HC Deb 15 December 1993 vol 234 cc1214-39

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Social Security (Contributions) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the following provisions—

National health service allocation

(1) In section 162(5) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (destination of contributions: national health service allocation), in paragraph (a) (allocation in case of primary Class 1 contributions) for the words from "the earnings" to the end substitute "to much of the earnings in respect of which those contributions were paid as exceeded the lower earnings limit but did not exceed the upper earnings Limit;".—[Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Before I call the Minister, it may be for the convenience of hon. Members if I remind those wishing to catch my eye during the debate that they should note that the ways and means motion covers only the changed method of allocating national insurance funds to the national health service, dealt with in clause 2 of the Bill. Nothing else is relevant.

12.55 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. William Hague)

As the House is aware, a ways and means resolution is needed where there is provision for payment into the Consolidated Fund of receipts that do not arise from taxation. In this case, such a resolution would provide for payments to be made out of the national insurance contributions received by the Secretary of State towards the cost of the health service, as provided by clause 2 of the Bill that will be before the House tomorrow.

The Bill is concerned primarily with an increase in national insurance contributions. The ways and means resolution does not relate to that in any way. It is required only for the minor corrective provision concerning the health service allocation out of contributions, with which we are taking the opportunity to deal in the Bill. There is no change in the policy intention and no change in existing practice. I invite the House to approve the motion.

12.59 am
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

The resolution is important because it is clearly retrospective. The House has always been critical of retrospective legislation, particularly where it applies to taxation and, for the purposes of the Bill, the resolution is the equivalent of taxation.

I recall the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Act 1975

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Nicholas Soames)

Was the hon. Gentleman a Member then?

Mr. Cryer

No, I was not.

That Act made retrospective application for Clay Cross councillors. The then Conservative Opposition spokesman said that such retrospective legislation was the slippery slope to fascism. Given the Conservative party's attitude at that time, it is relevant to inquire why the Government now seek a resolution that provides retrospective authority for expenditure of some £4.6 billion.

That is a large sum of money, yet it appears that there is doubt about the vires of the actions of Ministers in allocating money from national insurance contributions. Why, therefore, have the Government taken so long to table a resolution to clarify the position? It is quite extraordinary. This is a not inconsiderable sum.

Has a legal challenge to the Government been mounted on the basis of previous legislation? How was previous legislation so defective that it now needs the authority of the House to authorise expenditure of £4.6 billion?

Will the Minister assure me that the resolution will not impose a retrospective charge on any national insurance contributor, because people outside the House would be outraged if, after making national insurance contributions, they found that a resolution passed on 15 December made them liable to make extra payments? That is the basis of my opposition to retrospective legislation, especially on taxation.

If the resolution does not impose retrospective increases in national insurance contributions, Ministers must therefore have made payments to the national health service from existing national insurance contributions, which they have found to be at fault. This resolution is not simply a routine resolution but a resolution to get Ministers off the hook, their having made payments of doubtful legal validity.

The resolution says that it shall be deemed to have had effect as from the commencement of section 1 of the Social Security Act 1989. It seems extraordinary that, in effect, the operation of the resolution is backdated four years. There may be a straightforward, innocent explanation for the delay in these payments, about which there is a scintilla of doubt, but how wide is a scintilla? Is it a slight chance, or has an official in the Department told Ministers, "We have been making payments of £4.6 billion to the national health service without any legal authority"? Or did some phrase in an earlier piece of legislation raise that scintilla of doubt in the minds of civil servants? Perhaps they said, "We had better have belt and braces: we had better make the position absolutely clear in the latest Social Security (Contributions) Bill."

That, however, does not answer the final question: why have the Government chosen to rush the Bill through at the last minute, when for four years the legislation has contained a defect requiring this enormous payment to be authorised by a ways and means motion?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

One of the problems with social security legislation is the way in which the Government rush into it. They have guillotined such legislation on many occasions, denying the House and the public an opportunity to scrutinise it properly. As a result, mistakes and uncertainties creep into the legislation.

Mr. Cryer

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We should bear in mind that the Bill to which the motion relates is due to churn its way through the legislative sausage machine tomorrow. We dealt with the money motion relating to the Statutory Sick Pay Bill the night before the Bill was debated. We are similarly disadvantaged in the present instance. The procedure has been reversed: we are dealing with a ways and means motion before discussing the Bill's content.

It is important to raise such issues on as wide a basis as possible within the terms of the motion. We have not benefited from any debate on the Bill; there has been no Second Reading debate, in which the Minister could have explained the background and procedures in detail. In rushing the Bill through, the Government are adopting a highly defective procedure, forcing the House to consider the ways and means motion in order to hear the Minister's proposals—cold and separate from the Bill itself. That was the Minister's choice, not that of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was right to raise the issue. It is possible that, in the ordinary course of events—if the Government had not imposed this curious procedure on the House—no question would have been raised about the motion. However, in this instance we have had no Second Reading debate and no debate in Committee of the whole House, which we had for the Statutory Sick Pay Bill.

According to the Minister, the basis of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill was the fact that many people were taking time off because of illness: he claimed that the sick pay obligation should be transferred to employers, who would chase employees and try to stop them being ill. That is a curious view of human nature. I wonder whether the payments authorised by the ways and means resolution will improve the national health service and the health of the nation—if, indeed, any fresh money is involved—to such an extent that the Statutory Sick Pay Bill will not be necessary. The Government often boast about all the money that they are spending on the NHS, but it does not seem to be having any effect.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it just possible that the hon. Gentleman—who is an excellent performer—is going a little wide of the issue?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

No. As far as I can tell, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is fully within the rules of order.

Mr. Cryer

I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know from your ever vigilant handling of our proceedings that no hon. Member need try to usurp your excellent conduct in the Chair. Indeed, I would defend you against any of the insults implied by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow).

I do not want to go on for too long. However, my questions are serious. We have some vivid memories. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will recall vividly the criticisms advanced against retrospective legislation, from the Conservative Benches, in respect of the Clay Cross councillors. If those criticisms were advanced honestly at the time, I wonder why the Government are moving this retrospective ways and means motion asking Parliament for authority to pay £4.6 billion since 1989. I assume that that money has already been handed over to the national health service. However, we do not know whether that has happened because the matter is not very clear and we have not had the debate that we should have had.

I hope that the Minister will respond to those serious questions. He moved the motion very briefly. He could have taken the opportunity to elaborate on some of those points and that would have pre-empted a contribution from the Opposition Benches. It would have saved parliamentary time. I am having to make up for the Minister's very short introduction and that is not something that I particularly like doing.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend keeps referring to the £4.6 billion for the national health service. Is he absolutely confident that the Government will ensure that that money is spent to improve the national health service?

Mr. Cryer

If the Government do not do that, they will be in breach of this ways and means motion. This motion is the ways and means of finding the money to authorise that expenditure by the Government. Under the heading Financial effects of the Bill", clause 2 refers to authority for payments amounting to some £4.6 billion from October 1989 to April 1994. Part of that £4.6 billion must be paid from money that has yet to be received and the motion authorises that money until April 1994. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister precisely what future payment is involved and how much of the ways and means motion represents retrospective payment for earlier defective legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover made an important point. If the House tries to short-cut legislative procedures, including ways and means motions and money resolutions, it is always possible for defective legislation to be passed. In some cases, Ministers may make illegal payments if the legislation is defective.

