I should advise the House that 53 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye in the debate and I am sorry to say that inevitably some will be disappointed. Depending on the length of the Front-Bench speeches, I will make a judgment on how exacting the time limit on Back-Bench speeches will need to be. We need to hear and probably will hear fully from the shadow Chancellor and the Chancellor, treating all the issues, but if they feel able to tailor their contributions in a utilitarian spirit to minimise unhappiness and to maximise their colleagues’ happiness, they will, I think, be widely applauded.
I beg to move an amendment, at the end of the Question to add:
“but regret that the Gracious Speech fails to provide a strategy to build the productive economy that the country needs;
note that a fragile recovery and stagnating productivity harms living standards and makes it harder to reduce the deficit;
believe that every effort should now be concentrated on supporting middle- and lower-income working people;
further note that the Gracious Speech is a missed opportunity to tackle the principal causes of rising welfare costs that flow from a low wage, high rent economy;
further believe in the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK as the best mechanism for delivering social and economic change;
urge the Government to pursue sensible savings in public expenditure as part of a balanced approach and not an ideologically-driven attempt to shrink public services beyond what is needed to address the deficit;
and call upon Ministers to spell out where their cuts will fall and who will pay for their unfunded election pledges.”
I welcome the Chancellor to his place. Very few people serve two full terms as Chancellor and I am sure that the whole country will be grateful that he does not plan to do so either. Although he might have his eye on another job, I congratulate him on his reappointment to this one. Of course, we should not ignore the fact that he has a fancy new title to illustrate his role in the EU renegotiation process. He is now the First Secretary of State, no less, following in the footsteps of John Prescott and Peter Mandelson. Let us hope that his ministerial counterparts are suitably impressed.
The Chancellor must now deliver negotiations with other member states to convince the public to opt decisively for Britain to remain a member of the European
Union. It is important to secure stronger rules so that welfare payments go only to those who have contributed to our system, but in my view we also need greater devolution from Brussels, an overhaul of the EU budget and far greater accountability of the main institutions of the European Union, which still feel too distant and out of touch. It is also essential that he agrees that we need a comprehensive independent risk analysis of Britain leaving the European Union. It needs to be carried out by the Bank of England, the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility and it needs to be published in ample time for the public to consider it in full before the referendum.
Although this is not the Queen’s Speech that I wanted the House to be debating, I reassure everybody and remind the Chancellor that we will be a vigilant and responsible Opposition, watching closely the choices he still has to make and holding him to account at every step.
The shadow Chancellor talks about being a responsible Opposition. In the spirit of responsible opposition, will he admit the errors in his previous economic policy, in which he predicted that unemployment would rise and that we would have no growth? He was comprehensively proved wrong in the election. Has he had time to reflect on how he might recalibrate his economic message?
I have had plenty of time to reflect on the result of the general election. Obviously, we are disappointed with it and we will review our policies accordingly, but it is now our job to ask questions and scrutinise what the hon. Gentleman and those on his Front Bench plan to do. I shall come shortly to my observations about that.
Let us not neglect the subject at hand, which is the Queen’s Speech. The headlines have, of course, now been spun and the rhetoric from Ministers has started. They are trying in vain to make all the right noises about fairness and even a one nation Government, but let us pause for a moment, walk through the measures in the Queen’s Speech and cut through the spin.
The tax-free minimum wage for those working 30 hours sounds fine until we realise that it is already tax free. The real question is why there is no action in the Queen’s Speech for the low paid, such as incentives for a living wage, which even the Mayor of London supports. I do not know whether he is in his place, but perhaps he will join us later.
As for the rest of the spin, the household benefit cap, although it is necessary, is only a drop in the ocean of the overall welfare bill, saving less than one 10th of 1%, and is a total distraction from the root cause of escalating welfare costs for the taxpayer in recent years, the low-wage nature of our economy.
What about devolution to a northern powerhouse? If it is genuine, that is all well and good, but local communities have heard these promises before and they know that when the Chancellor talks about devolution it is usually code for shifting the consequence of cuts and not the power to deliver services.
At a meeting of the leaders of northern cities on Monday, the Labour leader of Manchester City Council, who has many years of experience, said that the north is working together better than it ever has before. Does that not show that the northern economic powerhouse is a reality and that it is working?
The clue was at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Labour leaders do work well together in local government, and when we hear the Chancellor’s response to this debate they might find that there are a few surprises and a hidden agenda with a bit of a sting in the tail for them over the next few months.
What about the rest of the spin in the Queen’s Speech, such as extending the right to buy? Everyone is in favour of home ownership, of course, but the scheme proposed by Ministers is so badly thought through, throwing housing associations into chaos, that even the Mayor of London—for it is he—has called it the “height of insanity”.
There was a further piece of spin, of course: a tax lock designed purely to stop the Chancellor raising VAT again. Do not get me wrong, we welcome any effort by the Chancellor to legislate against his own record and his own worst instincts, but this legislation does nothing more than prove that he does not even trust himself on tax. Of course, it does not give any guarantees about other stealth tax rises elsewhere, nor does it prevent him from acting on his other instinct of always prioritising tax cuts for the very richest over those for those on middle and low incomes—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are all shouting from the Back Benches, but the Chancellor’s eyes are down on his notes. Is the Chancellor planning to cut that top rate of tax from 45p on earnings of more than £150,000? I will give way to the Chancellor if he can clarify for us whether that is his plan. Will he cut that rate of 45p for those earning £150,000, or not?
We have heard those arguments. I was asking the Government whether they plan to cut the top rate of tax of earnings of £150,000 from 45p, and perhaps down to 40p, and there is silence from the Government Benches and from the Chancellor. Perhaps he will come to that later in his speech.
The Queen’s Speech was high on rhetoric but was in reality the usual combination of diversion and distraction. As ever with this Chancellor, there is more than meets the eye. All the rhetoric is just the tip of a Tory iceberg, with 90% of their real agenda hidden below the surface, still invisible from public view. That agenda will not even be partly revealed until the emergency Budget on
The trajectory of overall cuts set out in the March Budget goes beyond what is needed to eradicate the deficit by the end of the Parliament. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Queen’s Speech still leaves us totally in the dark about more than 85% of the Chancellor’s planned £12 billion of welfare cuts. Just this morning, the IFS criticised the Government for giving a
“misleading impression of what departmental spending in many areas will look like”.
Frankly, there is growing disbelief across the country that the Chancellor can protect those in greatest need while keeping his promises to the electorate on child benefit and disability benefits. My hon. Friends will not have failed to spot during Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday how the Prime Minister, when challenged by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms on the question of disability benefits, digressed into all sorts of reminiscences about the campaign trail and how much fun it was going to various meetings. The Prime Minister promised that
“the most disabled should always be protected” and I will be looking to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to keep the Prime Minister’s promises. The Government might have secured a majority, but they did not secure a mandate for specific cuts to departments or services because those were never explained or set out before the election. Nor have we ever had an explanation of how they will pay for their multi-billion pound pledges on tax and services or, crucially, for the NHS.
The Opposition agree with yesterday’s OECD assessment that a fair approach is the right one to take—sensible savings and protection for those on middle and lower incomes. Cuts that decimate public services would be too big a price to pay, especially as they may even result in higher costs in the longer term. We also heard how 8,000 nurse training places were cut in 2010. The use of agency nurses then proliferated to fill the gap. Is it any wonder, therefore, that NHS trusts now face a deficit of about £2 billion? Part of the reason the deficit is so big is that productivity has been so poor. Britain has the second lowest productivity in the G7, and output per worker is still lower than in 2010. This should have been at the top of the Chancellor’s agenda throughout the last Parliament, but he did not even mention it in his last Budget speech. For the Tories, it seems that productivity just springs magically if the Government just get out of the way, unrelated to any fiscal or policy choices that they make.
The shadow Chancellor will know that many pundits have been looking at that productivity puzzle. The Treasury Committee has examined it for the past five years. If the Governor of the Bank of England, economists and everyone else does not understand that productivity conundrum, will he share with us where he thinks the lack of productivity comes from?
I will come to that in a moment. The hon. Gentleman must also be staggered that the Chancellor did not even mention it in his Budget speech. That was an omission that the Chancellor needs to correct. We take a different view of where productivity comes from because, for us, it depends in part on having decent infrastructure and public services—motorways that flow freely and trains that commuters can actually get on, tax offices answering business queries efficiently rather than keeping companies’ staff waiting on hold, employees who are off sick able to get treated swiftly in a decent NHS, an education system that supports a work force and provides training in high-quality skills. Each of these is crucial for our future economic productivity, and each depends on the Chancellor making the right fiscal choices for this Parliament.
Will my hon. Friend push the Chancellor a little harder on productivity? The recent report from the Chartered Management Institute said that management and skills were at the heart of productivity. The Government have not tackled those, and a culture has grown up in which even when managers fail to meet targets they still get their bonus.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. According to the OBR, if productivity growth per worker was closer to 4%, our national debt would be £350 billion lower by the end of this Parliament. There is a connection between the choices that are made in fiscal policy and the productive nature of our economy.
The OECD confirmed just yesterday in a sobering reality check for the Chancellor that continued weak productivity could lead to a higher than expected budget deficit, and he should listen to the OECD.
The shadow Chancellor rightly says that infrastructure is important. On the day when, by coincidence, the Crossrail tunnel is completed, will he not bring himself to recognise that, even at times of great public spending restraint, the last Government continued and, I am sure, this Government will continue with essential infrastructure spending on rail and roads, which lays the foundations for future long-term prosperity, but is difficult to do if the Government run up an unsustainable deficit?
The civil service used to have a phrase for things like this. It was a brave decision of the right hon. Gentleman to defend his Government’s record on infrastructure. Many projects that were started under the previous Government have still not been completed. Would it not be better if we rose above party political picking out of which infrastructure project should proceed and we tried to have a more mature debate about how we plan infrastructure in this country?
The Chancellor knows that Sir John Armitt’s report on infrastructure was widely received across the business community and that all sorts of parties that wanted to find an independent approach to infrastructure planning. I still believe that that would be a better, more grown up way to plan for infrastructure.
Of course individual choices have to be made, but it would be better if they were made on the basis of need and evidence, not simply on whether the hon. Gentleman has the ear of a particular Minister at a particular point in time. That is the old way to plan infrastructure, and he knows in his heart that we should reform it.
The choices that the Chancellor makes in the emergency Budget in July will be crucial for productivity and therefore crucial to the health of the economy and public finances. I want to know whether the Chancellor will set out a sensible approach to deficit reduction by prioritising the areas of public spending that raise productivity. Why do we not ask the OBR to report on how the options for the spending review might impact on productivity and living standards and to set out the impact of the different choices that the Chancellor could make? He will have our support if he wants it to do that work. As the OECD suggested yesterday, the uneven profile of his planned fiscal pathway poses real risks, and higher productivity would give greater scope to protect working families, while still balancing the books. So these are the choices that he must confront. Is he still planning to double the pace of cuts, regardless of the impact on productivity, or is he now planning to moderate that pathway? The Chancellor has wiggle room here, even within his own fiscal rules.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is making an excellent speech. I want to follow up on a point made by my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman. According to the CMI report, leadership and management are a key issue for this country, and we have seen nothing in government strategy on that issue. How much does my hon. Friend think that that should also be part of our review of why we have such problems with productivity in this country?
This is at the heart of the Chancellor’s policy choices. Is he looking not just at how much but how spending is taking place? He can choose to ensure that where spending has to be prioritised, decisions lean towards supporting growth and productivity and the skills that will in turn get us into that more virtuous cycle.
I will give way in a moment. Not to take a reasonable and measured approach, when the Chancellor clearly has scope to do so, would suggest that he is influenced much more by Conservative ideology than by economic judgment. That is what it always comes down to with this Chancellor. Is he focusing on securing the long-term needs of the economy or on securing his own long-term future; is he focusing on the country or on his Back Benchers; is he focusing on his current job or on a future one?
Of course competition is essential, but so are important public services that support businesses and enable them to optimise the outputs from the inputs to the production process. That is the crucial point that we have to focus on.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the issues with productivity is that we have become obsessed with mergers and acquisitions for short-term profitability, rather than allowing industry to invest for the longer term as economies such as Germany have been doing?
Long-term investment, especially production process technology and business investment, is crucial, which is why the stop-start approach of recent years from the Treasury has seen us underperform in business investment into the productive economy. It is essential.
Governments should try to encourage increased productivity in the private sector, but it is down to business confidence and reinvestment decisions. Although business confidence is now the highest it has been since 1992, investment dropped off in the run-up to the general election, because business was scared that there would be a hard-left socialist Government.
I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to make his political points, but I think we have a duty to ensure that we examine far more forensically the drivers of economic productivity and the growth that will help us to repair the public finances more successfully. That is the agenda we have to follow.
These are serious times, and we needed a serious Queen’s Speech agenda to address Britain’s long-term economic challenges. We should not forget that progress in our economy is still fragile and the recovery is still too constrained. The economy remains fraught with pressures, which have been heaped on the shoulders of many working people. For example, the number of people who have to work a second job in order to get by has increased dramatically in recent years, and a record number of pensioners are returning to the labour market. Indeed, the number of over-65s in employment has increased by more than 8% over the past year alone. The Office for National Statistics says that our share of high-skilled jobs is falling. The Government’s vision for Britain is one of a low-wage, bargain-basement economy. That is not the vision of a party for working people.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman carefully, but he has said very little about job creation under the previous Government. Will he take this opportunity to recognise that we now have record numbers of people in work in this country, which contrasts with the fact that no Labour Government, from the time they came into power to the time they left, have ever managed to bring down unemployment?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen the ONS report published yesterday, but it shows that we are losing high-skilled employment in this country and that gradually it is being replaced with low-skilled employment, which is a real worry. We need to ensure that we compete in the world on the basis of a high-skilled, virtuous cycle. I think that he would be complacent if he ignored what is happening in our economy.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He likes to give the impression that sweetness and light always surround him, but he might like to look behind him occasionally. He must recognise that no one will take his talk about deficit reduction seriously when sitting behind him is his former leader, who less than a month ago said that the previous Labour Government did not spend too much.
When it comes to deficit reduction, let us never forget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to eradicate the deficit by the end of the previous Parliament. We have passed that deadline, so he has broken that promise. He should put his hands up and admit that, when it came to his promise on the deficit, he failed.
We now need focus to address our economic challenges, not a Chancellor distracted by his own political ambition. We need a concerted drive to boost productivity; a balanced recovery reaching all corners of the country, with no sector left behind; a meaningful effort to tackle the root causes of higher welfare costs, low pay and insecure working conditions; a guarantee that any scope for tax cuts should be focused entirely on middle and lower earners; and a commitment to reject an ideological drive to shrink public investment. That is the approach Britain needs. That would be a genuinely one-nation approach.
Instead, we had a Queen’s Speech that focused on short-term political headlines, rather than long-term economic gain. It was designed to lay political traps for the Chancellor’s opponents as part of a grand political chess game, rather than to focus on productivity and balanced growth. This obsession with short-term, narrow political gain is the Chancellor’s curse. He is the Chancellor for whom productivity means kicking the Home Secretary off her Cabinet Committees. He is the Chancellor for whom a long-term plan means a move next door. He is sticking with the family business and measuring up the wallpaper for No. 10 already. That is his real agenda. Cold and calculating, he is the iceberg Chancellor, with hidden dangers beneath the surface. He is putting productivity and public services are risk, prioritising the very richest above those on middle and lower incomes, pitting one nation against another. Britain did not vote for a hidden agenda. I urge the Chancellor to put the ambitions of Britain above his own.
I rise on the last day of the Queen’s Speech debate to support a programme for Government that stands full square behind the working people of this country. It unashamedly backs the aspiration of working people to own their own home. It unflinchingly supports the businesses, especially the small firms, that provide the jobs that working people depend on. It unfailingly stands on the side of parents who want what every parent wants for their child: good education in a great school. It understands that the best way to support the incomes of working people is to let them keep more of their income tax-free. Our programme for Government is unwavering in its determination to deliver sound public finances and the economic security that they bring for working people, because without that security nothing else is possible. We were elected as a party for the working people, and we will govern as a Government for the working people.
I will give way in a moment, but let me first make some progress.
Of course, this is the day we vote on the Queen’s Speech, deciding whether the legislative programme it proposes should proceed into law. We were told four weeks ago by the pollsters and pundits that this day would be one of great constitutional drama. Would the party leader who managed to cobble together enough votes in a hung Parliament manage to survive the test of the vote tonight? As always, we are taking nothing for granted, but I am reasonably confident that we will have the votes tonight, because what the pollsters and pundits did not reckon on was the good sense of the British people, who did not want to put at risk everything that has been achieved over the past five years and who want to continue with a long-term economic plan that is working for this country.
Let me say—I mean this sincerely—that it is very good to see the former leader of the Labour party here today. I think that he earns everyone’s respect by coming to the House so soon after the election defeat, and I understand that he wants to take part in the debate. Despite the fierce arguments of the general election, I do not think that anyone ever doubted his personal integrity or the conviction with which he made his arguments. It is good to see him back in the Chamber.
Let me also put on the record my thanks to the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the former Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, who lost his seat at the election, with whom I worked incredibly closely. He gave great public service to this country. Of course, that is not to say that I am sorry to have a Conservative Chief Secretary. It is fantastic to have my right hon. Friend Greg Hands in that role, along with the new members of the Treasury team.
The measures set out in the Queen’s Speech represent the next stages of our long-term economic plan, because we on the Government side of the House know that the job of repairing the British economy is not yet done, and that the work of preparing our country for the future has only just started.
If the hon. Lady is talking about benefit sanctions, I think that it is perfectly reasonable to ask people who are capable of work to turn up to job interviews and to make sure that they are doing everything possible to look for work. We support them while they are doing that, but the taxpayers of this country expect them to search for work.
The economic situation at the beginning of this Parliament is vastly better than the one we inherited at the start of the last Parliament. Back then, debt was soaring; today, it is projected this year to fall as a share of our national income. Back then, millions were looking for work; today, 2 million new jobs have been created. Back then, we were in the grip of an economic crisis; this week, the latest forecast is that the UK will be the fastest growing of any of the G7 economies—not just in 2014, but now in 2015 as well. That we have come so far in five years is a testament to the effort of the working people of Britain.
One of the myths that the Conservatives have been very successful with—I credit them for it—is the suggestion that debt soared under the last Labour Government from 1997 onwards. However, according to the House of Commons Library, debt in 1997 was higher than it was in 2007-08, just before the banking crisis hit. Yes or no?
The idea that the last Labour Government did not leave the country with a debt crisis is laughable. The fact that the Labour party is starting this Parliament making the same argument that it made in the last one shows how much it needs to learn and listen.
The point I make to the hon. Gentleman is that national debt started rising in the very first years of the beginning of this century—in 2001 and 2002. It rose through the boom years, when the Labour Government should have been paying down the debt and should not have been running a deficit. One of the things on which the various leaders of the Labour party all seem to agree at the moment is that the deficit was too high going into the crash.
I do not know who the hon. Gentleman is going to vote for in the Labour leadership contest; Jeremy Corbyn may be the one person still sticking with the line that he is pursuing.
The subject of debt is incredibly important, but debt is not just national; there is household debt as well. Does the Chancellor agree that the £1 trillion rise in household debt between 1997 and 2008, taking it up to £1.47 trillion, was one of the most pernicious acts of the Labour Government? It damaged households immeasurably and is the biggest crisis that we have to deal with.
Order. If the Chancellor wants to give way, he will, and if he does not, he will not. A Member should not continue to stand in an attempt to intimidate a Minister or anybody else into giving way. [Interruption.] Order. A Member should not continue to stand as if their intervention was inevitable. Seriously, that is an established point of parliamentary procedure. The hon. Member for Eltham can have a go, but if the intervention is not accepted, he will have to resume his seat.
Whether the hon. Gentleman wanted to or not, I am happy to concede that he was not doing so.
I am not feeling particularly intimidated by the hon. Gentleman because he is spouting the same old anti-aspiration, anti-sound public finances nonsense that we have heard from the Opposition for the past five years.
Let me make progress and come to the central point. We have to tackle the endemic weaknesses in the British economy that no Government have been able to solve in the past: we are not productive enough and we do not export enough, save enough, train enough or build enough.
Let me make a little progress before I give way to my hon. Friend. We do not see enough of the prosperity and opportunity produced by our economy shared across all parts of our United Kingdom. The Queen’s Speech addresses those weaknesses head on. The housing Bill will ensure that more new homes are built and that tenants of housing associations get the opportunity to buy their own homes.
But it is anti-aspiration to deny working people in housing associations the right to buy their own homes. That will be an early, key test of whether the Labour party has learned anything from its massive election defeat.
