8 Mar 2001 : Column 303

House of Lords

Thursday, 8th March 2001.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by Lord Bishop of Bristol): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

FV432 Armoured Ambulance Radio

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will review their decision to withhold, on the grounds of national security, the range of the FV432 armoured ambulance's Clansman radio, given that the information concerned is printed on page 424 of Volume I of the 1986 British Defence Equipment Catalogue.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, I have reviewed the decision to withhold the information on security grounds. I still cannot answer the noble Earl's original Written Question of February 2000, which was about the maximum reliable range of the radio when mobile. It is too variable and to go into detail might, in some circumstances, compromise security. What I can tell the noble Earl is what he already knows from the British Defence Equipment Catalogue: that the typical range of the radio fitted to the FV432 armoured ambulance is 30 kilometres. The operating range will, however, vary depending on the operational environment and the type of antenna used.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that reply and remind the House that I have a peripheral interest in this context. I think that the Minister recognised the difficulty of her position, but her Answer shows why she is held in such high regard in your Lordships' House.

We all know about the Personal Role Radio--it has none of the Bowman-type security features and it does not need them. Can the Minister give the House an update on Bowman? I believe that she is at last making some progress in that regard, although it has taken nearly four years.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not feel in any difficulty with regard to any of the Answers that I have given the noble Earl. If he is genuinely interested in these matters, I shall try to arrange for him to have a personal briefing on them.

I turn to the points that the noble Earl made about Bowman. We have received bids from three companies that have entered the competition. The companies are TRW, Thales and Computing Devices Canada. The analysis of those bids is currently being undertaken and presentations will be made to Ministers in the early summer. A decision on the preferred bidder is

8 Mar 2001 : Column 304

expected during the summer. I hope that whoever happens to be Minister at that point would be able to move to contract very quickly.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, what is the estimated date by which Bowman will actually be available to the Armed Forces? Its absence is currently a very serious lack, as the Minister well knows.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do indeed know that. As I am sure the noble Lord will acknowledge, the project was some 75 months behind in its programme when the Government came to office. The feasibility studies originally took place in 1988 and the original in-service date was 1995.

The personal radios, which we have separated from the contract, will start to come into service towards the end of this year and their in-service date is March 2002. I would like to see an in-service date for the full Bowman contract within about two years of the contract's being signed. However, I shall be better able to update your Lordships when the in-service date is firmed up, which we will be able to do when we sign a contract. As I have already told the noble Earl, I hope that that will be before the end of this year.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, is it really helpful to our armed services for us to debate the technical specifications of their equipment in public in this manner?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I always err on the side of caution when discussing the operational capability of any equipment that is used by our Armed Forces. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, would be the first to acknowledge, and that all noble Lords would agree, that it would be inappropriate to discuss in such an open forum as your Lordships' House anything that would compromise the security of our Armed Forces.

Winter Fuel Payments: Severely Disabled People under 60

3.4 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will extend the winter fuel payment to severely disabled people under 60 years of age.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, winter fuel payments are paid to older households as they are most at risk of fuel poverty. For younger disabled people, disability benefits are available in recognition of their extra costs.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the needs of severely disabled people under pensionable age are just as great as those of old age

8 Mar 2001 : Column 305

pensioners, because severely disabled people also suffer from cold and immobility? Every time I raise that matter with Ministers, they say that disabled people get the disability living allowance. So they do, but the fact is that pensioners who qualify also receive an allowance whose tenets are similar to those of the disability living allowance; that is, attendance allowance. The Government's justification for discriminating against younger disabled people in that way is totally without foundation. Is it not time that my noble friend changed the tune a little?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we are concerned with a targeted payment for older people who are at risk of fuel poverty. By "fuel poverty", we mean people who spend more than 10 per cent of their income on heating. Of those fuel poor, 50 per cent are pensioners. Despite what my noble friend said, only 4 per cent of them are severely disabled people.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that people who are so severely disabled that they are unable to move around their home to generate heat through exercise should be considered in this context? She will be aware that my party fully supports that idea.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, yes. However, the noble Lord will know that severely disabled people are likely to enjoy both the higher rate disability living allowance for care and the mobility component, which from April represents almost a further £94 a week, from which they can meet their heating costs. That is one reason for the existence of the DLA.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister clarify the amounts concerned? I am not clear whether the winter fuel payment is simply the £20 that everyone gets or whether we are talking about a much larger payment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the winter fuel payment, as reinforced by the Chancellor in the Budget, is £200 for a household or £100 for individuals in a household; for example, a single pensioner would get £200 and a couple would get £200. A couple and an elderly brother or sister in a household would get a lump sum of £300.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, while naturally I welcome the Budget's new help for many disabled people, has my noble friend seen the very disturbing findings of a recent survey by the newspaper Disability Now, showing that severely disabled people under 60 in fuel-poor households have had to sleep downstairs, to skimp on food and to stuff windows with newspapers to keep warm during the winter months? How do we answer the 48 year-old polio survivor, who is painfully affected by poor circulation in her affected limbs, when she asks why payments cannot be based on need and not on age?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, fuel poverty relates to the cost of heating, income and the size of

8 Mar 2001 : Column 306

property. We targeted it at pensioners because we know that 25 per cent of pensioners are in the bottom 20 per cent of income, whereas only 6 per cent of severely disabled people are in that category. So pensioners are much poorer than disabled people and, compared with disabled people, are much more likely to be living in older, poorly insulated and under-repaired housing. I hope that the person in the examples that my noble friend gave would be claming the maximum disability living allowance and taking advantage of the New Home Energy Efficiency Scheme, and the grant of up to £1,000 for insulation. I also hope that that person will be taking advantage of the help available from local authorities, which have been allocated £2.5 billion to renovate homes. No severely disabled person should live in a home in which he or she has to put paper in the windows.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that she is mistaken in believing that the Chancellor confirmed yesterday the position regarding winter fuel payments? The Pre-Budget Report suggests that the figure may go down from £200 to something less. Paragraph 541 in the Red Book suggests that the level of future payments will be set by the Secretary of State for Social Security later in the year. When the Chancellor makes promises of largesse that extend to 2003, why cannot we be told what the current position is?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page