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Earl Russell: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to thank the Minister very warmly for the care with which she set out the detail before us. It is one of the disciplines of opposition that when asking questions one must try to think what one might have done in the Minister's position. I am not in a position to answer that finally; I do not have the kind of information that is available to the Minister. But the kinds of problems that the noble Baroness has identified and the principles on which she has solved them are ones about which, in the light of those remarks, I do not feel in any position to complain. We are therefore in any further debate arguing about detail within a fairly narrow area.

As to how many people would be worse off if they lost passported benefits, I ask the Minister to consider expenses such as dentures and spectacles where payment may be required all at once in a lump sum. That may be difficult for some people. Especially in the light of the difficulties of NHS dentistry, new dentures may on occasion cost up to £500 a time. If they and new spectacles should be needed at the same time, somebody even on a perfectly reasonable income may be in considerable difficulty.

I have been trying to work out in my own mind whether it would be possible to use the kind of system of instalment credit that is employed on ordinary benefits. I can see a lot of difficulties in the way of that. I am in no position to say whether or not those difficulties are insuperable. I hope that the Minister will consider that question with the range of information that is not available to me.

As to uprating, I understand why the Minister had to say what she did. I ask a question to which I hope she can respond. Will the Minister draw our exchanges about uprating to the attention of her right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, remind him that she has had many such exchanges in this Chamber in the past and that, if his ears are weak, she might have many more to come? I hope that she does not.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I do not know whether it is in order for me to intervene. As a dentist I cannot accept the statement just made about the cost of dentures.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am aware that the present arrangements for dentistry under family credit will apply also under WFTC to those who qualify for passported benefits by virtue of the low income scheme.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, we have become familiar with the way in which the noble Baroness replies to these debates. I believe that even by her high standards,

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admittedly with a brief in front of her, the Minister has given a virtuoso performance. I cannot offhand think of any Minister who would be likely to be able to do it as well. Having said that, the noble Baroness has had an extremely difficult task over recent months in getting any decision--I was going to say "any sense"--out of her colleagues in other departments. While, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, points out, the system as between one administration and another tends to work much the same, it is quite clear that in this case the system appears to have broken down, with the result that we have had to wait to this late stage in the Bill--literally the eleventh hour--before we have had an answer. The answer is extremely complicated.

I am left in something of a dilemma. One is up against the buffers, which is always a difficult position in which to find oneself. I remember Iain Macleod saying that he agreed with Enoch Powell on everything but always got off one station before the train hit the buffers. We are up against the buffers in terms of reacting to what the Minister has said.

I am somewhat influenced by one point: will it cost the Treasury more or less as regards passported benefits? The answer was that it would cost the Treasury more. I am prejudiced initially to believe that it is a good rather than a bad deal. (I no longer hold my Treasury halo!) If I understood the Minister correctly, it is likely that more rather than less families will benefit. I am glad that the noble Baroness indicates that that is so.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, perhaps I may give the noble Lord the figures. We expect at least another 115,000 families to benefit.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, that persuades me not to press this matter to a Division. I am reinforced in that view by what the noble Baroness said about maternity payments and the Social Fund.

While it is always dangerous to give an answer on a matter of this kind off the top of one's head, I believe at present that we should let the matter pass in the hope that the Government implement what they have said. As the noble Baroness rightly points out, we shall have statutory instruments. I put in a tiny caveat. I am slightly unnerved to discover that your Lordships do not vote against statutory instruments. If the instrument turned out to be wrong, I should not like to have second thoughts. By putting down the earlier amendments I sought to assist the Minister to get decisions from colleagues. In the same way, I hope that that comment may encourage them to produce satisfactory statutory instruments.

It is a highly complex matter. As my noble friends said--my noble friend Lord Freeman raised other points--these are matters of great importance to individuals who cope in their everyday lives with illness or whatever it may be. None the less, in the light of what the Government have said, and with some slight trepidation--I hope that I am making the right decision--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 2 [Transfer of functions relating to tax credits]:

Lord Astor of Hever moved Amendment No. 2:


Page 1, line 18, after ("(2)") insert ("and section 5(1A)")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2, I speak also to Amendment No. 9.

The Minister told the House at Report stage that the Government regard this issue with great concern. However, the reality would seem to be somewhat different. First, I had assumed in the light of the Minister's offer at Report stage, which I accepted, that the Lord Privy Seal would write to me. Twenty-one days later, I have received nothing. This seems surprising since the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is the Minister for Women and sits on the ministerial committee overseeing the Violence Against Women Crime Reduction Programme. Although the Government claim to be making the issue of violence against women a priority, it requires far more than words; it requires practical attention to detail.

This pattern of empty rhetoric has a precedent with this Government. In June 1996 the Labour Party published a policy document, Governing for Equality, in which they promised on their assumption of office a Minister for Women in the Cabinet with a clear and powerful mandate, a strong monitoring role and a commitment to take women's interests seriously at the highest level. Despite all that, this Minister for Women appears, certainly to me, to regard the threat posed by hereditary Peers as a greater priority than taking women's interest seriously at the highest level.

Secondly, I have read Hansard carefully. The Minister did not address the point of our amendment at Report stage: that it should be made clear on the application form that the Inland Revenue may accept a form without the man's signature where domestic violence is feared. Recent authoritative research has found that money paid directly to mothers is more likely to meet family needs, while men use some of their income as personal spending money. No sensible person can possibly disagree with these findings.

So far the Government's answer to this problem is to give couples a choice as to which of them receives the payment. If one believes that this is a solution, one must assume that those men who would misspend the money will suddenly recognise their failings and agree that the money should be paid to the woman. Would the most overbearing and violent men agree to such a rational and progressive stance? Surely this is highly unlikely. I have been shown a large number of heartrending cases by the professional organisations which are advising us, working in the field of domestic violence. They witness these problems every day.

That is why we move the amendments. They require the Government to make clear on the forms that an application can be made by the woman alone if she fears the threat of domestic violence. There is a similar recognition of the problem of domestic violence in the system of child support maintenance. If a parent with

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care fears domestic violence she can argue that she should be exempt from the requirement to co-operate with the CSA.

I was particularly grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, supported at Report stage the spirit behind our amendment and agreed that there may be exceptional cases where it would be desirable to have the possibility of applying without reference to the working partner. The noble Lord was concerned that if our amendment were adopted, there could be the risk that it would merely postpone rather than avoid incidents of violence to the point where the working violent man discovers that his partner has already claimed the credit. This was a valid point. However, the clear advice that we have received is that the mother is the person to decide whether this approach will make the matter worse.

The Labour Party manifesto stated the laudable objective to keep under continuous review all aspects of the tax and benefits systems to ensure that they are supportive of families and children. The Minister said at Report stage that the Government recognise that domestic violence occurs and do what they can to ensure that children are protected and enjoy a decent quality of family life. In the light of this, surely in families where the man is potentially violent the payment choice should be made in the interests of the children. I very much hope that the Minister will recognise that there is a problem and will accept our amendment which addresses the issue. I beg to move.


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