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House of Commons Members Fund

11.15 pm

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : I beg to move, That, in pursuance of the provisions of section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 and of section 2 of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, the maximum annual amounts of the periodical payments which may be made out of the House of Commons Members' Fund under the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, as amended, and the annual rate of any payments made under section 1 of the said Act of 1981 shall be varied as from 1st April 1992, as follows :

(a) for paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1939, as amended there shall be substituted the following paragraph : 1. The annual amount of any periodical payment made to any person by virtue of his past membership of the House of Commons shall not exceed £3,370 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £6,197 per annum ; whichever is the less : Provided that if, having regard to length of service and need, the trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £6, 487 or such sum as, in their opinion, will bring his income up to £9, 314 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(b) for paragraph 2 of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following paragraph :

2. The annual amount of any periodical payment to any person by virtue of her being a widow of a past Member of the House of Commons shall not exceed £2,106 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring her income up to £4,933 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to her husband's length of service or to her need, the trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £4,055 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring her income up to £6,882 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(c) in paragraph 2A of that Schedule for the words the annual amount of any periodical payment' to the end of the paragraph, there shall be substituted the words :

the annual amount of any periodical payment made to any such widower shall not exceed £2,106 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £4,933 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to his wife's length of service or to his need, the trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £4,055 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £6,882 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(d) in section 2(1) of the said Act of 1981, for the words from the beginning to the end of paragraph (b) there shall be substituted the words :

the annual rate of any payments made under section 1 shall be-- (

(a) £1,962 if the payments are made to a past Member ; and (

(b) £1,227 if the payments are made to the widow or widower of a past Member'.

Mr. Morris : These motions stand on the Order Paper in my name and in the names of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who share with me the responsibility, as managing trustees, of administering the House of Commons Members Fund. There are three motions to consider.

The purpose of the first motion is to enable the managing trustees to make higher awards to the widows


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and widowers of former Members now receiving help from the Members' Fund. Widows and widowers of former Members with entitlements under the parliamentary contributory pension fund receive a five eighths pension, and the managing trustees now propose the same provision for those helped by the Members' Fund. The effects of our proposal are set out in detail on today's Order Paper and can be briefly summarised.

Paragraphs (a) and (b) of the first motion deal with the provision of grants to widows and widowers of ex-Members under the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939. We propose to increase the basic annual grant for the period 1 April 1991 to 31 March 1992 to £2,023, subject to an income limit, including the grant, of £4,738. similarly, in the case of widows and widowers of ex-Members who had longer service and are assessed as being in need, the grant may be increased to a maximum of £3,894, subject to an income limit of £6,609 per annum.

Para (c) refers to the "as of right" payments to widows and widowers provided for by the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981. In these cases, benefit derives from 10 years' service by a former Member before October 1964. For the period 1 April 1991 to 31 March 1992, it is proposed to increase to £1,178 the "as of right" payment to the widow or widower of a former Member with that length of pre- 1964 service in the House. The second motion provides for an increase in the present levels of all grants and payments which may be made under the Members' Fund legislation, taking into account the increase to five eighths in payments to widows and widowers. These were last revised by approval of the motions I brought to the House in April 1991, and we propose now to increase them with effect from April 1992 by approximately 4.1 per cent., in line with increases already approved for public service and state retirement pensions which took effect from the same date. Among those who will benefit from the second motion are mostly very elderly former Members who left the House no later than September 1964, or their surviving spouses, who, unlike present Members, do not qualify for a pension in respect of parliamentary service as of right.

Many of this fast-dwindling number are now into their eighties and nineties, and their problems are compounded by advancing years. The modest extra financial help which the motion seeks to provide will, I know, be gratefully received by the beneficiaries, as evidenced by letters of fulsome appreciation received by the managing trustees and secretariat of the fund during the past year. I am very glad to be joined by the hon. Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) who is a long-serving trustee of the House of Commons Members' Fund and who has given distinguished service to former Members and their dependants on boths sides of the House.

