The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the Government condemn this awful practice. We are committed to tackling honour-based violence, and our action plan to end violence against women and girls sets out our approach. This includes working with our partners to identify what more can be done to protect victims and ensuring that the police and specialist prosecutors are trained to improve the prosecution of these crimes.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that sympathetic reply. Is he aware of a report by the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, which tells that in 39 of the 52 UK police force areas, there were 2,823 incidents of honour-based violence in 2010? The data available show a 42 per cent increase over the previous year, and of course many more cases are never reported because of family and community pressure. Does the Minister agree that it is deeply disturbing and totally unacceptable that so many women and girls should be suffering from this kind of violence in this country, and that a prerequisite for effective action must be accurate information? Will Her Majesty's Government ensure that all police forces collect data in a consistent form so that appropriate action may be taken to stop this barbaric practice?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am aware of the report and am very grateful to the noble Baroness both for making a copy available to me, which I have read, and for bringing it to the attention of the House. That is very important indeed. I am also aware of the underreporting of this particular crime, which the report draws attention to, and the reasons behind that. It is quite obvious that we need much better information in this field. One of the objectives of the honour-based violence strategy of the Association of Chief Police Officers is for all forces to collect data for honour-based violence and forced marriage in a consistent and considered way. We encourage them to do that because once we have the information, it will be far easier to take action.
Lord Henley: My Lords, before I came here, I wrote down honour-based violence and put inverted commas around "honour". The noble Lord has made the point exactly for me. It is a strange use of the expression "honour", but it is the one we have at the moment. Possibly, as the noble Lord says, we ought to find a better expression.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, my interest in this comes from originating the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act. We have plenty of criminal law already, and we should be careful before we add any more crimes to the statute book since that could lead to people not coming forward to report these evil and barbaric practices, but does the Minister agree that there might be a case for strengthening it where there are breaches of the forced marriage protection orders?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am aware of my noble friend's interests in these matters. He will also be aware of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's desire to make the breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offence. I also understand what my noble friend says about the dangers of adding crimes to the statute book. We should bear that in mind. He will be aware that a consultation is in progress on this subject, which finishes, I think, some time in March. At the end of that period, we will consider the appropriate options.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for his considered response to this very worrying question and trend. May I ask about the capacity of police forces to deal with it? He will be aware that the reduction in police budgets has had a very bad impact on some of the specialist units in forces up and down the country. Can he assure me that the police are in a position to deal with this matter and give sufficient attention to it?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not believe that the reduction in budgets, which is necessary because of the situation we are in, is relevant here. It is a matter that the police can deal with in the appropriate manner, but we need appropriate information and evidence before we can act in the proper way. However, it is not just what the police have to do in this area that is important; it is also important, as I said in my original Answer, that we work with all other partners. Therefore, it is not only a question of ensuring that we can prevent this crime; it is also a matter of educating people about the inherent dangers. It is a matter of identifying and recording this, as I said earlier, and, where appropriate, prosecuting.
Baroness Afshar: My Lords, in Islam there is no such thing as an honour crime. For 14 centuries, according to Islamic law and Koranic teaching, marriage has been based on a personal agreement between two individuals who have to sign a contract. The parents have no right to dispose of their children in these circumstances or to define whom they marry. It is a matter of choice for the man and woman to decide whether they wish to ask for their parents' blessing,
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Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful-and the whole House will be grateful-for what the noble Baroness has told us. It is something that we should all fully understand: that marriage is a matter of a contract between two individuals and is not a matter for their parents. I repeat what I said to the noble Lord, Lord West, about the use of the word "honour". That is possibly something that we want to get away from.
Baroness Corston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the challenges that we face is making clear to the heads of such families-usually an autocratic father-that when they come to this country because they want the benefits for themselves of an open and democratic society, such opportunity should also be accorded to their daughters as a matter of law and human rights? All too often, they bring a code of so-called "honour" from their own country that apparently applies to their daughters but to no one else.
Lord Henley:My Lords, again, I and the whole House are grateful for what the noble Baroness has said about the challenges we face, particularly about the idea of the autocratic father. Dare I say it, but autocratic fathers can exist in all societies and all cultures. I am not sure I had an autocratic father, but it is something that should be taken very seriously, particularly in respect of autocratic fathers' relation to their daughters. I speak as a father with one daughter.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, has drawn our attention to the effects of ignorance facilitating crime. Is my noble friend aware of the extent of the existence of so-called Sharia courts, which are believed by their local communities to have the full authority of the British judicial system but have none whatever? They also impose on people various decisions that result in violence and crime.
Lord Henley: Again, my Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Ignorance is something that we need to tackle, which is why I wanted to stress the importance of education. Education is probably the first and most important point to get over, a point that was made very strongly by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, Ofsted reported in 2010 that citizenship education is improving. Our reforms are designed to build on this by giving greater autonomy to schools. The national curriculum
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Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for his reply and particularly for reporting that citizenship education in schools is apparently improving. Does he not agree, that at a time when the world is so turbulent and our own societies are under such strain, it is more important than ever that our young people should have a solid grounding in the responsibilities and rights of citizenship within a democratic framework? Further to the Prime Minister's Answer to a Question in the other place on 11 December, what assurance can the Minister give that this can actually be achieved when there is such widespread suspicion that, as a result of changes to the curriculum, citizenship is going to be marginalised and downgraded?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord about the importance of citizenship. Although the expert panel that reported to us in December suggests that citizenship should form part of the basic curriculum rather than the national curriculum, the first sentence in its report emphasises the importance of citizenship and I very much share that view. The issue-and this is true of a number of subjects that are subject to the national curriculum review-is the extent to which we need to be prescriptive around programmes of study. We will reflect upon what the expert panel has said and take other representations into account, and then bring forward our proposals in due course in the light of that.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, given that the Secretary of State for Education has said that citizenship courses are pregnant with powerful knowledge, is there any possible excuse for not insisting that every child has the right to study this subject, especially since we are trying to get more of them to use their vote?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with my noble friend that we should want every child to be able to study citizenship. One aspect is the importance of knowing about voting, as my noble friend says, but there are many other benefits of learning about citizenship as well. The issue is not its importance as a subject but how it is best delivered in the curriculum.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a severe overlap between personal, social and health education, and citizenship? Where exactly do we stand in relation to the delivery of PSHE and citizenship? How will they both be inspected so that evaluations can be made?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that there is an overlap between the two, particularly at primary level. On where we have got to with our review, I know that she is keen for us to get
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Lord Hill of Oareford: On the specific details of what is happening in institutions-I recognise the noble Lord's concern about that, and I agree with him on the importance of this in prisons and young offenders institutions-if I may, I will follow this up with my colleagues to see if I can help him with some more specific information about those programmes.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, is the underlying problem here not the general lack of discussion of citizenship as an idea in this country? Citizenship as a concept is absent from our standard textbooks on the constitution. This is very different from the republics of the United States and France. Is this not a serious matter?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, your Lordships' House is a good example of an institution where we frequently discuss questions such as the meaning of citizenship and its importance. I know that many Members of this House take part in the Lords outreach programme and explore exactly these issues with children; so far about 30,000 pupils have been seen by Members of your Lordships' House as part of that programme. We need to explore these issues. The thought at the back of the noble Lord's mind is probably the distinction between us being subjects and citizens, and I would be happy to explore that with him on another occasion.
Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a connection between the first two Questions that have come before the House today? Some of the issues that were addressed by the first Question relate to second and third-generation children. Would it be possible to include in citizenship education the rights of children in this country and, more particularly, the ways in which they can get help if they are subject to exploitation or abuse?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the noble Lord that there is a link between the two Questions: they are linked fundamentally by our values as a society and the values that we want our children to have. Part of that can be explored through the teaching of citizenship, part of it is done through civil society generally and part of it through families. Part of the answer to the question-and to the last part of the question about inspection asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, which I failed to answer-is that the requirement to look into the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of a child through the Ofsted framework provides an opportunity to explore these issues.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, has the Minister undertaken any evaluation of the citizenship ceremonies that take place when people qualify for UK citizenship, which were quite rightly introduced by the previous Administration, and what has been the outcome of that evaluation?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I will need to follow up on evaluation with my noble friend. I agree with him that those ceremonies should be able to play an important part in addressing some of these questions. I am not sure what the precise evaluation is but I will ask and write to him.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to legislate, in the light of the Wedgwood Museum case, to prevent the "last man standing" rule applying to the assets of charitable museums and other charities.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the Government have reviewed this case carefully and believe that it would be inappropriate not to apply this rule to charities. Charities should have the freedom to choose pension schemes that suit their needs. These arrangements can be a useful way of managing liabilities and we would not want to restrict this option for charities. We welcome this opportunity to emphasise that charities should seek appropriate advice before making pension arrangements.
Lord Flight: My Lords, when the Wedgwood collection has been shortlisted as one of the top 20 cultural assets in the UK, I suggest that it is inconceivable that it should be left to be sold off. What proposals do the Government have for rescuing the collection? Secondly, with regard to charities, the DWP had a consultation last year that recognised the problems with both Section 25 and the "last man standing" rule. A further consultation was promised for this year. When will it start?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Flight that one hopes that the Wedgwood collection would not be sold off. I assure him that the Government have had several meetings with the honourable Member for Stoke, Mr Tristram Hunt, and several other people concerned to find the most effective way to save this very valuable collection, which has been nominated by UNESCO as one of the 20 most valuable sites in the UK. Regarding the final meeting, meetings are taking place at the moment, and I will update your Lordships' House as they go on.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, should we not be cautious about reaching conclusions until we have seen the full written judgment? We will then know whether the predicament of the Wedgwood
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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has touched on very important points. One is right to be cautious until we get the written judgment, which should come through soon. A difficult situation applied when the trustees were advised. I totally agree with the noble Lord that the Minister, Ed Vaizey, has held several meetings on this matter and has become very involved. The Government have good will in all this and will do all that they possibly can. The Minton archive is very important and is arguably the greatest industrial archive of its kind. I can assure the noble Lord that it has certainly not been forgotten. It is now the property of WWRD UK, the new owners of the Wedgwood Group. The Minister for Culture has spoken to them about this matter. The archive is still safely in storage in Bonhams, which is awaiting a resolution on the future of the Wedgwood collection and the museum before taking any decision about its future.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that it is time that the Government took more control of the Wedgwood situation and, indeed, bought the collection? Appeal is in this sense irrelevant. It could be called the National Wedgwood Museum. As such, it would be a huge asset to Britain and a tremendous boost to Stoke-on-Trent. Surely for £14 million or thereabouts, this ought to be a no-brainer.
