HL Deb 20 February 1997 vol 578 cc817-62

5.29 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

[Amendment No. 65 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 24 [Duty to release certain life prisoners]:

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 17, line 24, leave out from ("fulfilled") to end of line 26.

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 66, I shall speak also to the connected Amendment No. 67. These amendments provide that trial judges and not the Home Secretary should set the tariff when juveniles convicted of murder receive sentences of detention during Her Majesty's pleasure. When a child or young person aged under 18 is found guilty of murder, the mandatory sentence under Section 53(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is detention during Her Majesty's pleasure, which is the juvenile equivalent of the mandatory life sentence that was introduced in 1908 in lieu of the death sentence.

Since 1983 the procedures following the imposition of such a sentence have been as follows. As in the case of adult life sentences, a minimum term—the tariff—is set which the offender must serve to meet the requirements of retribution and deterrence. The trial judge makes a recommendation to the Home Secretary on the appropriate length of the tariff period; the Lord Chief Justice also makes a recommendation. In the absence of any mechanism for appeal against the tariff, this is intended to help to provide a check against inconsistencies as between different judges. However, it is the Home Secretary who makes the final decision and he does not have to accept either of those judicial recommendations.

For example, in the case of the two boys who killed James Bulger, the trial judge recommended an eight-year tariff period; the Lord Chief Justice recommended 10 years; but the Home Secretary fixed the tariff at 15 years, stating that he had taken account of the judicial recommendations as well as all other relevant factors, including the circumstances of the case, public concern about it and the need to maintain confidence in the criminal justice system. That is the process at the beginning of the sentence period.

At the end of the tariff period the Parole Board considers the case and makes a recommendation as to whether the offender can safely be released. However, the Home Secretary is not currently obliged to accept a recommendation for release.

The feature of the process which is widely regarded as most objectionable is the role of the Home Secretary in setting the tariff and making release decisions. The setting of the tariff at the outset is a sentencing decision. Yet it is not taken by the trial judge, who has heard all the evidence and may well have heard that evidence tested as well as seen and heard the young offender concerned. It is a paper exercise by the executive, taken in private with no hearing, no right for the defendant to be present or represented and no right of appeal.

That procedure must contravene all the basic requirements of natural justice. When politicians make these decisions, there is a risk that they will be influenced by electoral considerations and the prospect of headlines in the tabloid media rather than by the merits of the case. One must not lose sight of the fact that these are often highly emotive cases, particularly when the victim as well as the offender is a child.

This procedure may he disturbing enough in the case of adult offenders, but in the case of children and young persons, where justice demands that the process should take account of their immaturity and their capacity for change, as well as their degree of psychological disturbance, I suggest that it is indefensible.

In February 1996, in the cases of Hussain v. the United Kingdom and Singh v. the United Kingdom the European Court of Human Rights held that the system for making release decisions at the end of the tariff period of a juvenile sentenced under Section 53(1) of the 1933 Act contravened Article 5(4) of the European Convention and that such young people were entitled to have the lawfulness of their detention reviewed by a court or by a court-like body. The Government agreed to abide by that decision, which would involve replacing the current system with one in which a judicial hearing—that is, a panel of the Parole Board sitting according to a judicial procedure—would make release decisions. It is Clause 24 which provides for this welcome change. However, the clause does not affect the procedure for setting tariffs at the beginning of the sentence.

These amendments propose that the setting of the tariff should also not be taken by the Home Secretary but should be taken out of the Home Secretary's hands and determined by the trial judge. If that happened, the tariff would be subject to appeal by the defence if they considered it too harsh or to a reference by the Attorney-General if the prosecution considered it too lenient. The process would be open, judicial and, unlike the present system, would satisfy the requirements of natural justice.

There are wider arguments relating to consistency in setting tariffs and the procedures involved in mandatory life sentences but I think the best argument is the simplest one: that tariff-setting ought to be a matter for the judge in open court, in these cases in particular. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

The amendments will take away from my right honourable friend the Home Secretary his powers to set the tariff to be served for retribution and deterrence for those sentenced to detention during Her Majesty's pleasure, the mandatory sentence for juveniles convicted of murder while under the age of 18.

Our well established position is that the Home Secretary has a legitimate and valuable role in the sentence imposed on those convicted of the unique and heinous crime of murder, whether they be adults or juveniles. This role is essential in establishing the distinctive nature of the penalty for murder.

To remove the role of the Home Secretary would downgrade the unique seriousness of the offence. It would mean that the penalty for murder committed by juveniles would operate in exactly the same way as the life sentence for those offences where it is the maximum rather than the only penalty.

Murder is unique because it involves the deprivation of another person's life with the intent at least to cause them grievous bodily harm. It is an offence generally regarded by society with revulsion. The current arrangements allow for regard to public confidence in the criminal justice system to be taken into account and mark out the uniqueness of murder. The Home Secretary's decision is principally informed by the recommendations of the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice. However, he takes into account all relevant factors, which may include, as your Lordships' House sitting in its judicial capacity agreed in the case of Doody, broader considerations of a public character than those which apply to an ordinary sentencing function". The unique value of the Home Secretary's role lies in his ability to consider these broader considerations which judicial recommendations may not adequately reflect. Such considerations as setting the tariff for those convicted of murder is a role which falls properly to the executive and which cannot be taken by anyone who does not have the same level of direct accountability to Parliament. If the courts were to set the tariff, there would be no direct accountability to Parliament for the decisions taken, which we believe, given the particular nature of the offence of murder, there should be.

Members of the Committee may be aware that the House, sitting in its judicial capacity, has recently heard the appeal against the Court of Appeal's ruling last summer in the cases of Thompson and Venables. Thompson and Venables are the two boys convicted of the murder of James Bulger. They sought judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision to set a tariff of 15 years in their cases. Although the Divisional Court questioned the Home Secretary's powers, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Home Secretary's tariff-setting powers for those sentenced to detention during Her Majesty's pleasure were lawful. We await the judgment on the appeal. I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendments.

Earl Russell

I must apologise to the noble Baroness for speaking after her. While my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and I were deferring to each other as to who should speak next, the noble Baroness leapt into the breach with great speed and anticipated us. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to make a few remarks now.

Two issues arise from this amendment, which I think should be considered separately. One is the respective roles of the judiciary and the executive in fixing the length of punishment. That is an issue with a very long history. The basic purpose of the rule of law, as people in this country have fought for it over many centuries, has been to shift the balance to bring the process of deciding on detention more under the control of the judiciary and less under the control of the executive. My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill mentioned Chapter 39 of Magna Carta—the due process provision. That arose from the conduct of King John, who on one occasion imprisoned somebody for no better reason than, in his own words, "because we were cross with him".

There is always a balance to be struck between the prerogative of the Home Secretary and the powers of the judiciary. It is a matter of some concern that that balance may be tilting a little in the Home Secretary's direction. That point was addressed by my noble friend Lord Meston.

My other point concerns the treatment of the young. It is a fairly recognised procedure that, when dealing with younger offenders, one must be more capable of considering the arguments for mercy than perhaps with those one considers might be old enough to know better. That is a point of some substance. It is also an area in which we must consider circumstances. In all sentencing one should consider circumstances, but it is particularly important when considering sentencing those between the ages of 16 and 18. The noble Baroness and I have already crossed swords today at Question Time. But she must be aware, because we have had so many exchanges on this point, that people between the ages of 16 and 18 are not as a general rule free to claim benefits.

Let there be no mistake, crime is crime regardless of the circumstances. I do not wish to say anything which casts one moment's doubt on that. But the noble Baroness will recall the study by the South Glamorgan Tech of teenagers in South Glamorgan. It was shown that about one sixth of that age group at any given time was without visible legal means of support and therefore had no legal way of getting anything to eat. During one exchange with the noble Baroness, I quoted from that report that among that group of people the word "shopping" meant shoplifting. She told me that I was shockingly cynical to have said any such thing.

First, I had quoted the words of an academic study, which I believe I was entitled to do. Second, I do not feel that the noble Baroness took on board that I referred to people whose only other option was starvation. I have said that it does not excuse them but it could be something which could count towards the mitigation of a justly imposed penalty. My noble friend's amendment would make that possible and to me it is a very big point in its favour.

Lord Ackner

I expected to hear the noble Baroness utter the time hallowed phrase used in previous debates that murder is a uniquely heinous crime. I still find it difficult to accept, when thinking back to the case of Private Clegg. If that was a uniquely heinous crime, why was he given his freedom after some two and a half years? There was no issue but that he killed and intended to kill. What is uniquely heinous about the murder—it is murder—resulting from mercy killing? There is an intention to kill. But no one could look on that as being in the same category as murder carried out in an outrageously violent way.

The unique feature is said to be killing with intent to do grievous bodily harm. But that occurs in manslaughter cases, where the reason for reducing the crime from murder to manslaughter is provocation: there was an intent to kill but to kill in circumstances which provided a defence of provocation.

I recall, I hope correctly, that the all-party Home Affairs Committee, while maintaining that murder should still receive an automatic life sentence, said that the Home Secretary's involvement should be removed and he should not set the tariff. The reason given—it was an all party committee—was that a politician deciding in private for how long a person should lose his liberty was repugnant to anyone with an ordinary sense of justice.

In those circumstances, it seems to me to be totally unjustified to cling on desperately—which is what the Home Secretary has been doing throughout all our debates on this subject—to the power to fix a tariff. In doing so, he deprives the accused of any right to challenge what he has done. Where the tariff is fixed by a judge, there is a right of appeal. First of all, one has the benefit of argument in open court as to what the tariff should be; then, a reasoned judgment in open court is provided; and there is an appeal, when the same process is gone through. But apparently the Home Secretary feels that it is just and proper for him to retain that tiny segment of power. I can only suggest that the reason is power for the sake of power. I wholeheartedly support the amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

The Minister justified retention of the right of the Home Secretary to fix the tariff in respect of children on the grounds that for a judge to fix that tariff would downgrade the unique and heinous nature of the crime. I do not see how that follows. I am in accord with the views expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, when he pointed out that murder is a crime which can vary from a killing in the course of rape or robbery to a killing as a result of domestic violence all the way through to mercy killing. There are infinite grades of killing. The only thing that is unique about murder cases is that someone dies.

Another circumstance which should be looked at in this context is killing by children, which is a particularly highly emotive issue. Let me give two instances. The first was the Phillip Lawrence murder by a 14 year-old, which had a peculiar horror to it. I declare an interest as a defence counsel for a co-accused in that case. The fact that a child was involved in that killing gave it an emotive charge which has perhaps resulted in some useful legislation that may come before this House next week. Nevertheless, it is a subject which causes high emotion among the public.

The second instance was the Jamie Bulger case. There, the Home Secretary fixed a tariff which the Court of Appeal found to be wrong and his methods to be wrong in a number of important respects. It is illustrative of the points that need to be made. First, the Home Secretary erroneously applied the same principles to tariff setting as in adult mandatory life sentences. That was one finding of the Court of Appeal. Then, he failed to appreciate that with young children one has to be more merciful, to consider rehabilitation and have in mind that children will change much more between the ages of, say, 10 years and 15 years than adults will change over the same period. And not only had the Home Secretary applied an adult approach to his decision in fixing a tariff in that case, but he took into account petitions that had been organised by a tabloid newspaper. The Committee has to think for only a moment of what public outcry there would be if a judge were presented with 50,000 names on a petition prior to sentencing in court—names collected by a tabloid newspaper. Everybody would regard that as a gross interference with the processes of justice. The Home Secretary having made those mistakes, it is right to remember that there was no possibility of the counsel appearing for the two defendants—

Baroness Blatch

It is a convention of this Chamber, when a case is before the House and not yet determined, that we do not discuss it. The noble Lord, in talking to this amendment, made subjective comments about the Home Secretary. I believe that what the noble Lord is saying is wholly inappropriate in the context of these amendments.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

If I am erring, I plead ignorance to it and apologise. I was referring to the judgment of the Court of Appeal. I appreciate that the matter is now before this House in the Judicial Committee and I shall await to hear, in due course, what the House says.

