§ [Nos. 6, 7 and 8]
§ Schedule 4, page 71, line 33, leave out paragraph 50.
The Commons disagree to this Amendment but propose the following Amendments in lieu—
Page 13, line 29, at end insert—
("(3A) In the tax year 1976–77, and thereafter in each subsequent tax year, the Secretary tart' of State shall consider whether the rate of mobility allowance should be increased having regard to the national economic situation as a whole, the general standard of living and such other matters as he thinks relevant.")
Page 71, line 33, leave out from ("Act") to end of line 35 and insert ("for paragraph (a) there shall be substituted—
(a) Parts I, IV and V of Schedule 4 to this Act and paragraphs 1 to 3, 4 and 5 of Part III; and"")
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 6 to which the Commons have disagreed, and agree to the Commons Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 in lieu thereof. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will feel that it is proper for me to do so, but as both he and I have been over this a good many times, and I think there is no new ground that is left for us to explore, perhaps I could take this fairly briefly. The Amendment requires the Secretary of State—and the Amendment is set out on the Paper—in each tax year commencing with the tax year 1976–77 to consider whether the mobility allowance should be increased having regard to the national economic situation, the general standard of living, and any other matters he thinks relevant. The related Amendment—that is the Amendment which deals with page 71, line 33—is to Section 125 of the Social Security Act 1975. In the light of the first Amendment above, its effect is to exclude mobility allowance from the list of benefits subject to annual review and automatic uprating in the light of the general level of earnings and prices under Section 125 of the Social Security Act 1975.
These Amendments were introduced by the Government in another place in 1767 response to the Amendment carried by noble Lords at the Report stage, an Amendment which, though apparently aimed at guaranteeing annual reviews, would require annual upratings in line with earnings. I think I am right in saying—and I know that, if not, the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will put me right—that the intention of the movers was to secure an annual review and not necessarily an annual uprating. This means that we have to separate the two. The two Amendments introduced in another place have the effect together of requiring an annual review of mobility allowance, but leave the decision on any uprating to be taken in the light of the national economic situation as well as other relevant factors. This is exactly the same provision for review which will apply, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, knows only too well, to child benefit. For mobility allowance, the Government cannot accept a commitment requiring automatic annual uprating.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will accept this because I believe this was not the original intention of the movers. However, we accept that it is right to provide for an annual review, with power to decide in the light of the review what priority can and should be given to extra expenditure in this area. I will go so far as to say that we have met what was needed on this point. We have said that we will look at the need for uprating, taking into account all relevant matters, but we must be free to determine whether it is possible to devote scarce additional resources to this allowance at any given time. We have introduced this benefit at a time when—as I am sure the noble Lord will agree—we are experiencing great economic difficulty. We have already increased the weekly rate from £4 to £5 since it was first announced and even before the first payments have been made. It will be a help to many of the most severely disabled who up to now have received no help with their mobility problems simply because they cannot drive.
I do not feel that any useful purpose will be served by my going any further. I believe that we have met the spirit of the wishes of our noble friends who are not here tonight. Amendment No. 8 is consequential, and I believe the 1768 noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will be of the opinion that there is no need for me to dwell at any length upon it.
§ Moved, That the House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 6 to which the Commons have disagreed, and agree to the Commons Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 in lieu thereof.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I feel that this was our greatest disappointment in reviewing the situation when we received the Message from the other place. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will agree with me that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, who has persisted throughout with this Amendment has received only a small consolation. She is not here this evening, but had she been here I feel sure that the lash of her tongue would have been quite considerable.
Instead of an annual review, we are faced with the promise of a periodic review, which is a very different matter. A suggestion was made to Her Majesty's Government on 4th August in the following terms:Will the Minister make it clear whether, so far, we have an undertaking that in the annual review statement which is normally made around Budget time, there will be a specific reference to the question of the mobility allowance?"—[Official Report (Commons), 4/8/75; col. 87.]This was a suggestion in reply to which the noble Lord's honourable friend said that he would not necessarily make that commitment. We know full well why he was not able to do so, but I am quite sure that it would be very helpful if the noble Lord would pass on to his honourable and right honourable friends the need to remind the Treasury of the great needs of the disabled people who will suffer from taxation. After all, this is a taxable allowance and it would be a reminder for the Treasury, and for those working on the drafts, if possible to have it in the annual review document. I do not wish to speak long at this stage since the House has much further business before it; but I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for giving so much time and effort. I hope he will keep an open door for the disablement income group and colleagues in that category.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I should like to say briefly that I, too, regret that there is not to be an annual uprating but only an annual review. I find it very unsatisfactory that we have a social security system in which some benefits are to be uprated according to the increase in earnings or in the cost of living while others depend entirely—though those factors are taken into account—upon whether it is felt that anything can be done at a particular time. That can but lead to a situation in which some benefits are not uprated for very many years. So I regret that there is not to be an annual uprating. But I am glad that there is to be an annual review. It is not so satisfactory and it is part of a hotch-potch system, but it is nevertheless a step in the right direction
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am very grateful to both noble Lords. We are now committed to an annual review. We are not committed—and we have been perfectly frank and honest about it—to an annual uprating. But it must be clear in the very nature of things that one cannot give an allowance and, in a period of inflation which may go on for several years, let it go on and on year after year without being uprated at some stage. While we give no guarantee that we can do it annually, clearly there must come a time when all benefits will be considered, outside those which, for a variety of reasons, are subject to annual up-ratings.
It should not be necessary for me to point out to your Lordships that we must do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. We are spending a tremendous amount of money. I have told your Lordships on two previous occasions that our 26 major benefits cost £9,000 million a year. There must come a time when we shall have to look at the mobility allowance, which is a new idea introduced to benefit 100,000 people. This is the provision we are making at this stage. We will give it an annual review, and if we can uprate it regularly we shall be happy to do so. But we cannot give an assurance that we shall be able to do so automatically.