With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the draft legislative programme—our plans to build a stronger, fairer and more prosperous Britain.
In the past year we have taken action to prevent a collapse of banks, to protect home owners against recession and to maintain vital investment in public services at the time when people need them most. Now, as we seek to move our economy out of recession, we are setting out the steps that we propose to support growth and jobs in the economy.
In the last two recessions, tens of thousands of young people were written off to become a generation lost to work. That is a mistake that this Government will not repeat. So today we are announcing new measures, to be paid for from the spending allocations made in the Budget and from switching of spending, to meet new priorities that include creating new growth, new jobs and new housing. Targeted investments to support jobs and strengthen growth are also the surest and fastest way to reduce deficits and debt in every country.
So my first announcement is about new jobs for young people. Starting from January, every young person under 25 who has been unemployed for a year will receive a guaranteed job, work experience or a training place. In return—I believe there will be public support for this—they will also, from next spring, have the obligation to accept that guaranteed offer. This is the first time that any Government have guaranteed that jobs and training will be available to young people and, crucially, made it mandatory for young people, if there is a job available, to take that work up or have their benefits cut if they do not do so. To underpin that guarantee, as part of the investments that we announced in the Budget, £1 billion is being set aside for the future jobs fund, which will provide 100,000 jobs for young people, with another 50,000 in areas of high unemployment.
From this September we will also realise our pledge to all school leavers that every 16 and 17-year-old will receive an offer of a school or college place, or a training place or apprenticeship. Also from this September, we will offer 20,000 new full-time community service places. That will complement the help for adults who have been unemployed for six months, who will get access to skills training or a jobs subsidy—part of about £5 billion that we set aside in the Budget and pre-Budget report for targeted support for jobs and training in this country.
In total, through the action taken so far, and by rejecting the view that Government should cut investment in a recession, we are preventing the loss of about 500,000 jobs. Our continued investment in giving immediate help through Jobcentre Plus to people made unemployed is already making a difference, with each month about 250,000 people moving off unemployment.
New jobs for the future will also come through making the necessary investments in low-carbon energy, digital technology, financial services, bioscience, advanced manufacturing and transport. Those are the building blocks of the competitive economy of the future, so we will use the Queen’s Speech to ensure that the British economy is best placed to take up those opportunities.
First, the new energy Bill will enable us to support up to four commercial-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration plants for Britain. The Bill complements the £1.4 billion of public investment provided in the Budget for low-carbon energy, and up to £4 billion now on offer from the European Investment Bank. In addition, following our reforms to the policy, planning and regulatory regimes in this country, we will see between now and 2020, as we meet our renewable energy targets, around £100 billion invested by the private sector. Those investments will make Britain a major global player in low carbon, with another 400,000 green jobs by 2017, taking British employment in the sector to well over 1 million.
Secondly, the digital economy Bill will help underpin our commitment to enable broadband for all by 2012, working towards a nationwide high-speed broadband network by 2016, with additional Government investment unlocking new jobs and billions of additional investment from the private sector.
Thirdly, a new innovation fund will be announced today by the Minister for Science and Innovation. It is £150 million of public money, which will, over time, lever in up to £1 billion of private sector investment in biotechnology, life sciences, low-carbon technologies and advanced manufacturing.
Over the coming weeks, the Transport Secretary will set out plans to advance the electrification of transport, cutting rail carbon emissions on newly electrified lines by around one third. Lord Davies will lead a new drive to improve the country’s infrastructure, thus increasing the efficiency with which projects are taken forward, with the establishment of a new body, Infrastructure UK. An asset sales board will work with the shareholder executive to achieve our £16 billion assets sales target—money that can be redirected to public investment. Those investments will strengthen our economy and create new jobs. We believe that investment by the Government and the private sector will enable the economy to create 1.5 million new skilled jobs in Britain in the next five years.
In every part of the country, there is an urgent need for new social housing and for new affordable home ownership. So the Minister for Housing is announcing that in the next two years—from the re-allocation of funds—we will more than treble the extra investment in housing: from the £600 million announced in the Budget to a total of £2.1 billion from today. That will finance over the next 24 months a total of 110,000 affordable homes to rent or buy and in doing so create an estimated 45,000 jobs in construction and related industries.
By building new and additional homes we can now also reform social housing allocation, enabling local authorities to give more priority to local people whose names have been on waiting lists for far too long. We will consult on reforms to the council house finance system to allow local authorities to retain all the proceeds from their own council house sales and council rents. We want to see a bigger role and responsibility for local authorities to meet the housing needs of people in their areas.
We will continue to take forward the far-reaching reforms of financial supervision, upon which we have embarked, domestically and globally, since the financial crisis hit in 2007. For those who argue that that issue is falling off the agenda, let me make it clear: sorting out the irresponsibility and regulatory weaknesses that led to the crisis remains an urgent imperative, to which we will continue to give priority at home and abroad.
The financial services and business Bill will ensure better consumer protection, including a ban on unsolicited credit card cheques. In addition, the Financial Services Authority is taking action to ensure that there can be no return to the old short-termist approach to executive pay in the banking sector. [Interruption.]
To help tackle tax avoidance, the Treasury is publishing today a new tax code for banks.
