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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker, arising out of Question Time. You will have heard that on question 12, in accordance with your strictures, I asked one simple question concerning the justification for the expenditure of more than £1 million on the refurbishment of four houses for four members of the top brass of the armed forces at a time when there were infantry cutbacks. The response that I received from the Minister was, "I refuse to answer," in spite of the fact that his own officials are already answering questions on the same subject from Sunday newspapers, including The Mail on Sunday . Is it in order for Ministers to refuse to answer limited and legitimate questions which do not affect national security while their own officials are doing so ?

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The hon. Gentleman did not ask one specific question ; he asked two specific questions. I answered the first half. He did not give me notice that he was going to ask the second half, and it was not relevant to the first. May I say, Madam Speaker-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mr. Hanley : There has been some very unfair press speculation, but the matter is being considered by legal experts and no doubt we will report to the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Madam Speaker : We will leave the matter there.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is the first time that I have raised a point of order in a career of 20 years in the House because

Madam Speaker : I have never raised one in 21 years.

Mr. Garrett : --because I regard most of them as spurious, but I think that for the one that I am about to raise you, Madam Speaker, are the only possible point of reference.

This morning, in a hearing of the Treasury Select Committee, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster refused to allow the Treasury Select Committee to undertake a direct survey of civil servants. He quoted in evidence, as his authority, a civil service management code which has no force of law, which has never been approved by the House and which was simply written by his civil servants. I think that that is an affront to the House, and that the distinguished Treasury Select Committee should be allowed to inquire into the opinion and attitudes of civil servants. I think that you, Madam Speaker, should rule against that abuse of power by the Chancellor of the Duchy.

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Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman may not know, but it is in fact an internal matter for the Committee, and it is for that Committee, if it wishes to do so, to make a report to the House. The Chair does not intervene in Committee proceedings. It is for the Committee, if it is not satisfied with those proceedings, to report the matter to the House and we then take it from there. Those are the procedures.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is not the first point of order that I have ever raised, but it is important.

It may not be immediately apparent to you, Madam Speaker, that on a regular basis throughout Prime Minister's Question Time, to your right and behind you, alongside the civil servants' Box, a number of people, usually Government Whips, are stationed standing and operating as professional hecklers. I do not complain about hecklers in the House as it raises the atmosphere, but, apart from the rudeness of blocking the civil servants' view, is it not totally out of order to heckle from a standing position ? Is it not time that the Government got a grip on their Whips ?

Madam Speaker : There are occasions on which I do have eyes in the back of my head. I am perfectly aware of what is happening behind me. Professional people may be standing there, but you also have a professional Speaker in the Chair. I have dealt with them from time to time and I shall continue to do so whenever necessary.

Dr. Reid : Further to my earlier point of order, Madam Speaker. In the light of what the Minister said-- [Interruption.] It is a genuine point of order. The first answer which the Minister gave was a blocking order, which means that, when we attempt to table questions at the Table Office, they will not be accepted because the Minister had told the House that he would not answer questions. He said, "I have nothing to add. I will not answer that." However, he has subsequently come to the Dispatch Box and given an explanation in exchanges on a point of order.

Will you, Madam Speaker, rule on whether questions on the expenditure of £1 million to refurbish four houses, legitimately placed at the Table Office, will be blocked or unblocked in the light of what the Minister has said ?

Mr. Hanley : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I remind you, with great respect, that the main question was, "What is the current average emergency tour plot interval for an infantry battalion ?"

The hon. Gentleman abused our procedures by referring to RAF accommodation, and it was on those grounds that I refused to answer.

Madam Speaker : Order. We must end the matter there. All those matters are and will be taken into account by the Table Office when questions are tabled. I cannot allow an extension of Question Time at this stage.

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Energy Conservation (Lighting)

3.36 pm

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to promote more efficient lighting and the consequent beneficial effects on the environment. Over the past six years, concern for the environment has resulted in many different measures being taken by the Government and others to encourage a more responsible attitude by both business and individuals towards the damage which their actions may cause the natural world. Over the same period, I have introduced four Bills that have concentrated on the environment, particularly on how individuals can contribute towards better environmental practices. The Bill follows on from those earlier Bills. It is simply designed to encourage people to use less energy when they light their homes. After heating, lighting is the main consumer of electricity in Britain. If we could use a more energy-efficient means of lighting our homes, we would considerably reduce our emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That would make it much easier for this country to meet its international targets for emissions, particularly those associated with carbon dioxide, which will be particularly hard to meet in present circumstances.

