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James Purnell: Yes, I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. We will ensure that we pilot the scheme in areas that are able to provide that treatment. If it were not available, that would be a good reason for
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that conditionality not to be applied, but we intend to pilot the scheme in areas where we are assured that that is absolutely possible.

John Mason: Does the Secretary of State agree that some of the money that is to be cut from benefits to drug dealers—I mean drug addicts—would in fact not have gone to drug dealers but would have been spent on food for the children of drug addicts, and that those children will now suffer?

James Purnell: The hon. Gentleman’s Freudian slip is exactly the problem. If we do not help people to get clean from drugs, the money will go into the pockets of drug dealers. That in no way helps children. The Scottish National party lives on a completely different planet. It somehow thinks that if we give benefits to parents who are on drugs, that money will get to the children. The way to help children is to ensure that we give people every support and incentive to get clean so that they can give their children more money. Even at this late stage, the SNP should reconsider its position on that. We are clear that, if the SNP Government will not work with us to address serious drug taking, we will work with councils in Scotland to ensure that children can get exactly that help.

Steve Webb: Has the Secretary of State considered the extent to which forced treatment, whereby patients are threatened with sanctions if they do not accept it, is compatible with the new NHS constitution?

James Purnell: Yes, we absolutely have. We work closely with the Department of Health and we are not forcing people to take treatment. We are forcing them to ensure that they turn up to an interview to discuss their personal action plan and take steps to address their drug problem. That is absolutely consistent with the principles not just of the NHS constitution but of the medical profession. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Bob Spink: Will the Secretary of State consider Essex as one of the pilot areas and continue to focus on creating more residential places for rehabilitation treatment? On a wider note, I congratulate the Government on listening and on delivering the Bill, which will take us a step forward. Does he accept that there is still more work to do on removing benefit traps to work—the reduction of council tax and the loss of housing benefit? We still have much more work to do on that.

James Purnell: I am very happy to consider whether Essex would be a good candidate, and I would be happy for the hon. Gentleman to make a representation on that.

The proposals in the Bill are right because they will give people more help to get back into work. We should be thinking not just about people who are on the JSA account but about lone parents and those who are sick and disabled. If we did not take the proposals forward now, as some people have suggested, that would mean less help for the people who are furthest away from the labour market. That is precisely the mistake that was made in the past, and we will not repeat it.

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In this Third Reading debate so far, it has been interesting to see the irritation among those on the Opposition Front Bench at my accusation that the Opposition are opposing the Bill. The facts are absolutely clear. When asked about the drugs proposals, the predecessor of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said that

and that the proposals were window dressing. When the proposals to take passports and driving licences away from people who do not live up to their responsibilities went to the other place, the Conservatives ensured that it did not go through. Tonight, when asked whether they would support the reforms in the Bill, having said that they would do so, they voted against them. They are not serious about welfare, and tonight the whole country can see that.

Mrs. May rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. To be clear, has the Secretary of State finished, or is he giving way?

James Purnell: I am happy to give way.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. It was not entirely clear whether he had finished his speech with that peroration. He talks a lot about comments that he claims were made in the past. In fact, his reference to the comments on the drugs issue of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), is wrong, as I pointed out on Second Reading. However, he has so far not cited a single occasion when we have shown opposition to the Bill. How many times did we vote against the Government on the Bill in Committee?

James Purnell: The right hon. Lady’s party has just voted against it in the last Division. I do not know what planet she is on—it is quite extraordinary. The test of whether the Opposition support the Bill is whether they vote for it. How could it be less complicated? Her party’s leader said that the Bill would go through only with the Opposition’s support. They tried to have a political strategy of having their cake and eating it, but it has exploded in her face and that of and her leader. They oppose the welfare reform proposals. When we pointed out that they were opposing treatment for people who are addicted to drugs, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell said in the Daily Express on Thursday 11 December—I can quote the article if the right hon. Lady wants—that we were “window dressing” and that we should simply “apply the current rules”. When we outlined what the Opposition were effectively opposing, they beat a retreat because they were embarrassed. When we pointed out that they opposed ensuring that passports and driving licences could be taken away from deadbeat dads, they were embarrassed and ran away from that position. Tonight, they were not clever enough to work out that their political strategy would expose the fact that they are not serious about welfare reform. That is what we conclude from the debate.

