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Points of Order

4.16 pm

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to ask for your guidance on certain contentious matters concerning the future of the Scottish Affairs Committee and the impact of the Government's motion which is to be debated later tonight. I have no wish to tackle the merits of the proposal. The Opposition, as you know, Mr. Speaker, believe it to be a shabby and unsatisfactory affair, but what disconcerts and concerns me is that the motion in the name of the Leader of the House seems to be drafted badly and is unspecific in its intent. It notes : "the inability of the Committee of Selection to nominate Members to serve",

but draws no apparent conclusion from that. The rest of the motion dealing with the supposed role of the Committee of Public Accounts and other Select Committees is mere decoration. The kernel of the motion is :

"That this House recognises the inability of the Committee of Selection to nominate Members to serve on the Scottish Affairs Committee in accordance with Standing Order No. 104(2) ;". I am entitled to say, seriously, so what? The motion lacks specificity and seems to be ambiguous. I genuinely do not know what the effect would be if it were to be passed and I ask for your help in defining the impact of the motion on the machinery of the House, if it were to be passed.

As you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, it must be seen against the background of the terms of Standing Order No. 130, which deals with the setting up of Select Committees on departmental business and states that those Committees shall be appointed, and Standing Order No. 130(2), which lists the Scottish Affairs Committee as one that is to be set up. It says that such a Committee should have a membership of 13 and a quorum of five. As I understand it, the motion in the name of the Leader of the House does not seek to alter that. It appears, therefore, that the Committee will continue to exist in a state of limbo or suspended animation. Can the Committee be brought to life at any time? If so, what is the machinery for doing that? Standing Order No. 130 has a mandatory tone, stating that Committees "shall be appointed". That must be balanced against the executive role given to the Committee of Selection in Standing Order No. 104(2). Is the Committee of Selection affected by the passing of the motion and is it to take the instructions of the House from it, because it is not specific? Is it to cease its efforts to form such a Committee, given the terms of Standing Order No. 130? What message is there for the Committee if the motion is passed? I believe that there is no specific message.

I shall draw a parallel with an example from another discipline. If, as a solicitor, I presented this motion in my local sheriff court, the bench would give me a rough passage and would want to know what I was inviting it to do and what the motion meant. The House is in genuine difficulty. Therefore, can you, Mr. Speaker, answer my questions and clarify the situation?

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Allow me to deal with the matter. I thank the hon. Gentleman for having given notice of the matter, because I have been able to look into it in some

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detail. The motion on the Order Paper is in order, but I can confirm that if it is passed later tonight it will not prevent the Committee of Selection from coming forward with names for the Scottish Affairs Committee if it subsequently found itself able to do so.

Mr. Dewar : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be fair to make the interpretation that there is no instruction that it is not to continue its search for that membership?

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood) : On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Rumours are spreading through the building that my Member of Parliament-- the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars)--is planning his much heralded demonstration some time today or tomorrow with the aim of getting himself named. There is, of course, to be a debate tonight. Can you, Mr. Speaker, give some idea of when the demonstration may take place so that my hon. Friends can be here not only to witness it but, if necessary, to vote overwhelmingly in your support and speed the hon. Gentleman back to Glasgow where he can finish his Christmas shopping?

Mr. Speaker : All sorts of rumours circulate at this time of year. I know nothing about such matters.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that you should rule the motion standing in the name of the Leader of the House incompetent, insofar as it is irregular under the rule of anticipation. Bearing in mind your statement that the Select Committee still has the ability to tackle the matter, I put it to you seriously that the motion falls within that rule. As you are aware, you have considerable powers in this respect. "Erskine May" states on page 380 :

"Stated generally, the rule against anticipation is that a matter must not be anticipated if it is contained in a more effective form of proceeding than the proceeding by which it is sought to be anticipated."

In effect, that means that you, Mr. Speaker, must apply a test : what is the most effective form of procedure on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? You must ask whether it is this motion or Standing Order No. 130. Standing Order No. 130 is a rule of the House ; the motion is not. Standing Order No. 130 is clear and precise, and it is mandatory rather than discretionary.

May I also draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to page 381 of "Erskine May" which states :

"A matter already appointed for consideration by the House cannot be anticipated by a motion".

Standing Order No. 130, combined with Standing Order No. 104(2), says that there must be a nomination from the Select Committee. The Select Committee has made no report to us since 13 January, and on 13 January the Chairman of the Select Committee asked for the advice and instruction of the House. That has not yet appeared, but obviously we can now expect a further report.

"Erskine May" also says :

"in determining whether a discussion would be out of order on the ground of anticipation, the Speaker must have regard to the probability of the matter anticipated being brought before the House within a reasonable time"

under Standing Order No. 26.

There is a distinct probability of the matter being brought before the House under Standing Order No. 26 in

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relation to your ruling. On those grounds, you should rule the motion irregular and incompetent and strike it off the Order Paper. Finally, Mr. Speaker, you expect hon. Members on both sides of the House--this will disappoint the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), the lad who asked you about a demonstration--to respect and obey the rules of the House. How do you, and others responsible for the Order Paper and the Standing Orders, expect us to respect the rules when they are manipulated and when the Government cheat in this fashion?

Mr. Speaker : I have looked carefully at this matter, as I expected the hon. Gentleman would raise a point of order on it. The motion on the Order Paper is in order ; I am satisfied of that. The hon. Gentleman asked about the rule of anticipation. The rule against anticipation is applied only if an alternative proposal is likely to be anticipated. We are not expecting a motion from the Committee of Selection at present.

I realise that there are strongly held views about the contents of the motion, but such opinions should be expressed in the debate that is to follow rather than in points of order addressed to me. It may assist the House if I announce now that I have made full use of the motion on the business of the House which was passed last Friday and have selected all three amendments for Division at the end of the debate. That will give hon. Members an opportunity to register the distinctive point of view that the amendments represent. That is the end of my role in this matter. We cannot pursue it in points of order, at the expense of an important social security debate.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. What would happen if the Opposition failed to nominate any Members to a Select Committee through the usual channels? How would the House deal with that?

Mr. Speaker : That is a matter for the Chairman of the Select Committee.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance and assistance as a Back Bencher who will be greatly affected by the motion. Can you, Sir, confirm that there is no way that a Back Bench Member can be ordered or instructed to attend a Select Committee? Can you also confirm that if any Select Committee does not perform its role adequately it does a disservice to the objectives laid down for the Select Committees when they were first set up?

Mr. Speaker : The House could order an hon. Member to attend a Select Committee.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Further to the points of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), Mr. Speaker. If the House passes the motion in the name of the Leader of the House, we shall in effect be giving official recognition to a breach of Standing Order No. 130. My question is simple : how can this House, or any sane assembly, give official recognition to a breach of its own Standing Orders without first suspending or amending those Standing Orders?

Mr. Speaker : That is the matter raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), and I have already ruled on it.

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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to pursue the matter about anticipation. How can we be sure that the Chairman of the Committee of Selection is not about to come before the House, further to his report of last January, and make an announcement on this matter? Does not the matter therefore fall within the rule of anticipation?

Mr. Speaker : It is not known at present that any such announcement is expected.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), you said that you did not anticipate any announcement coming from the Committee of Selection. As the meetings of the Committee of Selection are held in private, and as no report has been published by the Committee in recent weeks on this subject, I would ask you, Sir, how you have knowledge of something which I should not have thought was immediately within your knowledge.

Mr. Speaker : I have no knowledge that that is likely to happen.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that yesterday certain allegations were made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). I brought those allegations, which were inaccurate and untrue, to your attention last night. Through your good offices and those of the usual channels, I received an apology from the hon. Gentleman which said :

"You make it quite clear in the record that you were not seeking a higher personal salary, and for that implication that my remarks may have carried I do apologise."

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his letter and consider the matter closed.

Mr. Martin Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Having checked Hansard early this morning, may I say that I had intended to make a full statement of apology in the House but, having received advice on the best practice, I wrote to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and I felt that the matter would rest there.

However, having begun to read my letter publicly on the Floor of the House, the hon. Gentleman has done himself and the House less than a service in reading only the first paragraph of my letter. I made it clear to him that I apologised for the fact that it could have been interpreted from my remarks yesterday that he was seeking a higher salary. I went on to say that I utterly deplored the practice of Labour Members in seeking greater facilities. If the hon. Gentleman wants to read only half the letter, I have no reason to apologise for the view that I expressed yesterday that we have adequate resources for our secretarial allowance, and it is disgraceful that the matter should have been raised in this way.

Mr. Speaker : It will soon be Christmas. An apology has been made. May we leave the matter there?

Mr. Peter Rost (Erewash) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday, the hon. Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), through points of order to you, made

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some personal allegations against me in my absence based upon and quoting from The Guardian of last Thursday. The article is inaccurate and legal action is in hand.

My interests in and contribution to energy efficiency for the last 18 years are well known inside and outside the House. Where those involve commercial interests, they are declared. I deeply resent the accusation that in pursuing such interests I am motivated by personal gain, I have brought the House into disrepute or that I have or seek commercial interests that may abuse my position as a Member of Parliament. I deeply resent and deny the accusation that I have pursued or would seek to pursue any interests that might work against the United Kingdom economy or industry. The contrary is the truth. I seek your protection, Mr. Speaker, and ask you to invite the hon. Members for Cunninghame, North and for Sunderland, South to withdraw their damaging and inaccurate allegations made behind the cloak of parliamentary privilege.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has made his personal position absolutely clear.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for delaying the House by mentioning yet again the motion in the name of the Leader of the House. When my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said that if the motion was passed it would breach one of the Standing Orders of the House, the Leader of the House nodded his head in agreement. Is it in order for the Government to table a motion which, if passed, would breach a Standing Order of the House? If it is in order, does it mean that any Opposition party could table a motion which, if passed by the House, would breach its Standing Orders? It is a serious matter.

Mr. Speaker : The motion does not breach the Standing Orders of the House. It recognises a difficulty, but, as I told the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), even if it were passed, it would not prevent the Committee of Selection from coming forward with names for a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

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Mr. Sillars : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : No. I have dealt with the point of order.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you were to look at item No. 39 on page 735 of the Order Paper, you would see that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has consistently called for more facilities to be made available to Members of Parliament. This would cost a considerable amount--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a continuation of an argument that arose yesterday. It is not appropriate to carry it on today.



That the Bristol Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &c.

That the Bristol Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) (Amendment) Order 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &c.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. We have a very important debate today on two social security orders that must end at 7 o'clock. I cannot say more than I have already said on the motion in the name of the Leader of the House, but I shall hear the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Welsh : You said, Mr. Speaker, that the motion is not a breach of the Standing Order, but it is, in the sense that it is a failure to implement it. Who is the guardian of Standing Orders in the House? How can the motion be implemented? The rights of minority parties in a democracy are a basic matter affecting the entire House.

Mr. Speaker : The House as a whole is the guardian of the Standing Orders. I have already said that the motion does not breach the Standing Orders, but it leaves the matter open. The hon. Gentleman can speak to the amendment on the Order Paper in the names of his hon. Friends, and the matter will be decided by the House.

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Social Security

4.34 pm

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : I beg to move,

That the draft Social Security (Contributions and Allocation of Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 7th December, be approved.

I understand that it would be for the convenience of the House if we also debated the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1988.

The first order deals with the re-rating of national insurance contributions and lifts them upwards in accordance with practice. The second order uprates social security benefits and both apply to 1989-90.

At the outset, may I make a point that is familiar but nevertheless bears repeating? The massive increase in expenditure on social security benefits for the coming year is about £3.4 billion. It is possible for the nation and the Government to afford such a massive increase only because we have a successful economic policy which brings considerable benefits to our people and provides the resources for the upratings. We are trying to strike a balance between the interests of those in receipt of benefits and the working population who must pay to provide those benefits.

In the coming year we plan to spend nearly £27.5 billion on contributory benefits. As the House is aware, the key to the contributory principle is that entitlement to these benefits is earned by the payment of national insurance contributions. The Government's proposals for national insurance contributions were announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 1 November. We do not propose to change the rates of class 1 contributions in the coming year ; 1989-90 will be the sixth year in succession when we have not increased the main class 1 rates. The lower earnings limit for class 1 contributions which is linked by statute to the basic retirement pension rate, rounded down to the nearest pound, will be £43 a week from next April. The upper earnings limit will be fixed at £325 a week, nearly seven and a half times the basic pension level. The regulations which bring the new earnings limits into effect will be made and laid as soon as the benefits uprating order has been approved by Parliament.

The re-rating proposals are contained in the draft Social Security (Contributions and Allocation of Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 1988. The House will recall that in 1985 we reduced the contribution rates paid by lower-paid workers and their employers to help those workers and to reduce employment costs. The reduced contribution rates cut significantly the impact of contributions on people on lower earnings, but they did not affect their benefit entitlement in any way. We now propose to increase each of the earnings limits below which the lower contribution rates are payable in line with inflation, rounded to the nearest £5.

The proposals will further ease the burden on some lower-paid workers and their employers, and I am sure that the House will welcome that. Most other employees will not pay any more in contributions, unless their earnings rise. People earning at or above the new upper earnings limit of £325 a week will pay £1.80 extra a week, or £1.44 if they are in contracted-out employment. In

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1989-90, class 1 contributions are expected to yield about £31 billion which will be apportioned between the national insurance fund and the National Health Service.

