Previous Section Index Home Page

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Sadiq Khan): May I give the hon. Lady a short lecture on how the policy in this area works? It is for local authorities to assess need in their Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs assessments. The results of those assessments are passed to the regional planning body, which uses them
3 Mar 2009 : Column 728
to make the pitch allocations for local authorities. Local authorities then draw up development plan documents to accommodate the pitch allocations. I would hope that politicians would not try to scaremonger local people into supporting them by using Gypsies and Travellers.

T9. [259917] Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): Conservative-controlled Calderdale council is hiding behind equal pay legislation to try to cut the wages of some of its lowest-paid staff by a fifth. Will the Minister confirm that that legislation was not introduced to cut the wages of hard-working council staff? Will he tell Calderdale council to get its act together and protect the terms and conditions of those low-paid staff?

John Healey: Our commitment to equal pay for work of equal value is unshakeable, and we want every local council to undertake to put in place its obligations on that front. I understand that Calderdale council has completed its job evaluation, and it now has a difficult job to do, in consultation and negotiation with the unions, to put in place equal pay arrangements.

The council will be helped by what I have been able to announce today, which is a further programme of capital cover to help with the back pay costs of equal pay. I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that the general secretary of her own union, Dave Prentis, welcomed that today as

He is right.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): Returning to the subject of the business rate, what recompense can the Government give a local authority that exercises its discretion in order to save local businesses that might go under, particularly in weak economic areas? For a number of businesses, that is the difference between whether they survive or fail.

John Healey: The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that there is a hardship scheme, including arrangements that give local authorities some flexibility to take such steps. It is limited, but I will send him the details of it, and if he wants to make further representations I will gladly welcome them.

T10. [259918] Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): May I ask, in the wake of Gaza, what progress my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made on arranging the engagement of young people to make communities more resilient against violent extremism?

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend will know that there has been a series of meetings involving Ministers from my Department, myself and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to try to ensure that we engage young people in particular, but the whole community as well. We have also provided additional humanitarian relief for reconstruction in Palestine, and there is a conference on reconstruction today. At this time, it is vital that as well as involving the Muslim community, we say that whatever the events abroad, they are never an excuse for anti-Semitic attacks in our country. I know that we have the support of the whole community on that.

3 Mar 2009 : Column 729

Points of Order

3.33 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, you made a ruling that Ministers should

On 19 January, on behalf of my constituent Mr. Edward Orgill, I wrote to the Chancellor’s office about the important matter of guarantees for charitable deposits. Having received no reply, I sent a follow-up letter on 6 February. Still having received no reply, I telephoned the Chancellor’s office last Friday, 27 February. I was informed that Lord Myners was now dealing with the matter and was about to sign my letter that day, and that it would be e-mailed to me as a PDF file and also posted. As of this morning, I have still not received that important reply. At 2.9 pm today I telephoned the Chancellor’s private office, informing him out of courtesy that I would be raising the matter with you, Mr. Speaker. At 2.16 pm, just seven minutes after that call, I received a telephone call from the Chancellor’s private office informing me that the reply could be e-mailed over straight away, and that a hard copy was in the post.

I understand that Lord Myners might be sorting out people’s pension arrangements at this time—and possibly even his own—but surely it should not take points of order to be raised with you, Mr. Speaker, for Ministers to reply, given your ruling of only yesterday that they should reply in a “prompt and full manner”.

Mr. Speaker: At least the hon. Gentleman seems to have got a result by threatening the Department that he would raise a point of order with me. I hope that all Ministers act in kind when they are threatened with a point of order on the Floor of the House.

I assure the House that I meet the Chief Whip regularly and I shall raise the matter with him. It is not right that hon. Members of all parties, who pursue matters on behalf of their constituents, should be delayed unnecessarily.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, at the end of Report stage of the Political Parties and Elections Bill, the Deputy Speaker allowed a vote on a new clause that a Back-Bench colleague had tabled, which was not in a group of amendments that had been reached when the guillotine fell. I make no complaint about the Chair’s discretion to use the power that
3 Mar 2009 : Column 730
Standing Orders permit. However, I ask for your guidance about when the power can be used, given that until yesterday, whenever colleagues asked whether we could vote on an Opposition or Back-Bench new clause or amendment that would not have been reached by the time the guillotine fell, they were told that it was not possible, and that there was no precedent for it.

How, therefore, are colleagues to know whether an item that has not been reached by the time the guillotine falls will be called? How will they know that there will be a vote? How can they express any view about whether there should be a vote? Above all, how can we have a transparent system, whereby we know whether we can vote on business that is coming down the track, and—more importantly—whether we can debate it? My last point—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Everybody’s complaint on Report is that we do not have enough time for Opposition or Back-Bench new clauses or amendments. There is a wish for more time for debate, but not for voting, with no chance to debate.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me put it on the record, in case there is any doubt, that the Deputy Speaker was acting on my instructions. I used the powers that the House gave me to allow a vote to take place. I do not need to give reasons for that, but I expect hon. Members to use some logic. Only a few weeks ago, a statutory instrument went through the House that allowed the addresses of Members of Parliament to be kept private. There was a debate on the matter, and when the amendment was tabled, I considered it right and fitting for parliamentary candidates to have that privacy. After all, as soon as a general election is called, every hon. Member becomes a parliamentary candidate. That is simple. The hon. Gentleman asks how Members will know when there is to be a vote. If any hon. Member comes to me or the occupant of the Chair and asks, “Is there going to be a vote on that amendment?” sometimes I say yes and sometimes I say no. It could not be simpler.

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can help me. Later this afternoon or this evening, we will debate motions 5 to 12—eight motions on establishing regional Select Committees. Those of us who oppose the principle of such Committees, and are against having one for our own region, will wish to vote against each and every one of those motions. However, that would detain the House for two hours. Is there any way that the questions can be grouped, if the House agrees?

Mr. Speaker: No, they have to be voted on separately.

3 Mar 2009 : Column 731

Employment Retention

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

3.39 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I beg to move,

This is the fourth time that I have brought this Bill before Parliament. The inevitable question is: why do so again? In answering that, I want to outline the purpose of the Bill, which is something with which many hon. Members will already be familiar. The Bill’s fundamental aim is straightforward: to help people who become disabled, or who have an impairment that changes, to stay in work and to enjoin and guide both them and their employer in the process of retention.

In 2007, around 350,000 people moved from employment on to incapacity benefit, at great expense to both the taxpayer and employers, and at great personal cost to the individuals affected. Around 70,000 people spent less than three months receiving that benefit. With such high numbers, employment retention is clearly not an issue that is confined to the margins of society, so it is baffling that it is yet to be given prominence in policy and legislation. The consensus in this House—that improvements should be made to improve employment retention—is as unanimous as the collective grievance outside Parliament that so many people should have become unemployed and fallen out of work, despite being able to continue working and, indeed, having to find new employment shortly afterwards.

The employment retention Bill has two provisions to address the situation. First, it would provide a right to a period of rehabilitation leave for a person who developed a disability or whose existing impairment worsened while they were in employment. That would allow them, in appropriate circumstances, a short period away from the workplace to come to terms with their condition. At the moment, there is no such right under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; rather, it has been left languishing in the non-binding code of practice for employers, where it is more often argued over than granted. The second key measure that the Bill would introduce is a right to an employment retention assessment to examine a person’s condition and advise on the reasonable steps that an employer should take under the Disability Discrimination Act to help someone remain in work. That mechanism is designed to ensure early intervention and clear guidance for employees and employers, engaging them both in the process of retention.

The Government and the Opposition have both publicly suggested that what the Bill seeks to do is covered by existing legislation. First, however, that is contradicted by the following organisations that support the Bill and which work with people whose experience does not tally with that claim: the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Leonard Cheshire, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, Disability Alliance, the Stroke Association, Connect, the TUC, Unite and ASLEF. Secondly that argument is simply wrong and an excuse for inertia.
3 Mar 2009 : Column 732
Although the provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act are born from the principle and the arguments for employment retention, they remain inadequate when it comes to delivering it in practice.

In part II of the Disability Discrimination Act, examples are given of reasonable adjustments that employers might have to make. Specific mention is made of allowing an employee

However, that states only what could take place, not what must take place, how it could be arranged, who could undertake such interventions or what support and advice are available from employers in facilitating that. That is where the employment retention Bill steps in. It is designed to specify a basic mechanism of assessment, which would determine what is needed to enable someone to remain in or return to work. The Bill would provide a framework to both the employee and employer within which the considerations mentioned in part II of the Disability Discrimination Act could be practically applied.

Furthermore, we know from case law that there is no right to have an assessment to determine someone’s condition or the interventions that would be reasonable in the circumstances. In the case of Spence v. Intype Libra in April 2007, Mr. Justice Elias of the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the failure to hold such an assessment was not a breach of an employer’s duty under the Disability Discrimination Act. He stated that such an adjustment would apply in almost every case and so would at least be expected to figure in a non-exhaustive list of potential adjustments. Until a case is decided otherwise, that decision is binding on other tribunals, so it is plainly wrong to suggest that the right already exists.

I should not be surprised if the Opposition favoured inaction on the issue, as it was a Conservative Member of Parliament who stopped the Bill from going from Second Reading to Report last year, despite Government backing for it. That is the first sign, and the epitome, of a do nothing party. I find it hard to understand how it would be happy to stand by as people lose their jobs when the law is clear on this matter.

I acknowledge that the Government are looking to improve retention through a number of different measures, but they are far from enough to make the changes that we need. First, as a result of pressure from the campaign on this Bill, which saw more than 180 MPs sign early-day motion 676 in the last Session, the Government announced last March that they would introduce a cross-departmental strategy on employment retention. So, one year on, what has happened? Nothing. The strategy itself—never mind its implementation—will not come in until the end of the year, at the earliest.

Secondly, the Government have announced that they will pilot Dame Carol Black’s Fit for Work service, which would provide a similar scheme to the assessments in this Bill. Welcome as that is, it will affect only a small number of people and, more worryingly, we are years away from seeing any concrete changes. At the end of last year, the Government reported on a successful similar trial of employment advisers working from within GP surgeries to help people into work. Following positive results, the three-year trial has been extended for a
3 Mar 2009 : Column 733
further three years. But more than 1 million people will have moved from work on to benefits in that space of time, so we need some urgency and boldness here. We need the immediate change that a Bill such as this would bring, and we need to secure this for everyone.

Finally, there is the employability campaign, which is geared at increasing awareness of the Disability Discrimination Act. It consists of an advertising campaign and seminars, and once again falls far short of what is needed. In 2008, not a single employer from my constituency attended a seminar, and in the whole of Scotland, the total was only 26. Those numbers will barely make an imprint on the 350,000 people a year involved.

I will not speculate on whether a cross-departmental strategy that has done nothing in a year, a poster campaign and a pilot scheme will be enough to secure the place of Ministers in the pantheon of great reformers. We can leave it to history to decide whose name will be mentioned in the same breath as that of Bevan. But what I will say is that we need to do more. For all the apparent concessions, still nothing has changed for a person who becomes disabled in work. The inertia has been constant, but so has the support for this Bill. Throughout the years of working on the Bill with RNIB, I have heard many reasons for doing nothing, and none of them has resulted in the slightest difference to someone who loses their job. That is why I am introducing the Bill in Parliament again today.

Question put and agreed to.


That John Robertson, Jim Sheridan, Mr. David Blunkett, Miss Anne Begg, Julie Morgan, Mr. Mike Weir, John Bercow, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell and Dr. Richard Taylor present the Bill.

John Robertson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 April and to be printed (Bill 68).

3 Mar 2009 : Column 734

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

[Relevant documents: The Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2008-09,Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (Fourteenth Report): Annual Renewal of Control Orders Legislation 2009, HC 282. ]

3.49 pm

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,

The purpose of the order before the House today is to renew the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. Sections 1 to 9 of this Act automatically expire after one year unless renewed by order subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. The effect of this order will therefore be to maintain the powers set out under the Act until the end of March 2010. That will allow us to continue to use control orders to tackle the threat posed to national security by suspected terrorists whom we can neither prosecute nor deport. Since last year’s debate on the renewal of the Act, we have had the opportunity to consider the control order powers in some detail. During the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, we considered a number of Government and Opposition amendments to the original powers.

In setting the scene for today’s debate, it is important to remember that we have witnessed a number of significant attacks and attempted attacks on our country in recent years. I know that all hon. Members, whatever their views on control orders, acknowledge that. Those assaults undermine our fundamental rights and values through the indiscriminate murder of innocent people. The threat to the UK from international terrorism remains real and serious. Recent trials and investigations have shown that terrorist networks are continuing to plan and attempt to carry out terrorist attacks. We need a broad range of responses to reduce the risk of further terrorist attacks, and our responses must ensure public security while protecting our values and civil liberties.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose—

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con) rose—

Mr. Coaker: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) first and subsequently to his right hon. Friend.

Mr. Cash: The Minister may know that a number of Conservative Members believe that control is essential, but that control orders themselves are defective. Does he not agree that the real problem is the intertwining of control orders with the human rights legislation and that it would be far more effective if we gave people fair trials, followed due process and adhered to habeas corpus, while ensuring at the same time that the House is able to legislate on its own terms to deal with those very real problems, which I fully acknowledge exist, as he said?

Next Section Index Home Page