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Social Security Bill

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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[2nd Allotted Day]

As amended ( in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Schedule 1

Amendments Of Social Security Act 1975

4.13 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 27, line 34, at end insert—

'2A. After subsection (1) of section 47 shall be inserted the following subsection—"(1A) Where a person whose invalidity pension is increased under the preceding subsection becomes entitled to a Category A retirement pension, the weekly rate of the retirement pension shall be increased by the amount by which the invalidity pension would have been increased under the preceding subsection if she had not become so entitled.".'.
This amendment and the following group deal with the question of equality of treatment in the social security system and the implementation of the EEC directive. We had some interesting debates in Standing Committee on a number of our amendments on these subjects, although we got nowhere with them. We had an interesting, not to say, occasionally, amusing debate about the relationship between the words "similar" and "equal", and I and other Labour Members were grateful for the letter that we received from the Under-Secretary of State in which she showed how it was necessary to use "similar" rather than "equal".

In the debate we tried to show that the words were the same, but the hon. Lady demonstrated that "similar" has been used because it is not possible at the moment to use "equal" throughout the system. With great regret, I accept that. I hope that she or the Minister for Social Security will explain—if not in this debate, in a subsequent one on the whole question of equality—the timetable the Government foresee for implementing equality of treatment for women in the social security system.

The amendment deals with the case where a wife is drawing invalidity benefit and is getting an increase for her handicapped husband, which increase she will lose when she attains the age of 60 when she becomes a retirement pensioner. In Standing Committee the Minister for Social Security said, in referring to this point,
"This is perhaps an example of the fact that, whereas we are legislating here for real improvements, there are still rough edges. Again I should like to consider this point in case there is something that we can and should do, but without making any firm commitment."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 12 February 1980; c. 387.]
In the absence of any move from the Government Front Bench showing that the Government are able, if not willing, to improve the situation, we tabled the amendment because we believed that it would ensure that in this limited class of case the increase for the dependent husband would continue after the wife reached retirement age.

I stress that this problem involves a minuscule number of people, but it would help those people if the Government would take another sympathetic look at the matter to try to iron out this inequality. Only a small number are involved, but it is an imposition upon them as well as being a source of resentment. It means that they lose out. I hope that we shall obtain a guarantee from the Under-Secretary or the Minister on this point.

As the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said, we had a number of interesting and important debates in Standing Committee on the effect of the EEC directive. We have accepted the directive and on certain points have gone beyond its provisions. The hon. Member quite rightly said that this question was discussed in Committee and that I had indicated that we would look at it again. I have to say with some regret that, having looked at it, I cannot meet the point he makes in the amendment. The amendment would have the effect of allowing the invalidity pensioner who had been receiving the increase for her dependent husband to go on receiving that increase on retirement.

There are two basic arguments against the proposal. First, our social security legislation does not provide for the payment of dependency increases for the husband of a retirement pensioner. Second, the EEC directive does not require equal treatment in this area, because the married man is not entitled to claim a retirement pension on his wife's contribution, and it would be inappropriate to allow the married woman retirement pensioner to claim the dependency increase for her husband instead.

The Bill provides that a woman receiving sickness benefit can receive an increase for her husband provided his earnings are not more than the amount of the increase. Although this is not required by the directive, it allows her to go on receiving this increase when she becomes entitled to invalidity benefit. Further, it allows a woman invalidity pensioner who does not retire at 60 but whose invalidity pension is thereafter paid at the retirement pension rate to carry on receiving an increase for her dependent husband until the age of 65 if she does not retire earlier.

Where is the dividing line to be drawn? It seems to be consistent with our general legislation that the dividing line for adult dependency is drawn not between sickness benefit and invalidity benefit but between incapacity benefit paid during a person's working life and benefits paid after retirement. We have accepted that increases should continue to be paid during the grey area, if I can use that term, between the ages of 60 and 65 where a woman elects to prolong her working life. But to go further and extend the provision into retirement proper would be to breach the traditional dividing line affecting retirement.

I accept, as I did in Committee, that carrying out this directive inevitably leads to some rough edges. Indeed, if we had accepted the directive as it stood the edges would have been rougher than they are in the way that we propose to legislate. Some edges are left rough, and I see no alternative. We cannot take further major steps at present, nor can we complicate the scheme even further for the sake of the relatively few people who would find themselves in this situation. Therefore, I cannot recommend that the House should accept this amendment.

The Minister's reply was very disappointing. The EEC directive that we signed and which the Government accept calls for implementation. The Government have put back the implementation to the further possible date, with one exception. This is not an issue that we want to pursue to a vote at present but we shall pursue it further with the Government, not least as regards the invalidity benefit as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and the disabled. We shall be discussing the disabled in more detail a little later. On that basis, we shall not press the amendment to a vote at this stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 28, line 13, leave out 'a female'.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 9, in page 28, line 13, after 'residing', insert

'and for the words "the female person's earnings" there shall be substituted the words "the person's earnings".'.

These amendments cover the same area as amendment No. 7, although they relate to a different point. They deal with the increases of retirement or invalidity pension for a person of the opposite sex who is caring for the claimant's children. At present the increase is payable only to a male claimant and we seek to make that equal by the insertion of the word "female" in line 13. Amendment No. 9 is consequential.

If these amendments were accepted they would extend the benefit to the female claimant who has a person—to put it in those terms, a man or a woman—looking after her children. In Committee the Minister of State said that he would look again at what he said was the
"slight difference in the way that the man and the woman pensioner who is child-caring and might not be married is treated."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 12 February 1980; c. 382.]
Like the previous amendment, these amendments affect a very small number of people. It is difficult for the Opposition to quantify the number and the cost, but I know from the researches that we have carried out and the advice that have been given, including advice from the Equal Opportunities Commission that only a small number of people would be in- volved. If the Minister says, as I expect he will, that he is not able to extend the benefits to this further small group of people, I should like him to tell us what the cost would be so that we know the size of the sum.

Although bits of the EEC directive have been implemented in a fuller sense than originally stated—I accept that—and some have not been implemented, the whole idea of it was that women were asking not for special treatment but merely for equal treatment and for the same value for money as men receive from their national insurance contributions. The whole tenor of this debate, as in Committee, has tended to be that women are asking for a privilege in trying to obtain equal treatment whereas they are merely asking for what I believe—and I think the overwhelming majority of people outside would also believe if they knew the difficulty—is a matter of right. They are not putting themselves into a better position than men. I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

Again I am genuinely sorry that I have to give a negative reply. May I say in extenuation that on the next amendment I shall be meeting a point? This is a complicated question, and I accept that I promised in Committee to look at it to see whether we could meet the point.

The effect of the two amendments would be to enable an increase in retirement or invalidity pension to be paid to a person of either sex who had the care of the pensioner's children, subject—if the amendments were carried—to the £45 tapered earnings rule which applies at present to the earnings of a wife of a pensioner. At present a male or female pensioner can get an increase in pension for a woman having care of children for whom he or she receives increases and the woman's earnings do not affect the benefit unless they exceed £45 per week, any earnings from caring for the children being completely ignored.

As drafted, the Bill permits the child-carer to be male or female but allows a male child-carer looking after a pensioner's children to earn only up to the level of the increase payable for him—£14 per week.

The main argument against allowing the benefit of the tapered earnings rule to male child-carers is that he would then be treated more favourably than the husband of the pensioner. The increase for the husband of an invalidity pensioner is, of course, subject to the £14 earnings rule, while no dependency increase is payable for the husband of a female retirement pensioner.

Thus, the Bill as it stands gives equal treatment as between the female child-carer and the wife of a pensioner who both benefit from the tapered earnings rule. It also ensures that a man caring for a pensioner's children is not treated more favourably than a pensioner's husband. Again, we are talking about rough edges, but it seems to me that no sufficiently strong case has been made on social grounds for the amendment; and the EEC directive, of course, does not require us to make the amendment.

I do not have a figure for the cost, but I accept that, as the hon. Lady says, it would be very small. However, the implication is that if we accepted the amendment we should have to go on—we should certainly be under considerable pressure to do so—to treat husbands of pensioners equally with wives of pensioners. I am advised that at present rates of benefit the cost would be £11 million a year. In other words, if that result followed, it would be very expensive.

I am sorry that for those reasons I cannot accept the amendment.

4.30 pm

It is clear that even the most modest proposals from the Opposition are rejected, as in Committee and again yesterday, not simply on grounds of very marginal additional public expenditure—in terms of national figures, £10 million or £11 million is marginal—but now on the ground that acceptance could lead to pressure for further expenditure in six months, a year, two years or three years. That is not a good enough argument. Basically the only case that the Minister advanced was that the amendment could lead to a further rationalisation—I should say a further simplification—of the operation of the scheme.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that there had not been sufficient social grounds put forward. That is not so. We are not saying that there is a social problem. But there are individual problems, no matter how few. We should remember when we talk about social problems that they are made up of individual cases.

We are naturally becoming a little tired of the Government's approach. I understand what goes on in government when proposals are considered in Departments. Those proposals receive the response in the Department or through contact with Treasury officials: "Do not do this, because it might lead us to be put under pressure, in a year, five years or some indefinite time, to do something else". The answer is that no matter what pressure is put on Ministers or the Treasury, they have the answer in the end, as we have experienced during consideration of the Bill. They simply resist the pressure, saying "We shall not go to the House with proposals for that further expenditure".

Therefore, if the risk of spending another £10 million or £11 million at an unknown time is serious, it is solved simply—not that I wish to advocate this when the time comes—by Treasury Ministers, the right hon. Gentleman or his successor saying "We are not having it". The right hon. Gentleman has got used to doing that on the Bill. Surely when we come to little matters such as this we can have a positive response, instead of being told that in a few years' time it may lead to pressure for further expenditure in another level of the operation of the scheme.

For heaven's sake, let us have a positive response on at least modest proposals.

We on the Opposition Benches are very disappointed by the Minister's response. He suggested that he would be more favourable to us in the next amendment, which gives a concession of seven days on a question of appeals. But the EEC protocol on the similar treatment of women, as opposed to equal treatment, was signed on the basis that implementation must take place within five years. It is amazing that our Government have decided to take the maximum time to implement the necessary regulations.

It is not that Government are saying that they cannot afford the small amount involved by next week or even in November. They say that they cannot afford it in 1983 or probably in 1984. They are admitting that their economic policies will not bear fruit by then.

I realise that it is administratively convenient to have dealt with the regulations in the Bill, but if the Minister cannot commit money that far into the future now, can he not give us an indication that the House will have an opportunity to consider the matter again before the regulations come into effect? I should have expected that he at least would try to claim that the Government's economic package would result in there being enough money available for small improvements in 1983 and 1984.

If the right hon. Gentleman must tell the House that he expects his Government's economic policies will be so disastrous that they can offer no hope of minor improvements of this kind by the time the regulations are introduced, he should consider whether it is worth continuing to support that Government. If the Government will not go along with the regulations, that seems to be a clear admission that their economic strategy is failing.

If the Minister says that we must wait to see the outcome, will he tell us how the House will have an opportunity further to discuss the regulations before they come into effect, so that we can take into account whether the economic strategy has succeeded? If it has, there should be a small sum available to remove these anomalies.

I have faith in the Government's economic policy. I think that it will bear fruit.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) is right in saying that our implementation of the directive is a year or two away. As has been the position for a year or two, we shall probably continue to have a Social Security Bill every Session. Therefore, every hon. Member will have opportunities to move amendments. What the answer will be, and whether the House will give this matter priority over other matters, I do not know, but the door is not shut for ever. It will be open to the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member who wishes to do so to return to the question in the future, possibly in advance of the period when the regulations take effect.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 29, line 40, at beginning insert '21 days'.

I am glad to be able to meet a point put to me in Committee. It may or may not be considered a coincidence that this is a totally inexpensive amendment, the purpose of which is to extend from 21 days to 28 the period for making an appeal to a national insurance local tribunal against a decision of an insurance officer.

The Bill as drafted makes some improvement. The 21-day appeal period had always in practice been operative from the date on which the insurance officer's decision was notified to the claimant, but a recent decision of the National Insurance Commissioner laid down that that was not strictly in accordance with the law, and that the operative date should be the date on which the decision was made. Therefore, the Bill as it was originally drafted, and as it is now before the House, already made some improvement, in that it restored the law to what we thought it had been, in counting the 21 days from the date on which the decision was notified rather than the date on which it was formally made.

In Committee there was some confusion, in which I must confess that I shared, about whether decisions were notified by first-class or second-class post. I can assure hon. Members that they are notified by first-class post, conferring whatever benefit that amounts to these days. However, hon. Members still felt anxiety that the 21 days might be insufficient.

We envisaged an appointed day in November. That will allow time for forms to be reprinted. It will also coincide with the various adjudication changes that are made in the Bill. Every hon. Member will agree that a time limit on appeals is necessary. Successive Governments have taken that view and the House has endorsed it whenever it has considered this subject. A time limit avoids the possibility of indefinite opportunities for appeal. However, we wish to be sure that we are being fair to claimants. In practice there will not be a large addition to the number of appeals. The number of appeals falling between the 21 to 28 day period will be small.

It is important to do justice, and to be seen to do justice, to those who feel that they have a case for appeal. I therefore commend the amendment.

We welcome the fact that the Government have at last made a concession, even if that concession represents only seven days and apparently costs the Government nothing. These amendments deal only with national insurance appeals to local tribunals. Will the Minister ensure that it applies equally to supplementary benefit and FIS appeals? Such a process would appear logical.

Perhaps the Minister could give people a little more information. He has assured us that the forms that notify the decision are sent by first-class post. I accept that those forms inform people that they have a right to appeal. However, the form is not as helpful as it might be. Many people do not know how to make an appeal. Perhaps more guidance should be made available by bodies such as the citizens advice bureaux. That would help those who do not know how to begin to make an appeal.

Some people may make appeals because they are annoyed about the decision. They may then get cold feet and fail to turn up at the hearing. Many people put in an appeal and then either withdraw it or decide to ignore the system and to try to teach it a lesson. The latter do not bother to turn up. Others have every intention of turning up, but get cold feet. They are frightened of representing themselves and of the difficulties involved. If more advice and guidance were given, it would be helpful.

I realise that great difficulties are involved. The availability of advice in different areas varies widely. However, perhaps claimants could get advice from the local office about how to make an appeal. That would be useful. Indeed, such a scheme might save the Govern- ment money. If people are better advised, it may reduce the number of appeals. People would appeal only if they thought they had a genuine chance of winning. They would not make an appeal simply as a criticism of the system. I hope that the Minister will consider that point. I also hope that the extension from 21 days to 28 days will apply to supplementary benefit and FIS appeals. It is only logical to have some uniformity.

4.45 pm

I assure the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that the legislation will apply to FIS and supplementary benefit appeals as well as to national insurance appeals. Forms sent to claimants state clearly that there is a right of appeal. However, as a result of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I shall look at the form again to see whether any amendment is needed. I shall write to him on that point.

As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, many sources of advice are open to claimants. Obviously the availability of advice varies from area to area and from claimant to claimant. It is not humanly possible for the House to ensure uniformity of advice. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I would like a claimant to make an appeal if he has the slightest scintilla of doubt that he is entitled to something that has been turned down by the insurance officer, or by the benefit officer.

I have attended appeal tribunals as a trade union officer and as a Member of Parliament. I have found the chairmen and members of local tribunals extremely helpful. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that tribunals assist claimants in every way. I do not think they do so merely because a Member of Parliament or some other representative is in the room. They have a general record of being helpful. I shall take this opportunity to pay public tribute to them for the valuable work that they do on behalf of the community, and on behalf of claimants.

I agree that tribunals are helpful. However, many of those who would like to appeal do not know that. They are put off. A constituent who came to see me at my advice bureau one Saturday morning had been put off because he had been told that the appeal would be held in the local town hall—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is not permited to make two speeches on Report. If he is making an intervention, that is fair enough.

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had thought I was making an intervention. I thought that the Minister had given way.

People are put off from attending tribunals. They do not know that they will be treated as sympathetically as the Minister has described.

I thought that I had sat down, but perhaps I can change my mind and treat the hon. Gentleman's remarks as an intervention.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course, people will react differently. We cannot legislate for every situation. However, all hon. Members would wish to encourage the view that I attempted to express a few moments ago, namely, that the appeal machinery exists and should be used. The public should be encouraged to put their case to the test, if they feel that they have one. The more hon. Members and other active members of society can persuade claimants of that, the better.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 11, in page 29, line 41, at beginning insert '28 days'.[ Mr. Prentice.]

Clause 3

Amendments Of Social Security Pensions Act 1975

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 6, leave out lines 37 and 38.

Out of the goodness of my heart and my willingness to accept Opposition amendments, I agreed with the amendment that was proposed in Committee by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson). This amendment is consequential upon that.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5

Maternity Grant

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 9, line 29, after 'residence' insert 'and presence'.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 14, in page 9, line 45, after 'date', insert: 'not being later than 17th November 1980'.

As the House will know, the Government were glad to accept the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) in Committee. It makes the maternity grant non-contributory. As the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) will know, there has been a convention that non-contributory benefits are payable on the satisfaction of certain prescribed conditions. That has always applied to attendance allowances, noncontributory invalidity pensions, invalid care allowances and so on. Those conditions are "residence and presence" of the person claiming in this country. The new clause as moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon did not include the words "and presence". Therefore, amendment No. 13 adds the words to the clause.

Although the residence and presence conditions might be referred to under the heading of "residence", I gather that there needs to be power in the primary legislation to prescribe conditions as to residence and presence. Therefore, the addition of the words "and presence" in line 29 after "residence" will fit in with the other aspects of non-contributory benefits payable under the same conditions.

I should like to speak to amendment No. 14.

The Minister explained that the Government had graciously accepted a proposal from a Conservative Back Bench Member, but almost implied that the hon. Gentleman had got it wrong. She should have said that her advisers had given the hon. Gentleman the wrong advice. The Minister went on to say that the Government had been generous in accepting the suggestion to make the maternity grant non-contributory. She forgot to include the qualification that it will not be implemented this year, next year or the year after. It is another example of "Never-never land". I believe that last night the Government mentioned 1983.

My hon. Friend should not be so pleased. It is November 1982, which is effectively 1983.

It will be a long time before it comes into operation.

If there is a good case for introducing the non-contributory benefit in 1982 or 1983, why not do it now? The delay will spread confusion. People will assume that it takes effect now. The Government will have to take the trouble to explain that the regulations will not take immediate effect.

The change is to be welcomed, but moving it so far into the future detracts from it. It will be difficult for the Government to explain that they believe that the benefits should be non-contributory but that will not be introduced for some time. Our amendment would have introduced the measure in November with the rest of the upratings.

What is the difference in cost between introducing non-contributory benefits now and at a future date? Why is it necessary to save that small amount of money?

During the debate on the Private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) a strong case was made out that improving the maternity grant and therefore the mother's care would save the Government money. The number of children born handicapped would be reduced. By improving care only marginally, and cutting down the need to care for three or four such children over their lifetime, we would recoup the cost involved. I believe that the Minister said that the cost of caring for one severely handicapped child was £250,000. The measure would pay for itself over and over again if, by better natal care, one or two fewer children were born handicapped. The Minister should consider making the measure operative now.

I can only assume that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) is so disgusted that the Government only offered him a small piece of cake that he is not here to seize his opportunity to push the Government. The Government should be prepared to accept amendment No. 14.

The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) has had a wretched time. He was helped by the Government with his new clause, and prepared a long speech to move it in Committee. Unfortunately, through lack of time the new clause was taken formally. It now appears that it was drafted incorrectly. The hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber earlier, and we should not give the impression that he has not attended the debates. He has been assiduous in attending the debates in Committee and on Report. He addressed the House forcefully last night on child benefit. He looked forward to the implementation of this modest measure at a modest cost, which perhaps the Minister will confirm is only about £1 million. The hon. Gentleman then discovered that the Government did not plan to implement the measure until November 1982.

We have achieved little in the long hours spent on the Bill. When the Bill is complete, I believe that it will have taken about 130 hours. The Government have made little or no monetary concessions, which is extraordinary in a Bill of this nature. We have just wrung out of the Government a concession over the number of days for appeal. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) moved an amendment last night to increase the maternity grant from £25 to £40. The Government even resisted that modest amendment on grounds of cost.

It is deception by the Government to delay this measure until November 1982. They are pushing it as far ahead as possible. The same applies to the EEC recommendations. With one exception, the implementation date is as far ahead as possible. The equal opportunities provisions are as far ahead as 1984.

This small and welcome concession will benefit married and unmarried women. Surely it should take priority over many of the Government's other expenditures, which will be spelt out next Wednesday. The Government are taking a parsimonious attitude, which should be highlighted.

In regional press reports no date is given for the non-contributory benefit. People possibly imagine that the date has fallen off the linotype, and are not aware that the date is November 1982. We are right to be dissatisfied with the Government.

The Government's reaction to all the amendments tends to reflect their meanness, and this is the meannest reaction of all. The measure would cost so little. We have been talking of sums of £20 million to £30 million, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) said on the previous amendment that £10 million or £11 million was peanuts.

The cost involved here is £1·5 million—perhaps less. That cannot be the reason for the delay. I assume that the reason must be that the Government want to make the change administratively simple by putting the payment on to the computer at the child benefit centre and that that cannot be done for another two years. If that is the reason, it is even worse, because 60,000 women who would have qualified for the grant on a non-contributory basis will not receive it.

5 pm

I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) has entered the Chamber. On this amendment, perhaps we ought to refer to him as our hon. Friend. He is welcome and I hope that he will have something to say in the debate.

If 1982 has been chosen solely for administrative convenience—and I do not believe that the cost can be the reason for the delay—that is ridiculous. If the Government claim that they are delaying the implementation of the change because of the cost involved, they should remember that £300,000 of the extra expenditure of £1 million or so will be offset by a saving in supplementary benefit payments to some mothers who do not at present qualify for the grant.

