HC Deb 03 December 1981 vol 14 cc465-86

Resumed debate on Question, That this House do now adjourn.

8.45 pm
Mr. Bottomley

I remind myself that the subject of this Adjournment debate is the Chancellor's statement yesterday and the effect on unemployment and short-term benefits. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) put forward what I have already called a very fair case for protecting those who have no other protection than unemployment and other short-term benefits. The hon. Gentleman has raised the question whether the announcement to be made by the Chancellor in the Budget early next year will give price protection to those who, on any estimate, need it. My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security gave a robust defence of what the Government had done over a number of years but was obviously constrained by the decisions made by the Chancellor, as announced in his statement.

I had addressed some remarks before the debate was interrupted to the hon. Member for Wood Green. I should like to re-emphasise the importance of a falling rate of inflation. Those depending on benefits are affected not only by an uprating as compensation for inflation but also by the falling level of benefit during the 12 months between upratings. In a year that is followed by an uprating of 16 per cent. in line with inflation the average loss of benefit during the year is 8 per cent. In a year when the uprating is 10 per cent. there has been a loss of benefit on average through the year of 5 per cent.

When inflation is at a level of 10 to 16 per cent. the impact of loss of benefit during the year is more significant than the 2 per cent. that the hon. Member for Stockport, North is rightly concerned about. This debate would miss the point if hon. Members were not also concerned about the impact of inflation during the year. I go a stage further. We should be able to reduce the underlying level of inflation by 6 per cent. during the coming year if those at work are willing to settle for pay increases of about 4 per cent. that the Government intend should apply in the public sector. Even pay increases of on average 4 per cent. are inflationary if the level of output in the economy is expected to grow at about 1 per cent. There will be about a 3 per cent. contribution towards inflation.

The matter is nonsense, but it is determined by our system of pay settlements and negotiations. There are many good arguments for incomes policy. The best is to give help to those without the power of a job behind them. However, with the TUC, the Labour Party conference and the Conservative Government opposed to incomes policy, we shall not get one. The need is to get the effect of an incomes policy without actually having one.

One means of getting all groups in the community to recognise the importance of moderate pay settlements is to publicise the effect of settlements on the groups mentioned by the hon. Member for Stockport, North. It is possible to make sure, by a reduction in the level of pay settlements during the forthcoming year and the indirect effect on inflation that I believe exists, to make up the 2 per cent. I shall continue to argue for that. The 2 per cent. shortfall is also important in itself.

I welcome the Government's commitment to the old-age pensioners and those who will have the shortfall made up in November 1982. I do not give up hope that the Government will review their decisions announced yesterday and will make up the shortfall of 2 per cent. for other groups. The cost in a full year of the 2 per cent. shortfall is about £130 million. In the fiscal year 1982–83 the figure is about £65 million, which is a small amount compared with the sums involved in the other decisions that the Government are making all the time, such as whether the British Steel Corporation needs £400 million or £500 million. In that business we are concerned with a group of perhaps 100,000 workers, which must be compared with the number of families who would be affected by the 2 per cent. shortfall in unemployment benefit. Between now and any decisions made before the Budget, it is feasible that the Government would say that because of pressure from both sides of the House they will restore the 2 per cent. shortfall in other benefits. It is worth recognising that the effective pressure must come from the Government benches. That is one reason why I believe that the speech of the hon. Member for Wood Green, although it might have been his normal style, was counterproductive.

I greatly regret that a debate of such importance as this takes place in a Chamber that is not packed full and that the press chooses not to be present to report it. Many of those about whom we are concerned need the press on their side. If we were talking about increased taxation on company cars or journalists' lunches, many more press representatives would have been present and many more people would have known tomorrow how the interests of the poor had been expressed in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that he cannot comment on whether the press is present or not.

Mr. Bottomley

You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for saying that members of the press are not present in force. Perhaps I should not have said that the press do not appear to be here at all, but that also is true.

We are not talking only about those whose incomes are at the supplementary benefit level. We are talking about 300,000 children from families whose income is below the supplementary benefit level. I refer to a letter inThe Times today from Mr. Malcolm Wicks, director of the Study Commission on the Family. Although he uses 1977 figures, he said that there were 420,000 children in families below the poverty line and 980,000 children in families at the supplementary benefit level. If one takes supplementary benefit plus 40 per cent., which is by no means a high standard of living, there are about 3.5 million children and their families at that level. Those people are affected by the shortfall.

Those who believe that the supplementary benefit level is too high—very few have said that, but perhaps some feel that that is one reason why supplementary benefit should not be brought up fully in line with inflation—should experience living as a family of two adults and two children on £50 a week, which is not much money for a four-person household. We must remember that many families do not get all the benefits to which they are entitled and may be surviving on less. I welcome the suggestion, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agreed on Tuesday, of trying to ensure that any family that applies for benefit is checked to see whether it is entitled to other benefits.

Another important subject is child benefit, which was not properly dealt with in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement. I expect that he intends to make an anouncement on that in the spring of 1982 for the uprating in November 1982.

It is clear that the income support available to families whose breadwinner is either sick or unemployed is being reduced by the abolition of the earnings-related element of unemployment pay. When the employer-paid sick pay scheme comes in there will be no child addition. When the Government issued their Green Paper on the earnings-joined sickness benefit they said that, because child benefit was expected to rise in real terms, it might be thought reasonable to eliminate the child addition. It is quite clear that in recent years the child benefit has not risen substantially in real terms. I remind the House that the level of child income support, now child benefit, is about 25 per cent. lower in real terms than the combined value of family allowance and the child tax allowances in 1955.

Families with dependent children have not shared in the increase in the general standard of living through social security benefits or the transfer of resources through child benefits. I ask the Government to consider seriously during the next few months the pressure from both sides of the House. I ask them to recognise how much of that pressure comes from the Conservative Benches and to reconsider the £65 million involved in the fiscal year 1982–83. I hope that they will realise the importance of raising the real level of chid benefits.

I turn now to the significance of pay increases. A high pay increase does not help a low income family with dependent children. The only way that that family income can be increased is through child benefits. That is why a low pay rise requirement in the economy—or strategy, as the Government call it—requires an increase in child benefit.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the easiest way to encourage workers to settle for a low wage increase would be for the Government to declare their plans for child benefit well in advance of the pay negotiations? If they intended to be generous, there would be some chance of the appeal for low wage rises being accepted. At the moment, with all the uncertainty surrounding the issue, we cannot blame anyone for thinking that it is better to carry on with the negotiations because there is little possibility of the Government's being generous.