Alongside our strategy for growth and jobs, we will introduce new legislation: for education, to address child poverty, and for policing. In doing so, we will create a new set of public service entitlements for parents, patients and citizens—securing for them more personal services tailored to their needs. For patients in the health service, that will mean enforceable entitlements to prompt treatment and high standards of care: a guarantee that no one who needs to see a cancer specialist waits more than two weeks; a guarantee of a free health check-up on the NHS for everyone over 40; and a guarantee that no one waits more than 18 weeks for hospital treatment.
The Health Secretary will bring forward proposals later this year to focus the NHS further towards prevention and early intervention; to extend the choices for people to have treatment and care at times that suit them and, whenever possible, in their own homes; and to reform and improve maternity and early-years’ services. We will shortly consult on far-reaching proposals for how we need to modernise our health and social care systems, so that our country can meet the challenge of an ageing society.
The second set of public service entitlements will be for parents, with a guarantee of individually tailored education for their children, as part of far-reaching reform in the schools system. I want all our children to have opportunities that are available today only to those who can pay for them in private education. It is right that personal tutoring should be extended to all who need it, so there will be a new guarantee for parents of a personal tutor for pupils at secondary and primary schools and catch-up tuition, including one-to-one tuition for those who need it.[Official Report, 30 June 2009, Vol. 495, c. 3MC.]
So that every school in our country is a good school and so that we meet the national challenge to eliminate underperforming schools by 2011, we will see the best head teachers working in more than one school, as we radically extend trusts, academies and federations to increase the supply of good school places throughout our country.
The third set of new public service entitlements is the offer that neighbourhood police teams can make to all citizens in every community. Already—since last April—there are 3,600 teams in place, offering to every part of the country policing tailored to the community’s needs. We will now go further and give guarantees to local people that they will have more power to keep their neighbourhoods safe, including the right to hold the police to account at monthly beat meetings, to have a say on CCTV and other crime prevention measures and to vote on how offenders pay back to the community.
Our policing, crime and private security Bill will give the police more time on the beat, by changing and reducing the reporting requirements for police officers on stop-and-search forms, as well as new rights to ensure that women are better protected against violence. That will take account of recommendations made in response to our consultation on violence against women and girls, which will be published this autumn. We will also legislate to ensure protection for children, with a new and strengthened system of statutory age ratings for video games.
Because British citizenship brings responsibilities as well as rights, we will now require newcomers to earn the right to stay, extending the points-based system to probationary citizenship. The more someone contributes to their community, the greater their chance of becoming a citizen.
The Foreign Secretary will introduce legislation to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions, bringing into British law the international agreement that we led the way on signing last year.
Building Britain’s future must clearly start here in this Parliament with our commitment to cleaning up politics and establishing a new and strong democratic and constitutional settlement to rebuild trust in politics. I can announce today, on the House of Lords, that we will legislate in the next Session to complete the process of removing the hereditary principle from the second Chamber and provide for the disqualification of Members where there is reason to do so. We will set out proposals to complete Lords reform by bringing forward a draft Bill for a smaller and democratically constituted second Chamber.
There is a real choice for our country: driving growth forward or letting the recession take its course; creating jobs for the future or doing nothing. We will not walk away from the British people in difficult times. Our policy is to build the growth, the jobs and the public services that we need for Britain’s future. I commend this statement to the House.
The Prime Minister talks about building Britain’s future, but is it not time that the British people were asked whether they want him to be part of it? There was no recognition in that statement that Labour has been in office for 12 years and no recognition of the catastrophic state of the public finances. The Prime Minister is living in a dream world where spending is going up, investment is going up and infrastructure is being boosted. When is someone going to tell him that he has run out of money? He talked, for instance, about housing. Let me give him just one figure: house building today is at its lowest level since 1947. People are entitled to ask: simply what world is he living in?
I expect that, like me, Mr. Speaker, you will have been thinking that you had heard a lot of that statement before—and not just because the Prime Minister ignored your injunction and leaked most of it in advance. It is because we have heard most of it before. How many times has the country been told to expect the Prime Minister’s vision? How many times have we been told to expect a string of policy announcements that was going to involve bold reform? Every single re-launch collapses, and did that not happen more quickly than usual today? At 7.50 am, Lord Mandelson took to the airwaves and promptly sank the whole thing by cancelling the Government’s spending review. So, is not what we have today a package without a price tag? It is just a combination of rehashed initiatives, ideas taken from the Opposition and some timid, bureaucratic, top-down tinkering.
I have to admit that there are some good things in the statement—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Yes—that is because we thought of them. The future fund, carbon capture and storage demonstrations—[Interruption.]
At least they can read and take dictation. For example, the Government are saying, “If you don’t take the job, you won’t get the benefits.” We announced that at our party conference two years ago. Every year, the Prime Minister says that we do not have any policies, yet every year he fills his draft legislative programme with them.
Much of the rest of the programme has been rehashed from previous years. The simplification of our immigration rules, for example, was announced in last year’s programme. The floods Bill was recommended in 2007, announced in 2008 and re-announced again this morning, in 2009. One-to-one tuition and the NHS check-ups were both announced last year—[Hon. Members: “We are doing that.”] Well, you should be doing it by now.
