HC Deb 12 March 1951 vol 485 cc1048-51
20. Mr. H. Fraser

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the increasing number of old age pensioners and of the necessity for as many persons as possible remaining in work, she will reconsider the anomaly by which self-employed persons in shops, smallholdings, etc., are forced to abandon either their work or their pension on reaching pensionable age.

33. Mr. Sidney Marshall

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in view of the increasing need for maximum output of every kind in industry, she will consider the introduction at an early stage of the necessary legislation to enable State pensioners, in all categories, who are willing and able to work, to be allowed to do so without any restriction on the amount earned.

Dr. Summerskill

It was unanimously agreed by all parties in 1946 that the pensions to be provided under the new scheme were to be retirement pensions for those who gave up regular work. They were designed to encourage people to go on working beyond minimum pension age by providing higher pensions for themselves and their wives when they retire or reach the age of 70. I do not think the abolition of the provisions would have the effect the hon. Members desire.

Mr. Fraser

Surely the right hon. Lady would agree that things have changed a great deal since 1946 and that if the older people who can carry out jobs of this sort have to go, they have to be replaced by younger people? Surely it is worth looking at the regulations again?

Dr. Summerskill

We are anxious to encourage older people to go on working.

Mr. Harrison

Without abandoning the principle of the retirement pension, could my right hon. Friend do something to increase the amount which it is permissible for these old people to earn before they are disqualified from drawing their benefit?

Dr. Summerskill

I am quite prepared to consider that.

Mr. Marshall

Does not the right hon. Lady consider the present position, arising out of the urgent need for production, vastly different from that obtaining in 1946, and will not she have the matter reconsidered?

Dr. Summerskill

Yes, Sir.

21 and 22. Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

asked the Minister of National Insurance (1) at what values coal and light were assessed in 1948 and today, respectively, in assessing the earnings allowable together with a retirement pension;

(2) whether she will consider raising the amount of earnings allowed without loss of retirement pension by an amount equivalent to the average rise in wage-rates since the National Insurance Act was passed.

37. Mr. Alport

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether the Government have any intention of increasing the permitted level of earnings for old age pensioners before reductions in retirement benefit are made.

Dr. Summerskill

The amount of earnings to be disregarded was fixed in the Act of 1946 as a measure of the amount of employment which could be ignored consistently with the principle that the pensions provided were to be retirement pensions. It was not related to specific items of expenditure or to a particular level of wages. I have, however, noted the hon. Members' suggestions.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

May I now have an answer to Question 21, which was not included in the answer given by the Minister?

Dr. Summerskill

I have answered it, as the hon. Member will see if he reads my answer.

Mr. Summers

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind that the level of wages in comparison with pensions plus casual earnings must necessarily be a relevant factor in considering how much casual earnings should be ignored?

Dr. Summerskill

I said in answer to the previous Question that I am considering that.

Mr. Alport

Can the Minister give us any idea whether there is any intention on the part of herself and the Government to bring in necessary amending legislation in the near future to assist in solving this problem?

Dr. Summerskill

I am afraid that I cannot commit myself.

Mr. R. A. Butler

How soon does the right hon. Lady suggest she can bring in any amendments?

Dr. Summerskill

The same answer applies to the right hon. Gentleman's question.

30. 31 and 32. Sir Ian Fraser

asked the Minister of National Insurance (1) whether she is now in a position to announce any changes in the assessment of part-time or casual earnings of old age pensioners, in order to encourage all who wish to do so to contribute to the national productive effort;

(2) whether, in view of the steady rise in the cost of living since current rates of pension were fixed, she will now consider an increase in those rates;

(3) when she expects the present review of the operation of the National Insurance Act, as it affects old age pensioners, to be concluded; and whether she will expedite this review, in view of the difficulties old age pensioners are encountering owing to the rise in living costs.

Dr. Summerskill

I regret that I am not in a position to make a statement on these matters. I would remind the hon. Member that any person in difficulties can apply to the National Assistance Board for supplementary help.

Sir I. Fraser

In regard to Question 30, is not the proposal there suggested one which is in the national interest, because the people will be employed and thus contribute towards their own benefits? Does the right hon. Lady realise, in relation to the other Questions, that the figure of 26s. first recommended by Lord Beveridge—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, 24s."]—was in fact out of date by the time the scheme was launched and is it not now time that a revision was made?

Dr. Summerskill

In regard to Question 30, I think that perhaps the hon. Member was not in the House when I said I was considering this matter.

Mr. Summers

When the right hon. Lady is considering the matter, will she bear in mind the advantage of doing something simultaneously to increase the incentive to remain at work when considering the increase in the casual earnings limit, so as to preserve the present balance between those who decide to remain at work and those who decide to retire?