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Column 104benefit, but it does not provide a jusitification or a reason for that growth. Based on surgery cases and other evidence, I should have thought that there was at least a case to be made for saying that part of the growth must be due to people manipulating the system in the way I described earlier.
Some hon. Members have stressed the link with unemployment. I am not going to get into that argument, but Labour Members are surely not arguing that, because there might or might not have been a link in the past, it is wrong to break that link now and ensure that people get the appropriate benefit and do not receive invalidity benefit if unemployment benefit would be more appropriate. On those grounds alone, we should support the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) spoke of his experience. I always bow to a doctor's experience, especially when I am ill. He outlined the issues raised by doctors across the country.
The Bill is long overdue, and my only caution is that we ensure that we do not hit the genuinely disabled--that is the last thing I would want. I am sure that we can avoid that problem as the Bill passes through its various stages.
It is a pity that the Opposition have not been prepared to face the problems. We all thought that they were going to do so when they established the Commission for Social Justice but it seems that they are prepared to funk the issue. That is a great pity, because we need a debate about social security support. The debate is not about long-term trends in terms of the working population but about the trends in the growth of social security and to what extent a modern economy can legitimately support an ever increasing public expenditure burden. The Bill is a modest step in the right direction, and I am pleased to support it.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : I wish that we were discussing real measures to help people who receive invalidity benefit, people who have suffered for years under this miserable Government. The debate makes me think of tax avoidance and abuses in the City and the financial institutions, where people seem to get away with the prize.
The other evening, we discussed training. The Government are frightened to put money into creativity or something that could generate income for the country but, lo and behold, they have once again suggested proposals that attack people who can hardly defend themselves, people who live in the hope that they might just see out tomorrow.
Not that long ago, in the House I told Ministers about a man who was called by his doctor and so on to find out whether he was fit. The doctors came and met him. They said, "We now have to try to find out whether you are eligible to claim the money. We will do a wee test on you." The wee test consisted of his going outside his house and walking 100 yards. The man managed 100 yards. He was dead and buried within a month. His wife asks, "What type of inhuman society are we that we put our menfolk through tests such as that?" I have suffered my period in invalidity, and I have had the indignity of going through the test. It is not a pleasant thing when one is being accused of being a malingerer, of not being ill when one is ill, and one sits there with doctors, academics and people who have been through university. One just sits there as a Joe Bloggs--just an ordinary punter
Column 105--and one wants to tell the truth and will not dodge with the lies that they think we will all tell. What an indignity we are placing on mankind in this country!
I remember that the Prime Minister said that it "beggars belief" that the increase in numbers is due entirely to health-related reasons.
I live in Linwood, which is not a beautiful town. It is a hard-working town, where, years ago, thousands of men and women worked in the car plant and made a living. If one goes to that town now, one will find an incredible increase in the number of people living on invalidity benefit. If one checks the reasons why, it will come through that the serious depression that confronts them, with under-employment--the lack of job opportunities and so on--destroys the morale. It lowers one's resistance to illness and diseases. It plays a major part in the deterioration of people's health. If there is no hope and we do not give folk hope, their health will suffer.
Mr. Graham : I wish that we could have a good system. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I wish that the Government could have listened to some of the organisations that have put forward many ideas for schemes. If the Government had taken on board some of the ideas for a comprehensive benefit system, we might not be in the mud hole that we are in.
Mr. Evans indicated dissent.
Mr. Graham : In 1980, I was on Strathclyde regional council. I was a member of a group that was examining the problems of disabled people. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security at the time was Lady Chalker. We discussed with her the problems that people on low income suffered. The "low income" that we were talking about was the money that people received on sickness benefit and invalidity benefit.
Does the Minister honestly think that the folk are laughing all the way to the bank with the pittance that we give them to live on, with disability and invalidity benefit? Do the Government believe that they can drink a bottle of champagne a week? Do they think that those people are living on caviare and steak? There is no way that they are living on that.
Mr. Jim Cunningham : My hon. Friend has put his finger on the nub of the problem, which is that the Secretary of State, who conceived the Bill, has based it on an assumption that most people who are on invalidity benefit are malingerers. That has been half the problem, and that is the problem with the philosophy behind it. Did not the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) betray it when he asked the question about the tests?
