Amendments of Supplementary Benefits Act 1976

Orders of the Day — Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 19th March 1980.

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Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead 4:45 pm, 19th March 1980

I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 31, line 24, at end insert: '(aa) in subsection (1) after the word "Britain" there shall be inserted the words: "who has a dependent child or who is".'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 41, in page 46, line 41, after 'Britain' insert: 'who has a dependent child or who is'.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

We hope that the Government will accept this small amendment. Under the Bill schoolgirls aged 16 years and over will be able to claim benefit in their own right. Amendment No. 16 seeks to allow schoolgirls under the age of 16 to draw benefit in their own right. We seek further clarification on the partial assurances that the Under-Secretary of State gave in Committee. One of the more valid arguments involved girls who are under or over 16 who become pregnant. That may be undesirable but, sadly, it happens. In the Bill there are two classes of schoolgirl mothers—those who can claim benefit in their own right and those who cannot.

It is important to draw the Government's attention to other provisions elsewhere in the Bill which have a bearing on the welfare and livelihood of the youngest mothers in our society. Under the present Act, if the parents of a schoolgirl mother do not receive benefit themselves the young mother might be eligible for an exceptional needs payment. However, exceptional needs payments are to be withdrawn from those who are not in receipt of benefit.

Under the Act, mothers under the age of 15 receive a little help from the Supplementary Benefits Commission, not an allowance in their own right but an exceptional needs payment which they will lose if their parents are working. They will not lose it if the young mother's parents are on supplementary benefit because the parents will be able to claim for their daughter and their grandchild.

We seek clarification on the comments which the Under-Secretary made in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) asked how we could defend a situation where two schoolgirl mothers at the same school—one over 16 and one under 16—receive different benefits. One will receive a benefit in her own right and the other will not. If that girl's parents are in work, she will not even receive help from the Commission. The Under-Secretary of State said: I accept the force of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I cannot promise to meet his points, but I promise to have a look at them."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E; 12 February 1980; c. 557–8.] Dr. Johnson said that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrated the mind wonderfully. Similarly with amendments on Report it often helps the Minister's mind wonderfully to recall partial undertakings given in Committee if a relevant amendment is tabled by the Opposition. That is why amendment No. 16 stands on the Amendment Paper.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey 5:30 pm, 19th March 1980

It seems that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and I are having a re-run of our debates in Committee and the hon. Gentleman is right. I said that I would have a look at this issue. I am well aware that many Labour Members as well as groups such as the Child Poverty Action Group and the National Council for One-Parent Families have argued forcefully for a long time that supplementary benefit should be payable to young mothers under the age of 16.

We had a long debate on this subject in Committee and I have since written to the hon. Member for Birkenhead and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on this and other issues. I hope that I have now managed to clear up a few points which I was then unable to deal with. We were debating the issue at 6 am on that day.

In Committee the hon. Member for Stockport, North asked whether a mother who became 16 during her last year at school would qualify. The answer is "Yes." Benefit will in future be payable for her own requirements as well as for those of her child or children. At present the Supplementary Benefits Commission meets the requirements of her children only and benefit is paid through the grandparents as at present.

I listened to the hon. Member for Birkenhead and I am sympathetic to the plight of the very young mother, but we remain convinced that it would not be right to pay supplementary benefit to people under 16. We must remember that in any scheme there must be a point of entry and the age of 16 has been the entry point for supplementary benefit ever since the scheme was introduced. It was the same with its predecessor, the national assistance scheme, from 1948.

The review team said in "Social Assistance" that the basic rule should remain. The vast majority of those responding to the review agreed. They did not dissent from the view that the entry age should be at 16.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

When we in the CPAG responded to the document we did not know that the one form of help which could be given to the very young mother—the exceptional needs payment—especially if her parents were in work, would be withdrawn.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I accept that the hon. Gentleman may not have linked the two aspects of reform of the supplementary benefit system together with "Social Assistance". I think that it became quite clear in the consideration of that report, and many of the submissions received as a result of the report, that not only were matters concerning exceptional needs payments—to be discussed in later amendments—likely to affect this sort of issue but that the whole of the supplementary benefit system was inextricably inter-linked. Therefore, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make the comment that he has.

If we are to lower the age at which a young person can claim supplementary benefit, where should we stop? How low should the age be? I find myself in great difficulty. Some people would say that any young mother, whatever her age, should be able to claim and that the age should perhaps come down to 13, 12 or even 11 years. I believe that that would make a nonsense of the system. There must be a limit, and I still believe that the appropriate limit is 16 bearing in mind all the assurances which I gave in Committee and which I have given since by letter.

If a young mother is under the age of 16, benefit can obviously be obtained for her through her parents if her parents are on supplementary benefit. I suggest that it is in those cases that the greatest need lies.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

The Under-Secretary spoke of the area of greatest need. Let us consider the case of the family whose income is only £2 or £3 a week above supplementary benefit level. Even if there is a baby in that household, the family still do not qualify. Their need might be far greater than that of almost any other group, because it is the income of the grandparents that counts and not the income of the young mother.

Such a girl might find herself at school alongside another girl six months older who is in exactly the same circumstances and who receives benefit in her own right.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

There is always difficulty in establishing a dividing line. We have said already that if a family was in low-paid work and entitled to family income supplement there would be an entitlement for the grandchild. I know that the hon. Member for Birkenhead accepts that. However, there must be a limit below which supplementary benefit cannot be claimed. I concede that there will be difficulties in some cases. However, if we lowered the age to 15 the same difficulties would remain at the margin as are marginally present at the moment. At a time when we are trying hard to simplify the rules covering supplementary benefit, every special difference that we create will make the situation more difficult and lead us back towards the problems that have developed over the years as the supplementary benefit system has become more and more refined almost to the point of dealing with individual cases.

I realise that I am unable to meet the wishes of the hon. Members for Birkenhead and Stockport, North. I do not expect to on this issue. I am trying to explain that I believe for a young mother under 16 with a small child the entitlement to benefit should be through her parents. There is another aspect which has been mentioned and which I know is not accepted by many hon. Members. I think it is right to put it on the record because a sufficient number of commentators have suggested that to pay supplementary benefit to young people below the age of 16 might encourage the parting of a young mother from her parents. I know that the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) does not accept this, but there is a sizeable number of people who have said that this is a valid argument and that we should seek to encourage a young mother to stay with her family.

Although the cost of the amendment is not—

Photo of Mr James Dempsey Mr James Dempsey , Coatbridge and Airdrie

As the Under-Secretary develops her reply, can she supply any information or figures showing the cost of such a scheme if we pay benefit to expectant mothers under the age of 16?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

This is not just a matter of costs in relation to expectant mothers. We are concerned with the costs involved with young mothers under 16 and their child dependants. The cost would be about £1 million.

I was about to say that that cost would not be high compared with that of other amendments. However, there is a greater problem. If we bring the right to entitlement to below the age of 16, we shall find that more and more pressure is brought to persuade us to change other rules. With the simplification of the system, I do not believe that, because there is an entitlement for young mothers to claim through parents where parents are on supplementary benefit and the possibility that families on family income supplement can claim for the grandchild, this amendment is the best way to handle what is a social problem. I feel that we should seek better ways of solving the problem and I hope that the House will, therefore, reject the amendment.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

The trouble is that the Minister has not even suggested the better ways either in Committee or today.

We understand the anxieties which are expressed in different quarters about the alteration which has been proposed. I cannot accept that administrative convenience should be the deciding factor—namely, that it might lead to pressure to change other rules. As a rule of thumb statement, I put it to the Minister, if what we propose in the amendment for the under-16 mother were accepted—that is, that she should qualify for supplementary benefit—it would be possible to apply in this circumstance what I would describe as a circumstantial rule: that mothers should qualify as appropriate for supplementary benefit without an age bar. In other words, in this respect we should move away from the age rule and say that it shall be a circumstantial rule. My suggestion is that we maintain the 16-plus rule with the exclusion or qualification that mothers under the age of 16 shall, without an age bar, qualify.

The Minister said that this is not important in the end, because if girls under that age are living with their parents and those parents qualify for supplementary benefit, appropriate additions can be allowed for.

First, I say, I think correctly—I speak without having checked the details in the period since the Bill left Committee—that that would not produce an equivalent supplementary benefit in line with that which would arise if an individual supplementary benefit were allowed for in the rules. That is significant to start with.

The Minister then said that if the parents are not on supplementary benefit but are on family income supplement, as grandparents they could qualify for the appropriate addition for a grandchild. Three points arise. First, even where they would qualify, it would be at a lower rate than would be paid by way of supplementary benefit to the mother and child. Secondly, it does not allow for provision for the young mother—only for the grandchild. Thirdly, the rate of take-up of family income supplement is very low. I have forgotten what the figure is. I think that it is about 80 per cent.; it may have risen recently.

The criteria to qualify for family income supplement are low. I do not intend at this stage of our proceedings to go into the details. Many people on low incomes do not qualify for FIS. That has been one of the problems about take-up in the past. For those reasons, I do not think that we can say that the alternatives are satisfactory.

My suggestion—that we create a circumstantial rule, a mother and child rule, which may be the only exception from the 16-plus rule for qualifying for supplementary benefit—would and could work and should be adopted as a matter of principle and practice.

In Committee, the Minister broadly accepted the force of my argument that it is nonsense to have a girl of 16 giving birth to a child and qualifying for supplementary benefit and another girl of 15 in the same school—possibly in the same class—in similar circumstances not qualifying for supplementary benefit.

The Minister referred to the social implications raised by commentators—those who responded to the review team's report. The suggestion was that, were we to alter the rules so that mothers under the age of 16 qualified for supplementary benefit, we would be weakening the prospect of them staying with their families. I have yet to see evidence in support of that suggestion.

We all to a large extent speak circumstantially on the basis of our own impressionistic experience of cases. There is some evidence that many girls in that situation not only have weak links with their families, but are already living apart from their parents. Some do not have any family connections at all, as I know from cases with which I have had to deal in my constituency—cases which have to be dealt with by social workers and others. The Minister must know that a large proportion within this minority already have very weak links with their families and get little support emotionally, socially, physically and financially from their parents or their families generally.

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Therefore, that argument—that by giving them the support that supplementary benefit would give would weaken family links—is weak in itself. There is evidence that, at least in some parts of London, the links have already been broken.

I have spoken at greater length than I intended, because I expected a more positive response from the Minister. This is not a question of public expenditure. I realise that there are implications, but I hope that I am right in believing that is not the reason for the Government refusing to change their mind on this matter. They have stood by their position, although they have reflected upon it. Whatever we say, we shall not get them to change their position, but I hope that what we say in this brief exchange, compared with the lengthier one that we had in Committee between 5 am and 6 am—not till 6 am in the morning on 12 February—will lead the Government to reflect further. They have the capacity, under the powers in the Bill, to change the regulations. It is clear that they will not do so tonight. We stand by our views and hope that they will change their mind if not today certainly when they look at the regulations in future and see that there is strength in our argument.

I fear that the central reason for objecting to the change is a pre-conception—a prejudice—about the age rule. I repeat, there should be a circumstantial rule—a mother and child rule—which may be the only breach of the 16-plus rule. I suggest that the Minister should reconsider the matter in that light.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

In some ways I should like to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in pressing the amendment, but in other ways I have reservations. I have spent some time thinking carefully about this matter since the Bill left Committee. I think that the Government ought to look carefully at support for both the young girl with a child and the expectant mother in this age group. It is not satisfactory to say, as my right hon. Friend suggested, that the test should be the mother with the child. I think that we must take into account the expectant mother as well.

I am concerned that the Government are taking away from the school-leaver the right to benefit until a set time after leaving school. There could be a serious problem for the expectant mother who leaves school, possibly at Whitsun or Easter, and is told that she is not entitled to supplementary benefit until the end of the next holidays. That can be 12 weeks if it is the end of the summer holidays. A girl who is seven or eight months pregnant will obviously not be able to search for a job in that time and she will not be entitled to supplementary benefit.

The Government should consider carefully all the regulations which affect girls in that age group, whether she be a 15-year-old with a child, a 16-year-old with a child, or an expectant mother. The Government must ensure that they have an adequate income and are not dependent upon parental approval or disapproval. Girls in that age group could face great difficulties if their income were paid to the parent or grandparent who, because they disapproved of their behaviour, withheld that income from them or did not spend it on them.

Another problem arises where the parent or grandparent has little money. A girl may experience difficulty arising from a mixture of too little resources and parental disapproval.

I hope that the Government will agree to consider the whole issue thoroughly. If they will not accept the amendment, I hope that they will agree to deal with the problem at some later stage, possibly in another place. They must provide for the 15-year-old mother with a child and the expectant mother who, because of the change in the regulations for claiming benefit for school leavers, find themselves without sufficient support. A position may occur where such a person may leave school at Easter but is not entitled to claim supplementary benefit until 1 September, although she may be seven or eight months pregnant and in no position to seek work to earn the means to provide for herself.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I beg to move Government amendment No. 18, in page 32, line 36 leave out 'receiving' and insert 'entitled or would if he satisfied prescribed conditions he entitled to'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 19, in page 32, line 36 after 'allowance' insert 'or to whom section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948 applies'.

Government amendment No. 43.

Amendment No. 44, in page 48, line 6 after 'allowance', insert 'or to whom section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948 applies'.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

Amendment No. 18, and its Keeling schedule equivalent—amendment No. 43—seek to broaden people's eligibility for exceptional needs payments from those who are already receiving supplementary benefits, as presently drafted, to those who are entitled to them.

These amendments are the result of representations made to us by organisations representing local authorities, directors of social services and the disabled, as well as the point made by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in Committee.

As presently drafted, the Bill will enable exceptional needs payments to be awarded only to people who are receiving a weekly benefit, either a supplementary pension or a supplementary allowance. That means that anyone entitled to a weekly supplementary pension or allowance who did not want to take it up—for example, because the amount payable was very small—but who wanted help by way of an exceptional needs payment would be ineligible for it. That position is not satisfactory, and these amendments meet the case made. They provide that exceptional needs payments may be payable to all those who are entitled to supplementary benefit, not only those who are receiving it.

I should explain that there is nothing sinister in the proviso that the person must satisfy prescribed conditions. All that is intended here is that he could not be entitled to benefit unless he satisfied the conditions of the claims and payments regulations by providing information, and so on. That has been a regular feature of regulations on this matter for many years.

I hope that the House will welcome these amendments. I shall ask the House to resist amendments Nos. 19 and 44, because amendment No. 18 goes some way towards helping those of the disabled who are not actually receiving supplementary benefit but who are entitled to receive it.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

We welcome Government amendment No. 18 because it goes some way towards meeting some of the anxieties that Labour Members expressed in Committee, and the anxieties expressed by many of the groups who made representations. I hoped that the Government would have gone further and included the provision advocated in amendment No. 19. I was disappointed that they did not.

A letter from the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation was passed to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). It was on the suggestion of that association that we tabled amendment No. 19. It is concerned with the disabled person's income, which is just above the supplementary benefit level.

As I understand the matter, the Government are saying, that those who are entitled to the exceptional needs payment but do not receive it—even if it is only a few pence—will be covered by this regulation, but that the disabled person whose income is just above the supplementary benefit will not be considered for that payment. However, under existing regulations these people sometimes qualify for such payments.

