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Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I recently paid another visit to the Single Parent Action Network, which has its national headquarters in my constituency. It has just received nearly £400,000 in lottery grant to expand its study centre work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that sometimes it is important that single parents have a year or two to gain qualifications, so that when they enter the job market they can go for better-skilled, better-paid jobs, rather than entering
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work straight away? And will he tell me what the Government are doing to support that?

Mr. Brown: One of the great changes that has taken place since 1997 is that the number of single parents entering work has risen substantially. When we came into power, the figure was about 43 per cent., and it has now risen to nearly 58 per cent.—we are on the road to raising it to around 70 per cent. in this country. One of the reasons why we have been able to make that change is by providing training support and child care help to lone parents to enable them to make those decisions. In particular, we have been able to help those people with the sort of courses recommended by my hon. Friend. Again, that part of the new deal is essential to the creation of jobs. I wish that there were all-party support for the new deal, instead of the Opposition parties trying to abolish it.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): In the light of research that every 10 per cent. increase in unemployment results in a 30 per cent. increase in home repossessions, will the Chancellor call in the banks to negotiate a code of conduct with them to ensure that job losses do not lead to the loss of homes? In that context, can he confirm an alarming fact on page 224 of the Red Book, where the Government appear to project that claimant count unemployment will rise to more than 1 million in 2007-08? Is that correct?

Mr. Brown: No, because we do not make projections about the claimant count. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that historically no Government have predicted what unemployment will be in a year’s time. I have to tell him also that in 1997 unemployment was 1.6 million and that since then it has fallen by 700,000 to 900,000. That is an achievement in itself.

As for mortgages, the hon. Gentleman will probably remember that 1.5 million people were in negative equity at the beginning of the 1990s. It is because interest rates remain low that so few people, in comparison with that figure, are in negative equity and that there are now so many fewer repossessions. I hope that he will support an economic policy, contrary to the one that he represents at the moment, that will ensure economic stability through low inflation and low interest rates.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East) (Lab): Unemployment in my constituency halved in the first four years of this Government, but sadly it plateaued, and in the past year it has increased by almost 22 per cent. and is now 7.7 per cent.—more than double the national average. Can the Chancellor tell me what fresh initiatives in the pre-Budget report will bring some hope to my constituents?

Mr. Brown: As my hon. Friend knows, unemployment in his constituency is still very much below what it was in 1997, as a result of the new deal. Yesterday we announced more help for single parents and the young unemployed to get into work. We will carefully consider, area by area, whether in local employment offices or in the regions, what local discretion can be exercised to allow jobcentres to enable jobs to be created in those areas. We are determined to get more people into jobs. My hon. Friend must recognise that there are now 2.5 million more people in work than there were in 1997 and that the percentage of the adult population in
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work—75 per cent.—is higher than in most countries. We will continue to create jobs, but we will need the new deal to do that, not its abolition.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Can the Chancellor confirm the simple but little-known claim that unemployment among young men in Britain is now the highest in the whole developed world? A yes or a no will do.

Mr. Brown: It is completely untrue. Unemployment among young people in France is nearly 20 per cent. [Hon. Members: “Young men.”] I said that unemployment among young people in France is about 20 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman were to look at the figures for France and for many other industrialised countries, he would also be in a position to know that in his constituency unemployment is down by 25 per cent. since 1997. I hope that the Opposition will start to think about their policy. If they seriously want to get more young men and young women into work, how can they possibly support the abolition of all the measures that are necessary to get people into work? Instead of attacking the unemployed, they should be attacking unemployment.

Gershon Target

8. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What progress has been made towards the Gershon efficiency savings target; and if he will make a statement. [104889]

14. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): What progress has been made towards the Government's Gershon efficiency programme targets. [104897]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): As we set out in the pre-Budget report, at the September halfway point in the three-year Gershon efficiency programme, Departments and local authorities had reported annual efficiency gains amounting to £13.3 billion-worth of the £21 billion target.

Tom Brake: To corroborate the figure that the Minister quoted, would he be willing to publish an independently audited report setting out the savings by Department and by programme? Could he give the House information about the five biggest savings that have been identified as part of the Gershon programme?

Mr. Timms: The departmental figures will be in the departmental autumn reports. There has been a lot of scrutiny of this programme by the National Audit Office—that has been welcome—which said that the programme has been more systematic than previous attempts. It made several observations when it reported in February and since then, we have been working with it to ensure that the numbers are more robust. I think that it will report again early in the new year, and I look forward to hearing what it has to say.

On additional numbers, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that of the £13.3 billion-worth of overall savings, £5.5 billion came from procurement, £2.4 billion came from productive time, and £1.5 billion came from policy funding and regulation. I agree that it is important that
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we provide full information on the programme, because the more transparency there is, the better the chances of success.

