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8 Dec 2009 : Column 152

John Healey: We looked at this very carefully when we were considering proposals that were part of the Planning Act 2008 and the community infrastructure levy. Shortly, I will be able to set out final decisions and regulations to put that levy in place from 1 April. While the hon. Gentleman is right about the fall-off in building new homes for private sale, he is wrong about the reduction in building for affordable homes. Because of the action the Government have taken, that number is up.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): The Electoral Administration Act 2006 made tens of millions of pounds in additional, unhypothecated funding available to the Department for Communities and Local Government for electoral registration. Can the Minister guarantee that all the money given to the Department for electoral registration was spent on that, and can he liaise with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that proper funding is available for that purpose?

Ms Rosie Winterton: A certain amount of money is given to the Electoral Commission to look at electoral registration, and that is closely monitored. On discussions with the Ministry of Justice, I shall pass on my hon. Friend's comments and get back to him.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): May I take the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin), back to home improvement packs? Will he put his undoubted, enormous intellectual talent, of which you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, to answering a simple question, without resorting to his trademark personal abuse? What proportion of home buyers and sellers, when surveyed, responded that they found the HIP useful?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Ian Austin): The hon. Gentleman spent half an hour dreaming up that question, which confirms the point that I made about him earlier. The figures to which he refers actually show that already, in such a short period, nine out of 10 buyers are using the HIPs and one out of three said that it had helped them to decide whether to make an offer. [ Interruption. ] That is a massive improvement on the figures shortly after the HIPs introduction- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I feel sure that the outbreak of disorder on the one hand, and the presence of the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) on the other, are entirely unrelated.

Mr. Austin: Those figures are a big improvement on the position shortly after the HIPs introduction and show that the system is becoming more helpful to home buyers all the time.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance on a matter relating to the accuracy of the official record? In the debate on the Queen's Speech on 25 November, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when speaking about Government action, said, "It is bringing unemployment down." There was some reaction in the Chamber, given that unemployment has been rising for many months. She did not resile from that statement, but the official record does not include those words. It includes a softer version. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on how I can ensure that the words that the Secretary of State said are the words that appear on the record?

Mr. Speaker: I say to the right hon. Lady that I shall happily check the record, and I shall come back to her when I have done so. I am grateful to her for her point of order.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wrote to you on Friday about this matter. I seek assurances that no decision by the Members Estimate Committee, or subsequent decision by the House reliant on the MEC's recommendations, will prejudice a Member's right to challenge a final decision, relating to so-called paybacks or restitution, in a court of law or an employment tribunal, that no deductions from salary or allowances will be attempted in respect of those payments until its legality is demonstrated in a process that is independent of the House of Commons and its Officers, and that such deductions should not be made until a Member has had the opportunity to test the issue of repayment in a court of law or employment tribunal.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The matter that he raises on the Floor of the House this afternoon by this device is one that he has raised with me in correspondence. I am grateful to him for that. I can only say to him today that the issues of concern to him are properly matters for discussion in the Members Estimate Committee, which will meet next week. He can be assured that the concerns that he has raised with me will be relayed to colleagues on the Committee and will be considered.

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Opposition Day

[1st allotted day]

Disability Benefits for the Elderly

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.33 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

The House will no doubt be aware that the motion is in exactly the same terms as early-day motion 1.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Bless you!

Mr. Lansley: The hon. Gentleman reminds me-I was going to say this anyway-that early-day motion 1 stands in his name and that of 105 other hon. Members. I claim no authorship of the early-day motion, as he will no doubt verify. He composed it no doubt. He might have done so with others, but he did not compose it in direct association with me. None the less, I was happy to sign it, and I and my colleagues agree with it.

Bob Russell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am also grateful to the charity Scope, which provided the background. I readily put on the record the fact that Scope is the organisation that helped me. When the vote comes later, I look forward to seeing the 41 Labour MPs who have signed early-day motion 1 voting for what it says in the Lobby.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has provided that confirmation and that he has referred to the cross-party nature of the support for his early-day motion, which is represented by all parties in the House. Because it relates to benefits, which are a United Kingdom matter, Members other than those from England alone have had occasion to sign it.

For some years we have made it clear that we need a consensus about how we can achieve sustainable and high-quality social care for the longer term. We have had years in which reports have come and gone, including the royal commission on long-term care, the long-term care charter, the Wanless report, which was produced for the King's Fund, and the Green Paper, which was published in July. As I made clear to the Secretary of State at this Dispatch Box when he made a statement accompanying the Green Paper on 14 July, I am quite clear that I do not regard the Green Paper as providing
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a sufficient range of options on the basis of which we can take forward the future of long-term care and, in particular, the funding of it.

On page 15 of the Green Paper, the Government said:

When the Green Paper was published, it asked people a number of questions-Members will no doubt recall the questions that were set out in chapter 7-but none of them asked whether the organisations and individuals responding to the Green Paper thought that it was a good idea to transfer attendance allowance and other disability benefits into the funding of the national care service.

I do not know whether a Minister or the Secretary of State wants to let us know about this, but on the face of it, the implication of using attendance allowance as an example of disability benefits-in the plural-in the Green Paper is that other benefits would also be included. We have assumed, as have others, including disability organisations generally, that it would be wholly discriminatory and perverse for the attendance allowance to be withdrawn and incorporated into the funding of the national care service, and for that not to be the case in relation to disability living allowance for those beyond the age of 65. I will continue on the basis that we are essentially talking about those two benefits for that purpose, unless Ministers were to tell us otherwise.

