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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord will, of course, wish to remind his friends behind him that because the Bill contains new clauses on national insurance it will be debated by the Commons anyway. This amendment is not needed in order to provide a peg to enable the other place to discuss the national insurance clauses in this Bill.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, of course that is true, but the point is that the Commons need to do so on a specific amendment which is designed to do what the Chancellor of the Exchequer clearly gave the impression it was his intention to do. It is right and proper that we should do that.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I believe the noble Lord misunderstands. The point is that this House, as a result of supporting government amendments, has put new amendments into the Bill which the Commons have to consider. Therefore, there will be consideration of these issues without the need for this amendment to be the peg on which to do so.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, but clearly it is better that the specific point is made to implement clearly what the Chancellor intended, according to the words I have quoted.

Earl Russell: My Lords, simply for clarification, will the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, accept the Minister's contention that the lower earnings limit is not being altered by this Bill?

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am suggesting that we should incorporate in this Bill--as I say, the Government have been hoist with their own petard--a specific remark made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The new clauses are in effect a Bill within the Bill. Therefore, we can have a Bill which not only implements everything said by the Chancellor that the Government have incorporated, but also what he said but the Government have failed to implement. That is the purpose that we have in mind in moving this amendment. The noble Lord,

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Lord Goodhart, said that it is a peg on which to hang a debate and to permit a vote and for the other place also to have the chance to vote on it. It is very important indeed that that should be so.

As regards the points about introducing the provision into the Bill, the noble Baroness keeps saying that that has to be done in primary legislation. This is primary legislation. Of course, it should have been primary legislation introduced in the other place so that the matter could be properly debated.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the point I made is that this particular amendment needs to be introduced in primary legislation so that it is brigaded with the issue of contributory benefits. Otherwise the House would be stripping away people's rights if it were to pass this amendment tonight.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, perhaps, in reply to what the noble Baroness has just said, I may quote what the Chancellor said quite clearly. He said,


    "Further reforms will also ensure that no one pays national insurance for the first £81 of their weekly earnings. All employees earning between £64 and £81 will have their right to benefits protected".--[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/98; col. 1106.]

We presume that that is what the Government will do, because they have clearly given an undertaking that when the limit is raised those employees will be protected. If it is the case that the Government have not the remotest idea how they are going to do that, then why on earth did the Chancellor put that in his Budget speech? It would have been totally inappropriate to do so. He should have said, "If we can find some way of doing this while protecting the contributory principle, then of course we shall go ahead". That is not the impression that he gave in his speech on Budget Day, that was reported on radio, in the press and introduced by spin doctors. The Chancellor clearly said that he would do both. Certainly, we shall support him in doing the second and we look forward to seeing what will happen.

Incidentally, perhaps I may stress the dates in the amendment, which are "1999--2000". So the Government have ample time. It may be that they have introduced this matter in a totally foolhardy way, and simply wanted to get a few cheap cheers on Budget Day--"cheap cheers" is a rather inaccurate description. If that is what they propose, it should not have been done in the Budget.

Perhaps I may return to the point that I make. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that I was carrying textual analysis too far. That was not quite the point I was making. I was saying that the Chancellor's Budget Statement, which no one would dispute was correctly reported, states,


    "Further reforms will also ensure that no one pays national insurance for the first £81 of their income".--[col. 1106.]

However, what he said in evidence to the Select Committee at page 70 was this,


    "Then I said"--

there he is referring to his Budget speech--


    "Future reforms will also ensure that no-one pays National Insurance for the first £81".

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He did not say "further" but "future". There is a distinction. The use of the word "further" in the Budget speech clearly gave the impression that he was going to do it whereas "future" would have been quite different.

What worries me is that the Chancellor went before the Select Committee and said that he had used the word "future". He had only to look at Hansard, knowing that it was correctly reported, to see that that was not true. That gives me grave cause for concern. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should have said, "I am very sorry that what I said in my Budget speech was not right. I gave a false impression and I should have said 'future' and not 'further'". It is not textual criticism, but a question of whether the Chancellor deliberately said one thing to the Select Committee when he knew he had said another.

I do not want to detain the House too long. I say quite specifically--and it is very important--that I believe that this whole matter of introducing the Chancellor's budget proposals into the House at a late stage without going through the Commons is completely wrong. I believe that we ought to hold the Chancellor to what he said. In the amendment, we give him ample time to sort out the problem, which he said he would undertake, of ensuring that employees earning between £64 and £81 have their rights to benefits protected. If the Government have no idea how that is to be done the noble Baroness had better say so and we will be absolutely clear on where we stand on it. But they have ample time to do so and we certainly expect them to do something. We are not opposing this measure. We are deeply opposed to the way in which it has been done. We believe that the Chancellor should be held to the situation which he stated in his Budget speech and which was clearly intended.

Let them, of course, consider this in another place. We are only looking at this now because of the strange way in which it has been introduced. It has been introduced here and we are right to deal with this matter so that the other place can give it due consideration. We are in no way, let me stress--

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, perhaps I may--

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I shall give way in just a moment. Let me stress that we are in no way usurping the position of the other House. If the other House does not like what is in this amendment it will not take the appropriate action as far as concerns financial resolutions and it will oppose the amendment. That will be entirely a matter for it. It ought to have been a matter for the other House long since but it is right that this House should give the opportunity which would otherwise be denied it to look at this specifically.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I shall ask the noble Lord two questions and I should be grateful if he would give a yes or no answer. Does the noble Lord agree that the House of Commons will have the opportunity to discuss the national insurance changes, as they have been inserted by amendment into this Bill?

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Does he agree that there will be a debate on them? Secondly, does he agree, in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the lower earnings limit is no part of this Bill and should not be introduced into this Bill?

Lord Higgins: My Lords, as far as the second question is concerned, it is a matter of what view the House takes this afternoon. If the House takes the view that the amendment should be supported, the amendment will be in the Bill. As for going back to the Commons, the crucial point is this. It will be an appalling stage in the Commons. I understand it is proposed to have only one day on Lords' amendments when there are 160 or so government amendments which they will have to consider.

Earl Russell: My Lords, before the noble Lord asks the opinion of the House, I wonder whether I could ask him to read once again the passage from the Chancellor's Budget speech to which he has drawn our attention. I accept that it does not include the specific word "future". I should like to hear if it includes the specific word "present".

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the noble Earl's colleague on the Front Bench has accused me of "textual analysis". No, I have read out the quotation several times already and I shall do so again:


    "Further reforms will also ensure that no one pays national insurance for the first £81 of ... earnings. All employees earning between £64 and £81 will have their right to benefits protected".--[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/98; col. 1106.]

But it is in the context of the previous paragraph as far as abolishing the entry fee is concerned and the two were clearly intended to be taken together.

The first question to which the noble Baroness requested a "yes" or "no" answer was, if I recall correctly, in relation to whether the other House would have an opportunity to discuss the Social Security Bill--


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