I inform the House that I have selected amendment (g) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which will be moved by the shadow Chancellor at the start of the debate, and amendment (h) in the name of the leader of the Scottish National party, which will be moved formally at the end of the debate.
I beg to move amendment (g), at end add
‘but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to rebuild the UK economy, tackle the housing crisis, further pushes public services into crisis and contains no vision to bring this divided country back together; call on the Government to bring forward a plan to rebuild the economy so that it works in the interest of the many, not just handing out rewards to those at the top; and further call on the Government to address the climate emergency by bringing forward a green industrial revolution to decarbonise the economy and boost economic growth.’
Mr Speaker, may I just say this? This is the last time that you will be chairing a day of the Queen’s Speech debate, and I may not get the opportunity in other tribute debates to say this. It has been a privilege to serve in this House while you have been Speaker. Thank you.
I listened to the Prime Minister introducing the Queen’s Speech. What I always find most startling about the Prime Minister is his ability to create his own truth and, when confronted with any reality that contradicts his truth, to bluster his way through. I believe he believes that, with a combination of bluster and the occasional pretentious use of Latin, he can always avoid confronting reality or answering for it. So, if we can achieve anything in today’s debate, let us at least try to confront the reality of what some of our people face and assess whether the announcements in the Queen’s Speech in any way meet those challenges.
On the economy, the Prime Minister referred in his speech to “economic success” and “free market success”. He also said:
“in important respects this country is the greatest place to live and to be—the greatest place on earth.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 19.]
I think many of us feel that way, but I just wish it was the same for everyone. For so many of our people, tragically, it is not at the moment. There is a multitude of statistics evidencing just how far the Prime Minister is out of touch and how he appears to have no understanding of what our people have gone through over nearly a decade. Let me start with three stark examples of what the austerity the Conservative party has inflicted on our people has meant and continues to mean, and which I deeply regret were not addressed in the Queen’s Speech.
First, on infant mortality and child poverty, earlier this month, the British Medical Journal published a research project into infant mortality. Declines in infant mortality have been reversed for the first time in 100 years. The research found that, between 2014 and 2017, there were 570 excess infant deaths. The research concluded that 172 of those infant deaths were associated with the increase in child poverty. Out there, there are nearly 200 families who are grieving as a result of the Government’s austerity policies. There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech—nothing—that will tackle the poverty affecting 14 million of our people, and nothing that will tackle the poverty that 4.5 million of our children are being brought up in, or help the 125,000 children who are forced to live in temporary accommodation. There is nothing to address the £3 billion funding gap local councils face in trying to provide the services needed to support those very families. I will not forget, and many Labour Members will not forget, that this is a Government who have closed over 500 Sure Start centres, the very institutions we founded to support those families and to prevent infant mortality and morbidity on the scale we have seen.
Let me take the second example of what the Tories have done to our people. Earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics reported a record number of deaths of homeless people in England and Wales in 2018. Last year, 726 homeless people died. That represents the highest year-to-year increase since data was first collected. The Government have cut £1 billion from support to the homeless since 2010, so it is hardly surprising that rough sleeping has risen by almost 165%. In London, rough sleeping has more than tripled since 2010. Again, there is nothing—nothing—in the Queen’s Speech to tackle the scourge of homelessness.
My third example is the distance between what the Government claim and what employment and wages are like in this country. The Prime Minister claimed that
“we have unemployment at its lowest level since 1974”.—[Official Report, 14 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 22.]
The reality is this: more than 3 million people are missing from the unemployment rate because they report themselves as “economically inactive,” we have over 2.5 million people counted as employed even though they work fewer than 15 hours a week and there are 3.7 million people in insecure work.
The Government have received over £4 billion from the mineworkers’ pension scheme, despite not having paid a penny in. With retired miners getting by on a pension of, on average, £84 a week, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for the Government to listen? This Queen’s Speech should announce a review of the scheme so that miners and their widows get a fair deal.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I know that large numbers of Members are seeking to make speeches—I will take a number of interventions, but I will protect the time as best I can for others to speak.
Let me give my hon. Friend this assurance on that critical point: in our last Labour party manifesto, we promised that we would review the mineworkers’ pensions scheme—it is dear to my heart, because I was one of the administrators of the scheme soon after I left university, when I worked for the RMT—and we will review it because we want to lift miners and many miners’ widows out of the poverty that they now live in. We give that commitment.
I mentioned insecure work. There are now about 900,000 people on zero-hour contracts—up by 100,000 from a year ago—and real wages are still below pre-crisis levels. The Government like to talk about wage rises and wages rising at their fastest rate in a decade. It is a bizarre claim, because the Government have been in charge of the economy for the last decade, suppressing wages all through that period. According to the Financial Times, the UK was the only major economy where growth returned but wages fell. According to TUC calculations, since 2010, average pay has also fallen for 7.7 million low to middle-income earners, and 11.5 million middle to high-income earners. It is extraordinary that that was not even acknowledged in the Queen’s Speech—that we now have a low-pay, insecure-job economy that this Government have created over the last decade.
What my right hon. Friend’s wonderful speech is proving is that Government priorities make a difference. The previous Labour Government lifted millions and millions of children out of poverty, and the Government’s priorities since 2010 have plunged them all back in again.
I am listening with great interest to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I do not share his perception of the economy and I am wondering whether he still believes that Venezuela offers a better economic model than that of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
I said that I would limit interventions, but I accept that they can often be a job application, so I do not want to limit this job creation scheme that we are creating here—I wish the hon. Gentleman well in his future career.
The scale of human suffering and hardship inflicted on our people over the last nine years is never mentioned by the Government. The reason is that they would have to explain why our people have endured so much. They would have to admit that austerity was never—as we have said, and let us repeat it—an economic necessity; it was always a political choice. The choice the Tories took was that the bankers—their friends, many now populating the Government Front Bench—would never have to pay for the crisis that they had caused through their speculation. Instead, they determined—[Interruption.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, “You caused it”—this is the man who was selling the CDOs through Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank was a major contributor to the economic crisis that we faced—they have a nerve coming here blaming others, when they caused it. They determined that they would not pay for the crisis, but that the rest of our society would. They also took the view that they would never let a crisis go to waste, so they used it as the excuse to cut the taxes of the corporations and the rich. They have made £47 billion in cuts to our public services and, on their plans, they will have given away £110 billion in tax cuts to the corporations by 2022.
No, I will press on. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to speak.
The Government have made £47 billion in cuts to our public services, they are giving away £110 billion, and to ramp up the profits of these corporations, they have sold out our public services to them: £9 billion-worth of contracts in health and social care were handed over to private companies this year. Outsourcing under this Government has been exposed this week for the racket it is. A report by the think tank Reform showed that outsourcing contracts wasted £14.3 billion of taxpayers’ money in the last three years. Nothing in this Queen’s Speech even acknowledges these rip-offs, let alone promises action to reverse them.
I found nothing either in the Queen’s Speech that addresses the scandal of the industrial scale of tax avoidance and money laundering that is staining the reputation of our country. Today, Transparency International published its report “At Your Service”, which shows how
“UK service providers have been involved in some of the most egregious cases of corruption in our time.”
From the looks of this Queen’s Speech, the Government will continue to do nothing about it. The registration of overseas entities Bill, which will create a register of controlling owners of overseas legal entities that own UK land, is nowhere to be seen in the Queen’s Speech, three and a half years after the Government first committed to it.
We are at the tail end of what has been nearly a lost decade for our country—a near decade of the grotesque mismanagement of our economy by successive Conservative Chancellors; I am on my third in three years. The New Economics Foundation has shown that austerity has suppressed growth by almost £100 billion—that is more than £3,600 per household. After nine years of stuttering growth, GDP even went backwards in the last quarter. Public debt was meant to peak at 70% of GDP in 2013-14, only for it to rise to 86% of GDP in 2018-19. For all their stale claims of reducing the deficit, the reality is that the Conservatives have simply shifted that burden on to the shoulders of headteachers, councillors, NHS managers and police chiefs. These are the people who have had to make the tough decisions, not Ministers, and who have had to face up to the undermining of their services by these cuts.
Part of the testament to the Government’s failed fiscal strategy has been the litany of fiscal rules, invented, published, broadcast widely and then quietly and embarrassingly dropped. Within weeks, we hear that a new fiscal rule—probably largely stolen from us—will be announced in the Budget. I should say that we may have a new fiscal rule because we cannot be sure: only yesterday, despite the Chancellor announcing the Budget and its date, other Government sources were briefing that it was off. We have a Chancellor whose staff are sacked and escorted by armed guard out of their office, without his being told, and now Cummings is possibly cancelling his Budget. I give a word of advice to the Chancellor and his colleagues: get a grip on Cummings before he does any more damage to our country.
Apart from Budget making, one of the vitally important responsibilities of the Chancellor is to ensure that the Government and this House have the fullest information before them when considering legislation or issues impacting our economy. It is therefore extraordinary, and I think a dereliction of the Chancellor’s duties, that he—unlike his predecessors—has refused to publish a detailed economic impact assessment of the Government’s Brexit proposals. Studies of similar proposals have indicated a hit to the growth of our economy of between 3.4% and 8.1%. Even the lower range of that hit will have a severe impact on our people’s jobs and living standards, and on the economy overall. Surely it is only reasonable for Members to have a degree of information and analysis from the Chancellor’s Department before they make this momentous decision.
In their most recent manifestos, both the main parties committed themselves to respecting the outcome of the referendum. We do and we will, but, as we made clear on Tuesday, the House will not be bounced into an unrealistic and unfeasible timetable for considering and scrutinising such a critically important piece of legislation. That is why the Leader of the Opposition and Labour’s Chief Whip met the Prime Minister yesterday to offer a genuine compromise and to agree on a proper timetable that will allow, in the normal manner, proper scrutiny of the Bill and the opportunity to promote, debate and determine amendments. The Opposition have set out their views on the parts of the Bill that it wishes to amend, but of course we accept that it will be the House that decides. As always, we must accept the will of the House, even if, on many occasions, we disagree with it. It is a pity that the Prime Minister does not adopt that attitude.
There is an opportunity here for us to demonstrate to our people that Parliament can and does work. If we can demonstrate civility and a rational process in the House, we may be able to help to overcome some of the division and, indeed, bitterness that have set in within our own society.
I thank the shadow Chancellor for giving way. It is very generous of him.
The Labour party’s policy of a four-day week will reduce the earnings of the poorest workers in the country. Those are not my words, but the words of a Labour peer, Lord Skidelsky.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that perhaps one of the reasons why the Government are so anxious not to publish an economic impact assessment of their Brexit proposals is that it would show that our economy will suffer under their hard Brexit, that our public finances will suffer under their hard Brexit and that the promises that they have made about investment in our police, our schools and our health service could not possibly be met under those Brexit proposals?
Although the Government will not publish their economic impact assessment, others have made such assessments and have concluded that a hard Brexit could cripple our economy in the short and long term. We need to have a proper debate in the House to consider the consequences and discuss what amendments can be made to protect our economy.
My hon. right Friend is absolutely right about those economic impact studies. Has he had any conversations with the Welsh and Scottish Governments about the huge impact that a border in the Irish sea will have on Welsh and Scottish communities? It appears that the Government have not done so.
Is it not interesting that virtually every Government apart from this one are willing to undertake an impact assessment of some sort? What does that display? I am not usually a suspicious person, but I think we have our suspicions.
Let me say to the Chancellor that he has a role to play in shouldering his responsibility to provide us all with the fullest possible information on the basis of which we can make our decisions. That means publishing a full economic impact assessment and doing it fast, so that we can have a proper debate.
As the Government have a working majority of minus 45, it is obvious that the Queen’s Speech is little more than a pretty crude election stunt. In all their various comments in the House and the media, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have depicted their programme as “the people’s priorities”. As a political artisan, I can admire a good turn of phrase—
I have been here for 22 years. That is a long apprenticeship—and sometimes the apprentice can point out the truth as well.
As I say, I admire a good turn of phrase, and I congratulate the creatives in whatever PR agency the Conservative Party now uses for coming up with that one—it must have tested very well in the focus groups—but that is all it is: a slogan, a turn of phrase. The reality, as demonstrated in the Queen’s Speech, is that after something approaching a decade of harsh and brutal austerity, a few cynical publicity stunt commitments to paper over the massive cuts in our NHS, schools, policing and care will go nowhere near what is needed. A slogan will not suffice.
People know—and this is relevant to the Brexit debate—that if the economy hits the buffers again, as a result of Brexit, economic mismanagement by the Tories or both, and when a choice must be made by the Tories about who will pay, they will always protect their own: the corporations and the rich.
I met members of the Women’s Budget Group again yesterday, and they said that 86% of cuts were falling on women. Our society remains patriarchal, and many caring responsibilities still fall to them. Cuts in social care undermine the basis of support for many elderly people in particular, and that falls on the shoulders of women. This is what austerity has done over the last nine years. We are committed to providing free personal care for everyone, and that is what we will do.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Conservatives look after their own, and I agree with him. That is why we have cut the taxes of 32 million working people. That is why we are cutting taxes on businesses that are generating growth and employment for the people of this country.
Tragically for so many at the lower levels, all those tax cuts have been cancelled out by cuts in benefits and the introduction of universal credit. Some of the most vulnerable, particularly disabled people, have been forced to the wall as a result of the brutal implementation of the work capability assessment and the scrapping of the independent living fund. There is a litany of attacks on ordinary working people that Labour Members should consider a disgrace.
No, I will press on. I understand that we are short of time.
The Tories will indeed protect their own. Under them, it will always be the people who are burdened with cuts in services and pay and benefit freezes. What people need now is real change. They need real change in our economy, so that we can face up to the existential threat of climate change through Labour’s green industrial revolution; real change to provide the scale of resources that our NHS, our schools and our police services need, funded by a fair taxation system in which we will tackle tax evasion and avoidance; real change to bring forward the scale of investment that our infrastructure needs to compete in the global economy and meet the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution; and real change to ensure that our people share in the prosperity that we will create through decent wages, ownership and an end to the rip-off of privatisation.
Only a Labour Government can bring about the real change that our country needs after a lost decade under the Tories. What does that say? It says that it is time for a Labour Government.
I have been sitting here for the last 30 minutes or so listening to the shadow Chancellor, and I have to say, “The brass neck of the shadow Chancellor!” No mention of the jobs boom and rising wages; no mention of bringing the deficit down by four fifths; no mention of our huge investment in public services; and no support at all for this Queen’s Speech, which delivers on the people’s priorities and moves this country forward from a decade of recovery to a decade of renewal. It is a Queen’s Speech that backs our NHS with £34 billion a year of new investment by 2024, that backs law and order with 20,000 new police officers, that backs the next generation with £14 billion more funding so that every school has more money for every child, that takes great strides towards decarbonising our economy and that boosts our economic infrastructure, increasing investment in roads, railways and energy.
If the right hon. Gentleman bears with me, I will come on to that issue in just a moment.
We can only do all these things that I have just mentioned because of the strength of our economy and our commitment to fiscal responsibility, and because of the hard work of the British people over the last decade. We will not throw that away.
One of the most important measures in the Queen’s Speech is of course the withdrawal agreement Bill. Passing this Bill will allow us to get Brexit done, to focus on the people’s priorities and to move forward as a country.
And let me be clear about one thing: people said that we could not do it—they said that we would not be able to reopen the withdrawal agreement—and we did; they said that we would not be able to get rid of a backstop, and we did; they said that we would not be able to negotiate a better deal, and we did. And then they said that we would not get Parliament to support that deal, and, guess what, we did that too. They were wrong, wrong and wrong again, as they always are.
Let me address the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) and the shadow Chancellor about concerns expressed in this House about the impact assessment of the deal. What Parliament is being asked to vote on is the withdrawal agreement, which covers the deal on the budget, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland. The Government have already provided and published a full impact assessment; it is a shame that the shadow Chancellor has not even bothered to look at it yet. The political declaration lays the groundwork for our future relationship, and with those final details still to be negotiated the only thing blocking us from getting on with Brexit is the Labour party and its disposition to dither and delay. Once we leave the EU we will start those talks, and of course we will keep Parliament fully informed at every stage of the process.
I knew I had a sense of déjà vu when I heard the Chancellor speak, and I remember from when: it was from when I was a child listening to “Jackanory.” This is exactly the same: story time. The previous Prime Minister published a proper economic assessment of her Brexit deal; why will this current Prime Minister not do the same? For heaven’s sake, just answer the question.
The hon. Lady was a fan of “Jackanory”; now I know why she joined the Labour party. It is all fitting into place.
On that point, some Members may point to the economic analysis, as the hon. Lady has, that was published by the Government in November of last year, but that document looks at the possible economic impact of a generic average free trade agreement; it does not represent the ambitious free trade agreement that we have agreed. We have agreed with the EU that both parties will have a deep, best-in-class free trade agreement that is far more ambitious on things like data exchange, tariffs, energy and financial services, and none of those benefits are captured in the Government’s previous modelling. So it is clear that what we need to do is this: end the dither and delay and move forward as a country.
The Chancellor said that the economic prosperity has been delivered by the hard work of the British people. Does he agree that that is the 14 million people who are now in poverty and the 4.5 million children who are living in poverty, and why is his Queen’s Speech silent on how to lift those people out of poverty and end what he calls their hard work?
I would think that, being a member of a party that is called the Labour party, the hon. Lady would understand that the best way out of poverty for anyone is a growing economy that creates jobs. Since 2010, there are over 1 million fewer workless households—a record low—there are 730,000 fewer children living in workless households, also a record low, and there are 50,000 fewer households where no member has ever worked.
Will the Chancellor in his excellent speech also tell the House how much better off someone on low pay is, because, with the increases in the living wage and the increases in the tax-free threshold, households are taking home much more, particularly the lowest paid?
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised that, because it allows me to remind the House that since 2010, because of the actions that we have taken, including the rise in the minimum wage and tax cuts, the average person working full-time on the minimum wage is around £3,500 better off a year—that is because of actions we have taken.
Our relationship with the EU is a critically important factor affecting the UK economy, but it is of course not the only one. Unlike the Labour party, we will never talk down Britain’s economy. The shadow Chancellor has predicted a recession almost every year since we came into office, as he was doing just a moment ago—he does it all the time—but the underlying fundamentals of our economy are incredibly strong: nine years of growth; a healthy labour market with the lowest unemployment rate this country has seen in 45 years; low and stable inflation; and an attractive environment for foreign investment.
So I am optimistic about the future, but I am not complacent. We need to prepare our economy to seize the opportunities of leaving the EU, and that is why we are putting to the House the programme in this Queen’s Speech.
My right hon. Friend has already addressed one issue in looking at the impact assessments of various plans. Has he done an impact assessment of what the implications of borrowing £200 billion would be on the British economy—what it would do to future investment and future pensions, and what it would actually do to the working people of this country and how it would destroy their futures?
My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) has somewhat stolen my thunder. There is a lot of talk about economic impact assessments, but what about rising income tax, rising corporation tax, death duties, taxes on flights and holidays, and voting against nearly £10,000 of tax cuts in this place under this Government? That is the shadow Chancellor’s Policy. What is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s economic impact assessment of what that would do to the pockets of my constituents?
The Chancellor knows that under the British Government’s Brexit plans, the no-deal cliff-edge would only move to the end of phase 2. So if we do get to his Budget statement on 6 November, can we ask the Office for Budget Responsibility to give us some analysis of what that would mean for the British economy?
Sound public finances are the foundation of economic prosperity and strong public services, and we have come a long way since 2010. We inherited a deficit of 10% of GDP. At that time, that was the biggest Budget deficit of any advanced economy. It was equivalent to borrowing £5,000 every single second.
