§ 3.15 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Henley.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 61:
Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
("Radiation exposed Crown employees: benefits
—(1) In the principal Act, after section 78, there shall be inserted the following Chapter—
Chapter VA: Radiation Exposed Crown Employees.
78A.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person shall be entitled to a benefit or benefits, to be known as radiation exposure payments, payable at a prescribed rate or rates, if he is—
- (a) a radiation exposed Crown employee who suffers from a relevant disease;
- (b) the widow or widower of a radiation exposed Crown employee who suffered from a relevant disease; or
- (c) a person entitled to child benefit in respect of a child of a deceased radiation exposed Crown employee who suffered from a relevant disease.
(2) Subsection (1) above shall come into force six months after the passing of the Social Security Act 1990.
(3) In this Chapter—
a radiation exposed Crown employee" means a person who, while serving as a member of Her Majesty's forces or in any other prescribed employment under the Crown, was, or is deemed in accordance with regulations to have been, exposed to ionizing radiation as a result of his participation in activities connected with a prescribed test or series of tests of a nuclear device or devices;
a relevant disease" means a disease presumed to have been caused by service as a radiation exposed Crown employee.
(4) for the purposes of this section, any disease specified in column 1 of Schedule 9A to this Act, which a radiation exposed Crown employee develops or has developed at any time after the last day on which he was, or is deemed in accordance with regulations to have been, exposed to ionizing radiation as a result of his participation in activities connected with a prescribed test or series of tests of a nuclear device or devices, but not longer after that day than the maximum period specified for that disease in column 2 of that Schedule, shall be presumed to have been caused by service as a radiation exposed Crown employee, and no other disease shall be presumed to have been so caused.
(5) The Secretary of State may at any time make an Order amending Schedule 9A to this Act in such manner as he considers appropriate in the light of medical evidence.
(6) Where, on the day before such an Order comes into force, a person is treated as suffering or having suffered from a relevant disease for the purposes of this section, or would have been so treated if his claim for benefit under this section had been determined, the provisions of Schedule 9A shall apply in his case as if the Order had not been made.757
(7) Regulations may prescribe circumstances in which a claim for benefit under this section is to be determined as if an Order under subsection (5) above which came into force after the date of the claim had been in force on that date.
(8) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (2) above, the first regulations under subsections (1) and (3) above shall be made before subsection (1) comes into force.
(9) Before making the first regulations under subsection (1) above, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that the benefit or benefits payable under that subsection by virtue of those regulations will be on the whole as favourable as the benefits that would be payable under section 76 above to persons in similar circumstances if the relevant disease were prescribed for the purposes of that section and the other conditions of entitlement to benefit under that section were satisfied.
(10) A claim for benefit under subsection (1) above made within 12 months after the day on which the Social Security Act 1990 was passed shall be treated as if the provisions of that subsection and of the first regulations under subsections (1) and (3) above had come into force on that day and as if the claim had been made on that day or on the first day on which the claimant satisfied or would have been satisfied the requirements for entitlement to the benefit, whichever is later.
(2) In section 93(1) of the principal Act, there shall be added at the end—
(f) a question whether a person is or was on any day a radiation exposed Crown employee for the purposes of Part II, Chapter VA.
(3) In section 113(1) of the principal Act, for the words "Chapter V" there shall be substituted the words "Chapters V and VA'.
(4) In section 115(3) of the principal Act, for the words "those relating to industrial injuries benefit" there shall be substituted the words "Chapters IV to VA".
(5) After Schedule 9 to the principal Act there shall be inserted the following Schedule—
Diseases Presumed to have been caused by Service as a Radiation Exposed Crown Employee
|Leukaemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukaemia)||40 years|
|Cancer of the thyroid||40 years|
|Cancer of the breast||40 years|
|Cancer of the pharynx||40 years|
|Cancer of the oesophagus||40 years|
|Cancer of the stomach||40 years|
|Cancer of the small intestine||40 years|
|Cancer of the pancreas||40 years|
|Multiple myeloma||40 years|
|Lymphomas (except Hodgkin's disease)||40 years|
|Cancer of the bile ducts||40 years|
|Cancer of the gall bladder||40 years|
|Primary liver cancer (except if caused by cirrhosis or hepatitis B)||40 years"|
(6) In section 63 of the Social Security Act 1986 (annual up-rating of benefits)—
(a) the following paragraph shall be inserted after subsection (1)(i)—
(j) specified in regulations under section 78A(1) of the Social Security Act 1975, "; and
(b) in subsection (3)(b), for the words "or (ee)" there shall be substituted the words "(ee) or (j)".").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment introduces a new clause into the Bill and concerns the 22,000 British servicemen and approximately 3,000 Crown employees who participated in the British nuclear weapons testing programme between 1952 and 1958. To put it more accurately, it concerns the dependants of those men since those concerned are dying 758 disproportionately from leukaemia, myeloma and other cancers.
§ The Government claimed that those involved in the nuclear testing programme were not exposed to radiation and therefore there is no connection between their cancers and the tests. However, hundreds of those who took part confirmed that they wore no protective clothing or the dose meter film badges to reveal the level of exposure. It is therefore not correct to say that everyone was protected and wore the dose meters to indicate the levels of their exposure to radiation.
§ After years of pressure the National Radiological Protection Board conducted a study and reported in 1988. I am sure that when the Minister replies he will tell us that the study showed that apart from leukaemia and myeloma there is no evidence to link other cancers with the test programme. However, the study actually showed three things: first, that leukaemia and myeloma were probably caused by participation in the test programme; secondly, that other cancers were probably not caused; and, thirdly, that more research and study are required.
§ There are now a number of widows—only a few—receiving a pension because their husbands died from leukaemia or myelmoa after 1988. For those whose husbands died of leukaemia and myeloma before 1988, the report I fear came too late. The next report from the NRPB is not due until 1991. If that report finds that some other cancer—of the pharynx or the stomach—is linked to exposure to nuclear radiation in the 1950s, will there be another group of widows whose husbands died too soon?
§ Many who have studied the NRPB report claim that it was deeply flawed. It was discovered that the records of service supplied by the Ministry of Defence to the NRPB did not include all those who participated in the test. An important category was missing. All the files of those who had claims outstanding for pensions as a result of their participation in the tests were not included. By definition those most likely to weight the statistics to show a high incidence of cancer were not included.
§ The new clause is modelled almost exactly on legislation which was passed into law in America in 1988. The Americans are way ahead of us in their research in this matter. Existing American legislation is almost certainly due to be improved this year with the manifestation caps being lengthened and more diseases that are compensatable being added to the list.
§ Report No. 5 of the National Research Council, Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation, concluded that all the previous understandings about which low levels of radiation cause various diseases have been wrong. I refer in passing to the recent new evidence from Sellafield suggesting that workers exposed to radiation should consider not having children. We know that new evidence is appearing all the time regarding the dangers of exposure to radiation.
§ Either the American servicemen exposed to the American nuclear test programme were somehow biologically different from the British servicemen, 759 or the Americans, with 250,000 men involved compared with our 25,000, have got all their research wrong and are compensating their servicemen unnecessarily. In fact, 400 British servicemen were present at the American tests. Those Americans who stood beside them then are now eligible for compensation but the British servicemen are not.
§ The new clause is drafted to be very flexible. Considerable scope is left to the Secretary of State to fix the compensation levels, to add to or subtract from the list of prescribed diseases and to change the manifestation levels. The clause was in fact drafted with technical help from the department.
§ To sum up, the Americans with all their research facilities and expertise have decided that there is a connection between exposure to ionising radiation in the nuclear test programme and a number of defined cancers and are therefore paying compensation. Hundreds of British servicemen who took part in the programme are stating categorically that they were not issued with dosemeter badges to reveal the level of their exposure.
A memo dated 20th May 1953 from the Ministry of Defence—it was classified Top Secret at the time—states:
Tests were vital to discover detailed effects of various types of explosion on equipment, stores and men, without various types of protection".
Some men were barred from wearing protective clothing and were asked to roll in the dust after the explosions to test the effect. Indeed, the NRPB report commissioned by the government stated:
Some aspects of the results, however, suggest that a real hazard was associated with the programme".
§ In another place the Government admitted that the cost of compensation is in the order of £4 million to £5 million.
A letter dated 20th September 1951 from the commander of the first British nuclear test, Rear-Admiral Torlisse, to Rear-Admiral Brooking, stated:
Radiological safety must be one of the chief concerns of the naval commander, but equally evidently, some degree of risk must be run by some people if we are to achieve the full purpose of the trial. As naval commander I must expect to have to order or approve the acceptance of some degree of risk. This is a customary service obligation, but it is performed in the knowledge that the Admiralty accept liability for those killed or injured in duty".
I cannot do better than conclude with the words of President Reagan in his statement to Congress on signing the Radiation Exposed Veterans Compensation Act of 1988. He said:
The adjustment applies only in respect of specified diseases—primarily cancer of various organs—that manifest themselves within 40 years after the veteran last participated in a military radiation-related activity or, in the case of leukaemia, 30 years after such participation … Instead, the Act gives due recognition for the unusual service rendered by Americans who participated in military activities involving exposure to radiation generated by the detonation of atomic explosives. The Nation is grateful for their special service, and enactment of [the Act] makes clear the Nation's continuing concern for their welfare".
§ I beg to move.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
My purpose in adding my name to this amendment, so eloquently moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is to probe the 760 intentions and views of the Government on this extremely difficult and complex issue.
I have no claim to be an expert on the effects of ionising radiation on the human body, but naturally I have some familiarity with the literature that deals with this extremely complex subject. One takes account of the views expressed by world renowned experts such as Sir Richard Doll in the United Kingdom, who, after very careful study of the evidence relating to this matter, came to the conclusion, on the one hand, that the association between exposure to radiation during nuclear tests and the development of various forms of cancer was extremely weak. On the other hand, the experts of the National Radiological Protection Board came to the conclusion that there could well be an association between such exposure and the development of certain forms of leukaemia.
The whole issue of the extent to which exposure to ionising radiation can be responsible for the development of leukaemia and other forms of cancer is extremely difficult. If one were to attempt to deploy all the scientific evidence for and against the views expressed it would occupy the Committee for a very long time indeed. I simply say that so far as I am concerned I wholly accept the view expressed by the NRPB to the effect that there is a probable but by no means certain association between such exposure and the development of multiple myeloma and various forms of leukaemia.
The evidence from the United States to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred has developed the argument further. It suggests that it cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is no such association between radiation exposure and the development of other forms of cancer. For that reason the United States has accepted the necessity and propriety of awarding compensation to those developing the forms of cancer listed in the proposed Schedule 9A in the amendment who were involved in nuclear test programmes.
In this country the evidence is that war pensions and widows' pensions have been awarded to certain individuals suffering from myeloma and various forms of leukaemia other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia. of course to acquire the award of a war pension it is my understanding that the standard or burden of pro of is not as strong as it is in many other circumstances. The association does not have to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt or even on the balance of probabilities; but if there appears to be a prima facie case to suggest that such an association is valid, a pension may be awarded. That is my understanding.
No one can define precisely the cause of many forms of cancer. There are certain forms of cancer such as that of the lung where the association with smoking, for example, is incontrovertible. There are other forms of cancer which are due to environmental exposure to toxins of various kinds. However, in the case of most forms of cancer listed in the proposed schedule no such evidence has yet been adduced and the purpose of the amendment, therefore, is to invite the Government to consider whether they feel that the possibility of such an association would make it appropriate for such 761 individuals and their dependants to be awarded compensation or pensions.
It is impossible to conclude that all the forms of cancer listed in the schedule which have developed in service personnel or Crown employees taking part in these programmes many years ago must have been the result of such exposure. For example, we know that the levels of radiation to which some of those at a distance from the tests were exposed may well have been, at the most, no greater than those levels to which individuals living in, for example, the county of Cornwall are exposed, where the level of background radiation is five times that in other parts of the United Kingdom. Exposure may have been no greater than that. Certainly we cannot in any circumstances prove that such an association exists. However, it is equally impossible to prove that such an association does not exist.
Hence, the question I ask is this: Is it the Government's wish and intention to consider favourably the position of those who have been involved in such test programmes? Will they consider the payment of pensions or compensation to them or their dependants in the case of the development of those conditions listed in the schedule? I support the amendment, as I have said, in a probing capacity.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
It may be of use in the debate if I intervene at this stage and speak fairly briefly. I shall speak again at the end of the debate before the noble Lord, Lord Carter, decides what to do about his amendment.
§ Lord Parry
I hope that my question will not be blocked out by the Minister answering at this stage.
§ Lord Henley
It may be of use to the Committee if I speak now. I reassure the noble Lord that I will answer his and any other points towards the end of the debate before the noble Lord, Lord Carter, concludes and decides what to do about his amendment.
I wish to begin with the question of the standard of pro of which the noble Lord, Lord Walton, mentioned. Under the War Pensions Scheme administered by my department, if a claim for a war pension is made within seven years of service ending under Article 4 of the Service Pensions Order, there is a presumption in favour of the claimant in that the onus is on my department to show beyond reasonable doubt that disablement or death is not due to service.
The standard of pro of applicable to such claims is identical with that required in criminal trials. The department has to prove the opposite. The result is that a claim under Article 4 should not be rejected unless it is established beyond reasonable doubt that the conditions for an award are not fulfilled. If a claim is made for a war pension after seven years—that is what we are talking about here—under Article 5, the onus is on the claimant to show, on the balance of probabilities, that disablement or death is due to service.
762 The article provides that where a reasonable doubt exists, the benefit of that reasonable doubt shall be given to the claimant. I emphasise that very low balance of pro of, and I ask the Committee to compare it with the balance of pro of required in the criminal courts and elsewhere. As Members of the Committee will know, in the criminal courts matters are decided beyond reasonable doubt, and in civil courts they are decided on the balance of probabilities.
Therefore, I am sure that the Committee will agree that the law surrounding claims for war pensions sides very much with the claimant. Because of that, we have been able to award pensions, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, rightly said, in respect of some of those who participated in the UK nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s. I wish to correct one brief point which the noble Lord made. I believe he was in error. It is always open to those who were widowed before 1988 to reapply for a war widow's pension if the husband died of two particular conditions which I shall come to later and which were revealed after the publication of the report in 1988.
This amendment reflects the anxieties which have been expressed in the House and elsewhere about the programme conducted in the South Pacific and the suggestion that it has bequeathed a legacy of illness to those who participated. Most of those who took part were young; and now, inevitably, they are middle-aged or elderly. Some have developed ill-health; and others, sadly, have died. The amendment is based on the presumption that exposure to radiation during participation in nuclear weapons trials is responsible for these illnesses and deaths. I believe such presumption to be unfounded.
It is a sad fact that many of those men who participated in the United Kingdom nuclear weapons test programme would be suffering from cancer by now or would have died if they had spent their entire national service in this country and had never gone anywhere near the South Pacific. It is understandable that some of them, knowing that radiation can cause cancer, should associate their illness in middle age or old age with the participation in the programme over 30 years ago. I stress that there is no evidence, either medical or scientific, to link participation in the nuclear weapons test programme and the ill health which some of the participants have subsequently suffered.
The nuclear safety standards and procedures were drawn up and implemented during the test programme with commendable and professional thoroughness. They bear favourable comparison with the standards in force today. While the Government, aware of concern about the tests, have remained confident over the years that the safety precautions taken were perfectly adequate and that personnel were not subjected to any significant health hazards, they commissioned the National Radiological Protection Boad to undertake a study of the health of the participants and to investigate whether it showed any correlation with radiation exposure.
I remind the Committee at this stage that this was an independent survey involving staff from 763 the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the use of eminent consultants. The initial protocol made clear that the study team would seek to eliminate bias and would conduct checks of the data supplied. It would investigate original records; and, so far as possible, it would verify all important data. The report describes in detail the elaborate checks that were done; the direct involvement of staff from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the use of eminent consultants such as Sir Richard Doll and others, particularly in the confirmation of the causes of death on death certificates. The death certificates, which are not held by the MoD, show that considerable pains were taken to ensure independence.
Furthermore, the fact that the BMJ has accepted for publication a summary of the report and its findings demonstrates the scientific validity of the study. The scientific reputations of the authors are unassailable. The report shows how thoroughly all sources of bias were investigated and either eliminated or taken into account in the findings.
After examining well over 100, 000 records of various kinds, identifying 22, 347 individuals as test participants and comparing their mortality and cancer incidence records with those of a similar number of controls of men who had not participated in the tests but who had served in tropical or sub-tropical areas while the tests were being carried out—it was a mammoth exercise—the NRPB report concluded:small hazards of leukaemia and multiple myeloma may well have been associated with participation in the nuclear weapons programme, but that such participation has not otherwise had a detectable effect on the participants' expectation of life or on their total risk of developing cancer".As I have already said, under the provisions of the war pensions scheme, where there is reliable evidence which raises a reasonable doubt whether a condition is due to or aggravated by service, the benefit of that doubt must be and is given to the claimants.
Our doctors in the war pensions branch were satisfied, having studied the NRPB report in 1988, that it provided just that evidence for the rejection of claims for war pensions relating to solid cancers. However, in the case of multiple myeloma and leukaemia, other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia, our doctors considered that, even though the NRPB report did not prove that these two conditions were linked with exposure to radiation, even on a balance of probabilities, nevertheless it contained statistical evidence which raised a reasonable doubt about those conditions being attributable to service by men who participated in these tests.
Consequently, as I have explained, in line with the war pensions legislation, we have been able to review and consider claims for war pensions for those who satisfy the criteria identified by the NRPB report. Therefore, there is already in existence the appropriate legislation to provide pensions in cases where there is some reliable evidence which raises a reasonable doubt whether a condition is caused or aggravated by service. I am satisfied that further legislation is both unnecessary and unjustified.
764 The 1988 report included information collected up to a cut- of f point of 1st January 1984 though the NRPB continued to accumulate data on mortality and cancer incidence among the participants and the control group. Therefore, the NRPB recommended that a further study should be undertaken to validate and analyse this additional data. The Government agreed to commission such a further study aimed at analysing the data up to a new cut- of f point of 1st January 1989, which is five years after the earlier one. The NRPB has stressed that this recommendation is not based on any new and worrying evidence, but rather on a wish to be able to give a definitive statement in the light of the additional data accumulated between 1984 and 1989.
