§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for receiving the Report of Amendments read.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received. Before the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, moves the first Amendment, perhaps I may say a few words on two points which were left open when we considered this Bill in Committee last week. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, then moved an Amendment to Clause 3 on the scope of the Commission's welfare functions, because he doubted whether the Commission would be able to seek out, not only financial, but also welfare needs. I promised to consider the point, and I can now tell the noble Lord that there will be nothing to stop the Commission from doing what it has been envisaged all along they would do; namely, make personal contact with retirement pensioners to see whether or not they wish to claim a supplementary pension; and in the course of that contact, to see whether there are any health or welfare needs which may be referred to the appropriate authorities. The Commission can do this regardless of whether or not a pension proves to be payable.
I know the noble Lord feels that the fact that there is nothing to stop the Commission, does not mean that they will do it. But I think that during the discussion on Committee stage we brought out that to try to put into the Statute operational instructions to the Commission presents very real problems. The danger here would be that, in trying to define the instructions in the Statute, it would turn out in the end that we gave the Commission less than adequate powers. I think it is much better to preserve flexibility in this matter, and we must have confidence in the Commission and the Minister.
Then my noble friend Lord Sorensen promised to look again at the question of imposing a statutory requirement on the Commission to produce an annual report. A second look has served to confirm the Government in their view that such a requirement would be out of place in the context of a Ministry of Social Security, which over a large part of its 238 responsibility—the National Insurance and Family Allowances Schemes—is not under such a statutory obligation. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said that this was largely a matter of form. That is so. There is no doubt that the Commission, which is, after all, to be appointed by the Minister, will be prepared to provide all the necessary information on how it has discharged the duties laid on it by the Act, for inclusion in the annual report of the new Ministry. For these reasons we do not favour a statutory provision for the production of annual reports. I am grateful to the House for allowing me to make that statement.
§ Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Bowles.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN moved after Clause 3, to insert the following new clause:
§ Social Research
§ ". Without prejudice to any other powers of the Ministry and the Commission, or of any government department, local authority, university or voluntary organisation, it shall be the duty of the Minister and the Commission, with a view to promoting the welfare of those entitled to benefits under this Act or otherwise appearing to be in need of care or assistance, to initiate, arrange, conduct, coordinate and participate in social research, and in the performance of this duty the Minister, or the Commission with the approval of the Minister, as the case may be, may enter into arrangements with any government department, local authority, university or voluntary organisation."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it will be in order for me to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, for having fulfilled the undertakings given to look into these two points and for having informed the House accordingly.
§ I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend and myself. This Amendment is similar to one that was discussed in Committee, although it is not identical. It is put down because the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said he felt that, in view of our discussion, "the Government must look at the question again". The noble Lord suggested that the Amendment which my noble friend had moved might, if adopted, cast doubt on the powers of other departments; and the noble Lord, Lord Simey, suggested that it might cast 239 doubts on the powers of universities to do research, certainly with Government assistance. As I said at the time, I was not convinced that laying a duty on one department calls into question the powers of any other department. Several departments might be given powers to do something, but a duty to exercise those powers, as distinct from a discretion to exercise them, might surely be laid on some and not on others. However, to avoid any risk of the powers of other departments and universities, or indeed those of local authorities or voluntary organisations, being called in question, we have added the words at the beginning of the Amendment which I hope will serve.
§ The Amendment envisages that the Ministry or the Commission, as the case may be, will itself initiate some projects, and may partly conduct some projects, whether it has initiated them itself or not; that it may share in the projects of other departments or organisations outside the Government, and may itself co-ordinate one project, and merely participate in another. I think this is quite clear from the terms of the Amendment. I need not repeat the arguments put forward in Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, the Amendment is rather pushing at an open door. The new Ministry will undoubtedly want to carry out research. In our view, if a clear duty is laid upon it by Parliament, it will be in a stronger position to do it as and when it wants to do it. That is the justification for the Amendment. I think it is a good Amendment; it should be helpful to the Ministry, and not the reverse. I beg to move.
After Clause 3, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, as the noble Lord has explained during the course of his persuasive speech, the opening words of the clause which is now before the House were inserted in order to make it absolutely clear that any department which was commissioning research by the universities, even though it had no specific powers to do so, would not be prevented from continuing to do so by the inclusion of the clause in the Bill. The question has been considered further since we were last considering this matter, 240 and I can now inform you that the inclusion of a clause either enabling or requiring the Minister and the Commission to engage in social science research, even if the safeguarding words in the clause now before the House were absent, would not legally affect the activities of other Government Departments in connection with social research matters. This will, I am sure, comfort my noble friend, Lord Simey. But the fact remains that the removal of this particular difficulty does not get to the heart of the main objections to a clause on these lines, or to the issue of principle which lies behind it.
After full consideration of the issues involved, the Government feel, for a number of reasons, that they cannot accept the Amendment which is now before the House, any more than they felt able to accept the earlier Amendments on this subject. To lay a duty on the Minister and the Commission to undertake social research cannot in itself do anything to further the commendable aims of encouraging such research, or of ensuring that the desired work will in fact be carried out. If this rather vague "duty"(of which I shall say more in a moment) means no more than that the Minister should take an active interest in promoting research, then I can assure the noble Lord that the Amendment it not necessary and that the Minister's present powers are entirely sufficient. And it is surely not right to put into Statutes provisions which are not necessary and which have no practical effect.
