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House of Lords

Monday 7 March 2016

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.

Homelessness: Rough Sleeping


2.36 pm

Asked by Lord Spicer

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proportion of the £42.5 million grant made through the Homelessness Change programme for hostel bed refurbishment has been allocated to tackling rough sleeping.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, no one should have to sleep rough. Our £42.5 million Homelessness Change programme provided funding for 1,500 new and refurbished bed spaces across 42 local areas. We have increased central funding to tackle homelessness over the spending review to £139 million, and protected homelessness prevention funding. We ran the world’s first social impact bond on homelessness and are establishing a new national £5 million social impact bond to improve outcomes for homeless people with complex needs.

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords, in a recent Written Answer to me, my noble friend the Minister stated that a survey in England found that there were 2,744 people sleeping rough on our streets. At the same time, the number of appropriate beds was 36,540. Can we conclude from these figures that the problem is not so much the availability of beds as the apparent unwillingness of those sleeping rough to take them up? In which case, what are Her Majesty’s Government going to do about it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, there are a number of reasons why people sleep rough. The noble Lord has alluded to one of them. But he is absolutely right to suggest that we need to tackle the rough sleepers and make sure that they do not spend a second night out, but also, where it is necessary, provide the bed spaces for those who need them.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab): My Lords, given the Minister’s Answer, is she able to tell us why rough sleeping has more than quadrupled during the period of this Government and why you are now unable, particularly in London, to find beds for rough sleepers?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, as I say, the reasons for rough sleeping are many and complex—they are. A number of people do actually choose to sleep rough. Without commenting on that, this Government are committed not only to tackling rough sleeping, ensuring that nobody spends a second night out, but in one local authority there is actually a

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no-first-night-out programme in place. That is why we have protected, both centrally and locally, homelessness prevention programmes.

Baroness Grender (LD): Does the Minister agree that if the leading cause of homelessness now in England is a loss of private tenancy, we desperately need an increase in social housing alongside a homelessness strategy? If Richard Gere has managed to persuade the Chancellor to make this his next big cause—according to the newspapers at the weekend—does the Minister now regret the lack of policies to increase social housing in the current housing Bill?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, it is important that we provide housing of all types of tenure: houses for social rent, as the noble Baroness pointed out; affordable homes; starter homes; shared ownership; Help to Buy schemes; Build to Rent—all the different schemes in place under this Government which we have doubled the housing budget to £20 billion to provide.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, as the Minister says, it is indeed a complex problem. Does she know how many of those sleeping rough have serious mental health problems? What projects are available to go out to those people to try to get them back under cover, when their mental health problems are one of the reasons for them not doing so?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: The noble Baroness raises a very pertinent point—a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, has spoken about previously. This Government have committed to put in place £1 billion per year to help alleviate mental health problems. One of the worrying features that we have seen over the last few years is the rise in cases of young people in mental health programmes. The £40 million Homelessness Change and Platform for Life programmes help to deliver new low-cost housing for young people at the risk of homelessness, and it supports their transition into adulthood.

Lord Young of Cookham (Con): My Lords, has my noble friend seen the recent dialogue between the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the homeless charity Crisis, aimed at encouraging more private landlords to give support and homes to those who are homeless? Has she been able to give any support to that initiative?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank my noble friend for raising that question, because I certainly have. Crisis has been absolutely invaluable in providing, for example, underwritten tenancy deposits for homeless people. The programme has seemed to be very successful, with 90% of those people adhering to the tenancy and making it work.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, the whole House ought to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, for raising this matter successively at a number of Question Times, because we have had a much more detailed answer from the Government in their initial response today than ever before. Many of

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us suspect, on anecdotal evidence, that the real problem is in London. Can the Minister tell the House the estimated numbers of rough sleepers and available hostel places in London?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the number of rough sleepers was estimated to be 3,569 on a given night last autumn.

Lord Watts (Lab): My Lords, this increase in homelessness is a national scandal. Will the Minister set out the target figure for reducing that over the next 12 months?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, we do not focus particularly on targets but on initiatives that will help reverse some of the trends that we are seeing. Nobody is denying that homelessness and rough sleeping is a problem, which is why we have protected and maintained central and local funding to deal with it, as well as the Homelessness Change programme which I have spoken about.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, has any study been done to find out how many of these rough sleepers are under the age of 30 or over the age of 60, for instance? How many were born in this country, and are there many immigrants?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I do not have any information about how many rough sleepers are over 60 or under 30 but if such information exists, I will get it to my noble friends. Statistics have been put out in the press showing that one in five rough sleepers is a migrant. I will look at government figures to see whether that can be confirmed.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords—

Noble Lords: Time!

E-cigarettes: Regulation


2.44 pm

Asked by Viscount Ridley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what effect they expect Article 20 of the 2014 EU Tobacco Products Directive, when implemented in May, to have on the rate at which people give up smoking by the use of vaping devices.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): The tobacco products directive, which will come into force from May this year, will provide a new regulatory framework for vaping devices and e-liquids, assuring their safety and quality. The Government recognise that e-cigarettes can help people to quit smoking and that quitting smoking completely is the best thing a smoker can do for their health.

Viscount Ridley (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. Given that the Prime Minister said in the other place that 1 million people have given up smoking as a result of taking up vaping—

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including, I believe, my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara—given that the public health benefits are in the order of £74 billion, and given that the main loser from this is the pharmaceutical industry, which is seeing falls in the sales of patches and gums, does he agree with me that pharmaceutical industry lobbying may be behind the attempt to regulate these products too heavily and possibly to shackle them with an excise tax? Could he give a Department of Health estimate of the size of the black market that is likely to result from this directive and whether or not it will result in people going back to smoking?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, the benefits of e-cigarettes are well understood. The figure of 1 million people who have given up smoking by taking up e-cigarettes is a valid and true one. The tobacco regulation that the noble Viscount refers to does not have any proposals for an excise tax—it purely relates to ensuring that these products are used safely and are of a given quality.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, the Minister will know that the impact of this directive is to make it much more difficult for e-cigarettes to be promoted. Why is that, given the clear benefit to public health? The answer is that public health programmes can substitute for it—but this Government have slashed those programmes. Given the Prime Minister’s success in EU negotiations about a change in direction, can the Minister confirm that we will not now have to implement article 20 if we do not want to?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, this directive originated partly because a number of European countries wanted to ban these products. The fact that there is a directive, which will lead to a regulated market, means that British manufacturers will have access to those large European markets. As I understand it, the main issue that the noble Lord may be concerned about is that where the nicotine content goes above 20 micrograms per millilitre, there will have to be MHRA approval, which may mean that the higher strength nicotine substitutes are less readily available. But that is done on safety grounds.

Lord Brabazon of Tara (Con): My Lords, I have already been mentioned during this Question. I am one of those who smoked for many years but has not have a cigarette now for two years because I have taken up using one of these devices. Can my noble friend tell me why these devices are included at all in the tobacco products directive, because they are not a tobacco product?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I also congratulate the noble Lord for giving up cigarettes and taking up these other products. I do not know whether he has tried unicorn blood or crab leg flavours, but a multitude of flavours is available on the market. The directive has come about purely because of the feeling that although nicotine is better than smoking, it is not perfect.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, although these products are clearly much less harmful than smoking tobacco, they are not entirely harmless. They have a

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lot of noxious chemicals in them. What are the Government doing to inform people about the research on the potential hazards of these products, including the reduction in resistance to infections, reduction in fertility and changes in behaviour patterns?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, as I said, these new products are not perfect but are substantially better than smoking cigarettes. One of the purposes of the new directive is that there should be proper labelling on the products.

Lord Turnberg (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord dismissed the idea of an excise tax, but there is a strong rumour that the EU intends to impose a tax on these products. Will the Government do everything they can to counteract this counterproductive suggestion?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, as I said, there is no proposal for an excise duty as part of the tobacco directive, as I understand it. I would agree entirely with the intent behind the question, which is that we should be promoting this product not discouraging it.

Lord Naseby (Con): My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, following on from what my noble friend said at the beginning, these vapers ensure that there is no harmful effect from passive smoking, which you normally get from cigarettes? In addition, research in New Zealand shows that they are a far better way to come off smoking than placebos or patches, which saves the NHS money. Is this not just another example of a badly thought through draft directive?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, I think there is evidence that e-cigarettes are more effective than, or as effective as, nicotine replacement therapies, and that my noble friend is right that there is no danger from passive smoking, which is why the inability to smoke in public places does not apply to e-cigarettes.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords, do we really need this sort of interfering directive from Brussels? Are we incapable of looking after vaping devices ourselves?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, we are capable of looking after vaping devices on our own, but if we ever want to sell into the European market, we will have to abide by those regulations.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, is it not perfectly obvious that big business is lobbying Brussels to shut out competition, that e-cigarettes cost less, which limits the impact of highly regressive taxes on tobacco, and that they enable people to save their health? Will my noble friend admit that the Government are powerless to do anything about this?

Lord Prior of Brampton: No, I do not admit that the Government are powerless to do anything about this. I do not believe that the origins of this directive have anything to do with limiting competition; they are based in trying to have a regulated market where safety and quality are guaranteed.

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Affordable Housing


2.51 pm

Asked by Lord Shipley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their definition of affordable housing.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, our definition of affordable housing for planning purposes is set out in annexe 2 to the National Planning Policy Framework. We recently consulted on our proposals for specific changes to national planning policy, including broadening the definition of affordable housing, to expand the range of low-cost housing opportunities for those aspiring to own their new home.

Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but can she explain to the House why it is that the Government persist in defining homes, including starter homes, as affordable when they are clearly unaffordable to very large numbers of households on medium and low incomes?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, affordable homes are 20% below market values, and our new starter homes, as I have recently demonstrated in the Chamber, will cost about £145,000 outside London, so will be well within the affordability range for many first-time buyers, but there is a range of other products for people to purchase, should they wish, such as shared ownership schemes.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, I received a phone call yesterday from the son of a friend who is 48 and lives with his partner and their nine year-old child in a council flat in Hackney. He supports his 15 year-old son from a previous marriage, who also spends time with the family. The rent is £780 a month. The rent for an equivalent private rented accommodation is in the region of £2,500 a month. A single-bedroom flat costs £300 a week to rent. The combined income of the household is £45,000 a year—above the pay-to-stay level in London. Does the Minister regard the rents I have cited for those other properties as affordable? If not, what assurance can she give that this family and thousands like it up and down the country will be able to afford to continue to live in their present accommodation?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, we have spoken at length about London and the variability of house prices between and even within different authorities. The noble Lord is not wrong when he says that rents are high in some places in London but, as I pointed out, a number of different products are available, including shared ownership, which may for the first time make the housing market accessible to those who previously were unable to afford it.

Lord Swinfen (Con): My Lords, what effect has immigration had on the supply of affordable housing?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I do not have those figures to hand, but I can go back to the department and see whether such figures are available.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, a recent survey by the Town and Country Planning Association found that only 7% of local authorities believe that starter homes would address their need for affordable housing. Not only that, Her Majesty’s Government are going to require local authorities to build these homes, often at the expense of more sustainable forms of affordable housing, regardless of local needs. Will the Minister say how this fits with the Government’s localism agenda?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, it is not just starter homes. Through the spending review there will be a range of homes of different types of tenures that will be available at each price point to suit a number of different types of first-time buyer or renter.

Lord Bird (CB): My Lords, is it not interesting to consider that this is how Britain spends 87% of the money that banks lend? That is one reason the market is so overheated. What are going to do to reduce the heat? In Germany, only 20% of the money lent by banks goes on housing. This is a ridiculous situation and we have to address it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, we have had lots of differences in this House over housing and the different types of housing we are going to provide, but one thing that all noble Lords agree on is that we need to increase the supply of housing in order to make it affordable. That is the way forward for the future. This Government are committed to delivering one million homes by 2021.

