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Lord Rooker: I am grateful for the contributions. To be honest, I cannot go beyond what I said on Monday—
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it is on record that I shall follow it through in terms of how we deal in this House with Orders in Council. Some of the issues have probably been delayed because of the general election, but I make no apology for that. I do not seek to say that this House should replicate the other place; in fact, I am dead against it. We have distinct functions in a way. It is for its departmental Select Committee to choose how to operate. It looks at the orders in a slightly different way from how we do. Nevertheless, sometimes primary legislation is unamendable, and I want particularly to have a look at that area.

On people being paid, the political class, as the noble Lord refers to them, in Northern Ireland are paid their salaries, which are about £30,000 a year. It is true that they do not do nothing but, for sure, they are not legislating. They are certainly not scrutinising me. I should not be there anyway, because if they do their job, they would scrutinise other Ministers. If they choose not to give value for money, by not bothering to lift a phone or a pen when there is consultation, that is up to them. Generally, on consultations, it feels, throughout Whitehall, as though we do them every hour of every day—plenty of consultation is taking place—and people are always told that their contribution will be published unless they specifically raise issues relating to matters that are not public. That applies to every department; it is not a special point for Northern Ireland legislation. If people choose otherwise, we make the consultations and the summaries of what people have said available.

If we are not flooded by contributions from the Members of the Assembly, and if I remember, I might draw it to their attention when I meet them, but I shall not meet them as an Assembly. They will not have it on the cheap: they will not have scrutiny from Westminster Ministers, with them not taking responsibility. We are happy to talk to them and to look for a consensus to see whether we can have more involvement while direct rule is in place, but we cannot have a sham of them operating as an Assembly with full scrutiny under direct rule. We are not accountable to them; we are accountable here. We want their own Members, their local Ministers, to be accountable to them. That is what we seek. That is why this is very much a second-best operation.

As I said to noble Lords on Monday, we shall pursue the issue and hope to return, after the long Recess, with a process so that there can be meaningful involvement in some of the draft orders before they are tabled—in other words, the process before they are promulgated—so that colleagues can go over the issues with officials and put forward suggestions. If any changes come from that, it will not be too late to put them in before we finally publish what are, essentially, draft orders. That is a possibility on which we are working, and I hope to be able to say something more positive on that in the very near future.

Lord Glentoran: I have a helpful suggestion. Sometimes when we scrutinise Bills—not statutory instruments—for the United Kingdom, in Committee stage, particularly if party politics are not involved but we are trying to find the best way through, we have time to meet Ministers and officials outside the House
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and we have meaningful debates. The officials then go away and Ministers ask the officials to do things, and so on. If we had the input of the consultation papers and we knew where the inputs had come from, that could form the basis of a way forward.

Lord Rooker: I shall certainly take that on board. Another issue is to see whether, on some occasions, Northern Ireland can be dealt with in secondary legislation. It is not always possible, so I do not hold that out as a possibility, but certainly it is an issue that we are considering, as and when we can, at the beginning of a new parliamentary session. Frankly, we hope we will not be doing this for too long.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Age-Related Payments Regulations 2005

2.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Age-Related Payments Regulations 2005.

The noble Lord said: In my view, this statutory instrument is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I also draw the Committee's attention to the report by the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. That committee states that it found difficulty in assessing the implementation of the policy intention of the regulations. As the first chair of the Merits Committee, I must pay great attention to its view on the first order that I put before the Grand Committee. I must apologise to the Committee for the fact that the explanatory memorandum was not as clear as it might have been or as I would have wished, if I were still chair of the Merits Committee.

The substantive point on which the committee asked for clarification related to those who have two homes. I must make it clear that the £200 age-related payment will be paid to a qualifying person only once. It will be paid to them at the address that the Pension Service holds on the departmental computer system as the person's main residence.

The regulations are being made under the Age-related Payments Act 2004. The regulations are pretty straightforward. They allow for two payments to be made this year alongside our winter fuel payments. The first is a payment of £200 to households with someone aged 65 or over not in receipt of the guaranteed credit element of pension credit to help with council tax bills. I am sure that all noble Lords welcomed the fact that this year's council tax increases were the lowest in a decade and, indeed, the second lowest ever. However, there is no doubt that, whatever the level of increase, those in retirement often remain the hardest hit, and we considered that it would be prudent to help target those groups. The second payment is a £50 payment to households with someone aged 70 or over in receipt of the guaranteed credit
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element of pension credit. The payment will provide help to our least well-off pensioners with additional living expenses.

I shall go into the detail of the regulations. The regulations describe the conditions under which a qualifying individual will receive either a £200 or £100 payment, depending on their household circumstances. The concept of a household payment is well known from the winter fuel payments scheme, and it is on that basis that the age-related payments have been modelled. A qualifying individual will receive a payment of £200, if they are the only eligible person in the household. If there is another eligible person, each will receive £100. If there are three eligible people, all three will receive £100.

If the qualifying individual is part of a couple and he is the only qualifying member, he will receive £200. The regulations specify that, in that case, the other member of the couple cannot be in receipt of an income-related benefit. The reason for that is straightforward: if a couple are in receipt of one of the benefits, they are eligible for the maximum help from council tax benefit. The intention is to pay those who do not receive such help towards their council tax bills.

The payment of £50 to households with someone aged 70 or over in receipt of the guarantee element of pension credit is intended to help less well-off pensioners with additional living expenses. It is widely recognised that unexpected expenses present more of a problem to those further removed from the labour market. The payment acknowledges that fact. A £50 payment will be made to a qualifying individual where he is single; part of a couple the other member of which does not qualify; or part of a couple both of whom qualify but he is the member who receives the guaranteed credit element for them both.

The regulations allow that, for the £200 and the £50 payments, if it is the partner of the eligible person who receives the winter fuel payment, they will also receive the age-related payment on behalf of their partner. That allows us to use a tried and tested system to deliver the payments.

The regulations remove entitlement to the £50 payment from those who have been living in a care home continuously for 13 weeks by the end of the relevant week. Such people are likely to have their daily requirements provided for by their care home and paid for by public funds. Furthermore, they are not subject to the same large, one-off expenses as those maintaining their own home. The payments will be made without a claim being required, where we hold the information to allow that.

I hope that I have explained the regulations in a clear way to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Age-Related Payments Regulations 2005—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)

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