§ 2.59 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Supplementary Benefit (Aggregation, Requirements and Resources) Amendment Regulations be approved. The subject matter of these regulations is complex. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who, I assume, will be speaking from the Liberal Benches, received the information about this: both copies of the regulations that this House has already approved and these amending regulations of those regulations, because I think it is for the convenience of those noble Lords who wish to follow this discussion to have all these matters to hand.
These regulations amend the separate instruments which together form the basis of the calculation of a claimant's weekly entitlement: the aggregation regulations, which are concerned with questions of who is to be treated as responsible for another person, and whether one person is to be treated as a dependant of another so that the two of them form a single unit for benefit purposes: the requirement regulations, which set out how the three types of requirement—normal, additional, and housing—are to be calculated; and the resources regulations, which provide for the calculation of capital and income, whether it is to be taken into account in full or in part or disregarded altogether.
1262 I do not intend to go through the amendments one by one to explain their precise effect—and nor, indeed, do I think that the House would wish me to do so—though I shall refer to a number of them in the course of my remarks. I shall try to answer any particular queries. What I shall do is to explain to your Lordships why these regulations are before you about four months after the making of the regulations which they amend, and before those regulations have come into effect.
The Government's decision, following the review of the supplementary benefits scheme and the publication of the report Social Assistance for public discussion, that the rules of the scheme should be set out in regulations, was a decision of considerable significance. It was a decision to strengthen the concept of entitlement of benefit as a right. As annual reports by the Supplementary Benefits Commission, Social Assistance, and comment and criticism from claimants, their representatives, and academics have all agreed, the growth of discretion in the supplementary benefits scheme means that entitlement has become a somewhat blurred matter. We concluded that only by putting the rules into law could we hope to give more permanent substance to "entitlement".
Even so, we recognise that in the regulations there are still areas at which judgment and discretion will have to be exercised. That is inevitable in a scheme which must try to take account of the enormous variety of individuals' circumstances. But here again we have made a significant change by providing for a right of appeal on a point of law to the Social Security Commissioners. Decisions on such appeals will form a body of case-law governing later decisions by benefit officers and appeal tribunals, and will be particularly valuable in providing guidance on the interpretation and application of provisions which refer to, say, what is "reasonable" or "appropriate".
With these regulations, and another eight instruments also laid recently, and the six instruments laid in July, the process of setting out the rules in law is completed—or perhaps I should say, completed for the time being, since we shall be monitoring the effect of the regulations very carefully. As part of this, we shall 1263 look at how the new arrangements work in practice, and continue to look for further ways of simplifying the scheme. Fifteen instruments in all, or 13 if one excludes those two of them which amend others, make up a very substantial body of law—at a rough count, somewhere in the region of 200 pages. The first six sets come to over 90 pages, and, within that, the three sets amended by the instrument we are considering today come to over 50. In an exercise of that size it is inevitable, if much to be regretted, that there should have been errors—wrong references, for instance, and minor lapses of drafting which could none the less have significant effects. That is one of the reasons why we have these amendment regulations before us today.
The second reason concerns the sheer size of the task. Your Lordships will know that the annual job of putting into effect the uprating of the supplementary benefit of over three million claimants each November has to start in the summer. In order that that work could proceed we planned the work of preparing regulations so as to bring forward first those provisions which affected the rights of the great majority of claimants. To have considered at the same time the rules for small, exceptional groups—and such rules are, almost by definition, complicated—would have held up the publication of the main rules. That is why the provisions affecting polygamous relationships appear in these amending regulations. That is why the provisions for calculating the benefit which can be paid during a limited period after an unmarried couple have been determined to be living together as husband and wife are included in these regulations.
The third reason has to do with timing. While the first six sets of regulations were being prepared, the Housing Act 1980 was still going through Parliament. The provisions of the Act relating to the registration of rents and purchase by sitting tenants have consequences for supplementary benefit provision. But it was only after that Act had received the Royal Assent that we could fully consider those implications and make appropriate amendments to regulations in Part IV of the requirements regulations dealing with housing requirements.