Mr. Bottomley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and for the way in which he said it. The Government—indeed, successive Governments—are seriously at fault. Of course, raising child benefit does not reduce pay claims. However, it can influence pay settlements. Employers can tell those with whom they are negotiating that they cannot allow a significant wage increase, in part because they cannot afford it and in part because it does not help in the battle against inflation, which is an important prerequisite to reducing unemployment. It strengthens the power of employers to do what is sensible.

The Government need to do three things. First, they must restore the shortfall. I shall not vote against them next week if that issue arises as I want to work on them during the next three or four months. Secondly, they must increase child benefit in 1982 by more than the rate of inflation. Thirdly, the Government should publish a Green Paper on tax and benefits over the family life cycle.

There are many ways to pay for those measures. Perhaps, on another occasion, I could put forward the options that I would support, especially in the area of child benefit. For example, next year I would not raise the married man's tax allowance. I would raise only the personal tax allowance. I would use the money saved to pay for an increase in child benefit.

We are reaching the end of the period during which the Government have had responses about the taxation of man and wife. It is ridiculous to consider only the tax element and not the benefit element. It is also ridiculous to consider only one point in time rather than the fluctuating levels of need and resources, which do not match, during the ordinary family life cycle. We must be able to say how, at different levels of income, people's resources should be affected—for example, as they leave school, find a job or are unemployed, when they marry or have children, when they are in or out of work, when in sickness or in health. What happens to resources when parents, sadly, separate or divorce? What level of benefit should parents have when their children cease to be dependent? What should be the relationship between their earnings at work and their income in retirement?

Only when the Government are willing to put forward a Green Paper on those topics will it be possible to develop general agreement on a pattern to aim at. It will then be possible for the Government to find the general support necessary to make the changes, over a period, that are most needed.

My final point—I recognise that this is a short debate—concerns the incentive-to-work argument put forward by Ministers during the last two years, which has arisen in a number of quotations produced by the research staff in the Library, when they have given various commitments about protecting certain benefits from inflation. The only people who might work, who are better off not working or who do not have much incentive to take a job are those with dependent children. The only sensible way to deal with that is to ensure that they receive the same income for their children, whether or not they are in work. The reasonable way to do that is to raise the level of child benefit. The unreasonable way to do it is to reduce the level of income when they are not at work.

Society has a basic responsibility to care for people who cannot care for themselves—the old, the sick, the unemployed and those below working age. We have not done badly for the old, the sick and the unemployed, but we have done abysmally for those caring for dependent children and we have done even worse for those on low incomes who are caring for dependent children. The test which I shall apply to the Government's proposals in the Budget is whether they will put right what they did not fully put right in the Chancellor's announcement yesterday.

9.2 pm

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

It is obvious that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) agreed with what the Chancellor said yesterday and with what the Minister said earlier when the Adjournment debate began. I was shocked by some of the things said at the Dispatch Box by the Minister.

Following the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, I looked atThe Standard and was shocked and appalled at the biased feeling expressed on the front page. Yet, when I looked at the daily papers today, I saw that the Government were getting a clobbering about the statement, and particularly about social security benefits. The Minister gave the impression that everything in the garden was lovely. That might be all right for a lot of people with plenty of money in their pockets and fair-sized bank balances. However, they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. It is workers and the poor who will be affected by the action that the Government will take next week on social security benefits. Since May 1979 those people have been hit time and again, and now they are being hit once again.

A group of firms in my constituency is doing all that the Government have asked of it. The firms have reduced unit costs and increased productivity and, what is more important, there was a nil increase in earnings last year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer clobbered that group yesterday, yet it is doing what the Government asked it to do, supposedly to put the economy right.

A great many problems arise out of what was said yesterday. When I go round my constituency and enter the social security offices, what bothers me more than anything else is that there are more people applying for certain benefits, because the earnings that they receive are nowhere near high enough and therefore they must apply for supplementary benefit. When I get into the office, what do I find? The Government are hell-bent on reducing the number of civil servants. That is having an effect on the social security office in my constituency. There are empty chairs, and there is no training going on. Those responsible for training are having to do necessary work, because of the long queues outside the social security office. That is another side of the Government's social security argument.

We do not have to go far back to remember what happened at Strathclyde. The Minister said earlier that the Government had tried to let everyone know his entitlement. When Strathclyde carried out that exercise to point out clearly what people were entitled to, the Minister offered severe criticism. Strathclyde was only trying to help. The Government are not helping. They are bashing such people and, by introducing such measures, they will continue to do so. The Minister may brag about improvements—and there may be some—but he slipped easily by promises that were made by the Conservative Party before it came to power and promises that the previous Secretary of State for Social Services made about the death grant. Until now, that subject has not been mentioned.

Let us consider the arguments that we have had about the death grant. The elderly and the destitute come to my surgery and talk about having to have paupers' graves. It is disgraceful in this day and age that we have not properly considered and dealt with that matter. Some while ago the previous Secretary of State went to the annual general meeting of the British Legion and gave a time scale for increasing the death grant. What have we got? There has been no increase. That is how the Government act. The Government may talk about increasing the mobility allowance and so on, and some of the things that slip by are forgotten, although they hurt the public. The elderly live in all our constituencies and we are supposed to represent them and to do what we can on their behalf.

I accept that the Government have done something and that they have increased the mobility allowance. I shall reiterate the point that the Minister ducked earlier. I pointed out that, because of the pressure on civil servants, some of those in my constituency who used to receive mobility allowance have now been disqualified. That is appalling. The Minister should be ashamed. It would be a good idea if there were a Minister or two on the dole queue for a change and if they had to receive sickness or supplementary benefit. They would then find out how people have to manage. Let them get some experience. There is someone standing here who has experienced such things. My parents had to go through the same thing. There is an early-day motion for a statue of a certain gentleman to be placed in the Members' Lobby, although he did the same as the Government are doing to the people in terms of benefits. People had to queue up at soup kitchens and so on.