Andrew Gwynne: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right, when possible, to make savings in bureaucracy and the administrative function of Government in order to move resources to front-line public services such as policing, schools and hospitals? In doing that, will he reject outright any proposals that the Treasury may have received to reduce overall public expenditure, as the Conservative party proposes?

Mr. Timms: I completely agree. My hon. Friend heard my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announce yesterday that each Department will be required to reduce its spending on administration by 5 per cent. year on year throughout the comprehensive spending review. I also agree with my hon. Friend about the way in which the freed-up resources should be used. We shall certainly reject proposals for £20 billion-worth of tax cuts in the Tory tax report, the £40 billion in tax cuts that the Cornerstone group proposes or the £50 billion in tax cuts that the No Turning Back group proposes. The priority needs to be to equip Britain for the future.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Why are valuable jobs being cut in Revenue offices in objective 1 areas—which are, by definition, deprived—in Wales? At the same time, jobs are being moved to Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, which are prosperous areas where the labour market is tight. What is the sense of that?

Mr. Timms: I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are 100,000 more jobs in Wales since 1997. It is important to deliver public services as efficiently as possible in Wales as elsewhere. We are relocating jobs through the Gershon programme and the Lyons recommendations to Wales as to every other part of the country. However, it is vital that we deliver services as efficiently as possible.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Given that yesterday the Chancellor set out massively increased borrowing requirements for the Government over the next five years, has the Gershon report failed to achieve savings or is it some other failure by the Treasury that requires every family in the UK to borrow an extra £10,000 in the next five years to support the Government’s public spending programme?

Mr. Timms: We will meet our fiscal rules over the cycle. We do not support a third fiscal rule, as the hon. Lady may. However, the Gershon programme is delivering the savings that it was designed to produce—£21 billion in the current spending review period. Yesterday, we set out an ambition to release £26 billion over the three years of the comprehensive spending review, thus making a big contribution to value for money for taxpayers.

Millennium Development Goal

9. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What progress is being made towards the millennium development goal of education for every child; what financial
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contribution the UK will make to meeting that target; and if he will make a statement. [104891]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): The United Kingdom is committed to spending at least £8.5 billion on aid for education over the next 10 years. We are entering into 10-year agreements to help finance poor countries’ education plans and we have called an international donors’ conference on education for early 2007.

Mary Creagh: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for his commitment and leadership in achieving that specific millennium development goal. Research by Save the Children shows that half the 77 million children who are currently not in education live in conflict zones. The pigmy villagers that I met in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier this year were desperate for their children to receive an education. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that half of all education spending for reaching the millennium development goal goes to children in conflict-affected fragile states? It is so important to offer children, especially those who have been in militias, an alternative.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The latest figures show that 39 million children—half of the world’s children who do not go to primary school—live in fragile, conflict-afflicted states. That is a particular problem where traditional and conventional systems of education do not provide for those young children. Something must be done in those places. The Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières deliver health care behind conflict lines. It is now important to consider whether we could establish an organisation to help deliver educational services to young children, even in broken-down states and those where there are conflicts. I look forward to working with our international partners and the World Bank on that. Perhaps a fast-track initiative can help provide new opportunities for children who are otherwise the victims of not only conflict but illiteracy and poverty.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania have all scrapped school fees in recent years and subsequently enjoyed a dramatic rise in pupil attendance, does the Chancellor agree that, when providing funds to meet the millennium development goal on primary education, he should ask for explicit commitments from recipient Governments that they will abandon policies that restrict access and adopt policies that promote it?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because it allows me to say that the support that we are giving is for free primary education. When we sign agreements that give countries long-term funding, it enables them to make the long-term decision that, whatever is happening from year to year, they will be able to fund education free of charge over the long term. When I was in Kenya, I heard that, in the week in which it made education free for primary school children, 1 million children turned up to be registered for school. They had been denied that education for years—or all their lives, in most cases—and now they were able to go to school free of charge. We will continue to push for free education as part of these plans, and I hope that we can
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persuade other countries that that is an essential element of providing opportunity and an escape from poverty for young people in developing countries.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Yesterday, Joseph Kabila was inaugurated as president of the Congo after its first election in 40 years. During that election, I met women who felt desperate about their own and their children’s lack of education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that education is critical if we are to entrench democracy? Will he encourage his fellow Ministers to continue to support, and also pressurise, newly elected Congolese politicians to pursue and tackle issues of good governance, security and the distribution of mining and tax revenues in order to create the conditions in which we can meet this millennium development goal?

Mr. Brown: I know that my hon. Friend has taken a particular interest in the problems of that country, and I hope that, after yesterday’s inauguration, things will progress there. We are ready to provide funds for education, and we are working with 17 African countries on 10-year plans for their education. We are also working with Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway on long-term predictable financing. Now we need to win over all the other members of the G7 to that project; that is the task for next year.

Employment (Scotland)

10. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of levels of employment in Scotland in 2006-07. [104892]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): This year alone, there are 20,000 more people in work in Scotland, and the total increase in employment since 1997 has been 200,000. There are now a record 2.47 million people in work in Scotland.

Ann McKechin: I welcome those figures. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Scottish National party—whose representative is, surprisingly, no longer in the Chamber—is fixated by the idea that the rise in the growth rate is the only true indicator of Scotland’s wealth. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the way in which we use that growth to create jobs and improve skills is a key component on which the Scots will judge us? Will he give me his assurance that we will prioritise those groups that have still to enter the job market, and introduce real and practical policies that will give them that opportunity?

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Growth in Scotland—like growth in the United Kingdom—has risen faster than in the euro area over the past 10 years, and employment has increased even faster. In her own area of Glasgow, unemployment, which stood at 85,000 at its peak under the Conservative Government, is now 17,000, and long-term and youth unemployment are both down substantially. It is important to point out, given that the SNP is not represented in the Chamber today—even when there is a question on employment in Scotland, its members fail to turn up to debate the issue—that the real future for Scotland is as part of the
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United Kingdom, where it will benefit from the growth-creating strategies of this Government, the new deal and other employment measures.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): What forecasts for employment in Scotland has the Chancellor made for 2007-08? Has he now had a chance to read his own Budget Red Book and to reflect on the point made by the Liberal Democrat shadow Chancellor earlier? Will he confirm that my hon. Friend’s assumption for unemployment, audited for the National Audit Office, is that it will rise slowly to more than 1 million in that period?

Mr. Brown: Once again, burying himself in the detail, the hon. Gentleman has missed the main point. [Interruption.] The main point— [Interruption.] The main point—if Opposition Members will listen—is that it is not an assumption by the Government at all. It is not an assumption made by the Government, it is not an assumption compiled by the Government, and it is not an assumption used by the Government. It comes from independent forecasters outside Government, and it is nothing to do with a forecast made by the Government.

Charity Sales (VAT)

11. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the merits of removing VAT from goods sold by charities. [104893]

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The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): Charities already benefit from VAT zero rating or exemptions on many goods that they supply, donated items and goods sold in connection with fundraising. Total VAT reliefs for charities are worth more than £200 million per year, which forms part of the £2.6 billion in tax reliefs for charities and charitable giving provided each year.

Mrs. James: As my right hon. Friend will know, I have represented the concerns of my constituent Catherine Haynes and others about items such as the BBC Children in Need TOGS celebrity calendar and the Janet and John CD. What assurances can she give my constituents that when they buy such charity goods, there will be special VAT arrangements for them in the future?

Dawn Primarolo: I can give the assurance that the available VAT exemptions and zero rates for fundraising sales made by charities are applied as widely as possible under the European Union agreements governing VAT reliefs and exemptions. Very generous gift aid relief means that charities and fundraising organisations such as Children in Need can claim 28p for every pound donated. Last year that meant that the Government paid charities £728 million through gift aid relief.

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Business of the House

11.32 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the coming week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 11 december—Second Reading of the Offender Management Bill, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Tuesday 12 December—Second Reading of the Greater London Authority Bill.

Wednesday 13 December—Second Reading of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Thursday 14 December—A debate on fisheries on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 December will be as follows:

Monday 18 December—Second reading of the Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Bill.

Tuesday 19 December—Motion on the Christmas recess Adjournment.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business up to the recess.

Yesterday, in the United States, the Iraq study group published its report. It is a chilling commentary on the management of the Iraq war and its aftermath. The Prime Minister is in the United States today for talks with President Bush following the report’s publication. Undoubtedly those talks will cover not only the report but the response of both Governments to its findings, and proposals for the future of our involvement in Iraq. May we have a statement from the Prime Minister before the recess on the Iraq study group report and future UK involvement in Iraq?

The Department of Trade and Industry is expected to issue a report on the future of the Post Office next week. It should cover support for rural post offices and the replacement for the Post Office card account. Can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be an oral statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry so that Members can question him on the report? Given that the subject is of great concern to Members in all parts of the House, as Government decisions have led to the closure of many post offices—not just in rural areas, but in urban areas such as Ross road and Woodlands Park in my constituency—may we have a debate on the future of the Post Office in the new year, in Government time?

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