§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Social Security Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are 1894 affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament, for the purposes of the Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Henley.)
§ On Question, Bill read a third time.
§ Clause 1 [Attendance allowance for the terminally ill]:
§ Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 2, line 3, leave out from ("a") to ("and") in line 5 and insert ("severe progressive and incurable disease and his life expectancy is short;").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this subject was discussed both in Committee and on Report. This probing amendment is a final attempt to clarify the meaning of the definitions in the clause and the intention of the Government in respect of the eligibility for attendance allowance of the terminally ill. I do not propose to go over all the ground again as we have had some full discussions on this difficult and sensitive matter. However, I wish to repeat the welcome on all sides of the House for the principle behind the Government's decision to extend attendance allowance to the terminally ill.
§ On Report at col. 36 on 11th June the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that if the measure did not work well enough, the Government would amend the legislation, and that the Government would monitor the situation to see how the provision worked out in practice. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain just how the monitoring system will work. Will there be some kind of review of the decisions taken by the attendance allowance boards and, if so, who will conduct the review? Will there be guidelines or guidance for the attendance allowance boards?
§ Finally, has the proposed claim form which the claimant's doctor will have to complete yet been drafted? The wording of the form is important because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter. The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, suggested on Report that we might be able to see the form in draft. As I have already said, the wording on the form will obviously be crucial. Will it be possible to see the form in draft? I emphasise that this amendment is very much a probing amendment. It is intended to tie up loose ends and obtain final clarification on these points. I beg to move.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome of this new subsection. I am also grateful to him for seeing me beforehand to tell me that this amendment was merely probing. I shall deal first with the point that the noble Lord raised as regards seeing the form in draft. I am afraid that that is not possible because we have sent it to the printers, but as soon as it comes back I shall allow him to have a look at it. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, on this matter as he asked for reassurances on certain points and on the monitoring of the provision. I can make available to the noble 1895 Lord a copy of the letter that I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock.
We shall continue to monitor the position carefully and we shall keep information on the number of successful claims and on the number of those that are disallowed. We shall also keep figures on the types of diseases involved and on the ages of claimants, but most importantly we shall keep a careful eye on the time that is taken to process claims. Speed is of the essence in this matter. If the claims are not processed quickly, the whole point of the concession that this new section introduces is lost. In the light of the information that we shall gather, we shall always consider any need for changing the arrangements. However, that would require primary legislation. I hope those assurances are welcome. Once again I thank the noble Lord for the welcome he has expressed on many occasions for the spirit of the new subsection.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for those remarks. I presume that if the format has gone to the printers it cannot be in draft form. I presume that the department has ordered the supply of documents that it requires. However, I am still grateful to the Minister. This is a topic that we have discussed all the way through the Bill. The various clarifications that we have received at each stage of the Bill have been helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 2:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("The homeless: entitlement to benefits
.In Schedule 1A, Part I, of the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987, after paragraph 4, there shall be inserted the following—
5. A person who has experienced a period of homelessness lasting for 7 days or more, shall be automatically entitled, except that in these circumstances entitlement would be for 3 months following the last day of homelessness.
5A. For the purposes of the above paragraph homelessness is defined as having no accommodation or having accommodation in a nightshelter, or other similar emergency short-stay hostel.".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a final attempt to get the Government to see sense as regards providing what has been termed a breathing space for homeless 16 to 17 year-olds. If accepted, the amendment would provide those homeless young people with the automatic entitlement to income support for three months to give them a chance to find a hostel place, to return home or to find somewhere to live.
§ We know that the Government have finally recognised this problem, at least in part, as they recently announced initiatives to deal with it. However, there is still a large gap in the necessary provision. It has long been recognised that the social security system places barriers in the way of young people who are trying to find accommodation. As I have said, the difficulties have been acknowledged in part by the Government and obviously we welcome their decision to provide the money for much needed 1896 permanent "move-on" accommodation in London as well as a sum of money to pay for deposits on private accommodation.
§ However, many 16 and 17 year-olds will be unable to take up this accommodation as they are not automatically eligible for income support to cover their essential living expenses. Experience has shown that young people moving into permanent accommodation can therefore fall into rent arrears and lose their homes. A breathing space for these youngsters is essential if they are to obtain a YTS place or a job. We are advised by Shelter that 40 per cent. of the young homeless become homeless after leaving care. They certainly have no home to return to. Granting these young people income support for three months will encourage those people who can provide accommodation to do so. It will save the cost of providing emergency accommodation as recently proposed by the Government. It will also help to cure what many people and the organizations concerned with this problem feel is one of the fundamental injustices in the system of income support. I beg to move.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the situation has changed slightly since we debated the amendment in Report. Since then we have had the Statement of 22nd June from the Minister's honourable friend Mr. Spicer on the problem of homelessness which takes us a little further forward. By way of a Written Answer the Minister's honourable friend said:The Government are determined that there should be no excuse for sleeping-out on the streets. Emergency accommodation will be made available. Sleeping rough is unacceptable. It is unhealthy and often dangerous. We must see an end to the concentrations of people sleeping out in city centres".The word "end" was possibly optimistic. If the Minister's honourable friend accomplishes that he will achieve something that has not been achieved in recorded history.
With that single qualification I agree with what the Minister's honourable friend has said. I sympathise with it and want to help him to achieve his objective. The amendment, therefore, is brought back in that spirit because it will help to achieve the objectives that the Minister's honourable friend has set himself.
Mr. Spicer's initiative is essentially concerned with providing short-stay hostel places. That creates a first rung of the ladder. It pulls one's head above the water. However, it is not only one's head that one needs to pull above the water, particularly if the water is cold. One needs not only to get emergency accommodation in a hostel, because after that one needs to find permanent accommodation and training or regular employment.
The last time we discussed the issue I quoted the case of someone who every time she was discharged from a short-stay hostel lost the entitlement to income support and therefore could not put herself forward to a landlord or landlady and find a place to live and therefore could not obtain employment. I must remind the Government Front Bench that in the private rented sector landlords and landladies are not providing a social service. They are in business. There is no reason why they should accommodate people unless they expect to make a profit from doing 1897 so. Therefore, we believe that unless one provides a young person in that situation with income for a short period which makes him or her an acceptable tenant in the private rented sector there is no way out of the trap.
I am sure that my noble kinsman will again repeat the arguments about the YTS guarantee. He did so in a letter to me of 21st June and in a further letter of 24th June which, owing to delays which are by no means my noble kinsman's fault, I have only just begun to digest. In his letter of June 21st my noble kinsman said that the guarantee of an offer of a suitable YTS place applies to all 16 and 17 year-olds who want one. As a reply to a file of 70 cases in which that had not happened I find that statement a little surprising. My noble kinsman told me on 28th June that the Government have no hard evidence of cases where a YTS guarantee has not been met. I find it necessary to ask my noble kinsman what type of evidence he would regard as hard and how hard he would have to fall over it before he accepted it.
I should like to thank the Minister for his replies on two other points in his letter of 21st June. He pointed out that there is income support entitlement for 16 and 17 year-olds who are disabled, temporarily sick or caring for parents. However, I should be very grateful if he would undertake to convey that information once again in the form of guidance to benefit officers because it seems that by no means all of them are aware of it. There are a considerable number of cases where it has been brought to our attention that that has not been happening.
Even assuming for the sake of argument that the Government are correct that the YTS guarantee exists, it does not deal with the problem of accommodation. It does not deal with cases like the YTS photographic trainee whose firm suddenly went bankrupt. It does not deal with cases like those of people waiting to join the Army. My noble kinsman tells me that he is not aware of any such cases. I forwarded him details of two recently. I know that I have sent him a great pile of papers, but he will find when he looks at those papers that those cases are among them. They are all examples of ways in which, unless teenagers are guaranteed an income during the period when they try to enter training or employment, they cannot get out of the hole.
Even with the best will in the world YTS training cannot be made available instantly. It has to be suitable. I should like to confirm what my noble friend Lady Seear said in Committee. This is meant to be industrial training and therefore it is meant to be be suited to the skills and aptitudes of the person concerned. That is why it is supposed to be useful to employers, who play a significant part in the scheme. There is a real clash of meaning in the YTS between the industrial training element, which must be in the employers' interests, and the social service element, which must be available to everybody regardless of their suitability. It may be that there are some people who are unwilling to take on the slog of YTS training. My noble friends would regret that, but my noble friends would regard starvation as a disproportionate penalty. I am happy to support the amendment.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, this is a rather unusual amendment, both in form and in substance. It takes the unusual form of using a provision in a statute to amend regulations. That is obviously an inconvenient procedure, particularly for those who will have to administer its provisions, in as much as there will be no indication in the regulations as at present printed that the statute has amended them. Nor is there anything in the statute to indicate the exact terms of the regulations which it amends. Therefore it is an inconvenient practice, but no doubt a permissible one.