Baroness Rawlings: As the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, mentioned, this museum is terribly important for the Stoke area and the Potteries. As regards the valuation that he mentioned, DCMS is working on that with the protection fund but we still do not know what it will be. We hope that there will be a fundraising campaign and the collection will be saved sooner rather than later.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that besides the unique ceramics collections there is also a data archive dating back 250 years of the Wedgwood and Darwin letters, which have great scientific significance? Does she not agree that it is something of a quirk that a quirk of law relating to the financial sector should require us to sacrifice this icon of our industrial heritage?
Baroness Rawlings: My noble friend makes a very good point. The archives and the whole collection constitute a most remarkable collection that has been donated by the family over many years. It would be a disaster should it be sold. The protection fund is a
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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, may I pursue the whole issue of the "last man standing" legislation with the noble Baroness? I understand that, following the DWP's review of this policy, it was agreed that there would be a further review. However, I gathered from what the noble Baroness was saying just now that this is not the case. Will she confirm whether this matter is under review, because it seems to noble Lords around the House that it is being used and implemented in a way that was never foreseen, is causing charities-not just the Wedgwood Museum but other charities-considerable concern and disquiet, and has consequences for unemployment in the area as well? Therefore, will the noble Baroness clarify the status of the "last man standing" legislation?
Baroness Rawlings: With pleasure, my Lords. We understand that the Wedgwood pension scheme operated on the basis that if any participating employers became insolvent or otherwise stopped sponsoring the scheme, responsibility for the pension scheme fell to the remaining employers. This is what is meant by the "last man standing" rule. As a result, the company of the Wedgwood pension scheme-the museum-became liable for its pensions shortfall. We are awaiting the judgment from the Attorney-General. Then it will be decided where we go to from there.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, the Government share a number of the concerns raised in the report produced by the Commission on Youth Unemployment. We are already taking action to address youth unemployment and have a clear strategy to support young people into work.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, as he will know, the analysis in the report not only scotches the myth that youth unemployment is being driven up by immigration or the minimum wage; it demonstrates clearly that the Government's measures, welcome though they are, are wholly inadequate to deal with this rising crisis and prevent another generation of young people, as well as the country, paying a terrible price. Will the
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Lord Freud: My Lords, the noble Baroness might have been interested in one of the annexes in that report that indicated that actually there is concern about the national minimum wage. The point that she makes is towards the end of the report. There are a lot of measures to solve youth unemployment. I will pick up some of those that the noble Baroness mentioned. The first one is rebalancing the youth contract, to which she referred. We are already front-loading the wage incentives that we are introducing in April. We are doing more than the average in that period. We are trialling a community action programme for people who have been through the work programme, and we are looking at how we work in areas in an equivalent way to the youth employment partnerships.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, what are the Government doing to tackle long-term, structural unemployment? In 2007, 2.4 per cent of our young people were designated as long-term unemployed. Now the figure has risen to 4.6 per cent, and it is going upwards throughout the world. What have we got to offer young people in the long term to deal with structural unemployment? Are we doing anything seriously about that?
Lord Freud: First, long-term youth unemployment has not changed a lot. What changed is that youngsters were put on training programmes and, when they came off them, they were called newly unemployed. The underlying position has not changed very much in terms of long-term youth unemployment. I am not saying that that is not a real problem but I am saying that it has not grown as much as one might think, looking at the raw figures. Clearly we need to help youngsters in long-term unemployment, and one of the things that the work programme is specifically designed to do is to get support for youngsters on an individualised basis.
Lord Freud: My Lords, we are making it a statutory duty to ensure that schools take up their responsibility to provide careers advice, so that it is supplied at the point it should be, right where it is best received. Existing provision has been much too patchy.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, the International Labour Organisation has said that youth unemployment is facing the greatest crisis in a generation. The global crisis has added to youth unemployment here. As
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Lord Freud: My Lords, a point that I have made here in the past is that we have had a structural issue with youth unemployment for more than a decade, The number of youngsters inactive or unemployed has been growing steadily, right through to the end of the longest boom that we have ever had. My view-and the Government's view-is that the best way to tackle that is to make sure that youngsters have education that gets them fit for the workplace. That is why this Government have taken on in toto all of Professor Wolf's recommendations, because they deal with these core issues.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, on that point, does my noble friend not agree that one of the mistakes we have made over the past 15 or so years is to encourage youngsters to go for degrees at university rather than vocational courses that provide them with the skills that are demanded and, indeed, are in short supply in the labour market?
because we had been providing them with vocational education that did not lead them anywhere. That is why our strategy to increase apprenticeships and get vocational training back under control is so important for this generation.
Lord Newby: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion on behalf of my noble friend Lord Freud. I also felt that it might be a useful opportunity for me as Leader of the House to say a few words about the relationship between the two Houses and, in particular, the financial privilege of the House of Commons. After all, this being Valentine's Day, it is not a bad time to talk about relationships.
Perhaps I may begin by commending to the House the statement made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, on 10 February 2009. Everything I say today is based on that material and I am grateful that there is not an inch between us. I also commend the paper on the subject by the Clerk of the Parliaments of 10 February 2009, yesterday's update by the current Clerk of the Parliaments, and the note published by the Clerk of the House of Commons last Thursday. All three documents are available in the Library and online. They all accord with each other and clearly set out the position, which I shall now try to do with something approaching the same clarity and accuracy.
Even for a Conservative, the financial privilege of the House of Commons cannot be considered new. Its origins lie in the constitutional settlement that followed our civil war. The Commons agreed its first resolution on the subject in 1671, and in 1678 resolved that:
"All aids and supplies, and aids to his Majesty in Parliament, are the sole gift of the Commons; and all bills for the granting of any such aids and supplies ought to begin with the Commons; and that it is the undoubted and sole right of the Commons to direct, limit and appoint in such bills the ends, purposes, considerations, limitations, and qualifications of such grants, which ought not to be changed or altered by the House of Lords".
That resolution settled the relationship between the two Houses for a long time, until the trauma of the Finance Bill of 1909 when this House rejected Lloyd George's Budget. That led to the Parliament Act of 1911, which put the legislative relationship between the two Houses on a statutory footing and formally circumscribed our role in Bills which deal exclusively with expenditure or taxation or the granting or raising
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What happens next is entirely a matter for the House of Commons, and I intend to respect the convention that the two Houses do not debate the other's procedures. I can though direct Members of this House to the helpful memorandum by the Clerk of the House of Commons which makes clear that it is the Commons officials under the authority of their Speaker who determine whether each Lords amendment engages financial privilege before the House of Commons is invited to accept or reject each amendment. The Government have no role in this decision; and the Clerk of the Commons has made that clear.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that in this case the Commons authorities decided that the 11 Lords amendments which we have before us today engaged financial privilege: their cumulative cost is more than £2 billion. So the idea that this was a knife-edge decision reached only after lobbying by the Government is simply implausible.
It is only after the question of privilege has been determined that the Commons considers whether to agree or disagree with each Lords amendment. If the Commons agrees, it can choose to waive its privilege. But if it disagrees, it must offer a reason, and the only reason it can give is privilege. As the Clerk of the Commons explains:
"If an amendment infringes privilege, that is the only reason that will be given. This is because giving another reason suggests either that the Commons haven't noticed the financial implications, or that they are somehow not attaching importance to their financial primacy".
I hope that three things are clear from that summary: first, that the scope and presence of privilege are solely for the Commons; secondly that the Government have no role in designating whether or not a Lords amendment impinges on privilege; and last, that when the Commons disagrees with a Lords amendment found to involve money, privilege is the only reason that it can possibly cite for rejecting the amendment-there is no discretion to give another reason. The whole House should be
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I think that this notion of discretion is where much of the confusion lies, so I propose now to say a word about the ability of the Commons to waive its privilege. If a Lords amendment which has financial implications is within the existing Commons' money resolution, the Commons may agree to that amendment and, in so doing, waive its privilege. But if the Commons disagrees to the amendment, the question of waiver does not arise: the Commons must give this House a reason and that reason must be a privilege reason. In other words, the designation of a Lords amendment as privileged does not preclude the Commons from accepting it. In fact, the only question for the Commons is whether to accept or reject each Lords amendment on policy grounds. If it accepts the amendment, privilege is waived; if it rejects it, privilege cannot be waived.
On the Welfare Reform Bill, the Commons authorities found that privilege was engaged in 46 of the 110 Lords amendments. The Government asked the Commons to agree to 35 of those 46 amendments and to reject the remaining 11. In agreeing to those 35 Lords amendments, each a concession to this House, the Commons waived its financial privilege for more than £300 million of public expenditure. Therefore, we are really talking only about the remaining 11 Lords amendments, which, on policy grounds, the Government could not accept and which they asked the House of Commons to reject. When the Commons voted to reject each of those amendments, the only reason it could cite was privilege.
There is a further reason why privilege reasons should not surprise us: we receive them regularly and have long received them regularly. Earlier this Session, the Commons asserted its financial privilege when rejecting Lords amendments to the Identity Documents Bill. It did the same in the previous Parliament on Bills as varied as the Counter-Terrorism Bill and the Personal Care at Home Bill-a telling statistic, given the vast sums of public money that were then being spent. Of course, it also did so when Mr Blair was Prime Minister, and it did so in the 1980s and 1990s when the Conservatives were last in office.
I respect, and would defend, the right of this House to propose an amendment in lieu when the Commons has rejected our original amendment on grounds of financial privilege. However, I should remind the House that the Joint Committee on Conventions reported in 2006 that:
"If the Commons have disagreed to Lords Amendments on grounds of financial privilege, it is contrary to convention for the Lords to send back Amendments in lieu which clearly invite the same response",
That is not closing down debate or rendering our work pointless. There is full debate in both Houses. We have asked the House of Commons to think again. The only effect of the privilege reason is to send the signal that it is unprofitable for the Lords to persist with amendments in lieu on the same lines as the original. I think we need to look at today's Marshalled List in that light.
I urge the House not to test our longstanding relationship with the other place. It is perfectly in order to debate the amendments on the Marshalled List today but it is simply unprofitable to send back to the Commons any of those amendments which invite the same privileged response from the Commons.
