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House of Commons

Monday 14 June 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Queen's Speech (Answer to Address)

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty, having been attended with its Address of 25th May, was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following answer:

I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.

Sessional Returns


Oral Answers to Questions

Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State was asked-

Jobcentre Plus Advisers

1. Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Whether he plans to increase the amount of information Jobcentre Plus advisers may share with local health practitioners and Sure Start children's centres. [1850]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): I have no current plans to increase the amount of information that Jobcentre Plus advisers can provide to local health practitioners and Sure Start children's centres. Social security information can be shared with those parties with the consent of its customers.

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Mr Sheerman: One hopes that the new Government will still support Sure Start children's centres. Certainly, an inquiry of the former Children, Schools and Families Committee showed that the sharing of information was absolutely crucial. Does the hon. Lady agree that the sharing of information, knowing how our children are surviving and thriving and when they are in trouble, is vital to children's future health and welfare?

Maria Miller: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he will be aware, the coalition Government have protected Sure Start from in-year cuts, and I am sure that he and the whole House will welcome that announcement. He has looked at this issue in detail, and in the most recent report of the CSF Committee, of which he was the Chairman, there was no clear evidence that data sharing between Jobcentre Plus and children's centres was a problem. However, there can be such a problem between children's centres and health professionals. The Government believe that early intervention is absolutely vital in the work that we are doing to alleviate poverty and that co-ordination and signposting between those organisations are important. That is one of the reasons why we have put Sure Start health visitors in Sure State children's centres.

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): In agreeing with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of co-ordination, may I ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that most of the worst disasters that affect children that have become public are concerned with a lack of information shared between the authorities? Does she agree that it is extremely important that all those who are involved in these matters truly understand what each hand is doing?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is obviously talking about a great many different data sources. As I said, information-sharing difficulties between Jobcentre Plus and children's centres is not a particular issue of concern, but I take his point and I am sure that our new Cabinet Committee on social justice may want to consider it to ensure that nothing is being missed.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister explain how sharing and co-ordinating between those agencies will be helped by the reduction in the working neighbourhoods fund, which joins lots of different Departments and local agencies? As a result of the Government's recent announcement, £1.2 million has been taken away from that fund in Nottingham. That money pays for apprenticeships, welfare rights advice and helping to reduce teenage pregnancies. How will that reduction help such work?

Maria Miller: Undoubtedly, the hon. Gentleman will be very pleased about the coalition Government's announcement of 50,000 additional apprenticeships, which will provide the sort of long-lasting job opportunities that his constituents want. Obviously, other decisions on budget taking are made locally, and it is for local authorities to make important decisions on how best to use their local resources.

Out-of-Work Benefits

2. Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): What plans he has to reduce the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits. [1851]

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5. Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on reducing levels of unemployment. [1855]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): One of our top priorities is to reduce the number of people-nearly 5 million-on incapacity, lone parent or jobseeker's benefits. We will reform the benefits system to make work pay and reassess the position of people on incapacity benefit, through a single, integrated package of support, to give people the personalised support that they need to find work.

Mr Amess: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. He might be aware that this subject was raised regularly on the doorstep in Southend West, since when I have found out from the Department that 1.4 million people have been on out-of-work benefits for nine or more of the past 10 years. How does he intend to deal with that situation fairly but firmly?

Mr Duncan Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures are somewhat worse than that-the UK has a higher proportion of children growing up in workless households than almost any other EU country. We have had a very high level of residual unemployment for far too long. The key to dealing with that is the integrated Work programme, which will look at ways of trying to get back into work some of those long-term unemployed-many of whom have been parked on incapacity benefit and forgotten about-and support those who have not been contacted. Something like 40% of unemployed people had not been contacted for over six years; no one had bothered even to speak to them. We will also try to reform the benefits system so that when someone can go to work they will straight away see that it is worth their while to do so, whereas at the moment work simply does not pay, or appears not to.

Mr Wilson: Unemployment has continued to rise in my constituency, and the impact is particularly being felt by young people. What further action will the Secretary of State take to help them after the failure of 13 years of Labour?

Mr Duncan Smith: The first thing I can say to my hon. Friend is that one of the key coalition drives is to stop the would-be jobs tax, the national insurance charge, that was to be imposed by the last Government when they were in power because that would have taken away a great many opportunities for young people. The other thing is to make sure that the targeted Work programme, which the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), will be speaking about in more detail later, helps the youth unemployed get back to work. We must remember that after all the money that was spent by the other Government, youth unemployment is now higher than it was when they came into office in 1997.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): Last week, the new Government announced that the jobcentre in Deptford, serving 2,500 of my constituents, is to be closed. Will the right hon. Gentleman meet me urgently to discuss how he plans to help the unemployed in my
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area, or is this to be the first example of how the coalition seeks to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from its savage cuts?

Mr Duncan Smith: I am very happy to meet the right hon. Lady at a moment of her convenience. I understand that the centre had reached the end of its lease, and we are trying to find a way of ensuring that there is support in the area. I am happy to meet her and deal with those specifics.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): The Secretary of State says that he wants more people off benefits and in work. He will know that that depends on their having jobs to go to. Can he tell the House exactly how many of the 205,000 jobs planned under the future jobs fund he is cutting as a result of his plans?

Mr Duncan Smith: The right hon. Lady will know that we are not cutting any jobs at all. We are saying that we will stop the part of the programme relating to jobs that were not contracted for. All the other jobs that are contracted for will go ahead. Originally it was estimated that that meant that 140,000 jobs would be found. In fact, we understand the number to be about a third fewer than that-about 100,000-although we will know when we get closer to the time.

I say to the right hon. Lady that the money that we save will go towards preventing the jobs tax-the national insurance tax-that her party was going to impose on those people when they took work, which would have meant fewer people being in work. We will also have the money to make sure that 50,000 new apprenticeships, which are sustainable jobs, come into existence under this Government.

Yvette Cooper: Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Office for Budget Responsibility, which today issued its forecasts based on the previous Labour Government's tax and spending plans, in fact confirmed that unemployment would continue to fall in future years, including the plans for national insurance contributions? Can he also confirm that the Labour Government's plans set out at the Budget were for 205,000 jobs under the future jobs fund this year and next, and his Department's website says that only 111,000 jobs will be funded? Can he confirm that 205,000 take away 111,000 is 94,000, and that he will therefore be cutting nearly 100,000 job opportunities for young people and the long-term unemployed-cutting support for the jobless when they need it most?

Mr Duncan Smith: I know that the right hon. Lady feels personally wedded to this programme, but those figures are quite ludicrous. She poses notional figures of jobs that she might have created had the scheme worked against jobs that we believe are likely to be there, so a silly game is being played out.

Whether the right hon. Lady likes it or not, had she got into government-heaven help us-she would have had to cut back on various budgets, as her own Government at the time said they would. Where would she have made those savings? She cannot, now that she is in opposition, simply say no to everything. Her Government went on a spending spree like drunks on a Friday night, and we have all got the hangover now.

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Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Would my right hon. Friend agree that the right way to get people back into work is to support our thriving small business and entrepreneurial sector? One of the key measures is to see that the small business sector has access to finance-something that, under the last Government, Labour Members failed to achieve.

Mr Duncan Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What is so often forgotten by Labour Members is the need to make sure that jobs are created by a vibrant small business sector. Of course, the first thing that would have damaged that sector would have been the rise in national insurance, which we have managed to stop as a result of our changes.

Employment (Wales)

3. Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): What steps he is taking to promote employment opportunities in Wales. [1853]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): Business and the economy are, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, devolved matters. However, Jobcentre Plus in Wales is notified of thousands of vacancies each month. Jobcentre Plus advisers ensure that jobseekers know of all sources of vacancies, and that is included in the review of jobseekers' job search activity every two weeks. That focus on jobs will also be a key part of the support offered to people who are migrating from incapacity benefit to the employment and support allowance. Jobcentres in Wales also regularly hold jobs fairs to highlight employment and training opportunities.

Mr Hanson: Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how he thinks cutting £320 million from the future jobs fund will assist job creation in Wales, and will he give me a guarantee today that the almost 10,000 jobs that have been agreed under the future jobs fund, from Rhyl to Rhondda, will not be cut by his Government?

Chris Grayling: What the right hon. Gentleman needs to understand is that Wales and every other part of the United Kingdom need sustainable employment, and that is why we needed to stop the jobs tax that the last Government were planning to introduce. That is also why we need to provide incentives for small employers-those employing fewer than 10 people-to take on people by giving them a discount on their national insurance contributions. Those are measures that can and will make a difference.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Many of my constituents have Welsh connections- [Interruption.] It is true. What would the Minister say to a constituent of mine who is physically very fit, but who has mental illness? How will we help people with mental illness back into work?

Chris Grayling: That is particularly relevant to the situation in Wales, where there are substantial numbers of people claiming incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance, as there are in other parts of the country, such as in my hon. Friend's constituency. We need to ensure that we provide the best possible support,
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so that we give those people an opportunity to move into work. That is what we will do from later this year, when we begin work on migrating people from incapacity benefit to the employment and support allowance. I am confident that we can give many of those people an opportunity to get back into the workplace and make more of their lives.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. May I congratulate the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) on her ingenuity? I mean that genuinely. However, we will now focus specifically on people who are not associated with or linked to, but resident in, Wales.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Can the Minister assure me that the Government are doing their utmost to protect existing jobs in small companies, for example by encouraging Departments not to take peremptory action on, say, unpaid tax or regulation matters?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is necessary for us to support employment in the private sector, particularly among small employers; that is why I made particular reference to our plans regarding national insurance contributions for small employers. I know, because we in the Department for Work and Pensions have already looked, that we have a good record on paying small employers, and I hope that my colleagues across Government will do everything that they can to support those small businesses, as they will provide the jobs of the future. It is not Government schemes that will create wealth and employment in future, but real business people, building real businesses.

Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission

4. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): What plans he has for the future of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. [1854]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): The whole issue of tackling child poverty and supporting families is the key objective of this Government. A significant component of that is that parents should take responsibility for their families, even if both parents do not live together. However, the Government have inherited a significant debt package of £3.8 billion, and some of that debt dates back to before the Child Support Agency was amalgamated into the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. Furthermore, I understand that CMEC has not set a target for the recovery of the debt. I am meeting the chief executive of CMEC this week, and I intend to ask him to do a review on how arrears are collected, and I will insist that he sets a target for the collection of such arrears as soon as possible.

Philip Davies: I am concerned that the Child Support Agency and its successor body often do not pursue absent fathers who are paying nothing and file those under "Too difficult," and instead target people who are already paying to try and screw more out of them. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission goes back to what it was set up to do-to target absent parents who pay nothing, rather than trying to get more and more money out of the many people who are doing their best?

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