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Pensions And Benefits (Increase)

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 21 July 1954

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3.47 p.m.

I beg to move.

That this House expresses its deep concern at the failure of Her Majesty's Government to increase the rates of benefit of old-age pensions and other National Insurance and war-disabled benefits, and calls upon the Government to take immediate action to raise these benefits.
A few weeks before the Budget we would have considered a Motion similar to the one on the Order Paper today to be entirely unnecessary, because, as the House will recall, we had a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) when it seemed to be proved conclusively that the cost of living called for an immediate increase in National Insurance benefits.

On that occasion, we listened to a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance, who, I thought, was extremely sympathetic. Indeed, harmony prevailed. I think that the only charge made by the Parliamentary Secretary was that I alone struck a contentious note. He explained on that occasion that his presence at the Box was because representatives of the Treasury had hidden behind a kind of pre-Budget purdah. This rather led us to believe that the Treasury would provide an increase in the National Insurance benefits, and that the Treasury representatives had deliberately absented themselves for fear of committing some verbal indiscretion.

It was with this preliminary survey in our minds that we listened to a Budget which proved to be such a great disappointment to the very poorest in the community. It was profoundly disappointing to this side of the House. I suspect that it had the same effect on many Members opposite. Whether my surmise is correct or not, we shall discover in the Division Lobbies tonight.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech and on subsequent occasions, appeared to have an inexhaustible fund of sympathy for the aged, which he pours out on every conceivable occasion. The aged people cannot be fed on crocodile tears. They ask for some immediate assurance that their needs are uppermost in the Chancellor's mind.

The Chancellor conveyed the impression that he was waiting for certain reports before he took any action. This view is embodied in the Amendment to the Motion. I understand—and my source of information is a Government spokesman—that the reports for which the Government are waiting are, (1) that of the National Advisory Committee on the Employment of Older Men and Women, set up in 1952; (2) that of the Phillips Committee, which is reviewing the economic and financial problems of providing for old age, having regard to the prospective increase in the number of old people in our midst; (3) the quinquennial review by the Government Actuary.

I contend that not one of those reports is necessary in order to meet the immediate need of the old-age pensioners. If the Government adopted this procedure on the receipt of wage claims, there would be stoppages in every part of the country. I do not recall that when the judges were given their increase a committee was set up to inquire into their way of life. Let me examine these Committees, and their relationship to old-age pensions.

The Committee on the Employment of Older Men and Women is clearly not concerned with this matter, and I do not think that the Minister can support the argument that it is. The Phillips Committee is an excellent one. The chairman of it is Sir Thomas Phillips, the First Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance. The Committee is ranging over a very wide field, including considerations of retirement age and retirement conditions, which, while they will provide very interesting food for thought, are not related to the immediate problem of an increase for the aged.

The quinquennial review is a statutory obligation. When it was embodied in the Act, nobody suggested that the day-to-day business of the Ministry of National Insurance should be held up pending this inquiry. I understand that the review started at the end of March and will take many months to complete. To call these committees in aid at this stage is a shabby expedient which will deceive no one. Meanwhile, the old people must wait. The Chancellor has not realised that old age is the only age which cannot afford to wait. Dangling an increase of pension before an old-age pensioner to whom a year or even a few months represents a large proportion of his expectation of life is heartless.

I will now refer to the cost of living, which will no doubt provoke a reply from the Minister. In assessing the cost of living, we should be increasingly critical of the validity of the cost of living index. [Interruption.] I know that that sounds like heresy, but this is not a party matter. The Minister of Labour has a very high reputation. In examining wage claims, he has shown that he is not satisfied with the Cost-of-Living Index which has been presented to him and he has asked for certain household budgets to be furnished to him so that he can institute a survey and, I hope, eventually make representations on the matter. It was clear to me from the interruption just now that hon. Members on the Government benches will charge me with using the same index. I am not going to run away from that charge. We have never claimed infallibility, but this vast insurance scheme is still in its initial stages, and pensioners, who must limit their expenditure in the main to purchases of food, occupy a very special position.

It is estimated by some people that the old-age pensioner spends 70 per cent. of his income on food, in spite of the fact that the Cost-of-Living Index gives the average position as based on 40 per cent. of food. If the Minister reads "The Times" today, he will see that I have the support of that newspaper. Since October, 1951, the food component—and I apologise for giving these figures to the House, but they are inevitable—of the Interim Index of Retail Prices has risen by 17 per cent., and the fuel and light component by 18 per cent., yet the vast majority of retirement pensioners have received only 2s. 6d. increase in benefit, that is, 8½ per cent. Furthermore, the pensioner contends that relatively he is worse off than any other section of the community. I should like to examine that point.

When the basic pension of 26s. was fixed in the National Insurance Act, 1946, the average weekly wage of all workers was £5 1s. per week, so the retirement pension was almost exactly 26percent.of the average weekly wage. The average weekly wage of all workers in 1953 was £8 0s. 1d. The 32s. 6d. retirement pension is thus only 20·43 per cent. of the average weekly wage. It is clear that the relative position of the pensioner has got very much worse. The National Assistance Board Report reflects the fact that pensioners have had to resort to the Board in increasingly large numbers. I hope that the Minister realises that all this means that National Insurance benefits and National Assistance are very closely related.

It is inevitable that if insurance benefits are increased National Assistance must follow. The National Assistance Board Report tells only half the story. Pensioners who are in need seek help from a variety of sources, all of which helps the Treasury in some respects to defer an increase in pensions. I must apologise for constantly mentioning the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury, but finally they have to make the decision.

I should like to give examples of the help which pensioners have today. Local authorities, through their old people's welfare committees, recognise that it is absolutely essential to give help, so in most urban areas there is a scheme for cheap meals. The charge for the meals is usually not economic, in consequence of which voluntary help has to be sought, and it is not always available. I shall give details of how the pension is supplemented in another way, and how that supplementary aid is increasing. I asked the representative of the London County Council to give me some details as to the kind of help which is available in the London County Council area. It is interesting to observe that, of the 2,000 home helps in the London County Council area, 80 per cent. work for the aged, and that of the 450 home nurses in the same area, 60 per cent. care for the aged. It seems to me that an increase of pensions in these households is urgently needed.

The Treasury is pursuing a shortsighted policy in not recognising that it is cheaper and more humane to keep the old people in their homes. I present this aspect of the case to the Minister in the hope of an eleventh-hour conversion. For the first time in London, we have this week an international conference on gerontology, which is the modern terminology for the state of senescence, the process of ageing, and something in which most of us in this House have a lively interest.

The fact that an international conference has been called for the first time in London, and no doubt as the years go on such conferences will be held in other capitals as well, is an indication that the care and treatment of the aged has assumed a new importance. We are all familiar, at least from the outside, with geriatric clinics designed for the rehabilitation of old people who have deteriorated physically and mentally, often through neglect and under-nourishment. These clinics, which were unknown a few years ago, are now a familiar part of the medical scene.

The Minister, and indeed all Government representatives who are concerned with providing services for old people, should recognise that this new service, a service to rehabilitate the aged, together with a demand for institutional treatment for the aged, is an expensive process. It cost four times the amount of the old-age pension to keep an old person in a home, and the demand for accommodation is far from satisfied. Unfortunately, there are certain families who regard the aged as a burden which should be borne by others. I think it should be said that the Welfare State does not absolve sons and daughters from the moral obligation of giving their parents comfort and care in their old age.

In my opinion, and I believe that I am supported in this by many eminent medical officers of health, wherever possible the right place for an aged person is in his or her own home surrounded by familiar things accumulated over a lifetime. Of course, there should be available in every locality domiciliary services, nursing services, meals on wheels, and so on. But these must be supplemented by an increase in the pension. Unless the old people are given a greater sense of financial independence, their conditions will deteriorate, and they will meekly consent to go into an institution of some kind.

This is the aspect of the problem which I think the Chancellor should face. If he continues this cheeseparing policy, it is inevitable that more and more people will demand to go into institutions. The extra benefit for which we are asking today should not be regarded by the Minister solely as an increase in expenditure, but as an addition to an inadequate pension, and one which may well be the means of relieving the pressure on geriatric units, hospitals and other institutions catering for the aged. Indeed, I believe that the Treasury should now develop an entirely new approach. It should regard such an increase in pensions as an investment which will give it profitable returns in terms of money, and certainly in terms of human happiness.

4.5 p.m.

This Motion, which the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham. West (Dr. Summer-skill) has moved in a speech which I think is commendable for its moderation as well as for its brevity, deals with three matters—old-age pensions, other National Insurance benefits, and war disability pensions. It speaks of the failure of the Government to increase the rates, and calls for immediate action to raise them.

I want, first, to deal quite shortly with war disability pensions. In recent years, by a considerable act of self-denial on both sides of the House, we have succeeded in keeping the position of war pensioners very largely out of party politics. Therefore, I rather regret that they should be mentioned in the Motion. The Motion deals with the rates of pension and of benefit. It is not concerned with the many trimmings in the form of special allowances and supplements for the seriously disabled which both the War Disability Code and the Industrial Injury Code have provided in increasing measure in recent years.

So far as the war disability rate of pension is concerned, the facts speak for themselves. They need no comment from me. In 1946, the basic rate for the unmarried private soldier was fixed at 45s. In 1951, six years later, when right hon. Gentlemen opposite declared their innings closed and retired, the basic rate stood at exactly the same figure, 45s. Its actual value, of course, had fallen during those six years from 45s. to 35s.

Our first action on taking over responsibility in 1951 was, in accordance with our election promise, to survey the whole pensions field. Despite the financial difficulties which we inherited, we raised the basic rate to 55s. and the war widows' rate, which had also remained unaltered for six years, from 35s. to 42s. We recognise, of course, that the increases made in 1952 did not fully make good the whole of the loss of value which had taken place in the six preceding years. We are determined, before we leave office, to see that their value is restored to what Parliament intended it should be when the post-war rates were settled in 1946.

The question outstanding is, at what time can a further increase be made? An increase in the basic rate of war pension is a costly matter. All the money comes from the Exchequer, and Is. a week on the pension costs round about £1 million. It would be ridiculous to suppose that war disability pensions can be dealt with, as some people claim, in splendid isolation. Therefore, it is not surprising that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer should wish to get some idea of what his other commitments may be as a result of the quinquennial review, now in progress, of the National Insurance scheme. But war disability pensioners may be assured that in any upward movement of pension rates they will automatically get priority. Fortunately for them, changes in their case can be made by Royal Warrant, and can be made effective more quickly than other changes in pension which require legislation.

I now turn to that part of the Motion which deals with National Insurance benefits and pensions. It has been suggested, both inside and outside the House, that poverty is widespread and that poverty is the reason which calls for an urgent and immediate increase in insurance pension rates. But it is to be observed—and this is a matter of great importance—that the Motion does not refer to National Assistance scales. I am sure that the omission has not been made by mistake. The omission is deliberate. Two and a half million people cannot have been overlooked by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. And I believe this omission is made because hon. Members not only know that the National Assistance Board is doing a good job of work but, I hope, also because they realise that the assistance scales, which were raised to their present level in 1952, provide a better standard of living than at any earlier period. The 1952 scales, 35s. plus rent allowance for a single per- son, and 59s. plus rent allowance for a married couple, are no less than 75 per cent. above the 1946 level for a single person, and about 70 per cent. above that level for a married couple.

The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that we have deliberately omitted reference to any advance of the National Assistance scales. Let me assure him that this is not the case. That was not included in the Motion on the Order Paper because it would have confused the two issues. May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that at a subsequent date, perhaps tomorrow, another Motion will be on the Order Paper dealing with National Assistance scales.

If such a Motion appears on the Order Paper, I shall be prepared to deal with it. In fact, the new scales introduced in 1952 made allowance for a greater future advance in the cost of living than ohas occurred. I will concede at once that there are a number of people—it is difficult to judge how many—who are too proud to avail themselves of assistance.

What is beyond argument is that anyone who will go to the Assistance Board can obtain more of the necessaries of life than at any previous time in the history of the Board.

I want to look for a moment at the results of the National Food Survey, with which the right hon. Lady is no doubt familiar, since it was operated for five years whilst she was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. I want to tell the House what the National Food Survey tells us about pensioners in general. These reports of the National Food Survey compare the actual consumption in calories of households—I hate the word "calories" but that is the way experts measure—with standards of what is necessary laid down by the British Medical Association. One of the groups included in the survey are old-age pensioners. The results are collated and the average consumption in calories is then expressed as a percentage of the B.M.A. standard.

In the period January to February, 1951, the percentage of calories consumed in all households sampled was 100, but at that time the calorie consumption of pensioner households was only 93 per cent. of what the B.M.A. considered necessary. I now compare that period, three years ago, with the first quarter of this current year, 1954. First, for all households the standard of consumption has risen from 100 per cent. in 1951 to 104 per cent. in 1954. That is an improvement upon which we may congratulate ourselves. People are better fed now than they were three years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] These are the official figures.

However, there is an even more startling change when we see what has happened in the households of the old-age pensioners. In 1951 their intake of calories was 93 per cent. of the B.M.A. standard and it fell 7 per cent. short of what the B.M.A. considered necessary. It has now gone up to no less than 109—

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? It is rather important.

There is a bigger improvement in consumption in the pensioner household over the last three years than there is for the population taken as a whole. Three years ago pensioners were getting on an average 7 per cent. less calories than the B.M.A. considered necessary, whereas they are now getting 9 per cent. in excess of the standard requirement. Those are striking figures. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] These are the figures of the survey conducted by the Ministry of Food since the middle of the war, which was carried on by the right hon. Lady, when she was Parliamentary Secretary, for a period of no less than five years. These figures regarding consumption can be confirmed by other indications of the absence of poverty, hunger and hardship in the country today such as there used to be a good many years ago. Surely we can all get satisfaction from the improvement that has occurred over the past Generation?

The Labour Government made a good start in 1945.

I am on the point now of actual poverty and hardship. I am confirmed in my view by an experiment made by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) who challenged me on this matter in October last year. He conducted a personal inquiry into the matter by putting advertisements in or sending letters to his local newspapers inviting people to send him cases of hardship which had come to their notice. The result of his inquiry was that the hon. Gentleman sent me in all some 15 letters, and I have the details here.

Of the 15 cases, three of them contain general statements without any individual particulars. One was from a war widow, one was from a person not yet in receipt of pension. Of the remaining 10 cases, in not one case was a single person or married couple obliged to rely solely on a retirement pension at the basic rate of 32s. 6d. The total weekly resources of the married couples in the cases which he sent me ranged from £3 6s. 6d., with rent-free accommodation, to over £5, with a rent of under 10s., whilst among the single persons the smallest weekly income was 41s. and the largest about £6.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me at this belated hour to put this matter in proper perspective. It is quite correct that I advertised in the local papers. If I had known my job and the right hon. Gentleman had known his, I would have realised the truth of what I was told—that many old-age pensioners cannot even write letters and find it difficult to put all the complication of an income in a letter. As a result, the local Old Age Pensioners' Association asked me to do the job properly and I went to the homes of these old people and spoke to them. I was appalled at the misery that I found there and I invited the Minister to do the same thing, but he did not do so.

I looked into the cases which were sent to me by the hon. Member and I shall be delighted to do the same if any other hon. Member cares to send me particulars of cases.

The hon. Member for Dartford was appealing to people to send him particulars of distressing cases. I have had some letters from old people which were unsolicited. I should like to read to the House extracts from letters which I received when the National Federation of Old-Age Pensioners was conducting its great campaign in February of this year. Here is a letter from an old lady who lives in Ramsgate. I shall not give her name, but hon. Members may see the letter if they so wish. She writes:

"Dear Sir.
I am an elderly single woman, 85 nearly.…I think we are looked after very well. I am thankful for what I get from the Supplementary. It pays my rent. Of course I don't drink. If I did I should have to go without clothes and some food, as drink is so very expensive, and some food is today. I always buy what I think has most nourishment in it so I think the people who grumble want money for enjoyments, etc.…If one can be happy, so can they all. So Cheerio, all the best of luck to you, Sir."

Here is another letter from an old gentleman of 70. He says:

"I have a retirement pension of 32s. 6d. a week plus a little more in the shape of a Supplemental from the Assistance Board. This enables me to live in decent surroundings instead of demoralising squalor.…It is good of any Government to be considerate to sensitive pensioners."
These letters show that the general information about great poverty and hardship on National Assistance is a misunderstanding at the present time.

I hope that I have made it clear that the National Assistance Board is the organ of government primarily designed for the relief of poverty and distress and that the Opposition Motion does not refer to National Assistance at all. It follows that poverty and distress have little direct relevance to the question of insurance benefits and pensions which we are discussing today. As I have stated on many occasions—and this is a very relevant factor in today's debate—what gives me cause for concern is the growing number of persons, mainly pensioners, who since 1946 have been forced to seek assistance. Indeed, I want to make it clear that one of the main purposes of an increase in the insurance pension and in other insurance benefits would be to relieve pressure on the National Assistance Board.

We all embarked with enthusiasm on the comprehensive scheme of National Insurance in 1946. We all hoped that the rates of benefit then fixed would keep their value, and that most people, whether elderly, sick or unemployed, would be able to get along without recourse to assistance. What, in fact, has happened? During the war some measure of inflation was inevitable. Wartime shortages led to rising prices. At the end of the war, in 1946, the cost of living was 31 per cent. above 1939.

It was on that basis that the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) fixed the levels of benefits in the 1946 Act and told us of the intention of the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), to hold the cost of living at that figure. But the cost of living rose from 31 per cent. above pre-war in 1946 to 69 per cent. above pre-war in 1951. The cost of living rose just about as much during the six years 1946–51 as it had risen during the six years of war itself.

It is not surprising that a sense of disillusion, disappointment and despair should have spread through the hearts and minds of many worthy people whose circumstances compelled them to live, or to try to live, on small fixed incomes, people who, very often by their own thrift and self-denial, had put aside what they hoped would be sufficient for their old age. It is difficult to exaggerate the harm done to our social fabric by this six-year period of inflation. What surprises me——

The right hon. Gentleman surprises everybody. I do not believe that he believes it.

I am surprised that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite apparently do not realise the harm that their policies have done or show any sign of regret for the injury that they have inflicted on their fellow citizens. The result of inflation and rising prices in the years following 1946, when insurance benefits were fixed, was, of course, a progressive fall in the value of benefits and pensions.

In the relief of distress there are two possible courses open to a Government faced with a continuing fall in the value of money. They can either leave insurance benefits and contributions where they are and rely upon increased scales of assistance for the avoidance of poverty and distress or, on the other hand, by increasing insurance benefits and the contributions appropriate to them, they can seek to maintain the insurance principle and keep insurance benefits as the first defence against poverty and need. The former, that is to say, reliance on assistance, is probably the cheaper in cash, but I believe it to be wasteful and expensive in terms of the damage that it inflicts on society by penalising thrift and undermining the virtues of independence and self-help. There is here a cleavage of political philosophy between the two sides of the House.

During the period of inflation from 1946 to 1951 the Socialist Government relied entirely on increases in the assistance scales for the avoidance of hardship, with a consequent steady increase in the numbers dependent on assistance. The scales were raised in July, 1948. They were raised again in June. 1950, and again in September, 1951.

