HC Deb 04 March 1992 vol 205 cc399-411 8.47 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

I beg to move, That the draft Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) Amendment Regulations 1992, which were laid before this House on 25th February, be approved. The House will recall debating four sets of regulations setting out the detailed provisions for disability living allowance and disability working allowance last December. The regulations before the House tonight make a number of minor technical corrections to one of the sets —the disability living allowance regulations—which were debated then.

The amendment regulations make five changes. Amending regulation 2(2) corrects the original regulation which provides that payment of the care component of disability living allowance should cease four weeks after admission to hospital. In defining a hospital for this purpose, the original regulation omitted the necessary references to Scottish legislation.

Amending regulation 2(3)(a) is also entirely technical. It merely alters the opening words of the original to reflect the amended structure of the regulation.

Amending regulation 2(3)(b) and (c) corrects an error in the orginal regulation concerning the treatment of the DLA care component for children in the care of a local authority. In the past, attendance allowance has not been paid for children in the care of a local authority when they live in residential accommodation such as a children's home, but benefit has been payable for children living in a private dwelling—for example, with a family. Our intention was to carry forward that entirely sensible distinction into DLA. We made that clear in all the documentation on the regulations but, regrettably, the original regulation was defective. As drafted, it provides for virtually all children under the age of 16 in the care of a local authority to carry on getting the DLA care component regardless of where they live.

We believe that it is sensible not to pay a DLA care component when the care needs are already being met from public funds. As hon. Members may recall, we have decided, from April, to allow children in hospital to continue getting the DLA care component for 12 rather than four weeks, which will be of substantial help to the parents of children who spend protracted periods in hospital.

Amending regulation 2(3)(d) corrects an error in the original regulations relating to the care component for people who are terminally ill. Again, it has been a long standing policy that attendance allowance is not payable when accommodation is provided, or may be provided, from public funds, so as to avoid double provision for the same needs. Once again, with the introduction of DLA we have moved to relax that rule in the case of people who are terminally ill.

The original regulations correctly provided an exemption for terminally ill people living in accommodation where funding may be provided from public funds, but is not necessarily so provided in practice—normally in a voluntary hospice. However, we inadvertently failed to extend the exemption to cases where some public funding is provided to the hospice—for example, via a small grant from the local health authority.

We do not believe that such funding should affect the rights of terminally ill people to get DLA or attendance allowance, so the amending regulation corrects the error and ensures that terminally ill people in such accommodation are entitled, as was originally intended, to the care component of DLA.

Amending regulation 2(4) corrects an error in relation to the suspension of DLA care component when a recipient enters hospital or residential accommodation. The policy is for the DLA care component to cease after the recipient has been in the accommodation for 28 days —or 84 days for children under 16 in hospital.

However, the original regulation was defective, extending far more widely than intended. It could have had the nonsensical effect of treating almost any accommodation as "residential accommodation"—meaning for example, that the care component would be withdrawn after 28 days from a person in a private dwelling. The amending regulation removes that unwanted effect, and restores the original policy intention.

From that brief summary, I hope that it will be clear to the House that the regulations are purely technical. I am sorry that it has proved necessary to detain hon. Members at this hour to debate the regulations, but they are technical and beneficial, and no losers are created as a result of any of the amendments. The amendments simply restore the original intention, and guarantee the rights which we had initially intended.

8.52 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

These new regulations may seem wholly uncontroversial. As we have heard, they seek to correct drafting errors by the Government that relate to payment of the disability living allowance in Scotland and tighten the rules on payment of the DLA for 28 days after the claimant has entered hospital or scheduled accommodation.

Nevertheless, I have been widely pressed to oppose the regulations, in order to mark the very deep concern felt by organisations of and for disabled people about the Government's "double-speak"—I quote from a statement last week by the Disability Alliance—about the £300 million of "new" money which, they say, Ministers so misleadingly claim to have put into disability benefits via the Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Allowance Act 1991.

