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Commons Chamber

Volume 495: debated on Monday 29 June 2009

House of Commons

Monday 29 June 2009

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

Speaker Martin’s Retirement

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, on behalf of the Prime Minister, that the address of 22 June 2009 to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that she will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of her royal favour upon the right hon. Michael J. Martin for his eminent services during the period in which he has, with such distinguished ability and dignity, presided in the Chair of this House, has been presented to Her Majesty, and Her Majesty has been pleased to receive the same very graciously, and has commanded me to acquaint this House that Her Majesty is desirous, in compliance with the request of her faithful Commons, to confer upon the right hon. Michael J. Martin some signal mark of her royal favour.

Oral Answers to Questions

Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What estimate she has made of the cost to the public purse of Remploy’s operations in the latest period for which figures are available. (282345)

The last available figures, which are for the financial year ending March 2008, show that Remploy received £195.8 million of direct funding from the Department, comprising £145.8 million of grant in aid and an additional £50 million of modernisation payments to help with the restructuring of the company. Managing the level of funding for Remploy is one of the key aims of our modernisation plan, which was why we secured a £555 million modernisation fund over the five-year period.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In the response to my parliamentary question 270816, Members were able to see that, over the last three years, Remploy’s senior managers have claimed £4.3 million in bonus payments, including £1.7 million in last year alone. That is six times the amount of money paid out in bonuses in 2000-01. Given that Remploy is losing money, that factories have closed and that job numbers are falling, does my hon. Friend not agree that it would be more appropriate for no bonuses to be paid until Remploy is making money, not losing it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She will know that there are two parts to Remploy: the enterprise operation that runs the factory of about 3,000 employees, and the employment services, which got more than 7,000 people into jobs last year. Part of the bonus programme was that those managers whose pay is about £30,000 got a bonus of about £5,000 for getting disabled people into work. Their pay and performance terms compare favourably with those of other companies or comparable organisations. The bonus scheme is for the company, but it needs to be seen in perspective, in the context of the overall organisation.

People who are disabled or who have special educational needs—very good people who want work—can suffer more than others in trying to find work during the recession, so what more can the Minister do to promote sheltered employment units in privately owned companies?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will be aware that we are doubling the access to work fund, which has seen some 44,000 disabled people into work. Using access to work as an indicator, we are not seeing any of those who benefit from the fund losing their employment. I am sure that he would also welcome the learning disability employment strategy, which I and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), launched last week. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that despite the world economic downturn, we will continue to concentrate on helping disabled people get into work and stay in it.

Employment (Benefit Claimants)

2. What recent assessment she has made of her Department’s performance in moving people from economically-inactive benefits into employment. (282347)

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker.

The Department is continuing to help people from incapacity benefit and income support back into the labour market and jobs. Despite the recession, and although unemployment has risen, the number of people on inactive benefits has not risen over the last year, which is in contrast to what happened during the recessions in the early ’80s and early ’90s.

High levels of economic inactivity inevitably mean high levels of poverty, particularly child poverty. Over the past decade in Glasgow, we have seen incremental reductions in the number of people claiming incapacity benefits, but if that incremental approach continues, we are going to see those levels of poverty inflicted on yet another generation. Does my right hon. Friend share my impatience? Is it not time that we moved from an incremental approach to a step change in moving vast numbers of people off benefits and into work?

My hon. Friend is right that huge problems can be created for the families of those on incapacity benefit and those left out of the labour market for a long time, even though they may be able to come back into work. He will also know that after the numbers on sickness benefit rose for more than 20 years, they have, in fact, been falling since 2003. I think that some of the measures in the Welfare Reform Bill will help prepare people for work in the future as well as helping those who can get back into work do so in the short term.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the best incentive to get people into work would be a serious increase in the minimum wage?

The minimum wage has played an important part in making work pay for a huge number of people who were previously stuck on poverty pay. We take the advice of the Low Pay Commission in setting the minimum wage so that we can support the economy more broadly, but there is no doubt that, along with tax credits and other measures, it has helped to ensure that people are better off in work.

Given that the number of workless claimants under retirement age has fallen only from 5.6 million to 5.2 million at a time when 3 million new jobs have been available—nearly all of them taken by people coming to this country to seek work—what plans does the Secretary of State have to free up local offices and give them their own budgets so that they can find more effective ways of moving people from benefit into work?

As my right hon. Friend will know, we are introducing the flexible new deal, which will provide more flexible and personalised support. We are also seeking, both though the Welfare Reform Bill and through pilot programmes, to introduce more flexibility, focusing on individuals’ personal problems and the reasons why they may not be able to return to the labour market. I hope that he will recognise that important progress has been made to reverse what was an inexorable rise in the number of people on sickness benefits, and that there have been no increases although the labour market is under considerable pressure as a result of the recession.