The amendment goes too far. I shall leave the argument about the YTS to my noble friend the Minister because he has all the facts available to him, although I have little doubt that the assurances that he gave to the House at an earlier stage that the YTS provisions would cope with this type of situation can be repeated. That is up to him. What I dislike very much about the amendment is the use of the words "shall be automatically entitled" to income support for three months. That means that whatever the merits of the case, however much the homelessness may have been unnecessarily self-inflicted, the person concerned will be entitled to income support for three months because the provision states that it will be given automatically. That seems to me to be going too far and to be asking for the system to be abused.
§ Lord Henley
I thank my noble friend for speaking on the amendment and stressing the inconvenience of the form in which noble Lords are trying to achieve their ends.
On previous occasions I have outlined in some detail the Government's position regarding 16 and 17 year-olds. To recap, the Government believe that their policy towards 16 and 17 year-olds is the correct one and in the best interests of the young people themselves. The guarantee of an offer of a suitable YT place applies to 16 and 17 year-olds who want one. There is, therefore, no need for any young person to be without money. First, there are sufficient YT places throughout the country. There were some 160,000 vacancies nationally at the end of March 1990. I repeat the guarantee that I gave to my noble kinsman on previous occasions.
In passing perhaps I may touch briefly on two points that he raised. First, he mentioned the NACAB report which he quite rightly sent to me. I can give him the assurance that we shall discuss it. Officials in my department and the Department of Employment discussed that report with NACAB. But I ought to make one thing clear. The noble Earl says that we need evidence and that that report provides it. The names of individuals are not given and I do not object to that, but it is not clear from the report at what date those cases arose, whether before or after March.
The noble Earl will know that in March—I shall come to this point later—my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced certain changes. I think therefore that it is highly relevant as to whether the cases highlighted in the NACAB report were pre-March or post-March.
1899 The second point that I should like to make is this. My noble kinsman asked for new guidance for the benefit offices as they were not doing what I had said that they ought to do. Again, perhaps he would like to come back to me with specific cases. I shall look into the matter. If the benefit offices are not performing in the manner in which they ought to be performing, the noble Earl is quite right to bring it to my attention.
As I said, there are sufficient YT places. Secondly, I should stress that income support remains payable to vulnerable groups such as the disabled and lone parents. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who said that 40 per cent. of homeless 16 and 17 year-olds are children leaving care, the noble Lord knows that income support is available to 16 and 17 year-olds during the child benefit extension period when they have to live away from the parental home—for example, to those who are leaving care.
Thirdly, I ought to mention—again noble Lords will know this—that there is a discretionary safety net which enables income support to be paid in cases of unavoidable severe hardship.
These rules are delicately balanced to offer financial help to vulnerable youngsters without providing the incentive to leave home. If accepted, this amendment is likely to encourage some young people to sleep rough rather than look for accommodation. That would inevitably delay their entry into youth training or a job, and that cannot be to their advantage. Moreover, it might encourage some young people falsely to represent themselves as homeless in order to get benefit.
We recognise that some youngsters who are homeless or who have experienced homelessness need special consideration in the provision of a YT place. In March my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced measures to ease access to YT which especially help the homeless. These include links between hostels accommodating homeless young people, social services departments, voluntary organisations and suitable training providers. They include a leaflet for distribution to voluntary organisations working with young people, describing YT and how to get young people into it and include the establishment of guarantee liasion officers to act as a focal point for dealing with the few cases of difficulty in getting a YT place.
The Government are seriously concerned about the young homeless. That is why they announced a balanced package of measures on 22nd June directed at helping single homeless people. It includes £15 million for immediate shelter, move-on accommodation and a rent deposit fund. Other parts of the package specifically targeted at young people include a £200,000 grant to Children's Society towards a short stay annexe to its London refuge. Measures directed at preventing young people becoming homeless also from a vital part of the package.
I cannot support this amendment because it does not seem to me to be in the best interests of the disadvantaged young people involved. The existing 1900 benefit provision, the improvements to the YT operation and the special programme to help single homeless people which I have described ensure that help is available for those who are vulnerable, especially the homeless. Consequently, no young person need be without an income.
But the Government have listened very carefully to the points made by noble Lords on the income support rules for all 16 and 17 year-olds, including the homeless, during the passage of the Bill through this House. The Government are also mindful of the representations made in another place and by various interested organisations. From the largely anecdotal evidence laid before us we have not been persuaded of the desirability of any major changes to existing rules. But we nevertheless recognise the need to have before us quantitive data on how well the rules are working in practice. I am therefore pleased to announce the Government's intention to commission independent research into the operation of benefit and YTS provisions for 16 and 17 year-olds. An announcement on the detail of the research will be made shortly.
I hope that with that assurance the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he made an extremely interesting statement at the end about research being undertaken into the operation of both the social security provisions and the YTS. Will he comment on a point which my noble friend quoted me as having made before about getting the right fit in the YTS? If the training is to be taken seriously, it has to be training appropriate to the person who is being trained. That is a very important point from the employers' point of view as well as that of the youngsters.
No employer wants to have some unsuitable person pushed on to him under the training scheme because he has been told that he has to do it. Will that research go into some detail as to how well the YTS is fitting youngsters for the training that they undertake? Otherwise, it is a waste of money and time on everyone's part—the Government, the youngsters and the employers.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am not sure that I can give the noble Baroness quite the assurance that she wants. I said that there will be research into the operation of both benefit and YTS, and I stress the YTS provisions. I hope that that will go far enough to satisfy the noble Baroness. I said that she would have to wait a while for the announcement of the detail of the research. At the moment all I can say is that there will be research into both benefit and YTS provisions for 16 and 17 year-olds. I hope that the noble Baroness will be prepared to leave the matter at that.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down will he say whether he agrees with the statement by his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that some homelessness is necessarily self-inflicted? I think that those were the words he used. If he agrees with that statement, 1901 would he like to say what proportion of homelessness is caused in that way?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, the answer is quite obvious. It must be that some homelessness is self-inflicted. The noble Lord simply cannot deny that. If he expects me, having just announced that there will be research into this matter, to speculate on what percentage might by any definition be self-inflicted, he is obviously more naive than I thought. I cannot speculate before research has been commissioned. I can make the categoric statement that some surely must be self-inflicted.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I am sorry to keep preventing my noble kinsman from sitting down, but may I draw his attention to the fact that the cases to which I referred of people denied benefit because they were caring for sick parents or were ill are in the file which I sent to him on 11th June? Cases arising since March are being prepared and will be sent to him shortly.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that statement. I repeat that officials in my department and the Department of Employment will be discussing that report with NACAB. I ought to say however that it was not clear to us when we received that report whether the cases were pre-March or post-March. The question of whether they are pre-March or post-March is very important because my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced various changes in March.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, there are occasions when Ministers come to the Dispatch Box when we wonder whether they are living in the same world as the rest of us, especially when we hear of self-inflicted homelessness and encouraging youngsters to sleep rough. That may well be the case in a tiny minority of cases. However, I am not a lawyer, but I am told that hard cases make very bad law.
With regard to the survey, we have been down this road before. Those of us who have been active in the disability world remember the saga of the OPCS survey which was set up and which prevented any movement on legislation to help the disabled for some three, four or five years. When legislation finally emerged, only about 800,000 out of 6.5 million disabled people were helped. If the Government are setting up a survey, it is almost certainly an excuse for inaction.
One point that I should make is that no change in the overall government policy is required by this amendment. In 1989 the Government agreed income support entitlement to residents in night shelters. This new clause is simply an extension of that entitlement. It takes in other forms of temporary accommodation such as hostels and hotels for young people who have experienced a week of homelessness.
It is clear that we are not able to change the mind of the Government on this matter. All the organisations concerned with this problem have advised us of the seriousness of the situation. I think 1902 that the best thing to do is to ask the opinion of the House.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 75; Not-Contents, 108.1903
|Addington, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Ardwick, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Birk, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Bottomley, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Brightman, L.||Longford, E.|
|Broadbridge, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mais, L.|
|Carter, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Northfield, L.|
|David, B.||Oram, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Richard, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Russell, E.|
|Fitt, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Seear, B. [Teller.]|
|Galpern, L.||Serota, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Shackleton, L.|
|Grey, E.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Stallard, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hunt, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jay, L.||Walston, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Kearton, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||De Freyne, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Ampthill, L.||Dudley, B.|
|Annaly, L.||Eccles of Moulton, B.|
|Arran, E.||Effingham, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Elton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Erroll, E.|
|Blatch, B.||Erroll of Hale, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Borthwick, L.||Flather, B.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Gainford, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Goold, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Carnock, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Havers, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Henley, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Cox, B.||Hives, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Hood, V.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Porritt, L.|
|Howe, E.||Quinton, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Reay, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Renton, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Long, V.||Romney, E.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Lyell, L.||St John of Fawsley, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Manchester, D.||Seebohm, L.|
|Manton, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Strange, B.|
|Merrivale, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Mountevans, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Mountgarret, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Munster, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Nelson, E.||Ullswater, V.|
|Norrie, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Oxfuird, V.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Peel, E.||Wise, L.|
|Pender, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Penrhyn, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Baroness David moved Amendment No. 3:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Income Support: persons under 18
.In regulation 13A of the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987, for paragraphs (2)(b) and (3) there shall be substituted the following sub-paragraph—
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, once again I come back to a modest, limited amendment about 16 and 17 year-olds living away from home. The amendment would enable them to claim income support until such time as they found a suitable youth training place or job. That would given them a little more help and a little more time. Young people must be allowed to make the occasional choice if they are to succeed in what they are going to do. Having a little more money means that it is much easier to find somewhere to live. A deposit may be asked for. If they have somewhere to live they are much more likely to obtain a job. Employers are very reluctant to take on people with no address.