The enterprise Bill supports the small businesses that are the productive engine of the modern economy. The High Speed 2 Bill commits us to the vital modern transport infrastructure that we need. The Childcare Bill supports the working parents—especially the working mothers—who have never had the backing that matches their contribution to our economy. The full employment and welfare Bill delivers the 3 million apprenticeships and creates the work incentives in our welfare system so that every citizen who can work is able to.
Yesterday, we discovered that the UK had climbed up the global employment league table, overtaking Canada to have the third highest employment rate of any of the major advanced economies in the world, on the path to full employment that we have set out. There is the promise of further devolution, delivered in the legislation, to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Then there is the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which helps to dismantle the failed model that says that we have to run the entire country from the centre of London. Instead, it empowers our great cities across England and adds to the foundations of the northern powerhouse that we are building.
That is the agenda that we offer—full of ambition, brimming with ideas, not afraid of the future but excited about what it can bring. What of the alternative? The Labour party has taken the unusual approach of erecting the headstone first and then conducting the post-mortem. What conclusion has it reached? The shadow Chancellor just said that this is not the Queen’s Speech that he would have wanted. The Queen’s Speech that he does want is not entirely clear. He said that Labour’s economic policy was not credible; that its spending policy meant that it spent too much; that its tax policy was punitive and, in his word, “crude”; that its housing and rent policy was unworkable; that its energy policy meant higher energy bills; that its European policy was anti-democratic; and that its business policy was anti-business. Other than that, it was all okay!
I will give way, but I should properly welcome the hon. Gentleman, along with the rest of his shadow Treasury team. One of the great pleasures of doing this job has been the opportunity to work with four different shadow Chancellors. I wish the hon. Gentleman the same success that his predecessors enjoyed.
There was a very good intervention which pointed out that there was a 40p rate for almost the entire period of Labour government. But let me say this. My tax priorities are clear: to raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000. Those are my priorities and they will be reflected in the Budgets presented from this Dispatch Box.
“It’s the Which? magazine strata of society that somehow we just didn’t understand”.
To be honest, I would stop worrying about Which? magazine and start focusing on which leader. There are four members of the Labour Treasury team. Three have backed different potential Labour leaders and the shadow Chancellor has led from the front by deciding that he is not going to back anyone at all. The truth is that it does not matter which of the leaders they pick—none of them understands the aspirations of working people because, in the devastating words of the right hon.
Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), Labour has become the “anti-worker” party. That is what she said. That is a quote that I suspect we will hear again in this Chamber in the coming years.
As the Prime Minister made very clear yesterday, we will follow the principles that we followed in the previous Parliament, when we protected the most vulnerable in our society and actually increased the amount we were able to give to the most disabled in our country. In every single intervention about economic policy today, in the different debates we have had since the Queen’s Speech, and at Prime Minister’s questions, Labour Members have demanded more public spending, complained about a public expenditure cut, or implied that there should be higher welfare bills. That is what we have heard about over the past few days—more spending and higher welfare bills that can be paid for only by more borrowing and higher taxes on the working people of this country. That would undermine the security that we have restored to our economy.
I wonder whether the Chancellor is aware that, as I speak, IBM is signing a multimillion-pound contract in my constituency of Weaver Vale on high-speed computing, in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council at Sci-Tech Daresbury—the enterprise zone. Does he agree that this has happened only because of our long-term economic plan for reducing the deficit and cutting taxes, that the British people know that only the Conservatives are the party of business, and that the whole world knows that Britain is open for business?
Let me say how fantastic it is to see my hon. Friend back in his place, because he has fought so hard for his constituency in delivering the Mersey Gateway bridge, the rail improvements in his constituency, and, as he mentioned, the major investments in science at Daresbury, including in high-performance computing. Today’s announcement from IBM shows what happens if we get our science and technology policy right as a country—we attract investment from all over the world.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I try to play fair in these things, but on his question about my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, I think a sense of humility is needed in this Chamber today. The Tory party has just got 30% of the popular vote; the Labour party got 31%. A hell of a lot of people in this country did not vote Conservative and did not vote Labour, and if we are not looking at why we do not enthuse the people, we are not doing our job.
I could not tell whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford that the Labour party is the anti-worker party—but we will find out.
This Government are committed to infrastructure investment to benefit business. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the Labour party, in its manifesto, was going to axe the upgrade of the A358, not realising that linked to that upgrade is the development of a new IT business park in Taunton on which depend many jobs and the future of our economy. The Conservative party understands that this is to benefit business; clearly the Labour party does not.
It is fantastic to see my hon. Friend here representing Taunton. She has already made an impact and made sure that the A358 is absolutely in the Government’s road programme. For all that we heard from the shadow Chancellor about investment and the like, the Labour party announced during the general election that it was cancelling the A358, and indeed the A20, which showed that it did not care about the south of England at all, or about investment in the south-west of England. That is pretty astonishing.
The Chancellor will of course be aware that Scotland rejected the cuts agenda—the austerity cult that he is the high priest of—and we now have 56 out of 59 MPs. I see from the front page of today’s Financial Times that the OECD agrees with the SNP on spending and says that his cuts agenda is a danger to the economy of the UK. Will he take some economic lessons from the SNP and perhaps improve the performance of this Government?
If we had listened to the SNP there would be a massive hole in Scotland’s public finances because of the price of oil. We are obviously going to be hearing a lot more from SNP Members in this Parliament because of their numbers. If there are cuts that they oppose, let me point out that the Scottish National party in Holyrood has the power to increase taxes to increase spending. It has the power to increase income tax already and it is getting more powers next year to do so. When it comes to complaints about public expenditure, it is time for the SNP to put up or shut up.
Let me turn to economic security and public spending. Economic security is at the heart of everything. Without economic security, families cannot be supported, people cannot buy homes, businesses dare not invest, and jobs are not created. Without economic security, there are no aspirations, no opportunities, no hopes, and no ambitions. We cannot have economic security in a country that borrows too much and spends too much and does not live within its means. When confronted with the synthetic cries of Labour Members who claim to be standing up for the poorest in our country, let us also recognise this: the people who suffer most when Britain cannot pay its way, spends more than it can afford and sees security give way to instability are not the richest in this country but the poorest. When the economy fails, it is the poorest who lose their jobs, see their incomes cut, and see their dreams shattered. That is what we saw five years ago when there was no money left. For as long as Labour Members fail to understand that, they will remain the anti-worker party.
Economic security is at the heart of everything we offer, and it will be at the centre of the Budget I present to this House on
I will give way to my hon. Friend and then make some progress because I know that lots of people want to give their maiden speeches.
I absolutely will do that. I remember my visit with my hon. Friend to his constituency to meet some of the small businesses on the high street who depend on the people in this House delivering economic security and stability for this country, and that is what we are determined to do.
The global economy is full of risks at present. We should be redoubling our efforts to prepare Britain for whatever the world throws at us in the coming years, not easing off. The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. So in the Budget and in the spending review that follows, we will take the necessary steps to eliminate the deficit and run the surplus required in good times to bring debt sustainably down. That is what we promised in the election, and it is what we aim to deliver in government. I am not going to pretend to the House that these will be easy decisions, but nor will I pretend to the public that we can avoid taking them—we cannot. We have a structural budget deficit—we spend more than we collect in taxes—and that is not going to be fixed by economic growth alone. We have to bring spending down so that our country lives within its means.
As with any challenge, the sooner you get on with it, the better, and that is what we do today. Over the past five years we have brought a culture of good housekeeping to Whitehall. In every year of the previous Parliament—
I will make a little progress, if the hon. Lady does not mind. As I say, lots of people want to get in on this debate later.
In every year of the previous Parliament, Government Departments kept their spending not just within budget but well under budget. Outside key protected areas like the national health service, those budgets have been reduced year on year to more sustainable levels. At the start of this Parliament, it is important that we continue to control spending in the same vein. Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the new Chief Secretary asked Government Departments to seek further savings beyond the £13 billion of savings that they are already delivering this year. I can report today that together we have got straight back to the task in hand. We have found a further £4.5 billion of savings that we can make to the Government budget this year, including sensible asset sales. Some £3 billion of these extra savings come from finding more efficiency in Whitehall Departments and from the good housekeeping of coming in under budget. The breakdown per Department is being published by the Treasury today.
There is another component to this: I am today announcing that the Government will begin selling the remaining 30% shareholding we have in Royal Mail. It is the right thing to do for Royal Mail, for the businesses and families who depend on it, and, crucially, for the taxpayer. That business is now thriving after we gave it access to investment from the private sector in the last Parliament. There is no reason we should continue to hold a minority stake. That stake is worth about £1.5 billion at current market prices.
Of course, share prices fluctuate and the final value will depend on market conditions at the point of sale. We will sell our stake only when we can be sure that we are getting value for money, but let us be clear: holding over £1 billion of Royal Mail shares in public hands is not a sensible use of taxpayers’ money. By selling it, we help that important national business to prosper and invest in the future, while we use the money we get to pay down the national debt and pay less interest on that debt as a result. It is a double win for the taxpayer, for we on this side never forget that it is not our money or the Government’s money; it is the money that people work for and pay in taxes, and entrust to us to spend wisely.
I warned in my earlier remarks about the Chancellor’s hidden agenda. Before he went into the section on Royal Mail, I think I heard him announce upwards of £4.5 billion or more of in-year cuts to public services. [Hon. Members: “Savings!”] I think he called it “good housekeeping”. He announced in-year savings of that magnitude without coming to the House to give an oral statement or publishing them for the House, so that we can scrutinise what he has just announced. It sounds to me as though any semblance of a long-term plan has been totally ripped up, and that there is panic in the Treasury and chaos, with in-year public spending decisions being taken. Why did he not announce those in the March Budget if they were part of some sort of long-term continuum? Has he suddenly decided rapidly to change his course when it comes to public expenditure? And why do it in such a shabby way?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is the usual convention, if there are significant changes to the estimates and supply that support public services, that the documentation and details for every single Department should be laid before the House of Commons, so that all Members can be informed of what is happening with our public services within a financial year. This is ripping up any semblance of long-term continuity, and it is a shabby way to treat Parliament and the public services.
We made this announcement to the House of Commons, and the detail is there for people to examine. There will be estimates debates as usual, but there is a very simple question: does the Labour party support further savings in public expenditure? If it does not, that means the Labour party wants to increase borrowing, increase taxes and take this country back to square one and repeat all the mistakes it carried out in office—and, indeed, repeat all the political mistakes that meant it went down to a historic election defeat just a month ago.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman. He will have his opportunity.
Further savings in Departments this year, selling our stake in Royal Mail, getting on with what we promised, and reducing the deficit—that is how to deliver lasting economic security for working people, for as everyone knows, when it comes to living within your means, the sooner you start, the smoother the ride.
We continue today to deliver on our long-term economic plan. The measures in this Queen’s Speech back aspiration and opportunity, but they rest on the bedrock of economic security that our plan has delivered and continues to deliver. We have taken further steps today to prioritise that economic security. It is the security that the working people of this country elected this Government to provide, and I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.
May I start by thanking the Chancellor for his gracious words about me in his speech? It is an achievement to survive five years as Chancellor of the Exchequer and, indeed, to be reappointed, and I congratulate him on that.
I rise to speak from the Back Benches for the first time in nine years. I do so obviously deeply disappointed at Labour’s election defeat, for which I take full responsibility. I believe it is right that my party comprehensively examines the reasons for that defeat and does the hard and painful thinking necessary. On the day after the general election I rang the Prime Minister to congratulate him. I said, as the Chancellor said in his speech, that he had defied the pollsters and the pundits—and indeed that is true. I repeat those congratulations to the Conservative party.
In the time since the general election, I can report to the House that I have found some small consolations of losing, including spending time with my two boys, who feel that they have their dad back. However, I confess that my eldest, who has just turned six, did bring me further down to earth last week. He suddenly turned to me out of the blue and said, “Dad, if there is a fire in our house, I think we’ll be okay.” I said, “Why’s that, Daniel?” He said, “Because if we ring the fire brigade they’ll recognise your name because you used to be famous.” “Thanks very much,” I said. From my used-to-be-famous position on the Back Benches, I look forward to helping to play my part in holding the Government to account, as it is the job of the Opposition to do, and the occasion of the Queen’s Speech is the right place to start.
Whatever our profound differences over the years, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment in the days after the election, and repeated in the Gracious Speech, to govern for one nation. I welcome this because it speaks in historical terms to what I see as an admirable side of Conservatism, represented by Disraeli and Macmillan. It is worth reminding ourselves of the historical lineage that suggests. This is what Disraeli said in his novel “Sybil, or The Two Nations”, published 170 years ago this year, about what he was fighting against:
“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets”.
For many people, that will sound like the description, in old-fashioned language, of some of what afflicts our country today: a divide between the top 1%, or even the top 0.1%, and everyone else. Facing up to that is a challenge for any Government of any colour, but particularly, if I may suggest, for one claiming the mantle of one nation.
A huge question facing all western democracies in the next five, 10, 20 years is whether we are comfortable with the huge disparities that exist, whether we are fated to have them and whether we want to even try to confront them. Personally, I believe we will have to, and I believe this is an issue for right and left.
What has changed in the debate about inequality is that, internationally and across the political spectrum, there is growing recognition that these gaps are not just bad for the poor, as we always used to believe, but bad—
No, thanks very much.
These gaps are not just bad for the poor, but bad for all of us. Last month, the OECD joined the International Monetary Fund in saying that inequality was definitively a problem. The secretary-general of the OECD said there was
“compelling evidence that high inequality harms economic growth” and social mobility. Simply put, if the rungs of the ladder grow too far apart, it is much harder to climb them.
The old idea was that inequality was necessary for economic growth. In fact, we now know that the deep structural challenges in our economy of low productivity—which, to be fair, the Chancellor and, indeed, my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor referred to—are bound up with high inequality. More unequal societies tend to use the talents of fewer people, and they suffer as a result.
It is not just internationally that the debate has shifted, and I applaud those on the right—some of whom are sitting on the Government Benches—who have focused on this issue. I was intrigued the other day to hear Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister’s former adviser, say that it was time to impose a maximum wage for the bankers. As you would expect from me, Mr Speaker, I see that proposal as anti-aspiration and anti-business, and I have no truck with it. [Laughter.] The serious point is that this issue will not go away and needs to be confronted.
I hope that we can move on—maybe the Government’s emphasis on one nation presages this—from discussing whether inequality is a problem to what the solutions are. There are not easy solutions in the context of a global economy, but progress can be made in the way we shape our economy and the way we approach tax and benefits. As a starting point, I urge the Government and the Chancellor, in the spirit of one nation, to look at the OECD recommendations—not just those about the pursuit of equal opportunity and skills, but those about tackling insecure work in our economy, which it specifically identifies as part of the problem, and progressive taxation, which it says is part of the answer. Perhaps that will all be in a one nation Budget in July. I wait with interest.
Within the profound and growing challenge of inequality lies the specific problem of in-work poverty. I would say that it is the modern scourge of our time. For the first time, as many people in Britain who are in poverty are in work as out of work. I believe that the left and right can agree that it should be a basic principle that if you go out to work, you should not be living in poverty. But we are very far from that in Britain today.
The minimum wage has played its part in countering the worst exploitation, but I believe it needs to do more. In Doncaster, which I represent, 28% of men and more than a third of women workers are paid less than the living wage of £7.65 an hour. The UK is one of the low-pay capitals of western Europe. There is an irony here: the Low Pay Commission is a great success, and indeed a lasting achievement, of the 1997 Labour Government—to be fair, the last Government continued to operate with the Low Pay Commission—but I fear that the way it operates has become too much a recipe for the lowest common denominator.
Countries around the world are confronting similar issues and seeking to act. There is a live debate in the United States about raising the minimum wage. Los
Angeles has just passed a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $9 an hour over five years. I say to the Chancellor that if we are to make progress here at home, it will require us to strengthen and guide the Low Pay Commission much more explicitly. That is something that its previous chair, George Bain, has called for. Without it, I do not believe it we will be equal to the challenge of low pay.
Just as one nation requires the right approach to those who work, so it requires the right approach to those who cannot. The origin of one nation for Disraeli was rooted in the lives of the rich and the poor. Responsibility is absolutely part of a successful welfare system, but so too is protection of the most vulnerable. We will never be one nation without a social security system that supports those who need it.
I think it would repay Ministers to read some of the early speeches by the Prime Minister when he became leader of the Conservative party. On the 25th anniversary of the Scarman report in 2006, he said:
“In the past we used to think of poverty in absolute terms—meaning straightforward material deprivation. That’s not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms—the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted.”
“I want this message to go out loud and clear—the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty.”
That was seen as a radical departure from the tenets of Thatcherism, and it was. If the approach in the Queen’s Speech is indeed meant to be a return to the earlier incarnation of the Prime Minister’s approach, which I welcome, Ministers need to prove it and to square the circle with the Government’s proposals for deficit reduction.
Can one nation really be consistent with making those on welfare shoulder £12 billion of the burden for deficit reduction and those at the top nothing at all? Can one nation really be squared with cuts to tax credits, with their impact on working people? Can one nation be squared with a welfare system that is so often harsh, brutal and brutalising? Can one nation be squared with a country where a million people go to food banks? Those tests on inequality, low pay and a compassionate social security system are appropriate tests for a Government claiming the mantle of one nation. There are many more besides, including, of course, keeping our United Kingdom together.
Let me make this final point about the situation facing the Prime Minister. Fighting an election and winning is some achievement; how he seeks to use the mandate is what will really define his legacy. He is in an unusual position in that he has fought his last election. He is able, if he wishes, to return to what he said when he first became Leader of the Opposition and not worry about an election round the corner, with all the pressures that entails. I urge him, perhaps through the Chancellor, to follow through on his one nation rhetoric. Opposition Members will hold the Government to account at every turn for whether they are living up to their own test: one nation in spirit and deed. If that is where the battleground of politics lies in the years ahead, I welcome it and look forward to playing my part.
I congratulate Edward Miliband on his forceful and good speech, and on his resilience in coming here and facing the House with such dignity and distinction. I, too, pay tribute to the way in which he fought for his principles and his cause in the election. Indeed, it causes me slight annoyance that in the leadership election that has broken out in the Labour party, some of the people who a month ago were his greatest admirers, his most loyal colleagues and those closest to his cause are now busily detaching themselves and attempting to scapegoat him for the problems that the Labour movement experienced.
In my opinion, for what it is worth, the right hon. Gentleman fought a very good election campaign. It was much better than anybody expected, because of the expectations that the tabloid press had raised. I thought he put the message across very well. I thought the message was wrong, and that was the judgment of the majority of constituents in my constituency and my part of the world. It is not the case that his performance had anything to do with the result. Apart from the great events in Scotland—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Apart from the remarkable, almost bizarre, events in Scotland—the SNP is equalled only by Syriza in Greece on economic policy—and the very welcome events in the south-west, which were also very unkind because I lost many good colleagues in government as a result, the underlying basis of the majority that we won, to most people’s surprise, was the judgment of sensible people on economic competence and our record on the economy.
I do not think the election campaign made very much difference to the result one way or the other. My part of the country, the east midlands, is thick with marginal seats. We won all of them and added gains by taking back Derby North. In the end, people saw what we had inherited economically and what we had done over the previous five years. They recognised our economic competence and accepted the message that the job had to be completed. When listening to the Labour party’s message, however it was presented, they simply decided that they could not take the risk of changing the Government. When the problem arose that the SNP would apparently be able to hold a Labour Government to ransom in what was bound, because of the tsunami in Scotland, to be a hung Parliament if Labour won, that made a little bit of difference, but the result was mainly down to economic competence.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel that in individual constituencies, particularly Liberal Democrat-Conservative marginals, the fact that his party was often outspending my party by a factor of perhaps five to one made any difference to the election result?
I look forward to a little party political debate with the right hon. Gentleman again. As I have said, what decided the election was the coalition Government’s extraordinary record. It was a particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, closely assisted, as he said, by Danny Alexander, the former Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, who was an excellent Chief Secretary, in getting the affairs of the nation back in order and steering us to some of the most successful economic results in the western developed world, which is what we have now.
What concerns us now, in this Parliament, is what judgment the public and history will make of this Government when they look back in five years’ time, or whenever. That will crucially depend on whether we finish the job and deliver the modern, more balanced, competitive economy that will give our children and grandchildren greater security and a better quality of life. That is the task we have set ourselves, and it is not going to be easy.
At the moment we are all enjoying the hubris of victory, as far as my party is concerned, or the relief of being back here just opposing, as far as the Opposition parties are concerned. On the surface the task looks easy, because at the moment our economy is growing more strongly than almost any other in the western world, employment is soaring because of our flexible labour market, which we should keep that way, our inflation is low, and real pay is at last beginning to rise as the benefits of recovery get through to every level of society. However, it would be a false assumption to think that it is plain sailing from now on, that everything will continue in that way and that the risks have vanished domestically and abroad, so we can take easy measures to reward those who voted for us. The world is not like that.
