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National Finance

Volume 481: debated on Thursday 30 November 1950

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Pensioners' Tobacco Tokens

53.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware of the case of Mr. H. A. Pendrey, 49, Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon, who suffered the financial loss of £5 7s. 6d. because of the theft of his wallet, which contained his pensioner's tobacco tokens; and, in view of the serious financial hardship which is caused in cases such as this, whether he is prepared to consider amending the present regulations with regard to tobacco tokens issued to pensioners, so that they can be replaced in such circumstances.

The hon. Member has written to my right hon. Friend about this case, and I appreciate that the loss of the token may be a serious misfortune to Mr. Pendrey; but I fear that, as has been explained on several previous occasions, token books lost by accident or theft must be regarded in the same light as currency notes and postage stamps, and cannot be replaced.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of the constantly rising cost of living, these tobacco tokens are really a godsend to pensioners? Cannot he devise a scheme whereby they are linked by number or name to the identity cards of pensioners, so that they can be cancelled if they are lost and new ones issued?

The hon. Member no doubt realises that, at the end of a period, a pensioner can get a new token.

Will the hon. Gentleman go into the question of whether it is possible to issue these tokens more frequently than once a year, so that if an old age pensioner lost or burned his coupons, he would not have to wait a considerable time for their renewal?

War Damage Claims

54.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the economic conditions that are necessary to enable him to implement Section 85 (1) of the War Damage Act. 1945, and to repay the £41 million outstanding.

As this is in the nature of a debt to the people of this country, has the hon. Gentleman ever considered the possibility of refunding this money in some form of loan?

I do not think that has been considered, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that some payments are already being made in special cases.

55.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in how many cases the War Damage Commission have refused to treat as notification of war damage notification given other than on the prescribed forms; and in how many cases have war damage claims been rejected on this sole ground.

I regret that the information asked for in the first part of the Question is not available; as regards the second part, the War Damage Commission inform me that no cases have been rejected on the sole ground mentioned.

In that case, will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to ask them to reconsider the case, about which he wrote to me on 22nd November, where, according to him, they did reject it on that ground?

I will certainly look into that case, but I am assured by the War Damage Commission that no case has been rejected solely on that ground.

Fuel Saving Devices (Tax)

56.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in view of the need to economise in fuel, he will reduce the Purchase Tax on gas water heaters and other fuel saving devices.

Would it not be better to carry this out now, before the approach of winter weather?

Has the Minister received any representations on this matter from the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who appealed, I think a few days ago, for better and more economical combustion?

We have frequently discussed the matter with the Ministry of Fuel and Power; indeed, it is in consultation with them that the various rates in force have been adopted.

Has the Minister considered grading the tax according to the amount and type of fuel consumed, whether solid or otherwise, rather than by the prime cost of the appliance?

The hon. Member will remember that, basically, the present rates were adopted in 1947 mainly to encourage more fuel saving.

Retirement Pensions

57.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what grounds the Inland Revenue refuse to grant allowance for wife's earned income relief in the case of a married woman over the age of 60 in receipt of 26s. a week retirement allowance and in respect of previous insurance contributions.

Retirement pensions under the National Insurance Act were made ineligible for wife's earned income relief by Section 27 (2) of the Finance Act, 1946.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that is altogether a fair decision, after he has had experience of it?

The hon. Member will remember that the special concession was given to encourage married women to go out to work in appropriate cases. That argument, of course, obviously does not apply in the case of retirement pensions.

Blocked Sterling Balances

58.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he has taken to inform British residents living in foreign countries that they can draw on their blocked funds for essential expenditure in the United Kingdom.

The principle is that exceptions to the blocking of capital are allowed in cases of hardship, that is, where the expenditure is essential and funds cannot be remitted from abroad. No special steps have been taken to publicise this arrangement, but anyone who feels that he is suffering hardship would normally consult his United Kingdom banker or broker who will be familiar with the procedure.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that British residents in Belgium did not know they could use blocked sterling funds for certain purposes until I forwarded an answer the hon. Gentleman gave me a few weeks ago? Does he not think that some method of publicising this should be adopted?

I will consider that, but one would have expected that anyone in that position would have consulted his banker.

