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Mr Davey: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I certainly will pay tribute to the officials in my Department and elsewhere who have been critical to bringing the decision forward and, indeed, taking forward the new nuclear programme. I also pay tribute to him. He was an excellent Minister and he played a significant role in the new nuclear renaissance under this Government. There are Liberal Democrats who will not necessarily agree with not so much the decision today, but the overall new nuclear building programme. However, many Liberal Democrats in the local area and in the national party believe that we need to focus on climate change as a real and present danger to our country and the planet. Difficult decisions are required if we are to tackle climate change.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): There are much faster, cheaper and more affordable ways to tackle climate change than nuclear, but my question to the Secretary of State is about the only two nuclear power stations under construction in Europe today. They are billions of pounds over budget and delayed by an ever increasing number of years. Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark are all rejecting new nuclear. Even France is aiming to reduce its reliance by 25%. What do all those countries know that we do not? Why is the Secretary of State locking UK consumers into artificially high energy prices for years to come—to the benefit of the French Government, not the UK taxpayer?

Mr Davey: The hon. Lady has pushed her views for some time, and I have respect for them, but tackling climate change means that we need every form of low-carbon generation possible. The risk and the challenge are so great that it is wrong for people who are worried about climate change to turn their back on the issue. She points to other countries, but around the world many countries are looking again at new nuclear. She is right that the two new nuclear power stations that are being built are over budget and out of their original time schedule. That is why we are being extremely careful in our approach to those negotiations and to the new nuclear programme, learning the lessons of the past and from other countries so that we do not repeat those mistakes.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, which gives a huge boost to the confidence of everybody involved in the UK civil nuclear industry. Is not the statement also a statement of hope for other communities, such as Dungeness in my constituency, which aspire to be part of the revolution in the British nuclear industry?

Mr Davey: I agree with my hon. Friend. Many people—not only in the nuclear industry, but in the low-carbon energy sector generally—will see the statement as a key moment and welcome the boost to confidence more broadly. He has been a doughty champion for Dungeness. He and I have already met formally and talked about the work that he wishes to do locally, and I encourage him to keep going.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. I visited Hinkley in November as part of the Select Committee visit and

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was most impressed by the arguments for community benefit, of which he has spoken. However, he rightly said that this is not the end. I do not wish to press him on the strike price—I understand that those matters are commercial—but will he at least acknowledge two principles? First, the strike price will be based on the construction costs. Therefore, will he incorporate a clawback into the formula, should those costs be overestimated? Secondly, does he accept that Jean-Paul Chanteguet, Chairman of the Select Committee in the French Parliament, has said that Flamanville, on which Hinkley is based, will be producing at €72 per MW, and that that must, in anybody’s account, form the baseline for assessment of the negotiations in which the Secretary of State is engaged?

Mr Davey: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and the other Select Committee members who have not only grilled me on this and other issues but made inquiries into the matter and been generally supportive. On the details of negotiations, clawbacks and the actual price, I am afraid that I must disappoint him; I will not be drawn on those. We are determined to get a price that represents value for money, that is fair and affordable and that bears scrutiny.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): When does the Secretary of State expect the first regular stream of electricity to start flowing from the plant?

Mr Davey: Assuming that we can conclude the negotiations with EDF on the funded decommissioning plan and the strike price, and assuming that one or two of the remaining regulatory approvals are granted and that construction can therefore begin later this year or early next year, EDF believes that it can start generating power by the end of this decade or early in the next decade. Of course, one should not be held to clear timetables in these matters, as we all know the dangers of overrun, but when I have discussed it with officials and EDF, I have been impressed by the amount of careful pre-planning done to ensure that the delays seen in Flamanville, in Finland and elsewhere are not repeated here.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He referred to the fact that the Government are still pressing ahead with plans to identify a geological disposal facility. Taking on board the legacy going back 25 years with Nirex and the failure to find a facility—I hasten to add that I am not in favour of such a facility—can he indicate what sites are being explored? Does he agree that it is necessary to take into account the geological rock structures and framework of substrata in any such discussions?

Mr Davey: The strategy to locate a site for a geological disposal facility was set out under the last Government, and we are following their policy. Some of the issues identified by the hon. Lady would need to be considered as it is developed. We have made it clear that we are sticking to the voluntarist approach set out by the last Government. We think that it is important that a geological disposal facility is not imposed on an area but is willingly accepted.

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The recent Cumbria vote was interesting. The district councils of Copeland and Allerdale voted heavily in favour, and only Cumbria county council, with councillors representing areas a significant distance from the proposed sites, vetoed it. I believe that we will be able to find a site for a geological disposal facility using the voluntarist approach.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Half my right hon. Friend’s Department’s budget is already spoken for to pay for the nuclear clean-up, and the coalition has adopted a policy of no public subsidy. I have listened to what he says about not discussing individual figures, but anything other than a free market commercial strike price for that product would surely represent public subsidy. What can he say to reassure me and the House that the settlement will not be tantamount to a public subsidy for new nuclear power?

Mr Davey: May I correct my hon. Friend? This year, 69% of my Department’s budget is being spent on decommissioning past nuclear power stations. That is why I, probably more than anyone else in the House, am determined that we do not make the mistakes of the past. Any strike price negotiated will take into account the costs of decommissioning and of waste disposal. It is absolutely critical that when we agree a deal with EDF or any future nuclear operator, it must do the clean-up and the decommissioning. That must be part of the agreement. The costs must be integrated, not left alone as they have been in the past.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I, too, visited Hinkley Point a year or so ago in response to concerns raised with me in Bristol, mostly about safety, which I accept is a separate process, but also about the impact on biodiversity and marine life in the area. When is the marine licence likely to be granted, and is anything specific holding it up?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. When she reads the decision letter, she will notice that the panel and I have spent some time on those issues. Section 4 of the decision letter discusses the habitats regulations assessment, and section 5 considers the environmental impact assessment. She is right that a regulation approval from the Marine Management Organisation is outstanding, but she will also understand that it is an independent regulatory body. I believe and am told that its examination of the issue is well under way, but I cannot hold the MMO to a timetable.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The strike price at Hinkley Point will send an important message to other potential nuclear developers. When the chief executive of EDF appeared before the Energy Bill Committee, he said that he was anxious for transparency on the strike price. The Minister has said that he will publish the contract, but will he also publish enough information for everybody to see how that strike price was arrived at and that there was no public subsidy behind it?

Mr Davey: The hon. Gentleman is right that we will be transparent about the process, but of course some cost information will be commercial in confidence. We have never undertaken to publish every single document relating to the negotiation, but the key terms and conditions will be published.

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Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Given that the announcement today is about planning, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the European Commission on whether the proposed financing will contravene state aid rules? It comes down to whether or not it is public subsidy.

Mr Davey: We have had some preliminary discussions with the European Commission, but given that we have not completed final negotiations with EDF, there is nothing for us to allow the Commission to analyse for state aid purposes. However, we will do so in due course.

19 Mar 2013 : Column 820

Parish and Town Council Precepts (Referendums)

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

1.46 pm

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give effect to Schedule 5 of the Localism Act 2011; to amend section 52ZC of the Government Finance Act 1992 (inserted by that Schedule) to require parish and town councils to conduct local referendums in the event that they choose to increase their precept by 2% or more in the following financial year; and for connected purposes.

Before I came to the House, I had the great privilege of serving as a district councillor for the Worth Valley ward in Keighley. During my 13 years as a councillor, I got to know and respect many of my colleagues from across the political spectrum. I also had a good relationship with many colleagues on town and parish councils across the metropolitan district. Many individuals in the first tier of local government have given decades of public service, and I put on record my thanks for their unpaid and tireless efforts to do good in their communities with the aim of making them better places.

As Members will know, responsibility at parish and town council level is limited. Although they undertake an enormous amount of additional work, they have sole statutory responsibility only for allotments. However, with the support of district councils and other partners, parish councils have often taken on other responsibilities. One example is the excellent work undertaken by Keighley town council, which has taken over Keighley’s cenotaph and town hall square and done a tremendous job. I also cite the excellent consultation undertaken by Oxenhope and Addingham parish councils, which have done extensive, first-rate, highly competent work on planning and potential housing numbers. Finally, Silsden town council has a youth council that has been making a contribution to youth provision in the town, driven by motivated, thoughtful and determined young people doing their bit for where they live.

However, there is a “but”. While I fully support all this work and commend it to others, I question the actions of a few councils. Hawarth, Cross Roads and Stanbury council, and Keighley town council, have raised their precept in recent weeks by 60% and 73% respectively. In the case of Hawarth, Cross Roads and Stanbury council, the argument in favour of such a rise appears to be that the Secretary of State might cap such a rise next year, so it has decided to bank it this year. There are no firm spending intentions, but the council has taken the money without holding a meaningful debate with residents. I acknowledge that it has good ideas in the pipeline, which may merit future increases in the precept, but residents have been taxed for ideas, and I think that residents should pay for services.

Keighley town council has interpreted localism as an opportunity to empire-build. Bearing in mind the fact that its sole responsibility under statute is for allotments, it has taken it upon itself to purchase the old police station in Keighley and offer the town a new civic centre at a cost of £1 million, despite the fact that the town already has a town hall and a brand new community centre within 400 yards of the civic centre. Sadly, the business plan does not service the debt that has been

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incurred, so residents have to pay a 72.6% increase in the precept. This is a shambles, and it is of the council’s own making. Rather than sting local residents, it should look at its overheads, and address staffing levels and its transport bill, rather than impose an extra burden on hard-pressed families.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Kris Hopkins: No.

I want to touch on the false assertion that these are only small amounts of money, and are not important. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has fought an effective campaign on a 1p increase on a litre of petrol. There are 2,494 pennies in the council precept in Keighley. Parish and town councils do not have an accountable body, so we have a duty to ensure that the public have a say in any rise in the precept, and a clear understanding of why that rise has been introduced. Many people are struggling, and we should make every effort, however small individually, to reduce the demands on the household purse. I urge the House to support the Bill and give a clear voice to residents who face a rise of more than 2% in their council tax.

