PENSIONS AND NATIONAL INSURANCE
1. Mr. Gresham Cooke
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she is satisfied that all citizens who are liable to pay National Insurance con[column 2]tributions do so at the present time; and how often checks are made to ensure that the law is complied with in this respect.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Norman Pentland)
Inevitably there are people who seek to evade their liability. We are constantly on the watch for offenders, however, and I am satisfied that the amount of undetected non-compliance is relatively small. It would not be in the public interest to disclose the nature or frequency of the checks which are applied.
Mr. Gresham Cooke
Would the Joint Parliamentary Secretary agree that there are extraordinary cases which come to light from time to time of men who have not subscribed for, say, ten years of their working lives? Would it not be kinder to all concerned if people who fall from grace could be caught up at an early stage so that they do not lose their pensions and have to rely on National Assistance? Will he have a special inquiry made to see whether there are a lot of these cases?
Yes, Sir. I will gladly look into what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Does the responsibility for the under-payment by an individual rest with the employer of that person in respect of employers' contributions since very often it is not the employee himself who has neglected to make contributions but the employer?[column 3]
Yes, Sir. In many cases that is correct. Graduated and flat rate contributions for 23 million employed persons are the responsibility of employers, who are periodically visited by about 1,200 inspectors stationed throughout the country.
3. Mr. Freeson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will give the estimated number of men and women over 65 and 60 years of age, respectively, who are not in receipt of a State pension, and the number of these who are in need but not in receipt of National Assistance; and whether she will give an undertaking that in the review of social security to be put in hand these elderly people will receive a state pension as of right.
21. Mr. Ennals
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to what extent, in the review of the social services now being conducted, she will give special consideration to the claims of men and women aged 65 and 60 years, respectively, who are not entitled to a state Pension under existing legislation.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison)
The number of old people with no retirement, contributory or non-contributory old-age pension is estimated to be about 370,000, of whom some 250,000 are not receiving help from the National Assistance Board. I regret that I am unable to say how many of the 250,000 might be entitled to assistance if they applied, but the Board is, of course, taking all practicable steps to make the National Assistance scheme known to those who might benefit from it.
As regards the general point, the Government are actively studying the best way of putting into effect their plans for giving additional help to persons of retirement age whose incomes are small, including both pensioners and non-pensioners.
While thanking my right hon. Friend particularly for the last point in her reply about a study being undertaken to assist those people who are not at present in receipt and bearing in mind the hardship of a very large percentage of the number of people to whom she [column 4]referred, may I ask whether she can give an assurance that the Bill to introduce an income guarantee may be expected by early next Session, bearing in mind that we have had a most welcomed increase this year which will be coming into effect in a week or so from now?
As I said in my reply, we are actively studying the best way of helping these old people. I cannot give any specific guarantee today, but the time when my hon. Friend would like it to come in is the time when I would hope it would.
While welcoming the assurance given by my right hon. Friend to the effect that the Government will be standing by their election pledge in terms of introducing an incomes guarantee, may I ask whether there is any way in which she could bring some form of supplementary aid to this group about whom we are speaking before the legislation comes in? In view of the large number of people, as she said, who are entitled to National Assistance but who do not apply, will she consider addressing an open letter to old people drawing their attention to what they are entitled so that they may take advantage of National Assistance while it still exists?
Ever so much has already been done to try to get all old people to realise that National Assistance is there for them. I agree with my hon. Friend that we should try other ways to get these people to understand that it is there for them, and I will certainly follow up the suggestion he has made.
9. Mr. Shepherd
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she is aware that payment of a half-rate pension to those over 75 years of age and not qualifying for retirement pension would ease the lot of many elderly people; and, in view of the relatively low cost of such provision, what consideration she will give to introducing legislation for this purpose.
33. Mr. Atkinson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what proposals she has in regard to paying half-rate pensions to those over 75 years of age and not qualifying for retirement pension.[column 5]
The cost would be substantial and, in any event, it would hardly be possible to provide a pension through National Insurance for people who have not paid the necessary contributions. I would, however, refer the hon. Gentleman to the replies I have already given to the House this afternoon.
