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That is why I believe that, in debating these issues, we should concentrate not solely on the financial payment available to people but on the real and practical help that they get from the Government in terms of retraining,
new skills, and so on. Several years ago, we published the Leitch report, which identified the skills shortages in this country.
If we think back to Harold Wilsons motivation for introducing the statutory redundancy scheme in the first place, we see that it was about labour mobility. It was about giving people that second chance, not just about the perfectly legitimate concern to ensure that people were rewarded for their years of service. It is a mistake simply to view this issue in isolation without taking into account the doubling of the budget for the rapid response service or the £1.3 billion that has been made available to the Train to Gain scheme, which means that it is available for shorter-term courses and available to people who already have qualifications. They are not excluded from taking part in it because they have already had some training. The scheme is now much more flexible, and it is there precisely so that people who may be affected by redundancy or by short-time working are equipped for the jobs and industries of the future.
Our response to the recession and to the problems created by rising unemployment and rising redundancy is to ensure that a fair system of statutory redundancy payments is available. We have increased it by £40 per week in the past two years, compared with an overall increase of £5 per week in the last six years of the Conservative Government. We have introduced a new formula, with the provision that it not only increases by the level of RPI but is rounded up by £10 per week. That has resulted in an increase in payments at the weekly limit of beyond-average earnings in recent years. That is a completely legitimate thing to do, but it would be wrong to say that it is purely where we should concentrate our efforts.
In saying that, I do not mean that we should rule out further action, but I do mean that we should see it in a wider context of help for the unemployed, retraining and skills for the future. That is precisely the challenge that was put before us in the Leitch review several years ago. It highlighted the importance of investing in skills to maximise economic growth, productivity and social justice in a globalised economy. Hard skills matter, as do, in a world where services are more important economically, soft skills and people skills. In the economy of the future, we will find that many people facing redundancy have to find new jobs in new areas. That was the original motivation behind the statutory redundancy scheme, and it remains the motivation behind the scheme today.
Our response to all this is a major investment programme. More than £11 billion a year will be invested in education, employment and training. We have expanded apprenticeships, with more than £1 billion in Government funding to increase overall places by more than 400,000 by 2010-11. As colleagues know, we plan to lift the education and training leaving age to 18 by 2015.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley is motivated by the impact of recession and job losses on his constituency and others. The Bill is well intentioned and we certainly need to do more to help those who need it most.
However, I do not believe that the measure is the right way to achieve that goal and I have set out reasons for that.
Some of my reservations are about the formula and how it would work. We have a formula that has worked well in recent years and we also have a power to uprate, which would act considerably more quickly than the mechanism for which the Bill provides. If we intended to use any improvement to redundancy payments to help those affected by the recession, the existing power to uprate the formula would be a much quicker mechanism for doing that than the method that the measure sets out. I ask hon. Members to keep that point in mind, although, as I said earlier, I cannot make spending announcements today. There is also the question of whom we should help if money were made available or if we asked business to make a contribution in the way that the Bill sets out.
My hon. Friend claimed that there was no spending commitment and that the measure is merely a guide to the Government. There is a logical flaw in that argument. The Bill either commits us to increasing redundancy payment in line with average earnings, and to introducing a new formula to increase it in line with future average earnings after the one-off increase, or it does not. If it does not, what is the point? What is the point of legislation that is simply declaratory when we already have a power on the statute book to increase redundancy payment quicker than the Bill would? There is a logical flaw in arguing that the Bill would have no impact on spending because it would leave all power in the hands of Ministers. We have that power anyway under the Work and Families Act 2006, and we do not need the Bill.
My hon. Friend has made his point. He wants redundancy payment to be addressedthat is a fair point. As I have told him, discussions about the matter are going on in Government, but there is a logical flaw at the heart of the Bill. Either it has the implications for cost to business and to the Government that I outlined or it does not. We already have powers to increase redundancy payment. Of course, that would not be a decision for me, but for Government as a whole, and we would not announce such a decision today, as he knows. Those are the reasons for my reservations about the Bill and for being unable to support it.
I want to consider the notion of average earnings as our guiding light. Even if we wanted to do more about redundancy payment, why should average earnings be that guiding light? To begin with, we do not have an agreed definition of what average earnings are. We are not just talking about how much they increase by every year, as we would with the pensions system, which has been referred to; we are talking about setting the weekly limit at the level of average earnings. Is the figure £450, which includes part-time workers, or £585, which refers purely to full-time workers? It is not clear from the Bill which definition my hon. Friend is using.
Other elements of the redundancy package would include pay for the notice period to which the worker is entitled, pay for outstanding leave owed to the worker, unemployment benefit, tax and child credits, and retraining to help the worker gain new skills and find work as quickly as possible. There is not necessarily a magic level for redundancy pay within that overall package. However, we should not let the level atrophy, as it did in
the past. I do not want us to return to the days when the Conservative party let it waste away, increasing it by only £5 over six years. We have increased the level from £210 to £350 while we have held office and by £40 a week in past two years. However, I question whether the level of average earnings is necessarily the right level for any future increase.
The Bill is flawed in its approach, although I share my hon. Friends concern for people at work. I would not want anyone to go away from todays debate thinking that we were not concerned about people at work. We have made many changes to improve the lot of people at work. It would be a great mistake to ignore those changes, some of which come in next month. We should celebrate them and campaign on them. We should point out that those changes would never be granted by the Conservative party. If we find ourselves in the position of increasing redundancy payments, we have a quicker way to do so than we would under the Bill.
I hope that my hon. Friend will consider the points that I have made and understand that I cannot promise him an increase today. However, I assure him that we will do more to help people affected by the recession. I will remain in dialogue with him about the issues. The dialogue that we have had so far has been constructive and positive. However, I hope that he will understand why, for the reasons that I have set out, I cannot support his Bill today, even if I share his concern that people at work should get a fair deal and the best possible package of support. Crucially, that should apply not only when people are made redundant, but in respect of the whole package that they are offered: to help them find a new job and reskill for the future, to ensure that losing a job, while it is a setback and a crisis for every family, is not the end of that familys opportunity, and to ensure that we stand with people in those circumstances to give them a better second chance in the future.
Mr. Hoyle: I have to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs has given a sterling performance with his longevity. His prostate must be much better than the rest of ours: he has taken on the water and managed not to go and relieve himself, but we now have the pleasure of allowing him to do so.
The Bill is very important. We have worked hard with my right hon. Friends Department and the Secretary of State and we have had good, constructive meetings. There is a great opportunity here to help the Government. Indeed, through this Bill I have offered the Government time to carry on with the very good business of looking after this country and fighting the world recession. I recognise that that is at the top of the agenda and I want to give the Minister the time to carry on doing that.
We should give a fair wind to the Bill, as the majority of Back-Bench MPs support it. What is important is that we want to carry on sending out the message. People may well have different views, but that suggests the advantage of taking the Bill into Committee where differences can be overcome. The Bill should not be blocked now. I hope that the Opposition recognise that democracy is important and that any differences can be discussed in Committee. I am pleased to bring the Bill before the House today. It should go forward into Committee.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During yesterdays debate on the possible use of the Chamber by the UK Youth Parliament, the Deputy Leader of the House saidit is at column 529 in Hansardthat he hoped there would be an opportunity for the issue to be put to the vote so that the will of the House could be established. Given the way in which matters are proceeding today, it is obvious that the item on the agenda to be dealt with at 2.30 pm, which concerns the Youth Parliament, will not be reached before that time, and if it is reached after that time, it will not be possible to put it to the vote. I wonder whether a Minister could indicate whether the Government intend to move the motion at 2.30 pm, or to withdraw it.
Let me deal with the point of order from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). The Chair cannot determine whether a statement will be made, or whether any indication will be given, from those on the Government Front Bench. We are faced with the Order Paper that we have today. The hon. Gentleman may draw a conclusion about the likelihood of any further progress on the matter, but that does not preclude progress on another occasion, at which point it is possible that the intention, or hope, of the Deputy Leader of the House will be fulfilled.
May I start by paying tribute to my constituent, Sean OBrien, and his wife, Samantha, who I am pleased are able to be present in person for the debate today, as it was Sean OBriens initial intervention in bringing this matter to my attention that inspired me to introduce the Bill? He suffers from a liver cancer affliction and is in need of a transplant. Therefore, like many thousands of people in the country, he has a direct stake in this legislation and how the Government tackle the issue.
I would also like to pay tribute to another constituent of mine, Gill Stapleton-Smith, who has been very helpful in providing me with an insight of how people live when they are afflicted by a serious organ problem and in need of a transplant. She received a new kidney, and that had a transformative effect on her, and enabled her to go back to work and contribute to society. That enhanced her quality of life, and that of her wider family.
I propose to divide my speech into three sections. First, I shall explain the problem I am seeking to address. Secondly, I shall explain the essence of the Bill and what effect it will have. Thirdly, as I know that several Members have concerns about some of the implications arising from the legislation, I intend to address those concerns and see if I can reassure any Members who might be minded to oppose the Bill.
What is the problem that I am seeking to address? At present, about 8,000 people in the UK are on the organ donor list awaiting an organ transplant. That figure is rising at a faster rate than the numbers of people who either receive a transplant or, sadly, die before they are able to receive one, so the number of people on the waiting list is increasing. Approximately 1,000 people in the UK die every year waiting for an organ transplant because a suitable organ does not come up in time to save them. The terms of the Bill therefore represent a pressing issue for those people and their families and friends.
Under the current system, all of us are free to decide to donate our organs, and about a quarter of the people in the country26 per cent.have opted to do so: they are on the organ donor register and, in the event of their dying unexpectedly, their organs could be used to help somebody in need. However, the number of people who say they would be willing to countenance having their organs used is about 90 per cent. Therefore, at present a quarter of the population have signed the register, yet 90 per cent. say they have no objection in principle to their organs being used. I seek to address that sizeable gap, which represents those people who, for whatever reason, have decided not to put themselves on the list and yet are agreeable to the principle of doing so.
I have encountered precisely that situation, becauseI am slightly embarrassed to admit itbefore I met my constituent, Sean OBrien, I was not on the list. People can find themselves in that situation for a variety of reasons: it might be to do with laziness, or a feeling of,
It will never happen to me in any case, or an element of superstition might be in play. If it achieves nothing else, I hope my Bill will help raise sufficient awareness for that gap between 26 per cent. and 90 per cent. to be bridged.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the Bill, but is he aware that 40 per cent. of people on the kidney and liver transplant waiting lists are from the black and Asian communities, and Asian people have to wait twice as long as other people for an organ transplant, yet only 3 per cent. of the people on the organ donor registers are Asian? Will the hon. Gentleman congratulate Komal Adris and Shabbir Lorgat for mounting their organ donor campaign in this place on 12 January 2009, with the specific intention of persuading more people from the black and minority ethnic communities to donate organs?
Mr. Browne: I certainly will, because I am delighted that they are campaigning on that issue. I do not claim particular medical expertise, but I must say that there are some genetic predispositions to which people of different ethnicities are more prone and we need to ensure that the maximum number of people donate to the list, if that is what they wish to do and if, in the event of their dying unexpectedly, they are in a position to help somebody.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne), like my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), is a keen supporter of the Bill. I represent Guys hospital, which has a huge tradition of renal surgery, and I have met many kidney patients awaiting transplants. Does he accept that for hon. Members such as me, it is difficult to explain the situation to those people, given the frustration of knowing that they could be dealt with much more quickly if many more kidneys were available? Looked at from the position of those families, many of whom I have seen over the years, this Bill is exactly the sort of step that this country ought to be bold enough to take.
Mr. Browne: I am grateful for that intervention, because I strongly agree with it. When I met Gill Stapleton-Smith, who has had exactly that transplant, she not only told me that it had saved her life, but she described her quality of life and the impact that the transplant had had on not just her, but all those around her. She now works at Musgrove Park hospital, which is the main hospital in Taunton, saving the lives of, and helping, other people and making a meaningful contribution to our community, including through paying her taxesshe helps out in that financial way. She also said that the stress her illness had caused her children and the rest of her family had now been removed. If anyone in this House were to meet her, they would be struck, as I was, by just how fit, energetic and vibrant she is.
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