I find it disturbing that the Government have decided to take away the possibility of exceptional needs payments from a substantial number of the disabled. It is a little unfortunate that some of the disabled lobby did not make their representations to Back Benchers on both sides of the Committee at an earlier date. I have received complaints that we debated some of the points relating to the disabled on the wrong clauses or sub-sections. The disabled lobbyists were lucky that we managed to make any contribution on their behalf because their representations were received too late. Had we received them earlier, we could have discussed them when debating more suitable clauses.

The Minister should be prepared to accept amendment No. 19 to ensure that those disabled whose incomes are just above supplementary benefit level, but who may need an exceptional needs payment, will qualify for such a payment. That would cost only a small amount. It is the sort of area where a concession could be made. If the Government do not wish to make such a concession now, perhaps it could be considered further in another place.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

I welcome the small change that the Government have made. As I understand amendment No. 18, those persons, especially pensioners, who trans- ferred to rent and rate rebates because they would be marginally better off, might be covered by the change that is listed in amendment No. 18.

Will the Minister say more about the prescribed conditions? I thought that the Government's concession would go a little beyond the outline which the Minister gave when introducing the amendment. I hoped that prescribed conditions would cover the working poor—those whose wage packets were less than the supplementary benefit level but who, because they were in full-time employment, were not eligible. There is more concern on both sides of the House about disfranchising that group—those who earn their poverty—than about any other change that the Government are proposing on the benefits levels. Will the prescribed conditions cover the working poor, and those who have transferred to rent and rate rebates?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, quite rightly, that there are some pensioners who have chosen to take a rent and rate rebate through their local authority but who, from November this year—when the supplementary benefit system will be changed by this legislation, subject to the consent of both Houses—may be better off on supplementary allowances. That would give them their entitlement to exceptional needs payments, if that should be necessary.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that we are considering this whole issue in the second stage of the Supplementary Benefits Commission's review of housing benefits. Therefore, for the time being this will be so, but I cannot say that it will be an immutable rule which will be unchanged in the future. However despondent the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) may be about progress on the vexed question of housing benefits, I can assure him of our determination and resolve to sort out this increasingly knotty problem.

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The hon. Member for Birkenhead also asked about prescribed conditions. As I understand it, on claims and regulations we cannot do what he asks. We well understand the plight of those persons in full-time work who are just below the supplementary benefit level and do not have children. If they had children they would probably be entitled to family income supplement. I am aware that some people do not claim FIS, but we are trying to improve the take-up of that benefit. The prescribed conditions referred to in this amendment may not solve that part of the problem. That would have to be tackled on a different part of the Bill if we were so minded to change the situation.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East

I have been informed that there are a number of people who are being rehoused or considered for re-housing from some of the hostels and reception centres into ordinary housing who have had difficulty in getting the exceptional needs payments for furnishing their accomodation. Obviously they would have such difficulty because of their history. If this is true will the Minister see that that is rectified, and that these people are included in the prescribed conditions referred to in the amendment.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I can assure the right hon. Member that this matter is being looked into and where there is a problem it will be rectified.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I beg to move amendment No. 22 in, page 33, line 12 after 'subsection', insert 'except a sum as to which it has been determined in accordance with regulations that it is not to be recovered in pursuance of this subsection,'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this we may take amendment No. 23 in, page 33, line 13 after 'State', insert in prescribed 'circumstances'. and Government amendments Nos. 46 and 47.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The Government amendment is a result of much of the time that we spent during two sittings of the Committee stage discussing various Opposition amendments relating to the recovery of urgent needs payments.

Two points were made in particular. First the Opposition felt that it should be made abundantly clear in regulations that there would be no requirement to repay an urgent needs payment where a person was not, on financial grounds, in a position to repay. Members also drew attention to the omission of the current provision whereby it is the Supplementary Benefits Commission which decides, with a right of appeal, whether to recover benefit, having regard to whether recovery is "equitable". We also had a lengthy and somewhat confusing discussion—not always illuminated by constant references to the Oxford English Dictionary—about the precise meaning of the provisions in section 4. I undertook to do my level best to sort out the various problems, difficulties and misunderstandings that had arisen, and to come forward with proposals at Report stage. This amendment meets that undertaking.

The amendment enables the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the situations in which urgent needs payments will not be recoverable. Under those regulations, taken with section 2(1) of the Act as it will be amended, it will be for a supplementary benefit officer to decide whether the prescribed circumstances apply. Under section 15 of the Act there will, therefore, be a right of appeal.

The prescribed circumstances will broadly follow the existing rules laid down by the Supplementary Benefits Commission in the exercise of its power to recover payments where it is equitable. Thus, the regulations will cover the waiving of recovery where only small amounts of benefit are at stake, and where a person has only a low income, judged by supplementary benefit standards. The commission may also waive recovery where it is simply not a practicable proposition. For example, where urgent needs payments have been made to relieve distress arising from natural disasters, there will often have been no opportunity to make more than minimal investigations into the financial circumstances of the recipient. In such situations it may be quite unrealistic to contemplate recovery, given the lack of information.

Putting these rules into regulations will achieve their full publication for the first time. I can also undertake that an explanation of the regulations in this area will appear in the new handbook to be published on the authority of the Secretary of State. I hope that Government amendment No. 22, and No. 46 which runs with it, will meet all the requests made on this point by hon. Members in Committee.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

Could the Minister indicate why her amendment is better than Opposition amendment No. 23? Ours contains fewer words and it is clearer.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The House knows that I am not a lawyer. Given time, I am sure that I could get legal advice from someone who could tell me why the Government amendment is superior in its wording. Perhaps it has the right commas in the right places. At the moment I am afraid that I cannot give an exact explanation.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

Will the Minister confirm that Government amendment No. 23 does everything that we meant to do? Is she sure that she is not providing just half a loaf instead of the whole loaf for which we asked?

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I do not want to get involved in a discussion on the loaves and fishes. We are seeking to do all that the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) asked for in Committee. Even if our amendments in minutiae are not exactly the same, the intention is the same.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

The Minister did not clear up some of the issues that we raised in Committee. For example, what is the definition of "low income"? Is it around the supplementary benefit level or is it below that level?

The other question which concerned us in Committee was that of the urgent needs payment to single strikers who returned to work. We pressed the Minister on whether they would be exempted from the recovery provisions.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I find it difficult to say any more on this issue than I said clearly in Committee on the night of 19 February between 11 pm and 11.30 pm. I have checked the reference and that is why I can give the time and date of my remarks so accurately.

I said then that the current practice was that exceptional hardship would be recreated by recovery in cases of extreme distress. It would be unwise to seek recovery in those circumstances. I cannot foretell what any future legislation may do, but on this aspect of this Bill I stand by what I said on 19 February.

The definition of low income would be supplementary benefit level. We have had many debates about this and the question of where the line should be drawn has been raised often. I cannot see any interpretation other than the level of entitlement to benefit.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 34, line 24, after 'Act', insert 'but not solely by virtue of section 17 (1) (c) of this Act'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this we may discuss amendment No. 48, in page 50, line 8 after 'Act' insert 'but not solely by virtue of section 17 (1) (c) of this Act'.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

Amendment No. 24 would prevent the possibility of a person who sponsored an immigrant being sent to a re-establishment centre if he failed to support the immigrant. The matter was debated in Committee when we discussed a similar amendment. The Under-Secretary of State said in reply to the debate that the amendment was based on a misconception, and that such directions could not apply to sponsors of immigrants. I am sure that she believed that to be true. However, Labour Members have checked on it, and either it is not true—I am not calling the hon. Lady an untruthful person—or the Bill is written wrongly. The Under-Secretary is wrong. Section 10 of the Supplementary Benefits Act, as amended by the Bill, provides that an unemployed supplementary benefit claimant can be directed to attend a re-establishment centre if it appears to a benefit officer that the person refuses or neglects to maintain himself or any other person who, for the purposes of the Act, he is liable to maintain.

At present, the only people whom a claimant is liable to maintain are his wife and children. In future, if the Bill is is enacted, he will also be liable to maintain an immigrant whom he sponsors. If he fails to do that, section 10 will apply in the same way as it would have applied if he had failed to maintain his wife and children. That must be unintentonal. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State genuinely thought that she was right in saying that our amendment was based on a misconception. But that is our understanding of the matter, and it is the understanding of experts whom we have consulted.

I have received a letter—perhaps the hon. Lady has received a similar letter—from three of the immigrant organisations, protesting bitterly. I should like to read the letter into the record. It is signed by the national president of the Indian Workers Association, Great Britain, the national president of the Bangladesh Workers Association, United Kingdom, and the general secretary of the Kashmiri Workers Association, United Kingdom. It says: We the undersigned, representing the organisations named, are deeply concerned at the news of the introduction of the Social Security Bill to be debated on 19 March 1980.The people of New Commonwealth countries who have settled in Britain have already been the subject of discriminatory policies of successive governments in the form of restrictive and racist laws. The proposed Social Security Bill is yet another addition to the discriminatory legislative practices of the present Government. It is, in fact, yet another Immigration Bill in disguise.In our view the Bill is a blatant attack on human rights, condemning the people from the New Commonwealth countries settled here in the United Kingdom in general and in particular condemning those who are contemplating to visit their relatives in this country to the roost degrading treatment. Those people feel the same way about this part of the Bill as Labour Members. They continue: It makes the sponsor liable for prosecution if his sponsored relatives resort to financial assistance from the Social Security. The consequence of which can result in the imposition of heavy fines, imprisonment and may ultimately lead to deportation of both the sponsor and his relatives. They continue by saying that such treatment is contrary to the canons of the Helsinki Agreement, and so on.

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If the Under-Secretary of State was convinced that the Bill would not have that effect, I should have thought that she would have happily accepted our amendment, which seeks to put the matter beyond reasonable doubt. She has raised many doubts among Labour Members, and in the minds of immigrant organisations. I am sure that she does not wish to make them feel—whatever they may feel already, particularly in view of the introduction of immigration rules—that the Bill contains any provision that is racist and discriminatory against minority communities.

I shall be interested to hear the comments of the hon. Lady on whether she feels that our amendment will help to put the matter straight beyond reasonable doubt.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

We debated this matter in Committee, and we were dissatisfied with the Minister's reply. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said, after consultation with outside experts we remain equally concerned.

The amendment is based on a case that the Child Poverty Action Group fought at the tribunal stage. An immigrant family had brought relatives into Britain, and it gave an undertaking that it would support the relatives. I do not think that any hon. Member will disagree that, if an undertaking was given, it should have been kept, if the immigrant family had the resources to do so. However, as we explained to the Minister in Committee, entrepreneurs are sometimes galvanised into action, and sometimes they are galvanised into inaction. As a result of falling upon hard times the whole family became dependent on supplementary benefits. Because of the undertaking given by the family, the commission refused to support the sponsored immigrant, and pursued the immigrant's family through the courts.

As we understand the Bill, the measures that can be taken against people who do not maintain themselves and those whom they are liable to maintain are as set out in the previous Act. One measure that can be used against such groups of claimants is to send them to a re-establishment centre. We cannot fathom how immigrant claimants who, with the best will in the world, have given an undertaking, to support a sponsored relative and then cannot meet that sponsorship will not be treated in that way.

Perhaps part of our anxiety will be set at rest if the Minister puts on record that those measures will not apply if the immigrants are able to show to the Supplementary Benefits Commission—or whatever the new body will be called—that they do not have the resources to meet the commitments into which they entered in good faith and that, not only will the sponsored immigrants have a right to benefit but that they will not be pursued through the normal channels.

We tabled this amendment because the position was still not clear after we had debated the matter in Committee. We then consulted outside experts and lawyers. They believe that, as the Bill is drafted, the immigrant who has been sponsored will have to be pursued through the tribunals and sent to a re-establishment centre. We do not believe that that is the Government's intention. We should like the Government to put on record that that is not their intention, and, even better, we should like them to accept our amendment.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I shall first explain the position about how section 10 will apply, then I shall come to the amendment and finally I shall deal with the individual questions.

Section 10 of the Supplementary Benefits Act, as amended by the Bill, will provide for a benefit officer to issue a direction to attend a course of instruction or training, but before that could be done two conditions would need to be satisfied. First, the person so directed has to be in receipt of supplementary benefit and registered for employment. Second, that person must be refusing or neglecting to maintain himself or some other person whom he is liable under the Act to maintain.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the direction cannot apply to the sponsor of an immigrant relative where the sponsor is himself receiving benefit and is for that reason alone unable to honour his undertaking. In the normal way, of course, such a sponsor would not he receiving supplementary benefit and there could be no question of a section 10 direction being imposed on him. But even if he is getting benefit, as I have explained, before a direction could be considered the other condition would need to apply—that is, that the person sponsoring is deliberately evading his responsibility, either to maintain himself or his relative.

It is conceivable that a sponsor could satisfy both conditions, and it would then be open to the benefit officer to consider imposing a section 10 direction. But in practice that is a remote possibility. The important point is that receipt of supplementary benefit would on its own give no grounds under the Act for imposing a direction. I said in Committee that an amendment with a similar purpose was unnecessary. I think that the same applies to this amendment.

I was able to give only a brief assurance in Committee and I understand the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) when she read out the petition, a copy of which I have seen only in the last 10 minutes. I understand, too, what the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has been saying.

We have given further consideration to what was said in Committee, and although someone in the future may want to change the legislation, the Bill embodies these two firm conditions, both of which have to be satisfied before the section 10 direction can be given by a supplementary benefits officer. It follows, therefore, that a direction cannot be imposed solely because a sponsor is on benefit. That appears to me to be the area causing concern to the Labour Members who have spoken and to my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens), who cannot be with us at the moment but who has written to me at some length about this matter. I was able to give him and the Commission for Racial Equality in Hammersmith the reassurances they sought.

There is, therefore, no basis for the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Birkenhead and by the immigrant communities. If a sponsor's circumstances changed there would be no question of attempting recovery of benefit. That applies as in the case of other liable relatives. Recovery of benefit can be attempted only where the relative is in a position to provide support. In the same way that I have already described, the two conditions which would govern the potential issuing of a section 10 direction would both have to be satisfied and that occurrence is a remote possibility.

I hope that I have been able to allay the fears of Labour Members, and that they will seek the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 37, line 33, at end insert— '(l) as to the circumstances to be taken into account by a benefit officer in deciding whether a man and a woman who are not married to each other are an unmarried couple'.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this we may take amendment No. 49, in page 54, line 12, at end insert— '(l) as to the circumstances to be taken into account by a benefit officer in deciding whether a man and a woman who are not married to each other are an unmarried couple'.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

The amendment deals with the cohabitation rule, as it is often described. Its aim would be to ensure that the criteria for deciding whether a couple are living together as husband and wife are published in full and that they are subject to scrutiny both by Parliament and the advisory committee.

It is important that people should be able to see exactly what the rules are. That sentiment is supposed to be one of the major arguments in favour of the changes by which the rules will be seen by people and, we hope, understood.

