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Social Security Bill

Volume 479: debated on Monday 21 July 1986

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Consideration of amendments on Third Reading resumed.

Clause 20 [ Income-related benefits]:

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 5:

Page 26, line 9, at end insert—

(" () Differences of age within the range of 18 to 60 shall not be taken into account for the purpose of determining entitlement to an income related benefit or the amount of any such benefit where a person satisfies the conditions of subsection 10(a) and (b) below, and

  • (a) has entered his accommodation because—
  • (i) he has been in the care of a local authority under a relevant enactment; or
  • (ii) he is chronically sick, mentally handicapped, physically disabled, or suffering from a mental disorder; or
  • (iii) it constitutes part of a programme of rehabilitation or resettlement under guidance from a government department, health authority, local authority, voluntary organisation, or the probation and after care service; or
  • (iv) he has no parent or guardian and there is no person acting in the place of his parent; or
  • (v) he has had to leave his family home because he was in physical or moral danger; or
  • (vi) he is a person who has been recognised by the Home Secretary as a refugee under the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol; or he has been granted by the Home Secretary exceptional leave to remain for humanitarian reasons; or he is a person who has submitted an application for refugee status to the Home Office; or
  • (vii) he has been accepted as homeless under a relevant enactment (Housing Act 1985, Part III); or
  • (b) he would suffer exceptional hardship if he were to receive a lower level of benefit on grounds of age alone; and any question as to whether any person comes within this sub- paragraph shall be determined by the Secretary of State in his discretion.")
  • The noble Lord said: My Lords, I had thought that this amendment, being more restrictive than the one I moved at the Report stage, and being, as I thought, a different proposition, leading to a cost of some £2 million as opposed to £50 million, would be in order for a Third Reading discussion. It was of course accepted and printed, although I was warned that there might be procedural difficulties. At 3.15 this afternoon I was informed that it is the view of the Table that it is not in order for the Third Reading and, in view of these circumstances, I shall not move the amendment.

    [ Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

    Clause 22 [ Calculation]:

    moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 30, line 10, at end insert ("and shall include an amount to cover the cost of repairs and insurance of the structure.").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name. The purpose of this amendment is to preserve people's entitlement to the allowance which is currently paid to owner-occupiers to cover residual housing costs. The allowance for residual housing costs currently paid to home owners at a rate of £1.85 a week in addition to mortgage interest includes an allowance for essential routine repairs, maintenance and insurance on the structure of the property. In fact, if the cost of insurance on its own is higher than £1.85, adjudication officers can pay more if they think that it is reasonable.

    The weekly addition for maintenance and insurance enables a person to apply for a grant for essential repairs to a home if there is no other way of financing the repairs. An annual amount of £96 can be set aside to cover routine essential maintenance and the insurance premium, which is a great assurance to people who may otherwise have no way of budgeting for a major unavoidable annual outlay.

    Residual housing costs also cover ground rent for a lease in excess of 21 years and service charges—that is, maintenance, insurance and cleaning of common areas, which is normally associated with company lets—and also affect people living in mansion block;. If one lives in a mansion block, one has to deal with one's share of the maintenance, insurance and cleaning of the common areas. Payments are also available for the emptying of cess pits and septic tanks, which is very useful to people living in rural areas.

    If no allowance is made for these provisions under the proposed legislation—and so far none has been made—the ability of owner-occupiers on income support to maintain their homes in a state fit for human habitation will be seriously undermined, Those who are called upon to meet 50 per cent. of their mortgage interest in the first six months will have to cope with the additional and, for some, insurmountable problem of meeting their insurance costs. On average in the South-East this is an annual premium of £70, and that is based on the figure; provided for a post-1945 terraced house in this part of the world. The often mandatory expense of running repairs, such as painting the exterior of one's house of keeping windows in a decent state of repair in order to prevent heat loss and therefore to reduce heating bills is a serious problem.

