Welfare Reform Bill

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Mr. David: Llanelli.
Mr. Murphy: Yes. Jim Griffiths spoke no English until the age of five and went on to serve as the first Secretary of State for Wales. It is no longer fashionable to celebrate post-war political leaders, but Labour Members pay tribute to the work that he did and we continue.
Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Mrs. Thatcher.
Mr. Murphy: That is the point I was making—it is no longer fashionable to celebrate them, unless Polly Toynbee has become a post-war political leader.
Jim Griffiths was Minister of National Insurance in Attlee’s Government. Today, workers throughout the country are still benefiting in a very important way from his determination. It is appropriate, on the 60th anniversary of the industrial injuries disablement benefit, that we ensure that that legacy is kept contemporary by acknowledging the changing nature of industrial injury. I am referring to differences to do with gender, the changing of industry and the effect that that has had on industrial injuries.
Mr. David: May I acknowledge how warmly the Minister’s comments are received, certainly by Labour Members? He aptly referred to Jim Griffiths, the MP for Llanelli and a miners’ leader before the second world war, who experienced first hand the impact of industrial disease on the community of which he was part. It is apt and fitting that the Minister should have referred to him in the way that he did. If it is introduced, this Bill will be a continuation of the ethos to which pioneers of the labour movement such as Jim Griffiths aspired. We warmly welcome the Minister’s comments.
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Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Perhaps more poignantly, Jim went on to be the deputy leader of the Labour party. I do not think that anyone in the Committee is currently seeking that post, but there is poignancy there—and a lesson, because Jim ended up being deputy leader in opposition, a sober reminder for us all.
Given all those wider comments, and the additional tribute that my hon. Friend quite fairly paid, I ask the Committee to support the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 58

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Danny Alexander: I want not to tour through Labour party history, but to join the cross-party consensus on the importance of this clause, and the previous clause and schedule, to the righting of an injustice—in the system for a substantial period—against those unfortunate enough to be victims of mesothelioma.
I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether the clause will deal with something of particular concern to those campaigning on this issue. I wish to add to the Minister’s list the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), many of whose constituents suffer from mesothelioma. I hope that the implications of this clause are that compensation for the condition will be payable not only to the workers who were exposed to the particles that cause the horrendous disease, but to their wives, partners, civil partners and so forth, who may, for example, have taken in the particles while washing clothes or doing other household tasks.
Will the Minister clarify whether the coverage for partners, spouses and so forth will be on the same basis as that for the workers themselves? What would happen if a worker had already passed away, but their partner or spouse were suffering from the condition, which could be attributable to their late husband, wife or partner in respect of employment as defined under schedule 6?
With those few remarks and in a spirit of welcoming what the Government seek to do, I should be grateful if the Minister answered those brief points.
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman fairly draws the Committee’s attention to the work undertaken by the hon. Member for Rochdale on this issue, along with many others in that part of the country.
Untypically, the hon. Gentleman has not fully grasped the specific detail of what we are seeking to do, although not for any unreasonable purpose—he is not seeking to misconstrue the clause. I shall make a couple of comments about his request.
Clause 58 amends the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, to which I have already referred, so that civil partners, children of civil partners, a person who is living with a sufferer as if they were a civil partner and a person who is living with a sufferer as if they were husband and wife are included within the meaning of “dependant”. The clause makes the 1979 Act compatible with the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, which came into force in December 2005, and was largely unforeseen when the 1979 Act was passed. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, from a sedentary position, celebrates the passing of the Civil Partnerships Act.
Mr. Ruffley: Don’t we all.
Mr. Murphy: We all do, as I was about to say.
This important proposal corrects an anomaly in the 1979 Act in which provision for Scottish reputed spouses—a man and a woman living together as husband and wife—was omitted in error. If these changes are not made, there is a risk of challenge to the 1979 Act because of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Whether there is such a challenge or not, the Government wish to bring the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act up to date to fit in with the wider civil rights and equality legislation that came into force last year.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey mentioned the work of his hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale, who works closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin). They are parliamentary neighbours and both work hard on this issue.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey mentioned the case of someone who contracts mesothelioma from a particle from a piece of clothing in a household environment. For example, a wife—it is almost always a wife, but I am not trying to make a gender-specific point—may have contracted the disease by inhaling a particle from clothing as she washed it or hang it out to dry. Clause 58 does not capture that but we are looking at the issue in the context of a wider review of how we treat mesothelioma generally, although that is not the purpose of the clause. However, it is part of the considerations at the mesothelioma summit and the work being carried out by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. The clause does not, in itself, give legal effect in respect of the specific concerns that the hon. Gentleman raised.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I referred to exactly the issues that he raises in my maiden speech, and we have moved on some distance since then. Sadly, we have now lost the constituents to whom I referred then and still time moves on. He acknowledged how speedy we must be in resolving these matters, but I hope that he also realises that people need resolution now. I accept what he says about the March time scale, but the matter must be settled before more people are lost.
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the Secretary of State announced interim measures in July and a longer-term review, the consultation on which closed a week ago. Last week, with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone, I met the entirely reputable and determined solicitors Thompsons, who made similar points. I acknowledge that even the time scale of March next year does not meet our collective impatience for an immediate resolution of the issue, but we are determined to get it right, for all our constituents who have lived with the disease or who, unbeknown to them, have the disease gestating within them.
Danny Alexander: I echo from the Opposition Benches the point made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley. It is critical that the matter is dealt with as quickly as possible. Will the Minister give us any indication of the time scales? Does he envisage legislation going through this Session in which it will be appropriate to include additional powers that are needed to address the point that he raises? In that way, the legislation can be got through this Session and we will not need another Queen’s Speech before moving the matter forward in the way referred to by the hon. Lady.
Mr. Murphy: We are determined to find a speedy remedy to this issue in any way possible. That is why we amended the Compensation Bill in the light of the Barker case, to right what we thought was a wrong judgment. We cannot pre-empt—the hon. Gentleman will accept that this is a fair comment—the outcome of the consultation that we have had from July to November, but if the outcome is that legislation would be needed, we will try to implement that speedily. There are, however, other things that we can do with the insurance industry and others to see whether a voluntary code would work.
My final point is that sufferers and relatives of those who have died from mesothelioma and related illnesses are right to be utterly impatient. At some point, they would lose faith in a voluntary code and a set of voluntary operations if we did not make such provisions work, so we are determined to make them work. Those comments are not intended to pre-empt in any way the outcome of the consultation and the deliberations ahead of the summit next March.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 59 and 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 61