The Minister for Social Security told us at the thirteenth sitting of the Standing Committee that the criteria set up in the Supplementary Benefits Commission's administration paper "Living Together as Husband and Wife" would continue to be used as guidance for officers. It is not clear whether, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply, they would be used as an administrative guidance, to be set out in an A code, or as policy guidance to be issued to chief supplementary benefit officers, or whether it was to be published for everyone to examine. The amendment is aimed at discovering how the guidance will be set out.

If they are simply to be policy guidance, there is no reason to assume that the new officers would accept the guidance which now exists. However, the essential factor is that it should be set out in a published form, and not just as a potted version in a supplementary benefits handbook.

The whole idea in the White Paper was that the rules would be clearly set out. I hope that the Minister will tell us that in this particularly difficult area all the rules, not just a potted version of them, will be published, and that there will not be administrative guidance interpreting the rules to the advantage of those enforcing them and to the disadvantage of the claimants.

I hope that it will be possible for people to get hold of the supplementary benefits handbook without difficulty, but particularly for groups who want to advise claimants to get hold of the legislation relating to supplementary benefits. I understand that it now costs £20 to get full copies of the legislation on this subject. That information was contained in an answer I received from the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, earlier this week. That is a large sum to have to pay out to obtain basic information about regulations and the law.

I therefore hope that the Minister will assure us that we shall be able to get all the regulations, and that there will not be a secret A code or some other guidance that will be kept from the general public and claimants in particular.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

Perhaps I should not be frivolous about the hon. Member for St. Pancras North (Mr. Stallard) since he has now gone, but he seemed to be suggesting to his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that perhaps there was an exceptional need for him to have the legislation to which he was referring.

I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Stockport, North that the cost of supplementary benefits legislation is quite high. Perhaps the way in which we ate trying to simplify the law will benefit those who want to understand it. If we simplify it there will be less of it and that will mean that it will be less expensive.

The hon. Member wants all the rules and regulations to be set out as clearly as possible. I had hoped that Labour Members had accepted during our debate in Standing Committee on 21 February on cohabitation that the guidelines to which the commission's officers are required to have regard are working well in practice. After the change made in 1978, many people concerned with this subject felt that the new guide was probably working better than the old. The guidelines are clearly set out in the Supplementary Benefits Commission's administration paper No. 5 entitled "Living Together as Husband and Wife". My right hon. Friend the Minister assured the Committee that we would continue to rely for guidance to officers on that Supplementary Benefits Commission's administration paper. I can reconfirm that.

One of the difficulties is that if every guideline is published in regulations we shall get into major tangles with the law. I really do not see the need to publish these guidelines, other than to say that the existing practice will be adhered to. They are simply guidelines as to the interpretation of the law and I do not think that it is desirable to require that every letter of them should be followed in every case. Guidelines cannot cover every set of circumstances. Benefit officers will be unable to judge simply by adding up so many pluses and so many minuses, although doing that may help. They have to use a lot of common sense in deciding whether the guidelines are accessible.

In the criteria that are already published by the Supplementary Benefits Commission administration paper there is a great deal of clarity. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Stockport, North does not accept that view. Any further elaboration of the guidelines would be an interpretation which might be made as, say, a development of case law established by the Social Security Commissioners. That is what should be reflected in the handbook, and that will be done.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North 6:30 pm, 19th March 1980

The Minister is suggesting that there should be discretion. As I understand it the whole idea of the Bill was to remove the discretion. If the Minister wants to retain discretion to interpret the cohabitation rule, why does she not want to retain it in other areas if it is difficult to draw guidelines? If it is possible to draw guidelines, surely people are entitled to see them.

The Minister has said that the present information is clear. If that is so there cannot be a need for any more information. If it is not clear and the Government have to start giving extra guidance, surely everyone should be entitled to study that guidance to see whether it is fair rather than it be kept secret.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I thought that the whole point of what I was saying was that the Supplementary Benefits Commission guidelines, which are contained in the pamphlet, "Living Together as Husband and Wife", are quite clear and well understood. I do not believe that there is any need to add to those guidelines, nor to have them specifically put into regulations.

I understand what the hon. Member for Stockport, North is saying about discretion. I am not advocating, nor is the Bill, that benefits officers should have special discretion. But I think that the hon. Gentleman will accent that in a case as difficult as a cohabitation case the officers are trained in such a way that they can look at the case with a great sensitivity to see whether the relationship is permanent.

I recall that in the debates when the rules were changed it was said that where there are grounds for doubt, the elements of continuity and stability of a relationship should always be an important factor to be considered by the officer when making a judgment.

So I am not saying that we should go down the path of discretion. I am saying that the judgment of an officer, who is trained so to judge, in deciding whether a relationship is a continuing and stable one, is something that we could not write into regulations. Interviews are carried out only by those officers who have had specialised training.

I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman that the arrangements which are sensible and working well at present are a civilised approach to a difficult problem. I hope that they will continue to work well. I see no reason for the amendment at present. That is why I advise the House not to accept it. If there is some dramatic change in the future the House must, at that time, look at the situation as it then is and if, in its wisdom, it decides to make a change I am sure that the change will be made.

At present the guidelines that have been in operation for a couple of years are working a good deal better than what proceeded them and they are best left alone. The elements I have described should be decided by benefit officers. Where there are grounds for doubt, the important decision can be made on the element of continuity, with the stability of the relationship probably forming the final deciding point.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 37, line 33, at end insert: '(l) for requiring a benefit officer to decide any question with respect to a claim for supplementary benefit within such time as may be specified in the regulations or such longer time as may be necessary in the circumstances.'. Basically this amendment gives power to make regulations regarding the time within which a benefit officer must make his decision on a supplementary benefit claim. It recognises that in some cases it will be necessary to take longer. We had a debate about this, though on a slightly different amendment, in Committee. That amendment would have required a benefit officer to dispose of a case within 14 days so far as is practicable. On that occasion the Minister who replied said: I take the valid point of the right hon. Gentleman that the existence of a benchmark gives Members of Parliament, claimants' unions and claimants something they can quote when they are speaking, or writing, to the Department and ask, 'Why are you taking more than 14 days?'. There is something to be studied there in the context of regulations rather than the statute"—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 14 February 1980; c. 639.] All that we are doing here is trying to ensure, by putting it into legislative words, that the Secretary of State has power to make regulations on this subject.

This is a small amendment. All it seeks to do is to clarify the matter, which we do not think is clear enough at present and which may give rise to misinterpretation outside when it comes into operation. It is a minor point but it is a very important one. We hope that the Minister will consider that it is worthy of acceptance simply to make the Bill as clear as possible.

I often think during our debates, on whatever subject, that we should try to make our legislation as clear as possible, not only to ourselves, the benefit officers and the claimants, but to others outside the House who may also have to interpret it. Where it is possible for Government to accept amendments—I am speaking to the amendment, Mr. Speaker; I thought you were looking at me interrogatively.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am quite innocent. I did not say a word and I did not even look unkindly at the hon. Lady.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I thought that there was a questioning look on your face, Mr. Speaker. I thought that you were about to catch me out.

We are trying to make the matter clear. I believe that any Government should take the opportunity to do that whenever possible. If that is not done, a great deal of gobbledegook goes into our law, and it is liable to misinterpretation and misapplication by people outside the House.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The amendment, which is intended to give power to make regulations providing for the expeditious clearance of claims for supplementary benefit, is unnecessary. First, we can draw the claims and payments regulations sufficiently widely to include such a power, and I beleive that it is in the regulations that the power should lie. Secondly, after the debate on this issue in Standing Committee, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security undertook to consider whether we could incorporate in regulations a provision that would go some way to meeting the Opposition's point. We intend to do so in the regulations, which will follow in a month or so.

I should like to say a few words about our intentions. Regulations will be made to put the supplementary benefit position broadly on a par with the similar provisions for national insurance, in sections 98(1) and 99(1) of the Social Security Act 1975. That means that benefit officers will be required to determine new and repeat claims as far as is practicable within 14 days of the time when they are in possession of all the information necessary to make a determination. I emphasise that, as my right hon. Friend said in Committee, the vast majority of new and repeat claims for supplementary benefit are cleared well within the 14-day period. But I accept that regulations along the lines that I propose will serve as a useful reminder of the need for speed in resolving claims.

Although the amendment does not specifically cover family income supplement. I think it right to tell hon. Members that we intend to incorporate a similar provision in regulations for that benefit so that the emphasis is on getting claims dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

I hope that with that assurance I have satisfied Labour Members.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

What the hon. Lady has said sounded very good, except that she spoke of all the relevant information being in the hands of the benefit officer. Some of my constituents feel that they have got all the relevant information to the Department but that the Department has failed to get it all together in one place. I hope that the hon. Lady can confirm that as long as the information has gone into the office it will be deemed to be all there, and that it will not be the claimant's responsibility to make sure that it reaches the right place within the office, which is often the difficulty.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

Once a claimant has delivered all the necessary information to the office, we cannot expect it to be his or her responsibility to see that it is in the right pigeonhole and linked with the other documents. But it is a help to the administration of any benefit system if all the papers are supplied at the same time where possible.

We are seeking to make sure that once the local office has received all the documents in the making of a claim the regulations will provide that a claim shall be decided as expeditiously as possible—within 14 days. I hope that Labour hon. Members will accept that the claims and payments regulations to be produced in line with the Bill, when it receives the Royal Assent, will entirely cover the points that have been made and the assurances that my right hon. Friend and I have given.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

I beg to move amendment No. 28 in page 37, line 42, leave out 'any' and insert 'the'.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this amendment we are to take Government amendment No. 52.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The amendments are technical. I am sure that I shall be chided by the House when I say that they are designed to improve the grammar of sec- tion 15(1) of the Act, as amended. As I heard the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) use the terrible word "gobbledegook" a few minutes ago, I am glad that the amendment is on the Notice Paper.

The amendments make it clear that the claim or receipt of supplementary benefit in respect of which a person has a right of appeal under the section is his claim or benefit and not that of any other person. I hope that the House will agree that the possible ambiguity created by the present wording should be removed by these two sensible, technical amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey 6:45 pm, 19th March 1980

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 41, line 41, leave out subsection (3) and insert— '(3) Regulations of the following kinds, namely—

  1. (a) regulations of which the effect is to increase an amount which is specified in regulations made in pursuance of section 3 of this Act or which, by virtue of regulations made in pursuance of paragraph (b) of section 4(1) of this Act, is specified in a provision mentioned in that paragraph;
  2. (b) regulations made in pursuance of section 32A(b) of this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of con-consolidating regulations which they revoke;
  3. (c) regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 1 or 2 of Schedule 1 to this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of consolidating regulations which they revoke,
shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House and, in the case of regulations falling within paragraph (a) or (c) of this subsection, shall not be made without the consent of the Treasury.'.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

With this amendment we are to take Government amendment No. 54.

Photo of Mrs Lynda Chalker Mrs Lynda Chalker , Wallasey

The amendment ensures that the uprating regulations on exceptional needs payments and urgent needs payments will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Amendment No. 54 makes the corresponding change to the Keeling schedule.

The amendments relate to the uprating of any amounts in regulations relating to exceptional needs payments and urgent needs payments which are made under sections 3 and 4 of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976.

In Committee the Opposition moved amendments providing for reference to the Social Security Advisory Committee of all supplementary benefit uprating regulations. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security said then that we should look at the matter again in time for report. The Committee Hansard reference is col. 1536. We remain of the view that it would not be appropriate to refer supplementary benefit uprating regulations to the committee. The main reason is that these matters are for the Budget, and the proper forum for their consideration is the House rather than a body such as the committeeֵ No other uprating regulations will be referred to the committee.

Consideration of the uprating of scale rates by the House is assured, because those regulations are already subject to affirmative resolution. The same does not apply to regulations uprating exceptional needs payments and urgent needs pay-merits. As the Bill stands, they will be subject neither to affirmative resolution nor to reference to the committee. For the reasons that I have given, I do not think that reference to the committee would be appropriate.

However, we think that the regulations should be subject to parliamentary approval. Therefore, the amendments provide that they should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure instead of the negative resolution procedure provided for by the Bill at present. That will ensure a consistent pattern on all the uprating regulations.

I trust that the House will welcome the amendments as meeting hon. Members' points and being sensible and logical.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

I beg to move amendment No. 30, in page 43, line 29, leave out 'three' and insert 'four'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this amendment we are to take the following amendments: No. 31, in page 43, line 30, after second 'requirements', insert 'clothing requirements'.

No. 55, in page 66, line 3, leave out 'three' and insert 'four'.

No. 56, in page 66, line 3, after first 'requirements', insert 'clothing requirements'.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

I wish first to draw attention to the living standards of those at present dependent on supplementary benefit. Fortunately, most hon. Members have not had that experience. Those who have been on supplementary benefit for any length of time know what a desperately low standard of living the weekly benefit gives claimants and their families. It is so low, and the pressure on weekly budgets is so great, that the Supplementary Benefits Commission is often asked to make exceptional needs payments for what many of us would regard as everyday needs, particularly clothing.

Under the Bill, most exceptional needs for clothing will be forbidden by the new body. Only in the most exceptional circumstances will lump sums be paid to claimants in need of clothing. The Bill makes a major change. It states that scale rates will cover normal clothing needs. Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 point out that the clothing needs of claimants and their families are not covered by the prescribed rates or by the weekly amounts that claimants receive from the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

If one looks at the review of the supplementary benefit system, one sees how mean the Government are. Two proposals were put forward in the review. It was proposed to increase the weekly scale rates in order to cover claimants' clothing needs, or to make regular lump sum payments. Neither of those reforms will be achieved. Claimants' clothing needs will be legislated out of existence in order to cut down the amount of discretionary payments made by the Commission. Those needs will still exist, but one will no longer be able to register them within the system.

Even at this late stage, the Government should make a concession which is of considerable importance to claimants, particularly those with children. All documents published by the Supplementary Benefits Commission and by other outside bodies show that families with children, who are dependent on benefits, have the lowest standards of living. Those families face a problem when budgeting for clothes. Their needs should be met by the system. The Government should either pay regular lump sum payments, or increase the scale rates by an additional amount, over and above the increase in November, to cover clothing needs. Perhaps the Government should accept our amendments. Our amendments would allow exceptional needs payments to be made to those claimants who cannot budget adequately for clothing.

The Government may say that they do not have the resources to fund such an amendment. The Minister will probably say that, as in Committee, we are good at judging his replies to our amendments. However, if he looks carefully at the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum, particularly that part dealing with the financial savings, he will find nothing chalked up in the key introductory remarks. There is no list showing the saving to the Government of disbanding present clothing payments under the exceptional needs regulations. As the Government have not budgeted for that saving, and as they have not spent that money in any other way they could concede amendments Nos. 30 and 31.

Perhaps the Government are unhappy because they wish to simplify the supplementary benefit scheme. We are prepared to concede that. However, why not use the money saved by disallowing those exceptional needs payments, to increase the weekly scale rates or to introduce that which social assistance advocated in the first place, namely, regular lump sum payments to cover the clothing needs of claimants?

