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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire):
In 2004-05the latest period for which data are available2.4 million children were living in relative poverty in Great Britain. That represents a fall of 700,000 since 1997. As
a result of our reforms to the tax and benefit system and the national minimum wage, by April 2007, in real terms, families with children will be an average £1,550 a year better off, while those in the poorest fifth will be an average £3,450 a year better off.
Mr. Amess: Save the Children claims that 55 per cent. of families with disabled children are living in poverty. It costs three times as much to look after disabled children as it does children who are not disabled. Will the Minister tell the House exactly how the Government are addressing that problem?
Mrs. McGuire: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier on in questionsI appreciate that the hon. Gentleman did not hear himit is important to improve matters for disabled children as well as non-disabled children in poverty. Let me be clear to him. We know that disability costs extra; that is why we have a disability living allowance that supports families, including those with children, where there is a disability. Of course, we will ensure that as part of our child poverty strategy we take particular cognisance of the issues affecting disabled children.
Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend confirm that the target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 is still a firm target, not an aspiration, showing that we are still committed to dealing with deprivation in all our communities?
Mrs. McGuire: I am delighted to reconfirm our commitment that by 2020 we will have an eradication of child poverty in this country. That stands in stark contrast to the position of the Conservatives, who initially thought that they were giving a commitment, and then decided that it was not so much a commitment as an aspiration.
Mrs. McGuire: I can tell the hon. Gentleman one target that the Conservatives met when they were in powerthey increased the number of children who had to live in poverty. To be frank, that should bring shame to him and to his whole party.
Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Given the link between workless households and child poverty, and the fact that the mother of a disabled child is seven times less likely to be in work than other mothers, what specific policies will the Ministers Department bring forward to attack that problem? In particular, will she talk to colleagues at the Department of Health about the problem of a lot of social services delivery happening in working hours, making it very difficult for parents with disabled children realistically to consider working?
The hon. Gentleman touches on a genuine problem for the parents of many disabled children: how to manage the support of their disabled child while working, as many want to do. Of course, working together is vital and I am sure that my colleagues in the Department of Health will have heard the hon. Gentlemans question, as well as Ministers in
other Departments who have connections with local authorities. We need a joined-up approach to supporting disabled children and their families. We held the Prime Ministers strategic overview, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, to encourage Departments to work together to ensure that nobody falls through the gaps in our public service provision when we can, by joined-up working, improve the lot of disabled children and disabled people in general.
Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The Governments recently released figures suggest that, when regional income is taken into account, relative child poverty in London could be more than one third higher than the current official figures based on national median income suggest. Is the Minister confident that she can tackle relative child poverty issues without examining regional variations in income? What will she do to ensure that the matter is properly considered during the current review of the Governments child poverty strategy?
Mrs. McGuire: I can give the hon. Lady a commitment that we will review the matter that she identifies as part of our child poverty strategy. As I said earlier, it is a massive challenge to any Government because, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform noted, we inherited a position when Britain was at the bottom of the league for child poverty. We now have the best record of any Government in the EU on lifting children out of poverty. However, we are not complacent. We know that there is still a lot to do and we are committed to our target, unlike the hon. Lady and her party, which still perceives it only as an aspiration.
The Minister for Pensions Reform (James Purnell): The Pensions Act 2004 puts in place a range of measures to provide support, advice and protection to schemes and scheme members. In particular, the financial assistance scheme provides support to members of defined benefit occupational pension schemes that started to wind up, underfunded, between 1 January 1997 and 5 April 2005.
Ann Winterton: The High Court recently ruled that the Government were completely wrong to reject the parliamentary ombudsmans report on failed pension schemes. The Secretary of State subsequently told the House that the Government would re-examine the report. What can the Minister tell the House today about that? What can the Government devise to assist scheme members who have been so hard hit? Will he take a leaf from the book of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and perhaps consider using unclaimed bank and building society assets for compensation?
James Purnell: We will look at suggestions from hon. Members of all parties, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear in his statement on 22 February. He also said that we were examining the financial assistance scheme in the light of the European Court of Justice case. We have made a commitment to pay the claimants costs in the appeal to ensure that they are not disadvantaged. We have said that we will come back to the House as soon as possiblecertainly before the Pensions Bill completes its passage.
I want to correct one point that the hon. Lady made. The court did not find against the Government on all aspects. It found against the Government on the 1996 leaflet that was issued and upheld the Governments case on causality and the operation of the minimum funding requirement.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Does the Minister recall an uncomfortable debate before Christmas, when he was almost isolated in the House in rejecting the recommendations of the ombudsman and the Public Administration Committee? Will he confirm that the Government do not wish to have a confrontation with Parliament on the matter and that, against that background, he does not rule out giving financial assistance to the group of pensioners whom my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) mentioned?
James Purnell: The question has always been one of proportionality. We introduced the financial assistance scheme and extended it to more than £2 billion. We recognise that people in these circumstances face the real personal tragedy of losing their pensions. We have always said that the financial assistance scheme is there for exactly that reasonto reflect that loss of pension. The question has always been what we can justifiably ask the taxpayer to pay. In that debate, I made the case on the issue of causality that we did not agree with the ombudsman that we were responsible for the whole of the losses and should therefore make good the whole of the lossesand the court actually upheld that part of our argument.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): We are aware of the critical importance of the role of GPs in shaping customers perceptions about their ability to return to work, and we are piloting the use of employment advisers in GP surgeries to give patients advice about the work-related support and to offer them non-medical help to achieve their work aspirations. To assist GPs, we also have two projects testing the electronic transmission of data between GPs and our Department via a secure link. We are also developing educational and training packages in conjunction with the Royal College.
