HC Deb 10 November 1958 vol 595 cc14-8
22. Mr. Brockway

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War by extending the age allowance to all the disabled survivors of that war and by increasing the pensions of the widows of men who served in the war above the present level of 66s. a week which, in the majority of cases, can be eked out only by National Assistance.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

The hon. Member will be no doubt aware that this year we have already made very substantial increases in the basic rates of disability and war widow's pensions, as well as in some of the main allowances.

For the reasons I have already given several times to the House, I do not think that it would be appropriate to extend the scope of the age allowance which I introduced last year. Incidentally, this allowance is not confined to men who served in the 1914–18 war.

With reference to the last part of his Question, the hon. Member is in error in suggesting that a majority of war widows have recourse to National Assistance; the actual figure is 2 per cent.

Mr. Brockway

On a point of order. In my draft of the Question, I wrote that in the majority of cases these women were not receiving more than the grants for National Assistance. That is a correction.

All of us have welcomed the increased pay and pensions to Service men, but as tomorrow is the fortieth anniversary of the Armistice in the First World War, and as these limbless ex-Service men grow older and feel their burdens more than they did when they were younger men, and as the widows have had a difficult time in looking after these men, would it not be appropriate for the right hon. Gentleman to remember them tomorrow?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I answered the hon. Member's Question as it appeared on the Order Paper. When the hon. Member studies my main Answer, he will appreciate that I pointed out that earlier this year, not leaving it until as late as November, we made a very substantial increase in the main rates of disability pensions, allowances and widows' pensions and that these, on top of other increases in recent years, constitute a very substantial advance.

Mr. L. M. Lever

While appreciative of what the right hon. Gentleman has done in connection with grants for the aged disabled, is he not aware that many men do not live long enough to reach the qualifying age of sixty-five when the benefit of these improvements is derived? Does he not agree that forty years after the First World War these war disabled should not be limited by age and that these admitted improvements should be extended to all aged limbless ex-Service men of the First World War, since none of them is young and many have suffered serious disability, discomfort and inconvenience throughout these many years, and—

Mr. Speaker

I think that that is enough.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Since he has studied the subject, the hon. Member will be well aware that the age allowance is only a part of the improved provision which has been made in recent years. It is one of the difficulties of a specialised allowance of this kind that if one spreads it too wide one tends to undermine its original purpose, which was to deal with the special question of the severely disabled in later life. The hon. Member should give weight, as he generously did, to the general picture of improvements as well as to this allowance.

27. Mr. Simmons

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will now appoint an expert committee to review the tables of assessments for specific injuries which govern the assessments and compensation paid for loss of limbs, etc., as a result of service in Her Majesty's Forces, having regard to the substantial change in the provisions for war pensions and allowances since the Hancock Committee Report of 1946; and whether he is satisfied that compensation of 34s. a week payable to an ex-private with a below-knee amputation is adequate by present day standards and values.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The fact that there have been very substantial improvements in the war pensions provisions since the Hancock Committee reported in December, 1946, is not, in my view, a reason for undertaking a further review of the tables of assessments for specified injuries at this time. The 34s. a week basic pension payable to an ex-private of the 1939 war who has a below-knee amputation with a stump exceeding 5 inches compares with 18s. a week in December, 1946.

Mr. Simmons

Is the Minister aware that there is a growing feeling that the assessment of the amount of disability should no longer be by tape measure? Will he see whether some other method of assessing a disability of those who have lost limbs in the service of their country can be found?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I understand the hon. Member's point of view, but it is not easy to find a satisfactory and objective alternative, as he knows from his own experience in war pensions administration.

30. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the numbers of totally disabled war pensioners, the numbers of such men who have died during the last two years, and the numbers of war widows' pensions granted in respect of those deaths, respectively; and whether he will state the corresponding numbers for the war disabled who were pensioned at less than the 100 per cent. rate.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

There were on 30th June, 1958, about 32,950 with 100 per cent. assessments. During the preceding two years deaths amongst such pensioners were 3,326, of whom 2,000 were married. I regret that I have no figures of awards of war widows' pensions relating either to these deaths or to particular assessments, but the number of such awards made in the two years was 3,640.

33. Mr. L. M. Lever

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will now make a statement on the improvements he proposes to make in the allowances and conditions of the aged limbless ex-Service men.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As the hon. Member is aware, this class of pensioner benefited from the age allowance introduced last year and from the general war pension improvements made earlier this year. I have no further proposals to make.

Mr. Lever

Did not the Minister a few moments ago say that there would be an early general review of pensions in regard to this class of case? If I misunderstood him and there is not to be an early general review, will the Minister give further consideration to the very serious position of those limbless ex-Service men of the First World War for whom the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association does so very much? Will he give consideration to the allowances being made to all aged limbless ex-Service men of the First World War? Secondly, will he review the spacing of percentages which at present exists in regard to the degrees of disability of those to whom allowances have been made?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

With regard to the first part of the hon. Member's supplementary question, he clearly misunderstood me; I did not indicate that any general review was intended. As to the second part, I think that I have already answered the hon. Member's question in my reply to his hon. Friend.