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Mr. Bradley : I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friends for the constructive way in which they have dealt with the Bill and advanced their views in Committee. Clearly, we have been disappointed throughout the various stages that the Government chose not to allow that constructive debate through their own Back Benchers in Committee--although, as always, the Minister of State and Under-Secretary of State treated constructively the issues that the Opposition raised in Committee.

It is important to note that, in Committee, the Minister and his Front- Bench colleagues gave assurances that they would introduce by way of regulations some of the key issues, only some of which we have had the opportunity to debate this evening. I flag issues such as fast-tracking on to long-term benefit, the linking rules and, crucially, training.

We have not had an opportunity to debate training, and the way in which that will impinge on people's benefits. Again, the Minister gave assurances at earlier stages of the Bill that he would carefully consider that, as well as the definitions of "own occupation", all-work tests, "therapeutic earnings" and the other issues that we have managed to raise. It is important that we make it absolutely clear that we will be pursuing those matters carefully when the regulations are made on those points. We shall not forget the concessions that the Government made in Committee, and we shall ensure that they are brought forward.

As the Bill leaves the House, I am absolutely certain that a vigorous and detailed examination of it will occur in another place. I look forward to dealing with a considerable number of amendments that may be tabled to reinforce our opposition to the Bill. I warn the Government that our opposition to the Bill does not end this evening. As we have highlighted, it will be a boomerang, like the Child Support Agency, which will come back to thwack the Minister on the head in about 12 months' time, when the real implications of the legislation are seen by the public.

I am sure that the Minister will support the sentiment that, as consideration comes to an end, it is important to pay tribute, as we did in Committee, to the voluntary organisations which represent disabled people in the

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country. On a day-to-day basis, they represent the interests of disabled people so thoroughly and effectively, and when a major piece of legislation such as this comes before Parliament, it is apparent how effective and important they are in providing all hon. Members with detailed information so that we may effectively debate crucial parts of that Bill.

I pay tribute to organisations such as the Disability Alliance, the Disablement Income Group, the Spastics Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Arthritis Care, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, the all-party alliance, the all- party disabled group and many others too numerous to mention. They have worked extremely hard on our behalf over the past few months to ensure that Parliament has been able to debate the measure as effectively as possible.

The quality of the debate has been down to them, and we should put our tribute on record. I know that hon. Members have received invaluable information from voluntary groups which represent disabled people in their constituencies, which have been able to pinpoint how it will affect constituents specifically. That case work will come back to haunt the Government when the Bill becomes law in April 1995.

What is absolutely clear, and what has formed the backcloth to the deliberations, is that the Bill has been introduced not because the Government believe that they have to consider carefully and to rationalise benefit to disabled people, but because they have been told clearly and brutally by the Treasury that they have to make cuts in their departmental budget, and they have seen disabled people as a soft target.

They have used the invalidity benefit scheme without proper analysis or proper understanding of the needs of disabled people who are currently in receipt of invalidity benefit. They did not have a complete understanding of the nature of someone going on to invalidity benefit, or of the disjointed nature of those people's opportunities to return to the employment market.

There has been no recognition by the Government that, in the current climate of 3 million to 4 million unemployed people, having a medical test which enables a functional assessment of whether people can cope, not only with their current career, but with a sudden exposure to the all-work test, will mean that any job which may become available--I stress may--will, somehow, become available. In reality, with mass unemployment, that hope will not come to fruition for disabled people.

People will be denied incapacity benefit ; and not only will they have to go on to the unemployment register but, as analysis of the legislation over the coming years will show, it is most likely that they will become the long-term unemployed of the future. There will not be opportunities for them in the employment market, despite any attempts that the Government may make on access schemes for returning to work.

When employers are looking for flexibility, and want to drive down wages because of the additional costs and burdens arising from the shift of sick pay on to their budgets, they will not want to employ people with disabilities.

Mr. Wicks : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would take a comprehensive Government programme across

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Departments to ensure that people with disabilities, many of whom will fail the new medical test, receive training for work in the current difficult economic circumstances? Does he further agree that there has been no sign whatever of the Government's taking a comprehensive approach to that important problem?

Mr. Bradley : I fully support what my hon. Friend says. The Government ask the Opposition what we would do. We are conducting a review within a comprehensive framework. One cannot consider benefits in isolation : one must consider training and employment as a whole, and the economy in general. That is what the Labour party is undertaking, and we shall make our proposals for the benefits system, including benefits for disabled people, in due course when the overall review is completed.

Our purpose now is to oppose what the Government are introducing--to oppose not only the medical tests, which are nonsense in the context of the real world of employment, but the cuts in benefits. We have emphasised, and the Minister has honestly admitted, that the Bill is about more than ensuring that the new incapacity benefit goes only to people who pass the medical test. As the Minister has readily confessed, it is also about reducing the amount of money available for people on the new benefit.

Conservative Members must be absolutely clear what they will be voting for. They will be voting to introduce a new benefit for people with disabilities that will be paid at a lower rate than that received by people currently in receipt, and genuinely in need, of invalidity benefit.

When their constituents ask them why they are receiving less money than someone else who has genuinely been assessed as entitled to the previous invalidity benefit, Conservative Members must not say that they did not know that that would happen. It has been made perfectly clear that, having got through the hoop of the medical test, people will still receive the new incapacity benefit at a lower rate, and there will be other significant changes.

We have touched on the subject of additional pensions. We can argue about their role within the overall contributory benefits system, but we must stress that the new benefit will include no age allowance for women claimants between 45 and 55--or up to 60 for men. There will also be a lower level of benefit between the 28th and the 52nd week of the claim, and there will be no dependant's allowance for people under 60 without children.

It must be clear to Conservative Members that they are voting for that cut in benefits. They must also be clear that they are voting for medical tests that neither hon. Members nor you, Madam Speaker, have yet had the opportunity to see. We do not know how the medical tests will work in practice. When he opened the debate, the Minister said that it was unfortunate that we were having to debate the legislation before the consultation on the medical tests had been completed.

It was in the Government's hands how they timetabled the legislation. Surely it would have been more sensible to complete the consultation on the medical test, and allow all hon. Members to review it and give their views in the normal way. The Government could then have brought forward the final decisions on the medical test, so that the test could have been debated in the light of the other changes that they wish to make on incapacity benefit. It was in the Government's hands to bring forward the medical test in that manner, rather than steamroller the Bill

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through in unseemly haste, without any real understanding of its implications, and having to rely on regulation after regulation being tabled in the coming months and years to ensure that in some way they can skew the new benefit to meet their financial targets. That will be the purpose of the medical test.

The Government claim to have a proud record on increases in the money available for disabled people. That may have been true at one time, but the sorry story is that, over the past few months, the Government have set about dismantling the support for disabled people and the benefits generally available through the welfare state. Mr. Scott indicated dissent.

Mr. Bradley : The Minister shakes his head. He proudly introduced-- we supported him on this--the independent living fund. Because of the financial success of the fund, because of the number of claimants who are benefiting from it, and because of the number of people who are able to live more independently in their own homes as a result of a cash contribution from the fund, what did the Government do? The Treasury said that the fund was successful, but it was costing money, so the Government would have to cut it. That was the first stage in the process of dismantling benefits for disabled people. This Bill is the next stage.

I know that the Minister sits there with a heavy hear having to listen to this debate. I believe that he would have liked to fight the Treasury, but he was overruled because of the Government's economic incompetence and the promises they made at the last general election--they believed that they would be able to fool the electorate into believing this--that the economy was sound and public finances were sound.

We knew that that was not the case, and now we must suffer the consequences of their decisions. But we are not the ones who will suffer--the people with disabilities will suffer. The most vulnerable people in our society will suffer from the Government's incompetence.

It must be clear to all hon. Members that, when they vote to implement the legislation, they are voting to cut the amount of money that will be available for disabled people in their constituencies. Hon. Members should not believe that work will be found for disabled people. They know from the cases they deal with, and from the high levels of unemployment throughout the country, that job opportunities for people with disabilities are at the very least tenuous. Throughout the proceedings on this Bill, we continued vigorously to oppose what the Government are doing. We were determined to tell the British people that the defence of benefits, the defence of the needs of the most vulnerable and the defence of disability benefits is in the hands of the Labour party.

People cannot trust the Government. The dismantling of disability benefit will continue. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary will be the first to start screaming when his constituents in Bury, North come to him about this matter. He will be the one on local television and in the local media saying, "It wasn't me. I didn't know what I was doing. I apologise to my constituents." However, they know who the guilty people are. We will continue to oppose the Bill, root and branch, and ensure that the defence of disabled people remains in the safe hands of the Labour party.

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Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 302, Noes 276.

Division No. 156] [10 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Aitken, Jonathan

Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Amess, David

Ancram, Michael

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)

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

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia

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

Butcher, John

Butler, Peter

Carlisle, John (Luton North)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

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

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

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

Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)

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

Hendry, Charles

Hicks, Robert

Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.

Hill, James (Southampton Test)

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)

Hunter, Andrew

Jackson, Robert (Wantage)

Jenkin, Bernard

Jessel, Toby

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey

Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)

Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)

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