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Column 497the House. The Labour-controlled Ealing borough council has failed to evict noisy neighbours, but the Leader of the Opposition suggested yesterday that the Labour party favours the eviction of noisy neighbours. Should not the attention of the House be drawn to the Labour party's failure to practise what it preaches?
Mr. Newton: I am rapidly running out of things to say in response to my hon. Friend's frequent references to Ealing borough council, whose iniquities are rehearsed weekly on the Floor of the House. The only thing that I would say to him is that a committee concerned with empty rhetoric is not one of which I would care to be a member.
Mr. David Hanson (Delyn): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate early next week on the question of bonuses to national health service managers and nurses' pay? Is he aware that figures released today by the Institute of Health Services Management show that bonuses of up to £10,500 have been paid to NHS managers? The bonuses have been described as "illogical", at a time when nurses' pay is under discussion and is being frozen by the Government. Does the Leader of the House agree that next week would present an ideal opportunity to debate both issues in the House?
Mr. Newton: In my usual reasonable way, I will certainly consider that request for a debate, provided that the debate also embraces the huge increase in the amount of treatment being provided through the NHS, and the efficiency with which resources are being used in patient care as a result of improvements in management.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon): Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate a subject to which I know that he attaches great importance: the provision of school transport in Essex? Does he agree that the proposal by Liberal and Labour members of Essex county council to withdraw free school transport to grammar schools is mean-minded, petty and vindictive?
Mr. Newton: I am certainly well aware of the concern about that proposal, which, as my hon. Friend will understand, is shared by my constituents. Even so, I am not sure whether I can provide time for a debate on the issue. However, I hope that those in Essex will study my hon. Friend's words with care.
Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): Can there be an early debate about banking, so that hon. Members have an opportunity to discuss the continued closure of small branches, such as Edwinstowe and Rainworth in Nottingham, while the National Westminster bank, for example, records profits of £1.4 billion?
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the banks are private sector institutions which are responsible for decisions of that kind. I have no doubt that his remarks will be examined carefully by those concerned with the affairs of those institutions in his area.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay): Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House next week to make a statement about the Kingskerswell bypass? Is he aware that the future prosperity of my constituency depends on that work being undertaken at the earliest possible moment?
Column 498I have so far tabled no fewer than three parliamentary questions in an attempt to establish when work is due to commence, and I have been told for the past six months that work is imminent. However, no work has commenced, and the orders have not yet been made. Will my right hon. Friend request the Secretary of State to come to the House to explain when work can commence on the Kingskerswell bypass?
Mr. Newton: As it happens, I have already arranged for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to answer questions on Monday 3 April. I would judge from the question that he has just asked that my hon. Friend may seek to catch your eye, Madam Speaker.
[ That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Government on the central part it played towards the negotiation of the Chemical Weapons Convention which bans the acquisition, development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, and which Her Majesty's Government signed in January 1993; fully supports the United Kingdom's commitment, first made at the G7 Summit in 1991, to become an original State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention; notes that the Convention cannot enter into force until 180 days after 65 states have ratified and deposited their instruments of ratification with the Secretary-General of the UN; notes that as of the end of January 22 of the 159 signatory states had already deposited their instruments of ratification; views with concern that the United Kingdom has yet to ratify the Convention; notes further that Her Majesty's Government cannot ratify the Convention until enabling legislation has been brought forward by the Department of Trade and Industry and passed by Parliament; is concerned that the Department of Trade and Industry has no plans to do so in the current parliamentary session; understands that there is widespread support for the Convention amongst the main political parties at Westminster; welcomes the publication by the Department of Trade and Industry of a consultation document for the chemical industry regarding the implementation of the Convention in the United Kingdom; and urges the Department of Trade and Industry to bring forward the necessary legislation as a matter of urgency to demonstrate that chemical weapons arms control remains a high priority for the United Kingdom and to ensure that the United Kingdom does indeed become an original State Party to the Convention. ]
Will he have a word with the President of the Board of Trade and insist that the Government bring forward that legislation in the near future, particularly in the light of the terrible events in Japan this week?
Mr. Newton: I am very conscious of the significance of the legislation, and it is something that I am certainly examining with care, wearing yet another of my hats as Chairman of the relevant Cabinet Committee on legislation.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will my right hon. Friend enable the Government to demonstrate their interest in the welfare of a premier British industry--civil air transport--by granting an early debate in Government time on the subject, in view of the European
Column 499Union's strong desire to arrogate to itself member nations' rights to negotiate civil air transport agreements and its failure to control subsidies to state carriers such as Iberia?
