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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have not detected any enormous movement of public opinion in favour of an English Parliament. The present Leader of the Conservative Party floated it as a question, but he never offered the answer and he does not seem to be asking the question any more. It is only right that the interests of Rhondda emigres should be properly looked after and I believe that they are being properly and scrupulously attended to.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, can the Minister give an undertaking that no legislation which has passed all its stages in your Lordships' House and the other place can then be delayed by any requirement of the Scottish or Welsh Parliaments, and that this House and the other place are sovereign in that respect?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to reassure the noble Baroness that the sovereignty of this Parliament remains intact. That has been said on many occasions. As I answered in response to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, a few days ago, administrative arrangements will be required to be made by virtue of memorandums of understanding and concordats, all of which were abundantly discussed when the Government of Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill were going through.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, the Government have made absolutely clear our commitment to improving the opportunities and support for disabled people. We are spending now over £24 billion on disability benefits and over this Parliament we expect to spend £2 billion more. Small targeted investment on changeover planning is essential to give the UK a real practical choice to join the single currency should that be in the national interest.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for answering the Question, although not for the Answer. Is the Minister aware that in another place today the Government are pressing Clause 121 of the Finance Bill, which gives the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and other government agencies the right to spend tens of millions of pounds before a referendum on the national changeover plan for the euro? Bearing that in mind, can the Minister explain why the social security department uses disciplines of budgets which have resulted in the loss of benefits to some people and the abolition of the severe disability allowance to others
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I do not accept either part of the noble Lord's question. What the Prime Minister said, repeated in a Statement by my noble friend Lady Jay on 23rd February, was that, if we wish to have the option of joining, we must prepare. If we do not prepare, the British people do not have a choice. As to the implication for DSS budgets, because the DSS accounts for one-third of the Government's expenditure one would expect some proportion of those national changeover plan moneys to fall on the DSS. In the current year--1999-2000--the DSS is expecting to spend £1.5 million out of its budget of £100 billion.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, despite our differences on some aspects of the welfare reform Bill, the Government deserve great credit for the many constructive and positive actions they are taking to help millions of disabled people? Is she aware also that there is genuine misunderstanding about some of the figures involved in the gains and the losses for those who are disabled? For example, the Secretary of State said on 23rd February this year that we are spending £1 billion more on disability benefits this Parliament. Yet on 20th May he said that this year we have spent £25 billion on benefits for the sick and disabled and that the sum will increase by £2 billion in this Parliament.
I am sure that there are good reasons for the discrepancy. However, can the Government draw up a balance sheet which would help the House enormously to understand the gains and losses to disabled people?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I should be delighted to provide any statistics or information that my noble friend Lord Ashley or, indeed, any noble Lord wishes to have on disability issues. It is clear that the Government's budget for disability is going up from £24 billion to £26 billion in the course of this Parliament. That is because, first, we are increasing the opportunities for disabled people to return to work, and secondly, giving extra help to children and young people, for example, through proposals for disability living allowance and mobility allowance for young children and through extra money from working families' tax credit to young children. Thirdly, we are spending money on the poorest disabled people, such as those with low incomes, by ensuring a minimum income of £75 a week--an additional £60 million of expenditure. So we are spending more money on disabled people over and beyond some of the demographic pressures that come, fortunately, with older people living longer and many of them drawing on disability benefits in their old age. As I said, I shall be delighted to share with my noble friend any information that he wishes to have.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I do not accept any of the noble Lord's points. First, the fact that we are not in the euro, and may not be, is the current situation. Therefore, in that sense, there is always the option of no change. But, equally, there will be no option of change unless we start preparing now. We want the people of this country to decide and not to have their choice inhibited by the fact that we cannot deliver because we have not invested in the work, computers, leaflets, staff training, and so on, to make such a move possible and smooth were we to go down that path.
Secondly, the noble Lord says that we have failed on a manifesto commitment to cut social security spending. What we said--and what we have delivered--is that we would cut the rate of growth. Under the previous administration the rate of growth of the social security budget was 4 per cent over the previous Parliament. Under this Administration the rate of growth is 2 per cent. The reason for that growth is primarily, and fortunately, because of the number of elderly people living longer. We have cut expenditure on the issues where the previous administration failed; namely, we have brought people back into work, unemployment figures are at their lowest ever, and more people are now in work than ever before. As a result, that frees resources to help those who cannot work and who need our support.
Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to report on the draft Freedom of Information Bill published in the Command Paper entitled Freedom of Information: consultation on draft legislation on 24th May 1999 (Cm 4355);