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Mr. Goodman: It was interesting that the Minister devoted so much of his summing up to means-testing. It was no accident that, of all the various elements in the Bill, he chose to concentrate on that one, because it is at the heart of new Labour thinking on this matter. Old Tory means-testing is apparently bad, but new Labour means-testing is apparently good.
At this point, hon. Members should remember who is, as it were, the "onlie begetter" of the Bill. It is not the Minister, nor even the Secretary of State, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is absolutely confident that, by extending these credits both through his Department andI hope that the Minister will not be embarrassed by thishis proxies in the Department for Work and Pensions he will be able to raise the living standards of poorer pensioners. I believe that it is widely acknowledged in and outside the House that the Minister is an admirer of the Chancellor. I am sure that the Under-Secretary, who is sitting next to the Minister, will not mind my putting that on the record.
There is a difficulty with the Chancellor's approach. According to the Government's figures, 2.5 million pensioners are entitled to the MIG, but only 1.7 million have taken it up. Some of us find it hard to distinguish between old and apparently wicked Tory means-testing and new, wonderfully effective Labour means-testing. As the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) ably pointed out, between a fifth and a thirdthe latter was his figuredo not get a penny of the MIG.
The Government have presented no evidence that the take-up for the pension credit will be higher. I acknowledge that the Government hope that it will be higher, but they cannot reassure any hon. Member about that. The fundamental flaw in the Government's approach,
In short, we know that those who take up the pension credit will be better off, but the system is gradually becoming increasingly complex. It is not so easy for my elderly constituents, especially those who are of an ethnic minority, to pick up the telephone, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) suggested, and get their benefit, as Tommy Cooper would have said, just like that. The Select Committee believes that, in practice, it is enormously difficult for many pensioners to cope with the complexity of the forms and take up the benefit as the Government want.
Mr. McCartney: I simply want to place on record my thanks to my Front-Bench and Back-Bench colleagues who have taken the Bill through its stages. I also want to thank the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and his colleagues and the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb). They have battled and put their cases with rigour. I hope that, at the end of our debates, the Bill is stronger and that many pensioners will receive a clear signal that, for the first time in their lives, they have a Government on their side, who will represent their interests. On income, social care, health care, transport or any public service, the Government are on the pensioners' side.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons inform the Secretary of State for the Home Department to take note of the concerns of the people of Woodley and to ensure that appropriate resources are made available to enable the installation of CCTV in Woodley Town Centre;
And the petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I am grateful to the Speaker for this opportunity to raise a matter that is of extreme importance to my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) wish to associate themselves with many of my remarks, but constituency engagements prevent them from being here tonight. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer) for informing me in advance of their interest in this debate and for their presence here this evening.
I should also like to express my gratitude to the Home Secretary, who recently wrote me a very generous letter congratulating meand, implicitly, the local residents around the Throckmorton site proposed for the asylum accommodation centreon the anti-racist nature of our campaign. I admire the way in which the local community has organised itself against this proposal, and those who have organised the protest group Protest at Asylum Centre at ThrockmortonPACTalso deserve to be congratulated on the splendid way in, for example, which Sunday's mass rally of 1,000 local residents was organised.
We need to acknowledge that asylum and economic migration issues are becoming some of the most pressing and difficult problems facing the world today. It is a challenge for any Government to help the vulnerable, to deal fairly with economic migrants, and to be tough on crime and terrorism, which are often the unattractive side-effects of the issues with which we are dealing here. I have great respect for the Minister who will be replying to this debate, and for her noble Friend Lord Rooker, and I am grateful for the way in which they have kept me informed about developments; they have been very unwelcome developments, but the Ministers have kept me informed none the less.
So why are we having this debate? First, I am seeking specific assurances on aspects of the way in which the Government are approaching issues as diverse as police resources and compensation for those living nearest to the proposed site. More importantly, I just hope that I might be able to persuade the Minister, even now, that she is wrong, and that the Government's policy is wrong. As Oliver Cromwell famously said to the general assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in August 1650:
There are three key arguments against the proposed asylum accommodation centre. First, it is unfair on the asylum seekers themselves to place them there; secondly, it is unfair on the local community to ask them to bear even more burdens for the sake of the rest of us; and, thirdly, it is contrary to planning policy. I ask the Minister to take one urgent action: please will she do more to help the residents whose lives have been blighted, at least until the public inquiry that will flow from this application by the Government issues its report?
My first question concerns the worrying rumours that contractors have been told that the site will open in March. It is our understanding that the public inquiry is unlikely to report until about March, so which is rightwhat has been said to the contractors, or what we understand from the planning process? Importantly, will Wychavon district council have 16 weeks to respond to the planning notification submission, as Home Office officials and consultants solemnly promised at a private meeting in Wychavon, or will it have eight weeks, as last week's notification letter states?
Throckmorton is a remote rural community, consisting of about 150 people and the additional nearby small hamlets of Tilesford and Hill. There are no appreciable services or facilities. The four neighbouring parishes have a combined population of little more than 2,000. The airfield is about 8 miles from Worcester and 6 miles from Evesham. Pershore is about 3 miles to the south, with Bredon Hill beyond that. During the second world war, the base was an important facility for training and the so-called 1,000 bomber raids. In the 1960s, the runway was extended to enable Valiants from Strike Command to be based there on permanent standby. The airfield is now home to QinetiQformerly known as the Defence Evaluation and Research Agencyother research and training activities, and, of course, 130,000 animal carcases from last year's foot and mouth disease outbreak.
I shall deal with the three central points in turn. The first concerns the unfairness on asylum seekers. All refugee organisations, charities and Churches agree that the policy of locating 750-bed asylum centres in remote rural areas is wrong. Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council said: