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House of Commons

Wednesday 18 April 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Duchy of Lancaster

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Internet Job Advertising

1. Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): What advice her Department is issuing across Government on the greater use of the internet for advertising job opportunities in Government and Government activities. [131494]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): It is important that we make optimum use of the internet in job advertising and other areas to maximise value for money for the taxpayer while at the same time ensuring access to information about job opportunities in Government for the one third of the population who do not use the internet. All Departments are instructed to advertise vacancies on the civil service jobs website, at http://www.careers.civil-service.gov.uk/ and also, where appropriate, on the Jobcentre Plus website. We recognise that civil service spending in this area is a small part of total public sector spending, but we are committed to making better use of the internet and reducing expenditure on press advertising. To that end, we expect to reduce the £1.3 million estimated spending on senior jobs in the six largest spending Departments by up to 80 per cent. over the next few months.

Mr. Spellar: I am pleased by the Minister’s recognition of the dramatic increase in the use of the internet. Can he get a sense of urgency into Departments so that they use the internet to a much greater extent, not only for job advertising but also for public notices about Government activity? Will he spread that practice to other publicly funded bodies, not least local government?

Mr. McFadden: I agree with my right hon. Friend that more could be done both nationally and locally, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I will shortly be meeting the First Civil Service Commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Appointments to see what more can be done. Some moves are already being made to have more generic press advertising, with signposting to appropriate websites. Some aspects of local notices are
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governed by legislation, but our priority throughout will be to maximise value for money for the taxpayer, to make the best use of the technology available and ensure proper access for everyone to information about Government jobs.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Literally thousands of job ads pour out by e-mail from the Government Communication Network, many of which are readvertisements for what seem to be challenging roles that are sometimes difficult to fill, such as the head of external communications at the Rural Payments Agency, who has the seemingly difficult role of

I also saw a vacancy for “communisation” at the Identity and Passport Service. I have to—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call the Minister.

Mr. McFadden: I think the hon. Gentleman was trying to make a point about the type of job available. Our concern in this question is to ensure that whatever type of job is advertised we make proper use of the technology and that we also cater for those who do not have access to the internet. By combining both things we can improve value for money and still do the right job in advertising Government posts.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Next week, Sir Alistair Graham stands down as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Have we advertised for a replacement yet and if not, why not?

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Do you want a job?

Mr. McFadden: I shall endeavour to find out for my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) exactly what the position is with regard to that job. If he is interested, I am sure he will be a strong candidate.

Charities (Income Tax Cut)

2. Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the impact on charities of the 2 per cent. cut in the basic rate of income tax from April 2008. [131495]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I have discussed the impact of the cut in the basic rate of income tax on gift aid and the need to build on the progress made since 1997, which has led to an increase in the resources going to charities through gift aid from £134 million to £750 million. The Charities Aid Foundation estimates that £700 million is potentially available from more tax-effective giving and we aim to come forward with measures at the time of the pre-Budget report, before the introduction of the basic rate tax cut next year.

Sandra Gidley: Bearing in mind the fact that charities will probably lose a total of £70 million, can the Minister clarify what some of the strategies will be
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either for increasing the take-up of gift aid or reforming the system altogether so that it is simpler for people to use?

Edward Miliband: I agree that we need to do all we can to drive up tax-effective giving. Just in the last year for which figures are available, there was an increase of £125 million in the receipts to charities under gift aid. We want to take action on a number of fronts: first, by building on the improvements that have already been made in gift aid; secondly, by seeing how we can promote payroll giving, which is a very tax-effective form of giving; and, thirdly, by ensuring that there is greater awareness of how to give effectively—the Charities Aid Foundation has identified £700 million that could be available to charities and we want to do all we can to make that money available.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Last week I was pleased to organise for Oxfam a breakfast meeting in my constituency with leading Swindon companies such as Nationwide, Zurich, npower and Barclays, all of which have worked hard on payroll giving. Does the Minister agree that payroll giving will increase giving to charities, and would he encourage MPs to join in?

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend. I have recently taken advantage of being able to give through the payroll giving scheme and I have written to all Members of the House to encourage them and their employees to do so too. It is still the case that too few employees take advantage of payroll giving. We want to do all that we can to promote the scheme. As I say, I encourage Members of the House both to take up the scheme themselves and to promote it in their constituencies.

