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Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I welcome the Government's commitment to the eradication of child and pensioner poverty and congratulate my noble friend on continuing to face all-comers with her customary fortitude, even on occasion perhaps what the good and noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, calls "the termites of the Treasury". But can she say what the Government believe to be the minimum income, after rent and council tax, necessary to protect expectant mothers from being at risk of giving birth to low-weight and thus highly vulnerable babies?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I do not have a figure for a pregnant woman with or without children. However, in households of below average income, the 60 per cent figure—that is, the relevant poverty line for 2001 for a lone parent with two children under 11—is 147. Benefit levels for 2003–04 will be 147. The family budget unit, to which my noble friend refers, had it been RPI-ed, would be less than what we pay in benefits. That is a decent response to the issue.

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Lord Higgins: My Lords, does the Minister recall that, at the general election, the Government appeared to have no problem defining child poverty? Their manifesto said that in the previous Parliament over a million children had been taken out of poverty. Subsequently, official statistics showed that claim to be wrong. Now the Government say that we must change the definitions. Will there be no definition against which to judge the Prime Minister's commitment to take children out of poverty within a generation until the inquiry is finished?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I wish to make two points in response to the noble Lord. First, as a result of our policies since we came into office in 1997, 1.4 million children—not 1 million—have been taken out of poverty compared with the number that had been in poverty. I see that the noble Lord is shaking his head; I can write to him with the figures. I can assure him that they are correct. Some 1.4 million of those children who were living in poverty in 1997 are no longer living in poverty.

Secondly, we set ourselves another test, one that relates to wages rather than simply looking over and above the baseline figure from 1996–97. The test suggests that child poverty affects those children currently living below 60 per cent of median income. That means that as the wealth of the country increases, if benefits are only inflation-proofed then the gap will grow. We are one-third of the way to meeting our child poverty targets in one-third of the time. We have done very well, but we still have a long way to go. However, I am confident that our new tax credits policies will take us much further along the way.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, do the responses of the noble Baroness to the questions put by my noble friend and by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggest that one cannot define poverty as a state existing below a certain level of income but that it can be defined only in relation to the incomes of other people? Surely that cannot be poverty. If the noble Lord the Leader of the House were to be given a substantial pay increase next year, that would not make me any the poorer, would it?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, as my noble friend has just pointed out, it may not make the noble Lord any poorer; it may simply make him envious. However, the noble Lord is right. The problem with a relative measure of poverty is that one then measures inequality as much as one measures poverty. That was why, in response to his noble friend, I sought to make a distinction between what might not exactly be termed as "absolute" poverty but the benchmark of when we came into office and what we have done since then compared with relative poverty.

Following the line of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, the best way for the Government to meet their child poverty targets would be for the Chancellor of the Exchequer so to mismanage the economy that national wealth reduced. As a result, therefore, the relative

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figure would rise. However, while that would be jolly good for child poverty targets, it would be jolly bad for child poverty.

Earl Russell: My Lords, without prejudice to the first Answer given by the Minister, does she accept that there can be such a thing as an income too low for subsistence?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, it is certainly true that, for reasons I do not fully understand, some people are living on incomes below the level of benefit income. They tend often to be self-employed people who are living off their stock. However, the noble Earl will also know that the statistics with regard to people living on very low incomes are not particularly robust—indeed, they are pretty flaky.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, identified a problem. The test of measuring poverty which the Government have set themselves—the test of relative poverty—does not pick up other considerations such as the persistence of poverty. It is that persistence which scars. That is why we are consulting widely on re-measuring child poverty. I have checked that the relevant document is available in the Printed Paper Office. We have produced four ways of measuring it. At a seminar of academics and voluntary groups that I attended last week, several further methods were put forward.

We need to hold the widest possible consultation and achieve the widest possible consensus in order to arrive at a measurement of poverty that is transparent, robust and holds government to account, and, in turn, gives government proper policy levers in order to take action. If the noble Earl, Lord Russell, responds to our document, I hope that he will become a part of that way forward.

Road Safety

2.54 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with progress towards achieving the road safety targets in the 10-year plan.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to their road casualty reduction targets for 2010 set out in the strategy document, Tomorrow's Roads: safer for everyone, and will take all necessary measures to achieve them.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. In view of the fact that the recently published road safety statistics show that accidents are increasing, does he agree with the Select Committee in another place, which said that speed is a major factor in road accidents? I shall quote a phrase from the committee:


    "The Government needs to give political leadership".

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What steps are the Government taking, bearing in mind that they have tightened significantly the criteria for the siting of speed cameras; they have refused to do anything about people using mobile telephones while driving; and the fact that their love affair with the extreme elements of the motoring lobby is quite contradictory to their targets set out in the 10-year road safety plan?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the most recent accident statistics, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, describes them, should be taken in terms of deaths and serious injuries. That is the measure we take. While there has been a slight increase in the number of deaths, there is a continuing decline—as has been the case for many years now—in the number of deaths and serious injuries taken together.

It is quite true that the Select Committee pointed out that speed is one of the most significant elements in road accidents. We continue to keep speed limits under review. I should remind the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that, under certain circumstances, local authorities are empowered, without the need to refer to central government, to reduce speed limits in their own areas. Speed cameras have formed another significant element in speed reduction. There is no doubt that speed cameras work, but it is important that they should be seen by motorists as a means of reducing accidents rather than as a means of raising money for the Treasury. That would reduce confidence in our policies in general.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, evidence shows that between 800 and 1,000 people are killed each year in work-related road accidents. Can my noble friend assure the House that the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive will have sufficient resources to be able to extend their activities into this area of work?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we are aware of the Health and Safety Commission task force on this subject. We have received a report from the Health and Safety Commission on the matter, which has been placed in the Library of the House. We are now considering our response. I hope that there will be no significant delay in the Government's response to this important report.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that a major contribution to road safety has been made by the motorways of this country? Does he further agree that what is now required in order to reduce traffic congestion and gridlock, and to increase road safety, is more motorways?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think that that follows at all. It is certainly true to point out that two things have happened at the same time: the first is that there has been a continuing reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads, which is to be welcomed; secondly, accidents on

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motorways are at a lower level than is the case on other types of road, where the road area is shared by pedestrians and cyclists as well as motor vehicles. It does not follow from that at all that we should have more motorways.


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