These amendments deal with the immensely important change that the Government propose to make. The Government's proposals will particularly affect those claimants who have children. Exceptional needs payments act as a safety valve on a benefit system that usually pays inadequate benefits. As the Government have not spent the savings which will arise from disallowing those payments, it is not too late to make an important concession. That concession particularly affects claimants with children.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that Opposition Members had often anticipated in Committee the reply that I would give. He is wrong this time. I shall not reply along the lines that he has anticipated. However, I shall resist the amendment. I shall not oppose the amendment on the ground that resources are not available to finance it. If finance were available for a more generous supplementary benefit scheme than we are likely to have for some years, I would still judge that this is the wrong way to tackle the problem of clothing needs. The amendment would put a special category "clothing requirements" into the schedule. The schedule states: For the purposes of this Schedule requirements shall be of three categories, namely, normal requirements, additional requirements, and housing requirements; The phrase "normal requirements" includes expenditure on clothing. There is a scale rate which should cover the requirements of the person concerned. Within that amount they have whatever freedom of choice is available. They are in a straitened situation compared with most citizens. There is not much room for manoeuvre. However, within limits, they can make decisions about how much to spend on clothing, food and so on.

In addition, there will be some provision for clothing payments under the general heading of "exceptional needs". As the hon. Gentleman knows, we intend to reduce the discretionary element in the scheme. The discretionary element which remains will be defined as closely as possible. We explained to members of the Committee what the general position for housing would be. We gave an explanation in the annexe that we issued to the notes and clauses. We described the regulations that were proposed.

Perhaps I should remind the House of what was said about the purchase of clothing and the circumstances in which additional payments on top of the normal scale rates would be made. There are three categories. The first is where the claimant has not been receiving benefit for which he has been eligible. In those circumstances a need might be identified which would be the subject of an exceptional needs payment. The second is where the need has arisen other than by wear and tear. For example, a need might arise as a result of pregnancy. An accident leading to the loss of a limb might be the subject of special clothing needs. As a result of fire, flood or some other catastrophe a person might suddenly find himself in need, and that need might include exceptional clothing requirements above those normally needed. The third main category would be where illness or admission to hospital necessitates the purchase of certain clothes that the claimant does not have.

Photo of Mr Leslie Spriggs Mr Leslie Spriggs , St Helens

I have listened very carefully to the Minister's explanation. Most hon. Members will be aware that many homes in Lancashire have green mould which has arisen as a result of dampness. That mould affects clothing and furniture. That is an added expenditure and it results from the deterioration of the claimant's wearing apparel. When that person claims, he or she is told that the benefit covers the cost of clothing. Cheap, shoddy clothing is really the most costly on the market. It lacks quality and will not last. The poor person who does not have sufficient money to buy quality goods will buy in the shoddy market. Will the Minister explain that?

7 pm

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

People on low incomes may tend to buy cheaper clothing. That is in the nature of things, whether we are speaking of people on supplementary benefits or those whose earnings are much lower than average.

I have explained that the normal scale rates of supplementary benefit were intended to cover the normal clothing needs of recipients. The question of whether dampness in a dwelling causes an emergency need for extra clothing will come within the category that I defined—whether the need for clothing arose for reasons other than normal wear and tear. I do not wish to anticipate case law on a hypothetical borderline case, but if a person wished to make a claim he would have to wait and see the result.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

Where the need is for special clothing for warmth and the benefit is given for that purpose, the requirement is not for a new article but a substantial quality warm pair of boots, for example. The allowance provided for that is totally inadequate and the supplementary benefit does not meet the need of the beneficiary.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

That requirement would probably relate to the third definition that I gave, where ill-health or admission to hospital necessitated the purchase of certain clothes. I believe that that is what the hon. Gentleman meant. That allowance again could be claimed, but I cannot anticipate every borderline case or the interpretation of the adjudicating authorities. The regulations will be framed in the way that I have described and include reference to special clothing needs arising from ill health. The claim in the case that the hon. Gentleman describes, I believe, would come within that category.

The changes are in no way at the expense of the claimant. We have had a broad and vague form of discretion, the application of which has varied between areas, which is not a good idea. We propose that exceptional needs payments for clothing should be defined in terms of the categories that I have given, which will not be to the disadvantage of claimants.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

It is amazing that the Minister says that claimants will not suffer. The amendments are put forward precisely because they will. It is doubly puzzling when the Minister says that an additional advantage is that in the past claimants have been treated differently in different areas. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be advocating that no one gets much help, and there will thus be an equality in misery.

Large numbers of claimants have had additional help with clothing needs, which they will not now get unless they fit in to the limited categories detailed. That is a loss to them. We do not know how families will budget for their clothing needs, particularly if they remain on the right side of the law.

Where will the money saved through not paying out a vast number of exceptional needs benefits now go? The Minister has given a totally unsatisfactory reply.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

I do not accept that there will be a general saving of money. The categories are broad and not narrow.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

They are tiny categories.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

They are not tiny. I shall not repeat them. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman read the annex to our notes on clauses, which contained the definitions.

It was always the concept that the scale rate included provision for clothing, among other necessities of life. We are merely defining the payment of exceptional needs benefits more concisely, in the form of regulations in respect of clothing and other matters. Those concerned and their advisers will know their entitlement, and the system will be more open and helpful to claimants. There is no question of taking away from claimants in general what they have had until now, and the amendment is superfluous. It will not help claimants and it adds nothing to the concept of the scheme.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

We have learnt to live with the fact that Ministers make sweet and reasonable speeches suggesting concern and compassion for claimants but in reality deliver them a kick in the teeth. The Minister has failed to understand the problem and shows no concern for claimants.

The major argument in the review was to reduce the number of exceptional needs payments. The areas were listed, and it was said that the greatest problem was with regard to clothing. Ways were suggested of reducing the number of payments, either by substantially increasing the basic rate or by special lump sum payments for clothing.

We have no evidence that the Government will put up the rates in the autumn to take account of the disappearance of many of the exceptional needs payments. We fear that those payments will not even be increased to take account of inflation. There is no evidence that people will not need the exceptional needs payments because the basic rates will be increased. The Government have not accepted the lump sum proposal.

The money available to the claimant each week will not be increased dramatically, but the claimant will be expected to make weekly savings out of that to accumulate money to buy clothes. It is impossible for people on benefits to save. It is often impossible to get through the week with sufficient food each day. It is ridiculous to expect those people to accumulate substantial sums to buy large items of clothing, whether from a jumble sale or elsewhere.

The simple solution is either to increase the rate substantially or, if that is not possible, to give lump sum payments to those regularly on benefits to recognise their clothing needs.

The Minister's answer is extremely disappointing. I hope that he will reconsider. We should divide the House because of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, but under the guillotine we cannot waste time.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

I beg to move amendment No. 73, in page 43, line 30, leave out 'and'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 74, in page 43, line 30, after third requirements' insert 'and requirements necessarily related to extra costs of daily living by reason of the chronic sickness or disability of a member of the household, having due regard to the position of that member in the household and the nature of his impairment'. No. 33, in page 43, line 34, at end insert 'provided always that when prescribing such items and weekly amounts the Secretary of State shall ensure that proper provision is made for the recurring costs incurred by a chronically sick or disabled person by reason of his impairment.'. No. 75, in page 66, line 4 leave out first 'and'.

No. 76, in page 66, line 4, after second 'requirements' insert 'and requirements necessarily related to extra costs of daily living by reason of the chronic sickness or disability of a member of the household, having due regard to the position of that member in the household and the nature of his impairment'. No. 78, in page 66, line 7, at end insert 'provided always that when prescribing such items and weekly amounts the Secretary of State shall ensure that proper provision is made for the recurring costs incurred by a chronically sick or disabled person by reason of his impairment.'.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

The amendments seek to help some of the poorest of disabled people and I warmly commend them to the House.

To mark the importance of the amendments, let me quote Mr. Peter Large who, as the House knows, is a distinguished spokesman of the Disablement Income GroupDIG. In a recent letter to me, Mr. Large urged the case for a disablement costs allowance which would give new help and new hope to disabled people generally. He said: As you appreciate, the need for the disablement costs allowance has become urgent now that the nil-cost simplification of the supplementary benefits scheme is under way. The simplifications discount special needs and disabled people, with their special financial needs, are being simplified out of the system. This will be disastrous if there is no alternative benefit to meet the financial problems they incur as a result of disability. The amendments will help to write some of the poorest disabled people back into the system and I appeal to Conservative Members, as to my right hon. and hon. Friends, to support them in the Lobbies.

The previous Labour Government introduced three new cash benefits for disabled persons and their families—the noncontributory invalidity pension, the invalid care allowance and the mobility allowance.

At the same time, we legislated to link rises in cash benefits for disabled persons to increases in average industrial earnings. I refer not only to the attendance allowance and the contributory and noncontributory invalidity benefits, but also to industrial injury benefits and war disablement pensions. As with retirement pensions those benefits rose, after our Social Security Act 1975, in line with average earnings or the cost of living, whichever was better for sick and disabled people.

About 1½ million disabled people benefited from that provision and I pay tribute tonight to the memory of my late friend and ministerial colleague in the previous Labour Government, Brian O'Malley, who worked so hard to forge the link that the present Government have decided to break by the provisions of this Bill.

The Labour Government also improved services for disabled persons over a wide range and worked ceaselessly not only to improve public attitudes towards disabled people, but also their opportunities in society. All that was the good news. The bad news was that the fall of the Labour Government stopped the publication of a Green Paper on an important further new benefit that we intended to provide for disabled people.

As the Minister in that Government responsible for the disabled, I was working with my officials on a proposal for a fourth and comprehensive new benefit for disabled people. My successor was clearly made aware of that work on his appointment, because he referred to it last July when addressing the all-party disablement group in the House. In doing so, he made clear to the group that work on the proposal had ceased. The right hon. Gentleman was asked at that meeting by his hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) about—I quote from the minutes of the meeting: the implementation of a general disablement costs allowance which was the main priority for the Group and disability organisations generally. Mr. Prentice said he regretted that, because of the cuts in public expenditure, this must be a long-term aim. During the term of the previous Government work had begun within the DHSS on a Green Paper but this had been halted, because, Mr. Prentice said, it would be wrong for him to raise expectations which could not be fulfilled. That statement and its implications helped to prompt the amendments, and indeed new clauses 10 and 12 for which, unfortunately, no time was available yesterday.

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In a letter to the DIG on 22 August last year about our proposal for a new and comprehensive benefit for disabled people, the Minister for Social Security said: The question of introducing such an allowance is one of priorities and available resources and … there is no money at present for any new benefits. The right hon. Gentleman went on: It would only raise false hopes if we entered into detailed discussions now on the format of an allowance which could not possibly materialise for some years. The Minister's arguments against producing a Green Paper are not just disappointing. They are depressing. The disabled are not pathetic children, as his argument about raising false hopes implies. Severely disabled people have to be and are realists. They mostly suffer the harsh realities of life of the poor and least fortunate in Britain today.

The Minister said in 1974, when he was Secretary of State for Education and Science in the Labour Government: if sacrifices are to be borne, the broadest backs must bear the heaviest sacrifices."— [Officied Report, 15 March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 622.] I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, but does the right hon. Gentleman still accept the philosophy which he put to the House only a few short years ago? Clearly he has renounced that philosophy, because in his present role he said last year: The disabled cannot expect to be exempted from the sacrifices necessary. Again in a Conservative party-political broadcast last year, the right hon. Gentleman said: We need to be a more self-reliant society, I think, in which people are standing on their own feet. That was not the happiest of phrases from the Minister who is responsible for dealing with the problems of disabled people.

The difference between us is clear. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I do not accept that disabled people, who are already handicapped by their disabilities, should suffer the further burden of a squeeze on the public expenditure that is available to them. Nor do most other people in this country. The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation has said: Ministers continually repeat their concern for severely disabled people; but their actions are condemning them to isolation and increasing dependence. That is a grave charge to make against any Minister or any Government.

For my part, I cannot accept that there is no money available to help disabled people. One of the Government's first acts was to give £1,500 million in tax relief to the richest 5 per cent. of taxpayers in this country. A Government who gave such huge relief to the richest people cannot say that they could not have helped some of our poorest people.

In my view, current policies may well drive more and more disabled people out of society and into institutions. Most disabled people want more than anything to lessen their dependence on others, to get on with living their own lives as normally as they can, in their own homes among their own families, and wherever possible to have the opportunity of contributing to industry and society as fully as their abilities allow.

Investment in people, disabled people no less than able-bodied and more fortunate people, is much the best of all investments. These amendments are important. They are addressed to the problems of many of the most needy in our society. I hope very much that the House will approve them.

Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

I have great pleasure in supporting the contentions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) who had a distinguished record as a Minister with responsibilities for the disabled. The record bears examination. There can be no doubt that, at this time, disabled people in Britain are falling behind, both relatively and absolutely. They simply cannot keep pace with inflation either because they are unemployed or they have poor jobs that are badly paid. They also have to meet increasing costs as well as a cut in services.

This combination of blows for disabled people means that they now face a near-crisis. It is a crisis that should be met by strong, firm and clear Government action. I cannot see how any Minister with responsibilities for the disabled can oppose these amendments which are specifically designed to deal with the problems of the disabled.

I should like to mention the special costs that disabled people have to bear. Many people overlook them. The disabled face the cost of special food, extra clothing and laundry, extra heating, chemist's goods and house maintenance. It has been estimated, as the Minister may be aware, by Miss Mavis Hyman, writing for the report "Action Research for the Crippled Child", that the extra cost of disability amounts to no less than 24 per cent. of household income. This means that people with a very low income suffer a reduction of a quarter of income by virtue of extra costs if this well-researched report is accepted. I commend Miss Hyman's report to the House.

These costs vary due to differences of disability. Some disabilities involve loss of function and some an inability of disabled people to look after themselves. Some disabled people simply cannot do for themselves things that many people take for granted. Disability varies with each individual. There are many anomalies. I quote an example. Some disabled people who are completely bed-ridden, do not get the mobility allowance but may have high heating costs. There may be other disabled people, confined to wheelchairs, who receive the mobility allowance but perhaps have no abnormally high heating costs. All these apparent anomalies need sorting out.

Great gains were made under the last Administration. New initiatives were brought forward. But this Government must sort out the anomalies. They have to prepare to meet all these costs before progress can be made. As the Minister knows from his correspondence, Mr. Peter Large has been in contact with him. I know that the right hon. Gentleman would wish to join with me in paying tribute to Peter Large, who has been pressing strongly the case for the disabled. My right hon. Friend quoted part of the correspondence. Peter Large is one of the most brilliant advocates of the disabled that the country has known. I am afraid, however, that the answers that he has received from the Minister have been highly unsatisfactory. Some of those replies were touched upon by my right hon. Friend.

In dealing with the objection of raising expectations, I would only say to the right hon. Gentleman that this argument was put at the time hon. Members were advocating what became the Chronically Sick and. Disabled Persons Act, piloted by my right hon. Friend. People said that a Bill of this kind could not be introduced because it would raise the expectations of disabled people. That is not a valid objection. Instead of raising only expectations, one increases the pressures on Ministers. That is how democracy works—by increasing expectations. It is a right and proper thing to do. Ministers in a democracy respond to pressure. The right hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced politician, knows that this is true. It is the job of disabled people to bring pressure to bear on Ministers. That is what we are attempting in these amendments.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not object to us bringing pressure to bear, nor assume that disabled people should be treated like children. They would resent that strongly. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make clear that he does not want to press that charge. Disabled people are realists and no one knows the facts of life, or poverty, more than them. By and large they are poor people. By and large, they get a bad deal in life. By and large, they suffer from double jeopardy. By and large, they bear heavy costs that are not borne by non-disabled people.

