13. In this Order—
allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day;
the Bill" means the Social Security Bill;
Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee;
Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.
§ I should like to apologise to the House and to you, Mr. Speaker, for the fact that, because of my responsibilities to the Privileges Committee, I shall have to leave the debate at a certain stage.
§ A Social Security Bill is a familiar part of the Westminster process. Over the past 10 years or so, only three Sessions have been devoid of such a Government Bill, and in the Session beginning 1974 the House considered no fewer than six Government Bills dealing with some aspect of social security. This is a sign of the continuing importance that Parliament attaches to this subject. Although we are considering the passage of just one Bill, there is no doubt about its significance.
§ I shall begin by outlining the background to this legislation, and say a few words about its progress so far. I shall then deal with the terms of the timetable motion and why it is so important that the Bill should reach the statute book. Finally, I shall say a few words about the role of the House of Lords in our legislative responsibilities.
§ The House will be familiar with the areas covered by the Bill. Its proposals were drawn up after a wide and extensive consultation exercise which began in the autumn of 1983 with an inquiry into retirement. Examinations of family support, housing benefit and supplementary benefit followed. In June last year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services published a Green Paper which stimulated intense public debate. Six months later, having taken into account the views expressed, my right hon. Friend announced to the House on 16 December publication of his firm plans for reform in the White Paper.
§ The Bill based on the White Paper was brought forward following a commitment made in the Queen's Speech. It was given a Second Reading on 28 January by 278 votes to 201, and began its consideration in Standing Committee on 4 February—over two months ago. It has been there ever since, and less than half the Bill has been considered.
§ Progress in Committee has been slow but steady. The Committee has held 30 sittings and been in session for about 115 hours. Thirty-four hours were spent on part I of the Bill, dealing with pensions, and 49 hours on part II 749 which deals with income-related benefits. Both of these are important aspects of the social security system, but if progress continued at the present rate more than 250 hours in Committee would be required to consider all 70 clauses and eight schedules of the Bill. The House will appreciate that that amount of time is simply not available if the Bill is to reach the statute book this Session. I shall explain in a moment why I feel it should do so, but first I should say a few words about the motion.
§ The motion, if passed, would require the Committee to report the Bill to the House on or before 1 May. I understand that the Committee has agreed to sittings motions allowing it to hold a further 10 sittings before that date. Half of these would be afternoon sittings at which the Committee would be able to sit into the evening, though not into the early hours of the morning. This seems a sensible way of using the remaining time for discussing profitably the rest of the Bill. Once the Bill returns to the House, two days are allocated to its remaining stages, and on the first of these days proceedings may continue until midnight. Again, this seems a not unreasonable amount of time.
§ It will be apparent that the terms of the motion require progress in Standing Committee to be faster than hitherto. This constraint is necessary for the Bill to receive reasonable attention in another place as well as Royal Assent this Session. Quite apart from the general principle that the elected Government are entitled to assume that their proposals, which reflect the will of the majority in the House, should be implemented, the Bill deserves to be brought into force. It is the result of a major consultation and review of our social security system, and it proposes fundamental reforms.
§ Part I of the Bill would give everyone the right to a personal pension and make it simpler for occupational pension schemes to contract out of the state earnings-related pensions scheme. In addition, it would modify the state earnings-related pension scheme and significantly reduce its costs in the next century.
§ Parts II, III and IV of the Bill deal respectively with income-related benefits, the setting up of the social fund and changes to benefits payable under the Social Security Act 1975. The new basis for the three income-related benefits of income support, family credit and housing benefit is designed particularly to simplify the system and to alleviate the position of those presently in the poverty and unemployment trap. The social fund will provide grants to replace the old maternity and death grants and will enable the social fund officers to make payments for special and emergency needs. Part V of the Bill is primarily concerned with simplifying administration by providing common rules for a range of payments.
§ While I recognise that there is much that is contentious in the Bill, equally I think there would be broad agreement with making new arrangements for payments which have not been revised for the past 15 years or so, such as the maternity and death grants, and simplifying the way in which benefits can be claimed and administered. It would be a waste of the time, thought and effort which has been given to this Bill, not by the Government alone, if its proposals remained just on paper, not because they had been defeated in a Division, but merely because there was insufficient time for the Bill to complete its passage.750
§ It is perhaps appropriate also, in the context of a Bill which has aroused such strong feelings in this place and in the public at large, to mention the role of the other place in considering legislation. The other place has shown that it takes seriously its role as a revising Chamber, and no doubt it will continue to do so.
§ I do not make this point in the context of the expected fortunes of this Bill in another place. It is something we can observe for the behaviour of their Lordships over a whole range of domestic legislation. It is just possible that the greater disposition to amend and use their constitutional powers arises because this Administration do not threaten abolition of the second Chamber. At any rate, I do not complain about the greater current legislative liveliness of another place, but I say that it provides another factor in the balance of time and progress of legislation between the two Houses. Of course it is not a major factor, but neither is it a negligible consideration. Meanwhile, I have no doubt that those organisations and members of the public who have conducted a campaign against this Bill will be concerned to see that there is sufficient time for it to be thoroughly considered in another place.
§ The House will have seen from what I have said that we attach great importance to this Bill reaching the statute book. It is the result of an extensive review, and its own results will be far-reaching. Consideration of the Bill in Standing Committee has been constructive and progress has been made, but we need now to take action to ensure that the Bill does not fall for want of time. I believe that the terms of the motion before the House represent a sensible and measured way of achieving this, and I commend it to the House.4.42 pm
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
The House has listened to the Leader of the House argue the case for guillotining this Bill. It was rather a thin case. I do not think that he has managed to convince himself, let alone the Opposition and a number of anxious Members on his own Back Benches.
I was struck straight away by the sharp contrast between the speech today of the Leader of the House and the one that he delivered on 17 February when we last debated a guillotine motion. That related to the Gas Bill. In giving the background to that Bill and to that guillotine the Leader of the House was able and glad to cite the authority of the Conservative party's general election manifesto of 1983 which contained the following passage:In the next Parliament, we shall seekmeans ofattracting private capital into the gas and electricity industries.So be it, but no such manifesto authority underlies this Bill. Not a word appeared in the Conservative party's manifesto foreshadowing what is probably the most important measure of this Parliament.
I recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), who was then the Labour party's spokesman on social services, wrote to the Prime Minister, as a number of disquieting and disturbing reports had been leaked from the think tank, and asked her:Will you confirm the Conservative party's commitment to maintaining in its present form the earnings-related state pension scheme introduced by the last Labour Government?The following day my hon. Friend received a reply from the Prime Minister, from which I quote the last paragraph:
751Nor are there any plans to change the earnings-related component of the state pension. The 1975 Act was in fact brought on to the statute book with the full support of Conservative members. Yours sincerely, Margaret Thatcher.This Bill is the most blatant, cynical and shameful breach of a specific election pledge that I have ever come across. We shall make sure that the country understands this when the right time comes. That will be when we face the electorate again.
The Leader of the House referred to the various review committees. Although there have been review committees which have invited comments and evidence on each of the major component parts of the social security system, they have not been in any sense independent reviews. Indeed, the Government have gone out of their way to reject the notion that a Royal Commission or a commission of inquiry was appropriate. Instead, they appointed Ministers at the Department of Health and Social Security, of whose great abilities we are all aware, to act as chairmen of the separate review committees. In other words, no attempt has been made to draw upon the authority of an independent review body, let alone to continue the tradition of near consensus that was established 43 years ago when the Beveridge committee produced its blueprint for our postwar welfare state.
As the Second Reading debate on the Bill made plain, it is opposed not only by the Labour party and the other opposition parties, but by a substantial number of Government Back Benchers. Of the eight Conservative non-ministerial speeches that were made during the Second Reading and money resolution debates on 28 January 1986, no fewer than five were highly critical of the Government. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) called for a Royal Commission and recommended thatthe whole approach to the modernisation and recasting of the social security system should be broadly based across the political spectrum…In social security we deal with the lives and needs of individuals and families. It is our duty to make not only the best provision, but to provide a simple, understandable and stable system which is not subject to constant change as a result of any war between political parties. The British people deserve better than that."—[Official Report, 28 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 842.]That sound advice has been contemptuously rejected. This is the most controversial measure that has been introduced in the last seven years and it intimately affects the great bulk of the nation.
As the Leader of the House most certainly conceded, the scope of the Bill is immense. It includes not only future provisions for state, occupational and personal pensions; a new approach to income-related benefits, including income support which is to replace supplementary benefit; family credit, which is to replace family income supplement and major changes in housing benefit, but the establishment of the new and retrograde social fund; the abolition of maternity and death grants; and major administrative changes affecting citizens' rights of appeal against decisions by DHSS officers. It is at least four Bills rolled into one.
Despite all this, nobody can fairly assert—and to be fair, I do not think that the Leader of the House asserted it—that the Committee has not given the most serious consideration to the Bill's provisions. The Committee has already dealt with the whole of part I, dealing with pensions, the whole of part II, dealing with income-related benefits, as well as part III, which establishes the social fund.
752 Let the House consider for a moment just what this scrutiny has entailed. The pension rights of 21 million people who are at work are affected by part I. While the earnings-related pensions of those over the age of 52 are protected and while those between the ages of 41 and 52 are partly protected, all those between the ages of 18 and 41 who are now at work will be adversely affected by the proposals. SERPS has been mutilated, halved in value, with a vast saving of £12.5 billion to be achieved by 2033.
This mutilation has been brought about by three major changes. First, earnings-related pensions are to be based not on the best 20 years of earnings but on the average of a lifetime's earnings. Secondly, pensions will be based not on 25 per cent. of those earnings but on only 20 per cent. Both these provisions are highly disadvantageous to the lower-paid and I think in particular to women whose careers, as we all know, are frequently interrupted by child-bearing and child-rearing. The third change affects 11 million pensioners in contracted-out occupational pension schemes and those who in future choose personal pensions as well because they will have their inflation proofing reduced in value to a new limit of 3 per cent. per annum. I remind the Government that that goal of a 3 per cent. inflation rate has not yet been reached by this Government in nearly seven years of office and in spite of massive fiscal and monetary deflation and the creation of an army of 4 million unemployed.
Is it really alleged that 35 hours of debate on provision of such scope and controversy were not justified? I am amazed that such economy of discussion has been achieved in the Committee. Similarly, with the income-related benefits, on which some 40 hours were spent, the Leader of the House cannot expect proposals to replace supplementary benefit with all its carefully tailored special payments and allowances for the disabled, the old and the unemployed, to be passed on the nod. It simply is not possible. Nor can he expect a £500 million cut in housing benefit, which will hurt hundreds of thousands of pensioners, and the requirement in clause 20(5) that every household, however poor, should in future contribute towards local rates or to the proposed community charge, not to be strongly probed and challenged. Nor can the introduction of family credit be accepted without vigorous examination and debate.
Then comes part III, the so-called social fund, probably the most controversial and retrograde of all the Bill's proposals. Four features of this scheme call out for the most serious scrutiny of which the Committee is capable: they are, first, the empowering of social fund officers to make discretionary payments as they think fit or, rather, as the Secretary of State thinks fit; secondly, the imposition of global cash limits on the size of the fund; thirdly, the substitution of single payment grants by recoverable loans and fourthly, the lack of appeals machinery.
The House will recall that on Second Reading there were three interventions in the Secretary of State's speech. He will remember them well, they were on this very subject and he could not answer them at the time. First, the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said:What worries me—I hope my right hon Friend the Secretary of State will comment on this—is that inevitably one could get two similar cases in different parts of the country judged by two different fund officers coming up with different 753 conclusions. In the light of that, will he consider whether there should be a fall back position which would enable applicants, under certain conditions to apply for an independent tribunal?Then there was my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who is in his place now, who very pertinently asked the following question:As the Secretary of State says that the aim of the social fund is to meet individual needs, how can he guarantee that that objective will be met with the cash limit to the fund?Thirdly, the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) quoted from the special report by the Council on Tribunals:
'The Council on Tribunals believes this proposal to be misconceived, and stresses: 'It would abolish a right of independent appeal that has existed for over 50 years.'All that the Secretary of State would say on that occasion was that he was "open to argument" and that
hon. Members will wish to put forward alternative suggestions on how it could be done, and the Government will listen to the arguments."—[Official Report, 28 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 827–8.]Arguments have been put forward in Committee, but still there is no Government answer. Does the Leader of the House really believe that these arguments and suggestions, which the Secretary of State himself has admitted need full discussion on so vital a matter, can be properly' dealt with on Report under a guillotine motion? When we last debated a guillotine motion, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House commented on the proposal of the Select Committee on Procedure for automatically guillotining controversial Bills. He said:
We should not rush to impose guillotines on Bills on which it is ultimately possible to reach agreement. The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill was controversial, but completed its passage without the need for a timetable motion, despite more then 145 hours in Committee."—[Official Report, 17 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 45.]The Opposition have been reasonable and measured and have made progress throughout the Committee stage of the Bill. It should have been possible to reach agreement on the remaining stages without imposing a guillotine. No one in his senses would argue that the Bill is less important and less deserving of consideration than the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, to which the Leader of the House referred in the speech from which I quoted, important as that measure was. This Bill is far more important than the now dead Shops Bill which only yesterday the Home Secretary was promising the House would not be subjected to a guillotine.
