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Lord Carter: I should like to come in on another point with regard to the amendment. However, before doing so, perhaps I may take up a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He referred to the forthcoming Channel 4 programme and to the people who do not know any better. I understand from the pre-publicity that they all intend to vote Conservative.

Perhaps I may return to a point that we discussed on Tuesday on Amendment No. 6, which was moved by my noble friend Lady Hollis and which dealt with eligibility for benefit entitlement. I had a friendly exchange with the Minister about the budget of the DSS. I asked how much the department estimates will be spent on benefits and how much is actually taken up. I do not think I explained it particularly well but, if I may, I shall remind the Minister of what I said:

I have before me an extract from the Hansard report of the Bill's Report stage proceedings in another place. I think the answer to my question is there. It will be

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interesting to see whether the Minister can put some flesh on this point. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, Mr. Oliver Heald, said:

    "It is a clear measure of success that in 1994-95--the most recent year recorded--£9 out of every £10 of available benefit was claimed".--[Official Report, Commons, 4/2/97; col. 847.]
When the DSS agreed the public expenditure round with the Treasury, did it include the figure expecting the £10 of available benefit to be claimed or did it use a lower figure?

This is a genuine attempt to find out how the outturn corresponds with the amount the DSS expects to be claimed. The Minister said in another place that the take-up appears to be £9 out of every £10 of available benefit. Does that mean that the DSS agrees with the Treasury on the basis that £10 will be claimed? The Minister shakes his head. I shall be interested to hear his explanation of the difference.

Earl Russell: I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Carter. He said that all the people in the Channel Four Dinner Party programme intended to vote Conservative. That was this morning's information. But the Evening Standard has since followed up these people and identified them and found that no more than three out of six of them intend to vote Conservative. I have no idea for whom the others intend to vote. I hope that it is not my party and I am sure that the noble Lord also hopes that it is not his party. One of them admitted to having voted last time for the Natural Law Party. Maybe it serves a useful purpose.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: By and large I do not believe that it enhances my information in any shape or form to watch Channel 4. I do not know what the noble Earl is talking about, and neither do I intend to watch a programme on Channel 4.

Perhaps I may turn to this new clause. Much of the argument is the same as that which we went over on Tuesday. I have no intention of repeating all that I said on that occasion about uptake. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that he is confusing two quite separate issues. The first is the calculations which are made from the information collected in the Family Resources Survey and the report on take-up that we produce. That is entirely separate from the second issue, which is the way in which we and the Treasury discuss what our expenditure will be in the year ahead. In fact, we use expenditure this year to calculate, bearing in mind factors such as the inflation rate, what expenditure might be in the year ahead, and so on. The two things are quite separate.

Lord Carter: Does that mean that the department does not estimate any improvement in its success rate in increasing entitlement?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is not a conclusion that we would reach deliberately. We use the information that we have on the money that we have spent in the current financial year and extrapolate that into the future, given the inflation rate, demography, and so on to arrive at what we would expect to spend on the

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same basis. My recollection is that we tend to undershoot and normally spend a little more than we have estimated. That usually appears in the Red Book at Budget time. Quite clearly, when we do that we have supplementary estimate demands on the reserve for extra expenditure. We are hopeful that, thanks to the new payment system which will be developed along with the benefit payment card, that we shall be able to project more accurately what our requirements will be in the year ahead.

The new clause before us seeks to put in place arrangements for reports on the take-up of benefit, including the use of information as proposed in the noble Baroness's other new clause, which we have now passed by and which does not form part of the Bill. Without going into the arguments to the same degree as I did then, my response to this amendment is quite straightforward. Of course, we agree that it is important to monitor all aspects of the policy in practice. We make a great deal of effort to monitor across quite a wide field. We produce a lot of information and statistics about benefits in all their shapes and sizes and about the take-up.

Every year we publish estimates of the take-up and that is where the noble Baroness gets her figures on those matters. They include the income-related benefits such as housing benefit, council tax benefit, income support and family credit. We produce such a report annually from information that we have in other fields and extrapolate from it what benefits may not be taken up. That is the information which the noble Baroness is praying in aid in this debate as she did during Tuesday's debate. I believe that the continuation of this publication, which is not in any doubt, more than adequately meets the position for producing statistics in this area.

I do not want to go into detail as I did on Tuesday about all the ways in which we attempt to make sure that people know about their entitlement to benefit. Local authorities do the same. We tell people about housing and council tax benefit if they are on income support. If they are receiving pensions that information is in the pension book. The local authorities tell people who might claim housing and council tax benefit about other benefits to which they may be entitled.

In the current three-year period the department and our various agencies are spending something like £84 million on publicity. I have already explained the various things we do and I shall not weary the Committee by repeating my speech of last Tuesday. The important point about this new clause is that it requires reports on the take-up of benefit. I believe that the income-related benefits and the estimate of take-up in the annual report from the department's Analytical Services Division largely meets the demands of the noble Baroness. I do not see the need for this new clause.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I must say that, unusually, for the Minister, that was a rather perfunctory reply to the amendment. The amendment asks not for a snapshot of the current statistics based on that report, of which I believe we are both well aware and which I am

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sure we have both studied assiduously, but for an assessment of the progress made by an authority in identifying and maximising entitlement to benefit in that authority area. Perhaps the Minister can tell me to what extent the report that he has, with which I am very familiar, in any way meets either the requirement as to progress in maximising entitlement and speaks to the efforts of local authorities. That is what the amendment calls for and that report in no way touches it. Perhaps the Minister can help us.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I believe that I have made it clear that I believe the statistics which are collected in this report are adequate to give us a picture of the position. I do not believe that it is necessary to get each authority to produce a report. I have made that position clear. I can pad it out for the next 20 minutes, but, frankly, I do not see any point in that. We have had the argument about take-up. I believe that our present approach is the way to address the problem. The statistics that we already produce seem to give the noble Baroness more than enough information to make speeches on the subject of take-up.

Earl Russell: If the Minister does not see any point in asking local authorities to report on their efforts on take-up, why does he see so much point in asking them to report on their efforts in relation to fraud?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We are only able to produce the first and second sections of the report by getting statistical information from the local authorities and using the other information we have to try to work out an estimate within considerable margins of error--that is something which is never pointed out by the people who use the figures--about what we think the full take-up might be in contrast to the actual take-up. We work quite hard. I have explained the ways in which we gather the information we need. The local authorities also work hard in order to make people aware of the benefits and to encourage them to take them up. That is the proper way to deal with the matter, as I said on Tuesday.

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