I take encouragement from what I took to be the Chancellor’s message. He has announced a July Budget, because he wants to take the opportunity while the economy is growing to take some of the tough and difficult decisions that the Government still have to take. I certainly encourage him to do so. In my part of the world—Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, the east midlands—the people who voted for us knew that there were still tough and difficult decisions to take. They were not seduced by the speeches of those whose only examples of what they intended to do were ways of spending money or rather short-term popular things. The sooner we get on with tackling the underlying problems—including, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has reassuringly just confirmed, the debt and the deficit—the better we will be able to get on with all the other things that need to be done, which will enable our economy steadily to get back on to a stronger and more secure footing.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. Does he agree that one of the key tasks is to keep up the pressure to improve our skills agenda, so that we can ensure that our young people continue to contribute to a productive economy and increase our capacity to develop, innovate, research and develop and manufacture?
My hon. Friend anticipates some of the points I wish to make. I agree with everything he has just said. Tackling the deficit and debt, together with what he has just described and the other measures that we have committed ourselves to, is a genuinely one nation Conservative approach. Ever since I became active in politics, I have declared myself a one nation Conservative. The phrase has moved in and out of fashion a little in my time, but I have remained boringly consistent. In my view, it means free market economics combined with a social conscience, as well as a forceful internationalism that looks after Britain’s interests in the world and helps to spread our values.
On the economic front, the combination of fiscal discipline and economic competence, with measures such as taking the very lowest-paid out of tax altogether, easing the tax burden on the lower-paid, not taking people on ordinary incomes into higher rates of tax that should affect only the very wealthy, and the right to buy from those giant landlords the housing associations, which should be unlocking their resources to invest in more new social housing, gives the right one nation balance to the proposals we have put forward. As I have said, it is important that we get on with it, because this Session of Parliament is probably the best time to get some of the most formidable challenges out of the way and under our belt.
If I am sounding a little foreboding about what could go wrong, I should say that I do not foresee anything going wrong, but we will be lucky if no global shocks hit us. We have had five years of growth since 2010, with only a minor blip—not a recession—in 2012, and 10 years of uninterrupted growth would be pretty well a post-war miracle. It does not happen in the real world. We are doing better than any other western European nation, but that is based on the fact that we devalued by 25% when we had the crash—that has done us a bit of good, but not a great deal—and on a US recovery that is now looking rather feeble, as it was stimulated by quantitative easing, which is a dangerous thing. Our own recovery is not forcefully strong, and it was based on quantitative easing when that was necessary. Of course, we rely on interest rates, and they are the lowest they have been for 300 years, which is good for indebted countries.
I will not, because other Members want to speak. I enjoyed what the hon. Gentleman said yesterday, and I would like to give way to him, but not at the moment.
It will be surprising if we do not face difficult times. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken the deficit down to a little under 5% of GDP—far too high, and quite unsustainable, but practically half what we inherited. He paced it pragmatically, because five-year forecasts of where we will be are a complete waste of time, although people always produce them. So long as we have growth, we should press on with taking the deficit down now, because if we ever have a slowdown we will have no weapons to do anything about it. If the Chinese turn out not to have a soft landing, or if America goes wrong, we will not be able to help ourselves by having a fiscal stimulus when we have a 5% deficit. We will not be able to ease monetary policy with interest rates at practically zero. Now is the time to get on the with the task.
There is much more that I would like to say along the lines of the intervention by my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael, because cutting the debt and deficit is not in itself a complete economic policy. It is the essential precondition for all the structural reforms that we still have to make so that we can make our economy modern and competitive. We have a long way to go, because as Members have said, our productivity performance is dreadful, our investment performance is recovering but remains rather poor, our trade and export performance is pretty dismal and we have an appalling current account deficit. In this modern, balanced economy, we have a long way to go.
We therefore require the right kind of European reform. The European Union has been the essential basis on which we have established our voice in the world and our current economic base. In my lifetime, it has had the most beneficial effect on both those things, which were in a pretty dreadful state until we joined, but it does require changes.
When the Prime Minister announced his referendum, in a very pro-European speech at Bloomberg, he set out an economic agenda for change. That remains the most essential reform that we require and desire, and it would benefit the rest of Europe, as well as us. That means completing the single market, which we have talked about and never done. It means an EU-US trade treaty, which we have an opportunity to get and which would boost investment, trade, jobs and activity on both sides of the Atlantic.
It means deregulation. The Barroso Commission talked about deregulation and got no support whatever from member states. The Governments of all member states, including Britain, tend to send people to Councils from various Departments who advocate more regulation—on transport, road safety, food safety, environmental standards, pollution and all the rest of it. Vice-President Timmermans wants to deregulate. We should compete with deregulating there by deregulating here to stimulate our economy.
Of course we can stop people coming here just to claim benefit—we have always been able to do so. There are other things we can do. The economic reforms, however, were the basis on which we started the negotiations and they remain the most important to us.
Beyond that, skills training and education reforms are still required. We have immigrants because we have to go Romania to recruit nurses—we do not train enough nurses of our own. Our construction industry would come to an end if Poles did not come here in the numbers they do. Skills training, education and higher education—every innovative business I know complains they cannot recruit people with the necessary skills to expand their business. It is one of their major constraints. We do not train and produce enough engineers. We need to get somewhere with giving STEM subjects a higher priority and so on.
I could go on. [Hon. Members: “Go on.”] No, no. This is an agenda for a Parliament. It is tough agenda. Now that we have been re-elected, we have the ability to deliver it. The precondition is that we start well, and we start with getting rid of the deficit and debt restraints while we can. In July, we need an iron Chancellor. We need a bold and radical Government. We need a Government who are going to repeat the success of the past five years, measuring up to these enormous international challenges, to show that the United Kingdom can again have one of the strongest global economies in a totally changed globalised economy and a new world.
It is a pleasure to propose the amendment in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is also a great pleasure to follow Mr Clarke. He talked earlier in his contribution about the bizarre events in Scotland. We tend to call it democracy. In the same way as the Chancellor spoke about the good sense of the British people, I might say that, with 56 out of 59 MPs and half the vote, we celebrate very much the good sense of the Scottish people—a true one nation in every sense.
The Chancellor spoke about the challenges the Scottish economy may face. He spoke about fiscal autonomy and what he called a massive hole. I just say gently to him that any challenges on the Scottish current account are as nothing compared with a £1.6 trillion UK national debt built up by Labour and Tory alike.
The Chancellor laid out his plans today. For our part, the last thing that the country needs, that the economy can afford and that those who have suffered most over the past five years should be expected to bear is another austerity Government. Yet that is exactly the direction of travel laid out today: a continuation of vague talk about a long-term economic plan, where none really exists; hubris about so-called economic success, most of which is contradicted by fact and a litany of broken promises; and a complete disregard of the impact his policies have had, are having and will have over the next five years on people through the UK—and that is before we even start to talk about the impact on investment for growth and on our vital public services.
We know the impact those policies have had throughout the UK. We know what has happened in Scotland specifically since 2010. We have seen the budget cut by about 11% in real terms and capital expenditure down by 34%. As a result of decisions taken by this Chancellor, the budget in Scotland has been cut by a staggering £3.5 billion in real terms. The plans announced throughout the election and reiterated today—before the bombshell of in-year cuts, which we will analyse further later—will result in a cumulative share of cuts to day-to-day spending over the next five years for Scotland worth about £12 billion at today’s levels. Those cuts to Scotland and elsewhere are the consequence of the Chancellor’s economic failure.
It is worth reminding ourselves what the Chancellor said when he took office: debt would begin to fall as a share of GDP by last year; the current account should be in balance this year; and public sector net borrowing would fall to £20 billion in the same year. Debt did not fall as a share of GDP in 2014-15, the current account will not be back in the black until 2017-18, and public sector net borrowing—the Chancellor can smirk all he likes—was not the barely £20 billion he promised: it was almost four times that at £75 billion. The Chancellor failed to meet every one of the key targets he set himself. Tory policy stifled recovery from 2010 for years into the previous Parliament. With a cumulative £146 billion of cuts still to come, we are all on track for a decade of austerity.
We know where the pain of this has been felt and we know where the pain of it will be felt. In Scotland, 145,000 households affected by changes to incapacity benefit will lose about £2,000 each.
If the hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the Scottish Nationalists, opposes these spending cuts, why does he not increase taxes and use the powers available to the Scottish Government? He could then spend more money.
We do not need to increase taxes in the way the Chancellor describes. He knows perfectly well, and I will come on to it shortly, that there is a way of managing the economy in a fiscally responsible way that allows an increase in spending while the debt and the deficit continue to fall. He may disagree with me—I respect that—but he had better respect that this is a genuine alternative vision to the cuts coming from his party.
The pain will be felt by the 145,000 households affected by changes to incapacity benefit, the 370,000 who have seen tax credits reduced, and the 620,000 families hit by child benefit freezes. It will be felt by the 120,000 people who have lost an average of £2,600 as disability living allowance was removed. I am glad the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is here to hear this. He can perhaps begin to understand that this is not a theoretical cut in a back office, but a real cut to real people’s living standards throughout the UK. It will be felt by the 835,000 households hit by the increase in the benefit cap. Why are these decisions wrong? There is now a substantial growing body of opinion, as Edward Miliband said, that we do not simply need a growing economy to fund our welfare provision; we need to squeeze inequality out of the system to provide a solid platform to grow the economy.
The hon. Gentleman rightly basks in his electoral success and that of his party. Is he as relieved as I am that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North saved the best speech I have heard him give until after the general election? Will he join me in offering the right hon. Gentleman some solace, regardless of the right hon. Gentleman’s son’s remarks that he used to be famous? He will be very successful again in the future and it is far better to have been a has-been than a never-was.
I would be slightly more gracious than that. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will make a contribution to his party’s policy development. Let us hope that it moves to somewhere progressive rather than sticking to the kind of austerity-lite position that it had before the election.
We need to squeeze inequality out of the system. The December 2014 OECD report told us that rising inequality in the UK had cost it 9 percentage points in growth between 1990 and 2010. It is an obvious fact: it is not possible to squeeze inequality out of the system at the same time as the squeeze is being put on the poorest in society, and once again this Government are swimming against the tide of informed public opinion.
The alternative to the Government plan is clear; it is the alternative economic plan that we pursued, rather successfully, in Scotland at the election. It is a plan aimed at balancing deficit reduction with increased investment in public services. We argued rightly that with a modest 0.5% real-terms spending increase between 2016-17 and the end of this Parliament we could release
£140 billion for essential spending and investment over and above the Government’s plans. The alternative for Scotland is £11 billion of spending compared with £12 billion of cuts. Our plan makes sense. It is a fiscally responsible plan that protects public services, protects investment, really ends austerity and lifts the squeeze off ordinary people, but still sees the debt and deficit fall.
May I repeat the question put by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor? The Scottish Parliament already has significant tax powers and it will gain more in this Parliament. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, has pledged not to have tax rates in Scotland that are higher than in the rest of the UK. Will the hon. Gentleman meet that pledge, or does he want to pursue his expansionary agenda and raise taxes?
I do not think that Scottish people should pay tax twice for services that we would have if we simply had full fiscal autonomy.
The UK Government have advocated an approach that will result in further spending cuts in the coming years to achieve the fiscal targets set out in the budget charter, but those cuts have not been spelt out in full. The Tories have not said where the axe will fall. The Chancellor said some things today, particularly about in-year cuts and asset sales in certain Departments, but nowhere near enough to explain what he plans to do. Perhaps he or one of his Ministers might decide to come clean with this House later today and tell us where the axe will fall.
Will they really restrict carer’s allowance to those eligible for universal credit, so that 40% of claimants lose out? Will they really increase means-testing for the contributory element of employment and support allowance, or of jobseeker’s allowance, which would see 30% of claimants—300,000 families—lose £80 a week? Will they remove the tax-free status of disability benefits to save £1.5 billion? Will this Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions really take the axe to those most in need to deliver £8 billion of tax cuts, which right now, and I have heard nothing today to change my mind on this, are completely unfunded?
I said that the UK Government plan is designed to achieve the fiscal targets set out in the charter for budget responsibility, but we know that the scale of the spending cuts plan, as set out in the March Budget, significantly exceeds what is required for the UK Government to meet their targets. There is therefore flexibility for the UK Government to meet those objectives without implementing in full the spending cuts that are currently planned for the coming years.
Based on plans set out in the March Budget, public sector net debt is projected to begin falling in 2015-16, and a cyclically adjusted current budget surplus of £35 billion is projected for 2018-19, rather than simply returning the adjusted current account to balance. Therefore, the UK Government have the flexibility to cut spending by less than currently planned while meeting their fiscal targets. I hope the Chancellor uses that flexibility wisely.
I want to move on to the real economy. As our First Minster, Nicola Sturgeon, said, there are three areas where we seek to achieve outcomes at a UK level that will benefit the economy in Scotland. First, we will continue to oppose spending reductions of the scale and speed that the Government have suggested. We believe that those would slow economic recovery and make deficit reduction more difficult.
Secondly, we do not think it is desirable for trade or business for there to be an in/out referendum on membership of the EU. However, since a referendum now seems inevitable, we will protect Scotland’s interests. We propose a “double-lock”, meaning that exit is only possible if all four nations in the UK agree to it, which would quite rightly prevent Scotland from being dragged out of the EU against the will of the Scottish people. [Interruption.] I think we have worked out what the Government mean by “one nation”, and they will need more than one nation to take the state out of Europe.
Thirdly and finally, we will seek greater powers for Scotland, to ensure, at the very least, that the recommendations of the Smith commission are met in full. However, we are seeking additional responsibilities, beyond those that the Smith commission identified, in particular greater power over business taxes, employment law, the minimum wage and welfare, to enable us to create jobs, grow the economy and lift people out of poverty. That was the manifesto on which we were elected.
Those powers will allow us to tackle one of the challenges that the First Minister, and indeed the shadow Chancellor in his speech today, have raised: that of productivity. Those comments are important, not least because they chime with what Mark Carney, the Governor of the central bank, said recently at the launch of the quarterly inflation report. He said that
“productivity growth…is the key determinant of income growth. Our shared prosperity depends on it.”
However, the Bank of England also highlighted the extent to which the UK as a whole has a productivity problem. Output per hour is below pre-recession levels; it is 13% below that of Sweden and 20% below that of Germany. In Scotland we know, and I suspect that the figures are the same for the UK, that if we can boost total factor productivity by 0.1% over a decade, we can see 1.3% additional GDP growth and additional tax yield of around half a billion pounds a year. With better productivity, living standards would be higher and the budget deficit lower.
In Scotland, we have set out how we intend to do that, based around the “four I’s” of innovation, internationalisation, investment in infrastructure and skills, and promoting inclusive growth, but we have also made it clear that promoting a more equal and inclusive society is an important part of building a stronger economy.
The Scottish Government are mitigating the consequences of this Government’s welfare reform, promoting gender equality, investing in early years education and care, and setting targets to ensure that everyone—irrespective of their background—has the chance to go to university. Essentially, that economic strategy sets out a vision of an economy based on innovation rather than insecurity; on high skills, not low wages; and on enhanced productivity rather than reduced job security. We want to climb the global competitiveness rankings on quality, rather than racing to the bottom on costs, and we want to deliver positive change in the real economy to drive changes in the big fiscal numbers. So we have to improve productivity, we need to encourage innovation and exports, and we must support business growth and job creation. There are a hundred things on which we must take specific action, not least delivering fairness in electricity connectivity charges across the grid and certainty in the tax code, and ensuring that businesses have access to bank lending.
I hope that there will be scope within the enterprise Bill to replicate many of the ideas contained within the Scottish business pledge, whereby in return for support from agencies businesses must commit to innovation, to seeking and taking export opportunities, and to paying the living wage. I also hope that there will be scope within the national insurance contributions Bill to continue to bear down on employer costs, to encourage more businesses to create jobs. There must be scope within the energy Bill to end the inequity of a £25.50 per kW charge to connect to the grid in the north of Scotland and a £5.20 per kW subsidy for any old chugger to connect in central London.
I hope that the Budget will support business investment. We have gone from an industrial buildings allowance, done away with in 2007, to an annual investment allowance of £50,000 in 2008, which increased to £100,000 in 2010; decreased to £25,000 in 2012; increased to £250,000 the following year; and increased to £500,000 the year after that. It was then temporarily maintained, but will come to a cliff edge and a grinding halt at the end of the year and revert to £25,000 on
We will be a constructive Opposition. We will support individual measures, where they merit it, and seek to mend and improve provisions where they do not. We will also be a principled Opposition, because we oppose the Tory programme of cuts. We wish to see growth and fairness in our economy and more power for Scotland, and we want to support aspiration and deliver help for those who need it most. As well as being a principled Opposition, unless or until our friends in other parties work out what their economic policy actually is, we will be the principal opposition to Tory cuts in this Parliament.
Order. Just before I call Sir Alan Haselhurst, I advise the House that the six-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches will now apply. Droves of colleagues wish to contribute, including a number of potential maiden speakers. The Chair will do its best to accommodate colleagues, and I absolutely understand why maiden speakers wish to speak, but, once and for all, may I ask Members not to come to the Chair inquiring where they are on the list or pointing out exactly how many members of their family are present? I understand these considerations, but there are wider considerations of which the Chair has to take account. We will do our best, but I am afraid that it is part of parliamentary life that, at the end of a debate, some colleagues are content and others are not. That, I am afraid, is the reality, but we will do our best.
I apologise to Stewart Hosie if I do not directly follow his remarks, tempting though that might be.
Transport has not so far been a major focus in the debate on the Gracious Speech, yet surely it is a key component of a successful economy. The speech talked about
“bringing different parts of our country together”,
which suggests to me that transport has an important role to play, as was confirmed by reference to the Government’s determination
“to legislate for high-speed rail links”—
I note it was in the plural—
“between the different parts of the country.”
I find it odd that there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of airport capacity. It is the elephant in the Chamber. The recommendations of the Davies commission are imminent, so perhaps a decision on this matter, which is judged by many people to be vital to our economic success, will be among the other measures to be laid before us. I have great respect for Sir Howard Davies, and I am sure that his report will be accomplished and thorough, but if the Government have not steeled themselves to accept whatever he proposes, and at the same time given no indication that their decision will come before Parliament this Session, they might be subject to criticism from those in the industry concerned about the country being insufficiently open for business. I might also add—somewhat facetiously—that the sooner the decision is made the better, for otherwise the main airport operators might bankrupt themselves with the amount of advertising and promotion they are doing.
In reflecting on past years, I find it astonishing that we have allowed ourselves to get into this multi-airport situation. If it is judged too late to start again, it is certainly not too late to rebalance the economy, which is why enormous importance attaches to the concept of the northern powerhouse. I was born in Yorkshire and represented for a period a Greater Manchester seat, so I feel strongly about the need to rebalance the economy, and I feel every bit as strongly about it having served as Member for Saffron Walden for 37 years, because rebalancing will take pressure off the south-east.
Apart from a decision on airport capacity and the south-east, I would like to see Manchester airport promoted as a major port of entry into this country. It is important for business and tourism. I am afraid, therefore, that I might disappoint some of my right hon. and hon. Friends by saying that I strongly support High Speed 2 and what the Gracious Speech said about it. Also on rebalancing, it was interested to read that HS2 would bring Birmingham airport within 36 minutes of central London, given that the average time from Stansted airport in my constituency is 47 minutes. I sympathise with colleagues whose constituencies are in the path of HS2, but I remember seeing the M62 driven through the constituency of Middleton and Prestwich, and I saw Stansted airport imposed on the rural charms of north-west Essex. We can get over these things.
I suggest to the Government, however, that there is another powerhouse—the powerhouse of East Anglia—that is nevertheless served badly by both road and rail. I do not begrudge our new colleague in the House, the Mayor of London, for increasing his grip on the rail services in inner London, but I insist that we need serious levels of investment in transport, especially rail, in East Anglia. The Great Eastern and West Anglia lines out of Liverpool Street are a disgrace, and the trains that run on them are scarcely less so. I congratulate the Government on the rail revolution—no less a term is justified—that they have helped to engineer, but that revolution has still to reach East Anglia. As the economy improves, I hope that they will pay full attention to the voices of East Anglia Members, augmented as they are by representatives of industry, business and commerce, and deliver soon the improvements that our region demands. In return, the East Anglian region—the East Anglian powerhouse, as it could become—will deliver further enhancements to bolster the national economy.
I pay tribute to the speech by my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, in terms of both content and statesmanship. He was a fine leader who was largely misrepresented and misunderstood, and I think he had admirable vision and conviction. He will be sorely missed, but I hope that many of his principles, convictions and values will be incorporated not only into the Labour party leadership contest but into the political debate over the next years.
