Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Monday 26th October 2015

(8 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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That the draft regulations laid before the House on 7 September be approved.

Relevant documents: 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 9th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con)
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My Lords, I will come shortly to the Motion before the House today, but before I do, I should briefly address why the Motion is standing my name. In the past few days, we have seen unprecedented focus on the passage of secondary legislation through this House. The further the debate has evolved, the more it has taken on a new dimension—a debate concerning our responsibilities as a House and how we want to discharge them. While I will now turn to the substance of the instrument before us, I will later come on to the context for the decisions before us today.

The regulations before the House cannot be viewed in isolation. They were part of the Chancellor’s Budget in July and form part of our wider economic strategy and vision for the future of our country. In the last Parliament, we made significant progress: through a combination of savings and growth, the deficit halved as a share of GDP, investment in our schools and the NHS increased and more than 2 million jobs were created. But our deficit is still too high and our debt, as a share of GDP, is at the highest level since the late 1960s.

In the months leading up to the general election and in our manifesto, my party made it clear that reducing the deficit would involve difficult decisions, including finding savings of £12 billion from the welfare budget. The regulations that we debate today deliver no less than £4.4 billion of those savings next year alone. But these reforms are about more than just savings; they are about delivering a new settlement for working Britain—more people in work, with better wages, keeping more of the money that they earn. The quickest and surest way for people to feel secure and able to succeed is a good job that pays well.

This Government have created 1,000 jobs every single day since 2010—1,000 more people each day with the security of a job and a wage. We have raised the personal allowance so that people keep more of what they earn. By next April, more than 27 million basic rate taxpayers will be paying less tax, with a typical taxpayer benefiting by £825 per year. We will go on raising the personal allowance until it reaches £12,500, so that those on the national minimum wage will pay no income tax at all. We will introduce a national living wage, raising the minimum pay for a full-time worker by £900 from next April and by nearly £5,000 by 2020, benefiting 6 million people with the upward pressure that it will apply on wages. I am glad to say that more than 200 firms, including some of our biggest employers, have announced that they intend to pay staff at or above the national living wage before it comes into effect.

We are supporting working families with their childcare needs, too, as we have just heard. We have already brought in 15 hours of care for the most disadvantaged two year-olds and we are doubling free childcare for working families for three and four year-olds— worth around £5,000 per child per year. But if we are to deliver that settlement in a way that is sustainable, reform to our system of tax credits must play its part. We have a situation where too many families are on low pay, and so, to make ends meet, the state has had to top up those wages with tax credits.

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Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab)
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My Lords, I ask the noble Baroness to answer my question directly, and not give me a tangential answer. When the Prime Minister said at the last general election that an incoming Conservative Government would not cut tax credits—child tax credits—was he telling the truth or was he deliberately misleading the British people? Let me have a direct answer to my question.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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My Lords, we were very clear in the general election and in our manifesto that we would be introducing welfare savings of £12 billion and that these would be directed at working-age benefits. What we also did at the same time was promise a package of measures to support working families—a new settlement for the people of this country, so that they would continue to be better off in work and would continue to prosper. That is what we were very clear about in the general election campaign. That is what we were elected to deliver for the people of this country.

Secondly, the SI before us will increase the taper rate from 41% to 48%. This will mean that the rate at which tax credits are withdrawn will increase, but we will do so in a measured way with a gradual taper, which will still ensure that those on tax credits who work more will always take more pay home. Finally, it will reduce the income rise disregard, the in-year increase to an individual’s pay that can take place before their tax credit reward is recalculated, from £5,000 to £2,500—bringing it to a 10th of the rate it stood at when we came to power in 2010.

A sustainable economy which reduces inequality and provides opportunity for all means making choices. There are no easy options, but what we try to do is carefully balance spending and taxation decisions so that the richest pay the most towards services that are so vital to everyone, and the climate is right for everyone to seize opportunities to get on and to be successful. The Government’s job is to manage that in the fairest way while delivering the most important thing of all for working people: economic security and sound public finances.

The Government believe that as part of the overall package of measures that support working people, these changes to tax credits are right. If we want people to earn more and to keep more of their own money, we simply cannot keep recycling their money through a system that subsidises low pay. That is the Government’s case for these changes. But with the amendments we are due to consider, there are broader questions at stake, too, about our role in scrutinising secondary legislation and about the financial primacy of the other place.

I know that Members of this House on all Benches take their responsibilities very seriously and are committed to ensuring that the House fulfils its proper role, so let me be very clear. We as a Government do not support any of the amendments tabled to the Motion in my name, but I am also clear that the approach the right reverend Prelate takes in his amendment, by inviting the House to put on the record its concerns about our policy and calling on the Government to address them without challenging the clear and unequivocal decision made in the other place, is entirely in line with the long-standing traditions of your Lordships’ House.

