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Mr. Scott : The guidance was given to local officers about the administration of the benefit. It has been suggested that individuals were advised to try for particular jobs. If someone is found fit for work, he is given a list of jobs that he might consider. No one tells him to take a specific job.

The agency is doing its best, rightly, I believe, to give guidance to individuals who are found fit for work about the sort of employment that they might seek. I believe that that guidance is absolutely right and in accordance with the agency's commitment to help those who come to it for help.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) spoke of a loss of benefit. Many people listening to our debate or reading about it in the newspapers may fear that current claimants will have their benefits undermined or altered. It is worth reiterating, therefore, that all existing invalidity benefit claimants will get the rate of pay that they are receiving at the time of the change.

The hon. Member for Worthington also referred to the additional pension. I have not identified the quotation that he read out, but since then I have made it explicitly clear that existing claimants would have their benefits uprated, except for the additional pension, which would be frozen at the rate applying when the change came. We estimate that about 70 per cent. of claimants at the time of the changeover will not qualify in future for help from income support because they have other resources and help to which they will be able to turn.

Mr. McMaster : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Scott : No. I was given only 20 minutes to wind up--or rather less than that--and I have already given way twice. It is only fair that I should be allowed to press on.

The hon. Member for Garscadden also mentioned the taxation of incapacity benefit. It is common knowledge in this House that the Government's policy for a number of years has been that invalidity benefit should be brought into tax. The principle is simple ; it was the practice that frustrated the Government's intention. A benefit paid as a replacement for earnings, as invalidity benefit manifestly is, should be subject to tax in the same way as earned income. This will bring the tax treatment of the new benefit into line with retirement pensions and unemployment benefit--the two other main contributory benefits.

As I have already said, existing invalidity benefit will not be taxed. The few beneficiaries who pay tax at the

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moment will do so only because they have other taxable income, such as an occupational pension or permanent health insurance.

Mr. Alan Howarth rose--

Mr. Scott : My hon. Friend made a long speech.

Mr. Howarth : I am therefore extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. Although the principle of taxing invalidity benefit is likely to be right--after all, it replaces earnings--does my right hon. Friend accept that it is also worth considering that the vast majority of the recipients of incapacity benefits will be people on relatively low incomes who face additional costs because of their incapacity? Will he therefore be willing to argue the case for a disability tax allowance analogous to the elderly person's tax allowance or the blind person's tax allowance--and I welcome the fact that the Government have increased the latter? Such an allowance would provide an acceptable basis for the introduction of taxation of the benefit.

Mr. Scott : My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that matters of taxation are for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor--so are allowances. It will be perfectly possible to ensure that tax of the new benefit is properly collected.

The hon. Member for Garscadden said that it was inequitable that a tax should apply only to the new benefit, not to current benefits. Ever since I became a Minister in the Department it has been a principle that people receiving a benefit should not in general have their expectations changed when new arrangements are introduced. That is to say that people receiving invalidity benefit have adjusted to that income, and I do not believe that it would be right to change that by making them pay tax. Of course, over the years an increasing percentage of those who are on the new benefit will come within the tax system.

With his usual commitment and interest in this matter, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) asked whether a claimant's general practitioner is the best placed person to decide whether a claimant is medically incapable of work. That issue was raised by other hon. Members, some of whom held the opposite view. It has been impressed on me that GPs have expressed increasing reluctance to act as gatekeepers for this benefit. They perceive it as inimical to the patient-doctor relationship. Expecting GPs to certify patients as sick, let alone to apply complex social security rules, has been a considerable and, many GPs believe, an unreasonable burden upon them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) said that some general practitioners might be the better people to make these decisions, but there is a danger that GPs, who develop a close relationship with many of their patients, could be under pressures quite distinct from the independence of judgment that is required to decide whether somebody is entitled to the benefit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) asked whether the test had enough personalised input from the GP who knows the patient. The GP will still be asked to provide the claimant's diagnosis and principal disabling conditions. In some cases, the GP may be asked to supply further information or an opinion, but he will not be asked for an opinion on the capacity for work. That relieves GPs from their gatekeeper role, and they greatly welcome that change.

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I shall now deal with the medical test. I sometimes despair of Opposition arguments. If the Government had blithely presented a fixed medical test without any consultation or the involvement of outsiders or professionals, there would have been an outcry from the Opposition that we were not listening. Some 4,000 copies of the document have been circulated to organisations of and for disabled people, to experts of one sort or another and others who are properly interested in the matter. The Government should be given credit for that and not criticised.

The 80 experts on the committee were recruited not to sign up to the details of the test, but to give their expert opinion of the way in which the Government were tackling this matter.

Mr. Foulkes : Will the Minister give way?

Hon. Members : Give way.

Madam Speaker : Order. Is the Minister giving way?

Mr. Scott : No, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Right. Hon. Members should sit down.

Mr. Scott : Already it has been possible to react to a number of suggestions by the experts and we shall seriously consider any further suggestions.

Some Opposition Members have derided the Bill as a narrow, cost-cutting exercise. I utterly refute that charge. As a Social Security Minister since 1987, I recognise a widespread acceptance by all Governments in the developed world that, if expenditure on social protection programmes is not controlled, we shall end up like the last Labour Government, unable to pay even a Christmas bonus or to uprate benefits as they promised. We have no intention of going down that road.

We must recognise the imperative of ensuring that our system focuses help on those who really need it, thus ensuring that social security costs are sustainable for future generations. We must plan for a modern, realistic system that is attuned to the concept of a society that cares for those who need help and can provide it in an affordable way. Such an approach needs nerve, vision and courage--qualities notably lacking on the Opposition Benches. But we are determined to carry this work forward. The Bill is an earnest of our intent to do just that. I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Secondtime :-- The House divided : Ayes, 313, Noes 272.

Division No. 87] [9.59 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Aitken, Jonathan

Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Allason, Rupert (Torbay)

Amess, David

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)

Baldry, Tony

Banks, Matthew (Southport)

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Bates, Michael

Batiste, Spencer

Bellingham, Henry

Bendall, Vivian

Beresford, Sir Paul

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Body, Sir Richard

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia

Column 118

Bowden, Andrew

Bowis, John

Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)

Budgen, Nicholas

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butler, Peter

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, John (Luton North)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Channon, Rt Hon Paul

Churchill, Mr

Clappison, James

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coe, Sebastian

Colvin, Michael

Congdon, David

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon Sir John

Cormack, Patrick

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)

Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)

Davies, Quentin (Stamford)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Devlin, Tim

Dickens, Geoffrey

Dicks, Terry

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Duncan, Alan

Duncan-Smith, Iain

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Sir Anthony

Dykes, Hugh

Eggar, Tim

Elletson, Harold

Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Evans, Roger (Monmouth)

Evennett, David

Faber, David

Fabricant, Michael

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Fishburn, Dudley

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)

Freeman, Rt Hon Roger

French, Douglas

Fry, Sir Peter

Gale, Roger

Gallie, Phil

Gardiner, Sir George

Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan

Garnier, Edward

Gill, Christopher

Gillan, Cheryl

Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair

Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Gorst, John

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)

Grylls, Sir Michael

Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn

Hague, William

Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie

Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)

Hampson, Dr Keith

Hanley, Jeremy

Hannam, Sir John

Hargreaves, Andrew

Harris, David

Haselhurst, Alan

Hawkins, Nick

Hawksley, Warren

Hayes, Jerry

Heald, Oliver

Heathcoat-Amory, David

Hendry, Charles

Hicks, Robert

Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.

Hill, James (Southampton Test)

Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)

Horam, John

Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Howard, Rt Hon Michael

Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)

Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)

Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)

Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)

Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)

Hunter, Andrew

Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas

Jack, Michael

Jackson, Robert (Wantage)

Jenkin, Bernard

Jessel, Toby

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey

Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)

Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)

Jopling, Rt Hon Michael

Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine

Key, Robert

Kilfedder, Sir James

King, Rt Hon Tom

Kirkhope, Timothy

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)

Knight, Greg (Derby N)

Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)

Knox, Sir David

Kynoch, George (Kincardine)

Lait, Mrs Jacqui

Lamont, Rt Hon Norman

Lang, Rt Hon Ian

Lawrence, Sir Ivan

Legg, Barry

Leigh, Edward

Lennox-Boyd, Mark

Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)

Lidington, David

Lilley, Rt Hon Peter

Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)

Luff, Peter

Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

MacGregor, Rt Hon John

MacKay, Andrew

Maclean, David

McLoughlin, Patrick

McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick

Madel, Sir David

Maitland, Lady Olga

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