HC Deb 10 May 1984 vol 59 cc1183-95 10.39 pm
Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

We have had the usual Lancastrian Max Miller act from the House's favourite Government Front Bench clown who never tries to match up to the seriouness of the subject. It is time he became a Minister of State in his Department instead of treating us to the rather banal comedy act which gets more tedious as we go through debate after debate.

I intend to concentrate on the regulations dealing with single payments, because in that regard the Government at least owe the House an apology. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, they misled the House in December 1981 when they advised us that we were then passing a correct consolidation measure when in reality we were changing the law. It must be a bitter pill for the Department and its legal advisers to swallow to realise that there was a change in the law.

I do not say that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) deliberately misled the House on that occasion, but the effect of what she said was to mislead the House into thinking that it was dealing with a consolidation measure, despite the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and I both warned the Government that it was not a true consolidation measure and that it was changing the law. We were brushed aside. The superior departmental wisdom which the Minister of State is still relying upon knew much better than we did about the regulations and we were assured that there was no change in the law.

It is not good enough for the Minister of State simply to say that everybody always understood that that was the law. The case that was quoted in the debate on 2 December 1981 involved a claimant who was told by the Department that there had been a change in the law. That was brushed aside. We were told that there was no change whatsoever. I invite the Minister of State upon mature reflection at least to do the House the courtesy of apologising for what the Government did. An apology was singularly absent from the Minister's speech tonight.

The effect of the decision by the social security commissioners that the words complained of in the regulation were changing the law is that for three years claimants who were entitled under the regulations to a cooker and a heater were unlawfully denied those claims. Even if Ministers make knockabout speeches, no Government should be proud of the fact that for three years they have acted completely outside the law. For that, too, we are entitled to an apology. Even more so, the claimants who have been denied help should be traced and offered recompense for the illegal decisions that were made on their claims.

The matter is even more serious. I intervened deliberately to try to find out what the Minister thought he was saying on behalf of the Department. He said that it was proceeding in a perfectly orderly manner and then along came the decision of the social security commissioners which knocked it for six; at the beginning of April the Department read the 18 pages of legal argument which knocked it absolutely sideways and showed it that its understanding of the law was wrong and, therefore, it had to rush. It did not know how many cases or how much money had been involved, but the matter was urgent. That is a curious way of saying to the House that urgency was justified. I would have thought that he who certifies urgency has a duty to prove it to the House and not the other way round.

The Minister has a duty to prove the urgency of the case. He misled us even in that. I am sorry to say that of him, but he was so carried away by his knockabout act that he did not measure his words. Although he said yes—a three letter word—the first the Government had heard was when the Commissioner made his decision.

The case upon which the commissioner decided was that of Neil Paul Cameron, which was first decided by the appeal tribunal in February 1982. On 25 November, a few days before the famous consolidation debate, that man had been granted a cooker. He applied for installation charges, but the Department opposed that. The appeal was heard on 10 February, scarcely two months after we debated the matter. The departmental submission is interesting and points out exactly how the Minister misled the House.

The chairman's notes of evidence state:

Department's officer referred the Tribunal to Reg. 10(1) of the Supp Ben (Single Payments) Regs 1981. He explained that the payment made to the appellant was incorrect and that in view of the new legislation should not have been made.

The Department, within two months of the debate, was saying something wholly opposed to what we had been assured in December 1981 would be the effect of the consolidation.

The Minister owes the House an apology for what he said from the Dispatch Box when he opened the Debate. I acquit him of deliberately misleading the House — I think that, in the fervour of the moment—he has many fervours of the moment—he said something that he did not intend. But the effect of what he said, unless it had been checked, would have misled the House.

The Department did not know for the first time in April 1984 that the law had been changed. Its officers knew within two months of the debate in the House and were making submissions to the tribunals accordingly. It is a reproach to the Government that they have waited so long — if they feel so strongly — before bringing back the regulations. They should say that they made a mistake but the matter is so important that they will amend the regulations.

