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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, with regard to our discussion in this Chamber on a previous occasion, it seems to me that noble Lords on this side of the Chamber are not, as I fear the noble Baroness suspected, simply trying to be difficult and to be awkward legislators. We are thinking about the individuals whom this Bill will affect and the Government's aim of trying to ensure that people see that work pays. However, they will not see that work pays if some benefits which they have received under the family credit scheme may no longer be payable. The working families' tax credit may then be worth less to them. We need to know as much as possible about this matter.

If the noble Baroness cannot answer my next point now, I hope that she can give me the answer at Third Reading. What will be the position with regard to the Scots Parliament, to which health is devolved and therefore--I take it--the matter of funding free prescriptions? How will it know the amount for which it will have to budget if it does not know what the Westminster Parliament is doing from day to day about working families' tax credit? That could create an awkward situation for the Scottish Parliament. I may be wrong. There may be some interlinking of which I am not aware. Presumably the Scottish Office is one of the departments that is being consulted. Perhaps the Minister can tell us.

The Scottish Parliament is not yet in a position to make decisions and has not had time to consider its budget. Supposing that a decision is made in relation to working families' tax credit that involves Scottish Parliament expenditure. How will that legislature know how to budget? It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House, or write to me.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, when this subject was last raised, the Minister said that she could not answer for other departments. I remind her that Ministers in this House speak for the Government, unlike Ministers in the other place who speak only for their own departments. That is something of which the noble Baroness used to remind Ministers in the previous administration.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I did not say that I could not speak for other government departments but that because it was a matter for other government departments, I was not yet in a position to inform the House of the proposal. That is entirely different. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, should know better than to misrepresent my words.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I accept what the noble Baroness says, but this House has not had the opportunity properly to discuss the matter, which means that Members of the other place have not done so either.

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We must put some form of amendment into the Bill before it returns to the other place so that its Members have the opportunity to discuss the proposals.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I acknowledge, as I did a week ago, that this matter is of concern to your Lordships, who will recognise that the issue is complex. The Government are committed to providing help through the low-income scheme to those who need it. Replacing family credit and disability working allowance with WFTC and DPTC represents a major policy shift in the target group for, and delivery of, in-work support. It raises the question of whether tax credits continue to be an appropriate means of identifying the target group for other benefits such as the low-income scheme. There is no longer such an obvious alignment between family credit as an indicator of low income and the recipients of benefits through a low-income scheme. The Government have given careful consideration to that question and how any change to the current passporting arrangements might work in practice.

I cannot go further than I did a week ago when I made it clear that we will be coming back to the issue at Third Reading, not on the second day of Report stage. The Government have no wish to discourage your Lordships from having the opportunity properly to debate the proposals. I reiterate the commitment to set out the Government's intentions on Third Reading and I am happy to take a relaxed view of the discussions at that point on that issue. That will give the House the opportunity to discuss our proposals.

Amendments are not necessarily appropriate because it is not appropriate that this is part of the primary legislation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I doubt that draft regulations will be ready in time. Nonetheless, that will not stop your Lordships, when you see fit, seeking to debate the regulations in due course.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, asked about the array of passported benefits and the interrelationship between the territorial departments. Apart from passporting on to free prescriptions, which is the biggest item in terms of the cost to government, recipients of family credit are otherwise currently entitled from the Department of Health to welfare foods, such as cheap baby milk; cheap home insulation, which is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; legal advice and assistance, which is a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department or its Scottish equivalent; the remission of court charges, which is also a matter for the LCD; help with travel costs for prisoners' wives, which is a matter for the Home Office; and maternity and funeral grants, which are matters for the DSS.

Given that all those passported benefits have different implications for the territorial departments, it would be more appropriate for me to write to the noble Baroness, with a copy to the noble Lord, setting out the arrangements for each of them.

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I am sure that there will be adequate and appropriate time for discussion on Third Reading, and in light of that, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, one understands the difficult position in which the Minister finds herself, but so does the House. This is not in any sense a partisan matter. If the outcome from the Government is satisfactory, there will be no problem, but it is important that the House should have the opportunity to discuss and, crucially, to amend whatever the Government propose because that will be the consequence of the change from one system to another.

