HC Deb 01 December 1997 vol 302 cc22-80
Madam Speaker

I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.38 pm
Mr. lain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

I beg to move, That this House deeply regrets the unnecessary delay to proposals on pension and welfare reform; finds it inconceivable that having attacked reductions to lone parent benefits proposed by the previous Government this Government now plans to implement the same reductions; and urges the Government to take this opportunity to reassure people with disabilities that they will not tax Disability Living Allowance or transfer disability benefits from disabled individuals to bureaucracies such as local government's social services departments.

The debate is timely not only because of the internal Labour rows over cuts to lone parent benefit but because, after seven months in office, it affords us an opportunity—

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

What rows?

Mr. Duncan Smith

The real rows come from among the hon. Gentleman's friends and all those sitting on the Back Benches behind him.

With briefing, counter-briefing and leaks, the Department for Social Security is developing a sense of confusion which bodes ill. The Secretary of State and her party came to power on a promise—among many promises—of large-scale pension and welfare reform. The Prime Minister established that as one of his main priorities. He said that his Ministers would "think the unthinkable" and end welfare as we know it. In office, the Prime Minister reaffirmed that commitment as recently as October. He said: We need to invest more as a country in savings and pensions. But Government's role is going to be to organise provision—like new stakeholder pensions—not fund it all through ever higher taxes. He was equally explicit about welfare. He said: it means fundamental reform of our welfare state, of the deal between citizen and society

I shall deal with pensions first. After the Labour party's scurrilous attack during the general election campaign on basic pension plus—which was essentially a proposal for discussion, not dissimilar to a Green Paper—it was legitimate to expect that the new Government were ready to move fast on pensions. One would think that they had an alternative, but apparently they did not.

Expectations were underlined by the appointment in May of the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who is in his place. He was the Prime Minister's personal appointment and carries the unprecedented title of Minister for Welfare Reform. Given the amount that he has written on the subject in the recent past, the country would have been forgiven for expecting an early Green Paper on pensions. After all, the very phrase "stakeholder pension" is one which he coined in his pamphlet "How to pay for stakeholder welfare".

Mr. MacShane

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He was the author of a notorious pamphlet in 1993, which struck a chill into the heart of every pensioner in the country, for the No Turning Back group, that ultra-rightwing, reactionary Thatcherite group. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is reading."] I am reading because I am quoting. In that pamphlet, the hon. Gentleman proposed that people be allowed to opt out of their basic state pension. Is that still his policy—yes or no?

Mr. Duncan Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point and I am pleased that he has bothered to read my pamphlet. I have been waiting some time for him to get round to it. The Secretary of State for Social Security might do well to read it herself. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that pension reform requires one to consider all aspects—

Mr. MacShane

Answer the question.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer. I do not resile for one moment from the idea that, as the Prime Minister said, pension reform requires one to think the unthinkable. Ministers are doing very little thinking, unthinkable or otherwise. What I wrote in 1993 went further towards pension reform than anything that Ministers have produced.

The pamphlet by the Minister for Welfare Reform is very interesting, and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) should read it. He might be interested to find out what the Minister's opinions are. The pamphlet was the product of a number of years' thought on how to provide second pensions for all, and such thought was also evident in other pamphlets such as "Private pensions for all: squaring the circle" and "A national savings plan", which was about universalising private pension provision.

Those pamphlets emerged before the election, but, instead of the expected early Green Paper, which the hon. Member for Rotherham is so keen on, a pensions review was announced in July. Instead of being actively led by the Minister for Welfare Reform, it was run by the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). It took him until September to announce the members of the review panel and on 31 October the review was closed, only to be reopened until May 1998. We still have no sense of what basic policy the Government will pursue.

Even the review is confused. After 1,800 responses, the Under-Secretary announced on 3 November in a written answer: The Government intends to publish its initial framework for change in the first part of 1998. There will then be a further period of consultation before firm proposals are developed."—[Official Report, 3 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 90.] On 19 November, the Under-Secretary opened another, separate review, before he had read and digested all the responses from what he called the stakeholder consultation. What was the purpose of the first review? I was not aware that it left out stakeholder provision; indeed, various people commented on that subject in their submissions. The Government seem to be making policy by procrastination.

It is worth reminding ourselves what the Minister for Welfare Reform said just before the election. Speaking about his party leader—now the Prime Minister—on 18 October 1996, the right hon. Gentleman said: His aim is for Labour to enter Government with a sufficiently well created plan that it can be part of the first Queen's speech and a draft Bill in the first year, allowing for a year for debate. He went further, saying that it was crucial to avoid the mistakes of Dick Crossman and Harold Wilson who spent four years consulting and lost their plan in the 1970 election". I heard the right hon. Gentleman say earlier from a sedentary position, "It will be." We are already reaching the end of the year and no Green Paper is even evident. As he knows, the review process is stretching out to the latter part of next year. He says that there will be something, but we see nothing coming up.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

The hon. Gentleman talks about the pensions review, but does he not agree that, in cutting value added tax on fuel, eliminating the gas levy and announcing increases for winter fuel of £20 to all pensioner households and £50 for those on income support, we have done more for pensioners in the past six months than the Conservatives did in 18 years?

Mr. Duncan Smith

The hon. Gentleman is doing very well, is he not? He rose to take a position on pensions, but he talked about a giveaway in the green Budget, which was more about protecting the position of those on the Government Front Bench than anything else. It was cobbled together quickly to get them out of a hole because they are getting nowhere over all their so-called reform processes.

The hon. Gentleman should try answering the question: when will they go for the Prime Minister's position of full pension and welfare reform? There has not been a word so far about where all that is. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to answer that question. When will that be? There is no answer, is there? So it goes on. I can understand the frustration of the Minister for Welfare Reform as he perceives the process being delayed; after all, he has written about it. As I said, he wrote all that on pensions alone.

The delay goes back to the emergency Budget that the Chancellor produced for, it now appears, no reason at all. He went further than he said and not merely on the windfall tax. He set about pensions. Let us put on one side for a moment the Chancellor's attack on pensions, which will cost those who need to invest in their pensions billions of pounds and lose them a lot of money.

With the abolition of advance corporation tax dividend tax credit, the right hon. Gentleman devalued the national insurance rebate. Having made those changes, far from leaving the state earnings-related pension scheme as an option for those who wished to remain in it, as the Labour manifesto said—a rather vague commitment—he has gone a stage further and has enhanced the option of SERPS, increasing the number of people opting in. That is happening now and research by Scottish Life clearly shows that, Based on somebody earning £15,000 a year, remaining out of SERPS could cost them the equivalent of £360 a year in retirement income. And for higher earners it could be far more. So people are opting back in. On the margins, there is no purpose in staying out as the rebate has been so devalued.

The Minister for Welfare Reform is also fairly unequivocal about SERPS, as the Secretary of State knows. The Minister said: A failure to close SERPS will mean substantial tax bills for future generations. I agree, as I am sure does the Secretary of State. I am also intrigued by how the Minister views his colleagues, given that he said at some point: Anyone persuaded SERPS had a future ought to be made a ward of court".

On 29 October, given all the confusion, the Prime Minister had clearly lost track of who was running what. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) asked straightforwardly at Prime Minister's Question Time whether the Minister for Welfare Reform had his support for thinking the unthinkable and proposing pension improvements. The Prime Minister expressed himself in complete confidence with the Minister for Welfare Reform's duties—an interesting choice of words—but went on to say that the Minister would be producing a Green Paper shortly. We are talking about pensions, let us remember. Are we to assume that the Minister will also be carrying out a separate review of pensions? Perhaps he could let me know.

The Minister for Welfare Reform (Mr. Frank Field)

indicated assent.

Mr. Duncan Smith

I see that the right hon. Gentleman is nodding, so we have established that. In that case, what was the purpose of the review by the Under-Secretary of State, and if the Prime Minister thought in October that the Green Paper would be issued shortly, why do we have to wait until the new year to receive it? Nothing has happened. Three months after that promise, we will still be waiting.

The Secretary of State, who may or may not be listening, has said remarkably little about pensions in the past few months, either in the House or outside. Pensions reform is being pushed into the blue yonder. It is too difficult to rectify, and there are too many hard choices to make, so the Government prefer to slide it out into the future and leave only the minimum change that can be made. So it goes on.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

How many people suffered the abuse of pensions mis-selling under the previous Government? The hon. Gentleman is outlining duties; what duty and responsibility did the Tory Government have to prevent that?

Mr. Duncan Smith

The hon. Lady asks a serious question. The issue of pensions mis-selling is being dealt with, and was being dealt with before the general election. I understand from the Treasury figures that the sum under investigation is £2 billion maximum, and perhaps less.

That is a serious matter, but why do Labour Members never mention the fact that, as a result of all the changes that the Conservative party made before the general election, about £750 billion—more than in the whole of the rest of Europe put together—is now invested in private pensions here? They never mention that success. How do they intend to persuade members of the public to invest in pensions if they never talk about the success of private pensions, which were driven forward by the Conservative party over the years against perpetual opposition from Labour?

The process with welfare reform appears to be similar. We have a series of proposals that need to be implemented quickly, so that the changes can be bedded down and we can have proper discussion to make sure that there are no problems. All through the summer, no one would answer the important questions: when and whether there would be a Green Paper on welfare reform, and who would produce it.

Throughout the summer, a series of leaks and counter-briefings in the press took the debate beyond the House, but still we have no answers. The Financial Times reported that someone in the Treasury, who is apparently close to the Minister for Welfare Reform, said: His package now seems insufficiently new Labour. The summer was dominated by a war of words, with briefing and counter-briefing between the Secretary of State and the Minister for Welfare Reform. There was no progress until finally, at the end of the summer, she was forced to agree to his producing a Green Paper; but not, apparently, until early in the new year.

Is the Chancellor's welfare review—it is run by Martin Taylor and has nothing to do with the Department of Social Security—which is supposed to be considering merging tax and benefits, taking priority? Does the Chancellor not like what the Minister for Welfare Reform has written progressively over the years? In his green Budget, the Chancellor continued to refer to the Minister's proposals, even though it appears that they are being rapidly watered down and now focus solely on making family credit payable through pay-as-you-earn rather than through the benefits system.

The clash between the Minister for Welfare Reform's views on the ending of means testing and the Chancellor's view that means testing is necessary through the tax system may explain some of the problems.

There is also the thorny point of what the Secretary of State thinks of the Chancellor's proposals. After all, she has long said that she does not like the idea of benefits being paid through the wallet rather than through the purse. There was a big debate, and she always argued that benefits should be paid to the person at home. Then again, if the Chancellor requires the change she will no doubt change her mind and implement it. That seems to be the process, and it is what we have come to expect.

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough)

I remind the hon. Gentleman of his celebrated comments in a pamphlet in 1993, when he suggested that disability living allowance should be means-tested. Does he write in one tone and talk in another?

Mr. Duncan Smith

If the hon. Lady were to check the intervention list from her Whips Office, she might understand that she has got most of that wrong. I will discuss the disability living allowance later, but the simple fact is that no welfare reform package or review is on offer. The hon. Lady cannot substitute that fact with an attempt by her Whips Office to find out exactly what someone else, who is not even in government, proposed. The Labour party are in government; the hon. Lady is in government; when are we going to get some proposals from them? We have heard no answers from them. The hon. Lady should check her Whips Office little list again, because it has got it quite wrong.

I posed a series of questions of the Secretary of State when she first announced in the Budget debate how she intended to operate some of her proposals, such as the new deal for lone parents. The right hon. Lady stuck with single-minded determination to that new deal; that is what she has spoken most about and has issued most press releases about. It seems to be the main drive behind most of what she has said and done.

Assuming that the pilot programmes were meant to inform us whether the policy on the new deal for lone parents is working, I said from the beginning that the right hon. Lady would need to institute proper control groups inside the pilot programmes to measure the effectiveness of each pilot. Most of those comments were obviously ignored.

As I and my team went around the pilot centres during the summer, it became absolutely clear that, with the absence of control groups, it would be impossible to measure why people got jobs and whether that was because of the new deal. We are now told that some time in September the Department of Social Security partially changed its mind about control groups. It did so retrospectively—that was never mentioned in the original plan, and the right hon. Lady never answered that question. The Department now needs to tell us how those control groups will work. I gather that it is even trying to backdate the information from those so-called pilot areas.

When the control groups were set up, there was a flurry of press releases—long before any real success or failure could possibly be measured. Of particular interest was the Secretary of State's press release of 23 September, just two months after the programme began, which spoke glowingly about how successful it was. The other important press release was that issued on 23 October, when the Secretary of State readvertised her programme as a huge success, after just three months.

The time came to analyse those figures, and we found that when the Secretary of State announced that they were a huge success she was talking about a 20 per cent. success rate. She failed to tell us that 433 people taking jobs out of the 8,600 to whom letters were sent is equivalent to a 5 per cent. response rate. She has never yet once explained how she can make a success out of 5 per cent., when so many people have not even bothered to respond to those letters.

What has happened to all those people who did not respond? Have the Government studied the reasons for that lack of response? Not one comment have we heard from the Government. Now we discover from figures apparently released by the right hon. Lady's Department that the chances of people getting work from the programme are roughly the same as they would be were they not in that programme.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 20 minutes and, apart from attacking the fact that the Government are reviewing the welfare system, he has said absolutely nothing about the Opposition's views on welfare reform. At the very least, will he say whether he supports the Government's proposal on the new deal for lone parents?

Mr. Duncan Smith

Frankly, if the hon. Lady tries to persuade her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make us all offers to move over to the Government Benches, we will listen. The truth is that, believe it or not, the hon. Lady is in government. Those on her Front Bench are there to make decisions. When will they do so? The Government do not like the fact that I am simply saying that when they promise major reforms, and then do absolutely nothing, they are misleading the public. The longer we go on about that, the less they like it. We have been offered no reform.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Could it not be that, while the Minister for Welfare Reform said: Women with children of school age should be under an obligation to look for work", the Secretary of State cannot make up her mind? In October, she said on television: Compulsion is absolutely not the issue. While they are busily arguing among themselves, they cannot come up with a consistent policy.

Mr. Duncan Smith

That is the point that I am coming to. The reality is that there is one dispute after another. The Secretary of State is arguing with the Minister for Welfare Reform about who should be in charge. He wants compulsion; she does not. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) that it is one endless internal dispute after another, which is why we are not getting anywhere with the reforms. There have been no reforms at all.

The new deal for lone parents is becoming more and more of a trumpeting exercise in publicity rather than a serious study about how people can get into work and how they can be assisted in doing so if they wish.

The Conservative Government proposed some changes to cut child benefit and the supplement to income support in their final Budget last November. The present Secretary of State attacked the proposals and immediately said that she did not intend to implement them once in government. She went further in an interview with Polly Toynbee of The Independent. When asked whether she would introduce the changes to lone parent benefit, she said, "No, of course not." On 28 November 1996, she said: The Secretary of State says that he is cutting benefits to lone mothers because they are at an advantage compared to married mothers…but it is not fair on the families of women who bring up children on their own. They will be worse off."—[Official Report, 28 November 1996; Vol. 286, c. 501.]

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that on the two occasions in this Session when there have been votes on the abolition of benefits for lone parents, the Conservative party has abstained, thus proving that it has no opinion?

Mr. Duncan Smith

The hon. Gentleman asked what our position is. Had we won the last election and been in government now, we would, without question, have implemented the changes. I have told the Government that.

I can tell the Liberal Democrats that the simple position is that we certainly shall not oppose any such changes if the Government introduce them. That is straightforward and our position is clear. We have not broken a pledge, unlike the Labour party—the party of the hon. Member for Rotherham. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should calm down—he is obviously being vibrated too much by his Whips Office. He and his hon. Friends have broken a pledge—the Secretary of State has broken it more than anyone else.

