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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, despite what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, suggested, the Minister accepted that the line between part-time and full-time education is not as clear as it used to be. Will he therefore accept that the rules are being interpreted very differently across the country? NIACE has evidence that someone studying for five hours a week was denied benefit because she paid fees and was therefore thought not to be actively seeking work. Another person studying for 19 hours a week was denied benefit because the DSS official decided that that course must be full time, without any evidence to that effect. Can we therefore have from the Minister guidance sympathetic to the position of such people in terms of what has been discussed this afternoon?

Secondly, will the Minister readdress the point raised by my noble friend Lord Dormand and make the rules even more flexible by scrapping the rule for the long-term unemployed? Is it reasonable in a society where those who are already educated to A-level standard receive higher education and those who are poor, unemployed or, in seasonal and part-time work are pulled out of study the moment yet another seasonal job occurs and then are thrown back on benefit?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I would take up the remaining part of Question Time if I attempted to answer all the points raised by the noble Baroness. In general terms we do want to see unemployed people undertaking part-time study. However, we do not want that to be at the risk of their not continuing to seek employment, because that is the primary entry point to the jobseekers allowance and to income support.

As to difficulties in defining courses, we have accepted the current situation resulting from changes to definitions in further education establishments. So far as concerns individual adjudication officers, I must tell the noble Baroness that Ministers do not have powers to intervene. People who are dissatisfied with an adjudication officer's decision have the right of appeal to an independent social security appeals tribunal.

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Income Support: Mortgage Assistance

2.47 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they anticipate will be the consequences of their decision to reduce income support help with mortgages.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the consequence of our decision will be the development of comprehensive, high-quality, private mortgage protection insurance. That will provide better protection for all home owners, including those who fall into difficulties with their mortgage payments and cannot be helped by the present system because they have savings, a modest pension or working spouses.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the private sector mortgage debt rose from 35 per cent. of GNP in 1983 to 61.7 per cent. of GNP in 1993? If even 1 per cent. of that figure were bad debt it would be a debt of £3.5 billion. Even if private insurance were available for the people concerned, does the Minister believe that now is the right time to put that extra burden on British insurance?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have absolutely no doubt, and we have every indication, that British insurance will be found to be more than adequate in bringing to the situation perfectly satisfactory policies designed for people who want mortgages in the future.

So far as concerns the figure referred to in the main part of the noble Earl's question, perhaps I may turn the question around and ask him and those who oppose the policy—

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if noble Lords become so irritated by the rhetorical question, I shall rephrase it. I am quite amazed that we are asked whether we should put the pressure on the insurance industry, when the corollary is that we are happy to put the pressure on other taxpayers.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in this country each week 1,000 families are still losing their homes because of lapses in paying their mortgage? The measures to which the Minister referred in answering the first Question are welcome. However, is he also aware that none of those people who lose their homes today will receive one iota of help from those measures? Bearing in mind that it was the equity imbalance which resulted from the Government's financial policy which put those people in that position, do they not deserve better treatment than the Government accord them at this point in time?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord helps to make my point. Many people are not assisted by the current provisions but many, although not all, would be helped if insurance provision was widely based and widely accepted as it will be for all new mortgage takers.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, many of us believe that this is a strange measure. Is the noble Lord

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aware that people living in modest houses pay mortgages in lieu of rent simply to obtain a roof over their heads? Why do the Government take benefit away from people paying mortgages but do not propose to take benefit away from people who pay rent? There seems a lack of equity in that position. I hope that the Government will reconsider their policy.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it is fairly self-evident that all of us take out a mortgage or pay a rent in order to obtain a roof over our heads. The position is quite simply this. To suggest to those people who take out a mortgage, and, more importantly, to those people who give a mortgage, that some form of insurance should be taken out against unemployment, we believe is a correct and responsible way for both the lender and the borrower to behave. Lest noble Lords go away with the thought that we are entirely withdrawing from that market, I underline the fact that we are asking the insurance companies and new borrowers to cover the first nine months. Anyone unemployed for longer than that period will be helped by the social security system.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a number of people who have been prudent enough to take out insurance against unemployment have found that the insurance companies have been let off the hook because of the small print? Before the Government bring any legislation before the House, will the Minister assure us that they will negotiate with the insurance companies to ensure that those companies do not get out of paying on the policies because, for instance, someone has not been employed for more than two years?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I can assure the noble Countess that we are looking at that problem—it has been brought to our attention—in our discussions with the insurance industry. The industry is bound by the ABI's code of practice. Once the policy has been taken out, the insurance ombudsman can arbitrate on disputes on behalf of policy holders. Despite the protections already in place, we are aware of the criticism referred to and are discussing the matter with the ABI and with the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister has invoked burdens on the taxpayer. Is he aware that at present 50 per cent. of those who receive income support help with mortgages are back at work within a year? Does he accept that if their homes are repossessed, that is unlikely to occur, and therefore the noble Lord risks putting on the taxpayer a much heavier burden than he carries already?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Earl misses the point. If due to our policy, and with the quite lengthy time lag that we have allowed for, those insurance policies are available in the market, a borrower taking out an insurance policy who becomes unemployed will look to that insurance policy for nine months, and thereafter to the taxpayer. Therefore repossession does not come into the issue.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, what arrangements will the Government make, what help will

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they give, to those who often cannot obtain insurance? I refer to those with a history of intermittent unemployment, the self-employed, those on short-term contracts and those in part-time work. Do they not stand the risk of losing not only their job but their homes too?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness confuses existing borrowers—for whom the policy is two months and four months; it is not the nine months to which I referred—and new borrowers. Perhaps I may simply quote from the Abbey National Building Society:


    "If we have agreed a mortgage there is no reason why the borrower should not then qualify for mortgage repayment protection".

Land-mines

2.56 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the current moratorium on the export of land-mines includes components of land-mines; and under what conditions they would agree to a complete ban on the export of land-mines, including those which self-neutralise and self-destruct.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the moratorium on the export of non-self-neutralising or self-destructing anti-personnel land-mines announced on 27th July does not include component parts. However, any applications to export specially designed land-mine components for military use are subject to strict controls and would be considered on a case by case basis in the light of established criteria.

A complete ban on the export of land-mines at this stage would in our view be unlikely to secure the necessary broad international support or be properly implemented.


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