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Welfare Reform

Volume 448: debated on Monday 10 July 2006

We published the Welfare Reform Bill on 4 July. That marks the next stage in our plans to modernise the welfare state and break down the barriers to work. Electronic copies of the Bill are available and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that they are readily e-mailable.

How will the Minister respond to an amendment to include on the face of the Bill the provisions that the Prime Minister e-mailed to the former Secretary of State last summer, calling for time-limiting and means-testing incapacity benefit and naming and shaming doctors who, in the Department’s view, have been a soft touch?

The hon. Gentleman asked how I intend to reply. I am tempted to say that I shall do so by e-mail, but that might be taking things too far. For a man who spends so much time with modern technology, he is sadly out of date so far as our proposals are concerned. We have published our Bill, which builds on the Green Paper, and is about no longer writing people off to a life of inactivity on benefits.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) in this question, particularly as he has expressed his disappointment in the Conservative party being unable to maintain its regeneration initiative that was launched in Liverpool. I have seen the lives of many hundreds of my constituents transformed by the reforms that this Government have introduced. Will my hon. Friend meet me and representatives of the voluntary and charitable sector in Liverpool—who are working exceptionally well with some of the hardest to help groups—to look at how the employment zone initiative is structured and to talk about innovative ways in which we could improve how it is working?

I would be happy to do so. The innovative city strategy, of which we will publish more details later this month, is one of the further opportunities that Liverpool and some of our other big cities will be able to use to lift their employment rates. I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss what more can be done in Liverpool and our other great cities.

Whether we look at the Bill in electronic form or on paper, there are key areas that we cannot read simply because they have not been included. Examples include the proposals to withhold benefits from those who do not comply with its conditions, and the regulations that will follow in statutory instruments. Does the Minister agree that, if the House is to understand fully what the Bill is about, it is important to publish those regulations—at least in draft form—before the Bill’s Second Reading?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that an awful lot of the detail of the Welfare Reform Bill will, rightly, be set out in regulations. We intend to publish many of the key regulations in time for its Committee stage, as has been common practice with many other important pieces of social security legislation.

The Government have included some welcome reforms to the housing benefit system in the Bill, but, for 3,000 of my constituents who are in temporary accommodation, the housing benefit that they receive for their exceptionally high temporary accommodation charges represents a real disincentive to work. In areas such as mine, those charges can be between £400 and £450 a week. The Government are piloting changes to housing benefit arrangements in east London. Does the Minister recognise that it is essential to roll out those pilots into high-value areas so that my constituents who want to work in order to turn their lives round will have the opportunity to do so, and will not be deterred by those excessive rents?

My hon. Friend is well regarded in the House for campaigning on behalf of her constituents, particularly those in the position that she mentioned. The pilots for the local housing allowance are part of our wider agenda of financial inclusion. The additional financial responsibility, the sense of flexibility and the opportunity for financial independence that the reform of housing benefit will provide are a key part of our wider reforms. Of course, if my hon. Friend has specific concerns, other Ministers in the Department and I will be happy to discuss with her how we can roll the programme out around the rest of the country.