The Disability Alliance is a federation of more than 200 organisations, many of them household names. Its views are therefore highly deserving of the attention of the House, and the charge of "double-speak" is a deeply serious one for the Government. But the charge is well documented. Indeed, the statement from the Disability Alliance in which it appears continues: The most glaring example of Government double-speak concerns the £300 million 'new' money they claim to have put into disability benefits in 'The Way Ahead' package (January 1990). In fact, the phasing-out of rights to invalidity benefit (additional pensions), just one of the cuts to disability benefits which form part of the same package, will save the Government £475 million within the next decade."—[Official Report, 21 January 1992; Vol. 202, c. 914.] In other parliamentary replies, the Government have also admitted that they will start saving money on the disabled working allowance within two years and that, in fact, 95 per cent. of disabled people will gain not a single penny from either the DLA or the DWA, whose net cost, as the Disability Alliance has demonstrated, is substantially less than the Government's anticipated saving from just one of their recent cuts to disability benefits.

It will be recalled that, in the social security changes of April 1988, more than 1 million disabled people lost payments that helped them with such unavoidable extra costs of disability as special diets, heating and laundering. Even people who are doubly incontinent, and too weak to carry bedclothes to a launderette, are denied the help that they used to get for their higher laundry costs.

The Government argue incessantly that spending on disability benefits has risen sharply since they came to power. The impression given is that disabled people are individually much better off than they were in 1979, but the increased spending since then has not been on higher benefits; it is accounted for almost wholly by higher take-up of the mobility and attendance, invalid care and other allowances that were introduced long before the present Government came to power. Since 1979, while average earnings have increased by more than 20 per cent. in real terms, disability benefits have risen by only 1 per cent. That is the truth about the Government's claim to have more disabled people better off.

Miss Widdecombe

I mean no discourtesy to the right hon. Gentleman, but we are debating a set of amending regulations. His speech sounds like the arguments that have been rehearsed fairly comprehensively on Second Reading, in Committee, and at later stages. What has it to do with the amendments under discussion tonight?

Mr. Morris

I have referred at several points in my speech to the amendments, and I shall refer to them again as I go along. I have also told the House that there are people in organisations of and for disabled people who have asked me to oppose the regulations, in order to emphasise their deep concern about the Disability Living Allowance and the Disability Working Allowance Act 1991. They want other amendments, and they have asked me to set the Government's amendments in the context of what they would like to see. I have shown that, relative to most other people, disabled people have been made very much worse off, and that neither the amending regulations nor the legislation from which they stem will alter that fundamental truth about the Government's record.

Nor do these amending regulations alter in any way the unacceptable complexity of the rules of entitlement to the DLA care component and attendance allowance for people in all the various forms of institutional care. The main ambiguities revolve around the definition of "scheduled accommodation". It is not clear, for example, how respite care funded by local authorities is classified. Thus, someone looking for respite care for a temporary period is likely to have difficulty finding out whether they are excluded from benefit by regulation 9.

As I pointed out before the Act became law, there will be 11 different combinations of DLA awards. One assessment procedure for what are still two very separate benefits—the mobility and attendance allowances—will not make life any easier for claimants. The DWA is so villainously complex that disabled people qualifying may well not realise before claiming that they will be no better off. In fact, taking poll tax liability and loss of housing benefit into account, they could actually be worse off.

The hon. Lady will know that, together with other right hon. and hon. Members, I have had concern expressed to me about the position of claimants who sit on disability appeal tribunals. While the Government are encouraging disabled people to sit on DATs, to do so can affect their benefit levels. The attendance fee for DATs is £100 a day, but the DSS has no plans to change the rules on therapeutic earnings, so disabled people who sit on the tribunals may lose both their benefit and status as "unfit for work". One woman who wrote recently to the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation about this commented: We are being punished for doing a public service, which seems very unfair. I hope the Minister will agree and act urgently to remedy the anomaly.

Again, I hope the Minister will respond urgently to the concern expressed by the ME Action Campaign about which I have made representations to her right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, as I know other right hon. and hon. Members will have done. In their letter to me on behalf of people disabled by myalgic encephalomyelitis, they ask for a rewrite of the entry describing ME in the DLA handbook. Their letter proceeds: The fears of all disability groups concerning the Disability Living Allowance have been borne out, and particularly in the case of those disabled by ME, for whom the handbook description is outdated, inaccurate and demeaning and the application forms and tests for mobility are unfair and inappropriate. We are sure you will agree that it is quite bad enough to suffer from a chronic disabling illness, without also being deprived of the benefits on which so many sufferers depend and regarded as malingerers by Government.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I very much regret having to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, who has a long and considerable interest in the matter, but he is now straying rather far from the scope of the debate.

Mr. Morris

I am asked by the ME Action Campaign to say that, if the House of Commons is amending what is to them very important legislation, their voice should be heard as to other amendments to the Act, which are just as important as those now before the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I am afraid that the scope of the debate is much narrower than that. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a very considerable parliamentarian and has a long interest in and involvement in these matters. However, the scope of the debate is much narrower than the points with which he is now dealing.

Mr. Morris

Of course I accept your view, Madam Deputy Speaker. I very much hope that the hon. Lady will give pleasure to all parts of the House by responding to the point I have made, which is an important one for the people for whom I speak.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

When the Government talk about changes to benefits for disabled people in their legislation, what usually happens is that they set up a review. I am sick to death of this. Because of an increase in benefit or a change in benefit, the Government set up a review. People who have received disability benefit and who live in a wheelchair have to go through the review and for a period their benefit is stopped. It is a shocking state of affairs and it is high time that the Government came off it. Disabled people, not only in my constituency but nationwide, are entitled to many things. They should receive them, and they should receive proper treatment from the Department.

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend has spoken with some intensity of feeling. He is taking an opportunity, as his constituents would expect, to represent their concerns. The amending regulations, to which I have referred on several occasions, are narrowly drawn. They have to be looked at in the context—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The regulations must be looked at in the context in which they are drawn. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will now accept my ruling on the matter.

Mr. Morris

I will go no further in responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes).

Tonight's debate provides an opportunity briefly to raise other concerns that have been voiced about the Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Allowance Act 1991 and, in particular, the charge that the Government's current "so-called information campaign" —again I quote the Disability Alliance—is in fact a propagandist version of the truth which taxpayers are being made to pay for during a general election campaign.

A high-profile media campaign of television and newspaper advertisements is now under way and will end on 6 April. It will now have to take account, no doubt, of the regulations we are talking about here. I have said that the television and press advertising campaign is causing concern to disability organisations which they want the House to hear.

Last Sunday in The Observer, the Department of Social Security placed a huge advertisement about the disability working allowance, with a tear-off coupon for the reader to request information on the disability living allowance. Has confusion ever been more confused? To make matters even worse, the same advertisement appeared in The Guardian the following day. I must take this opportunity to say to the Government that a mistake of that order has to be corrected and very quickly.

I am reminded of the leniency, as some people thought, of Mark Twain's remark that Wagner's music is not as had as it sounds. In the view of many of this country's foremost authorities on disability benefits, the message from the Government's current media campaign is nowhere near as good as it looks.

These amending regulations do not go far enough to meet the concerns of organisations which speak for millions of disabled people in this country. I hope that the Minister will accept the concerns that I have expressed. I hope that she will appreciate the depth of feeling among those who speak for disability organisations. I do not ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the amendment regulations. No legislation, however, was more clearly in need of improvement than the 1991 Act. I hope that there will be more to it for the House to consider from a new Government, and very soon.

9.6 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I wish to speak only briefly on the amendment regulations. I had the honour to serve on the Standing Committee which considered the Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Allowance Bill. I am pleased to see that it will come into effect on 1 April 1992. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consult closely with her colleagues in the Department of Health, because on the same date the community care plans will also have to be published by local authorities.

I recently received a consultation document published by the Bolton authorities entitled "Bolton Community Care Plan." It draws attention to the needs of nine different client groups, including the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped and the physically handicapped. At long last, the document identifies considerable unmet needs which would cost in total, in the case of Bolton, some £5 million in additional resources. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consult closely with her colleagues about how those unmet needs can be met.

