HC Deb 06 November 1995 vol 265 cc584-6
7. Mr. Amess

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the long-term effect on public spending of the social security reforms that he has announced so far. [39690]

Mr. Lilley

The major reforms that I have announced in the past two years are expected to reduce public spending by £4 billion per year within the next Parliament and £14 billion per year in the longer term.

Mr. Amess

Has my right hon. Friend received any support from any other political party for his important reforms to save money from the social security budget? Can he tell the House how the Labour party will be able to spend an extra £4 billion on social security other than by raising taxes?

Mr. Lilley

I am afraid that I cannot tell my hon. Friend that I have received much support from the Labour party in the process of reforming social security policy. Indeed, it has opposed almost every change that we have introduced. As a result, should there ever—heaven forbid—be a Labour Government, they would start off with a need to find an extra £4 billion per year in the next Parliament, and three times that much in the next century. We still await some response from the new Opposition spokesman on social security, whose presence—though not, so far, his contribution—I greatly welcome today. I hope that he will tell us whether the inspired stories appearing in almost identical words in all today's newspapers are true—that the Labour leader has effectively torn up the results of the Commission on Social Justice established by his predecessor and has told his new shadow spokesman to start again from scratch—and why he has rejected a report that his own leader said was the most outstanding report since Beveridge.

Mr. Miller

One of the reforms announced by the Secretary of State which he claims will have an impact on public spending is the use of computers—for instance, the link between computers in the Department and those in income tax offices. Does he agree that a precursor to any such reform must be radical extensions of the powers of the Data Protection Registrar?

Mr. Lilley

The elements that we are currently introducing in our computer systems rely on the matching of data already held in the social security system. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, it may be sensible to go further once those systems are in place, but that would have to be squared with the privacy and data protection rules first.

Mr. Thomason

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in planning public expenditure, his Department should try to concentrate help on those who need it most? Does he believe that that is the policy that he is pursuing?

Mr. Lilley

That is at the heart of what we are doing. We spend a huge sum on social security—£15 per working person every working day—and we must ensure that that huge sum goes where it is most needed. At the same time, we must enable people to make provision for themselves, and we must increase the vitality of the economy so that more and more people secure jobs and are not in need in the first place. We are doing that more successfully than almost any other country on the continent.

Mr. Chris Smith

Is not the real cause of the ballooning social security budget the Government's own economic failure? Is it not true that, despite all the cuts, benefit expenditure has risen by £30 billion since 1979 and the number of people dependent on benefits has doubled during that period? Instead of seeking more and more victims for further cuts—from war pensioners to mortgage payers to single parents—should not the Government bend all their efforts towards creating a thriving, investment-rich economy that will lift people off benefits altogether, and into work?

Mr. Lilley

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post as social security spokesman. He has a hard act to follow—that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), for whose ability and integrity I never hid my admiration. I am confident that the hon. Gentleman will rise to the same heights and earn my equal respect. I am doubly confident as I am a constituent of his during the week and he will be eager to earn my vote.

The hon. Gentleman will, however, have to do rather better than today's question in future. He will have to emulate his predecessor and do his homework. He will then discover that we are being more successful than any other country in reducing unemployment. We have more people in work than any other major country in Europe. The countries that are suffering most from high and rising unemployment are those which are pursuing the very policies that Opposition Front Benchers are dedicated to imposing on this country: a national minimum wage, and the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty—unless they tore that up before lunchtime as well.