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Mrs. Taylor: I am sure that my hon. Friend will be more than delighted with the announcement and the security of jobs in his area. It is a good news story, but, as I have said to other colleagues on other occasions, it is not always possible to find time even to debate good news.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the right hon. Lady ensure--even given her often expressed views on the difficulty of finding time for a further foreign affairs debate, which I perfectly understand--that the Foreign Secretary has an opportunity to make a statement on how he had to cope with the shockingly petulant and bad-mannered reaction of the Israeli Government to his visit to Israel? Does she agree that the middle east peace process, and the role of Europe and the United Kingdom in it, is of substantial importance to this country's interests and that, at the very least, the Foreign Secretary should have the opportunity of making a statement to the House?

Mrs. Taylor: I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-term interest in this matter. Indeed, he was one of those who were very keen to ensure that the Foreign Secretary was active in this regard. The Foreign Secretary makes statements to the House whenever there is anything specific to report. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is important for this country that progress should be made in the middle east peace process. I hope that, during the summer, we will find time for a full debate on foreign affairs. When there is anything specific that is important enough to warrant a statement on the Floor of the House, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will keep the House informed of it.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Did I hear the right hon. Lady correctly when she said that the Deputy Prime Minister would make a statement tomorrow on London matters? If that is so, will she use her offices to ensure that all London Members are told about it, because many may not have been present to hear what she said?

Madam Speaker: That is their problem.

Mr. Garnier: It may well be their problem, but if the Leader of the House could assist them, I am sure that they would be most grateful. I always like to be as helpful to the Labour party as possible.

When will the Human Rights Bill be in Committee on the Floor of the House?

Mrs. Taylor: On the first point, I can confirm that I said that there would be a statement tomorrow. The official Opposition and minority parties have been informed of that, and I shall leave it to them to inform their own London Members.

Madam Speaker: Hear, hear.

Mrs. Taylor: On the second point, I have announced business up to the week before the Easter recess. I do not anticipate the Human Rights Bill coming back to the House this side of Easter.

19 Mar 1998 : Column 1430

Orders of the Day


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [17 March].


Motion made, and Question proposed,

(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for varying any rate at which that tax is at any time chargeable; or
(d) for any relief, other than a relief which--
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.--[Mr. Gordon Brown.]

Question again proposed.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

[Relevant documents: The Third Report of Session 1997-98 from the Social Security Committee, on Tax and Benefits: Pre-Budget Report (HC 423), and the First Report of Session 1997-98 from the Environmental Audit Committee, on the Pre-Budget Report (HC 547).]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women, I must announce Madam Speaker's decision that the 10-minutes rule will apply to Back-Bench speeches throughout the debate.

4.37 pm

The Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women (Ms Harriet Harman): Welfare reform is at the heart of the Budget that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor unveiled to the House on Tuesday. Welfare reform is central to building a better and more successful Britain.

Under the previous Government, the welfare state was allowed to fall into disrepair, so that it acted as a brake on economic success and a lever for widening social division. The system prevented people from getting into work--writing off millions of people who wanted to work to a dead-end life of poverty and dependence on benefits. It discouraged people who were in work from getting on in their work, by imposing effective tax rates of 80 per cent. or more on people with low incomes who were trying to increase their earnings. The system imposed a cap on their aspirations. Everyone was left to foot the spiralling social security bill, which grew by £45 billion in real terms over 18 years, until it cost more than health and education put together.

19 Mar 1998 : Column 1431

None of us can ignore the results of that failure when one in five working-age households has no one in work and nearly 4 million children are being brought up in poverty. Faced with that legacy, it is our duty to reform the welfare state. We are determined to make welfare work for Britain, to create a modern welfare state to help rebuild a cohesive society and a strong economy.

The Budget, delivered after just 10 months in government, is an important step along that road. It marks an entirely new relationship between tax and benefits, and between the Treasury and the Department of Social Security.

Options for streamlining the tax and benefits systems have been explored by every Government in the past 30 years, but all previous attempts have failed. This Budget marks a turning point, because we are a modern Government determined to break down barriers between Departments, and not to let turf wars get in the way of achieving our objectives.

We have a clear and modern view of how to reform welfare and tackle poverty. Next week's Green Paper on welfare reform, from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Welfare Reform, will set that out in more detail.

Welfare reform is a long-term business. It has to deliver a system that is fit for the 21st century, and will last. Although the principles from which we start are 50 years old, they are just as relevant today as they were when Beveridge first set them down: society has a responsibility to help people in genuine need who are unable to look after themselves; individuals have a responsibility to help provide for themselves when they can do so; and work is the best route out of poverty for those who can help themselves.

The principles remain the same, but the social and economic context has been transformed. The nature of work has changed, with a shift away from full-time manual work towards part-time service sector employment, and a widening pay gap between those at the top and those at the bottom.

The distribution of work has changed. Despite the fact that the proportion of people in work has remained broadly the same, there has been a growing divide between work-rich and work-poor households. The structure of families has changed. One in three marriages end in divorce, and women's lives have changed dramatically.

Fifty years ago, when William Beveridge set out his principles for the welfare state, he was applying them to a world in which most women gave up "gainful occupation" when they got married and undertook instead to perform "vital unpaid service".

he said,

    "housewives and mothers have vital work to do in ensuring the adequate continuance of the British race."

That is not so in the 1990s. Women today are more likely to be mothers and workers than mothers and housewives.

Nowadays, two thirds of all married mothers go out to work, and whether they work full time or part time, their work is vital to the family income. The days are gone when women were as rare a sight in the workplace as men often are in the kitchen. Britain now depends on women's work as well as men's.

19 Mar 1998 : Column 1432

The welfare system failed to adapt to those changes, and so has become increasingly outdated. The previous Government's critical mistake--one that the Opposition are no doubt still making to this day--was to fail to recognise that the world had changed and women were changing their lives. Women do not want the Government to tell them not to; they want the Government to back them in the choices that they are making--and that is what we are doing.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): I congratulate my right hon. Friend--[Hon. Members: "Give her a job."] That seems to surprise the Opposition. My right hon. Friend has often been a lone voice in the House in her support for child care strategies. Is it not a good thing that at last we have a comprehensive child care strategy that will enable women who want to work to do so?

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