I can remember what happened when I was a lad. I can only just remember, but I remember how people were crucified by a former Conservative Administration under Mr. Baldwin. The same thing is happening under this Prime Minister. We do not make much progress. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) suggested going into the Aye Lobby or the No Lobby next week. Yet I have heard and read statements by Tory Members to the effect that if the Government do not change their minds on social security benefits they will lose the next election. I agree. It is not just a matter of social security benefits, but all the things that have been going on for the past two and a half years.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned hospital services, in passing. What he said was shocking. It is not what is happening in my constituency. I had to raise here the question of nurses going on the dole queue to enjoy unemployment benefit. That is shameful. They have received two years' training, yet they have been laid off. Is that the success that the Government are having in social security and unemployment? It is not just a question of laying off nurses after two years' training, because they have now prevented 16 people from entering the scheme for two years. The situation gets worse as time passes. That is how serious the situation is, not only in the Health Service but in social security generally in my constituency.

I felt that I had to contribute to this debate. Now I have got it off my chest. Other hon. Members will wish to speak. I have tried to make it clear that the Government must reconsider. They have time to change direction, and they must do so in the interests of those people who cannot help themselves. It is our duty to help those people and to see that they get a fair and square deal. That is what they are not getting.

Let there be no mistake: those people will make their voices heard if what is proposed goes through. I hope that some of those right hon. and hon. Members who expressed their views yesterday to the press—not in the Chamber—will be men enough to go into the right Lobby and vote against these proposals in the interests of those who cannot help themselves.

9.13 pm
Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

We on the Labour Benches are properly concerned with questions of social welfare, particularly those which involve the groups of people about whom the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) spoke—children and people who cannot easily defend themselves. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that—to put it mildly—they have been unfairly treated by the Government. The Government were elected on the promises, among others, that they would reduce taxation, give incentives and encouragement to everyone, care for the family, get rid of or radically reduce unemployment, and reduce the cost of living. Those were among the many and various promises that were made. Today, they are so much ash in the mouth. The Government have honoured none of those promises, which they gave to the people who brought them to power.

Let us take taxation first. Some tax figures were given by the House of Commons Library research department. Those figures are astonishing. I should not have believed them unless I had seen them and had them verified by what is recognised in all parts of the House as an incomparably efficient organisation. The research department of the Library produces figures which are accurate in every respect. When those figures were produced in the House a fortnight or so ago and the Prime Minister herself was asked to refute them, she studiously refused to do so and still refuses to do so. If the Minister can refute them, I ask her to do so tonight.

The average family on average earnings pays in tax—that is, direct tax, such as income tax, national insurance contributions and the rest, and indirect taxes, such as value added tax and the rest—£25.83 a week more than it was paying in tax in 1979–80, the year the Government won the election. The result is that the average British family pays £75.96 in Government taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced yesterday that some of those figures would be increased, notably the national insurance contribution.

The former Secretary of State for Social Services, now the Secretary of State for Industry, was the first Minister in the past 50 years to be responsible for cutting social security benefits by reducing the value of old-age pensions, as he suddenly discovered that there were 54 weeks in one year. The Government will be consistently reminded of that fact. Pensioners have therefore been deprived of two weeks' of an increase of pension to which they were entitled.

The Government have also reduced the value of unemployment benefit, sick pay and maternity allowances. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) knows that the real value of child benefit, even after last months' increase, will have fallen by one tenth since the Prime Minister took office, yet during the election she and others promised that they would care for and look after the family.

Unemployment pay had suffered particularly harsh blows, even before the announcement yesterday. The earnings-related supplement has been phased out. The supplements for dependent children have been reduced, the result being that, as compared with 1979, when the Government took office, the dole money for a man with two children has fallen by one third in real value, and that of a single man has fallen by 40 per cent.

Even after the November uprating, an unemployed single person will receive £3.32 a day to provide everything—clothing, lighting, heating and the rest—except for his housing. One of the biggest social scandals of the day is our unemployed youngsters. The unemployed school leaver will have £2 a day to keep body and soul together. There is no sign that that amount will be increased. Those who are fortunate enough to have a job and average earnings have £20 a day, so the fellow who is lucky enough to be in work is 10 times better off than the youngster who is on the dole and six times better off than the adult who is on the dole.

I could quote many other ways in which the Government have clobbered those whom they allege that they want to protect. Before I go through the list, let me give one example. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and myself are serving on a Committee dealing with the transfer of sickness benefit. The plan is to transfer the responsibility from the State to the employer. That is a fundamental change in the Welfare State. It is part of the Government's philosophy of privatisation—a horrible word. That is happening in education, health, housing and, now, social security.

There was an article in The Guardian just the other day about the Government dismantling the philosophy on which the Health Service is based. Instead of the burden being shouldered by the generality of taxpayers, it is to be paid for by insurance. In other words, we shall have two health services. Those who can afford the premiums will have a glossy, high-flying, highly efficient health service. Those who for one reason or another cannot afford the high premiums will get a third-rate health service. That two nations principle is in direct conflict with the beliefs of that great fellow, Disraeli, whom the Tory wets often quote. It is well known that that philosophy underlies the Conservative Party's approach to the Health Service.

Mr. Best

All the Labour Party was able to achieve during its last term of office was to deny the NHS about £40 million from the private sector, which it could well have used to enhance the benefits obtainable by those subscribing to the NHS.

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman had better be quiet about the Health Service. He is much too young to remember the fight that took place both inside the House and outside when the Health Service was launched. The Tory Party violently opposed the whole principle of a health service more than 30 years ago. It still dislikes it intensely because it is an oasis of Socialism in a desert of capitalism. It is perhaps the only service in the world where one gets what one needs irrespective of one's purse. That is the very principle that the Government are now undermining.

That is why, up and down the country, particularly in London but now in Glasgow, more and more private hospitals are being built with the direct encouragement of the Government. They are taking away doctors and nurses who have been trained at great public expense. Those hospitals are often owned by large American companies. They are attracting the cream of our medical and nursing professions, and leaving the Health Service to cater for the less romantic cases such as the geriatrics, the mentally retarded, and so on.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science said precisely that in a speech three or four years ago—that the Health Service financed by the taxpayer would cater for the old and the mentally handicapped, whereas the heart transplants and all the other emotional treatments would go to the private sector, and if people could not pay for them they could damned well do without.

