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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:02 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West 3:02 pm, 24th March 2011

I do think it is pathetic when the only answer that the Government, who are charged with handling the nation’s affairs, can come up with is, “What are the Opposition going to do?” If the Government want to vacate those Benches, my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor is not slow in coming forward and would be over there on the Government Front Bench faster than anyone. We have instead a Business Secretary who preached about these matters very eloquently when he was in opposition and said that he would be practical, but he has done nothing.

What do we have now that the current Government are in office? We have inflation going up to 4.4% or perhaps even 5% and the deficit reduction that was to come from growth being hindered because growth and the forecasts are all down. Each forecast, whether for borrowing, inflation, unemployment or growth, is heading in the wrong direction. Those are the facts. All indicators, whether for last year, this year, next year or even the year after that, are headed in the wrong direction. Perhaps the Government should fix the electoral cycle to have 10-year terms and then some latter-day outcome might eventually catch up with what they forecast at the beginning. It should be clear to anyone looking objectively at the evidence that the Government’s plan is not working, that it needs to be changed and that there are alternatives that could be pursued.

If we are talking about getting growth in the economy—the right sort of growth—I agree entirely that we need business employment and development in the private sector. Let us consider HS2—the stupid vanity project that I am sure the Business Secretary would have opposed when in opposition. It is being proceeded with despite the eventual cost of some £32 billion. I cannot believe that the Treasury is going along with it, but I am told that the Chancellor is, bizarrely, in favour of it. Why do we not switch from that to the simple plan that was set out in Atkins’ alternatives—I think it was alternative 2 —for an investment that could be proceeded with immediately, that would give us what is most needed right away and that would help Coventry: four-tracking the line between Coventry and Birmingham? That could have been given the go ahead this year, had effect next year and made a direct contribution.

Why cannot we get the schools programme back on track? Make it quicker, make it simpler—we would accept all the criticisms if that would make it easier for the Business Secretary to go ahead with it. In Coventry, we have not had a single school built—not one! One school in my constituency has been propped up by scaffolding for the past three years. I was on the shadow Chancellor’s back all the time about that when he was the Education Secretary, asking, “Why can’t we get it done quicker? Why can’t we do it?” I was told that procedures had to be gone through and all the rest of it. The Government should speed it up and get on with it, but they should not cut it and stop those projects as they are doing at the moment. I still believe that they should go ahead with some of the other important projects that we could do, particularly in transport, and that they should go ahead with building projects.

To take the example of building projects and the construction industry, I read a couple of days ago in the Financial Times that orders in the industry over the past six months are down 50% on the previous six months. Much of that would be good, constructive infrastructure investment of the kind we are want to see, creating employment and skills and making a real contribution to long-term growth in the private sector, and yet we have cut it by 50% in six months. That cannot make sense, and in the meantime unemployment, borrowing and inflation are going up—all the wrong indicators.

In my remaining minute I will focus on Coventry. I heard today that we have lost another 400 jobs in an insurance company there. Since the Government came in, around 2,500 jobs have gone in Coventry. If the Business Secretary is open to meeting companies inwardly investing in this country, which he says he is, will he come to Coventry to see the investment problems we have? We have nothing to take back to those people who have lost their jobs. I say to him that he should have the confidence and courage of his convictions and stand up to the Treasury and his so-called coalition partners, because things are going to get worse, and he faces returning here with his whimpering excuses to his own increasing embarrassment.