The problem is that existing tests are pretty tough, as my hon. Friend has outlined, but the new test will be ten times tougher. Does that not point the finger at the Secretary of State? It is a malicious attempt to penalise people on benefit.
Mr. Graham : I am most grateful for that telling intervention. I do not have a lot of time, and I do not need notes. I can tell the Minister that I know of many doctors who issue sick lines in the sincere belief that their patient is ill and against their professional experience that they
Column 106know when folk are not fit for work. They issue those notes with the care and maintenance of patients in mind. They offer that sick line because they sincerely believe that their patients are ill. Are we therefore accusing every doctor of getting it wrong? Are we saying that the system is wrong?
I question the system, but I also question the Government. They have one of the worst records imaginable in trying to help the sick, the poor, the disabled and the unemployed. We have seen their income savaged and reduced to barely nothing because of the Government's constant and unbelievable mismanagement of our economy. We are struggling because the Government cannot see a way in which to create revenue-raising power.
As they once again bail out their friends in the City, they take £1.5 billion from the ill and the disabled. It makes me disgusted to be a Member of Parliament. We are speaking to a Government who are not prepared to listen, but are only prepared to keep trundling along and taking everybody, like lemmings, over the cliff. I do not think that the people of Britain will accept that and, at the general election, they will show the Government the door so that we can take heart, look after the future of disabled people and give them the quality of life to which they are entitled, not the poverty-driven chaos created by Government.
I find it amazing that in the time that I have been in the Chamber, and while I believe that everyone in the Chamber would agree that it is an important debate, not one Liberal Democrat Member has been present. At such an important time, when we are approaching the climax of the debate, I find that amazing. There is no doubt that, as we come towards elections of any kind, the Liberal Democrats will say how dreadful the Government's social security policy is.
Having listened to hon. Members on both sides of the House, I believe that we desperately need to improve the current system. I agree with my hon. Friends that we desperately need to protect the most vulnerable in our society. At the same time, having heard the comments of Opposition Members about helping the disabled, it is rich that they have not been able to come up with anything concrete that they would put in place of what the Government are suggesting. We have all heard about the Opposition's current commission, but we are yet to hear anything concrete from the Opposition Members about social security.
We need a system which will operate, which will protect the vulnerable and which will be sustainable.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who said that the health of the nation has not improved. It has improved. At the same time, the number of people claiming benefit has trebled, so that the amount paid is £6.1 billion, which is projected to rise to more than £8 billion in the near future. Yet Opposition Members are not prepared to confront that fact. They criticise and chastise Conservative Members for
Column 107trying to save money. With this Bill, the Government are trying to ensure that the money that is spent in vast sums will go to those people who need it and that those who are not eligible for invalidity benefit do not sign up to it.
I referred earlier to a survey of general practitioners in which two thirds of those questioned indicated that they had signed sickness benefit notes for people who simply were not sick. We must address that problem. Opposition Members have said, "If anyone is claiming invalidity benefit who is not entitled to it, something should be done about it." But yet again they have failed to suggest any concrete policies that would correct that imbalance. We need to hear something concrete--
Mr. Flynn : We are all touched to hear the hon. Gentleman, in his deep-seated favour, explaining how people must not loot the public purse. Will he urge his hon. Friends the Members for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) to return to the public purse the money that they made out of buying council houses and the £200,000 that they had from the public purse--
Mr. Evans : Conservative Members are more than happy to accept that. Clearly, however, Opposition Members do not share our view. We must accept that the health of the nation has been improving over the past 15 years. Moreover, expenditure on invalidity benefit represents one of the largest and most rapidly growing areas of expenditure in the whole system. If money is going where it is not supposed to go, it must be checked. If that flow is not checked, and if money is not targeted on those who really need it, either taxes will have to go up and up to ensure that the bill is met or those in real need will be denied access to proper benefits--[ Hon. Members :-- "Taxes are going up."]
It is amazing to hear Opposition Members say that taxation is going up anyway. They decry the Government for seeking to tackle a problem by reducing the amount of money going to people who should not be getting it. They tell the public that the Government are wrong to raise taxes, but they are not prepared to back the Government when they seek to do something about the problem of benefits going to people who are not entitled to them.