1264 The fourth reason is as follows. Since the regulations were published in the summer they have been studied by many people with an interest in them. Pressure groups, members of the tribunals who will be hearing appeals against decisions given under the regulations and the officials who will be working from the regulations. From all those sources comments and queries have come in, on points where the meaning has been less clear than we thought, or where the effect has been thought to be unduly harsh—or even unduly lax. We have looked at all these points carefully, and some of the amendments now proposed are our response to them—for instance, in the resources regulations, the definition of "liable relative" and the treatment of sums paid by liable relatives.
There is one further point that I should like to mention. When we debated the requirements and resources regulations earlier this year, considerable anxiety was expressed about the complexity of the regulations. I do not pretend that they are easy to understand—the law seldom is, and rules which are themselves complex cannot always be simply expressed without imprecision and ambiguity. But I said on that earlier occasion that a new edition of the Supplementary Benefits Handbook, explaining the scheme in simple terms for claimants and their advisers, would be published before the regulations came into force. I am pleased to be able to tell your Lordships that that handbook will be published on 13th November. I am sure that this will be a great help to expert and non-expert alike in understanding the regulations.
My Lords, as I have said, we will do our best to explain any particular points of difficulty which may be raised today, either during the course of the debate or in correspondence. I commend these amendment regulations to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Aggregation, Requirements and Resources) Amendment Regulations 1980, laid before the House on 27th October, be approved.—(Baroness Young.)
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I think we are grateful to the noble Baroness the Minister for endeavouring 1265 to clarify the statutory instrument now before us. I would point out to your Lordships that on two or three occasions the noble Baroness drew attention to the fact that this is a highly complex instrument. I venture to suggest that there is probably no one in your Lordships' House, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who even begins to understand what this instrument is about.
It is quite disgraceful that a Government should come to this House and produce a statutory instrument which has to be introduced by drawing attention to its complexity and then saying that it is difficult to understand. What right have a Government to introduce an instrument of this kind and to ask your Lordships to accept it when I venture to suggest, as I have already done, that, with certain notable exceptions, not one of us really begins to understand what it is about? The Government should withdraw it and take another opportunity of putting before your Lordships an instrument that they can explain in terms that we in your Lordships' House can understand and follow.
The noble Baroness has quite rightly said that separate regulations were issued in July and August. That is true. There was a statutory instrument, No. 982, which was made on 14th July last and laid before Parliament on 17th July, which dealt with the Supplementary Benefit (Aggregation) Regulations 1980. It was followed on 15th August by the Supplementary Benefit (Resources) Regulations 1980, No. 1300. And that was followed on 29th August by the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Regulations 1980, No. 1299. Less than three months later we are faced with the present draft instrument, which is now before your Lordships, which incorporates all three—the Supplementary Benefit (Aggregation, Requirements and Resources) Amendment Regulations 1980. So within a period of less than three months amendments have had to be made to each of those instruments.
It is perfectly true that they stem from the long and detailed discussion of the Social Security Act 1980. The fact that the Government now find it necessary to amend the regulations after a period of 1266 about three months and, I would remind your Lordships, before the Act comes into operation, supports the view that we took at the time when we discussed the Social Security Act 1980, that the Government were not giving enough thought, time and consideration to the effects that the 1980 Act would have.
We had the farce of dealing with the Social Security (No. 2) Bill while we were still discussing the Social Security (No. 1) Bill. This House and another place were put to the inconvenience of discussing a No. 1 Bill when the Government had to introduce a No. 2 Bill to put right a number of matters in the Social Security (No. 1) Bill. At the time we made it clear that there needed to be consultation on the detailed contents of the regulations before they were put before Parliament. But we were told, together with the organisations that have a contribution to make in this field, that it was not possible for those consultations to take place because of the tight timetable. When will the Government learn that there is a great deal of competence and knowledge in this field outside Parliament, and that they do not possess a monopoly of brain and ability in this particular field?