Question put and agreed to.


That Kris Hopkins, Dr Thérèse Coffey, Stuart Andrew, Alec Shelbrooke, Craig Whittaker, Simon Reevell and Julian Smith present the Bill.

Kris Hopkins accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 April, and to be printed (Bill 151).

Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill (Amendments, etc.)


That, in respect of the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.—(Mr Lansley.)

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Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill (Allocation of Time)

1.54 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban): I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill—


1.–(1) Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at this day’s sitting.

(2) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) four hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

(3) Proceedings in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) six hours after the commencement of proceedings on this Motion.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

2. When the Bill has been read a second time—

(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

3.–(1) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(2) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others) in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

5. On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

6. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.

7. If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph 4(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.

Consideration of Lords Amendments

8.–(1) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be brought to a conclusion, if not previously concluded, one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (1) shall thereupon be resumed.

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9.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 8.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair.

(3) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith—

(a) a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and

(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown that this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.

(6) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.

(7) As soon as the House has—

(a) agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment; or

(b) disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to, the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown and relevant to the Lords Amendment.

Subsequent stages

10.–(1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.

(2) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (1) shall thereupon be resumed.

11.–(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 10.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair.

(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Reasons Committee

12.–(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chair.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

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(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub-paragraph (3), the Chair shall—

(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair but not yet decided, and

(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.


13.–Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

14.–(1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

15. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

16.–(1) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

17.–(1) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

18. The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

19.–(1) This paragraph applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(2) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

20. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

21.–(1) Any private business which has been set down for consideration at 7.00 pm, 4.00 pm or 2.00 pm (as the case may be) on a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day.

(2) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before the moment of interruption, for a period equal to the time elapsing between 7.00 pm, 4.00 pm or 2.00 pm (as the case may be) and the conclusion of those proceedings.

I do not wish to detain the House long, because I am sure that we want to spend as much time as possible discussing the Bill. We seek the approval of the House to consider all stages of this important Bill in a single day. The motion allows for a total of six hours of debate, with up to four hours on Second Reading, with the balance of time spent in Committee and on Third Reading. With the co-operation of the House, the Bill will ensure that the taxpayer does not have to repay

19 Mar 2013 : Column 825

previous benefit sanctions to claimants who have failed to participate in certain employment programmes, and it ensures that we can properly impose sanctions for such failures. Without this Bill, the cost to the taxpayer would be up to £130 million.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Is it not the case that test case law from 2012 refutes the argument that the Government are making in terms of the requirement for sanctioned benefits to be recouped?

Mr Hoban: The hon. Lady makes a helpful point, but the legal position is as follows. If the Supreme Court does not give us leave to appeal, the regulations will be quashed, and we would have to repay sanctions to claimants who had not participated in schemes to help them back into work. The Bill is therefore needed. Hon. Members may have received briefings from third parties saying that that was not the case, but I can assure her and others that it is.

The Department has applied for permission for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee that that will be granted. We therefore need to expedite the Bill so that we are not in a position where we have to repay benefit sanctions to people who have neither participated nor accepted the help that we have offered them.

Mr Speaker: I take it that the Minister has concluded his remarks. He cannot be accused of doing so with a fanfare of trumpets, but we are grateful to him for moving the motion.

1.57 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): We find ourselves in a deeply unsatisfactory situation with the Bill and, indeed, the programme motion. We do not quite know what happened between the court case and the decision that prompted the measure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) and I were told about the problem a couple of weeks ago; there was a three-week gap when we did not know what was happening. The House of Lords Constitution Committee will, I believe, opine on the measure tomorrow, but equally we do not want to risk an additional £130 million cut to benefit spending over the period ahead, particularly not on a day on which it has emerged that the Government want to cut £2.5 billion from spending across Government, some of it doubtless from the budget of the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Nor do we want to be in a position in which people who were sanctioned months ago—in many cases, well over a year ago—have to be refunded because of the appalling mess that the Government have got themselves into.

The way forward proposed by the Bill and the programme motion is deeply unsatisfactory, but it is less bad than the alternatives, and for that reason I shall not urge my hon. Friends to oppose it.

Mr Speaker: If no one else wishes to contribute, the debate has been pithily concluded.

Question put and agreed to.

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Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill

Second Reading

1.59 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I hope that I conduct this debate in a workman-like way, as I did the debate on the allocation of time motion. The Bill will ensure that following the recent Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Wilson and Reilly v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the taxpayer will not have to repay to claimants the benefits lost because of their failure to take part in mandatory back-to-work programmes. It will also enable the Government to impose benefit sanctions on those who fail to participate in a mandatory programme where a decision has been put on hold because of the Wilson and Reilly case.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Is it not the reality that this is a multi-billion pound failed flagship scheme, which was condemned by the Public Affairs Committee as extremely poor? Having lost a case and fearing that they will lose the appeal, the Government, instead of respecting our justice system, are abusing our emergency procedures to fix the consequences of losing? Does that show not a shocking disrespect both for our courts and for the principle that workers should be paid the minimum wage?

Mr Hoban: The hon. Lady clearly has a press release that she wants to set out this afternoon. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, she says that it is a good press release. I wish it were an accurate one. The reality is that our schemes are helping to get people back into work. It is vital that people who are looking for work are given help to get into work, and we are offering that. Up to the end of September, 200,000 people found work as a consequence of the Work programme. If she thinks that that is a failure, she is insulting the people who have got work through the Work programme. She should recognise the benefits that such schemes bring. To allow people not to take part in them is breaking a contract between us and the unemployed. We give them the support that they need to get back into work and we expect them to take up that offer of support. If they do not take up that offer, it is right that they are penalised.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Will the Minister tell the House how our employment rate compares with that of eurozone countries and even with that of the United States?

Mr Hoban: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The unemployment rate in the UK is below the average of the eurozone and the European Union. We are seeing one of the fastest rates of job creation in the developed world and we have record numbers of people in work, and record numbers of women in work. Our policies to help people into work are effective. On the whole, jobseekers welcome them and it is important that they continue to take advantage of the schemes that are on offer.

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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Is it not true that the Office for National Statistics has confirmed that the Government have included in their employment figures those who are not being paid for their work?

Mr Hoban: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail of the Office for National Statistics labour force survey, he will see that there are people who are on schemes who say that they are in employment, but that was the case under the previous Government. I have raised that issue with the ONS, because I agree that they should not be included in the numbers who are employed, but it rejected the argument on the grounds of international consistency. We cannot ignore the fact that, excluding those schemes and any reclassification, we have seen more than 1 million net new jobs created in the private sector since May 2010. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should congratulate us on achieving that.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Is it not the case that the employment rate now is lower than the rate—not the absolute numbers—in 2008?

Mr Hoban: The hon. Lady must recognise that we are in a very different economic climate from the one in 2008, when we saw a debt-fuelled boom that undermined the strength of the British economy. The economy is going through a healing process at the moment, and since May 2010 we have actually seen the private sector creating an extra 1 million new jobs. She should welcome that, because it has given people across the country an opportunity to get into work. We have seen the effectiveness of our welfare reforms—230,000 fewer people are claiming out-of-work benefits than they were in May 2010—and they have contributed to an increase in the numbers of people in work. People are coming into the labour market and finding jobs, and I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome that.

Before I go into the detail of the Bill and the background to the Court of Appeal judgment, let me outline why the Government believe that, in certain circumstances, jobseeker’s allowance claimants should be mandated to take part in employment programmes. and that when they fail to participate without good reason, they should face a benefit sanction.

First, this is a policy that is supported not only by Members from all parts of the House, but by the vast majority of the British public. According to the British social attitudes survey, 85% of the public believe that someone who is unemployed and on benefits should be required to do some unpaid work in the community while keeping their benefits. Sir Stanley Burnton, one of the Appeal Court judges in the Wilson and Reilly judgment, said:

“Parliament is entitled to authorise the creation and administration of schemes that are designed to assist the unemployed to obtain employment...it is not easy to see what objection there could be to them. Parliament is equally entitled to encourage participation in such schemes by imposing sanctions, in terms of loss of jobseekers’ allowance, on those who without good cause refuse to participate in a suitable scheme.”

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Is not the issue the fact that sanctions can work if people know the consequences of failure to action? Did not the court

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rule that the information that was sent to people who were sanctioned did not comply with the regulations passed by this House?

Mr Hoban: A clear message was sent that people who failed to participate in schemes could lose their benefit for up to 26 weeks. That is the maximum they could lose. What the Court of Appeal said, and what the High Court said previously, was that we should make reference to the fact that if someone had committed a first offence, as it were, we should give details of the amount of benefit they would lose the first time they did not participate in a scheme. In fact, we have changed the notices as a consequence of the High Court judgment. The notice that we sent out said that people would face a loss of up to 26 weeks benefit if they did not take part in the scheme. What the High Court wanted was details of the lower levels of sanctions that could apply in that situation.

There is a broad consensus that mandatory back-to-work schemes are a necessary part of the approach that we take to get people back to work. When a person signs on to receive jobseeker’s allowance, they accept that they have certain responsibilities. It could be called a contract between the jobseeker and the taxpayer. We will offer a huge amount of support to jobseekers, including help to search for jobs, work experience and jobseeker’s allowance. That is our part of the deal. The jobseekers’ part of the contract is to take up the help that we offer. While the vast majority of jobseekers live up to their part of the contract, there are a small minority who are reluctant to do everything they can reasonably be expected to do to get back into work.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab) rose

Mr Hoban: In a moment. For that group of people, it is right that we have the power to mandate them on to different back-to-work schemes, which we think will help them improve their chances of finding work. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) supports that sentiment.

Mr Byrne: A couple of years ago now, the Secretary of State gave an assurance to the House that individual jobcentres or jobcentre districts did not have targets for sanctioning jobseekers and that there were not any kind of league tables that ranked jobcentres or districts for sanctions. Will the Minister confirm that that is still his Department’s policy?

