HC Deb 20 April 1983 vol 41 cc375-89

Again considered in Committee.

Mr. Foster

The proud boast of the Secretary of State on Second Reading was to protect the living standards of all beneficiaries. How does the Minister of State propose to protect the millions of housing benefit claimants, especially when some of the largest authorities in the land are having difficulty? In an earlier debate today, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West, (Mr. Dean) quoted a letter from a councillor in his area suggesting that a tenant was about to be evicted. As we are talking about protecting the living standards of beneficiaries, I should cite a further example. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) received a telephone call today from a Mr. Gardner. The Doncaster authority has about 6,000 cases to administer and my right hon. Friend had the impression that it was having considerable difficulty in implementing the scheme. Mr. Gardner's rent has not been paid by the local authority for three weeks and he is now threatened with eviction. There are similar cases all over the country.

If the Minister is really interested in protecting the living standards of housing benefit claimants whose living standards are currently not at all protected by the Bill he must pay serious attention to that point. Will he even at this late stage accept the amendment or at least promise to bring forward a suitable amendment perhaps in another place?

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I support the amendment. It is extremely important that the Government make their intentions clear now. Do they intend to wait until the information is available on 17 June, then think about it and decide perhaps to increase housing benefits by the amount required by the retail price index, or do they intend to increase it by a smaller amount?

Complicated problems arise. So far, we have been probing whether the Government can manage to carry out their uprating in the time allowed between the Government's taking the decision sometime soon after 17 June, laying orders before the House and getting the legislation through.

As to the housing benefit scheme, the Government have to do no more than announce the scales, because the local authorities will have to implement them. Has the Minister consulted the local authorities and are they confident that the process can be carried out in the required time? Although local authorities had notice that the new housing benefit scheme was to be fully implemented by the beginning of April, there is considerable evidence to show that many have not done so. It may be that problems have arisen because of the complexities in the transition. Working out those calculations is a considerable work load for the local authorities. I hope that the Minister will inform the Committee how many tenants are involved within those local authorities and how far those local authorities are in difficulties as a result of the complexities of the system, or because they have not had the staff to implement the scheme in the time involved. That is extremely important if any uprating is to take place as a result of the change in the needs allowance. That information should be given to the Committee immediately. A guarantee must be given that there will be no problems in future with the housing benefit scheme. All hon. Members are worried about the problems facing our constituents, but guarantees are sought that, as a result of any uprating, there will be no further problems.

The Government should update the figures for the losers. There has been some difficulty in obtaining a clear statement from the Government as to how many losers there were on 1 April. The Government should be able to give us, not just an estimate, but a statement of how many losers there were.

I accept it may take a little time before those figures come from the local authorities. I trust that the Minister will tell the Committee fairly soon what the figure is, instead of an estimate of the number of people who have lost, and how far that will be continued if the uprating goes through at the level of the retail price index. Furthermore, will the Minister tell the Committee whether the number of losers will remain the same or whether there will be a progressive increase or decrease in that group?

I trust that the Government will state clearly that the uprating will be based on the retail price index and not on another figure that they pluck out of the air, saying that that is the figure they will use.

What evidence have the Government got about the large number of appeals that have been coming forward as a result of the introduction of the new housing benefit scheme? How many local authorities have set up their appeal tribunals? What is the experience there? That information is needed to show whether the local authorities will have difficulty in implementing an uprating. I hope that the Government can answer those questions.

Should the Government be making extra provision as to housing benefit because the major reduction in the retail price index has occurred as a result of mortages? People on many housing benefit schemes—certainly from the rent point of view—have not benefited. They have had the worst problems because council rents have risen in excess of the retail price index. The Government ought to be protecting that group. I trust that the Minister will assure the Committee that if the Government do not accept the amendment today they will implement its spirit in this year's uprating.

Mr. Rossi

The comments that have been made fall into two parts. The first part is directly concerned with the amendments, which urge the Government to adopt an inflexible method for uprating the housing benefit needs allowances. The second part involves an understandable inquiry into the scheme, the problems that have been encountered and whether there is provision to help people where, perhaps locally, there have been difficulties. I shall try to deal with the questions in turn.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) will not be surprised to hear that I advise the Committee to resist the amendments. Section 29 of the 1982 Act is the very first statutory provision covering the uprating of the needs allowances. There was no similar provision under the previous rent and rate rebate and allowance schemes. Those have been in operation for many years without any statutory requirement for their uprating. However, upratings have taken place.