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): Charities in Scotland will lose around £7 million as a result of the change and will also be badly affected as the Minister’s colleagues divert lottery funding away from good causes in Scotland and towards filling the Olympics deficit. What comfort can he give to charities such as Crossroads in my constituency, which are being hit hard by the changes at a UK level and also by unacceptable cuts at local authority level, so that they can continue to do their good work in supporting older people in the highlands and across Scotland?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman should join us in working on the different ways in which we can promote more tax-effective giving. We want to see improvements in gift aid. If he or the charity that he mentions have any suggestions, we would be interested to hear them. We want to find ways of promoting payroll giving and of raising awareness of how to give effectively. This is one of the occasions when there are greater resources available under gift aid if people give more effectively and charities encourage them to do so.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with the Minister that payroll giving is effective. Has he had any discussions with the professional accounting bodies or the professional human resources bodies to ensure that, particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises and other small
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organisations, the staff who organise the payroll are aware of the process and the HR staff are making employees aware of the scheme?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is particularly hard for people working in small and medium-sized enterprises to take advantage of payroll giving. In the past, we have made resources available to encourage payroll giving by small and medium-sized enterprises, but I will take up her suggestion and ensure that we have discussions with the bodies that she mentions.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): No one doubts the Minister’s good intentions, but he will be judged on his record. Since his role was created, the Government have taken £100 million from charities to prop up the Olympics. They have reneged on their promise on full-cost recovery and now they are taking £70 million a year from gift aid. That is a pretty disappointing record. Was he consulted by the Chancellor in advance of the Budget, and did he object, or does meekness before the Chancellor run in the family?

Edward Miliband: I did talk to the Chancellor about the issue. I thought that the Conservative party used to be in favour of cutting the basic rate of income tax, but clearly it is not any more. We on this side of the House are in favour of cutting the basic rate of income tax to 20p. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would come to the Dispatch Box to congratulate us on our record on gift aid, because the amount of money going to charities has gone up from £124 million to £750 million. It is not just we on this side of the House who think that we have a good record on gift aid; the Leader of the Opposition has said that

Third Sector Funding

3. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): What estimate she has made of Government funding allocated to the third sector between 1997 and 2001; and if she will make a statement. [131496]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): Between 1997 and 2001, total public funding to the charitable sector increased from £5.5 billion to £7.5 billion, and it increased to over £10 billion in 2003-04, the latest year for which figures are available. For central Government, there has been a 96 per cent. real terms increase in funding since 1997.

Andrew Gwynne: I welcome that response. Does my hon. Friend agree that the £80 million announced in this year’s Budget for small grants to community organisations is of particular importance to groups such as the Tame Valley Green committee in Dukinfield and the Friends of Reddish Baths, who will be able to continue to fight for improvements to their facilities locally, giving them a sense of ownership once those improvements are achieved?

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend. In the consultations that we have been doing with small voluntary sector organisations around the country, one of the biggest things that has come through is the need
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to have small amounts of money, which the smallest community groups can access to allow them to undertake one-off events and create a series of activities in constituencies around the country. I am extremely pleased that the Chancellor was able to announce an £80 million fund in the Budget and I hope that the organisations that my hon. Friend mentioned will be able to take advantage of that.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): A number of years ago, the Treasury set up the Goodison review to try to encourage more funding to be given to good causes. There were a number of excellent recommendations, but none of them has been implemented. Can the Minister tell us when some of the Goodison review recommendations will be implemented?

Edward Miliband: I vaguely recall the Goodison review and will endeavour to investigate the matter further and write to the hon. Gentleman about it.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): For small community organisations in my constituency, access to grants for capital projects and other activities is very important. However, they are often put off by the complexity of applying for grants. Will my hon. Friend assure me that for the new funding that he has announced, the application process will be as straightforward as possible? May I invite him to visit my constituency to see the very good work being done by community organisations?

Edward Miliband: I certainly accept my hon. Friend’s offer to visit her constituency. She is completely right that the micro-grants scheme needs to be made to work as simply as possible. We are talking about small amounts of money that organisations will apply for, so there should be as little bureaucracy as possible, as too much bureaucracy puts off small organisations that rely on volunteers for their work. We will endeavour to achieve that.

