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9.10 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): The United Kingdom represents 1% of the world’s population; it also has 4% of the world’s wealth and accounts for 7% of the world’s welfare. That is clearly not sustainable. During the last Parliament, I had the honour of sitting on the Work and Pensions Committee. We conducted several investigations and produced reports on Jobcentre Plus, the Work programme, universal credit, benefit sanctions and pensions reform. The Bill improves on the work done in the last Parliament.

Everyone with the ability to work should be given the support and opportunity to do so. The previous system wrote off too many people and left too many trapped in a cycle of welfare dependency. Over the past five years, the number of people in Weaver Vale claiming jobseeker’s allowance and universal credit while not in employment fell by more than 1,000—a 51% drop. This Government’s long-term economic plan is clearly working for Weaver Vale by getting people off a life on benefits and back into work.

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Welfare reform is not just about saving money; it is about transforming lives. Employment has been this Government’s real success, with 2 million more jobs, and with 1,000 jobs created each and every day during the last Parliament. We understand that the route out of poverty is not through welfare; poverty can be left behind only through work. The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that a further 1 million jobs will be created over the next five years, but we are the party of ambition and we want to go further. The Bill is working to a target of full employment.

I have held four annual jobs and apprenticeship fairs in Weaver Vale, and I have plans for more. The fairs involve bringing together local and national employers to showcase the job and apprenticeship opportunities they have available. Hundreds of jobseekers attend the events and benefit from seeing what is on offer and hearing first-hand accounts of how others have managed to get off welfare and into work.

The Jobcentre Plus and employment support schemes that were introduced in the last Parliament, which are being expanded in the Bill, underpin our success in getting people off benefits. With the jobcentre’s help and guidance, most people move off jobseeker’s allowance quickly, with more than 75% of people ending their claim within six months. The minority of people who have been on jobseeker’s allowance for a longer time finish the Work programme and move on to the help to work scheme, in which they have to take up one of three different types of intensive support depending on what is preventing them from finding work. That could involve a daily meeting with their jobcentre adviser or taking up a new activity to improve their skills base. Previously, a claimant needed to attend only once or twice a week. Claimants whose lack of work experience is felt to be holding them back from finding a job might be asked to undertake a placement in their local community.

For jobseekers with multiple or complex barriers to work, the Jobcentre Plus advisers spend more time with the claimant looking at how to tailor back to work support. The help to work scheme is rightly mandatory, and those who fail to participate face financial sanctions. Conditionality remains a necessary part of the benefits system and is still one of the most effective tools for encouraging engagement with the employment support programmes at Jobcentre Plus.

The Bill continues the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the last Parliament on restoring to the core of Britain’s welfare system the ethos that it always pays to work. The reforms are transforming the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities and giving people the skills and opportunities to get on in life and stand on their own two feet.

9.13 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): In order to keep to the time limit, I will turn immediately to the Government’s intention to increase the tax credits withdrawal rate—the taper—from 41% to 48%, and to the cut in the tax credits income threshold from £6,420 to £3,850 a year. Those are two of the most damaging and far-reaching changes, and the Government are determined to press ahead with them, but in fact they are not in the Bill. They will be dealt with in secondary legislation, yet they will have an enormous impact on family incomes, and the Bill needs to be considered in the context of those changes.

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Increasing the taper from 41% to 48% will make it less attractive to seek more hours of work and will produce a marginal rate of tax higher than that paid by those on the 45% additional tax rate—those earning more than £150,000. Combine that with the cut in the tax credits income threshold—the point at which the withdrawal of tax credits begins—from £6,420 to £3,850, and people working on low incomes will be hard-hit. Furthermore, those earning just above £7.20 an hour, the new minimum wage from next spring for over-25s, will gain nothing. Figures from Citizens Advice show that a couple with one child, one working 37 hours a week and the other working 18.5 hours a week, both on £8 an hour, will lose £646 per annum; a similar couple with two children will lose £2,400; and a single parent with two children, who works full time, will lose £1,862. That is no way to treat those working hard on low incomes and with little prospect of getting better-paid work.

I am absolutely opposed to limiting child tax credits to two children. What if a family’s income suddenly drops? If one earner loses a reasonably paid job and can find only a replacement job on much lower pay, the family might become eligible for tax credits, but they will not be eligible for the family element or anything for the third child. What about cases of family break-up, in which one parent—usually the mother—is left with sole responsibility for three or more children? The whole point of providing tax credits for children is that a child needs support, no matter how the family income has fallen in hard times.

The Secretary of State has talked about education and about better-paid jobs being ways out of poverty, but first a child needs food to develop healthily and clothes to wear at school. Only one in seven families in the UK have three or more children, and nine out of 10 families with three or more children have one adult in work. We should make sure that every child has food and clothing and provide support where family incomes are low.

The Secretary of State justifies the extension of conditionality to single parents of three and four-year-olds by saying that the Government will roll out additional childcare, but we already know that their manifesto promises on childcare are being postponed. The provision of childcare is devolved to the Welsh Government, so the change presupposes, or assumes, that the Welsh Government will provide exactly the same support, but that Government have extended the Flying Start scheme while the Tory Government have slashed Sure Start centres in England. They should not be introducing measures contingent on spending on specific provision by the Welsh Government without discussion with Welsh Ministers and the appropriate Barnett consequential funding.

I am also concerned about the freeze on payments such as tax credits and jobseeker’s allowance that the Bill will enshrine in legislation. That comes on top of previous freezes implemented since 2010. Never before this Secretary of State came to office was the link between benefits and inflation broken; there was always uprating to reflect inflation, even in the time of Margaret Thatcher. The way to reduce benefits bills—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

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9.17 pm

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): When viewed alongside the recent Budget, this important Bill shows a clear determination among Conservative Members and the Government to recalibrate Britain and our society in a way that is to be welcomed for the reasons that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have given.

I support the Bill wholeheartedly, but many Members will be looking for further detail and clarity as it progresses. In particular, I draw Ministers’ attention to carers and the need to ensure that local authorities have enough money to deliver the troubled families programme, which I welcome. Additional thinking also needs to be given to the condition regarding a woman having to prove rape. That is an enormously sensitive issue on which further work and clarity are needed.

Government Members have sat and listened to this debate in amazement. In the speeches of Opposition Members, Ministers have resembled the four horsemen of the apocalypse, riding through the town, with the firstborn having to be sold and vital organs having to be cut out to pay the bills. It has been a debate riven by ideology; not the ideology of the Government, who have approached the Bill as a pragmatic and one nation Government, but the ideology of the left—both the separatists and the Labour party—which believes that welfare is and should be a lifestyle choice. I do not know which planet some Opposition Members are living on if they do not believe that certain people in society have made a choice. Under the system that has been allowed to emerge under Governments of both colours, welfare has ceased to be a safety net and has become a way of life. Let us return to the welfare system that Beveridge envisaged: a helping hand up, and a safety net below which no fellow citizen should fall.

Some may want to wade through vomit, like the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is wading through the primeval swamp, for the Labour party is clearly in disarray. No Labour leadership contender was prepared to put his or her name to either the Opposition or the rebel reasoned amendment.