Throughout the whole of these years, of course, insurance benefits fell in value. The 26s. of 1946 was worth only 20s. 2d. by 1951. The 42s. rate for a married couple fell in the same period to 32s. 8d.

At no time was any endeavour made to maintain or to restore the insurance principle. Meanwhile, the number on assistance grew rapidly.

Will the right hon. Gentleman complete the picture and tell us what its value has been in successive years—in the three years while he has been Minister?

I have not those figures at the moment. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The right hon. Member, of course, knows that we raised all insurance benefits by 25 per cent. in 1952.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it not the accepted convention of this House that a Minister should give way when he is asked a reasonable question?

If the Minister does not choose to give way, hon. Members must resume their seats.

May I point out that this Motion has been on the Order Paper for some days? This matter is of very great importance. The Minister has put before the House changes in the value of the £ up to 1951. The right hon. Gentleman has been Minister for three years; surely he owes it to the House to give the figures up to today?

Further to the point of order. Is it not an indulgence and special pleading when a Minister puts forward one set of figures for one year without giving the comparative figures for another year? Is it not right that he should give way to have the matter corrected?

The hon. and learned Member knows perfectly well that that is not a point of order.

Here are the figures for which the right hon. Member for Llanelly asked. I said that the 26s. of 1946 had fallen in value to 20s. 2d. by October. 1951. The corresponding figure for the 32s. 6d., which we introduced in the year 1952—that is, its value at 1946 prices—was 23s. 8d. in October, 1952: 23s. 3d. in October, 1953, and 22s. 11d. at present, compared with 20s. 2d.——

When the right hon. Gentleman became Minister of National Insurance, the rate for pensions was not 26s.; it was 30s.

I am coming to that precise point and would have made it if I had not been interrupted. Meanwhile, the numbers on National Assistance during this period of inflation from 1945 to 1951 grew rapidly from 1 million in 1948 to 2 million in 1951. It was not indeed until the Budget of 1951 that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) proposed any increase in pensions, and then it was limited to pensioners over 70. No increase was proposed in unemployment benefit, in sickness benefit, or in war disability pensions.

It is true that in the course of the debates on the 1951 Bill the Socialist Government were forced by back-bench pressure to extend the class of pensioners qualifying for the increase. In the upshot, it went to all those who had attained the age of 65 on 1st October, 1951, but it was denied to anyone who attained the age of 65 after that magic date. By a singular coincidence, right hon. Members opposite quitted office and embarked on a General Election at precisely the date when the increase became operative. The additional cost of the 1951 changes was to add £90 million a year to the emerging cost on the National Insurance Fund, and this was done without any corresponding increase in contributions.

The House is well aware of the steps we took when we assumed office. Believing in and desiring to restore the insurance principle, our first step was to enact by legislation the restoration of a uniform level of benefit, 25 per cent. above that prescribed in the Act of 1946. Corresponding increases were made for industrial injury benefits, and contributions under both schemes were increased by the actuarial amounts required. War pensions were increased at the same time.

I am afraid I may have wearied the House with this simple recital of the facts.

It has been rendered necessary by recent misrepresentation in the "Daily Herald," the official organ of the Opposition, which claims over 6 million readers. We might expect that organ at least to get its facts right on elementary matters so closely affecting the welfare of its readers——

but in Monday's leading article—the day before yesterday—were two serious misstatements calculated to deceive the simple-minded. They seem to have deceived, for example, the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr Lewis) who referred to them with approval in a supplementary question to me on that very same Monday afternoon.

These statements were, first, that the basic pension had remained unchanged since September, 1951. That deliberately ignored the increase this Government made in 1952. The further, and equally serious, misstatement was that:

"The soldier completely incapacitated by war wounds gets 76s. 6d.—in some cases special allowances."
The fact is that the married ex-private, of whom the newspaper was speaking, who is completely incapacitated, can never get less than £5 11s. 6d., and in many cases he gets more. It seems that the Opposition case on pensions and benefits has been prepared in some haste.

The Minister will recollect—if he refers to HANSARD he will see it reported—that what I said was that the Chancellor, in answer to a Question by me, had in fact admitted that £335 million had been given back per year to the rich taxpayer and Surtax payer, and if he refers to the "Daily Herald" he will see how the cost of living has risen. I quoted the figures showing how the cost of living had risen and how the rich were better off at the expense of the poor.

that he was not taken in by the misrepresentation of the "Daily Herald."

As the House knows and as the Amendment I am about to move confirms, it is the intention of the Government, during the lifetime of this Parliament, to go still further in our endeavour to restore the insurance principle, to which we attach such importance. This has been made clear in speeches not only by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself, but also by the Prime Minister. We must, however, face the fact that an increase in benefit and pension rates will require higher contributions. It will also inevitably add to the emerging cost of the scheme due to the grant of the higher rates of pension both to those who have ceased to contribute and many others who can contribute for only a comparatively short time.

I hope that by now nearly everybody in the country is aware that we have a problem of an ageing population. It was for that reason that we took time by the forelock and appointed the Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas Phillips in July, 1953, with the widest possible terms of reference. The House will also be aware that this is the year of the first quinquennial review of the insurance scheme. It is my duty, under Section 40 of the Act of 1946, to review the rates and amounts of benefit and of course of contribution, when the report of the Government Actuary has been received and laid before Parliament.

During the five years 1946–51, as the leading article in "The Times" this morning demonstrates, the Socialists did little or nothing to repair the damage which their policies had caused to our National Insurance system. They are expressing their contrition and repentance in the Motion which they have now put before the House. Their repentance, like that of other converts, has carried them a very long way. "Challenge to Britain," their latest manifesto, promises not only an immediate restoration of the purchasing power of benefits to the 1946 level, but goes further, and promises an annual review to relate them to the cost of living.

This pledge was supported at Margate last year—in a very heady seaside atmosphere—both by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West and the right hon. Member for Llanelly. When the right hon. Gentleman winds up this debate for the Opposition, will he explain to us how it comes about that he has been converted from the very definite statement which he made in this House when introducing the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill on 6th February, 1946?

I will read the right hon. Gentleman's words to him, so that he shall be fully reminded of them. He stated:

"We are definitely of the vtiew that it is undesirable, as well as impracticable, to have
automatic adjustment. This method of pegging benefits to a specific cost of living and adjusting them automatically was tried at the end of the last war in war pensions, and broke down the first time it came to be applied. We are convinced, after examination, that it will break down again."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1741.]
I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman will answer that question.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He is so forthcoming that perhaps he will answer me a second question. I should also like to know from him whether or not he and his party are prepared to support the increase of contributions necessary to provide the increased benefits for which the Motion asks. In other words, does he or does he not support the contributory basis of the scheme? I think that is a fair question on which the House is entitled to an answer.

There are three reasons—compelling ones, I think——

Are we to understand, as a result of what the Minister has just said, that the Government intend that any increase in pension rates which they may make is to be financed entirely from contributions?

The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do what is the contributory basis. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] He also knows full well the great alarm and distress caused in trade union circles by the reduction he made in the Exchequer contribution.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question? Are we to understand—this is a very important matter—from the statements that he has made that if any increase in pensions and other benefits is made by this Government, it will or will not be financed entirely from contributions?

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the National Insurance scheme is financed by the contributions of three parties—the Exchequer, the workman and the employer. That is the basis of the scheme and those are the three parties to the contributory scheme. The answer is that any increase in benefits must carry with it a corre- sponding increase in contributions. That is the whole basis of the scheme—that there are actuarial contributions which are divided between the three contributing parties.

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is within the power of the Government, if they so desire, to alter the proportions of the contributions by the Treasury and the other contributors. That is the first point. The second point is again this question: Are we to understand, from what the right hon. Gentleman has now said, that there will be an equal contribution from all parties, including the Treasury, or no increased contribution from the Treasury at all?

The right hon. Gentleman must surely know that the proportions of the various contributions to the Fund have been varied from time to time. He himself cut down the Exchequer contribution to the detriment of the workpeople who contributed. The whole question of what should be the proper proportions will come under review when the Government Actuary's report is made as a result of his quinquennial review.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in implying that the cutting down of the Treasury contribution did any damage to the Fund. On the contrary, the increase in the pensions rate, which the right hon. Gentleman did his best to obscure, which we made in 1951, was financed entirely by extra contributions from the Treasury. It cost, as he said, an extra £90 million a year. Once again I ask, will he please answer my question, if he can? Can we know how any increase in the pensions and other benefits is to be financed?

I thought I had made it quite clear that the question of what the different proportions of contributions shall be must be settled after we have received the report of the Government Actuary. I must confess I was pleased to see that on this point at any rate, as to the damage done to the Fund by what the right hon. Gentleman did in 1951, I did seem to have the assent of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan).

The right hon. Gentleman said that damage was done to the Fund by the changes in contributions made in the summer of 1951. Does he not recall that he discussed those changes with me at the time, and when the final arrangements were introduced into this House he gave his approval to them, speaking from the side of the House on which I now sit?

Yes, and I have also not forgotten that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend next to him proposed that the Exchequer contribution to the Fund should be cut down from about £140 million to about £35 million a year and it was my efforts which secured that it was put up again to about £70 million a year.

The right hon. Gentleman is really twisting a long way this afternoon. Does he deny that the arrangements made in regard to the Fund in 1951, to which he referred just now as doing great damage, had his explicit approval in this House?

I was following very good trade union practice. I objected very strongly to the reductions then made. I made several speeches about that in 1951; but when the right hon. Gentleman offered to make a concession and to restore the Exchequer contribution to the extent of about £30 or £40 million, I was well satisfied with the job of work I had done.

I have been rather diverted from my argument by these questions about contributions, but I was about to say that there are three compelling reasons why hon. Gentlemen should support the Amendment and not the Motion. The Amendment suggests that it would be wise and prudent to await the results of the Government Actuary's review and the report of the Phillips Committee. In the first place, as I hope I have demonstrated, there is no poverty in the country today which cannot be avoided by recourse to National Assistance. I suggest that it is only on the ground of urgent and pressing need that emergency action could reasonably be called for at the present time.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has succeeded in virtually stabilising the cost of living, which has moved less than 3 per cent. since the improvements in insurance benefits and assistance scales were made two years ago. Things are not, therefore, getting worse for anybody day by day at the present time.

Thirdly, the statutory review of the insurance scheme is now in progress. As well-informed hon. Members are aware, some of the interim reports of the Government Actuary have not appeared for a period of 12 months or more after the close of the year under review. They will be pleased to hear that the Government Actuary has been asked to expedite his review now in progress. I am sure that it will give satisfaction to hon. Members to hear that the report of the Government Actuary and the report of the Phillips Committee, which we eagerly await, will both be available early in the next Session of Parliament, that is to say, in time to enable us to consider what action we shall recommend to Parliament before the end of the year. [HON MEMBERS: "Before the General Election."] It is for those reasons that I urge the House to reject the Motion and to accept the Amendment.

I should like to end—[Interruption.]—if I may be permitted to end, upon a hopeful note. Puzzling, anxious and baffling as is this problem of the large and growing number of elderly people, and the need to make proper provision for them, there are some hopeful signs on the horizon for those who care to look for them. First, the numbers of those on National Assistance have not been increasing so rapidly in the last 18 months as they did in the previous three years. Indeed, there are signs of approaching stability.

Secondly, more and more of those now retiring from employment have earned, by deferred retirement, the higher scales of pension provided by the insurance scheme. More and more people are thereby providing for themselves a standard which makes it unnecessary for them, even if they have no other resources, to have recourse to National Assistance. In the third place, private superannuation schemes for all classes of the population have been spreading rapidly in recent years. Already something like seven million of the working population are covered by them. They, too, will help to make life more tolerable for those who can no longer work.

Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, stabilisation of the currency has led to a renewal of private saving and private insurance.

These are the hopeful features which can be set against some of the gloomy prognostications which are so familiar to us all. It is therefore with satisfaction, but not with complacency, that before I sit down I give this pledge to my hon. Friends. Before many months have passed we shall be able to claim with justice that, in a little over three years of Conservative Government, we shall have made good to the old-age pensioners, the war disabled, the sick and the unemployed the whole of the injury and loss that they suffered in six years of Socialist misrule.

I beg to move to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"while taking note of the action of Her Majesty's Government in 1952 in increasing pensions and National Insurance benefits and of its success in stabilizing the cost of living since that date, pledges its support for further improvements as soon as the current review of all the financial and other problems involved has been completed."

4.55 p.m.

I am quite sure that if the House is convinced of anything it is convinced that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has fallen far short of doing justice to the old-age pensioners. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has convinced the House that he does not understand the problems of the aged people.

I think the right hon. Gentleman has closed his mind completely to those sources from which he could have obtained accurate information about the conditions under which old-age pensioners are living. It would not be wrong of me at this point to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the trouble which the old-age pensioners' associations experienced in 1938 and 1939 in convincing the Government that something should be done to increase the old-age pensions beyond 10s. a week; and to ask him to recall that we had to wait until 1946 before, under a Labour Government, we had a basic pension of 26s a week, and that, for the first time, many old-age pensioners had the stigma of the Poor Law removed from them.

That was the situation which existed during the lifetime of the last Tory Government. I did not expect that today we should be presented with two letters from old-age pensioners, in a country where we have over five million old-age pensioners, in order to prove the case for the Government. I am willing to obtain my information from the old-age pensioners themselves. As President for many years of the Scottish Old-Age Pensioners' Association and vice-president of the British Council of Old-Age Pensioners' Associations, I have come in close contact with old-age pensioners.

I would inform the House that every local authority in Scotland has given wholehearted approval to the Motion on the Order Paper. There is not a trade union in the whole country which is not wholeheartedly behind the Motion. There is not a church organisation which does not support it; indeed, the great bulk of the national newspapers give it their support.

I thought the Minister would at least have approached this matter in the full knowledge of present day circumstances. He has said that National Assistance has been stabilised because of the earnings of old people who continued in work and earned an addition to their pensions for the period in which they continued in employment after reaching the age of retirement. For sheer meanness, I have never, in all my previous experience of public life, come up against the equal of what is happening at present. Old people were induced to carry on working for a number of years after reaching pensionable age for the prize of an additional 3s. a year for every year they worked after the age of 65, in the case of a man, and 60, in the case of a woman.

Many decided to continue working and thus earned the right to a bigger pension. Having worked those additional years many of them ceased work, not voluntarily, but because they were dismissed from their employment. Then, on going for National Assistance, they found that the Assistance Board—about which the right hon. Gentleman said so much today—deducted in full the gratuities they earned by their additional years of work.

It would be very difficult to think of anything more mean than to ask old people to continue in work for a number of years to earn some addition to their pension only for them to find that when they are forced to apply for National Assistance the whole of the extra sum is deducted.

Is it not a fact that that has been so ever since the regulations under the National Insurance Act were introduced? Will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who is responsible for that Act, to deal with this question when he addressses the Committee?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is able to deal with that question without any inducement from the hon. Member. It is wrong at a time like this, when there is increased longevity, that old people should be asked to continue in work and that when they respond they should be penalised in the way I have outlined. I do not think that any one could justify treatment of that kind.

There are many aspects of National Assistance about which we can always be critical. The most important one is that there is a nasty habit of bringing the regulations before the House for consideration at a date long after there had been an increase in the cost of living. The Minister seems to be able to close his mind to the hard facts. The cost-of-living figures which we have had today are quite unrealistic.

The National Federation of Old-Age Pensions Associations has met in conference with local authorities, trade unions, church organisations and other bodies. We have had submitted to us the difficulties which confront pensioners day by day. It has been pointed out to the Minister by deputations from the organisations that the cost-of-living index is in no way related to the type of life which old people have to live. The index takes into account articles which are not likely to be purchased by pensioners.

It is of no interest to pensioners that the cost of motor cars, television sets, expensive jewellery or brandy has come down. It is of no interest to them that the cost of many other goods has come down when they cannot hope to be able to afford them. It is almost dishonest to suggest that the index figures quoted by the Minister have any relation to the problems of the old people.

Is not it dishonest to suggest that the articles which the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned enter into the cost-of-living index?

I was talking about what it costs people to live. The index does not include only the things which pensioners deem to be necessary, such as food, shelter and heating. I was about to say that if we were realistic we should face the fact that—to take only the increase in the price of coal, apart from anything else—the pensioners are sitting in their houses in the cold throughout the winter. By the very nature of their disability, because of their old age, many of these people cannot go out and about. They are compelled to sit at home. They are probably the only people who have to spend most of their life indoors, but they cannot afford to buy coal. Where is the relation between the figures the Minister gave today and the cost of coal two or three years ago?

The staple foods, the filler foods upon which old people depend, have gone up in price more than is shown in the cost-of-living index. Meat and bacon have gone up in price. Many other commodities have gone up in price by a figure far in excess of that shown in the index, and the shoddy thing about it all is that the Minister knows of it. He has given information to the House and he knows full well that it does not apply to the standard of life which the pensioners enjoy.

I give the Minister credit for the fact that he has listened carefully to what has been said by the many deputations from the Federation. We submitted figures. He has had time to consider them. He has admitted the strength of our arguments, but has always pointed out the difficulties he has in getting the necessary money. I do not want to pursue that point other than to say that the day will come, and it is not far distant, when the right hon. Gentleman will regret the speech he made today.

The old people are not asking for charity. They are the people who have made our country what it is. They are the people responsible for the productive capacity of our country. They are asking for something which they have earned. They do not want to be kept close to a starvation level. The day must come very soon now when pensioners must be taken away from the scheme of National Insurance.

Nobody will convince me that the pensioner who is permanently incapacitated because of age is not in the same position as somebody who is off work temporarily because of sickness or unemployment. The pensioner is in exactly the same position as the man who is incapacitated as result of industrial injury. He is unable to earn his livelihood in gainful occupation. His incapacity has come about because of age, but there is nothing dishonourable in growing old. If there is then we are all very dishonourable Gentlemen in this House and not honourable Gentlemen.

There is no reason why people who are permanently prevented from earning their livelihood in gainful occupation should be treated any differently from those who are injured in industry or war. We must face that position sooner or later. It may be said that this will cost money and that the increased longevity of the people has created a problem, but this is what Governments are for. It is their job to solve these problems; it is not for the pensioners. They cannot do it. They can only make dear what their problems are. It is the responsibility of the House and of the Government to see that a solution is found. One would expect that if an additional contribution is necessary to increase the pension it would have to come from employers and from the Treasury, but I suggest that nobody engaged in industry should, or would, object to an increased contribution.

Many workers envy those who enjoy the benefits of superannuation schemes. Many trade unions are most anxious to become partners in superannuation schemes. That is right and proper. It is along these lines that the real solution to the problem is to be found. I suggest that those who would be asked to pay increased contributions in order to guarantee an adequate pension—and we cannot fix the figure today—would not be making a contribution to the pensioners of today but they would be insuring themselves against their own retirement. That would be the right and proper thing to do, and it has been found to be practicable in other countries. I see no reason why it should not be practicable here.

A member of my family enjoyed the advantage of a superannuation scheme for which he paid 1s. 3d. in the £ from his earnings. He also had to pay the full National Insurance contribution. Had the sum being paid for superannuation purposes been paid into a national scheme, along with the contributions of other people, it would have provided all the benefits that could be got from an ordinary superannuation scheme. By that means it would be possible to provide for payment during periods of sickness and an adequate pension on retirement.