Despite those dangers on the Marshalled List, I think that today we find ourselves in a rather good position. I do not want to pre-empt my noble friend Lord Freud but I think that he will have some useful things to say from this Dispatch Box in a few moments.
My intention this afternoon has been to clarify the long-standing position on financial privilege and the relationship that exists between both Houses. I urge your Lordships to listen to my noble friend Lord Freud to see whether, irrespective of privilege and legislation, he can offer the assurances and reassurances which many Members are seeking on the substance of the policy that this Bill seeks to introduce. On that basis, I beg to move that the Commons reasons and amendment be now considered.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his rather wide statement, especially for his remarks on issues relating to the Welfare Reform Bill. Since the Speaker in the other place indicated on 1 February that amendments to the Bill carried by your Lordships' House could attract House of Commons financial privilege, we on this side of the House have been pressing the Government to give some indication of the procedural impact on the Bill of this designation.
We will deal with the procedural points, which the noble Lord has mentioned, as we consider the amendments before us today. They are important amendments that deserve proper consideration, and I do not wish to take time away from discussing them today or otherwise detract from the importance of the issues involved. However, the application of Commons financial privilege to a number of key amendments of the Welfare Reform Bill has prompted widespread comment in legal, constitutional and political circles, not only on the Bill but on the implications that might now be there for future legislation. Peers from all sides of the House have been in touch with me about their concerns on this point, some of which-but only some-were indicated in our brief discussions in the Chamber on this matter.
Commons financial privilege is a matter for the Commons, as the noble Lord said, and operationally for the Speaker of the Commons and senior clerks in the Commons, as the helpful note on the matter, issued yesterday by the Clerk of the Parliaments in this House, together with the similarly helpful note from the Clerk of the House in the other place, makes clear. However, once Commons financial privilege has been indicated, it is for the Commons to decide whether to waive its financial privilege.
The Government's majority in the Commons means that politically in practice the Government have a huge influence on whether the Commons waives its financial privilege. It is therefore appropriate for this House to consider these issues and the issues arising in relation to the role of this House in the legislative process. However, I suggest that today is not the time to have such a discussion. I know that many Members from all sides of your Lordships' House-very much including those on the government Benches-are concerned about these wider matters and want to debate and discuss them. I know this because many noble Lords have come to see me about this issue.
In light of these widespread concerns, I formally request that the noble Lord the Leader of the House makes provision to come to the House, perhaps on the basis of a short Statement, to enable the House to debate the application of Commons financial privilege in a way which a number of expert commentators have suggested is unprecedented and considerably extends the use of Commons financial privilege. In view of the seriousness of the issue, I request the noble Lord the Leader of the House to make time available for the House to consider these matters very early in the week beginning 27 February, as soon as the House returns from recess. I do so because such timing would allow the House to consider these matters well in advance of the House considering a similar policy Bill, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is due to have its first day of Report in your Lordships' House on Monday 5 March.
I believe that these are incredibly important issues for the House to consider and I know that a large number of Members of this House believe that strongly too. I therefore urge the noble Lord to make time available, perhaps on the basis of a short Statement, to enable the House to debate this issue in the week beginning 27 February.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I have a genuine respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, but I am bemused by the position she seems to have adopted. I hoped she was going to clarify her position this afternoon. I read with concern the report of her views in the Guardian last Wednesday, which stated:
"She attacked the way in which the government was trying to neuter debate on current controversial bills such as the welfare bill by claiming financial privilege, a means by which the Commons can order the Lords not to pursue an amendment because it has financial implications beyond Lords' powers".
From what the noble Baroness has just said, I think she may regret having stated that. Perhaps she has been wrongly reported. I thought there was a common view about the use of the financial privilege
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As we were told, the 11 amendments under consideration on which the Commons has asserted its privileges cost in total something in the region of £2 billion. I draw the attention of the noble Baroness in particular to an occasion on 24 November 2008 when she and her noble friend Lord West of Spithead, who has left his place, defended the use of the financial privilege assertion by the Commons. She stated:
"Having said that, I realise that the reason given for privilege is precisely because it is a financial privilege. I hear what the noble Lord says, but I am informed that we are acting in accordance with the proper procedures".-[Official Report, 24/11/08; col. 1294.]
The matter concerned a very small sum of money to be spent on DNA procedures under the Counter-Terrorism Act-far smaller in significance than the amendments that we are considering today. Therefore, I am bemused. I do not understand what the noble Baroness's position is now. Is she trying to change the commonly accepted meaning of financial privilege, or is she going back on what she said to the Guardian last week? I hope she will clarify her position because it will do the House, and indeed her position in it, no good if we adopt an apparently selective procedure concerning financial privilege.
This afternoon is probably not the occasion to debate this in detail. However, I am very disappointed that the noble Baroness did not re-establish the point that she made when she was on this side of the House. There are long-standing conventions, nothing has changed and the very small number of amendments that have received this treatment from the Commons is in direct contrast to the many occasions when she asserted that privilege when she was in government.
Lord Laming: My Lords, I do not wish to get caught up in a cross-party dispute on these matters, which are very serious indeed. I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House for his very helpful statement. I will also associate myself with the point that he made about the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who has been assiduous throughout the Bill in the way in which he has listened and responded to the concerns of the House.
The House has a proud record of scrutinising legislation and, if I may say so, improving it. However, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, I will make a request to the Leader. Sometimes when amendments go to another place there is a temptation for the House to be portrayed as troublesome. I hope that in these special circumstances the Leader of the House will assure noble Lords that what has happened on the Bill is part of normal business between two Houses, and that we will continue to conduct business in this proper way to secure the best possible legislation.
Lord Morgan: Well, sometimes he is-but the view that we heard is historically flawed. The idea that there has been a seamless web since 1671 is quite unsound. As we know, the Parliament Act defined money Bills very precisely. It did so in the spirit of the resolutions of the 1670s. Distinctions were drawn between where the money came from, which was spelt out very clearly, the intended objective and the issues governing its expenditure. It was confirmed in 1911 by the great Prime Minister Mr Asquith that the money Bills provision applied to what he called "all matters of pure finance". There was agreement across the House that it would not be applied to financial privilege more generally, particularly where issues of social policy were concerned. This is why very often House of Lords amendments had waivers in the House of Commons on many things-including, recently, university tuition fees, the savings gateway and child trust funds, all issues that I discussed myself. The principle that this should now be extended to any implications for public expenditure is far wider than the Parliament Act 1911, and adds a new and unwelcome principle to our unfortunately unwritten constitution.
The other point I would like to make briefly is that the idea that this is decided by the Commons as though it was some kind of Athenian assembly is absurd. It is obviously decided by the majority, which is controlled by the Government. Compared with 1911, and with everything that has happened since 1911, I think the Government are trying to impose a view of a single-Chamber Government upon the country, which would in many ways make the existence of this noble House pointless, and I think they are politically and historically mistaken.
Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, it is obvious that the Leader of the House recognises the disquiet in many parts of this House about recent operations of the financial privilege. I welcome that, and the explanation he has given today.
I certainly do not challenge the primacy of the elected Chamber and its control over financial policy. Neither do I intend the role of this House to be neglected as the revising Chamber with special responsibilities for the scrutiny of the legislation that comes to us.
The constitution of our country operates by convention. The Leader of the House talked about relationships on this special day, but I remind him that this is a bicameral Parliament; it operates by negotiation, by the ways and means of getting things done. Where were the usual channels during all this? The usual channels assist good relations not only between political parties but between the two Houses. By goodwill and by negotiation, they might have arrived at some compromise on the amendments to this Bill rather
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In an effort to resolve this matter, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made the point that, in future, to avoid wasting scarce legislative time on the Floor of this House, amendments to which the Government might object should be flagged up in advance. I have huge respect for the noble and learned Lord; we worked in tandem for many years. However, I fear that predicting the future in that way would be nearly impossible and even if it were not so, would it not mean asking Lords authorities to interpret Commons privilege, or asking Commons officials to advise your Lordships? That does not seem a very practical way forward.
My concern is about the near future, about the Bills that will come before this House in the remainder of this Session and in the next Session. I ask the Leader of the House to state in his response, unequivocally, that the Government have no intention of threatening the role of this House in its responsibilities of scrutiny and revision by the increased use of financial privilege. Further, I ask him to speak frankly with some of his colleagues in the other House about how the relationship between the two Houses is currently practised and how it might be improved upon. We have the need to know what the future holds for this House for the remainder of this Session and the Bills that we are dealing with, and for the coming Session.
This is not the first time that a Government have been defeated in the Lords on a social security Bill. My 1986 Social Security Bill was defeated three times. The question arose what to do about it, so I went to see the late Lord Whitelaw and he in very typical form said, "We'll put two of them back but you'll have to give them the third".
I actually thought that the fact that the present Government were riding roughshod showed a weakness in their position, but then I went back to the debate itself and saw that my noble friend Lady Trumpington-who I do not think is here, which is probably just as well because she might make some sort of gesture at me-
"Because it would alter the financial arrangements for housing benefit made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient".-[Official Report, 24/7/86; col. 416.]
Therefore, this is not a new position. Obviously we can argue about all the amendments that have been negatived in that particular way. However, given the financial position, and the amount of money that is at stake here, it is justified.
However, I would like to add two further points. The noble Baroness, or perhaps it was my noble friend, said that we do not want to get into a debate about
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The second point-and I realise that I am slightly chancing my arm here-is about the future. Does my noble friend think that things are going to be quite as easy with an elected House of Lords as they are with us? Does he not think perhaps that elected Peers might say, "My vote is as good as yours in the House of Commons", and that the result will be exactly the kind of situation that my noble friend is trying to prevent?
Lord Naseby: My Lords, as the 58th Chairman of Ways and Means, I have to say to the noble Lord opposite, who is a great historian, that the point of being appointed Chairman of Ways and Means was created by that Act in the 17th century, because the then Members of Parliament did not trust the then Speaker with ways and means-in other words, with money. That is why, even today, the budget of this nation is taken by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Therefore the historical analysis that the Leader of the House gave us is absolutely correct, and that is the situation as of this moment. I would just say that the points made by my noble friend Lord Fowler are two additional points that the House may well wish to reflect on as we move forward in the future.