I listened with great attention to the Scottish nationalists this afternoon, because, according to the press, they can no longer say their Rs. Well, they could certainly say their Rs today, but I am afraid that, when it comes to welfare reform and economic management, they do not know their Rs from their elbow.

The Bill will reward work, incentivise our fellow citizens, and, most importantly, deliver fairness to hard-working families and the taxpayers who have to pay the bill. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has worked hard on this Bill, and it deserves the full support of the House.

9.21 pm

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): It is hard to see how the changes contained in the Bill will not result in hardship for the most vulnerable families. We know that the cuts in tax credits will have a serious impact on working families earning low wages, and that neither the increased minimum wage nor the higher personal allowance will plug the gap. We also know that there will be less support for families with more than two children, which will push even more larger families into poverty.

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As usual, however, the devil is in the detail. Behind the headline reduction in the household benefit cap to £20,000 outside London is something else that the Government are doing. Proposed new subsection (4) in clause 8 will allow the Secretary of State to change the cap at any time, without consulting Parliament. It grants the Secretary of State significant powers, and provides for no scrutiny whatever. In effect, it means that the Government could continue to lower the cap time and again, rendering more and more families unable to make ends meet, and forcing more and more children into poverty. I urge the Government to reconsider their decision, and—as was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms)—to amend the Bill so that Parliament will be able to play a role in scrutinising, debating and voting on any further changes to the cap.

Given that the Bill will make many more families significantly worse off, it is not surprising that the Government no longer want to measure how many children are living in income poverty. The headline measure in the Child Poverty Act 2010, which was passed with cross-party support, is 60% of median income. That measure is internationally recognised and allows for monitoring and transparency. However, the Government want to scrap it and replace it with a measure of workless households and educational attainment. Given that 65% of children in poverty live in a household where at least one adult works, I believe that changing the definition of child poverty is an attempt to avoid scrutiny of in-work poverty. Let us be clear about what that means. Clause 4 will repeal the Child Poverty Act in all but name, but deleting the term “child poverty” from the statute book will not make the problem go away. Changing the definition does not mean that parents working on zero-hours contracts and receiving the minimum wage will not have to rely on food banks to feed their children.

The Bill sends the message that child poverty does not matter, and that as long as parents are in work, we need not worry about whether they can afford to feed and clothe their children. For that reason alone, I will vote against the Bill.

9.24 pm

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): This Bill, in combination with the summer Budget, asks us to make three choices. It asks us to think about what sort of society we want to live in, the place of welfare in that society and whether welfare should be a way of life. It asks us to think about the relationship between the state, employers and labour. It also asks us about our tolerance for people being better off on welfare than in work. I know where I stand on those three issues, but I have heard that some on the Opposition Benches are wavering.

On the first of those questions—what sort of society we want to live in and the place of welfare in that society —I am pretty sure we have a consensus that welfare should be a safety net and should be a hand up rather than just a handout, but that means that a benefit such as child tax credits, which nine out of 10 families are receiving, simply cannot be right. Either a benefit should be universal, as with the NHS, or it should help those in

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trouble, but this one is at present stuck somewhere in between. It is absolutely right that we should move towards tax credits being for far fewer families—five out of 10 families in due course—but arguably we should go further, because in future people’s incomes should cover their cost of living. That is the direction we are going in with the living wage going up towards £9 an hour in 2020.

On the second question—the relationship between the state, business and labour—right now we have a high employment society, but we have a problem of low pay topped up by the state combined with low productivity. We need to move to a situation in which people have a decent wage and businesses keep more of their earnings through there being lower tax, with those earnings being reinvested in the workforce. We will then have a workforce that receive higher pay and that are worth more to their employers, who invest more in their workforce. That is a much better economy to have, with people being better paid and more productive.

The third question—our tolerance of people being better off on welfare than in work—was, I am sure, a real sticking point for all of us on the doorsteps. We got a very clear message from the voters at the election that it is not right for people to be better off on welfare than in work. It is a huge source of resentment when people see they are paying taxes that support somebody in a lifestyle they cannot afford. A couple might stop at having one or two children when they would like to have more but they realise they cannot afford it.

Angela Crawley: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Helen Whately: I am sorry but we are short of time, so I will keep going.

It is right that those out of work or receiving benefits should face the same tough choices as those in work and living off their income. Three wards in my constituency are among the most deprived 20% in the country, and since becoming an MP I have prioritised spending time with my citizens advice bureau and local food bank. In the past I have worked as an outreach worker for the homeless, so I do really care about this subject—it is not just something I feel I should say.

It is critical to recognise the three principles of the Bill: that the best way out of poverty is work; that we have a better economy when we have people on higher pay with lower taxes and there is higher productivity as well as high employment; and people should be better off in work than on welfare. That is not just to do with incentives; it is about being one nation, with everyone having a shared stake in the nation’s prosperity.

9.28 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): We in the Democratic Unionist party have been outspoken in our opposition to welfare reform and I rise to continue that. The reforms outlined today are too stringent to work, and we fear that the most vulnerable and the needy will suffer. Those who need the help will struggle and, whether the Government want to admit this or not, I see people in my advice centres who will be worse off. I see people who are on disability allowances for a very good reason—who need to pay for carers and who cater for the day-to-day needs of their family. This is a matter of their being ill and needing help.

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I believe passionately that we have a responsibility to help those who are less well off. I support the international fund that helps developing countries, and I advocated and voted for its retention. How can I do that and then stand here tonight and not advocate on behalf of those in need in my constituency? I am aware of those who take advantage and play the system, but I am aware also of those who do not, and it is for those people that I stand here tonight and make these comments.

Tonight Sinn Féin Members, who do not attend this Chamber, will be sitting at home talking about austerity but they will not be here to vote against it. They will be sitting watching this on TV, not here on these green Benches to register their opposition. I understand why people at home may be upset. Their quality of life may well be affected. It is up to us in this place to ensure that it does not dip below a certain standard, although I fear the standard may well be too low at this moment in time. I believe in compassion and in the need to understand other people.

In Northern Ireland we have a legacy from the troubles of mental health issues, underlined by the latest report from the University of Ulster on behalf of the commission for victims and survivors. It states that 30% of the population have mental health issues as a result of the troubles; that 7% indicated they had been injured during them; and that a further 36% said a close relative or friend had either been injured or killed. Putting all those figures together, it implies that in the early years of this decade about 500,000 people had been affected by the conflict in some way. Those figures are enormous and, under these welfare reforms, those people in Northern Ireland will be directly affected.

The bedroom tax has been an issue, and the supplementary payment fund will definitely hit hardest the people who can least afford it. One of my main concerns is the predicament that families and, especially, children will find themselves in. I shall read the words of the chief executive of Barnardo’s, which need repeating in this Chamber:

“Beyond the well-publicised cuts to tax credits, which will leave many families on low wages struggling to buy basics, the government also plans to cap benefits. For the moment this will be £20,000 (£23,000 in Greater London), but a clause in the bill allows the government to change the amount in future too—without consulting parliament. This paves the way for the threshold to sink ever lower, consigning children from larger families to the breadline without scrutiny. The most worrying element is the decision to ditch the government’s duty to end child poverty by 2020. Instead this bill would redefine ‘poverty’, scrapping income as the way we measure being poor and replacing it with worklessness. Given that two-thirds of our poorest children already live in ‘working’ families, this is a completely unacceptable way to measure hardship.”

