HC Deb 20 November 1985 vol 87 cc367-92 10.30 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move,

That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Provisions (No. 2) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 11th November, be approved I should remind the House briefly of the reasons for the action we took to make changes in the social security rules affecting board and lodging earlier this year. We were concerned about the extremely rapidly increasing expenditure in this area.

Between December 1982 and December 1984, expenditure on ordinary board and lodging rose from £166 million to £380 million, while for residential care and nursing homes, expenditure rose from £39 million to £190 million. Thus, the overall increase was from some £200 million to very nearly £600 million in only two years. To put it in perspective, that is equivalent to nearly £2 a week on the basic retirement pension.

We were concerned in particular about the growth in the numbers of young people who were moving into board and lodging. The number of claimants among young people of 25 and under rose from 23,000 in 1982 to 37,000 in 1983, and to an estimated 56,000 in 1984. We expected the figure to reach 85,000 in 1985. That is an increase of between 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. a year, far beyond anything which could be explained by any other factors.

We were also concerned about the extent to which those young people were effectively being drawn into a peculiar version of the unemployment trap, in that it was highly unlikely that they would be able to take a job and continue to pay for the accommodation that they were in—that is, if they were taken off supplementary benefit because they had found employment.

Another matter of concern was the wide variation of local limits throughout the country, not least for residential care and nursing homes, to a degree which it seemed almost impossible to explain by any rational calculation. We were not least concerned about the growing evidence of abuse of the system both by claimants and by landlords.

For those reasons we introduced regulations which took effect at the end of April 1985. For residential care and nursing homes, the essential feature was a national pattern of maximum amounts designed to reflect the different needs of different types of homes, but with what the Social Security Advisory Committee described as "generous" transitional protection for those for whom supplementary benefit was already meeting higher amounts.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The hon. Gentleman referred to growing evidence. Was that evidence that came directly to his Department from officials, or was it evidence of newspaper stories?

Mr. Newton

It was evidence from a variety of quarters, including the study by the consultants Ernst and Whinney, of the board and lodging market in six or more areas around the country, a copy of which the hon. Gentleman will find in the Library if he cares to look for it.

For ordinary board and lodging, the essential feature was a system of board and lodging areas, consisting of DHSS local office areas grouped to take account of travel-to-work patterns, with a maximum board and lodging limit appropriate to each area. For young people under 26 there was a time limit, but with an extensive range of exemptions.

As the House will be aware, on 31 July, after Parliament had risen, the High Court decided an application for judicial review on the regulations. Mr. Justice Mann rejected the argument that we had failed properly to consult the Social Security Advisory Committee, and also the argument that the time limit of four weeks applied in the case of Simon Cotton was unreasonable. However, he found that the powers in the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 were insufficient to make regulations enabling Ministers to determine board and lodging areas and limits. In other words, the judge's view was that the regulations would have been in order if they had themselves contained the board and lodging areas and limits.

Mr. Justice Mann declined to make a formal order, on the Department's undertaking not to apply the time limits pending the making of new regulations or the outcome of any appeal. Immediate action was taken to put that undertaking into effect.

The House will also be aware that we decided to appeal, and that appeal is due to be heard by the Court of Appeal on 25 and 26 November—next week. At the same time, however, we felt it right to consider what the position would be in the light of the various possible outcomes of the appeal, and whether further action—

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

He will ask for other offences to be taken into account.

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman will wait, that is precisely the point that I shall come to.

We felt it right to consider what the position would be in the light of the various possible outcomes of the appeal, and whether further action was required to ensure that "sensible interim operation" for which Mr. Justice Mann had himself recognised the need. Since those appeal proceedings involve not only the Department's appeal on the technical point that I have described but a cross appeal by Simon Cotton on the issue of alleged inadequate consultation, the possible outcomes of the proceedings cover a very wide range.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

Why did the Minister describe the appeal as having been decided on a technical point, when it was a major point for statutory interpretation?

Mr. Newton

I do not want to be involved in a legalistic or semantic argument. The point was very limited, concerning the fact that, had the board and lodging areas and time limits been in the regulations themselves, rather than set by the use of the Secretary of State's discretion, they would have been in order. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman objects to the use of the word "technical", I am more than happy to meet him by changing it to "limited". It is certainly a limited and narrow point.

Mr. John Morris

The judge found that the Secretary of State had no discretion; that is why the matter is not a technical matter. It was a matter of importance and it had to be enshrined in the statutory instrument itself. That is why the right hon. Gentleman and his Department lost.

Mr. Newton

I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman—with some hesitation. The judge found that in the regulations, the Secretary of State could have taken discretion to deal with individual cases, but not with classes of cases, so that simply to say that the Secretary of State had no discretion is to convey the wrong flavour of what was said by Mr. Justice Mann.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Does the Minister accept that this is a serious issue? When the original legislation was passed it was not envisaged that the regulations would be used in that way. Would it not have been better to use primary legislation to carry out the Government's policy rather than doing it by the back door? Will the Minister give a clear undertaking that implementation of any of the review of the whole of social security will be done by legislation, not by a series of statutory instruments introducing changes that were never envisaged when the original legislation was debated?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the sweeping undertaking that would change the practice of many successive Governments over a long period. I understand that he has written to the Leaders of both Houses with the point that he has just raised. No doubt they will reply to him in due course. With regard to the social security review, we have not sought to disguise our intention to have a significant primary Bill during the present Session—it was in the Queen's Speech.

There was a wide range of possible outcomes of the proceedings, especially in view of the cross-appeal. The more we considered the position, the clearer it became that the risk of confusion and of potential hardship to many claimants if the appeal were determined to any extent adversely to the Department's case without fresh regulations being in place were risks which any responsible Government could not knowingly have allowed.

If, for example, Mr. Cotton's cross-appeal were to succeed and all the earlier regulations were to fall, there could be an immediate reduction in the amounts of benefit payable in many areas, especially for those in residential care and nursing homes, a significant number of which, determined by previous locally determined limits, were substantially lower than those currently being paid. In Oldham, for example, the present residential care limit is anything up to £70 a week higher than the limit that was in force before April, and the nursing home limit is anything up to £60 a week higher than it was. A similar pattern would be true of many other areas.

In between that possibility and the other straightforward outcome, in which the Department succeeds in its case, lie a variety of conceivable positions in which some parts of the regulations stand while others fall. For example, there could be no limit on what could be paid; or we could have no secure basis for the increases in residential care and nursing home limits, which have been widely welcomed and which are due to come into effect as part of the general social security uprating next Monday. On almost any of those scenarios, our local offices would be faced with the need to make immediate re-assessments of the benefit of up to 200,000 claimants.