§ Shelter has done some research. It has found that when the young have no home they have difficulty in finding a job or a suitable youth training place even though there are some youth training places in the country.
§ We all know about the child benefit extension, which lasts for a limited period of 12 or 16 weeks depending on the time of year, and the bridging loan, which is £15 a week and can be claimed only for eight weeks out of a 52-week period. We know about the severe hardship payments. However, of 21,218 applications between September 1988 and January 1990 over 7,000 (one-third) were refused. Those provisions are simply not adequate.1904
§ In his reply this time I hope that the Minister will not say that the Government do not wish to encourage young people to leave home but that if this extra support were available it would be an incentive to leave. I think that that is arrant nonsense. A large percentage of the homeless are those who have been in care. Centrepoint, for instance, says that 40 per cent. of the young who go to them for help have been in care. Then there are those who leave home because of having suffered abuse.
§ Unfortunately, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, is unable to be present and sends her apologies. Like me, she was extremely disappointed, indeed angered, by the response of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, on Report. When we saw Mrs. Shephard we thought that we were getting somewhere because she made sympathetic noises. I hope that our persistence shows the seriousness with which we view the problem. There is a real problem, as is made abundantly clear by evidence from the citizens advice bureaux, Shelter and other voluntary bodies.
In his reply on Report the Minister made reference to monitoring. He said:
We have continuously monitored the effect of the changes. We have done this through the collection of information from local DSS offices and from the severe hardship unit".—[Official Report, 11/6/90; col. 135.]
However, Shelter and other voluntary bodies carried out research "on the job", meeting the homeless at Centrepoint and other hostels where people had gone hoping to find accommodation.
§ I hope that the Government will be more charitable and caring and show greater understanding. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, Mr. Spicer has shown some anxiety about the homeless. I was also interested to hear about the proposed research review. However, the research will take time. We want the help now to meet what is a real problem. I beg to move.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, the amendment is an attempt to use primary legislation to amend secondary legislation. Whatever its merits, and I do not yet commit myself to a view, I suggest to the noble Baroness that such a course would cause great confusion on the statute book, in our book of collected statutory instruments and to the users of statutes. The point has been raised several times in recent months both during the course of this Bill and the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. I hope that the Government will always take the view that this is not the way to amend secondary legislation.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and also the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who made a similar point in relation to a previous amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, knows that I listened with interest when he made the point previously. We have spoken privately about the subject. The proposal is worth thought. The difficulty is that we are led to believe that Parliament is a sovereign body. Parliament may enact what it sees fit to enact. The question is: if Parliament is not to act in this way, 1905 what method should it adopt? I am not clear of the answer.
Where a statutory instrument is in place but we believe that it has been proved by evidence to be unsatisfactory, there must be a parliamentary procedure by which we can bring about a change. The only procedure that I can see is an attempt by primary legislation. I admit that that causes difficulties. It appears that the moral to be learnt is that the Government are doing too much by regulation and too little by primary legislation. If we cannot bring about change this way, how can we do so?
I hope that in reply my noble kinsman will not repeat information about the crude total number of YTS places as he did in respect of the previous amendment. I must again stress what was said by my noble friend Lady Seear. The scheme is supposed to be a training scheme. It is no use offering a place in construction to someone who intends to train to be a garage mechanic. It is no use offering a place which is in the wrong area because the scheme does not provide enough money to enter the rented market miles away from home.
In his letter to me dated 28th June my noble kinsman dismissed entirely the geographical difficulties of providing YTS places in the Western Isles. They are a little more formidable than he suggested. I do not see that we can meet the scheme's double purpose of providing a safety net to keep people alive and of providing industrial training. There must be a safety net under the training aspect because there are plenty of problems which do not fit the scheme. For instance, the problem of people being available for a short period has been drawn to my attention. There are people who have completed a YTS course thereby proving their willingness to do so, and who have found employment, only for the firm to fold. As they were three months short of their 18th birthday they were ineligible for income support Such a situation does not deserve starvation.
Again in his letter dated 28th June, my noble kinsman stated:They could put in some useful time on YT in preparation for whatever is to come".I am not clear what that phrase means. It does not sound like a training scheme. I hope that my noble kinsman will explain it to me. I do not see that the Government can continue to rely on the scheme's double purpose. They should think about how far-reaching are the implications of disentitling a group of British subjects to benefit. The right to benefit, the right to vote and the duty to pay taxes are interlocked. To be deprived of any one of those is to become a second-class citizen. I hope that the House views the possibility with considerable misgiving.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of the amendment. However, I wish first to say a few words to the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Renton. I had the honour to serve on the committee considering 1906 the preparation of legislation when the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was chairman. I sympathise with what the noble Earl said. If one cannot amend subordinate legislation in this way, how can one amend it? If it cannot be amended, Parliament is not supreme. That is an unanswerable argument. I believe that the way to make such a course acceptable is to include words to the effect that the regulations shall be amended accordingly. If those simple words are included, the regulations will be entirely intelligible to anyone interested in the subject and there will be no confusion.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I wish to add a few words because I have not yet taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, appeared to put forward a reasonable case but surely there is a good alternative procedure. If noble Lords desire to alter the provisions of a regulation they can table a Motion in the ordinary way requesting the Government to amend the regulation. If noble Lords can persuade the House to carry that Motion most governments will be inclined to respond. If governments do not respond they will get themselves into considerable difficulties and trouble. Surely that is the practical way of proceeding. However, the course proposed in this and a previous amendment, whereby one has a statute in the list of statutes appearing to amend a regulation in the book of regulations, will cause unnecessary confusion. There appears to be a simple way round the problem.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies to my noble friend I wish to remind him that the report of the committee of which he was such a valuable member—
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I hope that I am in order. I understood that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, had given way to me. I wish to make only a short point which is relevant to what was said by him and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In that report we pointed out that primary legislation was intended to last a long time; it should not be permanent but quasi-permanent, whereas matters likely to change from time to time should be covered by regulations. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter pointed out, they can be amended.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I was on my feet and was interrupted by two noble Lords. I was very happy to give way but I have not finished my speech.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that his proposal, although ingenious, is not legislation. If one House of Parliament cannot propose in primary legislation to amend subordinate legislation under a previous Act, then that Parliament is not sovereign and you are taking away from the sovereignty of Parliament. That is intrinsically undesirable.
1907 According to my recollection, the Government are very happy to subscribe to this device. Parliamentary counsel use this form of legislation. That being so, I should have thought that both noble Lords would be happy that this amendment should be drafted in this way. That is all I wish to say on that.
On the substance of the amendment, like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the announcement made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, of the proposed inquiry. However, in the interim what it is to be done for those unfortunate people? It is important that in the meantime this amendment should be accepted. I wish that the previous amendment had been accepted for the same reason.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I do not intend to follow my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, or my noble kinsman in this very fascinating discussion on primary and secondary legislation. I object to this amendment but not on those grounds and therefore I hope that noble Lords will bear with me if I refuse to be drawn into discussion on that matter.
When speaking to this amendment I was going to make the announcement which I made on the previous amendment apropos research. It now seems that this amendment has followed the previous amendment. Nevertheless, I repeat that we shall commission research to look into the matter of 16 and 17 year-olds and YTS. That research will be ready by early 1991. I should stress that the Government will obviously respond to that. Changes which noble Lords will remember in July, November and March emphasise our willingness to respond to research.
Perhaps I may deal with one or two other points made by noble Lords during the debate. My noble kinsman Lord Russell asked about the suitability of individual YTS places and quoted from my letter. The Training Agency will do its best to match the young person with the sort of training that is wanted. However, I believe that at the end of the day—and my noble kinsman queried part of my letter—a second choice is better than nothing at all. It is better that a young person should be doing some form of youth training rather than remain on benefit.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, the noble Lord totally misses the point. A little longer to find the right course at a small cost is better than taking the wrong course, failing on it and being a nuisance for the rest of your life.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I do not accept that. The Training Agency will do its best. There will not always be a course which is absolutely ideal for the young person in question. However, I stick to what I say. At the end of the day the second choice will always be better than nothing at all and will be better than that young person receiving income support.
