HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc563-87
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 3, line 27, leave out clause 3.

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 12, in page 3, line 43, leave out ' 6 ' and insert ' 8 '.

No. 13, in page 4, leave out lines 3 to 6.

No. 14, in page 4, line 23, leave out ' 6 ' and insert ' 8 '.

No. 15, in page 4, line 23, at end insert— ' (4) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for any provision amended by subsection (1) or (3) of this section to have effect as if for the reference to 8 weeks there were substituted a reference to a larger number of weeks specified in the regulations.' No. 24, in page 4, line 23, at end insert— ' (4) Notwithstanding anything in this section, where recurrent incapacity for work arises from the medical conditions listed in subsection (2) of this section, two resulting periods of interruption of employment not separated by a period of more than 13 weeks ("week" for this purpose meaning any period of seven days) shall be treated as one period of interruption of employment. (5) The medical conditions referred to in subsection (4) above are:—

  1. (a) multiple sclerosis and other demyelin-ating dieases;
  2. (b) motor neurone disease;
  3. (c) neuropathies;
  4. (d) stroke and other cerebro-vascular diseases;
  5. (c) epilepsy and other seizure disorders;
  6. (f) Parkinson's Disease;
  7. (g) chronic schizophrenia, affective ill-nessess and other recurring mental disorders;
  8. (h) ischemic and valvular heart diseases, hypertension, peripheral vascular disease and heart conduction disorders;
  9. (i) cirrhosis of the liver and other hepatic disease;
  10. (j) chronic pancretitis and other chronic pancreatic diseases:
  11. (k) ulcerative colitis, Crohn's Disease and other chronic gastro-intestinal diseases;
  12. (l) tuberculosis;
  13. (m) chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and other chronic diseases of the lung;
  14. (n) psoriasis, dermatitis and other chronic skin dieases;
  15. (o) chronic leukaemias and other chronic haematological disorders;
  16. (p) neoplastic disorders of the respiratory tract, gastro-intestinal system, breast, prostate, skin, brain and other sites;
  17. (q) diabetes mellitus myxoedema and other chronic endocrine disorders;
  18. (r) rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other chronic rheumatological diseases;
  19. (s) chronic renal failure, nephrotic syndrome and other chronic renal diseases;
  20. (t) chronic disease of ovarian and uterine functions; and
  21. (u)recurrent disability due to previous physical injury.
(6) The Secretary of State may by order add further conditions to those specified in sub section (5) of this section.".

6.45 pm
Mr. Morris

The cuts we are debating today are the unkindest cuts of all; for any cut in benefits for disabled people can reduce not only their standard of living but even their freedom to live independent lives. The disabled person who is denied adequate help can quickly be put at risk. While others suffer annoyance, inconvenience and some hardship as a result of lower public spending, the disabled person may suffer the much harsher penalty of becoming a prisoner in his own home.

Conservative Ministers make no bones about the low priority they give to disabled people compared with some other groups. Take their higher-than-average cut in planned expenditure on the personal social services. That blow was aimed directly at disabled people who are struggling to stay independent in their own homes.

Even worse is the Government's decision to cut the value of the invalidity benefit paid to people who have been unable to work for more than six months due to sickness or disability. This is a cut which the Disablement Income Group, in a protest of extreme bitterness, has denounced to the present Minister with responsibility for the disabled as not only "appalling" but "cruelly unfair". The chairman of the conference that the Minister addressed today used those words. Today's conference, which I myself opened this morning, was organised by the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR). That highly respected organisation has itself said: Ministers continually repeat their concern for severely disabled people, but their actions are condemning them to increasing isolation and dependence. That is a grave but well justified charge against the Government.

The Disablement Income Group and RADAR are not the only organisations which have expressed their anger at current policies. The Disability Alliance described the Bill as … a most savage assault on the living standards of disabled people. In a striking phrase, the Disability Alliance said that the Government had come to office with an impressive record of promises to chronically sick and disabled people. In this debate we are comparing promise with performance. The organisations of and for disabled people very naturally feel very strongly about the Bill's provisions and are saying so.

With ridiculous optimism the Government forecast that prices will rise by 16½ per cent. in the 12 months up to November. On that basis, they are increasing retirement pensions and supplementary benefits by 16½ per cent. from November. In the past, invalidity benefit has been increased in step with these other benefits. Now the law is to be changed. From November, in order to save £50 million in a full year, people who are in receipt of invalidity benefit will receive 5 per cent. less than retirement and supplementary pensioners and, even on the Government's forecast, the same amount less than price increases. This means that for the single person the real value of the invalidity benefit, assuming a 16½ per cent. rate of inflation, will drop by £1–15 a week. For the married couple the Government's decision means a drop in benefit of £1.85 a week and £96.20 in a full year.