Many officers of the Department must have been using exactly the same argument. That is why we have a right to complain tonight about the handling of the matter and also about the way in which the House is treated. The Minister said it would never have happened under a Labour Government. The regulations were codified under a Conservative Government to remove a great deal of discretion that hitherto rested with officers at local level. Having codified them and placed them before the House, the Government have a duty to be honest, frank and correct when they are debated. They should not mislead the House about their effect and then say that we had every chance to scrutinise. We cannot scrutinise an assurance that turns out to be wholly wrong.

If only because the Government have shown themselves unrepentant about what is, by any standards, disgraceful behaviour, and unrepentant about misleading the House not once, but twice, a Division is necessary.

The Minister says "We cannot have the law interpreted by the social security commissioners." The House passes many laws which are interpreted by the High Court, and I have yet to see a Government rushing to change legislation on every occasion when a High Court judgment reveals the law to be other than what it was thought to be when it was passed. We must, of course, be careful in choosing what, if any, intervention we make into the affairs of the judicial system.

I agree with the Minister that the judiciary is totally independent of the Department. In a way, however, it is neutered as well as being neutral if it knows that every time it makes a decision that is unfavourable to the Government, the Government will alter the legislation. I urge the Government to take that step only when really necessary following a High Court decision which is unfavourable or unwelcome to them. Otherwise, all the benefits that will come from the unification of the adjudication procedures and the proper examination of cases will be dissipated because appelants will know that behind every successful appeal may lie what might be called an urgency procedure.

I fear that a Government who, in a matter of this kind, could, between 24 and 26 April, consider laying and then bring into force these regulations, are not a Government who will encourage a proper system of adjudication. For all the Minister's bluster, the reality is that he and his colleagues have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar. They had better apologise so that they may remove their hands quickly from the jar.

10.52 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I have three points to make, the first being to comment on one of the themes adduced by the Minister, and in doing that I draw a moral for his hon. Friends. In our proceedings tonight, the last Labour Government have appeared like Banquo's ghost. It is easy for me to speak about the record of that Government because I was not an hon. Member of the House at that time and did not have to vote in the Lobby. Looking back on that record, I hope that there are on these Benches some of my hon. Friends who are ashamed of some of the actions for which they voted.

I hope, too, that Conservative Members see how crippled we are in contributing to this debate because not sufficient hon. Members who supported the Labour Government at the time were prepared to vote for their consciences rather than for the Whips.

I hope that tonight's speeches from these Benches, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), will persuade many Conservative Members not only to make a stand against the Government —a stand which is right on principle—but to enlarge the freedom which they may need to exercise in future Parliaments. We shall have heard the last of Banquo's ghost when some of the Minister's hon. Friends vote against him, and I hope that that will happen tonight.

Secondly, we often talk about the importance of a free society, a theme which I hope unites both sides of the House. However, we rarely go on to discuss the web of institutions, values and actions that makes up a free society. Tonight the Government stand condemned for taking a small step—I accept that it is a small one—which will undermine that free society. The Government are asking us to undermine still further two bodies which have been established to check the power of government. If we believe in a free society, we believe in establishing a set of institutions which can check central Government.

The Government are slowly undermining the Social Security Advisory Committee. I think that I have more right than any of my right hon. and hon. Friends to speak on the issue because I was the only Labour Member who voted for the abolition of the Supplementary Benefits Commission and the establishment of the Committee. I was told by my right hon. and hon. Friends that the abolition of the commission would be a terrible blow for the poor and that many of my constituents would be distressed. When I returned to Birkenhead the weekend after Parliament decided to abolish the commission I found that none of my constituents was weeping in the streets. Many of my constituents referred to the commission as the unemployment assistance board, and that is how they refer to the present regime.

The Social Security Advisory Committee was established by Parliament. It was given independence and the role of advising the Government on policy changes. We are discussing one of a series of instances when the Government, believing that the issue might be slightly difficult to tackle, have decided to take action first and to consult the committee afterwards. In the long run, that is a form of action that will undermine the committee's authority. That in turn must play some part in determining the qualities of the person who the Government are seeking to appoint as chairman. Who will want that appointment when it is likely that the Government will remove from the committee's remit and deliberations most of the important issues that come before it?