Mr Hoban: Absolutely. There are no league tables in place. We do not set targets for sanctions; I have made that point in previous discussions with, I think, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). The decisions that need to be made are the right ones. They need to be based on whether people have breached the agreements they have set out with the jobcentre, and there are no targets in place.

Let me set out in a bit more detail the programmes that exist. The programmes might vary from a training course that the Government have paid for so that the claimant gains some essential skills that will increase their chances of finding work, or they might involve a community work placement, whereby claimants can pick up the basic disciplines, such as turning up on time, that every reasonable employer will expect.

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We also know that those schemes work. Recent research on our mandatory work activity scheme found that nine in 10 participants said that they better recognised the benefits of a working routine, and around three quarters said that their confidence and ability to work as a team had improved. More than half said that they felt more positive about work than they did before attending.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Is it not the case that the research on the mandatory work schemes found that, afterwards, people were as likely to be on benefit as they were before?

Mr Hoban: The scheme is used particularly for those who are some distance from the labour market. We know that we need to make a range of interventions to get people to move closer and closer to the labour market. The scheme changes people’s attitude to work. Those on the scheme can put that work on their CV and demonstrate to employers that they are ready for work. That makes a contribution to moving them closer to work. As the evaluation that the hon. Lady referred to pointed out, people themselves feel the benefits of taking part in the scheme. It is therefore right that when claimants refuse to take up the support that is available, and then fail without good reason to attend these mandatory programmes, they face the consequences of their actions—a benefit sanction.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hoban: I want to make some more progress. We have four hours, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have time to make a contribution.

On 12 February, the Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011 were found to be ultra vires by the Court of Appeal on the ground that the programmes covered by the regulations were not described in the regulations in sufficient detail. Those are the regulations that provide for most of the mandatory back-to-work schemes, such as the Work programme and the day one trailblazers, which we are running at the moment.

The Court of Appeal also held that the notices sent to claimants advising them that they were required to take part in a programme within the ESE scheme did not comply with the requirements of regulation 4 of the ESE regulations. It is important to remind all Members that the Court of Appeal has ruled that there was no breach of article 4(2) of the European convention on human rights, meaning that these schemes cannot be equated with slave labour. As I have already stated, the judgment was supportive of the principle and policy of our employment schemes.

Mr Howarth: Will the Minister confirm that he intends to appoint an independent person to produce a report on this matter? The intention is that they will report within 12 months and the Secretary of State will consider that report for some unspecified period. I know that it is a complex issue, but does the Minister agree that that could be done much more quickly, and the issue could be resolved much more quickly, if that process were shortened, rather than the period being 12 months and then as long as it takes to consider the report?

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Mr Hoban: I will touch on this in a bit more detail later, but we will appoint an independent reviewer to look at the way in which the sanctions regime works under the Bill and to report to Parliament; that is dealt with in new clause 1, which we will discuss later. The Secretary of State will lay the report before Parliament. The operation of the sanctions regime will be looked at within a 12-month period. If it could be looked at more quickly, that would be a good thing. That is one of the helpful products of the discussion between the two Front-Bench teams over the past couple of weeks. I hope that that gives Members reassurance on the nature of the review. I will come back later to the new clause, which will provide further reassurance.

In response to the judgment of 12 February, the Department laid new regulations, which came into force with immediate effect, so that we could continue seamlessly to mandate claimants to these vital back-to-work schemes. We have also written to everyone already taking part in the schemes to ensure their continued participation in schemes designed to help them to get back into work.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Could the Minister clear something up? Does he believe that the Court’s judgment is basically about a technicality, or was there a serious oversight by the Department? Many of my constituents think that there was a serious oversight.

Mr Hoban: No, there was not a serious oversight; the judgment was about a technicality. The High Court agreed that the regulations were satisfactory. It did not have a problem with the amount of detail in the regulations, whereas the Appeal Court did. I therefore believe that the judgment was about a technicality; it was about the amount of detail in the regulations. The Appeal Court thought that there should be more detail about the schemes. We felt, for reasons of efficiency and responding quickly to identify schemes that would help people to get back into work, that it was helpful to have some detail in the regulations but not as much as the Appeal Court wanted. To ensure that we could respond flexibly to the changing labour market and the changing needs of the unemployed, we designed the regulations in the way we did. We are seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court to continue to press that point about the amount of detail that should be in the regulations.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): On the very points that the Minister is making, of course it is right that those involved in the system—those seeking employment and training—should have as much information as possible. Does he recognise that the wider public need to be confident that the system—what is happening out there to find employment and training for those in need—should be robust and stand up to scrutiny, including scrutiny by the courts?

Mr Hoban: I think that the system is robust and that it does stand up to scrutiny by the courts. That is why the High Court accepted the amount of detail in the regulations. The Appeal Court disagreed with that and we are seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court to argue that point. It is not unusual for there to be a limited amount of detail in regulations and much more information to be supplied in guidance or notices provided not just by the DWP but by other Departments.

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Fiona Mactaggart: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hoban: I have given way already to the hon. Lady. I want to make some progress.

As I have made clear, the Department fundamentally disagrees with the Appeal Court’s verdict, which is why it has applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in respect of both grounds. We believe it is right that the regulations should allow for flexibility, so that we can respond rapidly to improve jobseekers' chances of finding work, such as trialling new approaches in Derbyshire and London to help young people get vital experience to bolster their CV. A more prescriptive approach—the one proposed by the Appeal Court—to the content of the regulations would create inflexibilities that would ultimately hinder the jobseeker's chance of finding work.

Those are the arguments that we will make before the Supreme Court, if we are granted permission. Those arguments will not be affected by the Bill. We are hopeful that we will obtain permission and that we will win our appeal. There is, however, no guarantee that we will be granted permission to appeal, or that we would win the appeal. Were that to happen, claimants who have been subject to a sanction for failing to take part in the schemes would be entitled to a refund of that sanction. It would also mean that we had no power to impose sanctions in relation to failures under the ESE regulations, in cases where no sanction decision has yet been taken—the so-called stockpiled cases. If that were to happen, the cost to the taxpayer would be up to £130 million.

It is vital that, in the present economic climate, the public purse be protected from such claims. The Bill will ensure that the taxpayer does not have to repay benefits lost by claimants who have failed to participate in employment programmes, and can properly impose sanctions for such failures. It would be unacceptable for claimants who have failed to take all reasonable steps to increase their chances of finding work to receive an undeserved windfall payment. The Bill will prevent that by providing that any decision to reduce jobseeker's allowance under the ESE regulations cannot be challenged on the grounds that the ESE regulations were invalid or the notices given under them inadequate. It makes similar provision in relation to the mandatory work activity regulations in respect of notices given under those regulations.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Following on from the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), who pressed the Minister on whether the judgment was about a technicality or not, may I draw the Minister’s attention to the comments of Lord Justice Pill? He said:

“Claimants must be made aware of their obligations and of the circumstances in which, and the manner in which, sanctions will be applied.”

I do not think that he regarded it as a technicality, but if it is, next time the Department makes a mess, will the Minister come and seek a further retrospective Bill, in the way he has done today?

Mr Hoban: The High Court upheld the steps that we took in setting out the detail in the regulations. As I said earlier, the letter that we sent to claimants who were required to participate in the schemes set out the fact

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that they could be subject to sanctions of up to 26 weeks’ worth of benefits. That is not the only communication we have with jobseekers. The jobseekers who come into Jobcentre Plus will have discussed the requirements with their personal adviser, so there is a range of ways in which we will communicate to jobseekers their obligations under the schemes. That is vital. It is important that people are aware of those obligations. We believe that the notices and regulations provide sufficient detail, and that will be backed up by the conversations and other communication that jobseekers have with personal advisers.

Sheila Gilmore rose

Mr Hoban: I want to make some more progress.

The Bill will ensure that the Government will not have to refund sanctions on the basis of the Court of Appeal’s judgment and will be able to make a decision in cases where no sanction decision has yet been made.

As I have previously stated, the Government have applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. However, to ensure that we are not faced with having to repay benefit sanctions, we have had to press ahead with this fast-track legislation.

I would like to put it on record that I am grateful for the constructive way in which the right hon. Members for Birmingham, Hodge Hill and for East Ham have approached this topic. In supporting the Bill, they have allowed us to expedite its progress, thus safeguarding taxpayers’ money.

Following discussions last week with the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, we will be proposing two Government amendments in Committee. The first will reiterate in the Bill that a claimant’s appeal rights against a sanction decision remain unchanged in all matters, apart from those covered by the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments. For example, when a claimant felt that they had good cause for not participating in one of these schemes, they would still be able to appeal to the first tier tribunal on the basis of good cause. That is a helpful reconfirmation of the right of claimants to appeal. Similarly, the Bill will not overturn appeals that have succeeded on the basis of good cause. I hope that our amendment on that provides the clarification that the right hon. Gentleman seeks.

Mr Byrne: Will the Minister now confirm that the grounds of good cause in respect of appeals will remain undisturbed and will include the grounds covered in DWP guidance, which says that good cause can include an unsuitable course, full-time study, health and caring reasons, travel time that is inappropriately long, religious belief, bereavement, attending court and other emergencies? Will he also confirm that, ultimately, the timetable for lodging appeals will remain at 13 months?

Mr Hoban: We have been very clear in this amendment. We are confirming the right to appeal, and appeals can proceed on the grounds that are usually available in these situations, which the right hon. Gentleman has listed. The Bill does not change people’s right to appeal, save for appeals based on High Court or Supreme Court judgments.

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The second Government amendment that we will bring forward in Committee will require the Secretary of State to appoint an independent person to carry out a review of the operation of the sanctions validated by this legislation during the first 12 months after Royal Assent. That review will report as soon as possible after the 12-month period, and the report will be laid before Parliament. I hope that these assurances are satisfactory.