The Constitutional Renewal Bill is now back for the third time in a row. This time, it is apparently going to include Lords reform—but the Prime Minister has not been reforming the House of Lords; he has been stuffing it with his cronies. I stuffed it with one of his cronies, too; he is on our side now. Is not the real renewal that our country needs not a Bill but a general election?
Where is the Heritage Protection Bill that was announced last year? Where are the regulatory budgets that the Prime Minister announced as a way of cutting red tape on business? We have heard not a word about the legislation on the Royal Mail. That was to be the great virility test for the Prime Minister’s reforming zeal—remember? Where is it? Stuck in the post? We were promised a Second Reading before the summer recess. Where is it? Lord Mandelson said in today’s Financial Times that he was finding himself “jostled” out of the programme. I cannot believe that Lord Mandelson of upgrade has ever been jostled out of anything, but there we are.
Let me make the Prime Minister an offer. If he has not got time in his packed parliamentary schedule to get his Royal Mail reforms through, would he like to use the time allocated for our Opposition day debate next week for the Bill’s Second Reading? Would he welcome that? Just nod—[Interruption.] Is there anybody out there? Is there anybody in there? So much for all his talk about tough decisions: he has bottled it once again.
The Prime Minister claims that there are three themes in his statement: the economy, public services and political reform. Let me ask him a couple of questions about each. First, on the economy, he talks about what he is doing for the unemployed. Will he confirm that the number of young people who are not in employment or training was higher than a decade ago even before the recession began, and that there are now 1 million of our fellow citizens in that situation? On banking, do we not need to recognise that the whole system has failed? That is why we are planning to end the whole tripartite system, to give new powers to the Bank of England and to let the Bank call time on debt. Is not what we have got from the Government just tinkering with a system that does not work, from a Prime Minister who set it up and cannot afford to admit that he got it wrong?
On public finances, when will the Prime Minister address the fact that Britain is heading for the worst budget deficit in the developed world? To listen to his statement, one would think that the Treasury was rolling in money. When is someone going to tell him that it has run out? Let me read out what the OECD said only this morning. It said that the Government had to be more “ambitious” and more “explicit” about the need for spending cuts. The OECD is joining a growing list—from the Institute for Fiscal Studies to the Governor of the Bank of England, and, in private, half the Cabinet—of those who admit that he has got to be straight with people on spending. So let me ask the Prime Minister a very simple question: will there be a spending review before the general election? This morning, the First Secretary said that there would not, then the Treasury said that there might be. Who speaks for the Government? Any household or company faced with that level of debt would start to get it under control. Is it not essential to start reviewing spending now?
If the first big failure of today’s announcement is the lack of honesty on spending, the second is surely the lack of real reform in our public services. I suppose, however, that we should be grateful for one thing: year after year, this Government and this Prime Minister have promoted and defended their targets culture; today, they have finally admitted that they were wrong all along. But let us make no mistake: the proposals are about top-down, bureaucratic tinkering, not real reform.
On schools, the Prime Minister talks about putting power in parents’ hands, so why is he replacing the raw data of school league tables with manufactured report cards? On the police, why is the Prime Minister just talking about empowering citizens, rather than giving them the chance to vote for their elected representatives? On health, why is he restricting people’s choices rather than letting them and their GPs choose where they get treated?
Then there is the addiction to the initiative. Let us take just one—the parenting order. It is apparently the big, new idea on school discipline, but it was actually announced in September 2004. In the past five years, how many pupils have been disciplined in that way? A big fat zero. That is the truth behind the Government’s announcement. The truth about today’s statement is that it serves only to highlight the decline of this Government. Their money has run out, their political capital is running out, and now their time is running out.
Will the Prime Minister answer two specific questions? First, will there be a comprehensive spending review? Secondly, will he bring forward the legislation on the Royal Mail before the summer recess?
What we have seen today is yet another re-launch—a re-launch without a price tag. Is it not clear to the whole country that the only way to sort out our finances, to get real reform of our public services, and to build Britain’s future, is to change this wretched Government?
The big question in this country is how to return to growth and secure extra jobs in the economy. The right hon. Gentleman has made not one policy suggestion that could get us moving in the right direction. We have announced that unemployed young people will get jobs after they have been unemployed for a year, and that is mandatory. His policy is to do absolutely nothing. We have announced an autumn guarantee for school leavers so that they can get jobs or training. His policy is to do absolutely nothing. We have announced help for unemployed adults in a way that no other Government have done before. His policy is to do nothing. We have announced new help for social housing today. His policy is to do absolutely nothing and to leave people without homes. We have announced new help for owner-occupiers today. His policy is to do nothing.
In every area in which the country is looking for a Government who will bring growth and jobs, the policy of the Opposition is to do nothing but cut public spending this year, next year and then by 10 per cent. in future years. That policy will neither create jobs and growth, nor reduce debt and deficits. It would bring worse debt and worse deficits.
As for public services, the Government were right to set targets for the future. Cancer waiting lists would not be down to two weeks had we not set a target and invested in the future. Hospital waits would not be down to a maximum of 18 weeks had we not set the targets and made the investment. GP surgeries would not be open in the evenings and at weekends had we not been prepared to make tough decisions. We will not build the health service of the future without the necessary investment.
