Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:23 pm on 30th March 2010.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 9:23 pm, 30th March 2010

I have never been terribly interested in the present because "now" is an illusion, as it instantly becomes "then". I have always been most interested in the past, as it is the thing we can most readily alter through our memory. Unlike Keynes, however, I am interested in the future. Keynes said that in the long run we are all dead. But I say the long run counts. It counts particularly for those of us who have children. I have two young children and I care about what happens to them. I care about the debt they will face-both personally and as part of a country now facing, as my hon. Friend Mr. Binley has just said, a mountain of debt.

By their very nature, Budgets look to the future. They plan the economic future and particularly the next 12 months in economic terms. This was not really a Budget that looked to the long term; it looked no further ahead than about six weeks. It was an immensely short-term Budget and a political Budget-one that took not difficult strategic decisions but convenient tactical decisions, failing to meet the challenges we face.

It is clear from the Budget that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister misunderstood the scale of the recession from the outset. They did not expect it to last longer than those experienced by their economic rivals. As we know, however, it has lasted six full financial quarters, longer than any recession in any other G7 country, and GDP has shrunk by 6.2 per cent. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that Government borrowing as a share of GDP will be the highest in the G20 this year. What is the response from the Government? The Budget offers no credible path to a stronger economic future; all it offers are more hidden tax rises in the shape of frozen income tax thresholds and increased national insurance, which is a tax on jobs.

The banking crisis and the recession that followed exposed fundamental problems for an economy that has become too dependent on a single sector. Two of the most profound macro-economic changes in my lifetime, both of them undesirable, have been the growth in the power of transnational corporations with no allegiance to any one nation and, indeed, no loyalty beyond their commercial interests, and the dependence of economies-bought by many liberal economists as desirable-on a limited number of economic providers, or sectors. That is what has happened to our financial services and banking. It is impossible to imagine the Government emerging from the present problem, given that they failed to recognise it and were, to an extent, responsible for it.

Perhaps the most tragic outcome of those failed financial policies is the growing army of young people who are not in employment, education or training, and in the few minutes available to me I want to say a word about their plight. They are often presented in a fairly cold way-they are seen as an economic opportunity cost- but we are talking about up to a million young lives. We are talking about broken dreams and shattered hopes. We are talking about people who, because of their disengagement, are likely to be socially and culturally detached, and who, because of the declining number of unskilled jobs, are unlikely to find employment even in the medium and long term. If one's first experience of the job market is one of disappointment and detachment, that may have profound long-term implications.

Even in the good times, the times of economic growth, the number of young people so affected was rising. That was a trend problem, and not a result of the recession. Nevertheless, it has been exacerbated by the recession, and we have a moral duty to do something about it. We have a duty to create new opportunities for those young people, and to provide them with the skills they will need to participate in an economy that will become increasingly highly skilled and high-tech. For Britain has no long-term future as a low-tech economy: we will not return to the days when we made tin-plate metal toys. We will survive and compete only as a high-tech, highly skilled nation. Those young people's opportunities lie in that vision, but no such vision is set out in the Budget. It contains no such ambition for the generation that I have described-that forgotten army of young people.

In the couple of minutes left to me, let me propose an alternative. Let me give the House a taste of a different Britain. Let me allow the Chamber and the country to dare to dream again of something better. It is entirely possible for us to regenerate the prospects of that forgotten army by investing in skills. The House would expect me to say something about skills.

I do not take the Chicago economist's view that all that matters is flexibility in economies or, indeed, in labour markets. I was interested by one or two of the speeches made by members of other parties in that regard. I believe that investment in skills pays dividends beyond the obvious, and that it has a variety of social and cultural as well as economic effects. I believe that it gives people a sense of pride and purpose, and builds a cohesive society.

We need to boost the number of apprenticeships massively by transferring large amounts of money from the Government's failed Train to Gain programme, with its immense deadweight cost, to the apprenticeship budget. We must do that by designing new apprenticeship frameworks, by making it easier for small companies to participate, and by changing both the prospects of people and our economic prospects. We could have seen that in the Budget, but we did not. We will see it in a Conservative Budget, run by a very difficult Administration who will bring new hope to those people and to the whole of our country.

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