HC Deb 10 June 1947 vol 438 cc956-73

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Commander Noble (Chelsea)

I rise only to ask for information on a point which arises in regard to the payment of postwar credits, that is the case of a person who reaches the age of entitlement but dies before drawing his credit. At present the beneficiaries under his will cannot receive these credits until they themselves reach the age of entitlement, although the person who has died has himself reached that age. I feel that the deceased may have budgeted in his will for these credits to further the education of his family, or perhaps to support his widow, and that these people may have anticipated these sums coming to them and that, therefore, it would be fair for them to receive the money without having to wait until they themselves reach the age of entitlement.

I fully realise that the concession to pay old people this money first was an attempt to try to ensure that the most needy were served first, but I feel that because the deceased had reached that age and was entitled to the money, he should be able to leave it to his dependants. I hope very much, therefore, that the Financial Secretary will be able to give us some assurance that this matter is still being considered. I hope also that he may be able to tell us how many people fall into the category to which I have just referred, how much it would cost to pay out these groups, and also how many in this category to which I have just referred would be widows and how much it would cost to pay them.

Mr. Callaghan

I rise to support what the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) has said. I imagine that when the original decision was taken to make this concession available to old age pensioners, it was not only because, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, they are the most deserving section of the community, but also for administrative reasons. They are a section who can be fairly easily segregated, to whom can be applied fairly simple tests, and therefore the Inland Revenue machine can manage to deal with them. However, they are not wholly the most needy section of the community. The benefits fall not only upon the just but upon the unjust, not only upon the poor but upon the rich, not only upon Labour supporters but upon supporters of the party opposite. I hope that when the Leader of the Opposition drew his postwar credit, and draws it again this year, being over the age of 65, he did a patriotic thing and invested it in a National Savings certificate.

As I say, the benefits fall both upon the just and upon the unjust, but in supporting the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea I want to make this point, that a group of people who can be just as easily identified, and whose need is frequently much greater, is that of the dependants of a deceased taxpayer of any age Take, for example, the young married man who has been married for four, five or 10 years and, in the early part of his life, has children. He dies and leaves a widow and a young family. They need the postwar credit much more than do some of the categories I have just been enumerating, who have used their postwar credits to invest in National Savings certificates.

It is that class of person for whom I would ask further consideration. They can be easily identified. A death certificate is the simplest thing to produce, and costs very little. The administrative machine could deal with them very simply. I do not think it will be possible to deal with them in advance of, or even at the same time as, the old age pensioners, who will be dealt with this year, because the machinery is already under way. But we have now finished with the old age pensioners in this legislation, and if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has to look round for further callers, I would put them high on the list. I hope that he will give some concession to that type of case.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Birch

Although I do not wish to pursue the point raised by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan), I would point out that his identification of the Opposition with the unjust shows that he is a very small satellite in the Shinwell-Shawcross axis. I wish to raise the point, which I raised last year and which is more topical now, of sex equality. Under this Clause, a woman gets a postwar credit at the age of 60, whereas a man only gets it at the ago. of 65. In my opinion, that is indefensible. The postwar credit is a debt which is owed by the State, and the only reason why it is paid out to old people first is because otherwise, they might die without getting the benefit. It is particularly ridiculous to discriminate in favour of women, because, as is well known, the expectation of life of a man is shorter than that of a woman. I raise this point in order to give the Financial Secretary the chance to do better than he did last year when his defence was that women do not work at the coal face. Of course they do not, but what of it? As far as I can see, it has no reference to this particular problem.

The matter is topical. I gather from the Press that tomorrow the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to make a statement on the subject of equal pay. We do not know what he will say, and it would be out of Order to discuss it now, but I think it is a 500 to one chance that he will say, "In principle, we agree to equal pay, but there are certain administrative difficulties." There is no logical reason for discrimination between the sexes in this particular case and there are no administrative difficulties. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary, if only from the point of view of a dialectical exercise, will get up and explain his point of view rather better than he did last year.

Mr. West (Pontypool)

I wish to support the appeals which have been made for the reconsideration of this matter. Although my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) said that the benefits of this Clause fall on the just and the unjust, the disadvantages of its application, in fact, fall on the just. The reason why that is so is because the conditions precedent to the payment of a postwar credit are not only that the beneficiary shall have attained the age of 65, but also that an application in writing shall have been sent in. Therefore, if having attained the age of 65, but not having sent in a written application because he believes the post-war credit is, indeed, an investment in national security he subsequently dies, then payment is not made to his estate. I suggest that that is unfair, and that, generally speaking, the type of person who does not send in his written application in due time is either the infirm or the illiterate, or the person who believes that the postwar credit is the reserve upon which call can be made for payment of his funeral expenses.

Those of us who live in mining valleys know how very careful and keen the older people are to make provision for their funeral expenses. There are many who believe that the postwar credit, if untouched, will be available for the payment of them, whereas, indeed, it is found that because written application has not been made it is not available for that purpose. I know of a case in my own constituency where that belief existed in the mind of an old age pensioner. He believed that he had an investment in national security. When he died, his widow thought the same thing. She was able to find the money for the funeral expenses from other sources. She, who would herself have been entitled to receive payment of the postwar credit had she sent in her written application, also died without having done so, and her daughter who had borne the burden of maintaining her parents was unable to cash the postwar credit with which to pay the funeral expenses of her mother. I suggest that this technicality, depriving the old people of their right of payment of postwar credits, merely because they fail to send in a written application after having attained the age of 65, is iniquitous and unjust. I hope that the Financial Secretary will give an assurance that this matter will be reconsidered so that the injustice may be removed.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I think that the Debate which has taken place so far shows that there is considerable unanimity in the Committee in the desire to tidy up the matter of postwar credits a good deal more. The Amendments which, Mr. Beaumont, you have not been able to call and which stood in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) had as their object to focus attention on what is, perhaps, the most urgent of these problems, the position of the beneficiary. I find myself in accord with the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan)—which is unusual for me—in the observations which he made just now. I think he is perfectly correct when he says that the death of the head of the family often creates need among the surviving children. It seems to me that there is every case for the postwar credit being paid to those to whom it has been willed, provided, of course, that the deceased person was just reaching the age of entitlement.

Mr. Callaghan

I was suggesting that it should be paid whatever the age of the deceased person. I do not want it to be paid only in the case of a man who has reached the age of 65, because a man of that age is not likely to have a young family. My point was that the number of such men who would die at an early age would be so small that it would not cost very much, and that they would be easily identifiable.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I was not referring so much to the age as to the need. The Amendments in the name of my hon. Friends which were not called had as their object to bring out that point. One of them proposed to make it possible that, where a person died before reaching the age of entitlement, the beneficiary under the will should be able to claim the postwar credit.

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot refer to an Amendment which has not been selected.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

Am I not entitled, Mr. Beaumont, on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," to say that I think that suggestion would be a good one?

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to an Amendment which has not been called and which has nothing whatever to do with the Clause.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

If I may, I would like to put the general case to the Minister in the hope that he will bear those points in mind.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has gone a little too far. He may refer only to what is actually in the Clause.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

Am I not entitled on the Committee stage, Mr. Beaumont, to discuss what we hoped might have been in the Clause?

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member must confine his remarks to what is contained in the Clause, when speaking on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I shall have to retrace my steps. I hope that the whole question of postwar credits will be considered during next year, because I am sure that the points which have been made by hon. Members indicate that there are anomalies. I would like to make one further point which has not been referred to in any Amendment. When a person dies and leaves the whole of his money to his wife, who mw be a good deal younger than himself, it greatly assists in the administration of the estate if the matter can be cleared up and the money distributed. I stressed that point a year ago when there was a Debate on this matter, and the response from the Government was not then unsympathetic. I hope the Chancellor will bear in mind the various points that have been put to him on this question.

