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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:38 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Jessica Lee Jessica Lee Conservative, Erewash 4:38 pm, 24th March 2011

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I, for one, welcome the Chancellor’s Budget statement, and I look forward to voting on all its details and recommendations. In particular, I am relieved to be able to say that Britain is once again open for, and backing, business.

Before I was elected last year and since, in my meetings with and speeches to the business community in Erewash, I have always reflected on how important it is that we in this country make things again. I was pleased to hear Sir James Dyson speak a few years ago, and I think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred to him in his speech yesterday. To hear somebody of such experience, gravitas and talent speak is really encouraging, and from that I saw the real need to support budding scientists and entrepreneurs. In particular, there is a genuine need to support young women who are thinking about a science career. We all know that, for whatever reason, engineering and science, as a profession, has had a lower uptake of young women wanting to pursue it. That is a shame. Some of the measures set out in the Budget statement and by the Business Secretary do all they can to encourage young women by saying, “Now is the time. You can have a career in science and engineering—it is for you, and there are the opportunities to do well.”

In Erewash, we have a proud history of manufacturing, including traditional lace-making, furniture-making and engineering. Sad to say, the traditional lace-making, in particular, has declined over the past 10 years or so; indeed, we have just one such factory left. The people there have used their entrepreneurship and ingenuity to keep it going. I am sure that everyone in the House can imagine that that brings with it daily challenges, such as finding appropriately qualified mechanics to repair the machines and finding new business, but they are trying their best and doing well. However, we also see, unfortunately, a number of empty lace factories where once they were busy and flourishing. Under the last Labour Government, manufacturing halved as a share of gross domestic product, and jobs in that sector declined by 40%.

Moving on to the many positives about business and entrepreneurship in my constituency, we have several successful small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly in high-tech engineering and aerospace manufacturing, and there is a great need to support them at this time. Geographically, there are many advantages to my constituency, which is based right in the heart of the country. We have nearby large employers such as Rolls-Royce and Toyota, as well as the universities of Derby, Nottingham and Loughborough, all with very successful business departments.

We all know—the figure is startling every time it is said—that £120 million per day is paid in debt interest. That is more than the schools budget and the defence budget. There is always moaning and groaning from the Labour Benches whenever that is mentioned, but we have to deal with the facts as they are. When my constituents come to my weekly surgery, they always start by saying, “We know that the country has a lot of debt, and we know that we have to sort it out.” There is a realism and a level of acceptance about it, and that is how we have to move the debate forward.

For me, the Budget statement marked a line in the sand. What I heard is that Britain is back, and that Britain is backing business. This morning, we saw the headlines saying that in the light of the measures announced yesterday, the WPP agency may well return to the UK with its business. I suspect that it will be the first of many important businesses that are going to come back and invest. That is a great start.

The Budget contains several steps that will help business. First and foremost, there is the cutting of corporation tax by 1%, which will take it down to 23% by 2014. There will be 50,000 more apprenticeships, taking their number to more than 250,000. Locally, we have a strong history of supporting apprenticeships, and that will further encourage new jobs, investment and training for young people. The doubling in the number of university technical colleges is a positive, as is extending the small business rate relief holiday to October 2012.

I was particularly delighted to hear the announcement about the establishment of an enterprise zone for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. My constituency is right in the heart of that area, and I will do my best to ensure that we are its beating heart; I will fight for an appropriate level of investment. We also have some of the centres of innovative manufacturing that were announced yesterday, at Loughborough university and the university of Nottingham. Again, many young people in my constituency could benefit from that training and help, and I will do all I can to make those facilities available to them.

The enterprise zones will follow the structure set out in the local enterprise partnerships. We were lucky to have a strong LEP application for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire from the outset, and it was one of the first to be accepted. That group is already taking great steps towards being up and running, so that it can take in bids and bring in investment and jobs. I think that the enterprise zone will assist in that even further.

Finally, the freezing of council tax will benefit hard-working families in my constituency. We are lucky in Erewash because this is the second year running in which the borough council has frozen council tax. That will really help people.

I welcome the Budget speech. I will fight for investment for my constituency, and I certainly back the move to help manufacturing.