HL Deb 16 December 1971 vol 326 cc1289-94

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, this might be a convenient moment for me to act as what the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, referred to as one of the gramophone records on the Front Bench, and to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services about reviews of pensions. The Statement is as follows:

"As the House knows, the Government are pledged to protect the purchasing power of the National Insurance retirement pension and related benefits by a review every other year. In September this year the up-rating restored the value of the 1969 pension in full and provided a small improvement in addition.

"The Government have been aware of the growing concern during recent months, which has been shared by honourable Members on both sides of the House, about the position of pensioners at a time when prices have been rising sharply. The Government are confident that their policies are bringing inflation under control. But on general social grounds they have come to the conclusion that the arrangements for reviewing pensions should be brought into line with those for supplementary benefits, which are already reviewed annually. This would end the difficulty that, at the present biennial upratings of contributory pensions, those on supplementary benefit receive a smaller increase because they have already had part of it in the preceding year. The Government have, therefore, decided that in future pensions and related benefits, including war pensions and industrial injuries, will be reviewed every year.

"This improvement on the arrangements proposed in our White Paper Strategy for Pensions will be embodied in due course in the Bill to implement our pension proposals but the adoption of annual reviews will not have to wait for the main reconstruction of the National Insurance scheme to take effect. There will be an uprating in the autumn of 1972 and every year thereafter, with, of course, a review of contribution levels.

"Because of the organisational requirements for annual reviews both in my Department and in the Inland Revenue Department, the upratings will, after next year, take place regularly in the latter half of November. The uprating in 1972, however, will be in October, half-way between the 1971 and the 1973 upratings.

"We also intend to move to annual reviews of public service and Armed Forces pensions, and these reviews will take effect from December 1 each year beginning in 1972. At the same time the opportunity will be taken to reduce from 60 to 55 the minimum age from which increases are normally paid under the public service and Armed Forces schemes.

"We have made good progress this year with improvements in social security benefits both by general up-ratings and by selective measures to give extra benefit to particular groups, and the Pensions (Increase) Act has already greatly improved the position for public service and Armed Forces pensioners. I am confident that the House will welcome this further evidence of our determination to give practical help to the elderly and other vulnerable members of the community."

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, bearing in mind the previous remarks, I shall he brief and will speak without written notes. I should like to say without reservation that we give a very hearty welcome to this Statement, and I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on it. There is something slightly amusing—which I think the Minister will appreciate—in the fact that last week I asked him whether we could have an annual review and he produced some excellent reasons why that was not possible. That is in line with the announcement of the engagement of two film stars which was hotly denied, and then the next week we read that they are married. I can only hope that, somewhere in the heart of the Social Security Department, there is somebody who realises that what the Minister says one week can quite easily be converted into something practical the following week. We are delighted with this. Of course I am sorry that it will have to wait until the autumn, but I shall not press my luck by asking whether there is any hope of an emergency winter payment earlier than that. I am sure that when they read about this the old people will realise that they are not going to get it immediately in time for Christmas. Having said that, I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on that very welcome Statement.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble Baroness in thanking the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. Obviously, this is an occasion for displaying one's restraint. I have noted a number of occasions on which Governments of the day have told us that this would be administratively impracticable. I gather that the administrative difficulties have been overcome, and I welcome this decision.


My Lords, in joining in the chorus of congratulation and admitting an interest, I should like to call attention to what seems to me one small inconsistency in the Minister's Statement. He said that he was hopeful that their plans for controlling inflation would succeed—and were succeeding, I think he said. At the same time, he did not speak of annual reviews but of annual upgradings going as far as 1972 and 1973. Are these two sentences entirely consistent?


My Lords, the announcement by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will be very well received by the public service pensioners and by the Armed Forces pensioners. We are delighted to hear that a review is to take place annually and not biennially. Also, the announcement that the age at which pension increases will be received is to be reduced from the age of 60 to 55, which, within the life of this Parliament, has now got a firm date attached to it, will be very welcome.


My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend the Minister on the contents of his Statement, may I ask him whether he is aware that this is almost a unique occasion in so far as a Statement of this nature has not previously been leaked to the Press? May I ask him to congratulate the Department concerned?


My Lords, I am very grateful to everybody who has welcomed this announcement, and particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. who, as she has quite rightly said, raised this subject during our debate last week. It only goes to show the influence that she has within our thoughts. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bourne, for his welcome on behalf of the Armed Forces. May I say to my noble friend Lord St. Helens that it is a very striking fact that, for the first time that I can remember, a Statement of this significance has not been known to your Lordships before it was actually made from this Box. In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, we are certainly expecting that there may have to be an upgrading in 1972, but thereafter, if Her Majesty's Government's policies take effect, we can only hope that these upgradings will at least not be of a substantial nature.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, whether, as a revolutionary proceduralist, he has now decided to take all the questions at the end instead of dealing with only the first two speakers? I say this in a spirit of Christmas good cheer. Secondly, may I congratulate, not Lord Aberdare but the Lord Privy Seal, who also argued with such absolutely convicing logic that it was impossible to have reviews of public service pensions at intervals of other than two years, and who persuaded me even so far as convincing me that there was no point even in my trying to move an Amendment to that effect? This gives us a feeling of hope that there will perhaps be a little more flexibility in what has hitherto been a rather inflexible Government.


My Lords, on the procedural point made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I can only say that our procedures in this House are very flexible, and in fact neither of the first two sneakers asked me any questions. They merely exuded Christmas joy, to which I was very pleased to reply.


My Lords, this may be technically incorrect, but I am intervening in a spirit of Christmas good cheer. May I say just two things? First, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. It was I who suggested to my noble friend that the noble Lord should be designated as "noble and gallant", which I think is technically incorrect although personally and professionally entirely correct.


Field Marshals only.


Nevertheless, my Lords, speaking with my responsibility for the Civil Service Department, and therefore on the public service pensions field and the Armed Forces pensions field, I should like, if I may, to thank him for the remarks which he has made, and to assure not only him but also the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Leader of the Opposition, and the noble Lord, Lord Robbins (who pressed, if I remember aright, on one occasion not very long ago for annual reviews in this particular field), that although one cannot always immediately assent, they who are experienced in the ways of Government know that sometimes these matters are taken down in the tablets of memory and a process of processing then goes on.