Friday, June 24, 2005

Doris Snood from Pontefract

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News. I have used the Duke of Wellington quotation before and, though I do try hard to believe in government action, will no doubt use it again.

Keep it simple

The good news: if this government does bring in national identity cards it will do it so inefficiently that no one will be able to keep tabs on you. The bad news: you may well be sent a card saying you are Doris Snood from Pontefract and spend the rest of your life trying to prove you are not.

If you don’t believe me, look at Monday’s work and pensions questions.

Adam Afriyie said he was alarmed. He had been to an Age Concern lunch in his constituency and found that none of the people he spoke to were claiming their full pension credit.

He was right to be alarmed, but he should not have been surprised. David Amess reported that 1.5 million people who should take up the benefit don’t do so.

Then Tony Baldry said more than £1 billion of council tax benefit goes unclaimed. And Lindsay Hoyle said that though extra money is available to carers, many do not claim their entitlement.

But maybe the people who don’t claim benefit are the lucky ones. Danny Alexander raised the sufferings of nearly two million families who have been overpaid through the tax credit system and are now having the money clawed back.

This is a huge scandal, as reports later in the week from the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Citizens Advice Bureaux emphasised. HM Revenue & Customs has admitted that of £13.5bn paid in tax credits last year, £1.9bn consisted of overpayments.

Finally, a minister revealed a talent for understatement – “the problems with the Child Support Agency are well known to all of us in the chamber” – in reminding the House of an even worse problem.

We Liberal Democrats are not going to abandon our belief in government action, but the scale of the problems raised on Monday showed the mess results when grandiose schemes go wrong.

So we need to get away from Gordon Brown’s model of government – we should not aspire to be hunched over the ledgers in the small hours, trying to manage every aspect of national life. Instead, simplicity and modesty should be our goals.

And, just occasionally, we should remember the crustiest Tory of them all, the Duke of Wellington: “Reform, sir? Reform? Aren’t things bad enough already?”

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