Clearly, this further study, due at the end of next year, will provide a valuable up-to-date picture of mortality and cancer incidence among the nuclear test participants and the wider general community. It is hoped that the report from the new study will be available by the end of next year, although I must stress that the NRPB has full responsibility for the conduct, timing and methodology of the study. The Committee will, I am sure, agree with me that members of the NRPB and their colleagues who will be involved in this most important work must be allowed complete freedom in the way they undertake their tasks. We shall of course await the NRPB's further report with interest and will take full account of the findings to the extent that they provide any additional information that might affect participants' entitlement to war pensions.
In the meantime I can only reiterate the Government's view that while we have the greatest sympathy for those who served the nation so well and are now in ill health, there really is no evidence which would support claims that the majority of cancers specified in the amendment are attributable to service in the United Kingdom nuclear testing programme. I exclude the two cancers which I mentioned. We have not reached this conclusion lightly. We were aware of concerns over the health of some of those who participated in tests and we commissioned the NRPB to provide facts on mortality and cancer incidence. We have accepted that part of the report which concluded that small hazards of leukaemia, other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia, and multiple myeloma may have been associated with participation in the testing programme, and we are paying war pensions as a result. Equally, we have accepted the other conclusion of this independent and expert study, which was that participation has not otherwise had a detectable effect on expectation of life or on the total risk of developing cancer.
I shall deal at the end of the debate with further points raised. I hope that Members of the Committee will recognise that this is an emotive subject but I ask them to acknowledge that the Government's case is based on sound evidence.
§ Lord Carter
I shall wish to respond to all those points at the end of the debate. It would help the Committee if the noble Lord could say how many war pensions have been awarded since 1988 in 765 respect of leukaemia and myeloma in response to the NRPB report.
§ Lord Henley
My understanding is that a total of seven have been awarded—six to widows whose husbands died as a result of the two diseases and one to a war pensioner.
§ Earl Russell
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats I should like to support the amendment. I shall not gild the lily by elaborating the arguments so well put by the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Walton of Detchant. I should like, if I may, to answer some of the points made by my noble kinsman. I concede the one strong point in the government case. We do not know which of these deaths are the consequence of the nuclear tests. What we are dealing with here is a con-elation. We are dealing with a group of people in which there is an incidence of cancer far higher than the national average.
§ Lord Henley
Perhaps I may correct the noble Earl. What I have just been saying and what the NRPB figures have shown is that there is no higher rate of cancer among this group than among the rest of the population. That is why we used a control group of another 20, 000 people who had the same background of serving but not near nuclear tests. It is only with the two cancers that I have mentioned—multiple myeloma and leukaemia, excluding chronic lymphatic leukaemia—that there seems to be a slightly higher rate. In that case we have accepted that that could be attributable service and we are awarding pensions as a result.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
I confess that I do not have the figures to hand but I am extremely surprised by what I hear. Perhaps we shall hear more detail of it later.
I should like to answer some of the other points that have been made. The noble Lord referred to the seven-year burden of proof. That is a perfectly reasonable argument in normal conventional warfare. If one is shot in normal conventional warfare, one knows it. But it is of the essence of nuclear war and nuclear testing that an injury may occur and surface very many years later. Therefore the seven-year formula seems to be very hard indeed to apply.
My noble kinsman may express anxiety about taking a. breach of the seven-year formula as a precedent. I do not think that it will be a precedent very of ten. Nuclear war is not a common occurrence. If it should happen on a really large scale we would be concerned with other questions beyond requests for compensation. In any future testing, which does not seem to be in prospect at the moment, a great many more precautions would be taken than on this occasion. We have heard accounts given of people being asked to roll in the dust. I am not sure that I find that very easy to reconcile with the argument that the protection offered was perfectly adequate. Indeed, I am not sure that at that stage of the nuclear weapons, programme the protection offered could be perfectly adequate. I do not think that we had any 766 idea then what perfectly adequate in this context really meant.
Finally, there is an argument of trust. People who risk their lives and their health in the service of the Crown need to know that they will, if they receive serious injury, be compensated or in extreme cases that their dependants will be compensated. That is a matter of trust and not many people would serve the Crown without it. We have been given a figure of £4 million to £5 million. The Government have to consider which is more expensive—£4 million to £5 million just once with no great prospect of it happening again, or a breach of trust which would live in people's memories and not redound to the Government's credit.
§ Lord Parry
In terms of the average age of the Committee the Minister is quite young. If he were not he would have a sense of dé jà vu as we listened to his response at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. In the course of the debate I have been reminded by my noble friend Lady Phillips of the arguments concerning pneumoconiosis and silicosis and the causes of those conditions. Members of the Committee will not need to be reminded of the various issues that have arisen since in which the burden of pro of has taken so long to establish that generations have died in agony as a result of the postponement of real intervention.
It is also understood by supporters of the Government that what the Government lack in the country is an understanding of the fact that they care. I have always assumed that they care. I have always assumed that their failure to communicate is part of their problem. This is an issue on which they can demonstrate clearly and immediately that, while they understand that the figures they have been quoting to us are the burden of the pro of for doing nothing, there is within those figures an equal burden of pro of for acting immediately.
I am bound to point out to the Minister that 40 years ago I taught in a town with a population of some 2, 200. There were two young men in my class. The name of one of them comes easily to mind. I can give the Minister his name—Ronnie Adams. I can give the noble Lord his address—Trinity Terrace, Burton, in the county of Pembroke, which is now within Dyfed. I have been in touch with his widow, as indeed has the Conservative Member for Pembroke, Nicholas Bennett. He and I have exchanged letters and have always tried to work in harmony together to get justice for the widow of that man.
Ronnie Adams was one of those young people who were taken out to the site. He was in close proximity to the explosion. He was advised to turn his back on it and to count to 60; and 60 seconds later to turn around to see what he could see so that he could report it. Now I report to the Committee that he died two years ago of one of the two diseases of which the Minister has spoken.
§ Lord Henley
I tried to make it clear—perhaps I did not make it clear enough—that his widow would be entitled to put her claim back. If the war pensioner died of one of the diseases that I mentioned I am 767 sure that his case would get a sympathetic hearing. That is why I tried to stress that the standard of pro of which we apply in war pensions is a generous one. Where there is a reasonable doubt the benefit of that reasonable doubt will be given to the claimant.
§ Lord Parry
The Minister will understand that I lived with this question when uncles of mine were asked to agree to allowing their lungs to be submitted for examination after they died so that the reason for death could be proved. It is in that context that I have been dealing with this individual case. While he is correct to argue that the widows of these men can raise an appeal, he must realise that many of them are unlikely to be able to deal with the processes of appeal. They are likely to be at a grave disadvantage when it comes to dealing with any department to obtain rights which fall due to them.
I should like to stress that clearly there has been a point at which young people in this country doing their duty—some servicemen and some civilians in attendance on them—have been subject to risks which, as the noble Lord said, were not properly understood at the time. However, they are understood now. I say to the Government: for heaven's sake, demonstrate your caring and do your duty.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I understand the point about servicemen and Crown employees who were accompanying the servicemen at these tests. However, I should like to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that it seems to me that we should not leave out the civilians who worked during the war in the university research teams on the back-up research which supported the tests that eventually led to the development of the first two nuclear bombs.
Those people were engaged in research which was not fully understood at the time. The amount of radiation to which they were exposed was probably much less, but on the whole they were unprotected. For many years they worked in an atmosphere full of radioactivity. It seems a pity to me to narrow the issue down to service pensions. However, I realise that at this stage it is probably only a probing amendment.
I should say that I took part as a university employee in a very humble capacity in this connection when I was very young. In my view, the considerations mentioned by the noble Lord apply in this case. Moreover, the generosity and the approach on the pension side are probably not as great because if we are talking about disability pensions for those people they would probably not be getting a service pension.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I think that noble Lords felt some sympathy for my noble friend Lord Henley when he was speaking to this amendment. As he so rightly said to the Committee, this is a very emotive matter and one upon which Members of this Chamber on both sides naturally have strong feelings. I am troubled by two aspects of the matter. First, it is apparently now accepted that in the case of two forms of cancer, myeloma and leukemia, if a 768 person who was exposed to radiation during these tests dies a pension will be granted. That is very good news.
However, certainly to the layman—and I claim no medical knowledge whatever—it seems difficult to draw a sharp distinction between those two forms of cancer and others. I pose this question to my noble friend. Can we be sure and clear in our minds that that is a valid distinction and is to be accepted in cases of myeloma and leukemia when exposure may be the cause of the disease, while, on the other hand, other forms of cancer can be excluded? As a layman I find that distinction hard to understand.
My second point concerns the operation of the war pensions scheme. I must say to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour that, although one has great regard for the people in civilian life who conducted this extremely dangerous research, they are subject to a different system. Their case must be looked at under different rules. In this debate we are looking at the issue under the terms of the war pensions scheme. I speak with some experience on the matter as I was responsible for the scheme for six and a half years. I know that it is true, as has been said, that it tends deliberately to err on the side of the applicant. In particular, it does not call for anything to be established beyond reasonable doubt as is the case with so many other claims under many other schemes.
Taking those two aspects together—that is, the question of trying to draw a line between those two forms of cancer and others and the application of that to a system which believes in erring, if it has to err, on the side of the injured person—I wonder whether we are wise to draw the line where it appears to have been drawn. I know nothing of the experiments carried out in the 1950s, save to say that it is obviously the case that no one at that time understood nuclear radiation and its horrors. Therefore, with the best intentions in the world, the precautions taken cannot have been what they would be if similar tests were carried out today. However, that casts no reflection upon those responsible for them; people simply did not know the dangers. Surely that fact introduces another element of doubt which makes one a little unhappy.
My noble friend spoke about the preparation of another report. However, I was a little sad to hear him say that it would not be available until the end of next year. Given the age of some of the people concerned and at least the possibility that their health may have been damaged by the exposure to which they were undoubtedly subject—they undoubtedly suffered a measure of radiation—it is somewhat unfortunate that the report will not be available for another 18 months. I wonder whether my noble friend is prepared to say, even if he does not feel able—and he appears not to be able—to accept that in a war pension case it would be sensible to give the benefit of some doubt to the applicant, whether the publication of the report can be expedited. If the report is already in preparation, I cannot see why a further 18 months is required. It must be enormously disappointing to those who are interested in the case of these people.
769 When my noble friend finally replies, I hope that he will be able to reassure Members on both sides of the Committee that he is not simply drawing the line where it now rests and standing upon it for at least 18 months. I hope he can reassure us that the Government realise that this is not a matter upon which many people think that the conclusions are absolutely clear. If those conclusions are not absolutely clear, I am sure the Government will understand that people in all parties, both inside and outside of Parliament, would be more than happy if the provisions were stretched a little further to include people who undoubtedly served our country many years ago. These people served both Crown and country and during such service they were undoubtedly exposed to some risks to which ordinary people were not exposed.
Perhaps the Government should take a deep breath and reconsider the matter. The sums of money involved are very small compared with those discussed yesterday. I wonder whether my noble friend would be prepared to take back a little of what he said and discuss with his right honourable friend whether we can be so absolutely certain of the distinction between those two kinds of cancer and others for it to be right to deprive people who undoubtedly served our country of this benefit. In that difficult situation—believe me, I do not under-rate the problem for a Minister and a department—perhaps there is a case for taking a deep breath and saying that this is a comparatively small sum. As I know, it does not set any awkward precedent and unhappily it would not last for long. Therefore, rather than risk leaving those who served this country with a feeling of bitterness and a sense that they have been let down by the country, is it not better to try to move some way in their direction?
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said that as a layman he found it difficult to distinguish. All of us here, with perhaps one or two exceptions, are laymen. Obviously we have to take advice on these matters. I am advised that it is quite easy for medical experts to distinguish between the cancers. I am glad that my noble friend stressed the special nature of the war pensions scheme. He has a great deal of experience. It is important to stress, as I did at the beginning of the debate, that the standard of pro of is merely that we ask that where a reasonable doubt is shown, the benefit of that reasonable doubt shall be given to the claimant.
My noble friend also asked that I put pressure on my right honourable friend to urge the NRPB to expedite the report. We have always stressed the independence of the report. I think that it would be wrong for me or, for that matter, my right honourable friend, to put pressure on the NRPB to expedite the report. That body has said that the report will be available by the end of next year. Any interference by myself would lead to accusations that we were interfering with the fairness and impartiality of the report.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
Does my noble friend consider that he would be treating the board with perfect respect if he suggested that there was great anxiety in Parliament over the matter and that an interim report might be helpful?
§ Lord Henley
I am sure that the NRPB will be aware of this debate. I shall make sure that it is aware of the comments made by my noble friend and other noble Lords who have spoken. If any new evidence should appear before the date mentioned, from whatever source, it is still open to the doctors in the war pensions branch of my department at Norcross to consider whether that evidence applied to the individual claimant and whether, as a result of our standards of pro of, any claimant was eligible for a war pension. For that reason I stress what my noble friend emphasised—the generous onus of pro of with regard to war pensions.
I stress again the point raised by my noble kinsman Lord Russell that there are not higher rates of all the cancers excluding myeloma and leukaemia other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia among the approximately 20, 000 people who were examined. Within the group and the control group—and I stress that the control group was the same size consisting of people from the same background who had served around the world but not near nuclear tests—there was no higher rate of incidence of these cancers other than the two I have mentioned. I do not know the figures but it was slightly greater. Nor was the rate any higher between the control group and the original group than that in the general population.
§ Lord Parry
Will the noble Lord admit that in a town with a population of 2, 222 from which two citizens, both of them now dead are tested, the figures seem to indicate that there must be a higher average than usual?
§ Lord Henley
What I have been trying to stress is that approximately 22, 000 people took part. The control group was a similar size. I appreciate that there might be oddities in one town of 2, 000 where the figures are higher, but it is not a big enough sample. We have taken a sample the same size as the group of those who took part in the tests.
Perhaps I may return to the point raised by the noble Lord about his friend and neighbour, a harrowing case. If the facts, as he put them, are correct and this widow's husband died either of multiple myeloma or leukaemia other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia, she is likely to be eligible. However I cannot adjudicate on that case at the Dispatch Box.
§ Lord Carter
Perhaps I may intervene. If the husband died of a cancer other than leukaemia or myeloma and had been involved in the nuclear test programme, since the evidence is before the war pensions board at the moment, the widow would not be able to prove this. She would have no reasonable chance of proving that those cancers were associated because the department relies entirely on the NRPB report to deal only with leukaemia and myeloma. Is that correct?
§ Lord Henley
The noble Lord is absolutely correct. The noble Lord's noble friend Lord Parry stated that in that case he thought it was either multiple myeloma or leukaemia. On those facts it is likely that the widow could be eligible. However, I cannot adjudicate on the matter at the Dispatch Box. No doubt, with the support of the noble Lord and my honourable friend, the Member of Parliament for that area, Mr. Bennett, she will receive every reassurance. I give the noble Lord the assurance that the war pensions department itself will look at the case. I do not know whether the widow has already made a claim and been turned down. In that case, we shall ensure that it goes to appeal.
§ Lord Henley
Having dealt with that matter, I wish to answer a few other points made by noble Lords of a factual nature. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned the memo of 20th May 1953. It stated that tests were vital to discover detailed effects of various types of explosions on equipment, stores and men without various types of protection. This is true. Tests were carried out and for the purposes of the test articulated dummies were used. At no time during the United Kingdom tests were humans used as guinea pigs.
At no time during the test programme—this was something that the Government were accused of both by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Carter—were participants asked to roll in the dust. To ask that would have been irresponsible. As the ground level temperature would have been extremely high, this would have been very difficult.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour suggested that civilians should be included within the definition of nuclear test veterans. Twenty-one United Kingdom atmospheric nuclear weapons tests took place at Monte Bello Islands in Western Australia, the Emu Field and the Maralinga Range in South Australia; and at Maiden Island and Christmas Island in the Pacific. Visits to these locations were spread over 15 years. All United Kingdom servicemen and male employees at the then Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston and the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell who were known to have visited any of the 15 locations during this period were included in the study of the population as test participants.
I turn now to the situation in America. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, quite rightly said that the Americans have introduced such a scheme. I believe that the list of cancers is more or less copied straight from the American list. The United States decision to consider awards for certain diseases is entirely a matter for the United States Government. The United Kingdom's testing programme was conceived and conducted under the control of United Kingdom personnel quite separately from the American test programme. The United States records included situations in which many more participants were known to have experienced measurable radiation exposures that were significantly greater than those received by the bulk 772 of the United Kingdom participants in the United Kingdom tests.
I go back to the NRPB report. I can only reiterate that it shows that there is no evidence in the case of any cancers other than the two I have mentioned. However, there is a statistically greater chance that cancers may have been caused by taking part in the tests. With that in mind it is quite right that the Government should award war pensions to those who are suffering from leukaemia, other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia, and multiple myeloma which may have been associated with participation in the testing programme. We have accepted the conclusion of this independent and expert study that participation in the tests has had no detectable effect on other cancers, on expectation of life or on the total risk of developing those cancers.
I hope that, bearing those comments in mind, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I hope I have given him assurances that where there is evidence we certainly shall be able to award war pensions. I stress, however, the low standard of proof. Without evidence I do not think it would be right to go down that road.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
I hope the Committee will forgive me for speaking again before the noble Lord, Lord Carter, closes on the amendment. I have two or three points to make. First, there are substantial differences in character between, on the one hand, multiple myeloma and leukaemia and, on the other hand, the various forms of solid cancer which are listed in the proposed new schedule. Secondly, I was much reassured to hear the Minister say that widows and dependants of those who were involved in the test programme and who died from leukaemia or myeloma may in retrospect apply for pensions. That was a reassuring comment. I trust there is no time-limit upon that provision.
I was also glad to hear of the second study that is being carried out by the National Radiological Protection Board. It is quite clear that the first report of January 1988 was produced after the most careful and earnest consideration by some of the country's most distinguished epidemiologists, radiation biologists and physicians. As the Minister rightly pointed out, that report did not demonstrate any significant difference in the incidence of solid forms of cancer between those exposed to radiation and a control population. However, it demonstrated a significant increase in myeloma and leukaemia. The Government's decision has been based on that evidence. As I said in my opening remarks, that statistical and epidemiological evidence did not prove an association but neither did it disprove an association. That is a point of considerable importance. That is why I raise the issue and why I agreed to add my name to this amendment.
