The new deal has made an encouraging start. More than 230,000 young people have started on the programme and more than 50,000 have already found jobs. A comprehensive programme of evaluation is under way, much of it being undertaken independently of Government. Four reports have already been published, more are on the way, and we shall release detailed information in May on how each area is doing against core performance indicators.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that we have succeeded in attracting only about seven Tory Back Benchers to our deliberations this morning, and does he think that there is scope for a new deal programme to reintegrate some Tories back into the world of work?
Does my right hon. Friend see any scope for allowing new deal steering groups greater flexibility to adapt their programmes to local conditions—for example, by awarding recognition to in-house training that does not necessarily produce a national vocational qualification but that may be every bit as relevant to job prospects?
I know the close personal interest that my hon. Friend takes in the new deal in his constituency, and that is greatly appreciated by all those responsible for the programme locally. As to the challenge of what the new deal could do for the Conservative party, I have always been careful about the claims that I make for the new deal and even I would not suggest that the new deal would be capable of bringing indolent Conservatives into the Chamber, even at this late hour in the morning.
The programme is giving young unemployed people in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere the chance—for many of them for the first time in their lives—to obtain rewarding work. I agree that we must develop the flexibility to ensure that the gateway and other training support can equip people to fill the vacancies that are available. The increase to £5 million for the innovation fund for the new deal in the Budget will enable us to carry forward precisely the sort of initiative for which my hon. Friend argues on behalf of his local partnership and others.
I do not recall seeing the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) in the House last week in the Budget debate on education and employment, or the week before that, and what about the week before when we debated education in schools, when more Conservative Members were present than Labour Members?
The Minister talks complacently about the new deal, but is he aware of what Personnel Today has called a crisis of confidence in the new deal among employers? Can he confirm that Allied Carpets is pulling out of the scheme and that Dixons, Bass and Marks and Spencer are finding it difficult to meet their recruitment needs through the new deal? Is it not a fact that no extra young people are finding jobs through the new deal compared with what would have happened anyway?
No to all of it. First, the hon. Gentleman should use one of his brains at least to apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who was in the Chamber on the occasions to which he referred. Secondly, Lucy has had to be left outside the Chamber today, in case the hon. Gentleman's intemperate remarks should provoke her as they so evidently did during the education debate. Finally, it is not true that those companies have pulled out of the new deal. For example, Marks and Spencer has reported to me positive experience of the people that it has recruited and the progress that it is making on the programme. He is wrong, wrong, wrong.