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Orders of the Day — Social Fund (Maternity and Funeral Expenses) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 9:58 pm on 9th February 1987.

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Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

The present system causes a great deal of distress to claimants, especially those new to social welfare. I am curious about the social fund commissioner. I understand that young women in these circumstances will obtain loans from the social fund only, when they have received benefit income support for six months.

The proposals stand out in stark contrast to the Government's promise of tax cuts. Here we see the Government at their pernicious worst. We see tax cuts alongside benefit cuts. That, surely, is a disgrace to the very many poor people in Great Britain.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield 10:02 pm, 9th February 1987

I shall be brief, bearing in mind that another debate will follow this one. I suffered in Committee, and I am suffering once again from some of the squalid things that have been pushed out by Conservative Members.

I wish to refer to a couple of Right-wing Tories who spoke without having listened to the debate. They made a contribution and got it on the record in the hope that their constituents would take note. They were participating in the debate but had not been here to hear every word, unlike other hon. Members who have sat here during the debate this evening. What we have witnessed from the Tories is a disgusting state of affairs. [Interruption.] It is no laughing matter either. I remember the things that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) had to say. I hope that he will have to respond to his constituents, especially to the women of this nation, because the mickey was being taken out of them when some of my hon. Friends were speaking.

When a Labour Government return to office, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) will be the Minister for Women and will do a first-class job on their behalf. We do not want any cracks from Conservative Members about that.

We have been talking today about the cradle to the grave. I make no bones about that. I heard the horrible things that were said by Tory Members in Committee and they have been repeated tonight.

Some Conservative Members have arrived back in the Chamber. One of them, the hon. Member for Mid- Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), made a quick intervention, nipped off and now he has come back.

On the question of the death grant, I have experienced over many years as a member of a local authority—

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

I never thought that I would hear that from a colleague.

When I was a member of a local authority we had to find places in a graveyard for a pauper's funeral. I believe that the proposals in the Bill will mean that there will be more paupers' funerals.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

The Minister shakes his head. He is not living in the real world. I do not know where he and other Conservative Members go when they are supposed to be back in their constituencies. I get around, talk to people, and find out about their serious difficulties. It is high time that the Minister and his colleagues did the same.

In my constituency people experience many financial difficulties, especially over burials. I am trying to say to the Minister—I hope that he will take it in—that I have reason to believe, because of my experience, that there will be more paupers' funerals in the future.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

I shall not give way. It is 10.2 pm, and we are moving on to a prayer. We are cutting the time for that debate—

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

The final point that I wish to make—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

The hon. Gentleman feels deeply about these matters. Let me try to put his mind at rest. The underlying thrust of what we are seeking to do is to make sure that the very poorest people who have no resources get not just £30 but the full cost of the funeral. That is the point. The hon. Gentleman's remarks about proper funerals are 100 per cent. wrong.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

The Minister is stipulating the type of funeral. It is not fair. He is forgetting those who will not qualify. They are struggling right now. I tell him this: he will have a good send off. [Laughter.] That is funny. The Minister can afford to have a good send off. There will be many more like us who can afford a good send off, but we represent people who are struggling in this world. They are struggling in our constituencies—[Interruption.] I am making my point for the people whom I represent, and other hon. Members have been making their points for the people whom they represent. So the Minister can come off it. He can take the grin off his face. He can think seriously about what we are saying. There will be serious difficulties with the Bill. I tell the Minister this. When we get back into office, we shall repeal it.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking 10:07 pm, 9th February 1987

As we have gone beyond the time that we expected, I shall be only a couple of minutes. If this miserable little Bill, which was introduced because of some draftperson's mistake— [Laughter.] Conservative Members laugh at everything, do they not? It is all funny to them. If the Bill has done nothing else, it has highlighted the meanness of the Government when it comes to dealing with vulnerable people, as so many of my hon. Friends have said. When pregnant women should be having as relaxed a time as possible, in a difficult period in their life, as well as in the delightful period when they have the child, the Government make it difficult for them to get the benefits and goods that they need to make their life as easy as possible.

Nobody has ever suggested that the £25 grant did not need uprating. We have always said that, but to do it in the way that the Government have and in effect cut down the benefits that have now accumulated for pregnant women and babies, is not the way to do it. We need decent benefits as of right— not means-tested. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) said, we need decent maternity and paternity leave. I add one thing to his package— parental leave. The Government have consistently blocked it for goodnesss knows how many years, and doubtless will go on blocking it until we have blocked them out of government.

With that package of benefits and leave, one can at least ensure that the child and the parent have a decent beginning, with a new little life. Apart from the Government, not a single body that I have met likes the Bill or any other aspect of the Social Security Act 1986. [Horn. MEMBERS: "Name them."] If anyone can name a body that likes the Bill, I shall be happy to hear it. I cannot find a single person or body of people who believe that the social fund in particular is not really the begging bowl. People believe that we are returning to those days which we had all thought had gone for good. With this measure, as with others, the Government are taking us back into Dickensian days.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health and Social Security) 10:09 pm, 9th February 1987

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) said that this debate took us from the cradle to the grave. I commend the hon. Gentleman to listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I agree with the hon. Member for Birkenhead on one point, although, if I may politely do so, I quarrel with him on another. I agree with his comment— and I noted his words carefully because they are the essence of the Bill—that an increased number of people in the targeted groups will get more than they would have received previously. That is the essence of the Bill. We are righting the wrong which the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) has just acknowledged existed—

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field , Birkenhead

My point was that while some women will gain more, the very poorest will gain less. So much for the Government's targeting.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health and Social Security)

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that that is not exactly what the hon. Gentleman said.

The hon. Gentleman was running down Wales in the form of its Attorney-General in the 1550s and he referred to "A Man for all Seasons". I commend to the House my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) who is indeed "A Man for all Seasons" not only in this Bill, but, as the House will remember, especially in matters of exceptionally cold weather. Although the Bill has had its chilly moments I shall answer one or two points raised in the debate, especially those raised by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett).

The hon. Lady raised the matter of appeal and adjudication and asked whether there would be a right of appeal simply on circumstances and whether that was adequate. Of course, in relation to maternity payments, the matter is to be prescribed. The Bill is before the House so that that payment may be prescribed. However, there will be a right of appeal on circumstances and on the amount given against the listed items in relation to funerals and, as has been emphasised, the allocation for funerals to the targeted groups is far more generous than the previous provision.

In connection with appeal, I commend to the House, the comments made by Lord Denning in another place. He saw the proposal coming from this House as being simple, fair and just machinery. He said that he had seen a lot of over-complicated, over-lengthy and over-costly procedures and he commended the appeal procedures to the other place.

With regard to the point about the widow who borrowed and who would no longer need to do so, my hon. Friend the Minister of State was right. It is now possible to give full help with a funeral. The rules will he simpler and it will be easier for people on low incomes to get help. That is of the essence of the Bill. The Bill targets help on those who have the greatest need.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Lyell Sir Nicholas Lyell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health and Social Security)

Problems are being tackled on the principle of concentrating help where it is needed. The level of help given to families and individuals in these wider categories will, for the great majority, be a significant improvement upon what they receive today. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 117.