Opposition Members would prefer to see taxes increased. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor
Column 108told David Frost on Sunday that, if the Labour party were in government, taxes would be far higher than they are. Opposition Members have proved that point admirably.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Evans : I have only three minutes left. Opposition Members have had a fine opportunity to answer the questions that we have put to them but have refused to do so. I have the hon. Member for Newport, West an opportunity to come back with an answer ; instead he made a cheap attack on my hon. Friends. Given that sort of attitude, I am not prepared to give way to Opposition Members again.
Those who are capable of work should not be encouraged to sign on for invalidity benefit ; they should be encouraged to go into the world of work. At the moment, as the GP survey showed, too few people are being encouraged to do that. The onus on GPs is unfair. In many ways, the guidelines were too loose and allowed too many people to sign on for invalidity benefit. The criteria for eligibility for incapacity benefit will be far stricter. That will ensure that those who receive the benefit are those in need of it and that those who are able to work are helped to get back into work. Funds will be focused on those who need benefit because of incapacity--something that ought to be welcomed by every hon. Gentleman.
I have not heard any hon. Member refer to the voluntary work sector. People who are claiming incapacity benefit will be able to do 16 hours' voluntary work a week. This is excellent news to anyone who, like myself and, I am sure, most other hon. Members, is involved with several constituency charities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) referred to the fact that the question of medical assessment is currently out to consultation. I hope that there will be widespread discussion with general practitioners, charities and anyone else who wants to make a contribution. We must get the system right, so we shall have to listen very carefully to comments about some of the possible pitfalls. In this regard, however, I am confident. Having listened to Opposition Members, I am not sure that they agree with any type of testing whatsoever. I believe that we shall get the question of medical assessment right--that people who are incapable of working will be entitled to claim incapacity benefit and will receive it at the appropriate rates and that those who are able to work will be helped into employment.
This is the right system, and it is a great shame that Opposition Members are unable to support it. What I have heard today reveals the real Labour party--the tax-and-spend party that my constituents, having listened to its case, will recognise as the one that lost the last four general elections and will lose the next one.
Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington) : In general, this has been a very thoughtful and well-ordered debate. We have heard important contributions from several hon. Members--in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), and my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) and for Croydon North-West (Mr. Wicks), as well as several of my hon Friends from Scottish
Column 109constituencies. We have heard some interesting contributions from Conservative Members too. In particular, I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). Conservative Members brought several specific points to the Minister's attention. The debate was enhanced considerably by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who clearly stated the Labour party's position on the Bill. It is very important that we should recognise the real purpose behind the measure, which constitutes a fundamental attack on the interests of disabled people. The Government are yet again looking for a way out of the economic mess caused by their mismanagement and their policies. Yet again, disabled people are being used as the scapegoat for Conservative incompetence. That is something of which we ought not to lose sight, however often we hear reference to Disraeli, the one-nation Tory. The country knows very well the current position of the Tory party. Bringing Disraeli back from the dead will not get the Government out of their mess.
The Minister of State shakes his head vigorously in denial of the claim that the disabled are being used as a scapegoat for economic incompetence. However, we have only to look at recent history to see how these people have been targeted. It gives me no pleasure to refer yet again to the question of the independent living fund. Exactly what we predicted during the passage of the legislation dealing with that fund has come to pass.
There has been a massive cut in the amount of money available for disabled people in the independent living fund. We said that very few people would benefit from the fund as a result of the way in which it was structured. It gives me no pleasure to see that in the 1993-94 budget of £4 million, to date only £500,000 has been allocated and £3.5 million remains to be spent. Although there have been 700 applicants, only 104 payments have been received.
Mr. Scott : When we introduced community care, and when the new arrangements for the independent living fund came into being, it was inevitable that it would take time for the caseload to build up. The cases that the ILF has taken on and which have incurred the £500,000 expenditure represent between £5 million and £6 million of full- year expenditure.
Mr. Bradley : I listened with interest to the Minister's defence. Unfortunately, the evidence does not bear that out. There has been criticism from the local authorities. The authorities confirm what we claimed during the passage of the legislation. They believe that it is ridiculous to have limits of £200 and £500. They also believe that it is ridiculous that no one over 65 can receive benefit from the fund. It is also ridiculous that the terminally ill cannot receive anything from the fund and that the provision was limited to people on income support and those with savings of less than £8,000. Those limitations have seriously curtailed the ability of disabled people to benefit in the way that they so desperately need to.
