I would love to secure a more pragmatic and sensible approach to the regulation of social security in Europe. I have been working on it for the past 18 months with my counterparts in other member states, and I hope that we will make progress as soon as possible. Right now, however, we must obey European case law as delivered to us by the European Court—much though it sometimes might be frustrating to do so.
I have a couple of technical points to make before I finish. As a result of providing for the new category of entitlement, in respect of claimants whose health has deteriorated to such a degree that they are placed in the support group—I referred to this earlier in response to
Dame Anne Begg—it has been necessary to remove the substance of the ESA youth time-limiting measure from the original clause 52 and to insert it into clause 51 via a new subsection in section 1 of the Welfare Reform Act 2007. The Opposition amended that new subsection by changing the period of the time limit from 365 days to a period to be prescribed of at least 730 days. That is Lords amendment 19. As a result, the House will need to agree to amendment 19 but with an amendment consequential upon the rejection of the other amendments providing for entitlement to ESA to be for 730 days rather than 365 days. This will restore the Government’s intention.
A similar complexity surrounds amendment 22, which was voted for in the other place and which ensures that no new claims can be made under the youth provisions in the future—in effect, from whenever that provision is commenced by order. This amendment would amend clause 52 by removing the substance of ESA youth time limiting, which is now included in clause 51, but would retain the key provision in clause 52 preventing new ESA youth claims from being made.
I am afraid that this position is further complicated by the fact that also in the other place amendment 23 was not pushed to a vote and therefore also stands part of the Bill. Amendment 23 effectively allows claims to be made to contributory ESA under the youth provisions for those that are placed in the support group. We therefore now have two conflicting clauses for conditions relating to youth. Finally, if amendment 23 were to be accepted, it would reduce the expected cumulative benefit savings by around £17 million by 2016-17—savings that would need to be found elsewhere in the benefits system.
In the light of these arguments—the urgent need to address the fiscal deficit we have inherited and the need to deliver principled reform to our welfare state—I hope that hon. Members will feel able to support the Government.