I am afraid that the Secretary of State simply is not correct. The Government’s target is to remove 1 million people from incapacity benefit and employment support allowance by 2015. The last set of official statistics showed an increase, as do early estimates from the Secretary of State’s own Department. Let me return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris). How exactly will the Government hit that 1 million target, given that they have been singularly unsuccessful in doing so thus far?

I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman ask that question, but the answer is clear: we will invest additional sums to help people back into work. Conservative Front Benchers have opposed that investment. It is tragic that they should oppose £5 billion of additional support to help people to return to work during a recession. It should also be recognised that in the early 1990s, between 1990 and 1991, the number of people receiving inactive benefits rose by more than 200,000, and that it has not increased over the past 12 months.

I was told by a very experienced individual who had been a job centre manager during the 1990s about the really tough targets for moving people from employment benefits to incapacity benefits at that time. We also discussed the fate of the cohort who have failed their employment support allowance medical and who have not so far turned up again on the jobseeker’s allowance rolls, although they might have been expected to do so. Either they have found jobs, which would be a good thing, or they have fallen out of the system altogether, which would be a bad thing. What research is the Department conducting to ensure that no one who needs help and support is losing out as a result of the new system?

My hon. Friend will know that we are monitoring all the changes to ensure that we support the most vulnerable, and that we help people back into work. He will also know that some people have managed to find work for themselves. However, we should also focus on more individual problems. We should examine the individual reasons why people may not be receiving the support that they need, and ensure that we can provide it.

Financial Assistance Scheme

3. When she next expects to meet occupational pensioner groups to discuss the operation of the financial assistance scheme. (282348)

I am glad to hear that. Is the Minister aware that I represent a number of constituents who were members of the Albert Fisher pension scheme, which unfortunately failed? They all qualify for assistance under the financial assistance scheme and were originally promised that they would receive about 90 per cent. compensation, but they have now discovered that they will receive much less than that. The fine print shows that many will receive less than 60 per cent. Why have my constituents had their hopes raised only to see them dashed in such a cruel way?

I am happy to have more detailed discussions with the hon. Gentleman about the particulars of the pension scheme that he mentioned, but through the financial assistance scheme we have provided 90 per cent. assistance, subject to a cap of £26,000. That is what the scheme is designed to deliver, and it will do so.

Nothing is more frightening to people than paying into a pension scheme for many years only to find that it does not produce the benefits that they were expecting, so will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the 53 members of staff in York who run the FAS, which has rescued 834 pension schemes and has some 12,000 pensioners in payment? Does she also agree that when the state provides a safety net it is important that that safety net is not so gold-plated that it creates perverse incentives for employers to close down schemes, and that it is extremely important, too, that the state safety nets that this Labour Government have introduced are maintained?

Order. It is also extremely important that the reply should be a little bit briefer than the question.

I shall see what I can do, Mr. Speaker.

Currently, 12,031 people are being helped by the FAS, which has paid out £55 million gross so far. It was never intended to replace benefits completely if schemes begin to be wound up without being fully funded, but it does provide 90 per cent. assistance subject to a cap of £26,000.

May I congratulate the Minister and the Secretary of State on their new appointments? Does the Minister not accept that the FAS pensioners feel like the poor relations because they are told there is not the money to give them full compensation, when there was money, for example, when building societies were bailed out to put 100 per cent. of the shortfall of those pension funds in at the time? So this is clearly a matter of priorities. Does she also accept that this 90 per cent. figure that she uses is highly misleading—I am sure not deliberately so—because it is not just capped, but there are big issues about the inflation protection? Does she accept that many pensioners will get much less than 90 per cent., and that over the years they will see annual falls in their real pensions? Will she look at those cases again?

Without this Labour Government’s having introduced the FAS, there would have been no help whatever. Clearly, there is indexation at 2.5 per cent. for post-1997 accruals. We have also extended early access for those with ill health who have had to retire within five years of retirement age, and for those with a progressive disease we have introduced early access which is unreduced. This is more than we promised to do when the FAS was created. I am happy to keep looking at this, but I think the hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge that we are providing great assistance where there was none before.

Means-tested Benefits

The latest estimates of take-up across the five income-related benefits in 2007-08 were published last Thursday. For the income-related benefits that my Department measures, £35.2 billion was claimed, which represents overall take-up by expenditure of between 77 per cent. and 85 per cent.

Between £200 million and £300 million per day is going unclaimed in jobseeker’s allowance, income support, pension credit and council and housing tax benefits because people—especially the poorest pensioners—are unaware of their entitlement, confused by complexity, or unwilling to take what are seen as handouts. Will the Minister step up a gear on take-up campaigning, and move at full speed out of the present means-measuring morass towards the automatic payment of benefits, as Help the Aged is urging her to do?

