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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, somebody who is severely disabled would get full income support rates. In addition, they would get disability living allowance of up to a further 95 a week, a disability premium of another 23 a week and perhaps even a disability enhanced premium of a further 11, at a cost of something like 7 billion in extra benefits to help disabled people meet some of the additional costs of their disability. I think that is remarkably supportive treatment from the Government and we should be proud of our record.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, notwithstanding the progress that the Government are making on tackling child poverty, the poorest group in our society are still the children of lone parents? Do the Government have any plans to extend winter fuel payments to that group?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend is exactly right. The poor in this country include pensioners and some disabled people, but, on average, while about 20 per cent of pensioners are in the bottom 20 per cent of income and only about 10 per cent—or possibly less than that—of those who are severely disabled are in the bottom 20 per cent of income, 50 per cent of the children of lone parents are in the bottom 20 per cent of income.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, will the noble Baroness answer my second question? Is it true that the 60 to 65 age group affected by the court's decision can backdate their claims three years, and how many have been paid?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. Anybody who has come into the system as a result of the eligibility age for men changing from 65 to 60 is entitled to backdated payments. However, in the normal course of events, the right to an automatic payment expires at the end of March. I shall write to the noble Lord about the figures on a yearly basis. We estimate that there may be 20,000 to 25,000—perhaps a few more—still outstanding, but it is difficult to pay because many of those men between 60 and 65 are in work and are not receiving the state pension, so we have no national insurance records of their eligibility or records of where they are working. It is a question of records, not entitlement. Any pensioner is paid automatically, but we have to encourage active claims coming to us from men between 60 and 65, because they are not in the state national insurance system for that purpose.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I am afraid that we are out of time.

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Press Complaints Commission

3.8 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the working of the Press Complaints Commission.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, while the Government are currently satisfied with the workings of the Press Complaints Commission, we recognise that, as with any regulatory system, there may always be room for improvement. For this reason, the Government continue to monitor closely the effectiveness of the newspaper industry's self-regulatory system. We would not hesitate to suggest improvements if appropriate.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can the noble Baroness explain why, of all institutions in this country, the press is almost uniquely allowed self-regulation in contrast to other institutions for example, the House of Commons, where freedom of speech is equally important? Despite many warnings, is it not clear that many dubious practices are continuing, such as payments to witnesses in criminal proceedings, as highlighted by the Lord Chancellor, contempt of court, as recently highlighted by the Attorney-General, payment to criminals like Ronnie Biggs, and entrapment as in the case of the Countess of Wessex?

Is it not clear that eminent journalists, such as Mr Kelner of the Independent, or, dare I say, Mr Rusbridger of the Guardian, are right in saying that there are too many cosy deals between the commission and the tabloids? What we want is not conciliation or arbitration; it is adjudication by a genuinely independent body.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lord, as I am sure is the case with the Opposition, the Government support the principle of a free and responsible press as the cornerstone of our democracy. Newspapers are, and should remain, completely independent of government. It is for the press to decide what, and what not, to publish. The Government are committed to preserving that freedom. However, the Government also continue to believe that effective self-regulation, with a code of practice overseen by the Press Complaints Commission, is preferable to any statutory measure. Nevertheless, as with any regulatory system, there may be room for improvement. The Government certainly expect the press to abide by the rules and the commitments set out in the code of practice.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, if they run true to form, the press response to the excellent Question from the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, will be to "thcream an'thcream" like Violet Elizabeth Bott about press freedom? Has the noble Baroness read the research by Ian Hargreaves and James Thomas entitled New News, Old News from the University of Cardiff, which

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shows a catastrophic level of public trust in either the truth or the impartiality of our national press? Any other industry incurring that kind of public contempt would display some sense of urgency as regards putting its house in order in terms of ethics and standards. That is totally absent in our press.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have not seen the research mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I should very much like to receive a copy of it, and, indeed, read it. I am certainly aware of a growing lack of trust among the public in the accuracy of our newspapers and in some other aspects of the way they operate. It is for the press to take note of that public concern and to respond accordingly. That must be the position. Where they have legitimate grounds to do so, it must also be the case that members of the public take their complaints to the Press Complaints Commission where they will be properly investigated.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that what is really needed is a completely independent press commission, that is, one independent of the press barons or their representatives?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, this is a difficult question—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Blackstone: I believe there is a strong case for involving editors in the Press Complaints Commission. They are a minority. Lay members form the majority on the commission. It is the task of those editors on the commission to take most seriously the issues that are investigated. Where complaints are found to be justified, it is their task to return to the newspaper industry—not just their own newspapers, but to collective discussions in the industry—to ensure that any decisions made by the PCC are acted on.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, noble Lords are inclined to ask: what are the Government afraid of in relation to the PCC? Does not the Minister agree with Mark Stephens, of Finers Stephens Innocent, that the injustices of cheque-book journalism—for example, in the case of Alex Ferguson, or that of Peter Foster—highlight the need for tougher regulation?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, there are a whole range of issues on which there is possible need for tougher regulation. As I said in my initial Answer, the Government are carefully monitoring the way that the PCC operates. I have in mind issues about contempt of court. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is undertaking a review on that very issue at present; I believe it will be completed in December. So it is not true to suggest that the Government are in some way afraid of taking action to investigate whether there is a need for a change in the present arrangements.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, are the Government aware that one does not have to be one of their

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supporters to feel contempt for the vicious hate campaign carried out by the Daily Mail against the Blairs, especially Mrs Blair? The Daily Mail campaign has shown little regard for accuracy or for the truth. It reeks of hypocrisy and smug self-satisfaction. When a newspaper makes false allegations, should not an independent press commission be empowered, of its own accord, to investigate such matters?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord about the "vicious hate campaign" carried out by the Daily Mail in relation to Cherie Blair. However, for the time being, we have to stick to the current arrangements whereby it is up to any party who feels that he has been maltreated by our newspaper industry to make a complaint to the PCC. It would become extremely difficult to undertake regulation if it were carried out by third parties.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, perhaps we could hear from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. A soft question always "turneth away wrath".

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