HC Deb 16 November 1964 vol 702 cc17-20
21. Mrs. Cullen

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will take steps to grant a supplementary payment to retirement pensioners for Christmas.

20. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if, in view of the need to assist retirement pensioners before Christmas, she will give a Christmas bonus payment; and if she will make a statement.

Miss Herbison

My hon. Friends will recall that in his Budget statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the National Assistance Board would be paying special attention to the needs of old people and others in receipt of National Assistance who were likely to have heavy fuel and other bills to meet during the winter. I am glad to inform the House that the Board is arranging to make a special lump sum payment of £4 to all those over retirement age who are receiving a weekly allowance from the Board (apart from certain people in hospitals and homes for old people) so as to provide them with additional help during the cold winter months.

Mrs. Cullen

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this will bring great joy to some of the old folk who are looking forward to a very dismal Christmas? The old people, especially those in my constituency, have every confidence in the Minister that will give the increase as soon as possible.

Miss Herbison

Perhaps I should add that the Board will consider not only these old people—and there are about 1,300,000 of them who will get the £4—but other deserving cases like the chronic sick who are not able to move around. The Board will have to find them out.

It knows some of them, but not all of them. However, the 1,300,000 old people are already known to the Board.

Mrs. Thatcher

While we agree that it takes approximately four months to increase retirement pension scales, the same does not apply to National Assistance scales. Would it not be better to lay the regulations quickly so that these people might have their increases in National Assistance scales before Christmas, bearing in mind that we once implemented the increase within eight weeks?

Miss Herbison

The hon. Lady is well aware that it would have been impossible in the time that we had to devote to these matters to give the increase to these deserving old people by Christmas. Perhaps if some work had been done in the Ministry on these questions when I took over it would have been a very much simpler matter than it is.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a considerable grievance among old people in old persons' homes that whenever there is an increase it is "pinched" by the local authority? Can she assure us that the local authority will not "pinch" this £4 Christmas present and that the old people will get it?

Miss Herbison

I am afraid that my hon. and learned Friend did not hear the whole reply. The £4 lump sum is being given for fuel and other purposes to keep old people warm during the winter. Those in homes will not get the special £4 lump sum, so that the local authorities will not have anything to do with what is paid.

Sir K. Joseph

Would the Minister please try to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) more fully? If, as I am sure is the case, she wants to help the most needy as quickly as possible, she should consider laying the regulations raising the assistance scales in a matter of weeks. As a matter of record, we did this in eight weeks at the end of 1955. It may well he that, with the increase of modern management methods, it is possible to do it in even less than eight weeks. I hope that the right hon. Lady will not remove all hope from the most needy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have not finished the sentence—but that the Government will consider as seriously as possible helping the most needy by laying an increase in assistance scales before Christmas.

Miss Herbison

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Finchley was correct—that if there had been some preparation beforehand we might have been able to give all of our people an increase.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

In view of the great and obviously sincere anxiety among hon. Members opposite that these increased payments should be made by Christmas, could my right hon. Friend say what was the latest date on which the last Administration could have made proposals to ensure that they would be put into operation by Christmas this year?

Miss Herbison

Taking away the amount of time that we have had, it would have meant that preparations would have had to be in hand during the Summer Recess, as happened in 1957. The fact that none of those preparations were made shows quite clearly that hon. Members opposite, had they been returned, had no intention of increasing pensions.

Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Question referred to retirement pensioners, whereas she has answered in relation to those on National Assistance? The Question also referred to the Christmas bonus payment, whereas she has spoken of an extra fuel allowance.

Miss Herbison

You may call it what you like, but all those old people, or the vast majority——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I do not call it anything.

Miss Herbison

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman may call it anything he likes, but the fact is that the majority, if not all, of these old people—those on National Assistance—will have this £4. The same problem exists for giving all retirement pensioners, say, a double pension as exists for giving them the increased pensions earlier.