My Lords, I am not having a good afternoon. The Minister stole my speech on the previous set of regulations and my noble friend on the Back Benches has stolen most of my speech on these regulations, so I will not repeat her remarks.
I largely agree with the general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that these regulations, together with the measures we discussed last week, are part of a very big debate. We should have that debate. I shall certainly press through my channels for a day’s debate in government time on the whole issue of the charges, the uprating and the overall problems. As the Minister well knows, there is not the slightest chance of this Front Bench opposing these regulations because, if we did so, we could win a vote. That would produce a constitutional crisis for which I would be drummed out of the House of Lords so, of course, we will not object. However, I have a technical question: to what extent are any of these regulations, and the parts thereof, anything more than a formality, because as far as I can see they simply approve measures that have already been announced and do not include any discretionary decisions that would alter previous government statements.
These regulations are, of course, a small part of the total picture and a small part of a massive and highly successful programme, to which I think the Minister referred as fiscal discipline and I refer to as a programme to take from the poor and give to the rich. As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said, the four-year freeze has not been debated: that is, the four-year freeze on child benefit, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, housing benefit, women’s state pension age, local housing allowance rates, child tax credit, working tax credit and universal credit. These regulations contain only one substantive element—namely, that CPI inflation is 3%, which is a great deal higher than the 1.7% figure which I believe was envisaged when the freeze was first introduced. Indeed, for the people concerned, for whom food is a very high proportion of their expenditure, food inflation was 4.1% over the period when CPI inflation was 3%. Therefore, the people in the freeze zone are getting substantially poorer. Indeed, the Resolution Foundation takes the view that the freeze will save the Government some £4.7 billion by 2020, and this saving will fund tax cuts for middle and higher-income earners. Austerity has not worked. The Government—be it the coalition Government or the present Conservative Government—have missed every fiscal target they have set. In fact, I am not quite sure where we are now; it is possible that the Government have given up setting targets, which at least aligns with reality. Our failure to oppose these regulations does not mean that we in any way support the evil policy of which they are part.