Of course the Opposition object deeply and sincerely to this Bill with its major assault on the welfare state. But it is precisely because its provisions will affect the great majority of our fellow citizens that we have been determined to do our duty and, where we cannot remove its most obnoxious features, at least to mitigate their effects and to propose improving amendments.
I strongly recommend the rejection of this timetable motion, and I hope that others in all parts of the House will join the Opposition in the Division Lobby this evening.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I have had the privilege to serve on the Standing Committee that has been deliberating on the Bill, the first on which I have had the pleasure of serving. I particularly wanted to serve on the Committee because the Bill is aimed at simplifying and 754 rationalising our social security system, a system which is far too complex and bureaucratic, and often fails to provide the necessary help to people in real need.
It is essential for this important and radical measure to get on to the statute book, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already mentioned. The timetable motion is necessary for it to reach the statute book because, after 115 hours, the Standing Committee is only halfway through the Bill.
At my regular constituency surgeries at Erith town hall and at the additional surgeries that I hold in Crayford and Thamesmead I regularly deal with social security matters on which my constituents seek advice and assistance. Claimants are often baffled and confused by the complexities of the present social security system with its panoply of forms, rules and regulations. We are fortunate in Bexleyheath, where my local DHSS office is situated, to have a first-class manager and staff. They do an excellent job and provide people with all the help they can, but it is an uphill task because of the complexity of the system. Even simple claims involve a fair amount of work. Some of it is unnecessary, but the pressure of work, coupled with the intricacies of the system, which can best be described as an administrative nightmare, mean that the staff in local offices, such as mine in Bexleyheath, cannot always devote to complex cases the time and effort which might be necessary.
The Standing Committee has debated at great length the basis of the Bill. We have gone in detail through clause after clause. From our deliberations all parties seem to believe that there is a desperate need for reform of the system. The electorate, too, believes in the need for reform. The Government have my total support on the Bill because it is an attempt to rationalise and modernise the system.
On Second Reading and in Committee we heard that there has been no organised reform of the system since Beveridge. But times have changed. We are living in 1986. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) is living in the past. We must look to the future, not backwards to a past system, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. In 40 years, times have changed. The society in which we live has changed and so have the problems, but the provisions of the social welfare system have only been tampered with, either by tacking on additional benefits or by piecemeal reform.
The Bill, which examines the whole aspect of social security pensions and benefits, is long overdue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team of Ministers deserve credit from the House and the Committee for all their work on the Bill. The contributions in Committee have been constructive and the Government have listened to the arguments put forward by the Opposition. While the debates in Committee have been impressive, far too much time has been spent on each clause. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Opposition Members may say, "Rubbish," but they have been wasting time.
The aim of the Bill is simple: to ensure that help is given to those in real need. That aim can be achieved only if the social security system is easily understood and administered. The piecemeal development of the system has led to a range of complicated, intertwined benefits, even with different means tests for each benefit claimed. In addition, the staff who have to administer the system are faced with voluminous regulations and codes even for 755 relatively small claims. As a consequence many people are unaware of what benefits they can claim. Slight differences in income or in circumstances between similar families can lead to wide variations in benefit. Often claims are wrongly calculated and benefits are incorrectly paid. Extra work is generated to remedy that, assuming that the mistake is detected. Further, even if all the difficulties are discounted, help is not always given to those who need it most. From our constituency mailbags or from the media we all know of cases of terrible hardship and of people who have been missed out. That is not acceptable in Britain today.
The provisions of the Bill will remedy many of the deficiencies. Income support, which will replace supplementary benefit, will be provided on the basis of a set rate of benefit, together with premium payments for single parents, the disabled and the elderly. That will be backed up by a simpler system of housing benefit which will provide help with rent and rates to those in work and to those who receive income supplement. There will not be two systems as at present. That is progress and improvement.
The proposed social fund, which we have been discussing of late in Committee, will be a far more flexible means of providing help. People with special needs or problems will be able to get extra help from the fund, which will be better tailored to meet individual needs.
The other major reform which will go a long way towards meeting needs often unmet at present is the system of family credit which will replace family income supplement—a benefit claimed by only about half those entitled to it. In addition, family credit will provide help for low-income families more sensibly, with benefits calculated to avoid the poverty trap which means currently that if there is a slight increase in its income a family may be worse off because of subsequent loss of benefits. As we have heard in Committee, the present system contains a disincentive to work or a discouragement to work overtime because the subsequent loss of benefit may mean that a family is worse off.
This is a reforming measure. It is not about cutting benefits or reducing expenditure, as the Opposition would have us believe. It is constructive and progressive. It is about cutting out bureaucracy and waste. It has one guiding principle—to give the right help to the right people at the right time. [Interruption.] I regret that the Opposition are not willing to listen. We have listened to them in Committee for hours and hours, but they will not listen to the facts when they are presented to them.
§ Mr. Evennett
My hon. Friend is right; they never want to listen. Time after time in Committee my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues tried to put them on the right rails but they did not want to listen then and they do not want to listen now.
In Committee we spent much time discussing the measure in great detail. The time provided for each clause was more than adequate. We have made some progress but nowhere near enough to get the measure on the statute book. We have heard the same arguments repeated again and again.
§ Mr. Evennett
I shall not give way. It is time for the hon. Member to listen.
756 The Opposition have a different philosophy. We have just heard the Opposition view from the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney. His view is clear—more money from the taxpayers, to be distributed to everyone irrespective of need or poverty. The right hon. Gentleman wants benefits to be distributed in the same old way as they have always been. The result, regrettably, would be more bureaucracy. The more bureaucracy there is, the more money taxpayers will have to provide. It is the ordinary taxpayer who has to pick up the bill. There is not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to be distributed to everyone. We have to be rational and give the benefits to those in real need.
What view have we heard from the alliance in Committee? We have heard a lot but it does not add up to a constructive reform package. When it come to voting, alliance Members went with the Labour party The philosophy of the Government, which I believe has the support of the vast majority of the people, is that taxpayers' money must be spent wisely, that bureaucracy must be reduced and that benefits must be given to those in real need.
The DHSS employs about 40,000 people to administer supplementary benefit alone. To provide the blanket cover that the Opposition want, without any sensible assessment of need, would require far more staff. The money that the Government spend is taken from the pockets of the people. It is the duty of any Government to govern well in the interests of all the people—the claimants, those who have to administer the system, and the taxpayers.
The country would like to see the reforms on the statute book and operating to improve the system. If we went outside this House and asked whether the 115 hours that have been spent on the Bill is sufficient, the majority of people would say that it was. Whether it has been used wisely is for the Opposition to decide when considering their performance. The reform of the social security system, long overdue as it is, has started its course towards an improvement for the future.
What we need now is less talk and more action.. We have had debate at great length. We must conclude the rest of the Bill in Committee, and the sooner the better.
I welcome this timetable motion, not only because it means that we can conclude, and go forward, but because we want the measure to reach the statute book soon.
§ Mr. Archie Kirkwood (Roxborough and Berwickshire)
I must say that the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) was pathetic. I do not say that often, and I am sure that it was not up to the hon. Gentleman's usual standard. I do not know who wrote his script—perhaps it was the Patronage Secretary. He was supposed to be addressing his mind to the need for a timetable motion for this Bill. He went on at great length and much of his speech was platitudes. We could have done with it in Committee. None of it gave a reason for curtailing discussion. He asserted, in a throwaway tine, that the Opposition had wasted time in Committee. That is not true, and he knows it.
If the hon. Gentleman takes a tape measure to the column inches of the Hansard reports of the Standing Committee, he will find that Ministers of the Crown have 757 been on their feet for almost as long as we have. That is a measure of the difficulty of the Bill. I do not criticise that. It is unreasonable to say that it was time wasting.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I do not know in what form the hon. Gentleman's tape measure is calibrated, but mine—I did the exercise—showed that Government Members took approximately one third of the time in Committee. The balance has been taken up by speeches of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
If one third of 115 hours had been excised, it would have made more time and thereby made the Committee's work much speedier.
It was the Government's fault that the Bill consisted of merely a series of headings that needed to be fleshed out, and it was inevitable that Ministers would have to speak for some time. Nobody in the House should be misled into thinking that time was wasted to any extent at all.
My objection to the guillotine motion is not one of principle. I understand that Governments will require to resort to guillotines in some circumstances.
I am a veteran of two Finance Bills—[Interruption.] I am older than I look. Even during my two or three years here, I have served on Committees for which Governments would have been entirely justified in introducing guillotine motions. The tradition is that Governments do not use them in Finance Bill Committees, but we have had in the past six-hour debates, where Opposition Members—not including me—spoke at great length about totally irrelevant matters and spent long hours discussing sittings motions. That did not happen in this Committee.
My objection is that the Bill is not one Bill, as the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said earlier. It is at least three Bills. It is a pensions Bill. I went on record early on saying that the Government were foolish to try to cobble together a pensions Bill with the fundamental reforms that were required in the income support system, which is the second aspect of the Bill. The third part of the Bill is technical. Part V, which contains the common provisions and sections on adjudication, should be another Bill in its own right.
It is wrong for Departments to put measures up to Ministers that they know cannot be discussed in a sensible time, even by a decent Standing Committee that is doing its work properly. If the Government insisted on introducing 70 clauses and eight schedules, they should have started on the first day of this session. To come after the Christmas recess with 70 clauses and eight schedules smacks of a conspiracy, suggesting that they are doing it deliberately so that a guillotine motion after 115 hours sounds entirely reasonable.
We must put down a marker. I will support the Opposition on this timetable motion not because I am against timetable motions, but because I am against Departments introducing Bills which are impossible to get through without guillotine motions.
The difficulties in Committee have been exacerbated by the vagueness of the proposals. More Government time was needed to explain them. They have been exacerbated by the severe impact on the living standards of the claimants who will be affected, and by the sheer number of people who will be affected by the provisions of this Bill.
758 The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney was also right to advert to the fact that any objective viewer of this measure must come to the conclusion that the Government have deliberately insinuated the reforms to avoid any public scrutiny at the polls. That is not good for democracy, and it is a charge which the Government have been unable sensibly to refute.
The Standing Committee proceedings have been constructive, notwithstanding the politically contentious nature of the matters which we have been discussing. They have been even-tempered. The Committee has been assiduous. I concede that I have been tabling amendments and that some of them have been misconceived, but it is a complicated subject, and it is better to take one's courage in one's hands and try to improve the Bill. If the Minister puts one right, so be it. I make no apologies for doing that.
The political disagreements in Committee have been contained within reasonable levels. On some issues, although the Government have not accepted our amendments, I am satisfied that we have put ideas to the Government that have made them reconsider areas in which their thinking was not fully developed. All the elements for a successful Standing Committee have been in place until now, but the Government have made a bad blunder in introducing this guillotine motion. If the Secretary of State had made approaches, either formal or informal, perhaps at an earlier stage, we might have been able to finish the Bill without any guillotine, give or take a couple of weeks. I would have responded as positively as I could. We were never offered that choice. Along came the chopper after 100 hours, and we were given no choice in that matter.
I am deeply worried about part V of the Bill, which contains many of the common provisions and adjudication sections of the procedures for consultation with the Social Security Advisory Committee, which are very important. They are technical matters and may not be so politically contentious. The adjudication system is highly refined; we have had debates about that in Committee. I do not wish to do anything which would shift the balance significantly. If we restrain discusssion of those matters, I shall be extremely worried. I think we should draw the attention of Members in another place to the fact that discusson in these areas may be restrained. They may be minded to turn their attention to those matters if we do not get a proper chance in Committee or on Report to air the issues.
I have three main objections. The guillotine is unnecessary, as the Government should have tried to get the Bill out of Committee by consent. They could have succeeded had they put their mind to it. The guillotine restrains discussion on important constitutional issues, including the common provisions and adjudication sections.
My main objection is that we are effectively discussing three Bills. If Governments introduce Bills which are effectively three Bills rolled into one, they will have to use the guillotine procedure, and the guillotine will become the norm rather than the exception. That is completely unacceptable in the context of parliamentary democracy, and that is why I shall vote against the motion.
§ Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and I have been members of the Standing Committee since the beginning of February. I decided to serve on the 759 Committee partially because no one seems to have understood previous Social Security legislation. I thought that if I was present at the start of the Bill, I would have a much better chance of understanding what was happening. I congratulate my local DHSS offices in Nuneaton and Rugby on the way in which they have managed to interpret the complicated information in the legislation.
The Committee has worked well. There has been no ill intent from the Opposition and many of their probing amendments and arguments have been useful. That has been seen in the way in which Ministers have reacted to many of those arguments. They have said that they will go away and reconsider some of the arguments, and there have been one or two concessions.
No matter what Bill we were considering timetabling, I would support such a motion. We should change the attitude of the House, which allows Bills to drift on in Standing Committee in accordance with tradition. Recently, the House had the opportunity to introduce the discipline imposed by time restraints, but rejected it. It is good that that discipline will be imposed, even at this late stage, on our consideration of the latter part of the Bill.
In recent weeks, hon. Members have not been over-repetitive, although at times it is difficult to remember whether we have discussed points previously in Committee. We may repeat our arguments in our discussion of the latter part of the Bill, so the discipline of the timetable will do no harm.
The debates have become a little pedestrian at times, but I do not suggest that that is the reason for the timetable motion. There is a danger that, as we drift towards the end of the Bill, we could drag it out beyond the deadline set by the timetable motion.
In The Guardian today, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was reported as saying that he did not want the guillotine to be introduced. He thought that it was unnecessary, as the Bill was likely to finish at about that time anyway. He may be right. The Committee stage might end by the end of April or the beginning of May. However, that is uncertain because of the number of clauses yet to he considered. The timetable proposed will create the right discipline to ensure that the Committee stage finishes in good time.
It would have helped to have a timetable motion from the beginning of such a complex and detailed Bill. If we had known how many hours we would sit, the Opposition would have been able to organise and consider the time available with some flexibility as to how the Bill should be discussed. That is one of my main arguments for timetabling Bills. Timetabling is not always a disadvantage to the Opposition; it allows them to plan their approach. In the end, we shall have discussed the Bill for 168 hours. That is a long time, and probably reasonably near to being an adequate period for argument, but I still believe that a timetabling restriction is necessary.
This is a controversial Bill. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said that the Committee proceedings should last as long as those on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. By my calculations, the latter lasted for 145 hours. This Bill will run for at least 160 hours. When we examine such a wide-ranging Bill, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire described it, we must realise that it has separate parts. It would not have made too much sense to go as far as he suggested and separate the parts into different Bills. There 760 are interrelationships between all the sections of the Bill, and they should be considered together. I welcome the fact that we have taken a complete view of social security with the intention of introducing a logical change.
We had many arguments and spent much time in Committee discussing what matters should be contained in primary legislation and regulations. One thing which I like about the Bill, although I accept that many hon. Members do not like this, is that we are setting primary legislation which will not require to be altered simply because we wish to alter some comparative detail in the regulations. One precedent is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 which replaced a mass of legislation with a small amount of primary legislation. A more workable system has developed from that. I do not see why, despite the criticisms that we have heard, it would be a disadvantage to have a similar set-up in social security.
It is easy to become emotional about the nature of the Bill, because it affects the people about whom one becomes emotional. That is a natural response. But the Bill tries to set out matters in a more logical and simpler form, so that those who are affected are able to understand what is happening and can be dealt with quickly.
In our recent debates in Committee, we have discussed the speed of action of the social fund to ensure that people receive help immediately, not three weeks or six months after the tribunal hearing. This simplistic approach—the Bill is still complex—will enable that to be done much better than in the past. But there is still much to be done in the regulations. Ministers have sensibly agreed to reconsider matters and all hon. Members will look to Report to see the Government's proposals, which we hope will satisfy the reservations expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
That does not stop me welcoming the general impact of the Bill and its general intentions. The timetable limitation, which may be a nominal limitation if the hon. Member for Oldham, West is correct, will ensure progress on the Bill, so that the other place has the time to consider it, and we can bring it back and it can receive Royal Assent. It is important that, with so many changes—some of which are drastic—there is time for DHSS offices to become organised to operate the legislation in 1988. If the Bill did not go through, it would be a disastrous waste of time and effort.
This is the right approach. The guillotine is necessary. It will probably not have the effect of genuinely curtailing discussion, as some Opposition Members fear.
§ Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)
It is ironic that if this debate were not taking place—very unusually for a Tuesday—the Committee could probably have made another eight hours' progress tonight. That is an extraordinary contradiction that no one from the Government side has so far offered to explain.
I have found it a pleasure to be on this Committee. I get very impatient with many of the habits and customs of the House and hold them in little esteem. I have found it frustrating to be a member of Standing Committees. When we have discussed important legislation that would affect millions of people, I have occasionally found it frustrating when members of my own party have spent a lot of time talking for the sake of talking, as if it were some kind of "macho" achievement to sit up all night and speak for two, four or six hours. I acknowledge that it can sometimes be 761 an effective parliamentary tactic, but it is frustrating at times. Yet no one could accuse any member of this Committee—certainly no Opposition Member nor anyone on the Government Benches or, with possibly one or two exceptions, the Ministers themselves—of making any such attempt. The Secretary of State has hardly opened his mouth even when he has been with us. The only time that anyone has seriously filibustered since the Committee began its deliberations was when Government failed to have briefs ready in time—and that was because of the progress that the Committee was making.
It has been a pleasure to belong to this Committee and to know that if one turned up there would be serious argument, even though one's hostility to and outrage at the Government's proposals was in no way diminished. One knew that one would have an opportunity to make a serious contribution to the detailed examination of the Bill. It has been an interesting and healthy break with tradition that there have been so few "stand part" debates; the sittings motions have not been debated.
If anything, Opposition Members have been more willing to put time into the Bill than have Government Members. It was not Opposition Members who asked to slacken off over Easter. We could have had one or two more sittings before and after the Easter recess; it was the Government who did not wish to have them. Particularly when we have been in the middle of discussing some important matter which it would have been difficult to continue to examine two days later, my hon. Friends would have been happy to continue the discussion, and sit a little later on Tuesday nights. It has been the Government—
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman will recall that at 1 o'clock in the morning last week it was the Government who wanted to adjourn, when many Members of the Committee, including myself, who opposed the motion, were quite prepared to go on.
§ Mr. Clay
I remember the occasion well, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of it.
There have been perhaps only two or three "stand part" debates, so anxious have Opposition Members been to examine details of amendments in a full and proper manner.
It has also been the case, perhaps somewhat uncharacteristically, that some Conservative Members—not those who have spoken so far this afternoon—have had a great deal to say, some of it of great importance. The hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) has, through amendments and other contributions, played a major part in the Committee's examination of the proposed legislation. Government members of Committees do not always play that kind of role. All the more reason, therefore, for the Government to accept that some of their own members require time to examine this Bill in a proper way.
The only explanation of the Government's anxiety to stifle discussion is that, the more detailed the examination of the Bill, the more the Government flounder. In a significant proportion of recent discussions we have seen Ministers moving the goalposts as the debate has gone along, so ill-prepared have the Government been for consideration of the Bill. I have never seen such a flurry of notes passing backwards and forwards between civil 762 servants and the Government Front Bench, as question after question has been raised not only by Opposition Members but by Government Back Benchers.
It is ironic that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) referred earlier to the inadequacies of the present social security system and to the nightmare of regulations. Much of the discussion in Committee has consisted of probing questions and amendments from the Government's Back Benchers and from Opposition Members, only for them to be told, time after time, by Ministers that these things would be dealt with in regulations. A Government who have responded in that sort of way have no right to curtail discussion by means of the guillotine.
This Bill is in no way a normal one. Even by the most modest standards, it contains enough material for several Bills. There could very easily have been two Bills on the pensions aspect alone. A Bill that simply dealt with SERPS would have been seen as a major piece of legislation. One that brought in the notion of portable and private pensions would have been seen as a major Bill. Stating the case modestly, a Bill that dealt with, say, family credits, income support and housing benefit alone would have been seen as a massive piece of legislation. On top of that there is the social fund, which in itself is worthy of a Bill. In these circumstances, where one is dealing with the equivalent of as many as five Bills, it is outrageous that, when we have already, quite remarkably, moved more than half way through the substance of the Bill, the Government should guillotine further discussion.
I said earlier that I am somewhat cynical about parliamentary processes. This experience makes me even more cynical. There has been much that I would have liked to say but have not said because of the wish of many hon. Members on both the Government and Opposition Benches of the Committee to make progress.
The Government will win tonight. All the signs are that they will get their Bill through in substantially its present form. Nevertheless, in the end they will have to answer to the millions of people who are affected by the Bill. It is, after all, a Bill that will affect almost every person in the land—men and women, young and old, those in work and those unemployed, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.
As the catastrophic provisions of the Bill start to bite, particularly in areas quite often represented by Opposition Members—those which currently have very high levels of single payments from the DHSSs, those areas which will be devastated by the completely unconsidered and wicked cash-limiting effect of the social fund—people will ask themselves how on earth Parliament could have passed such outrageous legislation in the first place. Even now, I find it difficult to explain to people how arguments and votes against the Bill are unavailing. People ask whether I did not explain to the Government. I have to reply that an explanation was given but that the Government did not want to listen.
Even the Government's own supporters have warned them that on a number of aspects things will go seriously wrong For example, there is not just all-party opposition to family credit, but the CBI, small businesses and the self-employed, nearly all of which normally support the Government, are opposed to this proposal. I shall always remember the hon. Member for Kensington begging his colleagues on the Committee, and saying that it would be in the best interests not only of the country but of the 763 Conservative party, to have the guts to support him and defeat the Government on that proposal. Unfortunately, no one had the guts to do so.
I believe that when people understand what has taken place they will hold more in contempt than they do at the moment an institution and habits that could allow legislation of this kind to go through with this kind of anachronistic stifling of debate.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)
Leaving aside the issue of how family credit is paid, is the hon. Gentleman seriously putting forward the argument that the reform of the family incomes supplement system is not sensible and that the Government decision to devote more resources to low-income families is not an altogether sensible and highly welcome measure?
§ Mr. Clay
It is not the purpose of this debate simply to repeat arguments that have already been aired to some extent in the Committee, but I will just say this. One of the few good things about this debate is that we have got the Secretary of State's views on this. We knew them already, of course, but he had not spoken in the House on the matter and he has hardly ever spoken in the Committee. I rather resent his finally getting off his backside and intervening, because I would have welcomed the opportunity on many occasions to intervene in the Committee on the Secretary of State in particular, who came sneaking into my constituency to do a "World in Action" programme about people on supplementary benefit in Sunderland. He said that he was horrified by what he had seen and that this Bill would help them, when he knows perfectly well that it will not. He has never been available in the Committee to answer many of the points that I would have liked to make.
I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if I continued in this vein you would draw me back to my remarks on why this Bill should not be guillotined tonight.
§ Mr. Clay
I do not withdraw one word. I am answering the Secretary of State's first intervention.
On the question of family credit, all I said was that the CBI was opposed to it. That point was made in Committee and was never denied. Every single small business organisation is opposed to it. The Secretary of State ought to read the record of the speech by the hon. Member for Kensington, who read out and quoted at great length all those organisations that had made representations against family credit and made the point that hardly any organisations other than one or two known down-the-line academic supporters of the Government supported that proposal. I do not retract what I said and I think that the evidence proves it to be correct.
§ Mr. Fowler
The hon. Gentleman still has not answered the question. What I put to him was quite specifically that there is a distinction between the mechanism whereby family credit is given and the family credit itself. Organisations such as the CBI are not in any way suggesting—it is entirely misleading to suggest that they are—that it is wrong to channel more support, which is what family credit is about, to low-income families. I ask the hon. Gentleman again whether he supports that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I have allowed the exchanges, but we are debating a timetable motion, not the merits or demerits of the Bill.
§ Mr. Clay
I respect your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will only repeat that we would have welcomed hearing this from the Secretary of State during the Committee stage instead of tonight.
It seems to me that this Bill is in many ways a threat to democracy. Those in our society who are most desperate, those who at the moment genuinely—the Government have to understand this—do not know how they are doing to manage from day to day. Those 'who dread what next week may bring, those who are really struggling and sinking deeper, those who have been unemployed for a year, two years or three years—and it is becoming a higher and higher percentage of a growing number of unemployed—and many others will be badly affected by this Bill. It will increase their alienation from the basic fabric of our society.
