Earl Attlee: My Lords, Heathrow Airport's annual capacity is capped at 480,000 air transport movements, and the Department for Transport's latest aviation forecasts assume there will be no increase in runway capacity to 2050. The Government do not make detailed assumptions about the airport's capacity levels at peak times. This is a matter for the airport operator.
Lord Spicer: My Lords, my Question came with the bias of a former Aviation Minister. Given that Heathrow Airport is now effectively full at peak times, what is to be done about that while we wait 20 years for a new airport to be built in the Thames?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the short answer is that the South East Airports Taskforce, chaired by my right honourable friend Theresa Villiers, determined that there should be operational freedoms for Heathrow Airport to enable the airport to recover quickly from disruptions to operations.
Lord Soley: According to the Written Answers I have received from Ministers, when the Chinese Government, the Chinese civil aviation authority and the Chinese airlines have asked repeatedly for more landing slots at Heathrow they have been told that their views will be taken into consideration by the review. Is this not deeply embarrassing and totally hopeless, in view of the economic need of this country to relate to China and other countries of that nature?
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, as another member of the numerous club of former Aviation Ministers in your Lordships' House, I ask the Minister whether the additional runway capacity that may in due course-perhaps fairly soon-be required in the south-east really cannot be at Heathrow.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. There will be no increase in slots at Heathrow, but the key point is that the number of aircraft movements is capped at 480,000 movements per year.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I apologise for my jack-in-the-box tendency earlier, which was due to my eagerness on this topic. Can the Minister confirm that operational freedoms are currently only in a pilot scheme and are undergoing consultation? Can he also confirm that the Government will be putting some pressure on the airlines to see whether they can move night flights into the post-6 am slot and to use quieter aircraft-the Airbus A380s, as they come on stream-for any flights that must happen at night?
Earl Attlee: My noble friend is quite right. The operational freedoms trial is in two phases: the current phase, and another phase largely over the Olympics period. One of the benefits of the operational freedoms trial is to reduce unscheduled night flights. I will have to write to my noble friend on the detail of her rather more searching questions.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House must be dismayed at the Minister's negative response to this very important issue. After all, aviation is one of the important parts of the economy that is capable of growth, yet we are getting nothing but negative responses from the Government. Will the Minister at least acknowledge that we on the opposition Front Bench have offered to meet Ministers to see how we can plan a future for aviation that is considerably more productive than the Government's present position, which is largely one of stalling and negativism?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is difficult to avoid being negative when the answer is, "No third runway at Heathrow". However, we look forward to any contribution Her Majesty's Opposition make to the future aviation policy framework. The Government want aviation to grow, but to do so it must play its part in delivering our environmental goals and protecting the quality of life of local communities. We are developing a sustainable framework for UK aviation that supports economic growth and addresses aviation's environmental impacts.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many airlines now are changing to larger aircraft, which will bring in many more passengers on each flight? Will that contribute to helping Heathrow to continue at least to receive more people, even if not more flights?
Earl Attlee: My noble friend makes an extremely good point. For instance, the A380 aircraft will be able to carry 450 to 500 passengers, and has the potential to grow significantly to its certified amount of 855.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, the tourism industry is very concerned about congestion at Heathrow, particularly as we approach 2012, which is such a significant year. I have a registered interest as a director of VisitBritain. We know that a number of airlines are not using their slots at Heathrow, thereby adding to the congestion. Will the Minister undertake to look at the situation and see whether there is a way of freeing up the slots that are being hoarded?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the slots at Heathrow are managed by an organisation called Airport Coordination Limited, which is independent of government, and has to be. However, it has mechanisms to ensure that slots are used as much as possible. As I understand it, there are penalties if it does not use all the slots economically.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that the enforcement of the rights of vulnerable workers protected by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will not be weakened as a result of the red tape challenge.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): The Government are committed to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable workers in all sectors. I am pleased to say that the need for the GLA to enforce protections for vulnerable workers in its sectors was endorsed by the red tape challenge ministerial star chamber, although it recognised that the GLA needed to better target non-compliant operators and reduce burdens on the compliant. The GLA will of course continue to be monitored under the Government's ongoing reviews of public bodies and enforcement agencies.
Baroness Young of Hornsey: I thank the noble Lord for that encouraging reply. As he will be aware, the GLA's remit is limited to the agricultural sector. Currently, if the GLA finds that a business is engaged in abusive behaviour and practices operating in other sectors as well as agriculture, it has no powers to take action. I wonder, given the confidence in its effectiveness, what the Government are doing to ensure that the GLA can take a leading role in multiagency actions which tackle the abuse of vulnerable workers.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Baroness can be reassured by the fact that the GLA works with a number of enforcement agencies, particularly as a partner in the Government's human trafficking strategy. However, there are principles that underline the red tape challenge's review on employment. The
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Lord Rooker: Given the success of the GLA, which has just been admitted in the industry that it manages and looks after, why can its remit not be extended to the construction industry? Why should the construction industry, which is as full of gangmasters as agriculture and farming, be exempt from the kind of activities that the GLA does on behalf of workers?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I think that I have just given the noble Lord the answer to that question. Indeed, there is a review of all vulnerable workers across the piece. Noble Lords will accept that there needs to be balance. We do not want employment to be so difficult and complex that people are discouraged from taking on employment, but we all have a duty to make sure that vulnerable workers are properly protected.
Baroness Parminter: My Lords, it is welcome that the Government have protected the budget of the GLA during this financial year. In the light of that support, is it clear that Defra will remain the lead department in order to ensure that the vital work that the GLA does to support vulnerable, low-paid, low-skilled workers will continue?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I have made it clear that Defra values the GLA and sees it as being a particular responsibility to make sure that it is properly funded. Not only is its budget protected for this year, it is protected for the next four financial years in its enforcement activities. I hope that noble Lords are reassured by that and the determination of the department to make sure that it is effective in performing its task.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, last month, when I raised the issue of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in Questions, I was much reassured by the Minister's answer that the authority would remain free-standing. In his answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, he talked about a new "enforcement architecture"-that was the pithy phrase he used. Does that mean that the position has changed around its remaining free-standing? If so, what has changed that the Government want to weaken the focus of this highly effective body?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: There is no way in which the Government wish to weaken the focus of this highly effective body. The previous questions pointed out that there are experiences that the GLA has in its field which could well be useful in other fields of employment. That is why my honourable friend Ed Davey, in conducting his review, is looking at the GLA to see how its practices can be incorporated into a broader brief.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I am sure that the House was very interested to learn that the red tape challenge has a ministerial star chamber. Will the Minister tell us how many other ministerial star chambers there are in government? Is there one on the European Union?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: From my knowledge of star chambers, which is rather limited to history books and the like, they are where conflicting views which may need to be resolved are discussed in an informal way. That is exactly how the star chamber has functioned in this way. I am not suggesting for a moment that the European issue could be resolved quite so easily.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, "GLA" has another acronymic provenance. Will my noble friend see if it is possible to avoid duplication of acronyms when they occur for bears of very little brain who find it very difficult to follow?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, as with all benefits, a series of measures is in place to ensure that disability benefits are paid only to those who are entitled. These vary for each benefit. Last month, Professor Harrington confirmed that there has been positive progress in improving the work capability assessment, which determines entitlement to employment and support allowance. The department continues to develop the assessment for personal independence payment in consultation with stakeholders and relevant experts.
Baroness Sharples: Now that Crimestoppers is involved, can we expect to see more claims dealt with quickly-which are false claims? Will the public be encouraged to approach Crimestoppers? I gather that their calls will be entirely anonymous.
Lord Freud: Yes, my Lords. I very much welcome the fact that we have made an arrangement with Crimestoppers. We already have the national benefit fraud hotline; but the good thing about Crimestoppers is that it is a very trusted brand, which carries anonymity
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Lord Wigley: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the campaign organised by parts of the tabloid press insinuating that disabled people drawing benefits are cheats and scroungers, is totally unacceptable; that the vast majority of disabled people dependent on benefits are absolutely straight and honest; that the level of fraud is relatively low; and that this campaign should stop?
Lord Freud: Well, my Lords, clearly we are very concerned by any misrepresentation in the tabloid press, which likes to simplify matters a great deal. We have a real issue in making sure that we have a very clear, coherent and consistent categorisation of who should receive these benefits, because one of the main policy thrusts of this Government is to make sure that the people who really need the money are the ones who get it.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Benefit Integrity Project, introduced by the previous Government to weed out the misuse of disability benefits, found more people on DLA whose needs had risen than fallen, contributing to a rise in expenditure on benefits? Does he expect the introduction of personal independence payments to lead to a similar increase in expenditure, as well as a rise in the cost of administration?
Lord Freud: My Lords, there has been relatively little research on DLA and how accurately it is targeted. The last comprehensive survey was in 2005, and it was found that more than 11 per cent of cases were no longer applicable. That does not mean that fraud was involved; it just means that matters had moved on so that it was no longer applicable. We also found a reasonable proportion-much less-of people who should have had higher payments. It is a subjective, inconsistent benefit, which relies too much on self-assessment. We need to get a grip of it.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us are very concerned that the measure envisaged might have a deleterious effect on the very group that the Government are most concerned to help-that is, those who would come into the support group eligible for universal benefit, but who are actually living alone and without carers?
Lord Freud: Yes, my Lords. One of the things we are aiming to do with the employment and support allowance, and the support elements there, is to make sure that we have consistent and simple definitions of who should obtain benefits. At the moment, we have a multiplicity of benefits, and we are aiming to simplify things so as clearly to direct our support to those who need it most.
Lord Freud: My Lords, this is a very interesting issue. We have been reading closely Macmillan's evidence to us, and what is set out is not what Macmillan is actually asking for. Many of the oncologists whose evidence was taken say that it is important for many patients to stay in work. One stated that it may be inappropriate for some patients and that it risks stigmatising chemo patients, but that some people on long-term maintenance treatments may have little or no upset and be quite able to work. We are taking that evidence and looking closely at how we apply it. We will have more people with cancer in the support group because many undergoing oral chemotherapy need to be in it. However, we are not taking a blanket view and we do not want to stigmatise cancer patients.
Lord Addington: My Lords, will my noble friend give an assurance that when the initial assessment is made, someone with real expertise in the disability or group of disabilities advises on whether the benefit should be paid?
Lord Freud: My Lords, yes, one of the things we are keen to ensure is that there are people with expertise on whom those making the assessments can rely. Professor Harrington addressed that in his first review. For that reason, we had mental health champions in particular in each of the offices undertaking this work.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, many Members of your Lordships' House will be aware from personal and family experience that the experience of undergoing chemotherapy of any kind, quite apart from oral chemotherapy, is most unpredictable in each individual case. Within a period of 48 hours, someone who had been coping admirably can suddenly find that they are unable to work. How on earth can the Government respond immediately to those circumstances and how can they stop the media, to which the Minister referred earlier, castigating everyone on chemotherapy as though they are workshy?
Lord Freud: My Lords, let me make it absolutely clear that the presumption for people on chemotherapy, whether it is in oral or other forms, is that they will be in the support group. However, we will check this because some people, as the evidence in the Macmillan report demonstrated, get through their chemotherapy with few ill effects, so it is right for them to continue in the workplace. They will want to do that, but the risk is that if there is a blanket move away from the workplace, we basically write off those people's opportunity to work, and that is wrong.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest. My wife underwent chemotherapy treatment for some time and she could not have worked at all. How much consultation is there with the patients themselves as they undergo chemotherapy as opposed to with their doctors, in order to find out exactly what their response to this is?
Lord Freud: My Lords, when people are in a position where they cannot work and the presumption is that they will be in the support group, we will take the
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, on 15 November the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme-if my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville will forgive me, I shall call it WRAP-announced a 1.1 million tonne, or 13 per cent, reduction in annual UK household food waste since 2006. We recognise the efforts of householders and the actions taken by WRAP and the food industry to help achieve this reduction. We are continuing to work with the industry to help householders cut food waste through responsibility deals and consumer advice.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington: While welcoming this significant improvement and accepting that there is much more to do, I would like to ask about the Courtauld commitment. Accepting that supermarkets have made reasonable progress towards their household food waste reduction objectives-3 per cent towards their rather unambitious 4 per cent target-would my noble friend agree that the slow progress on the grocery supply chain product and packaging waste reduction, with a marginal decrease to date of only 0.4 per cent against a 5 per cent 2012 reduction target, is disappointing? Bearing in mind the estimated £17 billion a year cost associated with food, drink and packaging waste generation, would he tell us what the Government are doing to encourage supermarkets to achieve this target by the timescale set in the Courtauld commitment?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We are working through a voluntary deal in the Courtauld agreement. It has had some success, as I have just revealed with the figures on the reduction of food waste. Much of that is down to the work that WRAP has done in co-operation with the grocery retail trade and food manufacturing sector. My noble friend is right that more needs to be done to meet our new target for reducing waste in the supply chain. We are developing Courtauld 2 to achieve that objective.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, are the Government making it a priority to return the nutrients and phosphates from food waste back on to the land through anaerobic digestion? I declare an interest as chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association. Also,
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank my noble friend. Anaerobic digestion can divert food waste from landfill. It generates some renewable energy and improved nutrient management on farms, as he said. The biogas can generate heat and energy or be injected into the gas grid. The Government published an AD strategy and action plan in June that includes actions to develop a £10 million loan fund to support that new capacity. However, the strategy must be to avoid food waste in the first place, hence the Government's focus on the Courtauld agreement. I note what my noble friend said about the Welsh experiment. We are learning a lot from projects undertaken in the devolved authorities. We will certainly monitor them carefully and take that on board.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I have noticed one thing with retailers: buy one get one free. Buying two is cheaper than buying singly. Are the Government trying to do anything to encourage retailers to reduce the price of each unit of product rather than produce these gimmicks?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord is very topical. Some results are to be released shortly on research into exactly the impact of BOGOF-as it is called in the trade-on expenditure patterns and food waste. The noble Lord will have to await the outcome of that research before I can give him an answer.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, surely we owe a vote of thanks to retailers for the way they have taken up what the Minister calls WRAP. A 3 per cent achievement in a single year is to be greatly welcomed. Would my noble friend comment on one area where there is still confusion? The "best before" date is still confused by the "use by" date. Is there any programme for further publicity to clarify what each of those two phrases means?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: This is an ongoing project, and an important one. As my noble friend quite rightly points out, there is confusion. Defra recently published date-marking guidance. This should help to ensure that dates are applied consistently-for example, that all hard cheeses display "best before" dates-thus making it easier for consumers to understand their meaning. I have already seen date marks that drop the confusing "display until", in line with our guidance. I will shortly be visiting Sainbury's to see its new eco-labelling system. My noble friend is quite right to congratulate supermarkets on the efforts that they are making.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, as we agreed in the debate last week, household food waste is still way too high. The voluntary approach is having some effect with retailers, as we have heard. Many are moving away from BOGOF-as the Minister likes to refer to it-and for that they should be applauded.
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Indeed, my Lords, the grocery supply code of practice aims to prevent retailers from transferring excessive risk to their suppliers through unreasonable business practices. Two of its conditions cover wastage and forecasting errors, clarifying the conditions in which compensation for these may be sought. The greater certainty provided to suppliers and the role that the groceries code adjudicator will play may help to reduce food waste; we certainly hope so. The body will indeed be set up.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 1 and 2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher-who does not appear to be here-as well as in my name. These are not techie, administrative amendments; they are about people's lives and have particular consequences for the lives of women, who are still the main managers of poverty on a day-to-day basis. At present, the out-of-work benefits, which the universal credit will replace, are paid fortnightly.
These payments used to be paid weekly and, according to Fran Bennett of the Women's Budget Group, there is evidence from recent qualitative research carried out at Oxford University that the move to fortnightly payments has caused more problems than is sometimes
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We know from government survey evidence that nearly two in five of the lowest fifth of low-income families with children run out of money always or frequently, so we are not talking about a small number of vulnerable people in exceptional circumstances, nor are we talking in most cases about mismanagement. Again, research shows how well most people on low incomes manage their money-probably better than many of us, because they have to. However, managing money on a low income is very stressful, particularly for women who act as the shock absorbers of poverty, and it can have a damaging impact on physical and mental health.
One of the big fears is that monthly payments will lead to more families turning to high-cost credit and getting into debt. Just last week a big news story was the spread of payday loans which, according to an earlier report, have quadrupled in the past four years. In Committee, I read from an e-mail that I had received from a Conservative supporter, who described himself as a "responsible lender" to low-income households and who was enraged by the idea of monthly payments, which, he warned, would lead to an even greater reliance on such loans, which he wrote, had,
According to last week's R3 report, nearly half the population sometimes or often struggles to make it to payday. In addition, there has been growing use of pawnbrokers, particularly by low-income women with children.
In Committee, we all got the impression that the Minister really listened and took on board the concerns expressed from all Benches. Indeed, he said that we had given him quite a bit of food for thought. This was very welcome. It is therefore disappointing that, having digested the overwhelming message coming from the Committee, he appears not to be willing to concede even on the point of giving claimants the right to opt for twice-monthly payments with the default remaining monthly, as provided for in Amendment 1. Instead, he appears to be looking to encourage access to budgeting products such as jam jar accounts, which would enable people to mimic jam jars in allocating their universal credit payment to different purposes through their accounts.
The Minister rightly observed in Committee that budgeting products mystified him, so, like a good academic, I have done my research. I can see the attraction in this context and I hope that the Minister is successful in developing the idea, but I am yet to be convinced that such accounts obviate the need for the amendments before your Lordships' House. Certainly, this is the view of the Personal Finance Research Centre. At present, only about 150,000 people use such accounts and typically they are charged between
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I know that the role of such budgeting tools will be explored in the planned demonstration projects, which according to the DWP will test some of the support mechanisms we will need to have in place for vulnerable groups. However, as I have already tried to explain, this is not just an issue for certain vulnerable groups. Anyone on a low income is potentially vulnerable to the problems created by monthly payments. Are they all going to be helped to access such budgeting products? I appreciate the effort that the Minister is putting in to try to develop the budgeting products solution to the problems raised in Committee, which he acknowledged were very real. However, I remain puzzled as to why he is so resistant to accepting the most obvious solution that we offered-more frequent payments.
"Is it because of cost?", some people have asked me. It would appear not, as that was not an objection raised in Committee. The Minister himself emphasised in Committee that there is a distinction between payment period and assessment period, so that more frequent payment would not require more frequent assessment, which perhaps would have cost implications. The answer to a Written Question about cost in the House of Commons simply evaded the question. It leaves me to wonder whether the Minister's solution is not more costly, particularly as it will also involve more frequent use of interim payments to tide people over as payments are made four-weekly in arrears. A story in the FT in September suggested as much. It said that,
In Committee, I asked that your Lordships' House should receive a fully costed plan before monthly payments are finally agreed, but no such plan has been forthcoming. In its absence, I believe that it is only prudent that your Lordships' House build in the kind of protection that the amendment would provide.
If it is not about cost, is it about complexity, as simplicity was one of the justifications provided in the policy briefing on the issue? Twice-monthly payments are no more complex than monthly, and arguably the kind of budgeting products being pursued by the Minister are themselves quite complex. Nor do I consider that building in a degree of choice is complicated for claimants to understand. In fact, I think that the Minister gave us the answer in his speech in Committee when he explained that,
But it was then pointed out that about one in five people are still paid weekly or fortnightly, and the department's own figures show that as many as half of those earning less than £10,000 a year are not paid monthly. I think that we can safely assume that they are paid more frequently. Moreover, where universal credit is paid on top of a wage, it is unclear why it has to mimic it. So the mimicking work argument begins to look rather threadbare.
Instead, it now appears that the Government want to shape the behaviour of people, both in and out of work, to fit with their perception of how modern life ought to be. We "will shape the norm", is how the Minister put it in Committee. There appears to be almost an implicit assumption that monthly payments are somehow morally superior to fortnightly budgeting. This all strikes me as the kind of interfering state paternalism or social engineering that modern Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would usually frown on.
My preference is to facilitate the way in which many people on low incomes actually budget, through twice-monthly payments as provided for in Amendment 2. However, I would suggest that Amendment 1 does at least avoid the paternalism of the Government's position by offering the claimant choice. Indeed the department itself has argued that,
The amendment would allow the family to decide if twice-monthly payment would be a more appropriate way to meet its needs. But it still allows the Government to nudge the claimant towards monthly payments because this would be the default position.