Even before today's Bill, there has been evidence of the way in which the Government are targeting disabled people. We have heard much about the way in which invalidity benefit has been administered. However, it is clear that there is a range of ways in which the Government are focusing on invalidity benefit and also making real cuts in the amount of money that will be available in future to disabled people.
Column 110We have already heard that the Government intend to make savings of £550 million in 1995-96 and a staggering saving of £1,450 million in 1996-97. I must stress that those savings will arise not from the introduction of a new benefit to deal with people with disabilities, but from the replacement of benefits such as sickness benefit and invalidity benefit. Those cuts, or savings as the Government call them, will be achieved through a series of measures.
We must be clear where those savings will be made. Crucially, the Government are changing the rates for the new incapacity benefit. Two new rates will be introduced for the first 28 weeks. In current circumstances, someone would receive £42.70 and then a higher rate for 29 to 52 weeks. That person would then move on to £52.50, the same rate as statutory sick pay. Only after 52 weeks would that person move on to current invalidity benefit rate of £56.10. Between 28 weeks and 52 weeks, there will be a real cut in the rate paid to disabled people even if they get through the hoop of the new test. The Government cannot claim that they are not making a real cut in the amount of income available to people with disabilities as a result of the introduction of this new benefit. Not only are they making a cut, they are also introducing a greater delay before people with the same disabilities achieve the same rate as those who currently receive invalidity benefit of £56.10. There will be a cut in the rate and a delay before one receives the current full rate of invalidity benefit.
The new proposals also make crucial structural changes to the new benefit. That also applies to some of the changes that are to be made in respect of people who continue to receive invalidity benefit. The most crucial point is that, after the introduction of the new rules in April 1995, there will be no additional pension.
Much has been made of the increased payments to people on invalidity benefit. It has been said that, when they reach retirement age, they should go back on to the basic state retirement pension. Most of them receive an additional amount only because they have contributed to an additional pension. Under the new rules, that allowance will not be permitted, and, for those currently in receipt of it, the amount will be frozen.
That flies in the face of what the Government announced previously. It gives me no pleasure to quote the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. As many of my hon. Friends have said, we have great respect for the way in which he has championed the needs of disabled people. However, talking about the additional pension, he said : "The clause does not affect existing rights to additional pension. All the rights built up in the years up to and including the 1990-91 tax year will be preserved, whenever the claim for invalidity pension is made, however far in the future that may be. Moreover, such additional pension will continue to be subject to revaluation uprating in exactly the same way as at present."--[ Official Report, 3 April 1990 ; Vol. 170, c. 1115.]
Under the new rules that he is introducing tonight, the Minister will renege on that promise. The additional pension will be frozen, it will not be uprated.
Mr. Scott indicated dissent.
In addition, there will be further cuts. There will be no age allowance for claimants between 45 and 55. There will
Column 111be a lower benefit between the 28th and 52nd week, as I have said. Also, there will be no dependants' allowance for people under 60 without children. All that means cuts in payments for disabled people. For the no additional pension category, there will be cuts of £20 million in 1995-96 and £130 million in 1996-97, £5 million in respect of the no allowance for claimants between 45 and 55 in 1995-96, and £15 million in 1996-97. In the case of the dependants' allowance, that is a saving of £110 million in 1995-96 and £150 million in 1996-97.
That is the issue--cuts in basic rights to benefit and income for disabled people. That is why we oppose the Bill so strongly. We must also consider the way in which the new medical assessment will be undertaken. Several points must be reinforced. It surprised me greatly that, when we asked to be consulted on the new medical test, we were eventually told by written answer to my question that a group of 80 experts had been brought together to comment on the medical assessment. I asked the Minister exactly who were representing the interests of disabled people and making an assessment. In his first answer, he just gave me a list of the groups that would be represented, so I asked again, because I believed the Prime Minister's words and those of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and I thought that we had open government. When asked who the 80 experts were, the Minister said :
"We have asked that panel members respect confidentiality until the exercise is completed."
Opposition Members believe in open government. If Conservative Members want to list the 80 names, we shall be happy to publish them so that we know who is representing our interests in that medical test.
Our next major concern is that we will not know the details of the test before the Bill is considered in Committee--in fact, we will not know the details even after the Bill has been considered in Committee. I shall be surprised if we know the details of the medical test when we come to Third Reading or beyond.
