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Child Poverty

10. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): What assessment he has made of progress in Scotland towards the Government's target of reducing the proportion of children living in low income families by a quarter by 2004–05. [60665]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave a few moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar).

Miss Begg: While it was slightly disappointing that the Government did not hit their target on reducing child poverty, that was partly because the target was very ambitious, and it does not detract from the fact that a large number of children in Scotland have been taken out of poverty. In the next stage, the Government will obviously have to work with the Scottish Executive. There were welcome measures in the Budget, especially regarding the child trust fund, and money was also made available to the Scottish Executive for education. Will my hon. Friend discuss with the Scottish Executive how we can ensure that that money is targeted on helping to lift more of Scotland's children out of poverty.

David Cairns: May I just correct my hon. Friend on one point? Although it is true that the Government just failed to meet their target on the reduction of poverty throughout the UK, we actually exceeded the target in Scotland—we met and went beyond it. Of course, that was due to the excellent close partnership that exists between the Government and the Scottish Executive. The measures that we are putting in here, such as the child tax credit, the working tax credit and a 26 per cent. increase in child benefit, together with the measures that the Scottish Executive have put in place have, as a package, meant that we have made great progress on reducing poverty. That shows that the partnership works, and that Opposition parties that want to break that partnership—or mess about with it, as the Liberal Democrats want to do—are playing with fire.

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): Is not the fact that many of the lowest income families face benefit withdrawal rates of 70, 80, or even 90 per cent. one of the major reasons why many children still find themselves living in poverty? Is not tackling that problem, which means that many people are paying effectively higher rates of tax than the top rate of tax, vital for improving incentives to work and thus helping more children out of poverty?

David Cairns: If that were the case, there would have been no reduction in child poverty, but instead there has been a 34 per cent. reduction, which is way ahead of target. That proves that the hon. Gentleman's analysis is wrong and that the child tax credit is helping the poorest families and those on average incomes. The child tax credit, together with all the other measures that we have put in place—the working tax credit and big increases in child benefit—is the reason why we are seeing remarkable and dramatic reductions to poverty in Scotland, so I simply cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Identity Cards

11. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Whether the introduction of identity cards in Scotland will differ from the process in the rest of the United Kingdom. [60666]
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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): The introduction of identity cards is a reserved matter. The procedure for issuing them will be exactly the same in Scotland as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Bone: Is the Secretary of State happy that the people of Scotland will have a compulsory identity card imposed on them when the Labour manifesto promised a voluntary scheme?

Mr. Darling: I believe that people will support the idea that people have to identify themselves, especially for the purposes of social security payments and in relation to employment and nationality and immigration matters. The whole point of the legislation is to enable us to set up a database. Hon. Members should remember that most people are required to prove their identity now, not just to open bank accounts, but to get passports and so on. It makes sense to put that on a proper basis. When the surveys are carried out, some people are surprised to learn that most people in Scotland do not think that there is anything wrong in principle with having to say who they are when accessing a public service.

Pension Credit

12. Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the impact of pension credit on pensioner poverty in Scotland. [60667]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): Tackling pensioner poverty is one of this Government's priorities and the pension credit is helping to achieve that. In Scotland, there are currently 338,000 individuals in receipt of pension credit.

Michael Connarty: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I know that 6,000 of his constituents and 5,500 families in my constituency are in receipt of pension credit. However, there are two worrying things. During the election, it was the one issue that pensioners came to me to shake my hand on—although they do not do such things publicly in a gathering—and say that it had changed their lives and lifted them from poverty. First, is it not concerning that 1.2 million pensioners are not claiming their pension credit, the value of which is £1.6 billion? Secondly—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. One question will do in view of the hour.

David Cairns: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the pension credit is making a big difference, with an average award of an additional £40 for pensioners, and more for the poorest pensioners, which makes a big difference to poor pensioners in his constituency and in mine. Obviously, we want 100 per cent. take-up of the pension credit. I hope that every Member of Parliament will lead the campaign, as I know he is doing in his constituency, to ensure that every pensioner claims what they are entitled to, because it can make a very big difference to their lives.
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The Secretary of State was asked—

Power Commission

16. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the implications for the work of her Department of the recommendations of the Power commission. [61520]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): The Power inquiry made many recommendations about parliamentary and democratic processes and it is a welcome addition to the debate on democratic engagement in Britain.

Richard Burden: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that three issues need to be included in any effective response to the way in which the Power inquiry dealt with the problem of the public's disconnection from the political process? Does she agree that the first thing to address is the need for transparency in party funding, something that should apply equally to Opposition parties and to Government parties? Secondly, does she agree that election, not appointment, should be the cornerstone of any House of Parliament that plays a role in framing the laws of this country? Thirdly, as the Government are—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a long supplementary question. Two points are good enough.

Bridget Prentice: Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me know what the third point is on another occasion.

My hon. Friend is right about transparency in party funding. We have set up the Phillips review to look at that. We are also in positive talks across parties about that transparency. On reform of the House of Lords, he knows that there will be a free vote in this House on the subject.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Do Ministers in the Department agree with the first proposal of the Power report, namely, that there should be a rebalancing of power from the Executive and quangos to Parliament and local Government? If so, is she willing to commit her Department to talks with the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats on how we achieve that sooner rather than later?

Bridget Prentice: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post at this Question Time and look forward to engaging with him on these questions in future.

The Department will make a structured response to the Power inquiry. We will identify a number of solutions before we provide that. I know that the inquiry is looking forward to meeting people at the beginning of May to make further progress on some of the debates that it had. It has raised a number of key issues and we will want to respond to them as positively as possible.
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Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): One recommendation of the Power inquiry concerns how Parliament might have greater powers to initiate legislation, launch public inquiries and take action on public petitions as methods of communicating better with the public. Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity of the forthcoming Joint Committee on the powers of the House of Lords to look at those aspects of the way in which this House works?

Bridget Prentice: Many of those issues will be taken into account in the debates on the reform of the House of Lords. At the end of the day, it is for the Commons to make a decision in a free vote about the composition and structure of the House of Lords. As my hon. Friend will be aware, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has already met the political parties, and is holding discussions with them about the way in which we can take that discussion forward.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): I welcome the hon. Lady to her enhanced responsibilities. She will be aware that the Power commission recommended a substantially elected second Chamber, and the Lord Chancellor has begun discussions in the hope of bringing that about. Does she not agree with the commission that the main purpose of doing so is to try to establish a second Chamber that has greater legitimacy in holding the Government to account? If so, how does she reconcile that with the Labour manifesto commitment to legislate to weaken the ability of the House of Lords to scrutinise the legislation, as the two do not add up?

Bridget Prentice: I do not agree that the two do not add up. When we look at reform it is important that we decide what the relevant processes are and what the House of Lords should do. Most Members of Parliament agree that that is how we should proceed before we decide the composition. I hope that in discussions now and in the near future we can come as close as possible to consensus. There is a wide variety of opinion in the House, as was clear the last time that the issue was debated, when not one of eight options was finally agreed. There is therefore much to discuss and I am sure that we all look forward to doing so.

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