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Gift Aid

4. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): What steps he is taking to facilitate the take-up of gift aid among smaller charities. [203758]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): In addition to the measures that I listed in response to Question 1, the Government are funding a small charities training programme that targets charities with a turnover of less than £1 million per annum to ensure that small charities can access guidance and training on gift aid.

Lynda Waltho: The Mary Stevens hospice in Stourbridge is much loved by all my constituents—so much so that it derives 82 per cent. of its income from legacies and donations. How will changes made to gift aid in the Budget assist small charities and organisations such as Mary Stevens?

Edward Miliband: Let me join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to her local charity and the work that it does. The changes that we announced in the Budget—not just the transitional relief for gift aid but changes to rules on auditing and record-keeping—are specifically designed to help small charities, which often get small donations and find that there is a lot of complication and bureaucracy involved in claiming gift aid. I hope that she will find that the changes will help her local charity.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Websites such as make it easy for people who want to donate to charities to access gift aid. What specific encouragement will the Minister’s Department give to such websites, so that online access can be extended?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has just given the website a good plug. I believe that I used it, or a similar website, to sponsor someone who was running in the London marathon to raise money for a hospice. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and we will endeavour to look into whether there is anything more that we can do to help such websites. It is important that the Government do not try to do the task themselves, because independent organisations are doing a very good job.

Social Exclusion

5. Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): What recent representations he has received on social exclusion policy. [203759]

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The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): In response to the Cabinet Office report, “Think Family”, the Government recently received 90 bids from local authorities across the country to be part of the £16 million family pathfinder programme. The proposals set out how to take forward social exclusion policy in local areas better to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families. Fifteen successful areas have now been chosen.

Mr. Purchase: I am surprised that the Minister has not received representations from the many thousands of people who are unfortunately trapped on council house waiting lists, and who are therefore excluded from decent housing. In fact, the Labour Government’s achievement in developing council housing post-1945 was perhaps our greatest contribution to public health. The House will welcome the millions and billions that are to be spent on housing, but a great proportion of that money should go directly to local authorities, where it will be well spent helping to reduce the historic waiting lists.

Edward Miliband: Of course, my hon. Friend has been an ardent campaigner on the issue for many years, and I pay tribute to his campaigning, even if I do not agree with every part of it. He is absolutely right about the need to increase the amount of social housing that is built; that is what we are doing, through local authorities, housing associations and other means, but no doubt his campaign will continue.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Minister ensure that social exclusion policy includes prisoners with literacy problems and those who suffer from dyslexia so that more can be done while they are in prison to help to raise their literacy skills so that they have a better opportunity when they return to society and do not reoffend?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman raises an important subject, and I wholeheartedly concur with everything that he said. As part of our public service agreement targets, we have a target to help ex-offenders find a home and a job when they leave prison. He makes an important point, and we will look at it as part of that work.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): What recent representations has my right hon. Friend received on social exclusion in seaside towns?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend asks a pertinent question. I had the pleasure of visiting his constituency recently. I saw the amazing work that is going on in Rhyl, and I pay tribute to all the work that he and members of his local community have done. I look forward to Rhyl and many other seaside towns continuing to regenerate in the years ahead.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman, who has ministerial responsibility for social exclusion, take his share of responsibility for the abolition of the 10p rate, given that it has plunged 300,000 more people into poverty and hits those on the poverty line hardest? The Prime Minister has promised to listen, but many Members on both sides of the House think that the trouble is that he has listened too much to the right hon. Gentleman and his gang.

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Edward Miliband: Of course, we all take responsibility for the Government’s tax policy. We take responsibility for the fact that we have taken 600,000 children out of poverty since 1997; we take responsibility for the fact that we have 3 million more jobs in this country; and we take responsibility for the fact that we will continue to show that we are the best party on poverty.


6. Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): What steps he is taking to encourage more young people to volunteer. [203760]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Phil Hope): The Government will invest £117 million in youth volunteering through v from 2008-2011. The youth-led volunteering charity v has the mission to inspire 1 million more young people to volunteer. Since its establishment, it has created over 210,000 volunteering opportunities. The national programme that began in April 2008 aims to create 500,000 more volunteering opportunities for young people.

Mr. Crausby: Does my hon. Friend accept that too much paperwork and red tape deters young people from volunteering, so what can he do to avoid unnecessary time-consuming checks, especially in cases where those volunteers are not involved with children and vulnerable adults?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Phil Hope: I am unused to such a tribute from the Opposition when I rise to speak. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Baroness Neuberger, who was appointed volunteering champion by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, identified the issue of bureaucracy and unnecessary checks on volunteers. There is anecdotal evidence of some confusion, which means that potential volunteers and, indeed, young volunteers are being checked unnecessarily, and that acts as a barrier to participation. I am therefore pleased to be able to tell the House that we will produce clearer guidance to voluntary organisations about volunteering, about when, and when not, to recheck individuals and about alternatives to checking such as seeking references, which, I hope, will reduce the barriers that my hon. Friend described.

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): May I commend to my hon. Friend the work of TimeBank—the largest volunteer organisation in the UK, of which I am a patron? Will he have a word across government to introduce an NVQ for volunteering, as that would have a great impact on volunteering in schools?

Phil Hope: My hon. Friend makes a good point—it is one that he has made to me in the past—about being able to accredit and recognise, through qualifications, the contributions made by young people when they engage in volunteering. He will be glad to know that v is developing a system to bring on board the best experiences from the Duke of Edinburgh award and other schemes that give out certificates that recognise
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the contribution made by young people, either in their initial attempt to volunteer or if they volunteer for, say, 40 or 50 hours. We wish to find a way of building in the ability to accredit young people’s contribution to the community and recognise that through volunteering and the certificate employers and universities can see the contribution that they have made to the community in which they live.