I make no apology for asking right hon. and hon. Members once again to help us in tracing any former Members, or dependants of deceased former Members, who may be in need of help from the fund. I appeal to Members, when they return to their constituencies, to find out, if they can, the whereabouts of its former Members. Constituency party or association elders have long memories and the cause is well worth a word with them. Over the last two years, the managing trustees and secretariat of the fund have continued their own searches and have been able to assist former Members and


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dependants in need of our assistance, but additional help from Members in identifying possible beneficiaries is always most welcome.

Again, the provisions for which we seek approval in the second motion can be briefly summarised. Paragraph (a) deals with the provisions for grants to ex-Members. Here it is proposed to increase the basic annual grant to £3,370, subject to an income limit, including the grant, of £6,197. In the case of ex-Members with longer service, and in need, the grant may be increased to a maximum of £6, 487, subject to an income limit of £9,314.

Paragraphs (b) and (c) deal with the provision of grants to widows and widowers of ex-Members. It is proposed to increase the basic annual grant to £2,106 subject to an income limit, including the grant, of £4,933. Similarly, in the case of widows and widowers of ex-Members who had longer service and are in need, the grant may be increased to a maximum of £4,055, subject to an income limit of £6, 882 per annum.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House how he reaches those curious figures? They are very precise, and result in strange numbers, especially the ends of the numbers. Why do we not work to the nearest hundred pounds, say, instead of having peculiar sums such as £97 here, £66 there and £55 there? That seems foolish to me. It may be all right to calculate a day, but it does not seem like sensible administration.

Mr. Morris : Rounding up rather than rounding down, which is what I hope the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, is possible and, I believe, desirable. As managing trustees of the House of Commons Members' Fund, however, we have to work on the public sector increase arising from inflation. We are acting on the figure of 4.1 per cent. and, as others do, we have to keep to the precise effects of that movement in benefits for widows and dependants in the public sector.

I suppose that the hon. Gentleman's point is one of general importance rather than one of particular relevance to our problem. We have to follow decisions made by other people. In this case, the governing figure is 4.1 per cent.

Paragraph (d) refers to the as-of-right payments from the Members' fund to ex-Members who had 10 years service before October 1964, and to widows and widowers of such Members, provided for by the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981. We propose to increase the annual payments to £1,962 for ex-Members and £1,227 for widows and widowers. Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness) : Will my right hon. Friend tell the House the present annual rate of payments from the fund, before the proposed increases take effect?

Mr. Morris : The present annual rate of payments from the fund is rather more than £265,000 in advance of the application of the increases which I propose under the motions.

The third motion relates to section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948, as amended by section 7 of the Ministerial and Other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991, which now authorises the trustees of the Members' Fund to make

"such periodical or other payments as they think fit"


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to ex-Members, or their widows or widowers, or to children of ex-Members,

"having regard to the circumstances of the person or persons in respect of whom the payments are to be made."

Section 4 of the 1948 Act, together with section 1 of the 1957 House of Commons Members' Fund Act, as amended, provides that, in any year, for the purpose of making such payments, the House of Commons may by resolution direct that the whole or any part of the amount contributed by Members from their salaries be appropriated, together with the whole or any part of the Treasury's contribution which is now increased to £215,000 a year.

In my speech to the House in March last year, I recalled the then Lord President's agreement to set aside an extra £100,000 to meet the costs of additional discretionary awards under section 4. I am pleased to see his successor in his place tonight, and to say that what was promised is now reflected in the additional Treasury contribution.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : We are concerned about the grant from the Government. Could not they increase the fund for the widows of ex-Members by far more than my right hon. Friend is suggesting? I am not criticising him or his attitude to the fund, which benefits Members on all sides, but the Government should give more, especially as they now contribute less than they did some years ago. How does the investment performance of the fund compare with funds outside the House? I am concerned about a fund that was managed by somebody who controlled the Mirror Group. We all know what happened to that, and when an investigation is carried out, perhaps a further investigation should be carried out by a Select Committee into the pension fund for Members.