I hope that the Minister will think again about the amendments. I hope he will bear in mind that the amendments are designed to ensure that the Government study the problems of disabled people and that they will endeavour to bring out a green paper which will allow the problems of disabled people to be discussed and debated. These are important amendments. Without planning, we get nowhere. Without a knowledge of our objectives, we shall make no progress.

I urge the Minister to accept the amendments to show that he takes these problems seriously and thereby give hon. Members something on which to bite so that when money is available—in fact I believe it is available now if one considers the amount given to wealthier sections of the community—disabled people will have a share of the largesse. No one deserves a bigger or better share than the disabled people of Britain. I support my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Thomas Benyon Mr Thomas Benyon , Abingdon

I am sympathetic, as, I am sure, are many hon. Members on both sides of the House, towards amendment; No. 73 and No. 74 which we are debating. I speak with a degree of understanding. I happen to be disabled, albeit in a minor way. I draw a disability pension arising from a previous period I enjoyed in the Services. To those who wonder what my disability is, and find their curiosity becoming overwhelming, I will tell them, quietly, after I have finished speaking, behind the Speaker's Chair. In all seriousness, I happen to be quite deaf. With such a disability, one speaks, I think, with a degree of sympathy for and imagination of the plight of disabled people in our society. Without such a disability, one would find that plight hard to imagine. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) will agree that society cannot fully compensate in cash terms someone who suffers a physical disability.

7.30 pm

Our concern transcends party politics. We want to assure people who suffer physical disabilities over which they have no control that they are regarded by the legislature with a degree of compassion. Disabled people should understand that we regard them as a special case. There is no more important special case. Disabled people do not enjoy special recognition. Blind people are an exception, and the exceptional needs payment makes a gesture towards recognition of the problems. However, that provision does not go far enough.

The amendments correct, to some extent, the unsatisfactory position. They propose to recognise, through supplementary benefits, loneliness and misery and the bravery with which many disabled people face their plight. They recognise the extra costs which disabled people face when trying to live their lives as well as they can and to pay their way. Disabled people have additional expenses. Housing and special nursing cost money. Some disabled people have dietary problems and medical and recreational considerations to take into account. Many disabled people spend much of their time reading and that costs extra money. Special clothes and transport must also be paid for. In addition, many disabled people are unable to work.

The difficulty about the amendments is that they try to solve the problem through the use of supplementary benefits. That is not good enough. People who have to apply for supplementary benefit are in the role of supplicants. They do not claim as of right. To some extent the payment of supplementary benefits is ad hoc. It often depends on how well one puts one's case and how the person in charge responds. Some disabled people have difficulty in explaining their case. They do not have the advantage of a good command of English and the ability to present an argument. I do not cast any aspersions on the officers who dole out supplementary benefit. However, supplementary benefit is a piecemeal method of solving a problem.

The Minister should take an overall look at the problems of disabled people. He should take into account their special needs and at the same time bear in mind their employment problems or lack of employment opportunity. I believe that we should move towards giving grants to disabled people so that they do not have to apply for supplementary benefit. They should have a grant which is theirs by right. That would be a further step towards the tax credit system which many hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome.

The proposals would cost a great deal of money. That is the problem. The Treasury is always faced with demands for more money. Nevertheless, I hope that we shall move towards the desirable goal of giving disabled people a grant as of right. I hope that we shall move in that direction when we can afford it; when we have created the wealth. I hope that we shall be able to tell people that that is the aim when inflation is reduced and the public sector borrowing requirement is under control. We should be able to tell disabled people that they are not forgotten, that they can take comfort because the Conservative Party holds them in high regard. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is deeply concerned about the problem and that he will take the argument to heart. The disadvantaged in our society should not suffer. Their needs must be recognised. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make an encouraging response.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

I agree with all that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) said. However, the amendments do not ask for money. If the amendments are accepted, they will cost the Government not one penny.

I am vice-president of the Disablement Income Group which has been striving for years for the introduction of a disablement cost allowance. If the Government accept the amendments, it will be a step towards victory.

If the same amount of money were available, it would have to be spread more thinly because the demographic distribution of the elderly has changed dramatically and we have to face additional costs of caring for the frail elderly. We have totally failed to meet their needs. People of 70 years of age come to our surgeries and ask "Can you please find a way to assist me to help my 90-year-old father who is incontinent?" Such a request means that something is radically wrong with our provisions.

The Government should issue a consultative document on the needs of disabled people. One organisation, the Association of Directors of Social Services, has produced its own consultative document—"Cuts in Public Expenditure". The association states: It is widely recognised that existing personal social services have many shortcomings. Demand for services of all kinds continue to grow, in part stimulated by Government and Parliament, while present services are inadequate. Even if existing levels of spending were maintained but not increased, the quality of services available to the public would decline as a result of demographic changes. That means that frail elderly people would be taking a much larger slice of a fixed, small, inadequate sum of money just to meet the growing demands created by themselves. The right hon. Gentleman had my support in the past when he fought for the rights of the underprivileged in other parts of the world and when he resigned over expenditure cuts at that time.

The report continues: In our view, to suggest to those in need of help that they must wait until the rest of society is rich enough not to notice the sacrifice needed to provide aid is insulting and robs them of their dignity. Anyone can afford to be generous when they are wealthy. We must be prepared to accept the burden and the responsibilities. We must be bold and say that those in need require our help because their position is deteriorating rapidly.

Photo of Mr Thomas Benyon Mr Thomas Benyon , Abingdon

Does the hon. Member agree that one of the problems facing the disabled is that there is no articulate lobby to represent them and fight for their cause? The lobbies representing other disadvantaged people may be what I call middle-class pressure groups. They fight for, and obtain, a disproportionate amount of the resources available.

The other disadvantaged groups—with the disabled in the vanguard—find it hard to put their case and to find people who will articulate their cause on their behalf. Possibly they do not obtain a fair and equitable share of resources from the static cake.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

I appreciate the tone in which the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) makes his comments, but I must disagree with him. I have some sympathy with what he said, but there is no excuse for Governments not knowing the requirements of the disabled. The Disablement Income Group, to which I belong, has gained access to the Minister. But hav- ing gained that kind of access through the work of our voluntary organisations, we have still been unsuccessful. That is a tragedy.

We have gained access to Government and slated our case over the years, but we have not been successful. The organisations I referred to include the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the Disablement Income Group and the Disabled Living Foundation. There are others and if I have omitted the names of some groups, I apologise. For example, there is a group operating in Shewsbury on behalf of the disabled. It concerns itself with the administration of mobility allowance and giving advice to the disabled who have mobility problems. The work of that group will end as a result of public expenditure cuts. I have appealed on its behalf to the Government, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will respond to that appeal. If that organisation ceases to operate, we shall take from the disabled a much needed service. At the same time, those who work for that organisation will be denied the opportunity to do that work.

If I were asked to define the disabled and their needs, I should have to go back to Peter. Large, who is an expert in this area. He knows from his own experience the difficulties of the disabled. Perhaps I may add to the Peter Large story. He is a severely handicapped person with a tremendous brain who, in many ways, survives because of the devotion of his wife.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said that where there was a disabled person there was a disabled family. Such families suffer all too often. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said loudly and clearly, for many families an additional 20 to 25 per cent. of their incomes must be spent to meet the needs of the disabled member of the family.

If it is accepted that caring for the frail and elderly within the social services will absorb more and more of our limited resources, the amount left over for the disabled will get smaller and smaller. We cannot top up those resources through supplementary benefit, because an edict has gone out from the Department to t he effect that where the cost of a social service benefit increases, the additional cost must not be met by supplementary benefit. That is a "Catch 22" situation for the disabled.

Before I run through my list of the needs of the disabled, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept these amendments. They are merely a step on the way and will cost no money. We are putting down a marker for what can and should be done and the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if he comes under pressure later to implement our proposals. That is the nature of politics and of campaigning in this context. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman must accept the amendments.

7.45 pm

My list of the needs of the disabled is almost identical to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. We take heating and clothing for granted but, to the elderly and those immobile in their own homes, the provision of clothing and heating presents difficulties. For many disabled people the very act of fidgeting—which may be part of their disability—wears out their clothing. The very act of walking through their homes and using the walls for support increases the need for redecoration. The very act of walking, staggering or struggling upstairs and the need to turn round can mean additional costs in carpeting. The disabled who are tucked away have to live with these problems. There is no provision in the supplementary benefit scheme for coping with those difficulties.

Meals on wheels are absolutely essential, but they have been cut. Home help is absolutely vital to many families and has been cut. Communication and access are now being limited severely for the disabled and mobility is becoming increasingly difficult because not enough local authorities are providing free transport. Rent factors and home alterations are not being dealt with adequately nor is the replacement of furniture for the disabled. We cannot go on relying on a good neighbour policy. We can do something positive at no cost.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to accept these amendments.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

I shall deal first with the amendment and then with some of the more general comments which have been made in a debate which has expressed widespread concern about the needs of the disabled. That concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House who have a long record of hard work for the disabled.

The amendments seek to specify, in terms of the supplementary benefit scheme, a special place for the chronically sick and disabled. With respect to those who tabled the amendment, I say that this is not the way to help the disabled. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) made this point. He was supporting what others had said about the financial needs of disabled persons. In effect, he was supporting the need for some kind of disability income. I want to come to that later. He was saying that it was not appropriate to write that into the supplementary benefit scheme as such, and I profoundly agree with him.

The supplementary benefit scheme is designed for people on very low incomes. It is designed to prevent them from falling below the basic level, as defined by the House, irrespective of how their poverty has been caused, irrespective of whether they have a small income because of bad health, disability or unemployment or because they are deserted wives or the families of people who are in prison, or for whatever reason. There are many reasons why people apply to the Supplementary Benefits Commission, and the job of the commission is to assess their needs. Therefore, any progress that we make along the lines of a disability income should not be made in the way suggested in the amendments.

In addition, I must make the point which has been made, directly or indirectly, by several hon. Members, that the financial needs of the disabled will vary enormously according to the nature of their disabilities. I must go on to point out that the provisions of the Bill and the regulations that will be made under it will be helpful to disabled and chronically sick people in many circumstances. Many of the needs listed by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) are covered to some degree—not necessarily in the form that he put them—in the explanatory literature that we have issued—the annex to the notes on clauses —about the nature of the regulations that will be made for people's special needs.

The House will not want me to quote at length, but I shall give one or two examples. There will be provision for extra heating where that is required on health grounds. There can be provision for special diets which may be related to certain specified illnesses. There will be allowances for extra laundry costs, in circumstances where those costs arise from a particular illness or disability. There can be allowances for extra expense on the maintenance and replacement of clothing or footwear where this is related to a disability. In other words, there can be special payments within the supplementary benefit scheme relevant to needs which arise from disablement. Indeed, that has been so in the past and will be so in the future.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that one of the needs of many disabled is to be able to rely on the home-help service. Will he confirm that his Department has already told the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that where local authorities put on charges for home-helps, they will not be able to get help from the Department through the discretion left in the Bill?

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

That does not arise directly from the amendment. I shall want to say something about the general needs of the disabled, including a passing reference to the question whether Government policies are leading to cuts in services for the disabled.

On the specific point, it never has been and never could be the function of the Supplementary Benefits Commission to fill in every gap left by local authorities. In other words, we have not said and do not now say, that local authorities might or might not make a specific provision and that, if they do not, it is automatically the duty of the Supplementary Benefits Commission—or in future the Department—to fill that need. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is some new instruction, he is mistaken. That has never been the general policy.

I turn now to the broader issues in the debate, because hon. Members have properly used the terms of the amendment as the basis for a short but valuable debate on the needs of the disabled. Several hon. Members have spoken about the financial needs arising from disable- ment. In one way or another, every speaker in the debate has referred to the fact that, apart from all the other disadvantages of being severely disabled, in most cases extra financial costs fall on the disabled person and his or her family. Such costs will vary with the nature of the disability, but I acknowledge that they can be heavy and that society does not make and never has made provision for disabled people in the general sense.

I think that we can divide disabled people into two categories. There are those who get a degree of financial income because of the way in which their disabilities were caused. The three obvious examples are the war disabled, those disabled from industrial injuries and those who have suffered accidents in circumstances where someone else was negligent and where they have been able to obtain damages as a result. People in those categories get some financial compensation related to their disabilities. It may or may not be adequate, but it is something. But for those whose disabilities have arisen in other ways, society has not at any time made a specific financial provision related to their disablement.

If I am asked whether I am in favour of a general disability income, I give the emphatic answer "Yes", for the reasons given by many hon. Members. That objective was stated in the Conservative Party's manifesto and it remains the objective. The question is: how and when?

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) accused the Government of stopping work which he said was going on in this area, as though in some way or another the change of Government had made a difference. With respect, it made no difference. The problem that I have described—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) was not present. If he had been present, he would have heard a number of excellent speeches on the need for a disability income. He will know as well as I know, and so does the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, that no disability income was provided by the Labour Government and that there were no concrete plans to do so.

The problem has been studied within the DHSS, but no plans had been announced and no financial provision had been made in the public expenditure White Papers produced by the Labour Government and which we inherited. Therefore, I say to him—and if he is going to intervene, I hope that he will deal with this point—that there would have been no disability income if the Labour Party had won the election. The position would have been the same as it is now.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

I said that we introduced three important new cash benefits for the disabled. We were in the process of developing proposals for a further new benefit. A Green Paper was being prepared by the Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman, addressing the all-party disablement group, made it clear that work on that Green Paper had ceased. It is not only my view, but the view of the Disablement Income Group and of many other representative organisations that to stop work on that Green Paper was a setback for the disabled. There is no other way of looking at this very important point.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

With respect, it was not a setback for the disabled. Green Papers butter no parsnips. There was and would have been no disability income at this stage, nor for some years to come.

I have been taken to task because I have said on several occasions—at the meeting to which reference has been made and in my correspondence with Mr. Peter Large, and I join enthusiastically in the tribute paid by several hon. Members to Mr. Large for his work—that to produce a Green Paper or a similar document, holding out the expectation of meaningful progress towards a disability income in the next year or two, would be to raise expectations that could not be fulfilled. That would be of no service to the disabled.

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Photo of Mr Jack Ashley Mr Jack Ashley , Stoke-on-Trent South

Does the Minister accept that the disabled want a disablement cost allowance? Producing a Green Paper would bring pressure to bear upon the Government to introduce that allowance earlier than otherwise would have been the case. He told the all-party group on disablement, of which I am chairman that he would not produce a Green Paper. By dropping the previous Admin- istration's Green Paper he has damaged the interests of the disabled.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

I challenge the hon. Gentleman's phrase "dropping the Green Paper". When the previous Labour Administration were in office there was no public announcement of a Green Paper. That has surfaced since the election. We discovered that instructions had been given for some preparatory work to be undertaken on the problem. I have been told several times in debates about arguments between Ministers in the DHSS and the Treasury. I imagine that similar arguments took place when the previous Administration were in office. Even if the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe wanted to say that a Green Paper was being prepared, I expect that he is under considerable pressure not to say so.

