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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not in any way dissent from my noble friend's sentiments, but we did not need to wait until this 50th anniversary before doing something very special, which is what we did in 1990 when we increased war widows' pensions by £40 a week, which is equivalent to 53 per cent. That was a far better signal of our appreciation than would be given by doing something in this special year.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, while I appreciate the Minister's interest and his endeavours to help the Royal British Legionwe are grateful for thatdoes he not agree that on occasions there are special cases and special circumstances which require special examination? If such instances should arise, would the Minister at least be prepared to examine them?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's kind remarks as regards the various meetings I had with the Royal British Legion. Of course one has to look not just at war widows' pensions but at the whole field of war pensioners, including those men who have been left severely disabled. We should not lose sight of them. Of course we look for ways of improving the situation both for war widows and war pensioners. As I have already explained to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, we took a special step in 1990.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, is the Minister really saying that in this year of all years there is no positive gesture the Government can make to improve the lot of war widows, many of whom, because of the anomalous way that pensions are paid in practice, are suffering great deprivation in the evening of their life? Does he not agree that money being spent, however wisely and sensibly, on commemoration and celebration in May and in August will be that much less acceptable to the veterans if they think that the widows of those who made all this possible are still suffering great hardship?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I appreciate the point that the noble and gallant Lord makes about this special year and about the celebrations and remembrances we shall have of events 50 years ago.
Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, can my noble friend not show a little compassion? While we understand that it may not be possible to increase the pension received during the course of the year, could the day of celebration be marked by giving a lump sum to war widows? I do not mean the equivalent of the £10 Christmas bonus given to ordinary pensioners, but something substantial like £500.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I said earlier in answer to a previous question, there are more people involved than war widows. There are war pensioners and people such as the limbless who are looked after by BLESMA and the like. We should not lose sight of them. We have to try to make sure that whatever we do in this field is fair to all the people to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, does the Minister accept that we welcomed the increase in 1990 and we recall the terrific campaign throughout the country that led up to that increase on behalf of war widows? He mentioned other means that might be adopted in this respect. On this 50th anniversary will he look at the possibility of index linking the pensions of thousands of ex-servicemen who are still receiving a pittance of a pension instead of the index-linked pension to which they are entitled?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not entirely sure to what the noble Lord refers. War widows' pensions and other pensions paid to war pensioners are already index linked with prices in exactly the same way as many other benefits.
Lord Freyberg: My Lords, does not the Minister think that for war widows who remarry it would be sensible to guarantee the automatic restoration of the DSS war widows pension on second bereavement, thereby encouraging war widows to remarry and thus saving the DSS large sums of money?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, saving the DSS large sums of money appeals to me greatly. However, spending more money does not seem to be the way to save money. I suspect that the noble Lord's proposal, which he also put forward in the debate that we had on this subject, would increase our expenditure in this regard. I explained to him on that occasion why the war widows' pension is applied as it is. If widows remarry they obviously cease to be widows, and one assumes that their second husbands have made some provision for their retirement and any second widowhood.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend makes a valid point. There is special provision for some of the categories mentioned, but there are many others who suffered in the war in various ways who do not come into any of the special categories. That does not take away in any way from the special regard in which we hold war widows and which is clear in the very much larger widows' pension we give to war widows than to any other widows.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, draft orders for the further improvement of the M.25 between junctions 12 and 15 were published in April 1994. An announcement on the date of the public inquiry will be made in due course.
Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, oh dear! I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. Is he aware, as obviously he must be, that these proposals have been around now for three years and a succession of Ministers have stood at that Dispatch Box telling us that they were on the point of fixing a date for an inquiry, but nothing has happened? Do the Government appreciate that although, as I understand it, houses on the direct line of the route have been acquired by the department and compensation paid, the Government have managed to impose a prolonged planning blight on the whole of the immediately surrounding neighbourhood? Would it not be a much better idea to abandon this very expensive project, given all the complications, noise, pollution (which should appeal particularly to the Minister) and environmental damage that would result and the likelihood that the proposal would not solve the problem anyway?
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the delay in making the announcement may be ascribed to some other reasons? For example, does the delay reflect the cost of the proposal and its low net present value, as demonstrated by some of the work done by Surrey County Council which was delivered to the Department of Transport and which has stimulated the department to do some similar modelling of its own? Does the delay reflect the fact that the recent SACTRA report indicates that the
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the draft orders were laid last April. There has been some delay. There has been considerable public response. We have received about 12,000 objections since that time. Last July the then Minister for Roads announced that he wished to give more time to those who sought to make an objection to the proposal. That time has been given and we seek to make an announcement as soon as possible.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, are we not back on the old treadmill? The M.25 was going to solve all the problems in that area. It was an extremely expensive road. Now we find that it is being extended and an extra lane built. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, suggested that another way should be considered in view of the discomfort and economic disadvantage caused to local people whose houses have been blighted. Has consideration been given, for instance, to the extension of the Piccadilly Line, which would not be very far and which would be a great deal cheaper and take a large number of commuters off that road.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the M.25 is an extremely important part of our trunk road network. We have a severe problem now. It is envisaged that that problem will become significantly worse with the increase in traffic rates. The simple fact is that we need extra capacity. More investment in public transport will have an effect on that problem but it will not significantly reduce the demand for extra capacity on that piece of road.
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