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Lord Goodhart: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Is not the answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, the fact that the Social Security Advisory Committee would have no power to advise the Secretary of State for Education and Employment under Clause 15 because this legislation is not one of the relevant enactments as defined in the Social Security Administration Act 1992? Indeed, is it not a fact that the power to make regulations under Clause 15 is not one that can be read back into the Social Security Administration Act?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord may well be right. Certainly, that is also my understanding. However, it is very clear that the function of the Social Security Advisory Committee is to advise the Secretary of State for Social Security. If other areas including childcare regulations and the like--for example, passported benefits--fall outside the direct remit of the Secretary of State for Social Security, they would not come within the advisory role of the Social Security Advisory Committee.
The Board of Inland Revenue is a statutory body with statutory duties as set out under the Inland Revenue Regulation Act 1890. It is answerable to Treasury Ministers and to Parliament. That is the proper channel for advice and help. It would not be appropriate for a committee which has been set up to advise the Secretary of State for Social Security to extend its remit to advise the Board of Inland Revenue.
However, having said that, I recognise the concern of noble Lords that draft regulations on tax credits should be exposed to interested and expert parties for comments, as happens with SSAC. However, I can provide a response in that respect. The normal practice of the Inland Revenue is to publish all major regulations in draft for comment. In practice, they are reaching a much wider audience than would be the case with SSAC. In addition, the Revenue's record on targeted consultations is very good; for example, as I said, as regards the regulations dealing with the payment to employers, it has been consulting regularly over the past year with groups representing business, both small and large, and payroll managers. Therefore, the proposed new clause is unnecessary because there is already a
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I shall do so with pleasure. If I recall the noble Lord's question accurately, I believe that it was motivated by a suspicion that the Treasury was dominated by the desire to cut costs and save money. Therefore, if that responsibility passed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there would be no advocate for disabled people or families falling within the working families' tax credit system, as is the case at present where there is some division of responsibility between the DSS and the Treasury. Have I expressed the noble Lord's view correctly?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am glad of that at least. The noble Lord put that point to me on a previous occasion. I simply do not recognise that description. There are two points involved. First, it is obvious that the Treasury is acting on behalf of all of us as custodian of public money. Indeed, it is the usual cliche: the Government do not own the money; it is our money, taxpayers' money. The Treasury has to ensure that it is prudently and wisely spent and that the flows of expenditure and income match appropriately.
Secondly, we do not doubt that the Treasury has a housekeeping role. However, to assume from that that the Treasury is not therefore an advocate for investments in social policy is simply wrong. One only has to look at the experience of the past two years where, under this Chancellor of the Exchequer, leading a Labour Treasury within a Labour Government, we have seen an increase in real terms in child benefit which is far greater than anything that happened during the preceding 18 years. We have also seen £40 billion of investment going into health and education--a far greater amount than anything in recent years. We have seen a commitment of resources to the minimum income guarantee for pensioners and a commitment of resources to the New Deal and to the working families' tax credit. Indeed, we have seen a commitment of resources towards alleviating the poverty of disabled people, of children and of pensioners.
We have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who does not hoard money. He believes in investing in the common wealth of this country, which is the human capital of our people. He wants business, the Treasury and departments to invest to ensure that we are spending on creating strength and opportunity for people and not simply continuing, as in the past, to spend money to perpetuate people on benefits in ways which lock them out of the mainstream of society. I do not have to predict what the Chancellor is going to do. We have to look at what has happened in the Budget over the past two years. We have seen greater expenditure and investment in people and public services than anything thought conceivable even three years ago.
Lord Swinfen: The noble Baroness appears to be legislating for one person as Chancellor of the Exchequer. They come and go. Others may well be in the Chancellor's shoes in the future. In addition, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in the extremely fortunate position of inheriting a sound economy and benefiting from that which may not always be the case. The trouble in the Balkans at the moment could flare up and become very expensive. There may well be problems in raising funds to give away on tax credits. We may then be in a very much more difficult position. To have one person only responsible for reducing the expenditure of departments and the same person responsible for ensuring that people have adequate tax credits is not satisfactory. I am sure that the noble Baroness will not agree with me, but to my mind that is not satisfactory.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It is understandable that the noble Lord speaks about the experience gained in 18 years of Tory government in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer may very well have served as a block on the development of social policy. That is not the case under the Labour Government.
Lord Higgins: The remarks of the noble Baroness a few moments ago are quite extraordinary unless one assumes, as appears to be increasingly the case, the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes over everything. The whole basis of the Government's spending arrangements is for departmental Ministers to press their claims for increased expenditure and greater priority for their particular department. That is the way it works. In turn the Treasury tends to say no and a compromise is eventually reached. The idea that one can forget that and that the Chancellor will decide every priority without reference to the department is unrealistic and likely to prove disastrous. I believe we are going rather wide of the amendment. I do not believe that that is the way in which these matters work. If we had the kind of situation that the noble Baroness described it would be very dangerous.
As regards the more substantive matter, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is saying that, given the switch from one ethos to another, namely, the DSS to the Inland Revenue and the Treasury, there is need for advice. His amendment seeks to ensure that the Social Security Advisory Committee, which is expert in these matters, is able to give that advice to a department not familiar with that particular area. It seems to me that the noble Baroness's response reinforces the case for the noble Lord's amendment.
Earl Russell: I am not going to reply to the party political broadcast. I wish to get back to the amendment. If I understand the noble Baroness correctly, she is saying that the central point against the amendment is that the function of the Social Security Advisory Committee is to advise the Secretary of State for Social Security. I understand that. Were that not the case the amendment would be unnecessary and I am sure that that is not the case.
I am also sure that the Minister has piloted through this House far too many Bills dealing with the transfer of functions to argue that it is impossible for Parliament to transfer functions should it wish to do so. Parliament could perfectly well give the Social Security Advisory Committee the power to advise the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or anyone else. It is not impossible. The point at issue is simply whether Parliament wishes to give the committee that power. I would argue that there is a strong case for doing so because we are transferring to the Treasury an area which, even if it is not a pure social policy issue, is an issue which has quite considerable social policy implications.
Without wishing to make any pejorative reflections on the Treasury whatever, that is not the Treasury's normal sphere of expertise. It is also a sphere in which expertise is not as readily available to the Treasury as it has hitherto been to the Department of Social Security. I argue that, if we made the expert advice of this extremely high quality committee available to the Treasury, we could save us all a great deal of trouble.
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