HC Deb 12 February 1985 vol 73 cc159-60
9. Mr. Bruce

asked the Secretary of State for Social Service how many representations he has received concerning cold climate allowance for Scotland and the North of England.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Ray Whitney)

Since the beginning of last year we have received about 80 letters on the subject of a cold climate allowance, including 11 from right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Bruce

Will the Minister recognise that the recent decision to give additional heating allowances to areas in the south of England because of cold weather was greeted with shock and outrage in the north of England and Scotland, where the weather is traditionally colder? Will he recognise that in the same week that one area in the south-west of England recorded a temperature of 55 deg F and got a cold climate allowance, Aviemore in Scotland, with a temperature of -6 deg F, did not? Does this not mean that the criteria should be reviewed and that cold weather areas should have a permanent allowance to take account of the higher costs of heating?

Mr. Whitney

The hon. Gentleman's question shows a misunderstanding of two issues — the cold climate allowance and extra help for budgetary requirements when there are exceptional weather conditions. He should be aware that Governments of both complexions have rejected the concept of a cold climate allowance for several reasons, which he should understand. Various factors have an effect on supplementary benefit spending. Expenditure on heating is only one of those factors.

With regard to exceptional payments, the criteria have been established and are available in the Library. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said, these are under review as part of the general review of the supplementary benefit system.

Mr. McQuarrie

Surely my hon. Friend will accept that, despite what has been said in answer to previous questions, the cold climate allowance, as presently enforced, adversely affects parts of Scotland, particularly in Grampian and my region of Banff and Buchan, because of the severe weather they have to suffer. Can my hon. Friend give an undertaking that that point will be taken account of in the review, and that the needs of the north of Scotland will be carefully considered?

Mr. Whitney

I confirm that the exceptionally severe weather payments will be the subject of review. Again, my hon. Friend is confusing the concept of the cold climate allowance with budgetary help under exceptional conditions for variations of climate. In regard to the criteria, I remind the House that it is possible for payments to be made in Glasgow when average temperatures are higher than average temperatures obtaining, for example, in Birmingham and Suffolk.

Mr. James Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that people in Scotland and in the north of England are convinced that the decision to pay the allowance in the south of England was political? Was the decision taken because the people in Scotland and the north of England have consistently returned Labour Members of Parliament? Is the Minister prepared to make a statement on proper lines?

Mr. Whitney

As the hon. Gentleman should understand, that is an outrageous suggestion. I refer him to the regulations setting out these criteria, which are available in the Library if he would take the trouble to go and read them.