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[1st Day]

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 21st June 2017.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 7:10 pm, 21st June 2017

My hon. Friend has got that absolutely right. Indeed, that is very much the point I am trying to make. My suggestion to my right hon. and hon. Friends is that we let our negotiator get on with this task without undue noises off. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union clearly has the skills and experience to deliver the best deal. I am sure that we should try to work across the political parties on this and perhaps also widen the scope for business to contribute its expertise more broadly as part of the negotiations, but let us let my right hon. Friend get on with it. I want to warn my right hon. Friends that we as a party own this process. If it goes wrong and is seen to be an economic cost to Britain, the eyes of the electorate will narrow, regardless of how our constituents voted in the referendum, and the revenge that will be wrought on our party at the subsequent polls will be hideous to behold.

Finally, I want to make a party political point. I suspect that I was not alone in being deeply dismayed, during the election campaign, by the almost total failure to contest Labour’s assertion that austerity was somehow a voluntary measure and the infliction by the Conservative Government of some sort of Tory vice. It is a myth that we can abandon austerity and indefinitely run a significant annual deficit and ballooning debt. We have been able to maintain the deficit only because the markets have trusted Conservative Ministers to deliver fiscal discipline. In Britain today, we have a serious intergenerational problem. Far from helping young people, failure to address the deficit would be a betrayal of the young because they will have to pay in due course for the overspending of their parents’ generation. As it happens, I do not think I know any young people who voted Conservative at this election, although my own two daughters assured me that they would have done so, had they voted in Sutton Coldfield.

This message of fiscal discipline—fiscal reality, as it seems to me—needs to be explained and amplified once again. Our generation cannot go on spending money we do not have and have not earned. We can resile from hard spending decisions but it is our children and grandchildren who will pay. We need to explain once again how sky-high tax levels bring in less revenue and how raising corporation tax costs jobs, deters business and drives investment away. We heard precious little about the economy during the election, yet unemployment in Britain is lower today than at any time since I was at school. We need to engage with and revisit these vital arguments.

There are other issues on which we can work together across the parties. The issue of how we fund and organise the NHS and social care is urgently in need of a full-scale review. My personal view is that the extent of the problems in the NHS has been marked by the extremely skilful handling of this matter by the Health Secretary. However, we simply cannot go on with this sticking plaster approach. This nettle must be grasped, and if the concept had not been so discredited by the television programme “Yes, Minister”, I would have thought that some sort of royal commission structure would be appropriate. Some mechanism for inclusive national debate about the way forward must be found. We cannot continue to coax a quart out of a pint pot. Staff morale has been stretched to its limits. We all know that that is true and we must therefore do something about it. I am particularly pleased to see the announcement of a consultation on mental health services in the Gracious Speech.