Previous Section Index Home Page

Ministers have also made three clear commitments to support the sector over the longer term. First, we will make it easier to run voluntary and community groups
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1338
and social enterprises; secondly, we will put more resources into the sector; and, thirdly, we will make it easier for the sector to work with the state. Examples of our work in that area include the Lord Hodgson review into cutting red tape, and the big society bank, which will help to grow the social investment market and broaden the finance options open to the sector. We are consulting on proposals to improve infrastructure support for front-line civil society organisations in order to ensure that the Government's investment in improving the capability of the sector in the future is appropriate and effective. That consultation closes on 6 January.

Mr Bone: When the Backbench Business Committee produced this pilot form of business, I did not know that we would have the novel experience of hearing a Whip at the Dispatch Box. I think it is my hon. Friend's first time at the Dispatch Box, but he is doing a good job. I wonder whether we will be hearing from more Whips at the end of term. In many regards, he is doing much better than the normal Ministers.

Stephen Crabb: I think there was a compliment in there somewhere. I remind my hon. Friend that it is not an entirely novel experience. In the previous Parliament and in this Parliament, Whips have been deployed in a variety of ways, including at the Dispatch Box.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) raised the "knotty" issue of the West Lothian question. The Government have announced that they will establish a commission to consider that issue as part of their wider political reform. She referred to the answer to a question asked last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby) from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who has responsibility for political and constitutional reform, in which he said that the Government will make an announcement on the commission in the new year. I am happy to confirm that we do indeed mean 2011. That is very much part of our programme for next year. The issue has been around for at least 150 years, so I encourage my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire to bear with us and show patience, because it is important that we get the right solution to some difficult issues.

We are continuing to give careful consideration to the timing, composition, scope and remit of the commission. Its work will need to take account of our proposals to reform the House of Lords to create a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. There are changes being made to how this House does its business and there are developments in devolution, not least through the Scotland Bill before the House. As I have said, we will be making an announcement on that in the new year.

Two hon. Members addressed the issue of the 2011 census. We had powerful speeches from the hon. Members for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). All hon. Members will be aware that the census takes place on 27 March. Accuracy of the census is very important, because it is used to allocate billions of pounds of public spending every year. The Office for National Statistics takes the census extremely seriously and is working very hard to ensure that the problems of undercounting experienced in 15 local authority areas in 2011, including in Westminster, are not repeated. The
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1339
ONS is actively engaging with every authority to ensure that there is a successful census next year, and it has a partnership plan in place with each local authority. A plan for London as a whole has also been developed with the Greater London authority and the London boroughs.

Fiona Mactaggart: There is a partnership plan, but the problem is that it is a bit one-way. If it were a genuine partnership, local authorities that are trying to help improve the accuracy of the census would have more ability to contribute to the partnership. If the hon. Gentleman would tell the ONS that, we might have a better partnership.

Stephen Crabb: I assure the hon. Lady that the ONS will receive a full transcript of this debate. I am surprised by her remarks, because only last week, I think, the chief executive of Slough met the ONS to discuss the census. The leader of Westminster city council has also had meetings this year with the ONS on the topic.

On specific improvements to the census process, 35,000 field staff are allocated to areas where it has been hard to obtain responses in the past, particularly inner-city areas and areas of high migration and population change. There will also be a three-times greater effort by field staff to collect outstanding questionnaires than in 2001 and a four-times greater effort in London and some other urban areas, including Slough. Some 200 staff are working within their local communities to engage local residents and community groups, promote the census, encourage local people to apply for census jobs and arrange support and assistance for census completion where needed. Collecting details of second addresses in the census will improve the population counts in local authority areas, such as Westminster. Additional questions about national identity, the intention of migrants to stay and citizenship will support a more detailed understanding of migration and population in areas including Slough and Westminster.

Ms Buck: I am not seeking to challenge the hon. Gentleman's in-depth knowledge on the census, but would he do me the great favour of asking the relevant Minister to write to me on the specific issue of recruitment? We have a genuine problem, and Westminster council's briefing substantiates that. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) would also like to pursue the matter further with the relevant Minister.

Stephen Crabb: We will write to both hon. Members on a number of the questions they asked about the census. Recruitment is, overall, going very well. Recruitment of 4,000 special enumerator and census collector jobs began in September and is nearing completion; 67,000 applications have already been received. Recruitment of collectors began in November and is also progressing
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1340
well, with 82,000 applications received so far for around 30,000 roles. Efforts are targeted in the small number of areas where allocations have been slower.

On the subject of the Queen's diamond jubilee competition for city status, I pay tribute to the work, energy and commitment of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) in supporting his local community's bid. The last occasion to have been marked by granting city status was Her Majesty's golden jubilee in 2002, when separate competitions were held in the devolved nations. That resulted in granting of city status to one town.

Mr Bone: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I right in understanding that the 10-minute limit for my hon. Friend to respond is only guidance and that he can run on into extra time?

Mr Speaker: As usual, the hon. Gentleman is correct. The time limit was an expectation that I stated at the outset, but the Chair will exercise judgment about when the debate should be concluded. The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) is seeking to respond to points, and he may briefly continue to do so.

Stephen Crabb: I am grateful for your generosity and clarification, Mr Speaker. All previous competitions up to 2002 had been organised on a UK-wide basis. The golden jubilee competition was the only time when separate competitions were held for the devolved nations and for England. We regard the bestowing of city status as a signal honour and a rare mark of distinction. Something special will be lost if too many places are granted city status. The Government's expectation is that only one new city will be created as a result of the diamond jubilee competition and, similarly, that only one existing city will be granted a lord mayoralty or lord provostship.

Pete Wishart: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is very difficult for Scottish cities to compete with English cities, given our different civic traditions and cultures? Does he also accept that if we are trying to ensure that a range of places across the United Kingdom are involved, there has to be more than one winner? Surely, if there is to be only one winner, the largest will naturally be the favourite.

Stephen Crabb: I am not sure that I accept the hon. Gentleman's analysis at all on that. Every bid will be judged fairly on its merit. There are some strict criteria in place, the details of which are available on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website. I hope that those criteria will allay some of his concerns.

I am sure that the tradition of referring to Perth as the fair city will continue whatever the outcome of the competition. However, there is only one way to become recognised as a city in the UK: by having the honour conferred by the sovereign. That is the prize that awaits the successful entrant to the competition. I wish all potential entrants, including the fair city of Perth, the very best of luck.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1341


1.39 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): I want to talk about support for the 6 million unpaid carers who provide social care to a family member or friend. More people are having to step in to provide high levels of care to family members. The 2001 census, about which we have heard so much today, found that 10% of all carers in the UK were caring for more than 50 hours per week, but figures published more recently by the NHS information centre show that that has now more than doubled to 22%. In Salford, the proportion has been much higher for some time: 24% of Salford carers cared for more than 50 hours per week in 2001, which was more than twice the national figure.

Carers are key partners in care for the NHS, but full-time care takes a toll on the carer's own health, and their health needs should be recognised. Carers who care for more than 50 hours a week are twice as likely to suffer ill health as the general population, and those caring for a person suffering from dementia or stroke disease are also more at risk. Importantly, carers who do not receive a break from caring are much more likely to suffer mental health problems-that is, 36% of carers compared with 17% who do get a break.

The Government have announced £400 million of funding for carers' breaks over four years, to be delivered through primary care trusts initially, but there are problems with this because the funding is not ring-fenced. The Labour Government allocated £150 million over three years to primary care trusts for carers' breaks, but a survey by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in 2009 found that less than a quarter of the first tranche of that funding had been used as intended to support carers. Given the financial pressures that are now facing primary care trusts, and their impending abolition in the NHS reorganisation, it is hard to see them doing a better job for carers now than they did last year when they did not have those pressures. There is great concern among carers and carers' organisations about the impact of the NHS reorganisation and cuts to local authority budgets. Carers UK says that carers are worried that when commissioning is handed over to GPs they will lose services on which they are relying. Many carers have negative experiences of dealing with GPs who do not have a good understanding of social care or of the specialist conditions that are giving rise to the care.

There is also much concern about cuts to social care that councils are making in response to the 27% cuts in their budgets over the next four years. The cuts are front-loaded, so together with the loss of area-based grants that were targeted at deprived areas, councils such as those in my area of Salford will have to make cuts of £40 million next year alone. The Government are putting £2 billion into councils' social care budgets over four years, but that is only half of the £4 billion that the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has estimated is needed to meet increasing levels of need. In addition, social care is one of the biggest areas of each council's budget, yet the new money is not ring-fenced either, so councils are facing budget cuts of £5.6 billion over the same period. It is hard to imagine that social care will not be part of that.

We have already seen councils cutting funding to social care. Even before the comprehensive spending review, five councils with a "moderate" threshold were
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1342
proposing to tighten their eligibility criteria to "substantial". Birmingham council and the Isle of Wight have now proposed to raise their thresholds to meet critical needs only, and other councils are considering that. North Yorkshire county council plans to reduce its number of residential care homes by two thirds, and others are taking similar action. Councils are increasing their hourly rates for care and removing maximum weekly caps, which can mean charges doubling. For very many people, that will mean that the care is not available or they cannot afford it.

In Salford, we are very fortunate to have an excellent carers centre run by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, with Dawn O'Rooke as the manager and Julia Ellis doing a fantastic job as the primary care project worker. Staff there are concerned about what they see as a marginalisation of carers support services owing to the twin changes of GP commissioning and council budget cuts. Salford carers centre has worked with GP practices to enable GPs to identify many carers and refer them on for advice and support. That identification and referral can make a significant difference for carers in their getting benefits, using personal budgets and getting checks on their own health. However, with GPs handling commissioning, there will be significant extra pressures of time. One reads day in, day out about GPs being very concerned about that. There is a real fear that GPs in Salford will no longer prioritise the development of support for carers.

Given our record in Salford, I hope that our GP consortiums and the city council will continue to support carers' services so that the excellent work can continue. However, with GPs handling commissioning, there will be significant extra pressures, and it is hard to see councils and GP consortiums up and down the country prioritising carer support when they have so many other calls on their time and resources. Many people rely on unpaid carers, and more will have to do so over time. It is projected that that figure will reach 9 million in 25 years' time. I therefore urge Health Ministers to put their support for carers high on their agenda and to keep it there throughout 2011.

It is an unusual experience for me to speak in this pre-recess Adjournment debate rather than answer it, which is what I used to do. I think that the Deputy Leader of the House has opted out a little bit by cutting his work load. However, I would like to wish everybody a very happy Christmas.

1.46 pm

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): It is an absolute pleasure to be speaking in this pre-Christmas Adjournment debate-my first. I offer season's greetings to everybody.

