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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The Prime Minister's strategy unit report, "Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People", published in January 2005, analysed the issues faced by disabled people in many areas of their lives, including prejudice and discrimination, and set all of us in Government the challenge of delivering substantive equality for disabled people within a generation.
Will the Minister therefore confirm that in the incapacity benefit Green Paper she and the Secretary of State will focus on the talents and potential of people with disabilities? To that end, can she confirm
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that in the Green Paper the level of benefit will not be cut, nor will a time limit be included, and nor will GPs who have written the largest number of sick notes be blacklisteda very broad concern for the disability community?
Mrs. McGuire: I agree with the first part of the hon. Lady's question. I am sure that she would not expect me to go into any detail on the second part, as the Secretary of State has already made it clear that the Green Paper will be published shortly. On the general issue of images of disabled people, through my Department and across Government we have sought to ensure that looking at disabled people on the basis of what they cannot do is not acceptable. Indeed, we continually highlight the potential of disabled people and their skills and experience. That is the essence of our approach in our policies on disabled people.
The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Margaret Hodge): The early evidence from our pathways pilots is very positive and has delivered the best results for long-term sick and disabled people of any intervention that has been tried and tested in any part of the world. Almost 150,000 people have started on a pilot, including more than 11,000 existing claimants, and 19,500 have secured a job. That represents an eight percentage point increase in people leaving incapacity benefit after six months, compared with the rest of the country.
Mr. Devine: Unemployment in my constituency is 2 per cent; 9,000 new jobs have been created since 1997; and employment is at a record level but we have 6,500 people on incapacity benefit. What advice can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents about the extension of the pilot?
Margaret Hodge: I confirm what my hon. Friend says. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to him last week because his constituency is one of the 100 constituencies with the highest number of incapacity benefit claimants. I suggest that he tells his constituents that they should look forward to the publication of our proposals in the Green Paper and the consequent policy changes and legislation, because for the first time ever we will provide them with the support and opportunity to realise their potential and enjoy the security of having a job and playing a full part in their community.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following a debate on elite athlete funding during the Report stage of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill, the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) tabled a parliamentary written question that was answered by the Minister, saying that he had not received any funding submission from the British Olympic Association for elite sport in the run-up to the 2012 games. As soon as the British Olympic Association saw that answer, it said that it was incorrect, that it had had meetings with 23 out of the 26 sport national governing bodies and a series of meetings with the Departmentand, most damagingly of all, that it had signed up to the UK Sport submission on the matter. Have you, Mr. Speaker, received any indication from the Minister that he wishes to correct the record?
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) for giving me prior notice of his point of order. As the person who asked the question, I was pleased with the answer that I received. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to ask the Minister to come forward. For the benefit of the House, the question was intended to ask about UK Sport submitting a funding bid to the House. The answer that I received was accurate. When the Minister reads this exchange tomorrow, I want him to know that I was satisfied with the answer. I am disappointed that the Opposition and the hon. Gentleman, who is a well respected Front-Bench spokesperson and whom I know well and regard as a friend in sporting matters, is using the matter to start to break the cross-party consensus on the Olympics.
May I express the House's condolences to the family of Lord Merlyn-Rees, who sadly died recently? He was a proud Welshman and perhaps one of the leading Welsh parliamentarians of his generation. The House remembers him with great affection.
The House also remembers my friend and fellow Chelsea fan, Tony Banks, whose sparkle lit up public life. We express our sympathy to his wife, Sally, and share the anguish of his family and his many friends at his sudden and shocking death.
I am sure that hon. Members will join me in expressing our sympathy and condolences to the families of the cyclists involved in the appalling accident in Abergele, which left carnage on the roads. I have asked for a report from the chief constable, which many hon. Members want to see, too.
I welcome the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) to her new role as shadow Welsh Secretary. I last sparred with her across the Dispatch Box when I was at the Foreign Office, and I look forward to doing so again.
It is now more than eight years since the people of Wales voted to establish the National Assembly for Wales, and I was proud to help lead that referendum campaign to bring long-needed devolution to Wales. Despite predictions to the contrary from our opponents, devolution has proved a success. When the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who is now back on the Opposition Front Bench, was Secretary of State for Wales, he said that he did
Indeed, separatism has waned in Wales since the Assembly was established. Welsh independence is now seen as outdated and eccentric, whereas without the prospect of devolutionary reform from 1997, it could have gained momentum in a backlash against the over-centralisation of successive Conservative Governments. Many of my hon. Friends will, like me, recall the intense reaction in Wales against what I call "Redwooditis",
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which helped to turn the 4:1 defeat for devolution in the 1979 referendum into a victory in 1997. If there had not been a change of Government and if devolution had not been instituted, it is quite possible that the flame of separatism could have become a conflagration, instead of which it has been snuffed out. Devolution is helping to generate a new maturity in Welsh politics in which decisions affecting Wales are made in Wales by elected representatives who are accountable to the people of Wales. Just blaming London for policy shortcomings or failures no longer holds watersince 1999 the buck has stopped in Cardiff bay.
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