I advised the House earlier of the selection of amendments that I have made, but I appreciate that some Members were not present. I am very happy now, because I think it would be helpful to the House, to repeat that selection. I can inform the House that I have selected amendment (l) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which will be moved at the start of the debate, as well as amendment (d) in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and amendment (g) in the name of the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna), which will be moved formally at the end of the debate.
I beg to move an amendment, at the end of the Question to add:
“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to end austerity in public services, to reverse falling living standards and to make society more equal; further regret that it contains no reference to an energy price cap and call on the Government to legislate for such a cap at the earliest opportunity; call on the Government to commit to a properly resourced industrial strategy to increase infrastructure investment in every nation and region of the UK; recognise that no deal on Brexit is the very worst outcome and therefore call on the Government to negotiate an outcome that prioritises jobs and the economy, delivers the exact same benefits the UK has as a member of the Single Market and the Customs Union, ensures that there is no weakening of cooperation in security and policing, and maintains the existing rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU; believe that those who are richest and large corporations, those with the broadest shoulders, should pay more tax, while more is done to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion; call for increased funding in public services to expand childcare, scrap tuition fees at universities and colleges and restore Education Maintenance Allowance, maintenance grants and nurses’ bursaries; regret that with inflation rising, living standards are again falling; and call on the Government to end the public sector pay cap and increase the minimum wage to a real living wage of £10 per hour by 2020.”.
As of this year, Mr Speaker, I have been in the House for 20 years, just as you have. Never in all that time have we seen such a threadbare scrap of a document as this Queen’s Speech. But let us be grateful for small mercies: it is a pleasure to note what has not been mentioned in this vacuous notelet. Despite their being promised in the Conservative manifesto, we have had no plans for legislation to end the triple lock, we have heard nothing about legislation to end winter fuel payments, and we have heard no legislative plans for the so-called dementia tax. There is nothing of the policy to take food from the mouths of infants and young primary school children, and even the flagship grammar schools policy seems to have been ditched from the Queen’s Speech. I would therefore like to thank the millions of voters who rejected the Conservatives because they have prevented the Tories from implementing the full cuts that they promised. I thank all those people who called a halt to the barrage of cuts that the Tories were intending to introduce. Regrettably, the Government have instead been reduced to a grubby back-room deal in an attempt to cling on to office.
The result is that we have a Queen’s Speech devoid of content which offers no solutions to the pressing issues facing our country. The Queen’s Speech says:
“My Ministers will strengthen the economy so that it supports the creation of jobs”.
The reality is that we are witnessing, to quote the Governor of the Bank of England, the weakest UK business investment in half a century, and the growth of insecure, low-paid, low-skilled jobs, with nearly 1 million people now on zero-hours contracts.
I am very surprised that the shadow Chancellor talks about jobs, because every single Labour Government in history has left government with higher unemployment than when they came to power. We have lowered unemployment and got more people into work. How can he possibly suggest that it would be better to have Labour?
I would check the hon. Gentleman’s facts, but let me say—[Interruption.] I suggest he goes back to other Labour Governments who increased employment in this country as a result of direct state investment: the Attlee Government in particular, and the Wilson Government.
The issue for many of us is the quality of those jobs. The fact is that we now have people in employment who literally cannot fend off poverty. Two thirds of our children who are living in poverty are in families where people are in work. That is the quality of some of the jobs brought about by this Government.
The Queen’s Speech promises
“to invest in the National Health Service, schools, and other public services”,
but that could not be further from the truth. The reality is that spending per pupil remains set to fall, the jobs of police officers, firefighters, border guards will be cut, and the NHS is “already at breaking point” and has been promised no new money. Those are not our words, but those of the British Medical Association.
In various interviews over the past fortnight, the Chancellor has bemoaned the fact that he was hidden away during the election campaign and that his record on the economy was not the central plank of the Conservative campaign. I agree with him. I wish he had been more to the fore in the campaign, with his record more widely exposed, because if that had been the case, Labour would be in government now.
I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has been afforded his proper place in history. For those hon. Members who were not in this place 10 years ago, let me explain that prior to 2010 the Chancellor was the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In that role, as an ardent neoliberal, he was the architect of austerity. It was he who designed the detailed economic programme rolled out by his mentor, George Osborne, after 2010, and he has been at the heart of every austerity Cabinet throughout this period.
In the Chancellor’s recent Mansion House speech, he referred to his Government’s austerity record as one
“of which we are proud.”
The foundation of the Chancellor’s record is its adherence to neoliberalism and trickle-down economics—a theory that argues that if we cut the taxes for the rich and the corporations, and if we turn a blind eye to tax avoidance and tax evasion, somehow the wealth will trickle down to the rest of society. This Chancellor has certainly cut taxes for the rich and the corporations. Corporation tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax and the bank levy have all been slashed by this Chancellor. Independent analysis of Office for Budget Responsibility costings demonstrates that the tax cuts introduced by the Conservatives on those four measures alone since 2010 will have cost taxpayers more than £70 billion between last year and the end of this Parliament.
As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, history tells us that increasing corporation tax actually leads to reduced tax revenues. Were he in government, his plans would mean that corporation tax revenue would fall. If he were in a position to do so, how would he make up that shortfall in Government revenue?
The argument we heard was that corporation tax cuts would lead to a large-scale increase in business investment in our economy, but business investment fell last year for the first time since 2009. It remains lower than that in the rest of the G7 countries, with the exception of Italy. Corporations are now sitting on more than £580 billion of earned income that they are not investing. Some have been exposed as using that earned income in share buy-outs to boost performance statistics and therefore boost bonuses. That is the product of the corporation tax cuts.
In due course.
Let us look at how seven years of austerity has contributed to the grotesque and widening levels of growth inequality in the UK. A report last year by Credit Suisse found that the richest 1% of people in the UK now own almost one quarter of the country’s wealth. The Sunday Times rich list told us that the richest 1,000 families in the UK had more than doubled their wealth since the financial crash.
Will the right hon. Gentleman just clarify for the House what the standard rate of capital gains tax was under the last Labour Government and what it is now?
This is a Government who want to cut corporation tax from 28p—[Interruption.] I thought the right hon. Gentleman was referring to corporation tax. Remember who the capital gains tax cut is going to: the 60,000 wealthiest families in this country. That is what this cut is all about.
I am sure that the Chancellor will fill us in on the details when he makes his speech. The reality is that when it comes to cutting taxes, what we have seen over the past seven years is the rich being treated to tax cuts while the poorest in society have seen their services demolished in front of our eyes. The increasing levels of poverty in our society are a direct result of the redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest under this Government.
I will give way in due course.
Let us measure the impact of that record of tax cuts on the rest of society. It is important that we do so, because the Queen’s Speech promises more of the same. This could have been the Queen’s Speech that ended austerity once and for all, but it certainly does not do that.
This is the record that the Chancellor says he is proud of. Is it a matter of pride for the Chancellor that nearly one and a quarter million food parcels were handed out in food banks over the past year? Are we proud of a Government who cannot feed their population? How can anyone be proud of the fact that more than 77,000 households—an almost 8% increase on last year—were in temporary accommodation this year? How can anyone be proud of the 134% increase in the number of people sleeping rough in this country? There are now 1.2 million households on waiting lists and 70,000 of our children are being brought up in temporary accommodation, while house building has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of research by Professor Danny Dorling stating that Britain is the second most unequal country of the richest 25 nations on earth? [Interruption.] It is not rubbish; it is a fact based on research by an eminent professor. Is my right hon. Friend aware that if we continue on the same trajectory, Britain is on course to be the most unequal nation on the planet within the next decade?
One of the warnings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies is that inequality will increase on such a scale if the Government’s austerity programme continues. Are Government Members really proud that we have a Government who cannot adequately house their population?
Certainly. Let me just finish this paragraph and then I will come straight to the hon. Lady.
Can the Chancellor be proud that 4 million children in this country are trapped in poverty? It is not just children; the latest figures show that 14 million people in the UK are living in poverty, including 2 million pensioners, the very people the Conservatives were going to hit with the end of the triple lock, means-testing for winter fuel payments and the introduction of a dementia tax.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about things that we should be proud of. According to the Office for National Statistics just this week, the UK has the fifth lowest level of persistent poverty of anywhere in Europe. Unlike when the last Labour Government were in power, when more than 1 million people had no job or education, we now have one of the lowest youth unemployment levels anywhere in Europe. Are those not statistics that we should be proud of?
I find it astounding that there can be that sort of complacency when we have such levels of poverty, homelessness and, yes, people going without food. People have to choose between heating and eating every winter.
More than 80% of the Government’s austerity measures have fallen on women, but some of the hardest-hit people in the Chancellor’s record of pride have been disabled people. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, almost half of those in poverty are disabled or live in a household with a disabled person. The brutality of the work capability assessment has now been associated with 590 suicides.
Does my right hon. Friend share my dismay at the growing rate of child poverty in the UK? Has he seen the prediction by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that by the end of this Parliament, on the current trend, the rate will by well over one third—even higher than the catastrophic level that the Labour Government inherited in 1997?
We are returning to a society of grotesque inequalities and poverty among some of the most vulnerable. How can anyone claim that as a proud record?
Is it a record to be proud of that the Chancellor’s cap on public sector pay has contributed to wages falling by 10% since 2008? We have witnessed the longest fall in wages on record. Nearly 6 million people earn less than the living wage. People were shocked when the Royal College of Nursing revealed that nurses’ pay had fallen by 14%, which has forced some nurses—yes, nurses—to rely on food banks.
In Ashfield, average weekly earnings are below the national and regional average. The Government have made attempts to help to create and protect jobs, such as through the regional growth fund, but not a penny of that money has gone to my constituency. Is it any wonder that so many of my constituents feel that the Government have forgotten them?
The right hon. Gentleman is making the case for spending more money. His party’s manifesto included pledges to spend billions more, and that money would be borrowed. What does he have to say to homeowners who would face higher interest rates as a result of his policies?
By wanting to invest for the long term to turn our economy around and grow it, I was following the advice of a whole range of economists. I also took into account advice that was provided to us from quite a surprising source:
“Now is a good time to invest in genuinely productivity-enhancing infrastructure, and to take advantage of low borrowing costs and our ability to borrow”—
that was the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Is it something to be proud of that the UK is the only major developed country that has seen economic growth but falling wages? Yesterday we had the absolute chaos of W-turns, S-bends or whatever they have been described as from No. 10 and the Treasury over hints that the pay cap was to be scrapped. It was a disgrace that the coalition of the Tories and the Democratic Unionist party last night voted down our amendment to support public sector workers simply securing a fair pay rise. I will be happy to give way to the Chancellor if he will confirm whether the pay cap is to be lifted and if public sector workers will now get a fair pay rise. Would he like to respond? No. We need that assurance as soon as possible. Ministers are quick to praise the devotion and bravery of our emergency services in the aftermath of tragedies, as we have seen in recent weeks, but last night they could have extended their generosity to giving those brave, conscientious men and women the decent pay rise that many of them need if they are to be lifted out of poverty.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that both the International Monetary Fund and the OECD have said that there is a relationship between inequality and growth—namely, the more inequality, the less growth. Does he not agree that it is not just unfair but unwise to pursue a policy that has led to Britain having the greatest inequality in Europe, rising at the fastest rate? If we were fairer, there would be a bigger cake with fairer shares for all.
Virtually every mainstream economist now, and most mainstream economic institutions, argue that a fairer society is more economically efficient and more sustainable in the long term. That is not what the Chancellor’s supposed record of pride has delivered.
The hon. Gentleman currently chairs the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group, which I previously chaired, and we have campaigned on that point for seven years. If we cannot staff up the unit that is meant to carry out inspections and ensure compliance with the minimum wage, how can we expect the minimum wage to be paid fairly?
Let us look at the desperate state of our public services. How can anyone in government take pride in the fact that spending per pupil is set to fall by 8% by 2019-20? More than 46,000 children’s operations have been cancelled over the past four years. Police numbers have been cut by 20,000 since 2010, firefighter posts have been cut by 10,000, and 20,000 soldiers have been cut from the Army. A record of pride? I don’t think so.
So we have a Government who cannot feed their people, house their people adequately or protect their children and older people from poverty. They cannot ensure that when people go to work they earn enough to live on, and they cannot maintain our basic public services. They are a Government who do not deserve to remain in office.
Does the shadow Chancellor agree that it is a scandal that local authorities that have retained their council stock—the Government and the Opposition agree, post-Grenfell, that we need more council housing—are faced with having to pay back money because of the bizarre and byzantine housing finance rules, even though they have built houses? Does he agree that we need to get rid of that scandal as soon as we possibly can?
