The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley 2:20 pm, 26th May 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Edward Leigh. The circulation of “Labour’s Future” on the Tory Benches is obviously having an impact on some of the policy areas outlined by the hon. Gentleman, such as the forced academisation of schools and the plight of the working poor. Today, I will focus on tax transparency and prison reform.

In the Gracious Speech, Her Majesty said:

“My government will use the opportunity of a strengthening economy to deliver security for working people, to increase life chances for the most disadvantaged and to strengthen national defences.”

I certainly do not disagree with those sentiments, although I would question the strength of our economy. We debate the Queen’s Speech with a referendum on our membership of the European Union looming, the outcome of which could affect the Government’s ability to turn those words into action. It is my belief that our economy and security benefit enormously from our membership of the European Union and they would be at risk should we leave. Whatever happens on 23 June, it is important to recognise and acknowledge the power and responsibility that we have today as a national Parliament to tackle the challenges facing our country and to institute change. Unlike the defeatism and politics of despair expressed by politicians arguing to leave the European Union, I proudly believe in a British democracy that allows us to act independently of the EU while strengthening Britain and the EU through our membership.

We need a strong economy, but it will work only if everyone from the cleaner to the chief executive and from the corner shop to the corporate giant is paying their fair share of tax. On prison reform, crime robs our economy, ruins lives, demoralises communities and costs us more and more every time a prisoner returns to a life of crime.

Within the world of multinationals, aggressive tax avoidance, hidden behind corporate walls, is denying Britain and many other countries the taxes they are due. That is why tax transparency is the single most important thing that we can achieve. While international and European action is deserving of support, it should not paralyse the UK Government and stop them from taking a lead especially if multilateral proposals are not good enough. We need public, country-by-country reporting, which is why I will be seeking to amend the Finance Bill, in line with my ten-minute rule Bill of the previous Parliament, to ensure that that happens. I have cross-party support, including the support of every member of the Public Accounts Committee, and organisations dealing with development and tax transparency and fairness support my endeavours. I hope the Government will support them, too, because it is important to know not only what we should be getting, but what businesses in the developing world are doing and how developing countries are being denied what they should be taking in tax, having to rely on international aid instead.

Turning to prison reform, the Government announced that prison governors

“will be given unprecedented freedom and they will be able to ensure prisoners receive better education”,

but the story so far is not encouraging. The 2014-15 report of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons states:

“You were more likely to die in prison than five years ago. More prisoners were murdered, killed themselves, self-harmed and were victims of assaults than five years ago.”

Assaults on staff were up 40% in the five years of the previous Government. All of that comes while prison staff numbers are cut.