I have a rather different message for the Chancellor. Underpinning the whole of the Government’s programme, which he set out today, is the theme that the Tories inherited a recession caused by Labour overspending, that they set in place a strong economic recovery, that they are within sight of dealing with the deficit and that austerity has been vindicated. All those are false. First, the recession was caused by the international recession triggered by the banks’ financial crisis; it was not caused by Labour profligacy. In truth, the Blair-Brown Government, in the 11 years before the crash—1997 to 2008—never ran a budget deficit larger than 3.3% of GDP, which was roughly the same as Germany’s, whereas the Thatcher-Major Governments racked up deficits larger than this in 10 out of their 18 years.
Secondly, we have seen the slowest and feeblest recovery for more than a century. The economy was recovering in 2010, but it was brought to a juddering halt by the Chancellor’s successive austerity Budgets—so much so that after two and a half years of stagnation, he was forced to reverse engines, to go easy on austerity and generate an artificial recovery based on a housing asset bubble, via Help to Buy. That artificial recovery lasted just 18 months until the middle of last year, and has now been punctured like a deflating balloon. In the last nine months, growth has nosedived by two thirds, from 0.9% in the third quarter of last year to just 0.3% in the first quarter of this year. If that continues, we will have an annual growth rate of just 1.25%—lower than in the eurozone.
Then there is the deficit. The Chancellor likes to claim he has halved the deficit from 2009-10. He has not. The deficit peaked that year at £157 billion. Given that the Budget measures take 12 to 18 months to work their way through the economy, Alistair Darling, in his last two expansionary Budgets, had reduced the deficit to about £118 billion by 2011—a cut of nearly £20 billion a year. The present Chancellor, by contrast, has reduced it over the last three years to its current level, which I remind the House is over £90 billion—a cut of only about £9 billion a year, which is less than half the rate of reduction of the previous Labour Chancellor.
Now we are being told that the Chancellor will eliminate the structural deficit altogether by 2018, at an average rate of reduction, according to the Red Book, of some £25 billion a year. I ask hon. Members: is that remotely credible? He promised in 2010 that he would eliminate the deficit by 2015; in the event, it has ended up at over £90 billion. The Chancellor is achieving form in his fantasy projections, or is it that the real Tory primary aim is not to shrink the budget deficit, but rather to shrink the state, shrink the public sector and transfer all public services to the private market—back to the dimensions of the 1930s?
Has austerity been vindicated? Since, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, austerity reduced GDP growth by 1% in both of the first two years of the coalition Government, that indicates, at the very least, that austerity led to a cumulative output loss, which will never be recovered, of 5% of GDP or about £75 billion—some little short of the whole of the deficit.
What else has austerity brought about? Wages are still nearly 8% below their pre-crash level, while productivity, on which all agree our future living standards depend, is slack. Private investment is anaemic, which shows that even business itself does not believe that the Chancellor’s recovery is sustainable. The trade deficit in manufactured goods at over £100 billion a year is the worst in British history, unemployment is still nearly 2 million and household debt is now tipping £2 trillion.
It against that background that the Chancellor now forces through his cuts target, as he set it out. Growth will collapse as even the IMF today is warning. Without, this time, the adventitious halving of the international oil price, Britain will soon be at serious risk of a third recession. So much for the Government’s ludicrous “long-term plan”!
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. Before I do so, I pay tribute to the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so eloquently, leaving me with a hard task to follow. I also pay tribute to my predecessor as MP for Bexhill and Battle, the right hon. Greg Barker. Greg worked hard for his constituents over his 14 years as their MP, and left his mark in government as a Minister of State for Energy, working tirelessly to tackle climate change. I thank Greg for the advice and kindness he has given and continues to give me.
The Bexhill and Battle constituency nestles on the East Sussex seafront at its southern face and the beautiful Weald at its northern ridge. It spans over 200 square miles where my 100,000 constituents reside in 100 towns and villages. Mine is one of those constituencies that lists just two of the place names in its title. When I promised in my election literature to put the residents of Bexhill and Battle first, this raised questions about why I was de-prioritising the needs of the 50,000 constituents who did not live in either of those two towns. The use of the word “constituency” in literature is often overlooked.
My constituency borders the East Sussex constituencies of Hastings and Rye, Lewes, Wealden and Eastbourne. As the only male MP in this cluster of blue constituencies, I pledge to be the champion for other minority groups in East Sussex.
Many in this House will be unaware that Bexhill is the birthplace of British motor racing, having staged the first ever automobile race on British soil in 1906. This race was orchestrated by the eighth Lord De La Warr and the organisation that latterly became the Royal Automobile Club. Bexhill was also the launch-pad of another engine of progress and mobility, being the location where the Prime Minister launched his leadership bid to the membership of the Conservative party in 2005.
Next year, we face a battle against the aggressors of Europe who intend to march over our land, vanquish our sovereignty and replace it with French-based custom and rule. Will our nation rise up and repel this threat, or will we be defeated and be ruled for generations from Europe? I refer, of course, to the re-enactment to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the battle of Hastings, when William the Conqueror triumphed over King Harold and his army in a field that now adjoins Battle abbey. I believe there will be another key determination on Europe during this term, and I welcome my Government’s commitment to give people a say in a more civilised manner than that accorded in 1066.
It is customary in a maiden speech to bestow the title of “the most beautiful constituency” on to the area where one serves. Having lived in this wonderful area for almost 10 years, this is an easy case to make. I am, however, conscious of my upbringing for the first 19 years of my life in the noble constituency of Buckingham. As this House knows, this is your constituency, Mr Speaker, where my mother, sisters and wider family still reside as your constituents. I think it best to surmise that the most beautiful constituencies are entitled by the first letter of their description.
I hail from a family of Labour-leaning trade unionists. Having crossed the dining room floor of 5 Gawcott Fields, Buckingham at the age of 16, I know what it takes to stand for the courage of one’s convictions and to suffer the harsh consequences of washing-up sanctions as a result. Yet while my family and I may differ in the means, the ends of giving people hope and support via an education, a job, housing, support in ill-health and strong community are the reasons why I sought election to this noble House. It is also the reason why I am grateful to be able to deliver my maiden speech in the segment of the debate of the most Gracious Speech that is dedicated to the economy.
For the last seven years, I have led a team of lawyers who have been unwinding the Lehman Brothers estate in Europe. This was the largest bankruptcy in world history. From a starting position of bankruptcy, £35 billion-worth of cash and assets have been recovered and distributed by our small team; the books have been balanced with creditors paid in full; and we now focus on paying a surplus. I am aware that a much more challenging turnaround has been performed by the Government team, led by those on the Front Bench. I support the balancing of the national books, returns to taxpayers and the desire to record a surplus.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister and Chancellor visited our region to announce the south coast plan. This is a plan that has already started with the delivery of a new link road between Bexhill and Hastings. When it opens this year, it will stand ready to deliver thousands of new jobs in a 42-acre business park, with 3,000 homes to attract new labour and give local people the chance of their own home and with a new country park bringing economic regeneration to my constituency. Thanks to the investment delivered by this Government, the future is positive for my constituents in Bexhill and Battle.
However, some of the most vulnerable and troubled of my constituents will always need a safety net, always require a defender and always need to rely on someone who will bat for them in their time of need. I pledge to work with all Members of this House in order that we may together provide this role—not just for my constituents in Bexhill and Battle, but for all constituents represented in this noble House.
I congratulate Huw Merriman on delivering a flawless maiden speech, and I thank Edward Miliband for delivering such a gracious speech, particularly given that he has not had much practice over the last nine years when it comes to delivering a speech from the Back Benches.
I want to speak briefly about a couple of matters that are mentioned in our amendment. First, I want to try to clarify the reason for the Conservative party’s opposition to the Human Rights Act. I think that it boils down to just two issues: foreign prisoners and prisoner voting. Members will know that the Home Secretary famously tried to kick-start her own leadership bandwagon with a Tory conference speech in which she promised to deport an illegal migrant whose removal was said to have been blocked by the courts on the basis of article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which concerns the right to a family life. She said:
“We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act...about the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat.”
Hold on. “But”, we are told,
“a spokesman for the Judicial Office at the Royal Courts of Justice, which issues statements on behalf of senior judges, said the pet had ‘had nothing to do with’ the judgement allowing the man to stay.”
So, unfortunately, it was just that: a story about the Human Rights Act—a story which just happened not to be true. If there are other aspects of the Act that the Government want to get rid of, such as the right to life or the right to privacy, I think we are entitled to know that, but at present there is no real clarity about the nature of their concerns.
I am sorry that Mr Clarke is no longer in the Chamber. I do not agree with him that it makes no difference how much a party spends on its campaign, particularly if there are ways of spending that get around the constituency spending limits, but I do agree with what he said about the European convention:
“I personally think it is unthinkable to leave the European convention on human rights…It is the way we uphold the values we strive for which are the rule of law, individual liberty, justice for all, regardless of gender. The convention is the bedrock of that.”
“on a daily basis, producing decisions of great importance in improving human rights in Europe which are inevitably ignored here because they tend to concern countries in eastern Europe”.
I agree with those respected Conservative politicians that scrapping the Human Rights Act and leaving the convention would be a disaster for the United Kingdom’s credibility. It would send countries such as Belarus and Russia the message that it is possible to take or leave, or pick and choose, human rights as if they were favourite dishes on a Chinese restaurant menu.
Let me now say something about the snoopers charter, which clearly has business implications. Start-up businesses would be required to collect and store data in a way that would not be in their interests. As we know, David Anderson has been examining the current surveillance and intercept laws. He handed a report to the Prime Minister on
I fear that the new report by Sir Nigel Sheinwald may well not be released, but I urge the Government to make a copy available to the public, even if it has to be redacted. It is quite possible that the report will show that there is no need for a snoopers charter, and that an international treaty could be used instead, allowing countries to agree to release data if required to do so by the security services.
Finally, let me touch briefly on the issue of the right to buy. During the general election campaign, there was clear agreement that we needed to build more homes, but I am afraid that the Government’s proposals are very unlikely to achieve that. When asked about the right to buy, the Mayor of London said that it was
“obviously one of the issues…that it would be potentially extremely costly to this body”,
meaning the Greater London Assembly. He added:
“We would have to make up the difference. Housing associations are private bodies, as we all know. It would involve massive subsidies.”
However, in a tweet—I think that he was tweeting as the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip rather than as Mayor—he said that the right to buy was a very good policy, and that the Conservatives’ proposals were
“a good way of ensuring it is funded.”
We need some clarity, but I suppose that those with two jobs often have to contradict themselves, and that is obviously what the Mayor has had to do.
Time does not allow me to touch on other matters, such as the Liberal Democrats’ free childcare and tax threshold. I should love to have an opportunity to discuss them on another occasion.
I call Chris White.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—not least for putting me higher up the list than you intended to yesterday.
I am grateful for the opportunity to support the Queen’s Speech, and, in particular, the measures that will build on the work done in the last Parliament to secure the continued growth of our economy. Whether we are talking about big manufacturing brands and household names such as Aga Rangemaster, Dennis Eagle and National Grid, or the new and exciting creative industries and companies such as Freestyle Games and Radiant Worlds, Warwick and Leamington is clearly a good place in which to do business. I also welcome Tata Technologies, which has unveiled plans to build its new European headquarters in my constituency next year.
I am delighted that the Government have announced plans to continue our economic growth by supporting business and encouraging job creation, with the ambition of achieving full employment. We have a fantastic record, on which we continue to build. In Warwick and Leamington, for example, the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants has fallen by 74% over the last five years, and the number of youth claimants has fallen by an astonishing 82%. Tribute must be paid to employers and employees for that achievement..
Warwick and Leamington is part of a region that has a tremendous manufacturing heritage. During the last Parliament, we saw a renewed and extremely welcome focus on manufacturing and the re-shoring of that vital sector of the economy—in the words of the Chancellor,
“the march of the makers”.
Manufacturing is growing in the United Kingdom, and in the midlands in particular. It makes up 54% of UK exports, and directly employs 2.6 million people. Growth has been positive in recent years. In 2014, sales in the UK car industry in the UK were the best for nearly 10 years, which was a particularly encouraging development. In manufacturing overall, there is an average productivity increase of 3.6% a year.
I believe that the Government must ensure that the United Kingdom continues to be a place where things are designed and made. That means supporting businesses, large and small, particularly those in the supply chains. We must also address the skills shortage, and focus on training young people to be equipped for the workforce. One way of supporting businesses is to create an environment in which we can foster collaboration and support between businesses. We are already seeing examples of that in the establishment of local enterprise partnerships and the growth of city deals throughout the country. The all-party parliamentary manufacturing group, of which I am co-chair, recently published a report about skills I am delighted to see that the other co-chair, Mr Sheerman, is in the Chamber.
I welcome it very much. I also recognise that the hon. Gentleman and I share a university. The students live largely in my constituency, but the University of Warwick is based in his. It is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The Royal Academy of Engineering has reported that the country will need an additional 800,000 graduates in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM—sectors by 2020. Encouraging students—boys and girls—to study STEM subjects at school and providing clear career advice to students from a young age will help to address this serious skills gap. We must ensure that our technical and further education colleges are given the recognition and assistance they need to achieve this.
We are particularly fortunate in Warwick and Leamington to have Warwickshire College, one of the best further education institutions in the country. We are also home to many students from Warwick University which, after only 50 years, is already one of the top 100 universities in the world. I have been privileged to see the quality of the training and education that both those institutions provide. Over many years now, this has reinforced for me the importance of tertiary and further education in providing the skills and training that young people need to succeed.
In terms of further education, Warwickshire College has entered into partnerships with local employers such as Rolls-Royce and Jaguar Land Rover to provide work experience and ensure that students are exposed to the workplace throughout their education. This collaborative approach provides the best of both worlds for students. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the new principal of Warwickshire College, Angela Joyce, to her post. I would like to reiterate the importance of support for our economy to create an environment that supports job creation and business growth. Additionally, giving our young people the skills that they need to get those jobs is just as vital, not least as we see existing and new sectors develop and grow.
I should like to start by congratulating you on your successful election yesterday to the post of Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr Deputy Speaker.
In the debates on the Queen’s Speech, I have heard “oneness” and “togetherness” mentioned on a number of occasions. That is music to my ears as a Unionist. I feel very much a part of this nation and I want to ensure that its economy grows with a spirit of togetherness. Binding us more closely into the Union will bring us closer together, allowing us to share our strengths and ensuring that our weaknesses are not made greater. Those concepts of oneness and togetherness are therefore welcome and heartening; they give us a sense of belief in the potential of what this new Government are offering us.
I am a proud to be a Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland, and from North Antrim, and as such I am bound to ask what the Queen’s Speech will specifically mean to my constituents, my people and my community. In the last Parliament, I welcomed the fact that the Government put their neck on the line and pursued a change in corporation tax specifically for Northern Ireland. They gave us the power to reduce our corporation tax rate, and I hope that the Assembly will use that power wisely and allow us seriously to compete with the nation with which we share a land border—the Irish Republic—whose corporation tax rate stands at 12.5%. I hope that the Assembly will take up that challenge and make that change, and I welcome the fact that Westminster gave us that power.
There are other things that this Government could do to enable Northern Ireland to increase its economic competitiveness and to be a stronger part of this nation. The tourism sector provides an example. I have the joy of having the Giants Causeway in my constituency. It is one of the finest natural locations for people to visit; indeed, it is the single largest visitor attraction on the entire island of Ireland. I welcome many people there each year; I just wish that they were all my voters. That attraction creates and stimulates employment and opportunity. Attracting more tourists to Northern Ireland is therefore part of the business plan for our country.
We currently have 60,000 people directly employed in the tourism sector, and a £1 billion a year spend in a country with a population of 1.7 million. That comprises £600 million being brought in by visitors to Northern Ireland and spent there, plus £400 million going out with people leaving Northern Ireland for tourism purposes. The Government could help by reducing VAT in the tourism sector, and I hope that they will look at my proposal, possibly even before
I would also like to see air passenger duty removed altogether from domestic flights. The Government kindly reduced it for long-haul flights, which helps the airport in South Antrim, the constituency next door to mine, but I would like to see it removed from local flights. If you are really serious about togetherness, don’t tax us when we fly to our nation’s capital!
The Government have done well in appointing a Minister for the northern powerhouse. Speaking as someone who represents the real northern powerhouse in our country—Northern Ireland—I hope that that Minister’s remit will be extended to allow him to look at the economic opportunities that flow from Ulster. Indeed, he could link in with Invest Northern Ireland and with our tourism, enterprise and trade to create great connectivity between the economic powerhouse being built in the north of England and the economic power base that could exist in Northern Ireland. That was certainly one of our priorities in the election campaign, and I look forward to that link being created.
The largest economic sector in Northern Ireland is agri-foods, and I hope that the Government will take a serious look at the opportunities created by our exporting our finest product—namely, food produce. One possibility could involve agricultural licences for the export trade with Asia, the far east and the middle east. Restrictions on exports are incredibly high at the moment, and I hope that our Government will make a serious effort to say to China and the middle east in particular, “Here is an opportunity for us to increase our trade and expand our agri-foods industry in Northern Ireland.” I hope that the Government will consider that opportunity.
In the weeks ahead, Northern Ireland will face a political crisis relating to welfare reform. I hope that the Government recognise that they have a serious responsibility to hold firmly to the line that the Prime Minister expressed yesterday when he said that we want to see the full implementation of the agreement that was struck in Belfast in the latter part of last year. Only by having economic sense and recognising that we cannot spend beyond our means will we be able to take Northern Ireland out of the way of the economic harm that those opposing welfare reform in our country wish on our land.
Thank you very much Mr Deputy Speaker for calling me to speak this afternoon. I congratulate you on your election. I am delighted to speak after my hon. Friend Huw Merriman. I, too, have a specialism in insolvency, but neither of us can claim to be as expert in that subject as Gordon Brown. I am also pleased to have spoken after Ian Paisley, who spoke so well about the value of unity.
I have listened with much admiration for a number of days to the eloquent and passionate maiden speeches on both sides of the House. It is an absolute privilege to be part of our British democracy. South East Cambridgeshire, the constituency I am fortunate to represent, has not troubled this House with a maiden speech for 28 years. It has been well served by the distinguished Sir James Paice for all that period. Sir James is an honourable, loyal and principled man, who has throughout his career stood up for farmers both within and outside the constituency. I know that he will be sorely missed in that community and many others.
Many presume that South East Cambridgeshire is a safe Conservative seat. I am not sure that there is such a thing as a safe seat of any kind any more, but even if there were, that is not a term that should be used to describe my constituency, which has had a chequered, even colourful, political history. The Isle of Ely, which falls within it, was the seat of Clement Freud. He was a man of many rare attributes, being a night club manager, a dog-food commercial actor and a Liberal Democrat, all of which fit together surprisingly well.
The constituency was represented by Francis Pym—yes, a Conservative, but not always a supporter of his Prime Minister—who once said, “Landslides do not on the whole produce effective government.” So our Prime Minister can rest assured of an effective and smooth five years. And it was the home of Oliver Cromwell, who defeated the Scots at Dunbar, incorporated Scotland into his protectorate and transported the Scots as slaves to the colonies. Now, there is an answer to the West Lothian question—but not one, of course, that I would recommend.
Standing in the shoes of such colourful and distinguished predecessors is difficult, but it has been made much easier by the charm and friendliness of the people of South East Cambridgeshire. The constituency includes the city of Ely, the town of Soham and many villages. It is the only constituency in the country that contains a racecourse, a science park and a thriving farming sector. The businesses in these areas are leaders in their fields, competing successfully on the international markets. They are part of our growing economy in the east of England. Our Government have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to support and nurture such successes, and I am delighted that our Government are doing precisely that.
But I am also mindful that economic success is not universal throughout the constituency. As the daughter of a teacher who taught in a state primary school in a very deprived area in Leeds, and the granddaughter of a headmaster who founded a technical school in Leicester, recognising as he did that academic education is not the right route for all children, I know that education can transform lives, that education is a driver of social mobility, and that ambition and aspiration are not and should not be the preserve of the few, but of the many.
Equality of opportunity is at the heart of any respectable democratic country. A good education should be available to all, no matter what background they come from or where they live, which is why it is so important that we have a fair funding formula for our education nationally—a formula that provides per pupil funding which is more consistent across the country. Ambition and aspiration are now being talked about by both major parties, and rightly so, but that should not be limited to aspiration for individuals alone. It should encompass our vision for our country. A small but great Britain has played a disproportionate role in world affairs for centuries. A strong Britain should continue to play a key role in our international affairs.
My great-grandparents fled to this country with nothing, with no possessions and no money, not even speaking the language, and Britain gave them a home. It gave them hope and it gave them a future. They integrated into our society, such that my grandfather was awarded a CBE for services to education. I am so proud to be part of this great country and to be in a position to give back to our communities. It is a huge privilege to have been chosen to represent the people of South East Cambridgeshire and I will do my utmost to serve them.
