Old Age Pensions.

Oral Answers to Questions — Military Service. – in the House of Commons on 26th March 1942.

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Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

asked the Minister of Health (1) whether he can make a statement on the need of improved allowances for applicants for supplementary pensions;

(2) whether it is intended to increase the scales payable by the Assistance Board to those eligible for supplementary old age pensions?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

Any question of altering the basis on which such pensions are payable would be a matter for examination by the Committee which has been appointed to make a comprehensive survey of all existing schemes of Social Insurance and Assistance. If my hon. Friend has in mind additions on account of the cost of living I cannot usefully add much to what I said in the reply to a similar Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Martin) on 7th August, 1941. The Assistance Board inform me that they note that while the cost of living figure as a whole has risen by one point since that date, the figure for food alone has gone down several points and that in the circumstances they would not feel justified in proposing any increase in the scales applicable to supplementary pensions at this stage. The Board assure me that they have the matter under constant review.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

Does the Minister accept the Board's conclusions with regard to this matter?

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Does the Minister not consider that the case of the old age pensioners has an urgency which does not apply to the other cases to be considered by that Committee and that anything we do not do for the old people now we shall not be able to do for them at all? In view of that urgency, would he not treat them as a separate problem distinct from the others which the Committee are considering?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

This has been discussed several times in the House, and, as has been pointed out, the House itself settled the policy last year. That policy provides for supplementary pensions according to need.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

The old people will not live for ever.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

asked the Minister of Health, whether he has considered the request for honourable Members to be provided, where requested, with a copy of all documents sent out by the Assistance Board to their officials in order that they can be made aware of the rights of their constituents who apply for supplementary old age pensions.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

This matter has been carefully considered, in accordance with the promise made by the Government spokesman in a recent Debate. In order that old age pensioners who apply for supplementary pensions may be made aware of and receive their rights many arrangements have to be made, including directions to executive officers. These directions are given in many ways, and to select from a large number those which are given by means of documents would give them a false emphasis and lead to misunderstanding. Administration would be impossible without the rule that communications between officers of Government Departments must be confidential. All Governments have maintained this rule. The Act provides for independent tribunals, to which applicants for supplementary pensions can appeal, for the purpose of ensuring that they are receiving what they are entitled to under the regulations. Further, if any information is required about the working of the supplementary pensions scheme, in order that it may be made more effective from the point of view of the old people, the Assistance Board or the Minister will always be glad to see the hon. Member and give necessary information.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

Is it not a fact that it is professional Civil Service etiquette which prevents this from being done? If so, is it not time the Minister cut out this mid-Victorian attitude to this question?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

It is a question which affects a great many Departments of State, and could have the most serious consequences on administration generally. I could sometimes wish that hon. Members had had a year or two of responsibility in this matter. They would understand more fully what is involved.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Is there any reason why a Member of Parliament should go to an outside body to get to know a Government instruction? Should not a Member get that as a right without begging from an outside body?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

That is not the issue. It is a question of whether it will give the hon. Member what he wants with regard to the old people. There have been one or two occasions in which particular Members required details in regard to a particular instruction, and they have been laid in the Library. If the hon. Member believes that any rights of the old people—which are given to them under the regulations, not under the instructions—have been infringed, I shall be glad to look into it. If there is any evidence, I have done that before, and it can be done again.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

How can any Member know whether the old people's rights are being contravened unless he is supplied with the documents?

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

Is it not a fact that a virtual promise was given in the Debate the other day with regard to the publication of these documents?

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

May I again ask how any Member of Parliament can know whether the old people's rights are being contravened unless he has access to the documents?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

The instructions are given not only by documents, and a false emphasis would be given if only documents were considered, and in any case the rights are under the regulations.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

Is it not a fact that the acting Leader of the House gave an undertaking, when this matter was last discussed, that we would have an answer to-day in the light of the questions raised?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

An Answer has been given. The undertaking was that all the implications would be considered.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

asked the Minister of Health whether he has considered the resolution of the Holbrooks Branch (Coventry) of the National Old Age Pensions Association sent to him by the hon. Member for West Fife, demanding increased pensions, the abolition of the means test, and the payment of old age pensions through the General Post Office instead of the Assistance Board; and what steps he proposes to take?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

I have considered the resolution referred to, and, as regards the rates of basic old age pensions, I would refer the hon. Member to the Reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) on 20th January. As regards the method of payment, the practice is to pay both basic old age pensions and supplementary pensions through the Post Office.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Is the Minister not prepared to face up to this question of the removal of the means test, which is still causing very great distress and unneces- sary inquisitions, and which costs more than it is saving the country?

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

The House passed an Act about that last year.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

The Minister is aware that the matter has been raised time and again by the—