If the Amendment is intended to do more than this—and I suspect that it does, from what has been said in our debates and from the way in which successive Amendments have been put forward at various stages—then the Government cannot accept that it would be appropriate or right to place the Minister under a wide obligation going beyond her present powers. Furthermore, it is not practicable or acceptable to have a double duty laid on both the Minister and the Commission. Within the single new Ministry being set up by the Bill there must obviously be one authority, and it is clear that this authority must belong to the Minister alone. This is not to say, of course, that the Minister will not be looking to the Commission as an extremely valuable source of information 241 and advice on a wide range of matters. I do not think that I can do better to reassure your Lordships on this than by quoting what the Minister herself said in her speech on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place. She said:…we intend that the members of the Commission shall cover a wide variety of interests, that they will be a source of advice to the Minister on many social problems, and that, in particular, they will assist the Minister's programme of research into those problems. I think everyone in the House and, I am sure most people in the country would agree that research into social problems until fairly recently has been largely neglected. The Commission can be a power house of ideas in this and other fields." [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 729 (No. 27), col. 339: 24/5/66.]Turning to the detailed terms of the Amendment, it speaks of a duty being laid on the Minister and the Commission. But what does it mean, to be under a dutyto initiate, arrange, conduct, co-ordinate and participate in social research"?Does it mean that there is a minimum programme which must be cleared every year? Does it mean that at any given time there must be at least one project in the pipe-line? Or does it mean that at any given time the Minister and the Commission must be either initiating or arranging, or conducting, or co-ordinating or participating in social research? My Lords, the Government have come to the conclusion that in the context in which it is used in this clause, it is impossible to read anything meaningful into the term "duty". If I may here use a lawyer's phrase, the word is void for uncertainty.
It could be argued, of course, that in this event the proper course would be to strike out the words "it shall be the duty of the Minister and the Commission" and replace them by an enabling form of words such as "the Minister shall have power". But as my noble friend Lord Sorensen made perfectly clear during the consideration in Committee, additional specific statutory provision is not required. I should like to emphasise that this is indeed the position, and I do not think I can do better than cite the words my noble friend used on that occasion:The absence of a clause such as that now proposed does not in any way limit the Minister's powers to arrange for such research as may be desirable in relation to any of the responsibilities of the Ministry or the Commis- 242 sion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 275 (No. 31), col. 992, 5/5/66.]My Lords, I have to advise you that the Government cannot accept this clause or the principle behind it. But may I (and here I repeat what has been said on a number of occasions from the Government Front Bench during the passage of this Bill) emphasise once again that the use of research as a tool for the framing of policy on matters within the sphere of the new Ministry which is to be set up by this Bill, will be regarded as a matter of very great importance. And here I wish to note, in passing, that it is not true that, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, suggested on the Committee stage, research is initiated only as a result of political pressures. To take but one example, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will recall the very large-scale inquiry, of which the results were published last year, into the incidence of sickness. These results have been and will continue to be of great value to all those interested in research.
The Bill itself is to a great extent the product of research, and I can give a firm assurance that we shall continue to make every use of research in the future, as we are doing at the moment with the research now being carried out into the circumstances of families with children, the field work for which has just been completed. The lengthy consideration of this matter which has taken place in this House and, earlier, in another place will certainly be regarded by the Government as spurs to further action, and with the firm assurances I have given I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw the Amendment. I hope that he is not considering pressing the Amendment to a Division. This particular issue has involved discussion in both Houses of Parliament for about a quarter of the whole of the time taken in Committee on this Bill, consisting of 40 clauses and eight Schedules. The Government hope that the Bill will receive the Royal Assent before August 6. I understand that as soon as Royal Assent is given the Civil Service will be working overtime, so that the benefits under this Bill will start to be paid before Christmas. This new system of noncontributory benefits will give another £51 million a year to those now receiving National Assistance. If this Bill is now 243 given a speedy passage these benefits will come into operation before Christmas, as we all wish. I hope that my plea will be hearkened to by the noble Lords opposite, and that nothing will be done this afternoon to delay getting this Bill on to the Statute Book.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, the amount of time that has been spent in discussing this clause is an indication of the importance that is attached to it on this side of the House and by my honourable friends in another place. We were pleased to hear that the doubts raised by the noble Lord, Lord Simey, on the Committee stage, about whether the powers of other Departments might be affected by a clause of this sort, have been resolved, and the Government have told us to-day that they do not believe there would be any danger of that happening.
The basic arguments raised by the noble Lord to meet this Amendment are those which he set out near the beginning of his speech: that a clause on these lines would not do anything to further the initiation of research by the Minister, that it was not necessary and would have no practical effect. The Minister certainly places value on the necessity to conduct social research, but it seems to me the answer to the arguments we have just heard was contained in the intervention by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, at the Committee stage. What the noble Viscount said was that if there is a statutory obligation in an Act for something to be done by a Department of Government, then it has to be done. There is no doubt about it; it is an obligation upon the Minister. If there is not, however good the intentions of the Minister—and, as I said, we accept that the Minister's intentions are good, and the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, has quoted her again to-day—the case will have to be argued, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, pointed out, with the Treasury and perhaps also with officials. Therefore social research, unless there is an obligation to undertake it included in the Bill, has to take its place in a list of priorities. I think this was accepted by the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, on the Committee stage, when he said that social research would have a: 244very high place in the priorities of both the Minister and the Commission."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, Vol. 275 (No. 31) col. 992; 5/7/66]We accept that. But nevertheless it falls short of what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, urged: that there should be an obligation, where something must be done. This would no longer be a matter of priority, but a specific obligation on the Minister.
