My Lords, we briefly went round this course in Committee. The noble Baroness has raised a number of points to which the Minister will want to respond. However, I am not sure that she made a forceful argument for her Amendment 46F, which seeks to exempt a group of people from this new provision.
Looking at the Bill as a whole, this seems the least painful way of reducing public expenditure, and the argument for looking to this clause for savings is not as strong as the case that could be made in other parts of the Bill. The Opposition recognised this because, in their amendment to the Bill on Second Reading in another place, they specifically said that loans for mortgage interest were a necessary change to the welfare system. So the principle of switching from grants to loans was conceded by the opposition party in another place.
The operation of what is proposed makes no difference to the pensioner at all—the money will simply be paid from the department to the lender—and the impact on the standard of living and the income of the pensioner is wholly unaffected; their day-to-day income is unchanged. The Government’s proposal is that they will continue to get exactly the same level of support as they do at the moment. The fact that the loan may eventually be recovered from their estate has minimal bearing on their financial position, although of course their heirs may take a slightly different view. One has to balance the expectations of the heirs against the taxpayer, who at the moment is footing the bill. Given the imperative to reduce welfare expenditure, it seems to me that this is one of the least objectionable ways of doing it, and I very much hope that the amendment will not be pressed to a Division.