HC Deb 19 December 1988 vol 144 cc3-4
2. Mr. Wallace

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received about the effect of the wind-chill factor in determining the eligibility of claimants for exceptionally severe weather payments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

Only one recently, from the hon. Gentleman himself.

Mr. Wallace

I am very grateful to the Minister for the reply that he sent me last week. Does he agree that it is not acceptable, when the meteorological office can find precise ways to measure the wind-chill factor, for him to give as a reason for not incorporating those measurements the excuse that they would lead to uncertainty? Does he accept that the wind-chill factor is a real element for many people and that draughts can cause more discomfort, particularly to the elderly, than the air-ground temperature, which is the current basis for measurements? Will he consider the evidence from the meteorological office and agree to reconsider the matter?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is right. The main factor is air temperature. Wind-chill is a much lesser factor. The hon. Gentleman is also wrong to state that wind-chill would not complicate matters. It certainly would and it would make the system much less fair. Top-floor flats would fare much worse in that respect than ground-floor flats and southern aspects are much better than north-facing aspects.

The benefit of the scheme that we have introduced is that it is easy to understand, easy to administer and payments can be made very quickly on the basis of air temperature, which is overwhelmingly the main factor.

Mr. Flynn

The Minister has shown eloquently just how insupportable is the scheme. Does he recall that when it was put to the test in the winter of 1987, it collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity and complexity? Should it not now be replaced by a scheme that is much easier to understand, where payments are decided automatically at a national level, and paid automatically? Simply advertising the scheme last time cost the equivalent of 82,000 severe weather payments. For how many more winters are the Government going to dole out cold comfort in a scheme that is crude, wasteful, unintelligible and paltry?

Mr. Lloyd

The present scheme is much improved in comparison to that to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It stands no comparison with what existed when the Labour party was in office, because there was no such scheme. Is the hon. Gentleman trying to suggest, in contradiction to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), that there should be a national figure to trigger payments rather than a regional one? The hon. Gentleman should know, and hon. Members from Scotland will support this, that different regions experience very different weather at different times. Our system is far fairer than that suggested by the hon. Gentleman because it recognises that.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a large element of cant and hypocrisy in the comments—[Interruption.] How much was spent on the payments in 1978–79 and how much was spent in the last tax year?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is right. There was no such scheme under Labour. The scheme worked very well last year. We have improved it further and it will work better still.

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