We should not be presented with an instrument of this kind affecting (shall I say?) the lives of millions of people unless and until those organisations which act on their behalf, advise, guide and befriend them have had an opportunity to express their points of view. I am sorry to say this, but it must be said; I get the impression that health and social security do not figure high on the Government's list of priorities.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
Oh, yes, my Lords. If they figured high, the Government would not have undertaken some of the most appalling cuts that they have made and are making in the field of social security. If the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, does not agree with me on that, I think that he will agree with me on my next point. The Government think that it is certainly not important enough for this House to have a full-time Minister at the Department of Health and Social 1267 Security, a department which I believe spends more money in the course of the year than any other department. We should have in this House, whatever his or her status may be, a full-time Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security on the Government Front Bench. We had one in the last Government, albeit the lowest form of animal life for something like four and three-quarter years, but at least it was put right for the last three or four months, and we did have an Under-Secretary. It is not just a question of money. It is a question not only of principle but of dealing properly with this House.
I should like to ask why there was not more consultation with outside organisations before the original regulations were made, and how many of the present amendments are the result of queries raised and suggestions made to the department by non-governmental organisations. It really is futile to go through this particular instrument. Wherever you read, you are referred either to one Act or another Act, or to previous instruments. The noble Baroness said that it must be considered along with two others. It may be necessary to consider it along with four others. This is supposed to be an exercise in simplification. I do not suppose that many of your Lordships have bothered to read the draft instrument. I do not blame you. It is an appalling document. In the explanatory notes on the last two pages you get paragraphs of between 20 and 25 lines. So you go on and on, and you get one-third of the way through and you have forgotten what the previous five or six lines say.
In all the years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have never ever seen what I call such an appalling document. It should be simple; it should be straight-forward; it should say what it intends to do without having to refer the reader to one other, two other, or three other documents. If this is an exercise in simplification, I sincerely hope that the Government will think twice before introducing any other draft instrument. But, as I understand it, it means that the amendment regulations make it necessary for those wanting to understand the requirements and the resources regulations to read, as the 1268 noble Baroness herself has said, at least two other sets of regulations.
I find it extremely difficult to understand Regulation 9 on page 4, which amends Regulation 11 of the resources regulations—presumably that is the one that was made on 15th August. When can we hope to have these regulations consolidated? Paragraph 13 of the schedule on pages 8 and 9 deals with security of tenure for council tenants who increased their housing costs by buying their homes, and they will not have mortgage interest payments met in full. I wonder what that means. It certainly is not clear to me. I do not expect the noble Baroness to be able to deal fully with all these matters today, and I do not ask her to do so. But does this not mean that the Department of the Environment will be giving tenants the right to buy, while the Department of Health and Social Security will be penalising those who do? That is my interpretation. If so, it is a very curious regulation.
One could go on for a long time, but I do not think that either myself or the noble Baroness will be able to help your Lordships understand reasonably well this draft instrument because it is so complex. These regulations are very unsatisfactory and very involved, and those who have to advise claimants will have a daunting and difficult task. These regulations ought not to have been presented to your Lordships in this form. Draft statutory instruments are supposed to be able to give people a clear and precise indication of what they set out to do. You could not say this of this present one.
I suggest to the Government that they take it back. We shall be told that all these come into force on 24th November, a matter of something like 13 days, and I am sure that we shall be told there is not time to do it. But this has been rushed through in a most disgraceful fashion. When the previous regulations were being considered in another place—and I do not think that anybody will deny that these regulations are of supreme importance in the administration of new schemes that the Government envisage for supplementary benefit in the future—half a day was allowed for these regulations, to which I have been referring, to be considered. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that it cannot be left like this. 1269 Our suggestion on this side is that they should be taken back, otherwise we certainly could not approve them in their present form.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Baroness for her explanation of the purpose of these amendment regulations. I am grateful to her for providing the background papers for the debate to which she referred. We are discussing the commencement of this new supplementary benefit system later this month, and it is disturbing that as we do so we should hear rumours of a cut in the real value of supplementary benefits. I hope that those rumours will prove to be false.
We have already had 56 pages of regulations under these three headings, "Aggregation, Requirements and Resources", and now, before the scheme is implemented, we have a further 12 pages of amendments to the original 56 pages. I wonder what we can expect when the regulations have actually been in operation and no doubt further errors and omissions are discovered. I hope that the amended regulations will be published shortly so that it will not be necessary for people who want to understand what they are about to read two complicated sets of regulations.