The other three amendments take us into quite different and uncharted territory. All three, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Manzoor, Lady Meacher and Lady Hollis, if agreed to, would mean that this House has withheld its approval of the statutory instrument. That would stand in direct contrast to the elected House of Commons, which has not only approved the instrument but reaffirmed its view on Division only last week. It would have the practical effect of preventing the implementation of a policy that will deliver £4.4 billion of savings to the Exchequer next year—a central plank of the Government’s fiscal policy as well as its welfare policy. It is a step that would challenge the primacy of the other place on financial matters.

I have been to see the Chancellor this morning at No. 11, and I can confirm that he will listen very carefully were the House to express its concern in the way that it is precedented for us to do so, and that is on the right reverend Prelate’s amendment. But this House will be able to express a view on that amendment only if the other three amendments on the Order Paper are rejected or withdrawn.

Lord Tyler Portrait Lord Tyler (LD)
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My Lords, the Leader of the House has given us the impression that there is some convention that prevents your Lordships’ House from voting on these amendments. I would ask her to look again at the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions entitled Conventions of the UK Parliament, which states clearly in paragraphs 227 and 228 that it is perfectly in order for your Lordships’ House to take a view on a statutory instrument of this nature and so,

“we conclude that the House of Lords should not regularly reject Statutory Instruments, but that in exceptional circumstances it may be appropriate for it to do so … The Government appear to consider that any defeat of an SI by the Lords is a breach of convention. We disagree”.

Your Lordships’ House and the other place approved the recommendations of the Joint Committee. If the Chancellor had wished to introduce a tax credit amendment Bill, he could of course have used the usual procedure and avoided the embarrassing situation that the Leader of the House is now outlining. He took a short cut to avoid debate, and he has now got the consequences.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear!

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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My Lords, let me be absolutely clear. Any of the amendments that have been put down today, with the exception of that in the name of the right reverend Prelate, would mean that this House has not approved a statutory instrument which the House of Commons has approved and voted on three times. As I have already said, we would be challenging the primacy of the House of Commons on financial matters.

The right reverend Prelate’s amendment gives this House the opportunity to express its view in a way that accords with our conventions. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made various specific references. I say to him and to the House as a whole that the parent Act from which this statutory instrument is derived, which was brought forward by the Labour Government, made clear that amendments to tax credits should be introduced via secondary legislation. We are following that procedure. Indeed, after the Tax Credits Act was passed, other amendments to it were brought forward in the last Parliament, while we were in coalition government, exactly in the way that was expected.

The key fact is that there are conventions that apply to secondary legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is right to refer to the Joint Committee’s report. But in addition to what he quotes, that report also made it clear that,

“opposition parties should not use their numbers in the House of Lords to defeat an SI simply because they disagree with it”.

The key point I make to the noble Lord is that we are in an unprecedented situation, because the kind of primary legislation conventions that he refers to that allow the other House to enter into a dialogue with us just do not occur in secondary legislation.

We have a choice. We must choose whether to accept or reject this statutory instrument. Right now, it is absolutely clear that if we withhold our approval for this statutory instrument, we will be in direct conflict with the House of Commons.

Lord Richard Portrait Lord Richard (Lab)
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With respect to the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lady Hollis and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, does the Leader accept that neither of them is fatal to the resolution? Does she accept that?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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No, I do not accept what the noble Lord says. As I have already said, those amendments withhold this House’s agreement—its approval—from a statutory instrument that has already been approved by the House of Commons. They withhold this House’s approval from something that has already been approved by the other place. The noble Lord makes the perfectly fair point that this House has the power to defeat secondary legislation, but it does so very rarely. It has done so only five times since the Second World War, and it has never done so on financial secondary legislation. Although noble Lords have been able to table today’s amendments, it is up to us as a House to consider whether we regard the financial primacy of the House of Commons as vital to the continuing constitution of this country and the way in which Parliament operates. That is the important point here.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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The leader of the Liberal party described this House as,

“a system which is rotten to the core and allows unelected, unaccountable people to think they are above the law”.

Does my noble friend think that the Liberals wish us to vote for their Motion in order to prove their leader right?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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What I do know, and I really feel this sincerely, is that noble Lords take their responsibilities very seriously. We are in an unprecedented situation. We either believe in the financial primacy of the other place, as has been in place for well over 300 years, or we do not.

There is a way for this House to express its view on the policy. It would be absolutely within this House’s proper function and responsibility to do that by supporting the right reverend Prelate’s amendment should it choose to. However, if the House decides to accept any of the other amendments we will be withholding this House’s approval for something that the other place has already approved.

