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Family Credit

12. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the latest estimate of the number of individuals who will benefit from the Government's plans to reduce the number of hours which qualify for family credit from 24 to 15.

Mr. Newton : We estimate that 65,000 families where a parent is currently working between 16 and 24 hours will be better off from being able to qualify for family credit. In the longer term, we also expect the change in the hours rule to encourage more people to take up employment and claim family credit and to be better off as a result.

Mr. Arnold : I welcome the extension of family credit to less well- off families. Will not it be of value to parents, particularly mothers, who will be able to go out to work while their children are at school, to the benefit of their families and themselves?

Mr. Newton : That is precisely the point which we are seeking to meet. We felt that 24 hours was rather a long time for that purpose. I ought to make it clear that, while the change in the benefit rules will be particularly useful to many lone parents, it will also help all families with children.

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Mr. Rowe : Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is another important step towards achieving what must eventually be the objective of all those policies : that people should not lose benefit when they behave in exactly the way that the Government seek to encourage? May we be assured that my right hon. Friend will continue to work towards that objective across the whole range of benefits?

Mr. Newton : That is an aspect of what I call the "children come first" package, to which I attach particular importance. I assure my hon. Friend that I shall continue to do everything that I can in the same direction.

Social Fund

13. Mr. Tony Lloyd : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the working of social fund loans and grants.

Mr. Scott : The social fund has continued to provide valuable help to a large number of people in greatest need. Since the scheme began almost 2.5 million interest-free loans and over half a million non-repayable community care grants have been awarded at a total value of almost £500 million.

Mr. Lloyd : The Secretary of State tells the House about his "children come first" policy, but can he explain why my constituents are refused assistance in the form of a grant, for example, when new-born babies come into the family, when people such as the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) want shoes or when my constituents are moved into unfurnished accommodation and need bedding or beds? Against that background, will the Minister explain through me to my constituents how he can justify the fact that some of the poorest people in Britain are told that they cannot have a grant? They are allowed a loan as long as, with their derisory income support, they can afford to pay it back, which, of course, many simply cannot.

Mr. Scott : As I said, a large number of grants have been given, including on many occasions grants to people who applied for a loan but were awarded a grant instead because it was thought more appropriate. We have increased the maternity payment from £85 to £100 and the capital limit has been raised for people aged 60 and over from £500 to £1,000. From January 1991 that will also apply to exceptional cold weather payments. We have demonstrated the flexibility of the social fund and its ability to react to changing circumstances.

Sir David Price : As a matter of urgency, will my right hon. Friend extend the use of the social fund to providing assistance for the families of British hostages held in Iraq and for returning refugees who in many cases come to this country penniless?

Mr. Scott : With regard to those who come from the Gulf and their relatives, we have liaised carefully with the Gulf support group. The response of the social fund has been first class. All flights from Iraq are met by officials from the Department of Social Security. People are given advice on how to pursue their claims with their local offices. Our officers sit alongside other advisers from the Foreign Office to make sure that the social security system plays its part ; it also enables refugees to settle in Britain.

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Mr. Alfred Morris : Does the Minister recall his reply to my letter about chronically sick and disabled people, among others, who have returned to the United Kingdom from Kuwait and Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait? Can he now update his reply and, in particular, say today whether the total resources of the social fund will be or may be increased to allow for those wholly unexpected new calls on its help?

Mr. Scott : Of course, we review the budget and the claims on the social fund during the course of the year. There is no reason to suppose that the claims resulting from the crisis in the Gulf will alter the overall level of the budget this year.

Mr. Speaker : Mr. Dickens?

Mr. Dickens : Well--

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman was rising.

Mr. Dickens : I had almost given up.

Mr. Speaker : One must never give up.

Mr. Dickens : Will my right hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the former system was a licence to print money, under which youngsters would leave home, obtain a house on demand and present the DSS office with a shopping list of 140 items that were paid for on demand? Now they must have a loan. They must justify it and pay it back interest free. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in return some other people receive benefits of the same amount of money, which is laundered from person to person? That is good news for taxpayers' money, is it not?

