HC Deb 12 November 1985 vol 86 cc417-9
8. Mr. Yeo

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received regarding his Green Paper "Reform of Social Security."

Mr. Fowler

Over 7,000, Sir.

Mr. Yeo

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the arguments for reforming the social security system, that is the need to simplify it and to make it more cost-effective, are just as strong today as they were when he commenced his reviews 18 months ago? Accordingly, will he undertake not to be dissuaded from achieving those twin objectives in the forthcoming White Paper by the representations that he may have received?

Mr. Fowler

Indeed, in the responses to the consultative paper very few people are saying that social security should not be reformed. The question is not whether, but how, it should be reformed. We have set out our proposals in the Green Paper. We look forward at some stage to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who leads for the Opposition, having the courage to set out his proposals.

Mr. Pike

Can the Secretary of State give the House the assurance that he will take note of the representations from people, particularly women and manual workers, who feel that they will suffer considerably when SERPS is either phased out or abolished? They are the people who stand to lose most. Will he give an assurance that he will safeguard their position?

Mr. Fowler

I certainly give the assurance that I will consider the responses on the state earnings-related pension scheme, but again the hon. Gentleman has to accept that, with the exception of the eccentric hon. Member for Oldham, West, virtually no one outside the House says that SERPS should stay as it is at the moment.

Sir William Clarke

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main danger to private pension schemes would arise if, in the future, the investment in pension funds were directed into a national investment bank? Would that not jeopardise the millions of private pensioners? Surely that must lead to the conclusion that under no circumstances must the Labour party be allowed to implement that policy.

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The policy put forward by the Labour party on a national investment bank and on pensions is totally against the interests of occupational pensioners. The message should go out that those proposals would damage occupational pensions and the interests of occupational pensioners.

Mr. Hugh Brown

In the light of the volume and content of the representations so far received, when the Government produce their White Paper, will one option be to reconsider the whole process until they have a mandate from electors?

Mr. Fowler

We shall put forward the proposals in the White Paper on the basis of what is set out in the Green Paper and the result of the consultation process. It is right to consult the public on the proposals, but we also believe strongly that now is the time to take action on reforming social security.

Mr. Colvin

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge, as Lord Beveridge did, the value of voluntary organisations working within the welfare state to provide services for those in need? Will he give serious consideration to continuing the "Opportunities for the Volunteering" scheme when it expires at the end of next March?

Mr. Fowler

That has been a successful scheme. I shall want to consider it in the light of its success and of what my hon. Friend has said.

Mrs. Beckett

Will the Secretary of State confirm that among the many representations that he has received, some of the greatest concern has been expressed at his proposals for the social fund, which—in demanding that his staff choose whom they will help from many who have proven need—not only put his staff in the firing line, but return us straight to the Victorian concept of the deserving and undeserving poor?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Lady is entirely wrong about that. She should read what the Social Security Advisory Committee says about that in its entirety. As I think the hon. Lady understands, the present supplementary benefit system, which employs about 40,000 staff trying to administer it, is in danger of breaking down because of the organisation and structure of supplementary benefit. We have proposed a sensible way forward, which enables the position of individual claimants to be better and properly considered.

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