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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):
Can the Secretary of State tell us what the following constituencies have in common: Birmingham, Hodge Hill; Bolton, South-East; Bolton, West; Bury, North; Eastleigh; Halesowen and Rowley Regis; Islwyn; Leicester, East;
Leigh, Milton Keynes, South-West; North-East Milton Keynes; Rossendale and Darwen; South Swindon; Corby; Kettering; and Wellingborough? If he does not know, I can tell him that unemployment is higher there now than it was in 1997.
James Purnell: I am not sure what the hon. Gentlemans question was, but the facts are that unemployment hit 3 million twice under the Conservative Government, that it was 1.6 million when we came into power, and that it is under 1 million now.
Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): May I tell my right hon. Friend that in Edinburgh, South in 1997, 2,037 people were languishing on the dole, but that this summer, thanks to the efforts of the new deal and this Government, that number fell to 667? I feel sorry for my right hon. Friend, because I know that he was waiting for an apology from the Opposition Front-Bench team for their policies of mass unemployment in the 1980s and 1990s, which they would bring back in this century.
Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Unemployment in my constituency has risen by 21 per cent. in the past year. Jobs have been lost in the manufacturing town of Thetford, and more are at risk. What would the Minister say to employers in my constituency, who fear that the proposed cut in VAT will do little to stimulate demand for British goods and preserve jobs in the manufacturing industries?
James Purnell: There is a £12 billion stimulus to the economy, and we very much hope that that will help the hon. Gentlemans constituents. If any of them are at risk of losing their jobs, we clearly share his worry about that. The rapid response service is there to help people if they do lose their jobs, but the whole point of yesterdays pre-Budget report was to ensure that that is less likely. It included £7 billion of help for small businesses.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): People in Chapeltown in my constituency will be very relieved today to hear that their jobcentre is one of the 25 that will remain open, but will my right hon. Friend also consider developing employment support services in the jobcentre, alongside the housing service and the voluntary sector, so as to serve better the needs of the long-term unemployed in that area?
James Purnell: We are certainly happy to consider that. As my hon. Friend knows, we are rolling out a new approach whereby people will be able to claim from Jobcentre Plus not only their benefits but their tax credits and housing benefit. They will be able to go to one place and get the information sorted out through one organisation, rather than through many different ones.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The Secretary of State questioned the statement, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), that two thirds of all new jobs are being created in the public sector. However, that was also a lead story in The Sun today. Has The Sun got it wrong?
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement that planned jobcentre closures, including that of the one at Shepherds Bush, will not proceed. That Shepherds Bush jobcentre is literally next door to the Westfield shopping centre, which has created 7,000 new jobs. However, the Tory council, which should have negotiated the employment benefits, has admitted that only 268 of the jobs are going to local people, and it has itself just issued redundancy notices to 4,700 people. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the reprieved jobcentres will get the resources to help my unemployed constituents, whom the Tories have clearly abandoned again?
James Purnell: Absolutely. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and other colleagues who have campaigned so hard for this announcement. He is right to say that the extra investment is needed, and the £100 million that we have said will be available will help his constituents, among others, to get exactly that help.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I welcome the statement and thank the Secretary of State for all that he is trying to do. Many thousands of my constituents are specialised, highly skilled finance and banking workers in the City. Their sector has been particularly hit by the credit crunch. Is there anything special that we can do to help them if they are made redundant?
James Purnell: Absolutely. The £100 million is there to get to people even before they lose their jobs. People may have banking skills that are highly transferable to other areas. With a little bit of quick retraining, we may be able to get such people back into work even before they fall out of work. If they do sign on for benefits, I should say that we give exactly the same priority to services for people with professional backgrounds as we give to services for people from different backgrounds.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I welcome the statement on the extra measures that the Secretary of State has taken. However, the moratorium on jobcentres will come too late for Burslem. Will he revisit the whole issue of how we can get the skills match and the front-line staff needed to help with regeneration and the whole job market? Will he meet me to see how we can achieve more in Burslem?
