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The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown): The first stage report of the Department's review of employers' liability compulsory insurance was published on 3 June. The report sets out a series of actions including the scrutiny of industry service standards, especially renewal periods; a move towards fairer risk-related premiums to reward those with strong health and safety records; and the development of self-assessment packages to enable businesses to better manage risks. In the longer term, the Government will further evaluate the evidence for separating long-term occupational disease from accident risks, focus on legal costs and give rehabilitation a more central role in the UK compensation system.
Mr. Dismore: I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that the best way to reduce premiums is to stop people getting unnecessarily injured at work in the first place. However, I am pleased that he has indicated a commitment to rehabilitation, because if people can return to work more quickly that is a good way of cutting the cost of employers' liability premiums. Will he discuss with the Secretary of State for Health what can
Mr. Brown: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend on both points. Discussions are under way with the Department of Health on what more can be done on rehabilitation. Following our Green Paper, rehabilitation pilots are under way and the location of all seven pilots has been announced to the House. The report itself has been welcomed by the CBI, the TUC and the ABI, and there is a real prospect of making constructive progress in that area.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): The report will be profoundly disappointing to many small businesses as it does little more than acknowledge the existence of a crisis of which they were painfully aware six months ago. Specifically, what were the results of the Minister's discussions with the Lord Chancellor about cutting legal costs? They account for 40 per cent. of all compensation and that is what has been driving up many of the insurance premiums.
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is not being entirely fair. I urge him to look both at the analysis in our report and the complementary analysis in the report of the Office of Fair Trading, which was put into the public domain on the same day. There are no easy solutions. The hon. Gentleman is right to stand up for small businesses and to voice their concerns about rising premiums. Far and away the best means of getting premiums down is to relate premiums to riskif the risk comes down, the premiums should come downand to make the market work better. That is what the proposals in our report are designed to do.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): My right hon. Friend knows, because I have discussed it with him, that a cluster of roofing contractors in Bishop Auckland employs about 1,000 people. They have complained bitterly to me about the increasing employers' liability premiums. I do not think that they will regard the Government's report as radical enough to deal with the situation. If we do not take the matter more seriously, I am afraid that many small businesses will go out of business.
Mr. Brown: My right hon. Friend is right to stand up for small businesses in his constituency. We want the premiums to be stabilised and for there not to be undue burdens on small businesses. The way to do that is to reduce the risk and thereby reduce the premiums. The Health and Safety Executive is working on a self-assessment tool, which is designed to help small and medium-sized businesses in that situation. Some longer term work needs to be taken forward and it is the Government's intention to bring the discussions with the industry to a conclusion in the autumn. I very much hope that we shall be able to produce something that is of practical assistance to my right hon. Friend's constituents.
Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that not only small, or even medium-sized businesses but local authorities, too, are in a dire situation? The Local Government Association tells us that only three underwriters are now prepared to underwrite this type of business. That situation has largely come about because of no win, no fee and the chasing after business by unscrupulous solicitors. There may be a need not just for adequate risk assessment, but also to cap liability, as has been done in some other sectors, so that those engaged in proper risk management will not incur an unlimited amount of liability. [Interruption.]
Mr. Brown: Partly for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman sets out, we are continuing our discussions with the industry on the vexed question of long-term risks and reasonably carrying the burdens that arise from them, but this is quite a complex issue and the analysis in both reports shows that there is no general failing in the marketplace and that the increase in premiums has not been universal across the board. The analyses also show that, by and large, insurance is available, although at a price, and the further work is intended to try to stabilise the price.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): We have appointed child care partnership managers in every Jobcentre Plus district. They work with local authorities, child care providers and employers to ensure that Jobcentre Plus staff can give parents the child care information that they need to enable them to take up work.
Judy Mallaber : I am delighted that Derbyshire's child care partnership manager has just taken up his post. What guidance and help is my right hon. Friend giving to ensure that the necessary information is exchanged, working with the early years partnerships, to fill the gaps in provision for parents who seek to take up employment? Will he undertake to consider how Jobcentre clients themselves can gain access to some of the new opportunities to enter child care as a profession?
Mr. Smith: Yes. My hon. Friend has very succinctly summarised the new Jobcentre Plus child care partnership managers' remit, which is specifically to work with the early years development partnerships in the way that she suggests to ensure a good flow of information between all the parties necessary, so that there is improved child care provision, as well as improved rates of movement into jobs. Yes, they will specifically work to ensure that a greater proportion of Jobcentre Plus clients can fill the expanding number of vacancies in the child care sector.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): Good progress. The Pension Service has already written to those in about 1.8 million pensioner households who currently receive the minimum income guarantee to tell them that they will automatically transfer to pension credit. This month, 45,000 mail packs a week are being set out, inviting pensioners to apply before October and advance applications are now being taken on a freephone application line.
Ann McKechin: I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I welcome the introduction of the new pension credits, which will benefit many constituents in my area, but, as she will be aware, a significant number of elderly people are unable to look after their financial affairs, so what discussions has she had with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Executive to ensure the maximum take-up of that very valuable benefit?
Maria Eagle: I have had no such discussions, but the Pension Service is involved in discussions about take-up throughout the country with local partners, local government and the Scottish Parliament. We are anxious that as many people as possible take up their entitlement to pension credit, not least because, for the first time, it will provide a reward for saving instead of penalising it, and those pensioner households who are entitled will receive an extra £400 a year on average.
Mr. David Willetts (Havant): With the greatest respect to the Minister, can I tell her and perhaps the Prime Minister how much we have missed the ebullient presence of the former Minister for Pensions during Question Time today? Does she think that not having a Minister for Pensions has had any significant effect on the performance of her Department?
Maria Eagle: Well, of course, we are all working hard, as one might expect, to make up for the work load of my right hon. Friend the former Minister for Pensions, who was well known in the Department for working from noon[Interruption]from morning till noon, till night, day in, day out, so I can assure the hon. Gentleman that things have not been easy, but I hope that no one will have noticed my right hon. Friend's departure; that has certainly been the aim of those of us seeking to cover his efforts.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does my hon. Friend have any plan to run take-up campaigns for pensioners generally? What assessment has she made of Age Concern's recent survey, which shows that pensioners in Liverpool are among the poorest in the country?
Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend is right. We have plans with all our local partners, including Age Concern, to maximise the take-up of pension credit entitlements. We want to ensure that all those who are entitled take up