HC Deb 18 July 1955 vol 544 cc26-8
52. Mr. H. Hynd

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will arrange for the National Assistance Board to give higher coal allowances to meet the increased cost of coal.

53 and 54. Mr. Collins

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) if he is aware that an increase of from 10 per cent. to 12½ per cent. in domestic coal prices takes place on 18th July; and if he will bring this to the notice of the National Assistance Board with a view to increasing assistance scales to cover this and other recent increases in living costs;

(2) what reply he has sent to the Federation of Old Age Pensioners Associations request for an increase in the retirement pension to 50s. to cover the increased cost of coal and other recent increases in living costs.

56. Mr. J R. H. Hutchison

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, in view of the rise in coal prices, what review he is making of the rates of old-age pensions.

Mr. Peake

The National Assistance Board are, of course, watching the position, but fuel is only one of the necessities covered by assistance grants, which were increased as recently as last February. An acknowledgment has been sent to the communication from the National Federation of Old Age Pensioners Associations about retirement pensions, but I must point out that the rates of these pensions as raised only three months ago provide a higher purchasing power than any rates in force at any previous time.

Mr. Hynd

Is the Minister aware that the old-age pensioners have to begin to pay their higher coal prices today, whereas, if precedent is followed, they will not get an increase in their pensions until just before the next General Election? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore make representations to the National Assistance Board to meet this emergency need of the pensioners?

Mr. Peake

We must try to keep some sense of proportion about this matter. If a household were to consume one hundredweight of coal per week, the additional cost involved by the recent increase would be about 7½d.

Mr. Collins

Is the Minister aware that it is precisely a sense of proportion that is needed in these matters? Is he also aware that tens of thousands of old people who are living in rooms depend entirely upon coal for cooking and heating and that their weekly bill is between 7s. 6d. and 10s., which is an enormous proportion of their pensions? Although it is very hot now, it will probably be very cold before we meet again in October. Will the Minister make it clear to the National Assistance Board how urgent this matter is?

Mr. Peake

I have every confidence that the National Assistance Board will continue to discharge in the future, as it has done in the past, the duties laid upon it by Parliament.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the right hon. Gentleman remember that coal is essential to old people and is not a luxury? When he tells the House that assistance rates were raised last February, he will no doubt recall that those rates assumed that coal could be bought at a certain price but that since then the price has increased. What does he intend to do about that?

Mr. Peake

It is not a completely novel situation. I can hardly believe that during the tenure of office of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite some of the necessities of life did not go up in price from time to time.

Mr. D. Griffiths

Is the Minister aware that, regardless of his statements here this afternoon, there is a growing tendency among recipients of assistance, the general public and public men and women, to believe that there is more hard-heartedness and inhumanity today than there was in the past?

Mr. Peake

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not say that. It is incontrovertible that the present National Assistance scales give a better standard of living than any scales in force at any previous time.

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Is not the increased price of coal yet another example of the failure of nationalised industry: worse quality at increased cost, and the wretched public has to lump it?

Mr. H. Hynd

On a point of order. In view of the fact that fishing vessels are getting a subsidy because of the increased price of coal, may I give notice—

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

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