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Will the Secretary of State confirm that the tax credit system has helped bring 700,000 children out of poverty? I wonder whether the hon. Member for Tatton is going to remove the credits from the 5,500 families in his constituency who benefit from the system?

Pension credit is very important to my constituency, which has many elderly people. Pension credit claims are worth about £47 to pensioners in my constituency. Yet the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) claimed:

So much for a caring, cuddly, hugging leader. In his constituency, 3,730 pensioners receive pension credit, there are 3,300 in the shadow Chancellor’s constituency and 3,210 in the constituency of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. That amounts to 7,240 pensioners—the poorest pensioners—who will not be getting a hug from the Tory party, but a slap in the face. In supporting the Bill, will we see yet another flip-flop from the Tories? To vote for or not to vote for——that is the question.

Before finishing, I want to mention my ten-minute Bill on rehabilitation leave. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the points that I made in that Bill and seek to incorporate some of them into the excellent
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Bill before us now. My Bill provides a statutory right for newly disabled employees to have their employment capacity and support needs properly assessed and addressed—as far as I am concerned, that fits into the present Bill—and, where necessary, to have a period of leave to adapt or undergo rehabilitation and retraining before returning to work, which is another theme that runs through the Bill.

Recent figures from the CBI show that 84 per cent. of businesses now offer rehabilitation schemes to help people back into work, so that must be cost-effective for them, but businesses say that they need more support from employees’ GPs to allow them to offer more rehabilitation to employees before returning to work.

In 1972, the Secretary of State for Employment in Edward Heath’s Conservative Government, Robert Carr, believed that employers were too wise and astute to let apprenticeships fail. That resulted in the Conservative Government getting rid of the training incentives needed to develop apprenticeships, and the skills shortages that we have today are the result. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the people who need training—young people—and that elderly people could be used to help to train them.

What the Government propose in the Bill is a fundamental change, like those that we have proposed already in relation to tax credits and the new deal. It has already been shown to be good for Glasgow; it will be even better in the months and years ahead, and I hope that that will be the same in the whole country.

9.25 pm

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Like many other hon. Members, I welcome the opportunity to debate some of the issues raised in the Bill. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) said, we have come a long way since the initial discussions, and what we have now is very much a framework for getting people to work. I hope that, as the Bill proceeds through the House, Ministers will give us an opportunity to see more of the substance and form.

Certainly, in Greater Manchester, the 10 district councils are already working to ensure that, when the system starts in our area, we can make it a success. However, there are concerns about whether it will be joined up across the piece. For example, I am concerned that the Learning and Skills Council is cutting funding for some low-level courses that are helping people with learning difficulties, when getting on to those courses may well be a prerequisite to getting back to work. Similarly, business support is being externalised and moved away. If we are to make ESA work, we must ensure that there is the necessary joined-up thinking.

In view of the lack of time, I want to address my main remarks to housing benefit. I welcome some of the proposed changes to simplify the system and make it much clearer. However, like other Members, I have concerns about the way that local housing allowance will work. I hope that its primary purpose is to ensure that the supply of affordable private rented housing will increase. The hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) spoke about the problems in London. I believe that those problems exist elsewhere
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in areas without a plentiful supply of private rented housing. It is therefore important that the underlying rationale used by rent officers in setting the level of rent for housing allowance to be paid is made available, so that people can understand it.

I hope that Ministers will understand that many people do not have a choice about where they live, because of family ties and so on, and that they must live near where their children go to school. Therefore, it is important that the local housing allowance reflects what they can pay. There is a huge and growing gap. Hon. Members have mentioned some of the pathfinders and the variance between what happened in Leeds and Conwy will not help those people. That issue needs to be resolved.

Similarly, I hope that, when the system is rolled out, the support given to people to help them to manage their own affairs is the same as that available in the pathfinders—to do otherwise would be extremely cruel. People have visited my surgery to tell me about the problems that they have experienced during mental breakdowns and how they have got themselves into horrendous debt and how Government agencies and benefit providers do not accept and understand their problems. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) mentioned a very similar case. Those problems must be taken care of when the regulations are introduced.

I also want to mention dealing with antisocial behaviour. I bow to no one in respect of saying that that is important and has to be dealt with, but I do not believe that the Government are going about it in the right way, because let us be clear: we are talking about giving another tenancy to people who have already been evicted. I would prefer the Government to propose that they be given a probationary tenancy that is tied to their attendance at certain rehabilitation courses, because that would be much more effective than the threat to remove their housing benefit. As has been made clear, such people will probably end up with considerable housing arrears and will not be too bothered by such threats. We need to give them a real threat: “You get the house if you behave yourself; if you don’t, you’re out.” Such a policy is much firmer, and it is more likely to succeed.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) raised the issue of payments in respect of mesothelioma, and I hope that the Minister will answer some of the questions that he asked. It is an important issue that several Members are concerned about and we want it to be dealt with in the Bill, as it has been in another piece of legislation that has already passed through the House. This is an important Bill, and I am grateful to have had this chance to contribute to our proceedings on it.

9.30 pm

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): This has been a constructive debate marked by good intentions from all parts of the House. Members of my party believe that those who can work should have the barriers in their way removed. Getting out of dependency and leading a more fulfilling life is what many of the 2.7 million people who are on incapacity benefits desperately wish to do. That is why we believe
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in active labour market policies. However, we also believe that security must be guaranteed for those whose level of disability is so great that they cannot work; that is one of the hallmarks of the civilised society in which we all wish to live.

We have also agreed in our debate about regulations. In the Bill’s 76 pages, there are more than 240 references to regulations. That is part of a trend over the past nine years: some Ministers have sought to make major policy changes via statutory instruments, which are not amendable. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will agree tonight with his hon. Friends the hon. Members for Kingswood (Roger Berry) and for Burton (Mrs. Dean) that the draft regulations should be published well before the Committee stage. Will the Minister tell us tonight what the draft regulations will be and when we can expect to see them, in the interests of having a grown-up and mature debate?

The Bill is in the form that it is in, and is being somewhat rushed through this House, because of earlier delays. Before the last election, we were promised a Green Paper sometime in the summer of 2005, but it did not see the light of day until January 2006. That probably had something to do with the No. 10 policy unit sticking its oar in and pushing for welfare changes that were so draconian that not even the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), approved of them. An e-mail of last October from the Prime Minister to the then Secretary of State infamously demanded more means-testing for all incapacity benefit recipients, the time-limiting of incapacity benefit, naming and shaming GPs who allegedly signed off too many sick notes, and commuting a portion of the incapacity benefit amount into a non-cashable voucher with which claimants would have to buy rehabilitative care. Thankfully, none of that saw the light of day, but what we do have today is a Bill whose level of generality raises many questions, many of which have been posed in our debate.

First, we must be clear about the Government’s target of removing 1 million people from incapacity benefit by 2016. On March 6, the Secretary of State said:

But in a parliamentary written answer to me on 16 June, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) published figures—she should listen because she probably does not remember what she put in Hansard—showing that if there were no changes at all, in 10 years’ time there would be only 2.36 million incapacity claimants anyway. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says, “Is this a serious debate?” It certainly is, because the point that we are making—my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) made it earlier—is that the Government will have to assist only 640,000 people, not the 1 million whom the Secretary of State said he would help. [Interruption.] That is a serious point, and if the Secretary of State does not think so, it is him who should grow up.

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Secondly, this Bill gives insufficient help to existing claimants, half of whom have been trapped on IB for more than five years. They risk being left out in the cold.

Justine Greening rose—

Mr. Ruffley: A June Department for Work and Pensions consultation report confirms that existing claimants will be migrated to the new allowance “in time”, and “as resources allow”. That seems unfair to many outside bodies, so will the Secretary of State publish a date by which existing claimants will be able to access support under his new regime? Is he prepared to do that?

Justine Greening rose—

Mr. Ruffley: This problem has particular relevance —[Interruption.] The Secretary of State may not think that the plight of existing claimants is a problem, but many people do.

Justine Greening rose—

Mr. Ruffley: I am very happy to give way to my hon. Friend.

