Previous Section Home Page

Column 1017

front, obvious little benefits--tiny lollipops ; but under the welter of complex social security legislation, there are deep and serious cuts.

6.17 pm

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who produced his statistics more briefly than the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who kept us for 42 minutes and spent hardly any time on the orders. The hon. Member for Oldham, West forgot to remind us that it was a Labour Chancellor who, in 1967, was the first to try to take family allowance away from the majority of families. He also forgot to tell us about the child benefit cheat--when the House approved the move to combine child tax allowances and family allowances to produce a child benefit, with which the Labour Government refused to go ahead. He also talked about a Christmas bonus of £2,000, but forgot to tell us that the Labour party took away a Christmas bonus of £10. This strikes me as the sort of sterile speech which we are used to hearing from the hon. Member for Oldham, West, and the sooner he is moved on to other pastures to make way for the hon. Member for Newport, West, the faster we shall proceed in our debates.

There are some serious problems to tackle in the years ahead, and we should approve the orders. I shall spend a few moments talking about what has been called child benefit, but which I think should be called child cash allowance. In the mid-1970s, we discussed whether it would be more sensible to get rid of child tax allowances, whereby the rich received more and people below the tax threshold got nothing. No one then anticipated that the name "child benefit" would mean that it would always be argued about in the bilateral discussions between the Department of Social Security and the Treasury.

A problem was anticipated, which was why my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), who became the Chancellor, and Patrick Jenkin, the then Member for Wanstead and Woodford, agreed in 1978 that child benefit would not be taken into account in social security spending but would, in effect, be netted off against tax.

We face two problems, for which I do not in any way blame the present Front Bench team or the Chief Secretaries over the years. It is in the nature of the bilaterals for the Chief Secretary to ask how he can squeeze down Government spending, while the Department of Social Security wants to concentrate help on those who most need it. Those are the two functions ; the problem is a functional one. I have a proposal that I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to comment on in winding up. I expect that he will spend most of his time batting the hon. Member for Oldham, West round the court. I suggest, first, that the debate should consider whether there should be an allowance for the child. If the answer is clearly yes, taxable capacity is reduced and needs are increased. Plainly there should be a child allowance. Secondly, is it better for the allowance to be a tax allowance or cash? It should be a cash allowance and decisions about the level of such allowances should be removed from the Department of Social Security, thereby lifting one of the

Column 1018

burdens from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Decisions about child allowance should be made by the Treasury.

I have discovered a secret in the House. In answer to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir R. McCrindle), my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury said that she would not answer any questions about child benefit because the Budget is on the way. That reply is contained in the Official Report of 31 January 1991, column 1094. The Minister of State gave the same reply to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). I do not think that that was a coded signal, because I do not think that the next Budget will set the level of child cash allowances. If I am wrong and I have underestimated the speed at which the Treasury accepts the logic of an argument, I shall willingly apologise, by public press release and not secretly in the House.

The term "child benefit" is a mistake. It is sensible for the Treasury to ask the Department of Social Security to be the paying agency, but the allowance must be taken out of the public expenditure round. That is where things have gone wrong. It is wrong to say that, if my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) had continued as Prime Minister, we would not have had the same improvement. I believe what I have heard--that the previous Chief Secretary to the Treasury, now my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security had agreed and shown the results of their agreement to my right hon. Friend the previous Prime Minister before all the excitement. The freeze for the three years before that was a mistake, and I said so when I was a Minister. If we are to avoid such mistakes, we must change the name of the benefit and transfer the responsibility. When we do that, we will make further progress and the child allowance will not just be indexed to inflation, but increased. There was newspaper speculation that the previous Prime Minister had some people in.

Mr. Newton : I had no intention of getting involved in this issue. I thought that I had listened carefully to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). If the hon. Gentleman seriously suggested or implied that the child benefit increase had anything to do with the change of Prime Minister and leadership of the Conservative party, he was talking utter nonsense. The uprating statement was made the best part of a month before the events in question.

Mr. Bottomley : I do not think that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) said that. It was mentioned slightly earlier, when we were discussing new and old regimes. I hope that we can move the matter forward. Child allowance should be cash or a tax allowance. I hope that we will hear less from David Willetts until he comes to the House.

Sir Timothy Raison (Aylesbury) : I cannot give an authoritative answer on these issues, but my hon. Friend should explain why he thinks that the Treasury would be more generous than the Department of Social Security.

Mr. Bottomley : The Treasury would have to consider the matter when it considered the proportion of mortgage relief granted to people with incomes of more than £20,000 a year. About 50 per cent. of that relief goes to those of us

Column 1019

who are so poor that we have mortgages of £30,000 or more and pay tax at the rate of 40 per cent. or more. The value of the tax relief to two people, perhaps television producers or trade union officials, with a combined income of £70,000 a year, is equivalent to 12 child benefits every year and not just during the years when they have children. When the Treasury and the Inland Revenue look at the issue, they will come up with the answer that they used to give and not an answer relating to the structural problem and the name problem. Having trespassed on the House's hospitality for the second day running, I had better stop. I hope that my speech has been noted. May I please be told whom to ask to get involved in these

discussions--whether they are members of the party or the Government? Perhaps that information could also be given to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). That would enable all of us to move forward, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir T. Raison) before he moves off to advertising. I hope that the House can find some suitable structure.

6.24 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : I am pleased to reply to my first debate on social security. This is probably the last uprating debate before the general election, and therefore the last time that I and my hon. Friends will speak on uprating from this side of the House. In that context, it is worth looking back at the social security dark ages, from which we shortly hope to emerge, and towards the enlightenment that is about to begin.

I reaffirm the whole notion of national insurance. It is to the credit of neither Conservatives nor Labour Governments that ordinary people now feel remote from and unconnected to national insurance, which has become an almost secret tax raising revenue of billions of pounds. One of our prime tasks in government will be to ensure that we not only address the level and scope of benefits but that we return to the whole idea of a communal insurance policy. We shall return that idea to the heart of the civilised values that we cherish.

There is such a thing as society, and our standard will be an honest national insurance fund separate from taxation and able to meet needs as they arise. That will be a monumental task, and that is evident when we look at the overgrowth of political expediency and short-termism which encrusts the present system. One of the worst abuses of that system has been the rip-off of our pension funds to the tune of perhaps £10 billion. That matter is still being investigated by the Public Accounts Committee, which will no doubt report in due course.

Mr. Scott : It is important for the hon. Gentleman to clarify his suggestion. Is he saying that the whole of the social security system as we presently understand it, with its contributory and non-contributory benefits, will be funded from a new national insurance fund? If so, how will contributions to that fund be paid by employers and employees, and what will be the level of contribution?

Mr. Allen : No, I am not suggesting that. If I am ever in charge of a review, I shall rule nothing in and rule nothing out.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying wide of the orders.

Column 1020

Mr. Allen : I shall resist any temptation by the Minister of State to go wide of the terms of the orders.

There is evident extravagance and profligacy about subsidising and sweetening private pension companies. Therefore, I hope that no Conservative Member is brainless enough to ask where all the money will come from to give decent pensions to the elderly and adequate child benefit to the mothers. The great SERPS robbery--a wholly party political racket-- makes even the£1 million a day fraud by employers on insurance stamps look like a minor misdemeanour, yet both sets of villains have escaped attention--first, because of the technical nature of the offences and, secondly, because the victims are tomorrow's pensioners. Like the sleeping victims of a burglary, they do not know what awaits them and will not find out until morning. Many of today's pensioners know better, because they have seen what the Government have done to the basic state pension. However hard the Conservatives wriggle, and whatever statistical wheeze they employ, the plain fact that hangs around their necks and will stay there until the election is that breaking the earnings link has robbed the single pensioner of £12.80 a week and a couple of £20.50 a week. That is not a one-off smash and grab, but a recidivist return each and every week so long as they shall live.

Much has been said today about child benefit. The uprating, such as it is, bears all the hallmarks of a "John'll fix it". First, there is a lack of will to tackle the real problem, thinly concealed by a half-hearted, half- baked and, above all, half-priced gesture. One can picture the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the last days of the Thatcher Reich--with high interest rates, a massive trade deficit and looming recession all around him--struggling with the knotty problem of which twin should be awarded the new first-born benefit--or should it have been the "Eastbourne" benefit?

