HC Deb 22 March 1973 vol 853 cc644-5
16. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will now repay at par all original owners of 3½ per cent. War Stock over the age of 60 years.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

One must have great sympathy with these people, but I fear there can be no prospect of our acceding to my hon. Friend's request.

Mrs. Oppenheim

While I welcome my hon. Friend's sympathy, may I ask him whether he is aware that many original owners of War Loan are now pensioners who, out of patriotism, loaned the British Government £100 for which they can now get only £6, in 1932 terms, after receiving a derisory rate of interest over the years? Do not the Government have a moral obligation to these people who if they had been similarly treated by a private finance company would have been entitled to the protection of the Fraud Squad?

Mr. Jenkin

I believe that many people share my hon. Friend's views, although they may not express them with such force. It has always been a basic principle of Government policy that all holders of a particular stock are treated alike. It would be extremely difficult if we were to accede to the request that my hon. Friend makes and do nothing for another elderly person—a pensioner— who had just disposed of his or her holding of war stock. That would seem to be grossly inequitable. It is for that reason that successive Governments have said that we must treat all holders of this and similar stock alike, and I believe that is right.

Mr. Pardoe

Can the hon. Gentleman say how many original holders of War Loan are still alive, and what would be the cost of making this repayment? Is he aware that his statement is exactly the same as all statements by all Governments of all political complexions, but that it is nevertheless a crooked, swindling statement.

Mr. Jenkin

In the unlikely event of there ever being a Liberal spokesman at this Dispatch Box, I strongly suspect that he would make the same statement. It is not possible to extract from the registers the information for which the hon. Gentleman asked without disproportionate expense in manpower and money. We recognise that there is great hardship among the holders of these stocks. Despite the search, over many years, by successive Governments no acceptable way has ever been found of dealing with the problem.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

While agreeing that all holders of undated gilts should be treated alike, may I ask my hon. Friend why he cannot make a start, at least, and allow part of the estate duty payable to be satisfied by the surrender of long-dated gilts at par? Would this not make the market far more attractive and help those who put their money into non-dated gilts and have seen it being eroded year after year?

Mr. Jenkin

This suggestion has been examined, and it obviously has superficial atractions, but I must regretfully tell my hon. Friend that in reality it suffers from exactly the same disadvantages which affect all the other suggestions for dealing with this problem. I would not want to hold out any prospect of the Government's being able to meet this request.