Justine Greening: I am delighted that my hon. Friend has given way; my persistence has paid off. Does he agree that one other problem with the 1 million target is that it was set when the Green Paper was issued, and that between then and now, the Government have said that they will assist existing claimants on to the employment and support allowance in order to help them back into work? So in theory, the 1 million figure should surely be adjusted to reflect the new cohort of people on IB who will get help who were not going to get it before.

Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I hope that the Minister will answer the question about the 1 million target: are we talking about 1 million people, or some 650,000?

Hugh Bayley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ruffley: I need to make progress because time is short; I might give way in a minute.

The Bill is meant to deliver the Green Paper’s further aim of increasing the number of older workers by 1 million. Age Concern said:

Will the Secretary of State agree to that request?

Thirdly, many welfare stakeholders openly wonder whether the funding for the Bill is adequate. The chief executive of the Disability Alliance said that the roll-out could end up as “pathways lite”. The Select Committee said:

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the funding

The funding issue gets murkier when we turn to the Bill’s regulatory impact assessment. There is no statement on the proposed benefit rates for the new allowance. In addition, it proposes that certain elements of the new regime be introduced only as resources allow. It states:

We know that according to the Chancellor, the likely cut in the DWP baseline next year will be in the region of 5 per cent.; let us hope that he is not the road block to reform in delivering on this Bill. To clear up worries outside this place about the adequacy of funding, will the Minister undertake today to publish biannually statistics on the incapacity claimant case load and on progress toward the target reductions, and to publish estimates of the resources that will be required to achieve that target?

Fourthly, the evidence shows that payment by results can get more people back to work more quickly—an example being the providers of employment zones. As participants progress through the programme, providers receive payments throughout that activity, and additional payments are received for achieving sustainable employment. A November 2003 DWP research report found that 28 per cent. of the employment zone participants surveyed had a job of 16 hours or more per week, compared with 17 per cent. of new deal 25-plus participants.

There are other examples, too. Yet the Bill does not introduce a serious payment by results regime, the objective of which would be to get more people off IB more quickly. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge today proposed a radically better deal for claimants. Our no win, no fee proposal would offer providers the opportunity to get existing claimants into sustained employment, but we would pay the provider only when actual benefit savings had tangibly been realised. Significantly, that model would help to get round the comprehensive spending review constraints that the Treasury is currently imposing on the Secretary of State.

We would, of course, provide safeguards so that more modestly sized providers in the private and voluntary sector, which might be concerned about cash flow, would not be excluded from winning contracts. In particular, we understand the point made by Mencap, which said:

That is why we would like a fuller debate about the way in which bids in the pathways scheme roll out, and how they can be structured to ensure that small providers such as Mencap and Tomorrow’s People, which my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) referred to in his excellent speech, continue to thrive. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) made similar points.

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Finally on the issue of the private and voluntary sector, we know that the roll-out from October 2007 until April 2008 will extend the pathways scheme to the remaining 60 per cent. of new customers. The departmental press release said that that would happen

Will the Minister tell us what so many providers are asking? What does “mainly” mean? Does it mean that 100 per cent. of the provision will be by the private and voluntary sector, or 90 per cent., or 80 per cent? What is the figure?

Fifthly, the sensitive operation of the new limited capability for work test in clause 8, the limited capability for work-related activity in clause 9, and the work-focused health-related assessment in clause 10, is vital to the establishment of an efficient new allowance. Under the current system, too many cases go to appeal. Concerns are already emerging about the Bill’s proposal that at least two and possibly three of those new tests will be administered not only at the same time, but by the same assessor. Stakeholders have pointed out that that could lead to inaccurate decisions because a claimant will first have to demonstrate that they are sick and then, a few minutes later, demonstrate what they are capable of doing. Any rational claimant will undoubtedly grasp that the more capability he or she demonstrates, the more that could undermine a judgment about his or her disability.

The potential for that to go wrong is great, and I was rather disappointed that the Minister talked about dummy runs, not a proper pilot. That is why the Disability Benefits Consortium has said:

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