May I refer to a public authority which has an obligation placed upon it by Parliament to conduct research, namely, the Independent Television Authority? In the 1954 Television Act there was no requirement to conduct audience research. In the 1963 Act, which was incorporated in a Consolidation Act in 1964, an obligation was put on the Independent Television Authority to review the impact of programmes on the audience. This is worth mentioning because the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, has discussed some of the difficulties in wording an obligation to conduct research. It may be that our Amendment this afternoon is not particularly well worded. We are not pressing for the acceptance of these precise words. In Section 24 of the Television Act 1964 these words were used:The functions of the Authority shall include the making of arrangements for bringing the programmes…under constant and effective review…Therefore in this instance a form of words was found and an obligation was placed on a public authority to conduct research—an obligation which did not exist before. The effect of that clause has been to increase considerably the volume of research activity carried out by the Independent Television Authority. A permanent research unit was set up within the Authority. Certain studies have been conducted within that unit and others commissioned from outside. I think this analogy is particularly relevant because in each case it is the utilisation of a service by the public for which it is intended that is in question.
The existence of a research unit within a Department of Government—this was another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Simey—need not affect the commissioning of studies from outside bodies. Indeed, one would hope that these would increase. But it would mean that they could be integrated into a wider and more systematically planned scheme of 245 research. It is interesting that in to-day's Guardian there is a long and important article on old people living alone, which some noble Lords may have seen. The final paragraph of that article emphasised once again the need for more research in this field. We feel that the social research conducted by the new Ministry is a matter of fundamental importance, and that a clause on the lines of this Amendment would help the Minister to do what we accept she intends to do and wishes to do. But on the argument used by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, it might be greatly to her advantage to have an obligation, as the Independent Television Authority has an obligation, to conduct research included in the Bill.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I suppose it is too late to persuade noble Lords opposite that they are really shadow-boxing in this matter. The difference between the I.T.A. and the Ministry is that a Ministry is responsible to Parliament; I.T.A. is not responsible except to the extent that a positive duty is placed on it. What it is sought to do here is this, as I understand it. It is suggested that that which has already been done by the Ministry for years past should now be placed specifically as a duty on the Ministry because in some way or another that will give it a priority which it would not otherwise have. I find this very difficult to follow. What we are talking about is social research. What is the sort of priority between the kind of research which is going on already and the other duties of the Ministry which are primarily, I should have thought, in this case, to give relief in certain cases as quickly as possible?
Is it the contention of noble Lords opposite that in order to put this clause into the Bill it is right to have a clash—I agree, a small clash—with the other place, where this matter was fully discussed, and it is also right to hinder or postpone the giving out of the benefits which it is intended to give by this Bill? I say hinder or postpone for this reason. I have very little doubt they will get the work done in time, but what it means is that if the preparations are postponed the work of the civil servants and others who have got to do this will be made just that much more difficult.
246 What is it all about? What is going to happen at the end of it? I listened eagerly to hear what difference this was going to make. We were told by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that it was a good thing to put a statutory duty into an Act of Parliament. That seems to me to depend on whether it is a duty to do some new thing or to do something you have already been doing. What is attempted by this Amendment is just the latter, and I cannot see what difference it will make. We were then told it would help integration. "Integrate" is a word I am very suspicious of. I do not think it has anything to do with integrating things; I should have thought it was merely confusing them, and it is far better to leave what is the obvious intention of the Ministry to the Ministry itself without seeking to make some change—I do not know what—by putting it specifically into the Bill.
Surely, what we are getting here is what one very often gets, the Opposition trying to tell the Government not to do a new thing but how to do the job it is already doing. I see noble Lords opposite shaking their heads, but I listened to their speeches and I could not discover what difference it is going to make. Is it that they will now be able to ask questions? They could ask questions before. It will not help them in the least. If that is what they had in mind, it makes no difference. It is said it is not sufficient that the Minister should promise she is going to do it, because I suppose it would be said there will be another Minister. But the duty is exactly the same. It is in the Bill already.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, can he tell me where it is in the Bill?
§ LORD MITCHISON
It is in the duty to carry out the Minister's general duties under the Bill. That has always been thought necessary. Common sense would indicate it is obviously necessary. What is the point of putting it into the Bill? The Minister is there to administer the scheme which is now called social security. It is obvious that in doing it she has to do this kind of thing. She does so. Her Ministry does so. The Minister says, "I have done it before and I am going to go on doing it." 247 What is new in that? If this is simply distrust of the Government of the day, let them be careful. You never know what the electorate might do; they might some day return a Tory Government.
I do not think the clause makes any difference in any event, but if that is a method of hitting in some way at the Minister, one in which noble Lords opposite have some confidence, it will turn against them if they think it will turn against the present Government. This seems to me to be a foolish case of pure shadow-boxing. There is no addition being made; there is no difference being made, and it is shown most clearly by the fact that this has already been done continuously for years, I understand, under the Ministry of the noble Lord who spoke for the Amendment to-day. If you want to have a clash with the other place, which has discussed this matter fully, I would, with great respect, suggest that the House for its own safe continuance might be wise to choose a more solid ground.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, my intervention will be brief. I suppose I should declare some kind of impersonal interest because I am the Treasurer of the new University of Essex, which is a University very active indeed in sociological research and in which we have as the head of a Department Professor Townsend, whose studies into problems of old people will be familiar to every noble Lord in this House.
I must confess that when I saw this Amendment on the Paper I was slightly in favour of it. I saw in it something which might encourage the Ministry, and associated Ministries probably, to ask universities and similar institutions to take on more projects of research into these sociological questions. But after I heard my noble friend on the Front Bench this afternoon give the undertaking that such projects have been entrusted to universities and similar institutions in the past and that they would continue to be entrusted to them in the future, and that research would go on inside the Ministry and through other channels, I felt quite content. I am content that the Minister and her Department are genuinely desirous of finding out all they can about the problems of 248 the kind of people whom this Bill is intended to help. Therefore, although I was rather attracted to the Amendment when first I saw it, I am quite content now to feel that it is not necessary at all.
As for the need for putting a mandatory clause in a Bill of this kind on the strength of a similar clause having been inserted into legislation covering the I.T.A., there really is no comparison between the conduct of a body like the I.T.A. and the far more responsible conduct of a body like a Ministry of Social Security and its Commission.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, that was not the point at all. My point was that the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, had said there was some difficulty in finding wording which would allow an Amendment of this sort to be included within the Bill. The reason why I referred to the wording of Clause 24 of the 1964 Television Act was that on that occasion Parliament had found it possible to agree on words to place a duty on a body, in that case a public authority, and not a Ministry, to conduct research.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
This difficulty of finding words is a problem which is our perpetual curse in public life. Sometimes, I feel we try to find too many words. We are engaged in something of that sort this afternoon. I am content to say that we have an earnest of the Government's good intentions here in their determination to bring forward such a beneficent Bill as this. I am content to put my faith on the strength of this. While originally I was inclined to support the Amendment, I am no longer, and I accept the assurance of my noble friend.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
My Lords, I do not want to prevent the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, from having a chance to reply afterwards, but as we are on the Report stage we can speak only once. I feel that I should say something about this matter, because I was largely responsible for taking it back and for giving a promise that it would be looked at most carefully again. I said in the course of my speech on that occasion that noble Lords opposite were pushing at an open door. I am sorry if they understood that the door was open to an Amendment. 249 The door which is open is, of course, that the Minister accepts, absolutely and entirely, that it will be part of her function under this Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, to ensure that adequate research is carried out to enable her to perform the functions of her Ministry.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, mentioned the article in the Guardian this morning, and its closing words. With these we absolutely agree: there must be more social research, not only into the matters which are definitely the duty of the Minister (as she will be when this Bill has set up the Ministry of Social Security), but also into the problems which we were discussing in this House yesterday. Social work and social research is essential if we are to carry out what both sides of the House really want.
I do not think that the comparison with the I.T.A. is a good one, for the reasons which my noble friends have given. The I.T.A. under the 1964 Television Act, was set up as what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, admitted was an independent public authority. It had placed upon it certain duties, one of which was, quite clearly, that of engaging in the sort of research that he mentioned. I think that was right on that occasion. Because of the points that have been made by my noble friend Lord Bowles on this particular issue we do not think that it would be wise to add this unnecessary clause to this Bill, even though the point I made on the Committee stage that this is no longer valid might cast grave doubts upon the powers of Ministers who are working Acts of Parliament in which there is no such specific clause.
One of the reasons why I gave the House the undertaking that we would again look at this carefully, was the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, had intervened to talk about his experiences as a Minister; and to some extent this has been again repeated, using the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on the Committee stage; namely, that a clause which lays a duty on the Minister to carry out research does, even if it is legally insignificant, strengthen the hand of the Minister in his fight with the Treasury, and to some extent with his Cabinet colleagues. That was the point he made. That was the point that caused me to think that surely we must ask the Minister: does she want these powers to 250 enable her to engage in a discussion and an argument when she needs money for this specific purpose?
The Minister looked at this again most carefully, looking at it in the light of all the circumstances surrounding all the Acts of Parliament that govern Ministers, and I have to tell the House to-day that we feel that this clause would be adding something quite unnecessary to the Bill. She will do what the clause intends her to do. This, of course, is a solemn pledge, given to this House as it was given to another place.
The other point that I want to make is one that has already been made: that this clause, and the idea behind it, have been debated at considerable length in both Houses, and if we in this House put this clause into the Bill it would probably cause considerable debate again to arise in the other place. I am not in a position, because there is a Government Amendment later on, to say that we hope this Bill will not have to go back. But the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, knows perfectly well that if a non-controversial Amendment is inserted, when the Bill gets back to another place it passes formally and no Parliamentary time is wasted upon it. But if such an Amendment as the present one were inserted, knowing full well that the Government, having looked at it through every stage of the proceedings, have said, "We think this is unnecessary, and that it really puts an unnecessary clause into the Bill", the Government would definitely have to move in the other place that the Commons "doth not agree with the Lords' Amendment."
Having regard to the tight schedule—I apologise for this; it is a matter of Parliamentary time—and the fact that we want this Bill by August 6, as I am sure noble Lords opposite do; and realising that we have got to have this Bill as an Act of Parliament in order to get on with all the things that have to be done in order to secure that the vast number of people who will benefit under this Bill will benefit at the earliest possible moment, I am making a plea to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, not to press this Amendment and so cause us to face a delay in another place in the passage of what we all agree is a first-class piece of legislation.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I must say that I am a little sorry that so much of the argument has been based upon, as it were, Parliamentary tactics and Parliamentary necessities here. This was not at all a matter which was foremost in my mind. I venture to doubt whether a Bill, which went back to another place in any case and had an Amendment which was non-contentious and one which was rather more contentious, would really do more than take up an hour or two of time at a late hour of the night; and I should not have thought it could possibly disrupt the programme in any way. But, in any case, I would prefer to rest on the merits of the argument in this case.
The noble Lord again quoted what he said about "pushing at an open door". I did not misunderstand him on that: I hope he did not think I did. I quite realised that what he was saying was that the Minister accepted this duty without its having been placed on her, in terms, in the Bill. I am glad to hear that. I can tell the Minister that I have no intention of asking noble Lords to support me in a Division on this matter. I should, however, like to say just one or two things which I think have some importance.
For example, reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, to the inquiry into sickness which was carried out, or at any rate started, while I was at the Ministry. If I remember aright, this was wholly, or almost wholly, an internal inquiry; it was an analysis. What I have been much more concerned with—and, as I drafted the Amendment myself, I can perhaps say this—is outside inquiries. Perhaps I might say that because I think it is relevant. I have always taken the view that inquiries and research of this kind must be seen to be entirely impartial. I consider that research of this kind, when directed or co-ordinated (to use the word in my Amendment) by the Minister, will be entirely impartial. I do not think one can always be sure of that with outside research. One knows that in many cases outside research may not have at its disposal sufficient resources to do the full job. For example, during the Committee stage I quoted the experience in preparing a report which has been laid before the House, The 252 Financial Circumstances of Retirement Pensioners, where it was felt necessary that people with experience of interviewing from the National Assistance point of view should be involved in the inquiries which were made. I feel that there is a great need for co-ordination of inquiries of this kind, and that is why I deliberately included in the Amendment the word "co-ordination".
I would express the hope that universities and other organisations which are to carry out research of this kind involving practical inquiries would co-ordinate with the Ministry to make certain that when they are dealing with these matters their efforts are not wasted. I am sure that if this were to happen there would not be so much doubt cast upon some of the inquiries as to their inadequacy in terms both of the numbers involved and of the ability of those conducting the inquiries to extract the answers to questions asked. It is one thing to put the questions—and in carrying out an inquiry the questions are of the utmost importance—but it is another thing to make certain that the questions are answered in full knowledge of what the questioner is after. I drafted this Amendment in this form in the hope that it would enable the Minister not only to carry out internal inquiries when they are required, but also to undertake outside inquiries and to have the necessary resources to do so. At the same time, there would be a much greater tendency for all inquiries to be properly co-ordinated so that effort would not be wasted.
This was my purpose in putting down the Amendment. I am sorry if I did not quite get the purpose over to the Party opposite in the course of debate. I think that it would have been worth while to put something in the Bill which would promote this idea of the integration of research and social matters in this field. The Amendment may well he, as is sometimes said in official briefs, ill-conceived, and at any rate I do not propose to press it; but if the Government were to feel that there was anything in what I have said which might warrant some addition to the Bill, I should he very happy to support it. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.253
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Clause 17 [Administration of benefit]:
VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD moved, after subsection (3) to insert:
() Where the whole or any part of the benefit payable to the claimant for any week is in respect of the rent payable by the claimant and the claimant has been paid such benefit for the previous week the Commission shall, before paying such benefit or such part thereof as the case may be, require the claimant to satisfy them that the rent payable for such previous week has been paid.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, my purpose in putting down this Amendment was to prevent a malpractice taking place. I should like through my Amendment to bring this malpractice to the notice of the Government. It has come to my attention that in certain cases a claimant has received money from the National Assistance Board for his rent, but has omitted to use the funds so provided to pay his rent. No doubt the local betting shop has been too great an attraction. By the Amendment I aim to ensure that monies paid by the Minister of Social Security to an individual for payment of his rent are in fact used for the purpose for which they are intended.
§ So far as I am aware, every weekly tenant has to have a rent book, and therefore it should not be difficult for the Commission, from a scrutiny of the claimant's rent book, to ascertain whether monies provided for rent have in fact been so used. One also has the case—although this is not included in the Amendment—where monies are provided in relation to services such as gas and electricity, and it sometimes happens that those monies are not passed on for the provision of those services.
I understand that at present there are about two million people claiming various forms of National Assistance. When this Bill becomes law this number is sure to increase. With such a great number of people involved, a few people are bound to try to cheat and exploit this new "Fairy godmother". They will be in a very small minority, but they will still exist. I agree that under Clause 26 the Minister has protection against misrepresentation and nondisclosure. Clause 14 provides that:
Where it appears to the Commission that by reason of exceptional circumstances the
requirements of any person can best be met by the provision of goods or services instead of the whole or part of any payment to which he would otherwise be entitled under this Act they may determine that goods or services shall be so provided under arrangements made by them on behalf of the Minister.
So there is that provision, instead of their being paid the benefit completely in cash. However, the Bill does not appear to cover the malpractice which my Amendment seeks to eradicate. I feel that if the word "exceptional" in Clause 14 could be left out and if the Minister could pay the services direct, it would be far more satisfactory; but, of course, that is not in my Amendment.
§ I agree that, in theory, if the owner of a house or a landlord or the person to whom the rent is due cannot get the rent from the individual who is receiving money for his rent from the Ministry of Social Security he can, of course, claim in law. But it is a very barren procedure to sue somebody on National Assistance, and I cannot imagine anyone doing such a thing. I drafted this Amendment, and it is probably drafted wrongly, but all I am asking is whether the Government can do something in this Bill to ensure that, if the State takes the tax-payers' money to give to an individual to pay his rent, the Bill is so framed as to ensure, so far as possible, that that public money is used for the purpose for which it is given. I beg to move.
Page 8, line 22, at end insert the said subsection.—(Viscount Massereene and Ferrard.)
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, in view of the penultimate statement of the noble Viscount, I hope that on reflection he will feel that he ought to withdraw this Amendment, principally because, if he will read diligently the Bill itself, he will find that any punitive mood in which he finds himself is amply dealt with in Clause 30(1)(a), which provides for means of dealing with malpractices of this kind.
