Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend has a point. Indeed, on bilateral aid, the United Kingdom has "forgiven", as the jargon puts it, over £1 billion-worth of aid loans. All our new aid to the very poorest countries has been on grant terms for many years in order to get round the problem to which my noble friend rightly draws our attention.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, when will the Government institute in relation to poor people in this country similar policies to those which they apply with regard to poor countries? What plans does the Chancellor of the Exchequer have to alleviate the debt burden that is faced by some of the poorest members of our community?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not entirely sure whether the noble Lord has got this Question mixed up with the next Question. I do not think that there is any comparison between the poorest people in the countries that we are now considering and the least well off people in our own country.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is wasting the British taxpayer's money to channel aid to those countries which have no chance of regenerating their economies unless the debt burden is relieved?

2 May 1996 : Column 1750

Therefore, will the Minister assure the House that in the Government's strategy there is a determination to bring together both bilateral and multilateral measures because, unless there is a comprehensive approach, there is no way in which this issue can be resolved?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. It is not just a question of multilateral debt, but of bilateral debt also. This country has given something like 15 countries a debt reduction of up to the limit of the 67 per cent. agreed under the so-called Naples Terms. My right honourable friend the Chancellor indicated last week that we would be prepared to go as far as 80 per cent., as did some other Ministers. We have to follow a twin-track approach of trying to help with multilateral debt through the IMF and other organisations, and of trying to help with bilateral debt also.

Child Benefit

3.32 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will resist proposals for cutbacks in child benefit.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, my Lords. Child benefit is the cornerstone of our policy for all families with children. We have a manifesto commitment to pay child benefit for all families in respect of all children, including 16 and 17 year-olds in non-advanced education. We have honoured that commitment.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I welcome that Answer. The Minister will know--he has told me so--that 25 per cent. of our children live in households which are on income support. Does he therefore agree that child benefit may be a vital part of the family budget? In particular, does he agree that it may be extremely important to a child's opportunity to stay on at school and that, however desirable improvements in education may be, funding them by raiding the social security budget may risk giving the appearance of starving Peter to teach Paul?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I agree with the noble Earl that for people on income support or with low wages child benefit is an important factor in the family income, especially as it goes directly to the mother. We have seen a considerable improvement in the past 15 years in the number of youngsters staying on at school, especially in the number of children from unskilled families who stay on in education after the age of 16. I believe that the proposal, which I gather the Opposition favour, of removing child benefit from 16 and 17 year-olds who stay on at school would damage the excellent progress that we have made since 1979.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that that is really a reallocation of public expenditure? Should we not be told what further, if any,

2 May 1996 : Column 1751

reallocation of public expenditure will occur in order to fulfil the many promises which the Labour Party has made? Does my noble friend agree that if there are not to be more reallocations of public expenditure, taxes and public sector borrowing must rise?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Indeed, I have said from this Dispatch Box on many occasions that there is a direct link between public spending and tax reforms. If one wants to increase public spending, one must explain from where the extra taxes will come. In this case the most important point is that the money will be taken from youngsters who stay on at school--something I thought everyone in this country wanted to encourage--and used elsewhere in the public spending budget. I cannot put the point any better than the noble Earl did at the end of his supplementary question.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord did not intend to look at these Benches when he referred to the removal of child benefit from 16 to 18 year-olds because we have never collaborated in any way in that highly undesirable practice. While I am on my feet, and as the noble Lord clearly understands the importance of child benefit for youngsters aged 16 to 18, will he ask his right honourable and honourable friends at the Home Office to make sure that such benefit goes to the children whom we are considering under the Asylum and Immigration Bill?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the latter part of that question is another matter to which I suspect that we shall return next week. I am thinking about children whose parents and families live in this country perfectly legally, have been here for many years, pay their taxes and so on. It seems unfair to remove child benefit from such youngsters just when they become extremely expensive. Your Lordships will recognise that a 16 year-old boy begins to look like a food-consuming machine on legs, if not on wheels. Just at the point when we hope that such families will keep their children on at school, if at all possible, it seems unfair to take away from them between £500 and £600 a year, which is exactly what the proposal of the party opposite would bring about.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as the Minister is supportive of child benefit, will he explain why, since 1979, the Government have frozen the benefit for three years and raised it by less than inflation in a further five years? Does the Minister agree that that might explain why in 1979 one child in 10 in this country was in poverty whereas today the proportion is one child in three? Is it not deeply worrying that the person most likely to be poor in today's Britain is a child?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we can congratulate the noble Baroness on her diversionary tactic. If she actually believes any of the things she has said, she ought to be ensuring that her party does not remove child benefit from 16 and 17 year-olds who stay on at school and that it does not endanger the considerable increase that we have seen during the term

2 May 1996 : Column 1752

of office of this Government in the number of youngsters who remain at school, take advantage of further education, improve their qualifications and go on to university. All of those things have increased hugely since this Government took office in 1979.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, instead of blustering, will the Minister please answer my question?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have answered the question, but, as the noble Baroness has brought me to my feet again, perhaps I should say that I have not heard an answer to the question of whether the party opposite is really going to remove child benefit from those youngsters.

Housing Bill

3.37 p.m.

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Licensing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

National Health Service (Residual Liabilities) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Civil Aviation (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Report received.

Asylum and Immigration Bill

3.39 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Power of arrest and search warrants]:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): I must inform the Committee that if Amendment No. 69 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 70.

[Amendment No. 69 not moved.]

2 May 1996 : Column 1753

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 70:

Page 5, line 14, leave out ("has reasonable grounds for suspecting") and insert ("knows").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 70 is less wide-ranging in its implications than Amendment No. 69, but it is still of considerable importance. This part of Clause 7 deals with arrests without warrant. The Bill provides that a constable or immigration officer may arrest without warrant anyone whom he has reasonable grounds to suspect has committed an offence to which the clause applies.

The clause covers a wide range of offences under Section 24(1) of the 1971 Act. It covers those aspects which are already the subject of criminal legislation: illegal entry; remaining beyond time limited leave; and failure to observe conditions of leave to remain in the country. The Bill now adds to Section 24(1) the new offence of entering or remaining by deception. There is a wide range of offences to which the clause refers. The law, as it exists under the 1971 Act, has been found adequate for the purpose of dealing with them. The trouble with saying that anyone shall be subject to arrest without warrant if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that he has committed these offences is not that it is always wrong to arrest without warrant when there are such reasonable grounds, but that these offences are capable of misinterpretation very readily by the police. For example, naturalised British citizens who have a perfect right to be in this country will in many cases be identifiable to the police by the colour of their skin or accents. If the police are engaged in a search for illegal entrants or those who are in this country without leave, they will be only too easily tempted to apprehend them if they believe that something may be wrong.

The police do not necessarily understand immigration status. With the best will in the world, on a number of occasions the police unnecessarily arrest and detain people from abroad who have a right to be in this country. I would not dream of saying that in general the police abuse their powers. However, it is well known to your Lordships who read newspaper reports of arrests--sometimes wrongful arrests which may attract compensation--that there are policemen and women in this country who take a certain view of people with different accents and a different colour of skin from those whom they assume to be of indigenous origin.

We do not want to take out the whole of Clause 7(1) and the power to arrest without warrant when that may be necessary in pursuit of the law. We do not wish to weaken the will and capacity of the police to enforce the law. But we believe that "reasonable grounds for suspecting" will in practice very often be interpreted too widely. In those circumstances, it is preferable to say that a constable or immigration officer may arrest without warrant anyone whom he knows to have committed an offence to which the clause applies. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page