When the right hon. Lady says that the cost would be substantial, does not that mean that it would be of the order of about £20 million a year? As this would be a diminishing amount, can she not give further consideration to this question and, at any rate, assure us that she will support the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave)?
The amount is substantial, and what I have already said is that this is a matter to which the Government are giving the most serious consideration in the introduction of our income guarantee.
Will the right hon. Lady say whether the figure of £20 million or £30 million is what she means when she says that the cost will be substantial? If that is so, would she confirm that the cost would be covered by an extra contribution of, approximately, 2d. or 3d. a side?
That would be the case—the cost for half pensions is just over £20 million—but when we are considering these matters we have to take into account, first of all, the fact that our present pension scheme is a contributory one and, secondly, that quite a number of people over 75 have a very good income indeed. I think that where we are considering £20 million or £40 million or £60 million, we should be ensuring that it is used to give a decent standard of living to the old people who really need it.
38. Mr. Eric S. Heffer
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many persons 75 years old do not qualify for retirement pension; and what would be the cost of providing them with a 25 per cent., 50 per cent., or 75 per cent. retirement pension, respectively.
Rather more than 300,000; and of the order of £9 million, £20 million and £30 million, respectively, in 1965–66 after taking into account the [column 6]likely savings on payments by the National Assistance Board.
Can my right hon. Friend give us some indication when the Government are likely to do something about this matter? Is she aware that there is great feeling and disquiet throughout the country about it?
Certainly. I realise the feeling, and we on this side of the House have had it for a long time. I assure my hon. Friend that it will be brought in as quickly as possible.
Does the Minister realise that these people regard themselves as a forgotten group? Does she realise that they are dying off? Does she realise that many of them do not wish to go to the National Assistance Board?
I am sure that they regard themselves as a forgotten group. They have been forgotten for 13 years. During that time nothing was done for them.
4. Mr. Farr
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will take steps to introduce a scheme of grant payable to a married couple on the adoption of a child.
Would the right hon. Lady look again at this matter? Childless couples have all the expenses of having the child without the inconvenience of confinement. From all the evidence I have assembled, I think that there is a good deal of justice in this claim.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware, I am sure, that the maternity grant, which was raised to £22 on 25th January last, is to cover the expenses of the mother giving birth to the baby, and the help she may need during those days after the baby is born. That is the only special help that the natural parent gets for the child. All the other expenses that the adoptive parents may have in adopting a child the natural parent has also. It is for that reason that we do not think that it would be right to give the maternity grant to the adoptive parents, but reserve it for the natural parents.[column 7]
Would my right hon. Friend consult her right hon. and learned Friend to see whether it is possible for legal aid to be given to cover the legal charges involved in adoption?
That is another question, but I will look at it.
6. Mr. Shepherd
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the present purchasing power of the increase in the pension rate announced last November.
8. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what she estimates is the present purchasing power of the increase in the pension rate announced last November; and what items she takes into account when making this estimation.
On the basis of the Retail Prices Index (All items) for February, which is the latest available, the 12s. 6d. increase for a single pensioner is now worth about 1d. less than when it was announced in November; the 21s. for a couple is worth about 2d. less.
Is it not clear that these additional benefits are depreciating—[Interruption.] Will the right hon. Lady take up this matter with her right hon. Friends to ensure that in future they pursue policies that are not calculated further to diminish these advantages?
It is evident that, in the light of my reply, the hon. Gentleman has had some difficulty with his supplementary question. It seems to me that the efforts that have been made by this Government to steady the cost of living have been successful, and this is of the greatest importance to all old people.
Could the Minister establish a cost of living index for old people, to include such critical items as heating and lighting, rates—which have gone up so much in the last three months—and, in particular, the cost of education borne by the elderly?