Perhaps I should move swiftly from that tragic case and say to the Committee that if a child is found guilty of murder in emotive circumstances, surely it is better that the judge fixes the tariff in open court, with all the representations being heard for both the Crown and the defence; also, that the matter be transparent and open not simply for the sake of the children themselves, but also for the sake of the victims' families and their own families. I support the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

When I looked around earlier I was surprised that nobody wished to speak to the amendments, only to be accused that I had sprung to my feet rather quickly. Therefore, if I seemed hesitant, it was because I wanted to give everybody the opportunity to speak. I shall assume when I sit down that most people who wanted to speak in fact do not intend to.

The Government will simply have to rest their case and agree to differ with those Members of the Committee who have spoken. It having been established in court that a murder has taken place, we assume that it is an activity that has taken place with intent. We also believe that the tariff set reflects the degree of seriousness of the murder.

In coming to a view in the case of murder where the Home Secretary has a role in setting the tariff, he takes into account what is said either privately or in open court by the trial judge. Equally, he takes into account what is said by the Lord Chief Justice. He submits to the prisoner all the recommendations that have come to him from the trial judge, from the Lord Chief Justice and the action he is minded to take. The prisoner is given an opportunity to make representations in writing to the Home Secretary before the tariff is set.

In response to what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, while not all murders are uniquely heinous, the present arrangements allow for different tariff lengths to be set which reflect the varying needs of retribution and deterrence. But the present arrangements make the sentence for murder unique. The Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, to which reference has already been made, agrees that there should not be any downgrading of the crime of murder. That is what the amendments would do.

Lord Meston

I avoided reference to the Jamie Bulger case in any detail, knowing that it was still subject to the appellate process.

The Minister suggested and has just repeated that, somehow or other, these amendments downgrade the uniqueness of murder as a criminal offence. I suggest that they do nothing of the sort and are not intended to do anything of the sort. Of course it must be recognised, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said, that murder is committed in a wide range of circumstances. That applies as much to murders by juveniles as to any other type of murder.

The noble Baroness referred to confidence in the judicial system and suggested that it was the Home Secretary's peculiar responsibility to act in those cases to uphold public confidence. But surely it is the judges who are primarily responsible for confidence in the system, and I suggest that they take that responsibility seriously.

I listened carefully to the noble Baroness for a clear exposition as to why the Executive is somehow better informed or better equipped to set the tariff in those cases. I have not been convinced. I listened carefully to the Minister's response to see whether she could explain why the paper process I described is somehow better than the process I suggest; namely, the setting of the tariff by the trial judge who has heard all the evidence at first hand. The noble Baroness has not convinced me. I suggest that the Government should grasp the nettle; but if they will not, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

5.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether Amendment No. 66 shall be agreed to?

Division called.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The Question is, That Amendment No. 66 be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say "Content".

In the absence of any Lord to say "Content" at the second Question, I declare that the "Not-Contents" have it.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I do not know whether I can raise a point of order, and if not—

Noble Lords


Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I intend to persist in the matter until I am ruled out of order. There is clearly a misunderstanding—

Noble Lords


Lord Strathclyde

Perhaps I may—

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

I am on my feet. I have no intention of giving way. I shall gladly give way if noble Lords on the other side stop shouting and if I may be allowed for a moment to explain why I am on my feet in the first place. The normal courtesies of the House are that if a noble Lord does not give way, even to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, he shall be allowed to finish what he has to say.

I understand—and this is why the Committee is at the moment in some confusion—that when my noble friend Lord Meston called in the Division Lobby in favour of our amendment his voice was not heard. I do not know what redress there may be if the word "Content" is not heard in such circumstances but I should have thought that it was normally within the courtesies of your Lordships' House—and in this respect greatly different from what happens in another place—if your Lordships, having not heard a call of "Content", at least give the opportunity to consider whether it is a fault on their part or on the part of those who may not have raised their voices. I should be glad to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, now, provided there is no further shouting from the other side, to deal with this clear and particular point. If "Content" was shouted but not heard, what redress have we now in order to enable your Lordships to do what they wish to do? Clearly, a number of noble Lords are assembled for the very purpose of voting for or against the amendment. Surely it is right that they should be given the opportunity of exercising their views in a Division, because that is what your Lordships very clearly wish.

Lord Strathclyde

I think I must try to put the Committee back into some kind of order. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was not speaking to a Motion. As the noble Lord knows, in this House we do not have points of order in quite the same way as they have in another place. I understand that the Question was put for the second time and no word was heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I am not in a position to say whether or not the word "Content" was shouted. All I know is that it was not heard and the Motion was therefore carried in favour of the "Not-Contents". There is a simple solution to this. The next amendment is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Meston. I understand that the issues are connected. If he wishes to move that amendment as soon as he possibly can, we can carry on with the Division and see which way the Vote would have gone.

Lord Meston

I thank the noble Lord. He anticipated precisely what I was going to suggest. I am sorry if this matter has been unduly prolonged, but I certainly intend to move the next amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I call Amendment No. 67.

Lord Meston moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 17, line 29, after ("law") insert ("or he was under 18 at the time when he committed the offence for which his sentence was imposed").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

6.4 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 67) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 56; Not-Contents, 124.

Division No. 3
Ackner, L. McNair, L.
Acton, L. McNally, L.
Addington, L. Mar and Kellie, E [Teller.]
Bath, M. Meston, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Methuen, L.
Broadbridge, L. Ogmore, L.
Calverley, L. Onslow, E.
Carlisle, E. Oxford, Bp.
Dahrendorf, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Davies, L. Rea, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Redesdale, L.
Falkland, V. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Geraint, L. Rochester, L.
Hamwee, B. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Russell, E. [Teller.]
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Hooson, L. Sandwich, E.
Hughes, L. Southwark, Bp.
Hunt, L. Tenby, V.
Hylton, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Kilbracken, L. Thurso, V.
Kilmarnock, L. Tope, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Tordoff, L.
Lincoln, Bp. Warnock, B.
Longford, E. Wigoder, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Aberdare, L. Astor, V.
Addison, V. Astor of Hever, L.
Ailsa, M. Balfour, E.
Aldington, L. Banbury of Southam, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Beaverbrook, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Berners, B.
Annaly, L. Blaker, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Blatch, B.
Ashbourne, L. Bowness, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Long, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lucas, L.
Butterfield, L. Lyell, L.
Byford, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Carlisle of Bucklow, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Macleod of Borve, B.
Chelmsford, V. Marlesford, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Merrivale, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Mersey, V.
Colwyn, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Courtown, E. Milverton, L.
Craigavon, V. Mottistone, L.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Crawshaw, L. Nickson, L.
Crickhowell, L. Norrie, L.
Cumberlege, B. Northesk, E.
Dacre of Glanton, L. O'Cathain, B.
Davidson, V. Oxfuird, V.
Denbigh, E. Peel, E.
Denham, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Quinton, L.
Dilhorne, V. Rankeillour, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Rees, L.
Dudley, E. Rowallan, L.
Dundonald, E. Saatchi, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Saint Albans, D.
Elton, L. St. Davids, V.
Erne, E. St John of Bletso, L.
Feldman, L. Savile, L.
Ferrers, E. Seccombe, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Gisborough, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Goschen, V. Skelmersdale, L.
Haddington, E. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Harmsworth, L. Stewartby, L.
Henley, L. Stockton, E.
Hogg, B. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Holderness, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Hooper, B. Swinfen, L.
Howe, E. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Inglewood, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Keyes, L. Torphichen, L,
Kimball, L. Trefgarne, L.
Kinnoull, E. Trumpington, B.
Kitchener, E. Ullswater, V.
Knollys, V. Wise, L.
Knutsford, V. Wrenbury, L.
Laing of Dunphail, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.11 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 24 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Belstead

I have given my noble friend the Minister notice that the reason for opposing this clause is to ask whether the Government recognise that resources will be needed to bring Clause 24 into effect; yet no costs concerning that clause are mentioned, as regards the Parole Board, in the Financial Memorandum. I must of course declare an interest as chairman of that board.

The effect of this clause is to transfer from the Home Secretary to the Parole Board the responsibility for deciding on the release of prisoners under the age of 18 years convicted of murder and detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure. That follows a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and is being put into effect by Clause 24 by applying the existing arrangements for the release of discretionary life prisoners by the Parole Board to Her Majesty's Pleasure prisoners.

However, discretionary life reviews on which this clause is based are the most costly of all the reviews that the Parole Board undertakes. In total I am sure that we are talking about a small sum—in fact, a very small sum—in public expenditure terms. Nonetheless, I am asking my noble friend Lady Blatch whether the Government have made an assessment of the additional costs which this work will entail, because the Financial Memorandum has not, and whether the Government will provide the necessary resources.

Baroness Blatch

Clause 24 also requires the Secretary of State to set a tariff for juvenile murderers, but does not restrict the exercise of his discretion in so doing. The clause is required to give effect to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the cases of Singh and Hussain, which we have undertaken to do.

The point that has been raised by my noble friend has nothing to do with the purpose of the clause, but with the extra burdens that we put on the Parole Board and the issue of resources related to it. I am happy to confirm to my noble friend that we shall meet all of the bids for additional funding in the next financial year. Perhaps I may just remind my noble friend that they cover providing internal audit for the Parole Board; Her Majesty's Pleasure cases; an extra SEO to assume responsibility for finance and administration; a part-time AO to process board members' claims for fees, etc.; and meeting some reprographic costs. I can now confirm all of these will be met.

Lord Belstead

I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that detailed reply. I hope that meeting those costs will extend beyond the forthcoming year.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clauses 25 and 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Duration and conditions of licences]:

[Amendments Nos. 68 and 69 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Recall of life prisoners while on licence]:

[Amendments Nos. 70 to 76 not moved.]

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Longford moved Amendment No. 77:

Page 19, line 44, leave out from ("directs") to end of line 1 on page 20.

The noble Earl said: I hope that the noble Baroness, in her Christian charity, will overlook the authorship of this amendment. I can assure her that it is in no way an attack on the present Government, but a straightforward appeal to common sense and decency. I realise that, looking at this amendment, no one will be able to make head or tail of its implications. I would not know what it amounts to so perhaps I may explain and say at the same time why I shall move it and then, after any discussion, withdraw it; then I shall move it again at the next stage so that Members of the House will have time to understand its implications.

The purpose of the amendment is extremely simple. It is to the effect that if those who receive mandatory life sentences—in other words, murderers—are recalled to prison, they should be subject to the same process as discretionary life prisoners. It is as simple as that. I shall give one example of a mandatory life prisoner without mentioning his name. However, the noble Baroness will be familiar with the case because it has been mentioned to the Home Office in the past and I have given her notice that I shall mention it today.

This particular prisoner killed his wife in a fit of rage and spent 13 years in prison where I visited him every now and then. He came out and, after 13 months, without being convicted of any crime, his conduct was judged to be unsuitable by a probation officer. On the say-so of that officer he was returned to prison. He has now been in prison for three years where I visit him from time to time at different places. He has recently been told that within the next month or so he will go to an open prison for at least a year, which will make four years in prison and—this is the point—without ever going before a tribunal.

If he were a discretionary life prisoner he would go before a tribunal at an early stage. The finding of that body would be binding on the Government. I am simply saying that in terms of natural justice, common sense and decency, it is right that the two kinds of convicted life prisoners should be put on the same footing. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I remind the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that if this amendment is agreed to, he will be unable to move Amendment No. 78 which, I imagine, he does not wish to move anyway.