I think what the hon. Gentleman wants to hear is the point I am going to make next, because I think he wants to be reminded that the whole economy was scarred by Labour’s great recession. It gave us the biggest banking crash, not just in British history, but in global history. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), from a sedentary position, asks why; let me tell her why. The shadow Chancellor—[Interruption.] Let me explain. The shadow Chancellor referred to the work of Gordon Brown as though Gordon Brown did some good things. Gordon Brown was the Labour Chancellor that deregulated the banking and financial sector, and—[Interruption.]
As I was saying, Gordon Brown, as Chancellor in 1997, boasted about deregulating the banks and the financial sector. At the time, he was warned by the then shadow Chancellor—the Conservative shadow Chancellor—Peter Lilley, that deregulation would
“cause regulators to take their eye off the ball”—[Official Report, 1 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 731-2]—
and that it would be a field day for spivs and crooks everywhere. That is what he said, in this House, and during Labour’s term in office, bank leverage rocketed from an average of 20 before they came to office to an average of 50 times during their entire time in office. Labour was responsible for the biggest banking crash in global history, and they had better get used to it.
I will give way when I have made some progress.
We have turned the economy and the public finances around, and I am not prepared at all to throw away that hard work. The Queen’s Speech puts fiscal responsibility at the heart of our plans, with a clear commitment to ensuring that we keep control of borrowing and debt. I will set out our detailed plans in the Budget.
I just want to highlight the brass neck of the Chancellor, having worked in the banking sector, not to accept that it is the banking crisis—the clue is in the name. He then came into Parliament and presided over dreadful, drastic cuts on our constituents—police cuts, school cuts; the list goes on. Now he has the brass neck to say that it is all going to be fine—that we can have our cake and eat it. Having damaged people’s lives, he should take responsibility before he starts attacking the Labour party.
Now, I know the hon. Lady has to say those things, because I think she is applying for a job as well, but she knows that when she became an MP, in the same year as I did, the deficit that the new Government inherited was 10% of GDP. She talks again about the banking crisis. She has to ask herself: why did Britain have the biggest banking crisis in global history? The answer is, because of the Labour Government.
One of the worst effects of the banking crisis was the impact that it had on many thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises in this country, who lost their livelihoods and sometimes their homes. The Business Banking Resolution Service, which has been set up to deal with historic complaints, is excluding many people on very tight eligibility criteria, which I regard as unfair, as someone who sits on that steering group. I believe it requires the intervention of the Chancellor to get UK Finance to come to the table, to be fairer about those eligibility criteria. Will he commit to do that?
Look, first I commend my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done, and continues to do, to support small businesses throughout the country. He has raised an important issue. He knows that work is ongoing to address that, but I would be happy to meet him and discuss it further.
Is it not because of the hard work of this UK Government to balance the economy that we are spending more in the devolved nations, with an extra £1.2 billion for Scotland in the latest spending review? Does he agree that that is in stark contrast to the shadow Chancellor, who would enable a second independence referendum in Scotland on a whim, despite the will of the Scottish people, who do not want that referendum, despite the economic damage that that would cause, and despite the fact that he used to belong to a Unionist party?
I will make some progress and then I will give way.
I want to contrast our approach with that of Labour Front Benchers, who have demanded higher borrowing and higher taxes at every Budget and Queen’s Speech for the past 40-odd years. Their tax rises would hit hard-working families, and they will not be clear on that. Their tax avoidance plans contain a £2.5 billion mistake, and that is according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Their spending promises would cost far more than they say. Their manifesto contained £1 trillion of spending commitments. For the shadow Chancellor’s benefit, let me say that that is £1,000 billion of spending commitments. They have not costed expensive promises such as renationalisation, and they have made dozens of unfunded promises since the last election. And you know what is even worse than that? The shadow Chancellor has admitted that the huge borrowing plans that he has are just “the first step”—he means the first step back to the road of ruin.
I am glad to report that Shropshire has the lowest unemployment in its history. In fact nationally, as the Chancellor knows, there are over 1 million vacancies, which in itself raises a challenge for the Government as a result of their own success. As we discuss the points-based migration system with colleagues across government, given that many vacancies in Shropshire need to be filled in agriculture, in the NHS and in manufacturing, can we ensure that we still secure the very best and brightest for our jobs market not only domestically, but from the international community—Commonwealth, non-Commonwealth and the EU?
I will make some progress.
There are some who would have us abandon fiscal responsibility altogether, and to those people I say this: it is only because of the hard work of the British people that we can now afford to invest more, and that is what we are doing when we kick-start a decade of renewal in this country. Our top priority is economic infrastructure. High-quality and reliable infrastructure is essential to how we live, work and travel. The UK is the fifth-largest economy in the world, and it is not good enough that we have fallen so far behind other nations on infrastructure, so we are going to fix that. I can therefore confirm today that our national infrastructure strategy will be published at the Budget. That strategy will deliver better transport, faster broadband and wider mobile coverage. It will level up every region and nation of this great United Kingdom and deliver an infrastructure revolution. The strategy will take great strides for the decarbonisation of our economy, which is one of this country’s most important challenges, by building on our record as the first major economy in the world to legislate for net zero by 2050.
I thank the Chancellor for responding so positively to a joint campaign by me and Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, for funding to open two additional train stations in Walsall, including one in Willenhall in my constituency. I thank the Chancellor for that money.
The Chancellor is being generous in giving way. As taxpayers, the British people collectively bailed out the banks a decade ago, and the banks have repaid taxpayers by closing down branches on every high street and in every village in the country. Just in the past two weeks, we have seen Barclays withdraw from the scheme that underpinned the Post Office, which now does its work for it. Will he stand up to Barclays and demand that it remains part of that Post Office scheme?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcements on infrastructure and broadband, which will also apply to Scotland. Will he also confirm that we were spending around £20 billion more on interest payments when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats came into government? Those interest payments were going to international bondholders, so the friends of the international bankers and financiers are, in fact, in the Labour party, not the Conservatives.
My hon. Friend is right. A Labour Chancellor deregulated banking and created a light-touch system, and we all paid the price.
I want to compare my approach to infrastructure with Labour’s. I am going to invest in new infrastructure that will grow the economy. Labour would borrow hundreds of billions to renationalise productive assets and then run them into the ground. I want to unleash all the talent and expertise of the private sector. Labour says—I quote the shadow Chancellor here—that business is the “enemy” and would tax it into submission. I will do all my work within a careful and credible fiscal framework; Labour would simply waste the money just like last time.
There is a real credibility gap in what the Chancellor is saying, because if austerity was the right thing to do in 2010, why is it not still the right thing to do now, given that debt has doubled to £1.8 trillion or 80% of GDP? How can we believe that the Government intend to go on this huge spending spree when they have been doing quite the opposite to try to tackle the problem? The Chancellor is keen on quoting the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but it predicts that we will need another dose of austerity if he carries on. This economy needs investment, not the austerity that the Government are planning.
First, the IFS does not predict that at all, so the Gentleman should check his facts. Secondly, I gently point out to him that debt is brought under control by controlling borrowing. Borrowing is the deficit, and the deficit was what the Labour party left at 10% of GDP, but it is now four fifths less than that. Controlling borrowing is how we bring debt under control.
Better infrastructure and fiscal responsibility will enable our future economic growth, but so will trade. Ninety per cent. of future global economic growth is estimated to be outside Europe, with more than a quarter coming from China alone. Britain has always been an open country that believes in free trade. British businesses have strong trading relationships around the world. The new deal that we have agreed with the EU will allow us to have an independent trade policy and to strike new trade agreements with countries around the world, and the new trade Bill will put that into practice. Let me compare that with Labour’s position on trade. Labour would lock us into the EU customs union, ending any chance of an independent trade policy. How did Labour’s head of trade policy describe Labour’s views? He said:
“We reject the whole principle of free trade.”
Our support for free trade is not the only thing that marks Britain out on the global stage. Our remarkable financial services sector, which is now back to good health, does so, too. It is not just the City of London; our financial services sector involves the entire UK. All our financial and professional services firms truly are a national asset, employing more than a million people and contributing more than £130 billion to our economy every year. The financial services legislation that we brought forward in the Queen’s Speech will maintain and enhance our position as a world-leading financial centre after we leave the EU.
This Queen’s Speech gets Brexit done, invests more to grow the economy and delivers on the people’s priorities: action on infrastructure, trade and financial services, and a new economic plan for a new decade of renewal.
I am sure that the Chancellor is correct that some parts of the economy will benefit from a number of the changes, but other parts of the economy, particularly in the north-east, will be heavily damaged by the plans that he is outlining and that are outlined in the deal. The north-east exports over 60% of its goods to the EU, and hurting that relationship will be hugely damaging to our region. He does not seem to be taking any account of the disparate regional impacts around the country.
I do not accept the hon. Lady’s analysis. Once we leave the EU with the close economic partnership that is set out in the political declaration, our economy will continue to be one of the strongest in the world, unleashing many new opportunities for all parts of our country, including the north-east.
Turning to the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), let me be clear about one thing: Britain will always be an open, global, outward-looking country. I am proud of living in a country as diverse as this one. We have dropped arbitrary immigration targets and recently announced new highly flexible fast-track visas for scientists; none of that will change as we leave the EU. We will continue to welcome the best and the brightest from across the world. I therefore urge all hon. Members to vote against amendment (h) because it is important that we end free movement as we regain control of our borders.
I turn now to the shadow Chancellor’s amendment. There are no mainstream parties in the developed world with an economic agenda as extreme as the one now proposed by Labour. There is no tax that the Labour party would not hike, there is no business that it would not nationalise, and there is no strike that it would not support. Instead of embracing the future, the shadow Chancellor demands that we turn back the clock on progress. He claims that 95% of people would face no income tax hikes under Labour, but then proposes more than 20 new tax hikes. He claims that he would protect pensioners, but tell that to the millions whose pensions will be smashed by Labour’s threats to renationalise vast swathes of the economy without any proper compensation. He told businesses he had nothing up his sleeve, but then he announced plans to confiscate £300 billion of shares from private investors in the biggest state raid this country will ever see.
The shadow Chancellor has never worked in a business. He does not get business. He even refuses to name a single business that he admires. And guess what? He calls business the real enemy. Given his threats to hike taxes, to renationalise businesses and to load them up with new bills and regulations, I am pretty sure the feeling is mutual.
We have even heard Labour officials suggesting—I am not making this up—the nationalisation of travel agents. It will be free trips to Havana for Labour Front Benchers, and perhaps a ticket to Siberia for the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson). The simple truth is that Labour is not fit to govern. It would wreck the economy and hard-working families would pay the price, just like last time.
These are the fundamental dividing lines in British politics today. We will raise wages; Labour will raise taxes. We will back business; it will smash business. We will get Brexit done; it will dither and delay. A Conservative party that believes in free enterprise and that will get Brexit done and deliver the change people want; or an anti-aspiration, anti-business Labour party led by a pair who would wreck the economy, cancel the referendum and leave Britain less secure and less safe.
I know the shadow Chancellor is a fan of the little red book, but these days he is less Chairman Mao and more Colonel Sanders—too chicken to face an election. Let us back this deal; let us back this Queen’s Speech; and let us have a general election. I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.
Out of respect I did not want to interrupt the Chancellor’s speech, but is it in order for him to impugn the motives of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) in raising concerns on behalf of her constituents? Is it not unparliamentary for somebody holding his high office to do that, especially when he refuses to appear before the Treasury Committee to answer directly for his plans?
I sort of thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. I really do not want to see the debate interrupted by points of order that are, frankly, matters of debate. It is a matter of debate whether people think what the Chancellor said is appropriate. I want to get on with the debate.
I am not standing up to make a job application, as some people have suggested. In fact, we are trying to work ourselves out of a job by securing an independent Scotland, not one that has to send representatives to this place.
I take this opportunity to introduce amendment (h), in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—the leader of Plaid Cymru in the House of Commons—and many other SNP Members.
This place has been nothing short of chaotic over the past few weeks and, in fact, over the past three years. If Members are looking on in horror at the childish behaviour of the UK Government, I can only imagine how people out there are feeling as they watch the utter chaos created by the actions of this Tory Government.
This year’s Queen’s Speech comes in the most turbulent and uncertain times these isles have seen in decades. In the pursuit of a hard Tory Brexit that rips us out of the single market, the Scottish economy is already £3 billion smaller than if none of this had been foisted upon us by this Government. UK in a Changing Europe estimates that GDP per capita will be some 6.4% lower in the long run compared with the UK remaining in the EU. That represents, on average, every person in these isles missing out on £2,000 of income each year.
This deal proposes the loss of the single market. The world’s largest economic bloc gives businesses in Britain access to 500 million customers, with no barriers, no tariffs and no local legislation to worry about. It is no surprise that nearly half our exports go to other EU nations. Those exports are linked to 3 million jobs in the UK. Today, almost 80% of British jobs are in the services sector, a sector with £226 billion of exports, nearly half of which go to Europe.
“I can see why some people want to leave the EU. Arguments about national identity and sovereignty pack an emotional punch. But for anyone who cares about British jobs, it comes down to one key question. Do businesses want the benefits and security of continued access to the Single Market, or the instability and uncertainty of a lost decade?”
Those are not my words but the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is now willing to tip businesses into that lost decade in pursuit of this hard Tory Brexit.
The hon. Lady talks about childish behaviour, but it was, of course, the SNP that walked out of proceedings in this House rather than participate in debate.
On her point about tipping over the economy, I would say that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer understands the irony of a nationalist standing up in this House to talk about leaving an internal market, costing billions of pounds, when that is the SNP’s reason for existence.
The SNP only walked out of this place because our leader was chucked out. We followed him out because we were standing up for the rights of the Scottish Parliament to stand up against the power grab this place was foisting on us.
A Panelbase poll came out a couple of weeks ago showing that more people in Scotland believe they would be better off in an independent Scotland within the EU than in broken Brexit Britain. We are winning the economic argument, and the Conservatives are losing it.
The Conservatives know they are losing the economic argument, which is why they are unwilling to publish an economic impact assessment of this deal. They are unwilling to allow the Office for Budget Responsibility to publish the figures on what will happen to the economy as a result of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. That is why they are wavering about the date of the Budget. If the Chancellor would confirm that the Budget will be on 6 November and that the OBR’s figures will be published, that would be welcome news, but he does not seem keen to see those figures come forward.
A vibrant Scottish economy, whether independent or within the UK, relies on a viable banking network. I will shortly have only one bank branch left in the whole county of Sutherland. Every time I have raised this, the Treasury has given me comforting words about 99% of the population having access to a local post office. Many of my constituents live 20, 30 or 40 miles, or even further, from the nearest post office or bank branch. Surely now it is time to take action on this serious issue, which fundamentally undermines the economy not only of Scotland but of the UK.
I agree. In fact, the SNP has been at the forefront of fighting rural bank closures, saying that post office services are inadequate and unable to take on the role being foisted upon them by the closure of banks. We will continue to do everything we can to support our communities and to ensure they have access to free local banking services, local to them, that they can get to by public transport, if at all possible. We will keep doing what we can.
My hon. Friend, as ever, is making a fantastic speech. Does she agree that this Tory Government are the biggest threat in a generation to Scotland and its economy? The tourism sector, in particular, benefits all our constituencies. Scotland is rightly recognised as one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and 70% of businesses in the tourism sector are worried about the end of free movement of people, the loss of access to the vital member states of the European Union and the loss of labour for their businesses.
I absolutely agree. I was about to come on to the details in our amendment about the loss of freedom of movement and the problems it will cause. As our amendment sets out, we believe
“that freedom of movement has brought immeasurable social, cultural and economic benefits to the people of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the European Union as a whole”.
I wish to focus for a moment on the economic benefits of immigration and the significant problems that will be caused by the implementation of the immigration Bill that the Government intend to bring forward.
Each EU citizen who comes to Scotland adds £34,400 to GDP each year. That is not an insignificant number. Those people who choose to come to live and work in Scotland are largely young and working, they have relatively few healthcare needs and are contributing economically to our country’s wealth. Reducing the number of EU migrants by setting arbitrary salary levels and reducing our ability to attract both long-term and seasonal migrants will hit our economy even harder than some of the other things associated with Brexit. We do not want this future. We want our country to continue to be the welcoming, inclusive, outward-looking country that it is and we absolutely reject the Tories’ proposals on immigration.
Is it not the case that, over the last 100 years, Scotland has faced a unique challenge in growing its population and it is only since being in the EU, with the benefit of EU migrants, that Scotland’s population has begun to grow? What right-minded person would put that rising population—that rising workforce—at risk by ending free movement?
One of the first political moments I remember came when Jack McConnell was talking about Scotland’s population dipping and about the massive concerns there were around the millennium about its population going below 5 million; I think that was the number at the time. I recall hearing that and thinking, even as a 14-year-old in 2000, how devastating it was. I am so pleased that we have had the freedom of movement that has come as part of the EU.
My kids go to school with so many children from so many countries around the world, and a huge number of them are from the EU. They are living in Aberdeen. Outside London, Aberdeen has the highest percentage of non-UK-born people in the UK, which is amazing for a place that people think is quite far away. Actually, we are pretty good at attracting people. But we struggle with the immigration rules. Every week people come to my office and sit around my table crying because the UK Government are saying that, despite the fact that they have jumped through every possible hoop that has been put in front of them, they are not able to stay and they must return to Nigeria, Poland or whichever country it is that they originate from. This UK Government are attempting to make that situation worse, not better.
I wish to look at the economic impact of failing to support technologies that help to meet our climate change targets. In Scotland, we have the skills, ability, capacity and geography to become world leaders in these technologies, but we need the UK Government to stop messing around and to take their responsibilities seriously. We must have immediate action to support and invest in carbon capture and storage technologies. We are uniquely placed, with our geology, to capitalise on this and to become world leaders in this space, and we cannot have the situation that happened when George Osborne was in the Treasury: he pulled funding at the last moment for these vital future technologies for our country.
We also need the UK Government to take their responsibilities seriously on this. They cannot just set a target of 2050 and then refuse to set out a plan for how they are going to get there. They should look at what the Scottish Government have done on the green new deal, which sets our targets and makes clear how we are going to reach our target of 2045, rather than just having an arbitrary, pie-in-the-sky target. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) said, the UK Government are doing lots of talk, but no actual action. So we would like them actually to take action through the environment Bill.
The hon. Lady makes an important point about different devolved Administrations going at difference paces, but we have actually seen cuts to energy-efficiency measures in England, whereas Scotland spends four times more on energy efficiency, Wales spends twice as much, and Northern Ireland, which does not even have a Government, spends one and a half times more than the UK.
This is a hugely concerning direction of travel and it comes despite climate change and things potentially warming up. We need to have energy-efficiency measures. For example, if we want to decarbonise our gas networks, we need to do things such as adding hydrogen and biomethane into the mix. We also need to do things such as ensuring that we have incredibly energy-efficient homes, be that in new homes or through retrofitting older homes. Aberdeen has a campaign to put insulation in granite tenements, which are particularly difficult to insulate and particularly common in Aberdeen. That has made a massive improvement not just in terms of energy efficiency and climate change targets, but in terms of the wealth of those people, who no longer have to pay those immensely high heating bills.
You are looking at me, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will make some progress.
I am going now to focus on tackling inequality. This Queen’s Speech offers no rays of sunshine. In Scotland, we are bringing forward all our spending review plans, our programme for government and our national performance framework and looking at the plans on the basis of the wellbeing of people who live in Scotland. Scotland and New Zealand are leading the way in the world in this space. The UK Government are not taking account of wellbeing, as we can see by the fact that every time Conservative Members stand up they talk about how great it is that we have such low unemployment, how rich everybody is, how well everybody is going and how much higher their wages are. If we ask people in the streets and people at our surgeries whether they feel as though they are richer than they were before a decade of austerity, we find that they all say that they are not richer and that this Tory Government have catapulted them into poverty. We are seeing increasing numbers of children in poverty. In Scotland, we are doing everything we can to combat that, through things such as the baby box and the Scottish child payment. Our Government are doing everything they can but they cannot mitigate every one of the excesses of Tory austerity, no matter how hard we try, because we do not have all the levers that would be available with independence.
