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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, speaking as an Australian, I am of course well aware of the significant part played there by the random alcohol assessment of drivers. However, is the Minister aware that newly qualified drivers in Australia carry not an "R" but a "P" as a provisional plate? Northern Ireland uses the first and Australia the latter. We have debated this issue before. I have tabled amendments on itit must be close to 20 years agowhich were debated in this House and were fully and strongly supported by the police in Northern Ireland, which has experience in the matter.
The Minister is right that unless the police can identify the drivers in question, they cannot enforce anything. That is why the plates are an important indicator. But is he aware that one of the restrictions on young drivers in Australia is a very much lower alcohol level? That is highly significant. The road situation in Australia is different because the speed limits are high and the roads are open and wide. It is time that we too looked at special restrictions for newer drivers. Another point brought out in debate is that newer drivers are sometimes intimidated by those behind them. So such restrictions may also help them.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are always grateful for Australian experience, particularly in activities where in recent years they may have been better than us. We hope to equalise that in cricket this
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year, I am sure. But when it comes to road safety, Australia is indeed the clearest test case that we have of very significant restrictions being imposed on newly qualified drivers. I maintain the point that I made earlier. The evidence does not suggest that Australia has a better road safety record or a better set of statistics with regard to these drivers than we do. We think that the strategy we are pursuing on driving qualification and driving tests is the better one.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, more than 6 million families are benefiting from tax credits, which are more generous and inclusive than any previous system of income-based financial support. Recent statistics show unprecedented take-up success. For the vast majority, the new system is working well, but there are aspects that could be made to work better. That is why my right honourable friend the Paymaster General announced in the House of Commons on 26 May that she has agreed with HMRC six improvement measures.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The Government have introduced a hugely complex system of tax credits, which results in an error rate of nearly one-thirdmost being overpayments of credit now requiring repayment. Will the Minister agree with me that the Chancellor, who dreamed up this whole miserable scheme, has a lot to answer for? More importantly, no Minister has yet said sorry to the 1.9 million hardworking families caught up in this overpayment mess. Will the Minister now apologise?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I certainly will not apologise for the introduction of the tax credit system, and neither should the Chancellor, who has a lot to be praised for in his record on the management of the economy of this country. Perhaps, as this exchange goes on, we can hear whether the Conservatives are going to scrap this policy.
As for the overpayments, it is important that the House understands how most of them arise. The tax credit system is a responsive system, which is designed to ensure that changes that take place in the course of a year can be adjusted in the course of a year. So if a family has an additional child or their income reduces, their credit
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can be increased in the year. But the corollary is that if someone's income increases, similarly an adjustment will need to arise from that. However, there is a safety netthat if income increases by less than £2,500 in the course of the year, no adjustment is made.
As for the 1.9 million awards which were overpaid, two-thirds of them arise from the fact that family incomes rose by more than £2,500 during the course of the year, underlining the success of the economy. Nearly £1 billion of the overpayment resulted from increases in family incomes of £10,000 or more.
Lord Addington: My Lords, if the Government accept that the tax credit is designed to help those on low incomes, do they have some special scheme or mechanism to help those on comparatively low incomes to repay sums of approximately £1,000? What are they doing to help in that regard? Surely those people are being hurt by a system that is supposed to help them.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the sum of approximately £1,000 is misleading. The median figure is nearer £570, and lots are lower than that. The HMRC has a code of practice that deals with how overpayments are collected; it depends whether the overpayment is identified at the end of the year or during its course. There is a percentage of the current year's award which limits the amount that can be collected in relation to a current payment of credit.
As my right honourable friend the Paymaster General set out in her press release on 26 May, one thing that we are doing as part of her six-point plan is to ensure that we work better with the voluntary sector in providing advice for families who receive tax credits, to see how that can help. There is a helpline, and the facilities to support it have been improved. The Government are mindful that when hardship is involved there is a process by which people can contact HMRC, and these issues will be looked at sympathetically.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not have that data to hand, but I imagine that it is quite a few, because the system benefits some 20 million people in our country, including 10 million children. It is helping to get people back into work, to combat child poverty and to support families. I should have thought that that was something that we would want civil servants to be engaged in.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, if the advice given by an HMRC official about tax credits differs from that given on the relevant part of the HMRC website, which should the taxpayer believe?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I think that the taxpayer should believe the regulations and Act which introduced the legislation. How that is represented
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differently in different places, I am not sure, but if the noble Lord could give me a concrete example of that I shall have it looked into and write to him.
Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to report whether the provisions of any Bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny; to report on documents and draft orders laid before Parliament under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001; and to perform, in respect of such documents and orders and subordinate provisions orders laid under that Act, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments;
Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to advise the House on the resources required for Select Committee work and to allocate resources between Select Committees; to review the Select Committee work of the House; to consider requests for ad hoc committees and report to the House with recommendations; to ensure effective co-ordination between the two Houses; and to consider the availability of Lords to serve on committees;
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