Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House if he would kindly urge the Home Secretary to update us on the review of dangerous dogs legislation initiated under the last Government. He said that the Home Secretary would do so during the Queen's Speech debate, but unfortunately that did not happen. May I again urge him to ask the Home Secretary to come to the House and update us on the review of that legislation?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and if there has been a discourtesy, I apologise. I will pursue the issue further, and Home Office questions will be held on 28 June, when she may have an opportunity to raise the matter again.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What is my right hon. Friend's thinking in changing the hours of Tuesday's Budget day to those of a Wednesday sitting? Should we take that change as a pilot for changes to future Tuesdays?
Sir George Young: It would be wrong to read too much into the changing of the time for the Budget debate. After consultation, we took the view that it would be for the convenience of the House to begin the debate a little earlier. My hon. Friend makes the point that at some stage we will need to look at the sittings of the House. We have many new Members and we have to operate within a slightly different regime, so there is an appetite for intelligent debate about how the House uses its time.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The Leader of the House raised the issue of the recess. Midsummer's day is in four days' time, but Parliament does not start its so-called summer recess until five weeks later. May we for once have a summer recess in the summer, a shorter recess and one that takes place during the Scottish school holidays, which are, of course, actually in the summer? That could help MPs to be more available to their constituents at summer events. May we have a debate on the timing of the recess?
Sir George Young: I do understand that for MPs with Scottish constituencies the summer recess does not coincide with the school holidays in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman reinforces the point made in earlier exchanges about the need to stand back and look at when the House sits and consider whether we make the best use of our time.
Mr Phil Woolas (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): In opposition, the Leader of the House was always a supporter of enhanced post-legislative scrutiny and, in particular, of finding time for debates on Law Commission reports. Can he update the House on what plans he has in that respect, and does he think that there is too much legislation or too little?
Sir George Young: I think that there has been too much legislation. We are determined to have less legislation and better drafted Bills, with proper time allowed for the House to reflect on them. That will be a transformation compared with what happened in the last Parliament.
Good governance involves post-legislative scrutiny, as well as the production of draft Bills and a pre-legislative stage. Every Department should produce a summary, a few years after legislation has been enacted, stating
whether it has met its objectives, and Select Committees have a role to play in post-legislative scrutiny, as well as their other tasks. In a word, the answer is yes.
Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): For several weeks, I have been attempting to obtain support from IPSA to offer jobs to people who want to work in my constituency office. The failure of IPSA to respond to me by phone or e-mail is putting tremendous pressure on my office's ability to provide a service to the people of Chesterfield who sent me here. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on what support he can give to new Members who are attempting to staff their offices, but who are having to rely on voluntary contributions to provide a service to their constituents?
Sir George Young: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to provide the service that he wants because of difficulties with the allowance regime. The whole object of the allowance regime is to enable MPs to look after their constituents and hold Ministers to account. If it is not doing that, it is a serious matter. I will ensure that the interim chief executive is aware of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised and that he gets a prompt response.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Leader of the House said that he wants less legislation, but there could not be any less legislation than at present, because he has announced none. When will we have a Second Reading on one of the many plans for legislation that the Government have announced, so that we can scrutinise it, and when will he set up the European Scrutiny Committee, so that we can scrutinise their plans on Europe?
Sir George Young: In the Queen's Speech, we outlined 22 Bills for an 18-month Session. We have already introduced three of them-one in the House and two in the other place-and I anticipate a finance Bill before too long. I also anticipate two more Second Readings before the summer recess.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Will the Government arrange, in Government time, a debate on the effects on employment of Government policies? I estimate that the recently announced cuts will cost at least 30 jobs in Slough-a town where unemployment has fallen month on month since the start of the year. Will the Government give us a chance to discuss the effects of what they are doing?
Sir George Young: May I return the compliment and suggest that the Opposition use one of their Opposition days to explain where they would have found the £50 billion cuts that were factored into their pre-election statements? They never told us where those cuts would come from, and they would have included some £18 billion of cuts to the capital programme. They said that they would tell us after the election where they would find those cuts, and the time is now ripe.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):
Will the Leader of the House arrange for someone from the Government to come here and tell us why they are afraid of scrutiny of their behaviour in Europe and why they have not set up the European Scrutiny Committee, which was the first Committee set up in the last Parliament by the previous Government? Are they afraid of the
Euroscepticism generated on their Benches when they were in pre-election mode, or are they afraid of the ESC, which of course won an inquisitor of the year award when we had a Labour Government and it had a Labour Chair?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done on the ESC. I am aware that documents continue to arrive from Europe that need scrutiny and that, at the moment, there is no ESC. There is no conspiracy along the lines that he suggests. Urgent discussions are taking place along the usual channels, and I hope that it will not be too long before we can establish the ESC. I am sure that whoever chairs it will do a fantastic job.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): In the light of the Alston report to the United Nations, a debate on the conventions used in the deployment of advanced military technology would allow us to debate whether international law has to be reformulated as a result of that report. Do the Government believe that drone planes should be used for the targeted extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists?
