Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that there clearly is a dilemma for the Government in that if one has an automatic entitlement, irrespective of income, to additions to the basic state pension, then the entire population over the age of 65, including a large number of your Lordships, would automatically benefit. I am not suggesting for one moment that your Lordships would not be meritorious, but noble Lords might regard themselves as not necessarily having the first claim on resources in this area. The moment one goes for targeting on a means-testing basis, as my noble friend said, there are real problems about take-up, given the issues of the complexity of the benefit, stigma and ignorance. As my noble friend queried, that is why in the pilot schemes we are looking to see whether we can get automaticity--an ugly word--in the passporting of benefits to elderly people. They are mostly single women over the age of 75 years. The kinds of projects that we are looking at in our pilot schemes include working with local authorities to see whether one can piggy-back, for example, off entitlement to council tax benefit and housing benefit, and whether with social services we can ensure everyone getting the attendance allowance is also claiming income support to which they are entitled. We are also developing an experiment in London for electronic claim forms. Just before someone reaches their 65th birthday they are telephoned and asked for details of their income and capital cut-off point to see whether we can get automatic entitlement to income support to them. In these ways I hope that we are addressing the concerns of my noble friend.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Does not the Minister agree that the administrative cost of helping pensioners through means-tested benefits is much greater than that of administering a state insurance contributory pension scheme? It is something like £5 per week per recipient. Therefore, this elaborate effort to get people to take up more is going to add to the cost. Could she tell us, please, what would be the cost if all the pensioners entitled to income support were now, as a result of these activities, to claim it?

30 Apr 1998 : Column 383

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend is correct. The retirement pension costs 55p per week to administer per claimant, and income support entitlement, irrespective of age, costs something like £4.20 a week to administer. So my noble friend can see that if 1 million pensioners were to claim income support to which they were entitled there would be a substantial administrative cost as well as the much bigger cost of take-up. But we believe that it is important that poorer pensioners today get the money to which they are entitled. Therefore, it is a cost that we must accept.

"Shield Council" Defence Proposal

3.14 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their position on the proposals for the elimination of war between sovereign states set down in the Army Quarterly Defense Journal, Vol. 127, No. 1.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we do not support the proposal for a so-called "shield" organisation; a supranational council with a standing military force and nuclear weapons. Such an organisation would not be effective, accountable or politically acceptable. The UK is working to improve the ability of the international community to prevent and manage conflict. The United Nations is central to this effort. Collective defence through NATO will remain the cornerstone of the United Kingdom's national security.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I believe the support given to this document by a former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, is unconditional, as is the support given by a former president of the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev? I do not know what the position is as regards a former premier of France, M. Rocard, who has also added his name. But as regards my noble friend Lord Callaghan, the fourth very distinguished international person to have put his name to the document, his support is qualified and he made that very clear in a foreword which he supplied to the article printed in the Army Quarterly Defense Journal, which of itself is a document supported by distinguished military people. In those circumstances, although I do not expect the Minister to say that the Government support this, does she feel able to say, as my noble friend Lord Callaghan said, that the document is well worth consideration and discussion?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend has been very encouraging in trying to tempt me into saying that we would consider the document. But I must be clear both to my noble friend and the House that the Government do not believe that the document could command that degree of interest

30 Apr 1998 : Column 384

or consideration. It involves the creation of another nuclear power and would be in breach of our nuclear proliferation treaties. The so-called "Shield Council" would be independent of states and the UN Security Council. Its members would have to forswear their national allegiances. Her Majesty's Government are most concerned about the accountability of such a council in those circumstances.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, while the Government may have reservations about individual aspects of this article's contribution to the consideration of international armed forces, nevertheless will they recognise that articles such as these do make a contribution to the developing debate about how we can obtain international security around the globe? Bearing in mind the current perception by a number of nations that international peacekeeping efforts appear to be dominated by the United States, does the Minister agree that every effort to ensure that international peacekeeping efforts are perceived and realised to be on behalf of the international community as a whole should be welcomed?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I would be very concerned indeed if anything I said in your Lordships' House in any way detracted from the two answers that I have already given about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to this particular document. As my noble friend raises other issues as well, I say to the House that Her Majesty's Government believe that the United Nations matters. For all its problems it is an indispensable institution. It is the only one we have at the moment which is capable of giving any real legitimacy to decisions taken by the international community. The Government rest on that position.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, there is plenty of time left. May I briefly say--

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, may I briefly ask my noble friend to say that at least she agrees that this matter should be taken further? I hope that noble Lords will agree that this afternoon's discussion is only a preliminary stage. I hope that in future my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff will participate. Is my noble friend the Minister aware that I shall make it my business to ensure that an opportunity to do so is afforded to him?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Callaghan will know how much he relishes that opportunity--or not. I hope that I have been clear and unequivocal on this point. I cannot encourage my noble friend to believe that Her Majesty's Government will consider the document further. None

30 Apr 1998 : Column 385

the less, the Government are, of course, always willing to listen to my noble friend's interesting point of view and I am sure that we shall have the opportunity to do so on this matter in future.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, is my noble friend on the Front Bench aware that having listened first to my noble friend Lord Jenkins and then to her replies, I am not sure yet which side I am on? However, I shall certainly go away and see what it was I signed. I shall then be very happy to take part in any discussions that may ensue.

Convicted Criminals: Memoirs

3.21 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have held with book and newspaper publishers and radio and television companies about payment to convicted criminals for memoirs and related material concerning their criminal past.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am not aware of any recent discussions between the Government and book and newspaper publishers or radio and television companies about this issue, although I understand that my honourable friend Joyce Quin, the Home Office Minister of State, has recently written to Richard Charkin, the Chief Executive of Macmillan General Books, in her capacity as the Member for Gateshead East and Washington West, about the payment made to Mary Bell for her contribution to Cries Unheard.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has asked the Attorney-General whether anything can be done about the payments which have been made to Mary Bell. I understand that it is not clear whether the Attorney-General has any power to take action. None the less he is examining the possibility.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page