Not that honest John would ever try to purchase short-term popularity for a by-election victory. I cannot help thinking that the phrase

"Child benefit will continue to be paid as now"

must have been put in the Conservative manifesto in 1987 by somebody, perhaps a junior Social Security Minister--some anal retentive determined to tell the literal truth, but misleading the gullible, rather in the way that the Prime Minister said recently that the last Labour Government did not have a cold weather payments scheme. That too is literally true, but it ignores the fact that, because of the generous extra needs payments and the electricity discount scheme then in operation, but abolished by the Conservative Government, such a scheme was not necessary. It is petty, it is cheap, and "it is coming to a social security office near you". Whatever way one looks at these uprating orders, one sees a shabby deal--a budget cut here, a corner cut there. The social fund is a very sad example. The fund is meant to help the most needy in our society--those from broken homes, ex-prisoners, former drug abusers, the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, and the plain poor. Despite this, the budget is a fraction of the one under the scheme that it replaced, and two thirds of payments come in the form of loans rather than grants--loans, to people already trying to live on £30 or £40 a week.

The Conservative Government should be ashamed of themselves. Instead, they find someone else to blame. In this instance, they foist the blame on the local offices of the

Column 1021

Department of Social Security, whose social fund budgets are so constricted that ridiculous anomalies arise. At the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, I drew the attention of the permanent secretary of the Department to a particular case in my constituency. A battered wife from the Nottingham, North women's refuge is not high enough on the priority list to get from the Nottingham social security office a grant for a bed, a table and some other furniture. Had she lived in nearby Alfreton, she could have received those payments. Such are the differences in priorities from one office to another.

Meanwhile, people surviving on income support are among those who are being squeezed hardest by increases in water, electricity and gas charges. Public utilities were privatised, in a "money no object" exercise, by the selfsame Conservative Government. The present Government can blow billions of pounds of North sea oil revenue, yet there are 130,000 individuals on transitional additions--130,000 people who have not had an increase in income support for three years.

Others who will judge for themselves the generosity of the uprating include the rising numbers of people being made redundant as a major recession steamrolls them. A few of the severely disabled are assisted by the independent living fund, which the Conservative Government still refuse to put on a statutory footing, despite the obvious and chronic demand.

I am very proud to say that the independent living fund is in my constituency. The officers who serve it do a magnificent job--a job of which the Secretary of State and his team and, indeed, the rest of us should be proud. None the less, it is a scheme created to put a problem--as the Government see it, a public expenditure problem--at arm's length. Next, I understand, there may be an agency, or the problem may be referred to local authorities. This is a way of sweeping a difficult situation under the carpet.

The creation of a social security benefits agency is another case in point. When Members of Parliament table questions about matters within the competence of that agency, the answers will not be printed in Hansard for the benefit of all Members, who might then ask questions relating to the benefits of people in their constituencies. Members making such inquiries will receive letters from the chief executive of the agency, and if other Members wish to see those letters, they will have to go to the Library. That undermines what little democracy and accountability this House has in respect of social security matters.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : What my hon. Friend is describing is a broken promise. At meetings of the Select Committee on Social Security, it was made absolutely clear that the opportunities to question Ministers about the internal workings of the Departments would be undiminished.

Mr. Allen : My hon. Friend has made a very pertinent point. I hope that, even at this stage, the Secretary of State will reconsider the way in which social security matters within the realm of the benefits agency might be brought before this House. This is a central point of parliamentary accountability.

I should like to answer a query about the amount of money spent on state pensions. We can all bandy statistics. This is an area in which that happens all the time. Central

Column 1022

to our commitment to social security expenditure must be the principle that those people who, in some way, are cared for out of social security expenditure should share in the prosperity of the nation. So far as I am concerned, the most startling statistic in this area is the reduction in expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product. Between 1984-85 and 1989-90, expenditure fell from 12.2 per cent. to 10.3 per cent. That is a very significant and sad statistic. Perhaps the Minister of State will comment on it.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley) : What would the Labour party do?

Mr. Allen : The hon. Gentleman asks what we shall do. I do not want to stray too far from my brief, but I am pleased, in reply to a question from a sedentary position, to say that the hon. Gentleman will be made very well aware of our intentions. I do not know whether he has read the Labour party's documents. If not, I shall be very glad to send him copies. We shall, of course, insist on an immediate increase of £5 a week in the pensions of single people. That £5 will be over and above the increase that will be made in April. In the case of a married couple, the increase will be £8. Thereafter, there will be immediate linkage to earnings or inflation, whichever is the higher.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : How much will it cost?

Mr. Allen : The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), also from a sedentary position, asks how much it will cost. I shall gladly give him figures provided by his own Government. The pension rise will cost £2.3 billion, and the increase in child benefit will cost £0.75 billion. I make this commitment. Indeed, it is in the Labour party documents for all to see. [Interruption.] There is no hidden agenda here. Child benefit will be restored to the level of 1979. In other words, we are prepared to invest in children and in the future of this nation.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : Is the Labour party committed to restoring child benefit to the record level of 1983, or does it consider the lower level of 1979 as the limit? Is it committed to expenditure in any other areas? What proportion of the total increase in public spending promised by the Labour party is made up of increases in child benefit? Is it 100, 50, or 30 per cent. of additional spending?

Mr. Allen : The hon. Gentleman has a cheek. He was a member of a Government who have presided over a reduction in child benefit during the past four or five years. I shall say slowly, for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, that the next Labour Government will return child benefit to its value when Labour was last in office. That would mean a very much higher level--£2.30 higher than it is under this Government, in which the hon. Gentleman served for many years. I must make it clear that, much as I would be pleased to make commitments about spending in other areas, the hon. Gentleman must know that no additional commitments can be undertaken until such are considered appropriate in the light of economic developments and economic growth [Interruption.]. Hon. Members must allow me to finish my remarks. I should love to answer questions on health, but unfortunately my remit does not stretch that far, just yet.

Column 1023

There can be little doubt that, as the election comes closer, the Prime Minister is seeing in his private opinion polls confirmation that the Conservative myth that being the party of the family is buried under an incontrovertible mountain of payment books. In view of the Prime Minister's style, I guarantee that behind the grin there will be more social security fixes, more opportunist gifts, a little Budget sweetener here and a little panic response there. The day of reckoning is coming sooner than Conservative Members think. For those dependent upon pensions and benefits, that day cannot come soon enough.

6.41 pm

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : As the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) came towards the end of his speech, we had some insight into the scale of commitments that the Labour party will offer in its next election manifesto. It may wrap the manifesto in weasel words, but today we have had a commitment on pensioners which appears to amount to some £3 billion. In Committee on the Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Bill, we discussed a variety of Labour amendments that would have amounted to a further £3 billion expenditure. There is also another range of commitments on child support.

Every time I face the Labour party across the Floor of the House, I am reminded of the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) about the last Labour Government promising the earth and delivering the International Monetary Fund. I am afraid that that is exactly the position in which any future Labour Government--remote though that possibility may be--will very quickly find themselves.

Today, we are discussing a series of orders, the most important being the uprating order, which provides additional resources of £5 billion for the social security system. The Labour party may say that it is possible to have generous increases across the board, but our approach to social security is to protect the generality of people in receipt of social security benefit from the impact of price increases. Within that overall approach, we wish to ensure that additional help goes to the most vulnerable groups in our society. I should like to refer briefly to each of those groups.

We must, of course, consider the position of pensioners in our society. Any society owes a debt to those who have spent their lives working in the community, for society, and who then look to the state and to the companies which employed them to look after them in their retirement. As was said earlier, the real standard of living of pensioners as a whole has increased dramatically in recent years. Since 1979, it has risen by 31 per cent. in real terms compared with a 3 per cent. increase under the last Labour Government. Indeed, pensioners' incomes have risen twice as fast as the incomes of the remainder of the population.

I know that it is part of the Labour party's attitude of mind that it should think only about the benefits that people receive from the state. We believe that we should consider pensioners' standards of living as they are affected both by their occupational pensions and by the savings that they have accumulated during their working lives, as well as in the context of state benefits. As I said, there has been a 31 per cent. increase in pensioners'

Column 1024

standards of living since we took office in 1979, compared with a 3 per cent. increase under the last Labour Government.

I recognise, as any hon. Member recognises, that I am referring to the general position, and that it disguises the fact that some people have had increases in their standards of living greater then 31 per cent., while others have had a lesser increase. We can all identify with the pensioner who has lost out.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) : Because of the poll tax.

