§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Fund (Application for Review) Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 34), dated 14th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th January, be annulled.I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House to debate at the same time the other two motions:That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Fund (Recovery by Deductions from Benefits) Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 35), dated 14th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th January, be annulled.That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Fund Maternity and Funeral Expenses (General) Amendment Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 36), dated 14th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th January, be annulled.
§ Mrs. Beckett
This will probably be the final debate before the new social security structure comes into force in April. It focuses on the issue of the social fund, which consists of a set of proposals which are universally condemned outside the ranks of the Government, particularly by those whose job it is to advise on our benefit and pension structure, such as the Social Security Advisory Committee and the charities, which are appalled at the way in which they will be expected to pick up the pieces of what is nothing more or less than a demolition job.
The social fund will be a cash-limited fund that will offer the only source of help from the DHSS for extra or exceptional needs over and above those that can be met from weekly income for not only the 8 million people who are on supplementary benefit, but a wider group who might under the new system apply for a crisis loan or community care grant.
To meet the exceptional needs of over 8 million people, the social fund has the princely sum of £60 million, which is £300 million less than was paid in the last full year of the present system, which covered fewer people. In addition, £140 million of recirculated money can be given as loans. Indeed, so restricted is the budget, and so manifestly unjust and unworkable is the scheme, that to bring it into being the Government were forced to abolish rights of appeal that have existed for over 50 years. There is, despite regulations that deal with a system of review that is now before the House, no independent appeal against the decisions to be made under the social fund. An independent appeal would mean an objective decision on the facts of each case and the budget could not conceivably then hold.
It is hardly surprising that the first thing that present Ministers did when they saw this scheme was to try, unsuccessfully, to ditch it. In fact we are seeing a U-turn. In 1980 the Government, with general consent, published rules for the single payment scheme because the previous discretionary scheme, which had secret guidelines, was in complete disrepute.
Unfortunately, the Government could not resist making substantial cuts at the same time. The then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) said in Committee in 1985, with 1170 uncharacteristic bluntness, that the restrictive nature of the rules that the Government had sought to introduce meant the virtual abolition of clothing grants. No one denies that there are serious problems with the present system. However, they do not stem from the existence of rules, but from the way in which the Government have steadily tightened the rules to save money, which has led to obvious problems and anomalies.
I shall give two examples of the problems that are occurring. The British Association of Social Workers has quoted a case where a family had to be moved out of an infested council house and had their furniture and clothing destroyed because fumigation had proved unsuccessful. The family were moved temporarily into a hostel and were then rehoused, but they were refused bed, bedding and other items because they had claimed for those items in the past three years. The only regulation under the existing rules that could be used was one that involved a serious risk to health. The payment was refused because, in the judgment of the adjudication officer:the lack of bedding could be avoided by the family 'sleeping in their clothes.'I shall give another example of a case in which an application was made for a cooker. The claim could not be considered because, although a cooker is regarded as an essential item, the person who claimed had not been on supplementary benefit for 12 months or more. The decision in this case was that the need was not exceptional or serious enough, because although there were children in the family they were of school age and there was no suggestion of a health problem for which cooked food was essential for any of the family. The adjudication officer said:We are advised that for people in good health there is no medical necessity for cooked food and that nourishing meals can be prepared without cooking.Hence, a claim for a cooker was disallowed.
No one is arguing that there are not serious problems with the present system, but those are the kinds of problems that have arisen, particularly since the cuts that were made last year to pave the way for the social fund. They are not due to the existence of rules for payments.
The universal maternity grant, which was replaced this year by the social fund payment, is available only to the most needy. It is available now as the only replacement for a single payment, which was made previously under rules. Although the mechanism for the payment is now under the social fund, the payment was cut from a possible £190 under the regulated single payment system to a maximum of £85 under these regulations. The cost of having a child cannot have changed since last August, but the amount of money that the Government are prepared to make available has changed. Again, it is clear that it is not the nature of a discretionary or regulated system that is at fault, but the size of the budget. The present system has been so far from ideal that it cannot have been easy for the Government to find a way of making it worse.
The Government have kept the regulation under which those, particularly pensioners, who save towards their funeral — I am told by a funeral director that the average cost of a funeral is now about £600—are likely to be debarred from help because there is a £500 capital limit for claims under the provisions of the fund.
The Government have made many changes. They claimed that, because so many people were excluded, despite obvious need, under the system that rules, they 1171 would institute a totally discretionary and flexible new social fund as the answer. Initially there was a degree of somewhat wary acceptance of that basic premise, but, meanwhile, the ground of the debate was steadily shifting.
For decades there has been agreement across the board and in all parties that those at the income levels of supplementary benefit or income support could not be expected to provide from their weekly income for major items. In its 1986–87 report the Social Security Advisory Committee said:A family with growing children cannot reasonably be expected to purchase extra items of this sort by deductions from weekly benefit without seriously reducing their disposable income.The committee went on to say:some expenses cannot realistically be budgeted for from within present benefit rates.In their efforts to cut costs, and as the number of casualties of the Government's economic policies increase, the Government have begun to deny that basic and self-evident truth. They have begun to talk about abuse of the system of single payments, when they really mean use of the system. Citizens exercising their rights in law have been described as if they were committing a fraud, all to justify those cuts.
In June last year the Social Security Advisory Committee, when commenting on the draft proposals for the social fund, said:problems about routine expenses are a normal consequence of living on a supplementary benefit budget, not caused by unusual events, nor affecting unusual people.The committee went on to say:the illustrative rates for income support, personal allowances and premiums"—in other words, the whole package of changes for basic income put forward by the Government—do not indicate a sufficient increase over weekly supplementary benefit rates for the majority of claimants to justify a more stringent approach to the provision of lump-sum grants.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Does the hon. Lady have experience in her constituency, as I have in mine, and as no doubt other hon. Members have in theirs, of young, single parents trying to set up a household for the first time and being allocated a council house or flat, but being unable to take up the offer because they cannot obtain the necessary equipment to sustain life in that accommodation? Is that not an outrageous reflection of the Government's values?
§ Mrs. Beckett
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. It is outrageous and it is a problem which, sadly, is likely to increase under these provisions.
When the Social Security Advisory Committee made the observations that I have quoted, it had before it only the Government's illustrative figures for the likely rates of income support. Since then the real figures of income support have been published, and it has become plain that £150 million has been cut from the underlying rate of income support. The figure of some £300 million that the committee gave for a minimum budget for the social fund is itself too low, although it is certainly preferable to the figure of £60 million, which is the only extra cash available from the Government.
The starting point of the Government's claim to detect abuse was the increase in the level of single payments to about £400 million some two or three years ago. The Government claimed then, and still maintain, that that 1172 level of payment could not be justified as being related to the level of unmet need. The Government's own figure for the shortfall in basic income for the underfunding of the long-term unemployed alone is at least £500 million. That is the Government's figure for the cost of paying the longterm unemployed the long-term rate of benefit, which exists to meet the day-to-day needs of those on long-term benefit.
That is an extra sum that the unemployed fail to receive only because they are unemployed and because the Government have always said that they cannot afford it, even when they used the same sum of money to help those with investments of £70,000. To this day the Government have never denied that that award would be justified to give the long-term unemployed at least a subsistence level income. If the unemployed alone are underfunded by £500 million, it is not surprising that a single payment scheme, which also covers the sick and pensioners, begins to run at £400 million when rights and entitlements are clearly laid out for all to see.
These proposals for the social fund are not about unjustified misuse of the single payments scheme. They are about saving money at the expense of those in need. We have only to consider the attitudes revealed by the guidance for the Government's flexible friend. Only £60 million is available for community care grants, and that is available only to those who have special one-off, once-in-a-lifetime needs, such as leaving an institution or a violent marital home. It is pretty plain from the way in which the guidelines are drafted that there is no chance for second thoughts, whether for someone coming out into the community, or for someone leaving a violent home after a marital break-up.
People may be entitled to grants only when they have shown that there is no other way of meeting a need and that they have approached—not simply that they could approach—relatives or charities for help. In December the Spastics Society issued a statement which said:The Society is desperately concerned that it will be inundated by applications for help from disabled people who may have to approach us before they can get help from the fund … We will not have the resources to help such applicants. Government measures have not only taken away the rights of disabled people but also put charities in an impossible position.Age Concern draws attention to the fact that a widow who finds herself with essential roof repairs to make would be unable to qualify to apply for a grant unless she fell into the appropriate priority group, defined as elderly people, particularly those with restricted mobility or who have difficulty performing personal tasks. Grants for minor repairs can be allowed to such people provided that the social fund officer is satisfied that, unless repair or maintenance work is carried out on the home, the person is likely to be taken into residential care. As we have already seen the kinds of judgment that are made on what is really a serious risk, we can scarcely have much confidence in something so qualified.
That is the most generous part of the fund. That is the part where people might get a grant if they satisfied all the criteria. The other £140 million of recirculating money is only for loans. Even under the discretionary scheme, which the Government claim will remove the difficulties faced in the scheme with rules, 15 separate items are specifically excluded and cannot be considered for a budgeting loan. Such items include the cost of mains fuel consumption, work-related expenses and deposits to 1173 secure accommodation—the very things that it would be sensible for the Government to provide to help people to achieve their independence.
If a loan is given it must be repaid within a maximum of 78 weeks, perhaps exceptionally at the rate of 25 per cent. of someone's income support, but normally at 15 per cent., or perhaps less, for small loans. Age Concern points out that a widow of 68, with the same essential roof repairs, would have to pay £6.09 per week from her subsistence level income. She would therefore live to that extent below her subsistence level income for 66 weeks.
A family with two children, meeting the normal repayment terms of a loan, may find themselves facing repayments of £11.68 per week. If they have a smaller loan and lower repayment terms, the figure will still be £7.90 per week. That is about the price of a pair of children's shoes every week of the year, yet the possibility of a loan may be the only chance of the family getting anything for other essential items.
It is interesting to consider the Government's view of how easy the expenses are to meet. From the draft manual — the incoming Minister removed it from the final manual, and one can well understand why—one can see the Government's view of how people normally budget their income. They say that people make temporary readjustments as necessary so that they can meet food bills, fuel bills and so on andunplanned or unexpected expense, eg. a higher than expected fuel bill, clothing which unexpectedly needs replacing, a cooker which suddenly breaks down, etc.That comment — discreetly removed from the final version of the manual, but there on the record as the Government's attitude — clearly indicates, as has been said by many commentators on the proposal, that the Government consider this from the point of view of people who have always had a reasonable income and have always found it reasonably possible or easy to repay a loan. They have no concept of how difficult it is for families on benefit to meet the same concerns.
That attitude can be contrasted with the remarks of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which said:But when it becomes essential to replace a large item the repayment rate on a social fund loan will only be achieved at the expense of a reduction in the resources available for the weekly essentials of food, fuel and clothing … the single payments system exists to meet exceptional needs.The committee cannot see how these needs can be met from weekly rates of income.
