HC PQ [Pensions and National Insurance]
|Document type:||public statement|
|Document kind:||House of Commons PQs|
|Venue:||House of Commons|
|Source:||Hansard HC [702/1-21]|
|Editorial comments:||The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance was first for questions on this occasion, i.e., immediately after Prayers at 1430. Concluding time unknown. MT spoke at cc8-9, 18, 20.|
|Themes:||Social security and welfare|
Pensions And National Insurance
1. Mr. Flecher-Cooke
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will ensure that Christmas bonus granted to retirement pensioners in part-time employment is not taken into account for the purposes of the earnings rule.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison)
This is a complicated matter which has been considered in the past, but I am urgently re-examining it.2
Does the right hon. Lady realise how grateful we are that she is urgently re-examining it? Can she offer any chance of having her examination through in time for these people to benefit from it?
I cannot say definitely yes, but I am doing my best to have the examination completed.
2. Sir J. Langford-Holt
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what level is accepted by her Department as being that to which it would be necessary to raise the retirement pension of a single person to enable the recipient to live without any other source of income.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have announced that as an immediate measure we propose to make a very substantial increase in the rates of retirement pensions and other benefits. Thereafter we shall consider other issues, including the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.
Sir J. Langford-Holt
Is it not the policy of the right hon. Lady to ensure that all pensioners, regardless of outside source of income, shall have enough to live on? All I am asking is: what is enough as of today's date?
It is our policy, but the hon. Gentleman must await further announcements on the development of that policy.
Mr. Sydney Silverman
Could my right hon. Friend tell me whether when 3she entered upon her present office—and we all congratulate her on her appointment—she found any material collected by the former Administration on which she could found an answer to the present Question?
None at all.
25. Mr. Turton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many retirement pensioners were receiving assistance in supplementation of pension on 30th June, 1964; and the average amount of the supplementary allowances received by retirement pensioners.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Norman Pentland)
About 1,115,000. The estimated average grant was 22s. 2d. at 29th September, 1964. Some of these grants provided for the requirements of more than one pensioner—i.e. a married couple.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that most of these cases are the older pensioners, and in the forthcoming legislation will his right hon. Friend include provision for higher pensions for the older pensioners?
3. Mr. Russell Johnston
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what action she proposes to take to alleviate the hardship suffered by the 10s. widows.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced last week, we propose to increase the pensions of these widows to 30s.
The right hon. Lady will know how pleased we are at this. Can she tell me whether the Government have any proposals to safeguard this pension? For example, will they be considering a periodical review of the pension to ensure that it does not depreciate as the cost of living rises? Will she give me an undertaking that some Measure of that kind will be considered by the Government?
Just as we have reviewed the pension of 10s. and propose to raise it to 30s., I can give the assurance to the hon. Member.4
Will the right hon. Lady remember that there are a large number of widows who, for a variety of reasons, do not qualify even for the 10s. pension, and will she do her best to keep them as much as possible in mind for something in the future?
There is a later Question on that, but I would like to add that these widows were widows also during the 13½years that the Opposition were in power when nothing was done for them.
4. Lieut.-Commander Maydon
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to continue to maintain the preferences in treatment for pensions and allowances of the war disabled and of their dependants.
The Government will continue to make special provision for war pensioners and other deserving classes. As the hon. and gallant Member knows from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement on 11th November, I shall shortly be announcing considerable improvements of their benefits.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that there was no specific mention of either the war disabled or the industrially injured in the Labour Party's manifesto and that this did not go unnoticed by those who have the interest of such people at heart? Furthermore, it is proposed by the Government that the general benefits shall come into force on 29th March. Can she say whether preference will be given to the war disabled and industrially disabled—a very much smaller class of people—by bringing in their benefits at an earlier date?
In reply to the first point, it is evident that, if there were an omission from the manifesto, the majority of those people believed that they would fare better under a Labour Government, and they have a Labour Government returned. On the other question, I have nothing to add to what has been already stated.5
Workmen's Compensation Cases
5. Lieut.-Commander Maydon
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will make a statement upon the assimilation of the old cases under the Workmen's Compensation Acts into the Industrial Injuries Acts.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Harold Davies)
As the hon. and gallant Member is aware, the possibility of a straightforward assimilation of "old cases" into the Industrial Injuries Scheme has repeatedly been considered and found to be impracticable. The fact-finding survey initiated by my right hon. Friend's predecessor to find out more about "partials" and "latents" is well under way. When this new material is available my right hon. Friend intends to study afresh this most difficult matter to see how best it can be dealt with.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when his hon. Friends were in opposition they demanded almost weekly such assimilation? Has he any idea of how long the inquiry about the "partials" and "latents" is likely to take?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware that pressure did come from us when in opposition and that he and his party had plenty of opportunity to do something had they so desired. He is also aware that the Ministry initiated with the T.U.C., the National Coal Board and other employers an inquiry in July into the position of these cases because of their difficult nature. We shall be able in early spring to present a report to the House, and it will be a pleasure to give the hon. and gallant Gentleman all the opportunities he needs to discuss this matter.
6. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will abolish the earnings rule for pensioners.
Could the right hon. Lady be more selective with regard to pensions increases? If there had not 6been a flat increase of pensions, surely there could have been a much wider relaxation in the earnings rules. How much would it have cost to put up the earnings rule from £5 to £6?
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that some people who are to have flat-rate increases should not get them. That is the only conclusion one can reach from his supplementary question, because he has suggested that if we had saved money in that direction we could have done away with the earnings rule. The question of raising the amount at which the earnings rule applies will be considered by the Government.
Is it correct to say that under the present proposals the widow who reaches the age of 60 will suddenly cease to qualify for the abolition of the earnings rule and will, thereafter, have something deducted from her pension? What is the logic of that? Why should a widow at 60 suffer a sudden drop in income?
The hon. Gentleman is jumping to conclusions. I ask him to await publication of the Bill.
7. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will alter the present regulations of paying pensions to widows, lower the present age limit of 50 years, and pay more attention to length of marriage as a qualification for a widow's pension.
17. Mr. Pounder
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will take steps to lower the qualifying age for widows for pension entitlement below 50 years of age; and to what age she will reduce it.
18. Mr. Gresham Cooke
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will give an assurance that the forthcoming major review of social security schemes will take into consideration the need to lower the qualifying age for widows' pensions from 50 to 45 years; and when she expects the review will be completed.
These matters will from part of the major review of our social security schemes announced in the Gracious Speech.7
Mr. Gresham Cooke
When the review body goes into the matter, will it look at the case of a widow who has perhaps been, say, for 30 years—from the age of 20 until the age of 50—out of touch with any form of employment during that period and who finds it very hard to take another job? There is, therefore, a very strong case for the starting date for widows to come down to 45 or even earlier. Will the right hon. Lady ask the review body to take this into account?
I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that these are the very points we have in mind.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that this is another example of the pressing need to be selective in pensions increases? Many people realise that it is scandalous that the Labour Government spend £300 million on pension increases and do not deal with some of the anomalies? Surely the principle of selection should be adopted rather than spending right across the board.
I repeat that the hon. Gentleman wants to cut some people out of the pension increases announced last week, I again say to him that, during their, 13 years of office, his Government had many chances to deal with the principle of flat-rate increases but did not do so. We shall deal with them in our major review.
Has the right hon. Lady any idea of what would be the additional cost of reducing the pension qualifying age for widows to 50 or even 45 years of age?
If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question, I will do my best to supply the information.
Mr. H. Hynd
Will my right hon. Friend take note of the new-found enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite for more generous pensions and allowances and take courage from it when framing her Bill?
I am taking very careful note of all this. I only wish that such pressures had come from hon. Members opposite when they were sitting on these benches.
May I first congratulate the right hon. Lady on her appointment, 8as an opportunity to do so has not arisen before? I wish her well and I am sure that she will have a very happy time there. Is the right hon. Lady intending that the review should be an internal review by the Government machine or that an outside body should be set up to carry it out?
Perhaps the hon. Lady will wait until an announcement is made about the reviewing machinery.
24. Mrs. Thatcher
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will bring forward legislation to pay the same weekly rate of benefit as she proposes to pay to the 10s. widow, to the widow who, although widowed under identical circumstances, receives no long-term widow's benefit under the National Insurance Acts.
No, Sir. But in the course of the major review of social security provisions on which we are embarking we shall certainly examine the structure of National Insurance widows' benefits.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that under her present proposals, as far as we know them, there could be a difference of as much as £1,800 in the amount which two ladies, widowed this week, could draw from the National Insurance Fund, their title stemming from identical insurance contributions on the part of their late husbands, that this difference is far too great to defend and that she should, therefore, bring forward proposals for giving a 30s. pension now to the no-shilling widow?
Again, I would put a question to the hon. Lady. [Hon. Members: "Give an answer."] As soon as hon. Members on the back benches opposite stop baying, I shall certainly answer. But I would put this question to the hon. Lady: why—[Hon. Members: "Give an answer."]
Order. The Minister may answer the question in whatever way she chooses.
When the hon. Lady seems now to be so concerned about the widows whom we call the no-shilling widows, why was nothing done in 13½ years by her own Government? This at least is a step forward. These widows 9who have the 10s. pension are different from those who have no pension, in the sense that it is a carry-over from the pre-1948 insurance principles. Time and time again, hon. Members on this side urged the former Government at least to make the 10s. buy what it bought when the 10s. pension was first instituted. That is all we are doing at this moment.
The right hon. Lady has not quite answered the question. Under our Government, the 10s. widow could, I admit, draw £600 more, if widowed this week, than her no-shilling widowed sister. Does the hon. Lady think that a difference of £1,800 from the same contributions is defensible?
It is of the greatest importance that where there is a right to a pension—and these 10s. widows have a right to that pension—one ought not to leave that pension for 15, 16 or, perhaps, 18 years without raising it to meet any rise in the cost of living. That is all that we have done in this proposal to raise it to 30s. On the question of widows generally, I assure the hon. Lady that this matter will be getting the most careful consideration in the review which we propose to have.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the ideas ventilated by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and by her colleagues on the benches opposite in the course of Questions to my right hon. Friend are excellent in themselves but that the only trouble is that hon. Members opposite thought about them only after the election?
27. Dame Irene Ward
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many widows who at the age of 60 will draw the full pension are now drawing a 10s. pension; and how many widows who at the age of 60 will draw the full pension are now drawing no pension.
It is estimated that the number of widows under age 60 who are receiving 10s. pensions is about 80,000, and that the number who are drawing no pension from my Department is about 40,000. There is reason to think that the great majority of women in both groups will satisfy the contribution conditions for retirement pension from age 60.10
Dame Irene Ward
Arising from all the controversy this afternoon and all the comment about 13 years of Tory Government, is it not a fact that the original Act, passed by the right hon. Lady's Government, made this differentiation?
No. There were 10s. widows long before 1948. Indeed, there were 10s. widows before 1939, at the beginning of the war. The widow's pension was 10s., and what the Labour Government did in its legislation was to give to those women who did not have a right to the full pension under the new legislation the reserved rights which they had from their husbands' contributions before 1948.
Dame Irene Ward
Does not the right hon. Lady realise that all the speeches that have been made about equity and justice mean that both the 10s. widow—and I am delighted that this has happened—and the no-shilling widow should be in the same category in order to achieve justice?
That may be so. If one is considering the case of the no-shilling widow, the whole provisions for widows' benefits will come within the review, because the anomaly which has been mentioned today is by no means the only one. All the anomalies that affect widows will be taken into account in the review.
Pension Increases (Payment)
8. Mr. William Clark
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether the promised increase in retirement pensions will commence before 25th January, 1965.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 11th November, the proposed changes in national insurance benefits will come into effect in the week beginning 29th March, 1965.
Will not the right hon. Lady agree that the last time pensions were increased it took 125 days from the date of announcement to the date of implementation? Why is it this time taking 138 days—which is 13 days longer? Does she also recall that the associated benefits in 1963 were introduced within 43 days of the announcement and that, even if the new benefits 11were introduced before the end of December, it will now take 50 days? Is there no way in which the dynamic Government of 100 days can bring these benefits in sooner? Is the right hon. Lady——
Order. The supplementary questions are getting rather long.
If the hon. Gentleman cares to look back, he will find that the time to be taken for the new benefits from the introduction of the Bill—that is the effective time—is about the same time as that taken by the last Government in their 13 years of office, during which four or five increases were made. There are further questions on the Order Paper about other benefits.
As I know that my right hon. Friend would be most anxious to help those who are facing the rigours of the coming winter to get the increases if that were administratively possible, will she undertake to give sympathetic consideration to constructive proposals designed to overcome administrative difficulties—for example, payment of double benefit on three occasions between now and 29th March?
All these things that have been suggested by my hon. Friend and by many other hon. Members throughout the House have been given the most serious consideration. I should have liked to have been able to pay these benefits by Christmas. I assure my hon. Friend that all these suggestions will be very carefully examined.
9. Mr. William Clark
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what are the single and married rates of retirement pensions in 1951 and 1964; and what were the relative increases in real terms.
In October, 1951, the normal rates were 30s. (single) and 50s. (for a couple). They are now 67s. 6d. and 109s., respectively. Estimates of the increase in real value vary from 24 per cent. to 49 per cent. according to the index of prices used, the account taken of the withdrawal of 12tobacco tokens, and the variations between single pensioners and couples.
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this proves that during the last 13 years the pension has more than kept pace with the increased cost of living? Is it the Government's intention to keep the old-age pension to the forefront when we get increases in the cost of living over the next few months?
Yes, Sir. We have always claimed that the increases granted by the previous Government over the past 13 years, National Insurance benefits and pensions, were just not high enough. We are now in the process of putting this right.
Mr. William Hamilton
Would my hon. Friend say to what extent those figures are distorted by the undoubted fact that the cost-of-living index bears no relation whatever to the cost of living endured by the old-age pensioner? What steps is my hon. Friend taking to initiate the introduction of a separate cost-of-living index for old people?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct and we are looking further into a cost-of-living index for old-age pensioners.
19. Brigadier Clarke
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when she will make a statement about the increase in retirement pensions and widows' pensions.
I assume the hon. and gallant Gentleman has in mind the presentation of the National Insurance Bill and the publication of the associated documents. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated in his statement on 11th November, the House will not have long to wait.
Has the right hon. Lady considered how, with a little ingenuity, existing pension books could be overstamped so that pensioners could have their increases before Christmas? Does she not appreciate how much joy that would give them?
I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I am well aware of the great joy which it would have given to all retirement pensioners if they could have had their increases by 13Christmas, but I have examined every possible way of doing this and with the present machinery it is impossible.
Will the right hon. Lady consider the impact which a review of widows' pensions will have on unmarried elderly women, who may have been looking after dependent relatives for some time? When widows' pensions and the possible dropping of the age limit are considered, will she take their case into account along with the retraining of middle-aged women in employment, as both things are connected?
22. Mr. Pavitt
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what plans she has to alter the administrative machinery in her Department so that any future decision to change the pension rate may be more speedily effected.
The problem arises from the long-established system of paying pensions in this country which is convenient for recipients except when rates are being changed. My Department is, however, examining whether an acceptable alternative system can be devised which would permit a shorter timetable.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that her hon. and right hon. Friend agree that she is the one person who would move heaven and earth to pay this sum more quickly to the old people? However, the Treasury is more difficult to move. Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend make sure that no other Government is faced with announcing increases in pensions before the winter and having to put them into operation after the winter is over?
I can well understand my hon. Friend's feelings. They were my own feelings. When I arrived at the Ministry my desire was to give the increases as quickly as possible. We must go back over the last 13½ years—[Hon. Members: "Oh."]—Yes—when there was criticism from our side of the House about the time-lag between the announcement and the payment. If the Government of those days had really tried to find out what use could be made of a computer for this job, I understand 14that the increase could be paid in a little over four weeks from the date of the announcement. I hope that before it is time for a another increase we may be using computers.
I accept that my right hon. Friend, on taking office, had every intention of bringing these new increases into effect as early as possible, but, none the less, will she bear in mind that hon. Members have received a large amount of correspondence from old-age pensioners who are deeply disturbed by the delay? Will she undertake, in particular, to set out in a statement to be published as a Parliamentary paper what alternative proposals she has considered, what the administrative difficulties are and what the possibilities are of considering further proposals to speed up this process?
I do not know that I can set them out in a Parliamentary paper, but I hope to make these matters very clear to the whole House.
Unmarried Woman (Benefits)
10 and 11. Mr. Abse
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) whether she is aware of the hardship falling upon the unmarried woman partner of permanent cohabiting unions whose male partner, on falling sick or suffering injury, cannot claim any extra sickness or industrial benefit in respect of his partner even although he has been living with her and making insurance contributions since 1948; and whether she will follow the Scottish practice of giving recognition to the reputed wife;
(2)whether she is aware of the hardship falling upon the unmarried woman partner of a permanent cohabiting union who is unable to obtain any retirement pension even although the male partner while living with the woman has been making National Insurance contributions since 1948; and whether she will follow the Scottish practice of giving recognition to the reputed wife.
In some of the circumstances in which couples are cohabiting it is possible to pay benefit under the National Insurance Acts and, where this cannot be done, the National Assistance Board would help if the need arose. 15My right hon. Friend cannot therefore accept that hardship necessaily arises. In any event, a marriage arising from cohabitation by habit and repute under Scots law can only come into existence where both partners are free to marry.
