HC Deb 03 April 1990 vol 170 cc1135-50

Amendments made: No. 83, in page 54, line 3 at end insert—

'1977 c.49. National Health Service Act 1977 In Schedule 15, para-graph 71
1978 c.29 National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978. In Schedule 16, para-graph 44.'.

No. 26, in page 54, line 12, Column 6, at end insert—

'Section 32(4).'.

No. 87, in page 54, line 15 column 3, at beginning insert—

'In section 33(10A), the word "and" immediately preceding paragraph (e).'.— [Mr. Newton.]

Order for Third Reading read.— [Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].

9.14 pm
Mr. Newton

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have the opportunity for only a short debate, so I shall be brief and shall not deny others the opportunity to speak, particularly those who served on what I am told was a good-natured but demanding Standing Committee.

As Bills go, even perhaps as Social Security Bills go, this Bill is not large. The last one on which I served was the Social Security Act 1986—or the reform Act, as I would call it, although I am not sure that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) would accept that description. Nevertheless, the Bill's importance is considerable and has grown during its further consideration in the House last week and this week, with the new clauses that have been added on occupational pensions and lone parents.

The Bill has three strategic objectives, with which I think that both sides of the House agree, even if there are differences of opinion—sometimes substantial—as to how those objectives should be pursued. First, the Bill contributes to the development of what we believe to be a structure of benefits for disabled people which is both more coherent and more sustainable in the long term, while bringing the prospects of early additional help to the terminally ill through the removal of the six-month qualifying period for attendance allowance and improving the position of many thousands of people in receipt of severe disablement allowance. Those legislative changes should be seen alongside the other improvements being made almost at this very moment through the uprating that is taking place this week and next and other changes later this year which will help almost 500,000 long-term sick and disabled people and their carers at an additional cost of some £100 million.

Secondly, the Bill contains several changes designed to strengthen the arrangements for the maintenance of lone parents and their children, In particular, it makes such maintenance more effective as a basis on which the lone parent who wishes to do so can move from benefit into employment. That, too, should be seen alongside what is being done either in the current uprating or later this year to make real improvements in benefits both for lone parents and for many other low-income families with children.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. Friend share with me—I doubt whether he does, but I would like him to do so—the view that it is easier for a lone parent to move into employment if the family allowance is uprated in line with inflation?

Mr. Newton

I noticed that my hon. Friend was in the Chamber earlier. No doubt she would have made that point if there had been more extensive debate on child benefit, and I note her view. I also note that if maintenance payments could be effectively enforced, they would make an even greater contribution than the allowance that my hon. Friend is worried about.

Thirdly, and certainly not least, the Bill makes significant further improvements to the framework of occupational pensions by providing greater protection in various ways, including the introduction of an important measure of inflation-proofing for rights derived from future service and making a similar degree of inflation-proofing the first call on scheme surpluses when such surpluses exist. The context in this respect is the growing success of the Government's policies to promote occupational and personal provision, building upon the foundations of the basic state pension.

I have outlined the main themes of the Bill, although it contains many other useful measures. The Bill is useful and worth while, and it will advance our provision for many who deserve and need our help. I commend it to the House.

9.19 pm
Ms. Short

Although some of the Bill's contents are acceptable to us, we believe that it should not receive its Third Reading because of the nature of the majority of its contents and, more importantly, because of what it fails to contain.

The guillotine that the Government introduced on Report, before there had been any debate on the Bill, was designed to prevent proper debate of many important questions that should be dealt with but which are not contained in the Bill. It is important to put the Bill in its proper context. This is the 12th Social Security Bill that the Government have introduced. The effect of the cumulative changes in social security benefits and in our tax system has been a massive redistribution of resources from those with least to those with most.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Not true.

Ms. Short

It is absolutely true. Although I agree with the hon. Lady about child benefit, even though she called it family allowance, she should recognise that the figures are shocking. The Government should be deeply ashamed of them.

In 11 years the Government have taken £6.6 billion from the bottom half of our population. Of that sum £5.6 billion has gone to the richest 10 per cent. and £4.8 billion has gone to the top 5 per cent. The Bill is part of that process. The Government deliberately set out on that policy and such are its cumulative effects which they have achieved by stealth.