The housing situation in our country is in dire straits because of the lack of building. That is why in the popular Labour party manifesto, we promised to build 1 million new homes—half of those to be council houses—and to free up local governments to perform their traditional role of putting roofs over the heads of local people.
All this suffering by ordinary people under austerity, so as to protect the rich and the corporations, has been for what? By the Government’s own metrics it has significantly failed. The Government promised that the deficit would be eradicated in five years, but now it will be 15 years at best. They have added £700 billion to the national debt, leaving £1.7 trillion of debt for future generations. In the first quarter of this year growth fell to 0.2%, and inflation has now increased to 2.9%. Last year saw the slowest rate of business investment since 2009. Unsecured debt per household will reach a record high this year.
During the election, Labour made more than £105 billion worth of promises. If the right hon. Gentleman were to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, when would he expect the deficit to be repaid?
Interestingly, Labour was the only political party that published a costed programme. I repeat: the only numbers in the Tory manifesto were the page numbers—nothing more. We will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the costing booklet—I thought he had already received it but clearly he has not. We increased our expenditure by £48.6 billion, and that is covered by a range of revenue sources, all of which are identified and advised on, and ensure that day-to-day expenditure is covered. The IFS told us that we would comply with Labour’s fiscal credibility rule, reducing the overall deficit over a rolling five-year programme, and reducing the debt within that period.
I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
It is not only the Labour party that highlighted the consequence of the Tories’ failed economic approach. Last week the Governor of the Bank of England warned of “weaker real income growth”. He spoke about “markedly weak investment” and “rapid consumer credit growth”. Worryingly, he warned that the extent to which the UK’s current account deficit has moved closer to sustainability “remains open to question”, as we continue to rely on what he describes as the “kindness of strangers” to fund us.
The shadow Chancellor mentions comments by the Governor of the Bank of England. Like the shadow Chancellor, the Bank is concerned about the rise in household debt, which is now 142% of GDP, with unsecured borrowing rising 10% just last year. Does the shadow Chancellor share my concerns that household debt reflects the falling real wages that we have seen under this Government, and that it spells problems for the future and households being able to sustain current levels of spending?
I will come on to that. Household debt is at a record level. Why? Because wages are so low, yet housing costs, and other costs with inflation rising, are biting hard for working families. It is no wonder that they have to resort to increased levels of debt just to get by. Those are the JAMs—the “just about managing”, who were supposed to be protected in the last Budget.
Does the shadow Chancellor understand the very basic economic point that the ability to borrow relies on confidence? If the individual institution that is lending someone money has no confidence that they will be able to repay it, the interest rate will go up. If we do not have the correct economic policy in place for the correct borrowing, we will end up with higher interest rates.
In response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), does the shadow Chancellor think that the Tory Brexit mess has been good for confidence in the UK economy, or less good for confidence in the UK economy?
Sometimes we can be bemused by interventions from Government Members, and I find it bemusing that they have got us into a Brexit mess, they have called an unnecessary general election, they have an unstable Government, yet they talk to us about confidence!
Let me quote a few other comments and I will try to move on quickly—I see you are getting worried about time, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Bank of England’s chief economist said last week that 7% of our entire workforce could be on zero-hours contracts within a decade. The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies called the low wage growth in this country “completely unprecedented.” The IFS also referred to
“unacknowledged risks to the quality of public services”
under the Conservatives, and judged that their austerity plans would be so harsh as to be potentially undeliverable.
What is the Government’s response? It is a Queen’s Speech devoid of any serious measures to address the economic challenges facing this country and the pressures that ordinary people and our public services are under. Austerity will continue to impact on our schools, our health service, emergency services, and people’s living standards. In the autumn Budget it will be interesting to see how the Chancellor covers the black hole derived from his last disaster of a Budget. We are aware of at least £2 billion, and according to some commentators it could grow to anything up to £7 billion. It would be particularly helpful if the Chancellor explained today how he covers the cost of the £1 billion grubby bribe to the DUP to keep his party clinging on to office. That is £100 million a vote. If I were a Tory Back Bencher, I would want to start negotiating a slice of that action.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his party has a lot to tell us about grubby bribes in the form of letters to terrorists to get them off their murder charges and so on? What is grubby about money put into the infrastructure of Northern Ireland to promote jobs, or money going into the health service in Northern Ireland or the education system? What is grubby about that?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I think is grubby—[Interruption.] Sorry—I thought he was sitting on the Government Benches; I didn’t realise. What is grubby is that if we were to abide by the rules of our system, and the Barnett formula in particular, England would get an additional £59 billion, Scotland £6 billion, and Wales £3 billion. After the miraculous discovery of funds for the DUP deal, in future I do not expect to hear much more about magic money trees from the Government Benches. One billion pounds was found for the DUP, but there is nothing to address the fundamentals of our weak and precarious economy, which as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, is now faced with the challenges of Brexit.
Increasingly, people are waking up to the fact that a Government lacking—what can I call it?—a strong and stable leadership, are incapable of securing a deal that protects our jobs and economy. There are divisions at the top of Government, a Cabinet divided, and rows between members of the Government and their own negotiating team are breaking out on a daily basis as they position themselves for their own leadership challenges. As a result, we witness weekly changes of direction in the Government’s negotiating stance, including even by the Chancellor. Only weeks ago the Chancellor was threatening no deal, walking away to set up the UK as a tax haven off the coast of continental Europe. Now it is reported that he is potentially looking to the customs union, and a long and uncertain transitional period. Only months ago, he went along with the Government prioritisation of immigration control over the protection of jobs. Now he claims to want a jobs-first Brexit.
It has taken the right hon. Gentleman 33 minutes to get to this country leaving the European Union, which is the defining issue affecting our economy. He talks about divisions. He might want to think about the 100 Members of his own party who have been through the shadow Cabinet during the course of the previous Parliament. He might also want to ask questions about the lamentable performance of his leader, and his Back Benchers might want to ask him questions about his lamentable performance in the EU referendum last year. If they felt that strongly about Brexit, they would have defended our membership of the EU.
Yes, united behind. I am proud to say it.
The failed and deeply unpopular austerity programme, the deeply divided rudderless Cabinet, the directionless Brexit negotiation strategy and a contentless Queen’s Speech surely confirms it is time for this Government to now go. It is time for change. Our amendment addresses the change that is needed. As the Labour party demonstrated during the general election campaign, there is an alternative. We can address the deep-rooted problems our economy faces. The Labour party has forged ahead with a serious credible alternative to the Government’s failed approach. Our society can afford decent public services. We are the fifth-richest economy in the world. If we have a fair taxation system, we can end the cuts to schools’ budgets. We can end the horrific sight of children sleeping on chairs in hospital corridors. We can end the bedroom tax and the punitive benefits sanctions regime. We can do that, as the IFS confirmed, while remaining on target to eliminate the budget deficit in accordance with our fiscal credibility rule.
It is not just about a fairer taxation system. We need a Government to invest what is needed to secure our future: not the derisory numbers floated by the Chancellor in the autumn statement with so little to back them up, but a serious, long-term vision of the economy that tackles the regional disparities and the changes taking place in the labour market. We need a Government committed to driving up productivity by increasing investment, as demanded by the CBI and many others, and to delivering a serious industrial strategy. It is a transformative programme that we look forward to implementing in government shortly.
This Queen’s Speech does nothing to solve these problems. It confirms a Government isolated from the real world in which our people live. Labour’s amendment today sets out the alternative our country so desperately needs. I urge all hon. Members to support the amendment.
I welcome the opportunity to respond to this debate, to set out our economic record since 2010 and our plans for Britain’s future, and to comment on Labour’s plans for our economy.
This Government have a job to do, and a large part of that job over the next 18 months or so will be focused on securing a Brexit deal that is good for Britain and helps to deliver the strong economy that will underpin our public services, create jobs and support our living standards. Of course our country and our economy face some significant challenges. I shall set out today how we intend to address them. However, we also have within our grasp some significant prizes and we need to ensure that we are able to seize them.
I have listened for the past half hour, as have my right hon. and hon. Friends, to the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talking Britain’s economy down. It is clear that he has, and Labour has, no credible plan for addressing the real challenges this country faces. His solutions, such as they are, would put most of those prizes beyond our reach.
With all due respect to my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor, does the Chancellor think it is more likely that the trouble we have in the British economy is due to the shadow Chancellor’s words or to the mess the Conservative party has made so far of the Brexit negotiations?
If the hon. Lady bears with me, she will hear how what we have done since 2010 has strengthened the fundamentals of the British economy. If she is asking me whether the decision the British people made last summer to leave the European Union—and the uncertainty that that has inevitably created as we negotiate our way out of the European Union—adds uncertainty to the economic equation, self-evidently it does. That is why we are seeking to progress the negotiations as rapidly as possible to restore certainty for business, investors and citizens as quickly as we possibly can.
Listening to the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition reading their election manifesto, it is clear that the Labour party has given up any pretence of a claim to fiscal credibility. Just two years ago, in the 2015 general election, Labour at least pretended that its figures added up. It would pay for its giveaways, so that its plans would not bankrupt the country. Not any more. The current lot are clear that not only would they hike taxes, but they would embark on a massive expansion of borrowing and subject the country to a catastrophic programme of ideologically driven, productivity-sapping, investment-destroying nationalisation on a scale that the country has not seen since the 1970s.
If the Chancellor is so proud of his economic record, why did the Conservatives not discuss it during the course of the election campaign? Is it possibly because, after seven years of this Government, the Prime Minister stood before the electorate resembling that great baddie from “The Chronicles of Narnia” promising always winter but never Christmas?
I have not got to it yet, but the hon. Gentleman will hear an elaboration of our record since 2010 in just a moment.
I was talking about the 1970s, a decade when the lights literally went out, when inflation was in double digits, the country was crippled by strikes and bully-boy union power, and the Labour Government were forced to go cap-in-hand to the IMF for a bailout. The pretence of fiscal credibility is gone from Labour’s offer. The new pretence is that the cost of its spending spree would fall on someone else—the rich, corporates and foreign investors—but it would not. The cost would fall, as it always does when Labour gets its hands on the British economy, on ordinary people trying to get on with their lives.
If the Shadow Chancellor would put down “Das Kapital” for a few minutes and read an elementary economics textbook, he would understand why. Take Labour’s proposed corporation tax hike. The IFS analysis is pretty straightforward. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the IFS, but it said that
“much of the cost is likely to be passed to workers through lower wages or consumers through higher prices”.
The IFS is not alone. The shadow Chancellor’s predecessor, Mr Ed Balls, agrees. He says:
“The argument from this Labour manifesto that only the rich will pay, I don’t think it stacks up. From opposition, you can say, ‘Don’t worry, someone else will pay’–but you can’t do that in government.”
He might have added, “not if you seriously aspire to be in government”.
I will in just a moment.
Here is the inconvenient truth for the Labour party about corporation tax. We cut corporation tax to the lowest rate of any large developed economy and two things happened. The private sector created 3.4 million new jobs—something, by the way, that the Labour party used to care about in the old days—and in the process we raised an additional £18 billion in corporation tax to fund our vital public services. That did not happen by magic. Lower corporate taxes attract more investment, more investment creates more jobs and more profits, and more profits deliver higher taxes. It is not very complicated.
As the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed to the Treasury Committee following the Chancellor’s recent Budget, all his tax projections are predicated on an extra 1 million new immigrants entering the country and working over the next five years. Can he confirm that that is still his plan?
If I can bring the Chancellor back to pay and public services, yesterday his Department and Downing Street were briefing the press about the public sector pay cap. To what extent was he aware of that, did he sanction his officials to carry out those briefings, and does he now support an end to public sector pay constraint?
Just to be clear, there is no change in the Government’s position. Our pay policy has always been designed to strike the right balance between being fair to our public servants and being fair to those who pay for them. That approach has not changed and we continually assess that balance.
Consider Wayne Marques, the hero police officer who fought off three terrorists, the firefighters who ran up burning stairwells to save frightened families, and the nurses and doctors who then battled to save lives: how can the Chancellor begin to justify holding their pay down, squeezing the living standards of Britain’s best?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, after the financial crisis, public sector pay ran substantially ahead of private sector pay, and we are only just moving back to the point where public and private sector pay have moved back into balance. [Interruption.] It is not rubbish, it is a fact, so the suggestion that there is a backlog problem for public sector workers is simply not true. As I have said, the Government’s policy remains unchanged.