The Bill is a damaging one for democracy and the way in which such a major Bill can be quite cynically guillotined by the Government despite the entirely responsible, possibly over-responsible, behaviour of the Opposition and many of their own supporters is a further threat to the institutions that hon. Members of this House hold dear.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to this debate, not least because I must apologise to hon. Members for the fact that I shall not be able to stay to its conclusion because of a prior engagement.
The debates in Committee have been for the most part remarkably good natured and I should like to continue to maintain that atmosphere by saying that in my view—I speak, like the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), as a veteran of the 1984 Finance Bill—there has not been an attempt on either side at a filibuster or anything close to it. On occasion debates have become somewhat repetitious because of the heat generated by the subject under debate. I remember one such, on the question of benefits for strikers' families, which in my view went on rather too long and became extremely repetitious. Nevertheless, I accept that there has been no organised filibuster. Indeed, the apparent lack of progress in the Committee has been occasioned rather more on the one hand by the numbers of matters to be considered and on the other by the numbers of amendments that have had to be disposed of by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The fact that, at this stage in the Committee proceedings, after 115 hours, we are still on clause 33, having spent the last six sittings on clauses 32 and 33, proves either that a lot of amendments are going down and the arguments are becoming a little repetitious—which I believe to be the case—or that we need some form of procedural boot up the rear end to get us moving forward at the pace which we achieved at certain stages of proceedings on the Bill.
There have been many amendments and, as one would expect in a Bill of this nature, there have been many Divisions. But the speed of the Committee's work has been aided by what one might call the remarkable 765 unanimity of the Opposition, despite the fact that it contains representatives of three political parties, when it has come to voting. To date we have had in Committee 69 Divisions. It may surprise hon. Members to know that on 62 of those occasions the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the Liberal party, found himself able to support the official Opposition. This unanimity strikes me as a bit suspicious. It may well be that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire arrived at the same conclusion as the official Opposition by a totally different route, but some may unkindly believe that this is yet another case of the Liberal tail being wagged by the Labour dog.
I would contrast this with the attitude of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who has not only contributed a great deal to our debates from his deep knowledge, particularly of disability, but has been able to look at the amendments proposed and has voted with the official Opposition on 46 out of those 69 occasions. This strikes me as the mark of someone who is looking at each amendment in isolation, and I congratulate him on that.
§ Mr. Wigley
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that those who vote on the amendments are not looking at each one individually as we go along? If he is, I would draw to his attention the fact that most of the Opposition members of the Committee are present throughout the debate, whereas Conservative members of the Committee come pouring in from the corridor when the vote is called.
§ Mr. Stern
I was about to comment briefly on the arrangements in Committee and to conclude my previous remarks. In Committee the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) sits a little apart from the Members of the Labour party, whereas the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) usually sits among them. I was going to suggest to them that in view of their voting records their seating should be reversed.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Far be it for me to bark for the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) but could it be that he finds the Minister's answers less than convincing?
§ Mr. Stern
If that were the case, I, on behalf of the hon. Member for Caernarfon, would consider myself grossly insulted.
The Opposition cannot claim that debates have been held up by an ureasoning lack of flexibility on the part of the Government. From experience on other Standing Committees, I think that Ministers have shown considerable flexibility. They have been less flexible over amendments accepted, although I remind the House that the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire—No. 378—was accepted, somewhat to his surprise at the time, but with expressed gratitude.
More importantly, in this area of complex legislation, the Government have been extremely flexible in terms of clear undertakings to look again and wherever possible to come back on Report with amendments which reflect the will of the Committee, even though the wording which was being discussed was not entirely acceptable in legislative terms. A major extension of the pension provisions in the Bill to provide much greater flexibility 766 of pension schemes is an example which sticks in my mind. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary undertook to introduce that on Report, in response to a number of amendments which have found favour on both sides of the Committee.
I do not think that it can be argued that the timetable proposed is unreasonable. We have spent 115 hours debating 32 clauses and two schedules of the Bill. The timetable motion will propose a further 54 hours. That is a substantial amount of time in any context for further consideration of the Bill, especially when one considers that the House will be discussing a major area of foreign policy and coming to conclusions on it in about seven hours tomorrow. During those 54 hours, we still have to consider 38 clauses, many of them technical, and six further schedules. There are already six new clauses on the Order Paper.
However, I do not think that it should be beyond the wit of the Committee to give adequate consideration to the remainder of the Bill in the time alloted. Indeed, I can see advantages to the Committee being able to pace itself rather than find itself, as it has on clauses 32 and 33, with large numbers of amendments many of which overlap, with no incentive to sort amendments into areas of discussion.
I can see another advantage to the pacing provided by the guillotine motion on behalf of the unusually large audience which the Committee has addressed from time to time. One of my colleagues in the House, seeing me struggle with my habitual load of papers along the Committee Corridor before entering the Committee Room, pointed out that there were so many individuals and lobby groups following the proceedings of the Committee, especially in its early stages, that he had the impression that I was marching through a picket line. Certainly the Bill has provoked a very wide interest. To date, with one or two rare exceptions, we have been able to accommodate audience by sitting at reasonable times and keeping our discussions to a reasonable length. The timetable motion will assist us in continuing to satisfy that audience.
As I have said, there are still a number of major items to be discussed, especially clause 39 which will clarify the disqualification for unemployment benefit during a trade dispute. There is also clause 49, which appears to give extremely wide powers of disclosure to the Inland Revenue, far wider than have appeared in any provious Social Security Bill, and clause 55, which I am sure will be welcome to all pensioners who fear a future Labour Government. Clause 55 will make the Christmas bonus automatic rather than at the discretion of a Labour Secretary of State.
One point clinches the case for the need for timed and detailed progress on the Bill. It has been commented on frequently by the Opposition Front Bench that this Bill is merely a skeleton and that it needs to be clothed with the numerous regulations which my right hon. Friends will have to introduce in due course to bring the legislation into action. Those regulations are as important to the people who are affected by the Bill as many of the clauses is in the Bill itself. However, no progress can be made on them until the Bill is close to the statute book. I think that we owe it to the people who will be affected by the Bill to make progress as rapidly as possible so that they can see, and make plans for, the areas in which they will be affected. I should like to give my right hon. Friend and his Front Bench colleagues the maximum opportunity to get 767 those regulations into draft form and under discussion before the Bill comes into operation. On that basis, I am happy to support the timetable motion.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I wondered many times in Committee why Conservative Members had not been participating in the debates. After hearing some of the contributions tonight, I now understand a little more about that. I have had the pleasure, or displeasure, of serving on numerous Committees over the past 12 years. The Committee on the Social Security Bill has been one of the happier Committees. It has attended to its work in a more diligent and constructive manner than most of the Committees on which I can remember serving.
Looking back over the years, I served on the Industry Bill in 1975. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) served on that Committee, and the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), then the Member for Lincoln, was a Whip. I can remember the many long hours we spent in Committee listening to Conservative Members speaking at considerable length. They wanted to oppose the Bill and it was their prerogative to do so, but nothing like that has happened on this Bill. I also had the doubtful pleasure of serving on the British Telecommunications Bill. It was on one of my amendments that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) made his notorious 12-hour speech. Nothing like that has happened on this Bill.
By and large, the attention being given to the Bill by the Committee has been very constructive. The fact that a third of the time has been taken up by the Government Front Bench shows that they have been applying themselves to the points raised by the Opposition. The debate has been detailed, and sometimes there have been large numbers of amendments. However, the Committee has not objected at any stage to the way in which whole strings of amendments have been taken together for debating purposes in order to save time. For example, only this week as many as two dozen amendments were taken together on the Floor of the Committee. I remember such events being fiercely objected to on other Committees on which I have served. The Committee has been constructive. It is absolute nonsense for the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), who is not in his place now, to suggest that there have been deliberate delaying tactics.
I do not object to timetable motions. I believe strongly that Bills should have timetable motions on Second Reading and that there should be a constructive approach to a Bill to avoid some of the time wasting that one has seen on other Bills, but not this one. I do not object to the guillotine for the Committee. Had we continued to make rapid progress in the way that we did until last week, once we heard that a guillotine was coming—that has an effect on hon. Members—we could have completed our consideration of the Bill by 1 May anyway.
However, I strongly object to the way in which the guillotine is being brought in half way through the passage of the Bill and to the fact that it is to apply to Report as well as to the Committee stage. I understand that that normally happens, but a disservice is being done to the House by the imposition of the guillotine on Report. As the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stem) said, when he was not pulling the legs of Opposition Members, on numerous occasions the Government have responded 768 to detailed points in Committee, not by accepting amendments but by saying that they will give further consideration to those amendments and come back on Report, if necessary. I have counted more than 20 instances of that, and I think that I have missed many more.
We are to have about 12 hours on Report before going on to Third Reading. We have up to midnight on the first day and until about 9 o'clock on the second day because we have to get on to Third Reading before 10 o'clock That gives us about 12 hours to consider 120 pages—about six minutes a page. The Government have given undertakings to come back in detail on Report on matters covered in many of those pages.
It is not just a matter of the Government coming back, but of hon. Members having the opportunity, on Report, to participate in the debate on such a vital Bill. The Committee does not represent all the parties in the House. My colleagues in the Scottish National party are not on the Committee. Social Democratic party Members and Northern Ireland Members are also not on the Committee. No doubt they have a viewpoint that they wish to express on Report. It is right that they should do so, but, with the guillotine affecting Report, it will be difficult for them to apply themselves in detail to the points in the Bill.
It is a significant, far-reaching and technical Bill. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it could have been split into more than one Bill. For example, there could have been a separate pensions Bill. If so, the Government might have needed timetable motions on both Bills. Bringing them together and steamrollering them into one set of timetable motions does not give the House of Commons the opportunity that it deserves and needs to give detailed consideration to the Bill.
I give Ministers credit for the fact that they have paid close attention to the points that have been made on both sides in Committee. It is to their credit that they have taken as much time as they have. In response to one set of amendments, the wind-up speech lasted one and a quarter hours. That was because Ministers were taking and dealing with interventions. I do not deny that for a moment. That shows the nature of the Bill—its depth and complexity—and the need for the Committee to do its work thoroughly.
I hope very much that we shall go through the remaining stages of the Committee in a sensible manner. Conservative Members have made the point strongly that we have reached only clauses 32 and 33, and that we have spent four or five sittings discussing those clauses. However, I remind the House that clauses 32 and 33 deal with the social fund. They are the only two clauses to deal in detail with the social fund. That is one of the most controversial parts of the Bill.
Important matters are coming up in clauses 34 to 40, but many of the later clauses are technical and formal. They are clauses such as appear in all Bills concerning commencement, transition and extent. Those clauses will not need anything like the detailed consideration that the guts of clauses 32 and 33 require. The timetable for the Committee can do justice to that.
That is why I shall vote against the timetable motion. We are doing a gross disservice to the House and hon. Members who are not on the Committee by having such 769 a tight Report stage, because many matters on which undertakings have been given will not be considered in depth. Those matters are in danger of being forgotten.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)
When we consider a timetable motion such as the one before us I think that the proper course is for hon. Members to dwell on procedure rather than open up a debate on matters that are within the Bill itself. I should like to say a few words based on my limited experience in the House since I had the good fortune to be elected in 1968. The timespan during which I have served is not a very long one on which to base conclusions about trends and the way in which the House of Commons is changing its procedure and practice; but in my opinion, during the span of time that I have been a Member there has been a marked decline in the status of Members on the Back Benches on both sides of the House, in the eyes not only of Ministers but of the staff who serve Ministers in their private offices.
In my time I have seen a marked decline in the importance of Third Reading. Third Reading, if it takes place at all now, tends to be an atrophied and perfunctory debate, which makes no significant difference to the attitude of Members, Ministers or Ministers' Departments. It is just a formality. If one comes into the House when a Report stage is taking place, even on a most controversial measure, one finds all too often that it is sparsely attended by hon. Members on either side of the House. Sometimes one is ashamed to see that when important Bills are being debated only three or four hon. Members on each side are paying attention—or waiting to speak—when the Public Gallery is packed.
One has to say that Governments are falling increasingly into the habit of attacking the Committee stage of Bills as well. Of course, I am sorry to say, there have been all too many examples in my time of hon. Members in Standing Committees wasting time deliberately. They have done so as a tactic to prevent the passage of legislation. Sometimes they have not added to the enlightenment of the Department, Ministers, or parliamentary colleagues.
We should never use Committee time in that way. If one wishes to attack a Bill, the right way to do it is to develop arguments that are so unanswerable that the Ministers are obliged to admit that the Bill is misconceived.
There was merit in the suggestion by the Select Committee on Procedure, that hon. Members should be asked to agree a timetable at the start of a Committee. That would be an improvement which would enable serious debates to take place in the planned and structured atmosphere of the Standing Committee. It would be a safeguard for hon. Members. However, that suggestion unfortunately was rejected by the Government with the support of the payroll vote.