I agree. I am incredibly concerned about the increase in food bank use that there has been, particularly among people who are working. The Government talk about the fact that so many more people are at work, but so many more of those people who are at work are having to go to food banks. People are having to make the choice between heating their homes and feeding their children. Half of families have less than £100 in savings and, if their washing machine breaks down and their kid needs a new pair of shoes, they are into debt. That situation cannot continue. We need this UK Government to step up to ensure that people are paid a living wage that they can actually live on. It does not matter what age they are, be it 19, 29 or 59, they should be paid a living wage that they can live on.
I share my hon. Friend’s sentiments. Our SNP-led Scottish Government are fed up with filling in the black holes of this Westminster Government, who are destroying the fabric of our society. Does she agree that it is time they got their house in order? This week, I have had contact from constituents who are waiting for their maternity allowance and have been told by the Department for Work and Pensions that there is a backlog to June. Families and women who are due to have babies are going to be left in poverty because of this Government’s mismanagement. Does she agree that that cannot continue?
That is genuinely shocking. Maternity allowance is something that people absolutely need to get if they are entitled to it, and this UK Government need to step up to the plate and ensure that the women who are entitled to it get it, without months of backlog.
The Government keep talking about “Getting Brexit done.” But the reality, as set out in the piece the Chancellor wrote in 2016, is that, whether a deal is passed this week or not, there will be years, if not decades, of negotiations with the EU. This Government need to be honest with people about that. The Government are not going to be able to get Brexit done in the next week, whatever happens. We need that extension to happen and we need to ensure that there is no cliff edge.
I am shocked that the UK Government would try to convince us to vote for anything that they refused to do an impact assessment on. I take this opportunity to throw down the gauntlet to all MPs who represent Scottish or Welsh constituencies: they should all walk through the Lobby with us to support amendment (h). If they do not support the rights and desires of the people of Scotland and of Wales, they will be doing a disservice to their constituents, their constituencies and their countries. The amendment must be agreed tonight, because we must recognise the importance of freedom of movement and the negative impacts in respect of inequality that the Government are having, and we must do everything we can to recognise that there is a climate emergency and to ensure that solid action is taken to step up to the plate and become world leaders.
I remind the House of the interests recorded in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
In supporting the excellent Queen’s Speech, I wish to touch briefly on just three areas: expenditure, the new borrowing framework, and what more we can do to make our capitalism inclusive.
On expenditure, the new money for the NHS and for schools is extremely welcome. With regard to the NHS, I hope it will help to relieve the pressure on our general practitioners, to get more resources into mental health and to start to fill the gap between health and social care. I hope it can do all that without involving us in yet another bureaucratic reorganisation, at any level.
The extra money for schools is particularly welcome in Kent. At long last, it addresses the inequality of funding between some of our shires and the metropolitan areas. It will mean more for primary schools in my constituency, which have been historically underfunded. As that money comes through, I hope the Secretary of State for Education will also look into how we can better protect the main schools block, which authorities such as Kent are currently having to raid to cope with the increasing demands for special needs provision.
Having welcomed the extra expenditure, given that the previous fiscal framework is clearly under some stress, I also welcome the Chancellor’s ambition to set out in his Budget a new fiscal framework for the future. I hope the framework will be clear and credible for the markets, and I also hope he will avoid some of the fudgeable targets and fuzzy definitions and classifications that we saw in the later years of Gordon Brown’s chancellorship.
I hope that, as Conservatives, we will continue to look at how we defend and refresh our capitalism and make it more inclusive for all our country. Back in the 1980s, we developed popular capitalism: 11 million people in this country held shares and had a stake in the privatised industries. Thirty years on, too many of those private industries are too poorly regulated, and we have seen share ownership in decline. Let me give an example of two of those industries.
The first industry is rail. Last year, we Members of Parliament—my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) was with me—had to intervene in the timetable chaos and persuade one rail operator that shared a line with another to pick up passengers who had been stranded by that other operator. Both rail operators were subsidiaries of the same group, so why did Members of Parliament have to intervene? Where was the rail regulator to sort it out? I welcome the proposals in the Queen’s Speech to look again at the structure of the industry and ensure that it is more accountable and better regulated.
The second industry is water. Thames Water has been privatised for 30 years. It pays hundreds of millions over to its shareholders and to its parent company, yet it is behind on its leakage targets and behind other water companies on the installation of smarter meters. Because it is behind, it is bleeding the chalk streams around London, including the River Darent, with the extraction of water that it needs to top up its supplies in the centre of London.
My right hon. Friend has been an example in helping to bring together the various companies to realise their duties. Does he agree that there are also good examples? Greggs has done an enormous amount by pushing share ownership to employees and has massively improved the equity stake that individuals have in the product of their own labour.
I certainly understand that, and my hon. Friend takes me to the point with which I wish to conclude, which is what more we can do to encourage share ownership. Some of the employee share schemes we have—I have written to the Chancellor on this—are still very complicated. The qualifying periods are still very long and do not reflect the mobility of the modern workforce. I am afraid some of the lower-paid staff simply cannot afford to participate in them. I hope that when it comes to his Budget, the Chancellor will keep looking at how we can do more to promote employee share ownership in particular, by reducing the qualifying periods and giving people a real incentive to save.
I am sorry but I will not; I am just finishing.
One of my heroes of the year—there may be many other candidates—is an entrepreneur called Julian Richer, who is now coming up to retirement and is handing over 40% of his company, Richer Sounds, to the employees, ensuring that they have a stake in the future. We need more incentives like that to promote loyalty and give people a real stake in their future. I thoroughly support the Queen’s Speech.
It is hard to take the Queen’s Speech seriously as a statement of intent from a Government who have no majority and are hellbent on taking us down a reckless route out of the European Union. I am sure my constituents wanted to believe it when the Government promised to address violent crime, measures to support and strengthen the national health service and investment in education, but I am afraid they will be disappointed. If the Government press ahead with their plans for a hard Brexit, there is a good chance that not only will there be no extra money for our police, health service and schools, but there will be less money for all our public services. My constituents will have less money in their pockets, and the future opportunities for their children and grandchildren will be diminished.
The Government have refused to publish any economic impact analysis of their great new deal, but fortunately others have. Professor Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe, published a report last week that models the economic impact of the Prime Minister’s proposals. The report suggests that income per capita in the UK would be significantly lower under his deal and that the Government finances would suffer, too. Even in the most optimistic scenario, the report suggests that the Prime Minister’s deal would leave the public finances £16 billion worse off. In the most pessimistic scenario, the forecast is of a much greater hit to the public purse of around £49 billion. Economic modelling is inherently uncertain, but my constituents need to know that the promises in the Queen’s Speech about investment in vital public services are hollow and cannot be relied on.
People in Nottingham need assurances about the future of the services they rely on, because after nine and a half years of deep and damaging cuts, our local police, schools and health services are under extreme pressure. Last week, I was out with the street offences team in Radford. I saw at first hand some of the challenges that our police officers face and heard about the rise in serious violence, often related to illegal drugs. We have fewer police officers in Nottingham than we had nine years ago; our youth services have been decimated; and many families are struggling to get by, working multiple jobs but still in poverty. It is no coincidence that too many young people are falling prey to gangs and criminal behaviour.
My constituents regularly tell me that they cannot get an appointment to see their GP and that they cannot get the help they need with their mental health. When people cannot access the services and support that they need in their local community, sooner or later the problem becomes acute, and they go to the place where the lights are always on: A&E. The emergency department at the Queen’s medical centre has seen a 9% increase in attendances in the past year alone. Our hospitals provide excellent care, but that level of pressure takes its toll, and, I am afraid, that is reflected in sickness absence, staff turnover and poor retention rates.
Many Nottingham hospital staff are also working in inadequate conditions, because the trust, which is one of the biggest and busiest in the country, has the highest critical infrastructure risk in the entire NHS outside London. There have been 11 major incidents in the past three years, including power failures and water leaks. Urgent fire safety works are needed, including £24 million to replace highly polluting 40-year-old coal-fired boilers. Where is that £30 million a week extra for the NHS when we need it?
If there were time, I would raise the crisis in social care that is particularly acute in cities such as mine, serving deprived communities with higher need and lower resources. That is impacting older people, disabled people and carers. I would highlight how the lack of affordable housing, cruel benefit cuts and the loss of support services have resulted in a homelessness crisis. I would talk about the impact on students, teachers and support staff doing exceptional work in our schools and colleges in Nottingham South despite every single one of them suffering real-terms budget cuts under this Government.
I do not trust this Government with our economy, and I do not trust them with our public services. My constituents deserve so much better, and only Labour will deliver it.
May I start by saying what an honour it is to have been elected as the Chair of the Treasury Committee? I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who did such sterling work on the Committee, particularly with women in finance, the gender pay gap and other such important issues, all of which I intend to press forward with.
It is very early days. I was elected only yesterday and I have not even had a proper chance to sit down with the other members of the Committee to consider what we will be looking at in detail over the coming period. However, as this is an opportunity to bend the Chancellor’s ear, I thought that I would raise one or two extremely important points, which have been reflected in the debate so far this afternoon.
The first is Brexit. It seems to me that there is plenty of sound and fury around the issue, but what we need is some illumination and light. We will never all collectively agree in this House or indeed in the Treasury Committee on exactly where we want to end with Brexit, or indeed how we are going to get there. None the less, what we can all agree on is that information is important and that we need to know the data. I accept the Chancellor’s point that the political declaration is not the same thing as what is going through in the Bill at the moment; none the less, an assessment was made of the previous set of deals—on a broad range of circumstances, admittedly—and I think and fully expect that the Committee will be pressing at as early a stage as possible for some kind of assessment to be made of the likely outcomes of the deal that is under consideration.
The second point is about the Budget. A Budget will be coming very soon, which we will be scrutinising very closely. My message to the Chancellor is that after hearing from colleagues, we want to look at the regional distribution of the Budget. The Committee has already done some very good work on regional imbalances across the UK economy, and we will want to look at that closely. We will also want to look at how rural communities—
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his election to what is one of the most important Select Committees of this House? Does he agree that in addition to the comments he has just made, another very important area for the Treasury to consider is the way in which fairer funding for local councils—for example, for Leicestershire County Council—has to operate?
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. In fact, one of the prisms through which we should view this Budget is also how well-funded rural communities are compared to urban communities. That is a very important point. Moreover, we need to look at the tax impacts of the measures that come forward in the Budget, not least on those who are the least well-off. Those on the Opposition Front Bench will have heard me tirelessly repeat the mantra that 28% of all income tax is paid by the wealthiest 1%. However, although that is true, it is not the same thing as saying that we should not keep an eagle eye on the bottom quintile and make sure that they are fairly treated.
I also want to consider the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has often raised with me about the interaction of the universal credit taper and the income tax regime, and the fact that, for some lower-income families with children, that leads to marginal tax rates of 70% or more. That is unjust and something on which the Committee may wish to focus.
My final point on the Budget is that, as a global economy, we are facing a slowdown. Most projections now have gone from growth of 4% to about 3%. There are corporate debt issues in China, which are weighing down investment globally, and we have a trade war between the United States and China. With regard to our own fiscal numbers, we have had a reclassification of the student loan debt such that some £12 billion has been taken out of the so-called headroom between what we can spend and the meeting of our fiscal mandate in 2020-21. Given all the expenditure commitments that are being made at the moment, the Committee will be looking very carefully at the issue of fiscal prudence and making sure that the new fiscal targets that the Chancellor may come forward with are, first, appropriate and, secondly, actually achievable.
There are some other important issues that I wish to raise. The Chancellor used the expression, I think, that he wants to come forward on the people’s priorities. I call that the “Dog and Duck” test. What is it that people, when they are down the local pub—if they still have a local pub—talk about and care about? I wish to raise two priorities. One is access to local finance. That was raised very eloquently by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and also by way of intervention by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). I call on Barclays to reconsider its decision in relation to the availability of cash over the counter at post offices. I know that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary had a meeting with the chief executive of Barclays just yesterday and that he is working very hard on this issue. None the less, in many communities, including those in my constituency, where the last bank has gone, it is the Post Office to which we turn. I pay tribute briefly to Stuart Rogers, the postmaster at Ashburton post office and a leading member of the National Federation of SubPostmasters, who has done such brilliant work in this area. I know, in fact, that he is known to many Members in the Chamber for his work up here in Westminster.
In my final 20 seconds, let me say that we need to get fairer taxation internationally for those online businesses, which create value through internet platforms such as search engines in social media and marketplaces. People expect them to be taxed fairly. It is a matter not of avoidance, but of having a tax regime that is fit for the 21st century.
Every month, Ministers stand at that Dispatch Box and boast about the unemployment figures—we heard some of it from the Chancellor today. They pat themselves on the back and tell themselves how well they are doing, but there are parts of the country where this boasting sounds like something from another planet. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that, last month in my constituency, there were 4,020 people unemployed. That is higher than a year ago, and higher than July of this year. This is the figure that takes account of the roll-out of universal credit. Although unemployment may be stable or falling in some parts of the country, in my constituency and others like it the figures have been going up month on month for a long time. Unemployment at these levels gives my constituency a jobless rate of around 9%—more than double the national average. Of those 4,000 people, we have more than 700 unemployed young people. This is a criminal waste of talent and an appalling denial of opportunity for those affected and their families.
For those who are in work, pay is much lower than average. Full-time workers in my constituency earn around £100 a week less than the national average. People are working hard and trying to do the right thing, but they are not getting the rewards that they deserve. No wonder people feel that the system is not working for them when their chances of getting a job are lower than average, and the pay they get when they do get a job is also lower than average. We need an economy that works for every part of the country, not just some of it, but right now we do not have that.
The pattern of low pay and high unemployment is reinforced by the number of adults of working age with no formal qualifications. But look at what is happening with skills funding. According to the Education Policy Institute, real-terms spending per student in the further education sector has fallen by 18% in the last nine years. The IFS estimates that there was a cut of £3.3 billion in real terms across the whole further education and skills budget between 2010 and last year. In my region, apprenticeship starts have fallen by 9,000 in the past year. Instead of funding a platform for opportunity at the very moment that people need help, the Government have kicked the ladder away. How can we give people the best possible chance in life if the funding for the organisations that equip them for the jobs of today and tomorrow is being cut? Yet that is precisely what this Government have done.
On top of all that, the Government are now committed to cuts in corporation tax, which will cost the Exchequer billions of pounds a year. That money could be used to support working-class communities across the country. My constituency has already suffered from benefit freezes and tax credit cuts, which hurt low-income families. We have also faced cuts to police numbers, and schools—which can barely make ends meet—are doing their best and struggling heroically to help local children. If we really want to help working-class communities, we need a proper long-term plan for the smaller cities and towns, which for too long have been left out of economic prosperity. We need something that really tackles the long-term legacy of industrial closures in years gone by, and gives those areas a new and prosperous future.
A couple of months ago, I published a proposal with the think-tank Global Future to take the money that the Government are proposing to give away through the planned cuts in corporation tax, and instead to use that money to create a long-term fund for smaller cities and towns. Not going ahead with these proposed tax cuts—without raising a penny in tax anywhere else—would give us a fund of £4 billion to £5 billion a year; just think what we could do with that over a 10-year period. We could really invest in the childcare essential to help young parents take up jobs and boost their incomes. We could reclaim the land that is still derelict as a result of industrial closures and get it fit for housing again. We could give those adults who do not have enough qualifications the chance to succeed in the labour market of today. We could build a platform where we did something about the two-speed nature of our economy—a bridge between the areas already doing well and those struggling with the legacy of high unemployment, low income and low skills. That is the kind of plan we need for the future, and it is sadly missing from this Queen’s Speech.
It is a great pleasure to contribute to this debate about the economy. It is an economy that is changing, and I want to use my few minutes to speak about that change.
Technology has already transformed many of our businesses and much of our economic activity is now happening online, but of course some things have not changed. The Government still need businesses to create wealth to tax and spend on public services, and businesses still need the Government to provide the environment in which wealth can be created. But in the new digital economy, Government policy making needs to be quicker and more imaginative, and it needs to do several things at once.
Policy making needs to provide for necessary infra- structure, including broadband. It also needs to deliver the increased investment in science and research referred to in the Gracious Speech, and an immigration system designed to allow the brightest minds to contribute to our ongoing prosperity. But there is something else that policy has to do. It needs to create the ethical and regulatory frameworks within which technology advances. Now, some fear that innovation is stifled by ethical safeguards, but I think it is the opposite; I think that it can be the absence of ethical safeguards that holds innovation back.
Let us take artificial intelligence as a good example. The real potential for AI is in the intelligent utilisation of data, and lots of it. It cannot bring truly transformative improvement without that data, and much of the data it needs—some of it very sensitive—it is in the hands of individuals who understandably worry about what may be done with it. They will not make their data available if they are not persuaded that there are ethical safeguards in place to protect it. The Government need to design and implement those safeguards.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
I just want to make a comment in the light of what my right hon. and learned Friend was saying about ethics in the use of data. Does he agree that the UK has historically led the field in the creation of ethical frameworks, and that we are well placed to do so again when it comes to AI?
I agree with my hon. Friend. In the interest of saving time, he takes me directly to my next point, which is that we in the UK are well placed to do the work to which he refers. We are respected not just for our scientific expertise, but also for our regulatory expertise. I hope very much that the Government will engage fully in that task.
Finally, I urge the Government to maintain their commitment to internet safety and the reduction of online harms. I was very proud to bring forward the online harms White Paper in conjunction with a number of ministerial colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Chancellor when he was Home Secretary. That White Paper sets out a response to online harms in social media and other user-generated content that seeks to balance freedom of speech with protection of the vulnerable in a fast-moving landscape where, frankly, hardly any rules have been applied so far. I believe that the approach it sets out strikes that balance well, but we certainly heard arguments that said, “Hold back. Let someone else regulate first, in case all the investment coming into the UK now from Google, Facebook and all the rest goes somewhere else instead.” Well, I rejected those arguments then and I reject them now—not least because, as these companies generally accept, if social media and other online spaces are not seen as safe spaces, people will increasingly choose not to be there, and if people are not there, they cannot be sold anything there, so it is good business as well as good policy to make them safer. I am therefore pleased to see in the Gracious Speech a commitment to continue to develop proposals to improve internet safety, but I am disappointed not yet to see a commitment to legislate to do so. I understand Ministers’ preference to pursue pre-legislative scrutiny first, and it is important to get this right, but I urge them not to lose momentum.
At this crucial moment in the development of the digital economy, we should not just act to protect the vulnerable in our own communities; with that well-deserved reputation for both innovating and regulating effectively, we should also be proud to lead the world in making the internet a safer place.
This debate about the economy gives us an opportunity that the shadow Chancellor tried to take and the Chancellor missed, although the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) started to get to where I think this debate on the economy should be taking us. Let me explain what I mean.
My constituents in all parts of Gedling—in Carlton, Arnold, Netherfield, Colwick and Burton Joyce—say exactly the same as is being said by many people in the country: that the system, as it is currently, does not work for them. They do not believe that the way the system operates is fair and they want something done about it. And what they want from this Parliament is a vision of an economy that is different from the way it functions now.
It is such a big issue that the Financial Times—the doyen of the City of London—recently ran an editorial that itself asks the question,
“How to build a more responsible…capitalism”.
It talks about how that can be done. I hope that the new Chair of the Treasury Committee will consider whether his Committee should look at how we are going to deliver a market system that regulates itself in a way that does not allow the excesses that we have seen. This is a quote from a Guardian report on the Panama papers:
“Twitter and Facebook received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions…Aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple…billions in tax refunds by the Isle of Man and Malta to the owners of private jets and luxury yachts.”
None of us, whether we are Labour, Liberal, Scottish nationalist or Conservative—whoever we are—can believe that is right. Where in the Chancellor’s speech did it say that whoever was in government they would tackle that?