    It is the proud boast of the Government that 63 per cent. of English housing stock is now owner-occupied. However, the dream of owning one's own home is turning into a nightmare for more and more people. Since 1979 over 50,000 people have lost their home; because of mortgage payment difficulties. The re-possession figures have risen from 2,530 in 1979 to over 16,000 in 1985. To impose further financial penalties on owner-occupiers is another serious; betrayal of the Government's principle of encouraging home-ownership. It would particularly hit those council tenants who have bought council homes and those whom the Government are very anxious to encourage to buy council homes—people about whom the Government boast quite a lot.

    The Government's own report revealed that 84 per cent. of local authority homes needed work done on them. For example, the survey showed that a very high percentage of traditional houses built between 1945. and 1964 need repairs at an estimated cost of £3,900—nearly £4,000. It is true that at present the single payment can be obtained for repairs to make the home habitable—but only if the cost of the required repairs does not exceed £325. The Minister may tell me that the social fund may provide a grant in some circumstances. However, that is hardly likely to be available for running routine repairs, which are necessary for so many owner-occupied properties.

    Lack of this provision is particularly damaging to the owner-occupiers from the ethnic minorities' community. They are usually forced to buy at the lower end of the market and their homes usually require a great deal of maintenance. For example, the proportion of owner-occupiers among the Asian community is particularly high; in fact, it is estimated at 76 per cent. nationally. Asian organisations are extremely concerned about how they will cope without the help currently available to those on supplementary benefit who carry mortgages. The 1983 figures established that only 0.4 per cent. of owner-occupier recipients received more than £50 per week, and when one compares that with the cost of keeping people in bed and breakfast hotels, it is very small beer. However, that is the consequence of their failing to be able to meet the repair bills.

    Many families will be running the risk of being regarded as intentionally homeless, and the human cost of resulting family poverty, of the break-up, and of the unpleasant surroundings in which they will have to live ought to be borne in mind. That is often the alternative facing the family who has either had its home repossessed or is forced to sell up, often below market value. It is not too late for the Government to take this point on board. Notwithstanding my previous failure to convince them of the need to think a little more about the people who are deprived, I again move this amendment in the hope that the Government can see the necessity of taking this step. I beg to move.

    My Lords, what we are aiming to do in income support is to set standard weekly incomes for claimants. This is in line with the general approach in the initial scale rate now—they are to meet most living expenses generally rather than to provide a detailed list of amounts for particular items. That is a sensible approach; obviously claimants' actual expenditure patterns vary considerably. But instead of the present system, where we then add other individually-assessed amounts for particular further items, our approach in income support is to build on the present scale rates approach by providing further general premiums for those facing particular extra pressures in families with children, pensioners, lone parents and disabled people.

    We are also aiming to leave behind the present rules in the supplementary benefit scheme which relate to housing status. Income support will be a simpler, more sensible way of providing help; and it must be right that generally people should make their own budgeting arrangements to cover items such as repairs and insurance. Our proposal will also be a useful simplification for our local office staff. But I can assure the noble Lord that the current expenditure on repairs and insurance will be included in the resources allocated to the new income support scheme.

    My Lords, I would not pretend that I am entirely satisfied, but in the circumstances I beg to leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    (", provided that, in calculating or estimating income from employment, any expenses necessarily incurred in connection with that employment shall be deducted from the income.")

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise in a spirit of helpful inquiry to move the amendment standing in my name. There was some confusion at Report stage, and the Minister was courteous enough to write to both her noble friend Lady Faithfull and me. I raise this question again today in order that we might clear up one or two points.

    I understand that in preparing the regulations which will enforce some restrictions on the expenses which unemployed volunteers can collect the Government will take account of their travel expenses and perhaps the cost of petrol, for instance, if they are using their cars for purposes that are helpful to the disabled. I have a query, however, that has come from one voluntary organisation. What will happen where organisations give to some of their volunteers what is usually called an honorarium? It may not be strictly expenses in that perhaps bills need not be produced. For instance, in some cases Oxfam pay an honorarium to people who man their shops and who give up time that they could use in other ways.

