PENSIONS AND NATIONAL INSURANCE
1. Mr. Russell Johnston
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will abolish the wage stop.
4. Mr. Curran
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she has now reviewed the operation of [column 2]the wage stop in the payment of National Assistance; and what steps she will take.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Norman Pentland)
The problem of the wage stop is one of the matters that is being examined in the Government's review of social security schemes and I shall not be able to say what steps, if any, may be taken on it until the review is completed.
While I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, I trust that it does not in any way indicate that the views highly critical of the wage stop expressed by members of his party before the election will change. Secondly, may I express the hope that he will bear in mind closely that it is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs that the wage stop brings the level of assistance below what is regarded by the National Assistance Board as the minimum?
My right hon. Friend and I are fully alive to all that is involved in the wage stop. But the wage stop and the difficulties created by it form only a small part of the general problem that the income of many low wage earners, with medium-sized or large-sized families, is already below the National Assistance level. This problem is currently under examination by an official inter-departmental committee.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many people have been hit [column 3]by the wage stop over the last six months? Will he give his opinion on the state of affairs under the Labour Government which permits so many workers to be earning wages lower than the sum which the National Assistance Board thinks necessary for subsistence?
The hon. Gentleman's Government allowed it to exist for 13 years. We are already doing something about it. This is the reason for the review and why the official inter-departmental committee is already actively working on it. On the other part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, at the most recent count, at the end of March, 1965, the assistance grants in payment to approximately 19,000 unemployed men were affected by the wage stop out of a total of 121,000 unemployed people receiving National Assistance.
I welcome the review, but is my hon. Friend aware that in recent years earnings on Tyneside have tended to drop behind those in other parts of the country, and, consequently, families living on National Assistance in that area tend to have, because of the wage stop, a lower standard of living than those in other parts of the country? Is there any evidence that the retention of the wage stop policy forces people to seek work? Would my hon. Friend bear in mind that there are relatively few unemployable layabouts in the Tyneside area anyway?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As he is aware, I am fully alive to the problems facing people in the north-east of England. My constituency is there. We are fully conscious of all the problems involved in the wage stop, and we are looking at the matter very carefully.
18. Mr. Derek Page
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many applicants for National Assistance in the King's Lynn area are affected by the wage stop; what proportion this is of the total; and how these figures compare with the national average figures.
On 30th March, 1965, the latest date for which information is available, there were 89 unemployed people whose assistance allowances were affected by the wage stop in the area covered by the King's Lynn office of the [column 4]National Assistance Board. This was 1½ per cent. of the total number of people receiving assistance in that area. In Great Britain as a whole 19,310 unemployed persons were similarly affected, just under 1 per cent. of all persons receiving assistance allowances.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for those figures, which I am sure he will realise bear out the fact that this iniquitous rule bears most hardly on areas of low earnings, such as Norfolk. Will he kindly bear that in mind, and will he also bear in mind the fact that recent rent rises have brought many of the lower-paid workers, such as farm workers, below the National Assistance level? Will he urgently consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government so that these poor people are not penalised further for their poverty?
I share my hon. Friend's concern, and I assure him that, once again, we are fully alive to the problems involved in this question.
20. Mr. Rhodes
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will take steps to see that the wage stop on assistance grants is based in future not on the basic wage, but on the average earnings of the individual when in employment.
The wage stop on a National Assistance grant is in fact based on earnings; it is calculated by reference to a man's probable gross earnings, including any overtime or bonus, in his normal occupation.
Is my hon. Friend fully satisfied that all local officers of the National Assistance Board are aware of this? Is there any discretionary power left to local managers in this respect?
Not to my knowledge, but, here again, if my hon. Friend knows of any difficulty regarding the ascertainment of the wage stop level—I know that he is particularly interested in the matter—I should be glad if he would send me the details.
26. Mr. Bence
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the present wage stop level for non-skilled labour in Scotland.[column 5]
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison)
The figure that is taken by the National Assistance Board for wage stop purposes is based on the individual's normal occupation and the prevailing rate of earnings in that occupation in the district in which he lives. There is consequently no common figure for Scotland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the figure which is now being used in Scotland—at least in the Clyde Valley—is the same as was used 12 months ago although, in the last six months, earnings of labourers in the Clyde Valley have been rising? Will she give a general direction that the wage stop level should also be raised?
Certainly it is important that such information should be brought to my notice. I shall certainly bring it immediately to the notice of the National Assistance Board, since its officers throughout the country have to have regard to what could be earned by a man in his own area and not in the country as a whole. This point will certainly be brought to the notice of the National Assistance Board. It has been made clear today that we are seriously worried about the question of the wage stop, and pending the completion of the review I should not want it to be any more harsh than it need be.
