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Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 5 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will report on recent meetings between Ministers and representatives of widows' organisations.

On 9th March I spoke at the "Fair Play for Widows" rally organised by the National Association of Widows, and on 11th March my right hon. Friend met the Chairman of the War Widows' Association of Great Britain. In each case we listened with interest to the views of widows on a variety of issues.

Is the Minister aware that we are very disappointed that those representations have clearly had no effect whatsoever? Does he accept that as the personal allowance increase in the Budget is less than 10 per cent. and as widows' pensions seem bound to rise by more than that, the tax position of widows will get even worse later this year than it is now? Will he make sure that his Treasury friends do something about this in the Finance Bill?

I am well aware, as are the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), that the issue of taxation was raised very strongly by widows at the rally and with my right hon. Friend. Those views were passed on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. However, for the fourth time since we took office in 1974, there has been a rise, and the real value of these benefits is now about 15 per cent. higher than it was in October 1973.

No doubt the Minister will recollect that he got a very rough ride indeed at the widows' conference at Central Hall. Will he realise and accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) that the great burden of their complaint was that they now have to pay tax at a ridiculously low level of income—indeed, almost at the same level as their pension? Why has nothing been done about this in the Budget, in view of the very strong representations made by the widows, and presumably made to the Minister at the meeting to which he referred?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, no one came out of that rally—including himself—smelling of roses. The ladies concerned were very forthright. I make no objection to that. In fact, following the rally I received from Mrs. June Hemer, the honorary general secretary of the National Association of Widows, a very generous letter of thanks for attending the rally. The points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised were passed on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Will the Minister let the House know how much better off widows with children are because of the new Child Benefit Scheme, and how much administrative expenditure has been involved in implementing that great improvement in their income?