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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I welcome the Minister to her new position. May I say how pleased we are in the south-west that we will be part of her particular brief.

Will the Minister make particular efforts to ensure that MAFF looks beyond the farm gate, which it has failed to do historically? That is one of the reasons for the lack of prosperity in the countryside and has led to a situation in which the amount of money that we are to receive for rural development regulation is below that given to Finland and most other countries in Europe. Can the Minister ensure that that money receives matching funding for the development of such essentials as farmers' co-operatives, farmers' markets and measures to make it easier for farmers to sell their extremely high quality produce to local people?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her welcome. I agree that the Rural Development Fund gives opportunities for exactly that kind of restructuring, diversification and support for rural economies in the round, not necessarily only through a very narrow definition of conventional agriculture. There have been difficulties because of the EU decision to base the amount of funding that is available on historical spend rather than on necessity, and that is an issue that we are pursuing. I agree that the opportunities exist, as with the special aid package that was announced by my right honourable friend in providing support for marketing schemes in particular areas for particular produce.

East Timor

3.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity must be brought to justice. The Government are very concerned about the reports of atrocities committed in East Timor. There is a pressing need to establish the facts and who was responsible.

An international commission of inquiry has been set up by the UN and we are offering our practical support. The Commission will report to the UN Secretary-General before the end of the year.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister warmly for the close interest that the Government

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have always displayed on the issue of East Timor, and the Foreign Secretary in particular for his active concern. Is the Minister aware that the Commission which is to be set up will have no jurisdiction over the offences but only a power to inquire into what offences were committed and by whom?

Will the Government therefore try to ensure that the transitional authority being established by the UN has criminal jurisdiction over the criminal acts which have been committed during the Indonesian occupation? Will she also ask the Security Council for a ruling on whether the fourth Geneva Convention applies to East Timor so that these criminal acts can be subject to universal jurisdiction and tried in the courts as signatory states?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, your Lordships will know that the details of the transitional authority are still being worked out. The UN Secretary-General's report makes clear that one of the objectives of the transitional authority is to create non-discriminatory and impartial institutions, particularly the judiciary and the police, to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the rule of law and to promote and protect human rights. As stated by the Secretary-General's special representative, it is to facilitate the creation of an independent East Timorese human rights institution whose functions will include investigation of alleged violation of human rights.

It is very important to establish what happened. If we act precipitously and on ill-founded evidence, we might identify the wrong culprits, if indeed there are culprits for these atrocities. Therefore there is a real need to act with a degree of circumspection and caution.

The noble Lord will know that the Security Council does not make rulings on the applicability of the Geneva Convention. I shall seek to respond to the noble Lord in written form, if that would be acceptable to him.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, rather than addressing these situations ad hoc, the best method of bringing war criminals to justice would be to establish the international criminal court. Can my noble friend give an estimate of when this country is likely to ratify the treaty?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot say anything specific in relation to the ratification of the treaty; what I can say is that the appropriate nature of our response should be dependent upon the facts once they are established. We know that a number of solutions and responses have been adopted in the international fora; for example, in South Africa. There is a whole panoply of appropriate responses. We have to await the results of our inquiries and see what recommendations come from the UN. We have to engage the people of East Timor, because they have

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been the primary sufferers of these atrocities. Their views as to the best way forward must be of great significance to the international community.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in view of the huge numbers of East Timorese who are missing in West Timor, estimated at some 500,000, on which occasions and to what effect have the Government put pressure on President Habibie to make good his pledge to the international community that all displaced persons in West Timor will be protected, humanely cared for and allowed to return safely to East Timor?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have been clear in the exhortations that have been made to President Habibie on behalf of Her Majesty's Government on these issues. We have to bear in mind that Indonesia has taken a number of crucial steps towards the establishment of democracy within its borders and in East Timor. It has an ability and it would appear now perhaps a willingness to engage constructively.

We shall continue to exhort Indonesia in relation to all the matters to which the noble Lord refers.

Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill

3.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.--(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 50 [Bereavement payments]:

[Amendment No. 94 not moved.]

Clause 51 [New allowances for bereaved spouses]:

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 95:


Page 56, line 40, leave out (“for not more than 26 weeks") and insert (“based on the contribution record of the deceased spouse")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 97 and 98 which are also in my name. I regret that I am unable to support Amendments Nos. 96A and 99A also grouped with my amendment.

The Minister will not be surprised that I wish to return again to the subject of benefits for widows. She has referred often to modernising widows' benefits. Indeed, this is the description given to the proposals in the Bill in the Queen's Speech. Modernising in this case means removing benefit altogether from widows over the age of 45 without children and substituting an improved one-off bereavement allowance of £2,000 rather than the present £1,000, plus a benefit lasting for six months. These arrangements are intended to apply both to widows and widowers on the basis that

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this will equalise benefits for both sexes. In both cases we are informed that benefits will depend on the contribution record of the deceased spouse.