I agree with my hon. Friend that take-up is vital to tackling pensioner poverty. He has raised the Help the Aged campaign for the automatic payment of benefits. We are taking powers in the Welfare Reform Bill to enable us to undertake pilots to do precisely that. My hon. Friend is assiduous in defending the interests of his constituents, and I congratulate him on launching the first contact pilot in North-West Leicestershire, which brings together the work of the local authorities, the Department for Work and Pensions and the voluntary sector and is precisely aimed at increasing take-up.

Over the weekend, a constituent came to my surgery who has been a higher rate taxpayer but is now not entitled to any unemployment benefit because of the levels of his savings. Does the Minister not agree that that kind of means-testing discriminates against those people who have paid substantial amounts in taxation over many years and gives perverse incentives to people not to save?

In response to the problems faced by people with large levels of savings, the Chancellor announced an increase in the capital disregard from £6,000 to £10,000, which should have a significant impact on constituents such as the hon. Gentleman’s.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. Is it any wonder that, with £5 billion of means-tested benefits going unclaimed by pensioners every year, 2.5 million are living in official poverty? Why are Ministers trying to sweep under the carpet the effect of means-tested benefits on the new system of personal accounts? Does she not care that many thousands could end up worse off as a result of being auto-enrolled into personal accounts?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that 95 per cent. of people are covered by personal accounts. I am not sure whether he is conscious of the fact that since November it has been the case that claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit can be made in one telephone call, alongside those for pension credit. That will speed up the process and make it far easier for people to get their council tax benefit.

Jobseekers Allowance (Training Courses)

5. What recent assessment she has made of the effects on the assistance available to jobseeker’s allowance claimants of their participation in training courses; and if she will make a statement. (282351)

Training can be an important part of helping people back into work and that is why we are increasing training support for jobseekers, particularly those who have been out of work for more than six months. For training support to be most effective for jobseekers, it needs to be accompanied by a continued search for new jobs.

What would the Secretary of State say to a constituent of mine who wanted to renew his forklift truck driver’s licence, which could have got him a job, and was told that, despite his having been out of work for six months, he was not eligible to have the costs refunded or to have any training not because he was not entitled to it, but because he lived in the wrong area? Why is there a postcode lottery when it comes to giving training to people who want to find work?

I am obviously very happy to look into the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises. Across the country, we have provided increased support for training. He is right, I think, to raise the case of a constituent who has been out of work for six months, because the longer people are out of work, the harder it can be to find new jobs. Although new vacancies are being reported all the time, if someone does not have up-to-date skills or recent work experience, it can be harder. That is why we have provided additional investment in training to help those people. I shall look into his individual case.

The Secretary of State has just said that the longer people are out of work the more difficult it is for them to get back into work. Is that not particularly true for young people? Unemployment rates have doubled in Cornwall over the past year. Does that not mean that help, such as training, needs to be introduced and to be available to people before they have been unemployed for a year, so that they do not get trapped in a vicious cycle?

The hon. Lady is right that we need to provide help for young people in particular. We saw what happened not only in the early ’80s, but the early ’90s, when effectively we lost a generation to work because of the long-term unemployment among young people. That is why, as well as the future jobs fund, which will provide more than 100,000 additional youth jobs across the country, we want training at an earlier stage. Young people can also benefit from the additional training provided at six months that was introduced in April. It is an additional help to people who need support at this time, in the middle of a recession.

May I welcome you to your new role, Mr. Speaker? May I also welcome the Secretary of State to her new position, albeit that I note that she is the fourth Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in two years? May I also note that Lord Freud has been introduced into another place this afternoon, which we welcome?

The Secretary of State talks about more help after six months, but in an economy with rising unemployment and falling vacancies, many people need to be able to retrain immediately. When will the Government adopt our proposal and allow people to retrain, full time, from day one of their claim for jobseeker’s allowance?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words. She and I were on the Select Committee on Education and Employment together 12 years ago. It is good to see that she has maintained her interest in these issues. On the question of what training support is provided from day one, people who have lost their job can already get up to 16 hours of part-time training and support from the skills for life qualifications and from the employability skills programmes. Last year alone, Jobcentre Plus referred just over 1 million people for skills and training in the first six months of their claims. A lot of support is provided already for training for people in the early months when they lose their jobs. She asks why we cannot introduce her policies. She would not be able to introduce her policies or most of ours because she opposes the £5 million additional investment that we are putting in to support the unemployed this year.

The Secretary of State makes all these claims about the amount of help available for unemployed people but they ring hollow, given that, as from today, no new referrals to the new deal will be made across half the country, including in major cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. Why are the Government abandoning the unemployed in half the country?