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and I agree about many things. However, I believe that there are occasions when retrospective legislation is important. My hon. Friend referred to a series of incidents in relation to the Housing Finance Act 1972. I voted for that retrospective legislation, as did my hon. Friend. I have also voted for other retrospective legislation.

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South agree that the NHS badly needs this money? It would be better for us to argue that the money should be paid over because the NHS needs it and there are a thousand and one reasons for allocating it. I do not want my hon. Friend to go in too hard on the Minister. I would like to think that the money will be spent. It is important to find out where the money will go. Is it going to go on management or on nurses? Will it be used to reduce the waiting lists?

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. There are two parts of authority which the ways and means motion gives. One is for the retrospective part-that is, presumably, money already spent. However, since clause 2 provides for payments up to April 1994, of course there are future payments, and that is the section that I was dealing with.

I want an assurance that the Minister will follow only the authority of the ways and means motion, which means that money has to be spent on the national health service. Of course, as a side issue—we cannot go into it in too great detail—about the actual allocation of the money, it is a block amount, and the ways and means motion does not specify the detail within the national health service. However, I take it that it is agreed that, when hon. Members vote on the motion, they will expect that the money will be spent on an care for patients and not on administrative superstructure.

Mr. Bennett

My hon. Friend should strongly refute the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that it might be perfectly all right for retrospective legislation to approve the actions of other people but not of Ministers. If we allow Ministers to act illegally and then to get retrospective legislation to make their illegality legal, we will dramatically reduce the power of the House of Commons to control Ministers.

Mr. Cryer

I share the view about retrospective legislation. There are occasions when retrospective legislation might be necessary—there is no question about that. My point about the ways and means motion and its retrospection is not of my making: it was put forward during the period of the previous Labour Government by the Conservative Opposition, when they used the phrase, not I, that retrospective legislation was the slippery slope of fascism. That was not said by a wild-eyed, goggle-eyed, right-wing Conservative Back-Bench extremist, although that is a possibility with so many candidates for such a description present: it was said by the Conservative party spokesman. It seems fair that we should judge the actions and attitudes of the Government in assessing the ways and means motion on the basis that what was right in 1974 to 1979 should be right, in their values, today.

I do not want to go on much further, but those are two important points. The point that I was making before dealing with my hon. Friends' contributions was essentially that, if Parliament does not carry out the legislative procedure with some deliberation, we will find ourselves confronted with errors. It seems as though we are confronted with such an error, which is being put right by the Bill and the ways and means motion, authorising the collection of the money and its expenditure. This is a lesson, because it is a hurried procedure. As I have said, it is topsy-turvy. We have to spend some time on the motion. My hon. Friends are seeking information from me when, really, it should have been given on Second Reading and perhaps in Committee, when we dealt with the Bill on the Floor of the House. That is why this time is being taken.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

I am listening to my hon. Friend's contribution with great interest and no little concern. I must confess that I had not intended even to be present to hear him, but I am extremely pleased that I remained.

I am very worried about the £4.6 billion, or the amount which apparently has already been paid, because I do not understand where it has come from. Am I to gather that there are billions of pounds floating and being allocated at whim by Ministers without authority? Why have we not known about that? I regard myself as a fairly assiduous and conscientious Member, and I am disturbed to find that money is apparently floating and that it has not been obvious to me that that is happening. Does that tell us something not only about procedures for the scrutiny of Bills, but about procedures for the scrutiny of Government accounts? Can my hon. Friend shed any light on that matter for me?

Mr. Cryer

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. She probably was not able to rush rapidly into the Chamber to hear the commencement of my speech—probably because her access was blocked by other hon. Members who were trying to get in to listen.

I mentioned the point that she raised at the beginning of my speech. If there were a defect in the legislation which requires the ways and means resolution, it is extraordinary that it has taken at least four years to be found out. I ask the Minister whether the matter was discovered by the potential legal challenge or whether it was simply that a civil servant discovered that there had been a defect in the drafting of the legislation from a previous Act.

This is a technical exercise, according to House of Commons research paper 93/113, to remedy a defect. The ways and means resolution is to authorise an enormous expenditure, and we have not heard what proportion of that has already been paid. It authorises future expenditure, up to April next year, of a huge sum of money, £4.6 billion, without any explanation. We are going to give authority to the Minister because of the defect.

By way of comparison, if that had happened in a local authority, the Government would have been fulsome in their criticism. Ministers are in a privileged position, because if local authority councillors had been in a similar position and had discovered that payments were not completely justified legally because of a defect in a resolution that had been passed by a committee, they would have faced surcharge.

Ministers do not have that terrible penalty over their heads. If there is a defect, they simply come back to the House with a ways and means resolution and a bit of legislation to accompany it, and they are free of any encumbrance. It is worth bearing it in mind that the House produces legislation in which perfectly ordinary, decent people who are trying to do their best in the community make an error and find themselves facing bankruptcy, disbarment from office and even the seizure of their possessions.

The Minister is in exactly the same position as a councillor would be. A mistake has been made for which he is seeking rectification to authorise what had been illegal payments. I hope that the Government do not accept the position with smugness. While we disagree with their policies, we accept that they are not spending part of that money on luxury yachts to go off to the Caribbean.

Mr. Skinner

How does my hon. Friend know?

Mr. Cryer

So far as we know, they are not doing that. Let us assume charitably that they are not.

The Government should take a more charitable view of the work of local authorities, bearing in mind the fact that the House has been confronted with a ways and means resolution and retrospective provision, something which they were so critical about in the past. We should examine retrospective provision with a critical eye. I hope that the Minister provides comprehensive answers, because the House deserves nothing less.

1.23 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and to express my disappointment that the Minister made so little effort to explain to the House why the resolution was necessary and why it took the Government so long to realise that there was a problem. Technically, of course, the Minister cannot address the House again unless we give him permission to do so. It seems discourteous of the Minister not to have given a full explanation of what went on in this case.

I suggest to the Minister that, on the whole, it has been a good policy that, when Ministers apologise and make it clear that mistakes have been made, the House has been understanding. However, when Ministers try to brush something under the carpet and get away without making a full explanation, the House has been less sympathetic and can take a lot longer to find out what is happening. I was disappointed that the Minister did not make more of an attempt to explain why the errors occurred, and why they took such a long time to come to light.

Many of my constituents are concerned about their national insurance contributions and whether the rules can be changed retrospectively. The Bill is another example of that. We are always warned to look at the fine print, but as the government can change the fine print retrospectively, what is the point of looking at it?

The Government have to set out clearly on what occasions they can justify retrospective legislation. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) can think of occasions when retrospective legislation can be justified, but it is hard to justify when it is used because Ministers have made a mistake. Did they make the mistake when the original legislation was drafted? Have they had further advice that the payments they are making are illegal? Is it that the original legislation was not covered by an appropriate ways and means resolution? What exactly has gone wrong?

Mr. Skinner

I wish that my hon. Friend would listen carefully. I was making the point in a philosophical fashion—there are bound to be occasions when Labour Members believe in the government intervening and planning to level things out to help those at the bottom to get to the top. There are bound to be occasions when retrospective legislation is necessary to put right the wrongs of 14 years of Tory government. I am not talking about this specific Bill, I am talking in a philosophical fashion. I wish that my hon. Friend would get back on the rails.