Lord Wills Portrait Lord Wills (Lab)
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I think I understood the noble Baroness correctly when she said a few moments ago that she accepted that there were circumstances in which this House could withhold approval of a statutory instrument. However, she said that that should not be on the grounds simply because this House disagrees with it—I think I am quoting her directly. Can she therefore say in what circumstances she thinks it appropriate for this House to withhold such approval?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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When I quoted that from the Joint Committee on Conventions’ report, the point I tried to emphasise was that it is rare for this House to disagree to any piece of secondary legislation. The Joint Committee made it clear that, because it is very rare and because the Government are rarely in a majority in this House, it would be inappropriate for this House to vote down a piece of secondary legislation just because the opposition parties have the numbers to do so and do not approve of that measure. My point is that this situation invokes something that we have not seen before: noble Lords have tabled amendments that would prevent this piece of secondary legislation leaving this House and being approved. If the House were to do that—if it were to completely reject it outright or to withhold it—we would be challenging the financial primacy of the other place.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch Portrait Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP)
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My Lords, would the noble Baroness answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Richard? Does she agree that the Motions in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Hollis of Heigham, are not fatal Motions?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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I am not defining them in such a way because they have not been defined in such a way by this House. They are amendments that are quite unique. They mean that this House will start setting conditions and making demands on the Government, and acquiring for itself powers as far as how it considers a matter that has already been decided and approved by the other place—a statutory instrument to the value of £4.4 billion. That is what makes this situation so different: we are challenging the primacy of the other place on a matter of finance.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by
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Lord Richard Portrait Lord Richard
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The Act gave the Government the power to do it. It did not compel them to do it. If they wanted to do it by way of an Act of Parliament it could have been done that way. They could have added it to the Finance Bill and it would have come up here and in the normal way financial privilege would have applied and none of this nonsense would have been created. Perhaps the reason the Government chose to legislate in this way was because it was bound to create political controversy. Perhaps that was the object of the exercise.

I want to say a word about the debate in 2008. It was when this House limited the power of a Labour Government to raise the national insurance upper threshold so that it could be done only through primary legislation. The two cases are almost identical. In each case, the Government were trying to alter tax provisions by a statutory regulation. In each case, this House was standing in their way. The only real difference is that in 2008—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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I am so sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but he is referring to a previous case in a way which I do not believe is accurate. The example he is citing relates to primary legislation, not to a statutory instrument. An amendment was properly tabled in this House to that primary legislation, and this House voted on it. This House sent the Bill back to the other place in the normal way. The House of Commons decided that it would invoke financial privilege, and that was the end of the matter, so it is wrong for the noble Lord to draw direct comparisons in the way that he is doing.

The reason why the 1911 Act is relevant is that is quite clear that secondary legislation is not covered by some of the conventions that have been raised in debate in this House. What is at risk here is the financial primacy of the Commons.

Lord Richard Portrait Lord Richard
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I hear what the noble Baroness says but, as far as the financial privilege of the House of Commons is concerned, if this House decides to vote for my noble friend Lady Hollis’s amendment—as I hope it will—it would not kill the statutory instrument. It would not mean that it was dead. It would mean that its implementation was delayed. According to the clerks—and I understand it is broadly accepted by most people—that is not a fatal attack upon these regulations. If the House were to do that, we would get the best of both worlds. I am not in favour of voting for the Liberal Democrat amendment because I do not, on the whole, think that voting for fatal amendments on statutory instruments is a good thing for this House to do, and I do not think I have ever done it. However, an amendment to postpone the statutory instrument until the other House has a chance to look at the evidence that has now arisen makes a great deal of sense. I hope that, when it comes to a vote, that is what will happen.

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Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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My Lords, this has been a quite extraordinary debate. It is unusual for your Lordships’ House to find itself at the centre of such a ferocious policy and constitutional debate as it does today. It is also extraordinary and unusual that, on a matter that affects the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury, we have no Treasury or DWP Minister addressing your Lordships’ House today. I can understand why: the Government feel more comfortable talking about constitutional issues in this regard than they do about the impact of this policy. We all understand that. Again, it was extraordinary that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House supported an amendment to her policy by supporting the right reverend Prelate’s amendment. So there have been some quite extraordinary scenes and what we are seeing today is unprecedented. It is good to see the noble Earl, Lord Howe—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. It is important that she does so because she has incorrectly interpreted what I said. I was very clear that the Government do not support any amendment to their Motion. I said that the right reverend Prelate had brought forward his concerns in a way that was consistent with the conventions and the proper role of this House.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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I think that that is a bit of an angels-on-pinheads defence, but I take the point that she makes.

I suspect that when the noble Earl, Lord Howe, took on the role of defence Minister, he did not think that his job would be defending all government policies across the House, as he is being asked to do today.

