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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
16 February 2011
Volume 523

House of Commons

Wednesday 16 February 2011

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Haiti

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1. What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Haiti. [40971]

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Although the number of people in camps in Haiti has fallen by half to 800,000 since last July, Haiti continues to face serious humanitarian challenges.

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The President of Haiti famously said that it would take a thousand trucks a thousand days to clear the devastation, but the people do not have a thousand days, because they are suffering disease and crime, and they do not have a thousand trucks. What more can the international community do to tackle the problem?

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My hon. Friend is right to identify the scale of the damage and of what is required to put it right. We are working directly on tackling the threat of cholera, and working through the UN and the World Bank on some of the more serious aspects of what needs to happen to bring the relief that is required .

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I advise you, Mr Speaker, and the House, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the shadow Secretary of State, cannot be here today because she is on jury service.

As well as direct assistance to Haiti, which we support, Britain has contributed more than $100 million through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the European Union, as the Secretary of State said. Does he agree that it is important for the UK to continue to make substantial contributions to such organisations if the world community is to provide the scale of long-term support for reconstruction that Haiti requires?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to put it that way. Britain was a key part of the immediate, emergency relief in the aftermath of those dreadful events in Haiti. There was generous support from across Britain through the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, and we made a number of specific surgical interventions towards the end of last year, including the one to which I referred. Britain is not in the lead on Haiti—this is very much an American, French and Canadian lead—but we are, as he explained, giving strong support through international and multilateral agencies, including the UN and the World Bank.

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We certainly welcome the fact that British aid is helping the poor and most vulnerable in Haiti. We support that, but unfortunately, it is a different story just 100 miles north of Haiti in the Turks and Caicos Islands, to which the Department for International Development has just agreed to write an unprecedented loan of £160 million, which is much greater than any previous support for a British overseas territory. Surely the priority for DFID in the Caribbean should be meeting the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in places such as Haiti, so may I ask the Secretary of State—

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Order. The question must relate to Haiti and only to Haiti.

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The hon. Gentleman refers to problems some miles away from Haiti. However, if I may say so, he has a bit of a brass neck. We inherited a terrible mess in the area not far from Haiti to which he refers, and it is thanks to the brilliant work conducted by the Minister of State that the British taxpayer has now given a guarantee, which hopefully will allow the place not far from Haiti to sort out its problems without further cost to the British taxpayer.

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We now know more about Haiti and some miles away.

India

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2. What his Department’s policy is on providing aid to India; and if he will make a statement. [40972]

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From now on in India, we will focus our support on three of the poorest states. Our programme will change to reflect the importance of the role of the private sector and private enterprise.

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India spends $36 billion a year on defence and $750 million on a space programme. It has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is developing its own overseas aid programme. Given that we must cut public expenditure in this country, will the Secretary of State accept that many of my constituents will think that such aid to India is now unjustifiable?

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That is why our programme in India is in transition, why we will focus on three of the poorest states in the country and why, over the next four years, up to half the programme will transition into pro-poor private sector investment. That is the right way for us to position our development work in the partnership with India, which is of course much wider than development, and which the Prime Minister very significantly re-energised in his major visit last year.

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I congratulate the Secretary of State on continuing with the £280 million each year to India. That is vital given that India has a quarter of the world’s poorest people living within its borders. How does he intend to focus the aid in those three states, particularly with regard to the health of young women?

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The hon. Gentleman is right that there are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. He is right, too, that we should focus on the poorest areas, and particularly on the role of girls and women. Over future years, we expect to be able to assist in ensuring that up to 4 million women have access to income through micro-finance and through focusing particularly on livelihoods. We will also support, of course, the strong programme on education in India. About 60 million children have been got into school over the last four or five years, which is a tremendous tribute to the work of the Indian Government, but it would not have been possible without the intervention of aid and support from Britain and elsewhere.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that it is worth recording that to lift the poorest people in India out of poverty by $1 a day would cost $166 billion a year, so it is appropriate to continue our transitional arrangements with India? The International Development Committee will visit India next month and we will want to see how DFID’s relationship with the country, albeit with a relatively small amount in comparison with the challenge of the problem, can deliver an accelerated reduction of poverty there.

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I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for that comment and also to the Select Committee itself for going to look with care at development in India and the operation of our programme there. He accurately identifies the scale of need. It is worth noting that the number of the Indian population living on less than 80p a day is 7.5 times the total population of Britain. That puts in context the basic nature of this need and shows why Britain’s partnership is so important.

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Is the Secretary of State aware of the claims made by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Jubilee Scotland that the work of the UK’s Export Credits Guarantee Department has been funding work in India that is undermining development and human rights? I declare an interest in that I was until recently a board member of Jubilee Scotland. I ask the Secretary of State to investigate and report back to the House on that matter.

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The hon. Lady will have heard what has been said about the Export Credits Guarantee Department—that it is at the moment being looked at carefully to ensure that it supports our development aims. She might also like to look at the trade White Paper published last week, which specifically addresses the role of the ECGD in development and in supporting British exports overseas.

Friends of Yemen

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3. On what date he expects the next Friends of Yemen meeting to take place; and if he will make a statement. [40973]

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5. On what date he expects the next Friends of Yemen meeting to take place; and if he will make a statement. [40975]

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We expect the next Friends of Yemen meeting to take place in Riyadh at the end of March. I visited Saudi Arabia last weekend and was afterwards with the Foreign Secretary in Yemen. We are continuing to work with both countries to agree a firm date for the next meeting.

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Given the turmoil in the region, what is the Minister’s assessment of the situation in Yemen and of the Friends of Yemen process? How will it stop the state failing and assist in an orderly succession and economic progress following the commitment by the President not to stand at the next election?

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Recent events demonstrate more than ever the importance of the Friends of Yemen process to prevent state failure in that country. I welcome President Saleh’s speech on 2 February, committing to follow the constitution of Yemen and not to seek re-election after 2013. Through the Friends of Yemen process, we will work to support political reform and the right of all Yemenis to participate legitimately and democratically in their political future.

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Is it not the case that a secure and prosperous Yemen is very much in the UK national security interest? Will my right hon. Friend inform the House what new measures have been put in place to ensure that those objectives are delivered?

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We have seen substantial progress on many fronts since the New York Friends of Yemen meeting, and I particularly highlight the Yemeni Government’s adherence to an International Monetary Fund financial reform programme and progress made towards completing their five-year development plan for poverty reduction. We are close to establishing a multi-donor trust fund for Yemen. The Riyadh Friends of Yemen meeting will continue the support of Yemen’s friends for political and economic reform in the pursuit of democracy, stability and prosperity.

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I warmly welcome the Minister’s visit to Yemen last week. I ask him to put one item on the agenda of the Friends of Yemen meeting—namely, the redevelopment and refurbishment of the Aden hospital, which has been ongoing for a number of years. Good health facilities would be of huge benefit to local people in what is one of the poorest countries on earth.

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We do not tend to get involved in large infrastructure projects, but health in Yemen is at the top of our agenda. I well appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s close personal association with Aden, and I undertake to give the matter a special personal look.

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Although I acknowledge the link between poverty and security, not least in Yemen, may I invite the Minister of State to confirm that DFID sees addressing poverty among the poorest people in the poorest countries as its supreme challenge and as being at its heart?

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Yes, poverty reduction is at the core of everything that the Department does, but I urge the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate that no fragile country has ever achieved a single millennium development goal. Preventing state failure is much less costly than dealing with a failed state afterwards.

Palestine

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4. What development support his Department provides to the Palestinian Authority and to Israeli non-governmental organisations working in the west bank. [40974]

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We provide financial and technical assistance to the Palestinian Authority. In this financial year, our support will total £31.1 million. DFID also co-funds the UK conflict pool, which supports five Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the west bank.

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I recently took part in a delegation to Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories of the west bank, and I refer the House to my related entry in the register. During the visit, we met many Israeli human rights organisations and NGOs involved in the peace process, some of which receive financial support from the UK Government. All of them were concerned at moves by elements of the nationalist right to crack down on and embarrass organisations in receipt of overseas funding, no matter how legitimate—

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Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but this is Question Time.

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My hon. Friend refers to a proposed panel of inquiry on the Israeli side, to look into the funding of its NGOs. Our ambassador to Tel Aviv discussed the issue with the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, shortly after the Knesset vote on the issue. Officials raised the matter with one of the two members of the Knesset who had pressed for such funding investigation. We do not want such investigations to impede the legitimate work of NGOs in the west bank and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories.

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In light of the Minister’s reply, does he share the concern expressed by Norwegian Foreign Minister Støre about the Israeli Foreign Minister’s comments, which appear to delegitimise the work of brave NGOs such as B’Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights? It is important that the voices of those organisations, which are Israeli Jewish but express a different view from the Israeli Government, should continue to be heard.

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I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. We are watching closely the treatment of the five NGOs concerned and we will do our utmost to ensure that they remain free to do their good work, even though some of their conclusions might disagree with the those of the Israeli Government.

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Is the Minister aware that an increasing amount of aid to the Palestinian territories ends up in the hands of extremists and is used for extremist purposes? Will he take steps to stop that and ensure that aid gets to the Palestinians who need it most?

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I do not share my hon. Friend’s conclusion. We are very careful how we spend our money in the occupied Palestinian territories and have done our utmost to support the legitimate government of Salam Fayyad with, I think, great success. We would abhor any money falling into the hands of extremists, and we do everything possible to ensure that such an accusation can never be verified or proved valid.

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The Minister will know that many in the House and beyond continue to be deeply concerned about the desperate situation in Gaza. What efforts are the Government making to ensure that Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza, which leaves many dependent on UN aid? Given the situation in Egypt, will the Minister update us on the position at the Rafah crossing, and on what action will be taken to ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered to those who need it most?

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My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and all Ministers make our views clear on this matter. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Tony Blair announced a package covering the west bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem on 4 February. Gaza measures included new reconstruction project approvals and a timetable for exports. We have welcomed that, but implementation in practice will be the key.

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The Department’s work on conflict prevention and resolution is much appreciated. Can the Minister assure the House that this work in the middle east—Palestine, Israel and elsewhere—will be continued in the forthcoming years, and that the budget for it will be protected, and perhaps grown, even given the wider budget obligations?

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I absolutely share the views of my right hon. Friend. This is a crucial part of DFID’s agenda, and essential to all the work we are doing in such a sensitive part of the world, so the answer is an unequivocal yes.

UN Women Agency

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6. What plans he has to provide support for the new UN Women agency; and if he will make a statement. [40976]

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9. What plans he has to provide support for the new UN Women agency; and if he will make a statement. [40979]

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The coalition Government strongly support the new UN Women agency, which has the chance to make a hugely positive impact on the lives of millions of girls and women in the developing world. I look forward to receiving its strategic results plan, which will allow us to decide on funding by the British taxpayer for future years.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that encouraging response, and for the part he and his colleagues have played in the establishment of UN Women so far. When does he anticipate he will come to a decision on funding for UN Women?

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We expect to see a strategic plan from UN Women probably in June this year, and as soon as we see it, we will be able to make decisions about British support for the agency. I am sure the hon. Lady and other Members will understand that I want to see the plan first, before committing hard-earned British taxpayers’ money to it.

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From the experience of the many visits my right hon. Friend has made across the world, does he agree that very often it is women who are the agents for change in development? Just as UNICEF has helped to support the focus on children, so it is to be hoped that UN Women can help support women as agents for change and development.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We cannot even begin to address development without realising the centrality of girls and women in every aspect of what we do, and we share his aspirations for the role of UN Women within the international structures.

Sri Lanka

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7. What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. [40977]

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The number of internally displaced people in camps in Sri Lanka has declined from 300,000 in 2009 to 18,000 today. DFID has provided £13.5 million in humanitarian assistance since 2008, but our bilateral aid to Sri Lanka will cease in March, except for a new demining programme valued at £3 million.

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Among those affected by the floods are many people who were earlier displaced by the conflict and who had recently returned to their homes only to be displaced again. Even before the floods, these people had been struggling to access much-needed protection and assistance because of Government restrictions on humanitarian organisations’ access to the return areas. What pressure is the Minister putting on the Government to allow humanitarian organisations to have access to the former conflict areas, so that the suffering people there can be given the full help they desperately need?

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We will continue to press the Sri Lankan Government to grant access to such areas for humanitarian purposes. More than 1 million people have been affected by the flooding. We looked very closely into the sort of support we should give, but the most immediate needs are covered by Sri Lankan authorities and other donors, so we are working principally through multilateral organisations to give the help that is needed.

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The United Nations estimates that some 90% of Sri Lanka’s rice crop will be destroyed by the recent flooding. That makes the Government’s decision to stop all aid with effect from March quite worrying, because on top of all the troubles in that unfortunate country there is a very real risk of food security problems or starvation in the years to come. What is the Department prepared to do about that?

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I urge my hon. Friend to appreciate the distinction between a continuing bilateral programme and humanitarian aid, which can be given as needs must. We will continue to review the humanitarian needs of Sri Lanka and work through multilateral organisations as required.

Sub-Saharan Africa (Midwives)

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8. What support his Department is providing for the training of midwives and maternal health specialists in sub-Saharan Africa. [40978]

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With more than half of maternal deaths globally occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, DFID funds the training of midwives and other health care workers through various channels—[Interruption.]

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Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the Minister. Far too many private conversations are taking place. It is the height of discourtesy for Members to witter away, including from the Government Back Benches, when the Minister is trying to be heard.

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I am grateful, Mr Speaker.

DFID bilateral programmes directly support national health sector plans of partner countries and non-government organisation-implemented projects, and give support through multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

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I am sure the Minister is aware of data collected for the World Health Organisation that show disparity between the provision of maternal health services in more rural areas and in the slightly better-funded urban areas in many countries in Africa? Will he outline what the Department will do to help to address that problem?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that important disparity. The UK Government recently announced the framework for results on reproductive, maternal and neonatal health, which directly seeks to address how that disparity can be narrowed. I have seen for myself in northern Nigeria how DFID supports midwifery services, with a scheme to train 200 midwives who are then posted to rural facilities, which is vital to ensure that the disparity is addressed.

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I am proud to support Save the Children’s “No child born to die” campaign, which seeks to make more life-saving vaccines available to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation summit is to take place in the UK later this year, and Save the Children is lobbying for the Prime Minister to represent the UK at that summit. What steps will the Minister to take to make sure that the Government are represented at the highest level?

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The hon. Gentleman is right; the Save the Children campaign is one that we follow closely. The GAVI conference will be hosted in London and we can confirm that it will have the full support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to show our commitment.

Official Development Assistance

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10. When he expects to bring forward legislative proposals in respect of the 0.7 per cent. target for official development assistance. [40980]

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The coalition Government have set out how we will meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as aid from 2013, and will enshrine that commitment in law as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.

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Some may be reassured by the Secretary of State’s answer and some may even be convinced by it, but I can tell him about a group of people who are not: his own loyal staff at DFID in East Kilbride who in August 2010 were told that there would be no mass loss of jobs from the Department, but last Thursday were told that a third of their jobs would be cut. Is it not the case that when this Government meet commitments, the truth and their commitments are strangers?

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that all Departments across Whitehall are having to make economies because of the coalition Government’s dreadful economic inheritance from his party. DFID is not immune from the cuts and will see reductions of some 33% in its administrative spend. I had the opportunity of speaking to all the staff at Abercrombie house just a few days ago to make sure that that was understood.