A great deal of thought has been given to getting a special cost-of-living index for the old people, and it is being examined at the present time. [column 8]Quite frankly, I prefer to link increases in pensions, not to the cost of living, but to increases in earnings. If one does that, the retail prices index—which really very often does not apply to old people—is a matter we would not have to take into account very much.
Mr. A. Henderson
Can my right hon. Friend include in her reply the fall in the value of old-age pensions between 1951 and 1964?
That is another question, which my right hon. and learned Friend might like to put down.
14. Mr. Farr
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by what amount the purchasing power of the retirement pension for a married couple has declined since 15th October, 1964.
On the basis of the Retail Prices Index, the value of the present pension for a couple has declined by about 1s. 7d.
In view of this continual erosion in the purchasing power of the old-age pension, can the right hon. Lady tell me why the increases which have been promised have not been implemented earlier? Is she aware that, if the purchasing power declines continually in the way that it is doing, when this increase is brought into being it will do little more than restore the old-age pension to the purchasing value it had when the Conservatives were last in office?
The reasons for the delay have been explained in debates we have had in the House. As to the loss in value of the pension, I made it clear in the Memorandum which was published on the National Insurance &c. Bill, 1964, that we expected that to give the pension the same purchasing power as it had at the previous increase would require only between 4s. and 5s. The actual loss in value of the pension is only 3s. 8d. Therefore, it looks as if, by the end of March, namely, in about one week's time, when the increased pension is paid the loss in value will not be even as much as we had reckoned when the 12s. 6d. increase, far beyond the loss in value, was announced.
35. Mr. Park
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is [column 9]the present purchasing power of the increase in the pension rate announced last November; and what, by the time the previous Administration went out of office, was the purchasing power of the last increase in the pension rate.
On the basis of the Retail Prices Index, the 12s. 6d. increase has lost 1d. in value since November 1964; the 10s. increase given in May 1963 lost over 4½d. in value by October 1964.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that, for the 13 years when the party opposite was in power, the purchasing power of the pension was continually eroded by increases in living costs without any action being taken to correct the situation?
Will the Minister point out to her hon. Friend her own testimonial given on page 7 of the Memorandum accompanying the last National Insurance Bill, when she said:
“Over the period of the quinquennium under review, the rise in earnings was about 27 per cent., as compared with the increase in benefits of 35 per cent., so that in recent years improvements of benefit rates have been overtaking the rise in earnings” ?
Since this is the second time that has been quoted in the House, perhaps, when it is quoted for the third time, the part before it will be given also. At the end of this month, for the first time ever since 1946, increases in pensions will by a slight margin have overtaken the percentage increase in earnings. At no time during the 13 years of the Tory Government did that obtain.
7. Mr. Dean
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what changes she proposes to make in the retirement condition and the earnings rule in order to encourage gradual retirement.
It is not easy to see what changes would produce the result the hon. Member has in mind, without completely undermining the present conditions. But, as he is aware, these matters will come within our review of the social security arrangements.
Would the right hon. Lady agree that now that the earnings rule has been abolished for widows it is neither [column 10]fair nor just to retain it for retirement pensioners? Can she give an assurance that she, in consultation with her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, will work out an acceptable method for abolishing the rule altogether?
What we have done for widows does not seem to me to have much application to the principle that applies to retirement pensioners, but I again emphasise that this is a matter to which we will be giving attention in reviewing social security.
But can the Minister tell us what the logic is of abolishing the rule for widows and retaining it for retirement pensioners? As it is very much in their interests that elderly persons should be encouraged to continue in employment, if they wish to do so, for as long as possible, was it not a great pity that the Government only a few weeks ago voted down an Amendment from these benches that we should increase the increments for retirement pensioners?
One of the particular reasons for abolishing the rule for widows was to cover the widowed mother trying to give her family the same standard of living and educational opportunities that children having both parents get, and I think that it was a very wise thing to do. If we take the question as it applies to retirement pensioners, a great many of those of retirement age continue to work and, as previous Governments have done, we will from time to time examine the point where the earnings rule may begin to operate. The whole question will be left to the review.