Baroness Blatch

The noble—and dare I say—indefatigable Earl, Lord Longford, seeks to bring the procedure for dealing with the recall of a mandatory life sentence prisoner precisely into line with the procedure for a discretionary life sentence prisoner. On the first of his amendments I can offer the noble Earl the comfort that the current law, which the Bill, as drafted, would merely re-enact, already provides for the Parole Board's recommendation to be binding upon the Secretary of State. In the case of discretionary life sentence prisoners, the board has the power to direct immediate release following a recall. For those convicted of murder and serving a mandatory life sentence, the board may recommend immediate release following a recall, but Clause 28 clearly provides that the Secretary of State shall give effect to such a recommendation. I believe that is clear.

The second amendment raises a more difficult issue. First, for a discretionary lifer—and now in juvenile murder cases—Parliament has accepted the need for a body with judicial procedures to decide on release once the period of punishment or tariff has been served. Such a body is also necessary to determine whether a sentence should be effectively re-commenced after revocation of a life sentence or whether the recalled licensee should be immediately released.

But as domestic and European courts have recognised, the position for adult murderers has always been different. Their initial release is determined by the Secretary of State and depends on whether he considers that they are safe to be released. The power to recall such a prisoner after release is naturally exercised with great care. In all but emergency cases, it is the board itself which must recommend to the Home Secretary that this step be taken, and since the Parole Board was set up in 1967 Parliament has given it the power to recommend the immediate release of a recalled life licensee. Where the board takes the view, upon consideration of the recalled licensee's representations, that the recall should not have taken place, the Home Secretary is required to release him. But if the prisoner is not released at this point it is again the Home Secretary alone who can decide to release him thereafter.

The board does not operate with judicial procedures in these cases because there is no need for it to do so. It is performing the function of a check on the wide power to recall a life licensee, sometimes where he is not even charged with having committed a new criminal offence. It only adopts a judicial character in dealing with discretionary lifers and juvenile murderers, who are serving sentences of a quite different nature to the mandatory life sentence.

The noble Earl would doubtless prefer the Parole Board to adopt court-like procedures for all its decisions but that is to ignore the fundamental difference between a mandatory life sentence and a discretionary life sentence. Supported by domestic and European courts, the Government remain persuaded that oral hearings are not necessary in mandatory cases and that current procedures for consideration of immediate release following recall in mandatory cases are both appropriate and just. Therefore, I hope that the noble Earl will not press his amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister has given my noble friend some reassurance on the first of his amendments and I suppose we must accept that. However, without fully understanding the literal impact of my noble friend's amendment, I am still worried about the case that he raised and about whether it is being dealt with justly. My noble friend referred to the case of someone who had served 13 years, who was out of gaol and who, simply on the say-so of a probation officer, was recalled. Because he was a mandatory life prisoner he had no access to any appeal tribunal. I understand about the differences between mandatory and discretionary life prisoners. But can that be just?

Baroness Blatch

I was not going to use the details of the case which the noble Earl raised, but I think perhaps I should now do so in response to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

Mr. Rundle was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 1980 for the murder of his wife whose body he burnt and later disposed of. He had a history of volatile relationships with vulnerable women. The circumstances leading to his arrest revealed a tendency to deceptive behaviour. Mr. Rundle was released in February 1993 on life licence and under the supervision of the Probation Service.

Within a few months of his release, Mr. Rundle formed a relationship with a woman. The Probation Service considered her to be unstable and advised Mr. Rundle that it was an unsuitable match which was likely to place him at risk. Threats of violence by Mr. Rundle towards the woman were investigated in December and in the light of other signs of worrying behaviour in relation to his attitude to supervision, a formal warning letter was issued by the Home Office in January 1994.

In March 1994 it was reported that Mr. Rundle had deceived his probation officer over his continuing relationship with the woman. It was also alleged that he had made threats to kill her and had abducted her. The police regarded Mr. Rundle as extremely dangerous. The Probation Service recommended immediate recall in view of the risk which Mr. Rundle was considered to pose.

The Secretary of State considered that Mr. Rundle no longer represented an acceptable risk to remain at liberty in the community and on 16th March the Home Secretary agreed to the revocation of this life licence under the emergency recall provisions set out in Section 39(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

All such cases are considered in great depth. There is no question of the Home Secretary simply taking the word of the Probation Service. However, the Probation Service takes extremely seriously its role of supervising people who are out on life licence. Probation officers are usually the first people to know when there are signs of problems and they are usually the first people to alert the authorities to any problems. I could give more details of the case, if the noble Lord wishes, but I think that there were very good reasons for recall. The matter was properly considered—and rightly so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In the light of that reply, I have no criticism whatever—and no reason to make any criticism—of the Probation Service, the police or anyone else involved in that case. Incidentally, I did not name the person concerned. It was not my intention to be critical; I intervened only to ask this. Whatever the merits of the case, can it be just that there should be no appeal to a tribunal for a mandatory life prisoner when there is such a right for discretionary life prisoners? That is not taking sides in the case of Mr. Rundle. I raised a more general question.

Lord Hylton

In general support of what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, says, I have no doubt that the action taken in recalling that person was prudent and correct. But would it not have been very much better for the case to be reviewed by an independent and impartial body, such as the Parole Board, after he had been recalled? Can the noble Baroness say anything about whether the additional seven years that the man has served since recall are justified and whether or not they have been reviewed?

Baroness Blatch

At the risk of going on for rather too long, I shall continue to give the information that I have on the case. In April 1994—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If the Minister will forgive me—

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to finish because a particular question has been raised about the involvement of the Parole Board and about whether that gentleman was allowed to make his case. The points that I am about to make seem entirely pertinent to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

Mr. Rundle was invited to make representations to the Parole Board against his recall. He did so on 8th June and on 8th July the Parole Board considered his representations but deferred its decision pending more reports from the police and the Probation Service. I could go on but, as I have said, Mr. Rundle was given an opportunity and there was Parole Board involvement.

The Earl of Longford

I am bound to say that the noble Baroness does not know the gentleman and knows very little about him. I have known him for 17 years, so I know rather more about him. One or two points should be borne in mind when listening to the Minister's very ex parte statements. The noble Baroness should realise that that gentleman was warned against the woman on the grounds that she was unstable. As I understand it, when he was recalled the police did not rely on her evidence because she was unstable and regarded, I believe, as a bit of a dipsomaniac. At any rate the evidence of alleged attacks on the woman came from someone who was judged so unstable that the man was told that he should not go about with her. That is one aspect of the case.

Another aspect, not mentioned in the brief, is that at a certain point the Parole Board recommended that that gentleman should go to an open prison. What happened to that suggestion? It was turned down by the Home Office. I went to see the Minister's predecessor at the Home Office about that very point. No one could produce any reason, but the Parole Board was defied in that case by the Home Secretary. Perhaps the Minister has not been told about that. Before I raise the matter at the next stage, I should like to give her the opportunity to think the case over.

Finally, I should add that the probation officer who previously found that gentleman's conduct so unsatisfactory is now in favour of his release. Although, in all the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, I shall certainly return to it at the next stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 78, 78A and 79 not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clauses 29 and 30 agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 80:

Before Clause 31, insert the following new clause—


(". The following subsection shall be substituted for subsection (6) of section 82 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980

"(6) Where a magistrates' court issues a warrant of commitment on the ground that one of the conditions mentioned in subsection (1) or (4) above is satisfied, it shall state that fact, specifying the ground. in the warrant and where it specifies the ground that the conditions mentioned in subsection (4)(b) above are satisfied it shall state in open court the reasons for its opinion that all other methods of enforcing payment of the sum are inappropriate or unsuccessful.".").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 80, I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 82, 85 and 86. The purpose of Amendment No. 80 is to require a magistrates' court to give reasons if it concludes that it wishes to reject other methods of enforcing a fine when imprisoning a fine defaulter. Essentially, this derives from the judgment of Lord Justice Simon Brown in the case of R. v. Oldham Justices and another, ex parte Cawley. He said, in words that seem generally appropriate: In respect of each apparent option"— that is, enforcement option— there must be such a reason, for it is imperative that justices rigorously examine each, and only discard it for good reason … The reasoning process must be gone through. The reasons must be clearly capable of articulation. They must indeed be articulated in open court".

That is precisely what Amendment No. 80 seeks to do; in other words, a magistrates' court, in issuing a warrant of commitment, shall state in open court the reasons for its opinion that all other methods of enforcing payment of the sum are inappropriate or unsuccessful.

The alternatives are well known: a distress warrant; deduction from income support; attachment of earnings; attendance centre; money payment supervision order; and enforcement in the civil courts. It is not without interest that there has been a dramatic reduction in what most people consider to be a social blight, namely the imprisonment of fine defaulters, from 20,157 in 1995 to 8,807 in 1996. Unfortunately, the judgment of the Divisional Court which was given by Lord Justice Staughton in December 1996 held that the obligation to give reasons for discarding alternatives did not apply to those defaulters who were 21 and over.

The reason for this amendment, therefore, is to impose upon a magistrates' court, when it is considering taking a step that most regard as a last resort to be taken only after the most careful consideration of alternatives, the statutory discipline of giving reasons for rejecting all other enforcement options. The stance that we take, which we believe to be a practical one, is that the discipline of giving reasons means that the previous discipline is enforced and that the magistrates' minds must be directed specifically to alternative sanctions. That is the basis of the amendment. I hope that the Government will see the sense of it and accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Hylton

I support Amendment No. 80. I should like to say a word or two about the experience in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland the number of admissions to prison for fine default constitutes a very high proportion of the prison intake in any given year. I do not have the exact figure. Voluntary organisations, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Parole Board, have worked out that it would be quite easy to have a scheme functioning at least on a pilot basis during the next 12 months under which fine defaulters and other non-payers who came before the courts would be obliged by court order to do useful work for non-governmental organisations in lieu of having to go to prison. I have urged this on the responsible Minister in Northern Ireland. The reply I have been given is that the department does not want to do it yet but prefers first to see how comparable schemes in England work out. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell the Committee what stage the comparable schemes have reached. I hope that they are making very good progress.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I also support Amendments Nos. 80 and 86 to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has spoken. I like the fact that in Amendment No. 80 it is clearly established that imprisonment for fine default is the last resort. Amendment No. 86 establishes and gives appropriate status to a community service order or curfew order as the penultimate disposal.

Baroness Blatch

No one wishes to see fine defaulters committed to prison except as a last resort. We have consistently proclaimed our determination to see the number of fine defaulters in prison reduced, and our efforts have paid off. But equally there are occasions when detention is called for. Perhaps I may give an indication of the progress that has been made. In 1995 20,157 fine defaulters were committed to prison. In 1996 that figure had fallen to 8,806. The Government cannot prove it, but there is a view that the Cawley judgment has had a considerable impact and that courts are now much more rigorous in ensuring that any committal to prison is very much the last resort.

Section 82 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 provides that a person may not be committed to prison for fine default unless the court is satisfied that his default is due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect to pay, and, furthermore, that it has considered or tried all other methods of enforcing payment and it appears that they are inappropriate or unsuccessful. If a person who is committed to prison for fine default believes that these legal requirements have not been met or that he has in any other way been treated unfairly by the court it is open to him to appeal.