Lord Brookman (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has raised a very interesting point. It has been on my mind for quite a considerable time, with grandchildren growing up and so forth. The situation is very difficult, there is no doubt about that. Where I and many in this Chamber are from—thankfully—in the valleys of south Wales, an affordable, detached house is about £80,000. Where I live, in Hertfordshire, a similar house costs £600,000 and people are extremely concerned about this for the future for their children and their families.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I am not sure what the question was, but I think it was around affordability in different parts of the country. The noble Lord is not wrong at all: you could fit my flat in London into my front room up in Manchester. That is the whole point: the Government are absolutely determined to build more homes of different types of tenure for people.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how many people are in need of affordable homes—or products, as she is now branding them—and whether these are for rent or to buy?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: The noble Baroness and I have had many discussions on this and they are both for rent and to buy. Whether products or homes—they are homes—different types of funding mechanisms and options are available, from affordable homes to rent and starter homes to shared ownership. There are quite a few options, and we have spoken about them in the past.



2.59 pm

Asked by Baroness Thomas of Winchester

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will reassess as a matter of urgency the Personal Independence Payment assessment which has led to many working-age disabled people losing their existing entitlement to a Motability car.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester (LD): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest in that I have a Motability car myself.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Altmann) (Con): My Lords, there are now more people on the Motability scheme than before the personal independence payment was introduced and there is £175 million of transitional support for those who lose entitlement. Personal independence payment maintains the key principles of disability living allowance while better targeting support at those with the greatest needs. The Government are committed to its safe, secure rollout and have no plans to reassess it.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, does she not agree that it is one thing for a working-age person not to receive enough points at the first assessment to be entitled to a Motability car but quite another to have your existing Motability vehicle snatched away, not because you have got better but because the test has been made impossibly harsh? Does that not run counter to the Government’s aim to halve the number of disabled people who are out of work?

Baroness Altmann: The Government are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people but the disability living allowance was inconsistent and subjective whereas the personal independence payment assessment is more consistent and fairer.

Lord Walton of Detchant (CB): My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the individuals chosen to assess the nature and significance of the disability of disabled individuals are properly qualified and trained to carry out such assessments, and that in doing so they employ well-defined and reproducible criteria?

Baroness Altmann: My Lords, the Government are satisfied that those who carry out the personal independence payment assessments are qualified to do so—and indeed, reports suggest that the assessments are running better than the previous DLA regime.

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Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB): My Lords, considering the numbers of PIP recipients who win on appeal, does the Minister agree that it would be much fairer to leave the Motability car with the person while they wait for the appeal decision to come through, especially if the car has had an expensive adaptation?

Baroness Altmann: My Lords, the time taken for appeals is being reduced. Certainly the first step is mandatory reconsideration, which in general takes place before the Motability car needs to be returned, as there is a seven-week period. However, the long-standing policy of the department is that if it is assessed that somebody is no longer entitled to a car, it must be removed pending appeal.

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, the Minister thinks that the system is working better. One must ask: for whom? The BBC reported in February that 14,000 disabled people had had their Motability cars taken away from them, which is 45% of the 31,000 who had had an assessment. If that scales up, we will see hundreds of thousands of disabled people not having access in future to a Motability car. So I ask the Minister again the question put to her by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester: how does this contribute to the Government’s aim to halve the disability employment gap?

Baroness Altmann: The Government are absolutely committed to halving the disability employment gap and we understand that being reassessed for any benefit can be a challenging time. That is why, after discussions with my department, Motability announced a £175 million package of transitional support. Those who lose their cars can get £2,000 for a new one or can buy their old car, and are given time to adjust. But the idea of the reassessment is that the DLA was inconsistent—many people had lifetime awards—whereas PIP offers a more consistent and fairer approach.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, should not the mileage on the clock of one of these vehicles determine how long the vehicle is held for, as against the age of the vehicle?

Baroness Altmann: The current rules we use for assessment allow people to buy their used Motability car if they so wish—but the rules of the scheme have been carefully set and assessed.

Baroness Doocey (LD): My Lords, are the Government confident that the four reliability criteria are being clearly explained to claimants by all health professionals in view of the high success rate of PIP appeals?

Baroness Altmann: The success rate of the appeals in PIP has much more to do with the fact that the appeal case hears far more evidence and the person who appeals has had time to put forward their arguments. The appeal would normally hear new and different evidence from that which has been placed before the assessor in the past.

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Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB): My Lords, does the Department for Work and Pensions monitor the accuracy of assessments by Maximus and Capita? What action is being taken against assessors who make inaccurate assessments? Perhaps this could be an opportunity where disabled people could be employed.

Baroness Altmann: A very small number of the cases actually go to appeal. At this moment we are confident that the processes in place are doing the work that they need to do.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, I estimate that perhaps 200,000 people who currently have Motability cars will lose them as a result of the PIP activity. Very many of them will appeal, and they will win. Given that the Minister has accepted, admitted and shared with the House that the appeals procedure is infinitely more reliable than the original PIP decision by virtue of the additional information that it has, can I ask her to reflect on the previous answer that she gave so that people can keep their cars until their appeal has been completed?

Baroness Altmann: The current level of appeals is extremely low and we do not wish to give people any incentive to appeal. I also point out to noble Lords that more people are getting Motability cars now than before PIP was introduced.

Immigration Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

3.06 pm

Tabled by Lord Bates

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 9, Schedule 1, Clauses 10 to 29, Schedule 2, Clauses 30 to 34, Schedule 3, Clause 35, Schedule 4, Clause 36, Schedule 5, Clauses 37 to 43, Schedule 6, Clauses 44 to 52, Schedule 7, Clause 53, Schedule 8, Clauses 54 to 57, Schedule 9, Clauses 58 to 62, Schedule 10, Clause 63, Schedule 11, Clauses 64 to 69, Schedule 12, Clause 70, Schedule 13, Clauses 71 to 84, Schedule 14, Clauses 85 to 90, Title.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Commons Reasons

3.06 pm

Motion A

Moved by Lord Freud

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 8B and 8C, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 8D.

8: Clause 13, leave out Clause 13.

Commons Disagreement and Reason

The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 8 for the following reason

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8A: Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

Lords Non-Insistence and Amendments in lieu

TheLordsdonotinsistontheirAmendment8,butdoproposeAmendments8Band8Cin lieu—

8B:Clause 13, page 14, line 24, at end insert—

“(8) Subsections (2) and (3) shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report giving his or her estimate of the impact of the provisions in those subsections on the—

(a) physical and mental health,

(b) financial situation, and

(c) ability to return to work,

of persons who would otherwise be entitled to start claiming the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance.

(9) Regulations bringing subsections (2) and (3) into force shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

8C: Clause 31, page 28, line 2, at end insert “, subject to section 13(8) and (9)”.

Commons Disagreement and Reason

The Commons disagree with the Lords in their Amendments 8B and 8C to the Bill in lieu of Lords Amendment 8 for the following reason

8D:Because they would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): My Lords, in these opening remarks I shall cover Motion B as well. Last week the Commons considered the amendments passed by this House to place a duty on the Secretary of State to estimate further the impacts of the changes to the ESA work-related activity component and the universal credit limited capability for work element. The Commons also considered the aspect of those amendments that sought to make the commencement regulations bringing both changes into effect subject to the affirmative procedure.

The Commons voted solidly to reject those amendments, and the Motion now asks this House to accept that decision. In addition, the Commons Speaker has also ruled that these changes attract financial privilege. As noble Lords have not tabled amendments to the contrary, I will make the presumption that the House is now prepared to accept the changes, albeit with great reluctance, and will not defy convention.

I put it to noble Lords that as a House we have performed our duty. We have rigorously scrutinised the legislation to remove unintended consequences and sent back a number of concerns for the Commons to reconsider. Indeed, on the ESA work-related activity component and the universal credit limited capability for work element, we have twice asked the Commons to reflect on the measures and twice it has voted down proposed amendments with substantial majorities. I think that our duties are discharged, and there comes a point when we must accept the decision of the Commons on this financially privileged matter.

I am proud of the important work this House has done to improve and refine the Bill. I remind noble Lords of the important changes they have secured. We

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have put in place additional statutory protections around the publication of low-income data; we have secured exemptions from the benefit cap for recipients of carer’s allowance and guardian’s allowance; and, in the case of the limit on support through child tax credits and universal credit, we have secured exemptions for certain children being looked after by family-and-friends carers and adopted sibling groups. On the social rents measure, supported accommodation will now be excepted from the changes for one year, and across the Bill we have accepted—in full or in part—recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

Speaking personally, I thank noble Lords for the precision and clarity with which they have made their arguments. It has made immeasurably easier my task of relaying the concerns back to my colleagues in the department and across government and getting an agreed response. The quality of scrutiny in this place amplifies the power of the arguments within government.

On this occasion, I will not expand on the measures at issue; we have had an extended opportunity to do so during the Bill’s passage. However, I remind the House of the improvements it has helped to secure: improved guidance for those with progressive conditions, £15 million for the flexible support fund, and removing the 52-week permitted work limit in ESA to reduce barriers to part-time work.

I am proud of the work this House does to scrutinise legislation and highlight unintended consequences—as it has in this case to improve these measures to help more sick and disabled people back into employment. It is, I believe, the right moment for the Lords to accept that it has done its job in communicating to the Commons areas of concern for it to reconsider. I am confident that noble Lords have done an excellent job in scrutinising the Bill, and I am grateful to colleagues throughout the House for a series of powerful and thoughtful speeches.

In the light of the convincing votes in the Commons and the application of financial privilege, I beg to move the Motion.

Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB): My Lords, I am deeply disappointed that we have got to where we are today with the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, but I thank the Minister for continuing to meet Members of your Lordships’ House. I and others spent a great deal of time last week working through every possibility of tabling another amendment to send this dreadful and punitive part of the Bill back to the other place. Unfortunately, because of parliamentary procedure, that was not possible. Placing financial privilege on these amendments means that the other place ultimately has its way, and it is entitled to do that—just as we were entitled and absolutely right to ask the Commons to think again.

As a Chamber appointed because of our expertise in areas such as this, we know and understand the impact this Bill will have, even if no formal impact assessment was carried out. I apologise to the people affected by this Bill that, at this point, we could not do any more. This may be the end of the legislative process, but it is the start of the negative impact the Bill will have on thousands of people’s lives. It may be

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seen as a victory in terms of voting numbers in another place, but we cannot forget that there are many disabled people who will lose out. That may be realised only when the letters come flooding in.

3.15 pm

I would like to reiterate the effect of these measures. They will make it harder for disabled parents to move into or remain in work if their condition deteriorates. They will not help to halve the disability employment gap. Single parents or second earners are likely to be worse off under universal credit. Disabled parents will lose much more as, unlike in the current system, they will receive no more than a non-disabled parent and there are additional costs that are simply not covered by Access to Work. Transitional protection does not help if someone needs to reduce their hours of work after a move to universal credit. Universal credit will not provide any additional support for a disabled parent who qualifies for the limited capability for work group but who is in work. The position will be the same for those parents who become newly disabled. Compared with the current system, disabled parents will find that their financial incentive to work substantially decreases under universal credit, especially with these measures. Removing the limited capability for work element will make it harder for disabled people to move into work or to remain in work if their condition deteriorates.

Providing jobcentres with a £15 million discretionary fund, which is not ring-fenced, may help some. However, many disabled people have little in the way of savings and assets, so this will plunge people further into debt and is unlikely to make them more work-ready. We should be particularly mindful of the fact that half this group have mental health issues, autism and learning difficulties. It is unlikely that mounting debt will have any positive effect on work-readiness—quite the opposite, as our review found.

Finally, I would like to ask the Minister just one question: if Her Majesty’s Government are so convinced that they are doing the right thing, will they monitor the impact, in order to know that what they are doing will not cost any more in the long term?

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB): My Lords, I echo my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson’s deep regret at the Government’s rejection of my noble friend Lord Low’s amendments—amendments that were carried in this House with a considerable majority, twice. In my view, our arguments were pretty indisputable, especially with regard to the absence of evidence that cutting severely disabled people’s employment support allowance would incentivise them to work. I think that, deep down, we all know that it is attitudinal and environmental discrimination that prevents this group from accessing employment. This will be borne out very soon in the evidence of the forthcoming Select Committee report on the Equality Act and disability, which is to be launched at the end of this month.

Last week, when I listened to the Government’s arguments in the other place in the debate on the Lords amendments, I have to say that words failed me, particularly when Members were told to separate the

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“issue” from the more important principle of Commons primacy. I find it very difficult when the niceties of parliamentary protocol trump the lives of disabled people. However, we are where we are, and I have to salvage what I can to protect those who will undoubtedly struggle significantly to make ends meet as a result of such a severe cut to their weekly income.