My noble kinsman raised the question of offshore islands and stressed their remoteness. I quite 1908 understand that. However, I should stress that where training needs cannot be met locally, arrangements can be made for the young person to take a suitable course in a different area. If he then has to live away from home, the reasonable costs of accommodation and related travel can be met.
The Government have always recognised that some youngsters need special consideration as regards the provision of a YT place. That is why those considered vulnerable and who need time and help to secure a YT place can claim income support during the period of child benefit extension. That does not mean that we should give up on those youngsters who need help. Indeed, we cannot afford to do so.
Their problems can be accommodated in a number of ways. The first is through YTS which aims to provide quality training tailored to the needs of the individual. That includes those youngsters with special training needs such as those who lack motivation or who have disabilities. Secondly, initial training offers in-depth assessment and remedial help for young people who would otherwise have difficulty in being accepted or coping with YT. That is intended to bring youngsters with particular problems—for example, the homeless and those with severe emotional or behavioural problems—to a point at which they are ready for mainstream YT.
This amendment could discourage some young people who most need help from taking full advantage of the YT guarantee which I have repeated again this afternoon and provide them with an all too easy route back to benefit dependence. I do not feel that that is in the best interests of the young person.
I end by repeating the announcement which I made on the earlier amendment. There will be research. If necessary the Government will respond to that when it becomes available early in 1991. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment because I cannot add anything more to what I said on the previous amendment.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the research when speaking to this and the previous amendment. Can he tell the House who will be conducting it? We remember the promised independent review of disability benefits. That was in fact an internal review. It turned into a White Paper which was produced without any consultation with the voluntary organisations and was succeeded by a Bill published three days after the White Paper.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, had the noble Lord listened to me on the previous amendment he would have heard me say that we intend to commission independent research into the operation of benefit and YTS provisions. It will be independent. I cannot say who is to conduct it because we have not yet decided who to commission. I am sure that as soon as that is decided, the noble Lord will be told about it.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, will the Government consider the case for commissioning academics rather than consultants?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am not sure that I can respond to that, knowing that my noble kinsman comes from the academic fraternity. However, I shall certainly pass on the comment to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. When he comes to commission the research I am sure that he will consider who is the most appropriate person. If the noble Earl wishes to put forward any names from the academic community I am sure that they will be taken into account.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for rebutting the arguments of the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, put forward a very good case.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that the Government's objections to these amendments was not as to their form. Therefore, we can ignore that.
I am sorry that the Government's position has not shifted at all. Although of course the research is very welcome, nevertheless it will be nine months at the very earliest before anything can be done. For young people that is a long time. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell said, we need this safety net. We feel very strongly about this and I shall ask the opinion of the House.
§ 4 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 120.1910
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Ardwick, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Birk, B.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Henderson of Brompton, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Hirshfield, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Brightman, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Hunt, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Jay, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Carter, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Kearton, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Leatherland, L.|
|David, B||Lewis of Newnham, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Longford, E.|
|Fitt, L.||Mais, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Mar, C.|
|Galpern, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Molloy, L.|
|Morris of Kenwood, L.|
|Grey, E.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Nathan, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Shackelton, L.|
|Northfield, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Oram, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Peston, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Phillips, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Richard, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Ross of Newport, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Russell, E. [Teller.]||Walston, L.|
|Sainsbury, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Seear, B.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Killearn, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Kimball, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Annaly, L.||Layton, L.|
|Arran, E.||Liverpool, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Long, V.|
|Barber, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Belstead, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Manchester, D.|
|Blyth, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Manton, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Munster, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Nelson, E.|
|Carnock, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Cox, B.||Peel, E.|
|Craigton, L.||Pender, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Davidson, V.[Teller.]||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller]||Quinton, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Reay, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Renton, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Elton, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Romney, E.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ferrers, E.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Flather, B.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Strange, B.|
|Gainford, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Goold, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Havers, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Henley, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hives, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hood, V.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Wedgwood, L.|
|Howe, E.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Wise, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Joseph, L.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.1911
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]
§ Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 6:
§ After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Protection of carers who remain in the home
.—(1) Section 22 of the Social Security Act 1986 (Calculation of Income Related Benefits) shall have effect subject to the amendments specified in subsection (2) below.
(2) Where a person has been admitted permanently to accommodation provided under Part III of the National Assistance Act 1948, nursing home or hospital, the Secretary of State shall prescribe that in calculating the claimant's capital, any dwelling shall be disregarded if it is occupied in whole or in part by a person—
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment, in one form or another, must now be familiar to your Lordships. It arises not only in this Bill, but also in other Bills. The case is as strong as ever. The purpose of the amendment is to protect people whose relatives have been taken into a care institution either temporarily or permanently. The effect is that the family home cannot be sold in order to meet the costs of caring.
§ We accept that there are limitations upon the way in which the provisions can be applied, but it is essential that the people listed in the amendment are able to maintain their homes. Many of these people have given up their own homes in order to move in and look after the person who has been moved into the institution, temporarily or permanently. For them to lose their home is quite unreasonable.
§ Encouraging community care, with all the uncertainties of finance, will increasingly mean asking family and friends to take a major part in that caring. They will at least need some security that they will keep a roof over their heads after they have been caring for a while. It is to safeguard that position that we tabled the amendment. The amount of money that the Government would save by rejecting the amendment can only be negligible; the amount of good that it would do for the persons involved and the encouragement it would give to individual carers at home is very great indeed. I beg to move.
§ Lord Carter
I was pleased to add my name to this amendment. As the Minister is aware, it is a problem that we have discussed at various stages of this Bill and indeed of the National Health Service Bill. As I have said in the past and will repeat, successive governments of all colours have shamelessly exploited carers over the years. They save the public purse a great deal of money, and this is the sort of amendment the Government should be prepared to accept.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, this is familiar territory and I am not sure that 1912 I can add much to what I said at earlier stages. Having said that, when we last debated this matter on Report the amendment was in a somewhat different form. I said on that occasion that I had some sympathy with the objectives but that the amendment was drawn rather too widely. I am pleased to see that this new amendment is rather more prescriptive and I congratulate the noble Baroness on her inventiveness.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness was really responsible and she drafted the amendment rather well.
Clearly the amendment is more prescriptive and has slightly more to offer, but I fear that it is still drawn rather more widely than I would wish and that it would prove very difficult to operate with any degree of certainty. I shall refer to those difficulties in a moment. Meanwhile, I should remind the House how important it is to bear in mind the needs of the people living in residential accommodation who will have to pay for the care that they will continue to receive.
The property which is the subject of this amendment is the claimant's former home and as such the realisation of its value would do much to provide the claimant with a level of comfort he or she has perhaps not previously enjoyed. I mention this not to minimise the valuable role played by many carers but to remind the House that we must take full account of the needs of both the carer and the claimant.
I return to the difficulties that I have with this new amendment. If accepted it would mean that the claimant would not reap any benefits from the property if, for example, it was occupied by a former carer in their thirties even if they, or in some instances their partner, were in full-time work. Furthermore, as currently drafted, the amendment would enable former carers who have lived elsewhere to move into the claimant's home some time after they have entered residential care accommodation or hospital and so take advantage of the proposed disregard.
Adjudicating authorities would also have problems trying to operate this amendment. I am sure that it is right that the carer should have been engaged for a substantial number of hours each week—a minimum of 35 hours is the sort of figure I have in mind—and of course it would be in line with the qualifying conditions for invalid care allowance. However, I do not know how the adjudicating authorities could hope to prove or disprove that this 35-hour condition had been satisfied unless invalid care allowance was previously in payment and that care had been given for at least 80 out of the previous 104 weeks. I think that we have to be mindful that these events would have passed and that the adjudicating authority would be looking at them in retrospect—all in all, a rather difficult task.
The Government are very conscious of the debt they owe to carers and while I am unable to accept 1913 the amendment, even in its revised form, I repeat the assurance that I gave to the House only a matter of days ago. We are monitoring the position of carers with particular emphasis on those who would have to find other accommodation. If there are cases in which particular hardship might arise and which are not eased by the existing disregards—and we have not come across a case so far—we will certainly consider whether anything further needs to be done in regulations. Should that prove necessary, it would be a relatively straightforward matter to introduce a change by way of secondary legislation. No amendment would be needed to primary legislation.
In the meantime I am sure the House will be pleased to know that the existing regulations already fully disregard property which is occupied by a former carer who is either the claimant's partner or a relative of the family aged 60 or over or who is incapacitated. Many carers are assisted by these rules. The noble Baroness will probably be disappointed with my response but I hope she will be able to accept my reassurances and withdraw the amendment.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I am grateful for very small mercies and I thank the Minister for his more sympathetic approach. However, before the Bill goes back to another place perhaps he will consider one other possible option. He referred to the difficulty of administering the amendment. Will he consider people who are already drawing invalid care allowance? That will restrict the proposal to a small number of people but at least it would be a clearly identifiable number.