The practical objections to this amendment are overwhelming. A defaulter's case is likely to be considered by the court on a number of separate occasions before the point at which commitment to prison arises. It would be a considerable additional burden on the court if there were a statutory duty requiring the court to keep a written record of the magistrates' reasons at each stage of the enforcement process in every case, so that if it reached the point of commitment to prison the justices on that occasion would be able to refer to reasons for decisions taken earlier. Let me put this proposed amendment in context. Approximately, three-quarters of those convicted by the courts are fined—almost one million people in 1995. Keeping the kind of records required by this amendment in all cases would be a heavy burden. In practice this is not a necessary burden. Informal checklists to ensure compliance with the requirement of Section 82 are already in place in many courts, and recent high profile successful appeals against commitment have highlighted to courts the need to ensure that the correct procedures as set out in that section are followed. I do not believe that the case for placing an onerous new requirement on the courts has been made out, and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Turning now to Amendments Nos. 82, 85 and 86, I agree that a court should not have the power to impose a community service order or curfew order for fine default unless it has tried or considered all other enforcement methods short of imprisonment. The Bill already provides in Clause 31(1) that the court may use the powers in subsection (2) to impose a community service order or curfew order on a fine defaulter only where it has power under the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 to issue a warrant of commitment to prison for fine default. The 1980 Act makes clear that the court may not issue such a warrant unless it has tried or considered all other enforcement methods and they have either failed or the court has concluded that they are inappropriate. It follows that, in order to satisfy the restrictions on its power to impose a community service or curfew order which Clause 31(1) provides, the court must have previously tried or considered all other enforcement methods. Consequently, these amendments are unnecessary. We are at one on the need for this measure, but the Government do not believe that Amendment No. 80 is necessary.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

We are at one. Obviously, I have failed to make myself clear. I told the Committee of the statistical fall from 20,157 in 1995 to 8,807 in 1996. I indicated that in part the Cawley judgment had brought that about. There were two other causes. I refer to the model checklist which the Magistrates' Association and the Justices' Clerks' Society offered to magistrates, which they by and large took up, and also—credit where it is due—the Lord Chancellor's Department's working group on the enforcement of financial penalties.

The Minister said that this would impose onerous new requirements. Not so. The Cawley judgment is binding on magistrates' courts in the case of offenders under the age of 21. The difficulty arose in December 1996 in the Crown v. Stockport Justices, ex parte Conlan and the Crown v. Newcastle Justices, ex parte Keenaghan in which it was held that the requirement did not apply to those over the age of 21.

There is no great difficulty in our Amendment No. 80. It is not required that every differently constituted bench should give reasons because the preceding hearings do not lead to the issue of a warrant of committal. Amendment No. 80 is perfectly simple, practical and workable. It only relates to the magistrates' court that issues the warrant of committal, and that warrant of committal being issued has to have endorsed upon it the reasons in open court why the magistrates' court has decided that all other methods of enforcing payment are inappropriate or unsuccessful, virtually a paraphrase, or indeed a recitation, of what Lord Justice Simon Brown said in Cawley.

The Minister says that Cawley was an excellent decision and of course we agree. She said it has beneficial consequences and of course we agree. The Cawley ruling imposed upon the court a discipline, not an onerous new requirement. There is nothing new about what we suggest. This is a matter of such importance that unless the Minister is able to say that the Government can give Amendment No. 80 in particular further consideration—this is, I think the issue between us—I shall be inclined to test the opinion of the Committee. Since we are early on and heat has not yet been engendered and we have not had our dinner, I do not know whether the Minister is able to give that modest encouragement to me; otherwise, I shall feel obliged to test the opinion of the Committee.

Baroness Blatch

I will not prolong the debate by responding in any kind of detail to the particular point the noble Lord made except to say that in order to put the information on the warrant which would need to be put on the warrant there would have to be some recording of all the preceding occasions when the defendant was before the court and efforts were being made for him to pay the fine. However, I give the noble Lord an assurance, as I hope I always do, that of course I will study everything that has been said without prejudice to the outcome. If I cannot satisfy the noble Lord, no doubt he will not be reticent in putting down this amendment again at the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

Bearing in mind that it is not my birthday and it is not Christmas, the Minister has been extremely generous. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 81 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 82 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 83:

Page 21, line 41, leave out ("community service") and insert ("supervised attendance and work").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 83 I would like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 87, 95 and 97. Those who cast a casual eye at the amendments may think that all we are doing is making a change in name of non-custodial sentences which are presently called community service orders. That is not the case. This is a more important series of amendments than that because we are seeking different, separate arrangements for non-custodial sentences for fine defaulters from those which apply to other offenders, in particular, of course, more serious offenders. I preface my remarks by saying that we are in general supportive of the Government's proposals to seek to keep fine defaulters out of prison. I hope that the indications which the Minister gave to my noble friend just now will contribute to that even further. We are looking for the same objective as the Government in this part of the Bill.

There is a serious difficulty in the use of community service orders for fine defaulters. First, there is the danger of a substantial number of fine defaulters receiving this sentence which could swamp the community service order procedures. Indeed, unless there is a firm indication that there are going to be greater resources available for community service orders (in other words, that any savings produced by a reduction in custodial sentences are to be turned to community service orders) the provision of community service for more serious offenders could be damaged.

Secondly, the community service order is intended to be a substantial penalty suitable for more serious offenders as a way of keeping them out of prison. Inevitably, the orders which apply to fine defaulters, serious as they may be, are not going to be as serious as the original community service orders. Then there is the problem—we shall be debating amendments later on—that fine defaulters can buy out of any community service orders because, after all, what they are being awarded is a punishment for not paying the fine and if they do pay the fine, under the circumstances we are discussing, it will no longer be appropriate.

We propose that instead of the name and the fact of community service orders there should be an order called a supervised attendance and work order. This is an amalgamation of the proposal of the Magistrates' Association, which has proposed a comparable order to be called a work order, and the suggestion of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and NACRO of the supervised attendance order, which is the phrase used in Scotland. We have combined the two into the supervised attendance and work order in order to avoid the potential for conflict and confusion inherent in the Government's proposals and to ensure that the content of the proposed order can be different from that of community service orders. I shall not go into details of how they could be different. But there is no reason, for example, why an order for fine defaulters should not include guidance on proper family or individual budgeting or guidance against alcohol abuse.

When this issue was discussed in slightly different terms in the Commons the Minister seemed to think that our amendments were in conflict with the need to ensure efficient and effective use of community service order resources. I want to suggest that that is not the case, and that our amendments would produce a more efficient and effective use of community service orders and a more appropriate non-custodial punishment for fine defaulters. As I said, there is the danger that the new demand on community service orders could divert resources from more serious offenders. Secondly, the supervised attendance and work order could add a different and more appropriate content to the orders, and, thirdly, as I think Ministers recognise, the supervised attendance order in Scotland actually works. It is being adopted by more and more local areas within Scotland. That seems to me, as a half-Scot and from a long time ago, rather a good recommendation. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

I wanted to ask the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, before he sits down to comment on the difference between the person who has money and refuses to pay the fine and the person who has perhaps a family to support and has great difficulty paying the fine. There needs to be a difference between the two.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Earl. That is not really an issue in these amendments. We are talking about different forms of non-custodial sentence. When magistrates are considering whether it is a wilful refusal to pay a fine or because of difficulty in finding the money for the fine they will make their judgment as between a custodial and a non-custodial sentence. We are talking about the occasions when they have already decided that a non-custodial sentence is right.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

I listened with great care and interest to everything said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. One has great respect for the pedigree of the amendment. However, I am bound to say, I still did not see what change he was making other than a change in name. Surely this is a community service order under another name. The only difference appears to be that rather than a period of hours of 40 to 240 there has been inserted the hours of 20 to no more than 100.

Normally anyone receiving a CSO for fine default would expect to get a period of less than 100 hours' community service. Although I am sure that the intention behind the amendment is good, my concern is that by having two tiers of community service we may reduce in the eyes of the court the importance of community service which I understand has always been looked upon as an alternative to imprisonment, whether for an offence or a fine default. I hope that we shall hear from my noble friend the Minister that she has great faith in community service. I hope that she will be able to tell us that it is working. If that is so, is it not better to leave it as it is rather than to introduce what may be a complication without any great advantage?

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I believe that the risk of appearing to trivialise community service for offenders is too great, and that loss of status would be detrimental to the perception by offenders, recipients of help from the scheme and the general public. Community service orders and probation orders, especially those involving an intensive programme, represent the heavy end of community sentences, and are rightly classified as alternatives to custody.

As has been said, the amendment proposes the introduction of a scheme similar to the Scottish supervised attendance order. As I see it, the principal difference between a CSO and a supervised attendance order is that in the former (the CSO) the offender is matched carefully to a specific task, often on a third party's property and under the supervision of that third party, whereas in a supervised attendance order purposeful activity is arranged within the supervised attendance centre and organised and supervised by that centre's staff.

A typical programme, as in the one proposed for Falkirk, would be 80 per cent. physical work and 20 per cent. education and social programmes. Those programmes would discuss subjects such as drugs, alcohol, assertiveness and personal skills, which I hope include budgeting. Those supervised attendance orders have been piloted in Scotland, and are now accepted as a core part of the Scottish criminal justice system. It suits short-time attendance, so I commend the proposed supervised attendance and work order scheme to the Committee.

Viscount Tenby

I give the amendment qualified support. I say "qualified" because I should prefer the simple title "work order", a view which is shared by the Magistrates' Association, of which I am a member. I must therefore declare an interest as a magistrate. On the principle contained in the amendment, however, I am as one with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I said on Second Reading that I warmly support the initiative contained in the Bill of making CSOs available as an alternative to custody for repeat offenders and those who wilfully refuse to pay fines.

CSOs have been a success over the years. There is no reason why these new orders should not be equally useful, provided, of course, that there is sufficient will put behind them in terms of resources and so forth. However, the CSO is a serious disposal, as the noble Lord has just said, consequent on the ordering of a pre-sentence report on the grounds that the offence was serious enough to warrant such a disposal. I therefore believe that there should be a distinction between it and the new order. We must take care, surely, not to let CSOs become devalued by the new orders. Any confusion must be avoided at all costs. I realise that it is unrealistic and counterproductive to squabble over alternative titles, and since experience north of the Border, as so often, indicates that supervised attendance and work orders have bedded down well, let us run with that. I support the amendment.

Lord Hylton

I should like to give some examples of the many different kinds of work which are needed and which will be suitable for work orders. Both in town and country, there is enormous scope for the removal of litter, the scraping off and cleaning off of graffiti, the repainting of signposts of a certain old-fashioned type, and the painting even of school buildings, particularly at weekends and during holidays. In addition there are many different kinds of environmental work; dealing with oil spills, maintaining footpaths and so forth. Whether such things can be satisfactorily done by offenders will turn entirely on supervision. Here there is a case for a lower grade of supervision than that currently being used by CSOs. I believe that the amendments have merit.

Baroness Blatch

We believe that community service orders imposed for fine default and persistent petty offending should operate in the same way as other community service orders imposed as a penalty by the courts. In practice, those given community service orders, for whatever reason, must be dealt with in the same way. This will ensure an efficient and effective use of existing arrangements and the resources devoted to delivering community service. It was a particular pleasure for me to pick up from the Committee how much CSOs are valued.

It is not helpful to the courts, the probation service, offenders or victims to have a new name for an existing disposal. I agree with my noble friend Lord Carlisle who picked up that point. It is simply a recipe for confusion and error. There may be a case for renaming community service orders but, if so, then all community service orders should be renamed.

This amendment proposes that the "supervised attendance and work order" would not operate in the same way as existing community service, but instead would be a completely new scheme, governed by its own rules. Our proposal, which has been widely welcomed by respondents to our consultation paper, is much simpler. It is that fine defaulters and persistent petty offenders should be required to undertake community service. Everyone, and particularly the courts and the probation service, which is responsible for delivering community service, understand what is meant by community service. The probation service will be able to deal with fine defaulters and persistent petty offenders alongside other offenders upon whom community service has been imposed without any disruption to their existing arrangements.

It would be confusing and wasteful to set up what would in effect be very similar community service type schemes solely for this small group of offenders. And it is just not necessary. The existing community service arrangements are well established and we know that they work well. It is sensible to extend their application to fine defaulters and petty offenders, as we propose. It is not sensible to set up a whole new, but separate, scheme which operates in much the same way. It is not an efficient use of the disposals already in place, and the resources devoted to them.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned Scotland. Even if there were to be a new name—the name suggested is supervised attendance and work order—apart from being cumbersome it is likely to risk confusion with the supervised attendance order which is available to the courts in Scotland.

