The Economy and Business, Innovation and Skills

Part of Corporation Tax Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 26th November 2009.

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Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 4:09 pm, 26th November 2009

I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

About three hours ago, I listened to the opening speeches from those on both Front Benches. At that time, I intended to say something, if I caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, about a constituency issue that relates to flooding and the resources required for that. I still hope to talk about that and some labour market issues. However, having been provoked approximately three hours ago, I would not do myself justice if I did not allow myself the opportunity to respond a little to the provocation.

Opposition parties must oppose, but when countries are in crisis, as we clearly were less than 15 months ago, political parties have a responsibility to look after the nation's interest first and other considerations, whether party or even constituency considerations, second. There is much evidence in British history of that happening. I will not try to identify examples; I think we all know them. When I first became a Member of Parliament more than 20 years ago, there were many occasions on which issues were considered to be in the national interest and colleagues took stances based on that.

The Conservative party did itself a disservice in October last year by not recognising a national crisis that needed a national response and a national solution. The whole world said-broadly speaking; I use shorthand-that the proposals of the Prime Minister of Britain to the international economic forums and the actions that those forums and the main countries associated with them, including European Union countries, Japan, China, India, the United States, took constituted the right policy position. If the Conservatives had accepted that at the time, they would not now be in a position whereby, having opposed what seemed eminently sensible to the rest of the world, they are picking at the aftermath to try to find differences with the Government. I essentially accuse the Conservative party of a political response to an economic crisis. The Conservative party is now in the position of arguing that, because of x, y and z, it would be capable, should it be in government, of paying back more debt more quickly than the Government, should they be re-elected. That is economic nonsense.

As Dr. Cable said, growth rates in this country tend, broadly speaking, to be secular. I do not believe that Governments can do a lot to improve a country's growth rate-perhaps a little bit here and there. However, they can do a lot of damage in undermining the secular growth rate at a particular point. Again, there is much evidence that Conservative party policy-I do not blame current Conservative Members-did that in the early 1980s. We know the consequences for many communities throughout our country. That was repeated in the 1990s, albeit not with the same devastating consequences. However, they were still pretty devastating.

The danger is, were a Conservative Government elected, and they carried out as the economic policy of the country the commitment made in opposition for political reasons it would at the very least damage our ability to recover from the current position. It would arguably cause further deep and serious damage. I urge the Conservative party to try to think a little more in the national interest.

Having got that off my chest to some extent, I greatly welcome the Bill to control flooding. We do not have time to go into it in detail-there may be another opportunity for that, should it get a Second Reading. There is a need to change the structures that deal with flooding. I have had flooding in my constituency and I ended up co-ordinating the activities of the Environment Agency, the local authority, the water company, social services and several other people. That, however, is not really the role of an MP; an MP's role is to have an interest in it and to know what is going on. A lead agency should be made responsible for it, but I do not think that there is one. All the agencies are trying to do everything, so there is need for some structural change. We await the detail in the Bill.

Secondly, resources will be required to tackle whatever recommendations are put forward in any particular part of the country. Our planning regulations need to be looked at as well. The House may well have considered this on another day, but people who think they can simply stick concrete or tarmac anywhere they want as part of a development really have to be stopped. There needs to be a much more considered environmental approach to these matters, so that at least some of the territory where the development is taking place has a porous surface that will allow rainwater to drain in a more natural way. We rarely see serious flooding, apart from river floods, in the middle of fields; we now see a lot of it in urban areas because of the inability of our drainage systems to take the water away. I look forward to this important Flood and Water Management Bill. Especially after last week's events in Cumbria, I hope the House will reach a consensus and allow the Bill to become law before the end of this Parliament.

Thirdly-I will also have to try to find more time for this on another occasion-I am vice-chairman of the Council of Europe Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population. We deal with demographic issues as they arise-basically in the world, albeit in their relation to Europe. We look at asylum, refugees and all those things. In the Queen's Speech, the Government rightly identify training as an important issue. Some people might ask about the link between that and migration. I believe that the political world has to start raising the importance of that link. We have got to stop talking about migration and immigration as burdens that have to be shared among European countries. Migrants make enormous contributions to our economic way of life in this country and throughout Europe. We have got to start recognising that. Figures given to the Davos conference in 2008 showed that there will be massive changes throughout Europe in the proportion of the population that is over 65. It will be a much bigger proportion- 10 per cent. more at the moment; about 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. more in the future.

Conversely, there will be a dramatic reduction in the proportion of young 18 to 30-year-olds. I know that the British Army is looking at future recruitment patterns and wondering where it is going to get enough young people to join it in the necessary cohort. The answer is either that it will have to recruit them from somewhere else or that we will have to cut the size of the Army. A lot of employers are looking at the same issue and trying to find ways to recruit in the future. The political world has to take a lead in this and say, "Yes, we need migration." I believe that managed migration is what we need. I know that no specific provision has been made for this in the Queen's Speech, but some background speeches have been made to illustrate the Government's position.

The Government are in the right territory on this: the points system is fine, but I think there also needs to be a more frequent review of the points within every category so that the system responds to labour-market conditions more flexibly than at the moment. I would like to have seen something to deal with that in the relevant Bill, but it is not in it.

Let me explain the link to training. If we allow so many of our young people-I know many students cannot get work at the moment and the Government have some plans to deal with it-to believe that we are not doing enough to help them to get work and that we are relying on migrants, we will create the conditions for deeper social conflict in the years ahead when we will really need those migrants. We need more active training schemes to help people-including some in parts of my constituency whose families have not been in work for generations-back into work. It is crucial that at the same time as we meet some of our labour demands from migrants-we will need to do so-we also bring into work people from communities where they have not worked in the more recent past. We need to combine those two aspects in our plans to meet labour demands over the next 25 years or so. We need to start now; we cannot start doing this 10 years down the line when the shortages are critical. I know that the Government have their minds on this and I hope that they will concentrate them a little more. If the Queen's Speech helps them to do that, it will certainly have my support.

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