I do not think that the right hon. Lady understands what the employment programmes are. We have already introduced additional support that is stronger than the new deal in many areas since April. After someone has been unemployed for six months they can get additional job subsidies and additional training support; they can get all kinds of further help that is better than the new deal for adults, which was offered across the country. We are going further; we are introducing the flexible new deal. I must say to her that she can talk as much as she likes about “hollow words”, but the hollow words come from her party, which will not fund additional help for people whom it previously abandoned. We are determined to help these people get back into work, whereas she simply opposes the funding for them.

Jobcentre Plus

As announced in the Budget, Jobcentre Plus will be recruiting up to 10,000 more staff this year, on top of the 6,000 new staff already announced in, and recruited since, the pre-Budget report. Jobcentre Plus is coping well with the increased work load, paying benefits promptly and seeing people quickly to discuss help in finding them work. Every working day, its advisers see 50,000 people to support them in looking for work.

Extra help to support hard-pressed staff is welcome, but may I ask the Minister to examine the staffing of phone lines? Many constituents have complained to me in recent months that they have tried for days to get through on phone lines without success and have ended up frustrated at Jobcentre Plus when they have subsequently been told that they cannot have an appointment there and then because they have to call a phone line in order to get one.

I have had some concerns relating to anecdotal stories such as the ones that my hon. Friend rightly raises with me. I am advised that about 95 per cent. of such calls are answered in our contact centres that deal with them, and that is a good figure by any commercial comparison. However, I am keen to look at this area in more detail to see whether or not we can improve the systems to ensure that people who are claiming can obtain a referral and get an appointment as quickly as possible with Jobcentre Plus.

Perhaps I can help the Minister with his puzzlement as to why these people cannot get through. Since 2002, 520 jobcentres have been closed by this Government—one a week has closed in the past 12 months while the number of unemployed has been rising. Why is that?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the jobcentre closures have been suspended in response to what is going on in the jobs market as a result of the global recession. He will also know that those closures were part of efficiency changes designed to make public money go further. If he is saying that jobcentres should be reopened or should remain open, he would need to find the money for that. Given that his party opposed the £5 billion extra that we are spending to get people back into work, his claims ring hollow.

Child Poverty

7. What recent assessment she has made of progress towards meeting the Government’s 2010 child poverty target. (282353)

We expect to lift about a further 500,000 children out of poverty with the measures announced in and since Budget 2007. We have already lifted 500,000 children out of relative poverty and halved the number living in absolute poverty since 1997.

The question was about the Government’s 2010 child poverty target. Is it not time that they came clean and admitted that it will not be met?

Everyone, even the hon. Gentleman, must understand that in the current economic circumstances meeting the 2010 target is a real challenge. However, in the middle of a recession we are continuing to take action, which is why we published the Child Poverty Bill this month. Our approach contrasts starkly with the policies that his party pursued. Had we continued with those—

The increase in child poverty in each of the last three years would seem to justify the Treasury Committee’s belief that the Government will miss their 2010 target to halve child poverty by a significant margin. Many of us were hoping to debate the Child Poverty Bill today, but can the Minister tell the House how it will foster enterprise in those areas in which more than half of the working age population are not in work, and what it will do to strengthen families, given that we know that the children of parents who separate are more than a third more likely to be unemployed themselves?

As the hon. Gentleman must be aware, the Child Poverty Bill includes the scope for strategies with local authorities to deal with the regional differences to which he referred. It would be helpful if he could indicate whether he intends to support the Bill, which will make a significant difference to children in this country.

What steps are the Government taking to co-operate with the Governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh in respect of their equally ambitious anti-child poverty programmes, especially given that those Governments face cuts, by some accounts, of several hundred million pounds over the next few years?

The strategy that will be written under the Child Poverty Bill will be UK-wide, but of course the devolved Administrations are free to make their own choices in the areas of health and education. The decisions they make are a matter for them.

Jobcentre Plus (Over-50s)

8. What support and training Jobcentre Plus offers people over 50 years old to assist them to re-enter employment. (282354)

We are increasing the range of back-to-work help for unemployed people of all ages, to meet every jobseeker’s individual needs. This support includes the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service for those facing redundancy, and extra help after six months of unemployment. For those who are still unemployed at 12 months, we are introducing individually tailored help via contracted providers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last Thursday Corus announced substantial job losses, which include 500 managerial and technical staff at their works in Scunthorpe? What will be done for people in that sector, given that they tend to be a little older, to help them to get back into the workplace? Has he considered devising some sort of apprenticeship scheme for older workers?

Clearly I am aware of the sad news for those individuals of the Corus job losses, including the 500 at Scunthorpe that come on top of 93 already announced. I am aware that the profile of many of those jobs is professional, technical and managerial. Through our rapid response service, we have made contact with Corus in Scunthorpe and we will go in to offer help, including signposting older workers into training so that they can refresh some of their skills prior to becoming redundant, so that they can get back into work as quickly as possible. Apprenticeships for older people are an interesting idea. I am meeting the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs later this week and I will have a chat with him about it.