We have to meet the problem of our ageing population. The hope has been expressed in the House on many occasions that work should be provided for old people who are able and willing to do it. I have suggested that it might not be practicable for old people to work a whole day of eight hours or even seven hours and that, as a practical approach to the fading-off period in the working life of old people, the Minister of Labour ought to provide part-time work whereby two old-age pensioners might between them do a full day's work in industry. Nothing has developed from my suggestion. On the contrary, the opposite sort of thing has happened. Employers pay off the oldest people when it is necessary to dispense with employees.

Because of the Government's refusal to face up to the difficulties confronting the old-age pensioners the hospitals are fuller of old-age pensioners than they have ever been, and an old-age pensioner in hospital costs four times as much to keep as he does when he is at home. Also—it is disgraceful—ever-increasing numbers of old-age pensioners are being sent to mental homes, something which no one can justify. Apart from the fact that this takes beds which ought to be occupied by curable cases, it is a very expensive way of meeting the problem.

Old people ought to remain in their own homes as long as they possibly can, but it is an absolute impossibility for old people to retain their health if they cannot be kept in warmth. We have abundant evidence that because of their inability to buy coal they are suffering from colds, bronchitis, and other ailments.

I was interested in the reference made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) to the conference now being held in London. It seems that another fallacy has been exploded. Experiments carried out in Germany prove conclusively that old people who are properly fed are much healthier than those who are underfed. It is found that old people respond very greatly to a higher intake of calories. These experiments have proved conclusively that old people degenerate if they do not get enough food. It must be obvious that if old-age pensioners are kept on the poverty line it reduces their energy and their resistance to disease, and so forces them into hospitals and institutions.

It appears that the main thing standing between the two sides of the Committee is the question of time. For the old-age pensioners time is, indeed, the essence of the contract. I see no reason whatever, certainly no constitutional reason, why the Government cannot do something now as a temporary measure pending the quinquennial review. Why cannot they give some immediate benefit to the old people? Every local authority in the country is demanding that something shall be done immediately for the old-age pensioners. That is what the trade unions are demanding. All decent people in the country are demanding it. If the policy is to "live horse and you will get grass," it should be remembered that sometimes the horse does not live long enough to get the grass.

With the good will of the Government, something could be done for the old-age pensioners next week. If the Government fail in this matter they will have something to answer for to all decent-thinking people in the country.

5.16 p.m.

I believe that it is not the custom in this House for an hon. Member who is making a maiden speech to refer to the previous speaker in the sense of commenting at length on what he said, but I should like to break that custom in this case just to say that I am sure the House is glad that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard), about whose illness we read with regret last night, has so far recovered as to be able to make a speech here today.

I know that the House is usually indulgent to hon. Members who are called upon to speak here for the first time. I hope that it will be kind to me, and I shall try not to abuse that kindness by venturing on to ground which is too controversial. Perhaps I might at this point say that the unaccustomed air of courteous attention which I have noticed on this and similar occasions, for which I am very grateful, does not dispel so much as increase one's natural diffidence.

I suppose it has happened to many hon. Members that when they were elected their interests became attracted to one or more special topics. Mine has been drawn to the important subject of old-age pensions, which is our concern today. I am fortunate in representing a constituency which includes Harrogate and Knaresborough and lies within striking distance of the industrial part of the West Riding and is handy and central for wide districts of the Yorkshire countryside. Because of the natural beauty and amenities of the area it is natural that many old people should go to live there in their retirement. My constituency probably has a slightly higher proportion of elderly people than some other parts of the country have.

It is certainly not true, as some people think, even some people in Yorkshire, that mainly well-to-do people live in Harrogate. It is true that we have a most efficient tourist industry there, that Harrogate is a "conference town," and that we are always pleased when people go there with money in their pockets and the will to spend it. However, as regards our permanent town dwellers, we have a representative cross-section of the community with, as I have said, a high proportion of elderly people. Hence, in part, my special interest in this topic.

I am glad to be called to speak now for another reason, and that is because I am following in this debate so soon after my right hon. Friend the Minister, who is a fellow Yorkshireman. I was going to say that I do not believe that the Motion which has been put down by the Opposition was intended as in any sense representing personal censure of his conduct of his office. After his rather lively passage, in the interests of noncontroversiality, perhaps I had better not say that but may I say instead that I am sure that the performance of my right hon. Friend has in no way lessened, but has, rather, increased, the confidence which we on this side of the House, feel in his administration.

I think there will be general agreement that the case for an increase in the basic pension rate has been proved, but I should like to mention the facts which have weighed with me in coming to this conclusion. We often approach this problem in terms of the cost of living. As all speeches are not maiden speeches, very naturally, perhaps, as the cost of living is in a sense political dynamite, this discussion is apt to get side-tracked into a comparison of the performances of successive Governments. It is certainly contentious ground, and I should prefer to steer clear of it, as far as I can, this afternoon, and to approach the matter from another point of view.

Whatever is said about the cost of living, I think there will be no dispute that, since the pensioners received their last increase, the standard of living for most people other than pensioners has improved. This improvement has been due to the fact that there has been a considerable rise in earnings, but the pensioner, of course, by definition, is one who has stopped earning, whose earnings are, anyhow, kept within the limits of a statutory rule and who is, therefore, excluded from sharing in this improvement.

I recall some passages in pages 18 to 20 of the Economic Survey, which, I think, are relevant and support this contention. Most of the statements contained in those pages are relevant to what I am arguing, but I notice particularly the sentence stating that personal consumption in the year under review amounted to about three-fifths of the total increase in home demand. The pensioners have had no direct share—and I say direct because my right hon. Friend mentioned the case of a pensioner who lives at home and might benefit from the increased earnings of those who live with him—in this increase during a year which brought an improvement in the position of most other people, but saw none in the case of the pensioners. In fact, their position has relatively worsened, and this is what seems to me to prove the case for an increase. I think that this is admitted, and, since my right hon. Friend has given us this afternoon the assurance for which we had all hoped about the Government's intentions in the matter, there is only one outstanding question, and that is the timing of the increase.

I had better make an admission to the House. At the time of the Budget statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I regretted that he had not been able to do anything for the pensioners, and I said so. When I was asked, as hon. Members are asked from time to time, to write an article about the Budget, I said so in that article. What I advocated was what hon. Members opposite are, in fact, advocating today—an interim measure of relief. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs used those words, and spoke of an interim measure of relief to be given before the Government find themselves in a position to consider and to act upon the statutory quinquennial review of the whole position.

When I heard my right hon. Friend reply to the Budget debate, I must say that I was convinced that, in the whole of the circumstances, it would not be in the best interests of the pensioners to take precipitate and piecemeal action before the Government had had the opportunity to consider the actuary's report, and, in that belief, I shall certainly support the Amendment. I must say that I had the impression, at the time of my right hon. Friend's winding-up speech, that he had managed to convince at least some hon. Gentlemen opposite that this was a fair and reasonable course, but I may be wrong. At any rate, if I had not been convinced by the winding-up speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, I should certainly have been convinced since by no less an authority than the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who, I am sorry to say, is not in her place.

I studied with care the last part of her speech on the Second Reading of the National Insurance Act, 1951, in which the right hon. Lady was dealing with the administrative difficulties inherent in any change in pensions rates. She enlarged upon the size of these difficulties, and used the word "formidable" to describe them. It seemed to me, on reading her speech, that a convincing case was made out for saying that the administrative difficulties in the way of an interim adjustment, to be followed, as it would probably have to be, by further Government action on consideration of the report, would indeed be almost insuperable.

I should now like to go back, if I may, to what I said a little earlier about conditions in the last two years, in which the pensioners have become worse off in relation to the rest of the community. I believe—and this is a further argument for not interfering with the statutory machinery of review—that this state of affairs may well recur in the future. The policy of full employment has our support on both sides of the House. We have some years' experience now of what happens in our economy when there is full employment. We can assume with some certainty that the improved standard of life which we all hope for in this country is more likely to come about from an increase of earnings in relation to prices than from any sudden fall in the cost of living, as such. I believe that to be, at any rate, a workable assumption, and, if it is so, the problem of ensuring for the old-age pensioners their fair and just share in a rising standard is bound to recur.

The question I should like the House to consider, with the future in mind, is whether the present statutory arrangements for a periodical review of rates are the best possible in the circumstances to deal with the problem of pensions in a society in which we have, and hope to keep, full employment. My own view is that it meets the case reasonably well, though I feel that in certain circumstances the Minister might well have to use the machinery of review at the end of four years instead of five, which is, I believe, provided for under the terms of the Act.

Between one review and the next there may well be periods—I believe that the present is one of them—when basic rates will, in many cases, be inadequate. It is then that the function of National Assistance is to come in, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) has aptly expressed it, to catch or to cushion any of those who fall through the net of National Insurance. It cannot be too often said that it is just as much the will of Parliament that those in need should have National Assistance when they require it as that they should have the basic pension. I know that it is being administered in that spirit, and quite right, too.

There are good grounds for hope that recourse to National Assistance will be less in the future than it has been during the current period of difficulty; and this we should all wish to see. For one thing, people are tending to stay longer at work, and are thus coming into retirement with an incremented pension. I hope and believe that this trend will continue. From my own small experience in business, I would say that a good proportion of those who elect to retire when they reach pension age do so because they feel that they cannot carry on, for reasons of health or physical incapacity. This proportion may well get smaller as health standards improve and as progressive mechanisation and modernisation reduce the amount of heavy work which falls to be done in industry.

On the question of retirement, there is one other aspect which many of us encounter in connection with industry and business. When there was considerable unemployment, many firms had a rule, in fairness to their younger employees, that retirement should be compulsory at a certain age. I do not think that there is much need for such a provision now or in the forseeable future; in fact, we should like to see developments in a contrary direction. Many firms have abolished this age limit and I believe that more should follow their lead. It would be interesting and helpful to hear from either my right hon. Friend or any hon. Member opposite what is the trade unions' view on this question of the age of retirement.

While on the subject of industry, there is another matter which it might be helpful to mention in connection with the problem of pensions. Since the war there has been an enormous growth in the number of private pensions schemes. I myself am trustee for two small ones. The long standing schemes are already paying out quite substantial benefits, but the younger or newer ones, which, I suppose, are in the majority, will as the years go on add more and more to the resources which men and women will have at their disposal when they retire from industry.

In conclusion, I wish to refer to a point made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in a recent debate and which, I feel, should always be in the forefront of our minds when we are discussing the financial problems of the elderly. Very many old people need help and care of a kind which is not purely financial and which does not, therefore, fall within the framework of legislation. There is a wide field here for the work of local authorities and particularly of voluntary associations.

I should like to pay tribute to the devotion and efficiency with which work of that kind is actively conducted in my constituency by all those who make it their concern, as we do, on all sides of the House, that those who have grown old in the service of their country should be able to live during their retirement as their efforts have deserved.

5.36 p.m.

The House has listened to a maiden speech of very high quality indeed. It is a great day in the life of any man when he is elected to this House. It is another great day when he is called to make his first speech, and the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) may well feel that he has acquitted himself with distinction. The humour and modesty of the hon. Gentleman will have pleased the House, for he will soon find that this is a very human place, and we like all newcomers to be modest. Some of us remain modest for a long time, and others have modesty thrust upon them.

The hon. Member has paid the House the tribute of preparing well the speech which he has delivered. It augers well for the contribution which he will make in future debates. I hope we shall hear much more of that understanding sympathy which he clearly has for the problems of the people whom he represents. I was glad that a maiden speaker had the privilege of saying a word of welcome to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard), who was taken ill last night, and I associate myself with those remarks.

Having said those few kind words, I now turn my attention to the Treasury Bench. The right hon. Gentleman, who has had to leave, this afternoon read to the House some letters, the only purpose of which could be to argue that everything in the garden was lovely and that there was no urgency about the problem of increasing the pensions of our old folk. His general tenor seemed to be that the old folk are better off today than ever they were and that they are having more calories. These "calories" keep cropping up. If the Minister would talk to old age pensioners, he would find that they have increasing difficulty in getting the necessities of life alone.

Since early in March there has been on the Order Paper a Motion in the name of the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), asking for attention to be paid to the needs of the old folk. Week after week, when the business of the House has been announced one or other of us on this side has asked the Leader of the House whether he would give time to discuss the old-age pensions question, but we have been thrust aside. We were driven to discuss even Members' salaries before we discussed old-age pensions. We have asked since March for the Government to give time to consider the question of the old folk, and we are only considering it now because the Opposition, and not the Government, have given a day of their time for the purpose.

The old-age pension problem has, I believe, reached the proportions of a national scandal. The Minister, in the concluding words of his speech, indicated that it will be six months before anything is given to the pensioners. He expects to have the report about the time we return from the Summer Recess namely, the end of October or the beginning of November, and he stated that we should have time between then and the end of the year to consider what we can do for the old folk. The luxury of another six months means that the misery of poverty in which the pensioners find themselves today is to be endured when it could be ended tomorrow if the Government were so minded.

In 1946, the pension represented 21 per cent. of the average wage paid in industry, and last November the Minister told me that the old-age pension then represented 17 per cent. I presume it is about 16 per cent. today on the average wage paid. But that is not all. The Government have deliberately increased in price the very things on which the pensioner spends most of his money. By their abolition of the food subsidies the Government have hit the pensioner in the stomach. The Minister admitted to the delegation from the National Federation of Old Age Pensions Associations that the cost of food had increased by 65 per cent. since the last increase, and that statement has been repeated. I repeated it on the Floor of the House to the Minister and he did not challenge my figures.

The Interim Index of Retail Prices, which purports to give a cost-of-living index, includes 250 items, two-thirds of which have nothing to do with food. Since the Government came into power the pensioners have been pushed to the back of the queue. The morality of the Welfare State has been undermined. Its basis was that the strong should help the weak and the rich should help the poor. By the abolition of food subsidies an end was put to that, because the pensioner, the unemployed, the sick and the widow now have to bear with the millionaire the increased cost of living, while those included in the tax paying group have benefited from the £335 million in Income Tax and Surtax reductions given by the Chancellor in recent years.

The overriding obsession of the Chancellor to reduce Income Tax and Surtax has, I fear, blinded him to the grim poverty of the old folk. They ought to be the honoured guests of the nation. Instead, they are being treated as inconvenient poor relations. The Government ought to have an uneasy conscience on this question for, despite the argument between my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) and the Minister about the reduced Government contribution to the National Insurance Fund, this much is clear, that the Government have saved £204 million which ought to have been paid into the National Insurance Fund but which was not because of the steps taken during 1951. This means that the Government's contribution has been reduced from 22 per cent. to 14 per cent. and the working man's contribution to the Fund has been increased from 40 per cent. to 44 per cent.

The whole burden of the Government's case appears to be that whatever is done must be actuarially acceptable. A scheme must not be put forward which would get into debt. I believe that we are allowing this problem of the arithmetic of the scheme to blind us to our moral obligations. Our priorities are wrong. This should be a case of "Can we afford to give it to the old folk today rather than next January?" If anything is to wait let it be something else. This is a case of life and death for the old people. Whatever else we cannot afford we must afford a square deal and an honourable existence for those who have laboured long to make this country what it is.

I suggest that there should be an entirely new approach to the problem. Today, of the National Insurance contribution by the workers, about 2s. 6d. goes towards old-age pensions. Nearly half of the working man's contribution every week is to provide for the old people. I agree with my right hon. Friend, who opened this debate this afternoon in what I think was a very useful and commendable speech, if I may say so without patronage, that the people must accept responsibility for their own poor.

But we do not need to lecture the working classes about looking after the old folk. It is regarded as a matter of honour among the people from whom we spring that as far as lies in our power we should care for our mothers and fathers and for our grandparents. It is not always possible for people to be able to bear that burden but it is a great privilege, which we should not underestimate. It is a privilege more than words can tell for me to have my own mother with me, and I appreciate it, but what if I could not afford to maintain her along with my other obligations. I believe that every citizen ought to bear the burden according to his ability.

One hon. Member opposite made a speech during the last debate which we had on pensions, in which he said that he did not think it right to give pensions to people regardless of their position, that some people might not need them. But is it right to take from people contributions regardless of their position? Why let a man with £5 a week pay exactly the same contribution as the man who is earning £39 a week?

I am not speaking for my right hon. Friend now, but entirely for myself, when I say that we ought to treat the question of old-age pensioners as we do the Health Service and let payment come out of taxation. Let the strong help the weak and the rich the poor. Let people pay accordingly to their ability, but see that nobody who can afford to pay will be able to "dodge the column." Some of us may have to pay much more than the 7s. 5d. a week which we are paying now.

There is nothing sacrosanct about the National Insurance Scheme. It must be moulded to suit our experience as we learn more of the needs of our people. I recently asked the Minister what it would cost to give a pension of £2 10s. a week to our old folk and pay for it out of taxation. The reply I got was that he would save £35 million from the Government's contribution to National Insurance, and £30 million from National Assistance, but he would have to pay out £560 million rising to £1,080 million in 25 years' time. If there is anything that irritates an old person it is to talk to him about what is likely to happen in 25 years' time. We know that we shall be lucky if we are here to be pensionable in 25 years' time.

To deny justice today because there will be a social problem in a quarter of a century's time cannot be defended. I believe that it is cruel. In any case, the wisest man among us does not know what our economic position will be in 25 years' time. By 1960, we shall have atomic power on the industrial front and we may be able to have people retiring much earlier and to maintain them.

We had a debate recently on our own salaries. We were made to parade our poverty, to the delight of a good many people, and I feel very sore about it. They played with us, and they are doing exactly the same thing with the old-age pensioners. By making them wait for this increase they are smacking the old people where it hurts them most. The Commons was treated with contempt. It is, of course, part of the philosophy of the party opposite to teach working people their place by making them wait. It has been the lesson all through our political and industrial history. Decent opinion—decent opinion in all circles—is ashamed that this House, the custodian of the social conscience of the nation, can be indifferent to the cries that come to it at the present time.

This afternoon I had a telegram from ex-Service men in Cardiff. In the first part they suggest—wrongly—that the Government Amendment is out of order. The telegram continues:
"In so far as war disability and widows' pensions are concerned all facts, figures known. Admitted by the Minister and Chancellor. No further committee or inquiries necessary. Protest at delay tactics. Signed, Bond, B.L.E.S.M.A. Cardiff."
I hope that even at this late hour the Government will say that they have changed their mind. It is wrong for us to go away on holiday next week and to leave the old folk to stew in their own juice.

5.53 p.m.

I support the Motion. Any doubts that I had were dissipated by what I regard as a most unfortunate speech by the Minister. When I read the Motion and the Amendment, I thought that the only conflict between the two sides of the House was in regard to timing—whether an improvement in pensions should be made immediately or whether it would not be better to wait until full statistical information was available. It came as a great surprise, indeed as a profound shock, to hear the Minister devote the first part of his speech to an attempt to prove that there was really nothing wrong today with the position of the old-age pensioner, and to devote the second part arguing that if, which was not admitted, there is anything wrong, then both sides of the House must take the blame.