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Ministerial Visits

11. Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): What visits he has undertaken while deputising for the Prime Minister on international issues; and if he will make a statement. [131484]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): In addition to those visits I announced to the House on 7 March on behalf of the Prime Minister, I recently visited the Czech Republic and Malta to discuss with their leaderships the issue of climate change and other European matters. I held a number of bilateral meetings with the Prime Ministers and deputy Prime Ministers of both countries, and with the President of Malta. I addressed and debated the issue with an audience of politicians, some of them Cabinet
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members, academics and senior industry figures. I also gave a speech at the British Council’s youth forum seminar on climate change.

Kali Mountford: I am very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend tell the House that he has visited Czechoslovakia— [Interruption.] I apologise to the House, I mean the Czech Republic—and Slovakia. I hope that my right hon. Friend, as well as debating the vitally important issue of climate change, also took the opportunity to discuss any innovative opportunities presented to our country—and particularly to John Lightfoot in my constituency, an innovative producer of air-sourced heat pumps that reduce CO2 emissions. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to support innovators such as those in Yorkshire who— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The House will be aware that the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic is very sceptical about the science of climate change, but I must say that many of his Ministers—and, indeed, the deputy Prime Minister—are members of the Green party, clearly showing that the debate on climate change is well under way in the Czech Republic. My hon. Friend will know from my work as the China taskforce chairman that I am delivering a report in Beijing next week on the work being done on climate change. I will also be in Shanghai tomorrow to deliver a speech on those matters and I should like to apologise to the House for having to leave here immediately after my parliamentary time. I will, of course, be happy to mention the excellent work of Yorkshire Forward in promoting the industries of our great county.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I read the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech on climate change—it was a very good speech—but how can he expect it to be taken seriously when the Government are cutting back on climate research at the Hadley centre and when carbon emissions in the UK have risen over the last 10 years while the share of environmental taxes in the economy has fallen? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Prime Minister: As has just been said from a sedentary position, as usual, this is another opportunity for the Liberals to do nothing about these matters except complain. The Government have fully supported the Hadley centre and everyone recognises the professional contribution that it has made to the debate on climate change. The hon. Gentleman should also bear in mind that during the 10 years of the Labour Government, there has been a 28 per cent. growth in our economy, an 8 per cent. cut in greenhouse gases with only a 1 per cent. increase in carbon. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made several proposals to be put before the House in a climate change Bill to deal with emissions. We are proud to put forward our record of achieving twice the target set for us at Kyoto.

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European Policy

12. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to co-ordinate Government policy on European matters; and if he will make a statement. [131485]

The Deputy Prime Minister: I regularly discuss policy relating to Europe with ministerial colleagues. For example, earlier this year and shortly after their accession to the EU, I visited Romania and Bulgaria on behalf of the Prime Minister. I met the Presidents and Prime Ministers of both countries to discuss issues of bilateral and regional importance

Mark Pritchard: Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with recent comments of Mr. Barroso, the President of the European Commission, who suggested that Europe should have a common migration policy? If he does, does he think that that will help or hinder good community relations in this country?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have not read the comments of Mr. Barroso. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Oh, shock, horror—no, I have not. But all these matters are important. I have common consultations in Europe and nationally. They were involved in some of my discussions abroad. It is an important issue, and we will work to find common agreement and consensus, to the benefit of all.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Has the Deputy Prime Minister consulted colleagues on whether a policy of little Englander isolationism and alliance with nobody but crackpots, fanatics and the Czechs might be the best thing for the United Kingdom?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend can say that, but I certainly cannot comment on it.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): Is it not time that the Prime Minister brought some coherence to the Government’s European policy? Four years ago, the Prime Minister said that we needed a proper constitution for Europe; but on Monday, he said that we did not need a constitution but that we had to have a new treaty, which contradicted the Foreign Secretary, who said that the EU was coping just fine as it was, who was in turn contradicted by the Minister for Europe, who said that the current rules are unsustainable. Is it not time that the Deputy Prime Minister stepped in to sort out the chaos, and will he reiterate the pledge that there will be no bringing in of parts of the constitution through the backdoor?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The Prime Minister made it clear at his joint conference with the Dutch Prime Minister on Monday that his concern was obviously to secure some agreement on those matters in the European Council of Ministers when it meets in June and to make it clear that we are concerned about the administrative changes and that we would be supportive of them, but not of the constitutional changes.

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