The business for next week will be:
Monday 2 February—Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5 and Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2015.
Tuesday 3 February—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Insurance Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve a money resolution relating to the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to mitochondrial donation, followed by general debate on rural phone and broadband connectivity. The subject for this debate has been determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 4 February—Opposition Day (16th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on 18-25 apprenticeships, followed by a debate on electoral registration. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 5 February—Debate on a motion relating to building sustainable GP services, followed by general debate on improving cancer outcomes. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 9 February will include:
Monday 9 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2015 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2015, followed by motions relating to the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payment (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 and the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment Of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.
Tuesday 10 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, followed by motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.
Wednesday 11 February—Opposition Day (17th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion including on a debate entitled “Labour’s job guarantee”—[Laughter.] I kept a straight face while reading that out, Mr Speaker. That will be followed, if necessary, by consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 12 February—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 13 February—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 5 February will be:
Thursday 5 February—Debate on the fourth report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on voter engagement in the UK, followed by debate on the first report from the Work and Pensions Committee on employment and support allowance and work capability assessments.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and for giving us a hint of what might follow thereafter. This week, we marked Holocaust memorial day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The sheer scale of the evil perpetrated by the Nazis almost defies belief. Does the Leader of the House agree that the testimony of the survivors will help us to ensure that that obscenity is never repeated? Will he join me in welcoming plans for a new holocaust memorial in this country that will honour the memory of all the victims? Does he also agree that this anniversary must motivate us to redouble our efforts to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice, including racism, homophobia and religious hatred, which are on the rise across the world today?
I notice one thing missing from this week’s business is any reference to plain packaging for cigarettes. After the Government had supported it, the House then backed it. The Government then changed their mind and opposed it, but last week the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) U-turned on the U-turn late at night in an Adjournment debate, presumably when she thought tobacco lobbyist Lynton Crosby was not looking. Given the reports that more than half of Conservative Back Benchers are willing to rebel against the Government and oppose plain packaging—
That has just been confirmed. Given those reports, will the Leader of the House acknowledge that he is going to have to rely once again on Labour votes to pass the measure? Will he also confirm that he will bring this debate to the Floor of the House before Dissolution?
I notice that, just in the nick of time, the Government yesterday appointed someone to review the impact of their gag on free speech in the run-up to the election. But the man they have chosen to review the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 is a Conservative peer who did not once vote against the Government on the Bill and who voted with them on some of its worst aspects. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the deputy leader of the Labour party, was forced to write to the Culture Secretary about the disgraceful and overt political bias of another Conservative peer, the supposedly impartial deputy chair of Ofcom. This morning I have been reading about the extent of this Government’s pork barrel politics, abusing public money to prop up their candidates in marginal seats, and refusing to admit how much they are spending on it. So will the Leader of the House now arrange to publish full details of Government spending in marginal seats? Will he also arrange for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on this Government’s widespread neglect of the Nolan principles for public appointments, as these appointments seem to have little to do with impartiality or integrity and much more to do with membership of the Conservative party? Given that Ofcom has today said that Baroness Noakes’s comments were clearly inappropriate, will the Leader of the House explain why she is still in her job?
Yesterday, we saw the Prime Minister refusing to acknowledge that all the hospital units he stood outside and promised to save before the last election have been closed or downgraded while he has been Prime Minister. More than 1,000 ambulances a day are now queuing outside accident and emergency units, overstretched hospitals are cancelling 1,500 operations a week and all the Government have done is make it harder for hospitals to declare major incidents. The Tories’ pledge to protect the NHS is now in tatters. They promised they would put patients first, but instead they gave us a £3 billion top-down reorganisation and an NHS in crisis. They promised they would cut the deficit not the NHS, but borrowing has soared and they have missed every target they ever set themselves on the economy. They promised a recovery for everyone, but they gave us queues at food banks, record insecurity at work and tax cuts for their millionaire mates. I am not the only one who is glad there are only 98 days left of them.