It is a pleasure to follow Lucy Frazer. One of the few things I like about this new Parliament is the sight of more women on all the Benches around us.
As my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband reminded us, the Queen promised last Wednesday that the Government would adopt a one-nation approach, yet in practice this Government’s approach to the economy has divided our nation. What brings a nation together? A sense of fair play, underpinned, in my view, by universal human rights, and a sense that everyone can depend on good public services when they need them. We can be united by confidence in a fair tax system and spending that is efficient, where our money is not wasted. When I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I was constantly struck by how many voters watched our hearings, praising my right hon. Friend Margaret Hodge for her determined defence of the taxpayer’s pound. Their enthusiasm showed that when we in Parliament stop the Government wasting citizens’ hard-earned money, they are not in the least turned off by politics.
But politicians must be scrupulously honest about what we do. The plan to make it illegal to increase taxes looks like a rhetorical device. What is the penalty going to be? Will the Chancellor go to jail if, for example, he increases VAT on books to equalise the treatment of electronic reading material and printed books? The trumpeted plans to exempt the lowest paid from any form of income tax are an example of a policy that divides rather than unites. It has been dressed up as help to the low paid, but every study shows that the majority of the benefit goes to families in the top half of earners, whose tax bill as a share of their income will fall further than that of the poorer half of the community.
My objection to this policy is that it divides society, separating us into givers and takers—those who pay into the system and those who take out—breeding a culture of blame and suspicion. Of course, we all pay tax. We all pay VAT when we buy things, but the greatest proportion of tax, and often the most resented, is income tax. It is fairer than other taxes, all of which take up more of the household budgets of the poorest people than of those who are wealthier. Paying tax, as we too often fail to remind citizens, is a symptom of social solidarity. It is our subscription to civilised society where we can all enjoy public parks, send our children to schools where they have an equal chance to learn, and have a health service we can rely on when we are ill. One of the defining characteristics of Britain is a strong sense of fair play, but if no one explains the unfair consequences of plans to change tax thresholds, the one-nation label that the Government claim will camouflage this unfairness.
I represent a successful town. It attracts inward investment to the United Kingdom. It is an immigrant town. Slough residents are aspirational, work hard and generate wealth. It is the third most productive town in the United Kingdom, contributing approximately £8 billion to the national economy—double the UK average. However, that growth generates losers as well as winners. In our local housing market, rising prices push up GDP figures while the rest of the economy drags, and as a result home owners see their assets grow while everyone else spends unsustainable proportions of their income on rent or on struggling to buy.
The plans to sell off housing association properties at a discount—properties that are already occupied by secure tenants—is a gross example of taking assets available to the many people who have housing need, destroying the legacy of philanthropists and mutual aid societies who created those housing associations, and giving those assets to a few sitting tenants who can raise a mortgage. That is the Conservative way—to take from the many and give to the few.
GDP does not tell us how the benefits of growth are distributed—who wins within the population and who loses. Some people get no financial benefit at all. It is estimated that unpaid childcare contributes nearly three quarters of GDP. Carers of ill and disabled relatives save more than the entire spend of the national health service. Yet UK workers who are employed and paid now receive only half of GDP, whereas in 1976 the figure was two thirds. That rate of decline is unmatched by any developed economy or any other industrialised economy. The employees’ share of the economic pie is now the lowest ever recorded and it will keep decreasing because of this Government’s plans to cut in-work benefits. Other countries, most notably Scandinavian countries, have worker representatives on company boards so that meaningful discussions about sharing corporate wealth can take place. Sharing wealth equitably should be part of corporate social responsibility, and those eschewing it should not be given taxpayer-funded contracts.
I urge the Government to match their one-nation rhetoric with action. If they do, we could have an economy where hard work is well rewarded, whether it is work by a mum bringing up babies or a banker borrowing and lending. If everyone is confident that their aspiration will be rewarded, they will do as my constituents do: invest in their skills, work hard and grow our whole nation’s economy.
It is a pleasure to contribute to the Queen’s Speech debate today and to congratulate all those who made their maiden speeches, particularly my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer. She made a fine maiden speech, true to the traditions of those who have gone before her in that constituency. She talked about what is at the heart of this Queen’s Speech and this Government—mobility and aspiration for all. We will continue to strive for that throughout this Parliament.
Like my hon. and learned Friend, other hon. Members have paid generous tribute to their predecessors. One tribute, however, has not been paid, and I have given Joan Ryan notice that she made no mention of her predecessor. I am going to correct that wrong—that omission—and pay tribute to Nick de Bois, my former colleague, a neighbour and friend. He was a great asset to this House, and Members on both sides can recognise his contribution to this House and to his constituency. It is appropriate to pay tribute to him in this debate on our economy, because it is right to recognise his contribution to supporting our growing economy. It was Nick de Bois who initiated the jobs fairs that many colleagues have taken up throughout the country. They have provided great results, and he championed jobs and apprenticeships in Enfield. He also championed trade envoys. Again, that has been taken up by the Government and we have envoys to many different countries now. The fruits of his labour are having great effect, with us at last turning around the legacy of decades of underinvestment in exports and working with UK Trade & Investment to produce great results.
Nick de Bois has left a great legacy, as I saw when we co-hosted our latest jobs fair, at Southbury leisure centre in February. We saw hundreds of people benefiting from hundreds of jobs and having their lives transformed. We are talking not just about the stats or about plans, but about real lives that have been transformed. Many people responded to that jobs fair and told us how much they had benefited, not least from the hard work of Nick de Bois. He has left that legacy and he can be proud of it. Our Government can also be proud of that legacy, as we strive towards full employment.
The right hon. Member for Enfield North did talk about our local Chase Farm hospital, another thing Nick de Bois championed and campaigned hard on. Although she mentioned it, she missed a number of points. There is a contrast to make here with the previous Labour Government, who were full of broken and empty promises. Before the election, Nick and I secured the business case, which was signed off by the Treasury. We secured £270 million for redevelopment at Chase Farm hospital. That is significant because it means that we will have a modern, 21st-century local hospital with eight operating theatres. We will have all the existing services put together in a 32,000 square metre building.
That is very important, and what is the contrast with it? It certainly contrasts with what we heard from the right hon. Lady, who said that this was going to gut Chase Farm hospital. Far from gutting it, this is going to breathe new life into decrepit buildings left behind by the last Labour Government. The contrast is very clear: we need a strong economy to be able to have a strong national health service. We needed the strong economy to be able to ensure that this was based on taxpayers’ money—£120 million-worth of taxpayers’ money, as part of a wider £270 million deal—and not on the private finance initiative. Our local hospitals have been beset by that. The millstone around the necks of Barnet hospital and of North Middlesex University hospital was PFI. That is typical of the previous Labour Government. They maxed out the credit card and now we are paying off those debts. Sadly, our health service is struggling and challenged because of it.
I wish to highlight two areas that will have a big effect on our economy and our society. They will be a litmus test of something we talk about a lot: a one-nation party and one-nation Government. The first of those areas is the family. We now have a family test, introduced by the Prime Minister last August. It means that every Department will be held to account for the impact of its policies on the family. Will the Minister say what the impact was of the whole Queen’s Speech? A summary of that might be useful. It is important that we do not just have a tick-box exercise; the Government have had tests in the past, but this needs to have real meaning. It would be good to continue to work with The Relationships Alliance to ensure that there is real meaning and to show that we are true on our deep commitment to the family. We all know that family breakdown costs—it has been estimated at £48 billion a year, perhaps more—and it is the poorest households that get hit.
Two thirds of 15-year-olds in the poorest 20% of society no longer live with both parents. Our party, however, supports marriage loud and clear. Towards the end of the last Parliament, there was the welcome introduction of the marriage tax allowance. It is small, at £212, but it is a start and I want the Government to go a lot further. At the heart of our one-nation concern is a concern for others. Nowhere can we see that better than in our concern for strong marriages and strong families. The good support for childcare is welcome, but let us broaden that understanding and support marriage as well.
Another test is how we support complex needs. I welcome the fact that in the autumn statement there was real support for the troubled families programme, which has transformed many lives and saved a huge amount of money. We can work that model into cases with multiple needs. By working hard for strong families and those with the most complex needs, including housing, addiction and educational needs, we will pass the test and truly be a one-nation party and one-nation Government.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate and to make my maiden speech. I congratulate you on your re-election and praise the maiden speeches we have heard so far today from Huw Merriman and Lucy Frazer, despite our political and, as has been outlined, historical differences.
I hope that you will be patient with new Members, Mr Deputy Speaker, as we get used to our new surroundings. As a trade unionist, I am getting used to the rules not just of this House but of this great city. That fact was underlined to me when I was on the London underground and my hon. Friends told me that I had to stand to the right at all times. I retorted, “Never.” However, I have been assured by many experts that that is to do with health and safety and regulation, so I can assure the House that I will comply with that request—on the tube, not in this place.
I thank the voters of Glasgow South West for giving me the honour and privilege of representing them in this Parliament. I pay a genuine and gracious tribute to my immediate predecessor, Ian Davidson. Ian Davidson served this House for 23 years, latterly as Chair of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He was a strong champion for workers’ rights, including his work on blacklisting, and I pledge to take on that work during my time in this place. He was a robust debater and he was always civil and respectful to me although, as they say in Glasgow, there was always a fair bit of banter. Indeed, in his maiden speech, he said of his immediate predecessor, Jim Sillars:
“I think my predecessor made a contribution to Scottish politics which should not be underestimated or overlooked even by those who disagree with his content or style, or both.”—[Hansard, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 264.]
Let me gently but firmly associate myself with the words of my immediate predecessor, about my immediate predecessor. I wish Ian well in whatever he decides to do next.
Glasgow South West is an area rooted in the history of the struggles of the working class, with a long tradition of representatives who fought for the underdog and gave voice to the voiceless. The constituency stretches from Govan to Pollok, featuring Ibrox Stadium, the home of Rangers football club. As a proud Partick Thistle supporter—a pleasure I share with my hon. Friend Ms Black—I recognise what Rangers football club means to its supporters around the world as well as in Glasgow.
The constituency also includes Bellahouston Park, with the beautiful House for an Art Lover, designed by the world-famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It is a site where not one but two Popes have celebrated mass, which I was privileged to attend on both occasions. The Govan shipyards are iconic and serve as a reminder that heavy industry and manufacturing should have a place in our economy.
My constituency is rich in history, but I want to highlight just one more point. Over the next three years, all the nations of the UK will commemorate the sacrifices our forebears made in the first world war. It is my belief that all aspects of that period should be taught and remembered. In Govan, the great Mary Barbour led rent strikes fighting against unscrupulous landlords who increased rents on the home front during that time of sacrifice on the western front. That might have been a century ago, but we have come full circle as the exploitation of one of the most basic human needs, shelter and a place to raise a family, is once more a key issue in this Parliament. The Remember Mary Barbour Association does fantastic work.
There is not enough time for me to tell all the stories and outline all the hopes of the people in my constituency, but I was struck by the fact that they all want the message delivered loud and clear that they and their families deserve better. We have heard much about the importance of fostering aspiration and celebrating wealth creators. I believe that everyone has aspiration, and it concerns me when the welfare debate is reduced to judging who is deserving and undeserving, seeking the politics of grievance and envy, sowing the seeds of division within our communities.
Welfare sanctions are dragging people to the point of despair, food banks are the only growth industry in too many communities, and the daily grind of low-paid workers on insecure but highly flexible contracts is a world away from the privileged workplace I now find myself in.
I was elected to speak truth to power in this place and to stand up for the real wealth creators—the low-paid, long-hours, insecure workers who keep the economic wheels turning despite the poor treatment too many receive at the hands of their employers.
I come to this House after 25 years working in public services, and almost 20 serving as a Unison activist, representing working people on a daily basis. The trade union movement gave me a political education and the confidence to stand for election, and I know that this experience is shared with other Members who did not have a privileged start in life.
We live in a global world, and I believe that a different approach needs to be taken in the 21st century. We need to step away from the 19th century world of work and the devil-take-the-hindmost approach to social security. That is an economic illiteracy that is not only immoral but ends up costing more in the long run in damage to individuals, families and communities.
We in the SNP come to this House to argue that social justice must be at the heart of the economic debate—that we should put people before profits and bairns before bombs—and, as the STUC puts it, that a better way is possible.
May I congratulate Chris Stephens on his maiden speech, as well as my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer and my hon. Friend Huw Merriman? They all included brilliant eulogies to their predecessors’ political careers. Mr Speaker, you will not get that from me, but for the very best of reasons. Every Conservative Member of this House will be delighted to hear that the political service of my predecessor, now transformed, butterfly-like, into the noble Lord Maude of Horsham, continues in rude health in another place. I have no doubt that his distinguished career in the Treasury, the Foreign Office and latterly in the Cabinet Office will get yet more distinguished as Minister for Trade. If he is as effective at boosting exports as he was at cutting waste, we can look forward to a sustained and ever-growing trade surplus.
In addition to the wise advice of the noble Lord Maude, I am indebted to one of my constituents, the right hon. Sir Peter Hordern, for his advice. He is one of a trio of Conservative MPs who for no less than 93 years represented Horsham during the last century. Major Freddie Gough held the bridge at Arnhem. Lord Winterton went, over a career of 47 years, from being the baby of the House to being the Father of the House. I see she is in her place, Mr Speaker, and I hope that she will accept the compliment when I say that I sincerely hope that Ms Black will still be gracing this Chamber, for the sake of our country, in half a century’s time.
Horsham is an ancient town, represented here since 1295, but on occasion it has fallen into bad habits. “A Parliamentary History of Horsham” recalls how in the epic struggle between the Tories and the Liberals it moved on from the more prosaic forms of electoral vice to the mass kidnap of each other’s voters. The situation was improved by the addition to the borough constituency of large swathes of rural West Sussex, which we still enjoy. From Rudgwick in the west it sweeps down to Billingshurst and over to Balcombe and Ardingly, the site of the South of England Show. It contains Wakehurst Place, the country home of the Royal Botanic Gardens and the largest seed bank in the world. The north takes in Crawley Down and Copthorne, once the haunt of prize fighters and smugglers, now home to far more respectable residents.
A whole series of opinion surveys consistently rates Horsham as a great place to live and work. There may be some cynicism in this House about opinion polls these days, but I can assure the House that these, at least, can be relied on. The constituency is proud of its economic independence and benefits from a burgeoning small business sector with a vast range of entrepreneurial and innovative industries. It has prospered in no small measure from the economic success fostered by the
Government. The growth in the number of new businesses over the past few years is matched in steepness only by the fall in the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants.
I am one of few new Members who can honestly claim that, no matter how reviled the status of being a Member of Parliament, I have managed to improve my standing in the world, because I was previously employed by an investment bank. However, I have also spent time in Her Majesty’s Treasury, and would like to pay tribute to the Government’s handling of our economic recovery. The robust underpinning of the country’s economy over the past five years gives confidence to the small businesses in my constituency that under this Government they can continue to invest, expand and prosper.
Alongside economic success, Horsham has a strong social conscience; it is home to many charities and is determined to ensure that this and future generations can continue to enjoy our countryside and benefit from excellent services. The area has been subject to substantial recent development, and residents are concerned about the impact on the environment and the supporting local infrastructure, not least the provision of NHS services. That is why we welcomed the Conservative manifesto commitment to encourage brownfield development and why we were delighted to see the trenchant support for enhanced primary health care services. The current building and infrastructure concerns would be as nothing, however, were Gatwick airport to be permitted to build a second runway, the impact of which would be profound right across the constituency and far beyond.
Horsham has real concerns on which I will engage in the coming years, but at least it is certain that under a Conservative Government its economy will flourish and that, as outlined in the Gracious Speech, this Parliament will be focused on ensuring that the increasing wealth created will benefit all and that all our citizens can aspire and prosper.
May I start by congratulating you, Mr Speaker, on your re-election? I also congratulate the three Deputy Speakers, particularly my hon. Friend Natascha Engel, who I think will be an excellent Deputy Speaker, fulfilling the potential she showed in the previous Parliament as an excellent Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
I congratulate Jeremy Quin on his eloquent maiden speech and wish him luck in his work of representing his constituents and his party in this place. I pay tribute to all the new Members who have made their maiden speeches so far. We have heard some excellent maiden speeches, delivered confidently and with real style and polish.
Today’s debate is broadly about fiscal issues relating to the deficit and debt, but growth, of course, has a key part to play in reducing the deficit. Indeed, our nation’s prosperity depends on robust economic growth. We in the Opposition absolutely understand the need for economic growth based on wealth creation. While the majority of Opposition colleagues were fighting hard for manufacturing in the previous Parliament, my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman, joint chair of the all-party group on manufacturing, and my hon. Friend Mr Wright were also making the case for an industrial strategy to underpin and help manufacturing to grow its share of the economy. That has to be a key part of the way forward.
In that context, I welcome the Government’s northern powerhouse initiative. Indeed, I have long argued for the devolution of powers in England and believe that this country can be one nation only on the basis of a properly thought through devolution settlement for England. However, the real danger with the northern powerhouse project, as it currently stands, is that devolution, as promised by the legislation on the table, will become discredited unless it is accompanied by changes to the distribution of funding by central Government.
We all know that the north of England and large parts of provincial England lose out on local government funding. There are huge disparities in how local government is funded. The issue affects transport as well: transport funding from central Government is distributed on a really unfair and uneven basis—London enjoys transport investment way beyond anything enjoyed by the north of England. The danger affects the regions of the UK that are already disadvantaged in trailing behind London on GDP and economic growth; the disparities could become even more deeply entrenched unless there is an effective Government strategy to address the issue properly. We cannot ignore the danger. The north of England, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire and the west riding of Yorkshire will not grow as they need to unless the Government address those disparities.
Finally, I want to develop a little further the argument for a more comprehensive, better thought through approach to devolution, because the other danger is that rural areas, as well as suburban areas, will feel increasingly alienated and left out by concepts such as the northern powerhouse. Every Member needs to take cognisance of that danger, and we need a non-partisan approach to dealing with it.
Take Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire as the classic example. Between those two city regions, there is the Peak District national park—what we call the “Dark Peak”. Nothing is on the table at the moment to integrate that area into a devolutionary settlement, yet it has a key role to play in the economic growth of the north of England. That issue must be dealt with. Of course it is true that big cities will always be the motor of our economy, but that must not mean that we ignore the contribution that smaller towns and rural areas can make or their potential for economic growth.
I finish with a good example of how this can be achieved. Among the biggest contributors to the manufacturing activity of this country are food and farming. Food manufacturing is a huge player that contributes billions to our GDP. There is no better example of how activities in rural areas and the produce of the land are transformed into the food on our plates. Those two activities, properly integrated in a devolutionary settlement, can help deliver for the economic growth of this country in future.
Order. I am going to reduce the time limit to five minutes, so that as many Members as possible can speak.
Many congratulations on your re-election, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also congratulate all the new Members who have made such excellent maiden speeches.
I support the Queen’s Speech because of its ambition and direction of travel. The Prime Minister has rightly stated that every part of this country has a stake in our economic success. Much good work was done by the previous Government, but there is a great deal more to do and there will be plenty of potential pitfalls along the way.
The Bills in the Queen’s Speech provide the framework for developing sustained prosperity right across the country and it will be important to scrutinise them closely as they progress through this House and the other place. In some cases, the devil will be in the detail; no stone should be left unturned in the pursuit of good legislation that works for the whole United Kingdom.
For too long, economic policy in the UK has been centralised and top down. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is correct in his assessment that the model of running everything from London has failed and created an unbalanced economy. It has become clear that the man in Whitehall does not know best. I support the ambition and determination to create a northern powerhouse, but it is important that all other parts of the country should have the same opportunity and access to the necessary funds.
For my part, I wholly endorse the words of my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst in wanting an East Anglian powerhouse. British people talk about the weather; we East Anglians talk about infrastructure. That is because we do not have very much of it, and what we do have does not work very well. In my Waveney constituency, the nearest motorway is in Holland; our railways resemble an elephants’ graveyard where trains come to die; and there are some very rural areas where broadband coverage is spasmodic, at the very least. I commend the Prime Minister for stating:
“We will make sure everyone has the infrastructure they need to succeed.”
In the previous Parliament, he and the Government that he led put their money where their mouth was. In this Parliament, we have to deliver, and get these roads and bridges built and superfast broadband made available to all.
The projects for which funding has been provided must be built on time. The preparatory work for upgrading the A47 must be carried out promptly. The 16-month period that has been suggested before any construction work begins is not acceptable. We must use the opportunity presented by the rail franchise tender to deliver better railways with reliable, fast and comfortable trains that run on time. With the third crossing project in Lowestoft, locally we will complete the necessary studies that the Government have enabled us to do and then work with them to get this very important piece of local infrastructure built.
