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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I look to my noble friend Lady Castle for support in this matter. It is an earnings replacement benefit for those who, by virtue of their caring responsibilities, which we all value, come out of the labour market and care instead. That is why at earnings of £50 a week, for example, the benefit stops. The assumption then is that someone is replacing care income with earnings income. It is an earnings replacement benefit and that is its intent. As a result, ever since 1975 when it was first established it is not allowed to overlap with any other earnings replacement benefit. It is not compensation or an extra cost benefit, which is DLA, but an earnings replacement benefit. That was its purpose and, as I understand it, it retains that purpose.
Lord Addington: My Lords, to follow up my noble friend's Question, does the Minister agree that two sets of costs are being incurred which these benefits are designed to meet but as they come to the same kind of payment one is disappearing? Is it not the case that the rules have been set and will be followed no matter how ridiculous they are?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, this is the basic principle of the social security system. I gave the example of a widow who had previously been receiving incapacity benefit, which is an earnings replacement benefit. She would not receive IB and widow's benefit because both are earnings replacement benefits. She would get a benefit for a different reason--that is, extra cost, which is disability living allowance, housing benefit or council tax benefit which meet a different need. Clearly, it is open to any government not to have any overlapping benefits. I suspect that the overall social security Bill would go up from its current £100 billion approximately by perhaps 20 per cent., 30 per cent. or 50 per cent. That is the principle on which we are currently operating. But I shall consider the particular case raised by my noble friend to ensure that all proper moneys are being paid.
Lord Chesham: My Lords, in the light of the report that all existing 18 products of National Savings do not meet the Government's criteria that savings plans must be approved by the Treasury and the disquiet in the industry about these criteria, ironically, cannot the Government review the criteria rather than the individual savings plans?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are not 18 but 11 National Savings products. All but three of those are bond or certificate products that are strictly non-comparable with cash ISAs. Of the three that are account products offered by National Savings, one is designed only for charities. The second is the individual account which is designed for quick deposit and withdrawal and quite different from ISAs. The third is the investment account which is designed for a quite different purpose since half of the investors are children who are not able to benefit from ISAs. The comparisons are entirely inappropriate.
Lord Newby: My Lords, given the uncertainties that have surrounded the development of the CAT standard to date, can the Minister give any indication as to when the regulatory authorities may be in a position to decide whether individual ISAs meet the CAT standard?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, despite the Minister's robust defence of National Savings, do not the Government find it a little embarrassing that so many of the accounts fail to meet the benchmark standards? In particular, is it not embarrassing that the National Savings investment account fails on all three counts? Should not the Government do either as my noble friend suggests and look again at the benchmark standards or ask National Savings to come into line with those standards as an example to other providers?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am glad that halfway through his Question the noble Lord began to recognise that the comparison between ISAs and the bond and certificate products of National Savings was entirely inappropriate and therefore concentrated on the investment account. The investment account is not required to meet CAT standards; nor was it ever intended to do so. That product is designed for a different purpose. At least half of the holders of
Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree after a moment's reflection that his response to my noble friend Lord Newby was somewhat inadequate? Does the Minister agree that the likely date is a matter of public interest? Even if he cannot give a firm commitment, is he able to indicate whether it will be this year, next year or never?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, ISAs are to be introduced by April 1999. I have given the commitment that matters: that the regulatory standards will be available in good time. Anything beyond that is pure speculation and technical, and does not need to concern the noble Lord in the way that he seems to be concerned.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am sure the House will be delighted to hear that it is expected that the new Session of Parliament will be opened by Her Majesty the Queen in person on Tuesday 24th November. I am not yet in a position to announce the intended date on which the House should meet to prorogue. However, I can say that, subject to the progress of business, it is expected that this will be in the course of the week beginning Monday 16th November. I have to tell noble Lords that the prorogation is likely to be in the latter part of that week.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will be extremely grateful to the Government Chief Whip for making the announcement as soon as he was able with his usual courtesy to the House.
Perhaps the noble Lord will take this opportunity to acknowledge that during the course of the past Session the House has sat for a longer period in one Session than any other period--I think that I am right in saying--in the records of your Lordships' House. I hope he will recognise that during the course of that Session this House has processed an extraordinary amount of important and epoch-making--but we hope not too damaging to the future of this country--business. We hope that he will also recognise that during the course of performing that task this House has performed also its historic task of examining large chunks of business which had not received even the most cursory examination in another place. That perhaps underlines the importance of a second Chamber.
Will the noble Lord the Chief Whip take this opportunity to comment on a matter which arose at Question Time? The noble Lord will remember that in reply to a supplementary question in which the noble Lord, Lord Gillmore, declared that he was a non-executive director of Vickers, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that he was doubtful whether it was proper for such a question to be put. I understood that it was not required of noble Lords to state an interest at the time of asking questions. However, if, despite that non-requirement, a noble Lord chooses to do so, is it appropriate for the Government Front Bench then to say that it is an improper question? It is an important issue on which I think the whole House will want an answer.
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