We talked first about those who might get a grant, and now we are talking about those who might get a loan. It is possible that there will be people who will not get even a loan. If the local office runs out of money—let us not forget that the fund is cash-limited—some people will get nothing. They will not even be allowed to reapply for another six months, no matter how desperate the need; nor is the office allowed to keep a waiting list. That is a clear indication that the Government know that there will be cases of proven real need that should be met by any objective standards, but will not be met, only because the money has run out. If that were not likely, there would be no need for that restriction. There is no doubt that offices will run out of money.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that in those cases where there is a genuine need and applicants cannot be paid because the social fund 1174 has been exhausted, we should encourage them to bring their cases to us and we should write direct to the Secretary of State so that he will know that people are being penalised because the social fund has run out?
§ Mrs. Beckett
I entirely agree with everything that my hon. Friend has just said. The Government have abolished the right of proper independent appeal, and there will be no real opportunity to get a judgment from the Secretary of State. All that we can do is to see that full pressure is brought to bear by hon. Members of all parties. I hope that people in Conservative constituencies will approach their Members to exert such pressure.
There is no doubt that the fund will run out of money. Grants of £60 million will be available to replace expenditure previously running at £340 million to £400 million, and only 17 to 20 per cent. of the income disbursed by local offices in the last full year of payments will be available.
The Government accept only one circumstance in which the money may run out. If there is some totally unforeseen disaster, such as a hurricane, they agree that local offices might have needs for which they have not been able to budget, so the Government have generously provided a contingency fund to which any office can appeal if such a disaster should occur. That contingency fund will contain the princely sum of £2 million. One office in Glasgow—not even the whole of Glasgow—has lost more than £2 million from its grants budget alone, so we can see how valuable the contingency funding will be. The money will run out and people will not even be offered loans, but they will be offered money advice.
The Government have managed to find a way of adding insult to injury. It is possible to manage one's money only if there is enough to manage. If income is totally inadequate, all that can be done is to stagger from one disaster to another. I quote to the Minister the words of the Family Welfare Association, describing the position today, before we get into the mess that we will be in with the social fund:Economies on food are frequent. In the FWA we are regularly astonished by the small amounts that applicants have to spend on food when all other commitments have been met and we are very aware that such small sums cannot really provide a nourishing diet. The rising tide of deficiency diseases among children is good evidence of the results of these kinds of economy.The association speaks about the increased suffering that poor families are likely to experience.
It is revealing to consider the tone in which the money advice will be given. I refer to the guidance given to the social fund officer about discussing with people their need for money advice:Are there any relatives outside the home who could help? A common reaction is to hide financial problems from relatives, yet they may be prepared to help. They may be ready to offer moral as well as financial help. This is also a sensitive area.I bet it is a sensitive area.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
If people are not able to get any advice or help from immediate relatives, will not the natural corollary be that families who do not have money will go to the loan sharks? We all know that their rates have been increasing rapidly in the past eight years. The residual income of the average family going in debt has risen from 45 per cent. in 1979 to more than 80 per 1175 cent. in 1988. The truth is that the Government are running a pawnshop economy, and these provisions will add to the problems of the poorest families in Britain.
§ Mrs. Beckett
My hon. Friend is correct. He will readily appreciate, from the tone of the guidance in the manual, that not only will some people be forced to go to loan sharks because they will be turned away from the Department, but that some people, faced with that kind of questioning, will prefer to go to loan sharks. They may be wrong or mistaken, but would people want to go to the DHSS and be asked about their friends and relatives and how many charities they had approached before being turned down for a loan?
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
As my hon. Friend knows, I rarely disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) but he is being kind to the Government in saying that they are running a pawnshop economy for the poorest in the community. In the old days, if one went to a pawnshop, it had money to pay out. Under the social fund, for most of the year the Government pawnshop will not have any money.
§ Mrs. Beckett
My hon. Friend has again put his finger exactly on the scale of the problem. No amount of advice can bridge the gap of £500 million faced by the unemployed because of inadequate scale rates.
The final seal is set on the generosity of the social fund and its flexibility by one simple provision. A family who are already so deep in debt when they approach the social fund officers that they cannot afford to repay a loan in the time scale and at the rate that would be necessary to qualify for such a loan would get nothing, not a single penny, although by definition they are in the greatest need of all.
The reforms, as the Government call them, are being made in the name of targeting help to those in the greatest need. This is Alice in Wonderland politics, and those who lose their heads will be those in the greatest need—all in the name of helping them. This is probably the worst aspect of all the proposals that the Government have put before us to change the social services. It will be arbitrary and unjust, and it will cause bitterness, rancour and resentment. Reading the social fund manual is like reading some black humour from the pages of "Punch" at the turn of the century.
It is often said that history repeats itself. This week I have been reading some articles on the old poor law. It is amazing how the words of Ministers justifying these changes are echoed in the pages of the discussions about the history of the poor law. It is said that history repeats itself as farce and then as tragedy. For the poor, this certainly is tragedy.
§ The Minister for Social Security and the Disabled (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
Today is the last opportunity to discuss the reforms before their implementation in April. It will come as no surprise to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) to hear that I have been conscious that the social fund is not the most popular of the reforms which will be introduced in April. It has been subject to a spread of criticism from many organisations, most of which have been collected in the speech of the hon. Lady.
When the reforms are introduced we will have a social fund, and it will be for the Goverment, the Opposition and 1176 other bodies to see how it works in practice. We will be in new territory. Many aspects of it will be positive and will help to meet flexibly and compassionately the needs of people who cannot be helped by other aspects of the system, such as income support.
I understand why we are discussing the wider issues of the social fund today, because this is an ideal opportunity so to do. I welcome the chance to put on the record, as we come to the launch of the social fund, the facts about the new scheme and the argument in favour of it. Before that, perhaps I may respond to some points raised by the hon. Lady, although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will reply generally at the end of the debate.
The assertion has been made that it is inevitable that the budget for the social fund will be exhausted either in the course of a month or in the course of a year. That is by no means certain. The social fund officers and managers of local offices will not be the only people who have placed upon them the duty of managing a budget throughout a financial year. The allocations for the social fund will be made to local offices on an annual basis. As has been announced publicly, the local offices will for their own purposes draw up a profile of likely expenditure throughout the year and will allocate a sum for each month.
But that will not be carved into tablets of stone, if I may put it that way. It will be guidance for their management of the fund. If they need to shift money between months to meet a surge of demand, they can do that. There will also be a built-in flexibility. If a social fund officer finds that he is running short of funds in one month, he will not have to take an immediate decision on an application, but may hold it for up to 28 days and consider it in the light of the funds that are then available.
A second canard that has begun to run about the social fund is that when claimants ask for loans, they will first be referred to charitable bodies. That is not true. There is no question of claimants being sent routinely to seek other sources of help—whether a charity or a relative—before an award is considered. But it is only right that social fund officers, confronted with a claim, should have to take account of the help that might be available from other sources. Before making such a referral, a social fund officer will have to be satisfied that there is a realistic expectation that help will be available in time. No one is suggesting that claimants will be advised to seek charitable help from another agency or a relative on the off-chance that such help will be available.
§ Mr. Winnick
Leaving aside for the moment the plight of those who may be unable to get assistance because the social fund has been exhausted, why are the Government pursuing a policy of hurting the poorest — to receive supplementary benefit one has to be very poor — by giving loans instead of grants? Why is there such a spiteful, mean attitude to those who are in dire need? It is something which we cannot understand.
§ Mr. Scott
As I have told the House already, I do not believe that we will be confronted with a situation in which the budget is exhausted. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to make the rest of his intervention again later in the debate. I hope to use this opportunity to set forth the arguments and the facts about the social fund.
§ Mr. Scott
The hon. Gentleman asks why there will be loans. There are two elements. One is discretion. The hon. Member for Derby, South and others have suggested that discretion will always operate to the disadvantage of the claimant. That is not so. Under the existing single payments scheme, a claimant may be turned away because his claim lies just outside the letter of the regulations. Discretion can operate to the benefit of claimants. Social fund officers, who will be specially trained, will be able to exercise their discretion sensibly and compassionately—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members will restrain themselves, I shall seek of answer their questions.
People who are just above the level of income support have to budget for the payments that qualify for loans under the social fund. I believe that it is right, and increasingly should be right, that people who are on income support should have a sum of money which they are expected to manage themselves. The hon. Member for Derby, South talked about the level of benefits. In an ideal world, we might wish to see different levels of benefit. No doubt the hon. Lady would want benefits to be much higher, whatever the cost to the taxpayer, but I cannot believe that it is other than a proper approach that those on income support should, like the rest of the community, be put into a position in which they can manage their own resources without recourse to single payments.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made great play about loan sharks. I cannot believe that anyone in his right mind, given the opportunity of getting an interest-free loan from the social fund, would want instead to avail himself of the facilities offered by loan sharks. [Interruption.] I am confident that in the budget for the social fund there will be adequate resources to provide for the high-priority cases that will arise. There is flexibility within the social fund to meet the needs.
§ Mr. Cook
The Minister must be aware that he has made an important statement which goes to the heart of the anxiety about the social fund. If it turns out that his confidence is misplaced and the social fund is not adequate to cover the claims, will he in the course of a year reconsider the budget?
§ Mr. Scott
I take two points from what the hon. Gentleman has said. The first is that I have been in the House too long to start answering hypothetical questions. Secondly, the provision for single payments this year will be about £200 million and is not far removed from the provision that will be made for the social fund. So we will have to wait and see. Of course the Government will monitor the operation of the fund. So, I am sure, will the Opposition and various other bodies.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Is the Minister aware that in my local office in Stoke Newington the amount of money being allocated for the social fund is only 73 per cent. of what was paid out in single payments this year? So my people in Stoke Newington are already a quarter down. How can the Minister say that people will not be turned away?
§ Mr. Scott
Perhaps the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not give a detailed answer to her question. My hon. Friend knows of her concern and will deal with it later in the debate.
The current system of weekly benefit and payments for exceptional need is operated under a complicated set of supplementary benefit regulations. I have not heard widespread praise for that system. The rigidity and complexity of the single payments scheme, and the fact that the pattern of payments across the country frequently bears little relation to the real pattern of need in communities, are all disadvantages that have been raised. I believe that the changes in the overall pattern of income support, including the social fund, will enable the Department of Health and Social Security to provide a faster, better and more flexible system for claimants.
In some circumstances the social fund will be able to help not just those on income support but those who are just above that level. The House will be aware that, since last April, payments have been made from the social fund for maternity needs and funeral costs. Amendments to the rules for those payments are set out in the regulations. Phase 2 starts in April this year and will not be regulated, as the other payments have been, but will be discretionary. As a discretionary scheme, it will be more flexible than single payments and will provide a more varied response to the different needs which can arise and a greater responsiveness to local circumstances.