That is exactly what happens in America. One only needs to visit America to see the result of the kind of scheme that the Government are now adumbrating. If an American falls in the street and breaks his leg, the medical service will not touch him unless he can prove that he can pay for his hospital requirements. That is now happening with social security. The Government are adopting a similar approach for education, at the very time when they are cutting education facilities across the board, from nursery schools to technical colleges and universities. They have given more money to the private fee-paying sector of education.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

For the sake of the record, the assisted places scheme in education costs no more to the State than putting a child into a maintained school. The waiting lists for operations in the National Health Service have declined dramatically. Spending in real terms on the Health Service has increased and the number of staff—whether doctors, nurses or other workers—has increased in the last two years. Those are all facts.

Mr. Hamilton

They are not all facts. I need only mention the waiting lists. No Conservative Member can pretend that the reductions in the waiting lists in the last two years are the direct responsibility of the Government.

Mr. Best


Mr. Hamilton

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why. There was a build-up of people on the waiting lists in the winter of discontent—which I deplored—and then the lists became normalised. That is the prime reason. There has been no major change in policy whatever to explain the reduction in those waiting lists. Any hon. Member who pretends otherwise is being either dishonest or naive, or both.

Anyone who has seen the conditions in our hospitals and the dissatisfaction and low morale of our nursing profession will know what is happening in our Health Service. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said at the Dispatch Box yesterday that wages in the public sector will be held back to 4 per cent. next year. That includes nurses' salaries. He said that the inflation rate next year will be at least 10 per cent. In effect, he and Conservative Members are saying "Well done nurses. You are marvellous girls, but we are going to show our gratitude by slashing your standard of living next year, the year after and the year after that".

Mr. Peter Bottomley

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He, too, must face the fact that his Government are to impose a wage limit of 4 per cent. on the very nursing profession that he pretends to applaud. His Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying that the rate of inflation next year will be 10 per cent. I suspect that it will be more. He is asking nurses and ancillary workers in hospitals—indeed, everyone in the public sector—to take a substantial reduction in their standard of living for the foreseeable future as a deliberate part of his policy.

I shall enumerate some of the policies that the Government have formulated and are in the process of formulating. According to the latest White Paper on public expenditure, the social security budget will continue to expand in real terms up to 1982–83, but most of the growth is accounted for by the increasing number of elderly people and the massive rise in unemployment. Many of the Government's problems in regard to the public sector borrowing requirement and public expenditure are accounted for by the enormous acceleration of the unemployment figures, which will get worse. The Chancellor refused to give us a figure yesterday, but by this time next year we shall be lucky if it is much short of 4 million registered unemployed, and the hidden unemployment will add another 1 million or 2 million to the figure.

In addition to creating that unemployment the Government are cutting the benefits that I have described. I have a list of the benefits that have been cut in the past two years, but I shall give only one or two examples. There is the plan to pay child benefit monthly in arrears from 1982. I have received several letters on that issue. Child benefit for many families is a lifeline, especially for one-parent families. They budget week by week. Every penny and every minute of the day counts. However, the Government are prepared arbitrarily to say "Every new recipient from next April will have to wait one month in arrears for the benefit". When child benefit was increased by 75p in November 1980, which was 40p less than was needed to retain its value and protection against increased prices, that reflected the rise in earnings. Since then, child benefit has fallen further and further behind.

The former Secretary of State for Social Services boasted that in total the cuts would save £1.5 billion from the social security budget. Compare that with those who practice in the black economy and who, by various means, are evading or avoiding tax, are getting away with an estimated £4,000 million a year. By attacking the old folk, the sick, one-parent families—those whom any civilised society would want to protect—the Government are boasting that they will save £1.5 billion from the social security budget. At the same time they are prepared to allow the rich to get away with £4,000 million every year.

In their first two Budgets, the Government redistributed about £2,000 million to the very rich—for example, those in receipt of over £20,000 a year. They were prepared to make extremely generous tax cuts for those who already had too much. In virtually every statement that they make in the House they take away ruthlessly from those who have too little and who are generally deprived. That will be the very stuff of politics in this place from now until the next election.

We are seeing from the Government a remorseless redistribution of national wealth either in the form of income or in the form of social services. It is a ruthless, indiscriminate and cruel redistribution of that wealth in favour of those at the top and against those at the bottom. I shall quote from an editorial that appeared inThe Times, which by no stretch of the imagination can be called a Labour newspaper. On 29 October, after referring to the under-privileged groups to which I have drawn attention, the article stated: It is not sensible or humane to argue that there should be equal sharing of burden between these unequal groups. The absolute level of benefits for many on social security, and especially for Britain's huge dole-force, are at rock bottom and should not be depressed further. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is to be condemned for his statement yesterday. The unemployed were earmarked for a fall of 2 per cent. in the real value of their benefit. That is a disgrace to any Government who call themselves civilised or humane.

9.35 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

If the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) had wished to deliver a violent attack against the Government, the National Health Service was manifestly the wrong ground to choose on which to do so. The Conservative Government can speak with great pride of their National Health Service record. They are spending more on the National Health Service than any other previous Government. I accept that the factors involved, as the hon. Member said, are not entirely due to Government action. Nevertheless, the fact remains that waiting lists have decreased substantially by about 100,000. That has occurred while the Conservative Government have been in office.

In no way do I want to make the problem being advanced tonight a party political issue. Labour Members may disagree with that, but I believe that there are hon. Members on each sides of the House who view the problems of those least able to look after themselves—the poor—with grave concern. I hope that that assertion will not find any disagreement on the Labour Benches.

Mr. Haynes

That is political dogma.

Mr. Best

Therefore, we wish to discuss the matter, as far as possible, dispassionately and apolitically. However, there is a great difference between the two major political parties now in the House. Not one Labour Member, to my knowledge, has placed the cost of social security payments within the context of the total economy.

Earlier this evening, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) deprecated all previous Labour Governments, back to 1948. I do not wish to reiterate the points I made in an intervention because they would not aid my speech. To the hon. Gentleman, any cuts in social security benefits were to be utterly rejected, irrespective of the health of the total economy at any time.

Labour Members may indulge in their fantasies if they wish. However, Conservative Members, who care about these matters, must look at the total problem within the context of the nation's economy.

The hon. Member for Ashfield moans bitterly, but he knows that social security payments now account for about one quarter of total expenditure. Nevertheless, under the present Government, expenditure has still risen in real terms. All hon. Members should congratulate the Government, bearing in mind the economic difficulties through which the country is passing.