The right hon. Gentleman wants to move from targets to a simple free-for-all. We want to move from national targets to personal entitlements, which people will see delivered as a matter of course, for shorter waiting lists, better treatment and, in schools, for parents to have more rights. But the Conservative party wants to cut spending and to cut the responsibility on public servants to deliver the service.
The right hon. Gentleman agreed with us on one—[Interruption.]
As for the Royal Mail, let me make absolutely clear that the Bill that we have put forward is to do a number of things. The first is to save the pension fund of the Post Office; the second is to ensure better regulation of the Royal Mail; the third is to ensure that the universal service obligation is maintained, whereas in other countries it is being reduced; and the fourth is to introduce more capital—more investment—into the Royal Mail. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what is happening to the market for investment in this country at the moment. We will continue to push forward with our plans to modernise the Royal Mail.
As far as the comprehensive spending review is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman knows that there was a spending review in 2004 and one in 2007. We have set out plans for 2009-10 and 2010-11. No Government have given more detail on their spending allocations, and we have moved from the annual spending plans that were a feature of the previous Government’s way of doing things. We will not make the mistake of pre-announcing ideologically driven public spending cuts—[Interruption.] Yes, 10 per cent. public spending cuts irrespective of growth, irrespective of employment, irrespective of inflation and interest rates. The Conservatives are now ideologically committed to 10 per cent. cuts in public services. That is not the policy of this Government. We are the party of growth; we are the party of jobs.
The Leader of the Opposition has only two policies: one is to cut public spending, and the other is to cut public spending even more by giving inheritance tax cuts to the very few—300,000 people in this country. For two years, he has been up against me as the Opposition leader. He has put forward no policies for growth, no policies to tackle the recession, no policies for jobs and no policies, but cuts, for our public services.
The Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservatives have just perfected their fake debate on public spending, yet both are treating voters as if they are children, too young to know the truth. This morning, the Government have reneged on their promise to hold a comprehensive spending review before the next election, and the Conservatives are not going to decide on their cuts until the day after it. Neither is willing to come clean on the difficult long-term savings we will need to make to balance the nation’s books. It is like a big hoax—they trade insults and numbers, but hide the truth.
There are some announcements—or, rather, re-announcements—that I welcome, not least the ongoing consultation to give local authorities control over housing rents and revenues, the proposals for an elected House of Lords and the commitment to give all young people under 25 a guaranteed job or training place. As ever, however, the devil will be in the detail. This is the 11th announcement on housing since September. The Government’s consultation on housing revenue has been grinding on since January, yet 1.8 million people are still waiting for a decent home.
We have been debating reform of the House of Lords—the other place—for more than a century, so now is the time for action, not simply more proposals. The Prime Minister is still silent on some of the wider more radical political reforms we need to clean up British politics once and for all. The hopes of young people to avoid the scrapheap of long-term unemployment must not be dashed in practice once again.
In the drum roll of advance media leaks, we were promised a vision of the future from the Government based on decentralisation and personal entitlements. I welcome any recognition from a party and a Government of arch centralisers that they have got it wrong and that the levers of Whitehall do not provide all the answers. Yet many of the so-called personal entitlements are, on closer inspection, just the recycled versions of the old targets. Suddenly, the target to receive an operation within 18 weeks of seeing a GP is called an entitlement. Last week, the Prime Minister called the cuts an investment; this week, he is calling a target an entitlement, so can he tell us exactly what is the difference?
When one scratches beneath the rhetoric, the long screwdriver of Whitehall is still in place, because the Prime Minister, the great godfather of big government, still cannot really let go. Even as we speak, his Government are giving his Education Secretary—where is he? He is not here—153 new powers in the Apprenticeship, Skills and Learning Bill, including the power to hand-pick children’s school books. Is that what he calls “giving power away”? If the Prime Minister really wanted to make sure investment followed individuals, he would have announced a school funding premium tied directly to the most disadvantaged pupils so that they can get the personalised support and tuition that they need on their terms.
Given the likelihood that many of the Prime Minister’s proposals will not make it off the pages of the Government’s press release and are unlikely to work in practice, does he agree with a senior Government official quoted in today’s Financial Times who admitted that this Government have
“a fixation on producing endless policy documents—a total lack of interest in delivery”?
All in all, the Prime Minister’s statement was a hotch-potch of unrelated Whitehall schemes—a ministerial cut-and-paste job scraped together by a Government without a unifying vision and a Prime Minister running out of steam.
The right hon. Gentleman recognises, as we do, that employment is a huge issue. The question is, does he support our proposals or not? We have presented specific proposals for unemployed young people, for adults who need help and for school leavers this summer. The proposals are very precise, and they will give help to people in different communities of this country. The right hon. Gentleman could not tell us whether he supported them or not, but I feel that this is the right way forward, and I hope that on reflection he too will consider that those are the right things to do.
In the case of the health service and education, it is right that individuals should now have personal entitlements. We could not have achieved the 18-week maximum wait for hospitals without the investment that we have made and the targets that we have set. It is right that individuals can now be sure that they will have that entitlement when they go to their hospitals wanting health service treatment. It is equally right that parents who need tutoring help for their children who are unable to read or unable to write, or are finding it difficult to count, should receive it when we can give it to them. The right hon. Gentleman should support that.
