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There is far too much stick in the Bill, and not nearly enough incentives. The Government have pilot programmes for people with drug problems, and they have proved effective. However, they have been based on incentives and encouragement, and on getting alongside people, not on threatening them. The Bill is riddled with new threats and new incursions into peoples liberties, which we do not support. There are new provisions for taking away passports and driving licences, for example. That can already be done now, but the Government want to
be able to do it without reference to a court. Their lordships threw that proposal out last time, and I hope that they will do so again.
There are also new sanctions for people who have not committed an offence, but who might have accepted a caution because they did not want the hassle of a court case. They will now be able to have their money taken off them more readily, as will people who fail to make it to interviews. That is not to mention the change to the social fund, which we did not even get round to discussing, whereby the Government originally threatened to impose store card rates of interest on people. They then backed off, but we do not know what they are going to do; we have no idea. This Bill is riddled with provisions that give Ministers an excuse for tough talk, but the policies that lie behind that talk are often ineffective.
On Report, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned something that the Ministry of Justice had done. It is interesting to note that the ministry is responsible for evidence, but when it tried out a benefit sanction for people who did not keep their community orders, it said, after several years of trying the scheme, that the evidence showed that it did not work. The ministry stopped the scheme, but the Department for Work and Pensions does not stop doing things when they do not work; it just talks tougher and passes another piece of legislation without waiting to see whether the last one has worked.
Let me now put a prediction on the record: the drug addict provisions will run for a couple of years, and then there will be a report. The policies should be carried out only if subject to an affirmative resolution, but the Government will press ahead with them simply on account of their dogma of talking tough. They will not want to sound as if they are not talking tough, so they will press on.
As I have said, if it were not for the redeeming features of the Bill, it would give my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale and me the greatest pleasure to oppose what is a fundamentally nasty Bill. The redeeming features are the provisions for disabled people and the new provisions for blind people, which we will not oppose. However, I hope that our noble Friends in the other place will do a lot to take out the fundamentally illiberal and ineffective proposals that run all the way through the Bill.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate. It seems that I might be the only Member who wants to vote against the Bill. Perhaps I can explain to the House and to my constituents why I find myself in that position, at a time when a genuine radical heads the Department for Work and Pensions and his team is committed to reform. Why am I unhappy that we are going through this dance in trying to put this reform programme on the statute book?
For different reasons, I agree with the concluding comments of the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb)I doubt whether much of this Bill will ever see the light of day. If we had introduced it in our first ParliamentI know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was probably too young to vote then, let alone lead the teamwe would have lived up to our
manifesto declarations and hopes for reforming the welfare state, not just because we were in favour of reform but because we wanted to look at where the new stresses were as society evolved and to share the risks and costs.
This Bill was hatched and drafted when we allor at least most of usbelieved that there would be no end to the boom. That is why we agreed to the reforms of Jobcentre Plus, why we agreed to reductions in numbers, why we voted through reductions in staff. However, the world that our constituents now confront is a very different world from the one we thought this Bill might apply to. It is a world in which unemployment is already beginning to rise, and to rise fast. If we last another year before the general election, I hope that any Bill we introduce will be relevant to the welfare reform issues that our constituents face.
I hope that I am the last Member to deny that some, maybe many, people should be more actively reintroduced to the work routine, or whatever the current jargon is. However, there have always been some people, even at the height of the boom, who wanted work but could not find it. Many of our constituents now hitting the dole queues might have worked their whole lives since leaving school and have paid 10, 20, 30 or 40 years of contributions. When they go to register, however, they find not just that they might be offered only a couple of minutes with Jobcentre Plus staff, who are now so pressed to get through the queues of people, but that they have to elbow their way between people who have never paid taxes and who have never contributed to the national insurance scheme, yet who will draw exactly the same as they will, notwithstanding their 10, 20, 30 or 40 years of paying contributions. Those constituents do not believe that the Bill meets their needs for welfare reform.
Last Friday we discussed one aspect of what welfare reform should be about: redundancy payments. Should not people who have worked hard and whose jobs are snatched from them expect to receive more compensation, so that the landing is not as tough as it would otherwise be? Should there not be a benefits system that supports people who have worked in the pastfor whom work is part of their DNArather than putting them through the mill that we are creating, involving yet more sanctions and more doubt about whether people genuinely want to seek work?
Given my track record, I doubt that many of my constituents think I am not tough enough on the group who do not genuinely want to seek work. However, the Bill totally ignores the new poor: people who are already registering at jobcentres and who are desperate for work, scrambling for jobs, and willing to downsize in terms of the jobs and the wage packets that they accept because they think that work is so important. What does the Bill offer them? It offers them nothing. That is why I think that tonight has been a charade when it comes to establishing whether someone is a welfare reformer.