I shall briefly mention three industries important to Waveney that have the potential to contribute a great deal to the local economy but need to overcome a variety of obstacles. First, the oil and sector faces significant challenges created by the dramatic fall in crude oil prices. Jobs are being lost, including at AKD Engineering in Lowestoft, which closes this month. The Government have recognised the problem and came forward in the Budget with proposals that restructure the taxation regime. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that that should boost North sea oil production by 15% by the end of the decade. That is welcome, but I urge the Treasury to work closely with the industry to bring in further measures in next month’s Budget if necessary.
The offshore wind industry can bring significant benefits to the Waveney economy, and in the past five years work has been put in place to enable it to do so. We need to get those wind farms off the East Anglian coast built during this five-year term.
The fishing industry is also in need of support. My hon. Friend Richard Benyon helped to reform the common fisheries policy. We now need to ensure that the small fishermen who make up the Lowestoft fleet have fair access and a fair share of quota.
The proposals announced in the Queen’s Speech are welcome, but there is much work to do. No parts of the country must be forgotten. On infrastructure, we must press on to get roads and bridges built. There must be no no-go areas as regards policy, particularly in fishing.
At the beginning of this debate we heard an intense political exchange about the right speed of deficit reduction. We will continue to see a big political debate about the appropriate size and scope of the public sector, but where we have consensus is on the importance of effective and efficient use of public money. Everyone wants the taxpayer to get good value for money.
We all have our stories of Whitehall waste. My low point was when I was a Minister. I was sitting in my office and two men came in to water the plants. They watered two plants, and then I pointed to another one on the windowsill and said, “What about that one?” They went over and looked very carefully at it, felt the leaves, and then said, “That’s not ours”, because plant watering had been contracted out. Before Government Members suggest that that was confined to the Labour years, I have to tell them that after tabling a series of parliamentary questions in the spring, I found that Departments are renting desks, including one Department that was paying the fabulous sum of £10,309.63 a year per desk.
If we are to get to grips with these problems, we must ask why they happen. It is important to root out waste in individual programmes, but we will only succeed if we look at the underlying patterns and problems. There are recurrent issues, including in large information and communications technology projects. For example, in past years the Rural Payments Agency and tax credits were a problem, and this Government are now running into similar issues with universal credit. Procurement capacity in Whitehall needs to be improved. It is not good, because the route to the top is through being able to write clever policy papers, not through doing good deals.
The transparency of value for money when services are contracted out is another problem. We have to hold to account the Sercos, Capitas and G4Ss of this world, because they now control billions of pounds, and they cannot hide behind the excuse of “commercial in confidence” any longer. We are seeing unnecessarily complex financial arrangements, excessive returns to bankers and consultants, and not the cheapest deal for taxpayers. Only this week, problems were highlighted in the health service, with rip-off agency fees for doctors and nurses who are being paid more than those on regular contracts, and the revolving door for senior executives. No one thinks it is acceptable for someone to retire on a Monday, collect a lump sum on the Tuesday and then go back into the same job on the Wednesday.
As a country, we are now spending £740 billion. If we can achieve an efficiency improvement of 2% on that £740 billion, the savings would amount to £13 billion. Some people would want to use that for tax cuts, whereas some would want to use it to bolster public services, but it is definitely money worth finding. Parliament, including the Select Committees, has a key part to play in that. By fulfilling our role, we can improve Government’s long-term capacity to deliver their plans to set out and do what they intend to do.
If we work in an incisive, open and transparent manner, we can raise trust in the political process. By shining a light and not being afraid to challenge those in positions of power, we can make a real difference. By doing so in an effective way, we will raise confidence in politics, Parliament and the political process, as I am sure all Members of this House want to do.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech as part of today’s debate. It is a pleasure to follow Helen Goodman and I would like to congratulate all the Members who have also made maiden speeches today.
It is a real honour to be standing in this most historic Chamber, representing the residents of Cannock Chase, a constituency in Staffordshire—the county in which I was born and brought up—and to join one of the former Members of Parliament for Cannock Chase, my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth.
My immediate predecessor, Aidan Burley, won the seat in historic fashion in 2010. Since that time, Aidan has worked very hard on behalf of Cannock Chase residents, and I would like to thank him. His successful jobs fairs helped to contribute towards the significant fall in unemployment. He spearheaded the campaign to save our fantastic Cannock Chase hospital, and he campaigned for the investment that will lead to the electrification of the Chase line. I wish Aidan the best of luck for the future and for life with his wife, Jodie.
The constituency takes its name from the forest, much of which lies within the parliamentary boundaries of Cannock Chase. The Chase was designated an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1958 and comprises a wide range of landscapes and wildlife, including a herd of fallow deer. Over the years, the Chase has become a destination for visitors. Whether one is a mountain biker, a runner or a walker, there is something for everyone. Every November, the Cannock rotary holds a 10 km run through the Chase. I would welcome any Member who wants to join me on that run—the scenery is stunning.
Bordering the forest are the constituency’s three main towns: Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley. Each has a unique character, but they have one commonality: a strong history and proud heritage in coalmining. One of Cannock’s best-known former residents and miners is a well-known Member of this House: the Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend Mr McLoughlin. He is well loved and highly regarded by the residents of Cannock Chase. Our mining heritage helps to explain the incredibly strong sense of community that is felt in Cannock Chase. I am proud to say that we have a wide variety of local charities, voluntary groups and community groups.
The skyline in Rugeley is a reminder of the past and a sign of the future. I am pleased to say that it demonstrates the extent to which the area has evolved and adapted to industrial change. Once, there stood two power stations and a colliery; now, there is one power station, with new industrial and business parks opposite it. It is home to one of Amazon’s distribution centres, as well as to many small and medium-sized businesses. Such small and medium-sized businesses are the engine of our economy and, more particularly, of Cannock Chase in the 21st century.
Before being elected, I had a career in business. Business is in my blood, which is why I chose to speak today. I am sure that my late father, Humphrey Milling, who was once the managing director of a local tool manufacturing business, Britool, which had its own connections to Cannock, would have been pleased that supporting local businesses is one of my key priorities. He would also have been delighted to see the election of a pro-business Conservative majority Government.
It is thriving local businesses that have created jobs for local hard-working families and that are giving opportunities to our young people. I look forward to working with local businesses, training providers and young people to help get as many of those young people as possible into work.
The Cannock Chase that I have described today is one of aspiration and opportunity. I look forward to representing the area in this Parliament to ensure that it becomes an even better place to live and work.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I offer my congratulations on your re-election. It is a privilege to follow Amanda Milling. I pay tribute to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today and commend their excellent contributions.
For new Members like me, speaking in this Chamber for the first time is a deeply humbling experience. It is made all the more humbling for me by an awareness of the formidable predecessors who have represented the area that I call home and that I now have the privilege of serving in this place. It was on Blackheath in 1876, in an open-air meeting attended by 10,000 of his Greenwich constituents—“those rabid cockneys” in the words of Disraeli—that Gladstone first announced the Bulgarian horrors, and in so doing reforged his links with popular radicalism and set himself on a journey towards a second Ministry.
It was in Woolwich in 1903 that Will Crooks, the son of a ship’s stoker who had endured the privations of the workhouse, won a spectacular by-election victory over his Conservative and Unionist opponent to become the fourth ever Labour Member of Parliament. It was Woolwich in February 1950 that gave Labour’s greatest Foreign Secretary, Ernie Bevin, a final berth from which to serve out his days as one of the chief architects of our post-war world.
Over the course of 23 years of distinguished service, my immediate predecessor, the right hon. Nick Raynsford, more than earned his place among such illustrious company. I would like to pay tribute to him, not just because it is customary but out of a deep sense of gratitude and respect. Nick’s efforts over many decades helped transform Greenwich and Woolwich, and his contribution to our national life was no less impressive. As well as an effective Minister and a skilled parliamentarian, Nick was a diligent and caring constituency MP who fought tenaciously to better the lives of his constituents. He was, I know, admired on both sides of the House, and it is both an honour and an enormous challenge to take on his mantle.
Greenwich and Woolwich has an extremely rich history, as the millions of tourists who visit my constituency each year discover. The historical centre of Greenwich is a breathtaking blend of history, science and architecture. It has been the residence of Tudor kings, was the birthplace of classical architecture in England, is the spiritual home of Britain’s maritime past, was the place where the heavens were first comprehensively mapped out, and is where the world’s prime meridian runs across an ordinary London pavement.
Yet as imperceptibly bound to its maritime and monarchical past as my constituency is, it has another proud history—one that is far too often overlooked, but which is just as inspiring. It is a history of industry, innovation, progressive social change and self-organisation, and above all of people who have come from every part of these islands and beyond living together and looking out for one another in diverse and tolerant communities.
The area was once a great manufacturing hub that teemed with the noise of shipbuilding, engineering, Europe’s biggest glassworks at Charlton and the colossal Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, birthplace of both the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers, which employed 70,000 people at its peak during the first world war. It has been a centre of research and discovery, which in the 1850s produced the earliest telegraph cables and the first to be laid across the Atlantic, by Brunel’s vast ship the Great Eastern. It has been a breeding ground of progressive politics, which gave birth to one of Britain’s first building societies, the Woolwich Provident, one of its first co-operatives, the Royal Arsenal co-op, and the first mass membership Labour party. It is a place whose people, confronted over the years by hardship, industrial decline, violence and sadly even terrorism, have none the less remained resilient, vibrant and optimistic for the future.
My constituency is now undergoing rapid change. Much of that change is extremely positive, but significant challenges remain, and not just how we get Charlton Athletic back into the premiership. Inequality, deprivation, poverty, endemic low pay, long-term and youth unemployment, strained public transport services and a chronic lack of genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy—all these issues will need to be tackled in the years ahead if we are to have an economy that is sustainable and works for all my constituents. I am determined to do everything in my power to make sure that they are tackled in the years ahead, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that I have been given by the people of Greenwich and Woolwich to be their voice in this place and the champion and servant of this great constituency.
May I be the first to congratulate you while you are in the Chair on assuming your position, Madam Deputy Speaker? As it happens, this is turning out to be a Parliament of firsts for me. Last week I think I was the first Member in this Parliament to be granted an urgent question, and I am the first Member to have been called by you. I am tempted to ask whether you can enjoin the House not to interrupt me, on the basis that this is perhaps a maiden speech. I say that because, after I was granted the urgent question last week, someone at Sky kindly tweeted that a new Member had been granted an urgent question. I have obviously made an extraordinary impact on the media over the course of the past few years.
May I also congratulate all the Members who have made their maiden speeches today? They are my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer, Chris Stephens, my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) and for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) and Matthew Pennycook. They will all obviously have fine parliamentary careers, although I remind them that in 1837, when Disraeli, whom we have already heard about twice in this debate, made his maiden speech, he ended it, after a considerable amount of barracking, with the words:
“I will sit down now, but the time will come when you will hear me.”
Well, the House has heard from all those Members today, and it is much better for having done so.
I have sat through the entirety of the debate, and if I may I would like to commend Edward Miliband on one of the finest speeches I have heard during my five years in this place. It was a speech that, in common with my hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen, I am pleased he did not make before the election. It was a speech that, essentially, could have come from the Conservative Benches, because it was a speech about one nationism. One nationism is what this
Government and this party stand for. The Gracious Speech, on which we are debating the Address, is a speech about one nation. It is a speech about this country over the next five years, and about what the Government’s plans, on which we were returned with a significant majority, are going to achieve.
Time is very limited in this debate given the number of speakers, but there are three areas on which I wish to very briefly focus my remarks. I understand that this is principally a debate on the economy, but the first area relates to the Human Rights Act 1998. A rumour has grown up on the Conservative Benches—or at least that is what I hear from my hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, who is now the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice—that I am somehow going to be difficult in relation to the Human Rights Act, given my background and role as a lawyer. That rumour is misplaced.
I stood on a manifesto—I want to remind Conservative Members that we all stood on a manifesto—that said we would replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. That does not need to involve our withdrawal from the European convention. What we have said, and what we said in the manifesto in 2010, is that the Act can and should be replaced by a British Bill of Rights which is justiciable in the courts of this country, whether they are the courts of England and Wales, or of Scotland or Northern Ireland. That, as was made crystal clear by an editorial in The Sun last week and by what we were told on the doorstep during the general election campaign, is what the British people want.
The other thing that the British people want in relation to Europe, albeit unconnected with the European Court of Human Rights, is a referendum on the European Union. It is this party that is going to deliver that referendum. I remind everybody in the House—all right hon. and hon. Members, whether they are the most fervent Europhile or the most ardent Eurosceptic—that we are all here because we were elected in a democracy. If we believe in democracy, as we all ought to do, then giving the British people a say on whether they want to continue to be part of what the European community has become is absolutely the right thing to do.
I have already said that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North mentioned Disraeli in his speech. Disraeli also said, in a very famous passage, that he was
“a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad.”
This is a Government who have my support in relation to the Gracious Speech, because they are Conservative in relation to what is good in our constitution and they are radical in relation to what is bad.
What a pleasure it is to be the first Member on the Labour Benches to be called by you, Ms Engel. You and I have been friends since you came to the House, and what I love about you is that you are passionate about this House. You were a great Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
I have been sitting here since 9.30 am and have heard many excellent speeches and interventions today. There have been too many to maiden speeches to mention.
The secret of this place is to use it, serve the apprenticeship and then enjoy it. It is the place for hon. Members to make their reputation, hone their skills and show that they are real parliamentarians.
I wanted to talk about austerity, productivity, schools and skills, the north-south divide and the danger of withdrawing from Europe, but I probably will not be able to touch on a lot of that. I will instead start by being a little serious. Mr Speaker is sometimes very ageist and points out how long I have been in the House of Commons. My wife is just as bad. I was making my acceptance speech in Huddersfield on election night and said that I had just fought my ninth campaign. My wife said, “Darling, it’s your tenth. You fought Taunton first and didn’t get in.” I looked it up and found that I am the last Labour candidate to come second in Taunton. We came in behind the UK Independence party this year. That is quite a long history of fighting 10 elections.
However, this is the most worrying election I have been involved in. I say that not because the Labour party got a drubbing, or because there was a spectacular surge in Scotland by the Scottish National party. What was really worrying was the electorate’s lack of enthusiasm for any of us. They do not like us very much. Only two thirds of them voted and they did not vote with the great passion, saying they wanted to get to the polls, they wanted to get a Labour party or a Conservative party, or anybody else in Government. I found it very worrying that there was so little enthusiasm for the election as I knocked on doors. This is a country in which people such as the Luddites, the Chartists and the Suffragettes fought for the vote, but now we knock on people’s doors and are told, “We’re not voting—you’re all the same.” That is a terrible comment on where we are in our democracy today.
I found that the electorate were confused and depressed, and they resented and distrusted us. They wanted the leaders of our parties to be better, and I also think that all three leaders could have been a darn sight better. There was a feeling that there was no legitimacy about the election. Only 66% of the electorate voted, 71% in Scotland. As I said in an intervention on the Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier, “Don’t let’s crow about how well we represent everyone, when even the Government party is only representing such a small percentage of the British and the UK people.”
This is a year of really important anniversaries: 800 years since Magna Carta, and 200 years since Waterloo. However, I want to dwell for a moment on world war two, as it is 70 years since it ended. Faced with the challenge of rebuilding a devastated country that had been at war for six years, we picked ourselves up under a Labour Government and made the basic institutions that were to provide the foundations of the good life for so many people for 70 years. There was the national health service, which meant everybody getting the best medical treatment on the basis of need and not the ability to pay. There was the welfare state—okay, it was started after the first world war by Lloyd George, but it was made much more comprehensive after 1945 by a Government that said there should be a welfare net and that no one should fall below that level of poverty and need. Then, “welfare” meant something wonderful and not what it has been turned into now, partly sometimes in this country by the Government but particularly by the Republicans in the United States. I believe in the welfare state, and I believe in a great state.
We have a great challenge now to regenerate our economy and our country, and we will only do that by making our people happy and contented, and giving them the good life that they deserve.
I am very pleased to rise today as the first Conservative since 1951 to be newly elected to serve the people of the Yeovil constituency. Therefore, this is the first of Her Majesty’s Gracious Speeches since then to be welcomed by an incoming Yeovil Conservative, a task made easier by the fact that the people of Yeovil, in making their choice, contributed to it outlining a Conservative programme.
People in my area made a decisive choice to support a future of jobs and opportunities, to continue rebuilding our national finances, and to stop burdening our young people and future generations with our mistakes and debts. Whether it is investment in defence, health, education or infrastructure to power our local growth, people understand that it cannot be done without the foundation of a strong economy and sound public finances.
My constituency sits in the middle of the narrowest part of the entrance to the south-west peninsula, on the main ancient route between London and the west country, and at a crossing of the route between Bristol and the ancient port of Weymouth. Surrounded by rich agricultural land, a series of towns and villages along these routes was fashioned from the local hamstone, giving golden warmth to travellers and inhabitants alike. The area became the natural home of successful farmers, seafarers and venturers, and it delivered a ready supply of the highest grades of flax, rope and sailcloth that powered their exploits.
In modern times, the people of Yeovil remain adventurous and resourceful. Hi-tech, modern defence industries and facilities sit beside innovative service and engineering firms, modern farms and superb tourist experiences. Hon. Members will have heard of the cutting-edge helicopters made by Westland, a great Yeovil firm that grew through Spitfire manufacture during the second world war. This year, it celebrates its 100th year, supported by a legion of smaller local suppliers.
In all parts of my constituency, in Yeovil, Crewkerne, Chard, Ilminster, South Petherton, Ilchester and all the farms and villages in between, there is a very positive spirit in all sizes of businesses and sectors. We know that with the right policies and support, we can make our area better, deliver for people in it and raise their incomes. I fully support the Government’s programme of infrastructure improvement, including the major road, rail, broadband and mobile signal projects that we are promoting in the south-west, not least the dualling of the A303 and A358, which run through my constituency, so that we can regain our place as a key regional powerhouse of economic growth in Britain, improve our productivity and enhance local people’s incomes.
My immediate predecessor, David Laws, worked hard, was polite and clear, and had a charming way, especially with older people in my constituency. He also took an interest in the young and recognised the dedication of our teachers to young people’s progress, which is something I also hope to do. His dry economic views smoothed the way for the formation of the coalition Government in 2010, in which he served first as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and latterly as Education Minister. His voting support for that Government and their policies was notable, and I thank him for his service.
Finally, we must reflect on why some have lost faith in our politics and try to put it right by our actions. We need in this place to be more thoughtful and humble and never to lose touch with the roots of trust of the people we represent and never stop listening to them and their hopes. To speak in this Chamber, the repository of so much human hope, past, future and present, is both thrilling and humbling. It is the Chamber’s particular part in preserving that democratic humility that we should defend above all. Our great poet, T. S. Eliot, commemorated in Westminster Abbey but resting for eternity in my constituency in a simple church in the parish of East Coker, in a poem of the same name, put it very satisfactorily: “humility is endless”.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today and congratulate you on your election. I also congratulate all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches in today’s debate, and I am pleased to follow Marcus Fysh.
The time constraint today means that we are short, but I hope we are also sweet. As a new Member, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the parliamentary staff for welcoming me and helping me settle in. Without fail, everyone has been generous with their time and patience, and I am very grateful for that.
To represent the people of Cardiff Central is a great privilege and responsibility. When I moved to Cardiff Central 26 years ago, little did I know that all these years later, my fellow residents would elect me, and place their trust in me, to be their first female Labour MP and their strong voice in this place. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Jennifer Willott, who served Cardiff Central for 10 years as a Back Bencher, Government Whip and Minister. She became a visible advocate for working parents, and I wish Jenny and her young family well for the future.
I also pay tribute to the last Labour MP for Cardiff Central, Jon Owen Jones, who served the constituency for 13 years, including as a Minister, and still lives there. He has been a source of kind support and wise advice.
Cardiff Central is a special place. While we have six electoral communities— Adamsdown, Cathays, Cyncoed, Pentwyn, Penylan, and Plasnewydd—our community is rich in history, diversity and culture and has welcomed people from all over the world to learn, work and seek refuge. We are very proud of our vibrant cosmopolitan and inclusive community.
From humble beginnings as a small Roman settlement on the site of what is now Cardiff castle, Cardiff Central is at the heart of what is now a modern, European capital city. We have grand civic buildings in Cathays
Park, built by the Marquess of Bute, three universities, theatres, music venues and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, whose famous alumni include Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins and the legendary Ruth Jones, better known as Nessa from Gavin and Stacey. Alongside the world’s oldest record shop, Spillers, which opened in 1894, and our beautiful Victorian shopping arcades, we have a famous Caroline Street, where early and late-night city-centre revellers enjoy our special Welsh delicacy of chicken curry, arf’n’arf.
We also have the best sporting stadium in the world, the Millennium stadium, where we will welcome the world this autumn for the 2015 rugby world cup. I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that however nervous I felt just before starting this speech, my nerves are nothing like those I experience when watching my nation play in that stadium—a cauldron of noise and song—with 75,000 other rugby fans.
The subject of the debate today is the economy. In Cardiff Central, people have not felt an economic recovery. Many experience a recovery that is fragile because it is built on low-paid, insecure work. Many of my constituents work in the retail, care and hospitality sectors where insecure employment, zero-hours contracts and minimum wage work is the norm.
In order to build a strong economic recovery and to increase productivity, the answer does not lie in further weakening employment rights and protections. It certainly does not lie in exiting the European Union, a move that would threaten jobs, businesses and cutting-edge research in our universities. Indeed, it threatens the existence of many universities in Cardiff Central and beyond. The answer lies in making employment more secure, in boosting wages and productivity and in giving businesses and workers more certainty about their futures—and that includes a future in the European Union, so that they feel confident in investing, spending and job creation. That is best done in partnership with trade unions and their members across the UK. It is what responsible and successful businesses do, and it is what a responsible Government should do and promote, as the Labour Government in Wales have done.
Throughout the election, I campaigned on the need to tackle inequality head on—wealth inequality, social inequality and tax inequality. I will continue that campaign and be a strong voice for all the people of Cardiff Central. I look forward to working with colleagues here.
It is a pleasure to follow so many outstanding maiden speeches. Constituents across the country will be proud to see their choices vindicated today. Those speeches take me back to my first days as an MP when I was elected in 2010. Hundreds of thousands of people had lost their jobs and for many more the prospect of home ownership was a distant dream. Others struggled to make ends meet. Our first duty in coalition was to restore fiscal responsibility to our public finances, offering this country the economic security that underpins all other policy decisions. There is nothing compassionate about paying more in debt interest than could be afforded on education. It is right to finish the job now. Once we have balanced the books, we can target investment and create the climate for all parts of the UK to realise their full potential.
Already, employment is at a record high and rising. In my constituency, youth unemployment has fallen by over 76%, but it is no good creating all these jobs if we do not offer the education and skills for local people to benefit. It is no good funding millions of apprenticeships and university places if we are not going to address skills shortages we face in engineering, nursing, construction and social care. I hope that the full employment and welfare benefits Bill reporting duties will not just be headline employment and apprenticeships figures, but that they will review progress broken down by sector and set against skills demand. That is the only way in which we will deliver the sophisticated skills strategy we need.
Oxfordshire, for example, is among the top five innovation ecosystems in the world. We have more than 1,500 high-tech firms, from start-ups to global company headquarters. We are world leaders in life sciences, big physics and space, and we employ more than 43,000 people. Not only has Oxford produced more than 50 Nobel laureates, but we are leaders in UK tech transfer. Between 2010 and 2012, Oxford university generated more spin-outs than any other UK university. State-of-the-art facilities such as the Diamond synchrotron and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, and access to our hyper-skilled labour pool, make us disproportionately attractive to tech industry.
Even in Oxford, however, businesses struggle with the skills shortage, housing costs, and digital and physical infrastructure, and those are the constraints that we must overcome. The Chancellor has rightly zeroed in on weak productivity, but the British scientific community is the most productive in the world. With just over 3% of the world’s research and development spending, we produce more than 6% of the world’s publications and 16% of its most cited papers. Our researchers translate funding into great science more effectively than anyone else. Yet despite recent increases, we still lag behind our international competitors in R and D investment, ranking only 12th in the EU.
Commercialisation is another issue. Despite Innovate UK’s excellent reputation, tech firms outside London speak of a chronic shortage of early-stage investment capital, and a mismatch between longer lead-in times—especially for biotech—and the impatience of capital investors. Incentives for individual investors de-risk investments, and we have a growing angel network in Oxford, but there are no breakthrough, throwing-down-the-gauntlet-to-Silicon-Valley solutions. I hope that the Treasury will explore incentives for pension funds and insurance companies—those with long-term perspectives—to invest directly in tech firms. Globalisation means that a single disruptive technology can create a worldwide paradigm shift in what seems like an instant. Think Uber and taxis, Netflix and DVDs. Our STEM ecosystem needs to be the most agile and responsive in the world.
In five years of representing what I consider to be the vertex of our golden triangle, I have learnt a few things: for instance, that one should always go to a surgery prepared for an impromptu tutorial on wave particle duality and that we need to develop a policy for our STEM ecosystem as a coherent whole. We have come closest to that with our growth deals, which is why we in Oxford are particularly excited about the genuinely transformative possibilities of the cities and local government devolution Bill. We feel that if Cambridge has been granted devolved powers to retain business rates, we should have those powers too.
It would be deeply disappointing if, in his efforts to rebalance the economy, the Chancellor overlooked counties which already power the economy, but still have much more to give. The exam question should be not “Are you doing OK?”, but “How much better could you be doing?” Just as the education Bill will tackle both failing and coasting schools, this Government programme should aim to unlock the full potential of every local economy and community in Great Britain.
I congratulate you on your election, Madam Deputy Speaker. You and I have known each other for many years, and it is, to say the least, a pleasure to serve under your stewardship.
A number of Members have quoted Disraeli in the context of “one nation”, but Disraeli had something else to say. He said that if the Tory party was nothing else, it was “organised hypocrisy”. We did not hear that quotation today.
When the Chancellor opened the debate, he did not explain to us where exactly the Government would make the £12 billion of welfare cuts. I think that they owe us an answer to that question, and I hope that we shall hear one from whoever winds up the debate. They are also going to try to make tax cuts amounting to £7 billion. We are all for tax cuts, but the needy should not suffer as a result.
Someone said earlier that one of the growing industries in this country was the food bank industry, and there is a lot of truth in that. I was amazed to discover recently that some 18,000 people in Coventry are using food banks. Moreover, many people are on low and, it might be argued, poverty wages, and rely on benefits. That is quite an indictment, quite apart from what was said in the last Parliament about zero-hours contracts. That is another scandal. Those contracts might suit some people but they do not suit the majority of people who want to own their own homes. This Government talk about a property-owning democracy, but what chance do those people have of getting on to the housing ladder when they cannot get a mortgage because they are earning poverty wages on zero-hours contracts? That is another thing that this Government should answer for.
We have rehearsed the argument many times about who was responsible for the deficit. The thinking public, and the world at large, know that the economic crisis started in America with Lehman Brothers. Someone mentioned Lehman Brothers earlier, so I shall not rehearse that argument further. It has also been claimed that the manufacturing recovery in the west midlands somehow just happened under this Government. I sometimes wonder about this Government, when they say that all the bad things happened under Labour and the good things happened under them. It sounds like Pol Pot,
35 years ago in Cambodia. He claimed that all the bad things happened before his time, and all the good things happened when he came to power. We all know what Pol Pot was like, and where he ended up.
When we talk about the economic recovery and about Coventry, we must remember that the buy-out involving Tata and Jaguar Land Rover took place before this Government came to power. Let us be quite clear about that when we remember the jobs that were created as a result. Similarly, Advantage West Midlands created the infrastructure for Ansty Park, but Government Ministers are now rushing up to Ansty Park because a lot of industries are relocating there. The latest to do so is the London Taxi Company.
Local government has also been involved in the experimental stages. Let us remember that a previous Conservative Government abolished the rating system and introduced the poll tax. They also introduced metropolitan authorities, but the next Conservative Government came into power and abolished them. Local authority leaders, certainly in the west midlands, have been involved in negotiations with the Chancellor to create a greater authority in the west midlands with an elected mayor. Most people in the west midlands would object to having an elected mayor. I am not involved in the negotiations with the Chancellor, but he seems to be claiming that he got a mandate in the general election to make those changes. I for one will be watching the situation very carefully.
It is very important that Coventry does not lose its identity, although we would obviously co-operate in an economic sense if that were beneficial to the city. I suspect, however, that this is a smokescreen for further local government cuts and that when things do not work out, local government will be blamed again. The Government are not taking democracy back to local government; they are taking it away, just as they did in the past when they created metropolitan councils. I know that a lot of people want to speak in the debate; they have been here all day and I am nearly at the end of my allotted time.
Madam Deputy Speaker—congratulations, and thank you for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this important debate on the economy. It is a privilege to follow Mr Cunningham, and I also congratulate all the previous speakers who have made their maiden speeches today. They have set the bar very high for the rest of us who are following them. Thank you for that!
I should like to begin by paying tribute to my predecessor in Mid Worcestershire, Sir Peter Luff. Peter was first elected to this place in 1992 as the MP for Worcester, following in the footsteps of another highly respected Member, Peter Walker. Peter Luff was a Whip and a former Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and the Agriculture Select Committee. He was also, of course, a Defence Minister in the last Government. Peter leaves a great legacy in Worcestershire. He fought for significant improvements to local infrastructure, including the new Worcestershire Parkway station which will open in 2017. He also worked hard to preserve and restore local heritage assets such as Hartlebury Castle, the Droitwich canals and the Regal Cinema. I will try to serve the kind and generous constituents of Mid Worcestershire as well as Peter did.
I am fortunate to represent one of the most idyllic constituencies in the country. A drive through Mid Worcestershire is a wonderful experience, starting from Broadway—the gateway to the Cotswolds—in the south, and heading through the gently undulating landscape of the Vale of Evesham, past fields of asparagus, plum and apple orchards, and greenhouses full of fragrant and beautiful flowers. One continues north, passing the Worcester Warriors rugby stadium, towards the historic town of Droitwich Spa and on to Ombersley and Hartlebury in the north. On the journey one will pass through many quintessentially English villages with splendid names, such as Upton Snodsbury, Flyford Flavell and my children’s favourite—Wyre Piddle. I am proud of the links between my constituency and this place via Simon de Montfort of de Montfort Parliament fame. In August this year we will commemorate the 750th anniversary of the battle of Evesham, where Simon de Montfort was killed.
The experiences of the past few weeks have taught us all in this place that there is no such thing as a safe seat in modern British politics, but Mid Worcestershire is about as true blue Tory as one can get, having returned a Conservative Member at every election since 1837, apart from once, in 1880, when a Liberal was returned as the MP for Evesham by two votes. As this result was transparently an error, a petition was lodged, the result was voided and a Conservative was returned instead. I like the precedent.
As I have spent the past several years working for one of the leading technology companies in the world, it will be no surprise that in this place I wish to be an advocate for technology and the digital sector, despite the fact that I am reading from a piece of paper. Ignore that for the moment. The UK’s digital economy is vital. It employs more than 1.5 million people and is growing at double the rate of GDP. We can be proud that the UK is one of the most advanced digital economies in the world, and I know that this Government are committed to making sure it continues to be so.
The other sector I wish to champion in this place is travel and tourism—again, one of the fastest growing sectors of the British economy. Since 2010 one in three of all new jobs has been in the travel and hospitality space, and tourism overall contributes more than £127 billion—a staggering sum—to the UK economy and employs more than 3 million UK people, including many in my constituency.
Finally, we all know that we can have good public services only if we have a strong economy that generates the taxes to pay for them. That is why it is vital that we continue to support business and job creation, thereby supporting workers and their families. That is what I am here to do. That is what this Queen’s Speech and this Government will deliver.
Many congratulations, Madam Deputy Speaker, from the Scottish Benches on your election.
In February 1974, I first stood for this Parliament. It has been a rather long campaign but here I am, representing that wonderful constituency, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. In the 2010 election former Prime Minster Gordon Brown had a majority of 23,000. I stand here today with a majority of some 10,000, an indication surely of a desire for change not just in my constituency, but mirrored the length and breadth of Scotland.
It is fitting on these occasions to recognise the work of the previous Member of Parliament. Gordon Brown was a giant in Labour party politics and in British politics. He went on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister—a very distinguished career to which I pay tribute. There were many issues where we disagreed, but I am sure the whole House will follow me in wishing him the very best for his future. I particularly look forward to the work he intends doing internationally among the poorest countries in the world to bring education to the most disadvantaged.
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is a constituency of many parts. Some of our communities, including Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly, Kelty, Lochore, Ballingry, Crosshill and the delightful Lumphinnans were hewn out of the very mines of the Scottish coalfields. That mining industry may have gone, but the strength of the community built by those miners is still there, although for the past 30 years or more they have been suffering from political and economic neglect such that I will have to do my best to address it.
In other parts of the constituency, people can meander down the coast from Dysart, through Kirkcaldy, Kinghorn and Aberdour, to the more modern Dalgety Bay, and gaze across the River Forth to Edinburgh. That coastal stretch was a favourite of Adam Smith, that much misquoted father of economics. He would often walk that way and contemplate the great philosophical questions of the day. As he did so, he would look at the impressive European trading ships that sailed up and down the Forth, providing that strong economic and social link to the many great nations of the continent. Standing on the shores of Scotland he saw the importance of international trade and of a European outlook. His perspective then, in the 18th century, challenges us all today to be just as outward looking and imaginative as he was in his time.
Adam Smith knew, too, that there is no centre of internationalism. It is something to be sought in the minds and deeds of people; whether you live in a great city of a great land or in a small seaside town on the northern shores of Scotland, you can be international. He knew, too, of problems, and as I look across at the Government Benches, I see many problems. If I were to point out just one thing where I share the view of Adam Smith, it would be that he could see readily that when looking at people with power and riches, you see that they are no protections against small-mindedness.
Turning to other matters, I was very impressed by the recent OECD report outlining the fact that excessive inequality is bad for growth. To talk of inequality is not to engage in the politics of envy. Rather, it is to engage in a debate about economic failure and missed opportunities. Let me finish with a quote from Adam Smith:
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
I stand before you today not as someone who has long pursued a career in politics, but as someone who was inspired many years ago to make the most of their life. My parents were decent, hard-working people who worked every hour God sent to build something for themselves and, more importantly, for their children. They talked to me not only about making your own way, but about helping people along the way.
The keener observers among you will notice that I am a little older than some of my young, vibrant colleagues, but 23 years building a business is responsible for that. I am older but certainly no wiser; my colleagues are of a very high calibre. They have also come from a very diverse range of backgrounds, careers and experiences, and that strikes at the very heart of the myth that the Conservative party is a party of privilege.
I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Anne McIntosh, who worked so hard and was a great champion of the farming industry. She did an excellent job as the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She was a strong voice, and a willing and active participant in this Chamber.
It is, of course, a huge honour to represent Thirsk and Malton, a place I have lived all my life. It is a place of distinct and stunning scenery, from Filey, with its immaculate gardens and broad, smooth beaches to picture-postcard villages and market towns such as Malton, racing’s northern home and Yorkshire’s food capital. It has Thirsk, the real-life home of James Herriot and the birthplace of Thomas Lord, who set up Lord’s cricket club and the MCC; Pickering, the gateway to the heather-scented North York Moors; and Easingwold, my home town, the place I was brought up. In short, it is God’s own county, and the true and original country of the white rose.
We are all here to represent our constituencies and to get the best deal, but in my experience we cannot win if the other side loses. It only breeds resentment, division and future conflict. I come to this House wanting a fair deal for our farmers, our businesses, our councils, our schools and our hospitals. I also want to help to build a fairer society and a fairer deal for the north and, in particular, for North Yorkshire. The vibrancy of our economy is critical. Never forget that everything here is provided by business people who go out and take risks, work twice the hours for half the money and put their life savings on the line. More often than not, they will never see them again.
Ronald Reagan once said that virtually all our economic growth is achieved by entrepreneurs and their small businesses. I have heard a lot of talk about productivity in this Chamber over the past couple of weeks and the way to increase productivity is to increase competition. We must make it easier and more rewarding to start a business and invest, and we do not help the poor by destroying the rich.
As our economy grows, the benefits should be felt by everyone. Over time, I believe that we should work with business and work towards introducing a living wage so that everybody gets a decent standard of living. I welcome the Government’s drive to cut red tape. Governments should do less, not more, but must keep stable conditions in our economy. I also welcome the Government’s programme of investment in our railways and in our roads. I would certainly welcome investment in the A64 in our neck of the woods. It is a huge bottleneck and an accident blackspot.
If the price of devolution to North Yorkshire is a metro mayor, I will pay that price. One of the most important things we need is rural broadband and better mobile phone coverage. We heard talk about 4G and 5G, but where I live 1G is the result and that leaves many businesses at a disadvantage. Local businesses compete locally but also nationally and internationally and we need to give them a level playing field.
It is in honour to be in this place. I will work tirelessly and to the best of my ability and always on behalf of the people who put me in this place.
It is a great pleasure to speak after so many distinguished colleagues who have done their constituents proud in this debate. I am incredibly proud to be the youngest Labour MP serving in the House of Commons. It is often claimed that young people are apathetic or disengaged, but the young people I campaigned with and for in this election were far from apathetic. They were angry and felt let down because they thought that they did not have a voice. Young people have been under-represented in this Chamber for too long, but it is clear that that is changing on both sides of the House. It is a great honour to be part of the most diverse Parliament ever.
As the fourth Labour Member to represent Sheffield Heeley, it is also a great privilege to succeed Meg Munn, who served in this House for 14 years. She was renowned for her assiduous promotion of women’s issues, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and maths industries, and for building on her extensive experience as a social worker before entering this House to highlight child protection issues and improved rights for young carers. These are her very proud legacy.
Like Meg, I was born and raised in Sheffield, the very heart of God’s own county, a city renowned for its industrial heritage and now the greenest city in the UK, with more trees per person than any other city in Europe.
My constituency boasts a number of beautiful parklands, from Graves Park past Heeley City Farm and Heeley development trust to Richmond and Norfolk parks, all of which not only provide precious and much-loved green space but are important community hubs, providing childcare and family activities as well as adult education and training opportunities.
Colleagues may know that, like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills, which means that areas of my constituency command spectacular views of the rest of Sheffield and the surrounding Peak district. However, it also means that the inequality that scars our great city can be viewed in sharp relief. Young people who live at the top of hills in Gleadless Valley and Arbourthorne can look down on the two world-leading universities that we host—universities that they have been priced out of. They can look down on the dwindling industrial bases that their parents and grandparents would have been proud to work in, but which no longer create the jobs they desperately need. And they can look across to the west of Sheffield, where a baby girl can expect to live almost 10 years longer than another born and living her life about four miles away, by virtue of nothing more than her socioeconomic circumstances and the area she was born into. Our duty to our constituents is one that we share in all parts of the House, and the inequality that scars Sheffield, like so much of our nation, is something that I know we will all aspire to eradicate.
Before I entered this place, I worked in the City of London, and that experience motivated me to run for Parliament. I know from my time there that it makes a valuable contribution to our economy, but I also know that the culture and attitudes inherent there have been unaffected by the events of the last eight years. The culture of excessive pay, short-termism and cavalier risk-taking was demonstrated only last week with yet another case of LIBOR fixing. While our constituents remain worse off as a continued result of the financial crisis, again I know that this is something we will all aspire to solve.
It was disappointing, therefore, to hear very little in the Gracious Address on how we can reform the financial system. Given that the consequences of the weak recovery will be familiar to all of us—low wages, poor productivity and insecure work—it is incumbent on us all to address the reasons why our financial system is not providing the long-term investment that we need in cities like Sheffield. Being literally the greenest city in the UK is not enough; this must be at the heart of our industrial strategy and economic policy. If we are to secure a sustainable economy that delivers benefits for all, we must transform the way our economy works, incentivising investment in green, productive industries and penalising those short-term industries and practices that have done our economy and society such harm.
But, Madam Deputy Speaker, we in Sheffield Heeley have waited too long for change. My predecessor’s predecessor, Bill Michie, in his maiden speech in 1983—four years before I was born—spoke about the plight of the long-term unemployed, the young people out of work, the educational inequalities and the lack of investment in my constituency. Those problems pervade to this day. Change for the very vulnerable, the low paid and all working people is long overdue and we face a very clear choice in this Parliament—to continue down the same economic path that has entrenched inequality and embedded vested interests or to stand for a system that will protect the vulnerable, reward working people and create a fairer society so that my successor does not have to repeat the same tired list of issues in another generation’s time.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this final day of the debate on the Gracious Speech, but that pleasure is increased by the fact that I represent the constituency of North
Dorset, which is probably—I will not give way to anyone on this point—the most beautiful constituency, certainly in England. At its heart is Blackmore Vale, made famous in the writings of Thomas Hardy. The village of Marnhull, where my children attend school is very much the centre of the story of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”. Who will ever forget the great scene in which Tess sees Angel Clare country dancing on the village green? I note that there is no all-party parliamentary group for country dancing. The House will be pleased to know that I am not proposing that we set one up.
The constituency of North Dorset has been represented by some colourful characters over the years, including a polar explorer, a former chairman of Crufts—the dog show, I presume—and a Loch Ness researcher. I do not know whether he ever found the Loch Ness monster, but I say to Scottish National party Members that that is not an invitation to field a candidate at the next general election.
This is an important debate, and one in which my predecessor, Robert Walter, took great interest. Robert served North Dorset for 18 years, filling a number of roles in this House. Probably more importantly, his commitment to democracy and his desire to see the eastern bloc and Europe flourish took him into the realms of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, where he did a huge amount of very good work over the years. We wish him well in his next turn of career.
That said, Robert never neglected his constituency. I lost track of the number of people who told me on the doorstep while I was canvassing for the election that they would always vote Conservative because of what Mr Walter did 10 or 15 years ago. Those are big shoes to fill, and it is a legacy I hope to continue. We wish him and his wife Feride well. While on the subject of Feride, I note that Robert, a man who liked to do things for the first time, was the first Member of this House to have a Muslim wedding service here in the Palace of Westminster.
The economy of North Dorset is growing and our employment rates are going up, but there is still fragility there. A number of hon. Friends have already referred to some of the challenges that hold back what in my constituency are not small to medium-sized businesses, but micro to small businesses. We do not have particularly good coverage for mobile phone signals, or indeed for broadband, as referenced by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. Those are things that I campaigned on during the general election, and on which I will be pressing Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and other Departments in order to deliver those opportunities for local businesses to grow.
The constituency wants to do well and to see investment, and I am going to be a champion for that. Like many other quarters of the country, we need investment in our road infrastructure. I refer, in particular, to the A350 and the C13. When I was selected as the Conservative candidate, a lady asked me whether I would be joining the 1933 group. I replied, “I think we all join the 1922 committee,” assuming that she was just a little confused about the antiquities of the Conservative parliamentary party. She was, in fact, referring to the local action group set up in 1933 to campaign for the Melbury Abbas bypass. It may well be that in my time in this House we are able to deliver it.
The Gracious Speech put at the heart of the Government’s programme a commitment to growth and to entrepreneurialism, and that is something I want to champion during the years I am here. The people of Dorset are welcoming and they want the constituency to do well. I invite Members of the House to visit Hardy country. Tourism and agriculture in the area are growing. Indeed, the agricultural economy is probably the largest in the constituency. I will be looking to Front-Bench colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we are doing all we can to combat such challenges as bovine TB and ensure stability in the dairy sector. There is a lot to do, and I have the honour to play a part in helping North Dorset thrive. I look forward to it.
I congratulate you on your re-election, Madam Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues. I also congratulate all those Members on both sides of the House who made their maiden speeches today. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on the Queen’s Speech, which focuses on the future and, in particular, the economy.
Given the grand claims we have heard from the Government, both before the general election and since, about a long-term economic plan that is working, one would be forgiven for thinking that the UK was in the midst of some kind of economic miracle. The truth, however, is that we are not experiencing any kind of economic miracle and that the recovery, such as it is, remains fragile. We still have record debt, notwithstanding the fact that the Chancellor announced today that Departments will be expected to make further savings through asset sales and that the Government are to sell off their stake in Royal Mail, which is something I regret and which I believe will have an impact on the delivery of postal services to people across the UK.
We still have that record debt, which despite years of austerity is still rising, and there has not been sufficient growth to improve the fundamental economic ratios. The Government point to their record on job creation, which looks superficially impressive. Record numbers of people are at work, but in fact many of the new jobs are insecure and low paid and many people are doing more work, simply running to stand still. Those people are not feeling better off because they are not becoming better off. The new jobs are not driving economic growth or strengthening the economy because they are low value added and low productivity. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has recently highlighted the fundamental importance of raising productivity and diplomatically reminded us of the real Government failure in this area of economic policy.
The productivity failure is symptomatic of the wider failure to use more imaginatively the economic levers available to Governments. Instead of focusing on austerity and cuts, the Government could do more to stimulate economic activity in sectors that can yield an immediate contribution to growth and prosperity. The necessary stimulus can come from greater fiscal creativity and the smarter application of taxation. One such area is the labour-intensive industry of tourism. I firmly believe that the Chancellor and his Front-Bench Treasury team should give longer and deeper consideration to lowering VAT on tourism for all the UK.
Tourism is the principal economic driver in my constituency. Only last week, we hosted the Irish Open, which attracted 20,000 visitors each day. They came not only to witness our great golfers from the island of Ireland, Britain and elsewhere, including the guy from Denmark who won, but to get outside and sample our local hospitality—our restaurants, eateries and the rest of our tourism offering. But if tourism is to be more successful, the Government need to lower the VAT. Northern Ireland—my constituency in particular—has a land border with the south of Ireland, whose VAT rate has been 9% for years, notwithstanding its austerity measures. Our VAT is 20%. It has become increasingly difficult to be competitive in such a world. I ask the Government and hon. Members to give the issue due consideration because fiscal flexibility will help achieve better economic prosperity for difficult regions.
It is a pleasure to deliver my maiden speech following such distinguished contributions, including from Ms Ritchie, and to have such an illustrious predecessor in representing my seat, which is such a beautiful part of the country. First elected to represent Loughborough in 1979 and becoming the right hon. Member for Charnwood in 1997, following the seat’s creation, Stephen Dorrell served for an astonishing 36 years in this House. Upon his election, he was the baby of the House, often described as “permanently boyish”—a trait that, as hon. Members will see, eluded my grasp, I fear, many years ago. Stephen served in a string of offices, from the Whips Office to the Cabinet. His commitment to serving his constituents was formidable and the respect in which he is held locally never ceased to be apparent to me as I campaigned.
But the man is so much more than a list of the offices that he held. He was once described in The Guardian as
“exuding sweet reasonableness and being recognisably a member of the human race.”
He combined this with intellectual rigour, diligence and genuine decency. While I may not be able to emulate his length of service or swift progression through ministerial ranks, I will continually strive to emulate his values, humanity and hard work.
Although a relatively new seat, Charnwood is in the ancient heart of our great country, sandwiched between Leicester and Loughborough. It also, in its short history, has a strong tradition of re-electing its Member—something I hope will continue. It is a mixed, beautiful but oddly shaped constituency, curving around Leicester from Glenfield and Leicester Forest East in the west in a large arc to the rural villages of Barkby, Beeby and South Croxton in the east, taking in historic Kirby Muxloe with its castle, through Groby and Anstey—reputedly the furthest point south reached by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Scottish army before its swift retreat back north—and picture-book rural villages like Woodhouse Eaves, then passing Bradgate park, containing the ruins of Lady Jane Grey’s family estate and the ancient Charnwood forest.
Heading east, we pass through Cropston, Swithland, Rothley and Mountsorrel, with Thurmaston and Birstall to the south, before reaching Syston, the home of Pukka Pies. I fear that my post-election figure suggests that I have taken my support of local industry a little bit too far. Finally we reach Queniborough, East Goscote and the rural idyll typified by villages such as Cossington, Seagrave, Thrussington, Rearsby and Barkby, where, with the summer approaching and the nights getting shorter—not, I hasten to add, a reference to my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Duncan—many a sunny evening can be spent at the excellent Barkby United village cricket ground.
In the past five years the Chancellor has already laid the strong economic foundations for creating the one nation we all aspire to. Now, with the proposals in the Gracious Speech, we will make that a reality for everyone in this country. I look forward to being in my place to support him in doing this.
Charnwood is a success story and it has achieved much since 2010. It is a constituency blessed with extremely high ownership rates, low unemployment and successful businesses, although there is always more to do. That success does not just happen—that it happens is down to the hard work of the people of Charnwood, the sort of people who are the backbone of this country, working hard, doing the right thing, and building a better future for themselves and their family. They are exactly the people this Government are pledged to continue to support with our focus on opportunity and aspiration.
I will always fight for my constituents and constituency—for example, in continuing to campaign for fairer funding for my county of Leicestershire and for its schools—but there are a number of broader causes that I will particularly seek to champion in this House. While we have made significant progress in recent years, we still need to go further in vigorously and energetically focusing on improving dementia care and mental health provision; both are causes on which I will be vocal. I will not, I fear, be able to emulate the moving eloquence of my hon. and gallant Friend Johnny Mercer on this subject, but he will always find me shoulder to shoulder with him in his commitment to improving this country’s mental health care for children and adults and giving a voice to those whose cause is too often not heard.
I am here to represent the whole community in my constituency but particularly those on the fringes of our society who may not have the voice or ability to speak up for themselves. Every day I will strive to help build the one nation the Prime Minister has spoken about and in which I passionately believe, and every day I will humbly endeavour to repay the honour and trust that the people of Charnwood have placed in me.
I am sorry that it has not been possible to find time today for every new colleague who sought to make their maiden speech. I hope you will all be reassured by the thought that if you have sat here all day partaking in this excellent and important debate, should you seek to catch Mr Speaker’s eye again in the near future you will be looked on favourably.
Thank you and congratulations, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you have said, we have had a good debate, which has demonstrated the seriousness and commitment with which we are ready to take up our duties as Opposition Members.
It has been widely acknowledged in this debate that my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, the former leader of our party, made a fine and powerful contribution. It was especially welcome for being so soon after our bruising election defeat. He addressed the topic of one nation, which was the theme of his leadership as well, drawing attention to the problem of rising inequality across western democracies. He spoke of the rungs of the ladder getting further apart and reminded the Prime Minister of his 2006 commitment to address relative poverty. I think the whole House will look forward to my right hon. Friend developing those ideas in the months ahead.
We have had valuable contributions from both sides of the House. I particularly congratulate everyone who has made their maiden speech today, including Huw Merriman, Lucy Frazer, the hon. Members for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) and for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), my hon. Friends the Members for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) and for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), the hon. Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), my hon. Friend Louise Haigh and the hon. Members for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) and for Charnwood (Edward Argar). I congratulate each of them and wish them well for their membership of this House. The whole House will look forward to hearing more from each of them in the years ahead.
At the heart of this debate is the security of working families. Many families feel deeply insecure at the moment, in ways spelled out in a fine maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. How is the programme that has been announced going to affect them? We have yet to hear clear answers from the Government as to how they plan to strengthen the foundations of our economy so that we can deal with the deficit, control social security costs and secure better living standards and a better future for the working people of Britain.
My hon. Friend Chris Leslie began by highlighting the fragility of our economic recovery. Productivity continues to stagnate, leaving output per worker far behind that of comparable advanced economies—a point that was highlighted by Stewart Hosie.
Mr Clarke was right to point out that employers are struggling to find people with the right skills for their jobs. Many employees have roles that do not make full use of their talents and potential, and we have heard a great deal in the debate about the grave challenges relating to infrastructure and the need for more progress. Those underlying weaknesses will make it harder to get the public finances in order and to get social security spending under control.
Fragility in the economy translates into insecurity for working families, who have seen their living standards go backwards over recent years and still worry about whether they will be able to keep on top of their bills. Working families are struggling to balance the demands of work with the rising cost of childcare. They wonder whether the NHS will still be there for them when they need it in future and want their children to have a decent career and a realistic prospect of getting on the housing ladder. Too many at the moment are stuck in low-paid, insecure work and a growing number are depending on housing benefit to make ends meet. Those families all want to know what difference the measures in this Queen’s Speech will make to them.
There are welcome commitments in some areas, but questions remain about how some of them will be paid for. It is, however, what has been left out that gives the greatest cause for concern—actions not taken, details not provided—and makes many families less secure and fear for the future.
We all support any cut in taxes for low-paid workers, but we also need a serious plan to tackle low pay and boost wages for the majority by raising investment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central pointed out in her excellent speech. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton also rightly called for the adoption of a living wage in the UK. We need to raise the levels of skills and productivity across the economy, securing sustainable tax revenues and reducing the reliance on in-work benefits.
It was disappointing to have sprung on the House this afternoon, without any proper detail or explanation, a series of spending cuts in the Chancellor’s speech. There is a press release that outlines what they are, but there is no proper information. We should have had a statement so that the House could have scrutinised the cuts. They include a significant cut to the skills budget.
We will welcome any help for working parents with childcare, but families can be forgiven for believing it when they see it, after five years in which it has become harder, not easier, to afford the childcare they need. There is a worry that the proposals in the Queen’s Speech are likely to result in fewer affordable homes and bigger housing benefit bills for taxpayers.
Britain succeeds only when working people succeed. Hard work should be rewarded, prosperity should be shared and we should protect the most vulnerable. Those elements, which are vital for our society, need to be underpinned by a strong social security net. The Opposition support the work that local authorities are doing under the Government’s troubled families programme, but we are aware that a majority of the families involved still have nobody in work and that the Work programme is not doing enough to help them. We will be glad to see additional money for apprenticeships.
We have made clear our support for the principle of a benefit cap to ensure that people are better off in work and for reforms to ensure that young people are earning or learning, and do not become caught in a benefits system that at the moment does too little to improve their skills and prospects. We will scrutinise—[Interruption.]
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. There is no heckling or bad behaviour going on, but there are an awful lot of private conversations. He has a difficult job to do and he should be given peace in which to do it.
We will scrutinise those proposals with great care. The well-meaning rhetoric on apprenticeships needs to be matched by action on the quality, as well as the quantity, of the apprenticeships that are being created. When the rules are changed on benefits for 18 to 21-year-olds, we will look carefully at the safeguards for the vulnerable young people who will be included. We need to ensure that reducing the benefit cap does not end up costing more than it saves.
Those measures amount to only a fraction of the £12 billion reduction in social security spending that the Government promised. We want to see savings where they can sensibly be made. We have argued consistently for keeping the system affordable. We have said that that requires a readiness to take tough decisions on low-priority spending, alongside action to tackle the underlying drivers of rising benefit bills, such as low pay and high housing costs. The unwillingness or inability of Ministers to explain to this House or the public how they intend to make the reductions that they have set out is adding to the insecurity that is felt by many working families today.
There will be widespread relief that the Prime Minister has, reportedly, overruled the Secretary of State on child benefit. However, working families need to know whether the tax credits and other in-work benefits that they depend on will be taken away. The Prime Minister yesterday declined my invitation to reaffirm his election campaign commitment that benefits for disabled people are safe. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that it will be virtually impossible to achieve a £12 billion saving without hitting low-income working families hard.
When he gets to his feet, the Secretary of State needs to assure those who are clearly not well enough to work that support for disabled people and their carers will be protected. Government failures in that area—the failure of the rushed and ill-prepared incapacity benefit reassessment exercise and the failures of the Work programme for people in receipt of employment and support allowance—mean that the Government are spending nearly £5 billion more this year on employment and support allowance than they forecast five years ago. That is a serious failure.
We heard a Queen’s Speech five years ago that promised
“to simplify the benefits system in order to improve work incentives”.
That was a worthy aim, but there has been very little progress since then. My hon. Friend Helen Goodman touched on the problems with the IT for universal credit. In 2011, the Secretary of State told us that universal credit would be complete in six years; now he is telling us that it will be complete in another six years. In four years, completion has slipped by four years.
The Opposition will continue to stand up and speak for the working people of this country, who have endured years of falling living standards and economic uncertainty. They now need assurances and action from the Government to promote their security and to secure their finances and the public services that they rely on, and on which all our futures will depend.
May I start by congratulating you on returning to your position, Madam Deputy Speaker?
It is a pleasure to conclude this debate on the Gracious Speech. I am conscious that we do not have a huge amount of time, but I want to congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House on their contributions, particularly those who have made maiden speeches. I will come back in a little more detail to those speeches and to a few comments that Edward Miliband made. I think I have a few tips for him.
We are elected and in power now, although I remind my colleagues that a month ago pollsters said otherwise. As my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his excellent speech, we defied expectation and were elected to govern with a majority Government, and we intend to govern accordingly. We were elected to continue with our long-term economic plan and our welfare reforms, which have seen employment rates at record highs, the number in the main out-of-work benefits down by 1 million since 2010 and workless household rates at record lows. We will also carry on our work on repairing the economy, reducing the deficit and creating jobs. That is our purpose, and we will stick to it.
I will pick up on some of the speeches that have been made, as is normal for a Member winding up a debate. I start with the right hon. Member for Doncaster North. I feel like I am the only one in the House who understands where he is. As he knows, and as I mentioned earlier, I won some money on him when he became the leader of the Labour party—I put a bet on him two years out. I never felt that I was wrong. Whatever else the British public and others may have decided, I have always felt, and I have told him this, that he is a decent man who is highly intelligent and motivated to serve the British people and his constituents. His speech today showed the best of him. In the leadership election campaign, there will be collective amnesia among some of his closest colleagues about who was in the room when policy decisions were made. He may feel now like he was the only man in the room, but that short-term memory loss will not last. His colleagues’ short-term memory does not mean that he should have anything less than a long-term political career. I sense that the best is yet to be.
There were a number of really good maiden speeches from Government Members. I will try to go through as many as I possibly can. I commend the speech of my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, who took well to his task of recommending his constituency. He made an incredibly fluent speech, and even though he strayed back to 1066 to draw upon his predecessors, he made powerful comments about getting the economy right, and always doing it with social justice. I recommend that he stays with that idea.
My hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer made a really interesting speech. I think she upset some Scottish National party Members when she referred to her predecessor but many, one Oliver Cromwell, who, she said, had found a solution to the West Lothian question that we might not necessarily wish to pursue today. [Interruption.] And the Irish problem, although some may say that he made it worse.
My hon. Friend Jeremy Quin spoke movingly about his predecessor. Our friend, Francis Maude, served diligently. He was always reminded that he was the one who signed the Maastricht treaty—everybody else apparently had a medical appointment on that particular day. He will go far.
My hon. Friend Amanda Milling showed her business prowess. She brings that very welcome experience to this House. As she represents Cannock Chase, I will offer her one little bit of advice: she should make sure she does not wear any fancy dress, as this does not help one’s prospects.
My hon. Friend Marcus Fysh made an excellent speech in which he talked about transport infrastructure and quoted T.S. Eliot on humility. It was a very powerful speech. I recommend it, for those who want to read it.
My hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake paid a strong tribute to Anne McIntosh, who served both in the European Parliament and here in the House of Commons with great distinction. Many of us who are her friends feel that she has yet still more to do. His business experience is most needed in this House. No matter what his age is—I have to say he looks pretty young to me—he will go far with that experience and he should use it.
My hon. Friend Simon Hoare spoke movingly about his constituency and recommended that everyone should tour there. His speech got a bit complicated when he started asking about wanting to set up all-party groups on country dancing à la Thomas Hardy. I will leave that to him if he does not mind, but he spoke very well indeed.
My hon. Friend Edward Argar finished off by paying tribute to his predecessor, Stephen Dorrell, who served with huge distinction in this House through some very difficult periods, particularly when he was Health Secretary. He spoke well and fluently. I recommend him to the House.
Many other hon. Members spoke well, but I cannot go through them all. I hope they will forgive me if I do not mention them. I will make one exception and mention Roger Mullin. I thought he spoke brilliantly. He is the successor to Gordon Brown and he spoke just as powerfully and as loudly as him—and almost with the same politics. I wondered whether there had been any change at all, although he is not quite the same age. I recommend him to his colleagues and to the House. He made a really, really good speech.
The Queen’s Speech builds on the best of what we can do here in Parliament and sets out our plans for the next. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it very clear that we will introduce a full employment Bill. It will contain a range of measures to reform welfare and to grow the economy. We will give more people the security of a pay packet by achieving full employment and we will report on progress annually. We have the highest employment rates in the G7. Too many Opposition Members kept on repeating the same mantra they had before, laying out the course for more spending, more borrowing and more taxation. The electorate rejected that at the election and we must never cease to remind them.
There are four areas in the welfare Bill. I want to speak about three areas in particular. In the previous Parliament, we delivered 2.2 million apprenticeships. It is really important to train and provide the skills our young and older people need to get on and to develop their productivity. We intend to deliver a further 3 million. We intend to report on this. We take it so seriously that the Chancellor has made it clear that he will not put up with any divergence: we will get those apprenticeships and they will work.
In conclusion, we will pursue what we set out to do: unemployment going down, workless households down, the deficit down. The Queen’s Speech builds on our success and I commend it to the House.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: at the end of the Question to add:
“but regret that the measures set out do not adequately meet the challenges facing the majority of people across the UK; call in particular for your Government to change course on plans for further austerity spending cuts, to reconsider changes to the welfare state that will hit many of the most vulnerable people in our country and to halt proposals to waste £100 billion on new nuclear weapons at a time when vital public services are being squeezed across the country; and recognise the overwhelming mandate in Scotland for both the early implementation, in full, of the Smith Commission proposals and the delivery of additional powers for the Scottish Parliament including new powers on job creation, to improve living standards and to protect the welfare state in Scotland.”.—(Stewart Hosie.)
Question put forthwith (
The House divided:
Ayes 60, Noes 318.