HC Deb 20 October 2003 vol 411 cc360-1
6. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

If he will make a statement on widowers' claims to benefits pre-dating April 2001. [132606]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

We introduced bereavement benefits in April 2001, for the first time extending support to both widows and widowers. Prior to April 2001, there was no statutory basis on which to pay widows' benefits to men. This is being contested in both the domestic and European courts. Following a judgment of the Court of Appeal on 18 June, all parties have petitioned the House of Lords to appeal further. We are awaiting its decision on the petitions.

Mr. Chapman

My hon. Friend will be aware that that decision will be eagerly awaited by my constituents, many of whom are widowers, and not least by the Wirral TUC, which has long campaigned on this issue. The decision to equalise bereavement benefits for men and women in April 2001 was very welcome, but is it not time that it was carried to its logical conclusion and that backdated payments were made to widowers as the European Court of Human Rights has ruled and that widowers were included who had lost their spouses prior to the change in the law? What hope can my hon. Friend give widowers in my constituency that this matter will move forward as quickly as it can? Bereavement benefits are effectively being denied to some widowers in my constituency, who are suffering as a result. They want a decision as quickly as they can get it.

Mr. Pond

The whole House will wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tenacity and hard work in pursuing this issue over a considerable time. He will appreciate that, while these matters are before the courts, it is not appropriate for me to speculate about the outcome. However, I appreciate his welcome for the changes that we made to the system of supporting bereavement. They are intended to focus help when and where it is needed most in the immediate aftermath of a loss when children are present, and towards older bereaved men and women.