In the interests of clarity—[Interruption.] It is no good trying to protect the Secretary of State; I just want to hear from her about it. In 1996 and 1997, she made it absolutely clear that she would not implement the change. Will she tell us exactly what changed her opinion? If she disagrees with the policy in principle—as it seems from those quotes and from all the speeches that she has made and discussions that she has had—will she now give an undertaking that if, at any time, the Exchequer moves into the black and starts to repay debt, she will reverse the cuts? She might do so if she does not agree with the policy in principle and it is only about saving money. At some point in the future, will she change her opinion, or will she stand by the reductions in lone parent benefit that we proposed before the election and she attacked? Would she like to answer that question? No, she does not want to answer.

The Secretary of State's view that the Labour party in government would not implement the cuts was supported by the Prime Minister—her Back-Bench colleagues should remember that. When he was asked on "World at One" whether he would implement the cuts, he said: No. We believe that we can avoid that situation within the existing budget". He knew what he was saying; he was referring to what the Secretary of State had said to Polly Toynbee in an article in The Independent. He was clear and unequivocal. He knew exactly what the Labour party was planning to do in government: stick to existing spending totals.

It is no good Labour Members saying that, before the election, the Conservatives instigated a devious plot to change the spending totals; they knew what they were, and the present Secretary of State and the Prime Minister knew that.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan Smith

I shall give way later.

Our position has been clear. Had we been in power after the election we would have stuck to our pledge and implemented the policy, because we believed that it was the right thing to do.

The most important result of the right hon. Lady's problems with her Back Benchers and her Department was that, at the last moment, the Chancellor decided to cobble together a rescue package in the green Budget and buy off the animosity against those changes with the announcement about after-school clubs. What gave the game away was that, in answer to a written question about the policy on after-school clubs, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), had written: We are currently developing a National Childcare Strategy which will help parents…I will make an announcement in the first part of next year."—[Official Report, 24 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 361.] That is true, is it not? He wrote that at the same time as the Chancellor was rising to his feet to announce that there were to be after-school clubs.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Alan Howarth)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The Minister was absolutely clear that they were going to give the details of the package next year. They changed their plans simply because the right hon. Lady was in trouble, along with her right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)


Mr. Duncan Smith

There is no point in rising to protect them—the hon. Gentleman should stop trying to be an air raid shelter taking some of the flak for the Secretary of State. The reality is that the Chancellor suddenly managed to find £200 million from the lottery, £50 million from the Department for Education and Employment and £30 million from the windfall tax to pay for after-school clubs.

The announcement that 50,000 people were to be trained to be child carers was given as though it was something new, but it had already been mentioned in the Budget. During the Budget debate, I told the Secretary of State that it would be difficult to find 50,000 child carers from the welfare-to-work programme, given that numbers were falling fast because so many jobs were being found. In an attempt to find those extra 50,000 people, the Government have again decided to backtrack by opening up training to all young unemployed, whether or not they have been unemployed for more than six months.

There is a problem with that—[H0N. MEMBERS: "Yes, there is."] I am glad Labour Members admit that there is a problem. The interesting thing is that Labour Back Benchers do not seem to understand that the age limit has been set below 26 because of the minimum wage. It appears now that the Government will exempt all those under 26 from the minimum wage, so that they will not have to pay the extra sums that they know they cannot afford.

The Secretary of State and her right hon. and hon. Friends have worked it out very carefully. Will the right hon. Lady let us know whether they will train people over 26 if they cannot find enough people to train as child carers, regardless of whether the exemption on the minimum wage stands for those under 26? Will she tell us that, either in her speech or in an intervention now?

All right, fine. We will not get an answer on that.

Mr. MacShane

Get on with it.

Mr. Duncan Smith

It is no good the hon. Gentleman shouting—getting on with it is the simple process of discovering from the Secretary of State exactly what her plans are. Not surprisingly, we will now move on to disabilities.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way before leaving the subject. Is the problem not merely the number of people the Government have to find to take on child care, but the serious nature of the business of child care, which is not a matter for any frivolity? Carers must be of high quality and properly trained, and that will take a long time.

Mr. Duncan Smith

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Interestingly, we will have people trained for child care through the welfare-to-work programme who might have to be compelled into that process, but they might be looking after the children of those whom the right hon. Lady refuses to compel to go into work. That is a dichotomy: on the one hand, we will have people not compelled to take up jobs and, on the other hand, people being compelled to train to look after the first group's children. Child care is a serious subject and the Government are treating it with a great deal of frivolity.

I have some serious questions to ask the right hon. Lady about disability benefits; I want to give her the opportunity to clarify one or two problems.

First, there are some people with disabilities who have been awarded disability living allowance for life. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that life means life, and that she intends no change?

Secondly, we hear that the Government are considering taxing disability living allowance. The Labour manifesto stated that there would be no new taxes; given the raid on pensions, who would now believe that? Where do these pledges leave people on disability living allowance? Do the Government plan to single them out, or does the right hon. Lady deny that such a proposal exists?

On 17 November, the right hon. Lady answered a question at the Dispatch Box, saying that she and her colleagues had spoken to more than 40 organisations representing people with disabilities; yet on the "Link" programme on ITV yesterday, disability groups were adamant that they had not been approached, and they accused the Secretary of State of misleading the House of Commons. The programme had contacted 28 leading organisations, including the Royal National Institute for the Blind, all of which said that they had not been consulted or approached by the Secretary of State or the Department. Will the right hon. Lady take this chance to clear that up? Did she intentionally or otherwise mislead us during oral answers to questions or does she stand by her claim that she contacted these organisations?

Benefits Agency staff have been making home visits to 150,000 people who receive disability living allowance at the higher rate in both care and mobility components. What training have those people had? These are all serious questions to which we demand serious answers, either from the right hon. Lady or at the end of the debate.

Mr. Mike Hall


Mr. Duncan Smith

I am concluding.

The debate would not have been necessary if the right hon. Lady and her team had set about their brief in line with what the Prime Minister has said. In a rhetorical flourish, he told them to think the unthinkable; they would change welfare and engage in sweeping pension reform. The right hon. Lady and her team have not done that. They promised before the election not to cut lone parent benefit and the supplement on income support, yet they are doing just that.

In everything that is going on we perceive delay, vacillation and policy U-turns. The cross-briefings and disputes between the people running the Department do not bode well for the biggest Department in government or for the Secretary of State's stewardship of it. Labour party members charged around when they were in opposition—many of them still think they are in opposition—promising Back Benchers and pressure groups to deliver on their most favoured programmes; a nod here and a wink there. It was not so much a case of a wet Wednesday in Dudley as of a United Kingdom programme of empty promises seven days a week.

The Treasury seems determined to make spending cuts, while departmental Ministers are more worried about their jobs than anything else. They are so busy trying to extricate the knives from each other's backs that they have no time to think about where the next cut will fall.

No wonder Labour Back Benchers have smelt a rat. Someone needs to take control of the Department before it descends into chaos. I urge the right hon. Lady to get a grip and to get these reviews moving, as she promised to do. She must also explain why she has reneged on her promise before the election not to cut benefits. She must get the Department focused.

The Secretary of State says that no Green Paper is ready yet. The Minister for Welfare Reform has already published quite enough to form the basis of a Green Paper, but the right hon. Lady simply has not bothered. Instead, her Department is led by press release, cross-briefing and dispute. It is time she started to change—fast.

4.13 pm
The Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women (Ms Harriet Harman)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: congratulates the Government for the progress that has already been made on reforming the welfare state to tackle social exclusion and welfare dependency; backs the Government's strategy of offering hope, opportunity and a better standard of living for people through its welfare to work programmes for lone parents, disabled people and those with long-standing illness, young unemployed people and the long-term unemployed, and the National Childcare Strategy, in contrast to the previous Government's approach of writing millions of people off to a life dependent on benefit; welcomes the Government's determination to ensure security in retirement for today's and tomorrow's pensioners through the pensions review and the action the Government has already taken to get help to Britain's pensioners, particularly the poorest pensioners, by cutting VAT on fuel and through the £20 winter fuel payment to pensioner households and the £50 winter fuel payment to pensioner households on Income Support; and congratulates the Government for keeping its promises and delivering its manifesto commitments to the British people.".

This debate has shown that the Tory Opposition have nothing to say about welfare reform, nothing to say about tackling worklessness and poverty, and nothing to say about social exclusion or the problems of pensioners. However, the debate does allow Labour Members the opportunity to expose the full extent of the previous Government's legacy of failure, to set out the Government's approach to tackling that failure and to talk about the progress that we have already made.

Reforming the welfare state to tackle poverty and welfare dependency is a priority of the Government. We are delivering on that commitment. There is a new deal for the young and long-term unemployed, and the biggest employment programme for 40 years. A new deal for lone parents is already up and running and transforming the lives of lone parents and their children. There is the first national child care strategy for Britain, with the biggest ever investment in out-of-school child care. There is a new programme to give extra help and opportunities to people who were written off by the previous Government as long-term sick and disabled. We are getting help to all Britain's pensioners, with extra help to the poorest. That is what we said before the election that we would do, and that is what we are doing, now that we are in government.

Before I continue, I want to place the debate in context. The social security system that we inherited failed to tackle poverty. It trapped people on benefit and did nothing to help them into work. Under the previous Government, spending on social security rose to £100 billion a year—£25 billion more than the total amount of income tax collected in any one year.

Despite that huge growth in welfare spending, during 18 years of Tory rule, more and more people were excluded from the main stream of society. The system was not working because it had failed to respond to social and economic change. The Tories got it wrong. Growing social exclusion—for the benefit of the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who does not seem to know what it means—means adults deprived of work, children deprived of a decent education, whole communities cut off from their more prosperous neighbours, and a growing gap between rich and poor.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

The Secretary of State said that the Tories got it wrong. If that is correct, why has she now decided to implement one of the policies which, according to her, the Tories got wrong—the cuts in lone-parent benefit, which the right hon. Lady constantly condemned at the time and said that she would not implement? Will she once and for all tell the House what has gone through her mind to make her change her policy, announced last winter, that she would not implement those cuts?

Ms Harman

The Tories got it wrong on lone mothers, because their proposals left 1 million lone mothers bringing up 2 million children on income support, and offered no help or opportunities for them to work, despite a growing economy.

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way again. Now will she answer the question? Why is she now implementing the cuts that we proposed, which she condemned as wrong?

Ms Harman

I have answered the question. We said time and again that our approach to lone mothers would be to help them to work, so that they could be better off than they would ever be on benefit.

In a growing economy, increasing numbers of people were left behind. There are now 3.5 million households of working age in which no one works. A quarter of all children are growing up in families in which no one works, and the poorest pensioners are being left behind. Although one in eight pensioners are among the richest 20 per cent. of people in the country, a quarter are entitled to income support.

Mr. Burns

Answer the question now.

Ms Harman

I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question. We said that we would have a welfare-to-work approach to tackle the poverty of lone parents and their social exclusion and that of their children. The previous Government proposed no opportunities programmes for lone mothers.

Several hon. Members


Ms Harman

I will not give way to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns); I have given way to him twice to answer the same question. I give way to his hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May).

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

Did the right hon. Lady have the opportunity this morning, as I did, to listen to the radio phone-in programme on welfare benefits? A single mother rang to say that, although the Government claim to be doing so much to get lone parents into work, if she were to take temporary work over the Christmas period to earn money to provide for her children, she would go back on to lone-parent benefit at the reduced rate. How would the right hon. Lady answer that lone parent?

Ms Harman

We do not believe that the changes will be a disincentive to work for lone parents; if we did, we would not be introducing them. Our approach to lone parents is to help them to become better off, by working, than they could ever be on benefits.

Mrs. Gorman

If what the right hon. Lady is saying is correct, why have more than 100 Labour Back Benchers signed an early-day motion and written letters privately condemning her policies?

Ms Harman

The hon. Lady speaking out on behalf of Labour Back Benchers is a touching spectacle, but they are probably more than capable of speaking out for themselves.

The British people have had enough of division. The general election showed that they were no longer prepared to put up with such a deeply divided society. They gave us a clear mandate to tackle social exclusion and to build a better one-nation society.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to the latest published figures, in parts of my constituency the average gross household income, including all non-housing benefits, is—and I ask hon. Members to listen carefully—less than £3,000 a year? That is less than 60 quid a week to support a household. Those people have been excluded and they are looking forward to my right hon. Friend and the new Labour Government giving them hope.

Ms Harman

That is why the people in my hon. Friend's constituency will welcome our proposals for a minimum wage and a working families tax credit to make work pay.

The British people gave us a mandate not just to tackle social exclusion, but on how to tackle it—not simply by adding to the benefits bill, which had been tried and had not worked, but by investing wisely in extending economic opportunity to all.

We have two equal but quite distinct duties in government—a duty to invest in helping those who can work to do so, and a duty to focus help properly on those who cannot work. The key failure of social policy in recent years has been the failure to differentiate between those two groups. That has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people of working age being written off to a life of dependence on benefit, when the Government should have been helping them to work. Work is central to this Government's attack on social exclusion.

Mr Rendel

The right hon. Lady said that she was hoping to focus benefits on those who were not able to get work. In what sense is the cut in lone-parent benefit focusing benefits on lone parents who cannot get work?

Ms Harman

No lone parent currently in receipt of income support will have their benefit affected. However, there will be a welfare-to-work programme—and I know that the hon. Gentleman agrees with us on this—because the best way to tackle poverty among lone parents and their families is to ensure that they are much better off in work than they could ever be on benefit.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the housing benefit system works in such a way as to lock people into unemployment. Why do we not take a far more imaginative approach and directly interfere in the free market for rents, thereby reducing housing benefit and saving hundreds of millions of pounds—far more than anything we could gain by the measures that she is considering?

Ms Harman

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the housing benefit system locks people into dependence on benefit and deters people from working. I and Ministers in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have said that, in reviewing the social security system, we shall examine the role of housing benefit to ensure that the housing support system accords with our priorities: that people have every incentive to work and do not remain—as they were under the Tories for 18 years—trapped on benefit when they want to work and be independent.

Mr Campbell-Savours

My right hon. Friend has missed my point. High rents mean high housing benefit and they exist in a free market for rents, which affects millions of people. Why do we not interfere there, thereby slashing the benefit bill in a major way, instead of concentrating our efforts on lone parents?

Ms Harman

My hon. Friend raises some interesting points, which we shall make part of our housing benefit review. We shall go out of our way to discuss with him his constructive proposals, so that they can feed into our thorough and comprehensive review.

Work is central to the Government's attack on social exclusion. Work is the way in which people provide for themselves and their children. It is how people set an example to their children.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when the Conservatives were in government, all they did was to chastise and castigate lone parents? This Government are presenting them with real opportunities. Will she join me in congratulating the Cambridge benefits agency on being close to getting its 100th lone parent back into work?

Ms Harman

I congratulate not only the Cambridge benefits agency, but my hon. Friend, who had a role in pioneering the ideas behind this programme of bringing together all the advice and information about jobs, training and child care, to enable lone parents to move off benefit and into work, where they can be better off.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)


Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Ms Harman

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in a perfect world, the idea of getting everyone a job is sound? However, it is an imperfect world and it will always remain so, whether the Conservative or Labour party is in power. Welfare to work is a wonderful-sounding notion, yet in large parts of Britain, including my constituency, many people would like to get into work but cannot, and that will apply to lone parents as well.

Another question has to be taken into account. Some lone parents want not to work, but to look after their children, and they should not be penalised because they take that honourable stance. The question is: where is all the work in this imperfect world, and why should people be penalised because they want to bring up their kids?

Ms Harman

My hon. Friend makes a point about people in his constituency without work. The economy may be growing, but some people in my constituency and in his constituency are simply left behind. In my constituency, some young people do not have the proper skills and educational qualifications to allow them to apply for the jobs that are available. Some lone mothers do not have child care or help to enable them to take the jobs that are available, and there are people who have been made redundant in their late 40s and who think that no employer will ever look at them again because they have been written off.

Our welfare-to-work programmes not only sound nice, but will transform the lives of people who were written off under the Conservative Government; for those people, the programmes will bring the dignity of work. Work is essential, helping people to provide for their children during their working years and to provide for themselves in retirement. Work by those who can helps to support those who cannot. Work is not just about earning a living. It is central to independence and self-respect.

We all have constituency experience of families with a spring in their step who have hope and the prospect of a better future, and of others with no hope and no prospects who are downcast. That is the difference between a family with work and a family without work. Work makes the difference between a decent standard of living and never-ending benefit dependency; the difference between a cohesive society and a divided one. That is why we are reforming the welfare state around the work ethic.

We have put into place the biggest welfare programme ever in this country, tearing down the barriers to work, enabling people to realise their potential and thereby increasing the prosperity of society. We are investing more than £3 billion in a new deal for the young and the long-term unemployed.

Too many of our young people have never had a job. They feel that they have been thrown on the scrap heap before they have begun. That was acceptable to the previous Government, but it is not acceptable to us. From April, every young person unemployed for more than six months will be given real opportunities, with worthwhile jobs and quality training.

Too many people who lose their job and cannot find another feel that they will never work again. That was acceptable to the previous Government, but it is not acceptable to us. From next June, employers will be encouraged with a payment of £75 a week to take on someone who has been unemployed for more than two years.

Our welfare-to-work programme recognises that the problem of worklessness that grew under the previous Government goes far beyond the official unemployment statistics. Too many lone mothers have been written off to a life of dependence on income support. We now have 1 million lone mothers bringing up 2 million children on benefit as a result of the previous Government's policies.

Mr. Brazier

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ms Harman

I have given way about 15 times. I intend to press on with my speech. The hon. Gentleman should try again later, when I have made some progress. He might need the time to think up a sensible question.

Lone mothers want to work for the same reasons as married women—for a better standard of living for their children. Lone mothers have even more reason to want to work—not just for the money, but to set an example to their children that life is about work, not just about being on benefit. Lone mothers who most need and want to work are less likely than married mothers to be working, because they are trapped on benefit. Our new' deal for lone parents is a radical programme that recognises and backs lone mothers' desire to work. It is already up and running in eight areas. It is based on the simple idea of giving lone parents whatever help they need to get into work. That help is offered when their youngest child starts school at five.

What a contrast with the previous Government, who told lone parents to stay on benefit until their youngest child was 16. The previous Government then complained about the inevitable rise in the benefit bill and said that lone mothers posed a threat to society.

Last week, we announced that the national roll-out of the new deal for lone parents would be brought forward to April 1998 for all lone parents making a new claim for income support. In the eight pilot new deal areas, lone mothers with children under five have been asking for help from the programme, too. That is not surprising, when half the married women with children under five are working. That is why we have allocated an extra £25 million to our new deal—specifically for lone parents whose youngest child is under five—when it rolls out nationally next year.

The new deal has been welcomed by lone mothers, and employers have been offering them jobs. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green can be dismissive about it, but it has transformed the lives of the lone parents whom it has already helped into work. One lone mother with four children, in Cardiff, who started work as a care assistant in September, wrote to us, saying: It feels good to be back at work. I haven't had a proper job for 14 years and I wouldn't have had the confidence to go out and look if it wasn't for the New Deal.

Of course, we are evaluating the programme. That was decided at the outset. We are spending the best part of £1 million on an evaluation between the eight pilot areas and six matching control areas, so the hon. Gentleman's point about a lack of evaluation is complete nonsense—like, unfortunately, so many of his other points. Does he welcome the help that we are giving to lone mothers, such as the one in Cardiff whom I mentioned? I shall give him the opportunity specifically to put it on the record. Does he back our new deal for work for lone parents?

Mr. Duncan Smith

Of course I back the efforts to help lone parents. The Secretary of State may recall that, when she came into government, there was already a programme to be set up in the same eight areas, called parent plus, which was started by the Conservative Government.

Ms Harman


Mr. Duncan Smith

No. The right hon. Lady asked me a question. She shall get the answer.

The right hon. Lady has grafted her policy on to ours, but she lost one essential part. She dropped the control groups that were part of the pilot areas, because she was interested solely in the publicity and in trumpeting success. She does not know why many lone parents get jobs, because she does not study the results.

Ms Harman

After 18 years of Conservative government, there was no programme for opportunities for lone mothers, only a programme of criticising them from the conference platform in Brighton and Blackpool. The hon. Gentleman is not able to listen to what I am telling him about the evaluation. We are having an evaluation, where we compare the eight pilot areas with six matching control areas.

Of course, one of the biggest headaches for mothers who want to work is child care. We are taking action on that, too. We are implementing a three-part national child care strategy to meet parents' demands, which for so long have not been met: for accessible, affordable, high-quality child care.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The right hon. Lady is talking about measuring the results. We visited the pilot areas in September. When officials were asked whether there were control groups to measure the results, they knew absolutely nothing about it. They said that the control groups did not exist. Her Department cobbled them together in late September. That is the reality, because they were not there before. The right hon. Lady is misleading everybody.

Ms Harman

I am not misleading the House. The hon. Gentleman is having difficulty understanding this. The local officials were collecting the information. There is an academic programme of evaluation. That is how it is done.

Mr. Duncan Smith

It has been backdated.

Ms Harman

It has not. It was implemented at the outset.

As I said, we are implementing a three-part national child care strategy to meet parents' demands for accessible, affordable and high-quality child care.

First is accessibility. In his statement to the House last Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced £300 million to extend out-of-school child care. That is another manifesto promise delivered. We shall extend out-of-school child care to every community in Britain. There will be an extra 30,000 out-of-school child care projects—up from only 3,500 at present. It will mean places for nearly a million children, so that child care will be available after school—possibly before school—and certainly in the school holidays and during in-service training days. We are making swift progress on our plans.

No blueprint will be imposed by Whitehall. We shall build on what works best at local level, using the expertise and experience of the public, private and voluntary sectors.

I wish to announce to the House that next month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and I will be bringing together the key child care players in a joint conference to drive forward our work on the national child care strategy, which will build up to a further announcement in January. The conference will be chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth) and by the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security with responsibilities for women, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock).

The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green implies that our massive investment in child care was dreamed up over a weekend. I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the Labour party's manifesto, in which we stated that we would have a national child care strategy starting with a network of out-of-school clubs partially funded by the lottery. There is nothing mysterious or even spontaneous about our approach. Our policy is what parents want, and it is what we are delivering.

Several hon. Members


Ms Harman

No, I shall not give way.

Secondly, there is affordability. We have already announced extra help for parents with the costs of child care through the £100 child care disregard in family credit. There will be more help with the cost of child care through the working families tax credit, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out in his pre-Budget statement last week.

Thirdly, I move on to quality. We have always argued that the issue is not only about more places but about quality, and that means high-quality child care. We must ensure that there is the proper quality of child care.

Mrs. Gorman

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ms Harman

I shall not give way to the hon. Lady, because it is clear that she is trying to speak up for the Government rather than the Opposition. I shall not give way to her while she seeks to play that role. Of course, the hon. Lady was never much in support of the Conservative party when it was in government. Perhaps she is following a familiar line.

As part of ensuring that properly qualified staff are available as child care expands, we are investing £100 million to train 50,000 young people as nursery and play staff through our welfare-to-work programme, leading to qualifications as a play worker for the over-fives, or as a child care worker for the under-fives.

Together, those measures constitute the biggest programme of investment in child care that this country has ever seen. Child care is no longer an afterthought in social policy, but it was not even that under the previous Government. The Labour Government understand that child care is central to economic policy and welfare to work.

Mr. Webb

Will the Secretary of State clarify one aspect of her approach to lone parents with young children? This is a genuine question. I am not clear about the right hon. Lady's position. Does she think that it is a valid choice for lone parents with young children to stay at home to look after their children?

Ms Harman

It is a choice that married women who are not trapped on benefit make. Half of married women with children under five work, which means that half of married women with children do not. Only a quarter of lone parents with children under five work. The difference in the participation rate in the labour market, between lone parents and their married counterparts with children of the same age, reflects the fact that the benefit system and the lack of child care preclude lone parents from making the choice. They do not have the choice of going to work. They can only stay at home and live on benefit. Our child care expansion and the welfare-to-work programme will, for the first time, give lone parents a choice. It is a choice that previously has never been open to them.

Mr. Burns

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ms Harman

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) asked his question in a much more intelligent way than the hon. Gentleman ever could.

It was not only lone parents whom the previous Government wrote off to a life of dependence on benefits. They also wrote off people claiming benefits for long-term sickness and disability. Five million people identify themselves as sick or disabled, and more than 2 million of them work.

There are those whose ill health or disability means that they will never be able to work. They need and deserve proper support and a decent standard of living from the welfare state. There are others who want to work, and with the right help they could do so. However, for too long they have been written off. We shall tackle the exclusion of sick and disabled people, give them the same opportunities enjoyed by other people and empower them to play a fuller role in society.

To answer the questions of the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, of course we are working with disabled people and the organisations that represent them. We are listening to their views. Two weeks ago, we held a major seminar on welfare to work, which was attended by over 40 organisations that represent disabled people. They are playing a crucial role in shaping our approach. For the hon. Gentleman to pose as the friend of disabled people and disability organisations—

Mr. Alan Howarth

Or anyone else.

Ms Harman

Indeed, or anyone else—is breathtaking.

Disabled people are denied opportunities and they face discrimination. We shall tackle that discrimination by taking action on civil rights and by establishing a disability rights commission, about which more will be said later.

We shall help people into work. We shall develop a package of innovative measures to help people with disabilities and health problems to get work and to stay in work. We are investing £195 million from the windfall tax in our new deal for the long-term sick and disabled.

I can announce today that we shall be inviting bids later this month to spend the money from the windfall tax. We shall award some contracts on a fast-track basis in late spring and the rest by early autumn.

Extending opportunities to work is not only about ensuring that people can be financially independent during their working lives. It is also about ensuring that they have a decent standard of living when they retire. We all know that that means having a good second pension on top of the basic state pension.

The previous Government failed both today's and tomorrow's pensioners. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green made great play of our review of pensions, but we are proud of the way in which we are going about our consultation on pensions. The Conservative Government wrote "basic pension plus" on the back of an envelope only to ditch the scheme six months later. They failed both today's and tomorrow's pensioners. A quarter of today's pensioners have to rely on income support, and a further 1 million do not even claim the income support to which they are entitled. The problem is set to worsen for tomorrow's pensioners.

Two thirds of people in work now have no opportunity to save for a second pension in their retirement. They do not have an occupational pension at work and private pensions are a poor deal for them if they are on low earnings, if they work part-time or if they move from job to job.

The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green cared much about the private pension industry's opportunities, but he never gave a thought to the people to whom I have referred. The Labour party's manifesto contained a promise to address the central areas of insecurity for pensioners. We said that we would give priority to the poorest pensioners, and we have already made progress. In July, I announced a fundamental and wide-ranging review of pension provision.

One of the key challenges is to provide decent pensions for all. Last week, as part of the review, we published a consultation document on the detailed framework for stakeholder pensions. We are making progress. Stakeholder pensions are designed to provide good pensions for people who do not have an occupational pension and for whom private pensions are poor value for money. They will provide a portable pension that is safe, simple and a guarantee of a good deal. At the same time, we are tackling the scandal of the people who lost out because they were mis-sold a personal pension under the previous Government's policies.

Our detailed proposals for stakeholder pensions will be published alongside our proposals for the long-term framework for the pensions review early next year. We have had 1,800 responses so far to our pensions review, and we are undertaking detailed consultation on the framework for stakeholder pensions. We want to build a consensus and to consult widely—not for us back-of an-envelope proposals for pensions. We want pension proposals that will last.

Mr. Duncan Smith

I know that many of the submissions have proposed that the state earnings-related pension scheme should be phased out or abolished. Would the right hon. Lady be happy to get rid of SERPS, regardless of what the manifesto said?

Ms Harman

There is no such thing for this Government as "regardless of what the manifesto said". We are in government to implement our manifesto. People know that our manifesto said that SERPS would remain an option for those who wanted to remain in it—

Mr. Duncan Smith

So the right hon. Lady will not abolish it?

Ms Harman

We said in our manifesto that SERPS would remain an option for those who wanted to remain in it.

We are getting help to today's pensioners now. We have already helped pensioners with their fuel bills, by cutting VAT on fuel and reducing the gas levy to zero. Last Tuesday, in his pre-Budget statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that for this winter and next, every pensioner household would receive at least £20 to help with winter fuel bills. He announced that those on income support—almost 2 million of the poorest pensioner households—would receive an extra £50. The money will be paid in time to meet this winter's heating bills. Together with the cut in VAT on fuel and other changes, it means that the poorest pensioners will be helped by up to £130 a year. That is making progress on our manifesto commitment to get help to the poorest pensioners, and we are doing more.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Ms Harman

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who seeks to intervene on the subject of pensioners, unless he explains whether he still believes that he was right to insist on voting for VAT on pensioners' gas and electricity bills. Will he include that point?

Mr. Gill

I am pleased to answer the right hon. Lady on that very point. The Labour party made much of the fact that it reduced the level of VAT on fuel. Labour Members could not have done that without the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). It was the votes of Conservative Members that helped Labour to reduce VAT. No credit is due to the Labour party there.

I hope that Labour will consider this question. What is the cost of the benefits that the right hon. Lady has just read out? It is a miserly £190 million out of the £5 billion that she filched from the pension funds.

Ms Harman

The hon. Gentleman talks about a "miserly" £190 million, but that is £190 million more to help with fuel bills than his Government ever gave. He voted against our reduction in VAT from 8 per cent. to 5 per cent.

We are doing more, apart from helping with fuel bills and cutting VAT. There are 1 million pensioners on an income so low that they are entitled to income support who do not claim it. My predecessor, the former Secretary of State, said that the reason why 1 million pensioners did not claim the income support to which they were entitled was that they could not be bothered and did not need the money. We do not believe that. We are determined that they should get the money to which they are entitled and we are taking action. We are setting up pilot projects to develop ways in which to get help to the poorest pensioners.

Will the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green now admit that his Government were wrong to put VAT on fuel and to try to increase the rate to 17.5 per cent.? Does he back our £50 fuel payments for the poorest pensioners? Will he welcome our further measures to get help to the poorest pensioners? Pensioners want to know where he stands; in fact, he sits saying nothing.

Our extra help for the elderly shows how this Government are meeting the people's priorities. After just six months, this Government have already taken important steps to deliver our manifesto commitment to tackle poverty and inequality. We are investing in opportunities to work for people who were written off by the previous Administration. We are taking action to get help to Britain's poorest pensioners. We are preparing the way to ensure security in retirement for tomorrow's pensioners. We are rebuilding a society in which all have a stake. That was our promise to the people of Britain and that is a promise we are keeping.

4.54 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I apologise for arriving late for the debate; I was detained on constituency business.

I became interested in the cause of the disabled as a result of having as my secretary in the House of Commons somebody who suffered from considerable disabilities. It was through her that I learned a great deal about the problems faced by disabled people. As a consequence, I had the opportunity to try to help people in my own constituency who suffered from disabilities. I have therefore taken a particular interest in the subject.

In the past few weeks, as a result of press comments and discussions within disability organisations, there has developed a real concern that promises 30 CD79-PAGI made to people who are disabled and others who are vulnerable are simply not being kept. I found in my post this morning a letter from a constituent. He has given me permission to read out the letter, which is a copy of his letter to the Prime Minister. He writes: As a Labour supporter for the whole of my adult life—I am now 66 years of age—I am quite frankly disgusted by the plans to `Crack-down' upon the disabled members of our community. I firmly believe that you have lost sight of the basic philosophy of Labour, that of caring…recent announcements of introducing taxation to Disability benefits have made me decide to write to you to protest most vehemently. The letter-writer, referring to his wife, then says: Now, we read that she is likely to have her pitifully small benefit taxed. Those fears may or may not be justified, but those fears are out there because of a number of developments that have recently occurred.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that when his Government introduced incapacity benefit in place of invalidity benefit they introduced tax on that key benefit for disabled people?

Mr. Spring

I want to touch specifically on what is in the minds of people such as my constituents. I want to deal with the way in which the Government are handling the issue in light of their promises before the election. That is the issue at stake and the Under-Secretary of State, of all people, should know perfectly well that genuine anxiety is felt by many thousands of people who, as a result of the nods and winks by Labour when in opposition, now feel that they have been let down.

There is no doubt that the future of the welfare state is a matter of immense complexity in this and other industrialised countries. As a result of demographic changes, all societies will have to address the problem. All of us who live in this era of aging population have to grapple with it.

We all accept that reform of the welfare state is necessary. Before the general election, the Labour party clearly implied that that could be an easy exercise and that the great increase in spending on the welfare state arose from the level of unemployment. We all heard that from those who are now Ministers and from the then shadow Chancellor. People clearly felt, therefore, that, if unemployment came down—this was the linchpin of the whole thing—the most vulnerable and those in receipt of benefits would receive more help. That is a travesty of the real complexity of the welfare state. That message is one of the reasons why so many of the disability organisations and so many in our society who feel vulnerable are writing letters like the one that I have just quoted.

Unemployment has indeed fallen, more so in this country than in any other, but it has not meant that people in receipt of benefit are likely, as a result of the Government's actions, automatically to receive substantially more benefit. That was a deceit perpetrated deliberately ahead of the general election to fan people's excitement and sense of anticipation about what a Labour Government would do, but people now realise that it is not happening.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

The hon. Gentleman talked about the fear and alarm felt by the disabled community, but it is Conservative Members who are fuelling the press reports. They do not know what is in the review—none of us on the Back Benches knows—but by emphasising cuts and taxation that may or may not be part of the review, the hon. Gentleman and his fellow Back Benchers are making the situation worse.

Mr. Spring

With respect, it is Labour Back Benchers who feel affronted and who are talking to the press and appearing on radio and television to condemn the actions of Labour Front Benchers. The idea that it is Conservative Members who have created this situation is absurd.

Mrs. Gorman

Is it not true that representatives of disability organisations appeared on radio and television at the weekend to express their concern, but that the Secretary of State had something better to do, even though she had arranged to appear? She should tell us what was so important that she could not face those people.

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. We now know that, whenever Ministers are embarrassed, as over the formula one fiasco or the issue of benefit for single mothers, they are not willing to appear on television, despite supposedly being in favour of open government. That is precisely why there is so much anxiety among Labour Back Benchers and disability organisations.

With respect, I have to tell the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) that I have spoken to many individuals who work with disability organisations, and they certainly do not share her perception of the situation.

Mr. Hope

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) that the attendance allowance should be abolished, as stated in the No Turning Back group's pamphlet on benefits?

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) rightly takes the view that there should be a considered overall reform of the welfare state, without the huffing and puffing that we had from the Labour party while it was in opposition. Before the election, the Secretary of State made the most savage attacks on the previous Government because she felt that that would ensure votes and support. In practice, people are now turning against her.

I deal now with the consultation process. I asked the Secretary of State about meetings that she and her fellow Ministers had had with organisations representing disabled people, and she mentioned the figure of 40. However, it is not only what happens at those meetings that matters, but the nature of the consultation process itself. If the right hon. Lady is going to make substantive changes to benefits, the disability organisations are rightly demanding that they are brought fully into the loop and consulted properly. It is one thing to have superficial meetings—I am simply quoting what has been said to me—but people do not feel that, at this apparently critical stage in the Secretary of State's thinking, they are being adequately consulted.

The main problem is that the Labour party thinks that, if it disseminates a message in a certain way, the reality will slot into place. The Secretary of State make an extraordinary announcement about her new deal for lone parents. We were told that it was a considerable success and that the results were very encouraging, although 8,651 lone parents were interviewed and only 433 found work. There was no demonstrable evidence that they would not have found work anyway, but the right hon. Lady and her spin doctors put it out as a wonderful example of the welfare-to-work programme beginning to operate when in fact the success rate was only 5 per cent. If the right hon. Lady continues like this, her personal credibility and that of the Government will be undermined.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way as it gives me the opportunity, through him, to ask the Secretary of State a question that many of us tried to ask during her speech. Does she have any evidence that even one person among that 5 per cent. who found work would not have found work in any case?

Mr. Spring

Without proper control groups to make the comparisons, it is not possible to answer that question, but the spin doctoring nevertheless continued. It is to the Labour party's shame that it indulges in that practice.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

Will the hon. Gentleman produce for the House the evidence that shows that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is right? There is none.

Mr. Spring

The point is that control groups are needed to measure such things accurately.

Mr. Burns

My hon. Friend talks about spin doctoring. Is he aware—I am sure he is—that the Secretary of State, in her infamous press release, failed to point out that, of the 8,600 or so people who were written to, almost 75 per cent. did not bother to reply? Of the 433 people who found work, the 13 in east Sheffield are in their 30s or late 30s—they had obviously wanted to stay at home until their children were of school age, then sought jobs and got them. It was the interviews on the "Today" programme.—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I remind all hon. Members that interventions should be brief.

Mr. Spring

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely correct: there is no absolute evidence to prove that, as a result of the right hon. Lady's manoeuvrings in this direction, one extra job has been created.

That leads me on to a matter on which the right hon. Lady touched when she was summing up. At the end of the day, a growing economy is absolutely crucial as it provides jobs, and the last thing it needs is an artificial barrier to job creation. The reason that there has been such a dramatic fall in this country, most notably this year in full-time unemployment, is that, in contrast with what happens elsewhere in Europe, we do not have policies like the minimum wage and elements of the social chapter.

No matter how the welfare-to-work programme proceeds, we need a growing economy and job creation opportunities, but the reverse will occur if we introduce artificial creations such as the minimum wage and if other regulations come in via the back door of the social chapter. They will cause precisely the horrific mass unemployment that exists in continental Europe.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that many of our European partners have had what we have not had until now, namely a comprehensive child care strategy? Most women on the continent take for granted standards of child care provision that women in this country have long awaited and which we are now looking to a Labour Government to deliver.

Mr. Spring

I remind the hon. Lady that unemployment in countries such as France and Germany is 12 or 13 per cent. What hope is there for young people entering the labour force when one quarter of people aged under 25 in France, one third of young people in Italy and about 40 per cent. of young people in Spain are unemployed? Such figures result directly from the imposition of artificial barriers to job creation, with which the Government intend to destroy employment.

I turn to the other regrettable element of spinning. We had an exciting announcement of £300 million-plus for after-school clubs and child care clubs for lone parents. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."' I am glad that Labour Members and the Minister for Welfare Reform have something to cheer about. It must be very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to sit next to the Secretary of State and look cheerful.

Of the £300 million, £220 million was taken out of lottery funds. The whole point behind the founding of the lottery was to help art, heritage and sports. Now, the principle of additionality has been flouted. I forecast that this is the thin end of the wedge. Every time the Government want to put money into some scheme, they will find some way of raiding the lottery, to the disadvantage of all its beneficiaries, flouting the very principle on which the lottery was set up.

I will quote from the Labour party manifesto, which as an historical document will increasingly be regarded as very different from what I suspect the Secretary of State imagines. I hope that she will listen very carefully. It says: People are cynical about politics and distrustful of political promises. That is hardly surprising. After the Secretary of State's performance, the way in which the Government have conducted themselves, all the nods and winks and all the promises to the most vulnerable people in our society, I hope that she will take their concerns on board. Certainly, her Back Benchers are doing so.

5.11 pm
Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon)

The debate is of great interest to my constituency, especially to the 6,000 lone parents and 22,000 pensioners in Swindon, who overwhelmingly voted Labour on 1 May because they knew that a Labour Government would provide them with the opportunities denied to them by the previous Government.

I do not know why the Conservatives tabled the motion. It seems to have no point whatever—apart from allowing a little gratuitous abuse and somehow suggesting that they are anxious about the plight of lone parents, that they support people with disabilities and are the protectors of pensioners. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that they did nothing to help any of those people during their 18 years in government.

If we want to know what the Conservatives really think about the issues for which they have suddenly discovered concern, we should look not at the motion but at what the shadow Cabinet have written and said before today. I also have some quotations, which, with the House's indulgence, I shall read.

This is the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry expressing his understanding of the situation of lone parents: The natural state should be the two-adult family. What, in his considered view, does that make lone parents?

This is the shadow Secretary of State for Social Security, who is no longer present, expressing in October his respect for all the hard work and love that most lone parents put into their families: Single parent families are more likely to be caught up in crime. Really?

This is the shadow Foreign Secretary's considered judgment on lone parents: single mothers often prove to be inadequate parents because since the state is educating, housing and feeding their children, the nature of parental responsibility may seem less immediate. Earlier in the same speech, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Government must examine all our policies to ensure that we are reinforcing rather than weakening a sense of responsibility", so I assume that he is moving towards suggesting that the state should no longer educate, house and feed the children of single mothers.

The Conservative party made some of the neediest and most vulnerable members of our society the target of cheap political jibes, appealing to the most graceless and mean-spirited instincts of a mean-spirited and graceless Government. In 18 years, the Conservatives did nothing to help lone parents, nothing to help those with disabilities and nothing to help pensioners. On the contrary, it was central to their political philosophy to exclude such people. The difference between the Conservatives and Labour is that this Government will provide new opportunities to those who need them most, and not take them away as the Conservatives did.

Mr. Rendel

I can understand how providing people with the opportunity to work may raise their status, but will the hon. Gentleman explain how benefit cuts can do so?

Mr. Wills

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient a little longer, I will come precisely to the state of the budget.

This Government will help people and give them new hope and new opportunities not by short-term patch-and-mend measures but by a transformation of the welfare state to ensure that it is relevant to the needs of people today.

The welfare state that we inherited was created in the first half of the century for the circumstances of the first half of the century. As the House knows, it was built to help people through particular crises in their lives; recognising that they needed help when they were not able to work to provide for themselves; supplying free health care so that medical treatment could be received without plunging families into poverty from which they could not recover; providing benefit to tide families through periods when the breadwinner or breadwinners were out of work, without plunging them into debt from which they could not recover.

Vital as those measures were—everyone in the Labour party remains proud of the part that our party played in putting those measures into practice—people did not and could not envisage the problems that this country faces today. Large numbers of our citizens are excluded from the rewards of mainstream society because they lack work and are given no hope of working. Nearly one household in five with someone of working age has no one in work. That is a damning indictment of 18 years of Conservative government. For many, unemployment is not a cyclical phenomenon which they suffer along with their neighbours in the hope and expectation that sooner or later they will work again: it is an inescapable blight which sets them apart from their neighbours and offers them no hope of a better future.

Surely it is time for the welfare state to play its part in tackling those problems. The country should not take the short-term view that, somehow, we can just muddle through again. This Government will rebuild the welfare state around work, giving everyone the choice and opportunity of work. This Government will make the welfare state the opportunity state, giving everyone the opportunity to make real choices about their lives.

Choice and opportunity are principles of which the Conservative party is supposed to be in favour. The difference between the Conservatives and us is that this Government believe in choice and opportunity for everyone and in making those choices and opportunities real—real for the lone parents who the Government will help find work, which will make them on average £50 a week better off than if they had remained on income support. That is no deceit, as has been suggested. That is a fact.

Mr. Letwin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wills

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will not give way. I have had 18 years to listen to him; he should give me 10 minutes.

We are going to make choice and opportunity real for lone parents who want to find work—part time or full time—and who want not just the extra income, which is important and precious to those living on the margins of society, but the sense of being reconnected to the world outside the home. They have been prevented from finding such reconnection by the lack of affordable child care. This Government are committed to providing affordable and accessible child care for everyone.

We will spend £300 million to provide after-school club places for up to 1 million children. That is 10 times more places than there are now. We will spend £25 million to provide the new deal for those who have children under five and want to take part. When we talk about opportunity and choice, we mean to make it possible for everyone. That is the difference between us and the Opposition.

We will tackle the exclusion of people with disabilities by developing an approach that focuses on their abilities. The Government will spend £195 million to provide opportunities to work for those people. We will give them opportunities and choices. What did the Tory Government ever do to enhance opportunities and choices for disabled people? This Government will tackle the discrimination that so often denies opportunity to people with disabilities by establishing a disability rights commission. What did the Tory Government ever do to give teeth to measures to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities? They have no answer.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

We introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to recognise that.

Mr. Wills

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but I am afraid that she did not hear what I said. I asked what you ever did to give teeth to measures to protect people with disabilities and your answer said it all.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has used the words "you" and "your". The Deputy Speaker is not responsible for those matters. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but I should be grateful if he would try to use normal parliamentary language.

Mr. Wills

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We have to recognise that placing work at the centre of the welfare state means setting priorities. That is the inescapable and inevitable task of government. The nub of the matter is that government means making hard choices, and that is what the Government have done. Within resources, which are inevitably and always restricted, we have made work—and the opportunities and choices that flow from it—our priority.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

I am grateful to you—I mean to the hon. Gentleman—for giving way. Is it not true that the present Government will never get any policies through the House which require hard choices because his hon. Friends will not allow it?

Mr. Wills

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and for making the same mistake as I did. I can only tell him to wait and see.

Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole basis of the Tories' argument today is to ask us to break manifesto commitments? That is not surprising, because their history in government was to break promise after promise. They have forgotten how to keep manifesto commitments, but we have not.

Mr. Wills

That is right, and I agree with my hon. Friend. Taking hard decisions and making hard choices is the mark of a Government who are determined to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to make the most of themselves. That means that we must make commitments that are sustainable. We will not make the mistakes made by previous Governments and make promises that we cannot keep. There is little more cruel than holding out hope only to snatch it away. We shall not do that. We shall deliver on our promises, unlike the Conservative party.

Mr. Letwin

Will the hon. Gentleman explain how he believes that failing 95 per cent. of the lone parents to whom letters were sent constitutes keeping promises to 100 per cent. of them?

Mr. Wills

I fail to understand what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. What does he mean by failing? We have been in government six months and we have already done more than the Tories did in 18 years. The word failure comes ill from the hon. Gentleman's lips.

To deliver on our promises, we have to keep public finances under rigorous control. We have to set clear priorities and ensure that public spending meets those priorities. That is what we said that we would do, and that is what we shall do. We shall ensure that our commitments to lone parents, people with disabilities and pensioners are sustainable throughout the lifetime of this Parliament and beyond.

A Government taking necessary, hard decisions need no sanctimonious, self-righteous lectures from the Opposition, who did nothing for so long. Important as work is to our reforms of the welfare state, we must recognise that some people are no longer able to work. It is bad enough that the Opposition should pretend to be the friends of lone parents and people with disabilities, but even the Conservative party should blush at pretending to be the friend of pensioners.

Mr. Gibb

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wills

I will give way when I have made my point about the mis-selling of private personal pensions.

Not only did the Tories create a situation in which so many people were so damaged by the mis-selling of private personal pensions, but they failed to do anything to put it right. The Tories abandoned the pensioners but now pretend to be concerned about them.

The Labour Government are delivering on our promises to pensioners. We shall be judged by the outcome of our reviews on how we get help to the poorest pensioners. We shall be judged by the fact that we have cut value added tax on fuel to 5 per cent. and reduced the gas levy to nothing. We shall be judged by the fact that we have helped pensioners with their winter fuel payments. We will give £50 to 1.7 million pensioners on income support and £20 to 5 million other pensioners. We are also proud that the Government acted promptly and decisively to put right the scandal of the mis-selling of private pensions.

Mr. Gibb

How does the hon. Gentleman consider it to be friendly to future pensioners to support a Government who, through tax, will take £5 billion of assets from private pension funds each and every year?

Mr. Wills

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the difference between a tax and a reform of the corporate tax system. If he would like to have the difference explained to him, I shall be happy to do so after the debate.

I have spent much of the past 20 years listening to the Tories talk about choice and opportunity, and I fail to understand why they oppose the measures that the Government are introducing to increase opportunity and choice for everybody. Are the Tories opposed to spending £300 million on implementing a national child care strategy? We do not know.

Mr. Letwin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wills

If the hon. Gentleman will answer my question, I will give way to him.

Mr. Letwin

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such expenditure would be valid if it worked, but invalid if it did not? Does he further agree that the evidence of the 95 per cent. of people who did not succeed in getting a job after they received letters suggests that it did not work?

Mr. Wills

I was under the impression when I gave way that the hon. Gentleman was about to answer my question rather than to ask me one. He obviously does not know whether he welcomes £300 million being spent on child care. Perhaps he can give us an answer when we next debate the subject.

Do the Tories want to see child care facilities in every town, helping parents who would otherwise not have access to affordable child care? Do the Tories want to see measures to encourage lone parents back into work? Do the Tories support the payment of £50 to Britain's poorest pensioners to help with winter fuel bills? They do not know. That, in a nutshell, is the sum of their attitude to the neediest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Why cannot the Tories, just once, welcome what the Government are doing? After all, the Labour Government are taking these steps within the spending limits set out by the previous Government. The Tories failed to take such measures. Why cannot they welcome the fact that we are now succeeding? We are providing genuine choices and opportunities within a rigorous, prudent and therefore sustainable financial framework. The truth is that the Opposition cannot and will not welcome any of that because their motion is no more than shoddy political opportunism, the worst sort of gesture politics. They are pretending that they have answers and concerns about the neediest and most vulnerable people in our society when they did nothing for them in 18 years.

This Government offer the only sustainable and practical help for pensioners, people with disabilities and lone parents. I hope that the House will treat the motion as it deserves and vote it down.

5.29 pm
Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

I am grateful for the chance to participate in this debate, because it is clear that three different points of view on welfare and, in particular, the cuts in lone parent benefits are held in the House. One view is held by the Conservative party, another by the Government and a third by the Liberal Democrats and, I understand, rather more than half of the Government's Back Benchers. It is important that that third view should be heard and I look forward to stating it.

Before I do, I must return to the speech made by the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), on whom I intervened when he was complaining that the previous conservative Government had reduced the status of lone parents. I agree that that is exactly what they did. I asked him in what way reducing benefits for lone parents would increase their status. He promised he would come back to the subject. I listened to the rest of his speech, but heard not a thing about it. If he would like to intervene, I would welcome the answer to that question.

Mr. Wills

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman did not understand what I was saying. I made it clear that the Government had to set clear priorities for how they would spend a finite sum of money. They have made it clear—and I support them—that their priority must be work and the choices and opportunities that flow from it. I hope that that is clear. We have to help people back into work.

The people who are already in receipt of benefits will not suffer any cash disadvantage, but will carry on just as they are. We are talking about the future and we must re-build the welfare state of the future around work. That is this Government's priority. We made it clear before and during the election, and we are now delivering on what we made clear then.

Mr. Rendel

I am sorry to say that that gets us no further. I asked the hon. Gentleman in what sense reducing benefits for lone parents increases their status. He talked about all sorts of other priorities with which I may agree, or not, but they are irrelevant to the question. Does he think that that enhances the status of lone parents or not? Is he prepared to intervene again? I am happy to give way if he wants to answer.

Mr. Wills

At risk of carrying on, I said that there will be no cuts for lone parents who are in receipt of those benefits. Before the election and just last week, I met lone parents on the most rundown estate in my constituency. The message is that they want child care more than anything else, both those who want to go into work and those who merely want some break from their existing burdens. That is the truth. That is what they want and that is what we are delivering. If the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions are getting longer than speeches. The hon. Gentleman will please resume his seat.

Mr. Rendel

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear from that waffle that the hon. Gentleman does not have an answer to my question. It is also clear to every hon. Member that reducing benefits for lone parents will reduce their status. Perhaps 250,000 lone parents will not get the lone parent premiums next year. These will be the new claimants and their status will undoubtedly be reduced in exactly the same way as happened the previous Conservative Government. I hope that Labour will take that fact on board.

I must refer briefly to the speech made by the Secretary of State: I am sorry that the right hon. Lady is not in her place to hear my response. Her speech was an inadequate answer to the worries of Labour Members, in particular, about lone parent benefit cuts. At the heart of her speech were several illogicalities, not least her failure to answer my intervention, when I asked in what sense she felt she was targeting the most needy by reducing benefits to lone parents. She claimed that she wanted to target the most needy as well as to provide work for lone parents; she also wants to target those who do not get work, yet she is reducing their benefits. That is illogical, as anyone can see—it does not take a great genius to see it—but it was her argument in defence of her policies.

Frankly, it was pathetic and inadequate—one of the weakest arguments I have heard from a Secretary of State in support of a policy that is admittedly pretty indefensible. I do not think that her speech will have convinced many of the Back Benchers who have shown their unhappiness with the way in which she has been pushing through the cuts.

Liberal Democrat Members welcome help for job seekers and we welcome the fact that lone parents who want work are being given help to get it. We welcome too the availability of more child care. The problems that women experience because of the lack of child care are well known. We also welcome any help that can be given to enhance the possibilities for child care, as long as it is high-quality child care that avoids the dangers of child abuse that we have seen all too often. We welcome all that.

Jacqui Smith (Redditch)

Bearing in mind the fact that the Liberal Democrats opposed the windfall levy that has raised much of the money that can now be put into welfare improvements, how can the hon. Gentleman justify demands for even more expenditure?

Mr. Rendel

I am not justifying demands for more expenditure. The whole point is that, at present, the benefit cuts have not been made—they are in the Budget. There have been huge savings in benefit payments this year because of the unexpected fall in unemployment. The money is there if we want to spend it in that way.

The Secretary of State missed the point, as did the hon. Member for North Swindon. The point is not what will happen to the women who are able to get work thanks to the policies that the Government are trying to implement and which we welcome, but what will happen to the others. There will always be a number of lone parents who, for good reasons, do not take up work—either they do not want to because they want to look after their children, or they cannot because they do not have the relevant skills or live somewhere that makes it difficult to get work.

The Secretary of State said that she is worried that 50 per cent. of married mothers go out to work but only 25 per cent. of lone parents work. She said she wanted to raise that 25 per cent. to 50 per cent., on the assumption that lone mothers and fathers would want to work in the same proportion as married mothers. That is not necessarily the case. There is a good argument for saying that lone parents may believe that it is even more important for them to stay at home with their children since they are the lone parent and it is more important for their children to have someone at home the whole time.

Even if work is as attractive to lone parents as it is to married mothers, given the Secretary of State's figures, 50 per cent. will still choose to stay at home and look after their children and it is those lone parents who will be bitterly affected by the Government's policies if they are allowed to go ahead.

All the Secretary of State's arguments and those of the hon. Member for North Swindon about the importance of prioritising and getting people back to work miss the point about those who do not go back. They have failed to answer that point and they will need to do so before 10 December if they are to get their Back Benchers back on board on this issue.

The Secretary of State seemed to be using the old argument that attack is the best means of defence; that the best strategy is to attack the previous Tory Government for their mistakes—which some Conservatives have been good enough to admit, to some extent at least—but in so doing, the right hon. Lady failed to answer the pertinent points that my hon. Friends and I, as well as many Labour Back Benchers, have been making about the failures of her present policies.

The motion seems to be in three parts. The first concentrates on pensions and welfare reform. We all accept that that is a long-term business—that is true of pensions by their very nature—so it is important to have consensus on how pensions reform, in particular, should be handled.

I welcome the opportunity that all hon. Members have been given to join in the review. It is much more important to get it right now than to speed it through quickly and perhaps make mistakes. I do not accept the Tory view that we should rush it through as quickly as possible. We need to find an agreement that will give stability to pensions reform.

The third part of the motion concerns disability benefits. Some worrying rumours have been circulating—even if some of them originate with Conservative Members, as was said earlier. The rumours suggest that the cuts in disability benefits may be much greater even than those for lone parents. If the Government cannot reassure us about their real plans in the debate today, which they have not so far done, I am sure that many people with disabilities will remain worried.

In the Government's amendment, the only mention of people with disabilities is a passing reference to trying to help them get back into work. I would welcome any such help, but if that is all the Government intend to talk about it seems that they are not prepared to give the reassurances for people with disabilities that are being sought.

It is ironic that the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and his hon. Friends should express a new-found compassion for the disabled. It struck me as being like cannibals suddenly deciding that they are in favour of vegetarianism. The Conservative motion uses the word "inconceivable". It seems pretty inconceivable that the Tories have had a Damascene conversion to caring for the needs of the disabled, which certainly did not concern them when they were in power. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to reassure people that disability benefits are safe in Labour hands.

The second part of the Conservative motion concerns lone-parent benefits. It is odd that the Conservatives do not congratulate the Government on their U-turn, which picks up the very policies that the previous Government wanted to implement. The shadow Secretary of State has told us with commendable honesty that he would have implemented those policies had his party remained in power. The Labour Government are implementing Tory policies.

The sad fact about the Tory attack is that they forced the Government to defend the U-turn rather than the policy itself. The excuse offered by the Secretary of State and others for the U-turn is that they are providing help to get lone parents back into work, but Government figures show that in practice they do not expect any more lone parents to be back in work next year than this year. Presumably, then, they are not expecting their policies to be all that successful.

Lone parents are being sacrificed to save Labour's reputation for keeping its promises; but the Government will not even succeed in that, because, to keep the promise that they will stick rigidly to Tory spending plans, they have had to break the promise that they would revoke the benefit cuts. Lone parents are being sacrificed for nothing.

There is no need for the Government to break their promise to reverse the cuts because there have been considerable cuts in spending on benefits this year as a result of the unexpectedly large fall in unemployment and money is available within the benefits budget. It is true that the Government could not stick rigidly to every part of the Tory spending plans, but they could certainly stick to the overall budget without implementing the cuts.

The Government are playing the welfare-to-work line hard and saying what an excellent policy it is. Benefit cuts for lone parents are in themselves a disincentive to getting work: partly because lone parents will not gain so much by getting work once the cuts have been made; partly because those who receive the premiums have to take an additional risk if they accept a job now, because if they lose the job and go back on benefits they will have lost their premiums. The cuts make it more unlikely that lone parents will go back to work: the precise opposite of the whole basis of the welfare-to-work policy.

Mr. Letwin

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is about to say that, according to the Government's own recent production, "The Modernisation of Britain's Tax and Benefit System", 26 per cent. of those interviewed mentioned the issue of jobs being temporary, and 23 per cent. mentioned worries about reclaiming benefit after a short period of work, as reasons for not taking work.

Mr. Rendel

I was not about to cite those statistics, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has.

It is clear from Government statistics, as was clearly explained in the Standing Committee on the Social Security Bill, that lone parents—not all, but the majority —are among the poorest members of our community; most of them are below the poverty line. Some may go back to work and thereby become better off, but many will not; even the Secretary of State has accepted that probably 50 per cent. will not. All those very poor people will be made even poorer by the Labour Government. Not all that many people who voted Labour in May thought that they were voting to make poor people even poorer.

In November 1996, the Secretary of State, then in opposition, said: Lone Parent Premium recognises that lone parents face additional costs in bringing up their children-they do not have a partner's time or income to help with children". That is right. They are already extremely poor.

It seems to me that the Labour Government are falling into the age-old Tory trap of thinking that the way to get poor people to work is to make them even poorer while the way to get rich people to work is to make them richer. I do not believe that both assertions can be true at the same time.

The right hon. Lady continued: The way to get lone mothers out of poverty and cut spending on benefits for them is not by cutting the amount on which they have to live year by year and plunging them into further poverty. She then said that the proposals of the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) would make hundreds of thousands of the poorest children worse off."—[Official Report, 28 November 1996; Vol. 286, c. 500–1.] Elsewhere, the right hon. Lady said: Since one parent benefit is not taxed, it helped to bridge the gap between welfare and work. Its abolition will make working lone mothers worse off and will discourage work amongst this group". Again the Secretary of State's own words prove the fallacies in her current policies.

Mr. Webb

I reassure my hon. Friend that it is not just the Secretary of State who holds such views. Is he aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), said before the election that the abolition of one-parent benefit would be directly contrary to a rational welfare-to-work strategy?

Mr. Rendel

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am sure that he agrees that, quite apart from the two people we have mentioned, many others on the Government Front Bench and Labour Back Benches have made similar statements in the past.

In their amendment, the Government congratulate themselves on their welfare reform. I should like to mention another aspect of their reforms—their refusal to allow the backdating of benefit claims for more than one month. The Conservative Government accepted that there should be no backdating beyond three months, but the Labour Government have gone further and done something that is even harsher than what the Conservatives introduced.

It is not a question of the Labour Government fulfilling promises to stick to Tory budgets or spending plans—they are going further and making life even harder for those who are least well off. Their policy will hit the worst-off members of our community. It seems that the Labour party—new Labour, the new Tory convert—is shouting, "Whatever you can do that's cruel, we can do something even crueller." I do not believe that that is what it was elected to do.

The Labour Government believe that there should be no backdating beyond one month and that there is no excuse for late claims, not even when a claimant has good cause—such as being widowed, by which they may be extremely traumatised. Such good causes will be swept away by new Labour in an apparent bid to outdo, not just maintain the same strategies as, its Tory teachers. It is a tragedy that in the playground game that is being fought out over who can be toughest, those in need are suffering every day the Government continue in office.

I urge Labour party members, not just those in the House but those outside it, to think about why they joined the Labour party. It was not, I suggest, to introduce Conservative spending plans and Conservative social policy. Of that I am sure. I ask those in the Government who still have the courage of their convictions and who share our disgust at the Government's handling of social security to vote with the Liberal Democrats against the Government's benefit cuts.

5.52 pm
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

I am very interested in what the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) said, but I do not need to take lessons from the Liberal party, which voted against the windfall levy and therefore would have put a stop to the new deal programme. It takes some brass neck for Conservative Opposition spokespersons to attack new Labour's strategies to tackle the reform of the welfare state after the disaster that they left after 18 years of Tory mismanagement and lack of imagination.

Before I outline why we need a new direction and vision for welfare reform, we should remind ourselves—it is important to continue to do so during the debate—what the Conservatives contributed to the welfare system when they were in government. While the Conservatives were in government, taxpayers picked up the bill for mass dependency on benefit, persistent unemployment, huge subsidies for low pay and widespread fraud. It was truly a nation on benefit.