We are beginning to create two tiers of law. The first tier is the main stream of law that comes within the traditional judicial process and the second tier is welfare law. It is rare for High Court decisions to be overturned within days by the House, but sadly that is becoming a regular occurrence in respect of decisions of the equivalent High Court procedure for the poor, which are overturned if they go in their favour.

I disagree to some extent with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). He was right to say that we object to the manner in which the Government are taking their decisions, but he suggested that the substance of the decisions was not very important. I agree that that is so in the context of one set of regulations. Few of us could object to the changes that the Government are introducing for holiday pay and pay in lieu of notice. They will merely mean that individuals will spend that money before they go on to benefit. They will be the losers, but they will not suffer any great hardship, That cannot be said of the other regulations on cookers and heating. I beg the Government to reconsider their decision. Many of the poor will suffer and their decision will undermine what they claim to be one of the main planks of Conservative policy, which is to help people stand on their own two feet.

There are many empty council flats in the constituency in which I live and some individuals on supplementary benefit would choose to move into them. However, it is difficult to move into accommodation without a cooker or a heater, especially a cooker. A person who does not have a cooker will have to spend a disproportionate amount of his benefit buying food in cafes. There comes a point—it is usually after about three weeks — when people become fed up with living on sandwiches. At that stage they start to go to cheaper forms of cafe. If that is done by someone who is in receipt of supplementary benefit, he [Mr. Frank Field] will be unable to pay his other bills. That means that he will start to fall into rent arrears and accumulate other debts.

I hope that the Government will be moved by some of the arguments that have been advanced by my hon. Friends and me on the cooker and heater regulations. That matter is important to the poor. It is an important point in the Government's statements about their long-term strategy of helping people to stand on their own two feet.

I make a plea to the House to make a stand and to defend and foster those somewhat fragile institutions we are trying to build up against the power of the state. I hope that all of us who are libertarians, rather than Right or Left—wing centralisers, will be in the Lobby. I hope that hon. Members will note the lessons of the last Labour Government that have been endlessly pointed out. Many good things can be said for the last Labour Government. Much of their record was found wanting. We lost an election, so the record could not have been all that good. Conservative Members see how we are crippled when we are trying to argue our corner because hon. Members swallowed hard two Parliaments ago and voted for measures that they perhaps did not believe were right. I hope, because it is important that we have honourable Back Benchers, that many Conservative Members will join the Labour Members in the Lobby.

11.1 pm

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

I am sure that it would be appreciated by you, Mr. Speaker, and hon. Members if I do not rehearse the details of how certain cases arose. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) read the Child Poverty Action Group brief as accurately as anyone could, and I believe that the details were covered.

I am worried that the Minister relies on putting the worst possible interpretation on what might happen if the matter were not returned to what the Government believe it should have been. It is difficult to accept his point, because he gave no estimate of the cost of letting the present position continue as though the regulations had been interpreted properly in the commissioners' determination. It is difficult to accept that calculations of the cost have not been made in the depths of the DHSS.

Predictions are made of all sorts of possible cases. The Government's expenditure plans are put before us repeatedly. Figures are shown to be out by substantial amounts. As those hon. Members who have served on the Select Committee on Social Services know, departmental officials must justify those projections under cross-examination.

Those hon. Members who represent inner city constituencies and areas of high deprivation know only too well the need to give the benefit of the doubt to claimants. The Minister's reliance on principle and his appeal for consistency in these matters would be acceptable only if the resources available to those suffering under the recession and economic crisis were sufficient for people to live on. It is not as though people will make a great killing if the regulations continue to be interpreted as at present. I suspect that the appeal from the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), whose consistency and sincerity on these matters is well known to both sides of the House, will not be heeded by Conservative Members.

By and large, Conservative Members do not understand the problems of individuals in need in those parts of the country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton): Rubbish.

Mr. Meadowcroft

The hon. Gentleman says, "Rubbish." There is a vast difference between the needs of people in the pockets of very high unemployment in parts of our cities and elsewhere. Surveys in cities in the north, for example Bradford and Leeds, show that the unemployment figures are 50 per cent. and 60 per cent., not 15 per cent. and 16 per cent. Those facts are not shown up by the global statistics put forward by the DHSS.