If the Government accepted this amendment, they would address the concerns raised in their own research into perceptions of welfare reform and universal credit, which the Minister told the Committee he was studying "with great attention". The report on the research observed that monthly payment was "strongly criticised", and it concluded that,
and they advised "mitigating action". I acknowledge that the Minister's work on budgeting products potentially constitutes such action, but, as I have explained, I am not yet convinced that on its own it will be enough. Surely we have a responsibility to ensure that there is some mechanism in the law to protect people on low incomes from unnecessary hardship, should this action not be as effective as the Minister hopes.
"if this is the nail in the shoe that gets the whole thing discredited because it does not work or gives rise to disturbing
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The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in support of the noble Baroness's amendment. Her evident mastery of the subject has impressed the whole House, as it certainly impressed everyone involved in Committee. I do not have a great deal to add to what she said except that, in reading the transcript of that Committee, it struck me that two things did not emerge clearly enough, particularly given what the Minister said in reply. They were: first, a clear recognition that living on a very low income requires highly sophisticated financial domestic management and highly sophisticated budgeting. That would almost certainly be beyond the rest of us to manage. It seem to me unreasonable to expect people who are living with the burden of that kind of pressure also to develop skills beyond what the average in the community would be in terms of managing their finances.
That relates to my second point. The proposal for a monthly payment seems to have been made to generate a culture change among those who are not perhaps in the habit of regular employment-in other words, to build the capacity of those in receipt of the benefit to behave like the rest of society. However, I put it to the House and to the Minister that perhaps what we need more of is the capacity of government to understand what it is like to live on a very low income. That is where the capacity building needs to happen here.
I very much hope that the Minister, who has consistently shown a readiness to listen and respond, will think again on these amendments. My own experience as a parish priest in east London, and more recently in the parishes of the outer estates of Leicester, has shown me repeatedly and at first hand the extreme pressures under which those on very low incomes live. This is a modest amendment that would signal to those in receipt of these payments that their problems are understood and that the Government are ready to be sympathetic.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify precisely what it is that we are debating. I believe that my noble friend Lady Lister moved Amendment 1, somewhat belatedly, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and also spoke to Amendment 2, which is in her name.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, as I understand it, Amendment 1 has not been moved, but Amendment 2 has. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will speak to Amendment 1, but I do not think that she is in a position to move it. That is my understanding.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not want an endless wrangle on this. I think that that is being a little tough on the calling of amendments. My noble friend did not immediately realise that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was not in her place, so it perhaps took
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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I support my noble friend on this. Some of the difficulty may have been caused by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, kindly agreeing not to move her opening amendments, Amendments A1 and A2, so that we could have enough time to debate this matter fully. This has arisen because of the time required for the European Council Statement, which has thrown out all the expected timings. As a result, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was not in her place, as noble Lords would expect, because she had assumed that the other amendments were being debated. So I hope that the House will be sympathetic to my noble friend's request, which makes good sense. The House is self-regulating. If the House thinks that this is a reasonable thing to do, we can do it. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, will respond to my noble friend in the manner indicated.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, I was under the impression that when the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, got to her feet to speak, she said that she would move the first amendment and speak to the second. As she has her name on the first amendment, I would not have thought that there was an issue.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I think that I owe a rather large apology to the House. I seem to have caused complete confusion, and am deeply sorry. I rise now to speak to Amendments 1 and 2, which, one way or another, would ensure that universal credit could be paid more frequently to claimants. Amendment 1 provides choice. Amendment 2 provides something rather specific.
Those are the words of the Government. The point is that very many low-income earners are paid weekly or fortnightly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has rightly pointed out. Although two-thirds of tax credit recipients are paid monthly, many of these people will cease to be entitled to benefits in the future. The great majority of universal credit recipients will be very low
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In practical terms, it was made clear in Committee that monthly payments will cause very considerable management problems within households, and a dramatic increase in the numbers of people struggling with debts. The fact that applications for crisis loans rose significantly from 2009, when the change from weekly to fortnightly payments was introduced, tells the story. The CAB service saw a fourfold increase in the number of people with payday loans coming to them for debt advice in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period two years ago. The Association of Business Recovery Professionals is the UK's leading trade association for insolvency and related issues. On Wednesday 7 November, it released a report into payday loans showing that 3.5 million adults are considering taking out a payday loan over the next six months and that 48 per cent of the people who receive payday loans believe that the loans have made their debt crisis worse.
What is the Government's estimate of the number of payday loans to claimants of universal credit that will be in place within 12 months of the introduction of the new system? This is clearly a matter of very grave interest to Members of this House-we know that such loans have interest payments in excess of 300, 400 or 500 per cent, if not more than 1,000 per cent. We cannot just ignore that problem.
At the meeting with the Secretary of State on Thursday, he talked about the need for a culture change. Indeed, he even implied that this was the only problem-people just need to change the culture within which they live. However, people's problems in managing money over a month are far more extensive than purely a matter of culture. Numeracy skills are vital if people are going to manage their bills and payments over a month. I understand that the Skills for Life survey found that 1.7 million people had very poor numeracy skills. A further 5 million had poor numeracy skills. All these people's skills were described as "below functional".
That does not sound to me like applying to people who could manage their money. You can be sure that these groups dominate the ranks of claimants. Last Thursday, the Secretary of State seemed to suggest that people who cannot manage their money over a month will not be able to manage it over a week either. I find that an extraordinary argument. If people run out of their benefits on Thursday but they will receive some more money on Saturday, at least the children will go hungry only one day a week. If people run out of their benefits on the second Thursday of the month,
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The 2008 families and children study showed that one in four families with children more often than not run out of their money before the money next came in. The percentage must be higher for benefit claimants, so this is a huge problem. I believe that the Minister is seeking to resolve these issues, and I applaud him for that. The amendment has been crafted to try to take on board his interesting and innovative ideas and design, as I understand it, to create the possibility for claimants to have their benefits paid monthly and yet have the option of drawing them systematically on a more frequent basis. That system, if it really works, would appear to respond to all the concerns around the House: the claimants need to have a choice to receive their benefits at intervals which they can manage.
That is my tentative understanding of what the Minister is trying to do. However, on the basis of my limited understanding, I need some issues clarified. I should be really grateful if the Minister can help me with some of them. One of them has to do with saving. I had assumed that whether payments are made monthly or fortnightly or whether there is some choice would not involve major extra expenditure for the Government. Can the Minister confirm that there is no significant cost involved in introducing either choice or fortnightly payments?
My second question is: does the Minister assume that the Jobcentre Plus official will sit down with the claimant when they are awarded their universal credit entitlement to work out the frequency of payment that that claimant can manage, or will it be left to the claimant to go off to the post office, or wherever, and work things out with the post office or the Co-op? If the latter, I do not think that we have anything substantial or substantive. I need to understand whether there will be some kind of system in place to ensure that greater frequency is really there for people.
My next question is whether the Minister is confident that the Post Office, the Co-op, or any other institution that he is working with to develop those accounts for people will be able to ensure in every location that the system can be operated in the interest of those claimants so that they can receive their benefits on a more frequent basis. Fourthly, if the Minister's plans do not come to fruition-it is not clear to me whether they will; I am not sure that it is quite clear to him at this stage-does he have an amendment up his sleeve which will enable a fallback position to be put in place so that more frequent payments can be introduced automatically through provision for regulations or whatever? It would help the House if we understood whether the Minister himself has a fallback position that he can explain to us.
I very much hope that the Minister can respond to these questions, because on that basis, we can all be clear whether we have the system in place which will give us the assurance that these arrangements will not lead to the most massive debt problems.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, all those who participated in the deliberations of the Grand Committee will regard it as a rather extraordinary process in two
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I intervene briefly for two reasons. The first is in a sense to express my gratitude to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lady Meacher, for their contributions in Committee. As the forenamed has actually been kind enough to quote me in terms in support of her argument I probably owe her a response. The second reason is that it is understood by all sides of this House that there is a real problem. I have an odd facility about which I do not boast, which is the ability to craft titles for books that I never get round to reading-writing, I mean. One of them would have been "Life After Tuesday". There is clearly a difficulty for people, where they have limited means, in budgeting and in managing themselves. I will quote two points about that. First, as in previous occupations I have run farms and paid farm workers, I am fairly familiar with people who are typically paid at the lower end of the pay spectrum. Secondly, I have recently chaired on behalf of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education an inquiry into adult literacy. I do not of course confuse that with numeracy, but the problems of the two are somewhat conjoined. An estimate of something like 5 million people who would have difficulty in functioning is a real worry. The question is what we do about that.
On reflection, having listened to the Minister's remarks both in Committee and indeed at the meeting of some of us on Thursday, I think that the Government's strategy is the right one. It is right, and it also avoids any suggestion of patronisation, to say people should try to budget on the same basis as those who now receive a wage. I make the point in passing that many of the people-the farm workers and other people in relatively low-paid occupations-have transitioned fairly effectively towards monthly payments or salaries and arrangements of that kind. It is not conceptually impossible and we certainly should not set out to preclude it in advance.
The question is how it works. That was behind my remarks in Committee and will be behind my interest in my noble friend the Minister's remarks when he comes to respond. It is clearly important that we are able to engage in a sensible package which enables people to find a way through this. If we were simply to say it is a month unless you deem it to be otherwise, or unless some special arrangements are invoked by way of a legal right, then that would be giving something of a green light towards people falling back into shorter periods-perhaps when that is not necessary or appropriate for their circumstances. But at the same time, picking up my non-written book, it clearly is important that people should be able to manage through this, not only for themselves and other adults in their household but also for children who need sustaining and maybe should not be expected to pay the price for parental or other failure.
We look to the Minister to explain very carefully the ideas which he has begun to develop, and which are very positive, for saying we start with a month, but of course like everybody else you need in effect to be able to navigate through that month, and this is how we will help you. That is, as it were, an approach of principle. Secondly, there is an issue of practicality here, which again I slightly touched on in Committee. If this system does not work comfortably and there is a huge increase in the use of pay-day loans, crisis payments or whatever, then there will be problems with the credibility of the universal credit system, which, to judge by the Committee, we all want to see, as I certainly do.