We have been asked to approve the Government’s tax credit order, and we are unable to do so. The reasons for that have been very carefully laid out. Our view is that these are pernicious regulations that do enormous damage. Overnight, at a sweep, they would dramatically cut the income of some of the poorest in society: those who are working hard and doing what the Government say is the “right thing”. About 3 million people will be affected by these cuts. Like many other noble Lords, I have had emails and letters from those who are likely to be affected: from nurses, teachers, cleaners and firefighters—people working hard, trying to raise a family. They are terrified by what lies before them; they do not know how they are going to cope. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, echoed some of the emails that I have received when she talked about those who have disabilities being moved into work and finding it so much better for them.

When my noble friend Lady Hollis spoke to her amendment, the House was silent. We could have heard a pin drop as we listened to what these cuts will really mean and the impact that they will have on people across this country. I think that the House was shocked and upset by the information that she provided today. However, she also provided a way through.

The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said that tax credits have increased to £30 billion. They have; that is part of their success. In almost equal measure, we have seen income support reduce as people went into work. Therefore, they were no longer on income support but were receiving tax credits—that was the success of the measure. Income support went down as people moved into work and received tax credits to reflect their circumstances and help them to work. We have always been told that the way out of poverty is work, and that is what those people on tax credits have done; they have moved into work.

It may be that some people cannot imagine what it is like to lose £25 or £30 a week from their income. For a lot of people out there, the loss of that £25 or £30 a week—in some cases much more—would be devastating. It would mean not putting in the money for heating this winter when it gets colder; it would mean not getting the kids new school shoes; it would mean making the kinds of choices that we should never place on families.

This is a highly contentious area, but it is the policy that is important. Having said that, there are conventional and constitutional issues, which noble Lords have raised, that have given some concern. It would, as we have heard, normally be expected for a measure of this nature and magnitude to be introduced by primary legislation. Thus, a government Bill would go through all the stages that such a Bill goes through and there would be the opportunity to debate it, put amendments to it and vote on those amendments. There would be opportunity to make revisions and to listen to the concerns that were raised. One has to wonder why the Government did not take that route. They could have applied financial privilege, which would have stopped all this, but they have chosen to deal with this measure through a statutory instrument.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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I can certainly help. In 2002, the legislation that went through that allowed for amendments to tax credits legislation to be made by statutory instruments or delegated legislation was so that normal uprating, for example, could be applied. It was for minor changes and normal uprating. However, major policy changes would not normally be made by these kinds of regulations. Furthermore, as I said earlier in my intervention on the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, the legislation in 2002 was not itself subject to financial privilege. But now we have a Government saying that the secondary legislation that follows on from that should be subject to financial privilege. I hope that that addresses the concerns that the noble and learned Baroness has raised. I give way to the noble Baroness yet again.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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An important point for the House to understand is that the original Bill—the Tax Credits Act 2002—was not certified as a money Bill because it included changes to the administration of the welfare system. Had it just been about the financial measures that we are debating, it would probably have been certified as a money Bill. It was the addition of administration that caused it not to be certified as a money Bill.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham Portrait Baroness Hollis of Heigham
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My Lords, I took those two Bills through this House. I can tell the Minister that such considerations never arose.

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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They would not, because certification of a Bill is done by the Speaker.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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In some ways, the Minister makes my point for me. Major issues and changes such as this are undertaken in primary legislation—a case she made for what happened in 2002. It is unusual to make such major changes in secondary legislation. But let us leave that to one side, if we may.

Anybody in the real world listening to us talk today would wonder what on earth we are on about—primary legislation, secondary legislation, delegated legislation, affirmatives and negatives. What really matters is the impact it has and applying a common-sense approach to what is before us today. We know, as parliamentarians, that SIs are more normally used for that specific detail of legislation that we have passed already or for issues following primary legislation where the principle has already been approved into law. As I have said, they can be very properly used for normal uprating in tax credits, and I made the point about 2002 to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay.

The proposal before us today goes way beyond that normal kind of uprating. It is a major policy change that, in the first place, the Government promised not to do. The route that the Government have chosen is not illegal or the wrong route, but there are consequences of taking it. If the Government try to truncate the process, so as not to have that full consideration in the House of Lords, yet at the same time allow this House, through the normal constitutional procedures of your Lordships’ House, to debate and discuss the proposal and the kinds of amendments that we have before us today, it is quite clear that the amendment from my noble friend Lady Hollis is not a fatal amendment, whatever the Minister and her colleagues may think. She has had advice from the clerks and has made numerous references. It is no good the Leader shaking her head at me; the evidence is there and it is very clear cut.