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I applaud the Government’s commitment to aid, but can the Secretary of State confirm that climate change adaptation funding, beyond the fast-start finance up to 2012, will be additional to the overseas development assistance pledge?

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As part of the Government’s fulfilment of our historic pledge, we have set out specifically how climate change funding will rise as part of the overall budget.

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Will the Secretary of State congratulate the Government of Kenya, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and all its funding partners, which include the United Kingdom, on the roll-out of their programme of pneumococcal vaccine on Monday? It will save thousands of children in Kenya and across Africa. We hope that it will be a rolling programme across the developing world.

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to underline the tremendous success of the vaccination programme. When we announce the results of the multilateral aid review, we shall show how Britain will give a real impetus to vaccination. As the Under-Secretary has just said, we shall host the GAVI conference in London in June and it will be opened by the Prime Minister.

Aid Transfers

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11. What progress his Department is making on transferring aid from middle-income states to developing countries in greatest need. [40981]

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We have a clear responsibility to ensure that we target our aid where it is most needed and where it will have the greatest impact. I will shortly announce to the House the outcome of our major root and branch review of bilateral aid, which looked in detail at each country.

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Although I strongly support the Government’s decision to stop aid to China, can my right hon. Friend explain what impact that will have on his ability to engage with China on development issues?

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My hon. Friend is right to say that the coalition made it clear on day one that we would end all aid to China and Russia, but we need to have a powerful and reinvigorated partnership with China on development issues, not only in the areas where we share deep concerns, such as on freeing up the trading system and on climate, but in working in third countries. For example, Britain is working with China now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a major infrastructure roads programme. We are doing that work together and it is extremely effective and successful.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 16 February. [40932]

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I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the following servicemen who have lost their lives in Afghanistan: Private Lewis Hendry from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and Private Conrad Lewis from 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who died last Wednesday; and Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, who died on Monday. They were all brave and dedicated soldiers who were serving in Afghanistan for the safety and security of the British people. Our thoughts and deepest condolences should be with their families, their loved ones and their colleagues. They will never be forgotten.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

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Like other Members, I associate myself and my constituents with the Prime Minister’s tribute to our fallen heroes.

One man who also served his country is my constituent Doug Hunt who, with his wife Gladys, lives in Westwood care home, which is currently being fattened for privatisation by increasing its fees by £400—not £400 a year, not £400 a month, but an increase of £400 a week. Would the Prime Minister like to answer Mr and Mrs Hunt, who are listening now, show some leadership and have these Tory cuts removed, or would he like to justify these increases to Mr and Mrs Hunt?

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I will certainly look at the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises, but far from cutting the money that is going into social care, we have increased by £2 billion the money going into adult social care because we know how important it is. It is not right to draw a false distinction between care homes run by local authorities and those run by the private sector. There is good practice and bad practice in both, but as we have seen in our hospitals in recent days, we need a change of culture in caring for our elderly to make sure they have the dignity that they deserve in old age.

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My six-year-old constituent, Millie d’Cruz, is one of just 17 people in the United Kingdom to be diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder, MLD—metachromatic leukodystrophy. Unfortunately, the family must try to raise £200,000 to send her for treatment in Holland, even though the treatment may be available here in the UK. Can the Prime Minister look into the case and ensure that the family get the support that they deserve?

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I am happy to do as my hon. Friend asks. A big change is taking place in medicine, where far more interest needs to be directed at genetic data and genetically inherited diseases, as this is how we will reduce disease and illness in the future. We are looking, for instance, at value-based pricing, whereby we try to share between companies developing new treatments and the taxpayer the cost of developing them, which could be a good way forward to make sure we get more treatments to more people more quickly.

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I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Private Lewis Hendry from 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, Private Conrad Lewis from 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment, and Lance Corporal Kyle Marshall from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment. All these men showed extraordinary bravery and dedication. Our thoughts are with them and their families and friends as they grieve for them.

We now know that inflation is rising, growth has stalled and an extra 66,000 young people are out of work. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he thinks his strategy is working?

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Of course today’s unemployment figures are a matter of great regret, particularly in terms of higher youth unemployment, but I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that youth unemployment has been a problem in this country for well over a decade, in good years and in bad. The level of youth unemployment actually went up by 40% under the last Government—an extra 270,000 young people unemployed. What we have to do is sort out all the things that help young people get back into work. There is a welfare system that does not help you get work, an education system that does not prepare you for work and back-to-work programmes that, under the last Government, simply did not work.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me what is happening in our economy. We are no longer linked with Greece and Ireland and those countries in the danger zone. We have a situation where market interest rates have fallen. Our credit rating is secured. There are 218,000 more people in work than there were a year ago. Above all, what I would say to him is what the Governor of the Bank of England said this morning:

“There has to be a plan A… This country needs fiscal consolidation to deal with the biggest budget deficit in peacetime”.

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The right hon. Gentleman says that we are doing so well compared with the rest of Europe, but we were the only major European economy in the last quarter of 2010 that had no economic growth and where growth went into reverse. Let me ask him specifically about youth unemployment. His own former chief economist said this morning that he thought that they were wrong to scrap the education maintenance allowance, wrong to scrap the future jobs fund and that they should have been building on it. I know that he likes to make an industry out of saying that the future jobs fund was the wrong thing to do, but what did he say before the election? He went to Liverpool and said that it was “a good scheme” and that he had been “inspired” by what he saw. Why does he not listen to young people and their families up and down the country and take real action to help them?

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First, the economist from the Cabinet Office whom the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted also said this:

“I would not excuse the previous Government on this; they failed to wake up to the problem early enough.”

What matters is whether work programmes are effective. I now have the figures for the flexible new deal, which was the absolute centrepiece of the last Government’s approach to this matter. Let me give the House of Commons the figures, because I think that they show what has been going wrong. Of the 279,000 people who took part in the flexible new deal, how many got a long-term job? The answer is 3,800. It is not good enough. What we have been doing on welfare, education and back-to-work programmes is not good enough. All those things need to change.

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What we actually discovered today is that the right hon. Gentleman’s great new Work programme, which he is trumpeting as the answer to all the nation’s problems, will have 250,000 fewer opportunities than were provided under the last Labour Government. We know that his view of social mobility is auctioning off a few City internships at the Conservative party ball, but frankly he is going to have to do better than that. The truth is that he is betraying a whole generation of young people. He is trebling tuition fees, abolishing the education maintenance allowance and abolishing the future jobs fund. Why does he not change course and help those young people who need help up and down this country?

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First, let me answer the right hon. Gentleman on the Work programme, because this is important. For the last 20 years, in this House and elsewhere, people have been arguing that we should use the savings from future benefits and invest them now in helping people to get a job, and for 20 years the Treasury has said no, including the time when he and the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) were sitting in the Treasury advising. Now, for the first time, under this coalition Government, we will be spending the future benefits in order to get people training and into work. That will include, in some cases, spending up to £14,000 to get people, particularly those on incapacity benefit, a job.

The figures the Leader of the Opposition gives are wrong. The Work programme is the biggest back-to-work scheme this country has seen since the 1930s. Instead of being cash-limited and patchy, like his schemes, it has no limit and can help as many people as possible from all of those different categories. He mentions internships. I did a little research into his: he did one for Tony Benn and one for the deputy leader of the Labour party. No wonder he is so left-wing, so politically correct and so completely ineffective.

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rose—

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Order. I want, and the House wants, to hear Mr Nicholas Soames.

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Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that deregulation is an extremely powerful weapon in economic reform? Is he aware that the programme is not proceeding fast enough, and will he take personal charge to see that the whole process is hurried up?

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I completely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the problems is the huge amount of regulations—particularly coming out of Europe—that we need to put a stop to before they are introduced. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is doing an excellent job with his one in, one out scheme, so that another regulation cannot be introduced until one has been scrapped, but I think we probably have to go further and faster and be more ambitious in scrapping the regulation that is holding back job creation in our country.

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Q2. Can I invite the Prime Minister to look ahead to the summer of 2012, when we will welcome millions of overseas visitors to this country? What does he think will be the abiding images that they take home with them? Will they be images of a brilliantly, successfully staged Olympic games? Will it be a fond memory of the warm welcome to London extended by the newly elected Mayor Livingstone? Or will it be a memory of the shocking images of homeless people all over the streets of London because of his Government’s economic failure and harsh housing benefit cuts? [40933]

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I notice that the right hon. Gentleman could not keep a straight face when backing Labour’s candidate for Mayor, but I have to say that, if the Member who represents Greenwich cannot speak up for the Olympics, there really is a problem. This is going to be a great festival, and something that everyone who comes to our country is going to enjoy—and I look forward to welcoming them alongside Mayor Boris Johnson.

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Q3. This weekend, hundreds of people will arrive in Ripon to celebrate winning the Government’s pilot for super-fast broadband in North Yorkshire, and to work out how we can connect the rest of the county in the years ahead. What message would my right hon. Friend give to delegates about the Government’s commitment to rural broadband? [40934]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have made a big commitment to that, with £530 million going into broadband investment, and that is absolutely vital, particularly for rural parts of the country, because we do not want them to be cut off from the information superhighway. I hope my hon. Friend will advise them about the opportunities of super-fast broadband—the business creation and job creation that it can mean right across this country.

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Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he is happy with his flagship policy on forestry?

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The short answer to that is no. As I have said before in this House, it is a consultation that has been put forward, and we have had a range of interesting responses to it, but what is important is that we should be making sure that, whatever happens, we increase access to our forests, we increase biodiversity and we do not make the mistake that was made under the last Government, where they sold forests with no access rights at all.

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Even the right hon. Gentleman must appreciate the irony: he, the guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative party, flogging them off up and down this country. He says that they are consulting on the policy; they are actually consulting on how to flog off the forests, not on whether to flog off the forests. Is the Prime Minister now saying that he might drop the policy completely?

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I would have thought that the whole point of a consultation is that you put forward some proposals, you listen to the answer and then you make a decision. I know it is a totally alien concept, but what is so complicated about that?

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Everybody knows that the right hon. Gentleman is going to have to drop this ludicrous policy. Let me give him the chance to do so. Nobody voted for the policy; 500,000 people have signed a petition against it. When he gets up at the Dispatch Box, why does he say not that he is postponing the sale, but that he is cancelling it?

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I think, once again, that the right hon. Gentleman wrote the questions before he listened to the answers, and I think the bandwagon has just hit a bit of a tree.

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May I take this opportunity to inform my right hon. Friend and, indeed, the House that the Public Administration Committee is today launching an inquiry into the big society? Does he share my hope that as we consider things such as volunteering, promoting charitable giving and decentralising public services, we will receive positive evidence from all parts of the House?

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I do, and I am sure that, like everything that my hon. Friend does, it will be wholly supportive of the Government’s position. He makes a very good point, which is that the big society is about more than just volunteering or support for charitable groups; it is about opening up public services, devolving power to the lowest level, and giving people the opportunity to play a greater part in the lives of their communities. I would have thought that people from across the House would recognise that the big state approach has failed and that it is time for something different.

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Q4. Is the Prime Minister’s upheaval of the health service resulting in longer or shorter waiting times? [40935]

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We want to see waiting times come down; that is the whole point of the reforms. I think that anyone who has watched what has been happening over the past few days, where we have seen the standards of care that some elderly people—[Interruption.] Well, I think that the country is also interested in the standards of care that old people are getting in our hospitals. This idea that everything is right and rosy in the health service after what happened under the former Government opposite has just been shown to be completely untrue. Do we need to change the system and make it more related to what GPs and patients want? Yes, we absolutely do.

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Will the Prime Minister join me in praising the work of the Conservative administration in my constituency, which has saved £1 million a year by cutting senior management and bureaucracy and protecting front-line services—measures unfortunately opposed by the local Labour group on the council?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that we have made available all this information. Now, local councils have to set out their expenditure on every item over £500, so people can see how much money is being spent on salaries, how much is being spent on bureaucracy, and how much could be put into voluntary sector and other organisations. We have given local people the tools to hold their local politicians to account, and that is a thoroughly progressive step.

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Q5. Can I first put on record my thanks to the Prime Minister for meeting a small delegation from my constituency on the whole question of unemployment in the Ayrshire area? Does he really think, however, that being part of the big society that he talks about means throwing youngsters on to the streets of the UK as a result of the cuts in housing benefit? [40936]

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What we are doing in terms of housing benefit is what was set out in the manifesto that the hon. Gentleman stood on, which is to say that we should not be subsidising housing benefit for people to live in houses that taxpayers themselves cannot afford. That is the principle behind the welfare Bill, which will be coming before this House shortly, and I look forward to it getting wide-ranging support.

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The Prime Minister has drawn comparisons between care homes and hospitals when discussing changes to disability allowance, which are out for consultation until Friday. Yet for those who, for reasons of disability, spend not just their latter years but their whole lives in care homes, this comparison simply is not valid. Will he ask his Ministers to look again at this?

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is exactly what we have been looking at. The whole intention of the change that was announced in the Budget and the spending review was to make sure that there was not an overlap in the way that we were judging people in care homes and people in hospitals. I think that when he sees what is proposed in the welfare Bill, he will see that it meets his concerns.

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Q6. Sadly, since I first asked the Prime Minister about human trafficking in September, he has collapsed every Government initiative on the issue, including the excellent POPPY project, which rescues women from prostitution. Tomorrow, when I meet my colleagues from the Portuguese Parliament who are signing up to the human trafficking directive, where will I tell them that our Prime Minister has lost his moral compass on the issue of human trafficking? [40937]

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What the hon. Gentleman says is completely wrong. The Government are supporting organisations that are helping on the issue of human trafficking. We are committed to ensuring that we have the best and toughest laws on human trafficking. I know that he works on this issue, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), as have Members in previous Parliaments. It is not necessary to opt in to the human trafficking directive to give ourselves the strongest laws here in the UK. It is that that we should be doing, and that that I am committed to making sure we are doing.

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Q7. Labour-led Kirklees council is still obsessed with top-down housing targets, leaving my constituents worried that the beautiful green fields of the Colne and Holme valleys will be bulldozed—quite a few trees could be chopped down too. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Localism Bill will give my constituents a real say in what developments go on in their area? [40938]

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I can give that assurance, but I also make the point that under the top-down targets of the Labour party, house building in this country fell to its lowest level since 1923. The top-down, big-state solutions did not work. Through the new homes bonus and by rewarding local authorities that build houses, we are benefiting local communities that opt to have more homes and businesses, because that is part of the economic development that we badly need.

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Q8. The overwhelming majority of my constituents believe that the cuts to local government spending are not only too fast and too deep, but cruel and politically motivated. Will the Prime Minister tell the House why my constituents are wrong? [40939]

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I tell the hon. Gentleman directly that I think the cuts being made by Manchester city council are politically driven and too deep. Manchester city council is having its grant cut by 15%—less than my council, for instance, which is being cut by 23%—and yet it is cutting services by 25%. I notice that it still has £100 million in bank balances, and that its chief executive is paid more than £200,000 a year. I think that people in Manchester will look at their council and say, “Cut out the waste, cut out the bureaucracy, start to cut the chief executive’s salary, and only then should you look at services.”

