Clause 13

Child Poverty Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 29th October 2009.

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Reports by Secretary of State

Amendments made: 40, in clause 13, page 8, line 3, leave out from beginning to ‘lay’ and insert

‘The Secretary of State must, on or before each report date relating to a UK strategy’.

This amendment (with amendments 41, 42, 43 and 45) clarifies the wording of clause 13. The laying of each UK strategy triggers an obligation to lay annual reports on the implementation of that strategy, until either the next strategy is laid or the end of the target year is reached.

41, in clause 13, page 8, line 7, leave out ‘current’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 40.

42, in clause 13, page 8, line 8, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) The report dates relating to a UK strategy are each anniversary of the day on which it was laid before Parliament, other than an anniversary which falls—

(a) on or after the date on which a subsequent UK strategy is so laid, or

(b) after the end of the target year.’

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 40.

43, in clause 13, page 8, line 15, leave out ‘most recent’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 40.

44, in clause 13, page 8, line 17, leave out ‘relevant Northern Ireland department’ and insert ‘Northern Ireland departments’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 34.

45, in clause 13, page 8, line 23, leave out ‘most recent’. —(Helen Goodman.)

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 40.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have two questions for the Minister. The clause requires the Secretary of State to present reports to Parliament on progress towards meeting the targets and in implementing the UK strategy. Subsection (2) states:

“The report dates are each anniversary of the day on which the most recent UK strategy was laid before Parliament.”

Subsection (3) states:

“The Secretary of State must, as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the target year, lay before Parliament a report on the progress made in implementing the most recent UK strategy.”

My first question is slightly complicated and I hope that the Minister will bear with me.

First, we have an annual report ending with the target year, which is laid before Parliament on the anniversary of the most recent UK strategy. So, we will presumably receive an annual report at some point in the target year: the year after 1 April 2020. That is the last of such reports. We then have the report mentioned in subsection (3), which should be delivered as soon as is reasonably practicable after the end of the target year. That may not be the final assessment, but it is the big assessment of whether the 2020 target is met.

On the basis of precedent, that report on 2020 will take some time after the completion of the relevant year. Therefore, it may be 2022 when it comes out. I mainly ask for clarification, but it seems that we will have a gap in reports. There will potentially be annual reports running up to 2 April 2020. We will then have a period of two years—perhaps two and a half years—before we have another report, if I have understood correctly, because the requirement is on an anniversary basis. Could the Minister confirm whether that is the case and explain whether there is a need for an interim progress report some time in 2021?

My second question concerns the evidence provided by Ministers during the evidence sessions. The Financial Secretary, in response to questions from the hon. Member for Northavon, explained why he thought that by 2016-17 we will not be in a position in which

“we are surprised to find that we are not on track. By that stage”— stating the reason—

“we will have had a number of iterations—two I think—of the strategy. We will have had regular annual reports”.——[Official Report, Child Poverty Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2009; c. 10, Q23.]

The Government clearly see the annual report as a significant driver in meeting the 2020 target. In the run-up to the 2010 target, how have the Government reported progress on child poverty? Can the Minister explain why that process was deficient?

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman asks a series of complex questions, but not the same series of complex questions that I asked when I read the clause.

Hitherto, obviously, the assessment as to whether we are on track has been produced when the national statistics for the most recent year are available. That is why, for example, our most recent full set of statistics relate, unfortunately, to as far back as 2007-08. That is one of the reasons why we have debates about the effectiveness of Government measures since then. As the hon. Gentleman is fully aware, we do not have the statistics for the level of child poverty, and we shall not know if we have hit the targets until the first quarter of 2012.

As we move forward, the situation will be different in a number of respects: we will have a wider range of targets than hitherto; we are putting duties on to the local authorities as well as formalising the responsibilities of the Secretary of State; and we are producing forward-looking strategies. Saying something about the forward-looking strategies might help to answer the hon. Gentleman’s second question, as well as to inform an answer to his first question.

The first strategy must be produced within a year of Royal Assent—probably 2011, possibly 2012. Thereafter, a revised strategy must be produced within three years. It could be produced earlier, but the latest possible date that it could be produced is in 2014. If the whole process was stretched out, the next latest possible date would be in 2017, then in 2020. Meanwhile, we would be getting the data back on progress and producing annual reports, which we would, in effect, map against what we had set out in the strategies.

The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire asked, reasonably enough, if there is a gap at 2021. On the basis of what is laid out here, my immediate response is that he has a good point. However, we shall still be producing all the annual statistics. It is possible that by that period we will have changed how we produce the statistics—we might have speeded up, because there are improvements all the time. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has alighted on a small and technical point, but I do not think it impacts significantly on the accountability arrangements because the most important one is a requirement to produce reports up until the end of the target year. The amendments were intended to clarify the situation for the Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire now understands our intention.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a question of alighting on a small, technical point but what are Committee stages for, if not that? If we are going to be pedantic, may I correct the Minister? The requirement is not to report up until the end of the target year, but for a report ending with the target year. If the date of the last strategy is, for argument’s sake, 2 April, as I read it the last anniversary ending with the target year would be 2 April 2020. There would be no requirement to make another report until we got to the report under subsection (3), which  could be some time later. The Minister is right that the matter could be processed more quickly or more slowly. She sets out the reasons, including dealing with local authorities and so on. I do not pretend that this is a major point but, as I read the Bill, we might miss a year of annual reports.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in reading the Bill, but not in reading the amendments. The purpose of the amendment is precisely to fill the gap he alighted upon.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.