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Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) rose--

Mr. Mackinlay: I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but I remind him of the time limit.

Mr. Cunningham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, and I shall be as quick as I can. Does he remember that originally, in 1991, the then Government, who are now the Opposition, sold the idea of the CSA on the basis that they would pursue absent fathers, and set a target of £2 billion that they would save as a result?

Mr. Mackinlay: One of the principal elements of the legislation was revenue collection by the Government, rather than the social consequences of improving the quality of life and the resources available to families and children. We must recognise that it was a bad piece of legislation.

I listened open-mindedly to the remarks of the Liberal spokesperson, the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), which had some merit. However, we are not starting from scratch. We must deal with the system that we inherited.

The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), is not in his place, which I regret. Indeed, I regret that several Secretaries of State and principal spokespersons are not present. The shadow Secretary of State leaned on the Dispatch Box and asked how we would cope in the interim period, during the changeover, as though the situation were a cock-up created by the Labour Government.

No one suggests that the interregnum--the changeover--will be easy, but we shall have to cope. It is not ideal and there will be hiccups. The people to blame--the architects of the ill-conceived legislation--are not on the Government side of the House, but on the Opposition side. A period of silence by the shadow Secretary of State would have been appropriate.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay: No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman will have had four or five bites of the cherry. Sit down.

I stated in a letter to Madam Speaker that I wished to speak on a particular matter, which has not been mentioned this evening--the part of the Bill that amends the law relating to war pensions. We should not lose sight of that, despite the tendency to group three or four Bills together in one Bill, which is wrong.

I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before Christmas, reminding him of the fact that I had a ten-minute Bill supported by hon. Members from right across the political spectrum. It mirrored a Bill that had been passed by the House of Lords, with the Government spokesperson there saying that the Government were not opposed to the measure. It was introduced in the other place by Alf Morris. It is a simple measure that could be incorporated in this Bill in Committee.

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Under the measure, the Secretary of State would be obliged to make a report to Parliament every year, after consultation with all interested parties, particularly the ex-service organisations, about the expenditure in the previous financial year on service pensions, war pensions and war widows' pensions. The measure is obviously sought by the Royal British Legion, the Officers Pension Society, the Royal Naval Association, the Royal Air Forces Association and the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association. It would be immensely appreciated if Parliament took the opportunity to put that on the statute book.

If the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) has been briefed by her civil servants that I intended to raise the matter, she might remind me that there is already a statutory report on war pensions, which comes to Parliament. However, it is not subject to statutory consultation in advance, it is not required to reflect whether sufficient resources are available to meet the new needs created by the inevitable advance of age among war veterans, and it does not incorporate service pensions or war widows' pensions.

It is time that Parliament revisited the matter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say, in the spirit in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with other parts of the Bill, that the Government are open to suggestions and are prepared to accept amendments in Committee.

I do not want to labour the point tonight, but I hope that the issue might be an example of the popular desire for Parliament to recognise the need to tackle, through an annual report to Parliament, the interests of ex-service men and women, people who receive war pensions, war widows and their dependants. It is important to do that because, unlike other Parliaments around the world, we do not have a dedicated veterans Minister or an annual debate on veterans' issues. I regret that. The last debate on that matter was on 1 July 1996. I was fortunate enough to win the ballot for one of the last private Member's motions on a Friday and we held a well attended, full day's debate on the subject. Tony Newton, the Minister who replied, was sympathetic to the proposal of holding an annual debate. There are annual debates on other issues, and I hope that the current Minister will take up the suggestion.

We all have a view about our obligations to people who have made sacrifices on behalf of the United Kingdom in the various conflicts of the century that has just passed. I hope that my proposal for an annual report will be incorporated in the Bill in Committee or on Report, and that it will go some way towards not only tackling Parliament's deficiency in considering veterans' issues, but prompting the annual debate to which I referred. I hope that the Government will reflect on that, and that my colleagues who are fortunate enough to serve on the Committee will adopt the proposal and push it through.

6.52 pm

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). I contested that constituency--alas, unsuccessfully--in 1979. I hope that hon. Members who serve on the Standing Committee will endorse his last suggestion, which is perfectly proportionate and sensible.

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The Government took office claiming that they intended to reform the welfare system. The measure is their set-piece Bill for their first--and hopefully their last for some time--Parliament in government. Yet what will be the headlines in tomorrow's national newspapers? I suspect that they will simply be about taking away driving licences from those who do not pay their contributions.

We live in a society that is generally becoming wealthier. Newspaper reports this week suggest that more and more people own their homes, the value of housing is rising and an increasing number of people have savings and shares. Most people can therefore make adequate pension provision for themselves. The test for the Government, especially a Labour Government, is what the provisions achieve for the less well-off and the poorer members of our community. I have heard little that is coherent about that. Indeed, the cut-off of £9,000 and the various other provisions will make it more difficult for those who are less well-off.

Just before Christmas, the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) crossed the Floor. The day before he did that, there was a by-election in my constituency, which is next door to his. It took place in the sort of ward that, I suspect, exists in all constituencies. It comprises a solid housing estate, including a few houses that have been bought under the right-to-buy provisions, and is the sort of ward that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) mentioned: it consists of many decent people but its unemployment rates are above average. The by-election took place in a ward that the Labour party had held for the past 27 years. On the day, 5,000 people had an opportunity of casting their votes. The Conservative party won, despite the excellent Labour candidate, who was leader of the Labour group on the district council. He has been mayor of Banbury and his wife has also been mayor. He has devoted his life to public service in the town and lives in the ward. He lost because many Labour voters no longer see a reason to vote Labour.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): What was the turnout?

Mr. Baldry: The hon. Gentleman asks for the turnout figures, but after two and a half years of a Labour Government, the people in that ward, which has been Labour for almost a generation, had no incentive to turn out and vote Labour. If one visits hospitals nowadays, one finds that nurses feel no incentive to support the Labour party.

The Bill should tackle the needs of the many poorer members of our community. If they hear about the measure, they will feel that it does little for them. I emphasise to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that the Bill gives us an opportunity. I hope that the Opposition will make it clear--as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), the shadow Secretary of State, did in his opening remarks--that the measure does nothing for the worse off in our society.

The place for those who believe in one nation, and in helping those who are less well off, is the Opposition Benches, not the Government Benches. The Labour party has become so keen to appeal to the meritocracy that it has forgotten those who live in wards such as Ruscote in my constituency or many of the wards in Thurrock, where I pounded the streets in 1979.

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If one knocks on doors during the local government election campaigns in the spring, and asks pensioners and the less well-off whether the Bill does anything to make them or future generations better off, very few will say that the measure is worth while. While many hon. Members will spend weeks in Committee, going through the measure line by line and clause by clause, it will achieve little for the poorer members of our society.

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