Therefore, we decided that the only proper course was to introduce regulations to prevent such confusion and uncertainty, to safeguard the increased maximum benefit rates for supplementary beneficiaries in residential care and nursing homes, and to provide a period of stability during which the outcome of the appeal proceedings, and of any further appeal by either side, could be properly considered. Having reached that decision, we introduced the draft regulations, which were laid before the House on 21 October. They were intended, as I believe everyone accepts, to establish a temporary or holding position until the end of May 1986, for the reasons that I have already given.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments drew the House's attention to those regulations, principally on grounds that I can best describe by quoting from its report: The Committee accepts that these amendments are intended to take account of the judgment in the Cotton case and of the resulting undertaking given by the Department to the court in that case. Nevertheless, the amendments (apart from Regulation 3) have only temporary effect, and subject to that temporary effect, the 1985 Regulations are re-promulgated. The effect of the Regulations is thus to re-promulgate inter alia the very provisions held in the Cotton case to be ultra vires. It would be entirely pointless for me to do more than state that our position was that, in the event of the Department's appeal being unsuccessful, we would have introduced new regulations before the temporary provisions expired. But the House will agree with our decision that it would not be right to proceed with those regulations in view of the anxieties expressed by the Joint Committee.

Thus, we come to the further draft regulations that were laid before the House on 11 November and which we are debating tonight. They are designed to respond to the Joint Committee's concern, while at the same time meeting our objective of a period of stability.

Mr. John Morris

Can the Minister explain why, since the Joint Committee came to the view that the regulations were based on the dubious premise on which Mr. Justice Mann had held against the Government, they were introduced on substantially similar lines when that matter was still before the courts?

Mr. Newton

For the reasons that I have clearly stated. Obvious problems would arise in certain circumstances following the outcome of the appeal, and that would leave a state of total confusion about who should be paid what benefit in 200,000 cases around the country. Many vulnerable people in residential care and nursing homes could have found that, under existing law, their benefit entitlement would be substantially and dramatically cut. I will describe as simply as I can, in a complicated area, what the regulations do.

First, the financial limits applying to board and lodging areas and the time limits applying to some younger claimants, are effectively incorporated by reference in the regulations themselves.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I fully support the regulations and the intention behind them. Did the Minister consider changing some of the board and lodging limits from the first regulations to the new ones in the light of some of the inconsistencies that have been pointed out? In particular, is he aware of the special problem in Southend in relation to the rate for Peterborough?

Mr. Newton

I am conscious of the representations that my hon. Friend made. We considered almost every aspect of these in deciding what regulations to bring before the House. We concluded that, in the circumstances that I have sought to describe, and against the background that in any case we have undertaken to carry out early next year a thorough review of all the limits in these provisions, it would not be right now to make piecemeal changes of the kind my hon. Friend has pressed upon me.

Secondly, however, the time limits for some younger claimants apply at the outset only to new claimants—that is to say, to those not being paid as boarders at the time the regulations take effect. They would not apply to existing claimants until 28 July 1986, a date we have chosen to coincide with next year's social security up-rating. Thirdly, they re-enact all the categories of exemption from the time limits contained in the original regulations. Thus, the time limits do not apply, for example, to young people in hostels, to those with children, to those who are disabled, to those who have recently been in care, or to several other categories.

Fourthly, they provide a power to exempt young people from the time limits in any individual case where either they or their partner would otherwise suffer exceptional hardship. This replaces the previous provision, which was, of course, one of those called into question by the judgment in the Cotton case, to establish by the use of discretion additional classes of exemption as distinct from exemptions in individual cases.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could help about two related matters about the Secretary of State's discretion. Does a person have the right to make the Secretary of State exercise that discretion? Does a person have the right to ask the Secretary of State to consider whether there is exceptional hardship? If there were circumstances in which the Secretary of State was satisfied that a person was genuinely attempting to seek work and not abuse the regulations, would that fit within the category of exceptional hardship?

Mr. Newton

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that, clearly, a claimant could discuss his circumstances with the local office to which he applied for benefit in the first place, and draw attention to that which he considered to be exceptional hardship. The arrangement we have made will allow that matter to be referred by the local office to headquarters. That is to enable the exercise of the discretion to be operated consistently throughout the country, and a team of officers at headquarters will be particularly concerned with that work.

On the second point, it is not for me to make off-the-cuff judgments about what would or would not constitute exceptional hardship in a particular case. Given that the framework of the regulations, including the two, four and eight-week limits, was specifically designed to give what we felt was a reasonable time for young people to seek work in particular areas, simply the fact that someone was seeking work would not be taken automatically as a circumstance of exceptional hardship.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

When this point was put to them earlier in the year by the Social Security Advisory Committee the Government replied to the possibility of discretion being incorporated in the regulations in confident vein. In Cmnd. 9467 they said: discretion … would be impossible to administer properly and fairly, and would be open to easy manipulation. Why was it wrong then but right now?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will understand that there have been some major changes such as have been mentioned and commented on throughout the summer arising from legal proceedings. Given that, as a result of the Cotton judgment, we have, at least for the time being, the power that we sought to create additional exemption classes to meet the need for flexibility, we felt it right to reconsider the possibilities of individual discretion and to do everything in our power to incorporate the flexibility that we believe is required. We have now found that we shall be able to operate by means of the provision that I have described.

Mr. Field

Perhaps other hon. Members, like the Minister, have failed to grasp the point. The Government said clearly that discretion would be impossible to administer. They did not qualify the statement. They did not say that they were considering a narrower canvas. They clearly rejected the Social Security Advisory Committee's proposal for discretion, saying that it was impossible. The Minister has a duty to the House to say why it was wrong then and why it is right now, beyond what he has already said.

Mr. Newton

I cannot go a great deal beyond the answer that I have already given, except to say that, as we conceived the suggestion then, the discretion would be operated purely locally, just as the previous setting of local limits was operated by adjudication officers at local level. We felt that that system had not produced a fair and defensible system of limits around the country. That led us to attempt to set limits by the national means that I have described and to feel that the system would not be satisfactory for the type of discretion that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. We have re-examined the matter in the past few months and decided that it would be right to develop a system at headquarters for operating discretion. We believe that, by that means, we can overcome the objections that we saw earlier to the operation that was expected to be local.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am sure that the House is most grateful to my hon. Friend for the careful way in which he is explaining an extremely complicated matter. Is there anything in the proposed changes which will give comfort to parents such as two constituents who came to see me recently? They were in great distress because their young daughter of 17 has got into bad company. She was able to leave home, as her father said, "through the taxes I pay", and thus be in much greater danger than if she had stayed at home.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend has described clearly one type of case that we intend to tackle by the earlier regulations and these—the young person who ought not to be able to leave home at the drop of a hat and pick up large sums of taxpayers' money. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] If Opposition Members on the Front Bench think that that is disgraceful, they are demonstrating the irresponsibility with which they approach the subject.

Mr. Dobson

What help will the regulations be to those young people whose relations with their parents are so poor that they cannot possibly stay with them?

Mr. Newton

The exemption categories are designed precisely to cater for young people in that position.

Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North)

What is the maximum sum that a teenager in London could receive, including laundry allowance and so on, after the regulations come into force? After all the changes and attempted changes, I believe that it is still possible for a teenager to receive about £100 per week.

Will my hon. Friend also explain why the amount that can be received in my constituency is £5 or £10 less than in the neighbouring constituency of Norfolk, South?

Mr. Newton

On the second point, as I have said on previous occasions, we set the limits for the individual board and lodging areas taking into account the limits that had been set locally under the previous system and such other information as was available. In the early part of next year we shall be reviewing those limits, as I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), and we shall be prepared to consider points of that kind at that time.