I will make a little progress and then I will give way to some more colleagues on both sides of the House.
On this side of the House at least, we continue to believe that the most effective way to protect and support ordinary families is to ensure that they have jobs, and that is what we have done, in spades. The flaw in Labour’s tax plan is not just that it will hit those whom Labour claims to support; it is that it will not raise anything like the revenue that it is claiming. Labour says it will raise taxes by £48.6 billion without anyone earning under £80,000 paying a penny more. The Institute for Fiscal Studies—which the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington quoted rather selectively—has examined the credibility of that plan. It found that Labour
“certainly shouldn’t plan on their stated tax increases raising more than £40 billion in the short run, and more likely than not they would raise less than that. They would certainly raise considerably less in the longer term.”
So before we even turn to Labour’s spending plans, there is already a black hole of £8.6 billion a year and rising on the taxation side alone.
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and if he bears with me, I shall continue.
That black hole of £8.6 billion a year and rising in taxation will have to be filled by raising tax on ordinary people, and that was just the manifesto. Since the Leader of the Opposition got his new suit, he has been out and about, flinging spending commitments with gusto at anyone he comes into contact with—another £9.5 billion of unfunded commitments for each year of this Parliament. Added to the hole in Labour’s tax plans, that is an additional £90 billion over the course of the Parliament that has to be raised in taxation on ordinary working families.
Let me say that again for the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington: £8.6 billion a year of under-recovered tax, according to the IFS, and another £9 billion-plus a year that his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition added in additional unfunded commitments after the manifesto was published. In short, that is the Opposition’s approach to the type of tough decisions that have to be made every day in government about prioritising limited resources—“Should we do x or should we do y?” His answer is just yes: more everything for everyone, and all of it for free—a catastrophic recipe for economic and fiscal disaster.
In the 10 minutes or so that my right hon. Friend has been speaking, our national debt has increased by nearly £900,000. Will the Chancellor continue to speak up for hard-pressed taxpayers and make the point that, for all this talk of austerity, the debt is still rising? We have to look after the pennies, otherwise we will be up Queer Street.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The debt is still rising, but next year, for the first time in 20 years, we expect to see it beginning to fall as a percentage of GDP—a remarkable achievement after the trashing of our economy by the Labour party in government.
On tax revenues, was it appropriate—during a general election in which four political parties represented in this House were campaigning against HMRC office closures—for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to negotiate a contract during purdah for new regional centres?
If HMRC has negotiated a contract during purdah, it will have taken advice on whether that was compatible with purdah and will have received guidance from the Cabinet Secretary. It perhaps says something about the way that the purdah rules work that I was not aware of that until the hon. Gentleman just mentioned it, but I can assure him that HMRC will have taken proper advice.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I could seek your guidance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) has just exposed, the Government and the Chancellor did not know about a decision on HMRC offices and jobs. Would it therefore be in order for him to come to the House as soon as possible and make a statement on the HMRC closures and the jobs in our constituencies?
The hon. Lady has cleverly used her point of order to make the political point that she wished to make. I think she knows, as the House knows, that it is not a point that I can answer from the Chair. If, however, she is endeavouring to bring the Chancellor to be held account to the House, then I can tell her that that is exactly the process that we are currently undertaking. The Chancellor of Exchequer is here, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will be able to make her point in debate later in the day.
I want to ask the Chancellor a question that I think he does know the answer to. Does he agree with the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), who said yesterday that some tax rises will be needed in this Parliament to maintain the quality of public services, or will he stand at the Dispatch Box and rule out any tax rises?
I will in just a moment.
Then there is the nationalisation programme. Let me explain these plans, Madam Deputy Speaker, because they are important. The Labour party wants to nationalise gas and electricity, water and Royal Mail. They would borrow a fortune to do it, and it would deliver no economic benefit whatsoever.
First, a Labour Government would have to buy up the shares of publicly listed companies on the stock exchange. Taking over just the single largest company in each sector would cost close to £44 billion, and the Government would have to pay a market premium on top, because a programme to buy the shares would drive up the price. Moreover, the taxpayer would take on those companies’ debts; that is another £26 billion. So that is £70 billion of public debt. When the Labour Government were done with the publicly listed companies, they would have to strike deals with scores of private investors and funds to buy the rest. All told, we are looking at more than £120 billion. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington says from a sedentary position, “You do not understand. It is a financial transaction, so it does not need any money, and it does not require us to go out and borrow any.” He is simply wrong. Financial transactions add to public debt—[Interruption]—and that is before we even get to the railways, which he has been chuntering about. I have deliberately left the railways out of my equation, because his proposals for those are more complex.
So the proposition is this: would I entrust an asset to the right hon. Gentleman? Would I lend him the money to buy that asset, on the assumption that he would be able to produce an economic return by operating it? Let me ponder on that one, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My right hon. Friend has dealt with amendment (l). Let me now turn to a non-party-political initiative, led by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and me, and by most other Members on both sides of the House, and the discussions that we have been having with the Government about the question of the women in Northern Ireland and whether only the poor should be denied lawful abortions. Is there anything that the Government can say about that?
That takes me slightly away from my line of attack, but I know that the issue is of great importance to Members on both sides of the House, and that my colleagues on the Treasury Bench have been seeking a solution. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities either has made or is about to make an announcement in the form of a letter to Members explaining that she intends to intervene to fund abortions in England for women arriving here from Northern Ireland. I hope that the House will consider that to be a sensible way of dealing with the challenge.
I am very grateful. This time, I want to raise the subject of amendment (g). I commend the Chancellor for his efforts to explain to Cabinet colleagues that having your cake and eating it is not an option available on the Brexit negotiating table. Very hard choices will have to be made. Does the Chancellor agree that, given the scale of what is at stake in Brexit, the option of remaining in the single market must at least stay on the table?
I think that there is a genuine misunderstanding in some of the debate. When we leave the European Union, we will leave the single market and the customs union. That is not a matter of choice, but a matter of legal necessity. The question is not whether we would be in the single market or in the customs union; the question is what kind of arrangements we could negotiate as part of a close partnership with the European Union that would allow our businesses to continue to trade with the EU and the EU’s businesses to continue to trade with us, so that the prosperity benefits of close trade with our European Union neighbours could continue. I am committed to trying to find a deal that will allow that to happen.
I thank the Chancellor for giving way. I hope that he will be able to follow up my point of order and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) about HMRC contracts, because the issue is very important to our constituents.
Is it not the case that we have a Prime Minister who disagrees with herself about Brexit, and that—as we now know from the “six jobs” former Chancellor—the whole Cabinet disagrees with the Prime Minister about the status of EU nationals? How on earth can we trust the Tories to run the country, let alone negotiate Brexit? This madness must end.
I will come back to the hon. Lady on the subject of her point of order, and to the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). My understanding is that an issue arose during purdah which involved the risk of immediate financial loss to HMRC, and that under the purdah rules it was able to engage in a negotiation to try to prevent that loss to the public purse. I will, however, write to the hon. Lady, and to the hon. Gentleman, setting out exactly what happened, and I will put a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
Let me just finish answering the hon. Lady’s question.
I wake up every morning and read the newspapers—[Interruption.] Don’t count your chickens. Let me say to the hon. Lady that I do not always recognise the debate that is raging in the media as an accurate characterisation of what is really going on. The media are desperate to create conflict where there is not necessarily any at all.
I am grateful to the Chancellor for giving way to me a second time. I think he has presented a range of procedural barriers that could be overcome in a negotiation to ensure that Britain remains in the single market and the customs union, as other non-EU members do. Does he accept that anything less than membership of the single market and the customs union will not give Britain as good a deal as the one that we currently have? He knows that that poses a risk to our economy, and one that none of us in the House should entertain.
No, I do not agree with that. I think it is perfectly clear that it should be possible to negotiate an agreement with the European Union that provides for mutual, reciprocal access to each other’s marketplaces, and for frictionless arrangements for goods crossing the borders. That would not be membership of the single market or membership of the customs union, for all sorts of legal reasons, but it could have, to a very large extent, the same effect over a transitional period. I think that that is possible to achieve.
I am grateful to the Prime—to the Chancellor. In fact, he is indeed a probable future Prime Minister, given that his is one of the serious voices in the current Cabinet. If his wish does not come true in relation to the single market, when does he think the UK Government will U-turn on the issue? Economic gravity is going to take the UK Government in that direction, whether they like it or not at the moment.
I wonder whether I could give the Chancellor of the Exchequer an opportunity to correct a false statement that he just made. Turkey is not in the European Union, and it is in the customs union. The legal barriers that the Chancellor is creating simply do not exist.
I should say to the House, for the benefit of new Members, that there is a difference between an intervention in a debate and a point of order. The hon. Lady is being clever in using her wisdom about how the House works, but she knows that that was not a point of order, and that it is not something that I can answer. What she really wants to do is intervene on the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
For the benefit of new Members of the House, let me make it clear that a point of order should not be used to make an intervention that the Chancellor has not taken. The Chancellor is perfectly capable of choosing the interventions that he wishes to take. He has taken many, and I am sure that he will take many more.
I am most grateful that the Chancellor is now taking my intervention. May I take him back to the discussion on amendment (l)? About six interventions ago, he was patiently explaining to the shadow Chancellor the risks to cashflows of nationalising all these wonderful businesses and the huge cost to the taxpayer that would result. I hope that the shadow Chancellor has been suitably educated. Will my right hon. Friend also educate the shadow Chancellor on the point that the total amount of our debt will have an impact on our borrowing costs? They are high enough already, but they could get a lot worse. The shadow Chancellor’s friends who run the Greek and Portuguese economies know about high borrowing costs.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The shadow Chancellor often talks about borrowing costs being low and about this being an ideal time to borrow more, but if he ever got his hands anywhere near the levers of power, with his programme of massively increased borrowing, we would soon see our debt interest costs soaring. That would mean yet more of our hard-earned taxpayers’ money being paid to the lenders.
Let me summarise where I have got to on Labour’s programme. The shadow Chancellor has a small problem with arithmetic. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found a £2.2 billion arithmetical error in his manifesto costings. We have identified a £90 billion black hole in Labour’s spending plans that would have to be funded by higher taxation on ordinary families, £250 billion of planned borrowing, and £120 billion—and some—for the nationalisation, which would all be added to our debt. So, just as our national debt is about to start falling as a share of GDP, the Labour party wants to add at least £370 billion to the pile.
The Chancellor seems to be more interested in talking about what is in the Labour manifesto than about what is in his own Government’s Queen’s Speech. Is that because there is so little about the economy in the Queen’s Speech, or is it because he does not believe in it?
No; it is because I am about to come to it. The shadow Chancellor talked about his programme, and I wanted to make the simple point that, for all the rhetoric about somebody else paying, it is always the same with a Labour Government: it is always ordinary working people who pay, through higher taxes, higher prices and fewer jobs.
I am going to make a little progress.
The truth is that the shadow Chancellor sees failure everywhere, while I see a fundamentally robust economy rebuilt from the ruins of Labour’s great recession. It is an economy that now needs to navigate successful transition out of the EU and into a deep and special partnership with our EU neighbours, and to realise the great potential of a technological revolution ahead, in which British universities and British companies will play a leading role.
I see a country that has achieved great things together since the last time Labour had its hands on the levers of power. In Labour’s last year in office, our economy shrank by 4.3%. In 2016, it grew faster than any major advanced economy bar Germany. Back in 2009, millions feared for their jobs and their futures. At that time, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington predicted that under our plan—[Interruption.] He should listen to this. He predicted that under our plan unemployment would rise by 1.2 million as we suffered a double-dip recession and a decade-long depression. Since then, 2.9 million net new jobs have been created, our employment rate is the highest on record and our unemployment rate is at a 40-year low. In 2009, our deficit was at a post-war high. Since then, we have got it down by three quarters, while also taking 4 million people out of income tax in the last Parliament and cutting income tax for 30 million taxpayers, with the typical basic rate taxpayer paying £1,000 a year less income tax as a result.
May I echo my right hon. Friend’s comments and relate them to Southend? Business in Southend is booming. Businesses are being created, particularly alongside Southend airport in the new business park that the Government have part-funded. We have a success in Southend—this is working there. Would he like to come back to Southend, as he did a number of years ago, to see how business is booming and the impact of his positive policies?
I am always happy to go to Southend, but the story that my hon. Friend tells is being repeated up and down the country in constituencies represented by Members on both sides of the House.
