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John Penrose: For a long time, the funding received by Sinn Féin has been treated as a separate but parallel consideration subject to a separate resolution of this House. I would expect that to continue and for it to receive separate, special consideration as a result.

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP): I welcome the Government’s announcement that they will be cutting Short money, and I urge Ministers to stick to their guns and not to retreat. The sight of special pleading from political parties wanting to get their hands on taxpayers’ cash is disgraceful. I urge Ministers not only to slash Short money but to insist that all political parties publish fully audited accounts of what they spend it on, as my party will at the end of this year, so that we can see the hotel bills and precisely what they spend that taxpayers’ money on.

John Penrose: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is a timeworn phrase but it bears repetition: sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is vital that the Government secure value for money. Given that the purpose of Short money is to provide a credible Opposition, does he agree that the display that we have seen so far, with the announcement of policies such as nuclear submarines without nuclear missiles, shows that much of it has been completely squandered?

John Penrose: I hesitate to follow my hon. Friend down such a path, but if the purpose of Short money is to provide a credible Opposition and it has gone up by 50% since 2010, perhaps we now have an incredible Opposition instead.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Since, with the one exception that we have just heard, there is such strong feeling among those on the Opposition Benches that the Government are intending to undermine the work of the Opposition, would it not be sensible to do what was done originally when Short money was introduced—namely, to have constructive talks with the Opposition, with no ultimatum in the beginning, in order to reach a fair settlement?

John Penrose: I had rather hoped that the request for views would elicit a strong and perhaps constructive response. I am afraid that has not been visible so far, but none the less I hope that that may change between now and the end of the period of the request for views. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that because we are facing a deficit, time is pressing and we have less fiscal slack to play with.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the Short money reforms mean that Labour has to name and give the salaries of its special advisers, particularly those who write the Leader of the Opposition’s speeches, because although I do not know their remuneration, I think they are hugely overpaid?

John Penrose: Given the level of transparency that is already rightly expected of the Government when employing Spads, for example, it is reasonable to ask for an equivalent level of transparency with regard to how Short money

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is spent on people such as Damian McBride, who I understand has just rejoined the Labour party’s payroll, and Seumas Milne.

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The Minister talks a lot about savings to the taxpayer, but can he confirm that any savings that will be made by these proposals will in fact be dwarfed by the extra cost to the public purse as a result of the Prime Minister’s prolific rate of appointments to the other place?

John Penrose: Actually, the cost of the House of Lords, I am told, is falling even while its numbers are rising, and so the cost to the public purse will be reduced as a result of the changes that are happening at the other end of the building.

On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point about whether saving this amount of money is worthwhile, I would say, at the risk of angering my colleagues from Scotland, that mony a mickle maks a muckle. It matters what we save and it matters that we pay attention to every single detail, given the scale of the deficit that we inherited from the previous Labour Government.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I hope the Minister will recognise that there appears to be consensus in the House on transparency. Would it be fair enough, given that the Government have reduced their travel costs during their time in office, that the Opposition should publicise their travel costs and claims for special advisers running up and down the country?

John Penrose: That is an intriguing proposal, and I thank my hon. Friend very much for it. I will take it as a constructive suggestion for the request for views.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Given the increase in costs of Spads since 2009 by some 56%, the proposed cut in Short money of 24% over four years is disgraceful. Is the Minister not ashamed of his Government’s attack on democracy and scrutiny in this House?

John Penrose: We have already covered these points. Short money has already gone up by 50%, and it has gone up by 30% in the past year. I think that people listening to these exchanges will be asking themselves how much it costs to run an Opposition and why politicians feel they are so much more deserving of cash than, for example, benefits claimants whose money has not risen at anything like the same speed.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Given the public’s perception of the performance of the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps we should just take the Opposition’s money away completely.

John Penrose: I will take that as a suggestion and a proposal. I suspect that the weight of views across the House may probably be rather against it and that people do feel that there is a place for Short money, if it is properly reformed, in the same way that there is a place for the policy development grant, in order to make sure that an effective Opposition, properly, not excessively, funded, can function.

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Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Again, I ask this question: with the cost of Government Spads rising, will the Minister concede that a disgraceful 24% cut to the Opposition parties’ funds is a case of double standards and an impediment to the Opposition parties’ scrutiny of the Executive?

John Penrose: I am afraid that I respectfully disagree with the hon. Lady, if only because, as I said, the cost of Spads has fallen since the general election and will still remain lower than the total funding for Opposition parties.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Spending of Short money is unnecessarily opaque, so in his consultation, will my hon. Friend seek representations from senior, and numerate, Opposition Members such as the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and the hon. Members for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) and for Islwyn (Chris Evans) as to whether they think that the taxpayer, and indeed their own party, gets value for money from the likes of Seumas Milne?

John Penrose: I will take submissions from any Member on either side of the House on what would involve good value for money. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the questions of what represents value for money, how much it costs to run an Opposition office and whether we can make sure it is done as efficiently as possible with taxpayers’ cash.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The fact is that the number of special advisers has gone up to 96 and the Prime Minister has appointed a record 236 peers to the other place. Meanwhile, the Government have introduced the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 and are attempting to gag the trade unions and cut the Short money. That shows that the Government are not interested in cutting the cost of politics. It is absolutely clear that they want to silence any opposition in this country.

John Penrose: I am afraid that I do not accept the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. We are proposing to cut the number of MPs in this place—which is not an easy thing to do—so we are very serious about cutting the cost of politics. I therefore hope that, in that spirit, people will contribute constructively to the request for views.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): Does the Minister agree that my constituents at least have the right to as much transparency as possible on how Short money is being spent? For all they know, it could be being used by hon. Members to help them write their books.

John Penrose: I am sure that none of the Opposition parties would spend taxpayers’ money in such a disrespectful fashion, but they will, of course, have nothing to hide, so I am sure that nobody will be at all concerned about proposals for increased transparency.

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Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that this will have to be done by a resolution of the whole House? Does he have a date in mind for such a resolution?

John Penrose: The usual parliamentary process will be followed, so there will have to be a proposal. The statutory instrument for positive development grants has already been laid, and that can be either passed or prayed against in the usual way. The hon. Lady is right to say that, when we come up with proposals for Short money, they will have to be passed by a resolution of this House.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that during the consultation he will specifically look at protecting and supporting the interests of minority parties? They have a hugely important role to play in this Parliament, especially when we have such a divided and weak official Opposition.

John Penrose: I gave in my initial remarks an illustration of some of the peculiarities of the distribution of Short money. I gave comparisons between the money received by UKIP and the Greens, but there are other examples. Many Members of smaller Opposition parties will be able to quote examples of why they feel they are being either under or over-remunerated, depending on who they are. Therefore, it is certainly sensible for us to ask how that can be improved and whether the basis of allocation can be made better.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): “Cutting the cost of politics,” the Minister says, meaning cutting the number of elected MPs while stuffing the other place full of his mates, and cutting support to Opposition parties while greatly increasing the number of Government special advisers. If he wants to cut the cost of politics, why has the Conservative party claimed £1.27 million in policy develop grants since 2010?

John Penrose: The allocations of money as per policy development grants are based on recommendations by the independent Electoral Commission, not on Government proposals. I would also point out that we are practicing what we preach, because in previous years the allocation of policy development grants to the Conservative party has been scaled back. We have handed some of that money back, for precisely the reasons that I described earlier about wanting to cut the cost of politics.

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): With a national debt of £1.5 trillion, or £24,000 per every man, woman and child in this country, and some Government Departments making heroic efforts to cut back-office functions—the Ministry of Justice is cutting 50% of its back-office functions—what possible signal does it send out to the country and to the civil servants doing those jobs when they see some political parties refusing even to engage with sensible reforms of their own funding?

John Penrose: I could not agree more. The general public will not understand why politicians feel that we should be a special case. They will look at and listen to this debate and ask, “Why should these guys think they

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are in any way deserving of better treatment than people who are on benefits and struggling with their budget? Why should they get a special deal?”

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I do not think that the general public will understand why the Cabinet Office has 50 press and communications officers or why the Ministry of Justice has 42 external communication officers. Should not the Government start to tighten their own belt and cut their own cloth first?

John Penrose: The Government are putting their own house in order. We made dramatic savings in the public sector over the course of the last Parliament and we are continuing to make further savings, including of 19% in unprotected Departments, across the whole of Government in this Parliament, so I respectfully reject the hon. Lady’s starting assumption.

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): In the last Parliament, I was an adviser to the then shadow Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), along with one other part-time member of staff. By contrast, the Government Ministers had four special advisers, a series of private offices and hundreds of press officers and policy advisers. There is no equivalence. Will the Minister accept that Short money is not profligate, but the minimum required for opposition in a healthy parliamentary democracy?

John Penrose: If it is the minimum required for sensible opposition, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain why it is so much higher now than it was five years ago in real terms, and why it will be higher than it was in 2014-15. If the costs of running an Opposition are consistent—they may even be lower than they used to be—the current levels of Short money, having risen so far, must be over-budget and something where savings can be made.

23 Feb 2016 : Column 178

Crossrail: Elizabeth Line

1.56 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement to the House.

I am delighted to announce that from December 2018 the Crossrail route will be known as the Elizabeth line and will be marked on the nation’s transport maps in royal purple.

Today Her Majesty took part in a naming ceremony at the line’s new Bond Street station, where she met just some of those responsible for delivering Europe’s most complicated engineering project, which is now more than 70% complete and running on budget and on time.

Her Majesty has served our country for more than 60 years. She has been a symbol of wisdom, continuity and stability in an age of unprecedented change, and she has long been associated with many aspects of this nation’s transport. Our Queen opened the Victoria line service in 1969. The Fleet line was renamed the Jubilee line in honour of her first 25 years on the throne in 1979, and she is the first reigning monarch to travel on the London underground. More recently, Her Majesty opened the redeveloped Reading and Birmingham New Street stations and Heathrow airport’s new terminal 2 building. I am told that trains are Her Majesty’s favourite form of travel and that she is a frequent user of both the royal train and scheduled train services. I hope that Her Majesty will consider an invitation to travel on the first passenger train that will pass through the Elizabeth line’s tunnels in December 2018.

Even before that date, the project is breaking new ground. It is not just the largest infrastructure project in Europe, but the most technically challenging and the most ambitious. In a little over three years, the thousands of people who have worked night and day on the project have dug 26 miles of tunnels under London. Thanks to their work, the line is now more than 70% complete.

Last May, Transport for London began operating the first section of what will become the Elizabeth line route from Liverpool Street to Shenfield. Network Rail has completed most of the work to connect the line to the existing rail network. In Derby, as I have seen for myself, Bombardier is building the first carriage of the first Crossrail train—a British-built train for a Great British rail line.

When the Elizabeth line opens fully in December 2018, it will change dramatically the way in which people travel around London and the south-east. It will bring an extra 1.5 million people within a 45-minute commuting distance of London’s key business areas. It will increase the total railway capacity by 10% in the south-east, adding much-needed capacity to some very crowded lines. It will support our ambition of city-wide regeneration and shorter journey times for passengers. I am pleased to confirm that all 40 Elizabeth line stations will be step free so that they are accessible to all.

We are proud of this investment, but it is not just about the current project work. The project will bring a lasting skills legacy to Britain—in particular, a skills legacy that will benefit many thousands of women. As Terry Morgan, the project’s chairman, has said, Crossrail

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has always been more than a transport project. It has been a blueprint for how infrastructure should be built in future.

Today’s construction sites are sophisticated places, which require communication skills, the ability to multitask and manage complex projects, work in teams and win the trust of clients and site neighbours. Those are all skills that make such projects natural places for women to work. Through the building of Crossrail, they are steadily becoming a hallmark of modern construction. As a result, the project has broken new ground in the diversity of its workforce. Women make up almost a quarter of those in its graduate programme. Those are people who will go on to become the future leaders of the industry. Of the 10,000 people working on Crossrail, nearly one third are women. Through Crossrail, women are forging careers they never thought possible—a fact that we celebrated at a cross-party reception here in January that we called “She’s Building It”.

Crossrail—soon to be the Elizabeth line—the Olympics, Heathrow terminal 5, and Reading and Birmingham New Street stations are rejuvenating the image and the economics of British engineering and opening career opportunities to our best and brightest, among them increasing numbers of women. I know that people working on the Crossrail project are already immensely proud of the legacy that they are helping to create. I believe that their pride can only be enhanced by the announcement that this amazing, groundbreaking engineering project will forever be known by the name of our sovereign, Queen Elizabeth. With permission, I commend this statement to the House.

2.2 pm

Andy McDonald: I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of her statement. On behalf of myself and of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I am in the happy position of being able very much to welcome the announcement. Crossrail has had cross-party support over its lengthy gestation period, and we all look forward to the considerable benefits that the new line will bring in the years ahead.

The naming of the line as the Elizabeth line is very much welcomed by Opposition Members. We have become used to the title Crossrail in recent decades. The renaming is a significant improvement on Cross London Rail Links Ltd, and Elizabeth is undoubtedly a much more elegant and fitting title for such an innovative and important transport infrastructure development, which will bring the benefit of better transport to millions of passengers from Reading in the west to Shenfield in the east. Given the enormous public commitment that has gone into developing the Crossrail brand, will the Minister give us an assurance that the Crossrail brand and livery will continue to be used?

I pay tribute to the last Labour Government, who took the Crossrail project forward in their 10-year transport plan, “Transport 2010”, in which they reasserted that an east-west rail link should go ahead. Alistair Darling, the then Secretary of State for Transport, announced that the Labour Government supported the new east-west Crossrail link and committed to bringing forward legislation to enable Crossrail to proceed, which was critical in turning the aspiration and ambition of Crossrail into reality.

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One of the first ideas of the previous coalition Government, after they came into power in 2010, was to consider cancelling the Crossrail project altogether. Labour Members are delighted that not only is the project back on track, so to speak, but the Government’s conversion to supporting Crossrail has been so all-embracing that they have not only given the project their full backing but decided to dedicate it to Her Majesty. In that, they have our support.

We all expect Crossrail or the Elizabeth line to change the face of transport in London and the south-east, whatever its name. I would like to draw the Minister’s focus to a few points. Crossrail is largely on time and on budget, so can the Minister confirm that it will indeed open on schedule? Will she inform the House of what lessons have been learned from the successes of Crossrail that can be applied to High Speed 2? The Crossrail service will share the Great Western main line to Reading, but sadly the electrification programme has slipped and will cost more than was first estimated. Will the Minister take the opportunity to confirm to the House that the rescheduled electrification of the Great Western main line to Reading will be completed in time for the opening of the Elizabeth line?

I was delighted by the fact that after some 35 years of planning and development, Crossrail finally broke ground on 15 May 2009, when the Mayor of London and the then Transport Secretary, the noble Lord Adonis, sunk the first pile into the docklands at the new Canary Wharf station. As we approach the conclusion of this most magnificent engineering undertaking, we remember the name of Crossrail with much affection and admiration. Although Crossrail is not dead, I wish the Elizabeth line a long and successful life.

Claire Perry: It is a delight to share, as we often do, a cross-party view—total agreement—on transport infrastructure. I would like to answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

Crossrail branding will apply for now, but the intention is that from December 2018 the Elizabeth line branding will come into force. The trains are currently under construction, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and it is not expensive to repaint and rebrand them, so I do not think that there are any costs associated with this welcome decision.

The hon. Gentleman asked about lessons that have been learned from Crossrail and that can be applied to Network Rail. I would argue that there are lessons that can be applied more broadly. One thing that has worked well is the fact that the project has stuck to its guns—stuck to its knitting. It has resisted demands for deviations from the route and proceeded with its original plan, which it has delivered very effectively. Crucially, it has blazed a trail in engagement with communities who are affected by the work. I have been surprised, when I have visited stations, by how little the people around the stations realise that the work is going on. That is a tribute to the care and consideration behind that engagement. Another enormously important factor has been the engagement of the supply chain. The majority of supply contracts are let to companies outside the south-east and, in many cases, to small and medium- sized enterprises. Those are two important lessons for the future.

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The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about bringing the project in on time and on budget. I emphasise that that is part of the project’s careful planning.

On his question about the vital link between the Crossrail line and the Great Western main line to the west, I am happy to confirm that that work is on time and on budget, and it will absolutely be in place to ensure that the line runs. It is an enormous priority for all of us to ensure that the first trains can run from December 2018.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): I strongly welcome the Minister’s statement. Can she guarantee that in the final 30% of the construction process we will be trumpeting the use of British steel wherever possible?

Claire Perry: I am happy to confirm that that is absolutely the case. Indeed, 85% of the supply chain providing steel to the project is UK-based, and the 57 km of rails that run through the central tunnel are 100% provided by UK steel suppliers. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also welcome the fact that 61% of the firms that have won work associated with the project are based outside London.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): I, too, thank the Minister for providing an advance copy of her statement. I will come to the name of the line in a moment, but may I first welcome the increased opportunities that the project has provided for women? More needs to be done to get the message out to women and young girls about the opportunities that are available for them. I also welcome the accessibility aspect, which is an important factor.

A change of name can be invigorating. In Scotland, we found that the change of name from the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government provided a new sense of purpose, from which people were able to take confidence. In general, the change of name is a good move. The royal theme is continued in Scotland by the Queensferry crossing, the name of which was chosen by public vote. Will the Minister tell us about the mechanism for renaming Crossrail? The public have certainly embraced it with some vigour. The Minister described Crossrail as a great British rail line. On that basis, can she guarantee that all the ticket machines on the new Elizabeth line will be able to accept Scottish notes so that we can actually travel on it?

According to figures announced just last weekend, the Scottish Government are investing twice as much per person in transport as in England, and have spent more per head on improving infrastructure than all the other nations in the UK since the Scottish National party came to power in 2007. I am glad to see some ambition today. May we have more of it to make sure that the people of the nations of the UK are better connected?

Claire Perry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for a very important list of questions. He is absolutely right to focus, as we are, on the diversity opportunities that have opened up as a result of this project. People too often think of engineering skills, particularly on the railways, as involving joining the wheel-tappers and shunters

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club, but it is not like that. It is a high-tech world in which people are more likely to go to work with a laptop than with a spanner. As I say, it is a growing industry partly thanks to this Government’s record in transport infrastructure, so it is one to which we would like to attract more women. There have been some little but subtle changes. The so-called man cage that takes people down into the giant hole where the tunnels start has, at the suggestion of the very feisty woman in charge of the work at Farringdon station, been renamed a people basket. That is a brilliant example of how small changes can make a difference.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the mechanism. Many people would like to claim credit for what is a very good idea, but I am sure if we put it to the British people in a referendum, they would—if they do not have referendum fatigue—overwhelmingly support this decision. Of course, the Queen did approve the decision. I think its genesis lies in the fact that she is now our longest-serving monarch—she has been on the throne for 64 years—and the name change is a very fitting tribute to the length of her reign.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Scottish pound notes. Based on my experience with London cabbies, I am very sorry to say that many people still do not believe they are legal tender south of the border. I will look into that matter and respond to him. Of course, I would like a revolution in ticket vending machines so that we can use mobile and smart ticketing much more often than cash when we purchase railway tickets.

The hon. Gentleman raised the importance of infrastructure north of the border. I am sure he is delighted, as I am, that the west coast main line—the vital passenger and freight route that crosses our borders—has been reopened two weeks early, after the devastation at Lamington viaduct. I went to see it in the snow, with his party’s Transport Minister from north of the border. It was a difficult site, and I am sure we all want to pay tribute to the orange army that delivered that result and got the line open.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome this announcement, and the Minister is right to praise Crossrail—the Elizabeth line. Does she think it is a suitable model to follow for Rail North, and indeed for the new northern transport body that has just been set up, Transport for the North, so there can be investment in new lines right across the north of England to make the northern powerhouse a reality?

Claire Perry: I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the announcement. She is right to focus on such parallels. Clearly, transport money is best spent when it is pulled through to satisfy local demands and to drive local economic growth. I am sure she welcomes what the Government have done. We have set up Transport for the North on a stand-alone basis and we have funded it, and we have asked the devolved authority to work on plans and proposals to drive forward infrastructure investment in the region. In his comments, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) referred to the role of Lord Adonis. I pay tribute to him for generating this idea and pushing it through, often, as with many rail investments, in the face, frankly, of opposition—

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Andy McDonald: No.

Claire Perry: Well, the hon. Gentleman corrects me, but I am delighted to say that this is now happening. Lord Adonis now heads the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission, which has been tasked with looking at—this idea again has cross-party support and consensus—how we can best spend the ongoing investment in infrastructure for the benefit of the British economy.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Crossrail is a complex project, as the Minister says, especially where there are interchanges with other lines. At Old Oak, it interchanges with overground, underground, Great Western and, of course, HS2 services. Will she look at the very poor co-ordination of that interchange, where every company is doing its own thing, with the Crossrail depot being built in the middle of prime development land? She might like Lord Adonis to look at that, as he knows what he is talking about.