Will my hon. Friend make it clear that the principles of the operation of the wage stop are not within the command or discretion of local managers? What efforts will she make to see that they are aware of this fact?
Again, it has been made clear today by my hon. Friend that these principles are not within the jurisdiction of the managers. They have to work according to these principles and it is these principles—and especially the result of them upon the children of these people—that give us very great worry.
Sir Knox Cunningham
Why has not the right hon. Lady got the information about this subject—information which she now says that she will try to obtain?
We have known all along about the occasional harshness of the operation of the wage stop. That was evident by the attention that we gave it [column 6]when in opposition. It is because we know of its harshness that, in the review, we are determined to find a remedy, especially one which will make things less hard for the children both of employed and unemployed low-wage earners.
2. Mr. Ridsdale
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what the cost will be of implementing the proposal to provide an income guarantee for those already retired and widowed.
7. Mr. Dean
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when a minimum income guarantee will be introduced.
10 and 11. Mr. William Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) whether she intends in the income guarantee scheme to impose a lower age limit; and what age she plants to insert;
(2) to what extent the income guarantee scheme will cover all those old people who do not now enjoy a retirement pension.
31. Lord Balniel
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will now make a statement on the level of income at which the minimum guaranteed income scheme will apply.
As I have explained to the House, the Government are engaged in preparing a scheme, of income guarantee. At this stage, however, it is not possible to add to what has already been said about the scheme or to estimate either its cost or how many people will benefit from it.
It is not evident that the Labour Party made this proposal at the election without costing it? Could not a start be made at least by helping non-contributory pensioners to have a minimum income guaranteed? What would be the cost of this?
The hon. Member certainly is not correct. The Labour Party costed it very carefully. The hon. Member will be aware of the great play made by his party at the election about how they had costed what they would do and how wildly inaccurate the Government have found that costing to be.[column 7]
Is the right hon. Lady aware that that is a very unsatisfactory Answer? Does she recall that the Prime Minister gave a definite pledge at the election that this proposal would be introduced without delay and that many people, including those to whom my hon. Friend has referred, took him at his word? When will the right hon. Lady have mercy on the Prime Minister and see that his pledges are redeemed?
I assure the hon. Member that the pledges that were made at the election by my party will be redeemed. [Hon. Members: “When?” ] We have already made a good beginning by the National Insurance Act, which gave the highest increases ever to the old people. Many of the non-pensioners are on National Assistance and they also benefited from the highest-ever increase in National Assistance.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the whole country is looking forward to this humanitarian piece of legislation by the Labour Government? Can she give an assurance that all those old people who for 13 years were denied pensions by the party opposite will be covered by the income guarantee and that in no circumstance she will accept the principle of the donation, which the Leader of the Opposition talked about by which people over an unspecified age are given a kind of donation on a means test basis?
Certainly, I can give that guarantee. It was because of our concern for many of those old people who had no pensions that we decided on a form of income guarantee so that all old people, whether pensioners or non-pensioners, would be covered by this guarantee. It will certainly not be a donation for the very, very old.
Whilst we understand that the scheme advanced by the party opposite at the election has proved to be defective and has to be re-examined, surely at this late stage the right hon. Lady is able to give the elementary basic information about the level at which the guaranteed minimum income scheme will operate. Surely, she can give that elementary information.
On the contrary, we have not found our scheme at all defec[column 8]tive. This is a completely new concept in social security. We had to start from scratch with our own scheme, having had no help from the 13 years' thought that the former Government had supposedly given to the needs of these old people. In due course, we will be able to give the income level and the number of people covered by it.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.
3. Mr. Curran
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what plans she now has to remedy the anomalies in the treatment of widows under the National Insurance scheme.
21. Mr. Peter Mills
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when the new plans will be introduced to help remedy the anomalies in the treatment of widows, particularly in the age group 40-50 years.
These matters form part of the review of social security provisions on which the Government are engaged, and I cannot forecast the outcome.
Does not the right hon. Lady agree that by increasing the payment to the pensioner widow to 30s., she has increased still further the sense of unfairness among the no-shilling widows? Will she not agree that the only way in which to get rid of all these anomalies in the treatment of widows is to say plainly that widowhood as such creates a benefit? Will she, further, do something to review the position of widows and to give justice to those widows who at present are not receiving justice without telling them to go on waiting for Lefty?