That is the decision of a Government who. in their first year of office, crammed over £1,500 million into the pockets of the richest 7 per cent. of taxpayers. It is hard to understand why even this Government should want to discriminate so brutally against people whose working lives have been cut short by sickness and disability. In their election manifesto, the Conservatives promised to concentrate help on the sick and the disabled and on others in greatest need. Now they are going out of their way to cut the living standards of hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people who, in addition to being poor, have little prospect of returning to work.

The only defence of their policy the Government have attempted is that ultimately invalidity benefit will be taxed, and that the cut in its value is a short-term measure until this happens. They claim that, when the benefit is taxed, subject to the availability of resources, it will return to what it would have been had it stayed in step with the retirement pension. That defence angers the national organisations of and for the disabled almost as much as the policy itself. Invalidity benefit cannot be taxed until after 1982. Again very large numbers of people now receiving that benefit do not pay tax.

Indeed, in a parliamentary answer on 15 April the Minister said that there could be as many as 400,000 invalidity pensioners below the tax threshold. Many of the poorest 400,000 will die in the short term. Yet from November their incomes will be cut by at least 5 per cent. If inflation exceeds the Government's forecasts—as most people think it will—the cut will be even worse. The inflation rate may be as high as 19 per cent. or 20 per cent. If that happens, many of the poorest chronically sick and disabled people may suffer a cut of no less than 8 per cent, in their standard of living.

The Prime Minister said of the Budget that it … protects the weak and is fair to all. Unless that was pure cynicism, she could not have known of its implications for invalidity pensioners. Let her listen, therefore, to someone who lives not far from her constituency: My husband is 44 and disabled by Multiple Sclerosis. He is a very sick man and yet his invalidity benefit is to be cut by at least 5 per cent. I wonder if Mrs. Thatcher knows, or understands, the burden of an incurable illness on a poor family. If she does, why add to our punishment? Now that the Prime Minister knows more about the effects of the Budget on such families, she should at least end the cruel farce of allowing her Ministers to talk of a "caring Government" while singling out the weakest and poorest for an attack which my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), using considerable restraint, called "shabby and shoddy". He said that the Government are taking on the weak in our society because they feel that they can win. The Government should, however, be warned that there are those, notably my right hon. Friend among others in the House today, who will fight to defend what we have worked for over the years.

In my five years as Minister with responsibility for the disabled, the Labour Government increased their cash help for the chronically sick and disabled from £474 million to £1,574 million. Our year-by-year increases in expenditure on benefits paid to the chronically sick and disabled were set out in a recent parliamentary answer from the Minister as follows: 1973–74, £474 million; 1974–75, £626 million; 1975–76, £871 million; 1976–77, £1,087 million; 1977–78, £1,330 million; 1978–79, £1,574 million."—[Official Report, 3 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 405.] The increase of £1,100 million over five years does not include the considerable extra cost of pensions for elderly disabled people which resulted from the link that we forged between pensions and average industrial earnings in our Social Security Act 1975.

Ministers have been more successful in providing statistics about the policies of the previous Labour Administration than they have been about providing important statistics connected with the Bill.

I want to refer now to what I regard as an important House of Commons matter. I tabled two questions for priority written answer, which should have been answered on 24 April. The Minister of State, Treasury ultimately replied on 12 May. His reply, in parts, contradicted replies that I had received from the Department of Health and Social Security. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that a delay of that order on a matter of such importance is quite unacceptable to the House.

I also tabled five questions to the Secretary of State for Employment for answer on 20 May. They were about the effects of clause 3 of this Bill. I asked what consideration he has given to the effect on attendance at employment rehabilitation centres of clause 3 of the Social Security (No. 2) Bill; and if he will make a statement. He replied: I shall reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible."—[Official Report, 20 May 1980; Vol. 985, c. 118.] The substantive reply will now arrive after the debate. I regard that as an insult to the House. We need information to ensure that our debates are well informed. It strikes me that the Government are stretching the rules that apply to parliamentary questions almost beyond breaking point.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) is replying to the debate, since she herself made it clear in Committee that a parliamentary question that I tabled for reply on 14 April was not really answered at all. The hon. Lady also gave the impression that she had only a hazy idea about what the figures referred to in the answer referred to. She was forced to admit that the question was not answered exactly as it was posed. That was the hon. Lady's way of saying that the answer was grossly unsatisfactory and did not fit the question. To apply a guillotine when we are denied proper information on this scale is, in my view, the definition of a parliamentary scandal.

