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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and I commend the virtues of pension credit for existing pensioners. I am sure that, like myself, my noble friend knows that the lives of many thousands of pensioners have been transformed. Only a few years back, all pensioners had was the £10 Christmas bonus. Pensioners would have to choose between a bag of coal and a bottle of brandy, both of which were designed to keep out the cold. Today the combination of winter fuel payments and the effective minimum income guarantee for pensioners has transformed their incomes. That is greatly to be welcomed.
Will my noble friend join me in condemning what I take to be the position of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in calling for a basic state pension that rises with earnings, but for pension credit to rise only with the retail prices index, which was the position held by previous occupants of his post? If it were pursued, it would freeze the incomes of the poorest and redistribute benefits and income upwards in a regressive way. Can we hope that the new leadership will not countenance such regressive policies?
Finally, does my noble friend agree that although pension credit has done wonders for existing pensioners, it is unfortunately too often still perceived as a disincentive to save for those who are not yet of pension age? For women in particular, who may lack a full national insurance contribution record, or for those who fear that they will lose a lot of money through the taper of pension creditunavoidable if you have an income-related benefitsaving is discouraged in unacceptable ways. Too many people think that it is not worth the doing. Will my noble friend join me in the hope that some of the Turner formulations designed to address this problem will be given a fair wind by the Government?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will have noted with interest her first point.
My noble friend tempts me down a path which I am reluctant to take for the simple reason that she goes to the heart of some of the arguments raised in the Turner Pensions Commission report. I should have said to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that he will know that the commitment to uprating pension credits in line with earnings runs through to 2008. At that stage it will be a matter for the Government to come to a view on it.
As I have said, my noble friend's point goes to the nub of what the Pensions Commission report is all about. The noble Lord, Lord Turner, specifically referred to the question of savings. My own department has undertaken research in this area and
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I hope that we will be able to produce a paper in a fairly short time which will lend itself to the thinking on the issue.
Lord Rix: My Lords, perhaps I may add my voice to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the winter fuel payment. I do not think that the Minister answered it. The noble Lord asked about the possibility of the payment being extended to those with severe disabilities. All noble Lords who have relatives or know of people with severe disabilities will recognise that they suffer from the cold, perhaps as much as older people; I speak also as an aged person. If it is possible to extend the winter fuel payment to this group, it would be of great benefit.
I should like to ask one further question. The Government nicked a title from Mencap. We started the system on pathways back into work for those with learning disabilities way back in 1976. I would be interested to know how many people with learning disabilities are actually gaining from the Pathways to Work pilots presently taking place.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I should have responded to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about severe debilities. I am afraid I cannot give the commitment the noble Lord, Lord Rix, seeks. Clearly the winter fuel payment is age-related and it has to remain as such.
I am delighted that we nicked words from Mencap. I am a great supporter and admirer of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on behalf of that organisation. I do not have with me the figures for the number of people with learning disabilities who have already gone through the Pathways to Work pilots and I am not sure whether we have those statistics. But I shall find out whether we have them and, if we do, I shall let the noble Lord know. The principles of Pathways to Work and incapacity benefit reform should apply as much to people with learning disabilities as to any other group of people and I am very clear that we should make sure that that happens.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, on the last point, is my noble friend aware of the remarkable progress that has been made? Page 6 of the Statement states that 200,000 disabled people have been helped into work through the total package of New Deal programmes. Indeed, it would appear from the early results of the pilots that the number of recorded job entries for people with a health condition or disability had almost doubled compared with the same period the year before. That is a remarkable step forward.
As to the Turner report model on enabling all people to save for a pension at low costI emphasise "all people"will my noble friend note that, given the initial sketchy thinking which has come out of the industry, some people are very sceptical that it will be able to meet the Turner criteria? We totally understand that the Government have to be a listening government, but the Turner criteria are quite stringent
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on universality given the scepticism about the financial services industry which, as all parties have noticed, has grown up in the past decade.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the issue in relation to the pensions industry is that Turner has suggested that the national pension saving scheme should be run as a non-departmental public body, and that a number of funds to which people could be auto-enrolledranging from no risk to higher risk but with a default fundshould be set up. The pensions industry has made it known that, rather than funds being run directly by a non-departmental public body, it would be up to the challenge of running such funds. For the purpose of allowing some time between the publication of the Pensions Commission's report and our conclusions, the Government have said to the pensions industry, "If that is so, come forward with proposals and we will examine them".
This comes back to the basic point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The Turner commission has suggested that the NPSS could be run on annual management charges of about 0.3 per cent. The problem with private pensions in the pastparticularly for low earnershas been that the high management charge has eaten considerably into the prospects of a good return. At the same timeagain in relation to low earnersthe amount of income has not been produced that would make it profitable for the industry to focus its attention on that market. Having a debate, letting the pensions industry consider the Turner commission report and coming forward with proposals seems an excellent way to proceed. We can then judge the results.