Energy-efficient lighting has been with us for some time in many public buildings. Only in the past few years, however, has it been available in any variety to the domestic market. The Bill is designed to encourage its further use in the following ways : first, building regulations administered by local authorities would include a requirement for all new domestic buildings and extensions to existing ones to be fitted with energy -efficient lighting where practical ; secondly, it would allow local authorities to extend the use of the home energy efficiency scheme to include the purchase of such lighting ; thirdly, it would encourage loans from the social fund available to people on income support to be used for such lighting as well.

The positive effect on the environment if energy-efficient lighting is used in people's homes is dramatic. If one energy-efficient light were fitted per household in the United Kingdom, the total number of lights would be 22 million. We could save 1,320 MW of electricity, which is

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the equivalent of the output of one large coal-fired or oil-fired power station. If such a station were shut down, our CO emissions would be reduced by 1.3 million tonnes per year. There would also be substantial reductions in the emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide.

The effect on people's pockets of energy-efficient lighting being used in their homes is even more dramatic. While an energy-efficient light costs between £6 and £14, compared with 50p for an ordinary light, it lasts eight times longer than an ordinary bulb and is five times more efficient. That would mean a saving in running costs of more than £10 a year if a 100 watt light were replaced by its energy-efficient equivalent. Even taking into account the difference in cost of the two lights, there is still a saving of more than £4 per bulb in the first year. That means that, for an average single person's electricity bill of £200, the purchase of four energy-efficient lights more than offsets the extra cost of VAT on electricity and, over a period of five years, saves such a person £100.

The message behind the Bill is simple. I want the Government to recognise the advantages to their energy-efficiency programme and their wider environmental objectives of encouraging and promoting the increased use of energy-efficient lighting.

I also want individuals to recognise that, regardless of any persuading by the Government, it is in their own interests to use energy-efficient lighting. Indeed, rather than paying large sums up front to electricity companies to avoid paying VAT, people can pay less on energy-efficient lighting, pay the VAT and still show an appreciable saving in their energy costs. At the very least, when an ordinary light next fails in people's houses, they should seriously consider buying an energy-efficient one.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. Simon Burns, Mr. Anthony Coombs, Mr. Henry Bellingham, Mr. A.J. Beith, Mr. Roger Knapman, Mr. Peter Ainsworth, Mr. Roy Thomason, Mr. John Sykes, Mr. Michael Bates and Mr. Harold Elletson.

Energy Conservation (Lighting)

Mr. Keith Mans accordingly presented a Bill to promote more efficient lighting and the consequent beneficial effects on the environment : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 July, and to be printed. [Bill 69.]

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Orders of the Day

Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New clause 1 --

Power to provide for the transition to the new test of incapacity for work

.--(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as appears to him to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of, or in connection with, the transition to the test of incapacity for work provided for by sections 5 and 6 above. Nothing in the following provisions of this section shall be construed as restricting the generality of that power.

(2) In this section

"commencement" means the commencement of those sections ; and "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations under this section. (3) Regulations under this section may provide

(a) that days of incapacity for work before commencement, and such other days as may be prescribed, shall be taken into account for the purposes of section 171B(3) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (period after which the all work test applies) ; (b) that a person's continued enjoyment after commencement of any allowance or other advantage under any provision for the purposes of which Part XIIA of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 applies shall, except as may be prescribed, be subject to satisfying the test of incapacity for work under that Part ; and (c) for the determination in accordance with that Part of the question whether the person is incapable of work.

(4) Section 175(2) to (4) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (general provisions as to regulations and orders) apply in relation to the power conferred by subsection (1) above as they apply in relation to a power conferred by that Act to make regulations.

(5) For the period of three years from Royal Assent a statutory instrument which contains (whether alone or with other provisions) any regulations under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.

(6) A statutory instrument

(a) which contains (whether alone or with other provisions) any regulations made under this section, and

(b) which is not subject to any requirement that a draft of the instrument be laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament,

shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.-- [Mr. Burt.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Burt) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 15 and 16.

Mr. Burt : This afternoon and this evening we should complete the Commons stage of the Bill, which has been considered in Committee. I think that all parties accepted that it was a good Committee, which was speedily completed. We had good debates, and we have a range of issues to discuss today. In Committee there was a certain amount of give and take on both sides, which I am sure will be reflected in our discussions today.

The new clause and the two amendments grouped with

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it relate to the regulation-making powers for transitional arrangements. There are a number of complex sectors in the Bill that we propose to deal with in regulations, including the new test of incapacity and the transitional arrangements. As a result of new clause 1, there are now three clauses covering the transitional arrangements arising from the Bill. It may be helpful if I explain why.

Essentially, clause 4 continues to make provision for the main body of regulations concerning the transition from existing sickness and invalidity benefit to the new incapacity benefit. The following provisions introduce the new benefit.

As currently drafted, clause 11 provides general powers to deal with the preparation for or the coming into force of the Bill. The intention was that subsection (2) would deal with the introduction of the new medical test in areas of social security other than incapacity benefit.

However, new clause 1 will now deal with the transition from the existing test of incapacity to the new test of incapacity for all benefits other than incapacity benefit. It is intended that it will follow clauses 5 and 6, which introduce the new test of incapacity for work. Regulations under both clause 4 and the new clause will be affirmative resolutions procedure for three years after Royal Assent.

It is our intention that the powers in the new clause should be capable of being exercised long after the Bill comes into force. The wording in subsection (1) mirrors that of clause 4(1). While, of course, the Government aim to cover every aspect of the transfer to the new test in the first set of regulations, experience has shown that we do not always anticipate every eventuality. We therefore need a power that does not restrict its exercise to the coming into force of the Bill.

Clause 11, as amended by amendments 15 and 16, comes towards the end of the Bill and provides a general power to make transition regulations which will be negative procedure--for example, amending existing regulations on sickness benefit and invalidity benefit. In Committee, hon. Members expressed concern about the breadth of the powers in the Bill to make regulations. As I have already explained, the purpose of new clause 1 is to restrict the power to make regulations for the transition to the new test of incapacity for work in other benefits, separating this power from the general power to make regulations in clause 11.

Although clause 11 will still contain general powers, amendment 15 prevents its application where regulations should properly have been drafted under the specific powers contained in clause 4 and new clause 1.

New subsection (5) gives effect to the main difference between the powers set out in clause 11(2) and that in new clause 1 ; it sets out that the regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution for three years from the date of Royal Assent. That provision mirrors my commitment in Committee to the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) and brings the power into line with other regulation-making powers which are the subject of later Government amendments. Transitional arrangements are often complex. We need to ensure that powers are drawn widely enough so that the regulations deal adequately and fairly with the wide variety of individual circumstances. However, the Government recognise the legitimate concern of Parliament that powers should not be too broadly drawn. Therefore, the purpose of

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new clause 1 is to separate it from the general power in clause 11 and to make its exercise subject to affirmative resolution procedure.

Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington) : It is ironic that Government new clause 1 deals with yet more powers to bring in yet more regulations. We have complained bitterly throughout the progress of the Bill--from Second Reading, through Committee Stage and now on Report and Third Reading. It is about time that the Government introduced primary legislation properly amendable by the House, instead of sneaking in new legislation through the back door by regulation.

We are confronted again with the Government's failure properly to consider the matters before us. This afternoon, they are seeking extra powers to introduce regulations, which, it should be stressed, are unamendable.

Mr. Burt : You asked for them.

Mr. Bradley : No, we did not. We asked that the Government introduce the Bill by primary legislation, enabling to us amend it, and for proper and thorough-going debate and proper recognition by the House about its effects. Yet again, they have failed. I believe that the way they are introducing the legislation is an abuse of Parliament.

As I stressed, and as the Minister said, the new clause covers transitional arrangements. He has admitted that transitional arrangements between the current arrangements for invalidity benefit and the new incapacity benefit are particularly complicated. When we were debating transitional arrangements in Committee, we flagged up potential problems with the transitional arrangements. The Government agreed that they were complicated, but we expected them to give due consideration to the issues we would raise, and table proper amendments on Report so that the House could be clear on how the transitional arrangements would work in practise.

Instead, they are using the device of regulation, because they have not thoroughly thought through the implications, and they hope that, by the time they introduce the regulations, they will have sorted out the problems. But I warn the Minister that we have bitter experience of a recent piece of legislation--as does the Minister ; I hate to mention the Child Support Agency so soon--where ill thought out legislation means that the Government must table hurried amendments and changes to regulations. They still do not understand their full implications.

The Minister introduced changes in the arrangements for collection of maintenance by the CSA. It has now been realised that, because of those changes, many mothers will lose on their family credit, because family credit is not reassessed for six months. Under the current arrangements, there will be a delay before their family credit is reassessed. Many mothers could lose up to £50 a week because of the phasing in of the maintenance payments and the reassessment of family credit not flowing from that new arrangement.

The Government have not thought through the implication of the welcome change of phasing in of maintenance, and have not recognised the implications of that elsewhere in the system--for example, on family credit. I hope that the Minister will quickly introduce new

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changes to the proposals to ensure that family credit is reassessed immediately, so that mothers do not lose and are not further penalised by the phasing in of maintenance.

I see that the Secretary of State is in the Chamber, and I welcome that. I hope that he will carefully consider that point on the CSA. I do not wish to pursue it, because that is not the business before us : I merely use it as an example to show that, if one introduces regulations that are hurriedly conceived and ill thought out, one stores up future difficulties for the Government in the implementation of the legislation.

The new clause is welcome, because the Government have introduced the concession they promised in Committee--that the affirmative resolution will apply for these new regulations. That is clearly to be welcomed, but it seems to be one of the few concessions to have been introduced on Report.

I believe that the way in which the Bill has been handled, and the speed with which it has been brought out of Committee, has not allowed proper scrutiny of our deliberations in Committee or an opportunity for the Opposition fully to appreciate the implications of some of the concessions that were made. The Government's failure to table any amendments until late on Friday afternoon allows only limited time for the Opposition to consider our position and table our own amendments.

In Committee, the Government made a series of concessions, and we shall question the Government on them. There are difficulties because of the nature of the proposed legislation. There is little on the face of the Bill --for example, the medical test, the definition of incapacity, and the whole way in which the medical test in relationship to key groups of people will operate in practice are not there. There are difficulties anyway, but it is equally awkward when the Government are not prepared to table specific amendments to the proposed legislation to set out clearly the intentions in some of the concessions that have been made.

Let me ask the Government a specific question. I hope that they will not suggest the use of alternative regulations, but will consider the matter in the spirit of the regulatory nature of the legislation.

In Committee, when we discussed amendments Nos. 17 and 18 to clause 1, we had an interesting debate about the fast-tracking of people with terminal illnesses or prescribed conditions, and those in receipt of the higher rate of the care component of disability living allowance, to the higher rate of incapacity benefit--without their having to wait a whole year for full payment. In a sense, we are talking about transitional arrangements in those proposals and in the regulations.

On 8 February, in Committee, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People said :

"I will indicate the cost of the two amendments, although in this particular case I shall not argue that the costs are such that they should be a compelling factor in deciding the outcome of this debate . . . I shall certainly give careful consideration to the points that were made this morning".--[ Official Report , Standing Committee E , 8 February 1994 ; c. 71-3.]

Will the Minister give us some idea of how the terminally ill and those with prescribed conditions can be fast-tracked through to the higher rate of incapacity benefit ?

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. I am sure that all hon. Members have come across cases that should have been dealt with by that fast track system but have not, and which have not

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been resolved before the tragic deaths of the individuals concerned. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the Government have done enough research to be sure that they understand the problems ? Can we now be certain that those problems will not arise in future ?

Mr. Bradley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a key issue. He has raised it before, as have many more of my hon. Friends in regard to constituency cases : they have felt that the Government have not addressed the issue properly.

In Committee, we were encouraged by the fact that the Government clearly understood the issue. We were led to believe that they would present specific proposals on Report to deal with the problems, and we are disappointed that they have not. They may intend to include such arrangements in the regulations. As I keep saying, without having the regulations before us, we find it difficult to make a judgment about the extent of the Government's commitment. I hope that the Minister will give particular consideration to this issue, which is causing so much anxiety to my hon. Friends' constituents and others throughout the country. We are dealing with a specific group of people. The Minister was sympathetic in Committee ; I hope that, although the Government have failed to table an appropriate amendment at this stage, they will now give us some comfort by recognising the problem that has been raised. I hope that they will not renege on the concession they made in Committee, when we were told that that problem would be specifically addressed. I do not wish to delay the House. As the new clause and amendments give the Government yet more powers to introduce more amendments later by means of regulations, we shall have to wait for those regulations, and in the best way possible--by means of the parliamentary process--debate them at that stage. Let me stress again that we are greatly disappointed that the Government are to act in this way, and that the new clause and amendments do not contain the substance that we would expect at this stage of our deliberations. After the Bill completes its passage tonight, the other place may well take up the points that we have made, and may want to ask some serious questions about the way in which the Government choose to introduce measures through the back door by means of regulation rather than through primary legislation. Primary legislation is the traditional method ; it is much more sensible and satisfactory, and, I suggest, is of much more benefit to the public, because it allows a clear understanding of the Government's proposals.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : The Bill is important because it has no precedent--I challenge anyone to produce one. There is no precedent in the history of the British social security system for abolishing a long- term contributory benefit. Many benefits have been amended or changed, but this is the first time in the century-long history of the British social security system that a contributory benefit has been abolished.