When I was elected to this House, I promised that I would continue to fight to bring full maternity care back to Huddersfield Royal infirmary. I have already raised the issue in this House several times, and I welcome the opportunity to do so once again. The issue of maternity services in Huddersfield has been a very emotional and controversial topic in my constituency. Huddersfield Royal infirmary's consultant-led maternity services closed in August 2008, and mums now have to be transferred to Calderdale Royal hospital if there are complications during birth. Many mums, though, are not taking any risks at all and opting to go to Halifax
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1343
for all the birthing process. There is a new midwife-led unit at Huddersfield Royal infirmary, but mums want specialist and emergency care to be available there too. Many have got in touch with me through a Facebook group that I have set up. I have more than 7,000 members, and cases are being messaged through to me all the time from mums who have had bad experiences.

In an emergency, the time it takes to travel to Halifax from Huddersfield and my constituency can be the difference between life and death for mother and baby. I joined two of my constituents to set up a campaign group in memory of their little girl who died at just two days old. Following the closure of Huddersfield's specialist maternity services, the mum had to be transferred to Calderdale for an emergency delivery. During that time, the baby suffered a lack of oxygen to her brain which resulted in severe brain damage. The young parents then had to make the heart-breaking decision to turn off her life support system after just two days. We do not know for definite that things would have been different if Huddersfield had had specialist care available, but the little girl would surely have had a better chance if that emergency care had been available closer to where the parents live. I pay tribute to the parents, Alanna and Glynn, who set up the campaign group, MOMS-Move Our Maternity Services back to Huddersfield-with me.

I welcome the opportunity to raise once again the issue of getting specialist maternity care back at Huddersfield Royal infirmary, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

1.48 pm

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I am very pleased to take part in this debate. I applaud the new arrangements that will allow a Health Minister to respond to contributions on health.

Public health policy aims to help people live longer and healthier lives, so it is a matter of key concern to me and my constituents in Blaenau Gwent, where average life expectancy is still too low. In the July pre-recess Adjournment debate, I raised my worries about the Conservative-led Government's reluctance to take forward Labour's measures to curb smoking, their collapse in the face of food industry's lobbying on food labelling and their hasty dismissal of minimum pricing for a unit of alcohol.

Sadly, the recent public health White Paper does not address my deep concerns. It sets out the scale of several significant problems. Britain has the highest rates of obesity in Europe. Smoking causes 80,000 deaths a year. A recent Alcohol Concern report showed that more than 92,000 children and young people under 18 were admitted to hospital for alcohol misuse between 2002 and 2009. Girls are more likely to need hospital treatment than boys. Diet-related disease costs the NHS £6 billion a year, alcohol abuse costs it £2.7 billion, and lack of exercise costs it £1.8 billion: a total of £10.5 billion.

Do we have a new, bold public health strategy to match that analysis? Apparently, there is a shift from nannying to nudging people to improve their health. It seems that commercial interests will dominate the partnership of those who will help us to be healthier.
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1344
That is not good enough. The Independent reported recently that multinational companies dominate the Government's public health policy. It discovered that 18 representatives of Mars, Diageo and other commercial interests attended the first public health responsibility deal meeting in September, dwarfing the representation of health and consumer groups. I do not trust commercial interests to nudge me or anyone else towards a healthier lifestyle.

I take issue with the pompous put-down that Labour opted for a nanny state. Labour recognised that the Government have a duty of care to keep the nation as healthy as possible. That duty is particularly important for our young people, and particularly for the young women who lie comatose on the streets on Friday nights, after binge-drinking sessions. Alcohol was described as the most dangerous drug in the UK in a paper published by The Lancet in November. The Government have a responsibility to take further measures to prevent alcohol abuse.

The brewer, Greene King, wrote to MPs recently:

I concur with that statement and agree with the solution of a minimum price for alcohol. The British Medical Association supports that proposal, as does the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The Government have said that they support a ban on below-cost selling. However, if cost was defined as duty plus VAT, it would be too low to tackle irresponsible discounts in supermarkets. No measures have been put before Parliament to end below-cost selling. I believe a range of measures is necessary to tackle alcohol abuse. There may have to be restrictions on promotions. Alcohol Concern stated:

It is time we scrutinised the promotion of alcohol at cinemas, for example, where it is too easy for young people to be influenced.

I will talk briefly about measures to combat smoking. I was pleased that the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health called on the Government to prohibit the point-of-sale display of tobacco products, and the sale of tobacco from vending machines. Those measures have widespread support. As my local director of public health at the Aneurin Bevan health board wrote to me:

She ended her letter with a plea:

Finally, I will comment on the problem of obesity. Obesity cannot be tackled by weakening the Food Standards Agency and by cutting the Change4Life anti-obesity programme. Statistics on obesity show the need for more exercise. I am therefore glad that the Government
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1345
have changed their policy on school sports provision in recent days, but more needs to be done. We must ensure that all children exercise regularly at school, not just those who are gifted enough to take part in competitive sport.

Nudging and soft partnerships, although helpful, are not sufficient. Self-regulation by supermarkets and tobacco companies will not deliver the better health and extra years that we hope for. Bluntly, if we do not act, the financial consequences for the NHS alone-the £10.5 billion that I referred to earlier-will be immense. Ministers must accept that meaningful regulation and taxation have a role-to rule them out is irresponsible and doctrinaire. The Government's recent White Paper on health is not good enough for my constituents in Blaenau Gwent, nor for people across our country. We must do better than this.

1.54 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a great privilege to speak in this pre-Christmas debate. I have already exchanged seasonal greetings with your good self, Mr Speaker, and other colleagues.

I rise to speak about the integrated drug treatment system, which is the drug treatment system for people in prison. The issue came to my attention when I visited my local prison, Hollesley Bay. I do not want to get into the rights and wrongs of drugs today; that issue has been debated in Westminster Hall. I am more concerned about value for money and the diversion of funds from primary care trusts to the continuation of prisoners taking heroin substitutes, at the taxpayers' expense.

In a recent Question Time, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice spoke of how important it is to get prisoners off drugs and to remove drugs from our prison estate. I fully endorse that view. Everybody was depressed in the mid-'90s when a judge ruled that it was against somebody's human rights not to be allowed drugs when in prison. A number of hon. Members, including you, Mr Speaker, have raised questions on this topic. This is yet another example, dare I say it, of a conflict between the judiciary and the common sense of the general public.

The cost of the IDTS to the taxpayer for the last three years has been £23.8 million, £39.7 million and £44.4 million. I am sure that my local residents would love an increase in health spending of such an amount. Such funding for the three prisons in the Suffolk district area and the one in the Great Yarmouth borough and Waveney district area has risen from £400,000 to £555,000. In Hollesley Bay prison in my constituency, £190,000 is allocated to just one prisoner. It is astonishing that under this system, one prisoner can continue to have a heroin substitute every day, at the expense to other people of just less than £200,000. The figures show no sign of decreasing.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it cannot be right that we have inherited a system under which approximately 300 of the 1,000 prisoners in my major local prison of Durham are on methadone? The reality is that either we give them drugs on a prescribed basis, or they will obtain drugs illegally. What does she think we should do about that?

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1346

Dr Coffey: That is an extraordinary situation, and I am sure that the people of Hexham and Northumberland would be astonished to hear that the taxpayer is continuing to fund it.

I understand that Subutex, one methadone substitute, is highly valued and is traded in our prisons. Although I do not condone the policy of continuing to give methadone to prisoners, perhaps we should switch to liquid-only substitutes and remove the element of drug trading.

I cannot pretend that Suffolk is the most expensive part of the country for treatment costs. In Suffolk, the average cost per treatment is about £800. I am sure that the people of Cambridgeshire will be delighted to know that Whitemoor prison has been given a budget of about £312,000 from the PCT to pay for nine expected treatments, at a cost of £34,708 per treatment. That is scandalous in this day and age, and something has to be done. I hate it when politicians say that, but I genuinely believe that this issue is within our control and that we can do something about it.

When people come into prison, we should be trying not to continue their habits, but to get them off their habits. I understand that the primary reason we have switched increasingly to methadone prescription in drug treatment is that if people leave prison having been off drugs, they are more likely to have a bad reaction when they get their first fix. Perhaps I am a bit traditional, but my response to that is, "Tough!" I would rather that our precious NHS money was used on health care. I know that we are increasing the funds, but health care costs are also increasing. I dare say that the constituents of Suffolk Coastal would rather the money was spent on improving health care at Ipswich hospital. Despite the review by Professor Boyle, constituents in places on the coast such as Aldeburgh and Orford are still being put at risk, because if they have a heart attack the expected treatment time from when an ambulance is called to when it arrives is beyond the national guidelines. That is because there is not enough money to serve everybody.

I am not saying that we should not treat people to try to help them with their drug problem when they go into prison. In fact, I think it was the father of a famous pop star, whom I will not publicise, who said that one reason people commit offences is so that they can go into prison and get off drugs. I endorse that, and we should provide such help. Drugs are a scourge on the country because of the misery and crime that they generate.

I will conclude, because plenty of other Members want to speak about health. I could have addressed my points to the Ministry of Justice, but I believe that the Department of Health can move us forward and ask whether the situation that I have described is the best way to use our precious resources in the NHS.

2 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): A merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House.

I was born in Wallsend in the 1960s, and my mother was born in Newcastle in the '20s. What we had in common, which we share with any child of the north, was the impact of geography on our life chances. A child born in Newcastle today is expected to die five years before one born in South Cambridgeshire, the constituency of the Secretary of State for Health.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1347

Of my mother's six brothers and sisters, only one survived into adulthood. We have certainly made great strides since those dark days, but health is still a critical political, social and personal issue. Newcastle has world-beating hospitals-the Royal Victoria infirmary, the Freeman and the General hospital. We also have the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, the Centre for Life, the Great North children's hospital and the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, but what we do not have is health equality.

The people of Newcastle are more likely to die early from cancer, heart disease or stroke. We tend to die younger, are more obese as children, and are more likely to die from the cold as pensioners. We suffer more from the diseases of our industrial legacy, such as asbestosis, and we are more likely to be born into poverty, experience mental illness and commit suicide. One in 25 adults in Newcastle claims incapacity benefit for mental illness, four times the rate in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Education.

I will be frank and say that I do not believe the last Government did enough to tackle the issue of mental health. It is the responsibility not only of health care providers but of social services, educators, the police and prison officers. The lack of co-ordination and support was tragically highlighted by the case of Raoul Moat earlier this year.

As a Newcastle MP, I consider my primary duty to be to work for the health and well-being of my constituents, so the existing inequalities concern me and I am worried that they will widen under the current Government. I hope that the Minister can offer me some reassurance. The previous Government doubled health funding in real terms, reduced waiting times and improved health outcomes. Deaths from heart disease and stroke went down by 40%. They also worked hard to tackle poverty and its associated evils, such as poor housing, low aspiration and unemployment, which all have an impact on health.

Improvements in those areas benefited the mental and physical health and well-being of all our constituents, but in Newcastle, inequalities have been maintained or even increased. In 1998, early death rates from heart disease and stroke were 19% higher in Newcastle than the national average. In 2007, they were 26% above a much reduced national average.