To conclude, this Bill is necessary to ensure that the taxpayer does not have to repay up to £130 million in benefits lost through the failure of claimants to take up the Government’s offer of support. It is vital that scarce public resources are targeted at those who need and deserve them most. It would be unacceptable for claimants who have failed to take all reasonable steps to increase their chances of finding work to obtain an undeserved windfall payment. This Bill will prevent that, and I commend it to the House.

2.23 pm

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): This is a very dark day for the once-proud DWP, and it beggars belief that this once-proud Department has found itself in this position under the Secretary of State’s leadership. The organisation of back-to-work schemes is now in a state of total chaos. Once upon a time, back in 2010, the Secretary of State boasted that the Work programme would be the

“most comprehensive, integrated work programme in existence, certainly, since the war”.—[Official Report, 22 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 17.]

What do we have instead? We have a Work programme that is literally worse than doing nothing. Just 2.3% of people referred on to the programme have found sustained jobs. As has been said, the Public Accounts Committee stated—

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con) rose

Mr Byrne: The hon. Lady will want to reflect on this. The Public Accounts Committee said this about the Work programme:

“Actual performance was even below the Department’s assessment of the non-intervention rate—the number of people that would have found sustained work had the Work programme not been running.”

Maybe the hon. Lady can tell me whether she is proud of that.

Jane Ellison: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I was going to tell him that this morning the Work and Pensions Committee was at Willesden Jobcentre Plus. I asked the staff running the programme there, helping people get back to work, how they felt about their efforts being described as worse than nothing. They said it was deeply demoralising and incredibly insulting to their efforts on behalf of the unemployed.

Mr Byrne: The truth is that jobcentre staff have so little confidence in the Work programme that they are not referring people to Work programme contactors at anywhere near the rate the Department has estimated. That is the reality of how jobcentre staff feel.

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We have had universal credit now beginning its descent into universal chaos, and now we have the news that the regulations designed to encourage jobseekers to take work were so badly drafted that the Court of Appeal struck them down and the Department may as a result be on the hook to repay £130 million in sanctions. The judges could not have been more unequivocal. Here is what they had to say:

“The 2011 Regulations must be quashed.”

I therefore put it to the Secretary of State that this is a day of shame for his Department. The House of Commons Library cannot find an instance of DWP legislation being struck down in this fashion since 1996, under the last Conservative Government. If the Secretary of State had delusions of adequacy, they have been swept away by today’s proposed legislation.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore explain to claimants, trade unions and everybody who has looked at this Bill why the Labour party will be abstaining today? If this Work programme is no better than no work programme at all, why on earth is the Labour party sitting on its hands?

Mr Byrne: I will address that point directly, as the answer is very simple: because this Bill restores the general legal power of the DWP to issue sanctions. It is a broad sui generis power that has been in place since 1911. I will be interested to hear later the hon. Gentleman’s argument on why he thinks the power to issue sanctions, which has been in place since 1911, should now be struck down for the period in question.

The worst aspect of all this is that the Secretary of State was warned that he was heading for a failure not simply in this House, not simply by commentators opposed to his plans, and not simply by people who had a profound disagreement with him, but by the very specialist Committee he set up to advise him on these questions. This is what the Social Security Advisory Committee said about the 2011 regulations:

“SSAC ask why the Department did not opt to narrow the scope of the original regulations”,

Indeed, it was, of course, their broad and unspecified content that the Court of Appeal objected to.

Mr Russell Brown: I want to take my right hon. Friend back to the recent intervention of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), from the Scottish National party Benches. Has my right hon. Friend picked up from those comments that the SNP is totally opposed to sanctions of any kind?

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am afraid that no other conclusion can be drawn from that intervention.

The Secretary of State said to us in the House a couple of weeks ago:

“That advice came to us; it was checked and it said that the regulations were fine.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 19.]

Well, either the lawyers are bad or the Secretary of State made the wrong judgment. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that there are a huge number of questions that the Secretary of State must now answer.

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If this were the only recent example of such incompetence by a Government Department, we might look on it more sympathetically, but all of us clearly remember the west coast main line debacle that cost taxpayers so much money and all of us remember that the Department for Transport responded by appointing an independent reviewer to get to the bottom of exactly what went wrong and how so much public money was put at risk. That is the response we must see now from the DWP. There must be an independent inquiry into how the Department got this so badly wrong.

Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): May I bring the right hon. Gentleman back to the Bill? Does he agree with its impact assessment, which states that a retrospective transfer of £130 million of

“public money to this group of claimants would represent poor value to the taxpayer and will not help those unemployed enter employment”?

Surely, in the current climate he should welcome the swift action taken by the Government. Listening to his interventions and his speech, I am not sure that he or Labour are ready to be custodians of this country’s public finances.

Mr Byrne: Right—so a Member of a Government who have just put at risk £130 million of public money says that we would not be safe custodians of public money.

The Secretary of State was given the judgment by the Court of Appeal on 12 February. Weeks later, there was the request for urgent legislation, please. That is highly unsatisfactory. Tests for retrospective legislation have been repeatedly set out in this House and the other place. Tomorrow, the Lords’ Constitution Committee will opine on this Bill. I suspect it will have harsh things to say about its rushed nature which, because it is retrospective and set to a fast timetable, represents the worst of all worlds.

The Secretary of State will be aware, like me, of the principles set down by the Constitution Committee in its 15th report, where it opines on fast-track legislation. There is a need to maintain clear, transparent parliamentary scrutiny, and to maintain “good law”. The right of interested parties to put forward views must be observed. There is a need to ensure that legislation is a proportionate, justified and appropriate response, and is set out so that fundamental constitutional rights are not jeopardised. Crucially, the policy-making process within Government should be transparent. I look forward to hearing how any one of those principles is honoured by the process before us. The test is all the sharper, in that the Secretary of State is in this pickle because he rushed the legislation, against the recommendation of his advisers.

The test for fast-tracked retrospective legislation is the toughest of all. It was a principle the Lords set down in their report on criminal evidence legislation in 2008, which said:

“Legislation to make lawful an action that was done without legal authority…needs to be scrutinised carefully.”

My concern is that this timetable does not deliver that.

At the heart of this debate is the question whether the programmes the Government have in place, which rest on the power the Secretary of State is seeking from us, are in any way effective.

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Caroline Lucas: Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that many people in this country will be shocked to learn that the official Opposition want to vote for this Bill precisely because they want to impose sanctions on people on workfare? Let me give him the example of a 58-year-old constituent of mine who has been unemployed for seven months. She was told that she had to travel miles to work in a Scope charity shop in Worthing or lose benefits. She could not afford to get to Worthing, so she offered to work in the Scope shop in Brighton, but the jobcentre would not allow it. Should she be sanctioned?

Mr Byrne: The hon. Lady raises an extremely important point, and that is why we have sought to ensure that the Bill includes our safeguards, which preserve the right to appeal with good cause, and the 13-month appeal window during which people can lodge objections to the sanctions regime. To answer the hon. Lady directly, I do believe that the DWP should be equipped with the power to issue sanctions. That general foundation has been in the hands of Ministers for more than a century. The new deal programmes and the future jobs fund that Labour put in place had sanctions attached to them—indeed, they were tightened by the Welfare Reform Act 2009—and I do not believe that those powers should be empty ones. However, nor do I believe they should be in the ether—in the hands of Ministers who have no obligation to put in place genuine back-to-work programmes that are better than doing nothing, unlike today’s Work programme.

Derek Twigg: Is there not evidence in our constituencies of people being taken off benefits for no good reason? For example, a constituent who was attending the funeral of a close relative had her benefits stopped. People with mental health issues, particularly young men, are kicked off benefit for no good reason.

Mr Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to flag that up. He will know that the DWP’s own guidance says that “good cause” for appealing against a sanction decision includes bereavement where the claimant was arranging or attending a funeral of a close relative or friend. That is why it is vital that we seek to protect these appeal rights in the Bill.

The ultimate test of whether a back-to-work programme is working is perhaps the one the Secretary of State set out when he spoke in Easterhouse all those years ago. He said that

“we need a jobs revolution. Every working-age adult capable of earning a decent living for themselves and their dependants must be helped to have the opportunity to do so”.

Since he took office, unemployment has increased in three quarters of the estates with the worst unemployment levels in Britain. It has not got better; it has got worse.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): More than half the first cohort on the Work programme are in work. Why does the right hon. Gentleman describe that as a failure?

Mr Byrne: The hon. Gentleman would do well to pay attention to the DWP’s own statistics and to the judgment of the Public Accounts Committee. They are categorical; they do not hem and haw or hedge their words; they

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make it clear that the Work programme today is worse than doing nothing. On the estates where unemployment is worst, the situation has got worse, not better since the Secretary of State took office. By any measure, that must be a failure.

That is why we say there has to be a different macro-economic policy. Unemployment is high because there are not enough jobs to go round. My constituency has the highest youth unemployment of any constituency in the country. There are 30 people chasing every single job. There are not enough jobs to go round, and we need a different plan for growth and jobs—an argument that my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has set out with some power. We also need a different plan at the DWP. It is now Labour authorities and the Labour party nationally that are setting out the way forward for this Government. We have said that it would be wise to put a tax on bankers’ bonuses because we know we could use that money to get more than 100,000 young people back into work quickly. That is decisive action, which we hope to see from the Chancellor tomorrow. If anybody rejects an offer of a real job with real wages and real training, sure, perhaps they should face sanctions. But let us be clear: young people today deserve a real choice of a real job with real wages, but that is being denied them by this Government.

Mr Gibb: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me a second time. If I have read the Library briefing correctly, the JSA claimant count in his constituency fell over the last year by 6.7%.

Mr Byrne: That is cold comfort to a constituency with the highest youth unemployment in Britain. Does the hon. Gentleman know what people at my local jobcentre say when I visit it? Can he guess? They say, “I wish this Government would bring back the future jobs fund because it was the best programme we ever ran.” What a shame his party cancelled it, and that is why we propose its restoration.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Byrne: I will in a moment, if the Secretary of State will allow me.