Mr. Newton: I cannot promise an early debate on precisely those matters, but my hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport attaches importance to all the points that he has raised, and I shall bring his further comments to his attention.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston): The Minister will be aware of the decision by the Secretary of State for Transport to refer the case of the Derbyshire to Lord Donaldson for investigation. Despite the fact that I asked the Minister numerous questions, he failed to answer my last question and preferred to plant a question on the Conservative Benches so that he could reply to it. That did not really affect me, as I am concerned not simply about the Derbyshire, but about safety at sea.
The Derbyshire certainly demonstrates the need for the House to debate safety at sea. There is no doubt in my mind that the matter requires urgent debate, bearing in mind the tragedies that have occurred over the past decade. Will the Leader of the House impress on the Secretary of State for Transport that, in addition to what he has done--which is most welcome--he should prepare for a debate in the House on this important issue?
Mr. Newton: I shall certainly bring those remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who will answer questions in about 10 days' time. I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work in these matters. I expect that we all share his welcome for the inquiry, which is now established and for which he pressed for so long.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): May I support the call from the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on the powers of sentencing given to magistrates? We could consider the Green Paper published last week by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the powers which magistrates have, many of which were imposed by the Opposition in government; but, above all, we could consider sentences handed out by magistrates courts for acts of violence inside football grounds. Does he agree that the general public will applaud the decision in Croydon today?
Madam Speaker: Order. The matter is sub judice, and an appeal is pending, so perhaps the hon. Member will not persist in the line he is taking. Will the Leader of the House answer the first part of the question?
Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): May I remind the Leader of the House that, at this time of year, funding, particularly in public sector budgets, is being squeezed? I have an internal memorandum from South Kent Hospitals NHS trust, which states:
"Please note that the above practices"--
it refers to three GP fundholding practices--
"do not wish patients to be given TCI"--
or "to come in"--
"dates for their operations from Monday 13 March until 31 March. All urgent cases should still be admitted."
Column 500It continues:
"As with many other practices, the above are attempting to curtail activities in order to remain within their financial limits. Please ensure that patients"--
Madam Speaker: Order. I really cannot allow Members to read out long extracts at business questions. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Leader of the House what he is after, so that we might know whether we can have it next week?
Mr. Hughes: Clearly, those people are having their treatment delayed for purely financial reasons. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House and justify having people's treatment delayed on financial grounds?
Mr. Newton: I can certainly arrange for the hon. Gentleman's remarks to be drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Beyond that, if, as I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is quoting from what would conventionally be described as a leaked document, I shall certainly not comment on it off the cuff.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): Is my right hon. Friend aware of what happened yesterday in European Standing Committee B on immigration and border controls? Attendance at that Committee was so strong that many Conservative Members could not obtain seats? Will he think carefully about, and possibly consider having a debate on, whether more matters that go to European Standing Committee B could be brought back to the Floor of the House, so that hon. Members could have a greater chance to express their views on serious subjects that need to be discussed at great depth? I urge my right hon. Friend to have a debate on that at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Newton: I am aware of what happened yesterday in European Standing Committee B, but the European Standing Committees were set up in precisely the way that they have been, which is different from many others, in order to provide an opportunity for the Minister to be questioned as well as to have a debate, and for all Members who wish to attend to attend, even though only those who were appointed to the Committee can vote. Those arrangements seemed to work rather well yesterday.
Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley): As a diligent member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, I reinforce the plea for an early debate on its first special report. In the meantime, I put it to the Lord President that many of us on that Committee are severely exasperated by the delay, but are even more exasperated by the leaks that seem to emanate from the Committee through the Tory Whips Office. May we have that debate as early as possible?
Mr. Newton: I do not accept the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I certainly understand the desire to make progress on the matter, which has also been quite reasonably raised by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), and I have said that I shall be seeking to do that.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate as soon as possible, and preferably before Easter, on the standard of geriatric care in University hospital, Wales, where, a few days ago, a patient, a constituent of mine, Mr. George Ewart, was killed after receiving a massive overdose of morphine by an inexperienced nurse who was taking
Column 501instruction on the method of delivering the dose via a telephone call from an experienced nurse who was too busy to help? There has been a history of complaints about geriatric care at that hospital, and I would appreciate an early debate on the matter if the time could be found.
Mr. Newton: I am aware of that case, and I am sure that all of us would want to express our regret about it. It is, I understand, the subject of an internal investigation by South Glamorgan health authority, which is continuing, and it has also been reported to the coroner, who in turn has reported to the police. The Health and Safety Executive has also been informed. In the light of all that, the hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not think it appropriate to comment, and that at this moment it would not be appropriate to commit ourselves to a debate.
