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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, can the Minister help me by saying what are the political tests that the Government decided to apply when considering whether the British people have their say on any question? We know that referenda will be allowed for local mayors and regional assemblies. The Minister said that the EMU was a once-in-a-lifetime change. Can we take it, therefore, that if the European convention's work results in a once-in-a-lifetime change, there will then be a referendum? What are the criteria? For some of us, it is beginning to look as if there is a political test of whether the Government get the voters to say what they want to hear.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords. The question is whether the issues that we are confronting significantly change how the people of this country are governed. That is the political test. It is appropriate that the resulting new treaty is scrutinised vigorously by Parliament in the way that I have

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indicated. In contrast, the noble Lord raises the issues of devolution for Scotland and Wales, or perhaps the creation of regional elected assemblies or mayors. Those are changes in how this country is governed by putting in an extra layer of government; therefore, it was deemed appropriate that there should be regional or local referenda about whether that was appropriate.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, pointed out last week, on the question of the euro, the Conservative Party also said that, had it been in government when the euro question would have been considered, that is the view that it would have taken and there would have been a referendum then. On this question, we do not believe that the outcome of an IGC will fundamentally affect how the people of this country are governed. It will certainly have no more effect than any of the other treaties on which the other side of the House did not hold a referendum.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, would my noble friend not find it much more helpful if, rather than call for a referendum on an outcome that is as yet unknown because the IGC has not yet begun, those with so many views to express on the process of ratification said something about the substance once in a while?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that that would be enormously helpful. I would point out that, of the many opportunities that have been put forward in order to allow Members to do so, not all Members have been as enthusiastic as they might have been to take up those opportunities.

British Energy

3.10 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the worse than expected results announced by British Energy on 3rd June will affect the rescue package which the Government have in mind.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the restructuring plan announced on 28th November last year is British Energy's plan, not the Government's. The bulk of British Energy's reported loss announced on 3rd June is made up of write-downs in the value of its generation plants. The write-downs are based by the company on the expected future cash flows of the business and consequently have already been taken into account when considering the ongoing viability of the business. Significant progress has been made but the proposed restructuring remains subject to uncertainties, and, therefore, the Government remain prepared for administration.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that during the passage of the Electricity (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill both these Benches

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and the Conservative Benches expressed concern that the liabilities taken over by the Government from British Energy should be, as far as possible, limited, and that the provision of other support should be used for the purposes defined. As the noble Lord gave certain assurances during the passage of the Bill, will he confirm that they still stand in spite of the recent worsened results?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I give that assurance. As these are essentially write-downs of fixed assets, they do not affect the liabilities.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, reminds us that it is only two months since we took the Bill through this House. The Government were at the time quite confident that the sums they were prepared to lend to the company would be sufficient to see it through, provided that a restructuring was approved by the competition authorities and the European Union. Is it not now looking much less likely that the competition authorities will smile upon that help as an acceptable state aid given the enormous opposition from many other people active in the electricity market?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, no. The situation on state aid is no different from that which we expected, namely, that the Commission would formally investigate and that it would probably take nearly to the 18-month time limit. That is proceeding as we expected.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, does the Minister concede that one of the difficulties in the sale of Amergen, which was required in the restructuring, is that potential purchasers are aware from numerous government statements that that is a key part of the financial support scheme? British Energy in that respect is at an enormous negotiating disadvantage. Do the Government see any way around that? Do they have any ideas about what should be done given that that company was always going to be required to be sold?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. That is why, even though the deadline of 30th June when the company thought it would sell Amergen has passed—well, it has not passed but it looks unlikely at this point that British Energy will enter into an agreement by that time—we have not insisted on it. That makes for a different situation where the company is not being required to sell under any conditions but has some latitude which will strengthen its bargaining power.

Business of the House: Debates, 11th June

3.14 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House.

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Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Palmer set down for tomorrow shall be limited to four hours and that in the name of the Lord Cobbold to two hours.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill [HL]

3.14 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Code of Practice for Horse-drawn Vehicles]:

Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved the amendment:

    Page 2, line 1, after "lay" insert "the Code or"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a small tidying-up Bill and a small tidying-up amendment. It will not have escaped those of your Lordships who have been perusing the Bill avidly that Clause 1(3) deals with making a code of practice for horse-drawn vehicles and alterations to them. However, the corollary of that is that the Secretary of State must lay the alterations before both Houses of Parliament. It would be sensible that he should lay both the code of practice and the alterations before Parliament. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

State Pension Credit (Decisions and Appeals—Amendments) Regulations 2003

3.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14th May be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I apologise as I have pulled off the sticker where it said "speech" in my file, just as I was clipping the file to find where I am starting. We need a better quality of sticker in the department. We have obviously been economising with government money.

I am satisfied that the draft regulations are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. They form a small, but nonetheless essential, part of the legislative framework for pension credit.

Regulation 2 amends the Social Security and Child Support (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 1999 to provide, in relation to pension credit, that there shall be no right of appeal against decisions made pursuant to Regulations 4D, 4E and 26B of the Claims and Payments Regulations. Regulation 4D specifies that a claim for pension credit need not be made in writing but if it is, the claim must be made on an authorised form or in such other written form as the Secretary of State accepts as sufficient in any particular case; and,

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is not valid unless a written statement of the claimant's circumstances, provided by the Secretary of State, is approved by the claimant.

Regulation 4E provides that a person may make a claim for pension credit at any time within the period of four months before the reaching the age of 60.

Regulation 26B prescribes the time and manner of payments of state pension credit.

The requirements as to what constitutes a valid claim for pension credit purposes are less prescriptive than those which currently apply to income support under Regulation 4 of the Claims and Payments Regulations. Most notably, Regulation 4D does not include a requirement that supporting information and evidence must be included with the claim before it can be considered to be valid. The absence of a right of appeal against decisions regarding the validity of claims for pension credit is in line with the position regarding appeals against decisions concerning the validity of claims for other for benefits across the benefit system.

I emphasise that the decisions in question do not concern the amount of money to which a person is entitled—that remains subject to appeal, or the valid date. A claimant's income or capital and the amount that they receive and from when remain open to appeal. However, if a person failed to send in the form, or to leave substantial areas of questions unanswered, they would not have a valid claim, and that would not be an appealable decision.

Regulation 3 amends the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Decisions and Appeals) Regulations 2001 to preclude a second right of appeal where a local authority uses the Pension Service's calculation or estimate of income for housing or council tax Benefit purposes. That would not, of course, affect the original right of appeal against the original pension credit decision. The rationale is that it would be simply unfair to allow people who claim housing benefit or council tax benefit a second right of appeal against the original pension credit decision regarding their income. As your Lordships will know, the decision for pension credit purposes for income is passported, so to speak, over to the housing authorities. That is why we do not need two parallel paths of appeal.

The regulations are essentially technical, and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14th May be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

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