Like every Member of the Committee, I receive constant appeals for a more generous release of post-war credits. Behind many of these letters lie circumstances of personal distress which the payment of the credits, however modest they may be, would do a little to relieve. And even the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be moved by some of the individual cases which come to his notice.
And so I have searched my conscience yet again in this matter; in particular, I have considered once more whether payment of the credits might not be made in cases of hardship. But I have found no means by which genuine and continuing "hardship" could be defined for this purpose, at least without creating as many anomalies as it would remove. The question which really faces me, therefore, is whether some general release of the credits is now possible and advisable, over and above the existing arrangement whereby the credits are paid at the age of 65 for a man and 60 for a woman.
Let me remind the Committee of the circumstances in which post-war credits were originally introduced in 1941. During the debates on that year's Budget Resolutions, my predecessor, the late Sir Kingsley Wood, said in connection with the credits—and I quote his words:
'…one of our principal post-war problems will be to regulate the rate of expenditure under all heads, with a view to maintaining good employment over a prolonged period, without overdoing it, in the sense of facilitating more expenditure than we have physical resources to provide, and thus producing postwar inflation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April. 1941; Vol. 370, c. 1662–3.]
The amount of post-war credits outstanding at this moment is about £564 million, very widely distributed among all sections of the people.
In an economy of the kind which I have just described to the Committee— an economy on a pretty even keel, with no immediate prospect of any lack of consumer demand and no immediate need for any large stimulation of individual purchasing power—can I, or can any responsible Member of this Committee, honestly take the view that the time is ripe for the release of the credits on anything approaching this scale? The answer is, I fear, "No, not yet." It is therefore my duty to consider what is practical and realistic.
But although it is not possible for me to propose, as yet, any general release of the credits, even for particular groups of people, there is one type of case with which I can deal—the more gladly since it is a case in which the present law is often represented as producing injustice and anomaly. I wish to remove a deeply felt grievance that a family is often, under the present law, deprived by death of a reasonable expectation of having the benefit of the credits in a short time. This point has been put by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) and many other hon. Members in the course of our debates.
At present if an individual dies under the age of 65, or 60 if a woman, the credits can be paid to a beneficiary under his will or intestacy only when the beneficiary becomes 65 or 60, as the case may be. I now propose to give the beneficiary also the right to claim payment of the deceased person's credits when the deceased person would have reached the required age had he or she lived. My proposal will, in addition, allow payment where a man has died over the age of 65 without actually claiming his credits.
It will not, of course, be possible to make payments under my proposal until after the Finance Bill becomes law; details of the arrangements will be announced as soon as they have been worked out. There will, at the start, be a large number of people who will become entitled to claim at the same time, and dealing with all these claims may have to be spread over a period. The claims will be paid in cash; but I ask all who get this money not to spend it unless their need is really urgent, but to put it into National Savings if they can. This proposal will add £19 million in the first year, and £2 million a year thereafter, to the payments of about £17 million a year which are already being made, below the line, under existing arrangements.
I will deal next with the few adjustments I propose to make in the field of indirect taxation.