HC Deb 16 November 1964 vol 702 cc10-4
8. Mr. William Clark

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether the promised increase in retirement pensions will commence before 25th January, 1965.

Miss Herbison

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 11th November, the proposed changes in national insurance benefits will come into effect in the week beginning 29th March, 1965.

Mr. Clark

Will not the right hon. Lady agree that the last time pensions were increased it took 125 days from the date of announcement to the date of implementation? Why is it this time taking 138 days—which is 13 days longer? Does she also recall that the associated benefits in 1963 were introduced within 43 days of the announcement and that, even if the new benefits were introduced before the end of December, it will now take 50 days? Is there no way in which the dynamic Government of 100 days can bring these benefits in sooner? Is the right hon. Lady——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The supplementary questions are getting rather long.

Miss Herbison

If the hon. Gentleman cares to look back, he will find that the time to be taken for the new benefits from the introduction of the Bill—that is the effective time—is about the same time as that taken by the last Government in their 13 years of office, during which four or five increases were made. There are further questions on the Order Paper about other benefits.

Mr. Warbey

As I know that my right hon. Friend would be most anxious to help those who are facing the rigours of the coming winter to get the increases if that were administratively possible, will she undertake to give sympathetic consideration to constructive proposals designed to overcome administrative difficulties—for example, payment of double benefit on three occasions between now and 29th March?

Miss Herbison

All these things that have been suggested by my hon. Friend and by many other hon. Members throughout the House have been given the most serious consideration. I should have liked to have been able to pay these benefits by Christmas. I assure my hon. Friend that all these suggestions will be very carefully examined.

9. Mr. William Clark

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what are the single and married rates of retirement pensions in 1951 and 1964; and what were the relative increases in real terms.

Mr. Pentland

In October, 1951, the normal rates were 30s. (single) and 50s. (for a couple). They are now 67s. 6d. and 109s., respectively. Estimates of the increase in real value vary from 24 per cent. to 49 per cent. according to the index of prices used, the account taken of the withdrawal of tobacco tokens, and the variations between single pensioners and couples.

Mr. Clark

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this proves that during the last 13 years the pension has more than kept pace with the increased cost of living? Is it the Government's intention to keep the old-age pension to the forefront when we get increases in the cost of living over the next few months?

Mr. Pentland

Yes, Sir. We have always claimed that the increases granted by the previous Government over the past 13 years, National Insurance benefits and pensions, were just not high enough. We are now in the process of putting this right.

Mr. William Hamilton

Would my hon. Friend say to what extent those figures are distorted by the undoubted fact that the cost-of-living index bears no relation whatever to the cost of living endured by the old-age pensioner? What steps is my hon. Friend taking to initiate the introduction of a separate cost-of-living index for old people?

Mr. Pentland

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct and we are looking further into a cost-of-living index for old-age pensioners.

19. Brigadier Clarke

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance when she will make a statement about the increase in retirement pensions and widows' pensions.

Miss Herbison

I assume the hon. and gallant Gentleman has in mind the presentation of the National Insurance Bill and the publication of the associated documents. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated in his statement on 11th November, the House will not have long to wait.

Brigadier Clarke

Has the right hon. Lady considered how, with a little ingenuity, existing pension books could be overstamped so that pensioners could have their increases before Christmas? Does she not appreciate how much joy that would give them?

Miss Herbison

I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I am well aware of the great joy which it would have given to all retirement pensioners if they could have had their increases by Christmas, but I have examined every possible way of doing this and with the present machinery it is impossible.

Mrs. Emmet

Will the right hon. Lady consider the impact which a review of widows' pensions will have on unmarried elderly women, who may have been looking after dependent relatives for some time? When widows' pensions and the possible dropping of the age limit are considered, will she take their case into account along with the retraining of middle-aged women in employment, as both things are connected?

Miss Herbison

Yes, Sir.

22. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what plans she has to alter the administrative machinery in her Department so that any future decision to change the pension rate may be more speedily effected.

Miss Herbison

The problem arises from the long-established system of paying pensions in this country which is convenient for recipients except when rates are being changed. My Department is, however, examining whether an acceptable alternative system can be devised which would permit a shorter timetable.

Mr. Pavitt

Will my right hon. Friend accept that her hon. and right hon. Friend agree that she is the one person who would move heaven and earth to pay this sum more quickly to the old people? However, the Treasury is more difficult to move. Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend make sure that no other Government is faced with announcing increases in pensions before the winter and having to put them into operation after the winter is over?

Miss Herbison

I can well understand my hon. Friend's feelings. They were my own feelings. When I arrived at the Ministry my desire was to give the increases as quickly as possible. We must go back over the last 13½ years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Yes—when there was criticism from our side of the House about the time-lag between the announcement and the payment. If the Government of those days had really tried to find out what use could be made of a computer for this job, I understand that the increase could be paid in a little over four weeks from the date of the announcement. I hope that before it is time for a another increase we may be using computers.

Mr. Mendelson

I accept that my right hon. Friend, on taking office, had every intention of bringing these new increases into effect as early as possible, but, none the less, will she bear in mind that hon. Members have received a large amount of correspondence from old-age pensioners who are deeply disturbed by the delay? Will she undertake, in particular, to set out in a statement to be published as a Parliamentary paper what alternative proposals she has considered, what the administrative difficulties are and what the possibilities are of considering further proposals to speed up this process?

Miss Herbison

I do not know that I can set them out in a Parliamentary paper, but I hope to make these matters very clear to the whole House.

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