9.20 pm

Mrs. May: I join the Secretary of State in thanking all those who were involved in the Bill’s passage and all
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those who contributed to the debates, especially hon. Members who served on the Public Bill Committee—I think that the Secretary of State meant the Public Bill Committee when he referred to the Select Committee—and, in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), who took the Bill through the Committee. The Committee Chairmen who provided guidance are also due our thanks, as are other members of the Committee, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell). The Committee examined the Bill in detail and produced what I hope and believe will be a workable measure.

Ministers have heard many arguments during the Bill’s passage and they appear to have listened to some. The cross-party co-operation in Committee and this evening is commendable and further proof of the strength of feeling in the Chamber about the issues. However, the measure has been introduced in difficult circumstances: the country is in the grip of severe recession and many have questioned whether now is the time to reform our welfare system. We believe that now is absolutely the time for reform and that the recession makes that more, not less urgent. I said that to the Secretary of State on Second Reading. I also said that he was right to press ahead and that we would support the Government, as we have done.

I told the Secretary of State that we would help drive welfare reform because it is right for the country. I assured him that Conservative Members would support the Bill. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State mutters, “You’ve just voted against it.” I pointed out in my intervention on him that, without our votes on the wrecking amendment that Labour Back Benchers tabled, the Government would have lost. The opposition to the Bill has come from the Labour party, not the Opposition.

The Secretary of State’s speech on Third Reading was a sign of the Government’s desperation. He related a complete fiction about the Opposition’s attitude to welfare reform and the Bill. He has created a new principle for debate in the House: if one tables an amendment to a specific clause in a measure, one obviously opposes the whole Bill. That is interesting, given the number of Government amendments that are normally tabled to Bills. He is establishing a ridiculous principle because he is desperate to try to prove that we do not support the Government on welfare reform.

The Secretary of State is wrong—I pointed that out in a point of order yesterday. We all know what Ministers do: they think that if they say something often enough, everybody will miss the fact that they are wrong and start to believe that it is correct. I put it firmly on the record again—as I did on Second Reading and as my hon. Friends did in Committee—that we support welfare reform and the Bill.

James Purnell: Does the right hon. Lady acknowledge that her party leader called the proposal shameful and will she say how she voted in the last Division?

Mrs. May: I did indeed vote in the last Division, and in favour of an amendment to the Bill which we moved. However, as I have said, if the Secretary of State is pretending that anybody who votes for an amendment to a Bill is voting against the Bill, he has created a dangerous precedent for the Government in relation to
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their amendments to future Bills. That is a sign of complete desperation from the Government, because the Secretary of State cannot accept that we support him on this Bill and that the opposition to it comes not from the Conservative party, but from his Labour Back Benchers.

There have been issues on which we have pressed the Government to go further. For example, we would have liked them to go further on the right for disabled people to have control over the services that are provided for them. Sadly, the Secretary of State is not going far enough on that, which I suspect is an issue to which we shall return in future debates on the Bill.

Many of the provisions in the Secretary of State’s Bill can be traced back to the Conservative party manifesto in the 2001 general election. Our “Britain Works” proposals advocated paying

We set out in our manifesto eight years ago the steps that we thought were necessary for welfare reform. The Government have finally come round to our proposals, although it is rather too late for many thousands of people.

The Government had the opportunity to take on welfare reform earlier. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) was asked to “think the unthinkable”. Unfortunately, the Labour Government were not prepared to adopt the unthinkable. The right hon. Gentleman, who is well respected across the House for the work that he puts in and for his knowledge and expertise, came forward with proposals, but the Government were not willing to accept them. The Government shied away from welfare reform at every previous opportunity that they had. We are grateful to them for introducing the Bill now, because it is better late than never for the thousands of people whose lives have been blighted as a result of the Government’s unwillingness to grasp the nettle earlier.

We welcome the Government’s commitment on a disability living allowance for blind people. I am sorry about the tone taken on that issue by the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean, the shadow Minister for disabled people, has always made it clear that if the Government found the money, we would support them. I note that the Minister for disabled people said in the Chamber yesterday that the Government could not find the money and that they would not be able to go ahead, but today they have suddenly found it.

Jonathan Shaw: For clarification, I did not say what the right hon. Lady says I did. She should read the transcript of the remarks of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) in Committee. He said nothing about the upper rate of DLA.

Mrs. May: I suggest that the Minister looks at Hansard to see what he said yesterday, because he did indeed refer to the fact that he was not able to give a commitment at that stage and that he had not found the money. He referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer walking in and said that he perhaps would now be able to find the money. However, he has not confirmed that he has found the money today. I also note that the timetable for the introduction of the new proposal in 2011 means that it will fall to a Conservative Government to introduce it.