May I interpolate a comment on this whole field which seems to me to lie behind the intention of this Amendment? If I am wrong in this, I apologise to the noble Viscount. It seems to me to be an academic, legalistic, attempt to deal with something in an abstract form, which can only really be seen in the light of human nature. If I may adduce an 255 illustration which is relevant to the conversation in which we have just been taking part over the previous Amendment, I can think of families where the non-payment of rent is due to the compulsive drinking of the breadwinner. I know of such families, and I have some knowledge of the treatment of such people. Are we to say that if, under such compulsive alcoholism, a breadwinner in the family does not provide the money by which the rest of his family are to live, we will thereupon withdraw the meagre amount that we are offering and, indeed, expose that family, quite apart from the iniquity or failure of the breadwinner, to the kind of desolation for which it would seem to me this Social Security Bill has in principle been called in existence to deal with and to obviate?
It is a personal and humane quarrel that I have with all attempts so to provide a legalistic system as to deal with malpractices, and to ignore the people who lie behind those malpractices, who are perhaps themselves the victims of them. I also think that this is in itself mischievous, in that there is an attempt to deal, as I think, in the proper way with such malpractices in Clause 30(1)(a). Rather than to attempt by means of withdrawal of the means of existence to punish a man who has failed to meet his obligations, there should be other methods which at least ensure a full stomach for himself and his family, whatever may be the imposition of sentence, even of imprisonment. This seems to me to be the right way, because it preserves the ultimate principle of the inalienable right of human beings to the means of food, clothing and shelter, and at the same time deals quite explicitly with the malpractices to which the noble Viscount has made reference.
I am entirely in agreement with him that it is wrong that the law should be traduced, and that those who benefit should themselves use that benefit for wrong purposes. However, what I am concerned about is that, if this Amendment is passed, it will strike at one of the ultimate principles of the Bill, which to me raises it to a higher standard than any other Bills of which I have had any knowledge, in that here is a right to which human beings are entitled, and the proper way to deal with those who, by 256 various practices abuse that right, is not to deny them the very purposes for which that right has been instituted, but to find other ways of bringing them to their senses. This aspect is dealt with in Clause 13 as well as Clause 14 and under the provisions which by now have been widely ventilated. One such provision provides opportunities to set up resident centres and recuperative centres for such people. This is the right way to go about it, and I believe that if the noble Viscount feels that he desires that this matter should be ventilated, he ought to realise also that further acquaintance with the Bill preserves the principle for which he is concerned, without the necessity of the Amendment which I think is wholly unnecessary.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I find a little difficulty in following the noble Lord, Lord Soper, because it does not seem to me that my noble friend's Amendment denies anybody anything. It merely provides for a different way of that person paying his due. The Amendment brings out, it seems to me, quite an inevitable dilemma between, on the one hand, the need to ensure that the independence of those receiving supplements is not interfered with so long as they are capable of exercising that independence, and, on the other hand, the right of the landlord to receive what is due to him.
Some of your Lordships may feel that this is a harsh Amendment. If any noble Lords do feel that, it is right for me to point out that I believe it is at present the practice of the employment exchanges where a person's unemployment benefit is being supplemented by payment from the National Assistance Board in respect of rent, to make it a condition of paying the supplement that the unemployed person presents his rent book. Of course, it is easy enough where the benefit is paid weekly, but it is not so easy in the case where books of supplementary payments are issued up to six months in advance. All the same, the landlord is clearly entitled to his rent. The obligation of the tenant seems to me to be all the stronger because, as the Amendment says, he receives from public funds an amount specifically to enable him to pay it. If the tenant cannot so manage his affairs as to meet his obligations, clearly other steps have to be taken; and the other 257 steps seem quite clearly to be that the Commission should meet his obligations on his behalf.
I understand that the National Assistance Board at present pays rent under Section 8(2) of the National Assistance Act 1948 on behalf of the tenant. It says:Where it appears to the Board that it is necessary for protecting the interests of an applicant for an assistance grant or of his dependants that the whole or any part of the grant should be issued to some person other than the applicant, the Board may issue the grant accordingly.That is reproduced, I believe, by Clause 17(3) with an addition which seems to me entirely proper and valuable; that is, that where the claimant so requests that a payment should be made on his behalf to somebody else—and one can easily envisage that the Commission may represent to the claimant that it would be very much in his interest to make a request—then the Commission can make the payment on his behalf.
All the same, since it seems to be a choice between my noble friend's Amendment and this provision in Clause 17, I would ask whether the Government are entirely satisfied that the words of the clause are quite apt in present circumstances. May I say again that what the clause now provides is:Where it appears to the Commission that it is necessary for protecting the interests of a claimant…",and so on. What I am not absolutely certain of is that it is necessary, in all circumstances, for the protection of the interests of the claimant, that he should not get into arrears of rent—and I want to say why. If the claimant has no other assets at all, then, of course, there is no point in the landlord applying to the court for payment of arrears of rent; and as the landlord cannot get payment for arrears of rent, as I understand it, from the National Assistance Board or the Commission, all he can do is to ask that, in future, payments should be made direct to him. But is this in the interests of the claimant?
Until the passing of the Protection from Eviction Act there was the risk that a landlord might put a tenant out into the street for non-payment of rent. I do not believe that in these days any court would put into the street, for non-payment of rent, an old person or a person with 258 a large family. All a court would do, probably, would be to order the Commission to make the payment direct to the landlord. Therefore, what I am saying is that the tenant really has (let us face it) no interest in paying his rent, in the old sense. He has nothing to lose. I think that the Government ought just to look at the wording of this provision to make certain that it is still apt. I have no reason to suppose that a great many of those in receipt of supplements do default on their rent, but I suppose it cannot be denied that some do, and I would suggest that we in Parliament are under an obligation to ensure that landlords—and, for that matter, the Exchequer—are not defrauded in this way by wilful or negligent default.
My Lords, I am not sure that adequate provision is made in the Bill to cover excusable default, or that such provision has ever existed. Perhaps I may explain what I mean by that. If I remember my constituency experience, in these cases it sometimes happened that a person would apply what he received for the rent to another purpose: some real emergency might arise, and he might pay what he was receiving currently for rent to another urgent purpose, instead of going to the Board to claim for it. Furthermore, if I am correct, I think it is not possible for the Board to make retrospective payments to meet requirements; they can make them only to meet requirements that are present or in the future. So it does seem to me that, where there is this kind of excusable default of which I am talking, it should be possible for the Board to make a retrospective payment in respect of the emergency, simply in order to enable the tenant to pay the arrears of rent which he certainly did not voluntarily incur and probably greatly disliked incurring. I wonder if the Government would consider this, even at this late stage.
What I think is important is that, as soon as the landlord informs the Commission that a retired or an unemployed or sick person has fallen into arrears with rent, the Commission should look into it. It may be that the person is not getting supplements for rent when he ought to be; or it may be that he is getting supplements for rent and is not applying them to the right purpose. But, in any case, the Commission should look 259 into this and, where appropriate, relieve that person of the obligation to pay rent by itself paying the rent direct to the landlord.
There is the fact to be taken into account that it appears that the Minister is proposing in future, as an administrative step, to make payments of pensions, including the supplementary payment, for a much longer period than at present—twelve months instead of six months. This also has a bearing on the consideration of this issue, although I understand that there is no practical difficulty in calling in payments books and adjusting them where necessary. I cannot support my noble friend's Amendment, because I do not think it would be appropriate in all circumstances. At the same time, I think we should be grateful to him for moving it, and so giving the Government an opportunity to consider whether the present wording is still apt in the new circumstances created by the administrative action which the Government are proposing to take with regard to the payment of supplementary pensions and by the Protection from Eviction Act 1964.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for initiating this debate, and also to my noble friend Lord Soper and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for their interesting comments. I shall certainly look at the wording of Clause 17, subsection (3), and also into the noble Lord's question about excusable defaults; but he is at fault when he thinks that non-payment of rent has ceased to be a ground for eviction. I hope the noble Lord has noticed that the recent Rent Act has made no difference at all in the liability to eviction of a tenant who has not paid his rent. Therefore a tenant clearly has an interest in keeping his house by paying his rent.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I follow that point. What I am saying, however, is that, although that may be so legally, from the practical point of view, while the liability of being evicted is still there, the practical chances of there being evicted, as I said, an old person or a person who is unemployed or sick, seems to be very remote.
§ LORD BOWLES
I am just saying that for the sake of the record, and the noble Lord will hear later on how the Commission will deal with this matter.
In moving this Amendment the noble Viscount mentioned that he had once or twice heard of cases of this kind, so he obviously does not think it is a big issue. Nevertheless, the Amendment would require any person whose benefit included provision for rent to satisfy the Commission that he had actually paid his rent for the previous week for which he had received benefit, before he could get benefit for the current week. The noble Viscount opposite has made it clear that his real concern in moving this Amendment is with the bad payer—the person who is persistently in arrears with his rent, or who just does not put the money aside for this commitment. But the Amendment is a comprehensive one. It would, in effect, require the Commission to have a weekly check as to whether rent had been paid in every single case where a claimant was a householder, and where, as a result, provision for rent had been made in determining the amount of benefit due.
My Lords, in December, 1965, there were 1,620,000 householders receiving National Assistance: there will, from the very outset of the new scheme, be an even larger number of householders receiving non-contributory benefit. The vast majority of them will be paid their pensions or allowances by a book of orders which they cash at the local post office, week by week. It will be seen that the noble Viscount's Amendment, requiring a weekly check that all these people have actually paid their rent, is therefore absolutely out of the question, simply on grounds of practicability. And no doubt that was one of the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, thought he could not possibly support his noble friend. But in any event the Government could not accept that a weekly check on the payment of rent is desirable in all these cases. The vast majority of people receiving non-contributory benefit will be responsible citizens, and it would, I suggest, be insulting to them to be checked upon on how they were spending their income. This is not to say that there will not be a few black sheep, but I can assure the noble Viscount who moved the Amendment that the Commission will have 261 ample power to deal with the occasional instance of misspending. First, under subsection (3) of Clause 17, to which the noble Lord referred, the Commission will be able to make a payment of benefit to a third party where this is in the interests of the claimant or his dependants. In the really bad case, where rent arrears accumulate, the Commission will, therefore, be able, as the Board has been in the past, to pay the rent direct to the landlord to ensure that the money is not misspent. Where, in what is sometimes termed a "problem family" case, there is a social worker who is overseeing the family budget, the Commission could pay it to that person. Alternatively, it will be open to the Commission to adopt the same administrative procedures as the Board sometimes does in the case of bad payers—namely, to pay part of the week's benefit only in the first place and to pay the balance when the individual produces his receipted rent book or other evidence that he has paid the week's rent.
