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Mr. Speaker : Order. This is business question time, and the hon. Member should be asking for a debate next week on a particular subject.
Mr. Shaw : If you will bear with me, Mr. Speaker, I shall ask for a debate. There ought to be an early debate on the Leader of the Opposition's performance, which was so boring that it was not interrupted at all. There should be a debate on the Opposition's behaviour, which was so appalling that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was interrupted eight times. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will do everything he can to improve the Opposition's standards.
Mr. Wakeham : Not only did I read both speeches in the Official Report but was present when they were made and listened to them. It may be that my hon. Friend is correct in saying that the Prime Minister's speech was a little more interesting and had more content than that of the Leader of the Opposition, but that is not for me to judge. Questions of order are a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and not for me. However, if my hon. Friend is concerned about such matters, he may be able to contribute to our debate on procedure.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : I shall call those right hon. and hon. Members who are rising to their feet, but the Chair has a long list of speakers for the subsequent debate. A number of right hon. and hon. Members were disappointed at not being called last night, so I hope that remaining business questions will be confined to next week's business and will not concern general matters and debating points.
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Is the Leader of the House completely unaware of the continuing grave crisis in the National Health Service caused by the Government's failure to handle satisfactorily the regrading review? May we have a ministerial statement next week or, more important, ministerial action to eradicate the anomaly, for example, whereby two people may do basically the same job but one of them receives more than £1,000 per year less than the other? The Government ought to take immediate action to ensure a fair deal for nurses and other NHS employees and to stop victimising them for simply fulfilling their contracts by working to grade.
Mr. Wakeham : I am interested, once again, in the fact that the hon. Gentleman seems to be out of step with members of his own Front Bench. There are to be six days
Column 235of debate on the Loyal Address. The Opposition choose the subjects for debate. They have not chosen the National Health Service, and I know perfectly well why.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : In view of the important impending negotiations with the American Government, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on better access for transatlantic flights to Manchester airport?
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise that that is an important subject. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, but we may be able to find time for one.
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : The Leader of the House will not be surprised to know that there is much concern in Leeds about the order for the Chieftain tank. At risk are 850 jobs in the city and its environs because Vickers has taken over the Royal Ordnance factory in Leeds. The Prime Minister said on Tuesday in the debate on the Loyal Address that she did not expect that it would be long before a decision was taken. The Leader of the House has said what he has said today. I shall be questioned a great deal in Leeds over the coming weekend about what is going on, and so will hon. Members on both sides of the House. What is the argument about? Why is it taking time? Can we not join in the discussion? It is important that we know what the difficulties are.
Mr. Wakeham : The right hon. Gentleman is very experienced in these matters. He knows perfectly well that a major procurement order of this kind has to be considered very carefully. There has been a useful first discussion about this very difficult matter. No decision has been reached because further work is required. When the right hon. Gentleman was a Cabinet Member, I am sure that he believed that that was the right way to proceed. Now, with the freedom of the Back Benches, he says other things that are perhaps a little more extravagant.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Does the Leader of the House recall that a few days ago he sent me a letter in response to a matter that was raised during questions on last week's business statement about the methane gas that was escaping in my Bolsover constituency as a result of the closure earlier this year of the Arkwright pit? Does he also recall that in that letter he said that British Coal was expected to accept liability for certain matters? As yet, it has not accepted liability and the 40 families who were evacuated have lost considerable sums of money. I should like the Leader of the House to tell the Secretary of State for Energy, to whom he referred in the letter, to come to the Dispatch Box and explain why British Coal is allowed to act in this fashion. It closed the pit but failed properly to seal off the methane gas, with the result that 40 families have been scattered round north Derbyshire. Let us have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy.
Mr. Wakeham : I remember the occasion and the letter very well, but the hon. Gentleman probably does not know the facts and I shall tell him what they are. I understand that British Coal's actions have reduced the methane gas escape to safe levels and that the evacuated families are now returning to their homes. British Coal has offered to make ex gratia payments to compensate householders for inconvenience and disturbance and it has already made interim payments to each household.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May we have a debate next week on local government democracy, when we could discuss the way in which the Conservative clique on Bradford council has forced a 68-year-old retired woman, Jemima Wilson, to go to court to prevent 15 old people's homes, including hers, from being sold off to the private sector, like so many goods and chattels? With Christmas nearly here, that is surely outrageous.
Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that this matter is not sub judice. I understand that it is the subject of a judicial review.
Mr. Cryer : But if there were a debate, Mr. Speaker, we could get the Government to intervene to stop these homes being sold off. Then there would be no need for a judicial review and the old people would be secure in their homes for Christmas.
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman and a number of his hon. Friends like democracy when they win ; they do not like it when they lose. I have no intention of commenting on matters that are before the courts.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Does the Leader of the House agree that his response to our request for a debate on the Barlow Clowes affair and to the spirit of early-day motion 40 has been complacent?
[That this House calls for a full and early debate on the Barlow Clowes Affair.]
The responses I have had from my constituents who have suffered at the hands of Barlow Clowes and who have read Sir Godfray Le Quesne's report, show that they have not been led to the conclusion, to which the Leader of the House came, that the report, as well as the statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, should appease them or lessen the need for a debate. On the contrary, they have written to me saying unanimously that they were further angered when they realised from the report what was going on. They say that the need for a debate has been increased rather than diminished.
Mr. Wakeham : I think that the hon. Gentleman, who I always hope will make serious contributions, has got it wrong. The report to which he refers was the report of a statement of the facts ; it did not come to any conclusions. The Government came to some conclusions based on the report. The matter has been referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and I think that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is the best way to proceed.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : There is a widespread feeling in the House that the Bill on the security services and the Bill on reform of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 should be taken on the Floor of the House. What is the Government's intention?
Mr. Wakeham : The Government's intention is to discuss those maters through the usual channels.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Are we not entitled to a statement next week explaining why, if no decision has been made about the Queen going to Moscow, lobby correspondents were informed by Mr. Bernard Ingham--the same story has appeared in the Sunday press--that the Queen would not go to Moscow
Column 237because the Romanovs were killed in 1917? Do we take it that the Prime Minister was telling the truth, or does Mr. Bernard Ingham simply make up policy as he goes along?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman can take it from me that the Prime Minister was telling the truth.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Is the Leader of the House aware of the deep concern being expressed by football supporters throughout the country about the Government's proposals for an identity card system? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why such a controversial piece of legislation is to start its passage in the House of Lords?
It could be argued that their Lordships know very little about football-- even less than Members of this House, with the honourable exception of myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and a number of other Opposition Members. Before we are faced with a parliamentary lobby by the Inter-City Firm from West Ham, should we not have a debate here next week--as we have considerable time on our hands--so that at least the House of Lords can get some idea of the feeling across this House about the Government's invidious proposal?
Mr. Wakeham : I have already answered the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) who takes a serious interest in these matters, and I have nothing further to add.
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the rate support settlement that was announced recently has caused inordinate problems in the west midlands? Not least is the problem affecting passenger transport, whose grant has been cut by £13 million. That can only lead to chaos in
Column 238passenger transport, and in west midlands transport generally. I should very much welcome an opportunity for us to debate the matter, possibly with a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment next week.
Mr. Wakeham : As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will speak in the environment debate on Monday, and the hon. Gentleman could well make his points then.
Mr. Secretary Hurd, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, Mr. Secretary Younger, Mr. Secretary King, Mr. Secretary Rifkind, Mr. Tony Newton and Mr. Douglas Hogg, presented a Bill to make provision in place of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 and further provision in relation to powers of search under, and persons convicted of scheduled offences within the meaning of, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 2.]
Mr. Secretary King, supported by Mr. Secretary Ridley, Mr. Ian Stewart and Mr. Richard Needham, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the franchise at elections to district councils in Northern Ireland, to make provision in relation to a declaration against terrorism to be made by candidates at such elections and at elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and by persons co-opted as members of district councils, to amend sections 3 and 4 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 5.]
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. A large number of students are trying to lobby their Members of Parliament, and twice in the past half-hour police officers outside have quoted to me Sessional Orders that were approved by the House on Tuesday this week.
