My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.
“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 last year we have taken action to prevent a collapse of banks, protect homeowners against recession and maintain vital investments in public services at the time people need them most. Now as we seek to move our economy out of recession we are setting out the steps we are proposing 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—a mistake this Government will not repeat. And so today we are announcing new measures—to be paid for from the spending allocations made in the Budget and from switches 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 training place. In return—and 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, have also made it mandatory for young people that, if there is a job available, to take this work up or have their benefits cut if they do not.
To underpin this guarantee, as part of the investments we announced in the Budget, £1 billion is being set aside for the Future Jobs Fund that will provide 100,000 jobs for young people, with another 50,000 in areas of high unemployment. From this September, we will 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. And from this September we will also offer 20,000 new full-time community service places. This complements the help for adults who have been unemployed for six months—who will get access to skills training or a jobs subsidy, part of around £5 billion we set aside in the Budget and Pre-Budget Report for targeted support with jobs and training.
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 around 500,000 jobs. And our continued investment in giving immediate help through Jobcentre Plus to people made unemployed is already making a difference, with each month around 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—the building blocks of the competitive economy of the future. So we will use the coming Queen's Speech to ensure the British economy is best placed to take up these 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 and up to £4 billion now on offer from the EIB. In addition, following our reforms to the policy, planning and regulatory regimes, we will see between now and 2020, as we meet our renewable energy targets, around £100 billion invested by the private sector. These investments will make Britain a major global player in the low-carbon market, with another 400,000 green jobs by 2017, taking total British employment in the sector to well over a 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 extra investment from the private sector.
Thirdly, a new innovation fund will be announced today by the Science Minister—£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, and so increase the efficiency with which projects are taken forward, with the establishment of a new body, Infrastructure UK. Further, 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.
These investments will strengthen our economy and create new jobs. And we believe investment by government and the private sector will enable the economy to create over the next five years 1.5 million new skilled jobs in Britain.
In every part of the country there is an urgent need for new social housing and for new affordable home ownership. So the Housing Minister is announcing that in the next two years—from the reallocation of funds—we will more than treble the extra investment in housing from the £600 million announced at the Budget to a total of £2.1 billion today, financing over the next 24 months a total of 110,000 energy-efficient, affordable homes to rent or buy, and in doing so creating 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 that we have embarked upon, domestically and globally, since the financial crisis hit in mid-2007. For those who argue that this crisis 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 and one that we will continue to prioritise both at home and abroad.
The financial services and business Bill will ensure better consumer protection, including a ban on unsolicited credit card cheques and, in addition, the FSA is taking action to ensure there can be no return to the old short-termist approach to executive pay in the banking sector. To help tackle tax avoidance, the Treasury has also published 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 a policing, crime and private security Bill. 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 NHS this 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, later this year, proposals to further focus the NHS towards prevention and the earliest intervention; to extend the choices for people to have treatment and care at times that suit them and, whenever possible, in their own homes; to reform and improve maternity and early years’ services; and 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 all parents, with the guarantee of individually tailored education for their child as part of our far-reaching reform of our 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 every pupil at secondary school and catch-up tuition, including one-to-one, for those who need it. So that every school 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 expand trusts, academies and federations to increase the supply of good school places throughout the country.
The third set of new public service entitlements is the offer neighbourhood police teams can make to all citizens in every community. Already, since April last year, 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 guarantee local people more power to keep their neighbourhoods safe, including the rights 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. New rights to ensure that women are better protected against violence will take account of recommendations made in response to our violence against women and girls consultation, to 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. Very simply, the more you contribute to your community the greater your 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 we led the way on signing last year.
Finally, 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 next Session to complete the process of removing the hereditary principle from the second Chamber and to 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: creating jobs or doing nothing; driving growth forward or letting recession then take its course. We will not walk away from the British people in difficult times. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House, for repeating this quite long Statement. I know that it is conventional on these occasions to say that it is an important Statement. It certainly has a very puffed-up and important title: “Building a Stronger, Fairer and More Prosperous Britain”. I am sure that I have heard that before somewhere but that may not be the case.