The last Government prioritised tackling health inequalities in 2006-too late, certainly, but as a result the North East strategic health authority, primary care trusts and hospitals are all working to address the problem. However, that is all set to change. The Government's reforms to the NHS are estimated to cost £3 billion, without counting the cost of disruption and the loss of skills. Our strategic health authority and primary care trust are being abolished and funding will be in the hands of GP consortiums, of which Newcastle will host one of the first. The Government do not like targets, but will the Minister confirm that she expects the key measures of health inequality to reduce as a consequence of those changes? Will she also confirm that Newcastle will not have to pay anything for those reforms from its health allocation?

The Secretary of State recently wrote to me to say that the 2011-12 allocation for Newcastle represented a growth of 2.8%, including a change to the funding
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1348
formula. Despite written questions, however, I have been unable to clarify how the changes will address health inequalities. The Government's changes to formulas have tended to work against us in the north-east, so will the Minister confirm that more will be invested in health services for every man, woman and child in Newcastle in every year of the comprehensive spending review period?

Guy Opperman: Does the hon. Lady agree that the health service in Newcastle now covers not just her constituents in Newcastle but mine in Hexham, both because they are run by the same trusts and because the services are now so interdependent?

Chi Onwurah: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Health services in Newcastle are accessed by a wide range of people from across the north-east.

Finally, the Minister will know that health depends on many factors. The Government's wide-ranging cuts will have a negative impact on people's health, especially the health of the most deprived. Cuts to fuel poverty reduction programmes such as Warm Front will leave pensioners in Newcastle cold, and therefore more vulnerable to illness. Cuts to area-based grants such as Supporting People mean that there will be less investment in support services for those with mental health problems, and cuts to the working neighbourhood fund mean that my constituents will have less help to get back into work, with all the health advantages that work brings.

I shall give the Minister a specific example. In Newcastle, about £10 million a year goes to charities to help deliver services for the vulnerable. The Government's cuts mean that that figure will go down by 75%, which will have many consequences. One charity to which I have spoken estimates that it will have to close hostels, leading to the number of rough sleepers in the city rising by up to 500%. Rough sleeping obviously has terrible consequences for the health of the individual concerned, but Newcastle as a whole will also pay the cost. The police, health services, social services and the third sector will all have to focus more resources on those sleeping in the streets, reducing the help available to others-help that supports the health of the city.

There are many similar examples. Will the Minister assure me that she has assessed the impact of the cuts on Newcastle in the broadest sense, and that she is confident that the health inequalities between Newcastle and the rest of the country will be reduced over the term of this Government?

2.7 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): May I convey my compliments of the season to all Members, and indeed to the staff of the House, who work so hard for all of us?

The reason for my contribution today is my long-standing commitment to the cause of raising the profile and interests of all children and adults who suffer from the lifelong conditions of autism, autism spectrum disorders and Asperger's syndrome. I speak as a parent of a child on the spectrum, and as treasurer of the all-party group on autism.

I wish to urge the Government to refer autism to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as a key topic for a NICE quality standard, which would cover diagnosis, post-diagnostic support and support for those with co-occurring mental health problems. It
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1349
is vital that at the stage when commissioning is handed over to GP consortiums, a national quality standard applies to help local commissioners act appropriately.

The National Autistic Society's recent "You need to know" campaign revealed some startling statistics about children with autism and about child and adolescent mental health services, which are known as CAMHS. Some 71% of children with autism have a co-occurring mental health problem, and last year one in 10 children who used CAMHS had autism-that is more than 10,000 children. However, only one in three parents of children with autism who were surveyed thought that CAMHS had helped them. The problem is that professionals, no matter how dedicated they may be, often do not have enough information and understanding when it comes to meeting the needs of children and young people with autism. It places those people at a disadvantage for treatment in the health service.

There was some excellent news last week in the publication of statutory guidance for adults with autism as a result of the Autism Act 2009, and I welcome the carefully set out guidelines, which have been the subject of proper consultation. They have been strengthened and improved through lobbying by hon. Members and other organisations with a key interest. For example, particular emphasis is placed on the need for local child and adolescent mental health services to develop agreements with adult mental health services about the transition of children with autism who use those services into adult mental health care. We hear a lot about the problems of transition, and I am glad that concrete action is being taken. That will be welcome news for many children and young adults in Swindon and elsewhere.

A further enhancement of those guidelines in the form of a quality standard, together with commissioning guidelines, will increase and improve that provision even more. It has worked elsewhere. For example, for services for children with a learning disability, the introduction of a national indicator, a vital signs indicator and an annual health check all required self-reporting on training needs by the staff in child and adolescent mental health services. By last year, that resulted in almost all CAMHS services-98%; a remarkably good statistic-reporting that they provided specialist learning disability support. However, in sad contrast, only 10% of child and adolescent mental health services reported that they provided targeted autism support.

I accept that NICE is autonomous, but the National Quality Board's prioritisation committee selects the topics for discussion and adoption as NICE quality standards, with referral by Ministers. The Government therefore have a role in being able to refer a topic for the adoption of a quality standard, which is more than a guideline because it builds on the guidelines to provide a framework for professionals. It will also help patients find their way around the system. Further, it will help NHS bodies to assess the quality of the service that they provide. That information, with evidence of best practice, will help commissioners to plan better services for the future.

I am extremely keen for those measures to be adopted at the earliest opportunity. I will revert to them as often as I have to in the new year if the message has not yet got through. I urge the Government to refer the proposals to NICE to help chart a brighter future for the treatment of children and young adults with autism in the health service.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1350
2.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): I welcome all the contributions. We have had an excellent run-around of some hon. Members' interests and specific issues relating to their constituencies.

I start with the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). As she rightly pointed out, the Government have recently announced that they will provide additional funding of £400 million to the NHS in the next four years to enable more carers to take breaks from their caring responsibilities. I commend her for her continued interest in the subject. I trained as a nurse and worked in the NHS for 25 years, and the question is now, as it always has been: who cares for the carers? The hon. Lady is right to highlight the problems that carers suffer-the impact on their physical and mental health and well-being, as well as the immense emotional burden that many bear.

The spending review has made available additional funding in primary care trust baselines to support the provision of breaks for carers. The new moneys will go into PCT budgets from April 2011 and into GP consortium budgets from 2013. The 2011 NHS operating framework, which was published on 15 December, makes it clear that PCTs should pool budgets with local authorities to provide carers with breaks as far as possible via direct payments or personal health budgets, which will doubtless ensure some progress.

The new funding is part of a package of measures that we announced in the recently published update to the carers strategy. The next steps set out the priorities for action in the next four years, focusing on what will make the biggest impact on carers' lives. It is important to recognise that the subject is of interest to hon. Members of all parties. I do not think there is division along party lines. The hon. Lady's insight into and knowledge of what is happening on the ground will be important to ensure that future policy and direction is well informed.

Barbara Keeley: Can the Under-Secretary say more about what will happen if PCTs do not spend the money on carers' breaks? The Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who is responsible for social care, campaigned in the House when the Labour Government had a similar problem. As I said earlier, the problem is that, according to a survey, only a quarter of the money had been spent on carers' breaks. It is fine to allocate it, but the trouble is getting the PCTs to spend it.

Anne Milton: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She is right to suggest that there can be an intention at Westminster, but the point is ensuring that it is effected on the ground. I will say a little more about that shortly.

We do not believe that a legislative approach is always the way to proceed when requiring health bodies and GPs to identify patients who are carers or have a carer and refer them to sources of help and support. Indeed, often it is not. We feel more comfortable with that as a weapon, but it does not necessarily produce the result that the hon. Lady wants.

It will be for PCTs and subsequently the GP consortiums to decide their priorities in the light of their local circumstances. However, we believe that GPs and their
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1351
staff will play a vital role in identifying carers; many carers have not yet been identified. That is why we are investing £6 million from April 2011 in GP training, which will mean that more GPs and their practice teams gain a better understanding of carers and the support that they may need. That is important.

I believe that GPs are much better placed truly to understand the value and needs of carers. I do not need to tell the hon. Lady that the considerable social, human and, indeed, financial value that carers offer cannot be overestimated-she is aware of that. However, centrally driven methods are not always the best way forward. I welcome her continued feedback to ensure that we get the money spent where it is needed most.

Let me deal now with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney). I take the opportunity to pay tribute not only to midwives but to all the staff who will be working to deliver babies safely into the world, while we are enjoying our turkey or whatever we choose to eat on Christmas day.

The Government are committed to devolving power to local communities-to people, patients, GPs and councils-which are best placed to determine the nature of their local NHS services. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for raising the matter previously and for continuing to raise his constituents' concerns.

The Government have said that, in future, clinicians and patients must lead all service changes, which should not be driven from the top down. To that end, the Secretary of State has outlined new, strengthened criteria that he expects decisions on NHS changes to meet. They must focus on improving patient outcomes, consider patient choice, have support from GP commissioners and be based on sound clinical evidence. I think that that was what my hon. Friend was getting at.

The Department has asked local health services to consider how continuing schemes meet the new criteria. Some will be subject to further review. That does not necessarily extend to reopening previously concluded processes, as in Huddersfield-I would not like to lead my hon. Friend down an alley-or halting those that have passed the point of no return, with contracts signed and building work started. However, NHS Yorkshire and the Humber has advised that the decision to implement the looking to the future programme and change in maternity services in Huddersfield was clinically driven, with strong emphasis on patient safety and quality of care. It was also made after considerable scrutiny and consideration, including a formal period of public consultation and advice to the then Secretary of State for Health from the independent reconfiguration panel, whose recommendations were endorsed in full.However, I know that my hon. Friend will continue to gather local evidence and experience and feed it back, which I welcome.

Let us look at the problem described by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith). I disagree with much of what he said. We have a bold public health strategy for the first time, and it has been widely welcomed. He should not believe everything he reads in the newspaper-it could lead him into all sorts of misapprehensions. The Government alone cannot improve public health; we need to use all the tools in the box.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1352

The hon. Gentleman should note that health inequalities grew, rather than decreased, under the previous Government. There are massive opportunities to improve public physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and well-being in England. As he rightly pointed out, we have some of the highest obesity rates of any country in the world. People living in the poorest areas die on average seven years earlier than people living in richer areas, and they have higher rates of mental illness, disability, harm from alcohol, drugs and smoking, and childhood emotional and behavioural problems. Changing people's lifestyles and removing health inequalities could make double the improvement to life expectancy that we could make through health care, so we must address public health.

The Government published our strategy in our White Paper "Healthy lives, healthy people". We will establish Public Health England, a national public health service, return public health leadership to local government, and strengthen professional leadership nationally by giving a more defined role to the chief medical officer, and locally through strong and inspirational leadership roles for directors of public health.

Historically, all the big public health improvements came via local authorities, and I am convinced that returning public health responsibilities to local authorities will achieve what we need, which is social and economic change as well as health change.