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There is one issue in particular to do with welfare reform and the benefits system that I wish to raise with the Secretary of State. It has been raised previously in debate and I hope that he will consider it. He will know that many women who are fleeing violent relationships rely on income support to fund a stay in a refuge, a place of safety where they can escape abuse. Refuges and other experts have expressed concern that moving lone parents whose youngest child is 12—in future the age will be seven—on to jobseeker’s allowance, which we broadly support, will unintentionally hurt victims of domestic violence.

Asking a woman who has just fled a violent relationship to go out and search for work immediately is not appropriate. Last December, we proposed a period of grace of three months, during which time women who are housed in refuges following domestic violence will not be required to seek work in order to qualify for jobseeker’s allowance. The mothers of around 3,000 children could be affected, so I hope that the Government will address the issue. Indeed, I will happily give way to the Secretary of State if he says that he will.

James Purnell: We believe that that is already the case, but I can definitely give the right hon. Lady that reassurance. We would have said that on Report if the matter had come up, but it did not.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that intervention. This is an important issue, and I shall certainly be making sure that his commitment today is followed through. That will be important to many women who are fleeing from domestic violence.

Much common ground has been covered during the Bill’s passage through the House, and the debate has been insightful and informative. On issues as emotive as these, there is bound to be passionate disagreement, however. Although I have not supported the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and those Labour Members who supported his position on the Bill, no one could doubt their commitment to their cause.

Welfare reform is important, and it is necessary for us to ensure that we have a welfare system that not only supports those in need but encourages people to get into the workplace, because we firmly believe that work is the best route out of poverty. We face difficult times in the recession, but we believe that welfare reform is needed now more than it has been previously. It is a great pity that this reform is not already in place. The Government had the opportunity to introduce it several years ago, but they flunked it. They dithered, and they were not prepared to go ahead with it. They have now brought forward this Bill, however, and we support it; I am happy to support its Third Reading.

9.31 pm

Steve Webb: The Bill has two redeeming features. One is the additional powers and control that disabled people will have over services. We were unable to talk about those measures today, but we welcome them none the less. The second is the additional support for blind people that has been added to the Bill this evening, and which we also very much welcome. Without those two
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redeeming features, we would have had no hesitation in opposing what is otherwise a nasty Bill. The Committee did its best to scrutinise the Bill, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) for his work in that regard. However, the remainder of the Bill is a very worrying piece of legislation.

We were just about to get on to the provisions for people with drug addictions, but we did not do so because we again ran out of time. I hope, however, that our noble Friends in another place will have been looking in on our debates and will perform the scrutiny that—notwithstanding the efforts of my hon. Friend and others—we were unable to do in this House. The provisions for people with drug addictions are profoundly flawed.

The serious addiction problem that we have today is the Secretary of State’s addiction to cheap headlines, to talking tough and to yet more welfare crackdowns. What have we had this evening? We have had deadbeat dads, money going to drug dealers and all the rest of it. Behind all the rhetoric, however, we find ineffective policy and, for all the talk, the plans for people with drug addictions are profoundly worrying. The Government have admitted, for example, that people with a serious drug habit who are on £60 a week jobseeker’s allowance will clearly be involved in crime, because they cannot feed themselves and their drug habit on £60 a week.

The Government’s answer to such people is to threaten to take their money away unless they accept forced treatment. The Secretary of State said that no one was being forced to do anything and, of course, they are welcome to say no if they want to have their money taken away. The Government are breaching an important principle here. The Secretary of State is a thoughtful man, and it is rather disturbing that he has blinded himself to the principle that we do not force people to take treatment. He said that they would simply have to come in for a conversation and an appraisal, but if the appraisal found that treatment was appropriate and the individual did not accept that—or, more realistically, if they accepted it but were unable to stick to it because of the chaotic lifestyle that many of these people lead—they would face the threat of their money being taken away.

I have a simple question for the Secretary of State. Assuming that these powers are ever used, what does he think would happen next? Let us suppose that the arrangements were not 100 per cent. successful, and that some people failed to meet the conditions and were sanctioned under the powers in the Bill. What does he think would happen next? Does he think that those people would come to their senses and snap out of it and that all would be well? Or might they find some other way of getting money? Is that really what we want?

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