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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: More than that!

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It was £3 billion. That is what it cost this Government, not the local authorities but central government. In the lifetime of one government they changed their mind twice on the system of local government finance. We take no lectures on the custodianship of taxpayers' money from the Benches opposite when, to meet the prejudice and pride of senior Ministers, the Government throw taxpayers' money at legislation which they themselves have to reverse twice.

The Ministers were always courteous, never helpful! No doubt their briefs said, "Resist", and they resisted well. Pity about the unemployed. We are glad to be rid of the Bill. I only wish with all my heart that we could have abated it even a little, for the sake of those who will suffer by it. Our one pleasure is that despite our

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pressure to remove regulation from the face of the Bill, there is at least scope for a change of government to do something in the future.

9.37 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, my former supervisor, Mr. J.W. Gough, once remarked in an edition of the works of John Locke that perhaps it is only when it is possible to treat politics as a game and not as a war that democratic government is possible. I keep changing my mind about whether that is an optimistic or a pessimistic remark. However, one way or the other, I am certain that it is true.

In so far as it is possible to treat the Bill as a game, the two Ministers responsible—the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—deserve our warmest thanks. Those of us who have never spoken from the Government Dispatch Box—and that means everyone who has led on both Front Benches on this side of the House, save only my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby—find it hard to imagine quite how difficult it must be to take all the flak that comes across that Government Dispatch Box: all the anger, all the persistence, all the speed, one thing after another. It must be rather like facing the West Indian fast bowlers. When I watched the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, at the Dispatch Box, I was reminded of watching John Edrich playing his first test at Lords, on the day when Wesley Hall came within a yard of bowling a six in byes. He showed an iron determination to play down the line at whatever risk to himself. The next time I watched him batting, he scored a century against Australia.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has the straightest of bats. But every now and then he displays a mischievous sense of humour that reminds me of the late cut that Denis Compton used to play when he had run too far down the pitch and the ball did not pitch where he expected. That sense of humour has been one of the great joys of this Bill, and I thank the Minister for it.

During the Bill's passage I have been reminded of the man who visited a south Indian village and went to look at the shrines. He saw the shrine of Brahma, that of Shiva and that of Vishnu. Away in the corner was a fourth shrine. He went to look at it and saw that it was to the judicial committee of the privy council. I should like to think that somewhere a Hindu jobseeker who will benefit by the changes in this Bill may erect a shrine to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. The committee has earned it.

The report was late, for reasons that were not the committee's fault, but it was very, very useful. I shall not make a meal of its being late. One such accident might happen to anyone. I shall say only that I hope, when we come to the Child Support Bill, to which we gave a First Reading tonight, that the memorandum will reach the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee in reasonably good time because there are many delegated powers issues in that Bill.

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I give warmest thanks to Anton Obholzer in our Whips' Office. He is one of the architects, after the Minister of course, of the amendments that I classified collectively as "Inglewood's easement" and for which we are extremely grateful. He is responsible for much of the thinking that identified the questions to which the Minister responded.

I should like to thank those in the Box who have helped us. It was a very great comfort during the passage of the Bill to have a Box on this side of the House as well as one on that side. The Bill has been improved. The drafting of Clause 6 is improved. I offer particular thanks to Conservative Back-Benchers and Cross-Benchers, whose help with Clause 6 was conspicuously honourable and constructive. The remarks of noble Lords, Lord Renton, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Henderson of Brompton—and two crucial interventions from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—have been of great help.

However, it is not too easy to treat the Bill itself as a game. People will die because of this Bill—not in any conspicuous way but among the anonymous statistics of deaths on the streets among the London homeless. I shall not dwell on the point. But it does not make it easy to treat the Bill as a game.

At Second Reading I under-stated my case when I said that this was one of the two or three worst Bills with which I had been involved. I think it is in fact the worst. Some Bills, such as that on the poll tax, were as bad for substance. Some, such as the Education (Student Loans) Bill, or the 1993 Education Act, before we got at it, were as bad for form. But I cannot think of another Bill that has been quite so bad for form and substance. Grateful though we are for the changes that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has achieved, I do not regard this for the future as an acceptable form of legislation.

As we have gone through the Bill, I have perhaps been most struck by the changes in the concept of entitlement. I shall not run through any of the detail, but I think I have understood a little further what is going on. I believe that the Government are relying on the notion of reciprocity, which I believe is accepted on both sides of the House. It flows from the stress on this benefit being conditional. But when one party to a reciprocal obligation appears to default on its conditions, it does not destroy the reciprocity; it does not destroy the obligation; and it does not end the relationship. I believe that Ministers agree with us quite strongly that if we fail to pay anything to those who deserve payment legally or morally, that does not entitle those people to commit crime.

But, equally, if they do not seek work in precisely the way in which we think that they should, that does not entitle us to say that they have nothing to do with us and we have no responsibility for them. I believe that the Bill is diminishing the sense that there is such a thing as society, and I regret it.

I shall not dwell at any further length on the regulation-making powers. But I believe that this Bill will be seen—perhaps even more than any of the things that are going on down at the other end of the Palace—as part of the decline of Parliament in the

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late 20th century. I know that the other place has faults but I love it and I am very sorry indeed to see its decline.

We have had defence after defence of disentitlement. I feel that we need to know the costs of that before we go any further. I intended to give the Minister notice of a string of questions to which I would like answers over the next year but, since the time advances, I shall perhaps give him those questions in writing.

We have a bad Bill. It is not quite so bad as it would have been otherwise. It is attempting a principle which the Social Security Advisory Committee warned the Government in 1992 was impossible. It commented:


    "We understand that it is not possible to draw up regulations in such a way as to identify precisely those people who clearly have no intention of actively seeking work and who seek to maintain an alternative lifestyle supported by state benefits".—[Official Report, 20/4/95; col. 599.]

The Government are still trying to make that distinction. They have not made it, because it cannot be done. If we have the opportunity, we shall repeal the Bill, lock, stock and barrel. I was very sorry not to hear that commitment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. We hope that we can persuade her and her party to it over time. It is something that we very much hope is possible, because this legislation will have to go.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, from these Back Benches perhaps your Lordships will allow a word or two to mark the manner in which your Lordships' House has discharged its revisory role as regards Clauses 6 to 8 of the Bill, irrespective of the merits of the Bill and on a plane which transcends political allegiance.

As guardians of the unwritten constitution, your Lordships' House can take full credit for having introduced this requisite constitutional safeguard against potential ministerial misuse of delegated legislation. Your Lordships will remember how, on 25th April, the old Clause 6 came under very heavy crossfire, and how immediately my noble friend Lord Inglewood agreed to take it back.

Noble Lords know full well—two of them in particular: the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell—what efforts were taken on a non-party basis by the usual channels, the Leader of the House, the government Chief Whip and many noble Lords from different parties to improve and bring this matter into a proper state of affairs. That eventually has been done. Its importance is that, although on secondary legislation we may not amend, we have the power to reject, yet that power is never exercised. That power has not been exercised since the Rhodesian order, which was revoked within two days without a vote. It is a matter of political will, parliamentary prudence and, in the context of an affair such as this, it would never be exercised unless there was serious and manifest abuse. That is why the only safeguard is to bring these matters by definition on to the face of the Bill and to define the scope of the

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implementing regulations. Your Lordships have achieved that and it is to the eternal credit of your Lordships' House.


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