    If someone accepts an honorarium, I can see that that will rightly be put down as earnings, but will it mean that having accepted an honorarium, they then lose the expenses they incur in getting to the voluntary work? It may seem a small point, but it concerns many volunteers. I hope that before there is any hard and fast decision it may be possible for there to be consultation so that the anxieties of people who are doing really good work in the community can be put aside, and they can be encouraged to carry on. I beg to move.

    4.15 p.m.

    My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, it will be recalled that on Report when my noble friend Lady Faithfull tabled a similar amendment there was more than a degree of confusion over my reply. I blush as I renew my apologies. I have since written to a number of your Lordships, including of course the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull, and indicated that I would put the Government's position on record at Third Reading. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for providing me with an opportunity to do so.

    The treatment of expenses of voluntary workers raises difficult questions of what are really earnings and what are genuine expenses. At present, if someone is working part-time, £4 of his earnings is disregarded. Before applying this automatic disregard to the person's net earnings, genuine work expenses are deducted. In the Green and White Paper we brought forward proposals to increase the automatic disregard from £4 to £5, and at the same time end the individual assessment of work expenses. The earnings disregard for particular groups, such as disabled people and long-term unemployed couples, will rise to £15.

    The treatment of expenses paid in connection with voluntary work is a separate matter and one which was not touched on in either the Green or the White Paper. The issue here is what counts as earnings. We accept that there is an argument for not treating as earnings some of the payments connected with volunteers' expenses. The example I quoted in Committee was that of petrol expenses for someone who helps housebound people go shopping or visit the local library, and so on. I am happy to repeat the undertaking I gave in Committee that we shall look very sympathetically at the matter when drawing up the detailed regulations for income support.

    I should like to confirm that our proposals on the disregards of part-time earnings do not relate to the payment someone receives in return for their child-minding services. The Green and White Papers do not refer specifically to child minding. Our proposals on the extent to which earnings shall be taken into account in calculating benefit do not cover the way in which these earnings or resources are defined. It is these issues which have become confused.

    Concerning an honorarium and whether the disregard will apply to the whole amount, this indeed involves consideration of the prime detail of regulations. I think I have made it clear that, however volunteers' expenses are treated, the £5 disregard will not apply to them as it does to normal remunerative payments. We shall need to consider the matter as we consider how we treat volunteers' expenses. I think I have covered the matter in what I have just said. I hope I have now put the record straight on both these issues, particularly as my noble friend Lady Faithfull was the one who was really put out of kilter by my peculiar behaviour. I hope that every noble Baroness here will feel able to support me, and that the amendment will be withdrawn.

    My Lords, in view of the explanation from the noble Baroness, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 28 [ Arrangements for housing benefits]:

    (" () Regulations shall provide for disregarding, in determining a person's income (whether he is the occupier of a dwelling or any other person whose income falls to be aggregated with that of the occupier of a dwelling), so much of any family credit as represents the estimated average cost of school meals available to any member of the family.")

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 7 I wish to say that its purpose is to highlight a particular injustice which occurs when there is an interruption between the family credit free school meals compensation and the housing benefit. I hasten to say that it is nothing to do with the principle of providing free school meals as is the case now versus the scheme in the Bill of cash compensation for school meals which we have debated fully on several occasions and over which a vote in favour of the cash compensation scheme was taken. This amendment is about the level of the compensation as it affects a small, but vulnerable, number of families, and is therefore an important point to bring out.

    The case for this amendment rests on the fact that it was a social security advisory committee which first pointed out that families receiving housing benefit would find the compensation for loss of free school meals greatly reduced, the reason for this being that family credit would count as income for housing benefit purposes. Thus a higher family credit payment would mean a lower housing benefit payment, the loss of free school meals having been taken into account.

    To give a few relative figures, may I point out that for families receiving help with both rent and rates, the weekly £2·20 compensation for free school meals would be reduced to a mere 44p per week and for families receiving help with rent only the compensation would be reduced to 88p per week. For families receiving help with rates only it would be reduced to £1.76 per week. As the Social Security Advisory Committee said in its fourth annual report:

    "We do not believe that this will fulfil the Government's aim of giving such families 'adequate resources and the freedom to choose how to use them'."