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): May we have an early debate on the privatisation by stealth of national health services? The article in The Independent today makes it clear that the Government's plans to extend the terms of the private finance initiative are not to bring in new finance but to compel NHS trusts to put health care services out to tender for strange combinations of builders and private health providers. Before the House is required to accept that the future of the NHS is to be put into the hands of the likes of McAlpine Health Care Ltd., should we not have the right to debate whether we wish to see an NHS in the future provided on the lump?
Mr. Newton: I understand that the report in The Independent is extremely selective in its quotations from the new guidance. It should be made clear that there is no requirement under the private finance initiative for any clinical services to be included in a facilities management package. Trusts should explore options of the private sector undertaking the design, building, finance and operation of the non-clinical services. In such schemes, the NHS would manage and provide all the health care services.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): Is the Leader of the House aware of the Home Secretary's plans to discuss with the House his proposals for the probation service? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware whether any debate has been arranged, or whether there is any
Column 502mechanism for us to give approval to the idea of drastically changing the training of probation officers, and perhaps replacing the present staff with recruits from the Army?
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the Leader of the House reflect on the fact that some 13.5 million people live in the south-east of England, outside of Greater London, and that the House regularly has debates on Wales, Scotland and Greater London? Is there not a case for us to have an annual debate in which we can examine the stewardship of the interests of those 13.5 million people under the Conservative Government, in which I can criticise the Government on behalf of Labour voters, and the hon. Members for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), for Harlow (Mr. Hayes), for Basildon (Mr. Amess), for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and for Crawley (Mr. Soames) can try to defend the appalling state of the south-east of England under the Government, with all the unemployment, the negative equity and the high cost of travelling to work in London?
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman shares with me the honour of representing some of the larger number to which he referred in our different parts of Essex. I do not recognise the description he gives, and in all honesty I do not think that I will undertake annual regional debates of the kind that he appears to be suggesting.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): Will the Leader of the House do his best to ensure the publication of the Government report on the implications of the House of Lords ruling on the 1992 Pepper v . Hart case, in which, as he will no doubt recall, the Law Lords ruled that the courts could take into account ministerial statements when interpreting an Act of Parliament, rather than, as has always been the case in the past, just the words on the face of the Bill or the Act?
If the Government and their code of practice on open government are to be taken seriously, should not the working party report be open to all Members of the House to see? It is a change of enormous significance to the procedure of the House, our legislation and the way in which it is interpreted. It seems quite wrong that the Government should suppress a very important report and the debate that the House should have on it.
Mr. Newton: I am obviously aware of the Pepper v . Hart judgment, which was indeed, as the hon. Gentleman says, of some significance. The proper course is for me to undertake to reflect on the matter.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Although I entirely fully understand why I came under your suspicion earlier, can I give you my absolute assurance that on this occasion I was not shouting in Prime Minister's Question Time, but I am grateful to you for drawing to the attention of the Observer that I was present for yet another Thursday?
Madam Speaker: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but I can distinguish a Welsh lilt from a Scottish accent. I think that both hon. Members might consider undertaking a vow of silence during Prime Minister's Question Time. I am always interested to hear their lovely accents, but not when another right hon. or hon. Member has the Floor of the House.
Consolidated Fund Act 1995
South Africa Act 1995
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
`.--(1) Regulations may provide for the amount of an income-based jobseeker's allowance payable to any young person to whom this section applies to be reduced--
(a) in such circumstances,
(b) by such a percentage, and
(c) for such a period,
as may be prescribed.
(2) This section applies to any young person in respect of whom-- (a) a direction is in force under section 13; and
(b) either of the conditions mentioned in subsection (3) is satisfied.
(3) The conditions are that--
(a) the young person was previously entitled to an income-based jobseeker's allowance and that entitlement ceased by virtue of the revocation of a direction under section 13;
(b) he has failed to complete a course of training and no certificate has been issued to him under subsection (4) with respect to that failure.
(4) Where a young person who has failed to complete a course of training--
(a) claims that there was good cause for the failure, and (b) applies to the Secretary of State for a certificate under this subsection,
the Secretary of State shall, if he is satisfied that there was good cause for the failure, issue a certificate to that effect and give a copy of it to the young person.
(5) In this section--
"training" has such meaning as may be prescribed; and
"young person" means a person who has reached the age of 16 but not the age of 18.'.-- [Miss Widdecombe.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. The Government guarantee a suitable youth training place for every young person who wants one. We shall spend £676 million on youth training this year in England alone. That is a significant investment in the future of our young people and the nation's economy. It means, moreover, that there is no reason why young people need to be unemployed. We do not wish to encourage dependency on benefit at such an early age, and 16 and 17-year-olds are therefore generally not entitled to claim benefits; but we have always recognised that there must be exceptions, and those are provided for in the system. First, young people in certain specified vulnerable groups, such as disabled young people, are allowed to claim income support. They will continue to be able to claim it after the introduction of the jobseeker's allowance. Secondly, young people in prescribed categories, such as those who have recently left local authority care, will be able to claim JSA for a period intended to allow them to overcome their temporary
Column 505difficulties. That, too, continues the existing arrangements. Thirdly, young people who are waiting for a suitable youth training place will be able to claim JSA if they would otherwise suffer severe hardship. Again, that continues the existing arrangements. Most young people are keen to better themselves and take their obligations seriously, but a minority persistently abuse the system. I set out the Government's policy intentions in Committee on 21 February, and also explained in Committee how we intended to deal with such abuses.
Young people wishing to claim JSA on severe hardship grounds must register with the careers service. As a result most will quickly be offered, and accept, suitable training under the YT guarantee. We recognise, however, that young people may not always be entirely clear about their vocational needs and aspirations: that is why young people receiving severe hardship payments who are in the guarantee group for the first time are allowed without penalty to turn down one offer of training or leave one training place early, for any reason whatever. But if they turn down two suitable youth training places, or leave two such places early without good cause-- or a combination of the two--they will incur the penalty of a 40 per cent. reduction in the personal rate of JSA for two weeks. If they subsequently rejoin the guarantee group, a reduction will be applied on each occasion when they turn down a suitable training place, or leave one such place early--again, without good cause.
I believe that that represents a clear and fair system for young people, but such a system clearly requires safeguards. First, it will be the careers service that decides whether a youth training place is suitable for a young person. The careers service is bound by arrangements made under the Employment and Training Act 1973, as amended by the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993, to provide young people with impartial guidance.
The careers service will not offer a young person a training place unless it meets his or her needs, circumstances and abilities. It will take into account anything that might limit the type of training that the young person could accept, including the young person's preference and aptitude, the level of approved qualifications for which he or she is aiming and the duration, proximity and availability of the training.
Secondly, we are introducing a new system of internal review that will take place before a direction is revoked on the ground that the young person has refused a suitable youth training place. The young person will be given the opportunity to request a re-examination of his case by the Employment Service before a direction is revoked. The Employment Service will consider all the circumstances of the case carefully; if it finds in the young person's favour, the direction will not be revoked, and the young person will continue to receive JSA.
If the young person is in a training place but is not happy with his training, he can take a number of courses of action--he can raise the matter with his training provider, with the training and enterprise council or with the careers service. Again, the facts of the case will be looked into carefully and, if appropriate, it may be decided that the training is not suitable and the trainee will then be found another place.
Column 506However, if the young person leaves a training place early and feels that he has good cause for doing so, he will be able to put his side of the case to the Employment Service. The circumstances of the case will be re-examined and, where good cause is established, a certificate will be issued by the Secretary of State and a copy given to the young person. If he reapplies for severe hardship under JSA, he will receive the full amount. However, if he does not have a certificate when he applies for a new direction, he will receive the reduced amount for the prescribed period of two weeks. If, subsequently, he gets a certificate, he can apply for a review under section 25 of the Administration Act to get back the amount of reduction that has been taken.
People receiving JSA are required to be available for and actively seeking employment. I want to explain how that will apply to 16 to 17-year-olds who are receiving severe hardship payments. They will be required to be available for and actively seeking work, but we believe that the priority for young people should be training or jobs with training. Jobs without training attached come a poor second. That is why 16 to 17-year-olds will not have to accept a job that does not have a suitable training content. If, however, they have abused the system by turning down or leaving youth training early without good cause and have suffered the reduction in the amount of JSA that I have described, they will at the same time lose their right to refuse offers of work on the ground that they do not contain training.
I believe that, taken together, the Government's youth training guarantee, backed by the clear sanctions, safeguards and protections that I have described, represents a fair and balanced package of measures for young people. The new clause is designed to put that into effect. I hope that, after debate, the House will support it.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield): Good afternoon, Madam Speaker. On behalf of the Opposition, I oppose the new clause. I want to set it in the context of the debates that took place on two occasions in Committee, when we set out clear and specific evidence of the Government's failure in provision for young unemployed people. Before doing that, I point out that during our debates on the Bill yesterday some 7,300 people were made redundant throughout the United Kingdom--from Northern Foods, Midland bank, Dewhurst and GCHQ, covering the retail, banking and manufacturing sectors. It is equivalent to 1,050 jobs an hour, 18 jobs a minute or one job for every three seconds while hon. Members were debating the Government's JSA proposals. Put in that context, we can see just how inadequate the Bill is not only in ensuring that people have a right to benefit, but, more importantly, in ensuring the necessary access and assets to get people back into the labour market.