A supervised attendance order is not the same as community service. It is more like an attendance centre which helps offenders. It might be unhelpful duplication to try to replicate it in England and Wales when we already have many disposals for fine defaulters, including money payment supervision orders.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, that there is no danger that community service as a community penalty will be downgraded by its use for fine defaulters and persistent petty offenders. A change of name is not needed for that purpose. The difference in the minimum and maximum hours available in the different circumstances differentiate between the two groups. But for practical purposes, all community service orders should be managed in the same way and it is therefore proper that they should be called the same. The range proposed for fine defaulters would be a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 100 hours and for persistent offenders a minimum of 40 and a maximum of 240 hours, which gives greater flexibility.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to fine defaulters as possibly swamping community service provision. I know why the noble Lord should make that point, but we are piloting the scheme in order to see what impact it has on the Probation Service. As regards downgrading, I have already referred to the differential maximum and minimum sentences which will reflect the two types of offenders; namely, fine defaulters and persistent offenders.

There is not much between us on these amendments, but I do not believe that a change of name would achieve anything, other than cause confusion.

7 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I call that response stubborn. I do not call the Minister stubborn, although on reflection that might do her credit with the Home Secretary. We have not moved far since the debate on a comparable issue in another place. The Minister is simply asserting that to have two tiers of community service, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, described it, would be confusing. The advice of the Magistrates' Association, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and NACRO, which were particularly concerned with alternatives to prison, is to the contrary. When such advice has been given in response not only to the 1996 White Paper but to the earlier consultation document, I am surprised that Ministers are still making the same comments.

If the Minister prays in aid the pilot system, my response is, yes, the pilot system is good but what happens if it indicates that I am right and that the relevant associations and noble Lords such as the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, who know more about these issues than I do, are right? What changes can be made in the provision if the pilot system indicates a view different from the Minister's? What changes are possible as a result of different experience in the pilot scheme?

Baroness Blatch

It would be most unwise of me to predict the outcome of a pilot scheme, the whole point of which is to see precisely how it works and what it is indicating about the effectiveness of the alternative proposal. We believe that the proposal is interesting and that it will work. We believe that the Probation Service will cope very well with the scheme, but the reason we are piloting it is genuinely to judge its impact.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I did not ask the Minister to predict the results of the pilot scheme. I asked what action could be taken. For example, if the pilot indicated it, could there be, without further legislation, a different form of non-custodial sentence for fine defaulters?

Baroness Blatch

I return to my original answer. It is impossible to give the noble Lord an answer. One can say that whatever comes out of a pilot scheme will be placed before the Ministers of the day who will consider its evaluation and decide how it should be taken forward. They will decide whether it should be taken into mainstream provision or whether the provision should be modified. It would be wrong for me to pre-empt the outcome of a pilot scheme.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I did not ask for that answer. I am not making progress. If I am not making myself understood, my management assumption is that it must be my fault.

Of course I agree with the Minister that we are 90 per cent., or whatever it is, in agreement on what we want to achieve. I do not believe that the Minister has made a case against this rather modest plea for more discrimination between more serious and less serious forms of non-custodial sentence. However, in view of the scepticism in particular of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, whose opinion on these matters I much respect, I shall not press the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Courtown

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In doing so, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage should begin again not before five minutes past eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1997

Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating and National Insurance Fund Payments) Order 1997

Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 1997

Social Security (Incapacity for Work) (General) Amendment Regulations 1997

Social Security (Contributions) Amendment Regulations 1997

7.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish) rose to move, That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 31st January and 10th February be approved [11th and 12th Reports from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the draft orders and regulations standing in my name on the Order Paper en bloc. I understand that is acceptable to those of your Lordships who take part in such debates.

In introducing the draft orders, we are discussing the uprating of the social security benefits from this April and allowing for the consequential rerating of national insurance. The orders before us also decrease national insurance contributions paid by share fishermen and increase the level of therapeutic earnings in incapacity benefit.

The normal procedure is that we have a wide-ranging debate on the social security system and I do not suppose that today will be any exception. Indeed, yesterday the other place dealt with the orders and had a fairly wide-ranging debate. When I went down late in the evening to hear the summing up of my honourable friend Mr. Alistair Burt, I could not help noticing that the Opposition Front Bench was supported in its endeavours by only two Back-Benchers. The Government Benches seemed to be better attended. I am pleased to see that I have a few of my colleagues here tonight—

Lord Graham of Edmonton

How many?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I have one more than the Front Bench of the party opposite had in another place. Given the fact that the party opposite claim almost exclusive concern on social security matters, I found the attendance in the other place an interesting reflection on the real interest that it has on these issues.

I wish to spend a few minutes discussing the progress that we have made in containing social security expenditure. For the 50 years after Beveridge, the annual growth was increasing at an average of 5 per cent.

From 1991–92 until 1995–96 there was a £15 billion real term increase in the social security budget. Of this, £10.8 billion went to the elderly and the long term sick and disabled. But despite these significant increases because the elderly, happily, are living longer, and because of the comprehensive support of the sick and the disabled, we now expect real annual growth over the next three years to be about 1.5 per cent.

A considerable part of the budget, over 40 per cent., is spent on the elderly. I know that we are all encouraged that so many are now retiring with additional pensions. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State yesterday published the latest estimates of UK pension funds which has now reached £650 billion. These assets, in savings and investments, and so forth, earning interest, exceed those of all the other EU member states put together, and as I have said on a number of occasions, leave us better placed to ensure decent pensions for our pensioners of the future.

Now that growth is contained within our means, and within the growth of the economy, it would seem that the Opposition wish to commit themselves to the same budget as the Government. However, given their record of constant criticism of our measures to control expenditure, their commitment must be in doubt. Indeed, on the many occasions that I have been at the Dispatch Box discussing these matters, the language used by the noble Baroness in opposing our measures is not the language I associate with an adequate budget but the language of someone who wishes to spend more. However, I must say that probably under pressure from the shadow Chancellor her language has been somewhat modified recently, as I am sure it will be this evening.

Of course, the simplest way to save money and keep within budget would be not to uprate because the uprating measure before us this evening costs £1.7 billion. That is despite the fact that it is responding to a very low level of inflation. That would be the simplest thing to do. Your Lordships may find a recent statement by the shadow Chancellor rather alarming with regard to uprating. In the speech last month he said: We will keep a tough grip on the cash totals of departmental spending … there cannot be an assumption that totals will he automatically adjusted upwards in the event of a change in inflation". That statement is in marked contrast to our record of uprating annually in line with inflation. We make it clear that we continue to consider that that is an important pledge to those people who are on benefits.

In last November's Budget, a number of measures were announced which are essential to keep DSS spending within projected levels, projected levels which are now agreed by the shadow Chancellor Mr. Gordon Brown as being sensible and levels which, in the unlikely event of him becoming Chancellor, he would seek to continue for the next two years. The various savings measures that we announced will total something like £1 billion a year in the long-term; that is, by the year 2000–01. The budget is based on the assumption that they will be implemented. I should like to mention just a couple of them.

First, we propose to equalise the treatment of lone parents with that of other families. That measure will not reduce benefit to existing claimants and are fair in their own right. Ultimately that will save £05 billion each year. The proposals require legislation which we intend to introduce early in the next Session. My right honourable friend asked yesterday—and I am not sure that he received an answer and I ask again—whether the Opposition would implement those proposals. Will they agree with us when we implement them? If they are not committed to making those £0.5 billion savings, then the money must come from somewhere in order to meet Mr. Gordon Brown's commitment to live within the budgets and spending plans that we have laid down. If it does not come from that proposal, where will it come from? Will it come from married people, the single childless, the elderly or the disabled? It is extremely unlikely that it will come from the Opposition's proposals to get lone parents back to work because the Parent Plus scheme that we are currently piloting, based on studies of initiatives going on throughout the world, shows that those things do not save money. We are under no illusions. We believe that money must be spent to help people to get back to work. That is why we have made provision for extra spending in order to make sure that those schemes can run properly.

Another point of saving and another point which keeps the budget under control and down to the level which Mr. Gordon Brown says that he would continue to obey were he to be returned after the next election is the plan to reduce the complexity surrounding back-dating. There are so many different rules on back-dating right across the benefits system that that makes for a very difficult and complex system to administer. We are introducing a single set of rules for the back-dating of benefits. Those are important. If they are not implemented, then £100 million of long-term savings will be required from elsewhere.

I suspect that the noble Baroness will tell us this evening that huge savings can be made by getting people back to work. That tends to ignore the costs of back-to-work schemes. The truth is that unemployment in this country is down by more than 1 million since 1992 and it is continuing to fall. We have the lowest unemployment for more than six years and, indeed, it is markedly lower—and falling—than the levels of unemployment found in the countries of our fellow members of the European Union. I shall use the ILO statistics rather than our figures because the party opposite always objects when I use our figures. Therefore, I shall use the ILO figures to make sure that the point and the message is rammed home.

The message is a simple, arithmetical one. Unemployment in the UK in November was 7.5 per cent. In Germany it was 9.3 per cent.; in France it was 12.5 per cent.; in Italy it was 12.2 per cent.; and in Spain it was 22.3 per cent. Those countries are still seeing unemployment rising. Here it is falling. We have an excellent record in getting people back to work. We are seeing it happen; it is happening. More of our working age population is in employment than in the countries of our European partners. In this country, 68 per cent. of the working age population is in employment. In Germany it is 65 per cent.; in France, it is 60 per cent.; in Italy, it is 50 per cent.; and in Spain, it is 46 per cent. Therefore, the reduction in unemployment is real and the increase in employment is real. Despite competitive conditions, for the past four years we have managed to create more jobs in Britain than in all the other major European countries put together.

Through the JSA we have strengthened the link between benefit entitlement and labour market participation. I seem to recall pledges to abolish JSA. I wonder whether those pledges are still in place or have they, like so many others, been binned? We have deliberately reduced non-wage labour costs to the lowest for any major European country. We have transformed industrial relations. That is the way to get unemployment down and that is the way in which unemployment has come down in this country. But I have no doubt that we shall hear the Opposition's plans for getting people back to work. They have a recipe for reducing unemployment by 250,000 more than the 400,000 we have already achieved in the past year alone. The main ingredient would be a short-term subsidy.

There is a puzzle here. The Opposition expect employers to react to a £60 per week reduction in the cost of labour. Yet they claim also that employers would be indifferent to a £60 per week penalty which would be brought about by a minimum wage adding, say, an extra £1.50 per hour to labour costs. You cannot have it both ways. Either labour costs are important or they are not. If the Opposition think that they are important when it comes to giving out a subsidy, they must accept also that they are important when it comes to putting up labour costs and actually losing jobs. The minimum wage and the full on-costs of the European social model cost our European neighbours dear. From this Dispatch Box, usually in economic debates, I point out that for every £100 in wages, non-wage labour costs in this country are £15. In Germany it is double that; for France it is £41; and for Italy it is £44.

If the minimum wage and the social model so beloved by the party opposite, which it is so anxious to import into this country, is not the cause of high unemployment on the Continent, then what is? It is also no good reinforcing the argument by saying that a minimum wage will reduce the burdens on the taxpayer by significantly cutting in-work benefits. A minimum wage of £3 per hour will reduce the family credit bill by 3 per cent. At £4.50 per hour, the bill will be reduced by 15 per cent.

The harsh fact is that there is no certainty in this world that new welfare-to-work schemes will save money. That is why we pilot new approaches such as Parent Plus and we budget for the costs. For example, Project Work may be self-financing but we are certainly not banking on making savings in the way that the Opposition seem to keep hoping.