Mr. Scott : I agree with my hon. Friend that the abuse of the single payments scheme and its entirely open-ended growth could not have been afforded by any Government. We took the right steps to alter the system to the new social fund, which is operating fairly, quickly and flexibly.

Social Security Systems

17. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what lessons he estimates may be learned from a study of other countries' systems of social security ; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard : We can learn a great deal from a study of each other's systems, but we need to remember that they are set in different societies with different traditions and different economic backgrounds. In the European Community Social Security Ministers have agreed that the exchange of information and discussion of problems should be encouraged. In the wider context, Ministers maintain contacts with many countries--for example, recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the United States of America to look at child support arrangements.

Mr. Thurnham : Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to study the Swiss system with its much greater emphasis on individual, family and local community responsibility for welfare? May I recommend that she reads "Cradle to Grave" by Ralph Segalman and David Marsland?

Mrs. Shephard : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind suggestion. I am not very familiar with the features of the Swiss system that he describes, but comparisons

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between the British social security system and those of other countries of the European Community conclude with a flattering picture of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Winnick : What possible justification can there be for our present social security system, under which those with a small income, in some cases no more than £54 a week to live on, are expected to pay more than £10 a week in rent because of changes in Government regulations? Is not that absolutely disgraceful? I have notified the Minister of many such cases involving my constituents. Is it a wonder that so many pensioners cannot give a damn whether the Prime Minister or the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) wins? What they want is the defeat of the Tory Government and a Labour Government in office.

Mrs. Shephard : That is possibly the most ingenious question that we have heard so far this afternoon. Well done to the hon. Gentleman. The safety net that is provided by income support, and which is also supported by housing benefit and community charge benefit, together with the state pension, provides an excellent system of support for pensioners.



28. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, if he will estimate the financial consequences for the commissioners of the trend in ordinations in the past three years.

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners) : There is no clear trend inordinations in the past three years sufficient to suggest any significant change in the balance of the Commissioners' expenditure in future years.

Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the trend would be more encouraging if women were allowed to become fully frocked priests? Does he accept that just as Rabbi Julia Neuberger has been a distinguished theologian, many ladies could become caring, efficient parish priests? When does my right hon. Friend believe that the first lady Prime Minister will appoint the first lady bishop?

Mr. Alison : When my hon. Friend refers to women priests, he should be aware that there is likely to be a Measure on the ordination of women presented to Parliament in about 1993. My hon. Friend referred to women Prime Ministers. Perhaps I can say that there will be an opportunity to confirm a woman Prime Minister at a rather earlier date. I should put it on the record that no Prime Minister since Gladstone has made such an open and avowed Christian commitment as our present Prime Minister, or done so much for the Church.

Mr. Skinner : As the right hon. Gentleman used to be the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister and she might finish up on the barbed wire tomorrow night, will he in his capacity as a Church Commissioner recommend her to take on one of those jobs because she might need some extra work?

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Mr. Alison : As usual, the hon. Gentleman makes constructive suggestions and helpful comments in the direction of the Church. It would not be out of character or beyond possibility for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister perhaps to wish to offer herself for ordination at a much later date. It is perfectly possible for her to complete a long tour as Prime Minister, which I hope she will, perhaps retiring at 70, and then to offer herself for ordination. She would be most acceptable in the Church of England.

Church Commissioners (Abolition)

30. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, whether he has received any representations about the abolition of the Church Commissioners ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alison : I have received no such representation.

Mr. Thurnham : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the feeling that it would be better to devolve that responsibility to local churches and parishes rather than for all the decisions to be made in London? Does he agree that that would involve the Church in a much more positive way in the affairs of the community?