Photo of Mr Thomas Benyon Mr Thomas Benyon , Abingdon

I do not understand my right hon. Friend's point about raising expectations in a Green Paper. It was a Conservative manifesto commitment—admittedly a long-term commitment—to provide for the disabled. The expectations of the disabled are already riding quite high.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

Perhaps my hon. Friend could reflect on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) who said, quite rightly, that the publication of a Green Paper would raise expectations, that the pressure would be greater, and that the implementation of any proposal would be faster than otherwise would have been the case. Given that fact, and given the general economic position that we face, we could not begin to implement a disability income within the next few years. Therefore, we should not produce a Green Paper in the near future because it would inevitably lead to the sort of pressure and expectations that have been described by many hon. Members.

It is all very well for our reach to exceed our grasp, but if it exceeds it to too great an extent we shall create a position in which people will feel, quite properly, let down. I would rather promise very little now, and ultimately achieve more than people expect, than to perform the sort of operation which we became accustomed to under the previous Administration, of promises made, expectations raised and people let down. That process was bad not only for the Labour Party but for democracy. People became more and more cynical about politics and politicians.

If we are not able to make extra provision for the disabled for some years to come—that would be the case under either a Labour or Conservative Government—it is better to say so, and say so frankly, than to raise hopes that will not be fulfilled.

If we were to provide for all disabled people—no matter how their disability occurred—a scheme comparable to that which exists for the war and industrial disabled, it would cost between £2 billion and £3 billion a year. I know that that figure has been challenged in many quarters, but it is a reasonable estimate. Anyone who considers the public expenditure figures will realise that such a provision is out of the question for along time.

Reference has been made to my correspondence with Peter Large. He realised that we could not make such a commitment, and said that he would expect only small steps to be taken in the early years. If those steps are to be meaningful steps, and if they are to help substantial numbers of severely disabled people, we are talking in terms of very large sums indeed. Against that background it is better to state clearly that we cannot make progress in the foreseeable future.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West

The right hon. Gentleman would say that.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

When the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe opened the debate, he referred to my position in relation to whether the disabled should share in the sacrifices that the country is expected to make. In many of my speeches on the subject I made two essential points. First, there have not been any cuts in the financial provisions made by central Government which affect the disabled.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

There have not been any cuts. Indeed, there have been some modest improvements. Because of the controversial way in which some hon. Members are treating the subject—there is no need for it—I shall remind the House of one or two of these modest improvements. I agree that they are not world shaking improvements. We phased in mobility allowance for the 60- to 65year-olds earlier than the previous Labour Administration had planned, and in one group instead of two groups as they had proposed. We removed VAT from the cars provided for Motability. We took war widows' pensions out of tax. In clause 14 we make improvements in arrangements for war pension appeals.

All those are modest achievements, but they are advances on behalf of the disabled which were not made by the previous Administration. Hon. Members should not refer to cuts in relation to the disabled. We have made, here and there, some modest improvements. I shall seek every possible opportunity to make further improvements in the future.

Local Government services are of vital importance to the disabled, the chronic sick, the frail elderly, and many other vulnerable groups in our society. We have said over and over again to local authorities that they should not make cuts that affect those groups. We realise how difficult that is. In general, and for reasons which I would defend at length, we are asking local authorities to cut back on their planned expenditure. They have difficult choices to make—in many ways more difficult than those that have to be made in national Government. We have asked them not to make cuts that would affect the most vulnerable sections of our society, and in the overwhelming majority of cases they are responding.

I believe that every hon. Member in the House will be united on one matter, namely, that we are glad that in the past 10 years the expenditure by local authorities on services for the disabled, the sick, the frail elderly and similar groups, has doubled in real terms. The greater part of that increase took place in the early 1970s, under the Conservative Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). It was part of a general movement of opinion expressed in the House by the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe for giving a lead on that matter. Equally, he will wish to pay a tribute in the sense that those who sponsored the measure with him were members of all political parties. This measure was not sponsored by one man or one party, it was an expression of the desire of the House. It reflected opinion in the country and in many of the most progressive local authorities, led by all political parties, who were doing more than they were being urged to do by the House. Progress was made during the early 1970s. From 1976 onwards, because of financial constraints, there was a levelling out in the growth of services. But that did not start last May. It began in 1976 when the IMF put pressure on public expenditure. The fact remains that in 1980 we are doing more than we were in 1970, but we are still not doing enough. We need to do much more and I believe we shall. These aspirations are common to all parties, and we do not need to divide on party lines.

Photo of Mr Alf Morris Mr Alf Morris , Manchester Wythenshawe

I entirely reject the Minister's reply. He doubted whether our amendments were the best way of helping the disabled. The Minister even

seemed to imply that he would like to see stronger amendments. If that is so, he should make a start by accepting our very modest amendments.

The previous Labour Government had in preparation a Green Paper as a consultative document on a new and comprehensive benefit for disabled people. That was the first step on the road to widening provision for the disabled. It is not just my view, but that of representatives of disabled people themselves that to have stopped that work was a setback for the disabled of this country. I hope that some Conservative right hon. and hon. Members will join us in support of these amendments. I hope that they will join us in the Lobby in rejecting the reply we have had tonight.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided, Ayes 254, Noes 294.

Division No. 234]AYES[8.10 pm
Abse, LeoDavies, Ifor (Gower)Gourlay, Harry
Adams, AllenDavis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Graham, Ted
Allaun, FrankDavis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Grant, George (Morpeth)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDeakins, EricGrant, John (Islington C)
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestDean, Joseph (Leeds West)Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Ashley, Rt Hon JackDempsey, JamesHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Ashton, JoeDewar, DonaldHardy, Peter
Atkinson, Norman (H'gay, Tott'ham)Dixon, DonaldHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bagler, Gordon A. T.Dobson, FrankHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Dormand, JackHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Douglas, DickHaynes, Frank
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodDouglas-Mann, BruceHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Dubs, AlfredHeffer, Eric S.
Bldwell, SydneyDuffy, A. E. P.Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertDunlop, JohnHolland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyDunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Home Robertson, John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Dunnett, JackHomewood, William
Bradley, TomDunwoody, Mrs GwynethHooley, Frank
Bray, Dr JeremyEadie, AlexHoram, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Eastham, KenHowell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Howells, Geraint
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Huckfield, Les
Buchan, NormanEllis, Tom (Wrexham)Hudson Davies, Gwilym Ednyfed
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)English, MichaelHughes, Mark (Durham)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Ennals, Rt Hon DavidHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)
Campbell, IanEvans, loan (Aberdare)Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Campbell-Savours, DaleEvans, John (Newton)Janner, Hon Greville
Canavan, DennisEwing, HarryJay, Rt Hon Douglas
Cant, R. B.Field, FrankJohn, Brynmor
Carmichael, NeilFitch, AlanJones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)
Carter-Jones, LewisFlannery, MartinJones, Barry (East Flint)
Cartwright, JohnFletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Kerr, Russell
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Foot, Rt Hon MichaelKilfedder, James A.
Cohen, StanleyFord, BenKilroy-Sllk, Robert
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Forrester, JohnKinnock, Nell
Conlan, BernardFoster, DerekLambie, David
Cowans, HarryFouikes, GeorgeLamborn, Harry
Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Lamond, James
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldLeadbitter, Ted
Crowther, J. S.Freud, ClementLelghton, Ronald
Cunliffe, LawrenceGarrett, John (Norwich S)Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)George, BruceLitherland, Robert
Dalyell, TamGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnLofthouse, Geoffrey
Davidson, ArthurGlnsburg, DavidLyon, Alexander (York)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzll (Llanelli)Golding, JohnLyons, Edward (Bradford West)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonParry, RobertStoddart, David
McCartney, HughPavitt, LaurieStott, Roger
McDonald, Dr OonaghPendry, TomStrang, Gavin
McElhone, FrankPenhallgon, DavidStraw, Jack
McGuire, Michael (Ince)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch(S Down)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
McKelvey, WilliamPrescott, JohnThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Maclennan, RobertPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Race, RegThomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
McNally, ThomasRadice, GilesThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
McNamara, KevinRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Magee, BryanRichardson, JoTilley, John
Marshall, David (Gl'sgow.Shettles'n)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Tinn, James
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Torney, Tom
Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Wainwright, Richard (Coine Valley)
Mason, Rt Hon RoyRobertson, GeorgeWalker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Maxton, JohnRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)Watkins, David
Maynard, Miss JoanRooker, J. W.Weetch, Ken
Meacher, MichaelRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)Wellbeloved, James
Mellish, Rt Hon RobertRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)Welsh, Michael
Mikardo, IanRowlands,TedWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Ryman, JohnWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Sandelson, NevilieWhitlock, William
Molyneaux, JamesSever, JohnWigley, Dafydd
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Sheerman, BarryWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Morton, GeorgeShort, Mrs RenéeWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Moyle, Rt Hon RolandSilkln, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Newens, StanleySilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Winnick, David
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonSilverman, JuliusWoodall, Alec
Ogden, EricSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)Woolmer, Kenneth
O'Halloran, MichaelSnape, PeterWright, Sheila
O'Neill, MartinSoley, CliveYoung, David (Bolton East)
Orme, Rt Hon StanleySpearing, Nigel
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidSpriggs, LeslieTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Palmer, ArthurStallard, A. W.Mr. James Hamilton and
Parker, JohnSteel, Rt Hon DavidMr. Donald Coleman.
Adley, RobertCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Aitken JonathanCarlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Fox, Marcus
Alexander, RichardChalker, Mrs LyndaFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
Ancram, MichaelChannon, PaulFraser, Peter (South Angus)
Arnold, TomChapman, SydneyFry, Peter
Aspinwall, JackChurchill, W. S.Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)
Banks, RobertClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bell, Sir RonaldClegg, Sir WalterGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bendall, VivianColvin, MichaelGlyn, Dr Alan
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Cope,JohnGoodhart, Philip
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Corrie, JohnGoodhew, Victor
Best, KeithCostain, A.P.Goodlad, Alastair
Bevan, David GilroyCritchley, JulianGorst, John
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCrouch, DavidGow, Ian
Biggs-Davison, JohnDean, Paul (North Somerset)Gower, Sir Raymond
Blackburn, JohnDickens, GeoffreyGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Blaker, PeterDorrell, StephenGray, Hamish
Body, RichardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesGreenway, Harry
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDover, DenshoreGrieve, Percy
Boscawen, Hon Robertdu Cann, Rt Hon EdwardGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bowden AndrewDurant, TonyGrist, Ian
Boyson, Dr RhodesDykes, HughGrylls, Michael
Braine, sir BernardEden, Rt Hon Sir JohnGummor, John Selwyn
Bright, GrahamEdwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll)
Brinton, TimEggar, TimothyHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Brittan, LeonElliott, Sir WilliamHannam, John
Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherEmery, PeterHaselhurst, Alan
Brotherton, MichaelEyre, ReginaldHastings, Stephen
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Fairbairn, NicholasHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Browne, John (Winchester)Falrgrieve, RussellHawkins, Paul
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnFaith, Mrs SheilaHawksley, Warren
Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickFarr, JohnHayhoe, Barney
Buck, AntonyFell, AnthonyHeddle, John
Budgen, NickFenner, Mrs PeggyHenderson, Barry
Bulmer, EsmondFinsberg, GeoffreyHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Burden, F. A.Fisher, Sir NigelHill, James
Butcher, JohnFletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh,N)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
Butler, Hon AdamFletcher-Cooke, CharlesHooson, Tom
Cadbury, JocelynFookes, Miss JanetHordern, Peter
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Forman, NigelHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Moore, JohnSpeed, Keith
Hunt, David (Wirral)Morgan, GeraintSpeller, Tony
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)Spence, John
Hurd, Hon DouglasMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickMudd, DavidSproat, Iain
Jessel, TobyMurphy, ChristopherSquire, Robin
Johnson Smith, GeoffreyMyles, DavidStainton, Keith
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelNeale, GerrardStanbrook, Ivor
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithNeedham, RichardStanley, John
Kaberry, Sir DonaldNelson, AnthonyStevens, Martin
Kimball, MarcusNeubert, MichaelStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
King, Rt Hon TomNewton, TonyStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Kitson, Sir TimothyOnslow, CranleyStokes, John
Knox, DavidOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs SallyStradling Thomas, J.
Lamont, NormanOsborn, JohnTapsell, Peter
Lang, IanPage, John (Harrow, West)Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Langtord-Holt, Sir JohnPage, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamTaylor, Teddy (Southend East)
Latham, MichaelPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Tebbit, Norman
Lawrence, IvanParkinson, CecilTemple-Morris, Peter
Lawson, NigelParris, MatthewThompson, Donald
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkPatten, Christopher (Bath)Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Patten, John (Oxford)Thornton, Malcolm
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Pawsey, JamesTownend, John (Bridlington)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Percival, Sir IanTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Pink, R. BonnerTrippier, David
Loverldge, JohnPollock, AlexanderTrotter, Neville
Luce, RichardPorter, Georgevan Straubenzee, W. R.
Lyell, NicholasPrentice, Rt Hon RegVaughan, Dr Gerard
McCrindle, RobertPrice, David (Eastleigh)Viggers, Peter
Macfarlane, NeilPrior, Rt Hon JamesWaddington, David
MacGregor, JohnProctor, K. HarveyWaldegrave, Hon William
MacKay, John (Argyll)Pym, Rt Hon FrancisWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Raison, TimothyWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Rathbone, TimWall, Patrick
McQuarrie, AlbertRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Waller, Garry
Madel, DavidRees-Davies, W. R.Walters, Dennis
Major, JohnRenton, TimWard, John
Marland, PaulRhodes, James, RobertWarren, Kenneth
Marlow, TonyRidley, Hon NicholasWatson, John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Rifkind, MalcolmWells, John (Maidstone)
Mates, MichaelRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Mather, CarolRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Wheeler, John
Maude, Rt Hon AngusRossi, HughWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Mawby, RayRost, PeterWickenden, Keith
Mawhinney, Dr BrianRoyle, Sir AnthonyWiggin, Jerry
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSainsbury, Hon TimothyWilkinson, John
Mayhew, PatrickScott, NicholasWilliams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Mellor, DavidShaw, Giles (Pudsey)Winterton, Nicholas
Meyer, Sir AnthonyShelton, William (Streatham)Wolfson, Mark
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Shepherd, Rlchard(Aldridge-Br'hills)Younger, Rt Hon George
Mills, Peter (West Devon)Shersby, Michael
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Silvester, FredTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Moate, RogerSkeet, T. H. H.Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Monro, HectorSmith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)Mr. Anthony Berry.
Montgomery, Fergus

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 43, line 38, leave out subparagraphs (3) and (4).