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: My Lords, I have immense respect for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Would he accept that bicameral legislatures work best in conditions of respectful mutual restraint? If one or the other Chamber pushes its powers to the maximum, it tends to produce a spiral of escalation that leads to Parliament becoming much less than the sum of its parts. It would be impossible for your Lordships' House to serve as a Chamber of what Walter Bagehot called "respected revisers" if the other place pushed its undoubted financial privilege to the maximum in anything but the most exceptional circumstances. We have, very neatly, great wisdom from the past on this from a remarkable Liberal Prime Minister, Mr Gladstone, who said of the British constitution that nowhere in the wide world does a constitution presume,
Lord Higgins: My Lords, it is extremely helpful of the Leader of the House to set out the position so clearly, and it is what I have always understood it to be. May I make one practical point? The amendment comes back from the other place, privilege having been claimed. The convention is that one does not send back an amendment which is likely to invite the same response. The trouble is that the simple point which is made when they claim privilege is "We can't afford it", and one might send back an amendment which costs somewhat less. We do not know whether they "can't afford it" to the extent that such an amendment
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am very pleased that I have taken the opportunity this afternoon to clarify something that I know a lot of Peers feel strongly about, particularly former Members of another place. Given that since the general election more than 100 Peers have joined this House, it is worth from time to time re-explaining some of the reasons behind the relationship that exists between the two Houses. I say respectfully to the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, with all his historical perspective, that he may well be right that it has not been a seamless web since the 17th century. But the settlement has been very much recognised and has worked respectfully between the two Chambers over the past 100 years, not least during the course of the Labour Government since 1997.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, as Leader of the Opposition. I understand that there has been widespread comment in legal, academic and constitutional circles, although it has not always been accurate. But I hope that part of what I have laid out today will help those outside commentators to understand the position as I see it and as I believe the House of Commons does. It is a long-standing convention, for reasons which are entirely obvious, that the two Houses do not debate each other's internal procedures. I am not entirely sure what would be gained by having a further debate on this. After all, today we have a very full House and we have had a useful and interesting debate on this issue.
In everything that I have said and that we are doing this afternoon, there is no extension to the issue of legal privilege. As I said in my opening remarks, the situation is exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, when she was Leader of the House, laid out in 2009. Nothing has changed. That is why I join with my noble friend Lord Tyler in being somewhat bemused about the noble Baroness's view on House of Commons privilege. I was rather hoping that she would leap to her Dispatch Box and agree with every word that I had said, at least on the basis that I had agreed with everything she had said. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, the Convenor of the Cross Benches, for his important intervention.
Let me clarify one aspect of this. As the Clerk of the Parliaments put it in his 2009 paper, until the Commons asserts its privilege, the Lords is fully entitled to debate and agree to amendments with privilege implications. It is right that we should have the ability to do so, not least because it allows the Minister to give the Government's point of view. That will continue and rightly should continue.
It is always good to hear from former Speakers of the House of Commons and I am indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who harked back to an age when there was clearly more flexibility and more discussions in the usual channels in the 1990s. Of course, my noble friend Lord Naseby explained about the ways and means.
Perhaps I may confirm to the noble Baroness that there is no threat to this House in terms of its powers and role. To respond to my noble friend Lord Fowler at the same time, the only purpose in having the Bill on reform of the House of Lords and debating that reform is that this House should be reformed only if it can be more assertive, stronger and better able to hold the Government to account and if it can challenge the views of the House of Commons. Otherwise, why on earth would we bother with all of this?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fowler, with his tremendous memory, harked back to 1986. He complained about the Commons using programme Motions more than they did in the past, and that is true, but of course it is up to them. However, I can confirm that the House of Commons discussed and debated each of these amendments in full before passing them back.
I can tell him my noble friend Lord Higgins that my noble friend Lord Freud will be able to explain the Government's position on each of these amendments, but he will not be able to confirm what position may be taken by the House of Commons because that is a decision for the Speaker on the advice of his Clerks. However, I should like to repeat the really important thing in all this. Some 35 of the 46 Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill that were designated by the House of Commons as privileged were subsequently accepted by that House. That must be an indication that we did a good job and we did it well.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am much obliged to the Leader of the House. I do not really believe that he has dealt satisfactorily with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. He said that this House would be strengthened by the Bill that apparently is to come before us in the next Session, but if it does not provide the same financial powers as those of the House of Commons, we will be in no different a position from that in which we are at present, which we are discussing. Unless that Bill can be amended to give the House of Lords the power to make amendments that may indeed put up expenditure without being told by the Commons that we cannot do so, then what is the point of us?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I have long believed that there are adequate powers in this House, many of which we do not use, partly because we are an unelected and appointed Chamber. When and if we are ultimately elected I expect that, over time, those powers will evolve. I have no idea how they will evolve, but if a Bill for an elected House is presented, this is an issue that we shall debate long and hard, and I look forward to the noble Lord's amendments.
1: Clause 10, page 4, line 34, at end insert ", such additional amount to be paid at either a higher rate, or a lower rate, which shall be no less than two-thirds of the higher rate as may be prescribed"
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, before I go into this Motion, I would like to pick up some of the points raised by my noble friend the Leader of the House about how what we are considering today is impacted by the ping-pong process that we are going into. The question asked by my noble friend-
Lord Laming: My Lords, I am sorry. This is a really important statement that we are all terribly keen to hear but are unable to do so amid all this noise. Perhaps it is my position in the Chamber, but I wonder if the noble Lord could start again.
Lord Freud: My Lords, I apologise, I was keen not to waste time. I want to pick up on the comment made by my noble friend: why would we bother with all this? I am considering all the work that has been done on this Bill, and as I look around noble Lords I can see that the most astonishing amount of energy has been put into this Bill through its Committee and Report stages; I am the first to register that. I want to assure noble Lords that the debates we have had have been heard, that I have represented the points made with great vigour in government, and that I have seen a lot of changes in this Bill as a direct result of that work. I shall name a few of those changes because it is easy to forget what we have done with this Bill.
On ESA time-limiting, we accepted the need to make amendments to protect those with degenerative conditions. On the benefit cap, we have put in a nine-month grace period and exempted those in the support group of ESA, again in response to debates in this House. On PIP, we have made a number of changes to the required-period condition and have restored the mobility component for those in residential homes. Within universal credit, we have put in £300 million a year to afford additional childcare. That all added up in this spending review period to £638 million. Looked at as an ongoing cost when universal credit is introduced, it amounts to an extra £518 million per annum in a steady state. Each of those concessions was made as a direct result of the debates that we had in this House. I think, bluntly, there was a point at which the Government
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I turn to the Motion. Noble Lords will remember that this is about having just two rates in universal credit for disabled children which align with adult rates. Our objective is to distribute resources fairly and simplify the current systems of support. The idea is to target the money on need and not on age, because of the problem of when people move from the child system to the adult system.
We are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people, to improving their quality of life and to tackling poverty at its root. We need to assess how to invest scarce resources in the most effective way. It is clear that this has been a matter of great concern to noble Lords. I have been exploring that concern and trying to get to its root. The concern lies in whether we are channelling the money to the right children. At the moment, children are passported from DLA and the question is whether we have the right definitions. I understand that concern and am taking steps, subject to your Lordships' response, to do something about it.
If we are going to have a system of alignment between children and adults, and make sure that that works effectively and that we minimise disruption, then we have to be certain that the categorisations are consistent through that age gap. This is not an easy thing to do, because at the moment the definitions in these areas are linked to DLA for children. We need to be careful not to pre-empt any decisions on the future applicability of that, because we may be looking to change from DLA for children to PIP for children. We need to spend a considerable time to get that move-if it happens-right. Children are different from adults and have different needs from them at different times in their lives. Just as for adults, we need to have a system that is fair and consistent for children.
We need to learn from the introduction of PIP for those aged 16 to 64, which will start in April 2013 and continue through to 2016 as people switch over. We need to build learning from that process. We are also looking at moving towards a single assessment process for children's social care, health and special education needs. By the start of 2015, we should have gathered sufficient evidence to be able to consider our future approach.
On the basis of that timing and on the basis that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, withdraws her new amendment, I am therefore happy to give a commitment to the House that, by the end of 2015, we will review the current definitions, working carefully through the issues with disabled people and disability organisations, so that we have a gateway in place that ensures that the most severely disabled children get the right support.
Before noble Lords say that 2015 is a long way away, I point out that it is not quite as far as it seems. Universal credit will start to roll out in October 2013, and we will migrate claimants into it slowly over the next four years. In practice, people with disabled children are likely to be towards the end of that migration queue anyway. In addition, we have transitional protection for the existing groups. In practice, the timings would mesh quite elegantly. It would mean that the commitment is there to either look at it in the context of a move to child PIP or to have a proper look at it anyway within the context of DLA.
I hope I have been able to demonstrate to the House that we are taking this issue very seriously. It is an important issue that has been raised, and it is one we have thought about very deeply, in order to get this process right. I therefore urge the House not to insist on Amendment 1. I beg to move.
1B: Page 4, line 34, at end insert ", and such additional amount to be paid at a higher rate, a middle rate or a lower rate; and the middle rate shall be no less than two-thirds of the higher rate as may be prescribed; and the lower rate shall be no less than one-third of the higher rate"
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, before I say anything else, I will say two things. First, I was somewhat surprised that this particular amendment was dismissed in the other place on grounds of financial privilege, because I presented this as a revenue-neutral amendment. We were looking at ratios of benefits. As the Minister agreed in discussion, one could of course shift the higher rate in relation to the lower rate without spending any more money. We were not arguing in favour of spending more money, but about the cliff edge between the higher rate and the lower rate. I challenge the other place, if I am permitted to do that from this vantage point. Secondly, I express my personal gratitude to the Minister for the concessions and changes he has driven through as a result of the wonderful work done across all sides of this House. It is a credit to the House-we can feel proud of the work of the House-but also a great credit to the Minister.
The aim of this amendment is to ensure that the structure of disability additions for children more closely reflects the real needs and costs of the families affected than is the case in the Government's proposals. The arguments supporting an amendment at Third Reading on the same issue were comprehensive and powerful, and I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who contributed so effectively to that debate and to the successful vote on that amendment. I also thank Sue Royston of the CAB service, who supported me throughout this Bill, in view of my other commitments.
The Minister thus accepted that there really is a problem with the higher rate and other rate as now envisaged. There are families with severely disabled children who should not be granted additions of only £27 a week. We have a common understanding that that is not acceptable, and for that I am grateful.