Claire Perry: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the complexity of the project—some of the tunnels have been tunnelled to within 30 cm of existing infrastructure beneath the streets of London, which is an astonishing achievement—and of the interchanges, on which such decisions are often considered to be too complicated. The Government, TfL and Network Rail are working closely with the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation—that is another example of a devolved authority—to make sure that it understands its aspirations for the publicly held land at Old Oak Common. It is a balancing act and it is difficult to get it right for the future, but we will continue to invest in this vital infrastructure and we will make it work for the benefit of the British economy and of rail passengers across the UK.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): I agree wholeheartedly with what the rail Minister and the shadow rail Minister have said about Her Majesty and about our brilliant railway staff. I am a former Network Rail staffer, and I worked with some fantastic women engineers. May I, however, offer the Minister some constructive criticism? Her statement made more references to services to Liverpool Street than to those to Liverpool. Now that Crossrail is moving towards completion, will she turn her attentions northwards, and will she say when she will meet a delegation from Merseyside to discuss rail services there?

Claire Perry: I talked more about Liverpool Street only because Crossrail does not of course go very far north at the moment. I have great respect for the hon. Lady, but she will know from her constituency that we have electric trains running between Manchester and Liverpool for the first time ever. That is tangible evidence that the Government are delivering both on infrastructure promises in the north and on rolling stock. I am sure that she, like me, has long thought the Pacer should have been phased out a long time ago, because it is not fit for purpose in moving people around such a vibrant and growing part of the country—the north—which I know she is proud to represent. This Government are taking such investment decisions. My door is always

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open to delegations from any part of the country that want to talk about how railways can further transform their local economy.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): May I add my congratulations to the whole Crossrail team on this remarkable feat of engineering, which will bring enormous benefits to my constituents in Ilford? In particular, I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who, as chair of the all-party group on Crossrail, has batted particularly strongly, if I may say so, for the longer-term benefits for the residents of Ilford.

This weekend, I will join residents of St Peter’s church at Aldborough Hatch in my constituency to “Clean for the Queen”. May I therefore, on behalf of so many of my constituents, commend those who have come up with this fantastic and fitting tribute to our longest-reigning monarch for her more than 60 years of dedicated public service?

Claire Perry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support, and indeed for highlighting “Clean for the Queen”, which will have us all putting on our rubber gloves and getting out our litter pickers in the next few months. He raises the important point that this House is at its best when we come together to invest in major pieces of infrastructure that will transform the lives of those who will benefit directly, but also benefit those working for such a construction project or, indeed, supplying products for it.

An outbreak of cross-party consensus is just what we need, and we of course have such a project with HS2, which I believe completed its Select Committee stage only yesterday. Frankly, I pay tribute to the Committee, because it has been a labour of love—[Interruption.] I am not going to comment on that. Spades will be in the ground from 2017, and the skills that many hundreds of men and women have built up—we now lead the world in soft-ground tunnelling—will be very useful for the Thames tideway, the HS2 work that is coming and, indeed, with the A303 proposals that will benefit my constituency.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Could some of the efficiency that the Minister has spoken about with regard to Crossrail be applied to Southeastern, which has been providing an appalling service? Will she agree to meet a delegation of MPs from south-east London to discuss how that might be done?

Claire Perry: The hon. Gentleman has long been a doughty campaigner for improved rail services for his constituents. I hope that he received a letter from me just a few weeks ago, which said that I hope to make a decision shortly about the long-awaited capacity increases, because I know that he is very concerned about the crowding on those trains. I hope to have good news on that very shortly, but, as he knows, my door is always open.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman received the Minister’s letter, his happiness would be as unalloyed as hers obviously is today. We are extremely grateful to her.

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Points of Order

2.19 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears to be considerable confusion in the Government over which Department is responsible for making an application to the EU solidarity fund for assistance for flood-hit communities across the north of England.

This is what I have found out from vague answers to parliamentary questions. In December 2015, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it was a Department for Communities and Local Government issue. In January, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that it was a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issue. A week later, the Leader of the House agreed. In early February, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that she had not ruled out making an application, but a week later one of her civil servants wrote to me saying again that it was a DCLG matter.

Whoever is responsible, the deadline for an application is just days away. The Government’s confusion and subsequent failure to act will potentially deny our communities hundreds of millions of pounds of much needed help. Will you please encourage the Government to sort this out and get a Minister here to make a statement, so that we can hold them to account?

Mr Speaker: Certainly, it would help if there were clarity. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not for the Chair to adjudicate between what one Department says and what is said by another, but it is very important that Members know which Department is responsible and from whom they can expect an authoritative answer. My request to those on the Treasury Bench, therefore, is that they ensure that this matter is clarified authoritatively sooner rather than later. Pursuant to that objective, it might help if the hon. Gentleman is in his place for the business question tomorrow in order that he can probe the Leader of the House about it.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was devastating news for my constituents and the Northern Ireland economy last week that 1,080 jobs will be lost at Bombardier. Indeed, jobs will also be lost at Derby in mainland Great Britain. Is it in order to inquire of you whether Departments have made any approaches to come to this House so that we can not only raise the consequences of the decision, but seek an assurance from Her Majesty’s Government that there is support for innovation and aviation in our society?

Mr Speaker: I have received no approach thus far, as far as I am aware, from any member of the Government asking to make a statement on the matter. The hon. Gentleman may use the Order Paper to pursue his objective. Moreover, if he is so seized of the importance and, perhaps, the urgency of the matter that he wishes

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to debate it on the Floor of the Chamber, he will be aware of the opportunities that are provided by Adjournment debates. I have a hunch that he will seek to take advantage of those opportunities.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a two-headed point of order, if that is okay. The first refers to the exchanges that we had earlier with the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) on Short money. Will you confirm that it is indeed true that the accounting officer for Short money is the Clerk of the House, not the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office? Has the Clerk of the House therefore been consulted about Short money? Why has the Vote Office—this is still the first head—still not been provided with copies of the consultation, when it pertains directly to the House of Commons?

Secondly, will you confirm, Mr Speaker, that there is a process for Ministers to correct the record when they have inadvertently made a mistake? The Cabinet Office Minister, to my reckoning, made about 18 factual errors. The biggest was when he said that no cut was planned, despite the fact that his document says:

“By contrast… A 19 per cent reduction will take Short money back”.

I do not know what the difference is between a reduction and a cut, but I am sure that there is a means of correcting the record. I wonder whether we can make a special exemption on the number of special advisers for the Minister, because he is making so many mistakes that might be corrected by proper research.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for his point of order. Let me answer his two inquiries. First, I can indeed confirm that in respect of Short money, the accounting officer is the Clerk of the House. On whether the Clerk has been consulted, I am not at all sure. The Clerk is well aware, as I am well aware, of the consideration of policy on this matter. Moreover, I have seen a copy of the consultation document. Beyond that, I would not go.

Secondly, there are any number of opportunities for a Minister, if he or she believes that the record needs to be corrected as a result of an inadvertent misstatement, to correct the record. Knowing the hon. Gentleman as I do, I feel sure that he will look to see the development of events. If he is dissatisfied, I have a hunch that his dissatisfaction will percolate through his contribution at the business question tomorrow.

Chris Bryant: Thursday.

Mr Speaker: Thursday, I beg your pardon. I am getting ahead of myself. It will be difficult, but we can just about wait for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution at the business question on Thursday. That is not to say that the matter will not be raised before then. I hope that that is helpful for now.

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Air Quality (Diesel Emissions in Urban Centres)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.25 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a bill to make provision about urban air quality targets; to require vehicle emissions targets and testing to reflect on-road driving conditions; to provide powers for local authorities to establish low diesel emissions zones and pedestrian-only areas; to restrict the use of roads in urban centres by diesel vehicles; to make provision about the promotion of the development of electric tram systems and buses and taxis powered by liquefied petroleum gas in urban centres; and for connected purposes.

The invisible hand of diesel fumes is prematurely killing some 1,000 people per week in the UK. The Bill is designed to put the death-by-diesel epidemic into reverse, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds. Today, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have published a joint report that shows that there is now killing by diesel on an industrial scale, with some 40,000 premature deaths each year. The Bill is supported by those organisations, the British Lung Foundation and the British Heart Foundation because, as is becoming increasingly apparent to all of us, air pollution is killing people through lung cancer, through lung diseases such as bronchitis and asthma, and through strokes, heart attacks and heart disease. It is also linked to diabetes, obesity and dementia. It is a public health disaster. In the UK, it is causing the loss of some 6 million working days a year and costing our economy £20 billion a year. In Europe, it is costing the economy €240 billion a year and killing 380,000 people.

Diesel particulates that are absorbed by pregnant women can harm and hurt the foetus, causing low birth weight, organ damage, premature birth and stillbirth. Children who live in urban and highly polluted areas suffer from reduced lung capacity of about 10% on average and lower lung function in later life. Diesel particulates cause, rather than just exacerbate, asthma because they cause an allergic reaction and cell mutation in the lungs. In children, they cause coughs, wheezes, asthma attacks, worse concentration, worse memory and worse physical and mental development. Children are nearer the ground, so they suffer more. The first duty of mothers and fathers is to protect their children, but they are unable to protect them from this awful, poisonous belching.

In 1952, 12,000 people died in the London smog. Today, similar numbers are dying every year due to the invisible fumes that are being emitted on an industrial scale by diesel-powered vehicles. Instead of coal fires, the new killer is diesel. The volume of traffic has grown tenfold in the last 60 years. Much has been done to stop the emission of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, sulphur and lead, despite the protestations of the motor manufacturers that it was impossible. Nitrogen dioxide and particulates now offer a new catastrophic threat to human life and life expectancy, and that threat has grown exponentially. In the 1980s, diesel cars made up only 10% of new cars, but by 2000 it was 14%. Between

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2000 and now, that figure has grown from 14% to 50% of new cars that are pumping out diesel particulates and nitrogen dioxide.

The Government want to reduce carbon dioxide, and motor manufacturers took that as a pretext to encourage diesel instead of trams, hydrogen or green transport. In a similar way, after world war two, motoring manufacturers pulled all the trams out of our city centres for their own commercial interests. Now, the contribution of diesel to climate change is no better—indeed, it is arguably worse—than that of petrol, and we are passively smoking diesel emissions that are costing £20 billion and 40,000 lives.

Taxation levels on diesel and petrol are on a par and do not reflect the cost to the environment and to health. Laboratory testing across the EU systematically understates the amount of emissions in the air that we breathe, and road emissions contain levels of carbon dioxide that are two thirds higher than in lab tests. For nitrogen dioxide they are four or five times higher.

