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Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:25 pm on 20th April 2004.

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Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 3:25 pm, 20th April 2004

Unemployment has more than halved in my constituency over the past seven years and there are many other improvements that are obvious to the electorate in Newcastle, North that I was going to mention to the House. The hon. Gentleman has just prompted me to do so slightly earlier.

People can see the social programmes in their communities and that things have changed. In Westerhope—the ward where I live—there is a new primary school that has all the latest technology to encourage a better education for our young people. There are three secondary schools in my constituency. All Saints school is the re-creation of two schools that were failing. It is still a difficult school but it is making enormous strides, and there has been a big investment—for everyone to see—in what is in the classroom, what protects the classroom and the number of teachers.

In Gosforth high school—I see Mr. Atkinson opposite; he will know all these places—there has been an obvious investment in new classrooms and essential maintenance of existing buildings, as well as the establishment of a new building. Walbottle school, on the boundary between our constituencies, is to be completely reconstructed, based on the social expenditure that is now possible because of the changes that have taken place in our economy and its strength.

In West Denton in my constituency, there is a new one-stop community centre in the middle of a redeveloped shopping centre with a wide range of facilities including housing and benefit advice, leisure facilities, work and pensions advice and a new library. All of this is obvious and such changes are replicated in constituencies up and down the country. My answer to Adam Price is yes, things have got better and the changes are visible, but there is still some way to go. I do not want to detain the House too long but I would like to mention some of the things that could be done.

The Budget has addressed the regional imbalance issue, especially in accompanying statements on the dispersal of civil service jobs. Too often, we have located jobs in already congested areas, which does not make economic sense. We have dispersed civil service jobs in the past and we need to disperse more, and that will help to encourage employment and growth in constituencies such as mine in the north-east and that of the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr.

That will also address, at least partially, the point raised by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs about how one reacts in an economy that is getting nearer and nearer to full capacity in many areas. Regional redistribution is an important way of raising the overall level of economic activity and addressing the problems of full capacity.

People are generally wary of making this point, but I will make it. On immigration, there needs to be far more consideration of the economic factors involved rather than the other factors. Immigration is crucial for economies that are to grow. An economy can be grown to an extent by raising the productivity of the people who are there, but productivity has shot ahead in some economies around the world because more people have been involved. That has happened sometimes because the labour market has grown internally, but it has often happened because of external immigration. If anyone knows an example of where that is not the case, please tell me.

We in this country must stand up and say that, if we want to continue to be prosperous and meet our economic objectives, there must be an economic context in which we consider such matters as immigration. We all know what happens in London. If there were no immigration into London at the moment, and if there had not been for the past 10 years, there would be no service industries provided in central London. We all know that, so why do we deny it? Some areas of the country now need immigration to ensure that their future capacity is as good as it has been in the past, because areas such as the north-east and Scotland have been losing population. If such areas are to be successful, we need to have a much more progressive approach to immigration. I do not believe that people should just be able to come to this country and pick up what is going, but they should be able to come and make a contribution.

That economic argument should be made far more often. If all the political parties accepted that that was the case and did not try to make party political points out of it, it would not only be economically desirable but have beneficial social consequences. I, for one, will not hide from that issue because it is important in economic terms, although I could also justify it in social terms. That does not mean having a completely open-door policy, but we have to allow immigration where it is important.

I have gone on for long enough, although I could also have identified benefits for small business. It is important to have micro policy to help small businesses, and I am sure that my colleagues will address that in their contributions, as Front-Bench Members have. There is a need to do more on labour mobility, which will also help to address the full capacity issue. Housing policy is crucial in that regard, and the Government's response to the Barker recommendations on housing investment trusts is a good one. I look forward to legislative backing for that.

On education, the Government's commitment to a 4.4 per cent. real-terms increase during the next four years is crucial, for reasons that I hope everyone in this House recognises.