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I gently remind the Secretary of State that he mentioned the new deal once and that it was barely mentioned at all during the speeches made by his Back Benchers. It was mentioned in more detail by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, who powerfully dissected and criticised it and its failures. The new deal was the centrepiece of the Government’s reforms since 1997 but now the
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Government hardly dare speak about it. As the UK Statistics Authority has said, after all the Government’s boasts and propaganda about the new deal, the sad fact of the matter for young people in this country today is that unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds is higher now than it was in 1997. It is going up at the moment, but it was going up long before the credit crunch took hold.

As the right hon. Member for Birkenhead made clear, the centrepiece of the Government’s reform of welfare has been a system that put in place a revolving door, that had diminishing returns, and failed many young people who kept going back into the system. Those people were made the basis of a claim that the Government had abolished long-term unemployment when all they had done was move people from one queue to another, while more and more young people were unemployed. More people are not in employment, education or training than in 1997. We have to start from the sad position of the number of economically inactive people left behind by the Government, particularly in the 16-to-24 age group. The Government failed to put things right when they had the opportunity to do so, but we look to bring fresh thinking to this subject. It is sorely needed.

We will build on the proposals in the Bill where that suits our plans, which we put in place long before the Government did. We will build on what the Government are doing, and we recognise where they have gone wrong. Even now, however, we must seek to put things right, and to bring hope to all the people who are going through the present dark economic times. They include those who are losing their jobs, the 2 million who are economically inactive and who want to work and the nearly 2 million who are now unemployed. We must try to bring hope to all of them, by means of a welfare system that acts much more efficiently than what has been put in place by this Government so far.

9.50 pm

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Mr. Tony McNulty): I, too, think that this has been a very interesting debate, in which colleagues who were here made extensive and experienced contributions. There were just two contributions from the Conservative Back Benches, and they were both very useful and thoughtful—

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): There were more than that.

Mr. McNulty: There were two, I think the hon. Gentleman will find, but if he wants stretch the point and include interventions, I suppose that there were slightly more. We had absolutely no Back-Bench contributions from the Liberal Democrats, which is really quite sad.

John Barrett: The Minister was not here.

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that a televisual contraption has been invented that allows people who are not in the Chamber to watch the debate.

We heard some old flannel from the Scottish National party—I am not sure whether it was a Front-Bench or Back-Bench contribution, but then neither was the hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason)—which I still
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cannot fully understand. That is a real pity given the Bill’s importance for Scotland and the ravages left behind by last Government. At least six colleagues on the Labour Benches made substantive contributions, which is very instructive.

I broadly welcome the tone of the debate, and much of what was said in concentrating on the Bill. I understand that people can get confused by references to the Green Paper, the White Paper, the Gregg review and the Bill, all four of which need to be read in their entirety.

Not everything needs primary legislation, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) noted, but I can tell him that I have always tried as far as possible to prepare at least the grid of what secondary legislation may follow on from primary legislation. That was certainly true of my approach on previous Bills, such as the one that became the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made a perfectly fair point about the secondary legislation and other bits of legislation that might follow on from this Bill. I can tell them that, as far as we can, we intend to have at least a draft outline of the direction of travel of the regulations ready for the Committee.

I am very sorry that I missed the debut of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead. I am afraid that, on balance, the pull of 15 primary and secondary heads from the London borough of Harrow was sufficient to win me over and I was not able to listen to her contribution. Even so, I welcome the broad support that she has given the Bill, and what I hope is the shift in tone evident in her remarks. Her predecessor gave us a mixture of rank opportunism and utter confusion.

The right hon. Lady appears to have changed her view of the help and treatment for problematic drug users. I was not entirely sure about that from her remarks, but that must be the right direction to go in. She has certainly changed her opinions about passports and driving licences, and I am afraid that she was entirely wrong when she suggested that the Government had been instrumental in withdrawing an amendment to the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill in the other place. Lord McKenzie and Lord Skelmersdale both made it clear that, in order to get that Bill through in time, the Tories would not press their amendment that would have removed the Child Support Agency’s right to overturn court orders on child maintenance after 12 months in certain circumstances, in return for the Government converting passport removal to a court-based procedure.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, very clearly, the only way to get the measure through the other place was to water it down at the behest of the Conservatives. If the right hon. Member for Maidenhead has shifted her position on that, that is also very welcome.

With the best will in the world, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) will know, the conditionality regime for lone parents and the age shift alluded to by Freud may well have their genesis in the Nordic countries, or in Michigan or Wisconsin in the States, depending on one’s view; they certainly do not have their genesis in Chingford, notwithstanding
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the contribution that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) makes on such matters, albeit belatedly.

Lynne Jones: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McNulty: I will not, for the moment. If the right hon. Member for Maidenhead brings less petty politicking to these very serious matters, as she at least implies that she will, that is hugely welcome. If she brings a degree of clarity where, up to now, there has been real intellectual bankruptcy, that will be useful, too.

The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who speaks for the Liberals, would do well to look at the substance of the Bill. I think that he agrees with more of the Bill than he disagrees with, but it is not helpful if he dwells on the negative.

Steve Webb: It’s called scrutiny.

Mr. McNulty: No, it isn’t, actually. Scrutiny is about looking in a balanced way at both the sticks and the carrots—at the whole sanctions regime, all the conditionality, and all our existing and future reforms outwith the Bill. It is about that, rather than about simply asking, “What happens if a drug user does this, that or the other?” and asking about sanctions. Those are fairly appropriate questions in Committee, but not here, and not in the context of his not telling us quite where he stands on what we will do to help and support some of the most vulnerable people in our community. That is precisely what the Bill is about, in terms.

I take the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North about the integrated employment and skills services, many of the other existing rules, and the whole panoply of what we are doing in welfare reform, not just for the immediate downturn, but more broadly. We have clearly said that we need to look again at specific extant measures, whether for the short term or in the context of welfare reform, and we will do so, if those measures do not fit in. However, hon. Members cannot say that they support some of those measures if they do not support what we are already doing with Jobcentre Plus—if they do not support the £1.8 billion and the six-month package that we have brought forward.

On the broad gist of what hon. Members have said, the removal of barriers that get in the way of people getting back into work is absolutely key. The measures are not, as billed, “Any job at any cost,” regardless of whether there is child care provision or other elements. I take on board what many of my Scottish friends have said about the paucity of child care provision in some areas of Scotland, not least Glasgow. There is certainly a huge paucity of drug treatment referral centres in Scotland. We are trying to work with members of the Scottish National party to deal with that. We are just trying to get basic figures from them, but they are not being forthcoming.

As Members have quite properly said, the liberalisation and realisation of the potential of people who have, up to now, been written off is central to the Bill, and to everything else that we are trying to do in welfare reform. That must be right. I totally disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who is not present, who says, “Whatever you do, don’t make the reforms now, because of the downturn.” We
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cannot leave the most vulnerable people behind in those circumstances. It is almost appropriate to say that now more than ever is the time to deal with those people. All that we are saying is that everyone should get a chance. No one should be written off or left behind. In welfare reform, and in everything else that we are doing in view of the downturn, we need to do as much as we can to allow people to do as much as they can. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Welfare reform bill (PROGRAMME)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7) ) ,

Question agreed to.

Welfare Reform Bill (money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) ) ,

(a) any expenditure incurred in consequence of the Act by a Minister of the Crown, government department or the Registrar General for England and Wales, and

(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided, and

Question agreed to.

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Business without Debate

Delegated LEgislation

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With the leave of the House, I will put motions 4, 5, 6 and 7 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Representation of the People

National Election Expenditure

European Communities

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Total Allowable Catches and Quotas and Recovery of Cod Stocks

Question agreed to.

Delegated legislation

Local Government


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Low-value Consignment VAT Relief

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Mr. Frank Roy.)

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