The shadow Chancellor complains that growth has not benefited the less well-off. That was at the core of his argument today, but he is wrong. The basic state pension is up by £1,250 a year. Under a Conservative Government, income inequality is at a 30-year low. The poorest households in the UK have seen their wages rise more since 2010 than in any other country in the G7 and, thanks to the Conservative national living wage, those in full-time work on the minimum wage have seen their pay boosted by £1,400 a year. He presents our economic success as a bubble that benefits only London and the south-east, but he is wrong again. Today the economy is growing fastest in the north-west, wages are rising fastest in the west midlands, productivity is growing fastest in Northern Ireland, and unemployment is falling fastest in Scotland. That is a good news story across the length and breadth of our United Kingdom, benefiting all the regions and all the nations.
The figure of £1,400 is what Northern Irish women were having to spend to get an abortion here in England, so it is welcome that the Government are now saying that they will correct this injustice. However, the Chancellor will know, as everyone knows, that the devil will be in the detail. Will he therefore make a commitment on behalf of the Government to meet me and representatives of organisations such as Marie Stopes, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the London Irish Abortion Campaign to look at how we can turn this into a reality, so that those women in Northern Ireland who have finally had their voices heard today can use these services as soon as possible?
I say to the hon. Lady: please read the letter that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities has sent out. We will be giving additional funding to her Department so that she can make a grant to the external organisations that will provide those services. I think that the hon. Lady will be satisfied when she has read the letter and understood the details. If she is not, I will be happy to meet her.
Will the Chancellor make one further clarification, because there seemed to be some misinformation during the general election campaign? On tax avoidance, which Government have passed more than 50 measures, taken the base erosion and profit shifting process forward, published one of the world’s first public registers of beneficial ownership and reduced the tax gap to the lowest level in living memory? And which previous Government did precisely nothing?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The shadow Chancellor likes to talk about tax avoidance, but the Labour Government did nothing to deal with it—[Interruption.] Well, let me phrase it differently for the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who takes offence at that. He was a member of that Government, and they left £150 billion on the table. That is how much we have taken through clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion—[Interruption.] And before the shadow Chancellor stands up, I will tell him—he did not know the answer—that under the last Labour Government, the main rate of capital gains tax was 18%. Under this Conservative Government, it is 20%, with a 28% rate on residential property and hedge fund managers.
It was increased under George Osborne and then cut back again. Let me remind the Chancellor of the Financial Times survey that found that the measures on tax evasion and avoidance introduced by Gordon Brown were 10 times more effective than anything that this Government have done.
Let me do the maths. Hmm, it would be £1.5 trillion that they raise. Perhaps one of my hon. Friends will check down the back of the Treasury Bench in case the previous Chancellor hid that away down there. As usual, the right hon. Gentleman is talking absolute nonsense.
Will the Chancellor give way?
I want to make a little progress, but I will give way in a moment.
I have set out our record, but the British people did not get where they are today by admiring their achievements. We have work to do: we have to negotiate our future relationship with the EU; we have to enhance our global competitiveness through raising our productivity; we have to rise to the challenge of sustaining our public services in the face of demographic pressure; we have to address the needs of our population for affordable routes into home ownership; and we have to show the courage and vision to grasp the opportunities ahead. We will meet those challenges head on, as we have always done, with a plan that builds on the strengths of our economy, not one that denigrates them.
Let me say something about our public services and their funding. We all value our public services and the people who provide them to us. Health and social care, education, roads, local authority services, police, fire and rescue, defence and the many, many other services we enjoy all form part of the vital fabric of our society and contribute to the vibrancy of our communities. The challenge of funding those public services is accentuated by the changing age profile of the population, which necessitates a proper debate about how to make the funding of public services sustainable not just next year, but over the decades of demographic change to come. We have to be clear about the choices and what they mean because there are no free lunches or money trees in the real world, and all decisions have consequences.
There are three ways for the Government to increase spending on public services: higher taxes, higher borrowing or higher growth. Higher taxes have a cost in terms of business investment, economic growth and take-home pay. Conservatives are instinctively in favour of keeping taxes as low as possible so that business can continue to create high-quality jobs and hard-working people can keep more of the money that they earn. That is why we reject Labour’s manifesto plan, which would, according to the IFS, take taxation to its highest ever peacetime level. The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is not listening, but—[Interruption.] Pay attention. If he wants to make the case for higher taxation to fund public services, will he at least make this a grown-up debate? Will he at least ask voters whether they want to pay higher taxes to fund public services, not whether they would like someone else to pay higher taxes? As Ed Balls reminds us, in the real world, it is ordinary people who pay.
When we already have an eye-watering amount of debt, higher borrowing makes our economy vulnerable to future shocks. With £1.7 trillion of national debt outstanding and an annual interest bill of £50 billion, even at the current low rates, we should be reducing debt, not increasing it. However, borrowing means something else, too. It means that we are asking the next generations—our children and our grandchildren—to consume less in their lifetimes to pay for our consumption today. That is simply not fair; it is the opposite of sustainable.
As I have already said, if it were ever to look like the shadow Chancellor was anywhere near having his hand on the lever of power, I suspect that his programme, given what we know about his values and principles around the management of the economy, would lead to a pretty sharp rise in interest rates.
We must continue the job of getting our public finances back in order, over a sensible period of time, so that we are living within our means. The shadow Chancellor referred to the decision in my first autumn statement to push back the date on which we will reach fiscal balance. I made that decision to protect our economy during a period of uncertainty due to our exit negotiations from the European Union, therefore giving ourselves a little more headroom to respond should the economy need support. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed that measure.
The only fair and sustainable way to fund better public services, higher real wages, and increased living standards—[Interruption.] I say to the Opposition Front-Bench team that that is absolutely not the way to do it. The only fair and sustainable approach is to increase economic growth through higher productivity. Our plan will support our public services and living standards.
As I have already said, it is clear that reducing the corporation tax rate has led to a flow of investment and the creation of millions of new jobs, which I welcome. That is the way forward for this country, not the obsolete 1970s policies of the Labour party.
The Chancellor is being incredibly generous in taking interventions. Obviously we will be leaving the European Union in two years’ time. He hopes for a transitional deal, and we all hope that it goes smoothly and well, most of all on the Dover frontline. Does he agree that it is important that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Government are ready on day one for the challenge and for every eventuality?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do not know what the outcome of our negotiations with the European Union will be, but we have to be prepared for every possible eventuality, particularly at the port of Dover. I hope that when hon. Members across the House look at the great repeal Bill, which will prepare us to deal with whatever situation we find ourselves in in March 2019, they will think carefully about that situation.
I have given way a great deal and I need to make some progress.
Our plan will build an economy that shares prosperity and opportunity across all parts of the United Kingdom. It will do that through a Brexit deal for jobs and prosperity that creates a platform for growth, and by tackling our long-standing weaknesses of underinvestment, inadequate skills and regional disparities. Our national productivity investment fund is part of a commitment of nearly half a trillion pounds of public investment over the next five years. T-levels and extended tuition hours will overhaul our provision of technical education. Our modern industrial strategy will tackle deep-rooted regional disparities in productivity, which is key to our economy’s future success. Higher productivity raises incomes and living standards. Higher productivity will allow us to go out and compete in the world. Higher productivity assures the sustainability of our public services. It was what I promised to focus on when I became Chancellor. It was at the heart of my autumn statement and my spring Budget, and it will be there again when I deliver my autumn Budget.
Our plan for Britain’s economy is a measured and practical plan to restore our public finances to balance over a timescale in which we have the flexibility to support the economy and invest in our future, to negotiate a Brexit deal that supports British business to go on creating jobs and prosperity as we leave the European Union, and to drive productivity to fuel economic growth that supports quality public services and rising living standards. We will do that through investment in infrastructure and skills, by ensuring the flow of capital to growth sectors, by promoting R and D in our businesses and our universities, and through an industrial strategy that will at last begin to tackle the blight of regional disparity. We are a Government committed to delivering that plan, doing the hard miles, negotiating the right deal, taking the tough choices, eschewing the easy answers favoured by the Opposition, and taking the hard decisions that will set Britain on course to seize the prizes and achieve a brighter, global future. I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the Scottish National party, I ought to draw the House’s attention to the fact that 64 hon. Members have indicated to me that they would like to speak within the next three hours. The Chancellor and shadow Chancellor are vying for arithmetical progress, but anyone who can work this out will know that we need to have a time limit. The initial limit will be six minutes, but later in the day it will be considerably less than that. There is no time limit on the SNP spokesman, Kirsty Blackman.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and welcome to your seat—it is good to see you back there. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the SNP, but I am disappointed that none of our amendments was selected today. We set out in them our demand for the Scottish police and fire services to be excluded from VAT payments. We would also like the Government to halt the austerity agenda—[Interruption.]
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. We demand that this Government stop pursuing austerity—the electorate gave them that message and we again reiterate it. We also asked in our amendments that proper transitional arrangements be put in place for WASPI women and that the UK take the action it should take to contribute to reducing the refugee crisis across Europe. The SNP will support the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and we will also vote in favour of the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, but I wish to stress that we believe the only way we can get the exact same benefits of being in the single market and the customs union is by being in them.
This is my first opportunity to speak as the SNP’s economic spokesperson, and it is a huge honour to hold this position. This is the third Queen’s Speech debate that I have seen in my time as an MP, and I want to take Members back two years, to my first Queen’s Speech debate, when the then Chancellor, George Osborne, said that
“the latest forecast is that the UK will be the fastest growing of any of the G7 economies”.—[Official Report, 4 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 797.]
He also took the opportunity to reflect that everyone had predicted a hung Parliament, yet the Conservatives had won a comfortable majority—how things have changed. After seven years of ideological and callous cuts, in the first three months of 2017 the UK’s growth was lowest of the G7 economies, joint with Italy—so much for this “long-term economic plan”.
Today, the Chancellor made great play of productivity in the UK, but a London School of Economics growth commission report pointed out that the lack of a comprehensive, coherent, long-term industrial strategy from the UK Government had contributed to “poor productivity performance”, harming the nations of the UK. Is it not time that the UK Government and this Chancellor got to work on actually doing something to correct the problems they have caused for the economies of the nations of the UK?
I agree with my colleague that this is too little, too late. In the time that a British worker makes £1, a German worker makes £1.35, and not enough has been done. I understand that the industrial strategy is being consulted on, but it has not received very favourable responses compared with previous things that have been done in relation to industrial strategy. I hope to see major changes in the industrial strategy as it goes forward, so that it becomes more fit for purpose.
At this election, the Conservatives failed to bolster their majority and have had to sign a grubby deal with the DUP in order to get a majority. It was so grubby that it did not meet the tests that the Secretary of State for Scotland set out for it. It is back-door funding for Northern Ireland, and it was so grubby that the Prime Minister refused to even sign it.
The Conservatives like to portray themselves as being good with the economy and trusted with it. It is therefore distinctly irony that, after they have had seven years in government, if we ask people in the street, they will tell us that they are feeling the pain of a decade of wage stagnation; they are feeling the effects of rising inflation—rising faster than the Chancellor predicted in his spring Budget; and they are looking at how they can make ends meet in their household budgets. That is the reality for people, but the Conservatives fail repeatedly to understand this. They stand there and talk about the just about managings, the long-term economic plan and how great the economy is, but people are not feeling those things—that is not the real-life, lived experience of people in the UK.
I absolutely agree; if Northern Ireland is getting £1 billion or £1.5 billion or however much it will be tomorrow, the other nations of the UK should get similar. Our manifesto contained a commitment for extra money for the NHS in England, because we believe that the English NHS should have more money, and that would generate Barnett consequentials for the NHS—or for spend—in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. That is the way we think this should have been done.
On the Conservatives’ economic record, Members should not just take my word for it. They should take the word of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which described this situation as “dreadful”, projected that child poverty would rise to 30% by 2021-22, and laid the blame squarely on the impact of tax and benefit reforms; they should take the word of the Resolution Foundation, which reported that the Tory Government’s tax and social security policies will drive the
“biggest increase in inequality since Thatcher'”;
they should take the word of the Bank of England, which reported that consumer credit has risen at annual rates above 10%; they should take the word of StepChange Debt Charity, which reported that 22 million people in the UK are not confident that they are saving enough to cope with unexpected bills or a drop in income; and they should take the word of Money Advice Scotland, which, in a damning statement, reported:
“More and more people within the money advice sector already attest to the growing prevalence of debts that are directly related to living costs. People who are borrowing not out of recklessness, but because their level of income cannot sustain a socially acceptable standard of living”.
That is what the Tories are presiding over.