The old-age pensioners are not particularly interested in attaching blame. What they are interested in is a genuine attempt to alleviate immediately the condition in which they find themselves. When I approached this debate, anticipating that the difference between the two sides was simply one of timing, I was reminded of the observations of a Conservative speaker in a recent official political broadcast who used the words:
"We know that many of the old people are still having a hard time."
The Minister did not seem to concede that:
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of National Insurance have both said that they want to help. I personally believe that something will be done before long."
In the debate on 19th March the Joint Parliamentary-Secretary voiced the same sentiments. What he said on that occasion was not that nothing needed to be done. He said:
"It is indeed our aim that, should the finances and the economics of the country permit, the level of benefits and pensions should be restored without delay to the level which they had when the National Insurance scheme was introduced."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 816.]
I want to give one or two figures to illustrate the real plight of the old-age pensioners today and to demonstrate quite clearly, as I hope, that since 1946 there has been a steady deterioration in their position. Something has been said to the effect that there has been some reduction in the numbers turning to National Assistance. It would be as well if we got the exact position perfectly clear. It is, that every year since 1946 there has been a steady and substantial increase in the number of old-age pensioners who have to resort to National Assistance. That is the plain fact.

Another fact is that there is a very large number who actually need National Assistance but who, because of personal pride, do not seek it. In 1952, 67,749 more pensioners turned to National Assistance than in the previous year. In 1953 the increase was 94,957. In 1954, it is true, the figure was less but it was still higher than in 1952, namely, 79,104. That quite clearly illustrates that there is a steady worsening in the position of the old-age pensioners.

In a very interesting maiden speech the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) made a further point which is illustrated by the statistics which I have. Looking at this problem not only from the absolute point of view but as compared with the rest of the population, the position of the old-age pensioner has steadily worsened. In 1951, out of the total number of persons turning to National Assistance the percentage who were contributory old-age pensioners was 50·2—slightly more than half the total number. In 1954 that had increased from 50·2 to 53·1 per cent., illustrating quite clearly that, while the overall demands on National Assistance have tended to decrease, the percentage of contributory pensioners having to turn to that additional source of income has been increasing from year to year.

The whole basis of the National Insurance scheme, as I understood it when it was introduced, was that the rate paid as of right should provide basic subsistence. From the steady increase year after year in the numbers having to turn to National Assistance, it is quite clear that we have got further and further from that conception. I am sorry to weary the House with so many figures, but I think that they illustrate my argument far better than words can.

In 1946 the rates of contributory pensions, single and double, were 26s. and 42s. per week. In every year since then the purchasing power of the pension paid has gone down. The pension increases which have been made have nothing like made up for the depreciation in the purchasing power of the £, and that is why it is ridiculous to talk, as the Government do in their Amendment, of "further improvement." There has been no improvement since 1946 in the purchasing power of the contributory pension. Let me give the figures.

As I say, in 1946 the pension was 26s. and 42s. respectively. To bring that pension up to present purchasing power levels, it should be 38s. and 62s. respectively, as compared with the actual pension of 32s. 6d. and 54s. I should have thought that if the Minister wanted a proper yardstick with which to measure any immediate increases which should be made, those figures provide him with that yardstick. We are waiting for statistics and for the Phillips Committee's Report; we are waiting for all sorts of information before further adjustments are made. But I can see no reason why forthwith the contributory pension for old-age pensioners should not be increased so as to provide them with the purchasing power they had in 1946.

Since 1946 there have been two increases in pensions, but they have not brought about any improvement on the 1946 position, and if anyone thinks that these so-called improvements have helped to solve the problem, let me give these figures. In 1951 we had an increase to 30s. and 50s. If 30s. and 50s. were appropriate in 1951, the present rates should be 33s. 6d. and 56s. as compared with the actual rates of 32s. 6d. and 54s. In 1952 we had an increase to 32s. 6d. and 54s. If those figures were right in 1952, then even on that basis the present-day pension should be 33s. 6d. and 55s. 6d.

But what I wish to pray in aid is the comparison between the purchasing power of the pension in 1946 and the pension which should be paid today to maintain that same purchasing power—namely, 26s. and 42s., on the one hand, and 38s. and 62s. on the other. Is there any reason why the purchasing power of the contributory pension should not be increased to its 1946 level?

Actually, in one sense, the purchasing power argument is favourable to the person who is not advocating an increase, because the plight of the old-age pensioner is even worse than looking at the matter from a purely statistical point of view suggests. It is worse because, as has already been stated, the two matters in which the old-age pensioner is particularly interested are food and warmth, and the cost of obtaining food and warmth has substantially increased in recent years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) reminds me that rents have increased also. As for food, the Government have saved millions from their policy relating to food subsidies. One of the strongest arguments in favour of cutting the food subsidies is that they benefited the community indiscriminately. That was art argument which appealed to me, but if that argument has any real validity, any money saved by the Government through the process of cutting food subsidies should be directed towards alleviating the position of the old-age pensioner.

The increases in the price of coal hit the old-age pensioner far more severely than they hit the rest of the community. For one thing, they are usually in greater need of coal. In addition, they cannot buy large quantities in the summer when prices should be lower. They have to buy their coal in small quantities at a time, which is not the most economical way of buying coal. Other articles taken into account when assessing the purchasing power of the £ are articles which do not enter into the normal budget of the old-age pensioners.

I suggest to the Minister that the case for alleviating their position without delay is unanswerable. It may be said that we must take into account the national economy or, to use the phrase of the Parliamentary Secretary, "the finances and the economics of the country." In view of that, it is a little surprising that so far we have seen no member of the Treasury Bench present. I do not want in any way to talk glibly about voting millions to this or to that. That would be a wholly irresponsible attitude. But in approaching this problem, we might remind ourselves of a few basic figures in relation to our national economy.

We are dealing with a country with a gross national income of £14,719 million. We have just dealt with a budget of £4,537 million in which £1,555 million is devoted to defence and £1,237 million to the social services. In deciding whether we can spend £100 million or £150 million in increasing supplementary pensions, I think we should approach the matter with those other figures in mind. Something has already been said—and I do not want to pursue the matter—about increasing insurance contributions. I am certainly not against the healthy working section of the community, the young and the middle-aged, making a contribution towards an increase in old-age pensions. I believe that all sections of the working people in this country are prepared to bear a proper share of the burden in order to put old-age pensioners into a position to meet their responsibilities in life in a way that we would all like.

As one who has tried to take some interest in the problem of the care of the aged, I feel that everything conceivable should be done to make it easier for the ageing members of society to look after themselves or to be looked after by their own families. However good our institutions may be, however well run our homes for the aged are, from a human angle, quite apart from the financial angle, they are a poor substitute for a person looking after himself or being looked after by his own family.

The financial aspect has already been dealt with. We are told that the cost of maintaining a person in a home is four times as much as the pension payable to him. But I should like to emphasise that if we are to encourage old people to look after themselves and if we are to encourage their families to look after them, one of the best ways of doing that is to see that they get adequate old-age pensions. Quite apart from the human aspect, it would be sound finance to remove from old-age pensioners the worries and anxieties which spring very largely from their weekly budgetary problems.

The case for increasing contributory pensions is unanswerable, and we have quite a simple and straightforward yardstick for increasing them now. We cannot blame the old-age pensioner for being sceptical when the Government say, "We are waiting for reports, and we shall consider your position sympathetically when those reports have been received." There is a psychological besides a purely economic aspect of this matter, and today, rightly or wrongly—and it does not matter a great deal whether it is rightly or wrongly—the ageing section of our society is feeling bitter. It feels that it has been forgotten.

Nothing will do more to improve the position than prompt action by the Government. I urge the Minister to consider whether he could not do something now. It may be that he will have to make further adjustments when all these reports have come into his possession, but if he were to take immediate action he would be answering a call which has a sound statistical basis, and which certainly has a human appeal which is difficult to resist.

6.11 p.m.

I shall follow the example of the right hon. Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) in two respects. I shall be brief and, I hope, non-controversial. As the first speaker from this side of the House since my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) made his admirable maiden speech, I should like to say that we should endorse the words spoken by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). I could not have put them better myself, and I am only a quarter Welsh, whereas he is wholly Welsh.

What the old people really want from this debate is to know what they are going to get added to their basic pension, and when they are going to get it. Having listened to the whole debate, I have come to the conclusion that there is really not very much difference of opinion between the two sides of the House. The object of both is to restore all National Insur- ance benefits to the purchasing power which they commanded when the National Insurance scheme was introduced. That was stated in "Challenge to Britain," and it is very similar to what my hon. Friend said at the end of his speech. In other words, the object is to put these basic pensions back, as soon as possible, to what was then called "subsistence level." The difference of opinion lies in the timing.

My right hon. Friend caused a certain amount of controversy in the House by proving that old-age pensioners were not in such dire need as some people had tried to make out. He did not say that, because of that fact, the basic pension was high enough. He was trying to show that National Assistance, which has been in existence under both Governments, has prevented old-age pensioners from being in great need. He did not say that that situation should continue, but he said that National Assistance was doing the job for which it was invented.

My plea is that in the short time we have to wait before these reports are received, National Assistance should be allowed to continue to do that job, rather than being displaced by an interim rise in the basic pension, which might have to be altered again when these reports—especially the Actuary's report—have been studied. The Phillips report will be available, and we hear that it will shortly be received. It was the party opposite which decided that the Actuary should examine these schemes every five years and surely, when we know that we shall get the relevant figures at the end of the year, we ought to wait until then before we alter the figure.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) said that trade unions were 100 per cent. behind the Motion rather than the Amendment, but I understand that they would like to have a proper actuarial report before they decide what is the correct line to take in the future in regard to these insurance schemes.

It has been mentioned in the newspapers. It does not seem to be extraordinary that we should have all the necessary information before passing legislation to go forward with these great schemes for another five years.

My concern is not with the amount which old-age pensioners should receive, but the manner in which they should receive it. One hon. Member chided us because, he said, the necessary legislation looked like being brought forward immediately before the next General Election. Surely that would be a good thing. I do not believe that old-age pensioners want their case to be made a party issue at an Election. If we all agreed to raise the basic pension so that it had the purchasing power of the 1946 pension, the necessary legislation would be passed by both sides of the House, and it would not be a matter of controversy at the next Election. After hearing the reception given to my right hon. Friend when he was speaking, I shudder at the thought of fighting a General Election in those circumstances, and it would be an extremely bad thing for the old-age pensioners themselves.

I want to say only one word about war pensions. I understand that they will be considered at the same time as other pensions, although they are granted upon a different basis. They are not granted upon an insurance basis, and nobody proposed that they should be. I want the scheme to continue to be as flexible as possible. When my local branch of the British Legion wrote to me asking whether I was prepared to vote in favour of putting up the basic figure for war pensions to some rather large sum, I said that I was not prepared to do so if it could be avoided. I wanted any money available to be spent upon those who really needed it, rather than upon a basic pension of a figure which might be higher than was necessary in the case of someone who was not in need.

Reverting to the case of the old-age pensioners, I should like to refer to something which I said in a Friday debate last March, namely, that we must consider more flexibility in dealing with the old people. The real trouble is that we have failed in our attempt to persuade people that National Assistance is not Poor Law relief. I shall call in aid in support of that statement something which was said by the right hon. Lady herself in May, 1951. She then said:
"I want people to regard Assistance as part of the pattern of our social services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th May, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 1995.]
I entirely and absolutely agree, but we have failed; there is no doubt about that. Hon. Members today have said that the trouble is that the people will not go to the National Assistance Board. For instance, I have heard people say, as they have said today in the House, that it is a disgraceful thing that so many old-age pensioners have to apply for National Assistance. In my view, it is not a disgraceful thing; it is a thoroughly undesirable thing, and both sides of the House are determined to put an end to it. I hope that in the interval all of us on both sides will do our best to show these people that they are not drawing Poor Law relief, and that we have set up the National Assistance Board for the very purpose of giving help to those people whose circumstances are such that they are reduced to poverty and distress.

In that Friday debate I said that I did not believe that the basic pension would be enough for all old people and that I wanted to see an old people's department set up by the National Assistance Board and all the branches of the Board, because there are so many different needs and circumstances vary so widely that every case must be considered on its merits. If we can get it into the minds of the old people—for instance, those who are almost bedridden and have no one to look after them—that their local branch of the National Assistance Board exists to look after them, we shall help them enormously and remove some of the trouble about the correct figure for the basic pension. We cannot do that unless we get it into people's minds that there is nothing shameful at all about the National Assistance Board, which was set up by general agreement between all parties in this House in order to assist those in need.

I support the Amendment because I think it is necessary to get all the information we can. The old people will know that the reports are coming in at the end of this year and an undertaking, as near a pledge as can be, has been given by the Minister that the legislation on this subject will be the first in the next Session. I hope we shall keep this matter out of party politics. We have usually kept pensions out of party controversy, and I hope we shall continue to do so, and that the old people will benefit thereby.

6.23 p.m.

The strength of this House is seen at its greatest when the House shows itself in the closest contact with the people. Listening to the Minister today, I felt—and I am not trying to be offensive—that was not the case today. Certainly it was not the case with the Minister. If I had been an old-age pensioner listening to the Minister, an icy blast would have gone right through me and all around me. I could not see, even when he had finished, that he thought there was any need for an increase of pensions at all. It seemed to me that he felt that the old people were doing better than they had ever done before.

He read two letters: letters from two people who are satisfied. A point I want to emphasise is this, that if this Government had moved their Amendment when the question of old-age pensions was raised some two years ago, they would have had some justification for saying, "Let us wait for the results of some reports and inquiries in two or three months' time." But we on this side of the House for two years past have been busy telling the Minister and hon. Members opposite that the old people just cannot afford the necessities of life. So it is not a question which has suddenly arisen.

All along, without exception, whether at Question time or in debate, the Minister has told us in effect that what we have been suggesting is not necessary, that the plight of the old people as we picture it is not accurately drawn. And nothing at all has been done about it. It would be quite unfair if the Government today were able to get away with it in the country—to get away with it not having done anything. Many of us over the past two years have raised these questions, and I should like the House to consider the attitude of the Government towards this matter ever since they came to power.

I am sorry if this leads us into party politics, but I feel very strongly about it, and, as I say, I do not see why the Government should get away with it. During the past two years the Minister and those Members opposite who support him have been acting according to the motto coined by the Minister of Works recently, "Treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen." I do not know whether they have kept them keen, but the party opposite has treated the old people shabbily. It has treated them meanly.

I do not propose to weary the House with many quotations from the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I have with me a large number of quotations of what the Minister has said at different times during the past year or so that illustrate the Tory attitude towards these matters. In March, 1953, I asked whether the old people were in a position to buy the food and light and heat they needed, and the reply I got from the Minister was a typical one. It was a human problem which we were raising. We told the Minister that the old people in the winter were having to choose between food and fuel. That is a statement I, for one, will stand by. The Minister replied:
"The supplementation given by the Assistance Board is adequate for the needs of the people whose interests they serve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1953; Vol. 513, c. 479.]
If the Minister calls that a human reply, I do not.

During the debate on the Finance Bill last year, we wondered how the reductions in Purchase Tax would benefit the old people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer underlined the attitude of the Government in treating the old people meanly. He told us:
"The case of the old-age pensioners is very near our hearts."
They must be pretty cold hearts—that is all I can say about it. When we on this side asked the Chancellor what benefits he thought the old people would get from the reduction in Purchase Tax, the best that he could say was:
"…pipes, tobacco-smoking equipment…has been reduced from 66⅔ per cent. to 50 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1953; Vol. 515, c. 717.]
That is the sort of treatment the Government have been giving the old people right the way through.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) spoke about the needs of the old people as being different from those of us who are younger. Everybody agrees that that is true. I think we can agree also that their chief needs are for food, fuel and light. As long ago as May, 1953, I was lucky enough to have the Adjournment. I asked the Minister if he had considered whether the weighting in the Index of Retail Prices could be altered for the old people so that those three items came first. We got nowhere at all with that suggestion.

It will be well within the recollection of the House that every time we have asked Questions about these things the Minister and his hon. Friends said either that it is not true that the old people are as badly off as that, or alternatively that they are better off under this Government than they were under the previous Government. That was not and is not the point. The point is not how well off they were under any previous Government, but how well off they are now. We repeatedly tried to get the Government to see that if the price of fuel—of coal, gas and electricity—went up, the old people should have some concessions, but everywhere we met with a blank wall. We then asked the Minister how old people were to get replacements of household equipment or footwear or clothes. It was obvious from his reply that he did not realise that old people do not want second-hand clothing from any source, however good it may be. The Minister need not shake his head; I have the HANSARD here containing the Question and answer.

Although we on this side of the House have pressed repeatedly for the old people to have some help in their purchase of coal or electricity, some price concession, the truth is that the old people do not want goods at a cheaper rate. They want the money with which to buy them. Every time we have advanced these causes to the Minister, we have tried to give chapter and verse, and in my opinion we have given chapter and verse over the long history since 1951, but we have got nowhere. The Minister talked about doing something in four or five months' time. It is all right for hon. Members to talk about that, but for an old person with nothing, waiting four or five months can be a very grim business.

Going back to 1953, I can remember the Minister being asked, not for a Royal Commission, but whether he would have an inquiry into the cost of living of the old people before the winter came. That was in May, 1953. The answer was, "No," and nothing has been done. If the Minister is happy about how the old people got through the last winter, in view of the price of coal, we on this side of the House are not.

I believe that that attitude has been adopted right through this business. I should have thought more of the Minister and his party if they had admitted that these things were true but had said that they intended to do nothing about them. The Minister looks puzzled. All I can say to him is that if the speech he made today goes out to the old-age pensioners' associations, the Minister and his party will be very sorry at the next Election, however much they may increase the pensions before then.

I think it was expected on both sides that something would be done for old-age pensioners in the Budget this year. I want to quote only one short sentence from the Chancellor's Budget speech. It is a sentence which the old people will never forget and which I hope hon. Members opposite will never be allowed to forget. The Chancellor said:
"For my part, I take pride in the increased freedom of choice which the citizen now feels that he can enjoy in his or her daily life. The truth is that we must not be frightened of a little more ease and happiness or feel that what is pleasant must necessarily be evil."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 198.]
The Chancellor spoke of "a little more ease and happiness." Do the party opposite feel that in their stabilisation of the cost of living "a little more ease and happiness" has been brought into the lives of the old-age pensioners in the past three years? I gather that at least one hon. Member opposite thinks so. I do not know whether he will still think so after he has heard these figures which I intend to put before the House.

All of us, on both sides of the House, hoped, with the coming into being of the National Insurance Act and with higher pensions, that fewer and fewer people would be applying for National Assistance. Anyone who knows anything about old people will agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, North that a good many old people go to the National Assistance Board only with the greatest reluctance. That is a legacy from the past into which I will not go at the moment.

The former chairman of the National Assistance Board, Mr. Buchanan, did a wonderful job in humanising the Board, but the fact remains, as all will agree, that old people go there only with great reluctance. Perhaps I might add that if they go there it is because they have to. Yet today at least twice as many are going to the National Assistance Board as went to it three or four years ago.

What worries me is that in this country today we have something which I should have thought nobody would like—we have social security not provided as a right by contribution but provided by a National Assistance Board which, before it is able to help a person, has to satisfy itself by a means test that he is in need. That is the situation which we have reached in this country.

We on this side of the House, and possibly some hon. Members opposite, know full well what a means test implies. If more than one in four of the old-age pensioners have to submit to it, then I suggest to hon. Members opposite that the cost of living has certainly not been stabilised. Had the cost of living been stabilised over the last few years, it is reasonable to assume that fewer people would have gone to the National Assistance Board for help, rather than more.