That is a concern for me; it should be a concern for everybody in this Chamber; we wonder whether it is a concern for the Government.

I stand again with my colleagues and say I cannot support the Bill. I cannot support a Government who persist with this agenda, no matter what the consequences. We in the DUP will say “no” tonight. This Bill will affect the disabled; it will affect children; it will affect those in society whom we are bound to protect. The Government are targeting those who can least afford it. This is too much, too far and is totally unacceptable.

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9.32 pm

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): This is a wicked Bill. It punishes the sick, the disabled and the poor. Not content in the last Parliament with cutting £23.8 billion from 3.7 million disabled people as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the Government are going for even more. Clause 13 cuts the amount of employment and support allowance that disabled people who are in the work-related activity group, and who have been assessed as not currently fit for work, can get. They will have their income cut from £102.15 a week to £73.10 a week.

The implication is that these measures will incentivise people with disabilities to find, stay and progress in work. There are currently 7 million working-age disabled people, 4 million of whom are working, but although 1.3 million are able to work and want to work they are currently unemployed. The Government say they want to halve that disability employment gap, but how will they do it? With currently only one disability employment adviser for every 600 disabled people, what additional support will be given to help disabled people to get an interview? How are the Government going to address the attitudes that often prevent people with disabilities from even getting a job interview? Given that 90% of disabled people used to work, what will the Government do to support newly disabled people leaving the labour market prematurely?

The chaos and inadequacy of the specialist employment service, Access to Work, which last year supported just 35,000 disabled people into and at work, just does not cut it. The Select Committee undertook an inquiry in this area of work last year and is still awaiting the Government’s response to its report. When will that be published? How can the Government really be taken seriously? Why has the money from the Remploy factory closures, which was meant to be invested in Access to Work, not been used to provide vital support for disabled people?

The cuts in support to disabled people fail to recognise the additional costs disabled people face as a result of their disability. The Extra Costs Commission analysed the additional support and found that on average disabled people spend an extra £550 per month on things associated with their disability. It comes as no surprise that people with disabilities are twice as likely to be living in persistent poverty as non-disabled people, and 80% of disability-related poverty is caused by these extra costs. Last year, the number of disabled people living in poverty increased by 2%, which equates to more than 300,000 people. This has implications not just for disabled people themselves, but for their families. A third of all families living in poverty include one disabled family member. In addition to these cuts, we have seen a four-year freeze in other benefits that many disabled people receive, including housing benefit, local housing allowance, universal credit and JSA. How does that fit with the Tory pledge to protect disabled people’s benefits?

The Bill removes the duty for the Government to meet targets to reduce child poverty, saying, in effect, that ending child poverty is no longer an important goal. The Bill replaces the use of “relative child poverty” with a confused definition of child poverty determinants. The worsening inequalities that are facing this generation are becoming intergenerational. With that in mind, and recognising the Government’s legal obligation under

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the Equality Act 2010, when will they produce a cumulative impact assessment? That has been piloted already and needs to happen.

9.36 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): As my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) indicated, we will vote against this Bill. I also have to say that I cannot accept all the reasoning in the amendment, so we will not support the reasoned amendment either.

Many people in this debate have made a number of points about this Bill. It removes even the term “child poverty” from the Child Poverty Act 2010. The Government’s answer to eradicating child poverty seems to be to delete all statutory references to child poverty. That is their policy on ending child poverty. Of course, that has an impact not only on policies here—where there is accountability to this House—but on devolved policies. Did any consultation take place with the relevant devolved authorities, whose positions are changed by virtue of this Bill, if it passes into law?

More importantly, I am here because, like many Government Members, I want to see that work always pays, but unlike them I am conscious of the fact that I will have thousands of constituents for whom work will pay less as a result of this Bill. People who are on working tax credits will see their position worsen. We see that by the changes to the income threshold and to the taper, which will mean a difference of more than £100 a month to many people, straight off, just from those changes alone. Other people will be affected by the freeze on other benefits. They include people who are not in work, but it also affects people who are in work. It is as though the Government looked at all the speculation a number of weeks ago about what they would do and whether they would go for freezes, for cuts or for caps, or whether they would change the thresholds. The answer is that all of the above are in this Bill. The bottom line is billions of pounds of welfare cuts, which will affect not just the Budget in overall terms in the way the Government want, but family budgets in crucial and biting ways.

In addition, the Bill introduces the two-child policy. We know that Conservative Members will say, “Well, at least it is not quite Vulgarian and you don’t have to hide your first two children. Therefore it’s all right.” But the fact is that the Conservative party was not saying there should be a two-child limit when it came to the child tax allowances that it put through in legislation in the last Parliament. There, £2,000 of childcare payments a year can be paid for every single child; there are no limits on the number of children for that, and of course we know that 80% of the beneficiaries of those childcare payments will be in the top 40% of the income bracket. No, it is two children only here, and people have to think about their choice when they are not in that income bracket. That is why this Bill is fundamentally unjust.

Basically, this Bill proposes a poverty tax. In the previous Parliament, many Government Members valiantly rebelled when it came to Budget measures on things such as the “caravan” tax and the “pasty” tax. There is no sign of any of them rebelling on the poverty tax that will hit hard-working families in their constituencies.

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There is no sign of any of them rebelling over the dishonest way in which this Bill treats disabled people. Yes, disability premiums might be protected, but not the wider benefits that people are on, so disabled people will see their benefits go down as a result of these measures. They will be told, “Oh no, but we protected your disability premium.” That will be a fat lot of comfort when their overall income goes down as a result of these measures. There is no point in pretending to them at that stage that the tyre is only flat at the bottom; and that the comfort is in the fact that their disability premium is protected. There has been no follow through on the promises that were made to carers. Any of the promises that are still being made to carers are not reflected in this Bill.

9.40 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): This evening, we have seen the Conservatives breaking their promises to protect the poorest, to reward hard work, to protect disability benefits, and to address relative poverty. Parents, disabled people and millions of children will bear the brunt of the Government’s policies. Working families will be worse off as a result of measures in this Bill and in the summer Budget. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has said, they will be worse off by as much as £1,000 per year. As numerous Opposition Members have said, including my hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), the new increase in the minimum wage does not compensate sufficiently for the loss of tax credits. The Budget makes a mockery of the Tories’ claim to be the party of working people.

However, there are some measures in the Bill that the Labour party welcomes. We support the ambition for full employment and we welcome the provisions to report on that and the apprenticeships reporting obligation. We will insist on an ambitious full employment target, set at a rate of 80% of the working age population. We will require the Commission for Employment and Skills to report on the quality as well as the quantity of apprenticeships, which was acknowledged by a number of Members, including the hon. Members for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes).

Although we recognise the Government’s worthy ambition to halve the disability employment gap, the reporting mechanisms must also set out progress in ensuring that disabled people gain employment and have access to apprenticeships. We also support the reporting obligations in relation to troubled families, although we will seek to ensure that they, too, are strengthened.

I turn to the household benefit cap, which Labour has supported to ensure that people are better off in work. It was Labour that first called for a regional dimension to the benefit cap to recognise high-cost areas. But the cap must operate in a way that protects the most vulnerable, including carers, those looking after young children and victims of domestic violence. The decoupling of the level of the cap from earnings means that the Secretary of State will have an alarmingly wide discretion to set the level, with little scrutiny by Parliament.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) has said, we will be tabling amendments to address those concerns. As Parliament has both a

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right and a duty to scrutinise the policy, we will require the level of the cap to be reviewed every year, based on an annual report on its impact, especially on child poverty.

We also agree that those who can work have a responsibility to do so, but the changes in work requirements for parents whose youngest child is aged three or over must come with guarantees of childcare and protections for lone parents. Although we support the provisions in relation to loans for mortgage interest, we will want to examine them closely. We also want to examine the provisions on social housing rents for their impact on housing supply, including, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) said, on specialist housing provision. We will require the Government to produce a plan to ensure the supply of affordable homes and the maintenance of existing housing stock.

Those are measures we can accept and build on, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham said, other elements of the Bill present significant problems. Of course we accept the need to make savings, but we do not support a four-year freeze on benefits, which will cost 13 million families £260 a year on average, of which 7.4 million are working families losing £280 a year. Uprating should take place annually to take inflation into account.

Labour Members deplore the provisions to airbrush child poverty from the statute book and to repeal the provisions of the Child Poverty Act 2010 relating to poverty targets. The abolition of the child poverty targets is a disgraceful betrayal of millions of children by a Conservative party that previously said it was signed up both to the legislation and to the relative poverty goal, but perhaps we should not be surprised. Under Tory Governments between 1979 and 1997, child poverty doubled. Between 1999 and 2010, under Labour, the number fell by more than 1 million children. There was a further fall in the first year of the coalition Government, thanks to the continuation of measures put in place by Alistair Darling, but thereafter relative poverty has flatlined—there has been no progress whatsoever—while absolute poverty, disgracefully, has risen.

Although I can accept that there is an important set of measures relating to life chances to be looked at, it is simply wrong to overlook the importance of income poverty. Indeed, the Child Poverty Act encompasses both, with four complementary measures of income poverty and specific recognition of the need for strategies on parental employment, housing, health, education, advice, childcare and support for parenting. We will not stand by and allow the Government to turn their back on Britain’s 2.5 million poor children, two thirds of whom—shamefully—live in working families, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) pointed out.

I come to the changes to child tax credit and payments for children in universal credit. My right hon. Friend demonstrated myriad unfairnesses in the provisions, including the differential treatment of children in families in receipt of universal credit and tax credits, the effect on disabled children, and the complete failure of Conservative Members to realise that child tax credit is paid to families both in and out of work. We understand that people have choices to make and are responsible for the children they bring into the world, but it cannot be right that children are penalised for circumstances

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over which they have no control. Furthermore, family circumstances change: few people set out to have children they cannot care for; few lone parents set out to bring up their children alone; unplanned pregnancies happen, as do multiple births or the birth of a disabled child; jobs are lost, people get sick, incomes fall, parents die or become unable to care for their children, and others step in to foster, to adopt or to offer kinship care. Child tax credit helps families in those circumstances. It is the duty of this House to ensure that children are protected, whatever their circumstances, and Labour will table amendments to ensure that that happens.

I turn to the provisions on disabled people and the work-related activity group, which were raised by the hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), for Enfield, Southgate, for Gloucester (Richard Graham), for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and for Glasgow East (Natalie McGarry), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and many others. Let us be clear: those provisions apply to people who have undergone the work capability assessment and been found to be not fit for work—people with degenerative conditions such as cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, people with serious mental health problems and people who are suffering from cancer. They are not well enough to work, so, rightly, they are not required to look for work. They are signed off sick by their doctor, and employers do not even want them in the workplace. The idea that such seriously sick people should be “incentivised” to work is not just offensive but misconceived. The incentive will, if anything, be truly perverse, encouraging more people to be placed in the support group.

If the Government believe that something is wrong with the work capability assessment, they should sort out the assessment process. If they believe that we should offer more support to disabled people to get back to work, we can only agree. But slashing their benefit by £30 a week is not going to help those with serious, long-term health barriers to working. It will not make them well or get them jobs; it will just make them poorer.

In conclusion, this Budget and this Bill will increase poverty, hurt disabled people and seriously damage work incentives. We ask the House to support our reasoned amendment so that we have the chance to make this a Bill that protects the vulnerable, especially children, while ensuring that work always pays. I commend our amendment to the House.

9.50 pm

The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): It is a pleasure to conclude this extensive debate on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, and I thank all hon. Members who have contributed. Two weeks ago the Chancellor’s Budget was a key moment in the Government’s plan for a one nation Government. It was a Budget underpinned by the Government’s approach to rewarding work and supporting aspiration. It was a Budget that supported working people through the introduction of the new national living wage, providing greater financial security to working families, whom the Labour party has not supported, just as it failed to support our reform measures last time around.

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The Bill, alongside other measures, will ensure that the welfare system is fair to taxpayers while supporting the most vulnerable, and, as all hon. Members on the Government Benches have said, ensuring that work always pays more than a life on benefits. It will ensure that the economy is based on higher pay, lower taxes and lower welfare.

The Bill will continue to tackle the unsustainable and unfair system we inherited from Labour. When Labour was in government, welfare spending went up by 60% and the benefits system cost every household £3,000 a year. Under Labour, a life on benefits paid more than having a job. That is the system that this Conservative Government are now reforming.

After opposing every welfare reform in the previous Parliament, and voting against the benefit cap, Labour’s acting leader appeared at some stage to acknowledge where her party failed in its approach when she said that it would no longer pursue blanket opposition but would instead respond to what the public were saying. The Opposition have since retreated and gone back to a belief in an unaffordable welfare state that is far removed from the original principles outlined by Beveridge.

That is in stark contrast to our reforms. Our policies and our approach have led to the creation of record numbers of jobs, and the number of children being brought up in workless families is now at a record low. From Birkenhead to Amber Valley, and from Islington South to Weaver Vale, we have seen the claimant count fall from the record highs under Labour, with reductions ranging from 36% to 62% since 2010. Those jobs are the result of policies that support working people, create financial security and bring fairness back into the system.

Let me address the points raised in the debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) spoke about encouraging and rewarding work being a guiding principle of the Bill, and they were quite right. The Bill focuses on achieving full employment. My hon. Friends the Members for Erewash (Maggie Throup), for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) and for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), along with many others, spoke about the value of apprenticeships.

Colleagues also spoke about reforming employment and support allowance and how we will continue to halve the disability gap and transform people’s lives by empowering them to make choices in the same way as those in work do, which failed to happen under the previous Labour Government.