That is exactly what we are doing. We are reviewing the position of widows. We know that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction, and there has been for a long time, particularly among those widows who have no pension at all, including those who just missed it, perhaps, almost by an hour. It is because we feel that many of those widows need help that we are giving their position the most serious consideration in the general review.[column 9]
If the right hon. Lady cannot forecast the results of the review in any of its topics, will she say whether she intends to keep her proposals within the 4½ per cent. annual increase laid down by James Callaghanthe Chancellor of the Exchequer?
If the hon. Lady will wait until our proposals are put forward, she can make the comparison for herself.
It is not I who shall wait. Is the right hon. Lady saying, therefore, that she disregards the 4¼ per cent annual increase?
Retirement Pensioners (Earnings Rule)
5. Mr. Bessell
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether, in view of the increases given to retirement pensioners by Her Majesty's Government, she will now abolish the earnings rule in respect of these pensioners.
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor) on 22nd March.
Whilst recognising the problems which the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend have in the present economic conditions, may I ask him to recognise that there is serious concern about this matter throughout the country, particularly as it penalises many old people from carrying out work which they could usefully undertake in the interests of the country as a whole? In view of this, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the matter?
My right hon. Friend and I are aware of what the hon. Member has said. The Government have made it clear on more than one occasion that the earnings rule, which at present begins to operate at the level of £5, will be kept under constant review.
Will the hon. Gentleman look at this matter again? Would he agree that, if we are to encourage people to continue at work, it is extremely important that we should find a way round this difficulty? Will he say whether it is possible to find a way of getting rid of this rule without incurring the substantial extra cost which would be [column 10]involved if it were done away with outright?
I am glad that the hon. Member has referred to the substantial cost, because there are already 400,000 people who have passed minimum pensionable age but who have not yet retired. To eliminate the earnings rule completely would mean an immediate additional expenditure of £120 million year. Therefore, as I have said, the Government are keeping constantly under review the limit—at present £5—at which the earnings rule begins to apply.
Unemployment Benefit (Trade Disputes)
6. Mr. William Yates
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will appoint a Departmental Committee to examine the operation of the National Insurance law in relation to those who are disqualified from unemployment benefit by the official strikes by other unions of which they are not members.
29. Mr. Chapman
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what consultations she has held about the effect of, and the complaints about, the trade dispute disqualification provisions of the National Insurance Act; what progress she has made; and what changes she proposes to suggest in order to prevent disqualification from unemployment benefit of people thrown out of work by, but not involved in, industrial disputes.
37. Mr. Peter Walker
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what consideration has now been given to the payment of unemployment benefits to employees prevented from working as a result of a strike for which they are not responsible; and if she will make a statement.
My examination of this complex and controversial subject has not so far brought to light any alternative to the present statutory provisions which would provide an acceptable basis for new legislation. But issues of great importance to both sides of industry are involved. I have therefore consulted my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Labour and am now able to say that this matter will be fully [column 11]examined by the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations along with the other matters which are before it.
I am glad to know that the Minister of Labour and the Royal Commission are to examine this problem. They have had 13 years in opposition to look into it and they might be able to think—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ]—it is all very well for the Minister and her hon. Friend to blame everybody else. They should blame themselves and their party. This is an important piece of law. Why should a trade unionist be deprived of his State rights because of the illegal actions of a third party? In view of this, I am glad that the matter is to go before the Royal Commission.
Why is this a matter for the Royal Commission on Trade Unions? Why is it not a matter for the Minister's Advisory Committee, which is well fitted to examine it and to give a quick report? How much longer are people who are not involved in strikes to be denied unemployment benefit? This will happen again and again while the Royal Commission is sitting.
I well understand the feelings of my hon. Friend. This is a provision that has stood for 37 years. It has been examined on a number of occasions by the National Insurance Advisory Committee. It is a matter to which I have given the most serious consideration since it has been raised by my hon. Friends. I have been quite frank in saying that no solution has been found to it either by the National Insurance Advisory Committee or as a result of the examination that I have given it. It was because I regarded it as a matter of such moment to thousands of workers that I felt that it should be examined at the highest level and I hope that the Royal Commission will be able to find a solution.
I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree when I say that all of us here fully appreciate the efforts my right hon. Friend has been making. Recently in Liverpool I have had two cases of this sort, one at Ford's—[Hon. Members: “Ask a question.” ]—and another in my own constituency, and therefore I would ask, would she again take this matter up with the Minister of [column 12]Labour and ask for a further consideration of this matter, because it is tremendously important to the workers, who regard 37 years as far too long?