Mr. Haynes


Mr. Best

I will give way in a moment. In 1978 and 1979 the total social security expenditure was £19,106 million and it is expected to have risen this year to £21,161 million. If Labour Members disagree with that, let them consider the matter in historical terms. In the 1970 to 1980 period the growth of the gross domestic product was 20.6 per cent., while the growth of social security benefit expenditure—revalued to constant prices, using the retail price index from 1970 to 1980—was not 20.6 per cent. but 57 per cent.

Let us look at the payments made between those years. In 1970, the gross domestic product was £51,107 million. Social security benefits were £3,921 million—representing a percentage of GDP of 7.7 per cent. What do we find in 1980? It is not the same percentage by any means. We find a GDP of £225,560 million, and social security benefits at £22,211 million—representing 9.8 per cent. of GDP.

The hon. Member for Ashfield does not wish to intervene now. I am grateful, because obviously I have answered the question that he was about to raise.

The Government can speak with great pride of the record that they have been able to maintain so far, taking the total economic climate into account.

Mr. Haynes

Three million unemployed.

Mr. Best

There are of those of us on both sides of the House who would like to see greater expenditure on social security because we believe it right that those who are least able to look after themselves should be succoured in times of national distress. The difference, as I perceived a moment ago, between the two sides of the House is that one side seems to think of that in isolation, and the other side sees it in terms of economic reality, regarding it as a percentage of GDP.

I do not wish to reiterate the valid points made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security about what the present Government have done, particularly in the realm of retirement pensions. Between November 1978 and November 1981, the single pension rose from £19.50 per week to £29.60 per week. The married pension rose from £31.20 to £47.35 a week. That represents an increase of almost 52 per cent., against an expected rise in prices over the same period of a similar amount.

The basic heating addition has not been mentioned very much tonight. Sadly, I understand why it has not been mentioned by Opposition Members. It is a matter on which the Government can talk with great relish. Those on supplementary benefit have had the basic heating addition raised from 95p per week in November 1979 to £1.65 today, and it is now given automatically to pensioners aged over 70 and to householders who are in receipt of supplementary benefit.

I do not need to embarrass the Opposition by talking about the Christmas bonus. The point has already been made about the way in which the Labour Government unjustly denied that to pensioners in 1975 and 1976.

Widows' pensions have also been fully protected by the Government against prices, and the 2 per cent. shortfall will be made good for them next year. Single parents are now eligible for the long-term rate of supplementary benefit after one year. Under the Labour Government, the period was two years. All families on supplementary benefit are now entitled automatically to receive the basic heating addition.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Mr. Best

I shall give way to the hon. Member, but I hope that he will not try to pre-empt my speech.

Mr. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that all widows' benefits have been protected. Will he look carefully at the widows' allowance, which is one of the short-term benefits? From the Chancellor's statement, it appeared not to have had the 2 per cent. restored to it.

Mr. Best

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was paying close attention to my speech. I mentioned widows' pensions, rather than the widows' allowance. I shall come shortly to the points about which the hon. Gentleman is eager to hear me speak. However, in addition to what was said by my hon. Friend the Minister, I believe it to be right that the way in which the present Government have been able to protect people who are least able to look after themselves should be articulated by both sides of the Chamber. It is a great record for a country that is going through an economic crisis.

Two matters cause me considerable concern. I am sure that the concern is shared by hon. Members on all sides of the House. The first relates to the position of a married man with two children, who will be unemployed in January 1982. I recently asked for the comparison between social security benefits in May 1979 and January 1982. In May 1979 unemployment benefit paid at an average level was £27.20. In January 1982 that sum will be £38. That is a 40 per cent. increase. I have no complaint about that.

If one examines unemployment benefit plus earnings-related supplement, a person who attracts the maximum earnings-related supplement in May 1979 received £43.45. In January 1982, because of the abolition of earnings-related supplement, the same person will receive only £38. That is about 87 per cent. of the sum payable in May 1979.

That is not what concerns me. I am worried about the answer to the supplementary question that I asked. I asked what would be the position of the same person in January 1982 if earnings-related supplement had not been abolished and if there had been no abatement and no alteration in child dependency additions. I was told that if child dependency additions were at the same rate as they were in May 1979 the amount of unemployment benefit, plus child benefit, would be not £38, but £69.25. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will discount those figures. On my reckoning there is a shortfall of £31.25. The sum payable would be about half that which the same person would have received if the earnings-related supplement had not been abolished. That is a matter of grave concern to the whole House and I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about it.

Another matter was articulated by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). It concerns the long-term supplementary allowance. From a reply to an earlier intervention it appears that the 2 per cent. shortfall in the long-term supplementary allowance will not be made good, whereas for the long-term supplementary pension it will. That means that there will be three different levels of benefit. That cannot he entirely satisfactory. I hope that the whole House will address itself to that and point out the anomaly which, I believe, was not generally perceived before tonight. Perhaps it was not perceived by the Government. There might still be time for the Government to do something about it.

I began by expressing my satisfaction with what the Government have been able to do so far in times of economic difficulty. I tried to structure my speech in an apolitical way without making grave political points and without castigating one side or the other. All hon. Members will accept that in these financially difficult times the Government have done a great deal to succour those who are least able to look after themselves. I have pointed to two areas of grave concern that should be examined far more carefully by the Government. [am sure, following tonight's debate, that this will happen.

I believe that the Conservative Party has always enjoyed wide support from all sections in society. In the interest of fairness, it has sought to look after those least able to look ater themselves. We have a fine record, going back to the days of Robert Peel and the restriction on working hours of children in the mines, half a century before the Labour Party was even thought of, to more recent times. It was the Conservative Party, not the Liberals, the Cobdens and Brights and those financially interested in keeping women and children working down the mines, that ensured that those people were given a better deal. In more recent times, one finds that it was the Conservative Party that gave pensions to the over-80s. If it was ever felt that the Conservative Party had turned from that fine tradition, it would not command, nor would it deserve, the support that it has merited in the past.

I believe that the Government will not allow such an event to happen. I believe that the Government are concerned and that within the current economic constraints they will address their minds to ensuring that the needy will not suffer. If the Government follow that course, as I firmly believe they will, and as they will need to do to command my continuing support, they will be true to the Conservative Party's tradition and its political philosophy of uniting the nation for a future of greatness.

