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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I know that the issue that concerns the noble Baroness is the interface between social security benefits and local authority benefits. She will also know that housing benefit is under review at the moment. It may be that specific proposals will be made to make that interface more easily understood or managed. Our hope and expectation is to have a one-stop shop. If and as long as housing benefit remains the responsibility of local

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authorities--the noble Baroness should not read anything into that--clearly there needs to be a set of information exchanges based on the IT spine. We need to ensure that we have the computer system in place before we can develop effectively a single spine of information and, as a result, access to the full array of benefits. Like the noble Baroness, as far as possible I want a one-stop shop and one body of information that goes into the system which then triggers the entitlement to an array of benefits. She is absolutely right to say that that is the only way to ensure that people get the benefits to which they are entitled.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I echo the tributes that have been paid to the noble Baroness. I apologise for the quality of my voice. To adopt an old pantomime gag, I must have been drinking out of a damp glass. I congratulate the noble Baroness on the extension of the old-fashioned mobility allowance to three and four year-olds. That is marvellous news. I also congratulate her on the passport to higher incapacity benefit for the under 20s, although I am rather disturbed that it will not take place until 2001. Like the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, MENCAP is delighted about the cancellation of the benefits integrity project. Can the Minister guarantee that those younger disabled people, including learning disabled who stay on at college beyond the age of 20, will not lose out on the transfer to incapacity benefit?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Lord's comments and his welcome for the extension of mobility allowance for the first time to small children aged three and four who may be going to nursery school, playgroups or whatever and have real mobility needs. I am delighted that the Government are able to announce today the proposal to introduce that change. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I am also delighted that those who have been born with a severe learning impairment or who have become severely disabled before the age of 20 and can therefore never seek to support themselves will get a more generous and decent level of benefit. The noble Lord asked about a young person, particularly someone with a learning impairment, who might otherwise remain in education for longer and therefore whether the cut-off point at the age of 20 would debar that individual from benefit. This is a real issue. What we seek to do is to ensure that those who cannot enter into the labour market have access to IB. Clearly, if by virtue of a learning impairment a person takes longer to complete his or her full-time education it is difficult to say that that individual should not have access to the benefit. But we need to discuss this matter and consult to see how best to deal with it. It will take time before this emerges in the form of regulations. We shall see what we can do to address the very real issue that has been raised by the noble Lord.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, there will be a good number of people on state benefits up and down the country who are absolutely delighted by what the noble Baroness has been able to repeat this afternoon. But does she believe that leopards blush? She has been rightly praised several times this afternoon for her

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knowledge of this very intricate subject, but at least in one respect she appears to have changed her views quite dramatically. The Statement praises the Government for being able to make the biggest single increase ever in child benefit. The figure is £2.95, if I have written it down correctly. The noble Baroness will recall--certainly I well remember it--fulminating about the unfairness of child benefit. What has changed? The noble Baroness appears to be confused.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me; I am sure it is my stupidity. I do not understand the point about fulminating against the unfairness of child benefit.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I shall explain because it will be useful to have an answer. In the past, the noble Baroness has made the point--I agree with her--that child benefit goes to those who need it and are deserving of it and equally to those richer people who are not deserving of it. I precised that remark by talking about the unfairness of child benefit. I repeat my question. What has changed in the Government's thinking?

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, the noble Baroness said she believed that over the lifetime of this Parliament the social security budget would rise by 2.2 per cent. a year. That must be an average over the lifetime of the Parliament. Without having read the papers, or having been able to add up even vaguely the figures announced in the Statement, it seems to me that it is an expensive Statement. Is the Minister saying that there will be an increase of 2.2 per cent. this year on the social security budget or that the 2.2 per cent. will be averaged out per year over the lifetime of the Parliament?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am not sure whether we are at cross purposes. It may help if I reflect on what the noble Lord says.

I sought to say that under this Government, as has been made clear in the CSR, our expected intent--we have no reason to think that we would depart from it--and our forecast therefore, is that social security expenditure will rise on average 2.2 per cent. Whether the figure is 1.3 per cent. or 2.2 per cent. depends on how one counts in the working families tax credit. That is the difference. I said that, within that, the growth is mainly demographically driven; that is, by the growing number of pensioners who, I am glad to say, are living longer. We are therefore cutting the expenditure in which the previous administration was engaged--expenditure on social and economic failure. I refer to the paying of benefits to people who would have liked to work but were unable to do so. That is the main difference in our policies.

