Schedule 2

Child Poverty Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 29th October 2009.

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Continuing effect of targets after target year

Question proposed, That the schedule be the Second schedule to the Bill.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have one or two brief questions. First, paragraph 9 gives a power to the Secretary of State to exclude or modify the absolute low income targets. The Secretary of State can either amend the percentage specified or the base year with regard to the absolute low income target, or repeal it altogether. The explanatory notes are helpful in explaining why the power exists in respect of that one target and not the others. As the hon. Member for Northavon has mentioned on more than one occasion, this is the least ambitious of the four targets. The intention is, presumably, under paragraph 9(1)(a), for there to be an opportunity to renew and update the targets in a more ambitious and meaningful way—I understand that. The alternative approach, in paragraph 9(1)(b), is to repeal clause 4 altogether, because the target has been met, and is therefore meaningless, so we can just move on to  focus on the other three. However, there is nothing in paragraph 9(1)(b), as far as I can see, that says that the repeal applies only in the event of the target being met. I might be raising an unlikely hypothetical situation, but if there is no economic growth in the years ahead and, somehow, the target is not met, I understand that would still be possible for the Government to repeal the target. Is that interpretation right? Is there an argument for stating that the power to repeal should exist only in the event of the target being met in 2021?

Secondly, if I interpret the schedule correctly, if the target has not been met, the infrastructure that exists under the Bill—the strategy, the reports and so on—does not apply because it falls, under the Bill. However, there is an obligation on the Secretary of State to set out regulations that, by and large, bring them back. I should be grateful if the Minister told us how much discretion exists in respect of the nature of the reports, strategies and so on, and whether paragraph 3, in particular, gives the extent of the discretion that is available to the Secretary of State.

Thirdly, paragraph 2 says:

“If the target statement relating to the target year or a renewed target year indicates that the targets have been met in relation to that financial year, the Secretary of State must ensure that they are also met in relation to the financial year following that in which that target statement is laid before Parliament.”

Using our example of 2020, that means that we might anticipate, although we cannot be certain, that the target statement will be made in the first quarter of 2022. There is a target for 2020-21 but none for the year 2021-22, and then the target comes back again for 2022-23—that is the way I read it, but I might have missed something. I am sure that if I have, the Minister will not have done, and that he will clarify those points.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman is right. Paragraph 9(1)(a) provides the power to make regulations to amend the absolute income target and the base year.  Paragraph 9(1)(b) enables clause 4—the absolute measure—to be repealed instead of a new target and base year being set, reflecting the fact that there is a slightly different status to the target. The hon. Member for Northavon has argued that that should not be a target at all, and I made the case that, in our view, in response to the consultation responses that we received, it was right to have it. However, it is conceivable that, in the decade after 2020, a different view might be taken, which explains the ability provided by the regulations. Of course, the Bill requires all four of the targets, including this one, to be hit by 2020.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Yes, the Bill does require it, but after 2020—this is the purpose of the schedule—it is possible, as I read the schedule, for the requirement to be withdrawn or abolished, even if it has not been met. I accept that it is theoretically unlikely, but it is possible.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) 4:00 pm, 29th October 2009

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is not a requirement to hit it before that provision is available.

On the question of why there is not more detail about strategies and reports, the provisions are a bit different in schedule 2. We took the view that it was not appropriate to provide the same level of regulatory detail for strategies and reports after 2020 because someone else will have had another look at them by then, one would imagine.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 2accordingly agreed to.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr. Mudie.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 3 November at half-past Ten o’clock.