HC Deb 27 March 1962 vol 656 cc1022-6

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law with regard to the pensions of public service pensioners, and retired officers and other ranks, and widows of the armed services. In asking for leave to introduce my Bill, I trust that I may have the support of the House. There are already several Motions on the Order Paper dealing with various categories of pensioner, including those to which the Bill refers. The Motions have been signed by a large number of hon. Members, and this, I think, indicates the concern and interest taken by hon. Members on both sides in the welfare of these pensioners—an interest which I readily acknowledge.

In introducing a Private Member's Bill, one has to face many hazards. I am well aware that if I were to specify particular increases I should soon run into procedural difficulties, and it would be of no service to the pensioners whose cause I plead if I were to be overthrown by the first hurdle. Therefore, I should explain at the beginning that I am not proposing specific increases.

The main purpose of my Bill is to ensure that a review should be held every two years. This is in the nature of a pensions review Bill rather than a pensions increase Bill. The review, amongst other things, would provide Parliament with comparative figures showing how pensions granted in years gone by were lagging behind those of current pensioners.

I believe that once samples have been selected from various categories and have been collected from the past years, it would be comparatively simple to bring the information up to date at regular intervals. I suggest that it should be published every two years in a White Paper. I think that it would be of value to Parliament. I hope that it would be of value to the Government and I know that it would be of value to the country. It would bring to light many inequalities. For example, one may have two public servants who have retired at the same age, have borne the same degree of responsibility, and have attained the same position before retirement, but who are enjoying widely different pensions according to their dates of retirement.

The further back one goes into the past, the less likely is a pensioner to have a pension in line with modern standards and the present-day cost of living. This is so in spite of any increases that have been granted. One of the objects of the Bill is to show up this disparity with a view to creating greater equality.

The review would also include a special cost-of-living index appropriate to the elderly. I am not criticising the recent revision of the index of retail prices prepared by the Cost of Living Advisory Committee and published in Command Paper 1657. No doubt this new index reflects accurately, or fairly accurately, the changing pattern of expenditure, but it does not reflect the typical expenditure of elderly retired people.

Can one reasonably include in the normal annual expenditure of an elderly retired person motor scooters and perambulators, even though the cost of other forms of transport may have gone up under Dr. Beeching? Again, I have no doubt that the same applies to nylon panties, although that is a subject on which I am not very well informed.

When the case for a special cost-of-living index for the elderly is argued, it is sometimes contended that this might not always work out advantageously for them. I wish to point out that this review would contain two criteria. The first would be the increase in current pensions with which to compare the pensions granted in the past. The second would be changes in the cost of living appropriate to the elderly. I suggest that the year 1939 should be used as a base from which the calculations should be made.

It is only with this information that we can judge to what extent there are injustices and to what extent pensions are out of balance. In advocating this proposal, I am not just putting forward my own pet idea. I have the support in principle of a number of important bodies, including N.A.L.G.O., the Public Service Pensioners' Council, the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, and the Officers' Pensions Society. I have also a bundle of letters expressing support.

An article in the March issue of the Whitley Bulletin points out that … the National Staff Side has already pressed the case for Civil Service pensions to be reviewed and adjusted at stated intervals, and as a measure of general policy, for this method to replace the present unsatisfactory procedure. It concludes: the only effective counter measure which could produce a fair result would be a systematic review and adjustment of pension levels at recognised and agreed intervals. I will give an example. It is the case of a civil servant in Class 1, Administrative Grade, who retired in January, 1950, at the age of 60. A person in a similar grade, with precisely the same length of service and who retired at the same age two years later, would be receiving £66 a year more. If he had retired in 1960 his pension would be almost double. Curiously enough, if he had retired three years earlier, in 1947. he would have been receiving £17 a year more, owing to a peculiar anomaly relating to those retiring in this particular class between 1947 and 1952.

There is no rhyme or reason in it. It is the outcome of complicated pensions legislation which is not based on any consistent policy. I believe that the Treasury is well aware of these anomalies, but nothing has been done to rectify them.

To take a more modest example. A blind shorthand typist stationed in London, commenced work in 1927, was established in 1947 and retired in 1957. This was a total service of thirty years, with only twenty years reckoned for pension, which is 54s. a week. Another blind shorthand-typist with thirty years' service, and in almost precisely the same circumstances, but who started a few years later and retired a few years later, will get 70s. a week. This is little enough, but why should one receive 54s a week and another 70s.?

The whole subject of parity was raised in an interesting article by Air Marshal Sir Gerald Gibbs, in the Daily Telegraph of 3rd February, in which he wrote: It seems clear that in the civilised world generally there is a growing realisation of the injustice and hardship caused by the system under which pensions for specific Government and other services are frozen at their original paper value, while their real value dwindles continually with inevitable inflation. Some of the most striking cases of inequality are to be found among the pensions of those who served in the Armed Forces. The latest proposals, published today, in Cmnd. 1666, Service Pay and Pensions, will not affect that position. They will not affect the past, but only the future. There are many cases of retired officers and other ranks with widely differing rates of retired pay, differing solely because of the date when they retired. There are many elderly retired officers who are even worse off than retired civil servants.

Some of the illustrations of greatest hardship concern widows. Increases were introduced in 1959 following the Report of the Grigg Committee in 1958, but a hard and fast line was drawn between the widows of those who died before 4th November, 1958, and those who died afterwards. Let me give two examples. Time permits me to give only two from the officer class. The first is the widow of a lieut.-commander. She is in receipt of National Assistance and is now 80 years old, and she writes: Even with National Assistance, this is not living. It is just existing. I am often cold and hungry. The second example is of the widow of a lieut.-colonel, who writes as follows: I have had to cut down on food this month to buy a much-wanted pair of shoes. I have had to sell all my possessions and I have tried to get work, but my age is against me. Her age is 72.

These are the forgotten people of our modern society. There are 5,000 of these widows and I am told that they are dying off at the rate of 42 a month. Perhaps a hard-hearted statistician will say that the fact that they are dying off is the answer, but surely we can find a more satisfactory solution, a more humane remedy, than to wait for the chill hand of death.

I am not suggesting that we should wait for a review. Justice could be given now. I am also aware that there are many other pensioners who are not included in the ambit of the Bill. I am not unmindful of their problems, but the Bill would be a step in the right direction.

If any final argument is needed, I make this submission. Hon. Members are in real difficulty. There are so many causes which are brought to their notice. An appeal may be launched on a subject such as this, Motions are tabled and speeches made, and then, perhaps, something is done, possibly inadequately, by the Government and the whole subject then passes from the Parliamentary limelight into the shadows. It does not follow, however, that the anomalies have all been remedied, or that others will not arise.

The object of the Bill is to bring this important matter to the attention of Parliament every two years to enable us to see whether justice is being done. This, surely, is the least we can do to ensure that these former servants of the State and their widows are not forgotten and that Parliament is acting honourably towards these ageing members of our so-called welfare society

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Donald Wade, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Roderic Bowen, Mr. Arthur Holt, Mr. Jeremy Thorpe, and Mr. Eric Lubbock.

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