The Government are not only cutting invalidity pensions directly but are making it more difficult for people to become entitled to that pension, and also easier for them to lose it if they attempt to return to work but are unsuccessful in doing so. That is what clause 3 of the Bill is about. It is a serious blow to the disabled, especially those trying to reestablish themselves at work.

Let us consider briefly the effect of the clause on the disabled who want to work. The reduction from 13 weeks to six weeks threatens those who suffer from intermittent illnesses and who are prone to relapse—an example is multiple sclerosis. Many such people are young and anxious to work. For them it becomes a matter of pride to carry on. The Government are aiming a blow at both their pockets and their pride. Their morale will suffer. A reduction in their incentive to work is directly contrary to the intention to tackle the "Why work?" syndrome, in which the Prime Minister takes so passionate an interest. These are the very people who reject the syndrome and whose courage in the face of disability is a rebuke to the able-bodied.

The Government are performing a policy of social Darwinism by putting a higher value on some people, the strong and fortunate, than on others. The disincentive effect of clause 3 is obvious, as the organisations for the disabled have pointed out. Recipients of invalidity benefit will be more reluctant to attempt to return to work for fear of jeopardising their income if their attempts prove a failure. The overall effects of the changes will be two-fold. First, there will be a loss of income for those who fall sick, especially those with periodic or fluctuating ailments, and secondly, there will be reduced incentives to return to work both for the short-term and the long-term sick and for the disabled.

The Government argue that their pro-proposals will affect only a minority. That is an especially shoddy argument. They ignore the fact that, however small the minority, they cannot legitimise policies of discrimination and injustice. The Government find it difficult to visualise the effect on individuals and on families, probably because so few of them have experienced life on the margins of poverty.

We are concerned here not only with amendment No. 11 but with other amendments and not least amendment No. 24. In Committee my right hop. and hon. Friends moved an amendment to reduce the period from 13 weeks to eight weeks. That was rejected. Are the Government now prepared to respond to that amendment in a way they refused to do in Committee?

7 pm

In turning briefly to amendment No. 24, which seeks to remove the effect of the clause from those who are intermittently unable to work, I must strongly emphasise its importance. It seeks to exempt those who suffer from multiple sclerosis and other demyelinating diseases, and people who suffer from epilepsy and other seizure disorders. It seeks to exclude from the provisions of clause 3 those who suffer from Parkinson's disease, from ulcerative colitis. Crohn's disease and other chronic gastrointestinal diseases. It seeks to protect those who suffer from chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and other chronic diseases of the lung. It seeks to help chronic leukemias and other chronic haematological disorders. It is an amendment that could be of assistance to people suffering from diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other chronic rheumatological diseases. It also applies to those who suffer from chronic renal failure, nephrotic syndrome and other chronic renal diseases.

I hope that the hon. Lady will look with some favour on the amendment. Humanity requires that there should be some response from the Government to the arguments that have been advanced in Committee and on Report today. I have great pleasure in moving amendment No. 11. The House may be assured that my right hon. and hon. Friends will, if necessary, vote for it enthusiastically in the Lobbies tonight.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. A number of hon. Members wish to speak on the amendment and only a short time remains.

Mr. Hannam

I take due note of that indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be brief, because of the shortage of time. I shall speak to amendments Nos. 12 to 15, which appear on the Order Paper in my name and in the name of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). By means of the amendments I am suggesting that rather than reduce the linking period from 13 weeks to six weeks, as proposed by the Government in the Bill, the Government should reduce it from three months to two months—in other words, to eight weeks.

I have read the debates in Committee carefully. I found it impossible to find any real evidence that a certain linking period is the right one. It seems that 13 weeks was introduced in 1948, with no real evidence to support it. There was no challenge at that time, and there was no challenge subsequently, on whether that was the correct period. There has been no effective monitoring of the effect of the linking period. Therefore, there is no evidence to substantiate some of the fears that we have all expressed in Committee and in private discussions about the effect of the proposed change in the linking period.

The Department confesses that it does not have an effective monitoring system. I feel that the reduction to six weeks is too draconian. I urge the Minister and my right hon. and hon. Friends to support my compromise proposal.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that where there is remission, as with multiple sclerosis, 13 weeks is better than six weeks—I agree that his proposal of eight weeks is better—and that 13 weeks is totally inadequate for a progressive illness?

