§ Mr. Speaker
I am not taking points of order. I too heard on the radio today what were purported to be the tactics of this matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a Front..Bench spokesman, and this kind of behaviour is not a good reflection on the Opposition.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. These are just the matters that we should properly discuss in the debate and not in points of order.
§ Mr. Wakeham
It is familiar in that it is customary to provide a timetable for consideration in the House of amendments made—
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order Mr. Speaker. I feel that some of my colleagues have been put at what can only 865 be described as a singular disadvantage. It was not until Friday morning that many hon. Members could possibly have known that the Government were to make a business statement at 11 o'clock on Friday. As the House recognises, on Fridays many hon. Members have engagements or go to their constituencies to meet engagements. Some of my hon. Friends find themselves in some difficulty when they are told that they should have raised points on Friday when the statement was made.
In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) was aware that on Thursday, Mr. Speaker, you said that you would look sympathetically at manuscript amendments. She was in her constituency on Friday and submitted a manuscript amendment today as soon as she possibly could. She has some entitlement to raise this matter. [Interruption.] She is not arguing about the selection, because the original selection was made before she had the opportunity to submit her manuscript amendment. She is not challenging the first selection of amendments. However, she is trying to get the Bill used to benefit someone in connection with a problem in her constituency. It seems unreasonable to have expected her to attend on Friday when nobody had any reason to believe that on that day there would be a Government statement about business.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have already said that the reason I have not been able to select the hon. Lady's manuscript amendment is unconnected with the time element. If she comes to see me I shall gladly explain the matter to her.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot do that publicly. I will gladly explain to her why her manuscript amendment was not selected.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. May I quote to the whole House, and especially to hon. Members who are rising and who, perhaps, were not here on Friday what the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said at that time. I hope that he will allow me to do that. He said:I thank the Leader of the House for making this late adjustment to our proceedings next week. It has the merit of providing a proper opportunity for the House to consider the Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill, and in particular it gives us the opportunity to endorse their proposals for the annual uprating of child benefit, which I hope will be agreed.In fairness to the hon. Gentleman, he went on to say:We regret that the Government have decided that they need a guillotine motion to complete the business on Monday, which we think rather extraordinary. However, we welcome the opportunity to debate the important Lords amendments, and our amendments to them, without prejudicing the proceedings on the equally important Housing (Scotland) Bill at a later date." —[Official Report, 11 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 783.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. No point of order arises. The hon. Gentleman is a Front Bench spokesman and should seek to set an example to his Back-Bench colleagues. I am not prepared to call him on this matter. I call Mr. Wakeham.
§ Mr. Wakeham
It is customary to provide a timetable for consideration in the House of amendments made to a Bill in another place.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have told the hon. Lady that if she will come and see me I shall gladly explain. She is a new Member. It has never been the practice for Mr. Speaker to give reasons for the non-selection of amendments in the Chamber. Exceptionally, I say to the hon. Lady that I will explain to her why I have been unable to accept the amendment that she submitted today. If she is patient, she may be able to make her point during a debate on one of the other amendments. I call Mr. Wakeham.
§ Mr. Wakeham
It is unique in that it has been possible to reach agreement on the amount of time for all stages of the Bill—
§ Mr. Wakeham
I leave it to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to deal with the question that raises about whether an Opposition generally find it effective tactics to agree that amount of time for almost all the consideration of a Bill except that stage when there is the least scope for a wide-ranging debate.
The timetable motion was laid before the House on Friday—
§ Mr. Speaker
Please sit down.
If the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) is seeking to delay these proceedings, which have already commenced, it will be to the detriment of her colleagues. I will take the point of order only if it is a point of order for me.
§ Mrs. Wise
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that it was our responsibility to protect the rights of Back Benchers. Therefore, may I inquire how it happens that, in your wisdom, you take a point of order from a Front Bench spokesman, which relates to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) wishes to raise, and do not let her speak for herself? Is it now the position in the House that some Back Benchers must speak via surrogates?
§ Mr. Speaker
I shall remember carefully what the hon. Lady has said, if that poisition arises in her case. However, on the matter of her hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), I know what her point of order is about. I am sorry that I have been unable to select her amendment.
§ Mr. Speaker
All right. If the point of order has nothing to do with my non-selection of the amendment, of course I shall hear the hon. Member for Bristol, South.
§ Ms. Primarolo
The point of order that I wished subsequently to raise is exactly the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise). I understood, Mr. Speaker, that I was entitled to make my points of order to you and to ask you to reconsider a ruling that you had made. I was seeking to establish my right as a Back Bencher to raise a point of order. I would have thought that it would at least have been accepted that, as a Back-Bench Member, I could have put my point of order to the Chamber as well so that hon. Members would know why I wished to submit a manuscript amendment. I consider it quite out of order that I—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is just the point. I cannot accept amendments that are drafted as the hon. Lady has drafted hers. Mr. Wakeham.
§ Mr. Wakeham
The timetable motion was laid before the House on Friday, and provides for a total of six hours' proceedings from the start of this debate. The minimum amount of time for consideration of the amendments will be three hours. If the Opposition really wish to debate the issues rather than the modalities, and keep the debate on this motion short, more time will be available for the amendments themselves. Either way, the motion provides a most generous amount of time when one considers that many of the 33 amendments made in another place are technical or uncontroversial, and that the Government are not seeking to reverse or amend the amendment providing for an annual review of child benefit.
In total, the Bill has already received just over 90 hours' consideration in both Houses, including 19 sittings in Standing Committee, I am pleased that, like us, the Opposition regard this amount of time as satisfactory, and I trust they will be able to agree to today's arrangements also.
The circumstances that have led us to move this motion will be fresh in the House's mind. On 3 March I announced that it was the intention we should be considering Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill today, and the Leader of the Opposition made no comment on that proposed arrangement. On 10 March I again announced this as the business to he taken today following the Housing (Scotland) Bill. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras then complained that we would be considering the Lords amendments today when the Bill's Third Reading in the other place occurred on 10 March. There then followed further discussions through the usual channels, and in response to my business statement on Friday 11 March the hon. Gentleman said that this adjustment to our business provided a proper opportunity for the House to consider the Lords amendments to this Bill.
§ Mr. Madden
Will the Leader of the House confirm or deny that he authorised any information, following his statement last Friday, to be passed to the BBC on the reason why the motion was to be put today?
§ Mr. Wakeham
I am not in the habit of talking about what I may or may not say to the BBC. I did not hear the programme at 1 pm, and I certainly said nothing of the sort to the BBC.
I shall deal first with the original complaint, that the Bill comes before us too hastily from another place. As the House will be aware, a marshalled list of amendments was 868 available from the Vote Office on Friday morning. Twenty-nine of the 33 amendments have been available from 3 March or before—indeed, about two thirds of them have been available for the past month. Of the four amendments passed on Third Reading on 10 March, one was an amendment promised by the Government, one was simply a clarification and two were technical. None was opposed by the official Opposition.
In any event, as I said on Friday, it is a perfectly usual practice for Lords amendments to a Bill to be taken in this House just a day or so after the Bill has left another place. Indeed, there have been occasions when they have been taken on the same day. Hon. Members who recall the debates on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill in November 1976 will be well aware of that, and, of course, there are other examples too.
The revised complaint of the Opposition, as I understand it, is that the business as originally agreed would not have provided for the Lords amendments to this Bill to be debated in "prime time". The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras set great store by this. Perhaps he should have a word with the present chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), who was less squeamish about these matters when we were debating the Lords amendment to the Labour Government's Social Security Bill on 19 March 1979. The right hon. Gentleman led the debate on the Lords amendments to this Bill—a debate that started at 10.17 pm. Nor were those proceedings a formality, with all the Lords amendments being agreed: on the contrary, there were Divisions, and the Government reversed one of the amendments.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I should like to remind the House why it is important that this Bill should receive an early Royal Assent, and thus why we have arranged to take the Lords amendments immediately after the proceedings on this motion. The House has already agreed that 11 April should be the date on which the new schemes of income support and family credit should be implemented, and has approved the main regulations providing for this. But as a result of the proposals in this Bill, further regulations, subject to affirmative resolution, will be needed. Those regulations can be laid only after Royal Assent. We need to ensure that there is a proper opportunity for them to be considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments before they are debated in both Houses. Thus, it is important for us to proceed with this Bill today.
On Friday last, before he had even seen the terms of the motion, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras welcomed the revised business that I announced. I thanked the hon. Gentleman for his words then, and I hope that he will be able to carry his colleagues with him today.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
This is the fourth guillotine motion in recent weeks. The first three were designed to limit the debate on lengthy and complicated measures: the poll tax Bill, and the Bill to impose direct rule on our schools and colleges. Today, we have a guillotine just on the Lords amendments to the 19 clauses of the Social Security Bill.
Why the rush? The answer is simple. A large part of the present Bill corrects cock-ups in the Social Security Act 1986. Much of that Act is timed to come into operation next month, so the Government are desperate for these 869 changes to go through before then. Not for the first time, we find ourselves in Westminster assembled to apply large dollops of parliamentary correcting fluid — legislative Tippex—to the Government's shoddily drafted and ill-thought-out social security laws: those laws that have been pushed through to rob the poor to give to the rich.
Originally, the Government intended that these proposals should slip through in the dead of night, when it would be inconvenient for newspapers to report what had happened. Indeed, at the time of night originally envisaged, the number of journalists in the Press Gallery could probably have been counted on the fingers of one hand and, at a later hour, probably on the fingers of the Venus de Milo.
The Government did not want these sordid, Scrooge-like proposals to receive publicity today because they did not relish the contrast to be made with how badly they are treating the badly off today with how well they intend to treat the well-off tomorrow on Budget day.
On the day before the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to line the pockets of his friends and colleagues, what does the Social Security Bill do? The Prime Minister recently preached that Budget day was about taking, not giving. She should know. This Bill is about taking away rather than giving. It takes away many existing rights of people in need—rights that they have received through existing laws, through paying tax and national insurance, and which were secured in court when they were denied them by mean-minded Ministers and the humiliating bureaucratic machinery of the DHSS.
Among the people who will lose are epileptics, who will lose a maximum attendance allowance of £30 per week. People with severe industrial injuries will lose £19 a week. Young people aged 16 or 17 will be deprived of their right to benefit—a right that their parents have paid for for years.
Decisions about uprating of child benefit will depend on the whim of the Secretary of State. In future, tens of thousands of children will not receive free school meals. People who are forced to retire early will have their unemployment benefit abated if their occupational pension is more than £35 per week. People who have paid in for benefits will have them taken away by a process that amounts to nothing less than legislative theft.
Among the groups who will suffer most are police and fire fighters who are forced to retire early. I have received representations about this matter from the Soho fire station, whose crews played so heroic a part in the King's Cross underground fire. How typical it is of the Prime Minister and other Ministers to praise those fire fighters in front of the television arc lights but stab them in the back a few weeks later.
My hon. Friends have done a magnificent job in highlighting the cruel consequences of the Bill and tabling amendments to secure justice for defenceless and vulnerable people.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, at a time when the press is widely expecting the Chancellor to announce tax cuts and other benefits for the rich, it is almost obscene that we should be discussing Lords amendments to a Bill that will hit hard at some of the poorest people in the community, take away housing benefit and penalise those who have saved £6,000 870 for their retirement? The poorest will, at most, receive loans from the DHSS instead of the present arrangements for bedding, furniture and other such matters.
§ Mr. Dobson
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that he and others will take this opportunity to highlight the contrasts.
Unfortunately, the work of most of my hon. Friends in changing this Bill has been in vain. But it is never in vain to speak the truth and to defend the defenceless, and I commend their spirited opposition. They will deal with much of the detail of the Bill, so I shall confine myself to two aspects — a universal benefit and a means-tested entitlement.
Child benefit has not been uprated with inflation. As a result, mothers lose about £30 per year per child. Some Tories have argued that universal benefits, such as child benefit, should be abolished and as an example, they say that the Duchess of Westminster does not need the few pounds of child benefit. I concede that she does not but, by the same token, her husband, the Duke of Westminster, did not need the tax changes that have added millions of pounds to his wealth over the past few years. He received those tax cuts, and they were worth a lot more than anybody's child benefit.
The House of Lords has passed an amendment that requires the Government to review the level of child benefit in April each year, taking account of increases in the retail price index and other factors. That is a welcome improvement to the Bill, but it does not oblige the Government to take any action after they have carried out the review, so my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has tabled an amendment to require the Government to increase child benefit in line with a review.
If the Government refuse to accept that amendment, they will reveal their grotesque priorities by rejecting today a non-means-tested universal benefit paid to the mother so that they can selectively put even more money into the pockets of the super-rich tomorrow. The Tories talk of targeting rather than universal benefits. People should not forget that they have a long-term target—to line the pockets of their friends by means of tax handouts and tax fiddles.