James Purnell: We are happy to consider how we can deliver the service. As my hon. Friend knows, we have modernised it so that there is now one agency, Jobcentre Plus, where before there were two. We take 80,000 calls a week and there are 350,000 visits a day to our website. That is a way of making sure that we help people. If my hon. Friend feels that more is needed, we will be happy to discuss that with her.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con):
Does not the Secretary of States announcement of a major increase in spending on the flexible new deal for the long-term unemployed show that he is predicting a major increase in long-term unemployment? Does he
agree with the Social Market Foundation, which has said that in the course of this recession, long-term unemploymentof more than 12 monthsis set to quadruple?
James Purnell: Unemployment has fallen by three quarters since 1997. We do not predict unemployment levels. Obviously, we look at the independent predictions of independent experts, but it is not for the Government to make predictions of that kind.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend today. However, will he look into a particular aspect of the situation of people who have lost their jobs? They are in a bad situation, but the most disheartening part of being unemployed is finding a vacancy, only to discover that it was filled two weeks earlier, although it is still being advertised at the jobcentre. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that people do not waste their time in that way, that the employers who advertise in jobcentres notify them straight away when vacancies are filled, and that the jobcentres take down the notices about jobs that have been filled?
James Purnell: That is absolutely right. We depend, of course, on employers telling us when a vacancy has been filled. One of the things that the extra investment will do is to allow more people to work with employers, to get as many vacancies as possible advertised through Jobcentre Plus, so that they can respond to my hon. Friends point.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The Government were very sympathetic to workers at JCB who accepted a reduction in pay in order to try to remain competitive and keep their jobsbut that flexibility is not available to people on the minimum wage. Will the Government extend the same flexibility to people on the minimum wage, so that if they choose to accept a lower wage in order to retain the right to work, they can do so?
James Purnell: I think that we saw some Members nodding at that. That exposes the true face of the Conservatives, who opposed the minimum wage and said that it would cost 2 million jobsyet in fact there are 3 million more jobs in the economy.
John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab):
I welcome my right hon. Friends statement. Will he ensure that the rapid response service goes for early intervention on skills
training, so that if there is even a hint of redundancy in even the smallest firm, people start thinking about skills training as opposed to just looking at adverts for another job, so that this time a redundancy notice for any person may be seen as a chance to upgrade their skillsunlike what happened last time under the Tories, when people were left stood in dole queues and at home without hope?
James Purnell: I absolutely can give my right hon. Friend that guarantee. That is exactly what the rapid response service does. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was wrong to say that people cannot train when they are on jobseekers allowance. He should read the Green Paper, which makes it clear that we have abolished the 16-hour rule where people are training to get themselves back into work.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): More than 250,000 young people have already been through the new deal twice, and 80,000 have been through it three times. What does the Secretary of State propose to do to ensure that the new deal genuinely prepares people for work? Is it not just a revolving door that keeps them off the register of the long-term unemployed?
James Purnell: The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, an independent organisation, has said that the new deal pays for itself, and it has helped to cut long-term unemployment by three quarters. We are reforming the flexible new deal on the lines that David Freud suggested, using private and voluntary providers, giving them the freedom to innovate, and rewarding them on the basis of results. Although the Conservatives say that they are against that, it is exactly the approach that they say that they would follow as well.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I welcome the additional 6,000 staff in the jobcentres. Was that figure calculated on the basis of a ratio between staff and the numbers of unemployed? If so, will there be an automatic increase in staff beyond that 6,000 if the numbers of unemployed go up beyond the Governments current expectations?
James Purnell: Clearly, we use a range of scenarios and base our plans on that approach. I can give my hon. Friend my commitment that we will ensure that the service delivers for peoples needs, and we will do that not only by investing more but by continuing our efficiency programme, which has enabled us to shift resources from the back office to the front office and to increase the number of personal advisers by 1,500.
yesterdays pre-Budget report.
It is an absolute disgrace that the Government have not conceded a debate on this, for it was not just a report but a crisis Budget and a reckless gamble with the public finances. It introduces a £20 billion fiscal loosening and a £40 billion package of future tax increases. The VAT changes, which add £12 billion to the national debt, will come into force next Monday, before any parliamentary approval is possible and without the opportunity to raise the widespread scepticism that the public and retailers have expressed about its merits and costs. The prospect of a rise in national insurance, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies has just confirmed hits anyone on an income of over £19,000, is already damaging confidence in a future recovery. The news that the Government are set to borrow more than any Government in history, and that the national debt will double to £1 trillion, has shocked the entire country.
If this had formally been called a Budget, there would now be four whole days of debate on it; instead, this Government refuse to have even one. They are running away from the argument, because they are losing the argument. These are the issues that the entire country is talking about, and I believe that we should be debating them in this Chamber. That is why, Sir, I seek this debate.
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman asks leave to debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the pre-Budget report. I am satisfied that the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the hon. Gentleman leave of this House?
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance on the convention regarding written ministerial statements? If one looks at the small print of the pre-Budget report, one finds a number of issues about which one would have expected to have a written ministerial statement, at the very least. For example, there is a statement relating to the Defence Storage and Distribution Agency in my constituency, which employs a large number of people. It says that the Government are intending to examine alternative business models. In the normal course of events, we would have expected a written ministerial statement on that, and it seems unreasonable that within the pre-Budget report a number of issues affecting our constituents, people who are working and people who are worried about the future of their jobs, are thrown away in a couple of lines in the footnotes. That is unacceptable and unfair.
Nigel Griffiths: Is it in order for them to pile into this Chamber on an important statement on employment, in which they have shown no interest, in order to demand a statement tomorrow? Why should it be that those who have no interest in the issue of unemploymentbecause they created so muchshould have such a say in this place? [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Speaker: Order. It is up to right hon. and hon. Members when they come into the Chamber. All I can say is that there have been occasions when I have been sitting in this Chamber when there have just been a few hon. Members attending to important matters. I often wish that they would pile in more often.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that you have allowed three days[Hon. Members: Three hours!]three hours debate, may I ask you whether there is any procedural reason why the Leader of the House, who is sitting in her place now, should not rise to alter the business of the House for tomorrow and the day after, to allow a full debate on what has been the most significant Budget statement we have had for the last couple of decades? Would you invite her to do so? We are meant to have control over taxation and public spending in the House, which is what makes us the supreme legislature in the countryin theory.
Mr. Speaker: The right hon. and learned Gentleman must not push his luck. I gave him three hours, not three days. I said that the debate would begin at the commencement of public business tomorrow, so there is no need for the Leader of the House to do anything. I have made a ruling that the debate will take place then.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision to protect childrens privacy in the media; to make provision for the protection of children from avoidable emotional distress resulting from participating in, or being the subject of, media programmes or reports; and for connected purposes.
I would not want people listening to this debate to think that I had misspent most of the summer recess watching television, but I did perhaps leave for the office a little later in the morning and arrive home a little earlier in the evening, and I did enough channel-hopping to rekindle my intention to initiate the debate that I want to raise today. I say rekindle, because I have been concerned for some time about just where we draw the line in deciding whether children should be the subject, directly or indirectly, of some of our more voyeuristic and sensationalist television programmes.
We have often debated in the House the issue of children as the viewers of television programmes, whether we are discussing whether advertisements for junk food should be banned during childrens broadcasting or expressing concern about what is shown before and after the watershed. Fairly strict guidelines are in place about the use of child actors in television or the theatre, which include a local licence scheme. When it comes to reality TV, fly-on-the-wall documentaries and daytime talk shows, however, it appears that the boundaries of what is acceptable are becoming increasingly blurred. I am particularly concerned about programmes that show children becoming distressed or which highlight their emotional or physical problems or their dysfunctional family lives.
A colleague made a good point to me yesterday: in the past, such issues were usually addressed by making drama programmes, which would handle the issues much more intelligently and sensitively. We all remember programmes such as Cathy Come Home or Boys from the Black Stuff, which were compelling pieces of social observation. Todays equivalent, however, would be to stick television cameras in every room of someones house and then edit the programme to show the arguments and tears of a family tearing itself apart. We have seen a surge of such programmes over the past few yearsprogrammes that feature real children in real-life settings, such as Wife Swap, Brat Camp, Teenage Tourettes Camp, Can Fat Teens Hunt? and I Know What You Ate Last Summer. For Brat Camp, the TV companys promotional blurb ran:
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