I do not see why the grant cannot be paid through the post by Giro cheques. Why must we wait for the system to be moved on to the computer at the child benefit centre? I hope that the Govern- ment will tell us the reason for the delay. If it is the cost involved, they must be the meanest Government this country has ever known.

One of my constituents rejoiced at the fact that the hon. Member for Abingdon had tabled the new clause in Committee and asked why I had not done so. I explained that the hon. Gentleman beat me to it. My constituent, like many other people, expected the new system to be brought in immediately. When I told her sadly that it would not be introduced until 1982, she said "I suppose that they are saving it up for the election." I am sure that nothing is further from the minds of the Government, but the timing could be seen by some as a small carrot to attract a few votes.

I hope that the Government will see sense. They have gone a little way towards meeting us and making the lives of 60,000 women a year a little easier. For goodness sake, let them introduce the change this year and not in 1982.

I support my hon. Friends and, I trust, the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon), who introduced the new clause in Committee, in urging that the Government should consider carefully what has been said. No great financial issue is at stake here. The Government must know that.

I hope that at long last there will be a positive response on a matter that involves only marginal expenditure but is significant to the individuals concerned. We await with interest to learn whether we are to get that positive response.

May I first apologise for not having been here at the start of the debate? I was researching in the Library on a matter that I hope to raise later.

We are all grateful that the Government have accepted the proposed change to enable 60,000 women a year, who would not otherwise have qualified for the maternity grant, to be able to receive it. That is a source of pleasure to Members on both sides of the House.

I have to admit that I am disappointed that we cannot implement the new scheme quicker. The women involved will receive a grant that is a derisory sum. It will hardly pay for nappies, talcum power and a pot for the child. Such women are the most disadvantaged in our society. They include the wives of long-term prisoners, girls of 16 and under who have not worked and the wives of students who are out of work. By definition, as they do not pay national insurance, they will be women in most need of the grant.

I am sad that it will be two years before we can implement the new scheme. The cost of £1·25 million to £1·3 million is small in global terms, but I understand that there are administrative problems in introducing the scheme earlier and that it is also not possible to implement it before 1982 on grounds of cost.

As a Conservative Member who fought the election on the basis of getting inflation under control, it does not lie well in my mouth to weasel about the Government's action and to be disloyal to them when they are holding the line against inflation. There are problems in making concessions, however small, and in listening with too much enthusiasm to the siren voices of Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), to spend more and to do so quickly.

Let us be frank. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for the Government to introduce the new scheme in November this year. That cannot be done on grounds of administration and cost. I mind that and I believe that my hon. Friends mind it as well. All Ministers are having battles with their colleagues at the Treasury. I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services well in his battles. He will not always win, but I am sure that he is as concerned as I am that it will be two years before the non-contributory maternity grant can be introduced.

I do not want to make a cheap political point, but at least the new scheme is to be introduced. There was plenty of time under Labour Governments, who have been in power for 11 of the past 15 years, when it could have been done, but was not. I accept what the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) said about Governments being able to get only so much of their programme carried out, that the proposal was included in Labour's manifesto at the last election and that, although the previous Government had made no obvious provision for it, the cost would have been met out of contingency reserves.

It is sad that the new scheme cannot be introduced earlier, but at least it is to be introduced.

By leave of the House, I shall respond, because I did not comment on amendment No. 14. I agree that we need to make clear that the commitment given in accepting the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) was that the maternity grant would be made non-contributory from November 1982. I have listened carefully, not only to what has been said today but what has been put to me outside for many years. This is an important provision to help mothers who do not satisfy the contribution conditions. The problem about that improvement is that it costs money. As hon. Members have said, about 60,000 more women will be getting the grant each year once it becomes non-contributory. We must meet that cost. We can meet it only if we make corresponding administrative savings. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, for whose remarks I am most grateful, is right in saying that we have not only to make administrative adjustments to cope with this matter, but we need the resources to do so.

The only way to devise a method of paying this benefit in the conditions under which this Government have to work is to make the award and payment of the grant centrally rather than through local offices and to make it through the computer operation. I understand the disappointment of hon. Members. I wish I could do what they are asking. I cannot, at this moment, do that. If this matter is to be conducted properly and we are to get it right, we have to operate the maternity grant and child benefit together through the child benefit centre at Washington. That will mean a substantial change in the administration of the benefit, even a small benefit, such as the grant. This will take time.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon said, there are operational as well as financial constraints. I accept that the House and people outside are most concerned. I cannot make any promises about an earlier introduction but I can give the House an assurance that if it proves possible to reduce the time needed to make the necessary preparations, we shall reduce that time. On one point, however, I must be firm. The change in the rules has to be achieved at no cost. That means a change in the method of administration.

While I accept the genuineness with which many people have commented on the fact that it is regrettable that we cannot make the grants non-contributory until November 1982, we have taken this decision within one year of taking office. It was a decision that the previous Government, until the time of the last election—when they wrote it into their manifesto—refused to countenance. It ill becomes the Opposition Front Bench to criticise us for the speed at which we are acting. As my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon said, the Opposition did nothing about the grant during the last five years. It became part of their election manifesto only in April 1979.

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I may take up the hon. Lady's last point. The difference is that whatever the failings of the previous Government in carrying through a welfare programme, covering this and other matters that I would wish to have seen done and still wish to see done, the failings were on particular issues in a context of widening social services and welfare provision, and did not take the form of a major contraction such as the country is now experiencing and will experience even further.

It is one thing for a Government seeking to establish a widening of provision, stage by stage, in welfare and public service, to say "We cannot carry out A and B yet, although we intend to come to them because we are busy dealing with other improvements." That cannot be the argument of the present Government. They are contracting back on the first stages that have already been reached. A fine example occurred last night on pension increases. Many instances can be quoted. If there was time to discuss all the matters that the Opposition have placed on the Order Paper, further sharp examples in housing and social services could be quoted. It is not good enough for the Minister to put this argument.

5.15 pm

The hon. Lady is putting the argument to members of the Opposition who were Members of a Government who expanded provision generally across the board but had not reached certain items. Now there is a Government doing precisely the opposite. No hon. Member can, surely, accept that, purely on operational grounds, this proposal cannot be undertaken. We listened carefully to the hon. Lady's carefully-chosen words. She told the House that the Government must meet the additional cost involved in accepting the hon. Gentleman's amendment—endorsed by all sides of the House—by administrative cost savings. I think those were her words.

The hon. Lady went on to repeat that point by saying that this improvement must be achieved at no cost. That remark has much deeper implications than the issue before the House. I wish we had known it last night when we were debating maternity grant improvements. The implication of that statement, if taken literally, is that we can look forward, in the next two, three or four years, to no improvement in the maternity grant. We hoped that, perhaps, the matter would be left open, although we lost our moderate proposals last night to increase the amount from £30 to £45. The literal implication of the hon. Lady's words means that we can look forward over the next three years to no improvement in the maternity grant. What does that mean?

I was puzzled by the Minister's statement. In one respect, the statement is meaningless. Even if the grants are not increased over the next three or four years, as my right hon. Friend says, how will that be marked up as saving so to introduce the reform at nil cost? I understand the Minister to mean that there would have to be a saving in other parts of the social security scheme to pay for this. Or did the Minister mean that there had to be some marvellous administrative savings to cover the cost?

Ministers have received instructions from the Treasury. They have been told that they would be allowed only to accept the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) if they could show that by the centralisation of maternity grants with the child benefit provision, there would be equivalent administrative savings. That is not what was stated precisely, but that is what has happened. There is no willingness to use new money and contingency money. The implications for maternity grant generally are significant and worrying. Major implications, possibly, for what we were debating last night, are now revealed. There is no intention to consider improving the maternity grant levels over the next two or three years. If there is, the hon. Lady's words cannot be taken literally. There must be additional expenditure.

I return to the question of the cost that would be involved. It is obviously right to seek to reduce the cost of the administration of benefits. If that can be done by November 1982, or earlier, as the hon. Lady suggested, all well and good. No one will argue on policy grounds about that. If, however, the date is to be November 1982 and not earlier, the Government are saying that for two to two and a half years beforehand, there will be an additional £1 million to £1¼ million expenditure, in cash terms, until that cost is absorbed into administrative improvements.

Are we really being told that this country cannot even afford that amount over two years and two Budgets to bring forward the introduction of non-contributory maternity grant? By November 1982, we are told that there will be an equivalent cost saving. It is for two years only. Our amendment asks that about £2½ million should be spent in the coming two years. After that, we are told, it will be absorbed into administrative cost savings. That is what is at issue. Is it not a shame that, by the time it is introduced, the real value of the maternity grant will be about £20 at present inflation rates? Let us assume the best, that inflation will be only 10 per cent. soon. I hope that it will be lower but we would be crying in the wind if we thought that we could achieve that Government Members support moves to do something about the maternity grant and help those who are not in receipt of it now, but the Government say that £2½ million cannot be spent in the next two years.

I agree with much of what the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) said. Many of my hon. Friends would like to see an uprating in the maternity grant. The main difference is that we believe that a precondition of increasing expenditure on the social services is to find ways of paying for it, as opposed to printing money. That is why the inflation rate is so high. The needs in many other areas are as great as the updating of the maternity grant. Improvements need to be made in child benefit, the death grant and assistance for the disabled. Emotional speeches can be made about them all. It is not good enough to say that all we have to do is to raise taxes. We must create the wealth first.

I resist the temptation to enter a general discussion on economic and financial policy, although major social implications are involved. Nobody denies that the issue partly involves the creation of wealth. However, the real issue revolves round how a society chooses to use its resources.

The Government chose to redirect resources in their last Budget to the upper end of incomes on a massive scale. I am speaking of people who are down the line but pretty well-off. I include Members of Parliament. We received benefits in the last Budget which should have gone to the people about whom we are talking today. A precondition must be a willingness to apply resources in a civilised fashion. We are moving away from that.

We have had assurances about 1982. However, that assurance is not in the Bill. We want to know why. I accept the sincerity of the Under-Secretary of State. However, we know that events can change unless Parliament legislates. Anything can happen in government. Something is happening about child benefit, as I expect we shall learn next week. Anything can happen to undermine the Under-Secretary of State's genuine intention. I do not attempt to forecast her ministerial or political position in 1982 if her best intentions on this and other issues about which she has spoken warmly do not come to fruition. She will have to judge at the time.

There is no date in the Bill. There is no guarantee that the date promised by the Minister will be applied. The Minister can change; the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the composition of the Government can change. I know that there is a genuine intention, but my main anxiety is that false reasons have been given. It would have been simple for the Government to spend £2½ million for two years by introducing Girocheque payments in the meantime and absorbing the additional costs in November 1982. We are disappointed. It was a good move which has gone sour unnecessarily at the hands of the Government.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2

Amendments Of Supplementary Benefits Act 1976

I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 31, line 24, at end insert:

'(aa) in subsection (1) after the word "Britain" there shall be inserted the words: "who has a dependent child or who is".'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 41, in page 46, line 41, after 'Britain' insert:

'who has a dependent child or who is'.

We hope that the Government will accept this small amendment. Under the Bill schoolgirls aged 16 years and over will be able to claim benefit in their own right. Amendment No. 16 seeks to allow schoolgirls under the age of 16 to draw benefit in their own right. We seek further clarification on the partial assurances that the Under-Secretary of State gave in Committee. One of the more valid arguments involved girls who are under or over 16 who become pregnant. That may be undesirable but, sadly, it happens. In the Bill there are two classes of schoolgirl mothers—those who can claim benefit in their own right and those who cannot.

It is important to draw the Government's attention to other provisions elsewhere in the Bill which have a bearing on the welfare and livelihood of the youngest mothers in our society. Under the present Act, if the parents of a schoolgirl mother do not receive benefit themselves the young mother might be eligible for an exceptional needs payment. However, exceptional needs payments are to be withdrawn from those who are not in receipt of benefit.

Under the Act, mothers under the age of 15 receive a little help from the Supplementary Benefits Commission, not an allowance in their own right but an exceptional needs payment which they will lose if their parents are working. They will not lose it if the young mother's parents are on supplementary benefit because the parents will be able to claim for their daughter and their grandchild.

We seek clarification on the comments which the Under-Secretary made in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) asked how we could defend a situation where two schoolgirl mothers at the same school—one over 16 and one under 16—receive different benefits. One will receive a benefit in her own right and the other will not. If that girl's parents are in work, she will not even receive help from the Commission. The Under-Secretary of State said:
"I accept the force of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I cannot promise to meet his points, but I promise to have a look at them."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E; 12 February 1980; c. 557–8.]
Dr. Johnson said that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrated the mind wonderfully. Similarly with amendments on Report it often helps the Minister's mind wonderfully to recall partial undertakings given in Committee if a relevant amendment is tabled by the Opposition. That is why amendment No. 16 stands on the Amendment Paper.

5.30 pm

It seems that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and I are having a re-run of our debates in Committee and the hon. Gentleman is right. I said that I would have a look at this issue. I am well aware that many Labour Members as well as groups such as the Child Poverty Action Group and the National Council for One-Parent Families have argued forcefully for a long time that supplementary benefit should be payable to young mothers under the age of 16.

We had a long debate on this subject in Committee and I have since written to the hon. Member for Birkenhead and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on this and other issues. I hope that I have now managed to clear up a few points which I was then unable to deal with. We were debating the issue at 6 am on that day.

In Committee the hon. Member for Stockport, North asked whether a mother who became 16 during her last year at school would qualify. The answer is "Yes." Benefit will in future be payable for her own requirements as well as for those of her child or children. At present the Supplementary Benefits Commission meets the requirements of her children only and benefit is paid through the grandparents as at present.

I listened to the hon. Member for Birkenhead and I am sympathetic to the plight of the very young mother, but we remain convinced that it would not be right to pay supplementary benefit to people under 16. We must remember that in any scheme there must be a point of entry and the age of 16 has been the entry point for supplementary benefit ever since the scheme was introduced. It was the same with its predecessor, the national assistance scheme, from 1948.

The review team said in "Social Assistance" that the basic rule should remain. The vast majority of those responding to the review agreed. They did not dissent from the view that the entry age should be at 16.

When we in the CPAG responded to the document we did not know that the one form of help which could be given to the very young mother—the exceptional needs payment—especially if her parents were in work, would be withdrawn.

I accept that the hon. Gentleman may not have linked the two aspects of reform of the supplementary benefit system together with "Social Assistance". I think that it became quite clear in the consideration of that report, and many of the submissions received as a result of the report, that not only were matters concerning exceptional needs payments—to be discussed in later amendments—likely to affect this sort of issue but that the whole of the supplementary benefit system was inextricably inter-linked. Therefore, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make the comment that he has.

If we are to lower the age at which a young person can claim supplementary benefit, where should we stop? How low should the age be? I find myself in great difficulty. Some people would say that any young mother, whatever her age, should be able to claim and that the age should perhaps come down to 13, 12 or even 11 years. I believe that that would make a nonsense of the system. There must be a limit, and I still believe that the appropriate limit is 16 bearing in mind all the assurances which I gave in Committee and which I have given since by letter.

If a young mother is under the age of 16, benefit can obviously be obtained for her through her parents if her parents are on supplementary benefit. I suggest that it is in those cases that the greatest need lies.

The Under-Secretary spoke of the area of greatest need. Let us consider the case of the family whose income is only £2 or £3 a week above supplementary benefit level. Even if there is a baby in that household, the family still do not qualify. Their need might be far greater than that of almost any other group, because it is the income of the grandparents that counts and not the income of the young mother.

Such a girl might find herself at school alongside another girl six months older who is in exactly the same circumstances and who receives benefit in her own right.

There is always difficulty in establishing a dividing line. We have said already that if a family was in low-paid work and entitled to family income supplement there would be an entitlement for the grandchild. I know that the hon. Member for Birkenhead accepts that. However, there must be a limit below which supplementary benefit cannot be claimed. I concede that there will be difficulties in some cases. However, if we lowered the age to 15 the same difficulties would remain at the margin as are marginally present at the moment. At a time when we are trying hard to simplify the rules covering supplementary benefit, every special difference that we create will make the situation more difficult and lead us back towards the problems that have developed over the years as the supplementary benefit system has become more and more refined almost to the point of dealing with individual cases.

I realise that I am unable to meet the wishes of the hon. Members for Birkenhead and Stockport, North. I do not expect to on this issue. I am trying to explain that I believe for a young mother under 16 with a small child the entitlement to benefit should be through her parents. There is another aspect which has been mentioned and which I know is not accepted by many hon. Members. I think it is right to put it on the record because a sufficient number of commentators have suggested that to pay supplementary benefit to young people below the age of 16 might encourage the parting of a young mother from her parents. I know that the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) does not accept this, but there is a sizeable number of people who have said that this is a valid argument and that we should seek to encourage a young mother to stay with her family.

Although the cost of the amendment is not—

As the Under-Secretary develops her reply, can she supply any information or figures showing the cost of such a scheme if we pay benefit to expectant mothers under the age of 16?

This is not just a matter of costs in relation to expectant mothers. We are concerned with the costs involved with young mothers under 16 and their child dependants. The cost would be about £1 million.

I was about to say that that cost would not be high compared with that of other amendments. However, there is a greater problem. If we bring the right to entitlement to below the age of 16, we shall find that more and more pressure is brought to persuade us to change other rules. With the simplification of the system, I do not believe that, because there is an entitlement for young mothers to claim through parents where parents are on supplementary benefit and the possibility that families on family income supplement can claim for the grandchild, this amendment is the best way to handle what is a social problem. I feel that we should seek better ways of solving the problem and I hope that the House will, therefore, reject the amendment.

The trouble is that the Minister has not even suggested the better ways either in Committee or today.

We understand the anxieties which are expressed in different quarters about the alteration which has been proposed. I cannot accept that administrative convenience should be the deciding factor—namely, that it might lead to pressure to change other rules. As a rule of thumb statement, I put it to the Minister, if what we propose in the amendment for the under-16 mother were accepted—that is, that she should qualify for supplementary benefit—it would be possible to apply in this circumstance what I would describe as a circumstantial rule: that mothers should qualify as appropriate for supplementary benefit without an age bar. In other words, in this respect we should move away from the age rule and say that it shall be a circumstantial rule. My suggestion is that we maintain the 16-plus rule with the exclusion or qualification that mothers under the age of 16 shall, without an age bar, qualify.

The Minister said that this is not important in the end, because if girls under that age are living with their parents and those parents qualify for supplementary benefit, appropriate additions can be allowed for.

First, I say, I think correctly—I speak without having checked the details in the period since the Bill left Committee—that that would not produce an equivalent supplementary benefit in line with that which would arise if an individual supplementary benefit were allowed for in the rules. That is significant to start with.

The Minister then said that if the parents are not on supplementary benefit but are on family income supplement, as grandparents they could qualify for the appropriate addition for a grandchild. Three points arise. First, even where they would qualify, it would be at a lower rate than would be paid by way of supplementary benefit to the mother and child. Secondly, it does not allow for provision for the young mother—only for the grandchild. Thirdly, the rate of take-up of family income supplement is very low. I have forgotten what the figure is. I think that it is about 80 per cent.; it may have risen recently.

The criteria to qualify for family income supplement are low. I do not intend at this stage of our proceedings to go into the details. Many people on low incomes do not qualify for FIS. That has been one of the problems about take-up in the past. For those reasons, I do not think that we can say that the alternatives are satisfactory.

My suggestion—that we create a circumstantial rule, a mother and child rule, which may be the only exception from the 16-plus rule for qualifying for supplementary benefit—would and could work and should be adopted as a matter of principle and practice.

In Committee, the Minister broadly accepted the force of my argument that it is nonsense to have a girl of 16 giving birth to a child and qualifying for supplementary benefit and another girl of 15 in the same school—possibly in the same class—in similar circumstances not qualifying for supplementary benefit.

The Minister referred to the social implications raised by commentators—those who responded to the review team's report. The suggestion was that, were we to alter the rules so that mothers under the age of 16 qualified for supplementary benefit, we would be weakening the prospect of them staying with their families. I have yet to see evidence in support of that suggestion.

We all to a large extent speak circumstantially on the basis of our own impressionistic experience of cases. There is some evidence that many girls in that situation not only have weak links with their families, but are already living apart from their parents. Some do not have any family connections at all, as I know from cases with which I have had to deal in my constituency—cases which have to be dealt with by social workers and others. The Minister must know that a large proportion within this minority already have very weak links with their families and get little support emotionally, socially, physically and financially from their parents or their families generally.

5.45 pm

Therefore, that argument—that by giving them the support that supplementary benefit would give would weaken family links—is weak in itself. There is evidence that, at least in some parts of London, the links have already been broken.

I have spoken at greater length than I intended, because I expected a more positive response from the Minister. This is not a question of public expenditure. I realise that there are implications, but I hope that I am right in believing that is not the reason for the Government refusing to change their mind on this matter. They have stood by their position, although they have reflected upon it. Whatever we say, we shall not get them to change their position, but I hope that what we say in this brief exchange, compared with the lengthier one that we had in Committee between 5 am and 6 am—not till 6 am in the morning on 12 February—will lead the Government to reflect further. They have the capacity, under the powers in the Bill, to change the regulations. It is clear that they will not do so tonight. We stand by our views and hope that they will change their mind if not today certainly when they look at the regulations in future and see that there is strength in our argument.

I fear that the central reason for objecting to the change is a pre-conception—a prejudice—about the age rule. I repeat, there should be a circumstantial rule—a mother and child rule—which may be the only breach of the 16-plus rule. I suggest that the Minister should reconsider the matter in that light.

In some ways I should like to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in pressing the amendment, but in other ways I have reservations. I have spent some time thinking carefully about this matter since the Bill left Committee. I think that the Government ought to look carefully at support for both the young girl with a child and the expectant mother in this age group. It is not satisfactory to say, as my right hon. Friend suggested, that the test should be the mother with the child. I think that we must take into account the expectant mother as well.

I am concerned that the Government are taking away from the school-leaver the right to benefit until a set time after leaving school. There could be a serious problem for the expectant mother who leaves school, possibly at Whitsun or Easter, and is told that she is not entitled to supplementary benefit until the end of the next holidays. That can be 12 weeks if it is the end of the summer holidays. A girl who is seven or eight months pregnant will obviously not be able to search for a job in that time and she will not be entitled to supplementary benefit.

The Government should consider carefully all the regulations which affect girls in that age group, whether she be a 15-year-old with a child, a 16-year-old with a child, or an expectant mother. The Government must ensure that they have an adequate income and are not dependent upon parental approval or disapproval. Girls in that age group could face great difficulties if their income were paid to the parent or grandparent who, because they disapproved of their behaviour, withheld that income from them or did not spend it on them.

Another problem arises where the parent or grandparent has little money. A girl may experience difficulty arising from a mixture of too little resources and parental disapproval.

I hope that the Government will agree to consider the whole issue thoroughly. If they will not accept the amendment, I hope that they will agree to deal with the problem at some later stage, possibly in another place. They must provide for the 15-year-old mother with a child and the expectant mother who, because of the change in the regulations for claiming benefit for school leavers, find themselves without sufficient support. A position may occur where such a person may leave school at Easter but is not entitled to claim supplementary benefit until 1 September, although she may be seven or eight months pregnant and in no position to seek work to earn the means to provide for herself.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move Government amendment No. 18, in page 32, line 36 leave out 'receiving' and insert

'entitled or would if he satisfied prescribed conditions he entitled to'.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 19, in page 32, line 36 after 'allowance' insert

'or to whom section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948 applies'.

Government amendment No. 43.

Amendment No. 44, in page 48, line 6 after 'allowance', insert

'or to whom section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948 applies'.

Amendment No. 18, and its Keeling schedule equivalent—amendment No. 43—seek to broaden people's eligibility for exceptional needs payments from those who are already receiving supplementary benefits, as presently drafted, to those who are entitled to them.

These amendments are the result of representations made to us by organisations representing local authorities, directors of social services and the disabled, as well as the point made by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in Committee.

As presently drafted, the Bill will enable exceptional needs payments to be awarded only to people who are receiving a weekly benefit, either a supplementary pension or a supplementary allowance. That means that anyone entitled to a weekly supplementary pension or allowance who did not want to take it up—for example, because the amount payable was very small—but who wanted help by way of an exceptional needs payment would be ineligible for it. That position is not satisfactory, and these amendments meet the case made. They provide that exceptional needs payments may be payable to all those who are entitled to supplementary benefit, not only those who are receiving it.

I should explain that there is nothing sinister in the proviso that the person must satisfy prescribed conditions. All that is intended here is that he could not be entitled to benefit unless he satisfied the conditions of the claims and payments regulations by providing information, and so on. That has been a regular feature of regulations on this matter for many years.

I hope that the House will welcome these amendments. I shall ask the House to resist amendments Nos. 19 and 44, because amendment No. 18 goes some way towards helping those of the disabled who are not actually receiving supplementary benefit but who are entitled to receive it.

We welcome Government amendment No. 18 because it goes some way towards meeting some of the anxieties that Labour Members expressed in Committee, and the anxieties expressed by many of the groups who made representations. I hoped that the Government would have gone further and included the provision advocated in amendment No. 19. I was disappointed that they did not.

A letter from the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation was passed to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). It was on the suggestion of that association that we tabled amendment No. 19. It is concerned with the disabled person's income, which is just above the supplementary benefit level.

As I understand the matter, the Government are saying, that those who are entitled to the exceptional needs payment but do not receive it—even if it is only a few pence—will be covered by this regulation, but that the disabled person whose income is just above the supplementary benefit will not be considered for that payment. However, under existing regulations these people sometimes qualify for such payments.

I find it disturbing that the Government have decided to take away the possibility of exceptional needs payments from a substantial number of the disabled. It is a little unfortunate that some of the disabled lobby did not make their representations to Back Benchers on both sides of the Committee at an earlier date. I have received complaints that we debated some of the points relating to the disabled on the wrong clauses or sub-sections. The disabled lobbyists were lucky that we managed to make any contribution on their behalf because their representations were received too late. Had we received them earlier, we could have discussed them when debating more suitable clauses.

The Minister should be prepared to accept amendment No. 19 to ensure that those disabled whose incomes are just above supplementary benefit level, but who may need an exceptional needs payment, will qualify for such a payment. That would cost only a small amount. It is the sort of area where a concession could be made. If the Government do not wish to make such a concession now, perhaps it could be considered further in another place.

I welcome the small change that the Government have made. As I understand amendment No. 18, those persons, especially pensioners, who trans- ferred to rent and rate rebates because they would be marginally better off, might be covered by the change that is listed in amendment No. 18.

Will the Minister say more about the prescribed conditions? I thought that the Government's concession would go a little beyond the outline which the Minister gave when introducing the amendment. I hoped that prescribed conditions would cover the working poor—those whose wage packets were less than the supplementary benefit level but who, because they were in full-time employment, were not eligible. There is more concern on both sides of the House about disfranchising that group—those who earn their poverty—than about any other change that the Government are proposing on the benefits levels. Will the prescribed conditions cover the working poor, and those who have transferred to rent and rate rebates?

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, quite rightly, that there are some pensioners who have chosen to take a rent and rate rebate through their local authority but who, from November this year—when the supplementary benefit system will be changed by this legislation, subject to the consent of both Houses—may be better off on supplementary allowances. That would give them their entitlement to exceptional needs payments, if that should be necessary.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that we are considering this whole issue in the second stage of the Supplementary Benefits Commission's review of housing benefits. Therefore, for the time being this will be so, but I cannot say that it will be an immutable rule which will be unchanged in the future. However despondent the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) may be about progress on the vexed question of housing benefits, I can assure him of our determination and resolve to sort out this increasingly knotty problem.

6 pm

The hon. Member for Birkenhead also asked about prescribed conditions. As I understand it, on claims and regulations we cannot do what he asks. We well understand the plight of those persons in full-time work who are just below the supplementary benefit level and do not have children. If they had children they would probably be entitled to family income supplement. I am aware that some people do not claim FIS, but we are trying to improve the take-up of that benefit. The prescribed conditions referred to in this amendment may not solve that part of the problem. That would have to be tackled on a different part of the Bill if we were so minded to change the situation.

I have been informed that there are a number of people who are being rehoused or considered for re-housing from some of the hostels and reception centres into ordinary housing who have had difficulty in getting the exceptional needs payments for furnishing their accomodation. Obviously they would have such difficulty because of their history. If this is true will the Minister see that that is rectified, and that these people are included in the prescribed conditions referred to in the amendment.

I can assure the right hon. Member that this matter is being looked into and where there is a problem it will be rectified.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move amendment No. 22 in, page 33, line 12 after 'subsection', insert

'except a sum as to which it has been determined in accordance with regulations that it is not to be recovered in pursuance of this subsection,'.

With this we may take amendment No. 23 in, page 33, line 13 after 'State', insert in prescribed 'circumstances'. and Government amendments Nos. 46 and 47.

The Government amendment is a result of much of the time that we spent during two sittings of the Committee stage discussing various Opposition amendments relating to the recovery of urgent needs payments.

Two points were made in particular. First the Opposition felt that it should be made abundantly clear in regulations that there would be no requirement to repay an urgent needs payment where a person was not, on financial grounds, in a position to repay. Members also drew attention to the omission of the current provision whereby it is the Supplementary Benefits Commission which decides, with a right of appeal, whether to recover benefit, having regard to whether recovery is "equitable". We also had a lengthy and somewhat confusing discussion—not always illuminated by constant references to the Oxford English Dictionary—about the precise meaning of the provisions in section 4. I undertook to do my level best to sort out the various problems, difficulties and misunderstandings that had arisen, and to come forward with proposals at Report stage. This amendment meets that undertaking.

The amendment enables the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the situations in which urgent needs payments will not be recoverable. Under those regulations, taken with section 2(1) of the Act as it will be amended, it will be for a supplementary benefit officer to decide whether the prescribed circumstances apply. Under section 15 of the Act there will, therefore, be a right of appeal.

The prescribed circumstances will broadly follow the existing rules laid down by the Supplementary Benefits Commission in the exercise of its power to recover payments where it is equitable. Thus, the regulations will cover the waiving of recovery where only small amounts of benefit are at stake, and where a person has only a low income, judged by supplementary benefit standards. The commission may also waive recovery where it is simply not a practicable proposition. For example, where urgent needs payments have been made to relieve distress arising from natural disasters, there will often have been no opportunity to make more than minimal investigations into the financial circumstances of the recipient. In such situations it may be quite unrealistic to contemplate recovery, given the lack of information.

Putting these rules into regulations will achieve their full publication for the first time. I can also undertake that an explanation of the regulations in this area will appear in the new handbook to be published on the authority of the Secretary of State. I hope that Government amendment No. 22, and No. 46 which runs with it, will meet all the requests made on this point by hon. Members in Committee.

Could the Minister indicate why her amendment is better than Opposition amendment No. 23? Ours contains fewer words and it is clearer.

The House knows that I am not a lawyer. Given time, I am sure that I could get legal advice from someone who could tell me why the Government amendment is superior in its wording. Perhaps it has the right commas in the right places. At the moment I am afraid that I cannot give an exact explanation.

Will the Minister confirm that Government amendment No. 23 does everything that we meant to do? Is she sure that she is not providing just half a loaf instead of the whole loaf for which we asked?

I do not want to get involved in a discussion on the loaves and fishes. We are seeking to do all that the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) asked for in Committee. Even if our amendments in minutiae are not exactly the same, the intention is the same.

The Minister did not clear up some of the issues that we raised in Committee. For example, what is the definition of "low income"? Is it around the supplementary benefit level or is it below that level?

The other question which concerned us in Committee was that of the urgent needs payment to single strikers who returned to work. We pressed the Minister on whether they would be exempted from the recovery provisions.

I find it difficult to say any more on this issue than I said clearly in Committee on the night of 19 February between 11 pm and 11.30 pm. I have checked the reference and that is why I can give the time and date of my remarks so accurately.

I said then that the current practice was that exceptional hardship would be recreated by recovery in cases of extreme distress. It would be unwise to seek recovery in those circumstances. I cannot foretell what any future legislation may do, but on this aspect of this Bill I stand by what I said on 19 February.

The definition of low income would be supplementary benefit level. We have had many debates about this and the question of where the line should be drawn has been raised often. I cannot see any interpretation other than the level of entitlement to benefit.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 34, line 24, after 'Act', insert

'but not solely by virtue of section 17 (1) (c) of this Act'.

With this we may discuss amendment No. 48, in page 50, line 8 after 'Act' insert

'but not solely by virtue of section 17 (1) (c) of this Act'.

Amendment No. 24 would prevent the possibility of a person who sponsored an immigrant being sent to a re-establishment centre if he failed to support the immigrant. The matter was debated in Committee when we discussed a similar amendment. The Under-Secretary of State said in reply to the debate that the amendment was based on a misconception, and that such directions could not apply to sponsors of immigrants. I am sure that she believed that to be true. However, Labour Members have checked on it, and either it is not true—I am not calling the hon. Lady an untruthful person—or the Bill is written wrongly. The Under-Secretary is wrong. Section 10 of the Supplementary Benefits Act, as amended by the Bill, provides that an unemployed supplementary benefit claimant can be directed to attend a re-establishment centre if it appears to a benefit officer that the person refuses or neglects to maintain himself or any other person who, for the purposes of the Act, he is liable to maintain.

At present, the only people whom a claimant is liable to maintain are his wife and children. In future, if the Bill is is enacted, he will also be liable to maintain an immigrant whom he sponsors. If he fails to do that, section 10 will apply in the same way as it would have applied if he had failed to maintain his wife and children. That must be unintentonal. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State genuinely thought that she was right in saying that our amendment was based on a misconception. But that is our understanding of the matter, and it is the understanding of experts whom we have consulted.

I have received a letter—perhaps the hon. Lady has received a similar letter—from three of the immigrant organisations, protesting bitterly. I should like to read the letter into the record. It is signed by the national president of the Indian Workers Association, Great Britain, the national president of the Bangladesh Workers Association, United Kingdom, and the general secretary of the Kashmiri Workers Association, United Kingdom. It says:
"We the undersigned, representing the organisations named, are deeply concerned at the news of the introduction of the Social Security Bill to be debated on 19 March 1980.
The people of New Commonwealth countries who have settled in Britain have already been the subject of discriminatory policies of successive governments in the form of restrictive and racist laws. The proposed Social Security Bill is yet another addition to the discriminatory legislative practices of the present Government. It is, in fact, yet another Immigration Bill in disguise.
In our view the Bill is a blatant attack on human rights, condemning the people from the New Commonwealth countries settled here in the United Kingdom in general and in particular condemning those who are contemplating to visit their relatives in this country to the roost degrading treatment."
Those people feel the same way about this part of the Bill as Labour Members. They continue:
"It makes the sponsor liable for prosecution if his sponsored relatives resort to financial assistance from the Social Security. The consequence of which can result in the imposition of heavy fines, imprisonment and may ultimately lead to deportation of both the sponsor and his relatives."
They continue by saying that such treatment is contrary to the canons of the Helsinki Agreement, and so on.

6.15 pm

If the Under-Secretary of State was convinced that the Bill would not have that effect, I should have thought that she would have happily accepted our amendment, which seeks to put the matter beyond reasonable doubt. She has raised many doubts among Labour Members, and in the minds of immigrant organisations. I am sure that she does not wish to make them feel—whatever they may feel already, particularly in view of the introduction of immigration rules—that the Bill contains any provision that is racist and discriminatory against minority communities.

I shall be interested to hear the comments of the hon. Lady on whether she feels that our amendment will help to put the matter straight beyond reasonable doubt.

We debated this matter in Committee, and we were dissatisfied with the Minister's reply. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said, after consultation with outside experts we remain equally concerned.

The amendment is based on a case that the Child Poverty Action Group fought at the tribunal stage. An immigrant family had brought relatives into Britain, and it gave an undertaking that it would support the relatives. I do not think that any hon. Member will disagree that, if an undertaking was given, it should have been kept, if the immigrant family had the resources to do so. However, as we explained to the Minister in Committee, entrepreneurs are sometimes galvanised into action, and sometimes they are galvanised into inaction. As a result of falling upon hard times the whole family became dependent on supplementary benefits. Because of the undertaking given by the family, the commission refused to support the sponsored immigrant, and pursued the immigrant's family through the courts.

As we understand the Bill, the measures that can be taken against people who do not maintain themselves and those whom they are liable to maintain are as set out in the previous Act. One measure that can be used against such groups of claimants is to send them to a re-establishment centre. We cannot fathom how immigrant claimants who, with the best will in the world, have given an undertaking, to support a sponsored relative and then cannot meet that sponsorship will not be treated in that way.

Perhaps part of our anxiety will be set at rest if the Minister puts on record that those measures will not apply if the immigrants are able to show to the Supplementary Benefits Commission—or whatever the new body will be called—that they do not have the resources to meet the commitments into which they entered in good faith and that, not only will the sponsored immigrants have a right to benefit but that they will not be pursued through the normal channels.

We tabled this amendment because the position was still not clear after we had debated the matter in Committee. We then consulted outside experts and lawyers. They believe that, as the Bill is drafted, the immigrant who has been sponsored will have to be pursued through the tribunals and sent to a re-establishment centre. We do not believe that that is the Government's intention. We should like the Government to put on record that that is not their intention, and, even better, we should like them to accept our amendment.

I shall first explain the position about how section 10 will apply, then I shall come to the amendment and finally I shall deal with the individual questions.

Section 10 of the Supplementary Benefits Act, as amended by the Bill, will provide for a benefit officer to issue a direction to attend a course of instruction or training, but before that could be done two conditions would need to be satisfied. First, the person so directed has to be in receipt of supplementary benefit and registered for employment. Second, that person must be refusing or neglecting to maintain himself or some other person whom he is liable under the Act to maintain.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the direction cannot apply to the sponsor of an immigrant relative where the sponsor is himself receiving benefit and is for that reason alone unable to honour his undertaking. In the normal way, of course, such a sponsor would not he receiving supplementary benefit and there could be no question of a section 10 direction being imposed on him. But even if he is getting benefit, as I have explained, before a direction could be considered the other condition would need to apply—that is, that the person sponsoring is deliberately evading his responsibility, either to maintain himself or his relative.

It is conceivable that a sponsor could satisfy both conditions, and it would then be open to the benefit officer to consider imposing a section 10 direction. But in practice that is a remote possibility. The important point is that receipt of supplementary benefit would on its own give no grounds under the Act for imposing a direction. I said in Committee that an amendment with a similar purpose was unnecessary. I think that the same applies to this amendment.

I was able to give only a brief assurance in Committee and I understand the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) when she read out the petition, a copy of which I have seen only in the last 10 minutes. I understand, too, what the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has been saying.

We have given further consideration to what was said in Committee, and although someone in the future may want to change the legislation, the Bill embodies these two firm conditions, both of which have to be satisfied before the section 10 direction can be given by a supplementary benefits officer. It follows, therefore, that a direction cannot be imposed solely because a sponsor is on benefit. That appears to me to be the area causing concern to the Labour Members who have spoken and to my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens), who cannot be with us at the moment but who has written to me at some length about this matter. I was able to give him and the Commission for Racial Equality in Hammersmith the reassurances they sought.

There is, therefore, no basis for the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Birkenhead and by the immigrant communities. If a sponsor's circumstances changed there would be no question of attempting recovery of benefit. That applies as in the case of other liable relatives. Recovery of benefit can be attempted only where the relative is in a position to provide support. In the same way that I have already described, the two conditions which would govern the potential issuing of a section 10 direction would both have to be satisfied and that occurrence is a remote possibility.

I hope that I have been able to allay the fears of Labour Members, and that they will seek the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 37, line 33, at end insert—

'(l) as to the circumstances to be taken into account by a benefit officer in deciding whether a man and a woman who are not married to each other are an unmarried couple'.

With this we may take amendment No. 49, in page 54, line 12, at end insert—

'(l) as to the circumstances to be taken into account by a benefit officer in deciding whether a man and a woman who are not married to each other are an unmarried couple'.

The amendment deals with the cohabitation rule, as it is often described. Its aim would be to ensure that the criteria for deciding whether a couple are living together as husband and wife are published in full and that they are subject to scrutiny both by Parliament and the advisory committee.

It is important that people should be able to see exactly what the rules are. That sentiment is supposed to be one of the major arguments in favour of the changes by which the rules will be seen by people and, we hope, understood.

The Minister for Social Security told us at the thirteenth sitting of the Standing Committee that the criteria set up in the Supplementary Benefits Commission's administration paper "Living Together as Husband and Wife" would continue to be used as guidance for officers. It is not clear whether, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply, they would be used as an administrative guidance, to be set out in an A code, or as policy guidance to be issued to chief supplementary benefit officers, or whether it was to be published for everyone to examine. The amendment is aimed at discovering how the guidance will be set out.

If they are simply to be policy guidance, there is no reason to assume that the new officers would accept the guidance which now exists. However, the essential factor is that it should be set out in a published form, and not just as a potted version in a supplementary benefits handbook.

The whole idea in the White Paper was that the rules would be clearly set out. I hope that the Minister will tell us that in this particularly difficult area all the rules, not just a potted version of them, will be published, and that there will not be administrative guidance interpreting the rules to the advantage of those enforcing them and to the disadvantage of the claimants.

I hope that it will be possible for people to get hold of the supplementary benefits handbook without difficulty, but particularly for groups who want to advise claimants to get hold of the legislation relating to supplementary benefits. I understand that it now costs £20 to get full copies of the legislation on this subject. That information was contained in an answer I received from the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, earlier this week. That is a large sum to have to pay out to obtain basic information about regulations and the law.

I therefore hope that the Minister will assure us that we shall be able to get all the regulations, and that there will not be a secret A code or some other guidance that will be kept from the general public and claimants in particular.

Perhaps I should not be frivolous about the hon. Member for St. Pancras North (Mr. Stallard) since he has now gone, but he seemed to be suggesting to his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that perhaps there was an exceptional need for him to have the legislation to which he was referring.

I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Stockport, North that the cost of supplementary benefits legislation is quite high. Perhaps the way in which we ate trying to simplify the law will benefit those who want to understand it. If we simplify it there will be less of it and that will mean that it will be less expensive.

The hon. Member wants all the rules and regulations to be set out as clearly as possible. I had hoped that Labour Members had accepted during our debate in Standing Committee on 21 February on cohabitation that the guidelines to which the commission's officers are required to have regard are working well in practice. After the change made in 1978, many people concerned with this subject felt that the new guide was probably working better than the old. The guidelines are clearly set out in the Supplementary Benefits Commission's administration paper No. 5 entitled "Living Together as Husband and Wife". My right hon. Friend the Minister assured the Committee that we would continue to rely for guidance to officers on that Supplementary Benefits Commission's administration paper. I can reconfirm that.

One of the difficulties is that if every guideline is published in regulations we shall get into major tangles with the law. I really do not see the need to publish these guidelines, other than to say that the existing practice will be adhered to. They are simply guidelines as to the interpretation of the law and I do not think that it is desirable to require that every letter of them should be followed in every case. Guidelines cannot cover every set of circumstances. Benefit officers will be unable to judge simply by adding up so many pluses and so many minuses, although doing that may help. They have to use a lot of common sense in deciding whether the guidelines are accessible.

In the criteria that are already published by the Supplementary Benefits Commission administration paper there is a great deal of clarity. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Stockport, North does not accept that view. Any further elaboration of the guidelines would be an interpretation which might be made as, say, a development of case law established by the Social Security Commissioners. That is what should be reflected in the handbook, and that will be done.

6.30 pm

The Minister is suggesting that there should be discretion. As I understand it the whole idea of the Bill was to remove the discretion. If the Minister wants to retain discretion to interpret the cohabitation rule, why does she not want to retain it in other areas if it is difficult to draw guidelines? If it is possible to draw guidelines, surely people are entitled to see them.

