Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): If we are to be asked to vote on this, presumably at some stage in the autumn, it will—at least in part—be to permit a wider air assault. I sense that the House will require significant reassurance that targets can be picked accurately

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and that such an assault will make a productive difference. May I therefore ask the Secretary of State to invest a lot of time in persuading Members of all parties in advance, telling us exactly what is proposed and reassuring us that such action will produce useful benefits?

Michael Fallon: I certainly undertake to do that. Very clear, specific rules of engagement are laid down for the strikes that are being carried out in Iraq, rules that I approved personally, and I look at each proposed static target for particular strikes on the basis of the evidence submitted to me. I will take up my right hon. Friend’s suggestion that we consult more widely on applying those rules of engagement.

With our Tornado force, we also have accurate, high precision missiles that reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties. That is another reason why the coalition would like our Tornadoes to be deployed in Syria as well as Iraq.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): Is not the Secretary of State aware that his obligations under the ministerial code are not just to answer freedom of information requests, but to be straight with the House of Commons? Will he confirm that successive British Governments have made it clear that embedded personnel have to conform to rules of engagement, including the ambit of operations? How in this case is that consistent with a specific instruction from the House not to be involved in air strikes in Syria?

Michael Fallon: I will always be straight with the House. Let me be clear about the rules of engagement. As far as air strikes are concerned, embedded pilots have to comply with the rules of engagement of the host nation, but also with United Kingdom law and the law of armed conflict. When the host nation’s rules of engagement are less restrictive than our own, those embedded must also comply with ours.

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Most reasonable people will conclude that my right hon. Friend deserves the benefit of the doubt on this matter. However, further to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), will he take especial care to ensure that he keeps the House closely informed, ahead of what I hope will be a successful vote in the House in the autumn on action in Syria?

Michael Fallon: Yes, I will certainly do that. We continue to update the House regularly through written ministerial statements about the progress of the campaign. The number of strikes is reported regularly on our website, as are any replies to freedom of information requests. I will certainly see what further information we can provide to the House as the campaign continues.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): If the Secretary of State wants agreement across the House, he seems to be going the wrong way about it. An apology from him would be appropriate for this information having to be extracted through freedom of information legislation: no wonder the Government want to weaken that Act. The Secretary of State gives the impression today that Parliament is getting above itself.

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Michael Fallon: Certainly not. I made it very clear that we will respond to questions from any Member about the role of embedded UK personnel in other forces. I simply made the point that it has been standard practice in the past not to publicise specific operations because they were other countries’ operations. It is completely open to any hon. Member, including the hon. Member for West Bromwich East, who tabled questions on the matter previously, to ask questions. Those questions will be answered.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I share the Defence Secretary’s evident frustration about the prominence given to the issue of embeds, which is a sideshow compared with British involvement overall, which is itself a sideshow when set against the need for a wider international strategy to take and occupy ground in Syria. There is a sort of plan to do that in Iraq; it is faltering in its execution. Will my right hon. Friend urge the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office team to put their effort into making a reality of an international strategy—of getting Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran in the same place, so as to have a strategy involving local ground troops, which we can then assist, to take and hold the territory that ISIL currently holds in Syria?

Michael Fallon: I agree with my hon. Friend. We certainly need a political strategy alongside the military strategy, to help hasten the end of the Assad regime and to make it clear that the only future in Syria is a comprehensive democratic regime that is open to all the peaceful and moderate parties in Syria, similar to the way in which the Iraq Government is now constructed. In Iraq itself, we continue to urge the Abadi Government—I will press this point in Baghdad in a couple of weeks—to get on and complete the reforms and to show the Sunni areas in particular that they can have confidence in the Iraqi forces to hold ground that has been liberated.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The Secretary of State is right to say that, ultimately, ISIL forces will be defeated by ground forces, but he is also right to say that they should be local forces, not western forces. What can he tell us about his reassurances on how quickly, and the level to which, Iraqi forces are being trained, particularly among the Sunnis?

Michael Fallon: As I have said, about 11,000 Iraqi forces personnel have been trained in the past few months. The British Army has made a formidable contribution to that training and is now extending the training it offers to the training bases outside the Kurdish areas. We need to continue to do that. The Iraqi army has to be reconstituted. It has been weakly led and has been slowed up, particularly by improvised explosive devices in vehicles and by booby traps left behind in abandoned villages. The British Army can make a real contribution with the training we offer and the operational expertise we developed in Afghanistan, but it will be slow work.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend rightly spoke of the importance of aerial surveillance in gathering a picture of what is happening on the ground, but he will be aware of informed speculation on both sides of the Atlantic that we were to an extent blindsided by lack of HUMINT—human intelligence—on the fall of Mosul and, a year

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later, Ramadi. What confidence can we have that the necessary assets are in place to build up an optimal picture of 21st-century jihadism?

Michael Fallon: I do not think that my hon. Friend or the House would expect me to go into too much detail about how we gather intelligence in either Iraq or Syria, except to say that 30% of the intelligence-gathering effort is done by British aircraft. We need to build up a more accurate picture of ISIL’s strengths up the Tigris and west along the Euphrates before we can assist the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the ground that has been lost. That advice, and train and equip, is all part of the mission to help bolster Iraqi forces.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I think we should thank the Freedom of Information Act for today’s statement. The Secretary of State really ought to come clean. What specific discussions has he had with Saudi Arabia about what happens to the arms supplied to it? Are any of them leaking through and ending up with ISIL forces or, indeed, any other weapons supplier in the region?

Secondly, what is happening about the oil that is clearly sold from the ISIL area of Syria to someone else and the money that then flows back to support it? How effective is the sanctions regime conducted by the western forces, with the co-operation of other Governments, to stop arms and money flowing to ISIL?

Michael Fallon: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this does show the Freedom of Information Act at work: a question was put to us and we answered it, and the answer is produced on our website. I have regular discussions with the Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia—the deputy crown prince—not least about the situation in Yemen and the need for humanitarian aid and to get talks going. I am not aware of significant leakage of Saudi arms into the conflict in Iraq or Syria.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): If the coalition forces are successful in removing ISIL from parts of Syria, who would form the legitimate Government of those areas, assuming Assad was still in place?

Michael Fallon: We hope that Assad will not continue in place for a day longer than is necessary. There is no future for Syria with Assad still in place. As well as the military campaign and the counter-ideology campaign, we now need to work with friends in the region, as has already been said, to help to promote a comprehensive and moderate democratic Government in Syria that has the confidence of all the communities there, including the Alawite community, from which Assad originally came.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a huge difference between making this statement and making a case? Will he acknowledge that if he is going to take this House and the wider public with him over the coming months, he will need to make a better case than he has made today?

Michael Fallon: I hope I have made the case, first, that embedding UK personnel in other forces is absolutely standard and normal and has been going on for years—there is nothing unusual about this particular situation; and, secondly, that the UK personnel who have been embedded have been embedded in actions that we support.

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We support what the Americans have been doing in Syria, as well as the action they have been taking in Iraq. That action is legal and we welcome it, and it is of course action in which they would like us to join.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): On the flipside, how many foreign personnel are embedded in our armed forces today?

Michael Fallon: A number of Americans and personnel from other forces are embedded in our forces. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is part of the normal exchange between close partners in NATO and beyond, and these are some of normal operating procedures among the armed forces of friendly countries.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Twelve years ago, based on half-truths and in some cases untruths, the Iraq war began. Even today, we know the repercussions of those half-truths and of the failure to tell Parliament everything. I believe that the Secretary of State has not learned those lessons, and history is repeating itself.

Michael Fallon: I hope we are learning some of the principal lessons from Iraq, including that Iraq’s future will be secure only under a moderate Government of all the peoples of Iraq, whether they are Kurd, Shi’a or Sunni, and that it will survive only with the support of its friends and allies within the region. That is why this is an international effort to sustain a legitimate and democratically elected Government, which I hope the hon. Gentleman would welcome.

Mr Keith Simpson (Broadland) (Con): The Secretary of State will be only too well aware that, over the past half an hour, there has been considerable division and difference of opinion with reference to his statement. That also applies to his strategy, which I fully support, of using direct military action against ISIS. The conundrum is that hundreds of young British people believe that what ISIS is doing is right. We are trying to put in place a strategy to deal with that. Does my right hon. Friend have any doubts in his mind that, sadly, direct military action might encourage those young people to want to go out and not only die for ISIS but kill their fellow British citizens?

Michael Fallon: I am clear that were we to intervene on the ground with combat troops, we could well help further to radicalise opinion in western Europe and encourage more support. That is exactly why the Prime Minister of Iraq for one has made it very clear that he does not want foreign troops on the ground and that this fight has to be a fight of the Iraqi army, which has to win back the support of the local population. There is therefore no question of our supplying combat troops on the ground in Iraq.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): For more than three years, the position of our Government has been to support the Syrian Coalition and the Free Syrian Army. The Secretary of State says that we are training people outside Syria to be reinserted at some point. Has he seen the press statement issued by the Syrian Coalition today, in which it denounces a breakaway group, “a so-called military council” that is being formed by

“members of the dissolved FSA Supreme Military Council”,


“just an attempt to mislead public opinion”?

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Is it not clear that our strategy of working with the so-called moderate Syrian opposition has failed, is failing and will fail? Is it not time that we gave direct support to the only people in Syria who are fighting Daesh—the Syrian Kurds?

Michael Fallon: Support is going to the Syrian Kurds, but it is also important, as I hope the hon. Gentleman would recognise, to continue to try to identify moderate elements further south in Syria who are prepared to take the fight to ISIL. He is right that those who come forward for training have to be properly vetted. We are part of the overall American organisation of the programme. We must have confidence that, once trained, these people will be prepared to re-enter the fight when they return to Syria. That is why the numbers have been relatively small. However, we are at the beginning of the programme, and we expect and hope that the numbers will build up.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Were it not for the coalition’s efforts, with our support, there is no question but that Iraq, including Kurdistan, would have fallen by now and that there would be a significant threat to the west as a result. Will the Secretary of State comment on something that he missed out from his statement? We have done great work supporting the peshmerga, who are the one people who have done fantastic work holding ISIS back. They are asking for more support through training on the ground and more heavy weapons. What consideration has been given to providing that support to these brave people?