One of the disgraceful things that has made people poorer was the break in the link between the state pension and earnings. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) has referred to that. A fantastic amount of money has already been taken away from pensioners, thus excluding them from the benefits of economic growth. According to Library figures, a pensioner couple has lost £20 a week as a result of deliberate Government policies and a single pensioner has lost £12.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

Does the hon. Lady accept that the Labour Government of 1974-79 did not always keep their pledges and that their performance when running the economy and the pathetic increase in the standard of living of those in employment meant that it was no great achievement to attempt to keep pensions in line with earnings?

Ms. Short

I know that the hon. Gentleman is blustering because he is shocked by the true figures. He has not made a telling point. The cumulative figures are clear and demonstrate a deliberate massive redistribution from those with least to those who do not need more. That is what has happened as a result of 12 Social Security Bills and changes in taxation. The hon. Gentleman has made a broad, ill-informed remark about the performance of the economy in the 1970s at a time when our economy is in deep difficulty. The Government thought that they could get faster economic growth out of greater inequality. A lot of people have been hurt. Their economic experiment has failed and that is why the Government are in such grave difficulties.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I agree with my hon. Friend that pensioners have already suffered as a result of Government legislation. We should also consider their plight as a result of the community charge. In the case of a couple when one person is still working and even when their income is just over the limit at which one begins to pay the community charge, the working partner must pay the community charge of the retired partner. Money will be taken off pensioners once again.

Ms. Short

My hon. Friend is right. The Government have deceived pensioners by their ill-thought-out so-called concession made in the Budget. They said to pensioners with some savings that they would give them lots of money, but they did not tell them the true story. Many, many pensioners with some savings believe that they will receive some relief, but because the Government falsely attribute a higher rate of return on their savings, many of them will be deceived and bitterly disappointed. Their suffering will be in addition to that described by my hon. Friend.

I was trying to list some of the factors in the cumulative, massive redistribution from those in need to those without need which has made our country so unequal and bitterly divided and the Government so unpopular with the electorate.

I mentioned what the Government have done with state pensions. The erosion of the value of child benefit is another serious matter. Due to the way in which the debate was squeezed today, we were unable to challenge the Government to tell us the truth. Everyone who considers these issues believes that the Government are trying to allow child benefit to wither away. The hon. Member for Lancaster is right: that would be disastrous particularly for lone parents or people on low incomes who are on benefits and want to get off them. High child benefit will help people to make that transition; the erosion of child benefit traps them into poverty. It also deprives women of income. Giving the money to mothers ensures that it is spent on children.

There are all sorts of other issues which should have been included in the Bill and which we would like to have discussed. The removal of young people's right to benefit has enlarged the enormous and shameful growth of homelessness across the land. It shames everyone, whatever their political views. Young people, often those who grew up in care and do not have relatives to fall back on when they get into difficulty, are living on our streets and are not entitled to benefit. They are unable to get a step up and get on with life because of what the Government have done to the benefits system.

The truth is that, after 11 years of Thatcherite rule, our country is deeply, bitterly and unhappily divided. There is enormous public unease about the degree to which it is divided. It is interesting that Conservative Members think that the Thatcherite experiment has led to a change of political values in Britain. But the annual survey of British social attitudes shows that cumulatively, over every year, people in Britain have become less and less happy with the Thatcherite project, more and more worried about how deeply divided our country is and more and more willing to pay a little more tax if that is what is required to look after pensioners and the sick. The people of this country do not support the experiment and its consequences.

The experiment has been enormously costly. We lived through a period of the good luck of oil becoming available. It could have given us the chance to restructure our economy and invest in the long term. Instead, it was wasted on an experiment, using materialism, greed, selfishness and inequality as an economic engine, which has failed and hurt many people.

The Bill contains some provisions that we welcome, and in which we take a pride. In Committee the Minister of State was honest and good enough to give the Opposition credit for some of the good factors in the Bill. He said that they were the results of democracy and of previous Social Security Bills when the Opposition had argued a case which was unassailable—if I may use a word that has probably changed its meaning given recent developments in the Conservative party.