However, I am afraid that it is not an important Statement; it is a self-evidently dismal and desperate Statement. It is the last sad relaunch and the last hoorah of a dying and directionless Government. It is a mixture of old ideas that never were and new wheezes that never will be. There is nothing in it that restores our very bruised national pride as a result of recent failures or to help our hard-pressed Armed Forces in the difficult wars that they have been fighting, or anything on that side. The Government have so lost touch with reality that they are now coming to Parliament with a programme for a Session that they will never complete. You can spin as much as you like but you cannot spin out the 11 months before this Parliament ends.
Anyway, it is not the next 11 months that people are angry about, as they are, with their jobs going, their pensions in danger, their homes going and their hopes dying. That is not what is worrying people. It is the fruit of the past 11 years of mismanagement of the economy by the Prime Minister and his predecessor that has reduced our national finances to chaos and blighted prospects for the younger generation; it is the disastrous failed foreign policy that has so dismally set back our standing in the world to the point where it is embarrassing having to explain UK affairs at international conferences, as I have found recently on more than one occasion; and it is the never-ending stream of bossiness, silly targets—now, I understand, abandoned; it turns out that targets were not the thing after all—regulations and interference that have hit every part of our nation and weighed down on so many of the very sectors, such as policing, health and schools, that this Statement claims to want to help. This culture of short-termism, spin and broken promises has degraded the honourable calling of politics, as it used to be, and, frankly, made politicians little more than a laughing stock. This Government’s credibility is completely bust. To confirm that, just ask the Governor of the Bank of England. It is also tragic that our country has very nearly been brought to the point of going bust. It is not a new press launch that Britain needs; it is a new Government.
Of course, in this long Statement—it could hardly be otherwise—there are aspirations with which we agree: on the new low-carbon technology, although whether the methods for achieving it are right, I am not so sure; on smart meters; on the impartiality of the Civil Service; on more flexibility in housing; and on the cluster munitions ban, which is very good news. We on this side have been urging these ideas—in some cases, for years—and we welcome them. However, do not the Prime Minister and his advisers understand that what is wrong with this Government is not that the Prime Minister cannot pinch policy ideas—anyone can do that; we can all pull together a policy agenda—but that he and his Cabinet are so bad at basic administration, so inept at following through one-day headlines and so hopeless at seeing the glaring divide between the world as they think it should be and the world as it actually is that the Civil Service is demoralised, the administrative machine of this nation is stalling and people are getting really frightened at the uncertainty all around them.
We have just spent weeks in this House discussing the privatisation of Royal Mail. What has happened to that legislation? Please would the First Secretary of State tell us why he is not proceeding with this measure either in another place or here? We hear the usual argument about lack of parliamentary time, so if there is no time for that, how can there be time for this second-rate Statement of vacuitous quality.
The one person whom I do not want to criticise is the noble Baroness, who has a difficult job. She is a good and much respected servant of this House. Frankly, we may need her very much in the days to come with some of the nonsensical proposals that we hear on constitutional change. She knows that much of this Statement cannot be taken seriously. How can one take seriously a programme, announced by an Administration that in one breath say they will spend, spend until kingdom come, but who have not even the minimal sense of responsibility to come to the country with a comprehensive spending review, which is a concept that has been opposed or abolished to oblivion by the First Secretary of State? It is yet another menu without prices, of the sort that we have seen so often.
The public know perfectly well that you have to balance the budget in the end. They understand that there are bound to be public-spending reductions to bring the books back in balance, whoever holds power or office. The difference is not that one side will control spending while the other will let it rip, but that under Labour, thanks to failed statist policies, we will see a shrinking cake, with an economy continuing to stagnate, collapsing growth and blooming borrowing, and inevitably higher interest rates to clip off the green shoots all too soon. Under Labour the state will take more of less. We need a new Government in a new Parliament of freshly elected Members to carry matters forward with authority. This Parliament is now bereft of authority, which is obvious to everyone except the Government Front Bench. In the few months of life left to them, the Government cannot do much good, but they can do some damage. Putting off plans to tackle the deficit will do much damage.
As for constitutional change and renewal, political reform is one area where we truly risk rushing into dangerous errors, and where your Lordships’ House can play a vital role as a cooling Chamber. Incidentally, what has happened to that great constitutional matter of the Lisbon treaty? There is no mention of the mini-treaty to be tacked on to the Croatian accession treaty, to please the Irish, which is supposed to be coming along. We will not welcome it if it arrives on our watch.