If the Government had gone down the normal route, they would have claimed financial privilege and we would not be here today, and there would have been further debates in the House of Commons. MPs from across the House privately, and now publicly, admit that this goes too far, too quickly and causes too much harm.

The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Hollis is what I refer to as the common-sense, practical approach. It can really make a difference and is in line with what most people in this country are asking for: 60% of the population today are reported to want to see a U-turn or change in this policy. That is what my noble friend is seeking to do. Her amendment calls on the House to reject these proposals as they stand and for Ministers to come back with a proposed scheme to protect those already getting tax credits for at least three years—that is all of them.

If the amendment is passed, what happens next? The onus is then on the Government to take the proposals away and reconsider. The Government can bring forward new proposals for consideration. The policy would not, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, intimated, disappear into the ether—that is a matter for the Government. If they are committed to doing something, the Government can bring new proposals to your Lordships’ House or choose to bring forward new primary legislation. However, if they failed to bring anything back at all, it would mean that they could not proceed with these cuts, would have to look for another route and would have to reconsider their policy. No Government ever have the wisdom such that they are right all the time. This House is right to ask the other place and the Government to reconsider, to pause and to try to get it right.

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Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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Threats to suspend the House of Lords; to pack it with 150 new Tory Peers, or to “clip our wings” do nothing to address the issues that are before us and have given rise to concerns. There is a need for true reform of your Lordships’ House and Labour Peers have already suggested good measures, but those threats have nothing to do with reform and everything to do with the Government not wanting to be challenged and not being willing to think again.

This is a common-sense way to do things. This House looks at the issues; considers them and thinks the Government have got them wrong; so let us send them back to the Government and urge them to rethink and come back with something that is significantly better and does not really harm, and create enormous fear in, those people in work who are struggling to make ends meet and are terrified of the letters that are going to come through their letterboxes near Christmas. We will not exceed our authority, but neither will we be cowed into abdicating our responsibilities to hold the Government to account and act in the public interest.

Earl Howe Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con)
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My Lords, the privilege falls to me, as Deputy Leader, of winding up this debate, which has proved to be a remarkable one. In many ways, it has been a landmark in the proceedings of the House. We have been treated to some extremely powerful contributions, both for and against the draft regulations, and both for and against the amendments that have been tabled. I listened with care to them all. I suggest to your Lordships that there are, in essence, two aspects of the matter that we are here to consider: the content of the regulations themselves and the issues which, for want of a better term, I will call the constitutional questions that arise out of three of the amendments before us.

Turning first to the policy issues, without unnecessarily going over the ground already covered by my noble friend the Leader of the House, there is one central point to be made at the outset. I make this point given that a number of noble Lords have seen fit to criticise both the intent and the effect of what the Government are seeking to achieve. The Government want a new deal for working people: a deal whereby those who claim either tax credits or universal credit will always be better off in work and always be better off working more. The way in which we are doing this will mean that a typical family man or woman, working full-time on the national living wage, will be substantially better off by the end of this Parliament than at the beginning of it. That is the aim that we have set ourselves and it is an aim that runs parallel with our policy intent, which we have made expressly clear for nearly two years now: that a Conservative Government, if and when elected, would look to find welfare savings of around £12 billion in order to reduce the public sector deficit. I simply say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that the proposals that she has very constructively put forward are already built into the assumptions that we made. I am happy to look at her proposals in more detail but, from what she said, the Chancellor has already factored those points in.

Achieving those two policies simultaneously is possible only if a series of measures is taken—measures that will move us from a position in which working households are supported by low wages and high tax credits to one where there are higher wages and lower tax credits. The regulations that are before us today are about only the tax credit element of that overall picture. That is why it is unfair to pick up the report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and point with alarm to large losses that a poorer working family might incur from cuts in tax credits without also taking into account other vitally important things that we are doing. The counterbalance to lower tax credits is a combination of positives—the national living wage, the rise in the income tax personal allowance and, importantly—

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher
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The analysis of the Institute for Fiscal Studies is very clear in incorporating the effects not only of the tax credit changes but of the rise in the minimum wage, the move to the national living wage and the increase in the income tax and higher-rate tax thresholds. It makes very clear the redistributional effects of all these things from the poor to the rich.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I do not dispute that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has looked at these things, but the figure of £1,300 that has been quoted is one that does not take into account the positives that I mentioned. Importantly for families with children, the doubling of free childcare should not be overlooked. For many people, although not for all, that will make it possible to work longer hours. Those are just some of the counterbalances. The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, chose not to mention them.

I cannot pretend that these have been easy decisions. However, I put it to the House that the measures that we are taking are the right thing for us to be doing—right not only for individual working families but for the nation. We are still, as a nation, living grossly beyond our means. Even so, eight out of 10 working households will be better off by 2017-18 than they are now because of the combined effect of the measures that we are taking.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor
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Will the noble Earl say where the evidence is to support that assertion about eight out of 10 households? That is partly the problem, because those sorts of impact assessments have not been done.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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The evidence was in the Budget analysis, which I am sure the noble Baroness has read—the distributional analysis that came out at the time of the Budget.

Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab)
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My Lords, is the Minister saying that eight out of 10 people currently on tax credits and subject to these cuts are similarly to be better off?

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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What I said was that eight out of 10 working families, whether or not on tax credits—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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Well, it is an important point to factor in because the creation of and rises in the national living wage will affect not just those on tax credits, but many millions of others paid above that level, in the so-called ripple effect that has been widely discussed.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer
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My Lords, for clarification, will the Minister focus on the two out of 10 whom he says are losers and tell us how many people those are? How many children are in those families and what is their loss likely to be? We are talking about something close on 1 million people, largely families with children. I think that he will be able to confirm that they are in the lowest deciles of the population in terms of poverty.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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Let me address that. It has been said by some noble Lords, and the noble Baroness’s question implies it, that the brunt of these savings will be borne by those on tax credits who are relatively worse off. That is not the case. The 10% of tax credit claimants on the highest incomes—incidentally, those on £42,000 on average—contribute nearly four times as much to the savings that we are proposing as the poorest claimants. That is an important point to factor in. The problem with talking about those at the lower end of the scale is that everyone’s circumstances are different. Some people have children and some do not. Some have a disability and some do not. Some work shorter hours, some work longer hours. It is very difficult to particularise.

I can say that the cut in public spending that we propose through this regulation is one that will take us back not to some far-distant point in the past, but to the levels of spending seen in 2007-08 before the financial crash. I am talking of course about the spending position in its totality. One cannot particularise, as I said, to an individual case because people’s circumstances will be different.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed
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The Deputy Leader is giving a defence of the Government’s position that does not give much of an indication that the Government are prepared to think again, as some Members on the opposite Benches have indicated. Before he came to the House today, I wonder if he had spoken to the leader of his party in Scotland, Ruth Davidson. She said over the weekend:

“If we’re not the party of getting people into work and making it easier for them to get up the tree, then what are we there for? It’s not acceptable. The aim is sound, but we can’t have people suffering on the way. The idea that there’s a cliff edge in April before the uptake in wages comes in is a real practical human problem and the Government needs to look again at it”.

Will they?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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The trouble with comments like that is that they fail to take account, very often, of the things that I mentioned such as the national living wage.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed
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Maybe I was not entirely clear. That was the leader of the noble Earl’s party in Scotland.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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Look, I cannot take those comments in any sort of context, having not read them. Of course, I accept what the noble Lord has reported about the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, but I am not aware of the general context in which she was speaking and I hope he will understand that.

Lord Spicer Portrait Lord Spicer (Con)
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Will the noble Earl say how these figures compare with the budget for the nation’s entire defence spending, which he deals with in his day job?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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The regulations before us account for £4.4 billion of public expenditure in the next financial year. That is a large slice of the defence budget, but it is not the total defence budget. It will however mean that the Chancellor has more money at his disposal to spend on schools, hospitals and those with disabilities. Incidentally, I say to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York that the national living wage is possible only because the economy of this country is strengthening, and it is strengthening because there is a high degree of confidence in the Government’s economic programme and their ability to deliver economic stability by, among other things, reducing the deficit. One has to look at the totality of what the Chancellor’s programme consists of.

Lord Sentamu Portrait The Archbishop of York
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The Living Wage Commission, which I chair, was working in conditions when the economic climate was not very good. We were very clear that those companies that can afford to pay should pay a living wage. The noble Earl will be interested to know that, even before the economy started improving, a lot of companies acted out of an ethical conviction about their workers. As Churchill said here 100 years ago, the greatest evil is that some of Her Majesty’s people are not being paid a living wage. Those companies actually took on the need to pay a living wage and were doing so even when the economic climate was very poor. Of course, I agree that the economy has improved, but if it has improved, why are we not helping the poorest who need us most?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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We are doing so. We are doing so through the national living wage. We should welcome the fact that these companies are already paying the national living wage. There are 200 major companies already doing so. That is a very good thing. I congratulate the most reverend Primate on the work that he has done in this area. I do not think there is anything much between us on this, as a matter of fact.

