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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the availability of the heavy lifting gear has not been raised as yet with me, but I shall take account of what the noble Lord said.

On the suggestion of an independent Railway Inspectorate, let me be clear. We feel that it is for Lord Cullen to make the recommendations. If the recommendations are that there should be inspectorates or other regulatory bodies independent of our department, we shall very gladly accept that advice.

Baroness Young : My Lords, I want to ask two questions. In the wider consideration of the inquiry, will the Government look at the practice of the automatic locking of doors once a train leaves the station? The passengers should not be locked in. As the Minister will be aware, one cannot get off the train; one has to wait for the automatic unlocking before the door will open. Will he satisfy himself that clear instructions are given to passengers who might have to get out of a carriage very quickly under such terrible circumstances?

Secondly, with the greatly increased number of passengers on trains, is the Minister satisfied about the regulations which govern the number of standing passengers? It is a common sight on trains. Ought not there to be something for passengers to hold on to so that if the train has to stop suddenly for whatever reason they are in a safer position?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I take the point, which was well made. Probably all of us were unnerved to read about the problems which passengers had with doors. We welcomed the introduction of central locking because we understood that it would save many lives per year. Indeed, it has.

As regards overcrowding, such an event causes one to take stock and to wonder about people standing in such crowded circumstances at such high speeds. Again, I am sure that Lord Cullen's inquiry will address that issue.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, my noble friend referred to possible prosecutions. Will he refer the Health and Safety Commission to Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act which provides that, where a director, manager or company secretary is personally responsible through his or her consent, connivance or neglect for a hazard, that individual is liable to be prosecuted? Does he agree that there is far too much complacency among individual directors and managers, with the belief always that if there is a disaster the company will be prosecuted and it will have to pay a fine and will suffer loss of good name? Surely if individuals understood their legal as well as

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their criminal and moral responsibilities they might take more interest in avoiding such awful dangers, the litany of which the Minister set out in his statement.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I accept the general principle stated by the noble Lord. I hope that in this case we shall see the public inquiries proceeding without undue delay caused by legal proceedings. However, if changes to the law are required in order to ensure that responsibility is laid with those who might have been responsible--and I suggest nothing in this case--I am sure that such legislation will be brought before Parliament in due course.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, for many years I worked in an industry in which safety was of paramount importance; namely, the mining industry. The success achieved in it becoming the safest deep-mining industry in the world was due to the highly developed culture of safety throughout the enterprise, right from the top to the bottom.

The culture of safety has been mentioned by many speakers today, but will the Minister accept that it is not enough to speak about it or even to make directions about it? Does he agree that it must be given unremitting attention, careful planning and the introduction of a competitive spirit among operators to achieve the greatest safety records and the introduction of new safety measures? That is as important as, if not more important than, clarifying the regulatory system.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I agree with the points made by the noble Lord. If the railways require models to look at as they regain their reputation for safety, they will find useful paradigms in industries such as mining. Furthermore, we can look to the aviation industry for a strong safety culture. In doing so, we can dispel the belief that private companies cannot be imbued with a safety culture. I do not believe that the two are incompatible. We would like to see the railway industry aspiring to the same culture in safety as exists in the aviation industry and which existed in the mining industry.

Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill

4.14 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


.--(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for one or more of the following--
(a) to substitute, in any provision of the Contributions and Benefits Act which relates to additional pension for widows or widowers, for any sum payable by way of such pension as is derived from the contributions of a deceased spouse, such higher sum as may be prescribed;

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(b) to substitute, in any such provision, for any prescribed reference to the year 2000, a reference to such later year as may be prescribed;
(c) to establish a scheme to compensate persons who are widowed after 5th April 2000 and who suffered loss as a result of any action or failure to act in reliance on incorrect information received from a Government department with respect to the reduction in the additional pension payable to them as a result of the enactment of the former section 19 of the Social Security Act 1986.
(2) If regulations under subsection (1) are not in force on 5th April 2000, then until such time as such regulations are in force, the provisions of the Contributions and Benefits Act to which paragraph (a) of that subsection apply shall continue to have effect as in force on that date.
(3) No regulations shall be made under subsection (1) unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall also refer to Amendments Nos. 49, 101, 102 and 103.

A number of your Lordships are by now familiar with the issues, but I need to explain the emergence at this late stage of a new clause which brings together the previous alternative amendments on additional inherited pensions for widows and widowers. I shall be brief since the principles are simple, albeit the issues are complex once one tackles the detail.

