PENSIONS AND NATIONAL INSURANCE
1. Mr Evelyn King
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what was the value of the increase in the retirement pension at the time it was made; and what is its current value, having regard to the fall in the value of the £ since then.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison
On the basis of the Retail Prices Index, the 12s. 6d. increase for a single pensioner provided by the Act passed in December, 1964, was worth about 12s. 5d. in March, 1965, when it first became payable, and 12s. 2d. in May, 1965, the latest date for which the Index is available.
The corresponding figures for the 21s. increase for a married couple are 20s. 10d. and 20s. 5d. respectively.[column 2]
Does not that suggest, having regard to the retirement pension, and pro rata, a fall of something over 3s. in the £ on the whole pension in a single year?
What it does represent, if we take the figures for May, 1965, is that it would require an extra 2s. 4d. for the whole pension to be brought up.
Does the Minister realise that those figures do not give a true appreciation of the hardship which pensioners are having to suffer now because of the severe rise in prices?
In fact, pensioners—I was speaking to a great many of them yesterday—realise that they have got the biggest increase ever, except under a Labour Government in 1946.
17. Sir F. Bennett
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will give renewed consideration to the adequacy of the scale of retirement pensions.
30. Mr Arthur Lewis
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will increase all retirement pensions by 25 per cent.; and when she will introduce legislation to give effect to this proposal.
As the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend will be aware, the very substantial increase in pensions made only three months ago raised their purchasing power to a higher level than ever [column 3]before. I have no further proposals to announce at the present time.
Sir F. Bennett
If we are to talk about “substantial” , does the right hon. Lady realise that, according to figures supplied to me by one of her colleagues at the Treasury over a period of Written Questions, if the present rise in the cost of living and the reduction in the value of money go on at the present rate, the pension next spring will actually be worth less than it was last October?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present when I answered Question No. 1, when it was clearly shown that the loss in the pension so far had been 4d. on the 12s. 6d. and 7d. on the 21s. increase. The Government are doing everything possible to steady the cost of living and perhaps hon. Members opposite, who may have some influence with their friends the industrialists and manufacturers, will try to use that influence to keep prices down.
I thank the Minister for all that she and the Ministry have already done for the old-age pensioners. Appreciating that the pensioners have never had it so good, may I ask whether she is aware that it is a bit invidious that past Lord Chancellors should get a 25 per cent increase to £5,000——
Order. There is a Bill on that subject for Second Reading this week and we cannot discuss its merits now.
Without referring to the Lord Chancellor and his 25 per cent., may I ask my right hon. Friend whether she will bear in mind that many of us on this side of the House would prefer the ordinary old-age pensioner who has worked hard all his life and helped to build up the wealth of the country to get 25 per cent. rather than some others whom I will not name, but——
No. We cannot anticipate the merits of that Bill.
Mr. Frederic Harris
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that, nine months after the Government came to power, pensioners have to pay 21s. for goods and services for which they would have paid 20s. last October?[column 4]
But in spite of that the figures show that because the value of the increase was almost 19 per cent. and was a far bigger rise proportionately even than the rise in earnings, pensioners are better off than ever previously.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reduction in bus fares brought about by a Measure passed by the Government has given pensioners a far bigger increase in their real incomes than has occurred in the prices of goods which old-age pensioners may not buy, and that part of the increase in the cost of living is due to the cost of transport which an old-age pensioner is not now being asked to pay?
Certainly. In some areas that has considerably helped old-age pensioners to live a fuller life. Doing away with prescription charges has also been of the greatest help to the old people.
Sir F. Bennett
In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.
Industrial Diseases (Elbow Conditions)
2. Mr. Newens
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when the last review was made of the incidence of painful elbow conditions in occupations involving manual labour; and if she will set up an inquiry into this matter in order to determine whether any of these conditions should be reclassified as prescribed industrial diseases.
The condition known as “beat elbow” , due to severe or prolonged external friction or pressure, is already prescribed. My Department keeps under continual review evidence about further possible additions to the schedule of prescribed diseases, but on present evidence no other elbow conditions satisfy the conditions for prescription. In the circumstances, I do not think that an inquiry would be appropriate.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that on 7th February, 1958, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recommended in its report that an inquiry [column 5]should be made into the incidence of the condition known as tennis elbow among manual workers? As this disease often occurs and medical opinion is divided on whether it is connected with occupations or not, will my right hon. Friend now see that there is at least in this particular instance a new review or inquiry forthwith?