The plans go into considerable detail. They have been drawn up well. They show that there is a need for £2.3 million in the coming year but that only £600,000 has been identified from existing resources as available to meet those needs. Those resources have been found from competitive tendering. Some £600,000 alone is needed to set up a centre at the former Moss Nook children's home, which will provide about 20 places for both mental health patients and people described as having challenging behaviour, many of whom suffer from severe mental and physical handicap.

I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to visit Bolton if she has an opportunity, to see how the disability living allowance meets the needs to which the plans refer. I hope that she will be able to meet members of the Bolton handicap action group, which I helped to set up a few years ago, and which has played an active part in working with the health authority and local authority to attempt to provide some of the requirements of people whose needs are not met at present. When she comes to Bolton, I hope that she will have a chance to read the document if she does not do so before.

I draw her attention to page 166 where, under the heading of "Corporate Review of services for people with a learning disability" it identifies certain themes where service needs are greatest. I shall mention one theme because it underlines the need to consider these amending regulations carefully and to decide whether anything further can be done. The comment in the report is as follows: some people get nothing, others know there is nothing to get, and often the people who need the most get the least". I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that closely in mind when considering these and any future regulations.

9.10 pm
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I wish to take up several genuine matters of concern which were mentioned by the Minister. The first involves people who are terminally ill. The Minister is perhaps aware that I have written to the Department several times on this subject. The hospices in my constituency—the Accord hospice and St. Vincent's hospice—both mentioned to me some time ago that the previous arrangements were causing a great deal of distress. Many people who were terminally ill, but did not necessarily know it, would apply, under the special conditions for severe disablement allowance. As they did not know that they were terminally ill, the application was perhaps made by their carer or through the Macmillan nurses. However, the regulations state that the terminally ill person must be notified of any decision. That caused distress, because people who did not know that they were terminally ill were sent a booklet which told them that they had been awarded money because they were terminally ill. Will the Minister give an assurance that that will not happen with disability living allowance?

I received an ambiguous reply from the Minister recently which said that the Government would amend the wording, but gave no clear commitment that the carer would be notified if that was the choice of the carer and the terminally ill person.

Secondly, I ask for guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, on whether it would be in order to mention the concerns of myalgic encephalomyelitis sufferers and to ask the Minister whether she has plans to introduce any regulations for them. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) here. He has done a lot of work on that subject. We are worried about the wording in the booklet, as it says that the disease could be all in the mind, when medical evidence is becoming more stacked against that view. We hope that the wording will be revised.

Thirdly, the application form is causing some concern because it is so complicated. A genuine question arises from that. A body of opinion, in the all-party group in the House and in the Disability Alliance, believes that many forums can be consulted about the wording of regulations. Which organisations has the Minister consulted before bringing the regulations to the House? In future, will she consult knowledgeable people, including the Disability Alliance and all the disability groups which are affected?

Finally, the Association of Councillors lobbied yesterday on this subject. As I understand it, one can earn only £39 a week before money is deducted pound for pound. I believe that the Minister of State has given an assurance on more than one occasion that that anomaly has been recognised and that something will be done. The fact is that something has not been done. The result is that councillors can attend only two meetings a week. That is a big price to pay for democracy. When disabled people, no matter what their disability, cannot enter local government because they would be financially penalised, that is a bad day for democracy.

9.14 pm
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

I am disappointed that the regulations do not cover the real problems experienced by the sufferers of myalgic encephalomyelitis, of whom there are between 200,000 and 300,000.

The Department of Social Security is well aware of the problem, because it has received representations not only from hon. Members and as a result of private Bills, but from the ME Action Campaign and the ME Association.

There is a strong feeling among politicians, sufferers and the charitable organisations that try to care for those sufferers that there is a conspiracy among the medical profession not to identify the real problems faced by ME sufferers. Only recently, I received a representations from those in psychiatry who have challenged some of my views. However, I should like to restate views that I have already made known to the House.