Things are made a lot worse by the revelation that Volkswagen was caught black-handed cheating emissions testing, and the difference between using a defeat device in a laboratory test and out in the field is twentyfold— 20 times the emissions are belching into children’s lungs from Volkswagen cars that are out on the road compared with those in the laboratory. Clearly, we need to sort that out. We have had the malignant growth of diesel pollution, and the mushrooming cost to public health. We have had the disaster of the industry saying that it will self-regulate but doing the opposite, and the first duty of a Government and a Parliament is to protect our children, the nation and the people of Britain.

The Bill will ensure that vehicle emissions testing in 2017 reflects on-road driving conditions such as accelerating, decelerating and standing still, and it will detect cheating devices such as those used by Volkswagen. The Bill extends low diesel emissions zones and pedestrianisation, and it restricts diesel vehicles that fail the Euro 5 emissions standards from polluted urban areas—those are the most old and polluting diesel cars, some of which have a worse pollution impact than lorries. It encourages the development of green public transport, including tram systems such as the one I pioneered in Croydon when I was leader of the council. It encourages liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen-powered or electric-powered buses and taxis, and that in turn encourages walking and cycling because there will be cleaner air and less congestion.

We also need pollution warnings as we do with flood warnings—perhaps the Environment Agency should be given that responsibility because the Met Office has been told to shut up since the last time it gave a pollution warning in April 2014. The public have a right to know when they are at risk so that they can stay indoors, or roads can be closed because of excessive pollution. I hope that the House will support the Bill, and that the Chancellor will take the opportunity of the Budget on 16 March to support green transport and ensure that the polluter pays principle is carried through to taxation. We must signal to consumers who have bought diesel cars in good faith for the future, and ensure that measures are transmitted into behaviour, as with previous signals. We need the right signals so that we satisfy our fundamental ambition and duty to protect the lives of our citizens, and ensure that the air that we breathe in our cities is clean and that the lives we lead are sustainable.

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Question put and agreed to.


That Geraint Davies, Peter Aldous, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Andrew Gwynne, Stewart McDonald, John Mc Nally, Jonathan Edwards, Alison Thewliss, Chris Stephens, Rob Marris, Ann Clwyd, and Ms Margaret Ritchie.

Geraint Davies accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March, and to be printed (Bill 138).

Welfare Reform and Work Bill (Programme) (No. 4)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 20 July 2015 (Welfare Reform and Work Bill (Programme)), 13 October 2015 (Welfare Reform and Work Bill (Programme) (No.2)) and 27 October 2015 (Welfare Reform and Work Bill (Programme) (No.3)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

(2) The Lords Amendments shall be considered in the following order: Nos. 1, 8, 9, 2 to 7 and 10 to 57.

Subsequent stages

(3) Any further message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(4) The proceedings on any further message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Margot James.)

Question agreed to.

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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Consideration of Lords amendments

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in Lords amendments 2 to 6, 8, 9 and 11. If the House agrees to any of these amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Before Clause 4

2.36 pm

The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.

Mr Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendment 8, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.

Priti Patel: The Bill is a vital part of the Government’s reforms that are moving this country to a high wage, low tax, low welfare economy. It is fundamental to our commitment to end child poverty and improve children’s life chances, and to ensure that work always pays more than a life on benefits and that support is focused on the most vulnerable.

As is right and proper, the Bill’s provisions have been carefully scrutinised by both this House and the other place. Where appropriate the Government have tabled amendments to bring clarity or to remove unintended consequences, and they have made important commitments on supported housing and the social rents measure, on kinship carers and sibling adoptions under clauses 11 and 12, and on guardian’s allowance and carer’s allowance in relation to the benefit cap. The Government remain firmly committed to the aims and principles of the Bill as it left this House, and for that reason we wish to resist the non-Government Lords amendments.

Before I address each area in detail, allow me to set out the key principles that underpin our disagreement with the Lords. Our view is that the addition of child poverty income measures is unnecessary because we have already committed to publishing statistics on children in low-income families through the “Households below average income”—HBAI—publication. Lords amendment 1 would also reintroduce a failed approach to child poverty that is focused on tackling its symptoms rather than its root cause, and it would drive perverse behaviour focused on lifting people just above the poverty line, rather than on a life chances strategy that could transform children’s lives.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that income has a huge impact on life chances?

Priti Patel: Income is one of many factors that impact on life chances and poverty, which is why the Government are very much focused on tackling the root causes of child poverty. I will come on to discuss that issue even

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I know that Labour Members disagree with that, and they will soon have their chance to comment.

On the change to the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance, and to the limited capability for work element of universal credit, I stress that the Government are fully focused on helping people who can work into work. We want to end a broken system that is patently failing those it should be helping, and ensure that a good proportion of the savings are recycled into long-term practical support that will have a transformative effect on people’s lives.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): The Minister mentions the fact that income is a factor in poverty, but the executive summary of her own Government’s report from January 2014 states:

“The main factor is lack of sufficient income from parental employment, which restricts the amount of earnings a household has.”

It is not just a factor, it is fundamental.

Priti Patel: I say to the hon. Gentleman and to all Members that work remains the best route out of poverty. Moving people into work, and helping their income grow once they are in work, is exactly our focus.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): What would the Minister say to those of my constituents who have limited abilities? Would she say it is better to try to help and support them into some form of employment, albeit on reduced hours, or to write them off and say they cannot contribute to society?

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is the fundamental difference between our party and the Labour party in government. We are committed to supporting people to get into sustained employment, rather than consigning them to a life of dependency on benefits, which has counterproductive consequences.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): The Minister is wrong, is she not? The new deal got more people into work than ever before, whereas this Government are taking money out of the pockets of working families. How can she say that she wants working people to feel the benefit when universal credit will make them poorer?

Priti Patel: The hon. Lady is wrong in many, many ways. For a start, this Government have supported more people back into work than ever before. Our welfare reforms are helping, through universal credit and our work coaches in particular, and by giving individuals dedicated support to help them not just get into work but remain in work.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Priti Patel: I will come back to the hon. Gentleman shortly, but I would like to make a bit of progress. Before I come on to discuss the child poverty income measures, I would like to touch on ESA. I will come back to some of the detailed questions.

When the Labour party designed the work-related activity component, it was intended to act as an incentive for people to take part in work-related activity and therefore move into work more quickly. However, with just one in 100 work-related activity group claimants leaving the benefit each month, it is clearly not working.

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It is crucial to make sure we have the right support in place to help people move closer to the labour market. As we all know, a large body of evidence shows that work is generally good for physical and mental wellbeing. There is also a growing awareness that long-term worklessness is harmful to both physical and mental health. Indeed, some of the major charities that the Department is working with agree that work can be right for some people after a diagnosis, and that improved employment support is crucial to helping people with health conditions and disabilities to move into work or get closer to the labour market.

As we speak, the Government are working on a White Paper for this year, which will set out plans to improve support for people with such conditions, including the role of employers and improved integration between health and employment. I will expand on that later, but I will begin by addressing Lords amendment 1 in detail.

Lords amendment 1 is wholly unnecessary, as statistics on low income are already published in the HBAI report. That information is available for all to see, and it will continue to be so. [Interruption.]Labour Members are chuntering away. They will get their chance to speak shortly. I think they should show me the courtesy of allowing me to make my points. Ministers in both Houses have committed to the continued publication of the information contained in HBAI. I hope it is clear to hon. Members that more than adequate safeguards are already in place to secure the continued publication of low income data.

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab): Macmillan Cancer Support has warned that cancer patients could be at risk of losing their homes if proposed Government cuts to ESA go ahead. Does the Minister have anything to say to Macmillan?

Priti Patel: What I would say is that Macmillan has also said that many people diagnosed with cancer would prefer to remain in real work or return to their job during or after treatment. It is important that the House recognises—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) would like to intervene he is very welcome to do so, but I think he should let me finish my point before he starts chuntering away. It is essential that people suffering with cancer get the right support. Obviously, when people are in the ESA support group and are unable to work, they will remain in the support group and be supported financially.

If I may come back to the point on Lords amendment 1 —

2.45 pm

Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): rose

Priti Patel: Is this on Lords amendment 1?

Owen Smith: It’s about Macmillan.

Priti Patel: I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Owen Smith: I am grateful to the Minister. She prays in aid Macmillan. Will she confirm that it is opposed to the £30 a week reduction for members of the ESA work-related activity group? It is not in favour of it; it is opposed to it.

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Priti Patel: I think Macmillan, alongside the Government, recognises that those on the support group will, rightly, not be affected. They will be supported, because they are in the support group and therefore obviously ill.

Neil Gray: Will the Minister give way?

Priti Patel: No, I will not give way. I am speaking to Lords amendment 1.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Priti Patel: I am going to make some progress on Lords amendment 1, and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I turn to why statutory income measures failed. They are flawed as they do not drive the right action to transform children’s lives. It is worth demonstrating that with a few examples. The Government are undertaking crucial reforms to improve people’s life chances, such as introducing the national living wage and increasing the personal allowance for the hardest-pressed families. Those policies will provide support for the hard-working families who need it the most, yet, according to Labour’s failed approach to measuring child poverty, their introduction would have supposedly led to an increase in child poverty. That failed approach incentivised the wrong actions. For example, it led the previous Labour Government to tackle the symptoms of poverty through expensive income transfers, such as spending more than £300 billion on working-age welfare and tax credits between 2003-04 and 2008-09, with very little return. The strategy failed to tackle the root causes of child poverty and did not a make a long-term difference to children’s prospects.

Several hon. Members rose

Priti Patel: I will give way shortly.

The number of children in relative poverty remained broadly unchanged. In short, there are fundamental weaknesses in that system, which the Government are seeking to put right through our life chances measures.

Andrew Gwynne: The Minister would perhaps want me to remind her that child poverty fell by 1 million under the Labour Government, which is something we should be proud of. Her own advisers advised against removing the child poverty indicators, so why is she headstrong in ignoring the advice not just of the other place but her own commission, which has said that this is wrong?

Priti Patel: We discussed this issue in Committee. I just reiterate that the Government are right in our approach: we are focused on tackling the root causes of poverty. Ultimately, as the Prime Minister said in his recent life chances speech, we are here to make sure we can tackle those long-term root causes. This is not just about measurement. The economy cannot be secure if we spend billions of pounds on picking up the pieces of social failure. Economic reform and social reform are not two separate agendas, they are connected to one another. Therefore, it is imperative that we focus our resources on how we can transform people’s lives, which is through tackling the root causes.

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The path I urge the House to take is the one that will incentivise the right action, and the one that the evidence tells us will make the biggest difference to children’s life chances. That is precisely why the Government are seeking to introduce the life chances measures contained in the Bill. The statutory measures on worklessness and educational attainment, combined with the non-statutory measures in the forthcoming life chances strategy—such as family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency—will drive the right actions to transform children’s lives.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Will the Minister give way?

