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Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013

Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 17 July 2013

Motion of Regret

Moved by

That this House regrets that the Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013, laid before the House on 7 March, will result in a substantial number of vulnerable people not being eligible for legal aid because of the capital in their house. (SI 2013/480)

My Lords, one way of cutting legal aid is to take areas of law out of scope, which is something that this Government have done with a vengeance. As this House knows very well, social welfare law has been potentially destroyed by Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. However, there is another way to do the same thing, and that is to cut the number of people who can obtain legal aid in those areas of civil law—and there are precious few of them—which are still in scope; for example, mortgage possession and eviction cases, community care cases, mental capacity cases and some domestic violence cases as well. By these regulations that we are debating tonight, which my regret Motion deals with, Her Majesty’s Government have excluded many who could claim legal aid previously. Is that a fair or just thing to do, particularly at a time of hardship and austerity for so many people? That is my point.

Before 1 April, any person in receipt of means-tested welfare benefits—for example, income support or guaranteed state pension credit—would qualify for legal aid on both income and capital. They were described as being passported. A quick decision could be made, which was easy to administer for the Legal Services Commission as was, the providers of that legal advice and the clients themselves.

Now the Government have put into place radical changes. The regulations require a capital test as well as an income means test: if a person has more than £8,000 capital, they are denied legal aid. Interestingly, under welfare benefit law, that sum is £16,000 and if they have anything less than £16,000, they would still qualify. My first question to the Minister is: why the difference? The welfare benefit system also ignores the value of a person’s main dwelling but in these regulations the value of their main dwelling is taken into account. Therefore, my second question is: why is it taken into account under these regulations but not under welfare benefit regulations?

Of course, there is a disregard of £100,000 for any equity and £100,000 for any mortgage. Do the Government deny that many people who own homes with mortgages and some equity will not qualify for legal aid? The state has recognised in the benefits system that these people cannot easily, or at all, access their capital because it is tied up in the property that they have. Why will that not apply in these cases too? My case is that this will affect a large number of people’s access to some sort of justice. Her Majesty’s Government estimate 4,000 people will be affected. The belief of many outside is that that is an unbelievably small figure and that there will be many more in practice. This is simply unfair.

There is also a need for a general discretion to disregard income and/or capital where it was or is equitable in all the circumstances. In the 2000 regulations, there was a general discretion to disregard where it was equitable in all the circumstances. There has been no evidence of abuse of those regulations in that way. Why is it not in these regulations? We all know cases, perhaps involving mental capacity or disability, where justice demands legal help by way of legal aid. But because of the inflexibility of these regulations there is, to coin a phrase, no way out. There is certainly no way out with the exceptional funding scheme, which perhaps now should be called the very rarely exceptional funding scheme because it is not relevant to cases that are still in scope. Section 10 of LASPO is there for areas of law now out of scope. I fear the fact that there is no flexibility, and that the £8,000 capital is such a ridiculously low figure, shows that the purpose of these regulations is not to advance justice but to restrict it—not to help people sort out their legal problems but to make absolutely certain that they cannot.

In 2009, when austerity had already begun, the Labour Government did not reduce eligibility for legal aid in social welfare law; they increased it by 5%. We recognised that at a time of economic difficulties, it is crucial to ensure that people get quality and inexpensive legal advice to sort out their legal problems rather than go without any access, with the consequences that everyone knows; namely, that problems multiply and magnify until often in the end the state has to pick up the pieces arising out of problems with debt, welfare benefit mistakes and loss of employment. That decision by that Government was not a soft-hearted decision: it was based on a realisation that not only is access to justice right in principle; in this instance it saves the state money. It is not rocket science; it is just something that this Government do not get.

I look forward to the contributions of other noble Lords in this debate and to the Minister’s reply. I ask him on this occasion please to address the debate itself. When I was a Minister, like him, I had to undergo from time to time debates where the government policies that I was trying to defend were attacked from start to finish by practically everyone who spoke. It is not a comfortable position but I would argue that there is still a duty on Ministers to answer the debate being heard at that time. I do not think that the Minister did himself justice last Thursday in the debate that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, began, but I know that he can. Anyone who heard him at Question Time today dealing with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and others will know that he is an experienced and skilful performer in this House. Therefore, I ask him to deal with the issues that are raised in this debate and not just read out his speech.

