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Baroness Strange: My Lords, we are very disappointed that once again the Government are not prepared to save taxpayers' money by accepting the amendment that I moved yesterday with splendid support from your Lordships, particularly my noble kinsman Lord Russell whom I always hope has more jolly limericks, if not mice, up his sleeve. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for all the help and support that she has given me in this matter. There has been more than a whiff of unpleasantness in the air--never a very nice smell--but despite this the amendment has come back from the other place a third time. It would not be constitutional to send it back again. Unlike some noble Lords, I always abide by what is constitutional. I believe totally in our constitution and therefore I shall withdraw my objections this time.

Earl Russell: My Lords, Mr Frank Field, whose support this House may again be proud to have received today, once remarked that if the House of Lords should spot so much as a grammatical error in an Act of Parliament a government whip would be found to rise to move that that House do disagree with the Lords in the said amendment. Today, I was very much reminded of that remark. I listened to Ministers with considerable care to find out why they saw fit to reject the amendment. Their formal reason was privilege, but the Minister said that clearly it was not a perfunctory matter of £3 million. I hope that I have his words correctly since I was not allowed to write them down.

We are told that a review is necessary. It has never been explained to this House or, as far as I could hear, the other place why a review is necessary. They tell us that it will be completed in the summer. A question was raised as to when that would be. Summer is a movable feast, regrettably sometimes by as much as 12 months in the British climate. I heard that they rejected the amendment because they felt like saying no. If that is incorrect I should be extremely grateful to be told why. Relations between the Houses do not work in this spirit. If we want a bicameral parliament we need rather better communication than this.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a moment. The House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, for the way in which she pursued the matter.

I turn to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as regards the timing. The Government have said clearly that they are carrying out the review. As the noble Baroness pointed out, it is concerned with timing, context, ring fencing and fairness. But if the matter is to be pursued with suitable urgency, to wait

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until next summer seems an excessively long period. Perhaps the Minister can indicate that it can be done in a shorter timescale.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as I think the opinion of the House reflects tonight, I believe that we have taken the matter as far as possible at this stage. I am very grateful, as I am sure is the House, for the great dignity, courtesy and charm with which the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, has fought the corner on behalf of a group of women with whom, in particular this week, we deeply sympathise and whom we respect.

I have had the pleasure--it is a pleasure--of working with the War Widows Association over the past couple of years, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. I think that they are as brave and gallant wives and widows as the spouses they lost; we pay tribute to them tonight.

I am grateful that the noble Baroness is not taking the issue further. We have argued from the Dispatch Box that we do not think an amendment to a welfare reform Bill is the appropriate vehicle for an issue which is essentially about the occupational pension provision of the Ministry of Defence. We believe, as we argued at the time, that this should be embedded in a wider review of the MoD, which is happening at the moment and which will become public and available for consultation in the summer. I expect that the noble Baroness--perhaps I may call her my noble friend--will be leading the case for war widows on that consultation exercise.

The House of Commons rejected the amendment on financial grounds. Your Lordships will know, because we quoted the Red Book last night, that this is the conventional formal ground for disagreement. However, two issues remained, and this is what I think persuaded the Government that at this stage they should resist the amendment. First, although the sum of money involved for this group, £3 million, is a modest sum in the context of government expenditure, although perhaps not by other standards, there is a real difficulty of ring fencing, as the noble Baroness must accept. One cannot seriously ring fence for attributable widows but not the other service widows who have suffered as great a loss. Therefore, the repercussions for them and, beyond that, for public service pensions are very considerable. That there may need to be a debate at some stage about public service pensions will be for your Lordships to determine in due course.

The second point I wish to make as regards war widows is that, given that the MoD is having its review, that it will be published this summer, and that there will be plenty of other opportunities for the noble Baroness to pursue her case--we are delighted that she will remain in your Lordships' House--I am sure that we shall revisit the issue. At that point, we should have behind us, or with us, the position of the MoD as reflected in the review, which may change the context.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I am sure that I speak for the entire House in expressing appreciation for the way in which she handled the issue. I do not

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want to say that I look forward to the debate again on another occasion! None the less, the noble Baroness has fought well and hard, and just as we are proud of the War Widows Association, so it should be proud of her tonight.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


42Clause 57, leave out Clause 57.
The Commons disagreed to this amendment but proposed the following amendments to the words so restored to the Bill--
42APage 66, line 4, leave out ("two") and insert ("three").
42BPage 66, line 23, leave out ("For this purpose") and insert--

("(9) In sub-paragraph (8)--
"benefit" includes (in addition to any benefit under Parts II to V of this Act)--
(a) any benefit under Parts VII to XII of this Act, and
(b) credits under regulations under section 22(5) above;").

42DPage 66, line 4, leave out ("two") and insert ("seven").

The Commons insisted on their Amendment No. 42A and disagreed to Lords Amendment No. 42D for the following reason--
42EBecause it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this reason may be deemed sufficient.
42FLord Ashley of Stoke rose to move, That this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 42D to which the Commons have disagreed but do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 42A to words restored to the Bill and do propose the following amendment in lieu thereof to words restored to the Bill--
42GPage 66, line 4, leave out ("two") and insert ("four").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I speak also to Motion 43J. I suggest that we discuss the two together. It is impossible for me to compete with the felicity of the compliments offered to the Minister and vice versa. I sat in awe listening to the gracious compliments passing back and forth and know that my comments are crude by comparison. I have enjoyed crossing swords with my noble friend Lady Hollis. I cannot claim any victories over her, but it has been a pleasure to work with her. I propose to leave it at that because I cannot overegg the pudding.

In moving the Motion, I want to make one thing clear. I prefer the elimination of these clauses because the original clauses were highly regrettable. They were bad in principle and damaging in practice. But I am a political realist and, despite what my wife says, I am also a very reasonable man. Being so reasonable, I decided to make a concordat with the Government, despite the Chief Whip's icy stares at me, and I offered a reasonable compromise to the House.

Regrettably, the Government took a stony view of these realistic, honourable compromises and said, "Thank you, but no thank you". The compromise

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amendments were therefore rejected in the other place, not in the House of Lords; and I greatly appreciated the support I received from all sides of the House for those amendments. But, equally, being realistic, I recognised that the Government's massive majority in the House of Commons meant that however enlightened the House of Lords was--and it was very enlightened by comparison with the Commons--in its judgment of the amendments, the Government, with their massive majority, would override them. And so they did.

We are now left with the regrettable--to put it mildly--government statement, "No compromise. Full stop". That is one of the worst phrases ever to emanate from 10 Downing Street, from where so many fine, splendid initiatives for disabled people have emerged. The Government have a wonderful record of helping disabled people and I have been more proud than anyone to advocate and support them. But they have blotted their copy book and spoiled the record with their provisions on incapacity benefit. When they say "No compromise. Full stop", I say that that is no way to conduct democratic discussions on an important issue affecting 310,000 severely disabled people.

Where do we now stand? The choice for helping disabled people on incapacity benefit is strictly limited, especially because so many supporters of the amendments on both sides of the House are away. Furthermore, a number of Peers have indicated to me that they are not prepared to vote. But there is scope for movement, so perhaps I may modestly offer further amendments.

They are, first, that the period when disabled people need to have worked and paid national insurance contributions to qualify should be not seven years but four. Secondly, the disregard should be not £128 but £100. That means that the level at which people start to lose incapacity benefit would be £8,723 rather than the Government's figure of £7,943 and that incapacity benefit would not be withdrawn until it was £12,142 rather than the Government's £11,362.

At that level of income those small amounts matter to poor people. That is why I am pressing these further amendments. If the Government tonight reject those very modest amendments, I believe they would damage themselves even further. I also believe that the Government will eventually regret that refusal. That is my modest judgment.

Secondly, I believe that these last amendments are the last chance for the Government to give any worthwhile concessions. We are very close to the wire tonight: this is a last chance. Next, this is a glorious opportunity for the Government to heal the breach with disabled people and the organisations representing disabled people. The breach is a very wide one--everyone is aware of that--and the Government can now move forward. I hope that they will.

The acceptance of these amendments would demonstrate the Government's willingness to listen and to respond. In a very curious way--I do not know how it has happened--this controversy has caught the

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nation by the throat. It is remarkable how people's imagination has been stirred by the controversy in the House of Lords. The way these profound and fundamental controversies have been conducted is a credit to the House of Lords. The Government need to have regard for public opinion, because I believe that public opinion is with these amendments. I believe that public opinion is behind the House of Lords, and undoubtedly parliamentary opinion is behind the House of Lords.

So these amendments are offered in a really constructive spirit so that we may end this Bill on a happy, co-operative note. I suggest no vote this evening. We have had enough votes and I have explained why we do not want them. These amendments are put forward in a spirit of amity and constructive good will. I hope that my noble friends will be able to accept these amendments in the spirit of good will in which they are offered.

Moved, That this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 42D to which the Commons have disagreed but do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 42A to words restored to the Bill and do propose the following amendment in lieu thereof to words restored to the Bill.--(Lord Ashley of Stoke.)

9.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, deserves the gratitude of the whole House.

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