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Q9. After votes for prisoners, we now have the potential for human rights legislation to give sex offenders the opportunity to come off the sex offenders register. Is the Prime Minister aware that my constituents are sick to the back teeth of the human rights of criminals and prisoners being put before the rights of law-abiding citizens in this country? Is it not time that we scrapped the Human Rights Act and, if necessary, withdrew from the European convention on human rights? [40940]

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My hon. Friend speaks for many people in saying how completely offensive it is, once again, to have a ruling by a court that flies in the face of common sense. Requiring serious sexual offenders to sign the register for life, as they now do, has broad support across this House and across the country. I am appalled by the Supreme Court ruling. We will take the minimum possible approach to this ruling and use the opportunity to close some loopholes in the sex offenders register. For instance, we will make it compulsory for sex offenders to report to the authorities before any travel and will not allow them to change their name by deed poll to avoid having their name on the register. I can also tell my hon. Friend that a commission will be established imminently to look at a British Bill of Rights, because it is about time we ensured that decisions are made in this Parliament rather than in the courts.

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Q10. Given the difference in tone between “Drink Responsibly” and “Smoking Kills”, what action will the Prime Minister take in response to the heartfelt pleas of my constituent Rachel Jones, who wants to see much harder-hitting labels on alcoholic drinks following the tragic death of her boyfriend, Stuart Cable, the former Stereophonics drummer? [40941]

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I think we should be looking at what action we can take through the tax system to deal with problem drinks, which we are looking at, and at tougher minimum pricing for alcohol. That is where we should be putting our attention, rather than necessarily looking at labelling. Many of the problems that we have, such as people—particularly young people—pre-loading before they go for a night out, are related to deeply discounted drinks in supermarkets and elsewhere. That is what we should deal with first.

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Q11. Thousands of younger women drivers in the UK face the prospect of massive hikes in their motor insurance premiums as the result of a perverse reinterpretation of the EU gender equality directive, carried forward by those on the Opposition Benches. What will my right hon. Friend say to encourage better risk assessment to avoid such unintended consequences? [40942]

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My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that because of how this issue has been handled, many people who face lower insurance premiums because of their risk profiles will have to pay more. I am afraid that it falls to me to speak an eternal truth to the House of Commons: on the whole, women have better safety driving records than men, but as a result of that judgment, they will not benefit from lower insurance payments. What that says to me is that we have to work much better at risk-assessing and then stopping so much of the damaging regulation coming out of Brussels.

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The importance of internships in helping young people to get on in life has been much in the news lately. Will the Prime Minister therefore take this opportunity to express his support for the Speaker’s new parliamentary placements scheme? It is a cross-party initiative backed by the hon. Members for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw) and for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) that will give people from working-class backgrounds the chance to come to Parliament, get vital experience of political life and be paid a living wage; and—who knows?—they may well be the politicians of the future.

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I fully support what the right hon. Lady says. This is a very important scheme. As shadow Cabinet members in opposition we worked with the Social Mobility Foundation to give internships, and we will be doing it again as Cabinet members. It is a very important initiative and I very much welcome what the Speaker is doing.

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Q12. What investigation has the Prime Minister made into the allegation that the IMF was bullied into toning down its assessment of the dangers facing the UK economy? [40943]

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My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, which is that the IMF was reporting on the state of the British economy, and was arguing that we did have a structural deficit and that it was a problem. However, Labour attempted to gag the IMF when it was in power, because the previous Government did not want to own up to the mess that they had got this country into. Even now, the Opposition are still denying the fact that they left us with a dangerous fiscal deficit that is the cause of many of the problems that we face today.

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Q13. The Prime Minister will be aware of people’s concerns about the coastguard. This week a cross-party deputation from Northern Ireland consisting of four MPs from this House met coastguard officials. Is the Prime Minister aware that the figures from Bangor coastguard station show 654 responses over this past year? Does he think that one station could satisfactorily handle almost 10 times the current number of calls, should Bangor coastguard station be closed or the service be reduced from 19 coastguard stations UK-wide to an inadequate two stations? [40944]

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I am very aware of this issue, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will be speaking to the Secretary of State for Transport about it. The point is this: the coastguard agency has to prove in the consultation that it wants to co-ordinate the number of offices that receive calls, in order to put more money and resources into the front-line service—the number of boats, rescue facilities and helpers. That is the aim of the policy, but I fully accept that that has to be proved to people in order to go ahead with the proposals being made.

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Q14. At my surgery on Saturday, a constituent explained to me that, with an ill husband and a young family, she had been told that she would be better off giving up her part-time job and relying on benefits. Will the Prime Minister assure this House that we will give people the incentive and the support to go into work and end the culture of welfare dependency left by the Opposition? [40945]

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My hon. Friend speaks about this issue in an absolutely correct way. The fact is that for too long we have had a welfare system that pays people—it gives them an incentive—not to go out and work. The universal credit, which will be introduced through the welfare Bill, will mean that in every case, no matter how few hours someone works, they will always be better off in work and working more. That is absolutely right and long overdue, and I hope that it will have support from right across the House of Commons.

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In a week in which we have had revelations about the appalling level of health care for our pensioners, what is the Prime Minister saying to the elderly population of this country by proposing to change the inflation link for the uprating of benefits and pensions from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index, which will cost present and future pensioners millions of pounds in lost income? How is that fair? How does it protect the vulnerable?

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The first point that I would make is that the state pension, under the triple lock, will be linked with whichever is highest, but we are also taking the step, which the last Government did not for 10 years, of re-linking the state pension with earnings. That is an absolutely vital step in giving people the dignity and security that they deserve in old age.

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Q15. The Government are planning to ask the House to extend the control orders regime until it is replaced by terrorism prevention and investigation measures. I am sure that the Prime Minister would not want the House to act without having all the necessary information, so will he assure all hon. Members that we will have sight of the TPIMs legislation before being asked to vote on the extension? [40946]

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, this is a very big change that we are making from control orders to the new system, and I am sure that the House will be consulted properly, and that proper prior sight of what is being proposed will be made. But he can get involved right now if he wants to, as the policy is being developed.

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Mr Speaker, in 2008, your review into communication needs described speech therapy services as a “postcode lottery”, and, sadly, in 2010, a national survey of primary special educational needs co-ordinators showed that 57% had never heard of the Bercow review, and that services remain as inequitable now as they were then. In the national year of communication, and with “The King’s Speech” having done so much to raise awareness of this issue, will the Prime Minister clarify whether the Government are planning to implement the recommendations of your review, and how they are planning to do that when local authorities are facing such huge cuts?

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The hon. Lady will shortly see the Green Paper on special educational needs, in which we are giving priority to this area because, as I know from my own experience, getting hold of a speech and language therapist is often extremely difficult. Of course, as in every other area, there will be constraints in terms of resources, but I think we can do better by having a less confrontational system and making sure that more resources actually get to the parents who need them and who want to do the right thing for their children.

Sex Offenders Register

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The sex offenders register has existed since 1997. Since that time, it has helped the police to protect the public from those most horrific of crimes. Requiring serious sexual offenders to sign the register for life, as they do now, has broad support across the House, but the Supreme Court ruled last April that not granting sex offenders the opportunity to seek a review was a breach of their human rights—in particular, the right to a private or family life. Those are rights, of course, that those offenders have taken away from their victims in the cruellest and most degrading manner possible.

The Government are disappointed and appalled by that ruling. It places the rights of sex offenders above the right of the public to be protected from the risk of their reoffending, but there is no possibility of further appeal. The Government are determined to do everything we can to protect the public from predatory sexual offenders, so we will make the minimum possible changes to the law in order to comply with the ruling. I want to make it clear that the Court’s ruling does not mean that paedophiles and rapists will automatically come off the sex offenders register. The Court found only that they must be given the right to seek a review.

The Scottish Government have already implemented a scheme to give offenders an automatic right of appeal for removal from the register after 15 years. We will implement a much tougher scheme. Offenders will be able to apply for consideration of removal only after waiting 15 years following release from custody. In England and Wales, there will be no automatic appeals. We will deliberately set the bar for those reviews as high as possible. Public protection must come first. A robust review, led by the police and involving all the relevant agencies, will be carried out so that a full picture of the risks to the public can be considered.

The final decision on whether an offender should remain on the register will be down to the police, and not, as in Scotland, the courts. The police are best placed to assess the risk of an offender committing another crime, and they will rightly put the public first. There will be no right of appeal against the police’s decision to keep an offender on the register. That decision will be final. Sex offenders who continue to pose a risk will remain on the register, and will do so for life if necessary.

When we are free to take further action to protect the public, we will do so. We will shortly launch a targeted consultation aimed at closing four existing loopholes in the sex offenders register. We will make it compulsory for sex offenders to report to the authorities before travelling abroad for even one day. That will prevent them from being free to travel for up to three days, as they are under the existing scheme. We will force sex offenders to notify the authorities whenever they are living in a household containing a child under the age of 18. We will require sex offenders to notify the authorities weekly of where they can be found when they have no fixed abode. We will tighten the rules so that sex offenders can no longer avoid being on the register when they change their names by deed poll.

Finally, I can tell the House that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary will shortly announce the establishment of a commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of rights. It is time to assert that it is Parliament that makes our laws, not the courts; that the rights of the public come before the rights of criminals; and, above all, that we have a legal framework that brings sanity to cases such as these.

I commend my statement to the House.

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This is an important matter involving some of the most serious crimes in society. I thank the Home Secretary for supplying me with the statement within the last half hour, but I must say that it is worrying that the Home Office has again allowed information to be given to the media before it has been given to the House.

The depravity and seriousness of sex offences, and the harm and damage that they do to victims, mean that the systems that we operate to protect the public must be paramount. We have an obligation to ensure that vulnerable children and other victims can be protected from such terrible crimes. As the Home Secretary knows, that is why the sex offenders register was established in the first place. The law rightly requires people who have been convicted of such serious crimes to meet further registration requirements once their sentences have been served, in the interests of public protection and to prevent further terrible crimes from taking place.

The priority now must still be public safety, and the protection of our young and vulnerable people. Those victims of crime have suffered and continue to suffer greatly because of the actions of sex offenders. We know, too, that many such offenders can still pose a serious threat to the public. The court judgment to which the Home Secretary has responded today itself quotes the research finding that just over a quarter of those imprisoned for such offences did reoffend. Those offences included some that were very serious, a large number of which were committed many years later.

Does the Home Secretary agree that, while of course proper and fair processes must always be followed for individuals through the courts, the protection of families and communities up and down the country is paramount? She has said that the new system will be tough. Let me say to her that it is vital to the safety and protection of children in particular, but also to that of other victims, that the new system is extremely tough if it is to have the support of the House.

The Home Secretary said that Parliament should decide the level of protection that is needed, and that Parliament should set the laws. However, she has given Parliament very little information today about the way in which the new system will operate. Will the new framework be enshrined in legislation? Will Parliament have an opportunity to debate the details? The Home Secretary will know that many Members of Parliament and members of the public will be very concerned about the possibility that any new framework might enable serious offenders to manipulate the system. It is essential that that is not allowed to happen, but it is also important for Parliament to have an opportunity to debate it to ensure that it does not happen.

Will the Home Secretary ensure that the focus is on public protection, rather than on the convenience or rights of those who have been convicted of serious crimes? Will she tell us how many offenders will be affected? Will she tell us what the level of the police assessment will be, and what standards the police will seek to meet as part of their review?

Will the police be given additional resources to do this? She will know that there is concern in the House about the police’s resources and about whether they are stretched already as a result of the cuts the Government are making. Will she say what additional resources the police will have, what additional resources they will require and the number of people on whom they will be expected to carry out reviews as a result of the changes she is proposing? She will know that some police forces have already expressed concern that as a result of the 20% cuts they are facing, their need to respond and their need to try to keep as many people in neighbourhood policing as possible, many specialist units within police forces are coming under the greatest pressure as a result of the decisions she has made. What reassurance can she give the House and the public that there will be no increased risk to the public as a result of these changes and of pressure on the police?

I welcome the Home Secretary’s proposal to consider other tighter measures on sex offenders, but does that have any implications for the changes that she appears to be making in the opposite direction to the vetting and barring provisions? She has also raised, as part of her statement, discussion of a Bill of rights. We would welcome a debate about that, although wider issues associated with written constitutions can also be debated. However, I am concerned at the form that this announcement has taken, because it is, in itself, a major announcement and the House should have an opportunity to have that debate and raise questions.

In conclusion, the Home Secretary will know that the public would be horrified if the rights, or even the convenience, of people who have been convicted of very serious crimes were to be put above the right to safety and family life of the public and of vulnerable people and vulnerable victims. She will know that Labour Members will not support any changes that will do that, and I hope that she intends not to do that. I look forward to her answers to the questions.

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I can say categorically to the right hon. Lady that it is indeed the Government’s intention to put the protection of the public first. Had she listened to my statement or read it beforehand, she would have noted that it says that in a number of places. We are appalled by the Court’s decision. I would far rather not have to stand here saying that we have to make a change to the sex offenders register, but we do have to make a change. We will do so in the most minimal way possible to ensure that we do put public protection first, and that we give the police and others the ability to ensure that the public are protected from such serious and appalling crimes as have been committed by individuals on this register.

The right hon. Lady asked quite a number of questions. She asked whether we are making the protection of families paramount, and I have said that we are. She said that the system should be extremely tough and, yes, our intention is that it will be as tough as possible. That is why we have looked not only at what we can do in the minimal way to put this judgment into effect, but at ways to toughen up the sex offenders register regime—for example, by the requirement that we want to introduce for individuals on the register to have to notify when they are going abroad for at least a day. That is a toughening of the current system.

The right hon. Lady asked about Parliament’s opportunity to debate this measure. It will be introduced through an order—a statutory instrument—so there will be an opportunity to debate it. She asked about the numbers who will be affected. That will be set out in the regulatory impact assessment that will accompany the statutory instrument. She asked about the process of consideration that the police will go through. They will be talking to all other agencies that have an interest in this area, so they will talk to the probation service, local authorities, social services, youth offending teams and a variety of other agencies to ensure that they have the best possible picture of the individual concerned in order to make the best possible judgment. I am sure that she will agree that the police are very clear about the importance of public protection. That is why I want the police to make these decisions; I believe that they will put public protection first. They will examine a series of issues, such as the seriousness of the offences originally committed and the age of the victims. They will address a range of issues when they are considering whether a review should be upheld and whether the individual should stay on the register.

The right hon. Lady asked about the ability of the police to deal with this. ACPO and the National Offender Management Service have been actively involved in putting together and shaping the policy. One of their considerations has, of course, been its deliverability. We are confident that the policy can be delivered, as is ACPO. Like us, ACPO wants to ensure that we have the toughest possible policy to protect the public. It is different from the vetting and barring scheme, where the problem was that lots of innocent people found themselves on it and were subject to its requirements. This proposal is about the people who have been found guilty of heinous crimes and is about making sure that we reduce the risk of reoffending to members of the public. As I have announced in relation to the Bill of rights, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary will make further announcements about that imminently.

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May I astonish my right hon. Friend by saying that I think there is some merit in the Court’s decision, particularly in the way she has interpreted it? Does not this case illustrate the fact that rights are not absolute and that the rights of the victim have to be balanced against the rights of children and the public in general? The process of reconciliation is ultimately as much political as legal and Parliament should therefore always have the last word. Is it not a relief that this decision was taken by the Supreme Court and not by the Court in Strasbourg? Does she agree that we should resile from that as soon as possible?