The new clause is not about getting young people back into meaningful work; it is not about modernising and improving access to benefit and services for young people; it is not about tackling the causes of young people's poverty; it is not about tackling inequality and social and economic deprivation among young people; it is not about social investment in beleaguered working-class communities, from which many of the young unemployed come; and it is not about challenging the social alienation of youths who have been affected by unemployment--instead, the Bill is a vicious attack on young people. There is no other way to describe it.
Column 507Without any prior notice, the Government announced that they intended to change the rules for 16 to 17-year-olds-- one of the most economically and socially deprived groups in the United Kingdom. This is the second occasion in under a decade when the Government have singled out young unemployed people for vicious and callous treatment. That process was commenced in 1988 by the Prime Minister when he was Under- Secretary of State for Social Security. Against all advice from people, organisations who represented young people, and the Government's own independent authorities, the Government took action to deny young people the right of access to benefit and to support services. As a consequence, young people in their thousands were left destitute. It was a national scandal of which the Government have testimony today. Hundreds, if not thousands, of vulnerable young people are still left without resources.
It was against that background that Labour Members tabled a new clause on what should be in the jobseeker's agreement. It is interesting to note that, once again, the Minister has not taken the opportunity to publish the jobseeker's agreement for young people. The Government new clause does not deal with what should be in the agreement. It is simply about the way in which the Government will have a method of removing the right of vulnerable 16 to 17-year-olds to hardship payments.
In Committee, the Government made no effort to give the Opposition or even Conservative Back-Bench Members copies of the young person's agreement. On the last day that the Bill is in this place, we are still in the dark about what is contained in that agreement. The Minister either would not or could not clarify the differences between the adult Jobseekers Bill and the young person's version. Why is that the case? Why is she so unable or unwilling to provide basic information about the young jobseeker's agreement? Is it perhaps because of the fact that the Government had no intention at the outset of the Bill's passage to give any clear idea of their policy on 16 and 17-year-olds?
The new clause is a catch-all, and a nasty and malicious attempt to reduce the rights of 16 and 17-year-olds and to condemn them to even greater depths of destitution and exploitation. That boot camp philosophy towards the young unemployed is similar to that outlined by the Home Secretary on other issues. Suffice to say that the young persons jobseeker's agreement will be more punitive than the current arrangements for hardship payments, as the Minister admitted in her short introduction to the new clause. What will she do about the 1, 000 vulnerable teenagers who have been turned away each month by the Government's covert campaign to cut support to them?
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) has asked parliamentary questions about the matter. Every month, 1,000 young people--vulnerable teenagers--are denied access to hardship payments. Those vulnerable young people are casualties not only of youth unemployment but of life--they have come out of care, are homeless or houseless, or have been physically or sexually abused. Each month, 1, 000 of those people are still refused the right of access to hardship payments.
In the three summer months of last year, the latest period for which statistics are available, 6,190 teenagers who applied for hardship payments were turned away, an
Column 508average of 476 refusals per week. Nine months earlier, before the rules were tightened, the refusal rate was only about 200 a week. Between 1989 and 1994, claims for severe hardship had risen from around 250 per week to 2,700 per week, a rise of more than 1,000 per cent. The reason for that increase was the Government's decision in 1988 to remove access to benefits and other help for young 16 to 17-year- olds. The Opposition and people who represent young people have said that that decision has led to a large increase in poverty and destitution among young people. The figures show that to be the case.
What did the Secretary of State for Employment, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, do to deal with that growing problem? He was so alarmed about the increase in successful claims that he sent a specialist team to investigate the severe hardship payment unit in Glasgow. It was revealed in confidential documents that the view of the then Chief Secretary, who is now the Secretary of State for Employment responsible for the new clause, was that officers were being too generous to 16 and 17-year-olds, not that there was hardship or any vulnerable young people. He denied that there was hardship or that young people were vulnerable. His sole intention in the exercise was to reduce Government expenditure on vulnerable young people. As a consequence, when he moved from his Treasury job to his present post, he regarded it as a priority to tackle young people. The major reason that the new clause has been proposed is to reduce the overall sum spent on hardship payments for vulnerable teenagers. It is an extension of his role when he was a Treasury Minister.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): So that we can be clear about this, is the hon. Gentleman saying that the jobseeker's allowance should be available for all 16 to 17-year-olds or merely that all claims for hardship allowances should be allowed, whatever the circumstances?