Queen's Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:44 pm on 16th May 2012.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 4:44 pm, 16th May 2012

My Lords, six months ago I read out this quote:

"The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences".-[Hansard, Commons, 12/11/36; col. 1117.]

Those were the words of Winston Churchill in 1936, and we all know what happened three years later.

We have finally had a Queen's Speech, after what I believe was an unacceptably long gap of two years. Could the Government assure us that this will not happen again, and that we will have year-long sessions in future, as is customary?

One message that the Government have very clearly got across in their two years is talking tough about austerity, and the two big benefits of this have been that Britain has retained its AAA credit rating and continued to enjoy phenomenally low bond yields, as the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, said. But how long can tough talk last? I am glad that the Government have stopped blaming all the problems on the previous Government-although they have just done so. Now they are blaming Europe, and we have the eurozone crisis building up and about to explode, as many of us predicted. France and Germany, formerly the best of friends, are now at loggerheads, and there is growing certainty that Greece will have to leave the euro-it is almost definite-with all the possible contagion that this will bring. We have entered a double-dip recession. The Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, wrote recently:

"Britain ... has achieved the remarkable feat of doing worse this time around than it did in the 1930s".

And what is in the gracious Speech? We hear that:

"A bill will be brought forward to reform the composition of the House of Lords".

Is that the most important thing in the public's mind? We know that it is not. It is the lowest priority to this country, and if we go down that route we will be accused by our people of being like Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

On top of this, we have had a Budget with some great measures in it, such as cutting the 50p rate of tax. I believe that it should go down to 40p. It also reduced corporation tax, which was fantastic. On the other hand, it was a PR disaster, upsetting so many people: charities, pensioners, heritage lovers, the Church of England and even pasty consumers. Now, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has said that the child benefit plans announced in the Budget are seriously flawed.

On top of that, we have business leaders criticising the Queen's Speech for not having enough of a plan for growth for business. As we have heard, the response from the Government is that these leaders of business should stop whinging and work harder. I know from running my business how tough it is to grow a business in this economic environment-and the Government are saying to me that I am not working hard enough? How dare they?

We have had blunder after blunder. The NHS reform has been badly handled to the extent that we face the dreadful thought of doctors going on strike. The defence review was rushed through, and now we face the blunder of having no carriers and no Harriers for almost a decade, with the Government executing a U-turn on the carrier aircraft which will cost us billions from the defence budget. Will the Government accept that they have made a blunder with regard to the loss of capability and of money on that score?

The Government have cut higher education funding, one of the jewels in Britain's crown. Just last week a report was released that found that in government expenditure as a percentage of GDP for higher education, we in Britain came 41st out of 48 countries in the world. I have been saying for many years that we need to increase spending on higher education funding. One reason the United States is always ahead of the game is because it invests far more, in absolute terms and as a proportion of GDP, in both public and private expenditure on higher education. That is why its productivity and its innovation are always streets ahead. Why do not we learn from that? Could the Government explain?

Then we have had the big society-big talk and big platitudes, with the best of intentions. People could genuinely question whether the Government are in tune and in touch with people. Only one city out of 10 wanted an elected mayor. Now we have elected police commissioners, and we know that the public are not that keen on that. The turnout in elections is bad, with that for the London mayor elections at only 38%. In India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, turnout was at 60% in the recent legislative elections. Do not the Government understand that people do not want more elections, politicians and partisan bickering? People's worries are about their jobs, job security and economic prosperity; that is the priority.

On top of this we have had the immigration cap, which wrong-headedly encompasses foreign students. Would the Government admit that, by including foreign students in the overall immigration numbers, they are forgoing an enormous opportunity, which brings up to £8 billion into this economy? Nick Pearce, a fellow member of the UK-India Round Table and director of the IPPR, recently asked:

"Will the next generation of world leaders, like Manmohan Singh, Benazir Bhutto or Bill Clinton, be educated in the UK if the UK Government restrict the flow of students to the UK's world-class universities?".

As someone who came to study in this country from India, I know how much foreign students bring to this country and the bridges that we build for generations to come.

On the other hand, where schools are concerned, I pay tribute to my old sparring partner, Michael Gove. For two years running he led the Oxford Union while I led the Cambridge Union-although we will not ask what the result was. Last week we both spoke at the Brighton College education conference. I believe that he is doing absolutely the right thing in freeing schools from the shackles of local councils, encouraging free schools and academies, and appreciating the independent schools in this country, which are the best in the world.

The gracious Speech states:

"My Government will build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers".

As president of the UK India Business Council, which is backed by UKTI, I see the phenomenal opportunities offered by companies such as Tata, which owns Jaguar Land Rover, creates jobs over here and now exports Jaguar Land Rover cars back to India. That makes me feel very proud. However, as a proud manufacturer, I note that there was nothing in the gracious Speech about encouraging manufacturing or providing tax incentives for manufacturing. Will the Minister tell us why the Government cannot do this?

We have a bloated public sector that the Government are rightly trying to cut. Public spending should be 40% of GDP. We have taxes that are too high in terms of VAT, fuel duty and income tax, and we have a welfare state and a benefits trap that need to be addressed. I am glad to see that the Government addressed welfare spending in the gracious Speech although I understand that this is a sensitive issue.