Under the Conservatives, overall benefit expenditure rose by £40 billion in real terms. The proportion of the Department of Social Security budget spent on means-tested benefits more than doubled from 17 per cent. to 36 per cent. The number of people dependent on such benefits doubled from one in 12 of the population to one in six. The proportion of total public spending accounted for by the DSS went up from one fifth to one third.

What was there to show for all the increases in social security expenditure? Did more people move from welfare into work? No. One fifth of all households had no one earning a wage. Was there a reduction in benefit fraud? No. Up to £2 billion was being lost every year through housing benefit fraud alone, while expenditure on housing benefit doubled in five years. Were there any increases in the basic rate of pay among the low-paid? No. Under the Conservatives, low pay cost the taxpayer almost £4 billion annually in benefits to top up income—the equivalent of 2p on the basic rate of income tax.

Did Conservative policies lift more people out of poverty? No. The bottom 10th of the population were 13 per cent. worse off in absolute terms and the proportion of households living in poverty more than trebled from one in 14 to one in four. As the climate of insecurity and social failure moved on apace, so Britain's crime industry had its boom years under the Conservatives.

What was the great pensions achievement of the Conservative years? Pensions mis-selling soared to new heights, which damaged living standards—and it was left to the new Labour Government to rectify a problem that they should never have inherited. Let us be very clear: the Tories' record increase in social security spending was not an explosion of generosity: it was purely the cost of social failure.

Under the Conservatives, secure employment was undermined; traditional industries were savaged; the unemployed were blamed and lone parents were made the scapegoats; there was under-investment in young people; and people were removed from the unemployment register and put on disability benefits, thereby consigning them to a workless life. I remind the House that I have direct experience of the previous Government's policies and how they affected people working for Remploy, the Government's sheltered employment scheme for disabled people. I know only too well that compulsory competitive tendering had a huge effect on the employment of people with disabilities in that sector, so forgive me if I decline to take a tutorial in compassion from Conservative Members.

I shall now consider some principles on which we should all agree. First, parents are financially responsible for their children. That principle has been recognised whenever the House has discussed child support legislation. It would have even wider support if the operation of the Child Support Agency was seen to be fair and efficient. I am pleased that my hon. Friends have pledged to tackle that problem through a widespread review.

Secondly, the best form of welfare, and the one preferred by the great majority of people, is work. That principle has only been undermined by the inability of the Conservative party to reform the tax and benefits system to remove poverty traps and to ensure that work pays. Finally, the welfare system must help people through hard times and, where possible, help them support themselves independently once more. It should help people to contribute to and prosper in their retirement, so reaping the benefit of a lifetime in work. Let us not forget that our benefit system was created to help people through short-term hardship. It was only the Conservatives' lack of vision that consigned people to a lifetime of dependency.

Mr. Gibb

How does the hon. Lady envisage the abolition of tax credits for dividends paid to pension funds, which will extract £5 billion a year from our nation's private sector pension funds, helping people to enjoy their retirement?

Caroline Flint

I believe that that fiscal reform helps to reform the corporate tax system. We are setting out to ensure that the many people with private and personal pensions are protected by safeguards that guarantee that their pensions are in the hands of those who will invest them wisely. That will sit nicely alongside a number of reviews that will take the pension arrangements for everyone into the 21st century.

I am proud that new Labour is beginning to prioritise work over welfare and opportunity over waste. I am proud that we will give effect to our principles in the face of enormous social change. This Government will face up to the growing number of women who need and want to work, to the changing nature of family life and to the consequences of family breakdown. There are few jobs for life, and the tax and benefits system must meet the challenge of changing work patterns and frequent movements from job to job.

I have heard Opposition Members suggest that the Government should be embarrassed that we opposed Conservative benefit cuts in opposition, but are accepting them now we are in government. That taunt is nothing but hypocrisy of the highest order. As the previous Government offered nothing to lone parents—no job opportunities, no help, no new deal—but just blamed them for society's problems, it is quite right that they should now stand charged by Labour as offering nothing but increased child poverty.

If the Conservative Government had offered active support for lone parents, if they had offered a national minimum wage, if they had offered a new deal financed from a windfall levy, if they had offered a national child care strategy, they may have deserved Labour support, but Britain's lone parents and their children have had to wait too long for a Labour Government who will begin to support them in overcoming the obstacles to work and help them to do better for their families.

New Labour never said that social security cuts would be restored. In the past few days I have made it my business to check all the daily briefs that I received when I was a candidate, as well as our policy handbook and guide, and none of them contained that commitment. It was not contained in the manifesto on which our candidates fought and won the general election. Our pledge was to stay within spending limits rather than raise income tax and to begin a thorough reform of the welfare state.

I should remind hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe that we should have restored the cuts that a long line of people who come to my surgeries saw their living standards cut during the Tory years and would like help today if the public purse were deep enough. What we offered the public was to use the country's taxes better. We promised lone parents new pathways to work, a national child care strategy, better training and a proactive employment service. There have been many comments today—

Mr. Letwin


Caroline Flint

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is rising to say something.

There have been many comments today about our pilot schemes and how succesful or otherwise they have been. As one who has been working hard on the new deal this summer, I know that we are fighting against a backlog of cynicism and mistrust because our employment services have not been used effectively over the past 18 years. It is therefore no wonder that there may be a slow move forward, but it is important that the people who have come forward have gained something from the service. I am confident that they will spread the word to other people who have yet to come forward.

Mr. Letwin

As the hon. Lady develops her interesting line of argument, will she explain how the imposition of a national minimum wage, which will exclude from work some of the lone parents of whom she talks by pricing them out of it, will assist them?

Caroline Flint

There is no evidence that a national minimum wage, which will be set at a reasonable rate by the Low Pay Commission, will put people out of work. Conservatives argued that equal pay legislation would lead to women not taking up jobs, but that did not come to pass. As has been recognised by employers, the national minimum wage will raise the floor on wages so that employers can be seen to offer a decent wage for a decent job. During the general election campaign, many employers, from both small and medium businesses, told me that they wanted to offer a decent wage, but were being undercut by other employers who thought that, if they provided poverty pay so that the Government could bail them out with family credit, that would be a nice little earner. We have moved on from that discussion.

Mr. Letwin

In the light of that interesting answer, will the hon. Lady explain the Deputy Prime Minister's views on the matter?

Caroline Flint

The Deputy Prime Minister supports my policy and I am sure that he will be able to answer any question that the hon. Gentleman may like to put. I am here to represent Back Benchers today—I might like to represent the Front Bench in the near future.

I believe strongly that the new Government deserve support and praise for their Budget to reform tax and benefits, their policy to reduce taxation for those on the lowest incomes and the proposed national minimum wage. Those measures will make a difference.

Some hon. Members have suggested that some of the jobs on offer to lone parents are not very attractive. Many people, particularly when they return to the job market after a long break, do not move into jobs that are the best paid, the most satisfactory or the most in keeping with their skills or experience. Many of my constituents do jobs that few in this House or, dare I say it, in the Press Gallery have experienced. They work for the sake of their families. In work, even lone parents will be, on average, £50 a week better off. Once in work, their chances of moving to better paid or more satisfying jobs, to find work with more suitable hours or to have training, will improve dramatically.

Mr. Webb

Will the hon. Lady confirm that the £50 figure that has been supplied to her is based on a sample of lone parents who are already working, not those who are not working? By definition, it was worth those lone parents' while working; if that were not true, they would not have had those jobs in the first place. As a group, they have, on average, lower child care costs and higher maintenance costs than other lone parents. Can the hon. Lady confirm that a lone parent who is currently unwaged would not, on average, receive £50 a week?

Caroline Flint

That is why we need a national minimum wage. It would seem strange to promote a policy that suggests that someone should not be better off in work than on benefit.

Others have argued that in lone parent families it is detrimental to the child's welfare for the only parent to move into work, but the evidence is clear: when asked, lone parents place child care at the top of their list of demands. They do so because they know that, with work, comes a better standard of living than would ever be provided on benefits, now or in the future. The feeling of self-worth that comes with work not only benefits the mother, but provides a role model for the child.

As we move into the next century, today's and tomorrow's lone parents have better prospects of a decent quality of life than they would ever have had under a Tory Government. In four years' time, this Government will stand judged by their record of support for lone parents, by the impact of the new deal and by the revolution that we shall see in the working of our social security system. I have every faith that the new Labour Government will pass that test.

6.6 pm

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

I am looking forward to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) joining the Government Front Bench, as is her wish. I believe that there will be a vacancy there shortly.

The Prime Minister has said: A strong society cannot be built on soft choices. It means fundamental reform of our welfare state, of the deal between citizen and society. The Secretary of State's speech gave no sign of any such fundamental reform. It was an inadequate speech, designed to save her from the claws of many of her Back Benchers, but it failed to achieve even that. The Government will be unable to pass through the House any significant welfare reform because of the views of their Back Benchers.

The Government's welfare policy and welfare reforms have become all spin and hype and no substance. One such example involves the Taylor review of the merger—the integration—of tax and benefits. When that review was announced back in June, the press lauded it. The Times of 19 June stated: The commission, established under Martin Taylor by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, to look at reforming tax and benefits, may well examine the integration of tax and NIC.

The Sunday Times of 18 May stated: The aim will be to save billions in administration costs, cut down on people simultaneously paying tax with one hand and receiving benefits in the other…Tony Blair has agreed that Brown should `consider all options' for reform, including ultimately merging the separate tax and benefit operations into a new streamlined system.

The Financial Times of 20 May stated: Mr. Taylor's appointment was welcomed by business, with tax experts predicting that the Barclays chief could recommend radical reform, including full-scale merger of the tax and benefit systems. Mr. Taylor did little to dampen expectations". Are the Government proposing the full-scale merger of the tax and benefit systems? Perhaps the Secretary of State or the Minister of State could respond to that point at the end of the debate.

On 20 May the Financial Times stated: As head of the government's taskforce, his job"— Mr. Taylor's— appears 'almost infinite in scope'". In reality, the review will be minuscule in scope. The truth is that the merging of the tax and benefits systems is an extremely difficult proposition and already signs are emerging that the Government are back-tracking on those over-hyped optimistic hopes about what would emerge from the Taylor review.

The 1986 social security reforms introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), did a great deal to smooth the passage from benefits into tax and removed almost all the marginal withdrawal rates in excess of 100 per cent. However, to go further than that and to attempt to integrate the tax and benefits systems is a huge task and the Chancellor was wrong to announce the review in the way that he did. Patrick Minford says that to have a smooth transition from benefit into tax, one needs a personal allowance of about £10,000. Such a personal allowance would require a rise in income tax of about lop in the pound, enormously increasing marginal tax rates in this country.

Earlier this year, Chris Kelly, the head of policy at the Department of Social Security, told the Select Committee on Social Security: it is quite important to realise that the fact there are two systems is not an accident. It is because it reflects the fact that they are pursuing different objectives to some extent". Even Chris Kelly accepts that the two systems are totally incompatible: the benefits system requires detailed information about individuals' expenditure and needs, but the tax system requires little information—only details of income. The benefits system is measured on a weekly basis, whereas the tax system is assessed annually. The benefits system looks at families as a whole, whereas the tax system looks at individuals' income. How can the two systems be merged?

In the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks) asked Chris Kelly: Is the option of a full integration"— of the tax and benefits systems— being considered seriously by the Taylor Committee? The answer from the head of the DSS policy group was A complete integration, no. Contrast that answer with all the hype surrounding the announcement of the Taylor review back in May. The Government have announced review after review, but no real policy initiatives.

Mr. Letwin

In the course of his speech, has my hon. Friend noticed that the Minister of State—until leaving the Chamber—was saying "Hear, hear" from a sedentary position and appearing to agree whole-heartedly with my hon. Friend's views?

Mr. Gibb

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. It is true that there are members of the Government who would like to see a fundamental review of the tax and benefits system and radical reforms emanating from the Government, but the fact is that the Government are beginning to recognise that they will not get any radical reforms through the House because of Labour Back Benchers.

The report that came out with the green Budget last week, "The Modernisation of Britain's Tax and Benefit System", contained 44 pages of nothing new. All the report does is repeat the usual mantras of stability, flexible labour markets, education and welfare to work—all of which are important points, but we have heard them before. Only on page 43 of the report are Taylor and his review even mentioned. It is all hype and no reality. Even last Tuesday, the Chancellor was still hyping the report, saying: We have concluded that, to help people move from benefits to wages, nothing less than a comprehensive tax and benefit reform and the modernisation of the welfare state are now required."—[Official Report, 25 November 1997: Vol. 301, c. 776.] That is not what Chris Kelly thinks; nor is it the impression given by the documents.

There was hope in some quarters that the Government might be able to achieve some of the harder, more difficult, reforms that Conservative Governments had been unable to implement; but the reality is that nothing like that will happen because the Government cannot and will not be able to get their policy through the House.

If the Government cave in on the lone parent premium, or if they delay its abolition by a few months, it will be clear to the House and to the country that the Government are incapable of tackling the problems that they say they are intent on tackling, simply because their Back Benchers will not let them. They will be a lame duck Government in respect of welfare reform and the Secretary of State will be a lame duck Minister. They will trumpet and hype success, but the reality will be failure and inaction—failure in their new deal for lone parents.

Mr. Letwin

Would my hon. Friend care to join me in a speculative inquiry into whether being a lame duck is better or worse than being a drowning duck?

Mr. Gibb

I shall leave hon. Members to draw their own conclusions on that question.

Policies on the lone parent premium and the new deal have failed, with only one in 20 people responding to the letters. The Government have failed in their over-hyped policy to integrate tax and benefits and their proposed working families tax credit. After seven months in office, the Government have achieved nothing in welfare reform—it is all hype and no policy. With Labour Back Benchers beginning to emerge, Rip Van Winkle-like, from their deep slumber, it is highly unlikely that the Government will achieve anything in future.

6.15 pm
Jacqui Smith (Redditch)

I shall be brief, so that other hon. Members can contribute to the debate.

When I saw that the Opposition had decided on a debate on welfare reform, pensions and disability, I asked myself what possible reason there might be for the Conservative party doing that. I thought that it might be so that Conservative Members could come to the House and apologise for the mess in which they left the country. Perhaps they wanted to apologise for the doubling of the number of those on means-tested benefits from one in 12 to one in six. Perhaps they wanted to apologise for the fact that now one in five households are workless. Perhaps they wanted to apologise for the fact that inequality has increased faster in this country than in any other major industrialised country. Perhaps they wanted to apologise for their failure to reform a complicated and slow system of benefits that encourages dependency, not work, and that traps people—

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jacqui Smith

No, I will not take an intervention from the hon. Lady, because she has only just turned up and I am short of time.

I thought that perhaps Conservative Members wanted to apologise for their fundamental failure to get to grips with the pension system that they implemented during their 18 years in government, but that left current and future pensioners insecure. Perhaps they intended to come and apologise for imposing value added tax on fuel and thereby making many pensioners fear that they could not afford to pay their bills.

Perhaps they intended to apologise for having significantly failed to introduce comprehensive disability rights legislation and for having assumed consistently throughout their period in government that those with disabilities could not and did not want to work. Perhaps they intended to apologise for the fact that there are now 1 million lone parents supporting 2 million children on income support; and for the fact that the Conservative Government stigmatised those lone parents and stranded them on benefits that can never be the long-term alternative to the higher incomes that those lone parents want. However, as we have discovered today, the Opposition do not intend to apologise for any of the mess in which they left the country.

When thinking about the problems to be debated, I went back to my casework and looked at the examples that have come up in my constituency over the past seven months. I was looking for some idea of the problems that people face and the solutions that the Government can implement. The first point I recognised was that no problem is solely about benefits—we cannot think of anybody as being simply a benefits claimant. All the difficulties faced by those on benefits stem from a variety of causes and it is crucial that the Government adopt a multi-departmental approach to tackling those difficulties.

That is why I welcome the introduction of the social exclusion unit and the way in which it will work through several Departments to solve problems.

One such problem relates to young unemployed people in my constituency. There is the young unemployed man who cannot get a job because he lacks the reading and writing skills necessary for a job. He is also trapped in inadequate housing on housing benefit. I appreciate what the Government have already done in terms of the new deal, which has been enthusiastically received by the Employment Service in Worcestershire, which in turn is grateful for the opportunity to put people back to work instead of having to act as benefits police—as the service did under the former Government.

I also welcome the education White Paper, because it will tackle educational under-achievement. Welcome, too, is the release of capital receipts which will begin to solve the difficulties with housing encountered by so many people.

One unemployed man who came to see me said that he could not afford to take a job for £3 an hour because he would lose too much benefit to make that worth doing. The only way to solve that is to get rid of the benefit and tax traps by introducing a minimum wage and—dare I suggest it?—by looking to introduce a lop starting rate of tax, so as to get away from the punitive marginal rates of tax that such people face.

Mr. Webb


Jacqui Smith

No, I am short of time.

Then there is the lone parent who wants to work but who cannot because the CSA has unsuccessfully chased up the absent parent for support. This lone parent cannot receive the child care that she needs or get the training that she wants. But the Government have clearly shown their commitment to helping such lone parents, through their review of the Child Support Agency and through the extra money that they have put into child care and training.

It is obvious that there is a great deal of work to be done still, and in a variety of Departments. It is, however, politically opportunistic of the Opposition to suggest all of a sudden that they have the answers and that they are compassionate. As we have seen today, they have no answers; they simply want to make cheap party political points at the expense of the unemployed, the lone parents, the pensioners and the disabled in my constituency. It is the current Government who are providing the answers and whom I trust to give these people hope for the future.

6.21 pm
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

The essence of this debate can be rapidly summed up. There are many Conservatives who welcomed the radicalism with which we believed the Government were entering on these matters, and who whole-heartedly accepted the good intent behind much that the Government are trying to do. Probably all of us welcome the idea of people moving back into work—of people moving off welfare—and the idea of finding suitable long-term pension arrangements. These are all common aims in our parties.

The question we are debating today, however, is whether the programme that the Government have so far brought before the public shows the least sign of achieving any of these admirable aims; or whether, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) suggested, it is all a mess and a muddle.

We have heard much from Labour today about the problems that they attribute to the previous Government, but little in defence of the progress that they ought to believe has so far been made by this Government. There are essentially two strands in the present Government's efforts: one relates to non-contributory and income-related benefits, the other to pensions.

In relation to the first class, there has been a devastatingly accurate critique of the Government's efforts to move lone parents back into work—efforts on which the whole of the rest of their arguments depend. That critique was not made by an opportunistic Conservative Member; it was not made with any political intent. It was made out of deep conviction and real knowledge by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on the basis of her real understanding of the problems that her constituents face in moving back to work.

It is no answer to the hon. Lady's critique to talk about out-of-school child care, because, as she pointed out devastatingly enough, it is often the period outside school terms that causes the problem. It is no answer to talk about the amount of child care on offer because, as she pointed out devastatingly enough, in many of our inner cities the costs of child care far exceed the money on offer. It is no surprise to Conservative Members to find that the evidence so far available to the British public about how well the lone parent welfare-to-work system is working shows that it is not working. Ninety-five per cent. of those to whom letters were written have not found a job, and there is not a shred of evidence that the 5 per cent. who have would not have found one in any case.

I should like to turn briefly to pensions, where a great opportunity has surely been sadly missed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) introduced, shortly before the election, proposals that would have led to the long-term funding of the basic state pension.

In place of that, after several months of this Government, we have so far had a set of 65 questions about a so-called stakeholder pension, none of whose details have been developed. Nor is there the least sign of how those stakeholder pensions will be developed in a way that exceeds the expectations that people legitimately hold of the private sector pension schemes which already provide people in Britain with £750 billion-worth of private pensions.

In short, there is no funding of the state pension, and no alternate system sketched in sufficient detail to be worthy of the name "system". What there has been in its place is a raid on private sector pensions and a pushing of vast numbers of people back into the unfunded SERPS scheme, which the Government now tell us they intend to keep.

So whether it concerns the move from welfare to work and lone parents, or income-related and non-contributory benefits, or pensions, the Government's sole achievement has been to move a large proportion of the population back into unfunded state pensions, thereby wholly missing the opportunity to save this country from a future liability that it will not be able to bear. Wonderful though the Government's ambitions may be, the reality of their programme to date has been mess and muddle, nothing more.

6.25 pm
Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I have never heard so much rubbish in all my life as I have listened to for the past three hours from those hypocrites opposite me—

Mr. Burns


Mr. King

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is not unparliamentary language. Indeed, I am only quoting a previous Conservative Prime Minister, who referred to you as "organised hypocrisy". That is what we have witnessed this afternoon again. It is what we witnessed time and again when you were in power during the past 18 years. You did nothing for disabled people or for lone parents; you certainly did nothing for pensioners. Over the past six months, however, the nation has been asked to believe in a Damascene conversion of your party: you are now the friends of the pensioner and of the lone parent—

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)


Mr. King

I do apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not addressing you directly. I was of course referring to Conservative Members. I shall try not to fall into that trap again.

Let us look at what we inherited from the Conservatives. We said from the start that we would operate within the constrictions of the Budget bequeathed to us by the Conservatives for the first two years—a Budget that included £395 million worth of social security cuts, which we also undertook to see through. The difference between us and the Tories is that we are putting in place a host of positive measures to help the groups of people who will be affected and to bring about a responsible and responsive welfare state that assists people back into work. That was, after all, the whole point of the welfare state in the first place.

Our positive strategy comprises help and advice for people searching for jobs. It will also help those seeking work to receive training, if necessary, to prepare them for the first step back into employment.

We are putting in place a proper child care strategy that will enable the £300 million for lone parents—

Mr. Letwin

If the hon. Gentleman was not asleep during my speech, perhaps he would like to answer the question: does he deny the critique offered by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who has suggested that it is not a proper child care strategy but one that will fail?

Mr. King

I do apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I fell asleep while Opposition Members were speaking. They certainly tried the patience of all of us this afternoon, but I tried to stay awake, and yes I do agree with my hon. Friend on this side, thank you very much. [Interruption.] I agree on this side, that we are going to make these proposals work. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but we have been in government for seven months. The proposals are still very much in their infancy—they do not come into full play until next year—and already Opposition Members are undermining, or trying to undermine, a positive strategy to help people who are trapped in poverty by their cynical manoeuvring and scaremongering today. It is scandalous for a responsible Opposition to behave so irresponsibly.

I will go back to—

Mr. Webb

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

No; I am sorry. We are running out of time.

We are actually going to assist lone parents with child care after school. A million places will be available, not just during term time, but during the holiday period, when those parents need that sort of assistance. The system will be flexible. At the moment, there are slightly more than 3,000 such schemes. We shall provide 30,000 such schemes, to give lone parents a true choice: a choice of participating in the job market, a choice of leading fulfilling lives in which they can hold their head up and provide for their children instead of being driven into poverty by the Conservatives' failed policies. It is disingenuous of Conservative Members to speak about our failed policies after only seven months, when they had 18 years in which they totally failed the groups that I am referring to.

The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) heralded the fact that we have the best funded system of private pensions in Europe. Well, we ended up with that marvellously funded system of private pensions because the Conservatives failed state pensioners by reducing their benefit by £20 a week, and those people were driven to seek privately funded pensions—and, sadly, the Conservatives even let them down then.

6.31 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

The debate has focused primarily on lone parents and pensions. People with disabilities have also been mentioned, and, as the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman on disability, I shall focus my comments on disability.

Before I do so, I remind the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), that my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) asked the Secretary of State a range of specific questions, to most of which we have not received answers.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will ensure that we receive specific answers to those questions. They are not posed because only we are interested in the answers. People outside the House are also interested.

Let me refresh the Secretary of State's memory. She would not answer the question when she was asked why she was implementing a policy regarding lone parents that she does not agree with and is on the record as saying that she does not agree with. She would not give a categorical answer to the question about the professionalism and the training of those who will be trained in child care. We should like to know exactly what the age group will be and what training those people will undergo.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green posed four specific questions about disability. He asked whether those who have been awarded disability living allowance for life will be able to assume that that means just what it says—for life. In the review of disability benefits, will the Minister put at rest the minds of those people who currently receive those benefits, by telling them that the Government do not intend to tax benefits that are currently not taxed?

Will the Minister give information about the 40 organisations that the Secretary of State has claimed from the Dispatch Box that she has consulted? If I understood her reply to the House today, she was referring to organisations that she has consulted about welfare-to-work measures, when the specific question that she was asked—a very similar question to the question asked to the Prime Minister last Wednesday—was not about who had been consulted about welfare-to-work measures, but about who had been consulted about the review of disability benefits. That is the question which we want answered.

Before I continue, it may be pertinent to declare three non-remunerated interests. I serve on the council of the National Autistic Society, I am national vice-president of the Alzheimer's Disease Society and I have a dependent relative in receipt of disability living allowance for life.

The Labour party manifesto has been waved about a lot during the debate, especially from the Treasury Bench. Labour Back Benchers have referred to it, and I want to quote a few passages, because if this is to be our bible—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I see that I have a captive audience. If you are sitting quietly, then I will begin.

On page 5, in the section at the start of the manifesto, which bears the signature of the Prime Minister, he says of the contract with the people: There will be no increase in the basic or top rates of…tax. Will the Minister confirm tonight that that means just what it says, and that the tax of people in receipt of disability benefits will not be increased because non-taxed benefits become taxed?

The Prime Minister also says: I pledge to Britain a government which shares their hopes, which understands their fears in reference to vulnerable people. I should like to share with Ministers tonight some of the hopes and fears expressed in correspondence that I have received from throughout the country from people who are in receipt of disability benefits.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Browning

I will in a second. I want to make progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) quoted from a letter that he had received. I shall quote briefly from some of the letters that I have received in the past week or two.

A retired teacher in Mid Glamorgan says: I…refer to the stopping of the Disability Living Allowance, this money is a lifeline to disabled persons such as myself. I really believe that if this Bill is passed it will cause vast problems for disabled people". From my constituency, a person who retired last year writes: There can be no doubt that the peace of mind of millions of disabled people will have been seriously threatened by the government's proposals. I have…been a member of the Labour party for over fourteen years. I have to say that I feel a sense of betrayal by the party over this issue, as do, I am sure, many other disabled and chronically sick people. I received a copy of a letter sent to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with a little handwritten note to me attached, which says: Will you please read this letter. I have written to express my hurt and sense of betrayal". The letter concludes: I choose to use my benefits to employ a private cleaning firm to blitz my Home every few weeks and to make a relative an allowance to wash my hair, cut my nails etc. My Husband resigned a highly responsible job and took less hours and pay to be more available to me and I have a very supportive Daughter. I will not have strangers attending to my personal needs. My body may not be of much use but my brain still functions and above all I still have my pride. I spent most of this morning dealing with a constituency case. A constituent from Honiton in Devon had just had the higher component of disability living allowance removed; it included the mobility component. That means that he expects that this week someone will collect the car that he uses to get about, because the payment of that benefit pays for his car.

Caroline Flint

That is not the Government's fault. We all have such cases.

Mrs. Browning

The hon. Lady may mouth all she likes. I am determined to fight this on behalf of my constituent, because the removal of disability living allowance and the mobility component is something which the Government—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Denham)

The hon. Lady has no idea.

Mrs. Browning

I have every idea, and I say to the hon. Gentleman, as a carer for someone with this benefit, I will fight it, fight it and fight it on behalf of people who are vulnerable and who depend on that benefit. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady may say that I did not fight it, but I assure her that I did. Anyone who looks at my track record on what I have said and fought for in the House will see that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We can have only one speaker at a time.

Mrs. Browning

Those benefits are there now. Labour Members should take a careful look at the benefits that were introduced and secured up until 1 May. Now, we are receiving letter after letter from worried, frightened people—[Interruption.] I invite the Minister to put the record straight tonight. The Secretary of State refused to give assurances today, as did the Prime Minister during Question Time last Wednesday. If what I am saying is wrong, if it is all based on rumour, tonight is the Government's opportunity to say clearly that disability living allowance for life means just that; that such benefits will not be means-tested or taxed; and that people can go to sleep tonight feeling much more comfortable than they do now.

Mr. Gorrie

The hon. Lady has raised the tone of the debate considerably during the last minute or two. Does she agree that the Opposition made a mistake in framing their motion by criticising the Government for reneging on their policies? Surely the thrust of the Opposition's argument should be that, from their point of view, the Labour Government are adopting Tory policies. If the Opposition had adopted the advice of the Bible and taken joy in a sinner that repenteth, they might have attracted more interest in the debate among Conservative Back Benchers.

Mrs. Browning

We will support Labour policies such as the move to enable more people with disabilities to get back into work. However, the Government are promising to do that while also threatening to remove the mobility component of the DLA—

Mr. Andy King

The hon. Lady is scaremongering.

Mrs. Browning

If I am scaremongering, when I sit down in four minutes' time the Minister will have the opportunity to say categorically that what I have said is wrong and that the Government will not do it. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head—I hope that his hon. Friend the Minister will not disappoint him tonight.

Mr. Alan Howarth

What evidence does the hon. Lady have?

Mrs. Browning

My answer is to quote from correspondence I have received from organisations that have been involved in the so-called consultation on disability benefits. The Disability Benefits Consortium represents the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People; Disability Alliance; Disablement Income Group: and the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation. The consortium writes: Disability organisations are concerned about the lack of clarity and openness about consultation and decision-making processes around these reviews. On disability benefits, there will not be any Green Paper or formal consultation before key decisions are likely to be made. A series of seminars to discuss options on 'managing' expenditure on disability benefits have been arranged by some disability organisations at the request of Baroness Hollis. It is important to note that the disability organisations attending these seminars do not regard them in any way as part of a formal consultation process. The Royal National Institute for the Blind wrote to me only today saying: RNIB have never before sent out a briefing to MPs containing this level of detail. This reflects the seriousness with which we regard the threat to benefits which provide a vital lifeline to those who are often amongst your poorest constituents, and those who seldom make their feelings known to their Member of Parliament. The benefit integrity project involves people—we would welcome information on their training and experience—knocking on the doors of those who currently receive the higher componentof disability living allowance and mobility allowance. RADAR writes—

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

This is unbelievable.

Mrs. Browning

It certainly is unbelievable that so many organisations are so concerned that they feel they have to write to Members of Parliament.

RADAR, an organisation well known to many hon. Members, writes: Organisations which had met the Department in May"— to talk about the benefit integrity project— believed they would be discussing findings from the…review. Instead, they were informed that the project was already under way. The organisations that went to the Department included Action for Blind People, Disability Alliance, Mencap, RADAR and the RNIB. Those organisations went to the Department believing that they were part of a consultation, only to find that the decision had already been made and their views were not required, but that they could have an input into some sort of management.

To cap it all, the Lord Chancellor's Department is considering proposals to abolish legal aid for personal injury claims—another move by the Government which will clearly have an effect on people with disabilities and will cause them a great deal of distress.

Having heard from those organisations and having read out a small sample of letters from, I remind the Government, the people—not the people's banquet or the people's lottery, but the real people who have very real needs—I will conclude with some final words from the Labour manifesto. It claims: Britain will be better with new Labour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] And the band played, "Believe it if you like." The manifesto said: New Labour is the political arm of none other than the British people as a whole. Our values are the same: the equal worth of all, with no one cast aside; fairness and justice within strong communities. There is nothing fair or just about the way that this Government treat the most vulnerable people in our society.