The Minister has to find a practical way of doing this but I suggest, with respect to the noble Baroness whose amendments we are considering, that the way of finding a practical solution should not lie through derogating from the principle of moving towards the monthly payment of credit with the necessary safeguards.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, we delved into this issue in quite considerable depth in Committee, and I do not want to rake over areas that we have covered. However, I suspect that there is a fundamental question here, which I think the Minister accepts-namely, that there will always be some people who find it difficult, if not impossible, to handle a lump-sum budget that is meant to cover a month. In those circumstances, some mechanism-whether it is a voluntary one making a facility available, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, a moment ago, or some other mechanism-has to be brought forward by the Government to ensure that these people are helped to avoid getting into financial difficulties. That must be in the interests of the Government and everybody who is concerned about children, in particular, who may be vulnerable as a consequence of such action. I think that the House would be very glad to hear from the Minister how he sees the operation of a mechanism that will ensure in a minority of cases where the monthly pattern does not fit that a system is in place to answer the needs of these vulnerable families.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I am a relative newcomer to this debate but I should like to pick up one point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who said that cost had never been an issue here. I cannot quite understand why money would not be saved if payments were made monthly rather than weekly. It seems to me that a saving would be made there, and surely we are trying to achieve savings because of the economic situation that this Government have inherited.
I should like to pick up one other point from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. He seemed to think that it was a bad idea that the Government were trying to introduce a culture change. I should have thought that that was rather a good idea. Surely we are trying to get people into a mindset whereby they move into the world of work and come off benefits. Anything that can be done to encourage that seems to be a good idea. However, I should like some
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, have sat right the way through Committee and have been very persuaded that some families-I accept that they are mainly families with children-who are not good managers of money will have difficulties in meeting the Minister's no doubt otherwise ideal method of providing these benefits. However, I argue that there will be people other than those with families who may not be good with their sums or who, because of mental health problems or other reasons, might much prefer to have weekly or fortnightly payments, rather than monthly payments, which would mean a larger gap to fill with few finances.
Having said that, I accept that the Government clearly have plans in mind for sorting out this problem. However, echoing what others have said, it will be very important to get the support of those of us who have sat through all these debates by explaining in considerable detail exactly how the system will work and what flexibility it will contain. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to those points.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I, too, was a Member of the Grand Committee considering this issue, and I apologise to the noble Baroness for being late for her opening remarks, whichever amendment she moved.
I shall pick up a point, if I may, made by my noble friend Lord Hamilton. The Government said that it was not a cost issue; there is no doubt about that. Indeed, the Minister was good enough to confess that. I have been thinking about this since we had our full discussion upstairs and I remain totally unconvinced that it is necessary to effect such a culture change. The notion that the kind of people we are seeking to serve with universal credit will fall into executive jobs that will pay them monthly into bank accounts is so remote from reality as to be unhelpful, but I put that to one side.
I say honestly to anybody who is listening that this is not a trivial matter. It seemed like an operational issue but it is not that at all. It is about the management of weekly budgets day by day in families that can blow apart because of debt. Anybody who thinks that we are short of debt, especially in the household income strata of below £10,000 a year, is completely wrong and should look at the evidence referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about the payday loans and the extent to which people rely on week-to-week, month-to-month emergency packages, paying Peter and paying Paul on different days and trying to survive in the middle. It is a great skill, which some people are forced to exercise. It causes enormous pressure, which is normally borne by the women in the household. We have to be careful how we typify some of the caricatures within families, but in my experience it is the womenfolk who have to make the difference between Tuesday and Friday, which is not always easy. Often they go short of food in trying. That is the reality.
How do I know that?In 2009 the payment system went from weekly to fortnightly, which caused enormous difficulty. It is not that long ago, so we do not really know what the impact of that change has been. If in 2011 we are considering going from weekly to monthly, we are talking about an entirely different regime of family budgets and people keeping their households together. It is symptomatic of how we treat the 15 per cent of the caseload that will be affected and will struggle with this. I encourage the Minister, who is absolutely correct to be ambitious for this new reform. He has lots of ideas and is a master of the technology to the extent that Ministers have not been before in terms of what he is trying to do. I absolutely support the jam jar accounts, sophisticated bank accounts and applications that go on my iPad so that if I ever need income support I will be fine. But I do not believe that the 15 per cent of the family households at the bottom end of the income distribution will be anywhere near using these things comfortably.
For me, this is a litmus test issue; it is not a trivial, operational matter. It is not safe to have anything in the legislation other than payment being fortnightly. Anything else is a bonus. By paying universal credit fortnightly there is a chance of being safe and dealing with the 15 per cent of the household distribution that we are talking about. If we do not get the system to work for the lower end of the household income distribution, we will fail the people who need it most, so it is not a sensible policy to be considering. Lots of imaginative things have been talked about and I am in favour of them all, but they are a fudge. We are making it potentially much more difficult for people who cannot manage day-to-day budgets from week to week.
The other thing that I have great fears about is that, no matter how many jam jars there are in your bank account, it is all arrestable. My Scots law might be slightly out of date but a long time ago-to my shame-I used to work for the South of Scotland Electricity Board, arresting people's wages. In those days, you had to go to the sheriff to get the account properly closed down and the supply cut off. Those days are thankfully now gone, but you can still pend and arrest bank accounts. If I am owed money and I know somebody is getting a monthly payment of all their benefit under one wrapper called universal credit, I will be waiting at the counter of the bank and I will slap an injunction on them and they will have no money at all.
There must be some safety mechanism to protect these essential monthly payments. You might get away with surviving fortnight to fortnight if one fortnightly payment is made, but just think of the pressure and difficulty for families who have annual incomes that rely on universal credit if somebody arrests their Co-operative account or whatever it is that the Minister is thinking of. These are not straightforward issues and this is not a small matter. Unless the Minister can persuade me that this will adequately serve the 15 per cent of the caseload at the bottom end of the income distribution, this House would be sensible to require fortnightly payment to be put in the primary legislation.
Lord Ramsbotham: I too apologise for not being here at the start. I just ask the Minister to reflect on the words of my company sergeant-major when the Army moved from weekly pay packets to bank accounts. He said, "Thems that pays by the week lives by the week, but if you pay them by the month they will still live by the week".
Baroness Sherlock: My Lords, I have a couple of brief points to add. One is addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. Perhaps he would like to reflect on the fact that what the Minister is doing in this Bill is taking two completely separate systems of support, one for those in work and one for those out of work, and creating a single seamless new product. However, for that to work, it must meet the needs of both sets of people. I think that was the point that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, was making just now-that the Minister may want to effect a culture change for those who are in work, or whom he would like to be in work, but universal credit is also available to support many people who are not required to work, who may never be required to work and who may never be capable of working. Why should they be forced to go through a culture change to no end? Is there really a strong case and can the Minister explain it to us?
Secondly, I want to pick up on the very good point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that it takes a lot of time, energy and skill to manage on a very small amount of money. It also takes a lot of intelligence and aptitude to be able to budget well on that. Perhaps the Minister could reflect on what may seem to be simply a matter of timing. If one has plenty of money it is much easier; it is also easier if one has a pot of working capital, so if something goes wrong one month the consequences are simply that you dip into your savings. I spent some years working with single parents and most of them had almost no cushion at all, so if they got it wrong they had nothing to fall back on. For many poor people, their friends are also poor, their families are poor; they do not have the kind of networks where you simply go and borrow from somebody else or you to go the bank and ask it to lend the money, because it will not. The consequences for those families of getting that budgeting wrong can be very severe. Given what is happening in other areas to the Social Fund and the other kinds of support, we really do not want to be driving people into the arms of moneylenders.
Finally, within that group there are some people who, because of their particular circumstances, have very strong reasons why they need to be paid regularly. It is a point I made in Committee but I think it bears repeating here. I have worked with families where, for example, the husband had a problem with drugs or alcohol and went off on a bender and spent the week's wages; the mother would have to find a way of feeding the children until the next benefit cheque arrived. If that happens in one week, it is difficult; if it is happening in two weeks, it is difficult; but as the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, will appreciate, if it is not a matter of "life after next Tuesday" but "life for the three weeks that follow next Tuesday until the end of the month", how does she manage?
The question the Minister has to answer is not whether he would like to do this; I have no doubt that he would. Rather, it is: is the price that will be paid by some of the poorest people really worth the culture change he wants to achieve?
Lord German: My Lords, I am always staggered to find out more about my noble friend Lord Kirkwood. In Committee we learnt what he did in the bath, and now we have learnt that he goes around arresting bank accounts. We have been having some very interesting debates. However, I am slightly less sanguine about this issue than he is, perhaps largely because many of your Lordships have said that we have to look at people for what they can do and what their ambitions are. People, and groups of people, are not all the same. It strikes me that this is not about going in one direction or another, and that we are treating people as having exactly the same ability to manage their own money.
I also heard in Committee the Minister's ambitions for looking at other methods of dealing with payments. I looked back over the last four to five years of the growth in the Post Office card account and in basic bank accounts, which of course is where you would expect to find the sorts of people who make and deal with money in this manner. And there has been growth; in fact, 12 per cent of the whole population-according to the appropriate survey done by the DWP, which is published on their website-is using one of those two bank accounts.
It also struck me that the price that we are paying for the Post Office card account is frighteningly expensive for what we get as a country. It is a bank of this country, and a bank, JP Morgan, underwrites it, and it charges the state for managing these Post Office card accounts. I believe that we pay something like £50 each a year-£142 million per annum-have those accounts run for us. It strikes me that we perhaps need a presumption to ensure that we put things of this nature in place by giving people the appropriate support, but at the same time ensuring assistance for those who cannot. The language that I have heard many Lordships use, which seems to come from the documents, is the "chaotic family syndrome", where people just cannot manage and need to have some different form of assistance. That is why I started by saying that we should not treat everyone in the same way.
The Post Office card account is a bank account. It does not come with what we might normally expect a bank account to have, but why not, when we are paying so much money for it? Why are people not able to make payments from it for their utilities and gain benefits and savings? I guess that most noble Lords do this because of the way in which they pay for their heating, electricity and gas at the present time. Surely we should be offering that opportunity and using that ability to help people in that manner. We also should not think that people should not be able to separate out their money in the way in which they pay it to themselves. However, in order to do that you have to have appropriate levels of support.
My question to the Minister is: if you are pursuing the idea of developing the facilities which a large number of people currently use for payment, will you
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I noticed that the Cabinet Office issued a press release for those who live in England, which says that £16.8 million of support will be given for free debt advice in this country. Does the Minister regard that as being some of the funding that he intends to use for the support that might go with these enhanced accounts?
I know that over the years there has been considerable discussion about the use of the Post Office card account, primarily, of course, in the context of trying to support the local post office in each of our communities. Surely, however, if we were able to do more with it and to provide that advice, perhaps even at the Post Office, it might even be better to do that with the funding that might be available.
There is the problem that many people, or some people, will not be able to manage and will need alternative forms of assistance and advice. My noble friend Lord Boswell was saying that we ought to move in one direction, but it strikes me that we must be wary and understand that there are people who will not be able to manage. We must be able to assist those people properly.
One further point relates to the third amendment in this group, which I know the noble Lord has not yet spoken to. It is a point that comes up quite frequently on the matter of reviews. I feel very passionate about how we often approach these issues and how we structure them in Bills before this House, and about the fact that we look at them as features that have a milestone at some point in a whole system. One of the advantages that we have gained from the Harrington review-although it was not probably set up in that format-has been that it has been a much more iterative process between the community at large and politicians. This has meant that people have not been fixated on a particular date when things should happen. People have been able to hear, read about and commit to change continuously throughout the process of a new Bill.
There needs to be what I would call continuous evaluation by an independent assessor right through the process of universal credit. All its aspects should be looked at and reported on. The days are gone when nothing is open for the public to see. We see reports that are written, which gives an opportunity to raise questions. Artificial milestones are perhaps not the way to go in understanding better how things are turning out for us. At some stages, your Lordships might wish to get faster answers and responses than simply waiting for one or two years, or whatever milestone is put in. I shall make this point subsequently in speaking to a variety of amendments about reviews.
In conclusion, I should like simply to point out to the Minister that we spend a lot of money on the Post Office card account. Are we not able to make better use of that money and give people a much better deal in what we are providing for them?
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I reassure the government Chief Whip that I intend to speak no more on Report than I did in Grand Committee; nor will I speak on the substance of this matter except early on Report to thank the Minister for providing upstairs on Thursday afternoon the opportunity to discuss this issue, among others, on an all-party basis. I think it would be in the spirit of the comradeship that we developed in Grand Committee to suggest that, following the graciousness with which the government Chief Whip rescued us from the procedural imbroglio at the start of this group, he or the Minister should, before we leave this group, confirm my understanding that on a group of amendments, in the absence of the first name on the Order Paper, anyone in your Lordships' House can move the first amendment on their behalf without necessarily speaking to it, but that no one can speak on the subsequent amendments in the group unless this initial formality has been discharged.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister wants to give guidance on that point or to take it up later. I want to intervene briefly, and slightly apologetically, because, like the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, I was a bit late on the scene, but I am conscious that I played some part on this subject in Committee, so I think that it would be wrong to keep my head completely down in this debate.
I differ from my noble friend Lord Kirkwood in one respect; I think that the objective of what the Secretary of State describes as culture change in this field is not unworthy. Apart from that, I agree with pretty well everything that the noble Lord said. However, we need to remember something I learnt in various roles, including in my early years as a junior Social Security Minister when I became, it was be fair to say, friends, more or less, with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. As I said in another context recently, culture change is not an event; it is a process. It takes time and not everyone will get through it. In an organisation, if you want a culture change and people cannot accommodate it, sooner or later they and the organisation have to part company, and they do something else.
This is the social security system, and people cannot part company with it. There is nowhere else for them to go, and we cannot abandon them. There is therefore real force in some of the concerns that are being expressed. Some people, such as those I tried to help in my former constituency, simply will not be able to manage. What are we going to do about them? As I say, we cannot abandon them. I might say that this will feed into something that is coming up later: whether rent should be paid directly to landlords. In some cases, where they cannot manage they will put the food for the baby first and the rent will not be paid. Then there will be another little problem, and someone will have to sort them out. Let us not pretend that this is easy, even if the objective is worth while.
I am not sure-and here I look with some trepidation at the noble Baroness, Lady Lister-that inserting into the Bill an insistence on ossifying fortnightly payments is right. The Bill already provides for some flexibility. Some benefits-including disability living allowance, I think I am right in saying-are paid monthly. This is not a simple picture. We do, however, need that flexibility
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, first, I thank the government French Bench for facilitating the debate on these three amendments, after the hiccup we had at the start, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for his helpful advice. I say to the noble Lord, Lord German, in respect of his comments on Amendment 3, that I take the point. If he wants, perhaps, a more iterative process, I am happy to accept an amendment to our amendment. I am bound to say that we rather learnt about calling for reviews from the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives when we were in government-it has the merit of generally not having much of a price tag attached to it.
We start our deliberations on Report by considering the important aspect of how universal credit would work-that is, how payment would be affected, especially the frequency of the payment. However, let me first put in context our approach to the general issue. As we have clearly stated on the record, we support the concept and broad approach of universal credit, a benefit system that provides in-and-out-of-work support, as a clear system of the income disregards and common tapers has significant potential, not least the prospect of clearer incentives for work.
As has been apparent from our Committee sessions, and the matters that we will discuss on Report, the manner in which it is proposed to be introduced is, we believe, flawed. Some of the shortcomings are resource issues-work incentives for second earners-but some are potential failings in the base architecture: the exclusion of council tax benefit; the treatment of self-employed people; and, also, the payment arrangements. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that this is not a peripheral operation or issue-this is central to how the system should work.
We will come on to discuss issues about which member of the couple should receive payment and how landlords are to be treated-as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has indicated. The amendments we are considering now address the vital matter of frequency of payment. Amendment 3, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayter, calls for,
I will acknowledge that it might be more appropriately triggered by the universal credit provisions coming into force. We see this review focusing on the impact on claimants by looking at it from the claimant's perspective. In Grand Committee on 10 October this year, at col. GC 440, the Minister referred to the research being undertaken, particularly around the frequency of payment. An obligation to undertake an early review of how things are working in practice and a report to Parliament would be entirely consistent with the Government's evidence-based approach to this issue.
We know that at present JSA is paid fortnightly in arrears, that ESA is normally paid fortnightly in arrears,
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I support the comments that have been made by a number of contributors, including by my noble friend Lady Sherlock, about culture change, but culture change to what effect in this respect? We understand and accept the thrust of a system that encourages people into work and helps them to understand the benefits of work by seeing its financial rewards, but what is so important about trying to encourage people to get used to a monthly payment and budgetary arrangement rather than one on a different basis, even if they were in a position to do that? The noble Lord, Lord Freud, also referred in Grand Committee to his search for flexibility. If this is an acknowledgment that monthly does not have to be the rigid approach to payment, we may be closer on this issue than perhaps we thought.
We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, my noble friend Lady Lister and other noble Lords about compelling reasons why payments on a monthly basis will create particular difficulties for some families, and not just a small minority of supposedly inadequate budgeters. As for mimicking work, which we have heard as well, while 75 per cent of those in employment are paid monthly, 25 per cent are not and half of those earning £10,000 a year or less are paid less frequently than monthly. We heard in Committee and again today about the growth in the business of payday loans. Recent surveys show that nearly half of the population struggles to make earnings stretch until payday, with 7 per cent considering taking out a high interest short-term loan within the next six months. The issue of how to stop the exploitation of poor people is a debate that I hope we will have on another day.
Amendment 1, eventually moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, would require regulations to be drawn up giving claimants the opportunity to require payment of their universal credit entitlement more frequently than would otherwise flow from Clause 7. We support this amendment and so, we hope, will the Minister, because it seems to fit foursquare with his acceptance of the need for flexibility. Obviously the regulations would have to set out practical parameters to the choice available to claimants, but this should include a fortnightly option. The Minister will know also that it would not preclude arrangements where a claimant could draw down against a monthly entitlement.
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It is understood that the Minister may argue that the issue of frequency of payment can be addressed by the development of new banking products and that he would not wish the Bill to preclude that. That is fair enough, but we consider that the thrust of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, would not shut out those types of options provided that there are arrangements with parameters dealt with in regulation for claimants to choose. But we do not know today that these banking products can be delivered in time for the introduction of universal credit, whether they can be comprehensively available and without high cost. Without that certainty, it is right that something is included in the Bill along the lines of Amendment 1.
Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity to update us on the Government's thinking in this area, as other noble Lords have requested. In particular, do they support the proposition that there should be flexibility within sensible and practicable parameters of receipt patterns? Should there be a right for claimants to choose within these parameters? Can he confirm that the arrangements being considered are not just about drawing down on a monthly payment already made in arrears?
Amendment 2 is more clear-cut and, I think, more to the liking of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. It sets down a requirement for amounts to be paid fortnightly. It has the merit of being clear and closest to the current patterns of receipt, making it slightly more manageable to exist from payday to payday. We support the amendment as an alternative proposition should Amendment 1 be rejected or fail today.
Lord Freud: My Lords, these amendments intend to provide for universal credit to be paid twice a month or, in Amendment 1, for a claimant to be able to choose to be paid more frequently than monthly. As with existing benefits, we will specify payment frequency in regulations made under existing powers in the Social Security Administration Act 1992. I am, though, grateful for the opportunity to set out why we intend for universal credit to be paid monthly.
We want universal credit to prepare people for work and to encourage them to move away from costly weekly and fortnightly budgeting. The present system does not allow people to take responsibility for their finances as the majority of people in work do, day in, day out. That is wrong. It means that the transition to work is more difficult than it needs to be as people have to adjust to monthly budgeting and managing their own rent payments, often with no support. We want to make the first steps into work easier by helping claimants to switch to monthly budgeting while claiming universal credit. Essentially, we are looking for a more empowering system.
The figures have already been raised in the debate. Some 75 per cent of all those in employment and 51 per cent of those earning less than £10,000 a year are currently paid monthly. It is then right that we help
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The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked the straight question: what is so important about monthly payments? He went on to talk about the exploitation of poor people. That is what this is about. Save the Children has estimated that low-income families can face an annual poverty premium of £253 on their gas and electricity alone. Organisations including Consumer Focus, Church Action on Poverty and Family Action recognise the importance that access to the right banking products and sound advice can make in helping families to make the best use of their income. The simple point is that if you are managing on small gobbets of money weekly, it is very tough to match your budgeting process to utility bills or some of the larger or medium-scale capital items. That is why larger amounts paid monthly help people with this poverty premium.