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this we may also take the following amendments: No. 35, in page 44, line 15, column 1, at end insert 'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefit for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required'. No. 36, in page 44, line 41, column 1, at end insert 'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefits for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required'. No. 37, in page 44, line 50, at end insert '(6) If regulations prescribe as one of the conditions mentioned in the table in subparagraph (3) of this paragraph that a person shall have been in receipt of supplementary benefit during a prescribed period or periods, that condition shall be deemed to be satisfied in the case of a person who, but for that condition, would have been entitled to receive supplementary benefit throughout the prescribed period or periods.' No. 58, in page 66, line 11, leave out sub-paragraphs (3) and (4).

No. 79, in page 66, line 36, column 1, at end insert 'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefits for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required.'. No. 80, in page 67, line 14, column 1, at end insert: 'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefits for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required.'. No. 53, in page 67, line 23, at end insert— '(6) If regulations prescribe as one of the conditions mentioned in the table in sub-paragraph (3) of this paragraph that a person shall have been in receipt of supplementary benefit during a prescribed period or periods, that condition shall be deemed to be satisfied in the case of a person who, but for that condition, would have been entitled to receive supplementary benefit throughout the prescribed period or periods.'

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

We want to have a short debate on this group of amendments, if that is agreeable to the Minister. We divided extensively in Committee on these issues. My hon. Friends would like a short debate also on amendments Nos. 40 and 60 about the single homeless, not least in view of the tragedy that has recently occurred.

Amendment No. 34 would delete the table which provides for the main supplementary benefits rates to be brought into line with the national insurance benefit rates. The alignment of the rates is not objectionable in principle, but the alignment under the main recommendation is downwards, not up. The practical effect is to cut 40p from a single person's long-term supplementary benefit rate and 35p from that of a married couple. The much smaller number of short-term claimants would gain only 20p for a single person and 20p for a married couple.

The arguments in favour of alignment are weak. The Under-Secretary described the proposal as a "cornerstone of the simplification" in Standing Committee. However, it is a minor simplification because the supplementary benefits scale rates do not represent the amounts of benefit paid to claimants but are merely one element in the calculation. The hon. Lady also argued that because of the small differential there are: a large number of claimants with very small entitlement."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 12 February 1980; c. 594]. However, the proposed alignment will not alter that. It will just mean that different people are affected.

Deleting the table would not directly affect the treatment of the long-term unemployed since the table does not specify which categories of claimants other than pensioners would get the long-term rates. However, the case for the payment of the long-term rates to the unemployed can be argued—and we shall argue it in respect of amendments Nos. 35 and 36.

A major disadvantage of a statutory link is that if the Government decide to save money by cutting unemployment and sickness benefit rates—we are hearing harrowing stories about the Government's proposals, and most Labour Members await with trepidation the publication of the White Paper and the Chancellor's statement next week—the supplementary benefit rates would automatically be cut by the same amount. Ever if it were right to bring the supplementary benefit and the national insurance rates into line this year, it would still be wrong to provide by statute that they should automatically remain in line for future years. Deleting the table does not tie the Government to any pattern of benefit rate. It leaves them free to decide on the matter each year.

Amendment No. 37 deals with the NCIP trap which was dealt with in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) in Standing Committee. I do not need to go in detail over the ground again.

I wish to refer to the long-term unemployed because last night I could hardly believe my ears when a Conservative Member advocated a long-term rate for the unemployed. I find it more than refreshing to hear that from the Conservative Benches. If any group in our society is at the moment disadvantaged it is the long-term unemployed. It is no good saying to them in places like the North-East, in parts of Scotland, or Merseyside, in South Wales, in the South-West and in parts of Norfolk where high levels of unemployment obtain "the way to resolve this matter is to find a job"—certainly not when the Government are creating unemployment.

The long-term rates for the unemployed are well overdue. We discussed this in Committee, and the fact that the previous Government had not got round to doing anything about it. However, that does not mean that the issue should not be advocated, especially against a background of rising unemployment and rising inflation. Many of the unemployed are family people who are feeling the effects of the present policy of the Government.

8.30 pm

I address myself to the specific group of amendments dealing with the issues that I wish to raise. There are other wider issues involved, but these are some of the issues that we covered in great detail in Committee. No doubt the Minister will give his standard reply. We cannot expect anything new, not after the way we debated these issues at length in Committee. But it is essential to put on record on the Floor of the House that the issues in these amendments are of crucial importance to the people whom they concern.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

The right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) correctly said that we debated all the issues covered by these amendments in Committee. Nevertheless, they are important. Although I do not want to detain the House too long, an explanation is due on each of the three main subjects covered in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

I will, first of all, speak to amendments Nos. 37 and 53 which deal with what has been described as the "NCIP trap"—NCIP being the non-contributory invalidity pension. Perhaps the group for whom the problem is most acute is the 16-yearolds who receive this pension. It presents a worrying problem for parents who are trying to decide what is best for their children. Because the rate of the NCIP is higher than the ordinary rate of supplementary benefit for young people of that age, they cannot qualify for supplementary benefit unless they suffer a loss of income. If they accept that loss of income and claim supplementary benefit, in order to qualify for higher, long-term rates, they have to accept the lower income level for two years. Under the revised scheme the waiting period for the long-term rates will be reduced from two years to one year, but this does not remove the anomaly.

In Committee I explained that we had been studying this problem, and I am pleased to tell the House that, from the introduction of the new supplementary benefits scheme in November of this year, it will be possible for young sick and disabled people aged 16 to 17 years to qualify for supplementary benefit at the long-term rate after one year of being in receipt of a NCIP. No amendment is needed for this purpose. The change will be provided for in the regulations to be made under the Bill.

Naturally, I recognise that that does not remove the anomaly altogether. But it is the only practical change I am able to announce within existing constraints and I hope that it will remove at least part of the worrying aspect of this problem. The cost of the change will be about £500,000 in a full year. It is a modest amount, which we can cover within the overall nil-cost supplementary benefit package.

I turn to the group of amendments dealing with the long-term unemployed. A great deal of support has been expressed outside the House, and on both sides of the House, for extending to the unemployed the long-term rates of supplementary benefit. But I must repeat the reply that I have given, and make the obvious point that government is about priorities.

The cost of providing what the Opposition have asked for would be about £65 million in a year. Even if we were to make it available after 15 months, which is suggested in amendments Nos. 35 and 36, it would still cost £50 million in a year. To pay unemployment benefit at the higher long-term rate to those who had been continuously unemployed for a year or more could cost substantially more.

Our priorities are different. I think that the House recognises that. Labour hon. Members have been prepared to accept our priorities, at least to the extent that they deliberately shift more of the payments of supplementary benefit towards larger families. I have had to state the obvious several times—that the Opposition cannot make a priority of everything at the same time. For precisely the same reason, the Labour Government, too, did not extend the higher rate to the long-term unemployed. The right hon. Member for Salford, West said just now that they did not get around to it. I do not think that they would have got around to it by now if they had been in office.

The right hon. Gentleman said that it was refreshing to hear a Conservative hon. Member say last night that this reform should be made. I think that we all agree that we should like to see it made, but I repeat what I said in Committee. I do not argue against the amendment in principle; I argue against it simply because of what it would cost. It is not compatible with the nil-cost package that is the basis of the scheme.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

It is not a nil-cost Bill. It saves a considerable amount of public expenditure. We are talking about the Bill as a whole. We have taken a decision on the linkage for pensioners, which will lead to a considerable saving in future years. There are other aspects of the Bill that are not on a nil-cost basis. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman cannot reject the amendment because the Bill is nil-cost. It stands as a whole. Otherwise, it would not be the Social Security Bill.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

The Bill does not stand as a whole as regards the nil-cost formula. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that clause 1 could lead to a saving of public expenditure in a year in which earnings rose by more than prices. It is equally true that the clause that paves the way for implementing the European Community directives on similar treatment for men and women will have a net cost.

When we use the expression "nil-cost package", we are talking about the reformed system of supplementary benefit. We are talking about the subject matter of the consultative document on social assistance, issued when the right hon. Gentleman was in office. It is to that part of the Bill that I refer when I use the term "nil-cost package".

I turn to amendments Nos. 34 and 58, which deal with the alignment of the supplementary benefit rates with the rates of national insurance benefits. We cannot accept the amendments, for two reasons, which will be familiar to hon. Members, certainly to those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee. The first reason is again the cost. The changes are an essential element in the overall package of changes that have enabled us to put the review together. Alignment of the supplementary benefit rates with the corresponding pension rates makes a saving of over £30 million a year. That has been used to enable improvements elsewhere in the scheme; notably in qualifying conditions in the long-term scale rate, and in the children's rates.

Secondly, alignment for pensioners represents a very important element in our objective of achieving a simpler and a more easily understood supplementary benefit scheme. The alignment of the rates will remove one of the causes of confusion. It will lead to fewer claims being made on supplementary benefit for very small amounts—a result of the present situation. The report on the review of the supplementary benefits scheme made a strong case for any redistribution of resources within the scheme to be made towards families with children, not pensioners. Analysis of the family expenditure survey supports that view. For example, during the period 1970–1977 the real income of all households receiving supplementary benefit—the majority are pensioners—has risen faster than the average for all households. That level has risen by 12 per cent., compared with a national average of 5 per cent. I am not complacent about that. I agreed with an Opposition Member who said yesterday that if we spoke of a rise in the real living standards of those on supplementary benefit, we were talking of those who had started on a low basis. Those people still have an unsatisfactory standard of living. Nevertheless, a comparison can be made. Over that period of seven years there was a 12 per cent. increase, compared with an average increase of 5 per cent. among the population as a whole.

Among families with children that received supplementary benefit there was a rise of only 4 per cent. Among married couples with children—mainly the unemployed who did not receive the long-term rate—there was a rise of only 1 per cent. Those on the long-term rate are more able to bear any holding-back on the real increase in their income. I stress that we are discussing very small amounts. Single pensioners will receive 40p less at the November uprating this year. Married pensioners will receive 35p less. Those sums should be considered against the present rates of £37·65 for a married couple and £23·70 for a single person.

The rates will be increased this year. However, as a result of the alignment, the increase will be slightly less. That increase will happen only once. Indeed, not every pensioner will be adversely affected. The changes are part of the package. Some claimants will receive more, others less.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

The right hon. Gentleman has said that it will happen only once. I agree that in terms of cash, that is so. We shall not be able to predict what might have happened if the two rates had remained separate. Those on supplementary benefit may lose substantial amounts in future. They will now be tied to national insurance rates.

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

That would happen only if a future Government were to decide to widen the gap, and to make a larger adjustment to supplementary benefit rates than to pensions. It could happen in theory, but it is unlikely. There is no rationale for the present small differences in rates. They are largely a result of historical accident.

Alignment is therefore an important part of the proposals for simplification. One must bear in mind that pensioners are particularly affected. It has the advantage that the overall benefit system will be easier to understand. The additional component in the pension will later lift more people off the supplementary scale. Fewer retirement pensioners will qualify for the small amounts that we have been discussing. Frequently those small amounts are not taken up. The Supplementary Benefits Commission has taken energetic steps to encourage take-up. It has simplified its procedures, forms and so on.

However, it makes no sense to structure the benefit system so that a large number of claims are possible for very small amounts of money. In its administration paper on take-up of benefit the Supplementary Benefits Commission recognised that it would be virtually impossible to ensure full take-up, because of that problem in particular. People will, quite rationally, not bother to claim small amounts.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead 8:45 pm, 19th March 1980

I am puzzled by the Minister's constant reference to small amounts. The 1977 annual report of the Supplementary Benefits Commission details the amount of the supplementary benefits unclaimed by groups of claimants. For those below retirement age the average payment is in excess of £9 per claimant. Does the right hon. Gentleman call that small?

Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , Daventry

I agree that many categories do not take up their entitlement, and that includes those who, for whatever reason, forgo the opportunity to claim quite large amounts.

The SBC report identifies one reason for low take-up. For retirement pensioners in particular there may be only a small gap between the basic pension and the basic pension with the addition of the amounts that we are talking of. That strengthens the case for alignment.

I conclude by returning to the financial aspect. In two of the groups of amendments before us the Opposition are once again proposing substantial extra public expenditure. Even the more modest objective for the long-term unemployed of the 15-month figure would cost about £50 million in a full year. If the alignment proposals were not carried forward, it would cost £30 million. That is a total of £80 million. The Opposition cannot have it all ways. If they want the improvements included in other parts of the package, it is unrealistic to press amendments costing such large sums.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

I gather that we shall vote on this group of amendments, and I welcome that. It is probably the most important group discussed today.

The Minister's defence of not extending the long-term rate to the unemployed was the standard one—that the previous Labour Government did not do so. They therefore stand condemned for that.

The previous Government have a slightly better defence than this Administration. During their stewardship, which, granted, is longer than that of this Government, they implemented other important reforms. The introduction of child benefit was one, although we had to drag that measure, kicking and screaming, from them. An extra £1·5 billion went to families with children. That is a considerable achievement, although I agree that it is no excuse for not extending the long-term rates to the unemployed.

Many of the Minister's arguments supported our case. He gave us interesting figures from the family expenditure survey. I did not quite grasp the period in question.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

During that period, the living standards of the vast majority of people on benefits, namely pensioners, rose by 12 per cent., against 1 per cent. for the unemployed. That is a powerful argument on behalf of the unemployed.

There are three other important reasons for the amendments. First, the unemployed are the largest group of claimants below pensionable age on supplementary benefits. The Government are careful not to say to what level they think unemployment will rise to during the coming 12 months, but we know that the Government Actuary estimates a rise of 300,000 in the next year. That is why the Government brought in earlier this year amending regulations for national insurance contributions. Unemployment is on the increase.

Secondly, all the evidence that the SBC and outside bodies have published shows that the poorest group of claimants are the unemployed, particularly those with children. We are scrabbling around among the poor to make that distinction. All those dependent on supplementary benefits are poor, but if we have to carry out the unpleasant task of distinguishing who is the poorest, all the research indicates that the unemployed with children are suffering the most desperate poverty in our society.

The reports that the SBC submitted to the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth painted not just an unpleasant picture but an horrendous picture of life on benefit for the unemployecl—the difficulties of budgeting, the lack of savings and the need to borrow even to pay for food. That is the lifestyle of today's unemployed.

In rejecting our amendments, the Minister had no argument except that of cost. He calmly stated that it is a nil package. That clinical phrase means that the unemployed will have to wait that much longer.

The third reason why the amendments should be accepted is that not only is unemployment on the increase, but the rate of long-term unemployment is rising. I wish to present the figures carefully, because they should not be misunderstood. If we define long-term unemployment as one year or more, it is true that there were more long-term unemployed in the 1930s than there are today, but if we break down the totals and consider the proportion of those who have been unemployed for a year or more we see that there is a higher proportion of long-term unemployed today than in the peak year of unemployment of 1933.

The Minister says that an amendment that would help to soften the blow of long-term unemployment must be resisted on the grounds that "It is a nil package". We have failed to get a clear statement about what "nil package" means. We do not have a financial memorandum at the beginning of the amended Bill, but there were estimated costs and savings in a crucial few cases of the original Bill.