This week, the Liberal Democrat Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer, turned up in Taipei on a rail mission with a very special gift. Local journalists looked on in horror as she gave the city’s mayor a watch, which is taboo in local culture because it suggests that the recipient’s time is running out. She should have given it to her party leader. The mayor was less than impressed, saying:
“I can just re-gift it to someone else or take it to a metal dealer and sell it for cash.”
I just wish we could get as much use out of other Lib Dem offerings. Someone else who has been struggling with timepieces is the invisible man, the Tory Chief Whip. In Cabinet, he inadvertently interrupted the Chancellor with a sudden musical outburst. His Cabinet colleagues looked on in horror as Beyoncé’s latest hit began blasting from the Chief Whip’s new smartwatch. Any watch that is smart enough to play Beyoncé should surely be able to tell him when business questions is.
I absolutely share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Lady about the commemoration of the holocaust and the importance of the testimony of survivors. We had an excellent presentation at the Cabinet meeting this week from Mr Mick Davis, who chaired the commission on commemorating the holocaust and came up with excellent proposals, which the Government have adopted and which have support from all across the House. She is absolutely right about the need to redouble and intensify all our efforts to counter not only anti-Semitism, but racism, homophobia and religious intolerance and hatred of every kind.
The hon. Lady asked about parliamentary business and plain packaging for cigarettes. I explained the position on that last week. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) announced that the Government are committed to laying regulations. These draft regulations will be laid in good time before the end of the Parliament. The regulations cannot be made until after 2 March, under the EU technical standards directive. To correct what I said last week, they can be laid before then but they cannot be made until after 2 March. So that is the constraint.
The hon. Lady asked about spending. A statement will be made later today about local growth deals, and the Minister responsible for those will be showing how the Government work with local authorities across the country to spend money a great deal more productively in supporting local infrastructure and local economic growth than ever happened under the previous Government.
The hon. Lady asked about hospitals. Of course health has been extensively debated in the House over recent weeks. As of today, we have almost 9,500 more doctors and 6,300 more nurses since the last election. Rather inconveniently for her argument, the survey of satisfaction with the health service was published today showing that satisfaction has gone up to 65%, which is the second highest level in 30 years, and that it has fallen in Wales, which is something that the Labour party is often unwilling to discuss. We will doubtlessly talk about health further before the dissolution of Parliament.
The hon. Lady talked about the gift of a watch in Taipei, but the Leader of the Opposition received an even greater gift this week, which was the gift of being defended by the noble Lord Kinnock. That is a sure sign of impending disaster. Lord Kinnock’s belief that the Labour party is following the right election strategy is a great comfort to all of us on the Government Benches, and we hope that he will express it regularly. The hon. Lady neglected to ask about the good news, which is that, at 2.6%, we have the fastest economic growth in the G7.
The background today is one of collapsing credibility on the Labour Benches after a former Labour Health Secretary said that
“Labour’s position on the health service becomes almost an emblem for Labour showing an unwillingness”
to learn. When the Leader of the Opposition tried to weaponise the NHS, he never expected that it would be a boomerang that would come back and hit him so hard.
Added to that collapse in credibility, the Labour website still has a “freeze that bill” page. I can give the House more details. Gas and electricity bills under Labour’s energy plan will be frozen until 2017. There is even a little calculator to work out how much a consumer can save, which is presumably now showing negative results for everybody. I might try it out to see what the results are. That is the sort of chaos that we are seeing. There has to be something desperate about casting around for a future coalition with parties that want to break up the United Kingdom, and something intensely desperate about doing so with parties that do not actually vote in this House, such as Sinn Fein. That is the very definition of desperation, and that is what the Opposition have reached this week.
Last week, the Government honoured their commitment to the people of Scotland by publishing the draft Scotland Bill. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how that Bill will be scrutinised? Will there be a Joint Committee of both Houses, or will the work be done by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, or some combination? When will that consideration be completed?
Four Committees have an interest in the matter. We expect the Scottish Affairs Committee to be the lead in looking at the package as a whole. But the Government also welcome the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s scrutiny of clauses with constitutional significance. It is important that there is engagement not only in Parliament but with civic Scotland, the Scottish Government, and the Opposition to translate the draft clauses into a Bill, ready for introduction at the beginning of the next Parliament. Of course it is up to each Committee when it reports.
I have been contacted by a whistleblower from Her Majesty’s prison in Walton—the old Walton prison in my constituency—who claims that low staffing levels are endangering both prison officers and prisoners. Will the Leader of the House consider a debate in Government time to look at the effect of the cuts on the prison service?
The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise that matter directly with the responsible Ministers next Tuesday, if he catches your eye, Mr Speaker, because it is questions to the Justice Secretary. That is the most immediate opportunity to raise such matters further on the Floor of the House, and to add to the points that he has already made today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), Tom Pursglove, the national director of Together Against Wind, and I were waiting to go in Downing street last week, and my hon. Friend said that in his constituency, unemployment had gone down 50% since Labour lost power. I said that in my constituency it had gone down 55%. Then Tom said that in Corby, it had gone down 60%. Was I right in thinking that the Leader of the House announced a debate called “Labour’s job guarantee”? Is that some sort of joke?
Well, my hon. Friend and I might think that it is some kind of joke, but such a debate will give us the opportunity to talk about the huge fall in unemployment since the last election, including in Corby, to which my hon. Friend draws attention. Employment is now up by 1.75 million, which is a remarkable record. We are creating more jobs in this country than in the whole of the rest of the European Union put together.
Last week the all-party suicide and self-harm prevention group published a report that showed that one third of local authorities in England did not have a suicide prevention plan; they did not have the funds for such a plan and had not produced one. Last year, 4,500 people took their lives in England. May we have a debate on the importance of local authorities meeting their responsibilities and preparing and publishing plans to prevent unnecessary deaths in England?
This is an important report on an important subject. What the hon. Lady has said in the House today will help to draw the attention of local authorities to the matter, and I add to that. It is a wholly legitimate and important subject for debate, and exactly the sort of debate that can be held through the work of the Backbench Business Committee, so I encourage the hon. Lady to take that forward.
May we have a debate on the responsibilities of householders for contaminated land since the removal of contaminated land grants? An elderly couple in Langport in my constituency are facing crippling bills for the removal of contamination from the land on which their house stands—contamination for which they were not responsible, and which they had no idea was there when they bought the property. The local authority has to require the removal of the contamination and cannot provide any grant aid. This is a gross injustice. May we please debate it?
My hon. Friend has just now done a very good job of raising the matter in the House. Questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government Ministers are next Monday, and this is an obvious subject for an Adjournment debate, so while there is not a debate scheduled on these matters in the coming weeks, I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to find other opportunities to pursue this important issue.
Fuel smuggling is at epidemic proportions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and it is a serious crisis that affects all these islands, while criminals are on the make. The Treasury appears to be doing its best to resolve the issue, but for whatever reason—something sinister—there is frustration at trying to solve the issue of identifying a new fuel marker for Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House schedule a full and frank debate to sort this matter out once and for all and prevent criminals getting their way on our islands?
This is also an important issue. I know that the Government Departments work together to ensure that the problem is dealt with effectively. We must never rest in our attempts to make sure that criminal gangs cannot make profits in this or any other way. I cannot offer a debate about it in the near future, but I will draw the issue that he has raised to the attention of my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office and all the other relevant Departments.
May we have an urgent statement on the role of private car park owners such as NCP? My constituents have been fleeced by NCP, which has signposted restricted areas improperly and then fined people who innocently park in them. Furthermore, it has fined people for allegedly displaying their ticket in the wrong place on the car’s dashboard. Will my right hon. Friend contact the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Business, Innovation and Skills and call for an urgent inquiry into this disgraceful behaviour by NCP?
My hon. Friend is an ardent campaigner on behalf of his constituents and he will understand that in such car parks—for example those owned by train operators—the charges are a commercial matter. It may aid him and his constituents to know that it is for the Office of Rail Regulation to consider any complaint that a car parking charge at a station is excessive. It has issued guidance, setting out the circumstances in which it will investigate, but I will let my ministerial colleagues know of his concerns, and they may contact him to guide him further on it.
All of us in this House will be appalled, on the 70th anniversary of the holocaust, when we remember how many children were gassed in those terrible camps. Is it not right that we have a debate on the efficiency of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child? Worldwide, we are seeing children killed in wars. In Pakistan, whole classes of children—150—were killed. In Nigeria—all over the world now, it seems that the life of a child is not valued. May we have a debate on children and childhood and how we protect them?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and there would be all too many terrible situations in the world to refer to in such a debate, as he has described, including the fate of children in so many conflicts, such as those in Syria and Iraq, as well as the victims of terrorist attacks in Nigeria and Pakistan. That would be a welcome debate. Of course, it is primarily for the Backbench Business Committee to consider, but I think it would be welcomed across the House.
In the past week, at a planning inquiry in Huddersfield, the excellent Save Butterley Spillway group has been fighting Yorkshire Water’s plans to rip out the unique Victorian heritage of a listed spillway in Marsden in my constituency and replace it with a concrete monstrosity. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work of Diane Ellis, David Preston, Ian Ladbrooke, Tom Lonsdale and the many members of the group who have been campaigning to save the spillway and hoping that the inquiry will say that it can be made safe and our Victorian heritage preserved?
As a Minister, I cannot comment on the individual case, but all decisions on such applications need to take into account the national planning policy framework, which is clear that heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and sets out clear policies for cases where a proposal would harm a heritage asset. I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising local people who have engaged in the planning inquiry to make sure their views are heard, and I know he will be, as ever, a very strong spokesman for them.
My constituents in Clydebank, particularly in Whitecrook, are affected by loud noise from aircraft in the Glasgow flight path overhead. In the past few years I have been round the houses, contacting the UK Department for Transport, the Scottish Government, our local council and, of course, the airport itself, but all are unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Might we have time for a debate about exactly whom my constituents can hold accountable and look to for mitigation measures?
That is also an entirely legitimate subject for a debate, particularly given that many different Departments may have an interest. It sounds like a wholly suitable subject for an Adjournment debate, and I recommend that the hon. Lady pursues the matter in that way.
With regard to the idiotic nanny-state proposal for plain packaging—why on earth we need plain packaging for a product that is already behind shutters, Lord only knows, not to mention the fact that it will put many good jobs in Bradford at risk—will the Leader of the House promise that when the matter is further considered, it will not be passed through some Committee upstairs and so sneaked through, but will be debated on the Floor of the House, and that there will be a vote at the end of it, and that that vote will be a free vote for Ministers as well as Back Benchers?
My hon. Friend always states his case very clearly and moderately. I explained earlier the time constraints on this, and that such regulations cannot be made—they can be laid, but not made—before 2 March. No decision has been made on how both Houses of Parliament consider the regulations—both will need to do so. That can be done on the Floor of the House or in Committee; a decision will have to be made about that in due course. Decisions about whipping will of course be made by other authorities sitting not far from me.
The Leader of the House earlier expressed concern about the welfare of children around the world, in places such as Nigeria. Last Friday, the Home Office deported to Nigeria two people who lived in my constituency, a Mrs Bola Fatumbi and her five-year-old son, Rafeeq Atanda. When they landed in Nigeria, they found that the cash card with which they had been provided did not work, and they were stranded in the airport for two days before trying to walk into the city. I know that there are rights and wrongs in this situation, but for the life of me I do not know what a five-year-old child, who has never set foot outside this country, has done to be treated like that by this Government. We need an urgent debate in Government time about the rights of children in deportation cases.
As the hon. Gentleman says, without much more detail none of us can know the merits of individual cases, but he is clearly concerned about this case, and he could pursue it with Home Office Ministers, not only through correspondence but at questions. The next Home Office questions will be on Monday 9 February, so I encourage him to raise it directly with them, but I will inform Home Office Ministers of the concerns that he has expressed today.
I welcome the news that the regulations empowering the Groceries Code Adjudicator to levy fines have been laid. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ask the Prime Minister to clarify his welcome remarks, in response to a question, on extending the adjudicator’s remit to, as I understand it, the whole dairy industry chain, so that processes will be brought within the supply chain? That will be a very welcome move indeed.
I know that those remarks by the Prime Minister were warmly welcomed in different parts of the House, and the Government are considering how to take that forward. My hon. Friend is quite right that the relevant related regulations have been laid. The Ministers responsible, particularly at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will be able to expand on this when the decisions have been made.
The Secretary of State for Health refuses to meet me and Hartlepool borough council to discuss the growing uncertainty about the future of Hartlepool hospital and how services can be returned to the town. Does the Leader of the House think that the refusal by Ministers to meet elected representatives is appropriate? In the light of that snub to Hartlepool, may we have a debate on the matter?
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has many meetings with Members of Parliament, and has been very much available in recent months to discuss concerns from different parts of the country; but the hon. Gentleman says that no meeting has taken place with him. I will tell my right hon. Friend of his concerns, so that the Department of Health can further respond to him directly about this.
In the United Kingdom, 2.7 million people have diabetes, half a million have it and do not know they have it, 700 a day are being diagnosed with it and it is costing the NHS £1 million an hour. It is sometimes referred to as a ticking time bomb, but I think the bomb has gone off. If we do not want the next generation of young people to be the fallout from this, may we have a debate about the education of young people within schools about what they need to do to reduce the possibility of getting diabetes?
There would be very good arguments for such a debate; indeed, my hon. Friend has just made a good argument for such a debate. This is an increasing strain on the NHS, an increasingly serious disease in this country, and even more so in some other countries, so there is a good case for more discussion of the education that is required. Whether it will be possible to have a debate before the dissolution of Parliament I do not know, but it is exactly the sort of issue on which a cross-party approach to the Backbench Business Committee can be made.
Following the urgent question to the Health Secretary yesterday, may we have an early debate or statement on the issue of election purdah in relation to health bodies? Since they are not run by the Government, and the Secretary of State is clear that he does not want to see any political news management of the health sector, it seems logical that they are exempt, yet many bodies are proceeding on the basis that election purdah applies to them. To ensure that no one is tempted to accuse the Government of deliberately fudging the matter, may we have an early debate or statement to clear it up?
I am sure no one would accuse the Government of deliberately fudging the matter and the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that, but he raises an interesting point about the application of purdah. I do not have the instant answer to his question, but I or other Ministers will write to him about how we understand the situation, so that there can be clarity on the matter.
Considerable uncertainty continues to surround the current status and future of the independent panel on historical child sex abuse, and the Home Secretary undertook to make an announcement before the end of this month about the appointment of a new chair. No announcement has been scheduled, today is 29 January and now there is some doubt about the ability to appoint a judge or not. As a matter of urgency next week, will the Home Secretary make a statement to the House about the situation, and before Dissolution may we, in the House and in Government time, have a full debate on the nature of the inquiry going forward, as it will need to sit after March when the House is no longer sitting and it has important business to get on with?
I will certainly tell the Home Secretary of the points that my hon. Friend has raised. She answered an urgent question on the matter just a week ago and spoke about the appointment of the chair of the inquiry. It is Home Office questions a week on Monday, on 9 February, so the Home Secretary will come back to the House then, but of course it is possible that she will want to make an announcement before then, in line with what was said during the urgent question. My hon. Friend is right about the importance of the matter. We are determined that appalling cases of child abuse should be exposed, so that perpetrators face justice and the vulnerable are protected. The work of the inquiry will have to go on through the period of Dissolution, so there will be a very powerful case for the House to be able to consider this further by means of a statement or debate.
The Government consultation on the draft guidance to be issued under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, known as the Prevent duty, closes tomorrow. Last week I met representatives of the Muslim community in Bristol, who are very worried about certain aspects of that consultation. In the light of the responses received, may we have a debate, which we were not able to have during the debate on the Bill, so that we can discuss some of those concerns?
I am not sure whether we will be able to have a further debate, in addition to the debates on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. The Bill will come back to the House from the Lords, so there will be some debates on related subjects. I will, of course, pass on these concerns to the Home Office Ministers, but we have reformed Prevent significantly, as the hon. Lady knows, to make sure that it tackles all forms of terrorism. We have introduced new procedures to make sure that we work only with organisations that respect British values. We have changed the objectives so that it deals with non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism. These have been important and positive reforms, but I will draw the attention of Home Office Ministers to what the hon. Lady said.
Thirty miles north of my constituency sits the greatest building in Europe that no one has ever heard of, Wentworth Woodhouse, the original northern powerhouse. I say no one, but my right hon. Friend knows it well because he grew up beside it. Wentworth Woodhouse is now for sale and a campaign has been launched cross-party and across conservation organisations to raise £7 million and much more to restore it and regenerate the former coalfield area that surrounds it. Will my right hon. Friend consider supporting the campaign and holding a debate on what the Government could do to save the building and the area around it?
Although I cannot immediately offer a debate, I am very familiar with the house, as my hon. Friend says, having grown up just over the wall from it. It is a splendid, grade I listed country house. In the 18th century it was known as the Whitehall of the north, being the seat of the Marquess of Rockingham, who was Prime Minister, as the House will recall, in 1782. The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust has a number of proposals to find sustainable uses for it. To date Save Britain’s Heritage and the preservation trust have generated pledges of about half their target sum. My hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy spoke at an event last week to help raise funds for the acquisition of the house, so I am sure that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will continue to support efforts to protect this wonderful building as quickly as possible.
Earlier today at the Dispatch Box, an Environment Minister said that he had no responsibility for the issue of offshore wind farms, which quite surprised me, as a former Environment Minister. It made me wonder who is now dealing with environmental regulations and permissions in offshore. May we have a debate on ministerial responsibilities, so that this House and the public know who does what in Government, and, more importantly, Ministers know what they should be doing as well?
I do not think a debate will be required to be clear about that. There will be opportunities to question other Ministers who have an interest in these things. Next Thursday we have Department of Energy and Climate Change questions, and of course those Ministers have a major interest in these matters. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman continues to ask about these matters in the House, he will find a Minister who will give him the necessary answers.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will provide a debate on whether the party of Labour is any more the party of the working man or the party of welfare. It is very important for historical reasons—I know that he is a historian—that we look at these things.
These matters can be brought up in other debates. As I said, the Opposition have scheduled debates on apprenticeships and on so-called jobs guarantees, and my right hon. Friend may well want to make these points then. More than 100 years after the Labour party was founded by trade unions for working people, it has become the party of welfare, while the party of hard-working people sits on the Government side of the House.
The Government—indeed, all parties here—have a very strong commitment to tackling homelessness. Harrogate homeless hostel, which my right hon. Friend will know, is directly next door to my constituency office and does an excellent job. I was very pleased that Harrogate borough council and North Yorkshire county council supported it with grants of £30,000 each. May we have a debate to explore what more we can do to support the organisations that tackle homelessness every day as we strive to eliminate it?
Last week there was a well-attended debate in Westminster Hall about homeless young people—an issue of great interest around the House. We have introduced a range of initiatives and projects to help rough sleepers, to prevent single homelessness, and to help those who have been homeless to find and sustain accommodation. Government spending to prevent and tackle rough sleeping and homelessness has increased; we have made over £500 million available. It is extremely important when authorities such as Harrogate and North Yorkshire come in to support that. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to do all he can to tackle this issue in Harrogate and the surrounding area.
I bring good news from Kettering. This year there have been 860 apprenticeship starts in the borough, with 3,680 in the past four years. I welcome the forthcoming debate on apprenticeships for 18 to 25-year-olds that is to be held on the Floor of this House. During that debate, there will be an opportunity to highlight the success of Tresham college in opening up a further 100 apprenticeship starts this year at its open day at its Kettering campus on Saturday 28 February. We can also highlight the very welcome and ambitious plans in the Conservative manifesto to spend £1 billion on creating 3 million more apprenticeships up to 2020—a very real jobs guarantee.
We are enjoying each week the bulletin of good news from Kettering. I have no doubt that that bulletin will continue on a regular basis, because there is plenty of good news to draw attention to. What my hon. Friend talks about is part of a very important national trend. It is an important national policy for many of us in this House to introduce 3 million apprenticeships in the next Parliament to abolish youth unemployment. I am pleased to say that long-term youth unemployment is already down by 53,000 on the year and is lower than it was at the time of the last general election.