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Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): The hon. Gentleman mentions a subject that is close to my heart. He and I have worked together to ensure that roads schemes in the south-east of Greater Manchester are developed. Does he agree that the sooner we have the report from the Government consultants and get some cheques signed, the better it will be for all of us?
Mr. Winterton: I am delighted by that intervention. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have worked together. Not only do we both want the roads that are vital to the economic progress and prosperity of the area in which both our constituencies lie, we strongly support the extension of another part of the transport infrastructure: the metrolink.
This country often boasts that the headquarters of about 240 of the top public limited companies are located in London or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but I do not regard that as an advantage. It is not something of which I should boast. All those companies are wholly in the gift of the City, because they move their accounts and produce reports based on how they believe the City will receive them. To my mind, we need more private companies, because investment in those companies is made in the right way and at the right time--not to decorate annual reports, but to provide progress and new jobs and to pay for the investment required to keep them in the vanguard of their industrial sector.
Although I am happy with the modest changes that the Government have made to capital gains tax, when will a Government reduce tax paid on capital gains from the marginal rate to, say, no more than the standard rate? The Conservative Government failed to do it. If we want people to invest in this country's companies and manufacturing industry, it is crazy to make them pay so high a rate on capital gains. I concede that there is an element of disregard--about £7,200 in the last year. In addition, there are benefits for those who hold shares in the company for which they have worked, but they comprise only a small percentage of those who are prepared to invest in stocks and shares and in the equity market. To have the marginal rate as the standard rate of tax on capital gains is grossly unfair.
Farming is vital to my constituency, but I fear that farmers are being driven off the land. In a recent article in The Daily Telegraph, Bill Deedes warned that the current foot and mouth epidemic could bring about further urbanisation of the United Kingdom. To my mind, that would be a disaster. We want farmers to be able to earn an income on the land by producing the food that we need, and to do so without experiencing the desperate problems that have affected them in recent years.
I accept that the Government are drawing down agrimonetary compensation, but that is to compensate for the value of the pound against the euro and does not provide farmers with compensation for the unique problems that they have recently faced. May I tell the Treasury Ministers that that is extremely important? My right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), in answer to my intervention, said that Barclays bank was allowing farmers to have credit for longer. However, we need a rather bigger package of aid and assistance from the complete range of financial institutions. If farmers are not on the land creating work for themselves and those whom they employ, producing goods that the country needs, who will maintain the countryside?
There is a crisis, and the Government must produce more answers than they have so far. I have great regard for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; he has been outstanding in his handling of the foot and mouth
To conclude, this is an election Budget. It will become rather less attractive as we look at the nitty-gritty of the Red Book; its results will be less appealing. However, my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has introduced sound proposals, which will be well received by the electorate.
This afternoon, I have sat through the whole debate without a single break, and it has been interesting that not a single Tory Back Bencher could be bothered to discuss the £24 million worth of cuts which, if the Conservatives were elected, would be imposed on every constituency, including their own. In talking about the election and the budgetary strategies of the two parties, it is fascinating that the Conservatives were happy to concentrate their fire on alleged misdeeds on our part, but failed to mention the cuts that they intend to impose.
I welcome many of the measures in the Budget; indeed, I welcome all of them. In doing so, I speak not only for myself, but on behalf of 16,000 pensioners in Hemsworth, who will benefit from the £5 increase for single pensioners and the £8 increase for pensioner couples. Changes in the tax regime will also help those who have been saving to have a modest additional income. I welcome the Budget on behalf of the 2,500 families who will receive the working families tax credit introduced by the Chancellor.
I welcome the Budget also on behalf of my 150,000 fellow citizens in Yorkshire and the Humber who will benefit from the announcement about the minimum wage. It was noticeable that the Tories failed to say that they supported the increase; they said that they would not oppose it, but they did not say that they supported it. When the election comes, 150,000 people in Yorkshire will no doubt remember that. I reckon that one in 10 working people in my constituency is on an income of less than £4.10 an hour. No doubt, they will all welcome the Budget and the Government's strategy and, whenever the election, they will want to turn out to vote for the Government to continue their strategy.
Everyone with children at school will welcome the additional money that the Chancellor allocated to schools. He has also allocated £100,000 a year for four years to larger secondary schools, which is an extremely significant allowance. Doubtless, teachers, head teachers and governors will welcome that. Above all, parents and children themselves will see the benefits of changes and increases in education funding, which add up to £1 billion.
May I tell my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that, in relation to school funding, the Chancellor seems to be falling into the habit of making money available directly to schools? I do not object to the sums of money going to the schools, but I do object to the fact that the money is distributed through the standard spending assessment mechanism because the system is unequal. In my
Fundamentally, the problem lies in the inheritance that we gained from the Tories--the unequal formula which unevenly distributes money to schools not only in my area, but throughout the country. We feel strongly about that. I know that the Government are looking into the matter, and want to make progress if not before the election, then shortly afterwards. It would be better if a more equitable formula were drawn up, so that local education authorities could be supported directly. Wakefield is a good LEA and has just received an excellent Ofsted report.
I shall touch briefly on the regeneration of communities such as mine, which consists of about 15 pit villages and small townships, which the Tories destroyed during their tenure of office and which the Government are beginning to regenerate. In my constituency there has been a reduction of 70 per cent. in the number of long-term unemployed. That is a phenomenal achievement for our Government, of which we should be proud. I know many people in my area who never thought that they would have a job again, and who now have a job--a job with a minimum wage, which is beginning to give them a decent, civilised living and, above all, self-respect.
I worry, though, about the definition of unemployment and the statistics that define so many people as economically inactive. Altogether in this country, about 2.5 million people of working age are, for one reason or another, regarded as economically inactive. In my constituency, it is staggering to discover that 27 per cent. of those who are of working age are disregarded because they are considered economically inactive. That is a huge number of people. For every three people who are regarded as available for work, one is said to be economically inactive.
Again, that is a legacy of the Tory Government. During the days of the pit closures, many of my constituents were told by civil servants on Government instructions that if they wanted to avoid having to sign on every two weeks and the dole queue, they should register for invalidity and disability benefit. Many of them are invalided in some way or another, but many would like to work. It is important that we tackle the issue. The Government have done a great deal to intervene in the labour market, but more intervention is needed in the next term, if we win the support of the people in the general election.
I worry slightly about the transformation of training and enterprise councils into learning and skills councils. In my area, we find that our labour market is being directed, in so far as that is done by the learning and skills councils, from Bradford, by a board that is dominated by people in the Leeds and Bradford area.
I have the best will in the world towards Leeds and Bradford--after all, I spent all my life there until I became the Member of Parliament for Hemsworth--but the Leeds and Bradford economy has nothing whatever to do with the Wakefield economy, especially my constituency,
I worry about whether a board dominated by Leeds and Bradford representatives and located in Bradford has the capacity to understand, let alone to come to terms with, the problems faced by people in my area. We have a distinct local micro-economy within the west Yorkshire economy. Leeds is booming; Hemsworth is still on its knees. We need to know that the learning and skills council based in Bradford will understand the problems and reach out to help the communities that I represent.
I welcome the Chancellor's announcement, reiterated today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, of tax cuts for certain geographical areas, which I understand amount to £1 billion. I want to look at the details, but I hope that former colliery areas, such as mine, will be included within the geographical definitions. It would be unthinkable for us to be excluded. At least, I hope that it would be unthinkable.
There are two former pit sites in my constituency, which is no doubt representative of many other former coalfield areas, one at Green lane in Featherstone, and the other at the South Kirkby colliery site. The land there has been cleaned and there has been investment in the infrastructure. We have been promised a new road up to the A1(M), which will unlock the development potential. We are waiting for developers to come, and the loyal and flexible work force there is desperate for work. We need investment and tax breaks and other incentives to attract private industry into our area so that people can realise their full potential, as all decent people in Britain should be allowed to do.
Elsewhere in my constituency is the small industrial estate of Langthwaite Grange, created by a previous Labour Government as an enterprise zone. We have some good companies there, such as Berwin and Berwin, a long-established textile manufacturer which does high quality tailoring, whose suits I frequently wear with pride in the House. Such firms need buttressing. I do not suggest that they are likely to go, but we understand the pressures, particularly on the textile industry. But were they to go, the consequences would be devastating. In that part of my constituency, the only employers of any size, other than those on that trading estate, are the schools. The high schools are the largest employers in that part of my constituency and we cannot afford any further loss.
When I approached Yorkshire Forward, our local regional development agency, about the possibility of helping a local firm on that industrial estate, I was told that no money was available to ensure that such firms became competitive, rather that the RDA stood ready to intervene to help anyone who was made redundant. It is bizarre that an agency that we are proud to have established should say that it cannot help a company to survive, perhaps by re-tooling and re-equipping itself, but that it will find money should redundancies occur. That is entirely wrong.
I understand that one other hon. Member wishes to speak, so I simply say that I am fully behind the Budget. The Government need at least one more term, and probably more, so that we can advance faster and farther in the direction laid out by the Chancellor.