HC Deb 03 April 1968 vol 762 cc373-6

3.42 p.m.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to exempt for the purposes of assessing rate rebate the amount payable as compensation for war disablement and the amount of pension or other benefit payable to the widow or dependant of an officer or man who lost hi life through a cause arising out of his service with Her Majesty's forces. The House will know that until 1966 compensation for war disablement had al ways been given exceptional treatment. In that year, however, the Government departed from earlier practice by requiring local authorities to take fully into account the amount of a ratepayer's war disability pension and allowances when assessing his total income for the purposes of the rate rebate scheme.

The Bill seeks to restore to war disability compensation and Service widows' benefits the consideration they had always been given. These payments, as hon. Members will, I am sure, accept, are unique in character. They were eared in special circumstances, in the service of the country, and for that reason successive Governments and Chancellors of the Exchequer have in the past excluded war disability pensions and allowances from assessment for Income Tax purposes. In addition, for the purposes of the Supplementary Benefits Scheme, the first 40s. of a disability pension is disregarded when assessing the extent of an individual's needs.

More recently, in the joint circular No. 46/ 67, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Wales gave discretion to local authorities similarly to disregard up to the same 40s. war disability payment for the purposes of the rent rebate scheme. These payments cannot, therefore, be compared with the contributory social service benefits; they are quite separate from the normal operations of the Welfare State.

Now, as a result of the Rating Act, 1966, for the first time the total amount paid in compensation is fully taken into account. This has created an entirely new situation. Provision has been made to relieve any financial distress which may be caused by the rising rate burden, but disabled ex-Service men are unable fully to share in it solely because of the amount they receive in compensation.

The person who is hardest hit is the badly disabled ex-Serviceman who has few sources of income other than his compensation payment—for example, a man who had lost two limbs would be assessed at the rate of 100 per cent., giving him £7 12s. a week in compensation. The prescribed limit for the purposes of the rate rebate scheme is less than £8 a week for a single person or less than £10 for a married couple.

Although all disabled ex-Servicemen are affected by the treatment of their compensation payments in this way, it must weigh particularly heavily on ex-Servicemen disabled in the First World War. During the difficult inter-war years of high unemployment and depression they had a hard struggle to find additional sources of income. Many of them, therefore, have little beyond their normal State pension.

Consider the case of two married couples, both of whom are in receipt of their National Insurance retirement pension. In these circumstances they would both be eligible for rate rebate, but if one of the men had been badly shot up, leading to the amputation of an arm or leg, he would be getting a 60 per cent. war disability payment amounting to about £4 11s. a week. This would put the total income of his household above the limit eligible for the full amount of rate rebate. It must be wrong that the man with the severest disabilities should be penalised in this way.

These payments represent compensation for the effects of the Service disablement and they are not related to the financial hardship of the individual or even to the loss of his earning ability. They are related only to the extent of the amputation which had been made necessary as a result of injuries received in the service of the country. They are paid without any strings attached and they represent, albeit in a small way, part of the debt we owe them.

The Bill seeks to alter the provisions of the General Rate Act, 1967, so that when considering, under Section 49(1) and (2), the right to rebate in respect of rates on dwellings, these Service payments shall be disregarded. Although many local authorities have already indicated their support for the Measure, there are some which fear that it might lead to unnecessary complications in the operation of the rebate scheme. But there need be no complicated system, for the form of application for rate rebate could simply ask the applicant whether any payment, and, if so, how much, is made in compensation for war disablement or Service widows' benefit.

It is not possible, without knowing personal income details, to estimate the cost of implementing the provisions of the Bill. There are about 22,000 limbless ex-Service men whose disablement is assessed at 40 per cent. or more. About 10,000 of these are veterans of the First World War. The total number of Service widows is about 119,000. It follows that these people would not all be eligible for rate rebate since it obviously depends on the amount of other income that they have. It is also a fact that they are spread thinly throughout the United Kingdom so that the extent of the impact on local authority rates of the provisions of the Measure would be negligible, if anything at all.

The demand to alter the decision made by the Government in 1966 and to restore to compensation benefits the special treatment they have always received is supported by the Joint Committee of Service and Ex-Service Organisations which includes the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association, the British Legion, the British Legion of Scotland, and many other national Service bodies. In July, 1966, hon. Members in all parts of the House tabled a Motion regretting that, by legislation imposed earlier in the year, war disability pensions were included as income in connection with the rate rebate scheme. The Motion went on to call on Parliament to revise that decision …thereby restoring the traditional disregard which hitherto has always been given to disability pensions arising from war service. I had hoped that hon. Gentlemen opposite would join me in sponsoring the Bill, but, most unfortunately—and I say this sincerely—they have felt unable to do so. However, I know that I speak not only for my hon. Friends but for hon. Members in all parts of the House when I say that this is a Measure with which they will all feel the greatest personal sympathy. Even at this late stage in the Parliamentary time-table, if hon. Members were so determined, this Bill could still become law. If that were done, an injustice would be corrected and the nation's debt of honour paid.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir J. Eden, Sir R. Cary, Mr. Lubbock, Mr. Boyd-Carpenter, Dame Irene Ward, Sir T. Beamish, Mr. Neave, Mr. Mawby, Mr. Besse11, Captain W. Elliot, and Miss Harvie Anderson.

  1. GENERAL RATE ACT 1967 (AMENDMENT) 76 words