For too long, the medical profession has used psychiatry as the dumping ground for its failures and inadequacies. More than 200,000 people suffer from an illness that has not been properly recognised. They suffer day in, day out for 24 hours a day, and they need help and recognition of their illness.

The Government talk, rightly so, about spending money properly and getting value for money. We have never been able to calculate the millions and millions of pounds that are spend in the health service on ME sufferers because of misdiagnosis. I challenge the Government to reconsider this matter. If we recognise the illness of ME properly we will not only be able to help those hundreds of thousands of sufferers and their families, but also save money for the health service. That is a true, self-financing Tory phenomenon.

I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter and, please, to ignore the advice that is coming from the demagogues of the medical profession who have ignored the plight of ME sufferers.

9.17 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I strongly support my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), who has done so much work on this disease. All our constituents are grateful to him.

I have a question for the Secretary of State, who is present. In the necessarily fallow period while the elections are taking place, we all know that civil servants put their heads in proverbial cold towels and produce all sorts of plans for whoever are the incoming Government. I ask the Secretary of State to give an instruction while he is on the hustings that a good deal of thought is given to this complex problem. It is not easy, as all of us who have had to deal with this illness at first hand know.

This is a time for consideration and reflection in the Department. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ask his chief medical officer and others who are likely to be producing plans for whoever are the incoming Government to have something ready on ME by the time that that Government are in place.

9.18 pm
Miss Widdecombe

This has been an interesting debate, with many contributions from hon. Members who have earned distinction for the way in which they have pursued these issues—over many years in the case of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris).

Although most of the points that have been raised have precious little to do with the regulations, they are important. I hope that I shall be allowed the same latitude in answering them as right hon. and hon. Members were allowed in the first place.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) spoke about the terminally ill and the sensitive problem concerning those who do not know that they are so ill, who find out that they have a limited time to live when they are informed about what money they will receive. The problem is fully recognised. Claimants have to be notified that they are receiving money and how much money, and we have not found a way to avoid doing that. However, they are not, and they never will be, told the reasons why.

We shall be watching this closely in view of the representations that have been made. I hope that that is satisfactory, but if, even on that limited basis, the hon. Gentleman can raise cases of distress being caused, perhaps he will continue his correspondence with me and we shall have another look. However, I cannot do as he asked and promise new regulations to take account of that.

I was amazed to be told by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe that the television advertising campaign is propaganda. It is the provision of information, and that has been widely welcomed by just about all the disability organisations. If we had not had a take-up campaign or a series of advertising to get across the message, the right hon. Gentleman would, quite rightly, have been the first to ask what we were doing to make sure that a completely new benefit, and a slightly complex one, was being taken up. I refute any suggestion of propaganda.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a valid point about the unfortunate error in the disability working allowance advertisement. I assure him that anyone who sends off one of these coupons will get the right information and we shall be placing many more advertisements in an attempt to get the right message across and to correct that unfortunate error.

I am aware of the unfortunate business about disabled members of disability appeal tribunals and the problem of the effect on their benefits. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Minister of State is giving active consideration to how we can put this right.

Three hon. Members mentioned the ME Action Group and, before one of them was ruled out of order, they got in enough points to enable me to respond. The ME Action Group has made representations to the disability living allowance advisory board about whether people with ME should qualify for the DLA. That section of the handbook on ME was rewritten in the light of the helpful comments from organisations representing ME sufferers, but the whole point of the DLA is that it is related not to the illness or complaint of disability but to the effects of those disabilities.

So as to guage accurately those effects, we have the rather long form that has been criticised tonight. For many years, as the right hon. Gentleman will be only too well aware, we have been under pressure from organisations representing disabled people to introduce more self-assessment and to have less what they call "interference" from the medical profession. Self-assessment means asking claimants a large number of questions that would previously have been asked of the medical profession. Therefore, although the form is long, it is designed to address points made in the representations that we have persistently received, and it has been widely welcomed.