Mr. Bennett

I thank my hon. Friend for that, but I shall not be drawn into the wrongs of the past 14 years.

It is reasonable for retrospective legislation to put right what has happened outside—in other words, to make life better for our constituents. However, it is not right to use retrospective legislation to let Ministers off the hook and make legal what they did, which was probably illegal. That dramatically reduces the accountability of Ministers to the House of Commons. If they are challenged in the House of Commons and found to have done something wrong, or if they are challenged in the courts, they can simply come back here and reverse the decision.

Mr. Skinner

I am not arguing that point. I have no doubt about what I would do with that lot, but I shall not go into that now. There are occasions when we have to use retrospective legislation for our own purposes. On this occasion, there has been a gigantic fiddle somewhere. I want my hon. Friend to expose it in the next couple of hours.

Mr. Bennett

I can understand that my hon. Friend might want me to expose it in the next couple of hours, but I certainly do intend to use the next couple of hours. I shall leave plenty of time for my hon. Friend to make his own speech.

I want the Minister to explain why it was necessary to use retrospective legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and I sit on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. We repeatedly find that Ministers have amazing powers by regulation to correct mistakes. However, the Social Security Act 1989 and the Social Security Act 1975, which were absolutely littered with statutory instrument-making powers, were not correctable by regulation.

Mr. Skinner

We are surrounded by Select Committees examining everything under the sun. I do not get involved in that sloppy consensus, but they are supposed to be looking into every nook and cranny. They go on fact-finding tours all over the world to examine how other people are doing it, yet somehow or other £4.6 billion has slipped away. It is high time that members of those Select Committees did a job of work and found out where that money is going. Does my hon. Friend agree? Will he do something about it? Is he a member of a Select Committee? Yes, he is. Can he deal with it? My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is the Chairman of a Select Committee.

Mr. Bennett

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. Members of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments do not have the power to go tripping, as do members of other Select Committees. They have the boring task of examining a large number of regulations. In the last 12 months, the Committee has considered almost 3,000 regulations from a Government who talk about deregulation. The speed at which regulations appear is remarkable. It is odd that, in this instance, the Government did not in four years introduce a regulation to make good the legislation.

Mr. Cryer

Library background paper No. 113 makes it clear that, by a fluke, the House must consider a Ways and Means resolution, as we are, and primary legislation, because section 143(4)(a)(ii) of the Social Security Adminstration Act 1992 states that primary legislation is required where an increase in primary or secondary class 1 contributions is greater than 0.25 per cent. The House laid down the provision that requires the matter to be dealt with by primary legislation—much to the embarrassment, I suspect, of the Ministers who brought this measure before the House.

Mr. Bennett

I am puzzled by my hon. Friend's statement, because there is often a limit, by way of regulations, by which the Government can increase or decrease an amount of money. If the Government want to exceed the total set out in primary legislation, they can do so in two stages. If the Government had known what they were doing, instead of dealing with the matter in one stage by way of primary legislation and a ways and means resolution, they could have altered the amount each year since 1989—and thus remained within the limit to which my hon. Friend referred. The Government ought to explain why it was necessary to approach the matter in the way that they did.

My constituents are most concerned that the Government do not appear to know what they are doing or to be accountable to Parliament—and that when it appears to suit the Government, they simply change the rules.

I shall be reluctant to hear the Minister's explanation because he should have paid the House the courtesy of providing one at the beginning of this debate. As he has already spoken, another Minister should wind up.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. In these circumstances, the Minister has the right of reply. He moved a substantive motion.

Mr. Bennett

I am glad to hear that the Minister has the right of reply, and I shall listen to him with interest.

Mrs. Wise

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) expressed concern over where the money will go, but my concern is where it is to come from. Where are the Government obtaining £4.6 billion? No explanation is given in the Bill. Can my hon. Friend shed any light on how much of that £4.6 billion has already been paid out and how much has still to be paid? If not, perhaps he will ask the Minister to do so. We cannot tell how much money has yet to be injected into the national health service as a result of the Ways and Means resolution.

Mr. Bennett

Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the Minister to answer my hon. Friend's questions. It is a pity that he did not cover such points at the beginning of the debate.

1.34 am
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I would like to have heard what the Minister had to say on the subject, because I have listened carefully to my two hon. Friends talking about this money and, quite frankly, I am staggered by that £4.6 billion. It seems as though this legislation was very fortuitous. We thought initially that the legislation was a one-off job, arising out of the unified Budget.The Government said that they had to get it done quickly because of the need to sort out the employers' payments and all the rest of it, and to make sure that everything was straight and above board.

Several times I have seen Ministers on television, saying that it is necessary to get the legislation through this week, and that they cannot wait another moment because of all the intricacies that follow in getting the legislation through. Then I listen to my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), and I find out that a massive sum of £4.6 billion seems to have been unaccounted for all that time.

We have so many people examining such things. There is a body called the Audit Commission. Does the Audit Commission follow those events? I should like to know. Earlier I mentioned Committees; they are set up to examine things. The Chairman comes on the television and says that they have discovered £200 million gone missing, and there is a big story. It is in every newspaper. They talk about a great find when they have uncovered some drugs. Yet here tonight, in the twilight hours£it is "The Twilight Zone", is it not?—suddenly we are told that £4.6 billion is unaccounted for.

I want to know, is it £4.6 billion? If the Government have not been able to identify it since 1989, how can we be sure that we are talking about 4.6 billion quid? The Minister can get up and intervene if he likes; I shall not object to him speaking as many times as he wants, provided that we can get to the bottom of the matter. I would like to know from the Minister: is it £4.6 billion? What guarantees do we have that it is not more than that?

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend must be aware that, on past occasions, with both money resolutions and ways and means resolutions, because the Government have not covered every detail of what is required they have often had to come back to the House for another money resolution or ways and means resolution. My hon. Friend's question about the current ways and means resolution is therefore very pertinent because we do not want to have to come back here late at night because the Government discover another £1 billion that is not authorised.

Mr. Skinner

It was only because I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South discuss it in the first place that I realised what a total mess the Government have made of it. The Government have been involved in many scandals in the past 14 years, but I ask you—£4.6 billion, and they conveniently come and drop it across us just before Christmas. Is it not handy? I suppose that is the reason why we have got that tonight. It could all have been revealed and dealt with in the debate tomorrow.

Of course, the debate should have gone on anyway. We should not have been having this debate tomorrow. My hon. Friend and I and one or two others made a proposition some time ago in which we demanded that we carry on for several more days before Christmas. We could have examined the issue in that time. We could have had perhaps a three-hour debate or a full day's debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) could have been in and he could have taken account of it and then he could have set up his Select Committee. It could have examined the matter in detail and perhaps might have stopped the Government from doing this.

I think that the Government should still stop. They ought to have the decency to pull this legislation out because we do not know whether the sum is £4.6 billion; they have plucked the figure out of the air. We are told that it will go on until 1994. Which element is the part from 1989 until today and how much continues after that? As far as I know, the Minister never explained all that, so we are in the dark about that sum of money, some of which is retrospective. I have a point, and if the Minister gets up to speak again, it could be the end of the debate.

Mr. Cryer

Will my hon. Friend give way? Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): Sit down.