The Minister has generously—and I mean that—acknowledged the deep anxiety that I and expert disability organisations feel about this policy. He has made great efforts to assure me and them that they will be fully involved in the preparation of the White Paper. He also underlined his commitment to detailing in the annual report on full employment progress towards halving the disability employment gap. He said, “No ifs, no buts. We will do it”. In good faith, I therefore withdrew my amendment on additional reporting on disability.

The Minister is asking us to have faith again today, but I hope and pray that we do not look back on this day as the moment when we pushed some of the most severely disabled people in Britain over the edge. I will try not to let that happen and I will do what I can to become involved in the White Paper and the reporting, but, this time, please will the Minister involve disabled people centrally throughout that process?

Lord Low of Dalston (CB): My Lords, perhaps I might be permitted to say a word about the Commons rejection of my amendment. Despite the Minister’s best efforts to soften the impact of the £30 cut in the incomes of disabled people in the employment and support allowance WRAG, which I readily acknowledge, this is a black day for disabled people. The Commons have spoken decisively and we must bow to their wishes, but we do so under protest. Do not let anyone kid you that this is democracy in action. There is more to democracy than just being elected. Questions of representativeness, accessibility, openness and responsiveness all come into it as well. From these standpoints, this House, though unelected, is much more democratic. Organisations representing the needs of poor and dispossessed people find it much easier to get their point across and have it taken on board in the House of Lords than in the House of Commons, which is more politicised and subservient to the Whips—and the Whips were certainly working overtime last Wednesday night in the House of Commons, going round handing out bribes and blandishments like there was no tomorrow.

Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, took me to task for quoting selectively from the Commons debate on our amendments, but I did so because the debate ran largely one way. Last Wednesday, the Minister had a bit more support, but some telling points were still made against the Government. Commenting on the Commons reason for refusing our amendments— that is,

“Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient”—

Neil Gray, MP for Airdrie and Shotts, said:

“So the Commons did not offer ‘any further Reason’, which I found shocking. The Government could not come up with anything else to say—no empirical evidence, no logical argument, nothing

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socially responsible or of any consequence. It relied on a pseudo-constitutional technicality to explain the decision to remove £30 a week from the pockets of sick and disabled people on ESA WRAG … What message does that send from this Government to ESA recipients? It says, ‘We don’t need to justify why we are cutting your ESA, we just are. We just can and we just will. We trust that this reason may be deemed sufficient’”.

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, said:

“The Minister said that she was going to spend another £100 million on supporting these people. If her scheme was going to work, she would not need to cut this £30 from such people’s weekly income, because she would get the savings as they all moved into work. This is doomed to fail and the Minister knows it. If she was convinced that it was going to work, she would do the impact assessment, because she would be confident of the upshot. She is not doing so, and she is ignoring the very real impact that this will have on the health of the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens”.

From the Conservative Benches, Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, said:

“I genuinely think we would not have been in this position if the White Paper had been brought forward already and we were not having to take on faith something we are not really sure is going to happen, who the Ministers will be, who will be in charge of the money, and how we are going to move forward for these disabled people”.

With those words in mind, it is essential that the White Paper focuses on better back-to-work support for disabled people and better support for employers. Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, said:

“If implemented, these cuts will surely also hinder the Government’s ambition to halve the disability employment gap. Instead, they will push many disabled people further into poverty and have a significant and harmful impact on the health and wellbeing of many people, including many in my constituency”.

Accordingly, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that the Government must monitor how these cuts affect disabled people, both in and out of work, and gather evidence as to the impact on disabled people’s physical and mental health and their finances as well as their ability to move towards work, as called for in your Lordships’ amendment.

A little later on, Jo Cox said that,

“it is time to listen to Macmillan, Scope, Sense and Parkinson’s UK, to the many experts who have lined up”,

to oppose the cuts to ESA. Stephen Timms said:

“The judgment that the House has to make … is whether”,

to listen to Ministers or to the organisations representing disabled people. Your Lordships have listened to disabled people, but the House of Commons, which ultimately determines how things play out, has preferred to listen to the Government, who have not been able to give any convincing reason for their decision to cut £30 a week from the incomes of 500,000 disabled people. As I said, it is a black day for those 500,000 disabled people—and for disabled people in general because this action is emblematic of the way in which this Conservative Government have chosen to treat disabled people. As Helen Goodman said:

“The fact is that Ministers are looking for large savings at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was not made clear in the general election campaign; then, the Prime Minister said that disabled people would be protected.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/16; cols. 1052-58.]

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By this action, the Government have betrayed the trust of disabled people and they should not be surprised if they forfeit it for the rest of their time in office.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD): My Lords, before the Front Benches wind up this final session on this important Bill, I am prompted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Low. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I commend him and his colleagues on the Cross Benches who experience some of the problems facing disabled people for their work and for the contribution that they have made to the Bill—and I agree with the Minister that some of the contributions have been important. Their experience and the report of the commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Low, helped me to understand exactly what was at stake in some of these measures.

Concentrating on Clauses 13 and 14 and sending this back to the Commons for further consideration was the right decision. It was the right part of the Bill to concentrate on. There are a number of things that we will need to watch carefully. I support those who have said that we must now engage in careful and urgent monitoring across the piece of how the ESA support group is catered for in future. Something that particularly worries me is the perverse incentive that will now be introduced into the scheme for people to hide from the truth in terms of the statements that they make when applying for their work capability assessment, because the cliff-edge for getting into the group will be that much steeper. These things must be carefully monitored going forward.

I think that the Minister has done everything that he could and that this is a better Bill, but it is still a severe Bill that will cause hardship for the rest of this Parliament. I look forward to the discussions with colleagues on the White Paper. That will be an important moment when we can remedy some of the defects that are still in the Bill and the savings that will be occasioned by it. Mental illness and fluctuating conditions are other areas that we will need to study carefully.

Finally, over the weekend I read an interesting report from the think tank Reform, Working Welfare: A Radically New Approach to Sickness and Disability Benefits. Reform has come up with interesting ideas that are new to me and it would be reassuring if the Minister could ask his officials to look at it; some of those ideas are worth pursuing. This Bill will now go for Royal Assent and I think that the best thing the Minister can do in concluding these proceedings would be to commit himself and the department to urgent and fine-print monitoring of how it works in practice.

3.30 pm

Baroness Manzoor (LD): My Lords, perhaps I, too, may voice the disappointment that has already expressed by other noble Lords at the outcome of the House of Commons’ decision. The noble Lord, Lord Low’s, amendment was fair and reasonable. In the end this House was left merely asking the Government to undertake a full impact assessment before they cut £30 a week in benefit to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We must remember that these are people who have been assessed as having limited

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capacity for work: people with disabilities, mental health problems, autism and learning difficulties, as well as those with progressive diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s. At the very least, and not only because it is good law-making, the Government should have undertaken a full and detailed impact assessment before these cuts are introduced. Clearly, this will now not happen.

I fear the negative consequences that some may be faced with once these cuts take effect. Will they push more people into the support group? I do not know. Could they hinder their health and well-being and delay their recovery? I do not know. Which employers will create more jobs for these groups? I do not know. I could go on with the questions to which limited or no answers have been given by the Government. Instead, I suspect that the DWP may well have to deal with more complaints and appeals. And I would not be surprised if a legal challenge was mounted, particularly by people with disabilities. We are all familiar with the current legal challenge going through the courts in relation to the so-called “bedroom tax”.

The Prime Minister has stated that he wants a fairer and just society, but these cuts will not aid that ambition. We are the fifth richest country in the world. To let down people who find themselves with limited capacity to work due to circumstances beyond their control cannot be right. Coupling this with the fact that many employers are not equipped, resourced or willing to take on people with disabilities or with fluctuating work patterns, can make good employment opportunities for some of these people difficult. Cutting their benefits without a full and detailed impact assessment should not be the first thing a modern, compassionate and caring society such as ours does.

I find it difficult to square this circle when sweetheart deals are being reported between the Treasury and some multinational companies such as Facebook regarding what tax they should pay, losing billions to the public purse. As noble Lords know, I and my colleagues have looked at this Bill through the prism of work, and, like many other noble Lords, I am delighted that the Government intend to halve the employment disability gap; that is a very laudable aim. But without proper analysis and impact evaluation, I fear—as other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Low, have stated previously—that the target may become just window-dressing.

We accept that the Commons have had ample opportunity to review and accept the amendments of your Lordships’ House and, should they have wished to do so, they could have voted otherwise. For that reason, with a very heavy heart we accept that there is little more that we can do but accept the Commons’ decisions.

But before I sit down, I will take this opportunity sincerely to thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for the concessions that he has managed to secure and for his courteous willingness to engage so constructively throughout the Bill. However, I put him on notice—and I know that he will not expect anything less—that we on these Benches will come back robustly to the arguments on monitoring that were made in this House when the White Paper is published later in the year.

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Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, I do not plan to make a speech; I simply want to put on record the terrible fear that has been conveyed to me by sick and disabled people at the prospect of what we are doing here today. It is very easy for us to sit here, comfortable and secure, and just pass another clause to another Bill—but for these people it is terrifying, and that terror and fear has been conveyed to me. What they face is inevitable debt. They may be people who have not been in debt before; they hate debt and are frightened of it—and of the loss of their homes. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, rightly said, this is a truly black day for these people. That is a glib phrase, some might say, but it is terribly real for people up and down the country.

I, too, applaud the Minister for what he has done to ameliorate in some small ways what I regard as the truly terrible actions of, I would say, the Treasury in imposing these cuts on the most vulnerable people in our society. I just want to pose one question to the Minister. Will he monitor the number of suicides in the year following the introduction of this cut? I am certain that there will be people who cannot face the debts and the loss of their homes and who will take their lives. If the monitoring shows what I believe this cut will do, will he assure the House that he will seriously consider reviewing this action?

Baroness Deech (CB): My Lords, I rise to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Low. Until about a year ago, I was by no means an expert in this field, and I am still not, but I have had the privilege for nearly a year of chairing the House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability. This afternoon, we have listened to a litany of shameful government actions that will undermine the struggles of disabled people. Disabled people are not “them over there”; any one of us could become disabled tomorrow by an accident or an illness. This applies to all of us; it is not something to be put in a corner. I find it quite shameful that we are removing Motability cars and that we are not carrying out an impact assessment.

My conclusion is that there is nobody in the Commons to champion the rights of disabled people in a holistic manner, and that it falls to this House, which has, fortunately, a good share of disabled people and those who are experts, to do so. I want this House to put on record its dismay, disagreement and disappointment with the way that disabled people are being treated—the very people who are trying to get back to work and trying to be independent. And it could be you, tomorrow.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, as others have said, this is a sorry occasion when we have to accept that the Government will have their way on the £1,500 a year reduction in ESA WRAG and universal credit limited capability for work component for new claims from April 2017, but in doing so we should make clear that we reject the Secretary of State’s assertion that this House was somehow usurping parliamentary procedure in asking the Commons to defer its introduction until there is a proper impact assessment. We remain concerned that, in pressing ahead with this measure, the Government have continued to fail their public sector equality duty, which is to

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consider the impact of their policies on the elimination of discrimination, the advancement of equality of opportunity and the fostering of good relations.

Noble Lords may have had circulated to them correspondence between the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Roger Godsiff MP, which commented on the very limited analysis of the ESA work-related activity proposals. It said:

“These are the kinds of matters that we might have expected a more thorough analysis to have considered. Without this level of evidence, the assessment does not, in our opinion, sufficiently support consideration of alternative options which might have less of an impact on people with particular protected characteristics”.

We know that the EHRC wrote to the Secretary of State last September, offering to work more closely with the DWP on the Bill, but we understand that the offer was rejected. Will the Minister confirm that that was the case?

At Third Reading, my noble friend Lady Sherlock, while acknowledging some improvements along the way—the Minister outlined those and we thank him for his engagement—asserted that this is still “a bad Bill”. My noble friend was right. The retention of Clauses 13 and 14 is a particular manifestation of its unfairness. It is therefore a regret that, given what this House considers to be the right thing to do, as expressed by strong votes, we have been unable to convince a sufficient number of the elected House to our point of view.