I do not expect the noble Lord to bargain with me across the Floor of the House, but perhaps he can say that the Government will at least think about that possibility. Having said that, and as we have lost the previous two Divisions by nearly 50 votes, I do not intend to press the amendment.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment perhaps I may add that this morning we considered the question of carers who are in receipt of invalid care allowance. We endeavoured to ascertain the number of carers who are partners. In the short time available we were not able to obtain that information; it might have provided at least one interesting statistic. Certainly we shall continue to monitor the situation and, as I said, if we find that there is a problem—we do not have much evidence to show that there is—changes can be made by means of secondary legislation. I shall now sit down and allow the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I shall endeavour to obtain some evidence for the noble Lord. I hope that if I produce it he will continue thinking and not wait for the results of a monitoring process, which can go on for a long time. If my evidence prompts his thoughts into action it will be extremely well received in many quarters. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1914
§ Schedule 5 [Minor and consequential amendments]:
§ Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 7:
§ Page 58, line 43, after ("applies") insert ("it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to refer to an adjudication officer for review any such decision as is referred to in subsection (7)(b) above where, in his opinion, such a review would result in the payment of benefit, or of an increased amount of benefit, to any person and".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a technical but very important amendment regarding the severe disablement allowance. The need for it arises from a recent decision by the social security commissioners concerning the interpretation of the 1987 income support regulations. The specific regulation concerned dealt with the qualifying conditions for receiving severe disablement allowance. Among those conditions was a requirement that the disabled person should not have anyone over the age of 18 living with him but certain people were not to be counted for this purpose.
§ One of the groups that does not count is anyone with whom the claimant "jointly occupies" the premises. The Department of Social Security interpreted this regulation to mean only anyone who is a co-owner or liable to share responsibility with the claimant or the claimant's partner for outgoings. The commissioner ruled that "jointly occupies" in the regulation should not be given the technical interpretation adopted by the department but an ordinary straightforward meaning and should apply if the persons in question who normally reside together jointly occupy the premises in the sense of equality of access and use as distinct from a situation where restrictions are imposed in relation to those matters.
§ The regulations were amended on 9th October 1989 as a result of the commissioners' decision, and this decision relates only to the pre-October regulations. Claimants requesting a review of the original award of income support should be entitled to benefit backdated for a year from the date of the request for a review. They should therefore be entitled to arrears of benefit for at least a year from the date of the request for a review until October 1989.
§ To ensure that all those severely disabled people currently in receipt of income support should be paid the benefit owed to them, the amendment seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that all those claimants potentially affected have their cases referred to an adjudication officer and their entitlement to benefit reviewed. In view of the Government's increased emphasis on care in the community it is important that severely disabled people who are living in the community rather than going into hospital or institutionalised care should get all the help available, either through the carer receiving invalid care allowance or, for those managing on income support, through severe disability premium.
§ This is an important decision by the commissioners and it seems only just that those who have lost out as a result of the department's misinterpretation of the regulations should be compensated. I beg to move.1915
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches I am happy to support this amendment. It involves the status of judicial decisions and therefore the entitlement to review for other claimants which may arise as a consequence of a judicial decision.
The weakness of the Government's decision is shown in the wording of the 1986 regulations. They seem to be under the impression that judicial decisions actually change the law. I believe that Regulation 72 contains the words:erroneous by virtue of a decision of a court of law".However, it is not like that. The courts do not make law; they declare it. Therefore, when the courts of law declare something to be the law that means it always was the law and the department was mistaken in supposing otherwise. That is why an entitlement operating retrospectively may arise as a result of a judicial decision. I hope that is something to which the Government will continue to pay attention. I am happy to support the amendment.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I shall deal with the case that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to towards the end of my speech. However, first I shall deal with the generality of the amendment, as I understand it, because it was tabled on Friday and is quite new.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to identify all cases benefiting from a reinterpretation of the law so that they could be reviewed and payment made. Such a provision would mean that a search for past cases would have to be carried out in all instances without account being taken of the administrative and financial difficulties involved in doing so. I pause here to point out to my noble kinsman that he is quite right in saying that the courts declare the law rather than reinterpret it. However, we are dealing with the practicalities of life here. That is why I wish to set out the impracticalities surrounding the Secretary of State trawling back through every single possible case to find each person who might have benefited from what I referred to as reinterpretation of the law but which my noble kinsman referred to as a mere declaration of the law.
Documentary evidence of past claims is limited because of the routine destruction of documents. The search through past records is expensive both in terms of manpower—with costs in some cases reaching several million pounds—and in terms of the inevitable diversion of administrative resources from dealing with current claimants.
Perhaps I may state the legal position of the Secretary of State. At the moment he is under no statutory duty to conduct a search for past cases in which claims or questions have been decided by adjudication officers on a particular understanding of the law which by a subsequent decision of a commissioner or the courts is shown to have been wrong. In all cases the person concerned has a legitimate expectation that a search, within the bounds of reasonableness, will be made by the Secretary of State. He is wholly entitled to give full account to all the administrative and financial 1916 difficulties which may arise if a trawl were to be conducted.
In view of the possibility of a disaffected claimant seeking remedy via judicial review, the Secretary of State needs to be able to demonstrate that he has considered the need for a search or trawl, that all the relevant facts have been carefully weighed and that the reasoning behind a decision not to trawl is on record.
In effect, we do what we can to identify cases affected by a reinterpretation of the law, but I hope noble Lords will agree that there is a limit to how far we can reasonably be expected to go. If, for example, a reinterpretation of the law gives a small amount of benefit to a bare handful of claimants and they could only be identified by way of a complete trawl of all past and present case papers at an administrative cost of many million of pounds, I am sure that most noble Lords will agree that what this amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to do is indeed far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable. We do, after all, need to be mindful that administration should be economical, and that what we do imposes no more than a reasonable burden upon the taxpayer who eventually foots the bill for that administration.
I now refer briefly to the case of Mr. Crompton to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred. In effect the noble Lord asked what impact paragraph 7 has on that case and on people like him. It depends on whether the chief adjudication officer decides to lodge an appeal and the outcome of that appeal if there is one. If the decision stands, Mr. Crompton will be paid any benefit award in full accord with the decision of the commissioner and the social security appeal tribunal to whom the appeal has been remitted, whether or not this provision is introduced.
With this provision on the statute book any claimants analogous to Mr. Crompton would have their benefit entitlement restricted to 17th May, the date when the regulation was reinterpreted by the commissioner. Since the relevant regulation was changed last October, the effect of this paragraph in the Bill would be that no one else in Mr. Crompton's position would benefit from the particular decision of the commissioner unless they themselves have also appealed to the commissioner.
I hope that explains to the noble Lord the point that he was trying to make. I also hope that what I have said about the generality of the new insertion in Schedule 5 will persuade the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I understand the problem to which the Minister has referred. It is extraordinary that the department misinterpreted the regulations. This young man, Simon Crompton, suffers from Down's Syndrome. He needs constant care and supervision from his parents who are themselves retired. They do not receive any extra help for looking after him. It is extraordinary that the department interpreted the regulations in the way that it did. This is an obvious case for assistance.
We are advised that the trawl to which the Minister referred can be achieved quite simply. The Secretary of State could identify all income support claimants 1917 who are currently in receipt of an attendance allowance and who are not in receipt of a severe disability premium. The local offices could then be instructed to review the entitlement of those claimants. Obviously, if the duty was there, a great deal of work would be undertaken by the voluntary organisations who would bring the cases to the attention of the adjudication officers.
I do not intend to divide the House on this matter. A point of principle is involved here and it is very worrying indeed. We have discussed this matter a number of times and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has drawn attention to it as well. It seems that bureaucratic efficiency and comfort is to be preferred to helping these very deserving cases. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 8:
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I speak also to Amendment No. 9. I apologise to the House for bringing these two amendments forward at this stage and for not having flagged them beforehand. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and my noble kinsman, Lord Russell, on Friday giving them warning of what I proposed to do. These amendments are intended merely to clarify improve the drafting so as to remove any potential ambiguity in paragraph 7 as it stands at present. I can assure the House that the amendments do not alter in any way the purpose of this provision which I have already explained to the House on earlier occasions. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 9:
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. We have had a number of valuable and constructive debates on the measures in the Bill and across the field of social security legislation. I should like to pay a particular tribute to the contribution made to the proceedings by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, my noble kinsman Lord Russell and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Last but not least, I should also like to thank my noble friend Lady Blatch for doing so much and for giving me such valuable support throughout the passage of the Bill.
Many other noble Lords and noble Baronesses have spoken on both sides of the House. It would take too long to mention all their names, but I thank them all for their contributions to this debate and for the help that they have been. As our debates have been so thorough it would not be right to detain the House overlong with my remarks about the Bill at this late, stage. I have said before that the measure before us is not a major piece of social security 1918 legislation but that its scope is nevertheless substantial. It contains both necessary fine tuning and some substantial measures to implement new policy. I ought just to reiterate some of the main themes.