As to the Pathways to Work programme, my noble friend is absolutely right. The latest figures I received about two or three weeks ago show that there have been nearly 20,000 entries back into work as a result of Pathways to Work. That is a very good start.
Second Reading debate resumed.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, the prospect of what I think is the fourth piece of legislation in this field since 1999 does not fill me with a huge amount of excitement. I was secretary to the Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility in the 1980s. A succession of Bills came from the other side of the House, and I remember feeling similarly unexcited by many of them. Surely there must be some limit to what we can achieve through legislative means. We need to consider a wider range of matters.
Those of us who have been thinking about these matters for a long time are aware that, consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously, those who are in politics or in government are responding to public opinion. There is a perception outside that too many people are entering our country, taking away our jobs,
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or getting social security benefits on false grounds. Those fears have now extended to potential terrorists. All these negative factors which lurk in the background of legislation undermine our capacity as legislators to think about the needs of the people who are directly affected by it. They are often very frightened people, who struggle with our language. They are vulnerable people. Many of them are fleeing tyranny; even more perhaps are fleeing poverty. Sometimes, they have vulnerable children and young people in tow; sometimes, they are on their own.
I am concerned that we respond to what happens. What happens if you withdraw social benefits from people who are caught up in the system? When social provision has not been made, they sometimes land up on the doorsteps of our churches. Having been scattered across the country, they sometimes land up on the doorsteps of local communities which are not very well equipped to deal with them. As a bishop, I can say to the House that I receive an increasing stream of letters from my clergy asking for advice on how to handle people who are asylum seekers or potential asylum seekers. The other week, some people spoke to me personally in a church. They said that they knew that were not here lawfully and asked what they should do about it. One then advises them to work with their parish priest in dealing with the authorities. They are not very well equipped to deal with these matters.
If you keep on tightening the law in this area, you might encourage people to opt out of compliance with the system. There is a perception that we do not know how many people are in this country unlawfully and that we should operate the system more tightly. But if the system is perceived as being more difficult, people will walk around the back of it and local communities will again feel the impact.
This country has a wonderful intellectual and value-based history. Uniquely, we have refused to tear apart what has sometimes been torn apart on the Continent; that is, our Christian-value history and the Enlightenment history in our public life. These two factors have generally held together and provided a moral base for our public life, and, not least, a basis for the very strong systems of volunteering that we have. So our commitment as a free people to justice, transparency and accountability, and our trust in our networks of civil society, are rooted in deep values that we need to hold on to.
My postbag indicates that the present system is under strain. Officials who are trying to work it are under pressure, which sometimes leads to negativity towards individuals and cynicism about the process. We need higher levels of professionalism; stronger training of those involved in the system; transparent codes of conduct; and a clear commitment to ensure that the same structures of justice are available to people seeking residence in our country as we expect for ourselves. The route to order, control and proper management is via the fundamental principles of a free society seeking justice without discrimination. Then, perhaps, fewer letters might go out to people requiring their appearance before tribunals in English when they
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hardly speak the language and summoning them to hearings hundreds of miles away without any clue or indication of how they will pay for their travel there.
Let me try to be specific about the Bill. I was gratified to catch a glimpse that the Government intend, for example, to strengthen the provision to ensure 100 per cent protection of children caught up in the process, not least children on their own. I would be pleased to hear from the Minister how we will progress that. I reinforce what has been said about the needs of international students and how extraordinary it must be to send people back somewhere else in the world to progress an appeal on the duration of their stay. That cannot be right, but if it is true for international students, why not for everybody else? Why do we draw that group of people out for special treatment? If it is not just for one group of people, what about everybody else?
I note the Clause 52 provision regarding detention and welcome some of the provisions in it. Will the Government report not just on the number in detention but on how long people are held for, who is there, what age ranges there are and whether programmes will be developed for their proper protection when they are caught up in those centres.
At the heart of the Bill is the desire for a massive reduction in appeals. How does that fit with the principles of justice? Surely we will not leave officials and appointees of the Home Office to be the final point of decision-making on what happens to people. Not only do vulnerable people need and deserve better but our officials also need protection by a proper system of appeal. However good the decisions taken by thoseand there is cause to believe that we could do betterit is surely a matter of principle that access to independent systems of appeal is a basic right of every person. I would like to hear more on that.
I would also like to hear more about the rationale for the provisions regarding terrorism now added to the Bill. Many of us are cautious about interfering with the Geneva Convention and how it states those matters, and we wonder why we need those provisions. Dare I ask the question: what is the evidence that this is an important field for dealing with issues surrounding terrorism? We need proper evidence.
There are many good features of the legislation. I welcome the style in which the Minister has addressed them. In forming our concerns we must face the human reality that people travel and move around our world. Mobility is part of human life; we must manage it with humanity, transparency and justice.
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