HC Deb 31 October 2000 vol 355 cc663-79
Mr. Hammond

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 9, line 24, leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 9, in page 9, leave out lines 26 and 27 and insert— 'is

  1. (a) disabled within the meaning of section 120(2) of the Care Standards Act 2000, or
  2. (b) a mother of a child under four years of age.
(3A) Where the Secretary of State provides by regulations that this section does not apply to a person by virtue of subsection (3)(b) he may provide by regulations such conditions as he shall determine to be in the best interest of that person and her child and if that person fails to comply with those conditions she shall cease to be a person to whom this section does not apply.'.

Mr. Hammond

May I start by drawing the House's attention to a typographical error in amendment No. 9, which refers to section 120(2) of the Care Standards Act? In fact, that reference should be to section 121(2) of the Care Standards Act. I am advised by the appropriate authorities that in a case where a typographical error is made but the meaning is clear, there is no reason why we should not debate the substance of the issue. If necessary, there will be opportunities later to correct what is written in the amendment. Responsibility for the error is entirely mine, so I apologise, I apologise, I apologise.

Mr. Hutton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of what the hon. Gentleman said about his amendment, will you confirm that although he acknowledged that there is a typographical error on the Order Paper, we shall be debating the wording that the hon. Gentleman proposed, not that which he originally intended?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House will have heard what the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) said about his amendment. Technically, however, we must debate what is on the Order Paper.

Mr. Hammond

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Clearly, the Bill will have to go back to the other place as Government amendments have already been accepted, so there will be an opportunity to correct the technical error in the Order Paper later. I hope that the Government will not seek to shelter behind a technicality in a debate about an important issue of principle. The House should discuss the important issues in the amendment, not the technicality of what is obviously a typographical error.

Clause 6 removes the right to means-tested benefits, consisting of income support, housing benefit and jobseeker's allowance, for 16 and 17-year-old care leavers, bringing their position broadly into line with that of other 16 and 17-year-olds. That is entirely consistent with the Bill's objective of providing a concept of support that is broader than entitlement to cash benefits. Of course, we accept that that support may, and almost invariably will, include a cash element. However, that should not be an entitlement, as it should be negotiated between the young person and the young person's adviser, who will seek to put together a package of measures that provide proper support, in the broadest sense, for that young person.

We accept a point that the Minister made many times in presenting arguments for the Bill, and agree that the rigidities of the social security system and the sheer difficulty of navigating a way through it mean that it is often not the ideal way of dealing with the needs of particularly vulnerable young people. Care leavers clearly fall into that category. Under the present system of support available to non-care leavers, there is an entitlement to benefits for disabled young people and young people who are lone parents when they live at home with their families, meaning their own parents.

In introducing clause 6, the Minister's intention is to give the Secretary of State powers to exempt groups from removal of eligibility for benefit so that they can be brought more into line with the treatment of other young people who are not care leavers. My amendment and our debate are triggered by a separate issue that the Minister raised in Committee, when he indicated that his intention was to go significantly further than matching the support that other young people receive. He said: I have made it clear that we intend to exempt lone parents from the benefit entitlement provisions, as it is right and proper that they should continue to be entitled to benefits. If such a young person was living at home, he or she would continue to be entitled to benefits. That should apply also to young care leavers who are pregnant.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 13 July 2000; c. 137.] The Minister therefore indicated that exemption from the provisions of clause 6, which removes the entitlement to means-tested social security benefits, should be extended to 15-year-old girls who are pregnant when they leave care. That does not bring the position of care leavers into line with that of non-care leavers; it sends a confusing signal to some vulnerable 15-year-olds. The Minister's own consultation document, "Me, Survive, Out There?", reports that some studies show that between 25 and 30 per cent. of 16-year-old girls leaving care are already mothers. I have not been able to find a figure—it may not be available—that tells us how many of those girls are pregnant at the time of leaving care.

Whether we like it or not, some young people will see the loss of entitlement benefits as a negative thing. There is a consensus in the Chamber, as there certainly was in Committee, that the package of support, consisting of cash benefits and non-cash support, available under the Bill will, on an objective basis and from an adult perspective, be superior to that which might otherwise be available under the means-tested social security system. The Minister, myself and other hon. Members who have taken part in our debates all agree on that.

Although the Minister disagreed with me strongly in Committee, the removal of an entitlement to cash benefit, which will be replaced by a discretionary benefit payable by the local authority that will be negotiated with the young person, will not be seen by all young people as positive. Indeed, if the Minister considers which young people might feel that removal of entitlement benefits and replacement with discretionary support packages was not beneficial or did not suit their particular desires at that stage of their life, he will find that the most vulnerable young people are the most likely to see merit in trying to hang on to cash benefits.

We accept that care leavers who are disabled or lone parents who live at home with their own families constitute a special case. Before the summer recess, I tabled amendment No. 9, which seeks to limit the Secretary of State's powers to those groups and exclude the group which, as the Minister revealed in Committee, the Government intend to include. I spent some time in the summer consulting various outside bodies about the issue. The need to discuss a wider issue became clear to me and I therefore tabled amendment No. 24.

If the system of support for which the Bill provides is so superior to the means-tested, social security support, which it will withdraw, why would we want to give the Secretary of State the power to exempt from that arrangement those who are perhaps most vulnerable—those who are disabled or lone parents? Many organisations that deal with disadvantaged young people have made the point that the benefits system does not tackle the complex needs of vulnerable young people well, even if they can find their way through it.

It may be better to provide, if appropriate, a cash-based support system, but within the structure that the Bill establishes. That would obviate the need to create exemptions from clause 6. The underlying ethos of the Bill is that those for whom it provides should be better off than they would be outside the system for which it provides, despite the change in the level of entitlement to cash benefits.

Amendment No. 24 would achieve the objective of dealing with the cash needs of vulnerable groups of care leavers within the architecture of the Bill. It recognises the need for special support for those groups, and that a system that is more cash based may be appropriate for some. However, that system can be provided within the scope of the Bill. I hope that the Government can accept the logic of that argument and support the amendment.

We would find it unacceptable for the Secretary of State to have discretionary powers to exempt groups from clause 6 without specifying them in the Bill. The Minister, who is in charge of the measure, told us clearly in Committee that he believes that those powers could apply to young care leavers who are pregnant. We would resist that. It would have a more pernicious effect than exempting care leavers who are disabled or lone parents. It would send a negative and undesirable signal to vulnerable 15-year-old girls and would contrast starkly with the Department's campaign to discourage sexual activity among the under-16s.

Positive, continuing contact between the care leaver and the young person's adviser would be less likely if young people did not perceive that they received their stream of benefit payments—in kind or in cash—through that medium, but were able to gain access to them through the entitlement systems of the social security structure. The Government's consultation document, "Me, Survive, Out There?", made no reference to including pregnant care leavers in the category that should be exempted from the withdrawal of cash benefits. I hope that the Minister will be able to agree this evening that there is no need for powers to exempt categories from clause 6. If he is unable to go that far, I hope that he will agree that the Secretary of State should not have the power to exempt pregnant 15-year-old girls simply because they get pregnant while in care.

From every discussion that I have held with the Minister, I believe that he must agree that that would send the wrong signal to a vulnerable and exposed group of young people. I am sure that he would join us in wanting to do everything possible to discourage inappropriate behaviour among 15-year-olds, whether in care or not. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that the Bill, when read in conjunction with his comments in Committee, clearly gives a negative signal to 15-year-olds. We must tackle that tonight, notwithstanding the typographical error in drafting amendment No. 9.

I hope that the Minister will deal with the substantive points and acknowledge that there is a simple and adequate opportunity to make the typographical correction when the Bill goes to another place. I am confident that, if amendment No. 9 is accepted, my noble Friends will co-operate in ensuring that the typographical error is corrected.

7.15 pm
Mr. Hutton

It appears that the origins of the amendment are some comments that I made in Committee about pregnant girls leaving care. I shall deal with that point later, and I hope that I can give the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) the assurance that he seeks. If he spent the entire summer expressing anxieties about my words in Committee, I am surprised that he did not raise them with me then. I could have given him the assurance, and we might have spared ourselves some time and effort today.

I shall not deal with the amendments on the basis of their technical drafting. We know what life can sometimes be like in opposition. We all make mistakes with amendments; I have certainly made such mistakes. I want to do the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of giving him a full and proper response to his arguments.

Notwithstanding the comments I have just made, the amendment is horribly defective. We must be clear about that. The attempt to align the definition of disability in the Care Standards Act 2000 with clause 6 of the Bill is a complete failure, because the section that the hon. Gentleman identifies as defining disability does not do that. As defects go, that is rather substantial. However, let us draw a line under that and try to deal with the arguments that he raised.

Amendment No. 9 would replace the general power to make regulations about the groups to be excepted from the new benefits regime with a far more restrictive power, which would identify only two categories of care leavers in the Bill. That approach runs counter to the way in which legislation on social security entitlements has often been drafted in the past. Primary legislation sets out the framework and establishes the principles, and secondary legislation tends to fill in the details. That is important if the law is not to become a blunt instrument. I am not in favour of that, and I am sure that hon. Gentleman is not.

