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Work Force Skills

11. Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the impact of the level of skills in the work force on the level of employment. [35542]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (John Healey): A highly skilled work force is one of the important drivers of economic growth, and people without skills are much less likely to be in employment. The Leitch review of skills, which was published in the interim report on Monday, set out the evidence on the links between work force skills and employment.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is never to late to learn new skills, and that, as well as training our young people, we should also provide retraining opportunities for older people, so that they, too, can take advantage of the employment opportunities in the high-skills sectors?

John Healey: I do indeed. When one in six adults do not have the literacy levels of our 11-year-olds, when 5 million people in the work force today have no qualifications, and when 70 per cent. of our work force of 2020 have already left school, the imperative for greater investment in training, particularly for adults, becomes very clear. We must better direct that training to produce the skills that people need and that employers need, and to help people to become more productive at work.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): Does the Minister believe that it is the level of skills in the British economy that has caused the continuous rise in unemployment over the past eight or nine months?

John Healey: No. All the evidence suggests that an increase in the level of skills increases people's employment opportunities. Any Government who were not prepared to invest in the skills of the work force would simply be failing in their duty to equip our companies and our people for the future. Any Government who were prepared to allow spending to grow at a slower rate than the growth in the economy
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would have to make huge cuts in public spending, and would not be able to support the skills that our economy needed.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): The Leitch review showed that the total proportion of the work force with skills had risen to 86 per cent. Presumably that has something to do with the fact that the number of jobs in the economy has risen by 330,000 to a record level—and that, presumably, has something to do with the fact that the level of growth remains positive, as it did not under the Tories. As the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) has made it clear that he does not understand what is going on, can we ensure that I do? Is it possible for the Government to build on all those developments by scrapping the new deal?

John Healey: The new deal has helped more than 1 million people into work, but we must make it a new deal for jobs and skills. The employment prospects of people who can now expect to change jobs seven times during their working lives mean that they will have to train and retrain. Unless we have a skills programme to help our people through the changes that our economy faces increasingly in a global context, we shall fail the future of the country and, more important, the people of the country.

Musicians (National Insurance)

12. Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): If he will make a statement on the recent change in the
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application of the rules on national insurance contributions to freelance musicians and singers. [35543]

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): There have been no recent changes in the application of the rules on national insurance contributions to freelance musicians and singers.

Sammy Wilson: Is the Minister aware that as a result of the change in the rules on class 1 national insurance contributions from freelance musicians, orchestras throughout the United Kingdom will face a bill of £33 million, because the change is backdated to 2001? That will bankrupt many regional orchestras, such as the Ulster orchestra. Given that the development was completely unexpected and orchestras could not budget for it, will the Paymaster General consider either a total or a partial exemption from the backdated liability?

Dawn Primarolo: I repeat that there have been no recent changes in the application of the rules on national insurance contributions to freelance musicians and singers. The last set of changes occurred in 1998. I do know that, as a result of a compliance check, it has been revealed that some employers have not been paying their class 1 national insurance contributions in respect of some musicians and singers. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is holding discussions with the Association of British Orchestras, the Musicians Union, the Arts Council and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to find out exactly how much may be in question, and how to resolve the issue so that our orchestras can continue to provide a fine service for our community.

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Business of the House

11.32 am

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 12 December—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.

Tuesday 13 December—There has been a change from what was originally announced. Second Reading of the Criminal Defence Service Bill [Lords], followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution on the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill.

Wednesday 14 December—A debate on European Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 15 December—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Friday 16 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week is as follows:

Monday 19 December—A debate on police restructuring on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Tuesday 20 December—Motion on the Christmas recess Adjournment.

Chris Grayling: I welcome the Leader of the House back to his place. What with all the reshuffle speculation on both sides of the House this week, I wondered whether he would be here after weekend reports suggesting that he might move to the twilight zone of the Government Chief Whip's Office. Does he agree that, as there is clearly not to be a Government reshuffle this week, it is time to change the session of questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? It is now five weeks since the resignation of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the reshuffle of the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but there has still been no appointment. Many people will see that as a major downgrading of the importance of the Cabinet Office, but if it is what the Prime Minister does intend, let it at least be reflected in the business of the House.

I am glad that there is to be a debate on the police. The more mischievous of those who were here for last week's business questions unfairly suggested that the purpose of the Leader of the House's important ministerial visit overseas was to avoid the flak that his hapless deputy took over the question of a police debate. Members on both sides of the House will be grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind and put the police debate into the business statement, but will he also agree to hold the debate on a substantive motion? He spoke about an Adjournment motion, but the House should have the opportunity formally to express a view about this important issue.

Now that the Leader of the House has accepted the mood of the House over policing, will he do the same with respect to another extremely important issue—energy supply—and fulfil the Government's promise to
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hold a debate on that important issue in their own time? The right hon. Gentleman and I have already exchanged views on energy issues this winter, but the last few weeks have seen the resurgence of debate over the future of nuclear power. Is it not high time that the House had the chance to debate that extremely important policy area?

Is it not also high time that the Government provided the House with fresh information about the Hong Kong trade talks? Time and again this autumn, I have reminded the right hon. Gentleman about the strong views held on both sides of the House on trade justice issues. Why have we not had a statement ahead of those talks? Why are we not being told by the Ministers who will represent us in those talks what their plans are, what is happening and whether there is any hope for a promising outcome?

Finally, I congratulate the Leader of the House on the interview that he gave to back in September. When asked about his political ambitions, he said:

I hope that he shares my pleasure that his political ambitions are now being fulfilled.

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