From April next year, people who had relied on inheriting a 100 per cent pension from their spouse--because that is what the law originally provided and that is what they had consistently been told--will find that 100 per cent inheritance reduced to 50 per cent unless this Bill makes provision to the contrary. There is not likely to be another legislative opportunity to make amends before next April.

The mischief goes back to cost-cutting legislation in 1986. That legislation was proposed by the government of the time and approved, not without protest, by the Parliament of the time. Whether from shame or negligence, nobody told the intended victims that they were to lose the rights already acquired before the 1986 legislation and that they were accruing rights at half the expected rate thereafter.

Since they were ignorant of the position, contributors lost the opportunity to make alternative provision for their spouse. This Government have, to their credit, accepted that something needs to be done. Findings of maladministration or illegality, or both, may just be round the corner. The something that might need to be done could be very expensive and I am aware that hard thinking is going on in Whitehall. We might not have a firm statement today on what is to be done, but I did not want your Lordships to move on with no provision made and each of the three amendments standing in the names of, respectively, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and myself rejected by the Government.

I have therefore tabled a multi-purpose amendment offering a choice of one or other of our respective solutions or some combination of them. The core requirement is that the Government must, before next April, increase the reduced pensions, delay the reduction or compensate those who have lost as a result of the reduction, or some combinations of those.

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If the Government have not done so, they must freeze the rules as they are at present until such time as they come forward with a solution. The Government's proposals will require approval in both Houses. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment. I rather suspect that, like Martin Luther in other circumstances, she can do no other. I beg to move.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, this is a matter which your Lordships debated in Committee and therefore much of the background is before you. However, there are two essential points at issue. First, in 1986 legislation was passed which reduced the widows pension under SERPS by half. It was true to say that at that time Ministers said that this would preserve their rights for the remainder of this century. So there was a very long period between the announcement of the reduction and the time when it came to be implemented, which is soon.

On the substance of the issue, I do not want to dissent from the view taken by the previous government, and, as I understand it, the present Government, with regard to the long-term implications. Our grave concern--reflected in Amendment No. 49--is that the matter was not brought to the attention of those affected. That is not at all a party issue because, alas, the governments of both the main parties have been at fault. That was the case under the previous government and it has been so until quite recently under the present Government.

It has been said--and I do not dissent from it--that those who did not know of the proposed change had suffered as a result of having been misinformed. Consequently, they found that they might have taken action to ameliorate the effect of the change, but did not do so because they were either not informed at all, or in many cases were actually given wrong information. In previous debates, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, suggested that he had quite clear written evidence that that was so. Indeed, wrong information was also given in telephone conversations. Therefore, the question was what should be done to compensate those who may have lost as a result of that lack of information or misinformation. Mr Stephen Timms in another place said that compensation will be paid to anyone,

    “who can establish that he or she received advice that did not reflect the change from April 2000 and, as a result, acted to their detriment".--[Official Report, 8/3/99; col. 5.]

There is no question at all that the Government have clearly said that they believe that it is right that compensation should be paid. That is certainly a view which we on this side of the House believe to be the case. The Minister's immediate response was to say that she was taking legal advice on the matter. We have not yet heard what that legal advice is. Perhaps it would be helpful if this afternoon the noble Baroness were to tell the House.

The other development was that a case was put to the Parliamentary Ombudsman to look into the question of whether there has been maladministration. The ombudsman has said that he will report in good time before 6th April 2000. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Rix, nor I are very familiar with the practice at

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Labour Party conferences. I suppose that the amendment before us might reasonably be described as “composite". It does indeed cover a number of different aspects of the problem. In particular, it gives the Government extremely wide discretion. It suggests that the Secretary of State shall have powers by regulation to,

    “make provision for one or more of the following".

So he does not have to make that provision for all of them; he can do it for any one of them. As I have already indicated, I would not be in favour of him doing that as far as regards the substantive underlying issue. I make that absolutely clear.

On the other hand, I am greatly in favour of him doing so to ensure that action is taken regarding the proposals for compensation before April 2000. As I understand it, the noble Lord's amendment effectively provides some sanction in that respect; namely, that if the Government do not produce the compensation scheme by then, the status quo shall prevail. In line with my amendment, the noble Lord's amendment would encourage the Government to make such a regulation and to ensure that the scheme is operative by then. He is effectively putting a deadline on the whole operation. I believe that it is right that we should do that; the matter has been going on for quite a considerable time. The Minister's statement to which I referred was as long ago as last March. Presumably, the ombudsman is long advanced in his preparations. I therefore hope that in the light of that the Minister is able to accept the amendment.

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