Priti Patel: Just bear with me a second. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”]There is no need to be childish. I will give way to the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting).

Wes Streeting: I am grateful and surprised that the Minister has given way. I am sure the Prime Minister is delighted to see her back on message today, as she has not been in the past few days. She talks about the measures in the Bill. How can she go against the advice of her own Government’s commission when it says that

“it is not credible to try to improve the life chances of the poor without acknowledging the most obvious symptom of poverty, lack of money.”

When is she going to listen to the Government’s own advisers?

Priti Patel: Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that we continue to publish data on low-income households. This information is still being published—[Interruption.] It might not be the information that the hon. Gentleman wants to know about, but we are publishing it, alongside doing something that previous Labour Governments successively failed to do—transforming lives, addressing the root causes of poverty and, importantly, ensuring that we tackle the causes that have led to child poverty in the long run.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who made a point about child poverty but is no longer in his place, seemed to indicate that due to the recession under the last Labour Government, child poverty fell. Does that not show the fallacy of Labour arguments and reveal that we are trying to seek the root causes of poverty rather than provide some measure that simply does not work?

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is right. It is absolutely clear that when children are the future of our country, it is right to focus on delivering better life chances for them. When we publish the life chances strategy in spring, we will make the biggest difference to children’s life chances now and in the future. We must seek to rescue a generation from poverty by extending life chances right across our country. We must build a country where opportunity is more equal, with stronger communities and young people who can face the world with a background of experiences and characteristics that we know are vital for their success. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we must seek to

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“transform the life chances of the poorest in our country and offer every child who has had a difficult start the promise of a brighter future.”

Stephen Timms: Did the Minister see the report published by the Centre for Social Justice last month, which set out a way of combining the life chances indicators—interesting information will be provided in them—with income indicators, so that we do not ignore income, which is so clearly a key aspect of the whole issue?

Priti Patel: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and his comment. We will publish the life chances strategy in the spring, and I think it will give us every opportunity to consider holistically all the factors that can lead to better outcomes for children and families. I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s point. On the back of the remarks I have made, I urge hon. Members to support the Government motion and reject Lords amendment 1.

Let me deal now with Lords amendments 8 and 9, which as you indicated, Mr Deputy Speaker, impinge on the financial privileges of the House. These amendments would simply delete clauses 13 and 14 from the Bill. This would reverse the plan, announced in the summer Budget and endorsed by this House, to align the amount paid to ESA claimants in the work-related activity group to that which is paid to JSA claimants, and to align the amount paid to universal credit limited-capability-for-work claimants to that of the UC basic rate. Let me take this opportunity to stress the Government’s strong belief that this reform is the right thing to do. It is part of our efforts not just to improve people’s life chances but importantly to support them going into work so that they can reach their full potential. Let me explain why.

Record employment levels and strong jobs growth in recent years have benefited many, but those benefits have yet to reach those on ESA. While one in every five JSA claimant moves off benefit each month, this is true of just one in 100 ESA claimants in the work-related activity group. This Government believe that people with health conditions and disabilities deserve better and deserve more support. [Interruption.] I appreciate that Labour Members have no solutions for tackling the wider issues surrounding welfare and would rather simply continue to spend public money in an unsustainable way. We have listened to charities and campaigning organisations who say that improved employment support is key to helping people with health conditions and disabilities to move closer to the labour market and, when they are ready, into work.

Neil Gray: I look forward to reading the Minister’s White Paper, but is she not approaching the matter the wrong way round? Should she not introduce the White Paper first and then look at making changes to ESA? What does she say to her colleague, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen)—I look forward to hearing her contribution later—who said on “ConservativeHome” this morning:

“The beauty of this intermediate WRAG group is that it is just that—intermediate, on the road to returning to work but not quite there yet”?

Priti Patel: I rather think the hon. Gentleman makes my point for me in the sense that those in the work-related activity group need more support. Currently, they have

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been getting too little support. That is exactly the purpose of our reforms. We believe that we must tackle this issue, and provide—yes—the right financial security for individuals, but at the same time also look at the most effective ways to improve the wellbeing of those individuals by giving them support to get back to work. Almost half a million people in the work-related activity group get too little support to move back into work. We currently disincentivise them from doing so. As I say, they deserve better than that, and the Government are determined to take the necessary steps to transform their life chances by supporting them into work.

The Government are committed to ensuring that disabled people are able to participate fully in society, and we have set out our ambition to halve the disability employment gap. It is a duty of Government to support those who want to work to do so, and most people with disabilities and health conditions, including the majority of ESA claimants, tell us that they want to work. Some 61% of those in the work-related activity group tell us that they want to work, and we mean to put those people’s ambitions at the centre of what we do.

Stephen Timms: We have established that Macmillan Cancer Support disagrees with the Minister on this issue. Parkinson’s UK, Mind, and Rethink Mental Illness, whose chief executive wrote to all of us, say that they strongly disagree. So can the Minister tell us the name of any organisation representing disabled people that agrees with the position that the Government have taken?

Priti Patel: What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we have been working with organisations and disability groups, and we have actually been listening to them. [Interruption.] Rather than making generalised comments from a sedentary position, Labour Members should realise that we are working with those organisations as we move forward with our White Paper—

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Priti Patel: No, I will not.

The ESA system was set up by Labour in 2008 to support people with health conditions and disabilities into work. Despite being set up with the best of intentions, it has failed the very people it was designed to help. The original estimates were that far more claimants would move into work. A White Paper was published in 2008, setting out that the then Labour Government aimed to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefits by 1 million by 2015.

We have spent £2.7 billion this year on the ESA work-related activity group, but as I mentioned earlier, only around 1% of people in this group actually move off the benefit every month. I think it is fair to say that this benefit is not working as anyone intended it to work and, most importantly, it is failing claimants badly. The Government are committed to spending taxpayers’ money responsibly in a way that improves individuals’ life chances, and helps to move people off benefits and into work.

Those in the work-related activity group are given additional cash payments, but very little employment support. As the Prime Minister has recently stated, this

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fixation on welfare treats the symptoms, not the causes of poverty, and over time, it traps people into dependency. That is why we propose to recycle some of the money currently spent on cash payments, which are not actually achieving the desired effect of helping people move closer to the labour market, and put it into practical support that will make a genuine difference to people in these groups.

In addition to the practical support, which is part of a real-terms increase that was announced in the autumn statement, we need to reflect on how spending the £60 million to £100 million of support originally set out in the Budget will be influenced not only by Whitehall, but by a taskforce of representatives from disability charities, disabled people’s user-group organisations, employers, think-tanks, provider representatives and local authorities. So far, we have worked with charities including Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the National Autistic Society and the Disability Action Alliance.

During the passage of the Bill, Members of this House and the other place raised concerns that we are expecting claimants who have been found “not fit for work” to be able to work. That is not the case. Claimants in the work-related activity group have been found to have “limited capability for work” and that is very different from being unfit for any work. Of course there may be limitations on the type and amount of work people in the work-related activity group can do, and they may also need workplace adjustments, but employment is not ruled out. That is the reason for the ESA permitted work rules. The distinction is important, because the misconception helps to drive people further away from the labour market, perpetuates the benefit trap, and undermines the life chances of claimants.

3 pm

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The Minister has mentioned fluctuating conditions. It is well known that mental health problems cause fluctuating conditions which are very hard to deal with, but 50% of the people affected by the cut in ESA have such problems. Surely that has not been built into the Government’s thinking. What analysis has the Minister made of the impact?

Priti Patel: I have just touched on what we are doing to find extra employment support. As I have said, we are working with other organisations, and I have named only some of them. However, the issue of mental health is crucial to the way in which we connect our systems, working with the NHS. A joint working group from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health is looking into how we can help members of the ESA work-related activity group with mental health conditions, provide signposts for them, and secure treatment for them as well.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): When the Opposition talk about income, what they really mean are welfare benefits. That is not what we mean when we talk about income. All the evidence shows that 75% of children in relative poverty will be removed from the poverty indicator if both parents in the household are

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working. There are now more children in families in which people are working than ever before: that is this Government’s record.

As for ESA, some of us have met people with significant disabilities who are working, such as the people from National Star College in Gloucestershire who are now working with EDF Energy. It is amazing to see what a difference that makes not just to their incomes, but to their overall life chances and life happiness.

Priti Patel: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of work to people who have previously been locked out of employment opportunities. We have many schemes, but Disability Confident is a very good example of how we can work with employers to deliver sustained employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Government are doing additional work on a wide-ranging employer strategy, working with employers specifically to establish how we can address the disability employment gap and how they can give people with disabilities more structured and sustained employment opportunities.

It is important to recognise that the changes in employment and support allowance and universal credit work together, and cannot be dealt with in isolation. We have invested a significant amount in universal credit to ensure that we keep people connected and engaged with the labour market from the outset of their claims. Unlike those claiming employment and support allowance, universal credit claimants with a health condition or disability are offered labour market support, when that is appropriate, at the very start of their claim. That helps them to remain closer to the labour market, even if they are not immediately able to return to work. It also provides them with employment support, advice or training to get back into work, which, in the long run, will help them to obtain jobs.

I stress that this change does not affect those in the ESA support group or the universal credit equivalent. It also does not affect the premiums that form part of income- related ESA. Moreover, existing ESA claimants will not be affected. There will be no cash losers, and the policy applies only to those who apply for ESA and subsequently enter the WRAG from April 2017. We also aim to protect those who move off ESA to try to work. Those who were receiving the component returns to ESA within 12 weeks because they could not cope with work will be able to reclaim ESA and receive the component again. Hopefully, that will help to dispel the myth that everyone who is currently in the work-related activity group will be affected by the change. Universal credit works in a different way from ESA, but we aim to put similar protections in place.

This reform is a first and necessary step towards a wider reform package. In the autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the Government would publish a White Paper this year that would set out our plans to improve support for people with health conditions and disabilities to further reduce the disability employment gap and promote integration across health and employment. That will include exploring the roles of employers.

Clauses 13 and 14, together with the additional practical support announced in the Budget, will provide the right support and incentives to help people with limited

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capability for work move closer to the labour market and, when ready, into work. In the light of those arguments, I hope that Members will feel able to support the Government.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I support Lords amendment 1, which deals with child poverty reporting obligations, and amendments 8 and 9, which relate to the proposed cuts in the employment support allowance work-related activity component and the universal credit equivalent.