I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether the handbook to which she referred, and which is to be available on 13th of this month, and the leaflets which I understand are also to be available will take these amendments into account. One is bound to ask with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, whether there was adequate consultation with organisations with an interest in this field before the regulations were drafted. I would repeat the question which the noble Lord put: How many of the amendments which we now have before us arose out of queries raised with the Department of Health and Social Security by nongovernmental organisations?
Like the noble Baroness, I am struck by the appalling complexity of the regulations, although she did not use the word "appalling", but she admitted the complexity. The treatment of maintenance under Regulation 11 of the resources regulations as amended by Regulation 9 1270 of the amendment regulation is a case in point, and has already been drawn to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell.
As I understand it, Regulation 11 of the resources regulations provides—and the noble Baroness will no doubt correct me when she replies if I am wrong—that where a lump sum payment is made by a liable relative for the benefit of a claimant or a claimant and any dependant, this is attributed as income to be spread over a number of weeks. The number of weeks is determined by taking the amount of supplementary pension, or supplementary allowance, which would have been paid but for this lump sum, adding £2 to it, and dividing that total into the lump sum. The resulting figure to the nearest whole number is the number of weeks. But where periodical payments are being made at the same time as a lump sum by the liable relative, the lump sum will only be taken into account as income where the benefit officer thinks it reasonable to do so. That, as I understand it, is what is in Regulation 11.
The amendment to this regulation, Regulation 9 of the amendment regulations, takes out this final proviso with regard to simultaneous payment of a lump sum and a periodical payment. It substitutes a new provision removing the benefit officer's discretion. Perhaps I could be permitted to read the new provision, and possibly noble Lords will try to put themselves in the position of a claimant wondering what his situation is.Paragraph (3) shall not apply to a lump sum in any case in which the liable relative is making to or in respect of the member of the assessment unit to or in respect of whom it is paid periodical payments at a rate of an amount equal to or exceeding that specified in paragraph (3)(a), but excluding for this purpose the sum of £2.00 there mentioned, or paragraph (3)(b) as appropriate ('the specified rate'); and in any case where he ceases to make such payments or is making them only at a lower rate (whether initially, or because the specified rate has increased and the periodical payments have not correspondingly increased, or because the periodical payments have been reduced), paragraph (3) shall apply with the modification, in any case except one in which the periodical payments have ceased, that the lump sum is attributable at a rate equal to the difference between the rate specified in paragraph (3)(a) or (b) as appropriate and the periodical payment.That is one sentence.
What that appears to mean is—and again the noble Baroness will correct 1271 me if I am wrong—that the procedure for arriving at the number of weeks which I described earlier will not apply to a lump sum where the periodical payment is equal to, or exceeds, the supplementary pension or allowance being paid. Where the periodical payment is being paid at a lower rate, the procedure will apply but subject to the modification that the lump sum is attributable at a rate equal to the difference between the supplementary pension or allowance plus £2 and the rate of the periodical payment. Where the periodical payment ceases, the original procedure will apply.
Arising out of that, I have one question which I should like to put to the noble Baroness. Does this mean that the difference is divided into the lump sum to discover the number of weeks in which this difference will be attributed as income, or does it mean that the lump sum is assumed, so long as it is not spent, to be producing an income equal to the difference? I should have thought that the former was in fact the correct interpretation, but the background brief says this:But if the periodical payments fall below the level of supplementary benefit, then the lump sum will be treated as producing an income which, when added to the periodical payments, equals that level".That seems to suggest that perhaps the second interpretation is the right one.
Whatever the right answer to that question, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that these are indeed complex regulations. The Government say, and the noble Baroness has said it this afternoon, that with so many on supplementary benefit as there now are we must have everything set out in detail with a considerable curtailment of discretion. We on these Benches have been saying that it is much better to take large numbers off supplementary benefit and retain the discretion for a very much smaller number of supplementary benefit claimants. We have seen the tax credit system as being the means of doing this, because it takes large numbers off supplementary benefit. We shall not get away from the kind of complication which I have described unless we have a thorough overhaul of the whole of our tax and social security system such as a tax credit 1272 scheme would provide. I am convinced that the Government will have to come to that solution in the long run.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Banks, will achieve any measure of the simplicity which we all desire if he succeeds in changing our social security system into a tax credit one. If the noble Lord had seen, as I have, drafts of what something like that looks like, it may have many merits but simplicity is not among its more conspicuous ones. Indeed, if one takes the two most complex aspects of Government—social security, on the one hand, and taxation, on the other—and mixes them up together, I can assure the noble Lord that though the result may be palatable it is not very easily comprehensible, save by people who have devoted a number of years of study to it. I know that the noble Lord and his noble friends are great fans of the tax credit system, but I hope he will not mislead himself into the belief that this is a simple solution. It may be a solution but simplicity, I beg him to believe, he will not find.
The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has the enviable quality, among many other enviable qualities, of being able to work himself up into a lather of indignation about almost any subject. I am bound to say that I thought he had excelled himself this afternoon when he stood at that Box demanding that these regulations be withdrawn, with a tone of passion and sincerity which is all his own. Of course, regulations of this sort are not easy to comprehend on direct reading. Indeed, I agree very much with his general view that social security regulations and, indeed, legislation have grown appallingly complex with the years, generally as the result of well-meaning attempts by Governments of all sorts to bring greater justice and equity into the system. The more justice and equity one brings into the system, the more complexity comes with it, and on the whole we are the victims of the good intentions of our predecessors.
When the noble Lord gets indignant about the complexity of these regulations I think he really is ignoring what they are. As the first paragraph of the explanatory note makes clear, they are simply a series of amendments to the 1273 main basic regulations. No power on earth can draft a sheet of amendments so that it makes easy, straightforward reading. If the noble Lord doubts that I beg him to look at an old copy of the Marshalled List of amendments on the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, which I think he would have found just as difficult if he had started to read through it. I beg him not to put too much weight or too much emphasis on the idea that these regulations should be rejected because they are complex. No one can draft a whole series of amendments without their being complex.
I should have thought the noble Lord would welcome the efforts of the Government, having published the earlier regulations, to make sure that they were right. No doubt the noble Baroness will answer his question as to the extent to which these amendments derive from representations made to the department, but in the normal way I should have expected them to embody many of the views that have been expressed, as he suggested they should be, to the department. As the noble Baroness told us, others rectify plain errors in the original, rather lengthy documents. Surely that is a matter which the noble Lord should welcome. He noticed that I demurred when he made a general observation to the effect that this Government did not attach much importance to social security. He sought to reinforce that by the curious argument, coming from that Bench, that there was not in this House a Minister who had a seat in that department.
I always welcome speeches, particularly from that Bench, which suggest that the Government should be even more fully represented in this House. I think that shows a proper respect for the continuing importance of this House in our constitution. But it comes rather oddly from the noble Lord. It is true that he himself most gallantly represented that department, as he himself said, in this House for a number of years, but at the same time the Government of which he was an ornament had in this House no representative whatever of the Treasury; and perhaps, if I may adopt the noble Lord's argument, he is thereby suggesting that the Government did not really attach much importance to the financial and 1274 economic affairs of the nation, the consequences of which we may well have seen. So that is not a very substantial argument.
I really rise, having said that, to ask my noble friend one question about Regulatioh 2; it appears in paragraph 3, dealing with polygamous relationship. I understand this is a new provision and is not in substance an amendment of the existing regulations. I hope your Lordships will not misunderstand me when I say that I have a long-standing interest in this subject. If I may explain: when I was Minister of Pensions and National Insurance I had to decide the interesting question, as classification questions are for the Minister, as to the position when a gentleman of the Moslem faith died in Cardiff, leaving behind him four widows and 17 children. I had to take the decision as to the national insurance treatment in that case, and for better or worse I ruled that the senior widow, that is, as it were, the senior one in terms of appointment, drew the widow's pension and allowance was made in respect of all the children. No doubt further thought has been given to this over the years.
I should like to ask the noble Baroness a little bit more about this provision in respect of polygamous relationships. In view of the fact that bigamy is still a criminal offence in this country, I take it that the polygamous relationships covered by this regulation are confined to those people who contracted polygamous marriages in countries where polygamy was lawful. I should assume that a polygamous marriage made in this country, which I should have thought, prima facie, would be not only illegal but criminal, ought not to attract the social security benefits given by these regulations. Perhaps the noble Baroness would spell out that it is only, if I may so put it, lawful polygamy which draws the benefit from this.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, we have had a short and, I think, useful debate on these regulations. I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for his intervention and for explaining very fully to the House why all regulations of this sort need to be as complicated as they are. That is not to say that one should not attempt to 1275 understand them or to give a relatively simple explanation for those who are to work with them; but it is inevitable and, as I said in my opening remarks, these particular regulations, which are amending others produced relatively recently, do appear to be more complicated but are very necessary indeed.
First, I should like to turn to and try to answer the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I am very glad indeed to see the noble Lord in his place today. I understand that he had an accident yesterday and I am glad that he is fit enough to come here.
§ Baroness YOUNG
At the end of his remarks the noble Lord argued very strongly, and quite seriously, that we should not accept these regulations today. I would urge him to consider just where we would be if I agreed to withdraw the regulations, as he recognised that there would not be time to rewrite them and therefore their effects would not come into force on 24th November. After all, many of the regulations are those that he and his colleagues would wish to see put into practice. I really do not think it would be in the best interests of the beneficiaries to withdraw them.
The noble Lord asked whether enough consideration had been given to the supplementary benefit changes. I assure him that there was extensive discussion of the original Social Security (No. 1) Bill and that the Supplementary Benefit Review involved an exercise in open government, probably the most extensive exercise of this nature undertaken, and that it included discussion with pressure groups. I hope the noble Lord will recognise that the changes that will come about in November confer considerable advantages on some claimants and undoubtedly make a better and clearer scheme.
I realise—the noble Lord, Lord Banks, made this clear—that these regulations are complicated. That is why we have paid a great deal of attention to the leaflets and Supplementary Benefits Handbook, which will be published on 13th November, a copy of which will be available in the Library. This will be of advantage to all noble Lords who follow 1276 these matters, who may be approached by pressure groups and interested parties, who may have individual cases brought to their notice and who may wish to make some comment on future regulations. The Supplementary Benefits Handbook will be there of course for supplementary benefit officers to use because, as noble Lords recognise, the new system will mean that there will be as little as possible discretion for supplementary benefit officers and that the rules will be laid down. They will be in the handbook in this form so as to be readily intelligible.
I hope that answers the criticism that we are dealing with a number of very complicated regulations which, from the point of view of the beneficiaries and those who are administering them, are too complicated to understand and are too complicated for those who wish, if there are difficulties, to try to amend them. This will be a way for those who are interested and who may have worries about the matter of getting the information so they may put matters right. We have also paid a lot of attention to giving claimants written notice of their assessments so at least they will know what is being done. On the question of consolidation of these regulations and the Acts, that is done in what has come to be called the Yellow Book. That is revised every six months and a copy of it is available in the Library. For those who wish to look at the law as it stands, a copy is available, updated, so it is possible to see where we have reached on all these regulations and how they should be read.
I come to a detailed question which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, raised; namely, the question of the inconsistency between the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of the Environment on the purchase of houses by sitting tenants. Perhaps I should make clear that there is no inconsistency between the regulation in paragraph 13 of the schedule, which is in addition to Regulation 20, and the regulations made under the Housing Act 1980 governing the conditions of entitlement to local authority mortgages. The latter make it clear that supplementary benefit will not be included as an eligible source of income where a local authority assess a prospective purchaser's level of eligibility for a mortgage. It is clear therefore that most supplementary 1277 benefit claimants living alone will not be able to buy their council house, simply because they cannot afford to do so. However, where there are other people in the house, such as working sons or daughters, and the sale is to be made jointly, but the income for the mortgage eligibility purposed is that of the working son or daughter, the regulation before the House simply ensures that supplementary benefit is not increased.
This is a situation which the Supplementary Benefits Commission have encountered on a number of occasions and details of it are set out in the Supplementary Benefits Handbook. For the benefit of anyone who wishes to study this point, in the 1980 edition it is in paragraph 6(19). This amendment carries forward the policy which they have been following, and I am sure the House will agree that it would be quite wrong for supplementary benefit to be increased where there is no good reason to do so, and if the tenancy is secure there can be no good reason for supplementary benefit to help fund the purchase of a capital acquisition in this way.
The noble Lord, Lord Banks, asked a number of questions, including whether there was to be a cut in the real value of supplementary benefit. I do not think he would expect me to comment on that, as clearly no announcement on the matter has been made and therefore it is speculation at this point. I assure him that the handbook to which I have referred takes the amendments which we are discussing today into account. He asked whether pressure group suggestions had been taken into account. There is no doubt that some of the amendments come from pressure groups; some of course have come from officials of the supplementary benefit scheme and some have come from both pressure groups and officials. I do do not have the figures available of how many amendments are the result of the concern expressed by pressure groups, but I assure him that their views have been taken into account.
The noble Lord then asked a somewhat complicated question about lump sum payments, and I will attempt to explain the position to him. However, if at the end he is not satisfied, perhaps it would be better to pursue the matter by correspondence; but I hope I can give him the answer. He asked about the treatment 1278 of maintenance payments under the resources regulation No. 11(3). That deals with two types of maintenance payments: periodical payments, which are by far the most common, and lump sum payments; and this reflects the view that it is the liable person and not the state who should maintain dependants.
The amendments to the regulations reproduce existing policy in practice; we are not introducing anything new. Periodical payments are to be taken into account without disregard. If an individual is paying adequate periodical payments and in addition pays a lump sum, then the lump sum is to be treated as a capital receipt. If adequate periodical payments are not being made and a lump sum is paid, it will be treated as a source of weekly income, and the regulation indicates how much and for how long in different combinations of circumstances. The general effect is that the lump sum will be used to top up an inadequate periodical payment or replace it, if none is being made. There is nothing more than that to the regulation, as I have set it out, and it is lengthy not because the principle is complicated but because it is necessary to explain what will happen in many different situations.
The noble Lord then asked a question about the interpretation of the regulation and I would confirm that his first interpretation of the treatment of lump sums was correct; in other words, the difference between the full level of liability and the actual level of periodical payments is the divisor of the lump sum. The result of the division is the number of weeks it is taken into account. The divisor is the rate at which it is taken into account. I hope that explanation is satisfactory but, as I say, if it is not then perhaps we might continue it by way of correspondence.
Turning finally to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter about polygamous marriages, and I am sure we accept his interpretation of his interest in this matter, where there is an unlawful polygamous marriage it would be a matter for the normal criminal law. The second and third marriages would be unlawful. But if the man and his wife or wives and the husbands were all living together, they would be treated as unmarried couples, for the simple reason that the scheme treats men and 1279 women living together as husband and wife in the same way whether they are married or not. To explain the particular regulation, where a man is living with two or more wives or a woman with two or more husbands in polygamous marriages which are legal under the law of certain countries—the point with which my noble friend was concerned—they are entitled to supplementary benefit and the benefit would be worked out in a particular way.
My Lords, may I ask the Minister to say whether there is any limit to the size of a harem for which a person can claim supplementary benefit?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am sure that that is just the kind of point that will have to be answered in future regulations.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I say that she mentioned a handbook that she said would be placed in the Library? I wonder whether copies of it could also be placed in the Printed Paper Office so as to be available to any noble Lords who wish to study the matter more closely. I also wonder whether a simple pamphlet could be issued before 24th November, so that ordinary members of the public can apprise themselves of the new regulations.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, may I make it quite clear that what we are attempting to do is to bring all the regulations together so that there will be the minimum of discretion for supplementary benefit officers? It has not been the practice to place such information in the Printed Paper Office. These types of book are often quite expensive, but a copy of the handbook will be available in the Library for any noble Lord who wants to find out about the particular regulations. There will also be available leaflets giving explanations of particular parts of the regulations, because, after all, most claimants will not want to look at all the regulations. We are to state in writing to claimants what their assessment will be, so that they can see it, which I think will be an advantage to them.
No one is wishing to prevent anyone from finding out about the regulations, 1280 since this involves a very important matter. I hope that, if matters are brought to the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, and he feels concern about them and would like to know the position, he will take the opportunities that are open to him. He can raise the matter either with myself or with my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Security, by letter, or he can do so by any of the other means open to noble Lords.
Everyone has an interest in getting the regulations right, and clearly if we have not got the matter right, there must be a way of altering the regulations. I hope that placing the handbook in the Library will enable noble Lords to take an opportunity to look at these matters, if they wish to do so.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask whether she would not agree that the regulations are appallingly complex? Would she give an undertaking on the part of the Government that the complexity will be looked at before looking into the provisions in the individual regulations?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, heard the remarks of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter on this aspect. The regulations are to a certain extent historical, and they have been evolved over a long period of time. As the noble Lord said quite rightly, the more we try to find regulations to meet various different aspects the more complicated the regulations become. One of the difficulties has arisen because considerable discretion has been given to supplementary benefit officers in their interpretation of the regulations, with the result that, so far as the beneficiary was concerned, the amounts of money and so on—the rules—have varied from place to place. It is in an attempt to get rid of this inequity and differing treatment in one part of the country as compared with another that we have brought the supplementary benefit regulations together and tried to eliminate virtually all the discriminatory possibilities on the part of supplementary benefit officers.
Clearly we want to make the regulations intelligible, but the situation is very 1281 difficult and it would be quite wrong to give an undertaking that this could easily be done. It might be helpful if I were to add that the handbook will, we hope, be available in supplementary benefit offices up and down the country for the benefit of officers, and that the pamphlet on the new scheme, as well as circulars, will be distributed to all local authorities. Of
§ course we wish to have the information as widely available as possible.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 125; Not-Contents, 82.1283
|Adeane, L.||Energlyn, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Adrian, L.||Evans of Hungershall, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Exeter, M.||Orkney, E.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Faithfull, B.||Pender, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Fortescue, E.||Porritt, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Radnor, E.|
|Alport, L.||Gage, V.||Redcliffe-Maud, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Gainford, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Avon, E.||Glasgow, E.||Robbins, L.|
|Baker, L.||Glenkinglas, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Barnby, L.||Grantchester, L.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Greenway, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gridley, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Boothby, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hanworth, V.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Bradford, E.||Hawke, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Brentford, V.||Hayter, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Henley, L.||Soames, L. (L. President.)|
|Caccia, L.||Hill of Luton, L.||Somers, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Hillingdon, L.||Spens, L.|
|Camoys, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Carrington, L. (A Principal Secretary of State.)||Ironside, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Strathspey, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Swinfen, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Kinnaird, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Lauderdale, E.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Todd, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Luke, L.||Trefgarne, L. [Teller.]|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Lyell, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Davidson, V.||McFadzean, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|de Clifford, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Ullswater, V.|
|De Freyne, L.||Mancroft, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Mar, C.||Vickers, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Marley, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Duncan-Sandys, L.||Mersey, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Morris, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Northchurch, B.||Young, B.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Allen of Fallowfield, L.||Briginshaw, L.||Evans of Claughton, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Brockway, L.||Foot, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||Byers, L.||Gardiner, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Chitnis, L.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.|
|Banks, L.||Cudlipp, L.||Gosford, E.|
|Beswick, L.||Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Greenwood of Rossendale, L.|
|Birk, B.||David, B. [Teller.]||Gregson, L.|
|Blease, L.||Davies of Leek, L.||Grey, E.|
|Blyton, L.||Davies of Penrhys, L.||Hale, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.||Henderson, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Milverton, L.||Stone, L.|
|Janner, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Pargiter, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Peart, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Lee of Newton, L.||Plant, L.||Walston, L.|
|Leonard, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Rochester, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||Ross of Marnock, L.||White, B.|
|Segal, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Shackleton, L.||Willis, L.|
|Longford, E.||Shinwell, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|McCarthy, L.||Stedman, B.||Winstanley, L.|
|McNair, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Milford, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.