HC Deb 07 February 1990 vol 166 cc941-83 7.14 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

I beg to move, That the draft Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Regular Employment) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

It will be for the convenience of the House to debate this motion together with the following motions: That the draft Social Security (Recoupment) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 25th January, be approved. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Income Support (Transitional) Amendment No. 2 Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 2340), dated 12th December 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th December, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Fund Cold Weather Payments (General) Amendment Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 2388), dated 19th December 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th December, be annulled. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Industrial Injuries and Diseases) Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Regulations 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 73), dated 22nd January 1990, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be annulled.

Mr. Scott

The House has before it two affirmative instruments—the draft Social Security (Recoupment) Regulations 1990 and the draft Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Regular Employment) Regulations 1990. There are also three negative instruments: the Social Security (Industrial Injuries and Diseases) Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Regulations 1990, the Social Fund Cold Weather Payments (General) Amendment Regulations 1989 and the Income Support (Transitional) Amendment No. 2 Regulations 1989.

I shall deal first with the recoupment regulations. These stem from section 22 and schedule 4 of the Social Security Act 1989. That sets out the scheme by which the compensation paid for personal injury or disease will be reduced by an amount equivalent to benefit paid in respect of the same injury or disease. It will apply to compensation payments made from 3 September this year for injuries or diseases which occur on or after 1 January this year. The recovery scheme will replace the present offsetting rules which have grown up over the past 40 years and which I think were regarded by most commentators as ripe for reform.

Broadly speaking, at present either one half or the whole of benefits paid over five years, or longer in some cases, is deducted from the compensation payment and used to reduce the compensator's liability to compensate the injured person. Therefore, in effect state benefits have been subsidising compensation liability.

The new legislation is based on two fundamental principles—that compensation should not be subsidised in this way but that compensators should meet their full liability and, secondly, that the injured person should not receive more from two sources than he could have received from one. The scheme provides that the compensation payment will be reduced by payment of any of the benefits listed in regulation 2 of the draft regulations which have been paid for the same injury or disease. The deduction will be in respect only of what has been paid up to the date when the compensation claim is finally settled or five years if that is earlier.

Some 80 per cent. of claims are settled within two and a half years and we expect that the majority of injured people will see no difference whatever or may get more than under the existing rules. The difference will be that the amount formerly retained by the compensator, usually an insurance company, will in future be repaid to the Department. I emphasise that we are not taking away benefit entitlement any more than the current offsetting provisions do. It is the compensation payment that is reduced in either case.

The regulations are affirmative because of the list of benefits and the lower limit of compensation above which recovery will apply. Some hon. Members may remember our discussions last year in Committee, when I set out what the relevant benefits would be. They are listed in regulation 2. They are broadly the same range of benefits to which offsetting currently applies, and are those which the victim of an injury or disease may claim in respect of incapacity, disability or inability to work.

I shall now deal with the small payment limit in regulation 3. The level of £2,500 was announced on 21 December in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd). The limit results from a recommendation to us by Touche Ross that in 1987 about 36 per cent. of settlements were at £1,500 or below, and represented about £2 million-worth of benefits. We accepted then that it would make sense to exclude small payments to avoid the paperwork with which insurers and ourselves would have to deal for a relatively modest amount of benefit revenue.

We provided that these small payments would continue to be subject to the existing system, which is 50 per cent. offsetting over five years. That serves a dual purpose. It ensures that injured people are treated in roughly the same way as they are now with some reduction in compensation, and provides some relief to insurance companies in the additional costs that they incur as a result of the new scheme in general. The £2,500 figure is a 60 per cent. increase on the original £1,500 and we estimate that it will obviate the need to deal with about 37 per cent. of all settlements. At the same time, insurers will retain about £2 million to offset their costs.

The other regulations are largely administrative details which have been worked out by officials in consultation with the private sector, whose co-operation we greatly appreciated. We have tried to place the minimum burden on them, to take their advice very carefully, and to take account of the procedures that are used already in the insurance industry.

I turn now to the draft Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Regular Employment) Regulations 1990. The House will recall that last October the Government removed the pensioners' earnings rule. I think that that step was widely welcomed. As a result of that decision, these regulations, which I commend to the House as wholly beneficial, help to clarify the likely entitlement to reduced earnings allowance of people who either are approaching or are over pensionable age. Reduced earnings allowance is payable when earnings are lost as a result of an industrial accident or disease, and since April 1989, when a person reaches pensionable age and retires from regular employment, reduced earnings allowance is replaced by retirement allowance. That is payable at 25 per cent. of the rate of the reduced earnings allowance paid at the date of retirement.

Since October 1989, when the abolition of the pensioners' earnings rule took place, those who continue to work past normal pensionable age, and indeed those who previously retired and then decided to return to regular employment, have been able to retain or regain REA. However, regulations are needed to define "regular employment" for the purposes of these entitlements. I believe that the regulations themselves prescribe quite generously the condition of being in regular employment.

Basically, when pension age is imminent, or when someone has retired and decides to return to regular employment and wishes to claim reduced earnings allowance, the adjudication officer will have to be satisfied that the person works, on average, 10 hours a week over a five-week period in order to qualify. Anybody getting reduced earnings allowance while incapable of work, or while unemployed as a result of industrial injury, will be treated as being in regular employment. These regulations are wholly beneficial, and I commend them to the House.

I want to turn now to the instruments that are subject to negative resolution. Regulation 13 of the Social Security (Industrial Injuries and Diseases) Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Regulations 1990 has been around for some time. I see at least one Opposition Member poised on the edge of his seat as I come to this matter. Originally the regulations were to have been laid at the end of October, but, following representations from some Opposition Members, I withdrew them temporarily to give time for further consideration and, in practice, to provide time for the possible revocation of the regulations to be publicised.

A very large number of applications under this regulation have been received by the Department in the intervening period. I hope that, whatever complaints hon. Members may have about the ultimate revocation, they will recognise that I acted in a way that was helpful, both in practice and in theory.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I am obliged to the Minister for showing his usual courtesy in giving way.

May I ask him to confirm that any letter concerning a backdated claim for disablement benefit, no matter how rudimentary, will be accepted by officers of the Department of Social Services up to closure of the Department's offices on Monday next? Can he confirm that people living in areas remote from DSS offices will also have their letters of application for such benefits considered if those letters are posted before the evening of next Monday?

Mr. Scott

I can agree with the hon. Gentleman's first proposition. I shall ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who will reply to the debate, to clarify whether the latter proposition can be acceded to. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt accept that in this area, I have tried to be as helpful as possible. Perhaps I should clear up one possible misapprehension. It is not true that from the relevant date there will be no further applications under regulation 13. I think that the hon. Gentleman understands that, but it has been suggested that, somehow, the whole operation is being revoked.

The position is simply that any applications received after that date will be treated under the new rules that were introduced in 1986, rather than under the previous rules. Broadly, those cases where it is judged that less than 14 per cent. disability arises from the injury or disease will not be allowed, whereas those in which it is judged that the disability is over 14 per cent. will be allowed. I think that that reflects the intention that help should be concentrated on those who need it.

As I have indicated, regulation 13 was introduced on 1 October 1986 as a transitional measure to help people who suffered an industrial accident or the onset of a prescribed industrial disease before 1 October, but did not claim disablement benefit until after that date. The intention was quite clear: that those people incapable, by physical or mental disability, to make their claims before 1 October 1986 should be safeguarded. But a tribunal of commissioners widened the scope of the intention by asserting that "incapable" could encompass justifiable ignorance that a claim to disablement benefit could be made. But since that commissioners' decision became known—and I suspended the earlier amending regulation at the end of October—a very substantial number of claims have been made.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Does the Minister recognise that, in Merseyside alone, about 5,000 applications were made during the period of the relaxation? Does he agree that 14 per cent., which is the cut-off point, represents a very high proportion of disability, not only in this field but generally? Will he take that into account when he is considering the whole question of the cut-off point for industrial benefit?

Mr. Scott

I cannot give an undertaking to reconsider the 14 per cent. cut-off point. This was a sensible rationalisation of the system introduced in 1986, and, four years later, it would take an awful lot to persuade me to reconsider it. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make any representations we shall take account of them, but I do not think that I could consider going in the opposite direction. Of course, the decision was made before I became a Minister in this Department, but I have considered it carefully in the context of my discussions with hon. Members who came to see me, and I certainly do not think that there is a case for resiling from it. It is now about three years since the transitional regulation came into force, and it is about time we revoked it.

I want to turn now to the Social Fund Cold Weather Payments (General) Amendment Regulations 1989. The main purpose of the regulations, which I hope will be welcomed, is to enable elderly people who are receiving income support to qualify for cold weather payments whilst retaining up to £1,000 of their savings. The capital limit is increased from £500, with effect from 1 January 1990. This is the increase in the amount of capital to be disregarded that was announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 25 October. It will apply to help from the rest of the social fund for the elderly, except crisis loans, from April this year.

These regulations apply to the cold weather payments and are operable from 1 January. This set of regulations will enable more elderly people to obtain help with the extra cost of heating their homes at times of very cold weather. In addition, the regulations put it beyond doubt that a partner's capital is to be treated as the claimant's, as is the practice throughout the social fund, as well as in respect of income support. There are minor amendments to the description of areas linked to certain weather stations necessitated by the closure of Oakhampton station, and to rectify defects that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments identified in the original set of regulations.

I am slightly surprised that Opposition Members should be seeking to have the Income Support (Transitional) Amendment No. 2 Regulations 1989 annulled. These regulations are wholly beneficial. It may be that hon. Members, simply want the opportunity to have a canter round the course, rather than that they seriously want the regulations to be annulled.

Before outlining the impovement, and the reason for it, I should like to remind the House of the transitional protection arrangements. I think that all hon. Members are well aware of the fact that we reformed all the income-related benefits—income support, family credit, and housing benefit—in April 1988. Also, of course, community charge rebates have been introduced since then. Our aim, in reforming the system, is to provide so far as possible, a sound common basis for all the benefits affected.

To do this, we had to get rid of the complexities of the old supplementary benefit schemes, such as additional requirements, which had grown up piecemeal since the end of the second world war, and the introduction of national assistance, as it was called then, in 1948. That was no easy task. We achieved our aim through a modern system of personal allowances and premiums, which has targeted help more effectively on those in greatest need. Inevitably, with such a major change in approach, some people fared better than others. Therefore, we introduced transitional protection to ensure that such claimants did not suffer a drop in the cash that they had coming into their households.

Our declared intention was to provide a temporary cushion at the point of change, which deflates as claimants' new entitlement catches up with the old one, or their circumstances change. All this was spelt out in the White Paper on the reform of social security as long ago as 1985. Nevertheless, we have made some special exceptions to the general rule for the most vulnerable. For example, we recognised the exceptional needs of severely disabled people in two ways. First, we provided special transitional protection for those who had to pay high charges for domestic assistance. This special protection has been, and is being, increased in line with inflation each year. Secondly, we ensured that increases in benefit arising from spells in certain types of respite care do not reduce protection either.

The amendment regulations before the House further demonstrates our willingness to respond to difficult situations. By these regulations, we shall be helping families with children in the care of the local authority. Hon. Members will be aware that such children very often return home for weekend leave or their holidays, and we should all want to encourage this continued link with family life.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Will my right hon. Friend spell out—if he cannot do so now, perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will do it later—the significance of the eight week period in the amendment regulations and what would happen to a family if a child returned from care and then remained at home and would no longer qualify for this relief?

Mr. Scott

The object of these amendments is not to affect what would happen if a child returned to the family home for a long period and then had to be taken back into care. It is to take account of a child going home for a weekend or being taken away for a holiday, which is still the proper subject of the transitional protection arrangements. I want to ensure that it is possible for children to go back to their own homes or to go on holiday for short periods, but not to undermine the fundamental principles. I accept that at the moment such families could lose transitional protection, which is unfair and could discourage families from having children on home leave. In these regulations, we have taken steps, which I hope that the House will applaud, to remove that disincentive.