Mr. Alpass

I can understand that the Chancellor may have some objection to paying out postwar credits as hon. Members have suggested, because many of the recipients may have very good means. Their estates may be large, and the amount of the postwar credits they receive may be small compared with their income in other directions. Perhaps the Chancellor would consider the suggestion that postwar credits should be paid out immediately when the value of the deceased's estate does not exceed £2,000, which is the figure up to which it has been decided estates shall be free from duty. The reason is that the people who would benefit would be in great need, and very often the deceased persons would have provided in their wills that the postwar credits should be used to compensate the beneficiaries for having looked after them in their illness. I think there is very strong ground for paying out postwar credits when the value of the estate does not exceed £2,000.

Mr. Baldwin

Although we are not allowed to discuss the Amendment standing in my name, I trust the Financial Secretary has looked at it and will pay due regard to it. This matter was raised on 18th March, and the reply of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was: This matter is governed by Section 26 of the Finance Act, 1946, and not by Regulation. In reply to a supplementary question, the right hon. Gentleman said: An opportunity will soon come for debating the merits of the matter, but … this is not a matter which can be handled by regulations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 191.] This is the first time that I have ever agreed with the hon. Member for Thorn-bury (Mr. Alpass). The point which he made is one which I had intended to raise, and it can easily be met by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is the lower range of wealth which is most affected by inability to draw postwar credits. I commend to the Chancellor the suggestion that postwar credits should be paid out in cases where the estates do not exceed £2,000, whether they involve people of 65 years of age or 20 years of age. I have come across cases of great hardship. A daughter has attended to her father and has sacrificed her life for that purpose; the father has died, the daughter has been left to pay the funeral expenses, and because the father died six months before attaining the age of 65, it has not been possible to draw the postwar credits. It is very unfair. The State has no moral right to retain that money until the woman attains the age of 60. If the Chancellor cannot go as far as that, I suggest that in all cases where a person is entitled to a postwar credit and dies before the age of entitlement, if the postwar credit is not paid it should accumulate interest at the rate of three per cent. until it is paid. I hope the Chancellor will indicate that he has listened to these views with sympathy.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. George Wallace (Chislehurst)

I wish to add my voice in support of those hon. Members who have spoken on this general principle. While supporting wholeheartedly the suggestion that postwar credits should be paid to old people, I think the time has arrived when we must give careful consideration to the question of payment in cases of extreme hardship. I do not think anybody would disagree that widows should receive their postwar credits. I have a case at the moment, about which I wrote to my right hon. Friend, concerning a widow who is in receipt of public assistance. She had to borrow money to pay the funeral expenses. I took it up with my right hon. Friend who, as usual, gave an extremely sympathetic reply. I have been informed that £7 11s. is due for Income Tax, and that it will come out of the postwar credit. I hope that will not be done. So far as widows are concerned, it should be easy to indicate where the line should be drawn. There is no difficulty in defining hardship in the case of a worker.

I would like to mention another case, that of a bed-ridden worker who has had to give up his work because of extreme bad health. He is dependent on his wife. The wife is working hard, and she told me that her husband's only solace in life is tobacco. She is paying the increased price for tobacco and she is willing to do it, but she cannot understand why, while making that sacrifice for the sake of the nation, she cannot get the postwar credits due to her husband. We must give careful and sympathetic attention to this matter. I know that administrative difficulties will arise, but these obstacles must be overcome. I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) that people regard postwar credits as cashable. It is only natural that when, owing to extreme hardship and financial difficulty, they try to find some- thing on which to raise some cash, they genuinely regard these certificates as being in the nature of postal orders which they can cash at the post office. Somehow or other we must find ways and means of assisting these people whose cases have been quoted in all parts of the Committee. I do not think anyone has spoken against the proposal so far, and I hope my right hon. Friend will take due note of it.