The Minister has said that the present information is clear. If that is so there cannot be a need for any more information. If it is not clear and the Government have to start giving extra guidance, surely everyone should be entitled to study that guidance to see whether it is fair rather than it be kept secret.

I thought that the whole point of what I was saying was that the Supplementary Benefits Commission guidelines, which are contained in the pamphlet, "Living Together as Husband and Wife", are quite clear and well understood. I do not believe that there is any need to add to those guidelines, nor to have them specifically put into regulations.

I understand what the hon. Member for Stockport, North is saying about discretion. I am not advocating, nor is the Bill, that benefits officers should have special discretion. But I think that the hon. Gentleman will accent that in a case as difficult as a cohabitation case the officers are trained in such a way that they can look at the case with a great sensitivity to see whether the relationship is permanent.

I recall that in the debates when the rules were changed it was said that where there are grounds for doubt, the elements of continuity and stability of a relationship should always be an important factor to be considered by the officer when making a judgment.

So I am not saying that we should go down the path of discretion. I am saying that the judgment of an officer, who is trained so to judge, in deciding whether a relationship is a continuing and stable one, is something that we could not write into regulations. Interviews are carried out only by those officers who have had specialised training.

I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman that the arrangements which are sensible and working well at present are a civilised approach to a difficult problem. I hope that they will continue to work well. I see no reason for the amendment at present. That is why I advise the House not to accept it. If there is some dramatic change in the future the House must, at that time, look at the situation as it then is and if, in its wisdom, it decides to make a change I am sure that the change will be made.

At present the guidelines that have been in operation for a couple of years are working a good deal better than what proceeded them and they are best left alone. The elements I have described should be decided by benefit officers. Where there are grounds for doubt, the important decision can be made on the element of continuity, with the stability of the relationship probably forming the final deciding point.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 37, line 33, at end insert:

'(l) for requiring a benefit officer to decide any question with respect to a claim for supplementary benefit within such time as may be specified in the regulations or such longer time as may be necessary in the circumstances.'.
Basically this amendment gives power to make regulations regarding the time within which a benefit officer must make his decision on a supplementary benefit claim. It recognises that in some cases it will be necessary to take longer. We had a debate about this, though on a slightly different amendment, in Committee. That amendment would have required a benefit officer to dispose of a case within 14 days
"so far as is practicable."
On that occasion the Minister who replied said:
"I take the valid point of the right hon. Gentleman that the existence of a benchmark gives Members of Parliament, claimants' unions and claimants something they can quote when they are speaking, or writing, to the Department and ask, 'Why are you taking more than 14 days?'. There is something to be studied there in the context of regulations rather than the statute"—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 14 February 1980; c. 639.]
All that we are doing here is trying to ensure, by putting it into legislative words, that the Secretary of State has power to make regulations on this subject.

This is a small amendment. All it seeks to do is to clarify the matter, which we do not think is clear enough at present and which may give rise to misinterpretation outside when it comes into operation. It is a minor point but it is a very important one. We hope that the Minister will consider that it is worthy of acceptance simply to make the Bill as clear as possible.

I often think during our debates, on whatever subject, that we should try to make our legislation as clear as possible, not only to ourselves, the benefit officers and the claimants, but to others outside the House who may also have to interpret it. Where it is possible for Government to accept amendments—I am speaking to the amendment, Mr. Speaker; I thought you were looking at me interrogatively.

I am quite innocent. I did not say a word and I did not even look unkindly at the hon. Lady.

I thought that there was a questioning look on your face, Mr. Speaker. I thought that you were about to catch me out.

We are trying to make the matter clear. I believe that any Government should take the opportunity to do that whenever possible. If that is not done, a great deal of gobbledegook goes into our law, and it is liable to misinterpretation and misapplication by people outside the House.

The amendment, which is intended to give power to make regulations providing for the expeditious clearance of claims for supplementary benefit, is unnecessary. First, we can draw the claims and payments regulations sufficiently widely to include such a power, and I beleive that it is in the regulations that the power should lie. Secondly, after the debate on this issue in Standing Committee, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security undertook to consider whether we could incorporate in regulations a provision that would go some way to meeting the Opposition's point. We intend to do so in the regulations, which will follow in a month or so.

I should like to say a few words about our intentions. Regulations will be made to put the supplementary benefit position broadly on a par with the similar provisions for national insurance, in sections 98(1) and 99(1) of the Social Security Act 1975. That means that benefit officers will be required to determine new and repeat claims as far as is practicable within 14 days of the time when they are in possession of all the information necessary to make a determination. I emphasise that, as my right hon. Friend said in Committee, the vast majority of new and repeat claims for supplementary benefit are cleared well within the 14-day period. But I accept that regulations along the lines that I propose will serve as a useful reminder of the need for speed in resolving claims.

Although the amendment does not specifically cover family income supplement. I think it right to tell hon. Members that we intend to incorporate a similar provision in regulations for that benefit so that the emphasis is on getting claims dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

I hope that with that assurance I have satisfied Labour Members.

What the hon. Lady has said sounded very good, except that she spoke of all the relevant information being in the hands of the benefit officer. Some of my constituents feel that they have got all the relevant information to the Department but that the Department has failed to get it all together in one place. I hope that the hon. Lady can confirm that as long as the information has gone into the office it will be deemed to be all there, and that it will not be the claimant's responsibility to make sure that it reaches the right place within the office, which is often the difficulty.

Once a claimant has delivered all the necessary information to the office, we cannot expect it to be his or her responsibility to see that it is in the right pigeonhole and linked with the other documents. But it is a help to the administration of any benefit system if all the papers are supplied at the same time where possible.

We are seeking to make sure that once the local office has received all the documents in the making of a claim the regulations will provide that a claim shall be decided as expeditiously as possible—within 14 days. I hope that Labour hon. Members will accept that the claims and payments regulations to be produced in line with the Bill, when it receives the Royal Assent, will entirely cover the points that have been made and the assurances that my right hon. Friend and I have given.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move amendment No. 28 in page 37, line 42, leave out 'any' and insert 'the'.

The amendments are technical. I am sure that I shall be chided by the House when I say that they are designed to improve the grammar of sec- tion 15(1) of the Act, as amended. As I heard the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) use the terrible word "gobbledegook" a few minutes ago, I am glad that the amendment is on the Notice Paper.

The amendments make it clear that the claim or receipt of supplementary benefit in respect of which a person has a right of appeal under the section is his claim or benefit and not that of any other person. I hope that the House will agree that the possible ambiguity created by the present wording should be removed by these two sensible, technical amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

6.45 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in page 41, line 41, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

'(3) Regulations of the following kinds, namely—
  • (a) regulations of which the effect is to increase an amount which is specified in regulations made in pursuance of section 3 of this Act or which, by virtue of regulations made in pursuance of paragraph (b) of section 4(1) of this Act, is specified in a provision mentioned in that paragraph;
  • (b) regulations made in pursuance of section 32A(b) of this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of con-consolidating regulations which they revoke;
  • (c) regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 1 or 2 of Schedule 1 to this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of consolidating regulations which they revoke,
  • shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House and, in the case of regulations falling within paragraph (a) or (c) of this subsection, shall not be made without the consent of the Treasury.'.

    The amendment ensures that the uprating regulations on exceptional needs payments and urgent needs payments will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Amendment No. 54 makes the corresponding change to the Keeling schedule.

    The amendments relate to the uprating of any amounts in regulations relating to exceptional needs payments and urgent needs payments which are made under sections 3 and 4 of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976.

    In Committee the Opposition moved amendments providing for reference to the Social Security Advisory Committee of all supplementary benefit uprating regulations. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security said then that we should look at the matter again in time for report. The Committee Hansard reference is col. 1536. We remain of the view that it would not be appropriate to refer supplementary benefit uprating regulations to the committee. The main reason is that these matters are for the Budget, and the proper forum for their consideration is the House rather than a body such as the committeeֵ No other uprating regulations will be referred to the committee.

    Consideration of the uprating of scale rates by the House is assured, because those regulations are already subject to affirmative resolution. The same does not apply to regulations uprating exceptional needs payments and urgent needs pay-merits. As the Bill stands, they will be subject neither to affirmative resolution nor to reference to the committee. For the reasons that I have given, I do not think that reference to the committee would be appropriate.

    However, we think that the regulations should be subject to parliamentary approval. Therefore, the amendments provide that they should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure instead of the negative resolution procedure provided for by the Bill at present. That will ensure a consistent pattern on all the uprating regulations.

    I trust that the House will welcome the amendments as meeting hon. Members' points and being sensible and logical.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move amendment No. 30, in page 43, line 29, leave out 'three' and insert 'four'.

    With this amendment we are to take the following amendments: No. 31, in page 43, line 30, after second 'requirements', insert 'clothing requirements'.

    No. 55, in page 66, line 3, leave out 'three' and insert 'four'.

    No. 56, in page 66, line 3, after first 'requirements', insert 'clothing requirements'.

    I wish first to draw attention to the living standards of those at present dependent on supplementary benefit. Fortunately, most hon. Members have not had that experience. Those who have been on supplementary benefit for any length of time know what a desperately low standard of living the weekly benefit gives claimants and their families. It is so low, and the pressure on weekly budgets is so great, that the Supplementary Benefits Commission is often asked to make exceptional needs payments for what many of us would regard as everyday needs, particularly clothing.

    Under the Bill, most exceptional needs for clothing will be forbidden by the new body. Only in the most exceptional circumstances will lump sums be paid to claimants in need of clothing. The Bill makes a major change. It states that scale rates will cover normal clothing needs. Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 point out that the clothing needs of claimants and their families are not covered by the prescribed rates or by the weekly amounts that claimants receive from the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

    If one looks at the review of the supplementary benefit system, one sees how mean the Government are. Two proposals were put forward in the review. It was proposed to increase the weekly scale rates in order to cover claimants' clothing needs, or to make regular lump sum payments. Neither of those reforms will be achieved. Claimants' clothing needs will be legislated out of existence in order to cut down the amount of discretionary payments made by the Commission. Those needs will still exist, but one will no longer be able to register them within the system.

    Even at this late stage, the Government should make a concession which is of considerable importance to claimants, particularly those with children. All documents published by the Supplementary Benefits Commission and by other outside bodies show that families with children, who are dependent on benefits, have the lowest standards of living. Those families face a problem when budgeting for clothes. Their needs should be met by the system. The Government should either pay regular lump sum payments, or increase the scale rates by an additional amount, over and above the increase in November, to cover clothing needs. Perhaps the Government should accept our amendments. Our amendments would allow exceptional needs payments to be made to those claimants who cannot budget adequately for clothing.

    The Government may say that they do not have the resources to fund such an amendment. The Minister will probably say that, as in Committee, we are good at judging his replies to our amendments. However, if he looks carefully at the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum, particularly that part dealing with the financial savings, he will find nothing chalked up in the key introductory remarks. There is no list showing the saving to the Government of disbanding present clothing payments under the exceptional needs regulations. As the Government have not budgeted for that saving, and as they have not spent that money in any other way they could concede amendments Nos. 30 and 31.

    Perhaps the Government are unhappy because they wish to simplify the supplementary benefit scheme. We are prepared to concede that. However, why not use the money saved by disallowing those exceptional needs payments, to increase the weekly scale rates or to introduce that which social assistance advocated in the first place, namely, regular lump sum payments to cover the clothing needs of claimants?

    These amendments deal with the immensely important change that the Government propose to make. The Government's proposals will particularly affect those claimants who have children. Exceptional needs payments act as a safety valve on a benefit system that usually pays inadequate benefits. As the Government have not spent the savings which will arise from disallowing those payments, it is not too late to make an important concession. That concession particularly affects claimants with children.

    The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that Opposition Members had often anticipated in Committee the reply that I would give. He is wrong this time. I shall not reply along the lines that he has anticipated. However, I shall resist the amendment. I shall not oppose the amendment on the ground that resources are not available to finance it. If finance were available for a more generous supplementary benefit scheme than we are likely to have for some years, I would still judge that this is the wrong way to tackle the problem of clothing needs. The amendment would put a special category "clothing requirements" into the schedule. The schedule states:

    "For the purposes of this Schedule requirements shall be of three categories, namely, normal requirements, additional requirements, and housing requirements;"
    The phrase "normal requirements" includes expenditure on clothing. There is a scale rate which should cover the requirements of the person concerned. Within that amount they have whatever freedom of choice is available. They are in a straitened situation compared with most citizens. There is not much room for manoeuvre. However, within limits, they can make decisions about how much to spend on clothing, food and so on.

    In addition, there will be some provision for clothing payments under the general heading of "exceptional needs". As the hon. Gentleman knows, we intend to reduce the discretionary element in the scheme. The discretionary element which remains will be defined as closely as possible. We explained to members of the Committee what the general position for housing would be. We gave an explanation in the annexe that we issued to the notes and clauses. We described the regulations that were proposed.

    Perhaps I should remind the House of what was said about the purchase of clothing and the circumstances in which additional payments on top of the normal scale rates would be made. There are three categories. The first is where the claimant has not been receiving benefit for which he has been eligible. In those circumstances a need might be identified which would be the subject of an exceptional needs payment. The second is where the need has arisen other than by wear and tear. For example, a need might arise as a result of pregnancy. An accident leading to the loss of a limb might be the subject of special clothing needs. As a result of fire, flood or some other catastrophe a person might suddenly find himself in need, and that need might include exceptional clothing requirements above those normally needed. The third main category would be where illness or admission to hospital necessitates the purchase of certain clothes that the claimant does not have.

    I have listened very carefully to the Minister's explanation. Most hon. Members will be aware that many homes in Lancashire have green mould which has arisen as a result of dampness. That mould affects clothing and furniture. That is an added expenditure and it results from the deterioration of the claimant's wearing apparel. When that person claims, he or she is told that the benefit covers the cost of clothing. Cheap, shoddy clothing is really the most costly on the market. It lacks quality and will not last. The poor person who does not have sufficient money to buy quality goods will buy in the shoddy market. Will the Minister explain that?

    7 pm

    People on low incomes may tend to buy cheaper clothing. That is in the nature of things, whether we are speaking of people on supplementary benefits or those whose earnings are much lower than average.

    I have explained that the normal scale rates of supplementary benefit were intended to cover the normal clothing needs of recipients. The question of whether dampness in a dwelling causes an emergency need for extra clothing will come within the category that I defined—whether the need for clothing arose for reasons other than normal wear and tear. I do not wish to anticipate case law on a hypothetical borderline case, but if a person wished to make a claim he would have to wait and see the result.

    Where the need is for special clothing for warmth and the benefit is given for that purpose, the requirement is not for a new article but a substantial quality warm pair of boots, for example. The allowance provided for that is totally inadequate and the supplementary benefit does not meet the need of the beneficiary.

    That requirement would probably relate to the third definition that I gave, where ill-health or admission to hospital necessitated the purchase of certain clothes. I believe that that is what the hon. Gentleman meant. That allowance again could be claimed, but I cannot anticipate every borderline case or the interpretation of the adjudicating authorities. The regulations will be framed in the way that I have described and include reference to special clothing needs arising from ill health. The claim in the case that the hon. Gentleman describes, I believe, would come within that category.

    The changes are in no way at the expense of the claimant. We have had a broad and vague form of discretion, the application of which has varied between areas, which is not a good idea. We propose that exceptional needs payments for clothing should be defined in terms of the categories that I have given, which will not be to the disadvantage of claimants.

    It is amazing that the Minister says that claimants will not suffer. The amendments are put forward precisely because they will. It is doubly puzzling when the Minister says that an additional advantage is that in the past claimants have been treated differently in different areas. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be advocating that no one gets much help, and there will thus be an equality in misery.

    Large numbers of claimants have had additional help with clothing needs, which they will not now get unless they fit in to the limited categories detailed. That is a loss to them. We do not know how families will budget for their clothing needs, particularly if they remain on the right side of the law.

    Where will the money saved through not paying out a vast number of exceptional needs benefits now go? The Minister has given a totally unsatisfactory reply.

    I do not accept that there will be a general saving of money. The categories are broad and not narrow.

    They are not tiny. I shall not repeat them. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman read the annex to our notes on clauses, which contained the definitions.

    It was always the concept that the scale rate included provision for clothing, among other necessities of life. We are merely defining the payment of exceptional needs benefits more concisely, in the form of regulations in respect of clothing and other matters. Those concerned and their advisers will know their entitlement, and the system will be more open and helpful to claimants. There is no question of taking away from claimants in general what they have had until now, and the amendment is superfluous. It will not help claimants and it adds nothing to the concept of the scheme.

    We have learnt to live with the fact that Ministers make sweet and reasonable speeches suggesting concern and compassion for claimants but in reality deliver them a kick in the teeth. The Minister has failed to understand the problem and shows no concern for claimants.

    The major argument in the review was to reduce the number of exceptional needs payments. The areas were listed, and it was said that the greatest problem was with regard to clothing. Ways were suggested of reducing the number of payments, either by substantially increasing the basic rate or by special lump sum payments for clothing.

    We have no evidence that the Government will put up the rates in the autumn to take account of the disappearance of many of the exceptional needs payments. We fear that those payments will not even be increased to take account of inflation. There is no evidence that people will not need the exceptional needs payments because the basic rates will be increased. The Government have not accepted the lump sum proposal.

    The money available to the claimant each week will not be increased dramatically, but the claimant will be expected to make weekly savings out of that to accumulate money to buy clothes. It is impossible for people on benefits to save. It is often impossible to get through the week with sufficient food each day. It is ridiculous to expect those people to accumulate substantial sums to buy large items of clothing, whether from a jumble sale or elsewhere.

    The simple solution is either to increase the rate substantially or, if that is not possible, to give lump sum payments to those regularly on benefits to recognise their clothing needs.

    The Minister's answer is extremely disappointing. I hope that he will reconsider. We should divide the House because of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, but under the guillotine we cannot waste time.

    Amendment negatived.

    I beg to move amendment No. 73, in page 43, line 30, leave out 'and'.

    With this we may take the following amendments: No. 74, in page 43, line 30, after third requirements' insert

    'and requirements necessarily related to extra costs of daily living by reason of the chronic sickness or disability of a member of the household, having due regard to the position of that member in the household and the nature of his impairment'.
    No. 33, in page 43, line 34, at end insert
    'provided always that when prescribing such items and weekly amounts the Secretary of State shall ensure that proper provision is made for the recurring costs incurred by a chronically sick or disabled person by reason of his impairment.'.
    No. 75, in page 66, line 4 leave out first 'and'.

    No. 76, in page 66, line 4, after second 'requirements' insert
    'and requirements necessarily related to extra costs of daily living by reason of the chronic sickness or disability of a member of the household, having due regard to the position of that member in the household and the nature of his impairment'.
    No. 78, in page 66, line 7, at end insert
    'provided always that when prescribing such items and weekly amounts the Secretary of State shall ensure that proper provision is made for the recurring costs incurred by a chronically sick or disabled person by reason of his impairment.'.

    The amendments seek to help some of the poorest of disabled people and I warmly commend them to the House.

    To mark the importance of the amendments, let me quote Mr. Peter Large who, as the House knows, is a distinguished spokesman of the Disablement Income Group—DIG. In a recent letter to me, Mr. Large urged the case for a disablement costs allowance which would give new help and new hope to disabled people generally. He said:
    "As you appreciate, the need for the disablement costs allowance has become urgent now that the nil-cost simplification of the supplementary benefits scheme is under way. The simplifications discount special needs and disabled people, with their special financial needs, are being simplified out of the system. This will be disastrous if there is no alternative benefit to meet the financial problems they incur as a result of disability."
    The amendments will help to write some of the poorest disabled people back into the system and I appeal to Conservative Members, as to my right hon. and hon. Friends, to support them in the Lobbies.

    The previous Labour Government introduced three new cash benefits for disabled persons and their families—the noncontributory invalidity pension, the invalid care allowance and the mobility allowance.

    At the same time, we legislated to link rises in cash benefits for disabled persons to increases in average industrial earnings. I refer not only to the attendance allowance and the contributory and noncontributory invalidity benefits, but also to industrial injury benefits and war disablement pensions. As with retirement pensions those benefits rose, after our Social Security Act 1975, in line with average earnings or the cost of living, whichever was better for sick and disabled people.

    About 1½ million disabled people benefited from that provision and I pay tribute tonight to the memory of my late friend and ministerial colleague in the previous Labour Government, Brian O'Malley, who worked so hard to forge the link that the present Government have decided to break by the provisions of this Bill.

    The Labour Government also improved services for disabled persons over a wide range and worked ceaselessly not only to improve public attitudes towards disabled people, but also their opportunities in society. All that was the good news. The bad news was that the fall of the Labour Government stopped the publication of a Green Paper on an important further new benefit that we intended to provide for disabled people.

    As the Minister in that Government responsible for the disabled, I was working with my officials on a proposal for a fourth and comprehensive new benefit for disabled people. My successor was clearly made aware of that work on his appointment, because he referred to it last July when addressing the all-party disablement group in the House. In doing so, he made clear to the group that work on the proposal had ceased. The right hon. Gentleman was asked at that meeting by his hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) about—I quote from the minutes of the meeting:
    "the implementation of a general disablement costs allowance which was the main priority for the Group and disability organisations generally. Mr. Prentice said he regretted that, because of the cuts in public expenditure, this must be a long-term aim. During the term of the previous Government work had begun within the DHSS on a Green Paper but this had been halted, because, Mr. Prentice said, it would be wrong for him to raise expectations which could not be fulfilled."
    That statement and its implications helped to prompt the amendments, and indeed new clauses 10 and 12 for which, unfortunately, no time was available yesterday.

