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Health and Safety

8. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): What plans he has to improve health and safety in the workplace. [81276]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown): The joint Government and Health and Safety Commission strategy set out in the document XRevitalising Health and Safety" aims to achieve significant reductions in the

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incidence of injury and ill health in the workplace. There are specific targets and delivery plans in place for 2004 and for 2010.

Mr. Dismore : Bearing in mind the fact that it is more than seven years since the Law Commission first proposed an offence of corporate manslaughter and that more than 200 people are killed every year as they simply go about their normal business at work, will my right hon. Friend discuss with his colleagues in the Home Office what can be done urgently to implement this extremely important manifesto commitment and to introduce vital legislation to protect people from death at work?

Mr. Brown: I have a great deal of sympathy with the representations that my hon. Friend makes. The policy lead is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I will do as my hon. Friend asks and raise the matter with my right hon. Friend to see whether we can make progress.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Will the Minister look carefully at the rising trends in the costs of insurance claims as a result of accidents at work? They are feeding into worrying increases in employers' liability insurance premiums, and many small businesses are finding it very difficult to obtain cover. I understand that, in the summer, the Health and Safety Executive were engaged in considering the prospect of having discussions that would lead to lower premiums for firms that had good safety records. Will the Government support such a move?

Mr. Brown: There is a lot of sense in relating premiums to the risk and in rewarding the good and discouraging undesirable practices. Discussions are taking place across Government on this very important issue, and they include discussions with outside bodies such as the CBI, the TUC and the Association of British Insurers.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North): Although I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), does my right hon. Friend not agree that the best way of improving health and safety in the workplace is to ensure that firms are subject to rigorous and regular inspections? Is he confident that the Health and Safety Executive currently has the resources that it needs to ensure that firms are investigated properly and efficiently?

Mr. Brown: I am absolutely confident that the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission are able to prioritise their work and, with the resources allocated to them, carry out a good job. There will always be a discussion about priorities and, in the next few weeks, I shall meet representatives of the commission and the executive to consider targets and priorities.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will the Minister attend the Amicus meeting this evening in Portcullis House on bullying in the workplace? Is he proud of his Department's record on health and safety, because on

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his own figures there are nearly 100 assaults and attempted assaults each month on members of his staff in Jobcentre Plus offices alone?

Mr. Brown: It is quite wrong to give the impression that the new Jobcentre Plus offices are a dangerous place because they are open plan. The Government are committed to providing the new-style services—integrated benefits and labour-market advice—to people who seek our help in modern, workable circumstances instead of conducting interviews from behind a glass screen. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to take that approach.

Travel-to-Work Costs

9. Clive Efford (Eltham): If he will help unemployed people with their travel-to-work costs when they first obtain a job. [81277]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): Yes. We recognise that the lack of affordable transport can be a significant barrier to work for jobless people, and have a number of measures in place to help them overcome these difficulties, including the extension of half-price rail fares to 125,000 more people on the new deal programmes and the £10 million transport project fund to be used with action teams.

Clive Efford : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Such measures will help many people who seek employment. What steps is he taking to engage other transport service providers, such as London Transport, in discussions to encourage them to provide cheaper fares to people who seek employment?

Mr. Smith: We are working not only with the rail companies through the Association of Train Operating Companies, but with a number of bus operators including, I understand, some that cover my hon. Friend's constituency. The action team funding works out on average at more than £150,000 for each action team area over two years. We will be pleased to consider further proposals from jobseekers, those who help them into work or employers in his constituency.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) rose—

Mr. Speaker: I call the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Field: Hi. [Interruption.] A little bit of informality does us no harm.

Although I accept that the right hon. Gentleman wants to keep matters relatively simple—

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth): That is why the hon. Gentleman has been called.

Mr. Field: Absolutely right. I will have words with the hon. Gentleman later on.

I accept that we need to keep things simple and that the main focus will be on public transport, but the Secretary of State will be aware that the congestion charge comes into play on 17 February next. Will he give

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some thought to extending travel-to-work allowances to those people who have antisocial jobs within central London?

Mr. Smith: I admire the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity of working congestion charges into the question. Front-line advisers on the use of the discretionary funds at disposal, which are up to £300, are encouraged to include any action that can remove barriers standing in the way of jobseekers accessing work. I am sure they will do just that.

Stakeholder Pensions

11. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): If he will make a statement on the take-up of stakeholders pensions since their inception. [81279]

The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): Figures from the Association of British Insurers show that up to the end of September 2002, 1,151,371 stakeholder pensions had been sold. A detailed breakdown of sales will be available around the middle of next year. Sales of more than 1 million in their first 18 months on the market represents a very encouraging start.

Mr. Robertson : I thank the Minister for that response. How many of those are people who have transferred their pensions to stakeholder schemes from other schemes? If they have, the figure does not reflect a net increase in the number of people who hold pensions. How does he intend to address the crisis in the industry given the catalogue of errors, outlined by myFront-Bench colleagues, that the Government have introduced?

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman has not changed since he stood against me in 1987, when he was shown the door.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): He has: he has got a seat.

Mr. McCartney: Nice one, but I was talking about the attitude of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) rather than his seat.

Some 97 per cent. of the sales have been made to people of working age and half of them have been sold via the workplace. It is a significant increase in pension provision. Before stakeholder pensions, some people had no opportunity, either with their employer or not, to save for a pension.

The record of the previous Government was different—£13.5 billion of mis-sold pensions to workers. The present Government resolved that and went on to introduce something else—the stakeholder pension. More than 1 million people who did not have a pension 18 months ago have one now.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): In April this year, the Government introduced the earnings-related state second pension, the best pension deal for low-paid workers that has ever been on offer in the history of British pensions. The Government

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promised that it would remain in force until there was a take-up of millions of stakeholder pensions in the target group of low to middling incomes. That target is not being achieved. Will that promise be kept? Can we look forward to the continuation of the earnings-related state second pension?

Mr. McCartney: I am surprised that my hon. Friend should say that the Government are not pursuing with vigour the issues around stakeholders and the second state pension. He is absolutely right—the state second pension has been a tremendous fillip for 14 million low-paid workers, 2 million people with disabilities who have work records that kept them out of the basic state pension previously, and 2 million carers. Most of the recipients are women, which is a major step forward. We have not gone to the trouble of taking such step only to reduce later our capacity to make it one of the most effective measures introduced by any Government.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I note that the Minister did not quite answer my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who asked how many people who had signed up for stakeholders had transferred out of another scheme. Perhaps he would like to have another go. I know how interested he is in hearing how things are at the grass roots. Certainly, lower-paid workers in my constituency are not signing up because they do not want to commit their savings to the final compulsory annuity. Will the Minister take a look at the difference between the state of the pensions market now and in 1997? One of the great destructive things the Government have done is to take away the incentive for people to invest. The compulsory annuity scheme is part of the problem. Will the Minister take a second look at that?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady should perhaps try for an Adjournment debate on the subject.

Mr. McCartney: I hope that it is not me who has to reply—[Laughter.] I like the hon. Lady really.

If the hon. Lady had listened to my reply to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), she would have heard that a detailed breakdown of sales would be available around the middle of next year. That is a movable feast, but the important fact is that more than 1 million stakeholders have been sold. Another vital figure relates to the fact that 97 per cent. of sales have been to people of working age, so the initiative has been a tremendous success. Why cannot Opposition Members, whether from the Liberal or Conservative party, get behind a proposal to provide for people who, without stakeholders, would not have a future in pensions?

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