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To what does he attribute that poor performance? Given that people with mental ill-health now form the largest single group of new claimants of incapacity benefits, what steps is he taking to ensure that that important group can benefit further from welfare reform?

Mr. Hutton: The data that I have seen indicate that about one in 10 people with mental health problems who are participating in a pathways pilot scheme have found a job. That is significantly better than in those areas without a pathways scheme. The hon. Gentleman has expressed his view, and I take it that he is lending his support to the view of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said of pathways:

If the choice is between the hon. Gentleman’s view of pathways and the OECD’s, I am afraid that I prefer the OECD’s view.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): There is no doubt that the cognitive behavioural therapists who work in the pathways to work areas and help people with mental health problems into work have been very effective. How confident is my right hon. Friend that enough of those people will be properly trained when the pathways scheme is rolled out to other areas, especially as mental health is one of the big issues and obviously requires a different approach from that for people with other disabilities and especially as the most recent research shows that employers are even more prejudiced against employing someone with a mental health problem?

Mr. Hutton: There is no doubt that people with mental health problems face an issue of stigma, and we
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must tackle that. Specifically on pathways to work, my hon. Friend is quite right to refer to the positive impact of cognitive behavioural therapy. For example, I have visited a scheme in Derby with a significant success rate in employing CBT services from the private sector, where, I am afraid, the NHS did not have the necessary capacity. Together with the private sector and the NHS, I hope that there is a way to ensure that we have sufficient capacity. Like my hon. Friend, those of us in the House should go out and meet people who have benefited from the programme. That is the way to test the scheme’s value, rather than relying on reports from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What is the Secretary of State’s opinion of “The Depression Report”, published last month by the London School of Economics, which suggests that huge savings could be made on incapacity benefit if cognitive behavioural therapy was made available to those suffering from depression or anxiety disorders, as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence? If he has not yet read the report, will he do so and give serious consideration to its proposals, along with his colleagues in the Department of Health?

Mr. Hutton: I have read the report, and we agree with it. We are extending pathways to work to every part of the United Kingdom, so that everyone will have access, where appropriate, to CBT.

Disabled People

12. Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): What further assistance he plans to make available to people with disabilities who live independently in the community. [83309]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): Independent living is at the heart of the Government’s strategy for disabled people. The life chances report, published in January last year, set out a range of measures to enable more disabled people to lead independent lives. The Department for Work and Pensions and the new Office for Disability Issues are working closely with the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government to test individual budgets and, in all, 13 pilot sites will be on stream by the end of this month.

Mr. Devine: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. There will be some individuals in that category with learning difficulties and chronic mental health problems who, 30 years ago, could have been in a long-term institution. What assistance are we giving to such people to ensure that they can live independent lives in our communities?

Mrs. McGuire: One reason we are testing this approach through the pilots is to ensure that people such as those to whom my hon. Friend referred have far more control over their lives, and we are pulling together some of the resources available to them, including access to work. We look forward to seeing the
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outcome of the pilots, so that they can underpin the development of a far more individual and “in-control” approach for disabled people in Britain.

Incapacity Benefit

13. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If he will make a statement on the Department's progress towards reducing the number of people on incapacity benefit by 1 million by 2016. [83310]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): We have already made significant progress. New claims are down by a third since 1997 and in the year to November 2005, the number of people on incapacity benefits was down by 61,000. We are building on that success through the national roll-out of pathways to work and the measures announced in our Welfare Reform Bill. That will make a significant contribution to making a reality of our aim to reduce, over a decade, the number of those claiming incapacity benefits by 1 million.

Simon Hughes: I watched the exchange about the general picture between the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy), and the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb), who asked Question 1. May I ask the Minister a specifically London follow-up question? Just over 250,000 people in Greater London are claiming invalidity benefit or getting other disability benefit, which means that they are not working. Can the Minister tell me, either now or later, what proportion of them—excluding those who will have died or retired—will be in work by the target date of 2016?

Mrs. McGuire: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the earlier exchange between the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform and Members was far better live than it was on the monitor. As the hon. Gentleman has asked a specific and detailed question, it would be appropriate for me to give a written response at a future date, but he will doubtless be delighted to know that the number of incapacity benefit recipients in his constituency has already fallen by 5 per cent.

Mesothelioma

14. Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): If he will make a statement on compensation for people with mesothelioma. [83311]

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Mr. Jim Murphy): We were disappointed by the House of Lords decision in respect of the Barker case. The Government announced that we will amend the Compensation Bill to restore the position and to offer some comfort to sufferers of mesothelioma.


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Paul Rowen: I thank the Minister for that answer, and for the commitment that the Secretary of State gave earlier this year to taking such action. Does the Minister plan to extend the compensation, particularly to those people—mainly women—who come into contact with such fibres, perhaps through washing their husband’s clothes at home?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), raised this matter in an Adjournment debate a week or so ago, and I can confirm today what I confirmed in that debate. The industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme is under review and we will publish a discussion document later this year, on which all interested parties, including the hon. Gentleman, can comment. We are looking for additional ways to provide the support that people in this dreadful situation need in order to make their life with that terrible illness at least in some small way more acceptable.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Many of us are delighted that the Government are moving to overturn the decision in the Barker case, but do we not need a swift and simple compensation scheme—unlike the miners’ compensation scheme, which is over-burdensome—for mesothelioma sufferers? Many such sufferers may have only 18 months from the moment when they know that they are ill with the disease to the moment when, sadly, they die. Will the Government move swiftly on this issue?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend takes a close interest in this subject and has done so for some time. He is right to say that the current situation is unacceptable. I understand that the average time taken to process and pay a claim is longer than the post-diagnosis life expectancy of mesothelioma sufferers, which is clearly unacceptable. The Government are working hard with the insurance industry, trade unions and others, and we will make a statement on this matter before the summer recess.

Child Support Agency

16. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on reform of the Child Support Agency. [83313]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): In February 2006, the agency published its operational improvement plan, which sets out how it will make significant improvement to performance over the next three years. In the meantime, Sir David Henshaw is developing a redesign of the child support system for the longer term and has been asked to deliver his findings to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before the summer recess.

Ben Chapman: Will my hon. Friend confirm that any future child maintenance system will have at its core an assumption that parents can settle differences between themselves without the intervention of the state, backed up, if necessary, with some form of mediation?
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Mr. Plaskitt: My hon. Friend is right that all such problems arise because of relationship breakdown, and it would assist the families and children involved were such intervention avoided. Mediation has a role to play, and while I do not want to prejudge anything that the Henshaw report will bring forward, my hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission was asked—

Dining Rooms

21. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What recent representations he has received about the use of House dining room facilities for party political fundraising. [83318]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): No such representations have been received. As I explained to the hon. Gentleman in written answers on 24 May and 14 June, regulations prohibit the use of House private dining rooms for party political fundraising.

John Mann: But will the hon. Gentleman carry out an investigation into the practice of constituency associations forming a club, which charges a large annual membership fee, part of the benefit of which is a complimentary dinner in the House of Commons? In so doing, will he publish the list of all Members who have booked private dining facilities in the House since the election?

Nick Harvey: This is not primarily a matter for the House of Commons Commission. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there has been misuse of any facility provided by the House, including its refreshment facilities, that is a potential breach of paragraph 14 of the code of conduct. Allegations of that nature should be drawn to the attention of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and will be considered in accordance with the procedures for investigating complaints, as agreed by the House.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Official Report (Corrections)

22. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): If he will make a statement on how corrections sought by Ministers to matters recorded in the Official Report should be implemented. [83319]


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The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The ministerial code makes it clear that Ministers must give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. It is obviously helpful if any correction necessary to anything said on the Floor of the House is made clear, for example, through a written ministerial statement. In the light of my correspondence with the hon. Gentleman and his suggestions, I am currently considering the terms in which guidance should be given to Departments on how corrections might best be put on the record, taking into account how high profile the original error was. I am also in touch with the editor of the Official Report as to how corrections might be noted and cross-referenced in Hansard.

Andrew Selous: I hope that it is not old-fashioned to believe that being inaccurate at the Dispatch Box is one of the cardinal sins of British politics. If that is still the case, should not corrections be made at the Dispatch Box at the same time of day as the original error, in order to gain the same publicity as the original words received on “Today”, “Yesterday in Parliament” or anywhere else?

Mr. Straw: Were a deliberate error made at the Dispatch Box, having to come back to the House for a further oral statement would probably be the least of the retribution to be meted out to the individual. As for inadvertent errors, unless such an error was grossly negligent, it would be slightly over-the-top for the Minister concerned to have to come back to make a further oral statement. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, on his basic principle, that the way in which a correction is implemented should take account of the circumstances in which the original error was made. I also understand his concern about the use of letters from Ministers, which are then placed in the Library and cannot be properly cross-referenced.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Let me give an example. On 30 November 2005, the Prime Minister said that no one waited longer than six months for an NHS in-house operation. That was untrue, and it was repeated by other Ministers. How could it be corrected?

Mr. Straw: The first question to ask is whether it was untrue, or whether there was an argument about the statistical data.

Mr. Bone: There was no argument.

Mr. Straw: I have seen other data which suggest that what the Prime Minister said may well have been entirely accurate. Let me say, however—leaving aside that particular example—that if there is an inaccuracy, it is right for that inaccuracy to be brought properly to the attention of the House and the public. That is in the Government’s interests as well. The Government’s interests are not served by the appearance of inaccurate data in the Official Report, with corrections—sometimes quite significant corrections—available only in the House of Commons Library.


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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am grateful for the positive tone in which the Leader of the House is addressing an issue that vexes all Members on both sides of the House, but let me also give an example. On 19 April, during Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that in the Thames Valley strategic health authority area—as it then was—there were no patients waiting longer than 13 weeks for out-patient appointments. In fact, that was not the case: a constituent of mine had been waiting 18 weeks. I wrote to the Prime Minister; he did not reply to me. The Secretary of State for Health replied to me, saying that when the Prime Minister had said on 19 April that “today” there were no patients waiting longer than 13 weeks, he had meant that on 31 December 2005 there were no patients waiting longer than 13 weeks.

As of the end of March, there were more than 500 patients waiting more than 13 weeks for out-patient appointments in the Thames Valley area, so the figure would not even have been accurate on the basis of the most recent data relating to the date to which the Prime Minister referred.

Do not Ministers have a real responsibility to the House, and to the public who read reports of our proceedings, to ensure that the information given is accurate? Does not the biggest responsibility rest with the Prime Minister, who should be the one to ensure the highest standards of all in the information that he gives?

Mr. Straw: Having observed the care that the Prime Minister takes in preparing for Prime Minister’s questions, and the voluminous briefing that he receives and studies in every detail, I can say that he makes every effort to ensure that the replies he gives are accurate. As for the specific example given by the right hon. Lady, she will appreciate that I have not seen the details. It seems to me, however, that she accepts that there was a period when the waiting list fell to zero, and that the Prime Minister was therefore perfectly entitled to make the point.

We have to use the latest available data. I do not want to sound like “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, but I have not seen from the record where the Prime Minister’s “breath mark”, or comma, occurs, denoting what “today” qualified. He was, however, using the most up-to-date data.

The right hon. Lady will have cause to know that I quite often quote data relating to the Thames Valley strategic health authority. I am open to correction, but I can tell her—much to her embarrassment, which is strange, because she should be celebrating the fact— that according to my recollection, the number of nurses in her SHA area has increased by over 3,000 since 1997, and the number of doctors by a significant number of hundreds.


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