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We, on these Benches, will not oppose them but I remind the Minister that these are part of what was a very controversial piece of legislation. We all--all five of us--remember the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act and I am sure that the Minister will not want to be reminded of the Back-Bench rebellion in both Houses.
This evening I give only one example of the controversial aspect of these regulations. They appear to be another attack on pensioners by increasing the means testing of those people who have saved hard for their retirement and they will simply discourage them from saving. The latest figures from the House of Commons Library show that under this Government's pensions policies, by 2003 between 55 per cent and 59 per cent of pensioners will be on means-tested benefits.
The Government claim that this is all part of their modernisation of welfare. Will the Minister confirm that before the regulations were finalised full consultation took place, particularly with the relevant interest charities? During the passage of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, a number of my noble friends and I were contacted by a large number of charities with serious concerns about different aspects of the Bill. I have no doubt that the noble Earl was also contacted.
One organisation that we consulted widely during the passage of the Bill was the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. I contacted that organisation this afternoon. Rather to its surprise, and to my surprise, it had received no contact from the Minister's department and has been given no opportunity to comment on the regulations. Does the Minister agree that that is just the sort of organisation which should have been consulted?
Earl Russell: My Lords, clearly, these regulations arise out of old battles. The Minister may be relieved to hear that I do not intend to revisit those old battles. She knows perfectly well what I think; I know perfectly well what she thinks. We need not go through that again. That is water under the bridge and there is quite
However, it strikes me that we are dealing here with concessions which were made during the process of negotiation to get that Bill through. I do not believe that we often realise quite how much value there is in the process of political negotiation, compromise and concession. What has come out of it here is, as the Minister said, entirely beneficial. It is small but so are raindrops. Put them together and they get to be quite a lot. It is really quite an important process and when we are engaging in it, I do not believe that we always remember how important it is.
I am as happy about the drafting of the regulations. They are the most difficult regulations to understand since the first regulations that I dealt with on this Front Bench. I absolutely tore my hair out in relation to those. This time I relied on the Minister to give a clear, comprehensible explanation, which she did. I thank her for that. I wish the draftsman would follow her example.
I take the Minister's point about the acrostic quality of much regulation on social security matters, but I ask the Minister, or someone in her department, to look at the speech made on the last amendment to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, in relation to the virtues of the Keeling schedule. That would make matters a great deal more intelligible for those who have to deal with them. Of course, the law is made for the public, who need to understand it as much as we do, and if we cannot understand it I wonder how on earth they can. If anything can be done to make the drafting of the regulations more intelligible it would help.
I shall not repeat everything that the Minister has said, but on the general summary of the regulations we have concessions on contribution conditions and we have concessions linking the regulations with the 1998 concession on linking rules, for which I believe the Minister herself deserves a good deal of credit. I thank her for that. There is also the concession, for which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Rix, deserves credit, for people disabled in youth and the extension to people--for example, students--who are in no position to make contributions, those who are disabled between the ages
On the disabled persons' tax credit, I am glad that the Minister grasped the mettle of the problem of contribution conditions for those who are below the lower earnings limit. Again, that is something for which I believe the House owes her some thanks. I have left the whole business of the Bill, but we should thank the Minister for small mercies, and there are quite a lot of them. I am glad to have them.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for welcoming the regulations and for notifying me of two points that they wanted to raise so that I was able to check with officials that I understood them fully.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, made a general point on means testing. That was part of the debate that we had in the summer and the summer before that. As a result of the Government's policy, both in terms of the minimum income guarantee and pensioners' credit but, above all, the state second pension, the number of pensioners who otherwise would need to rely on means testing will be reduced. However, as the noble Lord must surely accept, a problem arises in that overall pensioner incomes have increased by 64 per cent--the top 20 per cent by 80 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent only by about 27 per cent--and therefore there is an increase in inequality. So if the same amount of money is given to all pensioners the differentials of inequality will be preserved, but if one seeks to target, as the Government are doing, by definition people's financial needs and resources have to be taken into account. The answer is targeting but we all have to seek to overcome the old stigma associated with the words "means testing" to ensure that people take up their entitlement as is there right and as of right. I am sure that we do not disagree on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, told me that he would raise the issue of consultation. Formally we do not have to consult because regulations issued within six months of the passing of the Bill do not need to go out to consultation, but as I believe I promised the House at the time, we consulted with the two leading organisations on disability involved in the regulations, Mencap and the Disability Alliance, the umbrella organisation for the full range of other disability organisations. Their concerns were of a technical and detailed nature and at no stage did they seek to challenge the principle of any of the regulations.
We also consulted ABI on pensions issues. I am not sure that NACAB would have been the appropriate body for these regulations. However, I believe that we would have taken heed if either Mencap or the Disability Alliance raised issues on which NACAB would have had an appropriate voice. As noble Lords have recognised, these are technical, detailed disability regulations and we consulted the leading disability organisations.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, kindly gave me notice that he is concerned about what he pleasingly calls the "Humpty-Dumpty" quality of regulation 17(5). Normally if someone were in full time education they would not qualify for incapacity benefit. Therefore this regulation is needed to ensure that they can so qualify while in full-time education. As I say, full-time education is defined for the purpose of the regulation. It does not treat someone as being in full-time education if they are not, but it allows someone who is in full-time education to claim IB at the age of 19. Normally full-time education would exclude someone from incapacity benefit. That may cover a range of contingencies, so the noble Earl was correct. It is entirely a benefit provision. The fact that someone is in full-time education is not a bar to claiming IB, which otherwise would be the case.
Although many noble Lords were at odds as regards the main thrust of the Bill, I share with the noble Earl my appreciation for the constructive way in which we have been able to amend the original proposals in the Bill to ensure that small groups of people who, through no fault of their own, would otherwise fall through the cracks, have been given the protection to which they are entitled. I hope noble Lords will agree to accept the draft regulations so that they become substantive regulations.