Can the Minister tell me what else is being done to help GPs get their patients back to work and whether the Government will consider allowing
those not fully fit for work to attend very short part-time training courses to enable them to get back to work more quickly?
Mr. Plaskitt: Yes, we are doing a variety of things. As I think my hon. Friend will know, we are testing the pathways advisory serviceindeed, the pilot is in east Lancashire, close to her constituency. We are also piloting the electronic transfer of data to facilitate the process for GPs. As I said in my earlier answer, we are developing education and training packages. My hon. Friend makes a very helpful point in respect of the further assistance that we might offer and I would be happy to look further into it.
Nick Harvey (representing the House of Commons Commission) (LD): The House has set a target of 44 per cent. for recycling of waste in 2007-08. The current policy for waste recycling is to increase the target by 5 per cent. each year. The percentage of waste recycled during 2005-06 was 35.9 per cent. and the quantity of waste recycled was 800.72 tonnes.
Jo Swinson: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome the success in increasing recycling in the parliamentary estate. However, does the House of Commons Commission share my concern that the total waste produced by the parliamentary estate last year actually grew by 17 per cent? Given the priorities of reduce, then re-use, then recycle, what steps will be taken to reduce waste overall?
Nick Harvey: I am pleased that my hon. Friend recognised the progress made on recycling, but if her point is that the actual volume of waste overall should be the greater focus of our efforts, I am sure that the current awareness campaign could broaden its scope to take that into consideration. I reassure her that the issue of paper waste from early-day motions and parliamentary questions is an issue of concern and that the Procedure Committee is currently looking further into policies on that matter.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): While it is in the Houses interest to drive up rates of recycling, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is it not in the national interest that we drive down the recycling of waste draft policies emanating from the Opposition Front Bench, which fall apart at the first examination in the first light of day? Is it not in the national interest to minimise all that effort?
Nick Harvey: I am sure that it is indeed in the national interest to minimise the degree of waste, but whether the Procedure Committee can quite go as far in scope as the hon. Gentleman suggests, I am not too sure.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Before answering this question, I would like to say a few words. As the House will be aware, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), tendered his resignation to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier today. I would like to place on record my appreciation of the excellent work that my hon. Friend undertook in this post.
To answer the question, following the debates and votes here last Tuesday and Wednesday, the House of Lords is holding its debate on the future composition of the Lords today and tomorrow, with the votes planned for Wednesday. I have said all along that we must wait until the other place has expressed its view. I then intend to reconvene the cross-party group that I chair and obviously to discuss the matter within Government. I will return to the House in due course to make a detailed statement on the way forward.
Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that response. Notwithstanding his comment about waiting, press reports over the weekend have suggested that, on the back of those votes, he felt an obligation to press ahead with House of Lords reform. Does he believe that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown) feels a similar obligation?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is it not clear that the chances of reaching consensus with the House of Lords on this matter are very remote indeed? Bearing in mind the fact that the 80 per cent. vote was carried by 305 to 267, are the Government sufficiently determined to use the Parliament Act if necessaryand it looks like it will beto ensure that the will of this House is implemented?
Mr. Straw: I do not want to anticipate the outcome of what will no doubt be vigorous discussions with the other place, but it certainly does not lie in the hands of any one Member of this Chamber to decide to abrogate the law of the land, and the Parliament Acts are the law of the land.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): When the Leader of the House convenes his all-party group, would it not be wise, as well as considering the Lords, to consider cutting the number of people in the House of Commons by about a third [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Straw: The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt), asks whether the hon. Gentleman is offering. I have a lot of time for the hon. Gentleman, but I honestly think that the cross-party group on the future of the Lords will have enough work to do without doing that as well; that is for another group.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): When the Leader of the House reconvenes the all-party group, will he bear in mind the fact that, last week, only 80 Conservatives voted for the partys official policy, and that 98 voted against it?
Mr. Straw: That is more a matter for the Leader of the Opposition to bear in mind than for me. That was the hon. Gentlemans partys manifesto commitment. If he is saying that the Conservatives manifesto commitments cannot be trusted, of course I agree with that proposition.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): In advance of the legislation referred to in the question, and against the background of last weeks vote, would it not be sensible if the Prime Minister made no more political appointments to the upper House?
Mr. Straw: That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The present arrangements will have to continue unless and until we have a reformed Chamber; I would have thought that that was a statement of the blindingly obvious.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I suggest that the Leader of the House consult as widely as possible on this matter? There are divided views within parties and across the Chamber, and this is not a matter on which the Front Bench can compel its Back Benchers to vote.
Mr. Straw: What the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said is the self-evident truth, and I agree with his suggestion of consulting as widely as possible. I do not agree, however, that convening the cross-party group is incompatible with wider consultation.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Did the Leader of the House interpret the vote for a 100 per cent. elected House of Lords as a mandateindeed, an instructionto abolish the archaic system whereby Church of England bishops have ex officio seats in the legislature?
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