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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, on the issue of a further debate, I am personally sympathetic to what the noble Baroness says. This is an important issue, as the whole House knows, but that matter will be decided in the normal way through the usual channels. As to whether or not I agree with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, yes, of course I agree with my right honourable friend. There has been only one week in which the full complement of inspectors has been available. In the time available, they have undertaken some 200 inspectionsnot in the past week, but in the whole time available.
We expect there to be a report on 27th January. That is specified in UNSCR 1441. However, UNSCR 1441 is not time limited, so greater time is not an issue, and there is no deadline on reports. A progress report must be made by that date, but further reports can of course be made.
From what Dr Blix said this morning on the radio, he believes that there has been evidence that Iraq has been importing weapons-related material in violation of the prohibitions placed on it by the Security Council. However, he went on to say:
The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, is the Minister able to share the Government's response to the report presented to the United Nations Security Council last month, setting out the likely outcomes of military action for the Iraqi infrastructure? The report indicates the serious degradation of electricity supplies, with a knock-on effect on good water, food, health and sanitation. The report goes on to warn that a refugee migration is inevitable. Given the recent mobilisation of British forces to the Gulf, is the Minister able to give details of any contingency humanitarian plans the Government have in hand or in prospect?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure the right reverend Prelate that we are enormously aware of the problems that would arise from military action, not only through the serious degradation of infrastructure, to which the right reverend prelate refers, but through the appalling loss of life that would occur in an overwhelmingly young population, a matter to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham referred last week. All these issues are important. Of course Her Majesty's Government must give thought to the serious consequences of taking military action, but we very much hope that there is still time to persuade Saddam Hussein that that will not be necessary if he complies with UNSCR 1441.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, can the House assume that American and British intelligence, with proper safeguards and through their governments, will now supply Mr Blix, as he requests, with the details of where the weapons of mass destruction are hidden in this enormous country? Will that request be granted? Does the Minister accept that we on this side of the House welcome the emphasis that the Prime Minister rightly put yesterday on both British interests in an early attack on Iraq and the linkages between rogue states and global terrorism generally? Does she agree that if ultimately we have to proceed under the authority of UNSCR 1441 without a further resolution, much more emphasis needs to placed on those elements and the case for an attack in order to reassure a confused and sceptical British public?
Lord Richard: My Lords, the Government appear to be advancing the proposition that, even if the Security Council does not wish action to be taken, the United States and this country will certainly consider, and probably take, action in order to enforce a resolution in circumstances in which the Security Council does not wish that resolution to be enforced. If that is the situation, perhaps we should be told. I should be grateful for my noble friend's comments.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have not said that. I hope that my noble friend will read what I said. What I have said before in your Lordships' Houseand what my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have saidis that, if possible, we would like to secure another Security Council resolution before any military action is taken. But my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, in answering questions from the press yesterday, made it clear that it might not be possible to obtain such a Security Council resolution. In those circumstances, we would have to consider our position very carefully. I stress to my noble friend that it is our wish and our intention to pursue another Security Council resolution. That is the Government's position.
As for home reversions, we announced in the Green Paper on pensions that we would be looking at options to create a level playing field for the regulation of equity release and home reversion plans. If we decide to regulate home reversions, the likely timescale would be a consultation later this year and we would then decide, on the basis of legal advice, whether secondary or primary legislation was necessary.
Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for the announcement about regulation. It is important that at last we can lay to rest the home income plans scandals of the 1980s. Can the Minister confirm that regulation across the equity release product range will be clear and consistent? That will be very important for consumer confidence and for the industry itself. Does the Minister agree that the vast potential for most older people in releasing housing equity to increase their retirement income is not being met and that only a very narrow band of people benefit? What more can the Government do to promote equity releasefor instance, through tax credits or by looking again at eligibility for means-tested benefits?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has read the consultation paper issued by the FSA. It promises a clear regulatory system in accordance with the Sandler report, which is in favour of simplified products and simplified sales processes. While recommending that report to her, perhaps I may commend the Age Concern document, published in July last year, on raising capital or income from your home. I found it excellent and very easy to understand.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, is it not right that in the good old days, when people called a spade a spade, home equity release plans were known by their true namethat is, second mortgagesand seen as a rather dangerous way of raising money? Since then, have not the Government taught people the lesson that if you change the name of a product you can make it appear much less harmful? That is why the Government like to call means testing "targeting", spending "investment" and benefits "credits". Is it not as a result of those practices that the second mortgage, now sanitised with its new name, is responsible for pushing up the level of household debt in this country as a percentage of household income to a higher level than ever before in recorded history?
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