Air-Commodore Harvey

I support the plea of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble). One can understand the difficulties of the Government in agreeing to pay out postwar credits in bulk. Obviously, they will have to be paid out over a considerable period. But my hon. and gallant Friend's main point concerned those people who attain the age of 65. If a man is ill and is unable to fill in the necessary form, when he dies his widow is not able to receive the money until she reaches the qualifying age. This is iniquitous, and I am sure the Financial Secretary will agree that this is due to an oversight. He should be only too anxious to put it right. I feel that this amount should be part of an individual's estate, and that it should be paid off regardless of class, whether the person concerned is a working man or anyone else. This is a debt of honour of the Government, and sooner or later this money must be paid back. I beg the Financial Secretary to meet this point, because it is wrong that things should continue as they are now. I believe he will meet it.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I think that, perhaps, it would not come amiss if I reminded the Committee of the history of these postwar credits, and of what some of us have said and thought about them in previous years. As the Committee know, these credits were instituted by the late Sir Kingsley Wood and at the end of the war, when they ceased, they amounted to no less than £800 million, which is a colossal sum, and one which no Chancellor of the Exchequer at the present time could liberate. That would be a most dangerous thing to do, and would certainly mean inflation if nothing else did. I think everybody realizes that for some few years that must be so. May I say in passing that it is a common misapprehension on the part of quite a lot of people that they will have to wait until they are 60 if they are women, or 65 if they are men, before they draw their postwar credits. That is, of course, not so. It is hoped that everybody will have been paid out long before many of them reach the age of 60 or 65.

I was one of those—and I think I have said it in the House—who believed it was a pity that these postwar credits were ever instituted. During the war, I think, most of us—such was the spirit of sacrifice engendered in the nation—were quite willing to pay extra taxation and not to have postwar credits coming to us at some time in the future then unforeseen. But they were instituted, and the nation has to honour its bond. My right hon. Friend was pressed in all quarters of the Committee not to pay out these postwar credits to all and sundry, but to make a start with the old folk. Speaker after speaker said, "We do not mind about the rest, but we do think that the old people, who may not live to enjoy them unless they are paid back soon, should have their postwar credits now." In the end my right hon. Friend gave in to that pressure; the postwar credits for the three years 1941–42, 1942–43, and 1943–44 were paid-out last year, to women when they reached the age of 60 and to men when they reached the age of 65.

From that time onwards the number of letters from Members of Parliament has been prodigious. Hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have written on behalf of their constituents claiming that the postwar credits should be paid on the grounds of hardship, and we have in this Debate tonight heard from many Members in all quarters of the Committee cases of hardship, in which, on grounds of sympathy, the payment, undoubtedly, should be made. It is quite impossible to know where hardship begins, and who should be paid and who should not be paid. It would be quite impossible for the Inland Revenue to judge what stage hardship has to reach before the postwar credit should be paid out; and, therefore, it is quite impossible for us to take that yardstick or criterion, sympathetic, as we are to many of these cases, and desirous as we are of helping as soon as possible by paying out the postwar credits to people of that kind.

Then, too, it has been put to us that it makes it very difficult for executors to wind up estates because, unless the beneficiary had claimed his postwar credit and was over 65, if a man, or 60, if a woman, and he also had claimed, the amount cannot be paid over. We have indicated more than once in Debate and at Question Time that that is no real difficulty. What happens is, that under the will of a deceased person entitled to a postwar credit this will go to whoever is entitled under the will to that postwar credit; and if that has to be divided between several beneficiaries—whose title to payment, of course, will depend upon when their turns come—the Inland Revenue is quite willing, and does weekly, divide the amount in the proportion as laid down under the will. Therefore, there is no real hardship there, and there is no reason why in those cases the money should be paid out on the grounds that if it is not, it will lead to difficulties and prevent a final winding-up of an estate.