Mr. Hannam

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that account must be taken of cases on the margin, wherever the line it; drawn. No one really knows what is the correct linkage period. No one knows when the deterrent will take effect. I am merely trying to achieve what I hope will be an improvement on the Government's present intention and to move towards the position that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has adopted. The problem of the marginal case will exist wherever the line is drawn.

I feel strongly that there is rather too much hit or miss about the reduction to six weeks from the original 13 weeks. That is why I tabled the amendment. We have grave fears that those who are receiving incapacity benefit and who are trying desperately hard to return to work will feel that the risk is too great and that they may lose their benefit or entitlement to a higher rate of invalidity allowance. The various disability groups, including RADAR, Disability Alliance, and the Disablement Income Group, have presented to hon. Members, to those who served in Committee and to Ministers some excellent evidence on the various dangers. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who always shows a deep concern in these matters, will take their arguments to heart and will consider them carefully.

Whatever happens to my amendments and to the Opposition amendments, I hope that my hon. Friend will institute proper monitoring procedures so that we may be sure what is happening rather than having to rely on hazy charges and counter-charges from different bodies.

I accept the figures that my hon. Friend gave in Committee. I accept that most of those claiming incapacity benefit will not be adversely affected by the reduction. However, we are not concerned necessarily with the majority. We are dealing with the disabled and the handicapped, however small the minority. I am concerned that those who may be small in number will be harmed and that some, after long illnesses, will be deterred from endeavouring to seek work. I am concerned that those suffering from diseases that allow periods of remission should be allowed to obtain morale-boosting employment.

I support the Government's overall objective of bringing public expenditure under control. However, I must state my determination to defend the rights of the disabled and the sick to overcome their difficulties in life. The minimum linking period that the House should insist upon is one of two months, which I have specified in my amendments. I implore my hon. Friend and the Government to accept amendments Nos. 12 and 14, along with the other amendments. Having studied the clause, I realise that the regulation-making power to enable the Secretary of State to increase the linking period in future applies only to subsection (1). I shall vote for my amendments if I am given the opportunity to do so. I emphasise that priority must be given to a proper monitoring system.

In the earlier debate on clause 1 we heard of the difficulties of obtaining factual detail on the effect of legislation. I re-emphasise the need for a more effective system of monitoring. I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with that issue when she replies. I ask the Government to accept amendments Nos. 12 to 15. They are offered as a genuine attempt to provide the right answer to this difficult problem. We want the handicapped to work if they can. We want them to be encouraged to work and not to face the deterrents that the reduction to six weeks would introduce. I do not think that the amendments will break the Treasury bank, and I press them upon the Government.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I rise briefly to support the amendments. The Bill has many rough edges. That is not a description that has been offered by the Opposition but one repeatedly adopted by the Minister. It was said so often that the Government were not doing what they intended or wanted to do and that they were having to do something else. If on looking out of the window they see that the hedge needs trimming, instead of cutting the hedge they go out and cut the flowers. The clause illustrates that approach more than anything else. To make a net saving of £20 million in 1981–82, the Government are cutting the benefits to the sick by £50 million, giving back £30 million to the unemployed, and producing the net figure of £20 million. It is clear that they do not know the effect of the linkage period of 13 weeks.

We know that the Secretary of State is pretty good at doing things by stealth but to have introduced this clause with no real knowledge of its implications is totally wrong. It can be argued that other clauses involve large sums of money and that the Government cannot wait, but in this clause we are talking in terms of £10 million this year and £20 million next year. Therefore, there is a strong argument for the Government to delay the introduction of this measure until they can carry out effective monitoring and can consider the implication of the change from 13 weeks to six weeks. They would not lose very much money. They should consider the effect on the unemployed, the sick, and particularly people with recurrent illnesses who may suffer. I hope that the Government will accept amendments Nos. 12 to 15, which propose a period of eight weeks rather than six weeks, although it is difficult to argue that a period of eight weeks is more satisfactory than any other period.

Amendment No. 24 recognises the problem of people with recurrent illnesses who at present have the benefit of a 13 week linkage and who would suffer if that period were to be reduced to six weeks. I hope that the Government can make some concessions in this area.

I understand that the Government have given assurances to people who have been lobbying on this issue that they will carefully research and monitor the position. But the Government should first get their information right, and then propose changes. They should not propose changes the implications of which they do not know. Life is getting more and more difficult for people who are unemployed, or who are in and out of jobs or in poor health. Because of the rising levels of unemployment, it is particularly difficult for people with recurring illnesses to find work.