Having started a Committee stage, as we have on this Bill, and having got as far as we have, it is wrong for the Government to intervene when the Committee is doing a responsible job, because it disrupts the work of the Committee and creates an unfavourable atmosphere. It also means that hon. Members serving on other Committees have it in mind that their work, too, might be foreshortened by Government intervention. It is wrong to 770 brandish the threat of the guillotine over Back-Bench Members who feel that they have a serious contribution to make, which they want to make in the formal atmosphere of the Standing Committee.
If I am right in thinking that Governments are increasingly regarding the guillotine as a weapon that they can use lightly, whenever it suits the procedure of the House, it implies that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, and that the form in which the Bill is printed and brought to the House for Second Reading is the form in which it should leave the House, at the end, unamended.
I have served on Committees on Companies Bills when slabs of clauses have been brought in in Committee, but when there has been no possibility of their being seriously reviewed; and they have even been added to the Bill on Report. In such Committees, not just lines, but pages of amendments have it been tabled. Thus in Whitehall the impression is growing, and unfortunately is justified, that the House of Commons is merely there to rubber-stamp what the Departments have it in mind to do, and that hon. Members who wish to intervene will be swept aside by the authority of Ministers, backed by the power of the payroll vote. No Bill ought to be regarded as beyond improvement by Members of Parliament, nor should clauses be hustled through without adequate consideration.
Fortunately, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made clear, we can rely on the other place to do much of our work for us, because conscientious study is given there to clauses which, in the House of Commons, have unfortunately had to go through without proper analysis.
Are we really carrying out our functions if we let slabs of legislation through without discussion? This is a constitutional issue, not just a matter that affects people who are concerned with social security and the implications of this Bill. In my opinion we are seeing the decline to vanishing point of the concept and practice of the separation of powers, under which the Executive has its responsibilities and functions, and under which the legislature must also exercise its own rights and perform its own duties, that ought not to be curtailed.
These things are enshrined in writing in the American constitution and are very well understood; but in the unwritten British constitution we do not hold these concepts in the front of our minds all the time. This failure is leading to a progressive decline in the status and influence of the House of Commons as well as its respect in the eyes of the public.
I do not want to develop this theme at enormous length, but I wonder what Simon de Montfort would have thought had he learned that a large and disciplined contingent of hon. Members in the majority party—more than 100—would in due course be retained in the pay of the Executive and be expected to act according to instructions on all occasions. I think he would have thought that it would weaken the House as an organ of the constitution—perhaps even more, in its own way, than the corruption of the House that led to the Reform Act of 1832.
Is this just constitutional theory, or does it matter, in practice, if the House of Commons is falling down on its functions? I think that it matters very much indeed, because the moderating influence of the House of Commons is slowly being rendered more and more ineffective. The result in recent years—particularly in relation to social security legislation—has been that the Government of the day introduce a system that is intended 771 to be permanent, the next Government throw it out, reject it lock, stock and barrel and introduce their own system, which in turn is thrown out by the succeeding Government. As a result, public administration is brought virtually to the point of collapse. That, unfortunately, is what we have in this country, where DHSS staffs are trying to carry on in spite of the very uncertain guidance that they receive from Parliament about the way in which their work should develop and evolve over time.
This Bill will be no exception to the other measures that have been before the House in my time. It will simply come under increasingly well-informed attack, even before it is implemented, and it will become clear to the permanent staffs that it will be only a matter of time before further major changes are introduced in their turn.
That is not a satisfactory way to proceed. My own impression on this Standing Committee is that quite serious issues that bear on the whole question of social security legislation have been discussed in an extremely serious and worthwhile way. Even when hon. Members may have felt that they were making no impression o Ministers, I have had the impression that they were making a mark with the Department and with outside opinion. I pay tribute to the Opposition, who have been constructive in their approach to the Bill. There has been no significant amount of time wasting in our discussions.
I also pay tribute to the Ministers who have dealt with the Bill. This Committee has been happy and constructive, and we have made such good progress as we have because Ministers have been serious, conciliatory and more than usually receptive. It therefore seems all the more a pity that our work should be affected by the House of Commons deciding to timetable our remaining studies of the Bill.
This is a major measure, and it is controversial. It has already aroused widespread, well-informed, public and institutional comment and concern. It will not add to the reputation of the Department or of this House if we take no note of the representations that hon. Members on both sides of the House have received and simply let the Bill go through without further serious examination of its implications.
In fact, we have done the major part of the work that needed to be done, but there are some serious debates still to come. It is all the more undesirable for the Government to appear to be hustling the Bill through, because it has such a wide impact and long-term implications for many millions of people. In fact, the entire population is affected in one way or another by the Bill. It is not right that the Government should appear to be impatient to push it on to the statute book without thorough analysis.
Part I could have been published as a separate Bill. Opposition Members have already said that the Bill is really several Bills rolled into one. I believe that it consists of only two. Part I, which deals with occupational pensions, could well have been a totally separate measure. The hours that we devoted to that were well spent, and should not be counted as contributing to the total of our consideration of the social security aspects contained in parts II and III.
The income-related benefits and the social fund gave rise to anxious debates. They are either innovatory, or totally reverse trends and opinions that have become established on both sides of the House. Inevitably, there has been much discussion on parts I, II and III.
772 No additional amendments have been tabled for some weeks. As a result, parts IV, V and VI and the schedules are left with barely any amendments of major importance. There are still one or two crucial debates to come, but they are unlikely to take up a great deal of time. The majority of the remaining amendments have been tabled by the Government. Perhaps the Government know that many more amendments will have to be tabled to the remaining parts, and perhaps this has not yet been disclosed; but I do not think that that is the case.
I believe that this guillotine motion has been forced on the Department by people outside it, who have not appreciated quite how well the Committee has been proceeding. Agreement to complete the Committee stage by the end of this month could have been obtained on a co-operative basis between the different sides represented in the Committee. The introduction of a guillotine is a blunder, and I shall be obliged to vote against the Government tonight.
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
I am privileged to follow the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir 13. Rhys Williams), given the tremendous work that the hon. Gentleman has done in the Committee. Indeed, from time to time he has stirred up the Government Front Bench when we have discussed some of his proposals. He is a fair and honest man. There is no doubt about that.
I do not agree with the Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman does not attend Committee meetings and does not know what is going on. He might have looked at the Bill, but he is not in Committee listening to the debates and seeing what takes place. I believe he is completely in the dark. The Government is moving in indecent haste to get this legislation on the statute book. Although I doubt that the Government will change their attitude, I hope that the Leader of the House will get the message that we should be given sufficient time to complete the Bill.
§ Mr. Haynes
I will not give way; there is not enough time.
I want to make clear that the Opposition have co-operated in the Committee from the very beginning of its deliberations. Let us consider what has happened in Committee. First, we did not have a sittings motion. I have been on Committees when, before starting consideration of a Bill, sittings motions have been debated all day and even longer. On this occasion, we got straight down to the business of pensions.
In addition, the Opposition often maintained the quorum on the Committee. We did not withdraw until the Conservative Members returned; we kept the consideration of the Bill moving. Therefore, some Conservative Members should reconsider what they have said. I felt sick when I heard the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) speak, because that is the first time he has spoken on the Bill. Although he has been on the Committee for all its considerations, he has left it until now to speak.
§ Mr. Haynes
Yes, he came running in when the vote was taken. The party numbers on the Committee were 17 773 to 11, but on one occasion there was a vote of 11 to 11, and the vote of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford was missing. In any case, that matter was sorted out.
The two Whips on the Committee, who are running the show, have co-operated excellently and organised the Committee properly. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) said that on some days the Committee did not sit when it could have sat. That happened as a result of negotiation between the two Whips. They endeavoured to get everyone on the Committee working together.
I do not believe that sufficient time is available in which to debate the Bill properly. Although Conservative Members have talked some piffle this afternoon, sensible things have also been said by them. What worries me most is that mouth clamps are applied to them in Committee. I wish they would express themselves more often; far too many of them have had nothing at all to say in Committee.
The Leader of the House spoke about there being one Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North suggested that we should have had four Bills, and he could be correct. However, in the case of pensions, the hon. Member for Caernarfon is right in saying that one Bill is appropriate. The Committee spent three weeks on pensions. The questions involved were so technical that a lengthy consideration was necessary. Understanding what was involved was difficult for Ministers and other Members. Thus, considerable time was necessary.
However, the end result is that we are now speaking to the guillotine motion, hoping that the Government will withdraw it. Time is still needed to discuss cash limits. We know what will happen in this case, as we have had experience of it at the local authority level. We know that many people will miss out as a result of cash limits, so the matter merits much longer consideration. We are supposed to be here to help the people who need the cash. The massive cuts proposed in the Bill are shocking. The effect of the cuts will be that officers of the DHSS local office will tell people that they do not qualify, because of the legislation, for certain benefits, and many people will therefore miss out.
Over and over again in Committee, Ministers have said that they will answer a question on Report. In fact, this was said so often that on Report all Ministers will have time to do is answer those questions; there will be no time for a proper Report stage. This is ridiculous; I object to the fact that we have not had enough time to debate the Bill properly. Nevertheless, it has been a pleasure to serve on the Committee with the other Members involved.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
It has been my privilege to serve on all three Social Security Bills that have been dealt with since I entered the House. It is on those Committees that I have developed an expertise of which most people are unaware. I have become expert in being a quiet Back Bencher. I would not claim that at all times in Committee I am listening entirely silently, any more than I would claim that Ministers are always full of erudition or that the Opposition are always wrong. However, there is a lot of truth in those three statements, and I am glad to be able to put them on record.
The objective of the guillotine is to obtain the Government's business. This Bill is one of the most 774 important reforms that we are likely to see in this or any other Parliament, and it is absolutely essential to get every single part of it through. They are all parts of the one whole. The pensions legislation is probably the most far-reaching part. I am always distressed to see in our advice bureaux an old lady who has only her state pension and has to rely on supplementary benefits because she or her family were unable or unwilling in days gone by to obtain a private pension. The introduction of personal pensions in this Bill and the incentive to employers will reduce the numbers of such cases in future.
It is my future that the Committee on the Bill has been debating, and I look forward to far greater prosperity for all of us in our old age. The modification of SERPS that we saw in part I of the Bill will reduce those burdens that might I suspect be repudiated in ages to come. The same situation applies in relation to income support and the family credit system. Most of the debates in detail in Committee have not in any way defended the system we have at present; in fact, Members on both sides have been extremely critical of the present system. The Committee went into detail on the question of income support for the disabled. We rejected out of hand the system we have at present and wanted to know simply whether the disabled got as much under the new system as under the old, and whether the needs of the most severely disabled in our society would be protected. That question ends up being a matter of how much will be allowed in future upratings and also of the regulations that have to be laid down. That cannot be done until much more progress has been made on the legislation.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) commented on how this proposal would affect his constituency, as he is worried about his constituents. He seems to be proof that our excellent public school and Oxbridge system occasionally falls down on its job. He is right about the amount of lobbying taking place. Many people outside have taken advantage of the time we have spent on the matter in Committee. He might not be aware that those of us from Derbyshire seats have been lobbied by people organised by the Derbyshire county council, which tried to show that large numbers of our constituents would be exceedingly adversely affected by, specific elements of the Bill. It brought down a shoal of people to talk to us, calling us out of Committee so that this could happen. One or two of those people looked a little bizarre. Although the way people dress is entirely their own business, I find it hard to argue for more money to go to unemployed 18 or 19-year-olds who do not look as though they will make the best presentation of themselves to potential employers.That is my personal prejudice, and I am happy to parade it.
When I saw those people who had been brought all the way from Derbyshire, I asked whether any came from my constituency in Derbyshire, South. The answer was not one. I challenged Derbyshire county council to produce half a dozen constituents of Derbyshire, South who would be adversely affected by the Bill, to bring them to my advice bureau and to share their worries with me. The council has told me that, so far, it has managed to find only one person. It is willing to set up a proper meeting—not here, but in Derby. I believe that Central Television is willing to film the meeting. The council and other lobbyists who have been making out a strong case have not yet read the details of the Bill or listened to the discussions 775 in Committee. They have not taken seriously the remarks of Ministers and are not willing to listen to what is said. Many of our measures are major improvements.
I hope that, after 18 years as a Member, I, too, will speak with the erudition and experience that my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) demonstrates every time he speaks in Committee. I am not clear from his argument why he should be in favour of the representations of the Select Committee on Procedure, which involve guillotining and timetabling the entire debate. If the House had accepted that measure, the power of Back Benchers would have been diminished and the Government's managers would have been handed substantial powers, which they do not always have at the moment. My hon. Friend favours that measure and is at the same time against applying a guillotine to part of the Bill. His argument is not consistent.
No one likes a guillotine. I shall not even pretend that I like it or think it is a good measure. I should prefer the Bill to be passed without it. I think that we all had high hopes that that would happen. We have made tolerably good progress. We have been spared hyperbole, except once or twice from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I must admit that I missed his hyperbole. I do not feel right in a social security debate without hearing the hon. Gentleman go over the top. As a substitute, we have had the old-fashioned wisdom of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) who criticises Conservative Members for not speaking, but then will not accept our interventions. The hon. Gentleman tends to substitute decibels for originality, and his speeches are all the better for that.
§ Mrs. Currie
I always take it as a great compliment to my orations when speaking to students if I can get the Left-wing students to walk out in a huff. I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman has returned to the Chamber.
A great deal of the credit for the way in which the Committee has been conducted is due to the hon. Members for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and for Barking (Ms. Richardson). They have done an immense amount of work and carried a full burden. I congratulate the Labour party on elevating them to such important positions. I hope that it will continue to elevate its lady Members to the number two positions. Perhaps at some time the Labour party will make more progress and elevate them a little higher.
Not enough progress has been made. We have had 30 sittings, and I think I have attended most. We have heard 114½ hours of debate. I think I have attended more than 100—if not, the Whips will tell me—and it certainly feels like it. Yet we are still only on clause 33 out of 70 clauses and have considered two schedules out of eight. We are less than half way through the consideration. At that rate of progress, we could sit for 249 hours considering clauses alone. My calculation matches that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. At that rate of progress, we shall be sitting beyond the Whitsun holiday.
Even the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, to which the guillotine was not applied, was dealt with in just over 140 hours. The Finance Bill 1984 edged over 160 hours of debate. The Government's proposals will take us to 168 hours of debate in Committee by 1 May. That will still be a marathon. It should exclude all my colleagues from 776 further duties on Bills for the rest of the Session, except those of us who face another 57-clause Bill coming from the other place in the next few weeks. I, at least, will have done my bit by then.
It has not been a matter of filibustering. On the whole, hon. Members have directed their attention to the amendments. The debate has been highly amicable and technical. So many amendments have been tabled that I think the Opposition are overdoing it. Sixty amendments to clause 32 were tabled, and more than 20 were taken in one batch. This morning, 61 amendments to clause 33 were tabled, and 25 were taken in one go. Last Thursday, we dealt with 10 amendments to the same clause 33 and another four on Thursday afternoon.
Consideration is becoming slower. I do not know whether the Opposition are growing tired, but I suspect that we are becoming less able to distinguish between what is relevant and what is irrelevant. At that pace, it will be not Whitsun but the middle of next year before we complete consideration.
It has not been a matter of the Government rushing the legislation through. Second Reading took place on 28 January and the Bill immediately went into Committee. Second Reading did not take place until that date because the Government went through the business of the Green Paper and the White Paper, thousands of pieces of evidence, public meetings and open discussions. Never before has a Bill been discussed so thoroughly before reaching the House. That reflects great credit on all concerned.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) is right: a great many matters worth discussing have still to be debated. The timetable motion is generous in allowing for discussion on widows, maternity and death grants, strikers' benefits, the right of appeal, overpayments, offences and prosecutions—down to clause 59, which deals with local authority school meals services, a matter that arouses much interest in Derbyshire which has a local school meals scheme which will be wiped out by the provisions of that clause. Several clauses extend to Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that the legislation does its bit to retain Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
This reform is essential and long overdue. It has been carefully thought out and will function far better in practice than the muddle and chaos that at the moment passes for a social security system. It will benefit all our people for generations to come. I am happy to support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I hope that the House will accept the motion.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
If the judgment of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) were correct, many of us would vote more happily.
There are many advantages in catching your eye late in the debate, Mr. Speaker. One has the advantage of taking into account the views of other hon. Members. In social security debates, it is an added advantage because one usually has the advantage of listening to the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams). He not only brings special knowledge that no other hon. Member has but speaks as a great parliamentarian. It is perhaps a sign of what has happened to the Government Front Bench that the views of the hon. Member for Kensington are not heard with the discernment one would expect from a normal 777 Tory Government. I do not say that to disturb the waters. The hon. Gentleman made an interesting contribution. He is almost unique in the way he uses debates on the Floor of the House to introduce to Ministers grievances that are well worth taking up. The last time he spoke, he addressed us about his exclusion from Standing Committees, which assured him a place on the Standing Committee on the Social Security Bill.
Today, the hon. Member for Kensington highlighted a matter of which I was not aware because of my limited time as a Member—the changed attitude to Bills in Ministers' private offices and in the Civil Service generally. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's words will be read carefully and acted upon by the Government Front Bench. I would like to pay a compliment to the hon. Member for Kensington and to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley) who is present. They have played a proper and legitimate role for Back Benchers, especially Government Back Benchers. When they were unhappy with Government measures they spoke to that effect and were prepared to vote, or sometimes withhold their vote, so that their views could be registered. That is an important lesson for us on the Labour Benches to remember since one day, who knows, we may be supporting a Labour Government.
We do not know what the vulgarities of the electoral system hold in store for us. When we have been elected, our duty is to have as good an effect as we can on those Bills to which we are party. The hon. Member for Halifax, and especially the hon. Member for Kensington, have followed that parliamentary tradition to good effect during the passage of the Bill.
I feel that I want to call an end to the old cant to which I have listened this evening. When the Leader of the House introduces a guillotine motion, or any other motion, one is usually treated to an urbane and witty speech. His short speech tonight was certainly urbane though he kept the joke to himself. He must have been thinking about the joke on Opposition Members who will debate so strenuously the need to resist the timetable motion when the Government have no intention, for the remainder of the Bill, of paying much attention, if any, to the points which they, and sometimes the Government's supporters, put forward.
One or two of my hon. Friends have discussed the flexibility of the Government's mind. I find it difficult to recall the Government making any substantial changes due to the Opposition's arguments. They have run away from the scene of the battle only when one or two of their own Back Benchers have been prepared to join the Opposition to force a vote and defeat the Government in Committee.
Part of me says, "Why not let the Government have the timetable motion today as they will pay no attention to the arguments. The sooner we are put out of our misery the better." However, the other half of me feels that that is a somewhat cowardly reaction. We are not here for our convenience or to be put out of our misery but to represent the views of our constituents.
The remainder of the debate will allow us the opportunity to take the debate from the House and the Committee to the voters. One of the messages which we want to present—it has been put over loud and strong—is that this is not a single Bill but a series of Bills. The Government like to accuse Opposition Members of going 778 over the top. Perhaps they would like to level that accusation at me, because I think that there are six Bills rather than one. If one considers that we have been debating for only 115 hours, that does not seem a poor record.
The major Bills are concerned with privatising future pension provision. The proposal to try to encourage people to contract out of the state earnings-related pension scheme is all about privatisation. The supplementary benefit scheme is to be abolished and, in its place, there will be a scheme of income support. That may or may not be better. In Committee, we did not come to that conclusion. We wished to debate the restructuring of the scheme and whether it would match the real needs of our constituents. That debate was not brought to a successful conclusion.
The social fund will be established. We have been told by the Government what a unique and innovative proposal it is, yet the amount of debate spent on it has been limited. It is a novel form of social security provision. There are some constituents whose needs cannot be met under the existing scheme of provision, but the Government are attempting to introduce a scheme which will cash limit that provision. If that is not novel, I do not know what is. The social fund represents such a change in the safety net of welfare provision on Britain that it alone would have been worthy of a Bill.
There are other changes. Family credit will replace family income supplement. Some benefits will be abolished and there will be a major restructuring of the housing benefit scheme. Each of these changes could have been in a separate Bill and should have been debated fully in Committee and in the House.
At the beginning of this supposedly great initiative the Secretary of State said that it was the new Beveridge scheme. This new Beveridge scheme is trying to get off at the end of the runway, and, difficult as the flight path is, the amount of time that we have to get it airborne has been severely limited.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) touched upon other aspects of the Bill when he opened the debate. It is worrying that we have a timetable motion. We have not encountered the abolition of appeals for 50 years. Although, thank goodness, the appeals are not important to hon. Members, they are crucial to many of our constituents. The tribunals are the law courts for the poor people of Britain. Most of their disputes are settled in the supplementary benefit appeal tribunals, not before the traditional courts of law. Access to such redress is to be denied.
Much of the Bill is to be put into the form of regulations. That would have been my other reason for not opposing the timetable motion. Most of the Bill will be in regulations, so its structure would not take much time to debate. I must confess that we wanted to debate the areas of the Bill that are to be effected by regulations so that we could understand the Government's thinking.
In Committee, I have listed the phrases that the Government have used whenever we asked how the scheme would work. We were told that the Government had not made up their mind yet, that they were open to argument, or that they were coming fresh to the debate. We were told that they wanted to listen and that they had an open, but not always an empty, mind on the subject. These are all euphemisms for saying that the Government have no idea how the Bill will shape up in Committee.
779 We will oppose the timetable motion tonight because, despite the changes, some beneficial, the Bill will result in major benefit cuts for many of our constituents. In Birkenhead or the neighbouring constituencies of Wallasey, of Wirral, South or Wirral, West, about 6,000 claimants will lose out because of the Bill. That is the message on which we want to probe the Government and which we want to take to the country. We need time to do that.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak it may be convenient for the House to know that the Front Benches will seek to rise at 10 minutes past seven. Four hon. Members have been sitting throughout this debate and I hope that, if they bear that fact in mind, all will be called.
§ Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)
One of the better features of the debate is that most of those who have been called have had something approving to say about other hon. Members' speeches.
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) spoke kindly and truthfully about the good relations that existed between the Whips on the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) paid tribute to the diligence of both Front Benches and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) rightly reminded us of our constituents. Perhaps that is my point of departure. The DHSS is a service which it is all too easy to criticise, but it operates essentially in areas of stress and anxiety. It is as well to stop from time to time and pay tribute to it.
The DHSS in my constituency is ably led by the manageress, Miss James. I get extremely helpful responses from her when pursuing constituency cases. It is always right to consider improvements of systems that have been with us for some time if they are found wanting.
When considering the social security system, we are well advised, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) suggested, to disengage emotion and sentiment such as we invariably feel when dealing with the plight of people in trouble when considering the rules that govern the system. I agree that Opposition members of the Committee have addressed the business reasonably squarely. Rather a lot of amendments were tabled, spoken to, replied to and withdrawn, but most, if not all, were moved in good faith.
We can never reconcile the irreconcilable. The need for legislatures to despatch their business is seldom, if ever, compatible with the desire to give all parties a full and fair hearing on all issues. There has to be time limit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton said, a time frame often obliges Opposition Members to work out a programme among themselves to decide who will address which amendment. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) wisely observed that the prospect of a guillotine often had an effect on the pace of business. Without the advantage of membership of this place, Professor Parkinson advanced the theory of the time of the departure of the last bus. He postulated that, once that time is known, meetings work through the agenda with almost magical speed to enable its members to catch the last bus.
780 Today's debate has been typical of the good nature of the Committee, but a conclusion is inevitable. By the custom of the House, the conclusion is perfectly fairly requested, and I shall support it.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I have a good deal of sympathy for the honourable half of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) which asked what is the point of prolonging the Committee's deliberations if the Government do not listen to even the most constructive and realistic criticisms offered by their political opponents. Those criticisms have been offered gracefully.
I deeply regret the guillotine motion. I have no objection whatever to the orderly management of the parliamentary programme, but the Government appear to be proceeding in a disorderly manner. Yesterday, the Home Secretary offered the opponents of the Shops Bill the concession of a guillotine-free passage. That Bill foundered, but this one, which is far more important to my constituents and hundreds of thousands of Scots, is to be subjected to a guillotine motion.
There are many important clauses ahead of us. Clause 35 concerns the abolition of maternity grants. Clause 37 concerns the abolition of death grants. Clause 38 concerns a reduced rate of unemployment, sickness and maternity benefits which people have paid for through national insurance contributions. Clause 41 has no fewer than 20 subsections stating how the benefit system will be administered. That will affect many people. Clause 42 concerns adjudication. It appears that the Government are consolidating the worst elements of existing schemes to make a more restrictive appeals procedure. Clause 50 has been wholeheartedly condemned by the Law Society of Scotland, which has written:In our view the effect of the Clause will be to permit the Secretary of State, where he has made badly drafted Regulations to make more badly drafted Regulations without consulting the advisory body".What about the rating system? Scottish ratepayers have had no extensive debate on that.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Bill is extremely important for hundreds of thousands of Scots. In November 1979, there were 157,872 supplementary benefit claimants in Strathclyde. That figure had increased to 305,803 by July 1985—an increase of 94 per cent. in six years largely because of the Government's indifference to the Scottish economy. In July 1985, 531,000 people in Scotland claimed supplementary benefit. I have given only the figures for claimants. If we include their dependants—wives, husbands and children—495,000 people in Strathclyde depended on supplementary benefit in July 1985. That is a full 20 per cent. of the population. The figure for Scotland was 867,574, or 16 per cent. of the population.
If we include those who should have claimed supplementary benefit but who, because of the poor quality of assistance offered by some DHSS offices—I am glad to say that that it is not true for offices in my constituency—about 26 per cent. of the population of Strathclyde region were living on or below supplementary benefit level. The Government are now saying that they will give the concession of a guillotine-free passage for the Shops Bill, but that they want to guillotine this much more important Bill.
781 In July 1985, 39.5 per cent. of the population of the city of Glasgow was living on or below supplementary benefit level. Those figures reveal the level of deprivation in Scotland, yet the Government are saying, "Let us have done with this Bill."
§ Mr. Craigen
Has my hon. Friend been able to get from Ministers information about how the social fund will be allocated to DHSS offices? Last summer, I tried to get an answer through correspondence but received no satisfactory replies. Is there any closer correlation to hardship?
§ Dr. Godman
The answer to that is, none whatever. I asked the same question in the Committee and it was a fruitless exercise. The other day I asked how many social fund officers are to be employed, but again I drew a blank. The issue about rates is important in Scotland, especially in the light of the Government's publication "Paying for Local Government". Even the Government concede that, under the Scottish system of revaluation, a ratepayer may be faced with a rates bill increase of 50 or even 100 per cent. in a single year. The proposals in the social security reforms that require everyone, even those in receipt of a supplementary pension, to pay 20 per cent. of his rates bill is especially cruel to Scottish pensioners in the light of this revaluation exercise. That exercise was carried out in Scotland but this sleekit Government did not carry it out in England. This is an important Bill and will have a significant effect upon the lives of many people. It deserves and will continue to deserve close scrutiny.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Roy Galley (Halifax)
It is gratifying to see that this debate is as constructive and as good-natured as the debates Committee. Both Front Benches held the interest and respect of the whole Committee. I enjoyed the suave interventions of the city gent, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) but the greatest joy is always to be found in the contributions by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). They contain a kernel of seriousness and it seems that there is an elongated Tony Hancock trying to get out.
Most of the essential points in the White Paper were debated at length in the Committee. The principles of the significant number of details have already received considerable attention. There was no filibustering but in our proceedings there is growing repetition because much of the ground has been covered in principle in the past. The social fund debates are becoming a little long-winded. We have completed 114 hours and the allocation of another 54 hours, given the amount of ground we have to cover, seems quite generous.
I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) who suggested we were being hustled over the remaining consideration of the Bill. Over the next few weeks we will eat and sleep the Social Security Bill. Important though the issues are, by the end of this month or the beginning of next month it will be pleasant to return, as far as one can in this place, to what approximates to normal life. Endless verbiage does the House no credit. The hon. Member for Ashfield spoke about mouth clamps; some voluntary mouth clamping in the Chamber on the lines of the wheel clamping regulations would be most welcome.
782 The Bill envisages a social security system that will be simpler and more coherent. It eliminates a number of discrepancies that have in certain circumstances the potential for abuse. It is aimed at presenting a system which is fairer, as far as one can be fairer, to the recipients of social security. It is not primarily a matter of cuts because there will not be significant reductions in overall expenditure. This measure seeks to improve the social security system and it is important that it should reach the statute book in good time for implementation in April 1988. It has yet to be considered in detail in another place and enormous administrative arrangements will have to be made to bring it into operation by April 1988. That is why I support the timetable motion.
I have one or two worries that I should like to mention to my right hon. Friend and I hope that he will be able to deal with them at Report stage. I hope that on that occasion every hon. Member will have a full opportunity to give his view about family credit and its payment through the pay packet. We had some anxious and at times agonising debates on that subject, but if at the end of the day the take-up of help for families with low incomes is improved, the reforms will be worth having. I hope that, on Report, we will receive firm assurances about the minimising of the administrative burden upon industry, especially small businesses, and also some hint that my right hon. Friend will monitor carefully the take-up of that benefit and ensure that measures are taken to improve its significance. The present take-up is 50 per cent. which is appalling; it is by take-up that the success of this measure will be determined.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will come forward with some detailed proposals about the social fund appeal. I welcomed the considerable, flexible and helpful response by my hon. Friend the Minister of State to the amendment on that matter that I moved last week in Committee. I hope that the timetable will provide adequate time between the end of the Committee's proceedings and Report stage for full and considered amendments on that matter to come back to the House. I also hope that my right hon. Friend will give us an amendment upon the face of the Bill about community care and the severely disabled, matters that we debated at length in Committee. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has given us some cause for hope and he understands and will take on board the problems of the severely disabled, who may be disadvantaged if the social fund does not operate in a flexible manner. I hope he will put forward some amendments at Report stage.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
I know that we are likely to lose the vote and that there will be a guillotine. It has already started, because I have been asked to speak for four minutes, or five minutes at the most. I have just had confirmation of that from the Front Bench. Any advance on five minutes? The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley) says we need time to make sure we get the Bill through the House and through the other place and on the statute book by April 1988. This is 1986 so that does not seem too much of a rush. Some Bills have to be rushed because of deadlines. The Local Government Bill has to be through before April to facilitate local authorities in the following year, but in this case there is too much undue haste.
783 It has been said that the Bill is wide-ranging and has tremendous scope, not just for pensions or for women, the unemployed, the poorly paid, the disabled, widows, the poor and the needy. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) said we spend a lot of time discussing strikers' families. I was a bit surprised at that, bearing in mind the impact the Bill is likely to have on families whose husbands or wives are on strike and not receiving any sort of benefit in terms of strike pay. Surely that is worth at least some time for debate in a proper and sincere manner.
I agree with the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) who said that the Bill affects not just one or two people but virtually the entire population in one way or another. It is essential that we are at least given an opportunity to speak on each of the remaining clauses. The Bill not only changes the concept of the social security system that we have always understood and appreciated, but will take away from people rights that they accept as such. People should not be ashamed of making claims of one form or another. If the Bill goes through in its present form it will create more poverty and turn many people into debtors who would not be debtors under the present system. It will divide families.
The Government have introduced many Bills with which I disagreed, but this one is perhaps the most dangerous; it is one of the cruellest Bills that I have seen. The effect of another measure has been to destroy the county councils. The control and democracy of local government was destroyed by the Rates Act. This Bill will destroy the lives of many people, through no fault of their own. It will take away the dignity of people, as well as their rights.
In Committee I asked the Minister how many groups and organisations support the Bill. Many of them, including the churches and the pensioner organisations and those for the disabled, to which we should pay tribute for their briefings to hon. Members and for the work that they have put into providing them, do not support it. If they are prepared to spend that amount of time helping these people, this House ought to be prepared to provide enough time for the Bill to be debated properly.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
Although I am not a connoisseur of guillotine motions, having spoken on only two of them during the last 16 years, including this one, this must surely be among the most absurd guillotine motions ever perpetrated on the House of Commons. The Bill has 70 clauses, of which the last 30, under the headingsAdministration; Subordinate legislation; Miscellaneous, General and Supplementary.are relatively trivial. To suggest that these clauses will take as long to consider as the first 35, as the Leader of the House stated in order to reach his contrived total of 250 hours in Committee, is sheer fantasy. Of the 41 substantive clauses, by this morning the Committee had reached nearly the end of clause 33. It is ridiculous to impose a guillotine to ensure the passage of the last remaining significant eight clauses. According to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), the argument of the Leader of the House was thin. I prefer to say that it was invisible.
To put it another way, there are five central themes in this Bill which are bitterly controversial. The first is the emasculation of the state earnings-related pension scheme 784 and the deliberate halving of pension levels over the next few decades. The second is the new income support arrangements, especially the enforcement of the payment of 20 per cent. of their rates bill by even the poorest families in the country. The third is the removal from the mother of the right to family income supplement and the switch of entitlement to this money, in the form of the new family credit, to the man.
The fourth lies in the huge, swingeing cuts of £450 million in housing benefit, on top of the cuts of £200 million last year, that are now being imposed by the Bill on pensioners and the low paid, who are mainly unemployed families, including the loss of mortgage interest payments if they were struggling to buy a house at the time the man became unemployed. The fifth is the social fund which, as a new and unprecedented device that substitutes repayable loans for grants, even for those on supplementary benefit, and that permits no independent appeal against outright refusals of aid, is anathema.
These are the five key issues in the Bill. The Committee has all but finished the fifth. There could surely be no clearer indication than that of how ludicrous it is to move a timetable motion at this point. The guillotine is being imposed at the very point in the Bill when the regulatory framework is coming under special scrutiny. It is ironic that the guillotine is being used to curtail debate on areas of such dubious constitutionality.
Furthermore, it is patently inconsistent that the Government should now be racing to put a cap on discussion of the Bill when the Committee stage has revealed all too embarrassingly on how many points the Government have still not made up their mind and have side-stepped taking a decision by shifting whole areas of policy into secondary regulations. Ministers know as well as anybody else that the Bill is littered with the phraseas prescribed by the Secretary of State in regulations".In such circumstances, the Secretary of State did little to enlighten us, because on most occasions he gratified us by his absence or, when he was occasionally present, by his silence.
On such crucial issues as an internal review system for social fund decisions, the Minister of State was manifestly extemporising on key issues that clearly had not even been raised in the Department, let alone thought through. Most significant of all, the Government are seeking to impose a guillotine before they have tabled the new technical clauses that they clearly intend to present. They have not even revealed the contents of at least two major innovations that are planned: the statutory maternity pay scheme and the major alterations to the industrial injuries scheme. In the light of all that, I repeat: is it not absurd that the Government are trying to enforce an end to the debate when they have not themselves reached conclusions on key issues in the Bill?
Perhaps the most telling argument against the guillotine is that even Ministers and Government Back-Benchers—I am grateful, with one exception, for the fair-minded and generous comments that Government Back Benchers have made—have not pretended that the Opposition's tactics have in any way justified this restriction on debate. I pay a particular tribute to the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) for his honest and instructive recognition of this fact and for his much admired contributions to the debate. May I take this opportunity also to say how grateful I am to all of my hon. Friends, in particular to my excellent three Front Bench 785 colleagues, for what I believe was acknowledged as the universally eloquent, effective and self-disciplined manner in which they argued the Opposition's case throughout the Bill.
In that context, it is all the more remarkable—I return to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said in opening the debate—that two months ago the Leader of the House said, and his words need to be quoted again:we should proceed by informal agreement as far as we can. We should not rush to impose guillotines on Bills on which it is ultimately possible to reach agreement.I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of the fact that absolutely no attempt was made to reach agreement on the Bill. There were discussions right at the start, but there have been no formal discussions with the Opposition. According to the Leader of the House, this guillotine is not justified. He also said:The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill was controversial, but completed its passage without the need for a timetable motion, despite more than 145 hours in Committee."—[Official Report, 17 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 45.]The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill took 145 hours in Committee and was not guillotined. If allowed to run, the Social Security Bill might have taken fewer than 145 hours, yet it is being guillotined.
The real reason for the Government's timetabling of this Bill is not that it is taking too long in Committee, because patently it is not, but because it is highly embarrassing for the Government for the Committee proceedings to be drawn out any longer than is strictly necessary. It is not difficult, in my view, to see why.
This Bill will bring about cuts in benefit of around £1 billion. That is on top, on an independent estimate, of the cumulative £11 billion of social security benefit cuts since 1979. It will cause losses to nearly 4 million households, 2.25 million of whom are pensioners, and nearly 500,000 of whom will suffer losses of more than £5 a week. That is a painful loss to people who are living on the margins of poverty. It will cause the biggest losses to pensioners, the unemployed and the very severely handicapped. Indeed, 2,500 of the latter, one of the most vulnerable groups of all, will lose a staggering £60 a week or more. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that the Government are so anxious to terminate discussion of the Bill.
This measure was billed as the biggest review of the welfare state since Beveridge. In reality, the Secretary of State has managed to generate a consensus of hostility which I would have thought must be unprecedented in modern times. The CBI as well as the Child Poverty Action Group, the Law Society as well as the women's institutes, the churches as well as the pension and insurance industries, have all opposed it. To have created such unanimity of opposition is a singular achievement by the Secretary of State, yet at every stage, in the face of strong public dissent, the Government have manifested the same reaction, riding roughshod over all the opposition both in and outside the House and using their position and whipped votes to ram through their predetermined opinions regardless.