On the first point, it is impossible without undue complexity to speculate on the maximum benefit that a claimant might receive, taking into account all possible additional elements of supplementary benefit, but the maximum normal allowance for a young person in board and lodgings in London at present would be £79.25. That means that the young person would have to earn £115 a week to achieve the same residual amount to spend on board and lodging. If my hon. Friend regards that as unsatisfactory, I remind him that previously the highest local limit in London was £109, which meant that a young person would have had to earn £180 per week to meet the same board and lodging charges out of earned income—roughly the same as the average adult male wage and far more than the average earnings of young people or of adults in unskilled jobs. That is as good an illustration as any of the appalling unemployment trap into which we are allowing many of these young people to fall.

Mr. Howell

That is precisely my point. Just the other day a lady came to my surgery who had only £28.05 to live on, although her rent and rates, admittedly, were being paid. What on earth are we doing paying £80 or more to young people who deliberately make themselves homeless?

Mr. Newton

For the moment, I will take comfort in the obvious support for the attempts that we are making to tackle the problems about which my hon. Friend is concerned. That is the basis of the regulations.

For residential care and nursing homes the regulations set out the same structure and pattern of limits as the original regulations, varying according to the type of home and the differing needs of the people for whom the homes cater, but they also do two other things to which I should draw attention.

First, the regulations provide clearly and directly for the proposed increases in residential care and nursing home limits which I announced in July and which are intended to take effect from next Monday. This means an increase of £10 per week in all residential care limits, so the range will be £120 to £180 instead of £110 to £170. For nursing homes, the increase is £31.40 per week, so the range will be £170 to £230 instead of £138.60 to £198.60.

That has been welcomed by all hon. Members. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) ironically asked me what steps I proposed to take to safeguard those increases, although he complained at the same time about the fact that I was introducing these regulations. We are taking powers—again to be exercised on an individual basis where there would otherwise be exceptional hardship—to give the benefit of transitional protection to those who were in residential care or nursing homes last April but who have come on to supplementary benefit only since then. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been concerned about that point. I hope that they will welcome the action that the Government have taken.

Although the regulations are permanent, I should make it clear that this in no way detracts from what I said earlier about the reasons for bringing them forward at this stage, or from the commitments we have made to a review in the early part of next year, taking account, among other things, of the work now being done for us by consultants on residential and nursing care.

I should also make it clear that we continue to believe that it would be desirable to have greater flexibility than these regulations allow—for example, to change the board and lodging areas or to introduce new exemption categories—and that we would wish to consider restoring this, should the Department's appeal in the Cotton case succeed.

Our basic objective remains, as it has been throughout, to ensure proper provision for those who are in need while preventing exploitation by those who are not, and it is in that spirit that I commend the regulations to the House.

11.1 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

As the Minister for Social Security said, this is the third attempt by the Government to force through these infamous board and lodging regulations. The original regulations were declared illegal in July as a result of the Cotton case. The second set of regulations were withdrawn in October, following unprecedented criticism by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Its report states:

The Committee sympathise with the Department's difficulties, but it seems to the Committee that to make regulations knowing that there is a doubt about their vires is a very questionable procedure. The Department were unable to point to any precedent for proceeding in that way and the Committee do not know of any. Furthermore, the Committee are not persuaded that the making of these regulations in advance of a decision of the Court of Appeal is necessary, given that Mr. Justice Mann left the way open for the Department to maintain the status quo either pending an appeal or pending the making of new regulations. Despite that unprecedented slapdown, the Government are introducing a third set of regulations. Quite apart from the substance of these regulations, to which I shall return, the procedure which the Secretary of State is adopting is highly questionable, if not actually improper.

An appeal regarding the original regulations is pending. It relates to the referral of the regulations to the Government's social security advisory committee. The proposed regulations, on the other hand, have not been referred to the social security advisory committee, since it appears to the Secretary of State that by reason of urgency it is inexpedient to do so. Any state of urgency is entirely of the Secretary of State's own making. It is highly dubious for the Secretary of State to act ultra vires and then to use the consequential delay as the ground upon which not to follow the normal procedure.

This is not a technical point. The Government are required under the terms of the Social Security Act to consult the social security advisory committee, but they have not done so. There can be no possible excuse for failing to do so, because three and a half months have elapsed since the hearing of the Cotton case in July.

Secondly, it is all the more remarkable that the Government are trying to rush this third set of regulations through Parliament when the Department of Health and Social Security's application to the Court of Appeal is to be heard very soon—the Minister said in five days' time. At the very least, it is presumptuous towards the Court of Appeal.

The Government could introduce the regulations and drop the appeal but they have not done so. Having launched an appeal, I do not accept that it is appropriate to pre-empt the result of the appeal by further regulations. That is exactly what the Government are doing and it displays a very high-handed approach. It is all the more high-handed when the current position is not a cause for immediate concern, either for the Department or for the claimants.

The earlier regulations are still in force. They were not struck down by the court, and claimants are protected by the undertaking given by the DHSS to the court. There is simply no urgent reason why that position cannot continue, having continued for at least three and a half months, until after the Court of Appeal's decision in five days' time.

Mr. Newton

I hope the hon. Gentleman appreciates that, among other things, the 1985 regulations revoked large parts of the previous regulations, under which limits were operated. Will he consider the possibility, which we must consider, that some parts of the 1985 regulations are judged to fall, but not that part which revoked the 1983 regulations? To all intents and purposes there is, therefore, no effective regime governing board and lodging payments.

Mr. Meacher

Our position is that that would be a considerable advantage, because there is no need for regulations. There are already adequate powers in the hands of the Secretary of State to deal with any allegations of fraud in respect of persons in board and lodgings. The powers are wholly gratuitous and should be rescinded.

It is astonishing and tragic that the Government should be rushing ahead so inflexibly with regulations which are unnecessary, and which have caused, and will continue to cause, several suicides—I certainly know of at least half a dozen—and real misery for tens of thousands of young people. The regulations will penalise these young people for failing to obtain what everyone outside the Government knows it is virtually impossible for them to obtain, that is a job within eight weeks, when unemployment today for people under the age of 25 averages 21 per cent., or alternative accommodation, when the house building programme under the Government has been decimated, and alternative houses or flats for young people are simply not available.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

The hon. Gentleman made the serious allegation that these regulations had caused suicides. Does he have any direct evidence of that? Has that been found in a court? Does he have any evidence that the incidence of suicide has increased as a result of the regulations?

Mr. Meacher

I shall cite a number of cases in a moment, but, as the matter has been raised, I shall cite a case from a report by the Association of Chief Officers of Probation. The report states: In Northumberland, a mentally disturbed, former client of the Probation Service received notice of time expiry, could not find alternative accommodation, committed suicide. It is possible, legalistically, to say that it cannot be proven that that was the sole cause, but certainly there is strong evidence to suggest that that was the cause. [Interruption.] I can provide other examples.

In Luton, a 22-year-old man committed suicide after receiving notice of the implementation of the DHSS regulations. In the case of a broken family in Essex, a 23-year-old man who was trying to be reconciled with his wife obtained lodging near her home, but he was forced to move on because of the suspension of allowance under the time limitation. Can Conservative Members countenance such a price being paid for the regulations?