Michael Fallon: The peshmerga have fought extremely bravely and have had some success in pushing ISIL out of Kurdish areas. I have welcomed the training and equipment that we have been able to supply to them. However, it is also important to assist the Government of Iraq by supplying training and equipment to the Iraqi army outside the Kurdish areas. That is where our new effort, which involves stepping up our counter-IED training, will largely be concentrated.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): The “Ministerial Code” states:

“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public”.

Not once, in a seven and a half hour debate last year on military action on Daesh targets, did the Government mention the potential role of UK forces embedded in US or Canadian forces in bombing targets in Syria. Does the Secretary of State consider that to be an open and transparent approach to this most serious of issues?

Michael Fallon: I have explained the practice in respect of publicising the role of embedded personnel. These are not our operations but the operations of other countries, and it is for them to decide whether they want to publicise them. Our policy has been, when we are asked for details of this embedding, to be open and transparent. We answer parliamentary questions or freedom of information requests from anybody in this House or outside it.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It is clear, on any analysis, that the military action being taken in Syria is lawful under international law. Will the Secretary

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of State also confirm that each of the operations in which embedded British personnel have taken part has been seen as necessary and proportionate to meet a legitimate aim under international law? Will he take it on board—on the basis of his statement, I am sure that he will—that the sooner we remove the wholly artificial distinction between taking military action against ISIL in Iraq and taking military action against ISIL in Syria, the better?

Michael Fallon: All these actions, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, contribute to the collective self-defence of Iraq. They are not simply legal, necessary and proportionate, but very welcome, because they are actions against an enemy of this country, which is ISIL.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. A lot of colleagues are still seeking to catch my eye. I want to accommodate them all, but brevity is of the essence. Who will lead us in that important mission? I think that Mr Cryer will do so.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Let us be clear: the Secretary of State is here today not because he is a big fan of parliamentary accountability, but because he knew that there would be an urgent question and he did not want to look as though he had been dragged kicking and screaming to the House of Commons—he is doing a pretty good imitation of that anyway. Will he answer a question that was asked previously: how long has he known about British involvement in military strikes in Syria?

Michael Fallon: I have known about the embedding of UK personnel with our allies since I took up my post, and, as I said, when each deployment on operations takes place, my permission is required and was given.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Pithiness personified, I call Sir Edward Leigh.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I agree that we should keep the embedding of five pilots in hundreds of missions in perspective, but the fact remains that we were given a solemn promise that if British service people were to bomb in Syria, we would be consulted. I urge my right hon. Friend to learn the lessons of these incidents. Twice bitten, twice shy; twice we have relied on faulty intelligence to undertake disastrous invasions of Libya and Iraq. Two years ago we were told that we had to bomb Assad; now we are told that we have to bomb his enemies. I say to my right hon. Friend, please do not take us for granted; tell us all that is going on.

Michael Fallon: I have never taken my hon. Friend for granted. The motion that the House debated almost two years ago in August 2013 did not license UK military operations in Syria. There are no UK military strikes in Syria, but I have explained to the House that where our personnel are embedded with other forces, they are participating in those countries’ operations that are approved by their procedures and Parliaments.

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Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: The hon. Member for West Bromwich East is not quite standing, but he looks as though he is poised to pounce. I call Mr Tom Watson.

Mr Watson: Will the Secretary of State tell the House on what date he authorised the first embed with US forces in Syria?

Michael Fallon: That was last autumn, but I will write and give the hon. Gentleman the exact date.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I understand the political requirement to restrict Royal Air Force operations only to Iraq, but it is military and strategic nonsense and I totally support any move that removes that artificial restriction. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the overall strategy against Daesh, which may well include our having to beef up help on the ground, is continually under review?

Michael Fallon: Yes it is. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agreed with Prime Minister Abadi at their most recent meeting that we would step up our effort, particularly in the niche training that we are offering in measures to counter IEDs. We are also working in the Ministries to help to advise the Iraqi Government and Iraqi army security effort, and we stand ready to consider further requests for help.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): In the last Parliament, the Defence Committee undertook an inquiry into strategic defence planning, and we found it woefully inadequate. The former Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee told us that the Prime Minister’s idea of strategy was “What’s next?” What is next seems to be a plan that is coming forward in September for us to take action in Syria. Will the Secretary of State undertake to bring a fully worked out strategy that includes what nations and organisations will hold any ground cleared by our planes, rather than policy on the hoof, which is what we have on a day-by-day basis at the moment?

Michael Fallon: I do not accept that. I described the strategy to defeat ISIL, including the campaign to cut off its finances and efforts to stop the flow of foreign fighters, in which we are playing our part. The battle to deal with ISIL’s ideology is being led by our Government and the working group on strategic communications, and there is a military campaign in which many countries are involved. As far as ground force operations in Iraq are concerned, I have made it clear that the Prime Minister of Iraq does not want foreign troops involved. He does not want British or American forces on the ground, and in the end this battle must be won by the Iraqi forces with our help.

Johnny Mercer (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con): When I was serving, one of the most frustrating things was an almost uninformed debate about our military action. Does my right hon. Friend agree that questions about embeds, and asking special forces capabilities to be raised on the Floor of the House of Commons, belie a fundamental misunderstanding of how our forces operate,

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and that in interoperability it is vital we have embeds to ensure we take part in the international fight against terrorism?

Michael Fallon: My hon. Friend brings his very direct military experience to our debates, and I absolutely agree with him.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Does the Secretary of State accept that so-called IS actively wants war? Its core message is to present itself as the guardian of Islam under crusader attack. That is a pernicious but effective message. Stepping up our involvement in air strikes reinforces that narrative, even if we stop short of being involved in a ground war. Moreover, it is likely to lead to more civilian casualties. Will he tell us how many civilian casualties there have been so far as a result of US-led air strikes?

Michael Fallon: I can certainly write to the hon. Lady on the latter point. Our rules of engagement only agree operations where the capacity for civilian casualties is minimised. I hope she is not suggesting to the House that we should take no action in Iraq or in Syria against ISIL. This is an evil organisation that has committed terrorist outrages on the streets of western Europe and on our own streets. It inspired an attack in the past couple of weeks in which 30 of our citizens were murdered.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary. What recent discussions has he had with other Muslim nations in the middle east on our common alliance against the evil of Daesh?

Michael Fallon: I and the Foreign Secretary have regular discussions with leaders in the middle east. I recently met the King of Jordan, I speak to other leaders on the phone, and I shall be visiting the middle east in a couple of weeks. They are very aware that the effort to defeat ISIL has to be led from within the region, as well as by using the international coalition to support it from outside the region. They are grateful for our assistance and they would certainly welcome any additional support that we can give the Government of Iraq. As we can do more, so too can they.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): As part of his campaign to tackle extremism, the Prime Minister is quite rightly promoting the values of democracy, in particular parliamentary democracy. Does the Secretary of State agree that essential to the operation of parliamentary democracy is respect for the decisions of Parliament and honesty by Ministers?

Michael Fallon: Of course that must be right, but since the debate we had two years ago we have seen the rise of ISIL. The debate in August 2013 was on a motion that would have authorised the Government to take action against the Assad regime and its potential use of chemical weapons. It was not a debate about ISIL. It is since August 2013 that we have seen the rise of ISIL and its capture of a huge swathe of Syrian and Iraqi territory. We have seen terrorist outrages, promoted by ISIL, in western Europe and on our own streets. We have now had 30 of our citizens murdered in an attack inspired by ISIL. All those things have happened since that debate on a different issue—chemical weapons in Syria—in the previous Parliament.

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Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Does the Secretary of State recognise that the call for inaction, in the face of such evil as is being seen on the streets of Raqqa and other areas of northern Syria today, is to opt out of protecting our friends and allies? Having served alongside Jordanians, Lebanese and Iraqis in recent conflicts, may I urge him to redouble his efforts to support our friends and allies who require such assistance at times like this?

Michael Fallon: This is an allied effort, and we are certainly encouraging the other Gulf countries to do more, but we too face an enemy in ISIL and we too need to do more. That is why we are stepping up our training effort and taking on a huge burden in the intelligence and surveillance missions. It is also why, so far, we have conducted a very large number of strikes.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Plaid Cymru MPs opposed the bombing of Daesh in Iraq, as it was inevitable that operations would have to be extended into Syria, drawing the UK into an intractable civil war. In the light of the proliferation of Daesh and its affiliates throughout the middle east and north Africa, will the Secretary of State concede that the rationale of current UK foreign policy could lead to UK involvement in a war without end across the whole region?

Michael Fallon: The hon. Gentleman needs to reflect on what would have happened last summer, when ISIL was within a few miles of the gates of Baghdad, if countries in the region and those outside it—such as the United States and eventually ourselves, after our vote—had not intervened. What would have happened if Iraq had shattered into pieces? What would the effect have been on the overall stability of the region and, indeed, on the economic prosperity of this country?

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I fully accept that co-operation in these matters requires embedding, not just in military activities but in areas such as intelligence and humanitarian assistance. It must be clear to my right hon. Friend, however, that the real concern is a result of the aftermath of the vote in the House in August 2013. Will he make a full statement on behalf of the Government at some point on where the royal prerogative arises in these circumstances? Many of us are concerned about that. We had a vote in Parliament, and I am concerned that Parliament is overriding the will of the Executive. We need clarification on that at the earliest opportunity.

Michael Fallon: The debate and vote that we held towards the end of August 2013 were on whether the House would accept military action against the Assad regime and its potential use of chemical weapons. That predated the rise and viciousness of the ISIL phenomenon that we are now confronted with.

My right hon. Friend also raises a more intriguing point on the extent to which the Executive of the day should be bound—rightly bound, I think—by the debates that take place in the House. I want to give him a clear answer. It is for the Government of the day to defend this country and the values our country believes in, and then to be accountable to this House for their actions.

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Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State explain how the cause of building consensus on tackling ISIL has been advanced by the Government’s failure to be clear with the House about the involvement of UK armed forces in Syria?