Minor and consequestial amendments relating to Part 4
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Danny Alexander: I am grateful for the opportunity to raise one or two points that fit appropriately under this clause. Schedule 7 makes minor amendments and amendments consequential to part 4. I would like to use this opportunity, under your guidance, Mr. Hood, to raise a related point, which is a matter that should have been considered under this part and may well be considered in more detail in another place, assuming that the Bill reaches that stage.
My point relates to the remit of the Social Security Advisory Committee, and hon. Members will be aware that that is not dealt with under schedule 7. Under the Tax Credits Act 2002, all functions in respect of child benefit and guardian’s allowance were transferred to what is now called Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, though they remain social security benefits, as entitlement to them arises under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, which is amended by schedule 7. I wish to put on record my point about the importance of amending the Bill to extend the remit of the Social Security Advisory Committee to cover guardian’s allowance and child benefit. As the Committee will know, that was the case before the administrative functions in respect of those benefits were transferred to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
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Hon. Members will be aware of the important work done on this Bill by the Social Security Advisory Committee, and those with more experience in the House than I will no doubt be aware of its important work on many other pieces of legislation. However, it seems a little odd—to put it minimally—that its remit has not been extended to guardians allowance and child benefit as a consequence, albeit it perhaps an unforeseen one, of the Tax Credits Act 2002.
The Work and Pensions Committee has recommended that the Social Security Advisory Committee has its statutory remit extended to legislation that arises under the Tax Credits Act. I shall not go into great detail at the moment, Mr. Hood, as I do not wish to try your patience at this late stage in our proceedings. However, I hope that having brought this to the Under-Secretary’s attention, she will look again at the matter and, perhaps, bring forward, or get her hon. Friend the Minister of State to bring forward, further comment or consideration when the Bill is considered in another place.
Mrs. McGuire: It is interesting to be asked about a schedule that is not actually in the Bill, but perhaps I should clarify for the Committee that those are matters for the Treasury. However, there are informal arrangements between Her Majesty’s Treasury and SSAC whereby the latter considers guardians allowance and child benefit. That was discussed at length during consideration of the Tax Credits Act. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that that discussion took place. Obviously, we will reflect further on his point, although there have been significant discussions already.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 7 agreed to.
Clauses 62 to 64 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 65

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Danny Alexander: As the Committee will know, clause 65 gives effect to schedule 8, which repeals existing legislation relating to key parts of the Bill, not least part 1. It might seem like some time ago that we discussed it, but the matters that I wish to bring to the Committee’s attention relate back to changes consequential on part 1. The items repealed under schedule 8 include parts of existing legislation relating to rates, structures and the entitlement tests for incapacity benefit and income support. I hope, therefore, to draw a few things to the Committee’s attention—I think that the Under-Secretary will be responding to these points, for which I am very grateful, although, of course, I do not wish to undervalue the Minister of State’s extensive contributions to proceedings.
Given that the clause gives effect to schedule 8, which repeals much of the existing structure, we have an opportunity to gain a little more clarification on some important points to claimants about the existing structure that will be removed and the new structure that will replace it. I hope that I have your leave, Mr. Hood, to proceed with this point.
Little information is given in the Bill about the employment and support allowance structure, except for the broad shape of the components. As we know the employment and support allowance is expected to be above the current incapacity benefit long-term rate. It is currently £78.50 per week. The support component is expected to be higher than the work-related components. That raises some questions, and if we are talking about repealing clear and detailed legislation, we need a similarly clear and detailed understanding of the consequences.
What is the relationship between the means-tested and the contributory strands? What underpins the difference in the payments rates of the support component and the work-related activity components? How many existing claimants will receive more in incapacity benefit and income support than their employment and support allowance entitlement? We have debated some of these questions before, but we have not yet had sufficiently clear answers. The Under-Secretary may not necessarily be expecting to go back over some of this ground. On that basis and on the grounds of fairness and reasonableness, which Labour Members know are two of my favourite characteristics—
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): And the weather.
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