Mr. Morris : My hon. Friend made two important points. The grant in aid from the Treasury is now £215,000--an increase on what we received previously. I have proposed, by the motions, an increase in widows' pensions from 50 per cent.--from half--to five eighths. That would not have been possible but for the increase in the grant in aid from the Treasury to £215,000.

Hon. Members on both sides contribute to the Members' Fund. It is not widely enough appreciated outside the House that the fund is largely sustained by contributions made by right hon. and hon. Members. They help in giving money via the Fees Office. They help former Members of advancing years and the widows and dependants of deceased former Members. The Treasury contribution is, however, an important one and it would not have been possible to increase to five eighths the payments to widows of pre- 1964 Members but for that increase.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) referred to income from investments. Our gross income from investments in the last year has been more than £94,000. I cannot say off the cuff how that compares with the investment income of other funds. There are not many funds like the House of Commons Members' Fund. It is a highly unusual and, I suggest, an important fund.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham) : By statute, the public trustee ensures that the House of Commons pension fund investments are properly held in safe custody. In addition, the trustees of the parliamentary pension fund have taken the opinion of independent experts on the investment performance of our fund. I believe that its performance has been somewhat above average in recent times.


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Mr. Morris : My fellow trustee is eminently right to say that we do monitor the results of our investments. We try to compare our performance. All the information we have indicates that we do very well in comparative terms.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore will be assured on the two points he has raised--first of all, about the grant in aid from the Treasury and secondly, the gross income from

investments--that we are appreciative, as managing trustees, of the interest of hon. Members who follow in great detail our work, as my hon. Friend always does. I am grateful to him.

The extra sum from the Treasury has enabled the trustees to finance some 140 new discretionary awards to widows and widowers of former Members. In addition, there are at present a further nine beneficiaries who receive payments under section 4 and the moneys to be appropriated are needed both to continue these payments and to fund further cases as they arise.

Finally, and as before, I pay very warm tribute to those who help us with the detailed work of administering the fund from the Fees Office. In particular, I want to thank Jim Dobson, the former accountant, who retired last year after long and devoted service to Members, past and present, and their dependants. Tony Lewis, who has succeeded Jim Dobson, is from the same mould and I extend also to him our very warm appreciation. He and Michael Fletcher and all their colleagues in the Fees Office go far beyond the calls of duty in the service that they give and merit not only the gratitude of the managing trustees but that of this House as a whole.

I commend the motions to the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : With the leave of the House, I shall put the three motions together.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved.

That, in pursuance of the provisions of section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 and of section 2 of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, the maximum annual amounts of the periodical payments which may be made out of the House of Commons Members' Fund under the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, as amended, and the annual rate of any payments made under section 1 of the said Act of 1981 shall be varied as from 1st April 1992, as follows :

(a) for paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1939, as amended, there shall be substituted the following paragraph : 1. The annual amount of any periodical payment made to any person by virtue of his past membership of the House of Commons shall not exceed £3,370 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £6,197 per annum ; whichever is the less : Provided that if, having regard to length of service and need, the trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £6, 487 or such sum as, in their opinion, will bring his income up to £9, 314 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(b) for paragraph 2 of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following paragraph :

2. The annual amount of any periodical payment to any person by virtue of her being a widow of a past Member of the House of Commons shall not exceed £2,106 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring her income up to £4,933 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to her husband's length of service or to her need, the trustees think fit, they may make a larger


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payment not exceeding £4,055 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring her income up to £6,882 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(c) in paragraph 2A of that Schedule for the words the annual amount of any periodical payment' to the end of the paragraph, there shall be substituted the words :

the annual amount of any periodical payment made to any such widower shall not exceed £2,106 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £4,933 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to his wife's length of service or to his need, the trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £4,055 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £6,882 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(d) in section 2(1) of the said Act of 1981, for the words from the beginning to the end of paragraph (b) there shall be substituted the words :

the annual rate of any payments made under section 1 shall be-- (

(a) £1,962 if the payments are made to a past Member ; and (

(b) £1,227 if the payments are made to the widow or widower of a past Member'.

