HC Deb 18 June 1974 vol 875 cc193-5
13. Mr. Rooker

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she still expects payment of the new pension rates to commence on 22nd July.

Mrs. Castle

I would refer my hon. Friend to my statement on 11th June.—[Vol. 874, c. 1409–16.]

Mr. Rooker

The 25 per cent. of my constituents who are old-age pensioners will obviously have welcomed the statement made last week, but what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to bring about changes in the working conditions and payment regarding overtime in her Department, so that pensioners in future do not have to go through the worrying time through which they have gone during the last four or five weeks?

Mrs. Castle

If my hon. Friend would read the very full statement which I made to the House he would find spelt out there the very improvement for which he is asking and which I negotiated with the Staff Side as part of the settlement. That, of course, includes not only the improved overtime rates which are applicable to the Civil Service as a whole, and are made retrospective to last January, but also the special leave bonus that we are giving to the staff of my Department who are compelled to do excessive overtime in order to speed up the uprating.

I think that as the different local offices come to realise the full comprehensiveness of the improvement we have negotiated for them they will join in pressing forward more enthusiastically with the uprating.

Mr. Boscawen

Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity of refuting the suggestion in the Press that the overtime ban is continuing in some parts of her Ministry, and also that if there had been proper consultation with the staff association before announcing the decision to uprate the pension on 21st July the dispute would never have occurred?

Mrs. Castle

If I had engaged in the normal consultation with my Department over the uprating date of 22nd July, that date would not have been possible. That was the difficulty. I was anxious, as were the Government, to get this increase in payment to pensioners and others as quickly as possible. That precluded normal consultation. But this has not been the real point of dispute with my staff, who realise why it was impossible to consult this year. They were concerned, and so was I, to see that these peaks and troughs of activity which put stress and strain and excessive overtime on them are ironed out as much as possible in future.

On the first part of the question, it is true that there are some offices where, I understand, work has not yet been resumed, or not fully resumed. I repeat what I said earlier, that I am sure that as staff increasingly come to appreciate the comprehensiveness of the concessions made to them they will drop the last remnants of their resentment.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the great bulk of the work load in uprating the pension is involved in means testing 2 million pensioners who have to apply for supplementary benefit? The right answer to this problem is not to increase the number of civil servants or to demand more overtime from the existing number but to provide a pension so generous that they will not need to apply for supplementary benefit. Will my right hon. Friend set that as her target?

Mrs. Castle

There is a good deal in what my hon. Friend says, and it is now proving much easier to get the basic pension books into payment from the Newcastle office than it is to deal with a minutiae of supplementary benefit claims for the local offices. It is on the supplementary benefit side that the delay is still likely to occur. I agree that as a matter of principle—and quite apart from this issue—we should move to a pensions policy which takes the people of this country off the means test.