20 Jul 1998 : Column 573

House of Lords

Monday, 20th July 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Lord Clement-Jones

Timothy Francis Clement-Jones, Esquire, CBE, having been created Baron Clement-Jones, of Clapham in the London Borough of Lambeth, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Hamwee and the Lord Razzall.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

Brian Mackenzie, Esquire, OBE, having been created Baron Mackenzie of Framwellgate, of Durham in the County of Durham, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Dormand of Easington and the Baroness Hilton of Eggardon, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Lord Lovat--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his grandfather.

Palace of Westminster: Peers' Office Accommodation

2.50 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What are the main impediments to providing reasonable accommodation for Peers in the Palace by October.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, the House has been increasing steadily the amount of space for Peers' office accommodation and negotiations are under way to acquire further accommodation for the House. However, the large increase in the number of Peers in the past two years has meant that the House has been unable to provide desks for all those who have requested them. However, I am hopeful that we shall be able to occupy new accommodation in 2000.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many Peers now regard the problem of desks and telephones as very serious? It is causing all sorts of difficulties. It is felt that there is a desire for some short-term solution. Does my noble friend accept that problems of this kind tend to require a number of smaller solutions rather than one "big bang" solution? Is he further aware that there is a considerable level of concern that not all the options have so far been fully considered by the House authorities in order to minimise this wretched problem? Will my noble friend

20 Jul 1998 : Column 574

raise the matter with the House authorities and the usual channels with a view to examining all options in order to make as big a dent in the problem as possible? In addition, will he prepare a report as soon as possible after the House returns from the Summer Recess and place a copy in the Library?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am well aware, as are your Lordships' committees which deal with these matters, of the serious need for additional accommodation for your Lordships. I have to some extent to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux. I cannot offer an immediate, short-term solution by October, but your Lordships' committees and the other authorities of the House have been searching for new accommodation, and, as some of your Lordships will know, accommodation has been found in Millbank, which is relatively close to your Lordships' House.

A point which will, I think, not be known to many of your Lordships is that at the last meeting of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of your Lordships' House a working group was set up consisting of the usual channels, the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers and one or two others, assisted by Black Rod and the Clerk of the Parliaments, to go into the question of the allocation of the new accommodation which we hope will become available with the conclusion of the negotiations. I hope that we shall have adequate accommodation for your Lordships through the acquisition of the new accommodation in Millbank.

Lord Gainford: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there will be any extension to the car-parking facilities at your Lordships' House?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, strictly speaking, that is a different question. It is one of the two most thorny questions which exercise the minds of your Lordships, the other one being the Question on the Order Paper. It is a matter which is constantly being considered.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that on these Benches we have introduced the principle of desk-sharing? If other parties were to introduce that, the problem would be substantially alleviated. I do not say that the system is an overwhelming success all the time, but I believe that my colleagues behind me appreciate the effort that is made to ensure that we use the available space as wisely as possible.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Opposition Chief Whip, for that point. That is a way of easing the accommodation problem to an extent, and I believe it is a practice that is followed in other parts of your Lordships' House.

I know there is concern in all parts of your Lordships' House that some of the desks that have been allocated through the various usual channels and the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers are not fully used.

20 Jul 1998 : Column 575

That is unfair to the usual channels, to the Convenor and to your Lordships generally. I suggest that that is something that needs to be looked at more closely in the hope of tightening up the system and relieving the pressure on desk space.

Lord Milner of Leeds: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many desks are occupied by hereditary Peers?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I shall need notice of that question. I shall write to the noble Lord with the Answer. I venture to observe that noble Lords who happen to be hereditary Peers play a considerable part in the service of this House and, speaking of them as, for example, Deputy Speakers, I do not know what I would do without them.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, invented the system of desk-sharing, which works very well among the Cross-Benchers?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the Convenor, the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, for instancing yet another way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, has helped us in the service of the House.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, could the noble Lord encourage noble Lords not to leave their papers and books on desks when they are absent for a number of hours?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples. I think she overestimates the powers which I have. I have no doubt that others of your Lordships will have taken note of what the noble Baroness has helpfully suggested.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, would it be possible to ask the usual channels to consider whether this is the obvious, ideal way of dealing with a problem of this kind, in keeping with the dignity of the House?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, no doubt many of your Lordships will feel that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has made a valid point. I am, as always, at the service of your Lordships. I have to accept what your Lordships say and try to answer it if I can.

Social Security Benefits: Means-testing

2.57 p.m.

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the statement made by the Minister of State, Department of Social Security in a broadcast regarding means-testing of social security benefit on Sunday 31st May represents government policy.

20 Jul 1998 : Column 576

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, I confess that I am somewhat baffled by the noble Lord's Question. Of course, my right honourable friend Mr. Frank Field always speaks for the Government, although there may be occasions when the thinking of the rest of us has not quite caught up with that of my right honourable friend.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that courteous and somewhat ambiguous reply. Is it not extraordinary that, since the Minister for Welfare Reform gave his Jonathan Dimbleby LWT interview, his pensions Green Paper has been delayed yet again by the Chancellor and that last week the Chancellor himself pre-empted a major part of it by announcing changes in the national insurance pension scheme which must involve means-testing, something which the Government said they would not do? More important, is it not clear that, following the evasive answers given by Mr. Field in the interview, the Government have now completely reversed their declared policy of paying for increases in the health and education budgets by cuts in the social security budget? Is it not the case that all three budgets are now planned to increase, with very serious implications for the PSBR, for interest rates, for employment, for the exchange rate and for the economy generally?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I think there were nine questions there; I shall try to deal with the two substantive ones. The first question the noble Lord raised was whether the changes on pensions announced by the Chancellor, repeated on Friday in the Statement by my right honourable friend Harriet Harman, represented a change in the national insurance pension system to a system that will be means-tested. No, that is not the case. The national insurance basic state pension remains, as our manifesto made clear, the basic building block of our pensions policy. However, we are saying that pensioners need a second pension. It is desirable that that second pension should be an occupational or personal pension, but pensioners would have needed to start building that many years earlier when they were young people. We have the problem now that the poorest pensioners, mainly women, did not have that opportunity to work. We are seeking to ensure that they receive an increase in the income support premium and that they are guaranteed access to it. That was the purpose of the Statement last week: to ensure that the poorest pensioners see an increase in their pensions of a minimum of £5 per week.

The noble Lord asked also whether that represented a U-turn on government policy and whether we were failing to cut social security expenditure and divert it to health and education as promised. Again, that is not true. If the Government look at their expenditure figures, in the last Parliament social security expenditure rose by 3.9 per cent. annually. This year and for the rest of this Parliament it will rise not by 3.9 per cent., but by 2 per cent. annually; in other words, the rate of increase that was exponential under the Conservatives has been capped under Labour. What is more, the percentage of social security expenditure is falling from 12 per cent.

20 Jul 1998 : Column 577

to 11 per cent., falling also as a percentage of GDP. In relation to both questions asked by the noble Lord, he is incorrect.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page