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5.37 pm

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): In common, I think, with several other Members who will contribute today, this will possibly be my last speech in the House, after 27 years of representing Sheffield, Central, and after five years before that as a Member of the European Parliament. I was first elected to public office, as an MEP, in 1979, having left school at 15 years of age to start my engineering apprenticeship at the company that is now Forgemasters-a great company that has recently been in the news, and to which I shall return a little later.

I warmly welcome the Budget, like many of us who have been championing manufacture and wealth creation for many years. We see it as a Budget that recognises the need for the economy to be rebalanced, with a greater proportion of wealth creation being achieved through manufacturing. Its measures will help us to continue to take the country along that rebalancing journey.

The Budget's £2.5 billion one-off growth package is very important, particularly for areas such as Sheffield. There will be investment in the creative industries, digital communications, the medipark and the Advanced Manufacturing Park. That is a reflection of recent policy, particularly the new industrial strategy introduced by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills when he returned from Europe-I think his experiences as a European Commissioner must have had an effect.

I want to remind the House, however, that Sheffield has been modernising and repositioning its economy for more than a decade. We have been modernising to
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meet the challenges of the globalised world of the 21st century, with our two outstanding universities, a very strong further education college, industrial and commercial sectors that want to work in partnership, and the support of Yorkshire Forward, our regional development agency. We have developed, through those very strong partnerships, centres of excellence such as the medipark, the cultural industries, digital Sheffield and our advanced manufacturing park. The Budget will strengthen all four of those major activities, and those areas will be major centres of employment and wealth creation in the future.

Let us consider just one of those, the advanced manufacturing park, which is closely linked to the university of Sheffield under the leadership of Professor Keith Ridgway. The project was set up 10 years ago to address the productivity and the competitiveness of our aerospace industry, which is a sector that has an order book of more than £40 billion and that employs well over 100,000 people, many of whom are employed in the skills sector. The park has grown to be one of the most respected advanced manufacturing parks in the world.

The recent investment by Rolls-Royce and the Government in a nuclear manufacturing park, which is to be located alongside the aerospace facilities, will enable the techniques and innovation that have been developed over the years in the aerospace industry to be transferred to the nuclear sector, thus enabling that development to be a smart partner for the nuclear build programme. This is an area of great potential for British manufacturing and technology, addressing the green agenda not just here, but internationally. Twelve nuclear power stations could be built in the UK at the cost of about £60 billion. That is estimated to be about 4 per cent. of the world's order book. Again, that development is encouraged by the announcement in the Budget.

I said that we had been working on this project for more than a decade. In fact, it was 10 years ago that I had dinner in the House-in the Churchill Room-with Phil Condit, then chief executive of Boeing, and Professor Keith Ridgway. From that dinner came the start of a £6 million investment to be made in the intellectual property of the university of Sheffield and the vision of Keith Ridgway. I facilitated that dinner and I am proud to have been involved in that project ever since.

Today, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and many other companies involved in the supply chain are involved in the park, with some of the work being done on blue skies technology and research and development. As I said, the nuclear new build programme and developments in the industry have attracted a good partnership between the Government and Rolls-Royce, which has resulted in a £35 million investment in that nuclear development.

In 2008, I organised another dinner in the House, which was similar to the one that took place in the Churchill Room 10 years ago. It enabled representatives of five universities, five captains of industry-Graham Honeyman, chief executive of Forgemasters, was there-and two Secretaries of State to discuss how universities, Government and industry could work together to exploit the nuclear renaissance for the UK for many years to come.

On Sunday, The Sunday Times accused me of acting improperly in organising that dinner-the dinner that brought together universities, Government and industry to discuss how we could act collectively in the best
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interests of UK plc. Throughout my 27 years in the House, I have been doing just that-acting in the best interests of the UK, be it through my post as Chair of the Trade and Industry Committee, in my role for the past 14 years as trustee of the Industry and Parliament Trust or through my contacts with the trade unions, employers' organisations and industrial groups. Those are all people who want British industry to grow and prosper. That is my record and I am proud of it. If it is wrong in the eyes of The Sunday Times, I plead guilty.

A few years ago, the House passed the Freedom of Information Act. The press were rightly at the forefront of the demand for it, but now, when the press use misleading evidence obtained through sting operations-this is evidence that could not be used in court-they believe that it is their right to keep it from those whom they accuse. My lawyers twice requested the information that appeared in The Sunday Times, but they did not receive any response. What people read in The Sunday Times was a deliberate fabrication, which was designed to mislead. I do not believe that we have a level playing field, and when the House returns it ought seriously to consider the balance between freedom of information and what the press are doing through their sting operations and not allowing those whom they accuse in the newspapers, and the nation, to challenge information that cannot even be used in the courts of this land.

Returning to the Budget, as I said, I started at Forgemasters as an engineer apprentice at the age of 15. Last week, on Friday, the MPs in Sheffield, the two vice-chancellors, the further education colleges and Yorkshire Forward met to discuss the skills agenda of the future, from our skill shortages, which could be an impediment to growth, to the quality of training needed to ensure that the aerospace and nuclear supply chains are up to scratch. We have concerns, although we warmly welcome the announcement of the promise on the skills agenda. The budget for this area should be increased, and we believe we need a clear focus on delivery. That is something we are working on as a result of that meeting, and we hope to produce some ideas about delivery, which we think is very important, and to remove some of the confusion around it. For the record, I shall continue to be involved in that when I have left Parliament.

Finally, I want to conclude on the subject of a significant investment in Sheffield Forgemasters-a 16,000 tonne forging press, which will be one of the largest forging presses, if not the largest, in the world. It has taken nearly three years to develop that plan and bring it to fruition, and I want to put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, his Ministers and special advisers, along with Tim Stone from PricewaterhouseCoopers. They have worked very effectively to make this happen. As for Sheffield Forgemasters, it has been said that this would not have happened had it not been for the vision of people such as Graham Honeyman, Tony Pedder and Peter Birtles, but there was also strong support from the work force. Half the company is now owned by the work force and the pride in those young people, particularly the 70 apprentices who work there, has to be seen to be believed. That has put us in a unique position at the beginning of the supply chain worldwide and for the nuclear new build. That, I believe, is very important if
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we are to capitalise and see an industrial renaissance coming out of that nuclear renaissance, particularly in engineering and manufacturing.

That was a great day, and it was great to be involved when that £160 million investment was announced by the Secretary of State a couple of weeks ago. The very first job that I completed while serving my time as an apprentice and coming out of that was the building of a 4,000-tonne forging press, so, having represented Sheffield, Central and Forgemasters for 27 years, it will be very pleasing to see a forging press four times greater than that and the investment that is being made.

This is probably my last speech to the House, and I say with honesty that in my 31 years as an elected representative, I have never taken a single penny outside the salary that I have earned and been paid. It was only when I decided a couple of years ago to stand down and announced my retirement that a number of companies came to me and asked whether I would be a consultant and help them, probably as a non-executive director- never as a lobbyist. I was approached as someone who has been in the national institutions and who has also been an engineer. I am proud to have done that and I will continue to work for the betterment of British manufacturing, and particularly engineering, in which I believe very strongly, having had a father and a grandfather who were in the engineering industry-indeed, it runs through our DNA. It would be good to see the press talking this side of British industry up rather than talking it down.

5.48 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I, too, rise to speak in the House for the last time, after 36 years. I have to admit that this is not the first time that I have left the House, but it is the first time that I will do so voluntarily.

It has been an enormous privilege to be a Member of the House. I have represented three wonderful constituencies-two in Scotland and one in England, latterly the Devizes constituency-and I am grateful to all those who elected me and who have given me the chance to serve them in the House. I have been fortunate in the various roles that I have had here, which have been challenging and enjoyable. The most rewarding has been the ability to represent the myriad interests and concerns of one's constituents. Despite all the recent criticisms, I believe that the House is still one of the greatest democratic institutions in the world. I am proud to have been, for a time, part of it, and I will miss it.

I am grateful for the chance to participate briefly in the debate on the Budget statement. Over the past few days, I have heard the detailed arguments for and against the Budget, but as this is my last speech to the House, I hope that I may be allowed to approach it more broadly. I believe that Governments have two inalienable responsibilities: first, the defence of the realm and its citizens, and, secondly, stewardship. I want to talk about the second for a few moments.

Stewardship is a word that is used frequently, as it has been in this debate, to mean good and responsible management, but I believe that, in the context of the Budget, it should mean much more. To me, stewardship means handing over to the next generation what we in our time received from our predecessors in at least as
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good, if not better, condition than we received it. I want to deal with two aspects of that, the first of which is the economy.

I do not think that anyone in the House could claim that the economy is in a better state than it was at the beginning of the Parliament. We are facing almost unimaginable debt and it is still growing. Stewardship requires urgent action, of which I see little sign in the Budget. That is not a political or economic question; it is a moral imperative. Our generation-this Parliament and this Government-created the mess we are in, and our generation has the responsibility to clear it up. It is quite simply obscene to hand over to the next generation the cost of this generation's mismanagement. We have no right to lumber them with our debts or to expect them to pay for our profligacy.

We must rectify the situation not by fudging or finessing. This is a matter not for spin doctors or opinion polls, but for cold reality and stark truth, and the truth is that that will be painful. However, we must not shirk that pain. We must start immediately by cutting out inefficiency and waste not by tinkering with it, but by tackling it root and branch. It is not enough, year after year, to come and talk about inefficiency: if it is there, it must be got rid of. We must cut out the bloated bureaucracy that we have built in this country-the over-regulation that costs so many of our companies so much. If services have to be cut as well, we must, in the end, face up to that, because services can be rebuilt, and the resolution of problems can help to do that.

If we, as stewards, need to protect anything for the next generation, it must be those things that will never come again if undermined or destroyed. I want to touch briefly on this second aspect-the environment in which we live-which has been touched on tangentially in the Budget, but which is not central enough. There is a native American saying, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." To my mind, it is not enough to tip our cap towards wind power or green banking, as the Budget has done. We have to address the fundamentals. Both the natural and built environments in this country are under threat. If, as I fear, we begin to reduce the support for those areas to avoid pain in the here and now, we will be in danger of damaging permanently the world that we shall leave to our children.

We need to take positive action now to preserve and conserve the environment and, where we can, to improve it. We need to recognise the coming challenges from over-consumption-the growing demands for energy, water and food-and the lasting damage that they, too, could do to the environment we shall leave to our children. I see little recognition of that in the Budget. To me, stewardship needs a courage and a foresight that the Budget sadly lacks.

I conclude my career in the House by having to say that I regret the failure of stewardship in this Parliament; we have to look to a new Parliament and a fresh Government to provide it. I hope that they will see their responsibilities more clearly than this Parliament and this Government have seen theirs in these last years. I end by wishing the next Parliament well.

5.54 pm

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and, indeed, my
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right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). They are two fine Members of Parliament who have done a great job for their constituents and who command a great deal of respect on both sides of the House. The fact that they will not be here after the election will be a cause of great sadness for many who know those two fine, honourable Members well.

Let me begin my remarks by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer not just on the manner in which he delivered the Budget statement, but on its content. He has had to bear a very heavy burden of responsibility in the discharge of his great office of state. He did not have long to think about how to share the proceeds of economic growth. Instead, he had to think very carefully about how our country would emerge in good shape from the deepest, most savage and severe recession of three generations. In trying to set that course, he has earned a lot of respect on both sides of the House. His instincts are sound and his judgments have been right. I think that is what history will say of him.

To borrow the medical metaphor that the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) used, the economy is at least now in the recovery position. Bearing in mind the stewardship argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just deployed, it is incumbent on us not to do anything to jeopardise the economic recovery. That is the first and most important fact, principle or statement about the Budget. The flow of economic data is finally looking a bit more cheerful: unemployment is falling, inflation is falling and borrowing is down. Growth has returned to the economy. Those are all positive signs that there is now light at the end of what has been a very dark and long tunnel.

As I have said, our big job is not to jeopardise that recovery. I therefore welcome in particular what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his statement about targeting further and additional help and support at businesses and wealth creators. That is the right thing to do with any discretionary additional spend that we have, because it will be on the decisions that those businesses-mainly small businesses-make in the next few years that prospects for substantial economic growth will depend. I therefore welcome the doubling of the investment allowance and the expansion of the entrepreneurs' relief from capital gains tax. I particularly welcome the extension of the time to pay scheme for business taxes. Many right hon. and hon. Members will know that that scheme has become an important source of credit for many businesses. I understand that it is benefiting nearly 200,000 companies. There is a danger, of which the Treasury and the Revenue will be aware, that the scheme could be abused, and we have to be alert to that danger, but it is a very important new initiative. I also welcome-I am sorry that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) did not do the same-the extension of council tax reliefs for small businesses. All those small measures together form a very useful and helpful package.

I particularly welcome the focus that was evident in the Budget statement on the new policy of industrial activism. Many right hon. and hon. Members will probably assume the foetal position when anyone talks about a new industrial strategy, and I understand the nervousness that is felt about that policy, which is redolent of a bygone time when we got basically every judgment wrong and in the process wasted a huge amount of
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scarce public resources. However, I do not detect a likelihood of our repeating those failures; I do not think that will be the case.

When I was Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, it used to irritate me enormously to hear many commentators opine on the fact that Britain was somehow a post-industrial society. No, we are not. We are the fifth-largest economy in the world and a great trading and commercial power. We should aim to retain that position, but we have no prospect whatever of doing that if we do not, and we are not aware of the need to, support businesses, particularly the small companies that have the potential to be the great employers of the future. That should be our focus. We should keep capital allowances; it is a false economy to play fast and loose with that kind of business support. We should aim to remain a great industrial society. That is what I see in the economy and in my right hon. Friend's statement.

The new finance for growth investment corporation might also prove to be a useful development, and I note that Simon Walker says that it will be good news for British businesses. As many people will know, Simon is chief executive of the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.

I have to tell my Front-Bench colleagues in all honesty that it is probably just as well that I will not be here after the next election because I will take some persuading before I lend my support to the notion of the new credit adjudicator. It is hard to imagine how we could create a situation in which the banks are legally forced to lend. I do not understand that, and if we have learned one thing from the recession it is that we should all have a better appreciation of the level of risk, and we should let the banks decide what that is. I do not think that the proposal is a particularly good idea, and I hope that more work will be done on it.

I agreed with the remarks that were made about the need to cut the budget deficit. That is, by some distance, the biggest challenge faced by the House, and the new House of Commons will have the task of beginning to address it. We have started to identify the things that must change, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government set out helpful measures that we could implement, such as tackling waste and inefficiency. It is probably common ground that the next comprehensive spending review will be the toughest for a generation; it will certainly need to be.

When the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said that the biggest challenge facing us in the next Parliament will be reducing the deficit, he was only half right, and the bit that he got wrong is the thing that worries me most. Yes, we must reduce the deficit, but we must do so in a way that does not jeopardise the recovery, compromise the quality of public services or lead to higher unemployment. I am afraid that everything that I have heard from the Conservative party suggests that if he forms a Government, the next House of Commons will make precisely those mistakes.

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