We hold fast to the view that including these provisions will not act as an incentive to work—quite the reverse. We remain dismayed at the paucity of the analysis that underpins the Government’s position and their refusal to hold back until a proper impact assessment has been undertaken. It seems perverse in the extreme to rush ahead with these changes and at the same time promise the publication of a White Paper to address in part the disability employment gap. It is not helped much, either, by some meagre concessions that bring some uncertainties in their wake.

We should express our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for the leadership that he has shown on this issue, and for the work that he and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Campbell, have done in the Halving the Gap? review. It seems to us that this stands in stark contrast with the Government’s effort by helping us better to understand the lives which many disabled people live, their aspirations for work, the barriers that they face to getting and sustaining work, and the poverty and poor health which challenges so many of their lives—issues that are brought home to us also by the work of the Disability Benefits Consortium. As we have heard, it has asserted that these clauses will bring savings of £640 million to government by the last year of this Parliament. In a couple of weeks’ time we will hear from the Chancellor who is to be favoured in his next Budget. We will hold in our minds the price that is being extracted from disabled people as a contribution. But our task in the mean time, as others have said, is to continue to press the Government on how these cuts are affecting disabled people both in and out of work and, as the DBC urges, to argue for a proper impact assessment about the consequences for their physical and mental health, and for their finances.

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Lord Freud: I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I reiterate that we are committed to working with interested Peers to improve the existing guidance around the progressive conditions and the reassessment. I share the aim of getting greater awareness among people suffering from these conditions—that is awareness in the jobcentre and the disability charities, and with claimants. I have asked officials to set up a meeting with that group of Peers on that work as soon as diaries can be juggled together—soon.

I pay tribute, along with other Peers, to the group of Cross-Bench Peers who have argued so passionately against the changes that we are introducing in ESA WRAG and the universal credit limited capability for work provisions. I refer, of course, to the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Meacher. I assure them that we have heard what they said and that those concerns will be right at the forefront of our minds—certainly of my mind—as we work with ministerial colleagues to finalise the White Paper.

3.45 pm

The main question I have been asked by a number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Low, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor—concerns the assessment. The context of that will be the White Paper that we are producing. As we consider the White Paper, I will make sure that we look very hard at the right way to make the assessment. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, referred to making an assessment across the piece, but, clearly, within that we will look at this area as well.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that the monitoring of suicides will not be included in the assessment. It is such a difficult and fraught area. Suicide is always a tragedy and a lot of different reasons are always involved. We look at a number of suicides but on a private basis, as a lot of the information cannot be shared, so that is not a useful approach. I know that because I have looked at this several times as those tragedies have come up.

Baroness Meacher: The Minister says that some of this information cannot be given away. Obviously, you cannot give away any personal information. However, if, for example, the suicide rate in that group is 10% or 20% higher in the year after the introduction of this cut than in the year before, it should be perfectly possible to make that information public, and surely it would be highly significant. If the department could issue that sort of figure, I would be very grateful.

Lord Freud: We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying—however you die—and the fact that someone is claiming benefit. As I say, I will send that analysis to the noble Baroness but I wanted to make that absolutely clear now rather than set hares running.

As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, the Secretary of State has been absolutely clear that the impact assessments that we have used

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provide the most robust analysis that is available. The White Paper will touch on many issues related to health, disability and work, and will cover a lot of new ground which we have not had the chance to debate in the context of these provisions. I commit to taking on board views directly from the group, as a number of noble Lords have requested. We will seek those views, and value them, as we aim to get better outcomes for disabled people and those with health conditions. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords agree that in the context that we are talking about there is no need to test the opinion of the House on this matter. I beg to move.

Motion A agreed.

Motion B

Moved by Lord Freud

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 9B and 9C, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 9D.

9: Clause 14, leave out Clause 14.

Commons Disagreement and Reason

The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 9 for the following reason

9A:Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

Lords Non-Insistence and Amendments in lieu

The Lords do not insist on their Amendment 9, but do propose Amendments 9B and 9C in lieu—

9B: Clause 14, page 14, line 27, at end insert—

“(2) This section shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report giving his or her estimate of the impact of the provision in this section on the—

(a) physical and mental health,

(b) financial situation, and

(c) ability to return to work,

of persons who would otherwise be entitled to start claiming the limited capability for work element of universal credit.

(3) Regulations bringing this section into force shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

9C: Clause 31, page 28, line 2, at end insert “and subject to section 14(2) and (3)”.

Commons Disagreement and Reason

The Commons disagree with the Lords in their Amendments 9B and 9C to the Bill in lieu of Lords Amendment 9 for the following reason

9D:Because they would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

Motion B agreed.

Refugees and Migrants: Royal Navy and NATO Interception in Mediterranean


3.50 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence to an Urgent Question in another place on the announcement that the Royal Navy will

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join NATO forces in the interception and return of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean. The Statement is as follows:

“The scale of the migration challenge requires NATO, the European Union, and other European countries across Europe to work together to address both its symptoms—the constant flow of migrants and the conditions we see them face—and the causes in Syria and beyond. We must also work with local civilian authorities to tackle the gangs that profit from smuggling of migrants. The UK has already been engaged in this work for several months, with the Home Office’s ship “VOS Grace” deployed in the region since November with a detachment of Border Force officers. On 11 February, NATO Defence Ministers took the decision to participate in international efforts better to enable Turkish and Greek coastguards and FRONTEX to intercept the migrant boats and disrupt the smugglers’ business model. NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 arrived in the region within 48 hours of that decision, and has been conducting initial reconnaissance and surveillance of illegal crossings since then.

The NATO Secretary General outlined in a statement yesterday evening that discussions between NATO, Turkey and Greece have agreed that NATO vessels can now operate in Greek and Turkish territorial waters. We have decided that the UK contribution is to send Royal Fleet Auxiliary “Mounts Bay” and a maritime Wildcat helicopter to the Aegean Sea. Their roles will be to support the NATO monitoring and surveillance task. They will work alongside three Border Force boats – the “VOS Grace”; the cutter “Protector”, which is on its way to the region; and a further Border Force cutter that is expected to start operations later this month. Together, they will support the Turkish and Greek coastguards and the EU FRONTEX mission.

The Prime Minister is attending today’s EU Turkey summit on migration. Contributing to the EU and NATO missions to counter smugglers is only part of the Government’s wider approach to tackling the root causes of irregular migration. We are providing up to £65 million of funding to the Europe-wide response. This includes a new fund of up to £10 million to meet the needs of refugee children in Europe. The UK is leading the way in tackling these issues at their source, providing significant amounts of aid to assist in stabilising troubled regions, lessening the need for people to leave. The Royal Navy contribution is an important part of the international effort to assist the Turkish and Greek authorities in breaking the business model of criminal people traffickers”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.53 pm

Lord Touhig (Lab): I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question in the other place as a Statement. It is right that we should do everything possible to help these poor people who have already suffered so much and now risk their lives again trying to make the sea crossing between Turkey and Greece, but will the Minister say more about our role?

The Statement said that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary “Mounts Bay” will be supporting NATO monitoring and surveillance tasks. Will the Minister confirm that

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“Mounts Bay” will be picking up refugees whose boats are at risk of sinking, if we encounter such craft? What will happen then? There are no international waters in that part of the Aegean. If we pick up in Greek waters, do we take the refugees to Greece; and is it the same if we pick up in Turkish waters—do we take them back to Turkey. Do we disable, impound or even sink the boats from which we rescue people? “Mounts Bay” will be supported by three Border Force boats—is it correct that we have just five? Where will the three for this operation come from? Are any coming from our own territorial waters? Are the other two vessels at sea or being repaired? Finally, will the Minister say more about the overall NATO plan to bring to an end this evil exploitation of migrants’ sufferings?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for his questions. The principal role of “Mounts Bay” will be to gather information and provide it, for example, to the Turkish coastguards to help them intercept migrant boats in their territorial waters and return those boats to Turkey. That can happen straightaway. In cases where RFA “Mounts Bay” needs to come to the rescue of a migrant boat in distress, we are working with the relevant authorities in order to get to a position where we can carry out returns.

The noble Lord is absolutely right to talk about the origins of this crisis. We believe we need to take a tougher approach in order to stem the flow of migrants into the EU. While the NATO deployment is currently a support and surveillance mission—it is important to emphasise that: it is not a search and rescue mission—we are considering the practicalities and legalities of returning any rescued migrants to Turkey. These are complex considerations, particularly given the various territorial waters. Discussions are ongoing today at the EU-Turkey summit, and Parliament will be updated in due course.

We are not alone in the efforts that we are contributing. The NATO operation is under German command. The German command ship FGS “Bonn” is already in the area. It will be supported not only by “Mounts Bay” but by a Canadian escort, the HMCS “Fredericton”; a Turkish escort, the TCG “Barbaros”; and a Greek escort ship, the HS “Salamis”. The key thing will be to spot the migrant boats as soon as possible after they leave the Turkish shore, and preferably before they do so. That, of course, is the role of the Wildcat helicopter and the other helicopters in the area. I shall need to write to the noble Lord on some of his detailed questions about the exact location of the other British ships that I mentioned.

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, we welcome the inclusion of RFA “Mounts Bay” in the NATO maritime task force, and that of the Wildcat helicopter. Will the Minister tell the House, for the operation as a whole, what arrangements have been made for NATO ships to dock in Turkish ports should the need arise, and for the safe onward passage of migrants after the processing of their claims for asylum?

Earl Howe: My Lords, if it became necessary for our ships to dock in a Turkish port for any overriding reason, I have no doubt that the Turkish authorities

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would allow us to do that—but not to disembark anyone that we may have picked up en route; it would be purely for the servicing of those ships. But I do not anticipate that that will be necessary. As regards asylum claims, it is important to understand that migrants cannot make claims for asylum in the UK on UK-flagged vessels outside UK territorial waters—lest that should be a concern of the noble Baroness. If we do pick up any migrants—again, I stress that that is not our primary role—we would take them to Greece in the first instance.

Viscount Hailsham (Con): My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the degree to which we are liaising with the Turkish authorities? It really does seem that the Turks are much better placed to stop those ships leaving their coasts than we are to intercept them on their way.

Earl Howe: My noble friend is absolutely right. This is why NATO is in a support role, as I emphasised, to alert the authorities in the Turkish coastguard and FRONTEX, which is the EU border control agency, to intercept the ships. It is not our role to intercept those ships; it is for the Turkish and, if need be, the Greek coastguard authorities. They have assets in the area which are well placed to do that.

Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, what degree of co-ordination will be maintained between the NATO mission and the EU’s anti-people smuggling mission in the Mediterranean, Operation Sophia? While the two have separate areas of operation they will both require access to strategic capabilities such as surveillance, reconnaissance and helicopters, which the noble Earl has mentioned, and which are in short supply. It would seem essential that a high degree of co-operation is maintained between these two operations if those scarce resources are to be used as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Earl Howe: The noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right. As he knows, the UK has provided a significant contribution to the EU naval force operation countering migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. We have been doing that since July last year. HMS “Enterprise” remains committed to that operation over the winter, identifying potential migrant-smuggling vessels off the coast of Libya. He is also right to draw our attention to the whole of the Mediterranean as an area of concern. We must not forget that Operation Sophia is just one part of the overall, comprehensive approach to tackling the migrant crisis. The migrants who come up from sub-Saharan Africa are, by and large, those who leave the Libyan coast. In the main, those arriving at the Turkish coast stem from Afghanistan and Syria.

Lord Hain (Lab): My Lords, what exactly did the Minister mean when he said that any migrants picked up by British ships would be returned or sent to Greece? Does that not put even more pressure on the Greek authorities, which are being overwhelmed by flows of refugees? Can the Minister also give assurances to the House that Amnesty’s recent report on serious violations of human rights affecting migrants within Turkey is being acted upon by the Government?