There are already cases of people not getting legal aid when they should. That is a consequence of so much social welfare law being taken out of scope. There are also cases of people who have legal problems in areas that are still in scope but as a result of the regulations that we are debating tonight they are not able to access justice. That is a bit of a scandal. The Government should think again about these regulations and I hope that the House will agree with me that they are, at the very least, to be regretted. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for moving this Motion. Over the past three years he has played an essential role in identifying with forensic skill and great eloquence the defects in the series of measures that this Government have brought forward to limit legal aid in our society. The noble Lord has repeatedly pointed out, accurately and with some degree of force, that legal aid is a vital cement in our civil society. There is no point whatever in this place conferring rights unless people have the opportunity to vindicate them. It would be a great shame if there were further reductions in the ability of persons other than the wealthy to vindicate their rights by legal process.

The essential defect in these regulations is their treatment of the capital sums owned by persons who are otherwise eligible for legal aid. I cannot understand why the regulations apply different criteria to capital from the criteria that are applicable in welfare law. Regulation 8(2) provides that any person with more than £8,000 in capital will be denied legal aid, even though welfare benefits law provides that persons qualify for means-tested benefits even though they have up to £16,000 of capital.

There is a further discrepancy in that the welfare benefits system ignores the value of a person’s home. These legal aid regulations will disregard only £100,000 of equity in property, under Regulation 39; and £100,000 of any mortgage, under Regulation 37. The inevitable result is that many people who own their own homes will be excluded from legal aid, even though they cannot in practice access the capital.

All this is very unfortunate, given that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act has already reduced the scope of legal aid so that it is now skeletal. I am very concerned that even within the much reduced scope of legal aid under that Act, people who have no income and who are therefore eligible for welfare benefits will be unable to obtain legal advice and assistance. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, there is a vital need in the regulations for more flexibility.

The Minister will no doubt tell us, as he usually does, that funds are limited and that economies are needed, but to adopt criteria, as the regulations do, which are more onerous than the criteria applied to welfare benefits is simply irrational and fails to understand the vital function of legal aid itself as a welfare benefit for the needy in our society. My essential question for the Minister is this: why are the criteria for capital in these regulations different from, and more onerous than, the criteria for welfare benefit law?

My Lords, I shall speak in support of my noble friend Lord Pannick and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who is also my friend but not technically my noble friend. I want to put the regulations in perspective and to inquire whether the Government realise the pressure that these calculations will place on other parts of our society. I will mention just two issues.

This Government and their predecessors have pushed very hard to widen house ownership in the past 20 or 30 years. It has been successful. Ownership, of modest homes, has spread to all corners of society. To include their value in the assessment of legal aid places an unfair burden on a modest number of the population who have striven to own their own home. Not only that, but having owned one’s own home one now finds that it has to be sold to pay for one’s care in old age. It may have to be sold to raise money if one has the misfortune to be involved in expensive litigation. Not only that but, heaven forbid, it might even come to a mansion tax. In other words, one is putting much too much pressure on that wide swathe of population that owns a home of relatively modest value. They might have bought it for a five-figure sum years ago, but they will now find their house in that more than £100,000, and then £8,000, asset rank, depriving them of legal aid. The assessment costs will bite into the limited funds that are available for legal aid, because given the way in which the legislation is drafted, assessing whether someone is eligible for legal aid will involve quite a complicated process.

The regulations will also place pressure on the Bar, which, as I have mentioned many times in this House, I regulate but do not represent. Barristers are already doing an extraordinary amount of pro bono work—they represent people for free, which I discovered when I started regulating—but there is a limit to how much pro bono work can be expected of the Bar, especially the junior Bar, when legal aid is in effect being removed from many areas where the most altruistic of our young people and older barristers practise. There is no more good will by way of pro bono that can be drawn, or no more than there is at the moment.

