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3.46 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): In this House, we have to decide whether the legislation that we propose and consider is serious, or whether it has become a series of gestures. Having listened to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I fear that his Bill falls into the latter category.

The hon. Gentleman seems to think that stringing together enough buzz words will achieve the desired result. Even in the short passage that appears on the Order Paper, he has managed to squeeze in words such as "comprehensive", "participatory", "strategy" and "co-ordinated action" in quick succession, presumably in the hope that that will go some way towards producing the desired result.

I hope that the House will not be fooled by that. The simple repetition of words that sound positive and encouraging is not necessarily the way to achieve what is wanted. That is a real problem, but there is also a methodological problem with the proposals.

More often than not, the concept of poverty is defined in relative rather than absolute terms. It is often claimed that a quarter or a third of the population is in poverty, which is defined by reference to averages, overall incomes, medians or some other measure. The conclusion is that a person in the bottom third of a range of incomes is in poverty.

However, using that definition means that, although the lot of those defined as being in poverty can be improved, poverty itself can never be eliminated. The elimination of poverty might be possible if one were to use an absolute definition, but I do not think most people--and certainly not most Labour Members--define poverty in that way. If they did, we might be able to make some progress.

Then we come to our new friend, social exclusion. That is another term that has appeared in the language and which is supposed to have positive and warm connotations--at least for those who want to eliminate it. However, the hon. Member for Stroud admitted that the Government have already set up a social exclusion unit. Moreover, the Labour rhetoric claims that the problem of social exclusion, so recently identified, is now being tackled thoroughly and comprehensively by the Government.

I do not know whom to believe. Should I believe the Ministers who say that the problem is being dealt with and that the institutional mechanisms are in place? Or should I believe the hon. Member for Stroud, who thinks that an additional Bill--with additional buzz words attached--is needed, the better to deal with the problem of social exclusion? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have a word with Ministers in a quiet corner somewhere to work out whether anything is really being done about the problem and whether the Bill is necessary.

Then we come to the word "participatory". I suppose that some people might think that the more syllables a word has, the more effective it will be, but that depends on their view of English. However, the hon. Member for Stroud tells us that better and more effective policy will be produced if all those with something to contribute are allowed to take part in the process. I wonder. How on earth would the people who have something to contribute be chosen, so that they might be allowed to make their contribution? That is a real problem: if many people have the direct experience that the hon. Member for Stroud

10 Feb 1999 : Column 328

described, there must be some way to choose from their number--unless the hon. Gentleman thinks that all of them should be gathered together, according to some ancient Greek method. He would be faced, as we all would, with the problem of selecting who, of all those with a contribution to make, is best able to contribute in order better to promote policy. What he said was not very convincing in that regard.

The hon. Member for Stroud mentioned measurable targets, which may or may not be a good thing. He was honest enough to say that, if set too low, they can be too easily achieved, and if set too high, they might disappoint. Supposing, however, that we set meaningful targets, but they are not met. What would happen if all other mechanisms in the Bill, such as the new comprehensive strategy, co-ordinated action and social exclusion activity, were working splendidly as the hon. Gentleman intended, but the targets were still not met? What would be different, in trying to achieve his purposes, from what happens anyway?

I would certainly not in any way question the motives of the hon. Member for Stroud, which I am sure are the highest, but the House must learn to resist the temptation to give such measures a smile and a nod, to say that it sounds good and that it is the kind of thing that we all feel better at the end of the day's business for having agreed, because we have moved forward by a small step and the world is bound to be a better place. We must take ourselves more seriously. In order to do so, I cannot accept this measure, however well intentioned it is. It demeans the processes of the House and the meaning of legislation.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):--

The House divided: Ayes 228, Noes 16.

Division No. 62
[3.51 pm


AYES


Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Ashton, Joe
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Jackie
Barnes, Harry
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Best, Harold
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brake, Tom
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Butler, Mrs Christine
Cable, Dr Vincent
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Canavan, Dennis
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clwyd, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corston, Ms Jean
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dafis, Cynog
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Donohoe, Brian H
Drew, David
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Forsythe, Clifford
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Goggins, Paul
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr Evan
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Heppell, John
Hinchliffe, David
Hope, Phil
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Keetch, Paul
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Llwyd, Elfyn
Love, Andrew
McAllion, John
McCabe, Steve
McDonnell, John
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Mullin, Chris
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prosser, Gwyn
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Rendel, David
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salmond, Alex
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Todd, Mark
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Touhig, Don
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tyler, Paul
Vis, Dr Rudi
Wallace, James
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Willis, Phil
Winnick, David
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:


Judy Mallaber and
Mr. Ivan Henderson.


NOES


Beggs, Roy
Fallon, Michael
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Malins, Humfrey
Pickles, Eric
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Thompson, William
Townend, John
Viggers, Peter
Wilkinson, John
Wilshire, David

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Desmond Swayne and
Mr. John Bercow.

Question accordingly agreed to.

10 Feb 1999 : Column 330

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Drew, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Ms Julia Drown, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. John McAllion, Mr. Chris Pond, Mr. Stephen Pound, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. Andrew Rowe, Ms Dari Taylor, Mr. Steve Webb and Mr. Andrew Welsh.


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