As many people have strong feelings on this issue and have travelled from many parts of the country wishing to put their views to their Members of Parliament, will you, Mr. Speaker, use your influence as Speaker and through the Serjeant at Arms--and whoever else may be necessary--to try to ensure that representatives of the various constituencies are able to reach the House, and also that hon. Members are able to find their constituents? Hon. Members are being refused permission to cross Westminster bridge to find their constituents, and I do not believe that that is provided for in the Sessional Orders.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday there was a lobby of probation officers. I went to St. Stephen's entrance and informed the police there that there were some people outside who were expecting to see me. I was told to go to the outer railings and to tell the police there, which I did. My constituents were denied access to the building for more than one hour although I had taken the trouble to go to the entrance and inform the police that they were expecting to see me.
It seems that, when there are lobbies, police are often drafted in from other areas who are not familiar with the procedures of the House. There is usually a book in which the names of Members and expected constituents are recorded. That book did not seem obvious when I went to the entrance yesterday, but I took it on trust that my request would be met. It was not. I think that when we take the trouble to make arrangements, they should be honoured. Constituents' access to the House is a time-honoured principle ; I hope that you will look into the matter, Mr. Speaker, and make effective arrangements.
Mr. Speaker : On the first point of order, I understand that a large number of students are today seeking to lobby their Members of Parliament. I am sure that the police are doing their best, and I understand that the Grand Committee Room has been booked for them. I shall receive reports about the matter.
Column 240On the second point of order, it is always difficult when many members of the public wish to lobby hon. Members. The police do their best. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) was not here in the previous Parliament when this matter arose frequently. It is not considered fair for hon. Members to bring in their constituents personally, because that tends to cause trouble with others in the queue at St. Stephen's entrance.
Mr. Pike : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to prolong the issue, but you did not respond to my question about whether the Sessional Orders prevent an hon. Member from crossing Westminster bridge to see his or her constituents on the other side.
Mr. Speaker : An hon. Member has access to and from the House if that is a practical proposition. I understand that a large number of people are on Westminster bridge at the moment.
(1) Standing Order No. 13 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely :
In paragraph (4) the word "twelve" shall be substituted for the word "ten" in line 43 ; and in paragraph (7) the word "nine" shall be substituted for the word "ten" in line 64 ;
(2) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 27th January, 3rd, 10th, 17th and 24th February, 3rd March, 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th April, 5th May, and 7th July ; (3) Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business on 16th December, 20th January, 10th and 17th March, 12th and 19th May, 9th, 16th and 23rd June and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Wednesday 30th November, Wednesday 21st December, Wednesday 22nd February, Wednesday 1st March, Wednesday 26th April, Wednesday 3rd May, Wednesday 17th May, Wednesday 24th May and Wednesday 7th June ;
(4) On Monday 19th December, Monday 13th February, Monday 15th May and Monday 12th June, Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence until Seven o'clock and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Thursday 1st December, Thursday 26th January, Thursday 27th April and Thursday 18th May ; and
(5) No Notice of Motion shall be handed in for any of the days on which Private Members' Notices have precedence under this Order in anticipation of the ballot for that day.-- [Mr. Wakeham.]
Debate on the Address
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [22 November.]
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows : Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Sir Giles Shaw.]
Question again proposed.
Social Security and Employment
Mr. Speaker : Before I call the Secretary of State, I should like to make an appeal for brief speeches. There were several lengthy speeches last night which sadly caused a number of hon. Members distress as they were unable to be called. I hope that that will not happen today.
The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. John Moore) : Any Government who are spending, as we will be from next April, nearly £1 billion a week, or £52 billion a year, on social security welcome the opportunity to discuss the subject in the Queen's Speech. That amount of money is a measure of our commitment. It is a measure of the commitment that we make as a Government to the old, the frail and the disadvantaged.
No Government in history have been able to match that pattern of expenditure. These are vast sums, but many people rightly judge that spending alone is not enough to create a viable social security policy. A sense of purpose and direction is equally essential. Indiscriminate largesse may make it easy to bask in a warm glow of self-righteousness, but it is a poor excuse for policy. Equally poor policy is the Socialist pursuit of egalitarian philosophy at the expense of trying to help people in need.
The purpose of this Government when approaching social security policy is, and will remain, to find ways in which to help and protect the weak and vulnerable, while encouraging those who can help themselves. In our pursuit of those aims, we must be realistic. We must take full account of the world of the late 1980s in which we live, not the world dominated by memories of the 1930s or the myths of the 1940s.
