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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:04 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East 7:04 pm, 24th March 2014

That is absolutely right: a cut in support for manufacturing was used for business as a whole.

Although it makes sense to support investment decisions through the tax system, we should not kid ourselves that investment allowances alone will be enough. The UK’s export performance has been routinely described as disappointing in report after report by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Speak to any manufacturer and they will most likely say that their key challenge is skills. If companies cannot get the right people with the right skills, they cannot innovate, they cannot meet orders in time and they cannot operate as efficiently as they want.

If the Government are really serious about supporting UK manufacturing, they should heed the call coming from their own Back Benches today to stop chasing UKIP and putting in place policies that stop the brightest students and workers from around the world coming to the UK. The Government’s arbitrary net immigration target is a barrier to our accessing the best talent in the world, and the exclusion of such talent is not in the interests of UK businesses or the economy; nor is the threat of withdrawal from our biggest export market, the EU. It is no good supporting investment decisions through the tax system with one hand, and threatening to pull away from our biggest market with the other. The stance the Government have adopted on this is a complete failure of leadership: it is party management first, and the interests of the country second. No amount of support through investment allowances would undo the damage that pulling out of our biggest market would do. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made the announcement he made of a couple of weeks ago, exercising leadership on this issue and rejecting the option of following the Government down this path.

Perhaps enough has been said about beer and bingo in recent days. As someone whose father was a labourer and whose mother worked in a local authority children’s home, the only thing I would add is that a more serious working-class aspiration is an education system that opens up opportunity to all; social mobility that is not based on but challenges closed elites; and a path to rising living standards that has been sadly absent in recent years. I suggest to the Government that a poster based on those things might have been truer to the heart of working-class aspiration than the one that was produced.

I echo some of the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend Phil Wilson on the pension changes. There has been an attempt to reduce this proposal to the question of whether people can be trusted with their own money. Of course people can be trusted in that way, and empowering them to make their own decisions is a good thing. It is something that we should support in politics. Choice in public services empowers people. It has worked well in the area of personal payments for social care, for example. As my hon. Friend said, however, what is in question is not trusting people but trusting the financial services sector that sells people these often complex financial products. I serve on the Treasury Select Committee, and we have seen many mis-selling scandals in recent years, ranging from endowment mortgages to payment protection insurance. We should have learned the lesson that there is often a serious information mismatch between those selling those financial products and those buying them, and that customers are not well served when things go wrong.

How do the Government propose to address that issue? Simply shouting that we should trust people with their own money is not enough, given that the PPI compensation alone has had to be set at £20 billion; and nor is it the philosophy that has been pursued on a cross-party basis for auto-enrolment into the pensions systems. If customers are to be well informed, they need good advice and alternative products in which they can trust. It is perfectly reasonable—indeed, a duty—for a responsible Opposition to ask questions about how that is to be achieved, and to point out the dangers if it is not.

The recent economic growth is welcome, but if it is being funded by consumer spending, people will rightly ask how can we ensure that it has solid foundations and is not simply the froth from another unsustainable housing boom, and how we can ensure that Britain remains engaged with the world and does not turn away from the trade and exports that we need.