HC Deb 20 November 1958 vol 595 cc1302-4
14. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the difficulty experienced by his Department in defining the word hardship in connection with the repayment of postwar credits, he will consult the National Assistance Board in regard to the Board's experience in defining hardship in the course of its duties.

Mr. Simon

My hon. Friend's suggestion has been examined on several occasions, but it has always been held that the criteria applied by the National Assistance Board do not provide a satisfactory definition of hardship for the purpose of repaying post-war credits.

Mr. Johnson

Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is the duty of the National Assistance Board to define need? If that be so, would not he consider the repayment of post-war credits in cases where the National Assistance Board feels that the applicant is in need? May I further ask him whether he would agree that sometimes it would be much more advantageous to the applicant to have the money which is owing to him repaid in a lump sum? It would be no more costly to the Treasury than giving it out gradually in National Assistance.

Mr. Simon

Need, as defined by the National Assistance Board, is by no means the same as hardship. In addition, there are a number of further difficulties but I am prepared to look further into the matter.

Mr. H. Wilson

While we all agree that the National Assistance Board's definition of hardship is unsatisfactory and has become much more stringent in recent years, may I ask the hon. and learned Member to take note of the fact that there are Members in all parts of the House who would like to impress upon him, as a matter of urgency, that he should try to work out a fair definition of hardship for the purpose of repayment of post-war credits?

Mr. Simon

The National Assistance Board has no definition of hardship at all. Therefore, the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question does not arise. It is quite untrue to say that the National Assistance Board's administration has become more harsh in recent years. I have undertaken to look further into the matter of defining hardship for the purpose of post-war credits, but it is not likely to he any easier for this Government than it was for the right hon. Gentleman's party.

Mr. John Hall

Would my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is sufficient hardship for holders of post-war credits to have been denied the use of their money for more than fourteen years?

Mr. Simon

No. I cannot agree that that is a proper definition of hardship.

20. Mr. Gower

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will arrange for the early repayment of post-war credits in cases of holders of more than 50 years of age who by reason of ill-health have been in receipt of sickness benefit and National Assistance for twelve months or more.

Mr. Simon

I am afraid that the conditions suggested would not provide a satisfactory criterion for the repayment of post-war credits.

Mr. Gower

Does my hon. and learned Friend appreciate that the formula suggested in the Question would have certain advantages in that the prospective recipients would be easily identifiable, and that would overcome most of the objections which he has previously pleaded to suggestions made in this House? Secondly, if these people have been receiving grants from the Treasury in any case, would not it be sensible to pay them the money which is due to them after so many years?

Mr. Simon

I do not for one moment deny that persons of the class designated in the Question are likely to be suffering hardship. The difficulty is that to single them out would leave a great many who are suffering perhaps equal hardship outside that line.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Is the Minister aware that there is growing dissatisfaction with these glib excuses for refusing to deal with cases of hardship in the repayment of post-war credits? It cannot be administratively impossible. If there are difficulties about it, would not it be better for the Government to err on the side of generosity and devise a rule which would enable these admitted cases of hardship to be dealt with?

Mr. Simon

What the Government have to do is to be fair to the whole body of credit holders. It would be quite wrong to hold out any hope that a line can necessarily be found which will not leave on the wrong side of it some of those who are suffering equal hardship with those on the other side. The same difficulties were found by previous Governments in dealing with this problem. As I have said, however, my right hon. Friend has not closed his mind and he is keeping the whole problem under review.