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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.