We anticipate that the principles that the measure establishes will stand the test of time. However, matters of detail may change over time. We may find that we need to make minor adjustments in the light of experience. We therefore want to allow for some flexibility in the Bill so that implementation of the new provisions can take advantage of growing experience. That means putting the detail into secondary legislation so that, if necessary, it can be changed in future.

We have been clear throughout that we plan to make exceptions for disabled young people and for lone parents who will continue to be eligible for benefits. The benefit system recognises that they have special needs and permits them to claim benefit when they are living at home with their families. We are trying to treat these young people consistently. The new arrangements will continue to recognise these special needs. I think that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that he recognised these special needs and that the young people concerned should continue to be eligible for these benefits.

I want to correct what the hon. Gentleman may have understood from my remarks in Committee. He was anxious about the matter. It seems that he gained the impression that we intend to exempt pregnant care leavers from the new funding arrangements in the Bill. We do not. I apologise to him and to others if that was their impression. It is technically possible for a pregnant care leaver to be eligible for income support and other benefits on the ground of a disabling condition to which, perhaps, the pregnancy itself might give rise. However, we have made it clear that disability and the fact that a young care leaver is a single parent—a lone parent—will be the conditions that we intend to exercise in terms of coming to a view about who should continue to be eligible for benefit entitlement. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is clear now about our intentions.

For disability, we plan to use the existing Department of Social Security eligibility criteria for claiming income support for the sick and disabled. As we are thinking about who is not to be excluded from benefit, it would be sensible to be consistent with the rules that say who can claim benefit. The amendment, which attempts to provide a new definition of disability, could be confusing. That would not be a helpful way in which to proceed. Definitions should be consistent. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who was a DSS Minister in the previous Administration, might be advancing a similar argument if he were standing in my shoes.

On lone parents, given that we are talking in this context about young people aged 16 and 17, it seems completely otiose to prescribe the age of a child in order for the parent to be able to claim benefits. That is what the amendment would do. Having decided that lone parents are a special group who should have access to benefits, it does not seem right to impose any additional conditions. If they claim income support or jobseeker's allowance, they will be expected to meet the normal conditions of entitlement for the benefit concerned. We see no need, therefore, for extra conditions for this particular group of lone parents.

Interestingly, amendment No. 9 talks in terms of mothers; the Government talk about lone parents. The point of principle on which we consulted in "Me, Survive, Out There?" was that we are setting up new arrangements that mirror as closely as possible the sort of support which young people would normally be able to expect from their parents. In the case of lone parents, their special needs are recognised in that they are able to claim benefit even if they are living at home, and that right is what we are reproducing for lone parents who have been looked after.

It would be a retrograde step to limit the provision to mothers. In reality, it is mothers who will be the ones looking after children—I accept that overwhelmingly that will be the case—however, it is possible that a lone father might be bringing up a child alone.

Mr. Hammond

In care.

Mr. Hutton

Yes, possibly in care. We do not want this legislation to discriminate against any such person. The amendment would allow a mother to continue to claim benefit if she had a child under four years of age, but not a father bringing up a child on his own. I accept that those cases might be exceptionally few and far between, but in fairness to those people we could not accept the amendment. There is no logic or fairness to it.

Under the terms of the Bill, these lone parents will have a young person's adviser, a pathway plan and all the support that will go with that. They will have a needs assessment like any other eligible or relevant child, and their responsible authority will agree with them a package of support, just as it does for anyone else. That package will be devised to meet the young person's individual needs and it will take account of the benefits to which he or she is entitled, just as someone else's pathway plan would take account of any income or resource that was available to them. It would not be helpful to single out this group to impose special conditions on them.

I hope that, at least in one respect, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge might be reassured by my response. It is clear that we have a different view. He prefers a particular way of dealing with the matter in the Bill, and we have tried to provide an alternative approach, which would preserve the issues of principle that he and I share and have in common. I suspect that I might be wrong, but I hope that he will not feel it necessary to push the amendment to a vote. If he insists on voting, I shall strongly advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the amendment.