    7.15 pm

    In a letter to the DIG on 22 August last year about our proposal for a new and comprehensive benefit for disabled people, the Minister for Social Security said:
    "The question of introducing such an allowance is one of priorities and available resources and … there is no money at present for any new benefits."
    The right hon. Gentleman went on:
    "It would only raise false hopes if we entered into detailed discussions now on the format of an allowance which could not possibly materialise for some years."
    The Minister's arguments against producing a Green Paper are not just disappointing. They are depressing. The disabled are not pathetic children, as his argument about raising false hopes implies. Severely disabled people have to be and are realists. They mostly suffer the harsh realities of life of the poor and least fortunate in Britain today.

    The Minister said in 1974, when he was Secretary of State for Education and Science in the Labour Government:
    "if sacrifices are to be borne, the broadest backs must bear the heaviest sacrifices."— [Officied Report, 15 March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 622.]
    I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, but does the right hon. Gentleman still accept the philosophy which he put to the House only a few short years ago? Clearly he has renounced that philosophy, because in his present role he said last year:
    "The disabled cannot expect to be exempted from the sacrifices necessary."
    Again in a Conservative party-political broadcast last year, the right hon. Gentleman said:
    "We need to be a more self-reliant society, I think, in which people are standing on their own feet."
    That was not the happiest of phrases from the Minister who is responsible for dealing with the problems of disabled people.

    The difference between us is clear. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I do not accept that disabled people, who are already handicapped by their disabilities, should suffer the further burden of a squeeze on the public expenditure that is available to them. Nor do most other people in this country. The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation has said:
    "Ministers continually repeat their concern for severely disabled people; but their actions are condemning them to isolation and increasing dependence."
    That is a grave charge to make against any Minister or any Government.

    For my part, I cannot accept that there is no money available to help disabled people. One of the Government's first acts was to give £1,500 million in tax relief to the richest 5 per cent. of taxpayers in this country. A Government who gave such huge relief to the richest people cannot say that they could not have helped some of our poorest people.

    In my view, current policies may well drive more and more disabled people out of society and into institutions. Most disabled people want more than anything to lessen their dependence on others, to get on with living their own lives as normally as they can, in their own homes among their own families, and wherever possible to have the opportunity of contributing to industry and society as fully as their abilities allow.

    Investment in people, disabled people no less than able-bodied and more fortunate people, is much the best of all investments. These amendments are important. They are addressed to the problems of many of the most needy in our society. I hope very much that the House will approve them.

    I have great pleasure in supporting the contentions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) who had a distinguished record as a Minister with responsibilities for the disabled. The record bears examination. There can be no doubt that, at this time, disabled people in Britain are falling behind, both relatively and absolutely. They simply cannot keep pace with inflation either because they are unemployed or they have poor jobs that are badly paid. They also have to meet increasing costs as well as a cut in services.

    This combination of blows for disabled people means that they now face a near-crisis. It is a crisis that should be met by strong, firm and clear Government action. I cannot see how any Minister with responsibilities for the disabled can oppose these amendments which are specifically designed to deal with the problems of the disabled.

    I should like to mention the special costs that disabled people have to bear. Many people overlook them. The disabled face the cost of special food, extra clothing and laundry, extra heating, chemist's goods and house maintenance. It has been estimated, as the Minister may be aware, by Miss Mavis Hyman, writing for the report "Action Research for the Crippled Child", that the extra cost of disability amounts to no less than 24 per cent. of household income. This means that people with a very low income suffer a reduction of a quarter of income by virtue of extra costs if this well-researched report is accepted. I commend Miss Hyman's report to the House.

    These costs vary due to differences of disability. Some disabilities involve loss of function and some an inability of disabled people to look after themselves. Some disabled people simply cannot do for themselves things that many people take for granted. Disability varies with each individual. There are many anomalies. I quote an example. Some disabled people who are completely bed-ridden, do not get the mobility allowance but may have high heating costs. There may be other disabled people, confined to wheelchairs, who receive the mobility allowance but perhaps have no abnormally high heating costs. All these apparent anomalies need sorting out.

    Great gains were made under the last Administration. New initiatives were brought forward. But this Government must sort out the anomalies. They have to prepare to meet all these costs before progress can be made. As the Minister knows from his correspondence, Mr. Peter Large has been in contact with him. I know that the right hon. Gentleman would wish to join with me in paying tribute to Peter Large, who has been pressing strongly the case for the disabled. My right hon. Friend quoted part of the correspondence. Peter Large is one of the most brilliant advocates of the disabled that the country has known. I am afraid, however, that the answers that he has received from the Minister have been highly unsatisfactory. Some of those replies were touched upon by my right hon. Friend.

    In dealing with the objection of raising expectations, I would only say to the right hon. Gentleman that this argument was put at the time hon. Members were advocating what became the Chronically Sick and. Disabled Persons Act, piloted by my right hon. Friend. People said that a Bill of this kind could not be introduced because it would raise the expectations of disabled people. That is not a valid objection. Instead of raising only expectations, one increases the pressures on Ministers. That is how democracy works—by increasing expectations. It is a right and proper thing to do. Ministers in a democracy respond to pressure. The right hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced politician, knows that this is true. It is the job of disabled people to bring pressure to bear on Ministers. That is what we are attempting in these amendments.

    I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not object to us bringing pressure to bear, nor assume that disabled people should be treated like children. They would resent that strongly. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make clear that he does not want to press that charge. Disabled people are realists and no one knows the facts of life, or poverty, more than them. By and large they are poor people. By and large, they get a bad deal in life. By and large, they suffer from double jeopardy. By and large, they bear heavy costs that are not borne by non-disabled people.

    I hope that the Minister will think again about the amendments. I hope he will bear in mind that the amendments are designed to ensure that the Government study the problems of disabled people and that they will endeavour to bring out a green paper which will allow the problems of disabled people to be discussed and debated. These are important amendments. Without planning, we get nowhere. Without a knowledge of our objectives, we shall make no progress.

    I urge the Minister to accept the amendments to show that he takes these problems seriously and thereby give hon. Members something on which to bite so that when money is available—in fact I believe it is available now if one considers the amount given to wealthier sections of the community—disabled people will have a share of the largesse. No one deserves a bigger or better share than the disabled people of Britain. I support my right hon. Friend.

    I am sympathetic, as, I am sure, are many hon. Members on both sides of the House, towards amendment; No. 73 and No. 74 which we are debating. I speak with a degree of understanding. I happen to be disabled, albeit in a minor way. I draw a disability pension arising from a previous period I enjoyed in the Services. To those who wonder what my disability is, and find their curiosity becoming overwhelming, I will tell them, quietly, after I have finished speaking, behind the Speaker's Chair. In all seriousness, I happen to be quite deaf. With such a disability, one speaks, I think, with a degree of sympathy for and imagination of the plight of disabled people in our society. Without such a disability, one would find that plight hard to imagine. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) will agree that society cannot fully compensate in cash terms someone who suffers a physical disability.

    7.30 pm

    Our concern transcends party politics. We want to assure people who suffer physical disabilities over which they have no control that they are regarded by the legislature with a degree of compassion. Disabled people should understand that we regard them as a special case. There is no more important special case. Disabled people do not enjoy special recognition. Blind people are an exception, and the exceptional needs payment makes a gesture towards recognition of the problems. However, that provision does not go far enough.

    The amendments correct, to some extent, the unsatisfactory position. They propose to recognise, through supplementary benefits, loneliness and misery and the bravery with which many disabled people face their plight. They recognise the extra costs which disabled people face when trying to live their lives as well as they can and to pay their way. Disabled people have additional expenses. Housing and special nursing cost money. Some disabled people have dietary problems and medical and recreational considerations to take into account. Many disabled people spend much of their time reading and that costs extra money. Special clothes and transport must also be paid for. In addition, many disabled people are unable to work.

    The difficulty about the amendments is that they try to solve the problem through the use of supplementary benefits. That is not good enough. People who have to apply for supplementary benefit are in the role of supplicants. They do not claim as of right. To some extent the payment of supplementary benefits is ad hoc. It often depends on how well one puts one's case and how the person in charge responds. Some disabled people have difficulty in explaining their case. They do not have the advantage of a good command of English and the ability to present an argument. I do not cast any aspersions on the officers who dole out supplementary benefit. However, supplementary benefit is a piecemeal method of solving a problem.

    The Minister should take an overall look at the problems of disabled people. He should take into account their special needs and at the same time bear in mind their employment problems or lack of employment opportunity. I believe that we should move towards giving grants to disabled people so that they do not have to apply for supplementary benefit. They should have a grant which is theirs by right. That would be a further step towards the tax credit system which many hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome.

    The proposals would cost a great deal of money. That is the problem. The Treasury is always faced with demands for more money. Nevertheless, I hope that we shall move towards the desirable goal of giving disabled people a grant as of right. I hope that we shall move in that direction when we can afford it; when we have created the wealth. I hope that we shall be able to tell people that that is the aim when inflation is reduced and the public sector borrowing requirement is under control. We should be able to tell disabled people that they are not forgotten, that they can take comfort because the Conservative Party holds them in high regard. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is deeply concerned about the problem and that he will take the argument to heart. The disadvantaged in our society should not suffer. Their needs must be recognised. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make an encouraging response.

    I agree with all that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) said. However, the amendments do not ask for money. If the amendments are accepted, they will cost the Government not one penny.

    I am vice-president of the Disablement Income Group which has been striving for years for the introduction of a disablement cost allowance. If the Government accept the amendments, it will be a step towards victory.

    If the same amount of money were available, it would have to be spread more thinly because the demographic distribution of the elderly has changed dramatically and we have to face additional costs of caring for the frail elderly. We have totally failed to meet their needs. People of 70 years of age come to our surgeries and ask "Can you please find a way to assist me to help my 90-year-old father who is incontinent?" Such a request means that something is radically wrong with our provisions.

    The Government should issue a consultative document on the needs of disabled people. One organisation, the Association of Directors of Social Services, has produced its own consultative document—"Cuts in Public Expenditure". The association states:
    "It is widely recognised that existing personal social services have many shortcomings. Demand for services of all kinds continue to grow, in part stimulated by Government and Parliament, while present services are inadequate. Even if existing levels of spending were maintained but not increased, the quality of services available to the public would decline as a result of demographic changes."
    That means that frail elderly people would be taking a much larger slice of a fixed, small, inadequate sum of money just to meet the growing demands created by themselves. The right hon. Gentleman had my support in the past when he fought for the rights of the underprivileged in other parts of the world and when he resigned over expenditure cuts at that time.

    The report continues:
    "In our view, to suggest to those in need of help that they must wait until the rest of society is rich enough not to notice the sacrifice needed to provide aid is insulting and robs them of their dignity. Anyone can afford to be generous when they are wealthy."
    We must be prepared to accept the burden and the responsibilities. We must be bold and say that those in need require our help because their position is deteriorating rapidly.

    Does the hon. Member agree that one of the problems facing the disabled is that there is no articulate lobby to represent them and fight for their cause? The lobbies representing other disadvantaged people may be what I call middle-class pressure groups. They fight for, and obtain, a disproportionate amount of the resources available.

    The other disadvantaged groups—with the disabled in the vanguard—find it hard to put their case and to find people who will articulate their cause on their behalf. Possibly they do not obtain a fair and equitable share of resources from the static cake.

    I appreciate the tone in which the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) makes his comments, but I must disagree with him. I have some sympathy with what he said, but there is no excuse for Governments not knowing the requirements of the disabled. The Disablement Income Group, to which I belong, has gained access to the Minister. But hav- ing gained that kind of access through the work of our voluntary organisations, we have still been unsuccessful. That is a tragedy.

    We have gained access to Government and slated our case over the years, but we have not been successful. The organisations I referred to include the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the Disablement Income Group and the Disabled Living Foundation. There are others and if I have omitted the names of some groups, I apologise. For example, there is a group operating in Shewsbury on behalf of the disabled. It concerns itself with the administration of mobility allowance and giving advice to the disabled who have mobility problems. The work of that group will end as a result of public expenditure cuts. I have appealed on its behalf to the Government, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will respond to that appeal. If that organisation ceases to operate, we shall take from the disabled a much needed service. At the same time, those who work for that organisation will be denied the opportunity to do that work.

    If I were asked to define the disabled and their needs, I should have to go back to Peter. Large, who is an expert in this area. He knows from his own experience the difficulties of the disabled. Perhaps I may add to the Peter Large story. He is a severely handicapped person with a tremendous brain who, in many ways, survives because of the devotion of his wife.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said that where there was a disabled person there was a disabled family. Such families suffer all too often. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said loudly and clearly, for many families an additional 20 to 25 per cent. of their incomes must be spent to meet the needs of the disabled member of the family.

    If it is accepted that caring for the frail and elderly within the social services will absorb more and more of our limited resources, the amount left over for the disabled will get smaller and smaller. We cannot top up those resources through supplementary benefit, because an edict has gone out from the Department to t he effect that where the cost of a social service benefit increases, the additional cost must not be met by supplementary benefit. That is a "Catch 22" situation for the disabled.

    Before I run through my list of the needs of the disabled, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept these amendments. They are merely a step on the way and will cost no money. We are putting down a marker for what can and should be done and the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if he comes under pressure later to implement our proposals. That is the nature of politics and of campaigning in this context. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman must accept the amendments.

    7.45 pm

    My list of the needs of the disabled is almost identical to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. We take heating and clothing for granted but, to the elderly and those immobile in their own homes, the provision of clothing and heating presents difficulties. For many disabled people the very act of fidgeting—which may be part of their disability—wears out their clothing. The very act of walking through their homes and using the walls for support increases the need for redecoration. The very act of walking, staggering or struggling upstairs and the need to turn round can mean additional costs in carpeting. The disabled who are tucked away have to live with these problems. There is no provision in the supplementary benefit scheme for coping with those difficulties.

    Meals on wheels are absolutely essential, but they have been cut. Home help is absolutely vital to many families and has been cut. Communication and access are now being limited severely for the disabled and mobility is becoming increasingly difficult because not enough local authorities are providing free transport. Rent factors and home alterations are not being dealt with adequately nor is the replacement of furniture for the disabled. We cannot go on relying on a good neighbour policy. We can do something positive at no cost.

    I urge the right hon. Gentleman to accept these amendments.

    I shall deal first with the amendment and then with some of the more general comments which have been made in a debate which has expressed widespread concern about the needs of the disabled. That concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House who have a long record of hard work for the disabled.

    The amendments seek to specify, in terms of the supplementary benefit scheme, a special place for the chronically sick and disabled. With respect to those who tabled the amendment, I say that this is not the way to help the disabled. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) made this point. He was supporting what others had said about the financial needs of disabled persons. In effect, he was supporting the need for some kind of disability income. I want to come to that later. He was saying that it was not appropriate to write that into the supplementary benefit scheme as such, and I profoundly agree with him.

    The supplementary benefit scheme is designed for people on very low incomes. It is designed to prevent them from falling below the basic level, as defined by the House, irrespective of how their poverty has been caused, irrespective of whether they have a small income because of bad health, disability or unemployment or because they are deserted wives or the families of people who are in prison, or for whatever reason. There are many reasons why people apply to the Supplementary Benefits Commission, and the job of the commission is to assess their needs. Therefore, any progress that we make along the lines of a disability income should not be made in the way suggested in the amendments.

    In addition, I must make the point which has been made, directly or indirectly, by several hon. Members, that the financial needs of the disabled will vary enormously according to the nature of their disabilities. I must go on to point out that the provisions of the Bill and the regulations that will be made under it will be helpful to disabled and chronically sick people in many circumstances. Many of the needs listed by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) are covered to some degree—not necessarily in the form that he put them—in the explanatory literature that we have issued—the annex to the notes on clauses —about the nature of the regulations that will be made for people's special needs.

    The House will not want me to quote at length, but I shall give one or two examples. There will be provision for extra heating where that is required on health grounds. There can be provision for special diets which may be related to certain specified illnesses. There will be allowances for extra laundry costs, in circumstances where those costs arise from a particular illness or disability. There can be allowances for extra expense on the maintenance and replacement of clothing or footwear where this is related to a disability. In other words, there can be special payments within the supplementary benefit scheme relevant to needs which arise from disablement. Indeed, that has been so in the past and will be so in the future.

    I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that one of the needs of many disabled is to be able to rely on the home-help service. Will he confirm that his Department has already told the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that where local authorities put on charges for home-helps, they will not be able to get help from the Department through the discretion left in the Bill?

    That does not arise directly from the amendment. I shall want to say something about the general needs of the disabled, including a passing reference to the question whether Government policies are leading to cuts in services for the disabled.

    On the specific point, it never has been and never could be the function of the Supplementary Benefits Commission to fill in every gap left by local authorities. In other words, we have not said and do not now say, that local authorities might or might not make a specific provision and that, if they do not, it is automatically the duty of the Supplementary Benefits Commission—or in future the Department—to fill that need. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is some new instruction, he is mistaken. That has never been the general policy.

    I turn now to the broader issues in the debate, because hon. Members have properly used the terms of the amendment as the basis for a short but valuable debate on the needs of the disabled. Several hon. Members have spoken about the financial needs arising from disable- ment. In one way or another, every speaker in the debate has referred to the fact that, apart from all the other disadvantages of being severely disabled, in most cases extra financial costs fall on the disabled person and his or her family. Such costs will vary with the nature of the disability, but I acknowledge that they can be heavy and that society does not make and never has made provision for disabled people in the general sense.

    I think that we can divide disabled people into two categories. There are those who get a degree of financial income because of the way in which their disabilities were caused. The three obvious examples are the war disabled, those disabled from industrial injuries and those who have suffered accidents in circumstances where someone else was negligent and where they have been able to obtain damages as a result. People in those categories get some financial compensation related to their disabilities. It may or may not be adequate, but it is something. But for those whose disabilities have arisen in other ways, society has not at any time made a specific financial provision related to their disablement.

    If I am asked whether I am in favour of a general disability income, I give the emphatic answer "Yes", for the reasons given by many hon. Members. That objective was stated in the Conservative Party's manifesto and it remains the objective. The question is: how and when?

    The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) accused the Government of stopping work which he said was going on in this area, as though in some way or another the change of Government had made a difference. With respect, it made no difference. The problem that I have described—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) was not present. If he had been present, he would have heard a number of excellent speeches on the need for a disability income. He will know as well as I know, and so does the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, that no disability income was provided by the Labour Government and that there were no concrete plans to do so.

    The problem has been studied within the DHSS, but no plans had been announced and no financial provision had been made in the public expenditure White Papers produced by the Labour Government and which we inherited. Therefore, I say to him—and if he is going to intervene, I hope that he will deal with this point—that there would have been no disability income if the Labour Party had won the election. The position would have been the same as it is now.

    I said that we introduced three important new cash benefits for the disabled. We were in the process of developing proposals for a further new benefit. A Green Paper was being prepared by the Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman, addressing the all-party disablement group, made it clear that work on that Green Paper had ceased. It is not only my view, but the view of the Disablement Income Group and of many other representative organisations that to stop work on that Green Paper was a setback for the disabled. There is no other way of looking at this very important point.

    With respect, it was not a setback for the disabled. Green Papers butter no parsnips. There was and would have been no disability income at this stage, nor for some years to come.

    I have been taken to task because I have said on several occasions—at the meeting to which reference has been made and in my correspondence with Mr. Peter Large, and I join enthusiastically in the tribute paid by several hon. Members to Mr. Large for his work—that to produce a Green Paper or a similar document, holding out the expectation of meaningful progress towards a disability income in the next year or two, would be to raise expectations that could not be fulfilled. That would be of no service to the disabled.

    8 pm

    Does the Minister accept that the disabled want a disablement cost allowance? Producing a Green Paper would bring pressure to bear upon the Government to introduce that allowance earlier than otherwise would have been the case. He told the all-party group on disablement, of which I am chairman that he would not produce a Green Paper. By dropping the previous Admin- istration's Green Paper he has damaged the interests of the disabled.

    I challenge the hon. Gentleman's phrase "dropping the Green Paper". When the previous Labour Administration were in office there was no public announcement of a Green Paper. That has surfaced since the election. We discovered that instructions had been given for some preparatory work to be undertaken on the problem. I have been told several times in debates about arguments between Ministers in the DHSS and the Treasury. I imagine that similar arguments took place when the previous Administration were in office. Even if the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe wanted to say that a Green Paper was being prepared, I expect that he is under considerable pressure not to say so.

    I do not understand my right hon. Friend's point about raising expectations in a Green Paper. It was a Conservative manifesto commitment—admittedly a long-term commitment—to provide for the disabled. The expectations of the disabled are already riding quite high.

    Perhaps my hon. Friend could reflect on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) who said, quite rightly, that the publication of a Green Paper would raise expectations, that the pressure would be greater, and that the implementation of any proposal would be faster than otherwise would have been the case. Given that fact, and given the general economic position that we face, we could not begin to implement a disability income within the next few years. Therefore, we should not produce a Green Paper in the near future because it would inevitably lead to the sort of pressure and expectations that have been described by many hon. Members.

    It is all very well for our reach to exceed our grasp, but if it exceeds it to too great an extent we shall create a position in which people will feel, quite properly, let down. I would rather promise very little now, and ultimately achieve more than people expect, than to perform the sort of operation which we became accustomed to under the previous Administration, of promises made, expectations raised and people let down. That process was bad not only for the Labour Party but for democracy. People became more and more cynical about politics and politicians.

    If we are not able to make extra provision for the disabled for some years to come—that would be the case under either a Labour or Conservative Government—it is better to say so, and say so frankly, than to raise hopes that will not be fulfilled.

    If we were to provide for all disabled people—no matter how their disability occurred—a scheme comparable to that which exists for the war and industrial disabled, it would cost between £2 billion and £3 billion a year. I know that that figure has been challenged in many quarters, but it is a reasonable estimate. Anyone who considers the public expenditure figures will realise that such a provision is out of the question for along time.

    Reference has been made to my correspondence with Peter Large. He realised that we could not make such a commitment, and said that he would expect only small steps to be taken in the early years. If those steps are to be meaningful steps, and if they are to help substantial numbers of severely disabled people, we are talking in terms of very large sums indeed. Against that background it is better to state clearly that we cannot make progress in the foreseeable future.