We have spent some while in debate on benefits for disabled people. The Bill provides for part of the comprehensive strategy for disability benefits set out in The Way Ahead. The first set of these changes has already been introduced. These include increases in the income support and housing benefit disability and disabled child's premium; an increase in the earnings limit for invalid care allowance and an increase in the therapeutic earnings limit for invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance. The measures in this Bill are a further step. Further measures—the new disability allowance and disability employment credit—will be introduced by April 1992. Once all of this strategy is implemented we will be giving extra help to some 850,000 people—with a net effect of increasing benefit expenditure by some £300 million. Of course this is on top of an expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled and on their carers which stands currently at nearly £10 billion per year and has almost doubled in real terms since 1979. This underlines most effectively the real strength of our commitment to disabled people.
The Bill also includes important measures to give greater protection for the members of occupational pension schemes—building on the changes which we have made in this area in recent years which have changed so substantially the climate of thinking about private pensions and about provision for retirement. The introduction of a pensions ombudsman will provide, for the first time, a realistic alternative to the High Court for individuals who have a dispute with their scheme. The Government have also tackled—in what I believe to be a fair and balanced way—the related issues of the indexation of pensions and the use of scheme surpluses. I hope that the House will now recognise how much these measures will assist the occupational pensioner both by enabling him to receive the necessary help and advice and by ensuring that the value of his pension is protected.
The Bill also includes a package of measures to improve the arrangements for the collection of maintenance for lone parents. They will mean that DSS can seek maintenance based on a realistic assessment of the costs of the lone parent's responsibility as child carer. The transfer of rights for children under a DSS order will save lone parents the trouble of going to court to get a private maintenance order. DSS action to enforce a private maintenance order in arrears for lone parents on benefit will mean quick action without the need for lone parents to approach the courts. These measures will all provide worthwhile help while we press on with our wide-ranging review of the maintenance system as a whole.
We have spent much time in debate both as regards this Bill and the National Health Service and Community Care Bill on the important subject of 1919 the benefits paid to the residents of residential care and nursing homes. We are taking what I believe to be a series of sensible and measured steps to assist in dealing with what I think we all recognise is an extremely difficult problem. I have referred on a number of occasions to the commitment made by my right honourable friend to undertake a rapid investigation into the costs of residential care and nursing homes. I am sure the House will be interested to know that we have just commissioned the management consultants Price, Waterhouse to undertake this for us.
We have also spent some time debating the social fund. I would emphasise again that the amendments in the Bill do not represent any change in policy. They simply reaffirm the basic principle of the scheme—endorsed by Parliament during the passage of the 1986 Act—that the fund should operate flexibly but within a sound financial framework. The Bill also includes a large number of other more minor provisions—and most of them have also been debated by your Lordships at some length. The Bill as a whole is part of our measured and deliberate strategy to prepare the social security system to meet the needs of the new decade. I commend it to the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Lord Henley.)
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with all that he has just said. Indeed, to compare this Bill with a curate's egg would be extremely unfair to curates. There are aspects of the Bill that obviously we welcome. For example, the inclusion of a provision for attendance allowance for the terminally ill. At a number of stages of the Bill we have congratulated the Government on fulfilling the obligation they gave in last year's debates on the Social Security Bill. The House will remember that it agreed to amendments on students and benefits and on the clause concerning the recovery of damages from benefit payments. However, we could make very little progress on more fundamental issues such as administration of the social fund, benefits for 16 and 17 year-olds, and the plight of homeless families.
I have referred to the amendments that the House agreed concerning the right of students to claim social security benefits. Similar amendments were debated on the student loans Bill and it is to be hoped that the Government will not simply overturn those amendments without further and serious thought in the Commons. I can tell the Minister that the student community will be watching with great interest the way in which the Government respond to those amendments affecting students that have been agreed by this House.
The other set of student amendments that the House agreed dealt with entitlement to claim housing benefit and allowances for regional housing costs. Of particular importance is the fact that postgraduate students are not entitled to loans under the student loans scheme but are at the same time to be disqualified from claiming housing benefit. These changes to the Bill are significant because the other 1920 place has never had a proper chance to discuss the question of students being withdrawn from the benefits system. We hope that the Government will allow a full debate on these amendments when they are returned to the other place, and will not guillotine them as they did a number of important amendments concerning community care which were tabled to the National Health Service and Community Care Bill.
We have received a number of assurances from the Minister, which we certainly welcome. I am referring to those regarding attendance allowance and the terminally ill, which we have indeed discussed earlier today; the commitment, over time, to increase severe disablement allowance to the same rate as invalidity benefit; the link between youth training and automatic reinstatement of severe disablement allowance; and the assurances that were given regarding treatment of refugees and income support, when the Government said that they had some sympathy with the position that we outlined and would consider amending the rules on income support through regulations at a later date.
However, there are a number of areas where we were very disappointed. We made no improvement at all on a number of important and familiar issues such as the uprating of child benefit, which we tried in two different directions at Committee and Report stage; and the extension of mobility allowance for the severely mentally handicapped, an issue that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and I and others pressed on the Government during our deliberations on last year's Bill and indeed this year's Bill without success. I hope that the Government will be able finally to agree the figures with us on the number of people who would be affected by this, so that we may hope that at some stage we could extend the mobility allowance and have some idea of the numbers that would be affected. Those of us who have been involved with this are quite confident about the numbers that we have produced. But we know that the department has not been able to agree with us.
The administration of the social fund, the benefit rights and levels of 16 and 17 year-olds and the under-25s, the homeless families placed in board-and-lodging accommodation, all have been completely untouched by the measures in this Bill. Of course we attempted to move an amendment to help the veterans of the nuclear tests in the Pacific, and that was rejected.
Despite discussions during the passage of this Bill and the National Health Service and Community Care Bill we have achieved no help at all for existing residents in residential care. We feel that they are still to be left in danger of eviction because of a shortfall in income support. The Minister will know that the situation regarding housing benefit remains a matter of some concern with the voluntary organisations, with this business of a "notional rent" to be applied to all claims in local authority areas.
However, we have done a lot of work on the Bill. I should certainly like to thank my noble friend Lady Turner for her great expertise on pensions, which relieved me of the need to deal with that section of 1921 the Bill. I know that she will say a word later about that. Finally, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for their unfailing courtesy and good humour throughout the passage of the Bill.
We have also, as they will well know, been considering the National Health Service and Community Care Bill alongside this Bill. We have certainly seen a lot of each other in recent weeks, and in the early hours of the morning. We certainly disagreed—quite fundamentally on occasion—but we have never fallen out. The Bill leaves the House with some improvements, a substantial number of defects, and I fear with still large gaps in the provision of a proper, just and adequate system for social security. I feel that the only way to put that right would be the return of a Labour Government.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, it is sometimes maintained that family quarrels are more bitter than others. I am deeply grateful to my noble kinsman for helping to ensure that that should not be so. I am grateful to him for his unfailing courtesy, his unfailing good humour and his care in dealing with points that have arisen and for keeping me on my toes by being, like his predecessor in the office, never more dangerous than when apparently on the ropes.
I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her good humour and for what seems to me to be an impressive gift for sensing the mood of the House and for teasing which on occasion has enlivened our proceedings a great deal. When I look back on the Bill, one of the things that I shall remember is the cushion of the noble Baroness. Speaking as one who happens to be about the right size for these Procrustean Benches, whenever in future I attack mindless bureaucratic uniformity, the cushion of the noble Baroness will come into my mind.
On the business of the Bill, I cannot speak quite so much in terms of agreement. The Bill has been with us for a long time. It had its Second Reading on 20th April. That is partly because, to my regret, this subject is sometimes treated as a Cinderella subject and has been given a lower priority than some apparently more exciting Bills. In so far as that length of time arises from the number of amendments that we have put down, I feel no need to make an apology. It is the duty of Opposition parties to notice what is amiss. At this stage, with the changes that came into effect in 1988 reaching a point where we can observe their effects, it is particularly the duty of Opposition parties to observe what they believe to be going wrong. If they did not draw that to the attention of the House, they would be failing in their duty.
I was a little sad to hear the words of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, when we discussed child benefit, to the effect that he regarded it as unfortunate to bring back an amendment with which another place the previous year had expressed disagreement. Parliaments normally bring back things which governments do not like and have done so for many centuries.
Perhaps I may take a quite trivial example. The Bill for the abbreviation of Michaelmas term, which 1922 reached the statute book in 1641, had been moved continuously for some 60 years before it reached the statute book. When my great-grandfather was elected MP for the City in 1847, he was elected alongside Baron Lionel de Rothschild, who, being Jewish by religion as well as by race, was denied the right to take his seat. As any good Liberal would, my great-grandfather put down a Jewish Disabilities Bill to put the situation right. It was defeated. My great-grandfather moved that Bill in 12 consecutive Sessions before it finally reached the statute book. In the light of some of the things said since the War Crimes Bill, I think that I am doubly entitled to testify to the pride that I have always taken in that story. I hope not to have to emulate my great-grandfather, but there are some subjects on which, if I need to, I shall.
