§ 3.39 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE, COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS OFFICE (THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, with your permission I will make a statement about National Assistance which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. On January 23 my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House informed the House that my right honourable friend was 510 expecting to receive from the National Assistance Board proposals under Section 6 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, for further increases in the rates of National Assistance. My right honourable friend has now considered the Board's proposals and has accepted them. He has accordingly made Draft Regulations, and these have been laid today. They are now available in the Printed Paper Office, together with copies of an Explanatory Memorandum by the Board. The Draft Regulations require the approval of both Houses of Parliament by an Affirmative Resolution.
Subject to that approval the Regulations will provide for increases of 6s. a week in the rate for a single householder and 9s. a week for a married couple, bringing the householder rates to 63s. 6d. and 104s. 6d. respectively. An allowance for rent is, of course, added to these amounts. There are appropriate increases in the other rates. As the House will see when noble Lords have had an opportunity to study the Draft Regulations, on this occasion, as on the last, the Board feel that proportionately rather more should be given to the single householder than to other people.
Subject to the approval of Parliament, it is proposed that the new rates shall come into effect from May 27, at the same time as the increases in National Insurance pensions. The House will appreciate that there has been no significant change in prices since the last increase was made in September, and that the new rates therefore represent a real improvement in standard. As the House may know, the National Insurance Bill now being taken in another place contains a temporary provision to ensure that a person whose unemployment or sickness benefit is supplemented by National Assistance will not get less advantage from the benefit increase in March than he would get if the proposals which I have just announced were in operation at the time.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Duke for giving us this statement. One is always pleased to welcome substantial increases in payments to the needy, and especially to those who are in want of necessities. This action now is a strange contrast to the action in 1931 of reducing the then 511 existing benefit to an unemployed man from 17s. to 15s. 3d. That stands out in my mind. However, I think there are points that are raised by this statement which I would rather were put by somebody who has had experience of a Department, so I would ask my noble friend Lady Summerskill to put those questions.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Duke would answer just one or two questions. Of course, it is realised that, even with these new figures, people will have to live at subsistence level and that it is therefore necessary to pay their rents. But is this a new approach to the matter? Here it says that "a rent allowance" will be made. I remember that when I was Minister—and, I take it, after that—the full rent was paid unless that rent was regarded as unreasonable. I take it that "a rent allowance" means that the full rent will be paid, and not a rent contribution. My second question—because this is riot the time for a debate—is this. In making a statement of this kind at a time when there is a great deal of distress in many parts of the country, particularly the coldest parts, I should have thought that it would be advisable, as a humane suggestion only, perhaps, to remind these people that there are such things as discretionary allowances, and that in the event of their being faced—that is to say, after perhaps a year's unemployment—with the need to replace blankets or other essential household equipment, they can go to the National Assistance Board and receive a discretionary allowance. This is not mentioned here, and I should have thought that at this time of great distress it would be a good idea to embody it in the Regulations.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I will take the noble Lady's questions in the order in which she asked them. On the first question, I understand that in 99 per cent. of cases the full rent is paid. I cannot say it is an absolute 100 per cent., but 99 per cent. is the figure. On the very good point of the discretionary allowances, I think the noble Lady will agree with me that the National Assistance Board are, quite rightly, very sympathetic and generous in this matter, and although it has not been referred to in the statement I can 512 assure the noble Lady that there is no change in this generous policy on the part of the Board.