    When the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe opened the debate, he referred to my position in relation to whether the disabled should share in the sacrifices that the country is expected to make. In many of my speeches on the subject I made two essential points. First, there have not been any cuts in the financial provisions made by central Government which affect the disabled.

    There have not been any cuts. Indeed, there have been some modest improvements. Because of the controversial way in which some hon. Members are treating the subject—there is no need for it—I shall remind the House of one or two of these modest improvements. I agree that they are not world shaking improvements. We phased in mobility allowance for the 60- to 65year-olds earlier than the previous Labour Administration had planned, and in one group instead of two groups as they had proposed. We removed VAT from the cars provided for Motability. We took war widows' pensions out of tax. In clause 14 we make improvements in arrangements for war pension appeals.

    All those are modest achievements, but they are advances on behalf of the disabled which were not made by the previous Administration. Hon. Members should not refer to cuts in relation to the disabled. We have made, here and there, some modest improvements. I shall seek every possible opportunity to make further improvements in the future.

    Local Government services are of vital importance to the disabled, the chronic sick, the frail elderly, and many other vulnerable groups in our society. We have said over and over again to local authorities that they should not make cuts that affect those groups. We realise how difficult that is. In general, and for reasons which I would defend at length, we are asking local authorities to cut back on their planned expenditure. They have difficult choices to make—in many ways more difficult than those that have to be made in national Government. We have asked them not to make cuts that would affect the most vulnerable sections of our society, and in the overwhelming majority of cases they are responding.

    I believe that every hon. Member in the House will be united on one matter, namely, that we are glad that in the past 10 years the expenditure by local authorities on services for the disabled, the sick, the frail elderly and similar groups, has doubled in real terms. The greater part of that increase took place in the early 1970s, under the Conservative Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). It was part of a general movement of opinion expressed in the House by the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe for giving a lead on that matter. Equally, he will wish to pay a tribute in the sense that those who sponsored the measure with him were members of all political parties. This measure was not sponsored by one man or one party, it was an expression of the desire of the House. It reflected opinion in the country and in many of the most progressive local authorities, led by all political parties, who were doing more than they were being urged to do by the House. Progress was made during the early 1970s. From 1976 onwards, because of financial constraints, there was a levelling out in the growth of services. But that did not start last May. It began in 1976 when the IMF put pressure on public expenditure. The fact remains that in 1980 we are doing more than we were in 1970, but we are still not doing enough. We need to do much more and I believe we shall. These aspirations are common to all parties, and we do not need to divide on party lines.

    I entirely reject the Minister's reply. He doubted whether our amendments were the best way of helping the disabled. The Minister even

    Division No. 234]


    [8.10 pm

    Abse, LeoDavies, Ifor (Gower)Gourlay, Harry
    Adams, AllenDavis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Graham, Ted
    Allaun, FrankDavis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Grant, George (Morpeth)
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterDeakins, EricGrant, John (Islington C)
    Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestDean, Joseph (Leeds West)Grimond, Rt Hon J.
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackDempsey, JamesHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
    Ashton, JoeDewar, DonaldHardy, Peter
    Atkinson, Norman (H'gay, Tott'ham)Dixon, DonaldHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
    Bagler, Gordon A. T.Dobson, FrankHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
    Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Dormand, JackHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
    Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Douglas, DickHaynes, Frank
    Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodDouglas-Mann, BruceHealey, Rt Hon Denis
    Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Dubs, AlfredHeffer, Eric S.
    Bldwell, SydneyDuffy, A. E. P.Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)
    Booth, Rt Hon AlbertDunlop, JohnHolland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)
    Boothroyd, Miss BettyDunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Home Robertson, John
    Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Dunnett, JackHomewood, William
    Bradley, TomDunwoody, Mrs GwynethHooley, Frank
    Bray, Dr JeremyEadie, AlexHoram, John
    Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Eastham, KenHowell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
    Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Howells, Geraint
    Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Huckfield, Les
    Buchan, NormanEllis, Tom (Wrexham)Hudson Davies, Gwilym Ednyfed
    Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)English, MichaelHughes, Mark (Durham)
    Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Ennals, Rt Hon DavidHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)
    Campbell, IanEvans, loan (Aberdare)Hughes, Roy (Newport)
    Campbell-Savours, DaleEvans, John (Newton)Janner, Hon Greville
    Canavan, DennisEwing, HarryJay, Rt Hon Douglas
    Cant, R. B.Field, FrankJohn, Brynmor
    Carmichael, NeilFitch, AlanJones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)
    Carter-Jones, LewisFlannery, MartinJones, Barry (East Flint)
    Cartwright, JohnFletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
    Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Kerr, Russell
    Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Foot, Rt Hon MichaelKilfedder, James A.
    Cohen, StanleyFord, BenKilroy-Sllk, Robert
    Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Forrester, JohnKinnock, Nell
    Conlan, BernardFoster, DerekLambie, David
    Cowans, HarryFouikes, GeorgeLamborn, Harry
    Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Lamond, James
    Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldLeadbitter, Ted
    Crowther, J. S.Freud, ClementLelghton, Ronald
    Cunliffe, LawrenceGarrett, John (Norwich S)Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)
    Cunningham, George (Islington S)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
    Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)George, BruceLitherland, Robert
    Dalyell, TamGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnLofthouse, Geoffrey
    Davidson, ArthurGlnsburg, DavidLyon, Alexander (York)
    Davies, Rt Hon Denzll (Llanelli)Golding, JohnLyons, Edward (Bradford West)

    seemed to imply that he would like to see stronger amendments. If that is so, he should make a start by accepting our very modest amendments.

    The previous Labour Government had in preparation a Green Paper as a consultative document on a new and comprehensive benefit for disabled people. That was the first step on the road to widening provision for the disabled. It is not just my view, but that of representatives of disabled people themselves that to have stopped that work was a setback for the disabled of this country. I hope that some Conservative right hon. and hon. Members will join us in support of these amendments. I hope that they will join us in the Lobby in rejecting the reply we have had tonight.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided, Ayes 254, Noes 294.

    Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonParry, RobertStoddart, David
    McCartney, HughPavitt, LaurieStott, Roger
    McDonald, Dr OonaghPendry, TomStrang, Gavin
    McElhone, FrankPenhallgon, DavidStraw, Jack
    McGuire, Michael (Ince)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch(S Down)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
    McKay, Allen (Penistone)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
    McKelvey, WilliamPrescott, JohnThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
    Maclennan, RobertPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
    McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Race, RegThomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
    McNally, ThomasRadice, GilesThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
    McNamara, KevinRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
    Magee, BryanRichardson, JoTilley, John
    Marshall, David (Gl'sgow.Shettles'n)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Tinn, James
    Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)Torney, Tom
    Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
    Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Wainwright, Richard (Coine Valley)
    Mason, Rt Hon RoyRobertson, GeorgeWalker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
    Maxton, JohnRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)Watkins, David
    Maynard, Miss JoanRooker, J. W.Weetch, Ken
    Meacher, MichaelRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)Wellbeloved, James
    Mellish, Rt Hon RobertRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)Welsh, Michael
    Mikardo, IanRowlands,TedWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
    Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Ryman, JohnWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
    Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Sandelson, NevilieWhitlock, William
    Molyneaux, JamesSever, JohnWigley, Dafydd
    Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Sheerman, BarryWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
    Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
    Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
    Morton, GeorgeShort, Mrs RenéeWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
    Moyle, Rt Hon RolandSilkln, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
    Newens, StanleySilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Winnick, David
    Oakes, Rt Hon GordonSilverman, JuliusWoodall, Alec
    Ogden, EricSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)Woolmer, Kenneth
    O'Halloran, MichaelSnape, PeterWright, Sheila
    O'Neill, MartinSoley, CliveYoung, David (Bolton East)
    Orme, Rt Hon StanleySpearing, Nigel
    Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidSpriggs, LeslieTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Palmer, ArthurStallard, A. W.Mr. James Hamilton and
    Parker, JohnSteel, Rt Hon DavidMr. Donald Coleman.


    Adley, RobertCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
    Aitken JonathanCarlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Fox, Marcus
    Alexander, RichardChalker, Mrs LyndaFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
    Ancram, MichaelChannon, PaulFraser, Peter (South Angus)
    Arnold, TomChapman, SydneyFry, Peter
    Aspinwall, JackChurchill, W. S.Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
    Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Gardiner, George (Reigate)
    Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)
    Banks, RobertClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Garel-Jones, Tristan
    Bell, Sir RonaldClegg, Sir WalterGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
    Bendall, VivianColvin, MichaelGlyn, Dr Alan
    Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Cope,JohnGoodhart, Philip
    Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Corrie, JohnGoodhew, Victor
    Best, KeithCostain, A.P.Goodlad, Alastair
    Bevan, David GilroyCritchley, JulianGorst, John
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCrouch, DavidGow, Ian
    Biggs-Davison, JohnDean, Paul (North Somerset)Gower, Sir Raymond
    Blackburn, JohnDickens, GeoffreyGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)
    Blaker, PeterDorrell, StephenGray, Hamish
    Body, RichardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesGreenway, Harry
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasDover, DenshoreGrieve, Percy
    Boscawen, Hon Robertdu Cann, Rt Hon EdwardGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)
    Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
    Bowden AndrewDurant, TonyGrist, Ian
    Boyson, Dr RhodesDykes, HughGrylls, Michael
    Braine, sir BernardEden, Rt Hon Sir JohnGummor, John Selwyn
    Bright, GrahamEdwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm & Ew'll)
    Brinton, TimEggar, TimothyHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
    Brittan, LeonElliott, Sir WilliamHannam, John
    Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherEmery, PeterHaselhurst, Alan
    Brotherton, MichaelEyre, ReginaldHastings, Stephen
    Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Fairbairn, NicholasHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
    Browne, John (Winchester)Falrgrieve, RussellHawkins, Paul
    Bruce-Gardyne, JohnFaith, Mrs SheilaHawksley, Warren
    Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickFarr, JohnHayhoe, Barney
    Buck, AntonyFell, AnthonyHeddle, John
    Budgen, NickFenner, Mrs PeggyHenderson, Barry
    Bulmer, EsmondFinsberg, GeoffreyHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
    Burden, F. A.Fisher, Sir NigelHill, James
    Butcher, JohnFletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh,N)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
    Butler, Hon AdamFletcher-Cooke, CharlesHooson, Tom
    Cadbury, JocelynFookes, Miss JanetHordern, Peter
    Carlisle, John (Luton West)Forman, NigelHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)

    Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Moore, JohnSpeed, Keith
    Hunt, David (Wirral)Morgan, GeraintSpeller, Tony
    Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)Spence, John
    Hurd, Hon DouglasMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
    Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
    Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickMudd, DavidSproat, Iain
    Jessel, TobyMurphy, ChristopherSquire, Robin
    Johnson Smith, GeoffreyMyles, DavidStainton, Keith
    Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelNeale, GerrardStanbrook, Ivor
    Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithNeedham, RichardStanley, John
    Kaberry, Sir DonaldNelson, AnthonyStevens, Martin
    Kimball, MarcusNeubert, MichaelStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
    King, Rt Hon TomNewton, TonyStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
    Kitson, Sir TimothyOnslow, CranleyStokes, John
    Knox, DavidOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs SallyStradling Thomas, J.
    Lamont, NormanOsborn, JohnTapsell, Peter
    Lang, IanPage, John (Harrow, West)Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
    Langtord-Holt, Sir JohnPage, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamTaylor, Teddy (Southend East)
    Latham, MichaelPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Tebbit, Norman
    Lawrence, IvanParkinson, CecilTemple-Morris, Peter
    Lawson, NigelParris, MatthewThompson, Donald
    Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkPatten, Christopher (Bath)Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
    Lester, Jim (Beeston)Patten, John (Oxford)Thornton, Malcolm
    Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Pawsey, JamesTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Percival, Sir IanTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
    Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Pink, R. BonnerTrippier, David
    Loverldge, JohnPollock, AlexanderTrotter, Neville
    Luce, RichardPorter, Georgevan Straubenzee, W. R.
    Lyell, NicholasPrentice, Rt Hon RegVaughan, Dr Gerard
    McCrindle, RobertPrice, David (Eastleigh)Viggers, Peter
    Macfarlane, NeilPrior, Rt Hon JamesWaddington, David
    MacGregor, JohnProctor, K. HarveyWaldegrave, Hon William
    MacKay, John (Argyll)Pym, Rt Hon FrancisWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
    McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Raison, TimothyWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
    McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Rathbone, TimWall, Patrick
    McQuarrie, AlbertRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Waller, Garry
    Madel, DavidRees-Davies, W. R.Walters, Dennis
    Major, JohnRenton, TimWard, John
    Marland, PaulRhodes, James, RobertWarren, Kenneth
    Marlow, TonyRidley, Hon NicholasWatson, John
    Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Rifkind, MalcolmWells, John (Maidstone)
    Mates, MichaelRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
    Mather, CarolRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Wheeler, John
    Maude, Rt Hon AngusRossi, HughWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
    Mawby, RayRost, PeterWickenden, Keith
    Mawhinney, Dr BrianRoyle, Sir AnthonyWiggin, Jerry
    Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSainsbury, Hon TimothyWilkinson, John
    Mayhew, PatrickScott, NicholasWilliams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
    Mellor, DavidShaw, Giles (Pudsey)Winterton, Nicholas
    Meyer, Sir AnthonyShelton, William (Streatham)Wolfson, Mark
    Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Young, Sir George (Acton)
    Mills, Iain (Meriden)Shepherd, Rlchard(Aldridge-Br'hills)Younger, Rt Hon George
    Mills, Peter (West Devon)Shersby, Michael
    Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Silvester, FredTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    Moate, RogerSkeet, T. H. H.Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
    Monro, HectorSmith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)Mr. Anthony Berry.
    Montgomery, Fergus

    Question accordingly negatived.

    I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 43, line 38, leave out subparagraphs (3) and (4).

    With this we may also take the following amendments: No. 35, in page 44, line 15, column 1, at end insert

    'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefit for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required'.
    No. 36, in page 44, line 41, column 1, at end insert
    'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefits for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required'.
    No. 37, in page 44, line 50, at end insert
    '(6) If regulations prescribe as one of the conditions mentioned in the table in subparagraph (3) of this paragraph that a person shall have been in receipt of supplementary benefit during a prescribed period or periods, that condition shall be deemed to be satisfied in the case of a person who, but for that condition, would have been entitled to receive supplementary benefit throughout the prescribed period or periods.'
    No. 58, in page 66, line 11, leave out sub-paragraphs (3) and (4).

    No. 79, in page 66, line 36, column 1, at end insert
    'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefits for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required.'.
    No. 80, in page 67, line 14, column 1, at end insert:
    'provided that the said prescribed conditions shall not distinguish between persons required to register for work, who have been in receipt of benefits for 15 months or more, under section 5 of this Act and persons not so required.'.
    No. 53, in page 67, line 23, at end insert—
    '(6) If regulations prescribe as one of the conditions mentioned in the table in sub-paragraph (3) of this paragraph that a person shall have been in receipt of supplementary benefit during a prescribed period or periods, that condition shall be deemed to be satisfied in the case of a person who, but for that condition, would have been entitled to receive supplementary benefit throughout the prescribed period or periods.'

    We want to have a short debate on this group of amendments, if that is agreeable to the Minister. We divided extensively in Committee on these issues. My hon. Friends would like a short debate also on amendments Nos. 40 and 60 about the single homeless, not least in view of the tragedy that has recently occurred.

    Amendment No. 34 would delete the table which provides for the main supplementary benefits rates to be brought into line with the national insurance benefit rates. The alignment of the rates is not objectionable in principle, but the alignment under the main recommendation is downwards, not up. The practical effect is to cut 40p from a single person's long-term supplementary benefit rate and 35p from that of a married couple. The much smaller number of short-term claimants would gain only 20p for a single person and 20p for a married couple.

    The arguments in favour of alignment are weak. The Under-Secretary described the proposal as a "cornerstone of the simplification" in Standing Committee. However, it is a minor simplification because the supplementary benefits scale rates do not represent the amounts of benefit paid to claimants but are merely one element in the calculation. The hon. Lady also argued that because of the small differential there are:
    "a large number of claimants with very small entitlement."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 12 February 1980; c. 594].
    However, the proposed alignment will not alter that. It will just mean that different people are affected.

    Deleting the table would not directly affect the treatment of the long-term unemployed since the table does not specify which categories of claimants other than pensioners would get the long-term rates. However, the case for the payment of the long-term rates to the unemployed can be argued—and we shall argue it in respect of amendments Nos. 35 and 36.

    A major disadvantage of a statutory link is that if the Government decide to save money by cutting unemployment and sickness benefit rates—we are hearing harrowing stories about the Government's proposals, and most Labour Members await with trepidation the publication of the White Paper and the Chancellor's statement next week—the supplementary benefit rates would automatically be cut by the same amount. Ever if it were right to bring the supplementary benefit and the national insurance rates into line this year, it would still be wrong to provide by statute that they should automatically remain in line for future years. Deleting the table does not tie the Government to any pattern of benefit rate. It leaves them free to decide on the matter each year.

    Amendment No. 37 deals with the NCIP trap which was dealt with in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) in Standing Committee. I do not need to go in detail over the ground again.

    I wish to refer to the long-term unemployed because last night I could hardly believe my ears when a Conservative Member advocated a long-term rate for the unemployed. I find it more than refreshing to hear that from the Conservative Benches. If any group in our society is at the moment disadvantaged it is the long-term unemployed. It is no good saying to them in places like the North-East, in parts of Scotland, or Merseyside, in South Wales, in the South-West and in parts of Norfolk where high levels of unemployment obtain "the way to resolve this matter is to find a job"—certainly not when the Government are creating unemployment.

    The long-term rates for the unemployed are well overdue. We discussed this in Committee, and the fact that the previous Government had not got round to doing anything about it. However, that does not mean that the issue should not be advocated, especially against a background of rising unemployment and rising inflation. Many of the unemployed are family people who are feeling the effects of the present policy of the Government.

    8.30 pm

    I address myself to the specific group of amendments dealing with the issues that I wish to raise. There are other wider issues involved, but these are some of the issues that we covered in great detail in Committee. No doubt the Minister will give his standard reply. We cannot expect anything new, not after the way we debated these issues at length in Committee. But it is essential to put on record on the Floor of the House that the issues in these amendments are of crucial importance to the people whom they concern.

    The right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) correctly said that we debated all the issues covered by these amendments in Committee. Nevertheless, they are important. Although I do not want to detain the House too long, an explanation is due on each of the three main subjects covered in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.

    I will, first of all, speak to amendments Nos. 37 and 53 which deal with what has been described as the "NCIP trap"—NCIP being the non-contributory invalidity pension. Perhaps the group for whom the problem is most acute is the 16-yearolds who receive this pension. It presents a worrying problem for parents who are trying to decide what is best for their children. Because the rate of the NCIP is higher than the ordinary rate of supplementary benefit for young people of that age, they cannot qualify for supplementary benefit unless they suffer a loss of income. If they accept that loss of income and claim supplementary benefit, in order to qualify for higher, long-term rates, they have to accept the lower income level for two years. Under the revised scheme the waiting period for the long-term rates will be reduced from two years to one year, but this does not remove the anomaly.

    In Committee I explained that we had been studying this problem, and I am pleased to tell the House that, from the introduction of the new supplementary benefits scheme in November of this year, it will be possible for young sick and disabled people aged 16 to 17 years to qualify for supplementary benefit at the long-term rate after one year of being in receipt of a NCIP. No amendment is needed for this purpose. The change will be provided for in the regulations to be made under the Bill.

    Naturally, I recognise that that does not remove the anomaly altogether. But it is the only practical change I am able to announce within existing constraints and I hope that it will remove at least part of the worrying aspect of this problem. The cost of the change will be about £500,000 in a full year. It is a modest amount, which we can cover within the overall nil-cost supplementary benefit package.

    I turn to the group of amendments dealing with the long-term unemployed. A great deal of support has been expressed outside the House, and on both sides of the House, for extending to the unemployed the long-term rates of supplementary benefit. But I must repeat the reply that I have given, and make the obvious point that government is about priorities.

    The cost of providing what the Opposition have asked for would be about £65 million in a year. Even if we were to make it available after 15 months, which is suggested in amendments Nos. 35 and 36, it would still cost £50 million in a year. To pay unemployment benefit at the higher long-term rate to those who had been continuously unemployed for a year or more could cost substantially more.

    Our priorities are different. I think that the House recognises that. Labour hon. Members have been prepared to accept our priorities, at least to the extent that they deliberately shift more of the payments of supplementary benefit towards larger families. I have had to state the obvious several times—that the Opposition cannot make a priority of everything at the same time. For precisely the same reason, the Labour Government, too, did not extend the higher rate to the long-term unemployed. The right hon. Member for Salford, West said just now that they did not get around to it. I do not think that they would have got around to it by now if they had been in office.

    The right hon. Gentleman said that it was refreshing to hear a Conservative hon. Member say last night that this reform should be made. I think that we all agree that we should like to see it made, but I repeat what I said in Committee. I do not argue against the amendment in principle; I argue against it simply because of what it would cost. It is not compatible with the nil-cost package that is the basis of the scheme.

    It is not a nil-cost Bill. It saves a considerable amount of public expenditure. We are talking about the Bill as a whole. We have taken a decision on the linkage for pensioners, which will lead to a considerable saving in future years. There are other aspects of the Bill that are not on a nil-cost basis. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman cannot reject the amendment because the Bill is nil-cost. It stands as a whole. Otherwise, it would not be the Social Security Bill.

    The Bill does not stand as a whole as regards the nil-cost formula. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that clause 1 could lead to a saving of public expenditure in a year in which earnings rose by more than prices. It is equally true that the clause that paves the way for implementing the European Community directives on similar treatment for men and women will have a net cost.