The change in attendance allowance for the terminally ill who are unlikely to survive the six-month waiting period is, of course, welcome. We made that clear in Committee. We worry that the allowance does not extend to cover elderly people who might need it because they have had a severe stroke. The Government are so worried about spending money that they have excluded elderly people from the value of such benefits, but we welcome the provision as far as it goes. The Government must have credit for it, but we also take some credit.

We are deeply unhappy with the disability package about which the Government attempt to boast. Conservative Members do not have to take our word for that; they can consult any of the disability organisations and find out that they are deeply and savagely critical of that package. They criticise the fact that they were not properly consulted and the duplicity underlining it.

The pretence is that lots of new money has been found to help disabled people. But more has been clawed back than has been provided. Money has been taken away from disabled people to put forward a package that helps some, but takes away from other disabled people. It is a cosmetic package, not an enlargement of resources to look after people with disabilities and help them to be independent and self-reliant, as many of them wish to be.

We welcome some of the improvements in the Bill that relate to occupational and private pensions. We are glad that there is to be an ombudsman. We decided in Committee that we could not possibly call it an "ombudsperson"—it would be too odd a word, although my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) suggested "ombudsk vinne" which is apparently "person" in the right language, Norwegian.

We also welcome the limited protection against the erosion of the value of pensions with inflation, but we do not understand why the Government did not go as far as we wanted in enlarging the powers of the ombudsman and setting alongside them a tribunal that could deal much more happily with complaints from pensioners, thus avoiding the enormous problem and cost of having to go to the High Court to settle questions of trusteeship. There could have been a much leaner and more efficient system that would have protected pensioners much better.

On protection against inflation, of course we welcome the 5 per cent. protection for early leavers and the Government's late decision to protect everyone where there are surpluses, up to 5 per cent. But we do not understand why the Government cannot go as far as our amendment in Committee and say that, when there are surpluses, there will be full protection against inflation.

As we are all living longer and might be talking about a 20-year retirement span, people get poorer as they get older when there is no protection against inflation. If there is a surplus, it is the most reasonable thing in the world to have protection, not up to 5 per cent. but up to the level of inflation. That is what Opposition Members argued in Committee. It is another unassailable case, and I do not understand why the Government could not accept it.

We also welcome the provisions to encourage energy conservation. They fall oddly in this Bill, but there they are. They are limited to people on low incomes. They are welcome as far as they go, but in our view they do not go far enough. Energy conservation is one of the most important policies available to a country such as ours, and it benefits everyone—the planet, people's heating bills and so on. Such a policy is absolutely beneficial and means that we do not have to rely on nuclear power, with all its pollution and waste that people dread. Nuclear power is being proved more and more to harm the health of those who work in the industry and their children. It is firm Labour party policy to go very much further.

The country is raging with anger at the injustice of the poll tax, but that injustice comes on top of an even bigger redistribution from those with least to those with the most; but it has been done cumulatively and by stealth, so there has never been a moment when the people could show their rage as they are showing it about the poll tax. I refer to cumulative effects of the changes in social security and taxation system.

It is pretty clear to all of us that the Government have had it and that their economic experiment in the glorification of greed, selfishness and inequality is coming to an end. The British people do not like it and they want no more of it. We look forward greatly to the defeat of the Government and to the introduction of our own social security legislation, which will create a much more just settlement in our country. It will protect those who are in need and create pathways out of poverty for people trapped on benefits, instead of making bigger and bigger poverty traps such as the present system provides.

To hon. Members on the Government Benches—sometimes they worry me because they seem to read nothing—I say that it is all set out in our policy review. We will take power, implement the policy review and bring about a more just, more equal and economically more efficient society, and we look forward to doing so.

9.34 pm
Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

It would be a tragedy if the House were to adopt the advice of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and deny the Bill a Third Reading. That would deny the real help that the Bill provides for many thousands of people who are looking forward to that help. I listened with interest to what the hon. Lady said about the redistribution of wealth and also to what she said about greed. I found it impossible to relate what she was saying to the Bill. Far from redistributing wealth from the less well-off to the rich, the Bill does the opposite. Even if we accepted the premise from which she started, which I do not, it would not lead us to the conclusion that the Bill should be rejected.

Despite the recent controversy about the Bill—the debate on the guillotine and on the new clauses—the bulk of the Bill has been non-controversial. The Committee stage was broadly harmonious—

Ms. Short

How do you know?

Sir George Young

The hon. Lady has conceded as much in our debates on the Floor of the House.

The vast majority of measures in the Bill are non-controversial and have been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. They should reach the statute book as soon as possible.

The hon. Lady mentioned the help for the terminally ill; more than 50,000 people will benefit from that. Does she really want to deny them that help by voting down the Bill? There is the extension of the severe disablement allowance, with an additional £10 a week for more than 250,000 people. Does she want to deny them that help? There is the introduction—

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue; that may allow him the opportunity to make his speech, whereas if I give way, it may deny him that opportunity.

As more and more people invest larger sums in personal pensions, it must be right to provide better protection to that investment by extending the ombudsman principle to personal pensions—a system that has been tried and proved in so many other aspects of our society. I also welcome the protection for early leavers. Mobility is important in furthering the development of the economy and we want people to move from one job to another. The current arrangements act as a disincentive to national mobility, which is very much in the country's interests, and I welcome the proposed protection.

I commend the Government for listening as the Bill has passed through its stages. They listened to the argument about rules for self-investment and dropped that part of the Bill at an early stage. Last week, they listened to the argument about income support for those in residential and nursing homes. They listened to the argument about the independent living fund and have found an additional £8 million for that. The Budget changes—which are social security changes—on the capital limits reflected a listening Government who were conscious of what was expected. There have been further changes on the surpluses, which have also been broadly welcomed, and further help for lone parents.

It was a good Bill when it started, and it became better as it went through its stages. I find the reforms sensible—reflecting changes in society—realistic and prudent. I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.

9.37 pm
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on Third Reading. I shall confine my brief remarks to clause 10, which deals with energy efficiency in low-income households. I could make the same points about that as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) made in her philosophical remarks on the deficiencies of the Bill in general. The Bill divides society into three groups: the very rich, who will clearly benefit; the generality of society—the middle 70 per cent.; and the 20 to 30 per cent. welfare-dependent group at the bottom. We are only too familiar with that group, having studied what has gone wrong with American society during the past 10 to 20 years—yet the Government seem intent upon repeating that experiment in Britain.

Let us consider what this Bill does for energy efficiency in the context of the general question of how we handle the entire energy question. The Government intend to use the less well-off for target practice with a scheme that had virtually collapsed when they thought that they had a reduction in the unemployment statistics sufficient to bring forward new regulations and criteria for putting people on to the community insulation project schemes—the ET rule. This was known as the extra tenner rule in the community at large.

It was extremely unattractive to the bulk of the people under 25 who had previously volunteered to go on to the old community programme rules and were involved in community insulation work under community programme rules.

It was not that unemployment declined; it was that the unattractiveness of the ET rule meant that the under-25 group no longer wished to go on to the schemes, which eventually collapsed under the present Government. They are trying to revive them now, and obviously we do not criticise that, but in the 18 months in which they allowed these schemes to collapse, they received innumerable warnings, not only from Opposition Members but also from the organisations involved in the work—those on whom the Government are now depending to revive the work—that things were going very badly indeed, with a drop of 60 per cent. or more in the work of draught-proofing and installing loft insulation in the homes of the less well-off on local authority estates, old terraced property, and so on.

While bringing this Bill forward, the Government are also doing a great deal to damage the possibility of the less well-off to afford heat. While this Bill has been in Committee, we have seen our major public utilities which provide the raw energy used to heat homes increase prices by very large amounts indeed. Gas has gone up by 7.7 per cent. even though there has been no increase in the production cost, and electricity has gone up for the domestic consumer by an average of 9 per cent., but with a loaded increase in the areas in which there are more low-income families.

In my own region, south Wales, which has one of the lowest family incomes in the country, the price to domestic consumers is to rise by 12.9 per cent. in the year that started last week. Furthermore, we have already been promised by the Government that in the coming years prices will rise not by the retail price index minus X, as we were promised at the time of the electricity privatisation legislation, but by RPI plus X. So the minus of privatisation has become a plus. If we have average inflation this year, that will be about 9 per cent., so the increase will be another 11.5 per cent., and that will apply to the following year as well. In south Wales, we know now from the Government's announcement that, in three years, the price of electricity will rise by about 50 per cent., while in the better-off parts of the country, the best calculation that we can make is that it will rise by some 25 per cent.

That is the damage that the Government are doing to the less well-off in society at the same time as they are pretending to do something for them in this Bill. They are creating a three-tier society. We understand now that they intend to enable the rich who apply for shares in the privatised electricity companies to have a rebate of 10 per cent. on their electricity bills. That is outright discrimination in pricing electricity. What good will that do the pensioner?

This Bill is not only completely inadequate from the point of energy conservation but, together with other measures such as the rises in electricity prices and a proposed concession to shareholders, highly divisive. It is completely inadequate from the energy conservation point of view, because it is an example of this Government talking green but acting blue.

9.43 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute briefly to this short debate before the House rises for Easter. Not having had an opportunity of taking much part in the deliberations on the Social Security Bill, I have looked at some of the issues with keen interest, because issues relating to social security and how we should look after the poorest in our society are probably the most challenging of all the matters that come before the House and are of great concern to those of us who profess Christian values.

One cannot always support everything that the Government propose. About three weeks ago in the House, along with right hon. and hon. Friends, I found that I had to vote against the Government on the clause relating to income support in another Bill. I am delighted to report that that matter has largely been put right in this measure. In any event, just because some of us are occasionally unhappy with a detail of social security policy does not mean that secretly we are unhappy with the rest. Far from it, and that is why I was anxious to contribute to the debate.

I went into my village church last Sunday morning with a heavy heart. We had seen on television the disgraceful scenes in the west end of London on Saturday. The weekend press was not kind to the Government or our leader and, it being my turn to read the lesson, I took encouragement —[Interruption.] This is not a party political matter. I took great encouragement from some words from Philippians chapter 2, given in the New English Bible translation as: Look to each other's interest and not merely your own. There is no greater commendation from any authority about how we as politicians should reflect on how we care for the weakest in society.

I shall support the Bill at this stage, as I have throughout its passage, with enthusiasm, for two reasons. The first is that it is packed full of good provisions for which many of us have been asking for some time. I recall taking part in a debate late at night towards the end of the summer when I asked the Minister of State to produce in the autumn a package of measures for the disabled. One might have been forgiven at that time for doubting that he would do that, but I then urged hon. Members to consider his work on behalf of the disabled, and it is a fitting tribute to that work that such measures are included in the Bill.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)


Mr. Greenway

I will not give way. It is a short debate and other hon. Members wish to take part.

I must declare my interest in the pensions industry. In a few letters to the Secretary of State at an early stage of the Bill, I said that I could not support the provision for self-administered pension schemes and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) rightly pointed out, that provision has been dropped. We now have some valuable additions to our pensions legislation.

Much is happening in the whole sphere of social security for which the Government can take credit. I find deeply distasteful much of what is said purely for party advantage about the care and compassion issue. No political party has a monopoly—[Interruption.]—on care for the weakest in society.

The second and more important reason why I support the Bill with enthusiasm is that the Government are providing more money by way of social security than have any previous Government. We are now paying £1 billion a week in social security, at a time when more people are at work in Britain than ever before. I regret that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said that she felt unable to support the Bill. Anyone in doubt about the Government's committment to look after the weakest in society need only consider some of the measures that have been introduced. Anybody doing that will support the Bill with enthusiasm.

9.48 pm
Mr. Battle

I am attempting to ask the title of the Bill that we shall be sending to another place. The measure that we considered in Committee comprised 18 clauses and 6 schedules. This Bill is quite different. Although it has provisions concerned with disability, disablement allowance, reduced earnings allowance, pensions and so on, some of which we welcome, we found on Report that the Bill grew like Topsy, with new matter being introduced. Had we had time properly to discuss the provisions that greatly concerned us, the Chancellor's beneficence might have proved not all that it was claimed to be.

Similarly, there were the changes that were forced on the Goverment as a result of their ill-advised introduction of the social fund. The High Court overruled the Goverment and they had to come back and tack a clause on to the Bill, and the same thing happened with their residential care provisions.

If we had had a full debate and it had not been guillotined, we might have got further. We might have been able to consider whether there is absolute protection against eviction of old people from homes. I am not sure that the Bill goes far enough to cover that or to cover their care and maintenance. Substantial new policies have been tacked on to the Bill. It almost seems to be a new Bill. We have not had a chance properly to debate it on the Floor of the House because of the guillotine.

Earlier this evening, Conservative Members asked why Opposition Members did not want to debate the Bill. Some of us did want to talk about the clauses that dealt with pensioners' incomes. Some of us wanted to point out that, as a percentage of average earnings per year since 1979, pensioners' incomes, particularly those living on the state pension alone, have gone down. We did not have a chance.

The child benefit debate lasted 13 minutes. We could not discuss why the Government have frozen child benefit for the past three years and why they seem likely to do the same again.

A clause was tabled in my name which might have some topical significance. It concerned the families of people locked away in prison. Those families suffer because their benefits are taken away. They have to pay twice. I would have liked time to speak about the actively seeking work clause, which was included in another Bill that we opposed but which was nevertheless enacted.

Although the Minister says that not many cases have been reported, in my constituency, wage rates advertised in job centre windows are going down. Jobs that were on offer at £1.30 or £1.20 an hour last year are now down below £1 an hour. People are forced to accept those wages or be told that they can have no benefit.

All that is taking place against a background of rising unemployment. If the Minister and the Secretary of State care to have another glance at the Government Actuary's report on benefit upratings in the Vote Office, which was published in January, they will find that it makes it plain—as does no document other than the Red Book—that unemployment in the financial year starting this April will rise. Within the Actuary's report there is an estimate of the reduction in contributions to the national insurance fund as a result of the increase in unemployment. Those reductions will mean cuts in other social security benefits, and in pensions during the coming 12 months.

The Chancellor, appearing on "On the Record", was asked how the Government could win, bearing in mind the present rate of inflation. He said that it should be remembered that, when unemployment was high, they won. He was saying that the Government are once again prepared to use the weapon of unemployment to bring down inflation. The unemployed are politically expendable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has often spelled out the facts and figures about how income and wealth have been redistributed from the poor to the rich. They have been taken from the benefits system and redistributed to the richest people, not least by the tax cuts Budget of 1988. The final act in the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich is the poll tax.

The Government are already proposing another social security Bill next year. I am certain that, before then, the Government will introduce an additional transitional relief scheme when they realise how hard the poll tax has hit people—just as they did when the Social Security Act 1988 started to bite into housing benefit. On that occasion, the Minister was back at the Dispatch Box introducing transitional relief to ensure that pensioners, the disabled and those on low incomes would receive protection. The same will happen when poll tax starts to bite.

This is not the Bill we set out with, and I do not believe that it is the Bill we should commit tonight to be considered by another place. I suggest to the Government that, rather than turn the Bill into a holdall for their other policy mistakes, they should rethink it.

9.54 pm
Mr. Scott

In commending the Bill to the House for a Third Reading, I may say that I am glad that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) was willing to accord it at least the status of a curate's egg, believing it to be good in parts. I take a more flattering view of it, and I was surprised that the hon. Lady devoted so much of her speech not to the Bill's contents but to two tangential issues—pension incomes and child benefit.

The arguments on pensioners' incomes have been well trodden across the Floor of the House. Opposition Members tend to concentrate on the value of the state pension, but we believe that what matters is the money that is in the pockets of pensioners. I freely acknowledge that, in part due to the maturing of SERPS but also because of the greater growth of occupational pensions, and because savings are increasingly contributing to pensioners' standard of living—

Ms. Short

Because of high interest rates.

Mr. Scott

Only partly. The factors I mentioned are all contributing to the high standard of living enjoyed by those living in retirement. It is manifest that pensioners are enjoying a higher standard of living now than in the past. We know that some have not shared in that, and we have taken special steps to give them help.

As to child benefit, I repeat my remark during Question Time yesterday that there is no policy of allowing it to wither on the vine. Each year, the Government decide whether it is more sensible to spend small amounts of the resources available to us spread thinly across the board, or to concentrate larger amounts on people who really need the most help. The fact that we have chosen to do the latter for the past three years does not mean—

Mr. Wray

Will the Minister allow me to intervene? Why is he misleading the House? He talks as though the Bill is giving people something, whereas it actually takes something away from them. The Bill is really about gaining money for the Government. The Minister talks about spending £230 million on the disabled, but he does not mention that the provisions of clause 2 will gain £15 million for the Government in the first year and £50 million every year thereafter. In the first 20 years of the 21st century, the Government will gain £l billion annually. Why does not the Minister tell the House that?