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Earl Howe: We are aware of the concerns mentioned by the noble Lord. That is exactly why I referred to the discussions ongoing today at the EU-Turkey summit about the legalities of returning these migrants to Turkey. In the mean time, the advice I have received is that should we pick up any migrants—I do not necessarily anticipate that we will—the default position at present is to land them in Greece. The Greek authorities have indicated that they are willing to accept those individuals.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, as my noble friend has said this is a welcome move, if a small and rather late one. But have we not now reached a position where Her Majesty’s Government’s policy is to rescue such refugees as they find with their lives endangered and then to abandon them, because they will not take a single one of the refugees now fleeing for their lives from the Syrian battlefields? Yet we are perfectly happy, of course, to criticise Europe for not being able to cope with a million of them. I am not allowed to use the word “hypocrisy” in this Chamber so let me confine myself to saying: does the Minister not find that, overall, that is a pretty discreditable policy?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I do not share the noble Lord’s view. The Prime Minister has announced that we will resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees over the next few years. That will build on an existing scheme for Syrians, designed to support refugees based on their vulnerability. We have now settled more than 1,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees and, in addition to those 20,000, we have partnered with the United Nations refugee agency to identify vulnerable child refugees in the region for resettlement to the UK, where it is in the best interests of the child. The £10 million aid package to which I referred will be devoted to that.

Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2016

Motion to Approve

4.04 pm

Moved by Lord O'Neill of Gatley

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 14 January be approved.

Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord O'Neill of Gatley) (Con): My Lords, I confirm that the provisions contained in the regulations before your Lordships today are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

I will start by setting out the purpose of the regulations that are put before the House today. These regulations make a single change: reducing the income rise disregard from £5,000 to £2,500, taking it back to the original level it was set at when tax credits were introduced and aligning it with the income fall disregard. This change was announced in the summer Budget of

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8 July 2015. This means that awards will more accurately reflect the claimant’s recent earnings, meaning fewer overpayments and that fewer people will go into debt as a result.

Tax credits were introduced in 2003, at which point the income rise disregard was set at £2,500. At the time, the tax credits IT system was unable to cope with the unpredictability of family incomes, and in 2006 the amount by which a family’s income could increase before their tax credit award would adjust within the year—the income rise disregard—was increased to £25,000. This meant that two families with significantly different incomes could receive the same tax credits award.

Following the 2010 election, the coalition Government reduced the rate of the disregard to £10,000 and then to £5,000. Improvements to stabilise the tax credits system and the increased use of real-time information—RTI—mean that the system is now able to be more responsive to claimants’ changes of circumstances. I reassure noble Lords that when considering bringing forward this change, the Government considered the impacts on claimants in accordance with their legal obligations, and that there will be no cash losers from this measure in the tax year.

The purpose of a disregard is to provide a buffer zone in which a family’s income can increase during the course of a year without affecting their tax credit entitlement. It has been a feature of the tax credits system since its inception in 2003 and was originally set, as I said, at £2,500. Let me explain how the disregard works in practice. Following receipt of a claim, HMRC makes an initial tax credit award based on the claimant’s current circumstances and income from the previous tax year. As the current tax year progresses, claimants can notify HMRC of changes in their circumstances. Some changes must be reported within one month: for example, a partner moving in with a previously single claimant. However, other changes, such as a change in income, do not need to be reported until the year’s end, although claimants are encouraged to keep HMRC informed of changes in earnings.

After the end of the tax year, HMRC sends claimants renewal papers. The purpose of these is to determine the claimant’s actual entitlements for the year just ended and, if appropriate, to initiate a claim for the year ahead. HMRC does this by asking the claimant to confirm their income and circumstances for the year that has just ended. Where the claimant’s income has stayed the same, or if the income in that year has risen by less than the disregard amount compared to the year before, the increase in income does not affect the tax credit award in that tax year. It is disregarded from the final calculation of a tax credit award. If, on the other hand, their income has risen by more than the tax credit disregard, their tax credit award is decreased in the year. However, it is important to emphasise again that individuals will still be taking home more money, owing to the increase in their income.

Either way, in the subsequent year a claimant’s tax credits award will be calculated in the usual way, using their full annual income from the previous tax year to

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determine their tax credit entitlement. After the change in the tax year, whether the recipient’s pay rise was above or below the disregard level, their tax credit award for the following year will be adjusted downwards to what it would have been had no disregard existed.

I turn to fairness. In practice, this means that when the income rise disregard was set at £25,000, someone on tax credits could get a pay rise of £2,000 per month and still be technically entitled to the same tax credits award until the tax year end. Even under the current system, a household’s income can rise by £400 a month and they will still be entitled to the same tax credits award until the end of the tax year. Claimants would see their tax credits entitlement reduced in the following year, having become accustomed to the significant income change.

Let us assume that this pay rise of £400 a month means that this household is now taking home as much money as their next-door neighbours, whose circumstances are exactly the same. But the next-door neighbours are not entitled to the same level of tax credits even though they have exactly the same income and circumstances. Under the system set out in the regulations, with an income rise disregard of £2,500, the household with an increased income of £4,800 a year would have their tax credits award adjusted to reflect their increased earnings sooner. Their total income would rise more than the decrease in the tax credits award, providing the buffer zone that the income rise disregard is designed for, and they would also see their award aligned more closely with next year’s tax entitlement—the same as the next-door neighbours.

This example shows how reducing the income rise disregard reduces the unfairness in tax credits awards for families in similar circumstances. This is the right thing to do to ensure fairness to all tax credits claimants. This principle is already live in universal credit, where a claimant’s award changes each month based on their earnings, and this change brings forward some of these benefits.

HMRC will communicate this change by providing information in tax credits renewals packs, which will highlight the annual income threshold that would need to be exceeded to trigger a change in their tax credit awards, and when they should report changes in income to HMRC.

With the introduction of RTI—as I said, real-time information—employers can now submit employee payroll information in real time. Ninety-nine per cent of employers are covered by the scheme, which means that HMRC is now in a better position proactively to check that it has the correct income details when claimants renew their award at the end of the tax year. It also provides an opportunity to check awards within the year.

From September 2016, HMRC will use this real-time information to conduct automated checks of an individual claimant’s monthly income. This means that HMRC is better able to assess claimants’ tax credit entitlement in relation to their increased income. Should RTI find that a claimant’s entitlement should be reduced by £500 or more, HMRC will send a letter, text message or automated voice message to the claimant, prompting

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them to make contact with HMRC within 14 days. If they do not, their income will be automatically amended on the system.

Let me be clear: HMRC will not only tell all claimants up-front when they must report changes in their income, it will also, in the majority of cases, prompt claimants to report significant increases in income that HMRC has picked up through the RTI feed. If claimants do not respond to the prompt, the system will automatically make the change and reduce the claimant’s tax credits award. This reduces the risk of overpayments while making clear to the claimant their responsibilities.

Finally, the Government are committed to seeing this change implemented correctly, and are taking this considered approach in both the operational IT delivery and in engagement with claimants. This will ensure that we see a reduction in the risk of tax credit overpayments and, therefore, a reduction in claimants falling into debt.

In conclusion, the disregard reduction will affect only those claimants whose income increases in-year by more than £2,500. Let me repeat that there will be no cash losers. This change will make tax credits more responsive to income changes; will reduce the overinflated rise and subsequent fall that follows an income rise; and will reduce the inequality of very different awards to families in similar circumstances and with similar incomes. It returns the disregard to its original design and purpose, and now is the right time to do this because the tax credits system is now much more able to deal with income changes. I beg to move.

4.15 pm

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by Baroness Manzoor

At the end to insert “but that this House regrets that the draft Regulations reduce incentives for low-income working people to increase their salaries, will lead to an increase in overpayments of tax credits, and could place families in additional hardship at the end of the financial year”.

Baroness Manzoor (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, for that overview of the income disregard level applied to working people on tax credits. As I have said previously, I was delighted when the Chancellor decided not to move forward with his proposed cuts to tax credits; however, despite the perception that changes to tax credits were stopped entirely, the reality is somewhat different.

We all know that the cuts to universal credit, while they mirror precisely the tax credit cuts and matter more in the long run, will go ahead, despite the efforts of those on these Benches to stop them. They will, in the long term, affect millions of the low-income working people the Chancellor claims to support. There is also another hangover from the plan to cut tax credits—the change in the income disregard obliquely referred to in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. These regulations will reduce the additional amount a person can earn while claiming tax credits in any given year from £5,000 to £2,500, as we have just heard. That means

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that if a person’s salary exceeds their expectations by more than £2,500 they will face an overpayment at the end of the year.

Overpayments can cause real hardship for those on low incomes, who get what amounts to a bill at the end of the tax year. For those living week to week, this can prove catastrophic, forcing them into rent arrears or limiting their ability to put food on the table. So, the level of the disregard matters. If the Government truly cared about making work pay, they would ensure that the level of the disregard allows people to feel confident in taking on additional hours, or taking a promotion, without worrying that they are going to breach the tax credit disregard and face an overpayment charge at the end of the year.

The income disregard is particularly important for those taking on unpredictable work. I want people to take up a job, assuming they are able, regardless of the job. Unlike some, I do not think, for example, that zero-hours contracts are fundamentally wrong. Indeed, for some people they are a useful tool to balance their work and personal lives. While there are concerns about their exploitation in some sectors and by some businesses, ultimately, we want people to feel able to take up a job, even on zero hours, and feel confident that it is the right decision. So, the level of the income disregard matters in giving people confidence to take up work; setting it at a level where it hits only people whose salary increases substantially is important in giving that confidence.

I do not believe that £2,500 is enough of a disregard to prevent significant overpayments. What is the primary reason for that? We have been here before. The Minister is absolutely right that when tax credits were first introduced by the Labour Government in 2003, the disregard was set at £2,500. The result was £2.2 billion of overpayments, which affected 2 million households—a third of all tax credit claimants—who were hit with overpayment debts that year, many of which ran to thousands of pounds. That meant that millions of low-income working families faced unexpected changes that they struggled to pay for. Do we want to return to that state of affairs? The Labour Government, realising this problem, hugely increased the disregard, all the way up to £25,000. Many would see this as a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it had the desired effect. Overpayments by HMRC fell significantly in the subsequent three years: from £2.2 billion to £1 billion for the years 2006 to 2009. The Government decided to reduce the size of the overpayment buffer zone: first, in 2010, from £25,000 to £10,000; and then to £5,000 from April 2013. Reports by HMRC show that as the income disregard has reduced in value, overpayments by HMRC, unsurprisingly, have increased. By 2013-14, when the disregard had returned to £5,000, the total amount of tax credit overpayments had again reached £1.9 billion—almost back to 2003 figures.

The £2,500 disregard proposed in the regulations would, in real terms, be the lowest threshold ever imposed on tax credits, given the inflationary changes since 2003. There is a risk that it will lead to further significant increases in overpayments and hardship for low-income working families. Yet in making this decision, the Government have offered little evidence as to what

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the impact of these changes will be. The original regional impact assessment, which was published alongside all the tax credit cuts, simply scored the savings of the change in disregard, which was mentioned only twice in the entire document. No further impact assessments have been made for these regulations.

In response to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the Government said that they expect that 800,000 people will be affected by this change. However, they seem to offer little explanation of this estimate or of what the average impact on each person will be. We should not allow the Government to make such big decisions, affecting so many people on low incomes, based on so little information. In the Commons, Ministers utterly failed to give further explanation, simply saying that the majority of those hit will be couples, and the majority of those will be male-female couples. That is simply the law of averages, not an adequate explanation of the impact of the Government’s policy. I also note, for those on the Labour Benches who are hesitant to support a Lib Dem Motion to Regret, that their own Front Bench in the Commons stated that the Opposition are seriously concerned about the impact of the reduced figure of £2,500 on low-income families, and rightly divided on the issue. It is therefore surely right for the House of Lords Opposition Front Bench to follow their Commons colleagues in voting against these regulations, albeit on a Motion to Regret rather than attempting to stop the Commons having its way.

The Minister was always likely to say that things have changed since 2003, and indeed he did. He said that this change is because of the new real-time information system, which will cut overpayments as RTI uses monthly pay figures to spot an income rise during the year, so that tax credit payments can be adjusted quickly instead of leaving a debt to be paid at the end of the year. However, organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group say there is no mechanism allowing tax credit awards to react automatically to many of the changes in circumstances that currently affect entitlement to tax credits, such as a change in the presence of a partner, the number of dependent children, spending on formal childcare, or whether parents work more or less than between 16 and 30 hours a week. Entitlements to tax credits change on the day when these changes occur, yet awards cannot be adjusted until families tell HMRC, which recalculates the entitlement. Overpayments often arise during this intervening period but that will not be picked up by real-time information. How do we know that? Because it is not picked up at the moment. If real-time information worked, we would not have seen, as I noted earlier, the increases in overpayments that have occurred since the £5,000 disregard was put in place.