7.33 pm
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

We are discussing a batch of social security regulations that are part of the Government's ever continuing programme to redistribute income from those with least to those with more. I have quoted the figures to the House before, but I intend to continue to do so until every hon. Member and, I hope, many more people outside understand what the Government have been doing. I hope also to correct the false impression given by the Minister for Social Security in his winding-up speech in the previous debate.

John Hills has written a book called "Changing Tax: How the Tax System Works and How to Change it" in which he looks at the system over the past 10 years. If we take the old tax and benefit system and see where it would be if everything had been uprated in line with economic growth and compare it with what we have now, we find that those in the bottom 60 per cent. of the income distribution have lost, while those in the top 30 per cent., especially in the top 10 per cent., have gained. The losses to those in the bottom 50 per cent. average out at nearly £8.50 per family. Anyone in that category who feels hard up should be made aware that it is because the Government have taken £8.50 from him.

On the other hand, the top 10 per cent. have gained nearly £40 per family. Overall, those in the bottom half of the population have lost £6.6 billion, of which £5.6 billion has gone to those in the top 10 per cent. Indeed, £4.8 billion has gone to those in the top 5 per cent. That is the reality, and it is important to keep pointing out that reality so that we do not have speeches from those on the Government Benches who pretend to care, who pretend to be concerned about the groups in our society who find it difficult to make ends meet, and who pretend that social conditions are not much more unequal than they have been for a long time.

The Minister admitted as much a moment ago. He said that he thought that greater inequality meant greater economic growth. It is funny that the Government are boasting about economic growth when the economy is in such serious difficulties, with high inflation and a dreadful balance of payments, and when we are heading into a recession, as everybody understands. What the Minister was saying was that homeless young people on the streets and pensioners who have managed for years but now find it difficult, produce economic growth. That is morally unacceptable and economically untrue.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady's line of argument. Is not the greatest scourge to all social security benefits the robber baron—inflation? Will she comment about the effects of inflation during the last Labour Government on the value of a whole range of benefits?

Ms. Short

It is interesting that Tory Members want to draw attention to inflation. The incompetence of the previous Chancellor—now happily gone and being paid far too much elsewhere—led to a big growth in inflation. Compared with the average in Europe, ours is a poor performance. We have to compare the performance of the last Labour Government with the OECD average for inflation, when inflation was high across the world because of the effects of American spending in the Vietnam war.

Inflation is a serious problem, which erodes the value of benefits if they are not updated. It is serious because the Government have used it to erode the value of the income of many people. It is an example of the Government's failure in economic policy and the failure of their policy of using inequality to create economic growth. Instead of producing economic growth, it has produced more and more inequality.

This weekend I was approached in my advice bureau by two 17-year-old girls, both of whom were working and both of whom were homeless. I have not had that experience before, but I am having difficulty in helping them because the Government's benefit changes have resulted in the closure of many hostels that used to provide for such people. I was also approached by two young mothers—competent and able women—who cannot manage to buy enough food for their children and heat their hard-to-heat houses.

I was approached by a number of pensioners who told membercontribution—I have had this experience time and again—"I can't understand it, Clare. I've managed for years and now I can't manage. Surely there is something wrong with my benefits as I don't seem to be able to pay all my bills and find the money I need." That is the result of the Government deliberately cutting the value of the state pension and making poorer those who are dependent on that state pension.

We are continuing that process tonight in this the 15th richest country. It is unforgivable and uncivilised that so many people are having such a struggle every week to live decently. The regulations are more bad news for those who are sick or cold or have been injured at work. They are part of the continuing erosion of civilised standards.

I shall deal with the instruments in the order that they are set out on the Order Paper. The first needs little debate and is not contentious. As I understand it, the Government are correcting the law to reflect current practice, as there is a loophole in the law, to allow somebody between the ages of 60 and 65 in regular employment to retain reduced earnings allowance. We support that, but we should note that the Government have recently announced that they are to abolish reduced earnings allowance for all new claimants, so although there is a tiny bit of generosity here, they are planning a big dollop of cuts in incomes a little later.

The draft Social Security (Recoupment) Regulations 1990 are designed to implement the provisions of the Social Security Act 1989 to take back from anyone who has received compensation for an accident or injury at work up to 100 per cent. of that compensation. Since 1948, the Government have had power to take back up to 50 per cent. of such compensation.

Mr. Scott

That is not true. They can take back 50 per cent. of some benefits but up to 100 per cent. of others. A patchwork arrangement has been built up over the years. We are seeking to have a common rule.

Ms. Short

I think the Minister misguides the House when he suggests that the Government are not increasing the proportion of compensation that they can take back. What they propose is a contentious move, and those who served in Committee on the 1989 Act recall that the Government were honest enough to make it clear that everyone they had consulted about the change was opposed to it.

The consequence of the change is that there will be further delays for victims of accidents and industrial injuries receiving compensation. Money will be clawed back from compensation given for things other than loss of income—for pain, hurt and suffering—in lieu of benefits paid by the state to make up for loss of income. The regulations implement that unfair and unpopular move. The Government are cutting benefit payments at the expense of those who have suffered serious accidents or injuries at work.

Mr. Scott

It is not true to say that what is proposed will damage the interests of those who have been compensated. What we are doing at the moment is, in effect, allowing insurance companies to reduce the amount of money that they pay to claimants because of the benefits that they are being paid. We are anxious to make sure that the claimant will not suffer and that those who accept the contract for insurance should pay the full amount of money and not shift some of that burden on to the state. That is the principle behind it.

Ms. Short

My understanding is different from that of the Minister's and I shall be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will tell me if I am wrong. He and I served on the Committee which considered the relevent measure. The Government are taking power to take back money—to make up for income paid out in state benefit by way of basic family income credit, unemployment benefit, income support or whatever the case might be—from compensation paid, even if part of the compensation is given not for loss of income but for pain, hurt or suffering. We, and most people, believe that it is wrong for the Government to take power to do that, and that is one of the major reasons why we are objecting to the regulations.

The Minister is right to say that we do not object to the Income Support (Transitional) Amdt. No. 2 Regulations 1989. We accept that it is a good idea that families who have had children taken into care should have those children back to stay. I agree with the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) that it is sad that they can have them for only up to eight weeks and that, should they have them for longer than that, they will lose their transitional protection.

It is shocking that special exemption must be made in such a case. The whole provision for transitional protection mislead the public and hid the vicious cuts that were introduced under the last re-organisation of social security benefits. The truth is that the Government could not bear the idea of individuals suddenly seeing a massive cut in their benefits. They knew that such awareness would be deeply unpopular and would make people angry.

So while they said that nobody would lose in cash, they knew that, with the passage of time, inflation would erode the value of the transitional protection and that people would become poorer. That is happening and that is why many pensioners are hurting, for with the passage of time the value of the transitional protection has diminished, their incomes are lower and they are finding it difficult to manage.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

The hon. Lady has failed to explain why the Opposition are seeking to annul the regulations which will benefit families by up to £10 a week.

Ms. Short

Had the hon. Gentleman been listening to the Minister, he would have heard the answer to that question. The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought it unlikely that we would oppose the regulations, but appreciated that we wished to discuss the question of transitional arrangements and to criticise the fact that such provision was necessary. I am doing that now, and the hon. Gentleman will note later the way in which we vote on this issue. The regulations themselves are not objectionable, but the need for them reveals an objectionable feature in the way in which the Government made provision for transitional protection, when they were cutting benefits.

The Social Fund Cold Weather Payments (General) Amendment Regulations 1989 slightly modify a wholly unacceptable scheme of providing help to people on very low incomes in times of extremely cold weather. The Minister explained that they allowed for a capital limit of £1,000 instead of £500. In the past, some poor pensioners who had saved more than £500 for their funerals could not apply for help, to the tune of £5 a week, when it was severely cold in their areas.

We need to set the proposed improvement in the context of what has been happening in help for heating costs to people on low incomes. The organisation Neighbourhood Energy Action has a fine record of work in this sphere. It points out that the figure of £5 a week has remained at the same level since its introduction at the end of 1986. So inflation has been eroding the value of that payment to those who are poor and who need extra help because the weather is severely cold.

Neighbourhood Energy Action also points out that the system of payment is wrong. It claims that the payment should be made automatically to all income support claimants, which would obviate the need for people to make individual claims and would avoid money being wasted on advertising campaigns and so on. It would mean that women such as the two who came to my advice bureau, who live in bad housing that is hard to heat, would receive some help, whereas at present they receive none.

Before April 1988, supplementary benefit claimants received more than £400 million a year by way of additional payments for heating. That was in addition to severe weather payments. That £400 million was supposedly absorbed into income support premiums. That meant that help that had been directed at specific problems—cold homes, expensive heating systems and so on—was lost.

The result is that many people living in badly built and poorly insulated homes are having to spend on heating money that was meant for their children's food. The alternative for them is to allow their children to be cold. The cold weather payments system is an outrage and must be changed. The minor change that we have before us is, of course, acceptable, but it is not good enough, and that is the basis of our case.

The Social Security (Industrial Injuries and Diseases) Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Regulations 1990 represent a further cut in benefit for people injured at work. It comes on top of the previous cut to which I referred. In 1986, the Government abolished compensation for those whose injuries had a less than 14 per cent. disability determination and who previously received a lump sum. It had also been provided that, if one failed to claim before the cut-off date—before the benefit was abolished—because one was misled by the DSS or was ignorant of one's rights, one could claim.

In December 1986, Mr. Kenneth Potts successfully claimed under that provision. He was awarded compensation for contracting vibration white finger disease, which was recognised only in 1985 as an industrial disease. He had left his job in the shipyard in 1980 having no knowledge, of course, of the availability of the benefit.

The Government were furious. They appealed to the Tribunal of Commissions in August 1989, and lost. Now we witness the Government's respect for the rule of law. The law went against them, so now they are changing the law so that others in Mr. Potts' position will not benefit in future. We should also note that those with an injury causing more than 14 per cent. disability who had the capacity to receive a reduced earnings allowance will lose that entitlement under the current social security legislation.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Is my hon. Friend aware that we in the mining industry have a dual problem? Not only are we losing benefits, but there is an increase in the rate of serious injuries caused by new production methods and a reduction in manpower.

Ms. Short

I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes A cynical package has recently been announced that is meant to give the impression of increasing benefits for people with disabilities. Announcements about such matters are made by the Government every few days in the hope of proving that what is, in fact, a paltry package is a big improvement for people with disabilities. It has partly been paid for by cuts in benefits. People injured at work who in the past could claim reduced earnings allowance will in future lose that right in order that other deserving people with disabilities, who of course need help, can receive something. It is not right that one group of disabled people should pay for the benefits of other groups of disabled people.

The package represents another series of sordid little cuts and unfair provisions from a Government that is busy still, at this late stage and even given their current level of popularity, to redistribute money from those with less to those with more. That is making our country more unfair and more unequal. The Labour party opposes that—and so do the British people, who are showing more and more their deep concern at Britain becoming an increasingly divided, unequal, unfair, and economically inefficient society. We look forward to the return of a Labour Government and to values of fairness and reasonableness, to protect people who are old, sick or cold in the decent way that the British people would like to see them protected.

7.50 pm
Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

I was amazed by the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), who described the measures before the House as "another series of sordid little cuts" that was part of some package of promoting inequality. She tried to link the orders to a broader debate about the redistribution of wealth. However, having listened to the measures being described by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and having examined them myself, I find that they contain some relatively minor but useful social reforms. Many of them will help claimants, some are neutral, and one of them does reduce benefits but in a way that was trailed four years ago, when transitional provisions were introduced. To link the measures before the House tonight with some so-called grandiose and sinister package is incredible.

I believe that the hon. Member for Ladywood misunderstood the recoupment provisions. My right hon. Friend clearly said that he is not taking away any benefit entitlement. Instead of the insurance company pocketing the recoupment, it will be returned to the taxpayer, which is neutral so far as the beneficiary is concerned. I do not comprehend how any responsible right hon. or hon. Member could object to that change.

Ms. Short

I was listening, and I served on the Committee on the Social Security Bill 1986 that introduced the powers being implemented by regulations. There is no dispute between us that claimants should not be paid twice, and that if they have received a state payment for loss of income, the insurance payment for loss of income should balance it out. However, the Government are taking the power to claw back money that is paid as compensation for pain, injury and hurt, to make up for the payment of unemployment benefit, family credit or income support. We believe that that is wrong.

Sir George Young

We can all read Hansard tomorrow, but my understanding of my right hon. Friend's remarks is that he is not taking away benefit entitlement any more than the existing offset provisions do. The compensation payment is reduced in each case. My right hon. Friend went on to explain that the money pocketed by insurance companies will be returned to the taxpayer. I see nothing objectionable in that arrangement, which is neutral so far as the claimant is concerned.

The hon. Member for Ladywood did not mention the 60 per cent. increase in the small payments limit—a useful reform that might have found a place in her speech. As to cold weather payments, she did not mention the useful increase from £500 to £1,000 in the capital disregard, which I hope signals more general examination by the Government of the whole question of capital cut-offs.

The removal of any disincentive to a child returning home for the summer holidays is also to be welcomed. However, in the light of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), it will be helpful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security will explain, when she winds up, what would be the financial implications for child benefit entitlement, for example, if a child remained at home. One could then think through the consequences if what was originally planed as an eight-week visit transpired to be the prelude to the child returning home permanently.

All right hon. and hon. Members must surely accept that, unless transitional arrangements are eventually brought to an end, there can never be a move to the new structure. We all remember the debates of two years ago when the new scheme was introduced, when argument centred not so much on structure but on the level of benefits and the transitional arrangements. If one argues against transitional arrangements being phased out, the logical consequence is that the new structure will never be introduced.

I happen to believe that the new structure is better and fairer. Transitional arrangements must be truly transitional, and those right hon. and hon. Members who supported their introduction did so in the acceptance that, as benefits moved up, those of people enjoying transitional protection would stand still until they in turn benefited from general upratings.

I find no difficulty in supporting the package, but I find it impossible to relate the measures before the House to the rather emotional speech by the hon. Member for Ladywood.

7.55 pm
Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

In speaking mainly on the revocation of regulation 13, I want to make it clear that in no way do I make light of the other squalid and appalling cuts that the regulations impose, but that I have a particular constituency interest in regulation 13.

It is generally acknowledged that most of the people who will be disadvantaged by the revocation of regulation 13 are those suffering from vibration white finger. I trust that Conservative Members in particular do not imagine that vibration white finger is some sort of minor technical disability. Even in its early stages, it can cause numbness, leading to a considerable loss of facility and of ability to work in particular trades. It can lead also to the end of participation in a number of social or cultural activities. A darts player, for example, may no longer be able to throw darts, and a pianist will be unable to play. I shall not go through all the condition's ghastly stages, but eventually it can cause, through gangrene, the loss of the use of the hand, or something worse.

Very often, the level of disability exceeds 14 per cent. When the Minister says that the new arrangement will deny people whose disability is determined at less than 14 per cent. the right to a payment, in fact he is talking about well over 90 per cent. of people suffering from vibration white finger.

The Secretary of State referred to the decision of the commissioner in respect of my constituent, Kenneth Potts, which he said widened the law. That is an interesting concept. The law is the law. Initially, it was not the commissioner but the social security appeal tribunal that found in favour of Mr. Potts, and it did not widen the law but merely interpreted it. Its decision was upheld by the commissioner, who also interpreted the law. It is wrong for the Government to regard that decision as a widening of the law and now to put a stop to that benefit, simply because many more people would be entitled to claim it.

It is worth considering why the commissioner concluded that Mr. Potts—and, now, many thousands of others—have good cause to make late claims. It has been established that vibration white finger did not become a classified industrial disease until 1985. Not a great deal of time elapsed between then and 1 October 1986, when the Social Security Act 1986 took effect.

This case illuminates two wider aspects of Government policy. First, if one decimates every industry—shipyards, coal mining, heavy engineering—which cause this disease, the people who worked in them are scattered to the winds. There was a community of information in which shop stewards, health and safety representatives and others could go around and say, "By the way, Ken, that vibration white finger that you already claimed for, or maybe you were told not to bother because it was not a prescribed industrial disease, is now a prescribed industrial disease." But the ability to do that in the workplace is limited if the workplace has gone or been significantly reduced.

Some of the people displaced from the workplace because of redundancies or closures have taken the advice of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and got on their bike. They are now working somewhere else, where they do not have mates who will say, "By the way. did you know that vibration white finger is now a prescribed industrial disease?" There is very good reason, as the commissioner found, for them not to have heard the good news that they could now claim

Secondly, there is the Government's attitude towards trade unions. People affected by the disease are most likely to find out that the law has changed through their trade union. I do not think that we would expect to find the Government publishing notices in the press, warning all trade union members that if they do not regularly attend trade union branch meetings, they might miss out on information to their benefit. But that is precisely what has happened in this case.

Members of the GMB, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, or the National Union of Mineworkers, who were regularly in contact with and active in their trade unions found out that they could now claim for vibration white finger. Workers who had been scattered by the four winds, had become apathetic or had found it difficult to keep in touch with the trade union, particularly while they were unemployed, did not find out. The Government, who are so hostile to trade unions, are taking advantage of the fact that it is more and more difficult for trade unions to carry out the job of communication. But if the information had been communicated more effectively, with Government assistance, it might not have meant that so many people had good cause, as the commissioner found, to make a late claim. That is the position now—we have a large number of late claims.

In one social security office in my constituency—Dunn house—in early January there were already 1,500 requests to review old cases and 2,000 new claims. That number will have increased significantly by tonight, and will no doubt continue to increase until a week on Monday.

The Government cannot have it both ways. If they find that there are an alarmingly large number of claims, surely they have to accept that that means that a significant number of people had good reason for not claiming and, in justice, since it is therefore a widespread and serious problem, they should not revoke the regulation and they should allow more late claims. If the claims are coming in by the thousand now, they will not all be dealt with by the cut-off point; indeed, they will not all have been made by that date.

If the Government take the view that most people who have good cause to claim will now have done so, and only a handful of peculiar cases are left, why do they revoke the regulation? Surely there is no problem. If they are expecting only a handful more claims after a week on Monday, they could leave the regulation and allow all the time in the world for the few remaining claims to come in. After all, this case is a closed universe, because those who started suffering from vibration white finger since 1986 are in a different position. In this instance we are talking only about people who developed the disease before 1 October 1986, and that is a limited number. The Government ought to accept that.

It comes down to this—I think that this is an illustration of what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said earlier. What is the point of the regulations and what is the point of the social security system? Is it to provide justice for people who are genuinely entitled to it, or is it to provide an obstacle race, in which the best-informed, the cleverest and the most persistent finally get over the obstacles and win? If the Government deny that it is the latter, and say that the purpose of the system is to provide justice for those entitled to it, the fact that there are now thousands of claimants with this disability ought to lead the Government to say that they will not put another obstacle in their way, as they have already suffered enough.

Many of the late claimants have suffered because they have been made redundant, and they have had to change their place of work and move their home. They have suffered many times over, and now they suffer the final insult of an unnecessary cut-off date.

I repeat that the Government cannot have it both ways. Justice means that all those who have vibration white finger, or any other disease that became a prescribed industrial disease at a later date, ought to be able to claim, provided that they can show good cause, in line with the commissioner's decision.

If the Government are trying to limit claims because of the amount of money, why do they revoke the regulation now, when it will not cost very much and they might as well leave things as they are?

I genuinely cannot make my mind up why the Government are doing this. I attended a meeting with the Minister last October with some of my hon. Friends. We were told that this policy had nothing to do with the commissioner's decision in the Potts case. It was only a temporary regulation to allow fairly late claims after 1 October. The Government had meant to revoke the regulation earlier, but they had somehow overlooked it, and now they were tidying up. I think that the Minister may have said that if it was causing a lot of problems, they would reconsider and give people a few months more.

That is one interpretation of what happened, but it did not have anything to do with the commissioner's decision. However, what the Minister said tonight implied that it had something to do with the commissioner's decision, because it widened the law. I have already disputed that. The Minister said in a rather horrified manner that it had produced thousands of claimants, and had cost a lot of money, and the implication was that the Government would revoke the regulation for that reason. The Minister should tell us which interpretation is correct. Whichever it is, it is unsatisfactory.

If the Government are admitting to stopping claims because many people are claiming, it is a complete contradiction of what the social security system should be about. On the other hand, if it is genuinely a tidying-up measure that they were going to take anyway, they should recognise that thousands of people have been caught out by the change, and they should allow more time for those people to claim, since there are a limited number of people left who can claim.

Whatever the explanation, the Government should say that this change is stupid, unnecessary, cruel and vindictive, and they should not revoke regulation 13.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. It seems that the debate is over-subscribed, but with some self-restraint all round, all hon. Members may be able to speak.

8.8 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

Before dealing specifically with the two affirmative instruments and the three negative instruments which we are debating, I shall make a few general comments on the Government's record on social security uprating and on their priorities in this important matter. But before I do that, I shall comment on the speech by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), for whom I have a great respect, not least because she once attended the House at 4.30 in the morning when I was moving an important Adjournment debate on Nottinghamshire. She took part in that debate.

The hon. Lady describes our record as one of squalid cuts. I and other Conservative Members cannot recognise that description. It is simply not true. I do not want to bandy statistics with the hon. Lady because, as she will agree, that is not sensible. However, this year we are spending £1 billion a week on social security, there has been a 36 per cent. real increase in the past 10 years and cash benefits for long-term sick and disabled people have doubled in real terms since 1979.

I am quite content to agree with the hon. Lady that there is still an awful lot more to be done about these matters, but she should at least give credit where it is due and agree that the Government have prioritised some of these issues and done a great deal to help.

Ms. Short

One reason for the increase in spending is that unemployment is still higher than it was when the Government came to power. Secondly, we have more of an elderly population than we used to have. The hon. Gentleman should also know that the Government have been in power 10 years and that roughly every 20 years the income available in Britain doubles. The income of people in the same position as the hon. Gentleman will have increased significantly because of the general economic growth we have experienced every year since the second world war, if not before. Those in greatest need—the old, the sick and so on—are becoming relatively worse and worse off and are not sharing in the benefits of general economic growth. To say that there has been some growth in spending does not answer my fundamental point.

Mr. Mitchell

I do not accept the hon. Lady's last point, although I have some sympathy with her first two. The Government's record on this matter is good. The hon. Lady should pay credit where it is due and acknowledge that in those important matters, the Government have prioritised expenditure. I do not wish to make a particularly party political point, but the Government's record is a great deal better than that which the last Labour Government achieved. I entirely accept that they had aspirations, but they were not able to deliver the economic goods to meet them.

Two of the Government's most important priorities should be to tackle the problem facing the disabled and give aid and support to those coping with long-term sickness. The hon. Lady mentioned child benefit. That is not an easy issue to deal with, but we should at least accept that it would have been ludicrous to increase child benefit last year. To do so would have helped people like me with young families who are not prime candidates for it. It would not have helped those who most need it. The extra help that we have been able to give this year means that 1.5 million families and 3 million children, who would not have gained from an increase in child benefit, have benefited. It is important to recognise that.

The hon. Lady also mentioned pensions. Perhaps we could do more for pensioners. I believe that we could. The Government have honoured their electoral pledge. There are five new measures that will benefit pensioners from this April. For example, 200,000 elderly and disabled people living in residential care and nursing homes will benefit from an increase of £10 in their weekly benefit limit. That is important.

Last year, I and many of my hon. Friends argued strongly that the poorer pensioners' package should be brought forward. That proposal has been implemented and will do a lot to help those people who are least well off. The hon. Lady should welcome that and I regret that she did not do so in her speech.

Much is changing in the pension world. By the time that I retire there will be a different picture for pensioners from that which now exists. It will then be much easier to help those who are least well off and those who fall through the net.