Mr. Alison : I am bound to say with great respect to my hon. Friend that I am slightly suspicious of his question, because in the previous Session he sought to have the Church Commissioners left intact but removed to the constituency of Bolton, North-East. Now that that has been ruled out as a possibility, he is suggesting that they should be abolished altogether --I imagine because my hon. Friend suspects that they might be moved to the constituency of, say, Henley or Finchley. I believe that the Church Commissioners are best left as they are. They find only one third of the costs of financing the Church of England ; the rest must come from the dioceses and the man in the pew. I think that they do a good job as they are.

Mr. Frank Field : Is not there a serious point here--[ Hon. Members :-- "No."] As it is beyond the wit of man for some hon. Members to appreciate a serious point if it is dangled in front of them, I shall still address my question assuming that it raises a serious point. Given that the Church has published a report to say that it is important for the Government to increase investment in inner-city areas, what serious consideration has been given to moving the Church Commissioners out of their plush offices in Westminster into one of the inner-city areas?

Mr. Alison : That question, which is serious, has been considered before. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, however, that the Church Commissioners, for better or worse, acting through me as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, must have regular traffic with the General Synod, which is located in London and, above all, with this House, where Church Measures must be endorsed. It would be impracticable to discharge our duties fully to the House if the Church Commissioners were to be located in the hon. Gentleman's constituency or any other. I suspect that there would be hot competition for the location of the Church Commissioners and I believe that they are best left at Westminster.

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31. Mr. Campbell-Savours : To ask the hon. Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what representations he has received from those persons responsible for catering in the House of Commons.

Mr. A. J. Beith : (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission) : None, Sir.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : The hon. Gentleman who represents the House of Commons Commission is also a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. How does he react to the fact that the catering staff of the House of Commons have not had a single pay increase in the past seven years that meets the level of inflation? This year, when inflation is nearly 11 per cent., they will get a pay increase of 7 per cent., but the London weighting allowance has been frozen for the past three years. Does he really think that the House of Commons Commission is doing its job properly? How does he defend it?

Mr. Beith : The House of Commons Commission is required by statute to keep the pay of its staff in line with the civil service and that it seeks to do. If the hon. Gentleman has detailed evidence of the way in which the pay rates are out of line--much of the press comment on that subject is wildly inaccurate--I hope that he will bring it to my attention.

Mr. Dickens : Does the hon. Gentleman concede that the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee has just written to each and every hon. Member about the Christmas gratuity collection for the House of Commons staff? Opposition Members may table questions about the lot of the staff, but if they gave a little more generously this year than they did last year, the staff might be well treated.

Mr. Beith : I hope that hon. Members will respond generously to that appeal, but, however much is raised, that does not absolve the Commission from the responsibility that it seeks to carry out to pay its staff properly.

Christmas Bonuses

32. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the hon. Member for

Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, if there are any proposals to pay Christmas bonuses to Palace staff.

Mr. Beith : No, Sir. However, as the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) pointed out, for many years hon. Members have made donations to a Christmas appeal for the staff of the Refreshment Department made by the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee.

Mr. Banks : Given how mean hon. Members are with regard to gratuities and tipping [Interruption.] --I tip all the time--it is no wonder that the staff are having such great difficulties in making ends meet from the money that they receive. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the enormous pressure that there will be on the Refreshment Department at Christmas time, in particular when Conservative Members will be buying large quantities of goods from the

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souvenir shop and buying dinners for their constituency association members, in a vain attempt to prevent their deselection in view of the fact that they backed the wrong side? In view of that enormous pressure, would not a large bonus be appropriate this year?

Mr. Beith : Hon. Members in all parties are regular and extensive users of the facilities of the House, including those for the purchase of various items. I hope that the Tea Rooms are doing exceptionally good business while so much canvassing is in progress during the Conservative leadership election. However, it is not by way of extra subscriptions or appeals that the Commission seeks to ensure that its staff are properly paid ; it is adhering to widely accepted pay rates.

Mr. Holt : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, while Conservative Members might be spending large sums of money on gifts in the shop, a large number of Labour Members will be spending their money in the bars? I hope that they will spend a large amount on buying drinks for the bar staff.