In even more stark contrast to the much-heralded Budget bonanza is the fact that in April almost 500,000 of the poorest children in the country will no longer be able to have free school meals. Children from families currently on family income supplement will no longer receive free school meals. Instead, the parents will receive £2.55 per week in lieu of free school meals. That works out at 51p per day. That Sip will buy a primary school meal in just nine education authorities in England, Scotland and Wales — all of which, I need hardly add, are Labour-controlled.
Tories argue that because the £2.55 is paid all year and not just during term time it in some way makes up, but even if we share the annual total only over term time it comes to just 66p per school day. The princely sum of 66p per day will not buy a primary school meal in the following authorities: Bexley, Enfield, Harrow, Merton, Isles of Scilly, Avon, Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Devon, East Sussex, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Isle of Wight, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Warwickshire, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Bolton, Stockport, Sefton, Rotherham, 871 Dyfed, Powys. In none of those areas will 66p buy a primary school meal. Ministers may smirk, but 66p would not even buy the starters for their average meal. The weekly payment of £2.55 probably would not buy it. They should not smirk at the fact that those skinflint authorities, nearly all of whom are Tory-controlled, will ensure that some of the poorest children cannot buy a meal for 66p.
At least families on family credit will receive some money in lieu of the free school meals. Whether that money will reach all the children concerned is a different matter. Tories talk about targeting, but if they want to target food into the stomachs of the poorest children, surely the best way is to put food into their mouths.
Families on family credit will not be the worst sufferers from these changes. The worst off will be those children — over 170,000 — who at present receive free school meals at the discretion of their local education authority. This centralising Government are to take away that local discretion, on the grounds that already many skinflint Tory authorities do not use it. As a result, over 170,000 children will not receive free meals any more. Those children include over 21,000 in Strathclyde, over 15,000 in ILEA, over 9,000 in Lancashire, over 8,000 in Manchester, over 6,000 in Cleveland, over 5,000 in Birmingham, Sheffield, Sunderland and Leicestershire, over 4,000 in Bradford, Liverpool, Derbyshire and Humberside, over 3,000 in Leeds, Newcastle upon Tyne, Avon, North Yorkshire, Gwent and West Glamorgan and over 2,000 in Barnsley, Kirklees, St. Helens, Sandwell, Wakefield, Wigan and Cheshire.
When people see film of yuppies celebrating their tax concessions after tomorrow's Budget, they should remember that the champagne will be paid for from money that should be spent on giving poor chidren a decent midday meal. All this comes from a Government who claim to promote family life and Christian values.
Of course, we know that the Prime Minister subscribes to some peculiar theological views. These were best demonstrated when she amazed Sunday viewers of "Weekend World" in 1980 with the words:No one would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions. He had money as well.What will the badly off people affected by the Social Security Bill think of tomorrow's Budget? Tomorrow will show that the Chancellor has the money but lacks the good intentions. The Government fall a long way short of the standards of the Good Samaritan. They do not even live up to the standards of the Levite and the priest who just passed by on the other side. The only characters in the Good Samaritan parable whom the Government resemble are the thieves who mugged the poor traveller in the first place.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
I declare an interest: the Scottish Labour party spent the weekend in my constituency and that, I assume, is why no members of that party were here on Friday. When the new business was announced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the only Scottish Member to raise the extremely important matter of why Scottish business had been summarily postponed was the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), the leader of his party, whatever name it has now. The right hon.
872 Gentleman made, for once, a righteous expression of indignation but he directed it to the wrong person. He said that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Houseowes Scottish Members rather more of an explanation and an apology for disrupting the business of the House at such short notice.He said that that was becauseThe Housing (Scotland) Bill is both complicated and contentious." —[Official Report, 11 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 783.]I do not think that that was an explanation which, with his usual diplomacy, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was willing to give, so perhaps I may speculate on what I believe my right hon. Friend would have said with integrity and honesty if convention had not prevented him. He would have said that the business of the House was announced by him on Thursday, as usual, having been agreed, as usual, through the usual channels.
That matter was not challenged — [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If it was not agreed, it is extraordinary that it was not challenged by the Leader of the Opposition before he set off to my constituency the following day to give a speech which those present said was either too long, by about 50 minutes, or was wrong in every other way. I must, however, distinguish the right hon. Gentleman; of all the Labour party members who went to my constituency, he was the only one who had the civility to say that he was going to do so.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
On my hon. and learned Friend's point about the usual channels, perhaps my hon. and learned Friend would like to look at the bottom of column 785 of Friday's Hansard. when my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) said to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House:The contribution from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) demonstrated clearly the difficulties faced by the usual channels in reaching agreement on business.From a sedentary position the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said:The usual channels—what do they matter?" —[Official Report, 11 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 785.]
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I appreciate that that is the position, but I do not think that even the bucking bronco attitude of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) gave rise to the difficulties. The Leader of the Opposition found when he spoke in my constituency at the weekend that he could not prevent Scottish Labour Members from promising, threatening and insisting that it was their duty to break the law rather than pay the community tax, which is already provided for in legislation, and he also found himself in difficulty in the House the night before.
It is obvious that the agreement among the usual channels to have Scottish business considered today could not be delivered by the Opposition Front Bench. Why could the Opposition Front Bench not do so? After all, we are in one of those marvellous situations when the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who has a Scottish seat, leads for the Opposition on the Social Security Bill and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) leads for the Opposition on the Housing (Scotland) Bill. We were told in Committee on the Housing (Scotland) Bill that this was a vital and essential matter. Therefore, the subject narrows not to the bucking of the hon. Member for Bolsover about the usual channels but to two Scots, each preening for superior position today.
873 The hon. Member for Livingston imagined that he could keep the House up all night and defeat the Budget, through some spurious tactical activity, similar to today's day of action, which is depriving hundreds and thousands of patients of operations and care — [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Yes, indeed. So far this year up to the day of action, 2,447 operations have been postponed in Scotland, and those patients will have to suffer pain, thanks to health workers who do not give a fig for them.
Let us be clear that here was a little jousting between two tartan Socialists — one who wanted to carry out what he imagined was a clever tactical ambush, by having the Social Security Bill considered late at night, and the other who did not want that to happen because he would be deprived of the opportunity to consider the Housing (Scotland) Bill. Alas, these two tartan Socialists in the end deprived their party of the ordinary integrity of the usual channels and brought the House to cancel Scottish important business and to this guillotine motion.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I shall give way in a moment.
We were told that it was a matter of great importance. We were told that it was important that the Opposition should have a whole day's debate on the matter. Where are they? How many are here?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite wrong. The Housing (Scotland) Bill, has not been cancelled. It has been postponed. Does he agree that that is to our advantage? Opposition Members do not want the Housing (Scotland) Bill, and the longer we postpone it, the better for the people of Scotland. It is a victory for Opposition Members and the hon. and learned Gentleman should realise that.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I regret to say that it is not a victory for any members of the Scottish Labour party, first, that they have frustrated their Front Bench, as they so consistently do, and, secondly, that they did so after a weekend in Perth in which they spent their time saying that they were not interested in Parliament, but were going to take the law into their own hands. They said that they would have assemblies and Select Committees of their own and that they were going to break the law, whatever the Leader of the Opposition said. It will be of no advantage to the Scots when they are "liberated" from having to live in a council house if they cannot move from their job.
§ Mr. Winnick
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order is not the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), which may or may not be relevant, as you consider appropriate. Perhaps you could remind the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) what business we are debating at the moment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will address himself to the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
The remarkable thing is that, of course, I know what business we are debating at the moment, but the majority of the Labour party clearly does not, because it is absent.
As I was saying before I gave way, there was an article which alleged that matters that the Labour party claimed to be matters of principle were not sufficiently important for them to come to the Chamber and debate them. If the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was speaking with any integrity, I assume that the Lords amendments to the Bill and the timetable motion are matters that go deep to the heart of Opposition philosophy and their political, democratic fight in this Chamber, yet the whole of the House is brought back, important Scottish business is interrupted and there is almost no one here. That speaks for itself. It shows that it was humbug.
It shows that, the usual channels having agreed business, the deal was broken because of a petty squabble between two Scottish Members of Parliament who spend the week proclaiming that they speak for Scotland so much that they will set up little Governments of their own and have them travelling around Scotland, pretending that they are running the country when they cannot even turn up for Scottish business. They wreck the business and do not even turn up for the business for which they wrecked it. If that is not hypocrisy, I do not know what is. Once again, the Opposition, Scottish and English, is disgraced.
§ Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)
Last week, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you heard a number of points of order about the timetable for the Local Government Bill. Several hon. Members said that they had been given insufficient time to table amendments to the Lords amendments to that Bill. I believe that there had been about three days between Third Reading in the Lords and our debate on their amendments. There was not much time adequately to draft amendments to the Lords amendments which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, are, by their nature, extremely difficult to draft.
However, that timetable was a positive luxury compared with the proposal for the Social Security Bill. The Minister for Social Security and the Disabled wrote to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), outlining the Government amendments, on Wednesday and sent me a copy of the letter, but the Third Reading in the Lords took place on Thursday and those amendments were not published until Friday, which did not allow even two working days before this debate.
Many hon. Members, particularly those who come from the north, like myself, have to make prior travel arrangements and attend to business in their constituencies on a Friday. It makes it extremely difficult for us to work effectively if parliamentary business is conducted in this way. To make matters worse, the business was changed on Friday when many hon. Members could not even be present.
The powers of Parliament in respect of the Executive have been consistently eroded by the Government, and their cavalier attitude towards the business of the House is one of the worst examples of that. The Government have deliberately set out to frustrate the Opposition parties' attempts to analyse the Bill and to present effective and well-considered amendments. The Government may 875 consider that the Bill is just another part of their crowded legislation package which can be forced through at high speed, but it is an extremely important piece of legislation that will push many people, particularly young people, into unacceptable poverty. The Bill should be properly debated in a democratic way in which all the arguments can be heard. Sadly, that has not been the experience today.
In a few days' time, the full force of the Social Security Act 1986 will be experienced. All the fears that I and my colleagues have expressed about that legislation will no longer be a matter of conjecture, but a chilling and unpleasant reality for millions of people. Young people will probably be the hardest hit by those measures. In the next few months, this country will see juvenile destitution on a scale not witnessed since the Victorian era. Many young people will simply be left with no alternative but to live by begging, petty theft, debt or even prostitution. The Bill, with its proposal to remove income support from most 16 to 17-year-olds, will greatly worsen the situation.
In a previous debate, I said that the measure is using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut because it is aimed at the so-called workshy, yet the evidence is that the work-shy are few and far between. I have not changed my opinion during the Bill's progress. It will unfairly penalise many young people and force them into dependency on their parents and to take up YTS places that may be wholly unsatisfactory. In an enlightened age, we should be giving our young people greater choice. The Bill does the very opposite.
§ Mr. Madden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can the records show that, although the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) castigated the House for the very poor attendance, he has himself just left the Chamber?
§ Mr. Fearn
My greatest fear is for young people who may have escaped the family home to avoid child abuse or domestic violence or who may have been thrown out by a step-parent. They may still be able to claim income support at the discretion of the Secretary of State, but they may be too distressed or too immature to tackle that complicated process.
I am also worried about the position of young people who may be living in sheltered housing while they are on probation or fighting drug abuse. I have spoken to charities which are able to provide support for young people in difficult circumstances because they are claiming supplementary benefit. Charities are extremely worried that when 16 and 17-year-olds are no longer eligible for income support they will no longer be able to pay their rents.
Such charitable institutions will not be able to provide a refuge for nothing. Much as they will regret it, they will 876 have no alternative but to turn people on to the streets. I shall be interested to hear what the Secretary of State has to say on the matter.
There will be considerable anger and frustration when income support is introduced in April, and, to their amazement, young people discover that they are expected to live on less money than others who are perhaps a few days older. That is ridiculous. There are many grotesque examples of what the changes will mean. In a few weeks, we shall see the reality of the situation.
For example, there will be cases in which two brothers in the same circumstances sharing a flat might find themselves on different rates of benefit, purely because one is a year older. They will simply not understand the reason for that, because there is no good reason.
It was no surprise to me to read reports in the newspapers that some benefit officers are being fitted with strengthened glass screens. Regrettably, frustration will sometimes manifest itself in physical violence. I am concerned—I expressed this worry in Committee—that DHSS employees may have to bear the brunt of that anger.
People under 18 will be in a worse position, even if they get benefit. It is estimated that, after deductions for heating and lighting, they will have just £6.20 a week on which to live, including buying food and clothes. That is an absolute disgrace to a civilised society.
The nature of the social fund and the cuts in housing benefit will exacerbate the growing poverty in this country. It will hit the poorest people in Britain. That the Government can do that and claim to have clear consciences amazes me. I presume that, tomorrow, the Government will cut taxes for the better-off in our society. What a grim irony it will be that, in three weeks, they will start cutting benefits for the worst-off in our society. A Marplan poll today shows that 84 per cent. of the British public can think of better things to spend extra money on than tax cuts. The country will make a judgment about the legislation and will find the Government guilty of a lack of compassion.
§ Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I confess that I feel a certain sadness at having to speak to a guillotine motion, not only because of its sudden appearance in our business but because it demonstrates that something has clearly gone wrong. I am a new enough hon. Member still to believe that, when business questions are announced on a Thursday, there has been consultation with what is known as the usual channels. It seems odd that, less than 24 hours after business questions last week, the Social Security Bill business was changed. There was no mention of it by the right hon. Leader of the Opposition during business questions on Thursday.
§ Mr. Burns
I shall finish this part of my speech, and then give way.
There is much speculation about what has been going on behind the scenes. But, from reading newspapers and hearing people talk, it seems that there was a concerted plot by certain Opposition Members to try to sabotage tomorrow's debate on the Budget — a Budget which, presumably, will be good for all people. We do not know 877 its contents, so it is ridiculous to speculate until we have heard it. It seems that there was a concerted plan by certain Opposition Members to string out tonight's business until tomorrow and sabotage the Bill. The Opposition Chief Whip discovered the plot. Being an honourable man, he had to go to the Government and say that he could not stand by the undertakings that were given about the business.
§ Mr. Robin Cook
I intervene if only to introduce a note of reality into the debate. The hon. Gentleman is the second Conservative Member to say that the matter was not raised during business questions. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present for business questions last Thursday, but, if he consults Hansard, he will find that the first thing that was said by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House was:Will he reconsider his proposal that we debate the Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill on Monday? … Surely that is unreasonable." —[Official Report, 10 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 521.]
§ Mr. Burns
It is quite— [Interruption.] Opposition Members are speaking from a sedentary position. I should never have had the foolishness to give way to the hon. Gentleman to make his intervention.
It is sad that we must waste three hours this evening debating the guillotine motion. That time could have been better spent discussing housing in Scotland and social security measures. That is the issue. The Opposition are trying to be irresponsible and mess up the business. Opposition Member should not treat the House in that way.
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Lancashire, West sneak to smear—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that that was not a parliamentary expression. I ask him to rephrase his remark.
§ Mr. Dobson
If it is out of order to call the hon. Gentleman a sneak, I happily withdraw, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I remind you that he was the hon. Member who ran to tell the press that he saw one of my hon. Friends and one of my right hon. Friends having an argument in the Tea Room. Nevertheless, it is surely not in order for him to peddle untruths about the reason for the absence of my hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip. My hon. Friend has an engagement in his constituency today. He has had that engagement for a considerable time—long before Friday, when the Government changed today's business.
§ Mr. Burns
As a member of the Standing Committee that examined the Social Security Bill, I can confirm what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said. In this House and in another place, there have been 90 hours of debate on the Bill. It was exhaustively discussed in Committee. I suspect that no Opposition Member who served on the Standing Committee could say that enough time was not given to discussing all the points that the Opposition wished to raise. Cynical politics brought us to the position in which we must debate a guillotine motion, to stop us from being dragged through the night to stop tomorrow's business.
Guillotine motions that are forced upon the Government raise serious questions about certain aspects of how business is conducted in the House. I strongly recommend hon. Members to read the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) in the previous guillotine debate. He rightly suggested that we should debate the procedures of the House.
Of course everyone will accept that it is the Government's duty to propose legislation and get it through the House of Commons and on to the statute book. It is the Opposition's duty to oppose legislation. We would accept that responsible opposition to Government proposals is part of our constitution. However, I would argue that it is not part of our constitution or the workings of this House that the Opposition—or certain factions of the Opposition—should try to make political capital, to disrupt our proceedings and to cause the problems that we were to face today, until the Government stepped in. For those reasons, I shall support the Government in getting the guillotine.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
I did not realise that one small meeting of one or two of my Front Bench colleagues, and a few of my Back Bench colleagues, could have so much power and influence that it could make the Government change the business for the day. It is the first time that I have known that. Obviously, we are beginning to make an impact in this House. It is absolutely incredible — [Interruption.] Well, Conservative Members say that we are thin on the ground, but we need only two of us to take the lot of them on. That is all we need because the Government do not have a leg to stand on.
When the debate started, in points of order, Mr. Speaker actually quoted what the Leader of the House said, which was that it was unusual— [Interruption.] No, it was what the Leader of the House said on Friday morning.
Why did the Government have to do this? Is it because they are afraid of the Housing (Scotland) Bill? I do not think so, but perhaps they are. However, it was not because we could "knacker up" the Budget day debate, if that is the right word, Mr. Speaker. No, it was because we could expose more and more of the Social Security Bill's inequities and the effect that it will have on our people.
This afternoon we have the diabolical situation when my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), who has an amendment which is very much relevant to the debate, could not even table it. That is a shame because we are talking about the devastating effects of the Bill on many thousands of our people. Those effects will be unbelievable, yet we are not even allowed to debate it for as long as we should. There are 32 Government 879 amendments, but we have a guillotine before we even start. That is the sort of courage that the Government demonstrate today.
The Secretary of State is so courageous that he does not think it important to be here—[Interruption.] Never mind our Chief Whip. The Secretary of State is not even here—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, he is here. Withdraw."] Well, I will apologise, but I have seen him so little, and never in Committee, that I did not recognise him. I now know the Secretary of State's face and will not make that mistake again. Is that him?
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. John Moore)
§ Mr. Michie
Yes, it is.
The effects of the Bill are, to say the least, wide-ranging. It will have effects on income support, housing benefit, single payments, and night-time attendance allowances. [Interruption.] Some of the Conservative Members who are speaking about the Bill's virtues never opened their mouths in Committee. Night-time attendance allowances mean that one must prove whether one is up all night, not going to bed but looking after one's loved ones. Those are the mean issues in the Bill.
The Bill also relates to industrial injuries. It does not matter now whether one loses a finger or two—it is all par for the course. Death benefits have already gone out of the window so far as industry is concerned. The Bill will give discretionary powers to the Secretary of State, just like in local government legislation and in many other pieces of legislation. When discretionary powers are given to the Secretary of State, some poor individual who already has problems because of unemployment or injury, has to go through the hoops of trying to get to the Secretary of State to have a statement or at least a judgment made in his or her favour.
The Bill also provides for the cash-limiting of the social fund. I thought that any indivdual in this country had the fundamental right at least to appeal to an indepdent tribunal to ascertain whether the Government were being unfair to him. However, that has now gone out of the window also and yet we have a guillotine.
We discussed those issues chapter and verse in Committee without any hope of getting them through. Even now, when the Bill has been discussed by the House of Lords, we are not allowed the long debate that we believe is necessary. The Bill is being railroaded through on a guillotine on the day before the Budget.
Before the debate started I went to the Library and asked, "How much has the DHSS building across the road coast?" Does anyone have any idea?
§ Mr. Michie
It has cost £41,800,000, from an estimate of £29 million. It has cost £41 million for a luxury building to house the Secretary of State's staff so that they can bring more and more diabolical legislation to rob the poor—[AN HON. MEMBER: "The Secretary of State is to have his own bathroom."] Yes, he needs his own bathroom to have a bath every five minutes because of the crap that we have to put up with—
§ Mr. Michie
I have no doubt that the people who will suffer from the legislation will get to know exactly what this is about. I shall not apologise to them and say, "We fought the good fight in the House," because, frankly, we have not been given the opportunity to do so.
I should like to vote on many of the Lords amendments because I want to be able to name those hon. Members who vote against amendments, which would at least protect our people.
When it comes to the crunch, if Conservative Members believe in democracy, in freedom and in people having democratic rights, they should give us the opportunity to debate those rights and at least win the argument on a fair basis.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
We are witnessing today a drama which I think has been plotted for many weeks. It is a drama that the Opposition have long-planned, because they cannot bear the fact that we are about to see a Budget which will lower borrowing, cut taxes and endorse large increases in public spending, all at the same time. Those pubic spending increases were announced in the usual way in the Autumn Statement.
We are also witnessing the Opposition's blind folly in trying to oppose the detailed regulations and amendments to the social security legislation at a time when staff in DHSS district offices throughout the country need to know the shape of those regulations so that their advance plans can go ahead and people can receive the benefits that they need—the loans and grants that are affected by the system. Let us look —
§ Mr. Nellist
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the regulations that he is so afeared that the district offices of the DHSS will not be able to understand are products of a 1986 Act, and that it is the fact that the Government could not get it right in 1986 that has brought forward these amendments to the 1988 Bill?
§ Mr. Redwood
I am well aware of that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is also well aware that the amendments are changed by the provisions of this latest piece of social security legislation. The district offices are well aware that social security legislation is making its way through the House. They need to know exactly what has been agreed by the House in good time for the April deadline.
§ Mrs. Beckett
The hon. Gentleman said that he was worried about people in those offices not knowing; but is he aware that his case would be stronger if the Government themselves were not amending the legislation as late as Thursday night in the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Redwood
The amendments are necessary to make the system clear and effective. It is important that the offices know the final wishes of the House in good time. I went to my local office to see what was planned because I had heard Opposition Members making such a fuss about alleged attacks on the poor and those who need benefits.
I asked my local district office manager, first, how much he was budgeting under the social fund for grants 881 and interest-free loans for the next financial year. He said that they had been allocated £147,000. I then asked him how much the office anticipated spending in the current financial year. That should be a fairly accurate figure because there is little of the current financial year left. He said that the anticipated spend in 1987–88 was £120,000.
Of course, circumstances have changed through those two years as unemployment has fallen further. In any case, I am blessed to be in an area of low unemployment. Therefore, one of the main categories of need is reducing at exactly the point when the budgeted spend could rise by as much as £27,000 on a budget of £120,000.
§ Mr. Redwood
I find it difficult to understand why Opposition Members claim that they are trying to break the bank and show how mean it is when there are such large increases in the social security budget.
§ Mr. Nellist
In this case the budget for the loans that will be set from April for social security offices is apparently £27,000 higher than the expected spend this year, but that budget is based on the fact that, within the past 12 months, substantial cuts have been made in the areas for which grants and loans are given. The single payments system, for example, has been radically changed this year. The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. The actual needs in his area probably far and away exceed the budget of £147,000 that he has quoted.
§ Mr. Redwood
One can hardly say that the system is ungenerous when there has been such a large cash increase. I am aware of the changes in the nature of the benefit—[Interruption.] The Opposition are behaving absurdly. They do not want to listen to what I say in answer to the interventions that I have taken, but they should. I am well aware that there have been changes in the system of benefit payments. However, I hops that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East is aware that a series of premiums have been introduced to deal with special needs and special categories so that such people will receive more in their basic benefit than they did before.
§ Mrs. Mahon
The hon. Gentleman has spoken about preparing for April. They are preparing well in my constituency. Security has been strengthened at benefit offices against the fear of increased violence towards staff. Reinforced glass has been introduced. DHSS staff say that many people will be sent away empty-handed. That is especially true in my constituency where, in spite of last year's cut, we will lose more than £500,000. Not everyone's constituency will benefit as much as the hon. Gentleman's. The hon. Gentleman should thank the Minister for that because the Minister was politically selective about who got what.
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Lady does not mention that unemployment in her constituency is down to 7 per cent., and falling. Therefore, one of the main categories of need in her constituency has also been reduced. I am not aware of the exact figures in her constituency, but the national figures show that, once again, the totals to be dispersed under the social security budget are to increase.
Those increases are occurring at a time when the main category of need in the past, the unemployed, is reducing 882 rapidly across the country. Opposition Members do not wish to recognise that, because it is another example of the economic success that they detest.
§ Mr. Redwood
I have given way twice to the hon. Gentleman, and I must make some progress because we are talking about the timetable motion and time is short.
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat because I am not giving way again. He has had a fair crack of the whip on this occasion. Indeed, I wish that some of the Whips on the Opposition Benches would give him a fair crack of the whip so that we would have more discipline regarding business in the House.
There is a large amount of circumstantial evidence with regard to the Budget-wrecking strategy adopted by the Opposition. I began my speech by saying that I believed that this drama had been plotted for a long time, and I invite the House to consider the evidence.
