HC Deb 26 November 1962 vol 668 cc15-9
20. Mr. Millan

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will take steps to arrange for the pay ment of an additional week's pension to old-age pensioners at Christmas; and how much this would cost.

Mr. N. Macpherson

The answer to the first part of the Question is, No, Sir. I have no power to make such payments, which have always been regarded as inappropriate to a universal system of compulsory insurance. The cost of paying an additional week's pension to retirement pensioners at Christmas would be about £16 million.

Mr. Millan

Yes, but will not the Minister take steps to obtain this power? Is he aware that on this side of the House we would certainly facilitate his getting it? Since the Chancellor of the Exchequer is making an additional repayment of post-war credits to give some additional purchasing power at Christmas, can the Minister not do his little bit by making this bonus payment, which would be very greatly appreciated?

Mr. Macpherson

The Government still agree with what Dr. Summerskill, as she then was, said in reply to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) on 18th July, 1950, that as a question of principle, This would not be a proper provision to be made under a contributory insurance scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2023.] We think that the right way to deal with this is to do as we have been doing in the past, to increase pensions throughout the year rather than at a particular time.

Mr. Manuel

Would not the Minister seriously consider this again? From all accounts, and from Press reports today, his Ministry is going to have to concede very soon additional increases to this type of pensioner anyhow? Would he not therefore consider payment for the interim period covering Christmas and the New Year? Could he not really do something which would help to bridge the gap between this and an increase?

Mr. Macpherson

No. I am sure this would not be a correct use of the National Insurance scheme. In an insurance scheme which insures for all risks and to which everybody contributes it would not be right to give a Christmas bonus which would go to some beneficiaries and not to others.

23. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the cost of granting £1 a week increase to all those on retirement pension or National Assistance; and, alternatively, what would be the cost of granting El a week increase to all single persons and married couples on retirement pension or National Assistance.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

On present numbers, about £340 million a year and about £280 million a year, respectively.

Mr. Allaun

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the Labour Party is now committed to an immediate increase of the equivalent of £1 ls. 5d. on a single retirement pension, and that because of this the Government may be forced to make a concession before the General Election? Why do they not do the right thing and grant it now?

Mrs. Thatcher

The commitment of the Labour Party of which I was aware was not quite that one. It was the one the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has mentioned in recent weeks and would cost £450 million. This is on top of the £1,100 million which this year will be spent on National Insurance benefits. This would require a great increase in the contributions. I would say to the hon. Member that I do not think it is the Labour Party in opposition which will result in the increasing of pensions by the Government.

24. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what would be the cost of granting £1 increase to all those on retirement pension or National Assistance in the week before Christmas; and, alternatively, of granting this increase to all single persons and married couples on retirement pension and National Assistance.

Mrs. Thatcher

About £6¾ million and about £5½ million, respectively, assuming that those on either retirement pension or National Assistance or both would qualify.

Mr. Allaun

Has the hon. Lady thought what it means to spend the whole of Christmas week on £2 17s. 6d. plus a bit of National Assistance? Does it not mean going without any enjoyment of anything beyond the bare means of existence?

Mrs. Thatcher

I recognise the motives of humanity which stir the hon. Member to ask that question, but my right hon. Friend has explained that it is not a proper feature of a National Insurance scheme to give a particular bonus for particular weeks. I would remind the hon. Member that the National Assistance scales did go up by an amount which meant an expenditure of over £20 million a year as recently as September.

Miss Herbison

If the Minister continues to insist that this money should not be paid from the National Insurance Fund, and if the Minister does realise the hardship of these old people and the pleasure which a little extra money at Christmas would mean for them, why cannot he have it paid from the Exchequer and not continue to hide behind this matter of principle which the hon. Lady has told us about today?

Mrs. Thatcher

Well, my right hon. Friend is not yet at the Exchequer, but in due course of time he may be.

40. Mr. Marsh

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many retirement pensioners in the area covered by his London offices are in receipt of National Assistance supplements; and what is the average rent for which allowance has had to be made in the calculation of these supplements.

Mrs. Thatcher

At 25th September last, the number of weekly National Assistance allowances supplementing retirement pensions in the area served by the National Assistance Board's offices in the administrative County of London was 81,386. Up-to-date information about the average rent of recipients of such allowances is not yet available.

Mr. Marsh

Is it not becoming absurd to maintain a situation where we are paying a pension on which, quite clearly, a very large proportion of old-age pensioners cannot possibly live and we then have to duplicate this administration to pay supplementary benefits? Is the hon. Lady aware that many of us on this side of the House will expect my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) to change this state of affairs next year?

Mrs. Thatcher

It would seem to be most unwise that because one in every five retirement pensioners needed supplementation one should pay a great deal of money to the other four out of five, who by definition, are not in need for the time being.

Mr. Lipton

Is it not a fact that the supplementation has had to be increased to the extent of many thousands of pounds a week as a direct result of the 1957 Rent Act?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no figures which support that contention.