10 Jan 1996 : Column 121

House of Lords

Wednesday, 10th January 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Baroness Hayman

Mrs. Helen Valerie Hayman, having been created Baroness Hayman, of Dartmouth Park in the London Borough of Camden, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Baroness Castle of Blackburn and the Baroness Jay of Paddington, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Lord Sewel

John Buttifant Sewel, Esquire, CBE, having been created Baron Sewel, of Gilcomstoun in the District of the City of Aberdeen, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Kirkhill and the Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove.

Lord Grantchester--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

War Widows' Pensions

2.58 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many widows have received the re-allocated pension under the provisions of the Pension Act 1995, and how many have applied.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, the Pensions Act provided that a war widow's pension, which is withdrawn on remarriage, may be reclaimed on the subsequent termination of a marriage or on judicial separation. So far, 11,737 claim forms have been received and over 2,000 pensions have been put into payment.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his accurate Answer as far as it goes. Is he aware that although 2,036 ladies have started to receive pensions, and 80 to 100 have been turned down, there are about 8,000 ladies who have not heard one way or another and are still in limbo? Would he not agree that hope deferred makes the heart sick, that few of these ladies are very young, and that some may even be dead before they receive their pension?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, something like 4,000 widows or former widows have been notified that they will receive their pensions again. I am aware of the pressure on us to pay these pensions as quickly as we can, but we have to make some checks.

10 Jan 1996 : Column 122

Obviously we have to check that the actual conditions of entitlement are correct and that the person who has applied is eligible for a war widow's pension. Having done that, we have to check whether there are any other payments from the Department of Social Security and, if so, balance those to make sure that when we pay out we are paying out the correct amount. I assure my noble friend that we are dealing with this matter as expeditiously as we can.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does the Minister recall that the reason so many Members of your Lordships' House supported the insertion of this clause in the Bill was that we were made aware that there were a number of cases of real hardship? Is it not insensitive, to say the least, that it is now taking so long to settle some of these claims? I understand that some of these ladies are in real difficulty. Is there no way that this matter can be speeded up?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think I explained that some checks have to be carried out when one receives an application form. Of course many of the records are over 50 years old and my department has to check them to determine whether the claims are genuine, justified and within the terms of the law. Thereafter there is the problem of balancing the claim with any other social security benefits that may be received. At Norcross in Blackpool we have taken on 48 staff who are totally dedicated to working on this issue. Indeed, shortly we shall be adding another 12 members of staff. We hope that all the pensions will be in payment by the end of this financial year; that is, the end of March.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, is it not the case that war widows who have now had their pensions reinstated may nevertheless have some deductions made from other state pensions, particularly if their pensions have been enhanced by additional contributions from their second husbands? If that is the case, is it not dreadful that one is taking with one hand after giving with another?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, there is a general rule in social security that the taxpayer does not pay twice and that benefits are matched. If a war widow has a category A retirement pension, namely, one for which she has qualified on the basis of her own national insurance contributions, that is unaffected by the pension of £140 a week being restored to her. However, if she has a category B pension, which is based on her late husband's contributions, then that is taken into account, as is, for example, income support. That does not only affect war widows, it affects everybody who receives any benefit of any kind from the department.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister provide me with information? I am told that a number of applications, perhaps 80 or 90, have been refused. When an application is rejected is the applicant told why? Is there any ground for appeal or is the matter closed once and for all?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I understand that 78 applications have been rejected. I do not know on what grounds they were rejected. It is possible that the person applied thinking mistakenly that her first husband fell within the category caught by the

10 Jan 1996 : Column 123

amendments to the Pensions Act. I shall certainly check that an explanation has been given to the 78 applicants and to any others who are refused.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, would it be possible to increase the number of people dealing with the issue? My noble friend says that currently 48 people are looking at this issue and that an additional 12 will be employed. He also stated that it was hoped that all outstanding questions and pensions would be dealt with by the end of this financial year. Would it be possible to employ say another 30 people on this work so that we can hasten the process and give these people, some of whom as my noble friend Lady Strange said could be dead before they receive their pensions, some hope of receiving the money more quickly?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I said initially, we have 48 people working in this dedicated group and are adding another 12. However, the other work of the War Pensions Agency goes on. There are other war widows or pensioners who have disabilities resulting from the war who are applying for the first time. We have to ensure that that work goes on. We have to try and achieve a balance between getting on with this job and not damaging the ongoing work of dealing with new war widows or new war pensioners.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are quite a lot of unemployed people in the Blackpool area who would look forward to some temporary work helping out with this particular question?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have a number of temporary employees in the agency helping out on a number of issues. There is also the other aspect that the War Pensions Agency has to live within its administrative budget. That means that one cannot just go out and hire new people regardless of the effect on the administrative budget.

Diesel Fuel and Pollution

3.6 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to encourage the use of modified diesel fuel in order to reduce pollution of the atmosphere, especially by particulates.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Government recognise that cleaner fuels have a role to play in reducing air pollution. We shall be reducing the maximum permitted sulphur content of diesel fuel by 75 per cent. from 1st October 1996.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply and what he says about low sulphur fuels. In view of the recent increase in diesel road vehicles and the estimate that 80 per cent. of exhaust particulates now are emitted by diesels, will the

10 Jan 1996 : Column 124

Government do all they can to encourage the use of low sulphur fuel, bearing in mind the rapid success and widespread adoption of unleaded petrol, assisted in that case by a tax differential?

Viscount Goschen: Yes, my Lords. Low sulphur fuels have a significant role to play in the process of reducing emissions of particulates. However, it must be recognised that there are alternatives, sometimes involving additives to diesel fuel, which have a similar effect. We are also taking action on a number of other fronts to achieve the aim, addressing new vehicle standards and enforcement of existing standards and reducing the amount of sulphur permitted in diesel fuel.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, would it be possible to secure a substantial increase in low pollutant diesels by reducing the tax on such fuels, thus making them more attractive to purchasers than the ordinary polluting diesel?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that is certainly one option, and one we shall keep under review. As I said, there are a number of other approaches to the problem which we are pursuing. Indeed, there are other fuels, including those using additives, which produce the same result and do not have the cost premium of low sulphur diesel.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page