First of all, we have had the long-running campaign about money for the Health Service. That demand followed a huge increase in resources in the autumn, another injection of cash around Christmas and a clear statement from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about the need to consider financing the pay awards when we know the magnitude of those pay awards. Many Conservative Members welcomed that statement from my right hon. Friend, and they agree that the right time to consider money for the Health Service in relation to the contingency fund is when we know how much the wages bill will cost the Health Service budget.
Opposition Members pretend to forget the way in which Government business is conducted and say that Budget day should be Health Service day, but everyone knows that, under our constitution, Budget day deals with taxes. The Autumn Statement is to do with spending. The Opposition's deliberate unwillingness to accept those facts is a sign that they cannot stand the thought of a good Budget that produces reductions in taxation.
The second part of the drama has been the Opposition's efforts to promote the debate on welfare benefits following 90 hours in Committee, extensive debate on Second Reading and extensive debate on the 1986 Act — the genesis and main departing point for the existing benefit system. Again, I am forced to believe that the Opposition are trying to ensure that the Budget is, in some way, pre-empted by a debate that has already taken place about legislation that is well advanced in its passage through the House.
What is even more disconcerting about this deliberate plot is that it is augmented by backtracking on what is or is not agreed by the usual channels concerning the business of the House. Judging by the empty Opposition Benches, it is especially inconvenient to many Opposition Members to have this change in business. However, it was at the Opposition's instigation that the business was changed. I am sure that the Government were happy with the business as proposed. We would have been quite happy to deal with Scottish housing. We always hear from Scottish Opposition Members about how important Scotland is, and we were happy to have an early and timely debate on Scottish housing. We would have been happy to stay up until a reasonable hour tonight to debate the important amendments to the social security legislation.
§ Mr. Battle
If the hon. Gentleman's argument is correct, why did the Government change the business and call us back? The Opposition do not control the agenda. Surely the truth of the matter is that the Government wanted to squeeze out our opposition to the measure and ensure that it is not properly discussed in the House.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am sure that the Government changed the business because they believed that the Opposition could not deliver, through the usual channels, the agreement that the Government thought had been struck. It is impossible to conduct sensible democratic debate and give everyone a fair hearing if the usual channels cannot deliver some order to our proceedings. Of course, time will always be limited and it is a precious commodity. To have a successful Opposition as well as a successful Government one needs a disciplined Opposition who can deliver their votes and marshal their resources at the right time to make their contribution to the debate.
As a direct result of the Opposition's inability to discipline their troops, they will have less time to debate the important measures relating to social security than they could have had under the previous arrangements. It was a suspicion that they were not interested in debating those measures and more interested in filibustering and extending business to make the Budget fall that led to this timetable motion.
I am sure that the Opposition will now criticise the fact that I am about the leave the Chamber — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I must see constituents who have come a long way—
§ Mr. Redwood
I shall give way in a minute.
I have a pre-arranged meeting with my constituents about health. That subject is extremely important to my constituents and to me. Rest assured, the Opposition will not have to contain themselves for long because, as soon as I have concluded that meeting, I shall be back to listen to this important debate and support the Government in their motion to produce order out of disorder.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
This afternoon's debate is an example of the elective dictatorship trampling on Back Benchers' rights. That occurs frequently, but it is an outrage when it involves legislation that affects the poorest of our nation.
The legislation that we have been asked to rush through as a result of the timetable motion abolishes single payments for essential items. Those absolute luxury items include such things as, curtains, carpets, ovens and beds. I recently approached the DHSS on behalf of a constituent to ask that a single-parent family with two children under three should be given money for carpets and curtains. My constituent said that, without curtains, she had no privacy and that if her children fell on bare boards they could be injured and that therefore there was a serious risk to health. However, it was pointed out that she had been in the tenancy longer than 28 days and that therefore she did not qualify because of the existing tight rules.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
My hon. Friend mentions single payments and the fact that they are to go. Is it not ironic that the Prime Minister, who is behind all this, receives free curtains, free bedding and free televisions for No. 10 Downing street and in her other residence provided by the 884 taxpayer? However, the Government are prepared to take that payment away from poor people in my borough of Newham.
§ Mr. Cryer
That is why it is such an outrage that the people who are pushing through this timetable motion have no regard for the poor, and are busy, in many instances, not only receiving their parliamentary salary but lining their pockets from parliamentary directorships of one sort or another. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) who has just exhibited such singularly tender mercies for the poorest of our nation has directorships in two companies—Norcross plc and N. M. Rothschild and Sons. It would have been a better measure of his concern if he had told us what income he receives from these directorships so that we may know what experience he has of life and of the difficulties of getting by on a few pounds a week.
There will be others voting in the Lobby tonight for the legislation and for the curtailment of debate to limit the information coming out of this place when we use it as a platform to demonstrate to people just how vicious and mean-minded the Government are — and these other hon. Members are doing very well indeed.
The Lord President of the Council, who moved this timetable motion to speed the legislation through this place, is an underwriting member of Lloyd's, which means that he has disposable capital of at least £100,000 or thereabouts. He needs this amount of disposable income to become a member of one of the tightest, richest clubs in the world. Incidentally, it is a club that has been given special legal privileges and immunity from legal action by this Conservative Government. Yet he has now moved a timetable motion that attacks the poorest people in the land.
Of course it attacks them. The Minister shakes his head. He knows full well—and he can intervene and deny it if he chooses—that that the stress that will be caused in his Department by this legislation has meant that in a number of Department of Health arid Social Security offices the grilles have been strengthened in the public part of the offices to preclude the possibility of violent confrontations when benefits are being discussed and applications are being made and refused, and when angry and penniless people go down to the offices to try to find a solution.
§ The Minister for Social Security and the Disabled (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
The hon. Gentleman played no part in the Second Reading of this legislation, in the Report stage or in the Third Reading. He now comes here on Lords amendments, not one of which was contested in another place, to produce synethetic indignation about this legislation across the board.
§ Mr. Nellist
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify whether, since a number of Tory Members who have contributed to the debate so far played no part in Committee, the Minister should be allowed to make such an allegation against an elected Labour Member who is here to represent his constituency?
§ Mr. Cryer
It is an interesting observation by the Minister. I would have great difficulty in commenting on every bit of legislation going through this place. As a matter of fact, one of the complaints of Mr. Speaker is that I speak too much in this place. The Minister's hon. Friends 885 echo these sentiments. So his comments are set at naught not by me but by the comments and endorsements of his hon. Friends.
In fact, his comment will not deter me in the slightest. What I will try to do is make sure that no item of legislation goes through this place without a contribution from me. If it involves, for example, speaking on money resolutions when it is 10 o'clock and Government Members want to get away, let me assure the Minister that there will be speeches; and when people want to get a little deal organised to finish at 11 or 12, if there is an opportunity I will not let it go by. I will make sure that the Minister realises that I am prepared to give my observations on each aspect of legislation.
My difficulty is that if I put my name in to speak and go to see you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or Mr. Speaker, a whole list of occasions when I have spoken is produced and I am told that it is a rather long list, so it is very unlikely that I will be called.
§ Mr. Cryer
I will give way in a minute. I have not finished with the Minister.
So the Minister's observations about me are rather odd, particularly in view of my request that he intervene, not to speak about my humble part in this place, but to deny my claim that this legislation is so serious, is oppressing the poor so savagely, that DHSS offices have been strengthened in order to protect the civil servants who work in them, and who dole out the terrible decisions that this legislation will produce.
I do not blame the Civil Service, I blame the Ministers and the clique of Tories—and I have not yet finished with them — who are pushing through legislation of which this timetable motion is but an example.
§ Mr. Arnold
If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is going to cast so many wild aspersions about second jobs done by hon. Members, will he perhaps tell us when he will give up his own second job?
§ Mr. Cryer
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned this. If he had troubled to look in the Register of Members' Interests, he would see that I have put down that I am a Member of the European Assembly. I am not terribly proud of that, but it was the best Government job creation scheme that I could find at the time. It says in brackets—I do not want to keep the hon. Member in suspense—that one third of my MP's salary received was donated after tax to the Labour movement. I do not seek to gain advantage out of the extra salary that I receive.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
My hon. Friend has been attacked for speaking too much. Is he aware that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who spoke earlier, and the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) were Trappist monks for five solid weeks in Committee? Is he aware that there were 18 Tory Members on that Committee and that, apart from the Ministers, not one of them opened his mouth in defence of the poor people who are being flattened into the ground by this evil Government?
§ Mr. Cryer
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me this information.
886 The problem is that the Minister wants me to serve on every Committee in the House of Commons, and it is a physical impossibility to do so—although I would be quite willing to go round by rotation and make a speech in every Committee in the House.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I wonder if my hon. Friend would just stick to his own Select Committee on Statutory Instruments and reflect that, over the years, the Department which has got most statutory instruments wrong has been the Department of Health and Social Security with its social security regulations. Will he agree that one of the most worrying things about this Bill is that, having had to change it in the House of Lords only last Thursday, the Government will have introduced further errors which will worry my hon. Friend's Committee in the future?
§ Mr. Cryer
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. When the Leader of the House moved the timetable motion, he said very courteously that he was doing so, in part, to meet the wishes of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, so that we would have more time. The reality is that the Joint Committee has very little power to initiate a debate in this place when an instrument is reported. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), the former Chairman of the Committee, is quite right to say that the DHSS makes a number of errors in statutory instruments, partly because of their nature and complexity.
The complexity arises because the Department is very anxious to ensure that no fiddling goes on. I wish that it would apply the same enthusiasm and ingenuity to the City when it comes to the insider dealing which seems to be under perpetual review. We have had no legislation on that issue subjected to a timetable motion. The usual channels on the Opposition side of the House would be only too happy to encourage such legislation through the House if we were able to pick out some of the fraudsters who operate in the City and who make such generous contributions to Conservative party political funds.
I wish to say something about the question of appeal.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) pointed out that he donates to the Labour party his European salary less tax. He could save the taxpayer even more if he did as I do, and claimed no salary as a Euro MP.
§ Mr. Cryer
The problem with that is that the Labour movement is poor because it does not get money, as does the Tory party, from the international and national capitalist organisations. Therefore, I would rather that the Labour movement benefits from my diminishing activities in the Common Market.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) raised the question of Members' activities. Only a few Conservative Members are here to support the timetable motion. When I look through the Register of Members' Interests, I wonder how any of them actually manage to get here at all, and how they can spare some time from the directorships.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I have spent 120 hours or so discussing the Education Reform Bill. The Minister has said something which I find prositively alarming for democracy. Did the Minister imply that, when a Bill reaches the Floor of the House, 887 only members of the Standing Committee should speak, or be allowed to speak, and that other hon. Members have no right to speak because they were not on the Standing Committee? Is that what the Minister implied, because it seems absolutely disgraceful?
§ Mr. Cryer
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). The fact that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, did not intervene, showed that the Minister was completely out of order in making that suggestion. It shows the brutal and anti-democratic way in which many Conservative Members view the House. That is precisely what they want to do. They want to diminish the rights of hon. Members because they find them extremely inconvenient.
Before turning to the legislation and the timetable motion, I wish to make two important points. I wish to pick out some choice people who will be voting for this timetable motion dealing with a Bill which will cut down the award that keeps the poorest people of our nation barely afloat. That is all the Bill does. It does not give them much hope, it does not give them much of a life.
In my advice surgeries, I, like no doubt many of my hon. Friends, have met people on supplementary benefit who are oppressed by gas and electricity bills and who are facing cut-off. The Government are to increase electricity bills by 15 per cent. People have come to me saying, "Mr. Cryer, I cannot see any hope in life. I have actually thought of doing away with myself because there does not seem to be any point in pressing on." That is perfectly accurate and true. It has happened not on one but several occasions. It happens because the web of debt which sucks people into such terrible situations is relieved only moderately by the DHSS provisions. The legislation will take away even that tiny means of assistance which is provided by existing law and which has already been cut by the Government.
Those who will vote tonight for the timetable motion, who no doubt will walk gleefully through the Lobby to vote for it, include the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox). How on earth can he manage directorships of Westminster (Communications) Ltd., Care Services Group, Rigidized Metals Ltd., Ceema Group and companies, Tele-Stage Associates Ltd., McCarthy and Stone Ltd., Malibun Estates Ltd. and Grantham O'Donnell Estates Ltd.? He also has offices in, or is employed by 3M(UK) Ltd., Shepherd (Construction) Ltd., Alcrafield Ltd. and Sherwood Homes (Southern) Ltd. He is also the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. It is not surprising that he cannot find much time to comment in debate. He is not unique. The list is not repetitious, because they are all different directorships.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) has always claimed that the level of supplementary benefit and employment benefit are a disincentive to work, and no doubt will gleefully vote for the legislation. He is a farmer. He does not say how many acres he has, whether he has a smallholding of 30 or 40 acres or whether he has 500 or 1,000 acres. However, he is also an underwriting member of Lloyd's, like the Leader of the House. So one assumes that he is in a decent way of activity as a farmer, and has several hundred if not several thousand acres. He also has land and property and is the owner-occupier of farms in Norfolk.