One of the savings arose from putting back towards the end of the month the date for starting the uprating of benefits. We have teased out of the Government in Committee and on the Floor of the House that they will probably save two weeks, rather than one, in pushing back the uprating. Their calculations for savings were based on an inflation of 10 per cent., but we are facing a rate of 20 per cent. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that it is a nil package and we are considering only the supplementary benefit component of the package. Even on that component part, the Government will make savings well in excess of what they outlined in their nil package cost.

We want an undertaking that, if the savings are greater than the Government estimated, the long-term unemployed will be at the top of their list rather than at the bottom.

I am pleased that we are having a full debate on this group of amendments, some of which cover the long-term unemployed. I wish to comment briefly on two other issues to which the Minister referred. Everyone in the House welcomes the realignment of the relative value of benefits to favour claimants with children. It is well established that this group is the most hard pressed. There will be a small compensation for them in the Bill. But those who urged the changes never thought that the resources of other poor people would be taken to increase the living standards of the poor with children. We hoped for a major redistribution from those in society who are well placed, to the poor, especially those with children. There is a credit for the Government. No one wishes to detract from that fact. But it must be underlined how limited is that change.

Another welcome announcement involves the changes for the younger claimants of the non-contributory invalidity pension. I was puzzled by the Minister's concentration on young claimants. It did not take long for me to twig that the Government were concentrating on that group because it was presumably the smallest group. By conceding to that group, the cost of the reform was kept to the minimum. It is a welcome reform. We are grateful to the Minister. But he knows, as we know, that it goes not nearly far enough.

I should like to return to the plight of the long-term unemployed. There is nothing for them in the Bill. They are the most hard pressed group of claimants and the most hard pressed of poor people. It is not an adequate defence for the Government to say that the previous Labour Government did nothing for the long-term unemployed. The Government are right to say that. Members of the previous Labour Government should hang their heads in shame that they did not concede the legitimate demands of the long-term unemployed. I hope that we shall not have to wait until the end of this Parliament before this necessary reform for the long-term unemployed is on the statute book.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

I suppose that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), I should welcome the small concession that the Minister has made. But we in the Opposition are disappointed that he has nothing to offer the long-term unemployed. He should put himself in the position of some of my constituents, who have been out of work for 15 or 16 months. They have tried, throughout that period, to get jobs. Each time someone else gets the job. They feel aggrieved. Having spent as long on these unemployment rates, and having suffered extreme poverty, they will never get up to what are supposed to be the minimum levels for long-term rates, because the Government are not prepared to help them. At the same time, there is less chance of their getting a job. In any competition for a job, employers will almost always take on the person who has been out of work the shortest time.

If the Minister cannot put the long-term unemployed up to the long-term rates, he should discuss with his colleagues in Government other ways of helping the long-term unemployed. He could consider giving a premium to firms which take on people who have been out of work for a long time. Some preference could be shown to redress the balance and help those long-term unemployed who go for a job only to find that someone who has been out of work for a shorter time is almost always accepted. The long-term unemployed are caught in a trap. They receive benefits far below what is adequate. At the same time, each week and each month that they remain out of work their chances of getting a job become worse. It is a tragedy that the Government will not recognise this problem. Many of the long-term unemployed desperately want a job. Yet they find that the Government totally turn their back.

Through their industrial policy, the Government are cutting back on the number of jobs available. By their social policy, the Government are denying these people the benefit that they badly need. I hope that we can move to a Division, although it is a pity that we have to vote on amendment No. 34. In my view, the amendments dealing with the long-term unemployed are more important. I hope that the Division will be seen outside as a clear indication that the Opposition are totally dissatisfied with the Government's attitude towards the long-term unemployed and the problem of the trap between the short-term rates and the long-term rates.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes Noes 295.

Division No. 235]AYES9 pm
Abse, LeoFletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Adams, AllenFletcher, Ted (Darlington)Maxton, John
Allaun, FrankFoot, Rt Hon MichaelMaynard, Miss Joan
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFord, BenMeacher, Michael
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestForrester, JohnMellish, Rt Hon Robert
Ashley, Rt Hon JackFoster, DerekMikardo, Ian
Ashton, JoeFoulkes, GeorgeMiller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gay, Tott'ham)Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMolyneaux, James
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Freud, ClementMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Garrett, John (Norwich S)Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)George, BruceMorton, George
Bldwell, SydneyGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMoyle, Rt Hon Roland
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertGinsburg, DavidNewens, Stanley
Booth royd, Miss BettyGolding, JohnOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Gourlay, HarryOgden, Eric
Bradley, TomGrant, George (Morpeth)O'Halloran, Michael
Bray, Or JeremyGrant, John (Islington C)O'Neill, Martin
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Grimond, Rt Hon J.Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Palmer, Arthur
Buchan, NormanHardy, PeterParker, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Harrison, Rt Hon WalterParry, Robert
Campbell, IanHart, Rt Hon Dame JudithPavitt, Laurie
Campbell-Savours, DaleHattersley, Rt Hon RoyPendry, Tom
Canavan, DennisHaynes, FrankPenhaligon, David
Cant, R. B.Healey, Rt Hon DenisPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Carmichael, NeilHeffer, Eric S.Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Carter-Jones, LewisHogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Prescott, John
Cartwright, JohnHolland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Home Robertson, JohnRace, Reg
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Homewood, WilliamRadice, Giles
Cohen, StanleyHooley, FrankRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Coleman, DonaldHoram, JohnRichardson, Jo
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Conlan, BernardHowells, GeraintRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Cowans, HarryHuckfield, LesRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Hudson Davies, Gwilym EdnyfedRobertson, George
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Crowther, J. S.Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Rooker, J. W.
Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Roy (Newport)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Janner, Hon GrevilleRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRowlands,Ted
Dalyell, TamJohn, BrynmorRyman, John
Davidson, ArthurJones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Sandelson, Neville
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Jones, Barry (East Flint)Sever, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSheerman, Barry
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Kerr, RussellSheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Kilfedder, James A.Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Deakins, EricKilroy-Silk, RobertShort, Mrs Renée
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kinnock, NeilSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dempssy, JamesLamble, DavidSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Dewar, DonaldLamborn, HarrySilverman, Julius
Dixon, DonaldLamond, JamesSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dobson, FrankLeadbitter, TedSnape, Peter
Dormand, JackLeighton, RonaldSoley, Clive
Douglas, DickLewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Spearing, Nigel
Douglas-Mann, BruceLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Spriggs, Leslie
Dubs, AlfredLitherland, RobertStallard, A. W.
Duffy, A. E. P.Lofthouse, GeoffreySteel, Rt Hon David
Dunlop, JohnLyon, Alexander (York)Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W isles)
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)Stoddart, David
Dunnett, JackMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonStott, Roger
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMcDonald, Dr OonaghStrang, Gavin
Eadie, AlexMcElhone, FrankStraw, Jack
Eastham, KenMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)McKelvey, WilliamThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Maclennan, RobertThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
English, MichaelMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Ennais, Rt Hon DavidMcNally, ThomasThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Evans, loan (Aberdare)McNamara, KevinThome, Stan (Preston South)
Evans, John (Newton)Magee, BryanTilley, John
Ewing, HarryMarshall, David (Gl'sgow.Sheitles'n)Tinn, James
Field, FrankMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Torney, Tom
Fitch, AlanMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Flannery, MartinMartin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Walnwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)Wigley, DafyddWoolmer, Kenneth
Watkins, DavidWilley, Rt Hon FrederickWright, Sheila
We etch, KenWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)Young, David (Bolton East)
Wellbeloved, JamesWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Welsh, MichaelWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)Wilson, William (Coventry SE)Mr. Hugh McCartney and
White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)Winnick, DavidMr. Ted Graham.
Whitlock. WilliamWoodall, Alec
Adley, RobertEmery, PeterLangford-Holt, Sir John
Aitken, JonathanEyre, ReginaldLatham, Michael
Alexander, RichardFalrbairn, NicholasLawrence, Ivan
Ancram, MichaelFalrgrieve, RussellLawson, Nigel
Arnold, TomFaith, Mrs SheilaLe Marchant, Spencer
Aspinwall, JackFarr, JohnLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Fell, AnthonyLester, Jim (Beeston)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Fenner, Mrs PeggyLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Banks, RobertFinsberg, GeoffreyLloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)
Bell, Sir RonaldFisher, Sir NigelLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Bendall, VivianFletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Loveridge, John
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesLuce, Richard
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Fookes, Miss JanetLyell, Nicholas
Berry, Hon AnthonyForman, NigelMcCrindle, Robert
Best, KeithFowler, Rt Hon NormanMacfarlane, Neil
Bevan, David GilroyFox, MarcusMacKay, John (Argyll)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
Biggs-Davison, JohnFraser, Peter (South Angus)McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Blackburn, JohnFry, PeterMcQuarrie, Albert
Blaker, PeterGalbraith, Hon T. G. D.Madel, David
Body, RichardGardiner, George (Reigate)Major, John
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGardner, Edward (South Fylde)Marland, Paul
Boscawen, Hon RobertGarel-Jones, TristanMarlow, Tony
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Bowden, AndrewGlyn, Dr AlanMales, Michael
Boyson, Dr RhodesGoodhart, PhilipMather, Carol
Braine, Sir BernardGoodhew, VictorMaude, Rt Hon Angus
Bright, GrahamGoodlad, AlastairMawby, Ray
Brinton, TimGorst, JohnMawhinney, Dr Brian
Brittan, LeonGow, IanMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherGower, Sir RaymondMellor, David
Brotherton, MichaelGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)Meyer, Sir Anthony
Brown, Michael (Brigs & Sc'thorpe)Gray, HamishMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch
Browne, John (Winchester)Greenway, HarryMills, Iain (Meriden)
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnGrieve, PercyMills, Peter (West Devon)
Bryan, Sir PaulGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Moate, Roger
Buck, AntonyGrist, IanMonro, Hector
Budgen, NickGrylls, MichaelMontgomery, Fergus
Bulmer, EsmondGummer, John SelwynMoore, John
Burden, F. A.Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Morgan, Geraint
Butcher, JohnHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Butler, Hon AdamHannam, JohnMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Cadbury, JocelynHaselhurst, AlanMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Hastings, StephenMudd, David
Carlisle. Kenneth (Lincoln)Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMurphy, Christopher
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Hawkins, PaulMyles, David
Chaiker, Mrs LyndaHawksley, WarrenNeale, Gerrard
Channon, PaulHayhoe, BarneyNeedham, Richard
Chapman, SydneyHeddle, JohnNelson, Anthony
Churchill, W. S.Henderson, BarryNeubert, Michael
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Newton, Tony
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Hill, JamesOnslow, Cranley
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally
Clegg, Sir WalterHooson, TomOsborn, John
Colvin, MichaelHordern, PeterPage, John (Harrow, West)
Cope,JohnHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Corrie, JohnHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Costain, A.P.Hunt, David (Wirral)Parkinson, Cecil
Critchley, JulianHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Parris, Matthew
Crouch, DavidHurd, Hon DouglasPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Patten, John (Oxford)
Dickens, GeoffreyJenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPawsey, James
Dorrell, StephenJessel, TobyPercival, Sir Ian
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJohnson Smith, GeoffreyPink, R. Bonner
Dover, DenshoreJopling, Rt Hon MichaelPollock, Alexander
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardJoseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPorter, George
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Kaberry, Sir DonaldPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Durant, TonyKimball, MarcusPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Dykes, HughKing, Rt Hon TomPrior, Rt Hon James
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnKitson, Sir TimothyProctor, K. Harvey
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Knox, DavidPym, Rt Hon Francis
Eggar, TimothyLamont, NormanRaison, Timothy
Elliott, Sir WilliamLang, IanRathbone, Tim
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Sproat, IainWaldegrave, Hon William
Rees-Davies, W. R.Squire, RobinWalker, BilI (Perth & E Perthshire)
Renton, TimStainton, KeithWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Rhodes, James, RobertStanbrook, IvorWall, Patrick
Ridley, Hon NicholasStanley, JohnWaller, Garry
Rifkind, MalcolmSteen, AnthonyWalters, Dennis
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Stevens, MartinWard, John
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)Warren, Kenneth
Rossi, HughStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)Watson, John
Rost, PeterStokes, JohnWells, John (Maidstone)
Royle, Sir AnthonyStradling Thomas, J.Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTapsell, PeterWheeler, John
Scott, NicholasTaylor, Robert (Croydon NW)Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)Wickenden, Keith
Shelton, William (Streatham)Tebbit, NormanWiggin, Jerry
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Temple-Morris, PeterWilkinson, John
Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Shersby, MichaelThompson, DonaldWinterton, Nicholas
Silvester, FredThome, Neil (Ilford South)Wolfson, Mark
Skeet, T. H. H.Thornton, MalcolmYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)Townend, John (Bridlington)Younger, Rt Hon George
Speed, KeithTrippier, David
Speller, TonyTrotter, NevilleTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Spence, Johnvan Straubenzee, W. R.Mr. John MacGregor and
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)Vaughan, Dr GerardMr. David Waddington
Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)Viggers, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

(Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine): I am now required to put the Questions on any amendments up to the end of Schedule 2 to be moved by a member of the Government. The amendments in question are Nos. 43, 46, 52 and 54. Does any hon. Member wish to divide the House on any of these amendments?

Amendments made:

No. 43, in page 48, line 5, leave out 'receiving' and insert— 'entitled or would if he satisfied prescribed conditions be entitled to'.

No. 46, in page 48, line 24, after 'subsection', insert— ', except a sum as to which it has been determined in accordance with regulations that it is not to be recovered in pursuance of this subsection,'.

No. 52, in page 54, line 18, leave out 'any' and insert 'the'.

No. 54, in page 63, line 38, leave out subsection (3) and insert— '(3) Regulations of the following kinds, namely—

  1. (a) regulations of which the effect is to increase an amount which is specified in regulations made in pursuance of section 3 of this Act or which, by virtue of regulations made in pursuance of paragraph (b) of section 4 (1) of this Act, is specified in a provision mentioned in that paragraph;
  2. (b) regulations made in pursuance of section 32A (b) of this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of consolidating regulations which they revoke;
  3. (c) regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 1 or 2 of Schedule 1 to this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of consolidating regulations which they revoke,
shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House and, in the case of regulations falling within paragraph (a) or (c) of this subsection, shall not be made without the consent of the Treasury.'.—[Mrs. Chalker.]

Photo of Mr Jock Stallard Mr Jock Stallard , Camden St Pancras North 9:15 pm, 19th March 1980

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. You will know of my connection with the all-party group for the homeless and rootless.

No doubt you have read about the recent tragedies that took place in hostels closely connected with the work of that group. I wished to make a Standing Order No. 9 application today about those tragic incidents. I was precluded from doing so because there was a possibility that the amendments on the Notice Paper in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends would give the Government an opportunity to make a policy statement about the tragic events which occurred in hostels and lodging houses had that amendment been reached. The procedural motion that has been enacted—through no fault of mine and through circumstances over which I have no control—prevented me from moving my amendment, which would have made the discussion possible.

Is there any other means by which I can return to the two amendments about the homeless and rootless and hostels and lodging houses before the guillotine falls tonight?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

We have passed those amendments, and I am afraid that there is no way in which they can be revived.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), but I respect your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.