So many more people are now going through jobcentres that the personalised service for people over 50 seems to be getting lost. What is the Department doing specifically to ensure a focus on getting the over-50s back into work?

My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable in this area, and she knows that it is important that we pay particular attention to the problems that older workers may have in getting back into work and to any age discrimination that may exist. We need to work with employers to break down some of their misunderstandings about the business gain that may result from employing workers from the rich pool of talent of those aged over 50. Part of the more personalised approach that we are taking to advice in Jobcentre Plus is to understand what talents are available in individuals and how some niche training can help them. That can be available from day one, but it is certainly available as part of the six-month offer, in which we offer a training allowance to all workers. That is a vast improvement on the situation under the new deal.

Future Jobs Fund

10. What estimate her Department has made of the proportion of future jobs fund jobs that will come from the third sector. (282356)

We are strongly encouraging the third sector to make bids to the future jobs fund. We believe that there is great potential in the third sector to deliver good jobs that help the community and provide important training and work experience for young people.

Last month I arranged a job summit in South Ribble with a number of partners. We are seeking to make a bid in the first round of the future jobs fund at the end of this month. One of the issues raised at the meeting was the fact that many voluntary sector bodies, charities and small businesses employ only a handful of people, and therefore would not be eligible to apply individually to the future jobs fund. South Ribble seeks to bring a number of partners together to support small businesses and bodies in the charitable and voluntary sector that employ people in ones and twos. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that bids made by such partners will be acceptable?

My hon. Friend is right. May I congratulate him on the work that he does on the subject, to support jobs in his constituency? We want partners to come together to put forward proposals. That includes drawing on not only small businesses but small charitable organisations and other kinds of small groups that may be able to provide help. We set up the programme as we did in order to be able to deliver very rapidly more than 100,000 youth jobs, with a further 50,000 for the most deprived areas. It is an ambitious programme, but we think it is the right one, given the need to support people through a difficult time as a result of the world recession.

What response will the Secretary of State make to the Centre for Cities report, published last week, which shows that the future jobs fund is quite inadequate for dealing with the likely number of youth unemployed, which will rise to approximately 350,000 by the end of 2011? That rise will have a big impact in places such as Sunderland, Barnsley, Swindon and Peterborough. What action is the Department for Work and Pensions taking to ameliorate the concerns raised in the report?

It is exactly in order to prevent long-term youth unemployment, and long-term unemployment across the board, that we are investing in measures such as help for people who have been out of work for six months, and additional support for people from the very day they lose their job. If we can start bringing unemployment down faster than it came down in the early ’80s and early ’90s, it helps not only families who would otherwise be scarred by long-term unemployment but the wider economy and the public finances. That is why it is right to make that investment. The hon. Gentleman’s comments would be rather more credible if he and his party supported the £1 billion future jobs fund, which is so critical to giving opportunities to the young people he mentions.

Employment Programmes

11. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of her Department’s programmes aimed at assisting people into work; and if she will make a statement. (282357)

Over the past decade, the new deals and employment zones have led to a major transformation in employment support for long-term jobseekers, helping more than 2 million people to move into work. Our active labour market policies have helped to reduce the number of lone parents on income support by more than 290,000 since 1997, and the number on incapacity benefits by 160,000 from its peak in 2003. Our benefit reforms and the success of our employment programmes mean that the numbers of people on benefit are not escalating as they did in the last recession.

Although I appreciate all the efforts that the Government have made on the issue, the Minister will appreciate that in certain parts of the country, such as Tyneside, there are areas where persistent and stubborn unemployment is far greater than in other parts of the country. Will he tell us what he intends to do to try to solve that ingrained problem?

My hon. Friend makes sure that I do not forget the particular problems that his constituents face in Jarrow, and those faced in the area around his constituency. Through the working neighbourhoods fund, and particularly through the future jobs fund, I hope he will be able to engage with us and continue to act as a strong advocate for his area. I hope he will ensure that we take advantage of the £1 billion future jobs fund, which Labour Members are supporting, to make sure that we get as much activity going as possible, and get real work—real sustainable jobs—in his area.

The Minister will have seen, I hope with alarm, reports in The Observer newspaper suggesting that there is widespread fraud among those in the private sector who are supposed to be assisting people into work. He will perhaps know from constituents, as I do, of job creation schemes that are frankly job substitution schemes. What action is he taking to root out that fraud wherever he finds it? Will he ensure that we think very carefully before there is any further privatisation of that service?

Naturally, we take any incident of fraud extremely seriously. We have robust systems in place to discover incidents of fraud, as has happened in the majority of cases that are being reported. One provider was highlighted by The Observer yesterday, and I am aware of another. To my knowledge, there is no evidence of any systematic fraud on the part of those providers. Indeed, the private sector providers have got 250,000 people into work. Those are individuals with whom Jobcentre Plus has been working for a considerable period and has not managed to get into work, but thanks to payment by results, we are getting good results from the private sector providers.