I hope that the Government will accept all the amendments in this group, or at least make some concessions.

7.15 pm
Mr. Carter-Jones

If there is any alteration in the linkage period, I should like it to be open-ended. In terms of rehabilitation it would be in the best interests of a disabled person, and it would assist the medical profession. The medical profession would be able to carry out a total programme of rehabilitation without the fear of patients worrying about the financial aspect. If the monitoring is not to take place on that basis, I hope that all the amendements are accepted.

Mr. Ashley

A short while ago I attended a meeting at which a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security was present. I was told that when public expenditure is cut someone must bear the hardship. I did not realise the significance of that message until I read this Bill. The disabled are suffering as a consequence of these decisions.

Both the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) have made the point that the Government do not know the true effect of linkage. The Government are operating in the dark. In a sense, they are blindfolded. Yet they are instituting changes that will impose a real hardship on disabled people. These changes will affect people who wish to work spasmodically—those who cannot work regularly. These people are particularly vulnerable. I hope that the Minister will think again on this matter because, by deterring disabled people who are anxious to work, the Government are defying the logic of their basic economic policy, which is supposed to be incentives. I urge the Minister to try to meet some of the proposals which have been made and to have second thoughts on the important problem of linkage.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

I should like to add a few words to what has already been said on this matter. Although, in some respects, this is a narrow point, it affects people in society—whether a large or small number—who are least able to bear this sort of treatment. This is a mean clause. It is mean to people who are less well off. I hope that the Minister will give serious thought to accepting these amendments, particularly as some Conservative Members also support them.

In Committee, the Minister said that this measure would not affect many people, and various hon. Members have, said that the numbers have not been quantified. But even if it affects only a tiny handful of people—it will affect more than that—we should think again. No matter what the number, people are suffering—and the disabled are suffering. The Government expect some saving from this clause. A figure of £10 million in the first year and £20 million in the second year has been mentioned. That is not good enough. If they cannot give way on any other issue, the Government could easily give way on this, think again and accept the amendments.

There is no doubt that there are difficulties for people who are trying to get back to work after chronic sickness or disabilities or if they have, been wounded, not only because of their disabilities, but because of loss of confidence. The thought that they will have to stick a job from day to day, week to week because they will be disadvantaged by this clause will discourage people from going back to work. People cannot win under this clause in the way in which it is at present drafted. There is a likelihood that long-term sufferers will never receive invalidity benefit. On the other hand, it increases the likelihood of people who receive invalidity benefits continuing to apply for invalidity benefits. This clause hits out at people who can least afford it. I hope that the Minister will take into account the strong feeling on both sides of the House, and that she will consider the, matter again.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

In responding to this debate, I must say that I am glad that we have discussed clause 3, albeit for far too short a time. I was a little sorry that the right hon. Member for Manchester Wythen-shawe (Mr. Morris) spent the first 10 minutes talking about clause 1. However, never mind; we are on clause 3, which concerns linking.

I must point out that we did not debate in Standing Committee an amendment to change the linking period from 13 weeks to eight weeks rather than six weeks. Certainly we did not discuss the eight-week period specifically in Committee at all.

It was very clear in Committee, as the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) have said, that we cannot be certain, because there has never been a degree of statistics collected about 13-week linking periods since 1948, of whether 13 weeks was right, or whether 10 weeks would be right, or six weeks, eight weeks, or however many weeks.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Or open-ended.

Mrs. Chalker

Or open-ended, as the hon. Gentleman says.

The point about this clause, which the Opposition are seeking to delete from the Bill, is that it does two things. Not only does it, in its original form, mean that two periods of interruption of employment will be separated by six weeks rather than 13 weeks from a former linking period, but it also changes the period of interruption of employment due to incapacity from any two days in a period of six consecutive days to four or more consecutive days. Our debate has been mainly on the former of those two things. I shall concentrate my remarks, as I think the House would wish, on that.

The reduction in the linking period will certainly mean that fewer claims will link to a previous claim. That has several different effects. More waiting days would be served. Some people who have remained on invalidity benefit through widely spaced incapacities will instead receive sickness benefit. For the unemployed, some people will more easily avoid exhaustion of their 312-day entitlement to benefit.

To put matters in perspective, at present, 64 per cent, of all spells of incapacity do not link at all. The remaining 36 per cent, link within 13 weeks. It is estimated that 31 per cent, will still link under the proposed six-week rule. So we are talking about 5 per cent. of those spells which now link but which would not do so under the changes in clause 3, as it stands, at eight weeks.