Mr. Scott : I am not disguising any facts. There are a number of pensioners whose savings were destroyed by inflation during the 1970s. Those people spent most of their working lives at a time when occupational pensions were not so widespread or so generous as they are today. Many working careers were interrupted by the second world war. Our approach, over successive years, has been to give additional help to poorer pensioners. We have provided millions of pounds in additional help for them

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : What about the poll tax?

Mr. Scott : If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, he should stand up. I would happily give way to him.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : Will the Minister tell the House about the cost of the poll tax to pensioners? Is it not 10 to 15 per cent. of their income? Even pensioners on low incomes have had to suffer that sort of increase.

Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The poorer pensioners benefit from community charge rebate and from various other help that we have given to those paying the community charge. That help was extended recently. I recognise that there is a group of poorer pensioners, and we have concentrated help on their specific needs rather than making the sort of grandiose promises made by the Opposition.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : I regret that I have not been able to contribute to the debate. The Secretary of State made great play of the fact that housing costs were no longer included when working out the uprating statement. The difficulty is that the housing costs element of the retail prices index includes other crucial items such as the poll tax and water rates. People must pay a minimum of 20 per cent. of their poll tax, and must also find the money to pay rising water rates. Is it not true that the uprating of means-tested income support takes no account of those vital increases?

Mr. Scott : If the hon. Gentleman would use his influence with some of the council leaders in socialist authorities to hold down the level of community charge, he might be making a sensible contribution to the debate.

In winding up the debate, I seek not to wind up Opposition Members, but to make a serious contribution. I wish to identify groups of people in our society who need some sensible additional help in sustaining their living standards. I want to mention one group that is especially close to my heart, and comes within my job description, and that is disabled people. Again, during our time in office we have more than doubled the provisions for the long-term sick and disabled. We are now spending more

Column 1025

than £10 billion on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled--an increase in real terms of £5.6 billion since we took office. It is easy to talk in such global terms--

Mr. Allen : And to be inaccurate.

Mr. Scott : I am being both precise and accurate. We are talking about the impact on the living standards of the disabled and about the spread of benefits to more and more disabled people during the period of this Government.

Mr. Allen : Is the Minister aware of the difference between an increase in benefits and an increase in the take-up of benefits?

Mr. Scott : That is precisely the point that I was making when the hon. Gentleman sought to intervene. Surely he welcomes as much as I do the fact that many more disabled people are now receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. Those people did not become disabled under this Government ; they were there under the Labour Government. They were not receiving the benefit then, but they are now.

Despite the smirk on the face of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) I hope that he will recognise that that is a real point. The last time he was at the Dispatch Box he criticised me in a rather snide way for "marketing" benefits. Of course we want to do that. We want to make people aware of the benefits to which they are entitled and ensure that they take them up. We will go on marketing both our existing benefits and the new ones that will come into operation in April next year in order to ensure that they go to the people who need them.

Mr. Allen : I, too, would criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). I do not believe that the Minister is marketing some benefits as well as he could. Were he to do so, the Financial Secretary and the Chief Secretary would come down on him like a ton of bricks because of the financial implications. Perhaps he will market family credit a little more effectively.

Mr. Scott : With the greatest possible respect to the hon. Gentleman, who is comparatively new to the subject--I am not being patronising--he knows that this area is demand-led. If people apply, they receive the benefit. It is nothing to do with the Chief Secretary. People get the benefits for which they apply and for which they are entitled. We have seen a dramatic increase in the take-up of benefits and we shall go on seeking to ensure that that continues.

Mr. McCartney : Will the Minister explain why one benefit has been taken away from disabled people--the reduced earnings allowance? Most disabled people become disabled as a result of accidents at work. In areas such as mine, where there is mining and heavy engineering, a considerable number of people who were once entitled to that benefit can no longer claim it. Yet they originally received it in recognition of the fact that they had become disabled because of their activities in industry, either as a result of an accident or because of the environment in which they worked. The Government have abolished that allowance.

Column 1026

Mr. Scott : I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Last year, I took through the House the Bill that made that change in the benefit system. It is increasingly right that at this time we should concentrate state help on those people who are disabled early in life, perhaps congenitally or as a result of some accident early in life, and who do not have the opportunity to build up entitlements to occupational pensions, compensation from their employers or in other ways. Philosophically that is right. It would be difficult, even for the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who is muttering on the Front Bench, to disagree with that as a principle.

