. My second reason is that the council decided in July, 1947, not to undertake further repairs to private houses, and that decision, according to my information, was given very considerable publicity in the local Press. Therefore, there was reasonable opportunity, as far as there can be in these matters, for the local population to discover what was the policy of the local council. Third, and this seems the most important point, the Commission went on accepting the argument of reliance on the council for repair as a good reason for justifying late notification up to the spring of 1948, that is to say, nine months or so after the period at which the council altered its policy and made that known to the people of Lewisham. There was, I understand, an ample opportunity, of at least nine months, during which these people had a chance, knowing of the change in the policy of the council, to put in their claims to the War Damage Commission and get them accepted as valid late notification claims. As far as I can see, they were in very much the same situation in this matter as other claimants who relied on their local councils in any part of England, Wales or Scotland. Finally, my information is—and this comes from the Commission—that no case which the Commission has received from Lewisham has included any men- tion of the statements alleged to have been made—I am sure the hon. Member correctly reports them to have been made—in the election campaign in Lewisham in 1945. If those statements have not been mentioned in any single claim, it seems a matter of common sense that the events of that election are no very strong reason why the Commission should vary its general policy on account of those particular election promises and the documents, which the hon. Member has so carefully and, no doubt, rightly preserved. Although I fully recognise that this whole question of late notification gives rise to great difficulties and, undoubtedly, some sense of hardship, which has been fully discussed in the House, I believe that, in all the circumstances, and taking into account the alleviation of the last few months, the Commission has done its best to hold a balance between the interests of the claimant and of the taxpayer and I am not persuaded that any case has been made out that the events in Lewisham to which the hon. Member referred should induce the Commission' to vary its policy now.
Question put, and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Four o'Clock.