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Pensions And National Insurance

Volume 530: debated on Monday 19 July 1954

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Insurance Board Doctors (Sessions)


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware that there is dissatisfaction among some members of the medical profession employed on Ministry of National Insurance Boards with regard to the allocation of sessions; and on what grounds some doctors are given a much larger number of sessions regularly than others.

I am not aware of any dissatisfaction on this point. If the hon. Member has any information suggesting that there is, perhaps he will forward it to me. As far as possible the work is spread fairly among the doctors concerned.

I am much obliged to the Minister for his answer, but would he be good enough to inquire into the position and to see that practitioners are given an equal opportunity of attendances at these sessions? I think he will find that his information will lead him to the conclusion that they are not being given such an opportunity at present.

I have already said I have no information on the point. Perhaps the hon. Member will send me any information which is in his possession.

Old-Age Pensions


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to give an estimate of the amount by which old-age pensions could be increased, on the assumption that on 1st July, 1954, a further £335 million per annum were allocated by the Treasury for the purpose of increasing old-age pensions.

As a matter of arithmetic, retirement pensions could, for the time being, be increased by about 30s. a week. If the increase were permanent the prospective annual deficit of the fund would be more than doubled.

Is the Minister aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed me last week that £335 million has been the value of the reliefs in Income Tax and Surtax which he has made to the rich since he has been in power? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it would have been better not to have reduced those taxes so much, and to have given old-age pensioners if not another 30s at least 15s. more a week?

As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt also aware, more than two-thirds of these Income Tax concessions went to people of comparatively small incomes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, that is so, to people with less than £1,000 a year. Moreover, a suggestion of the kind which the hon. Member has made would completely destroy the insurance basis of the scheme.


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the extent whereby the present old-age pension is sufficient to maintain a pensioner under present-day conditions of higher fares, rents, food and cost of living, generally.

I rather anticipated that reply. Is it because the right hon. Gentleman and everyone else in the country knows that the old-age pensioners are suffering so much that there is really no need for any inquiry; and, particularly in view of the facts as given in this morning's leading article in the "Daily Herald," will the right hon. Gentleman see whether the Chancellor can give back some of this money to the old-age pensioners instead of relieving the rich?

The reason why I am not anxious to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into these points is that it would waste a lot of time and could only show that the National Insurance pension is not now, and never has been at any time, sufficient for a person to exist on, unless that person had some other resources as well.

Is it not common knowledge that many of the problems of old age and of the National Insurance Fund are being now carefully investigated both by the Phillips Committee and in the quinquennial review? And, further, is it not common knowledge that the Government intend to do all they can to perform an act of justice to the pensioners for the second time in the lifetime of this Parliament?

Special Needs (Voluntary Assistance)


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to what extent the National Assistance Board invites voluntary organisations to help recipients of National Assistance meet needs such as clothing and bedding.

The National Assistance Board tells me that its general policy, which has not changed since the matter was reviewed in its report for 1949, is to welcome the co-operation of the voluntary organisations in cases presenting special problems. It has no record of the number of cases involved.

While not wishing in any way to denigrate the splendid work of the voluntary organisations, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, to the extent to which they are being asked to co-operate, it is not a reflection either on the inadequacy of the Assistance Board's scales or the inadequacy of the discretionary powers given to the Board's officers?

No. I do not think so. I think that if the hon. Member will refer to the 1949 report of the Assistance Board, he will see that, by enlisting the aid of voluntary bodies, the Board is able to confer substantial benefits in certain types of cases in which it would not be justified in increasing any grant itself.

Umpires' Decisions


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will appoint an expert committee to overhaul umpires' decisions, in the light of modern industrial conditions

No, Sir. It is for the independent statutory authorities to apply past decisions given by umpires under the repealed Unemployment Insurance Acts where they consider them to be appropriate, and it would be improper for me to interfere in the manner suggested.

Is the Minister not aware that chairmen of insurance tribunals frequently feel themselves legally bound by previous decisions which are no longer in accord with contemporary industrial conditions?

These are independent statutory authorities, and it would be quite wrong for me to interfere with them in any way. If the law requries changing, that is another matter altogether, and one which, of course, the Government would be prepared to consider.

Allowances (Scale)


asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what representations he has received in the past 12 months from the National Assistance Board on the inadequacy of the present scale of allowances for those in need; and what action he will take.

Is the Minister aware that many people will regard this as a dereliction of duty on the part of the Board? Is it not the Board's statutory duty to advise the Minister about these things? Will he, therefore, now ask the Board to give immediate consideration to the scale of allowances in relation to the expenses of those who are applying to the Board, and the knowledge which the Board has in its possession?

No, Sir. It is not for me to give insructions to the National Assistance Board. The Board is an independent authority and it is for the Board to take the initiative in a matter of this kind. I would remind the hon. Member that the new scales brought into force in 1952 give recipients of National Assistance a more generous standard than at any time hitherto.

Is the Minister aware that we do not need representations from the National Assistance Board, the report of the quinquennial revaluation or a Royal Commission to let us know that the old-age pensioner is now in a bad position and that the right hon. Gentleman ought to do something about the matter forthwith?

This question is concerned with National Assistance, not insurance benefits.

Does the Minister say that the National Assistance Board can increase the scales of allowances to recipients each week as the cost of living goes up, as we know has been the case with all foodstuffs in the last 12 months—especially meat and butter?

I must refer the hon. Member to Section 6 of the National Assistance Act, passed by the Government which he supported in 1948.