Mr. Skinner

I am prepared to, provided that I will get the chance to speak again.

Mr. Cryer

Does my hon. Friend not agree that, first, the Minister only took a minute to introduce this ways and means resolution and, secondly, when Members on the Government Benches shout out that they want the debate to finish, it is because they do not want debate? They are the people who make proud boasts about controlling public expenditure, yet they do not want a debate. The Government have produced this back-to-front system, wherby we have to deal with the money resolution before the debate on the Bill, when they could have explained everything. Yet Government Back Benchers want to cut out debate entirely.

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend knows only too well that the Minister only took one minute and those Back Benchers seem to dismiss £4.6 billion because, after 14 years, the Government are full of arrogance and contempt, not just for people like us, but for the British people. They have been in power that long, they think that they can get away with anything. A gang behind them thinks that all they have to do is back the Minister and that is the end of it. It is a pity that no Members of Parliament from the Tory Benches have the guts to understand—£4.6 billion has been plucked out of the sky. What could we do with that? Where should it have been spent? That is what I would like to know.

Mr. Cryer

On the health service.

Mr. Skinner

Yes. It might have saved all those hospitals from being closed. I saw it announced today on the television that the Government are shutting Bart's. I wonder whether they were taking that into account when Golden Virginia was talking about shutting Bart's and all those other hospitals. I wonder whether she asked, "What about this £4.6 billion?"

As far as we know, money has been available. The Government cannot tell us; they do not even know whether £4.6 billion is the correct figure and they have not told us how much will stretch over into 1994. The whole business is a can of worms—it stinks to high heaven.

I am fed up with Ministers saying that the Labour party wants to spend money right, left and centre. They are spending money and they do not even know it. They sacked the Chancellor of the Exchequer because he lost £10 billion in an afternoon, and he was nowhere near a betting shop. Some of the Tories cheered because the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer had got the sack for losing £10 billion in an afternoon. No one held him up with a gun, did they? It just went. Some of the same Ministers are glorying in the fact that the ex-Chancellor now has to look after the safe at Rothschilds. I would not have him handling the safe if I were Rothschilds—not after losing £10 billion —[Laughter.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I realise that the hon. Member has taken wing, so to speak, but I remind him of the narrow nature of the ways and means motion before us.

Mr. Skinner

I was just making an analogy. There has been a constant discussion on both sides of the House about the loss of £10 billion in an afternoon, after the demise of the exchange rate mechanism, which some of us had been trying to persuade the Government to withdraw from long before. Now we find, late at night, that £4.6 billion has suddenly been plucked out of the thin air before a debate takes place tomorrow, and no one seems to know how it has come about.

It is retrospective legislation. My hon. Friends the Members for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), who has just come in, and for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) know all about retrospective legislation, because they have been involved in trade unions which have been hammered by such legislation.

It is a scandal that the Government are carrying on in this cavalier fashion with other people's money. There are people in this country who do not have two ha'pennies to rub together. People are lying on the streets. Yet the Government come along and tell them that there is £4.6 billion—if it is £4.6 billion. Who knows—it could be £8.6 billion. It is high time the Government were held to account.

The sad thing is that Tory Members are attacking Labour authorities because they spent an extra couple of bob. The Government introduced the rate support grant, or the equivalent of it, the other week. They told local authorities that they would be capped if they did not stick to the levels set, and they said it again yesterday at the Welsh local government review. It is always the same. Yet the Government can lose money hand over fist.

I should like to know what will happen to the £4.6 billion when it gets to the health service. Who will get the money? Will it be given to the management? We hear all these stories about the increase in the number of managers in the national health service. I should like to know precisely where the money will go. I do not want the Minister to tell me that he cannot explain it because he is not in the Department of Health. I am fed up with Ministers saying that they do not know the details.

The other day, I was flabbergasted when I heard Lady Thatcher speaking on television. She had the gall to tell us that she did not understand things in detail because she dealt with only the big issues. This is the same woman who followed the Belgrano in the Falklands war. She watched it every inch—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must stick to the point.

Mr. Skinner

I am sticking to the point. I am saying that the Government have plucked £4.6 billion out of thin air—they cannot explain it—and a former Prime Minister now has the gall to tell us that she did not follow things in detail. After a year-long miners' strike, who does she think she is kidding?

Mrs. Wise

My hon. Friend is asking where the £4.6 billion will go. I understand that some of the money has already gone, so we should be asking where it went. Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister—if my hon. Friend cannot supply an answer—about not only where the £4.6 billion or the amount that has already gone came from, but what it was spent on if it was taken without authority for the purpose described in the motion? Presumably, when the Government raised the money from national insurance contributions it should have been earmarked for some purpose. If some of it was taken without authority for the NHS, what went short which otherwise would have received money raised from people's contributions?

Mr. Skinner

Where has the money gone? Let us assume that £2 billion has gone. We do not know where it went. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) is in a position to find out.

Tonight, the Government should pull off this ways and means resolution in so far as it affects the £4.6 billion, or they should do it tomorrow. Tomorrow, there should be a manuscript amendment in which we call for that part which is included in the Bill to be taken out and then my hon. Friend, who is on the Select Committee for Health, together with her colleagues, should set up an investigation and find out where the money went.

One thing is certain: the people in my constituency have not seen that money spent, because waiting lists in the health authority in Derbyshire have spiralled. I can tell the House where some of the money might have gone. It might have gone to line the pockets of those Tory spivs who run the health authorities up and down Britain.

That is a fair bet. We keep reading about massive wage increases for the spivs who run the health authorities, and some of them have been lining their pockets left, right and centre. When the Select Committee discusses the matter, I want my hon. Friend the Member for Preston to find out how much of the money has gone to finance the people running the health authorities, which ought in any case to be democratically controlled. That is another subject that I want to deal with; I shall come to the quangos later.

Mrs. Wise

In addition to the interesting points that my hon. Friend is making, would he care to reflect on the brass neck of Ministers who can deem things to have taken effect, although they should have been done four years ago, and to contrast that with the Government's rigidity on time limits for making benefits claims? People with excellent reasons for not having made a claim are told, "No, there is no statutory authority for any retrospective payment." Why do the Government not apply that reasoning to themselves?

Mr. Skinner

We all know that the money has not gone into the social fund. People used to have a chance to apply for some assistance, and various entitlements, and if they failed they could appeal against the decision. People have no chance to appeal now; all that has been taken away. The Government have gone on in that way for the past 14 years, but now they have to learn the lesson that they no longer have a majority of 150 or 100. They are down to 17. Who knows, the majority may be even lower in 12 months' time. There are the Ulster Unionists, who, according to—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows what I am going to say. What he is talking about is not relevant to the matter under discussion.

Mr. Skinner

What I am trying to say is—

Madam Deputy Speaker

I know what the hon. Gentleman is trying to say; I am telling him that he should not be saying it.

Mr. Skinner

Everybody should be aware of what is supposed to be a narrow ways and means resolution in connection with the Government's ability to carry through their legislation tomorrow. Normally that would be run of the mill. But it has been discovered that £4.6 billion, some of which is retrospective, is referred to in the Bill but not explained. You cannot tell me, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we can afford to turn a blind eye and allow what would normally be a technical resolution to slip through when my hon. Friends the Members for Preston and for Bradford, South have identified £4.6 billion that has suddenly been discovered by this tinpot Government.

Mr. Cryer

Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the blanket nature of the ways and means resolution? It simply asks for £4.6 billion. There is no account of how the money has been spent, and nothing in the Bill or in the explanatory and financial memorandum about how the balance of the money to be authorised under the resolution until next April is to be spent. In other words, the alleged guardians of the public purse have brought a generalised ways and means resolution to the House with no explanation. My hon. Friend will want to demand chapter and verse of all the expenditure covered by the £4.6 billion.

Mr. Skinner

That is what I am demanding. The heading is: Financial effects of the Bill", and we had better get back to those, because I have been called to order. We have a narrow technical ways and means resolution which could mean anything, and the explanatory and financial memorandum says: Clause 2 provides authority for the future payment of some £1 billion per year to the National Health Service out of National Insurance contributions. We are not complaining about that, because we understand that money raised in this way can be used for the national health service. However, clause 2 also authorises payments amounting to "some £4.6 billion". "Some"—that is a fancy word in respect of large sums of money. What does it mean?

I challenge all the clever accountants and auditors among Conservative Members who work for all the posh City firms: if the word "some" was used in that context in a set of accounts, would they accept them? Would they accept the phrase "some £4.6 billion"? Why do not the Government state clearly what is meant by "some"? They do not because they do not know—it is another Lamont job. We could be talking about £14.6 billion.

This is the Government who constantly tell people at general elections not to vote Labour because Labour will borrow money, but they live in never-never land. The Government are living on tick and they have the cheek to include the word "some" under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill". They should say that the sum is exactly £4.6 billion, if that is the case. It is no wonder that the Government are in a hell of a mess.

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)

Come on.

Mr. Skinner

I challenge the hon. Gentleman to tell his constituents next door to the Isle of Dogs—on Canvey Island—that he is voting with the Government to allow "some £4.6 billion" to be spent although he does not know on what, he is not even sure whether it is £4.6 billion and the people of Canvey Island are being ripped off left, right and centre. He should explain that to them.

Dr. Spink

The people of Benfleet and Canvey Island are interested in the fact that this year 115 patients are being treated under the national health service for every 100 who were treated just four years ago.

Mr. Skinner

The people of Benfleet and Canvey Island have seen the waiting lists increase and be fiddled. They understand only too well that they are part of the 1 million casualties who cannot be treated under the NHS. I had to respond to the hon. Gentleman, Madam Deputy Speaker, because he seems to think that this is a trivial matter. I am talking about "some £4.6 billion" and I want an exact figure to be included in the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) used to be the former Chancellor of the Exchequer's Parliamentary Private Secretary. He is reckoned to be an expert on money, so will he tell me what "some" means in this context?

Mrs. Wise

I am disappointed in my hon. Friend because he is, uncharacteristically, being too kind to the Government. I am correct in my stricture because he has not yet commented on the fact that we are not discussing only one error. Anyone could make one error, although most of us do not make an error amounting to £4.6 billion. The Government are not only having to deem something to be effective from 1989 but having to deem something—something else, presumably—to be effective from 1992. That means that there are at least two errors.

My hon. Friend should be very severe with the Government. They are treating the matter with levity and seem to regard it as a huge joke, but they are having to correct two errors. If I had spent money that I did not have, on no matter what worthy cause, no one would be sympathetic if I told the bank or the House that I was deeming that I had it four years ago.

Mr. Skinner

I do not think that they are errors; that is where my hon. Friend and I disagree. The phrase "some £4.6 billion" has been put in deliberately so that the Government can say, as they have done in the Scott inquiry, that the provision did not really constitute legislation or even an Order in Council. They needed to be able to pull the wool over people's eyes. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston accused me of being kind to the Government—I know that she did not mean it in this context—but the Government are carrying on in a shady manner. It is all part of the Government's corrupt activity.

The financial memorandum also includes another sum. It states: Clause 1 will increase contributions to the National Insurance Fund by some £1.9 billion in a full year. What are the Government coming to? What sort of shop are they running? Imagine someone going into a shop and asking, "How much is it?" and being told, "It is some £3." It is the same procedure as used for museums: people can decide whether or not to pay when they go into museums —some pay, some do not.

The Bill associated with the ways and means resolution—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are dealing with clause 2 only.

Mr. Skinner

I am talking on clause 2: I just mentioned the sum of £1.9 billion because it is another deliberate error designed to make the matter vague.

Let us forget about clause 1 for a minute. In fact, according to Madam Deputy Speaker, we must forget it for ever.

Madam Deputy Speaker


Mr. Skinner

Yes, clause 1 can be debated tomorrow, which is, in fact, today. Parliament has a cock-eyed system —it is tomorrow now, but the debate is taking place today.

Clause 2 mentions "some £4.6 billion", but only a few days ago, the Government made lots of mistakes over the Northern Ireland business. What happened? The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that he was conscientious and so went to the Prime Minister and said, "I am awfully sorry. I offer my resignation because of the Government errors, whether or not they are deliberate."

The Ministers should do the same over the Social Security (Contributions) Bill. Why have they not got the guts to go to the Prime Minister and say, "Here we are —we have made another series of mistakes. We are not sure on the amount of money, we do not know what it is for, where it has come from and where it has been spent." Ministers should have the guts to resign instead of coming to the Chamber and laughing like Cheshire cats as though it does not matter. There are people outside lying on the stones who have not got a roof over their heads, while the Government try to say that they cannot account for the £4.6 billion.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is right to call for the Ministers' resignation. Will he bear in mind that the retrospective provision under the ways and means resolution goes back to 1989? The current Chancellor of the Exchequer has wreaked a wrecking path through several Departments, one of which was the Department of Health, and he may be responsible for the error. Will my hon Friend enlarge on that subject, because it worries a number of people, both inside and outside the House, to think that a man who may have been responsible for a serious error and the illegal payment of perhaps £3 billion or £4 billion is now in charge of the nation's finances?

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend has told only half the story. He is right about the then Secretary of State for Health—the blue suede shoes man. In fact, his shoes are not blue—except when he has spilled ale on them. The other half of the story is that the current Prime Minister was in the Exchequer at about that time. He came from the belly of the banking establishment. He could not do a bus conductor's job, but finished up with Standard Chartered bank. It was a gigantic leap, as we all understand. Most Tory Members come from the belly of the banking establishment. Then they find out that £4.6 billion has gone missing—

Mr. Cryer

Some £4.6 billion.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, some £4.6 billion. They find out that that sum has gone missing and they expect to pull the wool over my eyes. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South is right: in view of what has happened, they ought to pack their clogs and get off out of it.

The number of times that the Government tell us that we cannot handle money. I am fed up to the back teeth with coming in here and finding that this tin-pot Government have lost money again. And whose money is it? It is not theirs. They put taxes up left, right and centre. They do it in a different fashion, of course. "VAT is not tax," they say. "Insurance contributions such as those under discussion today are not really tax." Of course they are. Tax has gone up by the equivalent of about 7p in the pound in the past few years.

That money belongs to people out there who are slogging for a living—those of them who have a job—or who are among the 4 million who are out on the stones. Those people would like to know where the money is going. Why has not Mr. Andrew Neil of The Sunday Times —the Tories' friend—exposed this scandal in his paper, which reckons to discover all these things? What has happened to all the BBC documentaries? From 1974 to 1979 we had a Labour Government; I know that it is a long time ago, but I remember it.

Mr. Cryer

Me, too.

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend and I remember those days. My hon. Friend remembers them particularly well because he was running the country then. I will give my hon. Friend credit: I cannot remember a single ways and means or money resolution that was incorrect during my hon. Friend's time.

Mr. Cryer

There wasn't one.

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend never stood up on a money or ways and means resolution in all that year and a half.

Mr. Cryer

I assure my hon. Friend that the last Labour Government never lost £46, let alone £4.6 billion. We never had to put a motion such as this before the House in order to make up for illegal expenditure.

Mr. Skinner

Now my hon. Friend tells me that he was not there in 1976; he must have joined a bit later, at the time of the Lib-Lab pact. They were dark days indeed.

Mr. Cryer

I ought to correct my hon. Friend in case his irony is lost in the record of our proceedings, which may show that I joined at some time during the Lib-Lab pact. I assure my hon. Friend that I joined before that, in order to revive small industries and co-operatives, which enjoyed an unprecedented period of prosperity and happiness during my two years.

Mr. Skinner

Let me make a quick comment in answer to my hon. Friend. We had a manufacturing base then. Now we are down to a manufacturing base of about 4 million, yet the Government talk about GATT and how we will suddenly jump off the springboard. We do not have a springboard to jump off—I will finish with that point, Madam Deputy Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South talked about ways and means resolutions then; and he talked about the fact that we never lost £4.6 billion—or, at least, the Government did not; I did not lose any. It is true that the IMF came in. Is it not odd that we hear all the talk about the IMF in 1976 and 1977, given that, although that should never have happened, it pales into insignificance compared with the £4.6 billion, and the £10 billion that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer lost in one afternoon? I took a principled position, along with some of my hon. Friends, on the IMF. North sea oil was round the corner. They should have told that Mr. Witteveen that they had the oil money. That is what they should have said to him. They caved in, but the money involved was peanuts compared to the £4.6 billion.

It is 2.10 am and suddenly we have discovered that the Government do not know where the £4.6 billion has come from. Is it any wonder that the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has to apologise about that backlog of disability claims every time he answers parliamentary questions? It is all part of the Government's approach to affairs.

The Government are riddled with the idea that they need not care about ordinary people as long as they can sluther legislation through. We are coming to reckoning day, so Ministers had better be looking around for directorships in privatised industries before they are all swallowed up. When they are in opposition, they will need them. We will pass a Bill if I get my manifesto accepted—one Member of Parliament, one job. That will be one of the things that we shall do straight away.

I have got to get back to "some £4.6 billion". Where will that money go? We shall pick up the papers in a week or two and read that the Department of Health is having new carpets fitted at Richmond house, which as just been decorated again. The Government will spend money like water, and perhaps we have alerted them to the need to stop it. Perhaps tonight's debate has put the mockers on it. I do not think that the Minister will understand that.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend has raised a nagging doubt in my mind about the resolution. He may well be right. Bradford hospital trust, which was established by the Tories and is run by business men not for the national health service but as a first stage to privatisation, spent £250,000 on a new entrance hall to Bradford royal infirmary. It decided that it would create a better atmosphere. When someone who is bleeding to death is admitted to Bradford royal infirmary, he will have a better atmosphere as he passes through the doors and passes out. By authorising this resolution, we might be authorising that sort of payment, which was made a year or two ago —just as this some £4.6 billion was.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, the Government spend money on such things and if they get their way—I suppose that they will, because Conservative Members will trot through the Lobby at the appropriate moment—we know what will happen. I could think of a thousand and one things that the money could be spent on in Bolsover. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South mentioned spending money on insignificant things, but just think what we could do with this money. We should tell the Minister of the various ways in which we could help people in hospitals with that money.

Mrs. Wise

Does my hon. Friend accept that, although it may be wrong to spend money on, for instance, Richmond house and new entrance halls, funding should be devoted to some aspects of accommodation? Is he aware that, in many parts of the country, including Preston, nurses are being turned out of nurses' homes for reasons that are by no means clear? The decision fails to reflect the value of having nurses on site and available on call to deal with emergencies or disasters. Nurses in Preston were given notive to quit two weeks ago and will be leaving just after Christmas. If some of the money were made available to prevent that from happening, it would be extremely well spent.

Mr. Skinner

Of course it would.

Apparently Westminster hospital has been closed, or is in the process of being closed—

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

They have closed it.

Mr. Skinner

So they have already closed it. I saw a march on television: people were marching through the streets to try to save the Royal Marsden, which is a cancer hospital. Yet here we are, having suddenly found £4.6 billion. We are talking about posh areas of London. I wonder what people think when they find out that the Government have misplaced £4.6 billion, or perhaps even more. I wonder what my hon. Friends' constituents think: all my hon. Friends know of people who want operations. They could have had those operations if we had known about this money.

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend mentioned Westminster hospital, only a few hundred yards from here. It is now boarded up. Is my hon. Friend aware that the hospital that was built to replace it—and two or three others—was nearly £200 million over budget? Is it not possible, given the amount of overspending involved in the £4.6 billion, that that is part of the money that has been lost?

Mr. Skinner

That is a relatively small sum compared with £4.6 billion.

I was talking to a friend of one of my constituents today. Apparently, my constituent is in hospital. The hospital wants to get him out, because it has not enough money and beds—although he is not well enough to leave. It is trying to sort things out at the local authority end to get him out sooner rather than later; and here we are, talking about £4.6 billion that has gone missing. It is the same all over the country.

The Government should pull the business off the Order Paper, and give us a proper explanation. We should be able to deal with the measure later, after January. Why should we allow it to slip through? All the Tories can get the majority, but if they had any decency in their hearts they would not allow it to go through now; they would put it to one side, so that we could deal with it later, when we know precisely how much money there is.

Mrs. Wise

I think that one point has escaped my hon. Friend. There is an increasingly close and important interface between NHS provision for the population's health needs and community provision, which is dealt with via local government. Is my hon. Friend sure that it would not be better for the £4.6 billion—or however much of it remains to be spent—to go to local government, allowing it to remedy some of the faults in community care, rather than being spent for other purposes, however worthy?

Mr. Skinner

I have no doubt of it, but we are living in the real world. We are talking about a Government who have been fiddling community care allowances. They reckon to have spent more money on that, but we know what they were up to: they were shifting the money, so that local authorities now have to find more money than is coming in. My hon. Friend makes an idealistic point—she is idealistic about these matters; I do not expect this lot to take any notice.

Of course some of the money should go to local government. I can think of lots of ways in which we could spend it. We could improve the social fund allowances, instead of losing all the money somewhere in the ether.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend believes that the Government should pull the motion off the Order Paper and bring it back in January. I would like it to be brought back in January so that the Government can explain to us in detail where the part of the £4.6 billion which has already been spent has gone and where the balance of that money is going to be spent. Does not my hon. Friend agree that those who claim that they want to control public expenditure should tell Parliament where they have gone wrong, how much they have spent illegally and where they are going to go right in future?

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend was obviously not listening to me earlier. We all suffer from that from time to time. We make our speeches and then we switch off. However, I will reiterate the point for my hon. Friend's benefit, because he is on the right track.