Obviously, hon. Members are naturally concerned, both inside and outside the House, about the possible effects. I think that the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) was absolutely right when he said that there could be no one linking period which suited every person who may have recourse to invalidity benefit or any one person who, from time to time, has periods of sickness. As I have said, there is no magic about any of the numbers of weeks in the Bill. It is a matter of judgment. But the purpose of linking on incapacity benefits is twofold. First, it is to decide whether waiting days should be served, and secondly, to determine whether the conditions of invalidity benefit are being satisfied or remain satisfied. It is that last criterion about which there has been so much concern.

At present, if a person returns to work after a spell on invalidity benefit and falls sick again within 13 weeks, he remains on that benefit. Under clause 3, it would be six weeks. Any claims which do not link will become sickness benefit claims, and the 168 days entitlement to invalidity benefit would need to be served before the higher rate of IVB would be paid again.

We need to put that in perspective, too. The majority of invalidity beneficiaries are permanently sick and have no prospect of returning to work. For the remainder, the medical view is that any linking period is inevitably arbitrary. There are wide variations in the length of time back at work. We regarded six weeks as a reasonable time. Figures show that for 84 per cent. of the cases that now link, the gap is less than six weeks. But we have specifically taken regulation-making powers to increase the specified period because there may be an effect which cannot be foreseen. I accept all the comments that hon. Members have made. If it were to prove a problem, that regulatory power could be used.

What the change will do is to obviate a situation which arises and which was never intended when invalidity benefit was first envisaged. I do not think that it is a serious problem, but it needs to be mentioned. Because we have had a 13-week linking rule, some people with a series of relatively minor and unrelated ailments are able to receive a long-term benefit intended for the chronic sick and disabled.

Mr. Field

How does the hon. Lady know, if the Department does not monitor?

Mrs. Chalker

That is an unwarranted side effect of linking, which the provision in the clause would largely eliminate.

Mr. Field

If the Department does not monitor how can the hon. Lady possibly know?

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Member knows full well that there is some monitoring, but the monitoring which has existed up to date, and under his Government, is not adequate for the purposes about which the House is now asking questions. That is why I assured the Standing Committee, and I reassure the House once more, that that monitoring will increase.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Basically, what is intended to happen is that where disabled people have to remain at home, the advent of technology will enable them to work within their homes, and that they can get invalidity benefit which will assist them with the extra costs of disability.

Mrs. Chalker

I am well aware of that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment. The very fact that there is a regulatory power in the Bill will enable it to be changed it mat should prove necessary. That may well be necessary with increasing technology, which will help disabled people to do some work in their homes which they cannot do now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has explained that 13 weeks is not a magic figure. He also went back through the history of how it came about. We accept that, for people going back to work after a long illness, two months is a reasonable time to re-establish themselves in employment—probably more so than six weeks. I also appreciate that the extension to eight weeks would help to some extent the chronic sick, who are able to work intermittently.

The length of time that we choose is a matter of judgment, but we have been very much impressed by the arguments from expert voluntary bodies. A change from six weeks to eight weeks, which is what is being proposed, would obviously increase invalidity benefit expenditure. That is something with which the House would not disagree. Therefore, it if it can be so arranged, I shall be seeking to accept the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter—Nos. 12 to 15—to make sure that the linking period is brought from 13 weeks to eight weeks. I hope that the House will feel that common sense is therefore prevailing on this issue.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Chalker

In my last three minutes I should like to deal with amendment No. 24.

Mr. Bennett

It is on that point.

Mrs. Chalker

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) had a word to say——

Mr. Bennett

Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Mrs. Chalker

No. I must answer what was said on amendment No. 24.

Mr. Bennett rose——

Mrs. Chalker

At present, I can well see the attraction of amendment No. 24.

Mr. Bennett rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Minister is not giving way. No point of order arises.

Mr. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point that I wanted to raise was the question of whether the Minister would be in a position to move those amendments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is no point of order arising from what the Minister is doing.

Mrs. Chalker

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I sought the advice of the Chair earlier in the day to make sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter could have his amendments moved by me, if not by him personally.

Finally, amendment No. 24 is interesting, but it would bring a great complication into our whole adjudication system for incapacity benefits. It was presumably the intention of the amendment that the first spell of incapacity should be due to one of the conditions specified in the amendment. That alone would cause difficulties in adjudication because, as the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe knows, no specific incapacity is named. It is simply the first spell of incapacity which starts off the entitlement. It is not clear from that amendment whether a second period would have to be due to the same medical condition as the first, or a subsequent period, and that would provide even further scope for major adjudication problems. I could go into this issue in more detail. However, in view of the time, I shall not. I under stand why amendment No. 24 was tabled. Many more disorders could have been added to the list. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that. The job of our insurance officers would become virtually impossible. It would be very misleading if we were to have six or eight-week——

It being half-past Seven o'clock Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded, pursuant to the Order [6 May] and the Resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Division No. 321] AYES 7.30 p.m.
Abse, Leo Freud, Crement Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Adams, Allen Garrett, John (Norwich S) Newens, Stanley
Allaun, Frank Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Alton, David George, Bruce Ogden, Eric
Anderson, Donald Ginsburg, David O'Halloran, Michael
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Graham, Ted O'Neill, Martin
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Grant, George (Morpeth) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Ashton, Joe Grant, John (Islington C) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Palmer, Arthur
Bagler, Gordon A. T. Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Park, George
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hardy, Peter Pendry, Tom
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Penhaligon, David
Beith, A. J. Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Prescott, John
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Haynes, Frank Price, Christopher (Lewlsham West)
Bidwell, Sydney Healey, Rt Hon Denis Race, Reg
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Home Robertson, John Richardson, Jo
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Homewood, William Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bradley, Tom Hooley, Frank Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Horam, John Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Robertson, George
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Howells, Geraint Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Huckfield, Les Rooker, J. W.
Buchan, Norman Hudson, Davies. Gwilym Ednyfed Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rowlands, Ted
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Ryman, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hughes, Roy (Newport) Sandelson, Neville
Canavan, Dennis Janner, Hon Greville Sever, John
Cant, R. B. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sheerman, Barry
Carmichael, Neil John, Brynmor Short, Mrs Renée
Carter-Jones, Lewis Johnson, James (Hull West) Silverman, Julius
Cartwright, John Johnson, Walter (Derby South) Skinner, Dennis
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Cohen, Stanley Jones, Barry (East Flint) Soley, Clive
Coleman, Donald Jones, Dan (Burnley) Spearing, Nigel
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Spriggs, Leslie
Conland, Bernard Kilfedder, James A. Staliard, A. W.
Cook, Robin F. Kilroy-Silk, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David
Cowans, Harry Kinnock, Neil Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Cryer, Bob Lamble, David Stoddart, David
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lamborn, Harry Strang, Gavin
Cunningham, George (Islington S) Lamond, James Straw, Jack
Dalyell, Tam Leadbltter, Ted Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Davidson, Arthur Leighton, Ronald Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzll (Llanelli) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Davles, Ifor (Gower) Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Davles, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Litherland, Robert Tilley, John
Deakins, Eric Lotthouse, Geoffrey Tinn, James
Dempsey, James Lyon, Alexander (York) Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Dewar, Donald Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Dobson, Frank Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Dormand, Jack McDonald, Dr Oonagh Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Douglas, Dick McElhone, Frank Watkins, David
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McGuire, Michael (Ince) Weetch, Ken
Dubs, Alfred McKay, Allen (Penistone) Wellbeloved, James
Duffy, A. E. P. McKelvey, William Welsh, Michael
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Dunnett, Jack Maclennan, Robert Whitehead, Phillip
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McNamara, Kevin Whirlock, William
Eastham, Ken McWilliam, John Wigley, Dafydd
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Magee, Bryan Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
English, Michael Marks, Kenneth Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettle'n) Wlliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Ewing, Harry Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Faulds, Andrew Mason, Rt Hon Roy Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Field, Frank Maxton, John Winnick, David
Fitch, Alan Maynard, Miss Joan Woodall, Alec
Fitt, Gerard Meacher, Michael Woolmer, Kenneth
Flannery, Martin Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Wrigglesworth, Ian
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Wright, Sheila
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Young, David (Bolton East)
Ford, Ben Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Forrester, John Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Mr. Hugh McCartney and
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Morton, George Mr. Joseph Dean.

The House divided: Ayes 230, Noes 278.

