HC Deb 19 November 1928 vol 222 cc1507-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £559,000, be 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, 1929, for the payment of Old Age Pensions, for certain Administrative Expenses in connection therewith, and for Pensions under the Blind Persons Act, 1920.


There is always a difficulty in estimating the numbers of old age pensioners, and a relatively small variation of numbers has a great effect on the amount of money required. It was estimated that on the 1st April, 1928, there would be 996,000 pensioners who would draw old age pensions under the Acts of 1908 and 1924, that there would be 281,000 pensioners drawing pensions under the Act of 1925, and that 174,000 new pensioners would begin to draw pensions in the course of the year. After allowing for the numbers of deaths, the total estimated increase was 34,500. That was the estimated amount, hut we found that there was a larger number of all classes than we anticipated, and when the figures became actual on the 1st April, 1928, we found the financial year began with an increase over the estimate of 8,000 persons. Since the 1st April, there has been an influx of new pensioners, which has exceeded the estimate, and as the high rate of increase seems likely to continue, we think the number of pensioners will be 203,000 as against the original estimate of 174,500. We estimate, therefore, that there will be an increase of 8,000 for the whole year and during the year a gradually increasing number of 28,000 new entrants. Allowing for adjustments owing to death, we are of opinion that the sum of £550,000 would be required.

The other £9,000 is for the local committees. Under the Act of 1908 the expenses of local committees up to an amount allowed by the Treasury had to he defrayed by sums provided by Parliament. The cost of this committee work has fallen of late years because the number of claims and questions dealt with has become smaller, but the decrease has not been as rapid as we had hoped, and an extra £9,000 is required this year to examine these claims, which as a matter of fact, operate in no small degree to the benefit of pensioners themselves, because the committee help the pensioners to establish their claims.


I have no objection to the increase in the expenditure on the pensions committees, but I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in saying that this increase is due entirely to the increased number of pensioners over and above the estimate. The hon. Gentleman may say that this applies to Scotland, but even if Scotland, through the Scottish Board of Health, actually deals with the question of pensions, the investigations are carried out by the Customs and Excise Department, and I say that, quite apart from the question of the numbers, which I know must increase, I think there is a great deal of unnecessary investigation carried out by this Department. In my own city I have nothing but complaints against the people who first of all carry out these investigations, and I would like the hon. Gentleman, who is very keen on economy, to direct his mind to this problem. Could there not be a saving in this expenditure? Even allowing for the increased number of pensions, it seems to me that the increase would not be so great if the Customs and Excise officers were less cheese-paring and would accept the statements of the claimants more reasonably rather than make unnecessary investigations into those claims.

I have had considerable experience of these people. When I first entered the House, I was told that these pensions were under the Ministry of Health and the Board of Health, but my experience is that they are under the Customs and Excise, and many of those who carry out investigations are women. We spend State money on unnecessary investigations, and I have complaints of the shockingly mean way in which the investigators apply various methods to find out if the pensioner has a pound or two in the Savings Bank or in a co-operative society or invested in war loan or corporation stock. In these days, when non-contributory pensions are given to a person under insurance, instructions might be given by the hon. Gentleman in order to save time in these investigations. Considerable savings might be made if these people would not be so mean and petty in their investigations, but tried to raise the claim of the pensioner above the charity basis into which it sometimes degenerates. I ask the hon. Gentleman to make inquiries, and to see if inspectors could not save some money by making their investigations more humane and more reasonable. I am convinced that this estimate is large, not merely because of the extra claims, but because the inspectors are unnecessarily harsh in their investigations.


The hon. Gentleman has asked me if this Vote refers to Scotland. Yes, it does. I have taken note of what he has said about unnecessary investigations, and I will make it my business to inquire into that. If he will give me cases where undue pressure has been put on people, I will take steps to see that they are not repeated.

Question put, and agreed to.

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