My Lords, we must keep this matter in perspective and I hope that, in view of the assurances I have been able to give the noble Lord, he will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his explanation and for the way in which he received my Amendment; but before I withdraw it I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that one of the objects of my Amendment was to protect the family from the drunken father; it was to see that in fact the rent was paid. I got the impression the noble Lord thought I was being rather hard, but I can assure him that my intention was completely the opposite. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33 [Legal proceedings]:
LORD BOWLES moved, in subsection (5), after "knowledge" where that word first occurs, to insert:
, or within the period of twelve months from the commission of the offence, whichever period last expires".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the effect of this Amendment is to bring the time limits on the commencement of proceedings in Scotland under subsection (5) of Clause 33 into line with the English 262 time limits specified in subsection (3)(b) of that clause. I should explain that this Amendment arises as a result of a point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, at the Committee stage. The noble Lord asked the reason for the difference between the provisions of Clause 33 dealing with time limits for the commencement of proceedings in England and Wales and the corresponding provisions for Scotland. My noble friend Lord Champion has subsequently been in correspondence with the noble Lord about this clause and has given him notice of our intention to move this Amendment.
§ The point, quite simply, is that on close examination we have come to the conclusion, based on legal advice about the effect of Scottish law, that subsection (5) of Clause 33 is defective as it stands and that the position is not cured by the general provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction (Scotland) Act 1954. Accordingly, the Amendment brings the time limit on the commencement proceedings in Scotland under subsection (5) of Clause 33 into line with the English time limit specified in subsection (3)(b) of the clause. In moving this Amendment I should like to say that the Government are graceful to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for raising the question of the difference between the Scottish and the English time limits in Clause 33. It is clearly proper, while allowing for the different procedures in the two countries, that time limits for prosecutions should be in line. The Amendment will achieve this. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 16, line 34, after ("knowledge") insert the said words.—(Lord Bowles.)
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I should just like to thank the noble Lord for moving this Amendment, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for writing to me about it. Perhaps I am a little more apt to look at the Scottish interpretation than are most noble Lords. It seemed to me that the two did not hang together. I am much obliged to the noble Lord.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 [Provisions for determining right to and amount of benefit]:
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, this Amendment, it will be seen, is identical to that tabled by my noble friend 263 Lord Drumalbyn and myself at the Committee stage. The only reason we have put it down again is to allow noble Lords opposite the opportunity to reply to the points raised on Committee stage.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 23, line 22, at end insert—
("(b) Additional requirements of person eligible for supplementary pension, being a person aged 75 s. d. or more … … … … 14 0").
§ LORD BOWLES
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, this Amendment is in the same terms as the one moved at Committee stage but withdrawn. It would increase the long-term addition to be made, under paragraph 11 of the Schedule, to the requirements of those eligible for supplementary pensions from 9s. to 14s. a week where the claimant was aged 75 or over. The noble Lord opposite marshalled a number of facts in his earlier speech which he said pointed to the desirability of increasing the long-term addition for the older pensioner. I do not, of course, dispute the facts, but despite the arguments which he deployed I must say that these facts do not really substantiate the case for increasing the rate of the long-term addition for people aged 75 or over.
Quite a lot was made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, during the Committee proceedings, of the information contained in the Report The Financial and Other Circumstances of Retirement Pensioners, which has been quoted as showing that among pensioners total income is lower in the higher age groups. That is so. The Tables on Pages 10 and13 of the Report bring this out quite clearly. But it does not follow that because the incomes of the older pensioners, as a group, are lower than those of the younger pensioners their special needs are higher. The two cannot be related in this way. There is really no evidence that special needs are higher in older pensioners, and I must remind your Lordships again that it is to cover the general run of special needs, for which the Board now make discretionary allowances, that the long-term addition is being introduced; this is its purpose, and not to provide a preferential rate for any particular groups.
The new scheme itself already looks after the situation revealed in the Report, 264 because if the older pensioner has smaller resources he will, as a general rule, get a higher supplementary pension. It must surely be clear that a means-related scheme automatically compensates for diminished resources. The only occasion when this does not happen is if the income which ceases or diminishes has been disregarded. But this could hardly be a justification for a higher long-term addition for the older pensioners. We cannot accept that the information in the Report supports the noble Lord's argument that the long-term addition ought to be higher for older pensioners.
One must therefore look back to the basic question: Do older pensioners, as a group, have higher special needs than younger pensioners? The evidence that the National Assistance Board have, and which I gave your Lordships at Committee stage, is that they do not. That being so, what has been said about the fact that with increasing age pensioners are, of course, more frail and more liable to be in ill-health is not relevant to the issue of the level at which the long-term addition itself should stand. For the long-term addition of 9s. does not, in any way, limit what the Commission can do in those cases where something more substantial is required. It only avoids the necessity of making detailed inquiries in those cases, and they will be the majority, where something on top of the 9s. is clearly not required. I must, therefore, ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, we shall not press this Amendment. We merely wanted to draw attention at this stage to the situation in which people over the age of 75 find themselves. Before withdrawing the Amendment I should like to make a final point. I think it is in a way dangerous to stick to this very tight definition of "special needs". I accept that this is the only hard and fast criterion that the Board has to work on—that is, assessable requirements under the rules of the Board and of the Commission in future, and therefore it is clearly only within its limitations that the Commission will be able to consider the financial requirements of people over 75, or indeed under 75. It is necessary—I think this is the only point we should like to leave with noble Lords opposite—to have flexibility of language and to look at cases in as open-minded a way 265 as possible, and avoid jargon and hard and fast definitions which can sometimes leave people rather on the wrong side. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.