Pensioners (Republic of Ireland)
10. Captain Orr
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will arrange for the proposed increases in contributory pensions to be paid to all who qualify, whether resident in the United Kingdom or not.
The increases will be paid to all pensioners in the United Kingdom or in any country with which we have a reciprocal agreement which includes a provision that each country undertakes to pay its pension in the other country at current rates. The increase will not be paid to pensioners in other countries.[column 11]
Will the Minister look at this matter again? There are quite a number of persons—doctors, bankers, and the like—who spend their professional life in Northern Ireland and then choose to retire, having fully contributed, across the border into the Republic of Ireland. It seems harsh that they cannot get the same rate of pensions as those who have stayed.
No, Sir. The Government have looked at this matter very carefully in the past. There are about 12,000 people in the Republic of Ireland who are drawing retirement or widows' pensions from the United Kingdom. Our existing agreement on social security with the Republic does not cover retirement pensions, because when the agreement was signed the Republic had no scheme for contributory pensions. But my right hon. Friend has opened negotiations with the Department of Social Welfare for a reciprocal agreement on pensions.
12. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what she estimates will be the increase in the number of retirement pensioners over the next 10 years.
Rather more than 1¼ million.
With this kind of increase expected, how does the Minister expect to fulfil the Labour Party manifesto pledge to provide minimum national income well above the existing rates without a means test and without adding at least 2s. 6d. to Income Tax?
The hon. Gentleman must await the fulfilment of the pledge on the incomes guarantee which we will be bringing forward. I am not prepared to anticipate it at this time.
13. Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to what extent there would be practical difficulty in requiring Commonwealth citizens subject to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act to produce to her local offices on first entry into employment here their passports and Ministry of Labour vouchers as a safeguard [column 12]against evasion of British immigration controls.
Practically everyone of working age in this country, whether employed or not, is entitled to pay National Insurance contributions, and in most cases this is compulsory. One card serves for the payment of all classes of contribution. While there would be practical difficulties in the procedure suggested, I take the view that it would not be right for me as a matter of National Insurance administration to require a person properly admitted to this country to produce these documents as a condition for issuing him with a contribution card.
Is the Minister aware that my purpose is to help the Home Secretary with a useful suggestion for the control of evasion? It is important to bring our administrative arrangements up to a standard of efficiency which will scotch, in the interests of bona fide immigrants, suspicion based upon this practice?
With respect, the right hon. Gentleman is not assisting my right hon. Friend with this suggestion. Examination of passports would entail the Ministry looking at the passports of all applicants who disclose that they have come from Commonwealth countries. Since we would not be prepared to discriminate on grounds of colour or country, foreign countries would have to be considered as well. It would also involve additional work and delay, and consequent inconvenience, to innocent applicants and employers where the passport was not produced on the initial approach to the Ministry. Therefore, in our view, this would not appear to be justified.
15. Mr. William Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps she intends to take to ensure that the 500,000 people who are entitled to receive National Assistance but do not get it are made aware of their entitlement.
An inquiry is being made into the circumstances of retirement pensioners in order to find out, among other things, how many are [column 13]entitled to National Assistance but not receiving it. This inquiry, to be carried out in May and June, will also provide valuable information about the reasons why people do not take advantage of the National Assistance scheme. A great deal has, of course, already been done by both the National Assistance Board and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance to bring the National Assistance scheme to the notice of people who may be entitled to assistance: but, as my hon. Friend knows, one of the objects of the Income Guarantee scheme which we intend to introduce is to deal with this problem.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that that Answer will give a good deal of satisfaction, certainly to hon. Members on this side? Nevertheless, does she not deplore the fact, even though she understands it, as I think we all do, that half a million old people are either too proud or too ignorant of the qualifying circumstances to apply for National Assistance? Does the National Assistance Board or her Department use television and radio and ask the voluntary associations to help to propagate to old people the need for them to apply for this assistance—indeed, the desirability of them applying?