As for the House of Lords, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now support our proposals for change.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the close attention he has clearly been paying to the Conservative manifesto for the 2005 election. First we had a points system for immigration; now we have the abolition of top-down targets. Is the Prime Minister not saying, in effect, that the Conservatives were right and he was wrong, and is it not a pity that we have not had a Conservative Government for the past four years?
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s party had been elected in 2005, there would have been massive public spending cuts. That is the policy on which he stood at that election. We would not have had the health investment, the education investment and the investment in our public services that we have seen since 2005.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that more jobs, more houses, more and better schools, a better NHS and safer streets offer a hope that contrasts with the rotting Britain that the Government inherited from Thatcher and Major, and to which we would return if the Tories had their way?
My right hon. Friend is, as usual, absolutely right. When we came to power we had to invest heavily in the national health service and in education, and we will not see the advances that we made in health and education ruined by another Conservative Government.
The Prime Minister has yet again promised education and training for 16 to 18-year-olds. On the risible assumption that he will keep that promise, may I ask whether he will also fully fund transport to and from those places of education?
We will look at all the issues concerning 16 to 18-year-olds, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the summer school leavers’ guarantee that we are giving is to enable young people who might have left school to stay at school, to embark on training or to obtain jobs. That is progress, and it is unfortunate that the Conservative Opposition have refused to support the policy. Despite what the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Conservative education spokesman has refused to support the summer school leavers’ guarantee.
Whatever the mythology about queue-jumping, is not the reason we have homelessness, housing waiting lists and overcrowding a long-term failure to build enough affordable homes? While I warmly welcome the additional money, does my right hon. Friend agree that a problem has been caused by the fact that Conservative and other councils throughout Britain have been blocking much-needed new housing development? Will he help to ensure that the money that he is now committing will go where it is needed most, and that those local authorities will not be able to block much-needed new homes?
My hon. Friend is a long-term campaigner for more social housing and better housing provision in her area, and she is absolutely right. The money we are making available must be used to improve local authority accommodation, to improve social housing and, of course, to build new houses for ownership as well as for rent. We will insist that investment takes place in every area of the country.
The Prime Minister said that he wanted to give more priority to local housing for local people. How will he make that fit? He could not make British jobs for British workers fit. Surely he does not disagree with the proposition that local people should not be given housing before people who should be given more priority because they are homeless or have large families.
The previous Conservative Government’s citizens charter came with no guarantees for citizens. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that this approach will have guarantees attached to it, but can he assure me that there will be a way of enforcing those guarantees?
Yes, there will be, and that is possible only because of the investment we have made in the national health service. It is possible to think of having a guarantee of a maximum of 18 weeks before people are treated in hospital only because of our substantial investment in the national health service. If we had taken the advice of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) when he was Leader of the Opposition, we would not have had that investment in the NHS.
In a statement entitled “Building Britain’s Future” is not the absence of any reference to defence policy and its financial implications for the British economy a significant omission? Do the Government not now accept that there is an overwhelming and urgent need for a full-scale defence review, to bring commitments and resources into balance?
We made a detailed statement on national security last week, when we looked at all the issues surrounding the future national security of this country. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is right to fund the great work that is done by our troops in Afghanistan and other areas around the world, and I agree that it is important that we show that we can fund them well into the future. So far as any future reviews of defence are concerned, it is important for us to remember that we have funded defence services for the next two years.
I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend announce that a new green energy Bill will be introduced in Parliament. I say that because Teesside is a national leader, and has the potential to become a global leader, in the production of green energy. How, therefore, will this Bill help Ensus, Sembcorp and other companies that are already producing green energy?
The proposed legislation in the next Session will help in two ways. First, the energy Bill will make possible new energy investments in our country. Secondly, the innovation fund that I have announced today will be available to companies specialising in low-carbon technologies, to enable them to invest for the future. Britain wants to be, and will be, a leading global player in low-carbon industries, and the innovation fund is one means by which we can help the companies my hon. Friend mentioned.
We have reallocated money within both the Department for Communities and Local Government budget and other Departments’ budgets to make possible the extra spending. That is why we are able to announce that more than 100,000 houses will be built in the next two years.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the statement today on increased housing will be welcomed by the lady who came to my surgery and informed me that she had been told when she went on to the housing list that she would not get a house because she had no children? That lady was recently told that she would no longer qualify for a house because her children had now left home, even though in the 20-year intervening period she had been unable to get accommodation. Does the Prime Minister therefore also agree that there must be a reprioritisation of housing need so that it is based on length of wait?
In the last 10 years, we have spent a huge amount on modernising and improving our housing stock. It is right that we spend more money now on building. That is why we have made these new announcements today that at least 100,000 more social houses and houses to buy will be built over the next two years.
Will the Prime Minister tell us whether any of the ragbag of measures he has announced today involve public expenditure additional to the plans he has already announced, which he will confirm mean that next year we were already set to spend through the public sector almost half the national income, and in some regions of the country 70 per cent. of GDP, which compares with just 60 per cent. of GDP spent by the state in Cuba? Is he proud of his record of almost “out-Castroing” Castro?
