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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I wonder whether a non-farmer may ask the Government whether they realise how much we admire the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for the persistence of her questioning on this matter in the face of answers which are presumably not inaccurate but which in many cases are incomplete.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I cede to no one in my admiration of the noble Countess. She has pursued a long, and in many ways entirely successful, campaign, and has achieved a great deal over the years. I have listened to her from both the Front and Back Benches with a great deal of respect. I assure the noble Lord and the noble Countess that I endeavour to give the most complete replies of which I am capable.
The Countess of Mar; My Lords, perhaps I may thank noble Lords for their kind remarks. I am well aware that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, tries to get me accurate answers on every occasion, and for that I am extremely grateful. Does he accept that the HSE has a duty to inform employers and employees of anything like this which comes into its hands? To whom were the 30,000 leaflets sold, because I have not yet found a GP or an EMAS doctor who has ever seen it? EMAS doctors work within the HSE.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, because the leaflets were sold by bookshops there is no way in which I can tell the noble Countess who purchased them. If she believes that they are not around doctors or health professionals, I shall try to find out whether that is our view of the case. It is not what I have been told, but I shall pursue further research into that matter and write to the noble Countess.
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, all departments when considering policy changes consult widely within government to ensure that the full implications of any such changes are properly considered. The nature of such consultation will depend on the policy change in question. Her Majesty's Treasury is fully and actively involved in that process.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I explained, perhaps briefly--I now do so in a little more detail--when a policy is being considered by a department not only are officials involved at all levels but Ministers are involved. Departments look carefully at the consequences of another department's decisions, especially on their budgets, because if they feel that there is a consequence that will fall on their budget they are not slow in suggesting that there should be transfers of resources from that department to the other one.
Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, has there been research into, and have calculations been made of, the cost to the country of young people being unable to obtain social security and so unable to obtain accommodation and a job? There is therefore a great cost to the state in other ways. Has that been calculated?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend is not quite right when she says that young people cannot obtain social security. Some young people can obtain income support as can lone parents, carers, the disabled, people who have recently been in prison, and school leavers who are living independently. And, of course, there is severe hardship provision. As I have made clear on a number of occasions from this Dispatch Box, we do not believe that that is the right course of action for any young person. Young people should remain in education, have a job, or undertake training. We seek to ensure that one of those avenues is available to every young person.
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, surely the Minister will agree that while his Answer to my noble friend Lord Russell was perhaps bland rather than informative, his answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, missed entirely the point of what she asked; namely, whether there could be research into this matter so that the Minister's answers in future--it has been a long-running campaign--can be more precise.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, to choose a slightly different area, but following the same theme as the noble Earl, do the Government agree that for every pound that the DoE has cut in housing subsidy the DSS has had to pay an extra 75p in housing benefit? As a result, housing benefit has soared. The DSS is now cutting housing benefit so that families face eviction, homelessness, and bed-and-breakfast accommodation which will have to be paid for by the DoE and the local authorities. In other words, is it not the case that as the DoE cuts housing subsidy the DSS pays more housing benefit and as the DSS cuts housing benefit, so the DoE and local authorities have to pay more for homeless families? Is not that endless pass the parcel of exporting costs to some other government department as stupid as it is callous? How does that conform to Treasury guidelines?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that the DoE and the DSS have collaborated closely over the years on the question of public money going into housing. I think that the noble Baroness is attempting to suggest to the House that the Government have been surprised at the shift. Far from it, the Government decided deliberately from 1979 onwards that taxpayers' money should not be spent on subsidising bricks and mortar, as it had been traditionally, but should be spent helping those who cannot afford the rents they are asked to pay. Taxpayers' money should not be paid out to people who could afford higher rents but who were living, especially in local authority housing, in low rented accommodation at the expense of other people.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, are not the increases in crime attributable to young people who have been disentitled to benefit and who feel that they must commit theft or robbery to be able to survive without support?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, that is an interesting proposition which is of course occasionally put forward. There are two defects in it. If crime was being committed only by those people disentitled to benefit, the crime rate would be hugely and markedly lower than it is. Secondly, unfortunately, many crimes are committed by people who have yet to request benefit because they are still at school or, at least, nominally at school.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is widespread concern about the cuts in income support as regards mortgage interest, which will inevitably create more homelessness because of repossessions? Is he telling the House that the Government deliberately took that into consideration
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have debated the issue on a number of occasions. I have made it clear to the House--the arguments are there for all to see--that the policy we have pursued in respect of income support and mortgage interest will help the situation. As I have explained to the House, approximately 70 per cent. of home owners are not eligible for income support if they become unemployed. There are a number of reasons for that. They may have capital or their spouses may work, to name but two. Therefore, many people who may require help with their mortgage cannot obtain it through income support. We believe that moving to the insurance-based system, which is proving so successful, will protect not only the people who are currently helped by income support mortgage interest but also those who would not have been helped if they had fallen on hard times.
Earl Russell: My Lords, when the Minister answered my supplementary question he described the administrative method for deciding who was consulted. Would he be kind enough to tell us the method used for identifying the costs to other departments?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, these are quite complicated issues. It depends on the proposal in front of the departments at any one time. But we do attempt to quantify, especially when departments believe that on the premise on which the noble Earl's argument is based they may have extra costs. They are pretty quick to try to identify and quantify them. As I explained to the noble Earl, we have a whole range of statistics collected by government, and especially by the Department of Social Security, on which we can base our calculations of what may be the impact on other departments of any move that one department makes.
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