We know that 61% of those in the work-related activity group want to work, but only 1% of people in that group actually leave the benefit each month. The system has failed them, with financial disincentives leaving them trapped on welfare. We will ensure that that changes. We will provide new financial support to get them into employment, increasing that to £100 million by 2020-21.

Many Members spoke about child poverty. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) for their thoughtful contributions.

20 July 2015 : Column 1330

It is right that we identify and tackle the root causes of poverty, rather than focusing on the symptoms. The Bill will amend the Child Poverty Act 2010 and focus on the root causes and, importantly, life chances, which will drive action and changes in the lives of children.

As colleagues on the Opposition Benches have failed to acknowledge, work is the best route out of poverty. Some 74% of poor workless families who have found work have escaped poverty. Of course income is important, but we know that tackling the symptoms and the causes is crucial. Rather than the arbitrary targets that everyone on the Opposition Benches seems to want to produce, we will continue to publish the households below average income statistics alongside the new statutory measures for a wider suite of life chances measures, including family breakdown, debt and addiction, as outlined earlier by the Secretary of State. Together, this will present fuller data on poverty and life chances, which can be used to hold the Government to account as we address the root causes of poverty, rather than the symptoms.

On the changes to tax credits, it is right that families on benefits should have to make the same financial decisions as families supporting themselves solely through work. I emphasise that child benefit will continue to provide additional support for the first child. There are no cash losers, contrary to what Opposition Members have been saying.

We have been bringing welfare spending under control to a sustainable level. That is at the heart of the Bill. It will correct the disproportionate, unfair and unaffordable rises in benefits compared with earnings by freezing working age benefits. The Bill will rightly protect taxpayers—the very taxpayers whom the Labour party chose to ignore during the general election campaign and towards whom Opposition Members have shown contempt—from the costs of subsidising rising social housing rents through housing benefit.

The Bill will restore fairness to the system and fairness to working families, as outlined by my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately). It is not fair for someone on benefits to be receiving—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There are far too many noisy conversations taking place in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) should get a grip of himself.

Priti Patel: It is not fair that someone on benefits receives more than many people in work. The benefit cap reintroduces fairness. We are turning support for mortgage interest into a loan. The welfare system is not about supporting lifestyles and rents that working families cannot choose. This is why we are limiting support through child tax credits and universal credit. We are also, as the Bill clearly states, continuing to ensure that the welfare system will support the elderly, the vulnerable and the disabled by protecting pensioners and benefits relating to the additional costs of disability from the freeze on working age benefits. We are making the most vulnerable disabled people exempt from the household benefit cap, a point that seems to have been lost on the Opposition. While we are reforming the ESA WRAG so that the right incentives and the right support are in place for those who are capable of taking steps back to work, we will continue to protect the most vulnerable.

20 July 2015 : Column 1331

If nothing else, today’s debate has shown that the Labour party has not changed. Labour Members continue to make the same mistakes as they did in the last Parliament, when they refused to support every aspect of welfare reforms that we proposed. Today we heard them make the same speeches as they made back in 2010, 2011 and 2012. They speak against reform.

Unlike the views of the Opposition, our proposals resonate with the British public. When three in four people—and the majority of Labour voters—think that Britain spends too much on welfare, the right approach must be one that enshrines the fundamental principle that it is better to earn a higher income from work than receive a higher income from welfare. This Bill will help people do just that. It will establish the principle of economic security, so that those who work hard and do the right thing are able to get on in life. It will ensure that the welfare system is fair to taxpayers and it will build an economy based on higher pay, lower taxes and lower welfare. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 208, Noes 308.

Division No. 50]

[

9.58 pm

AYES

Abrahams, Debbie

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Butler, Dawn

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Cooper, Julie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Farron, Tim

Field, rh Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Foxcroft, Vicky

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Haigh, Louise

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harpham, Harry

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Hayman, Sue

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollern, Kate

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Helen

Kane, Mike

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Kinahan, Danny

Kinnock, Stephen

Lamb, rh Norman

Lammy, rh Mr David

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Ian C.

Lynch, Holly

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Sir Alan

Miliband, rh Edward

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Mulholland, Greg

Murray, Ian

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Osamor, Kate

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Shah, Naz

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sherriff, Paula

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Andy

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Jeff

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smyth, Karin

Starmer, Keir

Stevens, Jo

Streeting, Wes

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turley, Anna

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

West, Catherine

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Sammy

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Heidi Alexander

and

Phil Wilson

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Green, Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

George Hollingbery

and

Margot James

Question accordingly negatived.

20 July 2015 : Column 1332

20 July 2015 : Column 1333

20 July 2015 : Column 1334

20 July 2015 : Column 1335


Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 308, Noes 124.

Division No. 51]

[

10.10 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Green, Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

George Hollingbery

and

Margot James

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ahmed-Sheikh, Ms Tasmina

Anderson, Mr David

Arkless, Richard

Bardell, Hannah

Black, Mhairi

Blackford, Ian

Blackman, Kirsty

Boswell, Philip

Brake, rh Tom

Brock, Deidre

Brown, Alan

Burgon, Richard

Butler, Dawn

Cameron, Dr Lisa

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Chapman, Douglas

Cherry, Joanna

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clwyd, rh Ann

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cowan, Ronnie

Crawley, Angela

Davies, Geraint

Day, Martyn

Docherty, Martin John

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donaldson, Stuart

Dowd, Peter

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Farron, Tim

Fellows, Marion

Ferrier, Margaret

Flynn, Paul

Gethins, Stephen

Gibson, Patricia

Glindon, Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Grady, Patrick

Grant, Peter

Gray, Neil

Greenwood, Margaret

Haigh, Louise

Harris, Carolyn

Hayman, Sue

Hendry, Drew

Hosie, Stewart

Hussain, Imran

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Helen

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kerevan, George

Kerr, Calum

Khan, rh Sadiq

Kinahan, Danny

Lamb, rh Norman

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Law, Chris

Lewis, Clive

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Marris, Rob

Maskell, Rachael

Mc Nally, John

McCaig, Callum

McDonald, Andy

McDonald, Stewart

McDonald, Stuart C.

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McGarry, Natalie

McInnes, Liz

McLaughlin, Anne

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Monaghan, Carol

Monaghan, Dr Paul

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morris, Grahame M.

Mulholland, Greg

Mullin, Roger

Newlands, Gavin

Nicolson, John

O'Hara, Brendan

Osamor, Kate

Oswald, Kirsten

Paisley, Ian

Paterson, Steven

Pearce, Teresa

Pugh, John

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Salmond, rh Alex

Saville Roberts, Liz

Shannon, Jim

Sheppard, Tommy

Sherriff, Paula

Siddiq, Tulip

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, Cat

Stephens, Chris

Stevens, Jo

Stringer, Graham

Thewliss, Alison

Thomson, Michelle

Weir, Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitford, Dr Philippa

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Corri

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Wishart, Pete

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Noes:

Owen Thompson

and

Kelvin Hopkins

Question accordingly agreed to.

20 July 2015 : Column 1336

20 July 2015 : Column 1337

20 July 2015 : Column 1338

Bill read a Second time.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the neutral arbiter of this House, is there any way in which you could help and advise me on how we can achieve this? Can we rearrange the furniture of this House so that the SNP becomes the official Opposition while the Labour party abstains on the Back Benches?

Mr Speaker: Notwithstanding the earnest expression on the face of the hon. Gentleman, his point of order was cheeky and tendentious, as he well knows.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill: Programme

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 15 October.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—( Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

20 July 2015 : Column 1339

Welfare Reform And Work Bill: Money

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, it is expedient to authorise—

(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(a) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State; and

(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided; and

(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.

—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

Committees

Mr Speaker: With the leave of the House, we will take motions 4 to 9 together.

Ordered,

Administration

That Sir David Amess, Sir Paul Beresford, John Cryer, Martyn Day, Michael Fabricant, James Gray, Nigel Mills, Ms Gisela Stuart, Mark Tami, Keith Vaz and Mr Robin Walker be members of the Administration Committee.

Backbench Business

That Bob Blackman, Mr Peter Bone, Mr Philip Hollobone, Gavin Newlands, Mr David Nuttall and Jess Phillips be members of the Backbench Business Committee.

Environmental Audit

That Peter Aldous, Caroline Ansell, Jo Churchill, Zac Goldsmith, Margaret Greenwood, Luke Hall, Carolyn Harris, Peter Heaton-Jones, Mr Peter Lilley, Caroline Lucas, Holly Lynch, John Mc Nally, Rebecca Pow, Jeff Smith and Rory Stewart be members of the Environmental Audit Committee.

Finance

That Jake Berry, Mr Clive Betts, Mr Nicholas Brown, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mark Garnier, Neil Gray, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Mr Lindsay Hoyle, Helen Jones, Kwasi Kwarteng and Karen Lumley be members of the Finance Committee.

Petitions

That Ian Blackford, Oliver Dowden, Steve Double, Paul Flynn, Ben Howlett, Mr Nick Hurd, David Mackintosh, Justin Madders, Kate Osamor and Paul Scully be members of the Petitions Committee.

Statutory Instruments (Joint)

That Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger be a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

20 July 2015 : Column 1340

Petition

Installation of Bus Stop on Henry Cort Way in Gosport

10.25 pm

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I rise to present a petition on behalf of residents of Gosport who believe there should be a bus stop near the Bridgemary Road walk through to Vian Close on Henry Cort Way. This is an issue that affects many people in the Gosport constituency, and there has been another petition locally, which was signed by 94 individuals.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Gosport,

Declares that there should be another bus stop near the Bridgemary Road walk through to Vian Close and further declares that a local petition on this matter was signed by 94 individuals.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to install a new bus stop near the Bridgemary Road walk through to Vian Close in Gosport.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

[P001534]

Mr Speaker: An atmosphere of calm expectation has descended upon the House. I call Mr Keith Vaz.

Royal City Status for Leicester

10.26 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I am presenting a petition signed by 203 local residents. I want to thank Terry Herbert, Joga Singh Sandu, Councillor Piara Clair and Councillor Deepak Bajaj for raising awareness and promoting this initiative. I am delighted to see, among other Members here—such a crowded House!—my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth).

The petition states:

The petition of residents of Leicester East,

Declares that the city of Leicester is one of the oldest settlements in the United Kingdom which over two millennia has developed into an area of major cultural and economic significance within the country and further that following the discovery of the remains of Richard III in the city, and his subsequent re-internment on Thursday 26th March in Leicester Cathedral, Leicester has established a clear and irrefutable royal connection.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons debates the possibility of Leicester being permitted to use the title “Royal”, and be attributed the title, “The Royal City of Leicester”.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

[P001535]

20 July 2015 : Column 1341

New Build Housing (Approved Inspectors)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

10.28 pm

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): Thank you for allowing this important debate, Mr Speaker.

Buying a new home, particularly a brand new house, should be an exciting experience. It is the biggest purchase that most of us ever make and the ads we see in our local papers justify the premium paid for purchasing a new house: the promise of gleaming new shiny kitchens, immaculate gardens and hassle-free living. For many people, the promise is kept, but for some it is not. That is what the debate is about today.

I am not talking about cosmetic or aesthetic problems with the finish of a property, such as chipped paint or cracks in the plaster work, although we should not underestimate the problems that some new homeowners encounter in rectifying even these straightforward issues. I am talking about new homes that have very significant defects indeed. These might include a staircase that is falling away from the wall, a central heating boiler that has not been properly checked by an approved engineer, or a damp-proof course below ground level. The list goes on. I am talking about whether some new build homes are properly checked and assessed as safe to live in before they are sold and occupied.

A number of my constituents have brought these matters to my attention, and I am talking about dozens of homeowners, not just one or two, and not just in one housing development. What those people have suffered and had to live with is unacceptable. I will not talk about their personal cases tonight, for reasons of privacy, but they know who they are and I hope that they are listening to the debate. Constituents are facing dreadful defects in expensive new homes that clearly do not comply with building regulations. Resolving some of the problems could require significant building works or even demolition of the original house. I know from colleagues, and from websites, that this is not just a problem in my constituency. Similar issues are being experienced around the country, but few people feel confident to speak out.

Let us be clear: a detailed framework is in place that sets out the standards that need to be complied with, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), will have gone through it in detail. There is also a statutory regime of inspection to be carried out by approved inspectors, who have a statutory role to check for compliance with building standards.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): My right hon. Friend has raised some scary stories. Is she aware of the existence of regulation M, which requires buildings to be compliant with the laws on disabled access? Is she also aware that the people who give advice to builders on how to comply with the regulation are the self-same people who sign off the building as being compliant? That is clearly nonsense.

Mrs Miller: My hon. Friend raises a question that I know he has probed in some detail. He is an expert on that matter, and he is right to mention the issue of

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conflict of interest. He demonstrates the fact that the problem I have raised needs addressing. Something is clearly going wrong.

The builder or contractor of course carries ultimate responsibility for compliance with building regulations, and for the quality of the construction, but the building control inspector is there to safeguard the new homeowner and to ensure that technical and safety standards are met. It is clear that in some cases the inspection regime is falling short of what is required and that problems are not being dealt with during the building process, leaving the new homeowner to deal with the fallout, as I have described.

I welcome the Ankers report on strengthening the procedural competency of companies registered as approved inspectors, and the disciplinary processes relating to the regulation of the profession. I also welcome the suggestion that a duty of care should be established between approved inspectors and the homebuyer. That is long overdue. It would give the homebuyer more redress against inadequate statutory inspection.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the built environment, and I wonder whether she is aware that we are going to conduct an inquiry. I would very much welcome her involvement in that campaign.

Mrs Miller: My hon. Friend and I have had conversations about that, and I shall welcome the opportunity of carrying out a more detailed analysis.

The inspection regime remains opaque. Inspectors are required to compile and keep extensive reports on all new homes as they are built, but those records are then kept secret from new homeowners. Why? If the inspection regime is really to work in favour of the housebuyer, we need transparency about the work of approved inspectors. We also need more accountability, and we need to know that they are scrupulously independent and that there are no conflicts of interest such as the one my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) mentioned.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): In Northern Ireland, there are many examples of what the right hon. Lady has described. One way of addressing the problems—perhaps it is the same here on the mainland—is through the National House Building Council, which many builders and construction companies in my constituency have signed up to. That gives the housebuyer a level of confidence. It also ensures that the house they are buying is covered by insurance. Is there a possibility of using that mechanism here?

