§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
asked the Prime Minister whether she will make a statement on her meeting with representatives of retirement pensioners held on Thursday 18 February; whether the subject of the abolition of standing charges for gas, electricity and telephones for retirement pensioners was discussed; and whether any undertakings were given.
§ The Prime Minister
I met representatives from the National Pensioners' Convention on 18 February and we had a wide-ranging discussion on matters of concern to the pensioners. We discussed principally the proposals contained in the convention's declaration of intent and the effects on public expenditure of improving benefits and services for elderly people. I pointed to our existing achievements on behalf of pensioners, in particular maintaining the real value of the pension and the improvements in help towards fuel costs for low income consumers. I made it clear that the working population could not at present shoulder the burden of the substantial increases in national insurance contributions and income tax which would be necessary to implement all the proposals in the declaration of intent. Standing charges for gas, electricity and telephones were also discussed. I said that my hon. Friends the Under-Secretaries of State for Health and Social Security and for Energy, the Members for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and for Putney (Mr. Mellor) are looking into the effect of standing charges for pensioners and other low-income consumers. I am also giving careful consideration to the representations made at the meeting about telephone standing charges.