The reason I have come back with this amendment is that at Third Reading the Minister was not in a position to give an assurance to the House that the DWP would definitely take action, or to say what action would be taken and when. It seemed to me that we owed it to the families across the country who were genuinely fearful-they are very frightened-about the implications of this Bill to seek clarification as far as we possibly could achieve that.
It was also important to point out that the issue identified by the Minister was not the only one needing to be addressed. Probably most of the children whom we are talking about here will remain severely disabled into adulthood, but that is not the only point. The additions we are talking about here need to reflect the impact on the families of these children of those disabilities as the children grow up. They need to reflect the severity of the disability and the enormity and cost of the care they need probably throughout their childhood. We are not really talking about when they become adults; we are talking about what happens while they are children.
Universal credit, as the noble Lord has said many times, is designed above all else to provide an incentive for claimants to go back to work. The Minister did not explicitly accept at Third Reading-and I hope he will be able to make explicit his understanding of the point today-that we are talking in this amendment about parents for whom work is but a distant dream. These parents do not choose not to work. The only hope for these parents to provide the opportunities their disabled children need, and the only hope of avoiding years-decades-of abject poverty, is if the benefit system is fair and reasonable to those families. That is the essence of what this debate is about.
The other point here is that the cost of not supporting these most disadvantaged families will be substantial because of the unacceptable emotional and financial pressures on these parents. If nothing is done through this review, we can expect without doubt that we will have more severely disabled children placed in care, and more of these mothers and fathers suffering with depression in hospitals. My trust in east London will be having these mums and dads coming in; we do not want to have that happen. These adults cannot cope with the extraordinary demands upon them in a state of abject poverty. It is not right in a rich country that we submit these families to that kind of a life.
I thank the Minister for his commitment on the Floor of the House to a review of the current definitions of disabled children for the different levels of additions, and for his agreement to work with disabled people
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I shall finish by setting out some of the issues that I hope will be included in the review. First, there are the relative costs of caring for children with different disabilities. The emotional and financial costs of caring for a severely autistic child, for example, may be even greater than caring for a doubly incontinent, wheelchair-ridden child. I would not like to make that comparison myself-this is a very complex matter-but I am asking the review to be sensitive to the very different emotional needs and financial costs of very different disabilities.
Secondly, there are the costs of specialist childcare for children with different disabilities at different ages. It probably costs more if your child is doubly incontinent at 15 relative to seven. These things change over time, and all this needs looking at.
Thirdly, there are the costs of giving children with different disabilities the opportunities they need to develop their potential. Again, with some disabilities there is probably a lot of potential that you could develop at some considerable cost, but that all needs to be looked at as well.
Fifthly, there is the question of nature of the children's disabilities in the 37 per cent of such families where no adult has a full-time job. I would have thought that that would illuminate some of the issues that prevent parents from ever getting work; if they do not have work, you can be sure that there are probably good reasons why.
I am grateful to the Minister for his commitment to consider the particular barriers to work and the cost implications of a disabled child for single parents. We discussed this when we met. It seems that so many of these single parents have been abandoned by-I am afraid that I have to say it-the father, generally speaking, often within months of the birth of a severely disabled child. Those single parents have particular and enormous demands upon them of every conceivable kind-emotional, social and financial. I am grateful that that will be looked at. I am also grateful for the Minister's commitment to pay particular attention to the special situation of parents with two or more disabled children. Again, if you have two or more somewhat less disabled children, you surely need to be considered for the higher rate.
I agree with the Minister that the needs of children will differ at different stages of development-I think that he said that in his remarks. I understand from him that families with disabled children will be brought within the universal credit towards the end of the period 2013-18, and I trust that that will be the case. I am deeply worried about the provision coming into place before the review is completed and changes can be made because, frankly, that is unacceptable and, in my view, cruel.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, as the Minister will know, I have a considerable interest in this matter. We have debated it long and hard over recent weeks. I would like to take up the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about the substantial effect that these changes could have on those who are in dire poverty. I would like to add a dimension to that: the position of those who may be in circumstances of uncertainty. The uncertainty regarding the benefit that may be available to help disabled children may in fact compound the difficulties faced by those families.
In those circumstances, I would like to press the Minister-while recognising the efforts that he has undoubtedly made to try to meet us on some of these points, despite the constraints of finance-on whether he can give any indication of the likely timing and mechanisms of these changes taking place. He referred to the fact that it will be 2015 before all the associated changes are in place. I am not sure whether to interpret that as an indication that the timescale may be so long that it will be 2016 before the changes are implemented. If I am wrong about that, what is the purpose of his flagging up the facts that we will know in 2015? If I am right about the implication of his statement being that there will be a delay until 2015 or, more likely, 2016 before the impact of these changes is felt, it would certainly give people time to start making adjustments, and the Government and this Chamber time for further consideration. If that is the intention, what would be the mechanism in 2015 or thereabouts to implement the changes that the Minister has in mind? If the mechanism is to be by order-that is, unamendable-that always causes misgivings in this place and other places. If it were possible at that stage to have a more general debate before an order was brought forward, it would give us an opportunity to pursue these matters in detail in light of what happens between now and then. I do not know whether these suggestions are in line with what the Minister indicated or whether I misunderstood what he said. However, I would be grateful if he could address these points when he responds.
Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, it was shocking that the other place left so little time for the important amendment concerning the disability addition for children. It received scant debate. I strongly support the current amendment for the reasons that I gave at Third Reading, and trust that the Minister now understands the damage that the Bill will do to disabled children unless action is taken.
Lord Peston: I start from the position that when your Lordships pass an amendment, it is for the Commons to consider it reasonably and make up its own mind. I am coming up to the 25th anniversary of my being here and my experience is overwhelmingly that that is what happens. It happens for one very good reason-namely, courtesy.
For most amendments, once is enough. For rather more important amendments, the Commons may come back with a reasoned argument and we may decide that we need to argue it through a second time. Overwhelmingly, I take the view that for virtually everything, except matters that would subvert our constitution, twice is absolutely enough. In all cases, I expect a reasoned, thoughtful reply from the other place. I hope that is not an oxymoron. When I was told what was happening over the amendments that we are currently debating, at first I just did not remotely believe that the Commons would behave in such a way. I regarded it as an insult to your Lordships' House that the Commons had behaved in that way. The Leader of the House did his best somehow to persuade us that there was no other way. I sat here listening and thought, "How do I feel about this?". I felt and feel as though I was being bullied. Those of us who have some experience of bullies know that there is only one way to deal with them-to fight back. That is why I sit here, not as an expert on constitutional matters but simply as a Member of your Lordships' House, as we debate an amendment that is of great ethical importance, as I pointed out last time. The Minister has certainly said that he would like to respond positively if he possibly still can. I think I am right; perhaps he will nod if that was his intention to get that impression across to us. However, I do not remotely see how he can do that, given the way in which the Commons has responded. The Commons has not responded in any way in which reason was uppermost in its mind. Reason was the last thing on its mind. Essentially, the Commons stamped its foot and said, "No way". I cannot advise the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on what she ought to do. I just got up to place on record-on a matter that is of the utmost ethical importance, as I explained when we debated this previously-that, in getting its own way, the other House has chosen a means that we should not lie down and accept.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, having spoken on this matter at all previous stages of the Bill, I would like to add a few words now. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for saying that he will look very carefully in future at the three care components. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for giving us the opportunity to allow him to say this in terms.
I hope that I may remind your Lordships what this is about. There are three care components in disability living allowance. Under universal credit, there are only two and children on the middle and lower rates of care will not get the higher additional rate. This will particularly affect children on the middle rate of care who do not need care all through the night. If they have more severe disabilities, they will get the higher rate. However, those who do not need significant care through the night can still be very severely disabled.
As noble Lords have said at all previous stages of the Bill, families with disabled children need all the help they can get. This is particularly true of families where there is a genetic likelihood of children inheriting
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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Obviously, we all welcome the Minister's commitment to undertake a review. It would have been very helpful if we had had this promise earlier in our discussions as it would have enabled us to shape much more thoroughly what might go into that review. However, what concerns me is that I still think the Minister missed the key point in his introductory comments. If I have misunderstood him, I would be grateful if he could correct my misunderstanding and make his position clear to the House.
The issue is not whether the right number of children is above the line in terms of severe disability, and where that line is drawn, as he seemed to suggest. That is not the issue, although the Minister seemed to suggest that it was. The issue is the fact that children who are deemed to have a lesser disability still have very substantial care needs. Indeed, their care needs may be more expensive than those of a bed-ridden child who may be more severely disabled but has less demanding care needs. We are concerned about the ratio of financial support for the less disabled child vis-à-vis that for the more disabled child. Therefore, it is not a question of whether more children should go into the higher rate category rather than the lower but of the relationship in financial terms between the lower rate and the higher rate given that the degree of disability does not translate into the need for extra financial support because of additional costs. That is the issue we wish the Minister to grasp, not whether the lines in the sand are drawn differently between groups of children but to recognise that the financial support for less severely disabled children should be pegged pretty closely to the rate for more severely disabled children because costs do not follow the level of disability.
and it does not need to offer any further reason. However, in this particular case, we have no estimate of the fiscal impact of these measures from the Department for Work and Pensions, so how can we know what the financial impact is going to be? Perhaps the noble Lord will make clear what the financial impact is going to be, particularly as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, presented her original amendment as being financially neutral?
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, would like to press the point about the neutrality of the cost that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has stressed. If I may say so, I think that we all owe the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, a huge debt for the way in which she has pursued these issues and, equally, for the way in which the Minister has responded. I hope very much that when he is considering again, he will bear in mind the number of women-and it is women, I am afraid-who are on their own left to cope with children in this situation. That is a particularly important point, I would argue.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I had not intended to contribute to this debate, but I wish to speak briefly. As a neurologist with a long experience of caring for children with many forms of disability, I am fully aware of one important issue: that the nature of the disability may be relatively non-progressive-for example, in patients with cerebral palsy. The needs of children with cerebral palsy vary and change as they grow older. The problems faced by their carers-often a single parent, or both parents-become more demanding as the child grows older and is heavier and more difficult to manipulate.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, think again about patients with muscular dystrophy of the most severe kind. Boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, by the time they are seven, eight or nine years of age, are still mobile and still go to a normal school but walk with increasing difficulty. By the time they are 10 or 11, they are often confined to a wheelchair. In past years, many of those boys died in their teens. Nowadays, with vastly improved care, with improvement in their respiratory support and so on, they pass through that period of transition from childhood into adulthood, where their disability is greater and more demanding. Unless they are given proper support by carers and the support that they need in terms of respiratory support and suchlike, the demands on their parents become much greater. Furthermore, it is important to recognise that proper care and support in the home prevents a large number of emergency admissions to hospital, with major burdens on the National Health Service.
I was reassured at the beginning by what the Minister said. Can he assure us that the actual mechanisms of these three grades of support, and that important change from childhood into adulthood, are properly met by the provisions of this Bill? Will he also assure us that the recognition that disability is not static and that demands on the carers vary is fully taken account of in the decisions that are being made?
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I had not intended to intervene either. I will do so very briefly because I have made my points at earlier stages of the Bill. My principal point, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, at the end of last week, was that I did not expect to be able to vote for her amendment because, while I thought that the cause was good, writing this kind of thing into primary legislation was not. That is reinforced by the points that have just been made. I see the noble Lord, Lord Walton, nodding;
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I think we should be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for keeping us focused on the issue of disabled children, and to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate with a great deal of expertise and knowledge on the subject. They reminded us that even in this rich country there are people and families who still live in poverty and are challenged by poverty. The deliberations that we bring to bear through legislation may seem somewhat detached from that, but that legislation has a real effect on real people's lives.
Like my noble friend Lord Peston and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I was a bit confused as to how this amendment became caught up in the issue of financial privilege because I thought that the Minister was on record as saying that this was not an issue of money. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, confirmed that. I did not intervene in the earlier exchanges on this issue but I am somewhat concerned about aggregate figures of costs flying around, whether we agree with them or not, and tagging on to them a provision that has no cost implication at all. If that is permitted under these arrangements, it is a bit of a slippery slope.
However, we should be grateful to the Minister for his engagement running right across the Bill, particularly on this issue, and for his promise of a review on definitions and access to the various benefits. I hope that he will take account of the point made by my noble friend Lady Hollis and others that the issue of costs does not correlate exactly with severity of disability. If I have to take issue with the Minister, I wish that he had not said that his commitment to undertake this programme was conditional on the noble Baroness withdrawing her amendment. Frankly, if it is right to do it, it is right to do it.
Perhaps I may pursue one point with the noble Lord. He previously stated that families would obtain the benefit of transitional protection so that the cash amount of support under universal credit would not reduce. That would not of course protect the position in real terms but perhaps we can at last understand a little more-on the record, I hope-about how transitional protection will work. Is it to be applied separately to the differing components of universal credit or will it be looked at in aggregate? Could an increase in the housing amount, for example, mean an effective reduction in the protected disability addition? Can we also get some clarity around changes of circumstances and what types of situation would cause the transitional protection to be removed? What about, for example, a
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I do not wish to go over all of our powerful debate on this issue. I acknowledge the commitments that the Minister has made but repeat that we should be thankful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for keeping us focused on this important issue.
Lord Freud: My Lords, many specific points have been made and I shall try to deal with them. We have debated this issue a lot and perhaps I may gently remind the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that we actually voted both ways on very similar issues. I recall that we had a plus two and a minus 16 on this issue-I think it was this issue. When we talk about the message coming from the Lords to the Commons, there were a number of votes in this area.
The amendment inserts a third rate for disabled children. It sets fixed relationships between those rates. With our primary structure, we are trying to have two elements-for disabled children and adults-aligned at the same rates, which are principled changes so that we have some consistency and make the system simple and fairer. I am trying to take out complexity from a system that, if your Lordships remember, is falling down because it is so complex. So simplicity has a value in itself. If the amendment went through, we would have different rates and a mismatch within the structure of universal credit.
I have been asked a lot of questions about the amount of money. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, will be pleased to know that I did not include this figure in the £2.1 billion that I cited earlier. To maintain the level of £77, under the original amendment, would have cost £200 million, which is why the Commons attached financial privilege to it, in answer to the question of the noble Countess, Lady Mar. To answer the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, the reason why it is conditional is that there is not much point in having all the paraphernalia and trauma of a review if we have an amendment of this nature where we are locked anyway. That is why I made it conditional.
To answer the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about how it would work, we start the universal credit timeline in late 2013, collecting information up to 2015, so we will have the information to undertake the review in 2015. The changes that the review will presumably recommend can be incorporated from then on.
Baroness Meacher: This is an important point. Can the noble Lord make clear that, having undertaken the review, the Government could adjust the rates for disabled children with different disabilities within the current legislation so that we would not have to wait
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Lord Freud: It will depend on what comes out of the review. If it concerns child PIP, which it may very well be, which is a recasting of the whole structure, we may need primary legislation; but if it is an adjustment of DLA, I think we may not. It will depend on the outcome of the review, which will be serious and substantial. One issue that noble Lords are raising is that there is dissatisfaction with the way that we are applying these rates. There is general dissatisfaction about whether we are using the right criteria. We have one rather simple criterion at the moment. Building that review of how we do it will be a substantial exercise. The interesting thing about this debate is the general level of dissatisfaction about whether we are using the right definitions to get to the right children and the right families. Funnily enough, that has been one of the main things driving us to make this commitment.
We have here a commitment that either we are going with a major review of the child PIP or, if not, a fallback where there will be a review anyway, albeit within the context of the DLA. That is the commitment, and I can tell your Lordships that it has been somewhat hard fought.
Lord Wigley: I am grateful to the noble Lord for the clarification, which is very helpful. With such an important review, would it be reasonable to assume that, in the normal way of things, there would be opportunities to debate the outcome of the review here in the Chamber before orders were drawn up to implement any of the conclusions?
Lord Freud: I think that we will be discussing this a lot in the years to come-it is not a dead issue. When you set up such a review, it generates its own momentum. Noble Lords know how powerful a review in this kind of area is. Once you have a review like this and the momentum that follows from it, something happens reasonably rapidly. I do not think that you have set it in absolute terms because it becomes an irresistible force. Therefore, I do not think that that is a concern. The exact nature of what we then do begs a lot of questions that we simply do not need to ask. However, with regard to how we carry out the review, the involvement of this House will be taken very much into account.
Baroness Meacher: I really do not want to hold up the House at this stage but this is such an important point. My understanding is that the details are going to be in regulations. If that is the case, a review will be undertaken and I have no doubt that it will show that these rates are unfair. Why cannot regulations be changed within current legislation to achieve a fairer distribution of additions? That is my only question.
Lord Freud: I am saying that that may be one outcome but there may be a much more radical outcome in the introduction of PIP for children. The question is: are you better off doing that or adjusting DLA with the passporting arrangement? That is very difficult to
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Lord Freud: Nearly. I hope that I have made it clear that I really understand the concerns being expressed not just by the noble Baroness but right around the House. I think that our commitment to carry out this review-it is a significant review that will look at the issue properly-is the right way of approaching the matter. It is far better than adding an unnecessary and untested complication to the design of what is meant to be a universal credit system which people can instinctively understand. If it is an offer, I urge the noble Baroness to accept it and withdraw her amendment.
Lord Freud: Yes, my Lords. I am sorry; I forgot to answer that. At this stage, I am not in a position to lay out transitional protection because we are currently looking at how it will work. However, it will be a bundled up protection. The work in progress effectively involves taking someone's existing entitlement, comparing it with their universal credit entitlement and paying the difference as a lump sum, which is then maintained. However, in the context of what we are talking about, the migration process is rather more important than the transitional protection. In the vast bulk of cases, it is when those families move on to universal credit that will matter more than transitional protection, which will be towards the tail end of this period, if at all.
Baroness Meacher: I thank the Minister for his response. I accept what he says about the simplification of the system. That is absolutely right. However, I do not accept the suggestion that this system-certainly in this part of the Bill-is fairer. The fact is that it is not; it is deeply, deeply unfair. I find myself in a situation where we are either going to have the Minister's acceptance-I think we do have that-that this is unfair and needs a full-scale review, or we have nothing. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, indicated, maybe we are being bullied. My sense is that there are perhaps some rather large, old, hefty powers from another place leaning on us. Therefore, I would not wish to allege that the Minister is bullying us. I accept that if one has a full-scale review, there is a momentum and we will be there to see what happens and to try and make sure that the right thing does happen.
Disabled people and the disabled organisations who will be involved in the review will be on the case. Therefore, I feel reasonably confident that we will get there. My biggest worry concerns the timeframe and the need for further legislation. I still hope that if the Government get to the right answer in terms of the allocation of benefits to families with disabled children they could make adjustments to regulations while we await new legislation. That matters a great deal. We should not leave families newly coming on to these
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2A:Because Lords Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
"(3A) In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no suitable alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the housing cost element of the universal credit to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom."
3A:Because Lords Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
"(7A) In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the AMHB to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom.""
Lord Freud: We have debated this measure at length and I am grateful for the intensity and conviction of those who have spoken both in support of the measure and those who have challenged the Government. I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Best, remains concerned about our proposals to reduce housing benefit and universal credit for working-age claimants living in social sector properties who are under-occupying
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I remind noble Lords of the core argumentation. We do not think that taxpayers should be expected to meet the cost of somewhere approaching 1 million spare bedrooms, a cost of around £0.5 billion every year. Clearly this is unfair, or certainly different, to those in the private rented sector who receive benefits based on their household need. Based on our estimates, the original amendments could potentially reduce those savings by around £300 million, in addition to the £30 million to which I referred. That is real money. Maybe I should-or should not-remind noble Lords of the message from Moody's. One of the things they make clear is that the Government's "necessary fiscal consolidation" is key in stopping that potential downgrade.
We in the House have had many discussions about the behavioural response of claimants to the measure. Clearly it is too soon to know what they will do. Some may decide to downsize. Others will decide to continue to live where they are and to cover the shortfall through other means. One thing that is interesting and different about the social housing sector is how little mobility there is. The figure runs at around 5 per cent per annum. The size criterion is potentially the kind of thing that will start to make people think about what accommodation they need to live in, and how much they can afford. If it does, it will start to free up properties for the 250,000 or so families who are living in overcrowded accommodation, as well as for those living in expensive temporary accommodation. One could see it as a nudge to help drive some of the outcomes intended to be realised through the Localism Act, which will allow landlords to use their existing housing stock more efficiently.
One thing that people will be able to do is offer spare rooms to lodgers, which in some cases will be a sensible option. There will be a double benefit from that, certainly before universal credit comes in, because the room will not be considered to be a spare room, and the first £20 of weekly income from the lodger will be disregarded when calculating benefit entitlement. There has been misunderstanding and confusion about taking in lodgers. The confusion is between what a lodger is and what subletting is. It is worth pointing out that all social tenant residents can apply to their social landlord for permission to take in a lodger. We will expect social landlords to take a pretty liberal line on this. Some may have a policy not to allow it, but they will have a keen interest in reviewing the position, given the context of what we are doing here.
We are emphasising the point to social landlords as part of our implementation work. The Chartered Institute of Housing is developing a toolkit for the implementation of the measure that will include this advice. Of course, there are other actions that claimants and landlords can take in response to the measure. Just a few hours' work may help some of those affected cover the shortfall,
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One aspect that has not been explored in our debates is the response from social landlords. The rent they receive reflects the size of their property. If there were, for example, a very small room such as a box room that the landlord called a bedroom, they might reconsider, if they have not done so already, whether to count that room when deciding on the number of bedrooms that should be written into the tenancy, as well as on the rent associated with it. The designation of property size is another area where there may be flexibility. We are exploring this with social landlords as part of our implementation work.
As we introduce the measure, we will also look at ways of minimising the risk of claimants falling into arrears. No one wants this to happen. Landlords have a key role to play and we are looking at how to support them in that role, and how to help them manage the possible risks.
Finally, I need to emphasise that, despite some assertions that I have seen and indeed heard, we are not going to require what has been called "an army of snoopers". As now, we are going to rely on claimants to report their household circumstances to us.
The original amendment could have cost in the region of £300 million every year. We have been clear that this is unaffordable. We have done what we can and will continue to do what we can to support these two important groups of people-disabled people and those who foster-through this change. I ask noble Lords not to insist on this amendment, and I beg to move.
"(3A) In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no suitable alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the housing cost element of the universal credit to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom, and-
(b) the claimant, or a child or a young person for whom either or both the claimants is responsible, is in receipt of disability living allowance, or personal independence payment, or attendance allowance or an increase of disablement pension where constant attendance is required; or
"( ) In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no suitable alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the AMHB to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom, and-
(b) the claimant, their partner or a child or a young person for whom the claimant (or their partner) is responsible, is in receipt of disability living allowance, or personal independence payment, or attendance allowance or an increase of disablement pension where constant attendance is required;
Lord Best: My Lords, this combined amendment seeks to achieve a compromise on the so-called bedroom tax, the underoccupation penalty that reduces the housing benefit entitlement-later the universal credit entitlement-for those of working age in a council or housing association property.
Perhaps I might recap on the position we have reached on this measure. I have argued since Committee that the Government should stay with the current definition of underoccupancy from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which allows a household one spare room, which may actually be a room that is occupied all the time; for example, where children are not sharing because one has a disability or because a teenager wants a separate bedroom to do her homework and so on.
Requiring people settled in their council or housing association homes to move or pay a fine of what will now be £728 per annum on average seems very harsh. The housing benefit of these tenants will be cut by this amount so they will have to find the bedroom tax out of other benefit income. For an unemployed separated father who has a spare room so his children can stay, this represents a cut of nearly 20 per cent in his income from jobseeker's allowance. Even though £14 a week may not seem a huge sum to most of us in this House, it means a very significant reduction in living standards for all households affected.
Your Lordships will recall that the earlier amendment on this theme was carried in this House with significant support from all parts of the House. It did not go so far as to allow families one spare room, but it changed the position so that the penalty would only become payable if the tenant refused an offer of a smaller, suitable flat. This amendment would still require all 670,000 households-rising to 740,000 households as the pension age rises-to move if they were to avoid paying the tax, but no one would have to pay until they had been offered and had turned down an alternative tenancy. This took away the surely inequitable requirement to pay the penalty for staying put even where there was nowhere else to go.
As your Lordships know, the majority of council homes built from 1920 onwards have three bedrooms. Requiring a move to a two- or one-bedroom flat can mean waiting for vacancies for some time; for example, in rural areas there are places where all the council
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It is important to note that the earlier amendment did not abolish the bedroom tax, and the penalty would still kick in for those who felt that they could not accept the alternative flat offered to them. Their reasons for refusing to downsize might be very compelling, but regardless of those reasons, the amendment-the compromise from the position of permitting a spare room-meant they would still have to pay if they did not accept the offer of the smaller accommodation.
This Lords amendment was rejected in the other place, though with a relatively small majority of 42, and with support from the amendment from all parties, including 12 Liberal Democrats and two Conservatives. This gives me some hope that if an amendment that cost half as much were to be presented to the other place, it might indeed gain acceptance there.
I am therefore bringing forward an even more modest amendment, in the hope of salvaging something here. The new amendment confines the postponement of the imposition of the bedroom tax to certain categories only, rather than to all tenants. I deeply regret abandoning hundreds of thousands of households who, even if this amendment is approved, will still be caught by the penalty charge on the 1 April next year. Even if they are willing to move, they will be trapped where they are because there are no smaller flats available. However, needs must, and the new amendment reduces the cost in the early years from perhaps a maximum of £300 million by around half, a far cry from the billions referred to in earlier debate. In due course, the Government will collect the great majority of the tax if, as gradually some people are offered a smaller home and do not take up the offer, they are then required to pay up. The cost implications are not, I suggest, too frightening.
Therefore, for the categories spelt out in this new amendment, no fine, penalty, tax, or housing benefit cut would apply unless and until they turned down an alternative offer of something smaller that is defined in regulations as "suitable". The categories given relief in the amendment are: first, claimants who are not required to work for reasons already set out in the Bill in Clause 19, including those with,
These are households for whom pressures to take a job-which, as the Minister has explained, is a key policy driver for the Government-are not relevant. For these people, the penalty simply represents a substantial loss of income with no escape. If the
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Secondly, the amendment covers claimants who have already been exempted from the household benefits cap, mostly because they are disabled, but also including war widows. These are people who the Government recognise as having extra costs. My amendment simply replicates the categories which the Government have acknowledged should not be penalised by the benefits cap. Many of the 70 charities that are urging parliamentarians to accept an amendment on this issue represent people with disabilities, who are particularly badly affected by having to share bedrooms. Again, I fear that these would not be exempt from paying the tax unless they moved out, but the tax would not be payable until they turned down another home, deemed to be suitable, but smaller.
Each household would still have a very tough decision to take. For one it would be, "Could we move and put our disabled child with his special bed into the same room as his sibling, or should we take the cut in our living standards and stay in this house with a separate bedroom?"; or, for an older couple, where one is under pension age-under 61 years and 5 months next April-the choice could be, "Should we move from our two-bedroom flat to a one-bedroom flat, even though we often sleep apart when my husband is ill, and we frequently use the other room when my daughter comes to give me a hand for a few days?"; or, "Must we move, because £14 per week off my husband's state pension would be just too much?". I fear that these difficult choices would still have to be faced even if the amendment is carried, since the amendment only postpones the moment of truth until an offer of a suitable alternative flat is made. Thirdly, this concession would apply where the household regularly takes in foster children. Barnardo's and other children's charities are keen to see the nonsense of taxing foster parents removed.
What are the arguments against my case for a now extremely modest element of relief from the proposed underoccupation penalty? It cannot be said that granting this relief takes away the pressure on scroungers-people able to work but not working-since the revised amendment does not cover anyone required by the benefits system to seek work. Can it be argued that the Government have already announced a sufficient safety net to cover the most extreme cases? They have made available £30 million against the expected savings of £470 million, which the bedroom tax would yield, for discretionary housing payments which local authorities can use to cover the tax for deserving cases. The Government have mentioned two groups in particular to be helped by local authorities; namely, those living in homes that have been specially adapted and for whom downsizing would require the smaller home also to be adapted, no doubt at considerable cost, and households with foster children where the underoccupying rule is particularly inappropriate.
The funds for this discretionary power to bail out some hostels is confined to these special cases. If something was left over, it would leave local authorities with an invidious task; that is, how to assess the
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Nevertheless, I confess to having been thankful for this small mercy-until I learnt that the £30 million for these discretionary housing payments is to be paid for not by the Treasury accepting any reduction in the gains achieved through the bedroom tax but by increasing the tax for the other tenants by another £50 per annum from the previous £13 per week to the new £14 per week.
What about the argument that those on very low incomes could find the money to pay the penalty charge from their savings? I fear that it is more likely that such households will be struggling with debts, perhaps depending on payday loans and even resorting to the loan sharks, rather than sitting on a pile of savings. While older tenants may have put aside a bit, few will be able to cope when faced with a new tax of £728 every year on top of the rises in their heating bills and other costs.
One other remedy suggested by the Minister is for these households to take in lodgers. That is certainly to be strongly encouraged, although the current disregard as to the amount that tenants are allowed to keep without losing benefit has not proved a sufficient incentive to date. Obviously, however, taking in lodgers is not appropriate for most of those in the priority categories of the very vulnerable and disabled people now covered by this new amendment. By all means promote lodgers' schemes among those not helped by this amendment but it seems unrealistic to expect this idea to be of much help for those singled out in my new amendment.
I hope that since the earlier, more expensive amendment gained such a high level of support from all parts of this House, this lesser version will be acceptable. As noble Lords know, there is backing for any such measure. It comes not just from the many charities concerned with children and disabled people but from the social landlords-the councils and the housing associations. These social landlords have expressed grave concerns, not only on behalf of their tenants but because of the administrative and financial problems that the Government's proposals will create for them.
The landlords will be asked to be the tax collectors of the £14 per week from each liable tenant to make up the weekly deficit on the rent that the penalty will create. They know that they will have a huge job identifying who may be eligible. I am grateful for the reassurance from the Minister that there will not be an army of snoopers to check on whether a young person has left home or is away for just a few weeks. But landlords will have the problems of collecting the £14 per week or £25 per week if there are two rooms. That will not be covered by housing benefit any more.
Even if the housing benefit is paid directly to the landlord because the tenant is classified as vulnerable or has run up arrears, the extra sum-the penalty charge-will still have to be collected directly from the tenant. This will not be easy. A gradual accumulation of rent arrears seems inevitable, meaning in turn evictions in due course and less money for renovations, new homes
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This will be a particularly painful levy on communities in the north-east and the north-west where 45 per cent of the relevant tenants will be hit, and in Northern Ireland, where rather higher standards have justifiably applied, 68 per cent of these tenants will be affected. In this House we are not troubled by postbags full of protests from aggrieved constituents, as I strongly suspect will be the case in the other place, but I know that many of your Lordships feel strongly that we have a role in restraining government where measures seem excessive or unfair. Even though this amended, amended amendment is now providing much less relief than I feel the situation requires, it nevertheless draws a line by mitigating at least some of the hardship for at least some of those on the lowest incomes, and now exclusively for those who are not in a position to go out to work because they act as carers or are disabled themselves, I hope very much that noble Lords' support for these households will be sustained.
I pay tribute to the Minister who has worked extremely hard and effectively on this important legislation. I congratulate him on the changes he has achieved, but I know that he feels the hot breath of the Treasury on his collar. I therefore ask him to feel emboldened by the strength of feeling in your Lordships' House to accept this very modest new amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, universal credit is about using benefits to encourage behavioural change, and above all to encourage people to seek work by reducing its risk and increasing its reward. Like most people in this Chamber, I am deeply supportive of that, as the Minister knows. The House is extremely grateful to the Minister for the care and attentiveness with which he has introduced the changes made by universal credit through the stages of this Bill.
However, this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, has nothing to do with universal credit, nothing to do with behavioural change and nothing to do with urging people into work. It is simply a means of making savings that will come from cuts which will fall on some of the poorest. The Minister has already said, by referring to Moody's, that we cannot afford to lose those savings, yet none of them falls on me although they could do so. I would be happy to indicate to the Minister, if he so wishes, where they might. In my view, this is about political and moral choices. Do I pay or should a disabled child suffer?
I want to make three brief points. First, I believe that at the core of the policy on underoccupation is a fundamental dishonesty. I do not accuse the Minister of this, but the position is a dishonest one. That is because it states that people of working age must downsize if they have one spare bedroom but, as the Government acknowledge in their own impact analysis, those smaller flats and houses to which people should move do not exist. The Government acknowledge that 85 per cent of people will therefore have to stay put. If they do not, and instead move into the more expensive
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Secondly, the Government's position, as has been well outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Best, is deeply unfair to particular groups of people. I shall take just one: the couple with disability who need a bedroom each on occasion. He may have early prostate cancer and be going to the loo half a dozen times a night; she may have a respiratory problem and cough heavily through much of the night. On most nights, they need a separate bedroom otherwise one is being required to go without sleep or the other to sofa-surf in her own home night after night-a 60 year-old woman is being asked to sleep on a sofa night after night because of the change.
The same problems apply to disabled children being expected to share bedrooms with their siblings. If those disabled children need regular night-time care, their siblings are going to go to school without enough sleep, tired and upset, and almost certainly underperforming. Do we really believe that such families should carry the cuts on behalf of us all? I think not.
The third and last point is the consequences for housing associations such as my own-I declare an interest as chair of Broadland Housing Association, half of whose housing is in rural Norfolk. I cannot currently rehouse pensioners in rural Norfolk who want to downsize because I do not have the stock in the villages in which they want to live, yet it is among pensioners that underoccupation is most common. In future, the disabled family which does not want to move will be required to move, while to the pensioner who wants to move we will have to say, "You'll have to stay put". Can your Lordships think of a more foolish as well as-in many ways-more selfish policy, whereby people who do not want to move are made to move, and those who do want to move cannot, even though the costs of the one and the other would balance out? That cannot be right.
What will we do? As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, families who cannot move, including those with a disabled child, will have to take a hit on their housing benefit through no fault of their own because they cannot move, and they will within weeks fall into arrears. What do we then do in a housing association? Either I evict a family with a disabled child into temporary accommodation or bed and breakfast-how I can do this to them?-or they stay put and arrears mount. I have already trebled the amount in my accounts for increased arrears. As the noble Lord rightly said, the money is not available to pay the debt charges of new building, which alone will solve the problems of getting our stock right in the longer term.
The Minister says that such people may make a contribution out of their benefit, by which he means, frankly, that they must either eat less or heat less.
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I return to my opening point: we do not have to do this. It is about our political and moral choices. Families with a disabled child will lose £14 a week, while most of us enjoy a tax-free winter fuel allowance or find for the second year running that our council tax has been frozen. Not a penny of these cuts is falling on me or, I suspect, on very many of your Lordships, yet we are asking disabled families and families with disabled children to carry those cuts for us. I hope that your Lordships will put themselves on the side of the very modest amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best, put themselves on the side of disabled children, disabled people, war widows, foster carers and kinship carers, and support the noble Lord's amendment.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, having been a serial good-behaviour person this week, I thought that I ought at least, in fairness to myself and the noble Lord, Lord Best, to join in on this, as I was in my serial offending mode at the time the previous amendment was discussed. I am not going to repeat everything I said then, but I am tempted, not by every line of argument that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, or indeed anybody else, deployed, but by two of the points. First, part of the problem here is that we have not got enough social housing, which is highly relevant to this. I declare an interest in that my wife is responsible for it in Braintree District Council-for action on housing, not for the shortage. The effect in rural areas was the main point of my speech on the last occasion, and it has been well illustrated by points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in the past few minutes.
I am not sure that the amendment, because of its genesis, is the right way now to tackle this. I am reserving my position on that until I hear the Minister. However, I do think, as a practising politician and as an MP who used to have constituents complaining about this kind of thing, that the Government are playing a very dangerous political game, without quite knowing what will hit them when this comes into force. I will give some possible illustrations. I do not know the answers for any of them, but the Minister might like to bear them in mind. For example, a 16 year-old in north London is killed, by a bullet or a knife, by a gangster. His parents have a spare room, and soon after the inquest, somebody turns up and says, "You've got to move. You've got a spare room". A carer looks after an elderly parent for 20 years. The parent dies and somebody turns up and says, "You've got a spare room-here's the penalty" or, "You've got to move". We can think of a lot of such potential cases. My concern is that the Government should not charge down this path in a mechanistic way without thinking what they are going to do at the point of transition and in relation to the numerous hard cases that will arise. Otherwise, as I said in my previous speech, this will not last five minutes. I would like to hear the Minister on those points.
I am slightly scarred by one bit of experience. As part of the social security reforms in which I played a modest part alongside my noble friend Lord Fowler in the mid-1980s, we proposed some fairly draconian changes in housing benefit, which were, to be blunt, forced on us by the Treasury. They were introduced happily. Two years after I ceased to be Minister for Social Security, I was Minister for Health-another bed of nails. In my recollection, although I have not checked the books, the impact of those changes was such that the then Prime Minister ordered their reversal within a month because the flak simply could not be withstood. That is the risk the Government are running here, and I hope they will think about it very hard.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has made a very important point about the lack of social housing. Amendments and policy changes of this kind should only really be-and can only be-safely embraced if they are taken in the context of a wholesale housing policy review for this country. That will take some time and it needs to be started. It should have been started earlier. In the context of that, it is possible to deal with some of the anomalies and contradictions that we now have in our housing benefit system. There is no doubt that it needs to be reformed, but I have serious doubts about it being reformed at this scale and at this rate because I think it will hurt people. It will hurt people for one reason more than any other: it all happens at once.
On 1 April 2013, everyone who is caught by this will be looking for smaller properties which in many cases do not exist. It is worse than that, because there is a geographical and spatial dimension to this policy which must not be underestimated. It was the noble Lord, Lord Best, who pointed out that in the north of the country underoccupation is prevalent in a way that we all understand. I come from a social background in which I was raised in a council house and someone made a point about Northern Ireland. There is an in-built residual and unavoidable underoccupancy. On 1 April 2013, people are going to be hit and they are going to be hit hard.
I understand the concessions that we have been able to suggest to the Minister. The £30 million of discretionary housing payment is welcome, although I did not know that it was being found by topping up the housing benefit cut. That is news to me, and not particularly welcome news. With the discretionary housing payment of £30 million applied even to the north of the United Kingdom-the north-east, the north-west, Scotland and Northern Ireland-I do not think we have begun to look at the difficulties that this policy will face in year one. I assume the £30 million is annually recurrent, but I do not know the answer to that. Certainly, if it is not annually recurrent, then we will have even bigger problems in year two.
There is another difficulty that lies behind the policy which concerns me greatly. It will disrupt social and family ties in a way that it is impossible for local authorities receiving or trying to downsize people or social landlords to deal with. Unless folk are moving across the street or moving around the block or moving in the same village-it is admittedly working-age populations that we are talking about here as people
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This is a modest amendment proposed by a man who knows more about housing than anyone else in this House. Speaking for myself, I will trust his judgment, and if he thinks that he gets a ministerial response that enables him to withdraw this amendment, I will say amen to that; but equally, if he gets a ministerial response that he does not think measures up to this modest amendment, I will happily follow him into the Lobby.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I support the amendment. I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his persistence and the way in which he has dug deep into the issues concerned with the bedroom tax, and the Minister for the way in which he has listened and responded.
I want to contribute to the debate because of the danger sometimes that, amid the plethora of words, we will cease to be moved by the situation of and the fear felt by those who will suffer because of elements of the Bill, particularly those with disabilities and those who care for children with disabilities. The day before yesterday could be observed as Autism Sunday, an observance that is apparently supported by the slightly curious trio of the Prime Minister, the Pope and Sir Cliff Richard. That occasion gave me the chance to listen again to those who are fearful about the results of the Bill's dealing with the bedroom tax. People spoke to me of the way in which their disabled children and their whole family life would be affected by the bedroom tax. They have come to contribute to our society by caring for their own disabled child, perhaps with a disability that many would not regard as being one of the most serious that people face, but nevertheless one that for people in that situation can be a very frightening experience as their young people grow up.
This modest amendment would not solve all the problems of those who came to talk to me on Sunday, those who go to their parish priests with the issues of looking after children with disabilities or those children themselves, who are often members of our congregations. I hope that we shall be able to hear their voice as we
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Lord Wigley: I support the noble Lord, Lord Best, and thank him for the tremendous work that he did in Committee, on Report and in other contexts relating to housing matters. I shall emphasise three aspects relating to the people who will be hit unless amendments such as these are carried or other provisions are made. First, we have heard a lot about disabled people. We cannot apply the provisions of the Bill as it stands to disabled people without potentially doing enormous harm. Secondly, we should consider children in vulnerable families. Thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, touched upon this aspect and I emphasise it too: rural areas.
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