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Topical Questions

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2013

As Deputy Prime Minister, I support the Prime Minister on the full range of Government policy initiatives and I have responsibility for the Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.

In this flatlining economy, nearly 1 million young people are unemployed. In my constituency there has been a 10% increase in youth unemployment. Most worryingly, there is a disproportionate impact on young people from black, Asian and minority communities. One in two young black men is unemployed, compared with one in four young men in the white community. Why are the Government not addressing that appalling inequality?

I am sure that all Members from all parts of the House will agree that it is important that we give young people more opportunities to get into work. That is why we have massively expanded the number of apprenticeships that are available to young people, on a scale that dwarfs anything the previous Government had planned, and why we have made available £1 billion for the Youth Contract. I urge the hon. Lady, if she has not done so—[Interruption.] She says that it is not working. It offers funding for 250,000 new work experience places, which is a great way of getting young people into work. If she worked with us, she could explain to employers in her constituency that wage subsidies are available under the Youth Contract so that if a local employer takes on a young person, they get paid for doing so by the Government.

T2. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the development of single pot funds and on what that will mean for east Kent in respect of the access to devolved money? (163804)

The Chancellor announced recently that we will start with a so-called single pot, as proposed by Lord Heseltine, of just over £2 billion. That is just the start of the process. Local enterprise partnerships across the country will be able to bid for at least half of that money and the rest will be distributed on a formula basis.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that people do not like the fact that MPs can earn tens of thousands of pounds, sometimes even hundreds of thousands of pounds, from second jobs? Will he work with us to clamp down on MPs having second jobs?

I am not sure if I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that we should stop—or clamp down on, as she puts it—MPs having additional employment. What is important is for that to be as transparent and accountable as possible. People expect their MPs to work for their constituents: that is what we are here for, and that should remain the principal purpose of all MPs elected to this place.

It is important to have transparency, and we have transparency, but we need to do more. It is the amount of money that people see MPs earning that they do not agree with. The Deputy Prime Minister mentioned that he will introduce a Bill. Will it make provision for companies to consult shareholders before they are allowed to make donations to political parties?

Dare I say it, it is interesting that the right hon. and learned Lady is raising detailed points about reforming party funding now, when her party singularly failed to do so in the cross-party talks that, unfortunately, have just come to an end. We see the consequences in the headlines: the Labour party has failed and failed and failed to address the fact that it is at the beck and call of major vested interests in British society. That is not healthy for the Labour party. That is not healthy for trade unions. That is not healthy for democracy.

T3. In the event of a no vote in the Scottish referendum next year, there is some discussion that further devolution, sometimes called devo max, will be offered. Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that before we go ahead with anything along those lines, there will be clarity on how many fewer MPs from Scotland there will be in this place? (163805)

It is for each party to explain how it wants to see the process of devolution continue in the wake of next year’s referendum. Let us first settle the question of whether Scotland will remain a part of the family of nations that makes up the United Kingdom, and then decide as different parties. Speaking on behalf of my party, we will always be at the forefront of arguing for greater devolution within a United Kingdom.

T5. The Deputy Prime Minister said, in launching his party’s 2010 green manifesto, that the Tories“talk the talk on green issues only to align themselves with climate deniers”.Will he explain to the hundreds and hundreds of constituents who contacted me why he and his party voted against the decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill? (163808)

As the hon. Gentleman would know if he followed the debate, we will be taking powers to introduce a decarbonisation target when the next carbon budget starts. There are different opinions on this. Some Members suggested recently that we should abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change—indeed, that we should abolish my office, too—and any mention of climate change. Needless to say, I think they are wrong on all counts.

T4. Given the success of the Deputy Prime Minister’s political and constitutional reform agenda to date, what other plans might he have to reform party political funding and allow Opposition Members to voice their opinions free from the yoke of union oppression? (163806)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, unfortunately, after numerous meetings bringing together representatives of the main parties in the past year or two, once again a cross-party consensus on party funding appears to have eluded us. I remain ready at any time to take up cross-party discussions. We need to reform party funding for the sake of all political parties, but the party in the spotlight today is the Labour party and its dysfunctional links with the trade unions. We will make available Government legislation to turn their words into action.

T6. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that paying the same fee to lawyers whether there is a guilty plea or a not guilty plea risks undue pressure being placed on defendants to plead guilty even though innocent, leading to miscarriages of justice? Does he also agree that the legal aid proposals from the Justice Secretary are half-baked? (163809)

The Justice Secretary has made it clear that he cannot and will not escape from the need to make just over £200 million of savings from the significant amount of money invested in our legal system. He will remain open-minded, as he reflects on the results of the recent consultation on his proposed legal aid reforms, on exactly how those reforms should be implemented, as long as the savings are achieved.

T12. Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in welcoming this week’s news that after talks South and North Korea have reached agreement to reopen the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex, and does he not agree that this shows that dialogue into North Korea makes a difference and that consideration by the BCC World Service to start transmission into North Korea should be given priority? (163817)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all her work on this vital issue, which is of huge significance not just for the region, but for world stability. I agree that the agreement reached—thankfully—on the use of the Kaesong industrial site is a significant step forward, given where we were just a few weeks and months ago, and yes, I agree that the role of the BBC World Service in projecting our values is immensely important.

T8. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), the Deputy Prime Minister did not seem to be aware that the chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said that virtually none of its members had taken up the wage incentive. What is he going to do about this, and does he now regret having fully endorsed so quickly the abolition of the future jobs fund? (163811)

The problem with the future jobs fund, as I hope the hon. Lady will acknowledge, was that, although it moved young people into jobs, often it did so only temporarily, and the point of the Youth Contract is to learn from those mistakes to ensure that the jobs created for young people last. The evidence, both from our huge expansion of apprenticeships and the parts of the Youth Contract giving young people opportunities, is that they are staying in work, and not simply being provided with temporary work, which is what happened under the future jobs fund.

The Deputy Prime Minister has been hugely helpful in helping to secure Government funding for the Tour de France in Yorkshire next year, but less helpful has been the response I have had to the “be inspired, get involved” initiative. With the anniversary of London 2012 coming up, will he meet me in the next 10 days to discuss the matter?

Of course, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend at any time to discuss that. I strongly agree that having the start of the Tour de France in Yorkshire is a wonderful opportunity not just to show off the virtues of Yorkshire, but to put Britain on the map, once again, for this great, global sporting event.

T9. The Deputy Prime Minister lauds the success of the Youth Contract, but let me give him a hard fact: one third of businesses recently surveyed said they had not even heard of it. What is he going to do about it? (163812)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in explaining to employers in his constituency that this payment of just shy of £2,300 is available to employers under the wage incentive in the Youth Contract where they take on young people. I hope he will also be aware that the Youth Contract consists not just of those 160,000 wage incentives, but of a funded increase in the number of work experience places—a quarter of a million of them—and a significant increase in funding for apprenticeships aimed at young people.

How much have the Deputy Prime Minister and his Cabinet Office colleagues cost the public purse in conducting a study of alternatives to Trident that has taken more than two and a half years to show that there are indeed no alternatives to Trident as the basis of our nuclear deterrent?

My hon. Friend must be a soothsayer if he can tell what is in a report that has not been published yet. As he knows, the confidential version of the report has been provided to the Prime Minister and me, and we hope to publish the unclassified version shortly, when he will see that options are available to us. I have always argued against the idea that a total, like-for-like, exact replacement of Trident on precisely the same basis is the only option available to us as a country.

T10. Does “shortly” mean before the summer recess? Given that the Deputy Prime Minister’s report will show that his grand idea of a mini-deterrent was always a complete fantasy, why should anyone take him seriously if he now says that Britain could be adequately protected with a part-time deterrent? (163814)

We have another psychic telling us what is in a report that he has not seen yet. We hope that the report will be published shortly; we hope to publish it before the recess, but of course we need to check that the unclassified document is properly vetted in all respects, which is what we are doing at the moment. The simple point is: does the hon. Gentleman believe that a weapons system designed to be fired at the push of a button, at any minute of any hour of any day, 365 days a week, to flatten Moscow in a cold war context, is the only weapons system available to us? That is the question he needs to answer.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister set out the occasions on which he or any other Liberal Democrat Minister met Derek Webb and what was discussed at those meetings?

T11. What explanation does the Deputy Prime Minister give for the fact that since the Youth Contract was launched, 11,600 more young people have been unemployed for over 12 months than before? (163816)

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, headline figures for youth unemployment have, thankfully, come down. I have seen that in the city for which I am an MP, where youth unemployment has come down by 8%, but of course we need to do more. He also knows that, of the headline figures, around 300,000 or 400,000 are in education, but we need to do more. That is what the Youth Contract is about. I accept that there is a challenge to communicate with employers so that they take up the bit of the Youth Contract that will be of help to them.

In the interest of victims of press intrusion and many others, will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that the charter for press regulation agreed by this House and all parties will be put to the Privy Council at the earliest possible opportunity for agreement?

Of course I can confirm that we will do so at the earliest possible opportunity, but first we need to respect the processes of the Privy Council, as my right hon. Friend knows. Another, rival charter has been submitted for consideration at the Privy Council. We need to ensure that it is properly examined objectively and is not subject to undue interference. That process is now under way. He, like many people who voted on 18 March for the cross-party royal charter, is impatient to get on with it. I understand that. Our support for the royal charter voted for on 18 March remains, but we must also ensure that things are done objectively and reasonably in the Privy Council.

But Ministers tabled a motion on 18 March stating that the royal charter would go to the May Privy Council. Did they not know that they would be beaten to it by the press barons of this country? Why can it not go to the July meeting of the Privy Council? If not in July, why can the Deputy Prime Minister not have a special meeting in August or September, or whenever? The House decided. Why should others circumvent the will of this House?

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but he will recall that on 18 March there was only one royal charter in play: the royal charter that we adopted on a cross-party basis—

Yes, with an overwhelming majority in this House. I certainly stand by my support for that, as I think everyone does across all sections in the House. However, another royal charter has since been put forward for consideration in the Privy Council. Whether the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) likes it or not, we must allow objective consideration of that additional royal charter.

When the Deputy Prime Minister last stood in for the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions, he not only gave my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) the jitters but provided me with a helpful answer about the Special Olympic games being held in Bath in August and spreading the Olympic legacy. Alas, not too much has happened since. Will he look at that answer again and see what can be done?

I will look at the issue again and speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that my hon. Friend gets a full answer.

I am a proud trade unionist. I am proud of the fact that the trade union contributions to donations come from hard-working people up and down the country, who should not be smeared by Government Members. Will the Deputy Prime Minister consider legislation to ensure that the shareholders of big businesses that wish to donate to any party will be consulted and will have to agree to any such donation?

As I said before, I am up for a cross-party consensus to reform party funding across the piece. We had the opportunity to do that over the last two years, but the hon. Gentleman’s party singularly failed to step up to the mark in those cross-party discussions. Now that it has been revealed for the whole country to see that the Unite union is hand-picking parliamentary candidates, funding the Labour party to the tune of £11 million, suddenly the Labour party has belatedly discovered an enthusiasm for reform. We will make Government legislation available to make that happen.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to look into how a city deal for Norwich would help to create new jobs by capitalising on the economic growth of the world-class institutions at the Norwich research park?

My hon. Friend is getting active support from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), who is sitting to my left. As he knows, Norwich is one of the 20 cities and towns that are in the process of securing a second wave of so-called city deals, following the first wave for the eight largest cities outside the south-east. I met representatives from Norwich and the other 19 places recently, and I am optimistic that we will be able to make an announcement in the autumn or winter.

According to a recent Hansard Society survey, only 12% of 18 to 24-year-olds are committed to voting in the next general election. Why does the Deputy Prime Minister think that is the case, and what steps does he intend to take to improve participation?

As the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office explained earlier, a number of steps are being taken to ensure that young voters understand how individual voter registration will work and that they take the opportunity to register themselves individually so that they can participate fully in future elections.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery)? Does he or does he not think that shareholders should be consulted before donations are made to a political party?

There is a whole bunch of things we need to do to reform party funding, for the sake of all the political parties. It is a bit rich for Labour Members to assume this rather pious tone when it is their problems that are once again disfiguring the way in which money circulates in politics in this country.

On third-party donations, will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that his party received a donation of £350,000 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust before the last general election? Does he think that Joseph Rowntree would be pleased to see his money being used to prop up a Tory Government?

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about being progressive, I do not know what is progressive about the sight of a major political party that is at the beck and call of a vested interest. I do not think that it is healthy for the trade unions, either. Over the past three years, his party has shown itself to be incapable of progressive political reform. It has blocked House of Lords reform, failed to campaign actively for the alternative vote and failed to deliver cross-party political funding reform. I think Joseph Rowntree would have been very disappointed by that.

I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will share my concern about young people not voting. If so, why, as a member of the coalition Government, is he standing by as citizenship training disappears from our schools up and down the country?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has had time to look at the national curriculum, which was published yesterday by the Secretary of State for Education and the Prime Minister. It places laudable emphasis on ensuring that citizenship is properly taught in schools. We also have a programme of schools outreach, and we will be looking for organisations to deliver a set lesson framework, Rock Enrol, which is being developed and piloted by Bite the Ballot in a number of schools across England and Wales. Those are good initiatives.