Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am most grateful that my noble friend Lady Turner who knows so much about social security, and especially about widows benefits, has welcomed much of what I have said today. I believe that her concerns focus on the older widow aged over 45. I think she would agree that, to some degree, the problem is a generational one. Back in 1946, only one married woman in eight went to work, but today seven in 10 women do so. If we look at the statistics, it is interesting to note that of the women aged over 45 to retirement age--the group that my noble friend identified--50 per cent. are in work at present. However, as regards men who are over the age of 45 up to retirement age, only 57 per cent. are currently in work. In other words, the profile of women's and men's needs is increasingly converging. Virtually as many women are now in work as men. That is why it is right to seek fairness as between men and women in similar situations.

Further, if women--this is largely a generational phenomenon--have worked as married women, continue to work when they have unfortunately lost their husbands and do not also have dependent children, it is

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1299

right to help them with a lump sum to meet some of the immediate costs. It is right to give them a bereavement allowance to deal with the difficult first six months when perhaps their lives are awry, but then to expect them--as men do--to remain in the labour market, as indeed they already do. I hope my noble friend will accept that that is right. Over half of all widows now have an income of over £150 a week, much of which comes from occupational pensions. That number will continue to grow. Those widows who do not have access to that and who are under the age of 55 will have access to JSA. If they are over the age of 55, as a result of the transitional arrangements we are making they will have access to income support without being required-- I think this was a point raised by the noble Earl which I overlooked--to make themselves available for, or be actively seeking, work.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, I am sure that the Statement will be of considerable interest to ministers of religion. I seek the Minister's help on two points. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that there is considerable unease about the escalating costs of funerals and the commercialisation of them, as many would see it. I know the Minister fully understands that bereavement is a traumatic occasion. It is a time when people find it extremely difficult to make decisions. There is a sense of shock and of denial. According to a programme on Radio 4 this morning such people are offered a chipboard coffin for £350 or a proper wooden coffin for £950. This is the moment when their dignity feels most threatened. Making such a decision on a commercial basis at that moment is extremely difficult. Can the Minister give us some advice as to whether the provision to be made for people who have been bereaved, not least younger people who do not have a great income, will enable them to make provision for a dignified funeral and will not make them feel that they are choosing the cheapest option because that is all they can afford?

The second point on which I should be grateful for some help is the following. It is a common experience for ministers of religion nowadays to conduct the funeral of a person who has died unmarried but who was in what is called a stable or fairly permanent relationship. The widow or the widower--if you can use that term--may still be in a state of shock and may be badly off and will have to make precisely the same choices. Is there any provision under this Statement to provide help for people in those circumstances for whom the experience of bereavement is equally awful?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate speaks compassionately and wisely about the problems faced when making decisions on funerals within a day or so of the death of a husband. The £2,000 lump sum is not, as such, a payment to cover funeral costs. It is often spent on funeral costs, but it is not so designated. The £2,000 can be used to cover the cost of a decent and dignified funeral without someone

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1300

feeling obliged to buy the cheapest coffin and to do without flowers and other such things with which one may wish to mark the occasion.

The right reverend Prelate asked whether the provision extended to someone in a long-standing partnership who is not married. The lump sum payment and all the benefits we have been talking about today apply only where the people concerned have been married. It does not extend to co-habitees or to those in more casual relationships. That is because we recognise the special status of marriage in this situation. However, the social fund is available to some of the poorest people that the right reverend Prelate mentioned. The social fund does not discriminate between marriage and co-habitation. In other words, it will give financial support to the person who is accepted as having the most appropriate responsibility for arranging a funeral, whether that is a daughter, a son, a brother, a sister or a partner. In those circumstances people would receive appropriate support from the social fund subject to their income.

Security for Private Road Works (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1998

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 30th June be approved [40th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move. Under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 a local authority may adopt a private road on to its list of public roads provided that it meets a specified standard. When an authority adopts such a road, it then has a duty to maintain it. Where roads are required to serve new housing developments, Section 17 of the 1984 Act enables the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring the developer to lodge a security, known as a "road bond", with the local roads authority to cover the costs of constructing these roads or, where there are existing roads, to bring them up to the authority's standard.

Such regulations were introduced in 1985 by the previous administration. The Security of Private Road Works (Scotland) Regulations 1985, as they are known, were designed to protect the rights of the individual house purchaser. They ensure that where a housing developer fails to construct a road to serve his housing development, for example, because of bankruptcy, sufficient funds will be available, through the road bond, to enable the local roads authority to complete the road's construction.

Although the regulations were well intended, it soon became apparent that they were not working as well as they might. For example, difficulties were experienced by some roads authorities where developers began work without lodging appropriate security, leaving the authority potentially exposed to the cost of completing the works. Also, some developers considered that roads authorities did not release their bond security as soon as they might, thereby incurring an unnecessary burden on

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1301

the company. Following discussion and consultation with those concerned with the practical application of the regulations, the Government have brought forward some amendments to them. We believe these amendments not only strengthen the spirit of the 1985 regulations but also make them more effective. I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of this House will welcome these measures as an improvement to the existing legislation.

Although roads authorities considered that they should not have to complete roads where a developer defaults, the amendment regulations make absolutely clear that this is the case. We do not consider it appropriate for the house purchaser, who has already paid towards the cost of construction in the price of his house, to pay for it again. We also consider that shouldering this responsibility encourages roads authorities to make as much effort as possible to ensure that developers do not start work without lodging the appropriate security. By requiring housing developers to provide local roads authorities with at least two weeks advance notice of their intention to commence developments, the amendment regulations provide authorities with more time to ensure that a bond is lodged. The amendment regulations also aim to discourage developers from not lodging a road bond by increasing the penalty for non-compliance of the 1985 regulations from £2,000 to the statutory maximum, level 5, fine of £5,000.

In addition, the new amendments now stipulate the circumstances when a roads authority should return the bond in whole or in part, as appropriate, to a developer. These are when the proposed development has been abandoned, when the authority considers that the security is no longer required or when the bond amount exceeds the cost of the proposed development.

Under the existing regulations, a roads authority does not have to release any of the road bond until it is satisfied that the road has been completed to a suitable standard. Unfortunately, this does not reflect the actual process of building roads. Roads are constructed in defined stages and provided each stage is constructed to the authority's standard, there is no reason why the entire bond should be retained until the road is fully complete. Also, as there can be quite a time lag between the completion of one stage of a road and the next, retaining the full bond can place an unreasonable financial burden on the developer. Our proposed amendments now require the authority to release parts of the bond when specified stages of the road's construction have been reached, provided, of course, that each stage has been completed to the authority's required standard.

Under the existing arrangements authorities are permitted, on completion of the road, to retain 20 per cent. of the bond until either the maintenance period for the road has expired or it has been adopted as a public road. However, we believe that in practice this is a little excessive and our amendments will reduced the maximum an authority can retain during the maintenance period to 10 per cent. of the bond.

18 Nov 1998 : Column 1302

The Government are committed to ensuring that individual house purchasers are not held to ransom by developers who default on their commitments or by authorities which have failed to ensure that appropriate security is lodged to cover the costs of roads for new developments in their areas. These amendments reinforce that commitment, clarify the responsibilities and roles of both parties and ensure that while the local authorities have the security needed to complete roads, developers also benefit from release of the road bond security as soon as possible. I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 30th June be approved [40th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page