Before looking at some of the key areas to see how we can pursue our objectives, I shall stress what we will not be doing. We will not engage in empty rhetoric and bogus promises. In no subject is that easier for an irresponsible Opposition than in social security. They create false hopes and expectations that are never satisfied. As anyone with experience in government knows, commitments must be backed by sound economic performance. In social security there is no point in promising the earth if one can deliver only the International Monetary Fund. Therefore, I make no apology- -
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : The Secretary of State is on the defensive from the start.
Mr. Moore : The Government have had no need to go cap in hand to the IMF.
I make no apology for stressing that sound finances and a strong economy are the conditions for a successful social security policy. Welfare without wealth is simply not possible. There are many contrasts between our success and Labour's failures. The Labour party failed, not in its desire to help-- I acknowledge that--but in its ability to help because of its economic failure when in office.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : The Secretary of State is scathing about people going cap in hand to organisations for loans. Can he tell us why he is forcing hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens to go cap in hand to the DSS for loans instead of grants?
Mr. Moore : Beyond the massive sums given in social security, facilities are now provided to enable people to receive help without interest. The hon. Gentleman may wish to be reminded of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman's views on the previous single payments system :
"The single payments system was a pretty dire and ghastly one which, until it was abolished, attracted massive criticism right across the poverty lobby."
Those are not my words, but those of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook).
I was trying to contrast the Opposition's failure with what is happening now. The income of those on average earnings, with young children, through tax allowances and child benefit, has been higher in real terms throughout our period in office than it was under the previous Labour Government. There was one exception to that, and that was during their last month in office before the 1979 general election.
There is another contrast in the debates on the Christmas bonus. Our Government have made it a statutory payment, which contrasts with the Opposition's inability, because of economic failure, to pay the bonus in 1975 and 1976.
I shall look briefly at the way in which our economic success and clear social security objectives have enabled us to carry out our policies. All of us know that it is nonsense to pretend that all families with children are in a similar position and require equal help from the state. That is why, within the Government's £10 billion overall expenditure on families, I am again this year focusing extra help on 1.6 million families, with 3 million children. I shall not weary the House with all the data, but hon. Members will remember the debate on the uprating statement when I illustrated the large percentage increments accruing to those families. I gave an example of a family with a child under 11 years of age, where the increase was 9.3 per cent.
I was also able to take into account, not only my expenditure programme within the Government, but the changes in earnings and taxation. I know that the House may want to be reminded of the contrast in the real take- home pay of a married man, on average earnings, with two children. Since 1978-79 the take-home pay has increased by 27 per cent. in real terms. That should be compared with the five miserable Socialist years, when the take- home pay of a similar couple increased by only 1 per cent. Although most of the extra help has been given to families receiving income support, a considerable amount
Column 243has been directed to families receiving family credit. I remind the House of how generous and effective family credit can be.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : They have lost free school meals.
Mr. Moore : I shall come to that in a minute. Labour Front-Bench spokesmen should not snigger, but should concern themselves with the interests of those of their constituents who are in low-paid employment.
A couple with two children aged 11 and 14 years--these will not be palatable facts for Labour Members--receiving gross earnings of £135, at present receive £14.70 under the family credit scheme. In April, under the changes announced in the uprating statement, that will increase to £20.73.
Another illustration from the uprating statement is germane to this discussion. A lone parent, with one child under five years, receiving a gross income as low as £75 a week can at present receive £25 under family credit. That will increase to £30 next spring.
I agree with the comments in the uprating statement that we are not reaching target. Family credit is a new benefit that has been in operation for only six months. The number of applications and successful awards is increasing fast, and a new publicity campaign is in the pipeline. It has been in operation for too short a period to make a proper assessment, other than to recognise the serious nature of the family credit system and its obvious attractions.
I remind the House of another good feature of the first six months of the scheme. Expenditure on family credit--despite the fact that take-up is just under 40 per cent., which is not what we had hoped for at this stage--is already running at £400 million a year, which is double the rate of expenditure on family income supplement.
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) : If the Secretary of State is laying such stress on family credit, will he take account of the parallel cuts in housing benefit and free school meals to those same families? Has he seen the report of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, which commented that the increase in family credit was in part an illusion? The result of its survey showed that half the families with children were worse off after the cuts in housing benefit, and nearly everybody was worse off when account was taken of the loss of free school meals.