We know that the figure is "some £4.6 billion". We do not know whether it is precisely £4.6 billion. I suspect that the figure is "some £4.6 billion" because the Government want to leave a little leeway. However, that little bit of leeway could be £5.6 billion. The Government should take the motion away. They should not bring it back to the House tomorrow as that would be to quick. There must be proper examination. The motion should be returned to Parliament after the Christmas recess.

We also want a breakdown of precisely what the £4.6 billion means and the information should be placed in the Library. We want to know how much has already been spent—if it has been spent. We want to know how much should be allocated for the next financial year. That information should also be placed in the Library. We want to know precisely where in the health service the money has gone; if it has gone there and where it is going in future.

We want to know what projects the money is going to be spent on. It is not good enough for the Government to simply say that it is being spent on the national health service. My Opposition colleagues and I want to know exactly where the money is being spent. How much is going to the Tory spivs who run the health authorities? There should be a register—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are cantering around the course yet again.

Mr. Skinner

There are some hon. Members in the Chamber who have not heard this before. I can tell by their eyes and body language that they are hearing this for the first time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Yes, but I am not hearing it for the first time.

Mr. Skinner

No, you are not and I will tell you something else. I think that you have understood everything that I have said because you have been very quick to point out that you have heard it already. That means that, unlike some of my hon. Friends, you have been listening. Do not get me wrong. That is important for a Deputy Speaker or a Speaker. I have been in the Chair. You have to listen. To sit in the Chair and listen is one of the most irksome duties.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Especially to have to listen to someone like you.

Mr. Skinner

Or to listen to someone like the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), who bores the pants off nearly everyone when he congratulates the Government every day. Quite frankly, I do not believe that his constituents believe all that tripe. I just wish that,m on occasion, the hon. Gentleman would intervene and have a crack at them. We might be more appreciative then.

You are right, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have been listening and she heard what I said. The new point that I was making was that a breakdown should be placed in the Library. Information about where the money has gone and where it is to be spent should be distributed to everyone. We should know how much is available for the next financial year and whether the totals are correct.

Mrs. Wise

I wonder whether my hon. Friend has given enough weight to the use of the word "deemed" in clause 2(3). I appreciate his suggestion and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, that the ways and means motion should be temporarily removed from the Order Paper and brought back later. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover agree that, at the same time as bringing back this item deeming the £4.6 billion to have been accumulated, which has apparently been spent without authority, it would be a very good idea for the Government to bring back another piece of retrospective legislation, since they are now into retrospective legislation, which would deem that they had never reduced the top rate of income tax?

Just think how much money would be available for the national health service, community care and the many other things that people are crying out for if they extended the principle of deeming. [Interruption.] Will my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South allow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover to listen to my point? If they brought forward a retrospective motion deeming that they had never reduced the top rate of tax, that would greatly ease the problems for which that £4.6 billion is intended.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I suggest that the hon. Member for Bolsover does not go down that road.

Mr. Skinner

I am not going down the road that strays from the Bill£[Interruption.] We have set up a proper relationship here, and I am not going to spoil the ship for an ha'p'orth of tar. I shudder when I see the word "deem" —I do not know about anybody else. Every time I see the word, I think, "Hello, money here£solicitors and money." It is a fancy solicitor's word, is it not? One can always guarantee that, where the word "deem" appears, there is a solicitor and some money behind it. I am always a bit worried about that. I think that the word has been introduced to give vagueness and generality to what the Government are trying to say.

I appreciate that we have discovered a scandal of gigantic proportions by the Government. Conservative Members laugh. They think that it is nothing. We are talking about £4.6 billion—retrospectively. People chide us when we talk about giving retrospective payments to others who are living on next to nothing. Conservative Members should tell their constituents that the Government have just discovered another £4.6 billion that they are not sure about—it might be £4.6 billion. It is time that they stopped their laughter, because it is born of arrogance and contempt not only for the House of Commons but for the British people who have had to find such sums.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

One aspect that we might not have to examine for the £4.6 billion is the social fund. I received a letter from my benefit office today, saying that, unfortunately, it is unable to give applications the same priority as it was earlier in the year and that it has therefore had to turn down one of my constituents. That shows that that section of the Department is not spending as much money as it should because it cannot meet demands that it would have granted if they had been made earlier in the year.

Mr. Skinner

I explained earlier that we know some areas where it has not been spent. At the bottom of the matter is that we have only just had a unified Budget. We had a five-day debate on the Budget and on the Queen's Speech, yet—

The Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household (Mr. Greg Knight)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the Serjeant at Arms please go to the Lobbies, to see if there is any reason for the delay?

The House having divided: Ayes 249, Noes 41.

Division No. 51] [2.30 am
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Alexander, Richard Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Fishburn, Dudley
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Amess, David Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Arbuthnot, James Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) French, Douglas
Ashby, David Gale, Roger
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Gallie, Phil
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gardiner, Sir George
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Garnier, Edward
Baldry, Tony Gillan, Cheryl
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Gorst, John
Bates, Michael Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Batiste, Spencer Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bellingham, Henry Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bendall, Vivian Grylls, Sir Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul Hague, William
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hampson, Dr Keith
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hannam, Sir John
Booth, Hartley Hargreaves, Andrew
Boswell, Tim Harris, David
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Hawkins, Nick
Bowden, Andrew Hawksley, Warren
Brandreth, Gyles Hayes, Jerry
Brazier, Julian Heald, Oliver
Bright, Graham Heathcoat-Amory, David
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hendry, Charles
Browning, Mrs. Angela Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Budgen, Nicholas Horam, John
Burns, Simon Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Burt, Alistair Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Butcher, John Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Butler, Peter Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Butterfill, John Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hunter, Andrew
Carrington, Matthew Jack, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Jenkin, Bernard
Cash, William Jessel, Toby
Chapman, Sydney Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Clappison, James Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Kilfedder, Sir James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Coe, Sebastian Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Colvin, Michael Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Congdon, David Knox, Sir David
Conway, Derek Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Lair, Mrs Jacqui
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Legg, Barry
Couchman, James Leight, Edward
Cran, James Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Lidington, David
Davis, David (Boothferry) Lightbown, David
Day, Stephen Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Deva, Nirj Joseph Lord, Michael
Devlin, Tim Luff, Peter
Dorrell, Stephen Maclean, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James McLoughlin, Patrick
Dover, Den McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Duncan, Alan Maitland, Lady Olga
Duncan-Smith, Iain Malone, Gerald
Dunn, Bob Mans, Keith
Durant, Sir Anthony Marland, Paul
Elletson, Harold Marlow, Tony
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Mellor, Rt Hon David
Faber, David Merchant, Piers
Fabricant, Michael Milligan, Stephen
Mills, Iain Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Spink, Dr Robert
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Spring, Richard
Moate, Sir Roger Sproat, Iain
Monro, Sir Hector Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Needham, Richard Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Nelson, Anthony Steen, Anthony
Neubert, Sir Michael Stephen, Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Stern, Michael
Nicholls, Patrick Stewart, Allan
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Streeter, Gary
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Sumberg, David
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Sweeney, Walter
Oppenheim, Phillip Sykes, John
Ottaway, Richard Tapsell, Sir Peter
Page, Richard Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Paice, James Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Patnick, Irvine Temple-Morris, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Thomason, Roy
Pawsey, James Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Pickles, Eric Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Porter, David (Waveney) Thurnham, Peter
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Powell, William (Corby) Tredinnick, David
Rathbone, Tim Trend, Michael
Redwood, Rt Hon John Twinn, Dr Iain
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Richards, Rod Viggers, Peter
Riddick, Graham Walden, George
Robathan, Andrew Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Waller, Bill (N Tayside)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Waterson, Nigel]
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Watts, John
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Wells, Bowen
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Whitney, Ray
Sackville, Tom Whittingdale, John
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Widdecombe, Ann
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Shaw, David (Dover) Wilkinson, John
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wiletts, David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wolfson, Mark
Shersby, Michael Wood, Mark
Sims, Roger Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Tellers for the Ayes:
Soames, Nicholas Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and
Speed, Sir Keith Mr. Andrew MacKay.
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Barnes, Harry Illsley, Eric
Barron, Kevin Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Beggs, Roy Jowell, Tessa
Bennett, Andrew F. Kilfoyle, Peter
Clelland, David Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cryer, Bob McAllion, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence McMaster, Gordon
Davidson, Ian Mudie, George
Dewar, Donald Olner, William
Dixon, Don Pickthall, Colin
Dunnachie, Jimmy Pike, Peter L.
Enright, Derek Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Etherington, Bill Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Short, Clare
Godman, Dr Norman A. Skinner, Dennis
Graham, Thomas Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Hall, Mike Wise, Audrey
Hanson, David Wray, Jimmy
Heppell, John
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Tellers for the Noes:
Hood, Jimmy Mr. Terry Lewis and
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Mr. Eddie Loyden.
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I sat in the Chamber for the last two and a half hours of that debate, and I listened with great interest to the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), for Preston (Mrs. Wise) and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett)—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We will deal with the main Question first.