Mr. Butterfill


Mr. Meacher

This is a short debate, I have more to say and, therefore, I shall not give way again.

The Government's main justification throughout has been that the board and lodging budget has been escalating out of control, but individual charges have not been increasing rapidly. I hope that the Minister takes it on board that the percentage increase in the average board and lodging charge for 1984 was the lowest for five years. The increasing numbers of people living on board and lodging has caused the budget to grow. Is that a justification for introducing maximum allowances, which simply have the effect of making people homeless?

More recently, the Secretary of State has tried to imply that the regulations are designed to check fraud, but there is a major flaw in that argument. The private landlord and hotelier, not the claimant, benefit from increased board and lodging allowances. All that the claimant receives is a mere £9.70 per week personal allowance, plus fixed amounts for meals. The lodging allowance and relevant allowance for board have to be handed over by the claimant to the landlord.

If there is as much fraud as is claimed, why have only 30 people been prosecuted in the King's Cross area, when the Government claim that 600 out of 1,200 claimants investigated there have been defrauding the system? I shall be glad to give way to the Secretary of State if he wishes to answer that. He talks about fraud, but only one in 20 of those who are said to defraud the system have been prosecuted.

It is because the justifications do not wash that the Opposition unreservedly condemn these gratuitously harsh and unfair regulations. We call for them to be rescinded.

The exemption system which the Government were forced to introduce in the light of the previous outcry against the measure does not provide adequate protection for the most vulnerable. This is partly because the responsibility for identifying the exempt lies with claimants and not with the DHSS, and because many claimants within the exempt categories who have applied for exemption have been turned down by the DHSS and their allowances cut.

I can list examples. An 18-year-old girl with chronic asthma was not treated as exempt. She had severe attacks. Her landlady had to assist. The DHSS would not accept that she was chronically sick and therefore exempt. Another 18-year-old girl was physically thrown out of her home by her mother two years ago. Some hon. Members talk about people walking out of their homes without provocation. That rarely happens. More often people just cannot stay at home. In the case that I described the girl's stepfather was a violent drunk and her mother was mentally ill. The DHSS refused to concede that she had left home because of physical or moral danger.

Another case involves a youth aged 20 who had twice been put in hospital because of his stepfather's violence. He was living in board and lodging accommodation, but, because he was over 19, family violence was not a ground for exemption and his benefit was cut. Is that an example of the exempt limit being properly exercised?

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

A number of parents have written to me in distress informing me that their schoolgirl daughters have left home to live with their boyfriends in Morecambe and are being paid for by the DHSS

Mr. Meacher

The phrase "being paid for by the DHSS" is an extravagant distortion. If hon. Members had to experience the standards of living imposed by the cuts, they would not use that phrase. If the Lady writes to me about individual cases, I shall be pleased to reply.

The awful truth about the regulations is that, far from increasing the jobs take-up, which was their ostensible purpose, they have had a different and disastrous effect. They have curtailed severely the amount of board and lodging accommodation available.

The Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless has found that in central London there are now only about 25 bed and breakfast hostels within the price limit laid down by the DHSS in the areas covered by the four central DHSS offices. Before the new limits there were 200—eight times the amount of hostel accommodation. So embarrassed is the DHSS that it has refused to publish a list of accommodation within the price limit.

Many hoteliers have taken other and more profitable sorts of trade, leaving only those places of such poor standard that no one with any choice would choose to live there. The hoteliers remaining in the trade keep up profit margins by flouting public health laws and cramming in people. That is the effect of the regulations. I ask the Minister whether that is what the Government intended. If not—and I believe that they did not intend that—how can they justify pressing on regardless with the regulations?

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Will my hon. Friend take on board the point that another effect of the regulations is the disfranchisement of many thousands of young people who will not be able to register their votes? Will he advise them that by 10 October next they should try to obtain board and lodgings in Finchley?

Mr. Meacher

That is admirable advice. There are 85,000 people whom the regulations have made into nomads. I hope that for the purpose of registering for what will probably be the date of the next general election, those people will find an opportunity to be in the constituency of Finchley so that they can effectively show the Prime Minister what they feel about the regulations.

I come to the part of the regulations mentioned by the Minister that has the more welcome effect of raising the limit for elderly persons in residential and nursing homes. Even here there is a shortfall in the new ceiling which is below the market reality. It is the relationship with the cost of accommodation that is relevant and that is having disastrous consequences. I cite one case put to me by the British Association of Social Workers. An elderly, physically handicapped lady living in Enfield entered a private residential home three or four years ago. She used the capital from selling her house to pay the £180 per week rent. At that time she was assured by both the DHSS and the social services department that when her capital was depleted she would be eligible for supplementary benefit, and that her future would be secure. By July of this year her capital had been reduced to £3,000 and she applied for supplementary benefit. The DHSS informed her that she would be entitled only to the statutory limit of £110 per week under the new regulations, and that she would have to make up the shortfall from her capital. That she has done since July, but her small sum of money is rapidly running out.

Mr. Newton

I realise that the hon. Gentleman is in the middle of describing a particular case, but to save him the trouble of completing it I make the point that it is exactly that sort of case that is the object of one of the new provisions that I described in my speech.

Mr. Meacher

When the Minister talks about new provisions, I do not know whether he is talking about exceptional hardship or transitional protection. That elderly lady has already attempted to kill herself by taking an overdose of drugs. Her family wrote to the Secretary of State some considerable time ago, but has received no reply.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

And she voted Tory.

Mr. Meacher

Perhaps the Secretary of State would care to go through his correspondence and help that elderly lady.

Another problem is causing real anxiety to the elderly, but the Government have not provided an answer tonight. It arises with the elderly and disabled who are placed with families in the community and cared for on a long-term basis. Under present arrangements, the DHSS contributes the maximum sum allowed for such placements, which is £70 a week, and that is then topped up by the adult care scheme to meet the costs of carers. The present regulations provide transitional protection for such claimants only—this is relevant to the point which the Minister has just made—until April 1986. After that date, the residential homes limit will apply to such placements and the board and lodging regulations will preclude the topping up of payments to elderly people in this type of accommodation. The Minister said that the transitional protection was designed to assist the kinds of cases that I have mentioned. He might care to say what will happen in less than a year from now, because many of these elderly people will live beyond then, and this is causing immense anxiety.

It is absurd that such elderly and dependent people will in future have to be cared for in local authority residential homes when the cost of such a home is £196 a week, as opposed to the topping-up cost under the adult care placement scheme of only £14.87.

These regulations will not achieve the purpose ostensibly claimed for them. They are not intended, let alone expected, to achieve that aim. They are, in fact, yet another element, and a particularly harsh and vindictive one. of the Government's general policy of cutting benefits for some of the most vulnerable members of society in order to fund increased tax reliefs for the already privileged. It is a philosophy which we reject and abhor, one which, when we come to power, we shall wholeheartedly reverse.