It is not only a deplorable fact but, I think, a very distressing fact that old people are living on an income lower than they might have. It is because we have thought this for a long time that we decided on an income guarantee. I can assure my hon. Friend that much is done. We have a booklet entitled “Help for those in Need” . This is distributed by the Board's local managers to people such as doctors, clergymen, social workers—indeed, any group of people that come in contact with old people. I do not think that television has been used, but I will certainly give serious consideration to employing this medium, since it might be one further way of letting old people know what they can obtain.
Mr. Frederic Harris
Since the Allen Committee specifically made reference to the half a million people on National Assistance not applying for assistance towards their rates, and since the rate [column 14]burden is almost bound to go on ever increasing, unless something concrete is done to change the system, could not the Minister do something to direct the attention of these people to what relief they can get towards their rates, which is such a big part of their expenditure?
Certainly. In every possible way the National Assistance Board is doing this. If any hon. Member on either side of the House has any further ideas as to what we might do, I should be delighted to have them, as I am sure the Board would.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this applies not only to old persons but also to the parents of a spastic who are not aware that they are entitled to National Assistance when their tax allowance drops at the age of 16? In this inquiry will my right hon. Friend look at this point as well?
Sir A. V. Harvey
Would the Minister take into account the fact that a number of people who are eligible for National Assistance do not apply because of the name “National Assistance” ? Successive Governments have not appreciated this. Will she consider this point, because much could be done in this direction by changing the name?
It is true that the name “National Assistance” deters some people from going to the National Assistance Board. I would hope that when the income guarantee is working we will no longer have such a thing as National Assistance but that the whole thing will be brought into a Ministry of Social Security.
18. Mr. Boston
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will seek to arrange for people receiving National Assistance Board grants who apply for aid under the domestic help service to be informed automatically that they may be eligible for an additional grant from the Board to cover the cost of the service.
Not all local authorities require people receiving National Assistance to make a payment for any domestic help provided. But I understand that it is the general practice of those who still do so either to inform [column 15]recipients of National Assistance when they apply for domestic help that they may be entitled to an additional grant from the Board to meet the payment, or to advise the Board's local office direct when domestic help is provided. I am writing to my hon. Friend about a case which he brought to my notice.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that that assurance will be warmly appreciated, but does she not agree from the case of which I have sent her details that there may be a sizeable number of people who are offered the domestic help service but turn it down believing that they have to pay the minimum, which in one county is 5s. a week, and not realising that they can in fact claim this back from the National Assistance Board?
This again is evidently another case where much greater publicity is needed. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will do our best with local authorities and the Board to see that this information is given to old people.
22. Mr. Higgins
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether, in view of the delay in introducing a minimum income guarantee scheme, she will increase the limits of income and capital which can be disregarded in assessing need for National Assistance.
Any increase in these limits would benefit only those people with considerable savings or disregarded income; it would not help those whose needs are greatest or those who, although entitled to receive assistance, have not applied for it. A change of this sort would not therefore be a suitable interim measure pending the introduction of the income guarantee scheme.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that a number of retired elderly people living in their own homes rely on National Assistance and then find that in view of rising rates and prices they have to sell their homes and the capital obtained rules them out from National Assistance? Would the right hon. Lady raise this limit so as to slow down this process?
The hon. Member will be aware that in payment of National Assistance, just as where there is an [column 16]increase in the rent, the person on assistance gets help from the Board, the same applies when there is an increase in rates.
The right hon. Lady then accepts the statement in the Question that there is a delay in introducing a minimum income guarantee scheme? As the Prime Minister in his election address said that this would be introduced without delay, can the right hon. Lady at least give an assurance that it will be introduced during the present Parliament? As some compensation for procrastination in her Department, will she at least give some attention to my hon. Friend's suggestion to increase the limit of income and capital which can be disregarded in assessing a person's eligibility for National Assistance?
The noble Lord usually amuses me with his synthetic anger. Is he aware that we are working on a minimum income guarantee scheme?
Order. I have great difficulties with Questions and they are enhanced if Ministers ask questions of hon. Members opposite.