Resolved,

That the whole or any part of the sums deducted or set aside in the current year from the salaries of Members of Parliament under section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, and the whole or any part of the contribution determined by the Treasury for the current year under section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1957, as amended by the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, be appropriated for the purposes of section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948, as amended by section 12 of the Parliamentary Pensions etc. Act 1984, and section 7 of the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991.-- [Mr. Alfred Morris.]

Resolved,

That, in pursuance of the provisions of section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 and ofsection 2 of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, the maximum annual amounts of the periodical payments which may be made out of the House of Commons Members' Fund under the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, as amended, and the annual rate of any payments made under section 1 of the said Act of 1981 shall be varied from 1st April 1991 to 31st March 1992 as follows :

(a) for paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1939, as amended, there shall be substituted the following paragraph : 2. The annual amount of any periodical payment to any person by virtue of her being a widow of a past Member of the House of Commons shall not exceed £2,023 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring her income up to £4,738 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to her husband's length of service or to her need, the trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £3,894 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring her income up to £6,609 per annum, whichever is the less' ;

(b) in paragraph 2A of that Schedule for the words the annual amount of any periodical payment' to the end of the paragraph, there shall be substituted the words :

the annual amount of any periodical payment made to any such widower shall not exceed £2,023 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £4,738 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to his wife's length of service or to his need, the trustees


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think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £3,894 or such sum as, in the opinion of the trustees, will bring his income up to £6,609 per annum, whichever is the less' ;

(c

in section 2(1)(b) of the said Act of 1981, there shall be substituted the words :

(b) £1,178 if the payments are made to the widow or widower of a past Member'.-- [Mr. Alfred Morris.]


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PETITION

11.32 pm

Dogs (Nailsea)

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : I beg to ask leave to present a petition to the House. The town of Nailsea in the west country has asked me to present this petition of more than 1,000 citizens. It is a very pretty town, but a minority of irresponsible dog owners are providing an environmental hazard to health and an eyesore. Action is needed to educate dog owners and provide adequate facilities for the disposal of dog excrement. The petition states :

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House will ensure that district councils, in this case, Woodspring district council, will fulfil its duty as laid out by statute, improving dog fouling facilities in Nailsea and that the House will give due consideration to further legislation to reduce the aforementioned hazards.

To lie upon the Table.


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Asbestos Pollution (Armley)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]

11.33 pm

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : As the Minister will be aware, I raised the issue of lethal asbestos pollution in Armley in my constituency in the House on 25 November 1988. At that time, I urged the Government to set up a public inquiry into increasingly concentrated cases of people suffering and dying from the deadly asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. These were people who had no known previous history of contact with asbestos, other than to have lived in the immediate neighbourhood of J. W. Roberts' asbestos factory in Canal road.

I was advised by the then Minister of Employment that people who were suffering, or who had relatives who had died, had to use the usual legal procedure of claiming against the company. Since then, lawyers acting on behalf of mesothelioma victims have been trying to get Turner and Newall plc of Trafford Park, Manchester--the owners of J. W. Roberts, which closed in 1958--into court to challenge the company with asbestos pollution in the neighbourhood, causing injury and death. Basically, it is an attempt legally to prove negligence in the face of foreseeable likelihood that harm would occur as a result of causing or permitting asbestos dust to permeate the atmosphere in or around the factory premises in Canal road, Armley, between 1925 and 1958.

In his reply, the then Minister--the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls)--said that the main requirement of the 1931 regulations

"was that dust should be controlled by the use of exhaust ventilation equipment".

That means blowing dust out into the neighbouring streets on the assumption that it could be dispersed at what were then described as safe levels. Many local people witnessed that the company allowed dust to escape from the factory into the streets in the vicinity. The legal test is whether the company knew that the dust could cause serious or possibly fatal injury to those living in the 840 houses nearby who work in the local workplaces or who attend the Armley clock school.

There are now well over 30 recorded neighbourhood mesothelioma cases on which lawyers are working, but it takes time to develop a test case. Already, some of my constituents with mesothelioma--one at least was claiming for a deceased wife--have died. They were waiting for the completion of the legal procedures recommended by the employment Minister to whom I have referred. In some cases legal aid has had to be transferred to other relatives. We have seen examples of the legal delays that are likely to occur. I am haunted daily by the fact that most victims and their relatives will die before their cases get to court.

On 25 November 1988 the then employment Minister said : "We do not know exactly what was being done at the factory. Nor do we have any data about actual asbestos exposure for either employees or members of the public nearby. At the time no one would have thought it worth collecting records from so long ago are not kept."

The Minister was wrong. I have reason to believe that the company and other sources, medical and environmental,


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did have that sort of data, and still do. The difficulty lies in seeking it out--discovering it--and, especially, forcing the company to disclose all that it knew and knows.

There have already been national television, radio and press investigations into the Armley asbestos tragedy. So far as I know, however, Turner and Newall plc has undertaken no inquiries into what has happened or is still happening. A responsible company would surely be coming forward to assist and, in view of the worst fears of the community, even to offer to carry out testing in the area. In reality, there is emerging an intractable legal Catch 22 problem as a result of the document discovery provisions under the terms of section 34 of the Supreme Court Act 1981, rule 7a. Documents tend to be shifted around from one subsidiary to another within the parent group. Lawyers are expected to specify exactly what records they want without knowing what the company holds. Even if they manage to specify particular records, such as reports on the escape of dust from the factory and tested measurements of asbestos levels within the factory or in the surrounding area--even details of the factory's structure and its ventilation system--those documents are either outwith the rules of discovery or the reply comes back that the records no longer exist.

It is surprising that American lawyers who are challenging the same company --Turner and Newall--can insist on visiting its document depository at St. Mary's Parsonage, Manchester. They emerge with photocopies of documents, which are seen in the public domain in the United States. Yet to obtain the same documents and to use them in the United Kingdom is ruled out of order.

Airborne dust measurements that are reported to have been carried out at the factory could provide crucial evidence in this devastating story. I said on 25 November :

"It appears from the evidence of such an intense mesothelioma cluster that the factory had, and is still having, a lethal impact on the people in its neighbourhood."--[ Official Report, 25 November 1988 ; Vol 142, c. 408- 13.]

In the same month, Leeds city council began a survey of a small proportion of the 836 houses in the neighbourhood. It tested 36 homes for asbestos pollution over a period of six months. On the basis of the results, a warning letter was sent to all residents between March 1989 and April 1992 alerting them to the possibility of asbestos pollution in their homes.

In November last the council decided to undertake a more thorough survey of 300 dwellings in the area. The detailed results of that survey are currently being processed and the full report on the findings is due to be published soon. Preliminary reports already suggest that asbestos dust is present in many of the houses, in roofing, cellars and window sashes. Already it seems reasonable to assume that all 836 houses need to be specially cleaned of asbestos pollution.

There is a means of cleaning the houses of asbestos which is properly licensed under the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations 1983. But--here is the nub--it will cost £7,500 per property. That would make a total of £6 million. The properties are back-to-back, terraced homes, of which 556 are owner-occupied, 169 are council-owned, 22 belong to housing associations and 95 are privately rented. The local authority has to accept the cost of cleaning out its properties, but under the current arrangements it can offer only means-tested improvement grant aid to the private owners. Only 20 per cent. of the residents will


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