    It shows that the reduction in the compensation is large enough to cause a great difference to those families.

    The Government have sought to dismiss this issue on the grounds that slightly fewer than a quarter of the families affected will also be receiving housing benefit. But the point that the Government have not met is that the poorest quarter of the families will be affected in this way. This is because it is only the poorest working families who will still be entitled to housing benefit after the cuts proposed in the Bill are introduced. Indeed, according to a Written Answer in another place entitlement to housing benefit for a two-parent, two-child family claiming family credit will cease at £117·80 per week gross and for a lone parent with two children at £106·79 gross. It is difficult to understand why most of the families will be receiving only a rate rebate and not a rent rebate or allowance. Entitlement to rent rebates and allowances extends further up the income scale than entitlement to rate rebates. On the whole it is likely to be owner occupiers and elderly people who are receiving a rate rebate only, and I should have thought it was difficult to believe that many of the poorest working families will fall into either category.

    Finally, may I say that if the Government are right in saying that it is only a small minority of the families who will be affected adversely, does it not also follow that the costs of protecting this small minority in the manner proposed by this amendment would also be very small? Indeed, I was wondering whether I might ask the noble Baroness the Minister what the cost would be of protecting this small minority as proposed in this amendment. The noble Baroness may argue that such a disregard would complicate the system and therefore she would not be willing to do it. But surely such a minor complication would be a small price to pay for protecting the very poorest families against what would otherwise be for them a very significant loss. That is the purpose of this amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will look at this favourably because for these families it would be of enormous importance to get the full compensation for the school meals. It will be the children of those families, being the poorest families, who will be in the most need of the full compensation, and therefore I think it is a logical change for which we are asking and a protection that is so necessary. I beg to move.

    My Lords, while the carrier pigeons are still at work perhaps I might add a few words to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. The Government have shown that they are very willing to see that school meals are provided, particularly in the holiday season and right throughout the year, and it seems to me that if they put that importance and that weight on school meals they ought probably to agree to this amendment. I beg to support it.

    My Lords, I apologise for not being in the House when the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, commenced moving this amendment. It always comes up a little late on the monitor by comparison with what one is watching for. However, I am not sure that I am in support of this amendment because I think it will unnecessarily complicate the administration. I should prefer to see the amount given as the meals supplement to be adequate to cover this without necessarily introducing the further administrative process which would be involved.

    At an earlier stage my noble friend the Minister gave us the Government's reasons for putting in extra cash in place of free meals. This second point might only create a complication. I am also worried that it might reach a point where it could create a disincentive to take employment. I ask my noble friend the Minister to correct me if I am wrong, but I think there is a possibility that this in itself could create a poverty trap, which is the very thing we are aiming to avoid. As I understand it, once the amount of family credit is less than the disregard then the housing benefit will not take into account the fact that the family credit is still being withdrawn. This could create a reverse poverty trap and a reason for people not to want to go into employment because that would be to their disadvan-tage.

    I am not satisfied that this amendment would be the right answer. It would add complexity and may create the very problems that we are trying to avoid.

    My Lords, I appreciate the motives that bring the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, to move this amendment today. It is an interesting approach to the issues we discussed very recently. But I have to say that it is an approach I cannot commend to your Lordships.

    Repetition is not something that is welcomed by your Lordships, but the nature of this amendment forces me to point out that it is important to try to consider the changes we propose as a whole, and not to concentrate on points of detail in isolation. Of those families who will receive family credit and housing benefit we estimate the great majority will be better off overall (around two-thirds); many of them will be better off by more than £5 a week. Of course, most of those affected, 90,000, will only be on rate rebates and therefore their housing benefit loss will be limited to a maximum of 44p.

    The amendment would have the effect of introducing an unwelcome complication into the housing benefit scheme. The Government have proposed a simplified and improved scheme. The proposal before us would make the scheme more complicated to administer and harder for the public to understand. It would be particularly difficult, for example, for a family who was in part-time work, and so not eligible for family credit, to understand why they were not entitled to the same housing benefit disregard as a family with the same income including family credit. We should also expect that as time goes on it would be less and less obvious that the extra disregard was a link with the former provision of free school meals.