Yet again, the Government are using regulations to prop up the Bill. Instead of having a proper consultation process, coming to decisions and bringing them to the Floor of the House at the appropriate time, the Government are hiding behind regulations and trying to slip the new test in through the back door. We will vigorously be opposing their method in Committee, and I can assure the House that there will be a full-blown debate when the regulations come back, to ensure that the interests of disabled people are properly represented.
We have heard much tonight about the medical test. Our greatest concern has also been stated by some Conservative Members--I welcome their comments as well as those of my hon. Friends--in relation to the difficulty in setting up an objective test. A number of illnesses and disabilities have various elements that cannot be assessed by one snapshot. The Secretary of State said that he was not looking for a snapshot, and that there would be scope for variation. What is not clear, and why it is so difficult to debate the measures, is how much discretion will be brought into the system.
Clearly, the way in which the document has been drawn up means that there will be a storing of points which will come to a threshold. On one side of that threshold, the person concerned is okay--on the other side, he is not. We
Column 112have heard many cases of disabled people who would score heavily on the criteria as they are laid down who are holding down competent jobs. On those criteria, they would be eligible for incapacity benefit. Equally, people who would not score--
Mr. Bradley : That is not the point that we are making. We are asking how there can be an objective, one-off test where people on either side of the divide may score totally differently in different situations.
We have had many representations from disabled groups throughout the country. The Secretary of State mentioned merely one organisation, but we have heard from the Disability Alliance, the Disablement Income Group, citizens advice bureaux, the Spastics Society, the National Association for Mental Health, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Arthritis Care, and other organisations up and down the country. All of them say that they do not accept the criteria which have been laid down.
The problem with the Secretary of State saying that the criteria will be stretched to include moving targets is that those organisations have been asked to consult on the details. They have not had an opportunity--and, from what I understand, although I hope to be corrected, they will not have a new opportunity--to be re-consulted once the 80 experts have come up with a new assessment for medical conditions. There are conditions, such as arthritis and MS, which change over time and from day to day. Pain be managed on one day and people may be able to undertake tasks, but the mere fact that they have undertaken those tasks disables them again in the future.
For example, the MS Society has said that disability in general, and MS in particular, takes many different forms and levels of severity. Therefore, the society feels that it is impossible to set a cut-off point or a threshold between capacity and incapacity. That is supported by the fact that many people with relatively minor disabilities are unable to work, and yet some people can work even though they have a severe disability.
That sort of assessment and wide-ranging discretion are crucial when determining people's incapacity. They are also crucial in determining not only a person's incapacity for their occupation--we will return to that point on Committee--but a definition of all work. We have heard tonight that many people may be able to undertake work from their previous occupation, but certainly will not be able to take on any occupation that the Employment Service throws at them. Those jobs could include manual or clerical work, and administrative and technical tasks. That wide range of considerations, as well as the current economic and unemployment situation, must be taken into account when there is a proper assessment about people's incapacity. The Government's sole motive is to save money. We have seen from the research, and the Government have said, that there are thousands of people on invalidity benefit now who should not be. Opposition Members do not defend people who illegitimately receive invalidity benefit. However, all the research that has been done, including research commissioned by the Department of Social Security such as "Why are there so many long-term sick in Britain?" by Disney and Webb's research in 1991
Column 113and "An analysis of the growth in invalidity benefit claims" by Holmos, Lynch and Molho in 1991 show that the cause of the extra claims is not limited to people who, in the Government's terms, are simply swinging the lead. There is a range of complicated factors which must be taken into consideration before draconian measures such as the Bill are introduced.
As we have heard, even the permanent secretary to the Department of Social Security, Sir Michael Partridge, said in evidence to the Public Accounts Committee :
"the theory of increased numbers due to fraud is not borne out by research."
He said that the principal reasons were prolonged unemployment and the move to community care. That was the reason that the Department's own permanent secretary gave for the increase in invalidity benefit. The reason is not the other factors that Conservative Members have used so dubiously without attaching figures to their arguments. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said that a survey of GPs had come up with a reason for opposing invalidity benefit. However, he could not tell us how many GPs were surveyed in that report. Would he like to give us that figure now? He cannot. We know that only 40 GPs were surveyed. They were probably all fundholding GPs too busy drawing up contracts to sign sickness certificates. We are short of time and we must bring the debate to a conclusion. I assure the Secretary of State that, whatever he believes, the Labour party will oppose the Bill line by line vigorously in Parliament and throughout the country. We have the support of the people of Britain. They know that economic mismanagement has brought the measure before the House. They know and disability groups throughout the country know. The press knows. Today, we saw in The Times the headlines "Back-door benefit cuts for severely disabled" and "Benefits curb may create more jobless". We have heard tonight that that is the fact. There will be 200,000 extra people on the unemployment register as a result of the Bill alone.
I warn the Minister that an article in The Times today said that the measure was more controversial than the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill or the Finance Bill. We shall ensure that that controversy goes from the House back into the country. We will oppose the Bill vigorously every step of the way.
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : In concluding the debate, I shall endeavour to deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley). I am sure that we shall have a few weeks of energetic activity in which we shall go into all the points in greater detail. I look forward with relish to that time.
I begin by reiterating the fundamental aims of the Bill. There has been a great deal of distortion and misrepresentation during our debate today. The Bill aims to ensure, and I believe that it will do so, that those who are not able to work through sickness or disability receive appropriate help through an affordable system, that those who are able to work are helped so to do and that resources are not squandered on those who are able to work but do not seek to work. I should have thought that few would challenge those principles. I am grateful to several of my hon. Friends who have expressed their strong support for those principles during the debate.
Column 114I dispute the assertion of the hon. Member for Withington that those principles do not have support in the country. As I have gone round the country discussing the Bill, I have found that few have challenged them. In essence, the Bill seeks to return the benefit presently called invalidity benefit, to be called incapacity benefit under the new system, to its original purpose.
It will ensure that those who are genuinely incapable of work due to long- term sickness or disability will be helped. Those who are unemployed or who are not working for other reasons will be able to turn to other benefits for support.
Given that the Government had witnessed the growth in the take-up of invalidity benefit over a number of years, it was right for us to consider the reasons behind that and to decide on the priorities that we should set for the future. I totally dispute the point made by the hon. Member for Withington about a gap between the approach of my right hon. Friend, myself and the permanent secretary to the Department of Social Security. The evidence that he gave before the Public Accounts Committee was exactly in accordance with the arguments that my right hon. Friend and I have put forward in support of the Bill.
The original purpose of the benefit has been altered, sometimes gradually and sometimes dramatically, by alterations over years in case law. Its purpose has been changed not by legislation passed by the House but by judgments in case law and commissioners' decisions. Those decisions have altered the background against which the benefit has existed and the way in which it has been administered.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : It is a question not of changing over the years, but of changing over the weeks. A new trend and fashion of "back to basics" has meant back to basics for the most vulnerable in our society. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks are a gloss on a crude and unacceptable philosophy.
Mr. Scott : I suppose that there is safety in numbers for the members of the Opposition Front Bench if they can intervene, seriatim, on such matters. I do not accept for a single moment what the hon. Gentleman said. Any responsible Government, having seen the growth in take-up of invalidity benefit, would want to look back to the origins of the legislation and ensure that it was still doing the job for which it was designed. That benefit is the second largest and fastest growing benefit in the social security system. It is absolutely right that we should take a fresh look at it.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is something strange about an Opposition who one day say that the taxation is too high and then the next day say that public expenditure is too low?
A number of points were raised in the debate about the structure and shape of the benefit and whether the way in which it is targeted--or focused, as I would prefer to call it--is being properly undertaken.
The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) said that any change in the benefit should be subject to further debate. We have had such a debate today and I am certain that we will have further debates in Committee. The Labour party has been very active in
Column 115criticising the existing social security system, but it is silent about any alternative that it is prepared to put forward. If we were to take every item of the Opposition's criticism and imagined that they would translate that into legislative action once they got back into office, the shadow Chancellor might be in need of receipt of the benefit himself.
Mr. Wigley : The right hon. Gentleman referred to people being fit for work. Can he confirm that the Government or the Benefits Agency sent out guidelines during 1993 to local officers defining the sort of work that might be appropriate for people currently receiving invalidity benefit, including categories such as artist's model? Was that the Government's intention? Will they now withdraw those guidelines if they issued them?