We have also seen a growth in the number of litigants in person. People who are not getting legal aid are representing themselves. The calculations in these regulations will include a number of people who think that they can represent themselves, or indeed have to. This has caused, as we have already seen in judicial comments, a great deal of trouble for judges, who are trying to control what is going on in court and are finding that cases are taking longer and that there is no parity of arms between the self-representing litigant and the litigant on the other side who may be able to afford a barrister. Complaints are arising from this, because the litigants in person do not understand, and cannot be expected to understand, how procedure works and what can be expected of the judge and the barrister on the other side.

The knock-on effects of these regulations, which almost get rid of legal aid, will bear their own costs. I join others in urging and pleading with the Government to withdraw and redraft them.

My Lords, a key reference in this Motion of Regret is to “vulnerable people”, which is why this non-lawyer dares to stand amid such legal luminaries and feels a bit vulnerable himself.

A civilised country is one where we are all free under the law and where vulnerable people are not left defenceless against unjust treatment by another person, organisation or even an agent of government. Vulnerability is relative, of course, but the calculations that inform the regulations under discussion concern people who may be a very long way, as we have heard, from financial comfort and security, and may have multiple other needs.

The level at which permitted disposable capital is set is likely to render some older people in particular less capable of securing legal aid when faced by serious problems requiring legal redress. The levels seem to be set deliberately low. An older person with a capital value in their house of, let us say, £150,000 and an income that is modest yet sufficient to take them over the limits here might have to sell up to pay for legal services in a case, for example, involving mental capacity or criminal negligence. If they do not sell, they will have no access to the law, or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has just illustrated, they would have to represent themselves.

Do we think that such a person should move away from the support structure of family and friends just when they might need them most, when suffering from an injustice, if they are to realise any capital? Perhaps I am painting too gloomy a picture, but these seem to me to be the likely consequence of the regulations. I should be grateful if the Minister would address such dilemmas and what someone in such a dilemma is expected to do.

Last week, the Justice Secretary’s statement that he was ideologically opposed to legal aid for prisoners in almost all situations, however disabled or disadvantaged they were, caused comment. I know that this is not the focus of this Motion of Regret, but the use of the word “ideological” was worrying. Ideology has too often trumped humanity in the history of the 20th century. Of course, the term emerged from the French Revolution, so its pedigree is argued over.

Although I am sure the Minister will robustly defend the regulations, I hope he will recognise that if they damage access to legal representation for vulnerable people, the Government will have to change course on humanitarian grounds and not defend themselves on the basis of a flawed ideology.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Bach on raising this issue by means of the Regret Motion. To prepare for this debate, I did of course read the regulations and the Explanatory Note. It occurred to me that it would be helpful to look at the impact assessment. However, that posed a certain challenge. It took about three-quarters of an hour for the Printed Paper Office and me to track down the appropriate documentation, because the reference in the Explanatory Note is not very helpful, and apparently nobody in the Ministry of Justice was able to respond to a telephone call from the Printed Paper Office.

However, I was eventually able to access the impact assessment, which was revised on Royal Assent. It certainly makes interesting reading. It discloses that a majority of respondents to the initial consultation,

“did not support the Government’s proposals for reform”,

although some did. It would be interesting to know what proportion of respondents supported the proposal out of the 5,000 who responded. “Some” could mean as few as two but conceivably a few more. It would be interesting to know what the balance was.

There has been no specific consultation on these regulations. However, the impact assessment made it clear that the changes have the potential to have a disproportionate effect on women, BME citizens and those between the ages of 25 and 64. Nevertheless, it stated that the Government’s conclusion was that clients should have a financial stake wherever possible. That financial stake could be as much as 30% of disposable income. Disposable income is not generously calculated. Roughly speaking, a contribution of that size would pay for an evening out for the Chancellor and whoever he chose to entertain—Lynton Crosby seems to be quite a popular accompaniment to any Minister.

There is also a serious point, which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, referred to, about the question of the capital value of property to be taken into account. Given the current level of house prices, certainly in this part of the country, just over £100,000 of capital represents very little in the way of property. Values are substantially higher than would be reflected in other parts of the country. A pensioner on pension credit whose mortgage has been paid off and whose home is worth £110,000, who could be living in a very modest property in London to exceed that figure, will be ineligible for legal aid. A recently unemployed father on jobseeker’s allowance in negative equity with a home worth £240,000 and a mortgage of £250,000—so not in possession of any equity at all—will also be disqualified from receiving legal aid. A disabled man receiving employment and support allowance with a mortgage of £150,000 on a home worth £210,000—again, in London, that will not get you very far—will also be ineligible for legal aid. There is a real question of hardship here. It is certainly undesirable that people in that position should be compelled to have, to use that rather ugly phrase, “skin in the game” to access justice.

There is a particular question on which perhaps the Minister can help me. Regulation 40 states that,

“payment made out of the social fund under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act”,

must be disregarded. Does that apply to the Social Fund in its new incarnation, because it is of course no longer a national Social Fund; it has now been passed to local authorities? I do not necessarily ask for an answer tonight, but it is unclear to me whether that disregard will apply to payments made under the new regime.

Another issue, mediation, has been raised by the Law Society, among others, and is something that the Government are very keen to push. I have my reservations about the degree to which it will actually help to resolve cases. Nevertheless, it is available, it has been used, and the Government want to encourage it. The same eligibility criteria will apply. Have the Government taken that into consideration? There is also the issue of the cost of administration of the system. Clearly administering the new regime will involve greater costs than the previous regime.

Then there is the question of how many people will be affected. As my noble friend said, the Government’s original estimate was 4,000. As he said, that is widely viewed as an underestimate. Admittedly the scheme has been going for only a few months, but have the Government made any attempt to ascertain the likely numbers, and can they project them? If they have not done that yet, will the Minister undertake to do so after, say, six months, nine months or a year, so that we can assess the impact on those affected?

It is unfortunate that we find ourselves in the position of considering significant changes to a scheme whose scope is in any case being substantially narrowed. Clearly, the likelihood of people being deterred from pursuing a remedy will be borne out in the event. It is difficult to argue with those who believe that deterring claims is part of the Government’s objective, at least as much as the potential savings that will accrue, at the expense, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, of many vulnerable people.

I entirely endorse the terms of the Motion and look forward with interest to hearing from the Minister. I join my noble friend in congratulating the Minister on the line that he took this afternoon in questions about human rights. If I may say so, he distinguished himself from some of those around and behind him this afternoon in a very effective way. A little more of that from him would win him even more plaudits around the House. I congratulate him, and I hope that in that spirit he will respond a little more constructively to my noble friend’s Motion than might otherwise be the case.

I think there is a line in TS Eliot that says, “Woe unto me when all men praise me”.

This debate gives me the opportunity to clarify the position in the regulations laid before the House on 7 March concerning the issue of capital in relation to financial eligibility for civil legal aid. I will certainly respond to the debate, as I did last Thursday. In fact, I reread the debate and my reply. I think that I covered most of the points raised by the 14 lawyers and two others who contributed to that debate.

The Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 set out the rules that the director must apply to determine whether an applicant’s financial resources are such that the applicant is financially eligible for civil legal services under Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. These regulations broadly replicate the effects of Parts 1 and 2 of the Community Legal Service (Financial) Regulations, which were made under the Access to Justice Act 1999. Indeed, a number of the points that were raised tonight were in complaint of parts that replicated that Act.

However, as part of the Government’s consultation in 2010, entitled Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, the Government proposed several changes to the rules concerning financial eligibility and contributions for civil legal aid. One of these changes was the removal of capital passporting. Two others were to cap the subject matter of the dispute disregard at £100,000 for all forms of civil legal services, and to increase the levels of income-based contributions to a maximum of 30% of monthly disposable income. Before 1 April, someone receiving certain income-based benefits, such as income support, could have up to £16,000 disposable capital but be automatically passported through the means test and be deemed eligible for legal aid. However, a person not receiving a passporting benefit, and who had more than £8,000 in disposable capital, would be ineligible for legal aid.

It is inequitable that applicants with similar levels of capital may or may not be eligible for legal aid depending on the source of their income. To achieve greater internal alignment and fairness to all applicants for legal aid, the Government proposed that in future people in receipt of passporting benefits should have their capital assessed in the same way as it is assessed for others, although they would still be passported through the income side of the test.