Mr. Beith : I do not go to the bars very often, but I am led to believe that Members of all parties are to be found in them.



33. Mr. Jack : To ask the Lord President of the Council what plans he has to improve telecommunications between Westminster, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : The Services Committee has been askedto consider a package of measures designed to strengthen links between this House and the main European Community institutions. Those proposals include arrangements to enable hon. Members to communicate more easily by telephone and post.

Mr. Jack : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can he give me any idea of the time scale of the conclusion of the discussions about these arrangements? My constituents in Fylde feel strongly that some good British common sense should reach the Commission and other European institutions early on, so that we can have our say before some of the more half-baked ideas creep out of Brussels and sadly become reality.

Mr. MacGregor : I hope that the time scale will allow the discussions to conclude reasonably soon. As for the form of the arrangements, they are likely to involve exchange numbers for the main European institutions being made available for direct dialling by Members of Parliament. It will be possible to go beyond the initial 12 once the software on the Palace of Westminster's own exchange is upgraded.

Mr. Winnick : Before such improvements are made, would not it be better to try to improve communication within the Cabinet? Is the Minister aware--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman's point is miles away from the question. That is not very good.

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Mr. Winnick : If we are to improve communications with the European Parliament, it might be useful for the Cabinet to be able to communicate better than it can at present. Should not we bear in mind what was said yesterday by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) about what occurred in the Cabinet over the Westland affair?

Mr. Speaker : I really do think that that is a bit wide of the European Parliament.

Sir Anthony Grant : Will the new arrangements include the Council of Europe, which is much wider than the EEC and the European Parliament?

Mr. MacGregor : I am not sure that the European institutions have been fully sorted out yet ; however, I shall bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.

Scottish Affairs Select Committee

34. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Lord President of the Council what response he intends to make to the recommendation of the Procedure Committee in its report on the Select Committee system in the last Session of Parliament concerning the appointment of a Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

Mr. MacGregor : As the hon. Member knows, I cannot anticipate the Government's considered response to the report. I shall be replying to that and the other recommendations made in due course.

Mr. Kirkwood : Is not it a ridiculous indictment of the Government that they cannot find enough Conservative Members to man that important Committee? The Scottish Office covers many diverse areas of public life in Scotland, including housing, transport and agriculture. Is not it more rather than less important for there to be a Select Committee that oversees the work of the Scottish Office, irrespective of whether its members are Welsh, Irish or even the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell)? Will he again consider getting Conservative Back Benchers to man this important Committee, so that the work of the Scottish Office can be properly overseen?

Mr. MacGregor : I have already said that I shall examine that matter again, but I am equally well aware that there have been several difficulties affecting the issue throughout the lifetime of this Parliament and I am not very hopeful of progress. The hon. Gentleman has raised many points relating to Scotland. As he will know some of those subjects are dealt with by other Select Committees, and the Scottish Office frequently gives evidence to those committees.

Mr. Soames : To follow on from the question of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Members such as me with seats in the south who would be happy and proud to serve on a Scottish Select Committee, because it would enable many of us to spend a great deal more time in Scotland than we are able to do at present?

Mr. MacGregor : I am not sure what sort of time my hon. Friend has in mind, but I shall consider his point.

Mr. Molyneaux : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, at an earlier stage, some of us devoted much time to using our good offices in an attempt to resolve the

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difficulty? Will he encourage the reactivation of those discussions, to ensure that at least three component parts of the four parts of the United Kingdom enjoy and benefit from the oversight of a Select Committee?

Mr. MacGregor : I do not think that I can go further than I have today. I have been looking into the history of the progress of the matter during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Mr. Grocott : Does the Leader of the House accept that it is a pretty unfortunate precedent, particularly from a Government on the way out, not to establish democratic machinery simply because it is not in the Government's interests to do so? In this, one of his earliest performances as Leader of the House, will he at least establish clearly that his responsibility to the House is not simply to do what is convenient for the Government, but to do what is in the established, democratic traditions of the House, and set up the Select Committee?

