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Special Needs

15. Mr. Paul Clark: What steps will be taken to ensure that young people with exceptional needs are able to enter the new deal early if they choose to do so. [24196]

Mr. Alan Howarth: We are committed to ensuring that the new deal meets the individual needs of all young people, including those with special needs, who will be offered the opportunity to join it early. That includes people with disabilities, those with literacy or numeracy problems, lone parents, ex-offenders and others at a particular disadvantage.

Mr. Clark: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. The scheme that is being developed to deliver the new deal in the Medway towns will ensure that those opportunities exist. Special advisers to the scheme through the gateways opportunity, including Members of Parliament who are members of the planning team, will experience some of those opportunities. That is why I cannot wait to join the Army in the woods for a 36-hour survival course to develop my motivation and team skills. Does my hon. Friend agree that the new deal has given opportunities at a local level--that is the important point--to build strong, wide-reaching partnerships involving the private and voluntary sectors, the Employment Service and the public sector to deliver the training and skills that our young people require for the 21st century?

Mr. Howarth: After his magnificent result at the general election, my hon. Friend should be offering survival courses. He may receive applications from Conservative Members who are already panicking at the thought of the next election. I am delighted by the quality of partnership that is being developed for the new deal in

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the Medway towns. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his commitment, to Linda Russell, who has led the process for the Employment Service, and to all the businesses, TECs, local authorities and voluntary organisations that have responded so positively to the Government's challenge to give better support to unemployed people.

Mr. Ian Bruce: The Minister was clearly the first person in the Labour party to benefit from the new deal. I am glad that he is being less aggressive in response to questions on the new deal. Members of Parliament have received letters from the Employment Service telling us what is happening. We are grateful for that, but we are panic-stricken because the Employment Service is dismantling itself before the new deal has come in. It will be needed to help the most difficult cases to come off the unemployment register. Will the Minister please look again at the cuts to the Employment Service currently being announced?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is part of the old deal. Unemployment is 28 per cent. lower than a year ago. It must be sensible to scale back certain provision against that background. Funding per person is largely unchanged. The hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that there is a sensible case for what we are doing given that job clubs are only being used to 87 per cent. of capacity. However, where local partnerships think it appropriate, more job club places can be provided. Employment Service district managers are consulting Members of Parliament and locally. It would be preferable for Members to respond constructively rather than using the opportunity for opportunistic political point scoring.

Mr. Allan: Does the Minister recognise the concerns expressed by many in our ethnic minority communities, which traditionally suffer disproportionately high unemployment, that their young people will have difficulty gaining access to the high-quality employment option under the new deal? Does he recognise that such concerns are often fuelled by scepticism as a result of poor experiences on schemes under the previous Administration? Does he have any plans to deal with such issues?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the grievous reality of unemployment among members of ethnic minorities--particularly young people. Unemployment among people from ethnic minorities is running at twice that among white people--15 per cent. as against about 7 per cent. Unemployment is higher among young people across the range of ethnic minorities. For young black people, unemployment is running at 34 per cent. The most chilling statistic is that, among black men in London aged between 16 and 24, unemployment is 45 per cent. The previous Government left behind a shameful situation.

We are involving ethnic minority organisations at every point in the new deal. We have introduced ethnic

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monitoring to examine what barriers to success there may be for young people from ethnic minorities. We are, of course, monitoring very closely the outcome so that we can respond sensitively and urgently to this very important challenge.

Regional Aid

16. Mr. Barnes: What representations he has received recently from the alliance for regional aid; and if he will make a statement. [24197]

Mr. Andrew Smith: I met representatives of the alliance for regional aid in August last year. We discussed the reform of the European structural funds and the criteria for their allocation. The Government are seeking arrangements which are fair, affordable, efficient and durable, and which take due account of United Kingdom regional interests.

Mr. Barnes: The alliance for regional aid is worried that £1,000 million a year, which we have been receiving from the European regional development fund under objective 1 and objective 2 assistance, may begin to disappear. One of the factors involved is the unemployment figures that are presented to the European Union. We still operate on the fiddled method that the Conservatives introduced. It must therefore be made clear to the EU that unemployment is higher than the official record shows. We might need to adjust the figures to show that that is so.

Mr. Smith: The Government have been making the point about the importance of accurate unemployment statistics. We are seeking to re-establish public credibility and confidence in unemployment figures, which were so shamefully undermined by successive changes and fiddles when the Conservatives were in government. The review has properly been conducted by the Office for National Statistics at arm's length from the Government precisely so that it could not be subject to any charge of political interference or manipulation--nor has it been. My hon. Friend and the House can expect an announcement from the Office for National Statistics in the very near future. In the meantime, the Government will continue to fight for a fair deal for the United Kingdom regions in our negotiations with Europe.

Literacy and Numeracy

17. Mr. Ivan Lewis: What steps he plans to take to ensure that schools are able to timetable for teaching an hour a day of literacy and numeracy. [24198]

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18. Mr. Llwyd: How many representations he has received on his recent proposals for more school time to be devoted to teaching numeracy and literacy, and if he will make a statement. [24199]

Ms Estelle Morris: We announced earlier this month that schools will have time to devote an hour each day to literacy and to numeracy. From September, primary schools will no longer be required to follow the current prescribed programmes of study in the national curriculum subjects of art, design and technology, geography, history, music and PE. We have also published our plans to free teachers from unnecessary bureaucracy and give them more time to teach the basics.

Mr. Lewis: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Since 1 May she has made it clear that we shall demand the highest standards from our schools, but also that we shall give our teachers and governors the tools with which to deliver such standards. In the context of literacy and numeracy, books are an important element in the ability to deliver high standards. What plans do we have to increase access to and use of books in our schools?

Ms Morris: The whole House will have been pleased to hear the announcement made this morning by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that the Government are to provide an additional £23 million for books in schools. That will mean that most schools will receive £1,000 extra to spend on books. When we add that to the £59 million already put into the literacy strategy, we see that the Government are taking action to ensure that we raise standards in the basics of literacy and numeracy. That will be welcomed by all schools and all parents.

Mr. Llwyd: Bearing in mind the present low morale in the teaching profession, will the hon. Lady assure the House that, before the changes are introduced, there will be wide consultation with the profession, in order to allow those changes to work? The move is surely right and proper; none the less, it should be implemented in a way that is comfortable and practicable for schools and teachers.

Ms Morris: We shall indeed consult on the proposed changes over the next few months. I know that my right hon. Friend's announcement this morning will also raise morale in classrooms. It shows that the Government are giving teachers the tools to do the job. They are essential partners in our crusade to raise standards, and I know that they will welcome today's announcement.

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