Michael Fallon: I have reported to the House on the actions we take to deal with ISIL in Iraq and in Syria, and when we have been asked questions about the embedding of our personnel in other forces we have answered them. That is one reason why I am standing here today. We answered this question properly on our own website last week.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I am quite disturbed that the Opposition seem to think that embedding is a recent phenomenon. It has been going on for generations. My father was an embed based in Hong Kong in the 1960s. What the House should really be concerned about is whether what is being carried out in these armed forces manoeuvres is legal. Will my right hon. Friend please assure the House that it is?

Michael Fallon: I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Action in Syria, in aid of the collective self-defence of Iraq, is perfectly legal, particularly in an area such as northern Syria, where the authorities are neither willing nor able to act themselves. The action that is taking place is perfectly legal. So far as previous practice is concerned, there have indeed been embedded UK personnel in armed forces for the past 50 or 60 years, and it has never been our policy to announce the embedding in any particular operation, because those operations are matters for the countries of those forces.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): When the Defence Secretary sits down at the end of the statement, will he reflect on whether some of his answers have been a little too casual in addressing the serious concerns that have been expressed about the use of embedded forces without the Government first volunteering that information? The House wants the Government to be straight with it, and to be proactive in doing so.

The Secretary of State was asked by the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), about the regional strategy into which these actions will fit, but I was not clear about his response, so will he again say what regional strategy he wishes to pursue in confronting Daesh?

Michael Fallon: On the first point, of course we give the House information about the military operations that we are conducting in Iraq and Syria. We do not announce every operation in the way the hon. Gentleman perhaps envisages, but we are always ready to give information to the House proactively in respect of UK operations for which we are responsible, and that is only right.

I am sorry if my answer to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee was not clear. I hoped I was making it clear that we agreed with him. This has to be a regional strategy that involves Syria’s neighbours, particularly Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, in finding a way forward for Syria, as happened in Iraq,

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with a Government who are genuinely open to all parties in Syria and can command the confidence of all sectors.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): We cannot ignore the evil of Daesh, but there are reports that former military figures support deploying ground troops in Iraq and Syria. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important that we learn from past mistakes in Iraq and do not do anything that might enflame local tensions?

Michael Fallon: Yes, I do. Putting ground troops into Iraq or Syria would help the ISIL narrative and help further radicalise its potential supporters by showing that foreign armies were there to deal with it. That is why the Prime Minister of Iraq has made it crystal clear that he does not want British or American troops on the ground in this particular fight.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Secretary of State keeps extolling the virtue of transparency, saying that his Department released this information under the Freedom of Information Act rather than by coming to Parliament and explaining the Government’s actions to Members. Given that the Government are in the process of reviewing the functions of the Act, does he think the actions in question will be removed from the scope of FOI under any proposed changes?

Michael Fallon: As I understand it, the review has only just been announced. From my point of view, it certainly is not envisaged that we should lessen the flow of information about our operations, but I did not simply rest my answer on the operation of the Act. It has been open to hon. Members—as it was to the hon. Member for West Bromwich East, who tabled questions well before Christmas—to table questions on this matter. If they do, those questions will be answered.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I would be the first on the Conservative Benches to criticise the Secretary of State if I thought there had not been any transparency, but operational exchange is perfectly normal, and military pilots would be surprised were it not happening.

On another important issue, which the Secretary of State has touched on, if the Government propose to change military strategy in Syria, will he first come to the House so that there can be a full debate on a substantive motion, even if it means recalling Parliament?

Michael Fallon: The Prime Minister has already made it clear that if we planned British military strikes and operations in Syria that we would be directing or responsible for, yes, he would first come to the House.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Secretary of State has said that western troops operating in a combat role would serve only to promote ISIL’s ideological narrative and radicalise more people. Why does he think that such risks attach only to boots on the ground and not to bombs from the air?

Michael Fallon: That is the view of the Iraqi Government, not simply my view. Everything we do in Iraq is done either at the request of the legitimate Government of Iraq or with their permission. The Iraqi authorities

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have full authority over this campaign and can veto any action they think would be unhelpful. They do not think that combat troops on the ground would be helpful, but they certainly welcome the air support the coalition is providing.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What proportion of coalition air strikes against ISIL in Iraq are undertaken by the Royal Air Force? I quite understand that, given the outstanding quality of our pilots and our aircraft—especially the Tornado—an increased contribution from the RAF is being sought, but many Islamic countries in the region are very well off and have established air forces. Should they not also be required to do more? Surely if ISIS is to be defeated, it must be defeated by the Islamic countries in the region.

Michael Fallon: I can provide my hon. Friend with the exact number of strikes as of last week, but we have been shouldering one of the biggest burdens of the strike missions being flown in Iraq. Other countries have, of course, been flying and striking in both Iraq and Syria, and some of the Gulf countries that are not flying in Iraq have been involved in the campaign in Syria, but each of the coalition countries is making its contribution in its own way. Some are doing other things, such as providing financial help for the refugees of Iraq and Syria, or providing logistics and bases for the plans to fly from and help with refuelling. Each country is helping in its own way.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has made it clear that there is ample precedent for embedded troops to be withdrawn from specific operations when they are outwith the foreign policy of their country. The Secretary of State has told the House that he has personally authorised each bombing raid by a British pilot. Does he understand how concerned the public will be about the fact that he seemed prepared to flout the settled will of the British Parliament and, more importantly, the British people?

Michael Fallon: I do not accept that. The hon. Lady is right in that there have been a handful of instances—and only a handful—in which UK embedded personnel have been withdrawn from an operation that was not in accordance with UK law or UK policy, but in this case we fully support the action that the United States is taking, because it is legitimate and in our interest.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): How successful has the international effort been so far in cutting off funds from ISIL?

Michael Fallon: More certainly needs to be done to interdict the flow of finance. Various actions are being taken internationally, through the United Nations and other bodies, to try to get to the heart of ISIL financing. That includes its operations in the oil market, from which it is deriving some revenues, and its ability to purchase arms and other equipment on the international market. As I have said, however, more needs to be done.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): It simply is not good enough for the Secretary of State to come to the House and tell us that he does not

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understand what the fuss is about. On not one occasion but two we were asked whether we would support limited bombing of Syria, and on both those occasions we made it clear that we did not agree. The Secretary of State has just told us that, in fact, members of the armed forces were bombing Syria last autumn. Was that before or after we were asked for the second time whether we supported such action? Does this not set a dangerous precedent?

Michael Fallon: I do not agree with the hon. Lady. The motion that was before the House two years ago was about the chemical weapons in Syria. That was the motion that was debated, and, ultimately, defeated.

Emily Thornberry: And last year?

Michael Fallon: Last year was about UK military operations in Iraq and in Syria. This is not a UK military operation in Syria. If it were, we would of course come back to the House and ask for authority, but it is not a UK military operation.

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): We have seen excellence in our Army medical corps and in how we treat wounded personnel and civilian injured. Are we thinking of offering help of that kind to those who will take on the ground forces for us?

Michael Fallon: I am afraid that I missed some of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but in relation to medical assistance we have been providing a series of training courses for members of the Iraqi army and the Kurdish forces, entailing, for instance, short infantry skills. If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman specifically about whether that includes the treatment of battlefield casualties.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): If the Secretary of State intends to return to the House at some point to ask for an enlargement of our military engagement in Syria, does he not accept that Members and our constituents—especially our Muslim constituents —will now feel more sceptical about whether we are fully informed and able to take any such decision?

Michael Fallon: I do not accept that. If we are to come to this House to debate the matter and seek permission to carry out UK military strikes in Syria, of course we will provide all the information we can for hon. Members. What I have been describing today is the long-standing practice of placing embeds in the forces of other countries.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): On the five occasions when the deployment of embedded UK personnel was approved, which Minister or Ministers, including the Prime Minister, were aware and gave such approval? What is the point of requiring ministerial approval if it is always granted even when Parliament has expressed its overwhelming view that such deployment should not take place, and is it not the case that the Government always disagreed with Parliament’s view and were happy to see it circumvented in this way?

Michael Fallon: I do not accept any of that, but let me try and help the hon. Gentleman with information on the approval process. My predecessor gave approval for embeds with American forces to participate when they

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were due to be deployed. That was given last summer, just before I took office. I gave a similar approval in the autumn of last year, and I gave a subsequent approval when the Canadian forces were deployed earlier this spring.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Iraqi army is well resourced and has access to the best and most modern equipment. However, confidence in the Iraqi army to take on Daesh is severely lacking. Can the Secretary of State outline what has been done to train experienced officers with courage and leadership abilities to lead their soldiers and defeat Daesh?

Michael Fallon: Elements of the Iraqi army have had to be almost completely reconstituted under the current Government from what existed beforehand, and it is to the credit of the new Abadi Government that there has been a clear-out of some of the higher command—the senior generals who were not prepared to take the fight to ISIL—and a restructuring of the army, and I hope that the passage of the national guard legislation will soon enable the deployment of a security force alongside the army that is able to hold ground that has been liberated from ISIL.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): It is now clear that this House should have had a further debate in the autumn about embedding our UK service personnel. Will the Secretary of State therefore withdraw our personnel pending any further debate in this House that may or may not provide a mandate?

Michael Fallon: A number of UK personnel are embedded with American and Canadian forces, but at the moment no UK pilots are involved. We welcome the operations the Americans and Canadians are carrying out alongside us to help defeat and degrade ISIL in both countries, because, as the Prime Minister made clear again today, ISIL can be defeated only in both Iraq and Syria.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): In the event that the Government bring forward a motion for further military intervention in Syria against Daesh, can the Secretary of State assure us that we have a strategy in place so that that bombing does not have the consequence of bolstering the Assad regime?

Michael Fallon: Absolutely. I do not think any Member on either side of the House wants to see the Assad

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regime in office a day longer than is necessary. We do not see any future for Syria with President Assad remaining in place, but President Assad is not in control any more of areas around Raqqa and northern Syria where ISIL is headquartered and from where its supply routes run into Iraq. It is no longer regime territory. That is where ISIL’s effort is directed from, and that is where the Americans and other forces are striking.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Secretary of State has disregarded the will and vote of this House, he has been found out and he is now trying to wriggle out of it. So when will this Parliament be given a vote on the engagement of British personnel in Syria? Will he assure us that it will be in a properly timetabled debate, in sitting time, not in a mid-August ambush? Will he say that there will be no more involvement of British personnel until that vote has taken place?