We took the opportunity in our new legislation of imposing a positive obligation on the Government, which did not exist before, that they should come to the House of Commons with their proposals. Section 29 requires the Secretary of State to review the needs allowances each year to determine whether they have retained their value in relation to prices and housing costs. If not, the Secretary of State must do one of two things: he must lay the regulations increasing the allowances as appropriate, or, if he decides to increase some or all of the allowances by less than the amount required to restore their value, he must lay a report before Parliament giving his reasons. He must say why he is uprating by a lesser factor, if that is his decision.

That requirement was not imposed on any Secretary of State regarding rent and rebate schemes prior to the 1982 Act. When the then clause 29 was tabled in Committee on what became the Social Security and Housing Benefits Act 1982, I acknowledged that the absence of a statutory provision to review the needs allowances was inappropriate to a scheme that affected so many people. However, we could not—and still cannot—accept that the Government should bind themselves indefinitely to an inflexible formula in determining the uprating of such a means-tested benefit. That is the essential difference between this type of benefit and the pensions that we have been discussing. The pensions are not means-tested in the same way as housing benefit. Therefore, they require a different approach.

We believe that section 29 has struck the right balance between the need for a statutory review, accounted for to Parliament, and the need for freedom of decision in the light of all the circumstances of the day. That was all debated on the Floor of the House when we discussed the 1982 Act not so long ago. The purpose of this Bill is simply to change to an historic focus in conducting the review. That is all. That is the only change proposed. Nothing about the change undermines or detracts from the case for maintaining this flexibility of approach in considering proposals for uprating. The existing provision has yet to operate, and I see no reason to change it beyond the provisions of the Bill.

In response to the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), I should point out that we propose to undertake the first review of the housing benefit needs allowances this June, as he will have seen from the notes on clauses. The main element of the single person's and couple's needs allowance is equal to the corresponding long-term supplementary benefit scale rate. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, its value will be reviewed on the basis of movements in the general level of prices, excluding housing costs.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland made the point about flexibility. The supplementary benefit scale rates are not subject to the type of uprating that we have been discussing for pensions. Supplementary benefit uprating is dealt with quite differently. There is not the obligation to lay an order in the way that will now be required for pensions. In so far as the main element of the housing benefit needs allowance is based on the long-term supplementary benefit payment, it would be inappropriate to make one flexible and the other inflexible.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister ensure that local authorities have at least the same amount of time to implement the uprating as his own staff?

10.15 pm
Mr. Rossi

Yes. Indeed, we shall make an improvement on what has happened in the past. In the past local authorities have not carried out a review of rent and rate rebates until some time in July. We are making an advance on what has been the practice in the past.

The housing element of the needs allowance consists of components relating to rents, rates and water charges. These components will be reviewed on the basis of movement in the value of these items during the period under review.

I hope that the Committee will be satisfied with the Government's approach to uprating housing benefits, which has gone much further than the approaches adopted by any of their predecessors. I hope that the Committee will agree also that a satisfactory case has not yet been made for the proposed amendments to the substance of the provision, which has reached the statute book but has not yet been used.

Hon. Members want to know whether great difficuties have arisen from the main start. There have been some local problems and some individual mistakes that is not surprising when we consider that we are introducing a new scheme involving over 5 million claimants. However, there has been no breakdown. I have received practically no correspondence from hon. Members or from the general public drawing attention to main start problems.

Mr. Foster

The Under-Secretary of State is now in his place and he will recall surprising us all by saying that one third of all authorities were not in a position fully to implement the scheme. What is the Minister's definition of a breakdown if one third of all authorities can not fully implement the scheme?

Mr. John

How many tenants are involved?

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), because he has made the precise point. The real issue is the number of those who may be disadvantaged. I shall give the Committee those figures.

Progress reports entering the Department's headquarters show that DHSS local offices reassessed nearly 90 per cent. of supplementary benefit claimants in the main start by 18 March, which was their target date. Most of the remaining cases were completed by Easter. On the local authority side, over three quarters of the existing rebate cases were reassessed under the main start. Where cases have not been reassessed on time, this has been due to a variety of factors that have often been local in origin, and in many instances not directly associated with housing benefit.