It cannot be right that multinational companies are shifting a growing share of profits offshore—£600 billion in the past year alone. Then we turn to the people who HMRC pursues for a few pounds that they owe, or the Benefits Agency pursues for a few pounds that they owe. That is not the sort of society that people want. That is not the sort of society that people think is fair. The Sunday Telegraph, on page 5, laid into the way in which investment funds work. Nigel Woodford—I have never heard of him—
Well, there you go—Neil Woodford. I have still never heard of him. We read about Terry Smith, Nick Train and Anthony Bolton, and millions of pounds of investors’ money. The money that we—hon. Members on both sides of the House—pay into savings, trust funds and pensions is put together and invested on our behalf by a system that has short-term interests and profit at its heart rather than the long-term benefit of communities. It cannot go on.
It cannot be right that my own brilliant BEIS Committee reported that the average FTSE 100 chief executive is on £4 million a year compared with the average worker on £30,000. It cannot carry on. All I wanted to hear was a Chancellor of the Exchequer who put at the heart of his Queen’s Speech contribution equality, a responsible capitalism, a change to the fast buck and a change to those people who seek to make money rather than putting people first. That is what I wanted to hear and it was seriously lacking.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who made a very powerful speech. I am proud to have been part of a Government who helped to bring in changes to tax rules and the living wage that have meant that, as the Resolution Foundation has said, we have had the biggest fall in the number of those on low pay in our economy in 40 years.
That is not what I was planning to talk about, however; I plan to talk about an industry that has not had a lot of focus over the past three and a half years. I welcome the fact that there is a financial services Bill in the Queen’s Speech. Over the past three and a half years, we have talked a lot about some very important industries. We have talked about dairy farmers and fishermen, and about the importance of car manufacturing and manufacturing generally, but we have not spent a great deal of time talking about our biggest export sector: the financial services sector. I think all of us on both sides of the House can agree that when that sector works well, it is the driver and the engine of our economy. It employs about one in 14 of all our constituents—2.3 million people, two thirds of whom are outside the M25. It pays a lot of taxes—£75 billion last year. About £1 in every £10 of public spending is funded by the financial services sector. Let me give some concrete examples. Instead of 20,000 extra police, we would be able to pay for only 18,000 extra police if those tax revenues were not there. Instead of 40 hospital expansions, we would be able to pay for only 36 if those tax revenues were not there. It is therefore a very, very important sector.
I am keen to hear from Ministers exactly what is going to be in the financial services Bill. After all, it is a sector where we have made substantial progress in terms of sound regulation. I want to know whether this Bill will be similar to the one that fell at Prorogation. I want to hear what the Government’s vision will be for regulation in this sector after we leave the EU. I see from the political declaration on the future partnership that the vision is a great deal of equivalence between the UK and EU sectors. I would be interested to hear from the Government what their vision is for how that equivalence might work. In the third declaration, only three paragraphs —paragraphs 35 to 37—cover that vision so far, so it would therefore to be good to hear Ministers elaborate on how the equivalence mechanisms might work. How will there be arbitration in terms of those equivalence mechanisms? How will there be a process of notice if one sector does not meet the equivalence criteria? How will things change when the in-flight files that currently exist in the EU in this sector have to be incorporated into UK law? What degree of manoeuvre will this place have in relation to this sector when we have left the EU? These are very important questions that we have not had enough time to debate over the past three and a half years. This sector has already seen a change in export earnings—down to £60 billion last year compared with £69 billion in 2015. It would be very valuable if, when she winds up, the BEIS Secretary could talk about how she would view this mechanism working.
The financial services sector is vital to our economy. It is vital to every single one of our constituencies and every single person who relies on financial services for their business to grow, right across the country. It would be good to hear the Government’s plan for the sector in terms of that future partnership.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), who I voted for yesterday.
Rarely before in our history have a Government presented a Queen’s Speech that will do so much damage to our economy. By placing Brexit at its heart, the Prime Minister is delivering on one promise: his crude, four-letter pledge to business. This hardest of hard Brexits is as bad as it could get, save for a no-deal Brexit. The Conservatives once claimed to be the party of business, but they can never make that claim again. Let us just go through the basic economics. Reducing access to our closest international markets is highly damaging. Tearing up our membership of the EU’s customs union and single market, the best trade deal this country has ever had, is very destructive. Exiting our country from the multiple external trade deals that the EU has achieved is simply dreadful. Then we add the red tape that our exporters will be tied up in, at a cost to the private sector of at least a whopping £7.5 billion a year.
The Conservative’s central policy of the Queen’s Speech not only harms our economy, but will plunge our public finances into crisis. Regrettably, we do not yet have an official estimate of the red ink that this hard Brexit deal will pour over Britain’s finances but, as the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said earlier, a report by UK in a Changing Europe estimates a cost to the Exchequer of between £16 billion and £48 billion a year, and a cumulative hit to borrowing of nearly £100 billion. This Government are sowing the seeds of a new austerity—a Brexit austerity, and a totally avoidable austerity.
If this Conservative Government are economically illiterate and fiscally incontinent, Labour’s shadow Chancellor is doing his best to give them cover. Take Labour’s plans to renationalise water, railways, energy and the Royal Mail. What is the cost—£100 billion, or perhaps £150 billion? Whatever the cost, it would be a calamitous waste of money. Of course there are problems with aspects of how our utilities have been operating, but there are positives, too. Just as we can fix the problems in Europe without the cost of the Conservatives’ ideological Brexit, we can fix the problems in these utilities without Labour’s costly ideology.
Take energy, for example. With the climate emergency, we must accelerate the pace of decarbonising energy, but instead Labour wants to spend years legislating for energy renationalisation—what a climate catastrophe! Liberal Democrats showed in government that if we intervene intelligently, we can harness the market to tackle climate change. Thanks to our decisions, Britain is now the global leader in offshore wind. Offshore wind farms now have much greater UK content than people ever imagined possible, and future offshore wind farms will no longer need a subsidy to be built. So if you want to go green, don’t go red, go yellow—and don’t destroy capitalism; decarbonise it.
It is this practical, business-like approach that goes through all Liberal Democrat economic policies. We start with a positive belief in markets, trade and competition, and we believe that responsible capitalism is possible. Liberal Democrats want to celebrate responsible business, and our policy of remaining in the EU is phenomenally popular with responsible business. It gives us a remain bonus to invest in our public services and our economy, to make them fairer and to equip them for the future.
On the likely eve of a general election, the voters are faced with a choice between two visions of the past and one vision of the future. In the blue corner, we have a return to the 1870s, in a colonial-style global Britain so well personified by the laid-back Leader of the House. In the red corner, we have a return to the 1970s, stoking up old class divisions when our country so desperately needs to come together. Fortunately, there is a yellow corner, from where we can go forward to the 2070s, full of hope and optimism that our country can survive this current nightmare, invest in our children and tackle climate change. As we vote against this damaging Queen’s Speech tonight and prepare to face the electorate—preferably in a referendum but, if not, in a general election —the voters can be in no doubt: the Liberal Democrats are the party for Britain’s future.
I listened carefully to the speeches made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. The shadow Chancellor said that there is too much inequality in the UK—I absolutely agree. As a one nation Conservative, I believe in equal opportunity for all, but I guess that the method of getting there is where we differ. In my view, we get there through a balance between free markets and capitalism, and a sensible amount of state intervention, to ensure that the free markets work for everybody, not just the privileged few. The difficulty is that, if we look at future challenges for the taxpayer, our scope for intervention will be very limited. Our current debt-to-GDP ratio is 80% of GDP. That is forecast to grow to 280% of GDP by 2060 unless we change our tax system. There are huge challenges ahead and huge burdens for the taxpayer, particularly in the areas of pensions, social care and healthcare. Free market opportunities will be more important than ever.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) about the reduction in the number of capitalists in this country for various reasons. G. K. Chesterton once wrote:
“Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”
If we look at where we normally get capitalists from in our society, we see that it is SMEs—young businesses starting up and building—and people getting into either the stock market or the housing market. Of those two cohorts, SMEs in particular face bigger challenges than ever in today’s economy because of the imbalances and unfairness. As other Members have said, larger companies—the Amazons, Tescos and Starbucks of this world—are able to take competitive advantage of the tax system, and as a consequence, the growth rate of SME start-ups has started to falter. Their growth rate today is lower than it has been for the last 10 years.
We know how important SMEs are. There are 5.7 million of them in the UK, and 99% of all businesses in the UK are SMEs. They employ 60% of the private sector work- force, and they are more productive in their start-up years than the rest of the economy. It is hugely important that we support the dynamic creation of new businesses.
With limited room for intervention, we have to ensure that the playing field is fair and level for all businesses. As I said in my earlier intervention, one of the imbalances is between SMEs and banks, which are so important to them, when things go wrong. We need a proper resolution process. We have seen disgraceful treatment of SMEs by banks. Where do they go when things go wrong? The new Business Banking Resolution Service is promising, and I am working with the steering group, but it unfairly excludes 85% of businesses that could apply for resolution of historical complaints. That cannot be fair.
My focus in this speech is SMEs, and I will stick to that, but my hon. Friend raises an interesting point.
If we are to have a fair and level playing field, we must ensure that our investment is spread more fairly across the regions. It is wrong that this country is firing on one cylinder when it could be firing on three or four. This is not about the north-south divide; it is London versus the rest of the country. For every £3 spent per capita in London, only £1 is spent in the regions. We need a fairer deal to help to level up our economy in the UK.
Finally, it is a shame on this country that we do not do more about tax avoidance. New rules are coming in to try to level the playing field, such as the diverted profits tax, but we must do more to ensure that everybody in the business environment pays their fair share of tax. That is how we build a fair and level playing field, encourage more SMEs to start up and scale up, and become a more productive economy. That is how we get a bit less capitalism, but a lot more capitalists.
This Queen’s Speech is nothing but a wish list, setting out a programme for government that completely ignores the new reality that looms large over our economy: the big unknown that is the post-Brexit world. The Government’s withdrawal agreement marks the most profound peacetime transformation of the economy in our country’s history. That is why, in my brief but timely tenure as interim Chair of the Treasury Committee—I welcome and congratulate the newly elected Chair, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride)—I wrote to the Chancellor last week to ask the obvious question: what is the Treasury’s analysis of the economic impact? Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s reply flatly declined to provide any such analysis. He ended his letter by saying:
“trust in democracy and bringing an end to the division that has characterised this debate over the past three years is something that cannot be measured solely through spreadsheets or impact assessments, important though they”.
What patronising drivel! This Government think they can take us for fools.
The Chancellor does not think there is any need for an economic assessment. He tells us that the previous assessments do not apply, but he will not produce a new one. He says that the new deal is
“self-evidently in our economic interest”,
but it is not at all self-evident. The overwhelming evidence is that any Brexit would lead to a weaker economy compared with staying in the EU. If the Government had evidence to the contrary, they would produce it. The Chancellor is basically telling us to ignore the economics. How can the Government have any credibility when they announce their Budget next month? If the Treasury is not interested in the economics, who in government is? Economic analysis matters. It affects our constituents’ jobs, taxes, spending, prices, interest rates, wages, and imports and exports. Surely we should have the latest and best economic evidence as we make a decision of this magnitude. We must make this decision with our eyes wide open. It is the least the public deserve from us.
As founder and co-chair of the all-party group on the east coast main line, I want to highlight the pressing need for investment in my region. The details of the Government’s proposals on rail reform are still to be finalised, but simply changing the way train operating companies work will not improve our railways in the way we need. The east coast main line is a critical piece of national rail infrastructure. It is one of the country’s most strategically important transport routes, linking the north-east to London, the east of England, the east midlands, Yorkshire, the Humber, and the east and north of Scotland, but the line cannot cope with the demands upon it. Instead of being an asset, it is now holding back the communities and economies it serves. It does not have enough capacity for today’s growth in passenger and freight, let alone for the future. Figures from the Library show a 73% rise in delay minutes on the London North Eastern Railway route connecting Newcastle and London, and around 60% of that is due to Network Rail. The Government must commit additional funding for Network Rail as a matter of urgency so it can invest in the east coast main line and improve reliability.
That is not enough though: we also need HS2 to go ahead. If we want to run more regional and local services, we need the capacity that HS2 will free up, and I am pleased to have had much support from business communities and stakeholders on this. I can understand why fellow northerners might look at the cost of HS2 and think that this money might be better spent elsewhere, but I have never seen this as an either/or choice. London has multiple infrastructure projects at any one time. Do we ever suggest it should only have one? There are worrying rumours that the Government are planning to scrap HS2. It would make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s pledge to empower the north and do nothing to solve the problems on our network. If they scrap the investment in the north, will we really get it back in another form? I do not think so.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell).
The Government’s Queen’s Speech sets out a bold and ambitious domestic agenda, focusing on the priorities of the people: sorting Brexit, investing in public services, tackling crime, boosting productivity and attracting investment. The Government are committed to creating new jobs and helping individuals and families with the cost of living. In fact, they already have a clear record of action on delivering jobs. The latest jobs figures confirm this, with over 3.6 million more people in work since 2010, meaning more people with the financial security to serve themselves and their families the length and breadth of Britain.
Further, projections from the IMF show that our economy will grow faster than those in France, Germany and Japan. Once the House finally gets its act together and delivers on the instruction of the British people in 2016 to leave the EU—an instruction that this House asked the British people to make—we will be able to realise the full benefits of Brexit and build a brighter future for our country.
We all know that no-deal Nicola and the SNP are utterly obsessed with independence, but voters across Scotland are all too acutely aware of what an absolute catastrophe independence would be for their jobs, living standards, public services, their families and the Scottish economy. Beyond the recent announcements from the Prime Minister on supporting our farmers and protecting defence jobs, let us never forget that each man, woman and child in Scotland is more prosperous and secure within the Union and the United Kingdom internal market.
This United Kingdom is the most successful union of nations the world has ever seen, and this Government are working day and night to strengthen the bonds that tie us together as one United Kingdom as we leave the European Union. As our economy transitions into a new dynamic age, spurred on by developments in artificial intelligence, precision medicine and new energy technologies, this programme for government lights the way for us to move with confidence and to reap the full benefits of the future.
As we leave the EU, we will regain control of our independent trade policy, which will allow us to discard the protectionist shell of the EU and turn our attention towards the growing markets around the globe. The siren voices of protectionism will never be silenced, but free trade is good for all, and by becoming the torch bearers of free trade, we can show the world that we are open for business and that we want to be more outward looking than ever. As part of that, I will continue to campaign for a free port for Aberdeen. I know that energy companies and subsea manufacturers in my constituency are increasingly looking for markets in Asia, Africa and the Americas. This programme will not only allow them to do so more easily, but support them to do so. This will be good for the national economy, the local economy and the financial security of my constituents.
In representing Aberdeen South, the core of the UK’s oil and gas industry, I am acutely aware of the impact of the loan charge. I have been campaigning on this and urge the Government to act and to bring something forward with immediate effect, because there are people in dire circumstances who need our support and help. I believe, however, that the Government recognise the need for a healthy and robust private enterprise economy in order to properly fund the public services that people rely on every day, which is why I welcome this Queen’s Speech. It is a Unionist programme from top to bottom, and one that will provide the stability and certainty our economy needs. That is why, without hesitation, I will vote for it tonight.
Last week, union representatives from Rolls-Royce came to see my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and me. Rolls-Royce is one of the main anchors of the UK’s aerospace sector and has operations in no less than nine EU member states. They came to tell us about their worries, the most direct and immediate being the disastrous impact that a no-deal Brexit would have on their sector. They were also clear that avoiding a no-deal Brexit was not enough, and they left us in no doubt about the importance to the long-term health of their company and their sector of preserving the frictionless trade that is key to their sector’s success and that prevents the dislocation of the integrated operations of that company and its supply chains across the EU. In short, they echoed the very issues that the aerospace, food and drink, pharmaceuticals and automotive sectors had put to the Government in a letter just the week before.
Together those sectors employ more than 1 million people in this country and contribute £98 billion to the UK economy every year. They are very concerned about the downgrade that the Prime Minister’s political declaration will mean for the economic relationship between the UK and the EU—a downgrade not only from the close alignment we already have with the EU, but even from that envisaged in the political declaration brought forward by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). That downgrade was forensically exposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) in Saturday’s debate.
I will give a few examples. The first is aerospace. Post Brexit, the UK will either be part of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency or it will not. EASA is a mechanism for aligning standards that ADS, the aerospace industry body, describes as “vital” for the sector. But we still have no clarity at all about whether the UK will remain a member.
Chemicals is not only a key industry in its own right, but an essential part of the aerospace supply chain. Sixty per cent. of UK chemical exports go to the EU and 75% of the UK’s chemical imports come from the EU. Chemicals or products containing them are bought, developed and sold backwards and forwards repeatedly between the EU and the UK. That can only happen without checks and delays and because they are governed by a common set of regulatory standards held in place by the UK’s being part of the EU’s REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—safety programme. Will we stay part of that after Brexit? We simply do not know and the political declaration leaves us none the wiser.
The automotive sector is the UK’s biggest single exporter of goods. We know that WTO tariffs, which would immediately kick in in the event of a no-deal Brexit, would be a hammer blow for the industry. However, it is not just avoiding no deal that is important; it is also about having a common rulebook of regulatory standards that remove the need for checks on goods that move over national borders.
I say to Ministers that constantly repeating the mantra that they are looking to have a “best in class”—their words—free trade agreement just will not cut it. That will not cut it, unless they provide the real and specific answers that are needed to the real and specific questions that UK industry has put to them. Unless they do that, either we will be back to the disaster that a no-deal Brexit would mean for our economy, or we will end up with something so half-baked that UK competitiveness will end up in a not very slow-motion car crash.
Nothing matters more to families and communities than creating good jobs and improving the cost of living. We have witnessed incredible economic success for our country, thanks to the careful economic management of Conservatives, and it is with confidence and positivity that I can tell the House that Stoke-on-Trent is on the up. The city’s population, economy and house prices are experiencing among the very highest growth in the country. Although we still have our challenges to overcome to reach our full potential, our local economy is now stronger and more diverse than ever before. We have a whole range of sectors calling Stoke-on-Trent their home, with companies from highest-end manufacturing to the most advanced digital industries flourishing.
Tragically, under Blair and Brown, we lost many of Stoke-on-Trent’s biggest pottery names and factories and this has left us with brownfield sites that need to be redeveloped. The Conservative-led city council is working constructively with the Conservative Government to ensure that redevelopment takes place, and the ceramics industry has experienced a revival. For example, the historic Duchess China works in Longton, which I visited recently, has been taken over by Heraldic Pottery of Newstead, with fantastic plans to increase production at this iconic site. Staffs Fitness Ltd, a supplier of gym equipment, has just moved into buildings that were once part of the Fenton Glebe colliery site. Last week, I was delighted to visit and open what is a fantastic new home for this business, demonstrating what can be achieved.
However, while we are seeing new private investment in the city, many sites remain challenging, needing remediation due to former industrial uses. It is essential that we do more to address viability constraints that hold back brownfield sites from being developed. Especially, we must build on the huge success of the Ceramic Valley enterprise zone. As I discussed with the Secretary of State for Business recently, I hope that enterprise zone can continue and can expand to cover additional sites, particularly brownfield sites in Fenton, so that we can continue to see these sites redeveloped to create good-quality jobs.
It is vital that we do more to revive our high streets, incentivising the conversion of empty properties for new businesses and residential uses, and improving our town centre infrastructure. Stoke-on-Trent is made up of six historic market towns, and Longton and Fenton are within my constituency. I am pleased to have secured a heritage action zone that is focused on Longton town centre, which I hope will address this, but to be truly transformational and to maximise the heritage action zone’s potential, we need some additional investment. I am deeply disappointed that we have so far missed out on future high streets funding, stronger towns funding and access for all funding for Longton station. The time to address the decline of our high streets in Stoke-on-Trent is now, and I know from discussions that I have had with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that he is well aware of the importance of overcoming these challenges.
On transport infrastructure, I hope that the transforming cities fund will help to address this and it is essential that Stoke-on-Trent receives the full ask of Government in the second phase. I also hope that we are successful in our bid for a fair share of the £200 million bus fund. Bus services in Stoke-on-Trent are currently dire, having been reduced beyond recognition. My constituents are regularly raising the fact that they no longer have services at all, or that services finish too early to get them home from work. The city council’s intentions are nothing short of revolutionary, and increasing the number of fast, direct, reliable, affordable and popular bus services is an absolute must.
We must also improve traffic flows. As I have long advocated, junction 15 of the M6 needs to improve and we need additional work on the A50 and the A500 to address traffic hotspots. I am delighted by the work of Midlands Connect in its strategy to address that. I also welcome its work to address rail services on the North Staffordshire-Crewe-Derby line. I am delighted my efforts have already helped to secure improvements that will soon see longer trains to address overcrowding, more services in the evenings and at weekends, and most services extending to Nottingham.
The theatre of calling on Her Majesty to read the Government’s manifesto; the drama of Parliament being called to sit on a Saturday, when all the Prime Minister had to do was write a letter; the cost to the taxpayer—all that is nothing to the elites running their show, but to my constituents it was pounds and pence that they desperately need. They are paying a far heavier price, however, for a decade of failure, which was emphasised again in the Queen’ Speech.
The Queen’ Speech exposed two things. First, the list of Bills demonstrated that Brexit will not be “done”, and that this is the start of at least a decade of Brexit talks, pushing out legislative space to deal with our national crises. Housing—not mentioned; poverty—not considered; jobs—not offered; inequality, which is stifling talent and opportunity—not even on the agenda. We should be in no doubt about the stark contrast between this Tory programme and a Government who will say anything to retain power, and a Labour programme that seeks to do everything, in a fiscally responsible way, to address people’s very real needs. Labour has a robust programme to end poverty, sort out Brexit, fix our public services, tackle climate injustice, and grow the economy through the creation of good-quality jobs.
The pursuit of Brexit, deal or no deal, will make my constituents poorer. Indeed, York will be the eighth worst hit place in the country should we leave with no deal. A deal will increase inequality in one of the UK’s most inequitable cities, yet the Government’s programme does not address how my constituents will survive this economic shock. That is why we need an economic impact assessment.
Secondly, I must draw attention to the sheer number of criminal justice Bills that are proposed, as they are symbolic in exposing how a failed decade of cuts has put my community at risk. More prison places is a sign of failure; more draconian policing is a sign of being out of control. This Queen’s Speech may result in more law, but it exposes no order.
When the wrong interests shape the economic priorities, society breaks down, and this Queen’s Speech was not the antidote. Labour has long understood that, and just as when Keir Hardie set out Labour’s first programme of policies, or when Clement Attlee rebuilt our nation after the war, today Labour’s programme will fix the broken economy. The values are the same, the priorities are the same: building the housing that families need, fixing the services they use, and creating the jobs on which they depend.
Let us not pretend that the economy is working for all—it is not. In York, the boom in luxury housing means that my constituents cannot afford to live in their city, and they have to pay more than 10 times their annual wage for a home. Waiting lists in the NHS mean that my primary care mental health service is not just being cut but is being scrapped, despite the fact that we have some of the highest levels of self-harm, eating disorders, suicide and deaths from substance misuse in the country. We hear that millions and billions are being spent on the NHS, but that is not saving lives in my constituency. I know the fixes that York needs to function, and Labour’s programme will address them. When the pursuit of power is the only objective, the cornerstones to rebuilding our communities get lost.
Behind the boisterous bluster, there is a chilling, calculated populist pursuit for power. We have seen it before; I know the story. I have read the history books, and it does not end well. This nation must wake up and recognise the signs; and in this place, from these Benches, Opposition Members have a duty to call them out. Populism does not work; it does not build houses, it does not put money into schools, it does not create jobs and it does not tackle inequality. Populism will not save my health service, but Labour will, and that is why I am proud to speak from these Benches.
I am proud that this Government have set an ambitious agenda that focuses on our priorities, not only in the short term but for once we have got Brexit done, setting out a clear vision for Britain on the issues that matter to people, such as tackling crime, boosting our NHS and dealing with the cost of living. I pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Her leadership of the country over the previous three years, and her stewardship of the economy, allowed this Government to inherit a booming UK plc and push forward on all the fronts.
In my constituency, the NHS is often raised with me on the doorstep, and I look forward to new proposals to fix the crisis in adult social care and give people the dignity and security that they rightly deserve. My constituents will also appreciate efforts to reform the Mental Health Act 1983 and ensure that people get the support they need. I am pleased to have on my patch the first in-patient adolescent mental health facility in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly for young people aged between 13 and 18. I joined Phil Confue, chief executive of Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, for a tour of the recently opened Sowenna unit, and it is great to see the funding that the Government have allocated to the NHS being spent on the ground to do the things that people want. NHS England describes the facility as the best young person’s mental health facility in the country and it is right on our doorstep, in Bodmin. Children in Cornwall will no longer have to access services way out of county. This type of facility is the kind of blueprint that other rural constituencies need.
The Government are committed to tackling violent crime, strengthening the criminal justice system and ensuring that victims receive the support they need and quite rightly deserve. A new sentencing Bill will change the automatic release point from half sentences to two-thirds sentences for adult offenders serving sentences for four years or more for serious violence and sexual offences. Thanks to the fantastic work of the Blue Collar Conservative movement in this House, a police protection Bill will support the police by establishing a police covenant that recognises the bravery, commitment and sacrifice of our police officers.
Once we leave the EU, we will have an agriculture policy that will reform UK agriculture. Rather than tell my farmers in North Cornwall how their industry should be run, we have listened to them and are working with them so that they can run the land, rear their livestock and harvest their fields. It is clear from my farmers that they want better standards and increases in protections. The fisheries Bill will enable us to reclaim control over our waters, righting a historical injustice that has existed in this industry for a long, long time.
A financial services Bill will provide certainty and stability to maintain our world-leading regulatory standards and keep the UK open to international markets after Brexit.
As part of the greenest Government ever, we have an Environment Bill to protect our planet for future generations, with measures including a new office for environmental protection, more local powers to tackle air pollution and charges for single-use plastics. We do not just talk about climate change; we deal with climate change.
Finally, some have raised this issue previously, but on the doorsteps in North Cornwall at the moment the biggest issue outside Brexit relates to Barclays bank and the post office. I implore the Treasury to apply as much pressure as it can for my constituents to ensure that they are able to access cash. Many of my constituents do not want to use cashpoints or online banking; they want to have access to cash, and the post office is the last port of call in many of my villages. Please, Minister, put all the pressure on Barclays you can, because my constituents are rooting for you.
I would like to use the short time I have to focus on the issues of fiscal responsibility, public spending and public debt, which have been much debated in the Queen’s Speech, including by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. I make it clear that I welcome the Government’s public spending commitments, which are long overdue. As they stand they are inadequate, but they are a step forward. However, what is significantly absent from the Queen’s Speech, and from any other pronouncement I have heard from either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor, is how they will be funded.
Will the Government’s public spending commitments be funded through economic growth? I doubt it. Last quarter, debatably, we were in recession. Even the most optimistic estimates reckon that we will be flatlining for months to come. Indeed, if we look at current investment in our manufacturing, which is so crucial to economic growth, the idea that we will fund them through economic growth is, quite frankly, fantasy.
What about taxes? The Government are placed to reduce taxes; they are not demonstrating how they are going to increase them, so no information there. The fact is that the only alternative has to be borrowing and that is already looking pretty dicey. Even the current level of borrowing is an increase of 20% on the previous year. The deficit is currently projected to be in the region of £40 billion this year. That is expected to rise to a deficit of £50 billion-plus, with the £13 billion we are committed to spend next year.
In a moment, I will come on to talk about the impact of no deal and even the Government’s withdrawal agreement. This is incredibly worrying, because the Government have not indicated how we are going to fund all this. I welcome it, but it is potentially very damaging indeed.
The Government have not given any economic impact assessment of the withdrawal agreement. On the one hand, they tell us we have to decide within two days of debating, because we have had three and a half years of debate, but on the other hand they say, “We haven’t enough time to do an economic assessment.” Perhaps someone can square those particular arguments; I cannot. Happily, a number of organisations have done an assessment, and they have made it clear that under the withdrawal agreement, we will potentially be £50 billion a year out of pocket—£20 billion more than the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates. We are heading towards the sort of debt levels that were portrayed under Labour as a prelude to economic apocalypse. Indeed, this argument was rehearsed again by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would like to know why something that was portrayed 10 years ago in such a light should suddenly have morphed miraculously into a springboard for some sort of economic growth in the halcyon years that will come post Brexit. That does not make sense. The fact is that the Government were wrong in 2010 and they are wrong now. That is why I will vote against the Queen’s Speech.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Let us contrast where we are today with the background we inherited in 2010. We have unemployment down by 1.3 million—a 50% reduction from 2010. We have halved the number of young people who are out of work. We have made progressive increases to the national living wage. We have had a tax cut for 32 million through much bigger than inflation increases to the personal allowance, meaning that a basic rate taxpayer—the lower-paid—are paying £1,205 less in tax. Add that to increases in the national living wage, and the take-home pay—what lands in people’s bank accounts—is £4,000 more for the lower-paid, and that really matters.
We have reinforced our position as a world leader in financial services. That industry provides £127 billion of value added to our economy, paying £29 billion in tax and with a trade surplus of £61 billion. We have seen corporation tax reduced from artificially high levels of 28% to 19% today, and that will come down to 17%. That is a key driver in making sure that Britain remains a place to do international business and in keeping businesses that might consider going abroad in this country earning money for us. We have an infrastructure plan of the kind that we have never seen before to increase services on our roads and rail, and, of course, superfast broadband, on which we have been lagging behind for some time.
In the limited time left to me, I want to concentrate on our tax system. We need a debate about liberating our tax system to make sure that risk versus reward is properly in place and we do not penalise those who are willing to take risks and employ people to earn the money in the future. We have done very good work with the personal allowance, increasing it from the 2010 rate of £6,475 to £12,500 today. If we had had an inflation rate of 27%—on the figures during that period—we would have had a personal allowance of only £8,230, so we have got rid of the fiscal drag in that system. I am asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he progresses towards his Budget, to consider the other aspects of fiscal drag that we have seen over the years.
For instance, on inheritance tax, the £325,000 limit has remained unchanged since 2009, whereas the house price index shows that house prices have increased quite substantially. We have had the main residence nil-rate band, but it has its complications, so this is a plea that we address fiscal drag across the system. We should treat tax not as though it is one move at a time; we need to play it strategically. We have done lots to improve the stamp duty system by getting rid of the rather hated slab system some years ago, but we are now seeing the additional 3% second property surcharge and, with the rates that exist at higher levels, a reduction in the tax take. We saw an increase in the tax take when we reduced the higher rate of income tax from 50p to 45p, and I propose that we can do the same with stamp duty.
I have advanced many of my proposals on capital gains tax to the Treasury, because I perceive there to be hundreds of thousands of properties stuck in second ownership owing to the application of penal CGT rates to those who own second properties but do not rent them out. We have a great opportunity to put our tax system back on the right footing—and please, please, let us not return to those old times when we penalised such people; let us support them.
Let me begin by informing the House that I am a vice- chair of the all-party parliamentary group on blockchain.
At a time of great change, politically, economically and socially, we should be mindful of the technological change that is taking place in these momentous days. From the challenges posed to liberal democracy though the industry of fake news—mentioned by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker)—to the unbridled and unregulated sphere of social media, the economy of today in no way reflects the economy of yesterday. It is, indeed, an economy about to be further brutalised by a Government who are wedded to the worst types of mercantilism. This is a world in which we must challenge that economic vision with a simple word: trust.
How is it possible, in the 21st century, for the Government of the UK to fail to recognise the simple fact that trustworthy economies are more stable and have more positive economic and social outcomes that benefit their citizens? What is trustworthy about a Government who place one part of the Union at a competitive advantage at the expense of the rest? How is it possible that the Government have thrown the Democratic Unionist party under the Brexit bus, and also seek to remove Scotland from the largest liberal democratic single market and customs union in the world? The simple fact is that this Government cannot be trusted with Scotland’s economy.
It would be easy to list the Government’s failures, but I am sure that that litany of despair requires a debate of its own, so instead I shall mention some of the innovative and dynamic opportunities that are available to nations that are willing to participate in a trustworthy fashion. We need to look at new technologies such as blockchain, which, although not in itself a panacea, can be a valued asset in the delivery of public services by a range of public and private agents. According to the recently published European Commission report “Blockchain now and tomorrow’’, this technology can assist the delivery of transparency, security and increased trust across a range of fields including medicine, asset transaction, finance, education and the energy sector, and, critically, it can assist the resilience of the economic infrastructure. Only last April, the United States Department of Energy announced, through its National Energy Technology Laboratory, phase 2 of its blockchain-based electricity grid security pilot. Meanwhile, the UK thought that it might be good to give Huawei the 5G network and allow the People’s Republic of China to build our nuclear power stations.
The last thing that Scotland needs at this critical point is removal from the largest coherent customs union and single market in the world, so let us look to its closest allies and EU partners to see how we can combat that narrative. One of those partners is none other than Estonia, a nation of 1.5 million with a rather large domineering neighbour in a state of flux, and a nation whose only contact with the outside world at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union was a single secret mobile phone held by the then Prime Minister. Cut to 2019, and it is a digital society like no other, sitting at the top table of the European Union and named as the most advanced digital society in the world. Yet in 2007 the impact of a cyber-attack closed down its Parliament and major public services. That attack had a profound and, indeed, practical outcome for Estonia.
Even before Satoshi—of whom most people in the Chamber will never have heard—released their blockchain paper, the Estonians were ahead of the game. They called it “hash-linked time stamping”. Since 2012, blockchain has been at the centre of its national economic infrastructure, in its health service, its judiciary, its legislature and its national security, as well as across a whole raft of commercial fields.
I am heartened by the fact that at least the Scottish Government, even with their limited powers, are pushing ahead. We need only read their report entitled “Distributed Ledger Technologies in Public Services” to see that blockchain represents a new opportunity for the creation of natively digital public services, building on the substantial policy framework of the Christie report on public service reform.
I hope the Minister recognises that the future is already here. If the Government are unable to commit themselves to achieving trust in the digital age by ensuring honesty, consideration and accountability, they should get out of the way and let Scotland set its own economic destiny.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I obviously want to praise the Government for their Queen’s Speech. Some of today’s announcements on infrastructure and broadband will bring real benefits to Scotland, actually delivering where the devolved authorities have failed on so many measures—failing on their R100 targets, failing on their landfill targets, failing on their education targets, failing on their mental health targets. Even in areas that are exclusively devolved, the SNP continues to underperform, and that is why it is so important that the UK Government make it clear that they are there for every constituent in Scotland, as they are for those in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and anywhere else in our United Kingdom and overseas territories.
Unsurprisingly, we will talk about Scotland, and we have been talking about Scotland today, but I shall focus on some aspects in the Queen’s Speech that will improve our infrastructure and help boost our productivity. The broadband investment and the increase that, hopefully, will be coming through the shared rural network will help increase mobile connectivity in the most hard-to-reach parts of my constituency and also further north up into the islands. It will also give us the opportunity for further investment in our local communities, which I will come on to in just a minute.
Labour Members were taking issue with the economic literacy and performance of the United Kingdom Government. I would just like to say that, even in spite of some of the issues and challenges that are exposed through Brexit—let us face it, GDP growth has slowed since the referendum was announced in 2015—the UK is still performing pretty strongly in a European context. Its performance is still stronger than that of Germany, which is not facing Brexit and is a well-known advanced economy. So I do not think Brexit is the cause of all our ills. It is also not right to blame any of our European partners for some of the structural weaknesses in our country, such as our productivity and labour market capacity, which, of course, we need to increase.
The Queen’s Speech is important and the Budget will be even more important in showing my constituents why the UK Government actually work for them. Yes, over the past two years, we delivered the VAT changes to get £35 million back for our police and fire services; yes, we corrected the historical injustice of 2013 to make sure that our farmers got the right amount of convergence funding, and got £50 million on top of that to put us on a fair footing looking forward, so our agricultural and rural communities get the funding they deserve; and yes, in this last spending review alone, we got £1.2 billion more put to the Scottish block fund, which is more than we received in EU structural funding between 2010 and 2016. That shows the value of the United Kingdom and the performance of this United Kingdom Government.
Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, we have a Government who continuously underperform. Business confidence has been trailing behind that in the rest of the UK since before 2014, and we have a £1 billion tax gap that was exposed just in the last year. So the SNP consistently asks for more powers, but every time it gets them it underperforms. On economics, we have that £1 billion tax gap and, as I have said, business confidence is way behind the rest of the UK. On welfare, we were told that a welfare agency could be established within 18 months, yet it has been deferred for over seven years. So the SNP is completely underperforming for our constituents.
It is vital for my constituents to understand that the UK Government are there for them. Whether in our rural towns such as Crieff or in former industrial areas such as Alloa and other towns in Clackmannanshire, it is clear the Government mean to deliver. I hope that in the Budget they will expand the stronger towns fund to Scotland, and I also hope they will continue to look at the Budget references and proposals from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist group, which will support our whisky industry, help our rural towns and communities and give us the opportunity to show that, actually, when our Government work together—central, devolved and local—we can perform for all our constituents and be proud to be Scottish and British together.
I have always thought that the operation of democracy in a marginal seat is rather like the operation of capitalism: red in tooth and claw. Defending a majority of, say, 249 is rather like trying to run a company in a market that is very competitive; I have done both and what it teaches me is that we must concentrate on what is important in life. Therefore, following the passionate speech about Scotland made by the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham), I intend to speak about a region that has just a slightly larger population: Yorkshire and the Humber.
I welcome in the Queen’s Speech the reference to a White Paper on English devolution; this is unfinished business for us all. Some 18 councils from all parties in Yorkshire have come up with a scheme for One Yorkshire devolution. Economic analysis of that suggests it could add £30 billion to the Yorkshire economy, using the Yorkshire identity and the Yorkshire brand to promote and get inward investment to improve transport and skills.
It is a welcome sign that the Prime Minister has said that he is “mad keen” on the principle of a One Yorkshire deal, but is that going to go the same way as his belief that there should not be a border in the Irish sea? There is a degree of worry in Yorkshire: how much does this promise mean? The Yorkshire councils have all said that they would move to a situation where they would agree to limited deals—not involving the whole county—until 2022, when the term of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), the Mayor of South Yorkshire, ends, if the principle of One Yorkshire devolution is accepted.
But there is the problem of the Yorkshire backstop. The Government are saying that they will not agree to these interim deals unless there is agreement to balkanise Yorkshire in 2022 if no further agreement is reached. There would be four Mayors across the whole of Yorkshire, all competing with one another. We must stop that waste of public money and this balkanisation. The good news is that the Archbishop of York came down to this House and the Labour party, the Liberals and the Greens all agreed to support One Yorkshire in their next manifestos. It is to be hoped that the Government will, too.
Moving on rapidly to transport, I was in Transport questions this morning, and there does now seem to be doubt about whether HS2 will come to Yorkshire. If it does come to Yorkshire, it looks like it will go via Manchester, for some reason. It is always good to go to Manchester, but it is not the most obvious route for a train from London to Leeds. I call upon Transport for the North. John Cridland, who is the current chair has got a big job. He is also on the HS2 review committee. Which side is he going to be on—Transport for the North or that review committee? He must make that decision because we need Transport for the North to bat for the north.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) made a passionate speech. He spoke about the inequalities in our society, as did the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). I suggest just two texts that we should look at in that regard. The other day, the Employee Ownership Association published a report calling for a national strategy on employee ownership. Seven per cent. of firms, including John Lewis, are employee-owned. The report suggested giving tax advantages, and making funds available when there are succession problems and so on, to create employee-owned funds. That could transform our economy, because such firms tend to be firms where there is higher productivity.
