§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. There are only two points which I should like to make. First, may I repeat the assurance that when it comes to making good any future shortfalls in pensions which may occur we shall be no less assiduous than we have been on this occasion. Your Lordships will by now be thoroughly familiar with our pledge that we as a Government are fully committed to maintaining the level of pensions and other associated long-term benefits in line with inflation and to improving them beyond that level when economic circumstances permit.
Secondly, I should like to thank those who have supported me on the Bill and who have made contributions to our debates. In particular may I thank my noble friend Lord Cullen of Ashbourne and my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lady Faithfull. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Baroness Young.)
§ Baroness Jeger
My Lords, the House has dealt very thoroughly with the Bill and I do not propose to take up your Lordships' time on it. I shall speak only for a moment so that silence does not imply consent to the Bill. There are parts of it which we welcome. We welcome especially Clause 5 which alters the number of days which people have to be away consecutively. We know that this will help in particular people who are on dialysis treatment and other disabled people who need short periods of assistance.
Of course we are glad about the reciprocal agreements entered into with countries outside the United Kingdom. We welcome the tidying up of certain difficulties regarding members of the former Indian and Burmese armed forces. Finally, we very much appreciate the undertaking which we have been given that future shortfalls will be made up—we hope as vigorously and as speedily as last winter's shortfall was deducted. However, we must make it clear that Clause 1 of the Bill is deeply offensive to this side of the House. We felt that this should go on the record.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, may I join the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, in making it clear that we on these Benches also dislike Clause 1, which is the only controversial clause in the Bill. We regret that it was not amended during the Committee stage. However, we welcome the repetition of the pledge with regard to long-term benefits and the making good of shortfalls relating to them which the noble Baroness has given this afternoon. We regret, however, that that pledge does not apply to short-term benefits.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, may I thank both the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for their comments. I recognise that we cannot expect all-party support for Clause 1. However, I was very glad that the noble Baroness commented on two provisions which I think have received a great deal of support: first, Clause 5 which provides for a relaxation of the qualifying conditions for incapacity benefit payable to certain haemo-dialysis patients and, secondly, Clause 7 which extends the statutory war pension appeal rights to British officers serving with the former Indian and Burmese armed forces.
I should also like to place on record that I welcome the concern that every effort should be made to ensure that people claim the benefits to which they are entitled, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, drew attention, and also my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. Like previous Governments, we have found the disappointing take-up of certain benefits to be a problem which is not susceptible to easy solutions. I can assure the House that we constantly re-examine our publicity arrangements in an attempt to improve the take-up of those benefits in particular. Nevertheless, it is quite right that from time to time your Lordships should remind us of our responsibilities in this area, and I am very pleased that later in the Session the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, will be asking a Question about this matter.
§ Bill read 3a, and passed.