Question put accordingly:

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. Hanson

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance in protecting the rights of the House. Some of us sat through the debate for two hours, waiting to hear the Minister's response to the important points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover and for Bradford, South. The Government produced a closure motion, which did not allow the Minister to answer those points. Will I, as a Member of Parliament, hear an answer to the important points raised by my hon. Friends, which the Minister refused to answer because of the closure? Will we have an opportunity to learn where the £4.6 billion has been spent and will be spent, and where that money is to come from in future?

Madam Deputy Speaker

In my experience, the ingenuity of hon. Members in acquiring that information does not need further protection from the Chair.

The House having divided: Ayes 251, Noes 37.

Division No. 52] [2.45 am
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Cash, William
Alexander, Richard Chapman, Sydney
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Clappison, James
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Amess, David Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, James Coe, Sebastian
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Colvin, Michael
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Congdon, David
Ashby, David Conway, Derek
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Baldry, Tony Couchman, James
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Cran, James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Bates, Michael Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Batiste, Spencer Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bellingham, Henry Day, Stephen
Bendall, Vivian Deva, Nirj Joseph
Beresford, Sir Paul Devlin, Tim
Bitten, Rt Hon John Dorrell, Stephen
Blackburn, Dr John G. Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dover, Den
Booth, Hartley Duncan, Alan
Boswell, Tim Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Dunn, Bob
Bowden, Andrew Durant, Sir Anthony
Brandreth, Gyles Elletson, Harold
Brazier, Julian Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bright, Graham Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Budgen, Nicholas Faber, David
Burns, Simon Fabricant, Michael
Burt, Alistair Fenner, Dame Peggy
Butcher, John Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butler, Peter Fishburn, Dudley
Butterfill, John Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Carrington, Matthew Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Carttiss, Michael Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
French, Douglas Newton, Rt Tony
Gale, Roger Nicholls, Patrick
Gallie, Phil Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Gardiner, Sir George Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Garnier, Edward Oppenheim, Phillip
Gillan, Cheryl Ottaway, Richard
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Page, Richard
Gorst, John Paice, James
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Patnick, Irvine
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Pattie, Rt Hon Groffrey
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Pawsey, James
Grylls, Sir Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hague, William Pickles, Eric
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hampson, Dr Keith Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hannam, Sir John Powell, William (Corby)
Hargreaves, Andrew Rathbone, Tim
Harris, David Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hawkins, Nick Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hawksley, Warren Richards, Rod
Hayes, Jerry Riddick, Graham
Heald, Oliver Robathan, Andrew
Heathcoat-Amory, David Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hendry, Charles Robertson, Raymond (Ad'd'n S)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Horam, John Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Sackville, Tom
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Scoot, Rt Hon Tim
Hunter, Andrew Shaw, David, (Dover)
Jack, Michael Shaw, Sie Giles (Pudsey)
Jenkin, Bernard Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jessel, Toby Shersby, Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sims, Roger
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Kilfedder, Sir James Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kirkhope, Timothy Soames, Nicholas
Knapman, Roger Speed, Sir Keith
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Spencer, Sir Derek
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Knox, Sir David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Spink, Dr Robert
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Spring, Richard
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sproat, Iain
Legg, Barry Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Leigh, Edward Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Steen, Anthony
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Stephen, Michael
Lidington, David Stern, Michael
Lightbown, David Stewart, Allan
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Streeter, Gary
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sumberg, David
Lord, Michael Sweeney, Walter
Luff, Peter Sykes, John
MacKay, Andrew Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maclean, David Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Maitland, Lady Olga Thomason, Roy
Malone, Gerald Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Mans, Keith Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marland, Paul Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Marlow, Tony Thurnham, Peter
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Tredinnick, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Trend, Michael
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Twinn, Dr Ian
Mellor, Rt Hon David Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Merchant, Piers Viggers, Peter
Milligan, Stephen Walde, George
Mills, Iain Walker, Bil (N Tayside)
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Waller, Gary
Moate, Sir Roger Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Monro, Sir Hector Waterson, Nigel
Moss, Malcolm Watts, John
Needham, Richard Wells, Bowen
Nelson, Anthony Whitney, Ray
Neubert, Sir Michael Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Ann Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Wilkinson, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Willetts, David Mr. Robert G. Hughes and
Wolfson, Mark Mr. Andrew Mitchell.
Wood, Timothy
Barnes, Harry Jowell, Tessa
Clelland, David Kilfoyle, Peter
Cryer, Bob Lewis, Terry
Davidson, Ian Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dewar, Donald McAllion, John
Dixon, Don McMaster, Gordon
Dunnachie, Jimmy Mudie, George
Enright, Derek Olner, William
Etherington, Bill Pickthall, Colin
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Pike, Peter L.
Godman, Dr Norman A. Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Graham, Thomas Short, Clare
Hall, Mike Skinner, Dennis
Hanson, David Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Heppell, John Wise, Audrey
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Wray, Jimmy
Hood, Jimmy
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Mr. Eddie Loyden and
Illsley, Eric Mr. Andrew Bennett.
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Social Security (Contributions) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the following provisions —

National health service allocation (1) In section 162(5) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (destination of contributions: national health service allocation), in paragraph (a) (allocation in case of primary Class 1 contributions) for the words from "the earnings" to the end substitute "so much of the earnings in respect of which those contributions were paid as exceeded the lower earnings limit but did not exceed the upper earnings limit;". (2) After subsection (6) of that section insert—

(3) The above amendments shall be deemed to have had effect as from the commencement of the 1992 Act; and corresponding amendments to section 134 of the Social Security Act 1975 shall be deemed to have had effect as from the commencement of section 1 of the Social Security Act 1989.

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