    But here is a further fundamental flaw. It has been a major concern of the Government to remove the worst effects of the poverty trap. The effect of the amendment would be to introduce marginal tax rates well in excess of 100 per cent. If housing benefit disregarded amounts of family credit in lieu of the cost of school meals, then where the amount of family credit was less than the disregard housing benefit would be withdrawn at a rate that did not take account of the withdrawal of family credit. This would lead to an even higher marginal tax rate than we have under the present scheme. Moreover, for those with a number of children this could take effect over a quite wide range of income. The noble Baroness asked me in particular about the cost of protecting the small minority and I must tell her that it would be between £3 million and £4 million a year.

    To help the House understand, I think it would be helpful if I gave an illustration of what could happen. Let us consider a family with two children, and £3 family credit and £5 housing benefit. If their net earnings were to rise by £5 then, under the illustrative rate set out in the technical annexe, the £3 family credit would cease and the £5 housing benefit would reduce to £1. The total reduction in benefits would be £7 yet the net earnings would have risen by only £5—an overall reduction of £2.

    I hope that noble Lords will agree that, while removing the steep steps that came from the loss of benefit and free school meals under the present arrangements, we would not wish to replace them by slopes that would reintroduce the position where an increase in earnings will lead to a reduction in net income. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

    4.30 p.m.

    My Lords, I think that there is one thing on which the Minister and I would agree; that is, that this is a most complicated case and it is a Bill of enormous complexity. However, unfortunately the interpretations seem not to be in agreement at all as to how the very poorest families who are on family credit while at the same time claiming housing benefit will be affected. I have listened to the Minister's answer and I understand it, but it does not fit with other interpretations of how a certain number of families will be affected.

    The point that gives me great concern is that the families whom we interpret as being affected will be the very poorest ones, by the very virtue of their being on the housing benefit within this Bill. So I think that the argument for not complicating things is not a very good one, if I may say so to the Minister, because sometimes one needs to complicate things in order to create justice. In this case, it is genuinely thought that this concomitant small change in complication is justified in order to ensure that the very poorest section of the community will not lose out on this particular cash compensation. Those people are in the greatest need of all. However, I think that the noble Baroness has given a very full explanation and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 33 [ Awards etc,]:

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I, in moving Amendment No. 8, speak also to Amendments Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 12? These are all straightforward drafting amendments. They are consequential upon the passing at Committee stage of Amendments Nos. 88, 101 and 102. Your Lordships will recall that those amendments, among other matters, required the Secretary of State when operating the social fund to proceed by way of regulations approved by Parliament and not by way of directions which he might himself make. There were inadvertently left in the Bill a number of references to directions. All that these amendments seek to do as a consequential matter is to remove those references. I beg to move.

    My Lords, we are considering most urgently the amendments to which your Lordships agreed in Committee and which established the right of appeal to social security appeal tribunals. We are looking very closely at the arguments put forward by your Lordships at that time. In those circumstances, I can have no objection to your Lordships' amendments.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Page 44, line 26, leave out ("or direction").

    Page 44, line 27, leave out ("or direction").

    Page 44, line 28, leave out ("or direction").

    Page 44, line 30, leave out from ("a") to end of line 31 and insert ("determination under subsection (3) or (4) above, set aside that determination.")

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    Clause 82 [ Orders and regulations (general provisions)]:

    [ Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

    Schedule 10 [ Minor and consequential amendments]:

    "40A.—(1) In section 78(2A) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (duty to make contributions in respect of children in care etc.) for words from "of where second occurring to the end there shall be substituted the words "of income support or family credit.".

