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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Ever since the pits closed across south Wales, far too many of my constituents have been consigned to a life of benefits-based poverty, so I wholly welcome what my right hon. Friend says. But one significant problem is that more than 50 per cent. of my constituents on incapacity benefit receive it
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for mental health reasons, and many employers are chary of employing people with such problems, so what will be done about that? Has he spoken with the Welsh Assembly to ensure that more talking therapies are available in south Wales so that we do not just have people popping pills all the time?

James Purnell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those are vital steps to take to increase the employment rate among people with mental health conditions, which I think is the lowest rate for any of the conditions that we are trying to help people with. We need to remove the stigma around mental health and to improve the provision of talking therapies, as he says, and he will be glad to know that we are in close contact with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that we can dovetail our policies. As he knows, the whole approach that Pathways to Work follows was piloted and inspired by work done in Wales, and that is why we are confident that it will be the right approach in Wales as it will be in the rest of the UK.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): As somebody who likes to think that he is on the right wing of the Conservative party, I am thrilled to hear today’s statement, which is great news. In that statement, the Secretary of State says that for the 2 per cent. anticipated to be still out of work after two years, mandatory full-time work programmes will be explored. Does he mean that he will explore whether to have such programmes, or explore the details of programmes that we will definitely have?

James Purnell: No, we will spend £20 million on those programmes. It will be a national pilot. We want to work out what works and then roll it out.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): As a general principle, it is hard to overstate the importance of fathers’ involvement in the lives of their children, but people have messy and complicated lives. It would not be unfair to say that the history of Parliament reminds us that not just people on benefits have messy and complicated lives. I welcome the announcement that people on benefits will have maintenance payments disregarded, which is a very positive thing, but will the Secretary of State assure me that women who, for good reason or through no fault of their own, are unable to have a father registered at the birth of their child will not be penalised?

James Purnell: Yes, I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that reassurance. The proposals are based on what has happened in Australia, where they have got the balance absolutely right. The default is that both parents have to be registered, but not when it is impractical or not in the interests of the child. I hope that when she sees our proposals, she will be reassured.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): I broadly welcome this move, which in many ways follows UKIP’s welfare to work policy, as it does Liberal and Conservative policies. May I ask how the Secretary of State will ensure that decisions taken by the providers on the type of work and on enforcing work over the mandatory four-week period will be maintained as rational and non-discriminatory? Will there be any appeals? How will the quality of the decision be underwritten?

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James Purnell: It is absolutely right that the proposals should be subject to review and that they should be carried out in the right way. I am delighted to see that the hon. Gentleman’s parliamentary party is completely united behind his leadership in backing our proposals.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I very much welcome the proposals in the Green Paper to require people to seek drug treatment if they want to carry on claiming benefit. I have not yet had a chance to speak to many agencies in my constituency, many of whom are providing excellent drug treatment, but I suspect that they would have two concerns. First, it can be quite difficult to provide treatment to people if they are being compelled to attend rather than doing so through their own free will. The second point is on the simple question of funding. Such agencies are already rather overstretched. They would be delighted to be able to offer services to whoever puts themselves forward, but how will they be able to fund that?

James Purnell: As my hon. Friend knows, we have the progress2work programme, which helps people with drug addiction or previous drug addiction to overcome their addiction and get back into work. That is the approach that we want to build on.

This is a radical proposal that was inspired by conversations with people who are recovering or are in recovery from drug addiction. They say that at the moment the system treats them as though they are jobseekers when they are trying to recover. For example, we have been asking people to go to work focused interviews bang in the middle of carrying out their rehab. Clearly, that is the wrong approach. We need instead to work with charities and organisations in the field to see how we can provide them with the employment support and the treatment that they need to ensure that people can get off drugs. Drugs, as my hon. Friend knows, scar families, can scar communities and are a significant cause of poverty. If we can help people to treat themselves, we can help communities too.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I understand the Government and the Secretary of State’s desire to move people off incapacity benefit and on to jobseeker’s allowance so that they can get into employment, but there seems to be a flaw in the current policy because 50 per cent. of the appeals against being moved off incapacity benefit and on to jobseeker’s allowance are being upheld. Does the Secretary of State have some concern that vulnerable people are being moved off incapacity benefit who should really still be on it?