Jobseeker’s Allowance (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

12. How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK and (b) Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. (282359)

In May 2009, there were 1,516,921 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Great Britain, and 1,416 in the Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency.

Unemployment in my constituency has gone up by more than 100 per cent. in the past 12 months. One piece of good news is the new RWE gas-fired power station, which will create 2,000 jobs during its construction phase at the site in Pembroke. My constituents well understand that Ministers cannot guarantee jobs for British workers, let alone Pembrokeshire workers, but what steps has the Minister taken through his Department and through Jobcentre Plus to ensure that people in my constituency are at the front of the queue for the construction and engineering jobs being created at that site?

The hon. Gentleman is clearly right: as a result of the global recession—the first global recession for many years—unemployment has risen, but he will of course have noted that long-term unemployment has fallen by 94 per cent. in his constituency, and long-term youth claimant unemployment has fallen by 73 per cent. in his constituency. The important thing for us is that we have a sufficiently active welfare state to turn people around when they become unemployed and get them back into work as quickly as possible. Thanks to the welfare reforms that the Government have put in place, we have made good progress on that. As for getting his constituents to the front of the queue, I continue to meet my colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and work through some of those interesting issues.

In constituencies such as that of the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) and in mine, where technology has removed many jobs from the petrochemical sector, there have been structural changes over recent years that have required a change of approach by everyone—local authorities, the Department and employees in the community. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he works closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the structural changes that are going on are supported by the Government, and that we see moves into the new kinds of jobs as quickly as possible?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that reassurance. In my new role I will be working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government. One of the things that I am particularly keen to pursue is the opportunities created by bringing together skills and business in a single Department so that we can ensure we are keeping pace with the sort of changes that my hon. Friend mentions, and linking them into the employment work that we do in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Jobseeker’s Allowance (New Forest, West)

14. How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK and (b) New Forest, West constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. (282361)

In May 2009, as we have just heard, there were 1,516,921 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Great Britain, and 963 in the New Forest, West constituency.

That figure of 963 has increased faster than the comparable figure in almost any other constituency in the land, principally because of the large number of small businesses that are located in the New Forest, many of which have very good order books but have cash flow problems. Were the zombie banks able to lend to them, they would have survived. Does the Minister agree that if the Government had got on the case and had a much more impressive loan guarantee scheme on the books earlier, those businesses would have survived?

Certainly I am aware of the increase in the claimant rate in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He can give statistics based on proportions that start from a very low base; I can give him back statistics based on the actual numbers, which make the picture look slightly better. On his substantive point, it is important that the Government support small businesses. I, myself, ran a small business for 10 years before entering Parliament, and he will of course have noted and been pleased that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs helped more than 100,000 businesses by allowing them to delay their payments to it. That is far more effective than what he has talked about—and probably does not have the money to fund.

In relation to people in the building industry claiming jobseeker’s allowance, real problems have been raised in my constituency about their ability to obtain it because of their special employment status. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that and agree to meet me to discuss their problems further?

It is always a delight to meet my hon. Friend, and I should be very happy to do so in this case; it will be a relief not to have to talk about the problems of the schools in Northampton when I do. There is clearly an issue for large numbers of construction workers who are self-employed and have chosen to pay class 2 rather than class 1 national insurance contributions. That decision removes their right to some entitlement-based jobseeker’s allowance, but I am happy to discuss the issue with her. She will understand that there is a basic principle involved, but I hope that her constituents understand also that, thanks to the Government’s accelerated introduction of capital spending, the public sector is doing a lot to help the construction industry.

Topical Questions

Tomorrow marks the end of the first round of bidding for the £1 billion future jobs fund. The information that we currently have leads us to expect several hundred bids from a range of organisations: local authorities in particular, heritage organisations, third sector organisations and other groups. They are proposing jobs in a range of sectors, including green jobs, public services and housing. We are also seeking further bids over the summer because we want to create 150,000 jobs throughout the country. Shortly, the Prime Minister will set out in his statement further steps that we are taking to ensure that young people are not left behind and that another generation is not lost to work.

At a time when businesses have enough on their plate, is it not unethical, underhand and an abuse of taxpayers’ money for the ethnic minority employment task force in the right hon. Lady’s Department to send out false job applications with foreign-sounding names to try to smear businesses with allegations of racism?

That is simply not an accurate description of what is happening. In fact, the task force has funded a research project to look at whether there is discrimination in particular areas as part of its work to ensure that people from all ethnic minorities get on, find jobs and have proper opportunities in work.

T3. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker.

