Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Pensions and National Insurance]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [668/15-30]
Editorial comments: Timing uncertain. MT spoke at cc17-22, 25 and 29-30.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 5611
[column 15]

Pensions And National Insurance

Earnings Rule

19. Mr. Snow

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will review the maximum earning allowance of wives of old-age pensioners who are below the age of sixty, in view of the loss to educational and hospital authorities of many useful workers who are at present discouraged by the £2 limit.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the amount of a wife's earnings which is disregarded in deciding whether her husband is entitled to an increase of his national insurance benefit for her as a dependant. I can assure the hon. Member that I am keeping this amount under review.

Mr. Snow

While acknowledging that a change in the earnings allowance—which, I thank, the Minister understands—may require the revision of the existing pensions structure, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that this is National Productivity Year, and that the existing regulations mean that many able-bodied women are leaving useful jobs which certain local authorities very much need done?

Mr. Macpherson

We have no evidence that this is causing a shortage of women part-time employees, but I will certainly take note of the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Snow

I sent the right hon. Gentleman a case.

Retirement and Old-Age Pensioners

Mr. Millan

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will take steps to arrange for the [column 16]payment of an additional week's pension to old-age pensioners at Christmas; and how much this would cost.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The answer to the first part of the Question is, No, Sir. I have no power to make such payments, which have always been regarded as inappropriate to a universal system of compulsory insurance. The cost of paying an additional week's pension to retirement pensioners at Christmas would be about £16 million.

Mr. Millan

Yes, but will not the Minister take steps to obtain this power? Is he aware that on its side of the House we would certainly facilitate his getting it? Since the Chancellor of the Exchequer is making an additional repayment of post-war credits to give some additional purchasing power at Christmas, can the Minister not do his little bit by making this bonus payment, which would be very greatly appreciated?

Mr. Macpherson

The Government still agree with what Dr. Summerskill, as she then was, said in reply to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) on 18th July, 1950, that as a question of principle,

“That would not be a proper provision to be made under a contributory insurance scheme” —[Official Report, 18th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2023.]

We think that the right way to deal with this is to do as we have been doing in the past, to increase pensions throughout the year rather than at a particular time.

Mr. Manuel

Would not the Minister seriously consider this again? From all accounts, and from Press reports today, his Ministry is going to have to concede very soon additional increases to this type of pensioner anyhow? Would he not therefore consider payment for the interim period covering Christmas and the New Year? Could he not really do something which would help to bridge the gap between this and an increase?

Mr. Macpherson

No, I am sure this would not be a correct use of the National Insurance scheme. In an insurance scheme which insures for all risks and to which everybody contributes it would not be right to give a Christmas bonus which would go to some beneficiaries and not to others. [column 17]

23. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the cost of granting £1 a week increase to all those on retirement pension or National Assistance; and, alternatively, what would be the cost of granting £1 a week increase to all single persons and married couples on retirement pension or National Assistance.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

On present numbers, about £340 million a year and about £280 million a year, respectively.

Mr. Allaun

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the Labour Party is now committed to an immediate increase of the equivalent of £1 1s. 5d. on a single retirement pension, and that because of this the Government may be forced to make a concession before the General Election? Why do they not do the right thing and grant it now?

Mrs. Thatcher

The commitment of the Labour Party is now committed to an immediate increase of the equivalent of £1 1s. 5d. on a single retirement pension, and that because of the Government may be forced to make a concession before the General Election? Why do they not do the right thing and grant it now?

Mrs. Thatcher

The commitment of the Labour Party of which I was aware was not quite that one. It was the one the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has mentioned in recent weeks and would cost £450 million. This is on top of the £1,100 million which this year wall be spent on National Insurance benefits. This would require a great increase in the contributions. I would say to the hon. Member that I do not think it is the Labour Party in opposition which will result in the increasing of pensions by the Government.

24. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the cost of granting £1 increase to all those on retirement pension or National Assistance in the week before Christmas; and, alternatively, of granting this increase to all single persons and married couples on retirement pension and National Assistance.

Mrs. Thatcher

About £63/4 million and about £51/2 million, respectively, assuming that those on either retirement pension or National Assistance or both would quality.

Mr. Allaun

Has the hon. Lady thought what it means to spend the whole of Christmas week on £2 17s. 6d. plus a bit of National Assistance? Does [column 18]it not mean going without any enjoyment of anything beyond the bare means of existence?