My hon. Friend has asked if I could take this up again with the Ministry of Labour. Before I came to the House today I had already discussed it with the Minister of Labour. We tried to see if some quick way could be found of dealing with it, and it was as a result of these discussions and of our inquiries that we had finally to decide to let it go to what is considered one of the most important bodies in the country, in the hope of finding a solution to the problem.
In view of the unsatisfactory replies to many hon. Members on both sides, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.
Sickness Benefit (Payment)
8. Mr. Kenneth Lewis
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will change the system of payments for sickness claims so that those who make claims can more easily arrange collection by relatives.
My right hon. Friend has no reason to think that the present arrangements are not generally acceptable, but if the hon. Member has a particular case in mind and will send me details I shall be pleased to look into it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware I have a case in mind, and that I have the idea that his Ministry is inclined to expect people who are sick in bed to collect their own money—certainly, very soon after they get out of bed? When they are convalescing it is still not easy for them to go to pick up the money due to them, and it ought to be paid to a relative.
The hon. Member is quite wrong.
Of course he is wrong.
If the hon. Member sends me details of a particular case I will, as I said, look into it, but if a claimant is in hospital he can ask the local office to pay the sickness benefit to his wife or other dependants. That is [column 13]the position. We have no widespread evidence that anything is wrong with the present method of payment.
Is my hon. Friend aware that 95 per cent. of sickness benefits are paid by post?
National Assistance (Mr. Michael Chaplin)
14. Mr. Hunt
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she is aware of the circumstances in which payments have recently been made to a Mr. Michael Chaplin; and if she will issue revised instructions to her National Assistance officers to prevent payment in cases of this kind.
I would invite the hon. Member's attention to the answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) on this case on 12th April.
While accepting that this particular case is now past history, may I ask the right hon. Lady whether she acknowledges that it did highlight the widespread disquiet which exists in the country at the moment about the administration of National Assistance? Will she bear in mind that many of us feel that the existing regulations should be tightened up so that the young and able-bodied are not able to receive public money when there are plenty of jobs available for them to do?
It is true that this case got a great deal of publicity in the papers. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to see some of the excellent work which the National Assistance Board does for old people and sick people getting the same publicity as this Chaplin case got in the Press. But, of course, the National Assistance Board is very much alive to the need to ensure that young and able-bodied men do work, and the Board has power to see that they do so. Indeed, every year there are many prosecutions of that very type of person who refuses to provide for his wife and family.
Lung Cancer (Pneumoconiosis)
15. Mr. Harold Walker
asked the Minister of Pensions and National [column 14]Insurance in how many cases the pneumoconiosis medical board has rejected the evidence of coroners' courts that pneumoconiosis has been a contributory factor where death has occurred from lung cancer.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Harold Davies)
Decisions on claims for industrial death benefits are made by the lay statutory authorities who take into account all the available evidence, including any evidence of the coroners' courts and the opinion of the pneumoconiosis medical panel, in deciding whether death was caused or materially accelerated by pneumoconiosis. No question of rejection of evidence by the pneumoconiosis medical board therefore arises.
Would my hon. Friend care to look at the recent evidence provided by the executive committee of the Yorkshire miners, when he would find that such evidence provided for coroners' courts has been rejected? In industrial areas, particularly in Yorkshire, there are many embittered widows who feel themselves unjustly deprived of widows' pensions because of the rejection by the pneumoconiosis medical panel of such evidence provided by highly-qualified pathologists before coroners' courts?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that supplementary question. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] Certainly I am, because we are concerned with the problem of pneumoconiosis and lung cancer among miners. We are very much concerned with it. This Question deals with the incidence of cancer and its link with pneumoconiosis. The facts are that on the research we have had up to date—I think my hon. Friend has already had this answer—of 1,506 cases 67 had lung cancer but to establish a real link has not really been possible. I took my hon. Friend's Question to be immediately on that point. If he has any particular evidence he would like to bring before me or the House I will certainly consider it my duty, as most of us on both sides of the House would, to give it my attention, because of the importance of this question.
Will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend to have a look at the whole of this part of the industrial [column 15]injuries scheme, because I think that many of us know that diagnosis of pneumoconiosis in these cases where it is related to other diseases causes a great deal of difficulty?
Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because on both sides of the House there is real concern about this, and our predecessors were concerned about it, too. I will certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said; but she has heard his question herself. We are already considering this problem.
When considering this question of the incidence of lung cancer among pneumoconiotic miners will my right hon. Friend take into consideration that it is probably higher among them than it is in the rest of the industrial community and that it should not be related simply to miners, but to pneumoconiotic miners, and that probably some evidence to correlate the two conditions will then be found?
