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Sir Malcolm Rifkind: If the hon. Lady welcomed the announcement made in February, she must share my disappointment that it will be three years at least before those measures come into force. Indeed, that raises another question: the date of 2008 was given in February, but we have now had a six-month delay in the publication of the Green Paper. So we must now assume that it is highly likely that it will be 2009, not 2008, before the proposals are implemented. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State can possibly bear to listen to the debate, he might like to consider whether the date is still 2008, or whether, as a result of the six-month delay in the publication of the Green Paper, 2009 is a more credible date from the Government's point of view.

Edward Miliband: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: No. This is a short debate; I have given way a lot; and many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to take part.

Edward Miliband: What about the pathways project?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I was going to comment on the pathways project. The pilot schemes under that project are useful. They are a step in the right direction, but they are only scratching the surface. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) knows, they are only pilot schemes and could take years before they make the kind of impact that the Government pledged to make back in 2007.

If the House and Labour Members wish to see more rapid progress, they should look much more carefully at the proposals that the Conservative party has made with a great deal of support from the voluntary sector and charitable organisations. They should listen to the views of the Institute for Public Policy Research, which is an organisation to which I would have thought that they would give some credibility—it is not exactly a right-wing think-tank. It said:

Indeed, the proposals launched by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), who is now shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, which were part of our election manifesto, have been well received. For example, the Shaw Trust said:

of the Conservative party. The director of Disability Awareness in Action said:

The chief executive of Scope said:

Our proposals, which are based on using the voluntary, charitable and private sectors, are not just theoretical ideas, because they already exist in a modest way. They have been more successful because they are more flexible
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and sensitive. They make less use of taxpayers' funds, and based on the statistics that already exist, the jobs that they find tend to be long-term jobs.

Ed Balls: Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really trying to tell the House that the IPPR, Scope and the other organisations to which he refers support his proposal to abolish the new deal for young people and the new deal for disabled people?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I am talking about incapacity benefit at the moment. I will be happy to deal with those matters on another occasion—[Interruption.] No, I will not be deflected from incapacity benefit. The hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that the Government have manifestly failed to meet their own objective of getting hundreds of thousands of people who would like to work into employment. Voluntary and charitable organisations have endorsed the Conservative party's proposals and are deeply disillusioned by the Government's approach.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to suggest that the voluntary sector and the organisations to which he refers will be more successful than the public sector generally. Has he compared the outcome of the pathways to work pilot projects with that of the examples that he cited from the private and charitable sectors?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I commented on that a few moments ago. I acknowledged that the pilot schemes were useful and that they had made interesting progress. However, I repeat that they are scratching at the surface. They are not making the kind of impact that voluntary, charitable and private sector organisations have already made over the past couple of years on getting people into long-term employment.

Edward Miliband: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I am conscious that this a short debate, so I will not allow further interventions. I am sorry.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab) rose—

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Well, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Clarke: I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates that some of us have followed these matters for some time and recall when one of his predecessors as the Member for Kensington and Chelsea had responsibility for them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions organisations such as Scope. Although there is of course great concern that we get matters of incapacity benefit right, does he recall that those organisations rightly led campaigns year after year to plead for the right of disabled people to get out of benefits and into work? Did he agree with those campaigns?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: I agree with that. I pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Gentleman in those
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campaigns and the good progress that has been made, with many people in all political parties sharing the same ideal and objective. However, today's debate is about a slightly different issue: the fact that in the past few years, the progress that was made has slowed down and, in some cases, has not been delivered.

The policy over which the Secretary of State has been asked to preside has so far failed. I accept that that is a serious charge, but there are pretty important witnesses for the prosecution. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead, a senior Labour Back Bencher and former Minister, said:

If the Secretary of State wants the view of someone who has occupied his own post, I suggest that of his immediate predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside, who admitted that the system over which he presided was, to use his own delicate word, "crackers".

If those are simply the views of ex-Ministers and the Secretary of State will be influenced only by those of his current colleagues, he need look no further than the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, the right hon. Member for Barking—[Laughter.] I emphasise that that is a pure coincidence. She said in her own unforgettable words when referring to the welfare system no more recently than 1 November, as quoted in The Herald in Glasgow:

If that is the view of the Minister, we on the Conservative Benches can be forgiven for endorsing her objective assessment of the Government's record so far.

I conclude with a tribute to the Prime Minister, who has put his commitment to welfare reform clearly on the line. He said way back in 1996 at a Labour party conference before he became Prime Minister:

that would have been 2002, three years ago—

not I promise or I hope or I aspire—

On that basis, we invite the House to approve the motion and to condemn the Government's abysmal failure.

5.6 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) for his kind words of welcome; I very much appreciate them. I, too, look forward to our exchanges inside and, I suspect, outside the House. I congratulate him on his speech. It was the traditional rhetoric that we expect from him: it was high on rhetoric and depressingly low on content—in fact, there was no content or substance whatever that would allow anyone inside or outside the House to have any inkling of his solution to the catalogue of misery that he described.

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