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Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Why not the other 45 per cent?

12 Mar 2001 : Column 511

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, they are the richer pensioners.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, given the Government's increase in means testing and the complexity of the social security system, she may now be the only person in the country as a whole who understands it? Does the noble Baroness estimate that the total number of people who are now entitled to minimum income guarantee but have failed to take it up is now greater than when MIG was introduced?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as to the first point, my late husband used to say that one should be aware whether people like compliments to be forehand or backhand. I believe that the noble Lord's question counts as "backhand". I take the point about complexity. That is one of the reasons why we have, with some prodding by the journalist Peter Kelner, simplified our income support form. The current form for pensioners has been reduced from 40 to 10 pages and is in big print. I believe that that will help to overcome some of the complexity of claims. The basic point is that one can either give all pensioners the same money or target the poorest. As a result of the Government's policies, the younger, poorer pensioner couples--those on MIG--have seen their real income increase by 30 per cent--I repeat, 30 per cent. We take a great deal of pride in that.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is absolutely intolerable that only one in six of those eligible for MIG have taken it up? Does she further accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, was correct in saying that the situation will get much worse when MIG is extended upward through pensioner credit?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I accept neither of those points. On the first point, 840,000 pensioners--far more than we thought might be entitled--applied for information about the scheme. Most of those decided that they had income or capital which excluded them from eligibility for MIG. That is confirmed by our research. So, I do not accept the first point.

On the second point, given that we are seeking ways of delivering automaticity for MIG, which is earnings-related, of those pensioners who, from 2003, will enjoy pensioner credit, some 6 million will see a real increase in their standard of living that hitherto they have not enjoyed.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, what assumption has the Treasury given the Minister for the total expenditure in 2001 to 2002?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as a result of our proposals, additional expenditure on pensions is approximately £6.5 billion. However, one point that may interest my noble friend Lord Barnett is that when we came into government in 1997 the amount of GDP that went on pensioners was 5.32 per cent. Had we had

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the earnings link that my noble friend would have pressed for, it would by now have fallen to 5.23 per cent. As a result of the increases in our proposals it will rise to 5.47 per cent. So not only have pensioners kept pace with the growing prosperity of the nation, they have done even better than that and surpassed it.

Sri Lanka: Terrorism Act Proposal

2.52 p.m

Lord Eden of Winton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to assist the Government of Sri Lanka to bring an end to terrorist activity in that country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we remain fully committed to supporting Norway's efforts to help the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE end the tragic ethnic conflict through a peaceful, negotiated settlement. The Home Secretary recently included the LTTE in the list of foreign terrorist organisations intended for proscription under the Terrorism Act 2000. We look to the LTTE to renounce terrorism and to commit itself to the search for peace.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their decision to place the LTTE on the list of proscribed organisations. Will the Government press ahead as quickly as possible and hold the required debate so that the necessary order can come into effect without delay? Is it not clear that there is diminishing sympathy for the terrorist organisation in Sri Lanka? Therefore, will the Minister pledge Her Majesty's Government to do everything possible--perhaps with the assistance of other Commonwealth countries--to support the Sri Lankan Government in their efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement? That settlement might include some form of devolved administration to meet the legitimate interests of the Tamils.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his compliment in relation to the work that we have done. The Terrorism Act came into effect on 19th February of this year. I can reassure the noble Lord that the order will be debated on the Floor of the House of Commons at 10 p.m. tomorrow. In the week beginning 19th March it is hoped that the order will be debated in this House. That date will be confirmed. So the noble Lord will have his wish in that regard.

I can reassure the noble Lord that we will continue to do all we can to support the negotiated settlement. Norway is working hard and doing very well. It is incumbent upon us all to do everything we can to make sure that such efforts succeed.

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Lord Naseby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that her announcement of the debate in the other place and the intended debate in this Chamber is greatly to be welcomed? But if the Act is to bite, as I suspect the Government, the Opposition parties, and the whole of this Parliament would wish, it has to be followed up by activity to ensure that the money taken under sufferance from people here who are Sri Lankans is stopped one way or the other. Are urgent discussions taking place to ensure that that extortion of money stops?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can reassure noble Lords that once the order is passed, the police and the prosecuting authorities will have an opportunity to act where they find that there is evidence to support such action. So we have a realistic expectation of the mechanism being in place that can be utilised to make sure that terrorist organisations such as the LTTE do not prosper on these shores.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that although the LTTE has an office in this country, which will have to cease activities once the order comes into effect, there are other organisations which collect money, ostensibly for charitable purposes? The first investigation of those bodies is left to the Charity Commissioners. Does the Minister think that, in the light of repeated demands by the Sri Lankan Government for action to be taken against front organisations, it is satisfactory to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the Charity Commissioners?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the matter will not be solely in the hands of the Charity Commissioners. We shall have the legislation on the statute book which will enable the police to investigate and the prosecution authorities to prosecute if they deem that to be appropriate having found the evidence upon which to found those prosecutions. So we are looking at the matter with increasing particularity. We have a realistic prospect of creatively bringing about change.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the comments of Charles Clarke that the make-up of the list of proscribed organisations since the Terrorism Act was,

    "not driven by foreign policy considerations"?

In so far as that is true, at what level and to what extent did Home Office Ministers consult with their colleagues in the Foreign Office in relation to the decision to include the LTTE?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, your Lordships will not be surprised to know that although it may not have been driven by Foreign Office considerations, those considerations were properly taken into account. The fact that the LTTE is on the list is an indication that the Home Office took the matter fully into account.

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Religious Discrimination

2.58 p.m.

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to introduce legislation on religious discrimination.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Government are committed to implementing Article 13 of the European Community employment directive, outlawing discrimination in employment and training on grounds which include religion, by autumn 2003. The Government will consult on this matter in due course, taking account of the two recently published research reports on religious discrimination. Both reports will help to raise awareness of people's experience of religious discrimination and of the sensitive and sometimes complex issues involved in the options for tackling it.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I congratulate the Government on commissioning the first-ever report on religious discrimination. Can the Minister say what were the main findings of the survey in the Derby University report? Can he further say whether there is any evidence of religious discrimination in the fields of justice, media, employment and service provision?

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