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Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I think we are talking about different thingsunless the Government have made an announcement of a change of policy to the hon. Gentleman that he has not announced to the House. That is always possible. [Interruption.] On the contrary; we have not had the Green Paper yet. That brings me to my next remarks. All we have to go on at the moment is
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: No; I am sorry. All we have to go on is what the Government said in February. In February it was indicated that the new reform proposals would not apply to existing claimants, only to new claimants after 2008. Let me just share with the House
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I understand why hon. Gentlemen wish to deflect me, but they will not succeed. Let me share with the House what has happened since that grand statement in February, promising the greatest ever reform in incapacity benefit. We were told then that there would be a Green Paperseemingly it had to be a Green Paper, but at least it would be published in the summerand that remained the Government's position. Indeed, after the general election the Prime Minister repeated at his first press conference that
Well, what happened to it? It never appeared. And later, in July, we were told that the timetable had slipped, and that it would be published in the autumn. And then, when asked at oral questions on 31 October why the Green Paper was four months overdue, the Minister for the disabled, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensionsthe hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire)said,
Then we had a statement by the Prime Minister on 16 November that the Green Paper is not now going to be published until January of next year. Now, is January of next year consistent with the autumn? Is this what the Government mean by their policy on climate change? Are these things very difficult to control? When asked why the delay was taking place
When asked why, the Prime Minister said, "Well, you know, there has been a change of Minister at the head of the Department." This, we are told, is the official reason why the Green Paper now cannot come out until next year. Well, when the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside was appointed Secretary of State back in May, that was not given as a reason for delay; far from it. The Prime Minister confirmed that the original timetable was going to be held to.
We know exactly why the delay has taken place. If the Secretary of State will forgive me, it has nothing to do with his appointment. It has to do with the very serious differences of view, to put it mildly, between the Prime Minister and the previous Secretary of Stateand perhaps the present incumbent. We just do not know yet what the present incumbent's view is. But what we do know
What we do know is that the Prime Minister has been putting very severe pressure on the Department for Work and Pensionsquite contrary to the Government's stated policyto toughen up the line. We know that it is contrary to the Government's stated policy, because the Secretary of State has actually said that this is not a cuts agenda.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: The right hon. Gentleman is nodding. And others have said that cutting benefit is not part of the Government's reforms. And yet we knowunless the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that this is not truethat on Monday 10 October, "Channel 4 News" reported[Laughter.] Well, we shall hear the Government's views on this in a moment
On Sunday 30 October, it was reported that, following a further memo from the Prime Ministeror it may have been the same memothe previous Secretary of State had written to the Prime Minister saying that he could not accept the last-minute, hard-line changes to incapacity benefit that were being demanded by Downing street. Apparently, the demands in the Prime Minister's own memo to the Secretary of State included replacing part of the £76 per week given to incapacity benefit claimants with tokens that could only be spent on job training courses, and that incapacity benefit would be paid at jobseeker's allowance rates, which are, of course, far less than long-term incapacity benefit.
We will expect the new Secretary of State to indicate what truth there is in those reports. Indeed, I am happy to give way to him now. Is he willing at this very moment to come to the Dispatch Box to say that neither he nor his predecessor has received representations from the Prime Minister or from No. 10 Downing street asking for the Green Paper to be changed to become more harsh with regard to incapacity benefit? Would he care to deny that those reports are true?
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: No. Forgive me, but I am interested in the Secretary of State at the moment. I notice that he has not intervened, and we will listen very carefully to his remarks in his own speech to find out whether he deals with this matter or tries to avoid it.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The confusion is even greater than my right hon. and learned Friend has already eloquently described, given that the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, told the House on 28 February:
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: That would be very agreeable indeed. I think that I can make a fairly clear prediction that that will not happen; but of course, the Secretary of State will have my full agreement if he wishes to clarify the point so ably made by my hon. Friend.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for finally giving way to me. While I would have grave concerns about some of the measures that he has articulated, although I have no knowledge of whether there is any truth in those suggestions, I was very happy with the proposals announced last February by the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. However, I take issue with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Government's proposals do not help those who are on disability benefits. Will he comment on the success of the pathways to work programme? We must expand that programme, so that
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more people on disability benefits can get the opportunity and support that it gives. Will the Opposition support those measures?
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