A good example was the recent industrial action in DHSS offices at Birmingham and Oxford, which had a knock-on effect on housing benefit. The implementation of housing benefit reassessment in local offices and local authorities has generally been completed at least as quickly as the reassessment of cases for rent changes in previous years under the old schemes. As soon as all the final reports have come in from the various local authorities and these have been collated, the results will be submitted to the House of Commons. We shall let the House of Commons know the exact position.

I accept that a number of reassessments have been late but I assure the Committee that we have contingency arrangements in hand to ensure that individuals are protected and do not lose out. In those cases in which the DHSS has not reassessed the existing supplementary benefit claimants on time, the Department will continue to pay the pre-April amount for rent and rates until the cases have been reassessed for housing benefit. The local authority will calculate in due course the housing benefit entitlement from 4 April, offset the DHSS payment and pay any arrears. So those people will be fully protected and we will make sure that they get all that they are entitled to.

Where the local authority has not reassessed existing rebate cases on time, it will be able to continue the rebate granted under the old scheme as an interim payment. When it has reassessed the case for housing benefit it will make up the arrears. I do not deny that, because of the difficulties that I have discussed, some claimants will get some of their help late, but the arrangements I have outlined will maintain continuity of payments.

Where we are dealing with council tenants and also with owner-occupiers, where we are concerned in the main with rate rebates, there is no problem, because the matter can be dealt with internally in the local authority bookkeeping arrangements. A concern exists in regard to private tenants, especially those on supplementary benefit. That is why the housing benefit regulations require authorities to make interim payments of rent allowances to private tenants on supplementary benefit 14 days after the receipt of the certificate from the DHSS if they cannot make a full final determination.

The only case in which such an interim award cannot be made is where the tenant has not supplied the necessary information or has not produced the papers. We are trying to deal with that. Where forms have been sent out and have not been returned, a follow-up is being made to try to clear the problem so that people may get the money to which they are entitled.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

If someone has returned the form to the benefit office but it has not sent the certificate through, there can be a delay. Is the Minister certain that certificates have been issued to local authorities for all the people who have returned forms?

Mr. Rossi

Obviously I cannot speak for every individual case, and where we are dealing with 5 million claimants in what is essentially a new scheme, there will be difficulties. We are trying to keep the difficulties to a minimum. We have taken what I hope the Committee will accept as reasonable longstop measures to protect everybody we can. Sooner or later all the people will receive the money to which they are entitled. There is no reason why anyone, simply because of the change to housng benefit, should be under threat of eviction.

I have not seen the cases to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. One was mentioned last week, in which apparently a tenant received a threat of eviction within one week of the introduction of the scheme. I venture to suggest that there is probably some background that has not been disclosed, because a threat of eviction is not made so swiftly. There must be a history to that case. I should like to know all the details before I would be prepared to make a judgment on it.

I hope the Committee will accept that we have taken all reasonable precautions. For the reasons I have given regarding the history of section 29, the amendments are inappropriate and I recommend that the Committee reject them.

Mr. Foster

The Minister said that we would not be surprised that he could not recommend the acceptance of the amendments. He will not be surprised that we do not find his reply satisfactory. He described the method we are advocating as inflexible. The Secretary of State boasted on Second Reading of accuracy and certainty. We are still entitled to ask what is so different about housing benefit beneficiaries.

Mr. Rossi

I have explained that.

Mr. Foster

The hon. Gentleman sought to explain it, and we do not accept his explanation—but they cannot have the same certainty and be subject to the same accuracy in their uprating as the other claimants about whom we have been talking.

The Minister described some of the local problems and gave an assurance that he would make a full report to the House. We look forward to that. He could have given more information on the number of tenants involved. He quickly latched on to a comment about the number of tenants, but having whetted our appetite, he failed to satisfy us. We still suspect that many more people are involved in these local difficulties than the Minister led us to believe, because a substantial number of people are affected by this benefit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) covered many of the points. He asked about adequate consultation with local authorities, but we had no comment on that from the Minister. My hon. Friend asked about the work load imposed on local authorities and whether they were now well equipped to deal with it. Again, the Minister did not comment on that. My hon. Friend rightly said that many of the difficulties experienced by local authorities arose very much as a result of the complexity of the scheme.

As to private tenants, the Under-Secretary will recall that in the recent debate we referred to the four-page application form that private tenants were expected to complete. Has the Department yet decided to review that procedure? Many of my hon. Friends, let alone many of the tenants who claim the benefit, would have difficulty completing that form.

What do the Government have against tenants? I know that they would much prefer council house tenants to buy their own properties than to be the beneficiaries of this scheme. That would be fine if such tenants could afford to buy, but the Government have put many thousands of them out of work. Even if they wanted to buy their properties, those people are now unable to.

The Opposition want the same certainty for tenants as for all other beneficiaries. The Secretary of State boasts that the Bill will do just that, but patently it will not. We must therefore press the amendment to a Division, and I ask my hon. Friends to join me in supporting it.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The Committee divided: Ayes 186, Noes 271.

Divison No. 125] [10.28 pm
Allaun, Frank Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Bidwell, Sydney
Ashton, Joe Booth, Rt Hon Albert
Bagier, Gordon A.T. Boothroyd, Miss Betty
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)
Beith, A. J. Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)
Brown, Ron (E burgh, Leith) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Buchan, Norman Lyon, Alexander (York)
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Campbell, Ian McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Campbell-Savours, Dale McElhone, Mrs Helen
Canavan, Dennis McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cant, R. B. McKelvey, William
Carmichael, Neil MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McNally, Thomas
Clarke,Tbomas(C'b'dge, A'rie) McTaggart, Robert
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) McWilliam, John
Coleman, Donald Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Cook, Robin F. Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cowans, Harry Martin, M(G'gow S'burn)
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cryer, Bob Meacher, Michael
Cunliffe, Lawrence Mikardo, Ian
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Davidson, Arthur Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Morton, George
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd) Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Deakins, Eric Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) O'Brien, Oswald (Darlington)
Dewar, Donald O'Halloran, Michael
Dixon, Donald O'Neill, Martin
Dobson, Frank Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dormand, Jack Palmer, Arthur
Dubs, Alfred Park, George
Duffy, A. E. P. Parker, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Parry, Robert
Eadie, Alex Pavitt, Laurie
Eastham, Ken Pendry, Tom
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) Penhaligon, David
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
English, Michael Prescott, John
Ennals, Rt Hon David Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Radice, Giles
Evans, John (Newton) Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Field, Frank Richardson, Jo
Flannery, Martin Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Ford, Ben Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Forrester, John Robertson, George
Foster, Derek Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Foulkes, George Rooker, J. W.
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Roper, John
Freud, Clement Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Sandelson, Neville
Golding, John Sever, John
Graham, Ted Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Grant, John (Islington C) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Hardy, Peter Silverman, Julius
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Skinner, Dennis
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Haynes, Frank Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Heffer, Eric S. Snape, Peter
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire) Soley, Clive
Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll) Spearing, Nigel
Home Robertson, John Spellar, John Francis (B'ham)
Homewood, William Spriggs, Leslie
Hooley, Frank Stallard, A. W.
Hoyle, Douglas Steel, Rt Hon David
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Stott, Roger
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Strang, Gavin
Janner, Hon Greville Straw, Jack
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
John, Brynmor Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Tinn, James
Kerr, Russell Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Lambie, David Watkins, David
Lamond, James Weetch, Ken
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Welsh, Michael
Litherland, Robert White, Frank R.
Whitlock, William Woolmer, Kenneth
Wigley, Dafydd Wright, Sheila
Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W) Young, David (Bolton E)
Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Wilson, William (C'try SE) Tellers for the Ayes:
Winnick, David Mr. Hugh McCartney and
Woodall, Alec Mr. Ron Leighton
Adley, Robert Faith, Mrs Sheila
Aitken, Jonathan Farr, John
Alexander, Richard Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Finsberg, Geoffrey
Arnold, Tom Fisher, Sir Nigel
Aspinwall, Jack Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Fookes, Miss Janet
Baker, Kenneth(St. M'bone) Forman, Nigel
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bendall, Vivian Fox, Marcus
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Berry, Hon Anthony Fry, Peter
Best, Keith Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bevan, David Gilroy Gardner, Sir Edward
Biffen, Rt Hon John Garel-Jones, Tristan
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Blackburn, John Glyn, Dr Alan
Blaker, Peter Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Goodhew, Sir Victor
Boscawen, Hon Robert Goodlad, Alastair
Bottomley, Peter (Wwich W) Gorst, John
Bowden, Andrew Gow, Ian
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Gower, Sir Raymond
Braine, Sir Bernard Grant, Sir Anthony
Bright, Graham Gray, Rt Hon Hamish
Brinton, Tim Greenway, Harry
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Grieve, Percy
Brooke, Hon Peter Griffiths, E.(B'ySt. Edm'ds)
Brotherton, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Brown, Michaei(Brigg & Sc'n) Grist, Ian
Browne, John (Winchester) Grylls, Michael
Bruce-Gardyne, John Gummer, John Selwyn
Bryan, Sir Paul Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A. Hampson, Dr Keith
Buck, Antony Hannam, John
Budgen, Nick Haselhurst, Alan
Bulmer, Esmond Hastings, Stephen
Burden, Sir Frederick Hawkins, Sir Paul
Butcher, John Hawksley, Warren
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hayhoe, Barney
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Heddle, John
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n ) Henderson, Barry
Chapman, Sydney Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Churchill, W. S. Hicks, Robert
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Clegg, Sir Walter Hordern, Peter
Cockeram, Eric Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Colvin, Michael Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Cope, John Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Cormack, Patrick Hunt, David (Wirral)
Corrie, John Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Costain, Sir Albert Irvine, RtHon Bryant Godman
Cranborne, Viscount Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Critchley, Julian Jessel, Toby
Crouch, David Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Kaberry, Sir Donald
Dover, Denshore Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Kimball, Sir Marcus
Durant, Tony Knox, David
Dykes, Hugh Lamont, Norman
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lang, Ian
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Latham, Michael
Eggar, Tim Lawrence, Ivan
Emery, Sir Peter Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Eyre, Reginald Lee, John
Fairgrieve, Sir Russell Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Rutland) Rossi, Hugh
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Rost, Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Royle, Sir Anthony
Loveridge, John Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.
Luce, Richard Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lyell, Nicholas St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
McCrindle, Robert Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Macfarlane, Neil Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarf)
MacGregor, John Shelton, William (Streatham)
MacKay, John (Argyll) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Shepherd, Richard
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Shersby, Michael
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Silvester, Fred
McQuarrie, Albert Sims, Roger
Madel, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Major, John Smith, Sir Dudley
Marland, Paul Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Marlow, Antony Speed, Keith
Marten, Rt Hon Neil Speller, Tony
Mather, Carol Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mawby, Ray Sproat, Iain
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Squire, Robin
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stanbrook, Ivor
Mayhew, Patrick Stanley, John
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Steen, Anthony
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Stevens, Martin
Miscampbell, Norman Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Monro, Sir Hector Stokes, John
Montgomery, Fergus Tapsell, Peter
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Mudd, David Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Murphy, Christopher Thompson, Donald
Neale, Gerrard Thorne, Neil (liford South)
Needham, Richard Thornton, Malcolm
Nelson, Anthony Townend, John (Bridlington)
Neubert, Michael Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Newton, Tony Trippier, David
Onslow, Cranley van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Viggers, Peter
Osborn, John Waddington, David
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Wakeham, John
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Waldegrave, Hon William
Parris, Matthew Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Patten, John (Oxford) Waller, Gary
Pawsey, James Walters, Dennis
Percival, Sir Ian Warren, Kenneth
Pink, R. Bonner Watson, John
Pollock, Alexander Wells, Bowen
Porter, Barry Wells, John (Maidstone)
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wheeler, John
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Prior, Rt Hon James Wickenden, Keith
Proctor, K. Harvey Wiggin, Jerry
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wilkinson, John
Rathbone, Tim Winterton, Nicholas
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Wolfson, Mark
Rees-Davies, W. R. Young, Sir George (Acton)
Renton, Tim Younger, Rt Hon George
Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Tellers for the Noes:
Rifkind, Malcolm Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Mr. Douglas Hogg.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The Secretary of State should make the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who is sitting on the Government Front Bench, a junior Minister and chuck him out.

10.41 pm
Mr. Fowler

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is now leaving the Front Bench which, I am sure, is a symbolic act. We are sorry to see him go.

Several themes have run through this debate. They can be summarised shortly.

First, no one has attempted to defend the action of the previous Government's move from the historic to the forecast method of uprating. It is accepted that that action was carried out to save the previous Government £500 million which, in today's terms, is worth £1 billion. It is accepted that that was a shabby manoeuvre by the previous Government which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer did nothing to justify.