The Government’s response to that consultation in June 2011 confirmed that they would take forward the proposal, and this is reflected in these new regulations. Therefore, under the new rules, all applicants for civil legal aid are subject to the same capital eligibility test. This means that any applicant with disposable capital above £8,000 will be ineligible for civil legal aid, regardless of whether they are in receipt of benefits. If the applicant’s disposable capital is more than £3,000 but does not exceed £8,000, they will be required to make a contribution from that capital towards the costs of the legally aided services.

Ensuring that the capital assets of all applicants are subject to the same eligibility test helps to focus limited public legal aid funds on the most financially vulnerable clients and means that those who can afford to pay, or can contribute towards the costs, do so. It is estimated that assessing all applicants’ disposable capital will result in approximately £10 million a year of savings in steady state. This is not insignificant against a backdrop of continuing pressure on public finances, where we need to continue to bear down on the cost of legal aid to ensure we are getting the best deal for the taxpayer. Disposable capital comprises all capital assets, including equity in land and buildings, money held in a bank, investments, stocks, shares and the monetary value of valuable items. However, there are certain disregards in calculating the amount of an individual’s disposable capital, including for mortgages and for equity in an individual’s home.

It may be helpful if I explain what these are. If an applicant is contesting property with their partner, their share of capital is assessed individually. Any outstanding mortgage, up to the value of £100,000, is subtracted from the value of the property. Where assets are in joint names, they will generally be treated as owned in equal shares. Thus the remaining equity is divided equally between the parties. The first £100,000 of the applicant’s equity is then disregarded under the subject matter of the dispute rule. The applicant then receives a further £100,000 equity disregard if the property is their main dwelling. If the remaining equity exceeds the £8,000 capital limit, the applicant will be financially ineligible for legal aid.

In practice, this means that only those applicants who are contesting large amounts of capital, or homes registered in joint names that are valued in excess of £500,000, and where there is a mortgage of at least £100,000, are excluded on capital grounds. We do not think it unfair or unreasonable that people who are disputing substantial assets fall outside eligibility for civil legal aid.

Where a property is not the subject matter of the dispute, is in an applicant’s sole name and worth more than £208,000, that applicant would not normally be eligible for legal aid. However, a further disregard of up to £100,000 would apply if the applicant was aged 60 or over and had monthly disposable income of less than £315. The financial eligibility criteria for civil legal aid are designed to focus our limited resources on those of moderate means and with moderate amounts of capital. This helps to ensure that we can continue to provide services for vulnerable persons, such as victims of domestic violence, children at risk and those with mental health problems.

For domestic violence and forced marriage cases where the applicant seeks an injunction or other order for protection from harm to the person, or seeks committal for breach of any such order, there is a power to disregard the eligibility limits. In this way, we extend eligibility to legal aid for victims of domestic violence irrespective of the value of any property that the individual may own. A contribution may be required from income or capital.

The eligibility waiver for victims of domestic violence seeking protection from harm is a significant concession. This measure improves access to legal aid for domestic violence victims by extending eligibility beyond the original limit. It means that immediate legal advice and representation is available for those who need it and who otherwise would not qualify under the normal eligibility regulations. For those applicants required to pay a contribution, as legally aided clients they will benefit from the reduced cost of representation under legal aid rates as opposed to private rates.

There is a concession for pensioners who are in receipt of an income of £315 a month or below. Disregards of between £10,000 and £100,000 can be applied to any capital assets that they hold, including both property and savings, depending on the level of their income. For example, a monthly income of £76 to £100 attracts a capital disregard of £70,000. This is in addition to the allowances that normally apply, such as the equity disregard. Pensioners who receive a passporting benefit are entitled to the maximum disregard of £100,000.

The financial eligibility criteria for civil legal aid are designed to focus our limited resources on the poorest people. Bringing the capital rules for those receiving benefit into line with the rules for those who are not will help to do that, and will improve the fairness of the system. The substantial provision for disregards that I have outlined will ensure that an appropriate degree of sensitivity to individual circumstances is maintained, in particular as regards capital in the form of equity in the home. This is a sensible and reasonable measure.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, made a number of points about the difference in the capital tests. Legal aid is not a welfare benefit and should not necessarily be treated in exactly the same way as universal credit, which is a working-age benefit. This is reflected in the different functions of income support and legal aid. The former is intended to lift people out of poverty over the long term while not penalising people for saving, while the latter is for people required to deal with a short-term legal issue and the associated expense.