People with disabilities are very keen, even in this challenging job market, to be able to continue to look for jobs, and the welcome that they receive in job centres is central to that. Will my hon. Friend assure me that people with disabilities are dealt with properly, and that access issues are dealt with, so that wheelchair users achieve access and are dealt with as we would expect to be dealt with? (282372)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. There are disability employment advisers in each job centre, and they are able to advise potential employees about a range of support programmes, including the access to work programme that I referred to earlier, which will double over the next few years. There is an additional £8 million this year. Indeed, we are striving to assist people who are furthest from the labour market, including people with mental health issues and learning disabilities. There will be no let up in helping disabled people to get into work.

T4. The Minister for Employment will be aware that, according to last week’s figures, the rate of unemployment is growing twice as fast in Scotland as it is throughout the UK. Indeed, in my constituency, we have seen a 74 per cent. increase in 12 months. Does he agree it is absolutely crucial that Governments in Edinburgh and London work together to tackle the growing problem of unemployment in Scotland? What contact has he had with Scottish Government Ministers to tackle it? (282373)

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right: we need to ensure that the Government in Westminster work closely with the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, to tackle unemployment. He will be pleased to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be in Scotland next week. She will meet Fiona Hyslop, the Minister, to discuss those matters.

T5. In June, the director for enterprise and business at Remploy invited senior managers to a hotel in Leeds for a brief training course, lasting from 12 until 4.30, followed by a black-tie dinner, an overnight stay at a hotel, a non-business speaker and a race evening. Would it not have been more appropriate for that public money to have been spent on helping unemployed disabled people in constituencies such as mine, which has a Remploy factory, rather than on jollies for Remploy business managers? (282376)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. It has been alleged that the event cost £50,000, but she will be aware that that is not the case—the cost was more like £14,000. The hotel fee was about £120 a night, which I think hon. Members would consider a reasonable amount. MPs and others have been requesting that the sales team improve; the event brought together all the work force and sales team so that they could get additional sales. That was the purpose of the day.

At the end of the evening, there was a non-business speaker—a Paralympian motivational speaker. The focus of the day, however, was on improving sales. That is what my hon. Friend wants in Bridgend and what we all want in Remploy factories across the board. It is right that the company should focus on improving sales; if it was not doing so, I am sure my hon. Friend would have other words to say.

T6. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected, on the basis of DWP figures, that expenditure on social security and tax credits will increase by 1.7 per cent. per year between April 2011 and March 2014. Do Ministers accept those assumptions? If they do not, do they have alternative numbers? (282377)

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the IFS does its own analysis. As he will also know, we do not set forecasts for unemployment. However, we are clear that the more we invest at this stage to help people back into work, the faster we can bring unemployment down. That will cut social security bills in future and allow us to provide more investment in important public services—unlike the Conservative party, which would prefer to make public sector cuts.

T7. This year, Conservative-controlled South Ribble borough council has cancelled its apprenticeship programme, and I have been trying to persuade it to reverse the decision. Is there anything that my right hon. Friend can do to help me to provide the council with some incentive to help young people in my constituency into apprenticeships, perhaps through the future jobs fund? (282378)

I am disappointed to hear that from my hon. Friend. We hope that not only his local council but councils across the country and organisations in the private and public sectors will work with us to help young people into training and employment at this critical time. We want to expand the apprenticeships scheme and we are working to get as much support as possible for it and for the future jobs fund. I shall be happy to talk to my hon. Friend further about the issue because the Local Government Association generally supports the future jobs fund. It is working to support additional bids for the fund and for apprenticeships across the country. That makes South Ribble borough council’s pulling out of apprenticeships all the more disappointing. [Interruption.]

Order. There is quite a lot of chuntering going on, mainly by people who have just entered the Chamber.

Ministers will be only too sadly aware that the United Kingdom has the highest level of youth unemployment in Europe and that the figures are likely to be added to during the summer, as many thousands of graduates leave university and look for work. Can the Minister help me to tell my constituents what advice and help will be available to them as they try to find a place in the job market?

As I said earlier, young people, like others, are affected by the worldwide recession. It is worth noting, however, that long-term youth claimant unemployment is still 56.6 per cent. lower than it was in 1997. We are being successful in quickly turning around people, including young people, who are becoming unemployed. The hon. Lady will be aware that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, he announced an internship scheme in order to help graduates leaving university. Over the summer we will be talking more about that, as well as other opportunities for school leavers, including the September guarantee, which the hon. Lady’s party opposes.

I think those on the Front Bench are well aware that the biggest problem is pensioners’ entitlement to allowances and benefits, millions upon millions of which, however it is dressed up, go unclaimed each year. What more are Ministers going to do to ensure that those pensioners get the money they are entitled to?