    When we use the expression "nil-cost package", we are talking about the reformed system of supplementary benefit. We are talking about the subject matter of the consultative document on social assistance, issued when the right hon. Gentleman was in office. It is to that part of the Bill that I refer when I use the term "nil-cost package".

    I turn to amendments Nos. 34 and 58, which deal with the alignment of the supplementary benefit rates with the rates of national insurance benefits. We cannot accept the amendments, for two reasons, which will be familiar to hon. Members, certainly to those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee. The first reason is again the cost. The changes are an essential element in the overall package of changes that have enabled us to put the review together. Alignment of the supplementary benefit rates with the corresponding pension rates makes a saving of over £30 million a year. That has been used to enable improvements elsewhere in the scheme; notably in qualifying conditions in the long-term scale rate, and in the children's rates.

    Secondly, alignment for pensioners represents a very important element in our objective of achieving a simpler and a more easily understood supplementary benefit scheme. The alignment of the rates will remove one of the causes of confusion. It will lead to fewer claims being made on supplementary benefit for very small amounts—a result of the present situation. The report on the review of the supplementary benefits scheme made a strong case for any redistribution of resources within the scheme to be made towards families with children, not pensioners. Analysis of the family expenditure survey supports that view. For example, during the period 1970–1977 the real income of all households receiving supplementary benefit—the majority are pensioners—has risen faster than the average for all households. That level has risen by 12 per cent., compared with a national average of 5 per cent. I am not complacent about that. I agreed with an Opposition Member who said yesterday that if we spoke of a rise in the real living standards of those on supplementary benefit, we were talking of those who had started on a low basis. Those people still have an unsatisfactory standard of living. Nevertheless, a comparison can be made. Over that period of seven years there was a 12 per cent. increase, compared with an average increase of 5 per cent. among the population as a whole.

    Among families with children that received supplementary benefit there was a rise of only 4 per cent. Among married couples with children—mainly the unemployed who did not receive the long-term rate—there was a rise of only 1 per cent. Those on the long-term rate are more able to bear any holding-back on the real increase in their income. I stress that we are discussing very small amounts. Single pensioners will receive 40p less at the November uprating this year. Married pensioners will receive 35p less. Those sums should be considered against the present rates of £37·65 for a married couple and £23·70 for a single person.

    The rates will be increased this year. However, as a result of the alignment, the increase will be slightly less. That increase will happen only once. Indeed, not every pensioner will be adversely affected. The changes are part of the package. Some claimants will receive more, others less.

    The right hon. Gentleman has said that it will happen only once. I agree that in terms of cash, that is so. We shall not be able to predict what might have happened if the two rates had remained separate. Those on supplementary benefit may lose substantial amounts in future. They will now be tied to national insurance rates.

    That would happen only if a future Government were to decide to widen the gap, and to make a larger adjustment to supplementary benefit rates than to pensions. It could happen in theory, but it is unlikely. There is no rationale for the present small differences in rates. They are largely a result of historical accident.

    Alignment is therefore an important part of the proposals for simplification. One must bear in mind that pensioners are particularly affected. It has the advantage that the overall benefit system will be easier to understand. The additional component in the pension will later lift more people off the supplementary scale. Fewer retirement pensioners will qualify for the small amounts that we have been discussing. Frequently those small amounts are not taken up. The Supplementary Benefits Commission has taken energetic steps to encourage take-up. It has simplified its procedures, forms and so on.

    However, it makes no sense to structure the benefit system so that a large number of claims are possible for very small amounts of money. In its administration paper on take-up of benefit the Supplementary Benefits Commission recognised that it would be virtually impossible to ensure full take-up, because of that problem in particular. People will, quite rationally, not bother to claim small amounts.

    8.45 pm

    I am puzzled by the Minister's constant reference to small amounts. The 1977 annual report of the Supplementary Benefits Commission details the amount of the supplementary benefits unclaimed by groups of claimants. For those below retirement age the average payment is in excess of £9 per claimant. Does the right hon. Gentleman call that small?

    I agree that many categories do not take up their entitlement, and that includes those who, for whatever reason, forgo the opportunity to claim quite large amounts.

    The SBC report identifies one reason for low take-up. For retirement pensioners in particular there may be only a small gap between the basic pension and the basic pension with the addition of the amounts that we are talking of. That strengthens the case for alignment.

    I conclude by returning to the financial aspect. In two of the groups of amendments before us the Opposition are once again proposing substantial extra public expenditure. Even the more modest objective for the long-term unemployed of the 15-month figure would cost about £50 million in a full year. If the alignment proposals were not carried forward, it would cost £30 million. That is a total of £80 million. The Opposition cannot have it all ways. If they want the improvements included in other parts of the package, it is unrealistic to press amendments costing such large sums.

    I gather that we shall vote on this group of amendments, and I welcome that. It is probably the most important group discussed today.

    The Minister's defence of not extending the long-term rate to the unemployed was the standard one—that the previous Labour Government did not do so. They therefore stand condemned for that.

    The previous Government have a slightly better defence than this Administration. During their stewardship, which, granted, is longer than that of this Government, they implemented other important reforms. The introduction of child benefit was one, although we had to drag that measure, kicking and screaming, from them. An extra £1·5 billion went to families with children. That is a considerable achievement, although I agree that it is no excuse for not extending the long-term rates to the unemployed.

    Many of the Minister's arguments supported our case. He gave us interesting figures from the family expenditure survey. I did not quite grasp the period in question.

    During that period, the living standards of the vast majority of people on benefits, namely pensioners, rose by 12 per cent., against 1 per cent. for the unemployed. That is a powerful argument on behalf of the unemployed.

    There are three other important reasons for the amendments. First, the unemployed are the largest group of claimants below pensionable age on supplementary benefits. The Government are careful not to say to what level they think unemployment will rise to during the coming 12 months, but we know that the Government Actuary estimates a rise of 300,000 in the next year. That is why the Government brought in earlier this year amending regulations for national insurance contributions. Unemployment is on the increase.

    Secondly, all the evidence that the SBC and outside bodies have published shows that the poorest group of claimants are the unemployed, particularly those with children. We are scrabbling around among the poor to make that distinction. All those dependent on supplementary benefits are poor, but if we have to carry out the unpleasant task of distinguishing who is the poorest, all the research indicates that the unemployed with children are suffering the most desperate poverty in our society.

    The reports that the SBC submitted to the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth painted not just an unpleasant picture but an horrendous picture of life on benefit for the unemployecl—the difficulties of budgeting, the lack of savings and the need to borrow even to pay for food. That is the lifestyle of today's unemployed.

    In rejecting our amendments, the Minister had no argument except that of cost. He calmly stated that it is a nil package. That clinical phrase means that the unemployed will have to wait that much longer.

    The third reason why the amendments should be accepted is that not only is unemployment on the increase, but the rate of long-term unemployment is rising. I wish to present the figures carefully, because they should not be misunderstood. If we define long-term unemployment as one year or more, it is true that there were more long-term unemployed in the 1930s than there are today, but if we break down the totals and consider the proportion of those who have been unemployed for a year or more we see that there is a higher proportion of long-term unemployed today than in the peak year of unemployment of 1933.

    The Minister says that an amendment that would help to soften the blow of long-term unemployment must be resisted on the grounds that "It is a nil package". We have failed to get a clear statement about what "nil package" means. We do not have a financial memorandum at the beginning of the amended Bill, but there were estimated costs and savings in a crucial few cases of the original Bill.

    One of the savings arose from putting back towards the end of the month the date for starting the uprating of benefits. We have teased out of the Government in Committee and on the Floor of the House that they will probably save two weeks, rather than one, in pushing back the uprating. Their calculations for savings were based on an inflation of 10 per cent., but we are facing a rate of 20 per cent. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that it is a nil package and we are considering only the supplementary benefit component of the package. Even on that component part, the Government will make savings well in excess of what they outlined in their nil package cost.

    We want an undertaking that, if the savings are greater than the Government estimated, the long-term unemployed will be at the top of their list rather than at the bottom.

    I am pleased that we are having a full debate on this group of amendments, some of which cover the long-term unemployed. I wish to comment briefly on two other issues to which the Minister referred. Everyone in the House welcomes the realignment of the relative value of benefits to favour claimants with children. It is well established that this group is the most hard pressed. There will be a small compensation for them in the Bill. But those who urged the changes never thought that the resources of other poor people would be taken to increase the living standards of the poor with children. We hoped for a major redistribution from those in society who are well placed, to the poor, especially those with children. There is a credit for the Government. No one wishes to detract from that fact. But it must be underlined how limited is that change.

    Another welcome announcement involves the changes for the younger claimants of the non-contributory invalidity pension. I was puzzled by the Minister's concentration on young claimants. It did not take long for me to twig that the Government were concentrating on that group because it was presumably the smallest group. By conceding to that group, the cost of the reform was kept to the minimum. It is a welcome reform. We are grateful to the Minister. But he knows, as we know, that it goes not nearly far enough.

    I should like to return to the plight of the long-term unemployed. There is nothing for them in the Bill. They are the most hard pressed group of claimants and the most hard pressed of poor people. It is not an adequate defence for the Government to say that the previous Labour Government did nothing for the long-term unemployed. The Government are right to say that. Members of the previous Labour Government should hang their heads in shame that they did not concede the legitimate demands of the long-term unemployed. I hope that we shall not have to wait until the end of this Parliament before this necessary reform for the long-term unemployed is on the statute book.

    I suppose that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), I should welcome the small concession that the Minister has made. But we in the Opposition are disappointed that he has nothing to offer the long-term unemployed. He should put himself in the position of some of my constituents, who have been out of work for 15 or 16 months. They have tried, throughout that period, to get jobs. Each time someone else gets the job. They feel aggrieved. Having spent as long on these unemployment rates, and having suffered extreme poverty, they will never get up to what are supposed to be the minimum levels for long-term rates, because the Government are not prepared to help them. At the same time, there is less chance of their getting a job. In any competition for a job, employers will almost always take on the person who has been out of work the shortest time.

    If the Minister cannot put the long-term unemployed up to the long-term rates, he should discuss with his colleagues in Government other ways of helping the long-term unemployed. He could consider giving a premium to firms which take on people who have been out of work for a long time. Some preference could be shown to redress the balance and help those long-term unemployed who go for a job only to find that someone who has been out of work for a shorter time is almost always accepted. The long-term unemployed are caught in a trap. They receive benefits far below what is adequate. At the same time, each week and each month that they remain out of work their chances of getting a job become worse. It is a tragedy that the Government will not recognise this problem. Many of the long-term unemployed desperately want a job. Yet they find that the Government totally turn their back.

    Through their industrial policy, the Government are cutting back on the number of jobs available. By their social policy, the Government are denying these people the benefit that they badly need. I hope that we can move to a Division, although it is a pity that we have to vote on amendment No. 34. In my view, the amendments dealing with the long-term unemployed are more important. I hope that the Division will be seen outside as a clear indication that the Opposition are totally dissatisfied with the Government's attitude towards the long-term unemployed and the problem of the trap between the short-term rates and the long-term rates.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    Division No. 235]


    9 pm

    Abse, LeoFletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)Mason, Rt Hon Roy
    Adams, AllenFletcher, Ted (Darlington)Maxton, John
    Allaun, FrankFoot, Rt Hon MichaelMaynard, Miss Joan
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterFord, BenMeacher, Michael
    Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestForrester, JohnMellish, Rt Hon Robert
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackFoster, DerekMikardo, Ian
    Ashton, JoeFoulkes, GeorgeMiller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)
    Atkinson, Norman (H'gay, Tott'ham)Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
    Bagier, Gordon A. T.Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMolyneaux, James
    Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Freud, ClementMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)
    Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Garrett, John (Norwich S)Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)
    Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
    Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)George, BruceMorton, George
    Bldwell, SydneyGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMoyle, Rt Hon Roland
    Booth, Rt Hon AlbertGinsburg, DavidNewens, Stanley
    Booth royd, Miss BettyGolding, JohnOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Gourlay, HarryOgden, Eric
    Bradley, TomGrant, George (Morpeth)O'Halloran, Michael
    Bray, Or JeremyGrant, John (Islington C)O'Neill, Martin
    Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Grimond, Rt Hon J.Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
    Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Palmer, Arthur
    Buchan, NormanHardy, PeterParker, John
    Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Harrison, Rt Hon WalterParry, Robert
    Campbell, IanHart, Rt Hon Dame JudithPavitt, Laurie
    Campbell-Savours, DaleHattersley, Rt Hon RoyPendry, Tom
    Canavan, DennisHaynes, FrankPenhaligon, David
    Cant, R. B.Healey, Rt Hon DenisPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
    Carmichael, NeilHeffer, Eric S.Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
    Carter-Jones, LewisHogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Prescott, John
    Cartwright, JohnHolland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
    Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Home Robertson, JohnRace, Reg
    Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Homewood, WilliamRadice, Giles
    Cohen, StanleyHooley, FrankRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
    Coleman, DonaldHoram, JohnRichardson, Jo
    Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
    Conlan, BernardHowells, GeraintRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
    Cowans, HarryHuckfield, LesRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
    Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Hudson Davies, Gwilym EdnyfedRobertson, George
    Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
    Crowther, J. S.Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Rooker, J. W.
    Cunliffe, LawrenceHughes, Roy (Newport)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
    Cunningham, George (Islington S)Janner, Hon GrevilleRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
    Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRowlands,Ted
    Dalyell, TamJohn, BrynmorRyman, John
    Davidson, ArthurJones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Sandelson, Neville
    Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Jones, Barry (East Flint)Sever, John
    Davies, Ifor (Gower)Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSheerman, Barry
    Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Kerr, RussellSheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
    Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Kilfedder, James A.Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
    Deakins, EricKilroy-Silk, RobertShort, Mrs Renée
    Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kinnock, NeilSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
    Dempssy, JamesLamble, DavidSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
    Dewar, DonaldLamborn, HarrySilverman, Julius
    Dixon, DonaldLamond, JamesSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
    Dobson, FrankLeadbitter, TedSnape, Peter
    Dormand, JackLeighton, RonaldSoley, Clive
    Douglas, DickLewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Spearing, Nigel
    Douglas-Mann, BruceLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Spriggs, Leslie
    Dubs, AlfredLitherland, RobertStallard, A. W.
    Duffy, A. E. P.Lofthouse, GeoffreySteel, Rt Hon David
    Dunlop, JohnLyon, Alexander (York)Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W isles)
    Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)Stoddart, David
    Dunnett, JackMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonStott, Roger
    Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMcDonald, Dr OonaghStrang, Gavin
    Eadie, AlexMcElhone, FrankStraw, Jack
    Eastham, KenMcGuire, Michael (Ince)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
    Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
    Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)McKelvey, WilliamThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
    Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Maclennan, RobertThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
    English, MichaelMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
    Ennais, Rt Hon DavidMcNally, ThomasThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
    Evans, loan (Aberdare)McNamara, KevinThome, Stan (Preston South)
    Evans, John (Newton)Magee, BryanTilley, John
    Ewing, HarryMarshall, David (Gl'sgow.Sheitles'n)Tinn, James
    Field, FrankMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Torney, Tom
    Fitch, AlanMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
    Flannery, MartinMartin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Walnwright, Richard (Colne Valley)

    The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes Noes 295.

    Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)Wigley, DafyddWoolmer, Kenneth
    Watkins, DavidWilley, Rt Hon FrederickWright, Sheila
    We etch, KenWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)Young, David (Bolton East)
    Wellbeloved, JamesWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
    Welsh, MichaelWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)Wilson, William (Coventry SE)Mr. Hugh McCartney and
    White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)Winnick, DavidMr. Ted Graham.
    Whitlock. WilliamWoodall, Alec


    Adley, RobertEmery, PeterLangford-Holt, Sir John
    Aitken, JonathanEyre, ReginaldLatham, Michael
    Alexander, RichardFalrbairn, NicholasLawrence, Ivan
    Ancram, MichaelFalrgrieve, RussellLawson, Nigel
    Arnold, TomFaith, Mrs SheilaLe Marchant, Spencer
    Aspinwall, JackFarr, JohnLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
    Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Fell, AnthonyLester, Jim (Beeston)
    Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Fenner, Mrs PeggyLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
    Banks, RobertFinsberg, GeoffreyLloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)
    Bell, Sir RonaldFisher, Sir NigelLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
    Bendall, VivianFletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Loveridge, John
    Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesLuce, Richard
    Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Fookes, Miss JanetLyell, Nicholas
    Berry, Hon AnthonyForman, NigelMcCrindle, Robert
    Best, KeithFowler, Rt Hon NormanMacfarlane, Neil
    Bevan, David GilroyFox, MarcusMacKay, John (Argyll)
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
    Biggs-Davison, JohnFraser, Peter (South Angus)McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
    Blackburn, JohnFry, PeterMcQuarrie, Albert
    Blaker, PeterGalbraith, Hon T. G. D.Madel, David
    Body, RichardGardiner, George (Reigate)Major, John
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasGardner, Edward (South Fylde)Marland, Paul
    Boscawen, Hon RobertGarel-Jones, TristanMarlow, Tony
    Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
    Bowden, AndrewGlyn, Dr AlanMales, Michael
    Boyson, Dr RhodesGoodhart, PhilipMather, Carol
    Braine, Sir BernardGoodhew, VictorMaude, Rt Hon Angus
    Bright, GrahamGoodlad, AlastairMawby, Ray
    Brinton, TimGorst, JohnMawhinney, Dr Brian
    Brittan, LeonGow, IanMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
    Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherGower, Sir RaymondMellor, David
    Brotherton, MichaelGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)Meyer, Sir Anthony
    Brown, Michael (Brigs & Sc'thorpe)Gray, HamishMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch
    Browne, John (Winchester)Greenway, HarryMills, Iain (Meriden)
    Bruce-Gardyne, JohnGrieve, PercyMills, Peter (West Devon)
    Bryan, Sir PaulGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
    Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Moate, Roger
    Buck, AntonyGrist, IanMonro, Hector
    Budgen, NickGrylls, MichaelMontgomery, Fergus
    Bulmer, EsmondGummer, John SelwynMoore, John
    Burden, F. A.Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Morgan, Geraint
    Butcher, JohnHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
    Butler, Hon AdamHannam, JohnMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
    Cadbury, JocelynHaselhurst, AlanMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
    Carlisle, John (Luton West)Hastings, StephenMudd, David
    Carlisle. Kenneth (Lincoln)Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMurphy, Christopher
    Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Hawkins, PaulMyles, David
    Chaiker, Mrs LyndaHawksley, WarrenNeale, Gerrard
    Channon, PaulHayhoe, BarneyNeedham, Richard
    Chapman, SydneyHeddle, JohnNelson, Anthony
    Churchill, W. S.Henderson, BarryNeubert, Michael
    Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Newton, Tony
    Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Hill, JamesOnslow, Cranley
    Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally
    Clegg, Sir WalterHooson, TomOsborn, John
    Colvin, MichaelHordern, PeterPage, John (Harrow, West)
    Cope,JohnHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
    Corrie, JohnHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
    Costain, A.P.Hunt, David (Wirral)Parkinson, Cecil
    Critchley, JulianHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Parris, Matthew
    Crouch, DavidHurd, Hon DouglasPatten, Christopher (Bath)
    Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Patten, John (Oxford)
    Dickens, GeoffreyJenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPawsey, James
    Dorrell, StephenJessel, TobyPercival, Sir Ian
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJohnson Smith, GeoffreyPink, R. Bonner
    Dover, DenshoreJopling, Rt Hon MichaelPollock, Alexander
    du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardJoseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPorter, George
    Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Kaberry, Sir DonaldPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
    Durant, TonyKimball, MarcusPrice, David (Eastleigh)
    Dykes, HughKing, Rt Hon TomPrior, Rt Hon James
    Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnKitson, Sir TimothyProctor, K. Harvey
    Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Knox, DavidPym, Rt Hon Francis
    Eggar, TimothyLamont, NormanRaison, Timothy
    Elliott, Sir WilliamLang, IanRathbone, Tim

    Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Sproat, IainWaldegrave, Hon William
    Rees-Davies, W. R.Squire, RobinWalker, BilI (Perth & E Perthshire)
    Renton, TimStainton, KeithWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
    Rhodes, James, RobertStanbrook, IvorWall, Patrick
    Ridley, Hon NicholasStanley, JohnWaller, Garry
    Rifkind, MalcolmSteen, AnthonyWalters, Dennis
    Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Stevens, MartinWard, John
    Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)Warren, Kenneth
    Rossi, HughStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)Watson, John
    Rost, PeterStokes, JohnWells, John (Maidstone)
    Royle, Sir AnthonyStradling Thomas, J.Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
    Sainsbury, Hon TimothyTapsell, PeterWheeler, John
    Scott, NicholasTaylor, Robert (Croydon NW)Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
    Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)Taylor, Teddy (Southend East)Wickenden, Keith
    Shelton, William (Streatham)Tebbit, NormanWiggin, Jerry
    Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Temple-Morris, PeterWilkinson, John
    Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
    Shersby, MichaelThompson, DonaldWinterton, Nicholas
    Silvester, FredThome, Neil (Ilford South)Wolfson, Mark
    Skeet, T. H. H.Thornton, MalcolmYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)Townend, John (Bridlington)Younger, Rt Hon George
    Speed, KeithTrippier, David
    Speller, TonyTrotter, NevilleTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    Spence, Johnvan Straubenzee, W. R.Mr. John MacGregor and
    Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)Vaughan, Dr GerardMr. David Waddington
    Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)Viggers, Peter

    Question accordingly negatived.

    (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine): I am now required to put the Questions on any amendments up to the end of Schedule 2 to be moved by a member of the Government. The amendments in question are Nos. 43, 46, 52 and 54. Does any hon. Member wish to divide the House on any of these amendments?

    Amendments made:

    No. 43, in page 48, line 5, leave out 'receiving' and insert—

    'entitled or would if he satisfied prescribed conditions be entitled to'.

    No. 46, in page 48, line 24, after 'subsection', insert—

    ', except a sum as to which it has been determined in accordance with regulations that it is not to be recovered in pursuance of this subsection,'.

    No. 52, in page 54, line 18, leave out 'any' and insert 'the'.

    No. 54, in page 63, line 38, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

    '(3) Regulations of the following kinds, namely—
  • (a) regulations of which the effect is to increase an amount which is specified in regulations made in pursuance of section 3 of this Act or which, by virtue of regulations made in pursuance of paragraph (b) of section 4 (1) of this Act, is specified in a provision mentioned in that paragraph;
  • (b) regulations made in pursuance of section 32A (b) of this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of consolidating regulations which they revoke;
  • (c) regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 1 or 2 of Schedule 1 to this Act except regulations made for the purpose only of consolidating regulations which they revoke,
  • shall not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House and, in the case of regulations falling within paragraph (a) or (c) of this subsection, shall not be made without the consent of the Treasury.'.—[Mrs. Chalker.]

    9.15 pm

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. You will know of my connection with the all-party group for the homeless and rootless.

    No doubt you have read about the recent tragedies that took place in hostels closely connected with the work of that group. I wished to make a Standing Order No. 9 application today about those tragic incidents. I was precluded from doing so because there was a possibility that the amendments on the Notice Paper in my name and the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends would give the Government an opportunity to make a policy statement about the tragic events which occurred in hostels and lodging houses had that amendment been reached. The procedural motion that has been enacted—through no fault of mine and through circumstances over which I have no control—prevented me from moving my amendment, which would have made the discussion possible.

    Is there any other means by which I can return to the two amendments about the homeless and rootless and hostels and lodging houses before the guillotine falls tonight?

    We have passed those amendments, and I am afraid that there is no way in which they can be revived.

    I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), but I respect your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    Clause 8

    Provisions Supplementary To Sections 6 And 7

    I beg to move amendment No. 61, in page 13, line 6, at end insert

    (d) provision for treating normal requirements specified in the regulations as exceptional needs under section 3(1) of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 in parts of Great Britain so specified;'.
    The Minister may wonder about the meaning of the amendment. If I could give it a sub-title, it would be "to prevent riots in Glasgow". I am sure that the Minister is aware that in parts of the country, especially in some parts of Scotland—not least in Glasgow—there is a strong tradition of payments of exceptional needs payments, especially for boots and clothing.

    In principle, we do not support geographical differences. However, during a transitional period—and this is what the amendment is about—that difference is necessary, especially as the Government are not compensating for the reduction in ENPs by increasing the scale rates or introducing periodic lump sum payments, as recommended by the Supplementary Benefits Commission.

    The Government must take special cognisance of the position in certain parts of the country. There may be many such areas, but Glasgow comes immediately to mind. No doubt the Minister has visited some of the Glasgow offices and knows of the special problems that exist in that area.

    It is worth reminding the Minister of the Supplementary Benefits Commission's response to the review report. It said:
    "While we support, in principle, the replacement of some—never all—exceptional needs payments by regular lump-sum grants, that change should not be introduced abruptly and universally. Practice varies enormously from one area to another. In some, claimants have long relied so heavily on exceptional needs payments that an abrupt withdrawal of this help would cause severe hardship. In such places the transition should be brought about in stages, with careful attention being paid to the timing of each phase".

    Having made that quotation, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that that took account of the inclusion of lump sum grants. But under the legislation proposed lump sum grants will not be paid. Therefore, that quotation should be even stronger as a result of the way in which the Bill has developed.

    Earlier I referred to the fact that lump sum payments would not be made. My hon. Friend will be aware chat we had long debates in Committee about the exceptional needs payments and the issue of discretion. Discretion is being removed here.

    I put this point seriously to the Minister, despite my rather spectacular language about the prevention of riots in Glasgow. Nevertheless, there could be difficulties. Obviously we do not want to see problems arise and we want to help to prevent them. There is a very strong case for the Minister looking at the phasing here. We hope that the Minister will give us a firm date for implementation after the Bill has received Royal Assent. In Committee we talked about a date, but we were given no definite information.

    I wonder whether the Minister is prepared to look at exceptional cases, recognising the difficulties about phasing. The Supplementary Benefits Commission made some strong remarks about this and the Government should take account of them. We tabled this amendment in order to elicit information from the Government. If the Minister is unable to give it this evening, perhaps she could let us know when the Bill goes to the House of Lords. No doubt she can answer some of the central points that we have put to her tonight.

    I agree with the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). He used rather colourful language in describing what he feared might be the effects of the changes in the payment of exceptional needs grants in certain parts of the country. He restricted his remarks to Glasgow, but there are other cities which have problems as well as Glasgow. It is unfair to single out Glasgow even though Professor Donnison and other members of the Supplementary Benefits Commision have been exceptionally worried about that city.

    There is no doubt that whenever we have had schemes that are so reliant on discretion—and we have had them since 1966 and even before that—variations have grown up between different areas. When we were in Standing Committee we were told how different it was in inner city areas from places such as Fort William.

    In practice the variations that have grown up over the years have never been part of the policy of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, either implicit or explicit. It is precisely because of the variations in different parts of the country that we need to spell out individuals' entitlement. That is one of the things that we are doing in the regulations which will accompany this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament, as I hope it will. When we discussed this in Committee we tried to spell out in the annex to notes on clauses, paragraphs 74 and 75, those circumstances in which claims for exceptional needs payments would be permissible. I believe that this will be to the great advantage of claimants and also of our staff in all offices particularly in the inner city areas. Where there are problems with exceptional needs payments which occasionally lead to arguments, at least the law will be clear, the facts will be written down, and the staff will not be accused of interpreting them too loosely or too widely. The facts will be there for all to see.

    When the review team was preparing social assistance schemes it spent a great deal of time analysing the figures and visiting the sorts of areas described by the right hon. Member for Salford, West. Subsequently, as he will know—because he was then a Minister at the Department—the team attended a number of public meetings in those areas to discuss the proposals and to listen to the views of claimants and staff to make sure that their proposals were reasonable.

    Some local offices make large numbers of exceptional needs payments, but neighbouring offices in adjoining territories do not make such payments. The ratio between offices in adjoining neighbourhoods can be as high as 7:1, even in areas such as Glasgow.

    We are all aware of the local traditions that have grown up in Glasgow. They date back to the start of national assistance, and even long before that. The arrangements are the subject of consultation and discussion between the Department in Scotland and the social services group there. The review team had discussions with them, and we are continuing that consultation.

    There will be no abrupt withdrawal of exceptional needs payments. The rules will provide for exceptional needs payments for non-scale rate items as of right. and such exceptional needs payments will be paid with less fuss in future and on a more uniform basis. We must seek to achieve that.

    There will still be some exceptional needs payments for scale rate items. Any refusals will be subject to the right of appeal. Those cases will only arise where second and subsequent demands are made, and where special arrangements are needed and will apply.

    I am following the hon. Lady's argument with interest. Is she saying in effect that there will be variations in areas if difficulties arise? Is she saying that there may be a differentiation between Glasgow and other parts of the country? She said that payments would be phased in, rather than being abrupt. Will that be the case for every part of the country?

    The point that the right hon. Gentleman made earlier was valid. To make an abrupt change after years of tradition would be courting trouble. We do not intend to treat one part of the country more favourably than another. However, what has become long-established practice will be looked at closely. We shall ensure that there will be transitional arrangements.

    We have made provision for extra staff to deal with these special arrangements, and the results will be monitored carefully. I have no reason to think that special arrangements and extra staff will not be able to cope with the problems that will emerge. They will not simply affect Glasgow. They will affect Merseyside, and possibly some parts of the North-East and London. We must take account of the varying practices that have grown up, while still pursuing our aim. which in simplifying the supplementary benefits scheme must be to regulate those matters that can be defined, and to work out solutions to the difficult problems in the special areas.

    We shall keep a close eye on what happens after November. Any Minister would be unwise to ignore the problem. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Salford, West for raising it. However, we cannot continue with an overall system of localised discretion for ever and a day. That would make a nonsense of what we are seeking to do and would have a confusing result for the staff, for the claimants and for everyone else involved. In addition, it would be grossly inequitable for claimants who did not live in the right area.

    9.30 pm

    Where truly exceptional circumstances arise which are specifically covered in regulations we have a residual discretionary power to meet them. I referred to that many times in Committee. However, the vast majority of cases must fall within the scope of the regulations.

    The new arrangements for the supplementary benefit scheme could not take effect overnight everywhere. Therefore, we shall be phasing the new arrangements in gradually, not just for the areas that have been mentioned in the debate. The main benefit of the gradual implementation will probably be felt most in areas where there is the greatest difficulty. I am therefore seeking to meet the right hon. Gentleman's point, and I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

    I am pleased to hear the Minister's assurances, but I wish to press her on one aspect. Where local offices have perhaps been generous, it is probable that some of the voluntary organisations, which in other areas meet certain needs, have not developed to the same extent. We have discussed in Committee on several occasions the problems of claimants who get shuffled from one person or one agency to another. In many areas where exceptional needs have not been met as generously by supplementary benefit, voluntary groups have accumulated stocks of clothing and household goods which are made available to people in need. I hope that in the phas- ing out operation in those generous areas there will be good liaison with the voluntary organisations to make sure that they are encouraged to meet needs which will no longer be met by the local offices.

    It would be unfortunate if someone went along to the WRVS, for example, seeking help, and was told that supplementary benefit was normally provided to deal with the problem without it being realised that the help had been phased out. I hope that it will be made clear that some of that help will no longer be available from the supplementary benefit office. I hope that the voluntary organisations will know what is happening and will be able to do more to fill the gaps that in some areas were previously filled by supplementary benefit.

    With the leave of the House I shall reply to the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). We are well aware of the excellent voluntary organisation liaison that exists in many areas. That is one of the factors to which I have always paid a lot of attention. We seek to encourage that laison.

    The new arrangement will depend on the co-operation of the local authority social services departments and the voluntary organisations, particularly in difficult areas. I hope that that will in no way discourage the most valuable continuing and expanding role of many voluntary groups to seek to help the communities within their areas. Whatever the State does, a voluntary effort is made to help people who need assistance by way of explanations as well as goods. This is an invaluable binding aspect in our society and we should do everything we can to foster and encourage it.

    The hon. Member for Stockport, North has made an excellent point, but he knows already that we shall have 400 specialist staff who will help with just this sort of problem. I do not wish to repeat what I said in Committee, but I can assure him that his point is carefully taken on board. I hope that the role of the voluntary groups will continue to be one of great assistance in addition to what the State may provide.

    With the leave of the House, I speak again. I welcome what the Minister has said in recognising this problem in what is a difficult area. We shall obviously want to see how the phasing in or phasing out takes place.

    On the assurances that we have been given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 9

    The Social Security Advisory Committee

    I beg to move amendment No. 62, in page 13, line 36, after 'give', insert

    '(whether in pursuance of a reference under this Act or otherwise)'.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 63.

    Our long debate on the Social Security Advisory Committee's duty is not limited to matters referred to that committee by the Government. We had always intended to ask that committee and the Northern Ireland Department to give advice on matters that affected them. In these amendments, therefore, we are seeking to fulfil an undertaking which I gave during the seventeenth sitting of the Standing Committee which was to consider whether something in the same spirit as Opposition amendment No. 324 should be put down by the Government.

    These amendments are purely declaratory. Their substance is already implicit in the Bill. We are adding nothing to the committee's powers, but like the Opposition we acknowledge that declaratory provisions are sometimes very valuable. These two amendments will ensure that the advisory committee's duty to give advice and assistance to the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Department is not merely limited to matters referred to it by Government.

    Certainly we would not consider these amendments to be declaratory amendments. They are qualifying amendments which add some substance to Clause 9 as presently drafted, which gave rise to lengthy discussion in Committee. Whatever the assurance in the text of the debate may have been, so far as one could interpret the text of the Bill there was an implied restraint on matters which would be referred to the advisory committee by the Secretary of State

    "in connection with the discharge of his functions under the relevant enactments".
    I am quoting from the Bill.

    To insert an explicit provision that that committee can give advice, whether in pursuance of a reference under this Act or otherwise, is a significant advance. I wish to suggest, in view of recent events, one or two matters that could be picked by the committee or which the Government could enable it to consider soon after it has been set up.

    The hon. Lady and the Minister will recall that time and again in Committee—I think I made general reference to it on Second Reading—I argued for a wider approach to social policy, what has loosely become known as "joint approach to social policy", and said that a lead should be taken by Ministers at the Department of Health and Social Security even where other Departments and Ministers were involved. It was this that caused me the greatest concern, although there were other issues that concerned hon. Members. That is what I wish to see acted upon quickly.

    Among some of the examples that I gave in Committee of the need for crossing the borders between the DHSS and other Departments were important housing policy matters and hostel and housing association policy matters. It turned out later in Committee that they had considerable relevance to the full debate on what might be called the CHAR—Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless—amendments, two more of which it was hoped would be reached earlier in our proceedings this evening. I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) will have to say about the CHAR aspect, if he has the opportunity, in the context of the wider remit for the advisory committee.

    The implication of Government amendments Nos. 62 and 63 is that, although its title may remain the same, the committee is becoming potentially a kind of social policy review committee. I suggested that a title along those lines should be adopted in place of the name in the Bill.

    I want to refer to a matter that I believed should be urgently referred to the committee under its broader remit, or that the committee should be enabled by the Department to consider. It arises from schedule 2, which speaks of the Secretary of State's powers to establish "resettlement units", as they will now be called, or to require local authorities—the categories of which are listed—to exercise the functions of the Secretary of State in this connection. At present the Secretary of State is directly responsible for the reception centres, as they are now called, run by the DHSS. There is a widening of the scope for the future. I do not wish to pursue that matter now, because I should probably be out of order.

    With the wider remit resulting from the amendments, the Committee should have referred to it, or be enabled with the Department's full support to consider, the problems of the single rootless. It should be able to consider the problems that have arisen from the initiative in London undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and myself and then taken up by the Under-Secretary when we left office last May. That was intended to resolve the problems of the reception centres by getting people out of the DHSS sector and into the housing sector, having them rehoused by local authorities. Major problems have emerged. It is a ripe subject for the advisory committee to consider under its wider remit. What has happened over the years, and particularly in the past 12 months, which we discussed at some length in Committee, should be taken up by the advisory committee.

    The advisory committee should deal with that matter against the wider background of the growing pressure of single people, particularly the poor and the rootless in the big cities. It is a major problem. It was largely that problem that gave rise to the horror of what happened in the hostel in my constituency earlier this week, in Salusbury Road, Kilburn, a horror that it is difficult to grasp even now.

    I am not making any judgment on what happened. A major investigation is being carried out by the local authority, in consultation with the fire brigade. But there is no doubt that there was severe overcrowding in the hostel. It had in occupation about double the number of people that should have been provided for. Whatever else may come out of the investigation, the reason why I want the advisory committee to consider the question under its wider remit is that there is great and growing pressure in certain parts of our cities on the single rootless, poverty-stricken people—the same sort of people as lived in that hostel.

    Nine people died in the horror of that fire. Another incident has already been referred to. There was a near horror in East London only a day after the fire in Kilburn. The issue should be urgently considered. There should be an investigation. In addition the adequacy of adaptation of those multi-occupied buildings—formerly described as common lodging houses—should be examined. That examination should cross departmental boundaries. The Home Office, the Department of the Environment and the DHSS are all involved. Many of those buildings have inadequate provision for fire protection, and they lack basic human living conditions.

    9.45 pm

    Many other incidents could be quoted. I welcome the amendment. Perhaps the Social Security Advisory Committee will take up those incidents. Some of us are in touch with specialists about the horror that occurred in Kilburn. I am in touch with the chief fire officer in London and with my local authority of Brent. That authority is mounting a full investigation. I seek something wider. I seek an assurance from the Minister that it will be possible for the SSAC to consider such incidents. A full investigation is needed, not only into the basic facts of the Kilburn and East London horrors, but into the type of legislative change required. Such legislation might involve the need for better fire protection and better adaptation and management of accommodation for the single homeless and rootless. It is most important to make a factual investigation into the resource needs of specific inner city areas. Such areas give rise to the majority of problems affecting single homeless people. By "resource needs", I mean the resources required to meet the growing housing and welfare needs that now emerge. We need hostels. Work should be undertaken by housing associations, local authorities, and the DHSS. There should be financial support for local authorities, individuals, and housing associations. The Minister will have power to delegate to local authorities, under the Bill when amended.

    The Social Security Advisory Committee should use the powers proposed in the amendment to investigate what needs to be done. That investigation is urgently needed. The horrors of this week may occur elsewhere. The pressures that give rise to such horrors exist. No accommodation is available for those in need. Less accommodation will become available. The work of housing associations has been slashed by 50 per cent. this year. New buildings and conversions will be cut by 50 per cent. in 1980. In addition, local authority programmes have been cut by more than one-third. Housing associations will be unable to buy up or build the properties required. I am not discussing a national housing effort. Such problems must be debated elsewhere and at other times. I am dealing with an issue about which the Minister should be concerned.

    Certain parts of our cities do not have sufficient resources, and what resources are available are being slashed sharply. Housing associations are having their programmes cut by 50 per cent. in one year. These are the organisations that would otherwise help meet the needs of single, rootless, homeless people.

    The problem is urgent. The Government should base their policy on a factual investigation. I hope that the Government will enable the Social Security Advisory Committee to undertake an investigation as quickly as possible, against the background of the widening amendment which the Government moved and which we welcome.

    I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) for giving us the opportunity for this debate. It is sad that it has taken the tragic events of the past few days to highlight the matter. I hope that the Minister will seriously reconsider the issue.

    The amendment seeks to insert, after "give":
    "(whether in pursuance of a reference under this Act or otherwise)"
    regarding advice and assistance to the Secretary of State. Will the committee advise the Secretary of State on the problems referred to by my right hon. Friend? If so, will that advice include setting a timetable for the closure of resettlement units, to be replaced by housing units—decent small hostels—and to include access to health and social care in the community for single homeless people?

    Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go into the detail of what should be done about the specific and sad incident. He should limit himself to the amendment.

    I have dealt with the tragic incidents which are coincidental to the debate.

    I hope that the Minister's reply will be "Yes". I hope that a timetable will he set in line with our proposals in amendments No. 40 and 60, which we shall, unfortunately, not reach. If the Minister can assure me that such advice will be given to the Secretary of State, it will do much to allay our fears that the issue may go by default.

    I am surprised that our innocuous amendment has given rise to a debate on previous amendments. Our good intentions are being used as a peg to debate wider issues. I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment or his col leagues on housing matters. Neither would it be right for me to comment on the tragedies that occurred this week.

    Following what the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) said, I remind the House of what I said in Committee, as reported in columns 1345–1350. The Social Security Advisory Committee cannot be tied down to particular inquiries. We are seeking to make sure that it is known that it will not simply investigate matters referred to it by Government but also other relevant matters. We repeatedly said in Committee that it must be up to the advisory committee to decide what it should undertake in addition to its duty to look at regulations and remits from the Secretaries of State for Social Services and Northern Ireland.

    Of course, it would be possible within certain limits, for the committee to undertake inquiries of the type suggested by the right hon. Member for Brent, East if it regarded that to be one of its priorities. However, on some of these issues that have been mentioned in the debate it may be that other bodies, perhaps Committees of the House, would be more appropriate to look into such matters.

    We want to make clear in the legislation that the advisory committee is not limited in the way that some Labour Members felt that it might be. Whatever the outcome of the necessary investigations into current tragedies and measures to prevent future tragedies, all of that must be a matter for the advisory committee. It is certainly not excluded, but it is a matter for another debate.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 63, in page 13, line 39, after 'give', insert:

    '(whether in pursuance of a reference under this Act or otherwise)'.—[Mrs. Chalker.]

    Clause 10

    Consultation With Committee On Proposals For Regulations

    I beg to move amendment No. 64, in page 16, line 25, leave out from 'Department' to end of line and insert 'makes'.

    With this, we make take the following amendments: No. 65, in page 16, line 28, leave out 'Department shall lay' and insert:

    'Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament'.
    No. 66, in page 17, line 7, leave out from 'before' to 'together' in line 8 and insert 'each House of Parliament'.

    No. 82, in schedule 3, page 72, leave out lines 19 to 24.

    No. 83, in schedule 3, page 72, line 25, leave out
    'not falling within paragraph 17 of this Schedule'.'

    As you have noted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, amendments No. 64, 65, and 66 hang together and, as the official Opposition perceived, they require the consequential amendments No. 82 and 83, which, considerately, the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and his hon. Friends have tabled.

    Perhaps I may take this opportunity, without incurring your displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to express the gratitude of my hon. Friends and myself for the manner in which the official Opposition in Committee dealt with amendments that my hon. Friends and I had tabled on matters that we hoped would be discussed. We are grateful for the fact that that occurred, even though no member of the Ulster Unionist Party could, by reason of the composition of the Committee, take part in the debates.

    I feel that the official Opposition—and I hope that this is true of the Government as well—support the intention behind the amendments. New clause 3, which was not moved yesterday because of the exigencies of time under the guillotine, would have achieved the same object as that at which the amendments aim and it is not for me to say that it would not have done so more neatly than do our amendments.

    My hon. Friends and I are naturally not wedded to the form of words. One can rarely beat the parliamentary draftsman at his job and if the Government indicate that they regard the intention behind the amendments as reasonable and acceptable, there will be another stage for the Bill elsewhere and we should be happy to see our intention put in proper form at that stage.

    We are not seeking to return to the matter on which we have often engaged the House, namely, the undesirability of the House proceeding, or continuing, to legislate in terms of constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland which do not now exist and which, according to the Government, it is not intended shall exist in future. That might have been, and indeed was, behind some of the earlier amendments that we tabled.

    I ask the Minister to dismiss that consideration from her mind in considering the much narrower point that these amendments raise. The anomaly that they would remove is this. In Great Britain, when a report is made by the advisory committee to the Secretary of State on regulations that he proposes to make—

    It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

    Business Of The House


    That, at this day's sitting, the New Hebrides Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Brooke.]