Lords amendment 1 places a reporting obligation on the Secretary of State, requiring an annual report on child poverty to be laid before the House. The amendment stipulates that the report must include information on the percentage of children living in poverty as originally described in the Child Poverty Act 2010, and based on household income and material deprivation.

The Bishop of Durham, who moved the amendment in the Lords, emphasised the importance of income to an understanding of child poverty and children's wellbeing and life chances. He said that income measures would not supplant the Government's other measures relating to worklessness and educational attainment. These measures will ensure that the income-based measures of child poverty, which have been collected in the UK and other developed countries for decades, will be retained, allowing year-by-year comparisons and holding the Government to account.

Various charities, including the Children's Society, the Child Poverty Action Group and End Child Poverty, have called on the Government not to abandon the income-based measures of child poverty, as has the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In a letter published in The Times today, 177 child health academics have written in support of retention of those measures. Even UNICEF has urged the Government to retain the income-based measures that are used in the 35 OECD countries, and that allow inter-country comparisons.

As has already been mentioned, the Government’s own 2014 evidence review of the drivers of child poverty found that a lack of sufficient income from parental employment—not just worklessness—was the most important factor standing in the way of children being lifted out of poverty. Even the Minister, in a recent Westminster Hall Debate, acknowledged that

“Income is a significant part of this issue, but there are many other causes as well.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2016; Vol. 605, c. 72WH.]

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s 2015 annual report found that 2.3 million children were living below what is currently defined as the child poverty line, and the Resolution Foundation has estimated that in 2016 alone a further 200,000 children, predominantly from working households, will fall into poverty. That is on top of the projections of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the falls in child poverty at the beginning of the century risk being reversed. The 1% uprating of benefits alone in 2013 was estimated to have pushed 200,000 more children into poverty.

Given the Bill and the four-year benefit freeze, it is entirely probable that the increase in child poverty will rise even more steeply. A recent inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on health in all policies into the impacts of the Bill on child poverty and health showed

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clearly that it could lead to an increase in the number of children facing the misery and hardship of poverty by as many as 1.5 million by 2020.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that there are one or two things that we cannot allow Ministers to get away with. Tax credit, for example, was introduced by a Labour Government because the Conservative Government had done nothing about child poverty in the 1990s. More importantly, the Government say they want to get people into work, but in actual fact people who do get into work get zero-hours contracts, and women cannot get child tax credits as the Government have cut that; so much for doing something about child poverty. In Coventry there are 18,000 people using food banks. The Government are doing nothing about child poverty.

Debbie Abrahams: My hon. Friend makes some very valid points and I am going to come on to some of them in a moment.

The implication of these measures in terms of the future health and wellbeing of children is stark. There is overwhelming evidence that child poverty has a direct causal impact on worsening children’s social, emotional and cognitive outcomes. One witness to the all-party inquiry said:

“As children’s lives unfold, the poor health associated with poverty limits their potential and development across a whole range of areas, leading to poor health and life chances in adulthood, which then has knock-on effects on future generations.”

There was unanimous agreement from those who provided evidence to the all-party inquiry that although there is a positive correlation between worklessness and educational attainment and poverty, they are not indicators or measures of poverty. Let me reiterate that two thirds of children in poverty are from working families.

Dr Blackman-Woods: My hon. Friend is making an excellent case. Does she agree with the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others who have said that the prognosis for child poverty over this decade under this Government is bleak, and that what we are seeing in amendment 1 is the Government trying to hide information about what is happening to child poverty, rather than trying to tackle the underlying causes that lead to it, and that that is disgraceful?

Debbie Abrahams: My hon. Friend makes a key point, and I will come on to some of the specifics shortly.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con): The hon. Lady talks about in-work poverty, but can she confirm that under the last Labour Government in-work poverty rose by 20%?

Debbie Abrahams: No.

So how does living in poverty affect children’s development? People—

Richard Graham: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Debbie Abrahams: May I just make these points, then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman?

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People on low incomes are often juggling to heat or eat, as we heard in this morning’s Westminster Hall debate on the bedroom tax. Being able to pay their rent is an increasing issue; 443,000 are currently affected. Having a secure, warm home with healthy, nutritious food are basic physiological needs. When these needs are not there, people’s health suffers both physically and mentally. This is particularly the case for children as they are developing. Being in work or well educated does not guarantee these essential needs; money does. Again, I make my key point: two thirds of children in poverty now are from working families.

The lack of evidence, to which my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) was alluding, is stark. Why was there no Government impact assessment of these proposals? We should look at the evidence from the United States, for example. It has been analysing the effects of its social security reforms, and that shows that programmes that focus specifically on parental employment failed; in fact, they had no effect or exacerbated children’s health issues. Conversely, programmes focused on supplementing the income of low-income families improved health.

Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con): Indicators are exactly that; they are not things that can be tackled, whereas this Bill seeks to refocus the Government position on the underlying causes and symptoms. Does the hon. Lady agree that, rather than seeking to hide the figures that she seeks to include in this Bill, they will still be reported in the households below average income report?

Debbie Abrahams: The point here is about making the Government accountable for their policies that may in turn be affecting those measures.

I know the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) wanted to intervene, too.

Richard Graham: The hon. Lady is very kind. Both her party and ours are committed to ending child poverty, so the starting point is the same. The difference, in a sense, is the value of the relative indicator. She knows that one of the difficulties with the relative indicator is that quite often it will apparently improve during times of recession, but go down in times of growth. How effective does she think that is, therefore? About £300 billion was spent on benefits between 2003 and 2008. How effective does she think that expenditure was?

3.15 pm

Debbie Abrahams: As a former public health academic, I will answer in the following way. We know the value of having indicators that we can compare over a long period; that is internationally recognised. They provide an opportunity for this Government and future Governments—and past Governments as well—to be monitored and to be held to account for their policies and the way in which they affect child poverty.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to remind those on the Government Benches that the Child Poverty Act 2010 had four measures: a relative poverty measure; an

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absolute poverty measure; a persistent poverty measure; and a material deprivation poverty measure? We were not relying on one simple measure.

Debbie Abrahams: My hon. Friend is spot-on, and again this is what the Lords amendment is asking for: that the exact same measures be included.

I want to sum up on this point by referring to one of the witnesses, who is a clinical expert in child health. He said the Government are trying to refocus child poverty from “income-based indicators” to factors related to

“family breakdown, debt and addiction”,


“the consequences of child poverty, with the cause—a lack of material resources.”

That sums it up so well.

Let us turn now to the UK’s infant mortality rate, a proxy for the health of the nation. It is currently in the highest quarter of all EU15 countries. I was shocked when I heard that, and for under-fives we have the worst mortality rate in all of northern Europe. We should be ashamed of that. We know that infant mortality is strongly linked to poverty and material deprivation. We know from national statistics that there is a fivefold difference in the infant mortality rates between the lowest and highest socioeconomic groups. There is not a law of nature that says that children from poor families have to die at five times the rate of children from rich families.

Alison McGovern: My hon. Friend is giving a characteristically calm, evidence-based explanation of why money matters, so does she agree that it is disappointing continually to hear the myth from the Government Benches that educational attainment or poor health is what causes poverty, rather than poverty that causes those things?

Debbie Abrahams: Again, my hon. Friend sums it up perfectly.

Richard Graham: This is a serious question. If the hon. Lady is saying that the evidence shows that the mortality rate of poor children in this country is worse than in the whole of the rest of Europe and the benefits that we are giving are greater than those in the whole of the rest of Europe, something is not working. What does she think needs to be done to improve that?

Debbie Abrahams: Again, the hon. Gentleman possibly does not have all the evidence. On spending-to-GDP comparisons, we do not do particularly well. The Marmot review of health inequalities concluded:

“One quarter of all deaths under the age of one would potentially be avoided if all births had the same level of risk as those to women with the lowest level of deprivation.”

Again, we should recognise that we are talking about people living in our constituencies. Evidence to the all-party inquiry showed that eliminating UK child poverty would save the lives of 1,400 children under 15 every year. Furthermore, good early development is strongly associated with many positive outcomes in later life, including higher educational attainment and improved employment prospects in adulthood. As another

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of the witnesses to the inquiry said, we are facing a child poverty crisis. Having made real progress in reducing child poverty in the UK, it is imperative that we continue to invest in our children, and protect and support the most vulnerable in our society. The introduction of the so-called “living wage”, the increase in personal tax allowances and more free childcare will not, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has clearly shown, offset the net loss to low-income households from tax and social security changes, including those in this Bill. I therefore urge Members from all parts of the House to support this amendment—our children’s futures depend on it.

Lords amendment 8 seeks to remove clause 13 and Lords amendment 9 seeks to remove clause 14. Clause 13 seeks to abolish the employment and support allowance work-related activity component for new claimants from April 2017 and replace it with universal credit. That would mean that social security support for people with a disability, impairment or serious health condition will reduce from £102.15 to £73.10, a cut of nearly £30 a week or £1,500 annually. The Government have argued that this is needed to

“remove the financial incentives that could otherwise discourage claimants from taking steps back to work.”

The Lords rejected this on a number of grounds. First, people in the ESA work-related activity group have gone through the work capability assessment and been found not fit for work. This includes 5,000 people with progressive conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s—conditions that will not improve. It also includes people with cancer. A survey conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support found that one in 10 cancer patients would struggle to pay their rent or mortgage if ESA were cut. The key issue is that these people are not fit for work, so suggesting that removing financial incentives will somehow make them fit for work is ridiculous.

Richard Graham rose

Debbie Abrahams: I am sorry but I have given the hon. Gentleman a number of opportunities to intervene.

Secondly, there is overwhelming evidence of the extra costs faced by sick and disabled people, the associated poverty they experience as a result and the clear implications for their condition. We know that 5.1 million out of the 12 million disabled people in this country live in poverty. We also know from the Extra Costs Commission that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty, 80% of which is due to the extra costs they face because they are poorly—because they have a disability.

Lord Low of Dalston, Baroness Grey-Thompson and Baroness Meacher’s excellent report “Halving the Gap?” expressed real concerns that the Government’s assessment of the impacts of this cut on disabled people, including the potential increase in the number of disabled people living in poverty, was inadequate. They assessed that the cut in financial support would have an injurious impact on this vulnerable group. The Equality and Human Rights Commission agreed, with its analysis being that it

“will cause unnecessary hardship and anxiety to people who have been independently found unfit for work.”

Thirdly, there is scepticism that there are employment opportunities for those sick or disabled people who may recover from their condition in the future. Approximately 1.3 million disabled people who are fit and able to work

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are currently unemployed, accounting for the disability employment gap of nearly 30% between disabled and non-disabled people. The Government have rightly said that we need to halve that, but they have been less open on how that can be achieved, and I agree with what the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) said about the disability White Paper. There is one specialist disability employment adviser to 600 disabled people trying to get into work.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Like me, she will see many of these people at her regular surgeries. It is clear to me from talking to them that the required support just is not there, and it is very expensive support that is needed. The Government talk a good game but do not deliver.

Debbie Abrahams: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was about to move on to the support that is provided for disabled people through Access to Work. Last year, only 36,800 people received such support. Although I support the Disability Confident scheme, we must recognise that, across the country, there are only 112 active employers who support that initiative. How can we encourage and help disabled people who are fit to work into work when such limited measures are on offer? It is all topsy-turvy.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Does the hon. Lady agree that the incidence of disability and the incidence of lack of work opportunities do not go hand in hand, and the problem is not evenly distributed throughout the UK?

Debbie Abrahams: The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point.

The suggestion that working four or five hours a week should recoup the loss of income with the introduction of the so-called living wage has been questioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Disability Benefits Consortium, a coalition of more than 60 disability charities, has said that the proposed cut will push sick and disabled people further away from work and into poverty. It will not help, as the Government have claimed. A recent survey shows the concerns not only of disabled people—seven out of 10 of them think that their condition will deteriorate with the introduction of the ESA WRAG cut—but of the public as well. A Populus poll of 2,000 adults in January revealed that 71% think that cuts to social security will make the UK a worse place for disabled people.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): This Government spend £50 billion a year supporting people with disability and health conditions. That is more than France and Germany. If what the hon. Lady is saying is true, it is not just about money, is it?

Debbie Abrahams: Again, we need to look at our spend as a proportion of GDP. We are 19th out of 32—[Interruption.] No, France and Germany spend more. We spend 1.3% of GDP. We are 19th out of 32 EU countries. Contrary to what this Government perpetually claim about our generosity, we are not good at all in terms of the actual spend in relation to GDP. It was 1.6% of GDP in 1960. Now it is 1.3%. It is shameful. On those grounds, I ask all Members across the House to consult their consciences and support amendment 8.

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Let me move now to clause 14. Again, the Government have been more than a little disingenuous when they suggest that the reduction in social security support applies only to new ESA WRAG claimants from 2017. From this April, 492,180 people currently on ESA WRAG will start to migrate across to universal credit, which, as many people know, combines a number of benefits, including ESA, into one amalgamated benefit.

Clause 14 removes the limited capability for work component for the work element of universal credit. That means that everyone currently on ESA WRAG will ultimately be transferred on to universal credit and will also have their support cut by £29.05 a week, or £1,500 a year.

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a stark difference between the warm words of the Minister of Community and Social Care earlier on, when he talked about parity of esteem for mental health, and the proposals to penalise people with acute and chronic mental health problems?

Debbie Abrahams: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I absolutely agree with him.

What has been hidden so far is that this cut will also affect disabled people who are in low-paid work. Currently, 116,000 disabled people in low-paid work and working more than 16 hours a week receive the disabled workers element of working tax credit—about £60 a week—which they get as a result of being on disability living allowance or personal independence payments. They need that payment to cover the additional costs that they face as a result of work. Under universal credit, the limited capability for work component is the main additional financial support for disabled people in work and is meant to cover those extra costs. However, unlike the disability element of working tax credit, that is available only after working disabled people have been through a work capability assessment. If the Government go ahead and remove UC’s limited capability for work component from working disabled people, the inevitable impact will be disabled people dropping out of the labour market, thereby increasing not reducing the disability employment gap. It will have exactly the opposite effect to the one that the Government say that they want to achieve.

3.30 pm

It should be noted that for the 43,000 disabled parents on the disability element of working tax credit, withdrawal of the measure will mean that the family do not receive any extra financial support. The all-party report clearly shows the impact of the measures on child poverty. Children are living in poverty in 40% of families affected by disability. The inquiry found that that would become worse with cuts to ESA WRAG and the limited capability for work component. For those reasons, I urge everyone to support Lords amendment 9, which seeks to remove clause 14 from the Bill.

I have discussed the effects of the measures in the Bill. I have provided evidence for my arguments, as there has been absolutely no impact assessment. We have had to find the evidence to identify the implications of the measures because, to their shame, the Government have done absolutely nothing. I remind the House that

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the Bill has been introduced on top of many other measures, including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which imposes £23.8 billion-worth of cuts on 3.7 million disabled people. The independent living fund has been closed, and there is the threat of a further cut of £1.2 billion. Cuts in social care affect disabled people.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con) rose

Debbie Abrahams: I am sorry; I am not going to take any more interventions.

Further cuts are bound to be made as the hasty consultation on the personal independent payment earlier this year is pushed through. The Government have tried to regenerate the economy on the back of the poor and disabled. Work does not protect against poverty, and the poor and disabled have been made to pay the price. This is about cuts to our social security system.

Simon Hoare: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Debbie Abrahams: No, I will not.

Instead of denigrating claimants in our social security system we should recognise the important role that the system plays. Like the NHS, the social security system is based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us all of our dignity and the basics of life, should any one of us become ill or disabled, or fall on hard times. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House believe that the Bill is a step too far, and I urge them to support Lords amendments 1, 8 and 9.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Everyone can see that a large number of hon. Members want to speak in the debate, which has to conclude at 5.36 pm. If Members can keep their speeches as brief as possible we can get everyone in.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): Everything comes to he who waits—and that was a long wait, everyone will agree. I will try to be brief, as I have seen how many Members want to speak.

I want to explain why, despite some misgivings about minor details, the Lords amendments are not just wrong but a retrograde step that would make matters worse. No one in the Chamber would disagree that it is a policy failure that only 1% of WRAG claimants exit the scheme to take up employment. We should not lock that into legislation, as that policy failure is unacceptable. I see constituents who have come to my surgery because they are marooned in a no man’s land. Some have been found to have limited capability for work in the work capability assessment, and some have exhausted all avenues of appeal, but for various reasons they do not feel comfortable with transitioning to jobseeker’s allowance, even though in theory they might receive greater support to re-enter employment if they did so. I endorse the disability charities saying that we need more disability advisers in Jobcentre Plus. That is one use to which we could put the extra £100 million that the Government talk about.

Graham Evans: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Paul Maynard: I am sorry, I want to make progress so that everyone can get in.

For many people, a response in mental health terms to a sudden onset of or change in a physical health condition makes their willingness or ability to engage in the employment market that much harder. The work capability assessment has consistently failed to adapt and accommodate those individuals. I recognise that a handful of individuals may be encouraged into employment by the changes announced today, but I believe the operation of the work capability assessment will follow the age-old pattern—every time it is changed, more and more people, almost by osmosis, end up in the support group. We have seen that year on year, time and again.

Without further policy change, we could be back here in a few years discussing a sub-group of the support group. But that is a key point: we will not be back here in a few years’ time with the same policy framework. The Government are being more radical in their approach. If this were the sole policy intervention that they were aiming to make, I would share many of the concerns being expressed, but that is certainly not the case. We have recognised that the status quo is inadequate, and the Government are committed to reforming the work capability assessment. A White Paper is coming forward that will, I hope, reform employment and support allowance, which is a dinosaur of a benefit. It is unfit for purpose. It is the last remaining disability benefit that still sees disability as a matter of physical health, rather than a matter of physical and mental health. For that alone it needs to be taken to the knacker’s yard and put out of its misery. I welcome the Government’s intention to do that.

If we agree to Lords amendments 8 and 9, we will not get a £100 million fund placed in the hands of the third sector to support people with limited capacity for work to try to get back into employment. That would be a wasted opportunity. We have managed to get 339,000 more people back into employment over the past two years. Everybody in all parts of the House knows the commitment of the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People to promoting the Disability Confident campaign. We all accept that the status quo is inadequate, and it would be the worst of all worlds to lock in a failed policy for the work-related activity group. That would benefit no one at all.

I shall briefly touch on Lords amendment 1. There is probably more consensus on how we view poverty-related issues than those on both sides of the issue would like to admit. I do not deny that levels of income have an impact on poverty levels in my constituency. Equally, I believe that there are more fundamental drivers of poverty in my constituency that also need to be addressed. As the exchange between the Minister and the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) indicated, this is not the end of the policy journey. There is to be a White Paper on how we implement our life chances strategy. There will be an opportunity to look at how we integrate into the policy package the different indicators that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) referred to, but Lords amendment 1 is fundamentally flawed. It shows a misunderstanding of how Government work. The Bill cannot place an obligation on the Government to pursue two broadly contradictory policy objectives for tackling poverty.

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If we focus solely on the “poverty plus a pound” approach as the answer to the problems, and at the same time oblige the Government to look at life chances indicators, that will divide the Government’s attention and the Department’s ability to focus on what matters. Opposition Members may disagree with the life chances strategy, and they are perfectly at liberty to do so, but they cannot expect to ride both horses at once and hold the Government to account for it. The Minister has made it clear that the data will still be collected and published. The Opposition will be able to look at that information, assess it and hold us to account for it, but Lords amendment 1 seeks to ensure that the Government fail on both strategies. It would not allow us any latitude to pursue what we have an election mandate for—welfare reform. When we get the life chances strategy, I suspect it will be far more sophisticated than what has gone before.

It has always struck me as utterly perverse to suggest that the most effective and best way to reduce child poverty in this country is to somehow provoke a recession, because that will bring the income numbers down. Surely no one could say that that is the best indicator to utilise to drive change. It astounds me that the Opposition parties—for the sake of posturing, and because of what has happened in the other place—have decided that this is their chance to make a stand on the backs of the most disadvantaged once again, and to try to prevent the Government from doing something about this issue.

I am proud to support what the Minister is trying to do. We have had decades of failure on this issue under Governments of all persuasions. At last someone is trying to do something, but from the Opposition we have nothing but cant, rhetoric and opportunism.

Neil Gray: I am glad to have the opportunity once again to set out the SNP’s opposition to this dangerous and despicable Welfare Reform and Work Bill. The SNP will vote to make these Lords amendments part of the Bill, to protect children and disabled people from poverty. In October, my SNP colleagues and I tabled a series of amendments to the Bill, which were, sadly, not successful. Today, I call on right hon. and hon. Members across the House to take this final opportunity to stand up to the Government’s regressive and punitive social security cuts.

In my contribution, I will focus on the scrapping of child poverty reporting obligations, the ending of the ESA WRAG and the universal credit disabled work element. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) will also seek to contribute, focusing on the cut to the ESA WRAG, and my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) will, I hope, discuss the report on child poverty and health by the all-party group on health in all policies.