Lord Sentamu Portrait The Archbishop of York
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Sorry—this is about the impression that was being given. I am suggesting that the Chancellor of Exchequer actually may meet the £4.2 billion that he wants to cut in tax credits through the living wage, because the report actually shows that if the 5 million are being paid a living wage, it is more likely that less tax credit would have to be taken off. My worry relates to the people who are going to suffer. That is what my speech was all about.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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Interestingly, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in terms in its report that the Chancellor made quite a big choice in the Budget to protect some of the poorest people on tax credits. That is self-evidently true. I would add in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who I am sorry is not in her place—oh, she is, I beg her pardon—that the disabled and severely disabled elements of working tax credit will not be cut through these measures. They will be uprated by inflation. In fact, the Government are making savings in tax credits, so that they can protect disability benefits which have been protected from the benefits freeze and the welfare cap, including DLA and the support group component of ESA, as well as disability elements of the tax credits, as I have mentioned. I hope that that is of some reassurance to her.

Despite all that I have said about why what we are doing is both necessary and right, I recognise that there are noble Lords opposite who will remain unpersuaded. Let me therefore address the amendments. Other than in the rarest of circumstances, it is against the long-standing conventions of this House—and, therefore, I would suggest wrong—for us to vote down or block secondary legislation. Those rare circumstances, I would argue, do not include this situation, in which noble Lords are seeking to challenge the House of Commons on a matter of public spending and taxation, a point made very effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. The sums involved are not trivial. The regulations before us, as I said, would account for welfare savings of £4.4 billion in 2016-17. We can argue—as I am actually quite interested in doing, but I do not think it would be profitable—about the technicality of whether these regulations are or are not financial, but in substance they are very definitely and very obviously financial. I therefore say to the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, that her fatally worded amendment should not be put to a vote.

On the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Hollis, the situation, I contend, is simple. There is a choice before this House to approve or not to approve these regulations. It is a binary choice. The noble Baronesses are inviting the House to withhold our approval. We can argue endlessly once again about the technicality of whether the wording of these amendments is or is not fatal in nature. But the reality is that if either amendment is passed, this House will not have approved these regulations. It is no good saying that this would merely amount to asking the House of Commons to think again. They can do that with Lords’ amendments to primary legislation, but with secondary legislation there is no mechanism for a dialogue between the Houses and no mechanism to allow the will of the Commons to prevail in respect of this instrument—

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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I sense the noble Lord is coming to a conclusion. Does he accept that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, does not ask the House of Commons to think again; it asks the Government to reconsider their proposals and think about new ones? It is asking the Government to reconsider.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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Of course, I do accept that. The amendment of the noble Baroness is expressly asking the Government to do something other than what is in the regulations. By definition, that means that if her amendment were carried, we could not bring back the same set of proposals. The implementation of these regulations would not be delayed, as the noble Baroness is suggesting; it would be thwarted entirely. So, she is asking the House to accept a false proposition. It is very interesting that the noble Baroness herself has recently given an interview which certainly implied that the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is a fatal one. In the interview she gave to the Huffington Post, she said that if the amendment of the noble Baroness is carried, the Government cannot go ahead with the cuts. Well, that, to me, is very fatal indeed. Therefore—

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott
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I am really quite surprised at the noble Earl, given all his experience and the respect in which he is held in this House. He seems to be suggesting that there is no significant difference between a fatal amendment and a non-fatal amendment. In the time I have been here, which is less than his, there has always been a clear distinction between the two—“binary” is the word he used in another context. Indeed, the Leader of the House seemed to be unclear in her opening remarks about the distinction between the Lib Dem amendment and the Labour amendment, but the difference is surely fundamental. If he does not accept my proposition, could he at least enlighten the House as to the professional advice from clerks to him and the Conservative Front Bench about which of these amendments are fatal and which are not.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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There is a clear difference in the wording—that is unarguable—but the effect is exactly the same. That is the point I am making.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Portrait Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
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I beg the noble Earl’s pardon. I have the greatest respect for him, but in her speech my noble friend Lady Hollis said explicitly that she had drafted her amendment with the help of the Clerk of the Parliaments, and the Clerk of the Parliaments said that it is not a fatal amendment. Is the noble Earl challenging that?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I cannot gainsay the Clerk of the Parliaments; heaven forbid if I did that. Perhaps what was meant was that the wording of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is not of a kind that one associates with a fatal amendment. Nevertheless—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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—the traditionally worded fatal amendment is that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, got good advice—the best advice there is—but what we are looking at is what would happen if her amendment were carried. I am saying that it would frustrate the Government’s intent.

Baroness O'Loan Portrait Baroness O’Loan
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Does the Minister think that it would be impossible, if either of these two amendments were passed, for the Government to bring back regulations in the form of a statutory instrument to this House?