These measures, and the budget measures, are part of our continuing approach to social security expenditure. We are committed to improve the targeting of finite resources while protecting those most in need. In uprating the important benefits, these benefits continue to fulfil the objective of targeting resources on those most in need. I commend the orders and regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That, the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 31st January and 10th February be approved. [11th and 12th Reports from the Joint Committee]—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we are pleased that the uprating of the standard benefits is in line with inflation. However, as we review the Government's stewardship of the welfare state over not just the past year but over this Parliament we can see little else to welcome.

As was said by my right honourable friend Mrs. Harman in another place yesterday, since 1992 and the last general election, the cost of social security has risen by £15 billion, inevitably crowding out expenditure on investment and education which is where we prefer that money to be. That growth is not so much, as the Secretary of State likes to claim, because of the increasing number of elderly or disabled—they account for about half that growth—but because of the increase in unemployment and its knock-on effects. Of that £15 billion growth since Mr. Lilley became Secretary of State, £8 billion is due to the direct and indirect costs of unemployment—not demography but poverty. The size of the DSS budget is a sign not of government generosity but of the Government's economic failure. It is widely accepted—I doubt whether there is much difference between the Minister and ourselves on this— that benefits alone cannot make people comfortably off. Only access to a working wage, if one is of working age, will do that.

I have studied the figures that Mr. Lilley put in the Library, on which he bantered with the shadow Secretary of State. I tell the Minister that they misrepresent the position. The difference between us is this. Mr. Lilley's figures counted only the direct cost of unemployment benefit and little of the knock-on consequences for the DSS, including money spent on lone parents, disability and in-work benefits.

We have seen a growth of £15 billion in DSS expenditure under the stewardship of Mr. Lilley. At least half of that is due to poverty and economic failure. And why? Because the DSS is spending money on keeping people out of work rather than helping them into work; we have seen a growth in youth unemployment and long term unemployment. In addition, other groups marginal to the labour market which would like to work are being squeezed out when labour is abundant; they include the partially sick and disabled. They are not able to find the work they would like. Because such groups are not sustained by the minimum wage, when we help them into the labour market the taxpayer ends up subsidising the exploitative employer by wage subsidies.

In consequence not only has money spent directly on unemployment benefit, income support and JSA for the unemployed risen, as we would expect, but so have the associated benefits of housing benefit and council tax benefit for those out of work, as the Minister knows well. Equally, sickness and disability benefits have risen in part. I emphasise "in part" because in a difficult labour market those men who are middle aged with a manual background and in poor health, who nonetheless want to work and could do some work, lose out in the competition for jobs. We can add to that the fact that the wages of the poorest have been cut since the ending of the wages boards, which effectively set a minimum wage for a large swathe of the poorest paid industries. We have seen that wages have fallen and jobs have been lost simultaneously. In consequence in-work benefits have soared and with that the need for related housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Add to that the fact, for which the Minister claimed credit a few moments ago, that 90 per cent. of the jobs created since 1979 have been part-time and/or temporary and need to be shored up by a whole array of DSS benefits if they are to provide enough to live on, and it is not surprising that unemployment, directly or indirectly—I refer to its effect on the labour market—has contributed to the burgeoning cost of the welfare state. I shall not use the term "blossoming" that a Tory MP used yesterday.

As Keynes said—and we would do well to remember it—look after unemployment and the budget will look after itself. He could have been speaking about this Government's DSS policies.

In consequence, the Government are caught in the most almighty tangle. Because unemployment and underemployment—they require in-work payments—directly and indirectly have added some £8 billion to the DSS bill, the Government have responded in two ways. One path is regrettable; the other to which I shall come later is deplorable.

I refer to the regrettable response from Government. As a way of capping budget, the Government have tried to target benefit on those financially most in need. And because the Minister and his department did not get their heads around the problem, the Government targeted that budget in the simple minded way of extending means testing at the expense of insurance-based budget benefits. A third of all benefit expenditure is now means tested compared with about only 10 per cent. a few years ago. JSA has a six months rather than a 12 months insurance or contributory base. Housing benefit now subsidises the individual rather than the same money being invested in building new property.

I ask the Minister for once not to use the knee-jerk, ready made, stale phrases about not subsidising bricks and mortar but instead subsidising the individual. I ask him to think, as I know he can. The same money spent by the DoE on new social housing is investment, creates jobs and adds to the stock of decent homes in this country. Because the supply is increased, rents are lower and less housing benefit is needed to afford it. It is all very virtuous. But cut housing investment and for every pound saved, 75p is spent on housing benefit. What is the result? Productive investment is converted into dead end unproductive revenue spend. Rents rise and families need more housing benefit to pay a rising rent on the same property. The only beneficiary is the landlord. Everyone else, including the taxpayer, is the loser.

That is deeply regrettable. The Government's own research last year on the take-up of means tested benefit shows that, with the exception of housing benefit, where there is automatic delivery to those in council housing, the take-up figure on those means-tested benefits is about three-quarters. One in four of those entitled do not claim. Those who claim find themselves caught in a benefit trap of dependency created by the Government's own means testing, because if every benefit is means tested they face a marginal tax rate of 97p in the pound if they move into work. Unless they can get a particularly well paid job, it is not worth doing so. How many of the Minister's friends would work at a marginal tax rate of 97p in the pound? Yet that is what we ask the poorest in our society to do. The consequence of means testing is that we trap people into dependency.

The second consequence is that, because such benefits are not just means tested but family means tested, we pull the wife in part-time work out of work because for every pound out of 10 that she earns he loses benefit, so she does not work. Yet we all know that the only way he is likely to get a job is not through the Jobcentre or dead-end government training schemes but because she is in the labour market and knows that a vacancy is coming up. It is because of that pattern that we have developed into a work rich/work poor society in which married women work only when their husbands are in work because only they can afford to; and they do not work when their husbands do not work because they cannot afford to. That is the society which family means testing has created.

The result is that while in three families in five both husband and wife work, in one family in five of working age neither parent works; and the result for them and their children is calamitous.

The third consequence of means testing is that those men in the twilight decade of their 50s who are pushed out of the labour market but are too young to draw a pension have to survive increasingly on means tested benefits like JSA because they are no longer eligible for the invalidity benefit, using up any savings that they may have. That means that in that twilight decade the unemployed, the semi-employed, the temporarily unemployed or the seldom employed enter their old age with no cushion. They therefore face old age on benefit as well. They carry the poverty of their unemployment with them from their working life into their old age. So the more the Government seek to curb DSS expenditure by shifting it on to a means-tested basis, the more DSS expenditure they are likely to incur in the longer term. Everyone is trapped—not just the claimant and his family, but the Government and the taxpayer as well. All of this is regrettable, and we shall try to sort it out. The only way to sort out the problem is to encourage people back into work.

I accept, indeed welcome, that, belatedly, the Government are coming up with various schemes—for instance, earnings top-up, Parents Plus and the like. We support such schemes—not surprisingly since many of them were proposed in the 1994 Borne Report. But, as they are not underpinned by a minimum wage, they will ultimately not be cost-effective either for individuals or for taxpayers.

I had hoped that the Government might avoid reiterating the stale stuff about the minimum wage. If the Minister will just think, as I know he can, he will realise that if Labour had done what the Minister is now doing, he and his Right-wing think-tanks would be the first to tell us that we were throwing taxpayers' money at landlords and employers who should be paying the market wage and charging the market rent, not, instead, paying a low wage on one hand and a high rent on the other because they know that both will be artificially subsidised by the Government.

Of course there is a place for in-work benefits to help those who are marginal to the labour market, and a place for housing benefit to help the poorest afford decent housing. But the Government have abused the role of in-work benefits and housing benefit. The DSS bill reflects the cost of their failure. All of that is regrettable. It is the price that we have paid for moving away from an insurance base to a means-tested system.

I now turn to the second way in which the Government have sought to cut the DSS budget—and the cuts are indeed deplorable. This uprating incorporates two of the most disastrous, and I shall refer to a third. It continues an attack on lone parents; it seeks to cap housing benefit for single people under 60; and it continues to remove benefits from asylum seekers.

The Government propose to cut the one-parent benefit, though this requires primary legislation for it ever to be enacted. I am baffled by the Government's attitude to single parents. On the one hand they blame them for the burgeoning DSS bill. It is perfectly true that some £10 billion of DSS expenditure goes to lone parents. Yet on the other hand, at least until the eleventh hour, the Government have failed to work with the grain of choice of single parents; that is, as soon as childcare and after-school arrangements are in place, like everyone else, lone parents want to work. They want the money; they want the company; they want a life—and rightly so. If the Government had spent less time abusing lone parents at the party conference and more time over the past 15 years devising constructive paths for them to move out of poverty and dependency, the world for lone parents, their children and, incidentally, the taxpayer would have been a better place.

However, in this uprating, by simultaneously cutting future lone-parent benefit and therefore making it harder to spring the dependency trap, the Government have simply ensured that children will inherit not only their mother's poverty but quite possibly her dependency and unemployment.

We welcome the belated moves in the past two years of the childcare disregard for family credit. But it is worth absolutely nothing for those who are on full family credit and need it most. We welcome Parents Plus, though we wish it had been introduced far earlier. It is too little, too late. Yet at the same time as recognising that lone parents need support and help to come back into work, the Government are cutting the lone-parent benefit which, precisely because it is not means-tested, can be carried as a modest dowry back into work. It is one of the very few benefits that do not trap a parent in dependency. So, lo and behold, the Government propose in future to remove it. Why? What on earth are the Government thinking of?

I hope that the Minister will not reiterate that we should not privilege lone parents over those who are married. That is like saying: we will not go for Job Match or other employment schemes for those who are not in the labour market, because we are otherwise privileging the unemployed over the employed. Why is it that the Government think straight when they deal with men, as most of the long-term unemployed are, and think bent when it comes to women, as most lone parents are? Why is it that lone parents act rationally, and want to work, and the Government act irrationally and remove the one benefit that helps them back into work? In any case, the reason married women can, and do, return to work is not that they have more moral fibre—as evidenced by the fact that they are and remain married—but because they have the support of their husbands and in-laws for childcare; and, as the husband is likely to be in work, the married woman faces no benefit penalty for doing so. In other words, married women do not need help to get back into work, and lone parents do. It is as simple as that, and the Government are removing one of the very few benefits that target help on lone parents without a means-testing penalty. It is batty.

The second, utterly disgraceful area of cuts is the limiting of housing benefit for those under 60 to shared accommodation. I find it hard to give voice to my anger. It will be bad enough for men who lose a job and who may need to claim housing benefit and who will then probably lose their home as well. A third of a million single people currently live in accommodation that would not be adequately funded by housing benefit if they should lose their jobs. Each of those will now be at risk under these proposals.

However, it is infinitely worse for women. They are more physically vulnerable and are at risk of abuse and assault. The middle-aged woman, the widow, the carer—poor, vulnerable and bereaved—will, from next October, if she loses her husband or her elderly parent, lose her home as well unless she has generous savings. She will be forced into the grubbiest, shabbiest and most dangerous housing on the market—a room in a house in multiple occupation, where she will share a soiled kitchen and a soiled bathroom possibly with ex-offenders, alcoholics and drug users. For women, it will be the stuff of nightmares. I know. I have inspected that kind of housing. I do not know how the Government can do this.

I wish briefly to touch on the third area of cuts; namely, removal of benefit from asylum seekers who apply in-country. The Government believed that if enough of them collapsed on the streets, it would deter the Nigerian or Somali from coming to Britain. The Government in the other place cruelly overturned our "three working days" amendment which would have saved some unnecessary suffering. Now, the courts have effectively overturned the rest of the Government's policy. In his reply, will the Minister please tell the House, on the assumption that any appeal to the House of Lords is lost, what the Government now estimate will be the net savings to public expenditure given that the DSS has exported its costs to local authorities and, in turn, the DoH is having to reimburse them? At the end of all this unfortunate churning, what will be the full cost to public funds, and what amount is estimated to be net government savings? We warned the Government that this would happen. They would not listen. So we have a burgeoning DSS budget—the sign of economic failure—which is subverting sound public finances.

Yet what has been the Government's response during the period of their stewardship? It has been to increase means-testing and to lock people on to benefit dependency; to support exploitative landlords and exploitative employers; to stigmatise and impoverish lone parents and asylum seekers; and to cap housing benefit by forcing vulnerable middle-aged women into insanitary, substandard and sometimes dangerous housing. It is a pretty record, is it not? That is how the Government have acted as steward for the welfare state. I hope that, if and when we introduce the uprating statement next year, we shall be able to show how we are renewing and rebuilding the welfare state.

Earl Russell

My Lords, Don Bradman, whom I used to enjoy watching when I was a boy, once had a nightmare. He was playing at Lord's on the sort of dreadful day that only an English June can produce. It was so dark that you were hardly certain it was daylight, so cold that you were hardly certain it was not December and the air was so moist that you could not tell whether it was raining or not. But still the game went on. There was one solitary spectator high up in the stands. When Bradman was fielding on the boundary, he turned to the spectator and said: "Why don't you pack it in and let us go home? You must be very cold". The spectator stood up and, as he did so, Bradman saw a long tail projecting from the back of his overcoat. He said: "Yes, I am cold, colder than I've been in a million years, but I'm waiting to take one of you home".

Those of us who attempt electioneering in the House of Lords in the dinner break might well remember that story. After all, the audience we address here does not contain any voters. None of us has the vote. Therefore we speak more for conversation between ourselves and for the written record.

I should like to begin by welcoming the good news—because there is good news. The Minister was entitled to say what he said about the success of the present Secretary of State in maintaining the annual uprating during his term of office. I should like to congratulate him on it. However, in saying that, I do not wish to imply that I am happy with benefit levels as they are at present.

I believe that the Minister is entitled to ask us to welcome lower unemployment. I do not know how much lower it is, but I believe it is lower, and I am glad of that. The Minister asked us why there was the difference between this country and continental European countries. I think the answer is quite simply that we are running on a rather different cycle. There was a period when they were doing much better than we were and Ministers did not welcome comparison at all. Now it is the other way around and comparisons are constantly made. I think that economic comparisons need to be made over a full cycle, in which case there is probably not much difference in it, though I have not studied the figures today.

With a reduction in the level of unemployment, social security becomes cheaper, but not by as much as it should. I think it is common ground that the reduction in unemployment has largely taken place in low-wage, part-time jobs. The Equal Opportunities Commission recently made some comments about that which I think deserve attention. That reduces the gain to the Exchequer in two ways. One is by continuing expenditure in in-work benefits where the total wage is below benefit level; the other is by lower yield in contributions—in national insurance, income tax and VAT.

If I may digress for a moment into another Bill, some of your Lordships probably heard the noble Lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, say that if you abolish discretion, you simply move it to another place. I sometimes suspect that if you try to abolish costs, you simply move them to another place. The Minister made great play on labour costs to employers. That is a real issue; it has a real effect. But, by keeping those costs down, if you diminish revenue to the Exchequer, you simply force the Exchequer to put higher taxes on a diminishing tax base. So at the end of the day we go round the mulberry bush and the game is not what people might have wished it to be.

In looking at the national insurance contributions uprating order, I looked at the lower earnings limit. As near as I can work it out without using a calculator, it came out at something like £3 per hour for a 40 hour week. I say nothing, any more than the party on my left does, about the level at which a minimum wage might be fixed, and I hope that nothing I say will be interpreted as anything but illustrative. Assume for the sake of argument that a minimum wage were fixed at £3.50 an hour. That would make a considerable difference in revenue, both in terms of employees' national insurance and employers' national insurance. The PSBR effect would be considerable. Such matters need to be taken into account as well as the points about labour costs which the Minister perfectly properly made. We need to strike a balance between them.

In thinking about national insurance rates, I have had a look at the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General on the National Insurance Fund. He makes a series of technical points to which I hope we might return in the course of the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Bill about the way the accounts are put together. He says that they are not sufficiently developed to provide the information required for accruals-based accounting. That makes it difficult to investigate the extent of debt and underpayment and to have proper communication between national insurance and the Inland Revenue.

I understand that the department is aware of the problem and is taking action. I hope that when we come back to the fraud Bill we may hear something about that.

There seems to be a problem of underpayment of national insurance. The Inland Revenue and compliance officers have found underpayments of £291 million. If the Minister gets out his proverbial calculator, he can do quite a lot with £291 million. We should all be looking at maximising revenue. Where the money is already legally due, it should be paid by those who are liable to pay it rather than by those who pay their taxes already. I hope that that matter will receive some consideration.

I notice that in the uprating order the savings figure for family credit, disability working allowance, income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit remains at £3,000. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me when that figure was last uprated for inflation.

I should also be grateful to know exactly how the savings limit is supposed to work. Are the savings calculated as income or as capital? It makes a considerable difference to how the savings limit ought to be calculated. If it is calculated on the assumption that the capital provides income, ought we not to take interest rates into account in uprating the savings limits and, with falling interest rates, ought we not to have a rather higher savings limit?

If it is considered as capital, ought not the sum to be at least high enough to equate to one year's income support? Would there be sense in index-linking it at that figure? Do we need another Rooker-Wise amendment to cover savings limits? I suspect that we do.

I welcome the uprating of child benefit. I welcome the success of the Secretary of State in preserving it, as he pledged to do, throughout the length of this Parliament. But the words have always been "during the lifetime of this Parliament". I hope that fairly soon we shall be hearing what, if they should be given the opportunity, the Government might do in the next Parliament.

I agree with everything that the noble Baroness has said with regard to asylum. When the Minister writes to her in reply to her questions about net savings, I should be extremely grateful if he would send me a copy.

To turn to housing benefit and shared residence, we already know of cases where people are losing accommodation because a shared residence is not available and because, having to find accommodation which is not a shared residence, they cannot afford a place at all on the housing benefit that they receive. I notice from a Written Answer to my honourable friend Mr. Bruce at the beginning of this week that the Government have already downgraded by £3 million the savings they expect to make. That is an interestingly precise figure. I should like to know why.

The Minister again outlined his case for, as he put it, equalising the treatment of single parents and married parents. Is "equalising" the correct way to describe identical treatment of two things that are not equal? I recall asking the Minister at Question Time, following a question by the noble Baroness, whether he could recall any other country which had practised this principle of equality, from biblical Israel to the present day.

The Minister confined himself to saying that he is not an historian. That is fair enough, but one does not have to be an historian to know about the treatment of single parents in our main industrial competitors within the European Union and the United States. If any of those practise the principle of equality, as the Minister set it out, I should be rather glad to hear about it. The work has been done and the Bradshaw study of 20 countries has the research base for answering that kind of question. I entirely agree with what the noble Baroness said about giving single parents a chance to return to work, including that it is a chance for company. I also hope she will agree with me that single parents who have young children also have a right not to work. We are concerned about freedom of choice. Mr. Tony Blair, in his lecture at Amsterdam, talked about interviews with single parents to investigate whether ways might be found of getting them into work. He can ensure that the interviews are so conducted by officials—some of them a very long way down the chain—that no element of threat is found. If the noble Baroness is able to intervene and give me an assurance on that I should be most grateful.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am not sure about the propriety of responding across the Benches in this way. However, what the noble Earl said is certainly right. Our policy is to work with the grain of lone parents' choices, to encourage them and to help them find ways back into work, which we know from all the research evidence, including that of Jonathan Bradshaw, is exactly what lone parents want. Personally, I accept entirely the implication of the noble Earl's comments to the effect that parenting of young children is at least as important a social responsibility as it is to get off benefit and back to work.

Earl Russell

I thank the noble Baroness warmly for that response, by which I am considerably reassured.

I move on to the application of JSA and the actively seeking work regulations under it. I recently received a figure from unofficial sources (which is why I shall not use it) about the number of people totally disentitled to benefit since JSA came in. I should be grateful to be told—not at the moment but in writing when the Minister has had an opportunity to check it—the correct figures for the number of people totally disentitled to benefit and the number of people partially disentitled to benefit. He knows my view on total disentitlement to benefit. I do not need to delay the House by repeating it.

The Minister also knows my view from the first day of Committee on the Jobseekers Bill about the difficulties of introducing JSA in a short time scale. If he has looked, as I am sure he has done, at the last social policy bulletin of the citizens advice bureaux, he will have found considerable evidence of a certain amount of confusion in the administration of JSA. There are several different computer streams operating at the same time which have to be interlocked. One unfortunate claimant had two letters on the same day, one which told him that he had been awarded JSA and the other which assured him very firmly that he had not. The claimant did not know which of them to believe.

Another case which caused me some concern comes from the same source. A man who had no money on which to live—he was destitute and without means—had a claim to JSA with an entitlement to backdating. He was told that if he gave up the claim to backdating, his claim could go through one channel which would give him payment immediately; but if he claimed the backdating, his claim had to go through a different office with a different computer procedure and he would have to wait several weeks. So he gave up the backdating.

There are difficulties which clearly need ironing out. I hope that we can hear, either today or later—I gave the Minister very late notice of this point—that something is being done. The next time that any major new change in the benefit system is made, I hope that someone will study the wise words of Sir Michael Partridge when he gave evidence in the other place to the Select Committee. He said that the DSS should never attempt at one and the same time to introduce a major new benefit, a major new computer system and a major change in the administrative structure. Those were wise words. I hope that they will not again be forgotten.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, a little like last night, we have had an interesting debate with the usual suspects taking part, as in last night's debate on sending information on the convergence criteria to the European Commission. As usual, this has been an interesting debate. On some matters, all three of us agree; on other matters two out of the three agree; and on yet other matters, I suspect that I am still alone and both the noble Baroness and the noble Earl still disagree with me.

The noble Earl rightly reminded me—perhaps I should say "us"—that none of us has a vote. So there is no point in making electioneering speeches. Last night I had to remind his noble friend Lord McNally of that fact, as the noble Lord began to launch into a suggestion that we might vote for his party. I told him that he was wasting his time because none of us has a vote—aside from the fact that none of us would listen to his advice. So I agree with the noble Earl and shall try not to fall into the trap against which he cautioned me.

We have covered a number of issues. I shall try to manage as quickly as I can to deal with them. If I have to write about one or two matters, I am sure that the noble Baroness and the noble Earl will understand.

I know that there is some dispute—I think that is the word—over the £15 billion increase in real terms in social security expenditure between 1991–92 and 1995–96. The fact seems to be that £3.3 billion is down to the elderly and £7.5 billion is down to the long-term sick and disabled, which in my view and my arithmetic makes £10.8 billion out of the £15 billion increase. Then £4.1 billion relates to the family, and unemployment has fallen by £0.6 billion, for all the reasons I have just mentioned. So, as I said in my introduction, two thirds of the extra expenditure in real terms since 1991–92 is clearly down to the elderly and to the sick and disabled. There are a number of reasons for that. There is the increase in the number of elderly; but also we have rightly increased the number and range of benefits, especially for the sick and disabled, over the past few years. That increases the cost. Lone parents, as the noble Baroness said, are one of the growth areas in expenditure, for the reason that they form one of the growth areas in numbers. I shall return to them in a moment.