Michael Fallon: No, not on the latter point. As I have said, we continue to have personnel embedded with American and Canadian forces. They are engaged in action that is legal and necessary. It is action that I welcome and that I would hope the House welcomed to help defeat ISIL. So far as any further vote in the House is concerned, no, we do not have a specific timetable.

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said, the serious issue here is the fact that the Government have given permission for UK armed forces personnel to be involved in air strikes in Syria, despite giving first the impression and then the assurance that they would come to the House before they did any such thing. The Secretary of State has not recognised that. How can the Government expect to build the confidence of hon. Members, never mind the British public, to embark on further military action in Syria when they behave in that manner?

Michael Fallon: I have described to the House the long-standing practice as regards embedded personnel. I have described exactly what information is released about that embedding, the fact that we do not publicise the embedding because these are operations of other countries, and the fact that personnel are deployed on them with my agreement. But it is also our policy, whenever we are asked about these operations, to give full answers about them. That is what we have done and what we did last week in response to a freedom of information request.

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Points of Order

5.31 pm

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Friday the Government published a written statement announcing a commission to look into the Freedom of Information Act. The impression has been given that it is a cross-party commission with the support of all parties. May I make it clear that Opposition Members have not been consulted about the work of the commission, nor do we have representation on the commission, nor do we want to see any watering down of the Freedom of Information Act, the worth of which has been demonstrated this afternoon?

Mr Speaker: The hon. Member has made his point and that of his party with crystal clarity. It is on the record, and we are grateful to him.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the debates on the Infrastructure Bill on 26 January, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change told the House unequivocally that there would be an outright ban on fracking at sites of special scientific interest. That was the basis on which the majority of the House agreed the Bill should be enacted. Yet secondary legislation published on Friday does the exact opposite, by failing to include SSSIs in the list of protected areas. Mr Speaker, could you please offer some guidance on the appropriateness of concealing such a U-turn in the small print of a statutory instrument, and advise us whether you have had any indication that the Secretary of State intends to make a statement on the matter, given that what she told the House very clearly and specifically no longer appears to be the case?

Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice of it. I have received no indication that a Minister is intending to come to the House to make a statement on the matter. I am not familiar with the detail of what was said at an earlier stage, and it would not be right for me to seek to umpire between competing voices on the history of commitments made. Suffice it to say that Members on the Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Lady’s point of order.

Beyond that, I think what I would say is that the regulations will have to be brought forward, if they have not already been, and proceeded with either by the negative or by the affirmative procedure, with both of which the hon. Lady—an experienced Member of the House—will be well familiar. There should, therefore, be at least an opportunity fully to debate the matter, and for the hon. Lady to flag up what she regards as an inconsistency between past commitment and present content. I think we had better leave it there for today.

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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Second Reading

Mr Speaker: I must inform the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the acting Leader of the Opposition.

5.34 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am conscious of the fact that many Members wish to speak today and that we have compressed time as a result of the statements. I will take interventions, but I recognise that we need to make some progress so that everybody has a chance to speak. In moving the motion, I wish to make it very clear that Conservative Members are united in support of the Government’s aim to move from a high tax, high welfare and low wage society to a low tax, lower welfare and higher wage society. This Bill lays the ground for that commitment and helps us to continue the job of reversing the Labour’s Government’s failure that led us into the difficulties we inherited.

Let me remind the House quickly, before we get into the details, of what we inherited when we came into office in 2010: nearly one in five households had no one working—this is what Labour left us; the number of households where no one had ever worked had nearly doubled; 1.4 million people had been on benefits for most of the previous decade; and close to half of all households in the social rented sector had no one at all in work. Since then, even through the coalition, we have proceeded to get to 2 million more jobs being created; there are now 2 million more apprenticeships; the number of workless households has reached a record low—it is down more than 670,000 since 2010; and the workless household rate in the social rented sector is now the lowest on record. The recent Budget debate, in which we had a pretty full discussion of many of the characteristics of this Bill, made it clear that we want to go further, delivering 3 million more apprenticeships and moving towards full employment. These are measures that this Government will drive forward and that this Bill requires us to report on each year.

We will also continue to bear down on the deficit and debt, achieving a surplus by the end of the Parliament. We are spending £3 billion on debt interest payments alone every month—the figure is £33 billion a year, which is £1,236 per household. Every pound we spend on paying off the debt is a pound we are paying to others such as overseas investment funds, rather than on the necessary public services such as schools and hospitals or on being able to reduce taxation further. Eliminating the deficit and paying off our debts is the moral and most effective things for a responsible Government to do for people on low incomes, who rely more than anybody on those services.

It is worth pointing out that we also need to drive productivity improvements. The Budget contains some important measures to make that a reality, and our long-term productivity plan sets out how it will boost productivity over the next 10 years. As my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary made vividly clear in launching that plan, if we could, for example, match US levels of productivity, we would increase GDP by 31%—that

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is £23,000 a year for every household. A key driver to getting us there is the national living wage. That historic reform will give more than 2.7 million people currently on the minimum wage a pay rise of more than £5,000 a year. With the increase in the personal allowance to £12,500 by the end of the Parliament, the national living wage will make work pay and improve people’s living standards. It will also help productivity. The Governor of the Bank of England confirmed last week that the living wage will help increase the productivity of workers and of the country—

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I want to quote what the Governor has said and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. The Governor said:

“There should be some improvement in productivity as a consequence of adjustment in the national living wage”.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way so early on in his speech. Obviously, all of us are supportive of a productive, growing economy—that benefits everybody. But when he drew up proposals for this Bill, did he look at the levels of child poverty in Britain? Did he look at the levels of homelessness, destitution and rough sleeping in Britain? How does he think this Bill is going to improve that situation? Alternatively, will it make the holes in the welfare state safety net rather bigger, with more people falling through it as a result?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I wish him well in his campaign. [Laughter.] I was being genuine and not politically expedient. I must say that being Leader of the Opposition is not all that it is cracked up to be. I have some personal experience of that. He should be careful what he wishes for. None of us wishes him ill.

On the hon. Gentleman’s legitimate question, I say yes to the first part. The measures in the Bill relating to life chances will do more to help us target the kind of work that we should be doing to turn lives around in families and households to ensure that people are able to get into work and to sustain themselves in work. As for the third part of his question, it is also correct that this Bill, with all the other welfare reforms and the things that we are bringing in, will ultimately improve the life chances of people and the numbers in work. We know that the best way out of poverty is through full-time work.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), but then I will make some progress. I will give way again a bit later.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, by putting welfare spending on a sustainable footing, these measures are the best way to secure the future of the poor and the vulnerable in our society?

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Mr Duncan Smith: I do agree with my hon. Friend, which is why I want to get to the Bill. This backdrop of rising employment, falling deficit, increased productivity and higher wages brings me to the Bill before the House today. This is a Bill for working Britain, and it is underpinned by three key principles: first, work is the best route out of poverty, and being in work should always pay more than being on benefits; secondly, spending on welfare should be sustainable and fair to the taxpayer while protecting the most vulnerable; and, thirdly, people on benefit should face the same choices as those in work and those not on benefits. I wish to talk about each of those principles in turn.

My focus in government—and the focus of the Government —has been to ensure that it pays more to work than to be on benefits. This Bill builds on that principle. First, it extends the important principles of the benefit cap. The £26,000 cap we introduced in 2013 has been a huge success—

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab) rose

Mr Duncan Smith: One moment, please. The cap has been a huge success in getting people back to work and reintroducing fairness to the welfare system. Capped households are more than 40% more likely to go into work after a year than similar uncapped households. It is right to keep the level of the cap under review to ensure that it continues to be fair and that it provides the right incentives for people to move into work.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab) rose

Mr Duncan Smith: No, I will give way to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) in a second, but I wish to make a bit of progress.

We know that around four in 10 households outside London earn less than £20,000, and the same proportion of households in London earn less than £23,000. To ensure that the cap better reflects the circumstances of hard-working families, the Bill lowers the current cap to £20,000 for households outside Greater London, and the Greater London cap will be set at £23,000. The exemptions will continue to apply to the most vulnerable, which includes people on disability living allowance and personal independence payment, those in an employment and support allowance support group and those moving into work who are entitled to working tax credits.

Carolyn Harris: What assessment has been made of the effect of his welfare reforms on children?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am sorry, but I did not quite hear the hon. Lady. Will she repeat what she said?

Carolyn Harris: The right hon. Gentleman must listen carefully. What assessment has he made of the effect of his welfare reforms on the children of this country?

Mr Duncan Smith: The impact assessments are in the Library and the Vote Office. Full assessments have been made.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. Earlier, he said he would protect the vulnerable. May I remind him that there are 1.4 million people in this country with a learning disability? Has he considered an exemption for

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the specialist disability housing providers, such as Mencap, from the 1% reduction, so that people with a learning disability have more opportunities to live in the community, especially after Winterbourne and all those terrible scandals?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that and to look at the issue he raises. I know that we have looked at it, but I am happy to look at it again with him.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I will make some progress, and then I will give way, but many Members wish to speak and make their own points.

We are committed to helping people who have health difficulties and who are capable of taking steps into work to do so, which is why we are putting greater support into jobcentres. For new claims, the Bill will end the disparity between what people receive on the work-related activity component of ESA and on jobseeker’s allowance. We know that the majority of people receiving work-related activity ESA payments want to work, but the current system discourages claimants from making the transition into work. People on ESA receive £30 a week more than those with a health condition on JSA, but they receive far less support in finding work: people on JSA can expect about 11 hours of work coach time per year, whereas those on ESA typically receive only about two hours per year. The Bill will help people to achieve their ambitions. Current claimants will not be affected, and new funding will be provided for additional support to help claimants to move into work.

Emily Thornberry: I was interested to hear the Secretary of State talk about the benefits cap and fairness. Is he aware that his right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) also talked about fairness and the benefits cap, saying that it was only fair that people’s benefits were capped at the level of the average that someone would expect to earn by working? At that point, the cap was £26,000; now, it seems that average earnings are £23,000 and £20,000. What is the reason for the difference?

Mr Duncan Smith: I just explained, I think, that there are differences between gross and net figures. Now, we are looking at lowering the cap from the original £26,000, as the hon. Lady will know if she uses her intelligence—

Emily Thornberry: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am not going to give way to the hon. Lady again, because I thought it was pretty simple maths. However, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Stephen Timms: Given what the right hon. Gentleman was just saying about ESA, what is his response to Parkinson's UK and Macmillan Cancer Support? They point out that, in the case of Parkinson’s, there are some 8,000 people in the work-related activity group with Parkinson’s and other progressive diseases who are not going to get better but who, under his proposals, will lose £30 a week. How can he defend that?

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Mr Duncan Smith: As originally designed by the Labour Government, the work-related activity group was to be a transitional stage on the way to work. It included people who had conditions that were perceived to be likely to improve, thus enabling them to move into work, and people who could, even while they were in the work-related activity group, do some work, and that had to be assessed. If a person’s condition is such that they are unable to do any work at all, under the existing rules of the work capability assessment, they should be assessed and moved into the support group. That is exactly the point.

The objective of the work-related activity group—its design was, I think, rather faulty, but we have what we have—is to encourage people to go into work. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are no sanctions to make them take work. There are sanctions if they are unwilling to make an effort, but if they cannot take the work they are not sanctioned.

Stephen Timms: The Secretary of State will readily acknowledge that people with Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis who are in the work-related activity group are not going to get better. Surely he should not be taking £30 a week away from them.

Mr Duncan Smith: As I said—the right hon. Gentleman should remember this—the purpose of the work-related activity group is that the people in that group are deemed to be capable of some work, or at least to be capable of doing some work very soon. That is the point of the group. My point is that when someone becomes too ill to do any work, at that point they are assessed and they should go into the support group. I am happy to discuss the matter further with him elsewhere, but those are the rules as they stand.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I want to make some progress. I will give way again later, but I am conscious of the fact that over 35 Members are waiting to speak—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Forty.

Mr Duncan Smith: Forty Members, so it is in colleagues’ interest to let me make some progress.

I also want to support parents claiming universal credit to get into and stay in work after having a child. We found just last week that the number of children living in households claiming out-of-work benefits is at a record low, down by 450,000 since 2010. That is very good progress, but we want to build on it. The Government are introducing a far-reaching childcare offer: with universal credit, people will get up to 85% of their childcare costs paid from April 2016—up from 70% under the previous system. All three and four-year-olds already receive 15 hours of free childcare a week, as do 40% of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds. On top of that, there will be an additional 15 hours of free childcare available for working parents of three or four-year-olds. Overall, we anticipate that this provision will be worth about £5,000 per child per year. In line with that, we believe it is fair to ask parents claiming universal credit to look for work when their youngest child turns three, and to prepare for work when the youngest child turns two, and the Bill makes provision for that as well.

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Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I want to bring the Secretary of State back to the cap. Lowering the cap is one thing, and it is something that we could probably agree on, but having different levels of the cap across the United Kingdom breaks parity and sets an unwanted precedent for other benefits, and we strongly disagree with that. Will he reconsider and have the cap at the same level across the whole United Kingdom?

Mr Duncan Smith: The problem with the cap when we set it previously was that it disproportionately affected London without having a great effect on the rest of the country. This process means that of the 92,000 extra people who are likely to be affected, 16,000 will be in London and 77,000 will be outside London, which I think resets the balance. By the way, many people tell me that the cap is set far too high.

Ian Paisley rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, so I will make some progress. He is more than welcome to try to intervene later, but I want to move on to the next aspect of the Bill. I stand by the fact that the cap will now be more likely to be equal. It will not be absolutely equal because there are variable incomes, as he knows.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr Duncan Smith: I will give way to the hon. Lady, because I have not yet done so.

Caroline Lucas: On the level of the cap, the cost of living for my constituents is very similar to that in London, yet they will have to make do with a much lower cap. Moreover, the Bill will allow the Secretary of State to reduce the cap over time without having to come back to Parliament to seek any kind of agreement. Why is he essentially playing politics with poverty?

Mr Duncan Smith: The hon. Lady’s question is rather mixed; I thought that she was asking me to impose an even stricter cap on her constituency, with a lower level. The reality is that none of this is absolutely perfect, but we believe that it will reset the balance, which is better than just leaving a single figure at a lower level and making London suffer more than the rest.

As the Chancellor set out in the Budget, the benefits system has to be put on a more sustainable footing, but in a way that protects the most vulnerable. That brings me to the second principle of the Bill, which is sustainability. In 1980 working-age welfare accounted for 8% of all public spending, but by 2010 it had risen to nearly 13%, which is over £200 billion, or almost £8,000 for every household. Nine in 10 families with children were eligible for tax credits when we came into government. It is clear from what we heard last week that many Opposition Members have still not learnt anything from some of the mistakes made during Labour’s 13 years in government. They have not weaned themselves off the addiction to paying for more and more debt with somebody else’s money. They are still not credible when it comes to managing the public finances.

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As a result of our reforms, five in 10 families with children will be eligible for tax credits, bringing greater balance to the welfare budget. However, it is also clear in the Bill that we have been careful to ensure that the changes are fair. We are protecting the most vulnerable in society, including the elderly and disabled. Where possible, we are introducing changes only for new claimants so that those who have planned on the basis of what is currently available are not affected.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): On that point about protecting the vulnerable, particularly the disabled, our manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap is very welcome. Will the Bill’s reporting obligations on full employment include the Government publishing data each year showing to what extent they are meeting that target?

Mr Duncan Smith: All the data that we have committed to publishing will be open and available to everybody, so everybody will be able to see exactly how much progress we have made. Through the life chances measures, people will be able to figure out whether we are making progress, and therefore what we should be doing about it. I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes some of the changes, particularly the living wage, which I know he has campaigned on for some time.

We are making provision to tackle social rents, which have increased by 20% since 2010. The Bill will reduce rents in social housing in England by 1% a year for four years from April 2016, protecting taxpayers from the rising cost of subsidising rents through housing benefit, and protecting tenants from rising housing costs. This will reduce average rents for households in the social housing sector by around 12% by 2020, compared with current forecasts. It will also mean that those people not on housing benefit and not subject to “pay to stay” will be better off by around £12 a week by 2019-20.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Duncan Smith: I have given way quite a lot and I am conscious that 40 Members wish to make speeches. [Interruption.] I do not think that I can be accused of having not given way, because I clearly have.

Finally, we are reforming the way support for mortgage interest payments will be paid in future. Instead of a benefit, it will be made in the form of a loan. I think that will be welcomed by most Members on both sides of the House, although it is difficult to tell with the Opposition.

Let me turn to the third principle of the Bill. We are ensuring that people on benefits face the same choices as those in work and those not on benefits. Families in work have to make careful choices about what lifestyle the money they earn can support and what their income can provide for. In that context, it is right that people who receive child tax credit should make the same financial choices about having children as those who are supporting themselves through work. Therefore, from April 2017 the Bill will limit the child element of child tax credit to the first two children. The two-child limit will also apply on universal credit in relation to a third child or subsequent new children in the household and to completely new claims. Again, we are ensuring that this charge is fair. It will not affect existing claimants at the point of change. That is the key point.

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Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State knows that the number of those earning over £25,000 now is 800,000 fewer than it was in 2010. The real crisis in Britain today is not the number of people not in work, but in-work poverty. Given that child and family tax credits basically subsidise and incentivise work, will he look at this again and accept that the real crisis is not the number of people without jobs, which is what he has been talking about, but the fact that people in work do not earn enough to put food on the table, and they are getting more and more poor?

Mr Duncan Smith: I do not agree. If the hon. Gentleman looks at our record over the past five years, he will see that we have increased the number of jobs and that wages are now rising much faster than inflation. The last set of jobs statistics showed that every single one of those jobs was full time. All this nonsense about them being low-earning, part-time jobs is just complete and utter fabricated idiocy.

Emily Thornberry: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The impact assessment for the Bill has only just arrived in the Vote Office; it was not here for the beginning of the debate. Surely we ought to be given the statistics in order to have an informed debate, rather than having to rely on what comes out of the Secretary of State’s mouth.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We will investigate the matter. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would give me a little more warning of her point of order, but there we are.

Mr Duncan Smith: We released them earlier and they have been available since before the debate began, so I will simply move on.

I would like to turn to how we tackle the root causes of poverty. I believe that the past approach focused on dealing with the symptoms of poverty while completely failing to target the root causes. The Bill will provide a statutory basis for much-needed reform to improve children’s life chances. I have long argued that there are five key pathways to poverty that affect children’s life chances: worklessness, educational attainment, drug and alcohol addiction, family breakdown and problem debt. The Bill will remove the existing measures and targets in the Child Poverty Act 2010 and introduce a new duty to report on worklessness and educational attainment. Alongside the statutory measures, we will develop indicators to measure progress against either of those root causes of poverty.

Our new approach will drive real action, which will make the biggest difference to the most disadvantaged children now and in future. The key point is that this will enable us to measure what Government policy actually does, rather than just how much money we put into it. It is worth reminding the House that we will continue to publish the HBAI—households below average income—statistics so that those who wish to look at them can still do so.

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): Child Poverty Action Group figures indicate that 21% of the children in my constituency grow up in poverty. As a result of the benefit freeze, a couple with two children

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earning £400 per week will be £34.20 worse off each week. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Bill punishes families on low pay?

Mr Duncan Smith: No. The hon. Lady should realise that the main way out of poverty is to get into work and then to progress through work. The vast majority of people progress through work. [Interruption.] The records in Scotland are remarkably good. Employment in Scotland—[Interruption.]

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The Secretary of State has given way quite a lot. We cannot have three people at once shouting, “Will the Secretary of State give way?” The Secretary of State will give way when he feels it is correct to do so, but we cannot have three people hanging loose.

Mr Duncan Smith: Let me give the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) some figures for Scotland, which are worth looking at. Employment in Scotland is up 40,000 on the year and 179,000 since 2010. The employment rate is 74.3%, up 4.5% since 2010. Private sector employment is up 58,000 on the year and 244,000 since 2010. Just 5.2% of workers in Scotland are on temporary contracts and over 80% of those who work part time do so because they say it suits them. Although there is still much more to do, our reforms to lower corporation tax, get people back to work and create more jobs are exactly the route for her constituents to improve their life chances.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr Duncan Smith: I do not want to intrude on internal fear and loathing among Opposition Members. They will have time for their private argument among themselves about what they should do. I am trying to give a little more time for them to do that, to be fair to the Opposition.

This Bill is an important legislative step in moving Britain from a high welfare, high tax, low pay society to a lower welfare, lower tax and higher pay society. It will ensure that the right support and incentives are in place so that people are always better off in work rather than trapped on welfare. Yes, there are difficult decisions, but it would be wrong to turn a blind eye, as the Opposition did for so many years, and not face up to these difficulties. The Bill puts work first and puts welfare spending on a more sustainable footing for the future, while protecting the vulnerable and those most in need. I commend the Bill to the House.

6.2 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty

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Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled.

In government we addressed all the challenges set out by the Secretary of State. We stand for the right to work and the responsibility to work. We believe the Government have a responsibility to ensure full and fulfilling employment. We believe in making work pay so that people are always better off in work, and that work is the best route out of poverty. The deficit has to be eliminated. We believe in controlling the costs of social security so that it is fair on the working people who pay for it and so that it is there for people who need it because they cannot work or earn enough to live.

We support a number of measures in the Bill. We welcome the reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families. We are committed to a cap on household benefits to help make families better off in work. We support reforms to mortgage interest support that will strengthen work incentives and deliver savings. But this Bill does some very bad things as well. It abolishes the duty of Government to tackle or even to report on child poverty, it breaks promises that the Conservative party made before the election to protect sick and disabled people, and it comes alongside a ruthless reduction in the support to working families through tax credits that will reduce work incentives and undermine the goals of universal credit—

Several hon. Members rose

Stephen Timms: I will give way in a moment. Universal credit is a reform which, even though it is running four years late, we still want to succeed.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Was my right hon. Friend as shocked as I was at the response of the Secretary of State to his intervention in respect of disabled people, especially those who have terminal illnesses as well—cancer and Parkinson’s disease were two of the examples that he used? The Secretary of State does not seem to understand the implications of the changes to the employment and support allowance for these very vulnerable people at a very worrying time in their lives.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I wanted to return to. The implication of what the Secretary of State said is that, for example, people with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis should be in the support group, not in the work-related activity group. The Secretary of State needs to follow that through.

Because we support some measures in the Bill, oppose others and want to change yet others to make them workable, we ask the House to support the reasoned amendment in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): There seems to be an omission from the list of measures that the right hon. Gentleman supports. Will he clarify whether the

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Labour party will support the measures to limit child tax credits to two children, and whether that will still be the party’s position in October?

Stephen Timms: I look forward to coming to that part of my speech. The Bill, as I understand it, says that the limit does not apply in the case of tax credits for children born before 6 April 2017. The limit does apply in the case of universal credit for children born before 6 April. That seems to me a pretty clear unfairness and we will oppose that unfairness, and we will table amendments to deal with that and other unfairnesses in the Bill.

Mr Duncan Smith: For the sake of clarity for Opposition Members if not for Government Members, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, as this is missing from his reasoned amendment, whether he supports in principle that reduction of payments for two children for families on child tax credits?

Stephen Timms: As I told the House, we will table amendments to deal with unfairness in those measures and in others in the Bill, and we will vote on those in Committee in the autumn.

Mr Duncan Smith: I want to be very clear about this. Is it now the official Opposition’s position that they support the limiting of payments of child tax credit for two children from the date specified in the Bill?

Stephen Timms: We support removing unfairness from the Bill that the Secretary of State published. For that reason we will tonight table a raft of amendments to that part of the Bill and others where we think there is unfairness.

Mr Duncan Smith rose

Stephen Timms: I will give way one more time.

Mr Duncan Smith: The right hon. Gentleman is very generous in giving way. I want to establish clarity for those on the Government Benches as well as those on the Opposition Benches. Putting aside the fact that in Committee he may want to table amendments to make changes, do the official Opposition support the principle that those with more than two children should not receive further child tax credits? Is that the principled position they support? That is missing from the right hon. Gentleman’s reasoned amendment.

Stephen Timms: The Secretary of State does not need to wait until the Committee because we will table a raft of amendments tonight: if our reasoned amendment fails and the Bill receives a Second Reading, we will table our amendments. He will see in that list of amendments a series of amendments to deal with the unfairness in that part of the Bill. Those amendments will give him the answer that he seeks. They will appear on the Order Paper tomorrow so that the House can consider them over the weeks ahead.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right to talk about removing unfairnesses. There are a number of unfairnesses in the Bill that affect carers. The Conservatives seem blind to

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the impact of their measures on carers. Can my right hon. Friend say whether we will table an amendment to exempt carers from the benefit cap? Carers should not be affected by the benefit cap and they should never have been affected by the bedroom tax, but the Government would not listen about that either.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That will indeed be the subject of one of our amendments, because at the moment carers who do not live with the person they are caring for are caught by the cap, and they should not be.

I want to turn to the impact of the Budget changes on tax credits and on universal credit, some of which are in the Bill and some not. Of course the increase in the minimum wage is welcome, but it does not make up for the measures in the Budget, though mostly not in the Bill, that cut tax credits for working families. The claim that they do make up for it—the Secretary of State repeated it in his speech—is, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, “arithmetically impossible”. The problem will be especially bad in the next couple of years. The increase in the national minimum wage is phased in over five years, but big tax credit cuts hit immediately next year. Over 3 million working families will lose over £1,000 a year on average, and work incentives will be cut. That is the reason we voted against the Budget. When the Government bring forward the statutory instruments to implement those huge cuts to the incomes of working families, we will vigorously and fiercely oppose them.

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con): Do Labour Members not understand the fundamental idea that being in work should always make people better off than being out of work? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman lead his party through the Lobby in support of the proposals in this Bill that make people better off for being in work?

Stephen Timms: I fear that the hon. Gentleman did not understand the Budget. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Budget reduced the income of 3 million working families by over £1,000 a year on average, and in many cases it lessens the incentive for the first person in a household to go into work. He need only read the very clear analysis of that point by the IFS.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): My right hon. Friend goes right to the heart of one of the difficulties involved. I support the idea of getting away from taxpayer-funded poverty pay to a situation where people are paid a genuine living wage. The IFS analysis shows clearly that the people most affected by this change are working families in the second lowest decile. If it goes through, together with the other changes, I will have to go back to my constituents and explain why I have made them poorer in work.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this, because the IFS is absolutely clear that the cuts in tax credits target working families. Those people will lose out from the changes not in this Bill but in the Budget—that is why we voted against them. This is not about making work pay; it is about making working families pay. As the party of working families, we will be fighting those changes tooth and nail in the period ahead.

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Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Returning to my right hon. Friend’s commitment to amend unfairnesses in the Bill, will he confirm that one of his amendments might tackle the obscenity of a woman who has been raped having to prove to the Department for Work and Pensions that she has been raped in order to be able to claim tax credits in future?

Stephen Timms: We will have to hear from the Government how they envisage that part of their proposal working, but I can well understand the concern that my hon. Friend raises.

Let me turn to the individual measures in the Bill, starting with the benefit cap. We support the principle that work should always pay and that people should be better off in work than on benefits. That is why our manifesto supported a household benefit cap and the idea that it should be lower in areas where there are lower housing costs.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that Conservative Members do not seem to understand that two out of three children growing up in poverty are in working households?

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For the first time, the majority of children below the poverty line—quite a significant majority, as she says—are in working families. That is a reflection of how things have gone over the past few years.

To avoid hardship and unfairness with the reduction of the benefit cap, we will press for some people to be protected from the cap. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) referred to the position of carers. Under the current cap, carers who live with the person for whom they are caring are exempt, yet 8% of those affected by the cap are carers. That is because carers who do not live with the person they are caring for are included in the cap. We want that to change. We think that those with the very youngest children should not be affected by the cap. We also want protection for those affected by domestic violence. As it stands, those who have been affected by domestic violence can be exempted from job-seeking requirements at the jobcentre, but if they are living in supported accommodation a cap will apply. The amendments that we will publish tonight would exempt them along the same lines as the current exemption in jobcentres.

It is absolutely vital to keep the implementation and the impact of the benefit cap policy under scrutiny. There must be jobs for people to move into and childcare available to help them. We need to be vigilant against increases in homelessness and child poverty. We also need to make sure that the policy does not have knock-on consequences for councils and others which mean that it ends up costing more than it saves. If the Bill goes ahead, we will seek to add a requirement for the Secretary of State to report to Parliament within a year on the impact of the policy.

Martin John Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP): Will the shadow Secretary of State join me in recognising the unpardonable folly of these proposals and their impact on the entire islands of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Does he agree that that is felt not only on the front line by children and

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women but by the staff of the DWP, who in Glasgow and Bolton are considering strike action because of the effects of these proposals and the stress that they are under?

Stephen Timms: There do need to be some safeguards in place, as I have been spelling out. Indeed, the Government themselves have recognised the need for a fund to protect people in exceptional circumstances. We welcome the extra £150 million for the fund for discretionary housing payments to help mitigate the worst impacts, but it will not be enough. Many local authorities have already exhausted their funds, which are vital in preventing those affected from becoming homeless. With the cap now lower, there will be more demand for discretionary help. We will therefore want to amend the Bill to require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the funding for discretionary housing payments each year to make sure that sufficient resources are available.

Caroline Lucas: The right hon. Gentleman has talked a lot about child poverty. The benefit cap, according to the Government’s own figures, will push a further 40,000 extra children into poverty, yet he is talking about some amendments around the edges. Will he explain how much extra child poverty is acceptable to Labour Front Benchers?

Stephen Timms: As the hon. Lady well knows, the big impact on child poverty will come from the huge cuts in working tax credits and other changes not in this Bill but elsewhere. I hope that she will join us in fighting very strongly against those changes when the House has the chance to do so.

Andrew Bridgen: The shadow Secretary of State is making a brave effort to defend whatever his party’s policy is on this, but he has very little credibility because the country knows that under the previous Labour Government the number of workless households doubled, so Labour policies not only trap people in welfare but trap people in poverty.

Stephen Timms: Child poverty fell dramatically under the previous Government; now it has plateaued. I fear that because of measures announced in the Budget, it is going to rocket, and we are determined to stop that happening if we can.

Another reform in the Bill that we support in principle is the provision to turn support for mortgage interest into a repayable loan. That is a sensible step, in principle, given that the benefit enables homeowners to retain an asset and potentially gain substantially from rising house prices. However, it must not make affordability problems worse for people struggling to stay in their homes. Repayments must not tip people into repossession and homelessness. The Secretary of State did not tell us what arrangements are proposed for repaying these loans. We will argue that those who access that support should be able to defer repayment until they sell the property without pressure from the Government to do so. The Budget announced an increase in the waiting period for support for mortgage interest from 13 weeks to 39 weeks. That is too long. As it is a loan scheme, why make people wait, particularly as that could force them

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into the hands of loan sharks? With support for mortgage interest becoming, in effect, a form of low-risk consumer credit, it should be readily available without nine months of delay to those struggling to make repayments.

We welcome the plans to reduce social rents, which will save 1.2 million households £700 a year, but we have grave concerns about the impact on housing associations and local authorities. They will face a huge reduction in rent revenue, drastically undermining their capacity to borrow and to build. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that many fewer homes will be built; the National Housing Federation puts the figure at 27,000. We will table amendments to address that.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that up to billions of pounds will go missing from local authorities? If we lifted the cap, they could build more homes and thereby help address the terrible housing crisis, particularly in London and the south-east?

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Affordable home building is already at a historic low, and the Government need to stop making things worse. We will table an amendment requiring the Secretary of State to produce a plan to make up the shortfall in house building funds that will result from this change.

Jeremy Corbyn rose

Stephen Timms: I give way to my hon. Friend, whose popularity among Conservative Members I have noted.

Jeremy Corbyn: Obviously, a reduction in local authority rents is good for tenants—I fully understand that—but does my right hon. Friend know whether the Government have given any consideration to the effect that a consistent drop in rental income over five years will have on the housing revenue account; on housing maintenance, including of the common areas of estates; and, of course, on any future building programme that could have been funded by the housing revenue account?

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The proposal will affect not only new house building funds, but funds for maintaining existing stock. The Secretary of State needs to explain how that shortfall will be met.

We support the aim to provide 3 million apprenticeships, but the Government need to do more than just publish a target in a Bill. We want quality apprenticeships. There is deep concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase their numbers, so we will table an amendment to require that the UK Commission for Employment and Skills should provide an independent assessment of whether quality is being delivered.

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the concern about the impact of the changes to housing rental income relates not just to the immediate shortfall in funding, but to the uncertainty they will create among registered providers, whose business plans are drawn up five, 10 or 15 years in advance?

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Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Attention has been drawn to that issue, not least by the Financial Times, which has reported that housing associations’ business plans and their loan covenants and agreements with lenders could be at risk, and that even some big associations could go bust. The implications are very serious.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is a reasonable man, so I am surprised that he cannot see the advantages of the housing policy in, first, reducing rents for large numbers of tenants who are among the poorest people in the land; secondly, obliging housing associations to make a 1% productivity saving each year, which is very small compared with other parts of the public sector; and, thirdly, reducing the welfare spend and therefore the budget deficit. Surely they are all advantages.

Stephen Timms: I think the hon. Gentleman was momentarily distracted, because I have welcomed both his first and third points. We welcome the fact that rents are being reduced, but he needs to recognise the impact that the changes will have. As I am sure he will be aware, housing associations do not share his rather sanguine view of what the changes will mean, particularly for new house building at a time when we all recognise the need for substantial new socially rented housing, which is not being delivered at the moment.

The Bill does not provide a definition of “full employment”. In line with recent research and the previous Labour Government’s definition, our amendment will set the full employment target at 80% of the working-age population. To pick up on a point rightly made in an intervention by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), in our view the annual report on progress to full employment must also set out progress on the target to halve the disability employment gap.

We will support policies that make work pay and increase opportunity, but where the Government are wrong we will not hesitate to say so. The Conservative party promised in its manifesto that it would

“work to eliminate child poverty”.

It is now absolutely clear that it did not mean it: the Bill abandons any pretence that it did. Instead of eliminating the scandal of child poverty, the Bill attempts to eliminate the term. Labour in government was committed to reducing the appalling levels of child poverty left behind by the Thatcher and Major Governments, and we did so. We introduced the Child Poverty Act 2010, with cross-party support, including from the Secretary of State when he was in opposition and the Conservative party. It contained clear targets to reduce absolute and relative poverty, persistent poverty and material deprivation.

We have known for some time about the debate in the Conservative party about the validity of the relative poverty measure, but now it is not just changing the definition. It is interested not in stopping child poverty, only in stopping people talking about it. It is exactly the same with food banks: the Tories want to stop people discussing them. Clause 6(9) tells us that we should not refer any more to the Child Poverty Act and that instead it is to be known as the life chances Act, but there are fewer life chances for a child growing up in poverty, and poverty needs to be reduced.

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Getting rid of the targets and measures leaves the Government with no commitment to tackle child poverty at all, just a requirement to publish a mix of loosely connected statistics. Instead of removing child poverty, the Bill seeks simply to remove it from the lexicon.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is, like me, a London MP. The driver of child poverty in my constituency is a combination of low pay and high private rents. When the cap was introduced, the Prime Minister advocated—there was an element of logic in this—the idea that it would reduce rents in the private rented sector. That has failed in my area and right across London; rents have increased significantly. Have the Government produced any evidence to prove that the cap reduced rents in the private sector at all?

Stephen Timms: I certainly have not seen such evidence. We have just seen the impact assessment, and the figures are in there, so we will have to see what information they provide. I am worried about the proposal—it was made in the Budget, but it is not in the Bill—of a cash freeze in local housing allowance for the next four years, irrespective of what is happening to rents in London and elsewhere.

The child poverty changes are a shameful attempt to brush under the carpet what should be right at the forefront of Ministers’ minds as they make policy and manage the economy. It is, I am afraid, the final nail in the coffin for compassionate conservatism.

Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con): It is always a mystery to me why more Labour Members do not agree with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and, indeed, Alan Milburn, who think that the Government’s proposal to measure the root causes of child poverty is an improvement on what went before. Why does not the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) agree with them, or indeed with another 50 of his colleagues? Is not Labour a shambles?

Stephen Timms: I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) will contribute to the debate, but I can tell the hon. Lady that he feels very strongly, as we all do, that this huge hit on 3 million working families—it will take more than £1,000 a year from them, with tax credit changes coming in next year—is a very bad thing to do. It will let down working families, and all Labour Members will fight hard against the iniquitous change being made by the hon. Lady and her colleagues.

Before the election, the Government promised to protect those with disabilities from welfare cuts, but that promise has been broken. As has already been discussed, Parkinson’s UK reckons that there are currently 8,000 people in the work-related activity group with progressive and incurable conditions such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Macmillan, in opposing the provision, points out that

“thousands…will experience a significant drop in support at some point during their cancer journey.”

As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) said in an intervention, that group includes people with learning disabilities and many with mental health problems.

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The Bill reduces the level of support for new claimants by nearly £30 a week, from £101 to £73. That change introduces a new perverse incentive, because it increases the incentive for people with health problems to get into the support group by providing a higher payment, meaning that even more people will not get help to return to work.

The recent marked increase in the ESA case load, at a time when unemployment has come down, has been sharpest in the support group. Anyone in the support group will be seriously deterred from taking the risk of trying employment, for fear that it will result in their receiving a much lower level of support if they are then reallocated to the work-related activity group. I say to the Secretary of State that a particular worry is that young people with mental health problems, who ought to be getting help to return to work, are being abandoned in the support group at the moment. We therefore want the ESA measures removed from the Bill.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): These serious issues are arousing passions on both sides of the House. I am slightly concerned that none of the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues who are candidates for the leadership has decided to put their name either to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) or to the Opposition’s reasoned amendment. Are they not prepared to give us their views?

Stephen Timms: I am glad to be able to reassure the hon. Gentleman that he will be pleased with what happens when the House divides at 10 o’clock tonight.

The Bill seeks to restrict support provided through tax credits and universal credit to families with more than two children. We will aim to amend the Bill in Committee, for example to protect families with multiple births or those whose claim arises because of exceptional circumstances. We do not support locking in a cash freeze for four years for tax credits and benefits. We recognise that reducing the deficit will require savings on indexation, but those decisions should be made annually so that actual inflation can be taken into account. We do not support the accompanying sharp reductions in income thresholds for tax credits and the corresponding cuts to work allowances announced in the Budget, which will be legislated for outside this Bill. They will be a huge setback to work incentives. The whole point of universal credit was supposed to be to improve work incentives; now it is being hobbled even before it has properly got started.

We want progress towards full employment. We want demanding targets for apprenticeships and help for troubled families. We want a household benefit cap, and to make sure that families are always better off in work. We want support for mortgage interest and reductions in social rents that will deliver savings to the taxpayer. We want better economic opportunities, and we want social security to be fairer and more affordable.

However, children who are growing up in poverty—as we have heard, the growing majority of them are in working households—need a Government committed to improving their position. People who because of illness and disability are found by the Government’s own

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tests to be not fit to work, as can happen to anybody, need social security to assure them of a decent basic standard of living. Families who are doing the right thing and going out to work, often when they are already struggling with low or stagnant wages and increasing insecurity and uncertainty about their future, need a Government who are on their side, not one who will pull the rug out from under them, as the tax credits announcements in the Budget will do.

These are not just matters of morality and social justice, although they most certainly are; this is also about how we secure our future prosperity and stability, ensuring that everybody in Britain can play their part, make the most of their talents and make the most of the ambitions of all.

Emily Thornberry: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I made a point of order earlier about when the impact assessments were published, and I understand that there is an inquiry. When we heard the Secretary of State announce that they had been published, my researcher went to the Vote Office and found that they were not available. A phone call was made to the Vote Office in Members Lobby, which said that they had just arrived. This is not right, and I would like your advice about how we can hold the Government to account when they do not publish impact assessments until after the Secretary of State has got to his feet.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. If a mistake has been made by the Vote Office, I am quite sure that Mr Speaker will be annoyed on behalf of the House.

Mr Duncan Smith rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: I can see that the Secretary of State has something to say, and I am delighted to call him further to that point of order.

Mr Duncan Smith: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise only to say that we sent the impact assessments to the House authorities before 5 o’clock. I gather that there was some technical hitch in the House before they were able to get them to the Vote Office, but that was not a problem of our making. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State has explained what he and his Department have done. If there has been a mistake in getting the papers between the Secretary of State’s office and the Chamber, that will be investigated. It should not have happened, but there is no point in Members shouting about it from a sedentary position. The Secretary of State has apologised for his part in any mistake, if such a mistake has been made. [Interruption.] No, I will not have any more shouting about this. It is a technical problem, and it is not strictly a matter for the Chair, except in so far as saying that Members ought to be provided with all the information necessary to enable them fully to take part in a debate. If that has not happened, there will be an investigation, but one way or another, there is no point in any further shouting about it.

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Emily Thornberry: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance as to whether Members can be given sufficient information even if papers are provided some 10 minutes before a debate, given the nature of the impact assessments. If we are to read them properly and understand them, surely Members, if at all possible, should be given more than a few minutes’ notice.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I simply observe that the debate started at 5.34 pm and it is now 6.36 pm, so it has been under way for an hour. I appreciate that the Chair insists that Members of Parliament should take part in the debate and concentrate on the speech being made at any particular moment, but I am sure it is not beyond the ingenuity of intelligent Members to be able to participate in the debate while also looking at the papers that are now available to them. It would have been better had the papers been here earlier, but I am quite certain that this debate will go on for another three hours and 23 minutes and, if they now have the papers, Members ought to be able to multitask to the extent of listening to the debate and reading the papers at the same time. That does not mean, if a mistake has happened, that I condone it; if there has been one, it will be thoroughly investigated.

6.37 pm

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in support of this very important Bill, which is one of the measures we need to move us to the high pay, low tax, low welfare economy that the Secretary of State wants.

I will start with the measures relating to work. From having served on the Work and Pensions Committee, I know that getting people into work is the area of the Department that gets the least scrutiny. The reporting obligations on full employment and apprenticeships are a really important step forward. We all want the 3 million apprenticeships to be created by the end of the Parliament.

I hope that the power the Government are taking to report on the number of apprenticeships will cover the details on the quality of those apprenticeships. I would like the annual report to include the number of higher apprenticeships, because we want apprenticeships that give people real skills and real future careers, not just to be tick-box training schemes that add little value. As we occasionally see in our constituencies, some employees get sold such schemes, and we ought to look at whether they provide any real advantages. The reports will be extremely useful.

Another important thing to strengthen work is to have a welfare system that encourages rather than disincentivises it. Our measures to increase the minimum wage, which will start later this year, and to increase the amount of childcare, as well as the welfare reforms, are the right package to ensure that all people and all families are very clear that work will always pay and, at least in the medium and longer term, is the best way of securing a better financial situation.

Whoever won the election, we knew from the campaign that the welfare reform measures would be the most contentious issue at the start of this Parliament. We all knew that we had to find several billions.

Catherine West: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Nigel Mills: I will give way.

Catherine West: He is not my hon. Friend. [Laughter.] I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

How many children in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency will be affected by the cuts in the Bill?

Nigel Mills: I do not have that number to give the hon. Lady. However, her party is also committed to making large welfare savings. It is very easy to support the theory, but if Labour Members oppose all the large measures that are taken in practice, they are not going anywhere. They have to answer this question. If they are committed to large savings, but they do not support all these measures, which measures would they like to see? That is the challenge. We have to find savings to close the deficit. We have a clear mandate for welfare savings to form a large part of those savings.

The Government have produced measures that are a little less severe and fast than many of us feared they would be. The Labour party thought that they would be a lot more severe only a few weeks ago, when we were told that families would be £1,400 worse off overnight unless the minimum wage went up by 25%. What we are seeing is wages going up by more than 25% and some of the cuts being deferred over several years. The Government have attempted to make the cuts as fair as possible.

Barbara Keeley: The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He made a point about making work pay. I raised a point with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) about carers and the benefit cap. Some 5,000 carers will be affected by the benefit cap. The hon. Gentleman is talking about making work pay, but many carers cannot work. Does he agree that carers should therefore be exempt from the changes?

Nigel Mills: We need to give carers every possible support. They perform an important and difficult role. Having done a bit of caring in my time, I know how hard and stressful it can be. We can look at that, but I cannot stand here tonight and say I would vote for it.

The reduction in the benefits cap is a hugely popular policy. Everybody I spoke to in my constituency said that the benefits cap was a great idea, but £26,000 a year was far too high. It was higher than the average wage in my constituency, so people did not think that it would affect a lot of people. In fact, the number of people who were affected by it in my seat was extremely small.

It is right to bring the cap down and to have different levels in London and the rest of the country. There are different levels of housing benefit around the country and that is one of the biggest costs that trigger the benefits cap, so it is right to have a different level in London. Twenty thousand pounds is the right level for the cap. It is a bit less than the average wage in my constituency. That will show people clearly that anyone who goes out to work will be better off than those who live solely on benefits.

I support the hard decision to have a benefit freeze for four years. When we have to find savings, perhaps one of the least bad ways of doing it is to freeze what people are already getting, rather than taking more people out of the system completely.

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The point that the acting shadow Secretary of State raised about the withdrawal rates for tax credits and universal credit showed how fiendishly complicated the tax credits system is. It is difficult to work out exactly who will be hit at what level and by what amount by the new withdrawal rates and the new starting position. That reinforces the case for universal credit. Everyone will be able to see from every pay packet they get that when they work more hours in a month, they are better off than in months when they work fewer hours. We need that system to be in place, rather than the incredibly complex, slow and clunky tax credits system, which applies a year behind or a year ahead. Nobody quite understands how what they get in tax credits bears any relation to the work that they have done in the year.

Mr Duncan Smith: Even with the changes to universal credit, the taper remains exactly where it was, so every hour in work will mean better pay. That principle still stands.

Nigel Mills: I was not doubting that for a second. With the tax credit changes, we need to be sure that the people who are still claiming tax credits understand that they will be better off doing more hours and earning more than they would have been otherwise. That is why universal credit needs to be rolled out. Everyone will be able to see that they are better off month by month, rather than having to work out if they might have been better off a year ago if they had worked a bit less in a complex way through online calculators. That cannot be a sensible system.

On the child tax credit limit, it has to be right that people who spend a life on welfare have to take the same decisions as people who are going out to work. It is therefore right to draw the line at two children for where the welfare system stops helping. There will still be a lot of help through child benefit and the Prime Minister confirmed that we would not seek to limit that. I think that we have got the line in the right place. It should be clear to people that from 2017, if they have more than two children, there will not be more tax credits.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): We agree that people in work and people not in work should face the same choices, but does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the proposals on limiting access to child tax credit to the first two children will affect working families and those who are out of work?

Nigel Mills: Yes, but clearly the principle is that people should have to make the same choices if they are claiming benefits in work or are in work and not claiming benefits. It is not entirely clear whether the Labour party supports limiting child tax credit to the first two children. It sounds like it might support it, but that it dare not quite say so tonight.

Finally, the hardest issue in the Bill is the level of welfare for people in the work-related activity group. We have to get work capability assessments right. We have to get people in the right group, and people must believe themselves to be in the right group. I have seen constituents who have been through the assessment and have accepted the WRAG as a compromise on the basis that they will get much the same as they would get in the support group, but will have some requirements put on

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them. However, they thought that they should be in the support group. People who ought to be in the support group, but have chosen to be in the WRAG need support to put their situation right.

We need people to get the support that they need. Those who can never and will never work again need the right support. It is not in their interests or ours to put them in a different group. Clearly, we have to get the system right so that those who are in the group where they are meant to be able to work at some point in the future have the right incentives to take the support, undergo the training and get into work, rather than trying to stay on benefits claiming the slightly higher rate. We need to see the detail of how we can get that right and make it fair, so that we do not end up with perverse incentives.

Overall, I welcome the Bill. It is an important step forward in sorting out our deficit and making our welfare system fair for those who are claiming from it and those who are paying for it.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. It is obvious that a great many people wish to speak this evening and that there is a limited amount of time. I am afraid that I will have to impose a time limit of five minutes after the SNP spokesman.

6.47 pm

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): I rise to urge the House not to give the Welfare Reform and Work Bill a Second Reading.

On the day of the Budget announcement, I, like many of my colleagues on the SNP Benches and many in society, watched in horror at Conservative Members jeering and cheering as the Chancellor announced swathes of cuts that will hit the poorest and most vulnerable in our society hardest. When I was elected by the good people of Livingston to this House, I anticipated some aspects of Dickensian tradition, largely framed around the traits and traditions of Westminster, but not for one minute did I expect that we would be taken back to Dickensian times by a Government hellbent on dividing our nation in such a regressive way.

The Conservative Government have claimed that they have

“a long-term economic plan to move the nation back to where we should be. This offers that and will reward hard-working families.”

We are certainly going backwards. The rhetoric that the Conservatives use in this Chamber about hard-working families and aspiration is fast wearing thin for many of us. Apart from anything else, when we delve into the detail, what we find is deeply worrying.

Let us look at exactly what the Government plan to do for our so-called hard-working families. The Conservatives will rename the Child Poverty Act 2010 the life chances Act. I spent a number of years in the marketing industry and recognise that this is rebranding on a grand scale. Perhaps the Chancellor is in the wrong job. I have taken the advice of the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) and looked at the impact assessment that came out very recently. Paragraph 33 says of the life chances Act:

“The proposed changes enhance the life chances of children as they ensure that households make choices based on their circumstances

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rather than on taxpayer subsidies. This will increase financial resilience and support improved life chances for children in the longer term.”

Let me explain why SNP Members do not believe that to be the case.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress says that the “so-called” living wage is

“simply a cheap gimmick aimed at undermining…a meaningful living wage”

and that