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3 Jun 2010 : Column 573

Can he confirm that that is a reference to the physical location of the ombudsman, and that it does not mean that the ombudsman will be operating under the executive power of the OFT?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for that question. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has led the debate on the new proposal. He and other colleagues on the coalition Benches helped to persuade the previous Government to adopt the idea, for which he did so much work. He will be aware that the previous Government undertook a consultation, which ended at the end of April. We are looking at all the submissions to that consultation and we will report back to the House when we have had a chance to analyse them, dealing with the sorts of issues that he has raised.

T8. [000799] Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Earlier, in response to three identical planted questions about regulation, the Minister gave us a whole load of sanctimonious poppycock about his views on regulation, saying that there should be much less of it. May I urge the Secretary of State to keep his Ministers in tow and to ensure a proper sense of regulation, especially in the financial services industry, in which there are still many predatory practices? In constituencies such as mine, loan sharks as well as reputable financial services organisations are still preying on vulnerable families.

Vince Cable: The ministerial team is completely united in its approach to regulation. There are clearly areas where regulation is necessary, not least for consumer protection, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but it must be proportionate and cost-effective, and it must not obstruct genuine business growth.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Just before BIS questions, I received a phone call from the chief executive of a leading company in my constituency who is keen on apprenticeships and welcomes what the new Government are going to do. However, the company is just bigger than a small or medium-sized enterprise, and he does not feel that it gets the help and encouragement that it needs. Are we taking such companies into account as well?

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr John Hayes): Yes, we are indeed. I am having a dialogue with all the representative organisations of small businesses, and I am of course speaking to the sector skills councils, which play a key role in that regard, in building apprenticeship frameworks that are pertinent. However, as I said earlier, we need to look at the supply-side barriers and bureaucratic burdens that discourage small businesses, and we also need to offset some of the costs through our apprenticeship bonus scheme, and we will do that. We will build apprenticeships from the bottom up, for firms such as that which my hon. Friend has so nobly represented in the House today and the many others like it.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Business, innovation and skills are the engine that will drive forward our economic recovery. Given that, could the Secretary of State tell me the number of high-value engineering apprenticeships that he intends to fund
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from his Department in the north-east this year, and how it will increase over time? Further, as he has already accepted £836 million of cuts to his important Department, will he acknowledge that any further cuts would undermine our future economic recovery?

Mr Speaker: The Secretary of State will provide one brief reply.

Vince Cable: We have indeed made large economies, along with the rest of Government, and we had to do so. Had we not met the nature of the economic crisis that we now face across Europe, the cost of capital would have risen, causing even further difficulties for business. I have already told the hon. Lady about the increase in apprenticeships, and high-value engineering is clearly a major target for that.

T9. [000800] Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Businesses both small and large in Wirral are showing great faith in our young people and their future by investing in apprenticeships. However, that work has the potential to be undermined by the great many reviews that the Government are now carrying out. Will the Minister confirm that if those reviews are truly necessary, they will be carried out swiftly and in liaison with businesses, so that their support for apprenticeships will not be undermined?

Mr Hayes: It may be that I have not made the position sufficiently clear, so let me do so now. No review that is taking place would impact in a negative way on apprenticeships. The hon. Lady can go back to her constituents with pride and say that this Government are committed to apprenticeships there and across Britain. She can also come back to the House and challenge me on that if I do not deliver.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. May I also congratulate him on what he said before the election about ensuring that bank lending would be improved, so that cities that are in recovery from the recession, such as the city of Nottingham, can see the cash flow coming into businesses to ensure that they go from recovery to prosperity?

Vince Cable: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I am grateful to him for allowing this crucial subject to surface at last. The major factor in inhibiting the growth of business, particularly among small and medium-sized enterprises, is the lack of access to credit. It is the firm intention of this Government to ensure, through a combination of loan agreements, guarantees and other mechanisms, that that credit will indeed flow. I shall be working with the Chancellor on this.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): In what way will the Secretary of State ensure that bank credit flows? How is he going to keep the House informed of how successful his pious hopes turn out to be in practice?