The House is aware that self-employed people pay their national insurance contributions in two parts--the flat rate class 2 contribution and the profits-related class 4 contribution. We do not propose any change to the class 4 rate, which will remain at 6.3 per cent. in the coming year. The profits limits for class 4 contributions, which determine the level of profits on which contributions are payable, will be increased, broadly in line with the earnings limits for class 1 contributions, to £5,050 and £16,900 respectively. The upper profits limit is exactly 52 times the class 1 upper earnings limit. We also propose to increase the class 2 contribution by 20p to £4.25 a week from next April. The class 2 rate is linked to the class 1 lower earnings limit and its increase reflects the proposed rise in that limit.

Self-employed people with profits at or above the proposed upper profits limit of £16,900 will pay about £57 more in the coming year. Self -employed people are expected to contribute about £955 million in contributions in 1989-90.

The draft order also increases the amount of class 1 contributions allocated to meeting the costs of the National Health Service. From April 1989 we propose to increase employees' NHS allocation to 1.05 per cent. and the employers' allocation to 0.9 per cent. in respect of earnings on which class 1 contributions are paid. The allocation will raise over £4 billion for the NHS in the coming year. The report by the Government Actuary on the effects of our proposals on the national insurance fund has been laid with the re-rating orders. It is estimated that the total income received by the national insurance fund will be slightly more than £29 billion in 1989-90 and total expenditure, including administration, is estimated to be slightly more than £28.5 billion. The surplus anticipated for the coming year will be £500 million, which is much lower than was originally expected for the current year. However, that surplus must be kept in perspective. It is equivalent to just one week's benefit expenditure paid from the fund in the coming year.

I shall now turn to what I believe the House will find the more interesting of the two orders.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield) : Before my hon. Friend moves on, will he comment on two matters that were raised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and discuss them with the Treasury? The first point relates to the lower-earnings-limit trap. Someone on £43 a week who takes an extra £1 in pay will be worse off.

The second point relates to the upper earnings limit above which 34 per cent. deductions become 25 per cent. deductions. Will the Department examine those two problems and discuss with the Treasury ways of sorting them out?

Mr. Scott : There are no plans to change that. I understand the desirability of smoothing out those matters and the Government are aware of that. There are no plans to alter the present pattern of national insurance contributions and their rates.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : Will the Minister follow the advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) and formulate plans for changing national insurance contributions? Is the Minister aware that in this

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country we have 40 per cent. of all part- time work in Europe? The reason for that is that we have built into our system an enormous bias against people creating full-time jobs. If they do, both employers and employees have to pay contributions. Therefore, I add to the plea made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield and ask the Minister to examine not only the effect on marginal tax rates of moving into and out of national insurance, but whether employers' contributions should begin at the first pound of earnings.

Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman is knowledgeable on this matter. If there were a flat rate of national insurance contributions across the board, we would not face that problem. The problem arises because we are introducing lower rates for national insurance contributions, which, in turn, introduces steps. I can see the desirability of smoothing out all this, but that would require substantial thought. We have such considerations in mind, but there are no present plans to deal with the problem. I accept the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) that such matters might be discussed in Government.

The second order uprates the benefits, and I understand that some Opposition Members intend to vote against it. I shall deal with three matters relating to the uprating order. The first involves pensions. On the radio, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), if I heard him correctly, accused the Government of neglecting Britain's pensioners. If the Government's record amounts to neglect, heaven knows what description would be adequate for what happened to pensioners under the previous Labour Government. I wholly reject the hon. Gentleman's allegation and shall seek to prove that it is the last accusation that could be legitimately levelled against the Government.

The Labour party tends to be obsessed only with the level of the basic state pension. Any pensioner in Britain will say that the issue is much wider than that. We have honoured our pledge to protect pensioners against inflation rather than follow the path of the previous Labour Government who made grand promises and then had cruelly to dash hopes when they were unable to fulfil their pledges.

Mr. Frank Field : Before the Minister leaves the previous Labour Government's record, would he care to remind the House that that Government, despite their faults, increased the national insurance pension by 20 per cent. in real terms? Will the Government match that record?

Mr. Scott : I freely acknowledge that that is a fact. I am trying to persuade hon. Members--

Mr. Field : It is true.

Mr. Scott : I have acknowledged that it is true. If the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) listens, he will learn. That is a fat lot of good to pensioners if their savings are destroyed and the opportunity to obtain other income is diminished. Pensioners are interested in what happens to their total incomes--the money they can spend on the goods and services they need. That is more important to

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them than the basic state pension. Our case on that broader issue is unassailable when compared with Labour's record.

Under the previous Labour Government total pensioner incomes reduced from 55 per cent. of average manual earnings to 53 per cent. by the time the Labour party left office. Between 1979 and 1986 we restored total pensioner incomes to the level at which they stood when the Labour party took office and they now represent 60 per cent. of annual manual earnings in Britain.

