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Mr. McFall : The Minister said that his door had been open. Earlier in the debate, mention was made of a powerful letter from Professor Peter Townsend regarding the human rights of the disabled, and of the fact that the Government have ignored that. Will the Minister's door be open to people such as Professor Townsend to go along and talk about the rights of the disabled--and in particular to those who have been advocating for years that the Government should adopt a definition of poverty so that we all know what people can live on?

Mr. Scott : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have already met representatives of the Disability Alliance, and I have met representatives of other organisations for the disabled. Anyone who has fairly observed my time as Minister with responsibility for the disabled will know that I always listen to representations with care and understanding--and that is true also of my right hon. Friend. I shall continue to do so, and I hope that there will be fair recognition of the resources that the Government are devoting to the disabled and of the better structure being put in place.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Ladywood when she describes the general position of pensioners in society today. It is not true that they have suffered increasing deprivation or poverty under the present Government. Their overall standard of living has increased by 23 per cent.--twice as fast as that of the population as a whole. The standard of living of pensioners who are totally dependent on state benefits has improved by 25 per cent.--faster than that of pensioners generally. The Government have concentrated help not only on pensioners as a whole but on those wholly dependent on state benefits as well.

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Ms. Short : We acknowledge that pensioners not entirely reliant on state pensions have seen their standard of living improve. One reason is that SERPS is beginning to take effect, lifting more and more pensioners away from reliance on state benefit, which is precisely what we intended. Another reason is high interest rates, which the Government hope will be a temporary phenomenon. Nevertheless, the Government cannot hid the fact that they have deliberately cut the standard of living of pensioners dependent on a state pension.

Mr. Scott : That is not true. The hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends hate the fact that we have taken specific steps to target help at the poorer, older and disabled pensioners. That is why we have been able to increase their standard of living as well. If we were to follow Labour's pattern and spread extra money across the whole range of pensioners, regardless of the capital or other income they might have, we would be unable to help poorer, older or disabled pensioners in the way that we can. Targeted help is the sensible way forward.

We are concerned today not with the general position but with the Bill's provisions for occupational pensions. I am glad that my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), for Beverley (Mr. Cran) and for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) were able to welcome the provision for an ombudsman. We are still considering with the industry how the costs of that innovation will be managed. However, I give a clear undertaking that the ombudsman will report each year, and that that report will be published.

I acknowledge the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton that, in the past, early leavers' rights were not properly protected. We are moving in the direction of improving on that situation. Too often in the past employers regarded occupational pensions as a golden ball and chain with which to retain employees, rather than given them freedom to move elsewhere.

The point was made that pensions should be made fully inflation-proof. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I agree with that principle and that it is desirable that schemes should, wherever possible, protect not only early leavers but all those in payment against normal rates of inflation. It is a bit rich for the hon. Member for Oldham, West to accuse the Government of not going far enough. A Labour Government presided over far higher rates of inflation than have the present Government, but did nothing to protect the rights of those in pension schemes from the consequences. We have provided a minimum base, or springboard, for pension schemes through statute, but we want all schemes to protect members fully against inflation.

Pensioners want to know that, in retirement, they will have security. The hon. Member for Oldham, West nods, but in his opening speech he said that, in exceptional circumstances, a retired person on a pension with the expectation of a certain rate of pension might experience a cut because of exceptional economic circumstances. What sort of security does that give members of occupational pension schemes? I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has thought through the implications of that rather rash statement.

The Labour party, by allowing inflation to reach such a high level, by changing the method of forecasting pensions and the method of calculating the rate of pensions when it took £1 billion from them, and by twice

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being unable even to pay the £10 Christmas bonus, altered pensioners' expectations without notice and affected their standard of living. Now the hon. Member for Oldham, West says that pension funds should have the right to cut the rate of pension that people can expect. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that if his promises were implemented and Labour were ever to get back into office, the stock exchange would react in such a way that there would be no surpluses in pension funds--he would be worried about coping with the deficits. The House will have another, fuller opportunity to discuss disability in a couple of days' time, but I can tell the House that I am prepared to listen to representations on this issue. I must emphasise that the parliamentary process will provide ample opportunity for such representation.