My hon. Friend may be aware that, as a result of the examination by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council at that time, every effort was made to find evidence that would help it to come to a decision: but my information is that no evidence whatever of a prima facie risk has yet been produced from any quarter. If such evidence should be forthcoming, for this disease or for any other, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council would be very happy to have the whole question examined.
Nuclear Tests, Christmas Island (Leukaemia)
5. Mr. Driberg
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether the deaths from leukaemia or the similar disabilities of Service men or ex-Service men who served on Christmas Island at the time of the nuclear tests in 1957 have been accepted by her Department as attributable to military service; and how many pensions have been awarded in such cases.
One death has been so accepted, but for reasons unconnected with the tests. A war widow's pension has been awarded.
Is my right hon. Friend always aware of these cases? If a man has left the Service for some years, having come out of the Service apparently healthy and, therefore, not having applied for a war disability pension, and if he dies later from leukaemia, is any check kept on cases of that kind?
So far, three claims have been made to the Ministry by those who were in the vicinity of Christmas Island. Two of those claims have had to be rejected because there was no evidence to support the claims or to show any connection between service and the disease. Every effort is made to try to obtain the necessary information.[column 6]
6. Sir J. Eden
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what was the number of National Insurance retirement pensioners on 15th October, 1964; and how many there are today.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Norman Pentland)
About 6,118,000 and 6,235,000 respectively.
Sir J. Eden
Do not the figures show that the number of people retiring is steadily rising the whole time, and is it not time, therefore, that the Government showed some urgency in this matter and brought forward their review or their proposals as to how they will deal with the situation in the future? Do not they agree at this stage that, in the light of these rises, selectivity should be the basic principle for any further increases which might come along?
No, I do not agree with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. On the first part, we are pressing forward as speedily as possible with the major review, and it will be brought before the House as quickly as possible.
Mr. David Griffiths
Is my hon. Friend aware that we appreciate the difficulties in view of the increased numbers of pensioners, but may I ask whether he is also aware that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) voted for an increase of pension for the old-age pensioners in the last Government?
I do not suppose that the hon. Member knows that.
Further to the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), can the hon. Gentleman say what he means by “as soon as possible” ? Does he recollect that we were assured eight months ago that the minimum income guarantee would be introduced as a matter of urgency?
“As soon as possible” means exactly what I said. As quickly as possible we shall bring forward our plans following the major review. But, as every hon. Member is fully aware, this [column 7]is a complicated issue. However, I can assure the hon. Member that we are pressing speedily forward with it.
Mr. David Griffiths
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that I made the remark that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West voted for an increase for the old-age pensioners. I want it to be made perfectly clear that he objected and voted against it.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman's correction of his own supplementary question will be recorded by the very words that he has uttered.
7. Mr. Julius Silverman
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will take steps to provide special assistance through the National Assistance Board for the extra cost of fuel and electricity in smokeless zones.
Where a person receiving assistance is necessarily involved in extra expense because he has to use smokeless fuel or electricity the National Assistance Board is prepared to consider helping with the extra cost.
While I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he will bear in mind that considerable expense in increased cost of electricity is very common where coal and other forms of fuel cannot be used? Would it not be useful to issue a general directive in this respect? Also, can my hon. Friend give publicity to the fact that old-age pensioners and people on National Assistance can apply for this form of assistance?
Yes, Sir. We do our utmost to publicise the discretionary powers that are allowed to the National Assistance Board, and these powers take into consideration allowances for extra heat and fuel in old-age pensioners' households. Where a person has to rely on electricity alone for heating, the cost is appreciably more than that for heating by solid fuel, but the Board is normally prepared to make special provision to meet the extra cost.
Mr. Alfred Morris
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that the cost [column 8]of smokeless fuels in smokeless zones is causing very serious hardship among elderly people. [Hon. Members: “Ask a question.” ] I speak with some feeling about this, representing a constituency—[Interruption]
Can the hon. Gentleman frame that in the form of a question? This is Question Time. If he can put it into the form of a question, it will be in order.
I would say this—[Interruption.] On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) should cease grunting when he addresses the Chair.
Order. I did not note any grunts. I was only inviting the hon. Member to ask a question now, because the rules require it.
The question is: Will my hon. Friend seek to ask the National Assistance Board to treat the claims for additional assistance for smokeless fuel far more generously?
As I have already indicated, the Board is very conscious of the difficulties which may arise when retirement pensioners change over to the use of smokeless fuels. As I have said, everything possible is done to publicise the help which they can get. If my hon. Friend has any particular difficulties in his constituency, I shall be glad to look into them.