Finally, I was very glad to hear the assurance from the Minister that if the new NRPB study demonstrates a significant increase in the incidence of solid forms of cancer in those involved in the test programme there is a probability that the Government will reconsider the issue and that if an interim report shows that to be the case the matter will be reconsidered as a matter of urgency.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
I wish to express my gratitude and the gratitude of those outside the Chamber who are most intimately concerned with this matter—that is, the survivors from the test programme—for the debate.! shall deal with a few of the points that were raised. I was glad to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who is a world expert in this matter. The noble Lord referred to the different opinions among experts on this subject. He emphasised the fact that although the NRPB was not able to prove that an association with other cancers existed it could not prove that such an association did not exist.
In opening the debate I made a point to which the Minister referred. I mentioned the widows whose husbands had died of leukaemia and myeloma and who had applied before 1988. In those days they were turned down. Even if widows can now apply under the war pension scheme as regards leukaemia and myeloma, and perhaps for other cancers in future, they have to go through the whole business of appeal and pro of, even if the balance of pro of is on their side. My noble friend Lord Parry referred to that. The Minister was good enough to confirm that the lumber of awards granted since 1988 comes to the princely total of seven.
Why have the Americans allowed compensation? They have carried out an immense research effort involving 250, 000 people, with all the cost that that entails. The list of cancers referred to in the amendment is taken directly from the American study. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will not mind if I say that I thought his answer on the American point was rather thin. I have heard the phrase " British is best" used in a number of contexts, but I do not think I have ever heard it applied to the nuclear testing programme. However, apparently the Americans did not carry out the testing programme as carefully as we did and therefore there was a greater risk of cancers on their side.
The Minister referred to the thoroughness of the testing programme. We have the evidence of literally hundreds of men who were present on that occasion. They cannot all be lying when they say that they were treated as guinea pigs. They were not issued with protective clothing or dose meters. I do not believe that was done intentionally at the time. As the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, knowledge of these matters in the 'fifties was much poorer than it is today. However, the Minister did not deal with my point on the NRPB's study that the files of all those who had applied for pensions were excluded from the study. Those people who were applying for pensions by definition had a higher incidence of cancer.
We are now told we shall have to wait for another report and further study. Some men will have died by then. We obtained a report on leukaemia and myeloma only after years of pressure. Finally the Government agreed to have that study carried out. The study revealed what many people had suspected. It revealed that there was an association with certain types of cancer. I feel I should repeat the quotation from the NRPB report that I made at the beginning, which states: 774Some aspects of the results, however, suggest that a real hazard was associated with the programme".We heard all the arguments about the association with solid cancers with equal certainty before 1988 when servicemen were arguing that there was an association. In the absence of the NRPB report the Government understandably denied the association. Now of course they have had to admit to the association because it has been revealed by that independent report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, mentioned university research. In that research people were not deliberately exposed to radiation, but many civilians and servicemen involved in the testing programme were deliberately exposed to it. That I think is the difference. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was extremely helpful. I believe he was the noble Lord who confirmed the figure which I gave as regards the cost of this measure being £4 to £5 million. There are about a thousand people involved and, sadly, for reasons we all understand, it is a reducing figure.
I should like to repeat a phrase that the noble Lord used. Could the Government just for once take a deep breath and give those men the benefit of the doubt? The noble Lord, Lord Henley, was extremely brave when he said that we were all laymen in this matter. However, I should think there is more expertise in this Chamber on this subject than there is almost anywhere else in the country.
The Minister said there was no evidence of higher rates of solid cancers in those exposed to radiation in the testing programme. However, that was exactly what was said as regards leukaemia and myeloma until the NRPB report was issued. The Government, to their credit, changed their stance when that report was issued. We now know that seven people are receiving war pensions as a result of that report.
I shall conclude with Chernobyl. We were told at the time that the incidence of leukaemia was limited and that the effects of the radiation were limited. We now find that the incidence is much greater than at first thought and the effects much longer lasting. In every case of exposure to ionising radiation it has been revealed that the danger is greater than first thought.
I am very disappointed with the Minister's answer. He has given nothing to the people who asked us to put their argument. It is not a matter on which I like to divide the Committee. However, without an assurance from the Minister, other than the promise of an interim report at some stage, that those people will receive help, all I can do is seek the opinion of the Committee.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 61) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 129.776
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Ardwick, L.|
|Annan, L.||Auckland, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Birk, B.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Lawrence, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Brightman, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Callaghan of Cardiff, L.||McNair, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||Mais, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Carter, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Monson, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Nicol, B.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Northfield, L.|
|David, B.||Ogmore, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Oram, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Parry, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Peston, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Falkland, V. [Teller.]||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Portsmouth, Bp.|
|Gallacher, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Rea, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Glenamara, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Russell, E.|
|Greenway, L.||Seear, B.|
|Grey, E.||Serota, B.|
|Gridley, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hirshfield, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hutchinson of Lullington, L.||Walston, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jacques, L.||White, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Wise, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Young of Darlington, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Cork and Orrery, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Arran, E.||De La Warr, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Denham, L. [Teller.]|
|Bellwin, L.||Donegall, M.|
|Beloff, L.||Eccles of Moulton, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Elibank, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Elles, B.|
|Blatch, B.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Erroll of Hale, L.|
|Brookeborough, V.||Fanshawe of Richmond, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Fieldhouse, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Foley, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Fortescue, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Grimthorpe, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Harding of Petherton, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Henley, L.||Pender, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Pennock, L.|
|Hives, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Quinton, L.|
|Howe, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Reay, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Renton, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Joseph, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||St. John of Fawsley, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Knutsford, V.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Sandys, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Long, V.||Slim, V.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Somers, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Strange, B.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Manton, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Mersey, V.||Terrington, L.|
|Morris, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Mountevans, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Moyne, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Munster, E.||Vinson, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Northbourne, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Orkney, E.||Wynford, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.28 p.m.
Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 62:
Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
("Entitlement to income support
In section 20 of the 1986 Act, for subsections (3) to (4N) there shall be substituted the following subsection—
(3) A person in Great Britain is entitled to income support if—
- (a) he is over the age of 16;
- (b) he has no income or his income does not exceed the applicable amount;
- (c) neither he nor, if he is a member of a married or unmarried couple, the other member is entitled to family credit or would be so entitled if he or she claimed it; and
- (d) except in such circumstances as may be prescribed, he is available for employment or attending a full-time course of study." ").
§ The noble Earl said: When I woke up this morning my wife assured me that I had been making speeches to this amendment in my sleep. Naturally I asked whether I had made sense. She replied, "Yes". That worried me. It may illustrate that I have prepared this amendment with rather more thoroughness than the last. It may also illustrate the fact that the matter has been with us for some time, and that it is beginning to get under my skin. It is essential that one should not make speeches to amendments in one's sleep. When one gets to that point, one begins to think that it is about time that something was 777 done about the problem so that it is taken away and one does not have to worry about it.
§ The amendment deals with another effect of the changes in the 1986 Act: the provision for 16 and 17 year-olds who are denied eligibility for income support and who are supposed to register for the YTS. When that provision came into effect in October 1988, the statistical effects were interesting: 70, 535 teenagers were taken from the unemployment register, but only 14, 677 were added to the YTS register. There is obviously a discrepancy between those figures.
§ One should like to know where the missing teenagers went. The number of filled vacancies at job centres during that period was rather lower than usual. Therefore, it does not appear that that massive body of teenagers was put into employment, which was the theoretical object of the exercise. They simply disappeared. When I walk along the Strand and see the number of people who are begging, I begin to think that I know where a considerable number of them went. Begging was not the object of the exercise, but it is the effect which has been achieved. It is extremely unfortunate.
The Government's position depends upon the theory that a guarantee of a YTS place is offered. The guarantee is clearly extremely defective. We hear regularly of cases of people for whom YTS places are not available, for example because of pregnancy. Occasionally there are problems with race. Sometimes there are problems with disability. By far the biggest problem results from people having no home. One of the teenagers in the Strand who was interviewed by the Independent put the matter very bluntly,
No home; no job: No job; no home.
§ That is not the result of fecklessness; it is not the result of an inability to work. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, stated last year, it is difficult to turn up for a job interview in clothes in which a noble Lord would not garden. One cannot sleep rough in the streets, because one has nowhere else to go, and then turn up, looking suitably spick and span in order to impress an employer. It has been done, and the fact that it has been done at all is pro of that within that group of people there is a very considerable determination to work. That it is not done regularly is no matter for surprise.
§ The root of the problem is the determination that teenagers should live at home. That is something that has not happened before and it does not seem to be happening now. When it does not happen, it gives rise to acute problems.
§ We hear regularly about teenagers who have been thrown out by their parents; for example, as a consequence of a personality clash. Those kinds of things happen and we are not going to stop them. Sometimes it happens as a consequence of a second marriage and sometimes for reasons that are a good deal mere personal and indefinable.
§ One situation in which the offer of a YTS place is insufficient is that of those who have been subjected to child abuse. Those people, when they leave home, feel the need to conceal their whereabouts from their 778 parents. Therefore, they do not register for the YTS. That would enable them to be found.
§ There is justice in the point made last year by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, that not all charges of child abuse are true. That statement needs to be repeated. If a charge of child abuse is falsely made, it is a sign that something is badly wrong in the family. To ask a parent to take back a child who has made a false charge of child abuse, as if nothing had happened and without investigation, is asking the parent to do something superhuman. Where a false charge is made, it indicates that something else is wrong that needs investigation.
§ The noble Baroness, Lady Faithful, has previously spoken about those who have been in local authority care and who have no home to go to. Since last year the Government have introduced the notion of estrangement premium. That is a very welcome change so far as it goes; but the administration of that premium gives rise to considerable dissatisfaction. The word of the parents as to whether a child can satisfactorily return home regularly appears in practice to be taken without question. In child abuse cases that is an utterly unsatisfactory measure. There are other circumstances where the parents' willingness to have the child home is not necessarily sufficient pro of that that is where the child ought to be.
§ There is also considerable dissatisfaction in relation to the administration of the severe hardship allowance. One third of claims are refused. In cases of pregnancy there is very severe difficulty in obtaining the severe hardship allowance. I remember a case that was brought to our attention last year. A 16 year-old who was pregnant was attempting to live on the £15 YTS bridging allowance. She was possessed only of one single skirt which she could get to meet round her waist. She was found not to be in a condition of severe hardship. That kind of case makes one think that the severe hardship provision is not a sufficient cure for the problem.
§ The problem is this. What is to happen to teenagers who have left home for reasons which seemed good to themselves and reasons upon which it is very hard for us to pass judgment? They have no home to go to and are therefore unable to settle down anywhere where they can obtain a YTS place.
§ There is the question of crime. I was interested to read a report from the Nottinghamshire probation service which was published in the Independent on 23rd April. The report stated that about one third of the teenagers who came into the hands of the Nottinghamshire probation service had no home. They usually came from familiar categories: those who had been victims of child abuse, those who had been thrown out by their parents and those who had been in local authority care. I do not know how big the iceberg is of which that is the tip, but I suspect that it is larger than we should like. The situation is capable of becoming extremely expensive over the passage of time.
§ I regret to say that there is the option of prostitution, for both sexes. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has drawn our attention to that matter and I shall not elaborate on the subject.779
§ There is also the option of begging, as I know to my cost. Since I know it to my cost, I wonder whether, strictly, I should declare an interest in moving the amendment.
§ We are told that the justification for the Government's position is the doctrine of the perverse incentive; that the benefit system should not offer a perverse incentive to leave home. I find that doctrine difficult to follow. First, the arithmetic is wrong. The costs of independent living are a great deal higher for most people than the value of the services that they receive in the parental home. They are a great deal higher than the somewhat attenuated rates of income support available for those between the ages of 18 and 24. If the Government think that there is a perverse incentive to leave home, they have not done their sums correctly.
§ I am surprised by the notion of human nature that is behind the doctrine of perverse incentive. To be a teenager on the run is not a very comfortable way of existing. It is a way of life that involves considerable hardship, considerable fear and considerable risks. The notion that people would undergo such hardship for the sake of a temporary few shillings extra in benefit implies a very curious perception of human nature. It seems to me to involve an almost Marxist obsession with economic motive. I do not believe that people are like that. Neither do I think that most of them have so much indifference to their long-term future. I am sure that most of them would like to become established in regular employment. However, they need a place to live before they can do so and since deposits cannot be obtained from the social fund—something to which we shall return later today—there is almost a road-block between those people and their finding a roof over their heads.
§ The benefit system is not having the effect of providing an opportunity to float people of f benefit and get them into employment, which I am sure is what we want to see. It is having the effect of kicking people down and locking them into the structure of living on benefit. That is exactly the opposite of what the Government and we wish to see happening. In fact this is a process of dismantling the lifeboats. It is peculiarly short-sighted.
§ It is a cliché but nevertheless true to say that most young people are at a crossroads in their life and it is valid to say that there is a tide in the affairs of men. If young people are adequately established in employment and in a household of their own, there is a prospect of a long-term process of earning their living, to the benefit of both themselves and, if I may say so, the Treasury. If they get pushed down into sleeping rough, they are pushed into a situation which it is very hard indeed to get out of.
§ This is where the benefit system is having the effect of encouraging a lifetime cycle of deprivation. That is not, as the Government seem to think, because benefits are addictive. I think that the Government severely overrate the attractiveness of social security benefits; they are not that large. That is the result of kicking away the ladder so that people cannot climb out. I believe that it is a short-sighted policy. I beg to move.780
§ Lord Carter
I was very glad from these Benches to add my name to this amendment. As the noble Earl said, we have been over this ground before. However, there is no harm in doing that because it is very important. We hope that eventually the Government will accept the strength of our arguments.
As the noble Earl said, this amendment would allow some young people who are living independently to claim income support until they have found themselves a suitable youth training place for a job. The Committee will agree that it is essential that homeless 16 and 17 year-olds should be given the income, time and opportunity for their attempts to find either temporary or permanent accommodation. One of the benefits envisaged by the amendment is that the guaranteed income support encourages board-and-lodging providers and hostel proprietors to allow young homeless people who are not on youth training schemes to move into accommodation. There is growing evidence that even when hostels have been set up specifically for young people they are turning them away. That is because the young person has no income and cannot afford the rent.
The noble Earl referred to the figures from Nottingham. We are aware also of the increase in homelessness among young people in London and under the Vagrancy Act the increasing number of convictions of young people for begging, particularly in London.
I am sure that the Minister will refer in her reply to the matter of availability of places on the youth training scheme. Shelter has advised us that 45, 000 young people are not catered for at the moment under YTS. All these young people are potentially either homeless or have other problems to which the noble Earl referred. We have argued this case on a number of occasions and on different Bills. I hope that the Government will see the strength of the arguments.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
I should like briefly to support the amendment and emphasise a point alluded to by other speakers. One of the Government's reasons for refusing to give support to 16 to 18 year-olds is an assertion that there is a YTS place for all youngsters who want one. Therefore they are deliberately not weighting. I believe that the Government should look again at this matter. It may be that numerically that is true although I believe that in many areas that is not so. However, even if it were true, YTS is meant to be a training scheme. If it is not the right training for a youngster, it is absurd to push him or her arbitrarily into training just because there happens to be a training place in a particular occupation. It is a waste of training provision and will not lead to any satisfactory result.
Moreover, it is not fair on the employers. If employers are trying to provide decent training, the last thing they want is a conscript who has been pushed into training that he does not want. He will be a disruptive influence and have the effect of making it a much less good training programme for all the other youngsters who are there. The 781 Government would be more consistent if they were to say that people should be properly selected for the training because it is suitable training for them. If the scheme is just being used to find any kind of employment for youngsters who happen to be around without a job, the Government should give up the pretence that it is primarily a training scheme.
§ Lord Stallard
I too support this amendment. I shall no: repeat the arguments of the noble Earl in his excellent opening speech on the subject. He pointed to an experience that many of us have had when working in voluntary organisations and seeing the effects of a whole number of social security Acts over the past 10 to 15 years. I do not need to add to what he said.
The noble Baroness said that YTS places are available. They ought to be available but the sad fact is that they are not. We debated this matter last year and I remember noting that in Glasgow there were 1, 429 places short of the number of applications. The youngsters simply could not get on to the youth training schemes. The same is true of other major cities and certainly of London. Although we were led to believe that there were enough places for those who needed them, I feel that the Government seriously underestimated the number of people eligible for places. The numbers have never been matched.
The Government also misunderstood or undervalued the reasons why youngsters leave home. I know that they tried to put this matter right when they introduced a special allowance in 1989 and the Minister, Nicholas Scott, announced some slight improvement in benefits. However even that was insufficient to take care of the problems. He did not seem to accept the seriousness or multiplicity of the reasons why youngsters leave home these days.
Perhaps I may illustrate the argument by one or two examples sent to me by the citizens advice bureaux. From time to time they send me details of a number of different cases. I have chosen one or two about people who are on youth training schemes. Obviously these youngsters fulfil the requirement demanded and on which the Government seem to rest their case. One case is that of a 17 year-old girl on a youth training scheme. She has had to look after her 14 year-old sister since their father died and left them alone. They have £38.25 per week to live on which must cover food, bills, clothing, household expenses and fares to get to the youth training scheme. How can anybody justify that? These people are doing what they have been told to do. They are on a YTS and qualify for what is available. For two growing youngsters, one aged 17 and one: 14, who have all the expenses that we know must be encountered in their situation, how can £38.25 be sufficient?
Another example is that of a youngster in Cleveland. He is 17 years old and living in a flat after coming out of care. Most people can perfectly understand why this youngster already finds himself in difficulty. Young people have to come out of care; they can no longer stay there. We all understand that. When he came out, this fellow went on to a 782 YTS placement. He complied with what was demanded and was given the enhanced payment of £29.50 a week. He was also receiving £21.92 in housing benefit. However, he had to add to that sum £12.20 a week because the payments bear no relationship to the rents that are being charged for accommodation up and down the country. He is therefore left with £14.90 each week for all meals, clothing, travel and other costs.
He is in dire circumstances. He is badly in need of the obvious household equipment but he cannot obtain it. Nor can he attain a community care programme because he does not have income support. We are asking that such a person be given income support. He might then be able to qualify for the grants and loans available to everyone on income support. But because being under age he does not qualify for it, he does not qualify for the other benefits that he urgently needs in order to exist.
