HC Deb 02 May 1955 vol 540 cc1349-52
Mr. Peake

With permission, I should now like to make a statement in reply to Question No. 58.

Ever since 1922 parents' pensions have been on a needs basis. They are designed, within the limits imposed by standards of need, to replace the contribution which it is assumed the Service man would have made towards the upkeep of his parents had he survived. They are thus liable to be, and in practice frequently are, adjusted in accordance with changes in the parents' other income.

In 1946 the basic means standard was 40s., and it remained at that figure until 1952. In 1952 it was raised to 50s. and I am now raising it to 60s. Where there are two parents, the basic standard will be 90s., compared with 60s. in 1946.

Cases which have recently been reviewed on the existing means standard are being looked at again in the light of these figures and I think the results will give general satisfaction.

Mr. D. Jones

While expressing grateful thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for this death-bed repentance, not unconnected with an incident which is to take place on 26th May, may I ask him whether he will do the same thing with National Assistance rates, in order to prevent widows who have lost no son from having to make sacrifices because these facts have not been taken into account?

Mr. Peake

The hon. Member will observe that what I am doing is to increase the means standard for these pensions, which has not been increased since 1952. The scales of National Assistance, as the hon. Member is also well aware, were increased as recently as February of this year.

Mr. Elliot

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the announcement which he has just made will give most lively satisfaction, I am sure, to all those on all sides of the House who have the interests of these people at heart?

Mr. Isaacs

I think we must ask the Minister to make this a little clearer. In his statement he refers to the single basic pension and gives the 1952 rate as 50s., rising to 60s., but when he refers to the two parents together he does not give the 1952 rates but says that the basic standard will in future be 90s. compared with 60s. in 1946. That makes it look as though there is an addition of 30s. We ought to be told what was the 1952 rate. We ought also to be told whether all these widows who have had certain sums deducted from their pensions will get exactly that sum given back to them.

Mr. Peake

I am happy to explain to the right hon. Gentleman that the means standard for two parents was raised from 60s. to 75s. in 1952. But these figures of the means standards are, of course, not the amounts of the pensions. They are the amounts by reference to which the amount of the pension is calculated. What my statement means is this: that any parents' war pension for which a reduction has been notified on account of an increase in an insurance pension or benefit will be fully restored. It goes further than that, in fact, because it also means that many parents' pensions will themselves be increased.

Mr. H. Morrison

While noting the customary comforting observations of the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), may I ask the Minister, in view of the fact that the Government have been asked to take this step for some time, why he had to wait until within three or four days of the dissolution of Parliament, and under the threat of a General Election, before he made this modest concession?

Mr. Peake

I certainly take full responsibility, and blame if need be, for having overlooked the fact that the very generous increases in insurance benefits and pensions which I announced before Christmas would have the effect in a very small number of cases—

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

More than 6,000.

Mr. Peake

No, about 4,000 cases—that the increases in those insurance pensions brought about no improvement in the income. I certainly take full responsibility for that, and as soon as the matter was brought to my notice by letters and Questions from hon. Members on both sides of the House I took immediate steps to put the matter right.

Mr. Callaghan

Is not the Minister aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) raised this matter during the debate on the National Assistance increases in December and that his statement was rejected? Is he not further aware that his Parliamentary Secretary told us that these cases had been carefully reviewed in the light of the increase given in old-age pensions, and that no increase could be given in these cases? While I would not accuse the Minister of electioneering, may I ask him why it is that he waited until a public outcry was created by the Opposition before he moved?

Mr. Peake

I think the answer is this: hon. Members who are familiar with war pensions know that the calculation of the parents' pension in any individual case is an exceedingly complex matter. It was not until a number of cases were brought to my notice about a week ago that it became obvious that it was essential that action should be taken immediately to deal with these grievances.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that a specific case was quoted in the debate on 20th December and that he went out of his way to justify the action which was being taken?

Mr. Peake

I have certainly no recollection of that, but I will refresh my memory upon the matter.

Mr. Simmons

Could the Minister tell us the estimated cost of this concession?

Mr. Peake

It is not possible to give a very accurate estimate of the cost because each case has to be looked at individually, but in a similar operation undertaken in 1952 the increase in the means standard cost a little over £200,000 a year.

Mr. Hastings

Can the right hon. Gentleman now assure the House that there will be no reduction in these widows' pensions received in respect of deceased sons? If he cannot give that assurance, will he say in how many cases a reduction will take place?

Mr. Peake

I thought I had made it clear that no reduction will take place in any parents' pension as a result of increases in National Insurance benefits or pensions.