When we look around the country, we now see Labour councils leading the charge to get young people back into work. In Sheffield, they are looking at how to intervene better in schools to help prevent young people from becoming unemployed. In Wakefield, they are bringing together colleges and businesses in a new way to get people back to work. In Leeds, there are new programmes to help get young people back into work. In Manchester, there is now a UCAS-style clearing house to get people back into apprenticeships. In Bradford, there are now industrial centres of excellence that bring the council, colleges and young people together. In Glasgow, the Labour council is guaranteeing a job for any young person out of work for too long. In Wales, they are making the same kind of commitment. In Birmingham, the Labour council—my own authority—has brought together a coalition of the willing to make progress on youth unemployment. In Liverpool, there is now an apprenticeship training agency, set up by the

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council and a local college. In Sandwell, Newham and Cardiff, Labour councils, local colleges and business communities have set up job brokerages. That is the kind of decisive action the Secretary of State can learn from. Perhaps he will give a commitment to go and look at what I have seen first hand and incorporate it into his policy.

Mr Duncan Smith: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Youth unemployment is lower than when the previous Government left office and there are more people in work than ever before. He is extolling the virtues of our localisation agenda, and I congratulate him on that.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about a simple point. He has laid out for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and others why his party will, by and large, not vote against the Bill. In doing so, he has said constantly how much he opposes emergency legislation and how terrible it is. Will he confirm that under Labour, there were 12 cases of emergency legislation being brought through this House in a hurry? Is he not crying crocodile tears on that point?

Mr Byrne: No. The Secretary of State should set out the detailed individual circumstances of every piece of legislation that he has referred to. He knows as well as I do what underpinned them. The point, as well he knows, is that he is making retrospective, fast-track legislation that touches on rights of appeal and property rights, all because of the mistake that he and his Ministers made in 2011 in bodging the regulations so badly that the Court of Appeal has struck them down.

To conclude, the assurances that we have heard from the Minister this afternoon are extremely important. The safeguards for appeal rights that have been set out are vital to ensure that people who are hit by sanctions have a wide-ranging set of good causes that can trigger an appeal.

Mr Duncan Smith: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Byrne: In a moment.

First, ensuring that the appeal window of 13 months is preserved is crucial for people who are hit by sanctions. Secondly, as has been referred to by my hon. Friends, it is vital that there is an independent review of the sanctions regime. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) will set out the questions that we believe need to be answered.

I have heard the Minister’s assurances this afternoon that there is no series of targets and that there are no league tables. We will hear further evidence on that point over the course of the debates in this House. I hope that the assurances that we have heard this afternoon withstand those tests.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Is it not the case that it is not only the low-paid, but the non-paid that Labour are not backing? By sitting on their hands, Labour Members are helping the Government to ensure that the people who are already being affected by the bedroom tax get no further support. It is worse than two bald men fighting over a comb.

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Mr Byrne: It was the Labour party that opposed the bedroom tax when the Welfare Reform Bill went through this House, it is the Labour party that has consistently voted in opposition to the bedroom tax, and it is the Labour party that has forced the concessions out of the Government to protect foster parents and armed forces families.

In conclusion, it beggars belief that the Secretary of State has had to come before the House to fast-track retrospective legislation to fix a problem that he created when he got things wrong all those months and years ago. That is why it is so important that there is an independent Laidlaw-style review to get to the bottom of what went wrong. We need answers on how the Secretary of State has landed himself in this position. We need those answers to come before this House so that we can come to a judgment about whether he is still fit to be Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

2.43 pm

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I would like to put on the record once again my belief that anyone who can work should work. For that to happen, we first need to have good quality jobs. As I suggested in my intervention, the percentage of such jobs that are available is getting worse, not better.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Lady says that those who can work should work. Does she agree that they should be paid for that work, and that they deserve the support of MPs to be paid for their work?

Debbie Abrahams: I was about to make the point that schemes such as work experience, when they are co-determined, can be valuable tools in enabling people who are yet to find a permanent, full-time job to find one.

The Bill is a new low for the Government. It is the result of an abuse of power and incompetence, mixed with an ideological drive to run down our welfare state. I, for one, do not support it.

The recent court ruling that the Bill seeks to overturn quashed the 2011 jobseeker’s regulations, which failed to describe the specifics of the employment schemes and the requirements to participate in those schemes, including the time that must be spent on them. The Secretary of State had empowered himself to make regulations, but the form that he had chosen was judged to be unlawful. The regulations did little more than name the scheme.

The second part of the judgment related to the sanctions that were applied to claimants. DWP letters failed to explain what they were required to do. The ruling stated:

“the answer to my mind is plainly that there could be no question of sanctions being validly imposed if no proper notice of the sanction consequences was given.”

Again, I support the principle of a sanctions regime. If somebody consistently fails to turn up for work experience or a Work programme scheme, sanctions should be applied. However, I believe that sanctions are being applied indiscriminately. For example, one of my constituents was a beneficiary of employment and support allowance after they had retired on grounds of ill health as a result of a heart problem. He was required to attend a work capability assessment with Atos. During

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the assessment, he was told that he was having a heart attack and the nurse said that she had to stop the assessment. He got a letter a couple of weeks later saying that he had withdrawn from the assessment and, as such, was being sanctioned. That beggars belief. I have other examples, as I am sure do colleagues.

I welcome the opportunity for a review of the sanctions regime, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) has proposed, and the provisions on the appeals process. As he suggested, there is an indiscriminate approach to sanctioning. I was contacted by a Jobcentre Plus employee who was concerned that he was being forced to sanction people inappropriately. I hope that more whistleblowers will come forward during the review to describe the issues with the schemes.

The Government say that the Bill is needed so that they do not have to pay back the sanctioned benefits. That is absolute nonsense, as was suggested earlier. There is test case law from 2012 that disputes that argument.

Not only are the Government trying to push through retrospective legislation that undermines the judiciary and the rule of law, with all the appalling implications that that has; I believe that the Bill is part of the divide-and-rule narrative that underpins the Government’s ideology. They are again pointing the finger at the undeserving poor. They are emaciating our hard-fought-for welfare system on the convenient back of austerity. I believe in our country and our people. I believe that in good times and bad the welfare system is there to protect them. There will always be a few who abuse that system and we need to have measures in place to prevent that. However, the Bill goes beyond the pale and I, for one, will fight this emaciation of our welfare system.

2.49 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): In the Reilly and Wilson v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions court case on 12 February 2013, the applicants challenged the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011 on four grounds. The first was that the scheme named in the 2011 regulations was beyond the powers of section 17A of the Jobseekers Act 1995. In other words, the regulations did not comply with the requirements of the Act. Secondly, the regulations could not be enforced in the absence of a published policy. Thirdly, notices to individuals mandated to take part in such schemes were inadequate. The fourth part, which was set aside, was the suggestion that the regulations conflict with article 4(2) of the European convention on human rights, which provides, subject to exceptions, that

“no one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”

Many organisations totally oppose this Bill for a wide and varied range of reasons, and it is unfair to claimants to legalise retroactively penalties that the Court has judged unlawful. Contrary to Government claims, it is not obvious that the DWP would have to repay sanctioned benefits to all claimants, so the stated £130 million potential loss is inaccurate. The Government already have anti-test case law rules that would prevent them from having to repay anything for sanctions served prior to 6 August 2012, and more information on that point would be extremely helpful when the Minister responds to the debate.

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It is of constitutional concern if the DWP undermines the judiciary and the rule of law by using retroactive legislation to avoid accountability for its own errors, and to negate any further appeal judgment by the Supreme Court that upholds the Court of Appeal judgment. Legal representatives who were in court for the Reilly and Wilson case stated categorically their belief that:

“The emergency Bill is a repugnant attempt by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to avoid his legal obligation to repay the thousands of jobseekers who…have been unlawfully and unfairly stripped of their subsistence benefits…The use of retrospective legislation, which is being fast-tracked through Parliament, smacks of desperation.”

I believe that is polite in the extreme. They went on:

“It undermines the rule of law and means that Iain Duncan Smith is once again seeking to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny of his actions…It is time for his Department to admit that maladministration and injustice costs.”

Other civil liberty groups and human rights campaigners have today explained to the press—it has just been released on the BBC—that they believe this type of retrospective legislation is a typical component of oppressive regimes. They could not have put it any stronger than that. The measure has been described by some organisations as “almost unbelievably disgusting”, and they said that the DWP

“broke the law, now they want to retroactively change the law so that they didn’t break the law in order to keep £130m out of the pockets of some of the poorest people in the country…The High Court found workfare unlawful precisely because people had no way of knowing the rules that applied. It shows an incredible level of arrogance and disregard for the poorest to now attempt to backdate laws to challenge this ruling.”

It has been correctly argued that the Bill would set a dangerous legal precedent if passed, and send a message that when citizens defeat the Government in court, the Government can overturn the Court ruling retrospectively with primary legislation—effectively making the Government, and the DWP, above the law. Who is in charge?

If this Bill is enacted, it is not clear what would happen in the cases of those who have successfully appealed against decisions to impose sanctions. It appears that there have already been successful appeals against sanction decisions at first-tier tribunals, following the Court of Appeal judgment. The Government’s argument is that the Bill will protect taxpayers by saving them a bill of £130 million. May I dare to suggest that that is denying those claimants their legal entitlement? Taxpayers will be better served if back-to-work schemes are properly scrutinised to ensure efficacy and that taxpayers are receiving value for money. That is a separate argument and has been stated well from both sides of the House this afternoon.

We can see from the poor performance of the Work programme so far, with only 3.5% of people referred to the programme finding a long-term job, that people are more likely to get a job without that scheme than with it. Is there a £130 million liability that would have to be repaid? The Government argue that legislation is necessary to protect the public purse from having to repay £130 million of sanctions that have been imposed. As I said earlier, however, significant anti-test case provisions already within the social security system mean it is highly unlikely that the Government would be required to

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repay all the sanctions. Section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998 allows the DWP not to change decisions that were only shown to be wrong by a decision of a court. It means that the DWP could probably resist repayment in all cases where the sanction was imposed and served before the High Court decision of 6 August 2012, as well as decisions after that date where no appeal is sought.

