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Part of Orders of the Day — Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:50 pm on 20th May 1986.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Shadow Minister (Social Security) 9:50 pm, 20th May 1986

As we came to debate the Bill in Committee, the Opposition realised that it was worse than we had believed at first. We did not fully realise when we went into Committee that the Government knew that the biggest losers under the Bill would be the severely disabled, let alone that the only answer they could give would be to say that the disabled might receive some help from charities. We did not realise that the Government knew that they would weaken all pension protection, not just the state earnings-related scheme. We did not fully realise that in the proposals for the state earnings-related scheme they would halve pension entitlement for someone who starts work the year after the Bill becomes law, if it ever does, and would reduce his total pension at the end of his working life to below that of the basic pension today, even if he did not have a day's sickness or unemployment in his life. If he had a substantial period of unemployment or sickness, his pension would be more than halved.

We did not realise that, although the unemployed would be worse off than they are now, purely because of the interaction between income support and the social fund, they would not be sufficiently worse off for the Government, who at the last minute and in the later stages of the Bill would rush in measures to increase the penalties on the unemployed.

Tributes have been paid to the conduct of those who took part in the Committee stage, and I am grateful to those hon. Members who were kind enough to mention me in their remarks. It was a good, constructive Committee in the way in which arguments were conducted. But I hope that our efforts to maintain personal courtesy between hon. Members did not disguise for a second from hon. Members or from anyone in the country the fact that the Opposition feel not just distaste but deep and abiding anger at the proposals in the Bill. Sometimes in Committee, when feelings spilled over, Conservative Members would express incredulity and even amusement, and would say that we did not really mean it and were whipping up false emotion. The fact that they can imagine that we did not mean it is a testimony to the gulf of experience and understanding that exists across the Floor of the House — a gulf which the Bill will widen out of all recognition.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), in a brave speech, and the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) said that the Bill will net be remembered. They are mistaken. It will be remembered as the Bill that undermined a key principle of the welfare state—that it should help people before they sink into utter destitution—and it will be remembered as the Bill that makes people ask for charity in place of the rights that existed before it was passed. It will be remembered most of all as the Bill that reintroduced the notion of choosing between the deserving and the underserving poor.

The Opposition have fought the Bill—I pay tribute to all hon. Members who participated in our debates—line by line in Committee, and we shall fight it in the country. We know that we shall not win the Division tonight, but we also know that, when people realise the impact of the Bill, their votes will sweep away the Bill and with it the Government.