It is right to invest now to take this country out of recession; every other major economy in the world is doing so. Only the Conservative party in Britain seems to think that we should be cutting spending at this moment. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention jobs. He is a former Social Security Secretary, so he should understand that when people are unemployed and in need of help to get jobs, it is right that we make money available. That is why £5 billion has been allocated from the pre-Budget report and the Budget to creating jobs for teenagers, creating jobs for the long-term unemployed who are under 25, and creating jobs for adults. That is money that was allocated in the Budget and is now being spent.
Does the Prime Minister accept that cancelling the Trident renewal programme would save a great deal of money, make the world a safer place and give us the moral authority to encourage wider nuclear demilitarisation all over the world?
We have a long-standing policy on Trident, which my hon. Friend disagrees with but which is the policy of the Government and has been voted on in the House of Commons. The most important thing to recognise is that we will work with other countries to secure multilateral disarmament. We have put forward proposals as we go forward to the renewal of the non-proliferation treaty, and we hope that other countries will join us in pushing for collective nuclear disarmament.
The Prime Minister has told the House that 45,000 extra jobs will be created in construction by the extra investment in housing. Should he not reduce from that figure the money that he has taken away from whichever Government Department was going to spend it before?
No, the main sources of money are underspends in Departments over the course of this year. It is absolutely right to reallocate that money so that we are in a position to spend money on housing and jobs. The £5 billion that we are spending on jobs as a whole was announced in the pre-Budget report and the Budget. We have made reallocations to get money into housing over the course of the next few months. That is the right thing to do—to start building now to ensure that there are more houses for people in this country.
One group of children crying out for more personalised education are those with high-functioning autism, who are often misunderstood. Crucial to their support would be better training for staff, classroom assistants and others. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that attention will be paid to that?
I admire the work that my hon. Friend has done in supporting those who are concerned about and trying to help those with autism. I met people who are experts in this issue only a few weeks ago to discuss what we as a Government can do and we hope to publish further proposals in due course.
We have introduced a points system to deal with some of the problems that have arisen in the past from immigration. The points system is now in operation and it is working. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the points system and to know that it is working well.
I, too, welcome the investment in social housing. Does my right hon. Friend realise that many areas of greatest housing need, where social rented housing is the only form of affordable housing, are the same areas in which Conservative councils are knocking down social housing and not building it? How can he ensure that the money that he has announced gets to those areas and is spent on houses?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Homes and Communities Agency will have a great responsibility to ensure that houses are built quickly. Let us remember the alternative—a Conservative party that wants to cut spending now, cut spending next year and then cut most major spending Departments by 10 per cent. That will not be forgotten by the electorate.
We are moving from national targets, which have served us well in increasing standards in the national health service and in education, to individuals having personal entitlements they can enforce for the service at issue. The 18-week maximum wait for hospitals is now up and working. People can challenge a health authority if they do not feel that they are getting that entitlement for the future. The same will go for schools, giving parents more rights. Having invested in the health service and education, without which it would not be possible to raise standards, it is right that individuals now have more entitlements on which they can draw.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of the £150 million innovation fund, which has the potential to lever in private sector funding that—as he hopes, and as we all hope—will generate a fund of about £1 billion. Does he have a time scale in which we will be able to achieve that?
The money is now available for the innovation fund to be set up immediately. Lord Drayson, who is in charge of it, has already been talking to businesses about how they might be able to draw on it. We are determined to move forward so that we are prepared for the growth that will happen in the world economy in the most innovative industries, which include not only low-carbon technology, but advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Those are some of the big areas from which future growth can come.
The House clearly welcomes the Prime Minister’s proposals to put £500 million into housing, thus making it £2.1 billion of additional investment in two years and resulting in the building of 110,000 homes and the creation of 45,000 jobs. How does that contrast with a policy of cutting investment in a recession and putting 500,000 on the dole queue?
There is a choice for this country to make. Last year, the Leader of the Opposition refused to support us when we had to nationalise Northern Rock, but most people now agree that it was the right thing to do. Last year, he refused to support us when we tried to help the unemployed, saying that he would make no further funds available, and he refused to make the money available to help home owners in distress. This year, he is making exactly the same mistake. At a time when we need to invest to create jobs, help people out of unemployment and create growth, the Opposition want to cut spending this year and next year—they even want to cut spending by 10 per cent. in future years. As I say, people will not forget that that is the policy of the Conservative policy, and it will mean huge job losses in teaching, in policing and even in our defence forces.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail Group and the timing of any such part-privatisation, the Prime Minister was right to say that the relevant Bill deals with other important issues—the pension fund and regulation—but is he aware that something close to regulatory blight is being caused across the entire mail sector by the delay in proceeding with the Bill? Please will he confirm when it will be brought back to this place?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s first point. We are working with Royal Mail to ensure that it has a viable future. As he knows, the problem is that postal services in every country have been affected by changes in technology. Those changes affect not only the opportunity for jobs in the postal services industry, but the amount of income that is available. Some 450,000 are employed in postal services and we must take their needs into account, including in respect of pensions.
My right hon. Friend is right to say that the interface between the community and policing is where accountability needs to be improved. His correct approach complements what we did in the policing Bill to take the issue of elected authorities out. Will he go a stage further by examining how communities can have more influence on their local environments—on traffic management and other issues that affect those communities? He could thus empower communities, just as he wishes to empower individuals.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The approach he suggests is a way in which we can move forward to give communities more control over their own affairs. He has been a long-standing campaigner for communities having more rights and being able to run their own facilities, and it is the Government’s policy to advance that as much as possible.
Will the Prime Minister give a specific answer to a question that he has pointedly refused to address so far: which of the financial proposals he has put forward today comprise new money and which involve recycled amounts?
I have said that all the jobs proposals come from money that was allocated in the Budget to jobs but not specifically identified for individual programmes. We have been working over the past month or two to consider how best we can help young people back into work. It was absolutely amazing that when the Leader of the Opposition talked about all the things that he wanted to talk about in his statement he barely mentioned the cause of the unemployed. We are taking action; they would do absolutely nothing.
My right hon. Friend is aware that this is about being brave, doing the essentials and coming up with schemes such as those he has proposed. It is right to support people at the jobcentres and to say that retraining is very important, but surely we ought to be investing in people who are already in work. That could be done through a short-time working subsidy. Young people need employment and we should have a national jobs summit followed by regional jobs summits. That would bring all the players together—the major employers, the small employers, the unions and the CBI. That is what we have to do, because we have to start pushing forward. Please can we spend the section 106 money held in bank accounts across the country by local authorities, as that could create the housing that we need now?
My hon. Friend is right: we want to do more to help people who are worried about their jobs, as well as people who have lost their jobs. That is why we gave extra money to Corus last week to help the firm through difficult times. That is why, at the same time, we have introduced more places on Train to Gain, so that people who do short-time working can get help with training to ensure that they are ready with new skills for the upturn. The working tax credit is giving money to people on short-time working, so that they are kept out of poverty. We are taking whatever action we can to create jobs and to help people who are in jobs.
As for housing, my hon. Friend will see our announcements today, and they are expected to be a stimulus for the private sector also to invest more in housing.
I welcome the announcement today that local authorities will be able to keep council house receipts, for which the Prime Minister will know we have been campaigning for 10 years. Would he care to reflect on how much better the situation would be had this announcement been made 10 years ago?
As a result of the investment that we have put into housing, more than 1 million houses have been repaired and modernised. That was the right thing to do so that we could upgrade our existing housing stock and improve amenities for people. At the same time, it is right now to build, and that is why we have made the announcements today.
I welcome the statement today, but will my right hon. Friend say whether the Government are paying greater attention to aligning some of the programmes? For example, contracts for affordable housing could require the use of more renewable energy sources and provide opportunities for training and apprenticeships for our young people and those out of work.
My hon. Friend is right. The announcement today about housing is for energy-efficient as well as affordable homes. Therefore, the guidelines that will be laid down will require low-carbon buildings that are better for our future. On apprenticeships and training, we now have a national apprenticeship service that can link young people who want apprenticeships to the firms that have them available. Previously, apprenticeships were very local and often depended on who the young person knew. Now, we can help to direct people to the career of their choice through the national apprenticeship service.
In one of 46 press reports in the past two days that have trailed the contents of this statement, the Financial Times said:
“Some of the fine details have been held back”
from the press, following
“the new Speaker’s demands for an end to pre-briefing of policy changes in the media.”
Does the Prime Minister seriously believe that the new Speaker will be content with such marginal concessions?
I represent a constituency in which high unemployment and low skills have gone hand in hand for generations, something that particularly affects the under-25s. In the 1970s, we had job creation projects, in the 1980s we had youth opportunity programmes and in the 1990s we had the new deal. What I would like to hear is what is qualitatively different about what the Prime Minister proposes today that will have the desired effect, especially on those young people without work.
First, it is investment in jobs of £5 billion in total, as a result of decisions that were made in the pre-Budget report and the Budget. Secondly, it is targeted to those areas and those people who need it most—100,000 jobs for young people, and 50,000 in areas of high unemployment. My hon. Friend will find that that will make a difference not only in his constituency, but in his region.
In the real world, on Friday, this Government shelved 180 major capital building programmes in the college sector, as the front page of today’s Colchester Gazette reports. If the Prime Minister wants to be taken seriously about building for the future for Britain, will he reinstate those shelved building programmes so that our young people may have decent places to study and unemployed building workers can be put back to work?
I welcome the innovation fund, which will be of particular importance to manufacturing, but may I correct my right hon. Friend? The Conservative party does have a policy on that sort of thing; their Front Benchers announced it on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. It is to cut capital allowances by £3.7 billion a year, which would have a devastating effect on manufacturing. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this Government will go nowhere near such a silly policy?
We increased capital allowances in the Budget to enable firms to invest in the future. We did so because we want the recovery to be based on large amounts of private investment in our economy. The innovation fund also moves that forward. I agree with my hon. Friend that this is not the right time to cut capital allowances.