Mrs. Thatcher

I recognise the motives of humanity which stir the hon. Member to ask that question, but Niall Macphersonmy right hon. Friend has a explained that it is not a proper feature of a National Insurance scheme to give a particular bonus for particular weeks. I would remind the hon. Member that the National Assistance scales did go up by an amount which meant an expenditure of over £20 million a year as recently as September.

Mr. Herbison

If the Minister continues to insist that this money should not be paid from the National Insurance Fund, and if the Minister does realise the hardship of these old people and the pleasure which a little extra money at Christmas would mean for them, why cannot he have it paid from the Exchequer and not continue to hide behind this matter of principle which the hon. Lady has told us about today?

Mrs. Thatcher

Well, my right hon. Friend is not yet at the Exchequer, but in due course of time he may be.

40. Mr. Marsh

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many retirement pensioners in the area covered by his London offices are in receipt of National Assistance supplements; and what is the average rent for which allowance has had to be made in the calculation of these supplements.

Mrs. Thatcher

At 25th September last, the number of weekly National Asssistane allowances supplementing retirement pensions in the area served by the National Assistance Board's offices in the administrative County of London was 81,386. Up-to-date information about the average rent of recipients of such allowances is not yet available.

Mr. Marsh

Is it not becoming absurd to maintain a situation where we are paying a pension on which, quite clearly, a very large proportion of old-age pensions cannot possibly live and we then have to duplicate this administration to pay supplementary benefits? Is the hon. Lady aware that many of us on this side of the House will expect my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) to change this state of affairs next year? [column 19]

Mrs. Thatcher

It would seem to be most unwise that because one in every five retirement pensioners needed supplementation one should pay a great deal of money to the other out of five, who by definition, are not in need for the time being.

Mr. Lipton

Is it not a fact that the supplementation has had to be increased to the extent of many thousands of pounds a week as a direct result of the 1957 Rent ACt?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no figures which support that contention.

Departmental Records

22. Mr. Tommey

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what methods he employs to keep his Department's records up to date.

Mr. N. Macpherson

My Department keeps many kinds of records and employs a variety of methods to keep them up to date. If the hon. Member has any particular case in mind I shall be glad to look into it.

Mr. Tomney

While appreciating the right hon. Gentleman's efforts to keep his Department's records up to date, and while recognising the vast amount of work which that involves, may I ask whether he agrees that a letter setting out the terms and conditions of retirement applicable to people about to retire should not be sent to a person—as in the case of my constituent—who has been dead for eleven bears—unless, of course, the Almighty has a voice in the right hon. Gentleman's Department?

Mr. Macpherson

I certainly agree with that but I am afraid it is inevitable that mistakes of that kind can occur from time to time. The hon. Gentleman would be surprised to know how many cases there are of people with the same names; there was even one, case of two people with the same name living at the same address.

Mr. Tomney

I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but this is the third of such letters.

Hon. Members

Oh. [column 20]

Mr. Macpherson

Presumably it must have been because the dead man has not been able to inform that Department that he is dead.


25. Mr. Morris

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the number of old-age pensioners in the Aberavon Division, or equivalent area; and what is the number thereof in receipt of National Assistance.

Mrs. Thatcher

Statistics relating to the number of retirement pensions are not available for particular areas. At 25th September last, 105 non-contributory old-age pensions, 80 supplements to such pensions and 1,879 supplements to retirement pensions were current in the area served by the local office of the National Assistance Board at Port Talbot, which comprises the greater part of the Parliamentary Division except for the Porthcawl Urban District, but also includes most of the Maesteg Urban District. Some of the supplements provided for a household with more than one pensioner.

Mr. Morris

Does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary realise that in an area relatively high wages the position of those on the subsistence standard of living, of many of the old people, is more pronounced than it is elsewhere? Is she aware that such is the pride of many of our old people that they will not suffer the indignity of a means test to obtain National Assurance—as in the case to which I drew the Department's attention some months ago? Can she promise to raise the basic old-age pension of these old people so that they will not have to suffer the terrible indignity of having to go through a means test?

Mrs. Thatcher

I rejoice with the hon. Gentleman that he represents an area of high wages. I disagree with him that many people will not suffer the indignity of National Assistance, for I disagree that it is an indignity. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] We are slowly breaking down any prejudice against going for National Assistance. We are, indeed, being very successful with it, and there are now one or two more people in the hon. Gentleman's area who are benefiting from National Assistance than last year. [column 21]

Graduated Pension Scheme

26. Mr. Wainwright

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give the number of contributors, at the latest available date, in the graduated pension scheme.

Mrs. Thatcher

I regret that the number paying graduated contributions will not be known until the records of the first year's contribution on the P.A.Y.E. forms have been fully recorded and analysed.

Mr. Wainwright

Is the hon. Lady aware that less than 50 per cent. of the workers are members of the scheme? Does she not think that he condemns the scheme? Will she take steps to improve it?

Mrs. Thatcher

Our estimate of the number of people who pay graduated contributions is about 11 million, and I do not agree that that number condemns it. Many other people are covered by occupational schemes which it is our policy to encourage.

Mr. Ross

If the hon. Lady cannot give the information sought by my hon. Friend in one way, can she give it another? How many people have contracted our compared with the number the Government originally estimated?

Mrs. Thatcher

The number is just under 41/2 million. The estimate at the time of the Bill was 3 million.

27. Mr. Wainwright

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will give the total amount of contributions paid into the graduated pension scheme up to the latest available date, and the total amount of benefits paid our during the same period.

Mrs. Thatcher

It is estimated that up to 17th November, 1962, about £261 million was paid into the National Insurance Fund by way of graduated contributions. Over the same period the Fund paid benefits amounting to about £1,800 million, though of course only a very small part of that can have been by way of graduated additions to retirement pension. The precise amount is not available.

31. Mr. Houghton

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will give an estimate of the [column 22]total number of persons contracting out of the graduated pensions scheme which would create a deficit in the National Insurance Fund.

Mrs. Thatcher

The material for any such estimate will not be available until the returns made by employers for the year 1961-62 have been fully analysed.

Mr. Eden

Will not my hon. Friend welcome the largest possible number contracting out under this arrangement and give what encouragement she can?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are delighted that more and more people are covered by progressively good occupational pensions schemes.

33. Mr. Lawson

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate by how much the current annual contributions to the graduated pension scheme exceed or fall short of the original estimate of such income for this year.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The income from graduated contributions is currently rather less than £20 million a year below the original estimate.

Mr. Lawson

Does this not suggest that more and more people are coming to appreciate that this is not an insurance scheme at all but that it is merely a way of relieving the Exchequer of a national liability which should be it sown? Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to see that more and more people appreciate the nature of the scheme in order that they can get out, and get out quickly?

Mr. Macpherson

I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the nature of the scheme is very well understood. The bulk of the contracting out was done during the early stages. There has not been very much lately, but, as my hon. Friend said earlier, a good many more people have contracted out than was originally expected.


28 and 29. Mr. Hale

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) whether he is aware of the large increase in byssinosis in the Lancashire cotton area; and what steps he contemplates to enable claims to be more speedily dealt with; [column 23]

(2)how many applications for industrial disease benefit on the ground of byssinosis have been submitted in the most recent twelve months convenient for computation; how many have been dealt with; with what result; and how many are still pending.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon)

The number of claimants for disablement benefit on account of byssinosis examined during the year ending 30th June, 1962, was 627; of these 375 were diagnosed as suffering from the disease. The corresponding figures for the year ending 30th June, 1961, were 585 and 374 respectively. Separate figures are not kept for pending byssinosis cases. Every effort is made to see that claims are dealt with as speedily as possible.

Mr. Hale

Why are not figures kept of application for pensions? It seems incredible that they are not. My information is that there is a considerable increase in application, particularly from the Oldham area, which has a considerable spinning center. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there is increasing dissatisfaction with the way in which these cases are handled>

A recent case in which I was engaged before the Commissioner—who behaved most admirably and gave a full and fair hearing—was an appeal on a question deceased had died of byssinosis. This is contrary to the undertaking given to the House when the Act was passed. It means that Oldham cases may be tried in London in the absence of medical evidence. Is this not a serious situation?

Lieut-Commander Maydon

There was some delay in the case the hon. Gentleman refers to because, as he knows, it was complicated and on two occasions went to appeal. But the final decision by the Commissioner was given 39 weeks after the pneumoconiosis medical panel's decision.

The hon. Gentleman asked why it was that pending byssinosis cases could not be separated. I thought I had explained that. Both pneumoconiosis and byssinosis cases go through the same procedure. Naturally, the documents relating to the cases state what the complaint is, but [column 24]they are not separated in the early stages when the cases are pending. To do so would cause unnecessary additional expense.

Mr. Hale

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that I make no complaint of delay in the case I referred to? It is fair that I should add that at one stage it was postponed for four weeks to suit my convenience. I am concerned with the delay in medical examination in Oldham following applications. If his Department has no record of the applications, I do not understand how it can tell the doctors when to examine the patients.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I can only add that the average time to clear disablement benefit claims is eight weeks.

Wife's Allowance and Widow's Pension

30. Mr. Houghton

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will refer to the National Insurance Advisory Committee the desirability of abolishing the rule under which a woman over 60 marrying a retirement disabilities as regards wife's allowance and widow's pension.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The three-year qualifying period applies only to the very small proportion of women marrying at ages over 60 who have no existing little to retirement pension or equivalent benefit. The provision seems to me a reasonable safeguard and I see no grounds for asking the Advisory Committee to review it at this time.

Mr. Houghton

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he thinks that the small number of people caught by the so-called three-year rule justifies continuing it? Surely he realises that there can be very few cases of alleged abuse by single women without insurance qualifications of their own marrying dying men in order to get the widow's benefit?

Mr. Macpherson

The three-year rule applies whether the widow is under 60 or not. This matter was considered by the Advisory Committee eighteen months ago, and I do not think it would be worthwhile putting it before the Committee again. The rule seems a reasonable safeguard.

[column 25]


32. Mrs. Slater

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many old-age pensioners and widows covered by the insurance office in Stoke-on-Trent are in receipt of National Assistance supplementary benefit.

Mrs. Thatcher

At 25th September last, current weekly National Assistance allowances granted by the Area Offices of the National Assistance Board in Stoke-on-Trent included 385 supplements to non-contributory old-age pension, 8,386 to retirement pension and 885 to national insurance widows benefits. Some of the supplements to pension provided fro a household with more than one pensioner.

Mrs. Slater

Is the hon. Lady aware that this number is continually increasing? Earlier this afternoon she said that her Department is more and more successful in persuading old people to apply for National Asssistane. Has she no concern that these people ought now to be looking forward to an immediate rise in the basic pension rather than going through this means test, which the hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends do not believe is a very real factor in these people's lives?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Lady's strictures on National Assistance do not encourage people who need it to apply. There are, of course, more on National Assistance in her constituency this year than last year, but part of that increase is due to the attraction of the increased scale rates operating from last September.

Supplementary Assistance

34. Mr. Ross

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many weekly national assistance supplements are presently being made in respect of persons in receipt of unemployment benefit; and what the figure was for the corresponding time last year.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The number of authorizations of weekly National Assistance allowance granted as supplements to unemployment benefit which were current in the Area Offices of the Board on 25th September was 56,208, [column 26]and 29,333 at the corresponding time last year. In certain cases, the person to whom the authorisation related might recently have resumed work.

Mr. Ross

Do not the figures show that, despite all that the right hon. Gentleman did at the Board of Trade, unemployment is rising, and in relation to the work that he is doing now, do they not show that unemployment benefit is quite inadequate? What does he propose to do about it?

Mr. Macpherson

The supplements from the National Assistance Board have always been available, ant it has always been understood that in certain cases there should be recourse to National Asssistane to supplement the foundation payments made under the National Insurance Scheme.

Mr. Ross

But what good is insurance if it does not properly insure?

Mr. Macpherson

Many insurance policies do not wholly cover a risk.

Mr. Lawson

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many weeks must elapse before a person who becomes unemployed is normally eligible for National Assistance supplementation?

Mr. Macpherson

It can be available virtually right away. In normal circumstances the wages that a man has just received are considered as being sufficient for the week following, but he can always have recourse to National Assistance supplementation right away if he is in need.

35. Mr. Ross

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the average being paid to retirement pensioner householders, with and without adult dependant, respectively.

Mr. N. Macpherson

Information about the average amounts of weekly National Assistance allowances actually payable, having regard to the rent, resources and other circumstances of the recipient, is obtained annually from a sample selected early in November, and information about the average supplement paid to all retirement pensioners will not be available for another week or so. [column 27]


36. Mr. Manuel

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many widows are in receipt of a 10s. pension; and, of these, how many are in receipt of a National Assistance supplement.

Mr. N. Macpherson

At the end of 1961, some 89,000 widows were receiving the 10s. widow's pension as a reserved right from the old scheme. About 5,700 with no other benefit from my Ministry were also receiving national assistance.

Mr. Manuel

Is the Minister aware that these widows in employment are paying 8s. 8d. a week in contributions in order to comply with the regulations so that they will get benefit when they finally retire? Does he not think it scandalous that he should be giving the 10s. with one hand and taking it back with the other? When is he going to deal with the problem and really give these widows something in their own right?

Mr. Macpherson

This is a reserved right from the previous scheme. To the extent that they are able to pay their National Insurance contribution out of the 10s. these ladies are that much better off than those how do not have a corresponding benefit either because their husbands were not insured under the old scheme or because they were married after the 1948 scheme came into operation.

Mr. Manuel

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that his original reply gives the lie to his answer now in so far as he quoted a considerable number receiving 10s. who are on National Assistance as well?

Mr. Macpherson

It is a fact that the proportion of widows in receipt of the 10s. pension on National Assistance is very much lower than the proportion of all widows on assistance.

Christmas Bonus Payments

37. Mr. Millan

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will instruct his officers that Christmas bonus payments are to be disregarded in respect of the earnings rule as applied to widows, widowed mothers, and retirement pensioners.

[column 28]

Mr. N. Macpherson

I have no power to do so. As my predecessor told the hon. Member on 19th February, decisions in these matters are made by Independent statutory authorities.

Mr. Millan

Will not the right hon. Gentleman take this power? Is he aware how very disappointing it is for widows and retirement pensioners to get a Christmas bonus from their employers and then to lose it through a reduction in their pensions? May this not appear to them to be a piece of calculated meanness on the part of the Minister? Could not the regulations be altered so that reasonable amounts of Christmas bonus could be excluded from the earnings consideration?

Mr. Macpherson

This arises out of the interpretation which has been given to “earnings” . Under the terms of the National Insurance Act, 1946, earnings include any remuneration or profits derived from a gainful occupation, and, therefore, a bonus has to be taken into account.

Widowed Mothers

38. Mr. Small

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will abolish the earning rule as applied to widowed mothers.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The earnings rule as applied to widowed mothers is kept under continuous review, but I have no proposals to make.

Mr. Small

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it is time that there was a review and a decisions was taken on the earnings rule? There are no spivs in these cases. The practice of using widowed mothers ad revenue raisers is generally regarded as objectionable.

Mr. Macpherson

It is not question of using them as revenue raisers. What it really amounts to is that the widowed mother's benefits form part of the National Insurance Scheme benefits and it would be very difficult to treat them altogether as a special case. Widowed mothers are given special treatment in as much as the earnings limit is very much higher for them than it is for others, and, of course, it applies only to their own allowances and not to the allowances for their children.

[column 29]

Dame Irene Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer is entirely and absolutely unsatisfactory? Does he pay any attention to what hon. members on his own side of the House say? Is it not possible to find some way of examining the whole position which would have nothing to do with his Department, which is very obstinate and biassed in this connection?

Mr. Macpherson

I would tell my hon. Friend, as I have said in the answer already, that this is a matter which is under review, but we must adhere to the general principles of the Act.

Dame Irene Ward


Mr. Ross

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter? He is making a terribly disappointing debut as Minister of Pensions. If he does not listen to what is being said by this side of the House or by his own back benchers, will he read the impassioned pleas that used to be made by the hon. Member for Dumfries?

Mr. Macpherson

I do not often reread my past speeches, but I shall do so at the instance of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Fell

Surely my right hon. Friend will not be upsetting the general principles of the Act if he raises the earnings rule considerably further than it is now?

Mr. Macpherson

We have an extremely good record on the raising of the limit, and we intend to maintain our record

Benefits (Value)

39. Mrs. Slater

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate by how much the total aggregate payments to all National Insurance beneficiaries in the first nine months of this year would have to be increased to restore to that sum the value lost by the depreciation of the £ sterling since the announcement of the last increases in benefits.

Mrs. Thatcher

About £55 million.

Mrs. Slater

Does not this show how very necessary it is to review the basic pensions and the benefits which are paid in order to give these people the real value which they ought to be having? [column 30]How long are we going to have the same old story about the Tory Party having done better than the Labour Party? Is it not about time these people had justice instead of that story?

Mrs. Thatcher

On the last occasion when the National Insurance benefits were increased, they were raised by 15 per cent. for the single rate and 16 per cent. for the married rate. Since then the cost of living has changed by about 5.1 per cent.