11.22 pm
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

I am glad to support the Government in tonight's endeavours. This set of regulations can be rated better than the last lot on several grounds. First, they protect the increase given to residential care homes, particularly nursing homes, and I know that that will be greatly welcomed. At last, some of the figures are realistic, and I know that the Minister is examining the matter with consultants to see exactly how the limits can be set in future. One waits in vain to hear spokesmen on the Opposition Front Bench welcoming some of the increases, which will solve some of the problems that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) outlined.

Secondly, the regulations give the Secretary of State discretion in cases of hardship. I should have thought that would answer all the worries of Opposition Members about borderline cases. It will require a realistic and responsive system. I wonder whether my right hon. and hon. Friends quite realise what they are letting themselves in for if we are to have a 24-hour system. I believe that it is right in principle that there should be some discretion and that it should lie with the Secretary of State.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)


Mrs. Currie

I will not give way, because there is little time for the debate and other hon. Members want to speak.

Thirdly. the categories to be helped are widened. I counted about 30 categories outlined by Mr. Justice Mann, and we have now added to those. The list includes all the people we want to help, such as the pregnant, the mentally handicapped, the mentally ill, the disabled, students on vacation living in their normal term-time accommodation and people under 19 with no parents or guardians, and all the others.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West talked about people who had committed, or were alleged to have committed, suicide—[Interruption.] They did not do it because of the DHSS. In all the cases that have been put to us, they did it because they were suffering from mental illness; and those who are busy writing reports about them, such as SHAC, Shelter and all the other organisations, would have been better advised to look after those people rather sooner, before they reached that state. I say that particularly to social workers and probation officers, who should have been looking after them much better.

Mr. Butterfill

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was curious of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) not to mention whether those people had previously attempted suicide, before the regulations were introduced?

Mrs. Currie

There has been a campaign to try to brand the Government as evil ogres doing down poor and handicapped people—[Interruption.] For such a campaign to convince me, I should need some detailed figures and names and addresses. We have not been given any of those. Whereas I should need verifiable evidence, what we have had in all the campaigns—including the Derby Evening Telegraph, just as we had tonight from the hon. Member for Oldham, West—has been a handful of anecdotes and some unverifiable statements: what used to be called no names, no pack drill. I should want to see some names and detailed case histories before I could be satisfied.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Does the hon. Lady recall that when the regulations were first introduced, that is exactly what the Social Security Advisory Council said about the Government's evidence?

Mrs. Currie

I recall also that the Derby office of the DHSS, which covers the hon. Lady's constituency as well as much of mine, told me that in March, before the regulations were changed, there were 800 board and lodging claimants in Derby at 200 addresses. It was convinced that there was widespread fraud and it did not have the staff to make the necessary checks.

If anyone from the Treasury is listening, I believe that cutting DHSS staff in local offices costs public money and that the cuts should not take place.

I have not had to take up the case of a single constituent who can be shown to have lost through the new regulations or to have been placed in one of the exempt categories and caused to suffer real injustice. I have offered to do so, and no one has come forward. It would seem that there is not one such case in my constituency.

Any system of social security has to try to satisfy those who are in real need and to combat abuse. I shall quote the answer that was given by my hon. Friend the Minister on 29 October 1985. He stated: A survey of … claimants … in the south-east"— it was a survey of 2,350 claimants under 26— showed 20 per cent. were exempt". They were within the exemptions then set out, which are about to be widened. He continued: A further 35 per cent. remained in the same accommodation, mainly at the non-householder rate of benefit. 15 per cent. moved to other accommodation (less than 2 per cent. of these as boarders). 25 per cent. ceased to claim supplementary benefit altogether."—[Official Report, 29 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 441.] It appears that a fair number of them disappear. The figures in other areas produce a roughly comparable picture.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West knows all about these figures, for it was he who tabled the question which produced the answer from which I have quoted. If he wants to be Secretary of State for Social Services, he will have to find some way of combating such abuse. He cannot and should not try to deny that there is abuse. We must find ways of combating abuse in any system that we introduce, and a Labour Government would have to emulate this Government's example.

The Labour party has a bit of a nerve. If all the old people who are in residential care receiving the allowances, and even half the young people receiving board and lodging allowances, are in real need, I should expect to find from the figures even five to six years ago—they are all available—about 40,000 old people being cared for and about 100,000 younger people. I am taking account of demographic change and changes in the employment pattern of young people, for example. I have checked the figures. In 1978, 40,000 young people, not 100,000, were being helped by the Labour Government under the then regulations, and 7,000 old people, not the 40,000 that we would have expected. They spent all of £50 million on board and lodging allowances and a miserable £6 million on caring for old people in private residential care. Who are the misers? The misers are on the Opposition Benches. They spent all of £50 million, and last year this Government spent £570 million. I think that I am right in saying that this year we shall spend £700 million. The record of the Labour Government does not bear comparison with that of the present Government.

I have not yet congratulated my right hon. and hon. Friends on producing something that is legal—we do not know whether it is legal because the name of the game is "Find a loophole"—or I have not yet congratulated them on producing something that is simple, elegant and easy to understand along the lines demanded by the social security reviews. I am not sure whether the provisions can be so described. I am not certain that we have the definitive version before us. What is missing above all is a genuine system of assessment of need. My hon. Friend the Minister had been kind enough to allow me to put some suggestions to him on this matter.

I shall support the Government in the Division in the honest hope that they will produce a system that looks after those who are in need, not those who do not come into that category, and in the certain knowledge that no one else can produce such an earnest endeavour to that end.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I remind the House that this is a short debate. I appeal for extreme brevity.

11.30 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I do not follow either the style or the content of the speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), but I take up her last point. She said that she favours a system that helps those who are in need but does not help those who are not in need. I do not think that this system does help those in need. I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). We shall vote against the regulations.

There are substantial legal difficulties. Our conclusion about the mess that ensued from the Cotton legal appeal and the subsequent legal difficulties is the same as that already pointed out by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). Any secondary legislation to introduce a fundamental and far-reaching change in policy does have extensive implications for the House. I was somewhat reassured by the Minister's tone, but I would be happier if he would make clear what the Government intend doing in the future. The Secretary of State's Green Paper is in train. A Social Security Bill will be introduced early in the next calendar year. I hope that in future the Government will eschew procedures such as this to save us from this difficulty.

If the proposals enshrined in this secondary legislation had been contained in primary legislation, hon. Members would have been able to ask the Secretary of State detailed questions, like those he was asked before. There are still some unclear matters. The DHSS has taken powers to introduce an exemption for exceptional hardship in cases referred to it by local adjudication officers. I assume that there can be no appeal. Does that mean that a claimant can appeal only by means of a process of judicial review: If so, we are on course for another series of charades to be played in the courts. Surely that is in the interest of no one.

I have looked carefully at the regulations, but I cannot work out the procedure for review. I understand that we shall have, not an annual recourse to uprating board and lodging payments, but a process of review. Does that mean that the Secretary of State will introduce secondary legislation to say that he is publishing a new booklet? We shall have one of these one and a half hour debates about whether the booklet should be produced, but we will not necessarily have the booklet in front of us. We shall be giving the Secretary of State the power to change the geographical areas or the time limits in a statutory instrument to be followed by a booklet published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. That is a terrible, hopelessly unsatisfactory way to proceed.

It is regrettable and inevitable that there will now be chaos—administrative and otherwise. DHSS staff in my area do an excellent job, but I do not understand how the Secretary of State can expect them to see new claimants for board and lodging payment and tell them that they will be back in the old system whereby they are subject to the two, four or eight week limit. I understand that existing board and lodging claimants will be covered until the operating period next year. If these measures are introduced forthwith, there will be a great deal of chaos.

The Minister has said that he will look again at the regulations. Is he talking about looking at them in detail and refining the cash and time limits and the geographical areas, or is he proposing to introduce a new system for dealing with the adjudication problem? If he is intending the latter action, he will receive a great deal of support from us. It may be pushing things a bit in terms of time, but the Minister has the opportunity in the Social Security Bill which is to be introduced next year to propose a new system which could replace the present hopelessly unsatisfactory one.

The Government's need to react in the way that they have done has not been proved to my satisfaction. I heard what the Minister said about the Ernst and Whinney report, and all the rest of it, but I think that the Department has acted largely on anecdotal evidence and press reports. I have seen nothing that satisfies me that the major changes introduced by the Government were necessary.

As the hon. Member for Oldham, West said, there has been an increase in the number of young people receiving board and lodging allowances, but the Government have not encouraged local authorities, through the Department of the Environment, to have a more flexible house letting policy for young people. That could have made a great deal of difference. I do not mean that the local authorities should build lots of new houses, but, with sensible rehabilitation and improvement grants, some single accommodation in some of our cities could be made available to our young people.

The furniture grants have been administered too inflexibly. It is regrettable that claimants must establish that there is no other suitable accommodation available locally before they can receive furniture grants. The Government could have done more about that matter.

Where in the regulations is there an attempt to tackle the problem of abuse by landlords? What have the Government done to tackle the board and lodging cartels which the Minister mentioned, the pricing policies and the conditions in which some of the young people live? If they had done something, they would have been seen to be more even handed, and the Minister might have received more support for his proposals. The Government have not taken the necessary action, and I therefore do not think that the proposals deserve support. The consequences are there for all to see. The proposals have a harmful effect on young people's employment prospects because of the time that they have available to look for jobs.

The vulnerable will not be properly protected, even with the new exceptional hardship exemptions, because the onus of proving exceptional hardship is on the claimant. There is a myriad of regulations to look through, yet the onus is on the claimant to try to work out the complicated exemption categories. The protection available is not enough to satisfy me that the vulnerable will not be at risk.

The right of appeal will be vitiated in practice, because if the claimant has only, two, four or eight weeks in which to appeal, by the time the appeal is heard the landlord will have hoi'd the claimant out of the door. There will not be time to prosecute the appeal sensibly. There should be a procedure to stop the time limit clock from running when the claimant appeals.

The fact that the regulations are prejudicial to young people's voting rights has been mentioned. They are also prejudicial to their education and training opportunities.

Does the Minister believe it to be right that some young people in this position should have to attribute their meal and personal allowances to pay their boarding charges? If we can establish that that is happening, will the Minister take a serious view of the practice, or is he prepared to accept it as a consequence of the regulations? If he is, that is monstrously unfair. There is evidence that that is happening.

I ask the Minister to consider the failure to increase the limits, which are damaging. I think that he has had correspondence from the Scottish Council for the Single Homeless about them. Many people were expecting board and lodging increases in the normal uprating of benefits in the annual review. It has not happened, and that has put a lot of budgetary plans out of joint. Will the Minister consider again the failure to increase the allowances for meals? The £1 limit for breakfast and the £1.55 limit for lunch and dinner are penal. Those have been the limits for some time.

I could continue, but in view of the constraint on time, I shall not do so. We cannot support the regulations. I urge the Minister to consider the problems again and to bring forward a new system in the social security legislation next year.

11.40 pm
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

Time is very short, so I shall briefly put only three points to my hon. Friend. Perhaps I should start by saying that I am proud to have been a member of the board of management of Shelter since 1982, although that means that from time to time I see things differently from some of my hon. Friends. As I said in the Chamber when we first debated the regulations, I support action to crack down on fraud, and we should all be able to support that.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider the administrative point of how the system operates. A person under 26 will receive a notice telling him that his benefit is to be cut, and with it will come an exemption form. Some people have not realised that they can claim exemption, and one or two tragedies have occurred. May I suggest a slight change in the system? The Department should initially notify the person that the period of benefit is coming to an end and should send with that notification an exemption claim form. If and when the Department determines that the person is not eligible, he should then be advised that the grant will be terminated. That might remove some problems.

As to the quality and standard of the buildings we are talking about, there are enough independent reports to show that in the main they are disgusting, ghastly and horrible. I hope my hon. Friend will continue to bring pressure on, I assume, the Secretary of State for the Environment to introduce a system of registration of the buildings. It is long past the time when any of us should be happy about conditions in so many of the properties. Nothing will happen unless we show the political will to do something about them.

Like all my hon. Friends, I want as many young people as possible to remain within the family environment for as long as they can. Some of them do not, for reasons which we have heard in the debate. We already know why some young people leave home. We have a responsibility to find ways to cope with those young people. The treatment of young people without a friendly home to return to is very bad. Would it be possible to have an inter-departmental review involving the Home Office, the Department of the Environment and the DHSS to try to find ways to assist young homeless people? Many of them dare not return to their parents or step-parents. If something were done about that, we would have started to tackle the underlying problem which essentially involves housing for the homeless rather than benefit.

11.43 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I want to speak briefly about Simon Cotton, because he is a constituent of mine. Had he not been successful in taking the Government to court, he would not now be one of my constituents, because he would have been moved on under the rules.

Although still a young person, Simon has had a serious heart complaint and has undergone major heart surgery. He has lived for most of his life in children's homes or in foster homes. He is now living with an ex-employee of one of the children's homes in which he grew up. Even under the new regulations, that person would not be exempt. Therefore, as well as considering some of the grander accusations about those who are abusing the social security system, the House should think about some real people.

I am not making a claim from the Opposition that there is no abuse. I hope that nobody in the Opposition puts forward that case. However, we are saying that we object strongly to the way in which abuse is being tackled. If claimants are abusing the system, it is proper that they should be brought before the courts. It is noticeable that, with all the charges of abuse over recent debates, few claimants seem to have appeared in court.

Much more serious than the abuse by some claimants is that by landlords. The Opposition object to trying to prevent that abuse by penalising claimants, some guilty, some not. That is an unsound way to try to tackle a considerable increase in public expenditure, as the Minister said. My guess is that quite a few of those claims were wrongly made, not so much by claimants as by the landlords upon whom they are dependent.

Secondly, no one in the Opposition wishes to support a social security system that prevents or discourages people from working; but we make a plea, at a time of massive unemployment, for a genuine test of whether a person wishes to work. Twenty years ago, the rules were clear. The Ministry of Labour was closely linked with social security payments, and people who claimed benefits could have their claim tested by being presented with a job opportunity. [Interruption.] The previous Government and this Government have been unwise to try to divide the workings of the Department of Employment from the payment of benefits. Many claimants—[Interruption.]—would be encouraged if the Department of Employment—

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you not persuade the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and for Crawley (Mr. Soames) who are standing below the Gangway, to keep more quiet? It is distressing that they appear to be satisfied on the basis of the generous board and lodging allowance for Members for Parliament, when we are considering much smaller sums. It is a little unfortunate that they should behave in that way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have no doubt that hon. Members have heard the hon. Gentleman. I hope that they will keep reasonably quiet.

