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Miss Begg: The hon. Gentleman has still not given us any evidence as to why he thinks that this Government are proposing what he seems to think is a worst-case scenario. Where is the evidence for that?
Mr. Webb: The hon. Lady is well versed in the language of new Labour, and the rights and responsibilities agenda. What will be proposed here, as in so many elements of the welfare reform package, is compulsion. In this Budget, lone parents with children under five are going to be compelled to have interviews on pain of loss of benefit. The partners of the unemployed and of the disabled are also going to be compelled to go in for interviews.
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Webb: In a moment. Compulsion is central to the new Labour agenda. That is why I suspectmore than that; I am almost certainthat coercion will be central to this proposal. If the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Rosemary McKenna) wants to tell me that there will not be any compulsion, I shall be delighted to hear it.
Rosemary McKenna: Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what is so wrong with ensuring that young, vulnerable people come for an interview to see how they can be assisted into work and into a better lifestyle?
Mr. Webb: If all these things are so good for people, why do we have to force them to do them? That is the key question. If the provision is self-evidently good for peopleif they are being offered support, not threatswhy do they need forcing?
The Financial Secretary will have the chance to respond to the debate and to put on record today whether there will be compulsion in these schemes. I will happily take
Mr. Darling: I am aware that I spoke for a long time earlier, but I can answer that point. For the avoidance of doubt, it is a condition of receiving benefit that anyone of working age comes in for an interview to find out what help is available. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what is wrong with that? If it is obligatory to send our children to school, surely it cannot be too great an obligation to say to someone, "You have got to find out what help is on offer." Even for the hon. Gentleman, that was a daft point.
Mr. Webb: The House will have noticed that the Secretary of State did not answer the question. The question was: will teenage single mothers be forced out of council flats into hostels, or some sort of supportive accommodation?
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): That was not the question.
Mr. Webb: The Financial Secretary says that that was not the question. It may not be the question that he wants to answer, but it is the question that I am asking. We have not had an answer. The House has not been told whether teenage single mums will be forced into hostel-type accommodation. We do not know how big the accommodation will be, or what level of support it will provide. We do not know what the penalty for saying no will be.
If these projects are to be paragons of virtue, like the Foyer project that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South described, they will be wonderful. People will queue up to get into them, and we will not need to use force. If they are not, there might be some resistance, which is where the Secretary of State's penchant for using force will come in. The House will notice that that possibility has not been denied.
Mr. Connarty: I am amazed. I now know why my colleagues in England dislike the Liberals so much. The hon. Gentleman's use of this scenario is a scare tactic. Does he not think that there is something wrong with saying that we will leave people socially alienated and excluded? That is what happens to people who are slapped into council flats with no support and no compulsion to go and see an expert who has strategies to get them out of their social exclusion and alienation. The hon. Gentleman wants to leave those people to languish, and he should take responsibility for that. That is what he is advocating at the moment.
Mr. Webb: The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The only distinction between my approach and his is that I want to offer teenage single mums the chance to have such attractive accommodation and he wants to force them into it. He obviously thinks that they may not find it attractive. We have had no denial of that. If that
Mr. Connarty: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Webb: No. We have pursued that issue sufficiently.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Webb: I suppose I should give way to both my right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Campbell: Does my hon. Friend remember the terms of the speech that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to the House of Commons yesterday? He said:
Mr. Webb: My right hon. and learned Friend is exactly right. We have looked through the documents and we cannot find any clarification on this issue. I invited the right hon. Members on the Treasury Bench to intervene, but no one has explained the position, which means that it must be compulsory. We can come to no conclusion other than that teenage single mums will be coerced into taking up this accommodation. If that is in their interests, why do they need to be forced to take it up?
Mr. Connarty: It was interesting that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) used the correct term "supported housing", not "hostels" or "institutions". Even Women's Aid in Scotland has supported housing for women who are alienated and excluded from society. The hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) does not seem to accept that single parents who are out of a family situation become broken away and hide from society. There needs to be some way of compelling them to go for an interview with someone who can help. There is nothing wrong with compelling people to go for interview with someone who will help them, if the alternative is social unrest, which is what the hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing, because he thinks that it is good for Liberal Democrat votes.
Mr. Webb: There was a slightly bizarre conclusion to the hon. Gentleman's intervention. At least he is honest about being comfortable with compulsion and coercion, but it is not clear whether the Secretary of State is because he will not tell us. The part of the Chancellor's speech that my right hon. and learned Friend referred to said that lone parents under 18 will not have an independent tenancy. If it is not an independent tenancy, what is the difference between supported housing and a hostel? I do not know what this accommodation will be like.
The other substantial area of the Budget that we should touch on is the plans for health spending. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) asked the Secretary of State to clarify the Government's plans
The Secretary of State referred my hon. Friend to table C5, which contains the grand totals and which I have read, but Budgets do not spell out which taxes that percentage of gross domestic product will come from. They do not give that detail several years ahead. In response to my hon. Friend, the Secretary of State failed to put on the record whether more discretionary tax increases will be required to fund the planned health service spending. If the Secretary of State or the Financial Secretary think that there is a danger of the wrong impression being given on the record, I am happy to give way so that they can clarify whether any further discretionary tax rises will be needed, over and above those that have already been announced, to meet the spending plans for the health service that were given yesterday. They do not want to intervene, because they do not want to answer that question. The chances are that there will need to be more discretionary tax rises, and they should come clean about it.
That brings me to the central point of the Budget. A year ago the Labour party wrote its manifesto. There are two possibilities. One is that it knew it would have to raise direct taxes to pay for improved public service, and it failed to disclose that fact, which would be dishonest. The other is that it did not know it would have to raise taxes to improve public services, which would be incompetent. I shall not judge whether the Government are dishonest or incompetent, but they must be one or the other.
Yesterday's tax rise was predicted by us during the election campaign, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and by all independent commentators. It was predicted that the Government would have to raise direct taxation to pay for their public spending plans. They declined to tell the electorate that. It would have been better to come clean, because they would then have had a stronger mandate for the tax rises that they announced yesterday.
The Chancellor rejected the notion of hypothecation, so yesterday's national insurance rise was just a general tax rise; it would go into the pot with other tax rises, which would pay for public spending. There was no link, not even between the 1 per cent. on national insurance and the health service, because most of that 1 per cent. will not be spent on health but on pensions and other services, or it will go into the national insurance fund surplus.
The Chancellor rejected hypothecation for one reason: he did not want the cyclical effect of the economy to undermine the funding of the health service. I gave him, in my usual generous way, an offprint of an article that I wrote for New Economy, the journal of the Institute for Public Policy Research. [Interruption.] Indeed, it made his day. He promised to take it to bed with him, but he obviously did not read carefully the section about how we should deal with the ups and downs of tax revenues. The Chancellor does that all the time. He sets fiscal targets that work over the economic cycle.