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20 Jun 2007 : Column 1359

House of Commons

Wednesday 20 June 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Death of a member

Mr. Speaker: I regret to have to report to the House the death of Piara Singh Khabra Esquire, Member for Ealing, Southall.

I am sure that Members on all sides of the House will join me in mourning the loss of a colleague and in extending our sympathy to the hon. Member’s family and friends.

Oral Answers to Questions

Duchy of Lancaster

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Family Nurses

1. Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): What contribution family nurse partnership pilots are expected to make to tackling social exclusion. [143851]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): Experiencing pregnancy in the early years of life profoundly affects the resulting child’s life chances. The family nurse partnership pilots, which are based on the extremely successful US nurse family partnership scheme, will help to improve parental and child outcomes through structured and intensive home visiting to mothers from early pregnancy until the child is aged two. I have recently visited the Slough and Barnsley pilots, where I was very impressed by the good work of the nurses and the enthusiasm with which the programme was received by all involved.

Meg Hillier: I am looking forward to the evaluation of the pilot. I am particularly interested in the pilot in Tower Hamlets, which is a borough neighbouring Hackney. Will my right hon. Friend indicate when that evaluation will take place? What particular work is being done with teenage mothers, who have three times the rate of post-natal depression of other mothers and who are a particularly vulnerable group in my constituency?

Hilary Armstrong: The programme is targeted at any women aged 20 or less who present themselves as pregnant in the pilot areas, so it will be offered to every
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prospective teenage parent in those areas. My hon. Friend is right that Tower Hamlets was the successful applicant, and I am sorry that Hackney’s application was unsuccessful. The pilots are currently being evaluated at Birkbeck college, and we anticipate that that will be a two-year programme. We are discussing across Government how we can pick up on the lessons learned as quickly as possible in order to enable many other young mothers around the country to benefit from the programme.

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): The nurse family partnership is one of a panoply of pilots from the Cabinet Office. As the right hon. Lady prepares to leave office, does she think that that multiplicity of pilots has contributed usefully to tackling social exclusion, or does she think that the fact that Britain is more unequal and that the lot of the very poorest has got worse since 1997 suggests that, for all the Government rhetoric, the reality of life for the most socially excluded has got little better during her time in office?

Hilary Armstrong: For many hundreds of thousands of children life has got better, because of the success of universal programmes such as Sure Start, improvements in education, the introduction of tax credits and changes to child benefit. There have been significant improvements for many children. We are the first Government to seek to identify and work with those who have simply not got to the starting gate in the past. Because no one has done that successfully in the past, the right thing to do is to pilot programmes to find out what works, which means that we will be better able to persuade taxpayers that we are using their money effectively in helping families to turn around their circumstances.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has referred to her visit to the nurse family partnership in my constituency. The evidence from America is that for every dollar spent on such projects, $5 is saved. That $5 saving will happen in 15 or 16 years. What consultation is she having with colleagues to try to make sure that they back investment in such programmes in order to save future spending on, for example, prisons and remedial education?

Hilary Armstrong: My hon. Friend anticipates the work that is going on across Government leading up to the comprehensive spending review. I have had enormous support from colleagues across Government for this particular programme. There is real interest, and many people want to visit the pilots and find out about it. One of the reasons why we are evaluating it so carefully is that our circumstances are different from those in the United States, because we already have universal services. I see that progressive universalism as a way to tackle problems. If we can make savings, we will secure the future of the programme for a long time to come.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): May I start by wishing the right hon. Lady well as she leaves the Front Bench after 19 years, with two years as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the late John Smith and six years in the Cabinet? Perhaps now she will have
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a little more time for Sunderland football club. I do not know whether she has been giving the manager, Roy Keane, any of her Chief Whip’s tips, but I notice that the team has just got promoted.

Given that poverty is getting worse and that Professor Olds, the US pioneer of her pilot scheme, has said that success in the UK may be much reduced, when will she, or her successor, consider rolling out the programme nationally, and will there be enough health visitors and midwives to make it possible?

Hilary Armstrong: David Olds has said that it may be more difficult for us to gain as much as in America precisely because he recognises, and is a bit overwhelmed by, the quality of universal services in this country and how those services have ensured that not nearly as many children fall into poverty and that there is not nearly the same problem for families as there is in the United States. That is why we are going to evaluate things well in this country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to visit some of these programmes, because then he will see the enormous enthusiasm of health visitors and their hope that the recent report will enable them to concentrate much more on working with the most disadvantaged, because that is where they think that their skills will be best used.

Early Intervention (Nottingham)

2. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What progress has been made in setting up a national and local partners group to examine the concept of a package of early intervention measures in Nottingham. [143852]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): Let me begin by joining the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has been a good friend of mine for many years. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), would agree that we have both very much enjoyed working with her in the past year and have learned a great deal from her.

I am keen to support Nottingham’s proposals for developing the idea of the early intervention city, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s energetic campaign in that regard. As he will know, my officials have had regular contact with local agencies in Nottingham regarding this issue. In March, they attended a meeting setting out the policy context, and I understand that we expect to have a first steering group meeting between officials and local partners in August.

Mr. Allen: May I, from the Back Benches, join my Front-Bench colleagues in their congratulations to my right hon. Friend, particularly on her personal energy and commitment in the area of early intervention, which has made a big difference to many of us?

Does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that a definition of an early intervention policy must mean that it seeks to break the inter-generational cycle of deprivation, not merely maintain it? Although the nurse family partnership is a cornerstone of that policy, does he accept that there are many other aspects to that package of policies, including working with youngsters
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at primary school, working with young mothers, and developing a set of pre-parenting skills, as we are trying to do in Nottingham? Will he therefore redouble his efforts—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. McFadden: I agree that the nurse family partnership is only one aspect of what is needed to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty and social exclusion. There are many other excellent programmes out there, including the incredible years programme, which is being pioneered in north Wales and other parts of the country. It is very exciting that my hon. Friend and other partners in Nottingham are trying to develop an all-encompassing approach in order to do the best job that they can in breaking that cycle of disadvantage and increasing opportunity for the next generation of Nottingham’s children.

Civil Service Jobs

3. Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): What steps her Department is taking to change the geographical distribution of civil service jobs. [143853]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): The Government remain committed to meeting our target of moving 20,000 posts out of London and the south-east by 2010. We have made good progress so far with more than 11,000 posts moved to all nations and regions in the UK as of December 2006.

Mr. McGovern: My hon. Friend will know that Dundee in particular has recently suffered a spate of job losses, with major employers—including NCR, Tesco and the Wood Group, to name but three—announcing redundancies. In the light of that, many Dundee people hope that civil service jobs that are being relocated from London and the south-east may make their way to Dundee. What will my hon. Friend do to ensure that jobs come to Dundee as a matter of urgency to help offset the job losses that have been announced recently?

Mr. McFadden: I am aware of the recent announcements of job losses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and nearby that he cited. I am also aware of the excellent job that he has done in speaking up for his constituents over the issue. He makes a strong case, and the Government will continue with the relocation process because the civil service serves the whole of the UK and it makes sense to ensure that some posts are located to parts of the country where property and other costs are lower than they may be in central London. We will continue the process from now to the end of the time scale that we have set.

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Sustainable Cities

9. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on building sustainable cities. [143841]

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The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): As chair of the China Taskforce, I hold regular discussions on sustainable cities with a range of stakeholders across UK business, academia and Government, including Cabinet colleagues.

Creating sustainable cities is important to tackling climate change, especially in China, where 15 million people a year are expected to migrate to the cities over the next 20 years.

The taskforce has recently been working on a proposal for strengthening co-operation between the UK and China on developing sustainable cities within the framework of a low carbon economy.

In April this year, I discussed the taskforce proposal with State Councillor Tang and Premier Wen. I hope that a further report on sustainable cities will be presented at the summit of the two Premiers in the autumn.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and I am sure that the House will join me in warmly welcoming him back to the Front Bench after his recent illness.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to discuss with his colleagues the innovative proposals for the renaissance of our cities that were unveiled in Bristol last Friday? Does he share his predecessor’s view that the best way to create sustainable cities is to cut the regional development agencies, the learning and skills councils and, for good measure, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind remarks and for all the good wishes to me. I want especially to thank all the hard-working doctors, nurses and staff at University College hospital, who work day and night, as the staff in all our hospitals do, to help all of us who are suffering from illness. I think that every one of us would like to express our congratulations to all our NHS hospitals.

No, I do not agree with what Mr. Heseltine said in Bristol about the renaissance of cities. I have been in the House long enough to know that he went to Liverpool with a bus load of bankers and a Merseyside urban development corporation that gave no powers to the local authority, developed a garden city and led to further decline in Merseyside. If my hon. Friend examines the report of Labour, which has used the RDAs and English Partnerships, it is clear that we have been able to show that the major cities in this country, including Bristol and Liverpool, reflect the comments of Michael Parkinson in a recent review. He said:

That is genuine renaissance; that is a decade of delivery.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I, too, welcome the Deputy Prime Minister back from his illness. How does he reconcile the claim in his annual report that he spent 10 years developing and implementing sustainable communities with the devastating report of the Sustainable Development Commission, to the effect that the Government’s housing programme is characterised by lack of consultation, poor design standards and lack of attention to public transport, shops and parks?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I just do not agree with that conclusion because of the number of houses we have built and the degree of our investment in transport. To provide one classic example, in 1997, I rescued the Channel tunnel rail link from going bankrupt. That was the most important investment in transport innovation in this country and was particularly important for the development of the whole south-east and the whole Olympic village. If we take into account the pathfinder formulas, the millennium village and the 2 million people now living in better accommodation as a result of our decent homes programme, I have no reason to make an apology. There have been improvements and people will make a judgment when they see the final conclusion.

Departmental Budget

10. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What his Department's proposed budget is for 2007-08. [143842]

11. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If he will make a statement on his Department's spending plans for 2007-08. [143843]

The Deputy Prime Minister: My Department’s budget for 2007-08 is £2.5 million, in line with Treasury guidelines. That figure has already been published in a number of places, including the departmental main estimates and the Department’s annual report, a copy of which is available in the Library for the reference of Members.

Mr. Amess: Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that this budget is big enough to enable any one of his six potential successors to do what he has been able to do over the past 10 years?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that money has been better spent by this Government than by the previous Administration. I recall in particular that the hon. Gentleman was an advocate of the poll tax. How anyone can come here and talk about this amount of resources when £5 billion was wasted on the poll tax, which he advocated, I do not know. Perhaps he should not be doing that. Let me tell him that he should stick to his original position when he was the MP for Basildon. He launched a song called “I love Basildon” and then got on the chicken run to Southend. It is now rumoured that he is composing another song called “I love Southend”—good luck!

Mr. Mackay: In welcoming the Deputy Prime Minister back to the House in what is clearly robust good health, may I say that for once I was very pleased with his answer, because it clearly illustrates that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has just assumed his place on the Treasury Bench, will not need his Department any longer? Does the right hon. Gentleman assume that he will be the last holder of that office?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is clearly a matter for the incoming Prime Minister, who I have no doubt will do an excellent job.

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