HC Deb 19 January 1971 vol 809 cc725-6
Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement as to the action he will take to secure the prompt payment of pensions, benefits and allowances, during the forthcoming interruption of postal services.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

Arrangements already announced by the Post Office provide for pension and allowance orders to continue to be cashed at post offices. People needing to claim sickness or other benefits should get in touch with their local Social Security office, or arrange for someone to do so on their behalf. My local officers will ensure that payment orders are made available for collection as quickly as possible.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Could my right hon. Friend say what those people, who will receive new order books in the next few weeks, and there are many thousands of them, should do to cash vouchers in them? Can his local offices help by making direct payments? In view of the very large number of people, many of them living near the margin, to whom this is of the greatest importance, will he consider making a Ministerial broadcast explaining what is being done?

Sir K. Joseph

My right hon. Friend is quite right to be anxious about such people, but as things are at present the sub-post offices will be open and, the country has been told by the Post Office, Crown post offices will be open on two days a week for a period of hours to cash such orders. If affairs deteriorate, then the Government would be ready to give advice to the people as may appear to be necessary.

Mr. Heffer

Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that the post offices will be open to assist these people precisely because the trade union workers involved have taken steps to ensure that those concerned will receive their benefits?

Sir K. Joseph

I am told that announcements to that effect have been made and that is why I referred to it.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The right hon. Gentleman will agree that the most vulnerable groups in the community need to be protected against whatever policy the Government decide to pursue against inflation. Will he confirm that Post Office workers have agreed to co-operate as fully as possible in the payment of these sums of money to needy people? Secondly, would the right hon. Gentleman consider waiving the provision that pensions must be paid at a particular office should any local causes of hardship arise? This seems to be absolutely crucial.

Sir K. Joseph

If there is any case of hardship, the public are advised to get in touch with local Social Security offices, who will do their very best to help.

Mr. Turton

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, in many parts of the country, local Social Security offices are many miles away from pensioners and that if there is a breakdown in the machinery which gets money to sub-post offices, great hardship could arise? Will he instruct his officers to make direct calls on pensioners?

Sir K. Joseph

The visiting services of my Department will continue. I cannot guarantee to make good any lack of cash in local offices, though I will take up with my hon. right Friend the danger to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who represents a large rural area, refers.