Low-income Households

7. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Whether the social exclusion unit has undertaken research on the effect of the tax system on low-income households. [203761]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): Analysis from the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that tax and benefit reforms introduced since 1997 have increased the annual incomes of the poorest tenth of the population by 12.4 per cent. or £1,300 on average. In addition, independent research confirms that tax credit and other measures have helped lift 600,000 children out of poverty during that period.

Mr. Crabb: Given the specific remit of the social exclusion unit, will the Minister state whether, prior to the last Budget, the unit provided any advice to Ministers on the entirely predictable negative consequences to people on low incomes of the abolition of the 10p tax band? If so, why was that advice ignored?

Edward Miliband: We have discussions about a range of issues with all kinds of colleagues across Government. Nobody in the House is proposing that we restore the 10p tax rate. The Opposition had to admit that yesterday. I come back to what I said in my earlier answer: we take credit for the fact that we have taken 600,000 children out of poverty—a record that the Conservative party could never match.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [203739] Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 7 May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Trooper Ratu Sakeasi Babakobau of the Household Cavalry Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Friday. We owe him and all others who have lost their lives a great debt of gratitude.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today.

Mr. Vara: As the right hon. Gentleman is the only person in the House with experience of unseating a sitting Prime Minister, what is his own estimate of how long he has got?

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The Prime Minister: Once again, the big policy questions of substance. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what the Government have done under two Prime Ministers. We have created the highest employment in history; we have cut child poverty and pensioner poverty; we have doubled investment in health and social services; we have got the best education results in our history—and none of that would have happened under a Conservative Government.

Q2. [203740] Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Over 5,000 of my constituents in Newham are living in substandard temporary accommodation, paying over £1,000 per calendar month in rent. That is clearly unaffordable for those who are living on low incomes, and it traps families in benefit dependency. Will my right hon. Friend confirm his commitment to building 15,000 affordable new homes in London per year, and review the benefits system to incentivise work?

The Prime Minister: Yes, we will. We have made available money for 70,000 new affordable homes, including 45,000 new social homes. That is a 50 per cent. increase, and half of those will be delivered in London. I welcome the new Mayor of London to the House. I hope he will continue the record of his predecessor in social housing and creating affordable housing.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Trooper Ratu Babakobau, who was killed in Afghanistan on Friday.

The whole House will also want to send our condolences to everyone caught up in the Burmese cyclone. The Prime Minister knows that he will have the full support of those on the Opposition Benches in any action needed for the aid and assistance that clearly will be necessary.

I join the Prime Minister in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) on his magnificent victory. I am sure the Prime Minister has always secretly wanted to see the back of Ken Livingstone, and I am sure he will have a fruitful relationship with my hon. Friend. [An Hon. Member: “Will you?”] Indeed. Following Thursday’s elections, the Prime Minister said that he would listen and lead, so let me start with an issue of leadership. Labour’s leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, says that there should be a referendum now on Scottish independence. Does he agree with her?

The Prime Minister: That is not what she has said. The Conservative party, the Liberal party and the Labour party have joined together in setting up the Calman review, the commission on devolution. I hope that we can see progress in that commission, and we will review the progress before making any further decisions. I thought that that was the policy of the Conservative party, which supported the commission.

Mr. Cameron: I think the Prime Minister is losing touch with reality. This is what Wendy Alexander said:

she told BBC Scotland on Sunday,

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What else could that possibly mean? Can I ask the Prime Minister again? Does he agree with Wendy Alexander or not? It is not much of a leadership if no one is really following him.

The Prime Minister: The Calman commission has been set up to review the progress of devolution. I believe that all parties in the House will welcome the fact that it is looking at all these issues. When we review the progress of the Calman commission, we can make further decisions.

What the leader of the Labour party in Scotland was pointing to was the hollowness of the Scottish National party, which said that it wanted independence, said that it wanted it immediately, and now wants to postpone a referendum until 2010-11. That is what she was pointing out. She was making it clear that what the Scottish National party was doing was against its election manifesto.

Mr. Cameron: The one thing that people thought about this Prime Minister was that he was quite a good political fixer—and he has now lost control of the Scottish Labour party. So there has been no leadership on the Union.

Let us turn to listening. People want to know whether this is a genuine listening exercise, or just another relaunch. In London, where we now have a Conservative Mayor, one of the biggest issues at the election was crime. Under this Government’s early release scheme, nearly 24,000 prisoners have been released early from prison. The last Prime Minister, who introduced the scheme almost a year ago, described it as “very temporary”. If the current Prime Minister is serious about listening to people, will he now scrap it?

The Prime Minister: We are building up the number of prison places. We have made an announcement about the new prison places that we are going to create this year and in the next few years. When we have built up the number of prison places from the 60,000 that we inherited—now 80,000—to 82,000 and then 86,000, we will make our decisions on the right thing to do about early release. But it is important to have a situation where we have built enough prison places and that is what we are going to do. Again, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman supported us on the building of prison places—and so he should.

Mr. Cameron: So that is a no, then—no action to stop the early release of prisoners. Every week, more prisoners are going to be released under the Prime Minister’s early release scheme. He is not going to listen to people when it comes to crime.

Up and down the country, people told the Government in the clearest possible terms that they wanted to keep their local post offices. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke)— [Interruption.] They should listen to the former Home Secretary; he always has something helpful to say. He said that the current review was “over-bureaucratic” and should be suspended. So will the Prime Minister listen to people and halt the closure programme for the post offices?

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