The Statement today is not a cuts-led Statement. It would produce savings of only about £25 million a year by the end of this Parliament on a budget of £2,500 million. It is a principle-led one of work for those who can, security for those who cannot; and work relates to new deals, civil rights, minimum wage, and so

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on. It is security in terms of the benefits for those who have no access to the labour market and therefore need a decent and proper standard of living.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, before the Minister concludes that point, can she tell us in absolute terms how much money the Statement adds to the social security budget?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, 2 per cent. per year on £100 billion will be £2 billion.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I very much welcome the Statement, in particular the cancellation of the benefits integrity project which, as the Minister knows, has caused so much distress.

The extension of the mobility allowance to three and four year-olds will be greatly welcomed by parent carers. It is a huge step forward. However, the issue of carers benefits is absent from the Statement. As the noble Baroness knows only too well, the issue of carers' income and benefits is closely related to the issue of disability income. Can she assure me that the question of carers' income will be addressed through the national strategy for carers currently under consideration?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that remark. As noble Lords know, my noble friend will shortly leave her responsibilities with the NCA. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the work she has done for carers who for so many years have been a neglected body. I am delighted to take this opportunity to pay that tribute.

As a result in part of the campaigning work my noble friend undertook, the Prime Minister set up the national carers strategy in which we seek to integrate the work being done within the Department of Health, the DSS and the DfEE. Carers benefits are part of that consideration. However, the strategy has been only recently set up and conclusions are far from being reached.

Scotland Bill

4.44 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 23.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 108A:

Page 12, line 40, at end insert--
("(12) No decision by the Lord Advocate to grant an authorisation to a procurator fiscal under subsection (11) shall be reviewable by any court.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is linked with Amendment No. 111. It returns to an issue which I raised at Committee stage on 21st July of this year. The purpose of the amendments is self-explanatory. When the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General declines to answer a question or to

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produce a document to the parliament, or whether a procurator fiscal authorised by the Lord Advocate does so, the decision of the Law Officer should not be reviewed by a court of law. It was part of a theme on which I have spoken on a number of occasions in debates on the Bill: seeking to restrict so far as possible the role of the courts in the affairs of the parliament.

As I explained under the Human Rights Bill (which returns to your Lordships' House on Thursday of this week) for the first time it will be possible for the courts to review decisions of the Lord Advocate on certain issues as to whether or not to prosecute individuals and, if so, on what charges. I accept that that is a necessary consequence of the Bill in the terms in which it will in all probability become law. This was a related issue: to try to limit the role of the courts.

When the matter was debated previously, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate indicated that the question was of some interest to the Government. I understood from what he said that it was a matter to which he would give further consideration. Therefore these amendments are tabled in the hope that, further consideration having taken place, a favourable response might be forthcoming.

I shall be grateful if in reply the noble and learned Lord could clarify one matter. In the definition of devolution issues, sub-paragraph (d) of Part I of Schedule 6 states:

    "a question whether a purported or proposed exercise of a function by a member of the Scottish Executive is, or would be, incompatible with any of the Convention rights".
Sub-paragraph (e) states:

    "a question whether a failure to act by a member of the Scottish Executive is incompatible with any of the Convention rights".
Am I correct in understanding that the use of that language covers the acts, or failures to act, of the Lord Advocate and the procurator fiscal in the carrying out of the independent functions which the Lord Advocate has as head of the system of criminal prosecution and the system for investigating sudden deaths in Scotland? It appears to me that it does. I refer to Amendment No. 145F which the Government intend to move as an amendment to Clause 53.

I am sure the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate understands the reason that I ask the question. If the acts of the Lord Advocate and the procurator fiscal fall within the terms of the sub-paragraphs of paragraph 1 of Schedule 6 it will mean that any final decision as to whether or not an action has been in conformity with convention rights, or is compatible with convention rights, will fall to be determined ultimately by the Judicial Council rather than by the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House, as opposed to what will happen with other public authorities under the Human Rights Bill. I beg to move.

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