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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: For the sake of clarity, the important table in the Red Book is table B9 on page 154. Although that does indeed emphasise and highlight the Government's definition, which is,

As far as the issue of accounting conventions and the Office for National Statistics is concerned, the noble Lord will know that ESA 95, which is the most recent European convention on national accounts, was adopted by the Office for National Statistics in November 1998, and the speech which I was not able to give, either a few weeks ago or today, goes into some detail as to why it is appropriate for the Government to adopt those European standards for its national accounts, which are correctly a historical record, and to use the different definition,

    "Net taxes and social security contributions", which is that which is used in the Red Book and which is more appropriate for the purposes of the Red Book.

Lord Higgins: Does a net social security contribution appear as a positive or a negative in this context?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The,

    "Other receipts and accounting contributions" are added to the net taxes and social security contributions in the table which is headed "Current receipts".

Lord Higgins: Following the developments to which the noble Lord referred, will it still appear in the next Red Book as an accounting and other adjustment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It will appear in the same way in the Red Book, but the noble Lord will also have access to the national accounts, which will give the figures in accordance with European conventions. As the Treasury Select Committee demanded, the Government are being entirely transparent and are using the appropriate measures for appropriate purposes.

Lord Higgins: On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 26:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause--

Passported Benefits

(" . Recipients of a tax credit shall be entitled to the benefits to which claimants of family credit and disability working allowance were entitled under the National Health Service (Travelling Expenses and Remission of Charges) Regulations 1988 as they had effect immediately prior to the coming into force of this Act.")

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 26 is grouped with Amendment No. 27, both in my name. With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak to both of them.

The first amendment deals with the issue of "passported" benefits. That matter has been raised on a number of occasions during our discussions, but I believe that this is the appropriate place to deal with it and to receive a response from my noble friend the Minister.

Family credit claimants have free prescriptions, dental treatment, glasses and sight tests. They are also entitled to help with maternity and funeral expenses from the Social Fund. The Government have said that those who are presently entitled to "passported" benefits because they receive family credit will continue to be entitled to such benefits when the working families' tax credit is introduced. However, I am informed that it is not clear whether the entitlement would continue beyond the end of the current award on 5th October 1999. Moreover, in evidence to the Social Security Select Committee on 28th October 1998, the Inland Revenue was unable to say whether these "passported" benefits would be transferred to the WFTC and the DPTC.

The intention of the amendment is to provide for that to be done. The increased generosity of the tax credits will otherwise be undermined if the charges referred to as "passported" benefits are to be met by the families

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benefiting under the new legislation. "Passporting" will help to ensure that families in low-paid work retain access to vital medical treatment and other services. It seems to me that this is a very simple issue and I do not intend, at this point in our discussions, to make any further comment on it.

Amendment No. 27 deals with school meals. Children whose parents are in receipt of income support and income-based jobseeker's allowance are entitled to free school meals. Children whose parents receive family income supplement, which was the precursor of family credit, were similarly entitled, but when family credit replaced family income supplement that entitlement to free school meals was withdrawn from working families.

The Government have often recognised the importance of school meals. According to the most widely accepted definition, there are about 2.8 million school children living in poverty in the UK and yet only about 1.8 million have an entitlement to a free school meal. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, up to 30 per cent. of children do not go home to a cooked meal. Even mild under-nutrition affects concentration and cognition. Improvements in the nutrition of school children should reduce the risk of chronic degenerative and other diseases in adult life. To extend free school meals is an investment in our children's future.

The combination of WFTC, the minimum wage, increases in child benefit and other measures in the March 1999 Budget will increase the number of families able to meet a low cost but acceptable budget. The extension of free school meals to families in receipt of WFTC will increase that number still further.

I understand that the argument can well be made that the amendment asks for something extra. The recipients of family credit did not have an automatic right to free school meals, but the cost of what is being asked for in this amendment is not excessive when one recalls that the future health and wellbeing of children is at stake. The cost of extending free school meals to all children of WFTC recipients is estimated at £410 million; £210 million if it is limited to children under the age of 11 years.

I hope that my noble friend is prepared to give this a sympathetic hearing as she knows that I fully support the Bill. These are probing amendments. I should welcome a response from the Government on these important issues.

Lord Swinfen: My name is added to Amendment No. 26. I am delighted to support the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, particularly as this was a point that I raised at Second Reading which, as far as I recall, was not answered. However, I am aware that the Minister could not answer every single point. It is extremely important that disabled people, who very often rely to a considerable extent on the National Health Service, have these passported benefits. Without them, very often they will be unable to work.

Apart from purely health service benefits, will these tax credits be passported through to the social fund maternity payments, funeral payments, help with home

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repairs and with energy efficiency, which these people receive at the moment, free legal advice and assistance and assisted prison visits? One must bear in mind that assisted prison visits may well help to prevent the break-up of families. It is important for families to stay together. If families break up it is far more costly to the nation as a whole not only financially but in regard to the effect on the children, who need a family with both parents in it to ensure that they grow up to become responsible members of society. I am delighted to support the noble Baroness in this amendment.

Lord Higgins: I too support the noble Baroness. Passported benefits are very important. We touched on this matter in earlier debates. As my noble friend said a moment ago, it is of particular importance to the disabled, not least with regard to medical treatment. When we discussed this matter at an earlier stage the noble Baroness indicated that part of the problem was that, because of the way in which the taper worked, a lot of people with incomes way in excess of £20,000 would suddenly get benefits to which they had not previously been entitled. This is obviously a difficult area. When the matter came before the Select Committee, the Inland Revenue was unable to give an answer. At the moment we still do not have an answer. I think the Government will accept that the Bill should not go through without this point being clarified.

With all the arguments, difficult though they may be, I would have thought that a view would have been taken before now. Can the Minister tell us the conclusion of the Government's consideration or can she at least let us know at what stage we are likely to hear what is happening about what is clearly a very important matter and one which is giving grave concern to people outside who feel that a reasonable solution will not be found?

Lord Goodhart: I welcome the amendment because it raises an important subject for discussion. It would be profoundly unfortunate if those who have incomes with levels which would currently entitle them to family credit and therefore to passported benefits were to be deprived of those passported benefits. However, I can see that the Government have an arguable case for saying that, with the much higher reach up the income scale of the new working family tax credit, there may be a case for not extending the passported benefits to everybody at the higher income levels. The main point here is that we are now within five months of the start of working family tax credit and we still do not know what the levels of passported benefits will be. It is important to know the position before the Bill is passed.

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