The priority issue in the Bill for me has been the issue of teenagers. I shall not dwell further on the subject now save to raise one point about the drive that has gone on over the past week against young beggars. I accept that begging is not an efficient method of relief. It is not targeted. Some of the beggars may be fraudulent. The trouble is that one never knows. However, it has been the policy of Parliament, at least since 1601 and probably going back even further, that discouragement of begging had to go hand-in-hand with an insistence that relief was available from public funds because that created the title to discourage begging. I am not sure whether that is the situation at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, asked at Second Reading for Opposition spokesmen to state their priorities. My first priority is that we should not have anyone reduced to starvation. Teenagers and board and lodging for the homeless where there is measured malnutrition are cases that for me come within the priority category in saying that no one should starve.
My second priority category concerns what I have come to think of as the bottle-neck amendments. I refer to people who, because of the lack of a little extra help, are restricted from climbing out of benefit and getting back into employment, which is the objective that we should all wish to see. The amendments for deposits to be payable on the social fund and for a child care disregard on income support were the two priority amendments in that category. There were many others.
In the course of debate, we uncovered a real difference of philosophy. I am reminded of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel—to whom the House will want to wish a very happy birthday—
§ Earl Russell
—reflecting on the difference between a half-full and a half-empty whisky bottle. Where I see a bottleneck, I see people being impeded from getting out. Where the Government see a bottleneck, they see ravening hordes craving for benefits, struggling to get in. The Government therefore try to make the bottleneck narrower and narrower: I try to make it wider and wider.
In the process, the Government are making the cost of the social security system a great deal larger 1923 than it needs to be. The issue of cost has come up many times. The irony is that I think I am perhaps more concerned about the cost of the system than the Government are. When my noble kinsman said at Second Reading that he made no apology to me for the cost of the system, I began to wonder whether I had at last avenged my great-grandfather's honour and stolen the Tory's clothes.
The main reason why the system is so expensive is that it supports too many people. I do not think that that is because they are addicts of benefit. I do not think that it is a form of nicotine. I believe that it is because the ways of escape are being made too difficult and small meannesses are having the effect of preventing people from taking employment or obtaining housing and forcing them into continuing dependence. The Government are therefore forcing themselves to spend more than they need. We cannot view with equanimity a figure of 17 per cent. of our population dependent on benefit. I cannot believe that in most cases that is because they wish to be.
The trouble here is the department's deep concern with fraud. No Liberal Democrat feels comfortable with fraud. We must stop it. The question is one of priorities. Speaking in the debate on the humble Address on 24th November 1988, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich pointed out that there were 3,335 officials dealing with social security fraud while we were short of reaching the establishment of 79 in the serious fraud squad. I question whether that is a cost-effective sense of priorities. I also question whether social security benefits are quite as attractive as the department's philosophy seems to suppose and whether it perhaps risks finding itself emulating the late Sir Alan Herbert's epitaph on an archbishop:My predecessors, fighting sin,Did their best to bring men in,But I was best, without a doubt,At keeping the unworthy out.So when I died, the Church was one,And that was me".There is one major area of victory here; namely, the amendments on students. I am delighted by our success on that. When another place considers those amendments, we would be unwise to allow it the impression that, when amendments come back to us reversed, we never insist on them. We saw in the National Health Service and Community Care Bill that that idea encourages the other place to think that it can reverse any of our amendments with impunity. It risks reducing us to the status of the Social Security Advisory Committee. We may ask the Government to think again, but, if that were to become accepted, we have no power with which to encourage them to do so. To attempt to do things with no power is an unpolitical method of proceeding.
Where that approach might lead us is indicated by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science in an interview with my college student newspaper on 22nd June. He denied altogether that, on the subject of student benefits, the Social Security Advisory Committee had been critical of the Government. I was very surprised to 1924 hear that denial. The definition of the word "critical" in this matter is worthy of thought.
On the substance, it is most important that students should be supported above benefit level. The Minister's right honourable friend, Mr. Scott, admitted to me on 20th April that this is not at present the case. In his reply to me of 15th June, my noble kinsman stated that he did not like the charge but—noble Lords can read that reply carefully because my noble kinsman has deposited a copy of it in the Library—I do not think that he denied it.
In order to bring students up to benefit levels, we need another £400 in London; we need another £600 to £800 in areas of expensive housing in the South-East and in Edinburgh; and perhaps rather less in the North-West and in Sheffield. That is a considerable gap. The Department of Education and Science would be rather unwise to give up the entitlement because in future negotiations with the Treasury on levels of student support, it could be a very powerful hand to play. The department could always tell the Treasury, "If you do not give us the money, you will have to pay it to the Department of Health and Social Security instead; you won't save anything". In fact, the principle of a safety net would operate. Once again, that illustrates why I believe that to be a safety net from which no category of our citizens should legitimately be deprived.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I have a question to ask him. In recent years he has become one of the most impressive Members of this House. However, since he mentioned the name of his great-grandfather, who we all associate with parliamentary reform and services to the Jewish community, will he agree that he took a very hostile line towards Roman Catholics? Will he repudiate that?
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I think that we have lived beyond no popery; I think that that is a bygone which we can allow to be bygone.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, all social security Bills are important because they matter a great deal to certain sections of the community which are in one way or another in need or in difficulty. They are equally important because our whole social security system requires constant supervision by the Minister, constant review by Parliament and changes to be made to deal with different situations; for example, the emergence of different needs, changes in the economy and changes in the national way of life. Therefore, this is a very important Bill. I hope that the fact that your Lordships have taken a good deal of time to deal with it—and rightly so in my view—will not deter the Government from introducing future legislation as it appears necessary.
I do not believe that you can operate our social security system without fairly constant new legislation. Its ramifications are so wide and affect so many people that only considerable vigilance can deal with the situation. Equally, it may involve very difficult decisions for the Government of the day because, whatever view you take on the economic situation, there is only a limited amount of money 1925 available. When you have a social security Bill, a decision must be taken to determine the needs that you must meet and you will meet, and the needs, however respectable and worthy, which are not entitled to be given the highest priority. That is a most difficult situation upon which you cannot possibly hope to have unanimity either in Parliament or in public opinion. However, it is a responsibility which falls fairly and squarely upon the Government of the day and, in particular, upon the Secretary of State.
I should like to refer specifically to two items in the Bill. The first is the very sensible appointment of a pensions ombudsman. I often wonder why we use the title "ombudsman". As the duty of the ombudsman is to nag, it may well be thought more appropriate to have an ombudswoman or, in modern terminology, an "ombudsperson".
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I thought that that suggestion would go down well with the noble Baroness! However, having said that, this is a good appointment. It is an excellent idea because there are many cases in which the social security system causes difficulty to individuals. It is most useful to have someone to whom individuals can go and ask for support in solving their problems.
The other part of the Bill which I especially applaud—and I am conscious of the fact that I am now repeating what I said on Second Reading—is in Clause 1. I refer to the provision of attendance allowance for the terminally ill. That is a real advance which noble Lords in all quarters of the House warmly applauded. I particularly admire the sensitive provision under which the application for the benefit can be made without the knowledge of the person concerned. I can think of many cases where this provision would have been useful. I can think of one such case in my own experience where that consideration was of crucial importance. In that particular case, to have allowed the patient to know what was happening would have had a very unhappy effect on her morale. It is a first-class provision on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the department are to be warmly congratulated.
Finally, I echo the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in approbation and approval of the way in which the Bill has been handled by my noble friends on the Front Bench. I refer to my noble friends Lord Henley and Lady Blatch. I have probably had as much experience of taking social security legislation through Parliament as anyone. I served for six-and-a-half-years as the Minister responsible in another place. I cannot recall at present how many Bills I took through. In any event, it was a substantial number. Therefore, I am in a position to appreciate and understand as well as any of your Lordships what a strain and what a difficult task it is. You are dealing with matters upon which people feel passionately, about which people feel that wrongs are perhaps being inflicted and where people feel strongly that there are hard cases which 1926 should be remedied and helped. It is an enormously difficult task.
I congratulate both my noble friends on the skill, the courtesy and the good temper with which they have conducted our proceedings. I am glad that my noble friend the Leader of the House is present in the Chamber. He should also know how much noble Lords on both sides of the House approve of the way in which this measure has been handled by the Ministers responsible. I should like very humbly to congratulate them and to say that the skill which they have shown in handling this difficult measure is, I am afraid, an indication that a sensible government will perhaps give them more and more employment in conducting legislation because they do it so well. However, whether my noble friends regard that as an agreeable prospect is another matter.