When researching for my contribution to this debate I looked at the explanatory notes and the impact assessment published with the Bill, and a number of issues really stuck out. Paragraph 9 states:

“The Bill has been introduced to avoid the need to repay claimants who have been sanctioned for failure to comply with requirements under the ESE Regulations and to be able to impose sanctions where decisions have been put on hold since the decision of the High Court or Court of Appeal. If this were to happen, the cost to the taxpayer is estimated to be up to £130 million.”

The Bill is being introduced to save the taxpayer up to £130 million, yet it deprives the most vulnerable people who have been on workfare and are looking to better themselves in employment. It has been introduced to deny £130 million compensation to 300,000 people who would like decent employment with decent wages, terms and conditions. The Government have introduced emergency legislation to prevent those people from getting only what the Court of Appeal says they deserve. That is an absolute outrage.

The explanatory notes state:

“The effect of the Bill will be that any decision to sanction a claimant for failures to comply with the ESE Regulations cannot be challenged on the grounds that the ESE Regulations were invalid or the notices given under them inadequate, notwithstanding the Court of Appeal’s judgment. This is to ensure that the Government is not faced with the situation whereby jobseekers previously sanctioned (or to be sanctioned) for non-compliance under the ESE Regulations can receive an unfair advantage over compliant claimants.”

Again, that is an outrageous statement. The notes continue:

“The Bill also addresses the risk that previous notifications to claimants made under the MWA Regulations—”

mandatory work activity regulations—

“which contain the same notification provisions as the ESE Regulations, may also be open to challenge on the basis of the Court of Appeal’s judgement.”

The explanatory notes state:

“The impact upon individuals is that JSA claimants who have not complied with requirements under the ESE Regulations will not be repaid sanctioned benefits as they might expect following the judgment or may have a sanction imposed. The Bill effectively restores the status quo to a situation before the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments. Once the Bill is enacted, claimants who might have appealed against previous sanction decisions on the grounds upheld by the Judicial Review will be unable to do so. Sanctions imposed under the…legislation can continue and sanctions decisions currently stayed can be made in accordance with the original intent of the legislation. This is to ensure that the Government is not faced with the situation whereby jobseekers who failed to comply with their requirements and were sanctioned under the quashed ESE Regulations can receive an advantage over claimants who have complied with their requirements and is necessary to safeguard the economic interests of the state.”

I wonder whether denying ordinary and mainly poor people what they have been granted in a Court of Appeal hearing is in the best interests of the country and the economy.

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Mr Hoban: But the people taking part in the schemes knew at the start that, if they did not take part, they would be sanctioned. They knew there was a penalty for not taking part in the schemes. Does the hon. Gentleman think it right that they should not be penalised?

Ian Lavery: I am certain that the 300,000 people the Court says have a claim because of the illegal actions of the Minister’s Department should receive it—there is no doubt about it. The Bill is being introduced by the DWP and the Government to deprive many hard-working people, and many people who want to be hard-working, of any finance whatever. Is that in the best interests of the economy? It is an absolute disgrace. Those people will spend money in the economy. They might get £50, £100 or £72 a week, but they will spend it, because it is the only money they have. The Minister should not seek to deprive those people and leave them with no finances whatever.

Mr Hoban: Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with Opposition Front-Benchers, who earlier argued in favour of sanctions?

Ian Lavery: I have not disagreed with anyone up until now other than the Government, because they wish to deny ordinary, hard-working people—people who wish to get on in life—what the Court of Appeal says they should have.

Dr Julian Lewis: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and am sincerely impressed with the passion with which he makes his case. However, if I were in his shoes, I would be determined to vote against the Bill. Perhaps I have misunderstood something. My understanding is that Opposition Front Benchers are proposing not to vote against the Bill. If so, why not?

Ian Lavery: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the situation, but perhaps when the vote takes place, he will be much better informed.

The Bill turns my stomach. The impact assessment states:

“A retrospective transfer of public money to this group of claimants would represent poor value to the taxpayer”.

What a disgrace to say such a thing in Government documents with reference to the people I have mentioned 10, 15 or 20 times previously. That will not give them self-esteem. They are doing their very best.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Jobless households trebled under Labour and increasingly became the norm for the next generation. Surely we owe it to those children to assist their parents to get their first foot in the door of a job. Specifically, I recently spoke to one parent who said that her children were full of pride when she got an opportunity. Why deny that to others?

Ian Lavery: Members of Parliament discuss with constituents, and often people away from the constituency, the merits and otherwise of policies. I often meet people with a very different view from the people the hon. Gentleman has met. That is not to say that that has not been said, but the people I meet want decent jobs. They want the opportunity to get up in the morning and go to work for a decent wage. They would accept the

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minimum wage even though, at this point in time, it is not high enough. Where I live, 25 people are after every single job in the jobcentre. That means that 24 are not getting employment for every single opportunity. People want to work for the best intentions and the right reasons. They want self-esteem and finances. People where I live want to work—I am sure that extends throughout the country.

Saying that paying claimants the money that the Court says they should be paid—the result of the ruling means that the £130 million can be paid—does not represent good value for the taxpayer is an absolute disgrace. It is not the type of language we would expect from any Government. It is not right to talk about people as, “This group of claimants.” They are ordinary people with feelings, and many of them want to get on in life.

Mr Hoban: If they want to get on in life, why have they turned down the opportunity to get the training and support that will help them to get a job?

Ian Lavery: People have received sanctions for a range of reasons. The Government should not overrule a Court of Appeal ruling and introduce retrospective legislation against people just because they have received sanctions. I am sure the Minister is not suggesting that people who have, for whatever reason, received a sanction, should under no circumstances claim some sort of subsistence, even if the courts have agreed in a ruling that they should receive it.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I do not know whether my hon. Friend has come across such cases, but I have come across a number of people who have gone for a number of jobs, and been told, when they go back to claim JSA, that they are not trying hard enough. What an attitude in the 21st century!

Ian Lavery: I fully understand my hon. Friend’s point. As I have said to the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), every MP has received many representations with regard to the wide and various workfare schemes.

The impact assessment states:

“If the Department cannot make these retrospective changes, then further reductions in benefits might be required in order to find the money to repay the sanctions.”

That is blackmail of the highest order—I make no apology for the strength of my feeling on that. If people are due finances, they should get them, particularly following a court ruling, but the Government are saying, “If we pay these people, we might have to cut benefits for other people as a result because that is where we have to find the money.” That is emotional blackmail. It is totally and utterly bang out of order. They are trying to set people who are looking for work and on benefits against each other. That is absolutely unacceptable.

To conclude, I have some questions for the Minister to answer in his winding-up speech. Is it right that claimants face financial penalties for failing to participate in schemes when the possibility of those penalties had not been properly explained to them? Is it right that the Government can flout the will of Parliament, which had clearly expressed its wish to have some oversight of

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the schemes, especially given that the schemes that were designed and imposed on claimants without an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny do not appear to be working?

Is it true that the DWP continued to issue letters to claimants that did not explain things properly even after the High Court had stated that the letters were inadequate?

Mr Hoban: That is not true.

Ian Lavery: From a sedentary position, the Minister says that that is not true, but I hope he will clarify that.

Mr Hoban: Let me clarify that now. When the High Court issued its judgment, we changed the letters to comply with its rules.

Ian Lavery: That is debatable.

Finally, what is the Department’s understanding on whether section 27 of the 1998 Act protects people from having to repay some of these sanctions? Some 300,000 people will be denied their legal rights if the Bill is passed. This is just another ideological attack on the unemployed and the less well-off, despite a High Court judgment. Why does the Minister not just accept the court of law? Give these people what they are entitled to. It is the Minister’s mess. Why should they suffer?

3.10 pm

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): It is an honour and pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery). My contribution might pale into insignificance compared with his comments of the past 20 minutes or so. He has probably saved me some time, because he has obviously taken to heart what the Child Poverty Action Group has been telling us all about the inequity of workfare schemes in the past couple of years. However, my starting point will be some 15 or 16 years ago.

I want to compliment Department for Work and Pensions staff. We sometimes forget the job of work that people do in their day-to-day life, and how difficult it can be. I only have to look back to when I came into this place in 1997. At that time, DWP staff were doing excellent work and were up for the challenge, keeping in mind that unemployment levels were excessively high when we came into government. They took on board the task of delivering for the then Labour Government the whole concept of new deal: new deal for long-term unemployed, new deal for young people, new deal for lone parents and new deal for disabled people. It made a vast difference to the lives not only of individuals, but of families and communities the length and breadth of the country.

It is therefore disappointing when things go wrong and DWP staff get castigated—it is grossly unfair. In recent weeks, I have held a couple of welfare reform summits, with some 30 or 40 different organisations attending. A member of DWP staff attended, explaining fully the changes that are about to hit many families across the country. As I said to people at the meetings, “Do not shoot the messenger.” The member of DWP

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staff explained what would be happening. The fault does not lie at the door of DWP staff; it lies at the door of the Department and the Ministers who are pushing the policies that everyone is faced with on a day-to-day basis.

One worrying aspect of the Bill is that this is emergency legislation. The point has been made about the number of times the previous Labour Government pushed through emergency legislation, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) knows full well what that emergency legislation was about. I have to tell the House that it was not in the realm of what we are seeing today. The retrospective element of the Bill is galling. My right hon. Friend knows that yesterday I had certain difficulties with the Bill. I still do—I have to be honest with the House. However, I recognise that he has worked hard to secure concessions from the Government to make the pill just that little bit less bitter than it would have been had he not made any such attempt.

The element of sanction is important. There are sanctions in all walks of life. We live in the real world, not the ideal world. If we lived in the ideal world, we would not have to have sanctions at any time, anywhere. The fact of the matter is that not everyone co-operates and not everyone plays by the rules, and so there are times when people have to be taken to one side and told where they are going wrong. However, that is no excuse for what has gone wrong here. Lord Justice Pill stated:

“Claimants must be made aware of their obligations and of the circumstances in which, and the manner in which, sanctions will be applied.”