Nick Smith rose-

Anne Milton: I am happy to give way.

Mr Speaker: Order. The Minister is of course welcome to take the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but she still has a few contributions to respond to, and we need to make some progress.

Nick Smith: I welcome the proposal to ask local authorities to take responsibility for public health-in the round, that is a good thing-but will they get the resources to do that job?

Anne Milton: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that I got rather carried away with this new-style debate, but I am mindful of the time.

For the first time, public health spending is ring-fenced. Public health interventions have been cut because of spending by PCTs, so it is really important to ring-fence such funding. The Government will focus on outcomes that are meaningful to people and communities. We published proposals for a public health outcomes framework yesterday for consultation, to which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like to respond. I hope I have reassured him that the Government are taking the action necessary to improve the public's health. I would be happy to discuss that with him in more detail another time, and perhaps to correct some of the myths that he believes. Nothing is ruled out. We will do everything we need to do to improve the public's health, but we must use all the tools in the box. We cannot improve public health by Government intervention alone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) raised the issue of integrated drug treatment systems for prisons that aim to increase the volume and quality of treatment available to prisoners. I welcome
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1353
her involvement in her local prison. Such systems also aim to improve integration between clinical counselling, assessment, referral and through-care services, and to reinforce continuity of care when prisoners are released into the community.

The Government must reshape drug treatment to focus on recovery and to improve the continuity of treatment in the community following release. Abstinence is where we need to go. As outlined in the Ministry of Justice Green Paper on sentencing reform and rehabilitation, and in accordance with the much more outcome-focused approach announced in the new drug strategy, a payment-by-results approach to commissioning drug treatment for prisoners on release will be trialled in two areas. Recovery wings will be trialled in four prisons, with an emphasis on offenders receiving short custodial sentences, who therefore require a co-ordinated approach from prison and community. The combining of prison drug budgets with the combined drug interventions programme and a community-pooled treatment budget will allow for great flexibility, which is what we need in configuring services. To my mind, we have failed adequately to address drug abuse and prisoner addiction, and in turn failed our communities. We have not spent much-needed resources well.

I probably answered many of the points made by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) in my answer to the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent on public health more generally. My husband's family are all from Hartlepool. The hon. Lady was right to raise the issue of health inequalities. "Healthy lives, healthy people" underlines the priority that we are giving to tackling inequalities and supporting the principles of the Marmot review. We are focusing on the health and social needs of disadvantaged groups and areas, including on how money is allocated to local communities for public health interventions.

Despite the fact that the previous Government doubled health funding, as the hon. Lady rightly said, health inequalities got worse. I do not think that that was
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1354
because of a lack of commitment on Labour's part. It is extremely difficult to tackle health inequalities head-on, which is why our White Paper is so widely welcomed. The action outlined in that paper will reduce those truly shocking health inequalities.

It is important to recognise that this is not just about the money that is spent, but about how it is spent. I welcome the hon. Lady's non-partisan comments about the previous Government's record. For the first time, we are consulting on public health and ring-fencing money, and I believe that we can make a real difference.

The last Back-Bench contribution was from my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) on autism. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the parents and carers-young and old-who care for children and adults with autism. For some, that is a considerable burden that we should not underestimate. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is currently developing three autism clinical guidelines. The recognition, referral and diagnosis of autism guidelines are scheduled to be published in September next year; the diagnosis and management of autism in adults guidelines are scheduled to be published in July 2012-that might feel a long way off, but it is coming-and the management of autism in children and young people was referred to NICE by Ministers in November this year.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his interest in autism, which has been discussed on many occasions in the House since I became a Member. There is no doubt that the expertise and input of people like him-people who have personal experience-is crucial in ensuring that we get the right policies that can have an effect on the ground, including in his constituency. His expertise and that of other hon. Members is critical.

Mr Speaker, I apologise for going beyond my allotted 10 minutes, but I wish you and all the staff of the House a very happy Christmas. I thank them for all their support this year and wish them well for the next.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1355


2.28 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): May I take this opportunity to wish you a very merry Christmas, Mr Speaker?

I understand that the pre-Christmas recess Adjournment debate was often a cheerful occasion. Unfortunately, the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance does not lend itself to festive cheer. In fact, it has much more of the Dickensian Christmas about it. Perhaps the House can imagine the Minister trudging back to his Department through the snow and sitting in his office, where he is visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

In Christmas past, the jolly folk of the Department for Children, Schools and Families invested in young people. There were rosy cheeks and smiling faces as extra teachers and teaching assistants were employed to work in brand new school buildings up and down the country. What would the ghost of Christmas present reveal? If he took the Minister on a journey to Nottingham, he would see more than 4,000 learners in receipt of EMA worrying about their futures. Half of them might be aware that the Government's cuts mean that if they want to go on to university, they can expect to end up with debts of £30,000 or £40,000 when they graduate. They might also have seen last month's increase in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work, which took the youth unemployment total to 943,000-almost 20% -and one of the highest figures since records began in 1992. The other half might be wondering how they will manage the second year of their course once the EMA is withdrawn, and how they will cope without this essential help with the cost of travelling to college and with materials, books and lunches.

The Minister might also see Malcolm Cowgill, principal of Castle college in Nottingham, writing to his local MP to say:

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The hon. Lady makes a powerful argument, but would it not be better to concentrate the support on the 12% who say that they would not continue in education if they did not get the EMA, rather than spread it out among all young people?

Lilian Greenwood: The vast majority of those who receive EMA receive it at the highest level and are from the most disadvantaged families. They need that extra money. Whether they would stay in education or not, it is an important part of supporting them while they continue with their studies.

The Minister might also see my young constituent Kyle Simpson, a talented swimmer who is training for 22 hours a week, before and after college and competing at weekends, emailing his MP to say:

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1356

The Minister might see New college in Nottingham, which has found that the EMA has increased participation, reduced the drop-out rate by 9% and seen success rates 8 % higher among those who receive it. The college concluded that without help to fund their travel, many learners would not be able to stay in further education or choose the course that was best for them. He might also hear the college's principal Geoff Hall, who says:

And what of Christmas future? If the Business Secretary does not bring down the Government, it could look very bleak indeed, including reduced social mobility, especially among those from ethnic minorities or one-parent families; fewer young people going on to further education or successfully completing their courses; and even higher youth unemployment, meaning another lost generation without the skills and education needed to secure the jobs of the future. Of course, it is not too late. Just as Scrooge realised the error of his ways, the Minister could still change his mind. After all, the Prime Minister has done so on school sports funding. The Minister can still decide not to decimate support for the most disadvantaged. I hope he will take the opportunity to spread a little Christmas cheer and agree to think again about this unfair, unproductive and unnecessary cut.

2.33 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): May I wish you a merry Christmas, Mr Deputy Speaker?

I rise on an issue that continues to concern me greatly. I repeat my declaration of interest that I chair the justice for families campaign. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House wish to see the best possible outcomes for children who enter the care system. In trying to improve this, Tony Blair encouraged adoption, but made a big mistake along the way in miscalculating the percentage of children adopted from care.

Before I go any further, I should be precise about what I mean by "care". When I say "in care", I do not include those children voluntarily in care under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. In 2005, for example, 8,600 children left care and 3,400 of those left through adoption. That is 39.5%. If I could get the Department to analyse the figures by age, it would be clear that the majority of young children are leaving care through adoption. In Scotland, however, only 17% of the children who left care in 2009 aged under five left care through adoption. I accept that this includes a broader category, but if we take the numbers and uprate them for population size, we see that England has a rate of adoption from care in excess of 50% more. That is more than 1,000 children a year in England who are adopted rather than returning to their parents.

It appears that the substantial shift, which was a result of the previous Government's pressure on authorities to increase the number of adoptions, was that children left care through adoption rather than returning to their parents. I see this in terms of individual cases where the
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1357
judgments at times defy reason. It can also be seen very clearly when comparing practice in Scotland with that in England.

The Department has refused to provide many figures about the English system although some are now trickling out. When the adoption targets came in, there was a net flow into care. That would imply that the adoption pressure did not result in additional children leaving care, but instead caused the destination to change. Because the adoption target was miscalculated, there has been a general belief that adoptions from care were only a low percentage. An article written by Alan Rushton in 2007 about adoption from care states:

That is clearly a misunderstanding of the situation. The Department was reporting 6% for a figure that, properly calculated, was more like 40%.

The concentration on adoption also means a lack of child protection. Peter Connolly died in August 2007, but nothing much changed until the criminal prosecution in 2008. Some 7,400 children were taken into care to the end of March 2008, 8,200 in 2009 and 9,500 in 2010. However, often the wrong children were taken into care and more babies were suspected to have died from child abuse in calendar year 2009 than in calendar year 2008. In 2008, the figure for England alone was 47 babies and 97 other children. In 2009, that increased-notwithstanding the increase in numbers of children taken into care-to 75 babies and 111 other children. There are two sides to this problem and both are unacceptable. Although the adoption targets and financial incentives were scrapped from 1 April 2008, the practice is still skewed by the pressures that gave rise to the initial changes.

The children themselves are asking why their families have been split up. There was a meeting recently in the House, attended by the Minister of State with responsibility for children and families, at which a girl asked why her sister had been adopted and she had been banned from seeing her. Additionally, as children such as Winona Vamey and Tammy Coulter get older, they are acting to reverse the adoptions.

The aggressive way in which the courts have gone after families has created many refugees from the UK-mainly from England although there is one from Scotland. Susen McCabe, Kiel and Lucille O'Regan, Fran Lyon, Kerry and Mark McDougall, Sam Thomas, Emily Burgess, Sam and Vanessa Hallimond and Angela Wileman are only a few examples for whom emigration was necessary to fight the system. Sam Thomas made the mistake of coming back to England-Somerset-and her daughter has now been put up for adoption.

At the same time, the rights of mothers such as Rachel Pullen and Husan Pari to even contest their own cases are removed on the basis of expert reports saying they are too stupid but which are later found to be in error. However, the Court of Appeal passes these cases through on the nod. False allegations of satanism and Munchausen's syndrome continue to be accepted by the courts without a legal right to a second opinion. Dr Fintan Sheerin, Professor Mary McCarron, Professor Cecily Begley and Dr Jo Murphy-Lawless from Trinity College, Dublin wrote to me recently asking why these cases still happen in countries that pride themselves on respect for
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1358
human rights. My answer was that the courts do not always properly follow the law in hearings that are held in secret where people get imprisoned in secret for complaining about injustice.

All this is in fact inhumane. Given time, the European Court of Human Rights may point this out. However, I hope that the Government will respond to this more quickly. More work on analysing the SSDA903 return is needed. It is not acceptable to use the code "other" for something as important as this.