    (2) In section 87(3) of that Act (charges for service and accommodation)—

  • (a) after the word "by" where first occurring there shall be inserted the words "the Schedule to the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 4 to the Social Security Act 1980,";
  • (b) after "1983" there shall be inserted "and paragraph 32 of Schedule 10 to the Social Security Act 1986"; and
  • (c) for the words "to 44" there shall be substituted the words "(as amended by paragraph 5 of Schedule 1 to the Law Reform (Parent and Child) (Scotland) Act 1986) and 43".")
  • The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. If I may term it in that way, we are now heading for the last round-up. A total of 224 hours—183½ in the Commons and approximately 40½ in your Lordships' House—add up to a hard-fought Bill. During the passage of the Bill, we have shown that if we can make improvements to our proposals without sacrificing the principles behind them, we have been ready to do so.

    Before I sit down, I should like to pay tribute to the spirit in which the debates on this Bill have been conducted by noble Lords on all Benches. They have shown a depth of concern and involvement rarely exceeded in your Lordships' House and I believe that—even though we may not always agree on means—our discussions have been conducted with the common end of making this Bill effective in directing help where it is needed and when it is needed. I should like to thank all those both inside and outside your Lordships' House for the thought, wisdom and expertise that they have contributed to this end. My special thanks are directed first of all to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, whose urbane contributions to this Bill have been invaluable. I would particularly like to pay tribute to my noble friends Lord Vinson and Lord Buckinghamshire for their great help with regard to the more intricate clauses dealing with pensions.

    My very real gratitude must also be expressed to my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Thorneycroft for their wise and statesmanlike speeches on various issues; and I should like to add to their names those of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, Lady Macleod and my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox, who have represented a variety of interests concerned with groups such as the disabled and others who are most vulnerable to change. When thanking noble Lords, I certainly could not complete the list without mention of my noble friend Lady Hooper. We may be known by some as "Little and Large"; but my noble friend's stamina and assistance have been great. I am very much indebted to her.

    The aims of this Bill are clear. They are those which underlie the whole social security review and on which we have consulted on an unparalleled scale. We have diagnosed the faults and come up with solutions to remedy them. Those solutions will restore social security to its true purposes. They are in this Bill. I commend it to your Lordships, and I beg to move.

    Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—( Baroness Trumpington.)

    My Lords, how can I follow such a disarming statement from my enemy opposite? I can agree with her on one or two points; namely, that I think that the whole House has worked very hard on this enormously complicated and, in my view, ill-conceived Bill. We have made some amendments and I hope that they will stay, because so far as we are concerned none of the amendments which has been passed against the Government in this House represented a Labour Party victory, in our view. Those amendments represented a consensus of noble Lords on all sides of the House and also the views of many experienced voluntary organisations outside the House. I hope that that will be appreciated by those who are looking anxiously at them in connection with what has to happen in another place.

    I do not go along with the Minister, in spite of all the sweetness and light today, in considering that this matter has had enough consideration. There are 89 clauses and 11 schedules, but only 33 clauses and two schedules were fully discussed in the other place. Because of the guillotine in another place, your Lordships have had to do so much work, some of it successfully and some of it not successfully. I hope that there will be opportunities for further consideration, in view of the delay that there will be in bringing parts of this Bill into effect. I assure the Minister that we shall take urgent steps to deal with it.

    I must add, in discord, that one of the great problems—and I know that this view is shared by many in the House—is that there are far too many regulations in this Bill. To a large extent we do not know what we voted for or voted against, because we do not know what will be in the regulations. There are 24 references to facilitating regulations, giving rise to 85 separate provisions, and in all those cases we do not know for what we have voted. This must apply also to Government supporters, because they, too, do not know for what they have voted. Nobody knows, except some gastropod of a bureaucrat somewhere in the department.

    But there we are. I regard this Bill not as a reform of the Beveridge proposals, but as a backlash with a great many ill thought-out provisions that are opposed by the majority of voluntary workers in the field, who are at the sharp end, and I look forward to an opportunity to put it right.

    My Lords, from these Benches I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for the even-tempered and helpful way in which she has piloted this Bill through this House, in which she has been ably assisted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. There have been many notable contributions to our debates from the Opposition Benches, from the Cross-Benches, from the Government Benches and, not least, from my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock. There have been some deep and strongly felt differences, but they have all been expressed in good tempered debate.

    Looking at the Bill as it now leaves this House, I regret that there is to be no increase in the basic pension. I am sorry that a modest proposal of my own in that direction was voted down, but I am glad that the Government agreed that there should be a concession over the 2 per cent. incentive, where there is a switch from occupational pension schemes to personal pension schemes. But we have yet to see how this is to work out in practice, and we shall be interested to learn in due course just what the Government propose in that connection.

    I am glad that the Government decided that family credit should not be paid through the pay packet, and we on these Benches fully support the three amendments which were carried dealing with the contribution to rates, the community care addition and an appeal in the case of the social fund. I regret, however, that an appeal to an independent tribunal was not extended to housing benefit.

    There are many matters about which we remain concerned—the under-25s, the fact that child benefit is not to be indexed, the effect of loans instead of grants, the future of school meals, and many other things. We welcome the better alignment of tax and benefit, but regret that as yet there is no integration between the two.

    In conclusion, I would describe the Bill as a limited and, in certain respects, well-intentioned attempt at reform which nevertheless falls far short of integration. It contains some measures to which we are strongly opposed, it leaves too much to regulation, and it seems to be permeated by a cheeseparing mentality.

    4.45 p.m.

    My Lords, no government introduce a major measure on social security unless they feel that there is an overwhelming need' for so doing, because, as your Lordships will only too well appreciate at this stage, major legislation on this subject involves an enormous effort not only for both Houses of the legislature, but also for Ministers and for Whitehall. This Bill, whatever view one takes of it—and differing views have been expressed—is obviously a Bill of major importance for our society as a whole and for the vast majority of our population who will be affected by it. Therefore it is fitting that as we reach this stage of the Bill we should reflect for a moment upon its very great importance and the magnitude of the effort involved in bringing it forward.

    I believe that one of the major factors in bringing it forward was the Government's appreciation of the fact that the earnings-related pension scheme was going to involve, well into the next century, a possibly intoler-able financial burden upon the finances of the national insurance fund and, perhaps, of the Exchequer. It was therefore very brave and very public spirited of the government, in order to prevent that situation developing at a date at which they are unlikely, at any rate as individuals, still to be in office, to introduce a Bill to put it right. It seemed to me, and I think it seemed to many of your Lordships, that this showed a very proper sense of responsibility on the part of those at present charged with the administration of our social security system and of the Government as a whole.

    The Bill is enormously complex. Anyone who has been involved, as I have in the past, with social security legislation knows that it is a subject on which, inevitably and understandably, and perhaps rightly opinions will differ. There will be argument and genuine differences of opinion, which is an inevitable part of the legislative process on this subject. It is, therefore, again indicative of the Government's sense of responsibility that they have faced all this, and the massive consumption of parliamentary time, in order to make the improvements which they feel are necessary to the working of what is one of the most important parts of our society.

    I want also to say how much most of us appreciate the tireless energy of my noble friend Lady Trumpington and, as she herself said, of my noble friend Lady Hooper. One can well understand why, when so valuable a Minister proposed to risk her life coxing an eight in the regatta last week, the powers that be intervened to prevent this grave risk to our society because in all seriousness, the noble Baroness has conducted this Bill with great skill, with great courage and with great stamina, and I think all your Lordships will have admired that.

    I hope that I shall not do the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, any harm if I say from these Benches that I have greatly admired her conduct in the very difficult task of opposition to such a Bill. I know—again from past experience—that opposition to such a Bill, with the very limited resources by way of briefing that are available to an opposition as compared to a government, is not an easy task; and, equally, that there are temptations to play for popularity on particular issues where there is a plausible case to be made for improving benefits in one way or another. If I may be allowed to say so, the noble Baroness has conducted the opposition to this Bill in a way which is fully worthy of her own high reputation and of the procedure of this House.

    The Bill now no doubt goes, in view of the amendments carried, back to another place, but we conclude this massive stage of our proceedings in a way which adds greatly to the reputation of this House as a revising Chamber. We have given the Bill a thorough and proper discussion, we have faced its enormous complexities, and we have struggled to get it right. In those circumstances I think many of us would want to wish it well.

    On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.