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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I again remind the hon. Gentleman that perhaps a passing reference to the new deal I could accept, but we are not here to debate the new deal per se. Perhaps he will relate his remarks to the orders on the Order Paper.
Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that those who are to receive the uprating and social security benefits will want to know not only what Her Majesty's Opposition think about the quantum of the benefits they will receive as a result of the order going through the House, but what our plans might be for the delivery of those benefits.
Unlike my hon. Friend, I have no intention of doing so, if indeed he did so intend. Like
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him, I am concerned about any failures of the new deal to get people back into employment in relation to how it then impacts on the number of people who end up back on benefit. Is he aware that in my constituency just 30 per cent. of the people who go on to the new deal for lone parents get sustained, unsubsidised employment and that the number of young people who are on a repeated cycle of going through the new deal and ending up back on benefits is scandalous? To be lectured in the way that we have by the Minister todayas if right is solely on the Government side of the House and that we have no concern for people in that predicamentis appalling and flies in the face of the facts.
Mr. Timms: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I will receive the announcement that I think he has been making about a significant change of thinking on Conservative policy in a much more friendly way than the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart). I welcome the change of heart that is being indicated.
Can the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) confirm that he thinks that focusing help on young people, lone parents and older people in the way that the new deal has is the right approach to helping people back into work?
Mr. Ruffley: I am afraid that the Minister really needs to pay closer attention to what we are saying. It is not a change of policy to make it clear that manifesto commitments from last year do not subsist for the four years after the general election. He should grow up, or maybe do A-level constitutional history, and understand that we are going through a policy process. Nothing I said suggested that we are endorsing the new deal. In fact, I went out of my way to describe how it is defective, how it needs to be improved and how it does not represent value for money for the taxpayer as currently configured.
There is clearly a huge chasm between what the Labour Government are saying on the results of the new deal and what can be delivered by greater and more effective use of the third sector and private sector delivery. The fact is that the Government have failed utterly with the new deal as configured to get enough people into worksustainable workas quickly as they would like to get into work. However, I shall return to the burden of my argument. I had to put to rest a canard that the Minister was trying unjustly to lay on us. There has been no policy change in that respect.
On pensions and the income that our pensioners enjoy, will the Minister tell us what consideration he is giving to uprating the basic state pension in line with earnings? I would be interested to hear how much more the basic pension would be next year if it were increased in line with earnings rather than prices this year? I ask that because my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) asked the same question of the Minister last December. I would be grateful if he provided us with an answer.
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Lord Turner's proposals contain an important central conclusion, which is that means-testing for pensioners should be reduced. Nearly half of all pensioners depend on means-tested benefits, which is an increase over the past eight years. By 2050, that proportion will have risen to more than 70 per cent.
Mr. Ruffley: As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, it is indeed disgraceful. I repeat that by 2050 the proportion will have risen to more than 70 per cent. if Government policy is continued. Pension credit is not being claimed by 1.7 million pensioners who are entitled to it, and the latest figures show that despite all the money that is being spent on advertising and the no doubt sterling efforts of the Pension Service, take-up does not seem to be shifting.
Another question for the Minister, which relates directly to the orders, involves the confusion introduced by the Chancellor to the debate in relation to the pension credit link to earnings, or is it prices? We know that the pension credit is linked to earnings in uprating terms until 2008, but in a rather transparent attempt to torpedo Lord Turner's proposals, even before they saw the light of day, the Chancellor told Lord Turner
It would be helpful if the pensions Minister told us what his assumptions are. Before he says, "Well, that's for a future Budget and the Chancellor," I would have thought it incumbent on him as pensions Minister to tell us his Department's long-term thinking.
The Minister is rightly engaging in the rhetoric of long-termism and of patient solutions. Lots of hard work needs to be done to plan for the long term. On pensions, who could disagree with that? But, it would be useful to know about the short term, not so much the long term, as 2008 is not far away. We look forward to an answer to what is a fairly simple question. Many pensioners listening to the debate and those who hear about it subsequently will want an answer.
Miss Begg: Perhaps this is an occasion on which if the hon. Gentleman shows us his, we will show him ours. As he is asking what the Government's proposals are beyond 2008, can he tell us what Conservative policy will be in 2008, because he has ruled that out with regard to the new deal up to now?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept two things. First, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney has made it clear that we will engage in patient long-term policy work, and our position will certainly be clear after 18 months. Secondly, it is not a question of not knowing; what we do know is that we do not indulge in the knee-jerk reactions and grab-a-headline policy making on the hoof, which, I am afraid, is the distinguishing hallmark of Labour Ministers over eight years and the Liberal Democrats. What is refreshing about the new Leader of the Opposition is that he has stamped his mark on a host of issues by saying, "Listen, we're going to think outside the box and think afresh. We're going to deliver solutions not just for the next
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week or the next 12 months, but for a whole Parliament." If Ministers can be a bit patient and listen to what we will say, openly, in our policy commissions, they might learn something. They have had eight years in which to come up with a long-term solution and to think the unthinkable, and all that they have come up with is sacking the people who think the unthinkable and
Mr. Ruffley: I will not be led astray, Madam Deputy Speaker. I just try my best to be courteous to Members who intervene on me, and to give straight answers to straight questions, which I thought that I had done. If that requires me to be led astray, I shall not do it in future, or certainly not in this debate.
Will the Minister tell us whether that timetable is still operative, and when in spring we might expect the Government's response to Turner? I do not wish to try your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, by referring again to the incapacity Green Paper, but that was an important document postponed from last summer that did not see the light of day until January, after at least two or perhaps more postponements
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