Journalists such as Christopher Booker, Camilla Cavendish, Sue Reid, Denise Robertson, Daniel Foggo and many more have raised concerns about how the system is a machine for miscarriages of justice, but it keeps steamrolling over families and children. Many of the families affected will be lighting Chinese lanterns as a protest on Christmas eve at 10 pm. They will include Phil Thompson, whose great-grandchildren were put up for adoption for no good reason by Walsall council.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and it might give him chance to catch his breath as he seems to be in a great rush. I do not wish to detract from the serious cases that he mentions, but does he recognise that in many cases in which children are adopted from care it is because of the serious problems in their families and the neglect and abuse that they have, sadly, suffered?

John Hemming: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. There is a need for a care system, but it has to get things right. One of the reasons children are often taken into care is that the mother has been a victim of domestic abuse. Women's Aid argues that we should protect the mother and child and keep them together, rather than say, "Oh, you as a mother have been a victim of domestic abuse. We are taking your child."

This morning or late yesterday, I received an e-mail about Kirsty Seddon's case in Oldham. She was brought up in care and essentially that has been used as an excuse to remove her child. Luckily, the European Court of Human Rights is taking the matter seriously, and has now written to the UK Government asking them to comment on the admissibility of her case. There is a fair chance that, whereas this has gone through the UK courts on the nod, it will end up being picked up by the ECHR.

Even if the Government fail to do something, Parliament should be able to act to identify what is going on. Things happen that defy reason, which is why people have to emigrate to get away from the system. I will not rest until Parliament or the Government act to stop these miscarriages of justice. Sadly, the family justice review does not seem to recognise the true situation. The Munro inquiry seems to have a better focus, but both inquiries are hobbled by not having enough members who are not part of the system. We have the usual "quis custodiet" question when the people who are substantially part of causing the problem are being asked to correct a problem that they themselves do not recognise exists. That needs to change.

2.40 pm

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and wish to raise the pressing issue of the
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1359
scrapping of the education maintenance allowance, which will be reduced under the replacement scheme-the enhanced learner support fund-to a paltry 13% of its current funding.

I have been overwhelmed by the correspondence and representations I have received from young people, their families and teaching staff decrying the Government's decision. We keep hearing from the Government that nine out of 10 students would still continue with their further education without EMA. It is incredibly frustrating to hear these figures continually being trotted out because the study that this premise is based on is flawed: it asked only young people who study in school sixth forms, rather than those in further education colleges, which the majority of EMA recipients attend. Furthermore, the students polled came predominantly from white backgrounds, which does not reflect the true national make-up of the learners who receive vital EMA support.

I met a number of different student groups in Liverpool on Friday, and I asked them whether they would have started their courses without the EMA. Unsurprisingly, they said that although they would have tried, they would not have been able to afford it. Every young person I spoke to said that they put their EMA towards their travel costs, which were anything between £2 and £4.50 a day, with some students travelling up to two hours a day to attend college. They spent the remainder of their £30 a week on lunch, stationery and materials for their courses.

On a visit to the university of Liverpool, I spoke with some final-year modern language students. I met a young person called Danielle, who said that she would never have gone to college without her EMA-and if she had not gone to college, she would never have gone to university. Now, however, Danielle is about to graduate with an excellent degree and has a bright future ahead of her. The evidence from Liverpool community college about the benefit of EMA, in stark contrast to the flawed study the Government keep referring to, is that the retention rate is 5% higher for those receiving EMA than for those who do not receive it. There is a lot of similar evidence from colleges up and down the country, and at the end of today's sitting, I will be presenting a petition collected from Liverpool community college and signed by 2,500 young people and teaching staff from across Merseyside. I share their concerns that the Government's plans to remove EMA will have dire consequences on post-16 education in the Merseyside city region.

I have four questions for the Minister. First, why have the Government broken their pre-election pledge to keep EMA? Secondly, will the enhanced learner support fund cover students' travel costs-a vital element of how the EMA is used? Thirdly, may we have a definitive answer on what will happen to students who have started their first year at college on the understanding that they will receive EMA throughout their course? Will they continue to receive it in their second year? Finally, according to the Government's own figures, 76,000 young people stay on in further education because of EMA, saving the Government more than £4 billion on young people not in education, employment or training. How do the Government reconcile
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1360
those figures with their continued reference to "dead-weight"-a term that many people have found incredibly offensive?

EMA offers so many young people from low-income households the opportunity to study without financial strain, and in many cases that can make the difference between a student achieving at college and not. The loss of EMA will damage our country's economic future and is yet another betrayal of young people, in addition to many of the measures introduced over the past couple of months, whether on tuition fees, the loss of the future jobs fund and so on-the list goes on. I urge the Government to reverse their decision to abolish EMA.

2.45 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The abolition of the education maintenance allowance is one of the issues that have caused greatest concern in my constituency. One of my constituents from Thornton wrote to me to say that he has signed the petition in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). He wrote:

and as one of my constituents. He continued:

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): My hon. Friends are making a good case for the education maintenance allowance, but does my hon. Friend share my concern about young carers? College principals might not even know that some of their students are young carers, who need the incentive that EMA can give them to keep attending and to struggle on with their caring work load as well as their education.

Bill Esterson: Young carers are one of a number of vulnerable groups for whom EMA is especially important, and its loss would hit them and those who depend on them particularly hard. I hope that the Minister will consider that point among others.

My constituent told me that some of the means by which students will support themselves might be less than legal. He said that that was

I have also heard similar comments about the potential of drug dealing as a source of income for students who
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1361
lose EMA. I thought his was a balanced and responsible view of the impact of EMA from a member of staff with much experience.

The principal of Hugh Baird college in south Sefton, Jette Burford, also wrote to me saying that 84% of young people at the college currently receive EMA; that there is a clear indication that it has become a key part of the family income for those families; and that its discontinuation is very likely to impact on the participation rate locally. Ms Burford mentioned both the impact of losing the EMA on participation and attainment, and the fact that many students depend on it for help with their transport. When she wrote to me she did not know that Sefton students were likely to lose their free travel passes because Merseytravel has had its budget cut by two thirds.

EMA is essential for many students from low and middle-income families when it comes to travel, books, equipment and food, and its loss will make it very difficult for students to continue to study. EMA is a means-tested allowance of between £10 and £30 per week. Some 635,000 learners received at least one EMA payment in 2009-10, and about 80% of those received the full £30. That means that the people receiving the £30 come from low-income families on less than £20,800 per year. The loss of EMA for students from such low-income households will create a big hole in family incomes, which is something that college principals have commented on.

EMA was introduced by the previous Labour Government to help with the cost of books, travel and equipment, and payments are made on the condition that students attend classes regularly. The evidence from colleges is that the incentive to turn up on time has worked well, and the evidence in Merseyside is that those on EMA outperform by 7% those who are not in receipt of it. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies gives a similar result.

The Department for Education is stopping new EMA at the end of this month, before it has alternative arrangements in place. The Department plans to stop paying the EMA in July 2011 to existing 16 to 18-year-old students who will be halfway through their courses. That means that EMA will be completely gone by July 2011-an unseemly rush. EMA has been widely credited with helping to create a big increase in the number of young people going on to college in the last seven years. The IFS revealed that EMA increased the proportion of 16-year-olds in full-time education by 4% and the proportion of 17-year-olds in full-time education by 7%.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that Newham sixth-form college in my constituency has the largest percentage of students receiving EMA. When I spoke to those at the college last week, they informed me that, in order to stay on at school, many students just handed the £30 a week to their families.

Bill Esterson: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the impact on family incomes, not just on the incomes of individual students.

The Association of Colleges continues to make it clear to Ministers and MPs that it thinks that the decision to abolish EMA will have a detrimental effect on recruitment, retention and achievement among 16 to
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1362
18-year-olds. A number of trade unions are also worried that axing EMA will mean that colleges are hit by further funding cuts-cuts that will put even more college jobs at risk. The coalition argues that 90% of the cost of EMA is "dead-weight", but as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) said, that is an offensive statement to many students. It implies that students would have gone on to study without EMA. That claim does not stand up to scrutiny. Research by 157 large colleges and other, smaller colleges shows that students who receive the EMA have better attendance records and are more likely to complete courses than wealthier students who are not eligible for support. That research was published in The Times Educational Supplement on 3 December. Despite coming from the poorest families and, in some cases, having low qualifications, EMA students miss fewer classes and are more likely to stay in education than wealthier students. The IFS has confirmed that the costs of EMA are completely offset by the benefits, even taking into account the so-called "dead-weight" effect.

EMA has been a big success for students and the economy. It has improved the life chances of many, from low or middle-income families. EMA has improved this country's skills base, because of the improved results among students receiving it, and has increased access to university for many, many students. The case for abolition is flawed, as it will see a cut in attendance that will not be addressed by the enhanced learner fund. As one college principal said to me, there is no way of knowing which students would stop attending and which would carry on if EMA was withdrawn. A review of EMA would be one thing; its abolition quite another. The coalition needs to withdraw its plans and it should continue with the widespread support for our young people that EMA promotes.

2.53 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) on getting so much into such a short speech. I know that he has a long-standing commitment to family justice, and it was clear from his speech that he shares the coalition's commitment to ensuring that children in this country are able to enjoy safe, happy and carefree childhoods-an ambition that is shared across the House, as is our desire to give every child the chance to achieve to the very best of his or her abilities. In responding to my hon. Friend's excellent speech, I want first to make the point that this Government recognise the importance of keeping families together. The law is clear: children should live with their parents wherever possible and, where necessary, families should be given extra support to help keep them together.

John Hemming: The difficulty is that it does not appear that the law is being followed. Will the Department establish an ombudsman scheme to review individual cases and see why the law is not being followed?

Mr Gibb: I know that my hon. Friend is meeting our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education on 12 January, and I am sure that he can raise that with him at that meeting.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1363

In most cases-indeed, the vast majority of cases-the extra support enables children to remain with their families. However, we are equally clear that there has to be balance in the system, so that where a child is suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, the local authority has a statutory duty to take action to safeguard and promote the child's welfare. However, it is important to remember that local authorities cannot remove children from their parents' care-unless it is with the parents' consent, of course-without first referring the matter to a court. Similarly, local authorities cannot-again, without the parents' consent-place a child for adoption with prospective adopters without a placement order made by a court. Needless to say, adoption can be a highly emotional time for the child, the parents and those adopting, but we know that outcomes-certainly in educational attainment and health-are as good for children who are adopted as they are for children growing up with their birth parents.

John Hemming: Given that something like a quarter of adoptions are disrupted, and the children are returned to care, does my hon. Friend take on board the point that any statistical test of the effect of adoption should include the effect on those for whom it fails?

Mr Gibb: The figures are based on comparing the overall statistics for children in care with those for children who are adopted.

Although we recognise that adoption will be suitable for only a relatively small number of children, it is none the less important that we get things right and help more children who need adoption to find secure and happy homes with adoptive parents. We believe that one of the best ways of achieving that is through more collaborative working with voluntary adoption agencies, so that adoption services are enhanced and families are found for the most difficult-to-place children. We also want to see improvements in adoption practice, particularly in the matching of black and minority ethnic children with prospective adopters. Race should not be a barrier to a successful placement. What matters is a loving and stable family environment. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has written to all directors of children's services and lead members to ask them to do everything possible to increase the number of children appropriately placed for adoption, and to improve the speed with which decisions are made.

John Hemming rose -

Mr Gibb: I will give way to my hon. Friend a final time.

John Hemming: The Minister said that adoption is suitable only for a small number of children. The difficulty is that a majority of under-fives in care are adopted.

Mr Gibb: I am not sure whether those statistics are right, but again, my hon. Friend can take that up with the Under-Secretary at his meeting. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has set up a ministerial advisory group on adoption, to provide expert advice on a range of practical proposals to remove barriers to adoption and
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1364
reduce delay, but I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley has raised.

Bill Esterson: The Minister made an important point about the involvement of voluntary sector agencies in adoption-indeed, I have been pleased with all his comments on the subject. However, does he accept that it is important to ensure both that proper financial resources are in place for the adoption process and that no short cuts are taken? That is where things can go horribly wrong.

Mr Gibb: Of course financial resources are always important, but the hon. Gentleman must appreciate the financial circumstances in which we find ourselves. That was noticeably lacking both from his speech and those of his hon. Friends.

I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley. We need to ask hard questions about child-protection arrangements and court processes. That is why we have the review by Professor Munro, which is looking at safeguarding, front-line practice and transparency. I listened to my hon. Friend's speech carefully. We are concerned that the number of children in care adopted in the past year has decreased by 4%, to 3,200. The real question that we should be asking is not whether too many children or, indeed, too few are in care, but simply whether the right children are in care. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is extremely concerned that, by not understanding that point, we risk undermining the work of the many excellent professionals on whom we rely to keep vulnerable children safe-or, worst of all, that we risk damaging the chances of many children who would greatly benefit from a second chance of a stable family upbringing.

I would like to turn to the points raised by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). The speech by the hon. Member for Nottingham South took the theme of "A Christmas Carol", and perhaps if the previous Government had learned a little from the accounting techniques of Ebenezer Scrooge, this country might not now have the worst budget deficit of all the G20 countries. I listened carefully to the hon. Members, but not one suggested how we should try to find £0.5 billion-worth of savings from the public sector, let alone the £81 billion for the structural deficit that we have to close.

We face an unprecedented budget deficit, under which we are spending £156 billion a year more than we receive in tax revenue, and a global economic environment in which the sovereign debt of nations running unsustainable deficits is leading to major financial crises for those countries. Those crises are preventing and delaying economic recovery, and we do not want this country to be in that position. Every element of public spending is therefore subject to scrutiny, and programmes that cost £0.5 billion a year cannot be exempt from that scrutiny.

We need to ensure that the young people who need support to continue their education receive it. In the current climate, however, those who need it cannot be regarded as 45% of the whole cohort, and the money needs to be better targeted. That is why we are introducing a different system of student support that will allow schools and colleges to provide help to those young people who genuinely need it in order to stay in education.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1365

The education maintenance allowance has been in existence for about six years, having been rolled out nationally in 2004 following a pilot. In its early years, it was successful in raising participation rates among 16-year-olds from 87% in 2004 to 96% this year. As a consequence, attitudes among 16-year-olds to staying on in education have changed. When the National Foundation for Educational Research questioned recipients of EMA, it found that 90% would have stayed on in education regardless of whether they received the allowance, although the £30 a week received by the majority of EMA recipients is a helpful sum of money for a young person.

Lilian Greenwood: Does the Minister accept that, even if 88% of young people would have stayed on in education anyway, the EMA encourages better attendance and allows learners to enjoy more study time, because they do not need to take on part-time work? It has therefore been important in improving the success rates for that disadvantaged group.

Mr Gibb: The hon. Lady might be right about that disadvantaged group, but we are talking about 45% of all young people of that age. It is an expensive programme to target nearly half of that age group in schools and colleges.

Barbara Keeley: I made a point earlier about young carers. I fail to see how a discretionary fund can help when young carers are so hidden. College principals and head teachers often do not know when their students are also carers, so how will they know how to target the funding? They will not.

Mr Gibb: The hon. Lady raises a wider issue about young carers. The coalition Government are concerned about young carers generally, not just in sixth forms and in colleges but in schools, and we are identifying those young people to ensure that they have the support and help that they need. When they attend college and seek help, however, the funds should be targeted at those who are in genuine need, including young carers.

In reaching the decision to reform the system, we were concerned that the 10% of recipients who according to the evidence would be put off from staying in education but for the money from the EMA might then drop out of education. We felt that a payment designed as an incentive to participate was no longer the right way to ensure that those facing real financial barriers to participation got the support they needed. So we decided to use a proportion of the £560 million to increase the value of the discretionary learner support fund. Final decisions about the quantum of that fund have still to be taken, but we have spoken of up to three times the current value of the fund, which now stands at £25.4 million.

A fund of that size would, for example, enable 100,000 young people to receive £760 each year, and 100,000 students is about 15% of the number of young people currently receiving EMA, which is more than the 10% about whom we are particularly concerned might not stay on in education. The £760 is more than the average annual EMA of £730 paid in 2009-10, and only slightly less than the £813 paid to 16-year-olds receiving the full
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1366
£30 per week. We have not yet decided, because we are still consulting on it, how the money will be paid, to whom and for what purposes.

Luciana Berger: Liverpool community college currently pays out £1.7 million in education maintenance allowance to 90% of its students, who are in receipt of the full £30 a week because their household incomes are less than £20,800. In addition, the college disbursed £192,000. If the Minister is saying that he will multiply the current figure by three, that is still only a fraction of what goes to those most deprived households at the moment. How on earth is that going to help those students who desperately need help to get to college, to eat and to pay for the materials that they need to do their courses?

Mr Gibb: By definition, if students at that college constitute the 15% most deprived young people, in terms of their access to income, they will receive more than the amount the hon. Lady says is currently being received by the discretionary learner support fund.

To help schools and colleges to administer the fund, and to ensure that those young people who really need support to enable them to continue their education or training post-16 get access to the new fund, we are working with schools and colleges, and with other key organisations such as the Association of Colleges, Centrepoint, the Sutton Trust, the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Union of Students and the Local Government Association to develop a model approach that schools and colleges can choose to adopt or adapt, to inform them how to distribute the funds, and to whom.

Bill Esterson: The Institute for Fiscal Studies is clear that, even taking into account the deadweight effect of the 12% who might carry on attending without EMA, the costs of the scheme are outweighed by the benefits. I quoted a college principal in my speech, and colleges are clear that they will be unable to work out who would stop attending if EMA were withdrawn. I would therefore be interested to hear from the Minister how the new system is going to work. He says that he is talking to the colleges, but how will he ensure that the new fund reaches the right students?

Mr Gibb: On that last point, the colleges are already experienced in administering the learner support fund. We are simply increasing the value of that fund, and the same college principals and head teachers will be administering it. We are talking about a significantly higher sum, however, and we will allow more discretion in the disbursement of the money, which is why we are talking to the Association of Colleges and others about how to administer it more fairly. Also, 5% of the fund will be available to cover the cost of administration.

The hon. Member for Sefton Central talked about the IFS research, as did other hon. Members. The IFS study says that the cost of the EMA scheme would have been recouped in the long run by helping to raise wage levels as a result of higher staying-on rates. I understand that argument, and I do not disagree with it. However, the IFS, in evaluations carried out with the Centre for Research in Social Policy, has previously said that EMA would increase participation by 4 percentage points, and up to 9 percentage points for young people from
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1367
the poorest backgrounds. So the IFS's own findings are consistent with the Department's findings, and with the NFER's conclusion that 90% of young people receiving EMA would have continued in education regardless of the payments. For those who really do need help to participate in post-16 education-

Mr Bone: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I understood that Ministers would take approximately 10 minutes to respond in this debate, because this is Back Benchers' time, not Ministers' time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): The House is well aware that we have tried to keep Ministers to 10 minutes, but we have now drifted over the 15-minute mark. I am sure that the Minister will have taken that on board, as he now comes to the end of his speech .

Mr Gibb: I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and to the House. I have probably taken too many interventions. I just want to cover one more point before I finish, and that is the point raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree about transport.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that no young person in their area is prevented from attending education post-16 because of a lack of transport, or support for it. If that duty is not being met, young people and families need to raise it with the local authority. Young people were never expected to use a significant proportion of their EMA to cover transport costs. Under the current arrangements for discretionary support funding, it cannot be used routinely for transport to and from college because local authorities have that statutory duty. However, we will consider introducing flexibility to that restriction as we develop the arrangements for enhanced discretionary learner support funding.

In today's economic climate, we have a particular duty to ensure that we continue to invest where investment is needed and to obtain the best possible value for taxpayers' money. In those circumstances, it is difficult to justify spending over £560 million a year on an allowance when 90% of its recipients would have stayed in education without it. That is why we have thought again about the most effective way of helping the most vulnerable young people to stay in education.

I wish all Members, and officials from the Department, a very good Christmas and a successful new year.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1368


3.10 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to highlight the need for a more co-ordinated approach to the teaching of financial capability to ensure that no young person leaves school without the benefit of that critical life skill.

Financial capability can be briefly described as the ability to manage one's own finances and to become an informed consumer of financial services. Some excellent work is being done in schools, and I shall refer to it shortly, but more needs to be done. The delivery of financial education in schools is patchy, as there is no requirement to provide it. My son Samuel will leave his excellent school in a few months' time without having received a single lesson in financial education, although the term PHSE stands for "personal, health, social and economic education".

Before I go into more detail, let me emphasise that I am a proponent of prevention rather than cure, and that I recognise the vital effort that goes into counselling people out of debt. However, I believe we have a problem that a co-ordinated approach to financial literacy will do much to alleviate. All Members are aware of the high levels of personal debt and the untold stress that much of it causes. Each day a staggering 372 people are declared bankrupt, and citizens advice bureaux are currently dealing with some 9,400 new debt problems every working day. A recent survey by another highly effective debt advice organisation, Christians Against Poverty, showed that 74% of its clients had visited a GP while suffering from stress and other medical problems caused by debt.

I have had 20 years' experience of running a law firm, and during that time the biggest single cause of marital discord among those entering my firm's doors seeking divorce advice has been money differences. Sadly, many couples enter relationships without being capable of addressing financial challenges together. It is partly because I have witnessed those problems for many years, and the huge personal cost that they entail, that I raise this issue today.

The cost to the national budget of dealing with the ramifications of poor financial literacy must be vast, not only because of relationship breakdowns but because of the implications for the health of individuals and families. A recent study by Aviva and a leading psychologist at City university found that those with sensible financial plans were happier overall and had a stronger sense of financial well-being., and that that was the case regardless of salary.

I believe that the big society, represented by both voluntary and commercial organisations and by government locally and nationally, can work together effectively to give young people and their parents the tools to draw up positive and informed financial plans that will help to secure their future happiness. The need for that is pressing.

Let me offer an example of best practice. Two years ago in my constituency Will Spendilow, a former chief IT architect for Barclays bank, started to visit Congleton high school and Eaton Bank school in my constituency on a voluntary basis. He helps GCSE and A-level
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1369
students to understand the importance of financial planning, using the DebtCred curriculum, one of many that are available. It empowers children to set life goals and choices, helps teenagers to articulate their short-term and long-term financial goals, and helps students to budget by explaining what proportion of a wage is spent on essentials. Young people learn about the implications and the costs of borrowing; they also learn how to read a bank statement, put together a budget, and distinguish between financial products.

Mr Spendilow's work has been received enthusiastically by schools and recognised by the high sheriff of Cheshire, Diana Barbour, who has congratulated him on his "sterling achievements". At the end of one of his classes a teacher said to the young people, "That is the best and most valuable PHSE lesson that you have ever had." However, when I asked Mr Spendilow what provision there would be if he did not teach financial capability, he said that he did not know of any.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Lady on raising a subject that I consider to be tremendously important. I particularly endorse what she has said about Christians Against Poverty and the citizens advice bureaux, which operate in my constituency. Does she share my huge disappointment that there is no Treasury Minister present to respond- [Interruption.] I was not aware that the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) was a Treasury Minister. Is he the Treasury Minister who will respond to the debate?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Fiona Bruce.

Fiona Bruce: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I believe that financial literacy is an essential element of every young person's education. Including it in the curriculum would decrease the cost to so many people-and to the nation-of personal debt, family breakdown and ill health. Even more important, it would enable all young people to embark on adulthood with a vital tool, and to realise their full potential in life. I hope that the Minister agrees that this is a vital issue that we need to address sooner rather than later.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Government to send a Whip rather than a Minister to respond to the debate?

Mr Deputy Speaker: Members may be disappointed that no Treasury Minister is present, but let me say in fairness that the Whip is a Minister. He is part of the Government, and he has the right to speak from the Front Bench. That is the position. There may be disappointment, but I am sure that we shall hear full and thorough answers. We all look forward to the response from the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill).

Fiona Bruce: Let me end by saying that I know my concerns are shared by a number of Members, and that I look forward to hearing the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) shortly.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1370
3.17 pm

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): I wish to raise the issue of the funding settlement for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, for two reasons. First, it is important to my constituents, many of whom work in the Cumbernauld branch of HMRC, one of the largest tax offices in the country. Secondly, it is important to the nation for our tax to be collected efficiently and effectively.

I have several questions for the Minister about the settlement that HMRC received in the comprehensive spending review. It mandates overall resource savings of 15% and efficiency savings of 25%. I should be grateful if the Minister clarified the precise meaning of those two figures. To what budget does the 25% refer? What proportion of the 15% overall resource saving will be met from efficiencies, and what proportion will be met through a reduction in the scope of HMRC's activities? How does the Minister define an efficiency saving? And-this is the most important question for my constituents in Cumbernauld-what is the Minister's most recent estimate of the number of redundancies that he expects at HMRC across the country during the spending review period, and what proportion of them will be compulsory?

Will the Minister confirm that neither the £900 million for combating tax avoidance nor the £100 million for reducing error, both of which were announced in the comprehensive spending review, will be additional money for HMRC? Will he also explain whether the figures refer to annual allocations, or to money redirected to these purposes over the entire spending review period? How does the Minister expect HMRC to achieve such a redirection of resources, in the context of significant cuts to its overall resource budget?

I would like to place HMRC's funding settlement in a broader context and draw attention to some specific problems faced by my constituents working in the Cumbernauld office.

Mr Umunna: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the hugely increased bureaucracy that HMRC will have to deal with because of the change to child benefit, which will require HMRC in some sense to monitor the incomes and outgoings of millions of families across the country?

Gregg McClymont: My hon. Friend raises an important point, which speaks to the overall context in which HMRC will be operating.

We know that there is no direct correlation between reduced funding and increased output. The productivity of individual public servants can increase, but overall output can still decline. There comes a point when any organisation can no longer do more with less. If resources are reduced too far and too hastily, it will end up doing less with less, even if productivity increases. Does the Minister accept that it will be extremely difficult to deliver the additional revenue and improved customer service that we need from HMRC in the context of large reductions in overall expenditure?

Many of the savings that the Government talk about will be made through redundancies and restructuring. Staff motivation and industrial relations at HMRC are already poor. These problems have been recognised by
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1371
HMRC, which was the subject of heavy criticism in the capability review published by the Cabinet Office in 2009. The review found that only 25% of HMRC staff, compared with 61% of senior civil servants, were proud to work for the Department. In the 2009 staff survey, only 11% of all staff and 17% of senior civil servants felt that change is well managed in HMRC.

We know that working in HMRC is often a difficult job. Dealing with people who are recalcitrant in paying their tax is, I suggest-without direct experience of it-often not much fun, yet staff morale is extremely important. I worry that a combination of low staff morale and further funding cuts is likely to lead to further problems for HMRC. Staff in Cumbernauld, for example, are deeply concerned about the restructuring that is taking place among staff in the benefits and credits section, a reform that is taking place two years ahead of the planned move to universal credit.

These staff have been threatened with compulsory relocation to other tax offices in East Kilbride and Livingston, a source of particular concern for staff with child care and caring responsibilities. I hear that there are fewer jobs available in these new offices than there are posts in Cumbernauld. Staff who are not redeployed might be labelled as surplus, with an uncertain future. Staff in payroll and human resources for the whole of HMRC are also based in Cumbernauld. They are extremely concerned about potential redundancies following the introduction of next generation human resources.

Does the Minister expect that these changes will result in redundancies in Cumbernauld, or will the Cumbernauld office perhaps expand its functions and its staffing? More broadly, can he give us an assurance that HMRC will improve the manner in which it manages change in its organisation?

Finally, I would like to ask a broader question about HMRC's strategic vision. Does the Minister accept that there is a tension between announcing Britain's business- friendly credentials to the world and cracking down on tax evasion, particularly by companies and wealthy individuals? In particular, what view does he take of the remarks that David Hartnett, Permanent Secretary, made in the Financial Times last August, when he suggested that

Does the Minister believe that it is possible for tax officials to be "too black and white" about the antisocial behaviour of tax evaders? I can assure him that my constituents, and no doubt those of every hon. Member, do not take that view.

A well resourced and properly motivated HMRC is crucial to the important work of Government. I ask the Minister to provide more detail on the implications of HMRC's funding settlement, and to consider the assumptions underpinning it.

3.25 pm

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): First, I wish all a wonderful Christmas.

As my contribution has been transferred from the education category to the Treasury category, I will take full advantage of the Treasury's love of statistics and
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1372
utilise them well in my speech. As my requests are generally related to the Department for Education, with a sparkling of festive spirit it will be nice and easy to secure agreement on all my requests.

I strongly believe that we have a duty to ensure that young people are equipped to make informed financial decisions. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who made an excellent speech on the subject. I have been working with the Personal Financial Education Group, the Consumer Financial Education Body, and Martin Lewis of to set up an all-party parliamentary group on financial education for young people.

The purpose of the APPG will be to provide a medium through which MPs, peers and organisations with an interest in financial education can discuss the current provision on financial education in schools; ensure that young people are equipped to make informed financial decisions; help make resources and qualifications available to young people in education; support schools in the delivery of financial capability; and encourage the introduction of a requirement on schools to provide financial education.

Recent studies have shown that 94% of people think that financial education for young people is important in the current environment. Society is changing, making financial education ever more important. This year for the first time we saw that debit card use overtook the use of money. Long gone are the days when people were paid weekly in cash and were able to budget to the point where they ran out of money. We now have more direct debits, more standing orders and more contracts. Having been a councillor for 10 years before becoming an MP, I saw among the residents whom I represented that many of those unfortunate enough to lose their job would quickly be overwhelmed by the outgoings from their bank account, even when they thought that they were not spending any money.

We receive increasingly complicated marketing messages. One point that was highlighted to me was the worrying number of people who think the higher the APR, the better. Young people will never be able to get 100%-plus mortgages or to repair past financial mistakes through rising house prices and start again. In these challenging economic times, 69% of parents are concerned that their children will get into debt in the future. Less than a quarter of parents feel very confident about educating their children in how to manage money.

This was brought home to me last Friday when I and my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), with whom I share an office, held a training day with Citizens Advice, R3 and Nationwide Building Society to train us as MPs and our staff in how to deal with people who are in financial difficulty. Sixty per cent. of Citizens Advice's work relates to debt and benefits, with the average client owing £16,970, which would take an average of 93 years to pay off at a rate that they can afford. I am sure all MPs share my concerns about the impact of debt. Interestingly, 91% of those who admitted to financial mistakes believe that financial education could have helped them avoid making those mistakes. I am sure a few MPs were included in that survey.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1373

I believe schools have an essential role to play, and that is widely supported. Some 91% of teachers and parents agree that it is important that children learn to budget from a young age.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the cracking work he is doing in establishing the APPG. Does he agree that what we need to do better in schools is not only encourage young people to take qualifications, but mainstream financial education into the curriculum? One idea from a head teacher at Goole was that we should include it on the curriculum as part of functional maths.

Justin Tomlinson: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. He has already put his name on the APPG list, and he will have a very important role to play in it. I hope many other MPs will put their names down too. Through working with teachers and teacher organisations, we will find the best way to engage with young children. Young people will support that too, as 97% of 11 to 17-year-olds think it is important to learn about money in school. School provision for personal financial education is still patchy however, and 72% of parents think not enough has been done in the past to educate children about financial matters.

While there are many examples of excellent work, often led by the PFEG or banks and building societies, far too many schools have no, or extremely limited, provision. Through the APPG, we want to drive up standards and participation. Ideally, all children should have access to standard, consistent and engaging provision, but in the meantime we must do all we can to maximise participation.

My Christmas wish is for Members to join the APPG. I am sure all Members have their pens poised, so I will inform them that the group's official launch will be on 31 January between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm in the Jubilee Room, with Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert. I am aware that piles of Christmas cards will currently be covering hon. Members' desks, but among them is an invitation-it will already have landed-so I ask them to keep an eye out for it.

As part of the group's work, we will be looking to promote a balanced response. There are many different challenges ahead. Everybody is broadly supportive, but we must progress in a way that everybody can get behind and support. We have therefore been working with over 30 organisations, including banks and building societies, financial institutions, charitable organisations, schools and teaching organisations and, as I have said, Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert with, crucially, his 6.4 million subscribers, who will be encouraged to support this scheme.

At Christmas families face the greatest temptation to make the wrong financial decisions, so now would be a great time for us to make a difference. We should imagine what a difference it would make to our casework if people were able to make better and more-informed decisions.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Before I call the next speaker, may I wish the House-Members, staff and visitors-all the best for Christmas, and may we all have a good new year?

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1374
3.32 pm

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I echo those wishes of good will and merriment to the House.

Before I start talking about choice and competition in the banking sector, I would like to put on record my thanks to the Building Societies Association and the pressure group Compass for giving me assistance in preparing for this debate, and to the fantastic staff of the Treasury Committee, who have provided excellent briefings to me and other Members throughout our ongoing inquiry into choice and competition in the sector.

The financial crisis had a major impact on the shape of the banking sector. There has been widespread consolidation, and concerns have been raised that competition in the sector is not working-with, for example, investigations by the Office of Fair Trading into overdraft charges-and that there is now an ever greater lack of choice and diversity in financial services. That is borne out by the latest OFT figures on market concentration. In the personal current account market, the five largest providers in the country have a 73% market share. In the mortgage market, they make up over 75% of gross lending. They have cornered over 90% of the credit card market as well. By way of comparison, in Spain, the US and Germany, the five largest providers have less than 50% of the personal current account market. In all but a couple of cases, the largest providers are banks. There has been just one new start-up retail bank, Metro Bank, since 2008. These figures demonstrate that there is a lack of choice and diversity in the sector, which, of course, also reduces competition.

I believe we can increase choice and competition by growing and expanding the mutual sector. I hope the Government agree with me on that, particularly as a commitment was given in the coalition agreement to

in part by promoting mutuals.

But why mutuals, and what can they offer that standard banks cannot? First, mutuals are democratic. Banks are accountable to shareholders who demand a rising share price and a big dividend, whereas mutuals, collectively owned by their customers, have a collective of people who vote on the direction they wish the institution to take.

Gregg McClymont: I have been listening closely to my hon. Friend's comments. Given the Government's commitment to what they call the big society, does my hon. Friend agree that mutuals seem to be a perfect example of collective self-organisation of the type the Government talk about?

Mr Umunna: I agree with my hon. Friend and I shall expand on that matter a little later. An example of the participation of members of mutuals is displayed when one attends a building society annual general meeting. The participation rates in such AGMs have increased sharply over the years, and some have member panels, which play an enhanced role in the management of the organisation. I am in favour of markets, but properly regulated ones. That means that we need to redemocratise the market so that it serves people, rather than having things the other way round, which is an avenue we have
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1375
gone down too much over the past couple of decades. Giving life to mutuals is a good way of redemocratising the financial services sector.

Secondly, mutuals add biodiversity to the financial services sector; a thriving mutuals sector adds to the diversity of the financial system. The more diversified the financial system in terms of size, ownership and structure of businesses, the better able it is to withstand the strains produced by normal business cycles and we can also avoid the herd instinct commonly displayed in the market over recent times.

Thirdly, mutuals have a lesser appetite for indulging in risky financial activities and so, on the whole, they weathered the storm well during the global financial crisis. For example, building society mortgage arrears are less than two thirds of those of the market as a whole. Building societies are also, thankfully, legally barred from taking positions in derivatives, foreign currency and commodity markets, which is where other financial organisations have found themselves in deep trouble. Where mutuals have run into difficulty, as the Dunfermline building society did in March 2009, it has been because they have moved away from the traditional mutual business model. So a growth in mutuals will not only reduce exposure to risky financial activities, but bring systemic advantages. It will foster a culture that moves away from the risky, reckless behaviours that we have seen precipitate the crisis, and so we can reduce the chances of that reoccurring.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech on an important issue. Does his argument go on to say that the large banks should be broken up into smaller ones, as in the example from the United States?

Mr Umunna: I do not wish to pre-empt the inquiry being carried out by the Treasury Committee. I have some sympathy for those views, but I would like to continue to hear the evidence that my Committee is taking on this matter and read some of the submissions to the Independent Commission on Banking before coming to a firm view.

The fourth argument that I make in favour of mutuals is that they have strong local links and roots in local communities. Mutuals are often regionally based and therefore often have a better understanding of those they seek to serve because they understand and are rooted in those communities. Finally, mutuals will undoubtedly help to promote competition. As I have mentioned, building societies do not have to pay dividends to shareholders, so they can use their funds either to pay higher savings rates or provide lower mortgage rates. It is no surprise that they regularly top the "best buy" tables.

Justin Tomlinson: As the Nationwide building society's head office is in Swindon, I fully support the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. To further strengthen them, may I say that the lack of competition will lead to higher costs and charges for customers?

Mr Umunna: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I do not wish to speak for too long, so I will just conclude by talking a bit about Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley. As we all know, Northern
21 Dec 2010 : Column 1376
Rock was nationalised on 18 February 2008, having been demutualised in 1997. After it demutualised, it had moved away from the traditional mutual business model and famously came unstuck in the summer of 2007. Likewise, Bradford & Bingley was taken into public ownership on 29 September 2008, having demutualised in December 2000. It, too, had run into trouble at the height of the crisis. For all the reasons that I have mentioned, we should remutualise Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley as soon as we can.

In answer to a written question on 3 November, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who I am disappointed to see is not present, given that he was here for Treasury questions earlier, said:

So I ask the Minister who is here, what is the Government's current view on the issues that I have raised? Are the Government open to remutualisation as a way of meeting their promise in the coalition agreement to promote mutuals? If not, why not? How else do they propose to promote mutuals as promised? Has the Treasury carried out a feasibility study of the remutualisation of Northern Rock and of Bradford & Bingley? If it has not, I call on the Government to do so and publish the findings of that study, so that we might have a proper national debate on the issue.

If the Minister is unable to reply to my detailed questions today, will he undertake to ensure that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury provides me with details of the same? I cannot emphasise to the House how important I think those issues are, because if we are serious about ensuring that our constituents do not have to pay the price for the global financial crisis that in turn contributed to and caused the recession, we as a collective absolutely need to get a grip on such matters.

3.41 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): May I extend my good wishes to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to all Members and staff?

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), because I, too, wish to raise a matter relating to high street banks. I shall discuss the proposals to withdraw the ability to write cheques, and in referring to that issue my remarks will in part be the reflections of a new Member-perhaps appropriate for this time of year-and draw on my early experience in a new role.

In August, I received a letter from a constituent, Miss Patricia Keats, who wrote to tell me that she was 87 years old, and since the closure of her local post office had found it difficult to get hold of cash. With her pension paid directly into her bank account, she found it convenient to ask a friend to take out cash for her and then to use her cheque book to pay that person. In addition, Miss Keats told me how useful her cheque book is for paying people who help her at home, such as her chiropodist; and how useful it is, when she watches a disaster unfold on TV, such as in Haiti or in Pakistan, for sending a donation. So, she wrote that she has real concerns about the banks' proposals.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1377

I am afraid that when I received Miss Keats's letter I did not respond as thoroughly as I might have. I replied, simply pointing out that the proposal is fairly distant; that it will not come in until 2018; and that alternatives are being considered. I regret my response: I did not consider the issue sufficiently thoroughly, take account of her personal circumstances and wishes or do as much as I should have done to represent her interests. I am pleased to have the opportunity to put that matter right by going into the issue in more detail today.

This is a matter for the Payments Council, the organisation that directs the strategy for UK payments. The industry set it up in 2007 to ensure that payment systems and services meet the needs of payment service providers, users and the wider economy. Last year, the council's board decided to set a target date of 2018 for closing central cheque clearing.

Some 4 million cheques are still written every day, so there is still a large number although it fell by 12% between 2000 and 2008, leading retailers such as Tesco and Marks and Spencer to refuse to accept them in their stores. Many people will know from their everyday experience that cheque usage is falling as people make payments by other methods, such as direct debits and internet banking.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, but I have a member of staff who does not know how to write a cheque and never has. There seem to be two economies.

Mark Pawsey: My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but somebody in the older age group has drawn the issue to my attention, and I shall go on to mention how it affects not just those people but others.

It is true, none the less, that those most resisting change are older residents, such as Miss Keats, who often do not have internet access or are uncomfortable with the open-ended commitment of a direct debit, which involves a supplier, frequently a large, faceless corporation, being able to put its hand into their bank account.

I am myself of a generation that grew up with a cheque book, and I do not wish to see them go, despite having seen cheques used inappropriately; I am thinking about the idiot in the student union bar who, rather than taking out some cash, insists on paying for half a pint of bitter with a cheque, to the irritation of other customers and bar staff alike. It is clear that people generally do not want cheques to go. For settling an account with a provider of goods or services, sending a cheque is a simple and easy method of payment-not least because the cheque book stub is a convenient reminder of which bills have been paid.

Charities in particular do not want cheques to go; they fear that that would mean a decline in their incomes because many of their donors are nervous about other methods. Small businesses do not want them to go either, because it is easy to reconcile accounts when payments are made by cheque, often with invoice numbers written on the back.

Justin Tomlinson: I fully support that point about small businesses. As one who has spent many years reconciling accounts, I think that too often internet bank accounts do not show the full details, while it is always crystal clear who a cheque has come from.

21 Dec 2010 : Column 1378

Mark Pawsey: Absolutely. I spent 25 years running a small business and I know that the information on the back of cheques is of great value.

I am pleased that the Government recognise the seriousness of the issue. I appreciate the recent ministerial letter that recognised people's concerns. It acknowledged that no decision on closure will be taken before 2016 and that that would depend on suitable replacement methods having been established. I am also pleased that the Government welcome the Payments Council's commitment to reassure cheque users that their interests will not be ignored. But it is not enough simply to say that 2018 is a long way off, and it is not helpful to tell people that a facility will be withdrawn in the future without telling them what the alternatives might be. Individuals, businesses and charities want certainty about what might be happening.

I hope that this afternoon I have put right a wrong in my response to Miss Keats and that I have done justice to the points that she raised by asking the Minister to go a little further than he has until now and respond to the final plea that Miss Keats made in her letter that he

3.47 pm

Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to respond to the Members who have contributed to this debate. I stand as the Treasury Minister who sits next to the Chancellor at all the meetings at No. 11, even if I am generally not allowed to speak in the House.

My hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) raised the issue of improving financial literacy and education for the young. Over the past decade, people's financial habits have changed considerably. High personal debt coupled with low savings are something that we need to address, especially when they are looked at in the context of the financial crisis and the ageing population. There is no point in giving consumers detailed information about annual percentage rates and other financial data in connection with products if they do not understand what an APR is. When one sees the rates of interest charged by credit and store cards or doorstep lenders, that brings home the need for better financial education.

As a Government, we want people to take greater personal responsibility for their finances. As my hon. Friends said, giving people access to financial advice and education is an important part of that. That is why we have tasked the Consumer Financial Education Body, or CFEB, to deliver a free financial advice service by spring next year. That will improve financial literacy and help consumers to take charge of their own finances. It may even save a few marriages along the way.

Next Section Index Home Page