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The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Margaret Hodge): We are committed to supporting the hardest to help into employment, including people on incapacity benefit, lone parents, older workers and people from black and minority ethnic communities. Many of our programmes are targeted at providing support for the most disadvantaged. Our new proposals in the welfare reform Green Paper suggest further radical measures to break down barriers and to enhance opportunities for those who find most difficulty in getting a job.
Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. She will be aware that industry in north Staffordshire has been particularly hard hit over the past 20 or 30 years. The pottery industry continues to be very hard hit. What steps does she intend to take to engage with city councilsfor example Stoke-on-Trent city councilthe voluntary sector and employers who are still in north Staffordshire to help those who are the hardest to help to get back into work?
Margaret Hodge: One of the propositions in the Green Paper on which we are consulting is that we must tackle the worklessness that often gets concentrated in cities. We are talking to, among others, the mayor of Stoke-on-Trent city council, who came down and joined a group of people at No. 10 Downing street in the run-up to the publication of the Green Paper. We wish to bring together, under the city strategy banner, all the players from the local authority, the voluntary sector and the statutory sector and its agencies, together with employers, to make a concerted effort to brigade all the resources that go into cities and to be effective in tackling the worklessness that too many of my hon. Friend's constituents have experienced over too many years.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): People with mental health conditions have much to offer, but we recognise that they often face a range of barriers preventing them from getting employment, one of which is employer resistance. That means that we must work in partnership with employers, employees, health professionals and insurers to develop a comprehensive package of support that develops healthy workplaces, retains employees in work, and maximises the effectiveness of health care in rehabilitating people.
I thank the Minister for her response. She knows that mental illness can be very difficult to diagnose, not least because of its volatile nature. What discussions is she having with employers' organisations and the Department of Health on how we can reduce prejudice, improve early diagnosis, and facilitate and
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fund more effective intervention and treatment, including cognitive therapies and counselling in and out of the workplace?
A great deal of what my hon. Friend says has an echo in the consultation that we are carrying out under the Green Paper on welfare reform. I hope that that reassures her that some of that work is already happening. There is a partnership between the health authorities and the Health and Safety Executive. We recently published a paper, "Health, work and well-beingCaring for our future", which is groundbreaking in the approach that it promotes. We also need to ensure that employees who develop a mental health condition are given the appropriate support and rehabilitation, recognising, as my hon. Friend says, that mental health
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conditions can fluctuate and that we need a greater understanding of some of the difficulties that those with such conditions face on a daily basis.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Under-Secretary agree that those with mental health problems are not helped by ignorant gimmicks? Is not it appalling that, in Norwich, a statue in a straitjacket has been erected to the greatest Englishman of the past millennium? Is not that an insult to his memory and to those with genuine mental health problems?
Mrs. McGuire: I am not aware of the specific incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, anything that denigrates people who have any form of disability cannot be condoned. I hope that that satisfies him.
First, let me express my sincere condolences to the families of Captain Richard Holmes and Private Lee Ellis of 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, killed in Iraq on 28 February, and to the family of Trooper Carl Smith, who died on 2 February. I am sure that the whole House wishes to be associated with those condolences.
We express our sympathy, too, for all those families of the forces of other nations and of the many innocent civilians who have died or been injured as a result of terrorist activity in Iraq in recent months.
Hon. Members will have followed the situation carefully, and will, like me, have been concerned about events, especially those following the disgraceful bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra. Some commentators have suggested that that act of terror will lead to a slide into civil war. Those acts of terrorism are cruel and barbaric but they are not mindless. They have a purpose: to undermine the efforts of the vast majority of the Iraqi people who seek peace, stability and democracy in their country, and to try to break the will of the coalition forces supporting them in that quest.
Despite the ferocity of the terrorists, the Iraqi people will not be defeated and our will to see the job done will not be broken. Our analysis is that civil war is neither imminent nor inevitable. However, in some areas of Iraq, including in Baghdad, there has been an increase in sectarian violence. That is abhorrent and plays to the aim of the terrorists.