Take-up of pension credit is close to 70 per cent., and that has taken 900,000 pensioners out of poverty. Since 1998-99, there has been a reduction from 29 to 18 per cent. in the proportion of pensioners on relative low incomes. We continue to do all we can to encourage take-up of pension credit among those who are entitled to it. I would be happy to assist my hon. Friend in doing what he can in his own constituency to get every single pensioner who is entitled to claim pension credit claiming it.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment. Will she agree to receive the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who I am delighted to see on the Front Bench, and me to discuss the plight of the 70 Equitable Life victims whom we met at a meeting in my constituency just two weeks ago?

The hon. Gentleman will know that as a result of the Treasury’s response to the parliamentary ombudsman’s report, Judge Chadwick is looking into the circumstances around the events at Equitable Life in order to be able to provide additional support for the people who have been affected by them. I am sure that the Treasury will keep the House informed.

It seems that more and more of my constituents who were previously employed full time are getting new jobs with employers but on a self-employed basis. That puts the employer at a great advantage and the employed at a severe disadvantage, especially if they become sick or seek jobseeker’s allowance. What are the Government doing to stop this nonsense?

Clearly it is important that those individuals are well represented if they are being forced to do things against their will, and I hope that they are members of trade unions so that they can receive that kind of representation. Those who are self-employed need to take good advice on whether they could volunteer to pay class 1 or class 2 contributions. Those who opt for class 1 contributions should then pay in so as to be able to claim if they need to as a result of becoming unemployed.

Will Ministers agree to meet a delegation from Cambridge to discuss the deeply disappointing result of the broad market rental area review for Cambridge, which means that hundreds of Cambridge residents will continue to be in a position whereby their housing benefit is forcing them to move out of the city—a situation that the valuation office says results from the state of the legislation, not any discretion on the part of that organisation?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that we will shortly be publishing a Green Paper on housing benefit. When we do, we will look at how to create a system that combines efficiency with maintaining work incentives and is fair to people across the country.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the jobseeker’s pledge that my hon. Friend the Minister for the West Midlands launched today in Stoke-on-Trent to create 250 apprenticeships in the public sector in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire. Will he give me an assurance that the Department for Work and Pensions and jobcentre staff will do everything possible to ensure that we get local apprentices in those local jobs?

I certainly did note the announcement by the Minister for the West Midlands, and I pay tribute to Staffordshire county council, Stoke-on-Trent city council, Staffordshire fire and rescue service and Keele university in particular for coming forward with apprenticeship pledges. It is crucial that we integrate skills and employment more, and I hope that the bids for the future jobs fund—the £1 billion fund that the Conservative party opposes—will include bids for apprenticeship places as part of that integration.

The jobcentre in Macclesfield is working exceptionally hard to get people back into work. Would that HBOS, a bank bailed out by the taxpayer, would do the same. It appears to be more interested in taking in administrators undertaking the liquidation of companies, because of the big fee that they get, and working in cahoots with an asset-stripping company. Will the Government do something about getting banks such as HBOS to be more sympathetic and understanding about saving jobs rather than losing them?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government did a lot to ensure that the major banks did not crash in the autumn, which would have put people’s savings at risk and would of course have had major job consequences and wider, catastrophic consequences for the entire economy. He will know, too, that regional Ministers and the regional development agencies are continuing to work with the banks that are going through restructuring, to support jobs in every part of the country.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the work of Jobcentre Plus, which he will know is doing considerable and laudable work across the country in advance of redundancies being made, as well as to help people who have unfortunately been made redundant and need help and investment to get them back into work.

Building Britain’s Future

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.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister. Mr. Barker, you need to simmer down a little.

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.]

Order. Mr. Duddridge, we do not need you to bellow away from a sedentary position. It is much to the benefit of the House if you do not.

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.

Order. Thirty-six right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so I ask for brief questions and, of course, for economical replies.

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.

I have just announced that more houses will be built, and as a result we can now reform the housing allocation system. That is what I have announced today.

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.

What public spending cuts has the right hon. Gentleman identified to meet the £1,500 million extra for housing?

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.

I welcome the steps that the Prime Minister has taken on social housing, but does he agree that unless urgent steps are taken to curb immigration this policy will not even begin to deal with the problem?

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.

I have already said that we carried out reviews of spending in 2004 and 2007, and this is a matter for the Chancellor.

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?

Once again, when it comes to issues of policy, that is all that the Conservatives can talk about. This statement is about policy for the future of this country, and I came to this House to announce it.

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?

In 1997, there was no investment taking place in further education. In the Budget, we announced £300 million extra investment for further education, and those allocations are being made now.

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 am aware that the Conservative party may be thinking of removing some of the securities that exist for people in tenancies. I would caution it against making long-standing tenants lose rights.

Which part of the Prime Minister’s statement will help Britain to avoid the national humiliation of losing its triple A sovereign debt rating?

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.