I welcome my hon. Friend to her position; she is making a very powerful and convincing speech. Does she share my concern that much of this country’s growth is based on consumer debt, and that the UK has one of the highest rates of consumer debt in the EU? Is that not an economic train crash waiting to happen?
Absolutely. I think we will see increasing problems with that, and I shall come on to that later.
During the election campaign, the UK Government seemed unclear about the causes of poverty, so let me enlighten them: poverty is caused by people not having enough money.
They are totally different things, and I am surprised that I have even been asked that question. The level of consumer debt is a massive problem for the economy, because people are going to be hit when this bubble bursts—that is what we saw happen in 2008.
I am going to make some progress.
Nothing in the Queen’s Speech or in the fiscal or monetary policy direction will alleviate the problems people are facing. We demand that in order to stimulate growth the UK Government invest in infrastructure and public services—not just in Northern Ireland, but across the nations of the UK. This morning, the Institute of Government released a report that said that
“weak processes are leading to the wrong projects and contested decisions, wasting both government time and taxpayer money.”
The UK Government need to improve the systems in place to make infrastructure decisions so that the right ones are prioritised.
We demand that the UK Government properly secure the rights of EU nationals. Given that those who choose to live here unarguably contribute to reducing the deficit, reducing immigration will hit the public purse. The lack of access to workers will also cause issues for many industries—I know that the Chancellor is pretty onside with that argument.
My concern, and I think that of many of us on the Government Benches, is that a massive increase in public sector debt will cause interest rates to rise, which will then put pressure on families who have too much household debt. That is why it is really important that we act with fiscal prudence—to keep interest rates down.
What we are proposing is not a massive increase in public sector debt, but targeted public sector spend in order to increase economic growth.
We demand that the UK Government put in place a proper living wage—a living wage that people can actually live on, not a pretendy living wage. We also demand that the living wage is in place for those aged 18 and above, not just for those who are over 25.
We have already done so.
In this time of mass instability, we need the UK Government to support a monetary policy that encourages investment in places that will create direct growth, and quantitative easing has not achieved that since the first wave was put in place. That matter needs to be considered as a matter of urgency.
We need a UK Government who will fight for single market membership to ensure that all companies in the UK have the potential to grow, export and create skilled jobs.
I am glad that, in this debate on the economy, we are mentioning the single market at last, but what about the digital single market in which we are building a future? The innovation required for small and medium-sized businesses will be thwarted if this Government withdraw us not only from the single market, but from the digital single market.
I understand that the digital single market has the potential to create massive revenues for the nations of the UK. It would be a travesty if we were not to remain a part of that.
We need a UK Government who will tackle gender inequality properly. We eagerly await the proposed legislation on this, and we will press the Government to ensure that it is incredibly robust. The Scottish National party has led the way on this: in Scotland, we have a gender-balanced Cabinet; and in Westminster, we have a gender-balanced leadership team. To overcome gender inequality, this Government must tackle the structural causes of discrimination that are so embedded in our culture.
That does not make me feel confident about the gender equality legislation that is coming forward, but we can only hope that this Government do things differently to their colleagues in Scotland.
We have never had a female Chancellor of the Exchequer or a female shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. Today, I proudly stand here as the first ever House of Commons female spokesperson on the economy. That demonstrates just how far we still have to travel to achieve true gender equality.
I apologise for that oversight. I did check the facts, but obviously not well enough.
To best protect our workers, we need a UK Government who recognise the importance of trade unions and want to secure their rights, rather than systematically dismantle them. As we leave the EU, the protections for workers will be reduced, because we will lose the oversight of the European Union. We need to ensure that workers have the protection that they need and deserve.
Successive Tory-led Governments have caused untold harm to the nations of the UK: they have increased inequality; created spiralling household debt; presided over drastic reductions in people’s savings; reduced access to in-work benefits; closed jobcentres, which has reduced the opportunity for people to get back to work; and attacked the vulnerable, the sick and the disabled. Those people who are most in need in the nations of the UK have been worst served by this Government.
This Government have consistently failed to support policies that recognise the problems that millennials face. Generation Y are set to be poorer than their parents. Everybody who was born after 1955, which I understand is when the Chancellor was born, is set to be poorer than their parents’ generation. We are seeing wealth accumulation by the age of 30 decrease, and that is storing up problems for the future. There are major issues for millennials, and the Government have not moved fast enough to recognise the difference in the level of home ownership, in the age that people have children, in the social structure, and in the way that millennials are coping economically. Our economic policies have not moved towards making things better. They also have not taken into account the massive levels of student debt. As an aside, it is a pretty terrible fiscal policy to have people paying off their student debt until, eventually, it gets written off, with most of them never managing to pay it all back.
The people who live in the nations of the UK cannot cope with another unfettered Tory Government. A message was sent to the Tories at this election that said that we cannot be dragged out of the single market. An end to single market membership means the loss of 80,000 jobs in Scotland and £2,000 per person. That would be an economic travesty. Given that the Tories have already presided over a decade of wage stagnation, spiralling household debt, decreasing household debt, decreasing household savings and the drastic dismantling of the social security safety net, I do not see how the nations of the UK can cope with the drastic economic hit that will come as a result of Brexit.
I shall oblige you, Mr Speaker, by falling within the limit. I want to speak briefly about the way the measures in the Queen’s Speech will contribute to the economic success of the west midlands, a region with a growth rate of more than 5% in the past two years. In fact, the growth rate of the borough of Solihull, containing my constituency, outstripped that of China at more than 7%—it is certainly an example of what the Chancellor called a fundamentally robust regional economy.
Without question, the stellar performance of the car industry has contributed to that success, but other branches of manufacturing have benefited as well. In turn, that has resulted in record low unemployment among the young people in my constituency. Some 6,000 of them have obtained apprenticeships, which has allowed them to benefit from some of the 100,000 new jobs created in the borough of Solihull alone since 2010.
The focus in the Gracious Speech is on an industrial strategy that will spread good practice, help to improve living standards and productivity, and ensure that the benefits of growth are shared. The manufacturing renaissance in the west midlands was boosted by regional growth funding, but the promise of the extra £23 billion for national productivity investment will boost it further.
The shortage of skilled labour in our region is holding back many young people from taking advantage of the jobs that are being created across the area. So I am delighted that the second pillar of the industrial strategy puts the emphasis on skills. The inclusion of a new system of technical education will benefit some of the 50% of youngsters who do not go to university, helping them to get well-paid jobs by learning STEM subjects, which employers value so highly.
On the council estate in my constituency a new engineering academy has opened and there is a new campus for my college of further education, which has two new streams of apprentice engineers for automotive and aerospace. I had my preconceptions challenged when I visited it because I found that the engineering apprenticeship students were 50:50 men and women. And I do mean women. Many of them had missed out on their education while they had their kids, and had come back to secure a qualification that would obtain them a well-paid job. They explained to me that the night shift in the car factory was a good solution to fitting work round their family responsibilities. They get back home to take their kids to school, get a bit of kip, get up again, pick their kids up from school, give them tea, oversee their homework, then their mum comes in and sleeps overnight.
It might surprise the House to hear, and I set the challenge to a visiting Secretary of State, just how much someone can earn as an experienced car production worker. The salary can be £60,000 a year, which allows someone to get a mortgage for the average house price in the west midlands of £183,000. One of the women said to me, “I can earn much more like this than stacking the shelves in a supermarket.” That for me is a clear example of aspiration. In time we will definitely reduce income inequality and change lives for the better through education-led regeneration. It is small wonder that Solihull College has been awarded a gold rating by the teaching excellence framework.
In my role as Second Church Estates Commissioner it is my job to link up what happens in both Houses of Parliament. I would like to share with the House what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his contribution to the Queen’s Speech. He saw the importance of sharing growth across the whole economy. The Church of England is well placed to help; it is the largest provider of primary education. He sees it as particularly important that we raise the standards of education in schools, to give children all over the country the opportunity to take up the kind of jobs that I have just described.
As a member of the all-party parliamentary group for inclusive growth, I believe that the current rise in populism internationally reflects the challenge that Governments in all advanced industrial nations face in tackling the impact of globalisation. So I welcome the Government’s commitment to raise the living wage and the impact of raising the tax threshold, which has lifted so many people out of paying tax altogether.
There are new challenges on the way, with the digitisation of the economy, and we will need to demonstrate that technological progress can support rising living standards for all. My concern in listening to the shadow Chancellor is that the success of regions such as the west midlands would be put at risk by his plans if they ever became a reality, and that is why I am a supporter of this Queen’s Speech and the architects of our economic success.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman).
The Queen’s Speech debate after a general election is a chance to reflect on what we heard during the election. That is particularly important given the result we have just seen. Let us be honest across the House—we were all a bit gobsmacked by the result. Jon Snow went on television the day after the election and said, “I know nothing”, and I think that probably applies to many of us.
Having heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has departed, I am bound to ask, “If it is all going so well, why did it go so badly?” In other words, the result did not exactly meet Conservative expectations. I believe that there is a deeper explanation. It has been said that many people have
“a sense—deep, profound and let’s face it often justified—that…the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them.”
Those are not my words but the words of the Prime Minister in her party conference speech.
If we look at the remarkable turnaround that took place during the election campaign, we can blame the social care policy, we can blame the Prime Minister, but I think it is deeper than that. The tide is going out on a certain way of running the country—large inequality, the next generation seeing their chances diminish, and permanent austerity. The crucial point about the campaign—I think Conservative Members know this—is that the Prime Minister who stood on the steps of Downing Street as the agent of change became the agent of the status quo. The reality is that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party became the agent of change. That is why we saw the change that we did in this election.
The question about this Gracious Speech is whether it shows that the Government understand the lessons of the election campaign. Listening to the Chancellor, one would think that it had all gone brilliantly and the Conservatives had got a landslide majority, as they had planned. They did not. I look at the Gracious Speech and I ask this question. Does it include an attack on the burning injustices that the Prime Minister promised in her words in Downing Street? Is there the transformation in life chances that she promised? Is there a determination to stand up to the most powerful as she promised? The answer, to coin a phrase, is no, no, no. We do not see any of that in this speech.
I want to make some positive suggestions about how Members across the House, working together, can rectify the gaps in the Queen’s Speech, and I will make three in the time I have. The first—it will not surprise hon. Members to hear me talk about this—is on energy prices. I do not normally read The Sun—people might recognise that, but on 9 May I read something that caught my eye. It said:
“I am making this promise: if I am re-elected on June 8, I will take action…by introducing a cap on unfair energy price rises…It will protect around 17 million families.”
That is brilliant, I thought. That is my policy, more or less. It was from the Prime Minister. Then I look at the Queen’s Speech—where has it gone? Where is the price cap legislation? All we have is a consultation and a letter to Ofcom—a U-turn on the U-turn, which happened yesterday as well.
Let me put it this way: 84% of people supported parties with a price cap in their manifesto. Not a soft cap but a hard cap. It was proposed by the Labour party and the Conservative party. So let us do it. I welcome the intervention by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) in the Queen’s Speech debate when the Prime Minister spoke.
Secondly, the Prime Minister says that she cares about insecurity. Zero-hours contracts may have started under the last Labour Government, but let us be honest about the situation. The number has gone from 168,000 in December 2010 to 900,000 by the end of last year. If we care about insecurity, it is unfathomable that we are not acting on this. We heard it from our constituents on the doorsteps. We heard that sense of insecurity; it is part of the explanation for the result of the general election.
Thirdly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about corporation tax. We have cuts in corporation tax still to come that will cost £5 billion over the next few years. If there is no magic money tree, is it really the priority that Apple, Starbucks and other companies should pay 17% tax when ordinary families in Britain pay 20%? Why? Where is the fairness in that? Where is the sense of tackling the burning injustice that the Prime Minister talked about?
I want to end on this thought. Ever since 2015 I have stopped believing opinion polls—people will not be surprised to learn that. I make an exception in the following case, which is not about voting intention. I was reading the newspapers on 9 May, and people were asked by Ipsos MORI whether they thought that the country was rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful—76% of people in Britain agreed and just 16% disagreed. The question for all of us, whether we like it or not, left and right, is what is our answer to that. For my money, the next election will be decided by who has the compelling vision to meet that desire for change. On the evidence of this Queen’s Speech, the Government have no answers and it will be up to Labour to provide them.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate on this very important topic. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband); he will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with everything he said, but I agree with his main point at the end—that it is up to politicians in the House to set out a compelling vision for how they are going to solve the big problems of the age.