The hon. Lady hinted at a comparison between British pensions and those paid overseas; to do so is beguiling, but wrong. The only countries with a universal state pension are the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark. Only the United Kingdom provides separate pensions for wives who have not worked. The Labour party omit the part which occupational pension schemes play in British pensioners' total income when they produce the figures. Above all means-tested benefits in this country for elderly people are among the best in Europe.

About a year ago an interesting comment was made by the president of Pensioners' Voice, Mrs. Dorothy Rhodes——

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)


Mr. Mitchell

I shall just finish my point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) has already made this point but it bears repetition. Mrs. Dorothy Rhodes said: We have talked about percentages of pensions in Europe, and I have been one who has spoken loudly in support of parity with Europe, but during the past year I have been to Pensioners Congresses in Italy and Greece and, having spoken at length to those who actually receive the Euro pensions [sic] and discovered that in many cases the actual cash received in relation to the cost of living is often lower than in the UK, I am revising my opinion; for in no way can our Federation ask for an equality that would disadvantage our own people. If that lady is revising her opinion, just possibly the hon. Member for Ladywood might consider revising hers.

Mr. Flynn

Opposition Members who have been here since 5 o'clock are getting vivid feelings of déjà vu. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) made not only the point but the hon. Gentleman's entire speech and to avoid my answering the speech again it might be useful if the hon. Gentleman returned to a speech of his own.

Mr. Mitchell

All that demonstrates is that my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton is a wise man who, like me, makes important points which the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) should bear in mind. When I read that quote—it is quite clear that the hon. Gentleman did not like it—I said that the point might have already been made by my hon. Friend, but was important enough to bear repeating.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

The Opposition do not like it.

Mr. Mitchell

As my hon. Friend says, the Labour party do not like it when we make the facts clear.

I particularly welcome a number of changes in this year's social security upratings, some of which fall wider than the regulations, but are extremely important. I am particularly pleased that the disability premium for families with disabled children who are also on income-related benefit has been increased. That will give extra help to 20,000 families, which is extremely important.

The carers' premium, which has been introduced into income support for those receiving invalid care allowance of £10 per week is also important and will help 30,000 carers. I am pleased that mobility allowance will be extended to deaf and blind people. That is worth £26.25 more per week to 3,000 people.

Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie (Glasgow, Pollok)

The hon. Gentleman is in the wrong debate.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman says that I am in the wrong debate, but these are important matters to do with this year's upratings.

The overdue changes in attendance allowance are particularly welcome. More money will be made available to terminally ill people without the normal six-month waiting period. That will help 50,000 people by anything up to £37.55 a week and is extremely important.

This year's measures, over and above the normal uprating, will reach 500,000 seriously ill disabled people and carers.

Ms. Short

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to be unfair to the hon. Gentleman, but his speech is completely out of order. We are debating a number of regulations to which he is not referring. He appears to be discussing issues that were before the House before the vote at 7 o'clock.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must confess that I find it difficult to follow where we are with so many different and complex regulations before us. I am sure that the whole House finds this difficulty, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make it clear to which of the regulations he is referring.

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding me of that. I am dealing with an overview of many of the regulations——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but although there is a temptation to have a general debate, the hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the specific regulations before the House.

Mr. Mitchell

I am again grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I shall turn to a number of specific aspects of the regulations the first of which is the Social Fund Cold Weather Payments (General) Amdt. Regulations 1989. The Government deserve credit for that for two reasons: first, for bringing forward the date to 1 January. It must have been tempting for social security Ministers to save it until later but they did not do so. Secondly, they deserve credit for doubling the capital limit to £1,000. That was much needed, and I am glad that it has been done. My hon. Friend the Minister might consider going further with this matter next year and I hope that she will listen to Help the Aged and to the local authorities to find out whether anything else could be done to improve the operation of the scheme.

Secondly, it is right to reform the recoupment regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) made a fair point when he said that it is wrong for state benefits to subsidise compensation that is paid out by insurance companies under valid insurance policies. We should act as guardians of the taxpayer and ensure that sums which are lost to the taxpayer are recouped. The insurance companies should pay out. Thirdly, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that the private sector was consulted about the administrative details. That is long overdue and unusual. The business community often says that it is not consulted. I am glad that it was consulted on this occasion.

Fourthly, I greatly welcome the help for families whose children are in care but who return home for the weekend and for holidays. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, (Ms. Short) on this and I hope that the Minister will deal with the point. We must provide direct support for families united in this way. I am very pleased that additional funds will be provided through income support for children who return home for holidays and at the weekend.

Finally, if a new system is introduced, which I believe will be both fairer and better than the old one, there must be transitional arrangements, but at some point they must be brought to an end, I welcome that aspect, too. I strongly support the Government tonight and I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part in the debate on these regulations.

8.21 pm
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

I want to refer to regulation 13, which was so ably spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay). We welcomed the extension of the transitional period. However, since then, it has become clear that vibration white finger is now found in industries where it was not previously considered a problem. We have to thank welfare rights officers for having drawn to our attention the fact that so many people suffer from the disease.

All Governments have overlooked the fact that when people start work they will, in almost all cases, be putting their health, or even their life, at risk. Most workers are completely unaware of the dangers of working in certain industries. Mine workers suffer from pneumoconiosis and emphysema and building workers suffer from asbestosis, while workers in shipbuilding, ship repairing and other industries suffer accidents, and workers in the chemical and rubber industries suffer from carcinoma of the bladder. Workers suffer from many other diseases simply because they work in certain industries.

The Government should allow them to claim benefit for industrial diseases. Workers have difficulty in establishing their right to benefit. It is difficult for them to prove that their disease was caused by their working environment. In its heyday, Merseyside employed 24,000 workers in the shipbuilding and ship repair industries, but that number has long since been cut. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will confirm that there are only about 1,000 workers in those industries.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

About 2,500.

Mr. Loyden

There is no comparison between that figure and the 24,000 workers who previously worked in the shipbuilding and ship repairing industries. Many of them are now out of contact with various organisations, in particular the trade unions, who could give them advice.

The Government spent a large amount of money on television advertising when they decided to privatise certain industries. It is shameful, therefore, that the Department of Social Security has not spent money on television advertisements so that workers might know about their right to industrial and other benefits. It would be inappropriate to end the transitional period; many people still do not know about their right to benefit. The scheme ought to go further.

Mr. Clay

Before my hon. Friend leaves the point about Government publicity, will he confirm that I am right in believing that in the case of vibration white finger, which became a prescribed industrial disease in 1985, the Government provided no publicity whatsoever about its having become a prescribed industrial disease? Despite that fact, they want to revoke legislation that would permit late claims, with good cause, to be made for industrial benefit.

Mr. Loyden

That is a very important point. I hope that the Minister will take it on board.

The magic figure of 14 per cent. excludes many people from benefit. I do not accuse the Minister of conspiring to set that figure, but civil servants have probably said that such a figure would preclude many thousands of people from claiming benefit. There is evidence that industrial disease and injury figures are set at a certain level in order to exclude genuine cases of industrial disease and injury which can result in disability and even death. The Opposition are very concerned about that, as well as about industrial disease and accidents throughout industry. I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North that the transitional period ought not to be revoked, so that people with a rightful claim can claim benefit.

8.28 pm
Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)

The hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) offered reasonable points of view on why the Opposition wanted to debate these regulations. Difficulties always arise when people come forward to claim for industrial injuries, but the first decisions were taken in 1986 and there must be a cut-off at some point. It is not unreasonable to implement it now.

The hon. Member for Garston said that these people had been given a considerable extension of time and were grateful for that—

Mr. Loyden

I said "a brief period".

Mr. Stevens

I apologise.

The Government have been reasonable. It is true that, when people leave industries, their trade unions have more difficulty in tracing them and they have problems finding their unions again, but the vast majority of people have had a good chance to claim.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North asked whether social security was designed to give people their just entitlement or whether it was an obstacle around which only those who were clever and persistent enough could get. When we debated the Social Security Act 1986, it was clearly the Government's intention to simplify an extremely complex system which lent itself precisely to those who could work the system and thus come off better than those who went through the routine procedures only to end up in an unsatisfactory position. The new system is more simplified and easier to understand.

Ms. Short

The new system has replaced a system that the hon. Gentleman describes as complex but which I would say provided for need. The new system is meaner.

Mr. Stevens

That is exactly what I would expect the hon. Lady to say. Hers is the attitude that the Opposition displayed throughout the passage of the 1986 Act and ever since. Whenever the Government try to help specific groups of people, the Opposition say that they are wrong or not doing enough. When in government, the Opposition never even contemplated directly helping some of these groups, but they ignore that completely.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) started from the premise that we should have stuck to a link with pay. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) took the same line when working out what she called cuts. If the Opposition had been in government for the past 10 years, they would not have had the slightest chance of maintaining the link. They messed up the situation when in government. They needed economic growth to be able to put the money into the benefit system. As my hon. Friends have said, this Government can put £1 billion a week into the system, and have spent it on, for example, the disabled. The mobility allowance is now claimed by six times as many people as before, and that is a significant difference.

Whatever the Government do, the Opposition always say it is not enough, but they would not generate the economic growth to do as much themselves. They want to cut—

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Surely my hon. Friend recalls that the last time the Opposition formed the Government they had to go to the International Monetary Fund for money, and they made cuts the like of which we have not seen since and hope never to see again.

Mr. Stevens

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Earlier, the hon. Member for Ladywood said that the Government cut taxes, so the money did not go to the Exchequer. She should have attended some of our Treasury debates. We cut some of the high rates of tax, and that increased the money coming into the Treasury, which could then be spent on social security and so on.

The Opposition are guilty of a strange contradiction over the recoupment regulations. As I understand it, the system did not disadvantage people who were recipients; the money was taken from the insurance companies. It is rare to find the Opposition supporting the insurance and financial sector, yet here they are, dedicated to saving insurance companies money.

Ms. Short

It is not good enough to put false propositions before the House and to seek to mislead people in the country. We all agree that if people are compensated for loss of income with a state benefit the insurance money should be paid to the state. But the Government have wrongly taken power to take money paid to people not for the loss of income but for pain and suffering—to recoup state benefits.

Mr. Stevens

That is what the hon. Lady said before, but it does not alter the fact that the insurance companies should pay. They receive the premiums from companies and from people.

We welcome the raising of the capital ceiling for cold weather payments to £1,000. That is helpful. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), who said that young people visiting home should have no detrimental effect on the support that their parents receive. I, too, ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to extend the eight-week period——

Ms. Short

Good for you—very brave.

Mr. Stevens

All the regulations are evidence that the changes that the Government have made to improve the social security system have generally been in favour of individuals and groups. I only wish that the Opposition would look more kindly on the upratings announced earlier; they were good news for people. The Opposition, however, take delight in trying to squash the good news and degrade what is being provided. That suggests that they do not care about the people who receive social security and are more interested in making political points at the expense of the Government. They may always say that they want more, but they should at least give credit to the Government for what they have done for those most in need.

8.37 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I want to put the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) right on one point. The Opposition are certainly interested in those who receive or should be receiving social security. We are passionately interested in trying to improve their lot, and time and again, in letters or in our regular surgeries, we come up against constituents who come to us for help and who live on the barest minimum incomes. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind. No doubt Conservative Members will earn their brownie points from the Whips Office for coming here and trying to justify and defend the Government's social security policy.

I want to concentrate on the cold weather payments. As my hon. Friends will know, I have raised this matter in the House several times over the years. Pensioners on income support and those just above that level undoubtedly face immense difficulties in paying their fuel bills during the winter months. I remind the House of the increases in the price of gas and electricity. Between November 1979 and November 1989 the pensioners prices index rose by about 85 per cent. But gas went up by 127 per cent. in that time and electricity by 96 per cent. Moreover, fuel takes up a larger part of a pensioner's budget, as we all know.

In some respects, the fact that temperatures this year have not triggered off the cold weather payments illustrates my argument. It could be argued that, rather like last year, we are witnessing an ordinary British winter with some storms thrown in. However, temperatures have not reached freezing, so cold weather payments have not been made. But imagine what this House would be like if there were no heating on now. I am sure that every hon. Member ensures that his or her home is heated. It is not freezing, but some form of heating is necessary wherever we are, be it at work in the House of Commons, or in our private homes.