We cannot dodge those issues. Examples exist in their thousands. The noble Earl pointed out the consequences of not dealing with those problems. I have lists of cases of youngsters in terrible circumstances from up and down the country.
When the Minister replies, I hope that she will consider the genuine difficulties of youngsters who have been taken of f or refused income support. They are now suffering severe hardship because they failed to obtain income support and so to qualify for other benefits.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
The Committee is being asked to approve a proposal for which there is obviously a certain amount to be said, but equally obviously would involve quite substantial national expenditure. It is significant, and there are perhaps grounds for complaint, that neither the noble Earl who moved the amendment nor any of the three noble Lords who supported it, have given the faintest indication of what the cost of implementing it would be. I appreciate that they do not have the means that the Minister has for giving an accurate assessment on such a matter. On the other hand, it is hardly fair to ask the Committee to approve a proposal with no indication whatsoever of the cost to public funds. Most reasonable people look at these amendments on social security matters partly on their merits, but also weighing against their merits how much they would cost and therefore how much they would prevent being spent on other worthy causes.
When the Minister replies, I hope that she will at least furnish Members of the Committee with the cost to public funds of these proposals. I suspect that they are substantial.
§ Lord Hylton
I invite the Committee to consider the costs of not accepting the amendment. What will be the burden that falls on the police? What will be the cost to the courts? What will be the cost in borstal training and imprisonment? What will be the cost to hospitals? What will be the cost of failing to improve the present parlous situation? In 1986 the previous regulations were changed. I foresaw that there would soon be a considerable number of sturdy vagrants in this country—to use old poor law 783 terminology. I am sorry to say that that has come to pass. One has now only to go into virtually any Tube station in the London area to meet these people. They may be sturdy at the moment but for how long can they retain their health when, as we have known from the debates on the National Health Service, it is extremely difficult for these people to have access to primary health care?
of those 45, 000 who have been mentioned already who have no job or YTS provision how many are seeking work and failing to find it? How many are seeking to get into hostels and are being turned away? I strongly support the amendment.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, mentioned costs. We have to ask ourselves: who is now picking up the tab and paying? In most cases it is charities which are involved in care for the homeless young. I speak with some experience of St. Basil's in Birmingham. It is the largest charity for young people in the city and has a very extensive programme of care. However, for those charities that are specialising in care for the homeless young, help is needed at the initial stages from the Government. Otherwise they cannot continue with the long term rehabilitation. It is very of ten a long process of rehabilitation. It is not just a few chats with a welfare worker. The costs are being met by charities in the main. Similarly when the Government decided to cut back on the social fund, charities were used by social services. Many organisations obtained donations to provide a gas stove or an overcoat for such people. The charities had to pick up the tab for the cutback in the social fund. The charities are now having to do so because they do not wish to see young people on the streets.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned the other cost—the social cost. He failed—I do not criticise him for it—to say how the tourist trade is being affected by the situation. When people come to the great capital city they are put of f by seeing people in a similar state to those in Bangkok or some other far away place. That is another cost.
What will happen to those young people? Will they become the people involved in the Strangeways incidents of the future? Do they feel that they have been left aside by the Government? Long term investment has to be considered and not the parsimonious short term amount involved if the Government agree to the amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she deal with this point? I accept thoroughly what she said in her last few sentences. Surely we should know the figures.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
It is always strange that people wish to know the figures. The people who have the figures are the Government. They can collect them from social security services, from charities and from other similar organisations which inform the Government of their figures. However, evidently the Government do not wish to add them up and to give the information.
§ Lord Northbourne
The figures are not that difficult to work out. If there are 45, 000 people in this category and we suggest that they should receive another £1, 000 a year, I make that £45, 000. If they should have another £2, 000 a year, the figure is £90, 000. It is not difficult to work out. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made his speech in his sleep. I hope that he will continue to make it in this Chamber until something is done. The situation is a blot on the escutcheon of this country. I urge the Government to respond positively.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
We must all consider this matter in depth. Some people are falling through the net and are in trouble. There is no question about that. The Government have tried specifically to give help through the severe hardship provisions and others. It may well be that those provisions are not operating properly. My noble friend should take note of what has been said and should consider whether they are operating properly.
However, we have to be careful about the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that it was not much good for one to go on a YTS if it was not exactly what one wished to do, and if it was on a different subject or aspect of work from that in which one was interested. I was surprised to hear her say that, as someone who has played such a great part in developing YTS. If you are in trouble and away from home and you go on a training scheme and can get into something that provides you with a little money, gets you into the work habit and enables you to make contacts, that is probably the best thing any young person in that position can do. The places are there. In our desire to help the people who have missed out, we should not forget that the places are there. When we discuss the subject in other contexts, we must also remember that there is an increasing shortage of young people for work and that young people are now in demand.
Paragraph (d) of the amendment states that those people would not receive support if they were available for employment. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, you are not available for work if you are not spick and span but are living in a cardboard box or sleeping in the subway. You cannot be available for employment because people simply do not look at you when you walk in and you probably dare not do so. Those people are therefore ruled out by the amendment. It would not work for them.
I must also remind the Committee that many parents with 16 or 17 year-old children are glad that it is no longer possible for them to say, "I and my pals are going to the city to get a flat and live of f benefit". They used to be able to do that, but it became more and more difficult and is now virtually impossible. Many kids are not leaving home because of that. If the amendment is accepted, we shall go back to square one and to all the problems that there were before. I am sure that there is no one in the Committee who does not know someone who has said that he or she is glad about the present position or that it is an improvement. However that does not mean that there are no young people in trouble. It is perfectly true to say that voluntary organisations must pick up the tab.
785 The Government must fine-tune matters as much as possible. I do not think that the noble Earl's amendment does that. The people about whom we are most worried are not available for employment. They will not make themselves available. I do not think that the noble Earl's figures need to be taken as gospel truth, because no one knows how many people were earning then and how many are earning now. It is not possible to tell whether they are earning. The figures are difficult to come by. In a way, I am glad of that because many young people are not, as it were, on the books, but are all right for cash. They have a small amount of income because they earn it. I do not think that the amendment will achieve the objective that it seeks, but I hope that the Government will look hard at the way in which arrangements are currently targeted and try to fine-tune them better, because all is not 100 per cent. well.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
Perhaps I may deal with the point about numbers raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It was a fair question. The social security statistics for 1989 reveal that, the last time a count was made, on 31st May 1988, 53, 000 of 16 to 17 year-old men and 48, 000 women were receiving income support, so the figure is about 100, 000. A large proportion of those people would now be either on a youth training scheme or living at home. Having got the number who would now be eligible under the amendment, one would guess that the figure would be well under half of the 100, 000—perhaps 30, 000 or 40, 000—which, at £1, 000 a year, would be in the order cf £30 million or £40 million. That is the best that I can do. I hope that the Minister perhaps has a more accurate answer.
§ Lord Northbourne
I must apologise for my slip of the tongue. I said £45, 000 when I meant £45 million.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
I should like to congratulate the Government upon what they have done so far, but I should also like to say that it is certainly within my knowledge that the resources have not been targeted correctly until now. I shall ask the Minister on behalf of most speakers this afternoon whether she will take the amendment away and see what can be done. I know that that is difficult and that many people are worried about those people who are, in my estimation, the most vulnerable in society for the reason given by the noble Earl, Lord Russell.
There are all kinds of categories of young people—I shall not elaborate again—who are in serious trouble. For instance, if they receive a YTS place miles out in the middle of the countryside, they are not likely to know of somewhere to live. If they do not know of somewhere to live nearby, how will they find a place to live if they have no money in their pocket with which to find it? Something should be done for those people as well as those who are not able to go on the YTS schemes. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, some of those people fall through the net. If they put their mind to it, the 786 Government will be able to do something about the matter.
§ Baroness Blatch
When I woke up this morning, I thought that I had been listening to the noble Earl speaking to the amendment all night. However, unlike his wife, I shall not comment on the sense or otherwise of what he said.
This is an important topic and, by the time I have addressed all the points that have been raised, I hope that I shall have convinced the Committee that the Government have taken the issue extremely seriously. If I have understood it correctly, the amendment would make some quite fundamental changes in eligibility for income support. I shall try to take the amendment bit by bit.
Perhaps I may deal first with the proposal that title should start at the age of 16. The Committee will remember that a crucial change in social security provision was introduced in September 1988 under which income support was withdrawn from most 16 and 17 year-olds. The point of the change was to prevent young people, with their whole life ahead of them, sliding straight into the benefit culture, which we believed would not be in the best interests of the young persons, their families or society as a whole. The withdrawal of benefit was complemented by the introduction of a government guarantee of the offer of a suitable Youth Training Scheme place for everyone who wanted one.
There will always be some young people who may not be able to participate in training; for example, the long-term sick and lone parents. There will also be those who are unable to take advantage of the YTS guarantee immediately, such as those just released from custody and those forced to live independently. For those vulnerable groups, income support is still available.
In addition to the normal rules, income support can be paid where the young person would otherwise suffer unavoidable severe hardship. That safety net enables young people at serious risk to receive benefit while looking for a job or a Youth Training Scheme place. That probably answers in part the point raised by my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve. The existing income support provisions strike a balance between providing support for vulnerable youngsters without encouraging young people's dependence on the state.
Young people of 16 and 17 are at a delicate and important stage in their life. They need encouragement to fulfil their potential and equip themselves for their future career. Giving them immediate access to the benefit system on leaving school, as this amendment would, must seriously jeopardise these aims.
Moreover, the amendment goes far wider than simply restoring the situation for 16 and 17 year-olds to that which existed before September 1988. It seeks to alter a basic condition for receiving income support. It makes income support available to people in work whether they are single or married, with or without children. The amendment removes in its entirety the current rule which prevents income support from being paid, except in special 787 circumstances, where a claimant or his partner is, to quote the legislation, in "remunerative work".
The Committee will wish to know that the term "remunerative work" refers to paid work of at least 24 hours, on average, a week. Currently, that rule operates to ensure that income support remains primarily an out- of -work benefit for people on low income. It also maintains a clear and helpful distinction between income support and family credit, which, as Members of the Committee will know, is the benefit available to working families with a dependent child on low income. This distinction saves working families with children the confusion and doubt over whether to claim income support or family credit and was a crucial plank of the 1988 reforms.
This amendment will not only blur that distinction but introduce inequity. If the proposal were to succeed many claimants wishing to receive income support would have to be considered for family credit in order to prove that they would not qualify for that benefit. This would surely lead to many fruitless claims to family credit, thereby delaying decisions on other claims and generally causing false hopes, confusion and dissatisfaction among claimants.
Importantly, the amendment would allow single working people and childless couples to receive income support regardless of the number of hours they work. Their entitlement would depend solely on the level of their income. In other words, it would turn income support into an in-work benefit, contrary to the fundamental principles, shared by consecutive governments, of this and previous schemes.
It would also mean that working couples with children and a mortgage whose income is above the level for which family credit can be paid may qualify for help under income support simply because of their mortgage commitment. Members of the Committee will be aware that family credit makes no allowance for mortgage and that the major source of government help for owner occupiers in work is through mortgage income tax relief. This would mean that families with similar commitments but only slightly different levels of income would be treated differently, with the families on higher earnings receiving more help because they would qualify for income support rather than family credit, which carries with it eligibility to assistance towards mortgage costs.
That is something which this Chamber could not countenance. However, I am afraid that this is what will happen if the amendment is accepted. Moreover, the proposal will act as a disincentive to work more hours, as income support and hence the help with mortgage costs would be lost.
All of this would have a significant benefit and administrative cost, and I shall discuss the question of costs later. It is a burden which would fall entirely and unfairly on the taxpayer. This amendment is likely to create many more problems than it would solve.
Additionally the amendment seeks to remove the condition that a person who is required to be 788 available for work must also actively seek it in order to obtain income support. The Government are totally opposed to a restoration of the position existing prior to October 1989 which enabled an unemployed person to satisfy the adjudicating authorities of his availability for work simply by a single attendance at a jobcentre.
The Government are committed to encouraging people to take positive steps to secure a place back in the world of work. All the evidence suggests that the vast majority of claimants have willingly accepted that it is their responsibility and to their benefit to take steps to seek work actively.
The marked absence of criticism of the new arrangements suggests that we have succeeded in creating a fair and flexible framework that has been able to deliver the behavioural changes that the legislative changes last October sought to induce. Adjudicating officers can take important factors like local labour market conditions into account in determining whether an unemployed person has taken reasonable steps to find work; people can combine job search activity with part-time study or voluntary work; and most of the small but significant minority who have so far been warned about inadequate job search have reacted positively and taken steps to remedy this. To move back to the position prior to last October would be an entirely retrograde step against the interests of the taxpayer, employers and, above all, the unemployed. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour who made that point.
Finally, we come to the last element of this amendment. This attempts to open up the social security system to all people attending a full-time course of study. The Committee will be well aware of our overall policy that those in full-time education should not, other than quite exceptionally, rely on the social security system for their financial support.
However, this amendment, if accepted, would give eligibility to income related benefits to the vast majority of claimants attending a full-time course of study. It would include those who stay on at school or go to a college of further education and who currently have no title to social security benefits. It would also include students during term time and short vacations. It also lacks precision in that there is no definition of a full-time course of study.
The amendment would transfer the cost of student maintenance away from the education system, where we believe it belongs, to the social security system. This would involve significant administrative costs. It would also represent an untenable step backwards from our long stated objective of removing students from a social security system which was not designed for them.
On costs, a point raised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, taking into account all elements of this amendment the total cost would be £225 million.
I now address the particular anxieties of vulnerable groups in this instance. First, I turn to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on no job, no home; no home, no job.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
On the point of costs, the noble Baroness mentioned the figure of £225 million taking into account all elements. Does she have a breakdown of the various parts of the amendment, because obviously it is those in full-time study who are adding to the costs?
§ Baroness Blatch
I have a figure and I shall give it to the noble Lord.
On the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, homelessness is not a bar from entry to YTS. The March improvements to which I referred, announced by the Secretary of State for Employment, specifically targeted homeless youngsters building on a pilot scheme in Birmingham which got together all agencies involved with homeless youngsters. It is important to say a few words about that scheme because it was very relevant to the points raised in the course of the debate.
In Birmingham the training agency brought together all those dealing with homeless young people, including initial training providers, social workers., careers officers and hostel staff. That resulted in effective procedures and contact between those groups for improving the help which initial trainees, receive. It provided a model of how to develop resource networks for training providers and other professionals so that they could take appropriate roles in supporting trainees with problems. As a result any homeless young person who is offered a hostel place will be found an initial training place on the same day. That secures the hostel place and if it subsequently emerges that the young person is on an inappropriate initial training scheme, a transfer to another provider will be arranged. The Committee will agree that that was an interesting pilot scheme which has been successful and it is intended to build on it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, raised the problem of the right training not being available in the right place. That was also mentioned by other Members of the Committee. The Training Agency will do all it can, including providing specific training for individuals. It has resources to do so but in the end it is better for youngsters to have—
§ Baroness Seear
The noble Baroness says that the Training Agency has resources. Those of us dealing with the Training Agency in one way or another at present are only too acutely aware that the funds are growing less and less and many special schemes are being cut back quite drastically as a result. I hope that she will look at that matter before she says that it is properly financed.
§ Baroness Blatch
The Government have a well publicised guarantee that all young people will receive training places on training schemes as appropriate to their needs as possible. If the noble Baroness has examples of where that guarantee has not been met, we must address the issue of resources in that area.
There was a reference to the difficulties of young pregnant girls. We shall address that specifically on 790 a later amendment. However, all 16 and 17 year-olds are covered by the Government's guarantee of an offer of a place on a youth training scheme if they so desire. That includes those who are pregnant. If any young woman who is pregnant meets a problem of securing a place on a training scheme, the Training Agency will make arrangements for suitable training to be provided for as long as she or her medical advisers consider appropriate.
Special provisions are also made to allow a school-leaver who is pregnant to enter on a training scheme up to two years late, and a young woman who leaves a scheme because of pregnancy can return up to a year later and continue her training for the full period. We are also moving towards making training options more effective for young pregnant women; for example, through the provision of short care-related courses where that is a better option. That will be discussed in more detail later.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, also mentioned severe hardship provision. Each severe hardship claim is considered on its individual merits. Factors which are taken into account include a young person's health and vulnerability, which will include child abuse; the availability of income or savings; the prospect of a speedy entry into YTS; the availability of casual work and whether the young person has friends or relatives who can put him or her up. The Secretary of State has given a commitment that all severe hardship decisions will be made within 24 hours, because we all know the urgency of such cases, although for practical purposes payment is usually made on the same day as the case is referred.
I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who asked about vacancies. The total number of vacancies is 160, 944 places unfilled in March of this year. The breakdown for that in round figures is, South East 20, 000; London 12, 000; South West 13, 000; East Midlands 18, 000; West Midlands 22, 000; York and Humberside 19, 000; North-West 23, 000; Northern 9, 000; Wales 6, 000 and Scotland 15, 000. All those figures were rounded down, not rounded up.
The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, made reference to the comparability between income support and YT allowance, and which would be the more appropriate. Perhaps I may say that the actual amount received by a young person on a YTS is greater than the income support rate. He mentioned the case of a girl on the YTS looking after her 14 year-old sister; a 17 year-old looking after a sister is not required to register for YTS. She would qualify for income support for herself and her sister in the normal way.
I now come to the breakdown of the figure I gave earlier of £225 million requested by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. For 16 and 17 year-olds—that is the first part of the amendment—the cost would be £90 million. For those seeking work it would be £50 million. To remove the remunerative working rule would cost £115 million.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour mentioned people falling through the net and being caused severe hardship. The schemes, she suggested, were 791 perhaps not working properly. I can give some assurance that improvements in administration introduced last November, including automatic referral for severe hardship, are having some impact. The scheme continues to be monitored. We must be flexible in modifying the scheme as we go along.
Another point raised by my noble friend Lady Carnegy concerned young people who perhaps do not fit the bill. A very interesting modification is being made—a kind of step to YTS called initial training. It is available before the actual YTS and is particularly helpful for disadvantaged young people or young people who are difficult to place.