Mr. MacGregor : I do not think that it was all one sided. Having looked at the history of it, I believe that there were differences of view on the matter at various times on both sides of the House. As I said, I shall look into it. I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's belief that this Government are on the way out--quite the reverse.


35. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Lord President of the Council what consideration has been given to reintroducing the textline facility into the branch library.

Mr. MacGregor : The reintroduction of textline in the branch library is not being considered because the suppliers of the standard textline service have now given general notice that that standard service is to be withdrawn altogether.

Mr. Barnes : I understood that it was Reuters that increased the price, which led to the removal of textline. Its facilities are available in the House of Commons Library. Will they be removed in the future? If facilities for hon. Members and their research assistants were removed, it would be as useful as hon. Members going round the Library with paper bags over their heads.

Mr. MacGregor : Apart from the fact that the service is being discontinued, there was a possible 400 per cent. increase in the Library charges over three years as a result of changes. In view of that, the Library Sub-Committee of the Services Committee concluded that the benefits of continuing the textline service could not be justified against the cost. The Library fully recognises the desirability of having some means of access to press material and is considering several alternative options.

Register of Members' Interests

36. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Lord President of the Council what representations he has received on the rules for the Register of Members' Interests ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor : None, Sir.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Lord President aware that the register is being abused almost every year? Does he know that 19 Tory ex-Cabinet Ministers hold 59 directorships

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between them and are raking in more than £1 million, not one penny of which is recorded in the register? Before there is a new batch of Tory ex-Cabinet Ministers in a few weeks' time and then another batch when we get into power, is not it high time that we got rid of the system, each Member of Parliament had only one job and we put an end to moonlighting?

Mr. MacGregor : I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's last point, because it is for hon. Members to decide what they should do. As is clear from what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question, there is a great deal of talent that can be put to use outside the House and I do not think that it would be right to put a stop to that. The register is a matter for the Select Committee, which is looking at some possible changes to it.

Mr. Dickens : There is no doubt that many Conservative Members scrupulously enter everything with which they are connected on the register --it has got me into trouble. Does the Leader of the House accept that when we declare our position as unpaid consultants, we are often accused locally of having our fingers in too many pies because we have been scrupulously honest in placing everything on the register? There are many Opposition Members who should be making entries, but are not. However, I shall not name them today.

Hon. Members : Withdraw.

Mr. MacGregor : One of the matters that the Select Committee on Members' Interests is considering is whether to define the requirements of the register more precisely, so that hon. Members' interpretation of the rules is more consistent. That might help to deal with some of the points that my hon. Friend raised.

Hon. Members : He should withdraw.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman intended to make any specific accusation. [Hon. Members :--"He did."] Order. If he did, he should draw the matter--

Mr. Dickens : Would you like me to name them, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker : No.

Mr. Dickens : I am--

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Mr. Speaker : Sit down, please. If the hon. Gentleman has any such evidence, he should properly draw it to the attention of the Chairman of the Select Committee and not bandy it across the Floor of the House.

Televising of Parliament

37. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Lord President of the Council how many complaints have been received about the televising of the House.

Mr. MacGregor : I am not aware of any recent complaints arising specifically from the televising of the House's proceedings that fall within my direct responsibility or that of the Select Committee on Broadcasting. Naturally, hon. Members raise from time to time a variety of matters relating to the effect of televising on the work of the House and the Select Committee and the Supervisor of Broadcasting are always willing to consider them sympathetically.

Mr. Banks : I thought that it was most unfair of "Spitting Image" to portray the right hon. Gentleman as someone who was so little known in the country that he had to walk round with a personalised paper bag over his head. As it is clear that the electorate and hon. Members very much like the televising of Parliament, and to help the right hon. Gentleman perhaps to become the best known Leader of the House, could the Committee now consider the possibility of gavel-to-gavel coverage of our proceedings so that people can watch what they want to see rather than what broadcasting journalists think they ought to see?

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