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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before I call the Secretary of State, may I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)?
I thank Members from all parts of the House for the scrutiny that they have given the Bill as it has gone through its Commons stages. Genuine concerns have been raised on all sides, and it is a better Bill as a consequence of that scrutiny. I thank the members of the Select Committee, who did such a good job of scrutinising the Bill, as well as the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney). It is important that I thank in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), who has done exactly what a Labour MP should do. [Interruption.] He is rushing to his seat. His amendment on the disability living allowance for blind people encapsulates the principle of the Bill, which is about more help for people who need it most. We believe that disabled people should have exactly the same rights in life as anybody else.
I thank not only my hon. Friend, but the coalition that made this possible, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill); we should recognise that he played an important part. I also thank in particular my right hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) and for Kingswood (Roger Berry). They have argued long and hard for the measure, which is not only right but has commanded support on both sides of the House.
I say thatit was, however, hard to tell from the speech made by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) what the Conservative partys position was. When there are spending decisions to be taken about millionaires, its view is clear. However, when it came to working out what it thought about giving extra help to people who are disabled and blind, it had to wait for a Labour Government to show the way. Frankly, that will be noticed not just by blind people but by anybody who cares about social justice in this country.
Mr. Hollobone: In the last debate, it was difficult to spot any reference by Her Majestys Government to when the new commitment to fund the higher-rate mobility component would kick in. What year will that funding commitment arrive and is the Secretary of State happy with the definition of blind put forward by the RNIB?
James Purnell: I pay tribute to the fact that the hon. Gentleman raised that issue at oral questions yesterday. Yes, the definition is the same as that suggested by the RNIB, and we are committed to introducing the measure from April 2011; I hope that I have given him the clear information that he is after.
The Government believe in the welfare state. It embodies the conviction that we are more than just self-interested individuals, that there is such a thing as society and that we judge the moral value of a society by how it treats its poorest citizens. The Bill is aimed squarely at that principle. It rests on a belief in the dignity of worka belief that work will always be the best route out of poverty, the best way for people to achieve their aspirations and the best hope that the next generation will do better than the last. That vision underpins the reforms. It is a vision of a supportive welfare state to help people to overcome the barriers in their way, but an active welfare state to make sure that as many people as can overcome those barriers do so.
The Bill takes forward the work done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who started this process when he was Employment Minister and I was Pensions Minister. His proposals are coming in as we speak and are making a big difference to people all around the country. They establish further in legislation the principle that virtually everyone on benefits should be doing something in return for them and that those people should prepare themselves for work in a way that is appropriate for them.
By contrast, the Opposition have proved tonight that they are simply not serious about welfare reform. They still believe that the welfare state is the problem rather than the solution to peoples problems. They have shown tonight that they have no positive vision for the reform of the welfare state and that they want not to change lives with welfare, but to play politics with it. There were months of tough talk on welfare and of stigmatising people in the national papers, but when the time came to take real action, they failed the test that their leader set for these reforms.
the government should know that if they have a problem with their back benchers then the Conservative Party under my leadership will do the right thing and will back them up and make sure we reform welfare properly.
When we published the Green Paper, when we published the White Paper and on Second Reading, the Conservatives stood at that Dispatch Box and said that they would support our proposals. But tonight, this Bill and these proposals have not gone through with Conservative support; they have gone through despite the Conservatives. They voted against the proposals that we have just put forwardproposals that were supported by David Freud and by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). The Opposition cannot say that they believe in welfare reform, but when it comes to the test, vote against those very proposals.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am not quite sure where the right hon. Gentleman has been this evening because he obviously has not been listening to the debate. I point out to him that had it not been for our support, the Government would have lost the vote on amendment 11an amendment to wreck this Bill tabled by Labour Back Benchers.
This Bill has gone through despite the opposition of Her Majestys Opposition and it has gone through as a Labour Bill. They said that it would go through only with their support; it has gone through despite their opposition. That shows that they are not serious about welfare reform. From tonight onward, we will hear no more about them fixing the broken society and we will hear no more about them making greater savings on the welfare state than this Government, because when it came to the crunch, they were not prepared to support welfare reform. That will be noticed all around the country.
The Bill has been passed with Labour votes for one simple reason: we believe in the values of the welfare state. We believe that by reforming the welfare state we can better achieve those values, and we know that doing nothing, which is what the Opposition propose, would mean condemning too many people to being trapped on benefits, just as they were under the previous Tory Government.
The principle that virtually everyone should be on a journey back to work is so simple that it seems self-evident. There are those for whom a job is not appropriate right nowpeople with very young children, those with caring responsibilities or those with the most serious illnesses or disabilitiesand the exact same pattern of conditionality will continue to apply to them. However, for the vast majority of our population, work is clearly preferable to being unemployed, so we will provide greater support for people to get into work. For example, we pay thousands of pounds to lone parents as a premium, on top of their pay, when they go back into work.
We should expect people to take up support because we know that if it is a matter of people simply volunteering for it, fewer people will take it up and fewer lives will be changed. That expectationmatching support with the responsibility to take it upis nothing new. It was in the National Insurance Act 1911, it was reinforced in Beveridges report and it was enacted by the 1945 Labour Government, who believed that the state should in no way stifle responsibility.
Paul Rowen: I am listening carefully to what the Secretary of State is saying. Why did he not support the amendment tabled by one of his own Back Benchers that would have ensured that lone parents received the same additional premium that employment and support allowance claimants get for undertaking work for their benefits?
James Purnell: Those people actually receive a greater premium. They receive £40 if they are outside London and £60 if they are in London. They get thousands of poundsthey get housing benefit run-ons and they get up to £300 in support to cover things such as buying a suit for an interview and travel to that interview. Support for lone parents has been completely transformed since this Government came to power.
There has never been anything left-wing about leaving people to a lifetime on benefits, which is why the Bill will ensure that people have every chance of getting back into work, but with an obligation to take up that support as well. The same principle is true of disabled people. They should have the same rights as everybody else, and the same right to work as anybody else. At the moment, society discriminates against people by not giving them the same chance to work, and the Bill is a big step towards putting that right by giving disabled people the right to have control over the support that they get. If they are happy with the support that they get from the state, they are fine to continue with it, but with the right to have control over that support, they will be able to decide how they can spend that money.
Exactly the same principle underpins why problem drug users will be expected to take up treatment, instead of just putting money into the pockets of drug dealersa policy that, again, the Opposition sought to oppose.
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