However, in the face of the cynical targeting of the Samarra attack, the aftermath has been characterised more by calls for restraint by Iraqi politicians and religious leaders, the calm reaction of the vast majority of Iraqis in all the circumstances, despite their natural revulsion and anger, and the mature response of Iraq's new security forces. In the middle of all the problems, those are encouraging signs in a very difficult and delicate situation.
Our respect and admiration for the men and women of our armed forces remains undiminished. The truly magnificent work that they are doing there is having a positive effect and they have played a vital role in helping Iraq come a long way in a short time. Suffice it to say that the Iraqis have clearly shown us what they want, and it is not a return to fear and oppression. They showed us that most impressively in December when, despite the threats of death and destruction, some 12 million of them voted in free and fair elections. That represents a turnout of about 75 per cent. of the electorate.
The present political wrangling over the formation of a new coalition Government is perhaps natural, but it is also contributing to uncertainty and fuelling speculation. As that process moves forward, the Iraqi politicians must not forget the commitment of the Iraqi people who voted in large numbers to bring order and fair government to a unified Iraq. However, there has been a continual and considerable advance in the
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numbers, capability and morale of the Iraqi security forces, which have developed as democracy has developed. It is in that context that I turn to our United Kingdom troop presence.
When I announced the last changeover in October last year, 190,000 members of the Iraqi security forces were already trained, capable and equipped. Today there are about 235,000which is 45,000 more than when I announced the last roulement deploymentand others are joining them at the rate of about 5,000 every month. It is against that background that we assess our own force levels. I can therefore tell the House that, as a result of this roulement changeover, there will be a reduction of British forces in Iraq of about 800 personnel. That reflects the completion of our security sector reform tasks to develop the capability of the Iraqi forces, including training the trainers and those involved in guarding their own institutions. The reduction also reflects improvements in the way we configure our own forces. Our force levels reflect the in-theatre assessments in the south-east of Iraq. Today's announcement marks a reduction from the high point of some 10,000 UK personnel in October 2003 to just over 7,000 from May this year.
The lead formation in Iraq, currently 7th Armoured Brigade, will be replaced in early May by 20th Armoured Brigade. The following major units will be deployed to replace those in theatre today: 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards; The Queen's Royal Hussars; 12th Regiment Royal Artillery; 33 and 35 Engineer Regiments; 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards; 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment; 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (Reserve- Cyprus); 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment; 1st Battalion The Devon and Dorset Light Infantry; 1st Battalion The Light Infantry; and 3 Logistic Support Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps.
A number of reserve personnel will accompany this deployment, including soldiers from The Lancastrian and Cumbrian Volunteers, and The King's and Cheshire Regiment. Aviation support will continue to be provided by five Merlin, eight Sea King support helicopters, and four Lynx. In May, there will be a reduction of two Sea King helicopters. Our support to the Iraqi navy and our contribution to the coalition taskforce in the north Arabian gulf will continue unchanged.
Let me stress that the reductions that I have announced today are not part of a handover of security responsibility at operational level. They have not been caused by, nor are they the cause of, changes in troop levels of other coalition allies. In the next few weeks, the joint committee to transfer security responsibilitya body made up of Iraqi ministers, military staff and senior coalition figureswill start the assessment phase to determine whether conditions have been met for some provinces in Iraq to begin the handover process. Today is not that stage of handover. When the committee has reached conclusions, I will of course come back and update the House on the implications of that assessment.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that we continue, amid the struggle in Iraq, to make progress. Of course, much remains to be done there, but let me stress again today that the significant reductions that I have announced are not part of a handover of security
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responsibility to the Iraqis themselves, although they do reflect the completion of some of the security sector reform tasks that we set ourselves some time ago in developing the capability of the Iraqi forcesin particular, training the trainers and guarding institutions.
Our commitment to the Iraqi people and their Government remains total and steadfast. Our commitment to the coalition is certain. We will stay as long as we are needed, and wanted, and until the job is done. Today marks another significant step in that direction.
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