9.53 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I listened to the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) with surprise and amazement. The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he would appoach the subject in a dispassionate and apolitical manner and finished by delivering a Conservative Party political broadcast. I do not wish to go through all the details of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He argued that it was a point of merit for the Conservative Party and the Government that social security benefits had increased. The hon. Gentleman quoted a number of figures but failed to say that the reason why total expenditure on these benefits had increased was that the policies of the Government had increased by 1½ million or more the number of unemployed to whom the benefits had to be paid.

Mr. Best

Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the increases in social security expenditure experienced under the previous Labour Government had nothing to do with the fact that they presided over a doubling of unemployment during their period in office?

Mr. Dubs

I was referring to the precise figures and time periods that the hon. Gentleman had quoted. The only explanation for the increase in the total proportion of GDP spent on social security benefits is the unemployment created by the actions and policies of the Government.

The hon. Gentleman bemoaned the economic climate as if that climate, like the weather, was something over which we had no control. He knows that the economic climate in this country over the last two-and-a-half years has to a large measure been the creation of his own Government. The increase in unemployment and the other difficulties through which we are passing are the direct consequence of policies that started on the day when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his first Budget in the summer of 1979. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should not be allowed to forget that.

Mr. Rossi

I do not wish the hon. Gentleman to get the whole matter out of perspective. One takes the point that he has made about the unacceptable level of unemployment in Britain, but social security payments represent only 6 per cent. of the total amount that the Government are paying out. He must not exaggerate the impact upon unemployment of the total social security outlay.

Mr. Dubs

I take the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. Nevertheless, the increase in the number of unemployed has raised significantly the burden on the Exchequer because of the requirement to provide support for the unemployed, whether through unemployment benefit or supplementary benefit. School leavers do not receive unemployment benefit. All that they can get now is supplementary benefit. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman included that in the percentage figure that he just quoted to me.

The fact is inescapable that what the Government have done, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to make clear—or, rather, he obscured it totally—in his statement yesterday, is to increase the burdens on the weakest members of our society. That is the only way in which one can interpret what the Government announced yesterday.

I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to obscure the matter in his statement because of the way in which it was couched. He said: The House will know that the increase in the RPI to November 1981 will probably be some 2 per cent. higher than the 10 per cent. increase allowed for when calculating this year's uprating. For retirement pensions and other long-term benefits, the shortfall will be made good in the November 1982 uprating. We shall thus continue to fulfil our pledge to retirement pensioners that they will be fully protected against inflation. In the case of the short-term benefits, however, next year's increase will be equal to the expected increase in the retail price index during the next 12 months."—[Official Report, 2 December 1981; Vol. 14, c. 239.] In other words, there will be no protection or reimbursement for the shortfall that he announced.

We are dealing with a 10 per cent. uprating that is 2 per cent. below the rate of inflation. The Government have not suggested that their failure to match the rate of inflation this year is due to their inability to make necessary adjustments to the mechanism by which benefits are paid. Therefore, it is inescapable that that is an attempt to reduce public spending at the expense of the unemployed and the pensioners.

Of course the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that in a year's time pensioners would catch up. That is quite true. Nevertheless, for the next 12 months the average pensioner will have lost the equivalent of one week's pension. I do not understand why the Government are imposing such a burden upon pensioners, who have borne many burdens during the past two and a half years. They have seen cuts in the support provided by local authority social services departments, fewer home helps, less transport for the elderly and a whole range of extra burdens thrown upon them, not the least of which is the increase in the television licence fee announced earlier this week.

For other people there is no Government commitment to make good the difference. I remind the House that a year ago the Government said that they would reduce unemployment benefit by 5 per cent. in lieu of the tax that would then be imposed on the unemployed. The 2 per cent. shortfall about which we are talking today is on top of that 5 per cent. abatement. It was made clear at the time that some unemployed people would not be subject to income tax if the Government introduced the proposals. Therefore, the least well off unemployed have suffered the 5 per cent. reduction because of their income tax consideration, on top of which there is now a 2 per cent. shortfall.

Since the Government were elected, the average family man on unemployment benefit is £13 a week worse off than he would have been if the Government had not introduced their succession of measures, the most recent of which came from the Chancellor of the Exchequer today.

I hope that the Minister who will reply to the debate will say something about child benefits, because I take fully to heart the points made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley). It is disgraceful that the Government are using reductions in child benefit as a way of penalising families in poverty.

There is the question of the death grant. It may not be a matter of great concern to those with years more to live, but to the elderly, in their declining years, it provides an increasing anxiety. They feel that they cannot die with dignity. It is a scandal that the death grant has not been increased to a level commensurate with the cost of a decent burial. The elderly are terrified that they will not have a decent burial because the death grant is inadequate.

I submit that the Government have got matters wholly wrong. Statements by some Conservative Back Benchers imply that the Conservative Party is compassionate. That has been belied by the experience of the past two years and the speech of the Chancellor yesterday——

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Budgen.]

Mr. Dubs

If the Government wish to be believed, they must give an undertaking that they will not attack the weak and the elderly in our society but will ensure that they are protected from the consequences of the economic difficulties that cannot be the responsibility of the very people that are made to suffer for them.

10.2 pm

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

Yesterday was a sad day in the House for the hon. Members interested in social security matters. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) probably shares that sorrow. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement yesterday singled out for special sacrifice, in the continuous round of sacrifices, those least able to bear it and the last who should be called upon to do so.

Let us examine the reasons why the measure was introduced. It was not because of some great social theory of redistribution. It was not because the right hon. and learned Gentleman wished to transfer money from one sector to another. It was introduced because of the consequences of the financial mismanagement of the economy of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been guilty, the need to get out of the disastrous slump into which he has brought Britain's industrial heritage, and was an attempt to prove that monetarism is not the disaster that everyone in Britain now knows it to be. The reason for the statement being made yesterday was based on and born out of failure.

To whom do we refer when we talk about the 2 per cent. shortfall? It is right to remind ourselves, as the hon. Member for Woolwich, West did, that there are people who are not wholly obsessed with the minutiae of social security legislation but actually have to try to live on the fruits of social security benefits provided by the House.

We are discussing an economic forecast in which the Government Actuary suggests that unemployment in 1982–83 will amount to more than 3,100,000, and will probably be nearer 3,250,000. The outlook is not bright. The Actuary's forecast, excluding school leavers—which he believes to be a constant figure—budgets for a rise in the unemployed of 300,000. That can mean only that the numbers of long-term unemployed, as well as the short-term unemployed, must increase. The number unemployed for a long period will rise from the current 700,000 to 800,000, or possibly more, if the number of vacancies does not increase more quickly than it is increasing at present. That is the first category of about 800,000 people, plus their dependants. They all have to live on unemployment benefit. Over half of those unemployed are unemployed as a direct result of the Government's policies and therefore the situation is in many ways a consequence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's measures.

We have had the curious thought that beneficiaries, like Gaul, are divided into three. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, we now have three classes of benefit. Short-term supplementary benefit pensioners will not recoup their 2 per cent. The long-term pensioners will recoup their 2 per cent., but long-term beneficiaries other than pensioners will not recoup their percentage. They are in receipt of supplementary allowances. According to the figures on 28 November 1979, they number 330,000. Therefore, we are now talking about more than I million people. That is not an inconsiderable number.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying as a friend and as an adviser that his speech was well below his usual standard and combined the minimum information with the maximum aggression. That is probably a byproduct of his Department's long struggles with the Treasury in which it did not completely win the protection it sought. The sum of £65 million involves 1 million people and their dependents. Therefore, we are talking about a considerable number of people.

Only those who suffer from the Sproat-like fantasies of a few Conservative Back Benchers can possibly believe that those people are unemployed or in receipt of other benefits by choice. That is not a category of people that is growing week by week. People are not saying "That is enough for me. I can get a much better deal on the dole". I repeat that they are on the dole as a result of the Government's actions and the failure of the British economy. The Government bear a heavy responsibility. As has been said, it is not as if this is the only measure to single out the more disadvantaged in our society. We talk about the 5 per cent. and the phasing out of earnings-related benefits and all the other measures involved. This is not the only measure that I found objectionable in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement.

As mention has been made of health, I am entitled to make a passing reference to it. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) spoke about hospitals and did well to confine his remarks to them. Yesterday we learnt that prescription charges will increase to £1.30 compared with the charge of 20p that was levied before the Conservative Party came to power. That is no great success story. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very adept at hiding the increased ophthalmic charges. Many hon. Members do not realise that the charge for a lens has been raised from £8.30 to £15. That is the mark of the Government's tremendous success story in the Health Service.

I return to the question of the unemployed and the short-term and long-term supplementary benefit allowances. The Chancellor of the Exchequer underestimated the rate of inflation. We all know that he does that. He does it every year, and he gets it wrong every year—except for one year. I want to talk about that, because it illustrates a nice piece of logic which the Government apply. One year he got it wrong in the opposite direction. He estimated for 10 per cent. and it turned out to be 9 per cent., so he immediately clawed the 1 per cent. back. He did not say "I have got it wrong, so you can keep the difference". Instead he clawed it back. Yet when he gets it wrong in the opposite direction he does not say "I have got it wrong, so you can have the difference". He keeps the difference. If ever there was an example of "Heads I win, tails you lose" it is that doctrine.

The Chancellor is extremely dishonest in the way he forecasts and in the way he stands by the results of those forecasts. Of course, some factors may blow the Government off course. They would blow any Government off course when it comes to inflation. However, these factors which have widened the gap between actual inflation and forecast inflation were pointed out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the last Budget. There is nothing magical in that. We told him that he would get it wrong and, for once, he obliged.

He assumes an inflation rate of 10 per cent. next year. Does anyone believe him? Certainly I do not. Will pensioners believe him, or the people who have suffered the shortfall this year? Or will they again be brought to the reality that any gap will be fudged so that they are the losers, and the weakest in our society are called on once again to bear the brunt.

I want to say one thing on behalf of this side—well, the Labour Party. We are the party on this side of the House. I was technically correct. I wish that I had not corrected myself. After all, the other parties are singularly absent. Even if measures had to be taken to correct an economic imbalance, under no circumstances would I make the unemployed, or people in receipt of long-term supplementary allowances, or people in receipt of short-term social security payments the victims of the country's need to tighten its belt.

I am asked where the money comes from. For the life of me, I cannot see what great benefit the economy has derived by lowering the upper rate of tax, which was almost the first thing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did in his first Budget. He said that it would be the magic stimulus to release all the hidden talents which had been kept down by years of Labour shackles. What has happened? Precisely nothing. I see nothing as a consequence of that measure. One should weigh up that non-stimulus with the necessity to tell the unemployed that the 2 per cent. greater inflation which they have suffered is on their own heads. It is a gross misuse of funds to continue that concession while failing to reimburse the unemployed.

There is a danger that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I choose my words carefully, because I do not believe that it was deliberate—concealed some of the truth yesterday when he said: For retirement pensions and other long-term benefits, the shortfall will be made good".—[Official Report, 2 December 1981; Vol. 14, c. 239.] I hope that the hon. Lady will confirm that what we have said is correct—that long-term supplementary allowances are not to be made good. There will be a shortfall, so to that extent the Chancellor of the Exchequer misled the House yesterday.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett


Mr. John

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a habit of doing that by accident, as if he trips over the front step every time he tries to go through his front door.

Great play was made on the alignment of benefits. Can one now say, with three rates of benefit, that they are any longer aligned? If so, may I ask the Minister a question once again? She seemed confident and relaxed before, but I do not believe that it is as simple as that. Will the changes in rates and the disalignment need legislation to put them right? I believe that there might have to be a Bill. If so, the Government had better tell us quickly. The Minister had better stop pretending that there has been a great simplification of social security under his Government, when he has just created three rates that were not there before.

I come to my final point because I must give the Minister a chance to reply to the many points that have been made. Although the two Government spokesmen will have spoken in the debate, it is important to the many hon. Members who have raised points that they should have an opportunity to reply. I reiterate to the Minister that we do not believe that in singling out the categories of person that the Chancellor singled out yesterday he was according with the wishes either of the majority of the House of Commons or of the majority of the nation.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West said that he would prefer to try beating the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the head with a soft pillow for the next four months, to persuade him of the correctness of his view. Even the hon. Gentleman will admit that there are many Members sitting on the Conservative Back Benches who are deeply apprehensive. Otherwise, why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer have such a rapturous reception from his Back Benchers at the meeting in the House of Commons last night? There is no majority in the House of Commons, and certainly no majority in the country, for his measures. The country does not take to a Government who single out the weakest in our society or the unfortunate for the harshest treatment.

Unless the Government remind themselves that their duty, as the many statements seem to suggest, is to protect the weakest in our society, that will devalue not only their words before the election—God knows those words were devalued quickly anyway—but all the assurances given by Ministers in the House. Despite everything that is said about the parliamentary process, I still believe that Ministers' words given in the House of Commons should mean something. If they do, it is time that this Administration lived up to them.

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

I shall do my best in the short time available, if I am permitted by the House to do so, to wind up the debate and answer as many as possible of the questions that have been posed.

I congratulate the hon. member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on initiating a Supply day debate. I say that because that is much more like what we have had today. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) had better look to his laurels, because he has trotted off on a Thursday evening.

The debate has been wide. The speech of my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security was a clear exposition of the detail that could not be included, for obvious reasons, in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday. There is an additional £2.5 billion in 1982–83 on top of the large sums that we now spend. It behoves us all in the House, whatever party we represent and whatever the make-up of our constituencies, to realise the vast rate of increase in our benefit expenditure, which is largely spent on the retired and the handicapped. It is necessary expenditure with which we all agree.

One thing that worries me considerably is the total lack of appreciation—sometimes within the House, but certainly outside—of the level of spending on pensioners, which we do not regret for a moment but which must be financed for years ahead. At a time like this, it behoves us to realise that 43 per cent. of the spend is for retirement pensioners. A further 8 per cent. or more goes to the handicapped, who are covered by special national insurance benefits. Further amounts can be added for supplementary benefits paid out of the Consolidated Fund.

The vast majority of social security spending goes to elderly people and people who are very much in need. I therefore appreciate what has been said by a number of hon. Members.

The thing that does not seem to have got home to hon. Members is that 60 per cent. of all benefit expenditure is covered by the Government's guarantee to make good the shortfall, be it 1.8 per cent., 1.9 per cent., or 2 per cent. We have had to look at where we could make a contribution to what was being demanded of all Government Departments by the Treasury.

The shortfall announced by the Chancellor will total £65 million in 1982–83. We should remind ourselves of exactly what that is compared with the cuts made by the Labour Government in 1976. The £500 million then saved by switching the method of uprating from the historical method used on the two previous occasions to the forecasting method that has been subsequently used would, at today's prices, be making a cut of £925 million in social security expenditure.

The shortfall that is not being made good, which is the only saving that the Treasury is taking from the DHSS on this occasion, is £65 million in 1982–83. It is high time that everybody got those figures clearly in their heads once and for all. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) for pointing those figures out. He told me that he had to leave to return to a previous engagement.

There have been a number of other comments about what has gone on previously. Pensions have gone up by more than the increase in prices under both the previous and present Administrations. Even if we allow for a November 1980 to November 1981 inflation rate of 12 per cent., the pension increase now is ahead of the price increase for the same period. We seem to forget those basic facts. That is why I have taken a few moments to repeat them so that no one is in any doubt.

I was asked to repeat the list given by my hon. Friend in his earlier remarks of the benefits that are covered by the Chancellor's pledge——

Mr. John

Are not covered.

Mrs. Chalker

I was also asked to list those that are covered. Perhaps I can deal with them all. I was asked to list those benefits that are covered by the Chancellor's pledge to make good the 2 per cent. shortfall, if it be as much as that. I do so particularly in view of the exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on widows' allowance.

Those benefits where the shortfall will be made good are retirement pension—both national insurance and noncontributory; widows' pension, including widowed mothers' allowance and widows' allowance; industrial death benefit paid as widows' or widowers' pension; war disablement pension; war widows' pension; industrial disablement pension; attendance allowance; invalid care allowance; invalidity benefit; non-contributory invalidity benefit; unemployability supplement; and supplementary pension.

For the sake of the record, I shall go further and list the other benefits that are not pledged by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, injury benefit, maternity allowance, child benefit —including one-parent benefit—family income supplement, mobility allowance and supplementary allowance. That is the complete list. I hope that now that we have those benefits on the record there will be no confusion.

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) made many comments, one of which concerned the take-up of benefit. He spoke in elaborate terms about Strathclyde, as though its wide-targeted campaign of last year had continued. Most hon. Members who follow these matters with care will know that the only reason for being critical of the so-called take-up campaign that Strathclyde initially ran was that it raised false expectations. The way in which it was carried out created chaos. It produced 340 people with some entitlement to regular weekly benefit, and it occurred just before the change from the old system to the new. It also did something that was cruel to many people. It raised expectations unfairly.

I am delighted to say that with that bad experience behind us we have moved on a long way. In my meetings with the social work chairmen of Strathclyde and others in Scotland, we have reached a modus vivendi whereby we consult and make sure that it is a closely targeted campaign in which the local office of the DHSS can respond to inquiries. That is the way to improve take-up, not to go on a wild goose chase that cruelly gives expectations to those who should not have them. Other authorities in the country that are working with local offices are doing a better job than ever.

I was asked about the three rates of supplementary benefit—the two rates of supplementary allowance, and the supplementary pension. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) on alignment. I am further advised that we do not require primary legislation because the details of rates and entitlements are worked out through the regulations. My hon Friend the Minister and I have taken careful note of the remarks that have been made about the three rates, and we shall look further into the shortfall on the long-term supplementary allowance.

I come now to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Ashfield on the mobility allowance. Twice during the debate he made some scurrilous accusations. I should like to put him right. If there has been a withdrawal of mobility allowance, it can only be on medical grounds, and anyone from whom that allowance was withdrawn has the right of appeal. If the hon. Gentlman did not advise his constituents to appeal in that circumstance, I am sorry. It is clearly laid down——

Mr. Haynes

More now than ever.

Mrs. Chalker

If the hon. Gentleman's local offices are not following up matters with care—I shall read the record of what he said with diligence—I shall have something to say about it. I hope that it is clear that a person from whom an allowance is removed has the right to appeal.

Many hon. Members mentioned child benefit. No one underestimates the importance of that benefit. I shall bring those remarks to the notice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Even for those who will be new recipients of child benefit in 1982, there are special provisions to allow them to receive the benefit weekly if necessary.

Many questions were raised on health. I remind the House that there are now 9,000 more nurses and midwives, more than 1,000 extra doctors and more than 1,000 extra paramedical staff than in May 1979. That is one of the main reasons why we have been able to reduce the waiting lists. I remind the House that we are continuing the previous provision for expansion of the hospital and community health services. We intend to allow the resources to expand at the previously planned rates. The pressures of economic restraints are not——

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKERadjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.