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My right hon. Friend tempts me down a route that it would not be appropriate to go down. On his first point, rights are not absolute. The article 8 right against which the judgment was made clearly is not an absolute right. I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members—indeed, all of them, I hope—are as concerned as I am when a court makes a judgment that puts the rights of a perpetrator above the rights of the public and individual victims. In a similar area, I find it incredible that we are not able to deport people who are linked to al-Qaeda and who have terrorist intent in this country because the court says that their rights mean that we cannot deport them, but the court is not looking at the rights of members of the British public. That is what we should be doing.

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I support the Home Secretary’s views on the merits of the existing sex offenders register and her concern about the Court’s decision, but will she confirm that under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 there is absolutely no obligation on her or the House to change the law one bit? All the Court did was to issue a declaration of incompatibility and section 4 makes it absolutely clear that any decision following that is a matter for the sovereign Parliament. It would be entirely lawful for the House and her to say that the existing regime will continue without any amendment.

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The right hon. Gentleman makes a point about the application of the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights and about Parliament having the final decision about what should happen. In this case, Parliament will have the final decision on what happens.

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Does the Home Secretary agree that the right to respect for private life must not trump the safety of our children? Given the impossibility of tackling some offending behaviour of a sexual nature, even if reviews of notification requirements are granted, presumably she expects that those reviews will insist that the notification requirements are maintained. Is it also her understanding that the police decision could be subject to judicial review?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the balance of rights. It is the case, I believe, that the police decision could be subject to judicial review. It is absolutely right that the police will look at all aspects of cases and take every consideration into account when deciding whether a review should be upheld such that the individual no longer remains on the register. I cannot second-guess any decisions that the police will take, but they will be making every effort to ensure that they are, absolutely, looking properly at these cases to ensure that the decisions they take enable them to maintain public protection.

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The Home Secretary has struck exactly the right tone today, and it is heartening to hear both Front Benchers being very clear about where they stand on this issue. Protection of the public is the most important consideration, but, in view of what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has just said, will the Government ensure that the appeal process is examined very carefully indeed so that it is as robust as possible and there is not a legal challenge? That will mean proper consultation with Parliament and a proper scheme, so that people are well aware that it is very tough indeed.

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I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point, and it is absolutely our intention that we should make the scheme as tough as possible and make it clear that it is about an ability to seek a review of a decision. We will frame it in the toughest possible terms and ensure that the process is absolutely right, so that we reduce the opportunity for it to be subject to any sort of judicial review once the decision is taken.

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I support and welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but may I ask for a little more clarity? She said that the final decision on whether an offender should remain on the register would be one for the police. Will that be a matter for the chief constable, as at present, or will it be one for the police commissioner in future?

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It will be for a senior police officer, who will be a chief constable or another senior police officer. It will not be a matter for the police and crime commissioner.

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In the unfortunate event of somebody being released from the sex offenders register because of this judgment, does the Secretary of State agree that it is imperative that the victim of the crime be informed of that variation?

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The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and I am certainly willing to take it away and consider it.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s approach to this as being purely a police matter. There has been a common misapprehension that requirements to sign on the sex register are somehow court orders. They are not. They are not part of the sentence or the judicial process, and I therefore welcome the commitment to keep the matter firmly within the realms of police discretion.

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I thank my hon. Friend, who brings his experience in the law to that point. It is absolutely right that the police will deal with the matter and make the decision.

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I, too, welcome the rigorous approach that the Home Secretary is taking, and I say that as the Minister who took the Sexual Offences Act 2003 through Committee. Does she agree that given the highly secretive and manipulative behaviour of many sex offenders, it is highly unlikely that the offence of which they were convicted is the only crime that they have committed? Will she ensure in any review process that there is a clear onus on the offender to demonstrate beyond doubt that they are no longer a risk to the public?

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I have a number of points to make to the right hon. Gentleman. Throughout the House, we all agree that Parliament needs to get the answer right for the sake of public protection. The police will be able to take other offences into account when they consider whether an individual should remain on the sex offenders register, and they will look as widely as possible at the behaviour of the individual in question, consulting as wide a number of agencies as possible to ensure that they make the best possible decision for the public.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s desire to tighten the loopholes in the sex offenders register, and particularly her proposal to prevent sex offenders from avoiding registering by changing their name by deed poll. I am sure she will be aware that deed poll is only one way in which a person can change their name. It is the most formal way, but not the most usual. Changing name by statutory declaration is quicker and easier. Perhaps she will consider that as another loophole that should be closed.

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. It is important that we examine the process of changing a name by deed poll and tighten the rules so that sex offenders cannot use them as a means of avoiding the need to register. He makes a valid point about statutory declaration, and we will certainly take it into consideration.

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The Home Secretary has said that the police decision on these matters will be final. I hope she agrees that if one offender gets off the sex offenders register, it is one too many. Will the victim be able to appeal against that decision by the police and try to overturn it?

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No, there will be no appeal mechanism.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, the key phrase in which was that public protection must come first. We may compare that with judges who have instead ruled that paedophiles’ and rapists’ rights to privacy must come first. What would she say to those out-of-touch judges in the Supreme Court who are now openly, proudly and provocatively saying that a paedophile’s right to privacy is more important than children’s protection from those who have committed evil sexual acts?

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It is important that we balance the public’s right to protection against the rights of the individual, but as I said at the end of my statement, it is time that we asserted that it is Parliament that makes our laws.

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I congratulate the Home Secretary on adopting a much tougher approach than the Scottish authorities. Does she have any regrets that she did not overrule her officials and similarly reject the much weaker Scottish model for the retention of DNA profiles?

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We have not in fact absolutely adopted the Scottish model in relation to DNA, and we have gone further than it has. We have adopted protections for those who are innocent, and that is different from the situation that we are considering today, which is about people who have been found guilty and are at risk of reoffending. We must deal with public protection in that regard. The rules that we propose for the retention of DNA are about enabling the police to have the tools that they need, but at the same time not putting the DNA of a lot of innocent people on the database.

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I, like many others, am appalled by the Court’s decision, but I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, particularly the part about tightening the rules. One concern will be about potential inconsistency of approach between different police forces. Highly manipulative people moving around the country may find themselves on the sex offenders register in one part of the country, but a decision may be made to take them off it in another part. How will she ensure that consistency is applied to the whole country?

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My hon. Friend obviously makes an important point, but of course ACPO has been actively involved in putting the proposals together, as I said earlier, and it will be for ACPO to ensure that its guidance to forces across the country is appropriately strong and followed by all forces.

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My constituent, 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall, was murdered having been groomed by a registered sex offender on Facebook. When the Home Secretary is examining the loopholes, will she ensure that all sex offenders are required to register their online identities as well, and that any failure to do so is seen just as seriously as if they had failed to register the fact that they were living with young children?

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The hon. Lady raises a valid issue about the use of new technology and the internet by sex offenders. If she would like to write to me about it, I will be happy to look into it.

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My constituents will welcome the taking-on of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a Bill of Rights, particularly as it was a manifesto commitment. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents and the public that sex offenders who have a right of appeal will not be removed from the register if they continue to pose a threat to the public?

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The whole point of the review process is that it will be down to the police to assess whether there is a risk of reoffending. If there is considered to be a risk, the individuals in question will stay on the register.

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I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. She highlighted in it the difference in the approaches in Scotland and here at Westminster. Will she reassure us that differences between different devolved Administrations will not lead to people being able to be removed from the sex offenders register because of different thresholds being applied in different locations?

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I reassure the hon. Lady that we will talk to the devolved Administrations. What I have announced will cover England and Wales, but we will talk to Scotland and Northern Ireland about the approach that we are adopting to ensure as far as we can that sex offenders do not move from one jurisdiction to another to get around the rules.

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I thank the Home Secretary not only for the content of her statement, but for the fact that she has come to the House so quickly and that the statement was not leaked in advance.

Yesterday, when the Justice Secretary was questioned on the establishment of a commission on the Bill of Rights, he said that it would be done very quickly. Unfortunately, he was unable to answer my question on when that commission will report. Until we have a British Bill of Rights, I am afraid that the Home Secretary will be coming to the Dispatch Box to make more such statements.

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I am tempted to point out to my hon. Friend that the statement may not have been leaked, but the Prime Minister covered one or two aspects of it in Prime Minister’s questions.

On the Bill of Rights, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary will imminently set out the arrangements for that commission and say how it will be formed, which I expect will include an end date.

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My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) asked about funding for specialist units, many of which were formed because of a failure in normal policing to find people on the register, and because police forces did not talk to each other. What guarantees can the Home Secretary give on funding for such specialist units?

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Of course, how a police budget is distributed to the different departments of each police force is a matter for the chief constable. The hon. Gentleman will know what I am about to say because the Government have made this clear a number of times. Police forces can take a significant sum of money out of their budgets not by cutting specialist units and visible policing, but by dealing with procurement and IT, and through collaboration with other forces. It is not just me saying that; Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary says it too.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to close the loophole that allows sex offenders to go abroad for up to three days without notifying the police. The previous Government had since 1997 to close that loophole, but did not take such action.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I am just pleased that we could take that action today to ensure that we closed that loophole and the others that I mentioned in my statement.

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The Home Secretary has been absolutely right in setting her face against the judgment, but will she confirm that it remains lawful to insist that sex offenders stay on the register for life? Although the measures she has announced are strong and seek to protect the public, she does not have to take them—it would be lawful for her to keep to the higher standard of keeping them on the register for life.

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We have already had one challenge on this ruled on by the Supreme Court, and there is the prospect of others. We have no further right of appeal through the Supreme Court mechanism, so we are introducing what we believe to be a tough set of measures that will address the issue. Of course, it will continue to be possible for sex offenders to stay on the register for life.

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I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I have appeared in Parole Board hearings. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the police officers who will make decisions will have all the information on an offender that is available in a Parole Board hearing, from judges’ sentencing remarks on dangerousness, to pre-sentence reports and the offender’s full record in custody, so that they can make a thorough decision, so that the public are fully protected?

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That is absolutely our intention. The police should have the fullest information possible on which to base their decision on whether a sex offender should stay on the register. Indeed, I expect that when we lay the statutory instrument before the House, we will be able to go into more detail on the sort of information that will be available to the police.

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I assure the Home Secretary that my hon. and right hon. Friends wholeheartedly agree with her statement. It is time to assert that Parliament makes the laws, not the courts. It is our duty as a House to protect the general public from those who perpetrate such horrific crimes. If it is the will of the House to strengthen our laws, instead of weakening them in the light of the Court’s decision, we should assert the authority of the House.

When will consultation be held with the Northern Ireland Executive?

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We will have discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Government shortly—we have held some discussions with the latter because they have taken some steps down this road already. These issues will come to Parliament for it to decide. The commission on the British Bill of Rights, which was announced today, is a step that the Government are taking to ensure that we bolster the ability of Parliament to set our laws. The previous Government introduced the Human Rights Act. I am afraid that they saw the problems that the Act created and did nothing—this Government are doing something about it.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but how confident is she that the increasingly robust Supreme Court, and the European Courts with their extraterritorial reach, will not overrule her very firm and welcome announcement today? Is it not time to introduce a Bill of Rights very early indeed, rather than having a commission which may report sometime in the future—

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I call the Home Secretary.

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I see what my hon. Friend is getting at, but it is right to have a commission to look into the British Bill of Rights. The purpose of my statement was to set out a way forward that meets the requirement set by the Supreme Court, which should therefore not be subject to a further ruling by that Court.

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Will the victims be not only told of the outcome of the decision, but consulted before the decision is made?

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As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), we will consider what information is available to the victim and their role.

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Residents in my constituency are absolutely fed up to the back teeth with human rights legislation and the way in which it is being used to promote the rights of bad people over the rights of good people. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that when the commission on the Bill of Rights is established, an end date will be published. May I urge her to urge the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary to choose an early end date, which we need so that legislation can be introduced in the House in this Parliament, so that the issue can be resolved once and for all?

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Most Members of the House are fed up with the way in which decisions by the House are increasingly being overturned by the courts. I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary know well of his interest in this matter. As I said, we will ensure that we can take action to assert the rights of Parliament.

Bill Presented

Welfare Reform Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Secretary May, Mr Secretary Clarke, Mr Secretary Lansley, Mr Secretary Pickles, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, presented a Bill to make provision for universal credit and personal independence payment; to make other provision about social security and tax credits; to make provision about the functions of the registration service, child support maintenance and the use of jobcentres; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First Time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 149) with explanatory notes (Bill 149-EN).

Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill

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

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision requiring certain prisoners due to be considered for early release to complete a relevant offender management programme, where available; to require courts to take regard of mental health problems in sentencing; to make provision regarding minimum and maximum sentences; and for connected purposes.

There are currently too many anomalies in sentencing. People are given sentences that are not always appropriate to the crime they have committed, and sentences do not subsequently have regard to the progress that people make during their time in prison. The Bill would introduce new clauses to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to address some of those anomalies, to ensure that courts have greater freedom to impose the sentence that they deem necessary, and to ensure that there is greater incentive for prisoners to partake of rehabilitation programmes so as to be considered for early release.

I therefore propose to add three new measures to the aforementioned Act. First, I would add new clauses to warrant that early release from both indeterminate public protection sentences and determinate sentences is incentive-based, not automatic. Secondly, I would add new clauses on maximum and minimum sentences. Thirdly, I would ensure that courts are given the right to have regard to mental health problems when sentencing convicted persons.

I shall speak first on the new conditions to be imposed on granting early release. Indeterminate public protection sentences have been a controversial measure since their inception. Under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, where a person aged 18 or over is imprisoned for public protection but the court does not consider life imprisonment necessary, the convicted person may be imprisoned for a period of at least two years but less than life. The court sets a minimum period or tariff to be served before a prisoner can apply for parole. The measure was intended to be used sparingly but, presumably due to the inflexible requirements laid down by the Government, IPP sentences are being used more frequently than expected.

I believe that not enough thought is put into determining a prisoner’s tariff and that because little focus is placed on putting these prisoners into rehabilitation programmes, there are thousands of prisoners on IPP sentences in our prisons who in many cases will be released without regard being given to the remorse shown or even to a prisoner’s rehabilitation. Because of amendments made to the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 by schedule 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, a person serving a sentence of imprisonment or detention for a term can be considered for early release after serving one half of that sentence. I believe that that needs to be put right.

My Bill will add a new clause to section 255 of the 2003 Act to the effect that a person serving an IPP sentence shall have that sentence reviewed by the Parole Board at least every two years. Furthermore, all persons serving IPP sentences must have access made available to relevant offender management programmes. When determining whether to recommend a person for release on licence, the Parole Board should have regard to the availability and completion of these programmes. It is cost-effective to do this.

On a daily basis, 5,659 people are serving an IPP sentence, of which 2,229 are beyond their tariff. On average, these prisoners are serving 244 days beyond their tariff. It costs roughly £30,000 to keep someone incarcerated for 244 days. If we multiply this sum by 2,229, we get a figure of £68 million. By comparison, the cost of putting a prisoner through a rehabilitation programme would be £5,000 at most, which, multiplied by 2,229, comes to £11 million as opposed to the currently spent £68 million. Introducing this measure would thus be cost-effective and, I believe, beneficial to the protection of the public.