As a result of various comments that I have made in the local press, many of my constituents with small incomes, mainly pensioners but not entirely so, have complained to me bitterly about the rent that they pay. I raised the matter during social security questions on Monday when I gave as an illustration a constituent of mine with an income of £54 a week who, due to the substantial reduction in housing benefit, is paying £10 a week in rent. That is not due to the local authority; it is due purely to the Government's policy on substantially reducing housing benefit.

Mr. Loyden


Mr. Winnick

As my hon. Friend rightly says, to have an income of £54 a week and to pay £10 a week is disgraceful, but in addition to the cost of food and other daily essentials, money has to be found for fuel. Pensioners' fuel bills, after all, are like ours. There is no discount because they are pensioners. The Government may argue that the bills can be paid in weekly or monthly instalments—I accept that—but at the end of the day the same amount of money has to be paid and, as I have just said, during the past 10 years gas has gone up 127 per cent. and electricity 96 per cent. That is why the Opposition are deeply concerned about the poorest in our community, and certainly pensioners on the basic minimum, who clearly do not have sufficient income to heat their homes adequately.

I accept, of course, that the increase in the capital threshold from £500 to £1,000 for cold weather payments is a step in the right direction. We would not for one moment argue otherwise. Common sense ensures that that is right. But many conditions have to be met before the cold weather payment is made. The average temperature has to fall to freezing point for seven consecutive days before the £5 a week is paid. Moreover, the discretionary social fund does not meet the cost of fuel consumption. It is no good the poorest pensioners on income support going along to the DSS office because they do not have sufficient funds and asking for help with winter fuel payments. By regulation, no additional help would be given.

Heating allowance ended when income support replaced supplementary benefit. Before the changes in April 1988, some £400 million a year was received in additional payments, quite apart from the cold weather payments. But that all ended when supplementary benefit went and income support came in. The Minister will argue, no doubt, that that sum of money has been duly absorbed in the income support premiums, but I doubt whether that is the case.

Pensioners have less income because the pension is no longer increased in line with earnings. We have already given the figures. As a result of the decision by the Government in 1980, a married pensioner will have lost £21 a week in April and a single pensioner £13 a week. That simply means less money to pay for fuel during the winter months.

Reference has been made in previous debates to the dangers of hypothermia and other cold-related diseases to the elderly in the winter months. Far more elderly people die during the winter months in Britain than in a number of other European countries. Undoubtedly, one reason must be the poverty that exists among so many of our elderly people for all the reasons that I have been explaining. We in Britian suffer from fuel poverty. Far too many of our elderly people simply do not have an income that is adequate to meet their fuel bills. Winter is a nightmare for so many of our elderly people.

Our constituents have done nothing wrong. They have simply not earned enough money during their working lives. They do not have much by way of an occupational pension, if any, and if they do, if they are council tenants, it is taken into account in housing benefit. It is wrong that those people should be penalised every winter in the manner that I have been describing.

Much more needs to be done. I would like £5 a week, which after all does not add up to much, to be paid during the winter months regardless of the temperature. Hon. Members should not forget that even if it is freezing, cold weather payments can be made only to those on income support. I have said it before and I do not care how many times I say it, and I shall go on doing so until the situation improves: we should be thoroughly ashamed that we allow our elderly people to suffer the poverty, discrimination and deprivation in the winter months that we do.

Conservative Members have a responsibility to put the kind of pressure on their Government that Opposition Members would be doing if a Labour Government were not carrying out the kind of policies that we would wish to see. There is no doubt about that; we have done it before. We would be putting pressure on a Labour Government. However, Conservative Members have come along tonight and made nice complacent speeches. I only wish that they could be more concerned with the poor pensioners who have to suffer the hardship that Conservative Members, and we ourselves, do not have to suffer.

8.47 pm
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this important debate. I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). In my constituency also there is concern about elderly people who suffer from cold. That is why I pay tribute to the Government. They were the first Government to introduce severe weather payments some years ago. The least that the hon. Gentleman could have done was pay tribute to them for that. We can look at the details of the scheme, but once again it is a Conservative Government who have taken action and who have moved forward on cold weather payments.

I want to speak briefly on the Opposition's motion to annul the Income Support (Transitional) Amendment No. 2 Regulations 1989 which were laid before the House just before Christmas. It is important to set the whole question of the transitional arrangement in income support against the background of the Government's achievement in income support.

I was amazed that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), should challenge my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who rightly pointed to the fact that spending on social security under the Government has risen by 36 per cent. in real terms since 1979. She also challenged the correct assertion of my hon. Friend that we are now spending £1 billion a week on social security benefits.

Ms. Short

I did not challenge it.

Mr. Thompson

I remember the hon. Lady's exact words. She failed to recognise that it is only because of the economic growth and success under this Government that we have been able to increase payments to those levels.

Transitional arrangements protect people affected by the more efficient targeting of benefits. In my constituency in Norwich few people when they think about it challenge the Government's intention to target benefits where the need is greatest. That must be right, and it is one of the reasons why we are debating these regulations tonight. Total expenditure on income support will reach £7.7 billion this year.

I express amazement that the Opposition, led by the Leader of the Opposition, wish to annul a measure which will benefit families in my contituency by as much as £10 a week or more. The Opposition Front-Bench team is ill advised to put out the message in my constituency and elsewhere that the Opposition want to annul a measure which will provide such benefits.

The Government's record on support for the family is good. I shall use even more statistics to make my case, because they speak truths which cannot be refuted by Opposition Members. In 1990–91, the Government will spend almost £10 billion on the whole range of benefits for the family. That is an increase of 27 per cent. in real terms since 1979. In case the hon. Member for Ladywood and her colleagues have forgotten, it was their Government who cut such support by 7.3 per cent.

I do not wish to stray too far from the regulations. The Government's record on family support leaves the record of previous Labour Governments completely in the shade. The facts speak for themselves. With a little help from the Library, the staff of which I commend—I shall speak later about the complexity of the social security regulations and be a little more controversial—I have found out that a family on income support of £50 a week may have a transitional addition of some £10 a week, making a total income of £60 a week.

We now come to the point of the transitional regulations. If the family have a child under the age of 11 in the care of a local authority who rejoins the household for a short period, the family's income support could be increased by some £11.75, leading to a total of £61.75. Under the unamended regulations, which would still apply if the Government had not taken the action that we are debating tonight, such a family in my constituency would receive only £1.75 extra to help with the child.

It must be right to introduce these regulations to bring back transitional support. I have read the regulations and with the help of expert advice I have got it right. The family will benefit by some £10.

I support the Government in laying the statutory instrument before the House. I repeat that I am amazed that the Opposition, led by the Leader of the Opposition, seek to annul such a measure. My constituents will find it difficult to understand the points that the hon. Lady made in defence of that position.

My second point is rather different. I should like to quote from the written evidence submitted to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on this matter. I make no apology for reading it out in full: Regulation 14(1) of the Transitional Regulations provides for the reduction of transitional additions. In particular regulations 14(1)(a) and 14(1)(d) provide for reduction in the additions by increases in the applicable amount. There is no provision in these Regulations for the increase or re-introduction of a transitional addition once it is reduced or lost. In case you are wondering why I am reading this out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the reason will become clear in the next paragraph. The unintended consequence of the interaction of the provisions of regulation 16 of the General Regulations and regulation 14 of the Transitional Regulations is a loss in benefit to families whose children are in the care of the local authority if such children subsequently come home on leave. I draw attention to the word "unintended". In the drafting of the regulations, it was not noticed that the effect would be a loss in benefit.

My last substantive point is that we do not have a satisfactory system for drafting social security regulations which are comprehensible to those who work closely in the system, never mind to Back-Bench Members of Parliament trying to debate them. That is amply illustrated by the statutory instrument.

My last quotation supports a campaign which I first initiated and supported in 1984, a campaign to get rid of gobbledegook in government and to move towards more comprehension, particularly of social security matters: In regulation 14 of the Income Support (Transitional) Regulations 1987(b) (reduction and termination of transitional and personal expenses addition) after paragraph (1F) there shall be inserted the following paragraph— '(1G) Notwithstanding paragraph (1)(a) or (d), where a claimant's applicable amount increases because a child or young person mentioned in paragraph (5)(c) of regulation 16 of the General Regulations (circumstances in which a person is treated or not treated as a member of the household) is treated as a member of the claimant's household under paragraph (6) of that regulation, the claimant's transitional addition shall not be reduced by the amount of that increase unless the child or young person has been treated as a member of the household for a continuous period which exceeds eight weeks'.". I support the Government in their intentions and their measures. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who ably supported the Government's record and their intentions.

Eventually we must do something about the language of drafting. I know that it is said that it is required for legal purposes, but that is not good enough. Other countries can do things better. When a Member of Parliament has to spend three hours in the Library to begin to understand the simplest statutory instrument, something is wrong. Therefore, I hope that I shall have all-party support in saying that we must work to remove gobbledegook and to increase understanding of our regulations.

8 pm

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

You will be pleased to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not only that I intend to speak exactly to the terms of the debate and to the regulations, unlike most Conservative Members, but that I do not intend to waste a lot of time reading out the regulations from the papers in front of us.

So far as Conservative Members have dealt with the regulations at all, they have paid fulsome compliments to the Government for, as they have put it, "helping" families with children, with disabled relatives or with children in care when they come home for the weekend, as if the Government were giving those families something.

I shall quote just one line from the regulations, a sub-title that refers to Amendment of regulation 14 of the Income Support (Transitional) Regulations 1987". That means that, since the regulations came into force all that time ago, families with children in care who have come home for the weekend have been penalised. Although it took the Government until 14 December 1989 to remove that penalty, Conservative Members compliment their Front Bench on that dilatory action. Obviously, their expectations of their Government are low.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) on his able speech on vibration white finger. I shall not repeat his comments, but I will repeat his challenge. If the regulation will not affect many people because most people have already been able to claim their benefit, why waste the time of the House in bringing it forward, and why cut from benefit the very few people who might be left? However, if the regulation will affect a great many people and save the Government a lot of money, it is grossly unjust. The provisions will mean that people who have been injured through their work—often because of the carelessness of their employers, in my opinion—are to be deprived of benefit. My hon. Friend's challenge needs to be dealt with.

We also face a clawback on some compensation payments. There was an interesting contradiction in what the Minister of State said. In his speech he said that claimants should not get more from two sources than they would have got from one. That makes it clear that claimants are being deprived of what he sees as an extra benefit. However, in an intervention, he told my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that the provisions were directed not against claimants, but against insurance companies. The right hon. Gentleman should remember what he said in his speech when intervening only a few minutes later. I hope that that will be clarified.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood pointed out that the state will claw back money that has been given in compensation for pain and suffering. The Minister of State did not deny that. The state, which has felt no pain or suffering, is taking from people who have felt such pain and suffering the money to which they are entitled. The right hon. Gentleman expects us to believe that the provision is simply to ensure that insurance companies do not make too much profit.

I conclude by referring to the severe weather payments. As my hon. Friends have said, the statutory instrument is an improvement, but it is a meagre improvement. It would be foolish of us not to take the opportunity of this debate to show exactly how meagre it is. Eligibility for the benefit is still far too restrictive. Yes, the Government have brought the age limit down to 60 and have increased the capital threshold from £500 to £1,000. However, it is possible to be severely ill and still not qualify for the extra £5. A claimant must either be chronically sick and in receipt of a benefit or have been sick for at least 28 weeks. That means that a person can suffer a severe or dangerous illness and yet not meet the eligibility requirement for this meagre benefit. In addition, the Government have retained the £5 claim limit that has existed since 1986, thus allowing the benefit to wither.

The Government have also retained the same silly way of measuring whether claims can be made. People who do not live near weather stations might suffer severe weather—and even meet the ridiculous stipulation about seven days at freezing point—but because they do not live near a weather station, their weather may not be recorded and they cannot claim.

