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Lord Gainford: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has given some interesting figures. Will he assure the House as to their accuracy?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, absolutely. I can indeed assure my noble friend that as at 5.30 p.m. last night those were the figures supplied to me by the division in the War Pensions Agency which is dealing with this issue.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, will the Minister explain why in some cases pension books were withdrawn before the new pension books were issued? In some cases there was a gap of several weeks. Does the Minister understand that some of these ladies are among the most vulnerable of our society, and that even a gap of one week made difficulties for them? Can he explain how it happened?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, of course I cannot explain a particular case, but in general terms, because of the book system that we operate in the DSS, if there is a change in the payment the book has to be withdrawn and a new or amended book issued. That causes a problem over the whole of the department. It is one of the issues which will be finally resolved when we move over to a plastic payment card, because then there will be no need to make that return and there will be no interruption in the payment.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, there have been reports in the media and elsewhere of war widows in receipt of reinstated pensions having their benefit payments reduced by local authorities. Have the Government received any evidence of that? Does the Minister agree that there could be cases of giving with one hand and taking away with another?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have discussed this issue on a number of occasions. I believe that the noble Viscount is referring to housing benefit

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and council tax benefit. Out of their £148 a week tax-free, war widows are allowed to retain £60, all but a few pence, without it being taken into account. That is disregarded when it comes to the calculation. However, local authorities have the ability and discretion to make a bigger disregard, and indeed a total disregard. Many do and some do not.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House why there has been a gap between the clearing for payment of pensions at Norcross, where there may have been problems finding the original records, and actual payment from Newcastle where those problems did not exist?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the situation with this benefit, as with all other benefits, is that when a decision is taken that the person is eligible for a benefit--the war widow in this case--that then has to be sent to Newcastle to check against the other benefits which she may be receiving. Both benefits have to be matched together, because in some cases--for example, if she receives £148 free of tax--if the person is also on income support, the new benefit (the war widows pension) will mean a reduction in her income support. We have to ensure that people are being paid the proper amounts from all the directions from which they come before we put the pension into payment.

Newbury Bypass Works: Protesters

3.15 p.m.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Prime Minister will visit the bypass works at Newbury.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Prime Minister has no plans to do so.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, will the Minister convey the suggestion to him? Should he not, as Prime Minister, witness the death throes of an impossible transport policy--hundreds of policemen, private security men and bailiffs, trying by force to evict the people who have chosen to camp in the friendly trees to protect them, and the gigantic machines waiting to uproot the trees, all in favour of juggernauts carrying nothing more important than frozen food from another country?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, many people think that frozen food and other economic products are of extreme benefit to this country. The ability to move freight and people around in the best and quickest manner possible is of extreme importance to our economy. The statutory processes have been gone through. We have the legal right to build the road. The vast majority of local people want the road built. The protesters are interfering with our legal right to do so.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, are the effluents from the protesters' squalid camps and treehouses polluting the nearby river--fortuitously the

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River Kennet, as it happens? And has Greenpeace, or any similar group, volunteered to do a clean-up of the mess being made by those camps?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, all sorts of answers spring to mind on the question of the protesters' effluent; but I shall resist all temptation and merely say that my noble friend is right--in so many cases these protesters cause a great deal of damage by their very presence at the site.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us, while defending the right of people to protest peacefully, are appalled by some of the activities of the demonstrators at Newbury? Is he aware that there have been public inquiries over a period of time, and that the democratically-elected representatives of the people of Newbury are firmly in favour of the bypass? That being so, it is unacceptable to allow a gross waste of public money on police expenditure in circumstances of this kind.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, of course there are so many better uses that this considerable sum of money could be put to rather than to stop people interfering with the due processes of the law. I believe that the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord reflect the sentiments of this House and another place.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, will my noble friend ask his colleagues to consider whether a claim could be made against Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and other wealthy organisations which have stimulated this kind of protest?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, that is an interesting idea, and one which requires reflection, if my noble friend will allow me. Legal action has been taken. We believe that the best method of clearing these protesters is through civil action in the courts and by using the offices of the sheriff. That is how we have taken the process forward. As a result of the protests, some 500 arrests have been made.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, irrespective of the supplementary questions which have flowed from this Question, I should like to ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to consider whether it is a proper one for your Lordships' Order Paper.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the Question has been accepted, and it is for the appropriate Minister to answer as best he can.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Newbury bypass is being built at a time when there is great disillusionment with huge road building programmes. There is evidence to show that unless the entrances and exits to and from the bypass are carefully planned it merely provides a quicker route into the already congested city. Many bypasses merely bring people into the cities more quickly. Will the

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Minister assure the House that the Newbury bypass will be one of the last of the massive road schemes that we have seen during the past few years?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, road infrastructure is of considerable importance and can bring real environmental benefits. The town of Newbury is chronically congested because the main road goes through it. Real and demonstrable traffic and environmental benefits are to be gained from the construction of this much needed bypass.

Clinical Waste Disposal

3.20 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will tighten the law on the disposal of clinical waste, following the allegations in the Sunday Times of 10th March about the dumping of medical waste in lay-bys, car parks and warehouses across the country.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, Part II of the Environmental Protection Act provides stringent controls on the management and disposal of all controlled waste, including clinical waste. It is illegal to dispose of waste without a waste management licence or in a way which causes pollution or harm to human health.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Would it not be a good idea to strengthen the duty of care so that waste producers, such as hospitals, have a duty to inform themselves of the ultimate legal destination of waste, not merely the proximate destination? When will the Government issue the final text of the waste management paper, which I understand to have been in preparation for several years?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is not necessary to strengthen the duty of care. That was done in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which lays a responsibility for waste material to be taken, and to be known to where it is being taken, from the cradle to the grave, as it is said. That is done in a way which does not pollute or cause harm. Under the duty of care, waste should be transferred to someone who is legally authorised to accept it with a transfer note. There is no question that when the waste is removed its passage is known from collection to the location of the incinerator.

With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's question, I shall ascertain the precise date of publication and shall write to him.

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