These regulations will have a big impact on families, but do they actually benefit the taxpayer? I suggest that the benefit is likely to be limited. There is real concern that in the end, it will end up costing HMRC more in trying to claw back the overpayments than it will have saved in lowering the disregard. HMRC figures show that as of June 2014, no less than £5.6 billion in tax credit overpayments was owed by households, £89 million of which was from 2003-04. So these regulations are likely to put a significant financial burden on families and deter people from taking on

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additional hours of employment, and yet may not in the end result in the overpayments being returned to the Treasury. This is a badly thought through plan that runs counter to the Government’s supposed aim of incentivising people to take up work.

We must understand that this is only a short-term fix. Universal credit, as the Minister has said, will replace tax credits in a few years. That is very welcome, since that system will do away with the need for disregard altogether—exactly the right approach to the overpayment problem. As universal credit comes in, the scored savings from the cutting of the disregard reduce significantly, so these regulations are likely to hit millions of people over the next few years to no long-term end. This is bad law, poorly justified by the Government and running counter to their own stated aims. That is the reason for my Motion to Regret. I beg to move.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD): My Lords, I am delighted to be able to follow my noble friend. She has done the House a service this afternoon in raising this very important issue. It is particularly important for the Liberal Democrats because, in our reduced circumstances in the Commons, it was impossible for us as a group to take part in the debate on Thursday 3 March when these draft Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 were discussed in the Delegated Legislation Committee. Now, we have a straightforward and excellent statement of what the Liberal Democrats in Parliament think about these regulations, and my noble friend did a tremendous job in that regard.

We also owe her a debt because she brings in front of us a Treasury Minister who is a significant figure, not just because he is a Minister in the Treasury but because of his background. I hope that more than anything else this afternoon he will say to us straightforwardly that he is going to take an interest in these regulations. His name is now on them. He is an experienced hand, he understands statistics and he understands how processes of administration work, and I have some questions for him.

4.30 pm

The Minister is at the heart of the policy-making. My noble friend is absolutely correct to say that some of the consequences of these regulations will conflict with the Government’s stated intention of trying to progress people within work. Unemployment may be less of a problem going forward in the rest of this Parliament, and it may be that we will be trying to get people to earn more—certainly that is part of the spirit of universal credit—but these regulations are a disincentive for people to go up the career ladder. My American friends keep saying, “It’s any job, a better job, then a career”. That is the progression that we should be thinking about. I put it to the Minister—and I would be grateful if he would reflect on it—that these regulations contradict that way of thinking.

The second thing that I want to say directly to the noble Lord in his position as a Minister is that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee had a bit of a job dragging information out of his department.

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That is perhaps not unusual, but in future can he use his influence to try to make sure that everything that can be known is put into the public domain in the furtherance of regulations of this kind? That is important in our understanding of what the Government are trying to do.

In that regard, is the Minister really saying to the House today that this new system, which will start to operate in April this year—that is, not months but days away—is being brought forward in a way that will be capable of being discharged properly, professionally and not to the detriment of the people who will be subject to the new constraints of the regulations? I do not have the figures at the front of my head but there will be 4 million families on child tax credit and approximately 2 million families on working tax credit. That is 6 million households that these regulations could potentially affect, and 800,000 households are likely to be affected. I repeat: we are talking about introducing measures that will take effect in days.

Therefore, I want reassurance from the Minister that, while he is monitoring these regulations, he will pay attention to their effect, using the real-time information system that he now has available to him. I understand that that is significantly different from the situation in 2002. Then, I was the chairman of the Select Committee in the other place that oversaw the introduction of these things. My noble friend was absolutely correct to say that all of us who were there at that time bear the scars of the overpayments of tax credits, and I do not want that to come round again.

The Minister says that nobody will be cash losers. I think that technically, over time, that will be correct. However, there will be big disruptions in month-to-month income if the Treasury takes a clawback out of the tax credit payments. In that regard, will he confirm that the Budget decision in 2014 will increase to 50% from 25% the rate at which clawback can happen? That is a significant change that is taking place in a few days’ time, and I wonder how many people have been warned about it. I do not have any great confidence that the system is up to that and capable of dealing with it.

I want to say one other thing, and will quote from the Red Book for Budget 2015. We were told in the Explanatory Memorandum that £170 million would be saved by the Government, and that is a significant sum. However, in the summer Budget 2015 Red Book, at page 73, it goes on to say that in the financial year after that, £225 million will be taken out; the year after that, it will be £250 million, and the year after that, it will be £180 million. It is diminishing because, as my noble friend quite rightly said, this is all going eventually into universal credit. My arithmetic takes that to a reduction of £935 million, so this is no insignificant order. It adds up to quite a big row of Treasury beans.

I finish by saying that the main worry I have—I referred to it earlier—revolves around the impetus for this going forward, which my noble friend correctly mentioned. We are trying to encourage people to trade themselves out of debt by getting more hours of work and higher pay, and we understand that the Government are attempting to assist that process. However, reading the IFS Green Budget 2016 for the upcoming Budget, it is quite clear to me that the people who are going to

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suffer most for the rest of this Parliament are the two deciles at the second and third points of the income distribution. That is exactly the 800,000 families that are going to be hit by this and exactly the kind of households and families that this Government want to support. I do not understand why we get this contradiction in policy, except to say that the Government, and, more accurately, the Chancellor, want £935 million as part of their £12,000 million reduction in the welfare budget. I hope that the Minister will go away and reflect carefully on this policy and give us a guarantee that it is not all going to fall over in three weeks’ time because the RTI computer process fails to function.

Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab): My Lords, as has been outlined, the regulations before us today would reduce the tax credit income disregard from £5,000 to £2,500. We believe that it is right that we work towards developing a system which ensures that households do not incur tax credit overpayments. However, until such a point when real-time responsiveness can be guaranteed, it is surely justified that there is enough leeway in the system to reduce the shock of these overpayments and give households some time to readjust the family finances.

Thus far, the Government have failed to show that the system is resilient enough to cope with the reduction to the income disregard, having failed to provide your Lordships’ House with either an impact assessment or any evidence to support claims that the service mechanisms respond to real-time information. In inviting us to agree this order, surely the Government should have provided this information as a matter of course. In keeping with what I regard as standard practice, I would expect the Government to have produced an impact assessment to accompany these regulations, particularly in the light of public interest and your Lordships’ interest in this matter. However, that was not the case, and it was left to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, to which we are indebted, to investigate further.

In responding to the committee’s questions, the Government admitted that this change will impact on 800,000 households next year—a figure which only adds to my disbelief as to why no assessment was produced. They also go on to say, without supporting evidence, that of the 800,000 people,

“none will be cash losers because their income will have increased”.

In the absence of further detail, the House of Commons Library has analysed the impact that the disregard reduction will have on a family’s income, and its findings directly contradict the claims made by the Government. The findings suggest, for example, that for a lone parent with two children the income disregard reduction could hit a household by as much as £1,000. Of course, this is just one scenario, but in the absence of any data to support the claim that there will be “no losers”, it certainly calls the claim into question.

There is also no explanation for why the Government have determined that halving the income disregard is appropriate. Why the £2,500 figure? Is it the average minimum salary increase of tax credit claimants assessed over previous years? Is it an amount that would provide an adequate cost-of-living buffer for those on the lowest salaries within the scheme? I would be very

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interested to hear the Government’s rationale. I hope that the Minister can give us some indication of why an impact assessment was absent as well as an assurance that, particularly in matters which attract such intense public interest, such documents will accompany future instruments.

I turn to the apparent improvements in tax credit delivery systems which the Government alluded to in their response to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. It was suggested that it is now acceptable to return the disregard to the original level of 2003 because,

“the tax credit system is now operationally better able to cope … now that it has more up to date information on people’s earnings … HMRC are also making it easier to report changes quickly online, so that people will less often receive overpayments”.

Yet this is the third time since 2010 that the Government will have cut the income disregard and in every year since then the amount of overpayments has increased. That does not suggest to me that we have a system which can at present manage people’s changes in circumstance on a real-time basis. This cut will serve only to exacerbate such problems. That is not good for households which receive tax credits and nor is it good for our country’s public finances as a whole. Surely it would have been more sensible to wait for the introduction of universal credit, test the relevant systems and then explore the capacity of those systems to cope with real-time changes in people’s income.

These proposals have been poorly presented. I do not believe that the Government have given sufficient thought to how this reduction will impact on people who receive tax credits or given any consideration to how the mechanisms which process these claims will cope with the added demand. I hope that the Minister will make a serious attempt to address the specific points that I have raised and refrain from parroting the Treasury line that these measures will “make work pay”. As I have made clear, that has not been the focus of our concerns.

The Government must give assurances that a full impact assessment and evidence base will be provided for future instruments. I would be grateful if the Minister could also give a commitment to outline not only the ongoing improvements being made to the operational mechanisms used to calculate tax credits but what HMRC can do to help support those who receive overpayments. For example, where repayments are large, can they be spread over a number of years? Furthermore, can the Minister assure us that no unreasonable penalties will be levied against those who have been overpaid?

Your Lordships’ House has played its role in ensuring that full and effective scrutiny can take place, not only though this debate but, crucially, through the work of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which helped inform the discussion in the other place. I assure the Minister that we will watch developments in this area very carefully, as it is vital that we begin to see progress on addressing the overpayment of tax credits. Labour was well represented in the debate in the other place and made its position clear. The matter went to a vote and the Government succeeded. So the Government must now get on with ensuring that the real-time mechanisms live up to their promises.

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In the coming weeks and months, I do not doubt that there will be issues on which we will have to go further than simply indicating our disapproval and will have to test the opinion of the House. However, it is our judgment as Her Majesty’s Official Opposition that today is not such an occasion.

4.45 pm

Lord O'Neill of Gatley: My Lords, I thank those who have taken part so far in this debate. Each time that I have had the pleasure of standing here, I have always learned some interesting thoughts on whatever the topic is. I will try to respond to the things that I have heard as part of my closing statement. First, I will reiterate the broad framework.

This measure needs to be considered alongside the broader steps that the Government are taking, with their ambition for a higher-wage, lower-tax and lower-welfare society, which they were successfully elected to deliver in 2015. Under this proposal is the belief that work will always pay. In that regard, these regulations will reduce the degree of unfairness still persistent in the tax credit system. The reduction to the income rise disregard will reduce the instances where one family receives a higher tax credit award than another family with precisely the same income and the same circumstances. As I have already set out, it is also not unimportant to recall that this policy returns the income rise disregard to its original level.

With the introduction of real-time information, which each of the three speakers mentioned, the tax credits IT system is now more responsive and able to adjust to the fluctuations in family incomes in-year. I will return to that but, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, in particular mentioned, it is of course important that we try our best to monitor how that progresses. In the event that things do not turn out the way we expect, one would hope that a rational response would be to react accordingly. Before I come back to the specifics, it is also important to point out, as the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, herself said and other noble Lords touched on, that this is against the background where we are in any case migrating to universal credit. As part of that, a monthly system will be in operation and it is important to bear in mind that we are already in a position of travel. These new regulations reflect—

Lord Tunnicliffe: Will the Minister admit that the only possible rational response if the circumstances turn out as he has just described—and he promised a rational response—would be to return the disregard to the £5,000 level?

Lord O'Neill of Gatley: I am not sure that that would be the only rational response, but it would certainly be one of a number of ideas that one should consider in the event of any evidence that would subsequently accumulate as a result of the implementation of this regulation. Other policies could be thought of as well.

Baroness Manzoor: On that, of course there will not be sufficient time to return and up-level the income disregard from £2,500 to £5,000 because obviously universal credit will come into play. We will have all

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this upheaval. Bearing in mind what my noble friend Lord Kirkwood has already indicated, we are talking about this being implemented from 6 April. By the time the Government assess their evidence, many people may well find that they are in debt.

While I have the Floor, I must pick up on what the Minister has said twice. This is not a special award for people. People have to pay this money back the following year. Whether it is set at £5,000 or £25,000 is just a matter of accountancy. I do not want noble Lords who may not be familiar with this issue to think that people are getting £5,000 or £25,000 in their pockets without any comeback. It is simply a buffer zone. But it is the impact of those overpayments that causes real problems because they can push quite a number of people into debt. That is the issue here.

Lord O’Neill of Gatley: Let me respond to the two specific points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor. The first is linked to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. As I said, there are a number of ways one could think of to make a rational response, and one of the reasons I hesitated to go down the path that the question sought to take me is that it is important that this be seen in the context of what is happening with universal credit. Rather than prejudging what is implicit in both questions, which is that the real-time information system will not succeed in the way we believe it will, I think we should give it a chance.

In response to the second point made by the noble Baroness, I suspect that a number of noble Lords will not be aware of something that is technically quite complicated; there may not be sufficient awareness of what we are trying to deal with here. The reason why the disregard is being put back to its original level is because there are people who receive a significant increase in their income where there is no consequence without it coming back down. That is why all members of the coalition were perfectly happy to reduce it so significantly at the start of the last Government.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I appreciate that the Minister is trying to make progress, but I wonder if I could ask him a brief follow-up question to RTI. Is he confident that the new system which is to take effect in a few days’ time will be sufficiently sophisticated to disaggregate the data flows in the new system from the old system? Otherwise the overpayments that are overhanging the data at the moment will make it impossible for any statistical changes to be determined in the new system as opposed to the old, in terms of how successful or otherwise it might be.

Lord O’Neill of Gatley: My Lords, I have not personally studied the RTI system in enormous detail, but I am confident in our officials’ advice and guidance that the system has been sufficiently upgraded to enable us happily to undertake this policy initiative.

Baroness Manzoor: My Lords, that may be the case, but we still have £1.9 billion of overpayments being made now—not before, but now—with more than £5 billion in overpayments and £89 million from 2003-04.

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Those are the latest figures. There is a real issue around the real-time information processed at the moment, and that is my concern. I do not feel that the Minister is reflecting his confidence that the systems are working as they should. I am married to an IT expert who works around the world on these major systems and he expressed concern when I told him about the scale of the problem that the DWP is trying to deal with. Some reassurance from the Minister would be really helpful because the system is not working now, and I am talking about now.

Lord O’Neill of Gatley: My Lords, I want to answer in part by referring to something that I have touched on already and I shall elaborate further on its purpose. I could bore noble Lords with the detailed estimates of overpayments going back to when tax credits were first introduced. The underlying purpose of this should be looked at in a broader manner. As I said a few moments ago, this is being done within the context of trying to encourage a higher employment, high wage-earning and more gratified society. Trying to undertake this initiative, despite what happened as a result of the remaining part of the original tax credits proposals, is a sign of the belief that this, to some degree, is a technical decision based on the fact that we have been persuaded that the quality of the IT system can improve this dilemma. By definition, narrowing the income increase to a lower level reduces the conceptual scope for the size of aggregates over payments. It is only appropriate, particularly in the circumstances where we are migrating to universal credit, that this proposal be given a chance.

That takes me directly to some of the more specific comments that I have not answered. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, very thoroughly outlined the other attraction, against the background of what I have just said, as to why this is being pursued in terms of the aggregate savings over the lifetime of the Parliament. Again, I bring it back to the bigger purpose. The noble Lord correctly identified the £935 million in the last Budget proposals against the background where this is positioned. This is about the same amount of money being agreed with a number of cities around the country in devolution deals over 30 years. To answer all the questions implicit from what the noble Lord said, if more places have the ability to use that money and choose initiatives locally to support greater skills and greater training to help even more work, it is a relatively straightforward policy choice, which should not be seen as too similar to some of the issues debated on tax credits. In that sense it seems relatively straightforward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, raised an interesting point, suggesting that the Labour Benches were not as supportive as she hoped they might be. She pointed out the irony, given that this was a policy originally brought in by a Labour Government. That might well be among the reasons why that is the case, because it is in the circumstances where we are migrating to universal credit, where assessments will, in any case, be adjusted on a monthly basis. As I said, if it allows some savings so that the Government can then feel more confident allocating to broader and more substantive initiatives to help real pockets of disadvantage to change their supply response to labour market

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1096

conditions—which both the initiatives I mentioned, one of which was not tabled here, should be seen as—it seems an extremely logical thing to do and not as contentious as the noble Baroness implied.

I turn to the questions, which I am not surprised have come, about the impact assessment. It is fair to say that, as a result of that remarkable debate and subsequent vote in this House some time ago, the Treasury has provided a lot of information to the various appropriate committees, the exact names and acronyms of which I shall not attempt to repeat, because I am sure I will get them wrong. A lot of information has been provided as part of that process. That is where the figure of approximately 800,000 people comes from. After considerable discussion, it is not clear to me that any further special impact assessment on this technical measure will necessarily help to provide anything of substance beyond what has already been provided.

5 pm

As I said earlier, we have an environment in which the Government are trying to continue to boost employment and productivity, which we hope will lead to even higher incomes than under the specific policies that we have initiated. There will be no income losers with the introduction of this new policy. That is consistent with the policy. As I said, it is important to see this in the context of the consistency of different policies which are all geared along the same lines. It should not in itself be regarded as directly attached to the other parts of the tax credits debate that has taken place previously.

With respect to the inequality debate, as I have also said previously in this Chamber, there are notable differences within certain quartiles and quintiles, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, touched on. But, again, this should be seen in the context that—contrary to a lot of misconceptions—according to the general in-aggregate measured evidence, a narrowing of inequalities is taking place both pre-tax and after tax. That is the case unless one looks at wealth where, because of the consequences of significant house prices, there are, unfortunately, signs of inequalities changing for the worse. It is important that sufficient thought is given to policies which do more to boost the supply of new housing, and then that inequality would not arise at some point in the future. While the technical specifics of this measure may pass a lot of people by, it is important to consider that it will not result in any cash loser and is being introduced as we migrate to a universal credit system, which, in itself, will allow for monthly analysis, response and change. Therefore, it is a relatively straightforward matter.

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): I have listened to the whole debate. I hope the Minister will clarify the matter further as he referred to other areas where the £935 million reduction in expenditure could be implemented—the city deals and employability and housing. However, I was under the impression that this measure aimed to achieve deficit reduction savings. Page 3 of the Red Book states that this is part of deficit reduction savings. So will he be clear: is this for hypothecated other expenditure or is it for deficit reduction?

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1097

Lord ONeill of Gatley: My Lords, I can be very clear: this is being done specifically to achieve deficit reduction. However, the goal and policy on deficit and debt reduction also contain a number of economic policy priorities, which include a very strong commitment to devolution in many parts of the country. I was merely trying to illustrate that the amount we estimate will be saved from this proposal is very similar in size to the sorts of figures that we are successfully negotiating in a number of parts of the UK. We hope to do more of that going forward.

This change aims to reduce the disregard to £2,500 because that is fair to claimants, reduces inequalities in the tax credits system and is fair to the taxpayer, reducing unnecessary costs. As I have said a number of times, there are no cash losers because these are people whose pay will go up by £2,500 or more. This change will reduce the incidence of temporarily inflated awards, because the system will respond sooner and further to people’s changes in income in-year. I commend the regulations to this House.

Baroness Manzoor: My Lords, I thank the Minister for summing up. I also thank my noble friend Lord Kirkwood and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for their support today, although I am very disappointed. I agreed with everything the noble Lord said, up to a point, but when he said that he would not be supporting the Motion to Regret my heart fell.

I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said. He has said a number of times that there are no cash losers. We have to disagree on that, because it depends on how you classify cash losers. It is really important to say that this is not a pay rise by any means. This £2,500 is actually recouped back from the tax claimant. It is not a pay rise but can cause great difficulties because of the fluctuations for people who are working on low incomes.

I will not go over the debate again. The House has been very patient and I thank noble Lords for listening. I feel very strongly about this issue and wish to test the opinion of the House.

5.07 pm

Division on Baroness Manzoor’s Motion

Contents 104; Not-Contents 206.

Baroness Manzoor’s Motion disagreed.

Division No.  1


Addington, L.

Allan of Hallam, L.

Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.

Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B.

Barker, B.

Beith, L.

Benjamin, B.

Bhatia, L.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Bowles of Berkhamsted, B.

Bradshaw, L.

Brinton, B.

Browne of Belmont, L.

Bruce of Bennachie, L.

Burt of Solihull, B.

Campbell of Pittenweem, L.

Campbell of Surbiton, B.

Carlile of Berriew, L.

Clancarty, E.

Clement-Jones, L.

Deech, B.

Dholakia, L.

Doocey, B.

Dykes, L.

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1098

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Fearn, L.

Featherstone, B.

Foster of Bath, L.

Garden of Frognal, B.

German, L.

Glasgow, E.

Gloucester, Bp.

Grender, B.

Hameed, L.

Hamwee, B.

Harries of Pentregarth, L.

Harris of Richmond, B.

Hay of Ballyore, L.

Humphreys, B. [Teller]

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Hylton, L.

Jolly, B.

Jones of Cheltenham, L.

Jones of Moulsecoomb, B.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Kramer, B.

Lee of Trafford, L.

Lester of Herne Hill, L.

Listowel, E.

Loomba, L.

Low of Dalston, L.

Ludford, B.

Macdonald of River Glaven, L.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

McNally, L.

Maddock, B.

Manzoor, B.

Marks of Henley-on-Thames, L.

Newby, L. [Teller]

Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.

Northover, B.

Oates, L.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Pinnock, B.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Randerson, B.

Razzall, L.

Redesdale, L.

Rees of Ludlow, L.

Rennard, L.

Roberts of Llandudno, L.

Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.

Sharkey, L.

Sheehan, B.

Shipley, L.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Smith of Clifton, L.

Smith of Newnham, B.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stern, B.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Storey, L.

Strasburger, L.

Stunell, L.

Sutherland of Houndwood, L.

Suttie, B.

Taverne, L.

Taylor of Goss Moor, L.

Teverson, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Tonge, B.

Tope, L.

Tyler, L.

Tyler of Enfield, B.

Uddin, B.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.

Watson of Richmond, L.

Williams of Baglan, L.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.


Aberdare, L.

Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Altmann, B.

Arbuthnot of Edrom, L.

Arran, E.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Bates, L.

Berkeley of Knighton, L.

Berridge, B.

Bew, L.

Borwick, L.

Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Bowness, L.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Brady, B.

Bridges of Headley, L.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Browning, B.

Burns, L.

Butler of Brockwell, L.

Butler-Sloss, B.

Caithness, E.

Cameron of Dillington, L.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

Cathcart, E.

Chadlington, L.

Chalker of Wallasey, B.

Chisholm of Owlpen, B.

Colville of Culross, V.

Colwyn, L.

Condon, L.

Cooper of Windrush, L.

Cormack, L.

Courtown, E.

Craig of Radley, L.

Craigavon, V.

Cumberlege, B.

Deben, L.

Deighton, L.

Denham, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dunlop, L.

Eames, L.

Eaton, B.

Eccles, V.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Elton, L.

Empey, L.

Erroll, E.

Evans of Bowes Park, B.

Fairfax of Cameron, L.

Fall, B.

Farmer, L.

Faulks, L.

Fellowes, L.

Fellowes of West Stafford, L.

Fink, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Flight, L.

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1099

Fookes, B.

Forsyth of Drumlean, L.

Fowler, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freeman, L.

Freud, L.

Gardiner of Kimble, L. [Teller]

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Garel-Jones, L.

Geddes, L.

Gilbert of Panteg, L.

Glenarthur, L.

Glentoran, L.

Goodlad, L.

Goschen, V.

Greenway, L.

Hague of Richmond, L.

Hailsham, V.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Harris of Peckham, L.

Hayman, B.

Hayward, L.

Heyhoe Flint, B.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Holmes of Richmond, L.

Home, E.

Hooper, B.

Hope of Craighead, L.

Horam, L.

Howard of Rising, L.

Howarth of Breckland, B.

Howell of Guildford, L.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Inglewood, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Kakkar, L.

Keen of Elie, L.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L.

Kinnoull, E.

Kirkham, L.

Knight of Collingtree, B.

Lamont of Lerwick, L.

