Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Part of Opposition Day — [1st allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 8th December 2009.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 6:31 pm, 8th December 2009

I was enjoying the speech made by John Mason, until that last bit. He can rest assured that he can vote with us; he does not have to convince himself that we are right, but he can be absolutely certain that the Government are wrong. It was also a delight almost to follow my hon. Friend Chloe Smith, who demonstrated in her thoughtful speech her clear understanding of and care for her constituents.

My hon. Friend Mr. Lansley set out our case comprehensively and-despite what the Secretary of State said-in a measured, thoughtful way. He exposed the weakness of the Government's case. My right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell, a former Health Secretary, made a thoughtful and typically well-informed speech that raised a number of important questions.

This debate has exposed a Government who are in disarray and running scared on this issue. The Secretary of State-wherever he happens to be-has today effectively holed his own Green Paper below the water line. We did not think that it held the answers anyway, so, from our point of view, that is welcome, but he has effectively destroyed it. He changed the language today. Up until this morning, when the Government's amendment to the motion repeated the words

"would continue to receive an equivalent level of support",

Ministers had stuck doggedly to that language-not that anyone knew what it meant. Many interpreted it to mean that benefits such as attendance allowance and disability living allowance for those over the age of 65 would be taken away and put into a social care system, leading to less control and independence.

Despite what the Secretary of State said, those concerns were not got up by the Opposition; 105 MPs of all parties have signed early-day motion 1, including 39 Labour Members. I think that I heard Roger Berry correctly when he said that, despite having signed that early-day motion, he was going to vote against exactly the same wording on today's Order Paper, purely because today's motion had been tabled by us. He has a good reputation on these issues, and I think that he let himself down in making that argument.

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