11. Mr. Higgins
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what steps she is taking to ensure that old-age non-pensioners are included in the inquiry into the circumstances of those entitled to National Assistance who have not applied for it.
I am afraid it was not practicable to include non-pensioners in the inquiry into the circumstances of retirement pensioners which has just been carried out. There is no effective way of taking a sample of this relatively small group of elderly people, most of whom do not appear on official records of any kind. This does not mean that they are being, or will be, overlooked in our review of the social security provisions for old people.[column 9]
Is the right hon. Lady aware that this is a totally unsatisfactory Answer? Old-age non-pensioners above all others should be included in the survey, because they receive no State pension. Will the right hon. Lady take steps to ensure that they are included in the sample survey, because there is no statistical reason why they should not?
It was possible to obtain a very good random sample of pensioners from our records covering over 6 million pensioners, but it was impossible to have an effective sample of this much smaller group of non-pensioners, for whom no official records are kept. I understand the hon. Gentleman's worry about non-pensioners but the important point to remember is that the sample of retirement pensioners, which includes many pensioners with no more to live on than non-pensioners, should give us valuable information also about non-pensioners.
The information we are getting from the survey will help us both with the non-pensioners and the pensioners alike. It seems to me that the important thing to find out is why they are not applying to the National Assistance Board and what we can do to help them to apply.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment.
12. Mr. Bence
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many people are in receipt of National Assistance in the Burgh of Kirkintilloch; and what is the average amount paid.
Separate figures are not available for the Burgh of Kirkintilloch; this forms only a small part of the total area covered by the Glasgow (Springburn) National Assistance Board's office, in which 5,549 weekly National Assistance allowances were current at the end of May, 1965. Some of the allowances included the needs of more than one person. Information about the average amount paid in particular localities is not available; the figure for Great Britain as a whole was 44s., and for Scotland it was 47s. 5d.[column 10]
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in this burgh and many others where there are overspill agreements with the City of Glasgow, the burden of rates on retired people is becoming intolerable? For 12 years the situation has been getting worse and worse. Will my hon. Friend, pending reform of the techniques of financing local government expenditure, consult his right hon. Friend to see if measures can be taken to relieve retired people from this very heavy burden?
13. Mr. Bence
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many people are on National Assistance in the Burgh of Clydebank; and what is the average amount in National Assistance being paid to each retirement pensioner.
Separate figures are not available for the Burgh of Clydebank; this forms part of the total area covered by the National Assistance Board's Clydebank official, in which there were 4,462 weekly National Assistance allowances current at the end of May, 1965. Some of the allowances included the requirements of more than one person.
Information about the average amount of National Assistance paid to retirement pensioners in particular localities is not available, but for Scotland as a whole it is 20s. 3d.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Clydebank, an almost entirely industrial burgh, has 4,000 retirement pensioners receiving National Assistance? Is not this evidence that the retirement pension is still inadequate for modern conditions? Is he further aware that we hope that, as early as possible, a new social security scheme will be brought in so that retired people, particularly in an industrial burgh like Clydebank, where the men and women have worked hard all their lives, receive pensions adequate to their needs without their having recourse to the National Assistance Board?
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is our objective.
18. Mr. William Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what recent representations she [column 11]has received from the National Assistance Board on the desirability of increasing the amounts of the disregards taken into account when assessing needs of applicants.
None. I would refer my hon. Friend to the Answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) on 22nd March.
Has my right hon. Friend recognised that the changes in the disregards have not kept pace with the declining purchasing power of money since 1946, including the 13 years of the Tory Government? Can she tell me why there is still a distinction between capital assets such as War Savings and others which are not so regarded? Should not this antiquated concept be brought up to date?
It is generally accepted that this is a concept which should not continued for any longer than is possible. We are examining the whole subject of disregards in connection with the income guarantee and the general review, but at present we have no statement to make about what will be the ultimate results of that review.
Do I understand from what the right hon. Lady has said that the Government intend to keep the concept of disregards in the income guarantee system?
Certainly we do.
24. Mr. Jackson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many persons are today in receipt of National Assistance; of this total how many are old-age pensioners; how many are in receipt of sickness benefit; and how many are able-bodied unemployed.
At the end of March, 1965 there were 1,958,670 weekly National Assistance allowances in payment. Of this total, 1,260,707 were old-age pensioners—including 58,292 non-contributory old-age pensioners and 41,977 widows over the age of 60 but still in receipt of a widows' pension—144,061 were in receipt of sickness benefit; and 121,393 were registered as unemployed. Some of the allowances included the needs of more than one person.[column 12]
Could my hon. Friend, in his various circulars through the Ministry of Pensions, make it clear that the percentage of those receiving National Assistance who are able-bodied unemployed is relatively small, because there seems to be a general feeling that some persons who are unemployed are in receipt of National Assistance which they should not have?
My hon. Friend is quite correct. We try to make those distinctions whenever we possibly can.
25. Mr. Julius Silverman
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, in view of the increasing burden of rent and rates on elderly people with small incomes, what steps the National Assistance Board are taking to overcome the reluctance some of them feel about applying for assistance.
27. Mr. McBride
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what action she is taking to encourage old people to apply for the National Assistance allowances to which they are entitled.
28. Mr. Ennals
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what methods she intends to use to make more widely known the help which the National Assistance Board can give to old people in need.
As hon. Members are aware, the Board has done a great deal in recent years to explain to elderly people their rights under the National Assistance Acts and to dispel doubts and misconceptions from their minds. I have been in consultation with the Board about possible further steps which might be taken and we shall, in a number of ways, be making renewed efforts to overcome reluctance where it still exists. I have today written to all newspaper editors asking them to publish an open letter urging elderly people who may be entitled to assistance to approach the National Assistance Board, and asking other people who have elderly relatives or friends in this position to persuade them to apply. The broadcasting authorities are being asked to co-operate by providing television and radio facilities. The Chairman of the National Assistance Board is writing to seek the support of local authorities, churches and voluntary [column 13]bodies generally in distributing my open letter in leaflet form and in encouraging old people to apply for assistance. A new leaflet is being prepared, to be entitled “Twenty Questions” , which will deal with the main causes of misunderstanding about National Assistance: this leaflet will be given to all retirement pensioners in September. New posters are also being produced for use in post offices and old people's clubs.
I am very grateful to the Minister for the steps which she has announced. Will she emphasise in any approaches to these people that National Assistance is a social right and not a charity, and that any old person can apply for National Assistance without any form of humiliation whatsoever?
In the letter which I have sent I stressed that this is a right for old people, and I hope that that will help to overcome some of the hesitation.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this will give great satisfaction throughout the country? Is she further aware that it will help to persuade innumerable old people to apply for National Assistance to which they are entitled. Will she agree that her information today is in direct contrast to that published by the previous Government, which is why they were rejected in 1964?
I am hoping that these further efforts at publicity will result in more and more old people, who are entitled to National Assistance, applying for it. In all fairness to the Board—because this is a question of co-operation between the Board and the Government—the Board has from time to time made real efforts to get old people to apply.
Will my right hon. Friend accept our congratulations on her imaginative approach and particularly on her willingness to make full use of the voluntary organisations and old people's welfare committees which are doing so much good work? She will have our support in anything that she does to remove the stigma of charity from National Assistance. Finally, in her review, would she consider changing the name of the National Assistance Board?
We have made it clear that we will set up a Ministry of Social [column 14]Security. It is at that time that I hope that the name “National Assistance” , which, unfortunately, seems to have a stigma attached to it for some old people, will disappear. I am asking for the help of every hon. Member, on whatever side of the House he may sit, to get those old people to apply for assistance.
Mr. David Steel
Is it the case that these provisions are in the nature of interim provisions? Is it part of the Government's policy to maintain National Assistance, whether under this name or not, as part of the social security system? Surely it is the Government's policy to try to minimise recourse to National Assistance.
Of course that is our policy. We hope that with the introduction of earnings-related pensions, short-term benefits and the introduction of a proper graduated pension scheme there will be fewer people who need help outside a contributory system. But there will always be some people who are outside the contributory system, no matter how good it is. We want to ensure that these people have no hesitation, even in future, in getting the social security which will be theirs by right.
Payment of Benefits (Automated Equipment)
8. Mr. Boston
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what progress is being made in introducing automated equipment to assist in the payment of benefits.
As stated in the Report of the Ministry for 1964, which was presented to Parliament last week, it is proposed to install next year a computer and associated equipment for calculating and paying the sickness, injury and unemployment benefits of claiments in the London area. A study of the use of computers for keeping records and maintaining payment of National Insurance pension has reached an advanced stage. A similar study of family allowance work is proceeding.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the progress which is being made is very welcome? Does she agree that if we had had this equipment some years ago the payment of increases in [column 15]pensions could have been implemented very much more quickly? Can she say to what extent the new equipment, when it comes into service, will help with any future increases which are made?
I think it is perfectly clear that if we had this equipment for the payment of pensions, pensions could be paid much more quickly after the date of announcement. We are pushing on as quickly as possible with it. When it is introduced we expect it will cut a considerable number of weeks off the delay that has been experienced for so long.
Has the right hon. Lady ordered an additional computer or not? If not, will she confirm that the only computers that the Department has are the one installed in 1959 and the other installed in 1961?
I have made it very clear in this House and outside that there was one installed in 1959 for the graded pensions scheme, which is so disliked throughout the country. On the question of a computer for the pensioners, the hon. Lady will have some idea of the kind of work that has to be done before one orders one. We are very near that position at the present time.
Mr. William Hamilton
Can my right hon. Friend say why the graduated scandal and swindle is computerised and the other section is not? Is it not the case that the main difficulty is the stamped card? Will she see what progress is being made to get rid of that?
I do not think that I should be the one to be asked why the computer was installed for the graduated pensions scheme. I think the whole country realises why that was installed. With regard to the stamped card, it is true that in our general review all these matters are being thoroughly examined.
What advice has the right hon. Lady had from the Minister of Technology concerning the increased application of computers in her Department?
The Ministry of Technology, with all those Ministries which are concerned with computers, keeps very closely in contact and is a great help.[column 16]
Widows (Earnings Rule)
9 and 10. Dame Edith Pitt
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) what representations she has received from widows now in receipt of 30s. pension, formerly 10s., on learning they are subject to the earnings rule on retirement; and what replies she has sent;
(2) why the removal of the earnings rule for widows was not extended to the former 10s. widows.
The earnings rule has never applied to the 10s. widow's basic pension, and the position has not been altered now that that pension is payable at the rate of 30s. A retirement pension payable to a widow basic pensioner on her own insurance is subject to the earnings rule like any other retirement pension, but in no case would the pension be reduced below the amount of the widow's basic pension.
I have had a few letters suggesting that the earnings rule should not apply at all to retirement pensions in such circumstances, and in reply to these letters I have explained the distinction between an earnings rule where retirement is a condition of benefit, and an earnings rule where the benefit replaces the late husband's earnings.
Dame Edith Pitt
Does not the right hon. Lady realise that this distinction is not understood by widows, or, indeed, by members of her own party who repeatedly claimed that all widows have been exempted from the operation of the earnings rule? Will she make a full statement in order to make quite clear that some widows are more equal than others?
I think that the answer which I have given today makes perfectly clear what is happening. It is very difficult for me to understand the attitude of the hon. Lady on this question today when during the proceedings on the National Insurance Bill she was making complaints in the very opposite direction from the one she is making today. I think that the important thing for all of us to remember is that the widows about whom she is questioning today are £1 better off under this Administration than they were under the previous Administration.[column 17]
14. Mrs Renée Short
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many working days were lost because of abortion in each of the last five years for which figures are available.
The total numbers of days of incapacity certified on claims for benefit as due to abortion—which is a term used to cover all types of miscarriage—or equivalent cause in the last five years for which figures are available have varied between about 240,000 and 350,000, but I will, with permission, circulate details in the Official Report.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that these figures, tragic though they are, do not represent the whole position even as far as employed women are concerned? Is he aware that many doctors do not give abortion as a reason for a woman's disability because of the legal implications and the complications likely to occur? Will he and my right hon. Friend do everything in their power to see that this tragic situation is liberalised and modernised as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the statistics I have quoted, and which will be in the Official Report, have been obtained from an analysis of the descriptions of the causes of incapacity entered on medical certificates by medical practitioners. These are not given by doctor to doctor but only in support of certificates of incapacity for work intended for use by Ministry lay officials. I take note of the further point made by my hon. Friend.
Agricultural Gang Workers
15. Mr. Derek Page
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance [column 18]what steps she is taking to ensure that agricultural gang workers are adequately covered by industrial insurance.
Agricultural gang workers are already normally insured under the Industrial Injuries Scheme, in the same way as other people working for an employer under a contract of service. If my hon. Friend has knowledge of any difficulty that has arisen in any particular case, I should be glad to look into it for him.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the changing and transient nature of gang employment makes the enforcement of the legal requirements particularly difficult? Will he look at the difficulties of adequate coverage of workers in agricultural gangs?
As I have said, if my hon. Friend can send any evidence to me about this matter we shall be glad to look into it. But as he is no doubt aware, under the main insurance scheme there are special provisions designed to assist farmers; these exclude from Class I—employed persons—those who are not normally employed for agriculture, horticulture or forestry or who are engaged casually for the picking of fruit, peas, hops, beans, etc.—the work to which my hon. Friend has referred. This, however, does not exempt the farmer from paying industrial injury contributions. He must pay them.
Is my hon. Friend aware that this disability applies also to gang workers in industry? Does he realise that a time limit operates whereby if a disease such as emerged recently on the Clyde as a result of the building of the tunnel does not show itself within a period of three or four years, then the sufferer is ruled out completely? Will my hon. Friend look at that aspect?
I will look at that but it is a different question. If my hon. Friend will put down a Question, I will deal with it.
Retired Persons (Pensions)
16. Mr. Derek Page
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what proportion of retired persons do not receive the State retirement pension in King's Lynn, Norfolk and the United Kingdom, respectively.[column 19]
Mr. Norman Pentland
I regret that the information requested is not available, but it is estimated that of all people now over minimum pension age rather more than 5½ per cent. have no present or prospective right to retirement pension.
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the eagerness with which my constituents look forward to the implementation of the guaranteed minimum income?
Unemployment Benefit (Seasonal Workers)
19. Mr. Wolrige-Gordon
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many different types of worker are classified in the same way as the herring share fisherman and are therefore unable to receive unemployment benefit.
The unemployment benefit rules relating to seasonal workers which are, I think, the rules the hon. Gentleman has particularly in mind, apply to claimants in any occupation if their record of work over a period of years has shown that a break in employment at the same time each year is a part of their normal way of life.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that many individuals currently receiving unemployment benefit often receive less benefit for longer periods than they would if they were herring share fishermen or seasonal workers, and that there is therefore a need to look at the rule of risk as it applies to the principle of paying unemployment benefit to herring share fishermen and seasonal workers?
The payment of unemployment benefit depends on contributions. A person who is unemployed for a long time can have benefit only for the time allowed by the contributions. At the most that is 19 months and sometimes it is much less. The concept of not paying benefit when there is a regular pattern of no work during the year has existed for a long time, but if the hon. Gentleman has any case, other than those which he has brought to my notice, which he would like me to examine, I would be happy to consider it.[column 20]
Mr. Hector Hughes
Does my right hon. Friend realise that the exclusion of fishermen of the type mentioned in the Question operates harshly upon them? After all, they are workers like others and is it not inconsistent with the spirit of the Statute granting pensions that they should be excluded? Will my right hon. Friend look into this aspect of the matter to see that justice is done?
These rules apply not only to share fishermen but to any occupation when it is shown that over a period of years a break in employment forms the usual pattern of a man's work. It would be wrong for any hon. Member with constituents with fishing interests to believe that this rule applies only to that class of worker.
Occupational Pension Schemes
20. Mr. Dean
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what rôle she contemplates for occupational pension schemes in a reformed National Insurance scheme.
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to await the outcome of the Government's review of the National Insurance scheme.
Would the right hon. Lady agree that occupational pension schemes have an essential part to play in a future system of social security? Will she at least give the assurance that in working out these new plans no obstacles will be put in the way of the continued development of these schemes?
Certainly. It has been made perfectly clear that the Labour Government believe that there will be a place in future for occupational schemes which ensure a number of things for the workers in them. We have every intention of encouraging them.
Will the right hon. Lady say when the review is to be completed? We have had many answers saying “as soon as possible” . Does “as soon as possible” mean before the General Election, or before Christmas?
I advise the hon. Gentleman to wait. I have here a copy of the Labour Party manifesto. We have already honoured many of the pledges in the past on social security and I have [column 21]no doubt that the others will be honoured at the earliest possible moment.
Will the right hon. Lady refer to the part of that manifesto which deals with the income guarantee and which says:
“We stress again that with the exception of the early introduction of the income guarantee” ——
Order. Verbatim quotation, even from so august a document, is out of order at Question Time.
Sick and Disabled People (Constant Attendance Allowance)
21. Mr. Astor
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will now introduce a constant attendance allowance to those who are chronically sick or disabled.
Provision for the chronic sick and severely disabled people is one of the many important matters which are being considered in connection with the comprehensive review of the social services on which the Government is engaged.
Would not the right hon. Lady agree that this is one of the plans which should have been ready to swing into instant operation? Could she give urgent attention to this group of people who are not only disabled but totally dependent on others for their very existence? Could she treat this as a matter of urgency ahead of the general review?
Certainly. It was because we realised that grave hardship was being suffered by many of the chronic sick that we included this in our policy for a Labour Government. If something had been done for the chronic sick between 1951 and 1964, we would not have had all these Questions on this subject this afternoon.
Mr. Will Griffiths
Is my right hon. Friend aware that most of us appreciate that the comprehensive review which is being undertaken by the Government will take a considerable—[Interruption.]—some time—anyway, it will not take as long as you took to do nothing.
I have nothing to do with these things. We must keep to the rules or we get confused.[column 22]
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. Could my right hon. Friend consult her colleagues in the Government and see whether it would be possible to give an interim report to Parliament whilst the review is proceeding?
That may be possible. There are a number of matters where our examinations are nearly complete, and it might be possible to bring forward some proposals.
Is not this Government becoming a non-stop review, with the difference that this one will close?
I would again remind the hon. Member that if such a review had been carried out at any time during those 13 years, we might now have been able to go forward with the work that is being done. Again I stress the fact that the majority of people realise that what we have done already on the social security front is an earnest of our desire to complete the full programme.
22. Mr. William Hamilton
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will make a statement on the progress being made in the study now under way concerning the problems of old people; and what response has been made to the questionnaire put to retirement pensioners.
Out of over 10,000 pensioners in the sample whom we wished to interview, 9 per cent. refused to cooperate or gave only partial information, and less than 4 per cent. could not be contacted. The replies are still being analysed and I hope to announce the main findings shortly.
Can my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that, in view of the fact that this will be a very important social document, it will be available publicly to anyone who wants to read it?
Certainly. Once the report comes to me from the National Assistance Board I hope that there will be some publication so that people can realise what is happening to the old people.
In connection with this study, is my right hon. Friend aware that [column 23]she could get invaluable help from those dedicated people who are members of old folks' welfare committees? They are in touch with every problem affecting old people. Would she consider contacting these national agencies, in order to seek their help in connection with this study?
From the figures I have given, about 85 per cent. of old people have co-operated. I think that all of us must be delighted with that figure. The National Assistance Board at all times used these welfare organisations for old people, and in a later Answer I will be telling of what we hope to do.
Graduated Pensions Scheme
23. Mr. Jackson
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what progress she has made in her plans to abolish the graduated pensions scheme.
34. Mr. Boston
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what progress she is making in her plans to replace the existing graduated pensions scheme.
Future arrangements for graduated pensions form an important part of the Government's review of the whole National Insurance scheme, which is proceeding as rapidly as possible.
Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the pension scheme which we shall introduce, a wage-related pension scheme, will bear no similarity to the graduated pension scheme of the Tory Party, which many people consider was wrongly organised?
I think that all hon. Members will know what our attitude has been to the present scheme. The scheme to be introduced by a Labour Government will be very different indeed.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the former Conservative Government's graduated scheme is really nothing more than a form of revenue-raising, a form of taxation? Does she not also think that, far from being a proper graduated scheme, it is what one might call a permanently undergraduated scheme, and that, like the perpetual student, it never reaches maturity?[column 24]
It would reach maturity only in the next century. I hope that our scheme will reach maturity very much sooner.
Mr William Clark
In view of the fact that the Labour Government have already had three goes at a graduated pension scheme, may we be assured by the Minister that next time they are going to do something their arithmetic will be right?
Such “smart Alec” questions do not get anywhere. At least the Labour Party in opposition was doing the kind of fundamental thinking on these questions that the former Tory Government refused to do.
Departmental Employees (Pay)
29. Mr. Arthur Lewis
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what category of employee in her Department is in receipt of the lowest wage or salary scale; what this income is; how much it would cost to increase the salaries of those in this category by 25 per cent.; and whether she will give similar details with regard to their pension entitlements.
Women cleaners outside London who receive £8 11s. 6d. a week. A 25 per cent. increase would cost about £113,000 a year. It is not possible to answer the last part of the Question since the pension depends on variable factors which cannot be accurately forecast.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many people in her Department doing excellent work who are not getting as much in salary as many of us would like to see? Is she further aware that we should like them to have a 25 per cent. increase rather than those who, for the sake of the rules of order, I am not allowed to mention by name?
My hon. Friend will be aware that, whatever wages or salaries are paid in our Ministry, or in any other Ministry, they are negotiated in the usual way. I do not think that we in this House would want to interfere with these negotiations which we consider important in a democratic country.[column 25]
Men (National Insurance Contributions)
31. Mrs. Shirley Williams
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many adult men in full-time employment do not pay full National Insurance contributions; and what proportion of this total are men employed through labour-only sub-contractors.
