May I ask the right hon. Lady if she is aware of the very considerable hardship caused to many elderly people? Cannot she give this matter further consideration and find some means of alleviating their very real suffering?
Yes. I am very well aware of the case which interests the hon. Member, and there are many cases like the one with which he has come in contact. It seems to me that in our review we must try to find some way of helping these people, but the National Insurance Scheme is not the one that we can use.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that many of the Civil Service pensioners who are looking forward to their increases in the New Year will still have a lower standard of living than they used to have owing to the fact that they do not get the retirement pension? Can she hold out any hope that these people will qualify at some stage for the retirement pension?
No, not for a retirement pension under the contributory scheme that we have. That is why I had to say to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) that perhaps in some other way help might be found for such people.
I think my hon. Friend has in mind the special payments made last December to people over retirement age receiving weekly allowances from the National Assistance Board. This was an altogether exceptional interim measure pending the very substantial increases in National Assistance which came into force in March, and there was never any intention of making payments of this kind a regular feature of the National Assistance Scheme.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that this was very welcome last year as an earnest of the Government's sincerity to help these people, and, in view of the improving economic situation, would she not consider giving a repeat gift to these people this year?
No, for the reasons which I gave in my orginal Answer. Last year, because it was impossible to raise the pensions as quickly as all of us would have liked, we wanted to ensure that old people would not suffer unduly because of lack of fuel or perhaps because of the need for extra food. It was for that reason that we gave this extra bonus, as it was called, of £4.
No, Sir, I am not aware of that at all and neither do the old-age pensioners think so. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be relieved to know that in spite of the rise in the cost of living the pension today is worth far more than it was at the time of the last increase in pensions made by his own Government in May, 1963.