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UK Politics

Reliance on welfare attacked by Portillo: Speech reopens divide with Bottomley

MICHAEL PORTILLO, the right-wing Chief Secretary to the Treasury, yesterday opened up a new front against an over-mighty welfare state, insisting that individual responsibility and family values were vital to a cohesive society.

Mr Portillo, the Tory right's favourite to take over from John Major in the longer term, told Spanish business leaders in Barcelona: 'The elaborate welfare states of western Europe are struggling with the question of how to deal with social problems without undermining the individual responsibility that is the foundation of civilised society.'

Mr Portillo claimed the welfare state had grown 'far beyond the scope envisaged by its inventors', reducing the role of the family in the process.

He conceded there were 'no easy answers to how we should balance the need to provide for the less fortunate . . . against the need to encourage personal responsibil ity.'

But his remarks re-open the divide between right-wing ministers and Virginia Bott omley, Secretary of State for Health and spokeswoman on family issues. Giving the Alison Tennant Memorial Lecture in London, Mrs Bottomley yesterday defended her view that too much emphasis was placed on the idea that family values had disappeared.

Another right-winger, Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, last week said that family breakdown could not be ignored.

Mrs Bottomley insisted yesterday that 'rumours of the death of the family had been greatly exaggerated,' although she added: 'We have been in danger of an intrus ive, interventionist state usurping too much of the family's authority and responsibility.'

Mr Portillo hammered that point home yesterday, saying: 'A civilised nation depends on the values of neighbour liness and concern for others. But as people learn to look to the state for a solution to every social problem, people tend to think less of what their responsibilities are . . . The Good Samaritan passes into oblivion. Although people want to help others, their compassion is exercised by proxy: through paying taxes.'

Mr Portillo used his speech, given in Spanish, to consolidate the anti-Brussels mood in the wake of the revolt over would-be EC president Jean-Luc Dehaene.

Emphasising his belief in market forces as the prime instrument of change, he insisted: 'We must be suspicious of arguments that urge us to impede trade in order to drive up health and safety or environmental standards in developing countries . . . The best way we can help developing nations to raise their standards is to increase their wealth - and our own - by trading with them.'