Mr. Hammond

I am grateful to the Minister for dealing with the substance of the amendment and not seeking to shelter behind a technicality. He has always shown great courage in taking that line in Committee and in the House in dealing with the issues that need to be discussed. However, I am disappointed with his condemnation of our use of the definition of disability that is contained within the Care Standards Act 2000. It seems to be an eminently appropriate definition. It reads that For the purposes of this Act…a person is disabled if…his sight, hearing or speech is substantially impaired;…he has a mental disorder; or…he is physically substantially disabled by any illness, any impairment present since birth or otherwise. That seems to be quite a good definition of disability.

Mr. Hutton

It is a very good definition because I tabled the relevant amendment. However, it is not the definition that the DSS uses in determining eligibility for benefits on the basis of disability. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts the need for some consistency in those cases.

Mr. Hammond

Perhaps that is an argument for joined-up government from the Minister.

The Minister wondered aloud why I had not contacted him during the summer to discuss the confusion that may have arisen in my mind about what he said in Committee. There was no confusion. I do not believe that there was any confusion in the minds of hon. Members on either side of the Committee. The position seems pretty clear. The Minister said: I have made it clear that we intend to exempt lone parents from the benefit entitlement provisions. He added: If such a young person was living at home, he or she would continue to be entitled to benefits. That should apply also to young care leavers who are pregnant. There is not much scope for misinterpretation there.

In response to an intervention from me, he said: Many young girls leaving care are pregnant…I am told that as many as one in four girls who leave care are pregnant. A column later, I said to the Minister: Has he given any thought to what message is sent to young girls aged 15 in local authority care, their co-residents in the children's home and others who are pregnant will anticipate receiving benefit because of the exemption, but those who are not pregnant will not expect benefits? The Minister said: I am not convinced that young women will get pregnant because they might then be entitled to income support. A column later, I said: That sends some strange messages. I do not suggest that 15-year-old girls in care will automatically think that they have one year left in which to become pregnant, but there will be serious consequences to anything that seems to people's peers, however misguidedly, to reward them for a type of behaviour that we would not seek to encourage.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 13 July 2000: c. 137–39.] Nowhere in those exchanges over three columns of Hansard did the Minister seek to retract the statement that he made in column 137 that the exemption should apply also to young care leavers who are pregnant.

The Minister has said that he wants to allow in the Bill for some flexibility in how the Secretary of State seeks to use his power to make exemptions. Having heard what the Minister said in Committee—that he would intend to apply the exemption also to all young care leavers who are pregnant—we specifically do not want to leave the Secretary of State any flexibility in interpreting how he uses the exemption.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 24.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am satisfied that the debate has covered both amendments in the group.

Amendment proposed: No. 9, in page 9, leave out lines 26 and 27 and insert— 'is

  1. (a) disabled within the meaning of section 120(2) of the Care Standards Act 2000, or
  2. (b) a mother of a child under four years of age.
(3A) Where the Secretary of State provides by regulations that this section does not apply to a person by virtue of subsection (3)(b) he may provide by regulations such conditions as he shall determine to be in the best interest of that person and her child and if that person fails to comply with those conditions she shall cease to be a person to whom this section does not apply.'.—[Mr. Hammond.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 312.

Division No. 316] [7.29 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Garnier, Edward
Amess, David Gibb, Nick
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Gill, Christopher
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Baldry, Tony Green, Damian
Bercow, John Greenway, John
Beresford, Sir Paul Grieve, Dominic
Blunt, Crispin Gummer, Rt Hon John
Body, Sir Richard Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Boswell, Tim Hammond, Philip
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hawkins, Nick
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Hayes, John
Brady, Graham Heald, Oliver
Brazier, Julian Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Horam, John
Browning, Mrs Angela Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hunter, Andrew
Burns, Simon Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Butterfill, John Jenkin, Bernard
Cash, William Johnson Smith,
Chope, Christopher Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clappison, James Key, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Collins, Tim Lansley, Andrew
Cormack, Sir Patrick Leigh, Edward
Cran, James Letwin, Oliver
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Lidington, David
Day, Stephen Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Duncan, Alan Loughton, Tim
Duncan Smith, Iain Luff, Peter
Evans, Nigel McIntosh, Miss Anne
Faber, David MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Fabricant, Michael Maclean, Rt Hon David
Fallon, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Flight, Howard Madel, Sir David
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Malins, Humfrey
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Maples, John
Fox, Dr Liam Mates, Michael
Fraser, Christopher Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Gale, Roger May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Norman, Archie Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Ottaway, Richard Taylor, Sir Teddy
Page, Richard Tredinnick, David
Paice, James Trend, Michael
Paterson, Owen Tyrie, Andrew
Pickles, Eric Viggers, Peter
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Walter, Robert
Randall, John Wardle, Charles
Redwood, Rt Hon John Waterson, Nigel
Robathan, Andrew Wells, Bowen
Robertson, Laurence Whitney, Sir Raymond
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Whittingdale, John
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Wilkinson, John
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Willetts, David
Ruffley, David Wilshire, David
St Aubyn, Nick Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Sayeed, Jonathan Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Yeo, Tim
Shepherd, Richard Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Swayne, Desmond Mr. Keith Simpson and
Syms, Robert Mr. James Gray.
Abbott, Ms Diane Chaytor, David
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Chidgey, David
Ainger, Nick Clapham, Michael
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Alexander, Douglas Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Allen, Graham Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Atkins, Charlotte Clwyd, Ann
Austin, John Coaker, Vernon
Baker, Norman Coffey, Ms Ann
Banks, Tony Coleman, Iain
Barnes, Harry Colman, Tony
Barron, Kevin Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bayley, Hugh Cooper, Yvette
Beard, Nigel Corbett, Robin
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Begg, Miss Anne Corston, Jean
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cotter, Brian
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cousins, Jim
Bennett, Andrew F Cox, Tom
Benton, Joe Crausby, David
Best, Harold Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Betts, Clive Cummings, John
Blackman, Liz Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blizzard, Bob Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Darvill, Keith
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Bradshaw, Ben Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Brand, Dr Peter Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Breed, Colin Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dawson, Hilton
Browne, Desmond Dean, Mrs Janet
Buck, Ms Karen Dobbin, Jim
Burgon, Colin Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Burstow, Paul Donohoe, Brian H
Butler, Mrs Christine Doran, Frank
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Drown, Ms Julia
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Efford, Clive
Campbell-Savours, Dale Ellman, Mrs Louise
Caplin, Ivor Ennis, Jeff
Caton, Martin Etherington, Bill
Cawsey, Ian Fearn, Ronnie
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark Livsey, Richard
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flint, Caroline Llwyd, Elfyn
Flynn, Paul Lock, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Love, Andrew
Foulkes, George McAvoy, Thomas
Gardiner, Barry McCabe, Steve
George, Andrew (St Ives) McCafferty, Ms Chris
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McDonagh, Siobhain
Gerrard, Neil Macdonald, Calum
Gibson, Dr Ian McDonnell, John
Gidley, Sandra McFall, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McGuire, Mrs Anne
Godman, Dr Norman A McIsaac, Shona
Godsiff, Roger McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Goggins, Paul Mackinlay, Andrew
Golding, Mrs Llin Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McNulty, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) MacShane, Denis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mactaggart, Fiona
Grocott, Bruce McWalter, Tony
Grogan, John Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mallaber, Judy
Harvey, Nick Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Healey, John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Martlew, Eric
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Maxton, John
Hepburn, Stephen Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Heppell, John Meale, Alan
Hill, Keith Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hinchliffe, David Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hood, Jimmy Miller, Andrew
Hope, Phil Mitchell, Austin
Hopkins, Kelvin Moffatt, Laura
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Howells, Dr Kim Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Morley, Elliot
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John Mountford, Kali
Illsley, Eric Mudie, George
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Mullin, Chris
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jamieson, David Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jenkins, Brian Norris, Dan
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) O'Hara, Eddie
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Olner, Bill
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) O'Neill, Martin
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pearson, Ian
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Perham, Ms Linda
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Pickthall, Colin
Keeble, Ms Sally Pike, Peter L
Keetch, Paul Plaskitt, James
Kemp, Fraser Pond, Chris
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Khabra, Piara S Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Kidney, David Primarolo, Dawn
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
King, Ms Dona (Bethnal Green) Quinn, Lawrie
Kirkwood, Archy Rammell, Bill
Lammy, David Rapson, Syd
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Raynsford, Nick
Laxton, Bob Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Lepper, David Rendel, David
Leslie, Christopher Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Levitt, Tom Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rogers, Allan
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Ruane, Chris Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Ruddock, Joan Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Temple—Morris, Peter
Ryan, Ms Joan Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Salter, Martin Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Sanders, Adrian Tipping, Paddy
Sarwar, Mohammad Todd, Mark
Savidge, Malcolm Tonge, Dr Jenny
Sawford, Phil Trickett, Jon
Sedgemore, Brian Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Shaw, Jonathan Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Shipley, Ms Debra Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Tyler, Paul
Skinner, Dennis Tynan, Bill
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Vis, Dr Rudi
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Webb, Steve
Smith, John (Glamorgan) White, Brian
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Wicks, Malcolm
Snape, Peter Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Soley, Clive Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Southworth, Ms Helen Wills, Michael
Squire, Ms Rachel Winnick, David
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Stevenson, George Woodward, Shaun
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Worthington, Tony
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela Tellers for the Noes:
Stunell, Andrew Mr. Mike Hall and
Sutcliffe, Gerry Mr. David Clelland.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Hammond

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 9, line 41, leave out subsection (7).

