By Tim Montgomerie
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Here is a selection of the arguments that Tory MPs made during yesterday's debate on limiting the increase in benefits to 1% for each of the next three years.
The Government's overall policies help those on low incomes: "The Opposition have argued that this uprating of 1% will impact on working people and not just those on benefits. Given that the previous Government made 90% of workers eligible as welfare recipients, that is inevitable. Unfortunately, Labour Members make the mistake of taking these measures in isolation. If we take the Government’s measures as a whole, including tax allowances, energy tariff changes and cutting petrol duty, low-income working households will be better off." - Aidan Burley MP
And the biggest burden of deficit reduction is being met by the better off: "I want to remind the Opposition of what they have done. They have opposed £83 billion-worth of savings this Parliament. That is equivalent to adding another £5,000 of debt for every working family in the country. We hear much about taxing the rich, yet, in this Parliament, the richest will pay more in tax than in any single year of the previous Government—more tax on capital gains, more stamp duty—they will be less able to avoid and evade tax and they will pay more when they take out their pension policies." - Iain Duncan Smith MP
Stop taxing people only to return that money via the benefit systems: "Is not the philosophical underpinning of this debate our wish to create a hand-back society, not a hand-out society? Is not cutting taxes on lower earners the best way to help those on low earnings, rather than recycling their hard-earned money through the benefits system?" - Robert Halfon MP
Fairness between those in work and those out-of-work:
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday's debate on the Lords Reform Bill was heated, yet relatively polite. I noticed far more speakers against reform of the Lords than for - perhaps because pro-reform Tories knew, the programme motion having been withdrawn, that they would win the Second Reading vote easily (thanks to Labour votes).
Many Tories early in the debate - the initial stages took the form of Sir George Young, the Leader of the House, and his Shadow, Angela Eagle, giving statements on behalf of their leaderships - gave answers which followed the format of "Of course the current Lords is indefensible, but so is this Bill". Gareth Johnson (Dartford) did not take that line. He was proud to be in favour of the Lords' position as an unelected house:
"I have never defied the party line before, and it is something I hope not to do throughout my time in Parliament, but the Bill is fundamentally wrong. I have been a loyal supporter of both the Government and my party, but I am proud to be British, proud of our constitution and proud of our Parliament. The other place forms an essential part of our constitution, our heritage, history and culture, and once it is gone, it is gone. Seven hundred years of history will be undone if we support the Bill. I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say, “I did not forsake the British constitution. I said no.”"
"I may be in a small minority, but I am one of those people who do not become infected by the view that we must have a democratic House of Lords. I do not want a democratic House of Lords, and that is precisely why I shall vote against the Bill. I want objectivity, expertise, experience and wisdom, all the qualities that we are told so often that we do not have in this House. I do not want Members of the House of Lords to be subject to the electoral and party pressures to which we may be subject here."
By Jonathan Isaby
Last month the Government published its ambitious Welfare Reform Bill and I wrote about it at the time here.
Yesterday the Bill had its Second Reading debate in the Commons and here is a flavour of the warm welcome it got from the Tory backbenches.
Several MPs took the opportunity to expand on the problems of the status quo.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood)
"I welcome the Bill, which marks a point at which we can send out this message: we cannot continue to spend on welfare as we have previously. Instead, we need to understand that there is no such thing as Government money, free to be given out; there is only hard-earned taxpayers' money, which in these difficult times needs to be spent with caution and care. Over the past 13 years, we saw no evidence of that caution, as the total annual expenditure on benefits mushroomed to £152 billion. Every year, £5.2 billion was lost in overpayments, of which £1.5 billion was lost to fraud. Some £3.5 billion was spent annually on administration costs and paperwork alone. As we have heard from the Minister, other benefits rose, with the cost of housing benefit having increased from £11 billion to £20 billion since 1997. That is simply unsustainable and we must act."
George Hollingbery (Meon Valley)
"There are more than 30 different benefits out there that can be claimed. There are 14 manuals in the Department for Work and Pensions, with 8,690 pages of instructions for officials. There is a separate set of four volumes for local government, with 1,200 pages covering housing and council tax benefits alone. That is an astonishingly byzantine system. One of my constituents, Nigel Oakland, wrote to me: "Nobody at the Jobcentre Plus can explain if it is beneficial if I continue to sign on. The last advice I was given is that I should Google the question." In such a situation, where even the experts at Jobcentre Plus cannot answer the questions that arise, we are clearly in difficulty.
"It is confusing for clients. There is a 30-page form for housing and council tax benefit, including three pages of declarations. Employment and support allowance requires a 52-page form; jobseeker's allowance, 12 online sections, each of five to 10 pages long; and disability living allowance, a 60-page form. Is it any wonder that people become confused and fill in the forms incorrectly and make mistakes? The system is extraordinarily expensive to administer. The DWP spent £2 billion last year administering working-age benefits, and local authorities a further £l billion administering housing benefit and council tax benefit. Even the tiny citizens advice bureau in Bishop's Waltham, a town of 5,000 people in a rural and relatively affluent part of Hampshire, processed 2,176 queries about benefits in 2009-10, advising people how to claim them."