4 pm

Let us consider the arrogant detail of the new clause that we are being asked to accept. It amounts to a dictator's charter. It states :

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"The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as appears to him to be necessary"

not as appears to Parliament or to the nation but as appears to him to be necessary--

"or expedient for the purposes of, or in connection with, the transition to the test of incapacity for work provided for by sections 5 and 6 above."

The new clause would give the Secretary of State and future Secretaries of State absolute powers. It continues :

"Nothing in the . . . provisions of this section shall be construed as restricting the generality of that power."

There can be few examples in legislation of a Government seeking total power in such a way.

The Government have presented the new clause as a concession. The fact that the affirmative resolution procedure is to be used is something of a concession, but we are greatly worried and, about a fortnight ago, I took up with the Leader of the House in an oral question the way in which an unelected state is developing. The Government are elected once every five years and this Government happened to persuade the majority of people in England--only in England--that they are popular on a specific day, but then things changed.

There was a test of public opinion in Wales at the weekend. The Conservative party is for a little while the second party in Wales while the Labour party has 60 per cent. of the support. That is an extraordinary position. The rest of the support is scattered among the other four main parties. A similar situation exists in Scotland where the Government are at their lowest ebb but still have the barefaced cheek to introduce legislation that damages all the people, including those in Scotland and Wales who have not elected them. Dyw hi ddim yn bosib i mi siarad fy iaith fy hun yn y senedd dyna un o'r problemau sydd gennyf yn y Tg

Madam Speaker : Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will enlighten me and let me know what that means.

Mr. Flynn : I was pointing out, Madam Speaker, that it is not possible for me to speak in both the languages of Wales in this House in spite of the fact that this is the only Parliament that Wales has at the moment. We have just celebrated St. David's day, but the debate on Welsh affairs was held on St. Winwaloe's day--we could not have even that small concession.

As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I can say that anger about the elective dictatorship that is running Wales is growing by the day. There was a magnificent rally at the weekend in which the people of Wales--people of many parties--spoke with one voice to demand our own Parliament. The reason why they did so is specifically Bills such as this. We have a Government we did not elect but who rule us by quango. We have a Secretary of State who is an alien in Welsh society.

The only justification for the clause and for the Bill that the Government have offered is that some people are receiving invalidity benefit although they are not genuinely incapable of work. We know the reasons for that belief and for the present situation. Just before the general election in 1987, all of us noticed that there was a sudden relaxation of the rules that are generally applied to the availability of invalidity benefit. It appeared that larger numbers of people were receiving it.

That was for reasons not unconnected with the general election, which was fast approaching. There was desperation among Conservatives that they would be rejected because of the enormous unemployment and it

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was far better for them to turn a blind eye to the growing numbers of people on invalidity benefit than have them classified as unemployed. The unemployment figures were already mushrooming out of control, so that there were 30 fiddles of the unemployment statistics and almost as many of the employment statistics.

One of the main industries in my constituency produces Government figures in the Central Statistical Office. The work of those people is important. Their only function in life is to produce statistics that are objective and are of value and they feel great resentment when they see the results of their professional work being prostituted by the Government and presented in a wholly dishonest way. The figures are presented in such a way that they are not meant to provide information on which the Government and others can make decisions but which can only serve the interests of the majority party.

Even with all the groups that are taken off the unemployment register to keep down those figures, we still have the nonsense of the employment figures. People are counted several times. If someone is working as a part- time cleaner in the House--the number is about to be reduced from 89 to 56- -has another job in the afternoon, such as the many who work at St. Thomas's, and has a job at the weekend, that person is counted three times. She is three people according to the employment figures. We know that 750,000 people are counted twice in the employment figures. The position is entirely misleading and wildly inaccurate.

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