We are dealing with people who are not living on supplementary benefit, but existing on it. The definition of poverty given by the former chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, Mr. David Donnison, was that it was the inability to live with dignity in one's own community. The present position does not allow people to live with dignity. At the margin, where there are little ways to assist people, the Government are not prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

A great deal of bitterness is felt in the community over what is seen as the Government's attitude. These changes have been brought about only because organisations, some grant-aided by local government and some by central Government, have pursued their clients' cases assiduously and have managed to prove to the commissioners that previous interpretations were wrong. The organisations therefore obtained benefits for their clients. The Minister said that the regulations have been brought before the House because the amount of discretion has been reduced. The regulations are the quid pro quo for that.

When the supplementary benefit regulations allowed considerable discretion, those voluntary organisations, underpinned by grant aid, using many volunteers, could argue the case for reasonableness and for supplementary benefit officers having exercised their discretion. That action will not now be open to them. The door has been shut on the ways that the organisations found to assist their clients with the draconian regulations.

Those of us who have constituency cases are well aware that people have to fight to obtain single payments. That is not money to spend on equipping a house to the standards that the Minister and I would deem acceptable. In most cases they can obtain only second-hand equipment to set up any kind of a home. It is no good saying that teenagers might leave home. We all know of single parents who exist for weeks before they can extract the single payment that they need to survive.

I noted the Minister's words. He said that the regulations had been brought about because he thought that the commissioners had come down on the wrong side of a finely balanced argument. That seems to illustrate the attitude of a Government who will slam the door shut on any attempt to obtain better conditions for those who find themselves in severe and distressing circumstances.

Many hon. Members feel that the system is breaking down, and the way that people have to rely on supplementary benefit is not conducive to the stable and secure communities that we wish to see. The amounts involved may not be important, but to those struggling to survive the Government's attitude is the most harmful aspect of the matter.

None of us wish to see again what happened in our cities in the summer of 1981. All these matters are cumulative. They seem to show people who have nothing else to live for that they might as well take to the streets and take the matter into their own hands, because they cannot find a legitimate way through the jungle of regulations and statistics to obtain benefits.

I beg the Minister and Conservative Members to heed the words of the hon. Member for Birkenhead and those of us who are seeking to help people to have better conditions, and accept that it is not a good idea to try and take back the small benefits that have been obtained by recourse to the commissioners.

11.8 pm

Dr. Boyson

I shall make a few comments on the points raised by the Opposition.

I have said that we do not know how much money is involved in the single payments. One does not know how many people would set up on their own if they knew that they could move into unfurnished accommodation when furnished accommodation was available at home, with relatives or elsewhere in a town. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) that only second-hand furniture would generally be obtained. Obviously, the number of claimants will be limited by the amount of the furnished accommodation that is available, and so on. There is no means for giving a figure. All that we know is that considerably more people would move into such accommodation than do now.

The hon. Gentleman's first point was about the regulations covering whether the benefit periods run concurrently or consecutively. I can tell him—if he will listen to me instead of to his leader, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), he can continue the conversation later—that the figure for the difference between whether the periods run concurrently or consecutively would be at least £8.4 million a year.

Mr. Frank Field

There will be a saving, then?

Dr. Boyson

There will not be a saving, because if the commissioner's interpretation stands, £8.4 million will be paid that is not at the moment. There would be a saving only if benefit was paid for some time under the commissioner's interpretation which would then be taken back again.

I shall make a last point to the hon. Member for Leeds, West, and then I shall leave him in peace—I was making notes, and, as he was the last speaker, his speech is the most fresh in my mind. I take his point that supplementary benefit is not the best standard of living—we all know that—and it is the benefit of last recourse. However, the purchasing power of supplementary benefit compared with when it was introduced in 1948 is double in real terms. It is as well to remember that. We are glad that the purchasing power is twice what it was in 1948.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is there not a great difference between 1948 and now, especially the time during which people have to survive on supplementary benefit, which was much shorter then? It is the long—term existence on the benefit that is so debilitating, and that problem is very different from those of 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

Dr. Boyson

I appreciate the difference between the two, and this is why the long-term supplementary benefit was brought in for those who had been on it for more than a year.