Yes, certainly. I take the point clearly. I am aware of what my right hon. Friend has said, and I thank him.
Would my hon. Friend agree that the right way to approach this is to schedule emphysema as one which would qualify a man, because we in the mining community feel that though with cancer there could be an argument about whether a miner has pneumoconiosis; whether he has cancer or not he has emphysema? Every miner is aware of this. Surely that is the right way to tackle the question?
I am inclined to suppose that I should be ruled out of order if I were to pursue that question now, but perhaps my hon. Friend would like to put down other Questions about it.
Medical Appeal Tribunals
16. Mr. McGuire
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will seek to amend the regulations relating to the qualifications of the medical members of medical appeal tribunals so as to provide that, in every case before a medical appeal tribunal in which the subject matter of the appeal is a medical one, the medical members [column 16]of the tribunal must include at least one who is of consultant status and who specialises in the particular disease or disability which is the subject of the appeal.
Members of medical appeal tribunals in the Industrial Injuries scheme are all of consultant status and are among the most eminent members of their profession. It would be impracticable to provide specialists for each medical condition, but tribunals have power to call for specialists' reports where necessary.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, as these tribunals are a form of civil court, the main thing to do is to ensure that justice is seen to be done? I am thinking particularly of a specialist report from a psychiatrist, because, with the greatest respect to the consultants who sit on the tribunals, very often they seem to follow the dictum of Samuel Goldwyn when a psychiatrist's report is presented, namely, that any-body who goes to see a psychiatrist should have his head examined. Would not my right hon. Friend agree that in many cases the obtaining of a specialist would not create undue delay? We think that it is a little odd that it is possible to present a report and find that the people adjudicating on it are not qualified to decide on the matter.
My hon. Friend will be aware that with certain disabilities we wait until a number of cases have to be considered by the tribunal, and a specialist in that disability—say a skin disease, or orthopaedic trouble—is present as a member of the tribunal. In other cases there might be considerable delay if we had to ensure that a specialist in that subject was a member of the tribunal. The reports are called for. The man whose case is being considered can have a specialist's report presented to the tribunal. A psychiatrist's report is, however, a special matter, and I shall look into that.
Unemployment Benefit and National Assistance
17. Mr. Shepherd
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to what extent there appears to be abuse of the provisions for unemployment [column 17]benefit and National Assistance; how many persons capable of employment are receiving unemployment benefit and/ or National Assistance because they seek employment in a highly specialised field; and if she will estimate the number of persons in receipt of National Assistance who are employed irregularly in activities such as farming.
I cannot speculate about the extent to which people who apply for unemployment benefit and National Assistance may be prepared to make statements that do not reflect their true circumstances and intentions; but I can assure the hon. Member that measures are constantly being taken to check abuse so far as this can be done without penalising the great majority of honest people who are actively looking for work. I regret that no information is available about the number of people in the particular categories mentioned in the second part of the Question.
Would not it be very desirable if the hon. Gentleman could make some estimate of these figures, as it might alleviate some of the concern felt by people all over the country about the extent of the abuse? Surely it is the hon. Gentleman's job to find out to what extent the public are being exploited? He does not seem to have made much effort to do so.
As I tried to point out, we make every effort to offset any abuse with regard to unemployment benefit or National Assistance. For instance, the National Assistance Board has a team of about 100 specially trained officers who are detached from normal duties to investigate cases in which there is a suspicion of fraud. I could give the number of cases that were taken to court in recent years in regard to this. I assure the hon. Gentleman that every possible step is taken to offset any abuse.
Sir Knox Cunningham
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that certain classes of people who retire at 60 on pension, for example bank managers, then sign on, and for five years draw unemployment benefit? Is this in the spirit of the Act, and what is the hon. Gentleman going to do about it?
If the hon. and learned Gentleman can bring forward concrete [column 18]evidence of this, we would be prepared to look at it, but surely he is aware that one of the main conditions is that before a claimant can claim unemployment benefit he must sign a declaration that he is available for work? The people to whom the hon. and learned Gentleman is referring are in that category.
Will the hon. Gentleman make it quite clear that unemployment benefit cannot be drawn for as long a period as five years for an unbroken spell, and that it can be drawn for a maximum of 19 months only?
That is correct. I am obliged to the hon. Lady.
Retirement Pensions (Payment)
22. Commander Courtney
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will arrange for retirement pensioners to receive the cash to which they are entitled in respect of the odd days between the date of qualification and the date of first payment of their pension at the same time as this first payment is made.