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that our LASPO reforms have reduced legal aid to skeletal proportions. I remind the House that we are talking about an exercise that has brought legal aid down from £2.1 billion to £1.5 billion. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Bach, nor the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, do their case any good by pretending that a system that will still spend something like £50 million on welfare legal aid and £1.5 billion in total can be described as “skeletal”. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, said how generous the Labour Government were in 2009. In 2010, we had to take some very tough decisions. Again, I question whether the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has any authority to encourage us to believe that in 2015 a Labour Government would try to restore any of these changes to legal aid.

I hear what was said by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. However, they do not do the cause that they espouse—desiring to help the poorest and most vulnerable in our society—any good by arguing that these changes, which will affect people with quite substantial assets behind them, are not the right priority in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, mentioned litigants in person. We are monitoring the impact of litigants in person. However, as I pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in a more recent exchange we had, LASPO has been in practice for just over 100 days. He has been forecasting perfect storms and disaster for at least a year. We are keeping a close eye on these things and will monitor these various issues. However, the constant argument of disaster does not serve anybody. The very first Statement I made from this Dispatch Box was to the effect that if a part of your spending is directed at the vulnerable and the needy and you cut it, of course you will affect the vulnerable and needy. In those circumstances we have tried to make sure that we concentrate the money we have available where it is most needed. I will have a look at the Social Fund disregard and will write to the noble Lord—unless it was in that bit of paper that was passed to me. Even if it was, I will write to him.

This has been an interesting debate. The modest changes that we have made to the financial eligibility rules for civil legal aid are consistent with the fundamental objective of our reforms. We need to continue to think carefully about how taxpayer-funded money is spent and focus legal aid on the highest-priority cases and those most in need, while delivering the savings needed to address the national financial deficit. I hope that I have covered most of the questions raised in the debate, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will agree to withdraw his Motion.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, in particular the Minister for the trouble he has taken to respond to the debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for his extraordinarily flattering remarks, which were somewhat exaggerated. However, it was very good also to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich; the Government should listen with some care to the remarks that he made. I am grateful, too, as always, to my noble friend Lord Beecham for summing up the Opposition’s view so clearly and crisply.

We should remember that we are discussing areas of law where the Government decided that legal aid should continue, not those areas of law where they thought that legal aid was completely meaningless or was not legal or appropriate. These are areas where people’s need for legal aid is acute: for instance, housing repossession, domestic violence or community care. With these regulations the Government have said on the one hand, “These are the areas where legal aid is appropriate”, but on the other, “Those of you who may be poor in income terms but have a small amount of capital cannot take advantage of where we are keeping legal aid in scope”.

That is not a satisfactory position for the Government to take. To say that what has been taken out of legal aid—particularly out of social welfare law—is skeletal seems to be an overstatement rather than an understatement when we look at what is left in scope compared with what has been taken out, which includes all welfare benefit social welfare law, all employment social welfare law, the vast majority of housing social welfare law and nearly all debt social welfare law. The word “skeletal” is not wrong at all.

Legal aid is part of our welfare system and should be so. It is part of our social security system and a protection for all our citizens, or so it ought to be. That was the idea when it was first formulated—an idea that has grown up with Governments of all persuasions over the past 60 years. It is a great shame to hear the Minister say that it can be completely divorced, as it were, from the rest of the social security system. It cannot be: it remains a protection for all of us.

These regulations make the position more complicated, more costly, more unfair and more inflexible. That is not satisfactory. Of course, I am tempted—as I always am—to divide the House on the issue. Noble Lords have spoken in pretty clear terms of what is felt around the House. However, the House has probably voted quite sufficiently in the early part of this evening. We have had the debate and will be able to read it in Hansard. I have no doubt—I know that the Minister will look forward to this—that we will come back to these issues in due course, but probably after the summer rather than before. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.