Mr. Dalyell

I ask this in an interrogatory spirit rather than a hostile or critical one. Is the Department quite sure that both it and the medical profession can be certain about the effects of ME? I have the impression as a layman that this is one of the problems. Constituency experience has shown me that there is considerable argument about the effects of ME. There is possibly a difference between how doctors see it and how patients perceive themselves.

Miss Widdecombe

Yes, but there is disagreement among the medical profession about the effects. The hon. Gentleman must realise that the advisory board is no longer medically dominated and we now take the advice of those suffering from disabilities and of laymen. It is not just a question of accepting one set of medical advice. We can act only on the information that we are given. I stress that it is the effects that matter, and the effects of most disabilities and illnesses vary from person to person.

Mr. Hood

I thank the Minister for her clarity. I shall photostat a few copies of Hansard tomorrow and send them to one or two doctors who have been ignoring the effects of illness and disability. I agree with the Minister. Those of us who try to advise our constituents on health matters are frustrated by the fact that doctors are getting into a wrangle about diagnosis and are ignoring effects. When a person is disabled, he or she should be treated as such. Although doctors may argue about diagnosis, they should ensure that a person who is ill and bedridden and needs help receives it. I am pleased to hear the Minister say that it is the effect that matters.

Miss Widdecombe

If the hon. Gentleman's interventon was aimed at getting me to clarify what I said, I have pleasure in confirming that his interpretation is correct —the effect rather than the defined illness matters.

The issue of counsellors relates to a completely different disability benefit—severe disablement allowance. I do not wish to introduce too quarrelsome a note into the debate because it has been productive, but I absolutely refute the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) that the Government are guilty of double-speak when it comes to the new money that we are investing in the measure. It must be obvious to anyone capable of moving beads on an abacus that, if people are to receive the same level of benefits and if others are to be brought into the system for the first time, extra money is being made available.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) for his contribution. Obviously, we are in constant contact with our colleagues in the Department of Health and we recognise the many community care issues that must be dealt with.

Mr. McMaster

May I press the Minister on a further issue? Who will the Minister consult in future when bringing forward regulations that affect disabled people? Will she consult the groups that know what the problems are and can draft appropriate regulations?

Miss Widdecombe

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for having missed that point out of the many that he raised. We have already consulted widely on the regulations, the main Bill, and the various suggestions that were made to us as a result of the Bill and we shall continue to consult widely.

In the meantime, I commend these technical and beneficial regulations, which we have rather forgotten tonight, to the House.

9.28 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris

By leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is no part of my intention to forget the amendment regulations. I return specifically to them. It is not just my view but that of many other people who know the 1991 Act well that these amending regulations in no way alter the unacceptable complexity of the rules of entitlement to the DLA care component and attendance allowance for people in all the various forms of institutional care.

It is put to me by organisations closely involved in the care of disabled people who live in institutions that, as I argued, the main ambiguities revolve around the definition of "scheduled accommodation". For example, it is not clear how respite care funded by local authorities is classified, which must be an important point. Someone looking for respite care for a temporary period is likely to have difficulty finding out whether he or she is excluded from benefit by regulation 9. I ask the Minister to respond specifically to that point about the amendment regulations.

I am grateful to the Minister for recognising the validity and force of the point that I made about the appalling mistake in the advertisement that appeared in two national newspapers. I am glad that the hon. Lady has accepted that it was a serious mistake that not only appeared in The Observer on Sunday but was repeated in The Guardian on Monday.

The hon. Lady said that she could not accept my charge that the Government are guilty of "double-speak". I made it pikestaff plain that the charge is not mine. I quoted the Disability Alliance, which speaks for more than 200 organisations of and for disabled people, many of them household names. It states: The most glaring example of Government double-speak concerns the £300 million `new' money they claim to have put into disability benefits in 'The Way Ahead' package (January 1990). To correct what the hon. Lady told the House, the organisation said that, with one cut alone— the phasing-out of rights to invalidity benefit (additional pensions)"— the Government will save £475 million. It is the totality of help arising from the package with which the organisations are concerned.

