Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Ministerial and other Salaries Order 2001

7.36 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th July be approved [3rd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this order gives effect to Recommendation 2 of the SSRB that there should be an increase in Lords Ministers' salaries of £4,000 in two instalments of £2,000. The order also gives effect to similar increases to the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords and the Opposition Chief Whip. I fear that this is an inevitable, if lamentable, consequence. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th July be approved [3rd Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his brief introduction to the order. I have only one or two points to put to him.

First, it is worth reading these documents because a little germ of information is always found. I was interested to discover that the Attorney-General is paid more than the Lord Privy Seal. Since the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal was the Attorney-General in the last Parliament, that means that he has taken a pay cut in order to become the Leader of the House. I wonder whether that is a worthwhile sacrifice--a question I put to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Can the noble and learned Lord explain the discrepancy, since he was the first and original holder of the post of Attorney-General in this House?

Secondly, I discovered to my cost that during the period of the dissolution, Members of the Opposition in receipt of a salary were not paid. On further research I discovered that Ministers were paid, as were the chairmen of our various committees. Can the noble and learned Lord explain the position to me? He does not need to tell me immediately because he may not have the information to hand. However, I should like to know on what legislative basis that was done.

Finally, I take it from paragraph 2(b) that the commencement date is from 1st April 2002. Does that mean that those Ministers who left office after the election will now receive their severance pay at the new rate? Furthermore, can the noble and learned Lord tell the House whether the severance period has increased from three months to six months, as I believe it should?

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise to say that we have no objection to this order. No doubt if we want capable people to accept these offices, they must be paid a reasonable salary. In many cases I have to say that, even with the increases provided for by the order, the salaries they will receive are substantially lower

23 Jul 2001 : Column 1750

than they would command if they were acting in professions or business outside your Lordships' House.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as regards the difference between ministerial and Opposition salaries. There is always government, but in time of dissolution there is no Parliament and therefore there can be no parliamentary salaries.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful for the comments of the noble Lord sitting on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench; namely, that we were grotesquely underpaid. All that I can say in response is to echo the words of the late lamented Noel Coward: I do so agree.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for pointing out that in my present incarnation I am distinctly worse off than I was before the election. It is always gratifying to have such points brought to one's mind. I think that it pays tribute to my continuing life of self-sacrifice in the public interest, which I shall endeavour to bear with some fortitude.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Social Security (Literacy etc. Skills Training Pilot) Regulations 2001

7.39 p.m.

Earl Russell rose to move to resolve, That this House invites Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the draft Social Security (Literacy etc. Skills Training Pilot) Regulations 2001 and to lay amended regulations which ensure that the reasons for failure to attend training are recorded and which provide that no sanction shall deprive claimants of more than 10 per cent of the sanctioned benefit.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the regulations which this Motion addresses are pilot regulations which deal with those at present in receipt of job seekers' allowance who are found to be deficient in literacy or numeracy. The regulations provide for them to be given instruction, and to suffer benefit sanctions of unspecified quantity should they refuse to take up the instruction on offer.

The effect of my Motion would be, first, to follow the suggestion of the Social Security Advisory Committee that, before any sanctions are proposed, we should discover the reasons for which people are refusing to take up that instruction; and, secondly--on minimum income grounds--to restrict any sanction that is imposed to not more than 10 per cent of the relevant benefit.

There is a good deal of common ground as well as some fairly deep disagreement between us. We agree on the extent of the problem. That is not a matter of bandying figures; the figures depend more on the definitions of "illiteracy" and "innumeracy" than on any possible counting. We all agree that it is an

23 Jul 2001 : Column 1751

extremely serious problem. We all agree that there is a serious need for a remedy and that if we can find a way of providing it, it is important that we should do so.

The first of our areas of disagreement is the use of sanctions. The Minister knows that we have a long-standing argument about the gravity of sanctions. I shall not detain the House with that issue now; the arguments are familiar. Secondly, we disagree about whether sanctions are an effective remedy for this problem. Thirdly, we disagree about whether the pilots--for these are pilots, and we welcome them as such--are adequately designed to discover which of us is right on the underlying disagreement about sanctions.

In another place, when my honourable friend Mr Heath objected to sanctions, the Minister objected to what he said on the ground that sanctions were introduced in 1911 by Lloyd George--a slightly unexpected argument for which I have plenty of answers. When the Minister can persuade me that the Government's policy on the London Underground is identical to the policy of Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison, then I shall develop those arguments. Meanwhile, I will let the matter drop.

For me, the crucial point about sanctions is that, in the network of responsibility, the responsibility to keep people alive is not contingent. We do it for condemned murderers; we do it for condemned terrorists. I could be persuaded that my view of sanctions is unnecessarily stressing the degree of severity if I were to get information out of the pipeline which was to show me that the effect of sanctions on those who suffer them is a great deal less serious than I suppose.

In that context, I should like to ask the Minister exactly what tracking will be undertaken of those who are subjected to sanctions. Will we discover what means of subsistence are available to them? Will we discover what destinations they get into? Will we discover what levels of debt they build up? It continues to concern me that the department does not keep statistics on the levels of debt among those on social security benefit. And how many of them--as the Social Security Advisory Committee, in an extremely able report, fears--will be sucked into the black economy?

The noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, knows how difficult it is to answer that question. But he also knows, and has triumphantly proved, that it is possible to make a beginning. It is a real question that the Social Security Advisory Committee has asked. To make the pilot adequate we will need some kind of an answer.

I should also like to know the answer to the question asked by Mr Boswell from the Opposition Benches in another place. Will there be a loss of benefit pending appeal? The Minister said that he would have to check that. I hope that a week has been sufficient time for that checking to have taken place.

There is then the question of whether sanctions fit the problems of people who suffer a lack of literacy and numeracy and will not attend courses. This is the area where the Social Security Advisory Committee is most worried. It is concerned that the Government are

23 Jul 2001 : Column 1752

assessing the extent of the disability but are making no attempt to discover the reasons either for the disability or for the failure to attend a remedial course. If we do not know what is the cause of the conduct complained of, how then can we know what is the appropriate remedy for it? This is a serious point. As the Social Security Advisory Committee has pointed out, these regulations will deal with people suffering from a singularly diverse set of problems.

I know that in the other place the Government agreed to make exceptions for those suffering from severe learning disabilities. That is welcome. I also welcome what was said in another place about the need to provide training, especially in recognising mental disabilities, to those who will administer these tests. I welcome that. If the Minister can add any more information to it, I shall be grateful.

I should be glad to know what is to be done about dyslexia. As the father of a dyslexic son, I know how difficult the condition can be to identify. But, with the best will in the world, in this area there will be errors. From time to time, sanctions will be imposed on people who suffer from physical and mental handicaps, and they will from time to time be punished for what is not their fault. The Minister may say that that should be borne for the sake of the greater good, but I think we must concede that there is a possibility of this effect.

I become more and more intrigued by the new Labour psychology behind this collection of sanctions, punishments and so on. It assumes, first, an extreme rationality of response among those who are subjected to these sanctions. Secondly, it assumes a calibrated, almost Benthamite, response to punishment. It comes, curiously, from a party which has experience of whipping Lord Houghton of Sowerby.

It is also rather curious to imagine these things happening to the same people at the same time. Those who possess the extreme rationality assumed in this universe usually know that they need to learn to read anyway; the question of punishment does not come into it. As soon as you are dealing with people who did not learn to read, or did not want to learn to read, you are dealing with people who are outside this perfectly rational universe and from whom you may get responses other than the totally rational ones these regulations presuppose.

In fact, the punishments will fall on those least likely to respond to them in the way desired. They will fall on a combination of the inadequate and the bloody minded, on those who suffer from an inability to read--the handicapped, the disadvantage or the neglected, who sometimes respond by treating the world in the way they believe the world has treated them--and on those who never wanted to learn to read. This is a matter of more importance than we sometimes allow.

My wife can still remember when, at the age of three and a half, she began to want to read. When all the adults in the car burst into fits of laughter at what she now recognises as a Guinness advertisement, she was so infuriated at being shut out from the joke that she

23 Jul 2001 : Column 1753

became determined to read, and learnt to do so in two weeks. Whereas I, on the other hand, never succeeded in learning algebra because I never wanted to know what "X" was.

The people who will be caught by these regulations are people rather more like me than like my wife. I do not think I would have begun to want to know what "X" was if I knew I was going to be deprived of benefit for not knowing. I would instead have become extremely angry. I shall not use the word "bloody minded", but if people chose to use it, I would not necessarily feel that I could refute it.

When you are dealing with education, the trouble is that you can take the horse to water but you cannot make it drink. You can make people attend the classes, but you cannot make them want to learn. So the pedagogic basis for the regulations is extremely dubious. The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has expressed considerable doubts about the proposals. It says:


    "We are concerned . . . that the imposition of benefit sanctions represents neither a necessary nor an effective lever for change and are actively unhelpful in redressing the nation's basic skills problem".

I agree; and I speak for my noble friend Lady Sharp as well as for myself.

If we find the reasons for non-compliance and if the people who are subject to sanctions are tracked so that we can assess what happens to them and weigh it against the evil that we know exists already, the pilots will judge these matters. If they do not, we shall be returning to this matter in a year's time or less. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House invites Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the draft Social Security (Literacy etc. Skills Training Pilot) Regulations 2001 and to lay amended regulations which ensure that the reasons for failure to attend training are recorded and which provide that no sanction shall deprive claimants of more than 10 per cent of the sanctioned benefit.--(Earl Russell.)


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page