I am not saying that that has not happened in every case. I am sure there are cases where staff have made it abundantly clear to claimants exactly where they stand. However, when we talk about the best part of 300,000 people, I have some anxiety about how many did not know.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): In the case of one of my constituents, it took three months to determine whether he should be sanctioned, as it was not clear whether the responsibility rested with the manager of the placement or the jobcentre. At one stage I wrote to the Minister, and I cannot say that his letter made the matter any clearer. In that case, is it right that the sanction is maintained against my constituent? It is perfectly obvious that not only did he not know the conditions relating to the sanction, but neither did the manager of the placement nor the staff at the jobcentre. Surely the Minister is simply covering up an error, if he is allowed to do that.

Mr Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It is abundantly clear that the system is not robust. I made the point earlier that it is not only those who are out there actively seeking work or training who need to know the rules of the game. Every one of us in this House needs to know the rules, and the wider public need to know what is going on out there in their communities. When they see in their local press half a dozen vacancies and potentially 40, 50, 60 or maybe even 100 people applying for jobs, they need to know that systems are robust. They depend on good government to ensure that the legislation is correct.

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Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that what this tells us is that we need root and branch reform of how DWP communicates with the public? It is bitter when constituents of mine go to the jobcentre or take part in the Work programme already feeling bad and communication by DWP makes them feel so much worse. That has got to come to an end.

Mr Brown: I agree with my hon. Friend. I also want to come back to the point I made at the beginning. Staff are under so much pressure. I can tell both Ministers here that there will for ever be a question mark over targets. Let me assure them and the Secretary of State that if evidence ever comes my way that clearly indicates that there are targets that have been denied by Ministers, I will make the House fully aware. I hope that hon. Members on both sides would do likewise. If that evidence is to be found, if that is happening, then it is only right that we expose it.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): We all support high quality training and work experience, but the court case to which the Bill relates was about someone working at Poundland for an extended period. Does my hon. Friend agree that most ordinary people watching this debate will feel that it is outrageous that people are being asked to do such jobs without being paid?

Mr Brown: I can only wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Members of the public expect better from the shops, facilities and services we use. We expect people to be paid, and that point has been made this afternoon. All we are asking is for a real choice of a real job with a real wage. That is the decent thing to do, and there can be no doubt whatever about that.

Mr Jim Cunningham: Some of the newer Members might not realise this, but under the last Conservative Government, people in Coventry were being paid £1 an hour. I remember raising the matter with Ministers at the time. We are going back to those days.

Mr Brown: My hon. Friend and I are of an age to remember when people were being paid pitifully poor wages, but thankfully—I will come to this in a minute—we introduced the national minimum wage when in government.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who has left the Chamber, was absolutely correct to make the point that the sanctions being imposed were wholly unfair, verging on the criminal. A number of us heard yesterday about someone who was asked to report to the jobcentre and sign on as unemployed at 9.30 on a Tuesday morning. At the same time, they were asked to turn up at a new training organisation at 9.30. They went to the jobcentre and said, “Look, I can’t come at 9:30 on Tuesday morning. I’m reporting to a new trainer,” but was told, “No, you need to come here, otherwise you’ll face sanctions. You’ll need to get a letter from your new trainer.” When they went to the trainer and said, “You’ll need to provide me with a letter that allows me to avoid signing on,” they were told, “We don’t provide letters.” So individuals are being trapped and end up being sanctioned. There is no fairness in that sort of system.

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I want to touch on the £130 million that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck spoke about. This is the bit that really concerns me. Tomorrow, we will hear more from the Chancellor, and I am sure that Labour’s play will be for growth. As my hon. Friend pointed out, when we give money to the poorest, they go out and spend it, and it flows into and washes about in the local economy.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the only consequence of this judgment will be to put claimants in the position they would have been in had the Government not broken the law? Is it not deplorable that they now seek to use the House to change history and make their illegal actions legal? The Government broke the law and are now using the House to avoid the consequences.

Mr Brown: My hon. Friend is correct. It is as if time has stood still for all these people. The only thing they have felt all this time is pain and hardship.

I told my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) that I would mention the national minimum wage. When we introduced it, the assessment showed that for every £1 million that we gave to poorer people and which went into the economy, we created 40 jobs. Even if every £1 million now created only 10 new jobs, that £130 million would create more than 1,000 jobs.

Mr Hoban: If we had to pay out this £130 million, we would have to find it from another group—potentially other benefit claimants who had done the right thing.

Mr Brown: In life, when things regrettably go wrong, we have to face the consequences. I firmly believe that the Government should be facing the consequences in respect of this £130 million penalty. Can the Minister tell me exactly how many of these people were, like Reilly and Wilson, innocent? I think that a fair number of those 300,000 should have had their money repaid to them.

I know that other colleagues want to contribute, so I shall finish by saying that this is a tough decision for all of us in opposition. We still believe in sanctions—in government, we recognised that we needed them—but the Government have got it horribly wrong. On behalf of both the Ministers, I am disappointed that, up until now at least, we have not heard any attempt from Government Back Benchers to defend what is happening.

3.25 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the thoughtful contribution from the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown).

A very simple principle underpins my remarks: if somebody works a shift for an employer, they deserve a fair day’s pay for their time and effort. I cannot think of any circumstances in which it is okay not to pay employees or to pay them a derisory sum below the legal minimum wage for the work they undertake. I am sure that a number of us feel that the Government’s back-to-work schemes have fallen short of that principle, but the critical point is that the courts have found aspects of the regulations and sanctions regime attached to the schemes to be unlawful. At stake here is whether it is acceptable

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to use retrospective legislation to clean up the mess left in the wake of these court rulings. I do not think it is. Instead, I think the Government should accept that they made mistakes with the original legislation, take responsibility for the consequences and use the opportunity to rethink their approach and find more effective ways of creating job opportunities for people entering or returning to the labour market.

Given that aspects of the existing scheme have been judged unlawful and that penalties have therefore been imposed on some claimants unlawfully, it would be wholly wrong to legislate retrospectively as the Government propose to do. That, frankly, undermines the judicial process and the rule of law. We might as well rename this Bill “Jobseekers (Make It Up As You Go Along Schemes) Bill”. Whether or not we agree with the approach of the schemes in question—I have made it clear that I do not—the key issue is whether backdating legislation is the right approach to deal with this. I do not think it is. One of the main reasons why the courts found against the Government concerned the information provided to claimants and the description of the scheme in regulations. As legislators, we have a duty to scrutinise these regulations, and if we go down this retrospective “policy on the hoof” route, that aspect of our role is compromised, and that gives me great concern not only in a general sense, but in relation to the particulars of this issue, because to my mind the use of unpaid labour by businesses requires careful scrutiny and proper accountability.

I am quite sceptical about the value of such schemes, not just because if the jobs are there, they should be properly paid—at the very least at the minimum wage—but because I have seen very little evidence that they work. I am sure that many jobseekers will welcome every opportunity that comes their way, and some might even be able to use them effectively in the future, but there remain serious questions, mentioned by other hon. Members, about the practical outcomes of these programmes. I want to raise concerns about their long-term sustainability while the wider economy remains stagnant. There are real fears that schemes such as these actually inhibit recovery. Jobseekers might not be getting the skills that they need, but in the meantime they are depriving someone else, or even themselves, of a proper paid job opportunity. Also, while they are working for free, they cannot be out there looking for work that is appropriate to their skills and experience. Many will find themselves stuck in a sector that is wholly inappropriate and unsuitable.

To my mind, the schemes represent a poor use of our human capital. For example, they require graduates to stack shelves, yet we have invested thousands of pounds in those people’s education. They often have the confidence, skills and qualifications to enter the labour market, but if they are compelled to undertake low-paid, low-skilled work instead of looking for more suitable opportunities, what hope will that give to people who do not have high-level qualifications and who are trying to access a competitive labour market?

One question that has been raised today is: where is the money coming from? It is important to point out that that could well be a worst-case scenario. Other Members, particularly the hon. Member for Wansbeck

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(Ian Lavery), have mentioned section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998, and suggested that only some of those who have been sanctioned under the unlawful sanctions would have a case. Also, claimants would need to appeal, and there is no guarantee that they would all do so.

In regard to the question of where the money would come from, this is only a tiny proportion of the overall welfare budget. I am sure that there are as many ideas about where the funding could come from as there are Members in the Chamber today. There are lots of other places where the money could be found, according to one’s political priorities. My own personal bête noire is tax avoidance, which, even by the most conservative estimates, costs the UK billions in lost revenues every year. Ironically, some of the large corporations that have faced recent allegations of tax avoidance are the same large corporations that are participating in the unpaid labour schemes. So it is not just that they do not pay tax; some of them are now not paying wages either. I suggest that recouping unpaid tax might be one way of meeting the shortfalls in the budget. That might also bring a rather satisfying element of poetic justice to the proceedings.

The UK has a poor track record on cheap labour schemes, and we should learn from the mistakes of the past. As someone who came of age in the 1980s, I remember all too well the failures of the youth training scheme that afflicted many of my own peer group. It was essentially a cheap labour scheme for employers that exploited the hopes and aspirations of young people desperate for work, and it marched far too many of them up the hill, only to abandon them back on to the dole at the end of the scheme. Some were able to use the scheme as a springboard to something better, but for many, the quality of the training was highly questionable and it did nothing to help them to develop skills that employers wanted.

Steve McCabe: Does the hon. Lady think that the small number of Government Back Benchers present in the Chamber is indicative of the fact that they do not share her concerns about the quality of these schemes and about what happens to these people?

Dr Whiteford: It is very disappointing, but what disappoints me even more is that I suspect that we will be very lonely in the No Lobby tonight when we vote on this question. I urge everyone present who cares about this issue not to sit on their hands this evening but to stand up for people who are being asked to undertake unpaid work when they could be working for a wage in a proper job.

The worst aspect of the youth training scheme was that people were paid off from proper jobs in order to make way for YTS trainees on 20-something quid a week. Even in the 1980s, that was a derisory amount of money. It perpetuated dependency, sucked real jobs out of the economy and created huge resentment, not just among trainees who felt that they were being exploited, but from those who had watched their own wages and job opportunities evaporate.

The reality, then and now, was that people started getting jobs in significant numbers when, and only when, the economy started picking up again. Castigating the unemployed for being out of work entirely misses the

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point, and simply passes the buck away from those of us who have more responsibility for the state of the economy. The point about the state of the economy is as relevant today as it was in the 1980s, and it is particularly relevant with regard to the availability of work for people who do not have much work experience, or who face hurdles because of their health, because they lack skills or because they face other barriers to employment.

For several years now, I have taken an active interest in the programmes run by the Prince’s Trust in my constituency, which help young people who are some distance from the labour market to build the skills, the experience and, above all, the confidence and self-belief to find work and derive the many benefits that come with it. A work experience placement is an integral aspect of the Prince’s Trust programme, but as the economic recession has dragged on, it has become harder for staff to find placements, and significantly harder for the young people taking part to secure employment subsequently.

Alison McGovern: Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the most awful aspects of the Work programme is the way in which some of the really brilliant and committed charitable organisations have been locked out of taking part in it?

Dr Whiteford: I could not agree more. The schemes that are run by experienced voluntary organisations are often the most successful in overcoming the real attitudinal, confidence and self-esteem issues that many young people have when they are finding it difficult to get a job and to find the dignity that comes from work, and when they feel that society is telling them that they do not have a contribution to make.

Almost all the young people in the first Prince’s Trust team I met had secured a job by the end of their programme: either their placement had led to a job offer or they used their experience to get a similar job elsewhere, or they had gone to a positive destination in college or a training programme. Recent teams of young people have struggled; they did well in their placements, but there is not sufficient demand in the economy to generate the entry-level jobs they were working towards. When I say that about Aberdeenshire, one of the most economically buoyant parts of the UK, I am left pondering how much harder it must be in areas of high and persistent unemployment in other parts of these islands.

The only workable solution is to drive growth and create demand in the economy. That is the way to create jobs and get people into work, but it is something that the Government have conspicuously failed to do over the last three years and is one of the reasons why we need the power to make economic and policy decisions in Scotland. When the Government brought in their workfare scheme, they made mistakes. They should acknowledge their mistakes and take this chance to rethink the entire scheme, refocusing their efforts on creating real jobs for those who can work. Above all, the Government should step back from legislating retrospectively to penalise those they unlawfully sanctioned. That was a completely unacceptable move and my colleagues and I will oppose it.

3.35 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Over recent months, I have asked the Minister of State a number of questions about the sanctions regime. It has proved hard for him

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to answer questions such as how many people for whom English is a second language have been sanctioned and how many disabled people have been sanctioned. In my view, he does not have the evidence to state in the impact assessment that protected groups will not be disproportionately affected by the Bill. They may or may not be affected, because my efforts to find that information have failed, but I believe they are. When I see constituents who have been sanctioned, they are disproportionately people who are easily confused or who do not have good English.

However, that is not the reason why I shall go into the No Lobby on Second Reading. I oppose the Bill because I do not believe that Parliament should give the Government an alibi for confiscating from more than 200,000 people sums of between £340 and £810. They have illegally kept those sums from them. Let us be clear. That is what we are being asked to do by this retrospective legislation.

The Government have broken the law in a way that impacts on individual citizens. They have disrespected the rights of individual citizens and they are now asking Parliament to say, “Carry on doing it.” I do not believe that Parliament should do that. It is a fundamental issue of civil liberties, human rights and good governance. For that reason, not because of the content, I shall not abstain: I will oppose the legislation.

Ministers say, “Oh, people knew,” but let us be completely clear about what the regulations the Government have been found in breach of say. Regulation 4 says that the notice that people who are sanctioned receive “must specify” that C—the claimant—

“is required to participate in the Scheme…the day on which …participation will start…details of what C is required to do by way of participation in the Scheme…that the requirement to participate in the Scheme will continue until C is given notice by the Secretary of State that C’s participation is no longer required, or C’s award of jobseeker’s allowance terminates, whichever is earlier”

and finally,

“information about the consequences of failing to participate in the Scheme.”

In my view, the Minister has utterly disingenuously—I hope that is not unparliamentary, but I think so—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think it is, and I am going to rule that it is, so I am sure the hon. Lady will not want to use that word.

Fiona Mactaggart: I withdraw that word, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The Minister suggested that claimants knew the consequences. I refer him to the statements of judges on the matter. Judge Foskett said that

“the words…in the letter received by Mr Wilson were that his benefits ‘may be stopped’, perhaps conveying the impression that sanctions are not necessarily automatic.”

He goes on to say that

“the information given concerning sanctions is unclear and opaque.”

I accept that, since then, the Minister has improved the letters. I think that is right, and I do not oppose the possibility of sanctions; I believe that sanctions can work if people know that they are at risk of being sanctioned.

Mr Hoban: May I point out that, actually, sanctions are not automatic? Sanctions may be applied, because actually we disregard sanctions—sanctions do not apply—if

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there is good cause not to apply them. So “may” sounds right to me. The problem that the courts had was not specifying the graduated approach to sanctions.

Fiona Mactaggart: As I said, the judge said that

“the information given concerning sanctions is unclear and opaque.”

If the Government want sanctions to work, people need to know the consequences of their actions, and this is a debate about the consequences of actions—the consequences of the Government’s actions in failing to ensure that they complied with regulation 4 of the regulations in every communication with claimants. It seems to me that the Government should bear the consequences, and the consequence in this case is up to £130 million. When the Government do wrong—and let us be clear, the Government have been found to do wrong in this case—it is not just to be overlooked. This is a series of court judgments which say, in respect of individual citizens, that they have been wrongly treated—the Government must give those citizens back their money. It is not the Government’s money; it is their money. The Government have wrongly kept it from them, and it is quite clear that that is what the courts have decided.

If the Government are going to say that a sanctions regime is necessary so that people know the consequences of their actions—an argument that I would support—it seems right to me that the Government themselves should bear the consequences of their wrong actions, and they should not be coming to Parliament to ask us to give them a free pass for breaking the law, because that is what the Bill is doing.

3.41 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I feel proud of a whole range of speeches that have been made. They have been principled and have set out the case very clearly.

The straightforward issue is that the judgment basically said that the Government acted unlawfully. What surprises me is that there has been no word of apology from the Minister—not a single word to say, “We got this wrong, and therefore we apologise to the House.” Let us be clear what the judgment said: that the Secretary of State acted beyond his powers. He failed to provide the details of workfare schemes within the regulations and bypassed Parliament by introducing an umbrella scheme—the employment, skills and enterprise scheme. This is not a technicality. In fact—I quote from the judgment of Lord Justice Stanley Burnton:

“There is a constitutional issue involved. The loss of jobseekers’ allowance may result in considerable personal hardship, and it is not surprising that Parliament should have been careful in making provision for the circumstances in which the sanction may be imposed.”

This is a fundamental constitutional issue. The Government tried to slide through Parliament, without adequate consideration, regulations that would eventually deprive our constituents of significant sums of money. The decision found that the Government have unlawfully required tens of thousands of people to work without pay, and, if they have said no, have stripped them unlawfully of a significant amount of their benefits.

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The public interest lawyers who took the case said that there are basic requirements of fairness, and those basic requirements are usually dictated by Parliament. The basic requirements of fairness in relation to anything like these regulations are to provide people with a clear explanation of what they have been asked to do, why they are being asked to do it, and what the consequences are if they fail to do it. That has simply, as a result of this judgment, not been complied with. That is what the debate is all about.

The solicitor who represented the claimants, Tessa Gregory, summed it up very well:

“The case has revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions was going behind Parliament’s back and failing to obtain Parliamentary approval for the various mandatory work schemes that it was introducing.”

There was a lack of transparency and fairness in implementing the scheme, and claimants had no information about what could be required of them under the back-to-work schemes. The Court of Appeal affirmed the basic constitutional principle that everyone has a right to know and understand why sanctions are being threatened and imposed. That is what this is all about.

It is worth referring to the cases that determined the judges’ action, and putting them on the record. It is staggering that the Government even contested them. Jamie Wilson, the lorry driver, said:

“I refused to participate in the Community Action Programme…because I objected to being made to clean furniture for 30 hours a week for 6 months when I knew it wouldn’t help me find employment. I was given next to no information about the programme, I was told simply that I had to do whatever the DWP’s private contractor instructed me to do and that if I didn’t I may lose my benefits. Being without jobseeker’s allowance was very difficult for me but I don’t regret taking a stand”.

The community action programme

“is a poorly thought out and poorly implemented scheme which even according to the DWP’s own statistics is not helping anyone get people back to work.”

He continued—this is enlightening about the nature of the people we are dealing with; they are desperate for work:

“I am now participating in the Work Programme but it doesn’t involve me working for free, I have to meet an advisor every 3 to 4 weeks who helps me look for work. I will continue to attend these sessions with my adviser regardless of whether or not I am required to attend because I want to find a job”.

That is what people want.

In the other case, Cait Reilly said:

“I brought this case because I knew it was wrong when I was prevented from doing my voluntary work in a museum and forced to work in Poundland for free…as part of a scheme known as the sector based work academy. Those two weeks”

I worked at Poundland

“were a complete waste of my time as the experience did not help me get a job, I wasn’t given any training and I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for”

a job. That is extraordinary. She continued:

“The only beneficiary was Poundland, a multi-million pound company. Later I found out that I should never have been told the placement was compulsory.”

The Secretary of State has been quoted as saying elsewhere:

“Does Cait Reilly think she is above shelf stacking?”

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I hope that is a misquote. If he did say it, he should withdraw it because it is a disgraceful insinuation about someone’s character. Cait Reilly also said:

“I don’t think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working.”

That is all she asked for. She continued: