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The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown): Our welfare-to-work initiatives are helping people into work in all parts of the country. The new deals have already helped well over 500,000 people into jobs. We have also introduced action teams for jobs and employment zones, which, between them, have helped more than 32,000 people into work in the most deprived areas. Through Jobcentre Plus, we will work closely with local partnerships and other agencies to ensure our services focus appropriately on areas of acute social deprivation. On 28 November, we also announced the introduction of step up, and one of the pilot schemes for that programme will be run in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He said that one of the step up pilot schemes would be run in Coventry. Can he assure me that not only young people but people over 50 will benefit from that scheme? He is probably aware of the many debates in the House about ageism, and I hope that he will give me an assurance on the over-50s.
Mr. Brown: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The scheme is aimed at the long-term unemployed, at people who have found the labour market intractable and even at people who have previously been on one of the Government's schemes. We want to prevent churning, which is why the new scheme will provide intensive work with those who have found the labour market intractable, with a view to getting them into permanent employment.
Mr. Brown: That is the first time I have heard the hon. Gentleman use the word "apologise", although I accept that he has been out of this place for some time. The Conservative party has a lot to apologise for. It could start by apologising to the 3 million unemployed and to those who were told in the 1980s that there was no place for them in the economy of this country and who had to be shifted on to incapacity benefit to get them off the unemployment register. If we extended beyond them the list of those who are due an apology from the Conservative party, it would be a long list.
No one on the Government Benches owes an apologycertainly not to the poor and the dispossessed, whom we are setting out proactively to help. They include the long-term unemployed, whom we are determined to help back into the labour market and keep there.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): My right hon. Friend will know that the reports on the disturbances in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford earlier this year will identify unemployment in areas of social deprivation as one of the problems. Recognising that unemployment is a problem in areas of deprivation and poverty, will the Government look again at possible ways of tackling the problem, particularly where there is perceived unfairness of job opportunities between the different groups?
Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend makes some good points, and I can give him the assurance that he seeks. I hope that the step up pilot in his constituency will go some way to addressing the problems, particularly as they relate to the long-term unemployed and to his constituents who have already been through Government programmes. However, we need to keep a close eye on how the pilots work and to pay attention to the reports, which will be published tomorrow, so that we see what more we can do. As my hon. Friend suggested, some pretty intractable issues lie behind the difficulties that his constituents have faced.
The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): A regulatory impact assessment was published last year setting out the likely costs to business of the stakeholder pension schemes regulatory framework. A copy will be placed in the Library.
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman is certainly a weary Willy. It is quite clear that both Front-Bench and Back-Bench Conservatives are totally opposed to providing pension provision to that group of workers who currently do not have such provision.
Far from being a failure, from a standing start and in a matter of months, just over 500,000 stakeholder pensions have been sold, and 285,000 employers have been designated. When I last stood at the Dispatch Box at Question Time, I said that it was likely that only two thirds of employees would have designated schemes by 8 October, but three quarters of them have done that. We are working with employers to maximise the numbers involved.
The overall level of pension provision this year shows that the value of new pension sales rose by 9 per cent. and regular premium business rose by 50 per cent. The Government are supporting the pension market and supporting the large proportion of workers who, if it had been left to the Tory party, would not have had a pension at all.
Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recent report produced by the National Association of Pension Funds which shows that new entrants to pensions are increasingly offered money purchase schemes rather than final salary schemes? Moreover, it shows that employers' contributions to money purchase schemes are only just over half the contributions to final salary schemes. The implication is that people now in their 20s or 30s will have substantially less pension when they retire than their counterparts who retire now. Is that not inconsistent with Government pension policy?
Mr. McCartney: The policy that my hon. Friend mentions has been going on for 30 years, but it is interesting to note the sustained growth in the amounts contributed to state pensions. The figure has risen from £37 billion in 1994 to £69 billion last year. As I said in my reply to the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), there has been a sustained increase in pension sales and in the investment going into pensions. The issue is to make sure that we have pension products that provide for all aspects of people's pensions, and that is why the second state pension has been introduced. Some 14 million low-paid workers benefit by an average of £32 a week and 2 million people with disabilities are also helped. Women carers are benefiting for the first time. A large proportion of workers who were outside the stakeholder pension are now inside the pension marketplace. The Government have a sustained programme in place, and it is important that my hon. Friend supports the Bill to introduce a second state pension because that will help many pensioners who would have lost out under the Tories.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the House of Commons Commission is due to meet today. In view of the extraordinary circumstances regarding the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, could you ask your colleagues on the Commission to circulate the minutes of those meetings to hon. Members as quickly as possible? I have yet to see one outside reference in favour of the decision not to renew the contract of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. It is a serious and disturbing situation and, I have to say, it is the House of Commons that seems to be in the dock, not Mrs. Filkin.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members will be aware of the sensitivity of this matter, both for the House and the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission, so I shall not trespass on that. However, would it be possible for a member of the Government or a representative of the Commission to say what action they propose to take on the allegations in the Sunday Mirror yesterday that for 48 hours Ministers and others briefed against the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards? It is up to the House to protect someone who is here on behalf of hon. Members and the public, and it is important that we discover what has been going on, who has been doing it and who is going to stop it. I do not want to attack the Prime Minister, but if Ministers are doing that, someone should be able to stop them.