Skip to main content

Pensions And National Insurance

Volume 644: debated on Monday 10 July 1961

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Graduated Pensions Scheme

5.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will arrange for the total earnings of an employee in any one week to he aggregated for purposes of assessing this right to participate in the graduated pensions scheme.

Aggregation of payments made in the same tax week is already provided for unless the earnings are from different employers, where aggregation would involve both practical complications and the disclosure of the employee's earnings with one employer to another.

Does not the reply mean that a number of people who would like to take part in the graduated pensions scheme are denied the right to do so? Is not this just another example of the many flaws in the scheme? If an employee earning from two different employers wants those earnings aggregated and is willing to have them revealed, why should he not be allowed to do so?

Because it would involve one employer knowing at the time what the employee was also getting in that week from another employer, and from the practical point of view that really does not make sense. However, I appreciate the hon. Lady's enthusiasm for the scheme.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that this suggestion has been put forward by the Blackburn Chamber of Trade, which, being an employers' organisation, is aware of the difficulties? Is the Minister aware that the Chamber of Trade still thinks that his arguments are invalid and that this point ought to be met?

I note the views expressed, but I must say that I should find it difficult in general to come to the Dispatch Box and justify a general system under which I disclosed a man's earnings from one employer to another.

10.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will consider the possibility of remission to retiring workers of their contributions under the graduated scheme, where the aggregation of their contributions does not qualify them for any addition to their pensions.

Does not the Minister admit that this feature of his scheme is the one which causes the greatest grievance to the retiring worker, who has to pay for the last three, four or five months something for nothing?

No, Sir; I do not. It is the essence of this part of the scheme that if one has contributed half a unit or mare it counts as a whole unit, and if one has contributed less than half it does not count. All in all, I think it is pretty fair.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that a person whose aggregate payments do not come to half a unit is still paying something for nothing?

That person is also, as a matter of definition, drawing a first-rate pension towards the total value of which, if he has contributed from the beginning of the scheme, he can hardly have contributed one-tenth. In those circumstances, I do not think that a nugatory contribution of at most £3 14s. 6d. is a very high price to pay.

Prescription Charges

6.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what is the number of cases, at the latest date, in which refunds of prescription charges have been made to applicants not in receipt of National Assistance since the higher charges were imposed last March; and whether he will make a statement on the working of existing arrangements for refunds in this type of case.

13.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many persons, not in receipt of a weekly allowance from the National Assistance Board, have claimed and how many have received repayment of prescription charges since 1st March until the latest available date.

I would refer the hon. Gentlemen to the answers which my right hon. Friend gave on Friday to their hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson).

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the number of pensioners who are just above the poverty line, and, therefore, do not come within the scheme for receiving repayments for the charges, is reaching such proportions that the Minister in charge of the well-being of pensioners ought to urge his colleagues in the Cabinet to give all pensioners prescriptions free of charge, or at any rate not apply to them the increase which is operating this year?

The question as to on wham the prescription charges fall is for my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland and not for me, but I certainly do not draw the same inference from the facts disclosed in the answer to which I made reference as the hon. Gentleman appears to do.

15.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the cost to the National Assistance Board of administering the repayment of prescription charges and other National Health Service charges, respectively, in the current year.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree, in the light of what we know about the position so far, that this might not be the best way to bring relief to people who need medicines and prescriptions? Is he further aware that there are a number of people who have saved all their lives, thereby enabling themselves to have a small additional private income, who now feel very bitter because they are completely excluded? Would it not make more sense and save time and trouble to abolish this type of scheme and to make all prescriptions free of charge to old-age pensioners in general?

This is not a matter for me. I answered this Question only because the system of refund is through the National Assistance Board for whose operation I am answerable to the House.

Local Offices (Closures)

7.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many local offices of his Department have been closed during the last three years; in how many cases he received representations against closure; and what are the conditions of location, size and volume of business which decide these closures.

In the three years ended 30th June, 1961, six local offices were closed and nineteen reduced to caller offices. Twenty-five caller offices were also closed. Representations against closure or reduction were received in most cases. These decisions are based on the facts of each case bearing in mind both the reasonable needs of the public and the need for economy in the costs of administration, and are generally made after consultation with the local advisory committee.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say that it is the number of callers at the local office which is the primary consideration in keeping an office open? Would he also say whether this is a continuous process and how much further it will go?

The number of callers is one of the factors that have to be taken into account, but there are many others—the accessibility of another office, means of transport to it, the general volume of work, suitability of premises, working conditions and so on. It is my policy to keep the system of local offices throughout the country under close review in the light of the considerations of principle which I mentioned at the end of my main answer.

National Assistance (Blind Persons)

8.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance by what percentage the National Assistance scale rate for a husband and wife, one of whom is a blind person, has increased over the period from 5th July, 1948; by what percentage the ordinary scale rate for husband and wife has increased over the same period; and what is the difference in shillings and pence necessary to establish the same rate of increase.

The figures are, respectively, 105 per cent., 125 per cent. and 11s. 3d.

Does not the Minister think that a difference of 11s. 3d., which the blind person is suffering, is a very great difference for such people? Is it not mean that the Government cannot at least bring the standard of the blind person up to that of the ordinary person? Will not the Minister think about this again and spend the 11s. 3d. to ensure that blind persons get at least as great an improvement as has been given to ordinary sighted persons?

The 11s. 3d. relates to the differential, but the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the standards of both have been very substantially increased. The category mentioned in his Question is receiving on the assistance scales now in real terms about 24s. 6d. more than in 1951, and in any event, as I explained to his hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) last week, these differentials have in some degree lost their significance in view of the much wider use by the Board of its discretionary powers.

Nevertheless, does not the Minister agree that if the blind person were to receive now as much proportionately as he received in 1948 he would require 11s. 3d. more than he is getting now? Is not that the case?

What is the case is that he is receiving 24s. 6d. more than he received in 1951. The hon. Gentleman's figure relates only to the differential, which comparison is vitiated by the fact that both rates have risen.

Payroll Tax

9.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will estimate the expenditure that will be incurred preparatory to the introduction of the payroll tax.

If it were decided to impose a surcharge on employers under Clause 30 of the Finance Bill, the preparatory expenditure would be likely to be something under £30,000.

Has the right hon. Gentleman not been given any warning by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this is very likely in the very near future, and can he say, in those circumstances, whether any estimate has been made of the number of additional employees that his Department will be likely to need as a result of its introduction?

I do not think that either question arises out of the main Question. In any event, the hon. Gentleman is too old a Parliamentary hand to assume that I am so young a Parliamentary hand as to fall for that one.

12.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what changes will be necessary in the present method of payment and recording of employers' contribution under the National Insurance schemes on the introduction of the payroll tax.

16 and 17.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (1) what preliminary arrangements he has made for the administration of the payroll tax, as far as it affects his Department;

(2) if his departmental arrangements for the administration of the payroll tax have been completed.

If it were decided to introduce a surcharge on employers under Clause 30 of this year's Finance Bill, the procedure so far as my Department is concerned would not differ significantly from that followed when rates of contribution are increased. No special arrangements would, therefore, be necessary.

Are we to take it from that answer that the right hon. Gentleman has made no provisional arrangements, and are we to assume, therefore, that the Government will drop the scheme?

If the hon. Member studies my Answer, he will appreciate that if such a decision were to be taken no provisional arrangements would be required. Therefore, the second part of his supplementary question does not arise.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether higher value stamps are now being printed and, if not, how long it will take to get the new contribution stamps into circulation from the date of an announcement about the operation of Clause 30 of the Finance Bill?

The time required would depend on the circumstances at the time. I know nothing of any printing of stamps.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the usual time lag between an announcement of increased contributions and the actual stamping on the existing card?

It varies very widely, as the hon. Member may recall, dependent, among other things, on the time of year.

18.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he will state the estimated cost to his Department, in respect of all employed persons, of a payroll tax at the maximum rate.

A surcharge on employers under Clause 30 of the Finance Bill would cost my Department virtually nothing extra to collect. About £7,900 a week would be payable for the surcharge in respect of our own staff.

National Insurance (Departmental Staff)

11.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance what was the cost to this Department of employer's contribution to the National Insurance schemes in respect of all staff in the year 1951–52; and what is the latest estimate for the current financial year.

It is estimated that the cost in 1951–52 to the Ministry of National Insurance and the former Ministry of Pensions in respect of staff engaged on work now undertaken by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance was about £434,000. My Department's estimate for the current financial year shows a provision of £904,000.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an indication of the expenditure attributable to increase in staff and the proportion due to the increase in contributions?

It is mainly due to increases in contribution rates. I prefer not to tax my memory on the precise numbers of staff, but if the hon. Member wants to know perhaps he will put down a Question.

Prisoners (National Insurance)

14.

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will discuss with the Secretary of State for the Home Department the desirability of ensuring that men and women serving sentence in Her Majesty's prisons are given regular weekly National Insurance credits so as to permit them, when freed, to resume normal civil life more easily.

While I sympathise with the object, which the hon. Member has in mind, I do not think it would be justifiable to give National Insurance credits to prisoners, since to do so would be to subsidise them at the expense of other contributors to the fund, and to favour them unduly in comparison with other classes of people who are not able to, or do not, contribute.

Will the Minister bear in mind the great difficulty which faces any prisoner when he presents himself at the employment exchange to look for a job and is asked for his books, when it immediately becomes known that he has been in prison? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that that completely damns a man's chance of getting back into civil life? Will he not think again about this very small matter of giving these credits so as to enable men to fit into civil life more easily? Is it not worth thinking about?

No, Sir. Granting credits is no help, because either the credits given have to be entered on the card, indicating that they were credits given in prison, or not noted on the card, in which case the position would be precisely as at present. In point of fact, the presentation of a card with no contributions shown for some period is not necessarily an indication that the person presenting it has been in prison. He may have just come out of the Forces, or have been abroad, or have spent a long spell in hospital.