We could divide on Third Reading. We could vote against this measure. We could say that it does not in any way meet the requirements of our constituents. However, we are not going to do that. We are going to disappear into the night without a vote. I hope that before the year is out, when the unemployment totals reach unimaginable proportions, the House will get serious about welfare reform; but I think that when it does, we will not hear much about todays debate.
John Mason: We have seen a major U-turn by the Government. We welcome the increase in disability living allowance for people with sight problems, and for that single reason we will not vote against the Bill. However, I believe that it is a deeply flawed Bill, and, indeed, a Tory Bill with Labour window-dressing. Last July, during the Glasgow, East by-election, I said that there was no real difference between Labour and the Conservatives, and it seems to me that the Bill proves that fact.
There are some good things in the Bill, and we are happy to welcome them. The basic concept of enabling everyone who can work to do so is a good one, but it does require work to be available. Are the Government doing enough to create jobs? I do not think so. They could have used the money from the VAT cut to pay for capital projects, but they did not. They could have given borrowing powers to Scotland and Wales, but that has not happened, although it would have increased the number of jobs.
This seems a strange time to introduce such a Bill. If the underlying aim is to move people into work, how does that tie in with there being fewer and fewer jobs? We hear that there are 10 applicants for every job. If the Government are pushing one way to get people into work and the real world is pushing the other waypushing people out of workwho will be caught in the middle? Surely it will be the ordinary, vulnerable people.
No one referred to claimants on drugs today, but I should have liked to discuss them, because they constitute one of the clearest examples of vulnerable people being hit by the Government. If we cut the benefits of people on drugs, what will happen to their children? What will happen to their families? Do we expect elderly grandparents on limited means to supply their food? Do we pressurise the parents to resort to crimeas has been mentionedor do we expect the children to go without food?
It is easy for us in this place to become detached from reality. We have good salaries and umpteen eating places. The other week, however, a constituent came to my office who, for various reasons, had not eaten for three days that week. I do not think that that is acceptable in 2009, and I fear that the Bill will make matters worse.
We took evidence in Committee, and I asked about what would happen to the kids of drug addicts if the parents benefits were cut. One charity that supported conditionality could not answer that question. In Committee, the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform said that the ideas about what would happen were fatuous and vacuous. He has been using such words quite a lot recently, and his resorting to personal attacks shows that his argument is weak.
We have devolved Governments nowadays, and there is nothing wrong with trying different approaches in different places. By all means, we can use England as a guinea pig for this, but we will watch and we will learn, and we will see what we want to do in our country. I do not think there is any need to get all hot and bothered because Scotland will not do things exactly the same as England. Let us have a constructive relationship between our countries. Let us not start fights with each other when we do not need to. [Laughter.] I will repeat that, as some Members might not have caught what I said: let us not start fights when we do not need to. We believe
that access to treatment should be based on clinical need, not receipt of benefits. The Scottish Government are spending £29.5 million on tackling drug misuse this year and have been widely praised by experts in the drugs field.
Conditionality might work in certain circumstances, but it requires that people receive extra over the minimum benefits, so that that extra might be conditional and might be taken away. However, I believe the benefit level is so low at the moment that we cannot justifiably take any of it away.
Both in this Chamber and in Committee, we have been assured by Ministers that jobcentres will individualise and personalise their support and requirements for each individual. Do we believe that? There are superb individuals working in jobcentres, but is it possible for such a huge grinding bureaucracy truly to be concerned about the individual? Just this week, I learned of a taxi driver who had been off sick. Because of a pension, he is getting only £5.16 per week in benefits, but he has been called in for a medical assessment. What will the medical assessment cost? How is that possibly personal care? The Secretary of State may be well intentioned and give assurances in this Chamber, but is the legislation going to be applied in a harsh and draconian way?
I promised my constituents that I would judge issues at Westminster by how they affected the gap between rich and poor. In this recession, we see top bankers who have virtually destroyed their banks and half the economy walking away with knighthoods and handsome pensions. In this Bill, we see those at the bottom of society being squeezed more and more. There is something wrong with that.
James Purnell: Just on a point of accuracy, Mr. Speaker, since you ask me. In her opening remarks the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said that new clause 1 would have passed with Conservative votes. I just want to put it on the record that that is not accurate; if all Conservative MPs had voted for new clause 1, the vote would have been 247 for the Government and 225 against. Therefore, she is wrong on that.
That the draft Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009, which were laid before this House on 11 February, be approved.( Ms. Diana R. Johnson).
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