In support of those proposals, it is asserted that widows' benefits are now out of date; most women work and are now no longer dependent on male earnings. It is said that continuing to provide the benefit means that it goes to women who do not need it, like women who benefit from a spouse's occupational pension; and that funds should be concentrated where there is the greatest need.

I do not accept those arguments. Leaving aside altogether the view that the Equal Opportunities Commission has always held, that one should equalise upwards rather than downwards, I think that there is a quite deliberate confusion here between insured benefits and welfare provision. Insured benefits arise from the system of social insurance to which everyone contributes and individuals draw benefits from it as and when they qualify for them. Welfare provision is something else. It is not based on contribution records but only on need. That being so, it is means tested and depends upon the claimant's perceived and established lack of means.

Widows' benefits belong to the first, insured, category. The Government confirm that. Even in discussing the new proposals the then Minister for Social Security, Mr Stephen Timms, stated on 9th March that the contribution conditions for the new bereavement benefits exactly mirror those that they replace. He spells out precisely what those conditions are. In other words, this is a benefit for which the recipients have paid and they therefore have entitlement not in any way dependent on their present circumstances.

In response to a Question that I asked on 13th April, the Minister said:


    “It is certainly true that the widow's benefit has been a contributory benefit ... The purpose of that contributory benefit was to help the needs of those who would have no income, but that is now met in other ways".--[Official Report, 13/4/99; col. 617.]

With respect to my noble friend, I think that that is wrong. If that had been so, the benefit would have been a means-tested one; and it was not. It was paid as of right on the death of the spouse provided that contributory conditions were met. Hence it is wrong in my view to argue against a continuation of the existing arrangement on the basis that it is no longer needed. But even if we look at the matter from the standpoint of the Government and the Minister, again I think that that is wrong. The Minister has said on a number of occasions that times have changed. I do not think that they have changed as much as she thinks they have in particular for large numbers of poorer women. The Equal Opportunities Commission figures demonstrate that women's earnings are still very much less than those of men. While it is true that many more women now work, much of the work is poorly paid. I say that, even though acknowledging with gratitude what the present Government have done and continue to do via the minimum wage to alleviate some of this poverty. Nevertheless, households where the woman partner is

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the main earner are still the exception rather than the rule. The death of the male partner usually means a substantial drop in the standard of living of that household.

Nor is it true that there are large numbers of women with generous benefits from occupational pension schemes to which their husbands belong. It is true that some schemes are generous, in particular those negotiated in the wake of the Castle plan by some unions. But plenty are not and are based on the assumption that there will be a state pension in addition or, in the case of an early death in service of the spouse, a widow's pension to the remaining partner.

So the state widow's pension is a very useful addition and not one that can be dispensed with easily and without hardship. And the state will benefit quite substantially from this transfer of benefits from women to men which is what is involved here. The figure of £600 million has been mentioned. I do not know whether this is accurate. But I am also advised that the proposals in the Government's plan in relation to equalising for widowers will cost £100 million so there will be a gain of £600 million and a payment of a £100 million in order to equalise on the basis suggested for widowers.

I have had some interesting figures supplied to me by the Widows' Advisory Trust of which I am a trustee. I hereby declare my interest which I think is known to your Lordships. This is a comparison between the sums paid out over the past eight years to a widow who is widowed at the age of 50 in 1991 and the amounts that would be paid out in the case of a women widowed in 2001 at the same age of 50 over a similar period of eight years under the Government's proposals.

The 1991 widow received a bereavement payment of £1,000 plus a small sum representing the SERPS addition, now to disappear, and benefit over the next years. The total cost to the social security budget over eight years was £20,560.32.

Now let us consider the woman widowed in 2001--and remember that we have been told that the contributory rules will be the same in each case. The 2001 widow will receive a bereavement allowance of £2,000; there will be no SERPS addition; and she will receive a benefit for only six months thereafter--nothing at all in the following years. In the case of the latter woman (to be widowed in 2001) the saving to the Government, compared with the cost of the 1991 widow, is £20,242.42. That is for one widow over an eight-year period. I do not believe that that is at all justified.

Widows, particularly poorer ones, do not constitute a very powerful lobby. Many women journalists have written on the subject and cannot themselves very easily empathise with some of the women who have not had their education or career opportunities and who spent earlier years bringing up children. Even if they have had jobs they always looked to the male earner in the couple to produce the required living standard. I ask my noble friend the Minister to picture

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the lives of some of these women. I say again to her that for such women things have changed far less than for women from more privileged backgrounds. Such women are entitled to have what they believe their spouses have contributed on their behalf.

The TUC, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Child Poverty Action Group have supported what I am saying. In fact, the Child Poverty Action Group states:


    “Except for a minority, women's lack of economic independence while bringing up children means that they are ill-placed to take on work after bereavement. The on-going income of a contribution-based benefit such as the widow's pension is thus an important safeguard".

Finally, I gather that the Government's intention is to remove from widows the two-year income tax concession that they have had hitherto. When one takes that into consideration it seems as though the increase in the bereavement payment from £1,000 to £2,000, although welcome, is not all that generous. I beg to move.


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