HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc10-1
11. Mr. Lansley

What estimate she has made of the increase in her Department's spending plans due to the rise in inflation. [19067]

Mr. Field

The answer is £600 million.

Mr. Lansley

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Given that increase in spending plans, which is due to inflation, will he go on to tell us by what means the Government propose to reduce expenditure in other areas in order to bring their spending plans back into line with those proposed by the last Conservative Government, to which they are themselves committed? Will he also tell us whether he has any plans to means-test or tax disability living allowance?

Mr. Field

The adjustments will be met in the normal way.

Mr. Corbyn

Are the Government planning a "less than inflation" increase in spending on all disability benefits in the coming years? Will the Minister take this opportunity to tell us exactly what examination is being undertaken of disability benefits, what plans he has to announce the terms of the inquiry that is taking place and how we can influence that inquiry to try to protect the existing disability benefit system?

Mr. Field

The Government will consult on their proposals. We have two major objectives. The Labour party has always believed in protecting the poor and the vulnerable, and that belief remains. We are also well aware that many people on benefit would like to work and are able to do so, and we are seeking ways in which to extend opportunities to them. Because it takes time to formulate such plans, we have been working hard on them. As I have said, when we have concrete proposals, we shall present them to the House and consult on them.

Mr. Webb

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that he will not use inflationary pressures on the departmental budget as an excuse for cutting other areas of spending, such as disability benefits? I note that the Prime Minister has promised that no one in need will have their benefits cut. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that anyone currently in receipt of disability benefit is not in need?

Mr. Field

We have made it clear that the Labour party's historic commitment is to protecting the poor and the vulnerable and to advancing their interests. If the hon. Gentleman believes that all the people in his constituency who draw a range of benefits are entitled to those benefits, he does not have the constituents I have.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, on a previous occasion, I asked him where the work is? The welfare-to-work proposal, abstract though it is, could enable some people to find work in areas of extremely low unemployment, but unemployment in some parts of Bolsover is more than 30 per cent. as a result of 18 years of a Tory Government shutting all the pits and associated industries. Will there be any variation on this theme, because in my part of the world there is not the work that my right hon. Friend keeps talking about? Has he had a word with other Departments about whether that work will be provided?

Mr. Field

My hon. Friend's constituency is similar to mine as far as unemployment rates go. The Government's aim is to move money from benefits to work opportunities. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has raised £3.5 billion additional taxation from the privatised utilities, which is being used to create opportunities. That will increase opportunities in Birkenhead and Bolsover. It is not merely a question of drawing up a list of available jobs. Under the welfare-to-work proposal, people will have four options. The £3.5 billion will underwrite the cost of those options. That programme will extend opportunities in all constituencies.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Given the Minister of State's answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), is he aware of the proposals now going through the House to restrict the payment of council tax benefit? Given what the Prime Minister said over the weekend about people who suffer with disabilities, will the Minister consider exempting them from that cut?

Mr. Field

The proposals were fully debated in the House last week and our position remains the same.

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