The Prime Minister confirmed that, on the Government’s own figures, from 2011 public spending will grow only by less than 1 per cent. Does not that mean that whoever wins the next general election will have to make some very difficult decisions about public spending? Is it not time that we had a grown-up, adult debate in this place about how that can best be done, instead of the rather pathetic Punch-and-Judy politics that the Prime Minister has offered us this afternoon, which I do not believe—
We are spending more in 2009-10; the Opposition would spend less. We are spending more in 2010-11; the Opposition would spend less. The Leader of the Opposition has already told us that he will always spend less than a Labour Government. That is the Conservatives’ position; they should be honest enough to admit it.
We announced in the national health service constitution how we propose to guarantee the rights of people to health care. The entitlements that we are bringing forward will be enforceable by people in relation to the authorities, but I do not envisage the need to take court action.
Given the excuses that we have heard for the delay to the comprehensive spending review, and the outrage from the Prime Minister on cuts, does he still stand behind the projections in the Red Book for total spending up to 2013-14?
We have announced spending for 2009-10 and 2010-11 in detail. The Conservative party has announced that it would cut spending in both years substantially. As far as 2011-12 is concerned, we have set down our estimates, but of course we are not going to make detailed announcements, irrespective of the knowledge, about growth, about employment, about interest rates, and about inflation in those years. We will do so when it is the right time.
My right hon. Friend’s announcement about extra money for housing is welcome, and will bring hope to young families in my constituency who are looking to set up home, but it would be without any value whatever if their tenancies were not secure. Will my right hon. Friend give a guarantee that a Labour Government would never consider taking away secure tenancies, as has been proposed in many policy documents published by the Conservatives?
I would caution the hon. Gentleman against making such statements. We have taken the right decisions to take Britain through a very difficult recession. I repeat that if we had taken the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, thousands more would be unemployed, banks would have gone under, we would not have a proper regulatory system such as the one we are introducing for the financial services, and many people would have had their homes repossessed and would have lost their mortgages. I believe that we are taking the right decisions, and I believe that there is an understanding around the world that we have taken the right decisions.
The high-tech opportunities that my right hon. Friend listed are undoubtedly the building blocks for the future, but it is vital that the nation is in a strong position to exploit that. Will he ensure—as part of the digital Bill, for example—that money is set aside for proper training, whether through small business opportunities or for individual citizens? The country has to be in a strong position to exploit the technology to the best advantage.
In the new technologies that are available around the world, Britain has outstanding leadership—in low-carbon industries, in high technology, in many of the creative industries, in biotechnology, and of course in education itself. We want to give people the chance to have long-term jobs in those industries and services, which is why it is important that the training packages that we are putting on offer are individually tailored to making advances in those sectors for the future. We will continue to promote Train to Gain and other programmes that give people entitlement to get the skills that they need.
Sadly, this Parliament is now discredited, tarnished and worn out. The Government are unpopular, wholly discredited and filled with third and fourth choices. Does the Prime Minister not appreciate that far from hearing this wholly incredible package about building Britain’s future, the people of this country want to have their say on the future, and they want a general election now?
I should have thought that some humility from the Opposition Benches was in order. The problems that have happened in this Parliament have happened because of actions in all parties, and people must have the humility to admit that we have to clean up Parliament and do it together. I hesitate to follow the hon. Gentleman’s advice and suggest that the problems relating to expenses are on only one side of the House.
The House will welcome the guarantee of training places to 16 and 17-year-olds where they need them, and of skills training to adults who have been unemployed for six months or more. How certain is the Prime Minister that the skills and training sector has the capacity to deliver on these objectives, when there is a cloud of financial uncertainty hanging over excellent projects such as learndirect and Train to Gain in constituencies such as mine, which have benefited from those projects over the years by being in the lowest quartile of all parliamentary constituencies for unemployment, but are now seeing unemployment start to rise in a very worrying fashion?
I cannot comment on issues that the hon. Gentleman raises from his constituency, but the number of people using Train to Gain has risen from 300,000 to 500,000, and the latest projection is more than 800,000. That shows that the service is welcomed by employers and used by employees. My hon. Friend is right that the way to ensure that there is capacity for people to get their training needs met and for jobs to be created is to provide the finance that is necessary. I accept that that is a dividing line between the two parties. We are prepared to put £5 billion into investing in a jobs and training programme for the future. The Opposition would cut the money, not increase it.
After precisely 60 minutes of debate on the subject, I do not believe I have heard the word “pensioners” even once. We know that the Prime Minister has done much for pensioners in the past, so let us not forget them now. What will he do to increase the take-up of pension credit and to bring forward the indexation of pensions with average earnings, which is a much welcomed Government initiative?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman recognises that we brought in the winter allowance, free television licences for the over-75s, and the pension credit. In our document today we talk about the additional needs that pensioners, particularly very elderly people, will have in the future, and I mentioned it in my statement—that is, the need for social care. We will address the matter with a statement to the House in due course.
In his statement the Prime Minister told us that he would be attempting to fix the financial and
“regulatory weaknesses that led to the crisis”.
Can he tell us who created that weak financial system, and who presided over it for 12 years?
I have explained on many occasions that what we are dealing with is a global financial crisis, where international regulation should have been introduced. To be honest, we, the British Government, were pressing other countries for many years to do so, and it was not done.