The hon. Lady told me that she did not think that the press and television advertising about that benefit was misleading. It is not my charge, but that of Sally Witcher, than whom few people know more about disability benefits, past and present. She was asked to join the consultative panel for the "BBC Select" series and says: BBC Select … has so far clearly demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice understandability at the altar of propaganda … Presenting DLA and DWA in such a rosy light will not obscure the gross inadequacies of the two benefits. The important charge that she makes, and which I have sent to Sir Michael Checkland, is that blatantly misleading election propaganda is to go on being transmitted by a public service broadcasting organisation, without right of comment by other parties, virtually throughout the expected timing of a general election campaign.

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes his ridiculous flight of rhetoric, will he tell us whether or not he thinks that measures that extend nearly another £12 a week to 300,000 people should or should not be advertised, so that the money can get to them?

Mr. Morris

I have said nothing against the desirability of advertising. I am quoting the organisations of disabled people. If it is a ridiculous flight of rhetoric, that is a criticism of what they are saying. I ask the Secretary of State, who has great experience in this policy area, and the Minister of State, to meet as quickly as they can with representatives of Disability Alliance and other organisations whose views I have been trying to present to the House tonight. They ought not to be of ridiculous flights of rhetoric. I am simply saying that their views—[HoN. MEMBERS: "What are your views?"] My view is that grave mistakes have been made. It has been accepted—

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again, as this is important. I am not asking him to rehearse the views of organisations outside the House. I am asking him to give me, across the Floor of the House, his view on whether additional benefits of nearly £12 a week to several hundred thousand people should or should not be advertised to those people.

Mr. Morris

I am saying that, if the benefits are advertised, they must be advertised correctly, not misleadingly. When the Secretary of State for Social Security was on the Opposition Benches, I was in government. He was always beside himself in trying to tell the House what organisations of and for disabled people were saying about the policies of the Government of the day—for example, about the mobility allowance that I introduced, the invalid care allowance and so on. He was always telling us what the organisations said. I rest our case there in support of listening to what the organisations say—please listen to them.

9.35 pm
Miss Widdecombe

With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker. I cannot allow the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) to go unchallenged. Before I come to the unpleasant part of the business, I must say that, on the matter of respite care —the purely technical point raised by the right hon. Gentleman—there is no change in the current position.

I am sorry that a productive, courteous and useful debate has had to end on a note of quite disgraceful propaganda—not from the Government, but from the Opposition. They accused us of issuing propaganda, but when challenged all that they could say was that there had been a mistake in one advertisement. Of what are they accusing us? The right hon. Gentleman cannot wash his hands of it; he has made accusations from the Dispatch Box. What is the right hon. Gentleman's view? Will he give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State an answer? Should those benefits be advertised, or not?

Mr. Alfred Morris

I was a Minister for more than five years and I advertised benefits. Every conceivable step should be taken to maximise take-up. I am saying that a great deal of misleading information has gone to people who have enough to put up with because of their disabilities, without having to complain to the House about misleading information.

Miss Widdecombe

We are now clear that the complaint is not about propaganda, but about a mistake. The right hon. Gentleman has withdrawn the complaint about election propaganda. Is that what we are to understand? I think that we do understand that.

The two benefits will bring help to an additional 850,000 people, which will give additional help amounting to £300 million—no matter what the Opposition say—and which have been widely welcomed by a vast range of disability organisations, on whose representations we made the changes in the first place. They represent a major advance. I do not want to divide and rule, but most of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends have been constructive tonight. The right hon. Gentleman's sentiments will not be shared by those who will now be able to work, but who were not able to work before without severe loss of benefit, and by those who will now be able to claim care components that they could never claim before.

This is a great, humane piece of legislation. It stands as a testimony to the ability and the dedication of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—who, regrettably, cannot be here tonight—and to the humanity and the deep commitment to the disabled of the whole Government. The right hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of the way in which he has warped the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) Amendment Regulations 1992, which were laid before this House on 25th February, be approved.

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