However, I recognise that many people on low incomes are used to budgeting on a weekly or fortnightly basis and are concerned about moving to monthly payments. We absolutely need to support some families to budget effectively. That is why I am keen to develop effective budgeting support for families in this position. In some cases that is just a question of signposting to existing information and advice, in other cases it may require much more intensive, face-to-face support; but we need to take an innovative approach to these budgeting products if we are to stop the exploitation of the poor continuing, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said.
The universal credit and how we flow money to poorer people in our community is the main opportunity that we have to make a real difference for people in this area. We are working with the banking sector, credit unions, supermarket financial services and the Post Office to explore the opportunity to create cost-effective budgeting accounts. I am looking at accounts that my noble friend Lord Kirkwood will not be able to arrest at his whim, because there are some protections in the way in which we devise those accounts. In the next 18 months there will be an absolute focus of intense work to get this right. One example is the housing demonstration project next year, which will help us to understand the demand for budgeting support and the best ways to deliver it. I am not saying that it will all be easy; it is not. However, it is essential that we develop 21stcentury solutions to these issues and not think back decades and get in the mindset where we did not have these new ways of approaching things.
A simple system of payment on account will be made available to support claimants. Budgeting advances will provide an efficient means for eligible claimants to have access to interest-free credit, providing an alternative for those on the lowest incomes to high-cost, and even illegal, lenders. I must say that I was admiring a Wonga.com advertisement on the side of a bus this morning. In our system of budgeting advances, in the last year already over a million claimants received budgeting loans worth almost half a billion pounds. In the department we have a revolving fund of £1.1 billon, which will continue to be under our control for these purposes.
Clearly there is an issue, which we are addressing, about helping people move from fortnightly to monthly payments. We need to help with that migration period by stretching payment periods and providing the missing funding, if you like, as they move up, and I am looking at a system of doing that over three months. Many noble Lords have made the point that there are people with exceptional circumstances for whom a monthly payment is simply not appropriate. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood talked about the 15 per cent; my noble friend Lord Newton talked about those who will not cope. Clearly there is a group in this category. Where there is a risk of harm to the claimant or the household, we will of course want to make sure that safeguards for these people are in place. Nevertheless, we cannot set up a system to get the bulk of people in control of their finances and then take that control away from them when they can manage it. We need to look at it that way round, not devise a system which protects the 15 per cent of people that my noble friend estimated would be affected. We must not have the tail wagging the dog. We must include support but we must not have a system which stops people going into the workplace when they can. We have begun working with local authorities, housing associations and the relevant third sector organisations to develop guidance around who might qualify for more frequent payments or the direct payment of a proportion of an award to a third party, such as a landlord. Again, the housing demonstration projects will allow us to test the criteria for exceptions.
I appreciate noble Lords' concerns about protecting claimants who have not previously been required to budget monthly. However, I truly believe that this is a fundamental part of what we are trying to achieve with universal credit. It is an opportunity to change the dynamic to design a system that is right for the majority but takes account of exceptional circumstances by ensuring that we have the means to make payments more frequently.
I wish to pick up a couple of questions. We can make universal credit payable more frequently. I say in answer to the point made by my noble friend Lord Hamilton that there is a small cost to doing it fortnightly rather than monthly but it is very small; it is about a penny. As regards the fallback position, the regulation-making powers which are used to determine the frequency of payment are not in this Bill but in the Social Security Administration Act 1992. The legislation on ESA and JSA, for instance, says that they are payable weekly. However, as we know, they are paid fortnightly. We have complete flexibility to pay as often as we think is appropriate.
Lord Freud: I assure the House that where people cannot handle monthly budgeting, we will have arrangements to help them. However, I ask noble Lords not to tie my hands on this. This can make a major difference to poor people by creating banking and budgeting products that will help their lives. Tying our hands on this, particularly mine, will not help. Therefore, I ask noble Lords not to vote against this.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: We understand the enthusiasm that the noble Lord brings to this project and I think that we accept the thrust of it. However, will he make clear the following issue? If there is to be a degree of flexibility and if he wants people to be in control of their own finances, why is that inconsistent with them having a choice of how they get paid? Is he saying that the flexibility that he is prepared to countenance does not include the right for individuals to choose, within parameters, certainly perhaps to get paid on a fortnightly basis?
Lord Freud: My Lords, this is a technical issue about the level at which people choose and the extent to which we treat universal credit as a bank account-some would argue that that is what it is as regards budgeting advances, for instance-or drop it down into banking apps that will available for people on universal credit. I do not want those flexibilities to apply at the higher level in the formal process. I want those flexibilities, whether they are direct debits or anything else, to apply at a lower level in banking and budgeting products which will float away with people when they are outside universal credit. That is the issue. That is why I do not want my hands to be tied. I do not want to be forced to give the flexibility at the core level, not the lower level. Therefore, I beg the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords on all sides of the House who have contributed to this debate-the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and Cross-Benchers. It has been a very powerful debate and strong concerns have been expressed about the impact of this amendment. The importance of the amendment lies in the mass of cuts to disability benefits, housing benefits-virtually every benefit that one can think of. Therefore, what the House is looking for is some sort of security for these very low income people to ensure that they can try to stay out of the way of these sharks who charge them hundreds and hundreds of per cents of interest over a year. I thank very much everybody who has spoken, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who rescued the situation that I am afraid I caused.
The Minister referred to people managing small nuggets of money and having difficulty doing that because, of course, there are payments that need to be made monthly. I think the Minister is not familiar with the ways of very poor people in terms of having all their little jam jars on the mantelpiece and putting bits of money in as they can through the month to enable them to pay these bills. Obviously, in the middle classes we do not do that sort of thing. The Minister is shaking his head, but I am afraid this is actually the way things work. Therefore, it is all about the drastic cuts in benefits.
The Minister has referred to 21st century solutions. In fact, driving people into the hands of these sharks who charge them hundreds of per cents of interest is not really a 21st century solution. The Minister talks about the ability to make provision in exceptional circumstances. I am afraid we are not talking about exceptional circumstances; we are talking about huge
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The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, it may be a convenient time for me to repeat a Statement made 18 minutes ago in the House of Commons on the recent European Council. As it is a Statement of some importance, it has been agreed through the usual channels that if, after 20 minutes, there is still a number of Back-Bench speakers who would like to take part, we will increase the amount of time available to them to up to 40 minutes. I hope that that is met with relief by Members of the House.
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week's European Council. I went to Brussels with one objective: to protect Britain's national interest, and that is what I did. Let me refer back to what I said to this House last Wednesday. I made it clear that if the eurozone countries wanted a treaty involving all 27 Members of the European Union, we would insist on some safeguards for Britain to protect our own national interests.
Some thought that what I was asking for was relatively modest. Nevertheless, satisfactory safeguards were not forthcoming, so I did not agree to the treaty. Let me be clear about exactly what happened, what it means for Britain and what I see happening next. Let me take the House through the events of last week. At the Council, the eurozone economies agreed that there should be much tighter fiscal discipline in the eurozone as part of restoring market confidence. That is something that Britain recognises is necessary in a single currency. We want the eurozone to sort out its problems. That is in Britain's national interest because the crisis in the eurozone is having a chilling effect on Britain's economy too.
So the question at the Council was not whether there should be greater fiscal discipline in the eurozone, but rather how it should be achieved. There were two possible outcomes: either a treaty of all 27 countries
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We went seeking a deal at 27, and I responded to the German and French proposal for treaty change in good faith, genuinely looking to reach an agreement at the level of the whole European Union, with the necessary safeguards for Britain. Those safeguards-on the single market and on financial services-were modest, reasonable and relevant. We were not trying to create an unfair advantage for Britain. London is the leading centre for financial services in the world, and this sector employs 100,000 people in Birmingham, and a further 150,000 in Scotland. It supports the rest of the economy in Britain and more widely in Europe.
We were not asking for a UK opt-out, special exemption or generalised emergency brake on financial services legislation. They were safeguards sought for the EU as a whole. We were simply asking for a level playing field for open competition for financial services companies in all EU countries, with arrangements that would enable every EU member state to regulate its financial sector properly.
To those who say we were trying to go soft on the banks, nothing can be further from the truth. We have said that we are going to respond positively to the tough measures set out in the Vickers report. There are issues about whether this can be done under current European regulations, so one of the things we wanted was to make sure we could go further than European rules in regulating the banks. The Financial Services Authority report on RBS today demonstrates how necessary that is. We have problems in this country that this Government inherited and need to sort out.
And those who say that this proposed treaty change was all about safeguarding the eurozone-and so Britain should not have tried to interfere or to insist on safeguards-are also fundamentally wrong. The EU treaty is the treaty of those outside the euro as much as those inside. Creating a new eurozone treaty within the existing EU treaty without proper safeguards would have changed the EU profoundly for us too. It is not just that it would have meant a whole new bureaucracy, with rules and competences for the eurozone countries being incorporated directly into the EU treaty, it would have changed the nature of the EU, strengthening the eurozone without balancing measures to strengthen the single market. An intergovernmental arrangement is not without risks but we did not want to see that imbalance hardwired into the treaty without proper safeguards.
And to those who believe this was not a real risk, France and Germany said in their letter last week that the eurozone should work on single market issues like financial regulation and competitiveness. That is why we required safeguards and I make no apologies for it. Of course I wish those safeguards had been accepted. But frankly I have to tell the House the choice was a treaty without proper safeguards, or no treaty. And the right answer was no treaty. It was not an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do. As a result, eurozone countries and others are now making separate
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Let me turn to what this means for Britain. Britain remains a full member of the European Union, and the events of the last week do nothing to change that. Our membership of the EU is vital to our national interest. We are a trading nation and we need the single market for trade, investment and jobs. The EU makes Britain a gateway to the largest single market in the world for investors. It secures more than half of our exports and millions of British jobs. And membership of the EU strengthens our ability to progress our foreign policy objectives too, giving us a strong voice on the global stage in issues such as trade and, as we have seen in Durban this week, climate change and the environment.
So we are in the European Union, and we want to be. This week there will be meetings in the councils on transport, telecommunications and energy, and agriculture and fisheries. Britain will be there as a full member at each one. But I believe in an EU with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc. We are not in the Schengen no-borders agreement and neither should we be, because it is right that we should use our natural geographical advantage as an island to protect us against illegal immigration, guns and drugs. We are not in the single currency, and while I am Prime Minister we will never join. We are not in the euro area bailout funds, even though we had to negotiate our way out of it. And we are not in this year's euro-plus pact.