The Government have also retained the system whereby people have to make a claim. They need to know that the weather station has recorded seven consecutive days of "freezing point" weather and that they will therefore be eligible. How many people would know that? It is within the competence of the Department of Social Security to pay the benefit automatically. The Department is keen on talking about efficiency. This would be a way of demonstrating it.

In all, we are justified in regarding such improvements as are contained in the regulations as completely inadequate and meagre, and the cuts as mean-spirited in the extreme.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If hon. Members follow the example of the hon. Lady and take no longer than seven minutes, the four hon. Members who have been waiting patiently for a long time will get in.

9.5 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

The speech by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), and other Opposition speeches highlight a problem for the Opposition in debating social security. They are long on advice but short on ideas as to how we might have a workable social security system, sufficiently resourced. That point was made amply by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell).

One fact that seems not to have been made clear by Opposition Members is that the Social Security (Recoupment) Regulations will add £55 million to the social security budget. We have heard a lot from the Opposition about how we will pay for the improvements which the various regulations bring into force. Here is £55 million, but there was not a word of praise from the Opposition for the Government's courage in producing the regulations.

I am concerned about how the recoupment regulations will operate. I am worried about the complexity of the regulations which appear to take away something. The public may worry that their entitlement to a range of benefits listed in the regulations will be denied them. When people talk to me in my advice bureau about how the social security system works, they are worried about the principle that a person cannot be compensated twice for the same type of claim. I seek from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State reassurance that the Department will address the question of communication with potential claimants.

I am also concerned about how insurance companies may react to the implementation of the regulations. I seek reassurance from my hon. Friend that insurance companies will not try to minimise compensation, particularly in out-of-court settlements, so as to reduce their liability to recompense the Department of Social Security. Obviously, insurance companies, whose requirement is to look after the interests of their clients, might be tempted down that road. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend could reassure the House that she will keep the operation of the regulations under close scrutiny to ensure that people are not disadvantaged by sharp practice.

Something positive could result from the recoupment regulations in that insurance companies and those subject to compensation claims may recognise where their liability lies. For example, industrial injury claims may be made because of a company's inappropriate practices that could injure workers. The insurance company might say to that company, "We have had to stump up on a number of claims. Your claims record is costing us money. Put your house in order." That positive benefit might come out of the introduction of the regulations.

I praise the Government for ensuring that the Macfarlane Trust, whose funding has been increased recently to deal with haemophiliacs, will not be subject to the recoupment provisions. That shows an appreciation of the problems of that group who are much in need of support.

I also note that miners are singled out for——

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Mr. Jack

I am sorry, I am trying very hard to keep within the time limit.

I see that miners are also a favoured group under the pneumoconiosis regulations. Did my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary give thought in drafting the regulations to the needs of nuclear workers who might be affected by industrial injury? I have some in my constituency who would be interested in her comments, either when replying to the debate or by letter afterwards.

The regulations also indicate that the Department of Social Security must advise people of their liabilities to recoupment within four weeks of request for that information. Will my hon. Friend assure me that her systems are capable of delivering that information as rapidly as it is required? Recoupment, therefore, has much to commend it.

On the subject of cold weather payments, however, while I support the order—any improvement is better than none—when I checked with my local social security office I found that the last time this particular benefit was paid—I note from comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) that it was not available to people under the last Labour Government—the office had received about 3,000 applications, only 500 of which were granted. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary cannot at this juncture move as far as some kind of additional flat-rate payment during the cold winter months, could she look at ways, perhaps through the use of the order book, of helping people to understand who is entitled to this particular payment? I am sure that, being a cost-conscious Minister, she will understand that to process 3,000 requests and pay out on only 500 of them costs a lot of money.

The problem of the aged and heat is one that voluntary organisations and local newspapers have tried to address. I put on record my praise of my local branch of Age Concern and the Blackpool Evening Gazette for what they have done this winter in trying to show elderly people how they can keep warm. Having visited many elderly people in my constituency, I was struck by one particular constituent who lives in a house with rather old-fashioned electric central heating. She was worried about being able to pay the bills and whether she should turn the heating on.

I am aware of the efforts made by the gas and electricity boards to assist elderly people. If my hon. Friend cannot change the regulations, could she discuss with the power suppliers the possibility of providing advice, such as energy audits of elderly people's houses, so that they can make the best use of their money? After this order is in place, perhaps my hon. Friend could reconsider the whole question of reassuring elderly people, perhaps through financial means, that keeping warm must be their first priority.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who I am pleased to see in his place on the Front Bench, knows of the efforts in my constituency—he attended an excellent meeting two years ago—and knows of the worries expressed by elderly people on this score. The time must now be right to look at the whole question of heating for the elderly and how it can be made affordable.

9.12 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I begin by asking the Secretary of State a question about cold weather payments. Will he ensure that they are paid promptly and that delays in payment are reduced to an absolute minimum? I want also to make a plea on behalf of my constituency that a more appropriate weather station be chosen for it. Many of my constituents in Greenock and Port Glasgow who live in poor housing are several hundred feet above sea level and hence several hundred feet above that particular weather station.

I want to speak principally about statutory instrument No. 73, regulation 13. I shall preface my remarks with a comment about one of the aims of the regulations, which must surely be an improvement of the quality of service given to claimants. The Minister seems not to show dissent when I say that. That is how it should be, especially in the light of the report of the Public Accounts Committee, which was concerned with the quality of service to the public at local social security offices. When that report was debated in the House on 30 November last year, I directed most of my remarks to the sufferers of vibration white finger. I said that the tough criticisms of the poor quality of service to claimants did not hold for the two offices in my constituency.

With hindsight, that was a little rash of me, because on 15 December I received a report from the parliamentary ombudsman concerning an investigation that I had asked him to conduct into the disgraceful treatment meted out by DSS officials in Greenock and Port Glasgow to a young pregnant woman. Because of her resilience and determination and the assistance that she was given by an able social worker, she persisted with her applications for financial help. Her mother had put her out when she had announced that she was pregnant. At the time, I said that it was like a Victorian melodrama. The parliamentary ombudsman was scathing in his criticism of the treatment meted out to that young girl.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I am fair-minded, so I must point out that the Under-Secretary—who is not in her place at the moment, although she has been here all evening—sent me a lengthy letter offering the Department's apologies to that young woman. She assured me that no other young woman in those circumstances would be treated as that girl was. I am willing to accept the assurances of the Under-Secretary and of the Minister concerning such treatment.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The hon. Gentleman will have to keep a close eye on them.

Dr. Godman

I shall keep a close watch—as I always do—on the behaviour of DSS officials in my constituency, given that several thousand people are directly dependent on social welfare incomes. I am sometimes tempted to think that the Minister should clear out, in wholesale fashion, the senior management of the DSS in the Scottish headquarters in Lady Lawson street in Edinburgh, but that is another matter.

Mrs. Wise

On the question of young pregnant girls, it is not simply the attitude of officials that is at fault, it is the regulations. My hon. Friend may not be aware that 16 and 17-year-old girls who become pregnant are not entitled to income support—even if they are put out of their homes, such as in the case that my hon. Friend described—until they are six months pregnant. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is disgraceful?

Dr. Godman

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, it is not only the disgraceful treatment meted out by officials, but the gaps in the regulations which, at that time, were new regulations. The problem was caused by a combination of the regulations and the treatment meted out by officials.

Let us now return to vibration white finger. Since I met the Minister, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) and two or three others—and we were treated courteously—about 2,200 men in Greenock and Port Glasgow have made applications for that backdated disablement benefit and for the reduced earnings allowance. I regret to say that when I sought from the Minister's office details of the numbers who had applied for the benefit throughout the United Kingdom, I was told that they were not available. However, I received them readily enough from my local DSS office.

For example, I wanted to know how many shipyard workers in Belfast had applied for that benefit, to which they are entitled. If the Minister is not willing to extend or to pull back the statutory instrument, I must ask him to answer my earlier question about letters of application that are to be posted on Monday of next week. When the doors of the DSS offices are closed on Monday evening, the 2,200 claims from Greenock and Port Glasgow will not be allowed. Many men who are entitled to this benefit live in remote areas of Scotland, in the Highlands and Islands, and many of them are miles from social security offices. They should be given some sympathy.

Mr. Frank Field

I should like to add my weight to what my hon. Friend said, because there are about 2,000 applications in the Birkenhead offices for this benefit. I was alarmed to find that although the commissioner's decision was made in September, processing of claims in the Birkenhead offices did not start until 19 January. Does my hon. Friend agree that the processing of claims and the sending out of decisions is one way to spread by word of mouth the knowledge that people may be entitled to claim? Given that the officers have sat on the applications, it is crucial that the message goes out clearly from the debate that people have a few more days in which to make applications. As my hon. Friend says, applications posted on Monday should be accepted.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful for that fine intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). The concept of justifiable ignorance can still be applied to many people. A Mrs. McLoughlin telephoned me from Edinburgh today. She had heard about what we in Scotland call the take-up campaign and went to the Causewayside office of the DSS to make an application, but was turned away by the official at the counter.

It is lamentable that in Scotland the Department has failed to publicise the implications of the test case in Sunderland in August last year. In the case of Belfast, any publicity urging people to make such claims has come from the conveners of the shop stewards' committee of Harland and Wolff. In Sunderland, it has come from the unemployed workers' offices, and in my constituency I paid for a big advertisement in my local paper urging people to make such applications. The Fees Office will pick up the bill for that advertisement.

One of my major criticisms of the DSS is its deliberate failure to advertise the implications of test cases for claimants and would-be claimants. We have the vibration white finger take-up campaign in Scotland. I am talking about ex-forestry workers in our remote communities and construction workers living in the islands who will get to know about this benefit when, perhaps, it is too late for them to claim. There has been a failure to reach those people and meet their legitimate claims.

I look forward to the day when the English electorate puts out these Ministers. I say English electorate because Scottish Ministers are doomed. When a Labour Minister is in charge of the Department of Social Security, I should like to see him sort out the senior officials in that Department, because they have badly let down many of my constituents and many other people throughout Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

9.23 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

This is my second opportunity to make a brief contribution today. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for referring, albeit in passing, in his short and useful contribution to the fact that the changes in regulation 13 affect not just shipyard and industrial workers in heavier industries—the people that will be mainly affected—but such people as forestry workers. The Government must bear that in mind when they are considering the implications of this change.

As I represent a constituency that does not have a heavy industry base providing part of its employment prospects, perhaps it is useful that I should support the able case that was made by the hon. Members for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) and for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) on the question of the proposed change in regulation 13. It is a very shabby change. Ministers should have had the courage of their convictions. They should have told their officials quite clearly that they, the officials, cannot always seek to redress unacceptable decisions—unacceptable as the officials see them—taken by tribunals in the adjudication process, that they cannot simply use secondary legislation changes like the change to regulation 13 simply to redress the balance.

The important effects of vibration white finger are felt throughout the length and breadth of the land. However, the cost of retaining the provisions of regulation 13 must be finite, and it is quite wrong to move the goal posts in this way.

I want to refer now to the Income Support (Transitional) Amendment No. 2 Regulations 1989. Ministers' decision to make this change has my unequivocal support. They must have been under an inordinate amount of pressure from their officials to have no truck with any changes, to avoid tinkering with transitional support. I understand that it is a difficult benefit—for a reason to which, if I get a chance, I shall refer later. I recognise that this step must have taken courage, and I welcome it wholeheartedly.

Having said that, I have to point to the fact that about 200,000 people on transitional support will still feel the effect this April. If there have been problems in advertising the proposed changes in regulation 13, there will certainly be worries this April because of the changes in transitional support, and people will be unaware of these, too. The Department is not doing nearly enough to make clear to people, by advertising, the difficulties that they will have when the uprating advantages come through.

Some people who are falling out and are being floated off transitional protection will find that they are getting no actual cash increases. It is my experience, and my submission, that a vast proportion of those 200,000 people will, in ignorance, look forward to operating in the normal way. They will get a shock. They will find themselves in severely straitened financial circumstances in the 12 months following April 1990.