Vince Cable: I look forward to keeping the House informed of progress. One of my criticisms of the last Government, which I made from the Opposition Benches, was that despite their successful intervention in the
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latter part of 2008, the banks then ran rings around them. The lending agreements were never enforced, and the semi-nationalised banks simply did not act on the instructions that they were given. We in this Government intend to do a lot better.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): On the coalition Government's rather simplistic policy on regulation of "one in, one out", will the Minister confirm that the one regulation coming in will be cost-equivalent to the one going out? If so, which regulation will go out when the agency workers directive comes in?

Mr Prisk: It is very simple: if a Minister wishes to bring forward a new regulation, they must show that they have removed a regulation and that that will reduce the overall burden of regulation, ensuring that businesses see a net reduction. That is an important change. It is something that the hon. Lady's Government failed to deliver, but it is something that we will deliver on.

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Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): Does the ministerial team acknowledge that the sacking of 1,200 Jarvis workers in March by a company that did not manage its affairs properly was unacceptable? May I ask for a meeting, with the MPs who represent those experienced rail engineers, to see what work could be done on contracts that Network Rail needs to meet, to ensure that they find employment?

Vince Cable: I do not know the background to the right hon. Lady's question, but I would certainly be happy to meet her if she thinks that my Department can help to alleviate those difficulties.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but we must now move on.

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Business of the House

11.33 am

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for the forthcoming week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): The business for the week commencing 7 June will include:

Monday 7 June-Continuation of the debate on the Queen's Speech. Constitution and home affairs will be debated.

Tuesday 8 June-Conclusion of the debate on the Queen's Speech. Economic affairs and work and pensions will be debated.

Wednesday 9 June- Second Reading on the Identity Documents Bill.

Thursday 10 June-General debate on poverty.

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 June will include:

Monday 14 June-General debate on emerging economies, followed by general debate on the middle east.

Tuesday 15 June-Proceedings on House business.

Wednesday 16 June-Opposition day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion: subject to be announced.

Thursday 17 June-General debate: subject to be announced.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 10 and 17 June will be:

Thursday 10 June-A debate entitled "Volcanic ash-impact on passengers and the aviation industry".

Thursday 17 June- A debate entitled "Alternatives to child detention"

Ms Winterton: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business and I am also grateful for the statement on Gaza yesterday and for the planned statement today on the terrible tragedy in Cumbria. The thoughts of the House are with the families, friends and relatives of those killed or injured, and with the communities so devastatingly affected by what happened.

Last week, the Leader of the House agreed with me that it was "deplorable" that the Queen's Speech had been leaked. He said that it was

and that

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what steps have actually been taken; what will be done differently; and what his current assessment is of the likelihood of a repeat of the leaking of information that we saw two weeks ago?

The right hon. Gentleman also said last week that the Government had no intention of reintroducing Regional Select Committees, despite the concern expressed by Opposition Members that their abolition would remove one of the ways for the House to scrutinise the effects of the £6 billion cuts that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat
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Government had announced. However, he did say he would get back to us on what was happening to the Regional Grand Committees. Can he tell us the latest information on those Committees?

I ask that question particularly because on Friday, the Prime Minister went to Yorkshire to tell us how he wanted to develop regional economies. He set out a series of priorities, which sounded remarkably like the priorities we had identified when in government, but without the investment, because of the £336 million cut from the Business Department revealed at Business, Innovation and Skills questions today, and without the strategy to make it happen, because of confusion over the future of the regional development agencies. We heard further comments this morning from the Business Secretary, but I have to say that they shed very little light on the issue. I think he said that the RDAs would be changed fundamentally, but might actually look the same at the end of the process. That reminded us of last week's comment from the Leader of the House that the child trust fund would not be abolished, but would be phased out-we were a bit puzzled as to the difference.

The Leader of the House will have noted the anxiety arising from this morning's contributions and yesterday's Prime Minister's questions about the uncertainty the Government are creating for businesses in our regions. Surely Regional Grand Committees could help to throw some light on what on earth is going on in terms of regional policy. Should not the Government also rethink their policy on Regional Select Committees?

To add to the general air of confusion, the Prime Minister also announced in his speech that he would be "assigning" Ministers and "senior MPs" to some of our biggest cities, so what does this mean for smaller cities and towns, and what does it mean for rural areas, villages and seaside towns? In Yorkshire, for example, because of the effect of agriculture and tourism on their economies, rural areas have benefited from having a regional strategy and a regional body to help development, so why should they not get a Minister? Under the Labour Government, regional Ministers were able to speak for the whole region, but that just cannot happen under the current proposals. Will the city Ministers or senior MPs report to the House? Is their work to be scrutinised by members of some new City committees that the Government might have in mind? It really does look like the Government are making it up as they go along with a kind of botched DIY regional strategy, but what is really happening, as we saw this morning, is that key commitments made by the last Government are being put at risk.

I also ask the Leader of the House if we can have an early statement to clarify the position on Building Schools for the Future. After yesterday's exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions and after the education debate, I really think we are none the wiser about the future of the programme. The Prime Minister said he was absolutely clear about it, but I have to say that I would hate to hear him if he were being abstruse. Could the Leader of the House ask the Education Secretary to give the House a straight answer to a straight question? Is the Building Schools for the Future budget protected or not?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for what she said at the beginning. The whole House shares the grief of the families and friends of
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those who lost their lives in Cumbria. However, I note what the local Member of Parliament said about the resilience and cohesion of the area. I am sure that that is absolutely true.

I am happy to say that there has been no further leak since I made my announcement last week. As I said then, the Cabinet Secretary is taking steps to ensure that there is no repetition of the discourtesy that occurred over the Queen's Speech.

I make no apologies for not re-establishing the Regional Select Committees. They were forced through on the casting vote of the former Leader of the House, and were narrowly approved in the last Parliament after a huge rebellion on the Labour Benches. They turned out to be a total waste of money, and, as I have said, I make no apologies for not reintroducing them. We will make an announcement in due course about the future of Regional Grand Committees.

The right hon. Lady asked about the schools budget. The Chief Secretary made clear that the in-year reductions to which he referred in his statement last week would not affect schools. As for child trust funds, I understand that they will not end immediately, but will be phased out over a period. I will ensure that the right hon. Lady is given the right answer on that. She also asked whether the Secretary of State for education would give a straight answer. I am sure that he will on the next occasion when he appears at the Dispatch Box to answer questions.

We have just had a lively exchange in Business, Innovation and Skills questions, in which many of the issues raised by the right hon. Lady were dealt with more than adequately by my ministerial colleagues.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Can the Leader of the House tell us whether there is any possibility of a debate-or an explanation-on Severn bridge tolls, which have continued to rise for people travelling into Wales, but were frozen in marginal seats by the last Government? Will he ask someone to explain to us why the last Government appeared to discriminate against the people of Wales in that fashion?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend has asked a robust question. I am sure that oral questions will give him an opportunity to elicit an answer and to find out exactly why certain seats were spared the increases in the last Parliament, and also to set out this Government's philosophy on the important issues surrounding access to Wales.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the ability of Members of Parliament to do their job following the inception of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? I should like a debate not on the incoherent and ill-thought-out rules that have been introduced, but on such matters as the operation of the online system, which often crashes, is incoherent and does not work, and the fact that Members of Parliament cannot talk directly to IPSA's staff. That has led to new Members' being in debt to the tune of several thousand pounds, and being unable to set up offices at an early stage in order to provide the service to their constituents that they were elected to provide.

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