Division No. 85][10.15 pm
AYES
Alexander, RichardEmery, Sir Peter
Amess, DavidEvennett, David
Ancram, MichaelEyre, Sir Reginald
Ashby, DavidFallon, Michael
Aspinwall, JackFarr, Sir John
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Favell, Anthony
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Fenner, Dame Peggy
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Fletcher, Sir Alexander
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Fookes, Miss Janet
Baldry, TonyForman, Nigel
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyForth, Eric
Bellingham, HenryFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bendall, VivianFranks, Cecil
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnGale, Roger
Blackburn, JohnGalley, Roy
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterGardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Boscawen, Hon RobertGarel-Jones, Tristan
Bottomley, PeterGower, Sir Raymond
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGround, Patrick
Bright, GrahamHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Brinton, TimHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bruinvels, PeterHampson, Dr Keith
Buck, Sir AntonyHannam, John
Budgen, NickHargreaves, Kenneth
Bulmer, EsmondHarris, David
Butterfill, JohnHarvey, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Haselhurst, Alan
Carttiss, MichaelHawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)
Cash, WilliamHawksley, Warren
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHayes, J.
Chapman, SydneyHayward, Robert
Chope, ChristopherHeddle, John
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Hicks, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hind, Kenneth
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hirst, Michael
Cockeram, EricHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Cope, JohnHolt, Richard
Couchman, JamesHoward, Michael
Crouch, DavidHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Dicks, TerryHowarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Dorrell, StephenHowell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Dover, DenHubbard-Miles, Peter
Dunn, RobertHunt, David (Wirral W)
Durant, TonyJackson, Robert
NOES
Alton, DavidBray, Dr Jeremy
Anderson, DonaldBrown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBrown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Caborn, Richard
Barron, KevinCallaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Beckett, Mrs MargaretCampbell-Savours, Dale
Benn, Rt Hon TonyCarlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bidwell, SydneyClelland, David Gordon
Jessel, TobyNelson, Anthony
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyNeubert, Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Newton, Tony
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyNicholls, Patrick
Key, RobertNormanton, Tom
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Norris, Steven
King, Rt Hon TomOttaway, Richard
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Knowles, MichaelPawsey, James
Knox, DavidPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Lawler, GeoffreyPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Lawrence, IvanPollock, Alexander
Lee, John (Pendle)Porter, Barry
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)Powell, William (Corby)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkPowley, John
Lester, JimPrice, Sir David
Lightbown, DavidProctor, K. Harvey
Lilley, PeterRaffan, Keith
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lord, MichaelRoe, Mrs Marion
Luce, Rt Hon RichardRowe, Andrew
Lyell, NicholasRyder, Richard
McCurley, Mrs AnnaSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Macfarlane, NeilShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Maclean, David JohnSoames, Hon Nicholas
McLoughlin, PatrickStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Madel, DavidSumberg, David
Major, JohnTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Malins, HumfreyThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Mather, Sir CarolThurnham, Peter
Meyer, Sir AnthonyWaller, Gary
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Wheeler, John
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Wiggin, Jerry
Mitchell, David (Hants NW)Wood, Timothy
Moate, Roger
Montgomery, Sir FergusTellers for the Ayes:
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)Mr. Francis Maude and
Murphy, ChristopherMr. Michael Portillo.
Clwyd, Mrs AnnLitherland, Robert
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)Livsey, Richard
Coleman, DonaldLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Conlan, BernardLoyden, Edward
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Corbett, RobinMcNamara, Kevin
Corbyn, JeremyMcWilliam, John
Crowther, StanMarek, Dr John
Dalyell, TamMaxton, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'Ili)Maynard, Miss Joan
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dewar, DonaldMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dormand, JackNellist, David
Douglas, DickO'Brien, William
Dubs, AlfredO'Neill, Martin
Eadie, AlexOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Eastham, KenPark, George
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Patchett, Terry
Fatchett, DerekPavitt, Laurie
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Pendry, Tom
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)Pike, Peter
Fisher, MarkRaynsford, Nick
Flannery, MartinRedmond, Martin
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRichardson, Ms Jo
Forrester, JohnRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Foster, DerekRogers, Allan
Foulkes, GeorgeRoss, Ernest (Dundee W)
George, BruceRowlands, Ted
Godman, Dr NormanSheerman, Barry
Golding, Mrs LlinShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hamilton, James (M'well N)Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)Skinner, Dennis
Hancock, MichaelSnape, Peter
Hardy, PeterSoley, Clive
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterSpearing, Nigel
Haynes, FrankStewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Strang, Gavin
Howells, GeraintThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Hoyle, DouglasTinn, James
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Wainwright, R.
John, BrynmorWallace, James
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldWareing, Robert
Kennedy, CharlesWelsh, Michael
Kirkwood, ArchyWinnick, David
Lambie, David
Lamond, JamesTellers for the Noes:
Leadbitter, TedMr. Don Dixon and
Leighton, RonaldMr. Ray Powell.
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)

Question accordingly agreed to

Bill read the Third time, and passed.