Adley, Robert Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Mills, lain (Meriden)
Altken, Jonathan Fox, Marcus Miscampbell, Norman
Alexander, Richard Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Allson, Michael Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Moate, Roger
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Fry, Peter Monro, Hector
Ancram, Michael Gardiner, George (Reigate) Montgomery, Fergus
Arnold, Tom Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Moore, John
Aspinwall, Jack Garel-Jones, Tristan Morgan, Geraint
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Glyn, Dr. Alan Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Goodhew, Victor Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Goodlad, Alastair Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Banks, Robert Gow, Ian Mudd, David
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gower, Sir Raymond Murphy, Christopher
Bell, Sir Ronald Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Myles, David
Bendall, Vivian Gray, Hamish Needham, Richard
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Greenway, Harry Nelson, Anthony
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Grieve, Percy Neubert, Michael
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Newton, Tony
Best, Kelth Grist, Ian Nott, Rt Hon John
Bevan, David Gilroy Grylls, Michael Onslow, Cranley
BIHen, Rt Hon John Gummer, John Selwyn Osborn, John
Biggs-Davison, John Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Blackburn, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Blaker, Peter Hampson, Dr Keith Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Body, Richard Hannam, John Parris, Matthew
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Haselhurst, Alan Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Hastings, Stephen Patten, John (Oxford)
Bowden, Andrew Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Pattle, Geoffrey
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hawksley, Warren Pawsey, James
Braine, Sir Bernard Heddle, John Percival, Sir Ian
Bright, Graham Henderson, Barry Pink, R. Bonner
Brinton, Tim Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Porter, George
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Hicks, Robert Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Brooke, Hon Peter Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Brotherton, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Proctor, K. Harvey
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Holland, Philip (Carlton) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Browne, John (Winchester) Hooson, Tom Raison, Timothy
Bruce-Gardyne, John Hordern, Peter Rathbone, Tim
Bryan, Sir Paul Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Buck, Antony Hunt, David (Wirral) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Budgen, Nick Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Renton, Tim
Bulmer, Esmond Hurd, Hon Douglas Rhodes James, Robert
Burden, F. A. Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Butcher, John Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Ridsdale, Julian
Cadbury, Jocelyn Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Rifkind, Malcolm
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael RIppon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Chalker. Mrs. Lynda Kimball, Marcus Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Channon; Paul Knight, Mrs. Jill Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Chapman, Sydney Knox, David Rossi, Hugh
Churchill, W. S. Lamont, Norman Rost, Peter
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sulton) Lang, Ian Royle, Sir Anthony
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Langford-Holt, Sir John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Latham, Michael St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Clegg, Sir Walter Lawrence, Ivan Scott, Nicholas
Colvin, Michael Lawson, Nigel Shelton, William (Streatham)
Cope, John Lee, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Cormack, Patrick Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Corrie, John Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shersby, Michael
Costain, A. P. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Silvester, Fred
Critchley, Julian Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Sims, Roger
Crouch, David Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Skeet, T. H. H.
Dickens, Geoffrey Loveridge, John Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Dorrell, Stephen Luce, Richard Speller, Tony
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lyell, Nicholas Spence, John
Dover, Denshore McCrindle, Robert Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Macfarlane, Neil Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) MacGregor, John Sproat, lain
Durant, Tony MacKay, John (Argyll) Stainton, Keith
Dykes, Hugh Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Stanbrook, Ivor
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Stanley, John
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Steen, Anthony
Eggar, Timothy McQuarrie, Albert Stevens, Martin
Elliott, Sir William Madel, David Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fairgrieve, Russell Major, John Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Marland, Paul Stokes, John
Farr, John Marlow, Tony Stradllng Thomas, J.
Fell, Anthony Mates, Michael Tapsell, Peter
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Mather, Carol Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Maude, Rt Hon Angus Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Mawby, Ray Tebbit, Norman
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Fletcher-Cook, Charles Mayhew, Patrick Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Fookes, Miss Janet Meyer, Sir Anthony Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Forman, Nigel Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Thornton, Malcolm
Townend, John (Bridlington) Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire) Wiggin, Jerry
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek Wilkinson, John
Trotter, Neville Waller, Gary Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
van Straubenzee, W. R. Walters, Dennis Wolfson, Mark
Vaughan, Dr Gerard Ward, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Viggers, Peter Warren, Kenneth Younger, Rt Hon George
Waddington, David Watson, John
Wakeham, John Wheeler, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Waldegrave, Hon William Whitney, Raymond Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester) Wickenden, Keith Mr. Anthony Berry.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at half-past Seven o'clock.

Amendments made

No. 12, in page 3, line 43, leave out ' 6 ' and insert ' 8 '.

No. 13, in page 4, leave out lines 3 to 6.

No. 14, in page 4, line 23, leave out ' 6 ' and insert ' 8 '.

No. 15, in page 4, line 23, at end insert: ' (4) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for any provision amended by subsection (1) or (3) of this section to have effect as if for the reference to 8 weeks there were substituted a reference to a larger number of weeks specified in the regulations'.—[Mrs. Chalker.]

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