Welfare Reform Bill — Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Chair, Information Committee (Lords), Chair, Information Committee (Lords) 10:00 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, I shall add a few comments to the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Lister. I learnt the importance of this subject a long time ago when I was involved in consistorial legal work in a provincial legal office in south-east Scotland. I was surprised by the importance of financial autonomy to people within quite troubled and tense family contexts, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned. I was then persuaded yet again, academically, by the exemplary work that she has done ever since with Fran Bennett and others to make this case consistently over the years. It is as apt in this benefit reform as it was in the Fowler reforms or at any time since. I guess I could be persuaded that this is a debate that needs to be conducted at regulation level and I am certainly up for continuing an interest through the primary legislation until the regulations are tabled. I will be happy to contribute to those discussions.

There is a real question that I want to be clear in my head about. We had some interesting discussions in Grand Committee and I am certainly sympathetic to the Minister's search for innovative financial products. I think it is absolutely correct. However, if you separate out the politics from all this, I would like to understand whether it is factually possible for the agile computer system that we are developing with such care in Warrington to deliver the device suggested in Amendment 61C. That is a separate question from whether the Minister is prepared to deliver it. I want to know that we are not blocking off-this is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made-the opportunity to come back to this. If we cannot persuade the coalition in the short term, either tonight or in regulations, that this is the right thing to do, which I believe it is, it would comfort me if the Minister were able to say that the Government do not believe that this is right because there are other ways of dealing with it. I would go to my bed this evening and rest slightly easier if he were able to say that it is still possible and we would not need to buy a new computer system if we wanted to do this in future.