Perhaps I should remind the House briefly, to get it on the record, of the different types of payment from the social fund. The hon. Member for Derby, South referred to maternity payments, which will be at a flat rate of £85 from April for each baby expected, born or adopted, and payable to people receiving income support or family credit. It is worth reminding ourselves that the single payment will replace the old maternity grant of £25 and the single payment for maternity needs that was previously made under supplementary benefit regulations.
The social fund maternity payment of £85 from April is not based on needs for specific items, but is a standard sum for each new baby. As such, it provides more accessible help for those now receiving supplementary benefit and will continue to do so after the introduction of income support in April. Of course, there will be regular help from weekly benefits towards the costs of looking after a baby, and child benefit and income support, with extra amounts for each child.
A second aspect of the social fund that is already in operation are the payments to meet essential funeral expenses incurred by people receiving income support, family credit or housing benefit, who are responsible for a funeral. The payments replace the old death grant of £30 and the single payment for funeral expenses.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Will the Minister explain what happens once the amount allocated for the social fund in a particular area has gone? What happens to those who come late, even in relation to funeral benefit? How will those people manage? What are they going to do?
§ Mr. Scott
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is referring to funeral expenses, which are made under regulations and not within the cash-limited part of the social fund, and those payments will be made, 1179 if they meet the regulations. Maternity and funeral payments are regulated, subject to appeal, and are outside the local office budgets.
Attention has understandably been focused on the discretionary parts of the social fund that are to be introduced in April, in phase two. Budgeting loans will be interest-free loans available to help people who have been in receipt of income support for six months or more to spread the cost of intermittent expenses that are difficult to meet from weekly benefit. Money advice will be available to those with particular financial difficulties. Crisis loans will be interest-free loans available to assist people, whether or not they are on benefit, who cannot meet their short-term needs in an emergency or disaster. Payments will generally be for a specific item or immediate living expenses for a short period, not normally exceeding 14 days.
A great deal of play has been made of the fact that because this scheme is discretionary there will be no right of appeal. If it is discretionary in essence, it is difficult to see how one could have an appeal system, in the sense that it is normally understood. It may be a help to the House if I explain generally what will happen during the review process that will be in place and available instead of an appeal system as we normally understand it.
The regulations simply prescribed the way in which applications for review and further review should be made. For example, they must be in writing, be delivered or sent to a DHSS office within 28 days of the date when the disputed decision is issued, and must contain the reasons for the application being made. When an application for review is received, a social fund officer, who is usually the one who made the original decision, will first of all make sure that the application has been made in accordance with the provisions of the regulations. He will then review his original decision in the light of all the points that the applicant has raised.
If the officer feels unable to change his decision, he will arrange for the applicant to be interviewed. During the interview, the social fund officer will explain the original decision fully and the applicant, or his representative, who may be present if he so wishes, may make any points to the officer. The officer will then write an account of the interview.
If, after the interview has taken place, and the written account is delivered, the officer still feels unable to change his decision, he will pass the matter to a senior officer, usually of the higher executive officer grade, who will look at every aspect of the case in reaching the formal review decision. If the applicant is not satisfied with that review decision, he has the right to apply for a further review to the social fund inspector.
§ Mr. Scott
I shall not give way yet.
Social fund inspectors will be independent of the Department's local and regional office management, and will be answerable, not to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services but to the social fund commissioner. The inspector's role in the review process is to ensure that the social fund officer applied the law correctly, including the Secretary of State's directions.
§ Mr. Clarke
The Minister has outlined the role of a social fund inspector. It is very important that we should know, first, whether the inspector at any stage will be hearing oral evidence and, secondly, where he will be based.
§ Mr. Scott
It is open to the social fund inspector, if he feels that it would help him in coming to his conclusion, to interview the applicant. He is not compelled to do so and in general I believe that that would be unlikely.
In relation to the review procedure, which I think is fair, the social fund commissioner will be responsible, among other things, for the standard of the inspectors' decisions and will report annually to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and that report will be published. The review procedure that I have just outlined has had much scorn poured upon it, but it has been described by Lord Denning in the other place as being simple, fair and just machinery.
I believe that the basis upon which the social fund has been established is sound and that the element of discretion will operate to the benefit of claimants. I do not believe that the money will be exhausted. The review procedures are fair and just, and reflect the reality behind a discretionary rather than a regulated system.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
The reason for the social fund is very simple. The Government are intent on reducing the amount of money that is paid under single payments, and have come up with this scheme. There has been worry about escalating public expenditure and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) said in her powerful speech, there is the question of abuse.
In a sense, Members of Parliament have a social fund. A whole range of expenses are available to us, which our constituents know little of. This debate is our last opportunity to comment on the shape and structure and policing of the social fund. I wonder whether we would be happy to have the policing that the poor will get through the social fund. There seem to be dual standards operated by the House.
The other view that has been put about—
§ Mr. Field
I agree with my hon. Friend, but as we are voting, it is fair enough for me to raise the question of our expenses.
1181 The view being put over is that some people are milching the system; indeed, some journalists make such comments about MPs and their expenses.
No Opposition Member claims that poverty ennobles people. The reason why we want a war against poverty is that it destroys people and makes it more difficult for them to be decent to themselves and to one another. That is why we oppose so many measures that the Government bring forward. Of course some people will work the system, but there are hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of other people who are dependent on the safety net that is disappearing with the regulations.
I will give two examples of people who applied for help under the system that we are abolishing and failed to get it — so goodness knows what will happen to people under the new system.
A couple moved from the husband's parents in Rock Ferry to the Ford council estate. When the officer visited them, because they had made a request for furniture, one of his questions was, "Why have you got those pictures on the wall?" The wife explained to me that they were just cheap pictures bought in the market and were the only wedding presents that people could afford to buy for them. There was no furniture in that flat. I realised this when the wife, who was pregnant, said that sleeping on a carpeted floor when they were with her husband's family had been much easier and softer.
Another family on the Ford estate visited by the officer had a single deckchair, because that is the cheapest type of chair that one can buy. The wife was pregnant. The visiting officer took the deckchair and sat in it while he conducted the interview, and my constituents sat on the floor. They were not successful in getting a single payment. That is the generous system that we are turning off today.
When listening to the Minister, we had a horrible feeling of unreality. The Government seem to feel that if only they can get through the script and read the brilliant prose which a civil servant has written for them the scheme will work. We have taken every opportunity to try to convince the Government that it will not work in a way that is acceptable to decent people in this country, and certainly to the poor.
The only time that I disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South was when she said that it was like Alice in Wonderland. Alice could wake up from the dream. The constituents of Opposition and Conservative Members will not be waking up. That is the grim reality of the regulations.
There was another element of unreality when the right hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) kept moving in and out like Banquo's ghost. He was the Minister responsible for much of this scheme, but he got out. The Minister for Social Security and the Disabled has got to stick to this measure and see it through.
I should like to put again the point that I put to the Minister briefly at the end of the meeting that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) and the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) arranged the other day. I think that the Government are under the illusion that while they are dealing with the NHS crisis, the crisis about the social fund will not erupt, and that it will come at the end of the year. But the social fund crisis for families and individuals will start from week one, not because the Government have planned it that way but 1182 because officials will be fearful of going over their budgets. No Minister will have sent out a circular saying that those who fail to meet their budgets will not get promotion, but that is what people will feel. So on that side there will be rigorous enforcement, and therefore horror stories will start in the first week.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South was right in saying that for many people there will be a private grieving and they will go to the moneylenders. One could not find a better example of privatisation, with the Government acting as recruiting sergeant for those backstreet moneylenders who take the child benefit book. Then, if that is not enough, there are the heavies, who will start kicking the door down and pulling people about in the house. We are going to see a massive amount more of that, but that is only the private grieving. We might pick it up in the constituencies, but it will not feature in the media and it is the media that the Government fear.
What the Government will see is the rough stuff in the offices. Already precautions are being taken to strengthen partitions. There are staff who are dreading the start of this scheme, because many of them are decent people and do not want to treat the poor like this, and they are also fearful for their own safety. So far, as the Minister knows, decisions have been taken by a tribunal. Now the woman or the man in the office will have to say no across the office counter.
One can imagine, when children are hungry and without shoes, with electricity cut off in winter, and so on, what the reaction in those offices will be, with no further support available, because perhaps the family has been lucky enough to get a grant or a loan. There will be violence in the offices. Both sides, obviously, will regret it afterwards, but it will be understandable.
It will be worse than that. We saw that with the board-and-lodging allowances, when the deaths began. No one is pretending that the scheme in itself will drive anyone to suicide. Thank God, I do not know much about suicide, but it seems that in this respect it is the straw that breaks the camel's back, and there will be people who find that they just cannot continue with this sort of system. The media will pick up those stories and it will be in the headlines that another victim of the social fund has done himself or herself in. So the Minister must not think that he has a year of seeing this fund in, because those horror stories will start very soon. It will be our job to make sure that our "friends" in the media get hold of those stories, and get hold of them quickly.
§ Mr. Winnick
Is it not an illustration of the Prime Minister's sick humour that the Minister, who is basically certainly a decent person and a Tory wet, and if he had been on the Back Benches would undoubtedly have been protesting today, is given this task, the most discredited part of the Tory social policy? It is part of the Prime Minister's sick humour.
§ Mr. Field
We all have to live with ourselves in the cool of the evening and we should leave people to do that.
I beg the Minister not to think that he has time on his side, because he has not. I make a plea for him to draw up contingency plans now.
Two things are required if the social fund is to work, and some of us are not against the principle. The first is that benefits must be set at an adequate level so that people are not budgeting from hand to mouth. Secondly, people 1183 must have the chance, partly with a slightly larger income, to know about saving collectively. I make a plea that the contingency plans will ensure that, if it gets rough and if we get the deaths, the Government will be big enough, before there are too many of them, to put the scheme on ice. The old system, grim as it was, as I have tried to explain, will operate for another three years, but in the meantime there will be attempts to cover the country with credit unions.
The charges made against the Prime Minister are not so much about her personal philosophy, because, strangely enough, many of the people who vote for me would support the business about self-help and self-improvement. But she must understand that people need help to cross that bridge. I went to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) recently and there is a credit union there run by a woman who is dying of cancer. It is astonishing the difference it makes when people have real control of their own lives and can make decisions about when to buy and when not to buy. That is all something which the Prime Minister ought to encourage rather than destroy, and it will be destroyed if people are expected to move from utter poverty to lower-middle-class respectability in one short step.
So my plea to all hon. Members is that, before voting, they think a little more openly and honestly about their own expenses and the policing to which we are subjecting the poor. The scheme that we are replacing is far from generous. Words fail me when I try to describe the sort of scheme that we are going to impose on those who have been unfortunate enough to be kicked out of the bottom of our society.
§ Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)
My objection to the social fund has always been that it is the most harmful feature of the Social Security Act 1986. It is a wholly inadequate replacement for the single payments system, and I believe that the principle behind it is not social wellbeing but financial savings.