The noble Baroness mentioned youth unemployment. We consider it a problem and are working very hard, especially the Department for Education and Employment, on helping young people who leave school without qualifications to find routes into the job market. We have had success in that regard. The position in this country is not one with which we in government are happy. It was 13.8 per cent. in November last on the Eurostat figures. In that regard, taking the noble Earl's point to heart—namely, that I must look at the good figures as well as the bad ones—the Germans do better than we do at 9.8 per cent. But—my goodness!—when I look at France, Italy and Spain, respectively at 29 per cent., 32.6 per cent. and 42.9 per cent., again I ask myself what part the social costs that I mentioned in my original speech—minimum wages and the like—play in those figures, which none of us would want to see in this country.

Perhaps I can move to one point raised specifically by the noble Earl in relation to the National Audit Office report on the National Insurance Fund. When he reads the report—I am sure he has already read it—the noble Earl will see that the fund saw an increase in net national insurance contributions collected from £37.7 billion in 1994–95 to £39.8 billion in 1995–96. In November the Contributions Agency secured resources for the next three years to combat fraud and abuse. We take seriously the question of fraud and abuse in relation to national insurance contributions.

Under this initiative, in its first year, the Contributions Agency will receive an additional £9 million in order to combat fraud and abuse and expects to secure additional national insurance revenue of £82 million. I hope that that reassures the noble Earl that we are indeed mindful of the need to collect all the money we possibly can from national insurance and ensure that people are not finding a way to escape their obligations to pay national insurance charges, any more than they find ways to escape their obligations to pay tax.

One other self-standing point—if I can call it that—came out in the speech of the noble Baroness, and the noble Earl indicated his support. That related to asylum seekers. I do not want to go over some of the speeches I have made from this Dispatch Box on the subject of asylum seekers. We are no longer prepared—we believe that the country is with us on this—to pay social security benefits to all asylum seekers when it is clear that the vast majority of applications are unfounded.

Your Lordships will remember the statistics I explained in our debates last summer. In fact, since those debates, the number of people applying for asylum has reduced—comparing one month to the same month in the previous year—by around 50 per cent. time after time. That can only indicate and reinforce the points I made; that is, that many of those asylum seekers were not fleeing from persecution. They were economic migrants. If they were fleeing from asylum, they would be continuing to apply for asylum regardless of what we had done to the benefit system. They would have continued to apply for asylum. The fact that they are not continuing to apply underlines my argument.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. If he looks at the monthly breakdown of figures for 1996 and 1995, he is correct that the figures reduced sharply through April, May, June and July. But will he not accept that from October onwards they have grown by up to 3,000 a month and are almost—not quite, but almost—back to the equivalent figures and equivalent levels of the preceding year?

Lord Hylton

My Lords, while the Minister is thinking about his reply, will he bear in mind that the burden that used to fall on central funds has now largely been shifted onto the backs of local authorities, particularly in London?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I do not believe that the burden should fall on either the taxpayer or the local council tax payer. We have responsibility to genuine asylum seekers and that responsibility includes making sure that the vast numbers who came into this country last year and the year before and who did not qualify for asylum, but who stayed here for some years on benefit, should not be able to do that. It is not fair to the British taxpayer; it is not fair to the council tax payer; and it is not fair to the genuine asylum seeker who has to wait longer for his case to be considered because all the other cases are clogging up the system unjustifiably.

Earl Russell

My Lords, when we debated this matter—I hope we do not prolong it—the Minister admitted that he could not, in any individual case, tell at the moment of withdrawing benefit whether or not the claim was genuine. I hope he does not withdraw that statement.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I do not see any need to do that. The point is that anyone coming to this country claiming asylum and who does so at the port of entry will receive benefit. That is the position.

I am not entirely sure where the noble Baroness obtained her figures. As I read September, October, November and December, the decrease is 50 per cent., 53.16 per cent., 59 per cent. and 35 per cent. Those are significant reductions. We believe that the withdrawal of benefit from in-country applicants will save around £200 million a year. The cost to local authorities of supporting refugees will be nowhere near that figure. As I explained, we are discussing with local authorities the problems that they experience to see how we can best help them.

The noble Earl asked me about jobseeker's allowance and about the numbers disentitled to benefit.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, perhaps I can ask the Minister one last point. Will he be giving in letters to myself and the noble Earl rather more hard information about what he expects will be the total cost to public funds of the Government's response to asylum seekers? He expects to save £200 million. What does he expect to be the cost incurred by local authorities and to what extent will the Government reimburse them?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I have been over that point before. I said that we are discussing these matters with local authorities. I gave hard evidence about the reduction in applications, which rather contradicts the looser evidence given by the noble Baroness.

On jobseeker's allowance I was about to say that I shall need to consult my colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment before I can respond to the question in relation to disentitlement to benefit. It has been a complex arrangement to introduce, with a new computer system. There have been difficulties. My understanding—I discussed some of the problems the other day with officials—is that the difficulties have been worked round and overcome and that the system, given its complexity, is working remarkably well. I am afraid that no matter how much time and effort we put in, there will always be the odd person in a system as big as the one we try to operate who will receive letters which appear contradictory or are wrong. In the real world we can never escape from that. However, I believe the system is working reasonably well.

I turn now to housing benefit. We have to be sure that there is a balance between those people who are in work—perhaps not well paid work—looking after their housing needs and looking for housing, and those people who are on housing benefit looking for housing. Restricting housing benefit to the local reference rent and, for single people, restricting housing benefit to the single room rate means that such claimants are not able to obtain better or larger accommodation at the taxpayers' expense than other people in similar circumstances who have a job. Those who are employed have to try to measure their housing needs against the amount of money they earn. In relation to hard cases, local authorities have a discretion to pay up to the full value of eligible rent in order to prevent exceptional hardship.

The increasing number of lone parents is a problem, particularly the increase in the number of "never marrieds". Increasingly, we have placed an emphasis on work incentives to help them to work. The introduction of family credit in 1988 and subsequent improvements in benefit have all had a positive effect which has been shown by independent research. In April 1992 the qualifying hours for family credit were reduced from 24 to 16 hours, which was particularly helpful to lone parents working part time. A disregard for the first £15 of maintenance was introduced in 1992, and in October 1994 a disregard of £40 a week for childcare expenses was introduced for children under 11 cared for by a registered childminder or nursery.

Since 1992 over 200,000 lone parents have moved from income support into work supported by family credit. Other measures beneficial to lone parents include, from April 1996, an increase in the disregard for childcare expenses and in-work benefits from the £40 I mentioned to £60 and housing benefit and council tax benefits to be paid for four weeks after taking up a job for those out of work for six months or more. From October 1996 the back-to-work bonus, which allows those on income support or JSA and working part-time to build up a bonus of £1,000 payable as a tax-free lump sum on leaving benefit to take up work, will be helpful. From April 1997 the new parent-plus pilot scheme which is expected to offer help to up to 100,000 lone parents on income support who want to work will be introduced. The introduction of the child maintenance bonus, worth up to £1,000, which will be payable to parents with care who have been receiving maintenance on leaving income support or JSA (income based) in order to take up work, are all there in order to try to help and encourage lone parents into work.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has made a hat trick of asking why the capital limits of £3,000 and £8,000 have not been increased, having done so on each of the previous outings we have had on these matters. I regret to tell him that my answer is the same as last year's. We believe that capital limits are not a first priority. The cost of our uprating these amounts for pensioners in 1997–98 by prices since their introduction would be £50 million and the cost of doubling the upper limit to £16,000 would be £40 million. We believe that, in the language of priorities, it would be better spending that money in other ways, particularly on the general uprating.

I answered a Question the other day about uptake. I do not want to speak at any length on that. However, we are actively pursuing campaigns of information, posters and so on to make sure that people know about benefits, so that if they wish, they can apply for them and take them up. That is particularly true of pensioners, who have the information on the back of their pension books about the other benefits, who will see posters in the post office when they go in and so on. We do a great deal to try to make sure that people understand about the benefits that are available.

On a number of occasions the noble Baroness has rightly drawn our attention, as she did again today, to the question of what we all know as "no work households". There are a variety of reasons for them. One is the growth of single adult households—lone parents—where it is less likely that the lone parent will be an earner, so the household is without an adult earner. An increase in the number of students is one of the factors leading to an increase in the number of households where no one works.

I do not want to go into a long discussion about that but it is not unique to this country—not by any means. All our friends in the European Community are seeing similar levels of this phenomenon—partly for the reasons I have mentioned and also for the reason that the number of jobs for those with few qualifications or perhaps with a lot of brawn to offer rather than brain has been reduced. At the other end of the scale—this is important when one considers averages—there has been a huge increase in the number of two-earner households. That means that even if the bottom position stays the same, averages and medians begin to go upwards as the top is pulling away because of the two-income families.

I can assure your Lordships that I do not therefore conclude that we should not allow women to go out to work. One of the great advances over the past 50 years has been the number of women who have continued to be able to pursue their careers. That has been of great value to themselves and of even greater value to their families and to the economy. One just has to accept that, if one is encouraging women to go out to work and have two income families, inevitably, households which are in that situation will pull away from those households with either only one earner or with no earners. That is a simple fact of life. I can conceive of ways by which a redistributive party could tax people in order to remove the advantage they have from both going out to work. However, I certainly do not believe that I would ever find it comfortable to countenance doing anything like that.

Perhaps I may conclude by reminding your Lordships of the simple fact of the employment position and unemployment position in our country. Our approach works. Over the past year our employment has risen by 300,000. Unemployment is down by 1 million—the lowest unemployment for six years. Unemployment in France and Germany is at very high levels. While I think the noble Earl would have a justification for his argument about positions in the economic cycle, the unemployment levels being experienced by some of our friends on the Continent are way beyond those which one would expect in the normal economic cycle that those countries have had. That is especially true of Germany, which over many years has had an extremely good record on unemployment. I think it is a little more than just an economic cycle.

Of course some of the jobs are part time. But 85 per cent. of people who have part-time jobs tell interviewers that that is what they want. They do not want full-time jobs. They want part-time jobs. The idea that the new jobs that have been created in this country are temporary jobs does not stack up. I commend to your Lordships table 4.11 in Social Trends which shows the percentage of employees in temporary jobs in comparison with our European friends. If your Lordships had been listening to the Opposition you would think that the figure in this country is very high indeed. The figure in this country is 7 per cent. In comparison, the European average is 11 per cent.; the figure in Germany is 10 per cent.; in France it is 12 per cent.; in Sweden it is 12 per cent.; in Finland it is 16 per cent.; and in Spain it is 35 per cent. The part-time jobs are, by and large, for people who want part-time jobs and the full-time jobs are full-time permanent jobs. They are not temporary jobs, as we often hear.

As I said in my speech, and as I have said on a number of occasions, low non-wage labour costs and a flexible labour market, as the noble Lord, Lord Currie, reminded the readers of the Economist Intelligence Unit just the other day, are very important factors when it comes to looking at the success of our economy. I agree with the Opposition that the more people we can get back into work the better. But one does not get them back into work by the Government piling on more and more money on the one hand and taking more and more money from employers on the other. I have not heard a convincing argument to the point that if a job subsidy is needed, as the Opposition think it is, in order to get employers to take people on, how can putting the burden of the minimum wage and other social charges on to employers do anything other than lose jobs? Indeed, it was Mr. John Prescott who admitted that in his blunt and usual manner. I do not think we can afford to take the kind of risks with jobs and opportunities that the party opposite would do.

What we have in front of us this evening in the uprating statement is a clear indication that we honour our obligation and pledge to uprate benefits year after year. We have done that. We have also honoured our pledge to reform social security in order to make it affordable, not just this year but into the years ahead. The reforms in the past four Budgets will save £6 billion by the year 2000–2001. That is a very significant amount. We have had to get there on our own. I do not think I have ever come to the Dispatch Box and had any agreement from the party opposite on any of the measures we have taken to contain social security spending. It is important that we contain social security spending for our economy's sake so that we can pay benefits to the people who need them and so that we can also, as we are doing this evening, approve the uprating, by £1.7 billion, of the benefits that go to those people who need them. I commend the orders to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.