Guardian's Allowance Up-rating (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:15 pm on 24th March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Spokesperson in the Lords, Treasury, Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions 1:15 pm, 24th March 2006

My Lords, I will deal with these four instruments in the order in which they are set out before us. I have no objection to the first two, but I have a question. On the Guardian's Allowance Up-rating (Northern Ireland) Order, I was interested to read that,

"the Treasury have determined that the general level of prices was higher at the end of the period under review than it was at the beginning".

I could have told it that from my weekly shop at Tesco in Kennington. But the serious point, given that we talk about Great Britain and then make this order in Northern Ireland, is this: are there any separate figures available for the different rates of increase in the cost of living over the years in Northern Ireland against Great Britain, which of course does not include Northern Ireland? To put it another way, would the lady in the Belfast supermarket be having the same experience of rising prices as we have in England?

I turn to the tax credits regulations. I do not propose today to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in her analysis of the problem. I certainly share her analysis, and my honourable friend David Laws has led the way in exposing this chaos in the House of Commons. Frankly, the way that the Government, and the Paymaster General in particular, have refused to answer perfectly reasonable questions about the breakdown of the estimates of the cost saving has been a disgrace. I have read the minutes of the Paymaster General's oral evidence to the Treasury Committee on 1 February, and I am bound to say it is one of the most embarrassing performances that I have ever seen by a Minister. She repeatedly has to say things like:

"I am going to ask Tony to do this. I am really flagging now".

She has been flagging most of the time. We then get an answer from the official on the composition of costs:

"It is roughly what we expect to happen with the different factors interacting in that package once we get to steady-state".

They just all run off into jargon. At the end, the Chairman has to say:

"In your opening statement you said the 25,000 was designed to assist the 200,000 people who move to new and better jobs. If that is the case, why is it not possible to cost the disregard, to tell us roughly how much it is going to cost?"

Again, he gets a classic non-answer.

This episode, more than anything else, shows how difficult it is—indeed, what a scandal it is—that no single Treasury Minister has any business experience at all. I am delighted that that does not apply to the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench today, but he is a Whip manning an outpost, not a Minister in the Treasury. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I demand—I do not think that is too strong a word—a proper breakdown. If the noble Lord is not in a position to supply one today, will he take back to the Treasury the message that we in this House are not happy with the lack of proper explanations for the costings here?

Finally, the child benefit rates regulations are not significantly controversial, like the first two orders, but I wonder what the position has been. I believe that the position of second and third children was significantly de-indexed under the Conservatives. They slipped back a long way and there does not seem to have been much of a pick-up under the Labour Government. Can the noble Lord help me on the background for that?