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton the view that the structure that we are putting in place is one about which we can be confident. I do not share his view about the complexity of the system, however, bearing in mind what will be in place when the next social security Bill is enacted. As is suggested in "The Way Ahead : Benefits For Disabled People", mobility allowance and attendance allowance are to be combined and expanded to form a new disability allowance with common medical and adjudication procedures. The system will be much simpler.

Terminally ill people have been mentioned. I know that the issue is complex and that several hon. Members are concerned about it, but I hope that the House will recognise that we are right to move in the direction of removing them from the six months' waiting period. We are still discussing the implications of the move. We intend that anyone who is given the terminally ill allowance will keep it for life.

Carers have been mentioned. We have introduced a carers premium in the Bill. It should be recognised that, with the extension of attendance allowance, more people will gain invalid care allowance, which will help carers as well. We shall return to this issue. We recognise the important role that carers play.

Under this Government, expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled has gone up by some £370 million a year in real terms, compared with £220 million a year under Labour. The Labour party has attacked us today on the Bill. I hope that the country will recognise that having a social security Bill every year has two advantages. One is that we can observe the changes in society and trim and fine tune the social security system. The second is that we can force the Opposition to face up to the reality of some of these issues. Of course they will criticise us ; once in a while they may even propose alternatives. The fact that those alternatives will turn out to be unrealistic and ruinously expensive for the country is something they do not like to think about. They are prepared to spend billions on earnings-linked retirement pensions, billions on disability and billions on SERPS. They will be doing just what Lord Barnett said that they did when they were last in government : they will spend two years' spending money that they have not got.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Secondtime :-- The House divided : Ayes 278, Noes 217.

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Division No. 41] [10 pm


Adley, Robert

Aitken, Jonathan

Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael

Allason, Rupert

Amess, David

Amos, Alan

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Atkinson, David

Baldry, Tony

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Beaumont-Dark, Anthony

Bellingham, Henry

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Benyon, W.

Bevan, David Gilroy

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Body, Sir Richard

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Boscawen, Hon Robert

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter

Bottomley, Mrs Virginia

Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)

Bowis, John

Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes

Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard

Brandon-Bravo, Martin

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Browne, John (Winchester)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Buck, Sir Antony

Budgen, Nicholas

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butler, Chris

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, John, (Luton N)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda

Chope, Christopher

Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)

Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)

Colvin, Michael

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cormack, Patrick

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Critchley, Julian

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Dicks, Terry

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Tony

Dykes, Hugh

Evennett, David

Fallon, Michael

Favell, Tony

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Fookes, Dame Janet

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Garel-Jones, Tristan

Glyn, Dr Sir Alan

Goodhart, Sir Philip

Goodlad, Alastair

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)

Hampson, Dr Keith

Hanley, Jeremy

Hannam, John

Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')

Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)

Harris, David

Hawkins, Christopher

Hayes, Jerry

Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney

Hayward, Robert

Heathcoat-Amory, David

Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)

Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)

Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.

Hill, James

Hind, Kenneth

Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)

Hordern, Sir Peter

Howard, Rt Hon Michael

Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)

Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)

Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey

Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)

Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)

Hunt, David (Wirral W)

Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)

Hunter, Andrew

Irvine, Michael

Jack, Michael

Jackson, Robert

Janman, Tim

Jessel, Toby

Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)

Jones, Robert B (Herts W)

Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine

Key, Robert

King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)

King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)

Kirkhope, Timothy

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Greg (Derby North)

Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)

Knowles, Michael

Knox, David

Lamont, Rt Hon Norman

Lang, Ian

Latham, Michael

Lee, John (Pendle)

Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)

Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark

Lightbown, David

Lilley, Peter

Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)

Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)

Lord, Michael

Luce, Rt Hon Richard

Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

Macfarlane, Sir Neil

MacGregor, Rt Hon John

Maclean, David

McLoughlin, Patrick

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick

Major, Rt Hon John

Malins, Humfrey

Mans, Keith

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