I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected amendment (e) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and amendments (c) and (d), which will be moved formally at the end of the debate.
I beg to move amendment (e), at the end of the Question to add:
“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to deliver for working people, to protect public services and to address the black hole in the public finances; further regret that the Government’s economic policy has unfairness at its core and includes tax cuts for the wealthy while failing to deal with inequality; regret the refusal of the Scottish Government to use its new tax powers to put an end to austerity in Scotland; regret that the Government is presiding over the worst decade for pay growth in nearly a century; call on the Government to adopt Labour’s Fiscal Credibility Rule to invest in a sustainable economy for the future and to adopt Labour’s Tax Transparency Enforcement Programme to tackle tax avoidance; regret that the Government has failed to defend the UK steel industry, believe the Government should reform the lesser duty rule and call on the Government to give Parliament a vote on giving China market economy status and to adopt Labour’s 4 Point Plan to save the steel industry as a part of a long-term industrial strategy; further call on the Government to reverse the cuts to Universal Credit work allowances; and call on the Government to abandon its misguided proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998.”.
I rise to speak to the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, myself and several colleagues.
Last week was the first time I had actually visited the other place to listen to Her Majesty read the Queen’s Speech. Usually, I avoid the crush and stay here to have a chat with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). I have to say that my admiration for the Queen was immensely increased by her ability to keep a straight face while reading the fictional drivel that is called the Queen’s Speech.
The Queen’s Speech before us demonstrates conclusively the massive distance between the Chancellor and the real world. It opened with an extraordinary piece of doublespeak. The Government apparently think we live in a “strengthening economy”. They are seemingly not paying attention to their own statistics and their own forecasts. After precipitating the slowest recovery in modern British history, the Chancellor is now presiding over a recovery built on sand. Business investment has slumped again—by 0.5% in the first quarter, according to this morning’s figures—and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s most recent forecasts are for downward revisions in business investment across the life of this Parliament. Consumer debt is rising at record rates, and is forecast to remain at unprecedented levels. The current account deficit has reached record highs. We are borrowing more than ever before from the rest of the world as a result. We are not, as the Queen’s Speech claimed “living within our means”—far from it, on the Government’s own figures.
Productivity has slumped under this Government. The gap between what the average hour worked in Britain produces and what the average hour worked in the US, France or Germany produces is bigger than it has been for a generation. Every hour worked in Germany produces one third more, on average, than it does here. Low productivity is the sign of a weakened, damaged economy. It means lower wages and more insecurity. The slump that has occurred in productivity has been far worse in this country under this Chancellor than in any comparable G7 economy. It is what has caused the Office for Budget Responsibility to revise its future forecasts downwards.
Does my hon. Friend accept that in the 10 years of the Labour Government to 2008—pre-crash—the economy grew by 40% and that, after the banking crash, we left debt at 55% of the economy in 2010, a figure that is now 83%? Does that not show a failure to grow the economy effectively or to manage productivity?
Order. May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that he has already tested the patience of the House and should not continue to do so? I care about colleagues on both sides of this House and will make sure that everybody gets in, so—unfortunately—interventions must be very short. The list of speakers is very long, and I do not want any Members to miss out.
I do not want to be discourteous to any Members, but as you suggest, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will take only a limited number of interventions.
On the crash, let us be clear—[Interruption.] Well, let us talk about the crash. The policy of deregulating the banking system, turning the City of London into a casino, was the policy pursued by the Conservative Government for the previous 30 years.
Let us move on to the criterion of growth. Growth has been revised downwards for every year for the rest of this decade, and when the OBR revised its forecasts downwards, the Chancellor’s entire Budget plan was shot to pieces. He has been left with a £4.8 billion black hole of committed spending, but there is no committed funding. It is nonsensical to claim, as the Government’s Queen’s Speech did, that the public finances are being placed on a “secure footing” when there are gaping holes in the Budget and the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinks there is only a 50:50 chance of meeting the Government’s own fiscal surplus target. This is betting the nation’s finances on the equivalent of tossing a coin. There is nothing responsible and there is nothing “secure” in setting unrealistic and politically motivated targets for public spending cuts.
It is useless to preach to us about the need for a “stronger economy” when, by his actions in office for six years, the Chancellor has methodically undermined the economy. This was his choice. Austerity was a political choice, not an economic necessity. We all now live and are still living with its consequences. Because it was the wrong choice to make, the Chancellor has failed, and it is the British people who are bearing the cost.
The Chancellor has piled failure upon failure, but at the centre of it all is the failure to sustain productivity. Productivity is the key to growth in any modern economy, and the surest way to achieve increased productivity is through increased investment. Increased investment means installing new equipment and replacing old infrastructure, yet business investment remains weak. When business investment is weak, the Government should step up to make sure vital, world-class infrastructure is provided—from high-speed rail to high-speed broadband. There is now consensus from the International Monetary Fund to the OECD, and from the CBI to the TUC, in urging Governments—not just in this country but across the world—about the need to invest in the future, but this Government are clinging to their fiscal surplus target, which is set actually to cut real-terms Government investment over the course of this Parliament. Mr Deputy Speaker, you could not imagine a more perverse and inadequate economic policy.
Behind the failure to invest lies the failure of our economic institutions. Too many of them have been captured by special interests or place short-term gain ahead of long-term growth. We have major corporations, which are sitting on a cash pile of up to £700 billion, paying out high salaries to senior executives while failing to invest. It is no wonder that in the past month we have seen a series of shareholders revolts against the remuneration packages of some chief executives.
We have a Business Department that does not actually believe in supporting business and refuses even to mention the words “industrial strategy”. In Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, we have a department for tax collection that does not believe in collecting taxes—not, at least, from major corporations. That was demonstrated by the fact that when it struck a deal with Google that reflected an effective tax rate in single digits, the Chancellor calls it a “major success”. I have written to the Chancellor to make sure he urgently contacts the French authorities, so that any information they find during their investigation into Google’s Paris headquarters is shared with us to give us a better understanding of Google’s operations in the UK.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly how much money was raised from Google when Labour was last in power?
It is interesting to note that the inquiry into Google was started under the Labour Government. It is also interesting that the last assessment that was made, not by us but by the Financial Times—an independent organisation—said that the measures introduced by that Labour Government would reap tax rewards 10 times greater than anything introduced by this Government. After six years, the Chancellor has no one to blame but himself.
The Queen’s Speech furnished us with plenty more unreal promises. The Government say that they
“will support aspiration and promote home ownership”.
Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of our young people who now have no serious chance of ever owning a home of their own. Home ownership has fallen to its lowest level in decades on this Chancellor’s watch. Rough sleeping has risen in London by 30% in the past year, the biggest rise since the current reporting procedures were introduced. Nearly 70,000 families are now living in temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfast accommodation. Nine in 10 under-35s on modest incomes could be frozen out of home ownership by 2025 according to independent analysis.
That phenomenon is not just happening in London; we now have tents in the streets of Manchester. Is that not a shocking indictment of this Government’s housing policy?
It is a shocking indictment of a Labour council.
I have a Conservative council. In my constituency tonight I will have possibly 200 families living in bed and breakfasts. There are individuals sleeping in our parks and along the canals. In my constituency, we have reinvented the back-to-back, where one family rents the front of a house and another rents the back. We have beds in sheds rented to families. It is a disgrace. This Government have been in power for six years and homelessness has escalated.
According to the Queen’s Speech, the Government will “spread economic prosperity”. Tell that to the steelworkers I met in Redcar, where the Government failed even to mothball the plant to save their local futures. Tell that to the British Home Stores workers facing redundancy as their boss, Sir Philip Green—a Government adviser—stripped their business clean.
In the Queen’s Speech the Government said they will
“continue to support the…Northern Powerhouse.”
That will be why they are closing its Sheffield office and threatening another six offices across the north with closure. That will be why, of the top 15 infrastructure projects with the most public funding, one is in the north.
In the Queen’s Speech, the Government say not that they will tackle poverty and deprivation, but that they will redefine them. The Chancellor’s shameful response to the 1 million people using our food banks every year is to
“introduce new indicators for measuring life chances”.
His failed austerity programme has a human cost, with 500,000 more children in this country forced into poverty and nearly 13 million people now living in poverty. More than half of those people are in work. This Queen’s Speech offers no solutions to those who have barely enough to feed their families and cannot pay to heat their houses. Instead, the Government will simply make sure that they are counting those people’s misery properly.
Will the shadow Chancellor consider celebrating the fact that one third of the working constituents in Bexhill and Battle are receiving a pay rise because of the national living wage, taking those people off the breadline and further up the pay scale?
I would celebrate it if it was a real living wage and if many of those people were not also suffering from cuts to universal credit.
The reality is that after six years of desperate efforts to impose cuts on our economy, against the best available advice from the economics profession itself, the Chancellor is staring an entirely predictable failure in the face. He started out with such high-flown promises. There was going to be a “march of the makers”, yet today, manufacturing is still smaller than in 2008. There was going to be a rebalancing of the economy, yet today for every three jobs created in London just one is created in the rest of the country. There was going to be a modernised tax service, but, as the National Audit Office pointed out in a damning report earlier this week, the quality of service at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has collapsed in the past year as a result of staffing cuts. He promised increased investment, but he cut Government investment spending and now plans to cut it further. In 2010 he forecast the fastest recovery in living memory, but he has delivered the slowest recovery in modern British history.
Let us talk about job creation. The Chancellor and his Government have, perhaps understandably, clung to the job creation figures. Every month they are greeted with rare enthusiasm by Ministers. The reality is that two thirds of those in poverty—nearly 9 million people—are in work. [Interruption.]
Order. The Treasury Bench does not need to be echoing all the way along. Can we give it a break? The Chancellor will be speaking soon and you will expect me to treat people in the same way. I expect the shadow Chancellor to be heard, not shouted down. [Interruption.] Now, I have been very good so far, but I do not want to hear any more. I am sure that the Whips Office could do with someone to go and make a cup of tea. If they do not want one, I might later.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you are a class act. The shout was, “Do we welcome the jobs?” Of course we do, but let us be clear: too many of the jobs created since 2010 have been poorly paid and insecure. Some 800,000 people are now on zero-hours contracts. Insecurity at work has been made worse by the undermining of employment rights by the Government. There is no need for that.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Trussell Trust, which provides the food bank in Southwark, is providing food bank support to hundreds of people in work? It estimates that 10% of the people it serves in central London are in work.
We welcome new jobs, but insecurity and poor pay mean that the numbers in work who are going along to get support from food banks is growing rather than reducing.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will press on, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I know we are under time pressure.
All this is the direct result of a failure to invest. Too many businesses have substituted cheap labour for expensive investment. To be frank, they cannot be blamed for that, as the Government have set the lead, cutting their own investment spending. Low investment and weak productivity have real-world consequences. They mean talent wasted and opportunities lost. Some people are stretched to breaking point, working long hours just to make ends meet. Others are left to languish, desperately searching for extra hours. Even the Government’s own forecasters do not expect wages to recover before 2020.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will in a second. Millions of people are now self-employed, but their average earnings have fallen by 22% since the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) became Chancellor. The Queen’s Speech tells us that the Government plan to create an economy
“where work is rewarded.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who work hardest are being punished with cuts to tax credits, but tax dodgers and the super-rich are rewarded with tax cuts.
On the subject of jobs, the former Leader of the Opposition—he is a proven winner who the shadow Chancellor and the current Leader of the Opposition want back on the Front Bench—said that the Government’s policy would cost 1.2 million jobs. Does the shadow Chancellor concede that that was plain wrong?
As I said earlier, rather than invest, employers have tried to use cheap labour, and that has had an impact on wages and living conditions, which is unacceptable.
This Government have failed and will continue to fail on every measure they set themselves. They have failed in their target to reduce the debt, on their welfare cap target, and on their target to close the deficit. The Government have lost their way. Gone is the pretence of being the new “workers party”, as was trumpeted so loudly last summer. That disappeared when they started cutting in-work benefits. The Government wander around from crisis to crisis, looking for another U-turn to make. Cuts to personal independence payments were scrapped, as was forced academisation. Measures to address the tampon tax and cuts to renewables subsidies were abandoned. Only one policy directive seems to hold this sorry excuse for a Government together, and that is the policy—in defiance of all sound economic advice—to impose spending cuts of a viciousness not seen in this country for generations.
There is consensus across this House that a strong economy is the foundation on which all else can be built. This Government have not created a strong economy—strong on rhetoric perhaps, and strong on creative accountancy, as the last Budget revealed, but the Chancellor’s economy is a jerry-built structure that rests on a recovery built on sand. The Chancellor has had plenty of opportunities to “fix the roof when the sun was shining” —as he so memorably put it in happier times—but he has simply failed. That would have meant taking a different approach, and we all hope that once the referendum is out of the way, the economy will pick up. Without change, however, the trajectory for our economy is clear.
We are trapped in a low-wage, low-skill, low-investment and low-productivity economy. We need a Government who adopt a sensible and credible fiscal rule, enabling long-term and patient investment in our economy, and we need a Government who use record low interest rates to invest in the future. As a minimum, the Government should now invest in the infrastructure, skills and technology that can help to transform how this economy operates. We need a Government who clamp down on tax avoidance. They could go further and overhaul a tax system that is manifestly failing to levy fair rates on those who can pay the most.
We need a Government with an industrial policy who back the steel industry, and who work with our European partners to clamp down on the flooding of our markets with cheap subsidised Chinese steel. The Government could also seek to transform the institutions that govern our economy, from the Treasury to the great corporations, unlocking potential that is otherwise wasted when vested interests dominate decision-making. The Queen’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to accept that austerity has failed and to change course, but it was not taken. If the Government cannot write a speech for Her Majesty to undo the damage they have inflicted and set out a confident course for this country’s economy, it is clearly time for Labour to lead the way.
Let us be explicit: Labour rejects the failed and cruel austerity programme adopted by this Government. Instead, working in partnership with business, entrepreneurs and workers, Labour would create an entrepreneurial state to support innovation, create wealth, and drive growth, and we would share the proceeds of that growth fairly. By investing in our economy, Labour would lay the foundations of a new society that is radically fairer, more equal, and more democratic—an alternative based on a prosperous economy that is economically sound, environmentally sustainable, and where such prosperity is shared by all.
On the last day of debate on the Queen’s Speech I rise to support our plan, which offers security and opportunity to working people in this country. That is what the British people entrusted us to deliver in the general election almost exactly a year ago, and that is what we commit to providing in the programme for the coming year.
There is, of course, a bold programme of social reform. We offer the biggest reform of the prison service since the Victorian era, so that we protect the public, and punish wrongdoers while also giving them a chance to rehabilitate themselves and contribute to society. We will overhaul social care and adoption to improve the life chances of some of the most vulnerable young people in our country, and we will continue to improve our education system, raising standards in schools so that our children are equipped with the skills they will need to lead fulfilling lives. We will reform our universities so that they remain the best in the world, and are agents for social mobility at the forefront of expanding human knowledge. We will address the crisis of childhood obesity that is damaging our children’s health and threatens to overwhelm our health service unless we act with a new sugar tax on soft drinks. None of those reforms to improve our healthcare, security and social care would be possible without the bedrock of financial stability and prosperity that our long-term economic plan is delivering.
Does the Chancellor accept that if the best universities raise their prices, the poorest will be deterred from going? Instead of getting the best students, we will get the richest, which is simply wrong.
I do not agree with that. Evidence shows that as a result of university reforms introduced by the Labour Government—which the hon. Gentleman used to support—and by the coalition Government and now this Conservative Government, not only are a record number of students going to our universities, but a record number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going. I find it extraordinary that a Labour party that introduced tuition fees is now promising to scrap them and create a £10 billion hole that will presumably be filled by taxes that are paid by those who did not go to university and have lower incomes. That is the so-called progressive policy of the so-called progressive Labour party.
The Chancellor says he is proud of the Government’s track record on social care. How many fewer older and disabled people receive social care services from local authorities now than when he took office in 2010?
We have put more money into social care, and we have allowed the precept to be applied by councils, many of which have taken up that option. As a result, more money will go into social care in the coming years. That is what we have done, but we could not do any of those things such as support social care or universities without a sound economic policy. I listened in complete incredulity to yet another speech from yet another shadow Chancellor promising yet more billions of pounds of spending, borrowing, and extra taxes. It is as if the scorching experience of the financial crash eight years ago, and the crippling deficit with which Labour saddled this country, never happened.
When the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned the record of the Labour Government he kept saying, “Up until 2008”, as if he had forgotten that the biggest crash in modern history was while the Labour party was in office. It is a bit like saying to Mrs Lincoln, “Apart from the assassination, did you enjoy the play?”
Will the Chancellor remind the House of whether he met his deficit target for 2015?
The deficit has come down by another £16 billion. When I first stood at the Dispatch Box as Chancellor of the Exchequer we had a budget deficit of close to 11% of our national income, and £1 in every £4 that we spent on everything from hospitals to schools and police had to be borrowed. This year that figure is projected to be below 3%, and we are projected to have a surplus by the end of this Parliament.
Will the Chancellor also remind the House what he has managed to do to employment rates in this country while cutting the deficit?
A record number of people are in work and we have created almost 2.5 million jobs in this economy. Yesterday at the end of my remarks I referred to a report that the Labour party has produced on its future. This independent inquiry is chaired by the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas). Let us see what Labour says about Labour:
“A tsunami of aspirant voters sank Labour…Voters abandoned Labour because they believed Labour lacked economic credibility…the perception was that it would be profligate in government… Labour is losing its working-class support… Labour has marched away from the views of voters… Labour is becoming a toxic brand.”
That is the Labour party’s own verdict on the Labour party. It concludes by saying—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Surely this is meant to be a debate about the Queen’s Speech, not the Labour party?
How the Chancellor chooses to use his speech is up to him. I would have thought that, since it is his Queen’s Speech, his focus would be on that, but it is up to him.
We cannot talk about the Queen’s Speech unless we know what the alternative might look like. This is what the Labour party says about itself: it says the Labour party is becoming increasingly
“irrelevant to the…working people in the country.”
If we think Labour has learned any lessons, this is what has happened today. The leader of the Labour party has today appointed someone called Andrew Fisher as the head of policy for the Labour party. This is a man who campaigned against Labour candidates at the general election in Croydon. This is a man who took part in the 2010 student riots and boasted about breaking through police lines, scaring the police and hurling abuse at them. This is what his economic policy consists of: public ownership of all land in the country; nationalising all banks; and returning to a three-day week. This is the man who has just become the Labour party’s head of policy.
It is interesting that the Chancellor is talking about Labour’s future when his own is so shrouded in uncertainty. On his own record, has debt as a percentage of GDP gone up or down since he became Chancellor?
An 11% budget deficit means the debt is added to every year. Until the deficit comes right down, we cannot get the debt down. That is what we are doing and why we want to avoid an 11% budget deficit.