Will the hon. Lady say how the situation today differs from that which prevailed in 1950 when her Government were in power?

I thought I had explained that the number of people going to the National Assistance Board has steadily increased and that it is greater today than it was in 1950. I said that it was twice as great as it was three or four years ago. I thought I spoke sufficiently clearly and I think the hon. Member should have heard me. I have been trying hard not to discuss the past, because I am dealing with the present position. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) need not look puzzled. I have answered his question and if he would like to ask another, I will sit down in order that he may do so.

Have not the rates increased, too? They must, therefore, embrace a larger number of people. That is one reason for the increase, if not the only reason.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), who is sitting on the Front Bench below me, says. "That is some arithmetic." I think we will leave it there. We are saying that the number applying to the National Assistance Board has risen.

I did not say that it had. I said that the number of old age pensioners who were applying to the National Assistance Board today for help was nearly twice as great as that of three or four years ago. There are not twice as many pensioners. If more people have had to go to the National Assistance Board, how can the Conservative Party maintain that the cost of living has been stabilised? Is any hon. Member prepared to say that old people have gone to the National Assistance Board because they like going there? No one is prepared to say that, apparently, and I may take it, therefore, that hon. Members opposite have no answer.

One factor is the increase in rates. Another factor, which we are all glad to see, is that many more old people are learning that it is not wrong to go to the National Assistance Board.

I hope the hon. Member will be able to speak later and then he can do his arithmetic.

I feel that the old people have a legitimate complaint when they say that the present system penalises thrift. In common with a good many hon. Members, I have felt for some time that it is hard lines on an old-age pensioner who has a little bit of money put by that he is not able to go to the Assistance Board for help—that is not the fault of the Assistance Board—whereas a person who has not been thrifty can go to the National Assistance Board. That is a situation which we must consider.

Here I am speaking entirely for myself, but when we are suggesting that pensions should be increased, we ought at least to suggest where the money is to be found. I believe that the old people are the responsibility of the community and I also feel that the day of people having to pay equal National Insurance contributions has passed. I believe that people who have more should pay more. It is quite wrong—and I am speaking only for myself—that a person earning £5 a week should have to pay the same contribution as a person earning £10 a week. I do not doubt that everyone will be looking to this matter when we come to discuss any proposals in the autumn. I should like ultimately to see pensions provided out of taxation—I think that they are the responsibility of the community—as are family allowances and practically the whole of the Health Service.

I believe that, unless we are to have a very large Exchequer contribution, to give everybody a decent pension will mean that the weekly contributions must be extraordinarily high, and I think that we have all to face that fact. One day I should like to see old-age pensions paid as of right to every citizen in this country without a means test. I hope that we shall come to that.

We were asked today what we on this side felt about increasing the contributions. I do not think that the people of this country would have the slightest hesitation if they were asked to pay increased contributions so as to raise old-age pensions. In saying that they would be prepared to do so, I would make the point that I think that the day of the equal contribution has gone. Those who earn more should pay more.

In conclusion, I should like hon. Members to look at a leader in today's "Times," in which it is said:
"The issue is thus whether benefits should be raised 'immediately,' meaning in the late autumn, rather than in the winter or the following spring. The Opposition will have to be more than usually convincing to upset the Government's case for postponing action until future policy has been settled.…"
We on this side feel that to the old people who cannot manage at present, the prospect of waiting another six months is not a possible one. We think that we have made our case and we hope that today the Government will agree with us.

As the hon. Lady has been talking about "The Times" leader, can she say a word about the part she omitted, which was to the effect that social security is not today in the sorry plight in which it was before the Labour Government made their limited improvements in 1951?

I should be unpopular if I took up further time from my side of the House, and I will leave the hon. Member to deal with that if he wishes to do so.

6.43 p.m.

I think that we all agree that we would like to see additions given to those living on pensions of any kind. If I confine my remarks to retirement pensions it is not because I lack sympathy with other types of pensioners but because I have some knowledge and some understanding of retirement pensioners as it was part of my job, and is still, as a factory welfare officer in Birmingham, to help with the care and welfare of about 200 pensioners. In addition, I did a certain amount of voluntary work for pensioners in the City of Birmingham.

I think that in considering this case for increased pensions it is essential that we should do so on the facts. The position is not always correctly understood or correctly stated. There is a tremendous amount of public sympathy for old people, and the Opposition know this. In my opinion, they are endeavouring to cash in on the position. They know that the Government will be taking action shortly to increase pensions, and the Opposition would like to be in the position to be able to say that they forced the Government into doing so. I should like to remind the House of the Opposition's record in this matter.

When new pension rates were granted in 1946, they were 26s. for a single pensioner and 42s. for a married couple, and they were then probably at subsistence level. The cost of living in subsequent years rose regularly and rapidly and nothing whatever was done to benefit people living on retirement pensions. I would remind hon. Members opposite that, during the whole six years in which they held office, the cost of living rose by 40 per cent., and the cost of food alone by 60 per cent. Since so much has been said about the importance of food in the lives of the pensioners, I think that is worth emphasising.

Even from July, 1948, when the whole of the benefits of the new National Insurance scheme came into operation, food alone rose, again under the Opposition Government, by 30 per cent. and this was so from 1948 until they gave up the job in October, 1951. It is true that on the eve of that General Election they did something about retirement pensions. They increased them to 30s. single and 50s. for a married couple, but there were limitations.

Anomalies were created because the increase was payable only to those people who would have reached retiring age on 1st October, 1951. It was an awful job trying to explain to pensioners who reached retiring age after that specific date why they did not qualify for the increased pension rate. I had to try to explain it over and over again and the old people were bewildered because they could not understand why those who had reached what they regarded as the ordinary retiring age did not receive the same amount of money as their friends who had qualified by 1st October.

It was left to this Government to put that anomaly right and to increase pensions still further, as they promised to do, in 1952. Since this Government increased pensions in 1952, it is true that the cost of living has gone up, but very slightly. The figure is 3 per cent., and if again we talk about food alone, because of its importance to the pensioner—and I do not deny that—food has increased only by 3 per cent. since that increase was granted by the present Government in 1952. By steadying the cost of living, which this Government has done, we have again helped the pensioners, and it is essential that they should be able to see stability.

I should like to make one other point, which may be a minor one, but which is important. I think that in doing away with rationing we have also helped pensioners. Time and again women pensioners in Birmingham said to me, in the days when they were rationed, "I dread the thought of going shopping. It is such a worry going from one place to another trying to get something." That must have been said to hon. Members opposite, too, but they conveniently forget it.

I am not suggesting that 32s. 6d. a week keeps anybody. It does not and we all know it, but there are other facilities available to pensioners. One has already been touched upon many times, and it is National Assistance—[An HON. MEMBER "The Means test."]—where the rates are higher than ever. Often one is asked—at least I am—in addressing meetings, particularly meetings of women, which are sympathetic to pensioners but which sometimes have not a great depth of knowledge of their conditions—what is available to pensioners. My answer is that under National Assistance they get a cash grant—small, it is true, but extra cash—their rent paid, an allowance for extra coal if it is required, an allowance for extra nourishment if it is required, grants for clothing and for bedding if they cannot afford it and can prove their case.

It is frequently said to me, having made that statement, "Why is this not mare widely known? Why do we not know that these facilities are available to pensioners so that we can encourage them to apply?" It is sometimes said—it has been said even on these benches—that pensioners are too proud to apply for National Assistance. That is not my experience. They are reluctant, yes; they are hesitant because they do not know exactly what is available for them. Sometimes they are misled by neighbours who think that they know all the answers. When I suggested to one woman in Birmingham some time ago that she was eligible for National Assistance, she replied, "Oh, no. They say"—that was, the neighbours—" that if I apply, they will take my bit of money away from me."

The woman had only £200 and, therefore, qualified for National Assistance. All this should be known.

I have never once failed to persuade somebody whom I have thought to be eligible for National Assistance to apply for it. It has taken persuasion, understanding and tact; it has taken, perhaps, two or three calls, but people can be persuaded. It is now becoming more widely known that assistance can be granted and that the Board's officials are very kind and humane.

I know that, because I sat on the advisory committee. That is part of the answer to the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) when she asks why there has been the increase in the number of people who have applied.

It is not only National Assistance which is available. Increased pensions with incremental increases are now coming into operation and in 1953, for the first time, people retired with 10 increments, which considerably increased their pensions and gave a maximum of 44s. 6d. for a single person and 76s. far a married couple. These figures are bound to grow with succeeding years as more people come into the full 10-year period. In addition, statutory pensions are frequently augmented by private pension schemes or by ex gratia allowances from employers who value the services of their former employees.

I am making the point that not many people have to live on the bare pension. These private supplementary schemes are of great value, because people feel that they have earned the money and that they possess independence. In addition, others have been more thrifty or more fortunate in being able to save and are not entirely without means. We should remember all this when we consider the pensioners.

Exaggerated statements are made about pensioners. It is said that they are going without food, and even that they are starving. It was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) that we are starving them to death.

I said that if you starve them quickly enough, you will not have to keep them.

It was said by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) that pensioners are suffering real poverty. It was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South that they cannot afford the necessities of life. That is not true. There may be an occasional case of malnutrition, but more often it is due to loneliness and to lack of help on the spot rather than to lack of money. Again, from my own experience, I know of no pensioner who is going without food.

I am willing to go into any Member's constituency provided that the Member comes with me and I am not led on a wild goose chase.

Some time ago I was invited—perhaps "challenged" would be the right word—by a Co-operative women's guild in my constituency to talk to them about the cost of living. Among the points that they had prepared for me were some concerning the position of pensioners. They stated that pensioners were going without food. I asked them then and there to give me names and addresses, but they could not. I asked them to send names and addresses to me, but they never did.

When I related the incident at a subsequent meeting which I attended in Kent, what I said regarding the Co-op. ladies and their failure to send me information appeared in the local Press. A week later a cutting was sent to me from a Kentish newspaper saying that the old-age pensioners' federation had had a meeting in the area to discuss my comments. They had held their meeting at the local Labour hall, which was very interesting. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Hon. Members may draw their own deductions.

The federation said, among other things, that pensioners in that area were living on the bare necessities of life and going without such basic foods as butter, bacon and meat. They said that they would write to the women's Co-operative movement in Birmingham, to which I had referred, expressing concern at their failure to take up my challenge. They said that they would offer to send to Miss Pitt the names and addresses of pensioners who were suffering and would tell her of their disagreement with her remarks as reported in the previous week's paper. I have not heard a word.

It means, I suggest, that these irresponsible statements cannot be backed up with proof.

I do not wish to be misunderstood or misquoted. I am not saying that pensioners have an easy time. They do not go without food, but they find difficulty when they have to buy a pair of new boots or even when they have boots soled and heeled, when they have to replace clothing, or when anything "gives up" in the house—blankets or sheets, for instance—or when they may get 3 or 4 cwt. of coal delivered at one time; they have a problem in getting the money. That is why I want to help them. But again, we should consider all the facts.

There are many old-age pensioners who live comfortably with all the little extras that we would wish them to have. I know many pensioners who enjoy their visits to their relatives, who have their smoke or their pint and their three-penny "doubles" and "rolls-up" on the horses.

But we should know the facts when we are considering the case.

It may be said that those who enjoy these extra comforts do so because sons and daughters help. One thing which I am glad to hear expressed in this debate—it has been said more than once by hon. Members opposite—is the feeling that sons and daughters should own a responsibility to their parents. Those of us who do help our parents do so gladly. When I am told, as I have been told, outside this Chamber, at meetings in Birmingham—and it was said at a meeting which some of us attended here when members of the National Federation of Old-Age Pension Associations came to talk to us—that parents do not like accepting charity from their sons and daughters, it really is nonsense.

We who help our parents do not do so from any feeling of cold charity in the sense in which that word is used. We do not do it from a sense of duty. We do it because we remember the sacrifices that our parents made for us. We do it 'because of affection and love. I never want to see that most generous impulse in our nature stilled or forfeited for the complete State welfare service.

Most of us do it, even if it means going without something ourselves. I speak for many when I say that.

There is one section of the community which neither the Motion nor the Amendment covers and which is really hard hit; that is, the people who live on small fixed incomes without any benefit from the State, the people who have been thrifty in the past and who thought that they had saved sufficient to provide for their old age. Their money has not the same purchasing power. They are the type of people who, when I was an industrial welfare officer and had to advertise for lodgings for employees, would answer the advertisements. When I went to see them they would say to me, "We have never had a lodger before. We thought we had enough money to live comfortably in our retirement but we find we have not. Since we have got a decent home we think this is one way of getting a little money to add to that which we have coming in." They are the people most hard hit, and it is with them that we should be concerning ourselves.

To return to retirement pensions, I think we must consider all factors, first, retirement trends, and second, the burden on the economy and present and future workers of an ageing population. Four things ought to be taken into account. One is that we ought to give opportunities and encouragement to people to stay at work, thereby improving their savings and pension rates when they eventually retire. It is my experience that most workmen do not want to retire at 65 for two reasons, the first of which is financial. They would like to preserve their job, and therefore their financial independence. The second is that they fear not having enough interests to occupy them in the years when they give up work. The expression often used to me in Birmingham is, "If I give up work I shall break up." Therefore, I am glad that there is a growing tendency to encourage workpeople to stay at work after what we regard as the normal retiring age.

The thing is to expand private supplementary schemes. I think that is the right thing to do, because, as I said earlier, it is an effort to preserve independence and it makes for stability in employment. I believe that about 50 per cent. of the workmen in our population at the moment are in one kind of scheme or another, either a private or a public supplementary scheme. This trend is increasing at the rate of 10 per cent. per annum, so that that is another factor to be taken into account. All of us would rather pay a little more to get something extra in benefit and be independent of the State scheme.

The third point is—and this is a point that has not been raised before—that I hope it will be possible to consider raising the earnings disregard. At the present moment a man or a woman who is retired is allowed to earn up to £2 before any deduction is made from pensions. In passing, I would point out that it was only 20s. in the days of the Labour Government. The present Administration raised it to 40s., and I think there is a case for raising it still further.

A number of pensioners would like to do a part-time job. That is not in conflict with what I said earlier, about men wanting to stay on at work. Some of them have to give up their work because of their own health or to look after their sick wives and do their shopping. A part-time job is of great assistance to them, and I think that if we could increase the earnings disregard perhaps to 50s. or 60s., it would encourage more of them to take a part-time job.

I get letters on this subject, as obviously do hon. Members opposite. I had a nice one recently from one of my constituents. He is earning £2 a week as a school patrol warden. He had to do two and a half hours a day to get his £2 a week and he tells me that he works more hours than that but does not book them because it would not pay him to do so. I think that George Schwartz in the "Sunday Times" a week or two ago on this same subject of earnings disregards summed the matter up very neatly when he said that if a man knew on Thursday that he had earned all he could and anything more would be deducted from his pension, then his anaemia, arthritis or asthma would certainly come on on Thursday night.

My final point is that, after taking all these things into account, we ought still to consider the present basic pension level to see whether it can be improved. Pensioners from my own constituency came here yesterday to petition some of us. They said that one in four were in need of assistance. I think that perhaps that is really higher than is the case, but we want the old folks' standard of living to keep pace with the rising standard of living which we are all enjoying under this Government.

We want our old people to get the best of it and to share in the returning prosperity. What we have now to ask ourselves is how much are we who are enjoying that return to prosperity prepared to give in order to improve living conditions and the comfort of our old folk. For all those reasons, I think it is very necessary that we should have the two reports which we are awaiting before any action is taken. Therefore, I support the Amendment.

7.8 p.m.

We have just listened to an exposition of the real Tory conception of what life for the old people should be. Never in my experience in this House have I listened to such a reactionary speech as that of the hon. Lady for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt). When I realise the position she occupied before coming to this House, I am amazed at the views she has put forward. It is true to say that the Minister at least attempted to gild the lily. I do not know what the hon. Lady has been trying to do, but she seemed to argue that everything in the garden was lovely for the old-age pensioners. That is not my experience.

I move as much as anybody in this House among old-age pensioners and I say, with all modesty, that the pensioners are infinitely worse off today than they were in 1951. I challenge hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to prove that that is wrong. If I possessed the wand of a magician, I would transfer the hon. Lady to my division and she would see something totally different from the picture she has tried to paint this afternoon.

I was amazed at the high degree of hilarity manifested at the beginning of this debate by hon. Members opposite. This is a very serious human problem and, instead of warranting hilarity, it warrants serious consideration. After all, these people on whose behalf we are endeavouring to convince the Government they are in need of help are the people who served their day and generation when they were able to do so.

A great deal of lip-service and crocodile tears were poured out when the salaries of hon. Members were under consideration. We were told by hon. Members opposite, "Do not increase the salaries of Members of Parliament. It will have a reaction upon the old-age pensioners. Let us deal with their pensions first." That was the cry all along the line. The 1922 Committee, which has caused so much mischief in recent months, used that as an argument. It influenced the Prime Minister, and Members of the Committee said that they had received letters from hundreds of old-age pensioners protesting against the proposal to increase Members' salaries.

With modesty I say that I happen to be the honorary president of the general council of an old-age pensioners' association. I have not yet received one letter or a solitary complaint from any of that class or that organisation complaining about the proposed increase in the salaries of Members of Parliament. I have here one letter which I have received from an old-age pensioner. He is not complaining about the increase, he is complaining about the fact that the Government refused to honour the majority vote upon the salaries of Members of Parliament. Here is an extract from his letter:
"I want you to tell me why the Government, after having the free vote on a Motion for increasing Members of Parliament's salaries to £1,500 a year, are able to say you can't have it even when the majority is in favour of the Motion. This isn't Democracy."
That old-age pensioner is not complaining, but there have been requests made from time to time by groups of old-age pensioners that something should be done for them. They are patient, long-suffering, decent and honest citizens who have served their day and generation. However much we may try to escape it, the responsibility rests upon this side of the House as well as on the Government side to see that these people, whatever may be their political philosophy, whatever they may have done in days gone by, whatever may have been their vocation, are relieved of their difficulties and hardships. We cannot evade that responsibility and it is the duty of this House to apply its mind to the problem.

The problem of dealing adequately with old age, with infirmity, with injury, with sickness, with the wounded and with the unfortunate in life, has occupied the attention of this House for well-nigh half a century. This is no new thing which has dropped from the clouds within the last few months. It has been growing with great rapidity, and past Governments have failed to face up to the problem. Of course, attempts have been made to deal with it but, looking back on the pages of history, I must conclude that this problem has never been dealt with adequately. Scheme after scheme has been put forward but all have failed to meet the needs of the unfortunate for any length of time. I do not think any of us here have underestimated the problem, which is a colossal one, but it has always been approached from the angle of what the nation can afford to pay and, if the nation cannot afford to pay, there is no redress. If we determine the relief of poverty and hardship on an actuarial basis, it will never be relieved.

It is true that now and again a human approach is made, but never to the fullest possible degree. In 1954 the problem is the same as it was in 1908 when the first old-age pensioners' Act was put upon the Statute Book, but it is intensified. The problem requires to be tackled with courage, humanity and Christian fortitude and we should always have in mind the great service which these people have rendered to industry and commerce and on the battlefield. I have said before in this House, and I repeat it with greater emphasis tonight, that as long as we have wars we shall have sick and wounded men; as long as we have industry, we shall have broken and aged men. It is our job to protect such people.