The Government must recognise that, for example, there have been significant changes in the financial circumstances of some poorer families and pensioners, particularly as a result of the poll tax changes. The poll tax provisions that are about to be visited on people south of the Border have been in operation north of the border for nearly a year. There will he a great need and a great demand for the full protection that the uprating orders afford, but, because of the erosion of transitional protection that has been built in since 1988, that will simply not be available to people who are currently expecting it. The Government must pay some attention to this matter.

The changes relating to severe weather payments, in so far as they go, are welcome. I want to repeat and to reinforce a point that was made earlier: that the flat-rate £5 payment, which was set originally in, I think, 1986, must be a candidate for uprating in some way, either on an occasional, ad hoc basis—every few years—or as part of the price protection available with other benefits. Ministers should look carefully at the level of flat rate benefit for the severe weather payment and find ways to increase it in the immediate future.

Secondly, many DSS offices fall within the ambit of weather stations that are near the coast. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow cited an example of this. The weather stations near the coast regularly reflect warmer temperatures.

The best case to illustrate my point is that experienced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) who, in 1987, found the temperature at Aviemore was minus 16 deg C but his constituents did not receive any severe weather payments because the weather station was linked to Kinloss, which never experienced temperatures below zero. Only Eskdalemuir, which is in my constituency, regularly triggers payments, and that is the most inland weather station in Scotland.

The ambient ground temperature can often be significantly reduced by the wind chill factor, and my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has made strong representations to the Department about that. There are easy and simple methods to establish temperature that include the wind chill factor, so that the Government cannot argue that it is too complicated to do so. The need for the severe weather payment, although luckily not felt this year, is as great as it was, and unless the Government find ways to improve the system, the benefit will be eroded and, like child benefit, will wither on the vine.

9.31 pm
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) accused the Labour party of not giving credit where credit is due. I hope that we shall have the pleasure of thanking the Minister and giving him full credit for it when he withdraws the regulation altering the law on vibration white finger. My hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay), for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) have ably destroyed any case for this change. One of the reasons we feel so passionately about this is our personal experience of heavy industry and our knowledge of how one of the bonuses of working is underpaid degrading jobs is often a crippling disease. It was clear from the speeches of Tory Members and the difficulty that one of them had in pronouncing "pneumoconiosis" how unfamiliar they are with this experience.

This regulation is cruel and unjust and should be withdrawn. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will do that. I cannot think of any answer that they could possibly give to justify the regulation. However, my hon. Friends are grateful for the intervention by the Minister of State, which was wholly justified, to allow so many others to come forward. If only 1,000 or 2,000 are left who have not met that claim, their rights should be protected.

The hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) criticised us for not making practical suggestions. However, we have some practical suggestions for the severe weather payments scheme, which is miserly, paltry and unworkable. If it ever has to be operated again, if the greenhouse effect is abated, the scheme will collapse under the weight of its own absurdities, as it did in 1986–87. As hon. Members have said, the payment is only £5 when we know that, on average, pensioners spend over the year £9 a week on heating, and over the winter that is substantially increased. Therefore, £5 is fairly meaningless. The hon. Member for Fylde valuably drew attention to how badly the scheme operated when it was tested. He gave an example of 3,000 people applying and only 500 being successful.

That is precisely what happened. Large numbers applied and, although 1.4 million were entitled to claim under the scheme, 500,000 were not successful, let alone the many people—the one to six who applied—who were not entitled to participate in it. The cost of advertising the scheme in the winter of 1987 represented the price of making 82,000 severe weather payments at that rate.

We suggest that the Government pay out under a scheme that is automatic. It could be done, because the system as it exists provides full details of all those entitled to severe weather payments. The only additional information needed, the Minister informed me some time ago, is how many claimants would be eliminated because they have capital—what was then £500 but is now £1,000. The simple answer is to increase the capital limit—the funeral money—from £1,000 to the usual £3,000. In other words, the information is already in the hands of the Department.

That would end the farce of local temperature triggers. The pay-out could be made on a national basis the moment bitter weather arrived and we would achieve a worthwhile gain for only a modest increase in the number of people receiving benefit. The administrative cost would be slashed to nothing, and the take-up would rise to 100 per cent. Such a system would be simple and cheap and would reach those in greatest peril.

We are well aware of the seriousness of the situation in view of the excessive number of winter deaths. We should send out a signal from the House that does not say, as it was once suggested from the Government Benches, that the elderly should dress up like Mother Hubbard or, as a predecessor of the Under-Secretary suggested, that they should go to jumble sales and deck themselves out for the winter.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

When the hon. Gentleman says that the scheme should operate nationally, does he mean that, although it is freezing in Aberdeen and boiling in Brighton, the scheme should nevertheless apply all over the country?

Mr. Flynn

I am shocked and outraged at the hon. Lady's suggestion that Aberdeen is in the same country as Brighton. I am sure that there would be similar objection if she suggested that Cardiff was in the same country. For this purpose, I am suggesting that the nations within this kingdom are the nations of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.

At present, the real value of the scheme is being drowned in administrative costs. It is a ludicrously wasteful arrangement. If it were changed, the nations could be divided into north and south—as many people think they should be divided in England—and in Wales and Scotland the system could work. I think I see Conservative Members shaking their heads in dissent, but that is what happened last time. The scheme was thought to be so ludicrous that hon. Members on both sides were up in arms, saying that it was crazy to wait for triggers that were miles from where the people lived. Finally, the Government decided under pressure to declare a national trigger. Why should they not do that again?

The important message that should go out from the House to the elderly who are at severe risk—and thousands of deaths are involved in this issue—is: "When the cold weather strikes, put up your heating. Keep warm and the costs will be met." That is not the message that is reaching them now. The message coming from the Government is, "We do not care. We are not bothered with what you do." All hon. Members are aware of cases where there is central heating in homes but the elderly do not use it; it is rarely, if ever, switched on. That is a terrible waste.

When discussing the recoupment regulations, the Minister gave an interesting account—it was something fresh for those of us who were on the Standing Committee which considered the enabling legislation—when he said that there would be a saving to the Government of £55 million. Perhaps he should have called it a cut. Either way, where will it come from? We were assured, if I understood the Minister aright, that it would not be a cut in benefits, that it would not be benefit confiscation.

In fact, that is precisely what it is, for while those on benefit will receive their benefits—there is a long list of essential benefits—they will not receive the compensation due to them. It is another Government cut. The Government have suddenly discovered an opportunity to save money and they are doing it in the teeth of universal opposition.

The Minister of State announced in a press release that he had listened to the Association of British Insurers. I accept that he had listened to them, but he had not done what they asked him to do, which was to set the limit at £5,000. I say with some certainty that, in the years ahead, Conservative Members will encounter in their surgeries cases that are so complex and unjust that they will ask themselves, "How on earth did we ever pass that legislation?"

The Government's action is laudable in many ways, and that there is courage behind it is something for which we give them credit. However, there is also in it some recklessness. The Government are trying to achieve an impossible objective in trying to mix compensation paid for injury, suffering or pain with social security funds paid out for very different reasons to maintain a standard of living under certain circumstances. Parts of the scheme are crude legislative lunacy, as will become apparent when cases involving contributory negligence come to the fore.

The Government are taking from claimants not the value of the benefits themselves but the value of compensation that will now never be received. That is the simple truth of the matter. Under the Government's scheme, sometimes the guilty will be rewarded and the innocent will suffer. Many right hon. and hon. Members will find cases coming before them that will be difficult to believe. The great flaw in the scheme is the Government's attempt to mix oil with water, in trying to exchange benefits for compensation.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the Lawson embarrassment bonus, and at least one hon. Member read from a brief that related to the previous debate. If we are to reach some kind of agreement and save unnecessary disputes between both sides of the House, it may be as well if the briefings given to Conservative Members are circulated among right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. The much-lauded Lawson embarrassment bonus seems to be giving great comfort to Government Members. The story needs repeating.

The sum involved is only £90 million for the first year and £200 million for the second. Right hon. and hon. Members will remember the remarkable series of events. There was the Autumn Statement and an uprating statement, yet there was no mention of the Lawson embarrassment bonus in either of them. Suddenly a remarkable event occurred. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer held a press conference in the company of 12 untruthful, lying journalists and one silent tape recorder, as a consequence of which it was inaccurately reported that the Chancellor intended to means-test pensions.

A matter of weeks passed, and the then lamented Secretary of State for Social Security pulled out of the hat a marvellous new measure—but one involving only a tiny amount of money.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell

Do not the Opposition welcome that improvement?

Mr. Flynn

I say to the hon. Member for Gelding that of course we welcome it, but it is means-tested and will be received by less than half of the pensioners on income support.

Mr. Mitchell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As in so many other respects, the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is wrong about the name of my constituency, which is Gedling, not Gelding.

Mr. Flynn

I am sure that there was a Freudian reason for my mistake, but I would not be so indelicate as to explore it.

We entirely share the Government's view that a group of elderly pensioners need special help. However, the new benefit will be means tested and will assist only those aged over 75 who are already receiving income support, or those aged over 60 who are receiving disablement benefits. Half the pensioners on income support will not enjoy that new benefit. The amount payable is only £2.50 to a single person and £3.50 to a married couple, which compensates in only tiny measure for the great cuts that pensioners have suffered because of the breaching of the link between prices and earnings.

In reality, life today is very different from the fantasy world portrayed by Conservative Members. This very day, a report has revealed that 250,000 households in Britain are in serious financial trouble because of debt. The report, published by the Church of England Children's Society, is part of a great confetti of reports. They come out weekly and they all make the same points. They are issued by bodies which are not Left-wing but are genuinely independent and involved in the care of children and the elderly. The message is repeated on every page of this report. It says that social security cuts have savagely divided Britain.

I see that the Secretary of State has the report with him, and I am sure that he will be able to see a condemnation on every page. It says that the YTS rates are too low; that loans are not working; that making a claim is so difficult that only the desperate succeed; that the system absurdly discourages young people from going to work; that the social fund is inadequate; that the system is hostile to pregnant young women—the list goes on and on.

Each year that the Government have been in office they have produced one major piece of legislation that has cut an important benefit. We have become a divided and unhappy nation. The rich have had tax cuts lavished on them, and the poor have been cruelly robbed. In a mockery of their poverty the ex-Chancellor—the great architect of divided Britain—today flaunts his new wealth. Moonlighting from his parliamentary job, he now brings in a gross salary greater than the earnings of 100 pensioners.

Finally, I quote early-day motion 105, which I commend to Conservative Members: That this House notes that at times of growing international tension the Government's policy is to increase spending on weapons, in times of stability the Government's policy is to increase spending on weapons and in times of lessening tension the Government policy is to increase spending on weapons; and calls on the Government to answer a changing world situation with a flexible response. There must be a flexible response, and we look for a peace dividend as a result of that. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to use that peace dividend constructively for social service will unite to say that a rich slice of it must be spent on social security.

9.46 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

This has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate—as it is usual to say. The measures have been described variously as squalid and sensible, as cuts and beneficial. There seems to be general agreement on their complexity, and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), who reminded the Government of the need to produce simpler regulations, should remember that the Department has received the plain English award for the simplicity of its forms.

There have been balanced contributions from a number of hon. Members, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) and for Fylde (Mr. Jack). There have been passionate contributions from Opposition Members on the understandably difficult issue of industrial injury.

I shall attempt to deal with as many of the issues as possible, which is more than I can say for some of the contributions that have been made.

The draft Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Regular Employment) Regulations 1990 are, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, wholly beneficial. I am glad that those regulations at least commend themselves to all Members of the House.

I listened with interest to the points raised by the right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition in connection with the proposal to repeal regulation 13 of the Social Security (Industrial Injuries and Diseases) Miscellaneous Provisions Regulations 1986, and in particular, of course, to their concern about that condition known as vibration white finger. There were strong contributions from, among others, the hon. Members for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay), for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and for Preston (Mrs. Wise).

