HL Deb 13 May 1985 vol 463 cc889-91

2.49 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their proposals for the reform of state welfare will be issued as a White Paper or a Green Paper and when they are to be published.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the Government hope to publish their proposals for the future of social security in a Green Paper soon after the Whitsun Recess.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I must thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Does she appreciate that the people will be very much relieved if this means that the internal dispute in the Government on social security is at an end and if, therefore, there are no more of those alarming leaks about the hazardous future of earnings-related pensions? Furthermore, can she assure the House that after the publication of the Green Paper the Government will not rush into legislation but will leave ample time for the essential national debate on the future of the welfare state?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord has two parts to his question. On the first part, he asks me to pre-empt the outcome of the review, which has not yet been published, and I am not going to comment on press speculation. In answer to the second part of his question, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place, there will of course be an opportunity for consultation about the Government's conclusions and proposals before we take steps to implement them. The detailed arrangements for consultation have not yet been decided. They will be announced when we publish our proposals. Any legislation needed to give effect to proposed changes will of course be subject to parliamentary debate in the usual way.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an assurance that the professional and trade union organisations will be fully consulted before the Green Paper is finalised?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am quite sure that if the trade unions wish to be consulted, they will be. Your Lordships may be interested to know that the review received a great deal of evidence from the public. Over 4,000 pieces of written evidence were received during the course of the review. Ministers held 19 public sessions, at which oral evidence was heard. In addition, informal oral hearings were held with interested organisations by the housing benefit team. The evidence covered a wide range of opinion, all of which has been carefully considered.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, notwithstanding that the noble Baroness says she is not going to reveal what the Green Paper will say and despite what she says about consultation, does she agree that there could not have been consultation about the state earnings-related scheme, because it was made clear by the Prime Minister, during the election, and by her right honourable friend, Mr. Norman Fowler, in announcing the reviews, that the state earnings-related pension scheme would not be part of the study? Does she not accept that if there were now to be changes in a national agreement reached in 1975 with all the parties and all organisations, that would be a gross betrayal not only of trust regarding national agreement but also of the interest of many millions of pensioners?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, must wait for the publication date.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether I am not right in thinking that the whole purpose of publishing a Green Paper is to afford the opportunity for consultation and that to make a prophecy at this stage as to what it contains is probably more idle and more useless than many of the forecasts to which we are accustomed to listening, some of them in this Chamber?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, may I say that I entirely agree with what my noble friend has said. Mr. Meacher published his social security proposals, which would add to public expenditure probably by at least £15 billion. We do not know what the official Opposition thinks of those proposals. They will have to wait until our proposals are published.

Lord Banks

My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain the role of the Social Security Advisory Committee in the consultation? Presumably the Green Paper will be submitted to that committee; but will the final proposals of the Government after consultation be submitted to it? That procedure, regrettably, was not followed in the case of the supplementary benefit regulations dealing with board and lodging.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I feel sure that what the noble Lord suggests will come about.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give an assurance that the expertise of your Lordships' House will be secured by consultation in the form of a debate on the Green Paper after publication?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have already said so.