Mr. Field

I am grateful for the intervention. One hon. Member said that he wished to be sent for an interview by the Department of Employment. No doubt that will happen soon.

I should like to turn from fantasy to the real world. I am sorry that I did not speak after the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). I was sent a copy of the Derby Diocesan Council for Social Responsibility's report on how the board and lodging regulations are operated in her area. The main points were as follows. First, the report expresses surprise that the Government, who believe in encouraging the private market and that private landlordism should be extended should be so horrified when that occurs. In the council's area, which the hon. Lady's constituency covers, that is precisely what has happened with the small landlord and landlady.

Secondly, the report refers to the extent of abuse. The council reckons that abuse is operating in its area, but by and large it is being done by those who are operating large establishments or who own several establishments. The council list the ways in which the bigger landlords are providing bogus accommodation so that claimants can claim allowances.

Thirdly, the report asks whether, in an area where there has been a massive increase in public expenditure and where the Government are anxious to create real jobs, it would not be sensible to try to control the increase in public expenditure by employing a few more people to build a register of decent lodgings, so that the claimants and the taxpayers knew that they were getting a good deal.

Lastly, the report describes some of those who are affected by the rules and regulations. I emphasise the point that the report, by its nature, does not pick up those who abuse the system. They are not foolish enough to go along and say, "This is how we do it." They are excluded from the report, but others are affected by the regulations.

Mr. Rooker

Why did not the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) quote that report?

Mr. Field

I do not know. I am trying to quote the report and finish my speech.

Mrs. Currie

I have seen the report, and I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman confirm much of what I said: that there is widespread abuse. I do not care who is committing it; it is wrong. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult to discover genuine cases? I repeat that I asked for the details, names and addresses of constituents badly affected, and I have received nothing.

Mr. Field

I would have given the hon. Lady the benefit of the doubt by assuming that she had not seen the report. It is extraordinary that she did not quote it, as I have done.

I end by giving three examples—perhaps they are the hon. Lady's constituents—of real cases. Some hon. Members believe that many claimants are street-wise people who know how to rig the social security system, but the report states: Many of those interviewed had severe literacy and numeracy problems, and rather than being 'street-wise' they came over as being rather slow and inadequate in their ability to cope with the demands of everyday life without some support. The report also describes a young girl: She was ill with worry, having been forced to move out under the original ruling, and the prospect of having to move again, consequently she was being treated for depression. She commented: 'I would do the same as I did before, sell my body for the money to eat.—

Mrs. Currie

What is her name?

Mr. Field

If the hon. Lady is doubting the Bishop of Derby, she is very foolish indeed.

The third example is of a lad from Derby who intentionally broke a shop window in the hope of getting a probation order, which would make him exempt from the time restrictions. That strategy was successful.

The House decision's tonight will affect many claimants similar to those mentioned in that report. Many hon. Members would say that they would not be so foolish as to behave as some of the claimants whom I have described, but, of course, we are not making the rules and regulations for us. If we were, we would not pass them tonight.

11·53 pm
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister will not be deflected from his determination to introduce some sense into the board and lodging allowances for the able-bodied young. I say that for three good reasons. First, the allowances are an insult to the rest of the population. Many low-paid people cannot hope to live in circumstances similar to those enjoyed by those who benefit from the board and lodging allowances. Certainly in my constituency, they live in comfortable circumstances. Secondly, the regulations are an insult to the unemployed. An unemployed single person on supplementary benefit receives £27.50 a week, yet someone in receipt of board and lodging allowance receives £29.40 only for his food.

The second reason, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) said, is that the allowances lead to the breaking up of families. A lady constituent came into my surgery recently and told me of her 16-year-old girl, who was being encouraged to leave home to live with a young man whom the mother suspects of dabbling in drugs. She said: "Mr. Favell, the state is encouraging this young girl, who needs me and my family, to move out and live in those circumstances. What hope is there for my daughter and what is the state going to do about it?" I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is proposing to do something about it.

These allowances are bad for young people, because it is not good for them to be tied to the apron strings of social security. With allowances of this kind, there is little prospect of them leaving board and lodging if they are offered a job. In my constituency, somebody on board and lodging receives £55 plus another £9-odd for pocket money. There is no point in him going on a community or youth training programme, because he woud lose his supplementary benefit. There is no incentive to work or train or to find a job.

11.54 pm
Mr. Newton

In the time available, I shall not be able to reply to all the points made by hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) used a phrase that reflects the exaggerated way in which he has consistently approached this problem. He took the number, which we originally estimated, of young people under the age of 26 likely to be in board and lodging this year-85,000. I made a note of the phrase that he used. He referred to 85,000 nomads roaming the country. On 29 October I gave the hon. Gentleman some of the results of our careful monitoring of the introduction of the regulations while the time limits were still operating. I shall put those figures on record.

A survey of 2,350 claimants in an area covering a large part of south-east England showed that 20 per cent. were exempt from the time limits. Later evidence suggests that is an understatement of the position. A further 35 per cent. remained in the same accommodation, mainly at the non-householder rate of benefit—lower than the board and lodging rate. They stayed in the same place. The survey shows that 15 per cent. moved to other accommodation—less than 2 per cent. of them as boarders. In other words, they found accommodation with family or friends or in rented accommodation where housing benefit applied. Alongside the 35 per cent. who stayed in the same accommodation, at tens of pounds a week less benefit, 25 per cent. ceased to claim supplementary benefit, some because their unempolyment benefit was higher than their then entitlement to supplementary benefit.

In a situation when over half the claimants in a large part of the country in a substantial survey either stayed put at much lower rates of benefit or simply disappeared from the books, questions about the validity of many of these payments must be raised. That evidence has been strengthened by work carried out at the Euston local office which suggested that nearly half of the claimants—

Mrs. Beckett

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Newton


The Euston office found that nearly half of the claimants were not staying at the addresses they had notified to the DHSS.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady says that I am misleading the House.

Mrs. Beckett

If the Minister is not misleading the House, I should be pleased to hear his explanation. The figures he quoted were given between April and July 1985. Londoners did not have to move on until August.

Mr. Newton

Whatever may have happened as regards Londoners, those figures cover a large part of the south eastern part of the country, and the time limits were operating. They correspond with the figures in Euston. It is precisely because of that evidence that we are taking vigorous further action against fraud. I hope that when we do, we shall have more support than we had at the time of Operation Major in Oxford—we prosecuted both claimants and landlords—when the Opposition spent months making a fuss about what had happened.

I commend the regulations to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 336, Noes 198.