Equally, for prisoners serving determinate sentences, the Parole Board must be satisfied that they are of low risk to the public before they are granted early release. Under section 244 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, when a fixed-term prisoner has served the requisite custodial period the Secretary of State shall release him on licence. Since 2005, those serving four years or more have come out after serving 50% of their sentence—regardless of the progress they have made while in prison.

My Bill would add a further subsection to this section, which would ensure that before releasing a person sentenced to four or more years in prison, the Parole Board must be satisfied that the individual is at low risk of harm to the public and low risk of reoffending. These amending provisions would ensure that incentives for rehabilitation are rewarded, but it is just as important that the courts be given greater freedom to impose the sentences they deem fit and have regard to the individual circumstances of each case.

To satisfy this requirement, I would add an additional new clause to the Act on maximum and minimum sentences. This would mean that when sentencing a person to a determinate prison sentence, the court shall state the maximum time that should be served and also the minimum term. The stated minimum term must be less than half the maximum sentence but no less than one third of that sentence. In passing sentence, the court should, of course, have regard to the seriousness of the offence and it may request a pre-sentence report from a suitably qualified employee of the relevant probation trust. The notion of introducing maximum and minimum sentences was included in the last Conservative manifesto.

I referred earlier to the importance of courts being able when passing a sentence to pay greater regard to the individual circumstances surrounding a case. The final new clause of my Bill, added to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, would mean that the courts could pay greater regard to psychological or psychiatric problems diagnosed in a person who has committed a violent or sexual offence. Under section 277, persons of 18 years or older who commit certain violent or sexual offences are given an extended sentence. However, in cases where a person has committed a serious crime and has subsequently been diagnosed—I stress subsequently diagnosed—with psychological or psychiatric problems, it is the feeling of many sentencers that an extended period of licence would be more appropriate both for the individual concerned and for the protection of the public. In many such cases, the disposal of a hospital order would be preferable, but that disposal is not currently available to sentencers.

In the Eriksson case decided on 26 November 2009, that was precisely the finding of Mr Justice Saunders, who presided over the prosecution of a person who stabbed and killed a man while she was suffering from a debilitating mental illness. In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Saunders said that this

“would clearly have been a case for a hospital order”,

but that “that disposal” was “not open” to him. He wished to pass a sentence that would provide an appropriate level of protection for the public, although not one designed to over-punish because the defendant’s culpability was low, owing to her mental illness. He expressed great frustration that Parliament does not allow sentencers to order an extended period of licence, which he called “an unfortunate omission” in sentencers’ powers.

In that regard, I would add a new clause to section 277 to the effect that in determining whether to impose extended supervision, a court shall have regard to any psychological or psychiatric assessment that is carried out following the commission of the offence as well as the likelihood of the person being involved in further similar serious offending. I believe that these new clauses would make vital revisions to sentencing, would grant greater autonomy to courts to review the circumstances of each case and would reward the progress made in prison. I accordingly commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Mrs Linda Riordan, Claire Perry, Chris Evans, Hywel Williams, Jonathan Edwards and Mr Robert Buckland present the Bill.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May, and to be printed. (Bill 150).

Opposition Day

[11th Allotted Day]

Youth Unemployment

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I beg to move,

That this House believes that the Government was wrong to cancel the Future Jobs Fund that would have created 200,000 jobs for young people; further believes that the Government’s economic policies have slowed economic growth, raised youth unemployment and created the highest graduate unemployment for over a decade; further believes that urgent action is now required to stop a generation of young people being lost to worklessness; and calls on the Government to commission an independent assessment of the Future Jobs Fund to report to Parliament before the Government’s Work Programme is implemented and to evaluate whether a guarantee and requirement of work incorporated into the Programme would bring down youth unemployment in the short and longer term and limit steep rises in welfare payments.

I am glad that we have been able to force the Government to come to the House to debate the employment figures—or, rather, the unemployment figures—published this morning, because those figures will worry families, young and old, up and down the country. The headlines from this morning’s numbers are bad enough—five quarters after the recession ended, unemployment is not going down but up; employment is not rising but falling—but the details are, I am afraid, even worse. Private sector employment is flat, while the number of public sector jobs is falling fast. It is becoming clear that the private sector is not creating jobs fast enough to absorb the redundancies that we know are coming down the line. There are now more women on the claimant count than at any time since 1996.

The consequences for young people are perhaps most serious of all. One in five of our young people is now out of work; the number of unemployed has risen again; we now confront youth unemployment of almost a million—the highest figure on record. That figure is a wake-up call to this Government to get their act together. The question we want the House to debate today is quite simply, what should the Government do next?

As if we needed it, this morning’s figures are, if anything, fresh evidence of the need for a plan B on economic growth. We have rehearsed the debate in the House plenty of times over the past year, and I do not plan to do so again this afternoon. Suffice it to say that the Government are cutting spending too far and too fast. The recession having been over for a year, we would expect to see unemployment now falling fast, and yet it is not. Longer dole queues make the deficit not easier to pay down, but harder. The result is that working families end up paying the price.

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The right hon. Gentleman was part of a Government who presided over a record rise in youth unemployment. As his Government’s policies clearly did not work over 13 years, should he not, instead of carping from the sidelines, get behind the policies of the coalition Government, who are offering a fresh start to young people in this country?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a point that is central to the debate, to which I shall return in substance in a moment, after giving way to the Minister.

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For the record, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that last month’s unemployment figure in this country was 2.498 million, and that this month’s is 2.492 million?

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The unemployment figures are getting worse, not better. This morning I heard the Minister quibble on the BBC that somehow unemployment in our country was stabilising, but the truth of today’s figures is that private sector employment is dead flat, and the number of announced redundancies is growing by the day. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) carps from a sedentary position, but he would be better off reverting to the advice that he gave to the Conservative party before the election about the importance of taking further steps to help get young people back to work.

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rose

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Before I give way to the Minister, let me finish this point, as I want to put a question to him.

As I said, the rise in the dole bill makes the deficit not easier, but harder, to pay down. Although the Chancellor likes to pretend that the welfare cuts are somehow hitting shirkers not workers, will the Minister confirm that once we factor out the lower uprating the truth is that more than half the cuts in welfare spending are hitting working families?

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As the one who is intervening, I think it is my job to ask the right hon. Gentleman questions. Will he confirm that one of the bits of good news this morning is that, for the second month in a row, job vacancies in the economy have increased significantly? Does he agree that that is an encouraging development?

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Any increase in vacancies is good news, but 40,000 is not an enormous increase, and when private sector employment is dead flat and public sector redundancies are mounting, I am afraid that it poses serious questions about whether unemployment will continue to rise over the next couple of years.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that, worrying as the youth unemployment figures are, the complacency demonstrated by the Government in debate after debate is even more worrying. We heard today from the Prime Minister that youth unemployment has been a problem for a long time, but the Government’s policies are making the situation worse. In my constituency, 1,100 people will potentially lose their jobs as a result of Auto Windscreens going into administration this week. All we hear from the Government is complacency, rather than an admission that their policies are making this major problem worse.

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My hon. Friend is right to highlight his constituency case, which has caused concern to families up and down the country. We saw figures today showing that earnings growth is now about half the rate of inflation. At a time when the jobs market is weaker, that will contribute to a tighter and tighter squeeze on working families over the coming months.

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May I tell my right hon. Friend that in my constituency, in the first 10 years of the Labour Government, youth unemployment was halved? Then we had a recession, and of course it began to rise. Will not the Government’s cuts to the Connexions service, Opening Doors—one of our local facilities paid for by central Government—and education maintenance allowance for students who are in the middle of two-year courses result in more young people going on to the dole?

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My right hon. Friend is right. Unless we hear something of substance from the Minister, I am afraid that her prediction is all too likely to pan out.

When the squeeze on living standards is about to get tougher and tougher, one would expect action from the Government to help. In fact, more than half the welfare cut will hit working families, and by the end of the Parliament £3.4 billion will be taken off benefits for children—far more than the amount being taken off bankers. Putting aside the question of what kind of Government take more money off children than off bankers, if the Chancellor had done what he should have done, and implemented a proper bonus tax on the banks, he would have about £3.5 billion to invest in jobs and growth, including in jobs for young people. That must be the substance of our debate this afternoon.

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On the simple numbers, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether youth unemployment was higher or lower at the end of Labour’s term in office, despite the golden economic inheritance that it had?

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Let me respond to that point in substance in a moment, and I will invite the hon. Gentleman to intervene again. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to ensure that we draw the right lessons from the past 13 years, as they have a critical bearing on the programme that we want the Government to put in place for the future.

There are real differences between Government and Opposition about the macro-economic approach that we should take. We also share some values. Many of us share a passion to attack poverty in all its manifestations. We believe that the poverty of some impoverishes us all, not only because it affects the chances of many to lead the life that they would choose, but because it denies many the chances, opportunities, free range and scope to contribute to our country’s progress. I happen to think that the Secretary of State shares that belief, about which I feel passionately, as my constituency has the second highest unemployment in the country and, as this morning’s figures confirm, the highest youth unemployment. I do not have to go far to see wasted talent—I see it, and think about it, when I go to work every day. That inspires the passion with which many of us think carefully about the programme that the country needs to get youth unemployment back down.

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If we are looking back on our period of stewardship and offering the Government lessons, does my right hon. Friend conclude, as I do, that one of our errors was not to introduce the future jobs fund earlier and put more resources into that than into the new deal?

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We have learned many lessons from the future jobs fund, and there are many successes on which we can build. I will turn to that question in substance when I dwell on what we should learn from the past 10 years.

The key point, which my right hon. Friend underlines, is that the right strategy for the Government during the recession and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, was not to sit by and do nothing, or to watch as unemployment went through 3 million not once but twice, but to act, to save jobs, to keep people in their homes, and to keep businesses moving.

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The right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that, under a Scottish National party Government, only in Scotland is unemployment falling and employment rising. He will also welcome the fact that we introduced 25,000 modern apprenticeships in our budget. Can he offer any explanation of Labour in Scotland’s opposition to that?

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The right approach in the Scottish economy—where GDP growth has unfortunately been weaker than growth in the UK generally over the last period—is to build on the success of the future jobs fund and put in place not 3,000 opportunities for the future, but 10,000. That is the approach Labour will propose in the run-up to the coming elections.

Let us address Labour’s record in office, a substantive point which has already been mentioned. When Labour came to office in 1997 some 656,000 young people were out of work. As our economy grew, we introduced a welfare to work programme that included creating Jobcentre Plus and the new deal, and which made sure that three quarters of our young people who went on to jobseeker’s allowance were off JSA within six months. Setting aside those in full-time education—and we substantially increased the number of people in full-time education—that meant that the number of unemployed young people fell by some 20%. Indeed, between 1997 and the start of the global financial crisis the claimant count among young people fell by some 40%, and that was at a time when the number of young people in our country was rising; between 2000 and 2009 it rose by over 1 million. I think that Members will therefore forgive me for agreeing with the man who described the progress we made as “remarkable”, and who said:

“There is no question that the UK has made significant progress in the labour market over the last ten years.”

That man was the Government’s welfare reform Minister, Lord Freud.

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If the last Labour Government’s proposals and policies were such a success, why were one in five 16 to 24-year-olds out of work at the end of their period in office?

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This may not have come up on the hon. Gentleman’s radar, but there was the worst financial crisis since the 1920s at the end of Labour’s term in office. During that crisis, Labour did the right thing by acting to get people back to work, to keep people in their homes and to help keep business on the move. That was a policy and approach which the hon. Gentleman’s party should have supported.

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The right hon. Gentleman says that those economic difficulties arose towards the end of Labour’s time in office, but the increase in unemployment started back in 2001, not near the end of its time in office.

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The figures are very clear. Between 1997 and the start of the global financial crisis the number of young people on the claimant count fell by 40%.

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The right hon. Gentleman and his party seem to blame the global financial crisis for every ill, but figures I received from the House of Commons Library this morning make it clear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said, youth unemployment has been rising since 2001, yet the global financial crisis did not start until 2008. How does the right hon. Gentleman explain that?

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The facts speak for themselves. Between 1997 and the start of the financial crisis the number of young people on the claimant count fell by 40%. Because of the changes we put in place, the number of young people coming off JSA within six months was about three quarters of the number going on. That is why Lord Freud—the Government’s own welfare reform Minister—was right to say that the progress we have made was “remarkable”.

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I am sure the right hon. Gentleman recognises the value of international comparisons as well as time series comparisons, so does he acknowledge that in years before the onset of the global financial crisis, such as 2005, the number of young people not in employment, education or training in this country was higher than the OECD average, higher than the EU average, higher than in France, higher than in Germany and higher than in the United States?

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The number of young people not in education, employment or training was lower, not higher, when Labour left office than when we came to office. Far too often, Conservative Members pray in aid that number—a number that is pretty static—but fail to acknowledge that the number of young people in our country increased by 1 million between 2000 and 2009.

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On the effects of the previous Government’s policies, 279,000 people started on the flexible new deal, yet near the end only 3,000 were on it. That shows that the policy was a complete failure.

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The hon. Gentleman forgets to mention that the flexible new deal was introduced in the middle of the recession when unemployment was high, so that is possibly not the best way to evaluate the success of getting people back into work. I am sure we will learn later precisely which elements of the new deal the current Government are continuing with in their Work programme.

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rose—

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I will give way to the Minister in a moment, but first I want to talk about the recession. As this afternoon’s interventions show, it is perfectly natural for Government Members to want to pray in aid figures from the beginning of 1997 and figures from the height of the recession. This point cuts to the heart of the debate we need to have this afternoon. When the recession hit, of course unemployment and the number of young people out of work rose, but we were not prepared to stand idly by and simply watch that happen, because we remember all too clearly the lessons of the 1980s when youth unemployment in this country spiralled up to 26%. Instead, therefore, we chose to act: we chose to expand student numbers and apprenticeships and the chance to work. That is why in the final two quarters of our time in office youth unemployment was falling, not rising, and by 67,000 or 9% by the time we left office. When the Minister intervenes, perhaps he will explain why, all of a sudden, that has now gone into reverse.

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I am puzzled by a couple of points, and I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can answer them for me. First, he keeps referring to the claimant count. Can he confirm that on the claimant count measure youth unemployment is 75,000 lower now than it was at the general election? He also talks about the period before the recession. Why did the OECD publish a report in 2008 saying it was profoundly concerned about youth unemployment in the UK because it was rising here but falling in every other developed country?

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I would expect the OECD to express concern about youth unemployment. Youth unemployment is a serious issue, which is why we are having this debate. We do not think the Government’s plan is adequate to deal with the problem. That is why youth unemployment is not falling at present, but is going up, which is what this morning’s figures said.

Youth unemployment in the final period of Labour’s time in office, which was also a time of economic difficulty, fell by 67,000 or about 9%. Now all of that hard work has been undone. Since we left office, youth unemployment has not continued to fall. It has not even held steady; it has gone up and up and up. We cut youth unemployment even in the face of the economic storm, yet the current Government have failed to do so even with the winds of recovery at their back. They have watched it rise while the economy is growing. That takes some doing.