My right hon. Friend has no reason to think that any appreciable number of men in full-time employment are not paying National Insurance contributions, but she has no information as to the numbers of men working under labour-only sub-contracts or the proportions in which such men may be insured as employed or self-employed persons respectively.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great increase in the number of labour-only sub-contracted men in areas of high employment and that many of them are listed as self-employed and therefore do not get the full benefit of the National Insurance provisions?
As we are aware, labour-only sub-contracting gives rise to contribution trouble, but the Department does its utmost to follow up any abuses in this direction. We are confident that the amount of abuse in this sphere and other spheres is very small compared with the total working population.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a large number of demolition contractors indulge in this type of employment? Is he further aware that in those circumstances any worker who is injured as a result of this type of employment is in an exceedingly difficult situation? Will he give an assurance that these firms will be pursued and, if necessary, prosecuted because of this type of activity?
I give that assurance. Our inspectors are diligently following up the cases referred to by my hon. Friend, but in many cases the birds have flown before we reach them. We are looking at this matter very carefully and everything will be done to stamp it out.
Mr Kenneth Lewis
May we take it that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that [column 26]his colleague the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is sub-contracted to the Foreign Office? How long is this sub-contracting to last?
I hope that this contract, to which the hon. Gentleman refers so scathingly, goes on until my hon. Friend reaches a successful conclusion in his endeavours.
Flax and Hemp Workers
32. Mr. Buchan
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council has concluded its consideration of whether there exists among flax and hemp workers a respiratory condition analogous to byssinosis which should be prescribed for the purposes of benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act; and if she will make a statement.
Yes, Sir. I have recently received the report of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council on this question and shall be laying it before the House as soon as it can be printed. I should like to thank the Council for the comprehensive and valuable study which it has made. The report does not suggest any change in respect of hemp workers, but recommends that the terms in which byssinosis is now prescribed for workers in the cotton industry should be extended to cover the analogous processes in the flax-spinning industry. I have decided to accept this recommendation, and regulations to give effect to it will be made as soon as possible.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great satisfaction that that Answer will give to those of us who have been concerned with this problem for some time, and, above all, the many thousands of workers in this industry, a large number of whom have suffered in the past from this disease in Lancashire and elsewhere?
I am sure that the workers in my hon. Friend's constituency and others engaged in such work will be very happy that this decision has been made.
Retirement Pension (Mrs M. A. Walters)
33. Mr Neave
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance why [column 27]Mrs Mary A. Walters, aged 71 years, who was unable to complete her National Insurance contributions owing to being a prisoner for nine years in a Soviet labour camp, has been refused a retirement pension; and whether she will make a statement.
My information is that no claim for retirement pension has been made in this case, but I am afraid one could not succeed because Mrs Walters, who had never previously been insured here, was already over pension age when she returned in 1956. The question whether she might be assisted in some other way does not arise at present as I understand she is still in employment.
Is the Minister aware that this lady was arrested in 1945 and released only in 1956, that if she had not been arrested in 1945 she could have paid contributions and so qualified and that she has been paying contributions since 1956? Should not the right hon. Lady look at this matter again? Is it not bureaucratic nonsense that this lady is not allowed a retirement pension?
No, it is not a case of bureaucratic nonsense. This lady has not been paying the full contributions since 1956 since, when she returned to this country, she was over the age when she could. Like every other worker, she has been paying that small contribution which covers industrial injuries. Even if the Bill which the hon. Member introduced had been successful, it would not have covered the case of Mrs Walters. She would have been among those elderly people who would not have been covered by it. I hope that by the time Mrs Walters retires there will be provision for her.
Dame Irene Ward
In view of the unsatisfactory reply, may I ask the right hon. Lady whether—[Hon. Members: “Speak up.” ] Do be quiet for once. In view of this very unfortunate case, which does not seem to interest hon. Members opposite, will the Minister remember that most hon. Members consider it a debt that we should pay to ensure that people of this kind are not under any disadvantage in the National Insurance scheme?
I am extremely concerned about cases such as that of Mrs Walters. As I say, I hope that when she [column 28]retires there will be provision for her. However, it is strange that this matter has been brought to the Floor of the House only at this stage when this lady could have been having her retirement pension if the hon. Lady's hon. Friends believed in her case before this time.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.