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Lord Randall of St Budeaux: My Lords, I have found my noble friend's speech fascinating, but she has not mentioned the impact that her broad policy base will have on families and the welfare of the family unit. Might not pressuring women to go out to work undermine family units, and particularly the well-being of children, which she has referred to?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: No, my Lords, the New Deal for unemployed partners is for those under 45 without children. I do not subscribe to the view that when a couple are living together, married or not, the woman is a dependant to the extent that, if the man claims benefit, she also gets benefit as his dependant,
We are seeking to support families and to reform the welfare state, but we need to strengthen it against fraud. We have done much, but more needs to be done. The Government asked my noble friend Lord Grabiner to investigate the informal economy. His report made several recommendations on what more could be done to tackle benefit fraud. To implement those proposals, we need additional legislative powers.
As announced in the gracious Speech, the Government will introduce a social security fraud Bill, principally aimed at implementing two of the recommendations. First, we must do more to protect the system against people who deliberately lie about their real circumstances in order to receive benefit. Secondly, there is a problem with people who commit repeated fraud. We propose that those convicted of benefit fraud will be warned that a further conviction will lead to the withdrawal or reduction of certain benefits for 13 weeks. There will be a fallback scheme to pay a reduced level of benefit to prevent hardship. We believe that the checking of information and the measures to deal with people who have committed repeated fraud will help us to eradicate the fraud that saps confidence in the integrity of our welfare state. Pensioners in particular will not claim the benefit that they should have if they see others claiming when they should not. It stigmatises and corrupts the entire welfare system.
In conclusion, government can make a difference. We have delivered the right economic conditions for steady growth and full employment. As a result we have saved £8 billion on unemployment benefits. That money is therefore available to be spent where it is most needed--on tackling poverty and social exclusion. That in turn contributes to sustainable and sustained growth in the economy.
I remind the House that we have brought 1 million children out of poverty. Since 1997, long-term unemployment has gone down by 60 per cent and youth unemployment has gone down by 75 per cent--both to the lowest figures since the mid-1970s. We have implemented a New Deal of tailored individual support for those excluded from the labour market. We have introduced a new minimum wage, supported by the working families' tax credit. The new disabled person's tax credit works alongside the Disability Rights Commission. We have also introduced significant support for carers and provided an extra £8.5 billion for pensioners, as well as creating a structure for a new pensions system.
All that has been done within one Parliament. It has been made possible by the secure and steady growth of the economy, which allows us to invest in our people, not to leave them stranded on the edges of our society. I look forward to the next Parliament--whenever that will be--as, I am sure, do the people of this country. I am proud to say that we have truly made a difference.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, it has been said that some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them--a classification which may be appropriate in your Lordships' House. When I was given the privilege of opening for the Opposition in today's debate, it seemed pretty clear to me that I came into the third category. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for only three years and I still regard myself as a newcomer, although more than a quarter of your Lordships' House have arrived here since I was appointed and for a not insignificant number this is their first Queen's Speech.
A few days ago, I spoke to a former colleague in another place. He said, "You wouldn't like it here now. All that happens is we have a Second Reading; if the matter is at all controversial it is guillotined; and then we leave your Lordships' House to sort the matter out".
Tradition is important in this House. I think that our arrangements for debating and voting in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading are better than those in the House of Commons. However, I hope that we can dispose of one tradition--the occasional debates off the Floor of the House in the Moses Room. With its diabolical acoustics, its inadequate light and its most inappropriate layout, I find the Moses Room unacceptable. Moses himself would have had difficulty getting the Ten Commandments right if he had had to perform there. If we are to have debates off the Floor of the House, I hope that some better arrangement can be made.
The Government put spin before substance. That way of operating is implemented by a process of constant repetition of their proposals. First there is a leak, then another leak, then an announcement, a reannouncement and another reannouncement.
That process of leaking is objectionable. Hitherto, two aspects of our activities have been exempt from it. The first is the Budget. The Chancellor has got over that by announcing the leaks en masse in the Pre-Budget Statement. More particularly, there have not generally been leaks of the Queen's Speech, but that was certainly not the case this year. Almost every item of the Queen's Speech was leaked in advance in great detail. I have one press report here that begins:
The benefit fraud inspection Bill to which the noble Baroness referred is a classic case of how the Government have operated. Sometimes, the succession of announcements is followed by activity, but not infrequently nothing happens. In 1997, the Labour manifesto promised measures to deal with benefit fraud. Labour pledged to crack down on dishonesty in the benefits system. In 1998, those objectives were reiterated in a Green Paper on welfare. In 1999 the Government launched their formal strategy for tackling benefit fraud and in July 2000 they issued a further publication of consultation documents. Now we are told that there is to be a Bill in the Queen's Speech. We shall believe it when it happens. The Bill to which the noble Baroness referred was mentioned in last year's Queen's Speech. This proposal was in the last Labour manifesto and is likely to turn up in the next manifesto of the Labour Party.
Despite the importance of the issue to which the noble Baroness rightly referred, so far virtually nothing whatever has happened. However, if such a measure is introduced, it will undoubtedly impose more burdens on business. A feature of the Government's policy has been that almost everything they have done has imposed more and more burdens on business and industry. That is likely to be the case so far as concerns the fraud Bill; DSS estimates suggest that such a burden may amount to a substantial sum. Indeed, in addition to the burden imposed by the department, local authorities will impose more.
Time and time again the Government have imposed burdens on industry, and time and again we have been told that measures will be taken to reduce those burdens. However, there is not the slightest doubt that the burdens on industry have vastly exceeded--and after this regulation Bill will still vastly exceed--any measures which are likely to improve the situation. I give as an example the working families' tax credit, wrongly classified as a tax cut and not a benefit. In addition, the stakeholder pension is thought to impose costs of approximately £1.6 billion per year on industry. The CBI estimates that the cost of red tape over the Parliament amounts to well over £12 billion. That is a substantial burden and it is undermining the ability of industry to improve its own productivity.
The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that the great majority--indeed, all but about £10 million to £14 million--of that figure is accounted for by benefits and not red tape? If he regards that as waste, will he say which of the benefits a future Conservative government would get rid of?
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