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Volume 164: debated on Monday 8 January 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the cost of sending greetings telegrams to centenarians in 1988, 11 and 16 years ago; and if he will make a statement.

I am pleased to say that in 1988 the Department sent a total of 2,142 telemessages to centenarians at an estimated cost of about £11 each. The cost includes the message itself and local and national staffing costs. The cost of sending telegrams in 1972 and 1977 is not readily available; however, 1,283 were sent in 1972 and 1,510 in 1977.

As centenarians already receive a telegram from the Queen, will my hon. Friend gladden that special day in the lives of those who achieve their century by offering them a choice between the departmental telegram, a certificate of age, a bottle of champagne, whisky, brandy or parsnip wine and a tin of House of Commons fudge?

My hon. Friend lent a happy note to this first Question Time of the New Year. Today is the birthday of seven centenarians, and given his obvious good spirits my hon. Friend will no doubt wish to join me in congratulating them. As for his specific suggestions, may I make a positive suggestion to him? If I give him the names and addresses of those seven centenarians, he may wish to conduct a straw poll to establish whether they would prefer a certificate of age, a bottle of whisky or brandy or—in particular—some House of Commons fudge!

Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Declare your interest."] Yes, I declare my interest. I am retiring at the next general election, but that is another matter.

I ask the Minister to ignore the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway): all that he is on about is grabbing money. The people who receive the telegrams are entitled to them. The hon. Gentleman should be pointing out that the welfare state, is responsible for the fact that people are living longer. That lot over there are trying to destroy the welfare state, but when we are sitting where they are we shall put that right, and defend it.

Let me merely say to the hon. Gentleman, who has made his customary interesting intervention, that the increase in the number of congratulatory telemessages speaks for itself, demonstrating the Thatcher achievements in welfare.

My hon. Friend will know that the oldest person in Britain lives in my constituency. She is 112½, and has received more telegrams than anyone else; she enjoys and looks forward to receiving them. May I suggest that my hon. Friend does as I do, and takes her a bottle of whisky every time she has a birthday?

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) will take the advice of his hon. Friend.

As there is a precedent for the Department of Social Security to send people telegrams on special days in their lives, will the Minister consider extending the principle to those who reach their 16th birthdays without jobs, YTS places or entitlement to social security benefit? Will she consider the report published today by the Family Policies Study Centre, which has found independently that many of those youngsters face destitution because of the Government's evil decision to withdraw benefit entitlement? Will the Government please repent of that decision, which is causing poverty and hardship for so many 16 and 17-year-olds on the streets of our cities?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in asking such a supplementary to a question about centenarians. I remind him that there is no need for any 16 or 17-year-old to be without income: each and every one is entitled to a YTS place and the accompanying payment.