I grant the hon. Gentleman that there is a difference between the laying down of regulations and a system relying on discretion. There are advantages both ways. The staff in the local offices to whom I have talked prefer that there should be regulations governing what is allowed or not allowed. They used to get many calls because different offices would give different figures, and there were sometimes unpleasant scenes, whereas now there is a rule book that can be referred to.

A number of hon. Members have spoken as though we are undermining the Social Security Advisory Committee, but we in fact established it, and are replacing people who have left. We have just sent it a package of 54 proposals for summer regulations, and we are consulting the committee in full on all of it. Tonight we are dealing with three changes under the urgency provisions—about 5 per cent. of them. Out of fairness to the Government, that should be pointed out.

Before I sum up I shall answer the point made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) about misleading. We do not intend to mislead now, and we did not in 1981. We were given legal advice that we were making a consolidation and not a change. The hon. Member spoke about local offices. Some of them thought that the law had changed — the hon. Member was right to say that. Advice was then issued on what we thought the law meant in October 1981, before the consolidation, and we believed that that is what it meant after the consolidation. I shall send the hon. Member a copy of a long circular covering the single payments regulation, issued in 1981, because it sets out the belief that we were acting on. We were doing what we thought had been done before. and that is why the 1981 change was considered to be consolidation.

Two points have been made in the debate. One is about whether the benefit is consecutive or concurrent. If supplementary benefit is a benefit of last resort, it should be given only when no other money is available. If a person has enough on which to live for some weeks, to give that person the benefit would take it away from somebody else who needed it. Therefore, it is a matter of honour as much as of finance.

The Government's actions are right. We are returning to what we believe was the previous position. If people can set up on their own in unfurnished accommodation and immediately get second—hand furniture installed with the aid of supplementary benefit, the family unit would not be encouraged. It would instead encourage people to move away from the family after the slightest argument and it would be costly. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) may disagree, but I have spent much time with adolescents and know that they have huge arguments with their parents. The hon. Member may not be aware of that—he may have lived in a different society. I have worked in down-town areas as much as any hon. Member, and know that immediately after arguments many adolescents would live on their own if they could, but that after a few days the family unit is re—established.

It would be entirely wrong if working people who could not afford to buy furniture for unfurnished accommodation [Dr. Boyson] discovered that people on supplementary benefit had that privilege. We do not want to create such a gap between working and non-working people.

The Government, with these regulations, are moving the supplementary benefit system back to where we believed it was, as the Labour Government did with the housewife's non-contributory invalidity pension. I have no doubt that if the Labour party were in office now it would do exactly the same.

11.17 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

We have heard a rather sorry tale told in a rather sorry way. It involves bungling, incompetence and, at best and at worst, illegal action by the Government. Unfortunately, that is not untypical.

In recent weeks in Committee and on the Floor of the House during Health and Social Security Bill debates we have repeatedly heard of changes that must be made in the law, in regulations and in the schedule because the Government have got it wrong, the law does not do what they thought it did, and must be changed to what they imagined it was. All hon. Members are aware that this is the season for repeats on television, but we did not expect so many during social security debates.

When the Minister began he might have expected and, indeed, received, some sympathy. All hon. Members know what it is like to defend a poor case, and a decision in which one had no part and which was perhaps made in good faith. However, whatever sympathy he had was dissipated by his attitude. Our sympathy for him was further tempered and ultimately extinguished when we considered how much sympathy the Government have for the claimants affected by the regulations. The Minister is accustomed to busking his way through awkward positions, but some occasions are less suitable than others for that technique, and this is one of them.

The first set of cases, with which the Minister dealt, are simpler than the rest. It involves a change in policy brought about by the commissioners, who felt that it was a mistaken policy. It is unfortunate that it took two years for the appeal to be heard by the commissioner, but only a few days for the Government to make a change to restore the original position. Many hon. Members asked what the point of the appeal procedure is, but the Minister's reply was unsatisfactory. People who give time to serve on tribunals must wonder tonight why they give that time or, indeed, waste it.