Let me turn first to the overhaul of the Child Poverty Act 2010, which removes the income-related measures of child poverty, replacing them with an obligation to report on children’s life chances and scrapping the target to end child poverty by 2020. Scrapping that target, when child poverty is on the rise under the Government, is a disgraceful dereliction of responsibility, which serves only to highlight the lack of will on the part of Conservative Members to do anything to reverse the growing numbers of low-income families—in and out of work—who live in poverty.

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Lords amendment 1, from the Bishop of Durham, Baroness Sherlock and the Earl of Listowel, would impose an additional reporting duty on the Secretary of State, requiring him to lay before the Houses of Parliament an annual report on child poverty. That report should include data on the percentage of children living in households on relative low income, combined low income with material deprivation, absolute low income and persistent low income.

The Bishop of Durham, in moving the amendment, stressed the importance of income in understanding child poverty and children’s wellbeing. He tackled criticisms made previously by Ministers by arguing that income measures would not displace other statutory measures relating to worklessness and educational attainment. Speaking for the Opposition, Baroness Sherlock supported the amendment, noting that it would cost nothing and that it would allow the Government to be held to account on child poverty.

SNP Members find it unbelievable that the Government would wish to remove all links to income in reporting child poverty. Income is fundamental to whether someone is in or out of poverty—there is simply no getting away from that fact. We have no problem with the Government choosing to report on life chances, substance misuse, family break-up and unemployment by household, but they cannot get away from the fact that substance misuse, family break-up and unemployment are not unique to those in poverty—far from it. However, by using those alternative measures in isolation and not using any income-related measures, the Government are attempting to characterise poverty as a lifestyle choice, rather than looking at the structural causes of poverty.

Of course, such issues can impact on life chances, but income deprivation always will. An alcoholic single parent may be perfectly capable, for any number of reasons, of putting food on the table, a warm winter coat on their children’s backs or keeping their house warm. That may not be possible for a set of married parents who have no substance abuse problems but who are in low-income work. That has nothing to do with family breakup, substance abuse or unemployment—it is because of low income. So why on earth did the Government choose to ignore how many children do not have an outdoor space to play in safely or a place for the family to be able to celebrate a special occasion for them, or whether they can eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day? We know that 1.7 million children live in a family who want to heat their homes but cannot. The parents of 900,000 children want to put a warm winter coat on the backs of their bairns but cannot afford to do so. These are parents in and out of work, who are married or single. What is that if it is not poverty? We have to continue reporting on those matters.

3.45 pm

By removing the reporting obligations and targets on child poverty, the Government risk leaving themselves unresponsive to changes to child poverty rates over time, meaning that effective strategies will not be in place and the aim of eradicating child poverty in the UK will be lost. Two thirds of children in poverty live in households where there is someone in work. The new

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measures proposed by this Government focus on worklessness, not in-work poverty. These fundamental changes mean that we will not know how those children are suffering, and there will be no accountability on this Government, or future Governments, to respond.

The Government’s own January 2014 evidence review of the drivers of child poverty found that a lack of sufficient income from parental income—not just worklessness but low income from work—is the most important factor standing in the way of children being lifted out of poverty. I quote directly from page 6 of the executive summary on factors now making it harder to exit poverty:

“The main factor is lack of sufficient income from parental employment, which restricts the amount of earnings a household has. This is not just about worklessness, but also working insufficient hours and/or low pay.”

The evidence is there in the Government’s own reports. Income is fundamental—the main factor in driving poverty—and therefore it must be a factor in measuring child poverty.

One of the most common questions I get asked when discussing my job in this place is whether Tory MPs realise the damage this Government are doing, and will do, to individuals, families and society in general with these welfare cuts: are they so out of touch that they are ignorant, or are they aware and just do not care? To be honest, I have struggled to answer that question from my constituents and others. The briefings that we all get sent from third-sector organisations and other non-governmental organisations highlight what is at stake. I am sure that Conservative Members read them, as I do, so does their ideology simply blind them to the damage that is about to be done? This is children’s lives that we are talking about—children whose families have nothing. Of course we should measure that, of course we should want to tackle it, and of course we should set ourselves a target by which time we want it ended. Those who cannot see that—those who will vote with the Government later—should question whether their ideology is getting in the way of their moral compass.

I turn now to the Government’s desire to scrap ESA WRAG and the corresponding limited capability for the work element of universal credit, as contained in clauses 13 and 14, which Lords amendments 8 and 9 seek to remove. Several hon. Members, including me, were at the launch of the review, “Halving The Gap?”, which the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) spoke about so eloquently, published by Lord Low of Dalston, Baroness Meacher, and Baroness Grey-Thompson, with support from Leonard Cheshire Disability, RNIB, Mind, the MS Society, the National Autistic Society, Mencap and Scope. The report, which was published on 8 December, found that there is no evidence that ESA WRAG acts as a financial disincentive to claimants moving towards work; claimants and organisations are concerned that those reliant on the benefit could be forced to work when many are too ill; the proposed reduction is likely to move those in this group further away from the labour market rather than closer; the removal of the £30 per week would reduce claimants’ ability to take practical steps towards work; the reduction in financial support is likely to negatively impact on claimants’ ability to look for work; and the reduction could discourage disabled people moving into employment as they would risk receiving a lower amount

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of benefit should they lose their job in the future. The review concluded with the recommendation that the Government

“halt its proposed change to ESA WRAG and instead focus on improving back to work support”

for disabled people

“by ensuring it is personalised, tailored and meets individuals’ needs.”

Lord Low, in particular, made some very pertinent points during the Lords’ consideration of these matters. He emphasised that a drop of £1,500 a year would take the income of ESA WRAG claimants from £5,300 to £3,800, which would exacerbate poverty among disabled people and be catastrophic for many who are in receipt of ESA WRAG. He said that

“the claim that disabled people are more likely to get a job if their benefit is cut just does not stand up.”

As he explained, the review found that the barriers that disabled people face in seeking employment are not any financial disincentives from ESA, but, rather,

“employer attitudes, their health condition, illness or impairment, difficulty with transport, and lack of qualifications, experience, confidence and job opportunities.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 January 2016; Vol. 768, c. 1302.]

Lord Low welcomed the Government’s commitment to addressing the disability gap, but said that the proposed cut would hinder people’s ability to look for employment opportunities. He also raised the issue of the need for tailored personalised support for disabled people to return to work.

We must remember that before last year’s election the Prime Minister committed to not cut benefits to disabled people. The “Politics Home” website cites an interview the Prime Minister gave to “BBC Breakfast” on 31 March 2015 in which he said that his Government would protect disabled people from welfare cuts. This cut to ESA, affecting nearly 500,000 disabled recipients, makes an absolute mockery of that pre-election pledge. The cut will penalise sick and disabled people who are looking for work, will do nothing to help them into work and will push so many into poverty.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Given that the Government have emphasised time and again the importance of evidence-based policies, is the hon. Gentleman struck by the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that a reduction of £30 a week would push people towards work and off unemployment?

Neil Gray: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. Those third sector organisations and disability groups with knowledge of this area say that the cut will actually hinder people’s ability to find work.

Baroness Grey-Thompson’s speech on 27 January highlighted perfectly the issues at stake, and I urge those Conservative Members who are struggling with their consciences to read it. She said that,

“if this measure goes through, a disabled parent who is working and qualifies as having limited capability for work will, under universal credit—the flagship element of government policy—have no extra support in work compared with a non-disabled parent in otherwise the same circumstances. What will this mean for a disabled parent? Single disabled parents working 16 hours or more, living in rented accommodation and making a new claim for universal credit in 2017, will receive about £70 a week, or

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£3,500 a year, less than they would receive now on tax credits, despite the rise in the minimum wage…For hundreds of thousands of disabled people, keeping Clause 14 in the Bill will be devastating. It means that far from there being an incentive for disabled people to get into work, find work and contribute to society in the future, those with deteriorating conditions will be less likely to stay in work.”—[

Official Report, House of Lords,

27 January 2016; Vol. 768, c. 1311.]

Paul Scully: On evidence, the hon. Gentleman suggested in an earlier intervention that WRAG was an intermediate group on the route back to work, but the fact that only one in 100 disabled people are finding work shows that it is a long-term group.

Neil Gray: What that shows is that the Government’s Work programme has been an absolute failure and that those who are on ESA WRAG take more time to get back into work and require extra support, so by cutting £30 a week this Government will cut their ability to find job opportunities, and that is shameful. I again urge Conservative Members to read Baroness Grey-Thompson’s 27 January speech in full before voting later.

In October 2015, the Disability Benefits Consortium found that seven out of 10 disabled people said that a cut in ESA would cause their health to suffer. Almost a third said that a cut to ESA would mean that they would return to work later. Shockingly, a third said that they could not afford to eat on the current amount they receive from ESA WRAG.

Scope is concerned that reducing financial support for disabled people on ESA WRAG will detrimentally impact on their financial wellbeing, placing them further from work, as disabled people have lower financial resilience than non-disabled people, with an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets, and 49% of disabled people use credit cards or loans to pay for everyday items, including clothing and food. Mencap has said that households with a disabled person living in them will be hit much harder. A third of them already live below the poverty line, and the additional reduction in income will have a devastating impact on those who are in most need of Government support.

As the WCA does not assess employment support needs, the financial support that a disabled person receives also determines their employment support. Those two things are not related, and they mean that disabled people do not get the back-to-work support that they need, in answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). Evidence from disabled people’s organisations and official independent reviews have all highlighted the inaccuracies of the assessment, which means that disabled people do not get the right back-to-work support.

There is insufficient evidence, if there is any at all, for the Government’s assertion that reducing benefit support incentivises people back to work. The impact assessment contains no evidence whatever to show that reducing support to disabled people in the ESA WRAG will incentivise them into work. Reducing the financial support available through the WRAG will create a bigger distinction between the support received by jobseeker’s allowance claimants and those who are placed in the ESA support group. The IFS supported that argument by commenting that abolishing the WRAG component could strengthen the incentive for claimants to try to get into the ESA

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support group. Ben Baumberg, of the University of Kent, agrees with that claim. He stated that the removal of the addition could lead to an increase in the proportion of claimants who are placed in the support group, because being placed in the WRAG could be a risk to their health.

The Minister said in her speech that she had worked with and listened to the likes of Scope and Macmillan, but they still oppose the cut, and she must answer why she believes that to be the case. I was interested to read a story in The Guardian a few days ago, in which the hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) were cited as possible members of a group of Tory MPs who are putting pressure on the Government on the matter. I am a less frequent reader of The Daily Telegraph, but I understand that they were also mentioned in that paper this morning. I read “ConservativeHome” even less frequently, but the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire wrote very well there this morning. [Interruption.] On this occasion, it was a brilliant article. She said: