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Alan Johnson: Conservative Members say “After the election”, but, of course, before we came into government nobody kept any statistics on mixed-sex accommodation—the most recent statistics showed that the level of mixed-sex accommodation was about 50 per cent. The Healthcare Commission now reports that nine out of 10 patients have elective care in single-sex accommodation. This is not an easy issue to resolve. We have to be sure that there are good medical grounds—for instance, in intensive care units and emergency accommodation—for not being able to operate single-sex accommodation. Beyond that, what happened to my hon. Friend’s constituent should not have happened—it is unacceptable. It breaches the dignity and respect of the patient, the emphasis on quality—quality relates to more than just quality of care; it relates to the patient’s experience—and our new NHS constitution, which is why I have introduced a £100 million capital fund and I have said that from 2010-11 no acute trust will receive any payment if it gives care unnecessarily in mixed-sex accommodation. I think that will mean the final eradication—I agree that
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it is taking too long—of mixed-sex accommodation in Bolton and across the country.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): Last April, the Secretary of State told the Royal College of Nursing that he was within “touching distance” of abolishing mixed-sex accommodation—nothing happened for nine months. The Conservatives then published the data from hospitals showing the number of people affected by the lack of compliance with the mixed-sex accommodation rules and exposed the Government’s failure—nine days later, the Secretary of State announced a £100 million dignity and respect fund. Will he explain why the Government do nothing unless and until we expose the extent of their failure?

Alan Johnson: It is not right to say that nothing happened after the Royal College of Nursing conference. In fact, the week after that conference I wrote to every strategic health authority and made it clear that by the time the RCN next meets I want to see progress in this area. It is true that the operating framework that we planned to get out in July did not, in the end, go out until December, and our announcement about what we would do was made on the back of the operating framework.

This issue is too important for party political point scoring, because the care and respect agenda is crucial to Members on both sides of the House. All I would say is that the plans that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has put forward for an increase in single rooms are hopelessly under-costed. He says that they would cost £1 billion, but they would actually cost about £9.5 billion, and he will not be able to afford it.

T9. [255428] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): The Secretary of State recently visited the Vale of York and I am sure that he will have been told that spending per capita in the Vale of York, North Yorkshire and the Humber region is less than in any other region. What is he personally going to do about that?

Mr. Bradshaw: As the hon. Lady will know, because I have already told her, North Yorkshire and York PCT recently received one of the biggest increases— [ Interruption. ] Yes, but the funding comes from the PCT. It received one of the biggest increases for the next two years of any PCT in the country—in the top 30 per cent. of increases.

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Point of Order

3.36 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the extraordinary levels of rainfall and the flooding that are occurring today in my constituency and elsewhere, can we expect a statement from Ministers so that we can question them on what immediate action they are taking today and what they can do in the longer term?

Mr. Speaker: That is at the Minister’s discretion: it is not a matter for me.

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Employment Opportunities

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

3.37 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move,

Two months ago we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Article 23.1 states:

Article 6 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, to which the United Kingdom is a party, states:

It may come as a shock to many Members of this House to know that, currently, many people are not given the rights to work enshrined in those important United Nations articles.

This is an issue of increasing significance with the advent of the economic depression and the soaring numbers of innocent victims of the Government’s gross mishandling of the economy. In Christchurch, unemployment has more than doubled in one year, with very few job vacancies now available. Few would dispute that everything that possibly can be done must be done to create new job opportunities for our fellow citizens. My Bill, by restoring rights to work that have been taken away by this Government, would boost employment.

The first group that would be helped would be refugees who have sought refuge in this country by reason of persecution and are waiting for the Home Office to determine their applications for asylum. Why should those people not have the right to take employment opportunities that have not been taken up by British citizens and thereby enjoy the dignity of having a job? Although it might cause some raised eyebrows among colleagues to hear this, I am pleased to report that the Trades Union Congress is of the same view.

The second and much larger group who will be helped by my Bill are those who are currently out of work but would be willing to work for less than the minimum wage, which is £5.73 an hour or £11,918 a year based on a 40-hour week. Our Government make it illegal for an employer and an employee freely to negotiate the level of remuneration if it is less than £5.73 an hour for an adult, unless, of course, the work involved is unpaid voluntary work.

Before anybody accuses me of wanting to impose poverty wages, let me emphasise that I am talking about arrangements for freely consenting adults. The Government regard an income of £11,918 per year as much in excess of an employee’s personal needs. That is why a single person on that salary is required to pay no less than £1,887 in tax and national insurance, thereby effectively reducing their take-home pay to £4.82 an hour instead of the £5.73 that it is nominally.

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Why should it be illegal for someone voluntarily to accept pay of £4.82 an hour? After all, that is all that is left in their pocket if they are paid the minimum wage of £5.73. Giving people the freedom to opt out of the minimum wage would help not only those who are out of work but those in the hard-pressed retail and hospitality sectors where businesses are going down like ninepins. How many such small businesses could be saved if those working in them had the freedom, in conjunction with their employers, to agree to reduce their wages?

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): It would be unfair competition.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman says that it would be unfair competition, but we are talking about the marketplace and people should be free to compete in the marketplace without restriction. A reduction to, say, £4.82 would be more than 15 per cent. below the minimum wage and would also save employers national insurance on-costs. It could thereby transform the economic viability of such a small business by substantially reducing overheads.

Voluntary wage reductions are increasingly commonplace in the private sector. I visited a small engineering company in my constituency on Friday where everyone has voluntarily taken a 10 per cent. pay cut. About half the work force have also been made redundant. Workers in other large firms such as JCB and Corus are reported to have done the same to enable their firms to be more competitive and to reduce the overall number of redundancies.

Such changes are not happening purely in the private sector. In Ireland, Members of Parliament and senior civil servants have taken a 10 per cent. pay cut. I am not asking people to support such a proposition if they give me leave to introduce this Bill, but that example shows the mood in the real world. It is ironic that the only people without the freedom to take a pay cut are those on or just above the minimum wage. How can that be fair?

We all know that many people are self-employed and earn far less than the annualised national minimum wage for full-time work. They can escape the constraints of the national minimum wage legislation, but not everyone wishes to become self-employed in order to enjoy the right to work. One of the most effective ways of creating new work, in the service sector in particular, is for services to be offered at a price that is attractive to
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potential customers, thereby creating a new market. We can all think of examples of people who might offer services such as window cleaning, child care, gardening, car washing and so on. Provided that the price is right, the potential employer may take on those people for employment. In the real world, it is accepted by the Low Pay Commission that more than 1 million people are already working at below the minimum wage. Many of them work in what is described as “the black economy”. How much better would it be if those private arrangements were not criminalised by the state?

The right to work covers not only the issue of remuneration but how many hours are worked. I have received letters from constituents who are worried about the potential impact of the loss of the opt-out from the 48-hour week, which was applauded by Labour Members of the European Parliament only late last year. My constituents argue that they should have the freedom to work whatever hours they decide, in conjunction with their employers. What reasonable man could argue with that? Indeed, that right is recognised by the United Nations, even if not by the European Union.

The final element of my Bill would require all public sector organisations to advertise their job vacancies externally, so that those outside the magic circle would have the freedom to compete for jobs on an equal basis. For example, there are 672 BBC management jobs with salaries of more than £70,000. Are there not many people out there in today’s job market who would give their eye teeth just to have the opportunity to compete for those jobs?

This Bill is about liberalising and deregulating the labour market. It is about removing the barriers to work that have been introduced since the last recession. It is not only an essential supply-side measure; it is also a restoration of that basic human right—the right to work.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Christopher Chope, Mr. Peter Bone, Philip Davies, Mr. Nigel Evans, Mr. Greg Knight, Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Brian Binley, Mr. William Cash, Mr. Robert Syms and Mr. David Wilshire present the Bill.

Mr. Christopher Chope accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May and to be printed (Bill 60).

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Banking Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

3.47 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): I beg to move,

As the House will be aware, provision for public expenditure in legislation can be considered only if a money resolution authorising a charge to public funds has been passed. Such a resolution was passed by this House at the end of the Second Reading debate on 14 October last year, in the usual way.

However, as the House will also know from amendments made to the Bill in another place, which we shall debate shortly, the Government found it necessary to have the Bill amended there to provide the necessary statutory cover for expenditure on a wider range of matters than had been thought necessary when the original money resolution was passed.

In particular, as I shall explain in more detail shortly, it was necessary to make provision for a number of schemes operated by Government Departments that had, as their object, the provision of support in these difficult times for bodies that are not banks or other financial institutions, as well as for banks and financial institutions themselves. We therefore require a new money resolution to approve this extension of the financial scope of the Bill before we consider the amendments that the other place has made.

3.48 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): The Minister introduced the money resolution as though it were merely a matter of course and something that should go through without much debate. However, the Bill changed significantly in the House of Lords, which widened the scope of financial assistance beyond what is to be given to banks or other financial institutions. Later, we will discuss the effect that those amendments could have on banks or other financial institutions, on the economy as a whole and on particular industries or sectors, and on actual or potential customers of banks or other financial institutions. Those are broad amendments. They cover a number of packages of aid announced by the Government in recent months. It is important to put on record the estimated cost of those packages, so that the House can understand the scale of the liability that the taxpayer could take on as a consequence of those amendments and the money resolution being agreed to this afternoon.

In the other place, it was said that the changes required to the Bill would give legislative cover for: the first bank bail-out; the equity and preference share investments in the Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as in Lloyds TSB and HBOS, now Lloyds Banking Group; the credit guarantee scheme; the asset-backed securities scheme proposed by Sir James Crosby in his report, which was
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presented to the Chancellor at the time of the pre-Budget report; the £50 billion asset purchase facility, a scheme that authorises the Bank of England to buy commercial papers; and the asset protection scheme, the details of which we still do not know, although it will ensure a portfolio of bank assets in return for a fee. There were reports at the weekend that there could be up to £400 billion-worth of eligible assets in that scheme.

We could add the schemes announced by the other Department that the Minister represents, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. They include: the £10 billion working capital scheme, set up to secure £20 billion of short-term bank lending to companies in the small and medium-sized enterprises sector; the £1.3 billion enterprise finance guarantee scheme; the £1.3 billion that is to be unlocked from the European Investment Bank as part of a package of aid to the motor industry; and £1 billion of direct lending to the motor industry. A large financial commitment is emerging as a consequence of the amendments made in the other place.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is my hon. Friend of my view, which is that we might be talking about half a trillion—£500 billion—of loans and share capital purchases, and another £500 billion of money guaranteed? We could be talking about guarantees, loans and shares of £1 trillion, and all we get from the Minister is about three sentences.

Mr. Hoban: Indeed; my right hon. Friend makes an important point. The scale of the financial intervention that could be authorised by the Bill is much greater than many people anticipated, even six months ago. It is important to make sure that there is proper scrutiny of it. I will not trespass on the subject of transparency, and the reporting measures on which the Government have conceded; we will talk about that later. There are significant amounts of money involved, and it is important that before we proceed to discussing the amendments, we put on record the amounts of money involved.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I was rather surprised at how quickly the Minister sat down; he did not give us an opportunity to question him. If we pass the measure today, will the funds that we are talking about be consolidated on to the Government’s balance sheet, as is required under international accounting standards?

Mr. Hoban: My hon. Friend, a fellow chartered accountant, asks one of the questions that need to be addressed. As I understand it, there will be different accounting treatments for different types of schemes. Schemes that provide a guarantee will be a contingent liability, whereas in schemes in which we take on debt, that debt will be on the Government’s balance sheet. As a consequence of the Government’s majority shareholding in RBS, the Government have had to recognise a significant proportion of RBS’s liabilities on their balance sheet.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): As has been noted, the Minister was swift to resume his seat, whereas my hon. Friend, presumably in a bid to whet our appetites for the debate, has already offered us a litany of statistics. I am all agog: I want to know whether my hon. Friend is advising us to vote against the money resolution.

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