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Pensions And National Insurance

Volume 527: debated on Monday 17 May 1954

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War Pensions

27.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if his attention has been drawn to the inadequacy of the war disablement pension, particularly for those who are in receipt of the 100 per cent, pension and for war widows; and what are now the prospects of raising such pensions.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance
(Brigadier J. G. Smyth)

There is nothing I can usefully add to what I said on this subject in the debate on the Adjournment on 8th February and in reply to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) on 5th April.

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman not aware that there is wide discontent amongst branches of the British Legion and generally among disabled ex-Service men, and does he not think it is time for action to be taken to raise the pension rates to increase the pensioners' purchasing power?

I am aware, of course, that a pensions campaign has been in progress. I would remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said on 8th February:

"My right hon. Friend sincerely hopes that during the life of the present Government our national situation will improve to such an extent that it may become possible to do something more for war pensioners and their dependants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February. 1954; Vol. 523, c. 972.]
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said on 12th April:
"It must not be thought that because a particular reform is not in the Budget it is therefore not in the mind of the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 918.]

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that a few days ago the annual conference of B.L.E.S.M.A.—the British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association—a moderate and modest body, expressed disappointment that the Government have not met the claims, which have received support from both sides of the House? Cannot the Minister do something now instead of waiting for the quinquennial review?

I am aware, of course, that the purchasing value of the 100 per cent, pension is only 4s. 6d. a week more now than it was when the Government took office in October, 1951. My right hon. Friend has that point very much in mind.

Will my hon. and gallant Friend bear in mind that there is a very considerable measure of support for this plea on both sides of the House, and will he once again look into the possibility of ensuring at least that the battle casualties receive complete priority over everybody else?

Widows' Pensions

29.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what consideration is his Department giving to the question of raising the standard rates of pensions for widows; and what possibilities there are for granting increases.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance
(Mr. R. H. Turton)

The standard rate of pensions for widows under the National Insurance Acts is included in the consideration to be given to the level of all pensions and benefits. With regard to the second part of the Question, I cannot add anything to the statement I made to the House on 19th March.

Is the Minister not aware that these widows, like old-age pensioners, are finding great difficulty in living on their present rates owing to the policy of the Government of seeking to ration by the purse? Is it not time that the Government got away from such a policy, in the interests of these unfortunate people?

I remind the hon. Member that, in my statement on 19th March, I said:

"It is indeed our aim that, should the finances and the economics of the country permit, the level of benefits and pensions should be restored without delay to the level which they had when the National Insurance Scheme was introduced."—(OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 816.]

Pneumoconiosis

30.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many applications have been made to the medical boards for death certificates in respect of pneumoconiosis during the past year; how many have been granted; and what are the numbers in respect of those who had been employed in the coal mining industry in Wales.

In 1953, the Silicosis Medical Board dealt with 537 applications for death certificates for the purposes of schemes made under the Workmen's Compensation Acts; in 397 cases the Board certified that death had been caused by the disease. Under the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Scheme of 1952, 394 awards of death benefit were made in 1953 for deaths from pneumoconiosis, and 159 applications were rejected because the Silicosis Medical Board certified that death was not due to the disease. Separate figures are not available for the coal-mining industry in Wales.

In view of the disparity between the figures of applications to medical boards in respect of death from pneumoconiosis and the number of certificates granted, and the large number of cases in which there has been a refusal to grant certificates and the differing views of medical men at inquests as to the cause of death, will the Minister cause an investigation to be made into this aspect of pneumoconiosis?

If the hon. Member studies the figures I have given, I think he will find that there is not that great difference between the numbers.

Is the Minister aware that, in the case of the Sheffield pneumoconiosis panel, there has been a fall in the proportion of claims for benefit accepted by the Board in 1953 compared with 1952, and that this has caused concern? May there not be a case for an inquiry into the methods of diagnosis?

I do not think the hon. Member is referring to the figures I have given in answer to the Question. Claims under the Industrial Injuries Act are dealt with not by boards, but by insurance officers.

Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that, at inquests, when death has been thought to be due to pneumoconiosis, very frequently in South Wales the medical men have said that death has been caused by pneumoconiosis but the medical board has later said otherwise?

I am aware that dissatisfaction has been felt on the question of coroners' inquests and medical boards. My right hon. Friend is at present in discussions with the Home Secretary on this matter, and I understand that during the Committee proceedings on the Mines and Quarries Bill my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power also undertook to raise the matter with the Home Secretary. I think it had better be left there.