Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, my heart goes out to the noble Baroness, Lady Castle. Is not her suggestion in relation to NICs just too straightforward, simple and

10 Nov 1999 : Column 1350

transparent for this Government's liking? Do not this Government have the strategy of cutting visible taxes on voters and raising invisible taxes elsewhere? Does the Minister agree with a Labour MP's assessment of the Government's tax policy when he said:

    "We haven't increased the top rate of tax and the standard rate of tax, but we have increased a lot of other taxes ... we have done it with all these stealth taxes. I just think it would have been better to have honestly told people beforehand"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord pays more attention to the views of Mr Ken Livingstone than some of us do in government; or, indeed, on the rest of these Benches. We have a very good story to tell about national insurance contributions. Not only have we made announcements in the Finance Act this year about the upper earnings limit, which have been well publicised, but, also-- I do not think that the noble Lord noticed the last part of my original Answer--there is the enormous benefit to lower earners as regards the lower limit of £76 a week, below which such workers will receive benefits without actually paying the national insurance contribution. I believe that to be a step in the right direction. It was part of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, which was passed by your Lordships' House last night.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, should we not note with some relief that the Government have taken steps that will safeguard a number of vital and strategically important industries, which would otherwise have faced very serious comparative disadvantage under the original proposals of the climate change levy? Let us hope that that concession from Her Majesty's Government yesterday will suffice to remove any comparative disadvantage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not sure that I would use the word "concession". We are as determined as we ever were to adhere to our obligations on the climate change levy. We have changed our assessment of what is necessary to achieve that aim. Naturally, we make the most advantageous changes for the benefit of British industry.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, if the noble Lord does not want to listen to Mr Ken Livingstone, will he at least listen to the views of independent energy economists who are at one in saying that the reason this Government are getting into such difficulties with the climate change levy--indeed, difficulties which were not dissipated by yesterday's announcement--is that they ran away from the logical response to Kyoto of a carbon tax because New Labour, like Old Labour, is still in thrall to the National Union of Mineworkers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have great difficulty in listening to the views of independent energy economists when they have not been identified or named. If the noble Lord cares to open up a more extended debate on the subject in which he can name his sources, we shall be able to give him proper responses.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Is the Minister in fact saying that a national insurance fund is not the

10 Nov 1999 : Column 1351

property of those who contribute to it? Why should any concessions to the business community, to which no one may object in principle, be financed by the pensioners? There are others in our society who are far better placed to meet that burden. If this kind of behaviour were practised in occupational pension schemes, would not the Government have a word or two to say about it? In fact, it is defrauding pensioners of what they have contributed to--not a means test of pensions, but a pension as of right. Does not this latest move show that the Government are planning a systematic destruction of the state insurance principle and a substitution of means tested benefits in its place?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend should find it necessary to use such words as "defrauding" and "systematic destruction". When I referred to the beneficiaries of the National Insurance Fund, I was very precise. I said that 78 per cent of the benefits from that fund do indeed go to retirement pensions. I merely pointed out that such pensioners are not the only beneficiaries and that there are others, such as those on incapacity benefit and widows, whose needs must also be considered. None of this is any indication of an extension of means-testing to state retirement pensions.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the whole problem surrounding this issue is the fact that there is no national insurance scheme? In fact, this scheme is unfunded and is topped up each year by the Treasury, if it is so needed. The Government--indeed, any government--retain the right to change the contribution level or the benefit level. When people have tried to do that sort of thing in the private sector, it is called "fraud", and they have gone to gaol.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is certainly true that the surplus or deficit in the National Insurance Fund is the difference between two very large figures. It is also certainly true that the Government retain the right, as all governments have, to make changes in the very wide range of benefits which are covered by the fund. However, there are very strict controls over the National Insurance Fund. The Government Actuary has to produce a report on each measure which affects the level of the fund, and the Government are obliged to pay heed to the views of the actuary and, indeed, those in the quinquennial review.

Earl Russell: My Lords, in 1993, in a context it would be wide of the Question to dwell on, Mr Peter Lilley remarked:

    "This raises big questions about the future of the contributory principle, when we have not decided which way we want to go".

Can the Minister give me any reason to believe that those words are one whit less true than they were on the day Mr Lilley wrote them?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think that this Government need be over-concerned with the past views of members of a government of another political colour; indeed, neither now nor for some years to come.

10 Nov 1999 : Column 1352


3.5 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the Message from the Commons on the Immigration and Asylum Bill has been received. It may be for the convenience of the House if the Message is dealt with after the Mental Health (Amendment) Scotland Bill. Therefore, after the Mental Health (Amendment) Scotland Bill, we will take the Commons Message on the Immigration and Asylum Bill. We will then complete all the orders that are on the Order Paper, followed by the Unstarred Question tabled in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. I then hope to be able to inform the House of the progress of the House of Lords Bill in another place.

Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

3.6 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Fifth Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 116) be agreed to. --(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:


The Committee considered proposals for changes to the terms of reference and title of the European Communities Committee. The Committee also considered the need for the House to pass a formal Scrutiny Reserve Resolution similar to that of the House of Commons. 1 The changes are necessary to reflect recent developments in the European Union, in particular the coming into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, and changes made by the House of Commons in relation to its select committee on European Legislation.

    Terms of reference

The Committee recommends the following terms of reference for the select committee:

    "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.

    The expression "European Union documents" shall include the following documents:

    (i) Any proposal under the Community Treaties for legislation by the Council or the Council acting jointly with the European Parliament;

    (ii) Any document which is published for submission to the European Council, the Council or the European Central Bank;

    (iii) Any proposal for a common strategy, a joint action or a common position under Title V (provisions on a common foreign and security policy) of the Treaty on European Union which is prepared for submission to the Council or to the European Council;

    (iv) Any proposal for a common position, framework decision, decision or a convention under Title VI (provisions on

10 Nov 1999 : Column 1353

    police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters) of the Treaty on European Union which is prepared for submission to the Council;

    (v) Any document (not falling within (ii), (iii) or (iv) above) which is published by one Union institution for or with a view to submission to another Union institution and which does not relate exclusively to consideration of any proposal for legislation;

    (vi) Any other document relating to European Union matters deposited in the House by a Minister of the Crown.

    That the Committee have power to appoint Sub-Committees and to refer to such Sub-Committee's any of the matters within the terms of reference of the Committee; that the Committee have power to appoint the Chairmen of Sub-Committees, but that such SubCommittees have power to appoint their own Chairman for the purpose of particular inquiries; that two be the quorum of such Sub-Committees;

    That the Committee have power to co-opt any Lord for the purpose of serving on a Sub-Committee;

    That the Committee have power to appoint Specialist Advisers;

    That the Committee and any Sub-Committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

    That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

    That the Reports of the Select Committee from time to time shall be printed, notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

    That the Minutes of Evidence taken before the European Communities Committee or any Sub-Committee in the last session of Parliament be referred to the Committee: and That the Committee do meet"

    The Committee's title

    The Committee's title no longer accurately reflects the scope of its work. We recommend that the title should be "Select Committee on the European Union".

    Scrutiny Reserve Resolution

    The Commons Scrutiny Reserve Resolution has always been held to apply to the House of LordS. The procedures of the two Committees are now sufficiently different to make it desirable that the House of Lords adopt its own Scrutiny Reserve Resolution, as follows:


    (1) No Minister of the Crown should give agreement in the Council to any proposal for European Community legislation or for a common strategy, joint action or common position under Title V or a common position, framework decision, decision or convention under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union--

    (a) which is still subject to scrutiny (that is, on which the European Union Committee has not completed its scrutiny);

    (b) on which the European Union Committee has made a report to the House for debate, but on which the debate has not yet taken place;

    (2) In this Resolution, any reference to agreement to a proposal includes--

    (a) agreement to a programme, plan or recommendation for European Community legislation;

    (b) political agreement;

    (c) in the case of a proposal on which the Council acts in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (codecision), agreement to a common position, to an act in the form of a common position incorporating amendments proposed by the European Parliament, and to a joint text; and

    (d) in the case of a proposal on which the Council acts in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 252 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (cooperation), agreement to a common position.

10 Nov 1999 : Column 1354

    (3) The Minister concerned may, however, give agreement to a proposal which is still subject to scrutiny or which is awaiting debate in the House--

    (a) if he considers that it is confidential, routine or trivial or is substantially the same as a proposal on which scrutiny has been completed;

    (b) if the European Union Committee has indicated that agreement need not be withheld pending completion of scrutiny or the holding of the debate.

    (4) The Minister concerned may also give agreement to a proposal which is still subject to scrutiny or awaiting debate in the House if he decides that for special reasons agreement should be given; but he should explain his reasons--

    (a) in every such case, to the European Union Committee at the first opportunity after reaching his decision; and

    (b) in the case of a proposal awaiting debate in the House, to the House at the opening of the debate on the Committee's Report.

    (5) In relation to any proposal which requires adoption by unanimity, abstention shall, for the purposes of paragraph (4), be treated as giving agreement."


    Accordingly the Committee recommends:

    --the terms of reference set out above

    --the new title set out above

    --the adoption of the above Scrutiny Reserve Resolution.

1 The Lords Committee's work is underpinned by an undertaking given by the Government that they will not agree in the Council of Ministers to any proposal on which parliamentary scrutiny at Westminster has not been completed. This undertaking was formalised in a House of Commons resolution (the "Scrutiny Reserve Resolution") in 1980. The Resolution was most recently renewed by the Commons on 17 November 1998. There is at present no equivalent Lords resolution.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page