The regulations further highlight the many problems that have been identified with the social fund. The fund cannot replace the single payments system, because the grants budget is only a woefully inadequate £60 million, whereas expenditure on single payments was £360 million in 1986. The cut in August 1986 to £190 million may make the grants budget look less miserly, but that appearance is superficial. The result of the cut, and the move away from grants under the social fund, can only be misery and poverty.
I do not believe that the loans system will prevent the slide into further poverty for the vast majority of claimants. Those who are forced to pay back loans out of benefits will face increased hardship, and the whole system will become a bureaucratic nightmare, which I believe is destined to create chaos.
Those paying back loans from their already meagre benefits will not be made more independent; they will just be made poorer. This method of paying back loans will reduce the capacity of those who are already dependent on benefits to take the road to true financial independence, and that is contrary to the Government's avowed aims and intentions.
As a former banker, I have watched people struggle against small loans — struggle to pay rates, mortage, 1184 rent, lighting, heating. They were on steady incomes, but the people we are talking about are not. The amounts that claimants will have to pay back out of their benefits are not insubstantial, as the Government would have us believe, and the amount of time for which a claimant will be forced to live below the poverty line is considerable.
The normal repayment rate will be 15 per cent. of a person's weekly benefits, even for a single person under 25. That will be £3.90 out of the £26.05 that he receives weekly. Perhaps the Government do not realise that £4 is a large amount for someone who is struggling to survive on less than £30 a week. How can a young person be expected to survive in any remotely civilised way on less than £25 for several weeks, especially if he lives in a big city? The prospect is outrageous.
Let me give another example. A single pensioner might have an income made up of £41.15 basic retirement pension and £2–90 income support. If that person borrowed £514.80 for an essential repair to his home, he would have to repay the debt at the maximum rate, £6.60 over a maximum period of 78 weeks. During that period, he would receive no income support, and his pension would be reduced by the amount of the remainder of the debt. That would leave the pensioner with only £37.45 retirement pension for all his living expenses.
The position will become worse when the pensioner is required to pay 20 per cent. of his poll tax. Even before the poll tax is introduced, he will have to pay contributions towards his rates and water rates, which will further reduce the amount that he has to live on to about £34.75.
People in that position will face enough difficulties, but my greatest fear is that a vast number will be forced into the hands of unscrupulous moneylenders. They will be the unfortunate people who have been refused a loan, but are still in desperate need of money. There may be many more who will lose confidence in the system, or will not face the inevitable red tape and means testing, and will instead turn to the "no questions asked" lenders. The exorbitant interest rates charged by those lenders or loan sharks would not be paid by anyone who was not absolutely desperate for money. The fate of those who turn to the loan shark will ultimately be worse, as they will then be plunged into a cycle of debt from which it will be difficult to escape.
The Minister cannot close his eyes to the fact of debt and its effects on people living on or below the poverty line. One survey of people on supplementary benefit found that 56 per cent. of couples with children and 44 per cent. of one-parent families were in debt. Other indicators of debt show the same pattern of widespread borrowing and the problems associated with it. In 1986, a total of 20,550 people had their homes repossessed by building societies through mortgage default. That was an eightfold increase since 1979. The social fund will greatly increase those harrowing statistics, which is a frightening prospect.
The harrowing statistics of which I speak can only provide more work for those already under pressure in the DHSS offices. In my constituency, the DHSS staff are hard-working, dedicated and very compassionate, but to ask them to act as moneylenders and then, obviously, as debt collectors would be too much on top of their massive work load. They will have to do the paperwork before any debt collectors move in.
I am also concerned about other inadequacies in the social fund. For example, deposits to secure accommodation will no longer be available. That will deny people the 1185 chance to live in better accommodation. It is virtually impossible to rent a room or flat in any major city without first providing a fairly substantial deposit. How on earth are people already living on very small amounts supposed to produce the cash? The result will be that people are forced to live in unsuitable accommodation, and, once again, the poorest in our society will be unable to improve the standard of living for themselves and their families because of the Government's meanness.
Not only in the cities, but in the towns, people will be forced to live in substandard accommodation. In my constituency, flat lets are plentiful in winter, but as soon as the holidays start, people have to move out. They will be moving into substandard accommodation, although they are the people who are supposedly within the fund. Young people seeking summer jobs move down into the resorts, and they too will suffer.
The social fund manual decrees that, once a claimant has been refused a payment, he may not reapply for six months unless his circumstances alter. The most unjust feature of that rule is that it applies even when a social fund officer refuses an application because he has no money left in the budget. I have always been opposed to the limited budget, but that feature of the system is grossly unfair. Why cannot the social fund officer tell the unsuccessful claimant to come back in a week? Under this system, the claimant will be told, "Yes, you have a good case for a loan. But go away and come back in six months." It seems that, no matter how urgent or important that person's needs, he will be refused a payment without further explanation unless he chooses to appeal.
I ask the Minister to reconsider that six-month time limit. Indeed, I should like to know whether a review of how the system is working is likely after, say, six months, rather than the 12 months mentioned in the opening speeches.
The appeal system has long been a major sticking point for those of us who oppose the social fund, and the Government have faced embarrassing reversals on the subject in the past. I make no apology for repeating my view that people will have no confidence in a review carried out by the DHSS employee who originally refused their payment. A review should be conducted by an independent tribunal, and in private.
The manual says that an interview will be in private wherever possible, but it should always be in private. Anybody who has to speak about his means should always do so in the privacy of an office rather than in a public place.
How can people believe that their review has been fairly or even accurately considered when they know that the whole point of the social fund is to save money? A potential claimant is further deterred from appealing by the bureaucratic system devised for arranging an appeal. The final appeal to the inspector is hardly better since it is still carried out within the DHSS. Those who are already most disillusioned with our society will be given further reason to distrust the system.
The social fund will lead to increased despair and misery for all those living in poverty. Those already facing despair will be told that the state no longer cares what 1186 happens to them. That is a prospect which I will not support and I urge the House to vote against the regulations.
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
Our social security system is directed towards two different objectives. The first is to meet entitlement and the second is to meet need. Embedded in the speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) was a reference, which I welcome, to the difficulty that we all find in differentiating one need from another, and sometimes, somewhat invidiously, having to form impressions on the level of need. To take an example in a different sphere, hon. Members have no direct responsibility for housing applications, but it is remarkable how different are the weight of the claims of various people who write to me, and, I am sure, to others.
In social security matters, despite an understandable and humane wish to do so, it is difficult to cover all the hard cases without some mechanism for controlling the inexorable rise of costs. I elicited more details in a written answer on 17 December 1987 at column 707 of Hansard. The cost of the single payments system, which the social fund will replace, has risen remarkably. On a platform, one could summarise it by saying that the cost has risen fivefold in real terms from £40 million at 1979 prices in that year to approximately £200 million in 1985–86, and similarly in 1986–87.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)
Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that he is charting the growth of poverty and the increase in inequality in our society since 1979? Costs have gone up, not because people are getting too much money, but because they are a lot poorer.
§ Mr. Boswell
I do not share the hon. Lady's easy certainty in the matter, but let me continue to develop the point by analysing the figures.
I readily concede that within that time unemployment has risen sharply, but I cannot correlate the rise in unemployment which, fortunately, is now diminishing equally sharply, with the figures as presented. Until the year 1981–82, when the rise in unemployment was already well under way, the figures were virtually static in real terms at £40 million. Thereafter, they started to rise by approximately 50 per cent. per annum in real terms. That must give any hon. Member cause to consider why that should have happened. No one has a satisfactory explanation for it.
Last year, the Government took certain measures to curb costs within the single payments scheme and, in doing so, made scope for other social changes and items of social spending which have been developing in the recent past, such as, for example, the rapid growth in payments under the attendance allowance, which I welcome, and to which I would like to see further extensions made in due course.
§ Mr. Cryer
The hon. Gentleman has obviously been doing some investigation and analysis of the DHSS figures. Did he do the same sort of analysis of payments to farmers when he was at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? Did he attack and seek to reduce them with the same zeal? If so, it appears that he was singularly unsuccessful.
§ Mr. Boswell
I am grateful for that magnificently irrelevant comment. I was a mere official, not a Minister, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Ministry was 1187 dedicated, as is the Prime Minister, to reducing the inordinate growth in the common agricultural policy. If we can do that, that too will make more resources available. Therefore, to some extent, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point.
Let me move from that diversion to the business in hand. There is an underlying misunderstanding by the Opposition, although I am sure not a wilful one, of the role and feasibility of budgeting. All of us have to budget, whether in private business or in our private lives. As anyone who has been a Minister is well aware, including the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), that applies also during the public expenditure survey. There is no free lunch in Government or outside. On the other hand, when one looks at cash limits one has to ask whether the more dramatic predictions made by Opposition Members can really be fulfilled. I have never yet heard of a Girocheque being bounced. If there is an overrun in any one month, the obligation will be met, but it will give rise to certain management consequences later.
I also welcome the thrust of the proposals as a means of trying to free as many people as possible from an automatic assumption of a client relationship with the state. In saying that, I readily accept that not everybody living at the margins can easily cope with a one-off expenditure—items that were referred to at some length in Committee. I see no reason why such people should not bear a measure of responsibility for the consequences of not being able to put the money down in advance.
§ Mr. Boswell
No, I have already given way twice and I must continue to make my points so that others can speak.
The difference in the social fund is, first, that such loans, if made available, are interest-free; secondly, they will be accompanied by advice from social fund officers; and, thirdly, unlike the money sharks, social fund officers will be as keen as the clients to ensure that the money is repaid as promptly as possible.
In conclusion, let me examine one or two details of the scheme on which I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to comment when he replies. In the voluminous list of benefits from which deductions may be made, I see no reference to child benefit, and I should like my hon. Friend's confirmation that I have read the regulations correctly.
Secondly, to go beyond the mere deductions from benefit, we have to record that the state is again going, in a modest way, into the banking business, at the same moment when it intends, rightly, to withdraw from the Girobank system. That will mean running an innovatory low-level banking or credit system. In some cases, particularly if, as we hope, clients can break out of their situation and back into employment, they may not be in receipt of benefits and it may be necessary to find other ways of recovering loans.
I have some small experience of the court order system of attachment of earnings from employees. That functions in a rather archaic way. Employees are obliged to account on a weekly basis for pay, but the employer is obliged to pay on a monthly basis, which automatically creates asymmetry. It is impossible for the employer to pay electronically and a lot of paperwork is involved. Such aspects will need consideration at a later date.
1188 There are three matters, very much in the spirit of the concerns expressed in the debate, about which I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister. The first—I accept that he spoke about this in extenso in Committee—is the training of social fund officers. Clearly that is taking place at the moment, but I hope that it will continue after the day of vesting—as it were—of the fund. I hope that there will be maximum opportunities for consultation, mutual meetings and exchanges of views and experiences between social fund officers in different areas so that a pattern of experience can be established.