Perhaps I could briefly outline some of the changes and modifications that have been made. The Secretary of State has continued the establishment and guarantee that liaison officers will be available to deal with difficult cases. That links to the point I have just made in response to the comments of my noble friend. More leaflets are available for YTS advisers. Direct links have been established between hostels and training providers. There has been improved guidance to careers officers which is very important, and special leaflets are available for 16 and 17 year-olds who require income and support advice.
Considerable modification has already taken place with the promise that schemes will be monitored and watched. I believe that we should be flexible in our approach to meet the needs. In my rather lengthy response to the amendment I believe I addressed the needs of each vulnerable group mentioned in the debate. For all those reasons I can in no way support the amendment. It will fundamentally alter major aspects of the income related benefits. It will bring into its net groups of people for whom it was not intended and for whom I believe it is not appropriate.
I hope that I have convinced the Committee of the Government's commitment to these young people and also of the fact that the amendment is not appropriate in this instance.
§ Lord Carter
I thank the Minister for the figures she gave. I certainly do not want to enter into argument, but I find her remarks difficult to follow. She said that the cost of applying the scheme to 16 and 17 year-olds would be £90 million. As I pointed out, the last time the figures were collected in May 1988 there were around 100, 000 young people in receipt of income support at around £1, 000 per year. That brings the figure to £100 million. If the figure of £90 million is correct, that means that 90 per cent. of that 100, 000 have not been found new places on the YTS scheme. I find that very hard to follow.
Perhaps the noble Baroness will read what I said and write to me. It is an awkward point, but I do not understand where the £90 million comes from.
§ Earl Russell
Not for the first time I owe an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He said that I should have costed the amendment. I do not think the noble Lord was in his place last night when 792 I did cost one of my amendments. I was roundly taken to task by my noble kinsman who had, of course, more material at his disposal for that purpose.
One reason why I did not cost the amendment is that we are here dealing with a floating population. They are people who have slipped through the net and who are of ten very hard to quantify. Had I costed the amendment I should have had some hesitation regarding the accuracy of my figures. I am not arguing with the noble Baroness's figure of £225 million. It is probably a generous calculation, but I will not dispute it. However, I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that we must calculate that against the cost of not implementing the amendment. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the cost of not implementing the amendment is likely to be a good deal higher.
I turn to the Minister's speech. I hesitate to describe it as the triumph of hope over experience because I did not see very much evidence of the experience. It was government theology. It was a careful reasoning of abstract principles. People with some experience of the subject have acute difficulty relating the speech to the world they know.
I shall not elaborate on my remarks regarding the severe hardship fund. I have not met anyone who is satisfied with it. I will not elaborate further on the point that labelling someone a vagrant is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That has been true since 1601; it has been established many times over.
I shall deal with the point concerning the YTS. It is worth pointing out that the YTS is an employer-run service. The employer has a right to refuse. So long as that right exists it is not ultimately compatible with the assurance that there is a guarantee of a place for every person. Also, it does not answer the point that homelessness is a bar to placement.
One aspect of the amendment is that people applying for rented accommodation face, very reasonably, from people who are in business for a pr of it, a request to show some guarantee of income. One effect of the amendment would be to make it possible for people to guarantee that they would be able to pay the rent. That would make it a lot easier for them to obtain accommodation and therefore to look for employment.
It is worth repeating that it is a term of this amendment that people shall genuinely be available for work. We would not have tabled the amendment otherwise. All that has been said regarding benefit culture is wide of the point. The amendment is deliberately drafted to exclude that reply. I had hoped it would.
There is agreement between us that the ultimate objective is to float people of f benefit and place them in the world of work. It cannot be said too of ten that that objective is common to all sides of the Chamber. However, what we disagree about is how to do it. I speak as one who has spent a great deal of his working life advising people not very much older than those we are dealing with in the amendment. Very of ten, what is vital to young people in a state of emotional turmoil—as those who have left the parental home frequently are—is a few days' 793 breathing space during which they can sort things out and get on their feet again. I have seen innumerable people do that with complete success. Many of them now not only earn their living, but do so with great national distinction.
We believe that the benefit system can give people a leg-up; but the Government seem to think that they have to give them a kick in the pants. That is not an effective way to persuade people back into work. The Government are bringing about a benefit dependency, which is precisely what they fear. It is not the first time in history that a government, terrified of something, have taken measures which did more than anything else to bring it about. I must seek the opinion of the Committee.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 62) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 87; Not-Contents, 130.794
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Addington, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Airedale. L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Aylestone:, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Birk, B.||Listowel, E.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Mcintosh of Haringey, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Campbell of Eskan, L.||McNair, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Mais, L.|
|Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Carter, L||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Northfield, L.|
|David, B||Ogmore, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Oram, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Parry, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Peston, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Falkland. V.||Pitt of Hampstead, 1.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Portsmouth, Bp.|
|Gallacher, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Glasgow, E.||Russell, E. [Teller.]|
|Glenamara, L.||Seear, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller]||Serota, B.|
|Gregson, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Grey, E.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Walston, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Layton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Long, V.|
|Ampthill, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Arran, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Auckland, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Bellwin, L.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Belstead, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Blake, L.||Manton, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Margadale, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Marshall of Leeds, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Monson, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Morris, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Mottistone, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Munster, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Nelson of Stafford, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Cockfield, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Pender, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Pennock, L.|
|Crawshaw, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Quinton, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Reay, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Renton, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Elles, B.||Rodney, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||St. Aldwyn, E,|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Fairhaven, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Seebohm, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Selbourne, E.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Somers, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Strange, B.|
|Hailsham of Saint||Strathclyde, L.|
|Marylebone, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Henley, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Hives, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hood, V.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Thurlow, L.|
|Howe, E.||Tranmire, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Ullswater, V.|
|Ironside, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Joseph, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Young, B.|
|Knutsford, V.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.38 p.m.
Baroness David moved Amendment No. 63:
Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
("Income Support: persons under 18
In regulation 13A of the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987, for paragraphs (2)(b) and (3) there shall be substituted the following sub-paragraph—
(b) for the period for which that paragraph applies or, if the date on which he attains the age of 18 falls within that period, for so much there of as falls before that date.".").
§ The noble Baroness said: I should first explain to the Committee why I am moving this amendment. It was originally tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and myself. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, was to have moved it but unfortunately she cannot be here today. However, she has asked me to tell the Committee that the amendment has her wholehearted support. I only wish that the noble Baroness were here to move the amendment herself.
§ I must say immediately that this is a much more modest amendment than the one we have just debated. It is simpler and much less costly. The purpose is to abolish the limits on income support entitlement to 16 and 17 year-olds living away from home and instead to allow them to claim income support until they find a suitable youth training place or employment. That will give these young people a little more assistance and a little more time.
§ I do not know whether many noble Lords have received the document Hard Times from Shelter. It should be read by people discussing this problem of homeless young people who are in difficulties. The document outlines some really heartrending cases. There is a very real problem of which everyone is now beginning to be aware.
§ The pamphlet Hard Times produced by Shelter reveals the difficulties that many homeless young people have in finding youth training places. As has been said before, it is unreasonable to expect young people who have become homeless immediately to settle into a job or youth training while coming to terms with the problems of being homeless. In addition, many employers are unwilling to offer training to homeless young people. The quite common rule is: "No address—no training".
§ I am sure that the Committee will take as read the great number of examples I have. I shall not go into them now. I shall be very glad to lend the pamphlet from Shelter to anyone who cares to read it. If passed, this amendment will allow some young people living independently to claim income support until they have found a suitable youth training place or a job. It is essential that homeless 16 and 17 year-olds are given income, time and opportunity to attempt to find temporary and permanent accommodation.
§ One benefit of this amendment is that guaranteed income support encourages board and lodging proprietors and hotel proprietors to allow young homeless people who are not on a youth training scheme to move into accomodation. There is growing evidence that even where hostels have been set up specifically for young people they are being turned away because young people have no income and cannot afford the rent. In addition, some landlords demand a deposit and if that cannot be given a young person is not given a place.
§ As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, there have been some government initiatives. In her reply to the previous amendment she referred to the liaison officers. They are appointed to assist homeless young people to find a youth training place, 796 and that is welcome. However, it remains to be seen whether that will provide any material assistance for the majority of homeless young people. I hope that the Minister is listening to what I am saying about liaison officers. There will be approximately 6, 750 trainees for every liaison officer appointed, which must severely restrict their ability to provide comprehensive and individual advice.
§ Further, it is to be hoped that young people will not be coerced into unsuitable training schemes merely because places are available immediately. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made that point, and it is a very true one. Young people must be allowed to make vocational choices if they are to succeed in what they are doing. I also wish to say something about those leaving care. It has been discovered that in London and elsewhere about 40 per cent. of those who go to places such as Centrepoint, where the homeless are cared for, have come out of care. They are in a special category. Those of us who were involved with the Children Bill when it went through the House spoke a great deal about that subject. Quite a number of those affected came to see us to put their case, which they did extremely well and very strongly.
§ I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, has gone. She made her point earlier. She told me that she sympathised with this amendment. She was also involved in speaking about those who were leaving care. We should remember them in particular when we are asking for this extremely modest addition to what they receive at present. It is an extension of the time when they receive either a severe hardship or a bridging allowance or the child benefit extension. They really need this extra provision.
§ The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, told me that she thought that the department had some sympathy for this amendment and I hope very much that that is true. I hope that when the Minister replies she will be able to tell me that the department will have another look at the question. This is a very simple and modest amendment. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and I hope that this matter can be looked at. We shall be very happy if that is so. We shall be happy to talk to Mr. Scott or to anyone else in the department if that can be arranged. I beg to move.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
Income support is still payable to the most vulnerable groups of young people. It is paid without time restriction to, for example, disabled people and lone parents. Other young people who either have no parental home, or who have good reason why they cannot live at home, are also entitled to income support during the same period as the child benefit extension period. That was a point specifically raised by the noble Baroness. Vulnerable people can get income support during the child benefit extension period.
This group includes, for example, those who have of necessity to live independently because they are estranged from their parents, or those at risk of physical or sexual abuse. The Government therefore recognise that these young people are likely to need 797 a little longer, and greater support, to find a suitable YT place but they are nevertheless still guaranteed the offer of a YT place. That was also a point raised by the noble Baroness.
In addition to the normal rules, income support can be paid where the young person would otherwise suffer unavoidable severe hardship. This safety net enables young people at serious risk to receive benefit while they are looking for a job or a YT place. Since November 1989, every young person claiming benefit is considered under the severe hardship provision if not otherwise entitled to income support.
We have continuously monitored the effect of the changes. We have done this through the collection of information from local DSS offices and the severe hardship unit. We have also set up regular meetings with representatives from voluntary groups involved with young people as a way of gaining feedback. There have been a number of reports published, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, by, for example, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux which we have carefully considered. As a result we have introduced a number of changes—many of which I mentioned on the previous amendment—primarily to improve the way claims from young people are dealt with.
We have always recognised that some youngsters need special consideration in the provision of a YT place. That does not mean that we should give up on them. Their problems can be accommodated in a number of ways, first, through the training scheme itself which aims to provide quality training tailored to the needs of the individual. This includes those youngsters with special training needs such as those who lack motivation or who have severe emotional or behavioural problems. Secondly, initial training offers in-depth assessment and remedial help for young people who would otherwise have difficulty in being accepted or coping with training schemes. This is intended to bring youngsters with problems to a point where they are ready for mainstream training.
In addition, and as I have said previously, in March this year the Secretary of State for Employment announced a package of operational improvements in dealing with applications for training, places. These included the establishing of guarantee liaison officers in each training agency area office to act as a focal point for investigating cases of difficulty in YT placement, and the revision of guidance to careers officers so that it adequately covers the need to take account of the special needs of difficult and vulnerable groups.
I noted what the noble Baroness had to say about the ratio between the liaison officers and young people. The assumption was made that every single young person, in relation to the training officer, has particular problems. That is probably not true. She said that she would find some value in being able to talk to my right honourable friend Mr. Scott in the department. I am very pleased to say that his door will be open and she will be very welcome to come and talk in the department about these concerns.
798 This amendment is not appropriate at this time and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.
§ Baroness David
I thank the Minister for her reply. However, I feel the same about that as did the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the reply to his amendment. So many of these issues were talked about, such as the child benefit extension. That lasts only for a limited period of 12 or 16 weeks. The bridging loan is £15 and it lasts for eight weeks only during a 52-week period. Between September 1988 and January 1990, there were 21, 218 applications for severe hardship payments and one-third of those—over 7, 000—were refused. Therefore, these provisions are not absolute panaceas.
I am extremely dissatisfied with the Minister's reply. The only good part of it was the statement that the Minister's right honourable friend Mr. Scott will have his door open. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and I will be able to see him. I shall not push the amendment having been told that and without discussing it further with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. For the moment, but certainly promising to come back, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 64:
Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
("Housing benefit: persons under 25
In section 22 of the 1986 Act, after subsection (2) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(2A) In relation to housing benefit the applicable amount for a person aged under 25 shall be the same as if he were aged 25." ").
§ The noble Earl said: I need not detain the Committee for as long with this amendment as I did with the previous one. There is a considerable amount of common ground. Both deal with the issue of young people living away from home. The first was concerned with income support, this is concerned with housing benefit.
§ Lord Henley
Is the noble Earl speaking to the three amendments in the grouping, Amendments Nos. 64, 194 and 196? That is my understanding. If he is not, it would be quite useful to know.
§ Earl Russell
My noble kinsman is quite correct. However, the bulk of what I have to say pertains specifically to Amendment No. 64.
The amendment deals with housing benefit. The effect would be to restore to people under 25 the same rate of benefit as is available to older people. The amendment does not touch upon income support. It always strikes me as curious about the Government's position that they place what is in effect an economic obligation on teenagers and young people to live at home. They do not create a corresponding obligation on the parents of the household. Therefore, people may be forced to do what they cannot do.
The Government may consider the possibility of placing an obligation on parents to continue housing their children up to the age of 25. That has been 799 tried before. The obligation was created in the Act of 1601. It was abandoned for the perfectly good reason that it turned out to be unenforceable. I fancy that if it were tried now it would turn out to be unenforceable again. If the Government are not prepared to grasp that nettle and place an obligation on parents to house their children, they cannot fairly place an obligation on the children to live with the parents.
The whole question of the lower rate of social security for younger people is based on the premise that they live at home. As soon as that premise ceases to be valid, the whole argument for the lower rate ceases to be valid. As the amendment concerns itself only with housing benefit, it is automatically targeted only to those who live away from home. I simply cannot see how it comes about that the cost of living is lower if one is young. If anything, the tendency is the reverse. Experience possibly teaches some of us how to manage a budget. It takes a good many years to learn to do that properly. However, rent costs the same; food costs the same; electricity costs the same; gas and water cost the same; and, as we all know, the poll tax costs the same. Why should it be supposed that people can live more cheaply simply because they are under 25? I have never heard a coherent answer to that question.
The effect is to produce a distinction between young people who live away from home and young people who do not. I am sure we will be told that it will have the effect of creating a perverse incentive to live away from home. I doubt that very much. Housing benefit is targeted only to housing costs. The costs of living away from home amount to a great deal more than housing costs. One has to provide all one's own food instead of having it provided in the parental home.
Were this to become law and people were to leave home they would not by any stretch of the imagination be better of f. If they left home it would be because they wished to do so for other good reasons. We must continue to accept that there may be good reasons for wishing to leave home before the age of 25. I beg to move.
§ Lord Henley
My noble kinsman concentrated on Amendment No. 64. Bearing in mind the long debate we had on Amendment No. 62 and to a lesser extent on Amendment No. 63, I shall follow him and concentrate on Amendment No. 64. A great many of the points on his later amendments have to some extent been covered.
Amendment No. 64 seeks to abolish the lower applicable amount for people under 25 in housing benefit. This would mean that housing benefit for claimants of all ages would be calculated using the full adult rate of personal allowance in all cases—£36.70 for those under 25 instead of £28.80.
We have accepted that special considerations apply to the way housing benefit is calculated for 16 and 17-year olds who live independently. There was a real risk that the lower rate of personal allowance applicable to this group was having a disincentive effect on YTS trainees and those school leavers in low paid jobs. As a result we abolished the lowest 800 rate of personal allowance in housing benefit in July last year and assimilated the rate for 16 and 17-year olds with that for those aged 18 to 24. This means that, following the up-rating in April, all young people under 25 have their housing benefit.
One of the principal features of the reformed scheme of benefits was to adopt common rules in order to ensure that people at similar levels of income would receive the same amount of help, whether working or not. Those getting income support and others at equivalent income levels should be able to get the maximum level of assistance with rent and community charge—100 per cent. of eligible rent and 80 per cent. of community charge liability in all cases. This revised structure has for the first time integrated help with housing costs within a coherent system of income-related benefits. I accept that, for housing benefit, we have departed from this principle in the case of 16 and 17 year-olds. This was a special case where we accepted that the lower rates of benefit applicable to this group could have a real disincentive effect for those in low-paid work or on YTS schemes. I do not believe that the same arguments apply to the 18 to 24 age group and do not believe that we should consider a further departure from the alignment principle in this case.
Housing benefit is calculated to ensure that all young people in employment or on YTS and claiming housing benefit will be left with at least their income support applicable amount to live on after paying their housing costs. I believe that a scheme designed to help with housing costs should do just that, and should not offer young people an incentive to leave home.
For those reasons we remain committed to an age-related structure of personal allowances in income support and other income-related benefits. This provides the most straightforward and effective approach. I hope therefore that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Phillips
Before we go any further perhaps I may raise a small point of procedure. The Minister asked the noble Earl if in addition to moving Amendment No. 64 he was speaking to Amendments Nos. 194 and 196. The noble Earl accepted that he was concentrating on Amendment No. 64. Surely there is a mistake. Amendment No. 196 appears to have no relevance to Amendment No. 64. Amendment No. 196 deals with pregnancy, which may or may not occur whether or not one is 25 or under. I cannot see the link. Perhaps the Minister can explain.
§ Lord Henley
I accept that pregnancy can occur at ages both above and below 25. I do not know whether there is an increased likelihood either way. The matter of groupings is one for negotiation between the usual channels. My understanding is that the amendments were grouped. As the noble Baroness will know, the note at the top of the groupings list reads:Although every effort is made to secure agreement to these groupings, they remain informal and not binding. It is therefore open to any Peer to speak to an amendment in its place in the Marshalled List".When we reach Amendment No. 196—I must warn the noble Baroness that it may be at a quite late hour 801 although I am sure that she will still be here—she may like to speak to it then.