Mr. Moore : I am surprised at how attracted the hon. Gentleman is to so frequently quoting from partial surveys. The partial survey from which he quotes was taken by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux in the first month following the introduction of a completely new social security system. Not only that, but it was based on a selective sample of those who had not been satisfied with the arrangements that had been made at local benefit offices. Such a sample is not worth quoting.
I accept that take-up is not satisfactory, and I hope that all hon. Members will want to improve it. I recognise that the House is not completely in accord with the decision that I took, but the majority of people in this country think that it was right. They believe that it is better to try to help those who are genuinely in need in a substantial way than to give a small amount of help to everyone. The Labour party has reached a peculiar position in modern social
Column 244security policy. It has been pushed by its egalitarianism into championing the better-off and lambasting the Government for directing extra help to the poor.
Our record on helping disabled people illustrates again our commitment to directing resources to where they are needed. I acknowledge that the last Labour Government increased expenditure on disabled people by 26 per cent. in real terms, but our stronger economy has enabled us to increase it by a massive 90 per cent. in real terms, from £1.8 billion in 1979 to £7.3 billion this year.
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : On the question of that massive increase of 90 per cent., can the Secretary of State tell us the increase in the number of disabled people since 1979, by how much their incomes have increased and whether they have shared in the general prosperity?
Mr. Moore : I was going to come to that point. We obviously are looking to the details in the survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. Unlike the survey established by the Labour Government, the OPCS survey does not limit the way of identifying disablement, so it gives us greater informaton. It is clear that there has been no change in the numbers, but better knowledge is coming from these surveys. We want first to examine the surveys. I am delighted, as is the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), at what we have been able to do because of the huge increase. The right hon. Gentleman asked about numbers, and I shall illustrate two critical ones. We have been able to extend the coverage of invalidity benefit from 6,000 people in 1979 to 1,130,000 today. We have been able to increase the coverage of mobility allowance from 95,000 people in 1979 to 530,000 today. That illustrates the extent to which we have sought to enhance benefits for the disabled and to increase coverage.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : The Secretary of State is throwing many figures around. I have some serious cases in my constituency of people who have applied for benefit. I have reason to believe that the Department of Social Security is telling the doctors who examine those people-- [Interruption.] I have not finished yet. The Department is sending doctors into homes to examine those people to make sure that when the report is made they do not get the benefit that they should receive. It is high time that the Secretary of State got on his feet, walked around his constituency and stepped over some of these doorsteps to see how people are suffering under this Administration.
Mr. Moore : I have never doubted the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for many years, but I doubt his ability to reconcile the facts that I have put before the House with the comments that he has just made. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should welcome the enormous increase in the numbers covered by disability benefits. I started my comments by acknowledging the Labour party's improvements and by sympathising with Labour Members because their economic failure had not enabled them to extend these benefits as much as my Government have done.
I have talked about targeting extra resources to those who need them. I am equally anxious, as are all hon. Members, to ensure that money does not go to those who do not need it. There is considerable evidence that a
Column 245minority--I stress "a minority"--who claim unemployment benefit do not make strenuous efforts to find work. The 1988 London labour market report by the Department of Employment showed that more than 25 per cent. had not looked for work in a week, and that half had not bothered to look for work in the previous month. The 1987 labour force survey showed that as many as 730,000 people were not actively seeking work, despite the more than 700,000 unfilled vacancies in a typical month, many of which do not need specific training. Several Hon. Members rose
Mr. Moore : I have given way frequently, and I have many other points to make.
Clearly, that is an abuse of the system. It is grossly unfair to those in work who are paying contributions to provide the benefit and to those who are genuine and energetic, as most are, in their search for work.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) rose
Mr. Moore : As the hon. Gentleman will understand, there will be other opportunities to speak.
I shall shortly bring before the House a social security Bill that will include provision to ensure that those claiming unemployment benefit take active steps to find work. I am sure that that measure will be widely welcomed.
I want to consider the position of millions of our citizens who are pensioners. Let me make clear some things that need to be stated only because of the Opposition's scaremongering tactics. We will not means-test the basic state pension. We will continue to protect it against erosion from inflation. We will safeguard the entitlement to a state pension which a lifetime of contributions creates. That is, and always has been, the position. To imply anything else is cruelly to deceive and frighten millions of pensioners.