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The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown): The first 49 Jobcentre Plus offices opened on 22 October, providing for the first time a fully integrated employment and benefit service. First reactions from both individual customers and employers have been overwhelmingly positive. We plan to extend this integration progressively nationwide, beginning later next year.
Mr. Win Griffiths: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I visited the first stage of the Jobcentre Plus pathfinder in my constituency of Bridgend, and it appears to provide an excellent service. However, a number of staff, especially Benefits Agency staff, remain concerned about the safety issues that will arise when the project is rolled out across the whole work and pensions estate, so to speak, and there is impending strike action. What efforts are being made to get everybody around the table to discuss what I believe are the quite small changes that will be necessary to make the majority of staff happy about the new environment in which they have been asked to work?
Mr. Brown: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having visited the Jobcentre Plus office servicing his constituency. I urge all Members of the House to visit one of the new jobcentre plus sites if they can. As my hon. Friend has said, they are very attractive and provide an excellent working environment for delivering the service. That is an excellent working environment for our clients as well as for our employees.
I regret that some of our employees have taken industrial action, and I believe that the reasons underpinning it are misplaced. Of course, the Government would like to bring the industrial dispute to a conclusion with a consensus and get a return to work. However, the Government will not
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): What degree of uniformity has there been for risk assessments for various Benefits Agency offices? It has been put to me by staff in Jobcentre Plus offices that risk assessments seem to vary widely between different offices. Does the Minister agree that there is a huge difference between the American offices, where there are no screens and the guards are armed, and those in the United Kingdom where that is not the case?
Mr. Brown: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that we will not be introducing armed guards into the offices. We see no need for doing that. He is right that the risk assessments vary, although not as widely as he suggests. The reason is that individual circumstances in various parts of the country vary, and each risk assessment is tailored to local circumstances.
The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): We are committed to encouraging private saving to meet the long-term demographic challenge of an ageing population. We believe that everyone who can save for their retirement has a responsibility to do so, and that saving should be rewarded. Through stakeholder pensions schemes, we are targeting moderate and high earners without access to a good occupational scheme or a cost-effective personal pension. Stakeholder pensions offer those with current provision a secure, value-for-money and flexible savings vehicle.
The new pension credit will ensure that savings pay, targeting those with modest pensions or savings. It will support state second pensions and stakeholder pensions by providing those with low incomes and modest pensions with a cash top-up. The simplification review led by Alan Pickering will target the layers of regulation that increase compliance costs for employers and providers, possibly making pension provision expensive or confusing. The review will report in July with recommendations.
Mr. Rosindell: I thank the Minister for his reply. However, does he accept that many younger people are concerned about whether the existing provision will help them in years to come? Many younger people will obviously depend purely on a private pension. Does he accept that the Government need to do a great deal more if that is to be sustained?
Mr. McCartney: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must ensure that we sustain our education campaign so that every individual in the community of working age takes some responsibility for long-term savings. The problem is that when we spend resources on doing that, the Conservative party complains. However, we will continue to do so.
It is important that, throughout people's working lives, we provide them with savings and pensions platforms. People have different needs from time to time. Until now, at any event, younger people have not seen the necessity to save for their old age. Through various vehicles and our educational campaign, we are trying to get young people not only to think about their old age but to start saving through appropriate vehicles.
We also need to look after the many people who have disabilities or are carers. The state second pension will be introduced to ensure that those with broken work records, for example, such as young people with disabilities, have the opportunity of a reasonable income when they retire.
Mr. McCartney: I listened to my hon. Friend. This Government have reviewed and modernised the pensions system, and introduced stakeholder pensions, second state pensions and pension credits so that when people get to pension age, rather than facing a life of poverty as they would have done under the Conservatives, they have an income and are treated with dignity and respect.
Mr. Secretary Blunkett, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Reid, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mrs. Secretary Liddell and Beverley Hughes, presented a Bill to amend the Terrorism Act 2000; to make further provision about terrorism and security; to provide for the freezing of assets; to make provision about immigration and asylum; to amend or extend the criminal law and powers for preventing crime and enforcing that law; to make provision about the control of pathogens and toxins; to provide for the retention of communications data; to provide for implementation of Title VI of the Treaty on European Union; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 49].
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that under the Human Rights Act 1998 an order was made yesterday and laid before the House today, and it will be effective tomorrow. You will know also that it provides for a derogation from article 5 of the European convention on human rights so as to allow detention without trial. It refers specifically to the existence of a public emergency in the United Kingdom and to an Act that has not yet been published as a Bill and cannot be obtained from the Vote Office.
Have you received a request by the Home Secretary to make a statement? If not, would you be good enough to use your good offices to try to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to come to the House at the earliest opportunity and make a statement on what is, on any view, a serious derogation from human rights?
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is on a different matter. With a majority of the size that we face, it is to the power and protection of the Chair that the Opposition must look. Are you aware that the Animal Health Bill, which we will debate this afternoon, touches on issues concerning the slaughter of animals which are fundamental in light of foot and mouth disease? Is it sensible for such a Bill to be introduced before the report of the Government's inquiries, held in private, has been assessed by the House and when we are unable to determine whether the Bill is truly needed?
Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman seeks to have the occupant of the Chair make a political statement, and I would not want to do that. These are matters for debate, and it is up to the hon. Gentleman to catch my eye and make those points.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), could you ask the Home Secretary to come to the House later today? The order laid before the House today proposes huge changes to our human rights legislation, and at the very least we need the opportunity to ask the Home Secretary on what basis he is making those changes.