Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): I shall not necessarily expect the Minister to answer in detail the points that I make now, because I suspect that what he has just said has gone over the heads of most Members in the Chamber. None the less, I want to declare an interest in supporting groups, including those known as Emmaus, that provide accommodation for people who are moving

13 May 1998 : Column 478

from being on income support to not being on income support but not being taxpayers either, and who find a community that answers three questions in one place--in effect, a secular monastery.

That is a place where people can find a roof, worthwhile activity and people who will accept them as they are. Not all succeed, but many will. I hope that in time--perhaps not by the millennium but shortly afterwards--there will be about 100 projects throughout the country assisting people who are not teenagers looking for work, whom the welfare-to-work programme may help, but who may have had difficulties such as psychiatric illness or alcoholism. Some may have been criminals; some may still be criminals.

Those are people on the margins of society who are looking for the opportunity to get their lives back together and a degree of confidence. The housing benefit system has properly been used to provide the kind of support that allows them to get out of the benefit trap and regain some degree of confidence; it may enable many of them to get back into the communities where they will be welcomed. I do not ask the Minister to reply tonight, but I hope that those who examine our comments will try to ensure that both the foyer and Emmaus-type projects will be given the allowances and the room that they need. We should not have to tell vulnerable people to go to one place for a day centre, another for a hostel and a third for the chance of finding worthwhile activity and a community that will accept them as they are. I am sure that that matter is related in some way to the Lords amendment, and I am pleased to commend it to the House.

Mr. Keith Bradley: The purpose of the amendment is to legitimise the previous payments that the divisional court ruling made illegal. We are also seeking future long-term funding and a robust arrangement for the type of support that the hon. Gentleman has identified. I assure him that we shall consider that position in the long-term review that is under way in order to ensure that there is stability in supported housing in this country.

Lords amendment agreed to [Special Entry].

Clause 70

Power to reduce child benefit for lone parents


Lords amendment: No. 77, in page 47, line 15, leave out from
("parent") to end of line 17

Mr. Keith Bradley: I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I inform the House that this amendment involves privilege.

Mr. Bradley: Amendment No. 77 will remove the Government's option of reducing the higher rate of child benefit for lone parents without abolishing it. The Government intend to use the power in clause 72 to remove the differential in child benefit rates for the first child of lone parents and couples from 6 July. Our intention is to align child benefit rates for all families, while protecting lone parents who are already receiving the higher rates.

13 May 1998 : Column 479

The drafting of the clause has been causing concern that it might allow the Government to reduce child benefit rates for lone parents to below the rate paid to two-parent families. We have always made it clear that, in our view, the provision does not allow us to do that, and I believe that this amendment will alleviate any lingering concerns once and for all. The amendment should remove any doubt; clause 72 will allow the Government to align only the rates for couples and lone parents. I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: I have a very different point that can be made in virtually one sentence. In supporting the Government's proposal, I commend to the Minister the idea of reviewing the name child benefit and replacing it with the expression "child cash allowance". The problem with the term child benefit is that it suggests that it is an income support measure for those on the lowest incomes when, in practice, that group cannot receive it--neither one nor two-parent families. I believe that a change in the name would be a great advantage in discussions in the House and between the Chief Secretary and Departments.

Lords amendment agreed to [Special Entry].

Clause 72

Restrictions on backdating of benefit


Lords amendment: No. 78, to leave out clause 72

Mr. Keith Bradley: I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I inform the House that this amendment involves privilege.

Mr. Bradley: Amendment No. 78 removes from the Bill clause 72, which was to align at one month the time limits for backdating claims for benefits. One of the key priorities set out in the welfare reform Green Paper, which was presented by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Welfare Reform--whom I am pleased to see on the Front Bench tonight--is to ensure that the delivery of social security is flexible, efficient and easy to use. We were not satisfied either that people who are entitled to benefits are given sufficient advice and encouragement to claim them, or that people who should not receive benefits are prevented from doing so. Therefore, as a responsible Government, we decided that, until further progress has been made on issues relating to the claiming of benefit, it would not be sensible to implement the original proposal, and that we would continue our work on the claiming process.

In Committee, I gave a number of examples of benefit claims that could be more successfully worked together, including the registration of birth and child benefit claims, and the registration of death and death benefit claims. We shall continue to work on that, taking account, for example, of the pilot projects that I announced today in a written answer, and examining why some of the poorest pensioners do not always claim the income support to which they are entitled. If necessary, we shall return to the issue. I commend the amendment to the House.

13 May 1998 : Column 480

10.30 pm

Mr. Burns: I do not understand how the Minister kept a straight face while delivering that speech. The Lords amendment gives me the greatest pleasure. The House always likes a sinner who repents, and I am delighted that the Minister has repented.

The Minister for Welfare Reform (Mr. Frank Field): Where is the repentance?

Mr. Burns: The right hon. Gentleman asks where the repentance is; he will now find out.

Until the changes were made in the House of Lords, as a result of the Budget, this Bill, which we have been considering over the past few months, could have been known as the Peter Lilley memorial Bill--with the exception of one clause, it was more or less a leftover from the Conservative Government. The one clause that the Labour Government inserted was a draconian measure to reduce the amount of time in which individuals could backdate benefit claims.

We discussed the clause at great length in Committee, where the Minister, with an equally straight face, defended to the hilt the Government's proposals to make it more difficult for people to backdate their benefit claims. The period was to be reduced from three months to one month--in the case of housing and council tax benefits, the period was to be reduced from 12 months. When the Minister got into difficulties, he came out with a string of exceptions, to which we listened with great interest. He was emphatic that the Government would pursue their course and impose the draconian measure.

Conservative Members objected to the proposal and fought it tooth and nail, but the Government would not listen. Tonight, the Minister has climbed down and accepted the Opposition's arguments. The £58 million that the Treasury would have saved--£42 million of which would be saved from the budget on pensioners, the disabled, the long-term sick and the most vulnerable in society--has been abandoned.

Mr. Field: Do the Conservatives support the amendment?

Mr. Burns: The right hon. Gentleman asks whether we support the amendment. Of course we support it--a blind man could see that we do.

In the spirit of generosity, I thank the Minister for having the courage not to be too proud, but to accept that the Government's proposals were wrong and that we were right.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I welcome the amendment.

Mr. Burns: The hon. Gentleman did not welcome it in Committee.

Mr. Dismore: I raised the issue in Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I also raised it on Report in the context of the industrial injuries scheme, with particular reference to industrial disablement benefit. I should tell Conservative Members that, on Report, my hon. Friend the Minister said that he was sympathetic to what I was

13 May 1998 : Column 481

saying and that he would consider imaginatively the points that I raised. I am pleased that we are now taking time to reconsider those issues.


Next Section

IndexHome Page