Julian Sturdy (York Outer)
"Over the past 10 years the welfare budget has grown disproportionately, by more than £56 billion. Despite that huge increase, almost 1.5 million people have been on out-of-work benefit for nine of those 10 years. Despite years of economic growth, job creation and increases in the welfare budget, a whole group of people have never worked at all. It is therefore time to review this broken system. After all, the simple truth is that Britain's welfare arteries are clogged up. Too little support is reaching those truly in need and too much is being lost in bureaucratic incompetence-even more worryingly, it is being lost on people who should not be in receipt of such support at all. In essence, the whole culture of our welfare system is wrong; the cost of maintaining it is out of control and the decision-making processes within it are woefully inefficient. The Bill is therefore right to focus on incentivising pathways back to work by ensuring that employment always pays more than benefits. That is fundamental to the Bill and, as a simple Yorkshire man, I feel that it is basic common sense."
"It is a sad but well-known fact that the current system discourages those in low-paid jobs from increasing their hours, as rates of tax and benefit reductions often leave them worse off. This ridiculous situation helps only to dampen aspiration while increasing dependency in the benefits system as a whole. In addition, hard-working, taxpaying families, who are feeling the squeeze in these difficult economic times, should not subsidise the small but still significant number of people in our society who see the welfare system as a career choice. That must stop. By annually capping benefits, withdrawing support from those who refuse to work and increasing the financial incentives for those who do work, the Bill includes specific measures that will make work pay."
Further to Andrew Bridgen’s speech, which I noted earlier, there were four more maiden speeches which addressed the European issue in last Thursday’s debate.
“I was keen to speak in this debate on Europe because I feel that we can learn many positive things from our European partners, including lessons from Sweden on school provision. I am frequently asked where I stand on the issue of Europe, and my answer is that I am neither a Europhile nor a Europhobe, but a Euro-realist: I feel that we are where we are on Europe. As someone newly elected to Parliament, I deplore the creeping nature of legislation that comes not from this place but from Brussels. I welcome the coalition's proposed referendum lock, and I will always stand firm against joining the euro.
“When I consider whether we should be in or out of Europe, my first instinct is to examine how it will affect the people of Wyre Forest, and whether my constituency would be better off if we came out of Europe. I remain open-minded and could be persuaded otherwise, but my instinct is that Wyre Forest's economy stands a far better chance in the future if we stay in Europe, taking advantage of the trading opportunities available, which we talked about earlier.”
Julian Sturdy, who won the newly drawn York Outer constituency addressed the Commons for the first time on his 39th birthday. Noting that his father, Robert, is a serving Conservative MEP, he lambasted the previous Labour Government for breaking its pledge ot hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty:
“The previous Administration's decision to deny the people of this country such a vote was, frankly, a devastating blow to those who care passionately about the sovereignty of this House. Indeed, I feel the decision not to fulfil the promise of a referendum further damaged public trust in our politics and politicians. I therefore welcome the new Government's determination to improve political accountability, openness and transparency. Europe has always been a contentious issue and I am sure that will continue to be the case here in Westminster. However, I can assure the House that, back in York Outer, a sizeable majority of my constituents seem to share my concerns about the recent transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels. To put it simply, I firmly believe that we cannot allow any further erosion of powers from this Parliament without allowing the public to directly express their will on such important constitutional amendments.
“As such, I welcome the European Union Bill that was set out in the Queen's Speech last week. The Prime Minister is right to ensure that the people of this country are granted a referendum before any future treaties that hand over powers to the European Union are approved by Government. The Government should seek to be a proactive, positive and friendly partner in Europe, particularly when it comes to promoting British business and trade. In other key areas, too, the EU has the potential to be a force for good as we tackle global poverty and the rise in global competitiveness, and get to grips with global climate change.
“Britain should play a full role in ensuring that the EU's voice is heard loud and clear on an increasingly diverse global stage. However, we will not be able to play such a role unless the boundaries and limitations of the EU are clearly drawn. The public need to believe in the worth of the EU and, in my view, that will happen only when we strengthen and protect further our own democracy here in Westminster.”
“I agree not only that Britain can benefit from its membership of the European Union, but that Europe benefits from Britain's membership of the union. We should resist unnecessary interference from the European Union, which should not seek to interfere with every facet of our lives. We need individuals to have greater freedoms over their lives and for this House to have the freedom to operate without further subservience to the European Union.”
“My constituency is also the home of Ebbsfleet International train station, which lies on the new high-speed rail line between London and Paris. These increased transportation links - rather than increased political links - with the European Union represent the direction in which I believe we should be moving.”
“Brighton Kemptown, as we know, is very close to Europe, and I have to tell the House that in 1514 the French invaded the town of Brighton at the time and razed it to the ground. I am not surprised that even 500 years later, many of my constituents are still suspicious of our relationship with Europe… My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) mentioned the Domesday Book; Brighton appears in it, and there is a fantastic Norman church in the village of Ovingdean. I have mentioned the French invaders, so we will move on.”