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I am sorry that the principal spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), has left the Chamber. What he said was really foolish and profoundly ignorant. Anyone who has had anything to do with UK Trade & Investment in the past year will know that it is functioning probably better than it has ever done. Let me tell the House a story. The other day, I went to speak at a dinner in Scotland. It was an international gathering of the whisky industry, and the chairman of probably the biggest company in that industry said to me, “I think you should know that the Government’s export efforts have never been better run, and that the attention from the diplomatic service and our embassies abroad is quite outstanding.” The Government deserve credit for that.

I pay tribute to the work of Lord Green, Lord Marland, and Lord Sassoon, who have led tremendously successful trade missions all over the world—missions that have secured contracts and goods for this country that we have never secured before. Our exports are up £50 billion on previous years. The hon. Gentleman will find that he has done himself no good by speaking as he did of UKTI.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab) rose

Nicholas Soames: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I have only six minutes, and I have a few points to make.

I support and endorse the Queen’s Speech. Much in it deserves and commands support at this very difficult time. The Government are right in their determination to drive the economy forward, to bring the UK’s productivity and growth up to world standard—they are not at that standard at the moment—and to focus on getting the big things right and resolving the stubborn, difficult and often politically very unappealing challenges that have long kept the UK’s economy from fulfilling its true potential. Our national problems are serious. Many of the causes of Britain’s plight cannot justly be blamed on Greece, Brussels, or even the banks. There is the dire state of too many of our schools and thus, through no fault of their own, the poor skills of too many young people; there is the decline in size of our manufacturing industry—an industry that the Germans sustain so well—and there is the plight of small businesses, which are still groaning under oppressive bureaucracy and employment law. We really need to get on and fix those problems. This country remains, on its good days, a wonderfully civilised place, but there is no contradiction in recognising that our traditional national values will not suffice to support us through this century unless they are allied to harder work, vastly improved skills, and a drastic reality check about the standard of living that we have for so long taken for granted.

I wholly endorse the views that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary expressed yesterday in a really interesting, punchy interview in The Sunday Telegraph. He set out clearly the great opportunities for British trade and the great efforts being made to secure them through our outstanding commercial diplomacy. The success of our economy locally, nationally and globally will depend on how we build our economic growth around a tapestry of skills, with science, finance and sound regulation working together. In many ways, the Queen’s Speech sets out a way forward on that. It is

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worth remembering that growth, as a public policy, can achieve a great deal. It can create jobs and it reduces welfare dependency, but it is not an end in itself.

I am trying to develop an idea that takes advantage of the south of England’s local geography and opportunities. Starting with the south of my constituency, I want to develop an international technology hub between Burgess Hill and Brighton, and between Brighton and Southampton. The work required to deliver improvements to the A27 must happen, and I do not see why that should not be carried out by a public-private partnership of some sort. We need to get on and develop the sort of creative clusters that are essential for economic growth, making the most of the university of Sussex and the brilliant Brighton university, through to Portsmouth and Southampton—an area with ample office space and housing. The advantage of such a scheme is that it contains all the conceptual ideas that begin with the creation of jobs and extend to kick-start a knowledge-based economy. One of the points that the Gracious Speech makes—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Time is up.

4.55 pm

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I am immensely pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). I am sure he will forgive me if I do not develop the themes that he outlined, although I very much hope that his ideas for a corridor in the south will be taken up in the north-west as well.

I want to make a single contribution to the debate, if I may, by stressing the effect that the Queen’s Speech has had on me and therefore, I guess, on many other people in this country. I think we will see it as a dividing line in this Parliament. Before the Queen’s Speech, I guess that many in the House and probably even more in the country wanted to give the Government the benefit of the doubt. Now, however, we begin to see that the Government are bereft on two fronts—first, on ideas about how we achieve growth; and secondly, and equally important, they seem to have no understanding of what would normally be called the art of government. It is not merely a matter of assembling Bills and pushing them through this place. It is about understanding the reaction to them outside and what response to those measures we should expect from outside. The Queen’s Speech is a dividing line in this Parliament. The jury is ceasing to be out on whether the Government have shown that they have both the ideas and the competence for good government.

I shall concentrate on one element that I think is crucial to growth. Of course there is a discussion about how Lord Keynes’s ideas could and should be applied to the economy. There are those who emphasise the importance of reflation. I do not totally go down that route. This year the Government will be borrowing £24 for every £100 that they spend. If that is not reflation on stilts, I do not know what is. If we could conduct a séance and call Lord Keynes up now, he would not, I hope, minimise the importance of reflation, but he would draw our attention to one other aspect of what he thought was crucial at this stage of the business cycle: business confidence.

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In the period after the general election, generally speaking, businesses believed that the Government knew what they were about. They did not lay off workers to the same extent as in other recessions, but hoarded them and negotiated more flexible arrangements with them. They believed that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and it would not be an oncoming train. The key moment when business confidence began to change was the pre-Budget report. Businesses increasingly realised that the Government did not have many ideas in the cupboard about how to deal with the size of the deficit, which was important, but do that skilfully so that we managed to engender growth.

I think the Business Secretary, though he did not mention it in his speech today, hinted over the weekend at what the Government had hoped for in an investment-led boom. The Government’s failure could not be clearer than on that front. Business after business in this country is sitting on huge reserves of capital, waiting for some encouragement from the Government to use that capital to start an investment-led boom, which would lead to employment and increased prosperity for our country. The failure of the pre-Budget report, followed up in the Budget itself, convinced the business community that there was little point in spending those reserves. Quite what they do with them now is anybody’s guess. Until the Government come up with a strategy that convinces the business community that they can do two things at once—bring down the deficit but in a way that encourages business confidence in the future, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) said, confidence particularly in this country—it is difficult to envisage anything at all getting this economy off the bottom of the recession we are enduring.

A Tory-led Government, who pride themselves on understanding civil society, would never have applied VAT changes to the crucial sector of churches and historic buildings in this country. We are concerned with what goes on not only in churches, but in the surrounding area—in cathedral closes, choir schools and so on. The Government have understood nothing about how standing up at the Dispatch Box saying things can have the most deadly effect in the country on people’s hopes and expectations.

As I said when I began, it is with sadness that I rise to say that now, in the second half of the Parliament, the jury is ceasing to be out, and it believes that the Government have neither the ideas nor the expertise in the art of government to see us through the crisis.

5.1 pm

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I would like to respond to this section of the Queen’s Speech on behalf of my Back-Bench Liberal Democrat colleagues.

On the day before the Queen’s Speech, when the rose garden became a tractor factory in Essex, the Prime Minister set out the coalition’s aims for the coming year. We are certainly not in a rose garden now, either metaphorically or in reality. The tractor symbolised the heavy work that we have done and still need to do to get our country out of the slough of debt that we inherited. It also symbolises the change of emphasis away from the financial sector—although this is still an important part of our economy—towards something that we are very good at, although one feels that the Opposition had to some extent written it off: manufacturing.

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In the past two years, the coalition Government have been doing plenty of heavy lifting. We have already put in place many policies designed to help companies to grow. Indeed, our recovery is predicated on growth. We have already established the regional growth fund, created a record number of apprenticeships, cut red tape through the red tape challenge and the one in, one out system of regulation, cut corporation tax and exempted micro-businesses from £350 million-worth of regulation. There is still much to do, though.

Steve McCabe: On the regional growth fund, how many of the successful bids in the west midlands have achieved funding to date?

Lorely Burt: I am slightly confused by the hon. Gentleman’s question. Will he repeat it?

Steve McCabe: Does the hon. Lady agree that out of 72 bids, five of which were approved, one company has received funding? Is that a measure of success?

Lorely Burt: There is a lot of due diligence to be done so that we do not waste taxpayers’ money.

Opposition Members might agree that we have to be fair to employers and to the work force. Liberal Democrats seek a balance to ensure that staff can achieve their full potential and have a home life as well as a work life. Unlike some in the Chamber, we are not in the pockets of the unions, but seek to work with the unions and with management to achieve fair outcomes and fair rewards. We will extend the right to request flexible working, and entitlement to parental leave will be shared. All parties bemoan the fact that we often lose female talent when the babies come along; now there will be no point in employers discriminating in recruitment against women of child-bearing age. Both men and women will be entitled to parental leave. That is one small step for equality.

However, Liberal Democrats would say that in some areas the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of the employee. Some employees take advantage of, and try to play, the employment tribunal system, which has become clogged up with cases waiting to be heard, costing time and money and causing stress for all. New legislation will put a greater emphasis on conciliation and give employers longer to give underperforming employees a chance, before the spectre of the unfair dismissal tribunal looms.

Clearing away unnecessary regulation is a big job, and we have already started. We will reform the competition regime by creating a powerful new body to enable the speedier prosecution of anti-competitive behaviour. We are also taking action on executive pay. If there is one thing that really bugs the British worker, it is seeing overpaid executives getting even more for even poorer performance, so we will give shareholders the power to exercise greater control over executive pay through binding votes.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lorely Burt: I am sorry, but I cannot give way again.

I think that all hon. Members are looking forward to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which at last offers some fairness for producers at the mercy of the

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powerful supermarkets. Then there is the green investment bank. It has £3 billion at its disposal for investment, but Liberal Democrats would like it to have greater powers to act like a real bank, investing and borrowing as well as lending, and we are working on that.

All that will be to no avail if we cannot sort out the biggest problem still faced by business today: access to finance. Project Merlin has had some success, with £195 billion lent by banks to business, but we need more. Liberal Democrats will be doing all we can on policies to widen the range of banks and lower the almost insurmountable barriers to entry for new banks. We want to introduce more peer-to-peer lending, such as the funding circle, and would like to examine the feasibility of community banks.

Perhaps the most important piece of legislation of all is one that will stop a repetition of the banking crisis that resulted in the house of cards that the previous Government allowed the finance industry to build tumbling down. The Business Secretary foresaw it all: he warned Labour that light-touch regulation, over-optimistic ratios, complex financial instruments that few could understand, banks that were too big to fail and banks whose casino and retail arms were wedded would bring disaster, but not even he could have imagined the scale of the economic crisis that gripped the UK, America, Europe and large parts of the world and made them much worse off. The crisis is taking longer to sort out than anyone hoped.

We need only look across the continent at Greece, Spain and Italy to see what would have happened had we not gripped the situation there and then. Too far, too fast? It would have been “too little too late” if the Labour party had had its way. We would be paying treble the current interest rates, with much higher unemployment and much higher bond yields, as those countries have today. We are sorting it. The little blue and yellow tractor is taking the strain and pulling us out of the mire that the Labour party helped to create.

5.8 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): The Queen’s Speech contained precisely nothing to help growth in the economy. It set out a feeble programme. The Government talk about growth but are doing precious little to achieve it. We have all noticed the change in rhetoric over the past few weeks; growth is now important. It is not enough to hope for growth or will it and then fail entirely to introduce in the Queen’s Speech the policies that would deliver it.

We are now in the absurd situation where we have gone from the Chancellor upgrading his growth forecasts in the Budget in March to the announcement of a double-dip recession in April and warnings today from Marian Bell and Howard Davies, formerly of the Bank of England, that the Government might have to slow their deficit reduction plan before they effectively squeeze the life out of the recovery entirely. Howard Davies said that even

“the markets recognise that if the economy turns out to be weaker than expected and you try to compensate for that by tightening even further, then that way madness lies.”

One could paraphrase that by saying, “Trying to stimulate economic growth by cutting consumption is very foolish,” and I would agree entirely, but that is precisely what the Government are attempting to do.

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So there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to compensate for the shrinking demand in the economy that the Government’s own policies are creating; nothing to compensate for the £73 billion of fiscal consolidation that they inherited; nothing to compensate for the £113 billion of cuts and tax rises planned for 2014-15; and precisely nothing to compensate for the £155 billion that will leave the economy every year from 2016-17. Indeed, they are exacerbating the problem with cuts to Government consumption and expenditure of between 1.3% and 2.6% a year from 2013 to 2016.

Lorely Burt: The Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed that Labour’s plan would necessitate borrowing £201 billion more. What effect would that have on the market, on investment and on growth?

Stewart Hosie: I think that the words of Howard Davies this morning were very interesting. I shall find the quotation if the hon. Lady wants it, but it was about the credibility of the plan, not the speed of the cuts.

There is, of course, one other thing: trying to cut one’s way out of recession and to generate growth by spending less money, putting in place a series of measures that militate against the business investment growth on which the entire strategy is dependent, is not a very clever way to proceed. But that is precisely what this Government have planned.

I said that the Government have done nothing to stimulate a shrinking economy—unless one thinks that the Foreign Secretary’s berating of businesses for not working hard enough counts as an economic strategy. Of course it does not, but his intervention shows just how out of touch the Government are. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats have a little speech to say that they are not really in the same Government as the Foreign Secretary, but that will not wash either.

The Government could have taken action in the Finance Bill or through measures in the Queen’s Speech to ease the price of fuel, which members of the Forum of Private Business say is the main cost pressure on their businesses, but they did not. They could have taken action to bring forward direct capital investment, the most effective thing that any Government could do to stimulate economic growth, but they did not—and that was a particularly short-sighted piece of inaction, given that the fall back into recession, the double-dip recession, was led by a large fall in construction output. One would have thought that even the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Chancellor or the other Treasury Ministers had read the economic indicators.

Indeed, the Government had such a programme in their election manifestos, and they could have brought forward the legislation on high-speed rail. It would have given the signal that a large capital investment programme was coming, and it could have stimulated economic growth throughout the UK, but the political imperative of one or two shire Tories in the south seems to have overtaken the rather sensible measures that High Speed 2 would have delivered.

So what are the Government doing? They are introducing a banking reform Bill to ring-fence narrow retail banking activities. I welcome that measure, which is fine so far as it goes, but, as the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said, it

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“does not go far enough in terms of providing a direct boost to business lending”

to small and medium-sized enterprises—a vital part of any recovery.

The Government are introducing an enterprise and regulatory reform Bill, and we will look very carefully at each measure that they intend to introduce, but, in general terms, if one is trying to rebuild an economy and to grow out of recession, one needs confidence. I can understand why keeping people in their jobs would help confidence, but I am at a loss to understand why the Government believe that making it easier to sack people will bring any confidence into the economy, particularly the consumer spending sector.

There are no measures on direct capital investment, which is the most effective thing that any Government could do—not even proposed legislation on HS2. There is no action on SME lending and no action to build confidence; indeed, the Government are making it worse by making it easier to sack people when keeping them in their jobs would help to rebuild confidence. That lack of action explains why we are in recession, why unemployment is high, why net debt is going up, why net borrowing is higher for 2011-12 than was forecast a year ago, and why the deficit is planned to be higher for 2011-12 than was reported in the Budget a year ago.

At their heart, this Government have a problem. They are sticking ideologically to a rigid, fixed-term deficit consolidation plan that offers no flexibility whatsoever. The one Bill that they should have had would have put in place a new fiscal responsibility plan so that instead of a rigid, ideological slashing of costs, we could have a flexible, medium-term, credible deficit consolidation plan that allowed growth in the economy.

5.15 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Contrary to what the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) said, the economy is central to the Government’s agenda. They have already taken much-needed action to ensure lower-cost Government borrowing by working to create the most cost-effective business tax system in the G7 and by pushing forward supply-side reforms that are needed to tackle the burden of bureaucracy facing British businesses, much of which was put in place by Labour when it was in power. Real progress is being made, and I support the Government in their efforts to show that Britain is open for business once again.

The Queen’s Speech sets out proposals that will build on those achievements. The enterprise and regulatory reform Bill will promote enterprise and fair markets through a new competition and markets authority, the creation of the green investment bank, and much-needed reform of employment tribunals. The Queen’s Speech also contained the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which has been welcomed by farmers in Macclesfield, the National Farmers Union, and small food producers more widely. By establishing an independent adjudicator that will enforce the groceries supply code of practice, the Government will ensure that supermarkets deal more fairly with their suppliers and that we have a much more effective supply chain for the food industry.

The Queen’s Speech includes important measures on financial services. The banking reform Bill will create a ring fence around vital banking services and introduce

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depositor preference, in line with the recommendations of the Vickers Independent Commission on Banking. After the Northern Rock experience, with the first run on the banks in over a century, it was clear that much needed to be done to protect the pensioners, families and small businesses who rely on our banks and financial services and that the failed framework of the previous Government had to be replaced. After the general election, the Government rightly focused on putting back in place a financially stable mechanism to ensure that we had a solid foundation, and they commissioned Vickers to take forward a bold approach to financial regulation and propose the ring fence for retail banks. That must be put in place to make certain that we do not see further failures such as Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland. This highlights the importance of going beyond Basel III and the minimum capital requirements that it proposes to ensure that there is real stability for the UK financial services system. I am pleased that the recommendations of the Vickers commission are now being taken forward by the Government in the banking reform Bill.

The Financial Services Bill, which I was involved in scrutinising in Committee, was the next step in the process. It puts accountability back with the Bank of England, where it needs to be, by creating a new systemic regulator—the Financial Policy Committee. The Bill is one of the carry-over Bills that will continue its progress in this parliamentary Session, and it is vital that it does so.

It is a concern that the aims of these reforms, whether banking reform or the Financial Services Bill, might be undermined by plans being suggested by Brussels. There are worrying signs that a significant number of EU regulations in the pipeline could have a major effect on the Government’s new financial regulations and undermine our freedom to take the necessary steps to get our banking system into a safer, more secure position.

A huge amount is at stake for the UK economy, and it should not be forgotten that the financial services sector still accounts for 10% of UK gross domestic product. In 2010, the sector employed 1 million people, and it contributed £53 billion in taxes in the 2009-10 financial year alone.

The Chancellor is right to work hard to ensure that the single European rule book does not bind the UK to a maximum level of EU capital requirements, which the Vickers report believes is inadequate. Capital requirements directive IV threatens to tie the hands of the Financial Policy Committee. Given the importance of this decision to the British economy, our negotiators are right to use every tool in their arsenal to protect our ability to regulate UK financial services. The Treasury is right to push back on Brussels to ensure that the box-ticking culture that was all too prevalent under the previous system is not replaced by further box ticking from Brussels.

Domestic regulators require discretion to utilise the new judgment-led approach, which is welcomed by many, to cater for the changing needs of the financial services sector here at home. However, without the effective safeguards from EU regulations, the UK risks being tied into a system more suited to Germany’s regional Landesbank or Spain’s caja savings banks than one regulating the globally important City of London.

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The Government are right to continue to press for the safeguards that the Prime Minister sought at the EU Council meeting, where he made his decisive veto. Tomorrow’s ECOFIN meeting offers Finance Ministers from across the EU the chance to address the eurozone’s crisis and I hope that they take note of what this Government are doing in their efforts to tackle the deficit and push forward constructive reforms in the financial—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I call Bridget Phillipson.

5.21 pm

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on the economy. I intend to focus my remarks on one aspect of Government policy where I feel the clock is being turned back: the role of women in the economy.

Women have been hardest hit by Government policies. In the last quarter alone, 34,000 women gave up work altogether—the fastest rise in women’s worklessness in more than a year, and it now stands at its highest point for more than two decades. More and more women are being forced out of work and back into the home, due to job losses and Government cuts. Cuts to child tax credits mean that, increasingly, work does not pay and families are better off on benefits.

Women of my generation have taken progress for granted. The women who went before us—our mothers and grandmothers—argued for change and made huge strides forward, and that progress was hard won. They fought for their right to be in the workplace, to be properly rewarded when working and for equality, both at work and at home. We imagined that each generation of women would do better than the last, but I fear that is at risk.

As more women are struggling to remain in work, they are losing not just income but independence. Ultimately, this is about independence and how government can support women to make the choices that are right for them and for their families, and not be forced to make choices that are not of their choosing.

Conservative Governments often appear to believe that state action inevitably promotes dependence, but I believe that action by government can encourage independence and gives the individual greater freedom. Economic independence liberates women.

For the individual woman forced out of the workplace, this is a massive personal blow. For the rest of society, it is a loss of talent, knowledge and expertise. In economic terms, it is absurd to lose women’s contribution at this time. Not only are higher unemployment rates increasing the benefits bill and reducing tax revenues, but higher rates of women’s employment are associated with stronger economic growth—growth that we so desperately need.

I welcome the Government’s proposals on flexible or shared parental leave. Labour led the way on this in Government, with improved maternity rights and pay and paid paternity leave for fathers, and this proposal is the logical next step. I have yet to see evidence that it will be bad for business, but it will do little in and of itself to help parents who are currently out of work,

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and it comes at a time when the Government are cutting child care support and taking more from children than from the banks.

I would like to devote my remaining time to one of the biggest barriers facing women who wish to return to work or remain in work, which is child care. Labour did much to tackle the problem in government. We launched the national child care strategy, which acknowledged that rather than child care being a private family matter the Government had a role in ensuring it was available. That was combined with the creation of more than 3,500 Sure Start children’s centres, many of which are now at risk of closure. We devoted particular attention to supporting single parents back into work as a route out of poverty, which was vital in my constituency.

Child care costs are rising, at a time when wages are static and Government support for child care has been cut. I am concerned that child care will become less affordable as demand drops and women are forced out of the workplace. Affordable and accessible child care is key not just to helping families but to supporting economic growth and, with it, social mobility.

There is also clear evidence that early years child care leads to improved outcomes for children, particularly those from the most deprived backgrounds. It improves access to employment and so reduces child poverty. However, parents from lower-income backgrounds are the least likely to use formal child care. Although it is of course for families to decide what is right for them, the Government need to consider that more closely. Having a child at nursery also gives parents access to a wider support network and opportunities such as training. It can reduce the isolation that many parents experience, particularly lone mothers.

I am pleased that Labour has launched a national child care commission to consider these issues, but I am conscious that it also needs to address the fact that many working parents are struggling not only with working and child care issues but with the need to care for and look after elderly parents and relatives. It must consider both issues together, because parents are often being squeezed at both ends of the scale.

We need an economy that values and recognises the talents of women. It is about not just women’s right to be in the workplace but creating a more equal and just society for everyone. I do not want to be part of a generation of women for whom the clock was turned back, but unless the Government act I fear I will be.

5.27 pm

Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) on a well-constructed contribution. May I crave her indulgence? I see that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) is just leaving the Chamber, and I wish to say how much I enjoyed his contribution. I obviously did not agree with the conclusion he reached, but he gave the best critique of Government policy I have heard from the Opposition Benches. It was certainly a more constructive one than we heard from the shadow Secretary of State.

I, too, have a registered interest to put on record, as chairman of companies that are active in the life insurance sector.

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My focus will be on the expectations that have been aroused by the proposal to introduce a new competition and markets authority, essentially merging the responsibilities and functions of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission. My views are informed by my experience of serving in the previous Conservative Government as the UK Minister responsible for competition and consumer policy—interestingly, a role also occupied by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), who spoke earlier.

As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I later had the advantage during my 10-year sabbatical from the House of acting as the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the modernisation of EU competition policy during the time when the whole of EU law and policy in the area underwent a significant, highly transformational experience. The key individuals driving that process were Mario Monti, the Competition Commissioner, who is now the Italian Prime Minister, and the current European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes. From Monti’s actions in blocking the GEC-Honeywell merger through to Mrs Kroes’s effective challenge to Microsoft’s abuse of its market power, they ensured that those seeking to undermine proper competition and open markets throughout Europe had a really strong adversary.

We all support open-market competition; it is the bedrock on which our economic growth depends. I have noted many of the positive responses to the Government’s plans for the new unitary markets authority. The plans are driven by a common view that the current processes are just too lengthy. The shadow Secretary of State’s extraordinary claim that everything was absolutely fine when Labour left office does not match the view in the market. The Government’s aim is to remove duplication and delay and to streamline the system and produce a more efficient and speedier quality service, but the question is: if we cannot argue with that ambition, will it be delivered by the proposal?

The first phase of current arrangements requires a detailed analysis at the OFT by teams of experts before a decision on whether there should be a reference to the Competition Commission. Unless these concerns can otherwise be addressed to the OFT’s satisfaction, the matter will pass to the commission itself, where a second and completely different set of experts looks at the same analysis all over again. This duplication is one of the factors that is supposed to drive a significant part of the delay, but it is my understanding that the Government’s proposal is to retain completely different teams between phases 1 and 2. It is difficult to see, therefore, how this streamlines anything or produces any efficiencies of the sort that the Secretary of State said, in response to me, he anticipated would create more resources to tackle market abuse.

Another area of concern relates to the Government’s plan to improve the conviction rate for individuals by creating criminal offences that no longer require that dishonesty be proven. As parliamentarians, we should always be particularly cautious about the creation of new, absolute criminal offences. A wrongful act and a guilty mind lie at the heart of our criminal justice system, and we should be weary of arguments suggesting that for cases otherwise difficult to prove we need to remove the dishonesty element.

I want the House to be in no doubt that I fully support punitive administrative financial penalties on companies that breach laws against creating cartels,

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price fixing or abusing market power. The Competition Commission often imposes fines of many millions of pounds on such companies and has taken sweeping investigative powers in such cases. Mario Monti always maintained to me that it was completely inappropriate for the European Commission to have that sort of absolute criminal law power. I cannot imagine the reaction of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who is beside me, if the Commission ever proposed taking such an absolute power. We should question strongly any proposal to do the same in this country.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Government are responding to the OFT’s failure in a high-profile case involving British Airways. However, the fact that to date the OFT has never succeeded in bringing any criminal prosecution to the point of being considered by a jury leads me to the view not that the criminal law in this area is wrong but that the OFT itself might not possess the necessary resources. I hope that the creation of this new markets authority improves the landscape for open markets, but I hope, too, that the Government bear in mind my concerns.

5.33 pm

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): Above all, the Queen’s Speech demonstrates that it is impossible to legislate ourselves out of a problem created by a Treasury-imposed economic fiscal policy that is demonstrably causing such damage to the economy. The economy is flatlining, the number of business insolvencies is rising, real incomes, and therefore consumption levels for British business, are being squeezed, unemployment is rising and, perhaps most frightening of all, about two thirds of the potential public sector cuts, the impact of which on consumer spending could be devastating to British business, are yet to be realised. This Queen’s Speech contains a series of measures. Some of them are not bad in themselves, but they are essentially micro-measures designed to deal with macro problems. I am afraid that, typically, they are accompanied with overblown rhetoric about their potential impact, and if experience is anything to go by, their speed of implementation will be sclerotic.

Let us take the enterprise and regulatory reform Bill. The Government have been trumpeting their one-in, one-out policy and their red tape challenge. However, the Department’s annual report for last year highlights some of the regulations that they have abolished, which include article 22 of the Distribution of German Enemy Property (No. 1) Order 1950 and regulation 24(6) of the Gas Appliances (Safety) Regulations 1995. I am sure there are perfectly sound reasons for abolishing those regulations, but the idea that doing so will cause the economy to take off requires, shall we say, a leap of faith to which I do not think even this Government could subscribe.

We have heard about the potential impact on the regional growth fund, but in the west midlands there have so far been 72 bids, only one of which has received any funding yet. I have been questioning Ministers over the last year about the number of jobs created by the regional growth fund, but I could not get an answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) has now revealed that the National Audit Office has some idea, but the answer is nothing like the number of jobs created by the previous regional development agencies, which were so quickly abolished, and the cost is proportionately much greater.

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Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): What would my hon. Friend say about the figures that have been published suggesting that the cost per job is roughly £200,000, which contrasts with the Remploy workers, who are being put out of their jobs, and where the cost per job is far smaller?

Mr Bailey: The figures my hon. Friend quotes are quite self-evidently a demonstration of the Government’s ridiculous priorities.

Let me turn to the green investment bank, which was Labour’s idea. It has been talked about for a very long time by this Government and now, two years later, we actually have it. However, it is inadequate, and unfortunately the Government have already introduced a series of policies on feed-in tariffs that will decimate many of the companies that would potentially have benefited from the green investment bank. Again, it is difficult to see how we will lift ourselves out of recession on the back of that.

There are certain measures that are welcome, such as the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. However, earlier I spoke about the slowness of implementation. Both the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, which I chair, examined the issue before the last summer recess, and we did so quickly at the request of the Government. The Bill could have been implemented last autumn or at the beginning of this year. Indeed, the parliamentary business over the last three months was hardly so crowded that such a quick and simple Bill that had received so much pre-legislative scrutiny could not have been introduced. Why is it being introduced only now?

Andrew George: Given that the hon. Gentleman is the Chair of a Select Committee and will want to be seen to be even-handed in this matter, does he agree that it was a great disappointment that the previous Government failed to act on the recommendations of the Competition Commission, which reported on 30 April 2008, and did not implement the measure during their time of office?

Mr Bailey: May I compliment the hon. Gentleman, who I know has been an ardent campaigner on this issue for many years? All credit to him for that. The measure was in the Labour party manifesto for implementation, and I am sure that it would have been implemented far more quickly, and perhaps more profoundly, than what is currently proposed.

I want to raise two issues about the measure, the first of which is fines. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about that, because our Committee recommended that there should be fines, not just a name-and-shame process. It would appear that he may be moving in that direction, although we will question him more closely on it. However, something that he did not mention was the ability of third parties such as trade associations to submit complaints. If individual companies or farmers have to make a complaint, they might fear discrimination. No doubt we shall tease out these issues during the Bill’s passage through Parliament.

I am most concerned about the missing elements from the Queen’s Speech. As a Labour and Co-operative party Member of Parliament, I am particularly concerned that, despite the Prime Minister’s trumpeting of his

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commitment to a co-operatives Bill, such a Bill is mysteriously missing. There is a degree of cynicism in the co-operative movement over the Government’s motives. They are keen to trumpet their commitment to co-operation when it is politically expedient to do so, but the absence of the Bill that the Prime Minister promised us during this parliamentary Session is bound to create a suspicion about their true commitment and motives in this regard.

The most astonishing omission of all from the Queen’s Speech was a Bill on higher education. My Committee carried out a long inquiry into this matter, and offered a raft of recommendations to the Government last November. To date, the Committee has not even had a reply to its recommendations. On two occasions, excuses have been given. The consultation on the White Paper ended in January, and we were told that further consultation was needed. We were also told that the matter would best be dealt with as part of an announcement of the Government’s policies in the Queen’s Speech in the new Session, yet the Queen’s Speech contained absolutely nothing about it. The inevitable suspicion is that there is such profound disagreement between the coalition partners on this subject that we shall have a White Paper and a consultation but no Bill on an issue of profound importance to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of students in this country. This is also a serious matter in that higher education is one of the biggest export earners for this country. The omission of a Bill demonstrates a complete lack of consistency and commitment to it.

5.42 pm

Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): I support the Queen’s Speech, which I thought was very good. I have an advantage over many Members, in that I came into the House in 1997. Within a matter of hours, the then Labour Government decided to make the Bank of England independent. They also changed the regulatory regime for the whole banking system from its historic basis in which the Bank of England presided over the banks. Without consulting the Governor of the Bank of England, they created the Financial Services Authority and a whole new system. It is somewhat ironic that, a decade later, that decision played a major role in what happened during the financial collapse, because our regulatory regime was not fit for purpose.

This Government, in contrast, have produced a draft Bill that has been widely consulted on. It has been carried over and will become legislation after hours of debate. The Bill will give back much of the regulation to the Bank of England. The proposal will have maximum transparency and scrutiny. The Queen’s Speech also contains a banking reform Bill, which is to be welcomed. We are starting to put back together a decent regulatory regime for the financial sector.

In 2010, we formed a coalition for the simple reason that this country faced a real crisis and the biggest peacetime deficit in its history. It takes quite a lot to get Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to work together, but the previous Government managed to achieve that through their financial irresponsibility. We have faced difficulties ever since; the financial crisis has continued because of what has happened in the eurozone and worldwide. This is not an easy environment for the Government to thrive in, but they have set out a clear long-term plan. They have kept interest rates low and

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allowed the Bank of England £325 billion of quantitative easing, which is substantially more than would be possible if we were spending public money to try to push the economy. Against that background, they have created an environment in which we should be able to export more, as markets improve, and rebalance the economy. That will take time, however, and it will not be an easy role to play. Clearly, the debate for this Chamber is that if Opposition Members are right, they will win in 2015; and if we Government Members are right, the coalition parties will benefit in 2015. That, essentially, is the narrative about how things will pan out.

The Government are doing substantial and good things in the realms of education in creating apprenticeships. The Queen’s Speech also referred to legislation on enterprise and regulatory reform. We all know that that is necessary to lighten to the burden on businesses where we can, so that they can recover.

The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) put his finger on an important point. We have a balance-sheet recession, as banks are shrinking their balance sheets, while companies have a lot of money which they are not spending, and individuals are trying to rebalance their individual financial circumstances. The recovery will be bumpy, therefore, and confidence is very important to it. In the world of 24/7 news, when one can switch on Sky or the BBC to find out about crisis talks in the Greek cabinet or what is happening elsewhere, it is difficult to engender confidence. If we hold to our proposals and our strategy, however, I think that things will eventually sort themselves out, and we will see success with higher investment, more jobs and a more prosperous economy.

I support what the Government are doing. They are setting the environment for more growth and a more enterprising country. We should not forget that our recent Budget included a £2.5 billion tax cut for the lowest-paid workers. There is a strategy behind what the Government are doing: on the one hand, we are reforming welfare with the universal credit and a welfare cap; on the other, we are taking many of the lowest-paid workers out of the tax system. That is intended to increase incentives to work. The crucial test of us as a country is whether we can make work attractive and get more people back into it over the next few years.

I believe that the Government are on the right track. I support what they are doing in a difficult world environment in which confidence is in short supply. It is interesting that our long-term interest rates are low and that in the current crisis, sterling is now starting to rise as this country is seen as a relatively safe haven in a very turbulent world. I am sure that if the Government stick to the course, this country will get the reward it deserves and that we all want—a prosperous and more dynamic country.

5.47 pm

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I have been a Member of the House long enough to have heard quite a few Queen’s Speeches. Some were good, some were bad and more were indifferent. I do not say that on a party political basis, as some of Labour’s Queen’s Speeches did not live up to all their glister when they were first heard. I tend to take Queen’s Speeches with a pinch of salt. With the experience of two years of this coalition Government, however, I have noticed—I might even have said this to you when you were one of

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my students at university, Mr Deputy Speaker, although there was no recent experience at that time—that coalitions seem to sacrifice leadership and imagination. There is not enough boldness to lead with the necessary imagination. When we look back at this period, I suspect we will find that there was not enough leadership or imagination in this Queen’s Speech.

After all, here we are in the most turbulent period economically in not just European but global history. We might all be swept away by something that is mainly outside our control in the eurozone. Nobody really knows whether something dreadful might happen in the Greek economy and then move across to Portugal, Spain and all the rest. We know that some of the scenarios are very grim indeed for our country, which is not just a little island on its own. There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech that said that we are in such a perilous situation that we need to batten down to face a turbulent and difficult future. Something like that should have been acknowledged.

In the short time available, I shall centre my remarks on what I would have expected this Government, dominated as it is by the Conservative party, to know about—manufacturing and small business. Conservative Members often say that they understand manufacturing and small business very well, but I do not think they do. I talk to small businesses all the time. I find that they feel—and I think they are right—that the people who lead this coalition Government spend a great deal of time talking to big businesses in the FTSE 100 but do not talk to the small companies in which our future lies, although all the research suggests that it is small and medium-sized enterprises that will provide the employment, give us the apprenticeships, and keep us moving and developing as a successful country.

Robert Flello: Is not the Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Act, which was rushed through the other day, a good example of the Government listening only to big business? It will help the big supermarkets, but harm the small businesses which normally make some money on Sundays when the supermarkets are closed.

Mr Sheerman: I believe that my hon. Friend and I voted in different Lobbies on that occasion, so I will not develop the point any further.

What are small and medium-sized enterprises in this country looking for? They are looking to the Government to promote innovation. All the research shows that we must invest in small companies, which are often in the high-tech sector. They will be the new employers; they will be the organisations carrying out the innovation. After all, our country was built on innovation and on entrepreneurs, and my town of Huddersfield was built on people who understood that. It is true that they had free energy, which, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), is extremely important in a world of automation. Although we can substantially increase the number of people working in manufacturing, it will not return to the 20% or 30% level. The fact remains that it is to the small companies that we must look for the future.

There was not enough about banks in the Queen’s Speech. Here they are, with all this taxpayers’ money, and we still cannot persuade them to lend to new

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businesses. What on earth is going on? The banks have all that money, but they are still reluctant to invest in new ventures. The Government should have done something about that. Let us see better finance for the productive sector from the banks, and let us also expand our manufacturing exports. We hear time and again that we are not taking advantage of the markets in China, Brazil, Russia and India.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman mention countries such as Brazil, China and Japan, and also banking. Given that the debate is about the Queen’s Speech, what piece of legislation would he seek to introduce to achieve his very sensible goals?

Mr Sheerman: Everyone knows that we could have had legislation that strengthened the Government’s power to force banks to lend to small businesses.

It was me, in an intervention, and not the shadow Secretary of State, who drew attention to what had been said by Lord Jones this morning. He said that the trade and industry outreach of the Foreign Office had been decimated in recent months. We need to expand our manufacturing exports, and the small and medium-sized enterprises will do that as well.

If we are to rebalance the economy, we must recognise what the Queen’s Speech does not recognise: London and the south have become totally out of proportion in terms of infrastructure investment, resources and everything else that we can think of. To those who come down here from Yorkshire, the north-west or even the midlands, this part of the world is a foreign country. There is no recession here, but there has been a recession for three years in the regions of our country. The fact that the Queen’s Speech makes no reference to that is a disgrace.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Sheerman: No. I will not be given extra time if I give way again.

Finally, let me say something about skills and management. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on management, which recently received a report from the Chartered Management Institute showing that 43% of managers in this country are not very good and 23% are awful. Whether it involves running a hospital, running Parliament, running a school or running a business such as an SME, good, skilled management is underrated in this country.

What we needed in the Queen’s Speech was a proposal to abolish unemployment among young people for good. We should have a system like the Dutch system, under which no one under 25 is unemployed. Everyone below that age is in a job, in education or training. No one is allowed to stay at home receiving an income and doing nothing. That is the way in which to repay, for years and years, the great debt that is owed to individuals and to heal the scars that they bear, and to deal with the cost of it all to our country.

We must do something at a time when—I do not know whether anyone has seen the figures—there are 6.9 million unemployed graduates in Europe today. That means 6.9 million wasted talents, but what did the Queen’s Speech do about that? Nothing.

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5.55 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Queen’s Speech has not been universally well received in the press—we saw that yesterday—or by the electorate. However, I want to concentrate on the broader landscape, and on the question of what is at the root of the problem that we face today. It is partly the level of debt. We are not really telling the British people the truth about that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and I, as well as others, said repeatedly before the general election. If we include pension funds, Network Rail and all the rest, the level of debt is probably about three trillion pounds. That debt has to be serviced, and finding the money to pay for it presents an enormous challenge.

The second point that I want to make is that this is not just a question of austerity or no austerity. Yes, we must be efficient and we must reduce public expenditure, but as I must have said a thousand times before the general election and on other occasions—and in a paper that I wrote only last year—the main issue is growth. I agree with earlier speakers who have pointed out that that growth must be demonstrably produced, and that cannot be done without a prescription. Small and medium-sized businesses must be given the oxygen that will enable them to provide employment and generate the revenues that pay for public expenditure.

Let us consider what is going on in the rest of Europe. Mr Hollande has just said that he does not want austerity and he does want growth, but the problem is that when he applies his test to austerity, he will not be able to secure growth. Let me say this to some of my friends on the other side of the Chamber. The fact is that employment regulations, the working time directive, paternity and maternity leaves and so forth have reached a point at which—in aggregate; I do not refer to any individual measure—they have strangled the small and medium-sized business environment of Europe which, in the real world, must compete with the Indias, the Chinas and the South Americas.

For practical purposes, we in this country must recognise that growth will come only from the generation of small and medium-sized businesses and a reduction in legislation. Yes, there is massive youth unemployment in other countries, but we cannot grow within a European Union which itself represents about 40% of our trade with those countries, and they cannot grow because they themselves were inhibited by the strangulation of small businesses, and also by the increase in legislation. As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I can assure the House that there is no stopping that; every week we are given pile after pile of it.

Another problem is caused by the treaties themselves, and by the whole construction of the economic governance. I ask Members on both sides of the House to try to see the broader landscape, and to recognise that this cannot go on. It is destroying not only our economy, but other economies throughout the European Union. This is not just about the amounts of bail-outs; it is about the reason for the bail-outs. This is the message: the reason for the bail-outs is the fact that there is no growth and no competitiveness. Young people are out of work because there is no means of giving them work.

We need a convention of the whole of Europe, at which the leaders of Europe sit down opposite each other and talk this through in a sensible, rational manner,

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admitting that what has gone wrong has to be remedied. Representatives of the national Parliaments must be present, too, and there must be a constructive dialogue about the kind of Europe we want, because at the moment it is heading for disaster.

In the meantime, we have to deal with our own immediate problem, which is that there is no growth in this country either, and there is the massive debt, and the deficit is not really being reduced at all. The Opposition’s criticisms are therefore justified in theory, but in practice they offer no remedy. I strongly believe that we should override the European legislation. I was disappointed in what the Secretary of State said in response to an intervention of mine, because it is essential that we kick-start our small and medium-sized businesses and reduce the burden of regulation.

In 2005, the current Prime Minister described it as an imperative necessity to repatriate powers. On 16 May 2006, I proposed an amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill that, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, would have enabled us to override European legislation where necessary. Some 50 current Government Ministers—Conservative Ministers—supported my amendment. It was then “three-lined” in the House of Lords, and it was opposed by the current Deputy Prime Minister and the Lib Dems. No repatriation of powers is a suicide note for the British nation. That is the message. We have to deregulate; we have to give oxygen to the SMEs. That is in the national interest.

6.1 pm

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): This Government have no vision: no vision for a better future for our country; no vision to deliver economic growth; and certainly no vision to create jobs. We saw that in the Budget, and we certainly saw it in the Queen’s Speech last week. With some 3 million people unemployed, including 1 million young people, that isn’t good enough. We are wasting talent, drive and ambition simply because the Prime Minister and Chancellor cannot admit that their plans are not working. It is not good enough for the people in my constituency, who are losing their jobs left, right and centre, while at the same time the Government are giving tax breaks of over £40,000 a year to millionaires. It is not good enough for the millions of people across the country who are working so hard to make ends meet and need a Government who will stand up and work for them. Instead, they have a Government who seem happy to leave them behind and to cast aside their hopes and aspirations.

We are now officially back in recession—something many knew was coming and about which the Labour party has been warning the Government for two years. It is the double-dip recession the Government promised would not happen. Under Labour, the country had started to move out of recession, and progress was being made in creating jobs through programmes such as the future jobs fund and apprenticeships with job guarantees. Now youth unemployment alone is up 7.7% on last year, to more than 1 million. That equates to an extra 73,000 young people who want to work but cannot find the jobs they so desperately need. Also, more than 700,000 public sector jobs will be lost by 2017, with little or no sign that the private sector will be able to absorb those people.

These are tough times to be unemployed. With rising energy and food prices and the benefit changes coming this year, this Government are hurting families, young

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people, pensioners and public servants—to name just a few—and penalising or demonising those who cannot find work in a labour market that this Conservative-led Government are doing nothing to grow.

That is particularly apparent in places such as my constituency, which has high levels of deprivation, including one of the highest levels of child poverty in the country. The consequences of the Government’s failure on the economy are much more keenly felt in such places. Unemployment in Bethnal Green and Bow stands at almost 12%, which is well above the national average, and youth unemployment is over 9%. I frequently meet parents who are astounded that their university-educated children cannot find jobs, so I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) about rising graduate unemployment. It is scandalous that even though they have such qualifications, this Government are doing nothing to support them into work.

When I speak to local business owners—the businesses that are at the heart of our local economy and employ thousands of people—they tell me how hard it is to make ends meet given the Government’s VAT rises, which have stifled their potential. In my constituency, the VAT increases are hitting sectors such as technology, the creative industries and restaurants particularly hard. The Government’s failure to do anything substantial to enable them to borrow is also hurting them hard. We need a plan to support small businesses; I echo the comments made by many Opposition Members about the need to support small businesses in order to encourage and enable the economy to grow. SMEs will be a vital part of that story.

We also need programmes to help people into work—programmes that help them develop their skills and thus enable them to compete in today’s labour market. The massive difference such programmes can make in constituencies such as mine is illustrated by the work of, for example, Job Ready hosted by Futureversity, Skillsmatch, the East London Business Alliance, the Adab Trust and City Gateway, a charity in my constituency. Such groups are working very hard, but they are suffering as a result of the impact on charities of the Budget’s tax measures. We must support organisations that develop soft skills and provide training for young people to get into work, but such organisations are being hit hard by this Government’s measures.

My constituents need this Government to step up and take action to address the very real, everyday problems they face. We need to create real jobs for young people, not enforced work programmes that do not offer any chance of employment at the end. Labour promised to introduce a tax on bank bonuses to deliver these jobs—real jobs, with real wages for our young people, who are trying so hard to find work.

This Government have no vision to create jobs and to foster economic growth. Now is the time we need a Government with the vision and aspiration to take radical and ambitious actions, yet that is precisely what is lacking. We need a Government to work for the majority of this country, not a small minority—not the 1% who will gain from tax breaks. I hope this—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Time is up. I call Esther McVey.

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6.7 pm

Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): I shall focus on executive pay, an issue that has come to dominate news headlines and political debate. The public are asking questions about what is fair, necessary and acceptable, and how we are going to address this issue.

The High Pay Commission has revealed that over the past decade executive remuneration in the largest listed companies has increased substantially. The median total remuneration of FTSE 100 chief executive officers has risen from £1 million to £4.2 million, and the annual bonuses of directors of the FTSE 350 companies rose by 187%, while their average total earnings rose by 108%. There has been a 253.5% increase in long-term bonuses, while at the same time pre-tax profits rose by only 50.5% and share prices fell by 5.4%. That trend continued through the economic crisis. Meanwhile, the pay gap between the salaries of the senior executives of the largest UK companies doubled to over 80 times their worker’s average wage.

These pay increases are not aligned to increases in the growth of the businesses concerned, or their profits or share price. That points to a failure of the market and a failure to uphold fair standards. As Conservatives, we believe innately in fairness and the power of market forces to do good in society. It is therefore imperative that we Conservatives correct this failing system that has been allowed to grow and go unchecked—particularly since 1998, under a decade of Labour rule. It is vital that we do that, for business and for the public, and if we want growth, jobs and a conducive environment for businesses to prosper in the UK.

There is no doubt that we have reached a tipping point on executive pay and that such high pay rewards seem excessive, particularly when set against: a global downturn; a European sovereign debt crisis; a banking crisis, with a Government who failed to reform the banking system when they acted in 2008; staff lay-offs and redundancies; anti-capitalist protests; social mobility issues; and youth unemployment.

Earlier this year, I met more than 200 people to discuss executive pay, and we observed various things. It is worth noting that the random cross-section of people I interviewed wanted to draw a clear distinction between those they saw as true entrepreneurs—the likes of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and James Dyson, who had prospered because they took risks, created products and employed people—and executives of the banking system. The people I interviewed did not even have too much of a problem with footballers and their eye-watering salaries, but they perceived that banking executives were there to look after and manage companies but had failed.

Some of the following answers therefore relate specifically to banking executives. When I asked what people’s feelings were about the pay awarded, they told me that it was “greedy” and “excessive”; they thought that the people receiving the payments were “greedy”, “removed from reality”, “distant” and “remote”. They described their emotions as “anger”, “bitterness” and “resentment”; and they felt “powerless” and that they had been “taken advantage of”.

However, I strike a cautionary note when I talk about the banking system, because although it would appear that it was showing the worst of the excesses, the industry employs 1.1 million people in the UK and

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delivers 11% of UK tax receipts. So we need a system that will allow one of the UK’s greatest business successes to survive and prosper, and not a form of change that will deride and wither the industry, and make it move offshore.

Interestingly, people were upset about not only the payments, but a combination of things that the banks had done. The banks had failed in a business relationship, in a stakeholder relationship and in a customer relationship. Gradually, over time, they had become remote and had moved away from the customers they were serving. They were no longer found on the high street, they were not supporting local businesses and they had become faceless entities; people were always faced with a computer decision. The banks should listen to this and alter their own business banking model without needing regulation; they should realise that they must engage, once again, with their customers.

This is now about more than just the banks’ customers, as banks need to engage with the tax paying public. So what we have seen over the past few months, with the “shareholder spring”, is a coming of age of shareholders, where they have flexed their muscles and proved their way, bringing people such as Bob Diamond to account. We have to enforce that and pursue it, and I delivered a document to business on what I agreed that the Government were doing but on how they could go further.

I shall end on the words of Doyle, who said that although competitive capitalism is the best way forward, it is “Darwinian in nature”, and to survive and have profitability it must adapt and change with the calls of the public.

6.13 pm

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey). She will not be surprised to learn that I do not share all of her analysis of the problems, but I hope to refer to some of the points she made about the banking system.

When I was considering what I wanted to say in today’s debate, I was struck by a depressing familiarity—not about what I wanted to say, but about some of the relevant issues—as what I am about to say about youth unemployment in my constituency could have been said in the 1980s and in the first half of the 1990s. As of March, 16.3% of 18 to 24-year-olds in Knowlsey were jobseeker’s allowance claimants. To bring that into a more human focus, I should say that that amounts to 1,725 young people in that age range. Even though the figures were even worse in the 1980s, that is alarming enough. The question I wish to address in the time available to me is: what is going to happen as a result of this Queen’s Speech or the Budget that preceded it that will give those young people hope that opportunities are available to them?

In that regard, I wish to discuss a couple of possibilities, the first of which is apprenticeships. The Government make frequent broadcasts about how much they have invested in apprenticeships. Perhaps unusually for someone in this House these days, I actually was an apprentice—I served a five-year engineering apprenticeship—and the opportunities now being called “apprenticeships” are

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not what my generation knew as apprenticeships; they are training opportunities, but they do not have any of the characteristics of the apprenticeships of my day.

I have to say—this was as true of my Government as it is of this one—that the whole training system is in a complete muddle. I chair a local charity—the Knowsley Skills Academy—that trains young people who would struggle to find a place in the job market. Unless they are on sweet terms with such wonderful organisations as A4e, it is nigh on impossible for them to get any funding for that kind of training. The situation is not unique to this Government—my own Government got this wrong too—but it is time that we woke up to the fact that the national training systems do not work and that what we want to do is fund and support local organisations that actually can provide realistic training for young people.

Sheila Gilmore: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the way that things such as the Work programme are being funded is that the local organisations at the end of the supply chain are not getting the work at the moment and may go out of business altogether, along with their expertise?

Mr Howarth: Of course I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. What she says brings me on to my second point: what in the Government’s programme will be attractive to small and medium-sized enterprises? Last October, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills carried out a survey of 500 SMEs, in which they listed the things they found to be obstacles to success. Some 45% cited the state of the economy; 12% cited obtaining finance, and I wish to discuss that in a moment; and 6%—it was there but it was mentioned by only that number—cited the issue of regulation. I want to talk about small businesses, because they could provide the work opportunity that young people in my constituency and elsewhere need.

I wish to discuss a firm in my constituency, Sterling Services. Its owner, Mr Blennerhassett, has been to see me to talk about the problem he faces. He described how he has been in business for 28 years, has always been in the black and has never had any financial problems with the banks. He told me what happened when he tried to get a loan of £70,000 from the Royal Bank of Scotland to employ two full-time adult employees and two apprentices, to pay for two vans and to make some minor adjustments to his premises. The response he got from RBS was, “We don’t have a flavour for construction at the moment.” So the possibility of him taking on two young people and giving them a real apprenticeship has been closed off by RBS.

Higher education might offer another opportunity for young people. I want to refer briefly to the so-called core and margin model mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), which effectively means that universities charging £9,000 in fees will have a proportion of their students directed to lower fee higher education institutions. Some universities will therefore have fewer places and the Government have provided no assessment of how they think that will work in practice. It might mean that opportunities in local higher education institutions will be closed off to young people, which would be a further obstacle in the way of their finding employment.

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Finally, I talked earlier about regulation. If one were to compile a list of things that are important for creating jobs and getting the economy going again, I would think that the last place one would look would be regulation. The idea that making it easier to sack people will kick-start the economy is, to say the least, foolish. It is worse than that, however. If the Government really think that the most important priority for legislation is to make it easier to sack people, they should be ashamed.

6.20 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). The Queen’s Speech is the continuation of the important narrative of dealing with the deficit and promoting economic growth.

The link between reducing the deficit and securing low interest rates is pivotal and is significant for investment, small and large firms, and householders. We attach a lot of importance to deficit reduction, which is being saluted by key worthies in the world of economics and finance and is clearly linked to interest rates. We must focus on that.

My second general point is that energy prices and commodity prices are causing our economy some difficulties, so I welcome the measures in the Queen’s Speech that address them, particularly those on energy. Thirdly, although quantitative easing is an important measure that the Government are rightly pursuing in a measured and modest way, we must ensure that the money ends up in the right place. QE is the flipside of monetarism—monetarism takes money out of the economy, whereas QE puts it in. Monetarism could be described as a blunt instrument and so could QE if we do not reform the banking sector to ensure that the money gets to the right place.

Mr Ronnie Campbell: Surely quantitative easing is just giving the banks money to pay off their gambling debts.

Neil Carmichael: That is neither correct nor appropriate to my line of argument. We must ensure that the banking sector gets into the right parts of the economy. It is not merely a question of planning our overdraft extensions; it is more a question of ensuring that we have sustainable investment and can generate the right kind of investment decisions by firms. The Secretary of State, in response to an intervention, saluted the Handelsbanken and the way it operates, because it is local and bothers to find out what is really happening. I have seen it in action in my constituency, I know it works and I know that the customers who use it benefit from that local approach. That is the sort of thing we want to see in the banking sector.

The real economy is where we will make the difference between growth and stagnation. We must get the economy going. First, we should bring engineering right up to the top. We must deal with it positively and holistically, because it has many aspects. We need the manufacturing sector to invest more in engineers and for engineers to be able to translate their products into saleable exports. We need to stitch together a policy on engineering, perhaps by creating a post of chief engineering adviser or something along those lines, so that we have some propulsion behind making improvements in that field.

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Supply chains are an issue that is often flagged up in my constituency, partly because I have raised it several times including during my festival of engineering and manufacturing, which I ran over five days to promote those fields, and partly because it is a subject on which the Government are working hard. We must understand that our companies are part of supply chains in my constituency, in this country and in Europe. It is important that we recognise that exporting is part of that supply chain process and that we give the right encouragement to firms—usually small firms—that need opportunities to develop their markets in those chains. We should help them to ensure that their products are at the top of their technological, innovative and marketing capacity. Supply chains are critical.

It is also critical that we understand that the Government have a role in the energy sector and it is to provide the right framework for investment. Let me give the example of electricity and energy storage to make my point. We need to look towards creating a climate in which the business community thinks that it needs to invest in that and feels safe in doing so. The proposed energy Bill needs to give that comfort to firms that are thinking about not only existing technologies but new ones, and I am sure that it will. I think that those new technologies will be found in energy storage.

Much has been said about the green investment bank, which I welcome. The Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, produced an interesting report on the subject. We were hoping for more capital early, but we recognise that there are constraints and that the Government will make informed decisions in due course. We must ensure that the people in the GIB know about the technologies, the environment and the industries involved in both, as is the case with the European Investment Bank, which draws its strength from its real expertise in the areas in which it will invest. I hope that the legislation paving the way for the green investment bank will bring that about.

Many Members have saluted the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill and I do, too. It will be important in dealing with problems with food produce from farms and the position of supermarkets, which effectively form a cartel because of their buying power. I hope that the adjudicator will have the necessary power, and, as the Secretary of State suggested, will be given slightly more teeth if that becomes necessary—I hope that it will not, but there is a possibility that it might.

In summary, it is critical that we stand by our commitment to reduce the deficit. That is important for our interest rates. However, we must also recognise that there is still a lot to be done, that growth is the key, and that engineering is the method.

6.28 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Let me start with a few words on the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, of which I am a keen supporter. I was a supporter of the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). I have been concerned about the delays in legislating, so I am pleased to see the Bill in the Queen’s Speech and hope that it will not be too long before we see it going through the legislative process.

I am concerned, however, as is the Farmers Union of Wales, that the Bill should have real powers. I want it to include the power to fine retailers for unfair practices.

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The Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills has also recommended that that power should be on the face of the Bill and should not be dependent on the Secretary of State tabling additional orders. I am also concerned that third parties, such as the National Farmers Union or the Farmers Union of Wales, should be able to report issues to the adjudicator. Those organisations are in a better position than individual farmers to see what is happening across the industry, and they are often better equipped than a hard-pressed farmer to raise an issue. There is already a new groceries supply code of practice, introduced by Labour in August 2009, but now, in the Bill, we want more powers. It would be a missed opportunity if the Bill did not include the power to fine transgressors and the power to investigate complaints made by a third party.

Turning to parental leave, Members will remember that it was the Labour Government who first introduced paternity leave, giving fathers the opportunity to share in the excitement and responsibility that a new baby brings. I welcome the proposal in the Queen’s Speech to allow a more flexible approach which lets parents decide how to divide up parental leave between them.

That measure will help families, but let us remember how hard families have been hit by this Government: there was the abolition of the health in pregnancy grant and the child trust fund, the closure of Sure Start centres, cuts in child care support, and the shockingly harsh changes to the tax credit system. It is families with children who will suffer from those changes—low-income families who are trying to do the right thing by going out to work. Now, if they cannot get extra hours, they could be better off on benefits. There are also the bungled proposals on child benefit; the Chancellor seems not to have worked out the effects on one-income and two-income families. The flexibility in parental leave is a very small step towards helping families compared with the many hits that families are taking from this Government.

Turning to the regulatory reform Bill, it is easy to shout about cutting red tape but much more difficult to do it. It came as no surprise to hear the Secretary of State say today that that would be a matter for secondary legislation. We all want to lighten the burden on business, stop unnecessary form-filling, and get rid of excessive admin and box-ticking, but we do not want any erosion of workers’ rights. When we left government in 2010, the UK was considered one of the best places to do business—the best in Europe and the fourth best in the world. Our legislation on workers’ rights was no barrier to business. There was a high turnout of Labour MPs at a recent debate on a statutory instrument on employment tribunals; they came to oppose changing the qualifying period from one to two years. We shall need to scrutinise very carefully what the Government propose in their regulatory reform Bill to make sure that they do not sneak in anything that undermines workers’ rights.

The Government must stop using rhetoric about red tape as a substitute for stimulating growth in the economy. “One in, one out” seems to have gone completely by the board. What we really need is a growth strategy. We need a clear industrial policy that creates the right conditions for companies such as Tata to continue to invest in the UK. That means much better mitigation

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measures for the high carbon floor price—a unilateral tax, imposed by the Government, with no equivalent in competitor European countries. The mitigation measures are too little, too late.

We need a better deal on energy prices and a coherent energy policy to secure energy for the future, action to get banks lending to businesses, and a much fairer deal on tax. Cutting tax for the most highly paid while clawing back money from low and middle-income households, who are already hit proportionately harder by rocketing prices and the VAT hike, is not just unfair and heartless; it is economic madness, because those people would spend the money immediately, putting it back into the local economy and stimulating local business. At the moment, they are not able to do that; they do not have the money. They are cutting back, so local businesses are suffering and going under. Week by week, we see more of our local businesses folding.

The Government are doing nothing to improve consumer confidence. Far from stimulating growth, they seem deliberately to be doing the opposite. We saw that with the feed-in tariffs fiasco and more recently with the caravan tax, which stifles growth, puts an extra burden on manufacturers and holiday parks, and risks job losses in coastal and rural areas, where there is very little alternative employment.

We need a strategy to get people back to work and to give our young people work. The Welsh Government have that strategy in the form of the Welsh jobs growth fund. The idea is similar to the one that was behind the future jobs fund. We have not heard similar ideas from Government Members. We have not seen a realisation that to pay back the deficit, we need to create wealth. We should do that first, because then we will be in a position to pay back. We need a hub for business in the UK. Again, we see the Welsh Government, where they can, enabling businesses, including some of our fantastically innovative new technological industries, to expand. We need a lot more help for that sort of thing from the UK Government.

In the Queen’s Speech, there are lots of little bits of legislation, but nothing that will deal with the real problems that people face in this country—nothing that will really get our economy going again.

6.33 pm

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). She highlighted the importance of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill in the Queen’s Speech, a measure for which I have campaigned for more than a decade, so its introduction is not before time.

In these debates, it is quite difficult to dig below the surface of party political point-scoring and mutual blame for the situation that the country finds itself in, but if we do, we find potential for a great deal more cross-party consensus of the sort that there has been on grocery market management—or, to put it better, fair dealing in the grocery supply chain. This is a Queen’s Speech for jobs and growth, but we cannot, simply by passing a law, decree that there shall be jobs, just as one cannot decree that the sun will shine. We need to create the conditions in which a free market is regulated appropriately—hopefully as lightly as possible—to enable that process to happen.

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Regarding the groceries code adjudicator, let me set out why our current situation arose and why we need regulation. It is great that there are successful companies in this country, supermarkets foremost among them, but those who have followed what has gone on in that trade have found that, when it comes to the treatment of suppliers in the grocery supply chain, some supermarkets have moved from successfully using their market muscle to abusing it.

There were welcome reforms to the common agricultural policy in 2003, when the Labour Government helped to decouple support from production and moved to other forms of support. That meant that the agricultural industry had to be much more market- facing, but when it looked to the market, it found the supermarkets there, beating suppliers up all the time and retrospectively changing the conditions of supply after they had been agreed. In any case, on many occasions, the contract was verbal. There were problems to do with the introduction of promotional campaigns, which suppliers found themselves paying for; there was the issue of paying for shelf space; and there was late payment of bills, as well as many other overriders in supermarkets’ treatment of their suppliers. In my view, many of those problems persist.

In 1998—the debate goes back that far—my colleague, Colin Breed, then Member of Parliament for South East Cornwall, produced a report, “Checking out the Supermarkets: Competition in Retailing”. That resulted in the Competition Commission undertaking a report in 2000 that led to the first voluntary code of practice, but that code was pretty ineffective; suppliers never used it because of the climate of fear. The most recent Competition Commission report in 2008 resulted in the commission introducing, in 2010, the groceries supply code of practice—I have to correct the hon. Member for Llanelli; it was not the previous Government but the Competition Commission that did that. We want to make sure that contracts, and the relationship between producers and supermarkets, can succeed.

I chair the Grocery Market Action Group, which has members from the National Farmers Union, NFU Scotland, ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, and many other bodies such as the British Independent Fruit Growers Association, so I should declare an interest, though it is not a pecuniary one. It is simply part of my campaigning role to achieve the outcomes that we all want—the Bill has cross-party support.

The GSCOP is all very well, but it is like having the rules of rugby and no referee. That is why the adjudicator is required. The message I want to get across to the supermarkets is that if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear from the proposed measure, and I urge them to embrace it. In fact, they could use it as a marketing tool that enables them to reassure their customers, who benefit from a good, healthy relationship between suppliers and retailers, that they engage in ethical, fair trading with all their suppliers.

One of the great benefits of the grocery code adjudicator proposed by the Government is that it will help customers. The proposal to allow third-party complaints is right and the reserve powers on fining are appropriate. I urge the Government to bring in the measure as quickly as possible.

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6.39 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): This is a minimalist programme for government from a Front-Bench team that has delivered little more than a double-dip recession and a spiralling cost of living, with people facing record fuel and energy prices. This is a Government who give tax cuts to the rich while punishing hard-working families. This legislative programme follows on directly from the Budget, in which the priorities of the millionaires were again put above the interests of the millions.

We cannot underestimate the corrosive effect for a society in which the richest 1,000 individuals’ wealth amounts to £414 billion or, put another way, to more than a third of the UK’s gross domestic product. These people seem to be immune from the hardships faced in the wake of the economic crash. Indeed, their wealth has increased by £155 billion since 2008, yet this Government seem intent on delivering more handouts. We have always stood against social inequality and we stand up against the economic inequality that is accelerating under this Government. The dislocation and associated social problems brought about by such disparity are perhaps the most pressing problems that we face, and they are felt throughout our society.

Although I commend the moves to implement the Vickers report by ring-fencing investment banks from retail banking as a step in the right direction, there is nothing here that will deal with the problem of spiralling top-level pay that the Prime Minister was apparently so adamantly opposed to only weeks ago. This is not about restricting entrepreneurialism or penalising successful business people, but about creating a fair economy that works for all in society.

Looking at what is not included in this legislative agenda is as instructive as considering what is included. As hard-working families across Northern Ireland face up to record fuel prices and home heating costs, they may well ask where this Government’s priorities lie. One might ask where was the legislation to lower fuel prices, to restrict excessive executive pay, to promote growth and to tackle the youth unemployment that blights our society. There was nothing in the Queen’s Speech that suggested any remedy for these problems. The Government are simply sitting on their hands at a time when nearly one in five of our young people in Northern Ireland cannot find work.

As fuel prices in Northern Ireland reach 144p for unleaded petrol and 148p for diesel, people are asking what the Government are doing to mitigate this. These are highest prices in Europe, with a standard bill of more than £70 for refilling a 50 litre tank leaving many people paying more for their fuel than for their rent or mortgage. This impacts on everyone, but it must be acknowledged that the effects are most debilitating in rural areas, with young people cut off from jobs and elderly people cut off from friends and family.

I accept that while we are tethered to a volatile, imported commodity such as oil, we will always be susceptible to external events, but the Government could certainly do more to protect the consumer from the worst effects. The recent Centre for Economics and Business Research report showed clearly, using the Treasury’s own figures, that lowering fuel duty would create jobs, grow the economy and, most importantly, be revenue-neutral. But we do not see a Government

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prepared to protect the consumer, the family, the worker or the jobseeker. Instead, we hear of a Government preparing to increase the burden of public sector workers’ pension contributions and introducing measures that will make it easier for firms to fire people.

Although I have been critical thus far, there are certain aspects to be cautiously welcomed in the programme for government, such as the establishment of a green investment bank and the introduction of a supermarket adjudicator, but it is crucial that we scrutinise the details of these proposals to ensure that they are not merely token gestures. The green investment bank must be properly funded and accessible to firms in Northern Ireland, rather than just in the south of England. Likewise, the supermarket adjudicator must have teeth and must deliver for our local suppliers and producers to rebalance their relationship with the large supermarkets, on which they rely so heavily.

If the Government continue down the path they have taken thus far, they will lead us to recession, not recovery. People being asked to make sacrifices and facing increasingly tough living conditions are left with the question: what is the sacrifice achieving? The pattern is clear. This is a Government who care more about what is happening on Fleet street and Threadneedle street than about what is happening on the high street in Northern Ireland.

6.46 pm

Mr David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I am pleased to be able to speak today in support of the Queen’s Speech, which continues this Government’s progress in their endeavours to deal with the real problems facing our country. We meet today to discuss a wide range of issues in difficult and dangerous economic times. I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for his approach, and I am pleased to follow the logic of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr Syms). The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) made a powerful speech, but I believe he got it wrong.

We on the Government Benches have a strategy and proposals to deal with our economic situation. Of course we need dynamism, businesses and more jobs, and we need to get involved in markets across the world. However, I welcome the fact that this Queen’s Speech is not inundated with new Bills. Under the unlamented Labour Government, there was too much legislation, and mere legislation is not the answer. This programme has targeted legislation dealing with the real issues—for example, the enterprise Bill and the banking reform Bill, both of which are vital and helpful.

The Queen’s Speech must be viewed as a continuation from the Speech two years ago and the recent Budget. The previous speaker, the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), was wrong. The Budget increased the income tax personal allowance to £8,105 from this April, benefiting 25 million people by up to £126 a year. That is a real achievement. Last month’s increase in the personal allowance will take 260,000 people, the lowest earners, out of income tax altogether, so the hon. Lady was quite wrong when she said that the Government were not doing anything for the majority in this country: they are.

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In particular, at the heart of the Government’s approach is the determination to get our economy back on track, growing and creating new businesses, new jobs and new opportunities. As stated in the Speech, Ministers’ first priority is to reduce the deficit, restore economic stability and focus on economic growth. That is fundamental to any Government, and this Government are committed to doing so. The legislative programme is helpful in reducing burdens on business by repealing unnecessary legislation and limiting state inspection of business. These are welcome steps.

In addition, there are proposals to reform competition law and to promote enterprise and fair markets. I welcome the introduction of an independent adjudicator to ensure that supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers. I strongly support measures to make parental leave more flexible so that both parents can share parenting responsibilities and balance the work and family commitment in today’s complex, challenging and demanding society. This must be a positive and welcome addition. Of course, growth, jobs, businesses, especially small businesses, are vital, but so is the families and children Bill, which will reform adoption procedures, improve and overhaul special education and give flexible parental leave, which I have already highlighted.

I strongly support the measures for small businesses. Without doubt, the economy is the main problem facing our country, and it has consequences for all of us. We are fortunate that we did not join the euro; otherwise, things would have been far worse.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I have a small business in my constituency that is very profitable and has been so for 28 years. It requires some help from the bank but that is not forthcoming. The bank will not loan it any money and as a consequence it has had to sell one of its buildings. We must get that right. We must ensure that banks release equity so that our companies can get moving. I hope my hon. Friend agrees.

Mr Evennett: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is one of the key factors. We must ensure that businesses are lent money by the banks to ensure that they continue to flourish and be profitable. We must never forget that small businesses are the backbone of our economy; the backbone of our country. There are 4.5 million small and medium-sized firms, making up 99.9% of all enterprise in the UK. I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman)—who, regrettably, is not in his place now—who was passionate about small businesses and their importance for the future. They are a vital element. Businesses create the wealth that allows the Government to fund all our vital public services. Therefore, we are all, on whichever side of the House, keen to encourage, enthuse and improve small businesses so that they can be profitable for the benefit of society as a whole. The most competitive nations have clear strategies to support business. They have lighter regulation, less interference, competitive tax regimes, banks that support them, or should support them, and employment laws that make it easy to hire people. Businesses need help from the Government, not hindrance or neglect. Opposition Members did not give a lot of help to small businesses when they were in power, and I will take no lectures from them on this today.

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In two years, the Government have made real progress. Corporation tax has been cut and there have been more apprenticeships and financial assistance to support work-based learning. I am a huge supporter of apprenticeships and commend the work of the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). His enthusiasm and success are infectious, and we now have more apprentices than we have ever had in the recent past, and that is to be commended.

A red tape challenge campaign was launched by the Government to listen to businesses’ concerns about regulation. A national loan guarantee scheme has been introduced, so hopefully businesses can get access to the credit that they need to survive and grow. Business is important to this Government and to our society. Under the last Government, businesses were taxed more and regulated more, and they did not get the support that they needed. This Government are going forward positively to ensure that that they do.

The Queen’s Speech is essential. It is essential to get the economy growing and to take the right approach, tenor and leadership, and this Queen’s Speech will achieve that. The economy and business are fundamental to our society and the Queen’s Speech has at its centre the economic future of our country.

6.53 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Like a number of other Members, I doubt very much that this is a Queen’s Speech for our times. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) will be writing about its radicalism and imagination in the years to come.

On procurement, Adam Marshall of the British Chamber of Commerce said that the Government need to realise that they are a major consumer, a maker of markets and guardian of the country’s infrastructure and skills policies. Yet this is a Queen’s Speech with nothing to offer on those issues. There is no Bill to demand that those who win large Government contracts should have to provide apprenticeship places. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), is happy that tankers will be built in South Korea, employment, industrial and economic factors will be dropped from the MOD’s value-for-money assessments, and no action will be taken to prevent a repeat of the Thameslink fiasco.

There are no measures for jobs for young people, no actions to force energy companies to put the elderly on the lowest tariff rather than trying to bamboozle them with an array of complex charges, and no measures to tackle rip-off Britain—the hidden charges of the banks, the private landlords, the insurance industry and the airlines. They are what matter to real people—the people I listen to in my constituency of Selly Oak.

We have heard about the regional growth fund. Almost everything that the Government have achieved to date has resulted in unemployment rising and job prospects falling, and youth unemployment being returned to that depressing picture of the ’80s, which wrecked the health and hopes of a generation. Given what the National Audit Office has told us about the regional growth fund, I strongly caution the Deputy Prime Minister to be careful about what he seeks to trumpet around the country.

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The Secretary of State managed to glide over plans to make it easier to fire rather than hire, but I remind him that it was the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who said that it would be madness to throw away employment protection in the way that is proposed, and it could be very damaging to consumer confidence.

On banks, the Secretary of State omitted to mention that on the key issue of restructuring it will be seven years before we see the proposals fully implemented—so much for urgency. Having already sold off Northern Rock for a song, is it true that we are about to see a massive loss to taxpayers on Royal Bank of Scotland shares?

On the groceries Bill, the Secretary of State will take reserve powers. We already have a voluntary code; we do not need more window dressing. I hope that he makes a better job of the green investment bank than the Government made of the solar energy industry, where reckless decisions wiped out 6,000 jobs and wasted the investments of many small business men, including a large number in Selly Oak.

The Government have ducked the key social issue of long-term care for the elderly, despite promising legislation, and on parents and children I am keen to know exactly what they hope to achieve. What red tape will they scrap in relation to childminders? Will it be Criminal Records Bureau checks, restrictions on the number of children, or floor space requirements per child? That is going back, not forwards.

I am interested in plans for parental leave. We must now be assessed as individuals for tax purposes, as families for child benefit eligibility, and we can have transferable allowances for leave. How much red tape and how many inconsistencies does this involve?

I would like to hear more about the personal budget that the Government plan to give parents of children with special education needs. How will parents qualify, what will the budget replace, and how can we be sure it is not another gimmick to make people compete for fast-disappearing services?

On adoption, no one wants to see children languishing in care, but I am for the child. I want a charter for children. There are plenty of older children, disabled children, children with learning difficulties, and children with severe emotional problems languishing in our care system. We need to concentrate on them as much as focus on making adoption easier for couples.

What on earth will Boots parenting vouchers deliver? What will they cost, who will make a profit, and who will use them? It would also be helpful if the Government, given the succession of local difficulties with friendships and contracts, just came clean on the relationship of Octavius Black to the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

This is a Queen’s Speech that confirms what the electorate know: it is a coalition that does not listen, does not care and does not have a clue.

6.58 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this Queen’s Speech debate, although I fear that I might have stumbled into a constitutional innovation: a state of the nation debate.

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Of course, we do not have a state of the nation speech in this country; we have a Queen’s Speech in which Her Majesty lays out legislation for the coming year. Yet having listened to Opposition Members, I think that the debate has really been a discussion not of what was in the Queen’s Speech, but of what was left out.

I am a proud believer in limited government. I remember Queen’s Speeches under the previous Government groaning under the weight of unnecessary legislation. Barely a year went by without a criminal justice Act being added to the statute book. Did they ever look at whether those Acts had the desired impact? Of course not. They just kept on legislating because, in the end, that is what politicians on the left need to do; they need to pass laws, because otherwise, heaven forfend, people might not think they needed to exist, and we cannot have that, can we?

When I speak with local businesses in my constituency, they do not beg me for legislation. Actually, I tell a lie. It would remiss of me as a Blackpool MP not to mention one measure that was missing from the Queen’s Speech. I am sorry that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is no longer in his place, as otherwise I would congratulate him on the massive benefits he has brought to the ski lifts of Aviemore. Having accepted the principle that there should be a level playing field between different European nations, he lowered the VAT rate for ski lifts and did well by the people of Aviemore, but the hoteliers of Blackpool would like him to make a similar contribution by lowering the VAT rate on the provision of goods and services related to tourism. Many other European countries have a lower rate of VAT on such services, which means that the UK is suffering through competition. Having accepted that principle, I hope that the Government will now look at how it can be expanded to other sectors of the economy.

Lorely Burt: Many laws were passed under the previous Government—more than one for every single day they were in government—but what did that achieve? Unless we enact them and then ensure that people adhere to them, they are not worth the paper they are written on.

Paul Maynard: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. My only surprise is that so far no Labour Member has proposed a law stating that two plus two should equal five, because that is the only way they could get their sums to add up for the policies they would introduce. What local firms in my constituency are asking for is better implementation of existing legislation. The Economist stated only last week that we are the most radical Government in the west. We have introduced fundamental reforms in welfare and education, and they need time to bed in. Good governance is different from good legislation. Public administration is about implementing what is passed, not moving on to the next big item just for the sake of giving oneself something to do. That is not how to run a country properly.

One local firm I visited only the other week is AGC Chemicals in Thornton, which makes a wonderful product called Fluon, which I had never heard of before. It is apparently very similar to Teflon. Those Members who are familiar with the Allianz arena in Munich or the Water Cube where the swimming events took place at

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the Beijing Olympics will be interested to know that the fancy cladding surrounding the stadiums is made of Fluon, which I am very proud is manufactured in my constituency. The company told me that what it needs is our existing legislation to bear fruit. It is delighted by the education reforms we are putting in place, because it needs better skilled employees and cannot find them in the local area, which is a tragedy for not only the firm, but for the local people on the Fylde coast who need jobs and need to acquire those skills. That is why it is vital that we welcome what the Government are doing on apprenticeships, for example. Also, the firm should not have to look two or three hours away to get the highly skilled specialists it needs, because those people will have lengthy commutes, which puts stresses and strains on our infrastructure. That cannot be the right way to go. There must be a more local approach to skills, and that is what the Government are seeking to ensure, but that does not need a Bill or legislation; it just needs us to allow the Government to get on with the business of good governance. It is that simple.

Let me give another example. We already have local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones. I welcome the enterprise zone that the Government have introduced near my constituency in Warton, where BAE Systems is based, but once again that is an evolving situation. The local enterprise partnerships are barely a year old, and certainly the one in Lancashire had something of a traumatic birth—something to which other Lancashire Members in the Chamber can no doubt bear testament. Once again, local firms in my constituency are saying that they want to be certain that the local enterprise partnership is not being hobbled or constrained and that the periphery—the Fylde coast is, after all, always a periphery because it is the coast—is not neglected when decisions are made.

In my view it is fundamentally important that as we move forward we remember the first line of the Queen’s Speech, which is that deficit reduction is at the heart of what the Government are doing. I can accept that Opposition Members might not agree with every element of the Queen’s Speech or like the general approach that the Government are taking, but I ask them to bear witness to what is happening in Athens and in France. I ask them to bear in mind the fact that we cannot make two plus two equal five, as much as they might wish us to, because two plus two will always equal four, and that has to be the basis of any sound, intellectual economic policy. We cannot keep channelling our inner Venezuelans and hoping that if we nationalise everything somehow all will be well. I realise that it is a seductive message for politicians to offer, that somehow they can offer all the gain with none of the pain, particularly when they are desperate to win elections, but the more the Labour Members go on in that manner, the more they will show that they are yet to understand fully why they lost the last election. I am quite happy for them to continue in their ignorance, for they need to look within themselves that little bit more to understand fully why they were thrown out in 2010. I was there; I remember.

7.6 pm

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): I think that the Queen should have just carried on in her carriage and gone past Parliament and on to Windsor castle. She would have been better off, because she spent only 15 minutes here.

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I want to raise the question of the green investment bank and the enterprise zones within it. In my constituency we asked a few months ago, at the time of the autumn statement, whether we could have an enterprise zone, because we have a big energy sector and are doing a lot of work on wind turbines and at the port of Tyne. I am a bit worried about the green investment bank, because I do not think that it has enough. There is £1 trillion of money in the green industry. I might add that our competitors are well ahead of us; Sweden, Denmark and Germany are far in advance of us on green energy, especially wind turbines. Green investment is a road to our recovery, and I am sure that we will eventually manage it, but unfortunately, because of what we have in the Bill, it will not happen.

Lorely Burt: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should give the green investment bank more powers, and those are coming. However, the Government have made £3 billion available to the bank. How much would his party contribute to a green investment bank, because it has not been forthcoming on that so far?

Mr Campbell: I will not know that until we get into power in 2015, so I will ask the Government then how much they will give. I do not have the answer now, because I do not have that foresight.

One of the other things I want to mention, if the Minister is listening carefully, is that at the Tyne and the port of Blyth, where these industries are up and coming, companies are coming in, having a look around and saying, “Great. We like the two ports of Tyne and Blyth.” But unfortunately for us they go up to Scotland, because they can get more money, grants, investment and incentives there. That is the problem, because Scotland is only 100 miles up the coast. Why would a company invest in the port of Blyth or the Tyne when it could go up to Scotland and get more money? That is a big problem. I would like the Government to have a very careful look at that and to find out about Scotland. Obviously, the Scottish Government are pushing money there, because Scotland is flying away with that industry, and unfortunately we cannot compete. We have had some successes, but unfortunately we know companies that have been to our area, left and gone to Scotland because there is more money in it for them there.

We have a lack of demand in the economy; that goes without saying. We can talk to any economist, but they will all say the same. We have householders who are not spending, banks that are not lending and companies that are not investing, and on top of that we have a crazy decision by the Chancellor to cut capital spending. Some 3% of the construction industry has been cut by this Chancellor. How on earth are we going to get growth when he is doing all those things?

The other week, I saw the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, and I was not sure if it was a Punch and Judy show, a Morecambe and Wise show or the Chuckle Brothers, but when I saw them at that tractor factory my mind started to boggle. I thought, “What are they doing?” and then I started to imagine. There was the Prime Minister taking his coat off, and he turned around to the Deputy Prime Minister—the Liberal Deputy Prime Minister—and said, “I beg your pardon, I didn’t promise you a rose garden,” and the Deputy Prime Minister, straight back to him, said, “Two wheels

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on my tractor, I’m still rolling along.” That just summed it up, because all those workers were at the back of them, with all their smiling faces. They did not tell them that they were going to sack them, cut their wages or halve their pensions if they could get away with it. That amazes me, and I do not know how those lads felt, but I have not seen a smiling face yet.

Then there is efficiency, as I said before. I jumped ahead of myself there, but on efficiency I saw the ex-Defence Minister, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), on the telly the other day, and he wants to cut our wages and pensions and make us work longer. I would like to see the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, because I never thought about getting the register to see how much he is making on the side. When the ex-Defence Minister says that he would like to cut the wages of working people, I would like to see what he has in his locker, in the register, and how much he is making on the side. Those are the people we should be getting at—those who have two or three jobs, especially on the Government Benches. There are one or two on the Opposition Benches, but there are more on the Government side.

We should be spending money, not cutting it like this Chancellor has because he is into austerity. I begin to wonder sometimes about austerity. I begin to wonder about democracy, too, because when I hear Government Members I wonder, “What is democracy?” Those in Greece are not having austerity, and neither are those in France—and they have all been to the ballot boxes. In Germany, after the weekend results in the local elections, the German Chancellor got toast. She got toast—[ Laughter. ] They even turned her down. Those countries in Europe do not want austerity. Are we not listening—never mind laughing, as this is not a laughing matter—to the people?

The Tories are hell-bent on destroying this country over the next couple of years, instead of going for growth, building houses, schools, roads, bridges and anything we want to get our hands on. Let the capital programme begin again, instead of cutting it. The argument over the cuts is not about economists or economics. It is about real people, and it is real people who we should be defending in this Chamber tonight.

7.13 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I rise to speak in the debate this evening with the words of the recent public discussion between business leaders and my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench ringing in my ears.

The essence of that debate seemed from the business leaders’ side to be, “The Queen’s Speech did not do enough for business,” and from Government Front Benchers, “It is business, not Governments, that create jobs. Governments can create only the conditions for growth.” Frankly, both sides of the debate share a common aim: to see business prosper, more jobs created, more tax revenues and growth in our economy.

When we step beyond the headlines, which inevitably, as ever, over-simplify and polarise statements, we see that the issue before the country, as expressed by the Institute of Directors and other business organisations, is the pace and scope of reforms. Businesses want to see an extension of the sunset clauses for regulation and for the one-in, one-out regime. They might also like to see

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more moves towards no-fault dismissal and flexible structures, so that the decision to take on a permanent employee does not require so much deliberation. The CBI said:

“We hear a lot about regulatory reform, but the big prize for businesses would be to major on the new power for ‘sunset clauses’ on regulation and regulators. Every new bit of regulation should be time-limited and then reviewed.”

Mr George Howarth: Has the hon. Gentleman seen the Business Department’s own survey of small and medium-sized enterprises? The priorities that they cited were what was happening in the economy and what was happening in the banks, and only 6% responded by saying that regulation was an issue.

John Glen: I have seen plenty of businesses in my constituency which have argued consistently over the past two years that their real challenge is dealing with unnecessary regulation, and I agree. The Prime Minister, although in favour of no-fault dismissal, could not unfortunately persuade our coalition partners to agree, so it did not go forward.

Some primary legislation will be helpful and desirable, but I do not believe that in a Queen’s Speech the Government can legislate to create jobs, so I am somewhat confused by the logic of Justin King, who has questioned the consistency in Government policy. From the very first Budget, the Government have been consistent on the need to reduce corporation tax, but in 24 months there is only so much consistency that they can demonstrate.

Mr King says that he wants to know where the “big bets” will be placed, but he might like not only to reflect on the state of the public finances and on the limited room for such investments, but to grasp the fact that on High Speed 2, on health care and on schools the budgetary certainties were put in place a long time ago, and the announcements were made in the first few months of this Government. The reforms to planning, especially the radical simplification of planning regimes, should enable big employers such as Sainsbury’s to get on with their primary role of creating jobs.

Let us turn to small businesses, which constitute such a high proportion of the jobs in my constituency and throughout the UK economy. For them, the Queen’s Speech offers a great deal. The groceries code adjudicator should rebalance the relationship between small businesses and large supermarkets; perhaps a fear about that led Mr King to make his remarks last week. I am concerned, however, about how flexible maternity and paternity leave will work out in practice for small businesses.

Small businesses and small business people know how to look after their employees through good times and bad and life-changing events, and an employee has a reciprocal responsibility to work hard, providing dependability, a willingness to demonstrate responsibility and a responsiveness to economic conditions so that rewards are brought to him and his employer.

I hope that the Government consider the implications of the masses of paperwork that will be introduced if the measure is not considered and adopted carefully. As the Forum of Private Business said:

“The UK already has one of the most generous parental leave systems in the world”,

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and small firms must not be

“stung financially at a time they can ill afford any more business costs being foisted on them.”

What happens when managers find themselves having to arbitrate on competing requests for flexible leave? Could not this time be better spent establishing new markets and growth opportunities?

A debate on business and the economy at the current time would not be complete without reference to the eurozone crisis. There can be no doubt that the uncertainty in European economies, centred around the state of the euro, is causing many in this country to put off vital investment decisions. Fear of a slide in equity values, anxiety over the dependency on hidden “toxic debts” in European banks, and frustration at the gap between the political will and the economic reality are draining our economy of a great deal of optimism. I always resist the simplistic call that the solution is, “Pull out of Europe and all will be well,” but I do feel that the Government, and politicians in all parts of this House, need to begin to explore what the world will be like when Greece defaults and leaves the euro. What will happen when the Hollande rhetoric cannot fix chronic indebtedness? We are not insulated from the euro; our economies are interdependent given that 48% of our trade is with the EU 27.

We should look to the future with some trepidation. The future will primarily be in the hands of business leaders, but the conditions for investment decisions need as much certainty as possible. All good business strategies have contingencies and reserves. The emerging challenge for the leaders of our Government is to demonstrate a contingency for the scenarios that are evolving in the eurozone.

7.21 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): It is a great joy to take part in this debate.

Back home in Northern Ireland, there has been a lot of criticism of the fact that Northern Ireland was not specifically mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Newspapers, commentators and politicians have suggested that that is a vast gap in the Queen’s Speech that needs to be filled. I do not share that view, for two reasons. First, I do not believe that more and more legislation piled on to an economy is necessarily a good thing. Secondly, many of the problems that we face in Northern Ireland are UK-wide problems that require UK-wide solutions, and therefore much of what the Queen’s Speech does in dealing with the economy of the UK as a whole should benefit Northern Ireland.

I was heartened when the very first words of the Queen’s Speech talked about “economic growth” and the need to “restore economic stability”. However, as many people have said during this debate and others, once we get down to the detail, the reality is that there is no clear path as to how these proposals will get us back to economic growth. Indeed, there are many diversions—a result, I suppose, of the faddishness that has been introduced into Government decisions by the Liberal Democrats. The proposals on House of Lords reform are equalled only by some of the other proposals that the public have already rejected. At a time when millions of families were most concerned about student fees, the Liberal Democrats thought that a referendum on the alternative vote method should be the Government’s

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priority. The Government have been led astray by those who say that they are driving the tractor to pull us out of the mire rather than driving the digger to dig us deeper into the mire, as appears to be the case.

I am concerned about three main issues. First, it will be interesting to see what proposals the Government bring forward on stability within the euro area. Much has been said here today about the need to stimulate the economy. We have heard many Government Members say that we cannot keep on borrowing and spending, yet there seems to be no lack of that when it comes to propping up a failed currency, for which the Government keep finding money. Within the past three weeks, another £10 billion went to the International Monetary Fund to help to prop up a currency that looks increasingly shaky. That is throwing good money after bad. That £10 billion could have had a much greater impact had it been spent on infrastructure development here in the United Kingdom to boost people’s confidence that the Government believe that we will have growth eventually and need the infrastructure to deliver it.

The second issue is bank reform. In Northern Ireland especially, businesses are held back by the lack of finance from a dysfunctional banking system. The banking system in England, Scotland and Wales may be dysfunctional, but in Northern Ireland most of the main banks are not operating and we are dependent on bankrupt banks from the Irish Republic, which account for nearly half the market, and Ulster bank, which is controlled by RBS. Bank lending is not happening for businesses. Although a very ambitious target, which many firms are trying to meet, of exporting to areas outside the euro area has been set, many firms are finding opportunities but cannot get the money to finance their organisations and provide them with working capital. I hope that when the bank reforms go through, there will be greater emphasis on what impact Government policy is having on places such as Northern Ireland, where we do not even get figures published for Project Merlin and do not know whether the policies are working through the banking system in Northern Ireland.

Thirdly, there is the issue of energy prices. The Queen’s Speech says that the Government will deliver

“secure, clean and affordable electricity”.

That is a euphemism for expensive electricity. I think we all know that the pursuit of renewable electricity has added considerably to energy bills in the United Kingdom and put us at a competitive disadvantage. Whatever we call it, clean energy, green energy or wind power costs three and a half times more than coal or gas-fired power. If the Government are going to keep going down that route, they will suck growth back out of the economy in the pursuit of helping the renewables industry.

There are many areas where we need to get oxygen back into the system, including banking, cheap energy, finance and infrastructure development, and I trust that we will see that in future.

7.27 pm

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): I was pleased to see that the very first sentence of the Queen’s Speech referred explicitly to economic growth, the second sentence referred to the need to reduce the deficit, and the third sentence referred to the need to reduce the burden on business caused by regulation. All those things together show clearly that the Government’s No. 1 priority is to get

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our economy growing once again, and right now nothing is more important. I recognise that the Government have been in power for two years, and I understand the concern of people out in the country that the economic position remains difficult. However, it is important to remember the magnitude of the task that was faced by this Government when they took office in 2010 and the situation that the previous Government left us with. They had taken Britain to the brink of bankruptcy, with a structural deficit seven years before the recession began—the largest deficit in the developed world.

[

Interruption.

]

I know that we have heard all this before, but it is very important that people understand that the severe state of the public finances meant that it was not possible to sort out these problems overnight.

Looking further back, the decade starting in 1999 saw growth coming from the public sector. The public sector alone grew under the previous Government. The downside was that that led to an imbalance in the economy between the public and private sectors, creating a problem. The CBI says that the growth in the public sector in that period led to a crowding out of the private sector as the public sector accounted for a larger share of economic activity and resources. In order to rebalance our economy, it is important to look to the private sector, particularly the manufacturing sector.

As a Member of Parliament based in the west midlands, where there is a tradition of manufacturing, I say that we must recognise just how crucial the manufacturing sector is to our economy. It is worth £120 billion a year to our economy; 55% of the UK’s exports are in manufacturing; and in that sector there are more than 2.5 million jobs. But over a number of years there has been a steady decline in manufacturing.

Manufacturing as a proportion of the economy has almost halved, from 22% in 1997 to 12% in 2011. A key priority of this Government must be to redress that balance. How will we do that through the private sector? First, we must reduce levels of taxation, because doing so provides incentives, as people and businesses work harder to regain a greater proportion of their earnings. The UK will have the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G7 and the fourth lowest in the G20. On personal taxation, my view before the Budget was that now was not the right time to reduce the top rates of tax, and I retain that view, but it is clear that reducing the top rate of tax provides an incentive to high earners to base themselves and their businesses in the UK.

The second method of achieving growth through the private sector is getting rid of red tape. Unnecessary bureaucracy stifles our businesses and distracts business owners from the key tasks in hand: looking after customers, finding better ways of doing things and supporting their employees to do a good job. As someone who ran a business for 25 years before arriving here, I am pleased that the Queen’s Speech will reduce the regulatory burden.

It is true that the Government cannot create growth themselves, but they can create an environment in which businesses can thrive. A key part of the Government’s role will therefore be creating confidence. There is evidence that many companies, both large and small, have on their balance sheets the funds to expand, but are not doing so because right now they do not see a return.