59.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what purposes foreign citizens who hold blocked sterling funds in the United Kingdom are allowed to draw on them.

Normally, only for reinvestment in quoted sterling securities not maturing under 10 years from the date of purchase. In exceptional cases sympathetic consideration is given for the release of small amounts on grounds of hardship.

Would the hon. Gentleman consider allowing foreign residents who wish to have their children educated here to draw on those funds? Does he not consider that a good way of earning foreign exchange?

Will the hon. Gentleman consider extending these regulations to include the investment of those funds in private firms, and not necessarily in firms whose securities are quoted, as this would have the effect of increasing production?

Non-Utility Footwear (Tax)

61.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that the increased price of raw materials doubly reflected in proportional increases in Purchase Tax have forced, and are forcing, high quality shoemakers to shut up shop; and whether, with a view to preserving craftsmanship in this trade, he will consider the abolition of a tax which affects less than 1 per cent. of the whole trade's output.

My right hon. Friend has received various representations about the effect of Purchase Tax on sales of high-class non-utility goods, including footwear, and will consider these in the next review of the tax.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is precisely in this class of footwear that we have the biggest chance of securing a market in the United States of America?

Local Authorities Staffs (Salaries)

63.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in view of the official announcement made on 10th August, 1950, regarding the putting into operation, gradually, of the recommendations of the Chorley Committee, how far the principles laid down in the White Paper, Command No. 7321, are now relaxed.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the remarks of my right hon. Friend on this subject in his speech on 2nd November in the debate on the Address.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the recommendation of the Association of Municipal Corporations to pay very high increases in salary to chief officers, and others, in local government, is having a very bad effect upon lower-paid workers who have been refused increases? Can he do anything to see that the local authorities are notified that increases up to £1,000 a year are very bad indeed, and will have a serious effect upon the nation generally?

I am aware of those proposals, but they are really a different subject from the Chorley Committee recommendations.

In view of the serious implications of this Question, I give notice that I shall raise the matter, as soon as possible, on the Adjournment.

Industrial Civil Servants (Leave)

60.

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has now considered the application by industrial civil servants for 12 days annual leave with pay; and with what result.

The trade union side of the Joint Co-ordinating Committee for Government Industrial Establishments, have asked to see my right hon. Friend about this matter before a decision is taken. He has, therefore, made arrangements to meet them, very soon, for this purpose.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this matter went before the Joint Co-ordinating Committee on 27th July last, and can he explain why there has been this exceptional delay in arriving at a decision?

Mainly because the trade union side were anxious to discuss it personally with the previous Chancellor, and he was away at the time, of course.

Prison Staff, Leeds (Tests)

65.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many applicants there have been during the past two years, stated separately, for the post of established prison officers at His Majesty's Prison at Armley, Leeds how many have been rejected after a probationary period without any reason being given; and whether he is satisfied that the tests applied to these men are suitable, bearing in mind the duties they would be called upon to perform.

I am afraid this answer is rather long. During the year ended 31st October, 1949, 120 applicants for the post of prison officer attended at H.M. Prison, Leeds, for a first interview. Forty-two eventually joined for preliminary training, of whom 11 resigned and seven were discharged as unsuitable to attend the training school at Wakefield. Of the 24 who attended at Wakefield, seven failed to qualify and the remaining 17 have become established officers. During the year ended 31st October, 1950, 321 applicants had a first interview. Forty-two joined for preliminary training, of whom four resigned, 13 have been discharged as unsuitable for the training school and 17 are still undergoing preliminary training. Of the eight who attended at Wakefield, one failed to qualify and seven have become established officers.

An unsuccessful candidate is given no reason for being discharged other than that he is not thought suitable for the specialised work of a prison officer, and I do not think any useful purpose would be served by altering this practice. I am satisfied that the tests used are suitable and that they are properly applied.

Does not my right hon. Friend think, on reflection, that this is a most unsatisfactory position? Is he aware that even since I put down this Question I have received further evidence of the dissatisfaction of ex-Service men and women of good non-commissioned officer type who have been rejected after only five minutes' interview?

I am willing to consider any case which my hon. Friend likes to bring to my notice, but I am satisfied that if we are to get men and women of the right calibre for this service we must set a high standard.