When the euro was created, the previous Government agreed there would need to be separate meetings of eurozone Ministers. It is hardly surprising that those countries required by treaty to join the euro chose to join the existing eurozone members in developing future arrangements for the eurozone. Those countries are going to be negotiating a treaty that passes unprecedented powers from their nation states to Brussels. Some will have budgets effectively checked and rewritten by the European Commission. None of this will happen in Britain.
But just as we wanted safeguards for Britain's interests if we changed the EU treaty, so we will continue to be vigilant in protecting our national interests. An intergovernmental treaty, while it does not carry with it the same dangers for Britain, none the less is not without risks.
The decision of the new eurozone-led arrangement is a discussion that is just beginning. We want the new treaty to work in stabilising the euro and putting it on a firm foundation. I understand why they would want to use EU institutions, but this is new territory and does raise important issues which we will need to explore with the euro-plus countries.
So in the months to come we will be vigorously engaged in the debate about how institutions built for 27 should continue to operate fairly for all member states, and in particular for Britain. The UK is very supportive of the role the institutions play in safeguarding
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Let me turn to the next steps. The most pressing need is to fix the problems of the euro. As I have said, that involves far more than simply greater medium-term fiscal integration, important though that is. Above all, the eurozone needs to focus at the very least on implementing its October agreement. The markets want to be assured that the eurozone firewall is big enough, that Europe's banks are being adequately recapitalised and that the problems in countries such as Greece have been properly dealt with.
There was some progress at the Council but far more needs to be done. The eurozone countries noted the possibility of additional IMF assistance. Our position on IMF resources remains the one I set out at the Cannes G20 summit. Alongside non-European G20 countries, we are ready to look positively at strengthening the IMF's capacity to help countries in difficulty across the world.
But IMF resources are for countries not currencies. They cannot be used specifically to support the euro, and we would not support that. There also needs to be greater competitiveness between the countries of the eurozone. But let us be frank-the whole of Europe needs to become more competitive. That is the way to more jobs and growth. Many eurozone countries have substantial trade deficits as well as budget deficits. If they are not to be reliant on massive transfers of capital, they need to become more competitive and trade out of those deficits.
The British agenda has always been about improving Europe's competitiveness. At recent councils we have achieved substantial progress on completing the single market in services, opening up our energy markets and exempting microbusinesses from future regulations. This has been done by working in partnership with a combination of countries that are in the eurozone and outside it.
Similarly, on this year's EU budget it was Britain in partnership with France, Germany and Holland among others that successfully insisted on no real increase in resources-for the first time in many years.
On defence, Britain is an absolutely key European player, whether leading the NATO rapid reaction force or tackling piracy in the Indian Ocean, and our partnership with France was crucial in taking action in Libya. Britain will continue to form alliances on the things we want to get done.
We have always had a leading role in advocating the policy of enlargement, and at this Council we all celebrated the signing of Croatia's accession treaty. That is one European treaty I was happy to sign.
Let me conclude with this point. I do not believe there is a binary choice for Britain: that we can either sacrifice the national interest on issue after issue or lose our influence at the heart of Europe's decision-making processes. I am absolutely clear that it is possible both to be a full, committed and influential member of the European Union and to stay out of arrangements
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement on the EU Council made today in another place by the Prime Minister. In this House, Leaders of the Opposition tend to open their statements on normal, regular EU Council meetings in roughly that vein. This was a normal, scheduled EU Council meeting, even if it was taking place at a particularly difficult time. But this was no normal, regular outcome to a normal EU Council meeting. What happened in Brussels in the early hours of Friday morning was momentous. The implications of the Prime Minister's decision may well take years, decades even, to unfold fully. It is clear that Britain is now travelling in a different direction from the rest of Europe.
The reality of where we are is this: the Prime Minister has given up our seat at the table; he has exposed, not protected, British business; he has got a bad deal for Britain. The Prime Minister told us that his first priority at the summit was sorting out the eurozone but the euro crisis is not resolved. There is no promise by the European Central Bank to be the lender of last resort. There is no plan for growth. There is little progress on bank recapitalisation, so can the Leader of the House tell us why the Prime Minister's promise of a so-called big bazooka did not materialise and what that means for Britain? At the summit that was meant to solve these problems, the Prime Minister walked away from the table.
Let me turn to where that decision leaves this country. Many people feared an outcome of 17 going it alone. Few could have dreamt of the diplomatic disaster of 26 going ahead and one country-Britain-being left behind. The Prime Minister talks of isolation in the national interest but the truth is that this is isolation against the national interest. The Prime Minister rests his whole case on the fact that 26 countries will be unable to use existing treaties or institutions. Can the Leader of the House confirm that Article 273 of the European treaty allows them to use the European Court of Justice, and no doubt they will use the Commission's service and, yes, even the buildings? In case anyone had any doubt, it is confirmed by what the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that it clearly would be ludicrous for the 26, which is pretty well the whole of the European Union, to completely reinvent a whole panoply of institutions.
The Prime Minister claimed in his Statement to have done what he did because this treaty posed a grave threat to our financial services industry. Can the Leader of the House point to a single proposal in the treaty that would have entailed the alleged destruction of the City of London? What was the threat? Can the Leader of the House now tell us? In any case, there is nothing worse for protecting our interests in financial services than the outcome that the Prime Minister ended up with. Can the Leader
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The Prime Minister has laid great stress since Friday on his claim that British interests would be better protected as a result of his decision in Brussels. Can the Leader of the House tell your Lordships the basis for such a claim? Can he say precisely what safeguards the Prime Minister asked for? Can he say what mandate the Prime Minister had, and from whom, for making those demands? Was it the full Cabinet or the Deputy Prime Minister? The Prime Minister wanted a veto on financial services regulation but he did not get one. The Prime Minister wanted guarantees on the location of the European banking authority but he did not get them. Far from protecting our interests, the Prime Minister has left us without a voice and the sensible members of the Prime Minister's own party, including some Members of your Lordships' House understand this as well as anyone. We on these Benches agree with the remarks made at the weekend by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, when he said:
What about the rest of British business-the part of British business that the Prime Minister does not seem to have been thinking about? There is a danger for it, too, in that the discussions about the single market on which it relies will take place without us-a point that Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the advertising company, is only the first from the business world to be making today.
The Deputy Prime Minister clearly does not agree with the Prime Minister. He says that this outcome leaves Britain "isolated and marginalised". Does the Leader of the House agree with that assessment? Can the Leader of the House explain how the Prime Minister can expect to persuade anyone else that this is a good outcome for Britain when he cannot even persuade the Deputy Prime Minister? The Prime Minister believes that this decision was best for Britain, but the Deputy Prime Minister does not. Which is the Government's position on this issue-the Prime Minister's or the Deputy Prime Minister's? With the Deputy Prime Minister saying that he is "bitterly disappointed" with the outcome obtained by the Prime Minister, can the Leader tell the House how the coalition can work properly with, at its heart, such a fundamental disagreement on such a fundamental issue?
The Prime Minister claimed to have wielded a veto, but a veto is supposed to stop something happening-it is not a veto when the thing you wanted to stop goes ahead without you. How did we end up with this outcome? Can the Leader of the House confirm that what the Prime Minister actually proposed was to unpick the existing rules of the Single European Act signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher? Given that it was changing 25 years of the single market, why did the Prime Minister propose it in the final hours before the summit, and where were the Prime Minister's allies? If the Prime Minister wanted a deal, why did he fail to build alliances with the Swedes, the Dutch, the Poles-our traditional supporters? If the Prime Minister really wanted to protect the single market and financial services, can the Leader of the
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Can the Leader tell us why the Prime Minister walked away from a treaty negotiation even before there was a text on the table on which we could have negotiated? The treaty will take months and months to negotiate. The Prime Minister could have reserved his position and continued to talk, as other countries have done. We believe the real answer is that the Prime Minister did not want a deal because he knew that he could not deliver it through his Back-Benchers.
I usually start my day by having a loud, one-sided argument with the "Today" programme, either with the presenters or coalition Ministers espousing policies with which I disagree because of the detrimental effect they will have on the people of our country. However, on Friday morning I was stunned into silence when I heard that the Prime Minister had wielded the veto at the European summit. This was such an extraordinary failure of diplomacy. I simply could not understand why a veto had been used over a treaty that as yet has no text and which we are not even being asked to sign yet, and how our national interests could be best served by absenting ourselves from future discussions and negotiations. The implications of our isolation are huge and we are in danger of being sidelined on a vast number of issues, including the single market.
We now have no influence at all on the final form and content of the new intergovernmental treaty. Why is this important? It is about the future stability of our continent, the future stability of the euro and therefore the future stability of the UK economy. Of course, people are right to be concerned about the European Union and the situation in the eurozone because these have great implications for our country. However, by absenting ourselves from the negotiations, by leaving an empty chair, we are abnegating our responsibilities. We should have a voice in the discussions but we are choosing not to use it. This is clearly not in our national interest.
Nothing has changed in terms of banking, financial services and hedge funds. The decisions will continue to be taken by qualified majority because financial services regulation is part of the internal market rules. However, I suggest that the 26 will be less likely to listen to our concerns in future. In addition, the 26 will naturally develop the habit of working together on a broad range of economic policy, and our voice-the voice of the most economically liberal and free market member state-will not be heard until most of the discussions have taken place.
I have always believed, and continue to believe, that as a nation we are strengthened by membership of the European Union, not just in terms of trade but of our place in the world. Suddenly, with one fell swoop of a veto that was never even used by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, we were sidelined, and our role in the world was diminished. It could mean that in future the Americans think doing business with Europe means doing business with Berlin, Paris and Brussels rather than London. This is a bad deal, which we have ended up with for bad reasons, and it will have long-lasting
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"At the heart of our national interest ... is not only access to that single market but the need to ensure that we are sitting around the table ... determining the rules that our exporters have to follow. That is key to our national interest, and we must not lose that". [Official Report, Commons, 24/10/11; col. 38.]
However, that is exactly what the Prime Minister has done. He has done what no Prime Minister has ever thought to be wise before: to leave the room to others, to abandon our seat at the table. The Prime Minister says that he had no choice, but he did. The Prime Minister could have stayed inside and fought his corner. He should have stayed inside and fought his corner.
This country will rue the day that the Prime Minister left Britain alone without allies and without influence. The outcome obtained by the Prime Minister is bad for business, bad for jobs, and bad for Britain.