The noble Lord, then, will be aware that we are working on an income guarantee, and if his Government had been really worried about the position of such people as are mentioned here some form of income guarantee would have been introduced long ago.
Wage Stop (Assistance)
19. Mr. William Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many people in England and Wales and Scotland, respectively, are recipients of National Assistance but subject to the provisions of the wage stop regulation; and what steps she intends to take to remedy this position.
In December, 1964, when the latest count was taken, the approximate numbers of unemployed persons whose National Assistance allowances were restricted by reference to their normal earnings were 9,500 in England and Wales and 4,500 in Scotland. This is one of the matters which will be examined in the course of the Government's general review of the social security schemes.[column 17]
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the figures show that there is a disproportionate number of people suffering in this way in Scotland in relation to the population because wages in Scotland are generally lower than they are in England? Does not she recognise that this is penalising people who are on National Assistance in Scotland? In view of the deplorable fact that there are people presumably earning wages which are less than the subsistence levels laid down by the National Assistance Board, can my right hon. Friend impress upon the Department and upon other Ministers the desperate urgency of finding a solution to this problem?
I think that my hon. Friend knows the attention which I and other Scottish Members have given to this matter over the years. The Minister of Labour, in answer to a Question, said that there were between 50,000 and 150,000 people actually in work whose wages were below National Assistance standards. When I presented the regulations for National Assistance I pointed out that we were giving attention to this point and that family allowances were one important element in the problem. I assure my hon. Friend that I consider this a matter of some urgency.
Is the right hon. Lady therefore thinking of implementing her pledge on family allowances which appears on page 15 of “New Frontiers for Social Security” ?
The hon. Lady will have to wait until the work which we are doing on this matter is completed.
Mr. Edward M. Taylor
Does the right hon. Lady appreciate that her Answer will come as a surprise and shock to those who read her forthright comments, reported in column 926 of the Official Report, of 29th June, 1964, when she referred to the then 6,000 families living below subsistence level and a substantial number of children suffering from malnutrition in consequence? If the right hon. Lady seriously believes that children are underfed or suffering from starvation she should not be prepared to wait for a review.
I said from the beginning that for some years this has [column 18]been a matter of great concern to me. It is still a matter of great concern, and we on this side of the House are giving urgent consideration to a matter which for years we asked the previous Government to tackle.
Mrs. Lena Jeger
While we appreciate the great thought that my right hon. Friend is giving to this Question, may I ask whether she is aware that many of the workers concerned are almost unemployable and that some have been unemployed for a very long time. Is she aware that in certain cases of which I have personal knowledge a realistic figure of normal wages is not being taken in implementing the wage stop? Could my right hon. Friend look at this urgently while we are waiting the long-term review?
This is one of the matters to which I am giving attention. There are other cases, and they vary greatly, about which we may be able to do something before the review is finished. I am having discussions with the National Assistance Board on these very matters.
28. Mr. Leadbitter
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many applicants for National Assistance in The Hartlepools are receiving allowances subject to the limitations of the wage stop; and what is their average allowance.
Separate figures are not available for The Hartlepools, but in the area of the Board's offices in West Hartlepool and Hartlepool, which also covers parts of the Easington, Stockton and Sedgefield Rural Districts, there were 219 unemployed persons whose assistance allowances were restricted by reference to their usual earnings. Information regarding the average allowance paid to these 219 persons is not available.
Will my hon. Friend accept from me that this is a great source of irritation in the office? While I am the first to agree that the efficiency of management and staff must always be applauded, there are these slight difficulties which create unpleasantnesses at these offices. If I may refer to a previous Question, will my hon. Friend take into account that the problem of the [column 19]stop is something which ought to be removed quickly, and may we take it that his right hon. Friend who is looking at prices and incomes will examine the whole question of the limitation of incomes and the limitation of this sort of allowance?
Ten Shilling Widows
23. Mr. Channon
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will take steps to ensure that those 10 shilling widows in receipt of National Assistance will not be deprived of the full increase in their pension because there has not been a commensurate increase in National Assistance scales.