With the exception of the "pay for yourself" option, each option in the Green Paper implies the integration of those disability benefits into the funding of the national care service. Notwithstanding the fact that the Green Paper did not ask a specific question about this, we know that many organisations and individuals who responded highlighted the implication that is set out in the Green Paper and responded to it. I therefore invite the Secretary of State to tell us what proportion of the Green Paper responses received up to 12 November supported incorporating attendance allowance and disability living allowance into the national care service. I wonder whether Ministers know the answer to that. [ Interruption. ] Apparently not.

Let me help Ministers on this subject. On the Downing street website, as we now know, there are opportunities to petition the Government on the subject, and 24,000 people have now signed such a petition-the sixth most popular petition on the Prime Minister's website-expressing their opposition to the proposal. The Disability Alliance asked its members whether they supported the proposal to absorb attendance allowance into care budgets, and 93 per cent. said that they did not. The Parkinson's Disease Society asked the same question, and 95 per cent. were opposed. Carers UK asked the same question, and 96 per cent. were opposed.

Age UK, which incorporates Age Concern and Help the Aged, said in response to the Green Paper:

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I note from the debate on the Queen's Speech in another place that the Minister, when challenged on who supported the options in the Green Paper, quoted Carers UK in a general sense, but not its response to the Green Paper that stated:

The Parkinson's Disease Society said in response to the Green Paper that

Macmillan Cancer Support said that

It is important for us to recognise why these organisations feel so strongly about this. The arguments against using this mechanism for funding the care service are compelling, not least because attendance allowance and disability living allowance were not introduced simply to pay for the costs of personal care. They were intended to compensate for the high living costs associated with disability, and not simply to provide for specific care needs.

The White Paper that introduced disability living allowance stated clearly that it was for

There are also costs that are distinct from, and additional to, social care needs, as described in the Green Paper. That is precisely why disability living allowance and attendance allowance payments have never been calculated on the basis of what is required to provide for social care needs. Rather, they have been calculated on the basis of what might add to the overall cost of disability. They were never intended to provide enough to pay for a professional care service, and it would be wrong to take them as being designed for that purpose. If Ministers were to proceed in the direction indicated in the Green Paper, it would constitute a fundamental change in the purpose and definition of disability benefits.

There is ample evidence of the costs that those benefits go to meet, and they go far beyond being strictly associated with the costs of social care. The Green Paper describes the kind of personal needs involved. They include washing, help with eating and toileting, and so on, but what is provided for and supported by disability benefits goes far beyond that. The benefits are not just spent on direct care services; they have had a big impact on people's lives. They pay for additional heating costs, different diets, and a whole range of support for informal and family carers.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is raising some serious issues in a measured and thoughtful way, but is not that at odds with the way in which his party has approached this issue, in its scaremongering towards existing recipients? I have here a copy of the template for the press release for Conservative party candidates, which carries the words:

It says that

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Can he confirm that that figure refers to the current recipients of those benefits? Is it not the case that the Government have said that that money will not be snatched away?

Mr. Lansley: Of course, the hon. Gentleman has never in his life issued a press release prepared by his own central headquarters. Age UK, which he will acknowledge is an organisation encompassing Age Concern and Help the Aged, has said:

The problem with that-

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw) rose-

Mr. Lansley: No, I am answering the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb). I will come to this point and set it out in detail.

Ministers have said in the Green Paper that, within the national care service, they are proposing to withdraw these benefits from existing recipients and to provide what they describe as equivalent support. However, it is entirely unclear what equivalent support means in this context. The hon. Member for Northavon makes exactly the point that I am making. If one is currently in receipt of disability benefits and what one spends the money on includes-the Disability Alliance has conducted research on this-attending hospital or medical appointments, the cost of transport, support with housework and gardening, higher heating and water bills and a whole range of other things, only 24 per cent. of the money is actually spent on care services as such, so the fact that one is having this income taken away and having personal care services provided does not mean receiving equivalent support-it means receiving something different.

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he needs a break, as he is not doing very well at the moment-he can check the Hansard. Let me inform the House that existing claimants in receipt of attendance allowance and disability living allowance would see no cash loss in their benefits during a transitional process to a new system. If he were part of a Conservative Government, is he saying that he would never rule out making any changes to AA or DLA for pensioners?

Mr. Lansley: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman did exactly the same thing yesterday: he came before the House and-

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): Just answer the question.

Mr. Lansley: I am just answering the question. Instead of talking from a sedentary-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must say to Mr. Hope that there has been quite a lot of sedentary chuntering taking place. I know that there are strong feelings on these matters, but the effect of this sort of chuntering is to crowd out Back Benchers and I want there to be plenty of time for Back-Bench contributions, which I hope means mercifully brief Front-Bench speeches.

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Mr. Lansley: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I shall, of course, be as brief as the argument allows, but I tend to allow Members to make interventions and I am certainly happy to respond to them.

The Minister kept saying yesterday in response to questions that those who are currently entitled to these benefits would, under the Government's proposals, receive the same "cash support", but the amendment to the motion does not say that. It states that

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