Lane-Fox of Soho, B.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Lansley, L.

Lawson of Blaby, L.

Lexden, L.

Lindsay, E.

Lingfield, L.

Liverpool, E.

Lucas, L.

Luce, L.

Lupton, L.

Lyell, L.

McColl of Dulwich, L.

MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.

McIntosh of Pickering, B.

Mackay of Clashfern, L.

Magan of Castletown, L.

Maginnis of Drumglass, L.

Mar, C.

Marlesford, L.

Mawhinney, L.

Mawson, L.

Mone, B.

Morris of Bolton, B.

Moynihan, L.

Naseby, L.

Nash, L.

Neville-Rolfe, B.

Newlove, B.

O'Cathain, B.

O'Neill of Bengarve, B.

O'Neill of Gatley, L.

Oppenheim-Barnes, B.

O’Shaughnessy, L.

Palumbo, L.

Pannick, L.

Patel, L.

Patten, L.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Phillips of Worth Matravers, L.

Pidding, B.

Popat, L.

Porter of Spalding, L.

Powell of Bayswater, L.

Prior of Brampton, L.

Quirk, L.

Rawlings, B.

Redfern, B.

Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.

Ribeiro, L.

Ridley, V.

Risby, L.

Robathan, L.

Rock, B.

Rogan, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Ryder of Wensum, L.

Scott of Bybrook, B.

Seccombe, B.

Selborne, E.

Selsdon, L.

Shackleton of Belgravia, B.

Sharples, B.

Sheikh, L.

Shephard of Northwold, B.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Shields, B.

Shinkwin, L.

Shrewsbury, E.

Skelmersdale, L.

Slim, V.

Smith of Hindhead, L.

Spicer, L.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Sterling of Plaistow, L.

Stirrup, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Strathclyde, L.

Stroud, B.

Suri, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L. [Teller]

Trefgarne, L.

Trenchard, V.

Trimble, L.

True, L.

Truscott, L.

Tugendhat, L.

Verma, B.

Wakeham, L.

Walpole, L.

Warsi, B.

Wasserman, L.

Wei, L.

Wellington, D.

Wheatcroft, B.

Wilcox, B.

Willetts, L.

Williams of Trafford, B.

Young of Cookham, L.

Younger of Leckie, V.

Motion agreed.

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1100

House of Commons Members’ Fund Bill

First Reading

5.19 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Driving Instructors (Registration) Bill

First Reading

5.20 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Women: Representation and Empowerment

Motion to Take Note

5.20 pm

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That this House takes note of the progress made in the United Kingdom in the areas of women’s representation and empowerment 150 years after the 1866 petition to the House of Commons for women’s suffrage.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to open this debate to mark International Women’s Day, our annual opportunity to pause, to take stock and to reflect on how far women have come in social, economic, cultural and political life, and how far we still have to go.

In 1866, a group of women from the Kensington Society organised a petition demanding the same political rights as men. They found 1,499 brave signatories, and their petition was presented to the MPs John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett, who supported universal suffrage. Mill agreed to present the petition, and on 7 June it was presented to Parliament. Elizabeth Garrett, one of the delegation, arrived early in the Great Hall, clutching a large roll of parchment. Feeling conspicuous, she found the only woman there who seemed to belong—the apple seller—and asked her whether she could store the scroll underneath her stand. The apple woman agreed but insisted that she wanted to sign it too.

Mill then added an amendment to the Reform Act, asking for women’s political equality. His amendment fell by 196 votes to 73, but the ladies of the Kensington Society were not crushed, and set up the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. Similar groups sprang up across the country, and in 1887 they joined together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

I must mention Manchester. At the turn of the 19th century, Manchester was a hotbed of radical thinking—social, cultural, political and economic. It was there that the suffragettes Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were thrown out of a meeting at the Free Trade Hall for daring to ask a question about votes for women. They reacted with typical resilience and held a meeting outside in the street. This led to

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1101

them being arrested, and was the beginning of the militant campaign for the vote for women. The fight for gender equality was on, and it continues still.

The world is a different place 150 years on, and I think the Kensington Society would have been amazed and thrilled at how far we have come. They would see girls outperforming boys at school, outnumbering boys at university and dominating admissions for medicine. They would be amazed to see women in the boardroom, women in the Armed Forces, women heads of state and women in space. None of these advances fell into our laps of course. Women, and male allies, have worked doggedly every step of the way, and their work is not over. Tempting though it is to look to the past and pat ourselves on the back, I prefer to use the lessons of history as a spur to action. I am awed at the courage, the vision and the spirit of those who dared to demand the right to be full, equal citizens. The real value of history lies in how it illuminates our path to the future, and International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the future that we are seeking to achieve.

What is our vision for that future? Of course, women across the world face different struggles and have different priorities. Women in the UK are not homogenous. We start from different places and our journeys are not all the same, but we cross the same terrain, and Governments of all stripes and in all places can help to make our passage easier and safer. They can do this by offering us equal opportunity to fulfil our potential, acting to equalise our life chances, ensuring that women are able to lead and influence, and maximising our safety and freedom from harm.

It all begins, of course, with education. It is hard to believe that in past generations people genuinely thought that women’s brain power was inferior to men’s. There are surely very few people who would argue that now. In education, the concern is how we can support boys to keep up with the girls. Our concern for girls has shifted from how well they do in school to why their outstripping of boys does not translate into later-life career success.

Part of the reason—I emphasise “part”, as these are multi-faceted problems—is the limits placed by traditional gender roles, so that men and women, boys and girls, feel pressure to conform to restricted choices and aspirations. This International Women’s Day, let us celebrate those women who have blazed a trail into traditionally male spaces—such as Roma Agrawal, the structural engineer who worked on the Shard, or space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock. They should not be as remarkable as they are.

The Government are working to broaden girls’ career choices by encouraging more of them to consider careers in STEM sectors. These are the skills our economy needs, the career choices that will narrow the gender pay gap. The STEM workforce is vital to growth and the economy, and our research bases miss out when we are not drawing scientists and engineers from the widest possible pool of talent.

We are funding programmes such as the Stimulating Physics Network and the Further Maths Support Programme, which support schools and colleges to

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1102

increase take-up of maths and physics, with a particular focus on engaging more girls. The Government also support the Your Life campaign, which aims to transform perceptions of science and maths. Provisional results for 2015 show that the number of girls taking maths A-level has increased by 13% over five years, and the number taking physics rose by 16% over the same period.

Some believe that there is nothing wrong with men and women occupying separate spheres, that that is normal and natural and that we should leave well alone, but that is to ignore the very great benefits of encouraging girls at least to consider a wider range of life choices. As well as the benefits to the economy and the simple human justice of allowing people to follow their own talents, there is the fact that what we used to call women’s jobs by and large pay significantly less than jobs considered the natural territory of men. This is one of the causes of the gender pay gap.

We are proud that the gender pay gap is narrower than it has ever been before, but it still stands at just over 19%, and the Prime Minister has set out this Government’s ambition to eliminate it in a generation. It is an ambitious aim, but one that is essential for empowering women and improving the UK economy. There are of course many reasons why there may be a gender pay gap, and the way forward lies in greater transparency so that employers can identify what is going on, employees can ask questions and consumers can make their own choices. We have published regulations which will increase transparency about the gender pay gap, and we expect employers to start publishing the required information from April 2017. We will be providing a package of support to help businesses to calculate, understand and address their gender pay gaps.

Perhaps I may say at this point how great it is to be here today, among so many women of distinction. This is still a place dominated by men, but we have the highest ever number of women Peers at 210, which is more than one in four of all Peers. In the other place, there are 191 women MPs, nearly 30% of the total.

It is important that women continue to gain positions of leadership and influence. This is not just about parity, but about creating change. Varied life experience makes for richer and more informed decision-making, and greater creativity and innovation.

We are pleased that the target of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, of 25% of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies has been met and exceeded. Across the whole FTSE 350, the proportion of women is more than double what it was in 2011. There are no more all-male boards in the FTSE 100 and fewer than 20 left in the FTSE 250. This demonstrates the success of a business-led approach, backed by Government, without the need for legislation or quotas. The work is not over: we will promote the business-led 33% target for FTSE 350 boards by 2020 recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his October 2015 report. We are pleased that Sir Philip Hampton, chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, will be chairing a new review, ably supported by his deputy, Dame Helen Alexander.

I turn finally to the difficult and emotive subject of violence against women and girls. We will not achieve equality for women while two are being killed by their

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1103

partners every week; while they are experiencing sexual harassment on the streets, in schools, in workplaces and online; and while they are enduring forced marriage and FGM. It is not just the individual victims who are affected, numerous and important as they are; the climate of fear that is created for all women and girls affects our everyday interactions, our choices and our freedoms.

Protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims are key priorities for this Government. We will soon publish a refreshed national strategy on violence against women and girls, which will set out a comprehensive plan of action covering prevention, provision of appropriate services, partnerships to ensure improved multi-agency working and pursuing perpetrators through the criminal justice system. Noble Lords may have seen our new “Disrespect NoBody” TV ad; this is part of a comprehensive teen relationship abuse campaign that will be launched this month. This follows on from the acclaimed “This Is Abuse” campaign, which since 2010 has encouraged teens to rethink their views on violence, consent and controlling behaviour.

We have also made domestic abuse, forced marriage and revenge porn criminal offences, signalling that society is no longer prepared to tolerate these kinds of abuse. We have introduced new stalking laws, rolled out domestic violence protection orders, strengthened the law on FGM and set up the revenge porn helpline, which took more than 3,000 calls in its first year. I am pleased to note that the Chancellor announced £40 million in the spending review for domestic abuse services between 2016 and 2020 and a £2 million grant to Women’s Aid and SafeLives, to support a new domestic abuse early intervention project.

We have been busy, but the work is not over. It will never be over as long as women are restricted from contributing their full potential or punished for daring to follow their own path and live life to the full. There is much to do but I draw heart from the distance we have come. Let us never forget that 150 years ago it was brave and unusual for women even to dare to ask for the vote. Now, as I stand here, I am confident that the vast majority of my peers are firmly in favour of women’s equality in all spheres of life. The hearts and minds of the British people have, largely, been won in favour of fairness and justice, and that is something to celebrate.

5.34 pm

Baroness Drake (Lab): My Lords, John Stuart Mill in response to the petition became the first MP to speak in favour of women’s suffrage in 1867, but the stereotypes and attitudes he identified as holding back equality still prevail today. He challenged those men who believed that politics are not women’s business and would distract them from their proper duties. He asserted:

“The ordinary occupations of most women are, and are likely to remain, principally domestic; but the notion that these occupations are incompatible with the keenest interest in national affairs … is as utterly futile as the apprehension, once sincerely entertained, that artisans would desert their workshops … if they were taught to read”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/5/1867; col. 820.]

But even in that radical assertion he acknowledged the persistence of women’s proper duties: domestic responsibilities and caring for children.

7 Mar 2016 : Column 1104

Labour’s introduction of the welfare state and the social security system improved the lives of millions, but it was supported by an assumption that the man was the bread-winner and the role of married women in work was secondary to their domestic responsibilities. This principle was enunciated by Beveridge in his 1942 report, which stated:

“The attitude of the housewife to gainful employment outside the home … should not be the same as that of a single woman. She has other duties … Taken as a whole, the Plan for Social Security puts a premium on marriage, in place of penalising it … In the next thirty years housewives as mothers have vital work to do in ensuring the adequate continuance of the British race and of British ideals in the world”.

There was a harmony of view across male-dominated organisations. The TUC General Council commented in 1948:

“The home is one of the most important spheres for a woman worker … It would be doing a great injury to the life of the nation if women were persuaded or forced to neglect their domestic duties in order to enter industry”.

Closing his speech, Stuart Mill stated:

“Sir, before it is affirmed that women do not suffer in their interests, as women, by the denial of a vote, it should be considered whether women have no grievances; whether the laws, and those practices which laws can reach, are in every way as favourable to women as to men”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/5/1867; col. 826.]

It is to that theme that I turn and, in particular, to whether private pension policy is as favourable to women as to men. Because all the inequalities that many women face—in lower pay, occupational segregation, the carer’s penalty and more—are writ large when they come to retire and are too old to mitigate the effects.