The present cost, even for old people—and they number only about 1,750,000—is considerable. Last year we paid out £58 million, and this year it will be £70 million. It is true it comes below the line, but, nevertheless, it is a fairly large sum to put into circulation even for this limited class of beneficiaries. If we did extend the categories, and take in people on the grounds of hardship, supposing we could distinguish what real hardship is, or because a person has to pay the funeral costs of someone who dies and has not the money by him, or for one reason or another—and we get a variety of reasons in the letters that come from Members of Parliament—there is no knowing how large the cost would be in the end. Therefore, my right hon. Friend, with the utmost good will in the world, has to draw the line somewhere, for reasons of cost and for reasons of definition; and because the machine, of course, cannot be strained beyond a certain limit. The Inland Revenue has been working at enormous pressure. It is very short staffed; in many cases it is working in quite inadequate buildings and has what I think is very poor equipment. Yet despite that, it is struggling with P.A.Y.E., with Income Tax, with these postwar credits, and with all sorts of various pieces of work which fall to it at the present time.

Finally, on the question which was put to me by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble), who was backed up by speakers on this side of the Committee and by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), it is true in the case where an individual dies, that unless he has signed his form before he dies, he cannot get the postwar credit which may be due to him, although he had at that time attained the requisite age. But the Inland Revenue is doing something that, I think, will commend itself to the Committee. It is true that, unless application is made by the person entitled, nothing can be done for the beneficiaries after the person has died, unless they happen to be of the prescribed ages themselves; but if he has put in his application, and it has been signed, notwithstanding the fact that he may die without receiving the money, the Inland Revenue pays out to the beneficiaries whatever their age. I think that will commend itself to the Committee.

Commander Noble

There may be a case of a man who dies entitled to postwar credit over the age before this form comes into being.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

That is quite true, and if that is so his beneficiaries cannot get it unless they are of the prescribed age or over. I must remind the Committee that what we are trying to do here is to help old people who otherwise might not live to enjoy this money. Therefore, it would be unfair to other younger people if we paid postwar credits to the sons and daughters or near relatives of people who happened to die. It is the age of the beneficiaries that matters, and not the age of the person who has died, because that would not fulfil the original intention when this concession was given.

Now let me outline the method of payment of the final instalments which are provided for in this Clause. Application must be made to the tax office. Unfortunately, tax offices are quite unable to search out the recipients to let them know that postwar credits are due to them. The initiative must come from the individual himself; he must apply; and we hope that the forms will be in the post offices by the end of August. Those forms should be filled in, by the beneficiaries, and the sooner the better, because once they are filled in and signed, the money would then go, if they were to die, to those entitled to have it under their wills. That will do away with one grievance which, as I say, is very real.

Mr. Alpass

How will the people know when the forms are available?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Notice will be given over the wireless and in the Press that the forms are available. I undertake now to see that that is done. What we do not want people to do is to write in to the tax offices because they need the money. That only makes work for the tax offices and helps nobody; certainly not the individual who does the writing, because it costs a 2½d. stamp, and until the notice is given over the wireless and in the Press there is nothing which anyone can tell these people which would be of any use to them.

Major Haughton (Antrim)

The right hon. Gentleman has made it very clear to us that the intention of the Treasury is so-and-so. Surely, it would be possible for the Treasury to cut through some of this red tape, and to get at the thing we all want to get at?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

We do try to simplify it as much as we can. By common consent, I think, these forms are fairly simple. All the beneficiary has to do is to go to the post office, get a form, fill it in and send it to the tax office, and in due course he will get his postwar credit; he then receives a cheque which he will be able to cash, we hope with the minimum of trouble, and what he does with the money is his own affair. However, I should like to feel that many people will put it into National Savings, because if they do that they may obviate tax deductions later on.

There is one change in the form this year, which makes it different from last year's form. Last year, the applicant could put on either his national registration number or his old age pension number, as he pleased. This year we are asking them all to put on their national registration numbers, because it is simpler for the Inland Revenue authorities to trace their ages by that means. We hope to have paid out most of this money by Christmas but if any local Inland Revenue office has not paid out the money by 25th December, and hon. Members get complaints from their constituents, I hope they will tell them that this is a big job; it covers nearly two million people, the tax offices are greatly understaffed, and these people will get their cheques if only they wait patiently. I think I have covered most of the points that have been raised—

Mr. Birch

What about equality of the sexes?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

There was one point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), who asked if, in addition to the categories covered, people who died leaving estates of less than £2,000 might be included. I do not think he realises the immense amount of inquiry and work that that would entail, because the Inland Revenue authorities do not know with that exactitude how much a particular individual has left, and it would be very difficult to find these things out. We do not want to make this too complicated, or to throw more work than we need do on the Inland Revenue authorities. I think I have now covered most of the points—

Mr. Birch

Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the equality of the sexes?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I will answer that, although, if I may say so, the hon. Member put the question, to me in his usual aggressive way. I think it has already been answered—

Mr. Birch

But it has been answered so badly.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

—and it occurred to me that it would only be wasting the time of the Committee by answering it again. The reason women were taken at 60 and men at 65 was because in the early days, as the Committee will remember, we anchored this to the old age pension. A woman gets her pension and her book at 60, and we could tell her age by that, but the man does not get it till 65. That was the real reason. If the hon. Member wants to equalise the sexes, I do not know whether he would take the women up to 65 and not pay any woman out now at 60, or whether he would bring the men down to the age of 60.

Mr. Birch

Pay both at 62½.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

We began by paying out the women at 60 and the men at 65. In this Finance Bill we are now wiping out those ages completely by making a final payment to them all. Perhaps next year or the year after—it depends how the country proceeds under the beneficent rule of a Labour Government—or as we move down the years, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be paying out to women of 50 and men of 55; I do not know, but I look forward to that time with some pleasure, because presently my own turn will come.

Mr. Linstead (Putney)

Has the right hon. Gentleman had any actuarial investigation which would enable him to give a figure of what it would cost annually, over the next year or two, if repayment of postwar credits were made from the deceased to everybody to whom they were owed? Is a large sum of money annually needed to cover it?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I speak now, of course, subject to correction, but I think I am right in saying that it would be almost impossible to make that calculation, because such a number of variable factors would have to be taken into consideration: We should have to prophesy at what ages people would die, how many there would be, the extent to which they were entitled to postwar credits, and the possible amount. I think it would be very difficult to calculate that, and any attempt to do so would be a mere estimate only.

Mr. Linstead

Surely, that sort of calculation is being made every day in Government actuarial offices?

Mr. Stanley

I rise only to deal with one point in the reply of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think he gave a satisfactory answer to the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), by the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) and by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan).

Mr. Gallacher

Let this side speak for itself.

Mr. Stanley

Certainly, no one would ever presume to speak for the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). Indeed, it is not only a question of not presuming; he would not have an opportunity, because the hon. Member is always speaking for himself. It seemed to me that those hon. Members to whom I have referred put a serious point to the right hon. Gentleman, and one which merits serious consideration. Nobody in any part of the Committee suggests that there should be a great extension of the repayment of postwar credits at this time. Everybody accepts the Government's argument that that would be inflationary to the highest degree. All we want to know is wheher it is not possible to extend the repayment to cover certain other limited cases of hardship. The selection of the old age pensioners for the first repayment was on the ground that because of their age they would suffer a pecuniary hardship unless they were paid out soon. We say that there may be other far more limited cases where hardship requires some early repayment to be made. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the duty cannot be put on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Inland Revenue Department to make payments wherever hardship exists. There could not possibly be a roving commission of that kind. The question is whether there is some limited and quite specific case where hardship is almost bound to exist and where limited payments might be justified. It seems to me that the case of the man who dies leaving an estate under £2,000 is perfectly specific, is bound to be limited, and is a case where hardship will almost certainly arise. I think that that case deserves more serious consideration, and certainly a more serious answer than was given by the Financial Secretary.

I cannot accept the Financial Secretary's first argument that it would be impossible to increase the strain on the Inland Revenue Department. How can that argument be used in view of Clauses 14 to 18, which I should have thought double the work of the Inland Revenue for very little purpose? I stand aghast at his effrontery. Nor can I accept the argument that it would be impossible to find out the number of cases of this kind. Surely, some return has to be made of these estates to satisfy the Inland Revenue Department that they do not exceed £2,000, and that, therefore, no duty is payable on them. I am not pressing for acceptance of this idea now, but it would seem that this is a case where we might have some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that serious consideration will be given, and that some attempt will be made to find out what it would cost. If the cost is not prohibitive, then the possibility of it being introduced at some future date might be admitted. If that can be done, we might be able, at not too great a cost, to meet some cases of very real hardship.

Mr. Baldwin

There is one question which has not been answered. I asked whether the right hon. Gentleman did not think it fair to add interest to postwar credits, at the Post Office rate of interest, where payment would normally have been made except for the hazard of death. It seems unfair that the State should hold money for an indefinite period of years without paying any interest.

8.45 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

In supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) in his question, may I add a further question? Would it be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider a commutation policy whereby, if I were willing to do so, I could, instead of taking the £65 later, take £25 now and be done with it? That suggestion is in accordance with assurance practice, where there is what is called a paid-up policy. If that suggestion were adopted, it would give an indication of the public's confidence in His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Dalton

I am sorry that I was not present earlier, but this was due to the fact that I was getting some light refreshment to carry me on for a long time to come. I shall be very happy to read tomorrow all the suggestions which have been made as to the next stage in repayments. We have now concluded the first stage, and I think we have had the country and the House with us in giving first preference to the old people. The question now arises: who next, and in what order? We must ask for a reasonable minimum of administrative complexity. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) was perfectly right. We cannot go picking and choosing on some ill-defined basis of hardship, with every Member pushing his own cases. That would cause endless correspondence, and so on. I cannot give any indication that I can go further this year. I am having to watch inflationary pressure pretty closely and, if anything, I may have erred on the side of giving too much rather than too little, from that point of view.

I was anxious to close the category of repayment to old people, and that we have done. I cannot promise anything more this year, and, indeed, I must resist this proposal for an extension this year; but in planning what we shall do next year, I will take into account any suggestions made. I offer this thought without any commitment. There is something to be said, having paid off the credits of all the old people—and any person reaching the age of 65, if male, or 60, if female, will automatically become entitled to all five years; that will run on—at first sight, at any rate, for relating future payments to the age of the credits, and beginning by making a repayment of the credits, accruing to whomever they may accrue, in the first year in preference to later years.

I am throwing that into the pool of thought in our discussions for next year. It will be administratively simple, and everyone entitled to something will get something in the first year. It is the simplest plan of all, because all the credits are stamped with the year of issue. They are not stamped with the age of the person who is entitled to the credit, and that is the snag underlying the suggestion. When we first made provision for the first three years of credits for the old people, the Inland Revenue Department had to guess what the amounts would be, and we found, as I explained, that we were badly out, and that more than twice as much was held by the old people as we had supposed—£56 million as against £26 million. The age of the beneficiary is not stated on the postwar credit certificate, and, as I have said, it is easier to take the age of the credit, and that is the plan to which I should have a certain attraction. Certainly, we will consider other proposals, including the last and most hopeful proposal made from north of the Border, that instead of waiting for the full credit of £65, the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) should be able to take £25 down now.

Sir W. Darling

I would take it tonight.

Mr. Dalton

I will give that very careful consideration.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.