The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Insurance is sheltering behind three reports for which we are waiting. First, he says it is advisable, in the long-term interest, to await the Phillips report. Secondly he says that before we can give any further increase to the old-age pensioners we must have the report of the National Advisory Committee. Thirdly he says we must await the report of the Government Actuary. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly, those three reports will have to go to his Department, be thoroughly examined and, after that examination, the result will be submitted to this House. Even if these are dealt with expeditiously, I cannot see that the old-age pensioners will get any relief before January or February of next year, and it is not good enough for these people to wait so long, however much the right hon. Gentleman tries to evade this responsibility.

I want to be fair and I know that there are hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who, deep down in their hearts, feel that something should be done, but they do not want to be outspoken. However, it is not only we in this House who express deep concern at the failure of the Government but thousands, nay, millions, of decent, honest, hard-working citizens are expressing themselves in no uncertain terms, as the resolutions on the programmes of their annual conferences show.

They are the people who, at a subsequent date will have to find the contributions. I will leave the Treasury out of it for the moment. I have no love for the Treasury, because I know the approach they make to these great human problems. Therefore, I will leave the Treasury out of it. It is these people who pass resolutions at their conferences who will be called upon to pay the increased contribution.

In my travels I have never yet spoken to a trade unionist who is not prepared to pay an increased contribution, provided that that increase can be earmarked for increased pensions. I find that on the agenda of one of the largest and most important conferences, which is to be held in a few days' time, there are 42 resolutions dealing with the economic and social conditions of the aged, infirm, injured, sick and wounded. The British Legion, which is a vast organisation charged with the responsibility of looking after the wounded, expressed at its Whitsuntide conference profound concern at the fact that pension rates had not been advanced.

The Scottish Bakers' and Confectioners' Union passed the following resolution a few weeks ago:
"The failure of the Government to our old-age pensioners must be recorded to their shame. Out old folks must be a first charge on our society. They are entitled to, and must have, a decent standard of life and subsistence. We cannot tolerate any system which is to class old folks as merely exhausted industrial material."
Those are the views of a well-organised trade union and not of men and women guilty of relying on hearsay and of making wild statements. The considered judgment of that organisation is that something should be done.

The Fire Brigades Union—and no one doubts the courage of our fire brigades—has expressed
"…the strongest possible condemnation of the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards old-age pensioners. In view of the continually rising cost of living, with the consequent increasing hardship to this section of the community, which is already existing on the barest minimum standard, the Union petition that an immediate increase be granted to bring the basic pension into line with existing conditions; further, that any future rise in the cost-of-living index should be reflected by proportionate increases in basic pension."
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, of course, has been warned about this situation. He has no escape on that score. As far back as November, 1953, his attention was drawn to the ever-increasing hardship suffered by old-age pensioners, ex-Service men and those in the lower income groups. On 19th March of this year my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) introduced a Motion on the subject which the Government wholeheartedly accepted, but nothing has been done to implement their promise. Since 3rd March, 1954, 20 Motions on the subject have appeared on the Order Paper. I suggest with all seriousness that procrastination of this character is not good enough for the old people of this country. The Government keep putting things off.

I make my appeal on behalf of these people because of the evidence, to which previous hon. Members have referred, of the alarming increase in the number of old-age pensioners and people in the lower income groups who have to have recourse to the National Assistance Board. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston that these people do not like to go to the National Assistance Board for help. We must train them in that direction. Our difficulty is that some of them have very vivid memories of the treatment which was meted out to them under the old Poor Law system, though all that has gone now.

In June, 1951, the number of people who went to the National Assistance Board for help was 1,390,291. In 1952 the number was 1,535,591, an increase of 145,300. When the cost of living began to rise more people were pushed or sent to the National Assistance Board. In 1953 there were 1,698,933, an increase of 163,342. In June of this year, 21 days ago, when the half year ended, there were 1,768,787. That was an increase of only 69,854, but if one takes the three years one has conclusive evidence that the old people in the lower income groups are being forced to go to the National Assistance Board to maintain a standard of life.

If in 1946, a year which has been much quoted today, 26s. 0d. and 42s. 0d. were adjudged the appropriate rates—and I do not say they were—then, in view of the fall in the purchasing power of the £ since that time, 38s. 0d. and 62s. 0d. would be the corresponding rates now. The Minister and his Department cannot deny that those figures are correct.

Long before I knew that this debate was to take place, I took the trouble to search through some of the debates and the arguments that were advanced in 1908. The Tory Party of those days opposed the passing of the 1908 Bill on the grounds that the Government ought to wait for the result of the Royal Commission which was then sitting. They said that they could not afford to commit the nation to such a colossal expenditure, which was £7 million. That great Welshman, Mr. Lloyd George, as he then was, replying to the argument advanced by the Tories at that time, said on 15th June, 1908, in a speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, that the Government could not wait for the Report of the Royal Commission,
"…having regard to the fact that we are anxious to utilise the resources of the State to make provision for undeserved poverty and destitution in all its branches."
I re-emphasise those words. The old-age pensioners, discharged soldiers and all those who come within the purview of our Motion, cannot wait for the reports of the Committees which are now sitting. In the same debate the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Asquith, also speaking on the Bill, said in reply to the arguments advanced by hon. Members:
"But are we, because of the difficulties and because of the complexity of the task. to sit still, with dumb lips and folded arms and bewildered brains and palsied energies, while this great procession of the poor and necessitous and unbefriended linger out the last days of lives the strenuous years of which have been given to the service of industry and of the State?"
Those were the words of a great Prime Minister. They were the words of a man looked upon with great respect by all parties. Today I say to the Minister and to the Department: take in those words, assimilate them and apply their meaning to the problem which is confronting us. May I express the hope that the desperate needs of the old-age pensioners, the people in the lower income groups, the wounded soldiers, the sick and infirm and injured, will not be turned into a political pawn for electoral purposes. It will be a sad day when that takes place.

I have sat here for four hours, and as I am not anxious to keep the House for a long time, I am afraid I cannot give way.

To hon. Members on this side of the House this is a burning question. I have lived with it all my life and whenever I have an opportunity I shall voice my opinions, whether they are acceptable to my own side or to the Government side. I want to make one or two suggestions.

Between now and October the Minister and his Department could give an interim grant or payment to old-age pensioners and those with low incomes. The Minister has funds available. A few months ago the Joint Parliamentary Secretary rebuked me when I made a suggestion. He said that I had better not raid the Fund. I stood rebuked at that time, but that rebuke will not affect me today. The Parliamentary Secretary should be reminded of what the present Prime Minister did when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and in difficulties—how he raided the Road Fund, taking £300 million for a purpose for which it had not been subscribed. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, to the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries and to the Department—get to work, find some brass for these unfortunate people in order that their lives may be made more comfortable and more happy as they are travelling towards the western shore of life.

I suggest that there should be submitted to the National Advisory Committee the question of the separation of old-age pensions from all other classes of insurance. We have heard a lot recently about increased productivity by industrial workers, and we all welcome it. I am 100 per cent. in favour of increased productivity and improvement in our economic position. That increased productivity has been brought about by the sons and daughters, the grandsons and granddaughters, of the people on whose behalf we are appealing. They are entitled to something in return for what they have done for the nation, and the old people are also entitled to something, because they have given of their best and because, in their younger days, they were not able to put by for a rainy day, as their wages were insufficient. We are responsible now for their protection.

I hope that the Minister and the Government will see to it that our old people will not have to wait until the depth of winter comes when bad weather may carry off thousands who are entitled to a happy and contented life.

7.35 p.m.

I am sure that the whole House will feel that the warm heart of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) is matched by the kindliness and warmth of his voice. I noted one sentence in his speech in which he said that this whole subject should be approached from the heart and, in effect, that it should not be regarded from the point of view of actuarial calculations. I venture to think that it must be approached by both heart and head. If any Government were to neglect actuarial calculations—not to count the numbers and the cost—the time would very soon come when there would be less for all and not more for all.

I wish to ask the Minister whether, when considering details, he could make it possible for people after they have retired to take odd jobs for a week or two without losing so much of their pension as they now lose. In my constituency—and, I am sure, in many others—there are people who cannot work much, perhaps not at all, in the bad weather months. But in the summer months, especially in the seaside resorts, they could take up a job for a week or two, possibly a well paid job. It is better for them and for all of us that they should do so.

I think that loneliness is one of the most dreadful things about old age. Whatever can be done by any of us to mitigate the loneliness of old people and the loneliness of disabled people we should do, whether it be by action of Parliament, action of any society or individual action. Evidence which comes to me makes me think that replacements, even the soleing and heeling of shoes, is a cost very hard to meet out of a small income. I know that the National Assistance Board deals with these things, but there are many who can just carry on with the old-age pension but hesitate to go to the Assistance Board for a casual bit of help. I do not quite know what the solution is, but I make the point that a sum of money which may be adequate for modest subsistence, or modest comfort, is not necessarily adequate to meet expenses of that kind which arise.

We must soon do what we can to help old persons who are retired. I rejoice that the Government very soon will be bringing proposals to this House to do that. I do not subscribe to the view that this should be done without thought, without calculation and without counting the cost. I do not think that that ultimately would be in the interests of the old people themselves. I therefore think that the Motion put down by the Opposition is badly timed and could not reasonably be supported except for political reasons.

If that is so, why did the hon. Member support the Motion on 19th March? It made the same demands on the Government and was carried unanimously by the House.

Yes, but this is Motion of censure; it is only a political Motion. That is what I said. But what the hon. Member has just referred to was a serious constructive proposal. There was what I might call a free vote, or no vote at all. This Motion before us, however, is one of censure on the Government.

I say that there is more likelihood of old people and ex-Service men and others in need getting help from a Government whose finance is sound than from one which ignores actuarial calculations and whose finance is not sound. I should, therefore, not be prepared to throw down the Government on a point such as that which has been put before us today: namely, whether we do the job now, without calculation and thought, or whether we do it in three or four months' time, after calculation and thought. That is the only point between the two sides of the House today, and it is well that we should realise that.

I am very glad that the Minister and other hon. Members have made the point that we want to get away, so far as we can, from means tests and from hardship, and deal with the whole question of retirement on a logical, sensible basis which makes means tests unnecessary. Indeed, the whole conception of the Beveridge Report and the Coalition Government's subsequent White Paper, the Labour Government's Acts and all our subsequent actions in the lifetime of this Government has been to try to establish funds to which contributions will be made by the working elements in the population so that when they become old, sick or ill they will be taken care of by payments which will be had as of right rather than that large numbers of people should have to go as suppliants to ask for them.

I should like to think that we are trying, hard as it is, to move away from the older method and conception towards one in which we make provision for ourselves as we go along, and then, when we are old, we get it as a right. That is surely the way to encourage thrift and make this provision a co-operative effort in which all will take part and which will avoid the consequences, personal difficulties and inconveniences of means tests. But until we approach that time, we cannot wholly do without some of these safeguards. It is fair to make the point that the party opposite neglected to take us any stage at all along the road of fortifying the insurance system. They dealt with the needs of their six years by palliatives and not by trying to develop the insurance system.

I turn for a few minutes to the subject of war pensioners and widows' pensions. Whereas the old must increase in numbers, and will also live longer and, therefore, involve us in difficult calculations and most costly provision, the war pensioners are a limited number and are dying out. They are dying out at a rate of 16,000 to 20,000 a year, and the bill for the two wars taken together is dropping by many millions of pounds a year. The facts about war pensioners are known, and there is no reason for delaying dealing with their case similar to that which has convinced me that there must be delay, consideration and calculation in dealing with the problem of old age.

I hasten to say that there is no conflict between any of us who speak for and care about the disabled ex-Service men and the old people. The British Legion, for example, is composed half and half of men from the two great wars. It is manifest that half of the membership of one million sturdy ex-warriors is already 64 years of age. Old age is approaching for them, and they are looking forward with eagerness or apprehension to the time of retirement. Therefore, old-age pensions are a matter which concerns them very much as persons. The younger generation, too, have fathers, mothers and grandparents who are swiftly approaching old age. There is, therefore, no conflict between the two kinds of pensioners, but it is administratively, legislatively and financially possible to deal with the ex-Service men's problem at once, although it is not similarly possible to deal with the old-age pensioners at once.

Indeed, the old soldiers could have been dealt with at any time in the last eight or nine years, but they have not been dealt with properly by any Government. I make the point, and the plea to the Government, that for all the reasons I have given the old soldiers should be given a preference, even if it is only one of a few weeks or months, taking into account, in the amounts which they are to be given, the fact that they are dying out; and pray God they will be the last generation of such men "once for all" in our midst, and not always with us, growing older and more numerous as the years pass.

The Labour Party has published the fact, I think, and the Minister has today said, that what is to be done will be based upon some 1946 calculations. It would appear that there is general agreement about that on both sides of the House. I wish to ask one or two question about it. First, the choice of the date of 1946 will not wholly satisfy those who are concerned with the disabled ex-Service men. We did not think that the arrangements made by the Governments in 1945 and 1946 were adequate at the time. We cannot, therefore, believe that calculations based on those arrangements would be adequate now.

It may be said that no group in the community can escape the consequences of war. I realise the power of that argument, but I nevertheless ask the Government to do better than 1946 and to do what is possible to make up for the lost war years. On what index will the Government base themselves? There are three indices—the Consumer Goods and Services Index, the Interim Index of Retail Prices and the London and Cambridge Index. There is also a new index which seems to have been invented by someone, or at all events renamed, which is called the All-Items Index, which does not include all items but is, I believe, the same as the Interim Index of Retail Prices. I do not wish to develop arguments about what all these different indices are; I know more or less what they are but I do not know exactly how they will work out or how exactly the gap between 1946 and 1948 comes into this matter.

I do not know what amount of money the Minister will have to dispose of for ex-Service men, but when the time comes when he will know that, and before he discloses his exact plans, will he consider whether some consultation with those most concerned with the wellbeing of ex-Service men, and who have studied the details, might not help the Government to an appraisal which, even if it does not meet all the claims set forth, might nevertheless be adjusted to give the greatest satisfaction to the largest possible number? I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether that might not be a wise and prudent course.

When my wife read the Motion and the Amendment—and she is a woman who has had 30 years' association with politicians—she said to me, "This will do some good." Then she added, "They are trying to get on to it, are they not?" What she meant was, "They are trying to get on the band wagon." I think it should be understood by those who read our words that the purpose of this debate was to try to anticipate the intention of the Government by an Opposition Motion. That Motion is worded in terms which amount to censure on the Government and which makes impossible the general agreement of the House.

The Motion could have been worded in such a manner as to make possible co-operation between the two sides of the House, but it was deliberately worded to make that impossible in order that a vote might be provoked. I make no complaint about that. It is the usual method by which our Parliamentary system works, especially when a Recess is coming and hon. Members wish to provide themselves with material for a lot of speeches.

There are some who have asked me personally and in correspondence why we cannot have a free vote on this subject. I think it well that they should be answered and I would venture, therefore, to make a few remarks about it in the hope that, at any rate, my attitude in the matter will be understood. I do not think that there is a leader of any party, or that there is anyone who has sat on the Front Benches in this House, and held responsibility, who would claim that this is the kind of matter on which a free vote could be granted—

first of all, because the Motion is, in fact, a Motion of censure; and, secondly, because it involves Government policy and a degree of expenditure which would unbalance the Budget. For those reasons—although I am sure there are no such people—anyone who lent colour to the idea that this matter should have been dealt with by a free vote would be guilty of deception. But I am sure that there is no hon. Member of this House who does not understand this perfectly well and would explain it to his constituents if the question was raised.

By way of indicating the general assent of all parties to this dictum which I have ventured to lay down, I would say that during the period of the Labour Administration there was an occasion when ex-Service men, through certain spokesmen in the House, asked for a Select Committee, and the Whips were put on to defeat that proposal. I make no complaint that that was so; I merely illustrate it as a parallel so that those who read may understand.

I earnestly hope that the progress which the Government have made in putting our finances into better shape will continue, and that it will not be long before we can afford properly to look after our old people and our ex-Service men. I wish the Minister all possible good will in the hard task which lies ahead of him.

7.54 p.m.

I subscribe to some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), but I do not subscribe to the view he expressed that we should deal with war pensioners more adequately because they are decreasing in number. Surely their case for being treated adequately and properly is as good whether they are decreasing or increasing in number. I should have thought that was the last argument which would have been advanced by the hon. Gentleman. Rather, I should have expected him to say that the case of the war pensioners was a deserving one, and that they ought to be dealt with adequately.

I said all that, but the hon. Member will agree that circumstances make it easier to deal with.

I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman made much of the rate at which the numbers of pensioners were decreasing and he said that the Government should, therefore, do something for them. I think that that would have been better left unsaid. The Government should do something for war pensioners on the merits of their case, irrespective of whether their numbers are large or small, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me.

It has been suggested that the Motion on the Order Paper is a Motion of censure. I wish it were. I wish that it had been put down as a precise Motion of censure. We have heard it suggested that it was put down after the Government had declared their intentions. But the Government declared their intentions after the Motion was put down, and not before. We had to have this Motion before we could secure a declaration of their intentions from the Government and it is doubtful whether we should have been made aware of their intentions were it not for the appearance of this Motion, to which the Government have had to pay attention.

I am glad that this Motion has been put down, because it will provide for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite—who had so much to say a week or so ago about the needs of the old-age pensioners—an opportunity to support it. Now the position appears to be not so urgent as it was then said to be. Now hon. Members opposite are saying that the old-age pensioners can wait until we have the report of the Phillips Committee, and probably for some time after that. It would appear that the degree of urgency depends upon the type of case presented to the House.

Really, it is a matter of the degree of necessity among right hon. and hon. Members opposite. The case in support of the old-age pensioners is a good one when it is used at a particular time in order to defeat another argument but on this occasion they find that the terms of the Amendment which they have put on the Order Paper are much better from their point of view. The Amendment represents, "Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today "—which is a good old Tory dictum.

Much has been said about the National Assistance Board and the reluctance of many people to take advantage of the services which are open to them. I wish to pay a tribute to the way in which the Board works. I consider that it works admirably and discreetly. No one is troubled. When one compares it with the old Poor Law system one realises how far we have progressed. Why is it that many people do not wish to use the facilities afforded by the Board? It is because they associate it with the worst days of Toryism, and the Poor Law and the board of guardians—days when conditions of assistance were such that if a person possessed some decent furniture very often that had to be disposed of before assistance was granted.

Some old people to whom I have spoken have said to me, "We were born too soon." Of course they were. They did not have the opportunities which are afforded today. Many of them have not enjoyed full employment all their lives and have had little opportunity to save. Many of them have had to rear children without family allowances and similar advantages. All the admirable things now being said about private pension schemes do not relate to these old people, because very few schemes were in existence at a time when they could take advantage of them. Pensioners in the future will be able to enjoy such facilities because industry is sufficiently prosperous to be able to hand out more money and there will be pension schemes for the workers.

What is the alternative? The Amendment refers to the stabilisation of the cost of living. Presumably that will be indicated by the cost-of-living index. In future, we ought to have a separate cost-of-living index for old people whose conditions are so much different from those of other members of the community. In the case of most people the price of one thing may go up and the price of another may come down, so that the cost-of-living remains relatively stable for the average family. But old people are not in the same position as an average family. They have no children.

Generally speaking, the amount of money they need to spend on clothes becomes less and the amount of money which they have to spend on food increases. Therefore, if the cost of food goes up—and not many will say that it has not gone up—there is, so far as old people are concerned nothing to balance that rise. If they spend the greater proportion of their income on food, obviously they suffer greater hardship if the cost of food goes up even though the cost of things they do not want may go down.

That is the present position, and it has existed ever since the Chancellor of the Exchequer started to abolish the food subsidies. When we are discussing the increase in the pension rate, let us remember how precisely that increase was balanced against the food subsidies which were abolished. The Chancellor gave the figures. The actual additional cost of so much in rationed goods was so many pence and therefore the old-age pensions were increased by so many pence. But that took no regard for any other types of increase.

What have the Government done for other people compared with the small increase they have given to the old-age pensioners? They started off with the brewers. They got their cut. The steel owners got their cut and the road transport people are getting theirs; the Surtax payers, too. All that the old-age pensioners are to get is an increase in rent.

It is not good enough to say that this matter will be dealt with in several months' time. Presumably the Housing Rent and Repairs Bill will be on the Statute Book shortly. It will become operative within a month and the old people will be faced almost immediately with a further demand upon their very small incomes. It is true that they can go to the National Assistance Board but they are loth to do that.

Another factor of considerable importance, which does not matter so much to the average family, is the cost of prescriptions. This is an additional cost which bears most harshly on old people. Again, it may be said that they can go to the National Assistance Board, but they do not do that. They go without something else. All the time they are managing with a little bit less.

The hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt) ought to have advised the Cabinet as to the nature of the Amendment which the Government should have put down. She said that old-age pensioners were doing very well indeed, that the way in which they could manage was so good that it was not a question of doing something for them because it was urgently necessary. However, I am sure that many hon. Gentlemen opposite think that it is necessary to do something urgently, but they intend to do it when they consider that it is timely. The hon. Member for Edgbaston said that the only thing necessary was to give the pensioners an increasingly good standard of living.

The Labour Party would be happy to restore the 1946 values. Although statements have been made that the Government will restore the 1946 values I doubt whether that has been said precisely on behalf of the Government. I did not gather that. What was said was that the Government would bear in mind the 1946 values when they came to consider the amount of increase they were prepared to give. That is a different matter. The Labour Party has stated categorically that it will restore the 1946 values. We intend to do that and I hope that before long we are given the opportunity.

When we consider the position which may arise within the next few months, we claim that it is not good enough for the Government to say that they are awaiting the report. They do not have to await a report before dealing with an urgent need unless they want to delay. The fact is that they want to put off the decision for a little bit longer because it will enable them to avoid spending the money immediately. The Government deserve to be censured for the deliberate actions they have taken from time to time which have increased the cost of living of the poorer sections of the community, among whom must be most pensioners.

It is because of that that I support the Motion and I maintain that all those hon. Gentlemen opposite who had so much to say a few weeks ago about the urgent need of the pensioners should come into the Lobby with us.

8.4 p.m.

If I understood the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) correctly, he stated that the Government had expressed their intention to do something to help old-age pensioners only after the Motion had been put down. That is inaccurate. The Minister said in this House on 8th March that he held out every hope that during the lifetime of this Parliament—

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will wait. My right hon. Friend said that during the lifetime of this Parliament he hoped that the Government would be able to do something for the old-age pensioners. The Prime Minister, speaking in London on 27th May, referred to this problem and said that it should be solved in the present Parliament in a manner worthy of British humanity.

Does the hon. Gentleman indicate that the Government regard the matter with any degree of urgency when they speak of the life of this Parliament? This Parliament might last for another year at least.

The only point on which I am quarrelling with the hon. Gentleman is his statement that the Government did not declare their intentions until the Motion was put down. Their intentions have been made very clear.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) is not in his place. He has been in this House for many years and I have been here for only a short time. I have a great personal regard for the hon. Member and I was sorry that he saw fit to use such strong words about my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt). We all agree that she is a person with a deep experience of this problem, which is one she faces in a very humane way. I agree with the hon. Member for Ince when he says that this is a great human problem. I most earnestly ask hon. Gentlemen opposite not to be so free with their aspersions against those who sit on this side of the House.

Many of us are just as deeply concerned as hon. Gentlemen opposite. Many of us are just as well aware as they are of the gravity of the problem. Many old-age pensioners in my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House write to us and bring their problems to our notice. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the name of justice, if nothing else, to recognise our sincerity. The hon. Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Shurmer) has not been on his feet during the debate but he has hardly kept his mouth shut.

Some of us do not think that we are here to keep our mouths shut.

I should like to refer to what was said by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). I say at once that I thought that her speech was temperate and moderate in tone. I was surprised that it was so temperate and moderate in view of the fact that it was made in support of what we properly regard as a Motion of censure. I thought that the right hon. Lady would have spoken in very much stronger terms. I am glad that she did not, and if I may respectfully offer my congratulations—

Apparently the right hon. Lady is unable to accept the gesture in the spirit in which it was offered. I am sorry, but I respect the fact that she uttered her criticism in a temperate and moderate way. If she cannot acept my congratulations, I am sorry.

The real point is that the whole basis of the National Insurance scheme was undermined by the galloping inflation which took place in the years 1945–51. Hon. Gentlemen must accept the fact that—

The hon. Member for Sparkbrook says that he will not accept a fact before I tell him what the fact is. The Cost-of-Living Index between 1947 and 1951 rose by 29 per cent. and the cost of food rose by 42 per cent., but nothing was done about retirement pensions until the eve of the General Election. Then there was a very small concession, 4s. extra being given.

Even then some people did not benefit from the concession, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston said. She made the point clearly and well that there were some people who reached pensionable age after the appointed day who did not get the increase. It was more than any reasonable man could do to persuade those people who became pensionable immediately after the appointed day that this was a right or reasonable course for the Government of the day to adopt. The whole tenor of Socialist administration in this field showed an increase in and a regrettable reliance on National Assistance rather than pensions. I warmly share the view expressed on both sides of the House that the pension is infinitely preferable to assistance.

We on this side of the House are entitled to claim that when the Conservative Government came into office in 1951 they faced a very grave financial situation. In 1950 the situation had been nothing like so severe, but the Labour Government had found it impossible to make any very great concessions. However, in 1952 the Conservative Government found it possible to make material concessions to the pensioners.

We hear a lot from the Government benches about the situation in which the Conservatives found themselves when they came into office. Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the pension was 10s. per week when the Labour Government came into office in 1945 and yet, although the country was nearly bankrupt through the war, we were able to raise the pension to 26s.?

What I am trying to make clear is that when the Labour Government left office bankruptcy was a very real prospect.

I should like to know exactly what are the intentions of the Labour Party. They tell us that pensions are to be increased, Health Service charges will be removed and food subsidies will be re-introduced, but we have not been told by them how the money will be raised and where it will come from. This is a very serious problem, and one cannot wave it aside, as some hon. Members opposite would like to do, by saying "Take it out of taxation."

I understood previously that all parties were wedded and committed to the contributory principle in National Assistance. It appears from some speeches by hon. Members opposite that that is now being made a very open question. I want to refer to the speech made on the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill, in 1951, by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West, which I thought was even better than the speech which she made today. She said:
"I should like to make it clear to the old people of the country that the scheme which has been worked out in regard to their pensions was not designed only with the needs and interests of the old people in mind, but also with the needs and interests of their children and their grandchildren in mind."
A little later she said:
"But it is agreed by all thinking people that unless the insurance scheme is modified in certain respects, in a comparatively few years' time the financial burden will be too heavy for the workers to carry; and they will be the children and grandchildren of the old people today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 582.]

There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I want to make it clear to hon. Gentlemen opposite that we accept the principle absolutely. In a later passage of that very admirable speech the right hon. Lady pointed out the tremendous administrative difficulties to be faced before the problem could be dealt with properly in other words, before we could get the money into the pockets of the old-age pensioners, which is what we all want to do.

The point which I am trying to make to hon. Gentlemen opposite is that, while I fully admit, as we all do, that this is a great human problem, it has nevertheless a very important material aspect. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are not prepared to accept that, the outlook for the old-age pensioners will be a poor one if we ever have another Labour Government in office.

The problem is, indeed, a serious one. By 1977 we shall have 40 per cent. more pensioners in the country, and the pensions will by then, it is estimated, have reached an annual rate of £420 million a year. That is something which none of us ought to try to laugh off. No hon. Member could possibly take credit if by his actions or the policy of the Government which he supported he did something seriously to prejudice and mortgage the future. The reason we enjoy a position of comparative strength, prestige and culture in this country today is that Our ancestors were not wanton in mortgaging in the future. We have in our hands a very sacred trust which we all wish to take seriously.

I welcome the forthcoming Report of the Phillips Committee and the quinquennial review. I should not easily be persuaded that the problem was so easy and so light that it could be disposed of by a wave of the hand and by means of a so-called interim solution. That is not possible. I cherish the hope that the two reports will make a valuable contribution to the solution of the problem and will point a way to the Government to enable them to make a really solid contribution towards the welfare of the people whom we all wish to benefit.

I want to make a point about the retirement rule and the earnings condition. As things are at the moment, I appreciate that they are separate matters. Persons have first of all to prove that they have retired, and when they have retired they are not allowed to earn more than 40s. per week. It is unreasonable to ask a person who reaches pensionable age to separate in his mind these two conditions which appear to him to be very closely associated. The retirement condition means that one cannot work more than 12 hours a week, and the earning rule is that one cannot earn more than 40s. a week. It is a most unfortunate situation when it is realised that the majority of the people who are most intimately concerned cannot earn 40s. in 12 hours. When my right hon. Friend examines the Report of the Phillips Committee, I hope he will bear in mind that this appears to the ordinary citizen affected by the problem to be wholly unreasonable. I hope very much that the Government will find it possible to remove what many ordinary people regard as an unwarrantable anomaly.

I wish to make a few comments about the war disabled. Here again, we are entitled to point out that the basic rate of 45s. per week established by the Labour Government in 1946 was not touched again, despite the catastrophic rise in the cost of living which took place. It was left to this Government to do something. I admit that the allowances were established in 1951 before the Labour Government left office, but comparatively few were eligible to receive them. It was left to this Government, in the teeth of a really serious financial crisis, to raise the basic pension by 10s. per week and also give several material increases in the allowances.

There is one point which I wish to make in connection with war disability pensioners. I accept, of course, that the merger of the two Departments has produced very beneficial results, but I believe that we are in some danger of getting war disability benefits too closely associated with National Insurance pensions and other benefits. In my view, these men are in a very exceptional position, and I very much hope that the Government will take a step which will indicate to the British public the plain fact, as it appears to me, that these men who were disabled in the catastrophe of war have a very special claim on the conscience and generosity of the nation.

Is it fair for the hon. Gentleman to give the impression to the public in his speech that the Government which he supports raised the disability pension by 10s. per week, when everyone knows that that applies only to a very small percentage? It was cut down in the case of a very large percentage of disabled men, so that a very few got 10s., some others got 7s. 6d., and the largest percentage very much less.

The fact is that the basic pension, in general, was increased from 45s. to 55s. per week. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I repeat what I said earlier—that this is a great human problem, which has its vitally important material side, and that those hon. Gentlemen opposite who evade it will be rendering an ill service to those whom they wish to benefit.

The real upshot of our charge against hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is that, when they were in power, they failed to recall, as they were in duty bound to do, that the first victim of spendthrift policies is the pensioner, and that the Government which husbands the nation's resources is the one which will ultimately earn the nation's gratitude.

The criticism which I make, if not against the whole of the party opposite, at least a large proportion of it, in putting down this Motion is that they have sought, I believe for political ends, to play on the very natural desires of the old people, to anticipate the Government's intentions and to mislead this very large section of the community which we all admit has a very strong claim to our support. I do not believe that it is right or proper for the party opposite, in view of their own weary and gloomy record in this matter, to level those charges which they have levelled tonight.

8.25 p.m.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) would have been well advised to have kept clear of his strictures on this side of the House in regard to the history of old-age pensioners. When the social and economic history of this century is written, the historian of the future will allocate to its proper sphere the miserable record of the Conservative Party from the last decade of the last century to this year 1954, and will properly give credit to the remarkable change which this century has witnessed, particularly within the last 10 years, as a result of the Labour Government.

The hon. Gentleman also referred in his speech to what might be happening in 1977. I am just about tired of listening to what may be happening in 1977, when the so-called deficit of £420 million in the National Insurance Fund may have come about.

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that his right hon. Friend who opened the debate, the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), said that this was a matter of great concern to herself in 1951?

I admit that that prognostication may be correct; on the other hand, it may be completely incorrect. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said, we are living in a rapidly developing scientific and technological age. Who knows today what will happen in the field of scientific discovery and the intensification of productivity by 1977?

This debate has been characterised by an unusual amount of contradictions from the other side of the House. We have listened to speeches which have suggested that everything in the garden was lovely, that many of our speeches on this side are completely synthetic and completely fictional, and that the conditions which we have sought to describe had their reality only in our fevered imagination. As the hon. Member for Yeovil happily suggested that we might even be actuated by political spite, I must put on record, so far as I am concerned, the view that, if what the Minister of National Insurance certainly suggested today and if what the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt) suggested—if these statements are true statements, then I live among a pack of liars, because I hear continually from people whose respect for the truth is at least equal to that of any hon. Members who sit on the benches opposite that their conditions of living, as they know them, are very difficult.

Much play has been made about the cost-of-living index. Surely it is about time that supporters of the Government were compelled by the very exigencies of logic to accept our statement with regard to the old-age pensioners that their cost-of-living index must be limited to food on the one hand and fuel on the other, since they are responsible for the greater part of their budget.

I have a paper here which tells us of the increase in the prices of some basic food commodities. I am not talking about tins of peaches, tins of pears, tins of salmon. I am talking about the things without which people just cannot live. Here are some very alarming figures. Milk has increased in price by over 30 per cent.; tea by over 20 per cent.; bread by over 36 per cent.; sugar by over 60 per cent.; margarine by over 80 per cent.; butter by over 144 per cent. I have not found out what the percentage increase is for meat, but it is a fantastic figure. It is the prices of these commodities that provide us with a gauge by which to measure whether the cost of living for the old people has increased or decreased during the last two years.

Before coming to this debate I made a point of consulting some of the medical practitioners in my constituency who visit the people's homes. They do not sit back in Government offices, reading statistics.

As my hon. Friend says, not just facts on paper.

They visit the homes of the people and see for themselves how they live, and they have told me that there are definitely obvious signs this year of undernourishment among many of our old-age pensioners. In this connection, I should like to give the Minister an illustration of a very cruel approach to this problem of the old and poor.

A medical friend of mine has told me that he has to appear before a medical council because he prescribed far two patients a very fine food called Casilon. It has very high protein value. The local health authority is concerned because it says that it is a food and not a drug, and, therefore, the doctor ought not to have prescribed it. The doctor prescribed Casilon because he was of the opinion that the people for whom he prescribed it just could not afford to buy meat at its present price. Those people must have food with protein value and vitamins. It is a terrible indictment, a shocking indictment, that a medical practitioner who has a social conscience and who visits people in their homes and sees two who, in particular, are suffering undernourishment should be regarded as one who is not carrying out his task as a medical practitioner under the National Health Service because he prescribed for them this valuable tonic.

The Motion and the Amendment are agreed in principle that the old-age retirement pension should be increased. The newspapers are headlining the news that the old-age pensioners can expect from the Government at an early date an increase in the retirement pension.

The Minister himself, I am sure, will not deny that the pensioners can expect an increase—

whether in a month or in three months or six months. If that is true, then there is a tacit admission that the cost of living for old-age pensioners has gone up. The Minister says that we must await three reports a report on the employment of old people. Sir Thomas Phillips's report, and the quinquennial review of the Government Actuary. The Minister insists that those reports must be studied before he can implement this semi promise to the old-age pensioners that their retirement pension will be increased.

I challenge the Minister of National Insurance on that point. In 1952, the Government increased the old-age pensions, and I give them credit for that. In 1952, apparently there was no need for a detailed examination. Obviously, following a cursory general review of the situation, the Minister rightly decided that there should be an increase. Surely a cursory review of the economic situation obtaining in the lives of the old-age pensioners today should compel him to give an interim increase now. If the reports of these three committees warrant a more substantial increase, he can give it at the right time, but it has already been proved to the hilt, without any possible contradiction, that the old-age pensioners need at least this interim increase in the basic pension.

I cannot for the life of me see how any Government spokesman can possibly give this glad news to the old-age pensioners much before January or February, 1955. I am glad that the Minister has contradicted the time factor given by the Earl of Selkirk, who spoke for the Government in another place. The Earl of Selkirk said that he could not give an assurance that the reports would be available before next year and I am glad to know that his prognostication was incorrect. When the reports are forthcoming there must obviously be a period for a close analytical study of them and I therefore cannot see that the news of the increase in the basic pension can possibly reach the waiting ears of old-age pensioners much before March.

I am speaking now directly to the Minister: I remind him of the words spoken by Lord Beveridge in another place about the very unfortunate consequences of this kind of announcement being made about old-age pensions in the shadow of an Election. He said that such a thing was to be deprecated, and I have the words here if the Minister would like me to read them.

I believe that the arguments which have been adduced today have been strong enough in themselves to persuade the Minister that this procrastination is an injustice to the old-age pensioners. Much reference has been made to the National Assistance Board. When we introduced the National Insurance Act of 1946 the general purpose on our side of the House, I imagine, was to make that pension roughly equivalent to a basic subsistence pension. In another place, Lord Beveridge said that although he was not particularly enthusiastic about that approach, obviously the Coalition Government and the Labour Government which followed it had accepted that as a general working principle. That basic subsistence pension in 1946 is no subsistence pension today and recourse is, therefore, made to the National Assistance Board.

I want to read to the House some very impressive words. The man who uttered them is a greater authority on insurance questions than anyone who sits on the benches opposite and, if I may say so with great respect, a greater authority than anyone who sits on these benches. He yields to no one in his sincerity and he has that wonderful gift of translating figures into human values. This is what Lord Beveridge had to say—

I do not know whether the hon. Member intends to quote from debates of this Session in another place, but, if so, he would not be in order in doing so.

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Perhaps I can give the gist of what he said.

This great social, economic figure in the life of Britain has said that he regards the increasing resort to the National Assistance Board as very unfortunate, and I agree with him. I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House agree with him. What I am about to say is without malice against, or personal abuse of, anybody on the other side. The hon. Member for Yeovil referred to the undoubted sincerity of hon. Members on the Government benches—and that may be so—but I must tell the House that sincerity in itself is not quite enough.

We would claim—and I think our claim can be substantiated—that we live closer to the old-age pensioners than Members opposite. I can say, with my hand on my heart, that some of the finest people that it has been my privilege to know dread the very idea of having to go to the National Assistance Board, and that the sooner we can work nut the philosophy of Beveridge and make the basic retirement pension a subsistence pension the better for this country.

8.42 p.m.

The hon. Member for Abertillery (Rev. Ll. Williams) has brought an open mind and sincere feelings to our debate. I am sure that it can be said, as in his own words, that he realises that people are not paper and are not statistics. If we on these benches do not live as closely as he does to the old people, I can assure him that we do our best to understand their plight.

I think that this debate has suffered from being too political and not sufficiently constructive. I should like to start by making three quick points which I hope are constructive. Apart from the general level of pensions, I think that one should try to find little ways in which old-age pensioners can be helped. Before I start, I will give the House one thought which occurred to me when the hon. Member for Ince (Mr, T. Brown) was speaking. He quoted from HANSARD of 1908–46 years ago—and I wondered whether any of our speeches in 46 years' time, in the year 2,000, will be read again in this House.

An hon. Member spoke about the earning rule and disregards. There is one point that seems absolutely cast-iron. The 40s. was fixed some years ago. It bought so much in terms of food, cigarettes, or whatever it might be. The cost of living has gone up since that rate was fixed—I do not know by exactly how much—and there is a cast-iron case for the disregards being increased so as to have the same purchasing power today as they had when they were granted.

My second point was brought to my notice in a resolution of the Bolton branch of the National Federation of Old-Age Pensions Associations. It referred to the treatment of capital for assistance purposes. It is an interesting story. During the war, the Determination of Needs Act, 1941, was passed because people working in war-time were not prepared to save. They said that if they saved they would lose some of their entitlement to assistance when the war was over. That Act allowed £375 of savings—that is, 500 War Savings Certificates—to be disallowed for purposes of claiming assistance. The intention was that at the end of the war the saver should be given a certificate to substantiate him in making a claim.

The 1941 Act was hallowed by the Second Schedule of the National Assistance Act, 1948. Paragraph 7 (3, b) referred to the fixing of a relevant date by Order in Council. The fact remains, however, that so far as the National Assistance Act and the Determination of Needs Act are concerned, the war is not yet over; the date of the ending of the war has not been officially named. Current savings, therefore, are still qualifying as war savings.

Anybody who has £375 war savings, plus £400 other savings and a house, cannot get National Assistance. I feel it is time that this should be looked at. The war has been over a long time. It should be considered whether war savings should not embrace savings made prior to 2nd September, 1939, and/or a wider and more realistic description of war savings should be made—if, indeed, any description is required.

My third point is a short one about sub-letting. The view taken by the National Assistance Board of the Regulations is that if an old lady sub-lets a room without board, the net proceeds, after certain allowances, are deducted from the rent allowance. It causes a lot of work for an old lady to sub-let a room and clean it out. The present rule, although to some extent generously applied, may prevent some old people from subletting their rooms.

I should like to quote something which was said by Mr. James C. Birtles, J.P., who is known to many of us who are interested in old-age pensions, and who was the national president of the National Federation. In his presidential address to the conference last year, he said:
"What I think is the worst tragedy in the life of an old person is to be friendless and living alone."
Anything that we can do to allow old people to get friendship and companionship in their homes is desirable, and this suggestion of mine may be one way of doing it.

A word of respect should be paid to Mr. Birtles, who this year retired at the age of 82. Although some of us have crossed swords with the National Federation, I agree with Mr. Birtles when he said, in his last speech to the conference,
"I am not a party politician, and old-age pensions is my creed."
He has done a great deal for the old people. I am sorry that the National Federation has not used as much statesmanship as, I believe, Mr. Birtles would have liked to use, and that the National Federation, which is the spearhead of the political side of the old-age pensions movement, should adopt the attitude which they sometimes do.

As the House knows, the National Federation asked for an increase of from 32s. 6d. to 50s. a week. No harm is done, and in a democratic country we do not mind a bit, if people ask for a little more than they expect but that demand of the National Federation is unrealistic, and to some extent it disregards the interests of the working people and of the taxpayers. I prefer the view taken by the General Council of the Old-Age Pensions Associations, which has been asking with far greater justice for an increase of from 32s. 6d. to 37s. I believe that the National Federation is doing the old people a great deal of harm by the way it states its case. I do not think it is in its best interests, and the old people are in danger of losing the sympathy of the community.

I want to read to the House two excerpts which help to justify what I have to say. I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) is back in her place. With a certain amount of feminine logic, the hon. Lady complained that the Government Front Bench had been inhuman in its replies. When I was on the hon. Lady's side of the House, I thought the same of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). The hon. Lady referred with scorn to an answer given by a Minister to the effect that the old-age pensioners are "very near to our hearts." The Chancellor of the Exchequer made that statement, and this is the comment made by the "Old Age Pensioner" and printed and circulated in thousands of leaflets throughout the country:
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer has kindly described you, the old aged pensioners of the country, as a 'first priority'."
My right hon. Friend did make that statement. This journal goes on to say:
"—so the next time you cook your Sunday dinner of a few potatoes, a little onion and an Oxo cube stick out your neck and say, 'I am a first priority.' It might make you feel better, though I doubt it."

There may not be so many "Hear, hears" when I read on.

"Don't these people make you sick? People who smoke cigars which cost as much as your pension"—

—"having the impudence to dictate to the people who are the salt of the earth; the people who have built and sustained this country during the past fifty years."
That quotation could apply to any Government, and I do not believe that it is in the interests of the old-age pensioners as a whole that it should be made.

Let me give the House the second quotation. These words were used at a rally in the Central Hall, Westminster, on 4th November, 1953, by Alderman A. J. Williams, a member of the Council of the National Federation, as reported by the rally special edition of the "Old Age Pensioner":

"I charge this Government, and I say it with full responsibility. We can bring a charge of murder against them. I calmly and deliberately challenge this Government with callousness and with forethought of murder. They know the circumstances under which our people are starving at the present time. Do not let the old people be martyrs any longer."

Nobody except those who do not want to hear and do not want to understand will really approve of words like those spoken by responsible members of an organisation.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way, because the gentleman to whom he has referred happens to live in the City of Cardiff.

He was the deputy-mayor last year and he speaks after a life full of experience of old-age pensioners. Although it may come as a surprise to the hon. Member, surely he is aware that people are not having enough to eat.

That is very definitely a matter of opinion and I, for my part, do not agree with the hon. Member. Perhaps I shall make a remark or two about that in a minute, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) has returned. What is the truth of this matter? The old-age pensioners have a very good case indeed, but it is not based on starvation. It is based on the fact that they need a square deal after six years of Socialism—

The hon. Member will no doubt be aware, for he is obviously very interested in this matter and tries to keep himself abreast of the facts, of the large number of cases all over the country of old people dying in isolation. They have remained in their rooms undiscovered for days on end. What does the hon. Gentleman think is the proper way to deal with cases of that kind?

I shall not reply to the hon. Gentleman, who has not been here all the time.

As I was saying, the case of the old people is best summed up in a few sentences. The facts are these. The purchasing power of the pension is now at the 1948 level and it should be at the October, 1946, level. The pension has gone up 25 per cent. since it was granted and the cost of living has gone up 40 per cent. When the pension was granted the old-age pensioner got 26s. and that was 6s. more than National Assistance. Now it is 32s. 6d. and that is 2s. 6d. less. The present position is thoroughly unsatisfactory for the pensioners. We know that they are in a difficult position and we are glad that the increase has been promised.

There are three warnings I should like to give. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) made a personal but important statement when he voiced the opinion, which was also voiced by other hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the working public are prepared to pay their fair proportion of any increased contribution. Secondly, it should be said that any increase in pension will not help those already on National Assistance. Thirdly, there are 4½ million books to be printed and, as the right hon. Lady knows, with the best will in the world that takes time.

I consider that the old-age pensioner is the number one priority; hon. Gentlemen opposite consider him the number two priority. They get their wages first—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] Well, I am not prepared to draw my increase in salary until the old-age pensioners get an increase. It is seldom in this House that I use strong words, but I am nauseated by the hypocrisy of the Opposition. The first priority is their wages and the second priority is the old-age pensioner.

Under what conditions has this Motion been put down? Between October, 1946, and August, 1951, under the previous Government, the cost of living rose nearly 30 per cent. and the only answer of the right hon. Lady to requests for an increase was, "Go to the National Assistance Board." I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) is not here, because I should like to draw his attention to one point. Today the "Daily Herald" asks:
"How much longer have the old-age pensioners got to wait? How much longer are they going to be fobbed off with delaying excuses?"
On 18th July, 1951, the hon. Member for West Ham, North asked the right hon. Lady for an extra 5s. At that time the pension was 26s. and he wanted it increased to 31s. The cost of living had gone up 14 per cent. and all he got was a dusty answer.

My last point is not a party one. Several hon. Members have raised the point whether the insurance principle will have to be thrown overboard. To some extent I agree with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and the hon. Member for Ince that perhaps National Insurance is better for day-to-day risks such as unemployment and maternity benefit. What we have to ask ourselves is whether the insurance principle applied to pensions on a national scale is workable without a stable cost of living. So far the answer have proved to be no.

However, when we consider continuing the insurance principle we have to ask ourselves whether the increased industrial and commercial pension schemes might not in time alter the whole picture. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Abertillery who said that we should not look too far ahead. I have just time to read to the House what is always in my mind. It was said by Mr. Paul Martin, Canadian Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1952:
"The cost of pensions in the final analysis, whether financed on an actuarial reserve basis or not, must be met in terms of the food, clothing, shelter and health care which these pensions buy, out of the current production of the country This leads inevitably to the conclusion, particularly with reference to any pensions programme that is universal, that the simplest and most direct way of reflecting and of meeting these costs is to pay them annually out of current production."
These are things that we shall have to consider later, but they are important matters. At the moment the best advice that we can give to young people is that, whatever the State pension rate may be, we are sure to get bread but if we want jam on it we must start saving now.

9.0 p.m.

This debate began with a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) which put a reasoned and convincing case for our Motion. There have been other speeches from this side of the House and one or two from the other side which have also carried conviction. I believe, too, that in the tone of their speeches, even if they do not do so in the vote this evening, some hon. Members opposite have supported the Motion. There have been other speeches. I come first to the Minister who is privileged to preside over a Department over which it was once my privilege to reside and which, if I may say so without being thought to be immodest, I had a hand in creating and building.

When the right hon. Gentleman reads his speech tomorrow I hope that he will be ashamed of it. He spoke to a brief which, I feel convinced, was prepared, not in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, but in the Central Office of the Conservative Party. Other hon. Members opposite followed the tone of the right hon. Gentleman. There were references to such things as Members' expenses and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) talked about a cynical Motion. The Minister began his speech by saying that he would like this problem kept out of party politics. Have hon. Members opposite kept it out? Who issued this leaflet which I display to the House?

It was issued by the Conservative Central Office. It includes a facsimile of a retirement pension order book and a picture of an old man and an old lady. It uses a retirement pension order book for political party purposes, yet the hon. Member for Yeovil talks about cynicism on this side of the House.

I should like to read to the House what the party opposite said during the 1951 Election. I should like to see hon. and right hon. Members opposite going back to their constituencies and reading from their 1951 Election addresses, comparing what they then promised with what they have performed. They said
"When a Conservative Government is returned, the position of all pensioners, including war pensioners, will be reviewed. It is part of Conservative policy to see that help goes to those who need it and that it goes in time."
The Minister created the impression today, whether he wanted to do so or not, that at the moment there is no need to increase the pension and other basic rates under National Insurance. If the Minister's speech did not mean that, what did it mean? Every hon. Member knows perfectly well that all the people who are now living on pensions are having a tough time, that they are having a hard time that is becoming harder and that unless something is done soon they will face a cruel winter.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is to reply to this debate and say the last word for the Government, knows that this winter, in addition to everything else, there will be an increase in the price of food, which is rising all the time, and in the price of other things which are important to those who live on pensions and benefits and have no wages. In addition to all that, there will be the effect of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, shortly to become an Act. How much is that going to be?

If I do not carry conviction on this matter in this House, I do in the country. Unless something is done to mitigate the burdens already placed upon them and the additional burdens of the new Rent Act the old-age pensioners, the maimed, the disabled, all who are on these benefits, will have the worst winter they have had since the end of the war.

Suggestions have been made this evening which go contrary to all our experience. They were that these people are not suffering real need. I wish to quote a survey made last year by independent persons in a representative city, Sheffield, among people who are living on benefits, in particular the old-age pensioners. I quote from a report which appeared in the "Daily Express" on 1st March, 1953, after the 1952 Act had come into operation. I will deal with that Act in a moment. This was more than a year ago. If these were the conditions found by that investigating body in 1953 every hon. Member knows perfectly well that the position is very much worse now.

This was an investigation made in the poor areas of Sheffield by a team of experts and scientists in a week in 1953:
"For a week a team of scientists moved into the homes of 300 old-age pensioners, They wanted to know how the old folk lived. They found that the average old-age pensioner with only his pension and National Assistance for his weekly budget is spending less than half a crown a day on food. They found some old people are getting barely one half of the amount of calories they should have to keep healthy according to the doctors. The diet of many of them was seriously lacking in iron, vitamins and minerals and the effect of these deficiencies is bound to be serious in consequences to their health."
That was an investigation in Sheffield.

If there is any doubt in the House there is no doubt in the country that the mass of our people know perfectly well that older people and people on benefits of all kinds are having a very hard time and suffering grievously. The country expects us to act up to our responsibilities and to do something now, before the winter comes with the added burdens which are to fall on them including the burdens of the Rent Act. The Minister by creating the impression that here there is no problem and that everything is all right, was not acting up to the best traditions of the great Ministry over which he has the privilege of presiding.

We were told by the Minister that we have to wait until reports of committees are available. I want the Minister, when he replies, to tell us something about those reports. In the debate in another place in February this year, to which reference has been made, the Government spokesman said that the line the Government were taking was that before they could come to a decision they had to wait for the reports and have time to consider those reports. He indicated that there were three reports. The Government were anxious to see and consider them before they made up their minds. The first was the report of the Committee over which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour is presiding and which is dealing with the problem of employment of older people. I presume that he was referring to the committee's final report, as it has already issued an interim report.

The second report to which he referred was that of the quinquennial review of the Government Actuary, which, I take it, is now in process of being completed. The third report was that of the Phillips Committee. The Government spokesman said in February that he was afraid there was no likelihood of these reports being available this year. I wish the Minister for Housing and Local Government to say whether that is correct.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said he expected them earlier. Are we to understand that the Government have now given instructions to these committees that they are to report this year, whereas in February the Government spokesman in another place said that they were not expected until next year? When the reports are issued, will the Minister then consider them fully and carefully before he comes to a decision on whether there is to be an increase in benefits? If he does so, let us see what he has to consider.

It was indicated in that same speech to which I have referred that the Phillips Committee is considering, and eventually will report on, problems that raise great matters of policy and which will arouse considerable if not bitter controversy. Let me indicate what the Government spokesman said the Phillips Committee is considering. Let hon. Members realise what are the discussions, controversies and arguments which we shall have when the Phillips Committee reports, if the Phillips Committee is to report on these problems which the Government spokesman said it is considering—

We know that the final decision will be taken there.

The Committee is considering, first, the desirability of raising the retirement age. I ask the Minister whether he will confirm that. The second problem which the Committee is considering is the desirability of raising the retirement age for women. The third problem which it is considering is whether it is desirable to abolish the retirement condition as a condition for the receipt of pension. I put it to the Government that the House is entitled to a reply to the question: is the Phillips Committee considering these problems?

Are the Government to wait until the Phillips Committee has reported on these problems and the Government have had time to consider them and this House and the people affected have had time to consider them—or do the Government propose to settle this without discussion? Discussions with the trade unions may last months. The National Union of Mineworkers stated resolutely last week that it would not touch the raising of the retirement age.

When, therefore, we are told by the Minister today that we must wait until we have these reports surely what he means is not only that we must wait until we have the reports but until the Government have considered them and made up their mind about them. Are we to take it that there is to be no increased benefits and pensions until these problems have been considered and settled by the Government? If so, there will not only be no increase this year, there will not be one next year. No one will argue for a moment that these enormous problems can be settled in weeks or even months.

The Minister says that he has asked for the reports in the autumn. I ask him whether that means that we have to wait all that time. Here I come to the contradiction in what the Minister has said. He has stated today, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary stated in the debate on 19th March, that they are determined now, they have made up their minds—before any committee has reported. They have not got the report of the Government Actuary yet, nor the report of the Phillips Committee or any other committee, but the Minister has committed himself this afternoon, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did so earlier: they are determined, so they say, to restore the real 1946 value of the benefits. They have made up their mind about that before any of these Committees have reported. Why should they wait for the reports?

If the Government has made up its mind—and the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government made up its mind about it in March—why not do it now? These problems which are being considered by the Phillips Committee have no relevance to the problem of restoring 1946 values. Nothing that the Government Actuary can say will affect that. Both parties are committed. If the Government say, "We are determined to do this, we pledge ourselves to do it"—if they go thus far, what are they waiting for?

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to support the increase in contributions which would be necessary?

I am coming to that and the relevance of it to this Amendment.

A good deal has been said about the 1952 Act and the benefits provided under it. I was Minister of National Insurance in 1945, and I do not apologise for my record. Within 12 months of my assuming office my colleagues and I passed a Bill in which we gave to the pensioners the biggest increase they have ever had. The Department which I took over was scattered all over the country, and we were confronted with immense difficulties. The present Department, the new Department, is well placed, and can deal with these things quickly. The present Minister does not have to pick up bits and pieces from all over the country as I had to. We increased the basic pensions from 10s. to 26s. and from 20s. to 42s. All that pensioners have received from this Government in three years is 2s. 6d.

Let me come now to the 1952 Act to which the Amendment refers. We are asked to take note of the 1952 Act. From the way that reference has been made to this Act one would think there had been a wonderful bounty from the Treasury—"Butler's bounty." Let us find out what was done by this 1952 Act. Let me reveal the secrets of this 1952 Act. The first thing that happened was that the Chancellor cut the food subsidies. That was done before the 1952 Act, and not after.

The food subsidies having been cut, the price of food went up, and afterwards the Government brought in the 1952 Act with these increased benefits. What happened next? Six-sevenths of the benefits provided by the 1952 Act were paid for the contributors. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman or the country to take my word for that. I quote from the Fourth Interim Report by the Government Actuary for the year ended 31st March, 1953:
"The contributions of employed persons and employers together were increased by Is. 3d. a week for men and Is. a week for women … The contributions of self-employed persons were increased by 11d. for men and 9d. for women whilst those for non-employed persons were increased by 7d. and 5d. respectively."
The workers paid 8d. extra per week. The labourer, the lower paid man, paid 8d. The little man, the self-employed man, paid 11d. And what for? To increase the benefits to make up for the cut in the food subsidies which had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. By cutting the food subsidies this Government made the worker and the little man pay increased prices, and then they made them pay increased contributions to make up for it.

The Minister asked whether I am prepared to face up to increased contributions. Of course I am. We provided for a much bigger increase when we built up the scheme. I am prepared to face up to increased contributions, but we think that it is absolutely right that not only should there be an increase from the workers but that there should be one from the employers and the State. There should be proportion in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that he made the poorly paid worker pay 8d. a week more and the Treasury pay 1d. a week.

I want to say a few words on another question. The Minister quoted a speech which I made in 1946 during the passage of the Bill through Committee when I rejected an Amendment to incorporate a provision for an automatic adjustment of benefits and contributions.