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Pensioners

3. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on help for pensioners in Wales. [31669]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues, including measures to help pensioners in Wales.

Mark Tami: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and I also welcome the many measures that the Government have delivered for pensioners in Wales. However, does my right hon. Friend accept that the take-up of council tax benefit by pensioners remains low? What more can we do to highlight the existence of that benefit to those who need it most?

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend is right that take-up is lower than it should be. I welcome the fact that, in the budget agreed yesterday, the Assembly has decided to
 
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invest an extra £1.5 million to promote council tax benefit take-up. My hon. Friend should also bear in mind the fantastic help that the Government are giving to pensioners in Wales: £200 winter fuel payments and upwards of £400 council tax support, which will help a significant majority of nearly 500,000 households in Wales. The over-75s are benefiting as 186,000 pensioner households in Wales have free television licences—Labour delivering for pensioners in Wales. There are free bus passes for the over-60s provided by a Labour-run Assembly—Labour delivering once again for pensioners in Wales. We will have the first ever champion of pensioners in Europe when the Bill to appoint a commissioner for pensioners in Wales goes through Parliament. Yet again, Labour is delivering for pensioners in Wales.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Settens, an organisation in my constituency that makes box files, runs a very good pension scheme that has promoted employee loyalty. However, it is now afraid that the added financial burden of the pension protection fund will put that scheme's future in doubt. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the pension protection fund and its effect on small and medium-sized enterprises in Wales?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter, but he must concede that the average pension in Wales is now £1,500 a year higher in real terms under the Labour Government. If there are additional issues to address, as there always will be, we will certainly listen and consider them.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State recall that for five consecutive years, early-day motion 1 called for the restoration of the link between pensions and earnings? In fact, the Government have done far better than that, as they have increased pensions and introduced other benefits that are equivalent to a far greater amount than would have been generated by restoring that link in 1997. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the splendid report published today by Adair Turner and will the Government approach this reform, which could be their major reform, with humility and a sense of urgency?

Mr. Hain: The Government always act with humility and a sense of urgency and we will certainly do so in respect of Lord Turner's important report. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact, as it is implicit in his question, that the poorest third of pensioner households across Wales and, indeed, in the rest of the United Kingdom, are now £2,000 a year better off than they were under the Tories.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): We have heard from the Secretary of State about the money that the Government are handing out to pensioners this winter, but Steve Cranston, the director of National Energy Action in Wales, estimates that 223,000 households will not be able to heat their homes adequately this winter. My concern is about the number of people over 65 who may die. Last year, there were about 1,200 such deaths; this year, it could be as high as 1,800. Does not the Secretary of State realise that his £400 handout amounts to less than the average band D council tax increase in Wales?
 
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Mr. Hain: The truth is that under our Government, more support for council tax payments is being given to pensioners than ever before. I am getting a little worried on behalf of the hon. Gentleman. His putative leader, the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), says that

Where does that leave the hon. Gentleman?

Licensing Hours

4. Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): How many applications have been granted for 24-hour sale of alcohol licences in (a) Newport, East and (b) Wales. [31670]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I understand that one application, for a supermarket, has been granted in Newport, East. Only 61 applications have been granted by local authorities in Wales, 40 of which are for supermarkets and retail sites, and only 21 for pubs, clubs and hotels. That is out of an estimated total of 12,000 licensed premises in Wales.

Jessica Morden: My hon. Friend's reply shows that the idea that the amended Licensing Act 2003 would bring about widespread 24-hour pub opening is a myth. Will he explain, however, what the Government are doing to tackle alcohol-related disorder in cities such as Newport?

Nick Ainger: My hon. Friend is right: there is a substantial gap between the reality on licensing and the scaremongering by Opposition parties and certain sections of the media. Predictions of widespread disorder at the weekend were way off the mark; police reported a level of activity similar to, or lower than, before the introduction of the new licensing hours. Under the 2003 Act, we will expand the police's closure powers where disorder is occurring or is anticipated. We will increase the penalties for breach of licence conditions and for selling alcohol to children or to people who are drunk, and remove personal licences following convictions. Moreover, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill includes measures such as alcohol disorder zones and drink banning orders. That shows that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling alcohol-related crime.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): In my own constituency, Cardiff county council has proved very effective at processing licensing applications in time for the 24 November deadline, but many other councils across the UK have not been so successful. Does the Minister have any idea how many premises in Wales are trading illegally because their licences are still pending or because they have yet to apply? How does he propose to deal with premises that, as of last Thursday, were trading outside the law?

Nick Ainger: I cannot give the figure that the hon. Lady asks for, but let us be clear: local authorities in Wales have dealt with the applications made. As I said, only 61 applications were made for 24-hour licences,
 
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and a number of others were made for extended licences. I will write to the hon. Lady with the figure that she asks for once I have it to hand.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): As a former licence holder myself, I am fully aware that there are four categories of people whom licence holders cannot serve: vagrants, women of the night, the police and drunks. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to make use of the existing licensing powers and the new ones is to take away the licences of those who knowingly sell alcohol to people who are clearly over the limit, before such people wander on to the streets and cause trouble?

Nick Ainger: My hon. Friend is right, and such powers are included in the 2003 Act. It is not just about drunks; licensees who sell alcohol to children can have their licence revoked on a first offence.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): In the past five years, alcohol-related deaths in Wales have soared by 20 per cent. That is not scaremongering. One in 13 people is fighting alcoholism, and 40 per cent. of patients admitted to accident and emergency are suffering from alcohol-related ailments or illnesses. Does the Minister see the contradiction between the proposed total ban on smoking in Wales and the damage resulting from extending licensing hours?

Nick Ainger: Research in Scotland, for example, where licensing hours were extended substantially some years ago, focused on the question of evidence of alcohol-related disorder. Extended opening hours do not necessarily mean that alcohol consumption is increased. The powers that the new Act gives to local councils and the police should stop licensees abusing their position and selling alcohol to people who have had too much. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to come to order.


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