Meanwhile, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said the other day, this House should just not accept that if a Government are in trouble in another place they should have a go at your Lordships’ House as a substitute for their own repair. I agree with the comments of Professor Vernon Bogdanor, a notable constitutionalist whose new book is reviewed in today’s FT. He said that there was no logic in proposing constitutional reform to deal with expenses fiddles. I agree, too, with the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, in today’s Times. There are great risks in reversing the liberties over our Executive, which were won in the Bill of Rights of 1689, by setting up unaccountable quangos to dictate to Parliament and by letting the courts into deciding not just pay and allowances—that is perfectly sensible—but the whole pattern of how MPs behave and what they may safely say in Parliament without it being used in evidence against them. That undermines the very foundations of our representative democracy. What MPs say is the business and privilege of voters and electors who sent them there, not of executive agencies, the courts and the state.
Legislate in haste, repent at leisure. The House should look with extreme care at some of the constitutional implications of what is about to come before us. The court of public opinion, to which Ministers are fond of appealing, would certainly not forgive us if we failed to do so. They would ask louder than ever what the House of Lords was supposed to be for. To rush through this Parliament deep constitutional change would be inappropriate at any time, but for a dying Government to try to ram it through just before this Parliament expires is completely unacceptable and improper.
I say again that we need a newly elected Parliament of men and women with a fresh mandate to grapple with such great matters. Overall the Statement brings once more the familiar flood of mindless tinkering and overhasty political change that is the hallmark of this Government and their so-called strategists. There is a tide in political affairs, as William Shakespeare and, for that matter, Jim Callaghan a former Labour Prime Minister, remarked. With this tide the Government are now being washed out and they should float away with some dignity before they do our nation any more great harm.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in his place because I know that on an occasion such as this he is ready to ask a helpful question of the Government. I have no intention of being rude to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. Up to almost 30 seconds ago the author of the Statement was listening carefully. Today’s Financial Times, which is authoritative because it has an interview with the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, so he must have checked over what Mr George Parker was going to write, states that,
“Lord Mandelson delayed publication of the document, complaining that it was lacking in policy and devoid of political ‘narrative’”.
He has not achieved much by delay. There is another interesting quote in the same article from an unnamed government official, saying:
“There is a fixation on producing endless policy documents—a total lack of interest in delivery”.
That is the real problem. These tactics have been used before. Those with long memories remember the Government’s annual reports: great glossy things with lots of pictures. They quietly died. Then I heard, which shows how successful the Government are, a journalist on the radio the other day saying that the Government would be publishing the traditional early look at the Queen’s Speech. That tradition is about two years old. It is all part of the same thing: the Government believe that they have two bites at the cherry: one in the summer and another in the autumn, giving an idea of dynamism and action. The problem was that last year, by the time the autumn came, most of the promises that had been made in the pre-Queen’s Speech in the summer had been jettisoned.
So it was with some degree of scepticism that I listened to the Statement. I agreed with a great deal of it, but it sounded like the manifesto for a party seeking office rather than one defending 12 years of its stewardship. For example, the commitment on social housing is entirely welcome. I say that as a vice-president of Shelter and I see another in the Chamber. The Government have one of the worst records on building social housing of any Government since the war: 3,000 council houses were built the year before last. It is deathbed repentance with a vengeance. The promise to allow councils to spend the money from council house sales was one of the big arguments in the 1980s and one of the issues on which we attacked the Tories most of all: that councils were not able to recycle the money into new council house building. But we get that in the 12th year of a Labour Government. As Harold Wilson once memorably said, where have you been, Rip van Winkle?
Let us have a look at climate change. My right honourable friend Nick Clegg said the other day that he went to one of the new North Sea wind farms and although he searched in vain he could not find a single piece of British-made equipment on the wind farm. It was all made in Denmark and Germany. If Denmark and Germany have managed to get ahead of the game in that kind of investment, where have we been? Why is it now to be put into such a commitment? We support rail electrification and we have the right man to do it in the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—
You want to look at his antecedents, my Lords. They are very interesting and noble Lords will understand where he gets all his good ideas from. However, the price tag comes into the question. As my honourable friend Vince Cable pointed out the other day, we are dealing with a Government with rising debts and falling revenues, yet here they are today signing blank cheques and spending money like there is no tomorrow. It is very dubious.