Secondly, and following on from that—my remarks are very much a package — we need an adequate publicity campaign to explain what is going on, both to hon. Members, who will have a role to play, and to the public. We shall all have a very busy traffic during the summer and we shall have much explaining to do. It is important that we should form part of the process.
As has been said, the Government must also show a readiness to review the system in the light of developments. It would be useful to have at least a preliminary examination and possibly a debate before the winter sets in to give us an initial snapshot of what is going on.
This is a new scheme. It is an innovation. On the whole, I welcome it, but we need to be ready to learn from experience when it is in place. We need to give a positive commitment to do our best to explain the social fund to our constituents and to contribute to making it work as well as possible.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
The Minister started by saying that this was the last opportunity that we would have to discuss the regulations, and unfortunately it is. However, more unfortunately, it could be the last hope for many of those whom we represent, who at the moment have a lifeline, albeit a limited lifeline.
There is no doubt that the proposals are unfair, to say the least. They are also undemocratic. It is far from democratic to take from poor people seeking state help the right of appeal. That move has been condemned not only by hon. Members but by just about every organisation dealing with the poor. It has been condemned too by many of the groups that have advised Governments in the past on social services matters. It is bound to place further strain on poor families and on the social services. As was said more than once in Committee, if the strain is pushed more and more on to poorer families, more and more people will go to their local social services departments.
Sheffield is rate-capped. How will the social services department be able to help those driven out of the DHSS offices because they have run out of money, or for whatever reason? I know for a fact that Sheffield will have less section 1 money this year than in previous years. Therefore, the poor families will not be able to get help from either of the public sector bodies. Obviously, if they have any sort of nous, they will get the money one way or another. Unfortunately, they may get money by wrongful means and, perhaps even worse, they may fall foul of the loan sharks, who must be rubbing their hands as they await the implementation of the regulations, which will drag people deeper into poverty.
As I said, the removal of the right to appeal has been condemned all round. In Committee, the Minister said on more than one occasion that it does not really matter, because the fund will not run out. He confirmed that this 1189 afternoon. He is misleading the House if he says that the new fund will be about the same as the present system of single payments. He said that the fund would be near the present single payments budget.
The point is that, since the Government came to power, the budget for the single payments system has been reduced year after year. It is now almost impossible to get single payments. It is said that one has about the same chance of qualifying for a single payment as a 60-year-old has of doing a four-minute mile on one leg. That shows how bad it is in some areas. I could take hon. Members round Sheffield — I am sure this applies to all hon. Members' constituents — and show them flats and bedsits whose occupants are in need of essentials but have been refused single payments. Only last month a young girl who was pregnant at the time came to my office. She had been supplied with a single person's flat by Sheffield council but it had no carpets, no furniture and no bed. Over Christmas that young woman literally slept on bare boards. We tried and tried to get her single payments, but, unfortunately, although she may now get single payments, she decided to have an abortion, which she had not really wanted to do in the first place.
The House should not think that the present system is good; it is bad. All that we are doing now is making matters worse by restricting the meagre resources available to poor people and introducing a very difficult loan system. What sort of appeal is there when someone refused by one officer has to appeal to a senior officer and then to another senior officer—all of them dealing with the same legislation dictated by the Government, so that unless they can find a really technical point they are not in a position to change the initial decision?
The Minister said that the applicant could write to the DHSS office. Many of those who come into my office are not blessed with good writing. They are inarticulate and they are the people who suffer most precisely because of those disabilities. It is disgraceful for the Minister to say that all they have to do is write and put their case. They are not lawyers. They are people at the bottom of the pile who are struggling to make a living and look after their families. But the Minister says, "Put it in writing." The history of the appeals and tribunals system shows that the vast majority of successful cases have been won orally rather than in writing.
Although the Minister said that it might be possible to meet the clients, he hinted that that was not likely. Therefore, we are left with no democratic right of appeal and with a silly system that will make people run round in circles until they give up and are driven to the loan sharks and to despair.
I am sure that in a few months' time it will appear from the statistics trotted out by the Government Departments that the social fund has solved the problem, but the truth is that needy and helpless people will have been pushed out of the equation. The Minister has always been considered a bit of a wet, as was said earlier. Today, he is defending proposals that are as hard as nails. He is justifying proposals that in his heart of hearts he does not believe in. It was obvious in Committee that he was uncomfortable. Nevertheless, he will push the proposals through with some form of what he claims to be credibility. Many are worried about the consequences of the regulations but 1190 none will have the guts to say so. While they do not have the guts to say so, many thousands of families will suffer pain, anguish and despair.
I shall finish on the note on which I started. This is the last opportunity to discuss this matter. I hope that it will not be the last hope for the people whom we represent.
§ Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)
First, let me respond to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell). I disagreed with almost everything that he said, but at least he is one of the few Conservative Members who not only attended the Committee but has made an effort to participate today [HON. MEMBERS: "He was the only one."] Indeed, he was the only one.
The hon. Gentleman described the chaos that will result after 11 April as an increase in business traffic. What a euphemism that was, and what an underestimate of the problems and difficulties that we will face. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman with the statistics—with which he had trouble—comparing trends in employment with single payments. He cannot have been listening to Opposition Members' arguments about the 19 fiddles of the unemployment figures, or he would not have found it so difficult to comprehend the differences.
The hon. Gentleman said that many poor families would like to show a measure of responsibility by receiving loans. He completely fails to understand how people live their lives and how they want to live their lives. Families on benefit show responsibility every day of the week as a result of the accounting and suffering that they face under the present system.
§ Mr. Boswell
Although I accept that many families may be in that category, will the hon. Lady accept that some families might be in a position to do something for themselves? Should they not be encouraged to do so?
§ Ms. Mowlam
I shall answer that question when Conservative Members answer similar questions about many people in the City, with their gross carryings on.
The final point that the hon. Member for Daventry must accept about the loans which he sees as bringing in a measure of responsibility is that they must be paid back. The DHSS offices will give a one-off loan payment, and in the next year must survive on what is paid back. This means that, under the obscene system of loans, payments will decline, and that is why hardship will worsen.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) is in the Chamber. I hope that he will not suggest having a national lottery for the social fund as he did for the National Health Service, because that really
I should like to make just three points, because I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak. The first is about grants, to which the Minister referred. It must be said that he was economical with the truth. He says that there will be what he described as "profiling" by the local offices which will, according to the regulations, have two-month periods during which they can consider the nature of the single payments that might be demanded. He said that this will mean that there will be enough money to go round.
I failed to understand that point throughout all the time that the Minister spent trying to explain it in Committee, because if, at the beginning of that two-month period there 1191 is a heavy demand for curtains, carpets, cookers and the other basic needs that cannot wait 28 days if one's family needs to be fed, by the end of the two months the money will have run out.
The Minister says that the officers can shift that period and be flexible by moving it from one part of the year to another, but by the 10th or 11th month there will not be any money left at the local offices. Ministers cannot have it both ways. There is either flexibility within a two-month period, or there is a 12-month period. However, the outcome will be that at the end of that 12-month period no money will be left and people will suffer.
What people will find most difficult to understand is that somebody up the road gets a cooker because it is 2 April, but on 12 May somebody three doors down, who is in exactly the same circumstances, does not get one. Pensioners question why some people should get television licences when others do not, and now some people will get cookers while others who are in exactly the same material circumstances will not. That degree of unfairness and injustice will concern many people, who will find itpay-difficult to understand. I hope that Ministers will have an easier job explaining the position than many of us will have when we encounter exactly those problems. It will be a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul. We have said that all along, ever since the legislation was introduced, and that, indeed, will he the outcome.
My second point relates to loans. The Government have made much today, and previously, of the fact that the loans will be interest-free. Great. We are then told that in exceptional circumstances 25 per cent. of the loans will be paid back weekly. Ordinarily, 15, 10 or 5 per cent. will be paid back weekly by deductions from benefit. If we are talking about a 10 per cent. pay-back on a weekly basis, that amounts to £7.95 out of benefit. When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will explain how a family can pay back £7.95 out of benefit when they are already budgeting carefully.
The Minister talked about the need for flexibility. Will he accept that under the payback system there will be weeks when families will be unable to pay back that £7.95, because of fuel bills and the need to buy clothes for the children? There will be weeks when families will need to make such one-off payments. When the Minister talks about flexibility, let us hear about flexibility not just for his side, not just in terms of administration, but in terms of how the system will work for families. Will the Minister consider flexibility for payback, so that those who have to pay back the loans will be able to do so in a way that means that they can take that measure of responsibility that we are told people should be able to take?
My third point relates to the nature of the reviews. This is important, and I hope that the Minister will take it on board. The Minister had the cheek and the affrontery to quote from the debate in the House of Lords in relation to the review procedure. When the Social Security Act 1986 as it now is went through this House and on to another place, an all-party group in the Lords introduced an amendment to suggest that there should be a better appeals system. When that came back to this House, it was rejected. If the Minister quotes from debates in the Lords, he should do so across the board to show how the Lords insisted on the need for a review procedure.
The Minister explained carefully the way in which the review procedure would progress — with a social fund officer and social fund inspector—but he did not answer 1192 the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) about where the social fund inspectors would be located. Earlier today we heard the Prime Minister talking about civil servants being moved out of London, so we should like to know where the social fund inspectors will be based. Will it be Birmingham, as has been suggested, or elsewhere? We hope the Minister will reply to that point.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) said, the important point about the review is the need for oral evidence when social fund inspectors consider appeals. I should like the Minister to listen to the statistics for single payments in the north-east region, when an oral appeal was available. He will then see the number of cases that we are talking about. Under the new system, the social fund inspectors will choose whether to have oral evidence. They will sit at their desks and flip through the papers and will not want an oral appeal.
The figures for the north-east region for the year ending 31 March 1987 show that, of the 10,498 single payment appeals, the success rate was 20.4 per cent. The interesting statistics come when one breaks down that success rate. One discovers that where claimants attended — that is, where there was an oral hearing — the success rate increased to 30.5 per cent., and where there was an oral hearing plus a representative assisting the claimant, the success rate increased to 42.2 per cent. That is why the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley is so correct. That example from the north-east shows that 2,014 people would not have been given single payments if there had not been those oral hearings, with the opportunity of being represented at them.
I hope that the Minister listened carefully to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who talked about what the scheme will look like when it comes into operation. We are talking not only about the implementation of the social fund, but about the implementation of the changes in housing benefit and the introduction of the poll tax. We are talking about debts and about the problems that families will encounter, day in day out, of a kind that we have not experienced, even during the recent years of Tory Government.
The Minister tried to pooh-pooh the suggestion that there would be debt difficulties. I shall give him some figures from the Cleveland trading standards department, which found that loan sharks were providing loans at an interest rate of 300 per cent. of annum.
I am sure the Minister is aware of the kind of problems that we have faced in Cleveland during the past two years. About 40 per cent. of people in Cleveland are dependent on some form of supplementary benefit or income support. That problem should be looked at alongside low incomes, because it creates poverty, higher infant mortality — [Interruption.] I am surprised that the Minister finds this an issue worth smiling over. One finds evidence of higher infant mortality. There are also housing problems and problems relating to violence towards children. These problems will become intolerable and unmanageable, and if Ministers were honest they would acknowledge that.
§ Mr. Speaker
It might be for the convenience of the House for me to say that I understand that the Front-Bench speakers will seek to rise at 6.30. As several hon. Members wish to take part, perhaps those called would bear that in mind.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) spoke of the impact of the social fund being a 25 per cent. reduction in payments in her area. When the Minister replied, he seemed to suggest that that was a special case. Well, I must remind him that, as in many constituencies throughout Britain, the introduction of the social fund will mean a massive reduction in payments in my constituency. In fact it will mean about a 50 per cent. reduction.
The single payments budget of the last comparable figures for 1985–86 was £1,750,000. The projected budget for the social fund includes a grants budget of £141,000 and a loans budget of £327,000—a reduction of more than £500,000. I should like to know how the Minister will square those cuts with his view that people will continue to get payments.
The social fund manual makes it plain that the major concern is not about meeting the needs of people but of remaining within the budget. Social fund officers are reminded that theywill sometimes be obliged to refuse applications in order to meet higher priorities within the budget.It is clear that there are higher priorities than tackling poverty. That is what the Minister is telling the poor in Britain by supporting the proposals.
On 11 April when the regulations come into force and when all the statistics and budget figures become real people, we shall have to face those people in the homes and the streets around us. They will turn up at our advice surgeries wanting to know to whom they should turn, and where they should go to get help and assistance to pay for their ordinary daily lives.
We are not talking about the people to which the Secretary of State for Social Services referred, who will have to give up their second holiday to pay for their health, or the people to whom the Secretary of State for the Environment referred, who might want to let out their extra houses. We are talking about the poorest in our society—the young unemployed, the single parents and the pensioners who make up about 30 per cent. of the population in Britain and should be treated as part of society.
I am reminded of the lobby which I attended before I became a Member of Parliament, during the review of social security. Members of Parliament were being challenged about the details. One response to a person who asked the Members about the proposals was that she should not get too involved, because social security issues were too complicated for Ministers and Members of Parliament to understand, never mind the general public. That disabled lady replied, "I remind Members of Parliament that those of us who have to pay the daily price can do the arithmetic, and so should Members of Parliament." So should the Ministers.
The proposals exclude the poor in our society from the Budget and, therefore, from society. Conservative Members echo the classic Victorian response to the poor, which is to blame the victims for their plight. Conservative 1194 Members need to face the reality that the loss of a partner through death or through the breakdown of a relationship can plunge an individual or a family into poverty. Real poverty means that, in practice, for most weeks families do not have enough money to live on, as the London Weekend Television survey showed. Not even that well-known television commentator and former Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr. Matthew Parris, could live for a week on unemployment benefit. Fortunately, after that week he was lucky enough to go back to his job without the compounded debts that he had outstanding from one week on the dole.
Worst of all is the intolerable scandal of all the Budget talk from Conservative Members and the press about the millions of pounds that the Chancellor has to give away in tax cuts on 15 March. It is an insult to the poor to talk about the national wealth and suggest that it should be used for tax cuts for the better-off. It will hit the poor smack in the face to hear those expressions. The Government treat people like donkeys. They provide a carrot for the rich and say that they need tax cuts as incentives, but the poor get the big stick. Again, the Government's approach is deliberately divisive. It is strange that if one is rich one can live on credit but woe betide anyone who is poor who gets into debt, although both are borrowing money.
One of the papers that I examined before the debate was the Conservative research department's document "Reform of the Welfare State" published in June 1985. It defines the central objectives for reforms of the welfare state and states:It is of paramount importance that these objectives should not conflict with the Government's overall strategy for national economic recovery.It goes on:It would be self-defeating if the cost grew to such an extent that the wealth-producing sector on which this provision rests, was jeopardised. That practical consideration reinforces the strong Conservative conviction that individual self-reliance should be increased".That is the bedrock for the Government's policies and for today's proposals.
The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) said that people should be made to face the consequences of not being able to put money by. That seems to suggest that the poor are to blame and should pay the price and be excluded while the wealthy get wealthier.
I remind the House that the Government should not assume that poverty in our society is the result of misfortune or bad luck, that it is inevitable or due to laziness, ignorance or lack of development. Poverty is a direct result of the political and economic policies of the Government. The poverty in our society is not accidental or an act of God, but has been created, indeed manufactured—I am tempted to use that 19th century word as the Government hark back to Victorian values.
Not far from the House, a cinema in town is showing the film "Little Dorrit". I recommend that film to Conservative Members. If they do not have time to see it they could read the book on the train because the first part is entitled "The Poor" and the second part is entitled "The Rich". The proposals will create exactly that Dickensian division and take us back beyond the poor laws. Poverty is not accidental. It is being created and manufactured by political policies. Poverty in our society is the result of callous, inhuman Budget policies.
1195 I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage, to put the poor back into the Budget, because if they are excluded from the Budget they are being offered only the callous freedom to which the hon. Member for Daventry referred—the freedom to go hungry and to starve.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
Years ago, I was told a story by my mother about my grandmother who was left a widow, looking after four daughters. That was in the days before the welfare state. One Saturday morning, they were sitting around the table eating a hot supper which had been provided by the parish of St. Luke's church in the centre of Liverpool. There was a knock at the door. The parish relief officer had arrived. He looked around at the children having their hot supper and said, "Mrs. Mallon, you obviously do not need any assistance from the parish because the children are being looked after."
I tell that story because the Government, and in particular the introduction of the social fund, are creating such a society. The Minister refuted that, and said that people would not have to go to charity. However, he did say that DHSS officers should have to take account of resources being made available from other sources. What are the other sources if they are not relatives? The pressure will be on the voluntary organisations and the churches to provide what should be provided by the state. If the Government went back to the principles of Beveridge or Nye Bevan they would accept that the state should be responsible for the collective provision for those in the community who are worst off.
The Government tell us that, under their regime, single payments have increased year by year. In the social fund draft manual the Government say:The Government consider a number of factors including likely need for payments and the general economic climate in setting the overall size of the fund for any particular year".The Government consider that such factors are important. This is a Government who have been loud in voicing their opinion that the economy is buoyant and that everything is going well. Therefore, we should be looking for a greater share of that wealth. However, many of us doubt the truth of the Government's claims. Any distribution of wealth should take account of those who are poorest and weakest in our society, but what is happening in reality? Let us consider some of the figures for the DHSS offices in my constituency.
In 1985–86 the Norris Green DHSS office paid out £689,716 in single payments. What has that office been allocated under the social fund in the first year of its operation? Its allocation is £124,393—less than 20 per cent. of what it paid in 1987 in single payments. In 1985–86, the West Derby DHSS office paid out £711,166 in single payments. That office's allocation for next year is £150,053 — less than 25 per cent. of what is paid in 1987 in single payments.
Many hon. Members will not have heard of Norris Green. It is true that they will have heard of West Derby because they have heard me speak so often. However, they will all know Toxteth. That area is not in my constituency, but it is well known because of the riots that took place there. The conditions that will arise from the social fund may result in a similar set of circumstances to those that 1196 led to the riots in 1981. The Government should not be surprised if they find that the events of 1981 are repeated as people are driven into dire poverty.
What is the Government's solution for Toxteth? In 1985–86,Toxteth DHSS office paid out £2,138,792 in single payments. Its allocation for the first year's operation of the social fund is £346,814—that is a 16.2 per cent. allocation in comparison to what is paid out in single payments in 1987. That is a measure of the Government's meanness. Indeed, at this very moment they are preparing to demonstrate their largesse to the rich of our society with tax handouts.
What makes the Government believe that tax handouts to the rich are a rightful incentive, but that it is wrong to give a decent supplement to those who are in dire need? They are prepared to give money to the scroungers and the City slickers—the people who donate to and finance the Tory party. They are the people to be sustained by Exchequer handouts.
So often we have pleaded with the Government to change their mind and to reconsider. I am perfectly convinced that the social fund is part of their punitive exercise against the poor. It is part of their plan. No one should be under any illusion that the Government are trying to recreate the one nation of Disraeli, let alone the Socialism of Nye Bevan. The Government want to divide our country to make sure that we return to the thirties—not the 1930s, but the 1830s.
I hope that constituents throughout the country—not only those represented by my hon. Friends—will show their contempt for the Government. It is a Government who are prepared to bale out the fraudulent people of the City but who care not one iota for the poor. If the Ministers had any conscience they would not be prepared to go down in history as part of a Government who took us back to the dark ages. They should do the honourable thing and resign.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)
I wish to say a few words about maternity grant. The Minister of State has pointed out that, under the regulations, an expectant or new mother will be able to get a grant of £85. He implied that that was an extremely generous amount because the old maternity grant was £25. However, the Minister of State omitted to say that, until last April, the same mother could qualify for single payments amounting to £188 for necessities as evaluated by the Minister's Department. Therefore, the true comparison is not £85 versus £25, but £188 versus £85.
I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the needs a mother may have. For instance, there is a need for maternity clothes. A maternity dress is not simply a frivolous wish: it is necessary because she cannot get into her clothes. A mother will also need a pushchair and a high chair. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has already told us how people are forced to sit and sleep on the floor. No doubt babies can learn to crawl more quickly if they do not have the luxury of chairs.
Perhaps it could be argued that a pushchair is unnecessary—one can always carry a baby, or indeed, one need not take it out! Fire guards are necessary, but some parents will be unable to afford the fuel so there will be no need for such a guard. Safety gates are an obvious luxury. Just as the poor parents must budget so expertly, so the infants must learn to walk safely about the house 1197 without the benefit of a safety gate. The Under-Secretary of State yawns. I know it is terribly boring and I know that I am going over the top. I am doing so because in his life he never has, nor ever will have, to exist in the circumstances facing the people to whom the regulations apply. It is boring in the abstract, but it is horrible to live it.
The Minister of State said that Lord Denning had described the social fund and the arrangements for review instead of appeal as simple, fair and—I believe that the Minister used the word—just. I am waiting eagerly to learn from the Under-Secretary what is fair about a system that will ensure that two people will be treated differently, not because of different circumstances, but because they live in different areas or have applied at different times. How is that just or fair? It is certainly simple. There is nothing more simple than the word no. That word will be increasingly employed when the social fund is operating.
We have been told about the review, and how a case can be reviewed again by a senior officer, and then by a social fund inspector. But the Minister will recall that it was drawn from him in Committee that the only person who has responsibility for managing the budget is the social fund officer who gave the original decision. So the other people who have the task of reviewing have no responsibility for managing the budget— the Minister said that in Committee. So he admitted, by implication, that such people have no right or ability to overturn the decisions of the social fund officers, because they will not have to find the money for the next applicant, and they will surely bear that in mind.
My hon. Friends have spoken a great deal about the money running out. When making these forecasts, we must be careful. I do not know whether the money will run out, but the definitions of priority will be changed. People will not be told they are being refused because the money has run out; they will be told they are refused because the priority of their case is not high enough, and that other people are even poorer.
Others will not apply for a loan because they are scared of going into debt—the old bogey of the poor. Only the middle class can look on debt with equanimity. Then there will be people who are refused because they are too poor to repay the loan. There will be many expedients to avoid the embarrassment of the Government's having to say that the money has run out. But not enough money will be going into the pockets of the poor. Not enough money is being put into the fund. The Government keep telling us that the amount equals the single payments. They equate loans with grants, but when it comes down to it, loan or grant, the money in the social fund will be much less than the money paid out in single payments the year before last, before the Government started making all the adjustments in preparation for this manipulation.
I hope that there will not be too much smugness on the Government Front Bench. I hope they will realise that they have little to say except, perhaps, that the country is rich but they are so poor at budgeting that they cannot manage to find the money to give the poor a reasonable standard of living.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
If this debate has been significant, it has been so for a number of reasons, 1198 not least because the Minister began by saying that this was not one of the most popular measures that the Government are proposing. If we needed evidence of that, it is to be found in the absence of speeches by Members of the Conservative party, with the exception of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who gave the appearance of having been discovered somewhere behind a haystack defending the EEC social fund—for that is what he seemed to be talking about. The fund he seemed to be describing was a great deal more generous and, perhaps, more attractive to the farmers in his constituency than this social fund will be to the poor people of this country.
We have had only two speeches from Government Members to go on, and the message that came across from them was that we need a social fund because so many people are selfish and lack the work ethic that they need this measure of discipline. I find that appalling at a time when benefits worth £1,000 million a year are not taken up by people who are legally entitled to the money. I should prefer the Minister to use his time with his hon. Friends to promote the need for people to claim their rights, instead of restricting the resources that are available by means of these measures.
The regulations must be seen, as my hon. Friends have said, in the context of the attacks of the Social Security Act 1986 and the so-called Fowler review; and they come on top of the freezing of child benefits, the mean-minded attitude even to school meals and the drastic cuts in housing benefit which have had a severe impact on many people. This is not an attack on poverty: it is a raid on the impoverished. The very people who, by definition, are the poorest in our society are being denied even the right to exercise their civil rights. We heard that in the ludicrous way in which the Minister tried to explain the internal appeal procedure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) referred to the unreality of the Conservative contributions to the debate. Of course, he was right. The Government have been completely unable to justify the removal of the safety net that society seeks to provide, in order to justify their cash limits, which are based not on need but on rigid cash control. That control has been influenced by the Treasury and by a Secretary of State who has just come from those quarters. The removal of the right to an independent appeal seems to have had no proper defence. Replacing grants by discretionary loans has not been sufficiently explained either, to the House or the country. The Government give the impression that all the people who gave them advice — even though the Government deliberately restricted the time available—were wrong and that they are right.
These measures will place an intolerable burden on social service and social work departments at a time when they can least shoulder it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) said, we cannot ignore the placing of vulnerable families in even greater jeopardy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) mentioned the views of the Spastics Society which, together with a large number of other voluntary organisations, is concerned about the social fund, —despite the Minister's reassuring tone. The Spastics Society is particularly concerned about what is expected from voluntary organisations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said, the Government have placed much emphasis not on facing 1199 their own responsibilities, as the taxpayers would want them to do, but on telling us to look to the churches, the charities and voluntary organisations.
I invite the Minister to comment on the views of the Spastics Society, as expressed today:We are aware that Spastics Society social work managers have already been approached by local DHSS offices with inquiries about what money we have available to make grants. It would be hard to believe that this information is being sought only in the remote possibility that it would be inappropriate for the Social Fund, itself, to provide help in a crisis for someone with cerebral palsy. We consider it likely that the DHSS is planning, right from the start, to refer community care grant and budgeting loan applicants to us for help.The Spastics Society and other voluntary organisations are entitled to a reply.
In his attempts to justify cash limits, the Minister said that the Government are by no means certain that the fund will run out. That is an incredible proposition. We already know about the sums that have been provided to local offices. We already know that, in spite of the single payments of 1986, there has, in effect, been a 50 per cent. reduction in the global sum being made available for the social fund. Of that, only a third would be considered for grants; the rest will go in loans. For the Minister to tell us that social fund officers and local DHSS managers will stand like Mr. Micawber waiting for something to turn up is entirely unacceptable, given the problems that face local offices and communities.
I shall not weary the House with the global social fund figures that are available. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Ealing, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), gave the impression during a radio programme in which we both took part that only areas where heavy demands have been made on the DHSS will be subject to reductions. The truth of the matter is that those areas will be subject to reductions, although their demands are growing and their needs are clearly identified. If there is increased unemployment in Scotland, Wales, the north of England and the inner cities, the figures should reflect those needs and demands, but they do not.
In Coatbridge, in my constituency, in 1986 the amount of benefit that was paid per head under the single payment system was £163.50. Under the allowance, grants will be reduced to £29.47p per head and grants and loans combined will be £98.82p. In Bathgate, the 1986 figure was £160, but it is now down to £15.22p and the total for grants and loans is £51.26p. In Bradford, West the 1986 figure per head was £82.40p, but that is now down to £13.76p for grants, and the combination of loans and grants is £46.11p. The story is the same in Chester-le-Street, Edinburgh, East, Bristol and other areas. There is no justification for those reductions.
When the Minister gave a pathetic outline of people's rights for reassessment he ignored the fact—the House cannot follow him in this—that these regulations will mean that a person's right to seek an independent review of an application that has been refused has now been removed. There will now be an internal review.
We were not told, in spite of pressure from a number of my hon. Friends, especially from my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), where the social fund inspectors will work from. If the rumour is true that it will be in Birmingham, or that the work is to be centralised, that is appalling. The Minister is suggesting that the only way in which people can appeal — I use that word as 1200 loosely as the Government intend it to be used—is to do so in writing, to have it considered in writing and to have no oral input whatsoever.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heely (Mr. Michie) rightly underlined the importance of the number of people who have been successful at tribunals. He contrasted the tribunals that will consider only paperwork with those that have been able to hear witnesses and take oral evidence. What the Government are suggesting is a disgrace and a denial of fundamental and basic human rights.
The regulations deal with recovery by deductions from benefit, which is a euphemism for loans instead of grants. Before a social fund officer takes a decision he must consider whether a person has the ability or income to repay a loan, however deserving the case may be. When the Government tell us about targeting, are we not entitled to ask how that will work? We know that the poorest in our society will not be considered as a good risk. The commercial judgments that will be made will be most unhelpful.
If the Minister doubts that that is a wide interpretation of Government thinking, I refer him to the notorious directions 11 and 22, which make it clear that no crisis loan and no budgeting loanmay be awarded in excess of the amount that the applicant is likely to repay.We know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said, that some people will be asked to repay loans—from their very limited incomes—at a rate of 10 per cent. That will involve a family with two children repaying £7.90 a week. That family could do a great deal with £7.90. It could buy a pair of shoes or some extra furniture or lino. The Government's decision will be regarded by the public as a scandal, particularly as we approach 11 April.
The Minister is aware that there has been little support for this measure, not only in the debate — only one Conservative Member vocally supported the Government — but from people who will have to deal with these matters day after day. There is no support from the British Association of Social Workers, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Child Poverty Action Group or local social service and social work departments, who are aware of the issues involved and who know that the reality, once the fund is pursued, is that there will be greater demands on social services because more children will find themselves in care. We know that the Government are not taking on board the problems of the elderly, the sick, disabled people and others. The absurd £60 million community care grant is in no way regarded as a substitute for the daily demands that those departments must meet.
It would be interesting if the Minister could tell the House how many people support his measure. He knows that it is not supported by the Social Security Advisory Committee, which was appointed by the Government. When the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled rather curtly told it that, despite all its advice, the Government were going ahead with the fund, it said—these are the words of Mr. Peter Barclay—At the Committee's request I am writing to place on record that this decision is without our support.No Labour Member will be surprised by that.
The social fund attempts to divide the deserving from the undeserving — the haves from the have-nots. The Government seek to ration compassion by monthly 1201 instalments. If they have provided a safety net at all, it is one that runs out two thirds of the way along the tightrope. It is a plan for misery on the never-never. It cannot be right that citizens, far from being protected against their poverty, are being punished and penalised because of its very existence.
I remind the Minister that this measure is about people who are entitled to legal rights and who are entitled to enjoy the concern and compassion of the House. So far, the Government have not shown concern or compassion and, because of the anger about the measures that they are seeking to impose on the most impoverished, we are determined to oppose the regulations. In that spirit, I ask for the support of my hon. Friends and the rest of the House.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Michael Portillo)
It was well understood among hon. Members that the debate would range widely, and I make no complaint about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) asked a specific question about the regulations: whether deductions could be made from child benefit. I confirm that deductions for social fund loans will not be made from child benefit or from attendance or mobility allowance. Those benefits are paid for specific purposes. The intention is that deductions should be made from income maintenance benefits — income support in particular, but other income maintenance benefits as well. The other points that my hon. Friend raised have been well taken.
Another specific point that arose concerned social fund inspectors and where they will be based. They will be based, along with the social fund commissioner, in Birmingham. The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was concerned about that. I think that he felt that they would not be sufficiently mobile, or some such problem. The hon. Member for Monklands, West and some of his hon. Friends are concerned about consistency. It is important that a body of social fund inspectors with some responsibility for the consistency of decision-making should be in touch with each other. The hon. Member will see the good sense of their being based more or less in the centre of the country.
The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) spoke about interviews. It is intended that, as a normal practice, interviews should be held in private. The social fund manual must cover all eventualities. It must cover the possibility that, if an interview were requested urgently and there was no private place in which to hold it, a difficulty might occur.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
My hon. Friends the Members for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) have managed to squeeze from the Minister the remarkable announcement that the inspectorate will be based in Birmingham. If that is so, when discussions are held, people would have to travel to Birmingham from, for example, Airdrie, in the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). Will the Minister confirm that that is not a final decision and that there will be discussions?
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman has a different understanding of the word "based". The inspectors will have an office in Birmingham, but that does not mean that they will run all their operations from there. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has met the social fund commissioner, but she realises that her job will require her to move around a great deal.
About £8,000 million a year will be spent on supplementary benefit. Over the years, supplementary benefit has acquired a series of additional requirements payments, which have grown on to the structure like barnacles on to a ship. That has created a number of difficulties which the reforms will address. It has made the social security system extremely difficult to manage. I understand the criticisms made against the system concerning delays, but Labour Members must accept that, to a large extent, those are due to the complicated system which we have tried to operate by having additions for every conceivable need and demand over and above basic needs.
The system has become unfair because people are receiving additions, not so much by virtue of their need as by virtue of their skill as claimants. The range of benefits is falling unevenly between one set of claimants and another. The system is being wrapped up and a simpler system introduced. As a result of the change, the Government are not putting less money into income support than is available in supplementary benefit; they are putting in more money over and above that and an amount to provide transitional protection for those who might otherwise lose.
§ Mr. Portillo
I shall deal with the hon. Lady's point in a moment.
The single payments system is a special case of a buildup of an addition to basic supplementary benefit, which has created a number of problems, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry referred. There has been an enormous growth in real terms in expenditure on single payments from £67 million in 1979–80 to £346 million in 1985–86. Between 1981 and 1984–85, the costs increased by almost four times in real terms and the numbers of payments by three times.
The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) believes that the increase in payments has been due to an increase in poverty, but I must challenge that. The total number of claimants receiving regular weekly help increased by less than three fifths between August 1979 and August 1985, but the number of single payments increased by 3.5 times. That is not an increase in poverty. During that period, the real rates of supplementary benefit have been rising and the increased prosperity of the country has filtered down to the lowest quintiles of society. There has been an increase in the standard of living, even among the poorest quintiles of society.
§ Mr. Frank Field
The Minister claims that there has been a trickling down effect. There has been a change in the composition in the lowest quintile, largely because increasing numbers of people have been pushed into unemployment and because some pensioners have occupational pensions which have taken them out of that quintile. Does the Minister agree that, since 1979, the 1203 increase in the number of people drawing supplementary benefit has been greater than the whole of the increase between 1948 and 1979?
§ Mr. Portillo
I have given the hon. Gentleman the facts since 1979. There has been a much greater increase in single payments than there has been in the supplementary benefit caseload. There has been a change in the composition of the lowest quintile, but that quintile has increased its standard of living.
§ Mrs. Beckett
Has the Minister seen a recent document published by the Family Policy Studies Centre entitled "Family Fortunes" which shows that the standard of living of people with children has fallen?
§ Mr. Portillo
Is the hon. Lady aware that there were a number of misunderstandings in that document and that my Department has written to that organisation explaining why the figures are wrong? I do not believe that that is in dispute between us.
The Government are putting in £100 million more to help families on income support and £200 million more is being put into family credit, by comparison with the family income supplement, which it replaces. Much of the debate has centred on the question of the refusal of social fund loans.
The hon. Member for Redcar was concerned that the Department might run out of money. It is precisely because we have great experience of the way in which the single payment, scheme operates that we are confident that social fund officers will be able to profile adequately to meet high priorities throughout the year. I have repeated that point to the hon. Lady and I do not know why she has not yet understood that the money will not run out. Social fund officers will organise their priorities to meet needs throughout the year.
The Government will put £203 million into the social fund. That is about the amount of money being spent in the current year on single payments. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) suggested that, on 11 April, there will be some sort of cataclysm, but I find that idea farfetched. The amount of money being made available in the coming year is the same amount of money being spent during the present year. Expenditure in the present year has been inflated by a sort of closing down sale, as people have been anxious to obtain single payments before the system is replaced.
There has been considerable controversy in this and previous debates about the sums of money allocated to different offices. So far as I am aware, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) cannot know how much money has been spent by the office in her district this year. She is right to say that the social fund allocation is less than the amount of money spent by her office on single payments in 1986–87. Given the pattern throughout the country that the amount of money being spent on single payments is about the same amount of money that we shall put into the social fund, I expect that the social fund of the office in Stoke Newington will receive more or less what is being spent this year.
§ Ms. Abbott
Is the Minister aware that the social fund will cause problems in constituencies such as mine because, first, people will not be able to get money for gas and electricity? They will be able to get money for fuel costs 1204 —only for Calor gas and paraffin. People in Hackney, who largely live in council accommodation, are advised riot to use Calor gas or paraffin, so they can get money out of the social fund only for heating which they have been advised is dangerous.
The second problem is that they will not get money to put a deposit on private accommodation, so they will not be able to get private accommodation. Thirdly, the discretionary element in the allocation of the social fund will provide scope for all kinds of prejudices.
§ Mr. Portillo
The social fund is not intended to provide for things which are already provided for, and gas and electricity are covered under the fuel direct scheme. As for deposits, if the hon. Lady speaks to her constituents they may confirm what I hear up and down the country—that the availability of money for deposits has led to widespread abuse by landlords, and many claimants are concerned about that.
During the debate, the Opposition have found many shortcomings in the social fund and our reforms, but throughout the period we have been discussing the reforms to social security the Labour party has pursued a very ambivalent approach. Labour Members have not mounted a defence to the present system or offered us an alternative. They have invested much energy and time in attacking the social fund because they believe that the social fund will lead to a massive cut in the money available. They have now discovered that the social fund will have as much money as is being paid in single payments this year. In that sense, the Opposition's fox has been well and truly shot.
In 1985, we had a statement of the Government's intentions on the reforms and the Green Paper. A statement on the White Paper was published towards the end of that year, and three Bills have been discussed. We have had two statements, two Opposition Day debates and one set of regulations today. The social fund has been discussed ad infinitum. During all that time, no alternative to the social fund has been put forward by the Opposition and no argument has been made against establishing the greater equity between those on benefits and those just off benefits which would be brought about by a loan system. No convincing case has been made against loans. The time has come to bring the social fund into operation. I commend the regulations to the House.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 213, Noes 270.1207
|Division No. 187]||[7.2 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Blair, Tony|
|Allen, Graham||Boyes, Roland|
|Alton, David||Bradley, Keith|
|Anderson, Donald||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Buckley, George J.|
|Ashton, Joe||Caborn, Richard|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Callaghan, Jim|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)|
|Battle, John||Campbell-Savours, D. N.|
|Beckett, Margaret||Canavan, Dennis|
|Bell, Stuart||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Clay, Bob|
|Clelland, David||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Cohen, Harry||McAllion, John|
|Coleman, Donald||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||McCartney, Ian|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Cousins, Jim||McFall, John|
|Cox, Tom||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Crowther, Stan||McKelvey, William|
|Cryer, Bob||McLeish, Henry|
|Cummings, John||McTaggart, Bob|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||McWilliam, John|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Madden, Max|
|Dalyell, Tam||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Darling, Alistair||Marek, Dr John|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Dewar, Donald||Martlew, Eric|
|Dixon, Don||Maxton, John|
|Dobson, Frank||Meacher, Michael|
|Douglas, Dick||Meale, Alan|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Michael, Alun|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)|
|Eadie, Alexander||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Eastham, Ken||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Fatchett, Derek||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Fearn, Ronald||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Morley, Elliott|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Fisher, Mark||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Flynn, Paul||Murphy, Paul|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Nellist, Dave|
|Foster, Derek||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Foulkes, George||O'Neill, Martin|
|Fraser, John||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Fyfe, Maria||Parry, Robert|
|Galbraith, Sam||Patchett, Terry|
|Galloway, George||Pendry, Tom|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|George, Bruce||Prescott, John|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Gordon, Mildred||Randall, Stuart|
|Gould, Bryan||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Graham, Thomas||Reid, Dr John|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Richardson, Jo|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Robertson, George|
|Hardy, Peter||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Rogers, Allan|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Rooker, Jeff|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Rowlands, Ted|
|Henderson, Doug||Ruddock, Joan|
|Hinchliffe, David||Salmond, Alex|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Holland, Stuart||Sheerman, Barry|
|Home Robertson, John||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Hood, Jimmy||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Short, Clare|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Ingram, Adam||Snape, Peter|
|John, Brynmor||Soley, Clive|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Stott, Roger|
|Lambie, David||Strang, Gavin|
|Lamond, James||Straw, Jack|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Leighton, Ron||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis|
|Lewis, Terry||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Litherland, Robert||Turner, Dennis|
|Livsey, Richard||Vaz, Keith|
|Wall, Pat||Winnick, David|
|Walley, Joan||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Wardell, Gareth (Gower)||Worthington, Tony|
|Wareing, Robert N.||Wray, Jimmy|
|Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Williams, Rt Hon Alan||Tellers for the Ayes|
|Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Wilson, Brian||Mr. Frank Cook.|
|Adley, Robert||Curry, David|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Alexander, Richard||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Day, Stephen|
|Amess, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Dicks, Terry|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Ashby, David||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Dover, Den|
|Atkins, Robert||Dunn, Bob|
|Atkinson, David||Durant, Tony|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Evennett, David|
|Baldry, Tony||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Fallon, Michael|
|Batiste, Spencer||Farr, Sir John|
|Bellingham, Henry||Favell, Tony|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Benyon, W.||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Forman, Nigel|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Forth, Eric|
|Body, Sir Richard||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Franks, Cecil|
|Boswell, Tim||Freeman, Roger|
|Bottomley, Peter||French, Douglas|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Fry, Peter|
|Bowis, John||Gale, Roger|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Gardiner, George|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gill, Christopher|
|Brazier, Julian||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Bright, Graham||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Gow, Ian|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Gregory, Conal|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')|
|Burns, Simon||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Burt, Alistair||Grist, Ian|
|Butcher, John||Ground, Patrick|
|Butler, Chris||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Butterfill, John||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hannam, John|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)|
|Cash, William||Harris, David|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Chope, Christopher||Hayes, Jerry|
|Churchill, Mr||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Heddle, John|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Conway, Derek||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Cope, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Holt, Richard|
|Couchman, James||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Cran, James||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Rost, Peter|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Hume, John||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Hunter, Andrew||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Irvine, Michael||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Irving, Charles||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Jack, Michael||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Jackson, Robert||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Janman, Tim||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Sims, Roger|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Key, Robert||Speed, Keith|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Speller, Tony|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Squire, Robin|
|Knapman, Roger||Steen, Anthony|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Stern, Michael|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Stevens, Lewis|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Lightbown, David||Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)|
|Lilley, Peter||Stokes, John|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Maclean, David||Summerson, Hugo|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Maples, John||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Thorne, Neil|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Thurnham, Peter|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Morrison, Hon Sir Charles||Tracey, Richard|
|Moss, Malcolm||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Neale, Gerrard||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Neubert, Michael||Viggers, Peter|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Walden, George|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Page, Richard||Ward, John|
|Paice, James||Wardle, Charles (Bexhiil)|
|Patten, Chris (Bath)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Watts, John|
|Pawsey, James||Wells, Bowen|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Wheeler, John|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Whitney, Ray|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Portillo, Michael||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Price, Sir David||Wilshire, David|
|Raffan, Keith||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Redwood, John||Wolfson, Mark|
|Renton, Tim||Wood, Timothy|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Woodcock, Mike|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Yeo, Tim|
|Riddick, Graham||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Tellers for the Noes|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Mr. Richard Ryder and|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Mr. Peter Lloyd.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.