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Does my right hon. Friend recall that two years ago during the passage of the Education and Skills Bill, we sought to extend the school leaving and training age from 16 to 18 but Members now on the Government Benches opposed that? How did that help youth unemployment at that time?

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My right hon. Friend is right to raise that question, which underlines the dilemma so many young people now confront. With this morning’s numbers now on the public record, it is clear that young people face a summer of anxiety. If they do not make the grades to get into college—and we know the number of college places is now more limited—they will face a labour market that is tougher than ever. That is a worry for them and their families, and for older residents in this country who, having worked hard all their life, are now concerned about who will pay for the future.

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Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that there is one significant distinction in respect of the figures he is discussing, in that there was massive over-reliance on putting people into the public sector through many of these programmes as a result of the legacy of economic failure that we have inherited? Therefore, there is naturally now some shrinkage in the public sector. That is the big difference. We have to create real jobs in the private sector for the long term.

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I genuinely appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is making and the argument he is rehearsing. Perhaps he could intervene again to let me know whether a job in the public sector is better than no job at all.

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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his invitation. A job is very important to the individual, no one doubts that; but we are talking about dealing with youth employment by creating work in a real sector that will last. That is the difference. We will only deal with the problem when the private sector has the opportunity to deliver long-term sustainable jobs—however well intentioned the programmes to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

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The hon. Gentleman exposes the dilemma that now perplexes the Government’s entire back-to-work programme. Figures issued this morning reveal that private sector employment is dead flat, yet public sector employment is falling fast. What has become clear from those figures is that because the Government have put the recovery in the slow lane, the private sector is not creating jobs fast enough to absorb the scale of redundancies that are being announced.

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Before I became a Member I ran a centre for the unemployed during the 1990s, so I know how painful things are for people who are unemployed long term. The hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) referred to public sector jobs. Let us make it clear: nurses and teachers have real jobs and provide real service to our communities.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) is right to compare and contrast the recessions of the 1990s and the present. In my constituency, unemployment was 100% higher during the recession of the 1990s, because the programmes—

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Order. I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making, but we must have shorter interventions. I am sure the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill has grasped the point.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). As many of my hon. Friends are doing this afternoon, he underlines the point that right across the country, over an extended period of Labour’s term in office, youth unemployment was falling fast. Unemployment can never be as low as Members want, but the question that confronts us is how to draw the right lessons from those overwhelming successes in getting people back into work and how to apply the lessons to the present crisis when one in five young people is not in work.

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Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman by making a short intervention. Does he believe that the previous Government’s spending of £3.5 billion on programmes to get young people back to work while youth unemployment rose was good value for money?

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I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate when we explained the simple point that during the latter months of our term in office, when the recession was difficult, youth unemployment was not rising but falling. All that progress—the fall between the peak of youth unemployment and when we left office—has been undone in the months since May. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is a fact. That is why earlier this week the former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, Mr Portes, told the Government bluntly that the challenge of youth unemployment is serious. He told The Times that the Government were failing to address the scale of the problem. Without urgent action, he warned, hundreds of thousands of youngsters face a bleak employment prospect throughout the rest of their lives. That is why our motion calls on the Government to reflect again on the lessons of the future jobs fund, to commission an independent evaluation, draw the right lessons, learn from them, establish a more substantial programme for the future, and do it with urgency.

The future jobs fund is at the heart of the motion. Because we felt so strongly about the scourge of youth unemployment, a concern that is shared by many Members, we were determined to make sure that as it began to rise again after falling so far, something was in place that would help. We set up the future jobs fund because we knew that one of the greatest lessons from the 1980s is that when young people are allowed to drift too far from the jobs market they lose the habit of work, which is a curse that can stay with them for the rest of their lives. That is why we made substantial investment, which at the time was supported by the Conservatives, to get 150,000—rising to 200,000—new jobs that would last six months, 100,000 of them for young people and 50,000 of them in areas of high unemployment.

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My right hon. Friend said that he thought that the Conservatives supported the future jobs fund. In March, before the general election, the present Prime Minister came to Liverpool to visit Merseystride, a social enterprise that employed many people through the future jobs fund. He described the future jobs programme as a “good scheme” and said that his Government would keep any good scheme. Why does my right hon. Friend think that the Prime Minister has backtracked on what he said when he saw that project?

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I think the answer is simple: despite good intentions, the Prime Minister has let the Chancellor get the upper hand. I am afraid that is a negotiation the Department for Work and Pensions has lost, which is why its back-to-work programme is being slashed with such dangers for the future.

I pay tribute to Steve Houghton, who was the leader of the local authority in Barnsley and did so much to pioneer the future jobs fund that has worked so well there. The Barnsley scheme is widely acknowledged to be one of the best in the country; it has 600 places for up to 12 months, a mixture of long-term and youth unemployed and a good track record on getting people into work. Barnsley, like other parts of the country, faces a future where that assistance is being pulled away.

The challenge for our young people is that they now confront a triple whammy. Education maintenance allowance has been cut, tuition fees have been trebled and the future jobs fund is a thing of the past. Without the chance to work, without the chance to study, what are our young people supposed to do? Can Ministers tell us? There is not even a big society for young people to retreat to. Three quarters of youth charities are actually closing projects; 80% say that is because targeted support for young people is ending.

In January, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), decided to act. I commend him for that. He introduced a work experience scheme. It was only for eight weeks, not six months, it did not pay the minimum wage and it did not cover people leaving higher or further education, but at least he was getting the idea. A fortnight ago, we learned that he was stepping up the pace—moving up a gear: at the Tory party’s black and white ball we had the spectacle of an auctioneer selling prized internships at top City firms to the highest bidder. What started as a crusade against poverty has in just nine months become an auction of life chances for the wealthy. No wonder the young people of this country feel that they face a lottery, and the Minister is selling the tickets.

Five people now compete for every job opening, and this morning we heard that things are not getting better. According to the Library, in more than 120 of our constituencies, there are more than 10 people competing for every job. Those people would yearn for a ticket to the black and white ball. [Interruption.] We have just heard something very important: the Secretary of State is putting a ticket on the sale block.

If there was something better to replace the future jobs fund, we might more easily comprehend its abolition. After all, this is what the Prime Minister promised when he told the BBC on Sunday 4 October 2009:

“I want the new Conservative Party to be the party of jobs and opportunity and at the heart of it is a big, bold and radical scheme to get millions of people back to work.”

I am afraid that last night we learned the truth from the BBC, when it reported:

“The government’s new ‘work programme’”,

described by the Prime Minister as the “biggest and boldest ever” plan to get people off benefits and back to work,

“will actually help fewer people than the existing schemes that ministers are scrapping, the BBC has learned.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has revealed that it expects 605,000 people to go through the Work programme in 2011-12, and 565,000 in 2012-13, but the Department admits that 250,000 more people, around 850,000, went through the existing schemes in 2009-10.

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rose—

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So there we have it—one more broken promise. Next year, in 2011, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the claimant count will be 1.5 million, the same as this year—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] In a moment.

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Order. One at a time. If Mr Byrne does not wish to give way, the Minister will have to accept it. I am sure he has noticed that the Minister wants to intervene.

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I will give way to the Minister in a moment. The whole House wants an explanation of why the promise to get more people back to work has been broken by the Prime Minister, because the Department for Work and Pensions has lost yet another battle to the Treasury.

The Office for Budget Responsibility says that the claimant count next year will be 1.5 million, the same, by the way, as this year. The problem is undiminished, yet the help is being cut away—the Minister’s Department is projecting 250,000 fewer places. When the correspondent from the BBC checked the figures this morning, she was told by a DWP official that she was right. So how is the Government’s scheme the biggest back to work plan ever? Is not the truth that the Minister has been done over once more by the Chancellor? Let him explain.

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The right hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he hears on the television. It is absolutely clear that the Work programme will offer places through contracted-out providers to more people than was the case under the previous Government, and there is not one single person receiving JSA or employment and support allowance who wants and needs support through the Work programme who will not get it.

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Will the Minister explain why a DWP official confirmed to the BBC yesterday that 850,000 places were available under a Labour Government, and that that would fall by 250,000 under the present Administration?

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If the shadow Secretary of State wants a briefing on the Work programme from the DWP, we will be delighted to offer him one. I suggest that he does not take his information from the media.

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That was not a straight answer to a simple question, which was why a DWP official confirmed the figures to the BBC yesterday and again this morning. The conclusion that the House can draw is a point that was made by the Office for Budget Responsibility—that there is not enough confidence that the Government have a plan in place to get people back to work. Indeed, the OBR has so much confidence in the Government’s plan to get people back to work that it is forecasting a declining rate of employment for the rest of this Parliament.

I do not claim that the future jobs funds was some kind of celestial design. I am sure there are aspects of it that could be improved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) mentioned a moment ago, it was labelled “a good scheme” by the Prime Minister on his trip to Liverpool. The evidence on which it was abolished was simply not there.

In my constituency we have the highest youth unemployment in the country. The leaders of my jobcentre on Washwood Heath road have consistently said to me that the future jobs fund was one of the best programmes they have ever administered. Overwhelmingly, they say, the young people they send on the programme do not come back and join the dole queue. In their first months the Government rushed out some hasty research on its expense. This is what the Work and Pensions Committee had to say about that scribbled bit of analysis:

“A robust evaluation of the FJF has yet to be undertaken…insufficient information was available to allow the Department to make a decision to terminate the FJF if this decision was based on its relative cost-effectiveness.”

That is an extraordinary indictment of the Government’s rationale. The report says that half of future jobs fund graduates get benefits at seven months, but that is because the programme ends at six months.

The Government dispute the claim that the scheme created real jobs. I am not sure what Jaguar Land Rover would say about that and the places that it created on the future jobs fund, but surely the point is that when people do not have a job, any job is a good job.

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Can my right hon. Friend suggest what Age Concern Wirral in my constituency might think of the slashing of the future jobs fund—a scheme that was not only providing work for my constituents, but helping intergenerational relationships in Wirral and looking after some of the most vulnerable people with early onset Alzheimer’s?

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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In a recession private sector jobs are thin on the ground. Anything that keeps young people closer to the labour market, closer to the habits of work and closer to the disciplines of having a job must be a good thing. The lesson from the 1980s, when youth unemployment spiralled to 26%, is that if we let young people get too far away from the habits of work, they are scarred for generations to come.

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When we looked into the future jobs fund in the Select Committee, it became clear that everyone who had experience of it, as a young person in a placement or as an employer, viewed it as a real job that lasted for six months, with a real wage, and was closer to the workplace than anything that could be offered by work experience. That is why it was successful. None of the providers had a bad word to say about it. They thought it was a very good scheme.

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My hon. Friend, who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, makes an important intervention. I hope her comments allow us to strike a note of consensus.

My final point is about the long-term costs. In all recessions and in all recoveries, it is our young people who face the toughest challenge. That is especially true of the fight that young women in our country now confront. Overwhelmingly, they are working in the public sector. Overwhelmingly, it is they who are exposed to the cuts and the redundancies that have been announced, which now number around 156,000. We must remember the lesson of the 1980s. When youth unemployment was allowed to soar, and allowed to fester for years, communities were damaged for generations. As the Cabinet Office’s former chief economist put it this week:

“If the Government doesn’t act it will not only damage the employment prospects of young people now but hurt them for the rest of their lives”.

The motion that we have tabled asks that the Government look again at the lessons of the future jobs fund, be ambitious about the programme that they put in place, and ensure that they learn the lessons from the 1980s. We fear that a generation is being lost to the clumsy behaviour of the present Administration, so I call on the Government this afternoon to think again, to preserve the promise that this country should make to its young people, to reconsider the action that they are taking to ensure that our children will do better and better than us, and to think again before we confront once again a lost generation.

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Following Mr Speaker’s ruling last week, it is clear that it would be utterly unparliamentary to accuse any other hon. Member of being a hypocrite. I therefore give an absolute assurance that I will not do so this afternoon. It is clear, though, that the Opposition Front-Bench team is suffering from a bout of collective amnesia. We should be concerned for their welfare. I looked up the symptoms of amnesia, and it looks like an open and shut case to me. Amnesia is a condition in which memory is disturbed or lost. In some cases it is described as almost total disruption of short-term memory.

What other possible explanation could there be for what we have just heard? I can only think that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) cannot remember his time in office, so let me remind the House what happened. He and his party stayed in power for 13 years. One of their great missions was to tackle youth unemployment. Their former leader, his former boss, the former Prime Minister and Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), made his maiden speech on the subject back in 1983. When, 14 years later, he took office and became Chancellor of the Exchequer, he said that the problem was a “human tragedy”, “sickening” and “an economic disaster”. He had a mission for change.

What happened? Nine years later, in the middle of one of the biggest booms that this country has seen—let us remember that that was at a time when the then Chancellor was saying he had abolished boom and bust—the youth unemployment rate had gone up compared with 1997. It was higher than it had been when the Labour Government took office. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly said from a sedentary position a few moments ago, that was despite the billions of pounds spent on the new deal. In total, £3.8 billion was spent on new deal programmes to get more people into work, yet in the end youth unemployment had increased.

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Will the Minister explain why his colleague Lord Freud described the progress that we made in tackling youth unemployment, long-term unemployment and unemployment in the round as “remarkable”? Was he deluded, or was he right?

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Well, we are still waiting for an apology from the right hon. Gentleman for his Government’s record. If he wants to quote colleagues, let me quote one of his, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field)—sadly no longer in his place—who is one of the wisest figures in the House. When the statistics were produced in the latter part of the past decade, he said of youth unemployment:

“We made huge gains at the expense of the Tories in 1997… and now we are not just back to where we started, but in a worse position.”

That is not from someone on the Government side of the House, but from one of the shadow Minister’s right hon. Friends. That was not the half of it, because after that things got worse. More money was spent on more programmes to get more people into work, but youth unemployment continued to go up and up. If he wants to intervene, perhaps he can explain why that was.

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I am grateful to the Minister for his kind invitation. Will he accept that between 1997 and the beginning of the global financial crisis, the claimant count for youth unemployment fell by 14%? To return to my previous question, why did Lord Freud, the Minister responsible for welfare reform and his colleague in the Department, describe our progress as “remarkable”? Was he deluded?

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I think that the right hon. Gentleman should listen to his right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, who said in 2006 that youth unemployment was worse than when Labour took power, and it carried on getting worse after that. By the time of last year’s general election, youth unemployment was still 270,000 higher than it had been in 1997, and still they remained in denial—they remain in denial to this day. The greatest brass neck of all was that two months ago the previous Prime Minister had the effrontery to claim:

“Tragically Britain is entering yet another decade of youth unemployment.”

Just what does the Labour party think had been happening for the past 10 years when it was in government?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman also does not remember that during the last disastrous years of the Labour Government he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. For those who do not know, that is the person in Government responsible for keeping spending under control. It was not we who built up the biggest peacetime deficit this country has ever known, but him. What did he do to stop his Prime Minister promising to spend money he did not have and making promises to the unemployed that he could not keep? Of course, there was the notorious letter to his successor:

“Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there is no money. Kind regards and good luck!”

What characterised the period that he and his colleagues have so conveniently forgotten is that the Labour party spent more and more money and made less and less difference. It is no wonder amnesia has set in.

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Will the Minister explain why the Conservative party committed itself to the previous Government’s spending plans when in opposition?

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We are taking decisions in the interests of the country. When I look back to 2005 and 2006, we always knew that Labour was making a mess of things, but we never imagined that they could do it quite so spectacularly.

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If you realised that they were making such a mess of things, why did you agree to follow those plans? Is it not the right hon. Gentleman who has the amnesia?

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Order. Members should not be using “you”—I have no responsibility for this and am certainly not guilty for the unemployment figures.

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We spent years warning the Labour Government that their spending was getting out of control and that they were mismanaging our economy, and now we see the consequences of what they did. What are we to do about the mess they created? Let us start by debunking some of the myths that they are peddling. To listen to them, one might think that it was all the fault of the coalition. Only last night the shadow Secretary of State stated in a press release:

“Labour’s legacy was falling youth unemployment and a pioneering programme to get 200,000 young people back to work. The Tories scrapped that programme and now youth unemployment has escalated to a record high.”

What a load of complete tosh.

The programme to which the shadow Secretary of State referred is the future jobs fund. Listening to him, one would think that we had scrapped that programme last May, but as we sit here today, young people are still being referred to placements through the future jobs fund. Although Labour’s attempts to support the unemployed had largely proved to be expensive failures, we decided early on that we would not remove them until our alternatives were in place. If the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill is right and things are getting worse, even though all the programmes we inherited from his Government are still running, what on earth does that say about the quality of provision he put in place?

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It says that this Government have put the recovery in the slow lane. That is why the figures we saw this morning show that private sector employment is dead flat and public sector employment is falling. It is clear that the Government now need a plan B for the economy. It must start with a proper tax on bankers and the Government must use the money to do something to get young people back to work.

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I just do not think the right hon. Gentleman is listening to what I am saying. We have left in place the support programmes that his Government left to support young unemployed people, and as of today they are all still there. As he keeps pointing out, youth unemployment has risen, so what does that say about the quality of provision he left behind? It says that it was not much good.

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If the Minister was so dead against it, why is the right hon. Gentleman leaving it in place until the end of March? Since the Government took over, youth unemployment has started to rise, even though the economy has now been in recovery for five quarters. We were bringing youth unemployment down at a time of economic difficulty; since things have got easier, youth unemployment has gone up. How on earth did the right hon. Gentleman achieve that?

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What we know is that the programmes the right hon. Gentleman left behind were not fit for purpose.

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Well, why did you keep them?

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I happen to think that youth unemployment is a significant issue and would rather retain for a few months a programme that is underperforming while we prepare something better than do nothing at all. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that we are doing nothing at all, but the truth is that we are doing just the opposite. It was his party that did nothing at all for a long period of time.

Let us deal with the argument about the future jobs fund once and for all. It costs around £6,500 per start—net of benefit savings, just under £6,000. That is far more expensive than Labour’s other programme for young people, the new deal for young people, which costs around £3,500 per job, and several times more expensive than other elements of the young person’s guarantee. It is twice as expensive as an apprenticeship, which I happen to think is of much greater value. Even when we net off all benefit savings, the future jobs fund is still much more expensive than any other option that the previous Administration put in place, and it did not work.

Colleagues may disagree, but to me a future job is one that lasts and on which a young person can build a career and sustain an opportunity for a lifetime. The future jobs fund did, and does, create temporary short-term placements, mostly through the public sector, where young people did not end up getting the kind of sustained work experience and training leading to a long-term career. The grants that funded the future jobs fund included no incentives whatever to move people into permanent jobs.

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The Minister mentioned apprenticeships, and of course the whole House will know that there is an ambitious target to deliver 50,000 apprenticeships over the next year. We are now eight months in, so can he tell us how many new apprenticeships have been delivered?

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The latest information I have received from my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who are responsible for this, is that apprenticeship vacancies are currently over-subscribed by both employers and employees. We are making good progress towards delivering on that target and will obviously publish full figures in due course. I am confident that we are making inroads in the apprenticeship market and creating opportunities for young people that will last a lifetime, not just six months.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman please take no lessons from the Labour party on apprenticeships? Some 25,000 were offered in the Scottish budget last week, but Labour, for some reason, voted against it. The Conservatives supported it, so does he know of any reason whatever why Labour cannot support an increase in apprenticeships in Scotland?

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It makes no sense at all.

I have a theory. The hon. Gentleman and I agree that apprenticeships are by far the best way of delivering long-term, sustained career opportunities for young people, but the future jobs fund was introduced a few months before the general election, and it was designed to move a large number of young people into temporary placements. He will form his own judgments as to what might have motivated that decision.

The reality is that, in early tracking—and I accept it is early tracking—of outcomes from the future jobs fund, the very first data showed that a substantial proportion, about 50%, of people who had been on the scheme were already back on benefits seven months after they started; and that did not take into account the fact that in many areas local authorities had extended future jobs fund placements by two or three extra months. In April, we will get a sense of the scheme’s real impact, but the first evidence suggests to me that it has not proved to be any more effective than previous new deals or other similar schemes that cost much less money.

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On that point, do the Government honestly believe that for 50% of young people to be in work a full month after their future jobs fund placements—

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That’s not what he said.

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My point comes from the same statistics. Do the Government honestly believe that 50% of young people being in full-time work a month later is a failure? In our opinion, it is a great success for the fund.

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If that were the case. In reality, we know that a number of placements continued for seven, eight or nine months after being funded by local money, so the first indications are that the final outcome of the future jobs fund will be no better than other employment programmes, but involve a much higher price.

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The Minister is helpfully rehearsing a series of his uncertainties about the effectiveness of the future jobs fund. Why will he not therefore back the part of our motion which says that a proper evaluation is needed before a further decision can be taken on what is put in place in the future?

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I fully accept that there is a difference between us. The right hon. Gentleman believes that the future jobs fund—six-month placements in the public and voluntary sectors—is the right approach. I happen to believe that apprenticeships—two years of training and the possibility of a longer-term career at half the price—is a better one. I am fully prepared to accept that that is a difference between us, but in reality our approach—tens of thousands of extra apprenticeships, which the Scottish Administration have also chosen but, I am surprised to discover, the Labour party opposes in Scotland—is a better route to follow.

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I, too, have supported apprenticeships over the past decade, and they have been a great success, but companies in my constituency, and one in particular, say to me that they cannot take on apprentices because they are faced with a consumption tax rise of 2.5 percentage points in VAT. Is that not one reason why businesses are not taking on apprentices? Indeed, the Minister is unable to tell us how many additional apprenticeships there have been in the past eight months.

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Does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that businesses in his constituency would have been better off with a 1 percentage point jobs tax rise, as the previous Administration planned? That would have caused more of an increase in unemployment than anything else the Government could have done.

The right hon. Member made one point, however, which is absolutely right and with which we absolutely agree. Youth unemployment is a major problem for our society and one that absolutely must be tackled. The failure to tackle youth unemployment with schemes that work contributes so much to many other issues that we have to deal with on streets and in neighbourhoods throughout the country.

Endemic worklessness is underpinned by an ever more complex benefits system that traps people in unemployment. Inter-generational poverty is fuelled by welfare dependency, involving generation after generation of people who have not worked. There is a lack of aspiration, especially among young people who lack role models in a country where almost 2 million children are growing up in workless households. Worst of all, the young people who escape welfare dependency and poverty will still carry the economic scars of unemployment for years afterwards, in terms of lower wages and future employment gaps. That is the harsh reality of Labour’s legacy for our young people.

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I worry about the either/or in the Minister’s equation. He says that the answer is either apprenticeships or the future jobs fund, but it should be both, because the young people who go into apprenticeships are not the same cohort who suffer the inter-generational worklessness to which he refers. They need extra support, and that is where the future jobs fund has been very, very effective.

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I accept the principle but do not agree with the detail of what the hon. Lady says. I shall come on to discuss the Work programme and how I aim to use it to deal with the problem that she rightly highlights.

Opposition Members should remember that over the years they made lots of promises about apprenticeships but consistently under-performed on them. Our job is to make sure we do not do that.

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The right hon. Gentleman surely accepts that the number of apprenticeships increased from about 63,000 in 1997 to more than 250,000 by the time we left office. Surely that is a record of success in backing apprenticeships, and I am glad that it is a point of consensus on both sides of the House.

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I remember the right hon. Gentleman’s former boss standing in this House and promising about 400,000 apprenticeships. When Labour left office, the actual figure was 240,000, so I shall take no lessons from the Opposition about delivering promises on apprenticeships. We plan to deliver, and are already well on the way to delivering, 50,000 extra apprenticeships this year, 75,000 extra by the end of this Parliament and more apprenticeships for young people between 16 and 18 years old. Those apprenticeships will cost about half that of each future jobs fund placement, but they will deliver the skills that last a young person a lifetime, and the opportunity to progress on to a secure career path.

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I thank the Minister for giving way, because this is a truly important point. When I have asked parliamentary questions about targets for the number of apprenticeships, the Government have told me that they no longer set such targets, so will the Minister make clear the status of the pledge that he has just made?

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We fund a certain number of apprenticeships, and there are 50,000 extra this year. They are being filled at the moment, as we speak. We will fund 50,000 extra apprenticeships this year and 75,000 extra throughout the course of the comprehensive spending review. A few days ago BIS set out a clear goal to increase the number of apprenticeships in this country to 350,000. We have been in office for nine months; the Labour party was in office for 13 years, and it consistently under-delivered on apprenticeships throughout those 13 years.

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The Minister has been extraordinarily generous in giving way, and I am very grateful, but he has not been able to tell the House how many apprenticeships he has delivered in the past nine months. I set up the graduate talent pool, which involved internships for graduates. Alongside the internships that were offered at the Conservative party event recently, how many internships have been delivered for our graduates in the past nine months?

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Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we are doing to get young people into the workplace for the first time.

One of the first things I received on entering government was an e-mail from the mother of a young woman who had arranged a month’s work experience for herself but been told by Jobcentre Plus that she could not do it, because the rules, which the previous Administration put in place, prevented her from doing so. We have therefore changed things.

We now encourage work experience. Through Jobcentre Plus, we will actively find work experience for young people, without their losing their benefits, and give them the opportunity to solve the age-old problem whereby, if someone cannot get the experience, they do not get the job, but, if they do not get the job, they cannot get the experience.

We have also strengthened volunteering opportunities for young people, and we will have Prince’s Trust representation in every job centre, so that we can steer young people towards voluntary work and take advantages of the trust’s skills to help unemployed young people.

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Is my right hon. Friend as incredulous as I am at the Opposition’s faux outrage? They are members of the party that, during 13 years of government, imported low-wage, low-skilled people from eastern Europe—more than 1 million of them—and pushed thousands of young people into welfare dependency and on to the dole. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is collective amnesia among those on the Labour Benches. One of the things they have also conveniently forgotten, which was revealed by one of their number, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, is that over the course of those years nearly 4 million new jobs were created in this country, the vast majority of which went to people coming to the UK from overseas. The Labour Government completely failed to make a serious inroad into the nearly 5 million people on benefits, or to get British people into what was once described as the goal of the previous Prime Minister—British jobs for British workers.

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Will the Minister give way?

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No, I have given way enough, and I am going to make progress. [Interruption.] When Labour Members have some useful contributions to make, I might give way again.

We now need to talk about what we are going to do about this. The Work programme, which we will introduce this summer, will, I hope, go a significant way towards dealing with some of the problems to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) referred. We have huge challenges in the labour market, with young people who face huge difficulties in their backgrounds. For them, the Work programme will deliver specialist intervention after just three months in the dole queue—much earlier than it has ever been done before. It will be a revolution in back-to-work support in Britain. It will provide a level of personalised support that we have not seen before, because in order to survive in a payment-by-results regime, the providers will need to cater for the individual. It is the kind of revolution we have needed for years—the kind that was promised in Labour rhetoric but never delivered.

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rose

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I will give way once more, and then I am going to wrap up.

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It is curious that the Minister’s colleague Lord Freud noted in his report:

“The New Deals have been enormously successful”.

He also said:

“The creation of Jobcentre Plus…is…seen as…a model for effective public service delivery.”

He further commented:

“The Government has made strong, and in some respects remarkable, progress over the last ten years.”

I hope that those are lessons on which the Minister can draw.

There has been some dispute about the numbers that the BBC published. Will the Minister now set out for the House his assumptions for this year, next year and the year after about how many people will flow through the Work programme? If he is disputing the figures, let us hear it from him—what are they?

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We published those figures in December. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman read the invitation to tender for the Work programme. I will tell him, however, that the number of people who went through contracted programmes in the last year of the Labour Government was well under 600,000, and that next year’s projections for the Work programme are over 600,000. As for my noble Friend Lord Freud, if he thought that the Labour Government were doing so well, why does the right hon. Gentleman think that he joined us?

The Opposition were in government for 13 years, during which they systematically delivered for this country a higher level of youth unemployment than they inherited. They spent almost £4 billion on new deal programmes, much of it aimed at getting young people into work. Even while all that money was being spent, we saw youth unemployment grow between 2005 and early 2007 and rise steadily in the run-up to the recession. Back in 2008, the OECD published a report raising concerns about what the British Government were doing and stating that only in Britain was youth unemployment rising, while everywhere else it was falling.

So let us have no more accusations from Labour Members about the coalition’s record. We have been in office for nine months. We inherited from them 600,000 young people who left school, college or university and have never worked. We are moving ahead with plans that will make a real difference to those young people—through the Work programme, through apprenticeships, and through the schemes we are introducing at Jobcentre Plus level to help them into employment.

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Will the Minister give way?

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No, I am going to wind up now.

The Opposition were in government for 13 years, and they failed abjectly. They spent billions; they delivered nothing at all. They left youth unemployment as a national challenge and a national disgrace—part of a legacy of chaos and failure from a Labour Government who ran out of money and ran out of ideas. It is time that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill and other Labour Members recognised the damage that they did to this country, and time they realised that it will be a long, long time before the people of this country even start to consider the possibility that they might ever be fit to govern again.

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rose

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Order. Before I bring other Members in, let me just say that the Front Benchers have taken up quite a lot of time because of interventions. We now have an eight-minute limit on speeches. Not all Members have to take all eight minutes, and fewer interventions will mean that I can get more people in. I call Mr Chris Ruane.

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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate.

In 2002, the unemployment statistics for my county of Denbighshire showed that out of its 34 wards, 50% of the unemployment was in two wards alone—Rhyl West and Rhyl South West. Rhyl South West contained the council estate where I grew up and lived for 26 years. Many of those unemployed people were related to me. Over the past nine years, it has been a personal crusade of mine to do something about that. In 2002, I established an unemployment working group, with people from the college, the Department for Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus, the police, economic regeneration bodies and the Welsh Assembly Government getting together around the table to create jobs for people, including young people, in my constituency.

In 2007, the DWP agreed that Rhyl could be one of 15 city strategy pilots for the whole of the UK. Although it is not a city but a town of only 27,000 people, Rhyl was included mainly as a pilot scheme for 52 seaside towns in the UK. Since then, we have made great strides in putting young people back to work in my constituency. The leader of the people who have administered the future jobs fund for the Rhyl city strategy is Ali Thomas, a dedicated professional in getting young people back to work. This is what she said about the Government’s decision to abolish the future jobs fund:

“The subsidy enabled employers to consider taking on long term unemployed people, many with multiple problems. They were able to do this because of the subsidy. The employers were taking a risk with these young people but the subsidy made the risk worthwhile.”