I asked my noble kinsman whether he was speaking to all three amendments because at the beginning of his speech he mentioned Amendment No. 64. He confirmed that he was speaking to all three amendments but said that he would rather concentrate on Amendment No. 64 because some of the points raised by the other two amendments had already been covered during earlier discussions. I have concentrated on replying to Amendment No. 64. However, I shall be quite happy to return to Amendments Nos. 194 and 196 at a later stage.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My name also is attached to Amendment No. 196. In my view it would be better to discuss both amendments at a later stage than speak to them now. I also suggest to the Minister that perhaps it was a little unwise of him to invite Members on this side of the Committee to be present later this evening.
§ Lord Henley
I am not sure whether noble Lords opposite can manage to do so on two nights in a row.
§ Earl Russell
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his extremely helpful intervention. Amendment No. 196 needs considerable debate because it raises rather different issues from those contained in this amendment.
As regards Amendment No. 64, I must say that I am hardly surprised by the Minister's reply; indeed, we have heard most of what he said many times before. He does not seem to recognise that there is a considerable case for independent living in many situations and that occasionally it may be in the interests of parents. However, we have pursued all these arguments at considerable length. In the circumstances, I think it would be appropriate for me to withdraw the amendment rather than pursue the matter at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 10 [Amendments relating to the social fund]:
Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 65:
Page 14, line 39, after ("may") insert (", by statutory instrument, ").
§ The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 65 occurred to me while I was reading the judgment of Lord Justice Woolf. It is grouped with Amendments Nos. 66, 68 and 71. They form a package of amendments. When discussing the power of the Minister to give directions in the administration of the social fund, Lord Justice Woolf said that in effect these directions have the force of law. I am not quoting his words verbatim, but I think I am quoting the exact sense. He said that he found it very difficult to believe that Parliament had given the Minister power to give 802 directions having the force of law without even telling Parliament that he had done so; but nevertheless he had come to the conclusion that Parliament did so.
§ In my view, we should reflect whether we acted wisely when we gave the Minister that power. I entirely accept the judgment of Lord Justice Woolf that we did give him that power. These directions are capable of making quite considerable changes in the administration of the social fund. They are capable of altering substantial provisions and some of them are matters of widespread concern within this place. The effect of the amendment, which is a very modest one, is no more than to make that power subject to the negative resolution procedure. I am not asking for a debate on every occasion and I am not asking for the power to vote; I am simply asking that this Chamber should be told what is going on.
§ Apart from the intrinsic importance of some of these directions, it can sometimes be difficult to succeed in keeping track of all the changes in the details of social security law which happen by means of directions and various other regulations. We should be told what is going on. Lord Justice Woolf has given us a plain hint in this respect. I hope that we shall take it. I beg to move.
§ Lord Henley
When we devised the social fund we made it clear that the scheme should operate flexibly but within strict financial limits. We considered that the best way of achieving this was through a budget and a number of directions issued by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. This was clearly spelt out in the White Paper Reform of Social Security— Programme far Action which preceded the legislation.
My noble kinsman's amendments seek to achieve two aims. The first would force the Secretary of State to make statutory instruments before he can issue directions relating to the management and control of the budget and the criteria for eligibility. The second would subject those statutory instruments to annulment by a resolution of either House of Parliament.
My noble kinsman's amendment is not unexpected, given his comments during the Second Reading of the Bill. These included reference to Lord Justice Woolfs surprise, which the noble Earl repeated, at the wide powers given to the Secretary of State. I was delighted that he gave a full account of this section of the judgment by going on to point out that Lord Justice Woolf had nevertheless concluded that this had in fact clearly been Parliament's intention.
The social fund is already subject to regulations relating to the way in which applications are made to the fund and for reviews. These, however, govern procedural issues. Through Clause 10 we are seeking additional regulation-making powers to cover similar matters, and we trust that these regulations will make the scheme simpler to understand and administer. Why then have we not simply extended these powers to include the issuing of directions? Our reasons are simple. A series of restrictive regulations is inappropriate for a fund which is expected to operate flexibly, using discretion to 803 target help where it is most needed on a wide variety of people in a wide variety of circumstances. Nor could a regulated scheme cope with rapidly changing circumstances.
That is a view that the court has accepted. I should like to draw the Committee's attention to the relevant section of the judgment, in which Lord Justice Woolf pointed out that it could:with justification be said on the Secretary of State's part that his power to give directions enables him to change the rules rapidly if this is required by a change of circumstances and in order to obtain consistency".Our purpose in introducing Clause 10 is to reaffirm our original policy of providing help to those in greatest need within a sound financial framework by making the Secretary of State's powers in this area explicit. At the same time we are giving Parliament a further opportunity to discuss the principles which underlie the way in which the scheme operates.
Finally, perhaps I may turn to the noble Earl's amendment specifying that the proposed regulations or orders should be subject to annulment by a resolution of either House of Parliament. It may be helpful if I explain that under Section 83(4) of the Social Security Act any regulations or orders issued under Sections 32 or 33 of that Act are already subject to annulment in this fashion. For those reasons, I cannot accept the noble Earl's amendment.
§ Earl Russell
Again, the Minister's reply does not come as a great surprise to me. Not all of his reply was directed towards the purpose of this amendment. I was not attempting to open up the question of the administration of the social fund. In discussing constitutional questions, we must separate form from substance. We shall have plenty of opportunity presently to discuss how well the social fund is or is not administered. The proposal is concerned with the constitutional form in which the Minister gives his directions. What is at stake in this amendment is not whether the social fund is well or badly adminstered or whether its principles are right or wrong; the question is whether it is under parliamentary control.
The growth of the bulk of administration necessarily puts the principle of parliamentary control under stress. The advantage of the negative resolution procedure which I suggested is that you do not have to take up parliamentary time with every single measure put forward. Clearly the bulk of legislation being processed would make that impossible.
The advantage of the negative procedure is that we can take it up only when it happens to give rise to concern. Where there has been a real doubt, as there has been about how far the social fund was cash limited, it is worthwhile having an opportunity in Parliament to dispel that doubt. I do not think that this is an issue which is worth taking to a Division now. However, it is of continuing concern. I should like my noble kinsman to draw to the attention of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State that this type of question is likely to go on being asked in the future. With that remark, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 66 not moved.]
Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 67:
Page 14, line 47, at end insert:
("(2A) In section 33(10) of that Act, at the end there shall be added the words ", but no such general direction shall prohibit payments for deposits to secure accommodation".".)
§ The noble Earl said: This amendment is concerned with the adminstration of the social fund. Its effect would be to give power to social fund officers to provide money for deposits for rented accommodation. We have already dealt to a certain extent with the problem of obtaining accommodation. That difficulty of ten consists largely of difficulty in finding the money for a deposit to take up a tenancy. People who are or have recently been in crisis are not usually in a good position to possess savings.
§ The NACAB report on the social fund shows that 22 per cent. of the applicants to the social fund are without their own home. That is obviously a quite significant part of their problem. Sixty-four per cent. of those who optimistically asked for help with deposits were homeless. Finding money for the deposit is a necessary passport for them to escape homelessness; escaping homelessness is a necessary passport for obtaining work.
§ A high proportion of those who suffer from these difficulties are young single people. That appears in the administration of the social fund to be a low priority category. The NACAB report drew attention to one social fund officer who told an applicant for money from the social fund that single people were never in crisis. I wish to ask my noble kinsman, when he replies to the amendment to confirm publicly and in a place where social fund officers may come to hear of it, that that is not government policy.
§ Deposits are becoming increasingly normal in the private rented sector. For people who are in an emergency and looking for accommodation the private rented sector is likely to be the only place to which they can go. They cannot buy houses; there is no prospect of that. The stock of local authority housing is diminishing for reasons with which we are all familiar, and we touched on the subject recently. So it is only the private rented sector that is available.
§ The 1988 Act regularised the taking of deposits and has done a good deal to encourage it. One would have thought that that might have produced a change in the administration of the social fund. However, it does not seem to have done any such thing. Directive 12(o) directs that there should be no help with deposits, therefore people who are homeless and in crisis are once again locked into the benefit system and denied the opportunity to escape. It is the Government who are responsible for spreading a dependency culture. I know that it is contrary to their intention, but it is not contrary to the effects of their actions.
§ These people are driven into bed and breakfast accommodation for the homeless. We heard a little last night about the difficulties that that can give rise to. This is the way in which an underclass is 805 produced. It fails to float people of f benefit and so leads to a pr of ligate waste of public money. I know that there are cases—some were mentioned in another place—such as that of the two 17 year-old girls who were thrown out by their parents. They slept on the floor and went of f to work in the morning. Some of us may have done that for a single night; I do not think that many of us would like to do it regularly for two weeks on end.
§ Another Member of the other place recounted meeting a young man sleeping rough under the arches. He was asked why he did it and why he was not in work. The man replied, "I am in work, I am working every day, but it will take me two weeks to earn the money to get a deposit so that I can even go and look for a place to live". I hope that the young man stuck it out for the two weeks. It is a difficult requirement to put in people's way.
§ The Minister's right honourable friend Mr. Scott, speaking an another place on 6th March (col. 417 of the official Report) attempted to answer a fairly similar amendment. He estimated its cost at slightly over £3 million. I remind the Committee that that is on a social fund budget of £210 million. The budget is being distributed in a way that means that 22 per cent. of the applicants cannot be effectively helped; they are given money without being effectively helped. Assuming that the money that goes to 22 per cent. of the applicants is wasted because it denies them the opportunity to get of f benefits one might say as a rough estimate that the Government are wasting £40 million in order to save £3 million. That does not seem to me to be good budgeting.
§ The right honourable gentleman also said that the effect of that amendment would be to encourage the taking of deposits. In that case, the remedy would have been to stop the taking of deposits. Yet it seems that it is government policy to encourage that. I have said before that the Government seem to suffer from lack of what the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, used to describe as a "half back" line. There seems to be nobody to draw attention to the effects of the policy of one ministry or another.
§ I have drawn attention before—and I know other noble Lords have also done so—to the conflict between the policy followed in the 1988 Housing Act and that followed by the Department of Social Security. It is an unfortunate conflict. Accepting this amendment would be one thing that the Government could do which would go a little way towards getting their act together. I beg to move.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
I hope that the Committee will not be beguiled into accepting the arguments of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, or accepting his amendment. When I was Secretary of State for the Social Services—and that ended in 1981—the administration of the supplementary benefit scheme, and in particular the administration of the single payments system within the supplementary benefit scheme, was already causing severe problems for the whole system. The people who suffered from that were not only the staff of the social security offices who had formidable problems—as anybody who 806 ever attempted to study the "A" code, would recognise—but many of the claimants. It became totally impossible for anyone ever to know the real entitlement. I gave the order that it should be published, and the "A" code was published in 1980 for the first time. It had never been published by our predecessors. It brought home to everybody the way the system had grown and had reached the level of becoming unmanageable. That was by 1981.
In 1981 the cost of deposits as single payments under the old scheme was about £18, 000, and amounted to about 750 payments. Five years later, by 1986—towards the end of the old scheme—the cost had risen to the figure that the noble Earl mentioned of £3 million, and it covered 33, 000 payments. I have just worked out on my calculator that that represents a multiplication of something like 167 times. Yet the noble Earl said there was no evidence that the availability of deposits under the supplementary benefit scheme encouraged landlords to demand deposits. The figures that I have mentioned on the growth of the payment from the supplementary benefit scheme—
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
I shall give way as soon as I have finished the sentence. The noble Earl has engaged the attention of the Committee for a considerable time this afternoon. I have calculated the amount that he has already asked us to spend and I believe it comes to over half a billion pounds. However, I may have got that wrong. In the five years since I ceased to be Secretary of State for social services the amount has multiplied 167 times. That occurred because the payment was available. Landlords knew that they could demand deposits because tenants could go to the supplementary benefit office and obtain payment for those deposits. I believe it is flying in the face of reason to argue that this availability did not encourage landlords to demand deposits.
The noble Earl said that if the Government did not like deposits they should have passed legislation to ban them. If I may say so, that is an absolutely typical left-wing response. It is a typical left-wing response to say, "If you don't like something, pass a law against it". I believe it is far more sensible to cease to make the money available if one thinks it should not be shelled out in that way. That of course was the change that was made by the conversion to the social fund. However, I recognise the argument that has been advanced that some landlords still, for one reason or another, demand a deposit and, if they have to choose between a tenant who can pay it and one who cannot, they will naturally choose the tenant who is prepared to pay and he is more likely to get the accommodation.
What is the present system? In many cases a deposit is, in effect, rent in advance. It is not unreasonable, particularly when one is dealing with people of relatively limited means who perhaps have an uncertain income, to take some rent in advance before letting a room in one's house, so as to ensure that one is not out of pocket if the tenancy has to come to an end.
807 Help for the payment of rent in advance is available from the social fund through budgeting loans for people who have been on income support for some time. There are also social fund crisis loans for people who do not have enough money to live on, whether or not they are receiving benefit. Those are loans. We have debated this matter on many occasions. However, the repayment terms for the loans take into account an applicant's income, his existing and future commitments and, in the case of crisis loans, there is normally no question of requiring repayment until the crisis period is over.
Once a person is in accommodation he is entitled to housing benefit, as we discussed earlier. In these circumstances if we reverted to the former system—that is what the amendment seeks to do—whereby a claimant could seek help from the fund to pay a deposit whenever a deposit was demanded, we would simply open the way to all the abuse of the system that occurred before. Abuse did occur. Some landlords refused to repay deposits when tenants moved on. The system was abused in some cases by tenants who took fresh deposits and obtained fresh allowances every time they moved, notwithstanding the fact that their deposits might have been repaid. It was a thoroughly bad scheme. The deposit system was one of the features of the scheme that had to be ended when the change to the social fund took place. However, the noble Earl is now asking us yet again to go back to what really were the bad old days. I hope the Committee will have none of it.
§ Lord Carter
I was pleased to add my name to the amendment on behalf of these Benches. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, as a former Secretary of State for social services, express some pride in the social fund. I believe the social fund is almost the worst aspect of the much vaunted social security reforms in the 1988 Act. We should remind ourselves that the purpose of this amendment is to remove the total ban imposed by the Secretary of State on social fund payments, either through grants or loans, for deposits for accommodation. While a payment for rent in advance can be made, but only in the form of a loan, the directions of the Secretary of State prohibit any kind of payment, even a crisis loan, for a deposit. This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from issuing any direction which would ban payments for deposits. It would still be open to him to issue guidance on this subject which social fund officers would have to take into account. However, that guidance would not be binding on them.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, referred to the growth in single payments from £18, 000 to £3 million. I believe those were the figures he mentioned. That could also be taken as a sign of the crisis in housing that has resulted from the policies of the Government between 1981 and 1986. The noble Lord said, entirely correctly, that loans can be granted for the payment of rent in advance. I was sent some interesting figures by the Central London Social Security Advisers Forum. The Paddington office of the DSS was mentioned. That office deals, not surprisingly, with large numbers of homeless 808 people, both families and single people. The figures of that office for the first year of the social fund show that it refused 62 out of 73 loan applications for rent in advance. On the other hand the office admits to receiving only five crisis loan applications for rent in advance, of which only one was refused. That illustrates a difficulty with the operation of the social fund. It is the policy of the Paddington office not normally to give crisis loans for rent in advance. People who inquire about such payments are not given an application form. Instead they are advised that they do not qualify and are advised to leave the office, even though the guidance allows the use of these loans for rent in advance.
As I have already said, I believe the operation of the social fund is the worst aspect of the 1988 social security reforms. I entirely accept that there were some problems with single payments. The social fund was a valiant attempt to remove some of the problems which resulted from single payments, but it has resulted in a situation which has made a large number of the poorest people in society much worse of f, and in some cases destitute.
§ Lord Seebohm
I should point out that in industry nowadays, for security and other reasons, more and more salaries are paid monthly in arrears. One sometimes has a long wait after starting a job before one is paid. I should point out, quite independently of what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, that there is a general tendency now for rent to be paid in advance. If one has to wait a month for one's salary, that is rather a long wait. This amendment is only a permissive amendment. It does not mean that grants will necessarily be given in a great number of cases. However, I think grants should be permissible in view of the great change in the way that salaries are paid.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
Before the noble Lord sits down, I should ask him whether he agrees that most reasonable employers are only too happy to offer a new employee starting work a sub, as it is called, after a fortnight or even a week. They are happy to do this for a new employee who clearly needs money in his pocket in order to be able to live. It would be a rum employer who was not prepared to offer that in the interests of keeping that employee.
§ Lord Hylton
Some 25 years ago the Catholic Housing Aid Society in London made loans to people who needed deposits to secure accommodation. At that time the sums involved were quite small, but nowadays the sums have multiplied enormously. However, the society still grants the odd loan for that purpose when there is no other source from which the money can be found.
§ Lord Henley
The Government fully share the concern for the homeless, but I feel that this amendment is not the right way forward. I am not sure that this is the moment for a general debate on homelessness. We should stick to the question of deposits.
I wish to turn to a point which I feel is very important to get across. The point was raised by my noble kinsman Lord Russell. He referred to a social 809 fund officer as saying that young, single people are never in crisis. The noble Earl asked me for reassurance that that was not the Government's policy. I can assure him that that is not government policy. It is an example of bad practice and we should certainly like to hear of such incidents.
The amendment was debated in another place. I expect that I shall repeat a great deal of what was said there, but there are important points to get across, it may be helpful if I take as my starting point the reasons why help with deposits for accommodation were excluded from the social fund in the first place. Under the old single payments scheme which preceded the social fund, help with deposits to secure accommodation was available to people receiving supplementary benefit. However, the scheme is fraught with problems. There was evidence that the help provided under those arrangements was not achieving its purpose of helping people on supplementary benefit to secure accommodation. On the contrary, it was actually stimulating demand for deposits from landlords, resulting in an enormous rise in the amount paid for deposits over a very short period.
I am glad that my friend Lord Jenkin mentioned the figures. In 1981, when he ceased to be Secretary of State for social services, 750 payments for deposits were made, at a cost of £18, 000. By 1986 the number had risen to 33, 000 deposits, at a cost of over £3 million. Having mentioned that figure, perhaps I should correct a point which was raised by my noble kinsman. My right honourable friend the Minister of State did not estimate the cost of providing deposits under the social fund at £3 million. The figure of £3 million which he quoted was the cost of single payments for deposits in the last year of the scheme. I believe that my noble kinsman misunderstood my right honourable friend: it was the 1986 figure which he quoted.
As my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, there was a colossal increase between 1981 and 1986. That increase in expenditure was something that no responsible Government could ignore. Moreover the increasing demands for deposits by landlords made it more difficult for others who did not meet the strict criteria for a single payment, or who were in low-paid work, to obtain accommodation. There was also evidence of abuse of the system by tenant and landlord alike. For example, as has already been said, some landlords refused to return deposits when the tenant moved on, and some tenants moved repeatedly, claiming a deposit each time to get the additional money.
It was against this background that, when the social fund was introduced, it was decided to exclude help with deposits from the scope of the fund. Instead, people on low incomes who need assistance to secure accommodation may obtain help from the social fund through loans for rent in advance, as my noble friend has already said. Help with the cost of rent thereafter may be available from housing benefit. We believe that, in deciding the extent to which help should be provided through the social security system, this balance is right, given that the 810 primary responsibility for housing rests with other agencies.
I have no doubt that the movers of the amendment are sincere in their belief that providing help with deposits from the social fund will make an impact on the problem of homelessness. However, our experience of operating such a scheme for deposits under the system of single payments was, as I have explained, that the system itself ended up exacerbating the very problem it had set out to help resolve. In the light of that experience I am not convinced that providing help with deposits from the social fund would be an appropriate, or a satisfactory, solution to the problems of helping people to obtain accommodation. I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, before the noble Earl decides what to do with the amendment, perhaps the Minister will comment on the figures which I quoted regarding the refusal of crisis loans for rent in advance. Rent in advance is a very common requirement. Can the Minister say whether it is the policy of the department that crisis loans should not be used for rent in advance? Experience at the office in Paddington which I mentioned, which deals with a great many homeless people, has shown that the vast majority of applications for loans for rent in advance were turned down.
§ Lord Henley
I do not have the figures for rent in advance. I can tell the noble Lord that, of all claims in the crisis category, 90 per cent. are successful. If I can find the figures for rent in advance I shall certainly let the noble Lord know. For all claims in that category, the figure is 90 per cent.
§ Earl Russell
I listened with interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. He seemed to have an allergy to the notion of single payments. I have detected that before in other speeches from the Government Benches.
In the course of research I have from time to time looked at accounts of the administration of social policy over a good many centuries. From the very beginning of the system a great deal of money has always been spent in the form of single payments, for the simple reason that, life being what it is, that is normally the way in which need arises. If you set your face against single payments in the determined fashion adopted by this Government, you set your face against the real world. When you do that, the real world has a tendency to turn its face against you.
The noble Lord also accused me of typical left-wing thinking. Listening to him expressing a very deep, principled hostility to landlords, I felt that a great deal of what he had said was rather more typical of left-wing thinking than anything I had said today. He also drew attention to the rise in the cost of the scheme from £18, 000 to £3 million and argued, with typical Thatcherite thinking, that because the need is greater, therefore it must be less thoroughly met.
811 The noble Lord made a most ingenious attempt to argue that the increase in the taking of deposits was the result of market forces operating through the social fund. I find it very hard to believe that the social fund represents a significantly large proportion of the demand for rented housing to force up the level of deposits on its own. I had understood from listening to the debates on the Housing Act 1988 that it was government policy to encourage the taking of deposits.
I accept that there has been abuse in the administration of deposits from time to time. That should be controlled. However, there is abuse in a great many areas. There is daily abuse of the roads, but I have not noticed that this Government therefore want to close them. In an area of great need such as housing, one cannot say that because there is an abuse one must take away the use. It is the Government's policy, many times stated, to expand the private sector, and it is in the private sector that the taking of deposits is increasing fastest. Therefore, the effect of their present policy is to push people towards the private sector and then lock them out when they try to go there. I do not see the sense in that.
I thank my noble kinsman for acknowledging my sincerity. I must, equally, acknowledge his. However, I do not believe that he has entirely come to terms with the scope of the problem. What I have been given is principles. What I am trying to offer in return is experience. It is about time that the Government's principles encountered the experience of those who know most in this field.
I do not intend to divide the Committee tonight, but I shall read with a great deal of care what the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, have said. This is a problem which will not go away until there is a solution. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 68 not moved.]
Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 69:
Page 15, line 5, after ("description") insert ("other than for the purposes of promoting community care.".).
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment we come to the heart of the debate on the social fund. It is important that we should remind ourselves of what has happened. The main purpose of Clause 10 is to give the Secretary of State power to issue directions to social fund officers forbidding them to make any payment in excess of their local office budgets. It ends a period of uncertainty as to the Government's intentions following their dramatic defeat in the High Court on 20th February. We now know that the social fund's cash limits are to be inflexible.
§ When the 1986 Bill, which introduced the social fund, was debated there was strong opposition to the whole idea of cash limiting a fund which was intended to be the last resort of the poorest members of the community, who at the same time were to be made even poorer by the new income support scheme.812
§ Whatever case there may be for limiting other parts of government spending, cash limiting the social fund can only lead to arbitrary refusal of payment for essential needs. That is precisely what has happened. As demand has risen, the social fund officers have been forced to adopt increasingly restrictive criteria and have removed entire categories of claimants from eligibility for payments. I have previously referred to the experience of one office.
§ The restrictions have varied from month to month and from place to place, thus removing any semblance of fairness from the operation of the fund, as well as preventing it from achieving its fundamental aim of meeting essential needs.
When the Bill passed through this House and another place there was some debate as to whether the social fund would be cash limited. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington stated:
We have decided, however, that the fund will not at first be subject to a formal cash limit on its introduction".—[official Report, 15/7/86; cols. 848–9]
§ We know what happened after that. There were to be local office budgets, instead of the so-called cash limits, and social fund officers were sternly forbidden to overspend. We know the problems that that situation caused for the Government, which resulted in the High Court judgment of 20th February.
The Minister has attempted on a number of occasions to persuade me across the Dispatch Box that there is a difference between a budget and a cash limit. The pretence that a rigid budget is different from a cash limit was finally abandoned at Committee stage of the Bill on 8th March in another place. The Minister, Mr. Nicholas Scott, claimed once again that the social fund had a fixed budget, not a cash limit. When asked to explain the difference, the Minister replied:
The only difference between a cash limit and a budget is that cash limit is here a technical Treasury term. When a cash limit is imposed, it cannot be exceeded. Budgets, in practice, are exactly the same thing. It is a semantic point".
§ We have been trying to argue that point since the social fund was first proposed. I am very pleased to see that the Minister in question has finally accepted the arguments that we have made in this House and in another place.
§ I do not apologise for repeating what I stated in relation to the last amendment. The cash limit is not a cash limit but a budget—the same as a cash limit. The guidance was not guidance, but it was illegal. The increase in the social fund resources was 4-4 per cent. for 1990-91, compared to a rate of inflation of 9 to 10 per cent. The social fund is one of the sorriest aspects of the much vaunted reforms in the 1988 Act. The amendment goes some way towards redressing part of the damage that has resulted from the operation of the social fund. I beg to move.
§ Lord Henley
I spoke on the generality of the clause when speaking to the first amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The Committee will be aware that similar, but by no means identical, amendments were introduced when the Bill was in another place. Those amendments sought completely 813 to remove budgetary control over the social fund, whereas this amendment seeks to do so only in respect of payments made for the purpose of promoting community care. It may be that this change is intended to make the amendment more acceptable; I regret to say that is does not.
The Government made it perfectly clear when the scheme was being devised that the social fund should operate flexibly but within a strict financial framework. The changes that we are making to the legislation under Clause 10 will ensure that the scheme continues to operate in the way in which it was originally intended that it should.
A scheme of loans and grants operating within a firm budget ensures that money is concentrated on those who are in greatest need. We have been enabled to recycle money that was recovered from loans so that the same money can be used to help more people. What would be the effect of operating without budgetary control over awards for community care? It would require additional funds over and above the extra £10 million that we have made available to the social fund for next year.
I make it clear that that is not an option. We have an overriding duty to the public to use responsibly the money that it provides in the form of taxes. The alternative is to reduce the money available to meet other needs from the fund, with the result that many applicants who now receive help would not be helped in the future. I cannot believe that the noble Lord would wish that to be the situation.
I appreciate the idea behind the amendment, which might seem eminently reasonable in theory. However, in practice it has the very serious drawbacks that I have identified. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
I am neither surprised nor disappointed to hear the answer of the Minister. It is exaclly what I expected. We heard once again the extraordinary phrase that the fund will operate flexibly but within a strict financial framework. That sounds like bank managers I know. If one has to keep to a financial budget, which has a cash limit, in a demand-led situation—and that demand results from the operation of many other aspects of the 1988 Act—there is only one answer. Any economist will tell you that the answer is rationing. That is exactly what is happening to the social fund: it is being rationed. It is described as being a responsible use of money. This Chamber has heard of many examples of what happens in practice in relation to the social fund.
We will return to this matter again and again because we feel that it is our duty to do so. I repeat the central point. The Government are rationing resources among the poorest in society. There is a difference between that side of the Chamber and this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 70:
Page 15. line 19, at end insert:
("(4A) After that subsection there shall be inserted the following subsection—
("(10B) For the purposes of any general direction issued by the Secretary of State under subsection (10) above, a person in receipt of invalidity benefit or severe disablement allowance shall be treated as if he were in receipt of income support.".").
§ The noble Earl said: This is the last amendment, I am sure the Chamber will be pleased to hear, that I shall move for a while. The effect of the amendment is to make invalidity benefit, as well as income support, a passport to community care. This is a practical and fairly small amendment which will make it easier to achieve the intended effect of the community care proposals.
§ At present invalidity benefit does not operate in the same way as income support—as a passport to community care. The amount is £1 per week above the level of income support. If one receives invalidity benefit, one is excluded from benefiting from community care. I find that situation a little curious. Community care is largely concerned with people who have suffered poor mental or physical health. I find it difficult to follow the logic that invalidity benefit should exclude one from something which is designed for precisely that kind of purpose.
§ The effects are distinctly unfortunate. I should like to give one or two examples. A psychiatric patient who had twice attempted suicide was discharged from hospital. He wanted to furnish a completely bare place into which he had moved. Those of us who have looked at completely bare houses and flats in the course of house-hunting know how depressing they can look before one furnishes them. The man was told that because he was obtaining invalidity benefit, he was not eligible for a community care grant. He could not furnish the flat. As has been remarked in relation to that case, it is very difficult for someone with mental illness to return successfully to live in the community.
§ The theme that I have been drawing upon is that restrictions are imposed which have the effect of locking people into dependency instead of giving them a chance to climb out and rebuild their lives. I hope that that is very much the opposite of what is intended.
§ Another example concerns a homeless single man who was discharged from hospital. A flat was found for him with help. He was denied a community care grant for purchasing a cooker, without which he would need to eat out each week. He was refused a community care grant for the simple reason that he was receiving invalidity benefit.
§ That restriction defeats the object of an exercise which we on this side of the Chamber, and in particular these Benches, should like to see succeed. I shall listen with a great deal of interest to what my noble kinsman has to say about this matter. I beg to move.
§ Lord Carter
I am pleased to support this amendment from these Benches. My name was supposed to be attached to the amendment but somehow it did not reach the Marshalled List.
815 It is worth reminding ourselves of the practical effect of the failure to accept the amendments that we propose. It is a comparatively small change that is proposed. We have had advice from the citizens advice bureaux, and I shall quote just two examples from many which they have given me. The citizens advice bureau in Devon reported a case of a client with multiple sclerosis who was discharged after two years in hospital. He was in receipt of invalidity benefit and so was excluded from receiving any help from the social fund to establish himself in the community and set up home. The citizens advice bureau in Greater Manchester reported the case of a man who was discharged after three years in an alcoholic rehabilitation unit. He was in receipt of invalidity benefit at a rate of 40p in excess of his potential income support entitlement and was therefore refused a community care grant.
It is clear that this measure is not working as community care grants are intended to work. This amendment is intended to put that situation right. I hope that the Minister will accept it.
§ Lord Hylton
of its nature a hospital is a total institution and very expensive to run, whether it is for long-stay or short-stay hospital care. One therefore completely understands the Government's wish to see patients discharged from both types of hospital care. What we all have to face is that there will be consequential costs, which are the consequential costs of handling people within the community and enabling them to cope with their own lives in a community setting.
To disqualify such people who are emerging from hospital on the grounds that they happen to be receiving invalidity benefit seems to be sheer madness. I very much hope that the Government will treat this amendment with rather more sympathy than they have so far shown to many previous amendments.
§ Lord Henley
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, thinks that we have treated many of the previous amendments with lack of sympathy. I regret that I cannot accept this amendment, but I hope that I can make some perhaps more sympathetic noises which might go some way toward pleasing my noble kinsman and other noble Lords. I do not know whether that will be the case, but I shall certainly try.
Given that one of the main purposes of community care grants is to help people to re-establish themselves in the community following a stay in institutional or residential care, opening up the scheme to people other than those who are eligible for income support may, at first glance, appear consistent with the policy behind the scheme. There is little doubt that a number of people leaving institutions become entitled to invalidity benefit at a level which exceeds the income support for which they might otherwise qualify on their return to the community and that as a result they are ineligible for community care grants. But it is a fact that in any scheme involving finite resources a line on where to give help has to be drawn somewhere.
816 It is always difficult trying to establish where the line of eligibility should be drawn. Whatever decision is taken, there is always a deserving case which will fall on the wrong side of the line. As I said earlier, the social fund is intended to focus the available resources on those in greatest need. Directing help to those in receipt of income support is the most logical and objective way to achieve that.
To extend the scheme only to those in receipt of invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance would be to ignore the many other deserving groups—for example, pensioners—who, although in very similar circumstances, would continue to be excluded. Nor would it take account of the fact that many invalidity pensioners receive considerably more in weekly benefit than those on income support. Also of course there is the question of cost. In order to meet the additional demand on the scheme from increasing the number of groups eligible to obtain community care grants, it would be necessary to increase the social fund budget considerably. Even if additional money could be made available, we should have to consider carefully whether extending the number of groups eligible for grants would be the best use for such resources. The alternative of opening the scheme to people on invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance without an increase in funds would result in many people on income support being refused grants in the future.
However, the social fund is still a relatively new scheme. It is generally accepted, even by opponents of the scheme, that the demands placed on it in the first year of operations were untypical. It is only in the year just ended that the scheme has been tested fully and clearly. There must be a question about whether that is sufficiently long enough for us to consider major changes to the scope of the scheme, such as the one envisaged by the amendment. There are also significant changes taking place in community care which it seems only sensible to consider very carefully in any consideration of change to the current community care grant arrangements.
Against that background and the many difficulties which would be associated with an extension of the scheme, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I assure both the noble Earl who moved the amendment and the noble Lord that, as with all aspects of the social fund, we shall continue to listen to representations, continue to monitor the operation of the scheme very carefully, and consider whether any changes are necessary in the light of experience.
§ Baroness Seear
Before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to raise one point with him. I fully understand that there has to be an upper limit beyond which people cannot apply to the social fund for community care payments. But cannot a special category be made of the people who are coming out of institutions under the programme that we have been discussing in the National Health Service and Community Care Bill? They are a quite clearly defined and easily recognised case.
817 People move out of the institutions and into accommodation where they try to look after themselves in the community. Would it not be a way to consider this matter to look upon those people as part of an establishment in the community, which would not in any way confuse them with people on invalidity benefit who are already living in the community and do not have to make that additional expenditure.
As we have said repeatedly in connection with the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, the problem of resettling the people who come out of hospital will be very great. The Government want that to happen. This surely is one way in which that very difficult path could be eased.
§ Lord Henley
I appreciate that the noble Baroness is trying to be very helpful—and I think she is being helpful—in trying informally, as it were, to tighten the amendment and bring it down from merely invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance (which is. the object of the amendment) to just this one group. I imagine that this is a group which it might be quite easy to define carefully for the purposes of such amendment, as the noble Baroness suggests. I cannot give her at this stage—and it is very unlikely that I shall be able to do so—the reassurance that she would like other than to repeat what I said at the end of my remarks; namely, that we accept that the scheme is a new scheme and in time we shall have to look at how it develops and the changes that may have to be made to it.
Certainly I hope that at some point it might be possible to look at the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, which is very helpful.
§ Earl Russell
I accept that the line has to be drawn somewhere. However, I do not quite follow why the Government chose to draw it where they did. The purpose of these grants is to assist people to re-establish themselves in the community, as my noble kinsman said. I do not understand why invalidity benefit disqualifes one from needing help to re-establish oneself in the community. I should have thought that this was precisely the kind of case that the Government intended.
As my noble friend Lady Seear said, the case of someone who has just come out of hospital is very different from the case of an able-bodied pensioner living in his own home. I cannot see why the Government cannot distinguish them. Although the Government have to draw the line somewhere, as all governments have to do, it simply passes my understanding why they drew it at this place.
Nevertheless, for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I hope that the monitoring is rather more effective in producing change than it usually is.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 71 not moved.]
§ Clause 10 agreed to.818
Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 72:
After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:
("Unemployment benefit disqualification
In section 20(1) of the principal Act, for the words "26 weeks" there shall be substituted the words "6 weeks".").
§ The noble Baroness said: The objective of the amendment is to change the provision in present social security legislation that disqualifies from benefit for 26 weeks any one voluntarily leaving employment without good reason.
§ For over 75 years, from 1911 to 1986, six weeks was held to be a long enough period for disqualification. In 1986 it was changed to 13 weeks and more recently, with hardly any time in between to monitor the effects of that change, the period was doubed to 26 weeks. The loss of benefit for up to six months means a penalty of £971 for a single claimant and £1,570 for a married couple at the 1990–91 benefit rates. Those claiming income support do not suffer the full penalty but their normal entitlement is reduced by £14.70 a week.