One could continue with a rich, lively and varied demonstration of the way in which greed is elevated to a high principle by Conservative Members. They count the 888 revenue from their directorships and their property, the grants from the common agricultural policy if they are farmers, and the grants that they receive from the common agricultural policy for storing food, yet they will vote for legislation that attacks the poorest of the poor and which robs poor people of the right to appeal.
The system of appeal whereby people have the right to argue their case in front of three people will go out of the window. The people who are supposed to be concerned with justice will be robbing the poorest of their right of appeal. Four thousand children in Bradford will be deprived of free school meals. The right to single payments is to go out of the window. In every case, the Government are cutting back so that tomorrow they can give people who are already well off an increase in the amount of money that they will receive through tax concessions, when the nation is crying out for more money to be spent on the National Health Service and on social security 30 that people can be given some hope that they have some collective provision. That is the basis of the timetable motion, because to some degree it represents collective provision. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) who is leaning negligently on the Front Bench below the Gangway, said that the poorest get more. He is wrong. He has not been poor and he does not know what a struggle it is to get an extra pound from the DHSS. He has not seen the forms that have to be filled in and the supplications that have to be made. Conservative Members do not have a clue. They will vote for the timetable motion, but such action will be part of the erosion of their position in the country, which is building up to the time when they will be crushed.
Millions of people see that time coming soon. We have to suffer a burden on our backs for the moment, as the Government won the election because of divided opposition. There is no question but that the plethora of legislation that bears down on the poorest of the poor will make people realise that the Government are a wretched, selfish Government for the greedy.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
Behind the protests of the Opposition there are more fundamental arguments than those that they have put forward. I would not like my hon. Friends to feel that the protests about the contents of the Bill are really the root of the argument. That really has little to do with it. Many Conservative Members appreciate that the Bill contains fundamental changes, and we are interested in debating them. If the Opposition had been able to discipline themselves and get their act together, they would have plenty of time to argue about the Lords' amendments to the Social Security Bill and the Scottish housing Bill. They could not, and that is the simple reason for this debate.
Before I address the fundamental arguments, I shall put into context some of the points that have been made. The Opposition are using their indignation as a smokescreen for the real arguments that must be addressed. They have talked about help for low-income families. Under the Bill an extra £220 million will 13e spent on the new family credit. It will cost more than twice as much as the existing family income supplement and associated benefits. Most important, 470,000 low-income families will benefit, which is more than twice the number that are being helped at present.
889 Some £100 million will be spent on families receiving the new income support, which is not being spent at present. The Opposition have not addressed the overall position because they want those who are receiving these benefits to think that they are badly done to and that the Government do not care.
§ Mr. Hind
I shall give way to the hon. Lady when I have made my point and I shall have no objection to her answering it.
On average there will be a gain in real terms of £1.50 for couples with children and of £2.60 for single parents, even taking into account the average 20 per cent. contribution which low-income families will make to the rates, and, in future, to the community charge. It is no good the Opposition complaining about those points and saying that people will be worse off. They should read the information available to them and see the truth for themselves.
§ Mrs. Beckett
If the hon. Gentleman had had the opportunity to attend any of our social security debates, he would know that those figures have been wholly exploded. Most of them are theoretical and the ones that have any basis have been completely disproved. The Government have admitted that in many cases they are not providing the increases that they have claimed. The figures are invented by the Government and if the hon. Gentleman had been to any previous debates, he would know that.
§ Mr. Hind
I should be surprised if the hon. Lady could admit that tomorrow was Tuesday.
We talk about the social fund. For the past eight months it has been my privilege to be a parliamentary private secretary in the Department of Employment and I have seen the figures for unemployed people falling like a stone. That means that in the past 12 months about 650,000 people have obtained a job.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) must not persist if the hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he will not give way.
§ Mr. Hind
However one looks at this, one must be like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand not to 890 realise that there has been a large decrease in unemployment. My hon. Friends know that in simple terms that means that there will be a large reduction in the number of people eligible to claim under the social fund. It is vital to bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Hind
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman with the greatest of pleasure when I have made my point. I assure him that the abuse which he hurls at me will not do him any credit.
In 1980, about £40 million was spent on individual payments under the old regulations. Upgraded for inflation to today's figures, it is £60 million. Today, the grants under the social fund and clause 10 alone amount to £60 million, not including the loans and so on, and that must be considered. Side by side with that, we have a major reduction in the number of people who are eligible. Is it sensible to put money into a fund for which the demand will fall in the long term?
§ Mr. Nellist
Can we nail this canard? According to the hon. Gentleman there has been a reduction in the unemployment figures because 700,000 people have found jobs. If he had attended any of the Committee sittings and listened to the debates on clause 4 and youth unemployment, he would have heard the Under-Secretary of State claim that there has been a 55,000 fall in the number of 16 to 19-year-olds registered unemployed. He would have heard me produce the fact that over the same period there was a rise of 77,000 in the number of 16 to 17-year-olds on YTS schemes.
If he totalled the community programme, the restart interviews, the job clubs, YTS and the other ways in which the Government are fiddling unemployment, he would realise that it is a blatant lie for the Government to claim that a reduction in unemployment means that more people are in paid employment. The Government are fiddling figures to confuse people and the hon. Gentleman is an accomplice to that.
§ Mr. Hind
I make these points merely to show that there are two sides to the argument and that much of the huff and puff to tell those on low incomes and the unemployed how badly off they are and how much we shall persecute them is wholly unfounded. Hon. Gentlemen are seeking to conceal the important facts.
§ Mr. Favell
Does it not strike my hon. Friend as extraordinary that at one moment the Opposition bemoan the lack of training for young people and the next they condemn the Government for establishing the best training scheme ever?
§ Mr. Hind
I have given way often and other hon. Members wish to speak.
The crux of the matter is simple: on 3 March the Leader of the Opposition accepted the timetable for today, and it was not until almost midnight on Thursday that there was any change in the timetable. The reason for that is also simple—the normal channels that operate in this place and which make life orderly and bearable for most hon. Members broke down, not on the Conservative side but because the Labour Chief Whip, an honourable man, had to go to the Government and tell them that he could not deliver the agreement that had been made a few days before, to which the Leader of the Opposition was a party. That is at the root of this matter.
So the Government, faced with the clear intention of certain out-of-control Labour Back Benchers to destroy Budget day tomorrow, a day that is important to most people in this country—
§ Mrs. Wise
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Social Security Bill could be held to be those most likely to want to take part in this debate—it should have occurred at midnight tonight—will you inform the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) that it is not in order for him to refer to us as being out of control?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
My hon. Friend said that Opposition Back Benchers were out of order. He forgets that they were in league with the Front Bencher who was leading on this matter. When it came to a choice of whether a Left-wing Scottish hon. Member representing an English seat or a more moderate Opposition Front Bench Member representing Scotland was to lose out in the battle, it was obvious whom the Opposition chose.
§ Mr Hind
If we are to have comments made from a sedentary position from Opposition Members such as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) — [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] — who, when the usual channels were mentioned asked, 892what do they matter?" — [Official Report, 11 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 785.],how shall we maintain any form of discipline? I made a note of what the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said about the normal procedures. He said that if a deal were struck at 11 pm he would not let it go by. When he said that he would stand up and speak on money resolutions, the implication was that he would do so in order to disrupt the proceedings of the House. If that happens, we shall never achieve anything.
The logical conclusion is that there will have to be more timetable motions, which I would deprecate. Conservative Members do not want more such motions, but if Opposition Members are not under the control of their Whips and Front Bench, we shall have to have them whether we like it or not. The public must recognise that the situation is out of control—
§ Mr. Hind
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but he fails to realise that it is not only Opposition Members who have been prevented from speaking on the amendments to the Social Security Bill — Conservative Members have also been prevented from making what they regard as important points.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
My hon. Friend has observed that Conservative Members do not like guillotines. May I point out that there is quite a strong argument for having an earlier guillotine so that the whole Bill is discussed in an orderly fashion and we do not have to leave too much to be digested in the Lords?
§ Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)
If I may return to the discussion on the guillotine motion, when I was small and my grandmother thought that I might not have been telling the truth, she used to say:
We have watched the progress of the Social Security Bill through Parliament — on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and Third Reading and through the other place — and seen the mess that the Government have got themselves into, having constantly to amend their legislation and bring it back to us in great haste with the amendments that they tabled in another 893 place and which they are now seeking to guillotine. The Bill is a parliamentary deception, and what has been said about its provisions is a lie.
- "O what a tangled web we weave,
- When first we practise to deceive!"
I remind Ministers of some of the claims that they made about the review that led to this and the previous Bill. Some of the letters were written to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in response to inquiries made by the county of Avon, where I was a county councillor at the time. Some were sent to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), who is a Minister, and some to my predecessor. They outlined the reasons for the review of social security and what the Government were attempting to do—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should shut up.
The first reason for the review, it is claimed, isto ensure the level of help available to claimants is fair in comparison with others in society on low incomes who have to manage without any single payments.The second aim is—to balance the available help more effectively between claimants, while giving special protection to those who are elderly, chronically sick or disabled.—to produce clearer rules which enable staff to process claims more quickly.—to put the single payment scheme on a proper financial and manageable basis.For that we should read, "Cut the budget and make it a loan and not a single payment." It is simple to make it easier for staff to process claims — people are not allowed to qualify.
People on low incomes and the Government's economic strategy have been debated many times in the House. I should like to return to the point about more effectively distributing help to claimants who are elderly, chronically sick or disabled. The Government's haste to draft the Bill and bring it back to the Floor of the House and their substantial cuts in welfare benefit the day before a Budget that will give tax cuts to the rich, are good examples of the obscenity of the principles under which the Government operate.
The Government continue to tell lies by saying that everyone will he better off and that more money will be available. It is like a riddle. We should ask, "When is a welfare state safety net not a welfare state safety net?' The answer is: when the Government take a pair of scissors to the net and make the regulations much simpler so that nobody qualifies because everyone falls through the safety net.
An example of that is a case that has come to light in my constituency. It results directly from the calculations of benefit for one of my constituents in preparation for the changes that will occur on 11 April. I attempted to put down a manuscript amendment about this because it was the first opportunity that we had to examine the sort of case that would arise as a result of the amendments from the other place.
The constituent in question is a married mother. Her husband is in employment and they live in accommodation that is tied to her husband's job. They have a disabled 19-year-old son who lives in a special hospital most of the time and returns home at the weekends. They have three young daughters, aged eight, five and two. They are a hard-working, industrious family and they do their best to make do in tied accommodation on a low budget. The husband works long hours and has one day a week off —Wednesday.
894 The misfortune for the family was that the mother was diagnosed in 1984 as having multiple sclerosis. Under the current social security regulations, the benefit office calculated that, even though the mother did not work, she was entitled to receive supplementary benefit in her own right. That benefit was to pay for the home helps that the family have to employ seven days a week in order to keep the family unit together. That benefit amounted to £48 a week. They received additional payments for heating, diet requirements and laundry for the three daughters.
The social security office in Bristol ruled that all the husband's net take-home pay could be offset against the family expenditure for home helps. As a result of the Bill, that family will lose £50 income per week. That has been taken away from a family in which there is illness, and we could name many other such families. This illness strikes indiscriminately at families who have worked hard and struggled to keep the family unit together. Yet the Government have the audacity to tell us that they are directing benefit to those who need it most. That is a lie, and we cannot say that any more frequently than we do in the House and elsewhere.
The change on 11 April will mean that the only way in which the family can be cared for is if the husband gives up his job. If he does that, the family will lose their home. We will then have a family with an unemployed husband, and the family will be homeless and wholly dependent on the state. That will come about as a result of the Government's deception about targeting benefit on those who need it.
It is fortuitous for us that the debate is taking place the day before the Budget, because we can say that the Government do target money. They target benefit away from those who need it and then play the numbers game with us. Instead of looking at the reality of what is going on in people's lives, the Government quote endless figures. I cannot believe that Conservative Members do not meet in their surgeries people who face the same problems of cuts in benefit as we meet in ours. The Government's idea of targeting is to take money out of the welfare state and to give it through tax cuts tomorrow to those who can afford to do without such tax cuts.
As a result of letters received from former Members of Parliament about these reviews, the county council spent six months looking at the changes that took place before the ones in this Bill to see what would happen. I shall give some examples of the cases that now occur as a result of the Government's targeting to the rich through tax cuts.