Mrs Miller: The hon. Gentleman is right, and there are 10-year guarantees for new houses. The trouble is that in the first two years after construction, any problems are required to be rectified by the person who built the house. In those circumstances, I believe that the approved inspector should support new homeowners more thoroughly.

Is there any reason why the detailed records I have talked about that the approved inspector keeps for each house could not be made available to purchasers? I

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know they might be technical and perhaps a bit difficult to understand for the layperson, but most homebuyers will be interested in seeing them. Why are they secret? Would it not be better to demonstrate that the property concerned has been inspected? Why is there so much secrecy around these records? It would be extremely useful to make them more public.

I have had a constructive discussion with the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors, and I know that it shares my aim of ensuring that high professional standards are maintained and that a robust process is in place for dealing with inspectors who fail to meet these high standards, but at the moment some still fall short. The completion certificate is part of the information pack that purchasers of a new home receive, so why not include the approved inspectors’ records in there too? Could an amendment be made to the Building (Approved Inspectors etc.) Regulations 2010 to introduce this important new measure?

Knowing that the inspection records will be made available could also help with demonstrating the approved inspectors’ independence and prove that there is no conflict of interest, as was referred to earlier. It strikes some of us as odd, even questionable, that some companies, such as NHBC and Premier Guarantee, not only provide home warranties, but are registered as approved inspectors and sign properties off. Is there not a potential conflict of interest there? How do we know that all approved inspectors are doing their jobs to the highest professional standards? Exactly how independent are they? In the 30 years that approved inspectors have been in existence, how many have been struck off for poor performance or over questions of independence? I think we will find that the answer is absolutely none.

Urgent action is needed. I do not believe that homebuilders are covering themselves in glory when it comes to dealing with customers’ problems on a great many levels. The industry needs to tackle this and tackle it quickly, particularly if we are to build far more houses in this country, but the Government can make a contribution by ensuring that approved inspectors are more effective in what they do. That is in the Government’s gift and will make a huge difference. The great majority of approved inspectors do a highly professional job, but there is clearly room for improvement. We need greater transparency and accountability to ensure that all buyers have the confidence and reassurance they need, and I hope the Minister will agree to look at this again and use the housing Bill before us in the autumn specifically to address this issue and thereby help ensure that the new houses that I know the Government want to see built up and down the country are fit for purpose and safe for the people who purchase them.

10.37 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (James Wharton): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) on securing this debate. It is an important issue, as evidenced by the number of colleagues who have commented and attended from the Government Benches. It is a shame to note that there are no colleagues on the Labour or SNP Benches, although I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on his diligent interest in these debates, which I know are important to his constituents.

20 July 2015 : Column 1344

At its heart, this is a debate about the quality of new build housing and the role of the approved inspector in the system that the Government oversee to deliver the sort of housing that our constituents rightly expect. I recognise that things do not always go right when someone buys a new home. It can be time consuming, stressful and expensive to get things put right when things go wrong in a purchase that is often extremely important to the individuals and families concerned. It can be very stressful and difficult when serious problems arise.

Homeowners can legitimately expect their home to be built to high-quality standards. The builder or developer has primary responsibility for complying with the building regulations, which are the primary mechanisms through which we regulate the quality of building and ensure that homes are safe and meet the standards people expect. They protect the health and safety, energy efficiency and water efficiency of a new house, but quality issues beyond building regulations requirements are a matter for the builder and purchaser to resolve. My right hon. Friend concentrated her comments on the system of inspection, so I want first to explain how the system of approved inspectors works, talk a bit about the regulation of the sector and then answer some of her specific questions.

The approved inspector system is run by the Construction Industry Council Approved Inspector Register, which has been designated by the Secretary of State to carry out his executive and administrative functions in respect of the approval and re-approval of approved inspectors. CICAIR requires approved inspector applicants to provide information about their skills, knowledge and experience, and plans for their business, including the systems and process that they intend to introduce. After the relevant information has been provided and checked for completeness, applicants attend an interview and give a presentation to the approval panel. If everything is satisfactory, CICAIR will allow them to act as approved inspectors. Approved inspectors are audited by CICAIR at its premises at least once every five years, but more often if complaints justify that, or if it appears to be necessary to ensure that they are meeting the obligations and standards that we rightly expect of them. Approval status lasts for five years. On re-approval, they are required to submit another application, and CICAIR will consider previous performance before granting re-approval. It is not necessarily an automatic process.

Mrs Miller: Does the Minister know whether any spot checks on the quality of the approved inspectors’ work are carried out by an independent source?

James Wharton: As it is the duty of CICAIR to run the process, checks are most commonly carried out when complaints have been made. Ongoing checks are not necessarily undertaken, but when complaints are made, a process is undertaken to look at the quality of the work that inspectors are doing.

This is not the first occasion on which concern has been expressed about the working of the regime. In 2012, the Construction Industry Council commissioned a review to deal with issues of governance and concerns about processes in the industry. The Ankers report covers the findings of that review, and makes 15 recommendations for possible improvements. They include reviewing the

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criteria for approving inspectors so that more consideration is given to the way in which applicants run their businesses, developing an annual return to monitor an approved inspector’s performance over the previous 12 months, and setting new targets for dealing with complaints.

I am pleased to say that all the report’s recommendations were accepted, and that CICAIR has already implemented some and is making good progress with others. For example, complaints are now being dealt with more quickly, and a programme of regular audits of approved inspectors is in place. My officials have regular discussions with CICAIR about the way in which it discharges its functions, including its progress in implementing the recommendations of the Ankers report. The systems governing approved inspectors are improving continually as a result of implementation of the Ankers recommendations, and the feedback received by CICAIR about its handling of the processes that it undertakes. Of course further improvements are always possible, and I recognise that my right hon. Friend has raised legitimate concerns on behalf of her constituents. I will take away those concerns tonight, and will consider, and discuss with my officials, whether further action is appropriate and necessary.

Approved inspectors have a duty to take such steps as are reasonable to enable them to be satisfied, within the limits of professional skill and care, that the relevant requirements of the building regulations have been complied with. They fulfil that duty by checking plans, conducting site inspections, checking the validity of energy and water efficiency calculations, and looking at other relevant documents. They can also question the evidence provided in certificates and other documents, and do not have to accept them as evidence of compliance. When necessary, approved inspectors may carry out their own tests and take samples to check compliance, and can go further. They have a range of powers and abilities to satisfy themselves that things are being done properly, although I suspect from what my right hon. Friend has said that her concern lies not with diligent inspectors, but with a small number who are not diligent.

Approved inspectors are required, as one of the conditions of their approval, to abide by the building control performance standards. Those standards help to ensure that building control standards are not driven down, which would put the health and safety of building users at risk. The building control performance advisory group, which is a sub-committee of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, keeps the standards under continual review. Following a review in 2013, revised standards were published last year, which take account of the current expectations of the building control sector as well as those of customers. In particular, standard 6 covers site inspections. It requires records of each inspection to be maintained, and details of non- compliant work to be communicated promptly and clearly to the responsible person.

My right hon. Friend asked about the records and how they are dealt with in the current system. I should say that they are not necessarily detailed records; we do not prescribe a detailed format that they must take. Instead, they are records that the inspector keeps for their own use and often the content of them would not be of great use to individuals looking in from the outside to understand the processes undertaken.

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However, approved inspectors are not clerks of work, nor are they responsible for quality issues beyond what is required by building regulations. They provide advice and guidance on how to bring work up to compliance standards. In most cases this is sufficient to ensure compliance with the building regulations. If unsuccessful, the approved inspector can cancel the initial notice and the work then reverts back to the local authority for enforcement action.

Homeowners who have been let down by the system and seek redress have a number of avenues to follow. First, they should complain directly to the builder or developer. In many cases this solves the problems, but of course not in all. If a warranty is in place, the homeowner can contact the warranty provider. Most warranties last for 10 years from completion of the building work.

In the first two years from completion of the building work, the builder is responsible for putting right defects caused by breaches of the technical requirements covered by the warranty. Where a defect is found and the builder refuses to carry out remedial work, a free resolution service is offered by the warranty provider.

The warranty provider will try to get the builder to carry out any necessary work, or in some cases arrange for the work to be carried out themselves. In years three to 10 from completion of the building work, the warranty provides insurance cover against the cost of repairing defined sorts of defects covered by the scheme. Warranties are not compulsory for new homes but the Department is aware that most new homes are covered by a warranty such as the NHBC Buildmark.

Mark Garnier: The Minister is describing the system very well, but he is talking about defects in the quality of the building. The system has a number of faults, however, in respect of regulation M and compliance with disability access. People have no redress to the local authority or the builder if they are non-compliant, because there does not seem to be a system that can prove that there is non-compliance, apart from the one the Minister described, where the inspector is the person who gave the advice in the first place and who will therefore, because of that conflict of interest, be unlikely to rule against themselves. Can he unravel that Gordian knot?

James Wharton: At its heart, that is perhaps a debate about the role of the approved inspectors. They are there to give advice, and that advice usually results in compliance. Their role throughout the building process is to advise and ensure standards are met. While I recognise the concerns my hon. Friend raises and I am happy to have further discussions with him about any specific cases, the role of the inspector is to ensure that throughout the process the building is compliant, not just to assess and approve—or not—at the end of the process.

Oliver Colvile: The all-party group on excellence in the built environment is going to conduct an inquiry into this. Once we have done so and written our report, will the Minister meet us to discuss our findings?

James Wharton: My hon. Friend pre-empts some of my later comments recognising the good work done by the all-party group of which he is a member. I will be very happy to meet him and his colleagues on that

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group to discuss their report and findings, and to see if there are lessons to learn. There is an ongoing process of review; we are always looking at what we can do better and where we can make improvements, and I have no doubt that the work that group undertakes will be very helpful and informative.

Builders are required to be registered with the warranty provider to be able to purchase their warranty products; complaints are often about products. A homeowner may also be protected by the consumer code for homebuilders, an industry-led scheme that aims to give protection and rights to purchasers of new homes.

The code applies to all homebuyers who reserve to buy a new, or newly converted, home on or after 1 April 2010 built by a homebuilder registered with one of the supporting warranty bodies such as NHBC. Between 2010 and 2013 57 cases were referred to the code’s independent dispute resolution scheme, of which 21 succeeded in part and two succeeded in full. In the last resort the homeowner may make a civil claim against a builder. Redress against the approved inspector is an issue that then becomes relevant to tonight’s debate. If an approved inspector is negligent or does not carry out such steps that are reasonable to enable them to be satisfied that the relevant requirements of the building regulations have been met, such as failing to visit the site often enough, a complaint can be made to CICAIR. If a complaint is upheld, CICAIR can take disciplinary action against the approved inspector and, as a last resort, remove their approval.

Mrs Miller: My hon. Friend refers to the fact that it is important that approved inspectors visit sites regularly. If their records are not made available, however, future home purchasers will not know that they have not visited regularly. Surely he will join me in acknowledging that transparency in the process will help shed more light on poor practice.

James Wharton: I acknowledge my right hon. Friend’s determination to pursue the point of the records, but the format they take will be of less use than she might hope. When a complaint is made to CICAIR, those records will be disclosed as part of the complaints process. A more thorough process then takes place once a complaint has been registered, but we do not prescribe the format that records must take, because it would be difficult to do so given the complexity of the different environments that inspectors inspect, so that may not provide the answers she is looking for. Acknowledging her point, I would, however, be happy to look again at the issue, to discuss it with my officials, to write to her more formally and, if appropriate, if we do not reach a conclusion with which she is satisfied, to meet her to discuss the implications of what she is saying, the reasons why the position is at it is today and whether we can sensibly look to change it. I am always happy to take those representations and to have those discussions with Members who have significant and important points

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to raise on behalf of their constituents. I recognise the veracity with which she makes that particular one and the concern that she has.

Homeowners may also seek legal redress against approved inspectors for negligence. All approved inspectors are required to have insurance cover, so there is money available to cover claims if they are found liable in the civil courts. I recognise, however, that it can be a difficult process for homeowners, because when something has gone wrong and in a difficult time after a significant purchase, they often do not have their expectations met. Taking civil legal action for negligence may not necessarily be a route they want to go down.

The Department continues to keep the approved inspector system and the building control system more generally under review. We have heard that it is necessary to do so. Clearly, constituents’ concerns have been brought to Members, and they have quite rightly reflected those during this evening’s debate. I hear the comments that Members have made, and I recognise from the number of written questions that Members present have tabled that there is concern and it should rightly be taken very seriously indeed. I do not necessarily accept that the current system is as flawed as some might like to portray it. There are misunderstandings in some quarters about the roles of the current system and of inspectors, but it is clear from this evening’s debate that that is not the case in the House, and that Members are well informed about the concerns that constituents have brought to them and are effectively advocating on their behalf to find an appropriate resolution.

As the Government embark upon a programme of building much-needed new houses, I recognise the importance of the role played by the Department, the Government and me as a Minister—having encountered my own challenges on behalf of constituents—in ensuring that the houses are of the quality that people expect and that buying them is as straightforward and stress-free as we all hope it ought to be.

Members have made clear points this evening, and I have made a number of offers to look into matters and to meet right hon. and hon. Friends to discuss them further. Those are offers that I know my officials will have made diligent note of, and which I look forward to being held to in future. I look forward also to being able, I hope, to find a suitable resolution to some of the concerns that have been raised. I cannot promise to meet all the demands that Members have put before the House, but I can promise to make my very best efforts to improve the system and always to endeavour to find improvements to provide a better experience to all new homebuyers, because it is such an important stage in anybody’s life. It is important that our constituents are able to have confidence in the system—an importance reflected by the comments this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

10.54 pm

House adjourned.