I feel strongly about youth unemployment. I saw a forecast by the Centre for Cities that stated that the number of young people who have been out of work for a year or more will almost treble by 2011. We will look at this commitment very carefully because one of the biggest dangers we face is a generation that is either unemployed under 25 or saddled with debt under 25. Coming from a generation that benefited greatly from state support, I think that is a bad legacy to give this generation in the 21st century.
On Lords reform—
The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, makes a great horse laugh, my Lords. It is very sad that, in their dying months, a Labour Government suddenly commit themselves to something they should have done 12 years ago when they were not being outmanoeuvred by Lord Cranborne and Lord Weatherill. The truth is—and I say this with some sadness—that the Prime Minister is now the Archie Rice of politics. He is going through an old routine that the public have grown tired of.
When people made promises they could not keep, my old mentor Jim Callaghan liked to use a quote:
“I can call spirits from the vasty deep.”
“Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?”
We have had some pretty vast spirits summoned in this Statement, but there is great doubt about whether the Government have either the capacity or the time to deliver them.
My Lords, I shall start on the note on which the noble Lord ended: vast spirits. Now is the time for vast spirits. There is so much to do. We are in the middle of a global economic crisis. Most of the people out there would understand why it is important for the Government now to refocus on growth and jobs. That is precisely what this Statement does.
I entirely refute the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that this is an unimportant Statement. It is hugely important, and most people out there who are worried about their housing, their jobs and the future of their children will understand its importance. As for his statement that people throughout the world are condemning what we are doing on the national stage, that is not the case, especially in relation to things such as climate change. Most people would understand that we are leading the charge on climate change. Together with our European colleagues, we are leading the charge before the important meeting at Copenhagen.
The noble Lord also discredited targets. Without targets, where would we be? We might well be in a situation where people were still waiting 18 months for an operation, not a maximum of 18 weeks. We might well be where people were dying of cancer because they had not seen their consultant within two weeks. This is what is happening now, and we are determined to ensure that people will be entitled to have operations within that time. That is the newness of this Statement. Targets have improved outcomes.
There are a huge number of new policies in the Statement. When noble Lords read it carefully, they will see this. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his support for legislation on cluster munitions and housing—that will be extremely useful as the legislation comes through the House in the coming months.
We understand that people want real help now and that they want the Government to provide it. That is why they will welcome the Statement. The noble Lord asked about the Royal Mail. My noble friend Lord Mandelson said on the radio this morning that the Bill is jostling for space in the legislative programme, but we are committed to implementing the Hooper review.
The noble Lord took us to task, as did the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for spending money and investing, but we believe that it is of fundamental importance to invest now in people, jobs and infrastructure in order to get us out of the recession and ensure that we come out the other side as a nation capable of taking advantage of new opportunities. We were criticised for putting off dealing with the deficit, but tightening spending too early could prolong and even deepen the recession. To ensure sound and sustainable public finances in the medium term, once economic shocks have worked their way through the system, the budget plans will halve borrowing within five years.
On the subject of constitutional renewal, the noble Lord mentioned the need for a mini-treaty to ratify the protocol for Ireland. That will come once talks have progressed with Croatia and possibly with Iceland on membership of the European Union. That is what we are waiting for in relation to a treaty. The noble Lord asked what the other place was doing in terms of reform. I draw the attention of noble Lords to the Wright committee. I mentioned Iceland because there are talks about Iceland at present—I will come back to that in future.
As far as concerns a parliamentary standards authority, I was under the impression that there was a broad consensus that it was right to go ahead with a parliamentary standards authority now in order to put the other place on a new footing to deal with the financial problems that it has encountered over the past months. I hope that, given the views expressed today, the consensus is not falling apart. On the subject of House of Lords reform, I understand the scepticism expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, but the forthcoming legislation will build on the cross-party consensus that all parties have agreed on. The Government intend to present their proposals for comprehensive reform shortly and will produce a draft Bill in the next few months, having consulted the other main parties.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, criticised us because he felt that this was a manifesto. This is not a manifesto. It is entirely appropriate, following two unprecedented events—the global economic upheaval and the crisis of confidence in our parliamentary institutions—that the Government should set out new policies. We would deserve to be criticised if we did not do that. I am proud that we are still in government after 12 years and we intend to continue for much longer. I reflect that the Liberals have not been in power for some time.
The noble Lord asked about wind farms and what we were doing to ensure that British technology was used. I hope that the innovation fund mentioned in the Statement will provide public money to assist with wind power projects.
On the question of youth unemployment, of course we all fear for the employment prospects of our children and their peers. Again, that is precisely what the Statement does—it sets out our policies for ensuring that young people today do not suffer from the recession in the way that young people suffered in the past. With that, I look forward to further questions.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement and apologise for raising a parochial matter. Would it not be highly desirable to establish a retirement plan for the House of Lords before the next election so that numbers in the House might be kept within limits that would be acceptable to a wider public?
My Lords, I understand the attractions in principle of a retirement plan, which is sometimes bound up with statements about resignation and retirement. It would be fair to say that the Government are still reflecting on that, and we will come back with proposals in due course.
My Lords, will there not be a very warm welcome across the country for the energy and practicality with which the Government are addressing themselves to ensuring that there will be jobs for the people who have been hardest hit by the recession, promoting growth in what ought to be the lead sectors of our competitive economy in future and ensuring the provision of more social housing?
On the question of restoring trust in politics, does my noble friend share my view that one reason why many people have become somewhat jaundiced about politics at Westminster is that, for the best part of half a century, central government has interfered unduly with the structures and freedoms of local government? Should we not therefore welcome the enlargement proposed in the Statement of the role and responsibilities of local authorities to meet housing needs and the possibility that they may be allowed to retain the full proceeds of sales of council houses and rents? Is not the new policy of stating what citizens should be entitled to expect from local service deliverers, while allowing local service deliverers greater freedom to determine how they will provide those entitlements, a constructive move to balance fairness with local discretion? Will it not help to renew the culture of our local democracy and therefore our democratic culture as a whole?
My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend has said. In the coming days, there will be a White Paper on local democracy. I think that he will be very happy because many of the views that he has expressed are in the White Paper.
My Lords, bearing in mind that the Statement contains a number of important aspirations to improve the economic prospects of the under-25 generation—that is to some extent its thrust—why did the Government think it appropriate to add, in the 45th paragraph of a 46-paragraph Statement, the only substantive proposal for the reform of our system of parliamentary democracy, which is in deep trouble? I refer to the promise to publish a draft Bill containing proposals for a smaller and more democratic House of Lords. Is it imaginable that we shall say goodbye to the noble Lord, Lord Myners, who is sitting on the noble Baroness’s right; to the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who has been a distinguished participant in the House; to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who has just arrived in the House; and, perhaps most notably, to the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson? Does the noble Baroness expect these gentlemen to be elected to one or other House, and what will she do to ensure the quality of government?
My Lords, the quality of the Government is beyond doubt. It is hugely to our advantage that we have on these Benches people such as my noble friend Lord Myners. The proposals that we will bring forward are under discussion and we will consult on the issues.
My Lords, in the programme that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has set out, she said that the Government will halve government borrowing in five years. Will the Government publish an annual profile of the projected reductions in government borrowing?
My Lords, I welcome the emphasis in the Statement on jobs. It is good that even in a time of recession the Government are putting forward policies to create new jobs, particularly in social housing. The increase in spending that is occurring in social housing and the fact that we will build 110,000 houses in the next two years is most welcome, as well as the fact that we will look for local people, many of whom have been languishing on the waiting lists for far too long, in order to give them priority.
I can understand that there should be no difficulty now as regards House reform because all the Opposition are in favour of reform and a democratically elected House. Perhaps I may give the Minister some advice: do not take too much notice of the doubting Thomases on the other side.
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I will take into consideration the views of noble Lords on the other side, but I will not be dispirited in any way. When I talk to people in my village and in towns, jobs and housing are the issues about which people are concerned. They say, “Why aren’t you as a Government doing something about creating jobs for our young people and finding houses for the people who live around here”. That is precisely what we are doing. We are delivering the goods that the people want.
My Lords, I feel a little bit of an alien here today. There is building England’s future, but we have not heard a word about how resources and what additional resources are to be channelled to the devolved Parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. How will they also be helped in the present circumstances?
My Lords, the grandiose nature of this Statement’s title must surely imply a strategic view of the future; but that is clearly impossible to assess unless we have costings of what is proposed. It is quite extraordinary that the Government should launch this Statement when we have been told—perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm whether it is true—that we are not to have a comprehensive spending review. Without that, we cannot assess the validity of what the Government propose. If we are not to have a comprehensive review, can we at least have the costs of the various items over, let us say, the next five years, which the noble Baroness has set out in the Statement today? Surely it cannot be the case even for this Government to produce what was in the Statement without the departments concerned having given any indication whatever of costs or how their claims will be balanced against the competing claims of other departments.
On the point raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench about the implications of the Government’s, I feel bound to say, panic reaction to the expenses scandal and so-called constitutional reform—I leave on one side the question of the House of Lords because my views on that are very well known—there is surely grave cause for concern about the constitutional implications of what the Government are now proposing in a Bill which apparently is to be rushed through both Houses. I hope that both Houses, but certainly this House, will make their positions clear on what would be nothing less than a constitutional revolution if what the Government now propose comes forward.
I understand that the Clerk of the House of Commons has given advice to the House of Commons on the implications of what the Government now propose. Will the noble Baroness say whether she will ask for similar or alternative advice, as the case may be, from the Clerk of the Parliaments before the Bill comes before this House?
My Lords, in relation to the budgetary aspects of the Statement, the comprehensive spending review is clearly a matter for the Chancellor. It should be remembered that we introduced the concept of a comprehensive spending review. Before that, it was much more difficult for people to plan, because they had only annual budgets. As the Chancellor has repeatedly said, given the degree of economic uncertainty, now would be the wrong time to set departmental budgets through to 2014. I should add that many of the proposals covered by today’s Statement have already been costed in the current budget from a reprioritisation of the budgets already announced.
I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord about the legislation on the Parliamentary Standards Authority. There will be ample opportunity to debate the issues raised in this House. I am well aware of the letter from the Clerk of the Commons. Many of the issues that he has raised will be dealt with satisfactorily by the Government in the other place. I will certainly reflect on the noble Lord’s request that the Clerk of the Parliaments should be asked for his views before the Bill is debated in this House.
My Lords, I, too, welcome my noble friend’s emphasis in the Statement on housing, jobs, health and education. I think that the whole House would welcome the priorities that the Government have placed in those areas. On a more personal and focused level, the points on cluster munitions, on measures about violence against women and on climate change are very much to be applauded. But I, too, turn to the end of the Statement and the commitment to cleaning up and to rebuilding trust in politics. The only measures I hear about that are to do with removing the hereditary principle in the House of Lords.
I do not like the hereditary principle any more than other Members in my party, but perhaps my noble friend would reflect on this being prioritised in the way that it has. It was not hereditary Peers who became creative over their expenses, nor did they have inappropriate conversations with people purporting to come from companies dealing with public relations. We in this House dealt with those who had those inappropriate conversations. We dealt with them under my noble friend’s leadership very quickly and very decisively. Perhaps my noble friend will reflect on whether this really is the constitutional priority that we need in cleaning up politics.
My Lords, I understand the concern expressed by my noble friend about the fact that the only issue raised in the Statement in relation to cleaning up politics is reform of the House of Lords. I would have to agree with her that this House—not me as the Leader—has been exemplary in the way in which it has dealt with several problems which have arisen. We continue to do that in the way in which we have sent our expenses issue to the SSRB, and we have the Leader’s group and so on. I, too, muse on the fact that perhaps the House of Commons should reflect a little more closely about the reforms that are needed in the other place.
That notwithstanding, I also reflect that there is a need for this excellent House to have some democratic element. These issues have been widely addressed over a long period of time. There has been a consensual position reached by the Front Benches as a result of the work in the cross-party working group. It is time for the Government to move on these issues.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that the point that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, made on budgets would have been a lot more acceptable if the Tory party was prepared to indicate where it would make cuts or tax increases as and when, or if, it comes to power? Would she not also agree that the elephant in the room in this Statement is that everybody knows that, at some stage, nasty spending cuts and tax increases are on their way, whoever forms the next Government? It is all right for the noble Lord, Lord Myners, to shake his head in the way he has become accustomed to doing in this House, but sometimes we have to nod as well.
If one wants a list of things that the Government ought to be looking at and ought to be referring to in this Statement, how about the Trident replacement, how about the NHS IT scheme, how about ID cards, how about other databases like ContactPoint, how about baby bonds, and how about tax credits, many of which do not go to the worst off in our society?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me about the lack of spending proposals from the Bench opposite. Indeed, we have been waiting for their proposals for some time. We have made our spending commitments clear until April 2011, and it is within that envelope that we are now working.
My Lords, it does not stop in 2011, but the reason we are not saying exactly what we are going to be spending in each department after 2011 is that we do not know what the economy is going to be like. We are living in a volatile, ever-changing situation, and it would be irresponsible for us to say exactly what money will be available after 2011.
I note the proposals for reprioritisation that the noble Lord has mentioned. Maybe some of those will be considered: I do not know. The fact of the matter is, however, that we are already reprioritising some budgets, and that is how we found the money to do these excellent things for young people and employment.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that history teaches us that the worst thing that any Government can do at times of peril for families, for children, for young people, for jobs and for homes, is to throw up their hands and say, “There is nothing we can do”?
I remind my noble friend that when I was a constituency MP, I asked a postman once how many giros he delivered through the doors of a big council estate adjacent to a pub where we were having a drink. He replied, “It’s easier to tell you how many I don’t”. I say to my noble friend that we should never forget those experiences, particularly in areas like mine in Castle Vale, which has 34 tower blocks and the highest unemployment in the West Midlands. It was transformed, mainly through the initial efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine. He took the view that one could not just leave things alone, because if they were left alone, they rotted. He set up six housing action trusts, and the Castle Vale Housing Action Trust is an exemplar of what can be done when private and public money are used to cut unemployment, to cut crime, to improve the schools, and to add five years to people’s life expectancy.
My Lords, my noble friend makes the case very well for investment now, to invest our way out of this recession and to invest in the people of this country, because their talents and lives must not be wasted as they were in previous recessions.
My Lords, when I looked through this document, I was reminded of the words of the Duke of Wellington who—when approached by a stranger who said, “Mr Jones, I believe”—replied, “If you believe that, you will believe anything”. I look at Annex C, which has got the key deliverables over the next year. There are 59 of them. I look at Annex D, which has the key deliverables over the following 10 years. There are only 42 of them. That is really past credibility, so would the noble Baroness, in order to help us, select just three of the key deliverables over the next year, which she regards as being of crucial importance?
My Lords, I share the concerns which have been expressed around the House about youth unemployment. However, I noticed that recent figures of the 16 to 18 year-olds not in education, employment or training have risen in the first three months of this year from 13.6 per cent to 15.6 per cent. In the light of that adverse trend, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could say how the Government can guarantee jobs, work experience or training places, and where these jobs are going to come from.
My Lords, I do not have exact facts and figures as to where the jobs will be coming from, but I did say during my briefing that if I am making statements that we are going to expect young people to have a job, education or training, we have to ensure that the jobs, education and training schemes are in place. I was assured that they will be.
The figures that the noble Baroness quoted were, I think, for 15 to 24 year-olds. I think there has been some misquoting of the unemployment levels in the press, because the press have given us to believe that we have the highest unemployment levels in the EU 27, but that is not the case. The UK might have the highest 15 to 24 year-old unemployment levels in the EU 27, but that is due to the population of 15 to 24 year-olds in the labour market. In February 2009, the UK unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year-olds was 17.6 per cent, which is the same rate as for the euro area and slightly under the rate for the EU 27. It is very important to make that point, because we are often criticised on it.
The one other thing I forgot to mention in key deliverables was all the things on health, which are of fundamental importance to the people of this country.