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious question. I do not know whether it would be appropriate for him to make that point in the debate on the strategic defence review, but I will certainly pass his concerns on to the Ministry of Defence and ensure that he receives a reply.
Last night, Europe's Conservative party leaders and Prime Ministers met for dinner, with the exception of our Prime Minister, because he is in alliance with-as the Deputy Prime Minister puts it-"nutters, anti-Semites...and homophobes". May we have an early debate on rise of nationalist, populist extremism in eastern Europe, the worries of Jewish communities and the extent to which the Conservative party-not the Liberal Democrats-are giving cover by their alliance with these people?
Sir George Young: I am sorry that business questions are ending on that note. The right hon. Gentleman has been pursuing this issue for many months, but there is no substance in the accusations that he has made about our colleagues. I am sure that given more time he could have found a better question to ask on the business.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): With permission, I wish to make a statement on the Treasury's review of the public spending commitments made by the last Government between 1 January 2010 and the general election. In the review, we examined the £34 billion of spending that was approved in their final few months of office. The aim was to test in each and every case whether those commitments are affordable, whether they deliver value for money and whether they remain genuine priorities for this Government.
The review is now complete, and my decisions on those commitments fall into three categories-projects where spending will be approved, because they are a high priority or because the money has largely been spent; projects that will be cancelled; and projects whose long-term affordability will be considered as part of the wider spending review process over the coming weeks and months.
For those projects that offer value for money and meet the Government's priorities of fairness and responsibility, or for those that it is simply too late to withdraw, we have acted quickly to confirm approval in order to avoid disruption. For example, we have approved the funding for essential medicines in the case of a flu pandemic, some hospital projects and support to post offices, as well as for spending on crucial equipment for military operations in Afghanistan. The House will be aware, however, that as a country today we have the biggest peacetime budget deficit in our history. We have a choice: we can act fairly, responsibly and decisively now, or we can follow the approach of the previous Government-deny and delay-which would only end in greater cuts being forced upon us. Given our priority to get the deficit under control, the Government collectively have looked at each project, and I am grateful for the support of Cabinet colleagues in this process.
Some commitments are simply unaffordable, do not meet Government priorities and will be cancelled. We have taken the decision to cancel immediately 12 projects that would have cost nearly £2 billion over their lifetime. They include the Department for Communities and Local Government's regional leader boards; the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' loan to Sheffield Forgemasters; the Department for Work and Pensions' low-value employment programmes, including the extension of the young person's guarantee to 2011-12 and the jobseeker's two-year guarantee; the Department of Health's active challenge routes, county sports partnerships and the North Tees and Hartlepool hospital project; the local authority business growth incentive; and the withdrawal of Government funding for the Stonehenge visitors' centre. Many of those are difficult decisions and, I fully understand, painful ones for some of the communities affected-communities whose hopes were irresponsibly raised by the previous Government. However, they are decisions that a responsible Government must face up to in these difficult economic times.
Other decisions should be weighed up against all the other significant pressures on public spending within the context of the spending review-a spending review
that the Labour Government delayed because they did not want to admit that painful decisions had to be made. For this reason, I can announce that there are a further 12 projects, with a total value of £8.5 billion, approved since 1 January that we will suspend and refer for consideration to the spending review process over the coming weeks and months. They include the health research support service, the Kent Thameside strategic transport programme, and the libraries modernisation programme. Any other new major hospital schemes will be assessed in the context of the spending review to ensure that they are affordable and represent the highest possible value for money. Only the highest priority schemes will be able to go forward. We will do this in the context of the approach set out in our spending review framework, which will include a fundamental review of all capital investment plans, to identify those areas that will achieve the greatest economic returns.
The Secretary of State for Education has already announced that he is looking at the whole Building Schools for the Future programme and will shortly set out the outcome of this work. That programme has been very heavily overcommitted, and we are in agreement that tough decisions need to be taken. Departments have also independently reviewed projects with budgets within delegated limits approved since 1 January, and they will report the results of those reviews in due course. Together, these decisions will significantly relieve burdens on departmental budgets that will be under major pressure in the spending review.
While conducting this review, I have discovered yet another black hole in the books that we inherited. I can tell the House that billions of pounds of spending commitments were made for this financial year that relied upon underspends or access to the reserve. There was no reason to suppose that underspends would have occurred on anything like that scale and there is insufficient contingency in the reserve to cover the remainder. I will therefore be cancelling at least £1 billion of commitments where there simply is not the money to pay for them. We will announce the action that we will take to tackle this further hole in the accounts in next week's Budget. As far as the reserve is concerned, I am sure the House will agree that our priority is that we keep this for genuine emergencies and new pressures that may result from military operations in Afghanistan.
The last Government committed to spend money that they simply did not have. They made commitments that they knew the next Government could not fulfil and in doing so cynically played politics with the hopes of our communities. The actions that I have set out today show that this Government will take responsible spending decisions, which, although sometimes difficult, will be guided by fairness and the overriding need to tackle the deficit. We did not make this mess, but we will clean it up. I commend this statement to the House.
Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I thank the Chief Secretary for early sight of his statement, which arrived a few moments ago. We were all impressed not to read his conclusions in the newspapers this morning. I congratulate him on his first statement to the House as Chief Secretary. I think that it was George Bernard Shaw who said that sometimes to succeed in politics one must rise above one's principles-and few have risen so fast and, I now see, so far as the right hon. Gentleman.
I start with a word of thanks to the Chief Secretary for finally nailing the myth that Labour generated some kind of scorched-earth policy, of which we heard so much in the first days of the coalition. The projects that he has decided to outline this afternoon amount to just 0.05% of this year's Government spending. At the beginning of the week, we heard from Sir Alan Budd, who told us that the outlook for public finances is £30 billion better than expected, but now the Chief Secretary, who cannot even claim the defence of independence, has smashed the coalition's claim that Labour spent unwisely. The House is united in its ambition to see the deficit paid down quickly. The defence of our country from the global recession did not come cheap, and now the bill must be paid, which is why we set out with such clarity £19 billion of tax increases and £20 billion of detailed spending cuts over the next two years alone.
I, too, have reviewed the spending decisions taken since January, and my thanks go to the Treasury staff for facilitating this review. I am glad that the decisions that we took on green energy, university modernisation, Airbus, Nissan, Ford, the automotive assistance programme, royal research ships, phase III of the Diamond science programme, the Tyne and Wear metro, the Leeds next generation transport scheme, Manchester Metrolink, the regeneration of Blackpool, accelerated development zones, Olympic park restructuring, hundreds of millions of pounds for the Ministry of Defence, £30 million for children's hospices and three new hospitals have been reaffirmed.
The country and the Liberal Democrats beyond, however, will be aghast this afternoon at the Chief Secretary's attack on jobs, his attack on construction workers, his attack on industries of the future and the cancellation of a hospital. What could be more front line than that? In five minutes this afternoon, he has reversed three years of Liberal Democrat policy, of which he was the principal author. What a moment of abject humiliation! He will no doubt claim that the markets forced his hand. These were the markets in which interest rates were falling, not rising, throughout the winter and spring. He claims there is no reason why the Government can assume to carry forward underspends from previous years, despite the fact that, as he well knows, billions are underspent each year, including last year.
It is customary on these occasions to ask the Minister a wide range of questions, but I will give him the luxury of answering only one, although I expect a straight answer: how many people will lose their jobs this year as a consequence of what he has just told the House? Do not beat about the bush-tell us how many.
Danny Alexander: I am grateful to the shadow Chief Secretary for his response and for welcoming me to my post. He is right that a number of projects have been approved, and Departments will set out details of those projects, or where they are seeking further savings within those approvals, over the next period. They are also, of course, reassessing those approvals given within delegated limits, as I said in my statement, so there will be further announcements to make on that.
The right hon. Gentleman's characterisation of the Office for Budget Responsibility's report was surprising, given that the report showed that, in fact, growth was
expected to be significantly lower than was forecast by his Government in the last Budget and that the structural deficit-that part of the deficit that can be paid down only by Government policy action-was considerably higher. He set out what he said were Labour's plans. We look forward to hearing more detail about that. If he is committed to a shared deficit reduction plan, I look forward to his party finally setting out in detail what it would take to meet the £50 billion of cuts that it proposed to set out.
As for consistency with the approach of the Liberal Democrats, which the right hon. Gentleman asked me about, the position is entirely consistent with the approach that we took during the election campaign, in common with our coalition partners, on ensuring that firm action is taken to reduce the deficit. That must be the overriding priority. He said that end-year flexibility is used year by year to meet commitments, but the volume of commitments that were made under the previous Government is so large that it calls into question the Government's ability to have a reserve at all. Therefore, we have to take action to reduce those claims in early course, and that is what we are going to do in the Budget.
The single biggest risk to jobs in this country is not taking action to reduce the deficit. If we fail to take action to reduce the deficit, we will see jobs lost across the country. We need to restore confidence to the economy.
What we have learned from today's statement is that the shadow Chief Secretary went on a pre-election spending spree when in office, in the full knowledge that the Government had long since run out of money. The House will be familiar with the shadow Chief Secretary's now infamous letter to his successor, but allow me to contrast that with the letter that I received on my desk from my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws). The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) wrote: