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Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. He tells us what we know. But can he tell us what was the source of that medical advice?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I understand it, it was the doctors of the Benefits Agency Medical Service who worked on these issues plus a little survey we carried out. As the numbers were small enough, we were able to track back clerically and look at the small sample that was taken. It was a small sample but we are talking about small numbers of people. We believe that the second part will mean that around 3,500 people will have to take the additional test. While the whole package will still reduce the number of people who have to take two tests, there is a netting off of the additional test on the second half of the regulations against the gains in the first half.

I think I ought to say--and I think I said it in my opening remarks--that those people who will no longer automatically be passported through the 80 per cent. test are not being denied severe disablement allowance. They are simply being required to satisfy the test in the same way as other claimants. Such people will require a medical examination only if the adjudicating medical authority is not satisfied on the paper evidence that they are 80 per cent. disabled.

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The noble Baroness and the noble Earl asked me about the assumptions. Those are the assumptions we have made. We believe, based on the assumptions we have made, that around £5 million of savings will be achieved by 1999-2000. We shall monitor the effect of these changes and we shall certainly review the issue in the light of the savings that are made and the data we collect on the tests themselves.

The noble Baroness asked me a personal question about therapeutic work. I can assure her that SDA claimants who are deemed to be undertaking therapeutic work will remain in receipt of the benefit.

Both the noble Earl and the noble Baroness asked me about partially sighted people. We are removing this passport because we cannot be sure that those people who could be registered as partially sighted would necessarily be found to be 80 per cent. disabled. The current statutory definition of blindness is:

    "A person should be so blind as to be unable to perform any work for which eyesight is essential".

Partial sightedness is not defined in legislation but must, by inference, be something less disabling than the definition I have read out. The criteria for partial sightedness is set out in guidance to certifying ophthalmic medical practitioners. To be registered as partially sighted the requirement is either vision of 6-60ths or worse, in both eyes--that approximates to 80 per cent. disablement--or visual acuity between 6-60ths and normal, but with restricted visual fields, which often does not equate with 80 per cent. disablement, as may be found, for example, in glaucoma or the eye complications of diabetes mellitus. These criteria are widely drawn and the ophthalmic consultants use considerable clinical discretion when applying them. It does not therefore follow that such people will inevitably satisfy the 80 per cent. disablement test.

Neither does it follow that such people would need to be examined if the adjudicating medical authority is satisfied on the paper evidence that they would indeed meet the 80 per cent. disablement test. So the removal of the passport means that each case can be medically assessed by the adjudicating medical authority on the specific medical circumstances which pertain to that individual. I underline the point that if the adjudicating officer is satisfied, then he does not need to go to the next step which is to have a medical test.

We are making these changes in order to ensure, as I have said, that only those with disability clearly equating to 80 per cent. are passported through the severe disablement allowance 80 per cent. disablement test. It is important to remember, as I say, not just for the partially sighted, but for all those who will no longer have automatic passports, that they are not being denied this allowance, but they are going to be treated in the same way as other applicants who are not passported. As I say, they may well not even need a medical test if the evidence satisfies the adjudicating medical authority.

I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, about the mobility component of the disability living allowance. I say to her that the disability living allowance mobility component, which is a successor to the mobility allowance, is one where the recipients had

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to pass a medical examination which was considered to equate to 80 per cent. disablement. However, since the introduction of DLA some higher rate mobility component beneficiaries will have been awarded benefit following self-assessment rather than a medical assessment. While we may have considered that recipients of the old mobility allowance could be considered 80 per cent. disabled and carried this through its successor, the higher rate mobility component of the disability living allowance can no longer be sustained with self-assessment coming in.

The noble Earl asked me about the changes and whether they would adversely affect women disproportionately and hence we may be in breach of our EU obligations. I say to him that we have no reason to believe that there is a greater proportion of women in the group who will no longer be automatically passported onto the severe disablement allowance. It is the departmental solicitors we look to to give us advice on whether legislation is discriminatory. In this case their advice is that it is not.

I believe that I have answered this before, but the noble Earl asked me. I mentioned the BAMS people. The department's chief medical adviser and his medical experts were also involved in that medical advice. I hope that I have answered all the various points put to me by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness. I commend this regulation to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Felixstowe: Rail Links

9.24 p.m.

Lord Marlesford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in the context of their desire to reverse the decline in rail's share of the freight market as stated in Transport--The Way Forward (Cm. 3234), whether the rail links to and from the Port of Felixstowe are adequate for the purpose of carrying freight and to respond to the growth of container traffic on Britain's trunk roads.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should first like to thank my noble friend Lord Goschen for being with us tonight. I know that it is at some inconvenience to him personally and so I particularly appreciate it. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is going to make his maiden speech tonight. He is an old and very dear friend of my family, as indeed was his remarkable father.

Ports are a crucial part of our economic infrastructure. To understand the situation which I wish to draw to the attention of the House and the Government tonight, I should briefly set out the historical context.

The history of industrial relations in British ports is tragic. In the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, there were some callous and sometimes brutal port employers and the consequence was the 1946 dock labour scheme which was intended to replace the undoubted evils of casual employment, but which itself became an obstacle to containerisation and other

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modernisations. It was rather like the print workers who later resisted computer typesetting. Eventually the scheme cost many dockers their jobs.

Felixstowe is a product of the frustration of shippers in those days. Effectively, it is a greenfield site. Indeed, Felixstowe is sometimes known as "the port without a city"--a rare phenomenon--and that is one of the reasons for its problems with inadequate rail links. Its first container terminal opened in 1967. It is all based on what had been a tiny provincial port and seaside resort whose main claim to fame was to be the sunniest place in Britain. In 1957 I started my working life in Felixstowe with Fisons, the chemical company, which then had its head office in the old Felix Hotel where, amazingly, before the First World War, the Kaiser apparently used to spend part of his summer holidays. I went back to Felixstowe on Monday and, frankly the port is totally unrecognisable from what it was 40 years ago.

By 1975, Felixstowe was taking 200,000 containers a year. It and the other independent ports were beginning to threaten the security of dockers in the big labour scheme ports. By that time, there had been two major dock strikes--in 1970 and 1972--with further strife in 1975. By then we had a Labour Government whose priority was industrial peace at any price rather than an efficient port system. To buy that peace, the then Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. Michael Foot, in February 1976 introduced his notorious Dock Work Regulation Bill, which sought to give registered dock workers a monopoly on all cargo handling at every port and at any installation within five miles of the sea or any major inland waterway. Yesterday I read the Second Reading debate on that Bill in another place when Mr. Foot admitted that,

    "the introduction of the scheme could cause problems at some non-scheme ports".--[Official Report, Commons, 10/2/76; col. 263.]

That must have been the understatement of the year. It would have killed Felixstowe stone dead! Fortunately, even Labour MPs of the time found the proposals too much to stomach and the five-mile provision never reached the statute book. The whole wretched cabouche was finally repealed by the Dock Work Act 1989 and since then our ports, and Felixstowe in particular, have never looked back.

Today Felixstowe is Britain's biggest container port. In 1996 it handled 2 million containers (or to use the jargon TEUs which are equivalent to 20ft containers) so the total number of actual boxes was about 1.5 million. It is the fourth biggest port in Europe (after Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp). It is the 12th biggest in the world.

Since 1991 the Port of Felixstowe has belonged to the giant Hutchison Wampoa group of Hong Kong, the home of the biggest container port in the world. So there is first-class management, state of the art technology, plenty of overseas capital for expansion and excellent labour relations. Indeed, it is one of the great success stories of the restructuring of Britain over the past 20 years.

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So what is the problem? Why are we debating this triumph at this late hour on practically the last day of this Parliament?

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