At present, the Bill applies only to England and Wales—with the exception of clause 6, which, because social security is a reserved matter, applies to the United Kingdom as a whole.

The Government clearly expect the Scottish Parliament to produce legislation similar to that in the Bill. That is an arrogance in itself. In Committee, when we discussed issues relating to this matter, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) accused me of displaying—in an amendment that I had tabled—a lack of faith in the devolution settlement. He confidently assured me that the Scottish Parliament would ensure that legislation mirroring the Bill was introduced. I understand from my colleagues in Scotland, however, that no progress has been made, and that consultation is still going on.

As the Minister acknowledged in Committee, it is clear that in the Scottish Parliament there is nothing like the consensus in favour of the legislation that exists across the parties in England. Perhaps in a moment the Minister will be able to give us his latest anticipated timetable for getting similar legislation through the Scottish Parliament.

As drafted, clause 6 would be applied in Scotland before legislation equivalent to the rest of the Bill had been passed by the Scottish Parliament. That would mean children leaving care in Scotland being left with no means of support, because clause 6 would withdraw their entitlement to means-tested social security benefits before legislation had entitled them to benefits from local authorities on a model parallel to that established in England and Wales. We all agree that that would be unacceptable.

The Government's solution is not to wait until they can get their act together and ensure that appropriate legislation exists throughout the United Kingdom, but to give themselves a power to prescribe, by order, certain groups that are to be exempt. In our last debate we discussed the exemption of certain groups, such as lone parents and people who are disabled. Clause 6(7), however, specifically enables the Government to exempt groups by providing powers to make different regulations in different areas of the United Kingdom. In other words, it enables the Government to exclude people living in Scotland from the provisions of the clause.

Although social security is a reserved matter—in the devolution settlement, it was considered appropriate that social security matters throughout the United Kingdom should be dealt with by this Parliament—the Government's proposal is to block exempt Scotland from the effect of clause 6. Social security was kept as a reserved matter because it was obvious to those drafting the Scotland Bill that, if social security regimes differed in different parts of the country, it could lead to unfortunate examples of people migrating to find the benefits that were most advantageous to them. It was felt that the appropriate solution was to have a uniform system of benefits throughout the UK.

The fact that the Government have had to seek a regulation-making power to allow them to impose Scotland's exemption from clause 6 highlights a problem in the devolution settlement. The problem arises when legislation comes forward where delegated and reserved areas of policy making interact in a way that will leave one area stranded high and dry if the devolved Parliament does not co-operate with the Government in Westminster to ensure that appropriate legislation is in place in time.

The Government's proposal is to give themselves, through subsection (7), powers to make regulations that make different provisions for different areas and to use the subsection—they have freely admitted that it is their intention—to exclude Scotland. Means-tested cash benefits as an entitlement would continue to be payable in Scotland, although they would not be payable in England.

We have a clear and perhaps genuine disagreement across the House on the likely effects of that. There are those—they spoke both on Second Reading and in Committee—who believe that the entitlement to means-tested cash benefits is not likely to be important to people leaving care, and that they will see the common sense that we all agree on: the package of support on offer from local authorities is likely to be, taken in the round, superior to the value of the cash benefits that are on offer under the social security system. However, common sense tells me that some people at least who are faced with the prospect of leaving care at 16 and who have been expecting to be entitled to receive means-tested cash benefits will not see that arrangement—which requires them to keep in contact with their local authority, to negotiate with it about what they need for their support, how they are going to use and to spend it, what part of it will be cash and what part will be in kind—as a benefit to them.

As I said in the previous debate, common sense tells me that it will be the most vulnerable, the most at risk, who are likely to resist most the move from a cash entitlement benefit to a package of support provided by the local authority. The cash entitlement system gives no-questions-asked cash, albeit perhaps not particularly generous sums, rather than the alternative of accessing support on an agreed basis with an agreed package through the young person's adviser.

I predict that there will be a steady trickle, if not a flood, of young people from England seeking to claim cash benefits in Scotland—perhaps, for example, when there has been some conflict or disagreement between the young person in question and the young person's adviser or the local authority. The Bill's intention is clear—that no cash alternative will be available to care leavers in England and Wales—but the practical effect of creating an exemption for Scotland will be that there is an alternative, always tantalisingly available, to the care leaver in England. That is to go north, to obtain an address in Scotland and then seek access to means-tested social security benefits in Scotland. That seems to be undesirable.

One of the Bill's main purposes has been, rightly, to arrest the drift of children leaving care from areas where they have been brought up and cared for, to London and other big cities—where they are much more vulnerable to people and things that prey on them—and to keep them in contact with their local authorities. We support that objective. It seems to be madness to put in place a mechanism that will offer them an opportunity to access means-tested benefits precisely by moving away from the area where they have been brought up and away from the influence of their local authorities. It seems that that has been done simply to try to paper over the cracks in the devolution settlement, which the Bill has exposed by combining areas that are delegated and areas that are reserved.

The Government cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Shaw

Earlier, the hon. Gentleman referred to agencies that had various concerns about aspects of the Bill. That was one of the reasons why he was tabling amendments. I wonder, in relation to amendment No. 25, whether he has been in contact with any child care agency that feels that there will be a flood from Runnymede to Roxburgh to find those benefits. That is for the birds, as I said in Committee.

Mr. Hammond

The hon. Gentleman's views on the matter are well known to me. I would be more interested in him seeking to deal with the point of principle. It may be a trickle, not a flood. I said that it may be a trickle rather than a flood, but I wonder if it sends the right message to young people leaving care that the Government think that it is right that they should not have access to means-tested cash benefits.

The Government have put in place a system of probably more generous support—we do not know the details yet—but that means that young people leaving care have to keep in contact with their young persons adviser; essentially, they have to negotiate that package with the adviser. The Government argue—I tend to support them in the argument—that that is a positive thing. That will ensure that the young person is better supported and better able to make the transition from being a young person in care to being an adult finding his own way in society, but it is perverse then to create that one loophole.

In Committee, the Minister said that he anticipated a short transition; in other words, he anticipated the period between the introduction of the legislation in England and the passing of similar legislation in Scotland to be short, but, at the same time, he rejected an Opposition amendment that would have required the Secretary of State to give a certificate whereby legislation having substantially the same effect was in place in Scotland before legislation was brought into effect in England, so requiring the Secretary of State to wait until the uniform regime could be applied throughout the UK. It was clearly the intention of the drafters of the Scotland Bill, in reserving social security to this Parliament, to avoid a situation—precisely the one that the Minister proposes to create—where the social security regimes on offer were different in different parts of the UK, creating unnecessary tensions.

The Minister told us that it would be only a short transition period. Perhaps, then, he can tell us precisely when he expects the legislation in Scotland to be passed, how he expects that legislation to be passed, given the different views that prevail in the Scottish Parliament, and why he did not accept a proposal that required legislation to be in place in both countries before the Bill came into effect.

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The Government should wait until they can treat all the people of the United Kingdom similarly on a reserved matter such as social security. Anything less undermines one of the important principles that was established when certain types of legislation were reserved for this Parliament.

Mr. Hutton

The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) started his remarks by expressing concerns about clause 6(7). I assure him that subsection (7) uses a standard form of words for social security legislation, and that its inclusion in the Bill is to allow the Secretary of State the flexibility to react flexibly to future developments. It also allows, for example, the Department of Social Security to pilot new benefit schemes. Therefore, there is nothing alien or fundamentally unsatisfactory about the clause. It is also certainly not in the Bill to exclude Scotland en bloc, as the hon. Gentleman said.

As the hon. Gentleman appreciates, the provisions of clause 6 will commence in England and Wales, but not in Scotland until Scottish legislation is in place. As I said, subsection (7) is simply a standard power in social security legislation to allow that type of flexibility.

The hon. Gentleman's remarks seemed to indicate a concern that the Government envisage that different groups of young people will be exempted from the Bill's benefits provisions in the different countries of Great Britain. I assure him that that is not the case. We intend to re-harmonise benefit provision across Great Britain as soon as it is feasible to do so. I also assure him, in answer to his question, that, on 5 July, Scottish Ministers gave a very firm commitment to introducing legislation providing for support for care leavers as soon as possible—in the next Session of the Scottish Parliament, I believe. Once that has been done, we shall be able to commence the use of the terms of clause 6 of the Bill in Scotland, as it will be commenced in England and Wales.

Mr. Hammond

Surely the Minister does not purport to be able to assure the House that the Scottish Parliament will pass such legislation.

Mr. Hutton

Of course not; that is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. However, the hon. Gentleman asked me when I thought that legislation would be presented to the Scottish Parliament. My information is that it will be introduced in the next Session of the Scottish Parliament.