Mr. Scott

I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he intended to make a short, specific point.

I was grateful for the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who clearly illustrated the damage that would be done in the unlikely event that the Opposition were able to prevent the Bill from being committed for consideration by another place. I was grateful for his acknowledgement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and I hope myself, have listened to points made during the Bill's progress by those outside the House as well as by right hon. and hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) was critical of the new insulation grants scheme. The Government have a good record on energy conservation, but we aim at achieving more, and the fresh approach taken by the Bill will help. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) expressed the view, which I reinforce, that economic success should be the engine for producing a more compassionate society able to give more to help the needy. I am glad that, with my hon. Friend's acknowledged expertise in occupational pensions, he felt able to welcome the Bill's provisions.

I contrast our measured and deliberate strategy with the Opposition's policies. I am minded to wonder whether the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) or the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has been following carefully the proceedings on the Bill, either in Committee or on the Floor of the House, because consistently the Opposition have moved amendments which would commit them to more and more public expenditure if and when they ever return to office. We have added up the commitments which would result from their amendments, and they come out at about £1.5 billion. Any future Labour Government would rapidly find themselves on the same path as the Labour Government in which Lord Barnett was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who spent their first two years in office spending money they did not have.

I am particularly proud that we have managed to put together a disability package—

It being Ten o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order [28 March], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

The House divided: Ayes 293, Noes 205.

Division No. 157] [10.00 pm
Adley, Robert Alexander, Richard
Aitken, Jonathan Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Allason, Rupert Fookes, Dame Janet
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Forman, Nigel
Amess, David Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Amos, Alan Forth, Eric
Arbuthnot, James Fox, Sir Marcus
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Freeman, Roger
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) French, Douglas
Ashby, David Fry, Peter
Aspinwall, Jack Gale, Roger
Atkinson, David Gardiner, George
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gill, Christopher
Baldry, Tony Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Batiste, Spencer Goodlad, Alastair
Bellingham, Henry Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bendall, Vivian Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Benyon, W. Gow, Ian
Bevan, David Gilroy Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Body, Sir Richard Gregory, Conal
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Boswell, Tim Grist, Ian
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Ground, Patrick
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Grylls, Michael
Bowis, John Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hague, William
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Brazier, Julian Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bright, Graham Hampson, Dr Keith
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hanley, Jeremy
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hannam, John
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hargreaves, A. (Bham H'll Gr')
Buck, Sir Antony Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Budgen, Nicholas Harris, David
Burns, Simon Haselhurst, Alan
Burt, Alistair Hawkins, Christopher
Butcher, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Butler, Chris Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Butterfill, John Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hill, James
Carrington, Matthew Hind, Kenneth
Carttiss, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cash, William Holt, Richard
Chapman, Sydney Hordern, Sir Peter
Chope, Christopher Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Colvin, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Conway, Derek Irvine, Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Irving, Sir Charles
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jack, Michael
Cope, Rt Hon John Janman, Tim
Cormack, Patrick Jessel, Toby
Couchman, James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cran, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Critchley, Julian Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, David Kellet-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Key, Robert
Davis, David (Booth ferry) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Day, Stephen King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Devlin, Tim Kirkhope, Timothy
Dickens, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dover, Den Lang, Ian
Emery, Sir Peter Latham, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lawrence, Ivan
Evennett, David Lee, John (Pendle)
Fallon, Michael Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Favell, Tony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lightbown, David
Fishburn, John Dudley Lilley, Peter
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Shaw, David (Dover)
McCrindle, Robert Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Shersby, Michael
Maclean, David Sims, Roger
McLoughlin, Patrick Skeet, Sir Trevor
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Soames, Hon Nicholas
Madel, David Speller, Tony
Malins, Humfrey Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mans, Keith Squire, Robin
Marland, Paul Stanbrook, Ivor
Marlow, Tony Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Steen, Anthony
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stern, Michael
Maude, Hon Francis Stevens, Lewis
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mellor, David Stokes, Sir John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Miller, Sir Hal Sumberg, David
Mills, Iain Summerson, Hugo
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mitchell, Sir David Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Moore, Rt Hon John Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Temple-Morris, Peter
Morrison, Sir Charles Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Moss, Malcolm Thornton, Malcolm
Moynihan, Hon Colin Thurnham, Peter
Neale, Gerrard Townend, John (Bridlington)
Neubert, Michael Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Tracey, Richard
Nicholls, Patrick Tredinnick, David
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Trippier, David
Norris, Steve Trotter, Neville
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Twinn, Dr Ian
Oppenheim, Phillip Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Paice, James Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Patnick, Irvine Waller, Gary
Patten. Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Ward, John
Patten, Rt Hon John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Pawsey, James Warren, Kenneth
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Watts, John
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Wells, Bowen
Porter, David (Waveney) Wheeler, Sir John
Portillo, Michael Whitney, Ray
Price, Sir David Widdecombe, Ann
Raffan, Keith Wiggin, Jerry
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wilshire, David
Redwood, John Winterton, Mrs Ann
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Winterton, Nicholas
Rhodes James, Robert Wolfson, Mark
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wood, Timothy
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Yeo, Tim
Roe, Mrs Marion Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rost, Peter
Rowe, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Mr. Tony Durant and
Ryder, Richard Mr. John M. Taylor.
Sackville, Hon Tom
Abbott, Ms Diane Beggs, Roy
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Beith, A. J.
Allen, Graham Bell, Stuart
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Armstrong, Hilary Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Ashton, Joe Bermingham, Gerald
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Bidwell, Sydney
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Blair, Tony
Barron, Kevin Blunkett, David
Battle, John Boateng, Paul
Beckett, Margaret Boyes, Roland
Bradley, Keith Fisher, Mark
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flannery, Martin
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Flynn, Paul
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Foster, derek
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Foulkes, George
Buchan, Norman Fraser, John
Buckley, George J. Fyfe, Maria
Callaghan, Jim Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Canavan, Dennis Golding, Mrs Llin
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Gordon, Mildred
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Gould, Bryan
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clay, Bob Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clelland, David Grocott, Bruce
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hardy, Peter
Cohen, Harry Harman, Ms Harriet
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Corbett, Robin Henderson, Doug
Corbyn, Jeremy Hinchliffe, David
Cousins, Jim Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Crowther, Stan Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cryer, Bob Home Robertson, John
Cummings, John Hood, Jimmy
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Dalyell, Tam Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Darling, Alistair Howells, Geraint
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Hoyle, Doug
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Dixon, Don Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Dobson, Frank Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Doran, Frank Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Duffy, A. E. P. Ingram, Adam
Dunnachie, Jimmy Johnston, Sir Russell
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Eadie, Alexander Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Eastham, Ken Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Evans, John (St Helens N) Kennedy, Charles
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Kilfedder, James
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Kirkwood, Archy
Fatchett, Derek Lambie, David
Fearn, Ronald Lamond, James
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Leighton, Ron
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Lewis, Terry
Litherland, Robert Richardson, Jo
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Rooker, Jeff
Loyden, Eddie Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAllion, John Ross, William (Londonderry E)
McAvoy, Thomas Rowlands, Ted
McCartney, Ian Ruddock, Joan
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Sedgemore, Brian
McKelvey, William Sheerman, Barry
McLeish, Henry Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McNamara, Kevin Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Madden, Max Short, Clare
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Maxton, John Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Meacher, Michael Snape, Peter
Meale, Alan Soley, Clive
Michael, Alun Spearing, Nigel
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Steingberg, Gerry
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Stott, Roger
Moonie, Dr Lewis Strang, Gavin
Morgan, Rhodri Straw, Jack
Morley, Elliot Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mowlam, Marjorie Turner, Dennis
Mullin, Chris Vaz, Keith
Murphy, Paul Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Nellist, Dave Walley, Joan
O'Brien, William Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
O'Neill, Martin Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Patchett, Terry Wigley, Dafydd
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Pike, Peter L. Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wilson, Brian
Prescott, John Winnick, David
Primarolo, Dawn Wise, Mrs Audrey
Quin, Ms Joyce Wray, Jimmy
Radice, Giles Young, David (Bolton SE)
Randall, Stuart
Redmond, Martin Tellers for the Noes:
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Mr, Frank Haynes and
Reid, Dr John Mr. Robert N. Wareing

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.