The Minister said that they have gone to appeal on the matter, and hope to have a decision in July. He did not tell the House why it was not possible to wait until July to lay the regulations. That would be a reasonable length of time, during which the social Social Security Advisory Committee might have been able to comment in advance of the regulations, and perhaps come up with a more reasonable procedure than that which the Government adopted.

The more complicated matter is that of single payments. The Minister has said on at least three occasions that, in these regulations, the Government are restoring the position to what they believed it to be. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) rightly said, the Government were told on 2 December 1981, not the theory of the effect of these changes which the Government put forward as consolidating regulations, but about the practice that was taking shape. They were given chapter and verse of concrete cases where decisions had been changed even before the debate in the House. Yet the Minister still says that it is news to the Department that the law was not as they had thought.

The Minister deployed an extraordinary circular argument. He said that the regulations must have been consolidating, and could not have introduced a change in policy, because they were not referred to the SSAC. If there had been a change of policy, they would have had to be referred to the SSAC. But the commissioners tell us that, because the regulations introduced a change in policy and were not a consolidation, they were ultra vires and illegal.

Tonight the Minister made a great play of the regulations that were introduced in 1981. Perhaps he did so because of the briefing that he was given, but if I were him I would not in future place much reliance on the briefings given by his Department on this matter. He should be aware that the change in policy took place between the 1980 and 1981 regulations. The policy which the Government are seeking to bring into effect tonight, and which we. shall try to stop, is the policy in the regulations ultimately drafted in 1981 and put forward as consolidating regulations. However, it was not the policy of the 1980 regulations, which they were supposed to consolidate. The change to which the commissioners referred took place then.

The Minister also told the House that the Government have referred to the inspectors the questions of payments for furniture and alternative furnished accommodation. We welcome that to some extent because in the past the inspectors have treated claimants fairly. But I must tell the Minister that his statement about the lack of change in policy is not borne out by what is happening in practice under the regulations on alternative furnished accommodation. The Minister said that the chief supplementary benefit officer has given guidance to other benefit officers about what a claimant must do. We are told, although the Minister did not see fit to mention it, that the guidance states that a claimant must produce—depending on the source to which one goes—either 13 or 15 separate refusals of accommodation to justify their contention that no suitable furnished accommodation is available.

The Minister talked a good deal about the young unemployed, and gave the impression that the only people who claimed such payments were the frivolous young who might, to use the Minister's words, two days after a quarrel with their parents and after taking substantial payments from the Department, trail back home. But the Minister must know—if he does not, his inspectors will soon tell him—of the long delays suffered by many claimants. One example is of a man who claimed a single payment for furniture and household equipment in March 1982. He claimed some items on the grounds that he had been discharged from hospital and was chronically sick. He had every case that one would wish to make, and there was no question of his being a frivolous teenager with minor, transitory problems. It was three months before the Department's officers visited him to decide whether he was entitled to payment; and some weeks later payment had still not been made. The Minister must know well that these payments are not easy to obtain.

The Minister also talked about the cost of making this change back to the policy that the Government thought that they were — illegally — pursuing. In February the Minister said that the average limit for payments of social security for bed and breakfast was about £65 a week. A couple of weeks before that the Department of the Environment said that the average payments for a single bedroomed council flat for a single parent was about £16.10 a week. Although we are talking about the amounts involved in single payments, over a period of time there can be little question that not only do the claimants themselves benefit from the independence that they may enjoy but also there may well be substantial savings to the Department.

Ultimately, the problem that we have faced tonight is two—fold. Either my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) or the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) referred to the Minister as unrepentant. He was not only unrepentant, he was complacent, he was smug and he treated the whole matter as if it were all a bit of a good joke that we could all enjoy together and nobody would really suffer. He must know that that is not the circumstance.

