§ 10. Mr. Ashley
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the current size of the Contingency Reserve Fund; and what proposals he has in relation to it for the rest of the financial year.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett
I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to the contingency reserve for the current financial year included in the public expenditure planning total. The amount now remaining in the reserve is just over £40 million. I cannot say what contingencies will arise in the next three months.
§ Mr. Ashley
Is the Chief Secretary aware that some severely disabled housewives have been denied the new allowance, partly because of the semantics of the regulations which are now being considered by an advisory committee, but partly because there is no public expenditure provision? I do not wish to tie anyone's hands behind his back, but can my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that public expenditure provision is made available for this small, but hard-pressed, group of severely disabled women?
§ Mr. Barnett
That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, but I know that my hon. Friend recognises, and I hope that all my hon. Friends recognise, how much the Government have done for the long-term sick and disabled. In 1973–74, we were spending, at 1978 survey prices, £1,190 million. In 1979–80, that figure will have risen to £1,840 million and we are planning to increase it, in real terms, to £2,070 million at the end of the current public expenditure round. I hope that my hon. Friends are aware of just how much we have been able to do for the long-term sick and disabled, despite all the difficulties.
§ Mr. Madden
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the increase in earnings in the 12 months up to November justifies an increase in retirement pensions and can he tell us when pensioners are to be paid what they are owed?
§ Mr. Barnett
I am not sure how that supplementary question relates to the original Question, but my hon. Friend will be aware that there was a substantial increase in pensions this year which was entirely in line with the legislation under which we were working. I hope that he will recognise, in fairness, that we have given substantial real increases to pensioners since we came to office in 1974.