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Mr. Frank Cook rose--

Hon. Members: Give way.

Mr. Burns: I shall give way out of a spirit of generosity.

Mr. Cook: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene briefly. I would not question the hon. Gentleman's sincerity in the Chamber, but if he truly despises these measures, as he has said, why does he intend to vote for them?

Mr. Burns: I am awfully sorry, but the hon. Gentleman seems to be under a misunderstanding. I shall explain towards the end of my speech why he has misunderstood. [Interruption.] I have almost come to the end of my speech, and I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question then.

5.45 pm

Ironically, the Government's proposal will provide a major disincentive. In recent weeks, we have seen exposed in the raw the sheer hypocrisy of a Government who were prepared, during the six months leading up to the general election, to go round the country briefing journalists that the previous Government's proposal was totally wrong and that they would not implement it. Once elected, the very same people, including the right hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, abandoned their promises, broke their faith with the people to whom they had made those promises, and in a matter of weeks reintroduced the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden.

In answer to the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), we have remained consistent, which is why we shall vote against the new clause. Like those of his hon. Friends who will also not support the Government, we are being consistent. In fairness to the Liberal Democrats, they, too, in their own way, have remained consistent, because they have always opposed the policy. Some of the Secretary of State's hon. Friends have remained true to their principles and beliefs, and are not prepared, despite the arm twisting, to compromise their consciences.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns: No, because I am about to conclude my remarks.

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I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) listening to the debate. I gather that he is an expert on this subject, and that his views and comments are widely respected in the Chamber and in his party.

Long after this debate, when the arguing and the soundbites are over, unlike the Government, those hon. Members who have been consistent and remained true to their beliefs will be able to say that they at least have kept the faith.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): I listened with some interest to the comments of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). It takes much more than one speech in opposition to make up for Conservative policies during 18 years in government. All we have heard from the Opposition thus far are hollow words and empty rhetoric. That should come as no surprise. However, I shall also refer in some detail to comments made by Labour Members.

I wonder whether Conservative Members will intervene during my speech or at any time during the debate to refer to their current or previous record on the issue of lone parents. Like many hon. Members, I carried out research before the debate. I had not previously read the Conservative manifestos of 1987 and 1992, or the 1997 manifesto entitled, "You can only be sure with the Conservatives". As far as I could ascertain, those documents did not refer to "lone parents" or "work" in the same sentence or in the same section. Conservative Members may be able to refer to a relevant occasion during the previous three or four general election campaigns when they identified a plan to improve the welfare and opportunities of lone parents, but the issue was not mentioned once in their manifestos.

The 1997 manifesto was entitled, "You can only be sure with the Conservatives". Lone parents have been sure for many years that with the Conservatives opportunities will be lost and futures will be frustrated. The electorate took the opportunity to remove the Conservatives from office, denying them the opportunity--which they would have taken with some enjoyment--to reduce benefit levels for lone parents.

The new Labour Government inherited the previous Administration's spending plans--which may not make all Labour Members happy--but we have absolutely disowned their strategy, moving towards job and child care opportunities.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside): The hon. Gentleman said that the Government have inherited the previous Administration's spending targets; we have heard that often enough. Why is it that the Secretary of State for Scotland, at a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee that the hon. Gentleman and I attended last week, boasted of having greater expenditure to hand--the Chancellor has done the same--whereas the Secretary of State for Social Security is not prepared to move on her proposals? Why does she hold that position when more money is available?

Mr. Murphy: It would be better to ask my ministerial colleagues directly. As the hon. Gentleman said, we both attended that Scottish Grand Committee meeting, at which it was pointed out that there is a new opportunity, and that the Government are trying to redress the previous imbalance. As I said, although we have inherited the spending limits, we have disowned the strategy.

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The hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Scottish National party, sits on the same Benches as the Liberal Democrats, which brings me to the speech of the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb). It was a very thought-provoking speech, and I am sure that my ministerial colleagues and other hon. Members will have listened carefully to some of the points that he raised. Nevertheless, on the issues of opportunity and equality, it is uncomfortable for me to be lectured, patronised and condescended to by Liberal Democrats. They voted against the windfall levy, and, rather than provide financial opportunities for young and long-term unemployed people, they wanted to protect the profits of the privatised utilities. That was an absolute shame.

Other hon. Members have spoken of their own experiences, and I will attempt to do the same. Before being elected to the House, for more than two years, I was on benefit. Those two years were among the most depressing in my life. I was not seeking a benefit increase; I needed a job. Fortunately, I got that job opportunity. I went on to further education college and university, and then to beat the Conservative candidate in what had formerly been the safest Tory seat in Scotland. Is that not a great example of welfare into work as practised in Scotland?

In supporting the Government's strategy, I want to speak not only about the benefits reductions but about the overall package. We have inherited the previous Government's spending limits, but we have moved on and created a package that is based on job opportunities and child care support. The new deal on job opportunities is based on skills and motivation.

Motivation, however, is a matter not merely of the stick or of the carrot but of the work ethic--which must be imbued not only into those who are unemployed, as I was, but into the Government. The Government must hold a work ethic that entails creating job opportunities and programmes to enhance work and enrich the individual. The work ethic will be supported by opportunities for child care and the kids club network. In Scotland alone, £28 million will be spent on those opportunities.

I say again that we inherited the previous Government's spending plans. I do not take joy in voting for an income reduction for future lone parents.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East): Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Murphy: I shall not give way, because I am just concluding my speech. I am on my last sentence. I have also read what you think, and, in recent weeks, I have watched you on television. Therefore, I am well aware of your comments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat when I am on my feet. I wish to correct him by reminding him that he is addressing the Chair, even in a heated debate.

Mr. Murphy: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Livingstone: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Mr. Murphy: I have already said no. I am sure that you will have an opportunity to participate in the debate.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): No, he will not.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend says, "No, he will not", but my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has been participating in it for some weeks.

I support the Government's policy, but, unfortunately, because of our inheritance from the previous Government, there will be an income reduction for some future single parents. However, I support the overall package, which provides opportunities that, some years ago, many of my peers in my further education college and university would have welcomed.

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