The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to attend the 44th Session of the North Atlantic Assembly in Edinburgh on Friday 13th November when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust the House will grant me leave of absence.
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that it will bring considerable comfort and reassurance to some 300,000 owners of historic vehicles in this country? Will he instruct his officials dealing with the draft directive in Brussels to exercise due diligence to make sure that nothing is subsequently added that will affect the collecting and storing of historic cars? Perhaps, in due course, a leaflet can be issued by the DTI to explain the directive and its implications.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his first response to my Answer. My answer to his subsequent questions in both cases is, yes, we have no interest in a directive which would damage the historic car business or avocation.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, how such a directive is implemented is a matter for member states. There are, however, substantial environmental issues concerned with the directive. At the moment, 75 per cent. of the content of discarded cars is recovered as metal. But 25 per cent. goes to landfill, including all kinds of hazardous materials--oil and so on--which create environmental damage. That is a proper concern of the European Community. The directive is concerned to reduce the amount of landfill and also of hazardous materials which are not properly treated.
Is it correct--"whisper who dares!"--that underclaiming will this year exceed £6 billion? Is my noble friend aware that disabled people talk increasingly now of the "stigma" attached to claiming benefits Parliament intended for them, due not least to baseless allegations of widespread fraud when the benefits integrity project started in 1996?
One explanation for the low take-up may be that disabled people find it difficult to gauge whether they qualify for DLA, whether they are entitled to claim it. It is also true that the forms, the system of claiming and self-assessment may be difficult to handle. It may also be that carers are so hard-pressed that they do not always know the full range of benefits available. We are working closely with the Disability Benefits Forum and discussing the issues now.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, is the Minister aware that among those people who are entitled to and are claiming DLA are some who are concerned that it may be taxed? In the light of what she has just said, does she accept that in principle it is designed to meet the extra cost incurred by disabled people and therefore it is quite inappropriate that it should be taxed?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that the Prime Minister has repeated that there are no proposals to tax DLA. Equally, the noble Lord will be aware from his previous incarnation that taxation is a matter for the Chancellor.
Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister accept that it would help if adjudication officers received greater awareness training as regards disability problems so that more expertise could be brought to bear in the delivery of services? Does the Minister agree that in many cases people cannot find their way through the maze of problems and that even if they are familiar with the paperwork they are unaware of the reality of the situation with which they are dealing?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is correct. Our officials receive disability awareness training. One of the leading organisations in this field, the Disability Income Group, has been helping us with that training over the past couple of years. We also have a benefits inquiry line, a form completion line and so on. But the basic point behind the noble Lord's question is correct. The forms and the benefit are complex and people require further help in both claiming the benefit and filling in forms to get it.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that even those people who have gone through this process and have received a notice to say that they have the benefit for life read reports in the press that "life" no longer means "life"? Can the Minister clarify exactly what "granted for life" means?
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, as disabled people fall into so many different categories, such as physical disability, mental disability, learning disabilities and so on, is it not simpler to have different forms? I am sure the noble Baroness agrees that the forms are extremely complicated.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I accept that the forms are complicated even though they have been revised and made simpler over the past year or two. They are complicated because to acquire DLA people basically have to keep a diary. They are self-assessment forms. We are trying to have one form that covers all. The noble Baroness may well have a point. This is a matter that we have discussed with the Disability Benefits Forum. That body has helped us to produce the latest set of forms following discussion over the past year. But I shall put this point to the forum.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is this not the other side of the coin of the benefits integrity project which the Government pursued so enthusiastically to check on whether the benefits of severely disabled people were justified? Does my noble friend agree that the Government should pursue this just as enthusiastically and energetically to ensure that the take-up is as comprehensive as possible? Given the power of the Government's publicity machine, does my noble friend also agree that this problem can be solved overnight with the political will?
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