The Economy

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:26 pm on 4th June 2015.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Conservative, Rushcliffe 1:26 pm, 4th June 2015

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.