The first is that the DHSS refused to pay funeral benefit to a family because it believed that a child in the family was working and could afford to pay for the funeral. There were two young people in that family. One was 18 and unemployed and the other was 19 and on a youth training scheme. They did not get the funeral benefit because of the regulation. Payment for a cot mattress was refused to a young woman because she had received a similar grant three years before. That is what Government targeting is about.
A mother who had been receiving supplementary benefit died. She had one 17-year-old on a youth training scheme, who had to make all the arrangements for the funeral, but Government regulations forbade a funeral grant to that young woman to bury her mother. The list is endless.
The Government should be honest and say that they wish to cash-limit social security payments and to remove 895 the safety net that we know as the welfare state. They do not have the guts to remove it completely because they know how much it is accepted and wanted by the community. They hope to destroy that net and leave just the rim round the edge so that most people do not get the benefit to which they are entitled.
In spite of all the smooth talk and the figures, people will be worse off as a result of the Bill. The guillotine shows the appalling rationale under which the Government operate. They do not want to face debate after debate on the facts and realities of people's lives. They want the Act on the statute book so that benefit will be cut in April.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
Some of my hon. Friends may wish to comment on the points made by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo).
I should like to return to the effect of the guillotine on the business of the House. That subject was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) in his excellent speech. He referred to the consequences for Scottish business. It is worth recalling the fact that the business for today was first announced on Thursday 3 March. Therefore, there was plenty of time for discussions between the usual channels to take place. It is fairly clear that this is yet another example of the Opposition playing parliamentary games, the consequence of that being the loss or deferment of Scottish business.
I do not know whether the widespread rumours of a blazing row between the hon. Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) about today's business are correct. They certainly seem to have been believed by many people. However, having heard the attitude of the Opposition to the original business tabled for today, it is astonishing that we have heard only one comment about that. That comment was made by the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), who said that the Opposition did not want to debate the Housing (Scotland) Bill. I find that—
§ Mr. McAllion
My hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) did not say that we did not want to debate the Housing (Scotland) Bill in the Chamber. He said that we do not want the Bill in Scotland. That is the point of view that has been put to us overwhelmingly by the Scottish people. If the Government are so concerned to debate the Housing (Scotland) Bill, why did four Ministers sit through Second Reading and in Committee and never once open their mouths in defence of the Bill?
§ Mr. Stewart
The answer to that is perfectly straightforward. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) was wholly capable of handling the Bill himself, particularly given the level of argument coming from Opposition Members.
It is astonishing that hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies have not made a considerable fuss about the deferral of Scottish business. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should we?"] Even if they do not want the Bill, I should have thought that they would want an opportunity to debate Scottish housing.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I am curious. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) 896 —the Minister that was and who knows what next — would have an extremely valid point if the Housing (Scotland) Bill, having dropped out of today's programme, was not to be debated at some time in the future. Is that the point he is making?
§ Mr. Stewart
No. My point is that I thought that Scottish Members would be eager and enthusiastic, especially following their party conference, to put their views on Scottish housing.
This is not the first time that this sort of thing has happened. There was the deferral of the introduction of the devolution legislation and the abandonment of a Scottish Question Time. That was not done because of the wish of the Government but because English Labour Members talked right through—
§ Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)
In a former role in the House, my object was to frustrate the Government in expediting their business. Why would the Opposition suddenly want to discuss a housing Bill that they do not want at all? There is no analogy between the Housing (Scotland) Bill and other matters to which the hon. Gentleman is referring.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not think it was a matter of concern that Scottish Question Time was lost as a result of English Labour Members—
§ Mr. Stewart
I have the greatest respect for the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), and I shall give way again.
§ Mr. Hogg
We are not discussing the loss of a Scottish Question Time some time ago. The hon. Gentleman was referring to the Housing (Scotland) Bill and was explaining why we, as an Opposition, would wish to get that Bill on to the statute book and discuss it today. We are a trifle mystified at that, because we are against the Bill and want to hold it up. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who has been a Member for some time, does not seem to have grasped the role of the Opposition. Clearly, he never understood the role of Government.
§ Mr. Stewart
On a personal basis, I am glad that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth has managed to make his speech in the debate on an intervention.
There is no doubt that there have been a number of occasions when Scottish business has not proceeded as the Opposition planned and this is another example of that. I am surprised that Opposition Members do not wish to take the first possible opportunity of making their views on the Housing (Scotland) Bill known to the House.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to confirm that the Housing (Scotland) Bill will come to the House for its remaining stages and Third Reading at an early opportunity. The Bill is revolutionary and radical. It is in the interests of Scottish tenants that they should have more choice about landlords and that there should be more effective co-operation between the public and private sectors in Scottish housing. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give that reassurance to the House.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I shall try to be brief because I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to the debate. In this debate we 897 have seen another attempt by the Government to try to hide under procedure the reality of their legislation, which is an out-and-out attack on those with the lowest incomes in this country. It is an attempt to hide the decision by the Government to make the lives of those people even more miserable than they are already.
The Government are trying to claim that the guillotine motion is necessary for them to get their business through. This motion has nothing to do with the Government getting their business through, but is about them trying to manipulate the reporting of the affairs of the House outside. Clearly, the Government are concerned that the public should not be generally aware of two measures going through the House — this legislation on social security and the charges for the Health Service—at the same time as they are aware of the Budget. They do not want public attention to be drawn to the contrast between the way in which they are imposing cuts in benefits on one group of people and charges on another while they are giving tax handouts in the Budget. That is what all this is about.
When the Government discovered late last week that there was a possibility that, instead of being debated at midnight when there would have been very little media attention, this matter might have gone on being debated through the night and into the early part of Tuesday, they decided to change the business and push all this away to a time when it would receive less public attention. It would not have been possible for the Opposition to destroy Budget day under the proceedings of the House. The Government Whips know that it would have been perfectly possible to close the sitting at any time during the night.
Therefore, this motion is tabled simply because the Government do not want the media to report tomorrow morning that the House of Commons is talking about social security cuts at the same time as the Chancellor is ready to pose with his Box before coming to the House to announce tax cuts. That is what it is all about. Any suggestion about the Opposition trying to destroy Budget day is nonsense. Under the proceedings of the House that would not be possible. However, it would have been possible to draw attention to the contrast between tax cuts and cuts in benefit.
The other advantage that the Government obtain through this procedural device is that we have a procedural debate that lasts for the first three hours rather than a debate that draws attention to the nature of the cuts and to the meanness of the way in which the Government conduct themselves over social security matters. The Government have a pretty appalling record on social security. They have repeatedly brought forward legislation, always claiming that they have been trying to tune and reform they system. But behind all those changes has been a consistent pattern of cuts and contradictions.
The whole thrust of the Government's claims about the 1981 and 1982 social security legislation was that discretionary benefits were not satisfactory: people in one area would receive them, while others in another area would not. It was far better, they said, to give people a legal entitlement. Having put such an entitlement on to the statute book, however, the Government began to discover that some people were using their legal rights to obtain the benefits to which they were entitled, so they duly tore the 898 whole thing up, bringing forward the 1986 legislation, which took away many of the statutory entitlements and returned a system of discretionary payments. But they were made cash-limited, so there is very little discretion for individual benefit offices—and also very little chance for individuals to appeal against a decision.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Does my hon. Friend recall that Labour local authorities, in particular the Greater London council, had a welfare rights team that told people their rights? Because they were so successful, the Government decided to take those entitlements away. Let us contrast that with the way in which the Government go around telling business men, for example, what they can get out of the system. There is a welfare state for business men, and nothing for the poor.
§ Mr. Bennett
We must accept that argument.
This is a disgraceful example of the Government trying to change the rules of the House by stealth. We have always had a tradition in the House that the Opposition object to measures by talking at length and putting down substantial amendments. The Government's counter to that is a guillotine.
On this occasion, there is no evidence that the Opposition filibustered or extended the debate; they applied a timetable so that everything could be effectively debated. The Government have never had to push a closure on the legislation until this point, when the legislation is returning from the House of Lords. What are we discussing but 31 amendments that the Government carried in the House of Lords? Why is a guillotine necessary?
It appears that the Government have now introduced a procedure to guillotine their own extension of the debate. Why was it necessary for 31 amendments to be put down in the House of Lords? Because the Government made mistakes in drafting the legislation. For the first time, they are trying to restrict debate on their part of the Bill, as opposed to the activities of the Opposition. That is a dangerous precedent.
The history of social security legislation during the period in which the Government have been changing it so often is pretty bad. I do not blame the parliamentary draftsmen; I blame partly the instructions from the Government, and partly the complexity of the legislation. We have had legislation followed by amending legislation to correct the mistakes; we have had regulations which have had to be withdrawn because of the mistakes in them, and we have had continual confusion.
What do we have in this legislation? We have new amendments introduced in the House of Lords on Thursday, which are subject to amendment now, and which will be used to make regulations to come into operation in early April. The odds of there being more mistakes in that legislation are extremely high.
I suggest to the Government that, if they want to get their social security legislation right, they should take a good deal more time and trouble to ensure that there is proper debate in the House and proper scrutiny outside. What opportunity have any of the experts outside between Thursday and now to examine the legislation and to see whether it is correct? The main effect of guillotining these procedures is to stop proper debate and deny accuracy.
We have heard a great deal about the legislation and the regulations, but most of my constituents worry about what 899 is custom and practice. The most dangerous thing that the Government have done is to destroy any understanding of social security for most of my constituents, who are now bewildered by the continual changes. The one message that they receive from the Government is: "We are trying to stop you getting your benefits." The Government do that by changing regulations and causing confusion. They ought to take the legislation away and come back with a simplified system, which will also inject more money.
We are a rich country, as the Chancellor will prove tomorrow. Some of that wealth should be going into the provision of a decent social security system for all who are at present disadvantaged.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mrs. Gillian Shephard (Norfolk, South-West)
Whatever the mysteries that surround the ordering of today's business—and I have listened carefully to what has been said without being much enlightened by either side—it should not be forgotten that the debate follows not only 90 hours of discussion in Committee, but a long and exhaustive review of the social security system, based on extensive consultations with all concerned groups.
From that consultation emerged a number of overriding concerns. One was that the system had—as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) pointed out—become overwhelmingly complicated, with 16,000 paragraphs devoted to supplementary benefit alone. It is indeed true that confusion reigns.
One of the main aims of the legislation—to simplify the system to make benefits more comprehensible—
§ Mrs. Shephard
Let me finish my point.
The aim to simplify the benefits system for the recipients must be one of the main aims, and it is an excellent one. For that reason, I shall certainly support the guillotine. However, the context in which the Bill is debated should also not be forgotten.
It seems unwelcome news to Opposition Members that there is a much more positive employment picture than when the review was undertaken. In my constituency, unemployment — even in the most difficult area — has fallen from 11 per cent. to 7 per cent. in the last year, and in some areas the problem is, paradoxically, that there is a surplus of jobs over people. The difficulty has become much more one of getting people into jobs, rather than compensating and helping them with the financial problem of being without work. I accept that my constituency may be exceptionally fortunate, but nevertheless that is the position.
One of the clauses that seem to have come in for some Opposition criticism is clause 4. Surely it must be right for young people who do not wish to stay on at school, and who do not go into employment, to take advantage of an enhanced youth training scheme, lengthened to two years and with extra money pumped in. In the past, two thirds of young people have gone into jobs from the YTS.
If we were raising the school leaving age to 18, there might be overwhelming support from Opposition Members. We are not doing that, but we are extending to all young people up to that age the excellent benefits of a YTS enhanced for two years. There is overwhelming support for the move because what taxpayers do not want is for young people who have the opportunity—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Lady must resume her seat when I am on my feet. I find it very difficult to relate what the hon. Lady is saying to the motion before the House.
§ Mrs. Shephard
I accept your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me simply conclude that taxpayers do not wish to see young people turn down the chance of an enhanced and extended YTS, which will give them a better opportunity in the job market.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
I shall begin by referring to what the Leader of the House described as the modalities of the debate. The motion breaks new ground in the restrictions on parliamentary debate. I have checked with the Clerk of the House, and I am advised that there is no precedent for an attempt to impose a guillotine on Lords amendments in relation to a Bill that was not guillotined when it was before the House. I understand that Government advisers have been unable to find a precedent, which makes me all the more confident that that information is correct. I am sure that those advisers have been up all night every night since Thursday desperately searching for such a precedent.
We have been told that the reason for this extraordinary new precedent is the disruption and unruly behaviour of Opposition Members. Is it not strange that during two and a half hours of debate not a single complaint has been made about the propriety or behaviour of my hon. Friends or the legitimacy of their tactics when this matter was before the House, in Committee, or on Report? I remember the Minister causing two of my hon. Friends to squirm with embarrassment by praising their behaviour in Committee. So much for the allegations of disruptive and unruly behaviour.