James Purnell: That is exactly why we want a new test for the employment and support allowance. We think that the previous test did not identify the right people. We think that the new test, the work capability assessment, will do that more effectively. Of course, we want to reduce the level of successful appeals and to take the right decision at the initial stage. The problem is often that people supply different and additional information at the second stage, meaning that a different decision turns out to be needed, which we had no way of knowing in the first place.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome the statement. I represent some blind and partially sighted people and the major obstacle we face in terms of Access to Work is making employers confident
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about employing disabled people. They see the disability, not the ability. How will my right hon. Friend engage with employers to bring them on board and make them feel confident that this is a serious opportunity for them?

James Purnell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we do not use the potential of everybody in the work force, including disabled people, we are, first, not giving them the chance to realise their ambitions and, secondly, not having as successful a work force as we otherwise could. Access to Work will give employers confidence that if there are extra costs, they can be met from the Access to Work budget. It is vital that we change attitudes, and our employability campaign is doing exactly that. Recently, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform spoke to a primary care trust whose research showed that people who had come off incapacity benefit were less likely to take time off than the rest of the work force. People who had got better and gone back to work were determined not to go back.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Success has many parents and failure is an orphan, so it is no wonder there has been such widespread support for the Secretary of State’s announcement today. However, one part of his statement bears the unmistakeable leitmotif of the section of the party of which he is a distinguished luminary; I speak of the desire to outsource and privatise anything that is not bolted down. Will he tell the House what standards he will expect and impose on those who will want to deliver services so that he does not finish up in the same situation as his Cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, dealing with firms such as ETS, which have a voracious appetite but not the competence to go with it?

James Purnell: Obviously, it would be wrong for me to comment on that issue. We want to use good providers and to choose people who will provide good services. We do not have to choose the cheapest provider; we can choose providers on the basis of quality. We value immensely the work of people in the DWP. It is a very good delivery Department, which has transformed its services over the past few years. We have reduced the head count by 30,000 but improved our productivity and services. We should thank our civil servants more often for their fantastic work.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): It is right that when people can work, they do. No one would disagree with that, but what about people who can work only sometimes? There are such people on incapacity benefit and they would very much like to get back to work but they may have difficulty finding employers, particularly in the private sector. It is a lot to expect a small business to take on someone who may be off work from time to time with illness. The public sector has to play a massive role in getting people back to work—not only the voluntary sector.

James Purnell: That is absolutely right. All sectors must play their part. The doubling of the Access to Work budget will help, as will the higher amount that people will be able to earn on ESA—I think it is £86.35—which will allow them to try out work before having to decide whether to come off the benefit.

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Points of Order

4.33 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that there is chaos in certain areas of the school testing system. The key stage test results have been delayed, an inquiry has been launched and press releases have apparently been issued by Departments, yet the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has still not come to the House to explain the situation and to enable us to ask questions. What can you do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to help us to put that right?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not possible for the Chair to command the appearance of a Minister at the Dispatch Box, but even in the dying hours before the recess begins, there may be an opportunity for Members to raise the matter—one can think of such an opportunity in the next 24 hours.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Just days ago, I raised a point of order on the inclination of the then occupant of the Chair about such a statement. Could you advise Back Benchers what levers they have, with 24 hours to go before the major recess, to get further details about something that affects so many thousands of our constituents? I speak of course of the ETS debacle.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Obviously, I am not unaware of the seriousness of the situation for many people, but I can only repeat that there are yet opportunities for hon. Members to seek answers to their questions.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have heard a lot of complaints about key stage test results. You say that there are opportunities for Back Benchers to raise the issue in the next 24 hours; will you give me some indication of how we might do that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should know by now that there is the opportunity to put forward an urgent question for consideration by Mr. Speaker. There is also a debate tomorrow that takes place on the premise that the House should not adjourn until certain matters have been discussed. As to what may follow from that, I leave that to the hon. Gentleman’s imagination.