Another sign of how the Labour party is changing is the motion it is asking us to vote on tonight. It contains an intriguing clause that relates to Scotland. It states that they
“regret the refusal of the Scottish Government to use its new tax powers to put an end to austerity in Scotland”.
That is code for Labour wanting to put up taxes in Scotland. If it does not want the Scottish Government to use their tax powers to put up taxes to put an end to austerity in Scotland, how does it propose to do it? Labour fought the election in Scotland proposing a 1p increase in the basic rate of income tax. That was the Scottish Labour party’s policy, which was so successful in that election. Here, the UK Labour party is putting that into a parliamentary motion and asking the Labour party to vote on it tonight. We have a report from the Labour party saying that it is irrelevant to working people; the head of policy wants to nationalise land and return to a three-day week; and the parliamentary Labour party will be voting tonight to increase the basic rate of income tax. That is the state of the Labour party today.
The Chancellor has taken us through what has been happening in the Labour party recently. May I ask him to comment on what has been said about him and his leader by the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who took through welfare reform over the past five years? He called the Prime Minister “disingenuous” and the Chancellor a liar and “Pinocchio”. Where does that leave you, Chancellor?
We worked together to bring welfare bills down and to make work pay. I am working with the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) to carry on that record in government. We will go on building that strong economy and the sound public finances that underpin a fair society.
I thank the Chancellor for giving way. He is being most generous. I note that the Chancellor has been reading from the “Labour’s Future” report. I wonder whether he has seen the executive summary, which states:
“Labour lost because voters didn’t believe it would cut the deficit. The Tories didn’t win despite their commitment to cut spending and the deficit: they won because of it. The Tories were trusted to manage the country’s finances, Labour was not.”
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the verdict of this report is that Labour is on life support, the policies of the shadow Chancellor are “do not resuscitate”. That is what he is condemning the Labour party to.
The right hon. Gentleman is more interested in talking about Labour’s policies than his own. May I remind him that the Tory party just lost every mayoral election in the recent elections?
Labour had the worst results for an Opposition party in more than 30 years and were reduced to third place in Scotland. And Labour Members think that that is a good set of results! As far as we are concerned, if they want to carry on in this parallel universe that suits us just fine. Meanwhile, we are going to get on with governing the country, improving the economy and reforming our society.
The Government have made huge progress in the past six years. We inherited one of the weakest economies in the advanced world, which had had one of the biggest crashes. It is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the advanced world. We inherited an economy in which millions of people risked losing their job, and hundreds of thousands had. We now have a record number of people in work. We reduced the budget deficit. Our commitment to the northern powerhouse has seen investment projects in the region increase by 120% in the past two years. The verdict of the IMF in its recent examination of the British economy is clear:
“The UK’s recent economic performance has been strong, and considerable progress has been achieved in addressing underlying vulnerabilities.”
It said growth was robust and that
“the unemployment rate has fallen substantially, employment has reached an historic high, the fiscal deficit has been reduced, and financial sector resilience has increased.”
That is the independent verdict of the IMF. In the past, article IVs have been critical of the British economy; now they celebrate what we have achieved.
Many challenges remain, of course, and that is what the economic reforms in the Queen’s Speech will address. There is the immediate crisis in the global steel industry. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has just outlined to the House all our efforts to secure jobs here at home. There is a long-term challenge facing western societies of how we increase productivity growth. Improvements in productivity drive lasting improvements in living standards. That is a challenge for all countries. Indeed, the latest figures today from the United States show that productivity is set to fall this year for the first time in 30 years.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions the steel industry. The judgment of the people of Teesside is not as favourable as he seems to think it might be. There is a nationwide proposal for innovation, research and development on the table from the Materials Processing Institute that would propel our steel industry through the creation of academy centres. Will the Chancellor encourage the Business Secretary to attend the site and examine the proposal for himself? It would benefit the whole industry,
It has been a very difficult time for steelworkers and their families on Teesside. We have provided financial assistance to those families. We have worked with local Labour authorities to help to remediate the site and bring more jobs and opportunities into the area. I will take a very close look at the proposal. As part of the Government’s industrial policy, we are supporting research and innovation through such things as the Catapult centres, which have been a real success.
I am listening carefully to the Chancellor’s comments about investment in research and innovation, which is important for improving productivity in the steel industry. On that basis, will he reconsider the case for business rate relief for the installation of new plant and machinery by big industries such as steel?
I personally looked closely at this proposal, and it would cost more than £3 billion a year. It is a very expensive tax reduction, only a small proportion of which would go to the steel industry and none of which would go to the steel industry in Wales, where rates are devolved to the Welsh Government. That is why we have not taken that step. We have done other things to reduce business rates for small businesses and changed the uprating of business rates for all firms, including large industrial firms, to the consumer prices index, which will bring a massive saving over many years, but I judged that the hon. Lady’s proposal to help the steel industry was a sledgehammer and that only a small amount would get to the steel industry. It is better to use other forms of direct support for the industry. That is why we took the decision we did in the Budget. We thought there were better ways of helping.
The economic reforms in the Queen’s Speech continue what we are trying to do to improve the productivity growth of the British economy so that Britain, unlike many other advanced western economies, sees its living standards not stall but continue to rise. That is why we have increased expenditure on transport infrastructure, even in straitened times, and many projects, such as Crossrail, are now close to completion. That is why we introduced the apprenticeship levy—to drive up skills—accepting that low skills had been an endemic problem in the British economy for many decades; and that is why, in part, we introduced a national living wage—not just as a measure of social justice but to tackle low pay and drive up productivity in the workforce.
We will not rest there. The Queen’s Speech sets out a raft of other things. Measures in the Finance Bill will continue to make work pay by raising tax thresholds, helping 20 million people with an income tax cut and taking 4 million of the lowest-paid out of tax altogether. We are also making big changes in corporate taxation by closing loopholes, restricting interest relief and preventing the diverting of profits, while reducing rates of business tax to ensure that we remain the most competitive place in the world to do business.
The digital economy Bill will ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of the information revolution and provide the broadband network that is the equivalent of the canals, railways and motorways of the past that previous generations built for us. That is why, as mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, we are introducing the legal right for anyone to request a 10 megabit connection and encouraging more private investment into this vital artery of the modern economy; and why we are making sure that Britain is at the forefront in the revolution in driverless cars.
We are boosting competition with the better markets Bill and putting our new National Infrastructure Commission on a permanent statutory footing, for which people in both political parties have been calling for decades. It will now be one of the permanent fixtures of our country and has already made recommendations, under the excellent leadership of Lord Adonis, to improve transport connections in London, with Crossrail 2; to improve connections in the northern powerhouse and across the Pennines; and to plan for the future of our energy supplies by being able to store energy. All those recommendations, accepted by the Government, are now in the Queen’s Speech. I am also delighted that we have reached an agreement with Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, that Andrew Adonis will help develop the Crossrail 2 proposal, which is vital for our capital.
The Chancellor mentioned energy. Despite the Government’s welcome move on the headline rate of tax, a further 475 jobs, predominantly in Aberdeen, have been lost at Shell. Despite their welcome announcement, it is clear that more needs to be done. Will he engage with us and the industry, through the Finance Bill, to focus particularly on exploration so that we can find and get at the 20 billion barrels of oil that remain in the North sea?
I saw the unwelcome news about the Shell job losses. Working with the Scottish Government, we will do everything we can to help the people who have lost their jobs and make sure that this industry, vital to our country, is protected at a time of low global oil prices. That is why we have worked with Aberdeen on the new city deal and to improve the harbour; and that is why, in the Budget, we chose, as the big tax measures in this area, the abolition of petroleum revenue taxation and a halving of the supplementary charge. We are ready and stand willing to help this industry at this difficult time, because it is world class and we want to make sure we get as much oil out of the North sea basin as we can.
We are also addressing, in the Queen’s Speech, other challenges in the British economy, such as the low savings rate, which we have had for many decades. We have reformed pensions and given pensioners access to their pension pots—250,000 pensioners have already made use of that innovation. I can also tell the House that today at our request—we asked it to impose a charge cap on exiting those pensions—the Financial Conduct Authority has announced that there will be just a 1% cap, which is lower than the range it was consulting on.
The Queen’s Speech also contains a proposal for the lifetime ISA that I announced in the Budget, so that young people no longer have to choose between saving for their home and saving for their retirement. In the words of Martin Lewis, the personal finance guru, it is the biggest change in personal savings this country has ever seen.
Martin Lewis, a very good man, just so happens to come from Weaver Vale. Will the Chancellor remind the House that pensions have gone up by more than £1,000 since the Government introduced their measures in 2010? I am proud of what they have done for pensioners through the triple lock. Will he remind the House of the good work we have done?
As a result of the triple lock on pensions, we have made huge strides in eliminating pensioner poverty in this country and seen the biggest real increases in the basic state pension for generations. I am proud that that has happened under a Conservative Government.
One of our biggest reforms, which also features in the Queen’s Speech, is the radical devolution of power across our United Kingdom. We have already devolved substantial new tax and spending powers to Scotland; there is a major piece of proposed legislation for Wales; we are creating powerful new elected mayors, which are proving an attractive opportunity for shadow Cabinet members who think that their careers are not going anywhere in this place; and we have radical reforms to business rates, which people have talked about for many decades. When we came to office in 2010—when the Prime Minister first became Prime Minister—80% of council revenues were handed down in central Government grants, almost all of which were ring-fenced. Now, by 2020, 100% of local government revenues will stay with local communities. That is giving power to the people in a devolution revolution.
With record employment and one of the fast-growing economies in the advanced world, it would be easy to think, “Job done”, and to take our foot off the accelerator. By doing so, we could avoid controversy, duck confrontation and settle for a quiet life, but if we did that we would be failing the British people and would watch as their living standards and opportunities slowly declined. I did not come into politics to see that happen. I do not want to turn around to my children, as we watch other nations power ahead, make the new scientific advances, build the new high-speed railways and embrace the latest technologies, and say, “That used to be us. That used to be Great Britain.” I want this country and the people living in it to be the great success story of the 21st century. To make that happen, there will be controversy and battles ahead—making change and confronting vested interests are always difficult—but this Queen’s Speech demonstrates that we are ready and that when it comes to standing up for the hard-working people of Britain, we are up for the fight.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I want to warn the House that there will be a speech limit of four minutes after the SNP spokesperson sits down, which will allow us to include all 41 Members wishing to speak, if there are no interventions. I would be grateful if people could bear it in mind that when they take an intervention they are taking time from Members further down the list.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate on the Gracious Speech. I am conscious of the time, so I shall be as brief as I can. Before I talk about the measures contained within this Queen’s Speech, it might be worth reflecting on what is missing from it, particularly in economic terms: an alternative to Tory austerity; real action on productivity, innovation, trade and exports; and addressing the crying need for genuine inclusive growth so that people do not fall further behind and the UK does not forgo GDP growth as it has in the past over decades as a result of rising inequality. All that is absent. As to the most important steps that should have been included in this programme for government, the Government could and should have sought to reverse the damaging impact of austerity, to reverse inequality and to stop cuts to our vital public services, which actually promote a positive economic impact. Again, all those things are missing.
It is almost as if this Tory Government are so consumed with bitter in-fighting over Europe and the EU referendum that they have pared back this legislative programme to the bare minimum required to give even the vaguest impression of a Government who are still functioning—not matter how rotten and divided they are over Europe.
The Gracious Speech could have announced an emergency summer Budget, putting an end to all the austerity that has strangled economic growth and seen the Chancellor fail to meet every single target across his key economic indicators: debt, deficit, borrowing, trade and exports. We could have had an economic plan comprising a series of economic measures to usher in an inclusive, prosperous economy through investment in infrastructure and key public services. We could have had signalled flagged-up provision for a modest increase in public expenditure. As we argued at the election, 0.5% could release something in the order of £150 billion for investment in infrastructure and our public services—spending to grow the economy, while ensuring that public sector debt and deficit continue to fall over the Parliament. That would have been sustainable and fiscally responsible.
Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten us as to whether the Scottish Parliament has any plans for an emergency Budget by using the tax-raising powers it now has?
We are using every single power available to us, and we will use all our powers over taxation when they come. How we choose to do that will be a matter for the Scottish Government. What I suspect we will not do is to impose a 5% increase on the poorest workers in Scotland, which was a plan posited by others and led them to come third in the election.
This Queen’s Speech could have been used for the delivery of vital and urgent aid to support trade and exports, and for measures to stimulate investment and growth to turn round what is now recognised in the real world as this Chancellor’s failed stewardship of the economy, which has seen the trade deficit widen to its worst level since the crisis in 2008 and will see the Treasury miss by £300 billion its own target of doubling exports to £1 trillion by the end of this decade.
We could and should have had a fair tax Bill, simplifying the UK tax system and delivering greater tax transparency; and, vitally, measures such as a moratorium on this Government’s programme of HMRC office closures. We should have had the establishment of an independent commission to simplify the tax code and strengthen tax transparency by guaranteeing that beneficial ownership of businesses and trusts—here, in the Crown dependencies and in the overseas territories—would be made fully public.
We should have had an energy security and investment Bill, facilitating an export-led sustainable energy sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) said, we should have had a comprehensive strategic review of tax rates and investment allowances in the North sea. In addition, we should have had a review of securing the future energy supply of the UK and an ending of the UK Government’s commitment to the failing Hinkley C nuclear project. We should have been directing investment instead into renewable energy and into carbon, capture and storage. Those, among other initiatives, would have formed the basis of solid economic proposals to grow the economy. What we ended up with in economic terms was a digital economy Bill, a criminal finances Bill and a better markets Bill. I shall deal briefly with those Bills.
We understand the benefit of digital connectivity and welcome the roll-out of superfast broadband, which has the potential to boost productivity. According to a Deloitte report commissioned by the Scottish Futures Trust last year, increased digitisation could boost the Scottish economy alone by around £13 billion. Increased digitisation and reach across Scotland would also have a direct impact on improving productivity, business creation, jobs, earnings, exports and tax revenues—and many more positive outcomes for public provision. The report suggested that if Scotland were to become a world leader, we could see a significant increase in GDP, something in the order of 6,000 extra small and home-based enterprises and potentially an extra 175,000 jobs by the end of the decade.
We therefore welcome moves by the UK Government to provide digital infrastructure, but we are unconvinced that this digital economy Bill will turn round the UK’s persistently poor productivity levels in the way that it might have done. We are particularly unconvinced about whether the implementation of this digital plan, particularly the broadband roll-out, will deliver—not least because we have evidence that the UK Government have failed in this regard before.
As long ago as July 2013 the National Audit Office reported on the Government’s then broadband programme, saying that broadband roll-out was 22 months late. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee reported last year that the UK’s target dates for broadband had been changed many times, raising concerns that the target for delivering superfast broadband to even 95% of the UK was in jeopardy—in other words, not very good with targets at all. We nevertheless welcome the UK Government’s commitment to introducing a universal service obligation, not least because it was in the SNP manifesto and we believe that if it can be fulfilled, it would bring particular benefits to rural communities.
We welcome, too, Government moves to tackle corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, but the criminal finances Bill does not go far enough to combat this systemic problem. Following the release of the Panama papers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) called on the Prime Minister to go further with measures to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, pointing out that illicit cross-border transfer financial flows are estimated at around £1 trillion a year, which is 10 times more than global foreign aid budgets combined. We believe that the Prime Minister and the Government should prioritise bilateral tax treaties, not least with places such as Panama and other tax havens, as part of the global efforts to co-ordinate better against tax avoidance.
Furthermore, we call on the UK Government to embolden compliance by guaranteeing that the beneficial ownership of companies and trusts is made fully public. It is also the case, as I alluded to earlier, that the UK has one of the most complicated tax codes in the world. That leads to a loss of tax yield and perpetuates opportunities to exploit loopholes. We have called on the Government to bring about a just tax system, which will assist in ensuring that all taxpayers are given a fair deal.
In our alternative Queen’s Speech, we call for the Treasury to convene a commission and report back within two years, following a comprehensive consultation on the simplification of the tax code. With a simplified—not a flat tax code—tax system, the Government could boost yield, encourage compliance, and avoid exploitative loopholes such as the Mayfair loophole. While we welcome the long-overdue measures by the UK Government to tackle corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, we wait with interest to see the detail of these measures.
Whatever good may come of this, however, the counterproductive decision to close 137 HMRC offices will strip local businesses and individuals throughout the United Kingdom of the support that they need to ensure that they comply with the law. If they are to tackle tax avoidance at all levels and continue to provide local support when it is needed, the UK Government must place a moratorium on HMRC office closures. We take the view that, by and large, individuals and business want to contribute to society by paying tax, and that a high proportion of the SME tax gap—caused not by fraud, but by genuine error and miscommunication—could be dealt with by removing the threat to local offices. It is extraordinary that, although tax compliance is now at the heart of much of our economic debate as it has not been for decades, the HMRC workforce have been cut by 20% since 2010.
The final Bill that comes under the broad heading of “the economy” is the better markets Bill, whose main purported benefits are to give consumers more power and choice through faster switching and more protection when things go wrong. That is welcome. The Bill would simplify the way in which economic regulators operate to make life more straightforward for business and cut red tape, and would also speed up the decisions of the Competition and Markets Authority for the benefit of businesses and consumers alike. That too is welcome.
The intention is to deliver a manifesto commitment to increase competition and consumer choice, particularly in the energy market. However, while we welcome Government moves to challenge rising energy prices by encouraging market choice, the Bill does not go far enough to combat the problem of fuel poverty at a structural level. According to the UK means of calculating fuel poverty, in 2014 some 2.5 million households were in fuel poverty. According to the methods used in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, over the last three or four years the figures have sat between 30% and 40%. The structural issue here is not a shortage of gas or electricity, it is not necessarily a shortage of competition, and it is not necessarily the ability to change suppliers quickly; it is a shortage of money to pay for the gas and electricity coming into the house.
I am sure that there are good intentions behind many of the economic measures in the Gracious Speech, but they are simply too little, too late.
My hon. Friend has referred to fuel poverty. The Chancellor mentioned Martin Lewis. Is my hon. Friend aware that I was at a conference with Martin Lewis this week, at which he denounced universal credit as particularly hurting the poor and their ability to save and to pay for energy? The very person whom the Chancellor mentioned is the person who is actually—[Interruption.]
Order. That was a very long intervention. I have already said that there is a very limited time for a very large number of Members to speak.
I was not aware that my hon. Friend was with Mr Lewis, but what he has said does not surprise me in the slightest. For all the talk of an increase in the minimum wage, I think that anyone on the progressive side of politics understands that a real living wage will be undermined by the Government’s cuts to in-work benefits and tax credit.
The Government are failing in respect of almost every key economic indicator. They have missed nearly every target that they have set themselves. The numbers—not the rhetoric—demonstrate beyond doubt that their claim to economic credibility is in tatters. We are asking for a genuine, comprehensive plan for trade, exports, innovation and productivity, and a genuinely rebalanced and fair economy. The Chancellor said that trade and exports would underpin his strategy for growth, but the UK current account deficit now stands at a record £96 billion, its highest ever cash level. The Chancellor promised a doubling of exports to £1 trillion by the end of the year, but exports fell last year to £511 billion. They are going in the wrong direction. On innovation, we continue to compare poorly with our competitors, and the Chancellor’s decision to change innovation grants to loans sends the wrong signals.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not.
On productivity, we continue to lag behind other major economies, and our productivity rise is barely half the level of the rise that we saw during the pre-crisis period.
All those failures need a concrete plan to put them right, but instead we simply have spin and slogans such as “the march of the makers”, “the northern powerhouse” and “the long-term economic plan”. Those are empty, shallow words from a rotten, hollowed-out Government.
The Gracious Speech tells us that
“legislation will be introduced to ensure Britain has the infrastructure that businesses need to grow.”
In the next sentence, we are promised measures to improve access to high-speed broadband. Both those commitments are of huge importance to my constituency, and to the wider Anglian region of which it forms part.
The region is badly served by transport infrastructure. It has two railway lines, both of which are inadequate. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) has chaired a great eastern main line taskforce, and I have been charged with chairing a west Anglia main line taskforce. We have both illustrated the weaknesses in the present system and the importance of those lines to the development of business in our areas, but— understandably, given the short time that is available—I will concentrate on the west Anglia line taskforce. We have noted that, given Cambridge, Stansted, greater Harlow and the upper Lee valley opportunity area in Greater London, there is huge potential for growth, and jobs and housing will multiply over the next few years. That is a stark contrast with some of the tales of woe that we have been hearing so far during this debate.
One thing that is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech is the decision on where extra runway capacity will be provided in the London area, although one suspects that that decision will come quite soon. However, no choice will enable the capacity to be used other than, in the interim, at Stansted, and that brings into focus the inadequacy of the railway line that connects London with Stansted. It is not just a matter of getting passengers there; it is also a matter of getting the workforce there. I am proud to say that, for reasons related to the policies of the Government whom I support, the unemployment rate in my constituency has now fallen to 0.6%. Clearly, if job vacancies are to be filled, people must be conveyed to those jobs, and the railway is one of the most efficient ways of doing that. We must press on. Now that the Chancellor has made the imaginative decision to back the Crossrail 2 project, it is essential for the work in preparation for that project to begin with the four-tracking of the west Anglia main line. I hope there will soon be decisions that ensure that we do not wait beyond 2025 for the line to improve, because otherwise the date might slip to 2033, which would be unthinkable.
Broadband offers new methods of working, which may help some people to travel slightly less often than they have had to up to now. The face of rural England is changing: people are being dispersed, and some small businesses exist at the high-technology end. Superfast broadband is essential to those people and businesses, and they need clarity about what is available, whether from BT or from the other commercial providers. I hope that local authorities will be encouraged to show everyone what is available, so that implementation can take place more quickly. There must be equality of provision, so that everyone can expect the same standard.
My constituents commend the priority that has been given to those matters in the Gracious Speech.
I begin by thanking the Chancellor for the £5 million he earmarked in the Budget for Shakespeare North. May I press him a little further and ask him to waive the VAT on the construction costs?
I want to talk today about the link between poverty, economic progress and education. Before doing so, however, I should perhaps say a word about my position on the EU referendum. In the previous referendum, in 1975, I chaired the “Huyton says no” campaign. That merry band of naysayers was a fairly eclectic group consisting of Labour party Young Socialists, the Communist party of Great Britain and two Tories who ran a ballroom dancing academy. Fortunately, the people of Huyton sensibly listened to our local MP at the time, Harold Wilson, and voted to stay in.
The argument that I want to advance today takes its inspiration—fittingly, in the centenary year of his birth—from Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” speech. Key to his argument in 1963 was that we needed to adapt to changing economic realities by embracing the challenges presented in science and technology. It also included an element about the importance of education as a pathway out of poverty. My argument is that we now face a similar challenge. How do we compete in a rapidly changing global economy? Do we, as some international corporations would suggest, adopt zero-hours contracts and other insecure forms of employment, or do we incentivise innovation and educate and train our workforce to take advantage of the opportunities that innovation creates? The first option is, in my view, a self-defeating race to the bottom.
However, we have to face up to some uncomfortable truths, one of which is the decline in manufacturing in the UK. In 1972, 32% of the UK’s GDP came from manufacturing. By 1997, that percentage was down to 14.5%, and by 2013 it had dropped further to 10.4%. The economic levers available to the Chancellor and the Government need to be remorselessly focused on creating incentives for innovation, using not only the taxation system but the export guarantee system and everything else available to ensure that the opportunities that exist in the world are brought within the reach of our country.
We also need to talk about education. We have serious problems with education in Knowsley. I do not want to go into too much detail, but we have a serious problem of under-attainment at GCSE level.
I just wonder how many secondary schools in Knowsley are academies.
That is the point. Out of the six secondary schools in Knowsley, four are already academies, so that is clearly not the solution to the problems we face. My own belief is that we need to start from scratch and completely rebuild the education system. Nothing should be protected from proper scrutiny or from modernisation. The curriculum, the public examination system, educational institutions and even the underlying philosophy behind education need rigorous questioning and frankly need to be radically redesigned to meet the real challenges that we face in the world. If we do not do that, areas such as Knowsley will continue to lag behind. We can, however, make bigger and bolder choices to meet the challenges and harness innovation and education as the twin engines of tackling inequality, deprivation and the random economic effects associated with where people live. Surely there is only one choice, and that choice must be progress.
There is nothing wrong with being an ideologue if you temper it with some restraint and reason. I confess that I am an ideologue for lower taxes, for less state regulation and for the supremacy of this Parliament. That is what I have worked for, with my colleagues, all my life here, and I judge every Queen’s Speech by how it advances lower taxes, deregulation and more devolution.
However, I think we should be wary of imposing our ideas on other people in a forced manner. We used to argue consistently that the one-size-fits-all neighbourhood comprehensive was wrong and causing a decline in educational standards. We therefore led the charge for academies, but I do not believe that we should force county councils, particularly rural county councils with small private schools, to academise all their schools. I understand why the Chancellor made that announcement in the Budget—I know where he was coming from and I agree with his long-term plans on education—but I welcome the compromise that has been made in relation to small rural private schools.
The same attitude applies to devolution and to mayors. I am a strong advocate of devolution. The fact is that central Government have imposed too much control on local government for too long. In Lincolnshire, we welcome devolution and we were prepared to have a very simple system in which powers were devolved to a board run by the leaders of the district councils and county councils, but there was no enthusiasm for an elected mayor in a large rural county. I welcome the fact that the Chancellor is still sitting in the Chamber, and I am sure that he is listening to what I am saying. I hope that he will also listen to the local people and not impose an elected mayor on us. That concept might be fine for Manchester, Birmingham or London, but it is not necessarily appropriate for a large rural county such as Lincolnshire.
I represent a large rural community that has not had the benefit of being offered a mayor. Does not my hon. Friend think it is worth trying having a mayor, to see how that might enhance rurality?
We can certainly try it, but the difficulty is that we would have parish councils, district councils, a county council—which, by the way, the Conservatives have controlled for most of the last 100 years —an elected mayor, a police and crime commissioner, a Member of Parliament and a Member of the European Parliament. It would just be too much, frankly. Too many jobs for the boys!
Would my hon. Friend consider jobs for the girls too?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend has made some important contributions to our debates in the past year and I welcome what she says. I know that she has taken an interest in tax credits, and I believe that we have to make more progress in cutting welfare in order to cut the deficit, but it is probably a mistake to cut the welfare benefits or tax credits of people who are already on small incomes and depending on their tax credits. We have to give plenty of warning if we are going to do that. That is surely the lesson that we should learn from the debate on the raising of the pension age for women. We should have given proper notice of that. We did give 20 years’ notice, but we did not write to every woman saying, “Dear Mrs Jones, your pension age will be increased in 20 years’ time.” That is what we should have done, and we should learn from that.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), I am an enthusiast for lower regulation and lower taxes, but we have the longest tax code in the world, and there is still much progress to be made in that regard. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor knows, because I have said this to him again and again, that I hope he will try to simplify the tax and benefit system with every Budget he introduces. I hope that he will strip away allowances and converge taxes so that we no longer have armies of accountants advising people how to avoid tax. We have made all too little progress on simplifying and converging our tax system. I know that it is difficult. I know that we cannot do it all in one step. I know that we cannot have an absolutely flat tax system because the top 1% of earners pay 25% of all taxes. I know all that, but we should make more progress every year in simplifying and merging the tax system.
Before I sit down, the Chancellor talked about announcements that have been made today, but there was an important announcement on immigration figures. The fact is that we still have net migration of 300,000 people into this country every year. It is absolutely unsustainable. We welcome people from eastern Europe coming to work here. I more than any other welcome Polish people and their culture of hard work. However, net migration of 300,000 people a year, fuelled by the imposition of the living wage on businesses and by an unreformed tax credit system, is simply unsustainable, particularly for London and the south-east. There is a vision of Britain leading the world towards free trade, controlling its own borders and proclaiming the supremacy of Parliament, and that is why, on 23 June, I for one shall be voting to leave the European Union.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (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 that comes while prison staff numbers are cut.
Does the right hon. Lady recognise the role of legal highs in creating a volatile situation in prisons? Does she welcome the Government’s decision to introduce legislation to outlaw them?
Of course I do. I was proud to introduce drug testing on arrest for acquisitive crime to ensure that we could get prisoners into drug treatment before they even entered the prison system.
We had some 24,000 prison staff in 2010, but that number was reduced to just over 14,000 by June 2014. To tackle the illegal drug trade in prisons, we need staff and we need them to be able to do their job. I have three prisons in my constituency, two of which are closed. I have met Tim Beeston, governor at HMP and YOI Moorland—he is not even mentioned as the correct governor on the Ministry of Justice website—and he is committed to doing more, but he cannot do it alone. I have met and spoken to Mike Rolfe, chair of the POA, formerly the Prison Officers’ Association, about the problems facing his members and how they would like to do more. I commend the research produced by my union Community and its charter for safe operating procedures, which I am pleased to support.
We must recognise that the prison system is full of people whom the education system failed, and we need to do more. Why is it that we have mandatory assessment of literacy and numeracy, but it is not mandatory for someone to undertake education while in prison to improve those skills? If sentences are too short, continuing education should be a condition of probation upon release. That requires joined-up policies in and out of prison. It requires upskilling the Prison Service staff who provide education and training. I look forward to the Government’s announcement, but words are cheap; actions work.
I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to improving Britain’s competitiveness and making
“the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy.”
Since 2010, the UK has—I should perhaps say the people of the UK have—created 2.9 million jobs. Jobs do not appear out of thin air; they exist because of the entrepreneurship of the people of the UK. Our unemployment rate has fallen from 8% to 5.1%. That is still too high, but it is an achievement. We need to maintain a high level of employment while tackling the major risks to our economy, which are the twin deficits of the balance of payments and the budget, and low productivity when compared with other countries. The two are interrelated. Higher productivity leads us to be more competitive, both domestically and internationally, to improved exports and lower imports, and to greater growth, with the corresponding tax revenues.
Long-term analysis of our productivity shows that there are three main issues. First is insufficient investment in research and development, the latest technology and infrastructure over not just the past year or six years but decades. Second is weak management. We have some fantastically managed businesses, but we also have some with below-average management. Third is inadequate education and training. The Government are working on all three areas, and, again, they are all linked. High-quality R and D and good management both depend substantially on a well-educated population. Weak management will prioritise the status quo over risky decisions to invest and train for the future. The Government have taken action through growth in apprenticeships and technical education and by placing an emphasis on the quality of apprenticeship and standards in schools, which are absolutely critical. I want to highlight the recruitment of teachers, which is a real difficulty in certain areas, such as maths and science, but I know that the Government are well aware of that and are working on it.
Investment in R and D and technology comes down to the availability of people, the willingness of companies to invest and the incentives to do so. Incentives cost, so I urge the Government to concentrate resources for investment in R and D on businesses that show the greatest willingness to invest, which are more likely to generate long-term growth and jobs.
Much has already been said about infrastructure, but with the advent of HS2, the road network really needs strengthening in my area of Stafford. I ask the Government to look at that, because we might otherwise find that we get gridlock in an incredibly important area of the country while HS2 is constructed.
Britain is a world leader in the digital economy, which is also vital for competitiveness. The largest private sector employer in my constituency is now General Electric, which sees its future as a digital business. As its chief executive Jeff Immelt has said:
“If you went to bed last night as an industrial company, you're going to wake up this morning as a software and analytics company.”
My ambition for Stafford is for it to be a leader nationally in this digital economy. Not just manufacturing companies, such as General Electric, Perkins, JCB and Bostik are taking it seriously; we have a thriving community of software businesses that are growing steadily. We have financial services; risual, Microsoft’s 2015 partner of the year; Connexica, which supports the NHS; iProspect, which deals with digital marketing; and forensics. We also have three signals regiments, which will provide a very good workforce for the future when the servicemen and women complete their service. The future is digital, and the digital economy Bill is a strong part of that.
This Queen’s Speech did nothing for the people I represent in my constituency. The Government should not have wasted taxpayers’ money on all the pomp and ceremony, as they could have sent a 140-character tweet telling people what was in it. The Prime Minister’s aim of course was to stop the unrest in the Tory party, which is pulling itself apart over the referendum. He did not even achieve that, because only days after the Queen’s Speech we had rebel Tory MPs joining us in opposing the undemocratic, corporatist Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. If the Prime Minister gets a message from that, it should be to dump TTIP in its entirety and defend our NHS.
As I alluded to earlier, there is more detail on the back of a bus ticket than there was on that waste of vellum that was handed to the Queen. What did the Government say? They said we are going to create a spaceport—what a laugh! We are still waiting for a decision on another runway in London, yet they are talking about sending tourists to the moon in a rocket! That is absolutely daft. They are talking about privatising the Land Registry. That destructive move is even opposed by the Competition and Markets Authority. Only this Tory Government and only this Chancellor would contemplate gifting a valuable public service—a body responsible for registering the ownership of residential and commercial property—to a bunch of spivs and speculators. That proposal is wrong and the Government should withdraw it. Their move to end a fair rating system will cheat the people in poorer areas while enhancing and enriching the people in areas such as Kensington and Mayfair. It echoes the usual Tory motto: “To them that have most, give more. Give the lower paid and the middle earners nothing.”
This Queen’s Speech, taken together with the recent Budget, fell apart quicker than a badly assembled chest of drawers, and it just shows how this Government are disintegrating in front of us. Britain and areas like mine were crying out for a Queen’s Speech that values people, and champions decency and fairness. We needed the creation of good jobs with better incomes. We needed to build better homes which people can afford. We needed raised standards in schools, not academies. We needed to resuscitate the NHS, which is ailing from Tory neglect. The country deserved a Queen’s Speech that fixes the problems and gives us solutions. What we got was a second-rate mishmash intended to win a referendum. On behalf of the Jarrow constituency and the people I represent, I will be proud to walk through and vote against this Queen’s Speech.
I am pleased to be part of this debate on the final day of our consideration of the Gracious Speech—it is my second one. We are discussing vital matters focused on the economy and work. I am pleased to see action being taken on sugar levels, as tackling that issue is vital in my constituency, where diabetes and amputations stretch the NHS.
The apprenticeship levy is part of this Queen’s Speech. It will be introduced in 2017 for larger employers, and I truly welcome it. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to help young people or to help older people to change career or re-skill. It was a real pleasure on the day of the Queen’s Speech to meet Calum from Hedge End, who is an Airbus apprentice. We are very lucky to have Eastleigh College, which puts apprenticeships at the heart of education and where Baxi supports a gas training centre—we are very short of gas engineers.
The Chancellor well knows that in Eastleigh we have B&Q, but he is also well aware that in Eastleigh we need the vital Chickenhall Lane link road. Only under this Conservative majority Government has real progress been made on bringing that forward. The link will increase productivity and reduce queues, so I am delighted to see it in the Budget book.
Does my hon. Friend agree that our rail infrastructure in Hampshire has not had any investment for 60 years and that we need more investment to improve our transport, which will help productivity in both her constituency and mine?
I absolutely agree with what my hon. Friend says. It takes an hour to get between Portsmouth and Southampton, and that situation is untenable. We need it to take an hour into Waterloo from Portsmouth. Such investment will improve travel to Southampton airport, which will also see positive benefits from the Chickenhall Lane link road. That will also deal with the standing traffic coming into the town, where air quality is a real problem. Last Friday, I met the Solent local enterprise partnership, which is keen and ready to finalise its bid and make its business case to the large local major schemes fund. I thank the Chancellor for the support for this project in Eastleigh.
I welcome the commitment to build 200,000 starter homes, and I would like women in refuges to be given higher priority on housing lists. That will achieve more safety for their children and more stability in schools, and it will improve their life chances, which is what we wish to see in this Government’s programme. In Eastleigh, we have recently seen town centre land that would have been ideal for housing given away and designated for a car showroom and two drive-throughs—this in an area where there is a problem with air quality. That is the kind of unhealthy and unwanted town centre regeneration that I am not keen to see in my constituency. I pay tribute to the local campaigners who have sought to point out the perversity of the application.
Hon. Members will not be surprised to see that I intend to discuss the ongoing lack of a local plan in Eastleigh—there are no neighbourhood plans in Eastleigh. Planning to protect green spaces and planning for more affordable homes, and more transparent planning rules are vital in Eastleigh, where there is a strategic vacuum. It is crucial that the pace of the progress that central Government are making is matched by local authorities picking up the pace and dealing with this issue. Sadly, Eastleigh Borough Council continues to fail its residents by ignoring calls for local plans. I sincerely hope that it gets on with it, for the sake of residents and businesses, and that the planning Bill can help and take full effect in our area.
I also want us to protect our green infrastructure, as it is important. We need to protect our chalk streams and areas such as the River Itchen, where one might see my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) fly fishing or angling alongside local anglers. It is very important to support such infrastructure and stop the pollution of vital rivers. Our Bill will promote green spaces over brownfield land, which is currently not being distributed properly in my constituency. Residents in Bishopstoke see and feel this; there is no localism in Eastleigh and no local plan.
My hon. Friend does a tremendous job for her constituents. Does she agree that a neighbourhood plan, giving locals a referendum, is the way forward to plan for housing and infrastructure?
Absolutely. Locking residents out of the planning process continues to make housing an adversarial issue, whereas our communities need to work together to bring forward the infrastructure that we see proposed in the Bill and the tie-in that residents need. I should thank my hon. Friend at this point. Areas such as Botley are struggling on GP recruitment because of ongoing issues with a local plan and the fact that they cannot recruit the clinicians they need. I thank her for her work in encouraging clinicians and nurses to come forward in these important careers. Getting more women into STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and having that opportunity will help our local communities to grow and thrive.
The biggest decision of our generation will be made next month and it is clear that whatever the outcome it will have an effect on our economy. Clearly, opinions are divided, occasionally on the Benches in this Chamber and occasionally, as we see if we read The Times, in the Tea Room. But is it crucial that once we have voted we come back together—this Conservative majority Government—and unify, so that we can continue to deliver this strong economy and the services we need for all our constituents.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies). I echo many of the comments about the economy made by my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, particularly in relation to productivity, with the latest figures showing the largest quarterly fall since 2008.
I acknowledge that the Government have issued a challenge to areas such as mine to play their part in tackling the productivity and economic growth gap by developing devolution in the form of the northern powerhouse. I for one accept that challenge. I accept that Sheffield city region has to raise its game. We have to play our part and believe in ourselves, which we have not done for a very long time. Quite simply—as one employer said to me today in an email—we must believe that we have the skills, knowledge and ability to surpass London and become a generator of great wealth again.
However, the Government must play their part too, and at the moment they are not doing so. The announcement today about the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the relocation of staff from Sheffield to London belies everything that the Government have said on this point, but they can remedy the situation. I will be watching carefully the development of the infrastructure plan. In particular, I will be looking for confirmation that the new trans-Pennine links between Manchester and Sheffield will be given the green light, as they are essential to the future of the northern economy.
I will keep up the pressure on the Government to support a positive outcome to the steel crisis. Funnily enough, the crisis in South Yorkshire has triggered a revival in the faith and the confidence that we used to have in ourselves and in our engineering prowess. My plea to the Government today is: please do not let us down. We believe that we are the best steel producers in the world. If the Government believe in us, we will deliver.
Let me turn now to the biggest threat facing the economy in the next few years—the instability that is currently characterising our political system. Let us be clear about this: in the UK, politics is polarising. We know that it is happening on the Labour Benches, as we have shifted to the left. On the Government Benches, Brexit is tearing the Conservative party apart, and the centre ground is disappearing before our very eyes. What on earth happened to the politics of the art of the possible? This movement is happening globally. In some countries, the polarisation is even greater. One has to look only at Austria last week and at Holland, where the three mainstream parties are set to secure, in total, just 40% in the elections next year. As we have seen, even the US is not immune from the phenomenon.
Globalisation is one of the main causes of the situation. I echo the words of Mr Blair who said today that the problem of the centre ground was that it looks
“as if we are managers of the status quo and not changers of it”.
It is a worrying trend, and polarisation of the political sphere is creating a vacuum that could visit lasting damage on the social and economic fabric of this country. We bear a responsibility to resurrect the relevance of pragmatic politics. We need to demonstrate that centre-ground politics can deliver a progressive, prosperous and secure future for the people of this country. If we do not do that, the future of this country and its economy is very much in danger.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who is an excellent member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
May I take the unusual step of offering congratulations to the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), the Leader of the Opposition, on his birthday today? He and I share the same birthday date—I am still trying to work out what else we share.
I welcome the Gracious Speech and the continuation of our very good economic policies, which are enabling our businesses and our constituents to create more jobs. We are reducing taxes to lower-paid workers and stimulating this economy and reducing debt at the same time. In particular, I welcome the greater emphasis on the digital economy, and the fact that we are giving every household a legal right to fast broadband. That will be a challenge.
I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend welcomes the Government’s announcement of the universal service obligation on broadband, but will he join me in asking the Government to look at extending that obligation not just to residential properties but to business properties? In places such as Devon and Cornwall, it is crucial that our businesses get connected to superfast broadband as well.
I could not agree more. We are talking about people and about businesses. Out in the rural areas, we have many very good businesses, farms and individuals who need broadband and superfast broadband. I am talking about not just the money that needs to be put in to getting broadband into these areas, but the fact that we need to use every technology available. The Blackdown Hills and part of Exmoor are in my constituency, and not all areas will get fibre optic cable however we try to do it, so there needs to be both wireless and satellite operations. We must ensure that we get that broadband out. It is essential that we put as much pressure as we can on BT and others to deliver, as there is, at the moment, too much of a monopoly. There is not enough competition out there delivering broadband to all of our constituents.
I also welcome the modern transport Bill and the fact that we will have to change our taxation on cars. We have spent too many years concentrating on reducing the tax on diesel cars only to find now that nitric oxide appears to be the killer and that we need to re-educate people to buy hybrid cars and electric cars. We need to do a great deal to change people’s attitudes towards what they buy. There has been too much concentration in the past on the amount of carbon coming from a car, rather than on the nitric oxide, which is causing so many of the hotspots in our cities.
I also welcome the education Bill, and the fact that we are stepping back slightly from the idea that we will impose academies across the country. A Conservative policy is much more about evolution than revolution. Therefore, we must give people a chance to get there. I have many rural primary schools and small schools in my constituency. There is this idea of bringing together 3,000 or 5,000 children. I would probably need between 50 and 100 schools to create that number of pupils. We must be careful about how we deliver such a policy. There is also another problem: some local authorities are better education authorities than others, and that must be taken into account when considering changes.
I also welcome the lifetime savings Bill. The idea that we can help young people and people on lower wages to save is essential. In the past, not only did Labour spend too much taxpayers’ money, but we spent too much as individuals and did not save enough. I know that Governments love people to spend so that it boosts the economy, but there is also a great need for people to have greater savings. That is what we want to see happening.
I welcome the fact that the Queen’s Speech is very much a continuation of the Government’s policies in order to keep going. The one thing we must not do is change course. We must keep bringing down the deficit. On 23 June we need to make sure that we keep this country in the European Union so that we can prosper and grow our economy.
The sugar tax is an interesting proposal, but the Government have left some careless loopholes in their plans. I am not sure whether you often drink milkshakes, Madam Deputy Speaker, but they are not particularly healthy drinks. One brand has 19.2 grams of sugar in a 200 ml bottle, which exceeds the recommended daily allowance for four to six-year-old children. A milk drink linked to a well-known confectionary brand has 36 grams of sugar in a 376 ml bottle, exceeding the RDA for seven to 10-year-olds. Finally, another popular milkshake drink has 50.8 grams of sugar in a 471 ml bottle, which far exceeds the RDA for adults.
None of those products is covered by the Chancellor’s sugar tax. That is a serious loophole because parents may infer from their exemption that these drinks are healthier. The response that I received from the Treasury states that “milk contains calcium and other nutrients which are vital to children’s health.” That is true, but if the goodness of milk is adulterated by huge volumes of sugar, the health benefits are seriously undermined. It would be sensible to include such drinks within the scope of the sugar tax.
There is another loophole that affects us as grown-ups. Pre-mixed alcoholic drinks such as cans of vodka and Coke or gin and tonic do not come within the scope of the sugar tax either. It cannot have escaped anybody’s notice that adults, too, struggle with obesity. They will not get an exemption from the sugar tax at the till, but there is a loophole if they choose to purchase vodka and Coke separately, rather than as a premixed drink. These drinks should be brought within the scope of the tax, as that would have benefits for all of us.
I am deeply concerned by the way in which this Government’s approach to the economy rewards those who are already at the top of the heap and punishes those who are already struggling. Experts from Sheffield Hallam University laid out the brutal impact of that. Their report, “The uneven impact of welfare reform—the financial losses to places and people”, ought to bring shame on this Government. As I suspect that, sadly, Treasury Ministers will not even give it a glance, I will use this opportunity to lay out some of the key findings.
The report states that the cumulative loss experienced by claimants since 2010 is £27 billion a year—£690 for every adult of working age. The report finds that the welfare reforms are uneven geographically, hitting the most deprived communities hardest. The departing Secretary of State confessed as much to Andrew Marr, saying that the Tories were attacking benefit payments to people who “don’t vote for us”. In the constituency of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the Three Rivers area, the anticipated loss to claimants by 2020-21 will be £190 a year. In Blackburn the situation is much worse. Claimants there will lose £560 per year.
In Scotland, because our ability to make other choices is limited, we have made a difference, but Scots will still lose out to the tune of £320 per adult per year. We have been able to take the edge off. We have mitigated the bedroom tax, we have restored council tax benefit, and we will not bring in pay to stay. I very much look forward to the Scottish Government making use of the social security powers coming to us in the Scottish Parliament, because we are committed to everyone in Scotland, not just those who happen to vote for us.
In Glasgow claimants will lose out by £420 per year. This is money that is not ringing in the tills in the communities that I represent. It is money that ordinary people desperately need to put food on the table. It is money that my constituents need to heat their homes. It is absolute wickedness to punish people for the circumstances they are in, and worse because they are people who did not vote Tory.
I reject this economic model, which condemns people to a lifetime of poverty. The lasting effects of such social policies are still there in Glasgow, a hangover from the time of the loss of heavy industry, and of clumsy Scotland Office policy that built the new towns that left so many behind in poor quality housing. I commend to the House the recent report by the esteemed Glasgow Centre for Population Health, “History, politics and vulnerability: explaining excess mortality in Scotland and Glasgow”, which seeks to explain why Glaswegians continue to die younger than they should. The policy of this Government and of previous Governments has a lot to answer for, and we must not make the same policy mistakes now.
I congratulate the Government on including in the Queen’s Speech a measure to introduce a levy on sugary drinks manufacturers. I do so because it cannot be acceptable in our society that we continue to allow 25% of the most disadvantaged children to leave primary school not just overweight, but obese. I congratulate the Chancellor on looking at the evidence that the gap between the most advantaged and disadvantaged children with childhood obesity has been increasing, based on data from the child measurement programme.
It is important to tackle the problem and to look not just at obesity, but at the effect on children’s teeth. We know that the commonest reason for primary school children to be admitted to hospital is to have their rotten teeth removed. The Chancellor is right to target sugary drinks manufacturers. As the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) pointed out, those are empty calories with no nutritional value whatsoever. When we see that a third of teenagers’ calorie intake from sugars is from sugary drinks, it is right that we do everything we can.
The measure is progressive. I welcome the contribution that it will make as part of a wider strategy to tackle childhood obesity. It will encourage manufacturers to reformulate their products to bring in lower levels of sugar. I would like the Chancellor, perhaps when he responds to the debate, to set out what he is doing alongside manufacturers to encourage them to introduce a price differential associated with the levy bands so that we can guide people to make healthier choices.
I particularly welcome the fact that this money will be hypothecated. As a result, we will see a doubling of the school sport premium for primary schools. We will also see an expansion of the breakfast club programme in the most disadvantaged areas, and up to 1,600 schools will benefit. The accusation that is often made is that the levy is regressive, not progressive, but that is countered simply by the fact that it is the most disadvantaged communities that will benefit most from hypothecation.
Like the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, I urge the Chancellor to go further and to extend this measure to milky drinks with high levels of added sugar. Milk is good for children, and we should be sending a clear message that it is good, but milk with nine teaspoons of sugar in it is not good for children’s health or their teeth. I also agree with the hon. Lady’s point about alcoholic mixers. I therefore hope that the Chancellor will look again at extending this measure, because I think much more benefit could come from it if he did.
On the other proposals in the Queen’s Speech, I thank the Chancellor for the measures he will introduce on broadband. As a Member representing a rural community where businesses and local residents alike are disadvantaged by not having access to high-speed broadband, I think these measures will be very welcome. Likewise, I welcome the commitment to bring forward a fair funding formula for schools such as those in the west country, which have been severely disadvantaged up until now.
I know that many other Members want to speak, so let me say in closing that I welcome the measures in the Queen’s Speech. This is a bold and brave Chancellor—the Health Committee called for bold and brave measures to tackle childhood obesity, and that is what we have seen from the Chancellor in this Queen’s Speech. I hope he will stiffen his sinews, resist the efforts of the drinks manufacturers to oppose this measure and encourage them to look at how they can improve the health of our nation and our children by supporting reformulation.
I would like to concentrate my remarks on the help to save scheme—or should I call it the reinvigorated savings gateway? It is welcome that the Government have recognised the importance of saving and particularly of matched saving—one of the best ways of encouraging people to save. Analysis by StepChange shows that 44% of people on low incomes have a lower chance of getting into debt if they have savings of about £1,000—that is half a million people who would be prevented from falling into debt.
However, I have a few issues with the design of the scheme. For example, two years is a very long time in which to have to save regularly. Some 14 million people experienced at least one income shock in the past 12 months —that might be because of a job loss, a cut in hours, illness or a new baby. If money is withdrawn, people will lose the bonus they feel they have already gained. People on low incomes know they are going to experience some income shocks, and that could discourage them from saving.
We all know that it is good to save and that it is very worthy, and we all start things with good intentions. For example, when we join a gym, we intend to go every week—of course would do—but imagine if we had a two-year contract saying we had to go every week. Crucially, therefore, there should be some measures in the Government’s proposals to allow for irregular savings, where people cannot afford to put money into the scheme one month—after all, we have all missed the odd week at the gym. Things do crop up, and we should allow a couple of withdrawals.
We also need to look at the behavioural economics of people in relation to the scheme. People may need some encouragement and some incentives to join—for example, prize draws. We all know that people spend the odd pound on a lottery ticket in the hope of winning something, and encouraging people to save by offering them the incentive of a prize would be important.
I would like to say a quick word about financial education, which is really important. I am pleased that academisation has been taken out of the Queen’s Speech. However, there is a lack of financial education in the curriculum, and it should start earlier. My experience is that primary education is really important. I had a great scheme with a great tutor, Vernon Fuller, who ran a wonderful course for primary students over 10 years ago. I would love to see how they are getting on now.
Will the hon. Lady join me in congratulating the all-party parliamentary group on financial education for young people, which this week launched its report, of which I was the chair, calling for more Government support for financial education for primary school children, because children form their money habits at the age of seven?
I will indeed. I read that report with interest, as financial education has always been an interest of mine, but I have to say that it is not a silver bullet.
All efforts need to be made to keep people out of the hands of the payday lenders and the rent-to-own sector. We need to make sure that support is given to alternative providers of finance such as Fair for You, and that they have a level playing field. For example, real-time data from everyone, including the banks, must be available to new market entrants so that they can make fair assessments of lending. We must also make sure that those data are accurate, as I have had reports of data from various companies being quite inaccurate.
Talking of fairness and level playing fields, I support the calls for transitional arrangements to help the women who have been adversely affected by the mishandled increasing of the state pension age. Perhaps I should declare an interest in this as a woman who was born in the 1950s. I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), to revisit this unfairness during the passage of the pensions Bill.
I welcome the savings scheme, but I would like it to be designed to reflect the real lives of people on a low income: the real life that has bumps in the road on quite a few occasions; the real life where sometimes buying a new pair of shoes or going out for the day with the family is more important than putting money away for a rainy day. I hope that the Government will recognise this in the design of the scheme.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) on her typically thoughtful speech. I particularly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on continuing, in his speech, the march of the makers. That stood in stark contrast to the march of the Marxists that characterised the shadow Chancellor’s speech. We certainly make things in the midlands and in Tamworth. We make great cars at Jaguar Land Rover, great engines at BMW, world-class circuit boards at Invotec, and fine braking systems at Alcon. We are making the jobs that people want to do, and we need to make the homes that people want to live in in the west midlands.
I congratulate the Government on their work with the Help to Buy scheme, which Bovis tells me has been seminal in getting people on to the property ladder. However, we need to do more to get SMEs back into the supply chain—SMEs that left the industry owing to mergers and acquisitions in the 1980s and the housing market crash in 2008. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will use all his artistry, eloquence and influence to prevail on the Communities and Local Government Secretary to encourage big firms like Bovis to franchise out part of their land bank to SMEs. That de-risks Bovis and other big developers because it takes some of the costs away from them, but also helps SMEs to get into the industry again because it removes some of the up-front costs of planning. I hope that the Government will consider that thought. While they are at it, I hope that they will also look at the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol. SME developers in my constituency tell me of the length of time that it takes for the inspectorate in Bristol to conclude its appeal decision process. Sometimes very straightforward decisions can take up to six months. If we can speed up that process, possibly by upskilling and up-staffing the resources there, then we can take some of the weight off those SMEs’ shoulders.
We need to build homes, and we also need to build the infrastructure around them. I welcome and congratulate the Government on the infrastructure plan and the work of Lord Adonis and the Infrastructure Commission. May I encourage the Government to look at one of the “Cinderella” infrastructure projects of the midlands—the A5 corridor, which runs through Leicestershire, through Warwickshire, and up into Staffordshire? I can assure the Chancellor that he will have a lot of support from me and my hon. Friends the Members for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) and for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), who is in his place, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) and for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), all of whom want the road to be upgraded and dualled so that we can build the homes near it for people to do the jobs that are being created in the midlands.
This was a Queen’s Speech for aspirational people who want to do the right thing and get on. That is why we made gains in the local elections in my constituency just a few weeks ago. In a town that had nearly 30 Labour councillors 16 years ago, there are now just seven. After the general election, the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) was quite right to write in his, I hope, non-ironic document, “Labour’s Future”:
“Labour lost because voters didn’t believe it”.
They did not believe Labour in 2015, and I assure the House that they did not believe it last month either.
The Queen’s Speech included a local growth and jobs Bill, which is intended to localise business rates, but councils fear that the Government’s approach will be unfair. Given that Ministers have given no indication of how they intend to go about achieving it, we can use only their past behaviour as a guide, and that is very worrying indeed.
The Government’s council funding cuts clobbered the poorest 10 councils with cuts 23 times bigger than those experienced by the 10 richest councils. This year’s £300 million cuts relief fund was gerrymandered to ease the pain in those Tory-voting areas that had suffered the least, while offering nothing to those areas that had suffered the most. It is no wonder that the National Audit Office is investigating that perverse decision.
If business rate localisation is gerrymandered in the same way, it will stifle growth in those parts of the country that need it most, thereby creating more poverty, fear insecurity and alienation.
This is all part of the Government’s ongoing refusal to challenge inequalities of power and wealth right across the society. The social contract that underpinned our society has been shattered. The promise was that if someone worked hard, they would get on, and if they could not work, they would be looked after. Today, however, even if someone works hard, they might not be able to pay the bills or put a secure roof over their family’s head, and if they cannot work, they risk being thrown to the wolves.
There are parts of my constituency in Croydon North where too many people feel left behind because work is insecure and incomes do not cover the basic household bills. Globalisation is certainly creating great innovation, wealth and opportunity, but it is being allowed to leave too many people and their communities behind. It is sharpening inequality, moving populations on an unprecedented scale, threatening the environment and stoking political and religious fundamentalism. Alongside strengthening regulation at the centre, devolution should be used to put real power into people’s hands to challenge the blatant unfairness of the system and to build communities’ capacity to manage those great changes on their own terms.
Just across the river from Parliament stands a newly built tower full of luxury apartments kept empty by foreign investors, while on the streets below there is a housing crisis. What a powerful symbol of just how far we have gone wrong.
Anger is rising across the industrialised world. If people do not have faith that a system is working fairly for them, they will kick back against it. When legitimate concerns do not get heard by the political mainstream, they push towards the margins. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said earlier, politics is polarising in a dangerous way. People are angry about a political system that is failing them, elites that are exploiting them and wealth and opportunity that are bypassing them; but instead of addressing all that, the Government are fuelling forces that are pushing inequality to breaking point, and the consequences of that will be as dangerous as they are unpredictable.
In the Most Gracious Speech, Her Majesty spoke of the Government’s intention to support the northern powerhouse. I welcome support for the regions and the regeneration of local economies across the country, but I particularly welcome the recognition of the importance of manufacturing to that regeneration. My constituency and the midlands have strong manufacturing traditions, and I look forward to hearing more details about the midlands engine, and not least about the £250 million investment fund. Our region has been significant in the economic recovery, and we have 96,000 more businesses than we had in 2010.
Although the economy has moved in a positive direction in recent years, particularly in terms of falling unemployment, we should not be complacent about the manufacturing sector. In that spirit, I call for the creation of an industrial strategy.
Thank you. There is a clear need to boost exports, and the Government’s target to reach £1 trillion-worth of exports by 2020 is ambitious. An industrial strategy would boost confidence for investors through greater stability in the system and clear direction from the Government, as well as allowing the Government to be held to account over the period to which the strategy applies. For a Minister to come to the House annually and to be scrutinised on cross-departmental support for such a vital part of our economy can only be to everyone’s benefit.
I turn to the make-up of the strategy. A central, cohesive and comprehensive document could shape clear objectives for the sector, outlining steps that the Government intend to take to provide a framework for industry to grow. In addition, there could be a clear statement from the Cabinet Office, acting across Departments, along with annual reports to Parliament detailing supportive measures taken in the interests of manufacturing.
This Government, and perhaps any Government, typically respond well to objectives and targets that give clear focus and consistency, such as a target of 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020. An industrial strategy would encompass a wide range of policy areas: apprenticeships, higher education, Catapult centres, innovation and the supply chain. We need to ensure that Departments do not operate in silos, and that our whole system works in harmony, so I would add energy policy, smarter procurement, access to finance and infrastructure. Implementing a strategy would be a major step forward, considering that the manufacturing sector is less able than others to respond to circumstances quickly. A long-term vision is, therefore, essential, and it will encourage investment in the UK.
Looking ahead, we will need to compete internationally in innovation. The reshoring of production must be a central aspect of our approach, and I see innovation as key to that aim. We can help innovation to flourish in the UK by supporting through-life engineering services and improving the availability, predictability and reliability of complex engineering products to deliver the lowest possible whole-life cycle cost. Initiatives such as high-value manufacturing catapults, Industry 4.0 and TES were not even on the table in 2010. I would add, however, that no matter how attractive an industrial strategy might be, we must make sure that we start with a long-term economic plan.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) who made a thoughtful speech. I concur with him on the importance of an industrial strategy.
The Chancellor spoke today about the Government’s plans for devolution. I want to focus on that and, in particular, on the importance of devolution for the economy and jobs in the Liverpool city region. The number of young people in the Liverpool city region who are not in education, employment or training is significantly above the national average. Among 16 to 18-year-olds, the national figure is disturbing at 4.7%, but the Liverpool figure is 6.3%—one in 16 of those young people—which is far too high and a key challenge.
The agreement between the combined authorities and the Government does several things. It devolves the adult skills budget; it moves the responsibility to work on employment support for harder-to-help claimants, so that the city region will work with the DWP; it devolves the apprenticeship grant for employers; and it institutes an area-based review of post-16 education and training. There is huge potential to provide more quality and employment apprenticeship opportunities, and I hope that the combined authority and, next year, the newly elected Mayor will work with the Government both to use these powers and to explore what further devolution is needed.
The challenge of youth unemployment is enormous. I welcome the fact that it has fallen in recent years, although I share concerns about the quality of some of the jobs that have been created, particularly for the large number of young people on zero-hours contracts. Even with that fall in youth unemployment, our rate is double that of Germany. Part of the reason for this is the quality of the technical and vocational education that we provide in contrast to Germany’s.
I welcome the fact that we will have an area-based review in Liverpool, and I recognise that the failure fully to address the issue of vocational education is a long-standing failure by Governments of both parties. However, I seek assurances from Ministers that the Liverpool city region will have the powers it needs to reshape and restructure local skills to meet the demands of a changing economy. I welcome the powers that are being devolved, but I would like us to go further. It is not sufficient for the city region to lead on skills at 19-plus; I want it to lead on skills at 16-plus and, in fact, I want it to lead on skills at 14-plus and to address the issue of 14-to-19 education.
Last week, I urged the Education Secretary to look at the potential for the devolution of powers held by her Department. There is a very strong case for the powers of the regional schools commissioner to be devolved. Liverpool city region could then take the lead in the planning and commissioning of school and other education places. It would be an opportunity for local communities, employers, young people and others to shape the education and skills programmes that we need.
Devolution is not just about power, but about funding. Liverpool city region has been hit hard by cuts in central Government funding since 2010. I support and welcome devolution, but this must not be an exercise in devolving the blame for cuts. I urge the Government to look again at the scale of the cuts taking place in cities such as Liverpool. The Chancellor spoke about localisation and I recognise its strong advantages, which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) set out so eloquently, but for the poorest parts of the country, such as the city of Liverpool, there is a big downside. We stand to lose substantial resources, and I ask the Government to think very carefully about how they implement this change. If we get it right, devolution can make a real and lasting difference, creating the properly paid, high-quality jobs for the future that Liverpool city region needs.
It is a pleasure to follow my colleague on the International Development Committee—the Chair of the Committee—the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg).
To have a strong economy, we need a strong society. That is why I welcome the many references in the Gracious Speech to improving life chances, especially for the young and disadvantaged. The Children and Social Work Bill and the prisons and courts reform Bill are particularly welcome in helping to give a second chance to those who, in so many cases, never had a first chance.
Last week, the review of prison education by Dame Sally Coates, “Unlocking Potential”, proposed that to improve the life chances of prisoners, a holistic vision of education is needed for them, including family and relationship learning and practical advice on parenting and financial skills. It is heartening to note that the Government have agreed to implement the review in full.
Another excellent report that has also just been published is Lord Laming’s “In Care, Out of Trouble”, in which he says:
“Remedial work and rehabilitation are essential but prevention is so much more rewarding and fruitful for the young person and wider society.”
He says that good parenting “creates the solid foundation” to give the child the best start, and that the “essential ingredients” are security and stability. He says that
“in this context…young children develop self confidence, trust, personal and social values and optimism. Loss, neglect or trauma at this early stage in life often result in profound and enduring consequences.”
That is why the commitment in the Gracious Speech to
“increase life chances for the most disadvantaged”
“poverty and the causes of deprivation, including family instability”
is so welcome.
Addressing this challenge is urgent. The needs are widespread, and not just for those at risk of entering the care or criminal justice systems. Years of evidence-based research by the Centre for Social Justice has shown it is demonstrably the case that growing up in a family where relationships are dysfunctional, chaotic or insecure is not only a key driver of poverty in itself, but a driver of other causes of poverty such as addiction, mental health problems, behavioural problems, poor educational attainment, worklessness, depression and debt. Teachers and mental health charity workers in my constituency tell me that disturbingly increasing levels of poor mental health among children, including very young children, frequently result from insecure family relationships.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the recently announced change to the measurement of life chances—from one based on an arbitrary relative income to one that takes into account worklessness in households and educational attainment—reflects the multifaceted nature of poverty and achievement?
I do indeed. I also think that we should include family instability in that statutory footing.
Yesterday, Relate published a report on couple relationship distress in the UK. It states:
“Good quality, couple, family and social relationships are the basis of a thriving society…central to our health and wellbeing…poor quality relationships have far-reaching consequences. Inter-parental relationships have…been recognised…as a major determinant of children’s life chances.”
However, Relate’s analysis estimates that almost one in five of adult couple relationships in the UK could be characterised as a distressed relationship, meaning one with a severe level of relationship problems that has a clinically significant negative effect on a partner’s wellbeing. The figure for partners with children under 16 is even higher. Encouragingly, however, Relate also says:
“A broad range of relationship support services are effective at improving relationship quality.”
I hope Ministers will read the report and note its recommendation that we need to
“expand access to a spectrum of support for good quality relationships, overcoming barriers of accessibility, availability, and affordability to ensure that anyone who needs it can benefit from support.”
I look forward to the publication of the Government’s life chances strategy. I hope that it recognises that poverty of relationships is a severe limiter of life chances, and that substantially increased support for stronger family relationships is needed in every local community. It is important to provide somewhere in every locality where people can go for such support and advice, at any stage in their family life—whether they are starting a family, bringing up toddlers or teenagers, coping with supporting an elderly parent, or simply a couple going through a rocky patch.
The troubled families initiative has been successful in providing intervention and support at a crisis stage. Let us learn from that, but provide support much earlier, when families feel they need help. Let us normalise asking for help and providing it. There cannot be a family in the land that would not benefit.
I must confess I thought the Queen’s Speech was fairly awful. It was not awful in its individual proposals on things such as prison reform or bus regulation, all of which have some merit. It was certainly not awful because of the delivery of it by Her Majesty the Queen, who even sounded reasonably excited by the news of a forthcoming state visit from the Colombians—something we can all get behind. It was awful because it lacked any sense of big thinking and any grand design for the state of our nation. As a constituency MP I see so many challenges and so many things I want to change that listening to the modest list of measures we heard last week only left me frustrated.
What makes me so impatient about those shortcomings is that I believe that with better leadership and a better Government, we could do so much better. We are a country where the divide between the very affluent and everyone else is too great, and where owning a home, having a decent job and being able to have a good family life are increasingly unattainable for too many people. Eight years after the financial crisis, our economy is still too dependent on the financial services sector, house prices and consumer spending, and is still too reliant on London and the south-east. There are obscene levels of extreme poverty and destitution, and homelessness is almost back to 1980s levels.
We have an ageing population, but core public services such the NHS and social care simply do not have enough money. Our welfare system is not fit for purpose; it gives too little support to many people while creating welfare dependency in a small group of others. We have chronic skills shortages in several major industries; that in turn fuels record immigration levels. Our lack of any kind of industrial policy has left several key sectors such as steel facing the abyss.
Some parts of our economy are overtaxed, particularly through the outdated business rates system, and other parts do not pay the tax they should. I could go on, because nothing in this Queen’s Speech made me feel as if our Government are considering these problems; in fact, nothing in it made me feel that the Government have a desire to do anything more than try to hold the Conservative party together over the next 12 months.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s criticism of the Queen’s Speech. Does he share the same opinion about Labour’s future as that written by a member of his party, which said that Labour lacks credibility on the economy?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the extra time, and I will come on to those wider criticisms.
In some respects the Queen’s Speech was frankly dishonest. Whatever one’s view of the necessity of austerity, or the success of the Government’s deficit reduction programme, it is simply not true to say that public services are being reformed to help the hardest to reach—they are being reformed to remove them from the hardest to reach. It is also not true to say some of the deepest social problems in society are being tackled when some—homelessness, for example—are clearly getting worse. In Greater Manchester, one of the most dynamic parts of England, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) has said, an entire community of people are now living in tents in Manchester city centre. That is not what success looks like. I am all for measuring life chances better, but we do not need a new set of indicators to understand that taking money from people who have serious disabilities—as the Government have repeatedly tried to do—will make their lives harder, not better.
If I were writing the Queen’s Speech, I would ask for it to include three things. First—this was echoed by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White)—we need a formal industrial strategy in the UK that is focused on making British industry as globally competitive as it can be. Secondly, we need a royal commission on the welfare state, to consider what will be required in an age of rapid technological change and digital self-employment. Thirdly, we need serious democratic reform, so that future Queen’s Speeches are much better than this one.
The tail-end of the Queen’s Speech contained a miserly reference to the supremacy of the Commons. If the Government do not want to lose so much legislation in the Lords, they should try to make better legislation. I do not believe the Lords to be the hotbed of democratic socialism that Ministers seek to portray. This Queen’s Speech was not a programme to transform our nation or tackle our biggest problems. It was all filler and no killer—a pick ‘n’ mix of pet projects; a holding card until the next Conservative leadership contest reveals that party’s true direction. Britain deserves a legislative programme that engages our public, ignites our economy, and inspires our future. Britain deserves a lot better than this.
It is a great pleasure to speak about this Gracious Speech, which puts opportunity and life chances at the heart of our society. It is a one nation Queen’s Speech, and Britain is forecast to grow faster than any other major advanced economy in 2016. Growth is forecast to exceed 2% each and every year this decade, meaning that in 10 to 15 years we could be the biggest economy in Europe, outstripping the German economy. Average weekly wages have risen by 2.1% since last year, and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that 2.9 million workers will benefit directly from the introduction of the national living wage, and estimates that a further 6 million could see a pay rise as a result of the ripple effect.
This Government were elected to back working people, and the best way to do that is to let them keep more of the money they earn. The personal allowance will rise further to £11,500 by 2017-18, giving 31 million people across the country a tax cut. This Queen’s Speech makes it easier for people on low incomes to save. The lifetime savings Bill will introduce a help to save scheme, providing a 50% Government bonus on up to £50 of monthly savings, helping more than 3 million of the lowest earners to put money aside.
Over the past year, we have got on with delivering our manifesto commitments to give people security and opportunity at every stage of their life. Some 16% of working age people in the UK are disabled or have a health condition. The Government are committed to halving the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people, to ensure that disabled people have opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations. We spend around £50 billion every year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions, which is 6% of all Government spending. That represents 2.5% of our GDP, and is significantly above spending in countries such as France and Germany, and the OECD average of 2.2%.
In the past two years, 365,000 disabled people have moved into work, with more than 3.3 million now in employment. Halving the disability employment gap, means helping around 1 million more disabled people to achieve their ambition of finding work. Later this year, I will be holding my first Weaver Vale Disability Confident fair. I give the Government credit for bringing forward this fantastic scheme to truly challenge attitudes to employing those with disabilities.
As a Cheshire MP I can say that INEOS Chlor and Tata Chemicals are significant employers for those living in Runcorn and Northwich. I recently met Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, to talk about cognitive technology and artificial intelligence. Cognitive technologies are the future for this country.
Energy-intensive industries, and the jobs associated with them, are almost exclusively located outside of London. They are often high-skill, high-wage jobs. They form a vital part of the northern powerhouse, and regional growth and development. I am committed to closing the north-south divide. Our great northern cities and regions can be greater than the sum of their parts. The northern powerhouse is underpinned by world-class transport linking our great cities and regions to drive up productivity and our economic revival.
Colleagues will know that I have been campaigning to reinstate the Halton curve line for many years now. I am delighted to report that the final business case was examined by the Liverpool city region combined authority in April and it has approved the plans. That is significant because it will enable travel from north Wales to Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.
This is a one nation Queen’s Speech from a one nation Government. As someone who was born and grew up on a council estate, the Conservative party is the party of aspiration. I commend the Speech to the House.
Over the past number of days, we have heard from Opposition Members that new ideas and new legislation in the Queen’s Speech have been thin on the ground. Unlike the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), I do not think the measures in the Queen’s Speech will address poverty or help those who have been hit hard by the pernicious welfare cuts that have caused deeper poverty in my constituency. That is not something I particularly like, because I want to see greater wealth creation and greater income creation.
It is clear that the forthcoming referendum has had an inhibiting effect on the Queen’s Speech and the Government’s ambitions for this year in Parliament. We can debate at length whether inhibiting the Government is a good or a bad thing, but I can only say that I am disappointed they have not done more to address the widening social, economic and infrastructural inequalities that are opening up across these islands and leaving too many people behind, particularly in the constituency I represent in Northern Ireland.
On rural broadband, the widening divide between winners and losers is well embodied by the ongoing failure to provide rural communities access to reliable high-speed broadband. New technology provides the potential for rural communities to be more closely connected to the wider world of commerce, culture and government but despite that, a report from the European Commission found that over half of rural areas still do not have access to high-speed connections. In fairness to the Government, I welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to provide households with a right to high-speed connections. However, I am concerned about what that really means. Who will be responsible for delivering this right and who can rural communities turn to when they have been let down? I hope the Government are sincere in their intentions, but I must remain sceptical until further proposals are brought forward—hopefully in time to meet the Prime Minister’s own broadband targets.
There has been no attempt, despite a letter signed by the Northern Ireland MPs, to reduce VAT on tourism—a fiscal measure and fiscal flexibility that would aid tourism in an area where we have to compete with the south of Ireland. A report published today says that we have the lowest level of disposable income and the highest number of visitors. The issues of air passenger duty and VAT on tourism have to be addressed.
On our farming communities, the regional inequalities that exist for Northern Ireland farmers place them at a severe financial disadvantage to their counterparts in Britain. That may be a market issue, but it has to be addressed urgently.
Finally, on the upcoming EU referendum, there is no doubt that, for Northern Ireland, a vote to remain will be of the greatest benefit to the local economy. In that respect, I urge the Government to ensure that the issues of poverty and deprivation and broadband connections and the needs of our tourism industry are properly and equitably addressed.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie). On this occasion, I sadly did not agree with everything she said, but I enjoyed her contribution.
The Gracious Speech contained many encouraging Bills for the coming parliamentary year, but I would like first to welcome the small charitable donations Bill, which innumerable sports clubs and charities in my constituency will welcome with open arms. For too long, our local charities have been hampered by the lack of gift aid on their bucket and other small donation collections, so I am pleased that this will now be addressed. The fact that the Government want to allow local sports clubs the opportunity of gift aid on their small donations might be a saving grace for many local sports teams, but for some it might do more than put a little extra money in their pockets; it might go as far as to give them another season. Young farmers clubs might also benefit from the Bill. For those who do not know, young farmers clubs are groups of young people who get together and organise a wide range of events and community activities throughout the year, encompassing everything from barn dances to rural skills and debates on current affairs. My local Brecknockshire federation recently held a hustings on the EU, though I shall not go further into that one.
For me, however, the Queen’s Speech is not all plain sailing, as I have concerns over the economic consequences of the Wales Bill. Wales does not need further devolution to Cardiff Bay. At a time when the UK economy has chugged back into life and is now on track to further prosperity, owing to the hard work of the Westminster Government, giving further powers to the Labour Cabinet in the Welsh Assembly will slam the brakes on in Wales.
If we truly care about the Welsh economy, we have to ensure that powers over tax and other economic measures are held where the people of Wales want them. With the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to abolishing the need for a referendum on giving the Assembly tax-raising powers, I am concerned that constituents will not get a voice over whether this important power is placed in the hands of the devolved Government. It is not just my constituents who are worried. Many local businesses are concerned about the effect on them. Ultimately, the future of Wales and the devolved settlement should be for the people of Wales to decide, but the commitment in the Queen’s Speech does not give them a voice.
That voice is important. I hear a great deal about the importance of the northern powerhouse and the southern powerhouse, but where in this cacophony is the rural powerhouse? As I am sure many are fully aware, farming is one of the UK’s staple industries. In my area—but not just in my area—it is also the main driver behind the local economy. The agri-food sector employs more than 10% of the total UK workforce, and the food and farming sector is worth more than £100 billion to the UK economy. Farming is a great job creator. Farmers need a workforce of labourers and contractors of all descriptions. Sheep and cattle need feed grown by other farmers. When livestock are taken to market, there is an auctioneer—I was one before I entered the House—and auctioneers need clerks and staff. Finally, when livestock are taken to slaughter, the abattoirs need expert butchers and high-tech machinery, which has to be designed by someone—the list of jobs goes on and on. Yet farming is facing hard times. Milk and lamb prices are falling, and farms across the country are facing grave difficulties. We must do all we can to help support this vital industry, which does so much for the rural economy. I hope that the better markets Bill will include assistance for farmers by cutting red tape for the farming community and that other vital rural industry—tourism.
Finally, I would like briefly to touch on the digital economy Bill and how it will be of great benefit to my constituents and businesses and to the rural economy more widely—[Interruption]—but I will have to leave that to somebody else because I have run out of time.
In the few minutes available, I shall primarily address issues relating to the criminal finance Bill. In introducing the subject, I can do no better than recognise the extremely thoughtful contribution of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) on Tuesday. In his peroration, he made these comments in referring to the Bill:
“we in this country are very bad at dealing with white-collar crime, and there is growing awareness of that. If someone wishes to rob a bank, they go to the LIBOR market; they do not put on a balaclava and pick up a shotgun—that is much less profitable… I hope I can be reassured that the Bill will tackle not just tax evasion, which is quite rightly high on the public agenda, but money laundering.”
He concluded this part of his speech by saying:
“London is still the money-laundering capital of the world.”—[Official Report, 24 May 2016; Vol. 611, c. 450.]
The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly pointed out the nature of the challenge we face. Many of the biggest crooks are working in the City of London. This is a major challenge that we should all be willing to address. It would be commendable if the Government eventually produced a very strong Bill, but as is sometimes said in my part of the world, “I hae ma doubts”.
If people’s behaviour and motivation are so important, that raises a fundamental concern in my mind about the flawed approach to economics that seems to dominate much of current thinking. We find that Treasury civil servants and central bankers have presided over not only corrupt practices and economic failure, but intellectual failure, too. For example, their devotion to what most people know as neo-classical economics led to their failure to anticipate the largest recession since the 1930s, and revealed their powerlessness as policymakers in the face of the subsequent stagnation of output.
The penchant of the neo-classicals for putting all their eggs in the basket of simple mathematical and statistical forecasting is based on remarkably few variables, which leads them to ignore economic problems that are not easy to measure—whether they be legal or illegal. Even Mervyn King in his book “The End of Alchemy” hinted at this critique when pointing out the failure of existing models to take into account critical changes such as the political reforms in China that led to its rapid growth. I add the inability to see how attractive the City of London has become to—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned London on several occasions, which makes me wonder whether there are no issues with people from Edinburgh. I remind him that Sir Fred Goodwin was a Scotsman in the Royal Bank of Scotland at the time. The hon. Gentleman should not insinuate that crooks end up only in London.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the extra minute, but I never implied that at all. If he had been here at the beginning of my speech and was listening to it, he might have realised that I was citing the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe, who was sitting in the same place on Tuesday, and it was he who raised this very issue. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take issue with the castigation of the City of London, I suggest he looks to his own colleagues rather than to me.
Time does not permit me to go into a more detailed analysis of what needs to be done, so let me make a few suggestions. I think it would be useful if we vastly strengthened support for whistleblowing to give employees within banks and financial institutions greater confidence in raising issues such as suspected money laundering and the management of illegal assets.
As I reflect on what my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) said, I believe it would be wise for the Treasury to convene a commission into the simplification of the tax code. Put simply, the more complicated we construct a tax code, the easier it is for those will mal intentions to find their way into securing gains for themselves at the expense of others. I hope we get a Bill of some substance. I hope that the Government truly wish to address those vested interests that do us all so much harm.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin), and I am grateful to him for his advice. As a neo-classicist myself, I now know that I need to keep an eye on my variables. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that it is an even greater pleasure for Conservative Members to know that there is now an effective Opposition in the Scottish Parliament, keeping an eye on his colleagues and what they are up to, up north.
I listened to every word of not only the hon. Gentleman’s speech but that of the shadow Chancellor. I do not know whether the shadow Chancellor rehearses his speeches in front of his colleagues, but, if so, he may have allowed himself a wry smile when he referred to the need to replace old worn-out infrastructure with something more effective. Having read “Labour’s Future”—a very Little Red Book!—I can only imagine that the shadow Chancellor’s advisers, Messrs Fischer and Varoufakis, have got their work cut out in the years ahead.
In the short time that remains to me, I want to say some positive things about what is a very positive Gracious Speech. I serve on the Financial Inclusion Commission, an honour that I share with the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan), and I am particularly interested in the way in which the Government are setting out to improve financial inclusion and resilience. The scale of the problem, highlighted by an excellent paper published earlier this week by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Financial Inclusion Commission, is immense, but the Government are taking positive steps.
I welcome fee-free basic bank accounts, the lifetime ISA and the continuing successful roll-out of auto-enrolment, but I particularly welcome the Help to Save scheme, from which up to 3.5 million low-paid workers could benefit. I do not for one second underestimate the difficulty, for many families, of saving £50 a month, but from my experience of credit unions I know that some do, and if they do it through that scheme, they will be better off to the tune of £1,200. I welcome the scheme for its direct impact, but I welcome it even more for the culture of financial resilience that it could provide. Curbs on payday lending will get us only so far. Any step that helps to boost resilience, and thereby reduces demand for those crippling services, is to be welcomed.
Our main focus, however, must be on encouraging resilience by promoting national economic growth, and the Gracious Speech is imbued with policies that will enhance productivity. As has been mentioned a number of times during the debate, establishing a legal right to broadband connections will enhance productivity, and will also aid financial and social inclusion.
The Government’s commitment to transport is well founded. The performance of Horsham’s local rail operator, Govia Thameslink Railway—not helped by the current industrial action—is woeful, but I recognise the Government’s commitment to investment in the line.
In the context of transport and productivity, the Davies commission made an unequivocal recommendation in favour of Heathrow. It said that Gatwick would deliver half the economic benefit, that it had insufficient transport connections, and that it would fail to provide the hub airport that Britain needs. For the sake of our national productivity, let us get on with expanding Heathrow.
Finally, let me welcome fair funding for schools. It will assist the recruitment of maths and other STEM teachers in West Sussex, and it will help to drive future productivity, enable us to create a generation throughout the country who are better equipped to seize the opportunities that the Government are creating, and boost financial inclusion and resilience.
There are measures to like in the Queen’s Speech. I argued for a soft drinks industry levy 15 years ago, although I warn the Government that it makes no sense to tax sugar while simultaneously cutting funds for sport in schools. Obesity must be tackled first and foremost through exercise, not through stand-alone measures like the sugar tax. The prison and courts reform Bill, if it is a genuine attempt to turn what is currently a penal system into a correctional and rehabilitation system, will certainly have support, and will bring about a much-needed transformation.
So there are measures to like, but beware: nothing shows the weakness of an Administration more than a failure to include big, controversial Bills in a Gracious Speech. This Queen’s Speech certainly contains policies that are wrong. The education Bill, for example, with its academisation programme and its national funding formula, marks an appalling return to the old obsession with structures rather than standards. The formula will take £18 million from schools in Brent, and will call that fair. We have reception classes with 29 children speaking 21 different mother tongues, and an 8.6% per pupil spending cut for them is not fair. It is wrong.
My point is that the Government have run out of steam or are too insecure about getting support from their own Members to risk big controversial measures. So perhaps in a spirit of mendacious assistance, I shall set out the Bill that I believe the Government could and should have placed at the heart of the Gracious Address. A green growth Bill would set a clear trajectory for the UK to lead the world in today’s low carbon industrial revolution just as we did 250 years ago in the coal-powered industrial revolution. Such a Bill would deal with energy, land use, water resource, transport and green city infrastructure in an integrated and sustainable way.
A green growth Bill would also transform the Treasury model from its current fixation on GDP growth to one that focused on wealth maximisation. To understand that GDP and wealth are not the same, one only needs to recall that the 2013-14 floods were the single biggest contributor to GDP in 2014 while simultaneously ruining thousands of people’s lives. GDP measures productivity, not wealth. A green growth Bill would make our country focus on what really mattered.
Businesses currently extract an estimated $7 trillion globally from the environment each year. This is in the form of free non-renewable goods and the equally free renewable services that they utilise. However, that $7 trillion does not appear on balance sheets; these are free goods—or externalities, as classical economics prefers to call them. No Government account exists to chart their contribution to the national wealth, yet they represent the annual income from a gigantic asset base that is quite simply the precondition of all other economic activity. What sort of economic managers do we have who fail to quantify an asset base of this magnitude and importance?
A green growth Bill would establish natural capital accounting so that by measuring nature we could make its contribution to our economy visible and allow for effective decision making. Such a Bill would appoint a Chief Secretary to the Treasury equivalent who would examine not just departmental resource and departmental expenditure limit budgets but their natural capital and ecosystem services depletion as well. Our natural capital debt is arguably a much more urgent issue than our financial debt, yet our Governments are failing spectacularly to reverse the decline in that asset base.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), but I am pleased to rise to speak in support of the Gracious Speech. I do so for three main reasons. First, it recognises that businesses create jobs. Secondly, it confirms that we want to ensure that people keep more of what they earn. Thirdly, it allows the Government to support families in looking after themselves better in the years ahead.
Businesses are creating jobs in North East Hampshire and the surrounding area, and people in my constituency are doing very well under this Government’s long-term economic plan. The reality is that only 0.5% of the economically active people there are unemployed. That is excellent news, but we must not be complacent. There are still 255 people who need work, and we must ensure that we create the opportunities for business to provide it. That is why I am pleased that small businesses will be helped by the universal service obligation for broadband. That is a major issue in some of the more rural parts of my constituency. People often want to set up their own business in those areas, and they need to be able to access the internet but cannot do so at the moment.
Further, I want to make the point on behalf of my constituents that their taxes must be well spent. They expect that, because North East Hampshire receives just over £350 per head on average in benefits, which is the lowest amount of all the constituencies in the country. This is a result of the strong economy, and taxpayers recognise that while there should be a welfare state to act as a safety net, it must not be a lifestyle choice. That is why it is important that we help people to keep more of what they earn, to incentivise work. The tax-free allowance has risen to £11,000, and we must go further in the future. Three million people pay no income tax at all, but many people in my constituency pay the higher rate of income tax. The rise in the threshold to £43,000 is a good step, but we must go further. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was on to something when he talked about the “squeezed middle”. It is true that there are people with reasonably paid jobs who need support because they still find things tough. That is what we are trying to address by increasing the threshold for the higher rate, and I encourage Ministers to go further.
The last thing that I want to cover in the time available is the most local issue of all: families and life chances. It is right that we create good schools for everyone and that people’s lives should not be dictated by where they came from, but by their skills and abilities and by where they want to go. A key part of all that is the family in which they live. I am pleased that the Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats between 2010 and 2015 and now in a Conservative majority Government, have recognised marriage in the tax system. The marriage allowance is an important step, but we should go further, because family breakdown costs the Government and taxpayers £48 billion a year. If we could tackle just a fraction of the family breakdown in this country, not only would we save taxpayers’ money, but we would improve people’s life chances. All the research shows that people with stable family backgrounds enjoy better educational prospects and better jobs in the future. While we must focus on ensuring that individuals get life chances, this is also about ensuring that we bring the public finances under control. By doing all these things, we will do just that.
After years of abandoning and punishing the most vulnerable people in society, we get a Queen’s Speech that talks about introducing legislation to tackle some of the deepest social problems and to improve life chances for the most disadvantaged. However, we all know the truth: this Government’s grand rhetoric is rarely matched by policy. In fact, their policies tend to be regressive and punitive, pushing more and more people into poverty. No one living in poverty is there as a result of their own doing; the perpetuation of poverty and the rise in child poverty since 2010 is a clear failing of Government.
A recent report from Sheffield Hallam University, also referred to by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), looks at the uneven impact of welfare reform, revealing that the north yet again takes the biggest hit on welfare reform while the south, outside London, remains largely unscathed. Some 83% of the overall financial losses fall on families with children. The north-east alone is set to lose £620 million a year by 2020-21, which is a loss per working-age adult of £380 a year. South Tyneside, the council which covers my constituency, is the sixth worst-affected local authority. Even the introduction of the living wage has left the lowest-paid workers little better off, if at all. One of my constituents, a carer, is now in a desperate financial situation because the new living wage has taken her over the threshold to be eligible for carer’s allowance. An extra £8 a week has cost her £62 in lost benefits.
If this Government really care about life chances, they would not be running into the ground the services people that people rely on the most. They would not have closed over 800 Sure Start centres. They would not be presiding over a crisis in teacher recruitment. They would not be focusing resources on adoption to the detriment of social work that can keep families together. They would not be presiding over the collapse of the NHS and social care. They would not have made such a mess of the benefits system to the extent that more than 1 million food parcels have been handed out. Disabled people would not be losing more than £1,500 a year. The terminally ill would not be being declared fit for work and having their income slashed. Homelessness would not have doubled since 2010. We would not have rising wealth inequality in areas blighted by high unemployment. The Children’s Society has reported that children and young people in Britain are among the unhappiest, unhealthiest, poorest and least educated in the developed world.
This Queen’s Speech identifies an impotent and careless Government whose numerous U-turns reveal deep problems at the core of their policy making. Of the 30 announcements, we have heard 28 of them before, because we have for the past year had to put up with a Government obsessed with internal politics. We all know that the EU referendum has nothing at all to do with whether or not we are better off in or out of Europe. The Government have taken up precious parliamentary time with a prolonged, unedifying fight between—[Interruption.] You can have your say later. It is a fight between two middle-aged public school chums over who is going to run the country.
Order. Even though that was said from a sedentary position, it is not “you” who has had your say—it is “he” who has had his say.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am going to end by saying that if this is the Prime Minister’s last Queen’s Speech, I am sure it is not a legacy that he or anyone on the Government Benches should be proud of.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. After the next speaker, I will have to reduce the time limit to three minutes. People will have to start speaking very quickly and take limited interventions. Still on four minutes, however, is Mr Craig Tracey.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Many of the measures in the Gracious Speech will bring benefits to North Warwickshire and Bedworth, but, in the short time available to me today, I wish to focus on the digital economy Bill. The Bill is vital, not just in my constituency, where there are large pockets of rural communities, but across the whole of the UK, if we are to maintain our position as the fifth largest global economy.
I want Britain to be at the forefront of innovation and to be a nation where technology continually transforms the economy and society, but for that we need to up our efforts in creating a world-class digital infrastructure and delivering on our manifesto commitment to roll out universal broadband. We have made great strides since 2010, when fewer than half of UK properties had access to superfast broadband. Now, 90% of households enjoy it, and that figure is set to increase to 95% by 2017. Many of the benefits are clear: better connectivity brings more choice, more opportunities and greater competition; new markets for businesses are opened up, not just within the UK or the confines of the EU, but globally and in emerging markets; and consumers are more empowered, finding it easier to access a wider range of goods and get access to their finances. But there are other, less recognised benefits that greater connectivity brings: it can help to keep families in touch, including our military based overseas; it can ease pressure on our health services; and it can combat other social issues, such as loneliness, particularly in isolated rural areas. I have long championed the case for high-speed broadband. A great example of these benefits in operation is Prezzybox, an online retail company in the village of Austrey which operates from a farm building. It is wholly reliant on the internet, but has now been able to grow to employ 25 local people, thanks to the connectivity that has been delivered.
I have two observations, however, that I would like to share with Ministers. First, there needs to be better communication with local communities, both before and after the installation of new services. I have been contacted by many constituents who were not aware of the roll-out plans in place for their area and the fact that they were soon to be connected in any case. Once the service is activated, it is vital that the next steps are strongly communicated to those who now have access. I have lost count of the number of constituents who think that once the upgraded broadband is available their speeds will automatically increase. They do not realise that they have to activate a superfast service or often that they can pick from a range of providers able to offer them that service.
My second point relates to the not spots—the 5% who by 2017 will still not have access to superfast broadband and whose number the National Farmers Union puts at 1.2 million households, and the 10% who will still not have access to mobile phone coverage. Many of these affected areas will be rural and farming communities, and I know of several areas in North Warwickshire that offer little or no coverage, and slow download speeds, often of dial-up proportions. We must do everything we can to ensure that these communities are connected as quickly as possible, so as not to be left behind by the digital revolution.
It is clear that the demand is there, so what I am urging the Government to do is act decisively and look at all the available options. In all likelihood, these remaining properties are going to be the most difficult to reach so, in the best of entrepreneurial British spirit, we may need to be creative and innovative. There are opportunities to look at alternative providers who can create separate infrastructure projects. There is the option of providing greater access to satellite provision. Importantly, we need to encourage community projects, for which there is currently no public sector funding.
In conclusion, many things in this one nation Queen’s speech will bring great benefit as they are implemented, not just to my constituents, but to the UK as a whole, The continued focus of this Government on a digital economy can leave a legacy for generations to come.
It is a pleasure to speak in the Queen’s Speech debate today if only for three minutes. As many people, both inside and outside this House, have remarked, this speech has felt a bit like a damp squib, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) said, all filler and no killer. Perhaps that is because all eyes are on the referendum. It is astonishing that the Tories have been waiting for a majority Government since the 1990s and have already run out of ideas by their second Queen’s Speech. That takes some doing.
As far as the economy is concerned, the sum total of Bills in this Queen’s Speech does not add up to the comprehensive plan that would put the recovery on a more sustainable footing, or allow our citizens to meet the challenges of the labour market as it is today and also, more importantly, as it will be in the future. We are not producing enough secure, well-paid jobs, and the Government have presided over record low pay growth, so we badly needed a clear, bold and comprehensive productivity plan, which is totally missing from this Queen’s Speech.
The Chancellor has been the steward of the UK economy for the past six years, but unfortunately for all of us he appears to be a one-trick pony struggling with his only trick. His only real plan for the economy is deficit reduction, and he continually misses his own targets. We know that he failed to eliminate the deficit in the last Parliament as promised and figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday showed that the Chancellor had missed his borrowing target from last year by £3.8 billion, with the deficit still standing at £76 billion. Manufacturing remains 6.9% below 2008 levels, and our export performance is really worrying. Although services continue to outperform, we are still lagging behind on goods exports, with the widest shortfall since records began. It is worth remembering that, in 2011, the Chancellor said that our exports were critical to our economic growth, and that he was going to double the value of exports to £1 trillion and increase the number of exporters by 100,000. His record shows that exports were not even mentioned in last year’s Budget because there has been only a tiny increase in the value of exports since 2011. In fact, the number of exporters has fallen between 2013 and 2014. The Chancellor will try to blame the global cocktail of risk, but many of the problems are of the Government’s own making, because of their failure to do any serious heavy lifting in rebalancing the UK economy.
What we really needed from the Queen’s Speech was a proper productivity plan, not just a vague ragbag of old failed policies that the Government have tried to put together under a new label. We needed a fresh start for exports, so that our performance in exports can start the rebalancing that our economy so urgently needs.
It is always a very great honour to stand up in this Chamber and speak for my constituents, whom I am so proud to represent.
On the first day of this debate, we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman). In an eloquent speech, she reminded every Member of this House of the incredible opportunities that we all have, each and every day, to change things for the better and to fight for the causes that we care about. She paid tribute to the willingness of Members from all parts of the House to work collaboratively in cross-party groups and friendships to fight for shared causes.
For all the disagreements that there are—on both sides of the House and in our own parties—there is a common desire to serve our constituents to the best of our ability and make whatever small difference we can in a world that all too often seems filled with injustice.
The Gracious Speech contained within it the very measures that drove me to fight so hard against the odds to come to this place. I am talking about social justice, social mobility and life chances. At its heart, the Gracious Speech is all about hope and possibility—specifically for those who have never had it easy. This Queen’s Speech was about tackling the barriers and obstacles that often stand in the way of too many and that rob them of the hopes and ambitions that they might otherwise realise.
I am proud that this Government have placed a commitment to strong families at the heart of this speech, as it is a strong family that will give a child the very best start in life. Some might dismiss that as insubstantial froth or, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) put it, “fictional drivel”, but a strong family is at the core of a successful and thriving society. It is the children in struggling families, the children in care, the children in the our youth offending system who are denied the hope, possibility and chance of something better.
Too many do not want to talk about the underlying causes of disadvantage. We should not shy away from doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) rightly said, it is about family breakdown, addiction, mental health difficulties, repeat spells in prison and homelessness. Getting out of that cycle is so difficult.
Strong families take many forms. My mother was a single parent with five children, who struggled hard to keep our family together. She taught me that you can set your mind to anything and achieve it. You might have to fight harder, you might have to try harder, and there might be obstacles in your way that others do not face, but do not let that stop you.
I want for others the ability to make their way in the world, no matter where they came from and no matter what obstacles they face. That is why I wanted to come to this place to fight for those who are too often written off and whose lives could take another direction if only they had the chance.
It is self-evident that investment, jobs and skills are the key to solving many of the problems facing the country. That is no less true in my constituency, so I shall touch on those topics.
There has been a slowdown in private sector investment owing to the impact of the recession and slow or stagnant recovery in the north. In my constituency, the only recent significant industrial investment is in a facility in Netherton at a manufacturing printers. The most strategic investment is in the new deep sea berth in the port of Liverpool at Seaforth. However, although there are plans to build a new road or a reconstructed road to the port, the plans for rail freight are abysmal, with just £10 million investment over the next three years. Perhaps there should be a halt to the road development until we get a better and more symbiotic relationship between rail and road investment there.
Bootle constituency has a chronic deficit of private investment as its employment base is in the public sector, at 23% in the borough of Sefton compared with 17% in the UK, and private sector job increases have not replaced public sector job loss. This is compounded by the underinvestment in public infrastructure on rail, ageing water and sewerage systems and undersupply of electricity to development sites. I hope the devolution deal will deliver on its promise to attract more investment into the area.
I want to give a thumbs-up to Mayor Joe Anderson, the chair of Liverpool city region combined authority, who has robustly made that case for the whole of Merseyside, as Ministers will testify. Gaining investment and jobs stimulated by the Liverpool2 development and improved road and rail access connecting it to the northern powerhouse will be critical.
On jobs, the stagnant recovery is reflected in job levels in Bootle, although the recession has not affected chronic unemployment. The issue of skills is a bone of contention nationally. We have managed to raise the level of skills, but there must be something wrong with an economy that can spend £20 million on a garden bridge across the Thames and £10 million on rail investment in one of the largest ports in the country. There is something wrong with that system and it must change. I hope this Queen’s Speech will change it, but I doubt it.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd).
I welcome the Queen’s Speech because it builds upon the Government’s already strong progress over the past six years and gets Britain fit for the future. For example, on jobs, since 2010 and during the course of this Parliament, employment is set to rise by 3 million, which is a huge achievement. In Havant the number of people on jobseeker’s allowance has more than halved since 2010.
I welcome the Gracious Speech not only because it strengthens Britain’s economy today, but because it prepares our economy for tomorrow by equipping the country to lead in what is becoming known as the fourth industrial revolution, helping to create jobs and strengthen economic growth. The first industrial revolution used steam power to mechanise production, the second used electricity to create mass production, and the third used information technology to create the internet and launch the digital revolution. Now a fourth industrial revolution builds on the third, characterised by a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between the physical, the digital and the biological.
At the core of this fourth industrial revolution are advances such as high-quality manufacturing, robotics, the new digital economy and life sciences. The fourth industrial revolution is a systematic shift that will transform the world’s economy in the decades ahead, and it is because of this Queen’s Speech that Britain’s economy and workforce are set to play a leading role.
I therefore welcome the digital economy Bill, which will give Britain world-class digital infrastructure. People in Havant and across the country will benefit from the new broadband universal service obligation, which will, for the first time, enshrine in law a right to the fast broadband connections that underpin every aspect of the digital economy and modern life.
Just as Britain pioneered the steam train and the jet engine, we are poised to be leaders in the next generation of transport innovations. I welcome the modern transport Bill, which places the UK at the forefront of new technologies, such as driverless cars. It shows investors that we in Britain are committed to transport innovation and the many jobs that will be created by it.
If we in Britain are to lead the fourth industrial revolution, to create jobs and to grow our economy, we cannot just sit back and watch this revolution pass us by. We have to give our businesses and communities the tools to strengthen our economy and to create those much-valued jobs up and down the country, in constituencies represented on both sides of the House. That is what I believe this Queen’s Speech does. It deserves the support of the House, and I will be voting for it in the Lobby this evening.
In the 1980s, the UK Government decided to abandon the shipbuilding industry in my constituency. The subsequent catastrophe resulted in the loss of thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs and the decimation of an industry that people could take pride in. The UK Government pulled the plug from shipbuilding without even the façade of a workable regeneration programme for Inverclyde. By 1987, companies reliant on the shipyards began closing, and the area’s male unemployment rate skyrocketed to 25%.
The IBM facility in Spango valley was highlighted as an example of the skilled, sustainable and long-term employment that could offset the decline of traditional industries. In March 1988, Margaret Thatcher visited the IBM site to champion the cause of the private sector and to explain how it would save Inverclyde in the wake of the shipyard closures.
If we fast forward to the present day, we find the Queen’s Speech promising to spread economic prosperity, but we now know that, by the end of 2016, there will not be a single IBM job left at the Spango valley site. Two other major employers in Inverclyde—Sanmina and Texas Instruments—have also recently announced job losses. The cumulative financial and emotional toll of these losses on individuals, families and the wider community is impossible to quantify.
There are successful companies in Inverclyde, but the area is still trying to set sail against the winds of economic stagnation and population decline. I have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for Employment to ask them to visit Inverclyde to see the potential our area has to offer.
I know that many other constituencies across the UK are suffering from economic pressures, but Inverclyde seems to have suffered disproportionately for decades. We have had 30 years of economic decline, 30 years of depopulation and 30 years of UK Government indifference.
We are not looking for handouts. The people of Inverclyde are resilient and have an invaluable work ethic, but they lack opportunity. We need more than a token visit or a reactive taskforce every time a major employer announces redundancies. We need a workable plan for regeneration, and we cannot wait 30 more years for it to be implemented.
After the pain of the 1980s, the UK Government have a historical debt to Inverclyde. The Conservative Government of the time had an undesirable zeal and commitment to closing the shipyards. Sadly, that has not been matched by an equally energetic and unwavering commitment to regeneration. Some may say that this is ancient history, but my office deals with constituency cases every day that are a direct legacy of the decisions made by the UK Government in the 1980s.
I hope that the UK Government, as the only Government in the UK with the full range of economic powers at their disposal, will be part of the solution. If they are unwilling to help, they should give the full range of powers required to the Scottish Government and let them get on with the job.
Somebody once told me that there is no such thing as luck. Luck, they said, is a place where opportunity and preparation meet. Many of us in this Chamber will have grown up with everything pretty much sorted: a stable family, a decent household income, a great education and good health—that perfect mix that prepared us to control our lives and to make use of opportunities that came our way.
When we talk about a life chances strategy, therefore, we are talking about identifying the things the Government can do to plug the gaps for individuals who are not as fortunate as us and for whom one of those key ingredients is missing. I applaud the Prime Minister for making this one of the essential themes in his work. It is certainly why I came into politics. Now we have the challenge of translating that policy aspiration into detail. That challenge is huge, not just because we are still recovering from economic turbulence, but because one of the solutions cannot be so easily measured, nor have metrics attached. People transform the lives of others, with hearts, heads, promises, support, mistakes sometimes, but above all trust.
Returning to my premise that this is all about opportunity and preparation, Government can certainly develop policy to provide the opportunities, and they have done that very well already, with an improving economy, record levels of employment, an increase in the minimum wage, transformation of the benefits system, investment in the NHS, and help to buy schemes. Admittedly, we would all agree that we have much more to do on affordable housing, especially in constituencies like mine, and we are still uncovering the enormity of the mental health challenge, but overall those policies will provide those essential opportunities, and many millions of people are benefiting from them already. Focusing on the preparation part of the luck equation, how do we help those who do not have those building blocks? When I think of all the people I know who have transformed their lives, the single common denominator has, without fail, been another person. There may have been Government interventions in the mix somewhere—a grant to set up a business, perhaps—but alone that would not have been enough. When you really need to turn your life around, you need another human being to help you.
Every Government Department has a role to play. Ministers need to identify where people touch their Departments and embed the big society in their areas of responsibility. The Department for Communities and Local Government has been fantastic on troubled families. Croydon Council is doing amazing work to break down internal silos to put the best interests and potential of its residents at the heart of everything it does. I applaud the Department for Education for its work on local employees being mentors for children. What about the parents, too? Think of Billy Elliot’s father! Our GPs are also at the heart of this support, but Lord knows, they are at breaking point and they may need the extra funding to be provided now.
Another army of mentors and champions is desperate to help this revolution—those in the third sector, almost totally frozen out of the Work programme but desperate to get involved. We should bite their hands off and bring their expertise to the centre of this debate. One thing they have in abundance, far more than any politician or Government, is trust in the people they want to help.
There is a growing army of people in this country for whom the economy is no longer working. They will have looked hopefully at the Government’s plans for the next year and found that there is nothing there for them. It is simply not good enough that we have a Prime Minister who is happy to sacrifice an entire parliamentary Session tinkering at the edges because he is too afraid of causing even more divisions in his own party. How much of what is in this agenda will even see the light of day anyway? This Government have made 24 U-turns in the past year alone. It is unprecedented to see a Government offer so little so soon into a new Parliament. Just a year after a general election, we have a zombie Government and a Prime Minister who cannot wait for it to be 28 days later.
Yet there are serious problems that need to be tackled now. For the first time in a decade, child poverty is rising under this Government. There has been a worrying increase in the number of children relying on food banks—up by 13% in my constituency in the past year alone. What was the Government’s response? They rebranded the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission by removing “Child Poverty” from its name, and attempted to remove the statutory duty to measure child poverty at all. The chair of the commission notably said that young people now face an “existential crisis”—a crisis that this Government seem determined to exacerbate.
What will our economy look like for the workers of tomorrow? The sad reality is that manufacturing in this country is in long-term decline, and I see nothing from the Government to rebalance the economy either on a sectoral or a geographic basis. In my constituency, economic growth is hampered by the lack of investment in key infrastructure projects such as the electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston train line or improvements to the M56 motorway, yet grandiose schemes continue to take shape elsewhere in the country. Getting better connectivity in my constituency is undoubtedly the key to unlocking growth, but we are told that any improvements to the M56 will not even be considered until the end of the decade, and there is currently nothing on the horizon to improve the rail line. People in parts of my constituency have no reliable access to public transport at all, yet Crossrail alone is earmarked to receive nine times more funding than all the rail projects from the north’s three regions combined.
What of the growing ranks of the self-employed? Julie Deane’s independent review for Government on self-employment appears to be gathering dust on the shelf. The review found that the number of self-employed in the UK is at an all-time high of 4.6 million, and that the number is growing and the trend set to continue. That group now represents 15% of the UK workforce, making a considerable contribution to the country’s economy.
The report makes a number of important recommendations and I want action to be taken on one in particular:
“Government should consider extending support to the self-employed in areas where there is discrepancy between support for the self-employed and support for employees.”
It also makes a recommendation with regard to those who are self-employed through necessity. There is no doubt that there are people who should not be classed as self-employed, but because they are classified as such they are offered no basic protection, such as the minimum wage. Urgent action needs to be taken on the reclassification of self-employment.
In conclusion, this has been a missed opportunity to tackle the inequalities that exist by region, gender, age and employment status.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders).
Rural broadband is a key issue and it has been raised by Conservative Members. I know that broadband is an issue in some urban areas as well, but it would help the rural economy significantly. It will not address the farming crisis that some Members have mentioned—the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies) highlighted a number of difficulties in the agricultural sector—but it will help bring better perspective to the rural community and to farmers in particular.
On the anti-corruption summit, Her Majesty’s Speech said that
“legislation will be introduced to tackle corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.”
I hope that that works in Northern Ireland, because we have a huge problem with fuel laundering and smuggling, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does not seem to be getting to the root of it. It is almost an economy—an illegal economy—in itself, but it exists in Northern Ireland and we really need to grapple with it. I ask the Government to provide more powers to the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland so that it, rather than HMRC, can be the lead partner. That would be hugely beneficial and productive.
I do not have much time, but I want to touch quickly on the proposed adoption legislation, about which I speak from a personal perspective. It is vital that additional legislation is promoted to help all these young people and to give them a fair and equal chance. Education legislation has also been proposed, and I make a plea for co-operation between the education authorities and those who will be responsible for the adoption provisions. Adoptive kids are sometimes short-changed by the education sector, because those involved in it are not fully aware of the needs of adoptive and looked-after children.
I welcome the proposed adoption legislation, although I know that it will apply only to England because it is a devolved matter. Northern Ireland does not even have adoption legislation—we still rely on a children’s order. I do not know about the other devolved regions, but there is a huge gap in the legislation in Northern Ireland. These young people need the best start possible in life, and one way of doing that is to provide facilities and support, by which I mean not just assessments, but action by local authorities.
The Queen’s Speech was a missed opportunity to change course on the decision to make cuts that will result in 2.5 million working families losing more than £2,100 a year, the impact of which will be to hit the vulnerable people in our society the hardest. The opportunity provided by universal credit to create a simpler benefits system is being undermined by financial decisions and, as a result, we are failing to protect vulnerable groups in particular.
I want to focus on a vulnerable group who are often overlooked, namely young carers. At present, severely disabled adults who are living without a non-disabled adult to provide care for them may be eligible to receive the severe disability premium, which is intended to help them with the additional costs they face. The Government have proposed to have no equivalent of the SDP in universal credit. They propose to use the savings from the SDP to raise the level of benefit paid to those entitled to receive the higher disability addition. However, once universal credit has been fully implemented, severely disabled people with no adult to assist them will be entitled to about £58 less a week than those in the current system.
Between the Office for National Statistics censuses in 2001 and 2011, there was a 20% rise in the number of unpaid carers. As a Welsh MP, I am particularly concerned about the issue, because Wales has a higher proportion than England of young carers providing unpaid care. More than 11,500 children in Wales aged between five and 17 provide unpaid care. If their parents do not have support and protection through universal credit, those children will face additional disadvantage. In four out of 10 households with a disabled lone parent, children help them for more than 15 hours a week. Around 25,000 disabled lone parents receive the severe disability premium. In those families, young carers, especially children aged over 10, are taking on a significant caring role.
The impact of the loss of SDB could be very severe: 83% of those who are eligible for it said that a reduction in benefit would mean that they had to cut back on food, and 80% said that they would have to cut back on heating. Will the Government please consider implementing the Children’s Society recommendation that universal credit should include a self-care element to provide additional support to disabled adults who have no other adult to look after them, to help them with the additional costs that they incur and to ensure that the burden of additional care costs is not placed on young carers?
It is a pleasure to follow my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees). The Prime Minister declared this to be a one nation Queen’s Speech for a one nation Government. He said that his Government were a Government for whom
“economic security always comes first”—[Official Report, 18 May 2016; Vol. 611, c. 22.]
He said they were a Government with a “long-term economic plan”. But, once again, we have seen nothing to substantiate those grand plans. All we have seen is stasis.
The British economy in its current state is best described by the saying, “All that glitters is not gold.” At first glance there is the semblance of a positive picture, but scratch away at the surface and a very different story emerges: a story of low productivity, ballooning personal debt, a yawning trade deficit, creaking infrastructure, a dangerous over-reliance on financial services and a growing chasm between London and the rest. To put it simply, our economy is too unbalanced and too unstable to be resilient and to serve the British people. It is too short-sighted, too inward looking and far too unequal.
In my constituency, we have seen the costs of the Government’s failure. For more than a year my Labour colleagues and I have called on the Government—we have raised the issue more than 230 times since the general election—to snap out of their stupor and take action to stand up for British steel. We were met with a mixture of indifference and incompetence. Only when the crisis became a PR problem did the Government wake up and seek a last-minute fix to a problem that we have pointed to for a year. The steel crisis really sums up the Government’s approach: it is a problem only when it hits the front pages. If the Government had a real long-term economic plan and a real strategic approach to governing Britain, the crisis could have been averted. Instead, we have a Government with a long-term economic plan that is not a plan at all but a bookkeeper’s to-do list. They are focused only on reducing costs without giving any thought to the generation of revenue through sustainable growth. They think that the solution to everything is to reduce the size of Government and retreat from the challenges of the future rather than addressing the faulty foundations of our economy. That is why the Queen’s Speech was yet another missed opportunity, and that is why I shall vote against it this evening.
My part of the country is an area that is rightly perceived to be successful. Cambridge is, in many ways, a model for the future of Britain, with many innovative, high-tech, high-skill jobs linked to world-class research embedded in excellent local institutions. Public and private are mutually interdependent, and not seen as being at odds.
Last year, as part of the city deal process, the local business-led organisation Cambridge Ahead worked with all the local partners, at the Government’s request, and developed “The Case for Cambridge”, which was a powerful, evidence-based argument for what was needed to maintain that success. We should be implementing that case but, instead, we have lost almost a year on an extraordinary and bungled attempt to shoehorn three counties together into a devolution deal with an elected mayor. A few weeks ago, following an over-subscribed Westminster Hall debate on the East Anglia devolution deal, I suggested that the House have a more substantial discussion not only on the East Anglia deal but on the wider issues, because what is happening across England—this bungled mix of devolution and local government reorganisation, or lack of it—has profound consequences.
At this time of all times, with the parallel debate on the relationship between Westminster and Brussels, what an opportunity this was to have had a proper consideration of how each level of government could work with another, based on mutual respect. Instead, we have had a debate on Europe that has been intellectually largely bankrupt and a devolution process that in the east was reduced to, “You’ve got three weeks to make up your mind”, and “Oh, you’ve got to have an elected mayor or two”.
What is really needed and what the business community in particular is crying out for is the imagination, the freedom and the flexibility to unlock the massive potential that exists in and around Cambridge. Unfortunately, our strengths are also our weaknesses, and we struggle on housing and transport. There are so many possibilities, including the proposals put forward by the London-Stansted-Cambridge Consortium, which would unlock growth between Cambridge and London if only we could take advantage of such opportunities.
There are other threats to Cambridge’s knowledge economy. Having already trebled tuition fees for university students and scrapped maintenance grants, the Government now want fees to rise again. Few students will welcome paying more when so many feel that their contribution is already too high. When they make comparisons with other countries, they are right to feel aggrieved. We are all pleased that the Government have promised to protect the dual funding system of research, but there are real risks that such separation will be eroded over time.
Let me conclude by making the wider point that whatever the strength of a research-based, high-tech economy, we still need to make sure that the benefits are shared fairly. When I look at the rising number of people turning to the Cambridge food bank, see more and more people on short-term and zero-hours contracts and see the visible evidence of more and more rough sleepers on the streets of Cambridge, it is clear the economy is working for some but by no means all. One looks in vain for measures that will address that very real unfairness, while the measures on housing and benefit changes passed in the last Session will make the situation in my city worse, not better. Those are all reasons why I will oppose the Government tonight.
Wait for it. This afternoon, the Chancellor promised us a better markets Bill to improve competition. We on the SNP Benches are in favour of that and will give it what help we can, depending on what is in the Bill. It is a matter of record that, in the UK, we have the most monopolised banking system in the western world. Four big banks dominate, with 80% of the market share. If we want genuine competition and better markets in finance, we need to have six, eight or 10 banks of a similar size. Until we have that, there will be no better markets or better competition.
Here is a tale: the two main regulatory bodies set up by this Government and this Chancellor to ensure more competition and better markets in finance—the Competition and Markets Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority—have failed to deliver. Why is that? There is a suspicion among SNP Members, and I suspect among Government Members, that those regulators are perhaps looking over their shoulder at the Chancellor and asking themselves, “Does the Chancellor really want us to close down, intervene in or break up those banks? Maybe we are being told to say one thing and to do another.” That is why, when we look at the small print of the Bill, we will want to see whether this is just shadow boxing and a subterfuge that allows the Chancellor to get up and say, “I’m in favour of competition, but actually—shush, shush—don’t do anything about it”, or whether it will really have teeth to take on the big banks.
I want very quickly to look at some of the things that are going on. The FCA has brokered a deal with the big banks on arbitration for small businesses who have suffered mis-selling and been bankrupted. Unfortunately, the FCA has turned a blind eye to the fact that the big banks are now signing up solicitors across the UK, including in Scotland, so that those solicitors, who are on the banks’ books and waiting for work, will not take up the cases of small businesses who feel that the arbitration process has gone against them and want to take the banks to court.
I hear from a sedentary position the word “corrupt”. I will not use that word, but I will certainly be looking to the Chancellor and this Government to make sure, through this Bill, that such practices by the big banks are done away with.
Finally, in my constituency of East Lothian, RBS has just announced the closure of its only branch in the town of Prestonpans. That is a surprise because the population of East Lothian is growing, and we are about to have 10,000 more houses in the general area of Prestonpans. Banks do that kind of thing: they do not care about their customers. This Bill has to reverse that, and that is the test we will apply to it.
I am delighted to see that the Chancellor has come back to join us for the close of what has been an excellent debate today, to hear the Opposition’s view that, by any stretch of the imagination, this Queen’s Speech is a desperate missed opportunity. It could have addressed the deep-seated problems in our economy or the poor quality of work experienced by so many under this Conservative Government. Time and time again this afternoon, I have heard right hon. and hon. Members lament those problems, and ask in their different ways where the meat was last week.
Where was the Bill to address the deep-seated problems in our economy, and the yawning inequality that is spreading across Britain? For example, where was the Bill that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) put it, could boost our economy through investment in our public services? What a question to have to ask on a day when the Government have sacked 250 BIS workers in the heart of the northern powerhouse in Sheffield. The Government should reflect on that.
The Government should also reflect on the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth): where was the Bill was to revive manufacturing? My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) asked where the Bill on tax transparency was. My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn)—that mighty place—made a barnstorming speech lambasting the Chancellor and the Government for preparing to flog off the Land Registry as another private sector monopoly.
The Government should also reflect on the powerful speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who are continuing their fight to stand up for steel jobs just 24 hours after the brave steelworkers came to London to petition the Government to save their jobs and protect their pensions.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) asked, where was the Bill to sort out education and the savings crisis in Britain? My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) asked where the Bill was that could deal with the rising tide of destitution that is sweeping Britain under the Tories. He reminded us that in the great city of Manchester there is now an emerging tent city. What an unbelievable token of this Government’s failure it is that people are living in tents at the heart of one of our greatest cities. Where were any of the Bills to deal with any of those problems? Where was the Bill to support the self-employed or to support carers? Where was the Bill to reverse the cuts to universal credit or to really deal with devolution?
I have my own question for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor: where was the Bill to save the steel industry? Today of all days, when we have had a half-baked announcement by the Work and Pensions Secretary—[Interruption.] I support the fact that there has been a written announcement, but decry and deplore the fact that he did not have the nerve to come to the House to explain what some of the downsides might be, because we have heard scant evidence from the Government on what this situation means for some of the steelworkers. [Interruption.] I have said I support it—he keeps chuntering. I support the production of the consultation document and the fact that he is looking at the issue, but he should have done it a year ago. That is the truth—he should have been addressing it long since.
When the Secretary of State replies to the debate, he will have the opportunity to give us some of the answers that we did not get from his right hon. Friend the Business Secretary today, such as who will definitely disbenefit as a result of the changes? What precedent will be set for other industries? Are we content to see other industries in future take a similar route and shift uprating of pension benefits from being in line with the consumer prices index to being in line with the retail prices index, with workers losing out? He needs to tell the House how he will ring-fence that so that it affects only steelworkers.
Now I come to think of it, where was any sort of industrial strategy in the Queen’s Speech? One of the most telling contributions today was made by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White). I do not know whether it is just because he looks a bit like me that the brother wants to come over to our side—[Interruption.] He could be a Welshman with an inside leg that length. He sounded like a Labour man when he spoke earlier. He asked, essentially, “Where is the industrial strategy? Wouldn’t it be marvellous if the Tories had one?”
I’d love to give way—tell us, where is the industrial strategy?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that at the end of my speech I said that for an industrial strategy to happen, we need a long-term economic plan.
I heard it. There was that one soundbite, that one belated effort to draw back from the brink, but we had three and a half minutes of the hon. Gentleman attacking the Chancellor before then, and complaining that there was no industrial strategy.
What do we have in the Queen’s Speech? We have a bit of nonsense about spaceports and electric cars. In Port Talbot where people are worrying about the steelworks, they are not too bothered about spaceports unless the Government are planning to stick one in Aberavon and create 1,000 jobs. This is window dressing. Where on earth is the industrial strategy? Where is the Bill to deal with this country’s productivity crisis, which is greater than just about anywhere else in the western world? Where is the Bill to deal with disabled people who under this Secretary of State are languishing on the scrapheap? Where is the Bill to halt the spiralling of personal debt to record levels? The Chancellor used to talk about the problem of debt, but he never speaks about personal debt or the fact that consumers are the basis on which he is trying to rebuild our economy. Where is the Bill to deal with the fact that our earnings are flatlining in Britain? The Queen’s Speech contains not a sniff of any such Bills. Many Labour Members have suggested that that is because the Government have run out of ideas and the Chancellor has run out of steam, but I do not think he has—I am looking across at him and he is looking as fit as a butcher’s dog. He has his 5:2 diet and a personal trainer on-tap. He looks full of ideas—he is certainly full of it.
The real reason why none of those things were in the Queen’s Speech is because they do not fit with the narrative that says that everything is tickety-boo with our economy. We have the makers marching, jobs for everyone, and the new national living wage: “Nothing to see here, move on, move on. Let’s keep going with where we are”. Of course that is absolute nonsense, because on every measure in every serious analysis of our economy, the Government are missing their targets. The deficit was meant to be cleared long since, but it is £76 billion. The national debt is meant to be falling as a proportion of GDP, but it is now £1.6 trillion— £600 billion more than when Labour left office. The Chancellor used to talk about not bequeathing debts to future generations, but that debt has increased by £600 billion on his watch.
What about business activity? It has gone through the floor. What about corporation tax receipts? We used to be told—I remember it well—that the secret to getting all that extra foreign direct investment, receipts and investment was slashing corporation tax rates, but just this week are told that that figure is down to 5.1%. That is not the mark of an economy that is booming by any stretch, and little wonder, because our trade deficit is at a record high. The gap between our exports and imports is bigger than it has ever been. [Interruption.] It is £13 billion, if the Chancellor wants to quibble about it. That is a big problem for him, and it is happening on his watch and because of him. That is the reality of this country’s economy, and the consequences for working people are significant.
The Government continually point to the jobs market as the one bright spot, and Labour Members welcome those new jobs. [Interruption.] I welcome those jobs, as I welcome every new job. We believe that people in this country are better off if they are working, but that will not stop me asking what people are earning. What if they are taking home less than they used to, and their wallets are getting thinner at the end of the month as a result of the poor quality jobs that Britain is now generating? What if the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is compounding those ills by cutting work allowances under universal credit?
I was at the Elephant and Castle jobcentre earlier this week, and I heard what a great problem low wages are. The Chancellor is making his savings, and the Government are going gangbusters as people move from Labour’s better resourced, more generous tax credits over to the less generous, universal credit under his Government. He will hit the £10 billion of savings that he wants, but on the backs of working people in this country. They are the people who are paying the price for this failing economy and this failing Chancellor. He looks at me across the Dispatch Box. I simply wonder when his Back Benchers are going to realise that he is failing them, as well as failing the country. If we look at the record it tells its own story: he is the third-worst-performing Tory Chancellor on growth in the past 60 years and he is the worst-performing Tory Chancellor on the economy bar none. We need to get rid of this Chancellor. We need a vote against the Queen’s Speech tonight. We need to vote for Labour.
It is a real pleasure to conclude this debate on the Gracious Speech. I thank all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have made contributions today. A wide range of subjects has been covered by Members from all parts of the United Kingdom and from both rural and urban communities. It has been a very good debate.
As the Prime Minister made clear, the Queen’s Speech is about using the strong economic foundations we have built to make a series of bold choices that will help to deliver opportunity for all at every stage of their lives. Improving life chances starts as a foundation for ensuring a healthy, strong and growing economy. Through our long-term economic plan, that is what we are doing: the deficit is being cut, the economy is growing and it is forecast to grow faster than in any other G7 economy this year.
It is true that, thanks to the strength in the economy, we have seen some remarkable things in our labour market in recent years: we have seen the highest level of employment on record ever and the annual rise in the employment rate is the largest anywhere in the G7. Now, we are not complacent. We know we need to go further. However, we also know that behind this picture of national economic recovery are hundreds of thousands of individual stories of people whose lives have been transformed. In the past year alone, over 400,000 people have moved into work. We have more women in work than ever before. In the past two years, more than 300,000 more disabled people have moved into work. We have also seen big increases in youth and long-term employment. I am delighted that the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, for the very first time in six years, has at the Dispatch Box welcomed the fact that unemployment is falling.
Let us just remind ourselves that since 2010 more than 2.5 million people have moved into work. That is more than the whole population of the fantastic city of Leicester moving into work each and every year we have been in government. It means 764,000 more households in work. It means nearly half a million more children growing up seeing a mum or a dad go out to work each day. By any measure, that is a really encouraging record. We salute, in particular, our small businesses and our entrepreneurs who are the real engines of this jobs recovery, something recognised in the excellent contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena).
This recovery has not happened by chance or by accident, and we know that we need to go further. It happened because we had a clear economic plan for jobs and growth. I see a couple of Opposition Members shaking their head. Let us remind ourselves of what they left behind in 2010. Unemployment had risen by nearly half a million. The number of women out of work went up by a quarter. Youth unemployment rocketed by 44%. Long-term unemployment doubled. Nearly 1.5 million people had spent most of the previous decade on out-of-work benefits. That was an appalling record of wasted lives and wasted potential left by the previous Labour Government. The fact is that during 13 years in government, the Labour party stopped believing in the power of work to transform people’s lives. The Labour party gave up on welfare reform. It became the party of welfare over work. It was far too relaxed about parking people for a whole lifetime on benefits. That is why it takes Conservatives in government, with Conservative values, to bring the reforming spirit needed to transform the life chances of people in our—[Interruption.]
Order. It is impolite to make a noise when the Secretary of State is speaking. Members should be arguing with him, not chattering about him.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As one nation Conservatives, we will not be complacent, write people off or walk by on the other side, and that is why we are developing a plan for transforming life chances.
The Secretary of State talks about life chances and the Queen’s Speech talks about parenting classes for families. Will he reflect on what use parenting classes will be given that low-income, in-work families are ever more reliant on food banks to put food on the table? What use is a parenting class if they cannot afford to put food on the table?
All the evidence shows that the top three drivers of disadvantage and poverty are worklessness, low educational attainment and family instability. The hon. Gentleman talks down the value of supporting parental stability and families, but they have an important contribution to make.
It is a sign of the underlying strength of the economy that there are more than 750,000 job vacancies across the country, but there is another story here too. For a teenager leaving care; for a father coming out of prison wanting to turn his life around; for a single mum shouldering enormous burdens, on which point my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) touched insightfully; for someone overcoming an addiction to alcohol or drugs; for a young person with a mental health condition—for all of them, I want those job vacancies to represent a world of opportunities too. But for too many, taking one still feels a world away. That is why we are determined to improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged in our society. We are not just talking the language of social justice but, as the Queen’s Speech shows, taking the action needed to make a real difference to people’s lives.
I am grateful to the Government for accepting the amendment, in my name and that of many other right hon. and hon. Members, calling for a Bill to protect the NHS from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the Bill will be published or its contents made known and assure us that it will be before the referendum? If it is not, we will know that something fishy is afoot and that the only way to protect the NHS is to vote to leave the EU.
I am absolutely clear that our national health service is protected from TTIP.
One group in society who have faced particularly difficult barriers are disabled people. We are committed to our ambition to halve the disability employment gap, which we must do by learning from and listening to those who know most about what works—disabled people themselves. That is why I will be publishing a Green Paper later this year. I want to consult and engage fully with them and their representatives to build a strategy that we know will work. I hope that Members on both sides will see it as an opportunity for us all to move forward together.
The Queen’s Speech demonstrates the Government’s commitment to improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged while delivering security for people in work and strengthening our national security so that we keep our country safe. I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Tom Elliott) on our Bill to improve adoption. Our education for all Bill will ensure better outcomes for children, especially those in disadvantaged homes and communities. Our higher education and research Bill will allow the creation of new universities so that young people have more choices for continuing their education.
That is the kind of society I believe in, but I also believe in a society that gives people a second chance, which is why we welcome the prisons and courts reform Bill, which will put a greater focus on rehabilitation in our prisons, greater support for prisoners with mental health conditions and better education and training. At the heart of the Queen’s Speech are real reforms that provide support for the most disadvantaged at the start of life; support for people making those big leaps in life, such as leaving care; and support later in life for those looking for a second chance. None of those reforms would be possible without the foundations of a strong economy, but at no point in the last six years has Labour shown any willingness to recognise that point. We will never forget how night after night, in the last Parliament, Labour trooped into the Division Lobby to vote against every single measure we introduced to fix our national finances. It opposed all our efforts to reform welfare and restore the value of work.
claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made.
26 May 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Amendment proposed: at the end of the Question to add:
“but respectfully regret that a Bill to protect the National Health Service from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was not included in the Gracious Speech.”.—(Mr. Lilley.)
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 33), That the amendment be made.
Question agreed to.
Amendment proposed: at the end of the Question to add:
“but regret that the measures set out fail to meet the challenges facing the majority of people living in the nations and regions of the UK; call in particular for your Government to change course on plans for austerity spending cuts, which are damaging the UK’s economic growth and punishing the incomes of hardworking people, and to consider a modest investment in public services to stimulate economic growth; and further call on your Government to withdraw proposals to waste as much as £200 billion on new nuclear weapons, to go further than the recommendations of the Strathclyde Review by abolishing the House of Lords, to work more respectfully with the nations and regions of the UK to deliver meaningful devolution, to acknowledge its responsibility as a member of the international community in contributing to the resolution of the refugee crisis in Europe and to acknowledge its responsibility to outline a positive vision for the UK’s continued membership of the EU.”.—(Stewart Hosie.)
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 33), That the amendment be made.
26 May 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Main Question, as amended, put.
26 May 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament, but respectfully regret that a Bill to protect the National Health Service from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was not included in the Gracious Speech.
Address to be presented to Her Majesty by Members of the House who are Privy Counsellors or Members of Her Majesty’s Household.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. By an unusual coincidence, our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament have been casting votes in Divisions this evening as well, and 106 MSPs have voted that Scotland should remain in the European Union while eight have voted against, including one Oliver Mundell MSP, who is, I believe, acquainted with the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell). That might explain why the right hon. Gentleman wanted to veto his candidacy. However, my point is this: the MSPs cast their votes in almost less time than it took this House to appoint the Tellers for the first Division, nearly 40 minutes ago. I wonder what routes are open to those Members who would like to see our voting procedures vastly modernised to bring forward proposals for reform.
The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that that is a matter initially for consideration by the Procedure Committee, of which I had thought he was himself a distinguished ornament.
The nod of the head has sufficed to confirm that my recollection is correct. What is more, the Committee is chaired, with alacrity and distinction, by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), so the wise heads on that Committee can deliberate on the matter and take evidence as they see fit, and even pronounce in due course, and then the normal processes of the House will be available, and probably required, for the matter to be further considered. I have expressed views on that matter in the past, but on this occasion I will spare the House that burden. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order.