Lord Strathclyde: It is always good to hear the noble Baroness, the Leader of the Opposition, on such fine form. I strained to hear, in all her words, whether or not the Labour Party would have signed up to the agreement on Thursday night, and I have no idea if anybody else heard the answer-I certainly did not. I invite the noble Baroness to nod, or shake her head, and she is doing absolutely neither.
Lord Strathclyde: It is very hard for the noble Baroness to criticise when she is not able to tell us what her party would have done in our position. When the Labour Party was in a position to stand up for British interests, it gave away the opt-out on the social chapter, signed up to the Lisbon treaty and refused to ask the British people for approval, and gave away something like £7 billion of the rebate and got absolutely nothing in return.
The Prime Minister was clear all along that he would protect our national interests. That is exactly what he did. It is in our national interest for the countries with the euro to fix their problems. We said that we could only agree a new treaty if certain modest, reasonable and relevant safeguards were obtained-safeguards for the EU as a whole, not just for the UK-but we could not get those safeguards. That is why the Prime Minister did not sign the treaty.
The noble Baroness asked specifically about the EU institutions. At this stage it is very difficult to know exactly what role is proposed for the EU institutions, and therefore to take a view as to what will happen in the outcome over the course of the next few weeks.
The noble Baroness asked, though she did not put it quite in these words, what we fear from the existing treaty. What concerned us was the huge damage that could potentially have occurred to the single market and financial services. We stopped Britain from signing up to something that was damaging.
The noble Baroness asked what has changed since Thursday. The answer is, very little between Wednesday and Friday. We are still firmly part of the EU, as I, or rather the Prime Minister in his Statement, explained.
The noble Baroness asked what safeguards we were asking for. We were not asking for very much. We were asking for legal clarity, that decisions on running and extending the single market would not be taken away from the EU as a whole and be made instead by the eurozone-led group. On financial services we asked for practical and focused proposals to protect the openness and competitiveness of the single market for all, especially for those outside the euro. We also asked for a proper role for our national regulators, scrutinising institutions from outside the EU which are present in Britain but nowhere else, and for freedom for our regulators to impose additional requirements on our banks, if we in this House, and in another place, so chose.
These are the most humble safeguards that we could possibly have asked for. The noble Baroness should not be asking why, in her words, we were isolated, but why the 26 countries did not agree with us, or agree to give us these safeguards. The noble Baroness says that we are isolated and marginalised. But no, we are one of the biggest economies in Europe and one of the biggest contributors to the EU. We are one of the most successful countries, and we will continue to be so. That, my Lords, is why we did not sign the treaty.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement in your Lordships' House. I have two questions. First, the decision taken by the Prime Minister requires not just a Statement but an early debate in your Lordships' House. Will the Leader of the House consult the usual channels so that such a debate can take place well before the Christmas Recess? Secondly, the Chancellor is reported to have said that,
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I wholly understand why my noble friend would ask for a debate; obviously this is an area of great interest. Perhaps I may suggest that the usual channels should meet, perhaps with representations from all parties and groups in this House, to see whether we can find a time. As the House knows, we will rise for Christmas next Wednesday. It might be a little bit difficult to find a suitable date before then, and in any case it might be better to meet again in January to discuss these issues. We had a very successful debate on 1 December but I am not averse to having a further one.
My noble friend also asked a question about the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that he was planning for all eventualities. The reality of our decision not to join the euro means that, for some time now, the eurozone countries have developed and continue to develop their own arrangements. For the UK and
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We will continue to exert our influence on financial services legislation and on single market legislation more broadly. But I am sure that, for reasons which I am sure the House will understand, the Government do not comment on the detail of their contingency planning in order to ensure that we can best protect the interests of the whole economy, including the City.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, I congratulate the Leader on the ebullience of his response to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. Perhaps I may ask that he include a little more content in his answers to the questions that I have for him. First, will he confirm that since 1988, when at the initiative of Prime Minister Thatcher we secured qualified majority voting for financial services regulation legislation, the United Kingdom has never been outvoted on a financial services proposal in the Council of Ministers in Brussels? Secondly, will he confirm that the financial transaction tax is a complete red herring because, as a tax measure, it is on a unanimity legal base and if we do not agree with it, we can block it?
I have three questions on institutions. I listened with great interest to what the Leader said about the Government looking constructively at any institutional proposals. First, if the Government consider that tighter deficit control arrangements among eurozone countries could somehow create a threat to City interests-and I do understand the concern-would this threat not be best contained if the arrangements that the eurozone countries make were required not to undermine the single market, not to create barriers to trade between all member states and not to distort competition between them? He will recognise the language of Article 326.
Secondly, as the Government constructively consider institutional proposals, will the Leader consider Article 136, under which eurozone member states may go for tighter control of their deficits, and only they may vote on measures imposing such controls, but all member states are entitled to be present and able to defend their interests? Thirdly, will he confirm that it is still the Government's view that the survival of the eurozone, and therefore the "remorseless logic" of fiscal union among eurozone member states, is an important UK interest and that we therefore wish to help the eurozone quickly reach effective, enforceable arrangements for tighter deficit controls?
Would requiring the invention of intergovernmental arrangements, as the French always wanted, not hand them victory, and be a loss to all our natural allies, such as the Dutch, the Danes and the Swedes, as well as a loss to efficiency, and thus an own goal?
Lord McNally: This is a Question Time. Even though we have 40 minutes, we have already used five and are only on the second question. In fairness to the whole House, I think that the noble Lord should now sit down.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: May I ask one question of tactics? I am grateful to the noble Lord. Will he confirm that, exactly 20 years ago, John Major secured the social opt-out and the euro opt-out by attaching his conditions to the conclusion of the negotiation, where unanimity is required, and not to the convening of a negotiation, for which only a simple majority is required?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, is trying to be constructive and helpful in guiding the Government through all this. He asked a number of questions, but I will not be able to answer them all in the time allowed. However, he is right on the financial transaction tax, and I am sure that he is right about us never being outvoted under QMV over the past 20 years. As for the question that he posed at the end about John Major and the opt-outs, I supported the opt-outs. The opt-outs were an excellent thing. However, as soon as the Labour Party got into office it got rid of the opt-outs, and it got absolutely nothing in return. We want something far firmer and longer-term than that.
There are two key questions. First, on the EU institutional proposals and whether we should consider using Article 136, it is, of course, still the earliest possible days in how all this plays out. Even the French President and others have agreed that this process will last until March. There are at least three countries that need parliamentary approval before they can sign up to these treaties, so there is plenty of time to look at these things.
As I said earlier, the exact role being proposed for the institutions is not yet clear to anyone. We will need to look carefully at the detailed proposals as they emerge to ensure that Britain's interests are safeguarded. The noble Lord also asked about our view overall of the eurozone. Let me say most emphatically that we hope that the new treaty can play a significant role in stabilising the euro and putting it on a strong, sustainable path. That is in the interests of Europe, and it is in British interests as well.
Lord Mandelson: My Lords, people will differ in their view about whether the Government's negotiating position last week was tenable or realistic. Will the Government reflect on the utterly shambolic way in which they prepared their position and sought support for their proposals at the summit last week? Why were the Government's proposals only shared with the legal service of the Council literally the day before the summit? Why were they not shared with, and why was support not sought from, more than a handful of German officials? The French were not informed or consulted at all about these proposals. In view of such lamentable incompetence, is it really surprising that we ended up in a majority of one?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord, even though he brings immense experience to this House. We believe that we issued every signal possible by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and many others as to what we regarded as vital British interests. In the run-up to last Thursday's summit everyone should have been entirely clear what the implications of that were.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, I warmly support my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. He took an extremely difficult decision in the circumstances, but it was the right one, and I have no doubt that it will increasingly be seen to have been the right one as time unfolds. Is it not clear that the misbegotten venture of European monetary union has already proved a massive disaster for the whole of Europe and that, furthermore, this particular agreement, if that is the name for it, which was made on Friday has not solved any of the problems? I do not think it can, because I think that it is doomed. Indeed, as the financial markets have made clear today, it certainly has not solved any of the problems. All it will do is create increasing divisions within the members of the eurozone. They will interpret it in different ways and are concerned about many different aspects of it. Differences will also arise between the Governments of a number of eurozone countries and the peoples of those countries. This is not clever. As for-
Lord Lawson of Blaby: Finally, perhaps I may commend my right honourable friend on being determined to protect the interests of financial services both in this country and in Europe. Unconsidered and malicious regulation will lead to financial services companies going not to other European countries but to Hong Kong, New York and Zurich.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his unqualified support for what the Prime Minister has done and I strongly agree with much of what he says. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, we wish the euro well, and we wish it to succeed, because unless we resolve the crisis that is facing the eurozone it will have an extremely negative effect on the British economy. I also agree entirely with my noble friend on his last point about financial services. There is a view that even if we could veto the financial transaction tax, it would affect only the UK. It would be too easy for many companies and organisations
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Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, there are three questions which the Prime Minister ducked, and I hope that the Leader of the House will do better. First, in which paragraphs were proposals tabled which required the British to use their veto of the treaty? Will he enumerate the paragraphs to which we took objection? Secondly, what safeguards of our interests were we trying to secure? Thirdly, why could we not have reserved our position, since this was a very early stage in the whole process? As I said, the Prime Minister ducked those questions. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to do better.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I spelt out in some detail what safeguards we asked for in reply to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition, so I will not repeat them. However, the noble Lord has asked a good question to which people will want to know the answer: why did we exercise the veto at the start of the process? It is my understanding that the French made it absolutely plain that under no circumstances would they accept the safeguards that the Prime Minister was asking for. At that stage, the Prime Minister had absolutely no choice if he was going to continue in good faith. That is why he took the decision that he did.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, my gratitude is exceeded only by my surprise. I trust that the Leader of the House will forgive me if I congratulate the Prime Minister on his courage in standing alone and on taking what I hope will be the first small step towards the lifeboats on the "Titanic" which is the EU. I have two short questions. First, where do the Government now stand on the 49 proposals for new Brussels legislation in the financial area, some of which will be very serious for our financial industries and taxpayers, and which are already in the pipeline under qualified majority voting? Secondly, the noble Lord has said that we do not know what is on the way, so do not yet know the precise answer, but can he confirm that the other EU countries cannot use the institutions of the whole EU to further their ill-fated plans to prop up the euro without our consent?
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