My right hon. Friend sees no reason to change the present rule. Provided that title to pension has been determined before payment falls due, as it normally is, every pensioner should receive a full week's pension within a week of his retirement regardless of the day of the week on which he retires.
That is not the point. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is rather unfair that a pensioner qualifying on a certain date, namely, his or her birthday, should be deprived of a pension from that day until the first day comes for payment? Is not this a simple accounting measure, and will the hon. Gentleman do something about it?
The present policy of paying retirement pensions in advance on a fixed date goes back nearly 40 years, to the beginning of the contributory pension scheme, and the retirement pension is payable from the first pension pay day on or after the date on which a person has been accepted as retired from regular employment. For all those now retiring the pension day is on Monday.[column 19]
National Assistance (Handicapped Young People)
23. Mr. Murray
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will improve the arrangements for informing the parents of children who are not employable of the children's rights in relation to National Assistance benefits when they reach the statutory age.
I have no reason to believe that parents are generally unaware of the fact that such children have a right to claim National Assistance allowances when they reach the age of 16. I am however considering, in consultation with the National Assistance Board, what more should be done to ensure that all parents of handicapped young children aged 16 or over are informed of this right and encouraged to apply on their behalf.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that if she consulted the Minister of Health it might be possible to obtain a register of handicapped children, in consultation with some of the voluntary societies, such as the Spastics Society, so as to avoid the problem which arose in my constituency, where a family came to me only because the Income Tax allowance was being cut at the age of 16 and they were not aware of the statutory rights which exist for National Assistance on behalf of these children?
I shall certainly be willing to give consideration to my hon. Friend's suggestion. At present, the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children provides information services to its members, and the National Assistance Board from time to time has contributed to the news sheet of that association. Articles have also been reproduced in journals of voluntary organisations that cater for groups of disabled young people, especially spastics. Many efforts have been made to date by the National Assistance Board, but I shall also give consideration to my hon. Friend's suggestion.
25 Mr. Murray
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what recent discussions she has had with repre[column 20]sentatives of the trade unions on the question of pneumoconiosis.
I recently received a deputation from the T.U.C. and had a discussion with it about the work of pneumoconiosis medical panels and related matters. There was a frank exchange of views which both I and the T.U.C. found most helpful.
Pensioners (Payment of Rates)
27. Mr. Bence
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will take steps to assist pensioners in meeting the increasing rate demands.
National Insurance benefits were substantially increased at the end of March, but my hon. Friend will be aware that those pensioners who find it difficult to manage on their own resources can, and I hope will, apply for a supplement to the National Assistance Board. The assistance scale rates were also increased in March, and the Board allows for a pensioner's current rates in assessing the amount payable.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the likely rate demand for the ensuing year will be greater than it was for last year, as a result of 13 years of failure to examine the problem of the heavy rate burden on old people and pensioners of all classes? Will she try to repair the results of the lack of effort shown by the last Administration to relieve retirement pensioners of the heavy rate burden that they are now bearing?
Yes. My Ministry is concerned about the matter. Rates can be met fully by the National Assistance Board. If old people are in receipt of a supplement, any increase in the rates will be met by the Board. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is now working very hard to try to rectify what has happened over the last 13 years, and will continue to do so.
Mr. Frederic Harris
Will the right hon. Lady note that this Question highlights the fact that since October last costs have risen for goods and services—and this includes rates—from £1 to £1 0s. 10d. for every pensioner? That is a very considerable increase to be met.[column 21]
Hon. Members on this side of the House are very concerned at any increase in the cost of living, since it affects pensioners and others living on small fixed incomes more than anyone else. I wish that the same concern had been shown in 1955, when there was the same increase in the cost of living two months after an increase in pensions.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that in some parts of Greater London rates have increased by as much as 47 per cent., which is twice the percentage increase that has been given to old people? Will she make inquiries and discover in what proportion of cases the whole increase in retirement pension has been swallowed up by the increase in rates?
If the old people are on National Assistance the increases are met in full, and I would hope that other old people who are eligible for National Assistance would apply for it. As for rises in the cost of living, at least this Government are trying to take steps to steady the cost of living, and are asking the whole country to co-operate.
The right hon. Lady refers to the efforts of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Did she hear the speech of her right hon. Friend in which he said that rents and rates will be taken into account in the minimum guaranteed income scheme? Does this mean that the scheme will be based on a test of needs, like that of the Assistance Board, or a test of means, taking into account the income returns of individuals?
If the hon. Member wishes to have a reply on that subject perhaps he will put down a Question or await the guaranteed income proposals.
National Assistance (Immigrants)
28. Mr. Gurden
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many immigrants claim National Assistance immediately upon arrival.
I regret that the information is not available.
Does not the hon. Member feel that these figures ought to be given to the House, since the number of immigrants coming into the country has [column 22]risen this year as compared with last year?
No, Sir. It has always been our policy—and I understand it has been the policy of the previous Government—that the National Assistance Board should not make separate records or distinguish in any way between immigrants and others receiving National Assistance. The Board does not collect any information about the number of Commonwealth immigrants or aliens who are in receipt of National Assistance. We think that this is right.
Will my hon. Friend recognise that hon. Members on this side of the House very much welcome that reply? Will he continue not to show any form of discrimination in any figures that his Department gives, and treat all citizens on an equal basis, as they are entitled to be treated?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That is our firm policy.
Will my hon. Friend consider obtaining these figures? Will he also consider obtaining figures showing how many immigrants do not claim National Assistance—either on their arrival or at any other time during their stay in this country?
This is most difficult—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ]— in view of our policy, of course it is difficult. The Ministry of Labour collects at intervals information about Commonwealth immigrants registered at the employment exchanges. This is analysed to show the numbers of those receiving unemployment benefit, those receiving supplementation and those receiving National Assistance, but these figures are for able-bodied Commonwealth immigrants coming into the country. On the second part of the supplementary question, I cannot see how we could make provision for seeking the figures asked for.
Sir Rolf Dudley Williams
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if he replied to the Question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) the people of this country would be gravely shocked to hear of the burden they are carrying regarding immigrants coming in and immediately seeking National Assistance?[column 23]
The hon. Member is basing his supplementary question on an assumption which is not true.—[Hon. Members: “Then tell us the figures.” ]—The figures are not being brought forward because we are not prepared—and I understand the previous Government were not prepared—to discriminate in any way among people receiving National Assistance.
Unemployment Benefit (Part-time Work)
30. Mr. Lubbock
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will seek to amend the rules governing the award of unemployment benefit so that any person working part of a week, who has obtained a certificate from the local office of the Ministry of Labour that no full-time job is available for him or her, shall qualify for the award of benefit on the idle days.
No, Sir. Unemployment benefit is already payable in the type of case the hon. Member has in mind unless the part-time work is considered by the adjudicating authorities to have become the claimant's normal working week; in which case there would be no loss of employment for which compensation under an insurance scheme would be appropriate.
Does the right hon. Lady realise that I am referring precisely to this kind of case and that I have had detailed correspondence with her on this example? Does she appreciate that even in the South-East, where so many jobs are supposed to be available, elderly people have to take part-time work because they cannot get any other work, and take it on a permanent basis? Is it not very unfair that they should be denied unemployment benefit on the test that they cannot get full-time employment?
The Answer I have given applies in all details to the case which the hon. Member has brought to my notice. I have examined it very carefully, and it is evident that the work that this man is doing is the work he wants to do. The part-time work has become his normal type of work. It would be quite wrong to bring into an [column 24]insurance scheme compensation to raise earnings and not compensation for loss of work.
Will the right hon. Lady take it from me that she is completely mistaken on this matter and that this person would be quite ready to take full-time employment if it were available, but he cannot obtain it locally?
From my examination of the matter there would be little chance of altering the rules to suit such a case. The hon. Member will be aware that unemployment benefit does not go on for ever. The longest period in which anyone, if he has a very good record of contributions, can be paid benefit is about 19 months. If one were to accept a case like this, it would do away with the insurance principle altogether.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is the policy of some employers to put their employees on part-time work seasonally so that they are employed whole-time during part of the year and only part-time during the winter? Is she aware that in one case in Manchester recently it would have been far more profitable for the person concerned to be unemployed and drawing benefit than to be part-time employed?
I am sure that in some cases that does arise where a man is working full time for part of the year.
32. Mr. Delargy
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will use her power under the Royal Warrant to ensure that war-disabled pensioners, who are sent to prison, do not forfeit their pensions.
Mr. Harold Davies
It is well understood that war pensions, like many other forms of public pension, are not paid during imprisonment. If a pensioner is married, however, payments are made to his family whilst he is in prison. In practice, the pension is nowadays always restored on release, except, for example, if reason was involved.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that a war pension is given for services in war and not for good conduct in peace? Is it right that a man should be punished twice for one offence? Is it [column 25]right that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance should have these very wide penal powers?
On the question of being punished twice, the difference is that the pension comes directly out of public taxation and it is thought that in the case of a man's imprisonment it would be justified, without his wife and children suffering, to take that part of the pension which belongs only to him. During his imprisonment the allowances for his wife and children are paid. On the latter part of the question, about the Minister's discretion, it is now always used in favour of restoring the pension after the prisoner's release.
My point is that the Minister should not have any discretion in this matter.
Sir J. Longford-Holt
Can the hon. Gentleman say what is the position about disability pensions?
The position is exactly as it was under the Government supported by the hon. Member.
Sir J. Longford-Holt
What was that?
Can my hon. Friend say what is the magnitude of this problem? There cannot be many involved; is it worth while pursuing this policy?
The magnitude of the problem is that at present 160 pensioners are in prison. The magnitude concerning forfeiture is that since this Government have been in power the Minister has used her discretion and the pensions are no longer forfeited.
34. Mr. Heffer
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she has considered the case of a Liverpool alderman, details of which have been sent to her by the honourable Member for Liverpool, Walton; and what action is being taken to change her regulations in connection with this and other similar cases.
I understand that the decision to disallow benefit in this case has been reviewed in the light of further evidence. I am writing to my hon. Friend.[column 26]
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and await her further reply.
Sir C. Taylor
On a point of order. Many hon. Members on this side did not understand Question No. 34. Nor did we understand the Answer. As the Question and Answer may affect quite a number of aldermen of the Liverpool City Corporation, may I ask for the right hon. Lady's answer by letter to be published in the OFFICIAL REPORT?
No. There is no basis on which I could ask for that to be done.
Sir C. Taylor
With the greatest respect Mr. Speaker, if I asked you this question again tomorrow would you consider that the Minister's letter might he published in the OFFICIAL REPORT explaining what Question No. 34 is about and what the Answer is about, because I think that the House is entitled to know?
I have no machinery or power for doing anything of the kind. To avoid the mention of names, it is not unusual for a matter to be put anonymously or for hon. Members to ask Questions in a form something like this.
Sir C. Taylor
I am sorry to press this point. This may affect a good many aldermen at Liverpool. There is something in this which may be an unpleasant implication—un innuendo. Surely the House is entitled to asked for an explanation of the Question and of the Answer?
My power are not governed by the multiplicity of persons referred to; they are not altered by that fact.
Local Authority Members
Mr. Hefierasked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the difficulties met by members of local authorities in drawing unemployment benefit during periods of temporary unemployment.
Our aim is to avoid any unnecessary difficulties for people [column 27]who claim National Insurance benefits. There is no reason why members of local authorities who are otherwise qualified for unemployment benefit should not receive it for days when they attend council meetings provided that they are ready to accept at once any offer of suitable employment.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this will be most welcome among concillors and aldermen, because it refers to an issue where a very curious situation arose? On that basis I am certain that all working class local councillors will welcome the statement she has made.
I am very glad indeed that my hon. Friend brought this case to my notice. I hope that such a decision will not again be taken.
Arthritis, Rheumatism and Bronchitis
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will include arthritis, rheumatism and bronchitis in the list of prescribed industrial diseases.
Establishment of a direct causal link between an injured person's employment and the conditions for which he claims compensation is basic to the Industrial Injuries scheme. Because of this, special tests have to be satisfied before a disease can be prescribed. These tests are set out in Section 55(2) of the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946, and they are not satisfied by any of the three disease to which my hon. Friend refers.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hundreds and thousands of workers spend their lives in soaking wet conditions and that the incidence of rheumatism, arthritis and bronchitis, particularly among those in their 50s and 60s, is high? Is she further aware that a minority Report in 1955 was strongly in favour of the inclusion of these diseases in the list of industrial diseases?
I am aware of that Report and of the concern which is being shown by the T.U.C. and other bodies on this matter. On the whole question of industrial diseases, including pneumoconiosis, it seems that there is a need of them to be much more thoroughly examined, but at this stage it is impossible for me to go any further than the reply I have given.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that her Answer would be received with a great deal more happiness if one felt convinced that the medical profession knew what the sources of origin and the possible treatments are for arthritis, bronchitis and rheumatism? In point of fact, with these three diseases the medical profession is all at sea.
I am sure that a great deal more research needs to be done on these diseases. A survey has been carried out into the incidence of bronchitis. We are getting the results of that survey and from that we hope to do some further work. I have always been intensely interested in industrial diseases and I am now giving some attention to these matters.
Would my right hon. Friend gave special consideration to all three diseases, especially arthritis? Is she aware that many men in mining and other industries suffer knocks to their flesh and bones? Arthritis develops later. Medical specialists say that it is latent arthritis and that the disease has no connection with the former accident.
It will be clear from the answers I have already given that I shall be ready to give consideration to the matter my hon. Friend has mentioned.