6.46 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Alan Howarth)

This has been a valuable debate, albeit all too short. I especially welcome the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. King). The commitment of my hon. Friends to social justice and to an intelligent and humane modernisation of the welfare state contrasts with the absence of commitment to that project and the absence of ideas that have been apparent on the Conservative Benches.

Is it really surprising if I recall that the Rowntree inquiry into the distribution of income and wealth said that between 1979 and 1992, the poorest 20 to 30 per cent. of families failed to share in the growth of prosperity in the nation? Between 1975 and 1992, the hourly wages of the lowest paid fell. Society was increasingly polarised between work-rich and work-poor households. Society was polarised in housing tenure so that by the end of the life of the Conservative Government, 75 per cent. of people in local authority or housing association housing were among the poorest 20 per cent. of the population. That failure to enable the most disadvantaged in our society to share in the growth in the nation's wealth was a central dereliction.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley reminded us, the figures for households below average income show that whereas the top 10 per cent. of income earners increased their wealth by two thirds, the bottom 10 per cent. saw their income fall by 13 per cent. Under the Conservative Government, the rich got richer while the poor got poorer.

No one could seriously argue that it is not appropriate for a new Government taking office after 18 years in opposition to ask searching questions about the patterns of spending and administration that they have inherited. During the past 18 years, the previous Government denied that the state had a constructive and responsible role to play in welfare.

In the last declining years of the Conservative Administration, welfare policy was driven by a devastating triple combination of emergency surgery to the economy, a desperate attempt to create fiscal headroom to make it possible to reduce taxes for those already comfortably off, in a futile attempt to win an election, and a wholesale dismantling of agencies of the state, again not driven by an intelligent or humane analysis, but hypnotised by a mantra that said, "Public bad; private good."

Ministers in the previous Administration were apt to characterise the welfare state's clients as feckless, but surely it was those Ministers who, holding high office in an elected Government, yet repudiating the responsibility to create an enabling state, were feckless, which had the vast and destructive consequence of humiliating and demoralising some of society's most vulnerable members.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber. I will not give way to him.

Conservative Members put their faith, or perhaps found a comfortable retreat, in the trickle-down theory of wealth. The theory did not work. In the centenary year of Aneurin Bevan's birth, it has never been more important for the welfare state truly to meet the aims that it should have. The new deal for unemployed people is among our major undertakings in the reform and modernisation of the welfare state. I will not detail the new deal's arrangements because they are well known, but I shall draw to the House's attention certain characteristics of the new deal.

The Conservative party preens itself on the falls in unemployment in recent years and, of course, we all welcome those. Perhaps it is a matter of relative indifference that they occurred not by design but by accident. A previous Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer avowed that unemployment was a price worth paying, and it began to fall only because the previous Government were hurled out of the exchange rate mechanism.

If Conservative Members think that there are grounds for complacency, that we do not need the new deal and that it will do simply to allow economic and social events to take their course, they ignore the fact that unemployment is still 50 per cent. higher than it was in 1979. It is 50 per cent. higher among young people than among other people. Male unemployment is two thirds higher than it was when the Conservative party came into office, and long-term unemployment is more than two thirds higher. Unemployment among members of ethnic minorities is particularly shaming, running at twice the rate of other communities—or even more.

Whatever the phase of the economic cycle and however strong the economic recovery, too many people and communities are never floated off the rocks. It is only right and responsible, both on the ground of humanity and in terms of the economy—enabling us to have the benefit of the contribution that those people could make to the economy and saving the economic and social costs of exclusion—that we should make this big undertaking through the new deal, which is qualitatively and quantitatively different, and better than anything that the previous Government ever did.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made available £3.5 billion from the windfall levy, a redistribution of windfall gains to people who have been the victims of economic change. It is eminently justified. With those resources, we shall be able to provide better, more sustained and more effective help to people who are most at risk in our society than has ever been given before.

Two features of the new deal are particularly important and encouraging. One is the principle that everyone should be served by a personal adviser, a member of the Employment Service staff. Under the previous Government, the service was required to be bureaucratic, formulaic and procedure driven. Its staff were not allowed to relate as individual human beings to clients or to give the imaginative and practical help that unemployed people need. There has been an immense welcome among the service's staff for our proposals. There has been an enormous release of energy in the service and among those with whom it develops the partnerships of the new deal.

That principle of partnership is the second feature to which I draw the House's attention. The Employment Service has enormous strengths. It is the only organisation with the reach and presence throughout the country to be able to deliver the new deal, but the service needs to work in partnership with other organisations—with local authorities, training and enterprise councils, voluntary organisations and employers' organisations—whose strengths complement those of the service.

That is happening. We are not being prescriptive from the centre about the nature of the partnerships that should be formed locally, but we are insisting on that principle of partnership. There will be far-reaching consequences from the application of those two principles: case working and partnership.

Labour Members are proud of the welfare state, but we acknowledge that if there has been a besetting inadequacy, it has been that the person in poverty—the unemployed or disabled person—has been required to do what is convenient to the administration, rather than the administration serving the welfare state's client.

The typical experience is that the person in need has to embark on a melancholy trudge around different agencies at different addresses, with different rules, different accountabilities, different jargon and different procedures. It has been a bleak and perplexing experience. If we can achieve a better integration of services—a more holistic approach to the activity of the welfare state and to the service of people who should be its beneficiaries—we will have learnt much and developed in important respects.

Mrs. May

The Minister has said much about the new deal, about which we also heard from the Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women. Is he going to answer the questions that were posed by my hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) relating to disability benefits? In doing so, perhaps the Minister could explain how it will help people if the Government pay disability benefits to local authorities and not to individuals with disabilities.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Lady and too many other Conservative Members have been guilty of recycling and putting into more emphatic currency a series of rumours that they know are distressing to disabled people. I do not for one second doubt the strong personal commitment to disabled people's interests of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). She and I have, from time to time, fought shoulder to shoulder in certain causes on behalf of disabled people.

As I have said, any Government who come into office after 18 years in opposition and find a system that is such a muddle and a hotch-potch, and which so grievously fails to support the people whom we all wish it to support, are not only entitled, but have a duty, to ask searching questions.

The comprehensive spending reviews that are being conducted throughout government are designed to ensure that the Labour Government achieve the purposes that they have set themselves: to modernise Britain and to create a more just society. Hon. Members can be assured that those will be our criteria. Those factors will be paramount in any decision that is eventually taken.

As and when there are propositions for reform of the benefits system or of other aspects of the welfare state, we will consider what sort of consultation on which to embark. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton can be assured that we are not going to do the sort of terrible things that are being rumoured and which she has put into renewed circulation.

Mrs. Browning


Mr. Howarth

I have very little time. I am not prepared to have my speech hijacked by Conservative Members who want me to dance to their tune by answering a series of questions that they want to ask for political advantage. I will not play that game.

Our policy goes well beyond what the previous Administration achieved in establishing proper civil rights for disabled people. Our manifesto commitment is to comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people. We shall fulfil that commitment.

Why are the Conservatives sitting there? They have no idea what they are there to do. They have suffered their worst electoral defeat ever, but they are heading further and further towards the wilder shores of xenophobia, isolationist nationalism and social disintegration in the name of the free market. Apparently, that is to be known as Conservative populism. I hardly think that it is popular.

The British people like their leaders to appeal to their better nature and to their more responsible selves. Have the Tories not learnt that they do not have the remotest chance of governing unless they place themselves somewhere near the centre of the political spectrum, connect with the mainstream of national life and remember the deep desire of the British people for fairness and that we should be one nation?

The affectation and opportunism that we have seen from the Conservatives will not persuade any unemployed person, any pensioner, any disabled person or any lone parent that the Tories care or have rethought their policies and would act differently if they came to office.

The self-indulgent pursuit of dogma ends up hurting innocent people. It ill becomes the Conservatives to wail for the plight of the welfare state when they all but destroyed it. The new Labour Government will re-create it as a modern welfare state, fit for a just and thriving society. I ask my hon. Friends to reject the motion.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 131, Noes 336.

Division No. 101] [7.1 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Butterfill, John
Amess, David Cash, William
Arbuthnot, James Chope, Christopher
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Baldry, Tony Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul Collins, Tim
Blunt, Crispin Cormack, Sir Patrick
Body, Sir Richard Cran, James
Boswell, Tim Curry, Rt Hon David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Brazier, Julian Day, Stephen
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Browning, Mrs Angela Duncan, Alan
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Duncan smith, Iain
Burns, Simon Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Nigel McLoughlin, Patrick
Faber, David Madel, Sir David
Fabricant, Michael Major, Rt Hon John
Fallon, Michael Malins, Humfrey
Flight, Howard Maples, John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Fox, Dr Liam May, Mrs Theresa
Gale, Roger Moss, Malcolm
Garnier, Edward Paice, James
Gibb, Nick Paterson, Owen
Gill, Christopher Prior, David
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Randall, John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gray, James Robathan, Andrew
Green, Damian Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Greenway, John Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Grieve, Dominic Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Ruffley, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie St Aubyn, Nick
Hammond, Philip Sayeed, Jonathan
Hawkins, Nick Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Heald, Oliver Shepherd, Richard
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Horam, John Spicer, Sir Michael
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Spring, Richard
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Steen, Anthony
Hunter, Andrew Streeter, Gary
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Jenkin, Bernard Tapsell, Sir Peter
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Key, Robert Taylor, Sir Teddy
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Tredinnick, David
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Tyrie, Andrew
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Viggers, Peter
Lansley, Andrew Wells, Bowen
Letwin, Oliver Whitney, Sir Raymond
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Lidington, David Wilkinson, John
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Willetts, David
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Llwyd, Elfyn Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Loughton, Tim Yeo, Tim
Luff, Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tellers for the Ayes:
MacKay, Andrew Mr. John Whittingdale and
Maclean, Rt Hon David Mr. Nigel Waterson.
Abbott, Ms Diane Bennett, Andrew F
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Benton, Joe
Ainger, Nick Bermingham, Gerald
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Best, Harold
Alexander, Douglas Betts, Clive
Allan, Richard Blair, Rt Hon Tony
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Blears, Ms Hazel
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Blizzard, Bob
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Ashton, Joe Boateng, Paul
Atkins, Charlotte Borrow, David
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Banks, Tony Bradshaw, Ben
Barnes, Harry Brake, Tom
Barron, Kevin Brand, Dr Peter
Bayley, Hugh Breed, Colin
Beard, Nigel Brinton, Mrs Helen
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Begg, Miss Anne Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Burden, Richard
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Burstow, Paul
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Stephen Gibson, Dr Ian
Cabom, Richard Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Godman, Norman A
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gorrie, Donald
Cann, Jamie Grant, Bernie
Caplin, Ivor Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Caton, Martin Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Grocott, Bruce
Chaytor, David Grogan, John
Chidgey, David Gunnell, John
Chisholm, Malcolm Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clapham, Michael Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hanson, David
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr Evan
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Harvey, Nick
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Healey, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clelland, David Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clwyd, Ann Hepburn, Stephen
Coaker, Vernon Heppell, John
Coffey, Ms Ann Hesford, Stephen
Coleman, Iain Hill, Keith
Colman, Tony Hinchliffe, David
Connarty, Michael Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoey, Kate
Corbett, Robin Home Robertson, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hood, Jimmy
Cotter, Brian Hoon, Geoffrey
Cousins, Jim Hope, Phil
Cranston, Ross Hopkins, Kelvin
Crausby, David Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cummings, John Hoyle, Lindsay
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hurst, Alan
Dalyell, Tam Hutton, John
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Iddon, Dr Brian
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Illsley, Eric
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Ingram, Adam
Davidson, Ian Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jamieson, David
Dawson, Hilton Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dean, Mrs Janet Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Denham, John
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Doran, Frank Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dowd, Jim Jowell, Ms Tessa
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Keeble, Ms Sally
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Edwards, Huw Kelly, Ms Ruth
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kemp, Fraser
Ennis, Jeff Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Fatchett, Derek Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Feam, Ronnie Khabra, Piara S
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kidney, David
Fisher, Mark Kilfoyle, Peter
Fitzpatnck, Jim King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Flint, Caroline King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Follett, Barbara Kumar, Dr Ashok
Foster, Don (Bath) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Laxton, Bob
Foulkes, George Leslie, Christopher
Gapes Mike Levitt, Tom
Gardiner, Barry Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gerrard, Neil Linton, Martin
Love, Andrew Pollard, Kerry
McAllion, John Pope, Greg
McAvoy, Thomas Pound, Stephen
McCabe, Steve Powell, Sir Raymond
McCafferty, Ms Chris Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
McDonagh, Siobhain Primarolo, Dawn
Macdonald, Calum Purchase, Ken
McDonnell, John Quin, Ms Joyce
McIsaac, Shona Radice, Giles
MacShane, Denis Rapson, Syd
Mactaggart, Fiona Raynsford, Nick
McWalter, Tony Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McWilliam, John Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Rendel, David
Mandelson, Peter Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Marek, Dr John Rogers, Allan
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Rooker, Jeff
Martlew, Eric Rooney, Terry
Maxton, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Rowlands, Ted
Meale, Alan Ruane, Chris
Michael, Alun Ruddock, Ms Joan
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Ryan, Ms Joan
Milbum, Alan Satter, Martin
Miller, Andrew Sanders, Adrian
Mitchell, Austin Savidge, Malcolm
Moffatt, Laura Sawford, Phil
Moonie, Dr Lewis Sedgemore, Brian
Moran, Ms Margaret Shaw, Jonathan
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Sheerman, Barry
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Morley, Elliot Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Singh, Marsha
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Skinner, Dennis
Mudie, George Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mullin, Chris Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Norris, Dan Soley, Clive
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Southworth, Ms Helen
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Spellar, John
Olner, Bill Squire, Ms Rachel
O'Neill, Martin Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Öpik, Lembit Steinberg, Gerry
Osborne, Ms Sandra Stevenson, George
Palmer, Dr Nick Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Pearson, Ian Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pendry, Tom Stinchcombe, Paul
Pickthall, Colin Stoate, Dr Howard
Pike, Peter L Stott, Roger
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wallace, James
Stringer, Graham Ward, Ms Claire
Stunell, Andrew Wareing, Robert N
Sutcliffe, Gerry Watts, David
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Webb, Steve
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Timms, Stephen Williams, Alan W(E Carmarthen)
Tipping, Paddy Willis, Phil
Todd, Mark Wills, Michael
Tonge, Dr Jenny Winnick, David
Touhig, Don Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Trickett, Jon Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Truswell, Paul Woolas, Phil
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Turner, Desmond (Kemptown) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Wyatt, Derek
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Tellers for the Noes:
Tyler, Paul Mr. John McFall and
Vaz, Keith Mr. Graham Allen.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House congratulates the Government for the progress that has already been made on reforming the welfare state to tackle social exclusion and welfare dependency; backs the Government's strategy of offering hope, opportunity and a better standard of living for people through its welfare to work programmes for lone parents, disabled people and those with long-standing illness, young unemployed people and the long-term unemployed, and the National Childcare Strategy, in contrast to the previous Government's approach of writing millions of people off to a life dependent on benefit; welcomes the Government's determination to ensure security in retirement for today's and tomorrow's pensioners through the pensions review and the action the Government has already taken to get help to Britain's pensioners, particularly the poorest pensioners, by cutting VAT on fuel and through the £20 winter fuel payment to pensioner households and the £50 winter fuel payment to pensioner households on Income Support; and congratulates the Government for keeping its promises and delivering its manifesto commitments to the British people.