Clearly, the economy—the continuing need to clear the deficit and pay down the debt—is one issue, but there are many others, some of which were tackled in last week’s Queen’s Speech. After my intervention on the shadow Chancellor, he kindly offered to send me a copy of his manifesto. I do not need that, but I was sad not to see any reappearance at the Dispatch Box of the “Little Red Book”. I do not know whether he still reads it regularly, but it may have been a guiding influence in the preparation of that manifesto.
I am sorry that his copy has not been returned; somebody watching this might do him that favour.
It is worth remembering that the economy underpins everything that any Government or Ministers want to do. Job security is fundamental to overall security for individuals. The Chancellor mentioned in his remarks the part of the Queen’s Speech that talks about the Government strengthening the economy so that it supports the creation of jobs and generates the tax revenues needed to invest in the NHS, schools and other public services. The “so that” is important. I describe myself as a one nation Conservative—that is how most on the Government Benches would describe themselves, I think. That means policies that work for the whole nation, for people of all ages, all backgrounds and all educational experiences, including those working very much in the public sector. The Chancellor also rightly talked about the importance of making tough choices for the future, thinking about intergenerational unfairness but also about sustainable funding for our essential public services.
The challenge on the Government Benches is to explain—not just here, but to our constituents and the country—why we are intent on balancing our budget as a country, why it is not right to pile debt on the next generation and why we need to clear the deficit. Sometimes we are too ready to talk about numbers and throw millions and billions of pounds around, without remembering that there are people working hard to pay their taxes to allow Ministers to have money to spend on various things.
The Chancellor rightly talked about the progress made in the past seven years: 4 million people taken out of paying tax completely and 31 million paying less tax. The key distinction between the Conservative and Labour parties is that we believe that people should keep more of the money that they earn; the Government do not always spend money wisely, and people should be left to make their own decisions about how they spend and what they spend on. The Chancellor also rightly highlighted the jobs created in the past seven years—2.9 million jobs secured since 2010. He also mentioned that income inequality was at a 30-year low.
I turn to my second point. It took the shadow Chancellor 33 minutes to get on to the important topic of Brexit, which will be the defining issue for this House over the next few years. If we do not deliver a successful exit from the European Union, our constituents will have something pretty negative to say when we next knock on their doors. I agree with the Chancellor that people did not vote last year to become poorer. I am tempted by amendment (g), although I will not support it because I do not think the drafting is right. However, it is important that the Government know that Members on both sides of the House want to hear more, sooner rather than later, about proposed transitional arrangements. If we are not to be a member of the single market or the customs union, how do we get the same access or benefits? How do we avoid a negative impact on our GDP as a result of our departure?
I welcome Government moves to address issues raised in amendment (d) this afternoon, about the access of women from Northern Ireland to abortions. That reflects what the right hon. Member for Doncaster North was talking about: building a broad consensus in this House on issues that we all care about and that our constituents tell us they care about. Frankly, there needs to be a lot more of that in this Parliament.
The next thing I welcome in the Queen’s Speech is the emphasis that the Prime Minister has rightly put, from the first days of her premiership, on tackling the mental health challenges in this country. Poor mental health is estimated to cost our economy £100 billion per year. We have to do better than that.
This is going to be an unusual Parliament. My party is in an unusual and unexpected position. We can provide the stability and certainty for the country, but we will need to build a consensus on the issues affecting this country. The challenges are continuing to grow a successful economy; leaving the European Union; tackling extremism; and addressing the issue of housing—and that is only a brief selection.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan).
Our economy is still too imbalanced and London-centric—too reliant on the services sector and still not adequately skilling up the next generation for not only the economic challenges ahead but the technological advances that will affect a huge number of jobs. It is also hampered by failing markets such as the energy market, which hurts consumers and businesses.
In no policy area is that imbalance more acute than infrastructure investment. Last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research reported that while London receives £1,870 per head on infrastructure spending, Yorkshire and the Humber receives £250 per head. For a 10th of the cost of Crossrail—about £150 million—a new east coast mainline spur and railway station at Doncaster Sheffield airport could be built. That would bring an extra 6 million people to within one hour’s travel time of the airport. That is how the Government can help to rebalance our economy.
The Finningley and Rossington regeneration route scheme, now known as the Great Yorkshire Way, already demonstrates what good local infrastructure can achieve. Phase 1 of the Great Yorkshire Way link road has heralded the iPort development, a £400 million inland port project and one of the UK’s largest logistics developments. It includes manufacturers and companies such as Fellowes and Amazon. By the end of 2017, the iPort will support 1,200 jobs as Doncaster becomes a logistic gateway for the north, connecting the Humber ports to road, rail and airports. Despite all that, there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of developing local infrastructure projects—no acknowledgment about the lack of balance not just between the north and south, but often between the east and west. That is a great disappointment.
The Gracious Speech includes Bills on automated cars, electric vehicles and satellite technology. I am sure that that is right, but today a third of my constituents—and therefore potential businesses—do not have access to superfast broadband. Forget about satellite technology: they just want decent broadband. Talk about the superhighway—we just want to be on the highway. The Government’s delivery has clearly faltered on this. We have had many statements to this House, and the problem needs to be addressed with urgency. As the right hon. Member for Loughborough said, this is what gets under the skin of our voters: all they hear is about yet another initiative, when current initiatives are not being delivered on the ground.
It is important to mention Brexit. I want a clear commitment for Doncaster’s businesses. The Government could say now that their aim is a period of no change for business: no shocks, no cliff edges and no sudden rewriting of the terms of trade—a smooth exit from the European Union. I do not accept that anything less than full membership of the single market is a hard Brexit, which is why I cannot vote for amendment (g). What we need is certainty and tariff-free trade, and a very clear acknowledgment that we will maintain many of the existing regulations and frameworks as well as longer transitional plans beyond the cut-off date as we leave. To assist, for cross-party support, I would suggest putting my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on the negotiating committee.
I hope that the Government will use their trade Bill to ensure that robust measures are in place to tackle unacceptable trading practices, such as the dumping of steel, and to ensure that there are robust remedies that the Government will back, acting as the champion and guardian of British business once we leave the EU. But the essential component of this strategy should be skilling up our talent while upskilling those already in work. Why, in 2017, has the UK not got the workforce we need? Why do we continue to rely so much on imported workers when we could be training more of our own? If we are ending free movement as we know it, it will prove to be a hollow promise to voters if the Government have to fall back on migration because they fail year after year to deliver enough skilled or unskilled workers for key jobs in the public or private sector. The new rail college in Doncaster will help, but it is not enough.
This week, the Prime Minister replied to my question about vacancies caused by skills shortages by reaffirming a commitment to technical education. The Prime Minister must deliver on that promise, and she could start by giving the green light to the bid for a university technical college for Doncaster, which would transform the lives of the next generation of engineers, designers and manufacturers, providing them with the skills they need to do the jobs they want and, more than that, providing local employers with the workforce they need. I urge the Prime Minister once again to back the bid and get a new technical college built in Doncaster.
Finally, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) said, the Prime Minister speaks fine words about energy price caps, but what the policy is has become less clear. In fact, after 2015, in the light of the Competition and Markets Authority report, I recommended a cap on the prices that those on standard variable rates pay. We need to know where we are going, because the Prime Minister is dithering once again. We need to ensure that the overcharging that has persisted over the past eight years is stopped.
This could have been a better Queen’s Speech, but it will be remembered for the many issues the Government have ducked or sidelined. Just when we needed a detailed plan for jobs and the economy, we got an unnecessary general election and a paper-thin legislative programme. Governments should do so much better. That is what our country deserves.
I want to highlight four aspects of the Queen’s Speech that are particularly welcome. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint); with my first point, I want to strike a consensual note and agree with her. We need to continue investment in the nation’s infrastructure. I was particularly pleased that the Queen’s Speech included a recommitment to legislate for the full network of HS2. To stop the project after part 1 would be a false economy. If we cannot move our people and goods around quickly, efficiently and safely, both within these isles and in order to connect with our key markets overseas, we will lose out to our competitors, who are investing heavily in infrastructure.
I agree that it is about not just investment in London and north-south investment, but east-west investment. My passion for east-west communications lies a little further south than the right hon. Lady’s. I want to see the early completion of the east-west rail line that will connect my constituency to Oxford and Cambridge and will form an important part of the nation’s rail infrastructure. That infrastructure will rebalance the economic growth around the country that we all want to see, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to that in the Queen’s Speech.
Related to that is my second point, which is about the welcome commitment to a modern industrial strategy. We had the White Paper before the general election and we must ensure that the UK is a world leader in fast-emerging new technologies. Of particular interest to me is the intelligent mobility market. The Transport Systems Catapult in my constituency forecasts that that market will be worth £90 billion by 2025, and we must ensure that we get a large slice of it if we are to maintain our competitive edge in the world.
That policy and many others like it link to a lot of other areas. We need to invest heavily in our skills agenda because we are not producing enough young people with the necessary skills. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) said, that is the welcome second pillar of the industrial strategy.
The world of work is going to change. Many jobs that are currently done by people will be carried out by machines in the not-too-distant future. We urgently need to reskill our workforce to ensure that we can take advantage of new technologies and give people the jobs of the future. If we do not, we will face serious social challenges.
If we retrofit new technology on old systems, we create a double problem for the future. How will the Government deal with that? Will they retrofit to the past, or will they look to places such as Estonia or Japan, which were building new and efficient systems nearly 50 years ago while we were living in the dark ages?
I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the innovation in my constituency, including the development of smart city technology, in which we are world leaders. I invite him to stop off in Milton Keynes when he next travels north so that we can show him what we are doing.
Developing the intelligent mobility network touches on other areas of Government policy, so I urge Ministers to take a holistic view. It links with cyber-security, data protection and an effective trade policy. Our need to develop and export intelligent mobility technology is just one example of why we require a global independent trade policy, and that is the third part of the Queen’s Speech that I applaud.
Brexit is only one aspect of the work of the Department for International Trade, and I praise what my right hon. Friend Secretary of State for International Trade is doing to ensure that we seek out and develop our trade markets right around the world. Our country has underperformed in this sphere for decades. The world does not owe us a living. If we do not get out there and sell our goods and services, we will lose out—we will not generate the wealth the country needs. That will not just come to us; we have to be out there. The measures in the Queen’s Speech to improve our trade performance are incredibly welcome.
For my final point, I return to the fact that the world does not owe us a living. We must create wealth to generate the resources to fund the public services that we all want. I thank the Opposition for their general election manifesto because it reminded me why I am a Conservative. They believe in taxing entrepreneurship, innovation and success; we believe in letting people create the wealth that the country needs. It is not austerity; it is living within our means. It sounds so seductive to make generous spending pledges right around the country and to suggest that only a tiny number at the top will pay, but that does not work. Lady Thatcher has been mentioned once or twice in this debate, and she never said truer words than, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money to spend.”
Our goal must be to maximise entrepreneurship and wealth creation. We tax it at lower levels and at fair levels. I do not want to see tax avoidance—I want big corporations such as Google, Apple and Starbucks to pay their fair share—but do not choke the entrepreneurial spirit. The Opposition’s policy would result in higher taxes for everyone as the wealth creators go elsewhere. It would create a vicious downwards spiral. The only alternative would be to tax ordinary people more and to borrow more. Do not forget that we spend £46 billion a year on debt interest payments—more than on housing, transport and public safety. What right do we have to live beyond our means and pass on that burden to the next generation? When the Leader of the Opposition and Jon Snow were at Glastonbury, did they tell the young people there that the result of Labour’s policy would be that they would pay?
One of the more depressing features of the election just passed was the complete neglect of any serious discussion of economic policy, and I mean not just taxing and spending, but the basic issue of how we raise productivity, living standards and investment. Indeed, The Economist acknowledged that it was only we on these Benches who addressed the issue at all.
There is an underlying malaise, not just in this country, but in other western economies. The long-term legacy of the 2008 financial crisis destroyed Government budgets and killed business investment, and it has depressed living standards. In this country, we were only just beginning, two years ago, to emerge from that tunnel, but now we have, superimposed on that problem, the self-inflicted pain of Brexit. There will be different views in the House as to where Brexit is going to lead economically, but it is already clear, a year after the vote, that there are some tangible economic consequences.
The first is that we have already seen the biggest devaluation since the second world war in trade-weighted terms, and that has fed through into a cut in real earnings for workers over the last year. We have seen a drying-up of business investment such that what is sustaining the economy now is personal credit. I remember speaking in the House 10 years ago about the rise in personal debt and the instability that it created. It then got up to 150% of GDP; it is now 140%, and it is rising again. It is different now—it is not mortgage debt, but short-term credit—but that illustrates the extent to which whatever growth we have is now sustained not by investment but by unsustainable forms of consumption. The other impact we are already beginning to see—I see it as somebody who represents a university and big national research institutions such as the National Physical Laboratory—is that all the research collaborations we had with Europe are now falling apart because of lack of confidence.
Rather than just dwell on the negatives, however, I want to speak a little about a bit of the Queen’s Speech I do agree with. Following on from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), I want to ask where we are going on industrial strategy. I applaud the fact that the Prime Minister endorsed industrial strategy—I do not know whether that was her personally or her now-disgraced special advisers, but it was good news that she adopted the issue—but what puzzles me is what is actually happening beyond the endless consultation.
Two years ago, there was a functioning industrial strategy—things happened. That was not just because of the Liberal Democrats’ role in the coalition; before that, Peter Mandelson and Michael Heseltine had created some of the building blocks of industrial strategy. Two years ago, we had a whole series of sector operations building up supply chain mapping, doing joint long-term investment planning and thinking about long-term manpower requirements. We had 11 sectors, and then the creative industries and the railway supply chains. It was a very active and positive process.
I would like to know from Ministers what is actually happening now. Do these things still function? Do Ministers still go to them? Will they report to the House on what they are actually doing? There are some genuinely good things going on. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South talked about the catapult network. I am delighted it survived the last round of cuts, unlike things such as the accelerator, which business wanted but was cut. It is good that things such as that have survived, but I hope the Government will set out exactly where this is going.
May I pose some specific questions about industrial strategy? One of our success stories was around aerospace. The leakage of the supply chain to France was stopped. We had a big £2 billion co-investment programme with the private sector to keep the Airbus wing sector in Britain. However, Airbus has indicated that, because of the loss of the single market and customs union processes, it may well decamp to France. Have the Government had any assurances at all from that company that it will stay here and build its supply chains in the UK?
Linked to that, in relation to the automobile industry, what agreements have the Government reached with companies other than Nissan? It is encouraging, obviously, that the biggest producer has indicated an intention to stay and that it will be given full offsets for any loss of customs union and single market privileges, but what has been said to Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Volkswagen and Toyota? How many of those companies have been given concrete assurances about their ability to trade? When I was in government, I negotiated with General Motors, keeping its production in Ellesmere Port and Luton. Quite explicitly there was an assurance that Britain was part of European supply chains. Are those going to continue?
Another area in which the Prime Minister made a very helpful intervention was in suggesting that we need to look again at the takeover rules for companies, because we had a near miss with the Pfizer takeover which fell through, and which we discouraged. We need to strengthen the rules to protect our science base, but nothing in the Queen’s Speech indicates that the Government want to proceed with that. If we are going to succeed as a country, we need long-term collaboration with business, and a proper framework of long-term stability and security, but that is badly missing from Government policy at present.
I have followed the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) in past debates, and I must admit that I did not expect to follow him again so soon. I welcome him back, and welcome what looks like his coronation as leader of his party. He has made some very sensible points about industrial policy that we ought to take on board.
I want to correct an intervention I made earlier on the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman). Margaret Thatcher was not shadow Chancellor but a member of the shadow Treasury team. I remember, when I was a schoolboy, some of her savaging of the then Labour Front Benchers, which of course led to her challenge of Ted Heath, and then, let us say, the rest was history.
The Conservative party came into government in 2010, and Eddie George, the then Governor of the Bank of England, said just before that election that whoever took on the challenges of the British economy would probably be destroyed politically for a generation. Yet we took on the challenges of the British economy, at that point in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and we took tough decisions, but on the whole we took the British people with us. Here we are, after two general elections, still standing on the right side—the Government side—of the House, so evidently we have managed to win the argument with the British people. I do understand, though, that several years of difficult economic decisions leave their legacy on people and families, and the Government have to pay heed to that. Clearly, we are going to need to have a think about pay policy and a number of other things in future.
Since 2010, we have not only managed to reduce the deficit very substantially—we know the important reasons for that—but created well over 3 million jobs and taken many of the lowest-paid out of the tax system. The Government have done a very good job, and this is the worst time to turn round and say, “Let’s change policy.” We have to stick to the policy that we have because it has proved that we can grow and we can create jobs, and ultimately that will lead to higher living standards—perhaps not as fast as people want, but we are on the right track and we have to stick the course. Particularly with the uncertainties of Brexit, which a number of hon. Members have raised, the Government’s economic policy is perfectly sensible. We have a little more flexibility in our plans than we did prior to Brexit, but that is perfectly sensible since there are a number of uncertainties that the Government are going to have to deal with. The economic policies of this Government are good and should be stuck to, but perhaps we ought to do a lot more to persuade the British public that what we are doing is right. I think that people have forgotten the deficit that we had in 2010, forgotten that we are still borrowing a lot of money, and forgotten the task that we still have ahead of us.
I rather approve of the Queen’s Speech. It was a short Queen’s Speech. I wish I had seen shorter Queen’s Speeches in my time in this House, because if the British Parliament and British Governments have a mania, it is for legislating. If legislating made us richer and more prosperous, we would be the richest country on earth. Time and again I have seen British Governments introduce legislation similar to that of the previous Government so that they can rebrand what they were doing. What I want to see from this Government is good government, not masses of legislation. If they want to make changes, they have to look at legislation passed not only by the Conservatives but by the coalition and, indeed, by Tony Blair during his years in office. There is an awful lot of legislation already on the statute book that can be used as levers of power. We do not have to keep on reinventing the wheel and jamming up this place with lots of legislation.
As somebody who once or twice, or three times, has been in the Whips Office, I do not think that legislation is the answer to all our prayers. If we are going to be a successful economy in the future, sometimes we need not to legislate but to change people’s attitudes—to change the way they do things and the way they think. That is an element of leadership. If we keep a stable economic policy and limit the amount of legislation, and stay the course and continue as we are doing, we will deliver for the British people the outcome that they want.
This modest Queen’s Speech is the first of probably another three or four Queen’s Speeches, because the arithmetic of this Parliament means that we could last five years in government. Although there has been lots of speculation that there might be an election in one, two, three or six months, there is a job to do. We have to get on with the negotiations with the European Union and with nursing the economy back to health. The Conservative party is certainly up for that.
There is a job of work to be done. The Queen’s Speech will deliver for two years and some very important legislation has to go through—a lot of it, I suspect, on Brexit, on the Floor of the House. There is certainly a lot of work we can do to hold the Government to account, and I am sure that many of us on the Back Benches will do that. I say stay the course with the economy; do not legislate too much; bat for Britain in Europe and get the best deal that our constituents want; and let us keep this country on course for success in the future. I think we will do so under our Prime Minister.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I pay tribute to all Members who have made their maiden speech this week. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms).
It is indeed outstanding to take this seat back for Labour—it was the most marginal seat in the 2015 election—and to be the first woman to hold it. Now I am the person to continue the long and proud tradition of Labour representation in Gower. I am privileged to follow in the footsteps of D. R. Grenfell, Ifor Davies, Gareth Wardell and, more recently, my good friend Martin Caton. I would also like to pay tribute to my predecessor who served the constituency to the best of his ability.
My Italian family name is embedded in the Gower constituency. The introduction of café culture to the people of south Wales comes predominantly from the families of Bardi. And yes, you have me to thank for ice cream. Moreover, it was in cafés such as Albert’s in Gorseinon and Station café in Pontarddulais that the community spirit grew. The freedom of movement and opportunities afforded to my forefathers is close to my heart. I will fight for those rights to continue, not only for my child but for the children of Gower and Wales.
Gower is unlike any other constituency in the United Kingdom, with its peninsula in the south being the first in the UK to be designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, in 1956. The fact that Conservative Members wish to allow fracking under that fragile landscape goes against all sense and the wishes of my constituents. Fracking does not just affect the countryside or the surface site of the frack; it would occur underneath towns and villages, including old industrial areas of Gower and estuary areas.
While the peninsula is internationally recognised and renowned for its farming, scientific importance and beauty, it is a diverse constituency, reaching far into former industrial heartlands, such as Clydach, and further into the proud Welsh-speaking areas of Garnswllt, Felindre and Craig Cefn Parc.
It is a constituency wrought by the devastating impact of post-industrialisation, and unemployment remains stubbornly high. It is a constituency that has borne the brunt of the Conservative party’s policies. And it is a constituency that on 8 June said, “Enough is enough.”
I am honoured to be part of a large team of Labour women MPs, with whom I share many similar life experiences. The role of women in society today should never be underestimated. We are here and we represent all women, including grandmothers, carers and single mothers. We are the women with supportive, strong mothers standing by our side, and I thank my mum for doing for that for me, which has put me here today. I say to all 4,000 1950s WASPI women in Gower who have dedicated their lives to working and supporting their families and who have been hit by pension inequality: I will fight for you.
Looking to the future, I urge the Government, following the Hendry review, to invest in Gower, to invest in Wales and to invest in renewable energy by getting on with it and signing off on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.
I also urge the Government to strengthen the May 2015 access to banking protocol and provide my constituents with the banking facilities that they deserve in Pontarddulais and Clydach.
I would like to end with a story that warmed my heart recently. A very close friend of mine saw that the terms “Gower” and “Tonia” had been searched for more than 20 times on her daughter’s iPad. When questioned, her daughter said to her, “Isn’t it amazing that we live somewhere where anyone can become an MP? You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to go to a posh school, you just have to work hard.” With more than 20 years as a teacher, I know that Amelie’s words ring so true for the schoolchildren of Gower, Wales and the United Kingdom, because ambition is critical.
May I extend personal thanks to you, Mr Speaker, for your kindness these last few days? I am particularly grateful that you have found time to accommodate me today.
May I pay huge tribute to the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), who has taken her place and made her maiden speech? Her passion will certainly do huge credit to her community, and I am sure that she will be a powerful voice in this House. Her predecessor, Byron Davies, was also a fantastic advocate for the beautiful area of Gower.
We took a huge strategic decision a year ago when we voted to leave the European Union. I know that not everybody in this place voted the same way—in fact, we know that the vote was extremely close. I argued that our sovereignty and influence would not be diminished by remaining, but the electorate chose a different way. I argued that the complexity of leaving would be great, but the people, in their wisdom, chose a different route. I also argued that the impact on our economy would likely be severe in the coming years, and I am delighted that the speedy actions of the Bank of England and the Chancellor have made sure that this year has gone significantly better than anybody hoped or predicted. The Government deserve credit for that.
In a bold move we have now, let us face it, jumped out of the aeroplane. I am not saying it is always a bad idea to jump out of aeroplanes—I can assure Members that there are sometimes some very good reasons to do so—but the essence of courage is not to take one bold decision but to reinforce it. When one has taken the first, one needs to make sure that the others follow. That is why I welcome this Queen’s Speech. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms) in saying that the Government are looking not to legislate too much but to legislate importantly. That is essential, because if we clog this place up with legislation, we will not have time to do the most important thing, which is governing— and, of course, talking, because as we start the incredibly complex negotiations with the European Union, we need to make sure that we are ready.
That is why I argue strongly that, having taken this first step, we need to do three things. The first is to be bold. We must be bold in ensuring that we create alliances across the continent of Europe and across the world, not just with friends and with central Governments but with individuals—mayors, MPs and people representing communities that will be affected by Brexit, in many ways as much as we will. We need to hit at the micro level, because at the macro level we represent 8% of European trade, but at the micro level we represent a hell of a lot more in towns in Sweden, in villages in France and in communities in Spain and Italy. We need to make sure that the representatives of those places are on our side, because Brexit is not just about Britain; it is about Europe, so they must be part of the conversation too.
The second thing we must do is be open. Some people will rightly chide the elements of the campaigns that were negative, harsh and at some points, let us face it, bordering on racism. I am delighted to say that most people on the campaigns, including those I opposed, argued for an open, welcoming Britain—a Britain that welcomes people like the parents of the hon. Member for Gower, who came here and made a contribution to our community, and not just ice cream. The past seven years of Conservative Government have seen businesses succeed from that openness, with 1,000 jobs a day and an amazing improvement in the economy. However, that improvement is not without effort or challenge, which is why we must be honest when we mention things such as the seasonal agricultural workers scheme as a solution. Yes, it is a bit of a solution, but in reality we need such a scheme for the NHS, for tourism, and for any number of different engineering and educational places, to ensure that we do not pay for Brexit with a failing economy. I know that many people who voted to leave will agree that such openness is necessary.
The third point is that we must be honest with our people that the complexity and uncertainty we are facing today are likely to continue for a little longer. We must be honest that in reality we cannot guarantee that at the end of 18 months we will get a deal, or that our negotiating partners will agree to the terms for which we are asking. We must be honest about that, because if we are not we cannot expect those who create jobs and make wealth in our society, and those who invest, employ and grow companies, to take decisions. I ask very much for those three things.
If I may, I will also ask for one more thing, which is that we look at Brexit as a reality, not an ideology. Too often, I have felt myself back in a theology lecture hall hearing about the way to heaven, to Jannah, or to the Elysian fields, but Brexit is not paradise. Brexit is made for the people and it is an opportunity for which they voted; it is not the people who are made for Brexit.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), and I agree with him that Brexit is not paradise. I am also pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), and I congratulate her on a powerful and passionate maiden speech that was appreciated across the House. As she reminded us, we have just had an extraordinary election campaign. Several Members who used to sit on the Government Benches and were looking forward to benefiting from the anticipated Conservative landslide are no longer here, and the voters passed judgment on seven years of Conservative economic policy. Partly, no doubt, that involved the Conservative failure on the deficit, which was supposed to have been eradicated by 2015 although it was nowhere near that. More than that, however, it was about the impact of Conservative policies on the lives of ordinary people, and in my short contribution I want to highlight two areas: first, the troubling increase in child poverty that we are seeing, and secondly, the explosion in food bank use.
In 2009, with all-party support, George Cameron—[Laughter.] George Osborne—I think some of us still remember him—and David Cameron supported legislation that I took through the House which obliged the Government to work towards eradicating child poverty by 2020. Once the 2010 election was out of the way, that commitment was discarded, and subsequently the Government simply repealed the legislation and took it off the statute book. Child poverty was falling until 2010, and relative child poverty after housing costs came to about 27%. After 2010 it plateaued, and then it started to go up. It is now more than 30%, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that by the end of this Parliament it will be more than 35%, and rising steeply. If that projection is correct, the level of child poverty will be higher even than the disastrous level that the Labour Government inherited in 1997, and I wish to underline for the House just how troubling an outcome that would be.
Secondly, among the most visible consequences of the policies of the past seven years has been the extraordinary growth in the use of food banks. People received emergency food parcels from Trussell Trust food banks on 40,898 occasions in 2009-10. Last year, it had gone up to 1.18 million—an almost thirtyfold increase in seven years. Every single one of the 400-plus Trussell Trust food banks is based in a church. They have done an extraordinary job and I praise them unreservedly, but the Government should not be off-loading their responsibilities in this way. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) hosted an event this morning at which the Trussell Trust published research by Oxford University and King’s College London, which shows that
“households using food banks are…three times more likely to contain someone with a disability than other low income households”
“The people using food banks are groups who have been most affected by recent welfare reforms: people with disabilities, lone parents and large family households.”
It reminds us that entitlements for those groups were cut again in April—after the research was carried out. In the case of new claimants of employment and support allowance in the work-related activity group, they have lost another £30 a week. We were promised “full compensation” for that cut. In fact, there has been no compensation at all.
Economic policies since 2010 have made life very hard for many people—that is what the election result tells us—but Brexit threatens to make matters a good deal worse. That is why I welcome the distinctive tenor of the Chancellor’s contributions to the discussions, and his telling observation about having one’s cake and eating it, which I think we can see as a retort to the Foreign Secretary’s comments. I must say that the position the Chancellor is setting out is certainly in marked contrast to that of the Brexit Secretary and the Prime Minister. I urge him to continue to point out the economic consequences of the hard Brexit his Cabinet colleagues favour. It is also why I am supporting amendment (g)—I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) for tabling it—to highlight the crucial importance for jobs and prosperity in Britain of not ruling out membership of the customs union and the single market. We will not get barrier-free access to the single market if we are not members of the single market, despite the promises Ministers are making. It is vital for jobs, growth and prosperity in the UK.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). We do not always agree on politics, but we do agree on football, with the club given away, to some extent, by the name of his constituency. As a fellow London MP, I recognise some of the issues he always raises in a measured fashion. It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who made a most powerful and compelling speech. I am tempted to say that I will adopt all of it and then sit down, but I will say just one or two more things.
I woke up on my birthday on 24 June last year to the most miserable birthday I have ever had, because my judgment was that my country had taken an erroneous step. It was, however, a democratic step and as a democrat I respected it—although I campaigned, as my hon. Friend and many others here did, for a different result. I support the Queen’s Speech because it seeks to give effect to that decision in a practical and measured fashion. That is our obligation now as Members of this House. That was well-encapsulated by the Chancellor’s speech which opened this debate. I share his analysis—both in his remarks here and in his Mansion House speech a short time ago—of the approach we should adopt.
I am tempted by the wording of amendment (g), as was my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), but like her I do not think it works in practical terms, and we must deliver within the framework of the Queen’s Speech. However, it is important that the Government recognise the need to be practical, business-like and above all pragmatic in the way we deliver our exit from the European Union. That is why the Chancellor is right to stress that Brexit must be based first and foremost on protecting Britain’s economic interests and jobs.
In my constituency, 36% of the voters are employed in the financial services sector and related industries, and the same is true for many London Members of Parliament. The financial services sector is sometimes maligned, but it is actually a source of great wealth for this country. It is a jewel in our national crown, and in my judgment it should be protected as our highest priority. Whatever sensible arrangements are needed to protect it, they must come first. We must take a practical approach, rather than, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling said, a theological approach.
If we are talking about protecting jobs in our constituencies, the major employer in my constituency is Ford. I am absolutely determined to protect the jobs at Ford, but the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has made it clear that retaining the benefits of the single market—and tariff-free and customs-free trade—is essential for those jobs. How will we have that if we carry on down the Brexit route laid before us so far?
It happens that before I came into this House I contested the Dagenham constituency on two occasions. It rather fought back, but that experience gave me some knowledge of the motor industry. The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and perhaps I can link her point to mine.
In relation to both financial services and manufacturing, particularly when there are complicated and cross-national supply chains involved, it is critical that we have sensible transitional arrangements that are, wherever necessary, as lengthy as they need to be. Many financial services contracts, be they derivatives, insurance or legal contracts, of various kinds or with an international dimension, are written over a period of years. Those who enter into them must have the certainty that the legal obligations that they are undertaking can be enforced right the way through the life of those contracts, otherwise they will not invest in or enter into them.
This is not just about avoiding a cliff edge at the time; it is about not having a disincentive to invest in those areas, be it financial services or cross-border manufacturing, that are important to us. Indeed, manufacturing is still a great asset to this country, but our financial services sector is one in which we run a significant surplus with the European Union. Although we will undoubtedly develop opportunities in other markets, it remains a key sector for our activity and we must therefore keep the closest possible access.
I do not think that we can leave the European Union and remain in the single market, simply as a matter of law, but the Chancellor is right to say that we should seek to remain as close as we can. That is what we need to achieve. That has to be the primary task of Brexit, in a pragmatic, business-focused, non-ideological way. I hope that we can try to find a way forward across the House to achieve that, because although the fact of leaving the European Union was on the ballot paper, the nature of our leaving was not and neither was the nature of our future relationship. That is where this House can constructively and legitimately play a role in assisting Government to deliver on the basic requirement to respect the will of the British people. That is what we must do.
There are other things in the Queen’s Speech that I want to touch on briefly. I welcome the fact that work is still being done on courts reform and mental health. In my 25 years as a barrister and more recently, when I had the honour for the last two years to chair the Select Committee on Justice, it has struck me forcefully that mental health is overlooked. That has appalling consequences for individuals and their families and creates real pressures on our social services, our local authorities, our police forces and our criminal justice and prison systems. The Prime Minister has emphasised that, which I welcome.
I am sorry that there is no legislation to introduce a statutory purpose for prisons, or to place the role of the prisons ombudsman on a statutory basis, but there may be time for that in due course. I am glad to learn that the Lord Chancellor, whose appointment I welcome, is committed to proceeding with much of the rest of the prison reform agenda. We must take our opportunities. Let me also say, as an unashamed one nation Conservative, that we must do so with a sense of optimism that means believing in aspiration and helping to pull people up and improve their lot. That is what the Tory party is about—that is what the party that I joined is about—and that is why I want to see this Queen’s Speech deliver.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, as I pick up the baton carried so ably by my friend Eilidh Whiteford to speak for my party here on social justice. I know that Eilidh will be desperately missed, not just by SNP Members but throughout the House. Her stellar work on a private Member’s Bill to ratify the Istanbul convention brought her much praise on both sides of the House, and we all wish her well for her future endeavours.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on her excellent maiden speech. I do not think that she is still in the Chamber, but she made a fantastic speech.
Social justice issues will once again be at the heart of this Parliament as the UK Government continue to justify their failing austerity policy and, when we leave the European Union, matters such as the working time directive, maternity rights and other workers’ rights are sadly no longer secured at EU level. Our challenge will be to ensure that those hard-won rights are not watered down in any way, and that our workers enjoy at least the same rights as those on the continent. I hope that the two main parties of opposition can work together more closely to put the maximum pressure on this fragile Government and on the Prime Minister, whose coat appears to be held on the shoogly peg by Brexit. I am disappointed to learn that Labour Members are, apparently, to be whipped to abstain on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) on the single market. That is a sad reflection of where the party is at present.
Austerity is a political choice which has failed, and it has failed in terms of the Government’s own economic targets. That failure comes at the price of the people, in Airdrie and Shotts and elsewhere, who have suffered as a result of cuts: disabled people whose employment support has been reduced, the WASPI women who, at the end of a working life of employment injustice, now face pension injustice; and working families who are seeing their tax credits cut. All the social security and public sector cuts that have stretched families and services for the last seven years have failed to deliver what was intended. Perhaps we may now see the UK Government come to realise that fact, and change course.
During the election campaign, the SNP pledged to review the 1% public sector pay freeze in Scotland, which was a hugely welcome step. That appears to have prompted some movement in the UK Government: the to-ing and fro-ing and the hokey-cokey that was going on in Downing Street yesterday. At first Downing Street was briefing that the cap would end, and we could see the relief felt by Tory MPs. Then the sources U-turned on the U-turn, and now we are back as we were—and last night the Scottish Tory MPs shamefully gave the Prime Minister the majority that she needed to maintain the pay cap, without question. The whole sorry episode lasted barely three hours, and it highlights the chaos that lies at the heart of a Government who are leaderless, rudderless and clueless. They clearly want to review the public sector pay cap, so what is going on? Get on with it!
It is time for a proper assessment of the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 to ascertain the damage that has been done to families across these isles. It is time that the Government finally ditched the need for the disgusting rape clause by ditching the two-child rule for tax credits, and it is time that justice was finally delivered for the WASPI women.
There is currently a great deal of talk about the position of women in Northern Ireland in relation to abortion. Is my hon. Friend aware that when women in Northern Ireland want to avail themselves of the exemption under the rape clause, the third party to whom they refer themselves must hand the case over to the police? That puts those women at risk.
I was not aware of that, and nor, I imagine, were most other Members. It is another sting in the Tory Government’s shameful rape clause, which puts women in such a horrendous position.
Austerity is a political choice, as is evidenced by the Prime Minister’s not only very conveniently stumbling across her long-lost magic money tree, but finding its branches sagging under the weighty £1 billion-worth of DUP fruit. It is just a shame that the new Scottish Tory MPs—and, indeed, the Scottish Secretary—have not been quite so diligent in picking the low-hanging fruit for Scotland’s benefit, as the Democratic Unionist party has done for Northern Ireland. They have failed their first test by blindly following the Prime Minister without question, and that will be hard to erase from the memories of the electorate in Scotland.
On the Bills that we might see during this two-year Session, we know that this will be a Brexit-dominated Parliament, but it appears that the Prime Minister is not only hanging by a thread over Brexit but allowing her Government to be consumed by it, with little else getting done. It is time we heard more and saw greater action from this Government on inclusive growth and on ensuring that the economy works for everyone. Indeed, just this week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation held a conference on inclusive growth in Scotland, which led to some interesting information becoming available. Dr Andrew Fraser, the director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, said:
“We know that rising income inequality in the UK cost us 9 percentage points in the growth rate of GDP per capita between 1990 and 2010—that’s approximately £100bn. Taking action on inequalities is not just the right thing to do—it’s the economically sensible thing to do.”
I could not agree more, and I hope that we shall see greater preventive spending allocated in future UK budgets to help to tackle some of the deep-rooted inequalities being faced across this isle.