Mr. McCartney rose--

Mr. Scott : I do not want to get bogged down. I am trying to answer the debate.

Mr. McCartney : To take that to its logical conclusion, what does the Minister say about the young 21-year-old who has an arm amputated and can no longer claim reduced earnings allowance? There are many such specific cases. Thousands occur in industry each year. There is no reason for withdrawing that important benefit from the industrially disabled, other than to reduce public expenditure.

Mr. Scott : What we have done, in essence, is to alter the priorities within the provision for disabled people while increasing it substantially. I do not want to weary the House with the figures. The philosophical approach that I have sought to outline would need widespread approval.

We are concerned too about the needs of low income families and families generally. We are anxious to look at the whole pattern of provision in that area and if hon. Members would like to contact my right hon. Friend or myself and come forward with ideas for improving the pattern of family support as it presently exists, we would be only too happy to listen to them.

The social fund has proved to be an effective, fair and flexible way of meeting needs that are outwith the normal scope of the social security system. I do not disguise from the House my feeling that that is a difficult area. The single payment system did not work particularly well. It was capricious in the extreme. It was doubling in cost every two years, I think, and it was becoming unsustainable. The social fund has proved a sensible way of providing grants and loans to people with exceptional needs at exceptional times while keeping the pattern of expenditure under sensible control. It is straightforward and it is becoming understood by claimants, and I believe that it works in an effective manner.

Mr. Allen : The Minister will be aware of the recent survey conducted by the National Audit Office which showed that one quarter of income support claimants did not know what the social fund was. Once again, wearing his marketing hat, perhaps he could do something about that.

Mr. Scott : If the hon. Gentleman looked back to the pattern of single payments and the geographical and social spread of take-up under that, he would see that there was even less understanding of the single payment scheme than there is now of the social fund. There is an increasing awareness of the social fund and its capacity to help.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : Has the Minister's attention been drawn to The Independent today

Column 1027

where it says that there were 2,347 deaths during the latest spell of sub-zero temperatures.-- [Interruption.] Am I entitled to ask a question, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or are the hooligans on the Tory Benches determined that the issue will not be raised? The social fund has been extremely unhelpful when it comes to hypothermia. What does he intend to do about that?

Mr. Scott : I think that the press report to which the hon. Gentleman was referring was mentioned earlier. The Government have responded flexibly and in a common-sense manner to the last period of excessive hard weather in Britain.

Mr. Battle : Are we to get a statement every time it snows?

Mr. Scott : If necessary. If we have a period of general and excessively cold weather, it is sensible for the Government to respond to that in a flexible and common sense manner. We have done it twice already. I admire and respect the hon. Gentleman considerably, but if we had stuck rigidly to the rules, he would have been criticising me. The fact that we responded in a flexible and sensible manner should be a matter of congratulation rather than criticism.

The hon. Gentleman made some complimentary remarks about the independent living fund. In Committee, he has been trying to persuade me to turn that into a completely regulated system removing all the flexibility, all the attention to the individual needs of the claimants judged by social workers in order to produce a package of care. That would not and could not work.

Even the Labour party knows that it is not possible to direct more help to the most vulnerable groups in society while promising vast increases in the generality of provision within the social security system. There are many needs in our society, but it is much better to be able to meet them by identifying particular groups and concentrating help on them.

Social spending today is 40 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1979. Most of that growth is the result of the general increases that have protected people against the impact of price increases. Many of them have come about also because of our ability to concentrate help on those most in need. The Government have shown themselves to be caring, and concerned with the needs of the most vulnerable in our society and have produced substantial extra resources to look after them--no lollipops, but real extra money for those who need help most.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved.


That the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 11th December, be approved.-- [Mr. Newton.]


That the draft State Scheme Premiums (Actuarial Tables) Amendment Regulations 1991, which were laid before this House on 18th February, be approved.-- [Mr. Newton.]


That the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved.-- [Mr. Newton.]

Column 1028


That the draft Social Security (Contributions) Amendment Regulations 1991, which were laid before this House on 13th February, be approved.-- [Mr. Newton.]


That the draft Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved.-- [Mr. Newton.]

Next Section

  Home Page