The Minister did not tell us tonight—I hope that he will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) or myself and publish his reply—what he intends to do about the people who were wrongly denied benefit over the past three years. What does he intend to do to make the payments illegally denied them by the Government, and, in particular, what does he intend to do about those individuals, of whom there must now be some if not many who have outstanding claims for payments of this nature and in respect of whom payment, perhaps even in the last few days and weeks, has illegally been denied? The Minister did not tell us that tonight. He did not give us the apology that at least the claimants, if not the House, might justly have sought. For that reason, if for no other, we shall seek to annul the regulations tonight.

Question put and negatived.

Motion made, and Question put,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Supplementary Benefit (Single Payments) Regulations 1984 (S.I., 1984, No. 593), dated 25th April 1984, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th April, be annulled.[Mr.Meacher]

The House divided: Ayes 53, Noes 147.

Division No. 294] [11.26 pm
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barron, Kevin Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Fisher, Mark
Bell, Stuart Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bennett, A. (Dent's & Red'sh) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Boyes, Roland Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) John, Brynmor
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Kirkwood, Archibald
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Loyden, Edward
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Campbell-Savours, Dale McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Clay, Robert Marek, Dr John
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Meacher, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Meadowcroft, Michael
Cowans, Harry Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Craigen, J. M. Nellist, David
Crowther, Stan Park, George
Dalyell, Tam Parry, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge I-1'1) Patchett, Terry
Deakins, Eric Prescott, John
Dormand, Jack Randall, Stuart
Duffy, A. E. P. Rooker, J. W.
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Sedgemore, Brian Wareing, Robert
Skinner, Dennis Snape, Peter
Tellers for the Ayes:
Spearing, Nigel Mr. Don Dixon and
Steel, Rt Hon David Mr. Peter Pike.
Stott, Roger Hawksley, Warren
Aitken, Jonathan Hayhoe, Barney
Alexander, Richard Heathcoat-Amory, David
Amess, David Hickmet, Richard Hind, Kenneth
Arnold, Tom Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'rn)
Aspinwall, Jack Holt, Richard
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Howard, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Bellingham, Henry Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Bendall, Vivian Hunt, David (Wirral)
Berry, Sir Anthony Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Hunter, Andrew
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Jackson, Robert
Boscawen, Hon Robert Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bottomley, Peter Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Key, Robert
Boyson, Dr Rhodes King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Brinton, Tim Knowles, Michael
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Lamont, Norman
Brooke, Hon Peter Latham, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Bruinvels, Peter Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Buck, Sir Antony Lightbown, David
Bulmer, Esmond Lilley, Peter
Butterfill, John Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Lord, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Lyell, Nicholas
Cash, William Macfarlane, Neil
Channon, Rt Hon Paul MacGregor, John
Chope, Christopher MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Maclean, David John
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Major, John
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Malins, Humfrey
Colvin, Michael Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Coombs, Simon Mather, Carol
Cope, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Corrie, John Merchant, Piers
Couchman, James Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Cranborne, Viscount Mills, lain (Meriden)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Dorrell, Stephen Moate, Roger
Dover, Den Moore, John
Dunn, Robert Moynihan, Hon C.
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Needham, Richard
Eggar, Tim Nelson, Anthony
Evennett, David Newton, Tony
Eyre, Sir Reginald Nicholls, Patrick
Fallon, Michael Norris, Steven
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Oppenheim, Philip
Fookes, Miss Janet Ottaway, Richard
Forman, Nigel Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Forth, Eric Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Pawsey, James
Fox, Marcus Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Franks, Cecil Powell, William (Corby)
Freeman, Roger Powley, John
Gale, Roger Proctor, K. Harvey
Galley, Roy Raffan, Keith
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Renton, Tim
Goodlad, Alastair Ryder, Richard
Gregory, Conal Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Ground, Patrick Stanbrook, Ivor
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Stern, Michael
Hampson, Dr Keith Stradling Thomas, J.
Hanley, Jeremy Trippier, David
Hannam, John Viggers, Peter
Hargreaves, Kenneth Waddington, David
Harris, David Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Harvey, Robert Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Watts, John Tellers for the Noes:
Wolfson, Mark Mr. Michael Neubert and
Yeo, Tim Mr. Archie Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.