Income Support and Child Benefit

Orders of the Day — Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 14th March 1988.

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Lords amendment No. 3, in page 5, line 38, leave out "this section" and insert "subsection (4A) above".

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This amendment to subsection (4J) ensures that there can be no misunderstanding about what "this section" means by specifying that the reference is to subsection (4A). It is a very minor drafting amendment which is made purely to ensure that there is no misunderstanding.

Subsection (4A) gives a power to the Secretary of State to direct that a young person may be entitled to income support if he considers that severe hardship would unavoidably result if benefit was not to be paid even though that young person would otherwise not be entitled. Subsection (4J) provides that the Secretary of State may, on revoking such a direction, certify whether there has been misrepresentation of a material fact or failure to disclose a material fact.

Photo of Mr Ronnie Fearn Mr Ronnie Fearn , Southport

With regard to subsection (4A), can the Minister clarify what is meant by the power of the Secretary of State? Is that power designated through the officers of the DHSS, or does the application have to go direct to the Secretary of State in every case?

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate

The hon. Gentleman may recall from our Committee debates that we are talking about discretionary powers exercised by the Secretary of State. Those powers can be exercised by officers acting on his behalf. In those circumstances those officers are not acting as adjudication officers. In Committee we also gave the assurance that, routinely, such applications for the exercise of the Secretary of State's discretion would be referred to headquarters before they were made. Therefore, although the officers are acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, they will consult officers at headquarters before discretion is exercised.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

There is a plethora of attacks against working people contained in the Bill. The clause, even after the amendment that has been proposed by the Lords and which the Government have initiated, removes from half a million 16 and 17-year-olds all rights to supplementary benefit, notwithstanding the Minister's explanation regarding whether or not there is justification or a lack of information about the decisions taken when those youngsters have that benefit removed.

Today, around the country, there have been tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of those about to be effected by the clause who have demonstrated their opposition by attending rallies, marches and demonstrations.

In the debate on the guillotine motion it was said that the Bill and, indeed, this clause, had the wide support of people throughout the country — patently that was not true today. Youngsters at technical colleges will use the right to study part time and those on YTS feel constricted to stay on those schemes or otherwise they will lose their benefit. Students who will leave school at Easter and summer have demonstrated, as have the parents of those involved.

I want to take this opportunity to warn the Government that, among young people in this country, they are storing up an undying, deep and widespread hatred of the effects of the clause—notwithstanding the effects of Lords amendment No. 3—and the effects that the Minister has attributed to it in his brief remarks. The Tories may think that there is popularity in YTS conscription—

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. The hon. Gentleman really cannot seek to use this very limited amendment to open up the wide debate that he is now embarking upon on clause 4.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

No, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek to do it while I can keep within the rules of order which you, from the Chair, correctly determine.

I believe that the amendment to which the Minister has just spoken, Lords amendment No. 3 Page 5, line 38, leave out 'this section' and insert `subsection (4A) above' to clause 4 will not fundamentally alter the opposition which is widespread among young people. On a day when tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of young people have taken their last opportunity before the House finally passes clause 4 of the Bill, to demonstrate their opposition, it seems not outwith the bounds of debate here to attempt to finish making that point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. The Lords amendment before the House is to insert the words on the Amendment Paper. I do not see how that can in any way lend itself to the kind of wide debate that the hon. Member is engaging in.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

Earlier today, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on two occasions I spoke to several hundred young people in Coventry about the fact—

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Be that as it may, this is the House of Commons, and the hon. Gentleman must address himself to the amendment before the House. That he is not doing.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

I am just trying to tell the House that on two occasions, at 10 and between 12 and 1.30 today in Coventry, I spoke to several hundred young people about the fact that this Bill was completing its stages through Parliament, beginning at 3.30. I mentioned to them that Lords amendment No. 3 to clause 4 was coming before the House, and they felt extremely aggrieved about it.

What I am trying to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in my final brief remarks on this clause—because I am also concerned that there should be as full a debate as possible, particularly on the following amendments to do with child benefit — is just to tell the Government through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the Chair of this particular stage of the Bill, that there is widespread and deep opposition among those about to leave school who, despite the Government's attempts to reform this clause by the introduction of Lords amendment No. 3, were not reassured at the meetings that we held in Coventry this morning and this lunchtime.

I warn the Government of this. There is widespread opposition to this amendment, to Lords amendment No. 3, to clause 4 of the Social Security Bill, and the Government will reap the reward of what they have sown by this clause in the weeks and months ahead, when those youngsters and their parents realise, in three weeks' time, that half a million young people lose their benefit and, in 24 hours' time, that 21,000 millionaires reap their reward from the Budget.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax 7:15 pm, 14th March 1988

I asked the Minister in Committee whether any allowances could be made under clause 4 to youngsters leaving care. I repeat that request now. Will the Minister find it in his heart to make any concessions whatsoever for a group of youngsters who are dreadfully disadvantaged and who have lots of things in society going against them? Will he please reconsider before this goes through?

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. The hon. Lady cannot open a wide debate on clause 4. We are addressing a very limited amendment from their Lordships' House.

Question put and agreed to.