HC Deb 18 March 1997 vol 292 cc571-2W
Mr. Alfred Morris

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the outcome of the meeting of the Minister of State, the right hon. Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, with representatives of the Royal British Legion and of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People on 12 March to discuss noise-induced sensorineural hearing loss and war pensions. [20762]

Mr. Heald

My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish explained that the change in the approach to noise-induced hearing loss in war pensions was made neither as a matter of policy nor of re-interpretation of the legislation, but because of the requirement to reflect current medical understanding. As a consequence, and as with all such changes, he was obliged under the existing legislation to introduce it as soon as it was identified. He also confirmed that no pensioner would have their pension reduced: all existing awards would be honoured using exceptional powers to maintain payment even where the award had no foundation. Those claiming for the first time, who were suffering from service-related NISHL assessed at 20 per cent. or above, would receive a pension.

The experts advising the Royal British Legion raised the issue of the relationship between hearing loss (impairment) and speech-hearing disability. It was agreed that the Department's medical advisors would meet the experts to discuss the possible relevance of this complicated area; officials have already written to Professor Lutman. We remain satisfied that we are applying current medical understanding in the way that the law on war pensions requires.