She went on to say:

“It wasn’t a one way street. Employers gained well motivated young workers. Nearly 60% of those that completed the placement scheme went on to gain long term employment with the employer.”

Apart from those 60%, a further 10% to 20% went on into full-time education at the fantastic Rhyl college, built by the Labour Government—the first college we have ever had, and a £10 million investment. A 70% to 80% placement rate in full-time education or full-time employment is not bad by anyone’s standards.

I ask the Minister, who is chatting away down there, what targets he is setting for his new Work scheme: 50%, 60%, 70% or 80%? I hope that he will intervene and tell me. He did not know the figures on the number of apprenticeships or internships but can he tell me his target for full-time employment placements of young people on the schemes that he is going to put in place?

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The Deputy Speaker does not want extended interventions, so I simply refer the hon. Gentleman to the invitation to tender for the Work programme, which will give him some of the details he wants.

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The Minister does not know.

From my perspective as a constituency MP, and from that of young people affected in my constituency, the decision to end the future jobs fund is nothing short of political spite. The Work and Pensions Committee report said that the DWP

“should conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of the Future Jobs Fund and publish the results.”

This obviously should have been done before the closure of the FJF. That is common sense, but it was not done.

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Will my hon. Friend give way?

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No—I am afraid that I might get my head bitten off.

Why did the coalition Government not take evidence? They could have come to my constituency and consulted Ali Thomas and the young people taking part in these schemes, who were gaining confidence, experience, camaraderie and esprit de corps in their groups of 10 to 15, and feeling pride and joy in being able to plan their first holiday, take their first driving lesson, or gain a certificate from the local college, and in having meaningful work with a meaningful pay packet at the end of the week. I will be sending the Minister, who is still not listening, a DVD made by those young people about their job placements. I hope that he will look at it and get back to me.

When I stared those young people in the eye at the presentations, they were full of pride and joy at their achievements—achievements that will be dashed by the Conservative party. One of the main attractions to the young people in the scheme was that it was a proper job with a proper rate of pay. They could be sacked if they did not turn up or if they were not motivated enough, and they had to be punctual. Their reward was the potential for a job at the end of the six-month placement.

Shorter, cheaper, unsubsidised placements will not have the same take-up or buy-in among young people. Such schemes that were introduced by the Conservatives in the past were pilloried and laughed at by the young people who attended them. YTS was called “young, thick and stupid” by young people. They want no part in such schemes. They want quality schemes like those introduced by the previous Government and abolished by this Government.

The future jobs fund has the respect of the young people who have participated, the employers who have taken them on and the people who have administered it. The main reason given for its abolition was the cost. The Government deemed £6,500 too much to pay to turn around a young life. I ask Government Members who send their children to private schools how much they pay a year to turn their children’s lives around. There is one rule for the rich and another for the poor.

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Thirty grand for Eton.

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I am informed by my hon. Friend that it is £30,000 for Eton. Under the scheme, its cost £6,500 to turn around a young life. But no, that is too much. There are a million young people—and the number is rising—on the dole. What will be the cost if they fall into a life of crime? If that positive path is denied them, they might turn down a negative path. It costs £50,000 a year to keep a person incarcerated. That is money down the drain.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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No, I would get told off. I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I feel that I would.

My local future jobs fund is administered by Rhyl city strategy and is one of the most effective in the country. It had a monthly target to put 320 people back to work. It was bang on every month. It was so effective that it had to hunt for another 100 young people to put back to work, which it got through the WCVA. That effective partnership has been snuffed out by the Conservative party. A key part of the success of the FJF in my constituency was that the funding was delivered to a local partnership. That minimised bureaucracy and red tape, which the Conservative party is always banging on about—there was no red tape or bureaucracy in the FJF in Rhyl. That was welcomed by the employer.

Shorter-term, unsubsidised schemes will not work. They did not work in the past, and they will not work in the future.

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I am sure that every Member of this House believes it is a tragedy that so many of our young people are not in work, education or training. Nearly two-thirds of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds have not done any kind of work since leaving school or college. That trend has accelerated over a number of years; not just over the eight months of this Government, as the motion states.

The motion is right about the need for urgent action to tackle long-term joblessness among our young people. However, the future jobs fund is not the answer, as the Minister has explained. It has been expensive and ineffective. What we need is support that delivers real skills and jobs, and that adds to the employability of young people. With that in mind, I endorse the Government’s commitment to investing further in apprenticeships. I believe that the Work programme will provide personalised help based on individual needs, through working with private and voluntary providers. Ultimately, we need more engagement with employers to equip young people with the skills that will enable them to find work.

So far, this debate has centred on what we do to help young people when they become unemployed. I would like to talk about initiatives in my constituency that are intended to prevent young people from becoming unemployed. That means investing in skills training for young people while they are of school age. In areas such as mine, where comparatively few young people go on to university, such initiatives are extremely important if we are to get the proportion of people not in employment, training or work down further.

The first initiative is run by one of the new academies in my constituency, the Gateway academy in Tilbury, which has gone out of its way to develop a strong focus on employment options and to offer advice to its pupils. It has developed a curriculum that is tailored to the needs of its pupils and to the job opportunities in the area. In addition, it has established a project called Gateway Connect, which uses a redundant industrial workshop as a strong vocational learning facility to offer pupils work-based training and vocational qualifications. Through that project, 18 pupils have been able to pursue vocational training and only two are not in employment, education or training now that they have left. That shows the impact of such strong work-based projects. With that focus, the proportion of pupils who become NEETs on leaving the school has fallen from 18% in 2008 to a mere 4% in 2010. That makes the case for tackling this problem in schools, rather than waiting until young people are on the dole.

There are other projects in Thurrock that are not based on the school curriculum. In a week in which we have considered the big society, I would like to share with the House some examples of imaginative and proactive partnership working that I have witnessed on the ground in Thurrock to give young people more skills. Thurrock trade school offers evening classes to children aged 14 to 16 who want to learn a trade. It offers courses in carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing and electrics. Young people attend two-hour classes over 12 weeks. The courses are sponsored by Morrison, a local building contractor, which provides tools and mentoring to guide young people towards the opportunities that might be open to them through pursuing the training. Morrison has also engaged as apprentices people who have been through the courses.

The background to Morrison’s involvement is that it was awarded the housing maintenance contract by Thurrock council. As part of that contract, the council asked it to invest in such training. That is a brilliant illustration of how imagination can be used to make use of commercial partnerships to deliver outcomes for the benefit of the entire society. That is the kind of thinking we want to encourage as we build the big society. The example of Thurrock trade school also illustrates the value of working with employers, because they will invest in the skills that they need. We all benefit from such involvement.

Finally, we need to open the eyes of young people to the opportunities that work-based training can bring. With that in mind, I commend another initiative to the House: Thurrock’s Next Top Boss awards. Next Top Boss is another partnership scheme that is run by Thurrock council, the Thurrock development corporation and a large number of private employers such as Procter & Gamble, Carpetright and other big employers that operate in Thurrock. The competition is open to 17 to 19-year-olds. The objective for the employers is to help equip teenagers with the skills, confidence and contacts they need to enter the world of work. Competitors are invited to take part in events in which they can show all their skills, such as working with a team and responding to projects. The employers that participate can show the vast assortment of careers that are available in their organisations. The incentive for the young people is that they compete for prizes, including gift vouchers, work placements and even jobs. It is, dare I say it, “The Apprentice”, Thurrock-style. Central to its success is the involvement of local employers that are attracted to the opportunity to identify future apprentices for their workplace and to showcase the opportunities that they offer.

I do not mourn the passing of the future jobs fund. I look forward to the Government’s reforms delivering improvements in the opportunities available to young people. I hope that Thurrock’s big society examples will inspire other employers, councils, schools and voluntary organisations, as they consider how they can contribute to tackling joblessness among our young people.

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I am proud to say that the future jobs fund was inspired by the review by the excellent leader of Barnsley council, Steve Houghton. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) for his warm and fitting tribute to Steve Houghton earlier in the debate. Barnsley was one of the first councils to implement the scheme, which has made an important difference to many, not only in my constituency but across the country. Since its inception in 2009, the future jobs fund has given young people and the long-term unemployed valuable opportunities by creating real work, with real experience and real job prospects. In Barnsley, a third of those on the programme have already gone into jobs. It is hoped that 200 people will be in employment before the funding regrettably expires in March.

The Government’s decision to scrap the fund—a scheme that would have created up to 200,000 jobs for young people up and down the country—is sadly just another example of how they are letting young people down. Ending the future jobs fund was one of the Government’s early decisions. Since then, the education maintenance allowance has gone, tuition fees have been trebled, we are seeing cuts to Sure Start and the school building programme is being cut across the country. Tackling youth unemployment has been a challenge for all Governments, but thanks to initiatives such as the future jobs fund, youth unemployment fell by nearly 25,000 between February and April 2010.

Since this Government were elected, there has been a massive jump in youth unemployment. Figures out today show that it has risen to a record high, with more than one in five 16 to 24-year-olds now out of work—a rise of 66,000 people to nearly 1 million. In my constituency, nearly 14% of the population are aged between 18 and 24, yet that age group accounts for 35% of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance. We are facing a youth unemployment crisis in this country the scale of which we have not seen since the 1980s. If the Government do not act, this will not only damage our young people’s employment prospects, but affect them for the rest of their lives. It is well documented that early spells of unemployment for an individual, result in reduced employment prospects and lower earnings over their lifetime. Today, for every 100,000 people that this Government put out of work, £500 million is added to the cost of paying jobseeker’s allowance, so theirs is not even a strategy for reducing the deficit.

The fundamental flaw in the Government’s Work programme is that there is simply not enough work. They fail to understand that in parts of the country there are still unemployment blackspots. Focusing on job output may be fine in some parts of the country, where the economy may be expanding, but it will not work in more deprived areas such as Barnsley, where there are still serious structural problems in the local economy and where simply not enough jobs are available. In my constituency, there are currently just over 190 Jobcentre Plus vacancies for more than 2,500 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance. That amounts to 14 claimants for every job vacancy. However, this Government’s approach is solely about getting people into existing jobs. There is no policy for either job creation or the growth that would create those jobs, particularly in the weaker economies.

The Government have to think again, as our motion says. There is an overwhelming need for a job creation programme targeted particularly on those areas with the highest unemployment. The main criticism of the future jobs fund is that not enough jobs were created in the private sector. We all want to see more jobs in the private sector, and in my constituency we will have 2,000 more jobs.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that, right in the middle of a recession, the whole point was for the public sector to provide some of those jobs—in construction, for example—to keep people’s skills up, ready for when the private sector picked up?

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My hon. Friend is exactly right.

Those 2,000 private sector jobs in my constituency are coming from ASOS, the online fashion company—I do not see too many takers in the Chamber for its clothes, but we live in hope—but those jobs did not happen by accident. The reason 2,000 jobs are coming to my constituency is that when Labour was in government, we built the facilities that will house those jobs. We built the road that attracted the company in the first place. The public sector plays a big part in supporting private sector jobs.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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No; I want to make some progress.

We want to see more private sector jobs, but the Government need to move away from the mentality that says that public sector jobs are not, as the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) said, “real” jobs. In many parts of the country, the choice is not between a public sector job and a private sector job; it is between a job and no job. The criticism that too many of the jobs were in the public sector—a criticism that I share—is not a reason to scrap the scheme, but a reason to strengthen it. It is an argument to expand it to include more private sector businesses in those unemployment blackspots and to invest in industry.

The positive benefits of employment cannot be overstated. Most people cite a lack of confidence and skills as the reason for not finding work. Having a job is good for people’s well-being and their physical and mental health. It provides them with an opportunity to prove themselves, giving them an identity, confidence and self-worth—the pride that comes from having money in their pocket and the dignity of knowing that they have just earned it. Everyone knows that it is also easier to get a job for those who already have one.

We saw the impact of previous Conservative Governments in areas such as the one that I am proud to represent—a whole generation of young people growing up with little or no hope of getting a job. It is clear that this Government have not learnt from those mistakes, and are once again letting young people down. There is a growing consensus that the Government need a plan B to get the economy right—growth has stalled—but it is equally obvious that they need a plan A to deal with unemployment and, in particular, the lack of opportunities for young people in my constituency and throughout the rest of the country.

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It is worrying how many young people are unemployed at the moment. We can bandy figures around all day, but the figure that sticks with me is that one in five young people between 16 and 24 is out of work. That is a worrying—indeed, horrifying—statistic, and is a tragedy for every one of them, and for their families and the communities around them too. However, when we look more deeply it becomes clear that this situation is, in part, the Labour legacy, as has been mentioned over and over today. The number of people who have been unemployed for more than 12 months has increased. This Government have not yet been in power for more than 12 months, so we are clearly dealing with a legacy left by the last Labour Government. As a result of Labour messing up the economy, the Government are having to deal with a serious financial mess and the unemployment that goes alongside that.

People have talked about complacency about the youth unemployment figures. I have not seen complacency on either side of the House today—clearly people are seriously concerned—but if Labour Members were that concerned, they could have done significantly more when they were in office, rather than leaving a lot of young people on the shelf. Labour could have done more in power to ensure that people had the opportunities that they needed.

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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I will not give way. Everyone will have the chance to speak later if they wish.

As has been mentioned, unemployment among young people has gradually increased since 2002, and that was during the good times, so clearly in the bad times it will not be easy to get people back into work. It is now even harder for the new Government to get them into work, as they have already been out of work for longer, and we know that the longer people have been out of work and the further they are from the jobs market, the more effort, money and time it takes to get them back into work. However, the problem is that the future jobs fund was not working. It was created to ease youth unemployment and make the figures look better; it was not established to create long-term sustainable jobs. Opposition Members have mentioned that many times, but it is not that public sector jobs are not real jobs—of course they are—but rather, that the jobs created for the future jobs fund were not real jobs. They were short-term, six-month placements created for the purpose of the fund; they were not jobs that were sustainable in the long run. That has been borne out by the initial information on what people have done after being placed by the future jobs fund. About 50% of people were back on working-age benefits after seven months—one month after finishing their placement. Of those in a comparable group who found work through other programmes or found work for themselves, only 35% were back on jobseeker’s allowance after seven months. Clearly, the future jobs fund has not been working. It is performing less well than the other programmes that the previous Government put in place.

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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No; I want to ensure that there is time for as many people as possible to speak.

The future jobs fund is not cost-effective. It costs a lot, and that money could be better spent. In theory, it was aimed at those who were furthest from the jobs market, but it seems that a large number of those people in placements were graduates. For example, about 20% of the people taken on by Birmingham city council had at least one degree.

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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I will not.

The future jobs fund was clearly not working in the way that it was supposed to. As with many of Labour’s programmes, the words and the theory were positive but the practice was poor. It was not properly designed or monitored. It simply was not thought through. It did not deliver sustainable employment for young people.

Instead, we need to create a skilled work force and generate jobs for those skilled young people. Apprenticeships make people more employable, potentially by the people by whom they have been trained, but also by similar businesses. CBI evidence shows that 90% of apprentices find employment or become self-employed immediately after their training ends, which means that apprenticeships are clearly far more successful than the future jobs fund.

The group that concern me the most are those who are furthe