Secondly, no one has seriously attempted to dispute the case that the forecast method has not worked out in practice and that, in five out of seven years, the forecast has been wrong. Few hon. Members or people elsewhere have challenged the basic proposition of this Bill, which is that the historic or actual method of uprating is preferable and that it gives a certainty to pensioners and other social security beneficiaries which the forecast method self-evidently has not achieved.

Thirdly, I believe that it has been accepted that it is a desirable aim of policy to reduce the gap between the date when the uprating is announced and the date when benefits are paid. For too long, that has been a complaint of pensioners. The Bill takes a step towards achieving that—and we shall continue to work to reduce that gap further. I emphasis that, unlike what happened in 1976, this Bill ensures that any increase in prices between May and November will automatically be included in the following uprating.

Fourthly, the Bill is being debated against the background of the Government's pensions and social security budgets having increased. Between November 1978 and November 1982, pensions increased by 68.5 per cent. whereas the retail price index rose by 61 per cent. On the basis of the Budget forecast for the five years up to November 1983, pensions have increased by 75 per cent. —whereas the retail price index has increased by 70 per cent. In other words, the Government have redeemed their pledge to keep pensions ahead of prices. Moreover, they have brought inflation down. We should never forget the damage that inflation does to pensioners' savings and to their standard of living. We should never forget that under a Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 inflation increased by 110 per cent. That spells disaster for pensioners and for industry, which creates the wealth for social provision.

The fifth point that has emerged is the gaping discrepancies in the Labour party's plan for pensioners. At the beginning of March the Leader of the Opposition published his 12-point plan for pensioners. At the end of March he published a document called "The New Hope for Britain". The plan contained an emergency programme that an incoming Labour Government would carry out immediately, but the 12-point plan is not mentioned. I have costed those proposals at a minimum of between £13 billion and £15 billion a year, and I have placed those costings in the Library. Opposition Front Bench Members have so far refused to detail the costings of their proposals, or the phasing proposals that they made in a letter to The Times. Without those details, their plans lack credibility.

The Government's case is unanswerable. The Opposition's answer is unintelligible, and I ask the House to support the motion for the Third Reading of the Bill.

10.46 pm
Mr. John

The Secretary of State has put up a determined smokescreen, in the sense that his logic was foggy and his language even cloudier, because he wishes to disguise from the nation the fact that the Conservative party offers no proposals for pensioners or people in the categories affected by the Bill. They have no new thinking, and on the basis of his speech, very little old thinking, on the subject.

I was heartened by the brave speech of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I was worried when he sat on the Government Front Bench for a long time before we started the Third Reading debate, because I believed that he might have been seduced by the instant image machine of the Tory party from being the licensed rebel to being the accepted junior Minister. I am glad that he has returned to being a licensed rebel, because it is no compliment to be a junior Minister on the Government Front Bench.

However many times the Secretary of State makes a speech, he appears never to understand his brief better at the fourth reading than at the first. He talked about inflation during the Labour Government affecting the standard of living of pensioners. There was a 20 per cent. real increase in pensions by the end of the Labour Government, even allowing for inflation. If he could achieve a tenth, or even a twentieth, of that at the end of his term of office, he would be overjoyed, but we know that he will not. The Secretary of State mentioned—[Interruption.] I hate to intrude in a private debate between a sedentary — indeed, supine — Secretary of State and the unduly chirpy and unusually present hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas), but I would like the Secretary of State's attention. The Bill will be watched carefully. Millions of people will be watching the Government in November to compare what they have received and what they should have received at November prices.

The Bill shows that the Government have tried to effect by stealth what they do not have the guts to do openly. We do not accept that the Bill is merely a change in the uprating formula. If it were, it could have been debated dispassionately. But it is not just a change in the method. By their refusal to protect those affected by the Bill, the Government have introduced a disguised clawback of the 2 per cent. overshoot that will be taken from the pensioners in November this year.

That means that the Government will save £210 million in this tax year. I hope that they are proud of it. They speak of it as a comparatively small sum, and I can understand that at times Governments want to save such small sums. However, do the Government want to save such sums from this class of beneficiary — retirement pensioners, invalids, the unemployed, the sick, the widowed and the invalid carers, who are the recipients of attendence allowances? They are among the poorest and least fortunate in the land. It is because they have been singled out for this penalty that we cannot stomach the Bill. That is why we shall vote against Third Reading.

10.50 pm
Mr. Freud

Every Secretary of State for Social Services and all Ministers in that Department try to do the best that they can for their clients and try to be seen to do so. Every Government wish it to be known that they care for pensioners and those who look to them for benefits. By the same token, every Opposition have a duty to make it sound as if they could do better.

I do not oppose for the sake of opposition, but I have listened to the debate with great care. I have intervened seldom, but I should like to put the pensioners' lot into perspective and explain why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I shall vote against the Government, just as we have voted for the amendments. The Government have promised that they would share their prosperity with pensioners. The Prime Minister has said on many occasions, when she has defended the small increase in pensions, that, when the country is better off, the pensioners will benefit.

The Prime Minister, perhaps because there is an election in the offing, perhaps because it is true, has told us that the recession is now over and that things are better. Let us just look to see how pensioners benefit. We started on a base rate of 100 in the retail price index. By common consent it is admitted that pensioners do worse than the retail price index because for them, without mortgages, having to buy food in small units and having to heat rooms that contain only one person, the per capita cost is greater.

The pensions have risen from a base of 100 to 175. That is not a 5 per cent. increase over the 170 per cent. increase in the RPI; it is five points out of the 175, which is under 3 per cent. Of that, the Government inherited the promise of a 1.8 per cent. increase, which means that, in what the Government call "real terms", the pensioners are now approximately 1 per cent. better off than they were.

Quite simply, that is why, despite the promises of the Government, we shall oppose the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:

The House divided: Ayes 271, Noes 186.

Division No. 126] [10.54 pm
Adley, Robert Brotherton, Michael
Aitken, Jonathan Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)
Alexander, Richard Browne, John (Winchester)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bruce-Gardyne, John
Arnold, Tom Bryan, Sir Paul
Aspinwall, Jack Buck, Antony
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Budgen, Nick
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Bulmer, Esmond
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Burden, Sir Frederick
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Butcher, John
Bendall, Vivian Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n )
Berry, Hon Anthony Chapman, Sydney
Best, Keith Churchill, W. S.
Bevan, David Gilroy Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Clegg, Sir Walter
Blackburn, John Cockeram, Eric
Blaker, Peter Colvin, Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Cope, John
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Cormack, Patrick
Bowden, Andrew Corrie, John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Costain, Sir Albert
Braine, Sir Bernard Cranborne, Viscount
Bright, Graham Critchley, Julian
Brinton, Tim Crouch, David
Brittan, Rt. Hon, Leon Dorrell, Stephen
Brooke, Hon Peter Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Dover, Denshore Lawrence, Ivan
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lee, John
Durant, Tony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dykes, Hugh Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Rutland)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Eggar, Tim Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Emery, Sir Peter Loveridge, John
Eyre, Reginald Luce, Richard
Fairgrieve, Sir Russell Lyell, Nicholas
Faith, Mrs Sheila McCrindle, Robert
Farr, John Macfarlane, Neil
Fenner, Mrs Peggy MacGregor, John
Finsberg, Geoffrey MacKay, John (Argyll)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Fookes, Miss Janet McQuarrie, Albert
Forman, Nigel Madel, David
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Major, John
Fox, Marcus Marland, Paul
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Marlow, Antony
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Fry, Peter Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mawby, Ray
Gardner, Sir Edward Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mayhew, Patrick
Glyn, Dr Alan Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Goodhew, Sir Victor Miscampbell, Norman
Goodlad, Alastair Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Gorst, John Moate, Roger
Gow, Ian Monro, Sir Hector
Gower, Sir Raymond Montgomery, Fergus
Grant, Sir Anthony Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Gray, Rt Hon Hamish Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Greenway, Harry Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Grieve, Percy Mudd, David
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds) Murphy, Christopher
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Neale, Gerrard
Grist, Ian Needham, Richard
Grylls, Michael Nelson, Anthony
Gummer, John Selwyn Neubert, Michael
Hamilton, Hon A. Newton, Tony
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Onslow, Cranley
Hampson, Dr Keith Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hannam, John Osborn, John
Haselhurst, Alan Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Hastings, Stephen Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Parris, Matthew
Hawkins, Sir Paul Patten, John (Oxford)
Hawksley, Warren Pawsey, James
Hayhoe, Barney Percival, Sir Ian
Heddle, John Pink, R. Bonner
Henderson, Barry Porter, Barry
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hicks, Robert Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Prior, Rt Hon James
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Proctor, K. Harvey
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Hordern, Peter Rathbone, Tim
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Renton, Tim
Hunt, David (Wirral) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Irvine, RtHon Bryant Godman Rifkind, Malcolm
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Jessel, Toby Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rossi, Hugh
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rost, Peter
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Royle, Sir Anthony
Kimball, Sir Marcus Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.
Knight, Mrs Jill Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Knox, David St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lamont, Norman Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lang, Ian Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Latham, Michael Shelton, William (Streatham)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Shepherd, Richard Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Shersby, Michael Trippier, David
Silvester, Fred van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Sims, Roger Viggers, Peter
Skeet, T. H. H. Waddington, David
Smith, Sir Dudley Wakeham,John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Waldegrave, Hon William
Speed, Keith Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Speller, Tony Waller, Gary
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Walters, Dennis
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Warren, Kenneth
Sproat, Iain Watson, John
Squire, Robin Wells, Bowen
Stanbrook, Ivor Wells, John (Maidstone)
Stanley, John Wheeler, John
Steen, Anthony Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Stevens, Martin Wickenden, Keith
Stewart, b.(E Renfrewshire) Wiggin, Jerry
Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Wilkinson, John
Stokes, John Winterton, Nicholas
Stradling Thomas, J. Wolfson, Mark
Tapsell, Peter Young, Sir George (Acton)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Younger, Rt Hon George
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Thompson, Donald Mr. Carol Mather and
Thorne, Neil (liford South) Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Thornton, Malcolm
Allaun, Frank Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter English, Michael
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Ennals, Rt Hon David
Ashton, Joe Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Bagier, Gordon A.T. Evans, John (Newton)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Field, Frank
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Flannery, Martin
Beith, A. J. Ford, Ben
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Forrester, John
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Foster, Derek
Bidwell, Sydney Foulkes, George
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Freud, Clement
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Golding, John
Buchan, Norman Graham, Ted
Callaghan, Jim (Midd'fn & P) Grant, John (Islington C)
Campbell, Ian Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Canavan, Dennis Hardy, Peter
Cant, R. B. Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Carmichael, Neil Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Haynes, Frank
Clarke.Thomas(C'b'dge, A'rie) Heffer, Eric S.
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Holland, S. (L'fth, Vauxh'll)
Coleman, Donald Home Robertson, John
Cook, Robin F. Homewood, William
Cowans, Harry Hooley, Frank
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Hoyle, Douglas
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Janner, Hon Greville
Davidson, Arthur Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) John, Brynmor
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Deakins, Eric Kerr, Russell
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Dewar, Donald Lambie, David
Dixon, Donald Lamond, James
Dobson, Frank Leadbitter, Ted
Dormand, Jack Leighton, Ronald
Dubs, Alfred Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Duffy, A. E. P. Litherland, Robert
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Eadie, Alex Lyon, Alexander (York)
Eastham, Ken Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Sandelson, Neville
McElhone, Mrs Helen Sever, John
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McKelvey, William Shore, Rt Hon Peter
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
McNally, Thomas Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
McTaggart, Robert Silverman, Julius
McWilliam, John Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Snape, Peter
Martin, M(G'gow S'bum) Soley, Clive
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Spearing, Nigel
Meacher, Michael Spellar, John Francis (B'ham)
Mikardo, Ian Spriggs, Leslie
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Stallard, A. W.
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Steel, Rt Hon David
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Straw, Jack
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
O'Brien, Oswald (Darlington) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
O'Halloran, Michael Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
O'Neill, Martin Tinn, James
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Palmer, Arthur Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Park, George Watkins, David
Parker, John Weetch, Ken
Parry, Robert Welsh, Michael
Pavitt, Laurie White, Frank R.
Pendry, Tom Whitlock, William
Penhaligon, David Wigley, Dafydd
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Prescott, John Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Radice, Giles Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) Winnick, David
Richardson, Jo Woodall, Alec
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Woolmer, Kenneth
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wright, Sheila
Robertson, George Young, David (Bolton E)
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Rooker, J. W. Tellers for the Noes:
Roper, John Mr. George Morton and
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Mr. Norman Hogg.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.