The Secretary of State hand-picked exclusively Tory Members for his review teams and then, when they gave evidence that he did not like, he overturned it. The pensions review team opposed the abolition of SERPS. The Secretary of State insisted on it for as long as he could. 786 The housing benefit review team opposed the requirement for families on supplementary benefit who have to pay 20 per cent. of their rates bill. The Secretary of State insisted on it—or perhaps could not stop the Prime Minister insisting on it. The housing benefit review committee opposed the ending of mortgage interest cover for the unemployed for the first six months on the dole. The Secretary of State insisted on it, evictions and all.
Then the Secretary of State issued his Green Paper of the great consultation exercise. He got 7,000 replies, over 95 per cent. of them against his proposals. The only bodies that lined up behind him were the Monday Club and the Institute of Directors. I think that that speaks volumes for the Secretary of State. He then blithely disregarded every criticism or objection and produced a White Paper and a Bill which in every essential respect reproduces the Green Paper which was so universally excoriated.
Then, when the Opposition sought to amend the Bill in accordance with clear majority opinion in the country, the Government have indiscriminately voted down every single improvement. The only concessions made—members of the Committee will, I am sure, endorse this conclusion—were a handful of surpassing triviality and now, entirely consistent with the rest of the farce surrounding consultation on the Bill, the Government are imposing a guillotine.
The Government have deployed every device to hand to force through this hugely unpopular and deeply resented Bill. Today's restrictive motion is only the latest device in an infamous series, yet what the Government cannot control, and the only forum in the last resort that matters, is public opinion. On that score, the Government have irredeemably failed. It is public opinion by which the Bill stands condemned, and it is public opinion by which, in the end, the Bill will be swept away.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)
Among the speeches in the debate, we have had two from the Opposition Front Bench, from the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher).
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said that this was the most controversial measure of the last seven years. If he does not mind my saying so, the point was slightly blunted by the fact that, at the stage at which he spoke, there were only six Labour Back Benchers present, and their number promptly went down to five. It may be controversial, but the right hon. Gentleman made it more controversial by misquoting the pension proposals. He talks about restricting the GMP inflation-proofing to 3 per cent. a year, but the policy is not to restrict it to 3 per cent. a year. Schemes inflation-proof GMP to 3 per cent. a year, but if inflation goes above 3 per cent., the state will fully inflation-proof over 3 per cent. a year.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West made a speech, in which he quoted and re-quoted chunks of his speech from the debate on Second Reading and basically said that a Labour Government will repeal the Bill. What he does not say, of course, is what he would put in its place. He does not say that because he does not know. Every time he gets anywhere near thinking that he does know, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) tells him that he cannot do it.
787 That has been one of the problems in Committee. We have sat for 114 hours and 23 minutes, we have debated almost 500 amendments, and still the hon. Gentleman does not know which way he is going. [HON. MEMBERS: "We did."] We started at a reasonable pace, spending 35 hours on the first 18 clauses and two schedules. Opposition Members say, "We did." If hon. Members compare my attendance in Committee on the Social Security Bill with what happened in the course of the Social Security Bill of 1975, they will find that Mrs. Barbara Castle attended four out of a possible 15 sittings and that I attended 22 out of a possible 30. Even the hon. Member for Oldham, West, on his arithmetic, must find that my attendance is better than that in Committee in 1975.
According to Action for Benefits, which has been briefing the Opposition—rightly so—we should have completed the Committee stage by Easter, Report and Third Reading by mid-April, and First Reading in the House of Lords by late April. Self-evidently we have not made that timetable. We are only half way through.
Still there is this embarrassing vacuum caused by the absence of any agreed policy from the Opposition. Indeed, there is only one thing that the hon. Member for Oldham, West finds more embarrassing than having nothing to put forward, and that is having to put forward some proposals that happen to coincide with what the Government are proposing, in which case we get even slower. On the social fund, for example, the House may remember the hon. Gentleman's foray into proposals. He put forward a scheme of his own on temporary emergency payment schemes and a scheme which implied loans, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security pointed out. We have taken 30 hours debating such principles on the social fund.
I agree with the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) and, indeed, for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) that, to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Caernarfon, this has been a happy Committee. If I may say so, a great deal of the credit for that is due to my ministerial hon. Friends the Members for Braintree (Mr. Newton) and for Huntingdon (Mr. Major).
Equally, I do not think that anyone can seriously claim that the Government have in any way rushed to impose a guillotine. We have already debated for 114 hours. After the timetable there is provision for a further 54 hours of debate. That means that the Committee will have sat for 42 sittings and have devoted 168 hours to the scrutiny of this legislation. I must tell the House that this is longer than any consideration given to a social security measure since the beginning of social security system in 1948.
As for precedents, I heard with mounting disbelief what the hon. Member for Oldham, West was saying. I remind the House that it was almost exactly 10 years ago, in July 1976, that the Labour Government imposed five guillotines in one day. The DHSS Bill guillotined that day was the Health Services Bill, which had started its Committee stage only four weeks earlier, while another of the major Bills guillotined that day was the Education Bill, one of the Ministers in charge of which was none other than the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). I say to the House frankly that the Government are not prepared to take lectures from the Labour party on imposing guillotines.
There is no lack of precedent, nor can there be any reasonable complaint about a lack of consultation. The review of social security was started in November 1983. 788 Views were invited through the issue of consultation notes, 4,500 organisations and members of the public responded and Ministers held 19 public sessions to take oral evidence. A Green Paper was published and over 7,000 responses were made to that. A White Paper was published in December.
Never before have a Government carried out such an extensive consultation exercise prior to introducing legislation, and rightly so. If I may say again to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, the last Labour Government certainly carried out a review of supplementary benefit, but they did it not through Ministers but by sending a group of officials round the country to take evidence. In the review before the introduction of this legislation, Ministers took evidence in person. We have taken evidence from organisations such as the Trades Union Congress and various pressure groups.
As for the future, the timetable gives another 54 hours to debate important proposals on, for example, widows, maternity and death grant, common powers and the powers of local authorities. In addition, as we have made clear, there will be new clauses on statutory maternity allowance and industrial injuries. Those proposals have been subject to very extensive consultation over the past three months.
This is an important Bill to reform a system of social security which has remained unreformed for far too long. Almost no one defends the present system. It is too complex and does not give effective support to those who need it. It helps to create unjustifiable distortions and provides insufficient encouragement to the millions who do not have a pension of their own.
The Government have proposed a new and modern system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) and my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) have said. Under that system, everyone will have a right to a personal pension and important new opportunities for occupational schemes are being created. Through the family credit scheme, we will provide additional resources for low-income families and income-related benefits will be put on the same basis.
The Second Reading debate took place at the end of January, when the Bill received an overwhelming majority. After 114 hours in Committee the Government are entitled to move a timetable motion, particularly given the extra time that we shall devote to consideration of the Bill in Committee.
I suggest that the timetable motion does not come as any surprise or disappointment to Opposition Members. When at business questions last Thursday my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal announced the Government's intention to move the timetable motion, the Leader of the Opposition was so overcome and outraged that he forgot to mention the issue in his question to my right hon. Friend. We must believe that the Leader of the Opposition was rendered speechless or that he actually thought the guillotine was no bad thing. There must be many on the Opposition Benches, not to mention Members of the Standing Committee, who share that view. Given that some of my hon. Friends helped them out last night, they might like to consider returning the compliment now and supporting the Government motion.
Whatever happens, this is an important Bill. Even with the proposed timetable that we are putting forward, the Government are providing more time for the consideration 789 of a piece of social security legislation than has been given at any time during the past 40 years. I ask for the support of the House for the motion.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 280, Noes 195.792
|Division No. 142]||[7.35 pm|
|Adley, Robert||du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Dunn, Robert|
|Amess, David||Durant, Tony|
|Arnold, Tom||Dykes, Hugh|
|Ashby, David||Eggar, Tim|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Evennett, David|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Fallon, Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Farr, Sir John|
|Baldry, Tony||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Batiste, Spencer||Forman, Nigel|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fry, Peter|
|Benyon, William||Galley, Roy|
|Best, Keith||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Blackburn, John||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Greenway, Harry|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Griffiths, Sir Eldon|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Grist, Ian|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Grylls, Michael|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Hannam, John|
|Bright, Graham||Harris, David|
|Brinton, Tim||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Browne, John||Hayward, Robert|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Henderson, Barry|
|Budgen, Nick||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hicks, Robert|
|Burt, Alistair||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Butcher, John||Hill, James|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Hind, Kenneth|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Holt, Richard|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Carttiss, Michael||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Cash, William||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Irving, Charles|
|Cockeram, Eric||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Colvin, Michael||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Conway, Derek||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Cope, John||Knox, David|
|Cormack, Patrick||Lamont, Norman|
|Corrie, John||Lang, Ian|
|Couchman, James||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Crouch, David||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Lilley, Peter|
|Dicks, Terry||Lord, Michael|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Luce, Rt Hon Richard|
|Dover, Den||Lyell, Nicholas|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Major, John||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Maples, John||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Marland, Paul||Silvester, Fred|
|Marlow, Antony||Sims, Roger|
|Mates, Michael||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Mather, Carol||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Speed, Keith|
|Mellor, David||Speller, Tony|
|Merchant, Piers||Spencer, Derek|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Squire, Robin|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Steen, Anthony|
|Moate, Roger||Stern, Michael|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Stokes, John|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Sumberg, David|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Mudd, David||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Neale, Gerrard||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Nelson, Anthony||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Neubert, Michael||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Newton, Tony||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Thurnham, Peter|
|Norris, Steven||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Tracey, Richard|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Trippier, David|
|Osborn, Sir John||Trotter, Neville|
|Ottaway, Richard||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Viggers, Peter|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Waddington, David|
|Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Pawsey, James||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Walden, George|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Pollock, Alexander||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Portillo, Michael||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Waller, Gary|
|Powley, John||Ward, John|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Price, Sir David||Warren, Kenneth|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Watson, John|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Watts, John|
|Raffan, Keith||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Wheeler, John|
|Rathbone, Tim||Whitfield, John|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Renton, Tim||Wilkinson, John|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Wolfson, Mark|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Wood, Timothy|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Rost, Peter||Mr. Archie Hamilton and|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Mr. Gerald Malone.|
|Abse, Leo||Ashdown, Paddy|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Ashley, Rt Hon Jack|
|Alton, David||Ashton, Joe|
|Anderson, Donald||Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Barnett, Guy||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Barron, Kevin||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Home Robertson, John|
|Beith, A. J.||Howells, Geraint|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Blair, Anthony||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Boyes, Roland||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||John, Brynmor|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Kennedy, Charles|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Caborn, Richard||Lambie, David|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Leighton, Ronald|
|Campbell, Ian||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Litherland, Robert|
|Canavan, Dennis||Livsey, Richard|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Cartwright, John||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Loyden, Edward|
|Clarke, Thomas||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Clay, Robert||McGuire, Michael|
|Clelland, David Gordon||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Cohen, Harry||McKelvey, William|
|Conlan, Bernard||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Corbett, Robin||McTaggart, Robert|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||McWilliam, John|
|Craigen, J. M.||Madden, Max|
|Crowther, Stan||Marek, Dr John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Martin, Michael|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Maxton, John|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Dewar, Donald||Meacher, Michael|
|Dixon, Donald||Michie, William|
|Dobson, Frank||Mikardo, Ian|
|Dormand, Jack||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Douglas, Dick||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Nellist, David|
|Eadie, Alex||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Eastham, Ken||O'Brien, William|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Ewing, Harry||Park, George|
|Fatchett, Derek||Patchett, Terry|
|Faulds, Andrew||Pendry, Tom|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Pike, Peter|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Powell, Rt Hon J. E.|
|Fisher, Mark||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Flannery, Martin||Raynsford, Nicholas|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Randall, Stuart|
|Forrester, John||Raynsford, Nick|
|Foster, Derek||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Foulkes, George||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Freud, Clement||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Robertson, George|
|George, Bruce||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Rogers, Allan|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Rooker, J. W.|
|Golding, John||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Gould, Bryan||Rowlands, Ted|
|Gourlay, Harry||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hardy, Peter||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon J.||Wainwright, R.|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wallace, James|
|Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)||Wareing, Robert|
|Soley, Clive||Weetch, Ken|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||White, James|
|Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Stott, Roger||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Strang, Gavin||Wilson, Gordon|
|Straw, Jack||Winnick, David|
|Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Thorne, Stan (Preston)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Tinn, James||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Torney, Tom||Mr. Sean Hughes.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill: