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Thank you for drawing me out first in the ballot this morning, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not sure how long we will have to get the Bill through, but perhaps I should be less keen on an election now than I was first thing this morning.
This Queen’s Speech offers a plethora of things that will be warmly welcomed in my constituency: getting Brexit sorted; £34 billion for the NHS; £14 billion for schools; 20,000 more police officers; longer prison sentences; a world-leading Environment Bill; faster broadband; and investment in infrastructure. With a list like that, what’s not to like? It is almost churlish to think of some ideas that the Government have not included, but I have three and a half minutes left, so I ought to have a go. First, may I urge the Government that we need a bit of a focus on what we need to do to improve things in the harder-to-reach parts of the country? I would include in that the smaller towns in constituencies such as mine, where investment has not come at the rate it has into cities or other parts of the country, and where investment in schools has lagged behind. The rise to £5,000 from next year gives my local schools a 6% increase overall and is greatly welcome, but we have not got school standards in the white working-class areas of the country, especially for boys, anything like as good as we would need them to be. Perhaps it is now time for a targeted focus on how we get standards in areas that are behind up to the national average.
Another issue is how local economies retain the skills of people when they have perhaps been to university or elsewhere, rather than having brain drain when they move elsewhere. I support an idea from local employer David Nieper Ltd, which would like to have some extra support so that small and medium employers can sponsor young people from the area through university courses that their businesses need, in return for those young people working in the businesses afterwards. Perhaps a version of the R&D tax credit for a skills tax credit could help in that situation. It would keep people in the local area and they would end up with less debt. It would be a win all round.
Let me touch on what else we could do to boost the regional economy once we have left the EU and have much more freedom for our tax regime. One thing we should look into is what tax-varying powers we could use for the regions of England, rather than thinking that that can be done only for the devolved nations. I cannot see any reason why we could not have a lower corporation tax rate in the midlands and the north, to encourage business investment in those areas rather than just in the south-east. Why could we not have a different business rates regime? Why could we not have lower air passenger duty to boost connectivity into regional airports, rather than the crowded south-east? All these things would boost the regional economy, and they would not need to be applied in London so would not cost quite so much money.
Finally, I should mention the very welcome Pension Schemes Bill that was announced in the Queen’s Speech. It has not been the subject of much excitement today. The really important measure in it is the one on the pension dashboard, which will mean our constituents will all be able to find out exactly how much pension they have saved. There is a real risk, though, that they will find out that they do not have enough. We need to do more to boost saving, for both pensions and other things. I urge the Government to think about that.
We have successfully escalated auto-enrolment levels without the opt-out levels that were feared. Is it not now time to try to increase savings levels a bit earlier than the mid-2020s, so that we can try to get people to save the amount that we know they really need? Is there any way that we can add some flexibility into the system, so that perhaps people in their early 20s are not faced with a choice between saving for a pension and saving for a deposit on a house? Is there a way they could use their pension to get on the housing ladder? That would be a huge asset in their retirement and save them paying housing costs.
Overall, I am more than happy to support the Queen’s Speech. It delivers on most of my constituents’ priorities and I commend it to the House.