Is my hon. Friend aware that considerable hardship is falling upon a woman who has no children, who might have been living with a man for 20 or 30 years, who finds that she has to live and endure on the benefit for only the one, for the man? Is it not extraordinarily hard that women in those circumstances should suffer as a consequence of the absurdities of the divorce law?
Secondly, is it not appalling that a woman who has been living with a man for decades should find in the evening of her life that, because of the disability of one of them having been married, she is not entitled to an old-age pension? Should not a more compassionate attitude now be taken towards this problem, which is very widespread?
We are aware of these cases, and I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, but this is a very complex problem. If my hon. Friend is prepared to meet my right hon. Friend and myself to discuss the problem, we shall be glad to do so.
I am very grateful.
Spinsters have no such union and some are obviously worse off than many widows who never had children.
We also have those cases in mind.
Headquarters Staff and Offices
14. Mr. Rankin
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many of her headquarters are situated outside London; in what places; and how many persons they employ.
There are two central offices, situated in Newcastle and Blackpool, employing 9,256 and 1,820 staff, respectively, and an office at Reading with 42 staff outstationed from the London headquarters, where 1,378 staff are employed.16
Within her own sphere, will my right hon. Friend press forward with this policy of dispersing Government headquarters from London? In reaching her decision, will she, in appropriate cases, always give precedence to the factor of the incidence of unemployment?
Certainly, but I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that mine is one of those Ministries which has so far taken a great deal of the work out into the provinces.
15. Mr. A. J. Irvine
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what action is taken by her Department to ensure that immigrants on arrival in the United Kingdom are informed of the National Insurance and associated benefits to which they may become entitled.
For immigrants who take up employment after arrival in this country their employers are responsible for ensuring that they are brought into National Insurance. Those who do not come to take up employment are mainly visitors and students of one kind or another. Information about National Insurance and other facilities is available from a number of sources, for instance, National Insurance offices, employment exchanges, offices of the National Assistance Board, and welfare organisations. However, my right hon. Friend is looking into the matter to see if there is anything more which could usefully be done in this direction.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I am grateful for the assurance in the latter part of his Answer? Is he aware that this Question is prompted by the case of a constituent of mine who, for more than two years, was eligible for family allowance which he did not claim? Is he aware that because he did not claim no payment was made, certainly not sufficient payment, and that this happened because he was in entire ignorance of the law? Is not this an obvious hardship? Will my hon. Friend have regard to the point that where, as in this case, there is a residence test, attempts might be made to contact immigrants at the end of the qualifying period to ensure that they are well acquainted with their rights and entitlements?17
As my hon. and learned Friend knows, I am well aware of the case he has mentioned. We are looking further into the general position.
16. Mr. Pounder
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when she intends to introduce proposals for improving the position of war-disabled pensioners; and what plans she has.
I would refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 11th November, about the proposals I shall shortly be announcing.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the pension increases for war disabled announced last week, while most welcome, nevertheless represent a further reduction in the differential between that class of pension and others? Can she give an assurance that the differential will be maintained and will not be further eroded, as it was when her party was last in power?
I ask the hon. Gentleman to await the announcement which is to be made, when he will see what the full benefits for war disabled will be. These are granted by Royal Warrant.
National Assistance (Special Winter Payment)
21. Mrs. Cullen
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will take steps to grant a supplementary payment to retirement pensioners for Christmas.
20. Mr. Dempsey
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if, in view of the need to assist retirement pensioners before Christmas, she will give a Christmas bonus payment; and if she will make a statement.
My hon. Friends will recall that in his Budget statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the National Assistance Board would be paying special attention to the needs of old people and others in receipt of National Assistance who were likely to have heavy fuel and other bills to meet during the winter. I am glad to inform the House that the Board is arranging to make a special 18lump sum payment of £4 to all those over retirement age who are receiving a weekly allowance from the Board (apart from certain people in hospitals and homes for old people) so as to provide them with additional help during the cold winter months.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this will bring great joy to some of the old folk who are looking forward to a very dismal Christmas? The old people, especially those in my constituency, have every confidence in the Minister that will give the increase as soon as possible.
Perhaps I should add that the Board will consider not only these old people—and there are about 1,300,000 of them who will get the £4—but other deserving cases like the chronic sick who are not able to move around. The Board will have to find them out.
It knows some of them, but not all of them. However, the 1,300,000 old people are already known to the Board.
While we agree that it takes approximately four months to increase retirement pension scales, the same does not apply to National Assistance scales. Would it not be better to lay the regulations quickly so that these people might have their increases in National Assistance scales before Christmas, bearing in mind that we once implemented the increase within eight weeks?
The hon. Lady is well aware that it would have been impossible in the time that we had to devote to these matters to give the increase to these deserving old people by Christmas. Perhaps if some work had been done in the Ministry on these questions when I took over it would have been a very much simpler matter than it is.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a considerable grievance among old people in old persons' homes that whenever there is an increase it is "pinched" by the local authority? Can she assure us that the local authority will not "pinch" this £4 Christmas present and that the old people will get it?19
I am afraid that my hon. and learned Friend did not hear the whole reply. The £4 lump sum is being given for fuel and other purposes to keep old people warm during the winter. Those in homes will not get the special £4 lump sum, so that the local authorities will not have anything to do with what is paid.
Sir K. Joseph
Would the Minister please try to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) more fully? If, as I am sure is the case, she wants to help the most needy as quickly as possible, she should consider laying the regulations raising the assistance scales in a matter of weeks. As a matter of record, we did this in eight weeks at the end of 1955. It may well be that, with the increase of modern management methods, it is possible to do it in even less than eight weeks. I hope that the right hon. Lady will not remove all hope from the most needy—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] I have not finished the sentence—but that the Government will consider as seriously as possible helping the most needy by laying an increase in assistance scales before Christmas.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Finchley was correct—that if there had been some preparation beforehand we might have been able to give all of our people an increase.
Mr. Sydney Silverman
In view of the great and obviously sincere anxiety among hon. Members opposite that these increased payments should be made by Christmas, could my right hon. Friend say what was the latest date on which the last Administration could have made proposals to ensure that they would be put into operation by Christmas this year?
Taking away the amount of time that we have had, it would have meant that preparations would have had to be in hand during the Summer Recess, as happened in 1957.
The fact that none of those preparations were made shows quite clearly that hon. Members opposite, had they been returned, had no intention of increasing pensions.20
Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Question referred to retirement pensioners, whereas she has answered in relation to those on National Assistance? The Question also referred to the Christmas bonus payment, whereas she has spoken of an extra fuel allowance.
You may call it what you like, but all those old people, or the vast majority——
Order. I do not call it anything.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman may call it anything he likes, but the fact is that the majority, if not all, of these old people—those on National Assistance—will have this £4. The same problem exists for giving all retirement pensioners, say, a double pension as exists for giving them the increased pensions earlier.
Pensions and Benefits
23. Mrs. Thatcher
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the minimum period required administratively for the introduction of increased rates of benefit for sickness, unemployment, widowhood, and war pensions, respectively.
The minimum period must depend on a variety of factors, including the time of year and the numbers of beneficiaries affected.
Would not the right hon. Lady confirm that on the last occasion, as is revealed in the Government Actuary's Report, unemployment and sickness benefit increases and some other benefit increases came into operation within six weeks? While the right hon. Lady might not be able to do it in quite such a short time, there is no case for keeping these recipients of short-term benefits waiting for 20 weeks when the considerations which apply to the long-term benefits are different from those applying to sickness and unemployment.
The hon. Lady will be more aware than almost anyone else in the House that the reason why these increases in short-term benefits, particularly the unemployment benefit, were paid 21earlier than the retirement pensions increase was because of the heavy number of unemployed at that time. I can, however, assure the hon. Lady that we are considering these matters and that announcements will be made when we are making announcements about the Bill.
Assessment of Disablement (Committee)
26. Dame Irene Ward
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she has appointed a woman to serve on the disablement committee, as suggested by the hon. Member for Tynemouth.
Yes, Sir. I have appointed Miss Muriel Watson, O.B.E., to be a member of the Committee, under the chairmanship of the Lord McCorquodale, which is reviewing the assessment of disablement.
Dame Irene Ward
Will my right hon. Friend accept—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Well, she is a friend of mine. Will my right hon. Friend accept—[Interruption.] She is also my "pair". Would the right hon. Lady—if that is more acceptable—accept the thanks of all women for her action? Is she aware that the original idea for appointing a woman to this Committee came from the wife of a Conservative candidate in the north of England who serves on the regional disablement committee? Will the right hon. Lady in future accept all the proposals that come from me?
I was delighted to find this suggestion on my desk when I went to the Ministry and I was delighted to make the appointment. I could not, however, tell the hon. Lady that I will accept all the proposals which come from her. All I can say is that I will certainly examine most carefully all proposals from any hon. Member, on either side of the House.