HC Deb 17 February 1927 vol 202 cc1222-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £418,000, he granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927, for the payment of Old Age Pensions, for certain Administrative Expenses in connection therewith, and for Pensions under the Blind Persons Act, 1920.


I do not know whether my hon. Friend opposite will be able to find that the party to which he belongs derives any credit from this Vote. If so, I shall be as ready to make him a present of the credit as I am of that which he has just assumed. The necessity for this Supplementary Estimate of £418,000 arises in the same sort of way as some of the other Estimates which I have presented this evening, from a new state of things arising in relation to old age pensions, which made it particularly difficult this year to frame an accurate Estimate. As the Committee is aware, the Act of 1925 brought in an entirely new number and class of pensioners. It brought in the widows' and orphans' pensions, and it did away with the means limit, and that brought a very large and unknown element into the pensions that had to be provided. It was reckoned, on such data as the Government had to work upon, that there would be brought in by this Act some 87,000 pensioners to be provided for in the current year. In point of fact, instead of being about 87,000, there were approximately 100,000, a much larger number than those for which provision had in fact been made. In addition to that, in the same way, there was a very considerably larger number than was expected of those who, by virtue of that Act, became entitled to pensions at the higher rate. I cannot give the exact numbers there, as I have of the others, but the anticipation was that those who would claim the higher rate of pension would be considerably smaller than it actually turned out to be.

Our Estimate now is that the cost of pensions under the Act of 1925, that is to say, of those who become pensioners under that. Act but who were not entitled to pensions under the earlier Acts, from 1908 to 1924, will be £2,143,000, and that sum, which now, as we are getting so near the end of the year, is as accurate as we can get it, is £415,000 over the original Estimate which was presented to the House. That is the figure, except for £3,000, which I will now explain, appearing in the present Estimate. The £3,000 is due to the additional and unexpected expenses in the same way caused to the local committees by a much larger rush of new pensioners under the Act of 1925 than they were prepared for or anticipating. That occasioned them a great deal of extra work, and a temporarily extra staff, and we now know that by the 31st March these additional expenses will have come to £3,000, which, added to the £415,000, makes the amount which appears in this Supplementary Estimate.


It strikes me as curious that the Government should be asking for a Supplementary Estimate here, when one has regard to the great number of complaints that are coming in from people who cannot get their old age pensions when they have made application for them, or who are subject to very great delays in having their applications dealt with. I should like to know whether we can have any explanation of that. A good many cases have come to my knowledge in which weeks and sometimes months have elapsed since they made application, and they have heard nothing definite in reply. Only last week, or the week before, I had two similar cases of this character, and I wondered whether anything could be clone to speed up this business. There is another question that I want to mention. It appears to be a general thing that people may have stopped paying into the National Health Insurance Fund on account of their age, but, because they cannot produce a birth certificate or give sufficient evidence of their age, while they are ready and willing to stop paying into the Health Insurance Fund, yet, because they cannot produce the evidence of age, they are not able to receive their old age pension. There must be thousands of cases which are still waiting, and some of them have been waiting for weeks and months.


I am afraid I cannot explain why it is. All I can say is that if the hon. Member or any hon. Member of this House brings to my notice any particular case, I will certainly make inquiry into it at once, and expedite the matter to the best of my ability. I do not think I can do more than that. With regard to the other points, I do not profess to be familiar with the local administration of these pensions I do not suppose any single man could be. But I should think it quite proper and right that there should be some precaution to make sure that a person who-claims a pension is, in point of fact, within the prescribed age, and I dare-say, throughout the length and breadth of the country, it is quite likely there may be a considerable number of cases where persons, perhaps not highly educated, are quite convinced in their own-minds that they are of a prescribed age. Perhaps they may not be able to bring any real proof of it, and I think the hon. Member will realise that the pensions administration must exercise some caution and care in those cases. It may be that before the necessary evidence is forthcoming, a length of time has elapsed which may be very exasperating to the individual, but I do not think that, in itself, gives rise to any just complaint as to the method of administration of the pensions.


Perhaps the right bon. Gentleman will tell us what proportion of this increase represents increased rent for buildings connected with the local administration. It seems rather strange that, in view of tie fact that the number of applications for widows' pensions and old age pensions is notoriously much less than the Estimate, we should so soon be asked for a Supplementary sum of this kind. I would like the right hon. Gentleman, if he can, to assure the Committee- that there is no unnecessary waste in the hiring of expensive new offices in connection with the administration of this work, and if he could give us some idea of the proportion of the amount for that purpose, it would be helpful to us in coming to a decision.


I have already pointed out that out of this zC418,000, only £3,000 is attributable at all to the extra cost of the Committees. I do not think there is any part of it due to buildings. I would not like to say for certain, but that is the sort of matter which, if the hon. member will put a question to me in the House, I will give him information. As far as I understand, I do not think it is possible that there should be any building which would be included in the £3,000. I do not know whether that answers what the hon. Gentleman asked. Some other points were put to me, but they have escaped me. As far as the building is concerned, however, I am quite confident in saying that no Department has to do with the building at all, but, as I say, if the hon. Gentleman likes to put down a question I will give him a precise answer.


I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is meant by his very kind offer to deal with any difficulties that we may put before him? I am in very great difficulty over the Widows' Pensions Act, because I receive dozens of letters putting to me the most intricate conundrums about its technical administration, and I am beginning to feel that a Labour Member of Parliament has to be almost an expert on widows' pensions to deal with his correspondence. A great deal of extra money is being spent, and as the right hon. Gentleman has offered to be of assistance I would ask him whether that means that in future the letters sent to me on this subject can be passed on to him, or to his colleagues, and that answers will be provided for me?


I could not quite undertake that. What I said to the hon. Gentleman sitting behind the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), and what I am willing to say to the hon. Member himself, is that if a case comes before him where, apparently, there has been bad administration of the Act, for instance, very long delay in dealing with cases, for which delay there is no apparent explanation. I will endeavour to deal with the case as thoroughly as I can.

Question put, and agreed to.