I had some difficulty getting the number of departments up to six. I identified the Department of Health, the Home Office and the DSS. Presumably they include also the Inland Revenue--although, understandably, the Minister did not mention that department.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, then there are Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, in which case the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour for her comment about devolved responsibilities. Unless I misunderstood the Minister, she did not say whether responsibilities would be devolved.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, given the six or seven different passported benefits and the seven or eight government departments if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are included separately, each has different arrangements and reserve matters. I thought it would be more helpful to write to the noble Baroness, with a copy to the noble Lord.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, that is an important point. As the noble Baroness did not give a categoric reply one way or the other, my understanding is that some responsibilities will be devolved. I do not know which. No doubt we shall discover that in the Minister's letter. If some responsibilities will be devolved, presumably any decision that this House makes on, for example, prescription charges, would create one situation in Scotland and another elsewhere.

We are all in new territory as far as devolution is concerned. But am I right in thinking that some decisions on passported benefits will not necessarily be the same in England as in Scotland, if the Scottish Parliament were to take a different view from that taken in this House with regard to England?

One hopes that the Government will come forward with statutory instruments. It seems extraordinary that at this stage the Government are still not ready. I do not go along with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, with whom we are otherwise much in agreement, that we must grin and bear it. If we do not like what the Government propose, we shall have to consider moving and voting on an amendment that will take the matter back to the other House, so that there is time to consider the Government's proposals. That would seem only fair

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in the circumstances, given the dilatory way in which the Government have been moving. Subject to that--unless the noble Baroness wishes to intervene on the particular point I have made--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 16:

After Clause 5, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The Board shall publish annually targets for the speed and accuracy with which claims are to be processed and payments are to be made.
(2) Targets published under subsection (1) above shall include targets for--
(a) the speed and accuracy with which initial claims are to be processed and paid by the Board;
(b) the speed and accuracy with which renewal claims are to be processed and paid by the Board;
(c) the speed and accuracy with which claims are to be processed and paid by the Board where the employer has failed to make a payment;
(d) the speed and accuracy with which claims are to be processed and paid by the Board where the claimant is involved in a trade dispute lasting more than one pay period.
(3) The Board shall publish annually a report showing how it has performed against the previous year's targets set out in subsection (1) above.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 16, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever. We have not previously considered the amendment, which reflects concerns that have been expressed outside.

The amendment seeks to set fairly specific targets for the Government so far as concerns the way in which the Inland Revenue carries out with speed and accuracy the tasks imposed upon it by this legislation, particularly the way in which claims are processed and payments made. A fairly major change will take place when the responsibility passes from the DSS to the Inland Revenue. Perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm that I am right in saying that the computer arrangements and the staff involved, with some augmentation--new members of staff will need to be trained--will be transferred directly from the DSS to the Inland Revenue. In that context, I am not clear whether their location will also be changed or whether they will stay physically in the same place, albeit with expanded accommodation.

One cannot help but feel that, in some respects, speed and accuracy are not likely to be improved as a result of the change. To give credit to the Department of Social Security--if not to its computer system--one recognises that, at the moment, family credit payments seem to arrive fairly much on time, unlike some other social security benefits. The speed of the Inland Revenue--its fleetness of foot, one might say; perhaps I should not say that in my present circumstances--is not

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remarkable. Very often one finds Inland Revenue payments and adjustments being carried out years after an event.

The amendment proposes that targets should be published so far as concerns these various matters. That proposal is very much supported by outside bodies such as the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux. Targets should be set not only with regard to initial claims, but particularly with regard to renewal claims--as the amendment makes clear--and to the speed with which the department deals with problems when an employer has failed to make a payment. That problem does not arise at the moment because payment is made directly. If the Government remain adamant that payment is to be made by the employer, we should have targets in order to check that it is being done speedily. One particular problem which has been drawn to our attention concerns the making of claims during a trade dispute.

As I understand it, there are existing targets for payments in some of the Benefits Agency's various operations. Indeed, in some cases they are quite tight targets which historically have been met. In short, while the CAB and others draw to our attention significant delays in the present arrangements, one cannot help but feel that both in the transitional period, and perhaps in the longer term, matters will be not dealt with as they have been previously. As there are already targets, I hope that the amendment will be acceptable to the Government.

I have two final points. First, apparently there is already a considerable backlog as far as concerns Benefits Agency payments. I am not referring to pensions and so on, but to a more general backlog. Perhaps the noble Baroness can give us some indication of that.

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