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Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In support of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), I should like to say that this is not the first time that that roof leak has taken place. It has taken place at least once, if not twice before. The authorities of the House should put the matter right. It is intolerable that we should be subjected to this experience.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Last night's incident involving a small flood above the ceiling of the Aye Lobby has been reported to me. I understand that, although water entered the electric light fitting, causing some smoke, fumes and shorting, there was no risk to hon. Members during the Division. The fitting was isolated and has now been repaired.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside): On a separate point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On a day on which it has been made clear that the Opposition will support the Government on child benefit for lone parents, would it be

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appropriate for Madam Speaker and yourself to consider allocating the role of official Opposition to another party that is prepared truly to oppose the Government?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is entirely at the Chair's discretion who is called to speak and in what order.

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the assurance that you gave the House in response to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), but are you aware--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already dealt with that point of order.

Mr. Austin: It is a separate matter. You said that the situation was safe, but were you aware that the London fire brigade was denied access to the Lobby after it had been summoned?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not aware of that detail. If that is the case, I am sure that the matter will be noted.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Further to the point of order raised by the Liberal Democrat Member, Mr. Deputy Speaker--[Laughter.] He is a Scottish Nationalist, I am sorry.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have dealt with that point of order, and there is no need to return to it.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us who are rather keen on International Development questions were disturbed today that there was so much noise in the last 10 minutes coming from hon. Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches. They seemed to think that they were at a Liberal Democrat tea or coffee morning. It was impossible to hear Ministers' answers or supplementary questions for 10 minutes before Prime Minister's questions. Could some attention be paid by the Chair to keeping Liberal Democrat Members quiet and sending them to their coffee mornings, if that is where they prefer to be?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I understand that Madam Speaker made some remarks about the amount of noise in the Chamber today. I hope very much that hon. Members will heed those remarks.

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Orders of the Day

Social Security Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.


4.48 pm

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 1, in clause 70, page 46, line 35, leave out from beginning to end of line 1 on page 47.

Mr. Webb: The new clause has been tabled in my name and that of some of my hon. Friends and also in the name of Labour Members and nationalist Members, whose support we welcome. With it, we shall discuss amendment No. 1, which is also supported across the House.

I should like to take the House back to October 1992. This morning I read through a transcript of the Conservative party conference--something I often do--and I came across a speech by the former Secretary of State for Social Security, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). It is a rather famous speech. Shortly after referring to "new age travellers" and to being "sickened" by the sight of "spongers descending like locusts", the right hon. Gentleman said:

Today, in clause 70 of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman's wishes are fulfilled.

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I looked at clause 70 and asked myself what possible justification there could be for cutting benefits for working lone parents. It is important that we get our terminology right at the start of the debate: all lone parents are working lone parents, but only some of them get paid for it. This is a cut from waged lone parents--lone parents on income support do not benefit from lone-parent benefit and they often do not claim it--so clause 70 cuts benefit from working lone parents. What possible justification could there be for doing that?

We heard one justification from the Prime Minister this afternoon: "We needed the cash. The Government were committed to spending plans, so we had to abolish the benefit." Does that claim stand up to scrutiny? Clause 70 will raise £5 million for the Government next year, but I calculated this morning that the Department of Social Security can spend £5 million in 25 minutes. That is the magnitude of the cut--it is a drop in the ocean to the Department of Social Security. Ministers cannot be talking about the Department needing £5 million when it has a budget of £100,000 million, so what are they talking about?

Perhaps Ministers they are talking about the sister measure as well, which cuts benefit for lone parents who are at home bringing up their children. If so, and together with the savings derived through clause 70, the saving next year would be £60 million, a worthwhile sum. However, let us consider where else that money might come from. When the Bill was published in July, there was no mention of what was to become in Committee new clause 2--a clause that closed a national insurance loophole. When I asked the Minister in Committee how much that would raise, the answer was "£60 million." The Bill as published in July and the explanatory and financial memorandum contained no mention of that measure. Since July, the Government have found £60 million by closing a loophole, which is the same sum as they will save next year through the benefit cuts. In other words, the Government do not need the money next year, because they have already found it.

What about the year after, when the Government will be taking £140 million from some of the poorest families in the land? Perhaps they need £140 million--but hang on a minute: last week's benefit uprating statement contained a small clause which, although cunningly concealed, was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) and which froze employer national insurance thresholds. I tabled a question asking what that would raise and the answer was £125 million every year. Add that to the £60 million I have just mentioned and the Government do not need to make the benefit cut in year two or year three. In other words, it is clear that, when the Government want to find money, there is money to be found.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The hon. Gentleman may have heard of the resignation this afternoon of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Chisholm), over this issue. Does he share my suspicion that there are many others in the ministerial team who share the views of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith, but who have not yet found the courage to speak out?

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