§ Adjudication officers have full discretion with regard to the length of time for disqualification; but in the majority of cases it would appear that they simply apply the 26-week period as a rule. There is opportunity to appeal but many claimants are not aware of that right or are sceptical about it. Sometimes they have been actively discouraged from appealing by being told that they had no chance.
§ The Government have never produced convincing arguments for their departure from the practice of 75 years. Of course they do not like people choosing to be voluntarily unemployed. However, relatively few people do so. There are of ten good reasons for voluntarily leaving employment. The pay may be far too low. The employer may seek to impose unacceptable working conditions. The employee may leave believing that he or she has other employment available and the alternative may simply fall through. There may be sexual harassment. That is far more common in offices and factories than many people understand. Young women are particularly vulnerable and may be too upset or embarrassed to do anything other than get out as quickly as they can. There is the opportunity to have recourse to industrial tribunals but again that is a long-winded matter. In the meantime, for 26 weeks the individual has no benefit.
§ Employers may make things so difficult for particular employees that they feel that they have no alternative but to leave. I shall be told that such an employee could plead constructive dismissal before a tribunal and could appeal against an adjudicating officer's decision. Again, those procedures take time and in the meantime the individual has to go 26 weeks without benefit.
§ I cite those cases because they are all too common. They are part of the pattern of working life for many people. The Government have set their face against those who are undeserving, who voluntarily make themselves dependent upon benefit. But the degree of "voluntarism" is of ten hard to assess and the result is real poverty. Many people can manage for six weeks, but for six months it becomes totally 819 impossible, particularly if there are children to be cared for.
§ Why do the Government feel it necessary to retain this 26-week provision when they have already altered the legislation relating to entitlement to require individuals actively to be seeking work and not merely available for work, as was the previous requirement? Is it not enough to retain the six-week period plus the actively seeking work requirement? Why do the Government act so punitively against people who in the main are in lower paid employment? Is it part of the Government's intention to compel people to stay against their will in dirty, unsafe and low-paid employment for fear that if they try for something else and fail they will be regarded as undeserving and will have to do without benefit for 26 weeks?
§ Last week I returned from a visit to Eastern Europe. In Prague and Budapest I had the opportunity to talk to people who were euphoric at having got rid of, as they saw it, a very heavy and authoritarian regime. I spoke to them about what seemed to me to be at least a basic social provision that they had had under those regimes, unpopular though they were. They said, "You think we had full employment. We had full employment but we had no choice about the jobs that we had". Are we aiming to create such a situation for people who are in the main in lower paid employment? That is not good enough. I ask the Government to reconsider the provision in the legislation and to revert to the six-week provision. I beg to move.
§ Earl Russell
I support the amendment. There may be circumstances which make it necessary to leave a job. They may be very difficult to explain to a tribunal. Nevertheless, it may sometimes be necessary to leave a job in order to maintain one's self respect. Any Minister who has resigned on a point of principle is likely to understand that.
§ Baroness Blatch
The new clause would make the maximum disqualification for voluntary unemployment the same as it was before October 1986. Up to that time six weeks was the maximum period of disqualification which an adjudication officer could impose on those who had, for example, lost their employment through misconduct or voluntarily left their employment without just cause.
This Government increased the maximum period of disqualificaton to 13 weeks in October 1986 and to 26 weeks in April 1988. That was done because it was clear from our monitoring of adjudication officers' decisions that, at a time when the number of unemployed claiming social security benefits was falling, there was a marked increase in the percentage of claimants who were disqualified due to voluntary unemployment. It was clear during 1987 that the existing maximum sanction of 13 weeks' disqualification was still not an effective deterrent for those who were prepared to opt for benefit at the expense of contributors to the National Insurance Fund and taxpayers in general.
The prime purpose of unemployment benefit is to insure members of the working population against 820 unforeseeable spells of unemployment. It follows, as in any insurance scheme, that a person cannot be covered for circumstances which are of his or her own making. Leaving a job with no other job to go to or being dismissed for misconduct cannot lead to benefits from unemployed insurance.
People are of course free to leave one job and go to another. We are not discussing such people. Nor are we discussing those who lose their employment through redundancy or because they are not up to a job. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, said, since 1911 penalties have existed to discourage voluntary unemployment. Those were explicitly restated in the Social Security Act 1975 which was passed by a Labour Government. The reason for that restatement is to be found in the Beveridge Report, which said in paragraph 326:Disqualifications, as at present, will apply to men refusing suitable employment, dismissed for misconduct or leaving their work voluntarily without just cause".Beveridge made his reasoning quite clear in his report. Paragraph 130 stated:The correlative of the State's undertaking to ensure adequate benefit for unavoidable interruption of earnings, however long, is enforcement of the citizen's obligation to seek and accept all reasonable opportunities of work, to co-operate in measures designed to save him from habituation to idleness, and to take all proper measures to be well. The higher the benefits provided out of a common fund for unmerited misfortune, the higher must be the citizen's sense of obligation not to draw upon that fund unnecessarily".Throughout the history of unemployment insurance in 1911, 1948, 1975, 1988 and until today, the objective has remained the same: to discourage voluntary unemployment. As I understand it, Members of the Committee on the other side do not disagree with that objective. Nor do they disagree with the method used to attain it, because they have used the same method—disqualification for unemployment benefit and the reduction of income related benfits. They even reduced the income related benefit of the day, supplementary benefit, at a time when it was much lower in real terms than it is today. It seems to me that the only area of disagreement between us is that we are concerned to have an effective penalty. Members of the Committee on the other side are still not interested in doing so.
We have carefully monitored the effect of the April 1988 change to 26 weeks. Apart from collecting statistics within the department and undertaking a special inquiry into decisions given by adjudication officers, we commissioned Social and Community Planning Research to undertake a survey of claimants during the period December 1988 to February 1989. We announced in November 1989 that we had received the findings of those two monitoring exercises and that copies of both had been placed in the Library. They showed that, while claimants' understanding of benefit sanctions was low, there was general acceptance about the need for a penalty. The effect of sanctions on job search was seen as variable. For some, the resultant loss of income increased the pressure to find work quickly. For rather more, there was concern not to take a job which might prove unsuitable and might, therefore, expose them to sanctions in the future.
821 We did of course debate this issue at great length during the passage of the 1989 Bill. There have been no new arguments or evidence which persuade me that the Government should accept the proposed amendment to the 1975 Social Security Act.
We have never suggested that the majority of unemployed people are not keen to find work and keep it when they have found it, but, as Members on the other side will know, there is a small minority of unemployed benefit claimants who make little real effort to maintain themselves. The present sanctions ensure that the message to that group is clear—that they cannot expect to receive their full entitlement to social security benefits if they refuse employment or give up employment voluntarily before they have found alternative work, unless they have good cause for doing so.
In 1988 the Government were conscious that some long-term unemployed claimants might be deterred from accepting unfamiliar work which, if they gave it up later, could incur a sanction for leaving voluntarily. We therefore introduced the employment on trial provision as an incentive for those who have been out of work for at least 26 weeks. Those claimants can take up new employment in the knowledge that they will not lose benefit if they give the job a fair chance by working in it for at least six weeks and leave no later than 12 weeks after starting. That provision came into operation on 9th October 1989 and will have assisted those long-term unemployed who have accepted unfamiliar work.
The Government have also recognised that the unemployed require time in which to seek work in their usual occupation without being subject to a sanction for refusing employment without good cause. The "permitted period" provisions in the Social Security (Unemployment, Sickness, and Invalidity Benefit) Amendment No. 2 Regulations 1989 allow adjudication officers to determine an appropriate permitted period between one and 13 weeks which takes account of the claimant's relevant skills, qualifications, training and employment history. That provision is working. It is but one indication that we are concerned that sanctions should work effectively to deter only those who do not take all reasonable steps to avoid unemployment.
As a final safeguard, the "good cause" provisions give those faced with possible disqualification ample opportunity to show the adjudication officer that they have acted reasonably. If they are dissatisfied with the adjudication officer's decision, they have the right of appeal to a local social security appeal tribunal and on a point of law to the Social Security Commissioner. That, we believe, is an adequate safeguard for the claimant.
I am sure that the noble Baroness was not comparing provisions in the United Kingdom with those in Eastern Europe. They do not bear comparison. However, I note the point that she makes about the plight of people in Eastern Europe.
I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing the amendment.
§ Baroness Seear
Perhaps I may make a point before the noble Baroness sits down. Surely we all agree that there must be some sanctions and some penalties because certain people abuse the position. Without necessarily supporting the amendment, I should point out that 26 weeks is a long time—it is six months—to be without benefit. There is a big jump between six weeks and 26 weeks. The penalty of having no money coming in for half a year is very heavy. Will the noble Baroness consider whether there might at least be a half-way house between six weeks and 26 weeks? We do not deny that there must be a penalty. It is simply that the penalty seems to be rather draconian.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
I believe that I gave a fairly detailed explanation of how we arrived at the 26-week period. There is a balance. The important objective is to ensure that voluntary unemployment is not made easy or, if it is resorted to, that there is a penalty. However, I have also given assurances—the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, raised this point—that there are circumstances in which a young person who feels aggrieved could have recourse to the appeal system.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I am disappointed that the Minister has not responded to the constructive suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. We on this side accept that there must be some disqualification. As I said in my opening remarks, there was a disqualification of six weeks for 75 years. It is a question of the length of period.
In addition to that long period of disqualification, the Government have tightened up in previous legislation the entitlement to benefit provisions. You must now be actively seeking work instead of simply being available for work. I should have thought that the "actively seeking work" provision, perhaps combined with a period longer than six weeks but less than six months, might be a much better way of going about matters.
I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote tonight, but I shall think seriously about what the Minister has said and may come back with a different form of wording or a different suggestion on Report. I am certain that there must be a half-way house and not simply a period of six weeks, as we suggest, or of six months, which is quite unacceptable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 73 not moved.]
Lord Carter moved Amendment No. 74:
After Clause 10, insert the following new clause: ("Eligibility of those in full-time education for income support
The Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 shall have effect with the insertion in regulation 14(1), after the words "(meaning of child), ", of the words—
or a person aged 19 who is receiving full-time relevant education within the meaning of regulation 12(a) of these Regulations, ".").
§ The noble Lord said: Although this amendment is a new clause, it does not deal with a new benefit. The purpose of the amendment is to restore to 823 parents income support payments for 19 year-olds who are still at school in non-advanced education; in other words, those who are doing GCSEs and A-levels.
§ Under the old supplementary benefit scheme, parents whose 19 year-old children were still at school used to have an amount included in their weekly benefit in respect of their upkeep. Since April 1988, when income support was introduced, such payments have been made only until the child's 18th birthday. Now, whether or not parents can obtain benefit for children until the end of their school days depends on the wholly arbitrary test of the child's date of birth. Two families whose circumstances are otherwise identical, who have children in the same class at the same school, can find that one of them is at least £36 a week worse of f because the first family's child is 19 while the other's is 18.
§ The problems of families with 19 year-old children do not end there. The pupil will not be entitled to claim income support in his or her own right because he or she will be treated as a full-time student. Various other restrictions on benefits result from that. Families will thus be faced with a stark choice—to allow the child to continue to study without any financial assistance or to let him or her leave school without completing the course or obtaining the intended qualifications.
§ We have been advised on the matter by the citizens advice bureaux, which have given us a host of examples of cases where the rules work considerably to the disadvantage of families. I do not propose to take the Committee's time to read out all those examples, but I hope that the Minister will explain why the regulations are drafted in that way. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blatch
Young people who are in full-time, non-advanced education are normally treated for social security purposes as dependent on their parents until they reach 19 years of age. Non-advanced education means education up to the standard of GCE A-level and its equivalents. Their parents can obtain child benefit and, if they receive income support or other social security benefits, they can obtain a dependency addition for their child up to that point.
However, there clearly must come a stage at which dependency upon parents is no longer appropriate. For child benefit and most other social security benefits, the point at which dependency ceases has for a long time been the 19th birthday. By the age of 19 a person is well over the age of majority, and most have completed their secondary education and become independent of their parents. It was decided, when introducing the income support scheme, to bring it into line with child benefit and other social security benefits. The payment of income support dependency additions therefore now stops at the age of 19 for all young people in full-time education.
I understand and sympathise with the anxiety which lies behind this amendment. The present rules leave some deserving cases on the wrong side of the eligibility line. However, that line is drawn in a way which is reasonably logical and coherent with the rest of the benefit structure and is reasonably easy to 824 administer. The change proposed by the amendment would not solve the problem of those cases but merely transfer the dividing line to a place which is much harder to defend and administer.
More importantly, there is already alternative statutory provision to alleviate hardship. Local education authorities have power to make awards to help young people in non-advanced education to complete their studies. They have complete discretion as to the level of those awards. For example, local education authorities made education maintenance awards to 1, 663 pupils aged 19 or over in schools in 1987–88. Similar discretionary awards are paid to those continuing their non-advanced education at colleges of further education, and approximately 24,000 such awards were made to those aged 19 and over in 1987–88. From the autumn of this year colleges of further education will also have the discretion to use their access funds to support 19 year-olds in cases where education might be inhibited by financial constraints.
The Government consider that the present point at which dependency for benefit purposes ceases is the most appropriate and that provision to alleviate hardship when benefit ceases already exists within the educational structure.
I believe that there is little between the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and the Government on this issue. We are talking about how those needs should be met. On behalf of the Government, I am saying that they should be met through educational support grants and the noble Lord's suggestion is contained within the amendment. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Carter
I am grateful to the Minister. That was the explanation which I expected. As the noble Baroness said, dependency must cease somewhere and this seems to be the result of a tidying up more than anything else. In the nature of things, the number of hardship cases would be less if the amendment were accepted. I am rather doubtful, in view of the great pressure on financial resources of local education authorities, whether they will be able to help in the way suggested. I shall read with care what the Minister said, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 11 [Annual increase of certain occupational pensions]:
The Earl of Buckinghamshire moved Amendment No. 75:
Page 15, line 34, after ("scheme") insert ("or personal pension scheme").
§ The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 76, 79, 80 and 86. The situation of the amendments is to ensure that money purchase schemes or personal pensions are placed in the same position as final salary schemes; namely, to compel pensions from those sources to increase in line with rises in inflation.825
§ I welcome the desirability of an annual increase for pensions paid from occupational and personal pension schemes. I only wish to question the method which the Government have used to achieve that. When I spoke on Second Reading, I expressed my anxiety that the Government were proposing to force extra costs on those final salary occupational schemes which did not guarantee annual increases to pensions in payment in line with the retail prices index up to a maximum of 5 per cent. a year or a limited price indexation.
§ I was and still am worried that such proposals might have completely the opposite effect on the Government's intentions. The recent European Court's decision on the Guardian Royal Exchange v. Barber case, which will apply in equal terms to men and women, will continue to exacerbate the position on costs.
§ Having said that, it seems quite clear to me that the Government are determined to proceed with legislation to compel pension schemes to increase pensions in payment. I believe that they should recognise that in all pension schemes—whether final salary, money purchase occupational or personal pension schemes—the end product is the same: a pension. Therefore, all pension schemes should be treated the same. Either all should be compelled to provide increases in payment or none of them should. I understand that the DSS has stated that it will defer consideration of the extension of the LPI to money purchase occupational schemes and personal pension schemes until the terms for contracting out of the slate earnings related pension scheme are reviewed in 1993.
§ I do not see the connection between the two matters. If the intention is for LPI to apply only to pension scheme benefits in excess of that portion which is contracted out, then we should consider the position of money purchase and personal pension schemes now. That is a general introduction to this amendment, and I beg to move.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
I rise to support the general intention of the amendment moved by the noble Earl. As I understand it, the intention of the Bill is to ensure that pensions maintain their purchasing power, at least to a limited extent. I did not understand the Bill to discriminate against final salary schemes or as providing an incentive for employers to switch or redefine their schemes as money purchase schemes.
It is right and proper that all schemes, whether money purchase or final salary, should be required to apply the same criteria and to take steps to ensure that the pensions maintain purchasing power in payment. It would be a very retrograde step if this Bill went through unamended. The net result of that would be to discourage the growth of final salary schemes which I still believe is the best way of providing for employees in retirement in favour of money purchase schemes, even if those are what are now called COMPS—contracted out money purchase schemes. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Henley
It is quite a relief to have reached Clause 11. It is nice to see the noble Baroness at the Dispatch Box. She has been kept waiting in the slips all afternoon, although I know that she had a brief warm-up earlier. I imagine that she and I will have much to discuss this evening, particularly after dinner.
My noble friend and the noble Baroness have set out very clearly the terms of the amendment. As they have explained, the effect of their amendments would be that the clause would require that money purchase schemes provide for annual increases in the rate of pension. The current Section 58A(9) excludes such schemes. In addition, personal pension schemes would be required to provide for such increases in the same way.
There are two main reasons for our decision to exclude money-purchase benefits at this time. First, members of money-purchase benefit schemes—and here I am including those in personal pension schemes—already have the opportunity to use the proceeds of the investment made on their behalf in order to choose a pension that increases after retirement. In other words, when the individual comes to the stage at which he will convert the accumulated sum into an annuity, he can either decide to take a flat-rate pension which will not increase or a lower initial pension, but which will increase annually at 5 per cent. or in line with the retail prices index, or whatever is available.
I appreciate that there might be arguments about whether or not that is the way choice should be offered; but in the Government's view this is not the time to reach any decision on that point. Secondly, therefore, we think there is a proper time to consider the whole question. It has only been possible to contract out of the state earnings related pension scheme by means of money purchase schemes since April 1988. Personal pensions, as a way of contracting out of SERPS, have been available only since July 1988. These are therefore very early days for both types of schemes, and individuals and employers have entered into them on the basis of the terms and rebates which relate to the quinquennium, 1988 to 1993.
The question of pension increases in these schemes would, we believe, be best resolved as part of the review of the terms for contracting out of SERPS, which is due to start next year. That will be for the quinquennium beginning in April 1993. This review considers the reductions in the class 1 standard rates of contribution for those contracted out and the factors affecting the cost to occupational pension schemes of providing guaranteed minimum pensions.
I hope that with those assurances the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The Earl of Buckinghamshire
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his comments. It is always a relief to hear that we have reached a situation where we can discuss pensions. Perhaps I can look forward to discussing this topic further with him in 1993. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 76 not moved.]827
§ Baroness Blatch
I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee does not meet again before half-past eight.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.