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Clause 57

Incapacity benefit: restriction to recent contributors

Lords amendment in lieu of Government amendment No. 42A: No. 42D, in page 66, line 4, leave out ("two") and insert ("seven")

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Alistair Darling): I beg to move, That this House insists on its amendment No. 42A to the words restored to the Bill and disagrees with the Lords in their amendment No. 42D in lieu.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 43E and motion to disagree, and 43F and motion to disagree.

Mr. Darling: There are two issues before us tonight in what will be, of necessity, a fairly short debate. The first is the Lords amendments on incapacity benefit, and the second is the issue of the whole Bill.

First, in relation to incapacity benefit amendments passed by the Lords, we discussed almost the same amendments at great length last week--after a lengthy debate previously, both in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House.

I said at the end of Commons Report last May that I would listen to detailed amendments. I did do so, and last week, in response to what had been said in the Lords, I made two substantial changes to the original proposals on the pension threshold and the contribution conditions, which were accepted by the House. I made it clear then, I made it clear outside the House at the weekend and I make it clear tonight that the Government do not propose any more changes; there are no more changes to come.

The House of Lords has a clear duty to revise legislation proposed by the Government and passed by this House, but the time has come for the Lords to accept that the will of the elected Chamber must take precedence.

I accept that, both in the other place and in this place, there are many hon. Members who are entitled to put a counter-view--to advance their arguments--and they have done so with vigour. However, the time does come when the House needs to take a considered view on the whole Bill, because that is what we are now talking about, and I hope that it will now do so.

I notice that in the other place Government support was up, and many people who previously could not support the Government felt able to do so. I hope that hon. Members will take account of that and can now support the Government.

The Lords amendments would have a significant financial effect. That means that there is an issue of privilege. There is a convention that the role of the Lords

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in financial matters is to agree, not initiate or amend. I trust that the House will note that.

The Bill will help millions of people who will be denied help unless it passes into law. I take this opportunity to set out clearly what we are doing for disabled people because it bears repetition. We are investing more in helping disabled children by increasing benefits. There will be an extra £37 a week for severely disabled three and four-year-olds, and there will be up to £26 more for people disabled at birth or from an early age. Both those measures are in the Bill, and neither would be here but for this Government.

There is a new disability income guarantee--up to £5 more a week for single disabled people and £8 for couples. There will be £140 million to help carers with desperately needed respite care. In addition, £195 million will be invested in the new deal for disabled people. The disabled person's tax credit will be worth at least £155 a week for a single person. We are spending more to extend the linking rules, for people on incapacity benefit, from eight weeks to a year so that they can try out work without losing benefit entitlement.

In the longer term, we are spending £7 billion more to give new pension rights to carers and disabled people with broken work records--help that was never ever there in the past and would never ever be there under a Tory Government. My hon. Friends must remember that when they consider who wants to try to support some of them tonight.

We have driven forward the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and we have established the Disability Rights Commission--something that the Tories blocked when they were in government.

All those measures are a mark of a Government committed to fairness and opportunity for disabled people. As I said last week, in the two short years that we have been in government we have done more to help disabled people than the Conservatives did in 18 years, and people need to remember that when they vote against us tonight. We have more to do, but we have made a start.

I am also told--we got a flavour of this earlier from the Conservatives--that it will not matter if the Bill falls and they get their way. This Bill will benefit millionsof people. It increases opportunity: it provides the opportunity of stakeholder pensions for 5 million people who, at the moment, are denied the opportunity to save for their retirement; it sets up the new ONE service, bringing together the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency--something that is long overdue--giving every claimant the opportunity to make the most of their potential with the help of a personal adviser; and it replaces the all-work test with a personal capability assessment, which focuses on what a person can do, not only on what he cannot.

The Bill promotes fairness. For the first time, it extends bereavement allowances to fathers who lose their wife and are left to bring up children on their own--something that the Conservative party never did anything about. It doubles the lump sum--up to £2,000--received by people who lose their husband or wife. It enables pension sharing

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on divorce, helping about 50,000 people, mostly women, every year--something that the Conservative party never did.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Will the Secretary of State now address the amendment and the arguments advanced in the other place?

Mr. Darling: I am addressing the amendment, as well as viewing the Bill as a whole. I am making it particularly clear to the House that what is at stake is significant extra help for disabled people--significant extra help for millions of people, which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues blocked for year after year after year.

We have a record to be proud of, not only in the help that we are giving disabled people but in the help that we are giving on pensions, the extra bereavement help, and pension sharing on divorce--all essential welfare reform, which people have wanted for years. The Bill delivers it. I make that point because a colleague of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) talked glibly about it being all right if the Bill was lost, saying that it would not really matter. Millions of people stand to gain from the Bill, including those in the greatest need.

I repeat, because the point bears repetition, that we are giving £26 a week more to people who at the moment get so little that they are on income support for the rest of their life--something that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and his colleagues did nothing about in the 18 years in which they had the opportunity to do so.

The Bill also gives more money to expectant mothers who until now have been denied maternity benefits. The Conservative view may be that that does not matter, but it matters to the 14,000 people who will benefit. All those measures will fall by the wayside if the Bill is delayed or blocked.

I always expected Tory opposition to these measures. The Tories are settling well into opposition--they are clearly preparing for years of it. Their opportunism sometimes beggars belief. I find it difficult to take seriously a party that claims to be concerned about disabled people's rights when it blocked the disability rights Bills in the previous Parliament. The Conservative party is committed to ending the new deal for disabled people; it is committed to ending the working families tax credit, which will mean an effective tax rise of £24 a week for some of the poorest people; and it is opposed to all the increased spending on those who need it.

Conservative Members oppose our pension reform because they want to privatise the lot. The party is determined, as we heard again this afternoon, to slash social security spending, yet at the same time it backed amendments in another place that would cost £4 billion.

The Tory Opposition are opportunist; they are opposing the Bill not because they are concerned about disabled people, but because they see a chance of opposition for its own sake.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): Would the right hon. Gentleman say that Baroness Kennedy was an opportunist Conservative? After all, she said:

Mr. Darling: No, but I note that Baroness Kennedy abstained after having said that. I accept, as I said earlier,

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that some of my colleagues have expressed reservations, as they are entitled to do. I have said before, and I say again--we have listened and we have moved. I believe that these reforms are fully justified: they do far more to help the severely disabled than has been done in the past, they bring the benefit system up to date and they take account of the fact that things have moved on in the past 50 years.

The Bill provides extra help for pensions, and pension sharing on divorce and bereavement benefits; it provides more help for people to get into work and more help for the severely disabled. The Bill needs to be supported. The improvements that we are making to the benefits system will help those who need it most. We want to help disabled people and to end child poverty in a generation. We want to improve conditions for disabled children facing poverty, to get their parents into work and to give everybody a real chance to get on.

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