Finally, let us not forget the Asda workers. Next week, many of them will have to sign on the dotted line to sign away their rights in favour of so-called flexible working. The sooner we get a right at least to request a more stable employment contract, the better our society will be.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech. It is wide-ranging and relevant and it has ambition for the country and the regions.
As a Greater Manchester MP, I understand the importance of ensuring that the benefits of a prospering economy reach every corner of the UK. For decades, the north of England has lagged behind the rest of the UK, especially London, economically, but the devolution agenda, in the guise of the northern powerhouse, set in motion by the Conservatives in government, has changed and empowered the ambition of the northern city regions and Greater Manchester has been at the forefront. The plans for a national infrastructure strategy are timely and I welcome its two key aims.
Investment in vital infrastructure and improving living standards are principal drivers of change, and the ability to deliver better jobs and opportunities is the foundation of a healthy and productive local economy. Opportunity begins with education. Because of the historically low levels of funding in Stockport, our schools have received significantly less per pupil than other areas, so I welcome the recent increase in funding, with all but three of the schools in Cheadle benefiting, in some cases by almost £500 extra per pupil.
When we properly fund our children’s education we are investing in their future and expanding their opportunities in employment. Low unemployment in Cheadle indicates a strong economy, but the ambition across our region is also for greater employment opportunities, particularly in developing a high-tech, digital and biotech business environment that will see the Cheshire-Manchester science corridor rival that of Cambridge. The first industrial revolution began in Manchester, and this national infrastructure strategy heralds the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution in the north.
Delivering higher-quality, better-paid jobs is not simply an end in itself, but links to a healthier population and a more productive workforce and economy. We can close the productivity gap between London and the north more easily with a healthier workforce. Health is a driver of a strong economy. Recently, the Northern Health Science Alliance highlighted the link between increased health spending in the north and productivity. Its “Health for Wealth” report indicated a strong link between health spending and the boost in productivity that we can expect. That is why the increased funding package for the NHS and the £30.6 million for Stepping Hill Hospital in my constituency are most welcome.
Transport is also devolved in Greater Manchester, and while I await the Mayor’s plans for the implementation of measures made possible through the Bus Services Act 2017, I ask the Government to consider how they can support any changes that may be implemented. My constituents should not have to endure an undue financial burden to accommodate the Mayor’s franchising proposals.
A national infrastructure strategy needs a national infrastructure project. I was initially pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail between Manchester and Leeds, and I, along with other northern MPs, will continue to press for its full completion. Delivering on the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals would mean that businesses and commuters will be within 90 minutes by train of four or more of our largest cities. I have also made representations to the Oakervee review, stressing the importance of HS2 to the north and to my constituents. Rail projects between north and south and east and west should be delivered from the north and delivered as one national infrastructure project.
The second key strand to the strategy is addressing the critical challenges posed by climate change, building on the UK’s world-leading commitment to achieve net zero emissions. I therefore welcome the Environment Bill. However, I urge the Government to consider what more can be done about flooding, because homes and livelihoods in my constituency have been put at risk. Repeated flooding has caused many people to be out of their homes for some time, yet they are unable to access resilience funding, so I ask the Government to consider a permanent resilience fund.
The Queen’s Speech had nothing to say about debt but, unfortunately, debt continues to blight millions of our citizens, and the situation is getting worse. Nearly a third of people expect their finances to worsen in the next year, with only 14% expecting their situation to improve. The number of people saving is dropping, with a quarter of British adults having no savings at all. I am pleased that the Government have committed to breathing space, even though it will only come in in 2021, but what about the other plank in that strategy: statutory debt repayment plans? They will need primary legislation, and I was surprised to see no plan for that in the Queen’s Speech.
In the meantime, the Government can do much more to help those who have fallen into problem debt. We need increased funding for debt advice. I am not just talking about public money; I am talking about initiatives such as the Financial Conduct Authority’s levy on lenders and the “fair share” scheme. The banks are simply not paying enough, and the utility companies are not stepping up to the plate by joining the scheme. It is great to have policies for vulnerable customers and to try to prevent debt, but people will fall into debt because they lose their job or become sick. If organisations will not act voluntarily, there is a strong case to compel them, and Her Majesty’s Treasury should take note.
The Government also have an important role to play in reducing debt by overhauling their own debt collection practices, particularly the use of bailiffs. At the very least, we need an independent regulator of bailiffs and a commitment to use a fairer and more enlightened form of debt collection that puts the ability to pay first. The Government should also look at the policies that are helping to create debt in the first place, such as the freezing of benefits since April 2016 and the five-week wait for universal credit claims. Some 49% of benefit claimants affected by the freeze have struggled to meet essential costs, and many are using food banks. The Government should end the freeze and reduce the five-week wait by bringing forward the first non-repayable payment to no later than two weeks into a universal credit claim.
Another struggling group are the 1950s-born women. They did the right thing. They worked; they brought up their children, and many looked after elderly relatives, but they have been hit by successive rises to the pension age. The women who had just 18 months’ notice under the Pensions Act 2011 were particularly hard hit, so it is of no surprise that many of them tell me that they are falling into debt or using food banks. They are angry, and rightly so, that their great contribution has been of so little value to this Government.
I commend St John Rigby College, Winstanley College and Wigan and Leigh College, which take students from across my constituency. They have struggled with underfunding for many years, but they continue to provide an excellent education for young people. It is time to raise the rate.
Older people, families and young people are all struggling. Few have any confidence that their finances will improve. There is much this Government could have done not just to improve the safety net when people need a little help but to ensure that the safety net is needed less and less.
It is always a pleasure to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue). What she says about debt and the issues around debt needs to be addressed.
On this final day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, it is right that we focus on the economy, which underlies and funds all the vital public services on which we depend. Without a strong economy, we would not be able to invest in law and order to recruit 20,000 extra police officers. I agree with the Prime Minister’s focus on reforming sentencing, and we also need the 10,000 additional prison places. That is a key part of what we can do with a stronger, more robust economy.
There is more money for education, with £14 billion to level up standards and to level up investment in education right across the country.
A stronger economy delivers for our local communities, too. The Mayor of Greater Manchester created the town centre challenge fund a couple of years ago, and I wanted Atherton in my constituency to receive money to improve our town centre. Unfortunately, Wigan Council, which has been running the show so badly for such a long time, said that Atherton town centre needs so much more work than the fund can afford that it had decided not even to put Atherton forward for the funding. The contrast between the leadership of Wigan Council and the leadership of Bolton Council is profound.
I am pleased the Government are championing the cause of our towns. For so many years, we have heard about the north-south divide, and we are increasingly hearing about the divide between our cities and our towns. I am pleased the Government are supporting Bolton with £25 million from the stronger towns fund, which is incredibly important. The future high streets fund is also investing up to £150,000 in the town centres of Bolton and Farnworth. Such rebalancing between our cities and towns is important.
The leadership of Bolton Council is looking after the smaller towns and villages in the Borough of Bolton, as well as looking to secure £1.2 billion of investment in Bolton. As the centre of our borough, it is important that we get investment in Bolton. The council is also investing £4 million each in four of our smaller towns and local centres to make sure our local towns get the investment they need. It is about rebalancing the north and south and rebalancing our cities and towns, but it also about rebalancing between the larger towns and smaller towns in boroughs such as Bolton.
I am pleased the Government have a strong focus on health, which is incredibly important. I am particularly pleased to see the investment to create a medical training college in Bolton. Bolton College, Bolton University, the local clinical commissioning group and Bolton Council have a vision for investment in health, which is so important to the country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green). This Queen’s Speech shows an incredible level of ambition, with 26 Bills and no Government majority to deliver them. High hopes indeed this Government have for our nation. Or could it be, just possibly, that the Government have no ambition at all to deliver this programme and it is nothing more than a naked pre-election stunt? Please do not call a Division on that, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Prime Minister claims to be turning on the spending taps, but the truth is that the trickle of money from the Government goes nowhere near reversing the level of cuts the Conservatives have introduced since 2010. For the Welsh Government, that has meant a decade of diminishing budgets; even with the Chancellor’s extra £600 million for Wales, the Welsh Government’s budget for 2021 will be £300 million lower in real terms that it was in 2010-11. My Neath Port Talbot Council has had to remove more than £80 million from its budget since 2010 and it is expected to find a further £42 million of cuts between now and 2023. Some 28,000 local government jobs in Wales have been lost since 2010.
As budget cuts have gone deeper and deeper, it has become impossible to sustain local services. Dedicated residents have volunteered to run libraries in Taibach, Briton Ferry and Cymmer, as well as the Noddfa community hall, the Gwynfi miners hall and the Afan Valley swimming pool. While the Government have stood by, our communities have stood up, but they should not have to; community action should be in addition to the state, not in place of it.
Fair funding also means replacing EU funding postBrexit. Regional development funding has been crucial in boosting less prosperous areas all over the UK. My constituency is one of those areas that has benefited. Last year, I set up the all-party group on post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas, which I chair. We have a real fear that the promised UK shared prosperity fund, which will replace EU funds, will be not only a financial grab, but a power grab by a UK Tory Government clawing back powers that sit naturally with the devolved Administrations. The great advantage of the current EU system is that it is data-driven and evidence-based, thus guarding against pork barrel politics. There is a real worry that the SPF will become a politicised slush fund, with a Conservative Government using it to buy votes in marginal seats. There is still no news on the SPF from Ministers. It has already been delayed and time is now running out for organisations on the ground, which need to plan for the future.
The Welsh are a proud, resilient people. We are not looking for special treatment. We are looking for a fair deal, and that is true of people across Britain. The Government like to cite headline employment figures, but when we scratch below the surface, we see insecure work and low pay, and, as a result, low productivity. In the UK economy, all that glitters is not gold. The Chancellor offers warm words on an infrastructure plan, but does this really cut the mustard, after 40 years of an economy built on the agglomeration of wealth, power and opportunity in our major cities, at the expense of industrial, rural and coastal areas? We need real change; a national investment bank with regional divisions; a green jobs revolution, underpinned by a 21st-century steel industry; and a proper alterative to post-16 academic education. This is the whole-nation politics that Britain, Wales and the people of Aberavon need and deserve. This is the vision, and the Queen’s Speech will fail miserably to deliver on it.
Thank you for drawing me out first in the ballot this morning, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not sure how long we will have to get the Bill through, but perhaps I should be less keen on an election now than I was first thing this morning.
This Queen’s Speech offers a plethora of things that will be warmly welcomed in my constituency: getting Brexit sorted; £34 billion for the NHS; £14 billion for schools; 20,000 more police officers; longer prison sentences; a world-leading Environment Bill; faster broadband; and investment in infrastructure. With a list like that, what’s not to like? It is almost churlish to think of some ideas that the Government have not included, but I have three and a half minutes left, so I ought to have a go. First, may I urge the Government that we need a bit of a focus on what we need to do to improve things in the harder-to-reach parts of the country? I would include in that the smaller towns in constituencies such as mine, where investment has not come at the rate it has into cities or other parts of the country and where investment in schools has lagged behind. The rise to £5,000 from next year gives my local schools a 6% increase overall and is greatly welcome, but we have not got school standards in the white working-class areas of the country, especially for boys, anything like as good as we would need them to be. Perhaps it is now time for a targeted focus on how we get standards in areas that are behind up to the national average.
Another issue is how local economies retain the skills of people when they have perhaps been to university or elsewhere, rather than having brain drain when they move elsewhere. I support an idea from local employer David Nieper Ltd, which would like to have some extra support so that small and medium employers can sponsor young people from the area through university courses that their businesses need, in return for those young people working in the businesses afterwards. Perhaps a version of the R&D tax credit for a skills tax credit could help in that situation. It would keep people in the local area and they would end up with less debt. It would be a win all round.
Let me touch on what else we could do to boost the regional economy once we have left the EU and have much more freedom for our tax regime. One thing we should look into is what tax-varying powers we could use for the regions of England, rather than thinking that that can be done only for the devolved nations. I cannot see any reason why we could not have a lower corporation tax rate in the midlands and the north, to encourage business investment in those areas rather than just in the south-east. Why could we not have a different business rates regime? Why could we not have lower air passenger duty to boost connectivity into regional airports, rather than the crowded south-east? All these things would boost the regional economy, and they would not need to be applied in London so would not cost quite so much money.
Finally, I should mention the very welcome Pension Schemes Bill that was announced in the Queen’s Speech. It has not been the subject of much excitement today. The really important measure in it is the one on the pension dashboard, which will mean our constituents will all be able to find out exactly how much pension they have saved. There is a real risk, though, that they will find out that they do not have enough. We need to do more to boost saving, for both pensions and other things. I urge the Government to think about that.
We have successfully escalated auto-enrolment levels without the opt-out levels that were feared. Is it not now time to try to increase savings levels a bit earlier than the mid-2020s, so that we can try to get people to save the amount that we know they really need? Is there any way that we can add some flexibility into the system, so that perhaps people in their early 20s are not faced with a choice between saving for a pension and saving for a deposit on a house? Is there a way they could use their pension to get on the housing ladder? That would be a huge asset in their retirement and save them paying housing costs.
Overall, I am more than happy to support the Queen’s Speech. It delivers on most of my constituents’ priorities, and I commend it to the House.
This is a Queen’s Speech for a parallel universe. It was called to set out an electioneering position for a Tory party that had planned that, by now, we would be about to launch into a general election. I am afraid it has all the hallmarks of a hollow, shallow, arrogant Government who seek to put party before country, with a hard Brexit that will hit my area and the people I am so proud to represent harder than anywhere else in the country.
We have already had decades of being left behind in this unequal, loaded economy. Through no fault of their own, the people of Teesside and Redcar are struggling more than most. Unemployment in our area currently stands at 4.8%, as opposed to 3.1% nationally. Some 43% of our households have no adult in work and a third have at least one person with a long-term health problem or disability. The number of young people not in education, training or employment is two and a half times the national average. Why should the young people of Redcar and Cleveland not have the same opportunity as those elsewhere in the country to live, work, flourish and prosper?
One in 10 people in my area have no qualifications at all. There are seven secondary schools and a college in my constituency, yet only one of those institutions offers A-levels. Out of our total of 54 schools, 53 have had funding cuts—that is £27.8 million taken out of our local schools, or £349 taken from every single one of Redcar’s children.
There is a wider crisis in respect of the children in our borough and the challenges for the families who look after them. A quarter of our children live in poverty and, since 2012, Redcar and Cleveland has seen a 73% increase in the number of children going into care. This is a crisis, and all while £90 million has been cut from Redcar and Cleveland’s budget by the Tories and their coalition with the Lib Dems. It is not sustainable.
It is upsetting for me to have to say all this—I do not want to have to stand here and plead our poverty. We should not be in this situation, with the use of food banks surging as universal credit has left people in debt and desperation, and as crime rises out of control because we have lost 500 officers and £40 million has been cut from our local police force. Drug dependency and suicides are on the increase as people feel bereft of hope and opportunity. This is a failure of Tory policy. It is a failure of our economy and our society to ensure that towns such as Redcar and the people I represent can fulfil their potential. That is why I will not take one single step towards a Brexit policy that, as its own architects admit, will make our people poorer. We have so much potential to flourish and succeed. Just as we were once the old smoggy engine of the industrial revolution, so we can be the new, clean, environmentally friendly engine of the green, low-carbon industrial renaissance.
We need a Government who will invest in us. Where is the money for the reclamation of the SSI steelworks site that the Chancellor himself closed four years ago, costing us 3,000 jobs and ending 175 years of steelmaking on Teesside? The Government have turned their back on us and are leaving the reclamation to be funded by potential future business rates, robbing our local authorities of even more money and threatening that dangerous and even deadly work could be done on the cheap.
Where is our investment for carbon capture and storage that could create 1 million jobs in the chemical industry? Where is the support for great institutions such as TTE Technical Institute and Redcar College to give young people the skills and apprenticeships they need? Where is the support for Teesside’s hydrogen economy to produce heat, to green our transport and to help us to hit our net-zero targets? Where is the Government’s backing for the huge Sirius Minerals project that is now at risk, along with 1,000 jobs? Three hundred jobs are already gone because the Treasury pulled the plug on its support. British Steel still sits on a knife edge. The people of Redcar and Teesside stand ready to get back on their feet. They are desperate to work, but they cannot do it alone. There is nothing in this Queen’s Speech for them.
I am pleased to be able to make a short contribution in response to the Gracious Speech. There is much to be welcomed in this Queen’s Speech, and it is a testament to the Government’s stewardship of the economy that we are able to put some of these actions forward.
I had wanted to remind the House a little bit about the toxic economic inheritance that we received back in 2010 and then how, over the past decade, we have transformed the UK economy, which has allowed us to invest in our important public services, but I fear that I do not have the time. We have come a long way, but there is always more to do. This Queen’s Speech, I believe, starts that process and builds on the progress.
We are putting more money into hospitals. We have heard about the £14 billion that is going into schools, and we are funding 20,000 extra police officers, 135 of whom I will see in my Essex constituency. There is therefore much to welcome, but I cannot make a contribution to this debate without talking about the first and foremost Bill in the Queen’s Speech—the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
I was very pleased when, earlier this week, the Second Reading of the Bill received approval, but I was disappointed when the programme motion failed. Had it passed, there would have been a huge sigh of national relief, and it is a shame that we have a Bill that has passed but can go no further. Some 73% of my constituents voted to leave the EU and, three and a half years on, they cannot understand why we have not left. Just pushing the can further down the road will not solve this problem. Everything that can be said about Brexit has been said twice already. No vote will change because of words spoken in this Chamber. We just need to get on with it. If we cannot get on with it, we will need to have a general election.
There are other things to which I want to refer. I particularly welcomed the announcement of the proposal to introduce the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) also welcomes that Bill. It is of particular importance not only to me, but to my constituent Linda Jones. Her daughter, Danielle, was murdered by her uncle, who has continually refused to disclose the location of her body. The Bill is also important to numerous other families affected by this tragic and cruel crime, including Marie McCourt, whose daughter, Helen—after whom Helen’s law is named—was murdered. Although the announcement is welcome, the Government need to ensure that all relevant parole hearings that are in process are paused until the Bill is enacted so that no one is disadvantaged by the timing.
While there are all the other Bills that I welcome, I want to focus on the science aspect of the Queen’s Speech for the last 45 seconds of my contribution. As a former Chair of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on artificial intelligence and the Government’s envoy for engineering, I recognise that this Government have done a huge amount for science over the last 10 years and have promised to do more, including by investing £7 billion in our research and development base over the next five years. We are a global science power. We punch well above our weight; pound for pound, we create more citations internationally than any other country. This Government are doing all they can to protect and nurture that base. I ask Ministers to please continue to make scientists from around the world welcome in the UK so that the best and brightest always base themselves here.
This will be my last Queen’s Speech after 18 years in this place, as I have announced that I will not be standing at the next general election. I will miss some things, but not jumping up and down for hours to get the opportunity to speak—I have to say that I have not enjoyed that at all.
Let me begin with the withdrawal agreement and Brexit itself, because it will have a huge impact on my constituency and the port of Holyhead, which is the fastest growing port in the whole United Kingdom in terms of trade with Europe. It is massive. A border down the Irish sea will mean tariffs and added costs for Welsh communities and businesses, and checks that will take time and delay cargoes. For the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say in his opening remarks that no economic impact assessment is necessary shows his lack of understanding of the policy that his Government are pushing through. The Brexit Secretary does not understand the implications of tariffs and customs checks either, and of course the Prime Minister said that there would never be a border down the Irish sea. It is not a border; it is an economic iron curtain for many of us in Wales, and it is really disappointing that the Government have done this.
We have no impact studies, but the Welsh Government reckon there will be a 7% reduction in the Welsh economy over the next 15 years. That is probably why the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not want to produce the figures—because he knows that there will be a negative impact.
I want to try to be as positive as I can about the Queen’s Speech, although it will be difficult. I welcome the Environment Bill because we need to build consensus on the challenge of climate change and a low-carbon economy. I want to see a UK Government working with the devolved Administrations on this. There are good practices in other parts of the United Kingdom that we need to adapt into Bills here, including on a low- carbon infrastructure.
If we are serious about climate change, we need a revolution in renewables, but we also need to invest in carbon capture and storage—and, yes, in new nuclear. If we are to reach our target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, we need to double our low-carbon infrastructure. We have an infrastructure plan, but it is not ambitious enough. We need to work together on this now. We need a low-carbon revolution—not just in energy generation, but in our homes and the built environment. We need to do it street by street and community by community, with gas fitters being replaced by solar and underground storage engineers. It has to be done now and it can be done. Mr Deputy Speaker, you and I are old enough to remember North sea gas coming online. That revolution employed thousands of well-paid engineers and fitters, and that is what we should be talking about now.
This Queen’s Speech lacks content, because it should mention how we will make a material change to the lives of the people we are sent here to represent. In that respect, it has failed on all scores and I will not be supporting it tonight. I will, however, work with the Government if they want to improve people’s lives through a green revolution and ensuring that there are high-quality green jobs in this country. My constituency has a proud record and we have the ability to move forward, but there are new projects that lack a funding mechanism—another missed opportunity. Tidal and marine energy does not have the necessary funding for it to become a mature and much-needed technology for the future. The Government have missed that opportunity. We need lagoons—not just in Swansea bay, but in Colwyn bay and in Cemaes bay in my constituency.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), because he and I share so much in our love for the nuclear industry. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the Government’s national infrastructure strategy that is set out in the Queen’s Speech because of its long-term vision to improve our digital, transport and energy infrastructure. Such a vision, and the action taken through Government policy and in financial terms, will transform the lives and livelihoods of communities such as mine in Copeland. The first ever national infrastructure assessment has informed the strategy, which will close the productivity gap between London and other parts of the country.
It is important to recognise the incredible, proven ability of producing clean nuclear energy over many decades in countries around the world. Nuclear is tried, tested and trusted. It is a vital component in reducing our carbon emissions and hitting the net zero carbon commitment. The renewables sector has been well supported by this Government. They have quadrupled our renewables capacity since 2010 and reduced carbon emissions by 42% compared with 1990, while growing the economy by two thirds. That is brilliant progress, but renewables alone are not the answer, because when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, we still need electricity, heating, cooling, power and transportation every hour of the day, and every day of the year. That must be consistent and controllable, working with renewable energy.
The benefits of nuclear go beyond one industry or a local community near a reactor. A long-term commitment will bring huge benefits to research and development, science and industry, manufacturing, construction, apprenticeships, and the UK’s export potential. One aspect I would really like the Treasury to look at, however, is the cost-benefit analysis that is deployed through the Green Book, because that will never prioritise the population. It does not encourage a realisation of the true potential of communities such as mine that are northern, coastal and rural.
The benefits that come from our nuclear industry will be played out tomorrow when I visit the Sellafield graduation event, where I will see more than 130 apprentices, over 40% of whom are young women, graduating to follow their dreams in the nuclear industry. I must add to my declaration of interests, as my youngest daughter has now joined the nuclear industry as an apprentice in the sector.
As a region, the north-west has lagged behind London and the south-east. The national infrastructure strategy recognises and tackles that. The investment in local skills and industries that the Queen’s Speech promises will rebalance the economy, empower communities and decarbonise the world. That is why I shall vote for it tonight.
This Queen’s Speech is a pre-election stunt, as many have acknowledged today. As such, it is long on spending promises—what some would call pork barrel politics—and short on a real plan for the economy. This Queen’s Speech has 25 words devoted to the economy, whereas the 2017 Queen’s Speech had five paragraphs and in the 2016 Queen’s Speech the economy was the main priority. This would be fine if our economy was going gangbusters, but let’ us all face it: 1.5% economic growth is not much to sing about, not to mention the problems of low productivity and wage growth that has been relatively low.
The reason for this is that the party of which I was a member, the Conservative party, has moved away from being the party of economic competence. There was a time when rising stars in that party were credited with coming up with ingenious ideas to create prosperity and growth, but now the minimum requirement to become a Minister is to support no deal. In other words, they are willing to throw the economic cards up in the air, and that is why the Conservative party is not emphasising the economy as much in this Queen’s Speech.
I was surprised when the Chancellor said that he was not going to produce an economic impact assessment for the Government’s Brexit plans. We can argue that we do not trust economic evaluations because they underestimate how great Brexit will be, or we can say that people care more about GDP, so economic evaluations of Brexit are irrelevant—but we cannot argue both, or we risk mimicking the 10 leaky buckets.
My main concern with the Queen’s Speech is that at the heart of it is a deceit, which Conservative Members know very well. Every election comes down to two things: it is either more of the same or time for change. The Conservatives are arguing that our country can have more of the same on the economy—to give them credit, they have done a lot of good work to rescue it from the financial crash, helped by the party that I am currently a member of—while at the same time taking the biggest gamble on our economy. They are effectively saying that people can still have all the benefits of leaving while retaining the benefits of remaining. That is what this Queen’s Speech suggests is possible, and we know that it is not, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) said.
When we come to the big economic divide in our country, between the north and the south, all the economic analysis shows that the recovery from the last recession has been unbalanced. Left-behind towns, post-industrial towns and seaside communities are all struggling, but they will not benefit from this Queen’s Speech. Yet the electoral strategy of the Conservative party is to win those people’s votes, to get an increased majority.
This Government have deprioritised the economy and are taking a huge gamble on it. Every assessment says that our growth will be lower. The Government will not be able to deliver these spending plans, and they will be going back to those same people who are crying out for change to ask for an increased majority. That is a serious deceit, and those of us on the Opposition Benches who stand for remain know that we can give the country what it needs to invest and grow.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), who manages to expose both the extremism and the opportunism of the current Government. There was a time in history when some parliamentarians were given four hours to speak in the Chamber. Today we get four minutes, so I am sure Members will forgive me if I concentrate on one of the many issues that is missing from this Queen’s Speech—or, should I say, the phantom Queen’s Speech, since we know it will not really be enacted.
I want to touch on a subject that is of great concern to my constituents and without which I do not believe we will have any economic justice, which is the need for the total overhaul of universal credit. I am cautious about calling for things to be scrapped, but the current set-up is so irredeemable that that is probably the only remedy. The ridiculous waits of five, six or more weeks were always going to lead to debt and inhumane food bank usage. The creation of a system where housing payments did not go to landlords was always likely to create a nonsensical set-up, which my grandmother would probably have referred to as money down the drain. Tied in with that is the random, ineffective and, in some cases, downright inhumane ways in which people with terminal conditions are assessed.
My constituent Jenny puts it rather better than I can, and this is a metaphor of what has gone wrong. She writes:
“In June I was told I needed to apply for universal credit, moving my existing housing benefit claim and child tax credits over from the Council and HMRC to Universal Credit. I was told that there was a 5 week assessment period, followed by a 1 week payment verification period so 6 weeks. My Child tax credit was stopped completely leaving me with no income for 6 weeks. When I complained, they said I could loan the money but needed to repay it. I was initially advised by the Job Centre to apply for Job Seekers Allowance even though they didn’t think I was eligible and they were vague. I ended up complaining. Then I was advised to apply for both Jobseekers Allowance and Universal Credit. They said it would be back dated to June and corrected if wrong.”
On and on this continues:
“Weeks passed and my Universal Credit was calculated. They are taking £120 per month from me for the ‘loan’ of money so I get this instead of receiving child tax credit. Technically I have lost out on 6 weeks of child tax credits. It’s a lot of money to lose, people are still eligible for it, yet it’s been stopped for 6 weeks. Now I’m expected to pay back this loan that I was forced to take to feed my children while they take their time assessing what they already have on record.”
So this continues. She now says:
“I’m just going through a few tests at the moment as I’ve been immobile and in severe pain with my spine. I have to provide proof of medical appointments, private Osteopath receipts and NHS reports which are private. A sick note from a qualified GP won’t do. I’ve also had to deliver my GP sick note in person as they will not allow me to email it to them. I live in a village and it can be difficult to get to town when I’m in debilitating pain and on strong medication. Susan, I hope you can raise these points in the House of Commons as in this day and age, no families with young children should be forced into debt by Universal Credit and the Government. There are families left in debt depending on food banks etc once their Universal Credit loans are deducted. All this has a terrible effect on people’s mental health and I feel the system is just trying to trip people over with sanctions.”
The Government may have warm words, the Prime Minister may even have words in Latin—well, I have a few in English and Welsh that I could give back to him. [Interruption.] No, no, I don’t swear, but I will tell you this: it is about time we had a Government who listened to people such as Jenny and who combined prosperity and social justice in this country.
Hunger is becoming normal in modern Britain. Is that not the most scathing indictment of today’s broken economy? In my town of Warrington, our local food bank has just had to open a new distribution centre to cope with rising demand. It was set up in 2012, just two years after the Tories came to power with the help of Liberal Democrats, and now it distributes about 46,000 meals, 35% of which go to children.
The Prime Minister has previously said he thinks that food banks are fantastic and boasted about setting up loads during his time as London Mayor. Just think about that—an Eton-educated man born into extreme wealth and privilege celebrating the fact that more and more people in our society cannot feed themselves and their children. There can be no doubt that he is ruling over an economy run in the interests of a privileged few: more people in this country going hungry, homelessness at a record high, millions of children in poverty, the nightmare of zero-hours contracts.
Our NHS used to be the envy of the world. Its hard-working staff still are, but it is being run into the ground after almost a decade of Tory rule. People in our country today work the longest average full-time hours in Europe, apart from Greece and Austria. Has this translated into a rise in wealth and living standards for the average worker? Absolutely not. According to analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, annual wages were £760 lower last year than they were a decade ago. Productivity also continues to decline. The average employee today works more, earns less and produces less than a decade ago. Families are forced to borrow to cover basic expenses. An estimated 8.3 million people cannot keep up with debts or bills. The housing market is in crisis, with young people set to be poorer than their parents.
These are the symptoms of a deeply broken economy that requires a radical overhaul. Yesterday, the Prime Minister boasted of his party’s sound management of the economy. I find that remarkable. Despite the Tories’ bogus claims about getting the deficit down, Government debt is now 10% higher as a proportion of GDP than it was in 2010. They have presided over a lost decade of economic stagnation, with ordinary workers paying the price. It is clear that the UK’s failing economic model demands bold ideas and leadership. These are clearly in short supply on the Government Benches. In government, Labour would rewrite the rules of the UK economy, fundamentally redistributing wealth and power and putting it in the hands of ordinary working people. We would not see food banks expanding under Labour; we would see them shut down for good.
This Government are intent on tearing the country apart over Brexit. Labour would rebuild it with properly funded public services, investment in local businesses, a comprehensive green industrial strategy and a plan to revive communities and businesses that have been cast aside and left to rot under Tory rule. The truth is that we do not need a Government on the side of remain or on the side of leave—we need a Government on the side of the many, not the few.
I rise to speak in favour of the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Ordinarily, the Queen’s Speech is the set-piece occasion for the British Government. It normally outlines the Government’s domestic priorities and legislative proposals for the year ahead. Instead, this Queen’s Speech is a total charade. In fact, it is nothing more than a fantasy wish list from a Government who have lost their majority and are now completely out of control.
To be frank, even if the Government did have a majority with which to plough ahead with the proposals in the Queen’s Speech, the legislative programme is still bereft of ideas and ambition for Scotland. All of us who undertake weekly surgeries know the priorities of the people whom we seek to represent in this place. Those priorities should be reflected in the Government’s legislative programme, but they are not. In Glasgow, people tell me that they want to see justice for the WASPI women, and this Queen’s Speech has failed to deliver that. In Glasgow, people want to see universal credit fixed and the most punitive measures removed from it, and this Queen’s Speech has failed to sort that out. Put simply, this Queen’s Speech fails Scotland and it demonstrates why we need to be a normal independent state.
Let us look at the proposed initiatives in the Government’s legislative programme that will have an impact in Scotland. The Government’s immigration Bill will end free movement, which has been critical to growing a strong and diverse economy in Scotland. Put simply, ending freedom of movement could cost Scotland £2 billion in tax revenues. That is why, since December 2018, the Scottish Government have been making the case for permanent membership of the single market and customs union. That has been deemed to be fine for Northern Ireland, but not for Scotland, which is a pretty peculiar approach for a supposed Union of equals.
We know that Scotland’s population growth over the next 25 years is predicted to come from migration. This makes the case for continuing freedom of movement, which, sadly, the immigration Bill will put an end to. That comes at an economic cost. When we do an analysis of the tax taken from EU citizens in Scotland, it shows that there will be a 4.7% reduction in Scotland’s revenue by 2040 if EU migration falls by 50%, as is projected following Brexit. So there is a hit to the economy from the immigration Bill, which will be bad for Scotland.
I want to turn to the consequences of Brexit, which continues to cast a dark shadow over these islands and our economy in particular. This week we have seen the introduction of the withdrawal agreement Bill, which, among other things, makes provision for Northern Ireland continuing to have access to the single market and customs union. It is an inescapable fact that this puts Scotland at a competitive disadvantage, which is bad for jobs and bad for our economy. But Brexit does not just pose a future threat to our economic prosperity, because Scotland’s economy is already £3 billion smaller than it would have been had the Government not pushed ahead with a damaging Tory Brexit.
If this Queen’s Speech and the Brexit process have done one thing, it has been to crystallise things for people in Scotland who are beginning to consider an alternative future and pathway. Throughout the Brexit negotiations, we have seen a tale of two Unions. In the European one, the small, independent Republic of Ireland has been shown immense solidarity from the European Union, which treats it as an equal member state and listens to its needs and sensitivities. In this British Union, Scotland and its people have been shut out and ignored by an intransigent Westminster Government, who are obsessed by the politics of little England. This Queen’s Speech simply makes the case that Britain has nothing more to offer Scotland. It makes the case that we must have the right to choose our own future and take our own path away from Brexit Britain and failed Tory economics.
It is a pleasure to follow my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), in this debate on the Queen’s Speech.
Surveying what was said earlier in the debate by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to me it felt like a speech made from a parallel universe, to be quite frank, with no resemblance to what I see happening on the streets of my city and my constituency. Looking at the pain and the hurt visited on this country by this Government, we see an act of deliberate and calculated economic sabotage. In fact, it is an act of economic and social vandalism by this Government.
There have been 10 lost years in which wages have stagnated, or are lower than they were 10 years ago. That fed into a recent report by Menu for Change—an alliance between Oxfam Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland and Nourish Scotland—which showed that people are facing severe despair. I see such despair in my constituency surgeries week after week. People are emaciated, starving, and struggling to feed their children. They feel humiliated and suffer from poor mental health as a result of the anguish they face and the problems visited on them by this Government.
This is not a joke or something that can be theorised; this is experienced week in, week out. I have seen it in the cuts to disability allowance. My constituency is the worst affected in Scotland, and the change from disability allowance to the personal independence payment is affecting my constituents who lose £1.9 million in disability benefits every year as a result. In some constituencies that are already on the breadline, the effects of that lost income is causing a mini-recession.
The report by Menu for Change highlighted that hunger is increasingly a feature of our communities in a way that it has not been since the creation of the welfare state 70 years ago, and people are increasingly becoming suicidal with despair because of the impact it is having. The solution is not food banks or more food—a lack of food is not the problem; the source of the problem is a lack of income. We must get more money into people’s pockets to solve the problem, and the Government have fundamentally failed to address that issue. Child poverty and the impact of universal credit are related. The biggest achievement of the previous Labour Government was to reduce child poverty by record levels, from 3 million children living in poverty in 1998 to 1.6 million in 2010. This Government’s austerity policies have reversed that achievement, and child poverty now stands at 4.1 million. That shameful epitaph hangs over this Conservative Government in their dying days, and they should feel the shame of that as they try to make their case for forming the next Government.
The Government’s policies on the future of the European Union are an act of economic sabotage. In my constituency, the largest single employer, Allied Vehicles, is a fantastic example of industry and entrepreneurialism. It was created in a community that had suffered significant deindustrialisation, and the business grew from having just a few employees in the 1990s to now employing 700 people in skilled, well-paid jobs. It is the largest importer of Peugeot, Citroen, Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes vehicles in the UK. It converts them into wheelchair accessible vehicles, and it has the largest market share of wheelchair accessible car production in Europe. It is scared that in a no-deal scenario, or if the transition period ends before a customs union or free trade deal is agreed, under World Trade Organisation terms its products will face a 10% levy on exports from the UK to the EU. That is more than the total margin on its sales, and it will stop that export business dead in its tracks. That business is projected to create another 200 jobs in my constituency by 2025, and to increase vehicle production from 500 to 3,800 per year.
That is the economic vandalism I speak of when I look at this Government’s policies on the European Union, and it is directly related to my constituency. Such vandalism is utterly shameful, and when we try to get clarity, there is none. This Government are not fit to hold office—they must go, and go quickly.
Having sat through much of the debate over the past five days, I am reminded of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. This debate seems to have been entirely fatuous, other than to highlight the failings of this Government, and the previous coalition Government, of which I am afraid there are many. Even Her Majesty looked understandably disinterested as she delivered her Gracious Speech—a lot of pomp and much circumspect. It all seemed farcical, and so it proved—the debate was pulled after three days to make way for a Brexit debate. A suspension after a suspension: anyone would think the Government were playing for time and actively seeking to undermine our parliamentary democracy.
The Gracious Speech was full of warm words, but they bear little correlation to the reality on our streets, especially in Warwick and Leamington. When I talk to people on the streets or in my surgeries, or visit businesses and schools, those people—the teachers, the business leaders, the nurses—tell me that they are frustrated and angered by this Government. They see a Government who do not truly care about homelessness and rough sleeping, and who have no vision for the future. The Government’s ambition is to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027—that is eight years away—and the good people of Warwick and Leamington find that unacceptable. We want that issue to be addressed urgently.
People see an economy stacked against them. They are working longer hours, and driven to zero-hours or flexible contracts. People such as those working at Asda, down the road from where I live, have to accept what they view as a Martini contract: they have to work anytime, anyplace, anywhere. It is totally unacceptable. Many women work in retail, so they are the ones who are affected. They are the ones who are so hard hit.
I therefore take issue with people I hear talk about a great jobs miracle. It is not a miracle; it is an utter jobs mirage and we have to understand what is really behind it. A few decades ago, people had 40-hour-a-week contracts. Now, perhaps two people may fill that role, but they are on zero hours and are deemed to be employed. The reality, of course, is quite different. It is the uncertainty of those contracts, the underemployment in our society and the penalising process of universal credit that hurts so much and has led to a rise in homelessness and child poverty.
In Warwick and Leamington, 16% of all children live in poverty, while 10% of all households live in energy poverty. In 2018, 2,500 people had three-day emergency food supplies handed to them. Our homelessness is a scandal. The big six housebuilders are making billions, despite the supposed viability issues of delivering housing. They are building the wrong homes in the wrong places. We need social rent homes, and I will campaign hard to deliver the ones that we need. They should also be zero carbon. What a great opportunity. That is the great vision that Labour has: to deliver real, good-quality housing under its green new deal. That is what we will be pushing for when in government.
Businesses are not impressed by what the Government are doing. They are frustrated and angered. They want greater ambition on the transition to a cleaner future. They want investment in infrastructure. They want to see the vision. They want to know that they should be investing now. But they are not prepared to, because they see what France does. France has invested so much more in electric vehicle charging points—four times as much as the UK—so, of course, more investment and more development goes into France from our automotive sector. Education has been frustrated, and likewise healthcare, by a lack of investment. These are the things that the economy should be delivering. That is what I will be pushing for.
This is a Government who are working for themselves and no one else. Their economy fails as many as they seek. Underemployment is rife and underfed families a way of life. Away from the cities and the shires, overlooked towns miss out. This is a Government for the market, not the market stall.
Local businesses cannot access new talent. They are hampered by poor public transport. Entrepreneurs, the real wealth creators, are unable to secure funding without putting the family home on the line, and they are paying over the odds for business loans. Food banks and homeless charities have seen a rise in the destitute seeking help, with 30% of all children in east Bury in absolute poverty. Denise—there are many like her—got in touch with me last week. Despite working full time, some days she is unable to feed herself and sits at home in a cold house. There is an overriding sense that decisions taken by the few impact the everyday lives of the many.
Voters put their faith in me in 2017, making history in a seat that always went the way of the Government. They finally have a voice refusing to sponsor the cuts to our town, instead defending and championing improvements to everyday life: saving Bury walk-in centre after local Tories supported its closure; demanding the protection of more green-belt land; convincing bus companies to put on new bus routes; and changing the fortunes of our most vulnerable by seeking access to their entitlements, whether helping children to access their special educational needs and disability support from a depleted education budget or demanding benefits for the terminally ill who have worked all their life and are told by this Government that they are not near enough to death to qualify for their entitlement. I am also delighted today to welcome the news about the campaign for cystic fibrosis sufferers to be able to access Orkambi. This was an issue from my first constituency surgery. I welcome the NHS deal announced today.
However, so much of what is done in Bury is despite the Tory Government, not because of them. In Bury, we keep the faith in each other and we carry on. We keep going, with innovators and enterprising spirits. We are top of the league in Greater Manchester for start-up businesses. Tech companies with investment from California are developing “Silicon Rammy”. Barclays is in partnership with Bury’s schools via Labour’s Bury Council.
However, Bury’s sunlit uplands will not come with a Tory hard Brexit, just as they have not come with the Tory Government who sponsored the hardship for Bury and Britain this last decade. Change will not come from a Government who serve the stock market short-sellers, but short-change Bury and Britain. A £37-million black hole remains in Bury’s NHS funding, with in-year cuts of £12.5 million still to come. Our nurseries, schools and colleges face dire budget straits, and jam tomorrow will not tend to our children’s needs today.
Our beloved football club, Bury FC, faces ruin. It is a town grieving. With 135 years of history in the English football league, it is one of the oldest clubs in English football. Dale, Day, the EFL—culpable. It was bought for £1 and sold down the river. The whole mess confirms a feeling across the country; we value everyday life but it is changing for the worse. Traditions have been lost, with social, economic and cultural capital torn from our town. We now face an identity crisis, but I say: the Shakers will rise again if we keep going. Whenever the general election comes, Bury knows that we have unfinished work to do together. I will ask that they keep their faith in me, as I keep my faith in the work that we will do together—and we will keep going.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith); his passion and resolve to highlight the injustice of what happened to his town’s football club must be commended by us all in this House.
Our country is more divided than ever, but beyond the current inflamed debates in this place, the root of the division is fundamentally about inequality in this country—inequality between the north and south, inequality between towns and cities, inequality that this Tory Government have shamefully widened under their rule. Their shambolic, reckless and cruel handling of the economy over the last decade, in partnership with the Lib Dems, has ripped the soul from towns such as Leigh, the one I represent. Decades of under-investment left us reeling and in desperate need of a Government on our side to help us to thrive.
In 2010, we were promised by the Government that we were all in this together. How wrong they were. Instead, we have seen 3,500 bankers earning incomes of almost £10 billion between them, with grotesque bonuses on top. These are the same people who crashed our economy, leading to the vicious austerity that has been inflicted on the hard-working grafters in Leigh. The Conservative party even had the audacity to lower the tax rate for millionaires and billionaires while introducing a bedroom tax, cutting welfare benefits and starving our NHS. Meanwhile, in our towns such as Leigh we have seen a rise of almost 20% in food bank usage last year. Disgustingly, last year we issued over 5,000 emergency food parcels, 2,000 of which went to children. After housing costs, one in four children live in poverty.
Locally, we have seen a rise in drug and alcohol issues and more homeless on our streets, so when the Conservatives parade statistics about GDP and sound economic records, they do not realise how out of touch they are. Their trickle-down system of economics fails working people. The rich have got richer and the rest of us—the hard-working many, the working classes—are left struggling to make ends meet. Their priorities will always be about their entitled chums who bankroll their party, while Labour stands up and fights for the hard-working many and our proud trade union movement.
If the Conservative party was really on the side of constituencies like mine, maybe it could answer these questions. Where is the Bill to abolish universal credit and personal independence payment assessments? Where is the Bill to abolish food poverty? Where is the Bill to abolish child poverty? Where is the Bill to give proud former mining constituencies such as Leigh our fair share of investment to rebuild our towns? Where is the Bill to put power back into the hands of our community and out of those of the establishment, which has run this country for decades?
This Queen’s Speech is nothing other than a pre-election broadcast—read out by Her Majesty—that fails our communities and our economy, and it should thoroughly shame the Government. Towns like Leigh will never be fooled by their bluff and bluster. Their actions speak louder than their words in our communities, and I will have no hesitation in voting down this Queen’s Speech later today.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on the minority Government’s Queen’s Speech. There are so many different issues that could be covered in a debate on the economy, and that is because without an economy that works for everyone, we are not able to address or solve the problems that affect anyone.
The new Brexit deal that was debated on Saturday is significantly worse than the one proposed by the previous Prime Minister. It is, in short, a sell-out when it comes to our vital workers’ rights, our economy, our manufacturing base—including the Orb steelworks in Newport—and, most important, people’s jobs, in Newport West, across Wales, and in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England, too. My community in Newport West want and need a Government in Westminster who are on their side. They deserve a Government who ensure that those who earn the most pay the most, that tax evaders and avoiders are brought in line and that our vital public services are funded, defended and invested in.
So much was lacking from the Queen’s Speech. There was nothing about reducing poverty for our children and young people or pensioners, and there was nothing about reversing the proposal to take away the television licence for the over-75s. Let us not forget that the TV is a vital lifeline for many of our senior citizens. It is their only link with the outside world for, sometimes, hours or days on end. It is well documented that social isolation leads to loneliness and depression for many. That could be avoided if the Government would only change their decision and return to their manifesto promise of 2017 to keep TV licences free for all those aged 75 and over. The 4,000 people in my constituency who are affected will not let the Prime Minister get away with this. Indeed, I have received many letters from constituents expressing anger or sorrow about the Government’s rash decision.
The Government talk about improving the financial situation for the people of the UK, but we know the reality. We know that wages have still not returned to the levels at which they were before the Tories took office in 2010. In reality, people are worse off now than they were before the Tories took office. This Government talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk.
As we have already heard today, another side-effect of the worsening economic picture is the increase in the use of food banks and the number of people sleeping on our streets. I appreciate the efforts of the thousands of volunteers, and the donations of food from thousands more. When I visited a food bank at the King’s Church in my constituency a few weeks ago, I was struck by the amazing love and warmth of those volunteers for people less fortunate than themselves. However, in 2019, we should not need food banks, and we should not see people rough-sleeping. We are the fifth richest economy in the world, and we have enough resources; they just need to be apportioned fairly.
Last week, along with many other Members from both sides of the House, I had the pleasure of meeting a number of WASPI women. They came to Parliament once again with their campaign for justice and fairness, but once again the Government failed to act, and let the opportunity to sort out this injustice once and for all go by. I know that those strong, articulate women will be back to fight for justice, and I am proud to line up with them and be counted as they continue on their journey towards fair compensation.
The Government could also have delivered a fair tax for motor homes. New motor homes registered after 1 September 2019 are no longer subject to a commercial vehicle tax band in the United Kingdom; for the purposes of vehicle excise duty, they are now taxed as cars, and the tax payable on first registration has been increased by 705%.
Our country finds itself at a hugely important junction. It saddens me that we have a Government with no agenda and no real understanding of the many issues that are being experienced by my constituents in Newport West and throughout the UK. This Queen’s speech was a wasted opportunity, and it confirms that we need a Labour Government now more than ever.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones).
It is a new Session of Parliament, but we are still hearing the same old ideas from the Government. This was not a Queen’s Speech offering a serious programme for government; it was a pre-election stunt by a Prime Minister who promises everything but can deliver nothing. He has no majority, no mandate and no policies to tackle the real issues facing this country.
We have a poverty crisis in the UK. There are 14 million people living in poverty, one fifth of our entire population, and 4 million of them are children. It was once said that the best route out of poverty was to secure employment, but the growth of insecure employment—for instance, zero-hours contracts—has led to rising levels of in-work poverty. Sixty per cent. of those living in relative poverty reside in working households. The UK’s poverty crisis is real and the Government continue to ignore it at their peril. Sixty per cent. of the public believe that the Government have caused poverty through their austerity policies. When will we see action from this Government? When will they tackle low pay with a real living wage of £10 per hour for all workers, starting from the age of 16? When will they scrap failed welfare reforms like universal credit, which are directly responsible for the rise in food bank use, and when will they end insecure employment by abolishing the exploitation of zero-hours contracts? The public are demanding action, and if the Government are not prepared to act, I say to them: stand aside because Labour is ready.
There are clear examples of workers’ rights under attack, which the Government have chosen to ignore in the Queen’s Speech. The Queen’s Speech contained no proposals to scrap the undemocratic Trade Union Act 2016, which undermines the right to strike. There are no proposals to support the Asda workers, who face a disgraceful choice between accepting cuts to their terms and conditions or losing their jobs, and there are no proposals to support the postal workers who face threats to both their jobs and their terms and conditions despite agreements.
I congratulate the postal workers and the Communications Workers Union for a fantastic ballot result, which saw an overwhelming 97% vote in favour of strike action. I say today to Royal Mail, “Honour the agreement that was made and we can avoid any industrial action.”
The Government have chosen to impose austerity on our communities for the last 10 years, despite the clear damage that has done. Only Labour are committed to investing in our public services and our communities and ending austerity. The real tragedy of austerity has been the impact upon the lives of ordinary people, people like the 75-year-olds who have seen a broken promise on their TV licences. That is why I tabled amendment (b), and I thank all those Members who supported it. There is a simple answer, and I hope the Government will listen and think again: let us get the free TV licences back for those 75-year-olds.
We have seen rising levels of poverty, attacks on workers’ rights and austerity imposed upon our communities under this Government. When I stood for election in 2017, I asked the good people of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill to send a working man to Parliament. I am here to fight for my constituents and to fight for the workers; that is why I will be opposing this Queen’s Speech tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney).
It does seem rather bizarre to be talking about a Queen’s Speech that the Government have no intention or any ability to implement, and I would not exactly describe myself as a monarchist but I do think the way the Prime Minister has treated Her Majesty through all this is shameful.
First, I want to touch on the implications for the UK. The Government say:
“The integrity and prosperity of the union that binds the four nations of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government”
and Scotland will see a £1.2 billion cash bonus as a result of the latest spending round, but this Queen’s Speech ends freedom of movement, which will have a disproportionate impact on Scottish sectors, and even by the least damaging Brexit that would mean a reduction in Scottish GDP of 2.7%, and we know that a disastrous no-deal exit could mean a loss of economic output for Scotland of as much as £12.7 billion by 2030.
And it is not just prosperity in Scotland that is under threat from the Government; so too is the very existence of the United Kingdom itself. We have seen over a decade of austerity that Scotland did not vote for; we had David Cameron’s English votes for English laws speech on the steps of Downing Street on 19 September 2014; of course we had the Brexit referendum in 2016; and now we have this Government’s reckless deal, which tears up workers’ rights and simply delays a no-deal Brexit until the end of next year. The Conservative party, in truth, has done almost as much as the Scottish National party to undermine the United Kingdom. It is no longer the Conservative and Unionist party; it is the Conservative and Brexit party.
I was deeply disappointed, once again, to see nothing for 1950s-born women who are being denied a pension. That is a huge missed opportunity. Just as we are seeing with PPI repayments, we could have seen a boost for the economy had those women been paid what is rightfully theirs. As one of the leading members of the local WASPI branch in my area put it,
“these women are not going to be squirrelling this money away in offshore accounts.”
It will be spent in our local towns and on our high streets. However, the campaign will go on and I can assure them of my continued support.
Lastly, I want to touch on the lack of any new measures to protect free access to cash. I have been campaigning on that issue since my election. It has become increasingly clear, from the work of consumer rights groups, from international examples, from what is happening in many of our constituencies and from reports like the Access to Cash review, that this issue will not simply resolve itself. The banks have made a conscious decision to shift responsibility for running ATMs to private companies, and now they have decided that they really do not want to have to pay for that either. So the pressure they have put on LINK means that the fee being paid to the operators has been cut, and we are now seeing free-to-use ATMs closing, or turning fee-charging. That is having a particularly difficult impact in rural communities and in small towns such as those in my constituency, where businesses on the high street are already struggling and do not need any new additional barriers, such as a lack of availability of cash.
The Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group, which the Government have set up to look at this issue, is no more than a talking shop.
The Minister shakes his head, but what has that actually done since it was set up? The Government have to get real, or millions of people—some of the most vulnerable in society—will be left behind in a so-called cashless society.
In conclusion, this is a completely unnecessary Queen’s Speech, which has wasted everyone’s time and will do nothing at all for my constituents in Rutherglen and Hamilton West.
There were around 39 speeches today, so obviously I cannot go through them all, but I would like to thank the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon)—although, given all the cuts we have had under the Tory Government, I am surprised it is not “Sixoaks”—for his support for Labour’s policy on share ownership. I also offer my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) on his appointment to the Treasury Committee, and commiserations to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake).
The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) said that the Liberal Democrats were the yellow party. They certainly were the yellow party, in that they did not stand up to the Tories when they were in coalition with them. That is the sort of yellow party they actually are. So I will not be taking any sermonising whatever from that shower at the back of me—none whatsoever.
May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), thank you for all the work that you have done, given that this is your last Queen’s Speech—and yours was an excellent speech, too.
The Chancellor’s performance was excruciating. Judging by the faces of the Members sitting on his side of the House after he had made it, I thought I had walked into an embalmers’ and morticians’ conference. Thinking of the global banking crisis, does he not remember collateralised debt obligations—otherwise known as financial weapons of mass destruction? Has he forgotten that he had a great part in promoting them? That is the cause of the global financial crisis—reckless speculation, dependence on credit and grossly unequal distribution of income. It applies to this day. [Interruption.] Members on his side of the House may mutter all they want; that is the fact. They and their friends were the cause of the global crisis, not this side of the House—[Interruption.] Not this side of the House.
The topic today is the economy—an economy that the Tories are in the process of systematically wrecking. As many have pointed out today, after nine years in charge of the economy, their strategy has proven to be a total failure. Nine years of austerity, combined with Tory infighting over who can deliver the worst Brexit for our economy, has made us all poorer. Wages have stagnated. The queues at food banks have grown almost as long as the incoherent responses of the Prime Minister at PMQs.
My hon. Friend is talking about the Chancellor’s opening speech in which he tried to mock Labour’s nationalisation plans, saying that we would even go as far as nationalising travel agents. I remind him that Thomas Cook made a profit when it was in public ownership between 1948 and 1972, but it went bankrupt under this Government, with people losing their jobs and their holidays.
My hon. Friend refers to just some of the many thousands of workers who have been let down by this Tory Government. We all walk past people sleeping rough on the streets every day, but what have the Government done about that? Nothing. Despite endless promises of jam tomorrow, there looks to be little respite ahead under this Government. Their approach to this is writ large by the smirks on the faces of the members of the Government Front Bench.
Manufacturing output in August dropped at the fastest pace in seven years, with EU-based customers rerouting supply chains away from the UK in anticipation of 31 October. Consumer and business confidence is tumbling. Anecdotally, we know that a worrying proportion of businesses are moving their operations and investment elsewhere.
My right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor said:
“We have heard the Prime Minister’s previous crude dismissal of British business. Now we are seeing his words become Government policy.”—[Official Report, 8 October 2019; Vol. 664, c. 1650.]
Businesses are responding in droves. The Centre for European Reform says that the economy is already £69 billion smaller as a result of Tory turmoil and uncertainty since the Brexit vote. That is their responsibility on their watch—nobody else’s. Time and again, they put party over country while the economy suffers. The Government’s false dichotomy of no deal versus a bad deal amounts to an attack on the economic wellbeing of our citizens. Our economy needs cast-iron guarantees of frictionless free trade and strong regulatory alignment with the European Union. It needs a targeted industrial strategy to turn the biggest threat of our time into an economic opportunity, but not with the Tories.
The only threat we face that is equal to the continuation of this Government is the climate emergency. We need a green industrial revolution: a rapid and far-reaching transformation of the UK’s infrastructure, from our homes to our transport and energy systems. That requires investment on a scale that makes the Government’s programme pale into insignificance. Labour is offering—
I am sorry, but I will not at this stage.
Labour is offering a national transformation fund and a national investment bank that would invest £500 billion of lending and spending over 10 years, with tackling climate change as a central mission—a concept alien to that lot over there. It will include targeted investment to develop and commercialise new technologies so that they are designed here, assembled here, installed by a well-paid unionised workforce here, and then exported to the rest of the world. It is a far-reaching programme of economic revival that will create the industries of the future here. This is a Government of yesterday. We are the Government of tomorrow.
With its wind and marine resources, the UK has some of the best potential in the world for renewable energy. Renewable energy should be to the UK what tech has been to California, but the Government’s failure to support these nascent industries has held us back. We should be building on our existing strengths, such as the automotive sector, which could, with the right support, lead the world in electric vehicle and battery production. At the Labour party conference, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), the shadow Business Secretary, announced a multibillion-pound package of investment to kick-start the electric revolution. That is the scale of targeted support that our automotive industry needs—not just green number plates. Today, she announced plans to create a carbon-neutral energy system by the 2030s, including insulation upgrades for every home in the UK and enough new solar panels to cover 22,000 thousand football pitches, including Anfield.
This is not just about avoiding a climate catastrophe. The green industrial revolution is about building the world we deserve, not the world that the Tories think we deserve. We will ensure that nothing is too good for the working people of this country. We can tackle climate change while transforming our economy so that it works for the many, not just the privileged few.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, this is not the time for despair; it is the time for action. I hope the Chancellor—hope does spring eternal—will act by accepting amendment (g) so we can begin to rebuild our economy in the interests of the many, not the few. Under this Government of yesterday, I will not hold my breath.
This has been an interesting debate, in which strong views have been expressed by 41 Back Benchers.
Let us look at the UK economy. This year, we have seen more people in work than ever before, with more women in work than ever before. The number of workless households is down by more than 1 million since 2010, and there are 200,000 more businesses than last year. Wages have grown at their fastest rate in 11 years, and there has been the biggest ever increase in the national living wage. We are investing in the skills of the future, with more than 800,000 people participating in an apprenticeship in England in the last full academic year.
We have every reason to believe in our ability to succeed. We are the world’s fifth biggest economy and the ninth biggest manufacturer. We speak the world’s international business language. We have the best contract law and one of the most trusted judicial systems in the world. We have the most creative and innovative financial services sector anywhere, and three of the top 10 universities in the world. For the seventh year in a row, we have the most powerful capital city on earth.
But let us look at what Labour has on offer. Labour has proposed a punitive new tax every two months since Corbyn took office. Jeremy Corbyn’s party—
Order. Resume your seat. I very gently say that, when names are put into these speeches, it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to delete those names. We do not name people in the Chamber but refer to them by their title. That is a pretty obvious point.