I am glad that the Bill has now reached its final stage, although it does not do what many Members of your Lordships' House would like to have seen done in certain respects. I fully understand what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said. However, it marks an advance of a considerable nature. It will do much good to many people who need good doing to them. I very much hope that it will soon be on the statute book.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I too express my thanks to the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for the way in which they have dealt with the often hostile amendments that we have put down on this side of the House. I shall not go into the Bill in detail, because my noble friend has already done so. He dealt with the clauses relating to disability, carers, the various social security benefits and so on.
I should like to make a few remarks about the pensions part of the Bill before it leaves the House. Most of the innovations in that part of the Bill are welcomed by this side of the House. Our complaint has been that the innovations do not go far enough. They followed closely the recommendations of the Occupational Pensions Board, of which I still have the honour to be a member. The net result will be that generally much greater protection is provided to members of occupational pension schemes. I do not however believe that we have seen the end of legislation in the pension field.
I am certain that in the not too distant future we shall have to return to the issue of state pension ages because that interlocks and interacts with occupational pension provision. Clearly, the Government will have to study that matter because of the decisions of the European Court, the Barber judgment, and so on. We shall have to consider equal state pension ages, and when the Government do so I hope that they will take full account of the recommendations of your Lordships' Select Committee, which have already been before the House.
There is then the question of the indexing of occupational pension schemes. Those provisions are to be welcomed. We, as your Lordships will be aware, wanted to see full retail prices indexing, but we 1927 regard indexation up to the 5 per cent. limit as an advance on what existed and something on which it will be possible to build. We should like to see all pension schemes treated in the same way, and indexing, and provisions for it, extended to personal private pensions and contracted-out money purchase schemes. We might be able to return to that issue at the end of the quinquennium, as not exactly promised, but possibly suggested, by the Minister.
Then we have the whole subject of takeovers and mergers. Again, we hope that the Bill's provisions will act as deterrents for predators, because there has been a great deal of concern in the past that large pension surpluses have been an attraction to predators in the takeover and merger field. The Bill's provisions provide some further protection for occupational pensioners and members of other schemes.
I welcome the ombudsman/ombudswoman. I believe that he is called ombudsman because the term is a Scandinavian one. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I do not believe that women have the monopoly of nagging. As your Lordships are aware, I should have preferred a tribunal because I believe that that would be the more appropriate mechanism in a situation which of course interlocks with employment. We already have tripartite industrial tribunals dealing successfully with employment. It seems to me, and to a majority of us on the OPB, that a tribunal system would have been preferable. However, the Government have not chosen to go down that route. They have chosen instead to have an ombudsman scheme. We wish it well, and we shall monitor it carefully to see that it does the job that the Government intend it to do.
Before I leave the Bill, there is one aspect of it which caused me a great deal of distress. I am sorry to have to raise it yet again. This morning I received a letter from the solicitors acting for Mr. McKernan, the elderly pensioner whose case I raised on Report as the subject of an amendment which, unfortunately, I lost. It will be recalled that that individual, aged 74, suffered from occupational deafness. The Court of Appeal decided that he was entitled to benefit which had been denied by the DSS; and yet now we have, tucked away in the schedule, a provision which retrospectively has the effect of robbing him and other people of benefit.
I gather from my honourable friend in the other place, the Member for Manchester, Wythenshaw, whose constituent Mr. McKernan is, that there was no opportunity to debate that issue in the other place because of the guillotine procedure. That is even more unfortunate, because it means that that individual has been robbed of benefit, as have many others in a similar situation, without the other place having the opportunity to give the proposal democratic scrutiny. That is entirely regrettable. In any event, retrospective legislation is something which I understood that your Lordships' House had always set its face against. I very much regret that we were unable to do anything about that provision on Report.
1928 Having said that, it remains for me to repeat what my noble friend said: this is not the last time that we shall be looking at social security in the House. I hope that the Government will not feel disposed to use their automatic majority in the other place to undo the amendments approved in your Lordships' House.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I shall respond briefly to some of the points which have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, likened the Bill to the famous curate's egg. He then went on to say that that would be unfair to curates. That was a strange remark. I looked carefully around at the right reverend Prelates because I did not think that curates could lay eggs.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I shall leave it at that. As I said, I shall deal with one or two of the points upon which I might be able to say something of use. Bearing in mind the time problems, it would be unwise of me to respond to all the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, rightly asked when the decision would be made as to how housing benefit will be calculated. In the past, I assured the noble Lord that we should make a response fairly soon. I can now give him a more hopeful answer. We hope to respond by the end of the month. I hope that he will accept that that is more definite than when, in the past, it was stated that it would be soon.
The noble Lord and my noble kinsman mentioned the number of amendments carried in the House which relate to students' benefit entitlement. All I can say is we are considering carefully the implications of those amendments. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will announce his intentions in due course. The noble Lord asked whether discussions in another place will be guillotined. That is of course entirely a matter for the other place. The noble Lord would not expect me to comment on that point now.
The noble Lord also remarked upon the Government's refusal to extend mobility allowance to all people who are not independently mobile. I remind the House that there has been a six-fold increase in the number of mobility allowance recipients since 1978–79. In April of this year we introduced arrangements extending payment of the mobility allowance to people who, as the noble Lord is aware, are both deaf and blind. From April 1992 it is intended to introduce a new disability allowance which will enable people who are not independently mobile also to qualify. We estimate that by 1993–94 some 150,000 people will qualify for the new, lower rate of help for mobility needs.
I appreciate my noble friend's remarks in welcoming the pensions ombudsman. I do not follow him by suggesting that there might be a pensions ombudswoman. My noble friend will have noticed the reaction to his remarks. I hope that, whether it is a pensions ombudsman or ombudswoman, the best person who can be found will be appointed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said that she would prefer a tribunal to a pensions ombudsman.
1929 We debated that point in Committee, I hope that she looks forward to the pensions ombudsman system working well over the coming years and I am glad that she welcomes the Bill's pensions legislation. I accept that she would like many parts of it to go further. She particularly included the state pension age and suggested that we ought to aim towards its equalisation. As I have said in the past, the matter is complex and requires careful consideration. As the noble Baroness rightly mentioned, there is the European Court ruling on the Barber case. As she knows, that does not affect state pensions but we are considering the implications of the case. We have stressed that it is for schemes themselves to take legal advice on each scheme's circumstances.
[...] go no further on state pensions other than [...] what I have said on many occasions in the [...] hope that at some point we shall be able to [...] to the demands for equal state pensions. [...] these matters are of great complexity: they [...]important and not something on which we should rush into premature decisions.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he forgive me if I ask a question? He said, "We hope at some point". May we have something more definite? This has been going on a long time; we should like something a little more definite than "we hope". By 1993 some of these people will be dead.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, no, I am afraid that I cannot help the noble Baroness any further. It is a complex matter and we cannot rush into premature decisions. I have stated that the Government accept that there is a case for equalisation. How we achieve that and how long it will take is complex. We must bear in mind that there are people in their 40s who have already made plans for retirement on the basis of a pension at whatever their retirement age. It is a complex problem that cannot be solved overnight.
My noble kinsman referred to the Bill as a "Cinderella" Bill. He implied that the Government's treatment of social security matters was like the treatment of Cinderella. I do not accept this. A great deal of time has been devoted to the Bill and an unprecedented level of resources is devoted by the Government to social security. My noble kinsman went on to state in a rather peculiar fashion that the Government should spend less on social security and that would be a sign of greater success. I cannot accept that point. If the noble Earl considers those on whom the money is spent, I believe that he will agree with me that it generally goes to those in need. The general thrust of all our measures is to that end. However, to say that by removing bottle-necks we shall reduce expenditure is a great over simplification. I suspect that, if my noble kinsman's party had been in government at some time over the past 70 or 80 years and had had some experience of administering a social security system, he might have realised that the matter is not as simple as such glib remarks suggest.
Perhaps I may end by emphasising again that the changes in this Bill represent only one chapter in our continuing development of the social security 1930 system. This year we intend to spend—and I make no apologies for repeating the figure which the noble Earl accused me of over emphasising—some £56 billion on social security. That is well over £1 billion per week, or £20 per week for every man, woman or child in the country. The total is over one-third higher in real terms than expenditure in 1979. Nevertheless, we plan to increase that total to £60 billion next year. The total represents 30 per cent. of all public expenditure. These are enormous sums. However, I should stress that the resources at our disposal—and this is something which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter stressed—are not infinite. My right honourable friend has a clear duty to ensure that the funds are used wisely and responsibly.
It is essential for the Government to have a responsible approach. I was always told that that should be the hallmark of Opposition as well. I have therefore taken the trouble to do a little arithmetic. The total cost of the additions that noble Lords on the Opposition Benches have sought to make to the Bill during its passage through the House would amount to roughly £1.8 billion in the first full year, or a full penny on the basic rate of income tax. I believe that to offer a programme of that kind is both irresponsible and ill-considered. It is not a mark of either meanness or lack of care that the Government should reject the amendments. We stand by our record and our strategy and I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House whether the calculation he announced was made by officials in his department or by Conservative Central Office?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, it was made by officials in my department.
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.