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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The problem is that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, holds the Government hostage. It holds them to ransom. We might be able to bring back some different regulations, but what if those were unacceptable to the House? Let us read the wording of the amendment. It puts us on a perpetual treadmill.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher
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There is a very important distinction between the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and my amendment. The crucial point about the amendment I have tabled, which is also not a fatal amendment, is that all it asks for is some time and some information. That is a very different thing from asking the Government to spend money on transitional arrangements. I have put down the amendment for only one reason, and that is because the House of Commons has a cross-party Motion on Thursday which they wish to and will debate. It has on it the names of eight Conservative MPs, including those of former Cabinet Ministers. Does the Minister accept that to give the Government time to listen to the Commons is an entirely appropriate duty for this House to perform?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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I understand what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve here, but the fact is that the House of Commons has looked at this three times and has not overturned the proposals. In fact, it has approved them. I would simply say to the noble Baroness that if we are talking about the advice given by the Clerk of the Parliaments, there is a crucial difference between an amendment that it is procedurally permissible to bring before the House, and one which it is constitutionally proper for the House to approve. I do not take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, or the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, bringing forward their amendments. What I do take issue with is the idea that we should vote in favour of either of them, or indeed in favour of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor.

I need to conclude. For the House to withhold its consent to the regulations today would, in my submission, mean overruling the House of Commons on an issue which that House has already expressed its view on three times. In other words, it would mean doing what this House has not done for more than 100 years, which is to seek to override the primacy of the House of Commons on a financial matter. So I say respectfully to the noble Baronesses, Lady Manzoor, Lady Hollis and Lady Meacher, that there is a right way and a wrong way to challenge government policy on a matter of this kind. This is the wrong way. The right way is to table an amendment such as the one in the name of the right reverend Prelate—not that I support it, but that is the proper way of doing it—or at a suitable opportunity to table an amendment to primary legislation. Indeed, a Bill is coming to us shortly, the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which would enable noble Lords to do exactly that, should they so choose.

My contention is this. The measures in these regulations form a central plank of the programme on which the Government were elected to office in May. It is a programme that has been in the public domain for a long time. However, even if it was not and even if these were policies dreamt up by the Chancellor overnight, I respectfully say to your Lordships that this House, under its conventions, should not reject statutory instruments or seek to overturn the primacy of the other place on a matter of very sizeable public expenditure. I therefore invite the sponsors of each of the amendments to withdraw them, and I urge the House to allow the regulations to pass. Moreover, I simply remind the House that in order to support the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate, the preceding three amendments need either to be withdrawn or defeated.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to summarise the excellent contributions that have been made from all sides of the House. As your Lordships know, I am a relatively new Member, and for me it is a privilege to serve as a Member of this House. But with that privilege comes responsibility.

Tabling this Motion was not something I did lightly. I do not discount the strength of feeling on the role of the House and I do not believe that this is a situation in which the House should find itself regularly. However, ultimately this is about the House making a decision on whether we think it is acceptable for the Government to cut off vital support for 3 million families which they claim to support. It is about whether we think it is acceptable for the Prime Minister to make these changes not via primary legislation, but by a procedural instrument—in direct contradiction of what he said to people during the general election. It is about whether we think it is acceptable for this House to relinquish its responsibilities to those affected.

I welcome the Leader of the House saying that the Chancellor will be listening to this debate—and I hope also to the country—very carefully. But I could not look myself in the eye tomorrow if I had not done all I could to stop this devastating measure going through. I know that many in my party feel the same, and while I hold no ill will against anyone who does not share our view, I hope that those who agree that the lives of the 4.9 million children who will be affected should be our primary concern will join us in the Division Lobby. Tax credit cuts for low-paid working families are short-sighted and deeply damaging, not only to the parents and children who will bear the cost, but to the Government’s own long-term goals. I urge the Government to rethink, and I hope the House will choose to reject the regulations as they stand. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

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19:04

Division 1

Ayes: 99


Liberal Democrat: 82
Crossbench: 7
Labour: 4
Plaid Cymru: 2
Green Party: 1
Independent: 1

Noes: 310


Conservative: 215
Crossbench: 73
Independent: 7
Labour: 6
Bishops: 1
Liberal Democrat: 1
UK Independence Party: 1

--- Later in debate ---
19:22

Division 2

Ayes: 307


Labour: 161
Liberal Democrat: 82
Crossbench: 43
Independent: 8
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Bishops: 2
Plaid Cymru: 2
Green Party: 1
UK Independence Party: 1

Noes: 277


Conservative: 215
Crossbench: 50
Independent: 5
Labour: 3

--- Later in debate ---
19:40

Division 3

Ayes: 289


Labour: 157
Liberal Democrat: 80
Crossbench: 33
Independent: 8
Democratic Unionist Party: 2
Plaid Cymru: 2
Green Party: 1

Noes: 272


Conservative: 213
Crossbench: 50
Independent: 4
Bishops: 1
Labour: 1

Motion, as amended, agreed.