No, Sir. Widows' pensions and retirement pensions must be taken into account in full when a person's need of assistance is assessed, and it would not be equitable to make an exception in the case of the widow's basic pension.
Would the right hon. Lady not agree that probably only a very small number of 10s. widows are in this position and that what is asked for in the Question would cost very little to do? Would she not agree that it would mean that those 10s. widows in the greatest need, to quote her previous Answer, would get the greatest help?
The hon. Member must also be aware that other widows who have the full pension and are having the increase might resent this very much and might be in greater difficulties than some of the 10s. widows. It seems more equitable to have the same rule applicable to all widows and those in receipt of National Assistance.
Assistance Office, West Hartlepool
27. Mr. Leadbitter
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will examine the staffing and accommodation position in the National Assistance Board offices in West Hartlepool in order that mothers with children in partilar may not have to wait too long for attention and to achieve strict confidence and privacy during interviews.[column 20]
The National Assistance Board informs me that the staffing of its two offices in West Hartlepool is adequate to deal with the work arising there. The nature of the office premises does unfortunately create difficulties, but every effort is made to deal speedily with the public who call there and to provide privacy so far as is possible. As the hon. Member already knows, the Ministry of Public Building and Works is planning to erect a new building to house both offices.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as far as my information is concerned, her Answer falls a little short of the general experience in one particular office? Is she aware that mothers with young children are having to wait a considerable time and that neither the nature of the office nor its staffing leads to pleasant relationships between the staff and applicants? Would my right hon. Friend look at this matter again in order that these irritants can be removed?
Certainly. The information which I have from the Board makes it clear, as I said in my Answer, that the nature of the premises creates difficulties. We accept that, and that is why a new building is to be erected. I have also been informed by the Board that whenever a mother with young children calls every effort is made to deal with her as speedily as possible. I am certain that the Board will continue to do that and that when new premises are available many of the difficulties will disappear.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the lack of facilities at the West Hartlepool office, which covers part of my area, is more than made up by the generous and friendly attitude of the manager of that office and his staff?
I am sure that they will be very pleased to hear that tribute paid to them. I am certain that they try, in very difficult circumstances, to deal justly with people.
Motor Car Workers (Unemployment Benefit)
31. Mr. Chapman
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance why, when the recent strike at the British [column 21]Motor Corporation's Longbridge factory was confined to maintenance men and had no connection with production workers, the local insurance officer has disallowed some unemployment benefit claims from the latter; whether she will speed the hearing of appeals against this decision; and whether, in view of the hardship and injustice caused by this denial and delay of benefit payments to men who have paid their contributions to the National Insurance Fund, she will review the trade dispute disqualification procedure of the National Insurance Act.
The unemployment benefit claims referred to were disallowed under the trade dispute disqualification provisions of the National Insurance Act. I cannot comment on the decisions of the independent adjudicating authorities, but I can assure my hon. Friend that arrangements are being made for appeals against the insurance officer's decision to be heard as quickly as possible. On the general position I have nothing to add to my reply to the Questions put to me by my hon. Friend, the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Horner) on 18th March.
This situation is wholly and disastrously unsatisfactory. Is my right hon. Friend aware that thousands of men who have no connection with the strike are being denied benefit by the National Insurance system after paying contributions for years and at a time when they most need help? Is this not absolutely disgraceful, and ought there not to be the review which I ask for in my Question to see whether this antiquated machinery needs a little oiling?
I am well aware of the feeling of those men who have been denied benefit, but at this stage there is nothing whatever that the Minister can do. We must follow the provisions laid down in our legislation. I assure my hon. Friend that, although the rule has been examined many times since it was put on the Statute Book, I am determined to have it looked into very thoroughly again, but at this time the men have got to abide by the legislation which we have.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice——[column 22]
It would not be fair I have called the hon. Member for Birkenhead.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that exactly the same situation arose in Cammell Laird at Birkenhead last year causing grave injustice to large numbers of people, and will she include this matter in the review of our social security arrangements which is now taking place with a view to righting what is undoubtedly a grave injustice?
32. Mrs. Lena Jeger
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many widows, in the latest convenient period, have been disqualified from benefit on account of cohabitation; and in how many cases benefit has been restored when the cohabitation ceased.
It is estimated that in 1964 about 500 widows became disqualified for this reason from receiving benefit or pension under the National Insurance, industrial injuries and war pension schemes. In the same year the pensions of about 200 such widows were restored.
Will my hon. Friend look at the matter again? Is he aware that, when a woman's husband dies, she receives from the Ministry a document setting out her pension position, paragraph 21 of which refers to disqualifications on remarriage or cohabitation? Is not this a rather insensitive time at which to bring such a matter to the notice of a recently bereaved woman, and could not there be a more sympathetic and imaginative way of dealing with what is quite a small point?
My hon. Friend may be aware that we are already looking at the many complexities of this question. It is a difficult matter, but I assure her that the particular point she has raised will be looked at.
34. Mr. Lomas
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will give an assurance that a minimum income guarantee will be introduced in the lifetime of this Parliament.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of [column 23]Lancaster told the House on 25th November and repeated on 19th February, the income guarantee is an essential part of our legislative programme, and we are working on it.
I did not doubt for a moment what the answer would be, but is my hon. Friend aware that the assurance that the matter is being worked on will give great satisfaction to those who voted Labour at the last election in the certain knowledge that his Government would keep their election pledges, and will she give some kind of undertaking that the persons who are at present outside the insurance scheme because of the contributory factor will have consideration given to their case in relation to the income guarantee?
Certainly; the income guarantee is to cover all people who really need help.
In the review will the Minister give attention to the importance of encouraging private pension schemes? Does she recall that, in 1st February, the Parliamentary Secretary, when asked whether he would give an assurance that he would not discourage private pension schemes, replied that he could not give this assurance? Will she repudiate her Parliamentary Secretary?
No, Sir. That has nothing whatever to do with the Question I have answered.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that we are getting nothing but procastination and evasion in response to the questions we are asking about a minimum national income, and will she answer three very simple questions? When is the scheme to be introduced? What will be the cost? Will it be introduced without a means test?
I have nothing to add to all the answers I have given today.
Industrial Diseases (Farmers' Lung)
36. Sir H. Studholme
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when farmers' lung, which has been recommended by the Medical Advisory Council for inclusion in the List of Industrial Diseases, will be officially eligible for pension.[column 24]
I am awaiting the further advice of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council about the precise terms to be adopted for the occupational cover if the disease is to be prescribed. I hope to have the Council's views shortly, when I will give the matter my immediate attention.
Sir. H. Studholme
Will the right hon. Lady do everything she can to hasten the inclusion of this disease? I have been trying to get this done for a long time, and if it is included it will give tremendous relief to many people.
Certainly. As quickly as I get it from the Council, I will give it my attention.
37. Mrs. Shirley Williams
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will take steps to enable separated wives, whose husbands are entitled to draw old age pensions for themselves and their wives, to draw their pensions individually, and not through their husbands.
No, Sir. Where a wife is entitled to a retirement pension on her husband's insurance it is already paid direct to her, but the increase of a husband's retirement pension for a wife under the age of 60 is subject to the general conditions governing benefit increases for dependants and the National Insurance Act therefore requires that it should be paid to the pensioner himself. However, I am examining the working of these provisions and shall write to my hon. Friend.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am glad that she is examining this rather obsolete aspect of the National Insurance Acts, which treats wives in this category as dependants? I am sure that she is also aware that there is a good deal of injustice in this respect with husbands not passing increases on to their wives from whom they are estranged?
It is because of the difficulties, arising from the fact that these wives are not getting the increase when they ought to get it, that I am having the matter examined.[column 25]
39. Mr. Ensor
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps she intends to take in the next year towards the complete abolition of the earnings rule.
I have no proposals for the complete abolition of the earnings rule and of the retirement condition, but the level at which the earnings rule operates is of course kept under review.