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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I do not think that is the case. I do not want to take up your Lordships' time by taking the noble Lord through the changes that relate to DPTC for those people below the lower earnings limit and those people with progressive illnesses. We have addressed those matters in debate. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that he has perhaps misunderstood the impact of the Government's proposals together with the changes the Government have made in response to some of the fears he has expressed. His fears in this respect are groundless.
As I say, we have moved considerably on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, emphasised that the Government were increasing means testing. That is a bit rich when in 1979 when the noble Lord's party was in government something like 13 per cent of social security was means tested and in 1997 the figure was something like 34 per cent. If any government has moved away from contributory benefits to means testing, it was the previous administration. Under this administration the amount of benefits being means tested has fallen, mainly because the Government have expanded access to non-contributory, non-means tested benefits. In this Bill the contributory principle is being extended to widowers for the first time. Therefore, I hope that in the light of those comments the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, will reflect that perhaps his fear, too, is groundless.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. The point I was making concerned the inconsistency of government policy in relation to these amendments. These amendments extend means testing to particular disadvantaged groups. But at the same time the Government are spending money in areas where people are not means tested on a substantial scale. We are getting government by sound-bite as regards that particular concession while overlooking the inconsistency in the clauses that we have before us this evening and the way in which the Government are approaching policy generally.
As regards the second point raised by the noble Lord that we are extending television licences without means testing, is he seriously saying that we should be means testing the rights of people to have free television licences if they are over 75 years of age? I did not hear that from the Front Bench when I was in the Gallery today. I did not hear Mr. Willetts ask whether he had permission to say that the position of the Tory Front Bench is now that one should means test pensioners before they have a winter fuel payment or free television licences. Is it now the policy of the Opposition Front Bench that pensioners should be means tested if the Labour Party proposes it, but they should not be if the Tory party proposes it? I suggest that the noble Lord opposite offers some consistency in his arguments tonight.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, that is not the argument. We understand what is being done as regards the benefits to which she has just referred. But the Government are means testing people who are on disability benefit. That is what we are debating this evening, not what happened in the past. The amendment before us means tests people who have an occupational pension and that is wrong.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, but his position on the Front Bench seems to be to own up to nothing that was done by the previous administration since he was last a Minister under the Heath government. I suggest that he takes some collective responsibility for the things done by the previous government rather than making charges against us which are ill-founded.
Lord Rix: My Lords, I am sorry to return to this matter. In the debate last night in this House the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, quoted figures showing that there are 310,000 poor people likely to be affected by loss of incapacity benefit. That is the figure I was proposing to carry forward to the year 2001--people who may eventually require income support.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am absolutely baffled by what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has said. The people affected by the government changes are those who have an occupational pension well above the income support rates together with IB which will taper out for most of them at somewhere between £12,000 and £14,000 according to family circumstances. Income support is simply irrelevant to the argument. If a person has the kind of occupational pension we are talking about, 90 per cent of those on
As regards the government amendments, we are exempting a further 120,000 people, which is the nature of our change. But tonight we are not really talking about numbers. We are discussing whether this Bill should be delayed still further as compromises go to and from the other place. My noble friend has suggested that perhaps the other place should be given yet another opportunity to consider yet another amendment or, to quote the noble Earl, Lord Russell, there is still time for further movement. I point out to him that through a succession of three votes the number of Labour rebels in the Commons has fallen progressively from 67 to 53 and then to 42 and the Government's majority has risen progressively from 40 to 60 and then to 80.
Let us be clear: the House of Commons is content with the Government's position and has made its contentment clear on three occasions. I suggest to your Lordships that it is now quite clear that any amendments--new amendments, repeated amendments, fresh amendments, discovered amendments--will not reduce the Government's majority; on that pattern, they will probably increase it.
I repeat what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said on many occasions, including today: there are no further concessions. The Government have compromised; the Government have moved; the Government have listened; and this is the Government's position. I gently suggest to your Lordships that we should not delay proceedings any further; delay will not extract anything further for disabled people.
To repeat, this is a good Bill. We have listened and we have moved on disability benefits. In addition we are also producing the opportunity for stakeholder pensions for 5 million people for the first time. We are setting up the new ONE service, which will bring opportunities for work and employment to some of the most marginal people in our society. We are extending bereavement allowances to widowers for the first time alongside widows. Above all--this is something that is very dear to my heart and, I know, to your Lordships--we are putting pension sharing on divorce on a statutory basis. Each year, as women and men together face the tragedy of divorce, they will at least know that they will have a fairer disposition of marital assets. We fought for this in opposition--all of us around the House fought for this in opposition. The great lady Nancy Seear was one of those who led us. I am delighted to see it in the Bill now.
This is a good Bill. It helps women, it helps the low paid, it helps those who are most severely disabled, it helps the poorest disabled, it helps women facing divorce, it helps men facing bereavement. We have discussed this; the Commons has considered it; I know that my noble friend is not pressing his Motion to the vote. I would, therefore, urge your Lordships, with good grace and generosity, to move the Bill on and send it forward to Royal Assent.
None the less, my noble friend yesterday had the opportunity to reply to the fundamental and important issues raised in debate by many speakers. She failed to do so. Anyone who doubts that statement can read Hansard. Many of the fundamental issues raised in the debate yesterday by most of the speakers were not answered by my noble friend. She has made a good fist of trying to respond to several of the issues tonight, but yesterday was her chance to give answers so that we could take them into account. She failed to do so.
As I say, enough is enough. To me, her answer has been disappointing. I believe that my noble friend Lady Hollis and the Government as a whole are compounding their failure, their political miscalculation, by saying "No, no, no, no". We saw it in detail with the so-called concessions yesterday. We explained how inadequate they were--and now my noble friend has repeated them again and again and again. We spoke about the figures yesterday and proved how inconsequential they were. But she raised them again and again and again. However, I do not propose to go into them now.
All I now wish to do is to say thank you very much indeed to all the speakers--including especially my real friend, my noble friend Lady Hollis, with whom it has been a genuine pleasure to work. Enough of speeches. Apart from the provisions on incapacity benefit, this is a fine Bill. I wish it Godspeed. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 42D to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 42E and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 42A to the words restored to the Bill.
Before I speak to this Motion I cannot resist the opportunity to pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Ashley. I know he recognises that the Government's position is different from his own, but he has fought a gallant and generous-spirited campaign on behalf of disabled people as he sees it. We agree to disagree but I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in recognising the spirit in which he has conducted that fight.
Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 42D to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 42E and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 42A to the words restored to the Bill.--(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)