Microgeneration and Local Energy

Dr. Alan Whitehead, supported by Colin Challen, Andrew George, Peter Bottomley, Mr. Martin Caton, Mr. Elliot Morley, Alan Simpson and Mr. David Drew, presented a Bill to make further provision for the promotion of microgeneration and energy efficiency; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed. [Bill 143].

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Topical debate

Bercow Review

4.35 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan): I beg to move,

On behalf of the Government, and in particular on behalf of the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health, I warmly welcome the important report by the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) and its recommendations for further action. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families said in his written ministerial statement, under the hon. Gentleman’s exemplary leadership, the Bercow report has set

My Department and the Department of Health want to thank the hon. Gentleman and his team of expert advisers for their hard work over the past 10 months. They have been meticulous in collecting and analysing the evidence, and they have been very effective in involving interested parties in their work. They visited every part of the country, from Norwich to Newcastle and from Westminster to Wigan, and collected evidence from front-line practitioners on the challenges that they face and how those challenges might be overcome. Above all, they have successfully drawn on the experiences of children, young people and families, providing a range of opportunities for them to contribute to the review. For example, the online consultation generated about three times the number of responses that are usually received in similar reviews.

As we all know, the hon. Gentleman has a deep and passionate commitment to this issue. His determination to transform the lives of children and young people with speech, language and communication needs has made the report the success that it clearly is. I think we picked the right man for the job, but I want to make it clear—I know that the hon. Gentleman would agree with this—that the Government did not commission the review because we thought he was a top bloke and an all-round good egg; we commissioned the review because it fits in with the ambitious task that we set ourselves in the children’s plan: to make this the best country in the world for children to grow up in.

In many ways, the review encapsulates many of the principles that are at the heart of the Every Child Matters agenda, the children’s plan, and all that our Department, in conjunction with the Department of Health and the whole Government, is trying to achieve. The review envisages a service that is universal, but that adapts to the needs and circumstances of individual children and their families. It stresses the need for early intervention, supported by joined-up working by all the professionals and agencies involved.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Does the Minister appreciate the needs of such people as Sarah Wates in my constituency, who came to my surgery on Friday? She takes a close interest in the issue
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because her son, Alex, has speech difficulties. He was meant to be assessed at the age of two, but he was not assessed until six months later, and they have been trying to catch up ever since. The report by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) stresses the importance of early intervention, as the Minister has done. Will the Minister say how constituents such as Sarah Wates will be helped in future, and how we will ensure early intervention, which is so important?

Kevin Brennan: Such people will be helped principally by the implementation of the review’s recommendations. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: clearly, there must be an emphasis on early intervention. If there has been a historical fault with these services, it has been that intervention has not been early enough. In his report, the hon. Member for Buckingham has rightly stressed the importance of early intervention—the need for us to commission services that achieve it across different Departments and for us to work together towards the vision and make sure that services are aiming to intervene early, rather than too late.

This is about trying to support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our society and helping children to make the most of their potential. To that end, I visited a school last week with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who has joined us today. We met a young man who had had communication difficulties when he first went to secondary school. That manifested itself in bad behaviour, poor achievement and his getting into trouble at school. However, as a result of the measures taken by his school, the young man was able to turn his life around. He described to me and the Secretary of State the feelings that he had when he was frustrated by his inability to communicate and how that had meant that he was getting into trouble with his peers and teachers. He told us how he had turned his life around, a fact that was confirmed during our conversations with his teachers and parents. It is absolutely clear that early intervention is the key to dealing with these issues.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con) rose—

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con) rose—

Kevin Brennan: I have been given a delightful choice. [Interruption.] I shall take the intervention of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), as he has been bold enough to remain on his feet.

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