I remind the House that the original decision to revoke the regulation was made as long ago as December 1988. Almost a year and a quarter will have passed before the regulation ceases to have effect. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, the transitional regulation has been in operation for nearly three and a half years and there is no justifiable reason now why it should continue. Those for whom this regulation was originally intended have been provided with an opportunity to claim and those who also might benefit from the wider interpretation put upon the regulation by the tribunal of Commissioners in August 1989 have also had ample time to make a claim for benefit.

We have, following representations from Opposition Members, allowed regulation 13 to continue for a further three months. Claims received after the regulation ceases to have effect—this should be remembered—will still be accepted and considered under the current rules. Transitional regulations, especially those of a quite exceptional nature, cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. The regulation was never intended to cover justifiable ignorance, but circumstances in which a person was mentally or physically incapable of putting in a claim on time. It is a transitional regulation which has been in place more than three years. The time is now right to amend it.

A question was asked about the number of claims that have been received under regulation 13. The answer is 26,000.

Mr. Clay

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but will she give one small undertaking as a gesture of sincerity from the Government? Will she undertake that offices will be asked to locate those claims that were made between vibration white finger becoming a prescribed industrial disease and the Kenneth Potts case? Where, until the commissioner's decision, DSS officers told people that they did not have good cause to claim, will the DSS write, inviting them to resubmit a claim without a time limit?

Mrs. Shephard

I shall look at the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but I cannot give any undertaking now.

Although claims received at local offices on Monday 12 February will have to be dealt with under the new amendments, I shall ensure that any claims lodged at local offices before that date, including the weekend, will be endorsed accordingly. The adjudication officer will then be able to deal with the claims under the current provisions.

The social fund cold weather payments scheme is one of a range of measures that the Government have taken to help those most at risk during periods of cold weather. It has a number of merits. It is simple to understand. It provides £5 for particularly vulnerable groups for any seven-day period of cold weather—when the average temperature is 0 deg C or below. The use of that clear, fixed trigger point avoids confusion about eligibility, which is more than can be said for the half-baked suggestions emanating from the Opposition Front Bench.

Our scheme is sensitive to differences in local conditions and although windchill is always a matter for debate we reviewed the effectiveness of the weather stations this autumn and are satisfied that each one is reasonably representative of the main centres of population in the local office's area. The scheme also targets help on those particularly at risk. Payment can be made to the elderly, sick, disabled and very young.

In the past year to October 1989, gas prices fell in real terms by 16 per cent. It now costs less than in 1970. The price of domestic electricity fell by 8 per cent. in the same five years.

The regulations widen access to the scheme further by raising the savings limit for elderly people from £500 to £1,000. As announced by my right hon. Friend, that increased limit for elderly people will be used for the rest of the social fund from April. In order to make it possible for more elderly people to receive cold weather payments this winter, the regulations bring forward the effective date of the change for the cold weather scheme to 1 January. That should be welcomed by the House.

Mr. Winnick

Does the hon. Lady realise how miserly those arrangements are? Unless it is freezing, not a penny will be paid and then, as she said, it has to freeze for seven consecutive days. Does she not have constituents like mine, who have the smallest possible income and simply cannot afford to pay their fuel bills even when it is not freezing?

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Gentleman knows that allowance is already made in income support for heating costs. The £5 payment is intended to provide additional help in very cold weather.

As for the Income Support (Transitional) Amendment No. 2 Regulations that relate to children returning home from local authority care, we have attempted to help the particularly vulnerable groups. The amendment regulations further reflect our concern about exceptional cases. The regulations will help the tiny minority of families who still have transitional protection and whose children are in local authority care.

We provide such families with additional benefit when their children come home temporarily from care. We wish to encourage children to take advantage of home leave. We do not want the additional benefit of leave to reduce the financial protection for parents. We have therefore legislated accordingly. I remind the House that special arrangements were incorporated in the transitional protection for the severely disabled and also for those who require respite care in residential homes or nursing homes.

As for recoupment, the Opposition have misunderstood the position, despite the fact that the matter was fully debated last year in Committee. The division of damages into special damages and general damages is almost academic. The distinctions apply only to cases that are heard in court—1 per cent. of all cases. In all the other cases—99 per cent.—compensation for total damages is already sought. The aim of the legislation and regulations is to accept the realities.

In general terms, the legislation is based on two fundamental principles: that the compensator should fully compensate a person for injuries caused to him and that his liability should not be subsidised by the social security services. Such a scheme operates in most EC countries. I do not know why the Opposition fail to understand that it is the compensator's liability that is dealt with in the legislation.

The second principle is that the injured person should not receive more from two sources than he might receive in compensation or social security alone. However, the savings to which Opposition Members referred come from the compensators. We have been grateful for the co-operation of a number of outside organisations in working out the details of the scheme in such a way as to reduce the burdens on them. We are well aware of the calls for a higher small payment limit, but we believe that £2,500 is a reasonable figure.

It has been an interesting debate, with good contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. On the whole, the regulations provide a package of measures that are designed to improve and refine the way that the social security system operates. They deserve to be supported. I recommend their approval.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Regular Employment) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 18th January, be approved. That the draft Social Security (Recoupment) Regulations 1990, which were laid before this House on 25th January, be approved.—[Mr. Newton.]

Motion made, and Question put, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Industrial Injuries and Diseases) Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Regulations 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 73) dated 22nd January 1990, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be annulled.—[Mr. Meacher.]

The House proceeded to a Division, and Mr. Speaker having directed that the doors be locked—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I understand that there has been a miscalculation and that I called for the doors to be locked one minute early. I shall have the doors opened for one minute.

Whereupon the doors were unlocked.

The House having divided: Ayes 218, Noes 270.

Division No. 69] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Bermingham, Gerald
Allen, Graham Bidwell, Sydney
Alton, David Blair, Tony
Anderson, Donald Blunkett, David
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Boateng, Paul
Armstrong, Hilary Boyes, Roland
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bradley, Keith
Ashton, Joe Bray, Dr Jeremy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Barron, Kevin Buchan, Norman
Battle, John Buckley, George J.
Beckett, Margaret Caborn, Richard
Beggs, Roy Callaghan, Jim
Beith, A. J. Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Bell, Stuart Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Canavan, Dennis
Adley, Robert Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Aitken, Jonathan Forth, Eric
Alexander, Richard Franks, Cecil
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Freeman, Roger
Allason, Rupert French, Douglas
Amess, David Fry, Peter
Amos, Alan Gale, Roger
Arbuthnot, James Gardiner, George
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Gill, Christopher
Ashby, David Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Atkins, Robert Goodlad, Alastair
Atkinson, David Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Baldry, Tony Gorst, John
Batiste, Spencer Gow, Ian
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bellingham, Henry Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bendall, Vivian Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Benyon, W. Gregory, Conal
Blackburn, Dr John G. Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Grist, Ian
Body, Sir Richard Ground, Patrick
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hague, William
Boswell, Tim Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bottomley, Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hampson, Dr Keith
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Hanley, Jeremy
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hannam, John
Bowis, John Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Harris, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hawkins, Christopher
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hayes, Jerry
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hayward, Robert
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Heathcoat-Amory, David
Budgen, Nicholas Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Burt, Alistair Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Butcher, John Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hill, James
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hind, Kenneth
Chapman, Sydney Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Holt, Richard
Colvin, Michael Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Patrick Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Couchman, James Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cran, James Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Devlin, Tim Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Dorrell, Stephen Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Dunn, Bob Irvine, Michael
Durant, Tony Irving, Sir Charles
Emery, Sir Peter Jack, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Janman, Tim
Evennett, David Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Fallon, Michael Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Favell, Tony Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Fenner, Dame Peggy Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Key, Robert
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Fishburn, John Dudley King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Fookes, Dame Janet Knapman, Roger
Forman, Nigel Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Lamond, James
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Leadbitter, Ted
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Leighton, Ron
Clay, Bob Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Clelland, David Lewis, Terry
Cohen, Harry Litherland, Robert
Coleman, Donald Livingstone, Ken
Corbett, Robin Livsey, Richard
Corbyn, Jeremy Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cousins, Jim Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cox, Tom Loyden, Eddie
Crowther, Stan McAllion, John
Cryer, Bob McAvoy, Thomas
Cummings, John McCartney, Ian
Cunliffe, Lawrence McFall, John
Dalyell, Tarn McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Darling, Alistair McKelvey, William
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McLeish, Henry
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) McWilliam, John
Dewar, Donald Madden, Max
Dixon, Don Maginnis, Ken
Dobson, Frank Mahon, Mrs Alice
Doran, Frank Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Douglas, Dick Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Duffy, A. E. P. Martlew, Eric
Dunnachie, Jimmy Maxton, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Meacher, Michael
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Meale, Alan
Fatchett, Derek Michael, Alun
Faulds, Andrew Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fearn, Ronald Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
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 Morley, Elliot
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Foster, Derek Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Fraser, John Mowlam, Marjorie
Fyfe, Maria Mullin, Chris
Galloway, George Murphy, Paul
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Nellist, Dave
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
George, Bruce O'Brien, William
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John O'Neill, Martin
Godman, Dr Norman A. Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gordon, Mildred Parry, Robert
Gould, Bryan Patchett, Terry
Graham, Thomas Pendry, Tom
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Pike, Peter L.
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Grocott, Bruce Primarolo, Dawn
Hardy, Peter Quin, Ms Joyce
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Randall, Stuart
Haynes, Frank Redmond, Martin
Heffer, Eric S. Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Henderson, Doug Richardson, Jo
Hinchliffe, David Robinson, Geoffrey
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Rooker, Jeff
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Home Robertson, John Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Hood, Jimmy Rowlands, Ted
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Ruddock, Joan
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Sedgemore, Brian
Howells, Geraint Sheerman, Barry
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hoyle, Doug Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Short, Clare
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Sillars, Jim
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Illsley, Eric Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Ingram, Adam Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Janner, Greville Snape, Peter
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Soley, Clive
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Spearing, Nigel
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Kilfedder, James Steinberg, Gerry
Kirkwood, Archy Stott, Roger
Lambie, David Strang, Gavin
Straw, Jack Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis Wilson, Brian
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck) Winnick, David
Turner, Dennis Wise, Mrs Audrey
Wall, Pat Worthington, Tony
Wallace, James Wray, Jimmy
Wai ley, Joan Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N. Tellers for the Ayes:
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C) Mrs. Llin Golding and
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E) Mr. Ken Eastham.
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Roe, Mrs Marion
Knowles, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knox, David Rost, Peter
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rowe, Andrew
Lang, Ian Ryder, Richard
Latham, Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Lawrence, Ivan Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Shaw, David (Dover)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb'j
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shelton, Sir William
Lilley, Peter Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lloyd, Peter (Farehamj Shersby, Michael
Lord, Michael Sims, Roger
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Speller, Tony
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Maclean, David Squire, Robin
McLoughlin, Patrick Stanbrook, Ivor
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Steen, Anthony
Madel, David Stern, Michael
Malins, Humfrey Stevens, Lewis
Maples, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marland, Paul Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stokes, Sir John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maude, Hon Francis Sumberg, David
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Summerson, Hugo
Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Miller, Sir Hal Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mitchell, Sir David Temple-Morris, Peter
Moate, Roger Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Monro, Sir Hector Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thorne, Neil
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Thornton, Malcolm
Morrison, Sir Charles Thurnham, Peter
Moss, Malcolm Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moynihan, Hon Colin Tracey, Richard
Mudd, David Tredinnick, David
Neale, Gerrard Trippier, David
Needham, Richard Trotter, Neville
Nelson, Anthony Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholls, Patrick Viggers, Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Norris, Steve Walden, George
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Oppenheim, Phillip Waller, Gary
Page, Richard Ward, John
Paice, James Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, Irvine Warren, Kenneth
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Watts, John
Patten, Rt Hon John Wells, Bowen
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoftrey Wheeler, Sir John
Pawsey, James Whitney, Ray
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Widdecombe, Ann
Porter, David (Waveney) Wiggin, Jerry
Portillo, Michael Wilkinson, John
Powell, William (Corby) Wilshire, David
Price, Sir David Wolfson, Mark
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Redwood, John Yeo, Tim
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rhodes James, Robert
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Tellers for the Noes:
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Mr. Nicholas Baker and
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Mr. Tom Sackville.

Question accordingly negatived.