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman made very clear his feelings about devolution. I think that Labour Members and some Opposition Members have detected where he and other Conservative Members stand on devolution. Although that is not a matter for this debate, I suspect that we shall return to it in the next few months.

The hon. Gentleman believes that some matters were reserved to Westminster to ensure that there could be no possibility of any variation in them across Great Britain. The Bill deals not only with devolved matters—support for children who are being looked after—but with reserved matters—welfare benefits. We have been very careful to keep in close touch with the Scottish and the Welsh devolved Administrations to be quite certain that they are content with the way in which to handle that new complexity. They are so content. We have also been at pains to ensure that no child is accidentally disadvantaged because of the Bill. We are confident that the Bill will achieve that aim.

The Government have made it clear that it is right in principle that social security benefits should be available on a common basis across the country. However, we recognise that there may be occasions when Edinburgh cannot legislate for the same provisions to our own timetable. We need, therefore, to consider the circumstances on a case-by-case basis to decide whether it is essential that the provisions are implemented countrywide. In this case, it is not essential. Rather, we prefer to proceed with implementation of legislation in England and Wales that will benefit very many children for whom the state is responsible and who have to date not always received the best care and support.

Consequently, as is obvious to everyone, there will be a transitional period in which benefit entitlement for 16 and 17-year-olds who have been looked after will be different on either side of the Scottish border. The Government agree that the sooner entitlement can be harmonised, the better. However, we do not believe that it would be right to deprive English and Welsh looked-after children of all the benefits of the Bill's provisions, which have received widespread support in both Houses of Parliament and more widely during the Bill's passage. The Government have also been at pains to ensure that, during the transitional period, no child will find himself disqualified for support when he moves across the Scottish border in either direction.

The principle is clear: we do not propose to hold up implementation in England and Wales. The practicality will be that the traditional period will be short. As I said, we have assurances from Scottish Ministers that they will legislate for Scotland at the earliest possible opportunity.

We had a long and extensive debate on this issue in Committee. I hope that I have been able to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we intend to proceed with implementation in England as soon as we can, from next April, because the benefits for English and Welsh children are very substantial. We hope to re-harmonise the situation in Scotland at the earliest possible opportunity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Hammond

The Minister talked about needing flexibility in the Bill to deal with future developments. However, it has been made very clear—I do not think that the Minister would deny it—that subsection (7) will be used to deal with the transitional phase.

It is simply not good enough for Ministers to wheel out the devolution slur every time we raise issues that are bound to arise as we all get used to dealing with the situation that has been created by the Scotland Act 1998. We are exploring what happens when the House is asked to consider legislation in which—this Bill may be the first such example—most of the provisions deal with devolved matters, for which the Scottish Parliament has full authority and jurisdiction, but one provision deals with a reserved matter.

We have to address the issues of timing and of United Kingdom Ministers' inability to give assurances on the passage of appropriate legislation in the other Parliament. I think that it was right to raise the issue. I also do not think that the Minister's comments on devolution and on my comments in Committee will bear scrutiny. By highlighting the issue, we are pointing up—and will continue to point up, whenever the need arises—the inherent instability of the devolution settlement and the need continuously to address such issues.

I entirely agree with the Minister when he says that he does not want to deprive Welsh and English children of the legislation's benefits simply because of any tardiness in the Scottish Parliament. I entirely understand his motivation in saying that.

In requesting to withdraw my amendment—although I am far from satisfied—I simply say that the Minister has today demonstrated the confusion in the Government's legislative programme. He told us that, when this Bill was being drafted, it was intended that it should receive Royal Assent and be implemented before the Care Standards Act 2000. Events, however, have been the other way around. One might think that the Government should be in sufficient control of their legislative programme to be able at least to determine which of their measures is implemented first. The Minister is now asking us to believe that he can give effective assurances—a nod and a wink—on what will happen in the Scottish Parliament.

The Minister may have different information from mine, but my understanding is that—although Scottish Ministers have been given orders by No. 10 Downing street that they have to have legislation mirroring this Bill as soon as possible—the arithmetic in Scotland and the views held there on the withdrawal of cash entitlement benefits from 16 and 17-year-olds are such that the Minister cannot predict with confidence that that legislation will be passed.

Dr. Brand

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there might be a Machiavellian plot to phase the transfer? If it results in a flood of care leavers moving to Scotland to go onto benefits, would that not be a powerful incentive for the Scottish Parliament to pass the same legislation?

Mr. Hammond

No, I think not. Having made the point—it has been made before, as the Minister rightly said—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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