Division No. 9] [12 midnight
Adley, Robert Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Aitken, Jonathan Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Alexander, Richard Clegg, Sir Walter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Cockeram, Eric
Amess, David Colvin, Michael
Ancram, Michael Conway, Derek
Arnold, Tom Coombs, Simon
Ashby, David Cope, John
Aspinwall, Jack Cormack, Patrick
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Couchman, James
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Cranborne, Viscount
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Critchley, Julian
Baldry, Tony Crouch, David
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Batiste, Spencer Dickens, Geoffrey
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dorrell, Stephen
Bellingham, Henry Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bendall, Vivian Dover, Den
Benyon, William du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Best, Keith Dunn, Robert
Bevan, David Gilroy Durant, Tony
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dykes, Hugh
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Blackburn, John Emery, Sir Peter
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Evennett, David
Body, Richard Eyre, Sir Reginald
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fallon, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Farr, Sir John
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Favell, Anthony
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Fletcher, Alexander
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fookes, Miss Janet
Bright, Graham Forman, Nigel
Brinton, Tim Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Forth, Eric
Brooke, Hon Peter Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Franks, Cecil
Bruinvels, Peter Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Buck, Sir Antony Freeman, Roger
Budgen, Nick Fry, Peter
Bulmer, Esmond Gale, Roger
Butcher, John Galley, Roy
Butler, Hon Adam Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Butterfill, John Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Carttiss, Michael Goodlad, Alastair
Cash, William Gorst, John
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Gow, Ian
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gower, Sir Raymond
Chapman, Sydney Greenway, Harry
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Gregory, Conal
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Griffiths, Sir Eldon
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Major, John
Ground, Patrick Malins, Humfrey
Grylls, Michael Malone, Gerald
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Maples, John
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Marland, Paul
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Marlow, Antony
Hampson, Dr Keith Maude, Hon Francis
Hanley, Jeremy Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hannam, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Harris, David Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Harvey, Robert Mellor, David
Haselhurst, Alan Merchant, Piers
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hawksley, Warren Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Hayes, J. Miscampbell, Norman
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Hayward, Robert Moate, Roger
Heathcoat-Amory, David Monro, Sir Hector
Heddle, John Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Henderson, Barry Moore, John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Hickmet, Richard Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hicks, Robert Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Moynihan, Hon C.
Hind, Kenneth Mudd, David
Hirst, Michael Murphy, Christopher
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Neale, Gerrard
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Needham, Richard
Hordern, Sir Peter Neubert, Michael
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Newton, Tony
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Nicholls, Patrick
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Normanton, Tom
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Norris, Steven
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Onslow, Cranley
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Oppenheim, Phillip
Hunt, David (Wirral) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Ottaway, Richard
Hunter, Andrew Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Jackson, Robert Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Parris, Matthew
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Pattie, Geoffrey
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Pawsey, James
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Pollock, Alexander
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Porter, Barry
Key, Robert Portillo, Michael
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Powell, William (Corby)
King, Rt Hon Tom Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Price, Sir David
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Proctor, K. Harvey
Knowles, Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Knox, David Raffan, Keith
Lamont, Norman Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Lang, Ian Rathbone, Tim
Latham, Michael Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Lawler, Geoffrey Renton, Tim
Lawrence, Ivan Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Rifkind, Malcolm
Lightbown, David Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lilley, Peter Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Roe, Mrs Marion
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lord, Michael Rost, Peter
Luce, Richard Rowe, Andrew
Lyell, Nicholas Rumbold, Mrs Angela
McCrindle, Robert Ryder, Richard
McCurley, Mrs Anna Sackville, Hon Thomas
Macfarlane, Neil Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Sayeed, Jonathan
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Maclean, David John Shelton, William (Streatham)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
McQuarrie, Albert Shersby, Michael
Madel, David Silvester, Fred
Sims, Roger Twinn, Dr Ian
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Soames, Hon Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Speller, Tony Waddington, David
Spence, John Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Spencer, Derek Waldegrave, Hon William
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Walden, George
Squire, Robin Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Stanbrook, Ivor Wall, Sir Patrick
Stanley, John Waller, Gary
Steen, Anthony Walters, Dennis
Stern, Michael Ward, John
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stevens, Martin (Fulham) Warren, Kenneth
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Watson, John
Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire) Watts, John
Stokes, John Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Wheeler, John
Sumberg, David Whitfield, John
Tapsell, Sir Peter Whitney, Raymond
Taylor, John (Solihull) Wiggin, Jerry
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wilkinson, John
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Winterton, Mrs Ann
Terlezki, Stefan Winterton, Nicholas
Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M. Wolfson, Mark
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Woodcock, Michael
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Yeo, Tim
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Thurnham, Peter Younger, Rt Hon George
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Tellers for the Ayes:
Trippier, David Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Trotter, Neville Mr. Carol Mather.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Corbett, Robin
Alton, David Corbyn, Jeremy
Anderson, Donald Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Ashdown, Paddy Craigen, J. M.
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Crowther, Stan
Ashton, Joe Cunliffe, Lawrence
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Cunningham, Dr John
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dalyell, Tam
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Barnett, Guy Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Barron, Kevin Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Deakins, Eric
Beith, A. J. Dewar, Donald
Bell, Stuart Dixon, Donald
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dobson, Frank
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Dormand, Jack
Bermingham, Gerald Dubs, Alfred
Bidwell, Sydney Duffy, A. E. P.
Blair, Anthony Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Eadie, Alex
Boyes, Roland Eastham, Ken
Bray, Dr Jeremy Ewing, Harry
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Fatchett, Derek
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Faulds, Andrew
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Fisher, Mark
Buchan, Norman Flannery, Martin
Caborn, Richard Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Forrester, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foster, Derek
Canavan, Dennis Foulkes, George
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Freud, Clement
Clay, Robert Garrett, W. E.
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Godman, Dr Norman
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Golding, John
Cohen, Harry Gould, Bryan
Coleman, Donald Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Conlan, Bernard Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Hancock, Mr. Michael
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Hardy, Peter
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter O'Neill, Martin
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Park, George
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Parry, Robert
Heffer, Eric S. Patchett, Terry
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Pavitt, Laurie
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Pendry, Tom
Home Robertson, John Pike, Peter
Howells, Geraint Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Prescott, John
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Radice, Giles
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Randall, Stuart
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Redmond, M.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Hume, John Richardson, Ms Jo
John, Brynmor Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Robertson, George
Kennedy, Charles Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rogers, Allan
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Rooker, J. W.
Kirkwood, Archy Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Lambie, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Lamond, James Rowlands, Ted
Leadbitter, Ted Sedgemore, Brian
Leighton, Ronald Sheerman, Barry
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Litherland, Robert Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Livsey, Richard Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Skinner, Dennis
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
McGuire, Michael Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
McKelvey, William Snape, Peter
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Soley, Clive
McNamara, Kevin Spearing, Nigel
McTaggart, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David
McWilliam, John Stott, Roger
Madden, Max Strang, Gavin
Marek, Dr John Straw, Jack
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Martin, Michael Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Maxton, John Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Maynard, Miss Joan Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Meacher, Michael Tinn, James
Michie, William Torney, Tom
Mikardo, Ian Wallace, James
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wareing, Robert
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Weetch, Ken
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Welsh, Michael
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wigley, Dafydd
Nellist, David Williams, Rt Hon A.
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wilson, Gordon
O'Brien, William Winnick, David
Woodall, Alec Tellers for the Noes:
Young, David (Bolton SE) Mr. Allen McKay and
Mr. Frank Haynes.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Provisions (No. 2) Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 11th November, be approved.