We have done more than that. Our period in Government has been characterised by a steady growth in pensioner living standards. We have tackled inflation in a way that escaped the ability of Labour Members when they held office. By tackling inflation we have made it possible for pensioners' savings to contribute significantly to their living standards.

Pensioner incomes reduced by an average of 3.4 per cent. per year during the years in which the Labour party held office. Since we have been in office, pensioner incomes have increased by 7 per cent. in real terms in each year to an overall total of 64 per cent. over the first seven years. That is important to British pensioners. We have also increased the basic state pension.

We have encouraged and are encouraging still further the spread of occupational pension funds and personal pensions. The result of our policies is that, over our first seven years in office, pensioner incomes rose twice as fast as the incomes of the population as a whole. They increased by 23 per cent., compared with 3 per cent. when Labour was in office. In other words, we have increased pensioners' standard of living by a factor five times as great as that which the Labour party achieved.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : That cannot be denied. However, how much of that figure was accounted for by SERPS coming on stream? The Minister must acknowledge that that was introduced by the Labour Government in 1978 and was bound to come to fruition in the early 1980s.

Mr. Scott : I cannot give the House a breakdown of the figures. However, inflation is important and I have given the House the figures about the impact of inflation on pensioner incomes and savings. The greater spread of occupational pensions and the steps we are taking to encourage that are also important. I freely acknowledge that the introduction of SERPS was a step in the right direction. However, the Labour party introduced a scheme for SERPS which would have been unaffordable in the middle of the next century and which would have been a burden that most taxpayers could not afford. We have modified SERPS and made it more affordable. Therefore, we are not following the path of the previous Labour Government and raising pensioners' hopes with grand promises, only to dash them because of mismanagement of the economy.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West) : My hon. Friend is quite right when he says that pensioners' incomes have increased, but there is a danger of misleading the House. On average, the incomes of most pensioners have increased substantially. However, the other side of the coin is that the incomes of a large number of pensioners have decreased. That fact tends to get hidden in the talk about averages.

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Mr. Scott : My hon. Friend has anticipated what I was about to say. It was precisely because we were conscious of the fact that not all pensioners had shared evenly in the improvement in pensioners' incomes that my right hon. Friend made his announcement that from next October additional help will be made available to them in the form of a new and extended structure of pensioner premiums under the income support scheme. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Livingston does not like to be reminded that this Government have tackled the long-standing problem of the poorer pensioners. I do not intend to go over the ground that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State covered so comprehensively in his statement. However, we have taken steps to tackle the problem and we have provided additional resources for that purpose. It will cost nearly £200 million in a full year.

The Government's record on pensions is unassailable, but successive upratings by this Government have also ensured that the benefits paid to people who suffer from long-term illnesses and disability have more than kept their value. Many disabled people have received a real terms increase in the amount of benefit that they receive. Those in receipt of the mobility allowance have had a 9 per cent. increase in real terms since July 1978. An estimated 190,000 people under pensionable age receive more from the disability premium, together with income support, than they would have received in supplementary benefit alone.

Our record of a sustained and enhanced value of benefits has to be set against the background of a prodigious rise in the number of recipients. For example, since 1979 the number of invalidity benefit recipients has increased by 86 per cent. to 1.1 million. The number of attendance allowance recipients has increased by 180 per cent. to 740,000 and the number of those in receipt of the mobility allowance has increased by 470 per cent. to 540,000. This combination of real increases in the amount of benefit paid and the large increase in the number of recipients has produced a 90 per cent. rise in real expenditure since 1979 on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled. That is a record of which the Government can be proud. Total expenditure on these benefits now stands at over £7.3 billion, a real terms increase of £3.5 billion since 1979. Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), have suggested that increased expenditure attributable to the increased numbers of recipients is in some way not so praiseworthy as an increase in the real value of the benefits. However, I believe that we can express quiet satisfaction, if not pride, in the fact that at a time of tremendous extra demand for disability benefits we have managed to cope with the increased numbers and to maintain and at times to enhance the real value of the benefits.

It is against the background of an unprecedented coverage of social security assistance to disabled people that the Government can properly take credit for devoting some new money to new, imaginative and flexible ways of providing financial help that is outside the benefit system. The independent living fund is already proving to be a unique success in its flexible response to severely disabled people who need to buy high levels of care in order to live independently in their own homes. With that sort of success in mind, I was particularly glad that my right hon. Friend was able to announce to the House in his uprating statement that we are providing £5 million, and the

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