In retrospect—perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) will agree—possibly we made it too easy for the Government. Perhaps there is a lesson here that we should not forget. On the next social security Bill we should remember that the last time the Government turned into the home straight they reached for the jackboots.
A number of Conservative Members have made reference to what allegedly passed through the usual channels. It is not customary for these matters to be debated in the House, but as they have been exhaustively referred to by Conservative Members I shall put the record straight.
I am the Opposition spokesman on the Bill. At no time did I enter into any agreement concerning tonight's business and at no time was any proposition made to me to which I was remotely likely to agree. On Thursday evening, at a late hour, I was given a demand by the Government that unless we undertook to dispose quickly after midnight of the Lords amendments—which had only that day proceeded through the House of Lords—they would introduce the guillotine.
There was no agreement; merely that summary and arrogant demand. I believe, and I hope my hon. Friends will stand with me on this matter, that I would have been failing the rights of the House and failing the 700,000 people whose benefit will be cut by the Bill if I had agreed to that summary and arrogant demand.
One may ask what the Treasury Bench is afraid of. There are 33 amendments before us, and all bar one are 901 Government amendments. The guillotine motion has been moved to curtail debate on 32 of the Government's own amendments. There is not a single amendment on the Order Paper that the Government did not want to accept. Yet they say that the amendments must be rushed through with indecent haste in a debate that has been chopped off by the guillotine.
The Government say that they must have the Bill so that it can take its place in the barrage of April cuts in three weeks' time. As an argument to convince the Opposition to come to agreement, it is not particularly persuasive to say that the Government need it in place to play its part in the April cuts.
If the Government need this Bill so desperately, I have a simple piece of advice for them. They should not have clogged it up with three dozen amendments in the House of Lords. The Government drafted the Bill. If they had got it right they would not have needed to amend it in the House of Lords. I am bound to observe that a Government Department that is very swift to swoop on claimants who have filled in their forms incorrectly is remarkably easy-going about errors in Bills presented to Parliament.
Schedule 1 is concerned with putting right errors in the Social Security Act 1986 relating to industrial death benefit. Schedule 3 is entirely concerned with putting right errors in the 1986 Act relating to the social fund. The Bill may be better termed the Social Security Cock-Ups (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill.
We recognise that any Government have a right to make good their own mistakes by fresh legislation, which is just as well because the Department of Health and Social Security makes so many mistakes. But they are not entitled to stop the House debating the correction of those errors.
Over the past two and a half hours, a number of Labour Members have referred, properly and correctly, to the wonderful aptness of tonight's debate. Tomorrow, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will finally reveal how he will dispose of the cash mountain on which he has been sitting for the past six months. Sunday newspapers fell over themselves yesterday trying to list the different ways in which he might give the money away. They generally agreed that he may cut income tax by 2p and that he may cut the top rate of income tax by a full quarter. Alone, that will cost the public purse £3,000 million. Tonight, on the eve of that largesse, we are debating this mean little Bill, which is full of mean little cuts for the people whom the Chancellor has forgotten.
§ Mr. Cook
I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) rising, as I was about to refer to him. The hon. Gentleman had the nerve to say that the Budget will increase public expenditure. Perhaps he will explain to the House how the financial memorandum for the Bill provides for £275 million to be saved in public expenditure at the expense of people whose benefits are cut by the Bill. Who are they?
§ Mr. Redwood
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there will be a substantial increase in the social security budget next year, as set out in the White Paper on public spending? Will he tell the House when a Labour 902 Government were able to increase spending and cut taxes at the same time and reduce borrowing? I do not think that a Labour Government have ever been able to do that.
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct to say that there is an increase in the social security budget for next year. However, that increase is less than the rate of inflation and, as Labour Member after Labour Member has reminded the House, there will be more losers than gainers as a result of the changes.
§ Mr. Cook
It was not my idea to guillotine the debate. However, it has been guillotined and there will be a vote at 6.43 pm. If the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) will undertake to vote against the guillotine, I shall be delighted to give way. On the understanding that he will be voting for the guillotine, he cannot expect the rest of us to give up our time to him.
Three major groups are hit by the Bill. Unemployed teenagers will lose all right to benefit. The Government, who have put more teenagers on the dole than any other Government, are to solve that problem by taking the dole away from them. Men and women over 55 who are out of work will lose their right to unemployment benefit although they have paid for it for all their lives. Some 200,000 mothers of young children will lose their right to welfare milk. The party that claims to be the party of the family is clearly revealing itself to be the party of wealthy families.
The happy contrast between those hit by the Bill and tomorrow's Budget give away is paralleled by the contrast between a Government who this month will cut taxes and next month will cut benefits. The Government can afford to cut taxes, but apparently they cannot afford to maintain the special additions for diet and heating for the pensioner. They cannot afford to find 30p to maintain the real value of child benefit. Further, they cannot maintain free school meals for the 500,000 children who will lose them on 11 April. That is why the Treasury wants to silence debate on the Bill.
Lords amendment No. 28 provides for changes in the treatment of housing benefit. On 1 April any worker in receipt of housing benefit will lose 85p in benefit for every £1 increase in wages. That is effectively an 85 per cent. rate of tax. That is more than the rate of tax to be paid by the wealthiest members of society. It is more than the rate of tax paid by any member of the Cabinet that introduced that legislation.
Why is it right that the poor should face a marginal rate of loss of benefit twice as high as the marginal rate of tax on the wealthiest? After all, the poor do not have an army of accountants to help them to evade it. That is one debate which will be muzzled by the guillotine motion.
I express a particular regret about that muzzle because I had hoped that we might have an opportunity to hear a speech from the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). The hon. Gentleman has been discovered in his constituency confronted by constituents who have been to see him to inquire why they are to lose all housing benefit because they have savings of more than £6,000. The hon. Gentleman has advised them at his surgeries that they should put a deposit on their funeral with the undertaker to get below the £6,000 ceiling.
Rather than make such ghoulish suggestions to his constituents and turn undertakers into bankers, it would 903 be more honest for the hon. Gentleman to take part in the debate and tell us what he now knows of how his constituents will be affected by the measures for which he voted only last November but which he is not now prepared to defend to his constituents.
A number of my hon. Friends and, indeed, a number of Conservative Members referred to the social fund. Lords amendments Nos. 19 to 23 provide for various changes in relation to the social fund. Ministers have described the social fund as a banking facility for the poor. It certainly will look a bit like a bank. In DHSS offices all over Britain they are now installing floor to ceiling security screens to protect the staff against the anger of desperate parents who are turned away. I must ask the hon. Members for Wokingham and for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), why, if the social fund is as popular as they described it to us and if their constituents are so eager to have it, DHSS offices need floor to ceiling security screens to protect the staff.
A key feature of the social fund is that it abolishes the right to single payments. Instead, claimants on the social fund will get only loans, to be repaid by compulsory deductions from their benefit. In that respect, the social fund is very unlike a bank, because no banker has the right to make compulsory deductions from benefit. Those deductions may be up to 15 per cent. of claimants' weekly benefit.
Here we have another stark contrast with tomorrow's proceedings. Tomorrow, we are told repeatedly in the press, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to reduce the top rate of tax by 15 per cent. In other words, the top hand of earners will have a reduction in tax of 15 per cent., whereas from 1 April there will be a new rate of deduction of up to 15 per cent. for families already on the breadline—families who are already living on an income that is necessary for subsistence, who, after they pay those deductions will be left, by definition, with an income below subsistence level, families who have children to feed and clothe and homes to heat. Each of those needs will now have to be balanced against the need to repay this banking facility. That is another debate that the motion will muzzle.
The motion is a confession. It admits that the Government are afraid to debate the hardship and the despair which their cuts will cause in April, that they are incapable of defending the injustice that those cuts will cost and that they want to cover up the glaring contrast between a give-away Budget for the rich and a take-away Bill for the poor. We shall vote against the motion. For once, I shall be happy to be defeated, because, if Conservative Members carry the motion, they will by their votes convict themselves of being afraid to be exposed for the damage that they are doing to the poor.
§ The Minister for Social Security and the Disabled (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
More than one of my hon. Friends has suggested that today's debate owes more to the Budget's proximity than to a sense of indignation by the Opposition about the Social Security Bill. I understand that this legislation arouses strong feelings, but it was possible in Committee to conduct the debate in an orderly way, in a spirit that reflected the concern about the measures to be taken and an understanding of the proper way to conduct the business of the House.
904 We are in our present position not so much because of the strength of feeling about the Bill as partly because of the proximity of the Budget statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and partly because of the relationships between Members of the Labour Front Bench and a certain jockeying among them for position.
The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) talked about muzzling debate. It would have been perfectly open to the Opposition Front Bench, if they had looked carefully at the timetable motion, which provides for six hours for the two debates — the timetable motion and the Lords amendments — to have curtailed discussion and the artificial indignation and rhetoric to which we have been treated for the past two and one half hours and to concentrate on a more detailed examination of the Lords amendments. I am not surprised that the Opposition chose not to take this step.
This is a short Bill. Of course, I understand that it is controversial but, when it left the House of Commons, it had already accounted for about 70 hours of discussion. Added to that, it received a further 21 hours' scrutiny in the other place. As has been said in this debate, that is some 90 hours in all, plus the time which we are spending on it today. I believe that there has been more than ample time to discuss a Bill of this size.
§ Mr. Scott
I shall give way in a moment.
If Opposition Members in the two Houses chose to spend 11 of the hours available seeking to insert new clauses into the Bill rather than to discuss the provisions before the two Houses, that was their choice. I do not argue with that, but the Opposition made the decision.
§ Mr. Scott
I have undertaken to give way to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). If the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) will curb his impatience, no doubt he will have an opportunity to intervene.
The Opposition still managed to spend over 13 hours on clause 1, over 16 hours on clause 4, over four hours each on clauses 5 and 6 and 14 hours on clause 10 and the associated schedule 3. I do not believe that anyone can complain that there has not been an opportunity for proper debate on these measures in the various forum.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
It is a bit much for the Minister to say that we have wasted time since we have been debating the guillotine motion and therefore have not left ourselves with enough time during the next three hours. The guillotine motion provides for six hours' debate. The Minister could have made the guillotine provide for 12 hours' debate, so that we could have debated the legislation until 4 am, and tomorrow's business would still have been saved. Why not extend the guillotine until 4 o'clock tomorrow morning?
§ Mr. Nellist
The Minister commented on how the hours had been spent in Committee. Is it not odd that the horn. Gentleman should complain of the 11 hours spent in trying to introduce a new clause—presumably he was referring to the debates on attendance allowance—when, as he 905 said, on Third Reading, that was the only reason his Department was re-examining the position on payment of attendance allowance to children under two? If we had not made that 11-hour fuss, the hon. Gentleman's Department would not have admitted that it had to look again at the problem.
§ Mr. Scott
I made it clear that I did not complain about the Opposition's choice. I do not believe that the length of time persuaded us to look again at the provision of the two-year-old cut-off. The strength of the argument persuaded us to do so. At times, the sheer repetition of argument did not help the case.
I do not believe that anyone could claim for one moment that the Bill has not received detailed consideration. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in common with others, including the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)—we would expect that from him—chose to spend the time in the timetable debate on a diatribe on the Bill rather than a discussion of the Lords amendments.
Some play was made by the hon. Member for Livingston about the number of Government amendments tabled. That number is not surprising when one considers the wide range of benefits covered in this small Bill and the fact that some of the clauses cover complex matters, as any hon. Member who served on the Committee came to know well. For the most part, the amendments are technical. They do not denote a change of Government policy.
For the sake of a smooth beginning to the reforms, it is important to get the legislation right. I am sure that hon. Members would not disagree with that as a reasonable aim. Of the 32 Government amendments, 10 are related to the same clause on NHS charges and travelling expenses but are concerned with only two main points which, alas, had to be spread throughout the clause, for drafting reasons. That is why there are so many amendments. The amendments to schedule 3 for the social fund have resulted from consultation with independent counsel and they ensure that the legislation is on all fours with our published policy.
Two amendments have been made in response to wishes expressed in the other place. They concern the social fund annual report and the inclusion of employees in the water industry and certain harbour authorities in the provisions of the 1986 Act which allow employees to leave their occupational pension schemes. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome those amendments. Two further amendments follow an undertaking that we gave during the passage of the Employment Bill to allow unemployment benefit to continue to be payable while inquiries were continuing regarding a person's availability for employment.
None of the Government amendments that the House will be asked to consider shortly were contested in the House of Lords. Indeed, Lord Ennals greeted the first amendment in the following terms:My Lords, from these Benches I warmly thank the Minister for this amendment. It is good that he has made a commitment, and it is good that he has stood by that commitment. From our side we warmly welcome this.On the second amendment, Lord Ennals said:My Lords, I welcome the amendment as far as it goes. I welcome any opportunity for additional guidance to social fund officers". — [Official Report, House of Lords, 10 March 1988; Vol. 494, c.862–873.]906 Those amendments, which were uncontroversial and uncontested by the Opposition Front Bench in the House of Lords, suddenly become a matter of great moment when they return to this House. Why do they become a matter of great moment?
§ Mr. Robin Cook
What has turned this into a matter of great moment is the Government's guillotine motion on the amendments. I am perplexed by the Minister's chain of reasoning, which he might now explain to the House. He stresses the technical and non-controversial nature of the amendments. If that is the case, why did he manage to pursuade his colleagues that it is necessary to guillotine a debate on them?
§ Mr. Scott
These matters have been decided through the usual channels and it would be unwise for other Opposition Members to criticise them. I am certain that this business would not have been announced on 3 March and reiterated on 10 March, unless there had been proper and serious consideration and agreement through the usual channels. It is only the behaviour of Opposition Members which has turned that agreement aside and placed us in this situation.
I wish to deal with a number of points raised during the debate about the Bill in general. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras referred to firefighters and, by implication, to policemen and members of the armed forces and others who retire at 55 and will have their occupational pensions offset against their entitlemant to retirement benefit when the full provisions of the Bill come into effect. That was one of the weakest cases put forward in Committee and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has bothered to return to that issue today.
People such as firefighters and policemen are able to earn for themselves a full retirement pension after 30 years' service in professions which many join at the age of 18, 19 or 20. They are still able to complete 30 years' service, obtain a full occupational pension and claim unemployment benefit for 12 months after that period. That was an extraordinarily weak case put forward by Opposition Members. Interruption.] I shall try to deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, but it might be useful if he would cease exchanging pleasantries across the Floor.
The hon. Member said that clause 1 would make it more difficult for people with epilepsy to qualify for attendance allowance. I have said many times in Committee and on Third Reading, and I reiterate it now, that the purpose of clause 1 is to return the law to what we believed it to be before the Appeal Court judgment in the case of Mrs. Moran, and we are supported in that judgment by the independent Attendance Allowance Board. That judgment is right.
The hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question of free school meals. Far from taking away free school meals from children, we would expect 100,000 more children to benefit from the £2.25 in family credit than currently receive free school meals under family income supplement or the local authority discretion combined. That is better for the children and the families.
§ Mr. Dobson
Is the Minister's estimate produced by the same people who produced the wholly false statement in the White Paper that about one third of English education authorities did not use their discretion to give school meals, which is patently false?
§ Mr. McAllion
In the past week I have been approached by two organisations which represent mentally and physically handicapped children, who, at present, have access to free school meals under the discretionary powers of Tayside region. They will be denied access to those meals as a result of the change brought about by the Bill. How does the Minister justify to the parents of those children the fact that in future they will not receive free school meals?
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Is the Minister aware that I have just received an answer from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who says that free breakfasts will be provided for business men under the inner-city initiative, at a cost of £400 per head? I should prefer a free breakfast from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to a free school meal from the Minister.
§ Mr. Scott
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should check his mathematics.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked what the Bill and the Government's record will do for the poorest in our society. As I close the debate, that is a question which I am only too delighted to answer. In 1986–87, benefit expenditure was £46 billion, an increase in real terms of 43 per cent. over the period that the Government have been in office. The real-terms increases in benefits level represent £5.35 billion of that and the increased number of beneficiaries some £8.4 billion of that. Social security spending rose from 25.6 per cent. of public expenditure in 1978–79 to over 30 per cent. in 1987–88. That is a measure of the Government's commitment to helping the poorest in our society.
On pensioners, expenditure has grown in real terms by 30 per cent., representing a £5.5 billion increase in expenditure. On the long-term sick and disabled, expenditure has grown by about 80 per cent. in real terms over the period that the Government have been in office. Nobody can accuse the Government of not having a proper concern for the poorest and those who need help in our society. The real-terms increase in supplementary benefit and housing benefit was about £2.5 billion. That is the Government's record. Whether one considers families, lone parents or others who have needed help, it has been given by the Government and will continue to be given in the future.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) raised the question of 16 and 17-year-olds. He talked about us taking benefits away from those young people.
§ Mr. Scott
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will restrain himself for a moment.
Assuming that they are not part of the lengthy list of exceptions which was discussed in Committee—I believe that the hon. Gentleman recognises the scope of those exceptions—the Government are saying to able-bodied 16 and 17-year-olds leaving education and going into the 908 adult world that they should not have the option of going for idleness when proper, high quality training schemes are available to them. That would not be serving the interests of able-bodied youngsters, if we gave them that option. We have a clear undertaking from my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Employment that those high quality schemes will be available.
Another question was raised during the debate.
§ Mr. Scott
I have given way generously. The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked why we must get on with the legislation and get Royal Assent in the immediate future. The reason is that many sets of regulations are needed to bring in the social security reforms on time in April. The regulations, two of which are subject to affirmative resolution and nine of which are subject to negative resolution, cover occupational pension schemes, applications to the social fund, statutory maternity pay, social security overlapping benefit, social security dependency regulations, claims and payments regulations, attendance allowance regulations, negative resolutions concerning the NHS regulations, and welfare food regulations. Nobody would dispute the importance of having such regulations in place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, when the Bill becomes effective at the beginning of next month.
A great deal has been made about the impact of such social security reforms upon poor people in our community. I have talked of the Government's record, but we should also be aware of the actual cash position of people when such reforms are introduced at the beginning of April. A great deal has been said about hypothetical cases, so-called structural reforms, and comparisons of that sort.
But when we examine the cash position at the point of change, we shall see that the true position is that, out of a total 8.28 million recipients, 88 per cent. either gain or are unaffected, and 1.4 million gain at least £4. Of the 380,000 working couples with children, 76 per cent. gain over all. Of the 540,000 couples not in full-time work with children, 89 per cent. gain over all. Of the 810,000 lone parents, 89 per cent. either gain or are unaffected. Of the 410,000 sick and disabled people, 78,000 gain—of those, more than half gain at least £5 — and 80,000 are unaffected. Of pensioners aged 60 to 79, 63 per cent. gain and 22 per cent. are unaffected. They are all facts. I suspect that the cash position at the point of change will matter when people consider their individual circumstances.
The Bill has received full consideration in both Houses. Opposition Members have had every opportunity to debate it, and plenty of time will now be given to debate the uncontroversial Lords amendments. I commend the timetable motion to the House.
§ Mr. Nellist
Several hon. Members have contrasted tomorrow's Budget — which, if all the rumours are correct, will provide tax cuts for the extremely wealthy in this country, particularly the 21,000 millionaires, 17,000 of whom were created since 1979—with the position faced not only by recipients of the social fund but by those who care for the disabled, and in particular the 500,000 16 and 909 17-year-olds who, from April, will lose all right to supplementary benefit. Many hon. Members have said that the Bill has the support of the country—
§ It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put the Question necessary to dispose of them, pursuant to Standing Order No. 81 (Allocation of time to Bills).
§ The House divided. Ayes 293, Noes 194.912
|Division No. 212]||[6.43 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Alexander, Richard||Day, Stephen|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Devlin, Tim|
|Amess, David||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Amos, Alan||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Arbuthnot, James||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Dover, Den|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Dunn, Bob|
|Ashby, David||Durant, Tony|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Atkinson, David||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Evennett, David|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Baldry, Tony||Fallon, Michael|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Farr, Sir John|
|Batiste, Spencer||Favell, Tony|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bendall, Vivian||Forman, Nigel|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Benyon, W.||Forth, Eric|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Franks, Cecil|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Freeman, Roger|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||French, Douglas|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gardiner, George|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Gill, Christopher|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Bowis, John||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Brazier, Julian||Gorst, John|
|Bright, Graham||Gow, Ian|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Gregory, Conal|
|Browne. John (Winchester)||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Grist, Ian|
|Burns, Simon||Ground, Patrick|
|Burt, Alistair||Grylls, Michael|
|Butcher, John||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Butler, Chris||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Butterfill, John||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hannam, John|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Cash, William||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Harris, David|
|Chope, Christopher||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hayward, Robert|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Colvin, Michael||Heddle, John|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Couchman, James||Hill, James|
|Cran, James||Hind, Kenneth|
|Critchley, Julian||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Holt, Richard||Pawsey, James|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Howard, Michael||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Portillo, Michael|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dtord)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Price, Sir David|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Raffan, Keith|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hunter, Andrew||Redwood, John|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Renton, Tim|
|Irvine, Michael||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Jack, Michael||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Jackson, Robert||Riddick, Graham|
|Janman, Tim||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Key, Robert||Rowe, Andrew|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Knapman, Roger||Ryder, Richard|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Knowles, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Knox, David||Scott, Nicholas|
|Lang, Ian||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Latham, Michael||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Lightbown, David||Sims, Roger|
|Lilley, Peter||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Lord, Michael||Speed, Keith|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Speller, Tony|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Squire, Robin|
|Maclean, David||Steen, Anthony|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stern, Michael|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Stevens, Lewis|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Madel, David||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Stokes, John|
|Mans, Keith||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Maples, John||Sumberg, David|
|Marland, Paul||Summerson, Hugo|
|Marlow, Tony||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Miller, Hal||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mills, Iain||Thurnham, Peter|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Moate, Roger||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Tracey, Richard|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Tredinnick, David|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Trippier, David|
|Morrison, Hon Sir Charles||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Neale, Gerrard||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Nelson, Anthony||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Neubert, Michael||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Walden, George|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Nicholson. David (Taunton)||Waller, Gary|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Walters, Dennis|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Ward, John|
|Page, Richard||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Paice, James||Watts, John|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Wells, Bowen|
|Patnick, Irvine||Whitney, Ray|
|Patten, Chris (Bath)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Wilshire, David|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Wood, Timothy||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Yeo, Tim||Mr. Robert Boscwen and|
|Young, Sir George (Acton)||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
|Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Gordon, Mildred|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Gould, Bryan|
|Allen, Graham||Graham, Thomas|
|Anderson, Donald||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Grocott, Bruce|
|Ashton, Joe||Hardy, Peter|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Barron, Kevin||Haynes, Frank|
|Battle, John||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Beckett, Margaret||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Beith, A. J.||Henderson, Doug|
|Bell, Stuart||Hinchliffe, David|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Holland, Stuart|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Home Robertson, John|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hood, Jimmy|
|Blair, Tony||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Boateng, Paul||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Boyes, Roland||Hoyle, Doug|
|Bradley, Keith||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Buchan, Norman||Illsley, Eric|
|Buckley, George J.||Ingram, Adam|
|Caborn, Richard||Janner, Greville|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||John, Brynmor|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Kennedy, Charles|
|Clay, Bob||Lamond, James|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Leighton, Ron|
|Cohen, Harry||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Lewis, Terry|
|Corbett, Robin||Litherland, Robert|
|Cousins, Jim||Livingstone, Ken|
|Cryer, Bob||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Cummings, John||Loyden, Eddie|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McAllion, John|
|Cunningham, Dr John||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Dalyell, Tam||McCartney, Ian|
|Darling, Alistair||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||McFall, John|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Dewar, Donald||McKelvey, William|
|Dixon, Don||McLeish, Henry|
|Dobson, Frank||McNamara, Kevin|
|Doran, Frank||McTaggart, Bob|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Madden, Max|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Eadie, Alexander||Meacher, Michael|
|Eastham, Ken||Meale, Alan|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Michael, Alun|
|Fatchett, Derek||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Fearn, Ronald||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Fisher, Mark||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Flannery, Martin||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Flynn, Paul||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mullin, Chris|
|Foulkes, George||Murphy, Paul|
|Fraser, John||Nellist, Dave|
|Fyfe, Maria||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Galbraith, Sam||O'Brien, William|
|Galloway, George||O'Neill, Martin|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|George, Bruce||Parry, Robert|
|Patchett, Terry||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Pendry, Tom||Snape, Peter|
|Pike, Peter L.||Soley, Clive|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Radice, Giles||Stott, Roger|
|Randall, Stuart||Straw, Jack|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Reid, Dr John||Turner, Dennis|
|Richardson, Jo||Wall, Pat|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Wallace, James|
|Robertson, George||Walley, Joan|
|Robinson, Geoffrey||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Rogers, Allan||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Rooker, Jeff||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Ruddock, Joan||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Sheerman, Barry||Winnick, David|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Tellers for the Noes|
|Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)||Mrs. Llin Golding and|
|Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)||Mr. Frank Cook.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:—